Who are we? We are our stories.

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.