Black Friday and the Grey

“Once more into the fray…

Into the last good fight I’ll ever know.
Live and die on this day…

Live and die on this day…”

It’s early Thanksgiving Day, no one else  in the house is up or awake…and I’m thinking about how thankful I am that I no longer work retail.

The quote at the beginning of this post is from a recent movie called “the Grey” about a group of oil rig workers who go down in a plane crash in the Arctic and attempt to survive harsh conditions and the constant threat of wolf attack. It’s a poem that’s repeated several times throughout the film and it provides some of the emotional tone of the movie. Ottway, Liam Neeson’s character, is going to survive or “go down swinging” (literally)…and repeats this poem often so that we don’t forget it.

We went to Walmart last night to pick up some supplies for our own Thanksgiving.  The workers were frantically pulling shrink wrapped, “do not sell until Friday” marked pallets of various must have items throughout the store.  The aisles were blocked…the workers were tired…and still they pulled their pallet jacks…yelling to each other, “there’s an open aisle in sporting goods!”…getting ready for the biggest shopping day of the year.

What a minor league hell it all is.

I am easily convinced….if the media tells me that I need to get in line to be eaten by wolves so that I can save 200 dollars on a laptop…I’m there, man!  Maybe it’s just the thrill of it all…a sanctioned day of letting it all hang out, putting my most aggressive tendencies out on display…the thrill of the hunt…no tigers to bring down with a sharpened piece of flint anymore so we camp out to be first in line to get that giant flat screen that we couldn’t live without the minute they told us we couldn’t live without it.

I don’t think I could do enough to avoid it all, actually.

The Walmart workers, glassy eyed and mumbling, pulling their own version of the pyramid stones around on the tinted concrete floor…repeating under their breath, “Once more into the fray…” betray their excitement for the impending holiday season.  Their brand of enthusiasm becomes contagious…until we all are glad that once more we can just “make it through” our celebration of Christ’s birthday a month later..  Maybe that’s our new marker of what it means to celebrate the holidays…that sinking feeling that maybe we won’t get a chance to get or to give the things we want if we don’t jump down into the “wolf cage” with all the other rabid shoppers….and, of course, celebrate Jesus’ birthday a month later…can’t forget that part.

I guess there’s nothing really wrong with Black Friday.  It’s what we all are used to…the best and worst display of capitalism in action…the free marketplace and the madness of crowds…the thrill of the hunt when the prey is staked out for us and announced with a full color circular the week before the sale.  We don’t have the opportunity to really battle anymore…to swing our broadaxe while stepping over our vanquished foes, yelling in the moonlight,  announcing our victory with a crazed and sustained bellow…so to push through the crowd to get the best deal ever on a lifetime supply of shamwow towels will have to do until we can make a complete return to barbarism.

I understand that the biggest shopping day of the year is tomorrow…Black Friday.  I listened when the media told me that we’d all be doing our own version of the big fight…that this was my chance, that I’d be missing out if I wasn’t out there.  If I can help it…I’ll miss out…and live to go “once more into the fray” some other day.

Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Thanksgiving! Happy!  Thanks! Giving!  THANKSGIVING.

My Father’s Victory

When I was a child and living in California, I remember my father having one of these old Renault Daphines.  He bought it for 50 dollars and drove it home.  It was black and it smelled old when it got hot inside.

This picture isn’t the same car.  The lady in the picture isn’t my mother….and our driveway was a lot smaller and wasn’t cobblestone….so I know this isn’t a picture taken at our house…but it’s the same car.

There was something wrong with the car…so my father took it apart.  There were a lot of big metal pieces laying around on the garage floor for a while…greasy pieces that my sister and I were told not to touch.  He worked on it until he’d fixed it and put it all back together.  When it was done, he drove it to work.

A child’s estimation of their parents is formed in a great many ways.  Usually, it isn’t the “watch me…check this out…see what I can do” moments that make the biggest impression (I don’t remember my father having any of these…he was pretty understated).  For me, it was the moments like when I was standing at the garage door watching my father work out something…figuring out why the car wouldn’t go backwards….and of him having the confidence to try and fix the problem.

It never was the moment that my father crossed the goal line to score the winning touchdown….or made the big deal…landed back on Earth after setting foot on Mars for the first time….it wasn’t any of those things that helped me see his victory.  It was all the big and small ways that I saw him keep trying. Those memories are my true legacy.

My mother was pretty ill off and on for the last 15 years of her life. When she was first diagnosed with the condition that pretty quickly took away her ability to walk and care for herself,  I remember her crying and asking my father, “oh Dick….what are we going to do?”…and my father telling her, “we’re going to play the hand that’s dealt us.” It wasn’t self pitying…or fatalistic…he never expressed any thoughts that God had given us a bum deal…he just quietly went about the daily tasks of being a husband and caregiver.

I remember one sunny day in California waiting in the driveway for my father to come home from work.  The little Renault had broken down on the highway, so he called my mother and told her he’d be late, and then called a tow truck to bring him the rest of the way.  Years later, when I asked him why it broke down, he told me it had been the battery.

I don’t know why I remember half of what I do recall.  I forget to buy the half and half, but I remember the smell of an old Renault sitting in the California sun. I’m not sure why some things stick in my head like that.

I think that even as a child I probably knew that my father didn’t know everything…but I never questioned that he was going to make things better somehow.  I hope that I can give my own children that offering…that they can take it for granted that I am going to somehow come through for them in the end.

something’s gonna get ya

My wife was looking up videos of Kiko, the new baby giraffe at the Greenville Zoo recently…and off on the sidebar on the Youtube site was a whole bunch of videos about the impending Mayan predicted disaster known as 2012.

How you make the connection between a new baby giraffe and the end of the world, I don’t know…but apparently there is some stronger relation between the two than we realized.  Maybe, like other things that came before, this seven foot newborn is a sign?  Maybe it’s a sign heralding the need to get to your computer and watch a Youtube video of some semi-legit appearing, may be an academic off-course, may be just a crazy dude talking about the end of the world coming around the time of our wedding anniversary.  I don’t know how to tell.  (IF IT’S ON THE TV IT’S GOTTA BE TRUE, RIGHT?)

Here’s a picture of Kiko:  He’s a pretty benign looking youngster….just out enjoying the new life on a sunny, late Fall day.  But…if Youtube is to be believed, the connection between the two events is unmistakable .  “Wars…and rumors of war…etc”….and Kiko. It’s a lot of pressure for the 7 foot newborn.

So now we had the question of exactly what this 2012 thing was all about…what was going on that soon nothing as we know it would be going on?  I tried to steer her towards the recent John Cusack movie of the same name…but realized that Hollywood may have left out some of the details for dramatic effect.  I tried watching some of the Youtube videos, but the thought of a reversal of the magnetic fields confused me…are we just supposed to grab on to something when it all goes down?  I am afraid of FEAR.

It used to be that if you saw the tiger, you were afraid. You spent your life listening for the tiger…and if you didn’t hear him off in the bushes…you had nothing to worry about.  Now you sit and watch a video about a little giraffe, and some man pops up in another video to tell you that the tiger might be somewhere and might be coming…and when he does come he might be coming for you. Something might happen…if I’ve learned anything by this point, it’s that something somewhere might happen…usually before the sun goes down…so the guy on my computer might be right about something…possibly.

So what’s to worry?  Somethings going to get you in the end, anyway…you might as well enjoy the giraffes while you can.

road trip

One of the best things I think we’ve been able to give our children is the experience of seeing that there’s something else on the other side of the fence.  Our road trips, whether across the country…down and back again….or just up the road to a town we haven’t visited before…have been amazing. The gift of enthusiasm and curiosity…priceless.



photo copyright 2012 Z. Rorvig

they make them build the furniture

I heard on the news this morning that IKEA was in trouble for using forced labor (ie East German prisoners) in some of its factories in the 1980’s…presumably to keep prices down.

I’m no East German prisoner…but my wife made me put together a whole kitchen worth of IKEA cabinets, storage units, shelving, trivets, and a whole bunch of flingenshlavets (if you know IKEA you may not recognize the last one…but you know what I’m talking about).  Presumably she used my labor as a cost cutting measure.

IKEA says it is regretful over its use of these prisoners to save money.  I don’t believe my wife has any regrets over using my labor…other than the infrequent assembly errors I was guilty of.

I’m really just kidding…it wasn’t forced labor…and my wife was probably better at putting the stuff together than I was. IKEA still hasn’t released a statement about any regret pertaining to our kitchen.


When I see my wife sitting at our computer….and then I hear her say, “WHAT’S THIS?!!! WHAT IS THIS?!!!” ….I know something is up.

Unless I’ve visited some site featuring  illegal, filmed with a webcam in a Chinese or Russian theater pre-release leaked movies…  and a weird pop-up came across my screen inviting me to partake of a Russian Marriage Slave…I’m safe.  But when your wife calls you into the room and says, “What’s this?!! It says PORN….” it does make your heart skip a beat or two.

If all my problems were so easy to solve I’d be in a lot better shape.  “OH!!! That’s just cabin porn!!!”, I say.  “Cabin porn?”, she asks, starting to calm down.  “Yes…that’s just!!”, I reply…as if the free part would cover even more suspicion with acceptability .  “It’s a site with a bunch of pictures of cabins from all around the world…it’s pretty cool”.

Then I take her to the site and introduce her to the wonderful world of FREE CABIN PORN…and she gets a chance to get lost in the world of sod-roofed Norwegian huts…stone Italian cottages….funky little houses from all over the world. Once again, all is right in my world.  The PORN was just a beautiful collection of photographs of small homes.

The site is administered by the folks who also bring us a site called .  Cabin Porn is a collection of often reader submitted pictures from all over the world….amazing and modest and creative and colorful houses that are artfully presented.  Just photos with brief descriptions of the location…sometimes a little more description to set the scene…but for the most part the cabins speak for themselves.  The pictures seem to be pretty high resolution…so it takes a while for the site to load.

These are “human scale” and very personal little houses….a “wish book” source for quiet life design.


Here’s the description of the photo above…taken from the site:

My favorite handmade home of all time, found in this book.

Handmade Houses by Art Boericke and Barry Shapiro is one of the most important books for serious students of cabins, if only because the authors were pioneers in recognizing the wave of handmade homebuilding following the 1970’s back-to-the-land movement.

The book, in fact, inspired Scott Newkirk to build the first cabin at Beaver Brook, our place in the woods.

So there you have it…the only PORN on my computer.  Well worth seeking out… and spending some time pondering your escape.

A Post Script….a whole lot of fiction for dramatic effect.  My wife knew what the site “cabin porn” was…but it sounded a whole lot more interesting if I pretended that she was upset pre-explanation. Such is life.

Another post script 12/3/2013  If my site gets any hits from a web search, it was this posting under the original title, “The only porn on my computer”.  What the heck?  So I changed the title so that Arabic google couldn’t find me anymore.  I don’t need that kind of traffic…even when I don’t get any traffic otherwise.

guitars and forks

I’ve been playing guitar almost as long as I have known how to use a fork. You would think that I’d be a lot better guitar player than I am after 37 years…you’d think I’d be a gourmand after 50 years of using a fork…but I’m not in either case.  I bash it out, I shovel it in…which is not to say that I don’t have a profound love and sensitivity for either …eating or playing the guitar…it’s just that neither of them is what I would call a highly developed skill.

I have many touch points for “what I was doing when”…cars, places…guitars.  Ah, guitars….I’ve been through a number.  My wife gets sick of me saying, “I had one of those Black Beauty Les Pauls!  I had an ES125! I had…” . …all of them traded at the pawn shop for something else to satisfy my musical adhd (I traded the Les Paul for an Ovation 12 string and a Marantz cassette deck…arghhhh….bonehead!).  Totems….lucky stones….6 string markers for the days of my life.

I think if I have a highly developed skill that it’s probably buying guitars. I don’t know if I’m really good at making a selection…but I am goood at the buying part.  I used to love to hit all the pawn shops looking for guitars….trading, buying, reselling for just a little more than I paid for them (I passed along some great deals…holy, smokes)…enjoying the hunt along with the purchase.  I probably went through about 5 or 6 Les Pauls that I paid about 200 dollars for each…which amazes me now… but I have to remember that I was making under five dollars an hour at the time.  I bought lots of vintage guitars that at the time were just old.

Back in the day (we should all live long enough to be able to say, “back in the day”), before the internet and the Orion blue book,  the random amazing deal was a lot easier to come by.  If the pawn shop loaned somebody 25 dollars on an old beater Gibson, they probably sold it for 75 dollars.  Outrageous deals were a common occurrence.  Then the word got out that the Japanese were buying up all the vintage stuff…later the blue book started showing up…ebay happened ….and the market changed.  You can still find a good deal….sometimes something so random comes through that the pawn broker can’t research it, can’t find out what it should be priced at…but those days of the “often occurring miracle buy” seem to be gone.

Now I have a family and the selfish pursuit of buying lots of guitars is way back on the farthest back burner.  I still get excited when I ask the pawn broker, “could I see that one?”….and he hands it over the counter and I hold it for the first time…”umm…how much are you asking for this one?  What’s the best you could do for cash?”…it’s all still a thrill.  But I would be on such a list if I came home with every one that got my heart racing.  Now my children are playing some guitar so I’ll have an excuse to look for instruments “for them”.

A recovering alcoholic doesn’t go into a liquor store…I don’t spend quite as much time in pawn shops as I used to….now that I’m a recovering “pawn shop guitar” junkie.  To justify any of it, I suppose that I could be a crack addict or something worse…something worse than enjoying pawn shop guitars.  That’s what I’ll tell my wife if I relapse.


More than what it’s made of

In the 1970’s, there was a slew of books about owner built, funky, human scale houses. Everything was geared to reflect the personality and spirit of the builder…and the builders of these homes were not hobbled by normal constraints like bank loans or building codes. It was a creative time for a lot of things…and that creativity played out in the homes some people were building for themselves.

I read somewhere that the 60’s actually happened in the 70’s.  I don’t know if that’s true or not…I’d like to think that it was as my teenage years took place in that time period.  It seems a lot more digestible to be able to think that I grew up in the “late period sixties” than that I came of age in the disco era.  Maybe it was a last gasp situation before we veered into the 80’s, I don’t know…but it was my time of youthful exuberance… so to me it was a golden age. ( All the flappers say, “How about that F. Scott?!!  Wasn’t that a time?!!)

This book is one of many on this subject that I have in my collection.  It seemed that for a time in the seventies that there was a lot of this type of book for sale.  Like Carter in the White House…turning down the heat and putting on a sweater…I think we were pretty aware of what could be done after coming out of the sixties.  Maybe we were getting further along in the practical application of our ideas…seeing how the conceptual actually played out when you could walk inside the dream…I don’t really know.

I was and am obsessed with this type of building.  I’ve been in a few homes that completely reflected the personality of the builder…it’s a shock after living in and around most of the cookie cutter houses that the majority of us own.  The building codes it seems are there as much to protect us as to guarantee that we use a certain type of material, keep a bunch of government folks employed, don’t build anything that freaks anybody else out…and generally just rein us in. If there wasn’t money being made from the process, I wonder how much interest any of them would have in my “welfare”? That’s a cynical viewpoint but it makes you wonder who’d come around to check on you if it wasn’t their job.  Life is not meant to be a work of art (to the general population) …it’s meant to be a “standing in line”, a waiting…an expectation that at some point the living will start, whether at graduation or retirement or marriage.  The beauty of these pictures of houses to me is that I get the impression that there isn’t a sense of deferral of life…they are vital and alive in the moment.

There are some beautiful books being published now on this subject.  Many of my favorites are published by Shelter Publications (see the earlier blog post on them)…wonderful books full of life and color and brave people. This book, Handmade Houses, is out of print but still “findable” as a used book. It is worth seeking out…it’s a great little book with some really wonderful pictures.

I guess the house we live in is really just an expression of what we are. We become less, I’m afraid, when we are never given the gift of believing that life is more than a long period of “quiet desperation” before we die (Hey….whadda ya gonna do?!! That’s LIFE!!!)  Like the frog in the “gradually getting hotter” water, we need to keep swimming… no matter how uncomfortable it gets…or get ready to jump.

what kind of people?

There is an old story about a fellow who went to a small town with the thought of moving his family there. “What kind of people live around here?” he asked the attendant at the local gas station.

“Well,” the attendant replied, “what kind of people live back where you are from?”

The visitor thought for a moment and replied, “They are mean and dishonest!”

The attendant looked up and answered, “Mister, you will find them about like that around here, too.”

A few weeks later, another gentleman stopped by the gas station with the same question. “Excuse me,” he said, “I’m thinking of moving my family here. What kind of people live in these parts?”

Again, the attendant asked, “Well, what kind of people live back where you are from?”

The stranger thought for a moment and replied, “I find them to be decent, honest folks.”

The gas station attendant answered, “Mister, you will find them about like that around here, too.”


I listen to books on tape while I’m delivering the mail (cd, really…I don’t know if anybody uses tapes anymore) and ran across this story on an old Earl Nightingale recording.  I think the original story might have been by Carl Sandburg….I’m not really sure.  Anyway…it’s a simple story that really resonated with me.

They say that most entrepreneurs find success after they move to a new and fresh area.  I don’t believe that this is only due to their ability to pick a strong profit center…to pick an area more conducive to their efforts.  I think that it’s probably because they allow themselves to see potential where they couldn’t see it in the old place…and because they see potential, they act with the positive expectations the new perspective affords.  This doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any potential in the old area…just that they didn’t see it…couldn’t see it …until their eyes were opened by the new unfamiliar.

We live in a nation built on immigrants.  Now I hear people rail against the Mexican population…”they’re taking our jobs!!!”…but years ago, it’s a good possibility that some of the jobs were being “taken” by some of the complainer’s ancestors.  Many of the most successful immigrant entrepreneurs are Korean.  Why do you suppose that is?  Maybe because they see potential and possibility in this country…because they see that if you work incredibly hard and live insanely frugally that this country gives them a lot of opportunity. Some of the complainers might say, “they take advantage of every entitlement!!!  A white man can’t get a break!!!”, but I think that they see a better opportunity in the “land of the free”…and aren’t afraid to try and utilize the opportunity they’re presented with.

People talk about the ECONOMY….like it’s the best explanation for their own failure.  “I coulda been a contendah!!”…if it wasn’t for the danged economy.  Some of the most creative people have flourished during times of “hardship”…(this is kind of an aside…but I guess it’s relevant…   Do you know why so many artists and writers…Hemingway, etc…went to Paris after the war?  Did they recognize a place where an artist’s community would flourish?  Did they think that the French women liked the sensitive Americans?  Did they like the French wine?  It was because the French money was so damaged after the war ended that they could live very cheaply there.  The bad economy was a bonus). We find opportunity wherever it is if we are looking for it.

The story of the gas station attendant and the travelers is a good simple illustration of this idea.  Our expectations color our experience to a large degree (although I did expect a decent hamburger at the Dennys on that trip to Washington DC…that didn’t work out so maybe expectation isn’t always enough)…our expectations and our perspectives are really all that we have any control over.  Everything else just “comes at us” with its own personal momentum. We don’t have any control over the actions of other people or the actions of the world…but we do have control over our responses to what happens around us.

I had a friend at one of the thrift stores we liked to stop at when we were doing out “thrift circuit”.  Jerry had lost his wife to cancer years earlier…and now he had cancer. I’m sure that there was a lot of times that I’d see him that he was in a lot of discomfort…but every time, when I’d say, “Jerry, how are you doing?”…he’d answer, “FANTASTIC!“.   I suspect that he really was “FANTASTIC”…and his enthusiasm was infectious…genuine and infectious. He blessed me with his willingness to see the positive…and he blessed himself with the world he saw himself  a part of.

We find what we look for…”as a man thinketh in his heart”…Lord, help me look to find the good in the people around me.   It’s more fun for me when I’m surrounded by the “decent, honest folks”.