Archive for March, 2017

Bomb Shelter

Friday, March 24th, 2017

Around last Christmastime, there was a classified ad in one of the local papers that read something like this:

“Wanted: nuclear bomb shelter constructed on my property. Must be ready by January 20, 2017.”

Several of us have had apocalyptic fears since the last election. A piece in the New Yorker a while back (1/30/2017) talked about wealthy people building or purchasing high-end subterranean bunkers complete with food, water, and facilities, designed to allow those that can afford it to ride out the apocalypse in style, comfort, and safety. Many of my local friends believe their deer rifles will be a valuable tool if civilization hiccups.

In the same New Yorker article, Stewart Brand, former editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, and one guy I credit for helping me find my way in a very chaotic world in my younger years, suggested that hiding out in defendable enclaves until civilization sorts things out is escapism. He suggests that the civilized world has “chugged along” through a financial crisis, tsunami and nuclear meltdown, and health crisis such as Ebola.

I like Brand’s tactic. I see strength in community. Strength in knowing your neighbors, knowing they’ll help you just as you have helped or will help them. I like the idea that I am not roaming around trying to take things from those better prepared than I was, but instead actively attempting to keep things “chugging along” by cooperating.

Why We Build Castles

Friday, March 10th, 2017

In our family room, we have this table that allegedly came with our house. The story goes that the carpenter that built our house in the 1920s (for $800!) was asked by Alice’s grandparents, to make them a table. He had some nice clear pine lying around, and knocked together this table. It has a hinged folding leaf that stays in place with a pair of hidden sliding 2x2s. Underneath the table are places where the children, including Alice’s Dad, supposedly scribbled with pencils.

This table has almost everything. It was built by a man who apparently believed so strongly in socialism (a Red Finn) that he eventually emigrated to Russia. It was used by Alice’s Grandparents, Dad, Aunts, and Uncles, and shows traces of their growing up (even an old wad of gum!) It was given to us by the member of the family that had stored it until we fixed up the house and could be returned to its rightful location.

This table is also one you would probably walk right past at a garage sale if it had a tag for $5 on it. Lots of sentimental value, but not much of a table when you get right down to it. When our family is gone from the planet, this table will probably follow us to a landfill in short order.

But what if that family had had some Jed Clampett luck and discovered a million dollar lode of silver on their property? The table would have probably been tossed out by them long ago, and replaced with a birdseye maple table with matching cushioned chairs. Other valuable pieces would have followed because heck, we can afford it! These pieces were too good not to take care of, so a bigger house was necessary. And when that house filled up, an addition was built or a new one sought. If the money holds up, a castle, full of historical pieces, stands where the little house once stood.

And so it goes. Our everyday stuff is run through the wringer, worn, patched, sold or scrapped. The expensive stuff needs to be polished, kept at the right humidity, and sold at Sotheby’s when the family has no further use for it.

I do enjoy visiting museums where these amazing pieces are on display. I’m most interested in the skill the craftsmen had to conceive, carve, and join these pieces often without the use of any power tools. But I also get a lot of satisfaction working on a puzzle on our plain pine table, thinking about our ancestors sitting around it, shooting spitwads, making faces, and doing what children have always done. The stories that table could tell…

We’re Better Than This

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

After last November’s election, I sat in shock for some time. After the shock wore off and I could start to think again, I puzzled over the results. I believe in our democracy, in that when we vote, the tallies are accurate. The man in the white house received the majority of electoral votes. “How could this have happened,” I asked myself. “We’re better than this.”

Then it came to me.. we are NOT better than this. This is what we are. There is nothing and no one to blame. This is how we voted, and for 4 years or until impeachment, this man is our president. Period. I decided I needed to find my solace elsewhere, and I found a slice of it in the work of H. L. Mencken. Mr Mencken died when I was 4 years old, not allowing much of an overlap, but his writing; oh my goodness…

I found his book, “A Mencken Chrestomathy” on Abe Books ™ for a couple of bucks. I brought it with me to the doctor’s office this morning, and cracked chapter 1 while I was waiting for the doctor. I’m guessing it may be a little strange to some, but while I sat alone in the examination room, I laughed loud and long; this on the first few pages of the lengthy tome. Mr. Mencken, you and I are going to get along fine, and I think with your help, I’m going to weather the next few years.

Mencken, in talking about life on planet Earth, pays special attention to his lifelong object of satire, the human species, when he writes, “Of all animals, indeed, he seems the least capable of arriving at accurate judgments in the matters that most desperately affect his welfare. Try to imagine a rat, in the realm of rat ideas, arriving at a notion as violently in contempt of plausibility as the notion, say, of Swedenborgianism, or that of homeopathy, or that of infant damnation, or that of mental telepathy. Man’s natural instinct, in fact, is never toward what is sound and true; it is toward what is specious and false. Let any great nation of modern times be confronted by two conflicting propositions, the one grounded upon the utmost probability and reasonableness and the other upon the most glaring error, and it will almost invariably embrace the latter. It is so in politics, which consists wholly of a succession of unintelligent crazes, many of them so idiotic that they exist only as battle-cries and shibboleths and are not reducible to logical statement at all.” (H. L. Mencken, “A Mencken Chrestomathy”, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc, 1982)

This on page 7 of some 600+ pages of Mencken’s choice of the best of his writing. I think for the next few weeks, I’ll be on the couch with Mr. Mencken. If you happen to be in the next room and hear laughter, don’t worry, it is only me, becoming regrounded.