Thursday, December 19, 2013

John Denver Christmas

Gary, 29,  (that was me) was running a roadside diner called the Candle Glow, out on the edge of Watertown, Wisconsin. 1979.  I  had started the business in August, and as expected with a new business, it didn't do too well at first.  The food was great, according to the customers, but I guess they just didn't eat enough, because by November I had run out of money, and in December I was really getting desperate.

Lily (not her name) worked for me, as waitress and kitchen help. We were about the same age, and she could find something to make you laugh in just about any situation.  I was in love with her, but that wasn't really going anywhere.  It was almost Christmas time, the Friday before Christmas, and hardly anybody had come that night for a fish fry. Lily's younger sister Karen (not her name) stopped by, just to keep us company. Karen got bored, and pitched in to help us clean up. Karen was the opposite of Lily, the same sense of humor but in such a deadpan and soft-spoken way that escaped you if you weren't listening closely.

"Hey, let's all go to the Out-A-Towner after you're closed,"  Karen suggested.  We thought it sounded like a good plan.  It sure beat not waiting on customers that weren't there.  Then, the door opened, and Lily's parents came in with her brother, Mike (not his name).  Watertown isn't that big.  We all sat around drinking coffee, and talking about Christmas shopping.  Eventually the parents wanted to leave.  Mike wanted to ride along with his sister, Karen.

After the parents had gone, Karen sat down at the counter, staring straight ahead at nobody.  "Change of plans. Mikey's not old enough to go out drinking."   Mike felt bad for screwing up the plans, suggested maybe they could drop him off at home on the way out.  "My place," Karen said "We could all have some Christmas Cheer."   Mike loved that idea, because at his sister's house, he could get some Cheer, too.

We closed up the diner and all drove over to Karen's place, a part of Sixth street that I'd never been to. Upper floor of an old house -- had to play with the lock to get the door to open.   Karen wouldn't let us turn on the lights, because the apartment was a mess.  She lit a candle, and we went to her living room, where she lit other candles. We could see some Christmas decorations, and a small artificial tree. She plugged in the tree lights. In the soft glow, I still couldn't see the walls or extent of the apartment.  A sixties-era phonograph.  Karen picked out a record, and put it on.  "You've all got to hear this".  The music started, the sound was warm and fuzzy, worn from much use.  "Yeah, it's John  Denver. But listen. Don't say anything until you hear it". Familiar, and unfamiliar Christmas-themed tunes, in John Denver's distinctive stentorian twang.   There weren't enough chairs.  Mike and I sat on milk crates. Nobody spoke much.  Karen brought us all some wine. It was warm in the room, all of us huddled in the soft glow of candles and Christmas tree. And John Denver singing "Silver Bells".

"This one I just love - it's real."  We listened as John sang "Please, Daddy Don't Get Drunk This  Christmas. I don't want to see Momma cry".   "He sings it so cheery, but it's so sad". Karen once explained to us what was real.  Working at a job, hanging around in dark bars, and such, that was NOT real.  True reality is after spending a night out celebrating, stepping into the harsh antiseptic fluorescent glare of a George Webb restaurant (Milwaukee chain of diners) and having coffee and chili. That's reality spelled right out for you.

We talked a little about our plans, Lily looking forward to another semester at college, Karen changing to a new job, I was concerned about staying in business at the diner, trying to meet all the expenses and satisfy all the demands of a business, the crazy landlady, the grim creditors, and the inadequate customer traffic.

It was one of the most memorable Christmas memories of my life.

Within the next year, I went out of business.  Lily graduated from college and moved away. Mike eventually got old enough to have his own car and social life. And Karen moved off to LaCrosse, Wisconsin.  But that night, as the Earth was spinning through a now-distant corner of the universe, we were all together, and feeling better just for being together.  God Bless Us, Every One!

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

There Are Still A Few Out There

The life of an office temp can sometimes include "down time" - those blessed little un-paid vacations that allow you to do what you've been thinking of for weeks.  You look out the window of the bus, your World Headquarters passing into the distance, and think "Oh, man I haven't washed those windows for over a month.  Wish I had the time for that".  

The assignment ends, and suddenly you have the time.  Working frantically to "Git 'er done" before the phone rings again, "Hi, it's Emily with your next assignment!"  So I was painting, spackling, carrying dropcloths and buckets across the street.  Mid-block. (Don't judge me - It is my God-given right to jay-walk between my properties on my street.  I don't need the government's interference with my street-crossing - I know that the big things on wheels should be avoided, or I begin life as a Street Pizza). 

Looking across the street, I saw the Number 15 bus, my home away from home.  The bus was pulling to a stop across the street.  I looked in the driver's window - it was Al's bus.  And I realized - that bus has stopped for me.  Al thought I was running late catching the bus, and he had stopped to let me on.  Realizing what had just happened, I shook my head and waved him on.  Al grinned and zoomed off toward downtown to take the less fortunate to work.

Did you think that such people as Al still walked the earth?  Al isn't just collecting a paycheck from the transit authority,  Al is taking people where they want to go.  It's his job, and he's proud of the way he does it.  God bless such people.  

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Never Can Say "Good Buy"

....being part of Gary's perpetual love/hate rant with the Idiot Box.
Winter - It's Real

Television stations are costly to run.  Equipment, staff, licensing. They are not run by philanthropists trying to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.  They are run by businessmen who are trying to make a profit by selling more than they buy.  This is how businesses run.  The only thing that brings money into a television statement is advertising revenue. Car salesmen, prescription drug peddlers, insurance salesmen, crooked lawyers, fast food chains, and the manufacturers of Ginzu Knives all vie for air time to promote the products they bring into this world.  

On the other hand, once the hucksters have all paid their invoices, there is, in between the advertising, Program Content.  You want to teach the world to sing?  Here's the Sing-Off, the American Idol, the Voice, and a host of others. You want to eat?  They've got competitions for that, too - Chef Ramsey will curse at simple-minded would-be chefs, a panel of judges will taste food, and spit it out on the table if they don't like it, and on and on.  There are competitions for everything.

Home improvement is a contest.  Dancing is a contest.  Even marriage is a contest on TV. And, now for the holidays, even the Little Christmas Angel in the front yard is part of a competition - a Light Fight, to be exact.  Fa la #$%# LA!

What was my point - oh yes - the third element.  The most dependable and free money-maker that a station manager can tap into - the Weather!  Weather is free, it's everywhere, and the weather that sells the most Priusssses is the scary weather.  All weather can be scary with the right writeup.  Winter in the Midwest gives us an extra bonanza - Snow and Cold.  What a surprise, Winter is cold, and precipitation in Winter falls down in frozen flakes.  With the aid of Triple Doppler graphics, the terrible Monster Storm occurs roughly every two weeks.  If the audience can only be distracted from looking out their windows and thinking for themselves.  The Monster Storms - the Deadly Cold Blast - has people huddled in their hovels, cowering in fear.

I see a conflict, though.  If people are huddled in their houses, afraid to face the deadly elements outside their door, how can they possibly go out and shop for all the lovely products that the advertisers - the sole providers of TV station income - how can they afford continue to advertise, when television stations are constantly warning people to stay home?

"Come to Boston Store" sounds less appealing when the crawl at the bottom of the screen is warning that anyone who ventures outside will be annihilated - crushed in the jaws of the Monster Storm, which is always about to arrive?  Which should we take seriously?  The appeal of the merchant's marketplace, or the staged warnings of the weather "experts"?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Anti-Social Networking

I'm just putting off going outside in zero-degree weather to fool with the Snow Blower.  I'm trying to get the lovely red thing to start - sometimes it's less work to just shovel everything by hand....

I turn you over to Little Fatso - the guardian of my online accounts. She may look fluffy, but she could chew your face off if she doesn't like you. Steal my identity, she will rip out your soul!

Facebook is so ubiquitous, and so vast. No matter what you want to write about, there's a whole group of people with similar interests who are willing to exchange posts with you.  

But, to save  some time, how about some "compartmentalized" Facebook sites, to appeal to those who haven't the time to seek out kindred spirits using search engines.  Here are some of the things I'm proposing, based on what I've seen.

  • Two-Face Book - For those who enjoy talking about people behind their backs.
  • About-Face Book - For someone who doesn't really have an opinion, but likes to be popular by saying what others will approve of.
  • Outta-My-Face Book - For someone who really doesn't like social networking, and just wants to be left alone.
  • What's-His-Face Book - Can't remember someone's name - this site is for you!
  • Poker-Face Book - Like to gather opinions without expressing any of your own? Here ya go - this site is for you!!
  • Blue-In-The-Face Book - For someone who repeats and repeats advice nobody listens to anyway
  • In-Your Face Book - Social networking - it's not who you know, or what you know, it's just being seen that's important. 
  • Shut-Your-Face Book - Pontificating without opposition - this is the Talk Radio of Social Networking. No comments allowed.
So, time to get back to below-zero weather and hands soaked in WD-40.  Start, you B$#-=%!

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


A rutabaga is a relative to the turnip. It's quite tasty, eaten raw. Cooked as a vegetable it is very pungent. In a vegetable-based soup, it is almost essential.   

The rutabaga is much denser and much larger than the average turnip. The one in the picture is about 4 inches diameter.  Slice it any way you want - the inside is uniform, with no grain or any other distinguishing characteristics.  Chop a rutabaga into cubes, and the cubes from the center will be exactly the same color, texture, and flavor as the cubes from near the surface. There is nothing going on inside a rutabaga. You start digging into a rutabaga, and there are no surprises, no core, no pit, nothing - it's rutabaga all the way down.

This homogeneous property - the dense uniformity, no matter how deep you go - doesn't that remind you of the look you get when you ask for something at Home Depot? Or Wal-Mart, or Best Buy, for that matter.  The blank, purely stupid look. That look that will not change no matter what question you ask. When you gaze into the blank eyes of a rutabaga, you are not going to get an answer, no matter what question you ask.  "I'm looking for Wire Nuts" - "You want wire?"  "No, Wire Nuts"   "Oh, nuts and bolts are over in the hardware section  - ask in Aisle 12. Is there anything else I can help you with?"   And then, back to texting on his cellphone.   Completely uniformly blank and stupid. Rutabaga.  I don't see how some kids can maintain such perfectly uniform stupidity and continue to live.

This blank powerful look is so powerful, that it can be felt over the phone.  Give us a ring at our call center.  

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, December 2, 2013

what it's like

Note: Advent theme. This post was begun last spring, and finished today.

The day had arrived - Real Milwaukee was going to be doing a live broadcast from Alana Women's Apparel, my wife's store. A local news show, Real Milwaukee, chooses events and businesses that are "going on" in Milwaukee, and shares them with the viewers. We had known about the upcoming visit for a few weeks, we had arranged for some of the fashion models Joyce works with to be at the store to show off the merchandise.  I made some coffee for the models and the TV crew.  The lights were all on, the building all heated up.  We even turned on the hot water heater in the bathroom for this momentous occasion.

And, early morning, Tony and the crew arrived, the camera truck got its wireless signal, after some minor conflict with the power lines. All was ready, three minutes to show time.

But I had to get on the bus to go to work.  I work through an agency, and don't want to compromise the agency's  reputation, or mine, by excusing myself for non-essential reasons when they are counting on me.  So, I felt compelled to leave.  There was no further need for me; my job of preparation had fallen into place flawlessly. But it was a strange feeling, to have put so much time into a project, and then not be able to witness the fruition.

Taking off from the bus stop, minutes later, the bus passed the store again.  By then, the broadcast was in progress. Models were parading the clothes, Tony was holding the microphone to capture one of Joyce's observations. They were all laughing and having a good time with the viewers.  But then the bus continued on its way and I saw the store fading past my window into the distance, on to Downtown, and the job.   

So, that's what it must be like.  The things you've worked on will be taking place, as you built and organized them. If you've done a good job, there will be laughter and enjoyment instead of stress and confusion. You'll be there in spirit, thanks to the efforts you've put in. But you yourself will only be able to view the performance fading into the distance.  Without you.

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bananas, These People, and the Moon

I heard it last Saturday. I was going over to the banana counter in the produce section of Piggly Wiggly the other day, and a lady was huddled over the bananas.  I heard a terrible cracking and ripping sound. She was secretly breaking up the banana bunches, so she could take home only the best of the bananas, leaving the bent ones for the likes of me.  I really don't appreciate people ripping up my food - why not just take life the way it comes? Of course, she may be part babboon; from the looks of her, I'd say . . . but what do I know from species?  I like the way they do it at Aldi. Each bunch of bananas in its own plastic bag - no babboonery allowed. But, Piggly Wiggly is trying to cater to These People.

When I first moved into this area, it was primarily older Polish heritage people in quiet old businesses - dry cleaners, tire stores, appliance parts, a cabinet shop, Tru-Valu hardware store, etc. There was a building on a large lot that used to be a gas station, presided over by Karl Behr (almost his name), called Karl's South Shore Fruit.  He sold fruit and rented U-Hauls.  I rented a U-Haul from him when I moved in to Bay View.  He had good fruit, at reasonable prices.  But then there was what most people went there for -- to talk to Karl.  He had interesting stories about the neighborhood.  The police chief would hang around during some of his off hours, so there was always some interesting inside tidbit of info on local news stories.

And, being new to the neighborhood.  Karl felt obligated to tell me what it was really like.  "These People", he called my neighbors. "These People, he confided, will shop all morning for a banana. Just look at that!" he said, pointing to a banana box at the fruit counter.  An entire box of completely single bananas. He had to mark them down, of course, and then they'd sell by the bag full, because "These People are Cheap Bastards"

And, here's an update on yesterday's foray into the Cellulose Plains - Above the Ceiling. All installed - a new moon rises over Alana Women's Apparel. Illuminated by a mercury-infested compact fluorescent, this 24-watt beauty will now show the ladies how good they really look in fashions from Alana. Of course, I'm a bit prejudiced, but, they keep comin' back!

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What's Going ON Up There?

I heard a noise.  Before I even went outside, something was running.  A revved engine whirring. I thought it was the city finally come to remove the leaves from our treeless gutters.  Nooo -- nothing is that simple.  I looked across the street, and there was a ladder leading to the roof of my building.  The noise came from a generator in the truck.  This is usually the sign of some plumbing emergency or some other nastiness. Closer inspection - thick rubber hoses going into the front door of the Chinese restaurant. It was a vent-hood maintenance crew.  Still they should have notified us, or maybe they did - not too good with the English, usually unless something is pouring down from the ceiling. So it wasn't really an emergency.

I saw a movie about such phenomena the other night.  How could have I have missed it the first time around - it has Jim Broadbent, John  Goodman, and Hugh Laurie in  it - three of my favorite actors.  Based on a true story, it's about families of tiny people about four inches tall that live in the walls and under the floorboards of homes, and they take little things as they need to, just to get by, you know.  It's a 1997 movie called The Borrowers and it was a fun night.  I'd recommend it.
Actually, I'm just putting off starting a nasty job up there.  We need a new light fixture installed for the dressing room of my wife's dress shoppe. 

This installation will take place up there in the Fiberglass Plains, where screaming doesn't matter.  Perhaps I can get some of the little guys to help me out up there...

See ya later!

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Dum Dum TaDum

And so this morning as we begin our 61st year of Life on Earth, the first accumulating snow of the season is beginning on Kinnickinnic Avenue.  The first snow always smells so wonderful. 

I swept off the sidewalks, and came over to the store for some coffee and email.  I put on the media player, letting the randomizer choose what to play, and whaddya suppose the old Random Number Generator chose to play to wish me "Happy Birthday"?  Dum Dum TaDum Dum TaDum Tadum Tadum...... Chopin's Piano Sonata Number 2, known  commonly as the Chopin's Funeral March. Oookey Dokey, let's go with that.  I would have preferred "Optimistic Voices" from the Wizard of Oz telling me to "Step into the Sun - Step Into the Light!"  but sometimes you gotta play the hand you're dealt.

Here's a link to a very emotional performance of the work.
For those not familiar with the piece, the obstinate plodding of the funeral procession pauses in the middle (at about 2:40 on the above performance) and there is one of the most beautiful, peaceful passages in all of classical music - a momentary lull, a pause from the relentless necessity of it all, and a loving look at the beauty of the moment. A fermata, a rubato moment, letting each note resonate its beauty against a background of soft black silence. And then, just as in real life, the relentless procession resumes.

So, now, the snow has decided to change from a broom thing to a shovel thing, and the Janitor has to get back to work.

"You're out of the woods
You're out of the dark
You're out of the night
Step into the sun
Step into the light
Keep straight ahead for the most glorious place
On the face of the earth or the sky
Hold onto your breath
Hold onto your heart
Hold onto your hope
March up to the gate and bid it open" (E.Y.Harburg)

 Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Valley of the Shadow

While I'm waiting for my next assignment.from the agency (please, PLEASE hire this 61-year-old codger!), I found some notes I took while on an interesting assignment I worked on earlier this year.

It was just supposed to be a six-week assignment, but it ran more than 7 months, filling in and catching up the work until the already-hired permanent worker took over. An office administrator in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, (not the real name) an organization that handles organ and tissue donations. And we're not talking Wurlitzers and Kleenex, here.  I work with medical, scientific and instructional data, trauma cases, distressed families, and emergency workers.  I produced, for example, training manuals, compiled data reports which I extracted from medical charts, and mail-merge projects for donor families and promotional events. My lifetime of self-taught computer training paid off in a big way. Things I used to look forward to doing on other jobs were the things I now did routinely.

My office was a huge 16 x 16 cubicle in a corporate headquarters office complex. All the things that matter in office life, such as an electric stapler, my own computer with a flat-screen monitor, scanner/fax/laser printer and a big stack of Posty-notes - all the colors of the rainbow -  all there!  One wall of the office is a row of 8-ft high picture windows, overlooking a corporate version of a mini-marsh, complete with cat-tails and red-wing blackbirds.  It was such a very peaceful place to work.   My co-workers were all very pleasant to work with, and just as I suspected, as soon as I learned all of their names, I was re-assigned again by the agency.  Since the organization is on-call 24 hours a day, there are probably still people who work there that I've never met.

At any rate, I made lots of new friends, and at the end of the 7-months, they even held a good-bye pizza lunch for me in the conference room.  I'm confident that during my stay I made the agency look good, and used my bag of Excel tricks to perform my duties to the highest standard of standardness. .....And then I became a software tester for an office downtown.... That's why we're called Office Temporaries - an elite strike force that moves in and Gets the Job Done!

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

ARRRR! A Tale of Pirate Treasure

In the late 1990s, Robert Kohl brought in a trunk, an old steamer trunk, that he thought we might be able to use in one of our theater productions.  Robert Kohl was a one-of-a-kind eccentric with a heart of gold.  He was always finding things "curbside" as he called it - his favorite shopping center.  Over the years we had to throw away hundreds of items which were not suitable - we never, for example had a play which required three aluminum-frame high chairs with ripped up upholstery.  But, then, he brought us lots of pieces that did indeed make it into our plays. One play set was built of SEVENTEEN hollow-core doors, painted and purposed to many uses, from fireplaces to walls,to magical clocks that came alive after midnight.  But, back to the steamer trunk. It was a beautiful arch-top wardrobe, with brass and canvas-covered metal construction, and beautiful antique brass locks. 

Only one problem, with the trunk - it was locked. Try as we might, we couldn't pick the lock.  And, when you tipped the trunk on its side, something inside shifted.  There was something inside that trunk, but we refused to resort to violence which would ruin the beautiful exterior.
The trunk had been in actual use - it was covered with tags glued on in a bygone gilded age.  The trunk had more travel experience than many of us would ever accumulate in a lifetime. Steamships and hotels had passed this trunk through, carrying who knows what?  And what - exactly WHAT was shifting inside when the trunk was moved???

A mysterious inscription "C.R. Holty" - No amount of googling could turn up a train or ship by the name of "C.R.Holty".  
From time to time over the years, my curiosity would get the best of me, and I'd give it another shake. It moved around the building from year to year. Then, I took it to a locksmith.  After two hours and $30.00, he couldn't get it open, either. So, back down into the basement it went, in the coal bin.  (see picture at top).  

After the theater group dissolved in 2003, we had occasional rummage sales, and we tried for years to unload this mysterious trunk on some like-minded adventure-hunter. We sold the trunk at a silent auction once, but the winner and the first runner-up never came back to claim it.

Then, in 2013, we got a call from Superior, WI.  A lady who had seen the trunk at the silent auction was wondering what ever was discovered in the trunk by the winner of the auction. She was delighted to find that the trunk remained unclaimed and unopened. She immediately made arrangements to purchase and pick up the trunk, and she agreed to abide by our restrictions - do not force the trunk open, damaging the locks - and, we'd like to know what you found in the trunk, although we lay no claim to the contents. This would have been hard to bear had the trunk been full of money or ancient stock certificates entitling the bearer to 40% of General Electric. She agreed, and one day, she and a friend came to the studio to pick it up.  Seeing the old familiar trunk going down the road gave me a strange feeling. We had been together for over twenty years, and she still held her secrets.

This morning, I received a letter from Mary. Included were photographs of the open trunk, and a description of what was inside.  She had even found out who "C.R.Holty" is - it was the owner of the traveling trunk, an American impressionist artist.

And we finally found out what had been shifting around in there all these years - a classic library of 1970s-era best-seller titles. 

And a movable hanger track to keep the suits from getting wrinkled.  And drawers.  It was a such an unexpected pleasure for her to include us in the discovery.  I'm so fortunate that the trunk finally found a new home it deserves.

Happy Thanksgiving.  We give special thanks for the kindred spirits who pop into our lives from time to time, to share the ever-abundant wonder of it all.

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Last Day of Work (Again)

The Last Day of Work.   For the "30-year man" of the bygone era, it meant a retirement reception, gold watch, and a sheet cake with your name on it. 

But for the office temporary worker, the Last Day of Work happens a few times a year.  The assignment ends, and you either start at the next assignment, usually the following week, or you file for unemployment, ensure continuation of your minimal (soon to be illegal) health insurance, and wait for the next job.

Personally, it's a time to catch up on all the accumulated projects on our rental units, painting, repairing, changing furnace filters, deep-cleaning, fire code upgrades, etc. etc.   In other words, no time for vacation.  As Colonel Sanders used to say "Time to Lean is Time to Clean".  

But the last day on an assignment, that's time for a little celebration.  My last assignment was cleaning up a backlog of data reporting for an industrial laundry.  I worked for someone I consider my equal in Excel.  She would throw me challenges, leaving out details just to see if I could fill them in.  I always rose to the occasion.  And the other people working in the plant were very friendly and accommodating.  But, as the permanent candidate is scheduled to move in next week, they bid me "adieu" yesterday.  

The job was in Cudahy, a city desperately fighting to pull itself out of the rust-belt category. There are vacant boarded-up buildings, overhead wiring and cables hang from leaning wooden poles, storefronts that are now residential, and it seems like it's always cloudy there.  

And yesterday afternoon, after work was done, I headed out into the late-afternoon Fall sunlight, got into my mini-van and headed down the road. The music randomizer chose "Ripple" by the Grateful Dead, a rather appropriate number for moving on. (LINK BELOW) Nothing scheduled for the rest of my life.  Oh, freedom! I stopped at Super America for gasoline and oatmeal cookies.  The late-afternoon sun slanted in through the windows, giving everyone a larger-than-life warmth.  Something about that late-afternoon sun in fall and winter.  It points out things around us that we may not have noticed. Even the filthy hippie in front of me in the line had an angelic glow. 

So, if you need me, knock on the window of the old Dry Cleaner's. I don't have a cell phone, and I've got lots of painting to do before the next assignment comes in.

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


So, what have I been up to for the last year?  I've been an office temporary, after my 30-some year company went out of business. Tell ya about that someday. Very interesting assignments.

  • The Hectic Mailroom of a downtown skyscraper
  • Data Entry in the Valley of the Shadow of Death
  • Secret Shopper of the Aged
  • Software Beta Testing in Wolfenstein Castle

But most recently I've been working on  a concert with my old friend Stephy. It launched last Saturday, and here is a clip from it. Don't look for this on Amazon, yet - Stephy just wrote this song this year.  It is one of the best songs about pigeons that there ever was. That's me off to the right on piano.

And my wife staged a fashion show in our facility. Same stage, one day later. Slept good on Saturday night. I played piano for the show, but we used a recording for the finale. Here's the finale.
So, now that I'm  "between assignments" I hope to write for awhile a few times a week.  So far this hasn't been working out - for three weeks I've been working harder than when on the day job.   Gotta go set up today's show, now - just a piano-vocal combination. There ya go...

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Old Christmas Tree - Part 2 - The descent into beige

Click here to read part 1 of 2 - Part One: Grandpa almost burns down the house.

Grandma.  She whose house had been almost burnt down by Grandpa's carelessness.  You could see the once-pink roses now charred brown on the wallpaper all the way up the living room wall. Grandpa had tried to use the Christmas tree as fuel in the basement woodburner stove.   Grandpa's life had now been changed into a lifetime of Home Improvement Restitution.  A Christmas tree that would be held over Grandpa's head for the next two years. 

The Two-Year Beige Project.  Beige.  Grandma wanted beige, and so, now that Grandpa was over the barrel, there would be beige. Lots of beige.  First came the living room.  The dark green wallpaper with the large pink and white flowers, some of them charred brownish, was the first to go.  

Over the next two years, I became adept at soaking off wallpaper, and it was kind of cool to be working on an actual ladder when my friends stopped in to see where I had gone. Grandma was terrified that I would fall off the ladder - it kind of reinforced the element of danger in the job.

We soaked off all the wallpaper, primed the wall, and Earl Korban, Grandpa's brother in law, installed a beige and ivory 8 x 15 foot wallpaper mural of the Taj Mahal on the wall with the now forever-cold chimney.  Next came the dining room, no more flowers - beige painted.  Then the rest of the living room.  Beige sofa. Beige Nauga-hide chair. Of course, that didn't go well with the striped wallpaper hallway in the front room - so we had to take that down, and apply beige paint.  Then the stairway to the upstairs needed to be done.  And the living room rug, and hardwood dining room floor were replaced by wall-to-wall beige shag carpet.  Meanwhile, at the upper end of the stairway, the hallway upstairs, and the bedrooms - first the pink wallpaper soaked off, and then primed and painted - beige again. And then the wall-to-wall carpet came rolling out.  Even the ceiling was painted sort of beige-white.  Even the carpeting on the steps to the upstairs had to become beige.

By the time we were done with the beige transformation, all traces of Grandma's house as we remembered it from childhood had been replaced by a uniform shade of beige.  We now lived in the present, and the present was beige.

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Old Christmas Tree Part One - Grandpa's Bright Idea

The other day, I was on the way to my car in the dark, and I found myself suddenly entangled in the branches of a Christmas tree discarded by one of the tenants.  The smell reminded me of when we were kids.  Everybody had a tree back then, and they'd put them out on the curb for the city after the holidays.

About the second week in an early-60s January, my Grandpa and I went down in his basement.  Time to put aside the parties and get back to mixing paint. The old dining room table was still fully extended with all the leaves from the family Christmas dinner which took place two weeks before.  In the corner of the room was a Christmas tree, all dried out.  The needles were mostly on the floor by then.  

It was cold at first in the basement, but we soon took care of that.  There was a combination stove in the kitchen.  Two gas burners and an oven were on the right side, and on the left was a wood-burning stove section.  The cast-iron top had two beveled burner tops that could be lifted with a removable handle so that more wood could be added.   Grandpa brought home scrap lumber from the construction sites he was working on (he worked for a commercial painting contractor).  On weekends, there would be a copper boiler where Grandma would boil his overalls, to get the paint out.  The stove kept the entire basement warm enough to work, at least.

Grandpa had an idea.  The tree was so dry - why not saw it up and use it for firewood, too!  So, he brought out a pruning saw, and we sawed the branches off the trunk, and sawed the trunk into manageable sections.  The branches were messy and cumbersome, so we put those into the stove first.  The dry needles would instantly flash into flame as we inserted each branch, so we had to be careful.  The smoky smell in the kitchen was replaced by a pleasant pine smell of the balsam sap.

We brought in the first sections of the trunk and stacked them into the corner where the firewood was kept.  Meanwhile, we kept feeding in the branches, more to get rid of the mess than to heat the kitchen.  Dustpans full of swept-up needles made a satisfying crackling sound as we tossed them into the stove.

Then, something happened.  The inside of the stove was suddenly sucking in tremendous amounts of air when we raised the burner. The flames inside were fanned almost white-hot. There was a low roar from the wall.  The creosote inside the chimney had caught on fire.  Chimney fire!  We heard Grandma hollering down the stairs terrified - the roaring sound was a lot louder upstairs, and the walls were very warm, the wallpaper charring from the heat.  Grandpa moved fast, looked at the situation from outside, then came in and called the fire department.  

There was not much that could be done - the chimney was built well, and the fire burned itself out while the fire department watched.  Grandpa was very upset - although there was no damage outside of the charred wallpaper, technically he had set the house on fire.  And there would be much to live down. 

Donny from the fire department, who was an asshole in real life, would razz my Grandpa every time he saw him thereafter, at the Dew Drop Inn or at Larry Wallace's barber shop across the street.   He could usually shut up Donny by buying him a few beers.  That was just practice - comic relief in comparison with what was to come . . . 

Tomorrow:  Part two - the terrifying conclusion