Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hole in one!

I was thinking about the days of working on construction sites tonight. Luckily I was thinking about something other than the time I dug three huge postholes in the rain. It was a bit rough. The rain was pouring down so hard I had to make little walls around the holes just to keep them from filling up with water. Not that it really mattered, I still had to use a small bucket to bail the water out occasionally. It was cold, but when you are working that hard you tend to stay warm. The job was located in Mill Creek WA, just south of Thrashers Corner, which sounds a lot cooler than it really is. Actually the Thrashers Corner Pub with all you can eat Dungeness crab on Thursday is the only interesting thing there. The job was a condo project and I was there a couple weeks working. A lot of times the roosters who ran wild on the property would crow incessantly, I tried to throw a shovel at one on another occasion. Anyway, on this particular rainy day the cock did not crow. In fact I bet it was hiding from the rain! But I was not. I dug two holes before lunch, and went for a drive just to use the heater and warm up. It took me the next four hours to finish the last hole. I was muddy, tired, and damn glad to be done. I was starting to put my tools away and get ready go, when the boss rolled up in his truck. "Nice work. Sorry about the weather". I agreed. Then he looked at the plans he had on the dash. "Oh shoot!" He said. "I screwed up. I only needed you to dig two holes! I'm really sorry. Hey do you mind filling that one on the south end up again? Sorry about that!" I just kind of laughed and picked up my shovel and started throwing dirt into the already muddy hole. I started by shoveling in the temporary walls.

"Another day in the fields, another day in the dirt"- Chris Gaffney

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Old men and dominos

It seems that one of the main inspirations in my life has come from old men. I don't know why but it's true. It could be the Old Spice smell they all seem to carry with them. Then again it could be the way faces and voices tend to get deep and wandering like a river in a canyon with the passing of time. It could simply be the way an old man's eyes twinkle when they are telling you a story they damn well know to be a lie but it's obvious that you believe it. Whatever the case may be, I have been drawn to old men since I was a small child.

When I was very young my best friend was an old man who lived next door to us. His name was Van Vanderhoff. He lived with his wife Celia (we called her Seal) in a tidy green two story house. They had a nice garden and well pruned trees. From what I can remember they had a lot of the knick-knacks old people like to keep around, like baskets of fake grapes, frog figurines and other nice things. I have no idea what we used to do, I probably told Van about dinosaurs while he watered the plants. I most certainly watched him as he filled the soda cans he kept buried in his garden with vinegar (they were buried just to the tops so he could fill them). He did this to keep the cats out of his garden. I can't remember if I told him I liked cats, but it makes sense that I would keep quite about such things. It is tough to be trapped between two friends. Well when I was 6 we moved away. I don't remember feeling sad to lose my best friend. That is one nice thing about old men, you know they will be OK, and I was off on a new adventure. Anyway, I knew he had Seal, plus we still visited on occasion.

There were always old men in my life, but I think the next time I really had a great friendship again was when I was 19 and moved to Mount Hermon CA to work at Mount Hermon Camp. I was a custodian and very happy to be in California. I was far from home and having the time of my life. One day early into my first summer I saw an old guy sitting out in front of the post office. We started talking and he said his name was Syd Ossenga. He was a true Dutchman. He was 84 years old I think when I first met him, and his biceps were hard as rocks. He used to love flexing so we could feel his arms. He liked doing this for the ladies too! I had the privilege over the next four years to spend some good time with old Syd. I used to stop by his house and he would tell me about his days in the war. About his wife who he still missed after 15 years. He told me about rolling full drums of oil while he worked at Standard Oil. I remember him talking about how when he came back from the war he hated God for causing all the death. Then through the love of his wife, family and friends, he found peace with God. So when he would laugh about how loud he liked to play his polka records on his stereo (and how surprised his neighbors always got), I could see his deep sincerity!

We exchanged a letter or two. I carried one around in my guitar case for a couple years. I felt bad because the last few times I went down there, the days I saw his car out front I did not stop. This was either because I had been drinking with my friends, or was going somewhere. I tried to see him, but we always missed each other. Now, if he is still alive I would be shocked. It has been 12 years since I met him, which would make him 96. but you never know. My great grandmother lived to be 104. and she did not enter a rest home until she was 98, so I just might see him again. At the same time, I do regret those few times I wanted to stop by but I didn't. Somehow, at the same time I am sure old Syd would just laugh and smile, and say thank you for stopping by the times that you did!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The things that make us who we are

When I was in high school, my main motivation was to stay out of trouble. Well to be a little more accurate, it was to cause as much trouble as humanly possible without getting caught. Really the difference is very slight, but it can become less slight when it is from the perspective of police officers, teachers and parents, as opposed to the young and not so innocent "victim". In the early days when I was 15 I really went wild because I knew enough about the legal system to know that a juvenile offender would never do time over a non-violent crime, so long as it was the first offence. So I was a bold young blade and went through probably a 6 month period of intense kleptomania, culminating in a felony, which I might describe at another juncture.

I give this preface so that you will understand that as a junior, the fact that I was smoking pot and drinking beer will not seem so bad. In fact I kind of got too lazy for most things except the occasional vandalism. The most amazing thing was that during my junior year I had actually become interested in school, albeit welding class, before which we tried to get as stoned as possible. For readers who are upset by this, please let me state that I am not endorsing this, merely stating facts of life. And these facts can sometimes be a painful reality. Well the truth be told, during these classes I started to realize that I had skills. I had skills that were seen as valuable in the outside world. I could make things out of metal that the greater majority of people could not. For the first time in my life I had something that I enjoyed which set me apart (I did not count the fact that I could read faster than most people as something of great value). By my senior year I was excited about the possibility of graduating and working in some kind of fabrication shop.

So in the spring of 1997, I walked down the aisle of the local community college, received my diploma from my begrudging arch-nemesis Vice Principal Mike Bacigalupi, and never looked back. I wanted to be as far away as possible from high school, a place I will forever associate with feelings of insecurity and few real friendships (at least the early years). I had been hired as the deburring tech at a shop called Universal Sheet Metal in Woodinville Washington. I had a truck, a stereo, and I was eager to go. Of course I was still listening to a lot of rap music back then so my playlists were really weird. I would go from Neil Young to the Wu Tang Clan and not even think anything of it. Oh yes, I should talk about my job!

The work I did was interesting to me at the time. When Sheldon the press operator punched out the pieces (steel, aluminum, and stainless), he sent them to me. I had to break the pieces out of the frame, take the set of pieces, and grind off the burrs left from the punching process. I wore a lab coat, like some kind of nerd grinderman. I was proud of my job, and proud of how fast I could deburr. Occasionally I got to substitute on the timesaver for Stuart, the king of grime. He was a big seemingly dumb giant, who for the entire time I worked there called me "Eon". It never bothered me and I never corrected him. I also got to help Justin the long hair, whose job it was to use a hydraulic press to punch hardware into preexisting holes, so the customer would have threaded nuts to attach things to. One of the things we made at Universal consisted of some huge pieces of heavy gauge material. I finally asked my boss Steve what they were, and in a hushed voice, so that no passersby might hear, he explained that they were the boxes that housed the automated telemarketing systems. The ones which call you during dinner time, and when you pick up say "Please hold, we would like you to take our automated survey about how to better improve our customer service" or some nonsense. Anyway, I felt pretty bad about that. It was almost like being told that we were building nukes. But I needed the money so I soldiered on.

During this time I was taking night welding classes with my good friend Joel, we were the two youngsters in the class, and I think at the time we both knew pretty much everything. So we sat in the back and acted cool. It was during this class that I dropped a 4x8 sheet of steel on my toe, causing an ingrown toenail which I fight to this day. It was fun working hard in the daytime and staying up late doing more work, but for what it is worth, I have had much harder jobs since then.

I will close with a funny story. We used to have meetings every other week or so at Universal, team meetings of sorts to improve productivity etc. Personally I thought they were great because it was a break from work. I tried to participate because I like to discuss things, and I did want to help improve the company. Well, at one meeting somebody brought up the fact that the soap in the bathroom was sliding all over the counter, which made the bathroom look terrible to customers. I kept quiet. But when the topic had been brought up again, the next time in a company wide meeting, I could not hold back. So towards the end of the team meeting, I raised my hand and asked if the soap on the counter was still a problem. It was I was told. So I said, "Then why don't we get a soap dish?". I was greeted by stunned looks. And bless my soul, if we did not have new soap dishes the very next day!

Some of the things I like!

I just opened a message from a friend which had some questions about what I liked. To be honest it took me by surprise. Currently I am really trying to just survive and get back on my feet after a financially draining summer. My outlook can be a little dim, I have to deal not only with reality, but advice, advice, and more advice. It can be extremely exhausting. so when I started thinking about things I liked, I just got happy! So here goes, things I like:

The first question was the old standby, what is your favorite color? To me this is a no-brainer. Like most European men, I prefer the color blue. I don't know why but studies show that this is the case. I appreciate this fact because I am someone who is often told that I am different/strange/a fuddy duddy, etc. So when I read a statistic that puts me right in the middle of the crowd, just one of the sheep, I feel kind of good. It is a little bit different from the time when a professor told me to study "Art Brut" for inspiration. She said my art reminded her of that. When I said I had no idea what "Art Brut" was, she replied "The art of the retarded and the insane". Now in this case I felt I was not average. In fact I was a little upset. Then I started to think about it. I realized that those people were doing art for themselves. They were not trying to fit in with the masses, appeal to critics, or even impress the opposite sex. They were simply creating because they had to. It was a compulsion felt deep within the soul rather than something that has been made to sound important, or cultivated to be "enriched" or "refined". Often as a matter of  fact the technical craftsmanship of crazy people is better than someone with an MFA.Why? Because of the spilled blood and tears, the agony and ecstacy. Anyway, I like the color blue.

My favorite album is called "Lucky Day" it is by a guy named Jonathan Edwards. Now mind you I was a radio DJ and have thousands of albums, but for some reason this one is it. I don't even play it for people. I think I have played it for a couple, but I love it so much that I don't want to talk while it is playing. I don't want conversation to ruin it for me. As a matter of fact I am surprised that I am going to even write this piece. The funny thing is that I am sure it is not the best album ever made, maybe even by the artist himself. It could have to do with the time that I listened to it, the timbre of the combined instrument, the sound of the crowd (it was recorded live in Cambridge MA). Anyway, I am not going to tell you again, and you cannot buy it in stores. As far as I know you would have to download it or buy it in vinyl (I have both)! So go get it if you want!

My favorite boss was Josh "Swivelhips" Watkins, formerly of Olsson Mfg ( Why because he is awesome. He is also 6'8" so I quizzed him on the feasibility of driving a VW Rabbit. He said it is possible. I asked if it looked stupid he said yes. This questioning was born from the fact that in The Twilight books, the character Jacob Black drove a Rabbit and was 6'8". OK no more on that subject!

I like Asian food. I like trains. I like driving. I like guitars with thick strings and somewhat high action. I like tube amplifiers. I like water color pencils. I like collared greens. I like going to movies by myself. I like the smell of old books. I like swimming. I like gospel music. I like art museums. I like trains!

Monday, September 27, 2010

At least I got out of Forks with my spoon in hand!

So let me tell you friend. It was a long, hot, and crazy summer in Forks Washington. I don't think I have ever been as close to a nervous breakdown in my life. It started essentially when I quit my job at Olsson Mfg, makers of "First class Davit's" (more on davit's later, you can go to to see my former work). I knew that I was going to be able to survive in Forks. In fact prior to summer I thought I would thrive. I had every reason to believe that the Twilight tourism boom was real. I also had very good reason to believe that people everywhere, from all walks of life thought I was Robert Pattinson (star of The Haunted Airmen, Little Ashes, and The Twilight saga), or at least some kind of relative of his.

So I did what it took to get myself out there, with computers, cameras, and a trusty companion, my good friend Lando. We were both at the end of our dead-end jobs, having worked in the trades since graduating from Central Washington University, with art degrees. So now, since we had no kids, a good shot at some money, and we were sick of our jobs we left. This of course is much simplified. It leaves out an album I am working on, some random twidentification, not to mention the fact that I had to make up the word twidentified in the first place (urban dictionary, look it up)! That is fine, I am still going to write a book, so I must keep some secrets.

Anyhow, when we got to Forks we learned a lot. And we learned it fast. First thing was that it is great to look like a guy who is rumored to have body odor and not shower. When you are running a two man operation, in which one man is posing with random and assorted strangers at random and assorted times, sometimes the strangers are going to catch the one man at times when he is not ready to be caught! So we tried to keep deodorant around in a lot of different places. There were some fairly tense moments. with customers in the shop wanting pictures, me looking for deodorant without them knowing. Lando sitting at his computer, angry that I couldn't find it. Also he lost his sense of smell from a skateboarding accident, so was of little help anyway!

Second, when (apparently) you look like a teen idol, your biggest fans will run away! This was not something I was at all prepared for. In fact it was shocking. But it happened time and again. I had a few who ran come back later, and a lot of them were still freaked out! So we lost money that way.

Third, it takes good friends to work, live, and travel together and never really get into a fight. I think that in itself is a victory. We had some tense moments, we had to have some tough conversations, but at the end of the day we were still on the same team. So I feel like though we are not wealthy, or even lower middle class, we still did some good this summer. I know for a fact that we made a lot of people happy, had a lot of fun, and of course we aren't perfect, but I think we had a positive impact throughout our summer!

Anyway, the stress of the whole summer was compounded by the lack of money we made, but at least we aren't in debt, we made it through alive. And thanks to the tourism, and the risk we took, we were able to meet some truly wonderful people. People we never would have met. In fact I would not be here today writing this if not for all my wonderful new friends. So I am writing this to say thanks for the support, and see you down the road!