Friday, June 24, 2016

The Gamer's Digs

A game designer invited me on a virtual tour of a new three-d headset. The experience was a calligraphic ride on a rocket ship, and so was my friend's apartment: there was almost nothing in it. 

To provide safe space for moving around in virtual architecture, the generous living room was nearly empty. The floor was bare, the kitchen lived in a corner. A computer table with monitors and the requisite failed dot com Herman Miller throne and a couple of Barcelonas made up the rest of the movables. 

Eric had mounted the VR accessories on "third hand" posts in the corners of the room, observing that freestanding posts were too easy to knock over. In doing so, he had inadvertently reinvented a mid-century classic. Eric grumbled that the kitchen was cluttered. I could not resist pointing out that a fifth of the counter space was taken up by an artfully composed group of condiments and very good drink.

We made noises about space management, no big deal in such a lightly furnished apartment. I encouraged Eric to store everything not in immediate use in his spare room. He muttered about piling things in the corner, as good a technique as any in a clean, warm, dry interior.

I made my way home happy and ready to edit. -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

White Linen

At a recent reunion, a classmate confessed she had been daunted by the linen and silver at the luncheon honoring alumni with outstanding records of service. I've heard similar comments recently about conventional table service. It's a pity, but an honor to be trusted with the remarks.

Long years of contemplating domestic custom have taught me the wisdom of the practices I learned as a young girl tasked nightly with setting the table. White linen is the most durable cloth and the easiest to maintain. Early American kitchens covered bare plank work surfaces with white linen. White linens were a staple of the most ordinary cafes until indelible ballpoint pen drove them into extinction in the mid-Fifties. It was ordinary to write notes in fountain pen on a cloth at a business lunch.

Until stainless steel hit the market in the late nineteenth century, silver was the benign alternative to unsanitary wooden or toxic rusty iron flatware. Silver was also a store of bride wealth at a time when women were not permitted to own property. The crystal goblet that looks so elegant is a freestanding high-tech version of a drinking horn.

Before electricity, white linen, polished silver, and glass made the most of candle and kerosene light.

Sharon, who is a sensitive and skilled craftsman, said she felt clumsy at the table and retreated from the gustatory field before she knocked something over. I recommend gazing at Andy Warhol's perfect drawings of table settings in Amy Vanderbilt's Sixties "Book of Etiquette".  Then view Van Gogh's "Potato Eaters". Conventional table practice fosters and protects the fine motor skills that are at the heart of human relations, craft production, and hunting technology. Traditional etiquette allows numbers of people to share space without conflict. I found it telling to read in a well-researched glossy book about the history of English domestic architecture that the poles of practice are the timbered Saxon house, where a baron would party and enjoy beer with the commoners and the Norman that preferred wine and castles. 

A place setting is a keyboard that is knocked down and washed after it is used. A meal is a social break in a rigorous day. Conventional placement and custom allows one to concentrate on dialogue rather than the process of getting food into one's mouth.

Food etiquette is most valuable when conditions are most rigorous. Nothing says gentle like clean fingers and "Please pass..." when crouching on a muddy trailside in the rain or sharing a table in a retirement home. Table manners are a treasure anyone can claim. They allow one to take advantage of our species' upright posture and cognitive capacity.  -30-

More after the jump.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Poverty And Utilities

Such is the nature of contemporary life that, at least on Puget Sound, one must be able to afford country property to enjoy living without electricity, running water, and high taxes. Recently I became acquainted with a woman who mentioned that she had grown up without utilities. Her parents' house was located in a tiny European-American town surrounded by an Indian reservation. 

Louis communicated a sense of impoverishment when she shared her history, but I think she is mistaken. First of all, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was responsible for electrifying her piece of geography. Second, rural electrification was far from complete even as late at the Seventies. 

When the boomer grandchildren of rural families were old enough and well-educated enough to take a hard look at property taxes when they were setting up their own households, the first things they challenged were central utilities. Solar electricity and water salvage were and continue to be primary concerns in designing the independent freehold.

When I contemplate my city's utility charges, they look more like the cause of poverty than the effect of prosperity. I balance paying utility fees and counting them as a labor cost with time-consuming hands' on procedures that cut consumption. -30-

More after the jump.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Coastie

On a mercifully short flight home, I chose a window seat. The plane was full, and a fellow with an impressive set of shoulders took the middle seat and a good bit of mine, as well. We jostled gently for a while, each of us trying to maintain a straight spine. 

Finally, worried that his posture was affecting his brain oxygen, I suggested we take turns sitting comfortably. The remark broke the ice, and I learned that my seat mate was a Coast Guard emergency response leader on his way to Seattle for the largest E drill in the country. 

From him I learned to have a low-tech back-up for vital systems. (See outdoorsman's field manuals.) Print out all documents.

Have a unique audio signal to gain the attention of an unruly crowd. (My mother used a cow bell. Her father had a particular whistle.) Train your group to respond instantly.

When things have gone badly wrong, brainstorm solutions. -30-

More after the jump.

Monday, June 20, 2016


Back in the day, a conscientious laundress would add blue dye to the rinse water of a load of white clothing. The additive countered the yellow residue of real soap. Hanging clothes to dry outdoors encouraged good work.

I wash and dry in private, but I wash and dry frequently. My machine is a one-pound midget. Mixing blue and white clothing allows me to fill out a load for a quick turnaround. -30- More after the jump.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Just Like The Commune, But Cleaner

Such was a companion's pithy evaluation of assisted living at a recent class reunion. -30-
More after the jump.