Saturday, June 6, 2015

Martha Stewart Vs. Tommy Chong

You know the old saying, " A place for everything and everything in it's place"? What do you think about that? Is that just your normal Martha Stewart sort of rule for everyday order and efficiency, or crazy, wistful musing about life in a faraway perfect world. As in "A place for everything and everything in it's place...Whoa... like, far out Man"(read in your best Tommy Chong voice to really get what I mean here).

I wish I was a "Martha" but I'm a "Tommy" who can't find my hat in my handbag or whatever the saying is(WAIT! I just realized, I might have insulted Mr. Chong right there, which would be a shame because I really like Tommy Chong (and hope you do to), so if he's a neat and tidy, squared away sort of person, and I've inferred he's a slob like me than I'll have to apologize if I ever meet him, which would still be cool, if now a little awkward...). Anyway, like I was going to say before all that, I don't do a very good job of keeping my things organized, and since I have A LOT of things and am forever rooting around in my proverbial handbag looking for my hat, it can become something of a crisis at times.

Like right now.

You see, while I'm sitting on the back porch trying to write a blog post, the washing machine is spread out in chunks large and small all over the laundry room because I can't put my hands on a specific pair of Vise-Grip pliers I need to try to get the crumbling remains of the rusty bolt out of the top of the agitator shaft so I can get the tub off to replace the seal that's been trickling water onto the floor for a week. I have 3 or 4 of the size pliers I need(I think the Brits call them "Mole Grips", which if true is pretty interesting because it seems to infer that Moles might have some sort of preternatural gripping powers which would be news to me... wait here, I'm off to Google "Mole Grips", back in a jiff (insert "on-hold" music here), I'm back, Mole is just a U.K. brand of locking pliers similar to Vise-Grips, nothing to do with an obscure species of rodents with "Super Chromium Plated Over-Center Gripping Powers"(sadly)), anyway, I have any number of those clampy kind of pliers but cant find a single one of the right size to go after that bolt. My Lovely wife is KEENLY interested in the progress of this repair, so to buy myself time to find the Mole Grips (I think I'm going to start calling them that instead of Vise-Grips, I'm a bit of an Anglo-file and it's not like Vise-Grip are paying me, so until I start getting checks or free tools from them it's Mole Grips from here on), Oh dear, where was I?, Washing machine, Wife, probing questions about progress of repair... Oh yeah, to buy myself some time I soaked the remains of the bolt with penetrating oil and have now retired from the field for a period of "Soaking and Penetration". I have some breathing space to try to dig up some tools and or work on this little essay before she realizes I'm screwing around and I have to admit to what's really going on here. Sigh.

Care to take a little stroll down the basement steps to see for yourself why I'm in this mess? C'mon, might as well... As you can see I have a big basement, about 30 by 45 feet, really high ceilings, woodbox under the stairs, stove and stone chimney in the middle of the space, air compressor, water heater, well pressure tank etc. in the mechanical room over in the corner, and a bathroom complete with un-finished shower beside it. And 3,000 cubic feet of debris and corruption making all that invisible. Every single thing I own that my wife hasn't taken on the responsibility to wash and fold for me, is contained in this ever-changing landscape of tools, firewood and worn out bicycle tires. You see, I'm not merely untidy, I am also a Gifted Amateur Hoarder.There's all sorts of things down here I have no business having, and most of it is crap. I can see 23 bicycles in various states of completeness, about half crap. Several pieces of old(not antique) furniture waiting to be repaired or fed to the woodstove, all crap. Woodworking tools, large and small, power and hand, most worth keeping but some significant portion crap, enough hand tools of all types to outfit a Railroad Shop, an Appliance repair shop, a Sheet Metal Fabrication shop and a Musical Instrument repair shop(don't ask, it was a phase), only about 10% crap but worthless while mixed with all the crap. Then there's all the welding crap. You've got something metal with a crack in it? Yes I can fix that, please don't ask me though because I'd have to climb a waist high pile of semi flammable crap to get to the Torch, and while there's a fire extinguisher on every wall, it's impossible to reach them. Because of all the crap.

Sometimes I joke about the situation down here and call it the "Collyer Brother's Living History Experience". After the famous pair of wealthy Bachelor Hoarders who died in their Mansion full of Crap in the 40s, and caused a sensation as the New York City Fire Department emptied the building through the windows onto the sidewalk while trying to find their bodies. After seeing the pictures of their house I was struck by how much of the crap being thrown out onto the street looked "interesting", or "valuable" to me. And, this is true, I wondered if onlookers were free to help themselves to any small items they thought might be "useful". Pathetic. So I really shouldn't treat the poor Collyer Bro's as a joke so much as a cautionary tale.

Now, I am in no way so far down the path of compulsive crap collecting as Homer and Langley, but unless they were born in possession of  54 bicycles between the two of them, at some point they had to have passed through the stage I find myself at right now. Were they already doomed then or was there still a chance for redemption? Did they realize the dangerous path they were treading and put up a fight, maybe still throwing out the least valuable of their rescued single shoes after returning home in the wee hours with 7 orphan Brogans? Or possibly they occasionally gave something away to whatever friends they might have still had, only to experience actual chest pains whenever they remembered watching that friend wheel the 25 year old wreck of a bike out to whatever was the 1930s equivalent of a Subaru... But maybe they just gave in and threw themselves, heedless and headlong, into grabbing IT ALL. As long as I'm married I'm probably safe, certainly not off the hook, but safe. But I completely empathize with that compulsion; to hang on, to pick up from the curb, to rescue and repair. The uneasy urge that clutters up the corners of our houses and basements and free time.

 I'm due for another big purge. It happens every few years when I find myself stepping over something that I have no good place for, and realize I have no good use for, or reason to be clamoring over it and making myself unhappy in the spot where I could be most free to concentrate on things that interest me and give me satisfaction . So I spend a morning or a weekend seeing how far I'll go. Will I really throw out 3 perfectly good sets of 27x1 1/4" rims? Sometimes, yes. A box of still good used tires and tubes from the bike shop? Certainly, after quickly picking out the  best 3 or 4. Ditch that bent Austro Diamler frame that I ran into the back of a mail carriers car in 1984? Uh, not yet, but sometime, sure. Next time probably. Unless I decide to go ahead and replace the down-tube even though that bike was always 2cm too small even before I got all crippled up with age and hard living. These are good times to stop by my house. Let me see your gaze linger on that Bontrager saddle that was never quite "perfect" and you'll be gifted it with instructions to go put it in your car RIGHT NOW before I can change my mind. Same with any of those 8 speed Shimano Deore shifters and derailleurs. There's a cassette or two to match in there somewhere as well... No really, feel free...

I hope it happens soon. My shop in the basement is a special place when it's cleared up and swept out. There's a big bench with a vise and more tools than a few of the bike shops I worked in as a kid, enough nice bikes to have neat things to see where ever you look and all the most interesting bits and pieces from a long time spent messing around with bikes. I've been working and hanging out down there long enough now that it's become a bit like what I imagine the classic European or English shop or framebuilders place to be. I see old photo's of Jack Taylors place or Alex Singers shop and my place isn't completely different, and I like that. I've got some posters on the walls, some of my race numbers and cheesy medals, a bunch of semi iconic vintage parts laying about and all the various tools I've made for myself over the years. I'm not building frames but I can do most repairs on any good steel frame that deserves it and even though I'm not running a bikeshop for money, if you want to come hang out I'll let you use my tools and even do it for you if you ask nice and are good to my dogs. I can't believe I so easily let a place that is so pleasant and important to me get so cluttered and jammed with junk. It would be nice to sit down at the truing stand and relax with the radio playing some Erroll Garner while Andre LeDuc smiles at me from his sepia toned portrait over the bench. But not when it's under a pile big enough to cover a dead horse.

Tomorrow is a good day to get up early, find a shovel and broom and clear out my shop(Yes, yes, after finishing the washer. That's totally what I meant.). Maybe I'll set up my laptop on one end of the bench and start writing down there when it's raining or the porch is too cold, and maybe this time I'll manage to get my act together and keep it that way. Sure. If my "Inner Martha" can make peace with my "Tommy Chong" long enough to gang up on me and stop me dragging home every scrap of 2x4 and angle iron I see.

 In the meantime, I've got to find those pliers...


  1. I had to push aside a vintage swivel arm lamp (in the midst of being re-wired), a concrete sculpture of a polar bear (beloved by my wife), a stack of my grand-daughter's story books, the front wheel of the Volpe, and one totally irresistible wirehaired dachshund puppy in order to get to the computer to type this. I haven't seen my favorite bench chisel since October. I think there are two electric basses under the bed, but it might be one and a box of art supplies. I think we still have a cat.

    There is a family story that I have a half brother out there somewhere who would be about your age. I can't thoroughly rule it out.

    Would love to be tidy. Often can fake it for about a month at a time.

  2. Puppy!? If I hadn't squandered all my wife's patience and goodwill bringing home the last one unannounced we'd be due for another one at our house about now. It's going to take more than cleaning the basement to get away with another one now though...

    Every time I get things all straitened out and ship-shape I get all drunk with enthusiasm for another project because I know where all my tools are again and WOW, look at all that room! Then I decide to build some new incredibly over ambitious thing and it all goes to flinders again... But maybe this time it will last more than a month. I'll let you know If I find your chisel.