Who are we? We are our stories.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Another Brother

When I was pre-school and in early grade school I shared a room and bed with a boy I considered to be an older brother. My father found Kenny Goldman, a runaway, hiding in a shed on my grandparent's farm. His parents had been killed in an auto accident and he was running away from a bad situation at his older sister's home, who was his closest relative.

Kenny lived with us through high school, until he joined the Navy. He stopped in once after his discharge, on his way to a job in Minneapolis. We never saw him again. My parents were heartbroken. Years later his obituary appeared in our local paper. He had become a mid-level manager for the telephone company. He died in his fifties from a heart attack.

Apparently his time with us was a part of his life he didn't want to remember.

Monday, December 22, 2008


This is a response to and explanation of Margadant's comment on the Dec 17 Fish Camp posting:

The Old Man was taught to fly by John Vasey from Hollandale. Gene Fynbo was the one who certified him, but it was Johnny who taught him to fly, which is ultimately the reason for your adventure on your first plane ride.

When I met Johnny he was a spray pilot and truck driver for Ulland Bros. One Sunday we're at the airport, the Old Man talking flying and gravel with Johnny. He got his mischievous smile, you know the innocent one, and said, "Why don't you take the kid up for a ride?" So Johnny and I climbed on board. I don't remember the type of plane for sure. Probably a Stearman, which I know he flew some years later. It would be a better story if I could remember for certain, but it gets a little fuzzy about then. We flew straight up until it stalled and he just dropped it back around and went nuts - completely nuts. He gave me the most terrifying experience of my life. Just terrifying. He did a series of low passes, snap rolls or slow rolls with the wing tips 3 or 4 feet off the ground. And I swear, if you're in the plane, it looks like the wingtips are hitting the ground, it looks like you are going to die - die being pushed against gravity like you're on the devil's rollercoaster. You are going to hit the ground and become as one with the wreckage. You are going to die!

A lifetime later I got my feet back on God's good earth and eventually located my misplaced spine. It wasn't one of my better moments. I was not cool. I found out I was at the wrong end of a really bad practical joke, or maybe a good one, depending on your viewpoint. In his previous life, Johnny had been a barnstormer and a stunt pilot. His gimmick was that his whole routine was typical stunts, except done right over the ground so people could see - up close. Eventually the barnstorming days dwindled down and Johnny went driving truck. But he sure enjoyed taking the cockiness out of a punk kid. It also helps explain the Old Man's skill and his urge to bend airplanes in unnatural directions.

The Christmas Angel

When four of Santa's elves got sick, the trainee elves did not produce toys as fast as the regular ones, and Santa began to feel the pre-Christmas pressure. Then Mrs. Claus told Santa her mother was coming to visit, which stressed Santa even more.When he went to harness the reindeer, he found that three of them were about to give birth and two others had jumped the fence and were out, heaven knows where.Then when he began to load the sleigh, one of the floorboards cracked, the toy bag fell to the ground and all the toys were scattered. Frustrated, Santa went in the house for a cup of apple cider and a shot of rum. When he went to the cupboard, he discovered the elves had drunk all the cider and hidden the rum. In his frustration, he accidentally dropped the cider jug, and it broke into hundreds of little glass pieces all over the kitchen floor. He went to get the broom and found the mice had eaten all the straw off the end of it. Just then the doorbell rang, and irritated Santa marched to the door, yanked it open, and there stood a little angel with a great big Christmas tree. The angel said very cheerfully, "Merry Christmas, Santa. Isn't this a lovely day? I have a beautiful tree for you. Where would you like me to stick it?"

Christmas Tree 2008

Our first Christmas together we were living in a tiny 3-room cottage, referred to as "The Doll House" by the locals. We had NO money, so a Christmas tree was not on the agenda. Two days before Christmas there was a knock at the door and Lorna's father, Bob was there, with a big smile and the sorriest excuse for a Christmas tree I've ever seen - a Charlie Brown special. Bob had a small general store and sold a few trees along with the groceries, work boots and dollar watches. Ours was the tree that was left after everyone in town had picked them over and had selected the presentable trees. ( I like the idea of "presentable" as a standard for a Christmas tree. Worthy of presents.) We made some colorful ornaments out of construction paper. The tree dropped all of it's needles. If we touched it, the falling needles just made a tinkling sound. When we took what was left of the tree, the skeleton, and pitched it on New Years Day, we threw all the "ornaments" out with it. I wish we had saved a couple for our current tree.

Some years we cut our own tree out at the Budd's farm. This year the brutal weather has hit us with a vengeance, so we have an artificial tree - the classic faux fir.

A lot of our ornaments are homemade or received as gifts. I made the birdcage out of brass wire and a pint paint can lid.

The sled is about 3" long. I made it out of a light coat hanger and some scrap oak ( for sturdiness?).

State Fair 1935: Lorna's Mother and Aunt Dorothy. We have her diary. They were a family of five kids that really had fun, even during the depression. Lorna made the counted cross-stitch little boy, mounted in a curtain-ring, back when she still had the eyes and the patience for it. My Grandma Berg tatted the snowflakes and crocheted the little traditional Scandinavian hearts.

The little romantic picture is the lid from Lorna's Grandma Nelson's make-up compact - the Lord knows she needed all the romance she could find. The little carved wooden girl is from Denmark. They still make them, but like most things the quality is poor now. Even the Danes are all going to hell.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Summertime Blues

The first day of Winter. There's a foot of new snow , it's 9 below and blowin' like a banshee. I dont' want to be trapped here right now. I wanna be 19 and laying on a beach... instead I'm 63 and locked in by bad weather.

The small town where I'm held hostage by situation, was the hometown of one Eddie Cochran, a hot Rock 'n Roller who crashed too young years ago. I'm old and in the way, but I can still rock 'n roll in my heart.

Summertime Blues

I'm gonna raise a fuss,
I'm gonna raise a holler
About a workin' all summer just to try to earn a dollar
Every time I call my baby, and try to get a date
My boss says, "No dice son, you gotta work late"
Sometimes I wonder what I'm a gonna do
But there ain't no cure for the summertime blues

Well my mom and pop told me,
"Son you gotta make some money,
If you want to use the car to go ridin' next Sunday"
Well I didn't go to work, told the boss I was sick
"Well you can't use the car 'cause you didn't work a lick"
Sometimes I wonder what I'm a gonna do
But there ain't no cure for the summertime blues

I'm gonna take two weeks, gonna have a fine vacation
I'm gonna take my problem to the United Nations
Well I called my congressman and he said, Quote:
"I'd like to help you son but you're too young to vote"
Sometimes I wonder what I'm a gonna do
But there ain't no cure for the summertime blues

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hunting Camp

Every late Fall the Old Man and his cohorts went Up North to go deer hunting. Understand, in Minnesota, "Up North" is a place, a destination... a state of mind... not a direction. They were "Up North", a place of rocks and rivers, lakes and evergreen forests - a good place to be with friends.

Marlin "Bud" Berg (The Old Man), Chuck Nelson, Donald Wayne, Chris Lindrupp and Homer Jensen sitting around the evening table, which Homer had just built from a pile of boards brought along from the Clarks Grove Lumber Company, which he managed. I notice that Big Donald was still wearing a white shirt and tie, apparently from a meeting, left in a hurry to get a fast jump on the road north. Dad looks like Dad always did during the winter - hunting or not - a man of leather and wool. As I've gotten older, I find myself dressing more like him, and enjoying every day of it. I put on my Filson double cruiser and Filson cap with tie up fleece flaps - what the kids call a Fudd Hat, and go out about on my northland business. I see his reflection in the store windows as I pass... and smile. Unbelievably geeky, but as he said, "You cannot put a price on personal comfort". Or old memories.

The same group getting ready for bed. Damn, Dad looks young! They're all young men in their prime, not knowing how time would tear them down.

The boys ready to bed down for the night. They are in bedrolls, as this is before sleeping bags were common, at least for this conservative crew. The gentleman on the rear cot is Al Swenson. No one called him Reverend Swenson. He was Swens. He was a rough-edged, take no prisoners preacher. He could kick your ass. The Old Man said Swens was always trying to save their souls by have morning devotionals. Everyone ignored him and escaped by crawling under the tent wall when he was distracted. Dad said the last thing he heard in the morning as he was walking back into the woods was Swens, now alone back in camp, bellowing, "Come back here! You HEATHENS!". They were and they didn't.

Charles Nelson after he got his buck, ever the neat and dapper killer. No blood spilt on his pants nor under his fingernails; no evidence that he had met Bambi in the woods, killed him, cut him open and tore his guts out, before tying a rope around his neck and dragging him out of the woods to hang him from a tree for the world to see. How easily he wears the look of innocence.

I realize that a Winnebago is more convenient and blaze orange is safer, but we've lost a certain sense of class and style, even elegance, when the soft wools and canvas tents were lost to time and "progress".

These are the people that taught me honor and honesty, how to be a man, in the best sense of the word. Swens was the preacher who lived across the street, a man I knew as a person, more as a roll model than a Sunday minister. The religion didn't stick, but hopefully the strength did. Donald was my first employer as a kid - 50 cents an hour. We would be talking about moral dilemmas and he would come up with things like, "Well, just don't forget to rotate your tires"; things that at the time didn't seem to be related to the conversation, but did of course. It just took me longer to process it. Chuck owned the gas station where I worked after school through high school. One time I was agonizing over a gift for a young lady (and he was paying me all of $1.25 an hour). From Chuck I got, "In the long run, for women, I've found it's tough to beat furs and jewels". That has stood me in good stead. Homer was the father of one of my best friends and lived four doors down the street. Later in life, Dad and Homer really only talked when they were in the middle of life crises and needed counsel. When the Old Man died, Homer came to the funeral home and had a 15 minute conversation, out loud, with Dad laying in an open casket. His last counsel. Everyone left the room, either out of respect for privacy or maybe overcome with the creepiness of it all. From Chris, from good hearted Chris, I still have an old target rifle and the skillset to use it. And of course my father... from my father, particularly from my young father, I got... everything. All good men, and all gone now. (I am resisting comments about the Happy Hunting Ground.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Oophda Party

Lorna and her two sisters met Tuesday in Rochester at the Mayo Clinic for a girl's get together. The three of them have had breast cancer issues, plus the loss of the generation of the women that preceded them to breast cancer. Because of the wonderful advancements in genetics they were able to determine that they were all carrying the BRC2 genetic marker for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. While the breasts are no longer an issue, a 3 to 4 times normal risk of ovarian cancer, a real killer, still existed. A month ago they had all shared an appointment with the surgeon for physicals and were all scheduled for their oophorectomies on the same day with adjoining rooms. Lorna was first in line and came out of it in amazing fashion. Her conditioning and yoga probably paid off - not even any painkiller! Her sisters were a little slower recovering, so it was late in the day before we, the men in waiting, were able to get them over to sister Linda's house, who just happens to live in Rochester.
For two days they curled up in warm blankets, talking and watching chick flicks, tended by the next generation, Addy and Sarah, who is a brand new RN. Thursday afternoon I went back over and picked up Lorna and brought her home. This will be henceforth known in family lore as the oophda party.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Grandma's Pitcher

I am only posting this because it is the same design style as the lights and mudguards of classic French bicycles I love. I don't think the pitcher is French. The stamp on the bottom is a stylized globe with "World" & "Hand Forged" stamped across it. It was crafted at a time when aluminum was exotic, an expensive material worth the effort of craftsmanship. It works equally well for my daffodils in the Spring and lemonade in the hot days of Summer. In Winter I use it to add water to the pot of papyrus that is slowly dying, waiting for Spring and the outdoor pond, when it will hopefully spring back to life. Me too.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot think of anyway to use it on a bicycle; and I've actually thought about it... a lot - at least no uses that Grandma would approve of. But Hell, she didn't even approve of bicycles, except as children's toys.

Fishing Camp

When I was growing up I assumed every man, every REAL man, owned an airplane. In the 1950s they were not necessarily a high end luxury toy. An old airplane cost about the same as a good secondhand car. We couldn't afford a second car. Certain priorities had to be maintained. All of the Old Man's friends seemed to own an airplane or a least a share in one. There was a rough grass airstrip on my grandfather's farm where at least two or three planes were usually tied down.

Being a rural kid, I could drive a truck when I was about twelve, but I could fly an airplane long before that. Sunday afternoons were spent in the air. When the Old Man would get bored, I would take the stick. Being up in the air there was nothing to hit, nothing a kid could wreck - just learn to fly by trial and error. The only issue was trying to keep my feet on the pedals.

For a while the Old Man had two airplanes, one on wheels and another, a pontoon, he owned with his sidekick, Big Donald. I suppose there was a Little Donald at one time, but if so, I never knew him.

The pictures were taken with a rangefinder camera with a wind-up delay. The Aeronca Sedan had a fabric covered body with aluminum wings, a step up from the all fabric Piper Cub 2-seater it replaced. The stylish dark red and cream Sedan was normally a 4-seater, but for the purposes of fishing in remote Canadian lakes, it became a 2-seater to make room for gear.
(Incidently, one time the Old Man and Don ran into a hard headwind on a return trip, and ran out of fuel. The Old Man slid her, dead stick, into an alfalfa field south of Owatonna and didn't even scratch the pontoons. It did merit an unwanted front page photo in the local paper though. A couple of days later they cobbled a wheeled dolly to fit under the pontoons and he flew her out and finished the trip home.)
Before he bought the Cub, he and maybe Homer(?), drove to Canada in a pickup, and then took their equipment, including a light boat, on the train to Churchill. They were dropped off out in the middle of the boondocks and were picked up a week later by the train on its return run.
All this was before there was an REI in every town. People made or reworked all their equipment - a lot of Army surplus. (For instance, Homer had a custom boat he could car-top on his Caddy, built like a canvas/cedar strip canoe, except it was wider and had a transom for a light outboard). The Old Man coveted it; years later he bought on Homer's retirement sale, but resold it almost immediately. He just needed the pleasure of ownership of something fine. Their tent was an old parachute which had been converted into a simple tent by the local tent and awning maker. I don't remember any mosquito netting - just welts and itches. The boat in the photos was a Navy surplus lifeboat with a homemade pine transom to hold the 2 1/2 horse Evinrude, which was augmented by paddles.

Our boys were fishing in remote lakes that probably had never been fished, except by a handful of local Crees. I don't recall the names of the small lakes, but I know Gods Lake was favored if the goal was really big fish. The fish in the live-trap look to be a mixture of Northerns, Muskies and maybe a Lake Trout or two. Nice size (keep in mind that the Old Man was tall, and his legs don't look that big in the picture). The Old Man brought home some really enormous fish over the years - real trophy fish - fish that probably should have been mounted. But there was no way Ma was going to have a dead fish hanging on the walls of her home anyway! She barely tolerated Sid, the Whitetail buck mount, which was used as a hat rack in our front entry.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Kirby Miles Berg

One evening a number of years ago I received a telephone call informing me that my 30 year old younger brother had been seriously burned in a house fire and had been transferred to a burn unit in Minneapolis. He died without regaining consciousness on December 16, 1980. He left behind an ex-wife and young daughter. It takes a little of the kick out of Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bud and Chicken - June 1943

Before anyone starts posting comments about the hot young chick, keep in mind that this is my parents. ;-) The black blob at the Old Man's feet may be their dog, Sache. This picture may have been before they left on their honeymoon, which I think involved fishing - which should have set off loud warning bells in Mother's head. More on fishing later.

The North Country Fair? A Weather Report:

Well, if you're travelin' in the north country fair,
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline,
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.

Well, if you go when the snowflakes storm,
When the rivers freeze and summer ends,
Please see if she's wearing a coat so warm,
To keep her from the howlin' winds.

-R. Zimmerman

Damn guys, it' cold. Actually the temperature isn't that unusual for the time and place - what catch us off guard was the suddenness of it. It was warm yesterday. Kjarstens said it was 37 degrees when he took the dog for a walk and 9 degrees when he returned. Unfortunately it continued to fall...way below zero. By 10 o'clock last night the wind chill was bouncing around -45 below. Last night the winds did hit heavy on the borderline.

Friday, December 12, 2008


When Lorna and Gunnar were young and foolish we followed an intense, obscure Texas songwriter named Willie Nelson, and went to as many of his concerts as we could. The early ones were fun, like going to a club meeting where we all shared something that nobody else knew. Eventually the rest of the public caught on. Somewhere along the line we adopted Crazy as "our song", our own little sweet joke.

One evening The DC Drifters were playing the Caboose in Glenville. Lorna requested Crazy. They didn't all know the song, but Lorna was cute, really cute, so they dedicated the whole set to her - and damned well knew Crazy the next time.

Its not a song that lends itself to printed lyrics, as the tension of Willie's ungodly long pauses help make the song, as if he's trying to think of what to say next. Half the song is like quiet space, just waiting to be filled with the next line.

I'm crazy
Crazy for feeling so lonely
I'm crazy
Crazy for feeling so blue
I knew
That you'd love me as long as you wanted
And then some day
You'd leave me for somebody new
Why do I let myself worry?
What in the world did I do?
I'm crazy
For thinking that my love could hold you
I'm crazy for trying
And crazy for crying
And I'm crazy for loving you

Death of Miss Bettie

I was listening to CNN blathering about Illinois politics when it scrolled across the bottom of the screen. "50s pin-up queen Bettie Page dies at age 85". The news of her death came as a terrible shock to me. Hell, I thought she'd been dead for years. For a kid growing up in the fifties, Bettie Page was the very definition of "naughty". She was on calenders in damned near very shop, gas station and garage in America. Everywhere men gathered without the women, the mothers and wives, to set them straight, Bettie was there. Even my straight arrow Uncle Duke had Miss Bettie in his shop in the basement, discretely on the inside of a cabinet door. I was just a kid, but I knew naughty when I saw it and Bettie was naughty, naughty even when she was fully clothed.
I remember reading later in life she found religion and left her notorious life behind. But not before she left 4,230,000 photos on Google Photo and a bunch of books on Amazon, to say nothing of a bazillion key fobs, calenders and playing cards. God bless her leggy, black lace, spiked-heeled soul.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Alvéolé !

. I recently exchanged correspondence and photos with a gentleman on the subject of vintage French bicycle lights, the Luxor brand in particular. Obviously, at this point in both of our lives, we are completely bonkers and pretty damned comfortable in that state. Whereas I have a few old lights, enough to outfit two or three bikes, Aldo has a small museums worth. He has taken upon himself to try to collect every variation available. Well, you say, there can't be that many different vintage French bicycle lights. Oh yeah(?), maybe hundreds..

Most manufacturers, Radios, Cibe, Soubitz, Vitalux, had smooth, polished finishes. Luxor is the only one I'm aware of that had both the smooth and also a hammered honeycomb finish that matches the classic Lefol fenders (mine are the modern Honjo replicas). I was quite fortunate (read:$$) to find the matching honeycomb reflector. Anyway, in the process of all this, I learned that the hammered finish on my Luxor 65s is called "alvéolé". I'm not certain of the direct translation (honeycomb?), but I really don't care. If someone comments on the lights, I will just nonchalantly reply, "Well yes, I have always quite preferred the alvéolé finish.


And the box they came in!

Querelle des Femmes

Monday, December 8, 2008

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

Sometimes we receive unexpected little gifts. One time I mentioned to Addy that "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime" is one of those perfect songs. The change in meter and key expresses the feeling of the song as much as the lyrics do. The last time she was home she asked me to come into the room with the piano. (The "piano room" sounds far too uppity.) She sat down at the piano and played and sung the song for me. She went online, downloaded the sheets and memorized it, just for old Dad. Now ain't that sweet? I hinted that I'd really like to get "Moonlight in Vermont", another wonderful piece, for my next present. Or maybe Willie Nelson's "Crazy"?

Or Orbison's "Pretty Paper" for a Christmas present? Such a happy little ditty, that captures the spirit of the season so well:

Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue
Wrap your presents to your darling from you
Pretty pencils to write I love you
Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue

Crowded street, busy feet, hustle by him
Downtown shoppers, Christmas is nigh
There he sits all alone on the sidewalk
Hoping that you won't pass him by

Should you stop? better not, much too busy
You're in a hurry, my how time does fly
In the distance the ringing of laughter

And in the midst of the laughter he cries
Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue
Wrap your presents to your darling from you
Pretty pencils to write I love you

Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue

Curt makes the L.A.Times

This is long, but I snipped it because buried deep in its bowels is an acknowledgement of Curt Goodrich who built Addy's bike. He is originally from Blue Earth and is a master craftsman and general all round good guy. Go Curtie!

A small but increasing number of California craftspeople custom-build bicycle frames and parts.
By Jerry Hirsch
December 8, 2008

In an era of global sourcing and computer-aided design, Gregory Townsend builds custom steel bicycle frames in his Monrovia garage.

The 50-year-old British expatriate, who learned metal crafting in a high school shop class, is part of a small but growing number of craftspeople in California catering to bicycle enthusiasts who eschew the super-light carbon fiber cycles of the Tour de France for hand-built frames with meticulous fittings and elaborate paint jobs.

Although most of the bicycle manufacturing business fled to low-cost production centers in Taiwan and China years ago, a small high-end industry continues to percolate in California. It's characterized by small companies, typically with just a handful of employees, making handcrafted bicycle frames and specialized hubs, brakes and other components used for touring, fitness and recreational cycling.

Townsend's creations sell for $2,300 to more than $4,000, depending on how loaded the frames are with highly polished stainless steel detailing, paint colors and other fancy features.

"People come because they want the personal fitting and the communication on their riding style directly with the builder," Townsend said.

He's selling to hobbyists such as Roy Kohl, a vascular surgeon from Monrovia who rides several thousand miles a year.

"I just liked the concept of having a steel frame that was custom built and fit for me," Kohl said.

"My other bikes were aluminum and carbon fiber, but there is nothing that rides as nice as a good steel frame."

Townsend typically takes prospective clients on a bike ride. He wants to see how they fit their existing bicycle and find out about their riding preferences.

Like Townsend, other tiny operators in this niche typically work out of homes and small workshops.

Henry Folson, a former office furniture designer, operates perhaps the last business to domestically manufacture bicycle lugs. He works out of his house in Redondo Beach.

Lugs are sleeves of metal used to connect the eight tubes that make up the classic diamond-shaped bike frame. They were used for nearly a century but faded in importance in the 1990s as bicycle design shifted to welded aluminum and then woven carbon fiber.

His market is the roughly 100 to 200 professional steel-frame bicycle builders in the United States and legions of handy enthusiasts.

"Part of our market has always been people who have a 9-to-5 job but want to build a bike on the weekends as a hobby," Folson said.

Through the years, he has stuck to a made-in-America philosophy. Although Folson could have his lugs cast for less money in Taiwan, he contracts production at Southern California machine shops. And that's why he distributes the American-forged True Temper brand of frame tubing instead of brands from Europe and Japan.

"Between what we make and True Temper, you have what you need to make a great custom bicycle," Folson said.

He said he was able to keep the business he founded 31 years ago profitable by working out of his home and maintaining a limited payroll of two other family members.

Townsend uses Henry James lugs and other Folson-designed fittings to build his frames, which take about 40 hours to construct. He started selling bicycles two years ago and builds only about a dozen a year. That's not enough to allow him to quit his position in the information technology department of Kaiser Permanente, the state's largest health maintenance organization.

But business is growing, in part because of the popularity of cycling as an easy-on-the-knees source of exercise for aging baby boomers and the ease and low cost of maintaining a website: www.townsendcycles ltd.com.

The Internet, which can be used to display photos of completed frames and highlight intricate details, such as the shape of the fancy curlicue-and-arrow-tipped lugs used in construction, allows Townsend and other frame builders to market their craft inexpensively.

"With the Internet, clients come to me," Townsend said.

Although no one keeps statistics, many in the industry believe the custom bicycle business has grown steadily in recent years, said Don Walker, founder of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. His first show four years ago in Houston attracted 15 builders and about 700 visitors. This year's show in Portland, Ore., featured more than 90 frame constructors and more than 7,000 visitors. According to some industry estimates, Americans purchase about 20,000 custom-built frames annually.

Townsend is hoping he can cash in on that growth to turn frame building into a full-time vocation.
Custom bicycle builders need about 25 orders a year to break even and about 50 to start to make a healthy living, said Curt Goodrich, a successful Minneapolis builder who put together Schwinn Paramounts and custom frames for Rivendell Bicycle Works and now produces under his own label. Goodrich has a two-year backlog of orders.

Kohl, the surgeon, said that the cost of a custom frame from craftsmen such as Townsend and Goodrich "isn't out of line for what you would pay for a top-line carbon fiber bicycle at a cycling shop" but that a classic and often ornate steel frame was much more of a head-turner on 100-mile "centuries" and big group rides.

"My biggest problem was making myself pick out a color scheme," he said.

Kohl settled on yellow with maroon and gray accents.

"I am really happy with the bike and the way it rides," he said, "and have loaned out my other two bikes to a couple of guys who are just getting into riding."

Hirsch is a Times staff writer.

Christmas Choirs

The Augsburg Choir Christmas Concert was this past Friday and Saturday night at Central Lutheran in downtown Minneapolis. As Addy has graduated and is living a life in transition she is not singing in any choral groups. When she was in high school she was in three different groups at the same time, all of whom had Christmas concerts. While I'm honestly not entralled with choral music, I kind of miss it. It's still Christmas, but part of it has now slipped away. Maybe when she returns from her life adventures she will settle down in a master choir somewhere and we can resume the tradition.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Family Honors

We received a call from Addy the other evening. She and Walter won $50 for placing second in a Drag Queen talent contest. She is very talented and artistic, but it is likely the fact that Walt who is extremely talented and, by his own description, quite queer, gave them a leg up in the competition.

This is the biggest honor any family member has earned since years ago when my kid sister won $400 in the Southern Minnesota Hot Miniskirt Contest.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

And the Sermon for This Week is...

From Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Wind Farms.

Bicycling against the wind - the hill that never ends.

Below is posted WITHOUT permission of the very Rev Dick. Can we have an "Amen!" from the congregation?:

Open letter to The Wind

Dear Sir or Madam,

Given the recent increase in your disruptive activities, I regret to inform you that you are henceforth persona non grata. All Church members (and I mean that how you think I do) are herewith instructed to Shun you. This shall include the Turning Of The Cheek, the Going To The Drops, and potentially the devastating Choosing Of Other Routes!

Where these options are not available (such as on my commute, where you insist on blowing hard first one way and then, denying me the tailwind!, another) you shall be cursed. Members are encouraged to be creative in their cursing, for it is by the very inventiveness of their invective that they shall be delivered.

Should you wish to make an appropriate Act of Contrition, you (clearly) know where to find me.

The Right Reverend Richard Greyson

Friday, November 21, 2008

School News

With the stock market in freefall, Lorna is thinking about reconsidering her decision to retire this Spring. She doesn't have to decide right away. We'll see.

On a happy note, Ad called yesterday with the news that her Augsburg diploma should arrive in the mail within two or three weeks. That should make it officially official. Congratulations Addy! In spite of multiple major changes, it took her just four years to become an educated woman. Now its time to get back to work.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Guitar Man

Lorna called this late this afternoon and asked how I was coming on painting the bedroom. Not good. Not good at all. Earlier I stopped by to see Clarence, the guitar guy, and give him a few bucks for a uke for my daughter. He cut the price in half because he was friend of my father. Thanks Clarence.
Clarence and Barb live in an old house filled with wonderful clutter. In the front room there is a piano where she gives lessons, music stands, and a couple of chairs and a sofa. Scattered over, under and behind the furniture are a big C.F.Martin guitar, a nice old Gibson banjo, a bunch of violins, and rack of bows, an old mandolin and six accordions. These are the instruments that Clarence teaches. My first reaction seeing such a sight is, "Boy is this going to be fun!". And of course it was.
We shook hands, exchanged cash and got down to the real business of the day - talking about long dead friends and relatives, and music - mostly music. Clarence's family are all in North Carolina, and that's where his musical heart still is. We talked, he played in little on the Martin, mostly folk songs he grew up with -"real" country music. Then he caressed it softly as he laid it down. Smiling he said, "Its just wonderful". Then for me, because I love it, he took the mandolin out of a terribly battered case. The mandolin was not much better, at least to look at. "It's a 1920 Regal, not as expensive as some of the other brands, but it plays as well as any." A big smile spreads across his face, "Somebody left it on my doorstep." When Clarence plays the mandolin it's not fast and "excited". It's soft and gentle, and he plays songs about the wildwood flower and my sweetheart long ago. He says his stiff old fingers won't play fast, but I think he just likes it slow. I know I do after hearing him play it. Anyway, it took me three hours to drop off the money.

Thanksgiving Wines

I agonized over the Thanksgiving wine selections again this year. Its a hard meal to match. Even though its technically poultry, most whites won't stand up to the richness of the meal. My answer is to give us lots of options. This week a UPS truck dropped off a large carton with my 12 choices for the meal. Two years ago we went through 16 bottles, but other people will bring a bottle or two of something special they've been saving. It started with just a bottle or two, but as the family has grown, our pocketbooks matured and out tastes have gotten more sophisticated, things have gotten out of hand. And I love it.

Over the years our Thanksgiving duties have evolved. Larry will do two or three turkeys in different styles, maybe grill one or fry one in peanut oil, or find a heritage breed (it's a large group of people to feed!). Lorna does scalloped corn and relish, I do wine, etc. We may have a new entry this year. Ruby used to do pies, but she's too old to handle it now. Addy has been making pumpkin pies from scratch this year- from real pumpkins - and crust from scratch! If she has time - sometimes she works really long, odd hours. I'm hopeful.

Addy: Like a Stone Skippin' Across the Water

My daughter was home for the weekend. She is working temporarily in Mpls as a home care assistant for disabled people. We'll see her again on Thanksgiving for the day, then in early December, when she'll be turning in her notice and spending a little family time with us before heading to Thailand after the first of the year. She'll be teaching in a village on the central coast. The village is so small, it doesn't show up on our maps or Google, but it does have internet service.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Breakfast with "T"

This morning I had breakfast with "T" - rather I bought his breakfast and he talked. He is a sign painter - an intelligent, philosophical man in his mid fifties who writes angry letters to the editor railing about the unfairness of our economic system. I knew he was having a tough go of it again because he wasn't eating, just sitting at the counter drinking coffee and putting it on a tab. I pay for his meals and he talks to me. A fair trade. It turns out he is living in his shop without a bathroom or kitchen ..... again - can't afford the $260 rent he was paying for a apartment. In the past he has hit low enough that he lost his shop and had to live in his van. He can't afford a telephone, so customers have to find him. He is a typical street dwelling alcoholic or drug abuser - except he is neither. He suffers from depression at times, but mostly he has just fallen through the cracks. Like he said, at some point you can't get a job because you haven't had one for so long and you are not qualified to do anything. He used to play guitar in band, but now the guitar is gone. So he does what his father did; he paints signs in a town that doesn't have any new businesses and doesn't need any signs. Me, I got no answers for him and that makes me sad.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Words of Minnesota Wisdom

Saturday morning Lyle and I were pussy-footing across the glare ice from the pickup to the Elbow Room across the street. Lyle says, "This reminds me of something your Ol' Man said". Then he waits for me to ask. He's patient. If I didn't ask I'd never find out what the pearl was. "What was that?" "Never walk on ice with your hands in your pockets." Slowly, carefully, I took my hands out of my pockets.

Friday, November 14, 2008

God's Will

I've been struck by Sarah Palin - again. In interviews Mrs. Palin has been saying that she'll run for Pres in 2012 ..... if its God's will. It brought to mind a situation that happened years ago. I was working for a gentleman named Phil Shayner. Okay, I lie; he wasn't a gentleman, but he's been dead for years, so he's become a gentleman. Anyway, we were interviewing to hire another engineer and had found one in Denver that looked pretty good. He interviewed well, but was hesitant to make the move. Eventually he came around. He said after much prayer, God had spoken to him and told him to take the new position. Within a couple of weeks on the job it was obvious he couldn't handle it - a real loser. Within days, Phil came into my office and said, "I let him go - terminated him! God may have told him to take the job, but God must have changed his mind, because he told me to fire his sorry ass". God can be fickle.

If God does convince Sarah to run as a Republican in 2012, it will confirm a suspicion I've had for some time. God is a Democrat ... and he has a perverse sense of humor.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Howling at the Mooney

Okay, this post is really for myself.

I bought this Peter Mooney a couple of years ago and have been playing with it off and on since. When I bought it off of Ebay it had been "upgraded" with a bunch of junk, and I slowly brought it back to life. One thing that always bothered me was height of the bars. It had about 1 1/2" of headset spacers. I couldn't remove the fork to cut it down, because sometime in the past quarter century someone had overtightened a stem which wasn't inserted far enough. This caused a budge in the threaded fork pipe which prevented the headset top cap from being unscrewed. I knew eventually I would have to deal with it, if only to grease the bearings. Now it had come to a head, because I've decided to have the main pipes painted and I have to disassemble everything, including the fork to do it.

Saturday I took it to Jens, who had the proper tap to recut the threads. After an hour or so of smart talk and and fusting we got the threads cut, the fork removed, and cut about an inch off the tube. It may not seem like much, but its enough to be visually "right", but still keep the bars pretty high, enough for bag clearance and to save my old back.

Now I can knock her down and haul it up to Chris Kvale for painting. I was lucky on the paint.
Curt Goodrich built a killer bike that was painted a color which had originally been mixed to match 1938 Ford blue. When I asked him if he had a number or formula for it, he said there was enough left over to paint a bike and I could have it, rather than just let it dry out on a shelf. Gunnar Scores! I think we'll keep all the lugs, braze-ons, rear triangle and front fork chrome and maybe red for the "Peter Mooney" graphics and red infilling on the crank, etc. The chip below really doesn't capture the color... too many generations of computer grabs.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Big Snow on the High Plains

We awoke to snow yesterday. It was just enough to cover the ground and it's been flurrying a little since. I received the following from a friend in Rapid City. It's always worse somewhere else. (published with permission of the victim):

Wednesday evening and Thursday have been quite memorable. The normal November inconvenience-snowfall did not materialize; instead, as predicted, an old-timey High Plains blizzard showed up and it was open for business. Thursday was a wash-out. I arose early to assess the situation and from the horizontal snow, lack of visibility, and hundreds of cancellations already being aired, decided to cancel our 7th Annual Wilderness Symposium. I caught one of our speakers at his Denver hotel before he went to the airport and got him headed off, then borrowed Jana's 4X4 and drove downtown in low gear to get to the office. Finally got all the other speakers contacted before they did something foolish and arranged with the hotel to cancel the event. Thankfully, because it was weather induced, they will not assess the cancellation penalty. So my budget is going only be out the $1K I've already put into the event.

The Northern Hills were hit harder than RCity. Four feet of heavy wet snow deposited with the help of 70 mph winds (gusts of 90 mph at Belle Fourche). Middle son in Spearfish advises that his truck is plowed in out front of his house and his girl friend's car is stuck in the garage behind the house, that situation compounded by an unplowed alley.

Today the snow has stopped and the wind isn't blowing so hard. It's eastern SD's turn in the barrel. Schools here are closed for a second day and most businesses are closed to allow streets to get cleared and folks dug out. The Gov has turned loose the National Guard to help clear roads. Reportedly Meade County is fairly screwed because nobody thought to send snowplows home with drivers on Wednesday. Now they can't get the crews out to the county shops.

We got my pickup out this morning and went down for coffee and bagels. Ran into a friend whose father-in-law has a sheep ranch north of Newell -- out on the High Flat No-Where. His wife and daughter had gone shopping in Gillette, WY, on Wednesday and couldn't get home. Thursday he was alone on the place and decided during the height of the storm that he should go out to the barn to see 1) whether the sheep had found the door he'd left open for them, and 2) to count the dead. He left the house and shortly discovered that he was lost in his farmyard. He couldn't see the house, the barn, or any of the other out-buildings. Nothing but blowing snow. Spooked, but thankfully not panicked, he had the presence of mind to follow his tracks in the snow back to the house before they were drifted over. My friend says that this morning his father-in-law was finally able to check the sheep and found most of them had made the barn and that only a few of them had died outside in the storm.

I was impressed. I hadn't heard a story like that since I was new to the territory and listened to some old-timers talk about the '30s. Stuff like that isn't supposed to be happening now days. Maybe flickering lights and an extended period with a shovel to get your truck out, but dying wandering around your barnyard? I was convinced that kind of stuff was too archaic. I was bitching because the internet server at the office has been down for two days.

-- J.M.

Conspiracy Theory

In the Minnesota race for the U.S. Senate, incumbent Norm Coleman leads challenger Al Franken by 226 votes, pending a recount. Norm won the seat six years ago, sneaking through the back door when his opponent Paul Wellstone died in a terrible airplane crash while campaigning. Senator Wellstone had originally won the seat by defeating another incumbent, Rudy Boschwitz. In Scandinavian, whitebread Lutheran Minnesota what do these four gentleman all have in common? They are all Jewish! Apparently in Minnesota, all Jewish men over the age of accountability (50?) are required by law to run for higher office.

In this past election Minnesota had a 89.57% voter turnout. Freeborn County had 94% turnout. My home at 1410 Oakwood Drive had 100% turnout. All numbers remarkable; all favoring Obama.

Friday, November 7, 2008

$5 Funeral

Lorna went to the funeral home this afternoon. There was a service for the Mother of a grade school student. He came home from school last week and found his Mother dead from alcohol related causes. His Father died some years ago from similar causes. The obit was late getting into the paper, probably because there was no immediate family to deal with it. She said it was a short service. Nobody cried.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Frigid vs Warm

For half of the year Minnesota is cold and nasty, whereas California is the land of eternal sunshine. Two days ago, in this time of economic stress for all, Minnesotans voted to tax themselves more. They passed a constitutional amendment for an additional sales tax to help fund the Arts and the Environment. The same day California passed an amendment banning same-sex marriage. I think I'll stay in Minnesota.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


The proudest now is but my peer,
The highest not more high;
To-day, of all the weary year,
A king of men am I.
To-day alike are great and small,
The nameless and the known
My palace is the people’s hall,
The ballot-box my throne!
Who serves to-day upon the list
Beside the served shall stand;
Alike the brown and wrinkled fist,
The gloved and dainty hand!
The rich is level with the poor,
The weak is strong to-day;
And sleekest broadcloth counts no more
Than homespun frock of gray.
To-day let pomp and vain pretence
My stubborn right abide;
I set a plain man’s common sense
Against the pedant’s pride.
To-day shall simple manhood try
The strength of gold and land
The wide world has not wealth to buy
The power in my right hand!
While there’s a grief to seek redress,
Or balance to adjust,
Where weighs our living manhood less
Than Mammon’s vilest dust,
--While there’s a right to need my vote
A wrong to sweep away,
Up! clouted knee and ragged coat!
A man’s a man to-day!
--John Greenleaf Whittier

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


After I had a cup of coffee I rode my bike up to the polls. Minnesotans are voters, not always well (Jesse Ventura), but often. We regularly lead the nation in percentage of registered voters voting -80%. After seeing the long lines on television I was relieved to find no line. I guess if normal is 80%, 85% doesn't knock the wheels off the cart. My name and address were checked against the registration list by a sweet blue-haired little lady. Signing my name on the roll, I noticed Lorna had already voted ahead of me. I was given a little card to hand to Phil Rogers, who was in charge of handing out the paper voting forms. As we waited for a booth to open, I talked to Jane Hoffkamp, then went in to mark my choices. I voted straight Democrat this year. A couple I cast tasted bad. I voted for Al Franken only because his opponent, Senator Norm Coleman is just awful. Coleman may end up with the distinction of being defeated by both Jesse Ventura and Al Franken. Put those two dingleberries on your resume. Franken went to grade school here. He's been around a lot during the campaign, claiming local boy status. We'll probably never see him again if he wins. Rep Tim Waltz only had one hard vote, the Wallstreet bailout, and I think he blew it. He voted against it, the politically correct vote, but I think, shortsighted. He got my vote only because his opponent is extreme right. On the way out I slipped my ballot into a scan reader and another little old lady gave me a little red "I voted" sticker. Ten minutes, fifteen tops. Got on the bike again and pedaled over to Nancy's Cafe to reward myself with coffee, newspaper and breakfast.

Monday, November 3, 2008


Vote early and vote often...unless your inclination is not Obamian, but McCainian.

To Rev Dick

Motivation: 1 part water to 4 parts The Glenlivet.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Bicycle Haute Couteur

Some things are perfect; they are usually perfected shortly before they are taken out of production. The Gilles Berthoud bags are close - French haute couteur purses for the discerning bicyclist. In 1985 Gilles Berthoud saved the perfect bag and took over production of the decades old Sologne bags, which were developed by years of trial and error. Every one is presently made by Veronique Durant, from sturdy cotton canvas trimmed with cowhide and goatskin in various sizes to fit the different handlebar and rack configurations. The clear map pocket on the top is probably a relatively recent development- within the last 30 years or so. I don't go far enough off the beaten path to lose my bearings often, so mine protects a map of a cycling area south of Paris - just in case.

Front jacket pocket and side pocket, perfect size for small hip flask. Coincidence? I think not.

Two rear pockets and rear opening top flap - so the rider can access the contents while decending at speed down a high mountain pass.

The rear view, flap open, showing the quick release decaleur, the attachment which holds the bag in place.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Madonna del Ghisallo

People who follow bicycle racing casually are all familar with the Tour de France and the other one and two week tours. I, myself, am more fascinated by the one day races which bookend the season, the Spring Classics and the Fall Classics. Whereas the Tours are tactical, team events, with the team leaders conserving energy for two or three major days, the 10 or so Classics are long, let it all hang out, one day races where they race through cold Spring rains as if there is no tomorrow, because there isn't. They are historical races riddened by tough, hard men riding in the shadows of past champions. The season starts with the Tour of Flanders (since 1913). Then come the cobbled races which I love, such as Paris-Roubaix, the Hell of the North, (since 1896) run over awful, narrow cobbled back roads - a wonderful mixture of sweat, blood, tears and mud. Then there is Leige-Bastogne-Leige (1892) an out and back, and after the major Tours are over come the softer Fall Classics. The season is finally capped by the Giro di Lombardi, a new comer at only 102 years old. While this isn't as difficult a ride as the Spring races, it makes up for it by the scenery along Lake Como, truly one of the beautiful places on earth.

The last climb leaves the lake shore and climbs up to the top of the peak of the Chapel of Madonna del Ghisallo, the patron saint of bicyclists, then back down to the lake to the finish. The peak is crowned by the church, a small chapel filled with the donated bicycles and jerseys of the great champions. Only in Italy could there be a Chapel with a statue, not of the Christ, but of Il Campionissimo, Fausto Coppi. This is the Cooperstown of cycling - and, for a small fee, you can get your cycle blessed.

This is the Ghisallo medal on the back of my bike. I'm not a religious person, but it can't hurt - a little like the whistles people used to put on cars to warn the deer away - you never know if it works or not.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


In the New Yorker this week, James Wood critiques the Republicans misuse of words and now their attack on words in general. Buried in the depths of the article was this rambling sentence that would make any 19th Century writer proud:

She may claim, as she did in last Thursday’s Vice-Presidential debate, that “Americans are cravin’ that straight talk,” but they are sure not going to get it from the Governor—not with her peculiar habit of speaking only half a sentence and then moving on to another for spoliation, that strange, ghostly drifting through the haziest phrases, as if she were cruelly condemned to search endlessly for her linguistic home: “I do take issue with some of the principle there with that redistribution of wealth principle that seems to be espoused by you.”

Now I must admit that I have some sympathy for Sarah Palin, as I often have the same trouble organizing my thoughts and, much to Lorna'a irritation, lose interest in the thought and leave unfinished sentences hanging in the air, leaving the listener waiting for the other verbal shoe to drop. But God, don't you just love, "...that strange, ghostly drifting through the haziest phrases, as if she were cruelly condemned to search endlessly for her linguistic home".

Yep, that's me too

Sunday, October 12, 2008


So let's talk about Christianity. How come when we go to funerals there is all these talk about Mother's gone to heaven to be with Pa, or Ol' Johnnie's up there in heaven drinking with the angels? As I recall, even a passingly close take on the New Testament tells us that we die and stay dead until the Next Coming when Christ will return and the dead will arise; the good will then go to heaven in a blaze of glory and the rest of us sign in for eternal damnation. I hate to be a nit picker, but if we're going to be irrational, let's at least be consistently irrational. Personally, I'm opting out; I'm just going to die and be dead, and I'm okay with that. It's much less confusing and in a way, much more comforting.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


I've seen a few references to "Minnewisowa" recently by politicos who reason that for political purposes Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa are one state because of their overlapping media markets and similar demographics. I wonder what planet these people are on. Socially and politically Minnesota has much more in common with Massachusetts than Iowa. Except for Madison, even Wisconsin is much more blue collar industrial than Minnesota. Iowa is a much more conservative and rural than either of the others. Mostly, I don't like being put in the same bucket as Iowa - no offense.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Stock Market Again

I have now lost the value of my second home too. The only thing that makes it bearable is the knowledge that most of America, even the world, is in the same boat.

A Double Compliment

As I mentioned earlier, I am temporarily working part time for the company where I used to work full time before my retirement. The company is now under the Berkshire Hathaway umbrella and things are changing fast. I'm working on a new product line which hopefully will get things back to acceptable profitability. Today, as I was walking through the manufacturing area, an old worker flagged me down and asked if I had come back to work full time. When I told him I was only working part time he said, "Hell, you ought to be working full time. You're the only one who actually knows what the hell is going on around here." When I told him that I was retired and not interested in working full time, he expressed disbelief that I was that old. Of course both were lies, but it was still nice to hear it from someone who is actually struggling on the front lines - someone who is actually making something.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


For years the B & B Cafe was an Albert Lea institution. It was one of those places where people waited politely in line for the next booth or stool to open so they could sit down for good conversation and a hearty breakfast, anchored by Denny's famous pancakes. Normally, I don't eat pancakes, don't even particularly like them, but these were different, hitting your tongue with wave after wave of subtle favor - almost too good to swallow. Eventually Denny and Roxy retired to travel and play with their antique cars. At first things seemed almost the same at the B & B, but it slowly deteriorated, without the drive of the master of the cake, forever monitoring quality. Finally it all went to hell enough that the lines were gone and then regulars wandered off to find other restaurants. This evening Denny called, inviting us over to his house for breakfast Saturday morning. Now I consider breakfast with the Brues quite an honor. In the words of that great, world class gourmand, Homer Simpson,"Ummmmm. pancakes!"

Monday, September 29, 2008

Stock Market Crash

Some back-of-napkin cyphering this evening told the grim tale; today I lost more money in the stock market slide, than our first house cost. In one day. I guess that is both bad news and, in a way, good news. A matter of perspective I guess...though I don't think I can generate enough part time money to stem that tide for long.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Be tireless

"Somebody has to be tireless...
or the fast buck operators would
asphalt the entire coast, fill every
bay and slay every living thing
incapable of carrying a wallet."

--John D. MacDonald

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bob's Food Store

Bob Hanson was my father-in-law. He was one of the people I admired the most in this life. He was completely honest; a simple, modest man who loved his family and worked hard to provide for them. He had five children and managed to send four of them to college working long hours in a small neighborhood grocery store. Everyone loved him. Bob had NO enemies. When he retired the village had a retirement program for him. Virtually every person in town was there. People got up, one by one, and told Bob stories, they named the village park after him and the children presented him with the certificate below. I hope I am half the man he was.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Weather Bulletin: Hell Has Frozen Over

One year ago, I retired; that is, I got fed up with the direction the ship was going, the clueless people who were at the helm, and I didn't need to work anymore. When I skipped gleefully down the sidewalk the last day, I swore I'd never set foot in that building again. I am fortunate to have some skills that people are willing to pay well for and I've worked off and on for others in the past year. Then last week my former employer called with an offer of employment. There has been a management turnover and I guess the bitter taste has faded. Today I went in and worked my first 4 hour day - a couple of months, maybe more if I'd like - not likely, but I'll keep my options open. The King has returned.

As my buddy Lyle said, "Back in the saddle again, but with fewer miles of fence to ride."
(Thanks for the pic, Rev Dick.)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Oakwood Picnic

Today was the 59th Annual Oakwood Neighborhood Picnic. It was a beautiful day and the attendance and food was terrific. John Chesterman, who claims to have attended every past picnic, was absent because he and Sally were on a trip to the Galapagos, Amazon, and Machu Picu. What a sorry excuse. In their absence we resolved that the 60th would be an evening affair involving steaks on the grille and as many kegs of good beer as necessary to generate a fight. It was also resolved that all residents and former residents were to be invited - even John, who might have to temporarily check his judge's robes at the door. Looks like I'll have to stay one more year.

The Way We Were

Hey look ma
here comes the elephant boy
bundled all up in his corduroy
headed down south towards Illinois
from the jungles of East St. Paul.
-John Prine

God, these pictures make me feel old. (Note the top of the Tony Lamas. Manly footwear.)


My forebearers, or why I am as suave and worldly as I am. I am particularly taken with the bright, alert look of top row, second from right. A man after my own heart. Or possibly genes?

Actually this is a threshing crew, including some of Lorna's family. In a couple of generations they would spawn a generation of college professors, writers, computer programmers, and one mighty fine elementary teacher.

Another Thing I Didn't Know

When Addy was in India she observed that while the caste system is officially banded, it is still very much in existence. The castes break down by skin tones, with the dark skinned people at the bottom and the fairer complected ethnic groups at the top. The media in India was filled with ads for skin lightening treatments and cosmetics. She said it was particularly unnerving when in Agra, people were taking more pictures of her than of the Taj Mahal.

A picture of our fair-haired Scandanavian princess (suffering from extreme jet lag):

Monday, September 15, 2008

An Elitist Looks at Prejudice

With Obama knocking on the White House front door, I've been thinking more about the ignorance of racial (and gender) bias.

Years ago I had a co-worker, Darryl Pierson, who maintained that all humans were prejudice, that we were instinctively drawn to people that most closely resembled ourselves, that it was in our genetic self-interest to favor our own gene pool, and we should be taught that, so we could better understand those feelings and overcome them. At the time I thought he was just another redneck trying to justify his prejudices. Of course then I got to know him better, and met his wife and children - White, Black, Brown, Oriental, Native American, whatever. If racial prejudice is instinctive, he certainly found a way to overcome it.

I do think he helped me better understand what the guys down at the corner bar, drinking Bud Lite and watching NASCAR, are feeling.

NASCAR and light beer! - damn, there's two more bias's I have to work on.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Today is the 39th anniversary of my marriage to Lorna Gayle. I couldn't have made it without her.

America's Voters

I never intended this blog to be political, but sometimes things happen which just push me over the edge.

This morning I stopped by the Elbow Room Cafe for breakfast, as I often do when Lorna is working. The small group of tradesmen, small business owners and retired duffers is more or less the same every morning. Usually I just sit at the counter reading the morning paper, listening, as the inane conversation crosses back and forth past me. This morning it was politics - Palin's stumble in the Gibson interview, McCain's age, Obama's gonna raise taxes, etc. Some sophisticated thoughts, most not. I had them tuned out pretty well when Dennis (last name unknown) leaned back and stated emphatically, "I usually vote Democratic, but not this year. I ain't votin' for no nigger." ...a moment of silence. I couldn't contain it. I couldn't look at him; my head still down in the Tribune, I said through my teeth, "God that's dumb. The next time you have something that stupid on your mind just keep it there." He never hesitated, never skipped a beat, "You ain't a nigger lover are you?" From someone down the counter, "Jeez, Dennis!" I paused a while, grasping for the proper response, a crusher. Finally I answered simply, "Yes". Dennis leaned back again, boasting to the world, "I just like to support my own people." Just seething, I got up and went to a corner booth to finish the business section alone.

He votes.

(Lorna say's that the correct response to "...support my own people" is, "Oh, you mean dumb shits?". Yeah, but I was too mad to think clearly at the time.

I am so tired of attack commercials. Let's talk about energy - the economy, inflation, the war - all are driven by our voracious appetite for energy. And don't give me a sound bite about drilling for more oil. Let's really THINK about alternative energy and WAYS TO CURB DEMAND! Also, health care: the best they can do is propose programs to get everyone insured. Insurance isn't the question. The question is how do we contain rising health care costs, costs that will eventually consume all of our GNP.

I meet with an old friend once a week to solve the world's problems and talk about our families. He said he has decided to opt out of the health care system. At 65 years of age, he will take what fate deals him, rather than spend all the money and leave nothing to his wife and children. He is a very disciplined, very philosophical person. He is dead serious -literally. It's too bad it has to come to that.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Silk Hope Dragon

I have a handful of bicycles. In my biased opinion, I think a couple of them are quite nice, others are maybe...too...ahhh...exuberant.
I obviously don't "need" another bicycle, but if one of McLean Fonvielle's incredibly elegant bicycles ever shows up for sale in my size, I will probably buy it. It doesn't seem likely, as their owners don't seem to be able to part with them.

The following is by Mike Dayton, written as a college journalism paper:

The Silk Hope Dragon
One would be hard pressed to find McLean Fonvielle's corporation. It lies near Saxapahaw at the end of a long dusty road that turns to red mud after each rain. No electric or barbed wire fence surrounds it, only a few bare fields waiting quietly for seed, and a few gnarled oaks that shade his windows from the afternoon sun.
It took some time, some patience and some sweat, but at the age of 23, McLean owns and operates his own factory.
The factory itself is a weathered clapboard house with a sagging front porch but a straight roof line. Judging from its appearance, one would expect to find the house deserted, as most probably it had been for the past 20 years. Yet a trampled grass path leading to the outhouse and a swept porch indicate otherwise.
Inside, in a room barely heated to 50 degrees by a small wood stove, McLean pounds and clangs on metal tubing, then stops briefly to inspect his work. If all goes well, in one week's time McLean will have turned out another of his completed products. It will sell for a price ranging from $270 to over $500, depending on the color or extras that the customer chooses.
For as little as $270, virtually anyone can walk away with a handcrafted, custom-sized, Silk Hope bicycle frame. That is, $270 without any extras. With the extras...
In a soft-spoken voice, McLean will tell you that, regretfully, the tubing he uses, which is ordered from England, has risen appreciably in cost. And that the price of silver solder can be as much as $10 a frame. His frames aren't held together by welding like many bikes, but "brazed" at the joints, using a solder that is 45 percent silver. McLean will also tell you that he has sold over 130 frames at those prices in the past two years.
The Company Name & Logo
Asked how he chose "Silk Hope" as the name for his company and why he selected a fire-spitting dragon for a logo, McLean says, "There's a community near here named Silk Hope. And I almost set up shop there. I decided to use the name. Then I found this place, but I kept the name."
And the dragon? McLean chuckles: "I like dragons. There's no deep dark secret to it.”
The Frame
When someone buys a Silk Hope, he gets just that: no wheels, no spokes, no brakes, no handlebars, no seat -- no nothing except a frame. That frame, however, is as the catalogue promises, "handcrafted in detail to the cyclist's individual measurements" -- measurements more precise than those taken by the best tailor -- including, among others, the rider's weight and shoe size. Frames can be ordered for cross-country touring, racing, or some combination in between, what McLean calls "perfect pleasure." They can be ordered in 15 different frame sizes and eight standard colors.
To McLean, each frame is like a piece of valuable art stamped with his personal signature. His shop is nothing like the bike factory he once worked at, where the staff was required to turn out 100 completely assembled bikes a week. McLean does not allow uneven work to leave his shop. "If I have the slightest pinhole or scratch on the tubing then I get totally upset and my day is ruined," he says.
Born and raised in Wilmington, McLean attended high school at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. After graduation, he went to work in a bike shop in Carrboro, the Clean Machine, where his fascination with bikes grew, particularly frame-building. He attended welding school so that he might develop some of the necessary skills.
Next, he journeyed to England and acquired a job at the Holdsworthy factory in London, a well-known bike company.
"One reason I went to Europe was because I respect British frames and I figured since most of the materials I used would be either British or French, I might as well go to one of those two countries," he says. "What I was really trying to do was experience and pick up on part of the attitude and atmosphere required. You can't really be taught anything beyond a certain degree. Then too, Holdsworthy is actually the main agent for Reynolds tubing and Campagnolo parts in England."
The steady determination McLean possesses becomes evident as he relates the woes he suffered when, upon returning from England, he attempted to establish the Silk Hope Corporation.
"After I got back, it took two years to start work," he remarks, pushing his black hair off his forehead. "It took a year to get my first order of tubing -- Reynolds was really behind. Then there was the general bureaucratic nonsense, like going to a tax office and asking what I'm liable for and they say, 'Oh it will be $200 a year,' then running back next week and they say, ‘Oh, it will be $100 a year’ -- just a total runaround. What it basically comes down to is that all these people don't know and you have to hire an accountant to figure out what taxes you're actually liable for. Business is a business in itself."
The Workshop
The house now being used as McLean’s headquarters needed much work before it suited McLean’s purposes. "This house was empty and had hay stored in it when I found it," he says. "It took a while to get it workable and livable."
Livable, that is, by McLean's standards. The house is heated by only a small wood heater in his shop and a kerosene stove in his bedroom upstairs. For the most part, the temperature remains at the dictates of nature. The house has no inside plumbing, forcing McLean to rely on the well for water, and the outhouse for relief.
McLean chose the house where he presently lives and works for one main reason: "So I wouldn't be bothered (by people) ," he says. I mean, I'm not totally nasty mean -- please -- but I like living in the country and I also thought there'd be a certain advantage to being not readily available. I know a lot of people who think nothing of just dropping out from Raleigh and Greensboro and Chapel Hill. If I had a shop right in town, I think I could easily be more entertaining and have lots of people sitting around."
Of Dietary Matters
McLean has what most folks would consider an odd diet. He is a vegetarian and has not eaten meat for six or seven years, he says. "I'm not a fanatic.” I mean, I used to be, but I'm actually most agreeable these days  I've started eating bread again, and I've started eating dairy products again. I used to eat nothing but -- well that's another story.”
The Customers
The only thing that McLean's customers would seem to have in common is a willingness to spend what most folks would consider a fanatical amount for a bicycle frame.
"I've had high school kids coming out and buying frames and unemployed college dropouts who were scraping, up to the penny, how much money it took to buy a frameset," says McLean, with a slightly English accent. "Also wealthy doctors and lots of professors and a nuclear engineer -- all kinds. Not as many females as I would like."
A few local racers have turned to McLean, who claims that the correct frame can give the rider as much as a 15 percent advantage over an ill-fitted competitor. Billy Pearlman won last year's Junior Division of the Carolina Cup Race on a frame constructed by McLean.
Simplicity At Work
In McLean's shop, there seems to be a focus on simplicity, even at the expense of convenience. Leaning against three of the chipping blue walls are work benches cluttered with impeccably clean hand tools. From a speaker hung in one corner comes the sound of a trumpet playing a baroque tune.
McLean prefers to work with hand tools rather than electric ones. While shortening a tube, he says, "Hand tools actually strike me as being about as quick as electric tools, and a lot cheaper. You know, I've had people come out here and say, 'So-and-so has a lathe and he builds lots and lots of frames,' but I would have to consider it a liability. With mine, I can definitely say it's a hand-built frame."
While generally working long hours during the week, usually from 8:30 a.m. to 7 at night, he has come to consider Saturday and Sunday customer days, and leaves his shop open so that buyers can drop in and talk.
Interrupting his work for a moment, McLean points to a small seat below a window: "As you can see, there is only one seat in my shop. People have come in here before just kind of standing around while I was trying to get some work done and they say 'Well what's that chair for,' and I just kind of slyly sit down while saying 'Well, that's so if I get tired and someone's in here talking, I can sit down and rest so when they leave I can get back to work.’"
The Future
Of the future, McLean says, “I feel very content. I don't know what the future holds but I feel sure that in one way or another I'm not going to completely abandon bicycles or frame-building. I've helped some of my friends build an airplane, and though I've never gotten too much into it, perhaps I should. Sometimes I fancy diversifying out into fabrication of objects that have tubing in them, from lawn chairs to things for industrial purposes.”
Then, resting his tools upon a workbench, he sits down.

McLean Fonvielle died unexpectedly in 1983 at age 29.