Friday, April 29, 2011

My Royal Wedding

   Something weird happened in 1958. And it wasn't at Area 51.
   I got married.
   I was seven, and in second grade.
   You know  how it goes, we were too young, it didn't last.

   Well,  here's how it went. Back in the day, my school, Liberty Hill School, had all twelve grades in one school. Small classes as well, there was only one class per grade.
   The school annual covered all twelve grades as well. 
   Traditionally, the school king and queen were selected every year and recognized in the annual, as well as the overall school program in the spring. 
   Traditionally, the school king and queen came from the high school classes, and were the most popular couple, you know, like homecoming king and queen, and so on.
   I don't know how these things were usually decided. In 1957 the powers that be, whomever they were, decided to have a school-wide election to determine the winning couple. Each class selected two representatives, I don't remember how. The second grade class, for some reason, wound up nominating Sharon and myself. 
   Now, Sharon was nice, and I thought she was the most beautiful girl in school, so maybe I volunteered.
   But I was never, ever, popular. 
   I have no idea how I wound up representing the second grade. What I do remember is that, for the main election, each set of delegates were allowed to canvass for votes. 
   Money votes. 
   One penny per vote. 
   We had an advantage. Sharon had a large family, and they were related to many others around town. I grew up in my grandparent's gas station. My grandmother had no problem talking everyone coming into the store into dropping something in the vote jar. Between the two of us, we got a lot of pennies.
   We won. 
   I still can't imagine it.
   I believe those powers that be were a bit taken aback. No elementary students had ever been chosen as King and Queen before. 
   We didn't get to be Homecoming King and Queen. I think the "Duke and Duchess" (who, after all, were really high school students) were. When the annual school pageant came around, it was called "May Fete". The theme was "The Wedding of the Flowers." 
   The wedding was Sharon and myself. She was "Lily Of The Valley", I was "Johnny Jump Up". We were married by a "Jack In The Pulpit". Other various flowers were in attendance. In fact, I believe all the elementary classes participated.
   The whole thing was performed before the "King's Court", which really included the Duke and Duchess, as well as all the parents of the school. It was a big deal.
   I got to kiss the bride, sort of. She ducked.
   The fact that we were really King and Queen wasn't acknowledged there in the pageant, or in any of the other events that I know of.
   Except the school annual.
   I only bought two annuals in my twelve years in school. My senior year annual (1967-68) and that one (1957-58).
   I got the proof.
   By the way, Sharon and I never got together again.
   She left me at the altar, at least it was after the ceremony.
   They assured us it wasn't legal anyway.
   Young love, they say it never runs true!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Gas Jockey Memoir

Once upon a time there was a UFO joke. It seems a flying saucer landed near a gas station pump island. The alien hops out and addresses one of the pumps. "Take me to your leader." Nothing happened. A bit louder he says "Take me to your leader!" Still nothing, one more time he says "TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER!!!" Nothing. He kicked the pump and said, "WELL, IF YOU'D TAKE YOUR FINGER OUT OF YOUR EAR YOU COULD HEAR ME!" And he left.
Presumably without his trading stamps.
Perhaps he'd have fared better if he'd landed on the signal hose.

   Remember trading stamps? Remember pumps like these? Remember driving across the driveway and hearing "ding, ding."
   Back in the early '60's I worked pumping gas from one of these at our station at Seward Junction. (Intersection Highway 29 and Highway 183, Williamson County, Texas.) Those were the days when you pulled up at the pumps at a station and someone else pumped your gas for you. Often, they would also check your oil and water, air your tires, and wash your windshield. The pumps worked a lot like some of the self-serve pumps today, without the digital display and the credit card slots, and without the pipe in bad music and announcements. Your musical accompaniment came from your gas jockey whistling while he worked, perhaps. 
   It was a little less automatic, as well. There is a crank on these on the far side of the pump that you wound up to clear the display numbers, the nozzle was placed in the tank, the lever below it was lifted, and the handle trigger was pressed. The gas didn't cut off automatically on full, you had to listen to the (leaded) fuel running into the tank and stop when it sounded full before it overfilled. It's hard to describe the sound change, it started as a low gurgle and reached a higher and higher pitch. 
   After a while I got pretty good at stopping the flow at the right point, of course I slowly topped off the tank, as well. (Assuming I was filling it, of course.)
   Oh yes, gas was around 27 cents a gallon then. 
Most paid cash for their fill up, or handed over their credit card to be run in the store on the manual impression machine. 
   It wasn't transmitted electronically. We saved up the receipts till the next gas shipment arrived and we used them like money to pay for the gas. The receipts worked their way up the chain of command until the company received them and billed the customer. It sounds slow, but it was probably only a few days.
   About once a day we'd open the fill pipe on one of the two underground tanks and drop a wooden dipstick down into it to see how low it was getting. The Humble, then Enco, then Exxon consignee delivered every week or so, but would come earlier if we were low, usually.
   We never were really set up to wash windows, but we did check tires and fluid levels if asked. 
The Gates Rubber Company, maker of auto hoses and fan belts, actually presented me with a Customer Service Award one time for offering to change a belt for one of their mystery motorists who stopped by. 
   I sort of cheated.
   Being a ravenous reader, I always read their newsletter when we got it. I knew they had that program going on. While pumping gas I spied several spare fan belts in the back seat. That gave me a clue I should ask to check under their hood. Normally we rarely did that unless asked.
   I confess.
   They gave me a nice printed plaque with a couple of silver dollars, half dollars, and a specially minted Silver Gates Rubber coin. I also got mentioned in the next newsletter. 
   Fame and fortune.
   It wasn't all glory, though. We weren't a very busy gas station. I did get a lot of reading done. I collected string from the Butter Krust Bread man. I made several balls of differently colored string, which I used for many years. I ate up much of the stock from our ice cream freezer, I doubt if a single ice cream sandwich ever reached a customer. 
   And Cokes, although back then it was Dr. Pepper.
   No wonder I was chubby.
   We sold the station in 1967. I was in my senior year of high school. There was a rival station across the intersection that undercut us on gas and sent their customers across to our side to get water and air. Exxon wouldn't give us any price break to compete. Mom and Dad decided to sell the store and move a short distance away and just have an auto repair shop. 
   It was a major shift. 
   I'd been pumping gas more or less since I was 11. Without pay, just for my room and board. It was a little less stress just helping out with the garage work. 
   I could concentrate more on other stuff.
   Girls, school, cars, girls, books, that.
   But I never forgot that station. Sitting on the driveway after dark. Watching the occasional car. Nighthawks and bats swooping around catching bugs by the streetlights in the intersection, armadillos hunting bugs on the dividers. 
   Nice times.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Progress: The RainCrow Writing Cave. Part 3

 Since the side wall has been open for awhile, one of the landlord's roving hens has made a rather itchy nest in my pile of insulation. I've gathered a half dozen eggs from here in the course of my labors so far! When I close up the sides for good I'll have to find her another space.

The skin is back on, and I'm piecing together the area around the replacement window. You can see it is a bit narrower and taller than the original, which was identical to the one to the right of it. In order to keep the tin pattern the same I chose to re-use the piece cut from the bottom part of the opening and make shingles of it to go up the side. There was just enough.

 Here is what that looks like. I suppose it was a toss up whether that is any better than adding a solid piece of flat metal, I had one I could have used. After painting perhaps it won't be too noticeable. However, I could always add fake shutters on the sides if it bothers me later.

The replacement window is installed. Looks pretty good, actually. Fortunately, the panes are enough of a match to visually match the lines of the other window, so it almost looks like it belongs there.

Here is the door re-hung. Should I be honest and admit I had problems with this step? Somehow in the framing process the right side of the door jamb shifted a bit and the hole was slightly too narrow at the bottom to accept the door. I had to cut some things loose, as well as the siding, and shift things back a bit to get the door back in. 
On second thought, I won't admit it, don't tell anyone, okay?
All that is left to do with this part in this pic is to add a trim piece over the door and along the bottom to cover the new outside floor joist. Some caulking will also be done before painting.

Remember this? this was the same area when I started. No more eggs in here for a while, anyway.

 The next part of the project will be to tackle this bad corner. The dark strip to the right is a strip of pegboard, there is a second one above it. These will be handy, but I'll have to remove them temporarily. All the wall framing is rotten in this corner. It'll be an interesting fix.
The end window to the right will be replaced as well with another of those taller windows. It's broken, and will have to be re-framed anyway, like the previous one was. The side window on the left of this picture is a good one, but some of the framing for it needs work. I'll know when I get the paneling pulled off. I'm hoping I don't have to remove this part of the skin. The end wall is already coming off. No doubt the hen will move back in when I open it up!
Eggs are good!
Back to work! I've already had word that I'm losing one of my storage spaces soon, so the pressure is on!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A New Tool: Music and Snowflakes

    I sometimes use an add-on toolbar for my Firefox browser called "Instant Writing Resources Toolbar". (The home page for it is here.) It has some interesting tools on it, though I admit some are more diversions than anything. One useful thing that it does have is a radio tuner to listen to online radio. I often enjoy having background music as I write. The playlist I use in my computer for that tends to be somewhat new age and ambient music. Gentle music without words is what I prefer. I also sometimes use the online players like iTunes radio tuner, Pandora radio, and so on. I think my favorite for this is Pandora. It more easily lets me customize my own stations to listen to, I've used it for a couple of years now and have already gotten several dozen stations there. My tastes can be pretty diverse sometimes. If I'm not writing, I enjoy blues, folk, and, in fact, almost any other type of music you can think of.
    Okay, rap is out, and there is very little country I like, but bits and pieces of everything from Edith Piaf to Outkast, Raul Malo to Jason Mraz.
    One of the stations on the Writing Resources Toolbar is for a station called "Writers FM with Karl Moore." Occasionally I listen in to writer's interviews there. Today he was talking to  Randy Ingermanson about his "Snowflake" method of writing. Randy has a website explaining it here.
    It looks interesting. I admit I haven't delved far into it yet. He's also selling a software he developed to use the method, but he readily explains the basics, and it seems usable anywhere.
    Check it out.
    He also wrote the book below. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Farmer's Market Update

Instead of my usual gig at Bastrop 1832 Farmer's Market last Saturday, I took my Microbial Earth booth to the Smithville Empty Bowl Project fund-raiser. We used Cat Dancing's EZ-up tent and Cat did face painting in one side of it. It was a nice event. They had several speakers, it was by an art gallery under some nice shade trees with a pretty good breeze. There were only a few vendors. Cat painted a few faces, and I made a few good sales.
There was a local band playing a mix of Beatles and other music, doing a really nice job of it. I played flute a bit in the booth and chatted with the other vendors. We got some tasty soup from the fund-raiser, Cat bought a few plants and got some free bulbs.
A very pleasant day, overall.

Update on The RainCrow Writing Cave. Part 2

We've had some really nice weather for working on my office trailer project. We definitely need rain badly, but it would not necessarily be a good  thing while the wall of the trailer is wide open. However, I could put up with some.
Anyway, I've been moving right along.

Shown is the front end of the trailer. (Front being where the hitch is.) This end will most likely wind up being more for storage eventually. It may look as messy as before, but actually it has been cleaned up. What you're seeing is my scavenged building material ready to use in re-building. The end window was really not fixable. I have to totally re-frame the area around one window on the wall to our right, so I re-located that good window to the end. The (also scavenged) extra windows I have are of a different size. Since I'm re-framing anyway, I will frame it to accept the different size window. I'll have to finagle the exterior skin some, but that will be minor.
 This next series shows what remains after demolition of the bad wood and removal of the outside skin and insulation. A lot of the insulation is still usable. The door has also been removed, as the supporting board running beneath the floor has to be replaced as well as one of the jambs. The metal pan looking area is a sort of fender well for the wheels below. I assume it was to keep the wheels from throwing water and dirt up onto the floor above. I left it intact.
Outside view of the same area with the outside floor joist and rotten portion of the floor removed.

 Another exterior shot of demolition. Rotted wood and bad paneling are piled on the ground outside. Here you can see where the door was removed.
I replaced the outside floor joist 2x6 along with some judicious splicing. Here it is already attached.

 An outside shot of the new floor joist 2x6. This acts as floor frame and also supports the wall. There are metal braces below that attach it to the steel trailer frame.
Here is some of the new floor framing. 2x4 cross pieces were cut and inserted at about two foot spacing. The old flooring was cut even with the next existing 2x6 floor joist. A new 2x4 was added as a cleat against the existing joist to give something to attach the new strip of plywood to. In the upper right corner you can see one of the new floor pieces. I suspect you give up a bit of strength doing this. The floor was originally one sheet of plywood continuous across the width. That continuous piece gives it a membrane effect. To replace the whole floor would involve rebuilding the entire trailer from ground up. I don't have time, energy, or money for that. This will have to do.

Here both new sections of flooring have been attached and screwed to the floor joists. A note here, I've done this sort of thing on several mobile homes now and I've never once found one with a "standard" thickness of flooring. Fortunately, I had a piece of floor decking (also scavenged) that was pretty close to the same thickness. The new wall framing is also visible in this picture.

 New wall framing in place. To be consistent with the existing style of framing, a 1x2 runner was added along the top of the floor edge and new 2x2 verticals added to duplicate the original locations. One vertical stud had to be slightly relocated to accept the replacement window that, again, is of a different size.
 Verticals are notched on the outside to accept the horizontal 1x3's as well as the existing wiring. The skin will attach to the horizontals, while the inside paneling attaches to the vertical studs.
All the new framing for this wall is done. We're ready to screw the skin back on, insert the window, do insulation and inside paneling.

I'm not sure how feasible this project would be without having all the scavenged lumber available. So far we've only been out the moving fee for the trailer. All the lumber has come from scrap piles at other vendor's booths out at the Sherwood Forest site. The windows, paneling, and other material came inside this free trailer or the portable office building we were given that we now use as woodworking shop. (See previous post.)

More to follow soon!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Next Big Project: RainCrow Writing Cave. Part One

Okay, we have a hiatus of sorts. Sherwood Forest Faire has ended for this year. We won't be able to continue work on our booth for perhaps a month. The powers that be at Sherwood must spend some time doing their own thing before they let us back in to work on our thing. We're hoping they let us in at least to water our flowers. 

So, I'm back on the hunt for employment and in the meantime helping Cat with her art (and my own). Also, since we have good weather and cool mornings, I'm jumping into the renovating of my office trailer. 

To re-iterate what I've posted before, when we started building our booth out at Sherwood, there was an old portable office and an even older office trailer out there. One of the owners let me have them both on the condition I would haul off all the stuff that was in them as well. That was actually a good deal, as there was a lot of good building material and other useful stuff stored there. Some of the material has actually been used in our booth, and the portable building has already been converted into a workshop for Cat and I. Previously she'd had a tarp covered portable carport to work under in the back yard, now we have a reasonably weather tight building with room for Cat's intarsia space in one end, stained glass work space in the other, and my own workbench for flutes etc. along one wall. 

Notice I didn't say "ample" space, but it is very good for now, and most of the time we can expand out under the trees to do some things if we need to.  The landlord was kind enough to allow us space to put it all, on the condition everything goes with us when we move. 

It took a bit longer to move the office trailer, almost a year, in fact. A lot of the material from the portable we shifted to the trailer so we could move the portable, and it stayed there. It was relatively dry and secure and out of the way. As I said, some of it was used on the booth anyway, so it was close to where it ended up. We finally cleared the trailer mostly out and I contacted a mover. 

It was a bit of a challenge. I had to locate four mobile home tires for it, since the old ones had rotted. The basic metal frame on the trailer was in good shape. Some of the wooden wall framing, however was not. I would estimate a third of the wood framing is rotted out. The floor is mostly good except a few places near the walls. One rear corner has to be re-framed, some work needs to be done on a front corner, and the lower part of one side wall and the attached floor near the door must be replaced. Fortunately all the metal skin is intact, if loose in places, and the windows are mostly good with only a few broken panes.

For moving we wrapped the walls with towing straps and come-alongs to keep it all together. It was a sixteen mile move to our place and we did have to stop and re-adjust things once. A couple of times we wondered if we were going to make it, I admit, but we did. In the following weeks I leveled it and blocked it up. 

Now the work starts in earnest.

Here's the beast as it sits. Obviously before I finish it will need some paint as well.

 Loose sheet metal near the door. You can see part of the "Highland Mall" printed on the side. This trailer once was a movable showroom for Lowrey Organs. I actually remember seeing it parked outside one of the malls.
The back corner that is rotted. The wood framing will get replaced. As you can see, the metal is intact. If I'm careful it should not be too hard to re-attach after the framing is done.

An inside shot of the corner to re-frame. And, some of the stuff that still needs to be cleared away.

Inside the side wall that needs work.

A plus. Since it was a showroom for electric organs, I have plenty of fluorescent fixtures and wall plugs with a really good breaker box.

Another plus. A working 110 volt window unit a/c. Huzzah!

And still another plus. It looks like a mess, and I did have to clear it out, BUT, what you're looking at is more than enough sound lumber and paneling to make the repairs I need to make. I may only have to buy nails and screws. I have my fingers crossed on that score.

I really didn't need extra windows, but I got a bunch. Some of the glass, though can be used to re-glaze the existing windows. Somebody want to build a greenhouse? Besides the aluminum windows there are loose panes of glass galore.

A shot toward the front of the trailer. More stuff. There are actually two small white chest of drawers there with drawers full of acorn shells some critter was filing away. There is also an old wooden desk standing on end that I'm hoping to re-claim for my computer desk. 

Well, that's the project. I'm hoping to have enough space I'll be able to retrieve everything from my storage unit and store or use here, plus enough space for bookshelves and computer desk for writing, drafting, and a bit of solitude. Hmm, maybe that's what this will be, my "Fortress of Solitude". Hey, Doc Savage and Superman had theirs, why not me?

We're sometimes a bit cramped in our house, so this will be my space. Actually, a large part of my storage unit is taken up with books, so if I can get my books up on shelves, that will be a large help. I'll keep you posted on my progress. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Where Do I Go From Here?

    I'm an omnivorous reader. I literally am one of those who would read a cereal box or any other printed matter in front them at meal times. I have loads of books, most in storage currently. I always have whatever novel I'm reading at bedside along with a bag of books next in line, usually from the library. In my study (read "bathroom") I keep one or two non-fiction books usually, along with current and not so current magazines. The latest book there is "Writing Down The Bones" by Natalie Goldberg, and the magazines run to "Mother Earth News", and "The Backwoodsman". (All of which I heartily recommend, by the way.) I also have quite a few books of many kinds loaded onto my laptop ready to look at should I be trapped somewhere in need of reading matter. I feel quite lost if I stop for lunch somewhere and don't have anything to read.
    I've accumulated books for years. I often know the contents of Half Price Books better than some of those who work there. When I was young and living with my grandparents they had a rather high closet, built over a stair space. The floor of the closet was at least four feet above the room floor. This closet had a couple of shelves on each side full of books that were mostly leftover from my father. I often spent hours in the closet, surrounded by books. I had a small light there and I was quite happy among the 1940 Book of Knowledge and the red set of Miss Minerva and William Green Hill books. And, I still have them. I've added quite a few since.
    I once donated two library shelf units, three feet wide, six feet tall, I think about five shelves each, and enough theater type books to completely fill them to the community theater I was working with. And, it barely made a dent in my library. (I do miss some of the books now and then.) Much of that was from a purchase I had made some time before at a garage sale of fourteen boxes of theater related books. It completely filled my Chevy Suburban to the roof. 

Can you say "bookaholic"? 

    I'm looking forward to finishing my new office trailer so I can have many of my books around me again. I will, however, still have to weed them out thoroughly in order to fit them in. I do intend to be strict with myself and only keep what will fit. Books in storage are a sad thing. Some of it is a bit silly. I mean, most of my collection is non-fiction reference type stuff. I mean, that's the sort of thing that having the internet makes unnecessary. However, having the printed books does feel good to me.

    For many years I  had the desire to be a writer. About 1993 I got a chance to write a play in collaboration with a friend, Barbara Stopp Vance. We wrote several plays that did pretty well. A couple of them were produced several times and in four countries. I went on to write other plays including a couple of award winning one-acts that were produced at Sam Bass Theater in Round Rock, Tx. 

    For several years following I concentrated more on the acting/directing side of theater and less on writing, although I did have several ideas germinating. A short time ago I returned to the writing with ideas for two projects. One is a series of mystery novels, the other is a stand-alone fantasy. I also have several play projects in working.

    Every single play I worked on previously was developed in different ways. Only one actually began with me knowing the ending, and even that one wound up working out differently than planned. Now I find it easy to come up interesting, if unrelated, scenes, but I often find it difficult to find out what the overall story is, and where it is going. That makes it very difficult. In fact, it's a huge challenge. Sometimes it feels like I'm trying to string together a bunch of improv skits. 

    Oh, well. If it was easy we'd all be authors.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Sherwood Forest Faire 2011 Update

Well, the second year of Sherwood Forest has come and gone. We had a great time. If you've been following this blog for long you know about our booth and what we were vending there. 

It was a great second year. Turnout was good, and overall our sales were above the first year's. 

An interesting note, it seemed like about one out of 3 or 4 of the patrons who came to our booth wanted to talk about the construction of said booth as much as they did the art work. And a significant number of them came mainly just to see the booth. The most common comment was along the lines of, "this is the most unique structure at the Faire!" 

In my previous posts you can see that we had to stop construction before the Faire opened because of weather and the burn ban that hampered making the clay. We came to two conclusions very soon during the actual Faire. We have decided against the original idea of adding a loft above part of the space, because we and most of the patrons agreed that all enjoyed the openness of the design. Secondly, we decided that we liked the airiness and natural light provided by the open areas left at the tops of the walls, so we plan to leave a couple of feet open all around below the roof. It was nice to have the cross ventilation, get the sunlight, and see the trees around us. We had a few days near 90 degrees F and almost everyone commented that the inside of our booth was nearly ten degrees cooler than outside on the grounds. 

So, soon we will re-start construction and new pictures will be forthcoming!