Friday, May 19, 2017

Human Mechanics

This upcoming weekend, in particular, Sunday, I highly recommend that if you are located anywhere in the seven cities and hear massive amounts of yelling, cursing and the throwing of metal objects at other objects… please leave me alone. That is, unless you want to volunteer to come change a water pump on a jeep and throttle cables on my Harley.

It’s not that I don’t know what to do, or even how to do it. After all, I’ve changed starters, head gaskets, heads, valves, pistons, batteries, radiators, water pumps and, well… pretty much anything else gear related in my years. It’s just that I don’t enjoy it. Okay, that’s not totally true, I enjoy it up to a point… what that point is I can not say. 

I spent ten years working part time in a machine shop, tearing apart engines, cleaning them, fixing them, rebuilding them and even grinding, planing and refurbishing them back into fine tuned, high octane burning, carbon emitting, transmission grinding and tears in the eye joy machines. 

That type of work I don't mind. When the material I’m working on is staring me right back in the face. Working under a hood, stooped over fender, crawling around on the concrete or even sitting in the grass… well, it just makes my bones ache thinking about it. 

Now, truly these are not really complaints, these are just moments of uncomfortableness that I’m most likely exaggerating in my own little mind. You know, like we all do. Oh? You say you don’t? Really? Do tell me your story. I’m all ears.

You can’t. I know you can’t. Hell, I can’t. I wish I could.

Which is something I don’t understand. I like to fix things. Cars, motorcycles, toy trains, puzzles and hell… just about anything that’s broken, I’ll step right up and try to fix it. That seems to be a characteristic I was born with.

For as long as I can remember I was curious about how to fix things, how to build things and, how to make things better.  I never went to a trade school, but over the years I’ve read a few books, puttered with enough mechanical things, electronic things that I developed a breadth of knowledge on things that I can’t even begin to fathom how deep that well is.

No, I never went to a trade school. What I did do was simple.

I just showed up.

That’s it.

I showed up, kept my mouth shut and listened to the journeymen who taught me everything I know. However; like good journeymen, they never taught me everything they knew. Which is good. Some things you just have to learn for yourself.

  Which brings me to today.

You see in my life, my family that is, we’ve been going through a pretty damned hard rough patch. Not my immediate family, no, my in-laws to be specific. They are going through a rough patch. They are both pretty much incapacitated. My wife, being the good daughter she is, has stepped up to the plate to take care of most of their needs. Bills that need to be paid, or socks that need to be bought, or even a salad from a restaurant they might want to nibble on, she seems to be the one they call. Now, to be fair, her brother also helps out. From what I understand it is a lot as well. I’m just not around to see what he does nor am I around to see what my wife does all the time. I do however hear about it from her.

And, as you can probably guess, this type of activity can take it’s toll on a person. Just like a fourteen year old water pump with over one hundred thousand miles on it can break. Or, throttle cables on a motorcycle that gets ridden almost everyday of the year can break. People under stress or overuse can break.

Like the water pump or throttle cables, the stress, wear and tear go mostly unnoticed. By the operator as well as the people around them. That is… until…

Little things. frowns start becoming more prevalent. Exhaustion even after eight hours of rest. A less than approachable attitude towards any type of inconvenience and well, a general change in personality and disposition. The person who is going through this, wont notice it. Hell, they’ll even fight you if you mention it. Like a machine whose parts are failing, you know there is something wrong, but you just can’t communicate it to the machine.

So what do you do?

Simple, identify the problem, implement a solution and wait for resolution.

Int the case of the jeep, a new water pump. In the case of my Harley, new throttle cables… and in the case of my wife… on her birthday which is only a few short days after mother’s day… an all expense paid trip to the spa. Something that she’s never experienced.

This evening when I saw her for the first time since this morning when I left for work, she looked happy, relaxed and even a bit like the young lady I met thirty years ago. The mechanics at the spa spent over three hours working on her and it paid off. 

The months of wear and tear magically disappeared. She looked renewed and invigorated. This made me happy.

Now, if only I can get away with three hours of mechanical work on two vehicles on Sunday without messing anything up, I will be thrilled.

Have a great week. Do something that will make you smile and relax. And maybe, just maybe, you will have fixed something you didn’t know was broken inside of you.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Loss of the Missing

We’d just dropped our daughter off for her prom. She was going solo with the intention of meeting up with her friends. She looked stunning. We were both excited for her. As we pulled out of the parking lot of the prom venue we looked at each other and said; “What do you want to do?”

You see, we were thirty minutes from home and we were her ride home, so driving back to the house was out of the question. We both laughed at our mutual words. I suggested we stop by a book store. We both like books and it’s a great way to waste time. She agreed and I pulled out my phone and did a web search for a bookstore in Suffolk, Virginia. 

The search came up with only three book stores. Each of them in another city and none of them selling anything I’d be interested in. Hell, I couldn’t even find a used bookstore. I made this information known to my spouse and she just shook her head. This was about the time we passed a super wal-mart. Our discussion then went on to what were going to do for the next two hours in Suffolk.

We’d been downtown already for dinner before the prom and we didn’t see anything of interest to us. We drove on. And on. And on.

Eventually we decided the only option for us was to wander around the Wal-Mart. We did a u-turn and eventually found ourselves meandering through the multitude of plastic trinkets, inexpensive clothing and discount electronics.  There was nothing we wanted to purchase and nothing for us to do except waste time.

I found myself in the electronic section. More to the point, I found myself standing near a kiosk with four computer monitors. This kiosk was for people to instantly print up their photographs. I immediately went out to the van, grabbed the camera I used to take hundreds of photographs of my daughter and went back inside to the kiosk. Along the way, I hijacked my wife who’d been strolling through the shoe aisles.

I put the SD card into the machine and started to scroll through the photos and was astonished at some of the photos I’d taken. My daughter looked so grown, so mature, so… so goddamn ready to leave home and take on the world. My heart soared as it broke into a million pieces.

Now, mind you, I miss my little baby, my toddler, and my pre-teen offspring. Yet I couldn’t be happier with with who she is now and who she is becoming. Still, for the last seventeen and a half years she’s been a constant in my life. Just thinking of her leaving, spreading her wings and taking on the world in my absence is heart wrenching.

I suppose this is what everyone talks about when their kids leave home. The emptiness. Which I suppose is why most people in my situation get a pet. They’ve no idea how not to dote on someone or something. Guess I’m lucky I’ve got Freddie the Master Feline in my life.  He’s a standoffish feral cat that has adopted my house as his. Hm, guess that makes him a squatter, since he has no money for rent or utilities and eats whatever food is around. Good thing is, he doesn’t like to go to the bathroom in the house. Now, if that were a trait my daughter had, it’d get ugly around her right quick.

Sorry, I digress.

While we waited for the photos to be printed I meandered over to the “Book Section” of the store. Hardcovers, trade paperbacks and magazines lined the shelves. It was like looking at the New York Times Best Seller list. Every big name author in the world was there, every genre seemed to be heralded… except of course Horror. Or even Speculative Fiction. I was dismayed.

Oh, did I mention I was the only one looking at the books? I was. No one was in the aisle with me. Also, the books were a mess, it looked as if whoever stacked the shelves just opened the boxes and placed them using the pell-mell school of cataloging. Sort of like my own library at home. I laughed, I shook my head and with stooped shoulders from disappointment I walked away.

You see, it wasn’t so long ago that book stores were everywhere. Open to everyone even if they don’t want to buy anything and just browse or waste time. They were there. No they are not. Which makes me sad.

And here is the real kicker, my daughter likes bookstores. Here, in my small city, we have two very nice used bookstores. Stores where you can just walk in, be surrounded by twelve foot tall bookshelves, sit down in an aisle with a stack of preciously picked out books and slowly page through them for as long as you want. No rush, no pressure, just pure literary enjoyment. If you want to strike up a conversation with another customer or even the stores owner, you are more than welcome to.

They are good bookstores. You loose track of time with all those wonderful pages around you. You meet nice people, swap book suggestions, make new friends and most likely walk away a more enriched person.

This did not happen that night. Nope, instead we meandered the overfit aisles of a box store, went to Panera Bread and then sat in the parking lot of the prom’s venue and waited while our daughter had the time of her life. 

While we were held in a state of limbo surrounded by boredom, our daughters wings grew larger and thicker.

We did not witness this growth, we did not see her younger self become wiser and leave a small portion of her youth behind. But we relished in her joy and glow when she finally emerged from the dance. And then we glowed in her growth.

Which seems odd, are the bookstores of my youth just that? A naive and archaic adolescent way of communicating? Are the digital books of today the new butterfly of our awake mental pleasures? Is this something I should look upon with joy and bitterness like I do my daughters life. Joy for the fact that books are readily accessible to any digital device, like the memories of my daughter and yet bitter because I miss the old stores as I miss my daughter when she was younger?

Yeah, it’s a damn fine conundrum.

One I don’t think I’ll ever figure out.

All I know, is I am enjoying the old used bookstores when I can and I’m enjoying the time I spend with my offspring. Yet I miss the real bookstores of my youth as much as I miss the youth of my offspring.

Have a great week.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Real Skinnie

Wayne Shorter blasts out a solo on his saxaphone, while Herbie Hancock keeps a semblance of a rhythm along with Tony Williams on drums and Ron Carter on Bass. What’s missing is the long droll sound of Miles Davis’s trumpet. Yet, the crickets in my neighborhood seem to hear… no, they seem to feel the missing horn so they fill in for Miles. Chirping away where trumpet tones should be found.

It’s a good night to be alive. I just wish it was 1964.

Three years before I was born.

Yes, I am a jazz hound and for me there is no better music in the world than the second Miles Davis Quintet. One of the most stellar line up of musicians ever assembled. So much has been written about them that for me to even attempt to add my words to the encyclopedic volumes would do them a dishonor.

So all I will say is this; “They are by far the best proof of intelligent design and free will than any written word.”

Which brings me to todays blog… Music.

I love it.
As do you.

As do most people.

Music to me is associative. As it is most likely for you.

What? You don’t know what I mean by associative? Okay, Uncle Skip will explain that for you…

Associative is when you hear, smell, see, taste or touch something that brings back memories, good or bad, about something in your life. There, it’s that simple.

That is what my life seems to be about. Maybe yours as well. I don’t know, I’m not in your mind right now. *Or am I?”

So, where is this going? I know, I know, you want answers, not more questions.

Simple. Over the past five years or so I’ve been delving deeper into my music. You see, year and years ago when music switched from tapes to CD’s, I was not a proponent of it, but I succumbed. My vinyl and my cassettes went away. Well not all of them. It was easier for me to dispose of tapes than it was vinyl.

But five years ago I found a guy selling old albums at a flea market. For cheap. I mean like a buck or two per album. So I bought them… a lot of them. I bought so many that I had no where to keep them and I had no where to play them. So I went to a craft store and bought a bunch of record frames and hung them on a wall. Then one day a year or two ago, a good buddy of mine gave me an old record player.
It was broken.

Well, not broken broken. It just needed a new drive belt and needle cartridge. I spent six bucks on the internet and within a week I was spinning black vinyl and enjoying the tunes of records I hadn’t heard in years. Songs so full of resonance which had almost seemingly disappeared through technology filled my ears and body with joy.

Which brings me to last week.

A buddy of mine sent me a text message. It read “Are you going to record store day?”

A simple question. Yet a question I had no answer for. Hell, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as “Record Store Day”.

I told my pal as much. 

He said he was going to try to go and was there anything I wanted.
So, I did what anyone would do, I looked up the store he was going to, saw the product they were getting for this special day and told him what I wanted.

Easy Peasy.


My pal texted me, you know, like people do these days, and said he had what I wanted. Said there were only four of the items I wanted and he was lucky enough to get one. He then told me he got what he wanted. I was happy for him but I was more excited for myself. We have different musical tastes.

So, I went and picked up my platters. All three of them. I carefully sliced open the shrink wrapped cardboard and opened the archaic ear pleasing vinyl only to discover I had gotten a misprint.

You see, with a three vinyl set, you get Album one, sides one and two, Album two, sides three and four and Album three, sides five and six.

What I got was two album ones and one album three.

No album two.

I even took the vinyl back to my stereo and listen to what was supposed to by album two, but it was album one.

Disappointment abounded.

So, the next business day I called the record store. Told them my problem and the guy on the phone didn’t really promise anything but he did say he could handle the issue. I was elated.

I actually showed up at the store and the kid behind the counter and his hipster pal tried to give me the run-a-round. Hell, the little fuckers even tried to offer store credit. I told them “There is nothing in this store I want right now, other than what I’ve already paid for.”

Neither one of them like my answer, yet still one of them flipped a black vinyl over on the turntable and electronic dance music filled the store in quadrophonic sound. I with held the urge to punch them both in the face.

After fifteen minutes of frustrated conversation and musical appreciation, I left my name, address and phone number so that someone who had more authority could call me about my issue.

I went on a quest.

It was a simple quest.

I’d heard tales of an actual record store that had never been out of business for thirty years and was still readily accessible to the general public.

I hopped on Bernadette, my Harley Davidson motorcycle and hit the mean streets of Hampton Roads.

Within thirty minutes I’d focus the store. It was tucked away on an seldom used street in the heart of one of the historic districts. I parked my bike in the provided spot and went in only to be transferred back to my youth in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The store can only be best described as a “Head Shop”. Sure there was vinyl racked and stacked as far as the eye could see, but so were t-shirts, patches, pins, paraphernalia and all sorts of other things a person couldn’t wrap their minds around.

It… Was… Amazing!

Within minutes I was talking to the owner. Complaining about the abuse I’d received from other stores and he assured me that all he wanted was for me to find whatever it was I wanted and to purchase it.

I dug that. So much so that I made an offhand Ayn Rand comment.

He shrugged it off.

Two hours later, I was standing there with two album I’d paid for more that an hour ago and we were talking about bands we had seen live. The virtue of downloadable music versus music a person pays for and whether or not there is a future for any artist of any means.

It was a great conversation, but it was interrupted by two college students who seemed to find everything quaint and contrarian to their lifestyle.

I rolled my eyes, as did the owner.

Eventually I had to leave.

I felt bad for the owner, he was left in a room full of memories and life with two people who had no idea what the words “Memory” or “Life" meant.

I’m sure he’ll be okay.

Have a great week.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Fire of Mr. Green Shirt

“The layouts on fire!” the tall, white haired man in the green shirt shouted as he ran out of my office and almost hitting his head on the overhead “G” gauge train roadbed. He left down the three stairs that led up to my main office floor and shot out the door.
I didn’t move from where I sat in my desk chair with one foot resting on top of my desk. I just watched and thought “Shouldn’t I be disturbed? Worried? Concerned? In a panic?… No. No, I was pretty much worn out for the day and all the cares I’d had when I started had departed many hours before.
I dropped my leg to the floor, shook my head and picked up one of the two mini-cameras I’d been using to record new train layout footage with for the past five hours and wondered if any of the footage was any good. I plugged the camera into my computer and waited for the machines to shake the binary hands and talk to each other.
Sounds of the green shirted man climbing over the protective barrier and hustling around to where the “Fire” was floated into my office. Sounds of visitors talking and laughing trailed in with the frantic pace of Mr. Green Shirt.
I shook my head, tried to concentrate on finding video files on the camera but my mind started to wander…
“Skip, shouldn’t you be concerned?… No, if it were a real fire people would be screaming.”
“Skip, shouldn’t you check out the damage, after all, you designed this layout, poured your heart and soul into it?… No, we have a sprinkler system, and an alarm system and we are insured.

“But Skip, you love this work. Yes, yes I do, too much. But I just can’t muster any strength for another problem today. I’m just too dam tired and I just want to go home and relax.”
“Your job may depend on this incident.”
Which is about the time Mr. Green Shirt walked back into my office holding one of the track cleaning cars between his fingers. “Wow, never saw that happen before. The car derailed and the sparks set the denatured alcohol on fire.” he said almost gleefully.

I looked up at him and said “You know Mr. Green Shirt, I’ve been doing this job for over sixteen years, cleaned the track of this layout and four other layouts on a weekly and sometimes daily basis and I’ve never once set a layout on fire. This truly is a first.”

Mr. Green Shirt laughed, I chuckled and when he handed me the melted felt pads that had only until recently been attached to the track cleaning car I just shrugged and nodded toward the trash can. He threw the pads into the trash can.

He then changed the pads, soaked them with a bit of denatured alcohol and went and put them back on the track.

The trains rolled on.

You see, there are days like this in my life as I’m sure there are days like this in your life.

Days where when you get to work, something small goes wrong, then another thing goes wrong only this time it’s a bit more important, then another and another and another. Soon, you have things on fire, a person yelling and you’re trying to muster the energy to actually not just care but inspect the damage and fix the problem.

This was the low point in my day and all I could do was chuckle to myself. After all, when I thought about what had happened, it was pretty damn funny. So for the rest of our time together, Mr. Green Shirt took my good natured ribbing with a wink and a smile. 

Now, before you say, “Skip, you’re being a bully. You’re pouring salt into the wound of his pride. You’re just being mean.”

No, I’m not.

Mr. Green Shirt and have been working together for fifteen years and have developed an excellent relationship and we consider each other friends more than anything else. Sure, we both have a love of trains, jazz music and old time crooners, but more importantly we have a huge amount of respect for each other. Also; he gives me as much guff as I give him, sometimes more even. Which is good.

Now, I will say this, if someone else had shouted “The layouts on fire!”

I would have been the first on scene. But Mr. Green Shirt, nah, it was his mess, he needed to clean it up and figure it out. I’m not there to hold his hand, I”m there to teach him and work with him. Besides, It was a bonding moment for the both of us.

Have a great week. I hope you have someone at work that gives you as much frustration, joy, laughter and friendship as I do. Oh, and the occasional proverbial heart attack.

Love you Mr. Green Shirt. Hope you dig this blog.