May 24, 2011
Just as the sun rises and sets, the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano, and the idiot in the mini-van sitting at the green light is on a cell phone, some things are inevitable. That some things are always thus and so brings sense to our chaotic world. Those constants balance the great unknown random nature of our lives giving us a sense of order if at times it is in reality only a mere illusion. Thank heavens sometimes you just know what is going to happen next.
So it was on a balmy Georgia evening that we struck out on an excursion to Atlanta’s Turner Field to watch our Braves baseball team do battle. We lost that night, but that’s neither here nor there. We sat in the lower deck at first base, seats perfect to view the event. I sat next to my wife, who sat next to our daughter, who sat next to her boyfriend. We watched the score go back and forth as the evening progressed. They call baseball the “great American pastime”. I think that “they” are quite correct.
Turner Field is my favorite place to watch a baseball game. I have watched baseball in other venues, but nothing has the same intimate feel of Turner Field. It was built for the 1996 Summer Olympics with a capacity of just over 50,000. It’s not a huge stadium, nor is it a small one, but for me is perfectly sized. The sense of intimacy may be due to how it’s built, but I think it’s more about how games are presented. While I suspect that things are pretty much the same way everywhere, I notice real differences here in the South. For one thing, when folks up North break out the umbrellas it means the rain is beginning to pour. Down here it’s just as likely to be sunny and ninety-five. Up North folks worship the sun, down here we tolerate and survive it. Umbrellas are just as much for sunny days.
Weather besides, and again maybe it’s no different here than anywhere else, but games have a real friendly family atmosphere. It’s not only a matter of Southern hospitality or politeness, but a certain gentility. Understand that I’m not saying that it’s lacking anywhere else, it’s just that here it is so obvious. With that as a basis, so much of what happens beyond the game itself only adds to the intimate feeling of the venue. Central to the fun is the JumboTron. These days all stadiums have JumboTrons. It is essential to offer entertainment above and beyond the game itself to fill in what can be relatively long gaps in the action. There are always extended periods of “dead air” that need to be filled by more than just the ubiquitous organ player playing the theme to “The Addams Family”. So, and again I suppose it’s the same here as everywhere else, but we have fun with the JumboTron. We see on the big screen folks just like us who have their moment in the sun for a brief moment, or, who have the hell embarrassed out of them. There are fun games like the Home Depot tool race and putting couples up on the big screen and not letting them off the hook until they smooch. One of my favorites is when they find folks in the audience who look like celebrities or famous people and supply the appropriate caption. There’s all kinds of hijinx and tomfoolery and it’s all done in the spirit of fun. The audience really becomes part of the game, and maybe this is a bit dramatic, but there is a strong sense of humanity and a feeling of what is good about the world. Folks at peace and having fun. It’s kind of the A Plan.
At any rate, there the four of us were munching on hotdogs watching our Braves get throttled. With things headed well south there were lots of pitching changes with the associated downtime while the new pitcher warmed up. That’s exactly when the center field JumboTron can be a real crowd-pleaser. On this particular evening we were in for a treat. And what a Jumbotron. At 71 feet by 79 feet it was once in the Guiness Book of World Records. Beyond it’s gargantuan size, whoever ran the cameras and coordinates that aspect of the event was really on top of his game that evening, even if the Braves weren’t. The Jumbotron wizard was in rare form. He (I’ll assume it was a “he”) found someone who looked just like Santa, panning to Gerald Ford, and then sweeping across the field to Abraham Lincoln. Around here finding folks who look like Jimmy Carter is like shooting fish in a barrel. Lots of folks look like Jimmy Carter in Georgia and would have been no challenge at all. Heck, he had couples smooching who hadn’t smooched for years. He had folks dancing in the aisles. And better yet, whoever was making the calls had a keen eye for finding families from all walks of life who were just downright happy to be there making one and all just downright happy to be there as well. And then, just as play was about to resume, he hit paydirt.
As the players moved into position for play the camera settled on a mother and son. As the camera zoomed in, their image larger than any screen idol had ever been, the screen was filled by the image of a beautiful Southern woman, a shining beacon of motherhood. Bouncing on her knee was her too-cute-for-words toe-headed son who was maybe all of four years old. Norman Rockwell would been up like a shot and running for his sketch pad to capture the moment. It was pure Americana. It was the kind of scene that makes one feel good about things and believe that all is well and that maybe there is a future. The scene on display was sheer propaganda for the goodness of the human race. As it turned out it was to be more than that.
Andy Warhol coined the term “fifteen minutes of fame”. Whether we will each have that fifteen minutes is very much in doubt, but, this young lad at his mother’s side was going to have his fifteen seconds. As the camera zoomed in further, and the mother realized that they were on screen, she beamed a huge smile. Unbeknownst to her another event was unfolding just below her. Just like that rising and setting sun, and those swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, what was to happen next was inevitable. I have to think that most of the 51,000 folks in the stadium also knew what was going to happen next. The only person in the stadium who most certainly didn’t know was that little toe-headed boy’s mother, I can assure you of that.
So, as the camera zoomed in even further, mother and son filing the screen, that little boy extended the first finger of his right hand. With that finger fully extended it began a beeline course, just like those swallows heading back to San Juan, straight for his right nostril. Mom, still beaming into the camera, had no inkling that a finger/nose docking maneuver was under way and was imminent. She might have sensed it coming. Just before his digit found its target a sudden hush had fallen over the crowd. It was almost as if we were willing that finger upward, holding our breath. It really wasn’t necessary. As I have said, some things are inevitable.
When that finger finally found home the stadium erupted into a roar of applause and cheers the likes of which I have never heard before. It was at that point that mom figured that something might be amiss. The smile on her face faltered. As her instincts kicked in she looked down at her son, his finger firmly implanted in nose. The look on her face had changed from one of pure glee to one of absolute horror. And just to make sure everyone knew what the score was the boy gave his finger, nostril bulging, a good wiggle. With that wiggle the roar of the crowd rose to epic proportions. With the genie out of the bottle all mom was left to do was to reach down and pluck her son’s finger from his nose. Then, as she looked back up in the camera, and I’m sure that many might have been feeling for her, especially the mothers, the look of horror melted away and she broke out into a fit of unbridled laughter. We weren’t laughing at anyone, but all together, 51,000 of us, were celebrating the wonderful innocent act of a little boy who was at a time and place where we had all been before. It was a celebration of the human condition, one to which we could all relate. How amazing that a finger in a nostril could be the source of such a strong human bond. The moment over, the camera moved on.
So, that little boy and his mother had their fifteen seconds of fame. I suspect that they may well have their remaining fourteen minutes and forty-five some time down the road. Sometimes you can just tell.
After that the fireworks that followed the game were a letdown, but, life was good.
April 19, 2011
It is only now, months later, that I am able to get past the horror of what I witnessed and am able to recount the events that unfolded in the local post office. It happened on a day, one not unlike today, tomorrow, or yesterday. For those of you with delicate sensibilities please be forewarned that what I am about to impart may be troubling. If you are about to take nourishment, or have recently done so, I would advise that you exit now.
With what I do I find myself in the local post office three or four times in a week. Despite being a thriving city of sixty thousand we only have two post office branches, each staffed with two or three clerks at any one time. Four to six souls isn’t one heck of a lot to serve sixty thousand people. As you might imagine, the lines can be out the door. Fortunately most of my shipping is within the US via Priority Mail which allows me to skip the lines and use the automated postal machines. Unfortunately, when I’m shipping international or via Express Mail, I must wait in line. So, with both international and Express mail to ship, it was on a very balmy North Georgia afternoon, thunder rumbling in the distance, that I found myself a captive at the back of a very long line. Having no choice I could only stand there, shuffling forward every so often, passing the time daydreaming about nothing in particular. I had not even an inkling that my relative peace was about to be shattered.
One of my pet peeves is with folks who cannot speak on a cell phone without raising their volume setting to obnoxious. It’s as if they are talking into a tin can and string and through force of volume willing their urgent message to some unseen conspirator, one probably just as loud and obnoxious. I suspect that such orators, rather than just having no self-awareness, are really performers of sorts who through some sense of self-importance need for the whole world to know their business. I can’t tell you how many times I have been involuntarily privy to discussions that would ordinarily only be spoken in hushed tones in private places. It seems that there are some who have a real need for John Q. Public to know every detail of their lives. Fortunately, most of the time, we are only treated to meaningless dribble such as when little Tommy’s soccer practice will be finished, or, how many widgets were ordered. That said, there was once one fellow who loudly announced for all to hear, in a booming pretentious voice, that last year he had made $275,000 and would double that this year, and that anyone who couldn’t also do that was lazy, stupid, and an idiot. Wow, guess who’s the idiot saying something like that in a concealed carry state. At any rate I digress.
So, there I was, a captive at the post office in a line that I knew from experience would be at least 45 minutes long. I had no choice but to accept my fate thinking that it could be worse. Then, suddenly, it was. From behind me, as if a gust of wind at my back, came a female voice, one that could have served as the public address system at Turner Field without amplification. The hair on the back of my neck was not only standing but blowing in the wind. As I looked to those in front of me in line I witnessed a group cringe. This woman’s booming voice made Gideon’s trumpet seem like a kazoo. But, that wasn’t the worst of it, and not by a long shot.
Once the initial shock of her voice somewhat subsided I began, with no choice in the matter, to listen to what she had to say. Her voice wasn’t the sweet Southern one that I hear so often in this neck of the woods but a raspy and nasally one that might be heard on a sitcom or cartoon. She made Fran Drescher sound like Julie Andrews. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Warning, this is where it gets bad.
“Uh-huh, uh-huh, so how do you feel?”
“Uh-huh, uh-huh, so how’s your flow.”
“Uh-huh, uh-huh, mine’s just like that…”
And then, to the ultimate horror of us all of us, unable to deny the subject matter, the woman went on to describe, in detail, her menstrual flow. Remember, I have warned you several times that this wasn’t going to be pretty. But yes, she described in painstakingly graphic detail its exact nature, duration, and composition. Okay, I accept that this particular bodily function is a wonderful marvel of nature, but to have it described in such a manner in such a place, blaringly loud, was tantamount to sitting in the front row at a slasher film. This woman spared us no detail. All up and down the line I could see the back of people’s necks as red as their faces must have been. I looked behind the counter and there was poor Johnny, an ace of a postal clerk, with a look of anguish on his face. His eyes were opened wide like a deer in the headlights. Johnny is a soft-spoken Southern gentleman and this woman was his very antithesis. Seeing Johnny standing there, even more horrified than I, I was compelled to see exactly who our tormentor was. So, I turned slowly, and looked.
Right behind me stood a beautiful blonde woman in her mid-forties. I guess that I had expected an entirely different revelation, but there she was, a real stunner, dressed in tennis whites. I tried not to gawk. Then, she again began to speak.
“So, did you go to the doctor?”
“Uh-huh, uh-huh, me too, I also go to him, isn’t he great?”
“Uh-huh, uh-huh, yeah, my examinations are the same.”
Okay, at this point I’m thinking “no way she’s going to…”
And then she did. As she began her final assault upon or senses and sensibilities I looked over at Johnny who was now as white as a sheet. The expression on his face was as if he was facing an oncoming fifty foot wall of water. And yes, as you might have guessed, this woman went on to describe her gynecological exam, every doggone detail, with no detail too small to omit. I have been married to my wife for twenty-five years and until that moment I had no idea of what went on. By this time Johnny had finally retreated into the back, replaced by a “next window” sign. I can’t say that I blame him. Not one bit.
Mercifully there were only three people left in line in front of me. As each customer finished they walked past catching a glimpse at the woman, quickly looking away as if they might turn into a pillar of salt. I felt more than a bit relieved as I would soon be free. Besides, what more could this woman say that could be any worse?
“Uh-huh, uh-huh, yeah, they are really good about canceling appointments. Last time I had to cancel. I had diarrhea.”
You may recall that old line from the ad for the Jaws sequels: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…” Yup, things went from bad, to really bad, to absolute worst. It was at this point that I thought that at any moment the long departed Alan Funt (or some smarmy contemporary version, Bob Saget maybe) would cascade out of the back room with the Candid Camera crew, lights and cameras in tow, announcing that the jig was up and that we’d been had. But no, no lights and cameras, ghost of Alan Funt or even Bob Saget. This was real. And yes, that woman did indeed describe her bout with intestinal distress in even greater detail than before. Thankfully, while she was in mid-flush, I went to the window, her voice receding somewhat as I took care of business. Then, with my business finished, as I headed to the door and sweet freedom, I heard her bellow…
“Uh-huh, uh-huh, I hate it when that happens, it’s so gross…”
Unable to imagine what might be coming next I quickened my pace to a near dash propelling myself through the door out into the Atlanta sunshine. I felt like a drowning man taking a life-saving gulp of air. It was such relief to be free of her. But relief turned to panic as I realized that she would soon be coming out the door and would most assuredly be speaking even more loudly in the parking lot, and about who knows what.
I ran to my Jeep, climbed in, stomped on the gas, and sped off not daring to look back.
Oh, the horror.
January 26, 2010
This past weekend I created the Universe.
Okay, I apologize for the bad pun, but I really did. The tamper that you see above is the very first Universe, now the third “sub-brand” of Ming-Kahuna along with Moxie and Kazetamp. This tamper has been a long time in coming since my first external pick tamper, the Tribune, created in late 1998 or early 1999. Many design elements and advances in working with materials like aluminum all converged this past weekend and I was finally able to bring the Universe about. For months I have had a somewhat vague idea of the design of the tamper, one that has resisted my many attempts to sketch what I was seeing in my mind’s eye. Often when I don’t know how I’m going to do a tamper in terms of production I can’t see it clearly in my mind in terms of shape. I get bits and pieces, but never the whole. Then, when I know how the tamper will be made, the image becomes rock solid firm. As it turned out, there was no need to sketch this one. This past Sunday morning I went down to my shop and like Nike I “just did it”.
With the first Universe finished all of the many variations that will spring forth are already spinning in my head. The sky is the limit. Stay tuned for more of where Ming-Kahuna was destined to go.
You can read more about the Universe here: http://www.ming-kahuna.com/moreinfo.cfm?Product_ID=1310 and see more here: http://www.ming-kahuna.com/moreinfo.cfm?Product_ID=1328
September 2, 2009
This afternoon, in a few moments, after a few false starts in past weeks, I will be back in the shop and at full production. Heck, you might not have even known I was gone.
It all started before the Chicago show when I noticed a significant pain in my left wrist. I did the show and came home thinking that the pain would get better, but it didn’t. Work continued as the pain was mostly evident after I was done for the day. I had to go more slowly but it didn’t affect my work otherwise, and thank heavens for that. But, I was worried. Any artisan who works with his hands, doing repetitive motion, has to worry about carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). With CTS if you don’t take care of it the game can be over. I know people with CTS that can’t even hold a jar of pickles. There is surgery, and that is a godsend, but I really didn’t want to go there. So, I started altering how I did things and started taking Ibuprofen and vitamin B12, all things aimed at controlling any CTS condition. Things got better, but working while recovering wasn’t getting me anywhere too fast.
Then, one day while going up stairs to the loft to go on the computer I recalled another day when I actually fell up the stairs catching myself at the last moment falling directly on…you guessed it, my left hand and wrist. It all started to make sense. The thing that had been bothering me was that my pain and the location wasn’t consistent with CTS. I had put the fall out of mind, but was fooled as it often takes such an injury days to show symptoms, something that I know from my days as a personal injury lawyer. And, as I looked back on it, the pain did start shortly after I fell up the stairs. So, I had been treating the wrong problem with the wrong solution. Ibuprofen is fine, but what an injury like that needed was rest. CTS is a chronic injury, and this one was acute.
So, I took some time off, and, lo and behold my hand healed, for the very, very most part. Things went along fine until one day in the shop I got stupid. I was drilling a relief hole in a piece of Caneel for a very unique tamper called “WaterDance” and didn’t follow standard procedure. I didn’t clamp my work down to the drill press table. Just as the ¾” inch drill bit was about to break through the sheet, safe and sound, the bit caught on the material jerking the sheet from my hand. Never wanting to abandon a sinking ship, and like a 100% idiot, I grabbed back at the oddly shaped sheet and followed the now spinning piece of Caneel as it flew upwards. This caused two things to happen in a split second. Three sharp edges that would soon be very cool contours gouged long wounds into the back of my hand. But worse yet, as the Caneel spun to the top by the chuck, my thumb was bent back towards my wrist far more than I though possible without the sound of a “snap”. How I didn’t break my thumb is a small miracle. I stood there by the drill press evaluating my condition, offering thanks for my dumb luck. Artisan tip #717: never shortcut procedures. Always clamp your work no matter how small the task seems.
As it turns out, I didn’t re-injure the old injury. Thank heavens for that. But, I found myself with a brand new injury to the left thumb and wrist. Like the first injury it allowed me to still work, but at a good bit slower pace, and not super hard materials like aluminum. And, like last time I didn’t do what I should have done which was to give it complete rest. So, things dragged on. Finally, in the past three or so weeks I decided that it was time to do the right thing and rest the hand. The timing was actually good as a family health issue required me to be at doctor appointments (all is well!) and I was going to be driving my daughter back to college. So, I basically took my three week annual vacation resting my hand, taking care of business and adding some tooling to the shop, and doing a little manual work even though I shouldn’t have been.
It was a wise move. As today my hand is as fit as a fiddle. This afternoon I will descend into the shop and continue making fun things for wonderful, patient folks who have been very understanding about delays. The health of my hands is incredibly important and I’m relieved that I’m back. As an attorney a wound to the hand wasn’t debilitating in the sense that it prevented me from doing my job, but as an artisan, like a surgeon, you have to protect your hands. That reminds me of my Dad. He was a dentist and an oral surgeon. He (and I) also used to fly radio controlled airplanes. When we would break in a new engine for an airplane we would have to run it a good while before trusting it to flight, so we would run it in the back yard bolted to a saw horse. Starting the engine back in those days required you to flip the propeller, quickly getting your hand out of the way. A propeller could take off a finger, or very nearly so. Well, my Dad used to get a little careless when things weren’t going right, and most times he would end up with a gaping would to his hand. I well recall my Dad, in brown Bermuda shorts, sandals, and white tee shirt, with his bow legs, dancing around the driveway holding his hand with blood squirting like a Wes Craven slasher film. And then, invariably, my Mom would come running outside shouting “Chuck, what do you think you’re doing, your hands are your living…” She was right, of course, but my Dad never learned. I’m learning.
So, I’m back in the saddle again, healed and re-invigorated. Stay tuned for the best yet to come.
July 30, 2009
It was more like “Sproing, slam, bang, thud…D’oh!”
When things go wrong in my shop it’s never in a little way. Most failures qualify as epic. There’s nothing dull or mundane when things go wrong, and, my reaction is invariably shouting a “D’oh!” that can be heard all around the Peach State and has been known to reverberate through the North Georgia Mountains for weeks. The other day was just such an instance.
A bench grinder is one of the tools that is an absolute necessity of my craft (and my art). It’s where rough shaping is done, doing hours of work in a matter of minute’s time. Without that grinder, production stops dead cold. And, like someone who can’t help themselves, how I react to such events, compounds my troubles greatly.
Folks who know me know that I’m not necessarily frugal. I’m certainly not cheap, but at the same time I hate overhead. I know it isn’t very popular to say this these days, but I like profit, and, as an extension of that I dislike anything that decreases profit. This is the case not only to line my own pocket but based upon the fact that increased cost will almost invariably translate into increased cost, and that comes out of my customer’s pocket. So, keeping overhead, and thus cost, down, it is a win/win situation that suits all concerned well. But, sometimes, in my effort to keep overhead down, I qualify as penny-wise and pound foolish.
A perfect example was the last time that my grinder/buffer motor went gerflooey. At the time one motor was performing both buffing and grinding duties, so my shop was completely disabled. Production was at a complete standstill. But, rather than recognize that it was imperative that I spend what was needed to get things up and running ASAP, pronto, I looked to what I had on hand to try and get by. That led to a comedy of errors that I believe was the topic of a blog piece some time back. The end result was the better part of a week lost, falling further behind, and a significant loss of income, all in the name of saving a few bucks.
I may be dumb, but I’m not stupid. So, when I heard a huge snap and turned around to see the sight that you see above, my grinder motor and stand in shambles, the product of the aforementioned grand waste of time, I knew that this time I would have to act swiftly and not jerk around with home remedies and get my shop back up running. And holy crap, when that thing went it reminded me of that helicopter tethered to the train in the tunnel in Mission Impossible. Okay, there was no ball of flame and chopper blade missing my neck my mere millimeters, but based on my gasp as I witnessed the break-up of the stand it might as well have been as I realized that suddenly my shop was shut down.
That stand was one that sat in my Dad’s lab (he was a dentist) for decades, and had great sentimental value, but all of the nails and duct tape wasn’t going to bring it back. So, I dropped everything, bit the bullet, and hopped in the car and headed to Woodcraft where I purchased a steel grinder stand for the princely sum of $43. In the next hour the motor will be anchored to the new stand, and a day later I will be back in business.
So, the net-net is that I ended up only losing a day of work rather a week. I have apparently learned one lesson, and that is that sometimes you have to spend money to make money. No matter how much I like to improvise and use existing things to turn them into other things, recycling them, I owe it to my business and my customers to correct things directly despite cost. And, as to cost, dealing with issues decisively usually ends up being less expensive as opposed to wasting time (and in the end spending even more money) contriving Rube Goldberg contraptions that would make McGyver blush.
After ten years at this, I’m learning.
May 11, 2009
What follows are my thoughts relative to the 2009 Chicago show. I will preface these comments by stating that my past shows are 2000 through 2006, but I was unable to attend 2007 and 2008. My last show for a frame of reference is 2006.
Overall, the show was a rousing success, and on all levels. Okay, I’ll get one thing out of the way right up front. With the economy and the activities of anti-tobacco zealots I think that many will want to know how the show was from an attendance and sales standpoint. Well, I’ll call it as I saw it, and without being a cheerleader, or, a gloomy Gus. So often one must read between the lines with these issues, and that just isn’t the way that I operate. So yes, attendance was down. Heck, how couldn’t it be? These are tough times with lots of uncertainty, not to mention all of the hype over the flu, and we are talking about a show aimed at a luxury leisure time activity requiring travel from all over the world. How much was it down? Unfortunately my last point of comparison is 2006, but it was noticeably down. That said, there were still lots of folks in attendance, and considering the times I would have to say that the show was very well attended. And no, that’s not spinning it, or cheerleading, but all things considered I was very pleasantly surprised by the level of attendance. It stands as a tribute to the efforts of Frank Burla and the Chicagoland club that so many folks could be drawn to the show in these tough times. But heck, who knows, the MegaCenter is a huge hall (it would fit a 747 or two) so maybe the crowd was deceiving. Okay, now I’m waffling so I’ll move on.
As to sales, well, it depended on who you talked to. The show is a very target rich environment to begin with. When you add in the economy and lessened attendance the competition for dollars can be keen. I didn’t see guys swooping in making multiple buys but much more deliberative shopping. Some vendors did well, others not so much. I saw much less buying at the Pre-Show, but it was held in a section of the MegaCenter and much more spread out than usual, so it’s hard to gauge. As to buying overall, it’s really hard to say so there isn’t much that I can say. I know that I came to the show with just shy of seventy pieces and came home with just a few. I’m happy, but really can’t comment too much beyond that.
So, that business out of the way, on to the good stuff. I arrived at Pheasant Run Resort late Thursday morning. In years past I have come in on Wednesday, but cutting one night of room expense was called for. The first thing that struck me was that the resort had been nicely updated since 2006. My next big surprise was the tent. As you know, due to oppressive Illinois law, smoking is not allowed in the resort (other than the smoking rooms) and the MegaCenter. To counter this, a tent was set up adjacent to the MegaCenter. I’m told that this year’s tent was much larger than last year’s. Picture a good sized white circus tent with walls and clear plastic windows and a very effective heating system. I’m not talking a typical tent like you see with weddings, but a huge one where you could probably have a small circus. Inside were numerous large tables and couches and lounge chairs, and a food services area, and, the all important bar. I was amazed. It was wonderful. One problem with the Pheasant Run resort had been that the social aspect had been fractured, spilt up between rooms, lounge, and common area. The tent was a return to the Indian Lakes kind of set-up where everyone spent their time in one large area. To me, as to this aspect, the tent was huge improvement, a return to the part of the Indian Lakes resort that was so special. I’m sure there was still a lot going on in rooms, but the tent offered a common lounging area where pipes and cigars could be enjoyed along with the camaraderie that defines our common pursuit.
If there is a downside to the tent it’s that during the show hours it may draw folks off the MegaCenter floor. How much this affects sales, if at all, is really impossible to say. But, all things considered, that is an insignificant issue considering it allows us to enjoy a show while smoking our pipes. Sure, the A Plan would be to be able to smoke in the MegaCenter, but I find the tent to be an amazingly good compromise, and in some ways an improvement over past years.
So, as I walked into the tent on that rainy Thursday late morning, in absolute awe of the tent above me, the first folks that I spotted was pipe making couple Bill and Terri Weist from Regina, Canada (Cats Paw Pipes). We are old friends, and any nervousness (the good kind) due to not having done a Chicago show for two years, quickly melted away as we got caught up and chewed on bratwurst. As the sun was up over the yardarm somewhere in the world I sipped a cool Heineken that had never tasted better. Then, their pipe case opened up and I looked at the first pipes of the show. I was impressed. While Bill and Terri have been making pipes for years, and very nice ones, their work looked to me like it had achieved a new level of refinement. I think that “refinement” is the perfect word. Part of this I suspect is due to the fact that they have been working some smaller blocks of briar resulting in smaller pipes. Sometimes (other than intentional magnums) I associate larger pipes with more amateur efforts. I know that isn’t nearly always the case, (and certainly does not apply to Bill and Terri’s work) but I have a strong preference for smaller pipes, so seeing smaller pipes from them was a nice surprise. Nice work!
As the tent filled up old acquaintances were renewed with hugs and handshakes. When Tom Eltang entered the tent I felt an energy return that had been on the wane for a good while. Tom and I have been friends for years. We have worked on a major project together, the Four Seasons set (over five years time), and I find that I get great inspiration form Tom’s creativity and energy. It’s an energy that almost amounts to a force of nature. For me Tom has an effect like the ocean. I need to spend time at the ocean every year to recharge my creative batteries. When I’m away from the ocean for too long I lose that energy, and can feel it ebb away. Tom’s energy recharges my batteries in terms of industriousness, innovation, and to a good degree, creativity. His unbounded enthusiasm, and dedication, has helped me look beyond the envelope and re-consider how I do things. Unlike many pipe maker’s I have never studied under Tom, but I sure as hell have been inspired by him. And then you add his significant other, the wonderful Pia, and the Eltangs provide me with an energy that can last for years: two, to be precise.
Later in the day my roommate and close buddy Jeff Folloder arrived. By then fun under the tent was in full swing. If you were on the 10th floor and heard a symphony of snoring, that was us. By the way, my apologies to housekeeping, but the resort shouldn’t have opened Jumbalaya’s.
I’m not going to try and name all of the fine folks who I spent time with over the four days of the show, but will spend the rest of this report discussing some pipe maker’s work that you might want to know about. I’ll start with the new pipe maker who had the table next to mine, Joe Nelson from Fondulac, Wisconsin. As Joe plunked down his stuff and we introduced ourselves, he identified himself as a new pipe maker. I sort of cringed. My immediate thought was “what if his stuff is crap?”. It would necessitate being polite and positive and witnessing the disappointment of a new guy and tanked sales. As he slipped each of the eight pipes that he brought out of their pouches, the smile on my face widened. This was no beginner. Each pipe had the solid look of a pipe maker who had been making pipes for years. As it turns out Joe is a luthier (makes guitars) and it was quite obvious that his skills in that pursuit had translated over to pipe making. I think he said that he had been making pipes as an amateur for upwards for five years and with an eye towards selling for a couple. His shapes are classical to Danish, along with a signature volcano, sort of hawkbillish, that when viewed from the bottom had the strong suggestion of the shape of a stringed musical instrument. While I was incorrect that it would be the first to sell, it was the most picked up pipe of the lot. I knew Joe would do well with sales. His pipes were excellently priced at $200 each, a beginning pricepoint that would put his work into more folks’ hands. Ed sold six of his eight pipes, and if he would have stayed a bit longer on Sunday I think he might have sold another. Ed is a great guy, in fact a gem of a guy, and is so far making all of the right moves. Keep and eye on this one! A web page is in the works.
I next had the pleasure of closely looking at the pipes brought by my friend Jeff Gracik (J Alan Pipes). I recall years ago at a NASPC show seeing Jeff’s first pipes made under the tutelage of Todd Johnson. He showed huge potential and the group of us who inspected those pipes were suitably impressed. I don’t think that any of us could have predicted how far Jeff would come so quickly. Even back in 2006, when I bought a little bamboo pipe, virtually out of his mouth, I had no clue how good Jeff would get. By the way, that pipe is still one of my best smokers, and a go-to pipe. I’ve followed Jeff’s work through his web updates, but actually seeing his work again, two years later, I was astounded. When you close the door on a BMW, Mercedes, (or a Rolls, I suppose), there is a definite solidness, an integrity, that calls out absolute top notch construction/engineering. I find this quality to be present in the work of some pipe makers like Eltang, Todd Johnson, and Jody Davis, just to name a few. It’s very difficult to put this quality into words, but Jeff’s pipes have it, and in spades. And the shapes and grain! I know that recently there have been some discussions about the prices that some pipe makers are charging for their work, but anyone who thinks that it’s too much I invite to spend some time with Jeff’s work before making that call. In my book Jeff Gracik sits in the front row of pipe makers and his pipes are worth every penny, and then some.
Also in that front row of pipe makers, front and center, is my old friend Todd Johnson. As some may know, Todd somewhat left pipe making for a bit to assist with a family business. He’s back, and back with a vengeance. Like me, Todd carved for the show with the economy in mind, which resulted in a good number of black blasts, and a group of superb pipes. There was one little blast blowfish, one that I referred to as the “bug”, that was nothing short of amazing. Thankfully it sold quickly as this was not a buying trip for me. There was another pipe, a blast nosewarmer with a Bocote shank cap, a shape that wouldn’t usually do it for me, that really grabbed me. Thankfully that one sold quickly also. I’m thrilled that Todd is back. Besides, with Todd laughter is usually to the level of tears as, especially as Todd “exercises” certain Chicago show traditions. Todd’s lovely wife Rachel was also at the show with his newborn daughter Rachel, truly the prettiest thing that Todd has made.
Adam Davidson. What the heck can you say about the man other than “amazing”? His creativity knows no bounds. His craftsmanship is outstanding. Here is a pipe maker to be watched, and his work is to be acquired. He has a huge future in the craft.
Didn’t get to see John Crosby’s pipes. Dang. The man has skills. I was very impressed with his work at CORPS.
And then there is Rad Davis. If you’ve never heard of Rad Davis (where have you been?) then you are missing an outstanding pipe maker who continues to offer some of the best values in the pipe world. The group of pipes that he brought to Chicago was the best group that I have seen so far, and that’s saying a lot considering the pipes that he brought to the last CORPS show. Rad asked me to pick my favorite four. That was an extremely difficult task much like picking a dish on a menu where each entrée is better than the last one. The man from Mobile continues to get better, even when you think that it couldn’t be possibly so. He continues to re-define what he does on a regular basis. Boredom will never set in with is work. I suspect that Rad sold out a the show.
Love and Sara Geiger of Sweden are some of the warmest and nicest people that you will ever meet. And, as I always wish good things for good people, it is with happiness that I can report to you that his work is absolutely top notch. It’s creative, extremely well crafted, and shows an artistic flare where you are smoking art, but not at the price of function. The man is darn good, and better than any of his photos show. If I were you I would strongly consider his work.
Steve Morrisette followed the Will Purdy model in entering his craft (more about Will in a moment). He quietly and methodically learned his craft for years before even offering his first pipe for sale. When he came onto the scene he was far further along than any new pipe maker would be. His work is solid and extremely well crafted, if just a bit “careful” in shape. And while elegance requires simplicity, I think that Steve is solid enough that he can “spread his wings” a bit more at this point creating more of a personal statement and identity in his shapes. Steve seems to be a methodical guy (no surprise as he’s a musician) so for him it is “first things first”, but as a musician he’s also an artist, so I predict that we will be seeing a more signature style and shapes from him in short order. Keep an eye on Steve, I have a feeling we have only seen the very beginning of what he will come to be known for. Also, check out his handcut cigar mouthpieces. They are wonderful!
And, of course, there is Will Purdy. Will continues to make great pipes. He had a Garlic shape that was to die for. I reminded Will that I have dibs on a “007” down the road. I also have to mention his lovely wife Georgia. She’s a great lady. A group of us had a political discussion under the tent and she showed herself to be, as always, an elegant refined lady, and a true class act. Will is a great pipe maker and a lucky man. He’s also more like me tending to stay out of such discussions <grin>
Jody Davis was at the show briefly as he is on tour playing and just a few miles from the resort in concert. Some from the show made it to the concert where I understand that Jody is not only an incredible pipe maker but also an incredible musician. Rock on!
It was great to see Jacky Craen of Genod pipes, always a smiling face and a true gentleman. The pipes that he brought were extremely nice showing some shapes and grain that really wowed me, more like some that I saw a number of years back. These pipes are really worth looking into.
A great disappointment was the fact that by the time that I got to Wolfgang Becker’s table all but three pipes were sold. I picked one up to ask “how much” and it turned out to be Gita’s pipe. Dang! From what I saw Wolfgang continues to be one of the great pipe makers. If I do learn German it will only be so that I can speak to my friend without Gita translating, although having her as part of the conversation is always a pleasure. Great folks.
Brad Pohlman continues to make wonderful pipes most worthy of your consideration. He’s been in the game a lot longer than most people know. He’s also truly great guy with a great eye for shapes and grain.
Tom Looker’s display was excellent as always.
Russ Oullette was great to talk to and it was fun in hearing about his creative efforts in creating his wonderful blends based on over thirty years in the tobacco business. As he was walking out of the resort I again complimented him on his Virginia Spice (and other blends) and he reached into his pocket and threw me a bag. Score!
Be sure to check out Bruce Weaver’s blasts. The man from Nashville can really make a pipe.
Peter Heeschen continues to be Peter Heeschen, and that is a very, very good thing.
Per Billhall had amazing pipes, as always.
From Neil Flancbaum of Smokinholsters.com we have a new leather pipe pouch with a second compartment for tobacco, etc., with a fold over flap. Check them out as they are very reasonably priced. Nothing touches Neil’s work.
A truly remarkable display, taking up about a square foot of my table, was Jeff Folloder’s mini pipe collection. Over the years Jeff has asked/begged/convinced pipe makers to make tiny smokeable pipes for him in their signature shapes. I can’t begin to describe these little gems, I think fourteen or fifteen in number.
So, what did I acquire? Well, this wasn’t a buying show for me. As vendor the finances are different, and now even more different today. I bought one pipe from my friend Aziz. It is a little Safferling swan that I had sold him. I told him at the time that if he ever lost interest in it I would buy it back from him. He did, so I bought it back. Thanks Aziz! I also bought yet another cigar mouthpiece (this makes three) crafted by pipe mker Steve Morrisette. You’ve got to check these holders out. Jesper had a gem of PH Vigen, but I resisted. I was also presented with a lovely silver cup engraved with “Ming” by one of the true show highlights, Fat Max (Doug Gull-Clemons) who wore a new kilt this year, and a great safari suit. Doug caught me drinking single malt out of a paper cup a few years back and decided that it wouldn’t do. Thanks Max! Also, not to be outdone in the costume department was Max’s sig other, Doc Anne, who wore a belly dancing outfit. Yes, she is a belly dancer, and one heck of a lady. She’s also my “official stalker” which is always fun. Truly great folks. I also acquired a Tom Looker Wave Eltang/Tokutomi “Wave” mousepad. Having had a part in the whole story of the creation of the shape I had to have the pad. Finally, I acquired some new Cumberland samples which have great potential. Outstanding cookies were also delivered and enjoyed. We also feasted on two suitcases of Sliders!
A nice surprise was a big bundle of Eltang bamboo. Thanks Tom! Man, is that stuff clean.
Now, if you have read this far and do not wish to read about how Ming faired at the show, you can exit now and I’ll never know.
For this show, considering the economy, and the recent ten year anniversary of Ming, I decided to create less higher end pieces and basically wholesale to my customers for this one limited occasion. It was a gamble that paid off. I had nearly seventy tampers in my inventory and I came home with just a handful. By the way, if you are interested in seeing what is left I am offering them at show prices. How about a mini-Bluto for $45 (including pouch and shipping)?
Sales were funny this year. Usually I sell most everything at the pre-show and I sit there doing little on Saturday and Sunday. This year sales were divided evenly over the three days. I did no room trading or selling outside of show hours as I really wanted to enjoy the camaraderie without concern for making sales. That made for a great show. Numerous established customers bought pieces, as well as a large number of new customers. For me these shows are about promoting my work as much as sales, and my “recession pricing” went a long way towards accomplishing that goal. The Jolly Ranchers spread all over my table, for the taking, didn’t hurt either! Overall I consider the show a 100% success on every level. Heck, as I had a late flight on Monday, I plunked my butt down at the after-show sale (the best place to sit to watch people walk by as they leave) and sold more tampers right out the front door of the resort. Too bad the limo driver wasn’t a pipe smoker.
I also delivered a Fury in Abyss to Mike of Gray Fox. Great guy! Look for a return of the Fury.
I’d also mention that I delivered the first aluminum Pocket Siren, a special order, the first of three. I’m doing the happy dance over this new tamp.
I have left out so much. It was great to see everyone from the artisans and dealers to Carl Knighten, Jim Hendricksen, Emil, Jeff H., Bill Unger, John Tolle (with an amazing Michael Parks LOTR pipe display), Bruce Harris, and far too many names to name (see, I get myself in trouble). My problem is that during the show I rarely leave my table as I feel strongly that I should be there. I miss a lot, if not most of it, but that’s the way that it goes. I guess my show report is limited in scope, but so it goes.
We did reserve a table and room for next year, and the Good Lord willing, I’ll be there.
My only complaint about the show was that the bratwurst could have been better. There, I said it, dammit to hell, the bratwurst could have been better.
Thanks again to Frank Burla and the Chicagoland club for a spectacular show.
(photo above: Some of folloder’s stuff (and my calipers) on the room table after a day of the show during the traditional in-room drink before heading downstairs, either Calvados or single malt.)
April 20, 2009
As my wife, dog, cat and I sat in the basement last night with the tornado sirens wailing, I had a chance to reflect upon our tornado chasing exploits from a week before, recounted below in “The Chase”. As it turns out, the only sane place to be at such times is in the basement, as safe as can be, and not out on the road trying to get a glimpse of what might bring about one’s final moments on God’s green Earth.
The storm that we chased turns out to have spawned four confirmed tornadoes in Georgia. I’d bet dollars to donuts that there were more, but, the storm that we were in, one that spawned many funnels, resulted in no touchdowns that have been confirmed. I’m thankful for that. We had quite a show and no one was hurt. Law enforcement did officially report a funnel cloud/funnel right at where we were at on Union Hill which came as no surprise to me as we had seen it. As we drove through the tall Georgia pines and up Union Hill I knew that it was close, very close, and having made a wrong turn right into it, that we were in the bear’s cage. We could feel it.
While the images of that storm will remain with me, vivid and horrific, the risks taken to witness it were not worth it, not by a long shot. To borrow a line from Dante’s Peak, we were too close to the show. Way too close. Had that storm had the additional strength to drop any of the dozens of funnel clouds that we spotted, we may well have found ourselves in a worst case scenario. My theory is that the hills that we live in, the foothills of the Blue Ridge chain of the Appalachian Mountains, interfered enough with the vortex to prevent a full tilt from horizontal to vertical, breaking up the funnel as it neared the ground. With a little more (or different) energy the results might have been very different.
So, after many years, I am formally ending my storm chasing career. I’ve been very lucky, and as a good man always knows his limitations, I won’t be pressing that luck.
As my Mom used to say, you don’t need to look for trouble, it has a way of finding you.
April 11, 2009
My 46 year long study of tornadoes began at four years old when I pointed up at the sky and asked my dad “What’s that?’ His response was “Arthur, that’s a funnel cloud, it may become a tornado.” I knew what tornado was as I had seen one in the Wizard of Oz if only through slits between my fingers as my hand covered my eyes. Even then it was a combination of fear and fascination, fear being the senior partner. But, as I stood there with my dad watching the boiling sky spout the inky black funnel, my fascination become a rising partner that would someday trump fear into a subordinate position, but admittedly never into retirement.
Growing up in Ohio, a state ripe with tornadoes in the spring, there were a lot of close calls, once even finding myself under a funnel cloud as it dropped to the ground. On a summer college vacation I also found myself a witness to an incredible sunset tornado outside Fargo, ND. A sunset tornado is the gold standard, and it was truly magnificent. As an adult I attempted numerous chases but was lacking some of the basic knowledge necessary to be successful, knowledge that would soon come with improvements in Doppler radar.
Then, I moved to Georgia. There are some who say that Tornado Alley extends a finger across into Georgia from the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains south. There is truth in that and two of the most destructive tornadoes, in fact the most destructive until recent times, occurred just north of here in Gainesville (Georgia) in 1903 and again in 1936 when two tornadoes converged outside of town and proceeded on a path for a direct hit on the city. My first summer and fall here in North Georgia was defined by many hours spent in the basement as tornado sirens wailed, often in the wee hours of the morning, as tornadoes on the ground passed just a hair (less than a mile) to our north and to the south. Fall would bring tropical storm and swarms of tornadoes. As time went on I decided that it was time to chase again. I read where a noted tornado chaser had moved to our area so that he could stay close to the storms, so that was good enough for me.
Then, last year, while driving back north from dinner in Midtown Atlanta, on a strange foggy nigh, I caught a glimpse of a storm to the west backlit by the last light of dusk, and saw the inky black clouds of a supercell. I looked to my wife and said “That is trouble with a capital “T”. It didn’t seem the type of weather for that type of storm so I let it pass. By the time that I got home the first reports of the tornado that struck downtown Atlanta were coming in. It wasn’t until the next day, March 15, 2008, that my opportunity came to begin to chase. That Saturday morning on Doppler radar I saw swarms of supercells, the rotating thunderstorms that often spawn tornadoes, heading directly my way out of Alabama. That afternoon, driving into perfect position, circling, waiting, I successfully intercepted a tornado, one that turned out to be a killer. Then, earlier this year, without the benefit of radar and only by instinct and a GPS, I intercepted yet another tornado.
Fortunately, my wife puts up with this rather odd pastime, and when I say that I’m going to “chase” she lets it be. It’s part of who I am and she knows that I have studied these storms my entire life. I know these storms. I know what they look like and I know what they feel like. I chase in part with radar (but never on the road), but mostly by instinct. I suppose it’s sort of geeky, but in the end intercepting a tornado is about like getting into a cage with a tiger, an activity not recommended for beginners, and one that leaves me with a tingle, feeling very much alive.
So, yesterday the weather bureau issued, for the first time in Georgia’s history, a general weather statement of imminent deadly weather, that amounted to a statement that “you are officially screwed.” It was unprecedented. Needless to say I kept an eye to the sky. As the day wore on things began to happen, but being a Friday I knew that a chase would be out as my wife and I would probably be going out to dinner. As we planned the outing as 6 o’clock approached a supercell thunderstorm sprang into being in a matter of twenty minutes right over our heads. I told my wife that I wouldn’t be chasing this one but that if we went to dinner then (about 5:45) by the time that we were done with dinner a swarm of supercells coming in out of Alabama would be upon us. So, as we drove to the restaurant I explained to my wife that if I was chasing the storm, the one that was then to our immediate north and in plain view, I would be exactly where I would want to be, right on the edge of the southwestern quadrant, outside the storm looking in. I pointed out the supercell structure (above is a photo of a classic supercell thunderstorm) and where I would expect funnel clouds to drop. Fortunately this storm, while having a very strong supercell structure, hadn’t reached the level of maturity or the rotation (the entire storm rotates) to be dropping tornadoes. We arrived at the restaurant and were seated with a view outside, but not of the sky.
As the meal went on (a wonderful veal parmesan, try Zola if you are in North Fulton/South Forsyth County) it darkened outside, and the rain began. And then the “positive” lightning began. Positive lightning accounts for about 2% of all cloud to ground lightning. It’s ten to 100 times more powerful than a typical bolt. It’s the kind that shakes the house no matter how far away. It’s also the kind of lightning that you start to see when the stuff is about to hit the fan, the kind that you often see stabbing the ground over and over again right next to a tornado. So, with the check paid and walking out of the restaurant I was not surprised to see the sky as black as pitch and a snow white wedge shaped funnel dropping to the ground about a mile off. I looked over to my wife and asked her “Want to chase?”. Here response was what I knew it would be. “Sure”.
My wife is just a bit of a daredevil. Many moons ago when we were dating I took her out on my boat, a 24 foot SeaRay, on Lake Erie. While we were out, without any warning whatsoever, the weather changed drastically with waves kicking up to seven to eight feet. Erie is a deadly body of water, an unforgiving bitch, and I was using every ounce of seamanship to make headway towards port without capsizing. I was probably as white as a ghost, but as I looked over at my wife there she was grinning from ear to ear as if she was on a roller coaster at Six Flags. Mercifully she was completely unaware of the extreme danger. By the time that we got to port she was invigorated and jazzed while I was completely drained, shaking, and more than ready to collapse with tumbler full of rum. I recount that as it was a horse of an entirely different color. Ignorance had been bliss, but last night my wife’s acquiescence to the chase was given with full knowledge of the risks involved. But, quite frankly, I don’t think that either of us even had the slightest grasp of what we were about to drive into.
We hopped into the H3 and drove out onto Route 9, Old Atlanta Road, heading north/northeast towards Cumming. I could still see the snow white funnel against the black sky through the trees to our right and was satisfied that I was running parallel to it, not on an intercept course. The goal was to get to some high ground (this is fairly hilly terrain) where I could observe all the way to the distant tree line so that the whole sky could be observed. As I headed towards a shopping center parking lot just up the road it went green.
“Going green” is the term used to describe the sickly green color that occurs very, very often before and during a torando. If you’ve seen it you will never forget it. Even if you didn’t know of it’s partnership with tornadoes it will give you a very sick feeling as if something is terribly wrong. In the darkness of a storm that pea soup green light is one of the most eerie occurrences in nature. As we approached our observation site at the shopping center it had gone green in spades.
As I breached the top of a hill just short of the shopping center, the sight that came into view was the holy grail of a chase. The white funnel, that had been better than two-thirds way to touching down has dissipated, but before me was the most ominous and well defined supercell thunderstorm that I had ever seen, rivaling anything that I have seen in hundreds of hours of tornado footage. The cell was maybe five or ten miles across and whirling like a carousel. It was a black devil bathed in sickly green light and now seeing the structure of the entire storm I realized that the white funnel had been right where it should have been, in the southwest quadrant, on the edge. Having pulled in the parking lot of the shopping center, spotting our second and third funnel clouds (which thankfully dissipated quickly), the layout of the whole storm suddenly made sense to me. Unfortunately my understanding of its general direction of movement did not, an error that would soon put me exactly where I never wanted to be.
Tornadoes like the edges. There are rain-wrapped tornadoes that can be found in the inner core of a storm, or generally weaker ones that can be found right at the front edge, but the supercell tornadoes, the true beasts of the breed, love the edges. If you watch tornado footage you will frequently see tornadoes and blue skies in the same frame. That’s the edge of the storm. And not only do they like the edges of the storm, they like that southwest quadrant, the telltale hook echo trailing behind. If you imagine that the storm is the face of a clock, the tornado will invariably be located, defined on Doppler, by a hook shaped echo hanging off the cell, at anywhere between the 9 o’clock and 7 o’clock position, the southwest quadrant. You see it over, and over, and over again. Other than the exceptions to the rule, which can be deadly if not kept in mind, chasing becomes a much simpler proposition, and with such a well defined supercell before me I knew exactly where I need to be.
As I started back out to the road we were treated with another funnel cloud, this one a developing multi-vortex with three rope funnels swirling around each other on their way down towards the ground. As this one finally dissipated I sighed relief as a multi-vortex tornado can often be the most destructive, sometimes within a mile wide wedge with multiple tornadoes whipping randomly inside.
Knowing where I wanted to be, at about the 7 o’clock position out side the supercell looking in, I headed further northeast up the road to a shopping center that would afford a perfect view. What concerned me was that I was having a very hard read on the general direction of the whole storm. Imagine looking at a carousel whirling around while the whole thing is moving. The general motion of the storm along with the cell’s counter-clockwise rotation was confusing enough, but added to that was the fact that directions in North Georgia, with roads that are never straight like the grid patterns that you see in the Midwest, was making positioning extremely difficult. So, I headed to the parking lot that that I knew would afford and unobstructed view and figured I’d sort it out there.
As I drove to the new location, within a few miles, the sky grew darker and more green, if that was possible. En route we spotted two more funnel clouds. By then I had lost count. These weren’t possible funnels, or the scud clouds that folks frequently mistake for funnels, but honest to goodness ones that couldn’t be denied if even for the sake of comfort.
When we got to the huge Super Walmart parking lot there were two Forsyth County Sheriff’s cars parked side-by-side with the Sheriffs standing outside observing. Law enforcement officers are often trained weather observers, and in any event are invaluable storm spotters who probably save hundreds if not thousands of lives a year by being out on the roads when everyone else is hunkered down in the basement. As I had been getting ready to dial 911 to report the funnels I pulled the car over in the driveway and ran over to the sheriffs who looked a whole lot more than merely concerned about what was unfolding in front of them. As I closed the distance I identified myself as a storm chaser indicating that I had seen numerous funnels, and one near touchdown (the white funnel). I pointed to the parts of the storm where I thought the funnels would come down (and eventually did come down). They radioed in the information as I returned to my car. I took up a position in the parking lot facing into the part of the storm where I knew that things would happen, and the sheriffs remained in position nearby. The show was about to really begin. I was also about to realize that I didn’t have a front row seat as I had hoped, but, was right on stage, and, in the “bear cage”.
So, there we were, my wife and I, facing the “right” part of the storm waiting for one of the numerous funnels that were forming and breaking up to drop down to the ground. It was an amazing position to be in, but something wasn’t making sense. As I looked at the edge of the storm, backlit by the light of a dying sun, spinning by due to the rotation of the cell, I had a very bad feeling as I realized my mistake. I wasn’t outside the storm looking in at the 7 o’clock position, but was well inside the storm, under the rotation looking out from under the storm at the 7’oclock position, exactly opposite where I wanted to be. I wasn’t watching the show, I was part of the show. I had a very quick decision to make.
I could stay put, or move. If I headed back to where I wanted to be, outside the storm looking into the supercell, I would have to punch through the part of the storm in front of me that looked like it would drop a full fledged tornado at any moment. That was out of the question. I could also continue back up the road headed to the core of the storm which I could see was very high precipitation with abundant cloud-to-ground lightning. The huge problem with that is that punching the core is rarely a good idea. Tornadoes may love the edges, but they are also to be found in the core, and being rain-wrapped and pretty much invisible, they can be the most dangerous situation that a chaser can find himself. As to any other direction of retreat, behind me was the part of the rotation that had gone by that had been spawning the funnels, so what might be on the ground there was too much of a risk to take. Added to that was the fact that in that part of the storm it might also be rain-wrapped. The cincher was that roads in that direct were sparse, largely unknown to me, and might put me in a position of having no retreat. I wasn’t going to start messing with the Garmin at that point as the chase up to then had been conducted on a road well know to me. So, I decided to stay put. Really, at that point, it was the only choice, despite the fact that a tornado could drop down on us at any second. What I witnessed after that was not to be believed.
As the outer wall of the supercell over us rotated by, counter-clockwise, just as it reached what I would estimate to be the 7 to 9 o’clock position of the storm, it would spawn a funnel cloud. As the funnel would rotate to our left along with the supercell it would dissipate only to be replaced by another funnel forming right at what looked to be the same “sweet spot”. It was like a Powerpoint presentation right in front of us, maybe a mile or two off, with all different types of funnels forming, dissipating and forming over and over again over the same part of storm/ground. There were stovepipes and weird little spirals often breaking off and free-floating. There were classic wedges and ropes. There was even horizonat rotation trying to go vertical. They were all there. I lost count. It was like being at a live-action seminar with all of the varieties unfolding in front of us all in a sky that would awe Steven Speilberg. Of course, I didn’t have a camera. I had meant to bring one as I had a chase in the back of my mind as we walked out the door.
We sat there for a good while longer. The supercell seemed to be stalled over us. The show continued, but we had to be constantly looking all around us making sure that nothing was coming at us from other directions. Suddenly, the rain began. The high precipitation core had either grown or moved toward us from the opposite side of the show, so we would soon be in a very low visibility environment. in the core, a situation that we had to avoid at all cost. As the positive lightning hits increased, which are a huge risk in case of a hit even in an auto, and knowing that we might be at risk of being hit by a rain-wrapped tornado in the core, I decided that we had to bug out. The storm was increasing in intensity, and rapidly. While the supercell had been producing an epic amount of funnels, there didn’t seem to be the energy to get them to the ground. I knew that situation wouldn’t last for long as the storm intensified. So, with time running out, I decided to punch through that part of the storm dealing with a known quantity rather that entering a part of the storm where I would be blind with a possible unknown that could be on us without warning. I headed out past the sheriff’s cars and back out onto the road, back down the way that we had come.
As I headed back down Route 9 I realized that the edge of the storm had been much closer than I had been thought. The funnel producing area was soon now right beside me. As we passed a main road heading perpendicular to the east of route 9 my wife called out “take that one, McGinnis Ferry.” It was a late call, and I had passed the road, but immediately realized that her call had been 100% correct. It’s a good wide open road that would afford us good visibility. Better yet, it would run parallel to the outer edge of our rotating supercell. On the down side we would remain inside of the storm looking out, and if the cell had been stalled it was now moving (we would later learn at nearly 50 mph) right along with us, keeping the part of the storm spawning the tornadoes moving along next to us, as we moved directly towards….home.
On that three of four mile drive down McGinnis Ferry we had an often unobstructed view of the active part of the storm. The smaller short-lived funnels that were quick to dissipate were replaced by big well organized funnels that would most assuredly touch down. At one point there were three large funnels around us at once, and, as I crossed over Georgia Route 400 I had a clear view of a classic wedge funnel that I had no doubt would touch down. I was half tempted to go onto Georgia 400 to intercept it, but reason won out over valor. We had been extremely lucky so far, and as we were headed home, in the same direction that the funnels were headed, I had to consider my cat Iggy and dog Max who needed to get into the basement. It was time to call it a day and get safe as the risk of getting caught was increasing exponentially by the second.
About a mile from our development, which is like a small city, I had a choice of turning right or left as the road came to a “T”. I turned right. That was not a good choice. It took me down a narrow winding two lane road closely bordered by tall Georgia pines. I had zero visibility other than the road ahead of me and a tiny patch of sky. I quickly realized that I had also put myself right into the direct path of the huge funnel cloud that I had seen a just few moments before. How could I have been that stupid after having been so lucky? Fortunately we were only on the narrow road for a little less than a mile but they were very nervous moments. It had gone green again, this time so green that the eerie light had even washed out the color of the pines. Thankfully it wasn’t long before I turned right onto Union Hill Road, which at the top would be Windward Parkway, the main road into our development. Tis at worst put the oncoming funnel at our backs. As we topped the one-half mile of Union Hill the tornado sirens began to wail. As we reached the top of the hill we saw a sky in front of us was absolutely sickening. At this point there was nothing left to do but get home, and very quickly. As we drove up Windward Parkway towards our home I actually feared for our lives. For the second time that night, or third or fourth, or whatever, we were in the bear cage.
That short but endless one-and-a-half mile remaining drive home was other-worldly, to say the very least. As we entered our home, tornado siren still wailing, we scooped up the animals and headed to the basement, and to safety. When I turned on the TV and saw the Doppler signature of the storm that we had just chased, and was over us at the moment, I shivered. We spent the next couple of hours in the basement as new supercells moved over and the tornado sirens wailed, over and over again, the lightning as red as blood. We were lucky.
The Baron Tornado Index (BTI) is a tool that measures the likelihood that there is a tornado in a storm. It really seems to work. The rating is between one and ten with one being low and ten the highest. A BTI of 5 is of very great concern. A 6 is a huge concern, and a 7 to 8 is pretty much a done deal that a tornado is present. Last night we were in a storm that measure 7.8 to 8. That is huge. We are still getting news as to what touched down and where, but the one report that seems certain is that for our area (we live on the Fulton/Forsyth county border) there was a touchdown in Forsyth County where we started the chase, and possibly North Fulton where we ended it, right on our doorsteps.
One thing I can tell, and without a doubt, my wife has guts.
February 11, 2009
Recently I watched the movie The Time Machine. It was the new version with Guy Pearce. I like the movie. But, beyond liking the movie, one scene, the last scene in the movie, really reached out and grabbed me. The scene, a creative combination of two screens, shows the main character occupying the same exact location, in his study, as his best friend and house-lady occupy the same spot a bazillion years in his past. Seeing both existences at once, separated only by time, reminded me of an experience that I will never forget.
Back in 1999 my Mom was in her last illness with cancer. Her death had been a good one, an end that came in her own home, as I had promised her. For weeks my sister, wife and I had taken shifts with the help of nurses so that she could stay in her own home. The last month had taken its toll on us, and we were dead tired, and emotionally drained, but, with the help of hospice, the experience of death would almost be uplifting, if that is possible. So, on a balmy September evening, unaware that my Mom would die the next day, I took a walk around the block, the home of my youth, to get a few moments away from her side so that I could stay the course. The journey that I took over the next hour’s time was like none that I could have anticipated.
The block that I grew up on was a large one by most standards, maybe a hundred and a quarter homes on four different streets, two long streets, and two short ones on the ends. During the course of growing up I got to know most everyone, or at least who they were or what their story had been. I had cut through most of their yards, played in front of their houses and later cut many of their lawns. Some of them were my parent’s friends, others not, and yet others were downright scary, a few even imagined to be witches in our young fertile minds. But, no matter who they were, most were ordinary folks who were part of an enclave of sorts, a corner of the world that was mine, one whose boundaries contained the cocoon of my childhood.
As I walked around that block that night, feeling more than a bit guilty for the relief of getting away for a few moments, the memories of that place, my block from many years ago, came rushing back. As I walked by the houses, a silent sidewalk observer, the illumination of lamps and televisions offered glimpses into those homes that I had known before so well. If you would be tempted to call me a voyeur I would say to you that it was not so. What I was seeing was not only what was there, but what had been and was now long gone. As I looked into those homes I saw the people that had once inhabited them, the people that made up the bedrock of the memory of my youth. Knowing that so many years had passed, and that most must be gone from this earth, I knew well that what I was “seeing” could only be in my mind’s eye. I point that out lest you think that I was hallucinating, which I surely was not. It was far more subtle than that, but yet, as clear as day. What I was seeing were in essence ghosts of sorts, images brought to me in those moments as if the passing of my feet were some incantation, one transforming the course of my evening stroll into a journey into the past.
If that was the end of the story I would probably not recall that walk as I do today, but there was more to it than that. It all gets a bit more complex. You see, as I found myself engulfed by the past, much like the split scene in The Time Machine, I could also see the world is it really was, at that very moment, right in front of me. It was if I was occupying the same place but in different times, each a reality of sorts, but one vision tempered by its impossibility.
As I walked by Mrs. Kerber’s house, a kind lady, dead for many many years, who we imagined to be a witch (a good witch), I could see her (in my mind’s eye, mind you) serving tea to her mother, Mrs. Snow, as was her daily routine, or walking through her garden, a wonderland that she tended with tireless passion. But, at the same time, then and there, I could see the glow of a television through the front window, a device that was never to be found in the Kerber household. And there before me, on the front lawn was a tricycle, an object never to be found in that house, a childless one, unless it was mine, or my childhood partner in crime, David Vanzo’s. Then I came upon the Buchan’s old house. Both Vera and Stan Buchan had been dead for many years. In their family room I could see my Dad enjoying a whiskey sour with Stan, discussing the world, a very different one, and Vera in the kitchen getting ready to bring out a tray of snacks. But, standing there in the here and now, I could see a house much changed from those days, with new owners many times over, and a Vette in the driveway, a car that Stan would never have owned, being the Cadillac man that he was.
Over and over again, as I passed in the night, I could see before me what had been, right along with what was. On that long walk it was if I was walking with one foot in a world that was, and my other foot in a world that had been and no longer was. For those brief moments the memories of those who had passed on seemed to exist in a world that was there, before me, almost as firmly in form, one defined by the memories of their lives. Looking back on it, with where I was in my life, contemplating the reality of death, and necessarily the reality of life, looking back on it with full hindsight, I’m not at all surprised that I experienced those moments. I will also tell you that if you think that I found all of this the least bit frightening, you would be wrong. As I walked a light fog had closed in, and there was more than a bit of a “supernatural” feel to it all, but what I found was only great comfort, and having seen the past in context of the present, and vice versa, and so clearly, it gave me the strength necessary to go where I would soon go, and to do what I would have to do.
When I arrived back at my Mom’s house, the house where I was raised, I took a few deep breaths to clear my head, and stood out front gazing up and down the street. What I saw before me was what I would have expected to find, the specters of the past having retreated into the night, and time, leaving the world as it had been before I set out on my walk. Having stood in both the present and the past, simultaneously, I went forward. I looked up at the starry sky, sighed, and went back inside.
Death took my Mom the next day, she and I taking steps, ones in different directions.
November 15, 2008
About a year ago I wrote about my “trials and tribulations” related to changing buffer motors. A workshop and craft is a system, and when one cog in the machine is out of whack the whole system can come tumbling down. That may sound extreme, but I sure do know it to be true.
The last time that I had buffer woes I solved my problems by acquiring a Delta variable speed buffer, a floor model from Lowes for about one-third retail. I admit it, when it comes to such purchases I can be rather frugal, but at the time it was the simplest fix. I was warned at the time about Chinese motors, but the lure of a good deal clouded my reason. So, it was no surprise when my variable speed motor decided to no longer be variable, but full out 3400 RPMs. While it’s a great thing for rough material removal, most objects do not buff well at those speeds. So there I was, right back where I had started, virtually crippled. All attempted repairs having failed, the search was on, once again.
Luckily this time I didn’t have to search for too long or go too far. I only went as far as my garage where there are a number of boxes still unpacked from the move, or was it the last move, or the one before that? One box was marked “garage: motors” but I had gone through that box many times always finding buffer motors that had issues making them worthless. So, this time I decided to look in less obvious boxes and was immediately rewarded with the finest motor that I have ever had. It had been missing from almost ten years ago when I started Ming, and this baby was and is the Rolls Royce of motors. It purrs like a kitten and there is no wobble to that shaft at all. I could picture it on the Space Shuttle or the TGV. Gone are the caps for oiling, this one has nipples for grease. Sexy.
So, with a few trips to the hardware store and way too much down-time the motor was installed, but, things weren’t quite right, not by a long shot. This motor sits much lower than most, so it completely changed my seating position relative to the buff. The same thing had happened with the last buffer and the resulting tendonitis was something that I didn’t want to repeat. When you shift your body’s position with regards to the working end of an intense and repetitive task, the body must learn and adapt, and that causes stress and strain. And, it causes dissonance. All week long my attempts at buffing didn’t seem right. I would try and try but would soon walk away as I couldn’t get into that groove that I need to find to do my best work, or any work for that matter. I found myself quickly abandoning my attempts at buffing and moving on to other tasks. Any distraction at all can be fatal to a piece, and I was far more than distracted. Fortuantely I was making headway on carving, but nothing was finishing up, and that is not a good thing. So, I sat down and tried to sort through things to figure out what was wrong and what could be done about it. The answer turned out to be simple.
I got in the old “Wayback Machine” and took myself back to a year ago when things were perfect, the buffer in the right place, and work getting done. I asked myself a question: what is different now? The answer was that I had installed the motor at the new work station, where the Delta had been, when it needed to go back where it had been before that, with the buff right at the “V” where two workbenches arranged in an “L” shape meet. That positions my arms at the perfect height so that my elbows can rest on the benchtop edges offering support while I buff. That was the answer.
As I sat down this morning, a line-up of long overdue ready-to-buff tampers before me, it felt like old times as the wonderful motor purred away. It felt great, and my body slid right into that groove that had been missing for so long. It was like coming home again, a convergence of perfect machine and perfect location triggering a memory in my body that could only be expressed by a sigh of relief.
But, there was yet one fly stuck in the ointment, one variable that I hadn’t taken into account, one that would ruin my day. As I begun to buff again I knew that I had to finish a very important piece. I had recently carved the KazeTamp Fifth Anniversary tamper, a Torune-do with one side made from Caneel and the other from Bali, the tamper that you see above. Lamination of the two pieces is done on the molecular level, so if the preparation and technique is perfect the resulting seam will be anywhere from dead minimal to non-existent. As luck was having it this seam was looking non-existent. Buffing would be exceptionally tricky as the final result would depend upon dead-bang perfect buffing, but the potential results were well worth making every effort possible. So I buffed and buff away. It’s a combination of buffing and sanding, a technique that I couldn’t describe to you, one that you would have to see to understand. considering my recent down-time from buffing I really couldn’t afford to spend the time, but it had to be done just right. When the dust had settled, five hours later, after an unprecedented effort, the tamper was done and the seam virtually invisible. I was one happy camper. I was also almost blind.
Eye strain is a huge issue. What I do takes great visual acuity and what has to be intense use of the muscles associated with the eye. After a typical day of work my world is very often a blur. I’ve tried everything, but my ophthalmologist tells me that it is normal, and to be expected. It can take hours for my vision to return. I live with it. Today it was a really nasty surprise as it came so early, preventing me from putting the final buff on other pieces that needed to go out. Sure, five hours of intense buffing alone could have done me in, but when I moved the motor I had failed to change my lighting, and that really did me in. Had I thought it through I would have thought in terms of the work associated with the buffer being a system where one change causes another. I should be ashamed as in my undergrad studies in organizational behavior we followed a systemic approach that dictated that change to one element or aspect of a system can and will cause unanticipated changes elsewhere. An education is useless unless you use it. I now only wonder what other unanticipated changes will have occurred.
Tomorrow is another day for that.
September 12, 2008
Yesterday I went birthday shopping for my wife. I knew what she really, really wanted, and to bring the bangle home I would have to journey to one of Atlanta’s most exclusive shopping areas. Where in typical malls the automobiles on display are Pontiacs and Hondas, this is the land of Bentleys and Maseratis, the parking lot full of the same, carefully valet parked. Despite the fact that this is where my wife and daughter regularly shop, I knew that I was way out of my element. I was like a Clark bar on the bottom of a swimming pool. As I walked by the toney shops, passing them one by one, a who’s who of high-end consumption, I looked away as if mere gaze could turn me to a pillar of salt. Eventually this Quasimodo found his way to his destination, already humbled.
When I walk into a store and all of the clerks are wearing black, and high fashion black at that, I know that I’m in trouble. Okay, I’m an attorney and I know about dressing the part, but with just the sight of fancy black dress I can feel my wallet lighten. Being on commission there were mere seconds before being set upon with greetings of a good afternoon and queries as to whether I could be helped. Of course, at that point, I was well beyond help.
Truth is that the clerks in this store were actually quite nice, and I was impressed with their no-pressure sales style. I knew exactly what I wanted, so I was an easy sell. But, of course, high above the room was the fly buzzing that would soon find its way to the ointment.
Understand that I’m just a bit old fashioned. My parents were products of the Depression and I came into this world at a time before credit cards when there was only cash, occasional store accounts, and these new things called “charge cards.” I’ve always valued the feel of paying cash. There’s a finality to it, not a mere promise of some real exchange down the road once the bankers have taken their pound of flesh. I’ve also represented small businesses dealing with credit card merchant accounts, and I know the expenses associated with taking payment via credit card. Their margins are thin enough without having to pay that percentage to the credit card companies. Okay, in retrospect I’m sure that the shop that I was in yesterday is well able to absorb the credit card fees. But habit is habit, and if I know how much something that I am going to buy will cost I will stop and withdraw the necessary cash as a courtesy to the business. So, yesterday, my wallet full of plastic, I also had a big wad of the green stuff.
Having been presented with my bill, as I opened up my wallet, all of my plastic in plain sight, I pulled out a thick wad of twenties. Suddenly, all was eerily silent. As I looked up into the eyes of the clerk, a very pleasant young lady, the look on her face was one that I might have expected to see had I not opened up my wallet but unzipped something else and pulled out something completely different than a wad of twenties. She looked down at the cold hard cash and by the look on her face, now no longer horrified but confused, I could tell that she knew what I was offering her, but seemed unable to figure out what to do next. As I peeled off the twenties laying them in neat piles of five, she collected her wits, graciously collected the bills, if not somewhat gingerly, and retreated to the back room presumably to gift wrap the bangle. As time went on I could tell something was amiss.
Finally, after an inordinate amount of time, she emerged from the back room with the obligatory black handled designer bag with a black puff of tissue artfully splayed from the top. In her other hand was a small wad of bills carefully rolled up ($14.26 to be exact) that she placed in my hand telling me “Sorry about the wait, we had to go out to make change”. D’oh! Well of course, who pays cash, and that much of it, at a store like that? I felt like Jethro Bodine visitin’ the big city. Dang, I might as well have just dropped trow and laid a big steaming pile of stupidity on the rug right in the middle of the store. I was left to mumble something self-serving like “But of course, you wouldn’t have change would you, I should have used plastic”. Heck, as it was it looked like I had just come down out of a North Georgia mountain meth lab with part of the day’s take. At best I looked like a yokol, and at worst like a crazed drug dealer. So much for my trip to the big city as I exited the store with my tail tucked between my legs.
I found little enjoyment in the black Bentley on display outside the shop. It only mocked me. Shamed I walked the long walk past the disapproving stare of the high-falutin’ shops, trudged past the valet, and out to the far reaches of the parking lot to my lowly H3 to make my way home, a disgraced man.
Ah, the things that we will put ourselves through for love.
August 30, 2008
So, why are a good number of the names that I use for shapes, tampers, and materials Japanese? I get this question fairly frequently. There are several reasons why.
Despite the fact that most of my foreign customers are located in Japan, I have no illusion that I’m creating Japanese art. The truth is that I was raised around Japanese art, much of it the work of Hokusai and Hiroshige. I also collect prints of their work. That goes back to my mom who used to thumb through pages of their prints with me by her side, or on her knee as a tot. That said, I know enough of Japanese art to know that one cannot create it without understanding their culture and sensibilities. I know enough to not even try. A friend of mine is a major collector of Japanese art and he knows enough of it to know that there is only so much that we can understand and that much of it will always be beyond our grasp. So, please understand that I would never be so bold, or crass, to think that I could create Japanese art. There are many, many inspirations for my work from weather, to nature, to Flash Gordon, to just about any interest that I have or anything that I’ve seen. So, why then Japanese names?
Other than having studied the history of the Imperial Japanese Navy my exposure to Japan has been primarily through Godzilla movies <grin>. As to art, my exposure has been though a lifelong involvement having come from a family of artists as well as having studied art extensively in college. As an attorney I have always been sensitive to the written word and the images and emotions that they evoke. Words have been my craft and trade. I’m well aware of how they can impart ideas and emotions. Sometimes words that are common to us, in our own language, are a little too forward, maybe a little too blunt. In those instances I like to chose a word that has a wonderful ring to it that upon translation will give a little insight into what I saw in my mind’s eye when I created the piece, created the shape, or first saw the material. Sometimes I’m at a loss for a name so I chose one a bit obtuse, yet appropriate. A perfect example is a new material that is made up of yellow flecks. It’s a very yellow material, but calling it “Yellow” would be boring. So, I used the word “Kiiro” which is Japanese for “yellow”. I think “Kiiro” is a pretty word. “Yellow” is, well…yellow. As another example, I could have called the Torune-do a “tornado”, but Torune-do seems to me to fit better and offers a name that is out of the ordinary.
My fascination with words isn’t limited to Japanese words, although I must admit that I find aspects of the language to be quite beautiful. I like to use other languages such as my own English as well as Swedish, German, Spanish and Danish. I love the looks of words. A word in one language can have an entirely different look in another. I enjoy taking various words and translating them to different languages and seeing how they change, or how they are similar. Often my customers will translate the names (If I haven’t provided the translation) and will tell me what they have discovered almost as if it was a clue that had been discovered embedded within. That’s been a lot of fun, and going to other languages has offered a multitude of words for names for so many pieces.
A fun example is a Hira (Japanese for “palm” as these tamps fit in the palm of your hand) that I just finished up today. At first I chose the name “Ari” which is a Japanese word for “ant”. Upon further inspection I decided that “Swan” was more appropriate but really got a kick out of the Swedish word for “swan” which is “svan”, so, “Svan” it is. One letter makes so much of a difference, and besides, I was able to give a nod to my ancestry by way of my maternal grandfather. The Japanese word for “swan” is “suwan”, and that just didn’t cut it for me. And while I do like the word “ijin” for “devil”, with the previous Hira the name “Diablo” got the nod (although I will file “ijin” away for the future).
Words are important to me, and I love the nature of words and assigning them to my work. Please don’t read anything more into it than that. My work is what it is, and it’s not trying to be anything else other than what it is. That would be pointless.
August 22, 2008
Today I turned 50. Someone asked me if I felt like I was 50. I told them that I felt as I did when I was 40.
When I turned 40 someone asked me if I felt like I was 40. I told them that I felt as I did when I was 30.
When I turned 30 someone asked me if I felt like I was 30. I told them that I felt as I did when I was 20.
So, if all of that is true, at 50 why don’t I feel like I’m 20?
That said, I have no complaints, only blessings.
May 30, 2008
Here is another oldie from the “Still Breathing” section once on the Ming web site, a feature that preceded this Blog.
7/06/05- What’s in a name? That’s a fairly rhetorical question unless after 46 years you learn that all of that time you haven’t been using your proper given name. Let me explain.
Last Friday my wife, daughter, and I made the trip to Lawrenceville, Georgia to transfer our Ohio driver’s licenses to Georgia. The administrative bureaucracy in Georgia is not quite what it could be. We had been warned that to get our driver’s licenses we should expect to spend the entire day at the DMV in a que that would rival those of the former Soviet Union. We were also been told that some bureaus allowed appointments, the closest of which was an hour and a quarter away. So, that is how I ended up in Lawrenceville, Georgia last Friday, the day that I learned my real name.
As I stood at the counter, with birth certificate, my Ohio license, and proof of residency in hand, the clerk, a most friendly young woman, copied my information down on a form. As I watched her print out my full name, gleaned from my birth certificate, I interrupted to correct her. My full name, as has been known to me as long as I can remember, is “Arthur Granat Ruppelt”. Hell, I’ve seen it a hundred times, and there it is in big bold letters on my law license. So, as the clerk printed “Arthur Grant” I chimed in.
You see, Granat is my mother’s maiden name. I know it well. It is my grandfather’s last name, the man who I am named after. It’s a name of Swedish origin that has come to be a Scottish name. Centuries ago many Swedes settled in Scotland, and some of them were Granats. Granat in Swedish is the equivalent of “grenadier” which has since come to be identified as Scottish. I’ve always been a Granat, proudly so, of that I’m quite sure.
Well, sure I was at least until last Friday. As I questioned the clerk’s spelling, after some confusion, becoming just a bit perplexed she referred me to my own birth certificate laying on the counter before us. There it was, right at the top: “Arthur Grant Ruppelt”. As the sound of bagpipes and the slurping of herring withered away, all I could say, dumbfounded to say the least, was “oh”.
So, after 46 years, the Great State of Georgia has informed this former Ohioan of his proper name. I suppose Grant isn’t the worst of names. I also suppose I should count my blessings that it isn’t “Sherman”. Please note that this isn’t over yet. The birth certificate that I brought to the DMV was a certified copy of my original, one provided by the Cleveland Health Department s the original was at that time misplaced. Somewhere in the myriad of boxes that is currently my house lies my original which will hold the final answer as to my proper middle name. I should be able to find it soon, hopefully by September or October……2010.
UPDATE: 5/30/08- The City of Cleveland Bureau of Vital Statistics has repeatedly sent the birth certificate with the wrong middle name. They just continue to repeat their error over and over again. So, my middle name is still “Grant”. I’m wondering whether the error isn’t on the original certificate and my middle name is indeed Grant. The original birth certificate is still missing in action.
But wait, it gets even better. Last year I was buying a pistol and the gun shop employee handed my driver’s license back to me and asked me if I had noticed something odd on my license. The problem was that under gender I was listed as an “F” rather than an “M”. I looked up at him and said “holy crap, do you know what this means? My wife is a lesbian”. (not that there’s anything wrong with that) The boys in the shop got quit a kick out of the error, and it stayed that way for months. I figured that I would get it corrected when the City of Cleveland saw fit to send me a correct birth certificate. As it turns out I lost my wallet a few months back so I corrected the gender issue with a new license, and almost had the clerk convinced to change my middle name to the proper one.
So, now I can say, with head held high, that my middle name is Grant, and that I am a male, and my wife is a lesbian no more.
Life can be so complicated.
April 22, 2008
I’ve had several emails from kind folks who have been asking whether everything is okay with me. Nothing has appeared on this blog since the unfortunate Mr. Spitzer back on March 12th. Hopefully he’s doing better than he was back them. Me, other than being busier than two toilets on nickel beer night at the stadium, I’ve been doing swell. Swell indeed. We had the annual spring vacation, this year to Key West, along with my daughter’s senior singing recital which included a whole house full of guests from the North, and her upcoming graduation. Business has, as they say, been booming, more so than I ever imagined. So, as you might have guessed, time becomes rather short with not enough hours in a day, yatta, yatta, yatta. So, like those big time newspaper writers do when they go on vacation (or a bender), I’m going to run some old pieces written from my pre-blog blog called “Still Breathing” that once ran on the Ming-Kahuna web site. The name “Still Breathing” was in honor of my Mom who when asked how she was feeling would invariably say “still breathing”. My response to that, sure as the sunrise, would be “What’s the alternative?”.
So, without further adieu, here is a piece I wrote back in 2005 shortly after moving to Georgia about how stability and permanency are only an illusion, but very functional ones.
7/16/05- As we sat in our car in the Alpharetta high school parking lot at midnight last night, waiting for the bus that was bringing my daughter home from cheerleading camp on the Florida coast, I asked my wife if, a year ago, she would have dreamed that this is where we would be on this balmy Georgia July evening. Of course the question was rhetorical, but this got me to thinking about just how much our lives can change, and so very quickly. I’m not talking about change due to calamity or tragedy, but how our lives can change so significantly due to the choices that we make. They say that fate is a double-edged sword, rough-hewn at best, but I’m thinking more here about where we take ourselves in life, fate relegated to a more minor role.
As the bus rolled up I found myself contemplating just how finely balanced life truly is, at times seeming so stable, an unwavering foundation upon which our lives are built, taken for granted as much so as the dawn. And while we do walk a fine line, much as a gymnast on a balance beam, seemingly firm and stable, not prone to tilt, the truth is that this relatively broad plane that we travel during the course of our lives, is mere illusion. The stability in life that forms the bedrock of our sanity, allowing us to go on each day with a modicum of security in a perceived status quo, is in reality more akin to walking on a razor’s edge, each of us blissfully ignorant of the precariousness of our perch. But, walk we do each day, thankfully unaware that we are mere performers in a tightrope act called “life” where the outcome is far less than certain, or pre-ordained.
Such is the human condition. I wouldn’t have it any other way.