Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
There is good Internet information on the Harmonys, Stellas, Silvertones, and a dozen other brands produced at the two huge factories in Chicago until its closure in 1975, but not much on these produced after 1979 when the Harmony name was highjacked for Asian-made models (this one was produced 1985 - 1987). The original Harmony never copied the Gibson and Fender style leaders exactly (the H19 was REAL close to the Jaguar -- what a honey), and you gotta love their crazy designs like the H14 Bobkat and the far-out Stratotone. How many scrawny teenagers pored over the Sears and Penneys catalogs filled with gaudy color photos of Harmonys that could be theirs for the unattainable sum of $160? Paper routes were manned, and grass was cut, to make it happen: they manufactured 1,000 a day.
I'm itching to take it apart, especially to clean up those pots and look for loose or broken wires, but I've never taken strings off or put them on, and if you don't know what you're doing, harm is what you'll end up doing. Music-shop service/repair costs between what local electricians and plumbers charge, so that's not the way to go.
Until I figure something out, I'll just keep on wasting away in Retroville!
December 2012 update: I've decided to go full mod, despite the fact that I like its original look so much. The plan is to create an homage to surf music: refinish the body in a pearly silver-grey and screen print a splash of hibiscus flowers on it in black, and sand off the headstock to remove the logo and have "Silver Surfer" printed on it. Then, the local expert shop in Lemoyne will replace the electronics (as soon as they find suitable single-coil pickups) and install flat-wound strings. Then, of course, I've got to get a reverb unit; I'm thinking the Danelectro Spring King. A smaller black pickguard, still to be found, will finish the transformation. Surf City, here I come!
Friday, November 27, 2009
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Two posts ago, I was discussing how the amount of control you have over your life seems to be the most basic determinant of your health, mental and physical. "Dr." Ralph is 86 and still does 100 shows a year, so he would be a good example. He has maintained control (no outside management) of his life and career with a laser-like concentration, never comprimising his simple, solid values. He worked for somebody else about 6 months out of his long life. He thinks everyone has a gift, but so many do not ever find it and are thus at the not-so-tender mercies of others.
I found this twice in my working years, and treasure those times -- the idea of never having experienced that leaves me feeling very bad for those who haven't. 'Way back at the beginning of this blog, I mentioned my first real job working at WFMV-FM in Richmond, and how lucky I was to fall into the perfect combination: on my own, editing the news and selecting music to play, writing brief intros to introduce the next selections, watching the equipment carefully, keeping the FCC logs meticulously and having full responsibility for the whole works at a young age. Being paid (poorly) to learn so much was a thrill, too. I met quite a variety of people; we were even invited to dedicated listeners' homes for dinner and discussion. I had my first and only meeting with the Virginia State Police late one evening, when it was cold and raining and I hadn't gone outside to check the tower lights since dusk (of course, that's when the top one went out). Someone, somewhere noticed and called them, thank heaven -- taught me to not let things slip, because for the want of a horseshoe a kingdom (or a small airplane) could be lost...
It was a sad day beyond telling when the station ran out of money and sold the frequency to an easy-listening chain from the Midwest; we were replaced by tape machines. We got to split up the music library, though, and I've enjoyed selling them all over the world via e-Bay recently: I've had those gems long enough and it's time to give away, and give back.
After years of working with and for idiots, getting back to this type of sweet spot didn't happen; I made it happen. It didn't even last a year, but I proved my point about supervision just getting in the way. I had started with ASCC, a communications company headquartered north of Pittsburgh, when they got the contract for the new Keystone state office building in downtown Harrisburg. They needed to hire a large local crew for the duration; most of us hoped to remain on after it was completed. About five of us did; we stayed on most of the following year performing the "adds and changes," as they call it, sometimes re-doing whole office and courtroom areas. This made the company so much (taxpayers') money they bought their own new office building and several vehicles. We each got a big bonus, too. Most of our work was wasted: an extensive daycare area was never used (we had even wired the outside play area for audio and video); an entire complex was changed after we had crawled under the floor for two weeks to cable it for all the computer, phone, audio and video you could possibly cram into it; I cabled each of four outside entrances similarly (in 15-degree weather) only to have it all covered over with stainless steel panels; the granite-floored foyer and 9 floors' worth of receptionist offices were both completely cabled -- none of it ever used. An outstanding example of no control: your time, efforts and considerable material wasted due to the incompetence of well-paid authorities. We then did school after school (talk about frustration and waste) until the company landed what is called a multi-site contract. With these, one or two people travel to local sites of some large corporation and perform the same task, the challenge being to figure out different buildings quickly and trim your time down with increasing efficiency: we could see that responsibility and decision-making would be in our hands (yay) and we'd be out of those stifling schools (yay again). They were working on several of these (Fed Ex, Sheetz, Radio Shack, a reginal gas pipeline, Health South, retail chain's distribution centers) as big electrical contractors were successfuly taking the educational contracts from us (yay).
One of the Keystone alums, Bill, is my age and we worked together in the "adds and changes" phase and on several subsequent projects. We jumped at the chance to be an on-the-road team for the Health South nationwide satellite TV project, the first (and a sort of trial) of these multi-site deals. Bill isn't a drug-infested redneck smoker like half the other guys, and is level-headed. I thought we'd make a good team, and saw a chance to get out of the clusterf--- that was the usual big project. We got a Lowe's charge card and a Wright fuel card, a claptrap used-up Chevy van, and a portable television monitor, loaded up a heap of our own tools and supplies, and lit out from Pittsburgh. The project coordinator would fax us the work orders and Mapquest directions (what would a GPS have done for us!! I can assure you Mapquest is wrong half the time) on Sunday afternoon and we would meet up and hit the road at 7 am Monday. Now, satellite TV is not rocket science, I'll admit, but being free was worth the lack of mental challenge. Figuring out how to do each site was -- I recall the time we had to go from the roof of a four-story gym complex in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, down through a row of offices, down masonry walls, across the ceiling over an indoor pool, and down to the reception area while hundreds of people were in, out and around. Without ticking people off.
I still chuckle to think of the other two-man crews and what they did with that freedom: descending into drug and alcohol delerium, doing such shoddy work we would in the future spend half of each week cleaning up the messes, apologizing for their smoking and cursing everywhere. The clinic in Somerset, Kentucky, was hating on the previous crew so much we spent lots of extra time smoothing them over and doing a meticulously neat job to show that you do not have to be an immature redneck to do physical work. That got back to the project manager as we had hoped, and (1) three crews were dispatched to their just rewards (2) we got that baby-blue Dodge van in great shape which served us so well (3) gave us the leverage to put my plan into action.
That plan was to wrest control of our schedule from the manager (he set appointment times for each job -- absolutely nonsensical: a job could take 15 minutes or 10 hours; you never knew). My scheme was for him to send me the work orders, let us pre-contact the sites, and I would arrange the schedule and research the directions. I had two binders: one with the orders arranged geographically and with detailed directions, and one with those pulp motel-coupon fliers you find at interstate rest stops arranged in order, state by state. We got a per diem payment, and with careful management of expenses and the route, saved the company a great deal of money and made a lot for ourselves. Without superivsion, we managed the supplies so well there was no waste and hardly any trash. We utilized time so well by ourselves that were back in Pittsburgh by Thursday noon, restocked, and were back home for three-day weekends. If you have a little bit of sense and control over what you're doing, things become ridiculously easy. I can think of so many other places and times when that would have worked just as well, but there was no escaping the disastrous supervision.
We snagged a smaller operation at power plants; they didn't hire another crew since we could fit those less numerous jobs in on Fridays. I'll never forget how hard it was to find the one in southwestern New Jersey, on the Delaware Bay; due to security considerations, they're not on maps and there is no signage. That one we found after four hours by going through a church parking lot, down a one-lane dirt road, and through the woods. Believe it or not, the locals didn't even know it was there! At another, it poured down rain the whole day; it's not so easy hauling a satellite dish, eight cement blocks, stand, and monitor up a metal roof with a torrent of cold water rushing down it. Still, when it was done and we were wringing our socks out in the employee cafeteria (which had closed -- no food or coffee to be had), we both agreed it was STILL better than being part of a moron crew with no autonomy -- being tired wet, cold, but free and prosperous was a very good feeling. And we were done for the week, because we followed our own plan.
We got the nickname "The Noise Boyz" on our best day. We had to go back to the Columbus, Ohio Health South location for the second time because they had lost their signal again. The disk was somewhat sheltered from the wind, so we couldn't figure out why it was off location, but after studying the whole roof, saw that someone had been repairing small areas and just moved it out of their way. The director, a tall redhead who thought everything, especially us, was quite amusing, was glad to find out we weren't just doing a bad job, and bestowed the name on us, saying we were welcome to come back anytime. In all the states we visited, we only ran across one sourpuss, in Wilkes-Barre, and we concluded that having to live there would have that effect on anyone! When we arrived back in Pittsburgh late on that Thursday evening, we had done 9 jobs in four states, having started out there early that freezing morning (we had run out of non-Lowe's supplies so had to loop back). That record impressed the project manager mightily; but -- rather than ratcheting us up to the really good, long trips to Florida, Texas, California and -- eventually! -- Hawaii, we found out soon after that he had screwed up the whole deal and Health South said SEE YA! It was a long time until the FedEx and Sheetz projects would start, so we had to give up the baby-blue van and go do a new elementary school in York County, PA. We did a good job until we got supervision for the fiber-optic portion of the job, and then just dragged ourselves through to the end.
Since we didn't have to travel with a repellent crew who wanted to eat at convenience stores and truck stops, smoke and go to bars at 1 a.m., we saw some interesting places and met many nice people. The ladies at the Augusta, Georgia clinic were all dressed as if for an evening event and could not have been more gracious. The staff at Nashville downtown were hilarious; we were all laughing so hard our sides hurt. In Pulaski, Tennessee, they had a downtown car dealership (disappearing from small towns rapidly elsewhere) and a soda fountain with 5-cent Cokes. The KKK was founded there, but it was a nice town I'd visit again anytime. In northern Georgia, we saw a white marble elementary school on a hill -- they quarry so much marble there it was just donated to build the school. In suburban Charleston, South Carolina, we arrived late in the afternoon and had a heck of a time getting through the ceiling of two buildings (about 5" clearance) from dish to TV location, so were nowhere near finishing at a reasonable hour, but the last staff member volunteered to stay until we were wrapped up at 10 p.m., saying she had to study anyway. That allowed us to head home Friday morning, and we rode up the coast on a beautiful one-day vacation and visited Bill's in-laws in a little paradise called Sunset Beach. EVERYTHING falls into place when you are in control, and you work hard on what you're doing and how you do it.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
"Anarcho-cyclicalists were socialists who could not bring themselves to believe in Marx. Bakunin was a flaming anachronist. Anarchism is a system of government headed by an Anarch. Canada, for example, became an anarchy in 1867."
--Despite this, it's been pretty calm there for quite a while.
"St. Teresa of Avila was a carmelized nun."
--That Spanish sun is wicked, all right.
"John Huss refused to decant his ideas about the church and was therefore burned as a steak."
--What is it about religious figures and the Food Network?
"When they finally got to Italy, the Australian Goths were tired of plungering and needed to rest. Italy was ruled by the Visible Goths, while France and Spain were ruled by the Invisible Goths."
--Led by Alice Cooper, probably.
"Plato invented reality. He was teacher to Harris Tottle, author of The Republicans. Lust was a must for the Epicureans. Others were the Vegetarians and the Synthetics, who said, "If you can't play with it, why bother?"
--C+. You left out the Plasmatics.
"The ball of events and stoppers that were used to stop it from rolling only added to its momentum which kept it rolling."
--This HAS to be the work of John McCain.
It looks like those parents who paid the tuition for these earnest scholars are due a refund.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Monday, October 5, 2009
Monday, September 28, 2009
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
"What's the new Renaissance?"
"It's similar to the Italian Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when geniuses like Erasmus, Leonardo and Michelangelo rejected the limitations of the present and the oppressive conventions of their own time and turned instead to the past. We're beginning to see a return to a magical language, to alchemy and the idea of the Mother Goddess, to people reclaiming the freedom to do what they believe in and not what the church or the government demand of them. As in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Florence, we are discovering that the past contains the answers to the future."
It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn't matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over. Slowly, I began to realize that I could not go back and force things to be as they once were...
When the Unwanted Guest arrives...
I might be afraid.
Or I might say:
My day was good, let night fall.
You will find the fields ploughed, the house clean,
the table set,
and everything in its place.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Friday, August 21, 2009
Friday, August 14, 2009
Sunday, August 9, 2009
You wouldn't be here to wonder about it, most likely.
a sound investment
a conservative plan for the future
How are a Zen monk and a loaded pizza alike?
They're both one with everything.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Ron and Claire's extra-nice neighbors, Eric and Chris, took their sons and me to the big official opening event on the lawn between the rose garden and the Mission (the Queen of the 18th-century California missions, the only one still staffed by Franciscans). We were pretty far from the stage set up in front of the facade with the magnificent twin bell towers, but it was splashed with colorful light to highlight the dancers and musicians, and the sound was perfect, so with a full moon behind us it was a magic evening. The above lady in the all-white flamenco dress is this year's Spirit of Fiesta, Daniela Zermeno. I wish I could have found and posted the picture that was on the front page of the paper today, with her twirling a gigantic white shawl. If I lived here, I'd have a caballero's outfit, for sure. You know, the Zorro look!
At 7 a.m. this morning, my new bud Eric showed me how to get on the trail around the Mesa that the horse riders use (step CAREFULLY), a blissfully serene 5-mile amble which on one part runs right along the cliff edge overlooking the ocean. We found lots of wild fennel; the tiny new leaves taste exactly like black licorice. Pelicans were diving, precisely, to ruin some fish's day, but we didn't see any dolphins or whales, or any more than two other humans. Reading the paper after returning, I learn that great white sharks are now plentiful in the Channel, and are nipping at sea lions and harbor seals. Good thing the water's too cold to go out in!
Monday, August 3, 2009
Saturday, August 1, 2009
I won't detail the horrors of cattlecars-in-the-air, since you've all been there too, except to note that in the Minneapolis airport I was surprised to discover how fast and far I can still run.
While Ron and Claire were busy packing for their trip to Asia and doing the thousand other things that had to be wrapped up, I just sat outside like a zombie, not only to stay out of their way, but because that's all I was up to doing. The gentle weather has been healing, and I'll never fail to be amazed at the wonderful food growing in the yard: apples, apricots, tomatoes and oranges. The hibiscus and roses aren't edible, but feed the spirit.
Yesterday morning I was pumped up to take that lovely 2 1/2 mile round-trip walk to Java Station, and check on any changes during the past year, before diving into that lovely sixteen ounces of Kona coffee. But, aaargh! -- my favorite yellow-painted wood tables outside are GONE, an action taken by the new owners. The endless wait to get into the unisex restroom remains the same.
Two houses that had been for sale for over a year had the signs down, but may not have sold. The six lovely new Spanish-style houses at the very end of Vieja Rd., two blocks away from Ron's, are all STILL for sale over a year after they were finished (there are currently over 2,000 homes on the market in L.A., Ventura and Santa Barbara counties priced at $2 million or more. That's just unreal). Our favorite place, on the end of the spur and backing up to the vast and undeveloped Mesa bordering the ocean, has been reduced from $2 mil to $1.8 mil -- when Nancy comes out, we have to hop on that deal!
Well, probably not.
Saw a sign on the back of a truck yesterday: Sodem & Gromora Landscaping.
I wish I could transport (NOT by plane) all you out here to walk along Old Vieja Road, which shows as a regular route on the map, but is anything but. Half is paved, with beautiful, peaceful houses and estates, but then it ends at a metal barricade, with a low section for horse riders to pass over. From then on it's dirt, bordered by dozens of huge eucalyptus trees, exuding that unmistakable Vicks VapORub odor. Their smooth trunks are swirled with subtle colors that have no names and would drive someone who's tripping right over the edge (disclaimer: this blog does not advocate altered states of consciousness, in public at least). Great mounds of some species of shrub are covered with red flowers whose petals look and feel just like tissue paper. Hundreds of horseshoe impressions indent the dusty trail, and of course you have large steaming mounds of horse product to step around. Astonishingly rural scenes in the midst of uber-class surburbia: not only many horses, but chickens, ducks and goats while Audis are parked in driveways. You know the Corollas belong to the maids.
Weird Scene on De La Vina Street: I went to a free music event held in the performance space next to Jensen's Guitar & Music last night, billed as "Noise/Experimental/?" The first group, Soul Manure, "played" a fairly long piece with an old Japanese movie projected on the back curtain, a TV on showing skateboarding, and instrumentation of violin, guitar, electric bass played with a bow, and keyboard. Second, a soloist from L.A. sat on the floor in the dark with one blue light, playing long sustained notes on an old Fender, with an iPod providing whooshing sea sounds and then what must have been a hurricane in progress. He said he was on tour for 2 1/2 weeks, so there must be an audience here for this digital-age Warhol happening stuff. Who knew?
I bought a cool 45-watt used amp at Jensen's, same brand I have at home, but this one has a fuzz-type effect on one channel. I was lucky it was a good buy, but boy are things more expensive out here (about 9.5% sales tax, too).
On the national scene, a clever writer in the Washington Post skewered Fox Noise nicely:
"The world. Flat. We report, you decide." Teach the controversy!
The sun's out now, so I must be too. Your intrepid reporter will probably have some more odd tales to relate, so tune in next week!
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
A little moral drama, an impasse, a Sophie's or Hobson's Choice: yesterday I ended the life of a seedling hickory tree growing up with the lilac just behind our house. It was most likely the scion of the old hickory about two blocks away, cut down due to disease this Spring. Was this its only viable offspring, the last of its line? It had grown lushly for about three years, but you can't have a potentially huge hardwood tree two feet from the foundation (so it was him or us). I would not have mourned a weed tree, but a hickory seems almost a native aristocrat. That same day I saw a tulip poplar seedling out front poking through the pachysandra, this time a foot from the garage foundation. Am I being tested?
Random thoughts + Internet access + Wikipedia = instant gratification/huge time suck.
I've been coming up with stand-alone verses (possibly planted in my head by some playful Muse) for decades now. I work on them a little until they sound good, with a clearly enigmatic meaning, but never expand them into a poem or song. Like clouds floating by, they have a shape and existence for a while, but no future.
What recession? The roads and parking lots are jammed, places are crowded, and some stores and restaurants bustle just like in boom times. Maybe under the surface it's like India, with more and more people swirling about, but the wealth is just sucked upward with increasing intensity.
Brother Ron says when I get out to California next week, expect to see the orange trees and apple tree full of fruit, the tomatoes producing a cornucopia, and the flowers putting on a lavish Fashion Week. One large homestead near the creek, I remember, has the entire front 1/2 acre in citrus trees, roses, and even artichokes -- nothing like that around here. I am saddened, though, to see the orange, grapefruit and lemon trees left unharvested, piles of fruit just so much trash under the limbs to eventually clean up. Could anyone be bored with paradise?
Starting to re-read James T. Farrell's classic Studs Lonigan trilogy. Has any student or critic noticed the similarity between the title character and Rabbit in Updike's series? Updike was an acute outside observer, whereas Farrell used his own life and experiences extensively, so the point of view is different, but the theme of spiritual poverty in the under-, working, and lower middle classes rings as true today as ever.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Monday, July 13, 2009
Friday, July 10, 2009
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
Starting with the local, two examples: the new hotel a few blocks away closed a few weeks after opening, is still just sitting there, and not a word in the local paper. Twenty pages of high school news and sports, though. I and a co-worker were interviewed and photographed for a story on the expansion of the science museum in the 90s. Half of what I said was misquoted, the photo showed nothing, and nothing interesting made it into the story. Okay, another old example: when I lived on Hanover Avenue, a serial killer/mutilator was working in the neighborhood (I got some details from a cop who lived two doors away). Nothing, ever, in the paper about it. That was actually news we could have used!
Rus made a stellar point in his RTD forum, Unceremoniously Dispatched: journalism school does not emphasize writing -- the reporting should be accurate and thorough, but it needs to be interesting. NOT crudely titillating, but with telling details, color and meaning. And if newspapers and other media "don't tell us what we really want to know," -- and that is so true -- I'd say the majority of the readership or listenership doesn't even want to know what they should know; they just chase sensation.
Every day in our paper and on the air, people quote the iconic Reagan line (written by a speechwriter, but always credited to the amiable moron), "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" as the defining moment of the fall of the Soviet empire. This, media world, is not what happened at all. Today columnist Thomas Friedman pointed out what everyone seemingly has never known, much less forgotten: the body blow which felled the Soviets dates to September 1985, when Sheikh Yamani, oil minister of Saudi Arabia (pictured above), boldly decided to stop protecting oil prices so when that nation boosted its production fourfold, it would again dominate the market with a lot of product as prices went into a freefall. While it made billions on high oil income in the 70s, the Soviet Union wasted the funds on continuing the creaky status quo and engaging in military adventure in Afghanistan (which history teaches no one should ever attempt). Oh -- does this sound familiar (no reform under the Republican Congress and then trillion-dollar foreign adventures under Bush/Cheney)?? The essential center of the economic/political story since 1970 (when domestic oil production peaked and the balance of power shifted to Eurasia) has been OIL PRICES. Which direction trillions of dollars goes for energy supplies is THE news story, not Michael Jackson's or Newt Gingrich's mental problems. Whether lobbyists successfully disable thorough banking, energy and health reform, or we soon start recharging our electric cars almost for free from our home solar panels or wind turbines is the next big story.
Will anyone write it? Will anyone care enough to read it?