Friday, April 22, 2011

Bells

Photo courtesy Flickr

June’s coming up. Here’s the base line for weddings. Theologically speaking, the ceremony is performed by the couple. Queen Victoria wore the first specialized white dress. Earlier, women wore something that could be used later for other celebrations. Home weddings are a genteel alternative to a big production, as are handwritten invitations.

It’s not cool to admit consulting an etiquette book, but if your family is small, or you don’t get married very often, get the interested parties together and choose one to use as a referee. Miss Manners encourages her “gentle readers” to get real about weddings.

A popular Tacoma venue burned last week, and a reporter interviewed a man standing in a dinner jacket outside the substitute space. The groom commented that he would gladly get married in the parking lot, because other things were more important. Too bad he’s taken.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Snap

Photo courtesy Flickr

A man who performs living history at the relocated Fort Nisqually in Tacoma shared generous hours of his time and expertise over lunch last week. He pulled a detachable starched collar out of a leather case to discuss the fine points of that clothing technology, casually mentioning that he knew the case was made after 1905 (hope I got that right), because the metal snap was presented to the world at an exposition around then. Detachable collars and cuffs saved labor when clothing was washed by hand. Now and then industry produces a men's shirt with contrasting white collar and cuffs, a reference to the original "white collar", as opposed to the indigo-dyed blue work shirt.

Preppy style faded away in the Eighties, but it’s tiptoeing back into the current economy. The Old Line Loafer Company is producing classic footgear, Deck Shoe is mainstream, and NBC broadcast a story about the Stingy Yankee Country Store’s core inventory. Perhaps it won’t be long before the mainstream looks like the original hippies, before their hair grew out.

If you're willing to consider traditional American dress, preppy will carry you from trailhead to high-rise office building without a hiccup and cost you the least per wearing of any style strategy. The Preppy Handbook and Cheap Chic are useful working manuals. Preppy mixes very well with punk. It's basically invisible and low-maintenance, so it's easy to mix with other expressions.

Facilities generate traffic, as the engineers say, and the automatic washer and dryer set us up to generate mindless bushels of laundry. Utility bills are a household vital sign and an easy vein to mine for dollars. It will be a while, I expect, before the detachable collar and cuff reappear, but controlling what goes into the pipeline is a good way to start. Simply wearing things an extra day will halve labor and expense.

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More after the jump.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Flat Earth

Photo courtesy Flickr

Quite often, I realize that the earth is round, and that we do live in three dimensions rather than two. When plastic first appeared on the market in the Fifties, novelist Norman Mailer railed against the technology, and it may be his writing that turned the adjective into an insult.

Once the water bottle became a daily accessory, I realized that lightweight unbreakable synthetics greatly expand the range of options for living comfortably indoors or out. A water bottle frees one to move: a jug and tumbler immobilize.

When I think about them, the contents of my side bag are miraculous. The bag itself, nylon pack cloth, is stronger, lighter, and more durable than leather, stronger than steel, actually, and less likely to offend herbivores. I take the phone for granted, although it was not so long ago that a phone weighed fifteen pounds, was mounted on a wall, shared with ten families, and had to be cranked to generate enough juice to make a call.

There are thousands of invisible dollars in my wallet, should I wish to behave imprudently, and I can get to them anywhere on earth. There’s a cosmetic stick smaller than a pencil, a waterproof pen the size of a twig in place of an ink well, blotter, and dip nib, an emergency tent that weighs a couple of ounces, a spare travel case that weighs less, and a camera half the size of a store-bread sandwich that does more with less than a watch-the-birdie rig.

There is now very little to tie me to one location, except my regard for the location itself and for what it does for my personal economy. Futurist Buckminster Fuller factored in a thing’s weight (including buildings) as part of the design process, and I have found that invariably choosing the lightest, smallest version of an amenity relieves and greens the responsibilities of daily living.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Guiding Light

Photo courtesy Flickr

Japan’s current ordeal sent me straight to the emergency kit to make sure it was adequate. Three trips to the Great Big Hiking Coop later, I think I’m prepared. As the bomb dog handler at Sea Tac said on a school outing years before 9/11, “We strive for 100% preparation and zero utilization.”

The more I use the essential elements of outdoor gear as the center of my household furnishings, the more money, free time, and empty cubic feet appear under the roof. I sprang for a lightweight headlamp. On a trip to the kitchen for a midnight snack, I discovered that hanging the thing around my neck turned a drowsy errand into an interior night-time drive.

The battery light spared me the bother, noise, and hesitation of flipping switches that turn night into day whether I want it or not. It will be fun to discover just how much mechanical detail I can excise by wearing one small lamp rather than operating half a dozen large ones. I’ll pick up a yellowish gel to take the curse off the blue-white LEDs and see what happens when I activate strobe mode.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

The Patter of Four Little Feet


Photo courtesy Flickr

An old friend stopped by Friday with her two miniature poodles. I enjoyed a short seminar in contemporary puppy management while I admired the dignity and self-possession of Robbie the gaffer dog. A hundred twenty years of seasoning have turned the house’s straight-grain Doug fir into an acoustic instrument. Lottie’s soft pre-teen footfalls resonated so charmingly that I considered getting them on tape.

The puppy sound track underlay the morning’s visit, and it was clear that the new addition to my friend’s family has had quite an influence. For one thing, May was wiped out, barely able to string two sentences together, and we both flashed back to our days wrangling toddlers. Robbie, though, looked younger than I’d ever seen him. His hindquarters had filled out from old man haunches, and May’s own fitness had clearly improved. She, too, was higher on her toes than I’d seen in ages.

May mentioned that miniature poodles had been bred by John Ringling to perform under the big top. The last time I saw Ringling there was a poodle act: the trainer juggled a number of wildly enthusiastic dogs to typical circus music. I retain the image of him with a poodle standing tall on the tips of the fingers of his outstretched arm, dog and man moving together to maintain balance.

Lottie is even brighter, more curious, and fast than a skater, and when she “asked” what was on the tea table, she stood unsupported on her hind legs, not quite able to see the meal. She’s bred to stand and reach up, apparently, both admirable qualities.

I lived with a parakeet for a while, and after a few months it dawned on me that we were both highly visual upright bipeds. A bird book had clued me that parakeets are the fighter pilots of the parrot world, small, fast and agile, with senses that process information a hundred times faster than homo sapiens. Once I knew that about Tio, we could converse, although he was impatient. I thought it would be more interesting to learn to speak parakeet than to burden him with a crippled version of English, and the effort enriched my relationship with all birds, especially after I learned that the human ear emits sounds in response to receiving them.

Northwest painter Bill Cumming taught me that the main thing about the human animal is the upright bipedal posture. As with Tio, I think the key to relating to Lottie might be to respect her hard wiring to work an audience. When she first entered the house, her expressions were parrot-like in their humor, and when she left, her farewell was as direct and aware as that of a delighted child.

You think you know a person. I mentioned Lottie’s visit to my partner of thirty-four years, and he told me about spending a New Jersey afternoon with two newly retired trainers of circus dogs. Their four terriers romped around the living room improvising the same tricks they had used in the ring, such as a standing back flip. My son had a kindergarten friend who was the granddaughter of a professional clown. Her mother had the same wired-into-the-moment coordination and responsiveness as Lottie, the working musicians I have known, and the one professional athlete whose path I’ve crossed. It’s the mindset of the workmanship of risk, that of the eye and hand unguided by pattern or jig.

-30- More after the jump.