Okay, I’ve been punished.

Okay, I’ve been punished for bragging so much in the last post. God put Leonard V. Kartoffelhammer (right number of syllables, not his real name. Though his real name is burned into my brain at this point) at the next table on the train ride in this morning, so for an hour and a half I heard him yelling — no, I was a party to his yelling — at Blue Cross about how they sent his bill late, but his collection notices on time. There were one or two moments of humor (“I’m going to have Carol’s ass ON A SPIT!”), but mostly it was him repeating over and over “I want a letter of apology.” “When does she come in?” “What’s your name, your WHOLE name?” “This is Leonard V. Kartoffelhammer!” “I want a letter of apology.” For ninety minutes.

I’m sorry the whole car had to suffer for my sin of pride, though it sounds like God uses Leonard to regularly punish other sinners: when we pulled in to Penn station, one guy who had been pretending to sleep cracked an eye and said “what is it now? Last time, you got a book sent to you, and you didn’t like it.”

L.V.K. muttered “I got that sorted out”, and stomped off the train, no doubt on his way to be God’s Divine Justice for the sin of gluttony in the Starbucks line.

Okay, I’ve been punished.

Weekend Update: Guerilla Drive-In Beta 3; Kieran Downes visits

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My good friend and ex-colleague Kieran Downes drove all the way down from Boston to visit us last weekend, which delighted all members of the family. Kieran had just completed motorcycle safety school, and so we got a chance to go for a couple of motorcycle rides [save file and open in GEarth]. Kieran rode Kate’s Honda CB360T, which is a great bike but kind of cantankerous. Like a skittish pony, it has to be driven firmly and at high RPMs, which is not the “ol’ paint” experience a beginner wants. But Kieran did great, and (despite the lessons taught to us by years of television) did not go zooming off on his very first ride, up off a tilted flatbed ramp and into a truck full of chickens. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Kieran also distinguished himself by bringing homemade chocolate chip cookie dough, which he baked during the Guerilla Drive-In showing of “The Great Escape” on Saturday night, and passed out precisely at the time when Steve McQueen, James Garner, and the other guy give out the moonshine on the fourth of July. Which was pretty damn awesome, with no risk of gin blindness.

The AM Transmitter worked better than I had hoped: we managed to broadcast reasonably clear — and loud — audio through seven or eight radios scattered around the yard, and the surround sound really upped the ante. All we need now is some kind of gas-powered popcorn machine and a way to mount the whole shebang in the sidecar, and we’ll be 100% in business.

Kate has been enjoying the sidecar, and this weekend we’re gonna go buy a new helmet for her. Motorcycle helmets sitting in the garage either develop a kind of pervasive mustiness, or (as is the case with my old Shoei), a sort of Pungent Fratboy Baseball Hat, about which the less said the better. So: new stylish helmets all around!

Weekend Update: Guerilla Drive-In Beta 3; Kieran Downes visits

Shotgun update: Weekend of Serious Awesomeness

I’m in the (happy) predicament of having waaay too much going on to be able to come up with anything but a train-wreck of a blog post. Also, I’m going to brag a lot, I should warn you in advance. Okay, here goes:

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My brother Sam and his friend Luke arrived at my dad’s house across the street last week. They drove a white Ford F350 diesel truck with a black “RIP Democracy” ribbon on the back, and unloaded a couple of sport bikes with all the engine badging masked (this kind of “stealth bike” treatment is a dangerous sign that the rider does not ride to be seen, but Means Business. If the monks of the Shaolin temple rode motorcycles, they would likely ride stealthed Ducatis, or Yamahas with panniers made from ammo cans.)

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I mentioned that I was having some trouble mounting my sidecar, and how I was contemplating the construction of a rig to align the toe-in, lean-out, and axle lead. I said this as bait, I admit it. Sam works as a fabricator and a welder; Luke operates a CNC plasma cutter operator, which basically means he uses computers to cut metal with lasers. For fun, they fabricate mountain bikes from scratch. They got in my garage, and my sidecar raised the white flag immediately. Faced with this intimidating array of expertise, recalcitrant clevis bolts meekly submitted to their fate, and castle nuts that I’d forced on in a failed first attempt with blood-slicked fingers and copious profanity spun on as if they’d been freshly cast in a clean room. I wish they’d made it look a little harder, but I’m not going to complain, as I’m suddenly the proud owner of a 1977 BMW R100/7 with a 2000 Velorex 562E sidecar outfit.

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There’s plenty to say about driving a sidecar, which turns out to be a deeply… different experience, but I will skip to the important thing: I am married to a woman who can — gracefully — enter and exit a sidecar while wearing a dress and high heels. I have total confidence that if I were ever fighting with some kind of mustachioed barbarian warlord, and the warlord started to get the better of me, Kate would pop up behind him and bong him on his fur-trimmed cap with a heavy Ming vase. So all in all, I’m continually amazed at how lucky I am(!)

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We drove the outfit to a high-school friend’s wedding, which was beautiful — solemn and joyful in all the right proportions. The bride arrived sitting side-saddle on a chestnut horse with roses braided into its mane, and you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you that she totally got away with it. And the finger-food was really good, and we met local friends at the reception, and then we got back to pick up our girly, who had been having a great time at her grandparents’ playing in the sprinkler — Kate beat me to posting the best pictures, so here they are.

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On Sunday, Bob rode his Triumph and I drove my sidecar outfit to the Father’s Day Fest at the American Helicopter Museum just a few miles away from us. The father fest is a ridiculously awesome conglomeration of all kinds of macho hardware: check out, for instance this 1927 Bugatti (driven daily!) parked next to a Boeing Bell Osprey. The last time I went in 2003, I was surprised to be waved onto the runway past the big Navy workhorse helicopters to exhibit my bike, but this time I felt like I belonged in the exhibitor line: I crossed out the “don’t” in the “don’t touch” sign they gave me, and a stream of kids climbed in and out of the hack all afternoon. “Look, a sidecar! (Climb.)” Kate and Lydia met us there, and we had a great time wandering around looking at all the helicopters. (“Look, a helicopter! Climb.)

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Lydia took to the sidecar like a fish to water, though it’ll be years before I feel ready to actually drive safely with her in it (and before there’s a helmet made to fit her,) so for right now it’s just an interestingly-shaped playpen.

Whoo, damn! Blog backlog pressure back down below 100psi again, now.

Update: I did not brag about the cat, who pooped on the carpet this morning. The cat does not get filed under “seriously awesome” this week. I suspect that this is because my litter-cleaning skills are not “seriously awesome” either, so I am on my way home right now to get some fresh litter and awesome up the cat.

Update 2: Also, the compost workshop we went to on Saturday morning was not “seriously awesome” either. Though we do have a black compost container out back, now, subsidized by the State of Pennsylvania, and I’m looking forward to going out there and putting the first bucket of Seriously Awesome lettuce or whatever in it.

Shotgun update: Weekend of Serious Awesomeness

What I did this rainy weekend

Installed a dishwasher.
The dishwasher that came with the house had a habit of peeing rusty water on the floor; our new Kenmore has been sitting in the garage for weeks waiting for inspiration. Which struck on a rainy Saturday morning; Kate watched the baby and I lay on the floor and cursed and groaned trying to get thick-walled half-inch copper supply piping to meet up with the brass inlet tube. Any analogy I’ve made previously about computer programming being like plumbing (skilled job, paid by the hour, experience counts in the details)? Yeah, I take that back. Plumbing is WAY harder. Code stays where you put it, unlike @#$@@$ thick-walled half-inch copper supply piping, which laughs at the sweat-slippery thumb pressure of mere mortals. Works now, though.

Built an AM transmitter for the Guerilla Drive-In.
I’d love to claim 100 Geek Points for doing this, but it’s really more of a seven-and-a-half-geek-point job; I built it from a very complete kit that I ordered from Antique Electronics Supply after my store-bought FM transmitter turned out to be a flop.

According to Baldwin family legend, my great-grandfather sold pressure cookers during Prohibition, along with lengths of copper pipe and explicit instructions about what NOT to do lest you find yourself in possession of a small and eficient gin still (unsurprisingly, his pressure cookers sold so well that the Chicago mob muscled in and forced him out of business.) Along the same lines, the instructions of the K-488 AM Transmitter kit explicitly advise me not to use a transmitting antenna longer than six inches, or I’ll be in violation of FCC guidelines. See, that’s the beauty of a kit, now. Honey, where do we keep the juniper berries?

Discovered a whole new level of goofy German irony.
AM transmitter kits are used by antique radio enthusiasts to send audio from their computer to their old Art Deco recievers (in fact, my transmitter tube appears to have been made in Argentina in the 1930s, so obviously it was intended for use by spies in evening wear.) So it’s kind of fitting that I discovered Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester yesterday. The Palast Orchester is a German twenties-revival band that has been covering old pop songs in the wavering falsetto delivery you associate with stratchy montages of cocktail shakers and tommy guns. My favorite right now is the cover of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, with a clarinet section standing in for the boom-boom clap baseline that used to shake the back of the schoolbus on the way to track meets. (Reedy voice, German accent: “…gonna make a big n-o-o-o-o-ise someday!”) I’m just disappointed I didn’t find out about this sooner.

In other weekend news, Lydia, that encyclo-pidia, now will repeat words back: “Uh-oh! Night night! Bellybutton! Damn!” (whoops, gotta keep her out of the room when I’m installing dishwashers), and continues to double in intelligence, in personality, and in cuteness in an alarming, geometrical, and overwhelmingly wonderful fashion. If you take a shower, Lydia will stick her head under the curtain, just to be sociable, and will look around in an interested manner at the soaps.

If you take her to Ikea (as we did on Sunday, which Kate may write about), she will wave her hand and deliver a bright, chirpy “hi!” to all the passers-by. Then she will fall asleep in the sling, resting her little baby head on your shoulder in a way that will make passers-by weak in the knees from the Power of Cute. Seriously, in humility: blogging is great for bragging about your nerd kit made from nazi spy parts or whatever, and the latest flavor of nerd rock you just found, and that’s fun, but how do you compare it with the act of MAKING A PERSON, a person who to all appearances bids fair to be smarter, sunnier, and better-looking than you, and how do you explain how happy, proud, delighted, lucky, and excited that makes you feel?

Well, I suppose you gush, which is what I’m doing here. And then you go buy the mama, who actually, you know, assembled the baby, some kind of diamond bracelet so big that she’ll have to walk with a crutch. You hear me, honey? A crutch!

What I did this rainy weekend

Kate’s cooler than me, anyhow

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Originally uploaded by tikaro.

Since this is bragging week on tikaro.com, I will now brag about my wife, who is INCREDIBLY COOL. She’s a knitter, a quilter, a blogger, she can speak Russian to sled dogs, and she’s been prepping British race bikes since her head only came up to the top of the tank.

Check out the comment she and her dad left on the Flickr picture page!

Update: I would be remiss if I did not also brag about how cool Kate’s mom is. She’s the chair of public works on the West Chester Borough Council, and there’s been a lot of feisty dialogue on whether or not garbage collectors should accept trash cans without lids (first, folks complained about rats. Then, they complained about the measures getting taken to crack down on ze rats.) So yesterday morning, Barb donned a reflective vest and rode around on the back of West Chester’s truck, collecting trash. Not for a twenty-minute photo op, but ALL FREAKING DAY. Here’s her blog post about it, where she gets almost as excited about the Lanchester landfill’s mighty trash-heap lookout tower as I do!

Kate’s cooler than me, anyhow

Blogging, Banjos, and False Modesty. And Amish pants.

Okay, okay, I’m going to have to come clean: I’m actually very proud of my banjo playing. Blogging is a lightweight medium, and heaping false modesty on its slender shoulders makes a train wreck: “Ooh, did I mention? I play the banjo a little; I’m very self-conscious about it HERE’S A VIDEO OF ME PLAYING THE BANJO, INTERNET.”

Now, it’s true that I’m not very good, and that I do feel guilty when I go to Maine and my family of Accredited Folkies (Uncle 1 Uncle 3; Uncle 2, sadly, passed away, but he mastered both the flatpick guitar and the acoustic-coupler modem, and I miss him very, very much) break out the instruments and start playing, and I can only whack out the same song that was the only song that I could play the last time I saw them two years ago. But I’m damn proud of that song, and I like to think that I’ve extracted a lot of value from it. In fact, in 1994, the Earlham College catalog had one picture listed in its single “Social Activities” two-page spread: me, sitting on a bench with no shoes and cutoff camoflauge shorts, playing that song for my friend Amy Workman, who was a summertime backwoods ranger in Olympia State Park. I had my hair back in a ponytail made from a hose clamp, and Amy was standing on the pedals of her artfully-duct-taped montain bike, so all in all it was a pretty faithful representation of the Earlham college social life. In its brevity not least.

So, I should come clean: I love playing that song, and I am not in the least self-conscious playing it. I love the fact that my banjo is a SPECIAL banjo, a NOT-THE-REGULAR-KIND banjo, a kind of banjo that requires SPECIAL KNOWLEDGE to play. This affords the opportunity for stories like the one in yesterday’s post, which I am now cringing in remorse as I read: “oh, you see, I happened to find a dying strain of appalachian music, and…” Bullshit. I learned some clawhammer with malice aforethought, because it’s cooler. This is the same reason that I wear Amish broadfall pants from Goods in Lancaster County on a daily basis: they are hard to find, require special knowledge, and therefore are hip. Paul Fussell has my number here; he says that the impulse toward archaism as a differentiator is an indicator of social consciousness in the upper-middle class. Ahem.

Okay, I feel better admitting what was probably obvious in the first place: that blog post yesterday was the equivalent of the guys who hang out in the Eastern philosophy section of the 64th-street Barnes and Noble, collaring the college students who wander through the stacks, then finding ways to mention that they just got back from Tibet. I’ve already admitted that a big attraction of reading Seneca on lunch hour is getting seen with it in the elevator, so I guess I’m done with the penitence now. Attention, please! I plan on driving Lydia to the park in the sidecar of my archaic motorcycle, with my archaic banjo on my back, wearing my archaic pants, and I will think that I am the COOLEST DAD EVER. Hopefully, I will be able to fess up to this when I blog about it.

I still really need to learn more songs, though — Cripple Creek is only about twenty seconds long, like most folk ditties, and I’m going to have to learn more stuff in order to preserve everyone’s sanity. LBY’s enthusiasm really does assuage my self-consciousness when I’m on uncertain territory, and her bouncing-up-and-down enthusiasm in indescribably wonderful. So: onward into the songs I only half-remember, and can hit only a quarter of the notes. I want to finally feel like I deserve the banjo I was given!

Followup: pros and cons of Amish Broadfall pants:

  • Pro: Amish broadfall pants have a skinny pocket sewn on to the side of the right thigh that’s meant to carry a folding ruler at the wearers’ fingertips, which makes it an excellent cellphone pocket. You can reach your phone even if you’ve got many layers of jackets on, and it doesn’t bang around in your pocket.
  • Pro: The suspenders make them great for motorcycle riding, since they don’t crawl down your butt when you’re leaned over for a long time.
  • Con: Funny looks going through metal detectors, since Broadfall pants are studded with metal buttons. Of course, on Amtrak, there’s a service bulletin to ticket agents that you don’t have to show ID to purchase tickets if you’re “wearing the distinctive garb of the Amish and Mennonite religious communities”, so I suppose that could be seen as a pro in certain circumstances, if you were also willing to grow a beard and wear a straw hat.
  • Con: If you forget to button your fly after going to the men’s room, you won’t just get funny looks: you’ll get arrested.
Blogging, Banjos, and False Modesty. And Amish pants.