Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Year-Ender 2014

And so we bid adieu to another year. Sayonara, 2014!

As has become my custom, I'm presenting my favorite posts of the last twelve months. Not a lot to choose from: my output has dwindled. Not through lack of interest, but from a lack of time.

Not that anyone noticed!

Whatever. Happy New Year!

Here are my favorite LUNG posts (not necessarily "the best") of 2014:

Resolutions: A Story for New Year’s Day
Theme de Yoyo: Music Hath Charms
Swamped Thing
This Is Not Your Father’s Marijuana
Buddy and Bird: Kansas City Lightning
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night
Cargo Bike

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Homeless Dollar

Some mornings when I go in to work there’s a homeless guy sleeping at the entrance to my building. I don't usually see his face because he’s huddled up and well-covered. But I know it’s the same guy, because he always uses a stuffed toy monkey as a pillow.

I’m an early riser and am almost always the first one to arrive at work. Outside it is deserted. I’ve been entrusted with a building key, along with keys to our seventh floor office. 

With the weather turning colder I know it is only a matter of time before I’ll have to let this sleeping guy or one of his buddies into the lobby to warm up. Sometimes the building door has been left ajar, so they could get in anyway.

There are quite a few homeless people in this area, an older, commercial and residential part of Denver. The building where I work is attractive to those seeking shelter, because of a wide overhang that is useful in inclement weather. I always have a dollar or two in my pocket to give one of them, should they ask. It's in my right front pants pocket.

There are homeless people on the streets of cities all over the United States and the world. It's tempting to pass them by and not see them. It is easy to pass them by. It isn't so easy to not see them.

Nor is it easy to do something about a serious social problem. I'm not kidding myself: handing out the occasional dollar doesn't do any good at all. Throw the bums a dime in your prime, etc etc. But I must recognize their humanity. The other day the guy with the monkey pillow woke up as my key hit the lock. He yawned, looked at me, and said, "Good morning."

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Now, where was I?

The last time I wrote in this blog, my mountainside town was about to get slammed by a late spring (May!) snowstorm.

And in fact, we did get slammed. I took a series of photos and intended to put a few of them here, showing the accumulation over a period of hours. But I've been pretty busy. Never got around to it.

At left is one of the pictures. All that May snow melted within a day or so.

Of course, no one is breathlessly awaiting my next Lung post, so it's been very easy to let it slide for the last three months. Occasionally I'll think, Gotta update that thing about the storm. Gotta write a bit more about the bike co-op. Gotta write a few of those "Roadside Attractions" posts.

But I haven't got around to any of it.

The post you're reading now is simply to note that we in my little berg are coming up on the one year anniversary of the rains and floods that swept over this area in September 2013, a record storm and flood they're still talking about. I've mentioned the bridge collapsed by the flooding (seen at right, just after it happened) more than once in this blog.

Yet I must be clear: the damage to the bridge in my town is nothing compared to what happened elsewhere in Colorado. The flood's effects were far-reaching and almost beyond belief. Lives were lost. Homes were destroyed. It was a Federal disaster area. Nearly one year later, people are still recovering.

The powers-that-be in this town initially said it would be several years before the collapsed bridge is repaired, because it's a low priority. There's more than one way out of town and the bridge doesn't get a lot of use, compared to other routes.

And yet, there was some preliminary repair work done to this collapsed bridge. It began last spring. Heavy equipment moved in. Piles of dirt. Porta-potties for the construction guys.

The work seemed to go in spurts. The photo at left was taken in mid-August, showing from a slightly different angle the same spot as the collapsed bridge photo above.

Now, though, it appears to be back to square one. They're saying, again, that it will be a few years. I saw that in the paper a few weeks ago.

Who knows what these brainiacs are really thinking?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Springtime In the Rockies?

Let's hear it for global warming!

As I write this, it is the morning of May 10, 2014. Rather early in the morning; about quarter to six. I'm an early riser.

Today's weather forecast is calling for snow. Snow.

We've already had eighty-degree days this month – just a few days a go, in fact. I've been wearing shorts and been happily shoeless. Riding my bike again. In other words, it's been summer-like.

But seeing is believing. Check out the accompanying graphics, copied off of the Weather Underground page.

The Weather Underground page is usually pretty accurate. I supplement its forecasts with one from the National Weather Service site. More often than not, they agree. As with TV weather people and other weather sources, just about everyone cribs their forecast from the NWS.

So the Weather Underground has, for several days now, been saying there is a one hundred percent chance of snow on Sunday. Up to six inches around where I live, and up to a couple of feet in the mountains. Happy Mother's Day! 

The mountain snow is good for the snowpack, which is good for the runoff and the tributaries and the lower altitudes. Supposedly it's been rather dry this year, which is hard to believe in the aftermath of last September.

Anyway, that's the forecast. Snow.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cargo Bike

By now, I have volunteered about twelve hours to Community Cycles, the local bike co-op.

I work a three hour, Sunday afternoon shift, and usually come home tired, covered with blotches of grease, and happy.

I made a post about my first shift a few weeks ago. In it I described, among other things, a cargo bike that a guy there was building. I saw that cargo bike again the following week and took a picture of it with my cell phone.

By this time, the cargo bike had evolved a little more. Earlier I described the platform on the bike, but as you can see in this photo, its builder had added a cargo bin on top of the platform.

I don't know whether this cargo bike is finished yet. The guy who built it, who I think is also the founder or co-founder of Community Cycles, and is responsible for local ghost bikes, said it takes a few minutes to get used to steering the cargo bike. After that it's smooth cycling.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Bike Co-Op

After putting it off for nearly a year, I finally joined the local bike co-op a month or so ago.

I read the handbook and did the requisite orientation before finally going there ‐ yesterday, as I write this – to work, which is what I had really been looking forward to.

The place is called Community Cycles, and what I got to do was strip bikes. That is, I took a few donated bikes that for some reason had been designated beyond ordinary repair. I took them apart piece by piece, salvaged what was useable, and trashed the rest.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, and can't wait to go again.

I took a very short break at one point. I was waiting to ask someone a question but she was temporarily unavailable. So I wandered through a large, open garage door, outside to where a guy was working on an unusual-looking bike. It was, I learned, a homemade vehicle. Its most prominent feature was a low platform in the middle of the bike. I asked the guy about it: it's a cargo bike, he said. It appeared capable of carrying at least a few boxes of stuff at a time.

I didn't get to ask anything else, though, because the person with the answer to my question reappeared, and I didn't want to keep her waiting.

All told, I spent about three hours at the bike co-op. When I finished stripping the first bike I was told the frame wasn't any good, and that it had to be trashed. For liability reasons, apparently, I was instructed to crush the frame's rear triangle, that section of chain stays and seat stays. I set it on the floor and stood on the stays. Kee-runch.

The entire experience was a total blast. I didn't take any pictures. The picture accompanying this post is more than twenty years old.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Collapsed Bridge: Repairs Underway

Six months after unprecedented rain and floods washed over the region I live in, a collapsed bridge is finally getting fixed.

I must note that countless thousands suffered from these floods in ways that far surpass what we endured last September. I can't even remember the official death toll, but there was a death toll, and genuine human suffering. I don't mean to diminish any of that by whining about some dumb bridge.

A nearby golf course was destroyed, but I don't play golf, so I've never been too concerned about that. As for this bridge (seen last September at right, a day or so after the collapse) – well, it's a blast to go screaming down the hill in the background on my bike.

I read somewhere that it would be a couple of years before the bridge would be fixed. But lo and behold, repairs are underway. I stopped by there yesterday, as this is written, to document this surprising turn of events. I walked around for about fifteen minutes and got a lot of loose dirt in my boots. After just seven or eight pictures my battery ran out. I got a few more images with my iPhone. The pictures look okay but it's a poor substute for a real camera.

There were a few things I didn't photograph because of the battery and iPhone situation. There were a few other pieces of earth moving equipment, like one of those tiny Bobcat mini-bulldozers. When I was a youngster I always thought they were really kid-sized bulldozers.

So the thing is being fixed, and from what I had heard earlier, it's way ahead of schedule. This is most unusual.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night...

It was a dark and stormy night. It was a night of stormy music. Let my children hear music. Let my children hear dark and stormy music.

It was a dark and stormy night of the living dead men tell no tales of the south pacific, pacifica radio, public radio city music hall of the mountain king of the beats some kind of popular head-phonetic tock tick takamora taka moral of the storyville jazz at the phil harmonicats, a musical act in the forties and fifty is the new sixties were not all they were cracked up to be or not to be a morning after all we’ve been threw up the shades of blue and green green hills of home on the rangefinder as opposed to an SLR, a single lens reflexively pushing back in the good old days of our lives of the poets are people too much of a good things don’t always work out the way we shall over come over here we go against the grain to glass, a brewpub motto of the marines? You don’t want to know all about it, read all about it went a little something like this time you must listen to monk, that’s what jon hendricks called rhythm-ma-ning com-poop deck paul and mary, where is peter and the wolfgang of four times four is sixteen tons whadda you get your goddammed hands oftentimes we don’t really know what to reed instrument or implement of mass this catholic thing called love crazy little thing that character on the addams family feud typically over inherit the wind beneath my wings over the rockies baseball team work off that excess wait wait don’t tell me all about it was a dark and stormy night.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Banned III (Words and Phrases)

A public radio station in a town where I once lived used to acknowledge its underwriters at certain times of the day. They all do that.

The tagline this station used for one particular underwriter was, “Open seven days a week — including Sunday!”

It drove me nuts.

No comment should be necessary. The station was in a college town and connected to a college, as public radio stations often are. They ran this tagline for a year or more before they finally changed it. I always imagined some crusty old grammarian – maybe the guy at right (who may or may not be me) – giving them a good dressing-down.

"Seven days a week, including Sunday" is its own brand of idiocy. I place it here anyway. Others in this ongoing list of words and phrases that should be banned from the language include: Old school, props, superfood, branding, I'm just sayin', free gift, educate, and Corporate responsibility.

Old school? Follow the link. Props – as in credit, or kudos – just plain bugs me. Banish it forthwith. There ain't no real superfood, but I keep hearing dried fish and kale salad and other reasonably healthy foods so tagged. Branding? No. Me no like. Save your soul. "I'm just sayin'" is meaningless, ergo my campaign against it. Free gift is in the same category as "seven days a week, including Sunday." Educate, as in "Let's educate the voters!" makes me recoil; it reeks of propaganda. And Corporate responsibility? An oxymoron, if ever there was one.

I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Swamped Thing

There just aren't enough hours in the day.

Or there haven't been, lately.

I've been so swamped with stuff I haven't even had time to comment on the Broncos getting their asses kicked by the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl, in spite of my bold prediction. That was an unexpected trouncing, but I have resisted the temptation to gloat. I should, however, take this opportunity to note for the record that for the next year, at least, Seattle is the reigning champion of the NFL, while the Broncos are a disappointed runner-up. Always the bridesmaid, as it were.

Neither have I had the chance to work more on my friend Joe's web site, which has been a work-in-progress (with his input) for the last year or so. The site is nearing a finished form, but still needs work. There's a learning curve involved.

Most of my suddenly-busy schedule is built around adjusting to a new job. I interviewed at a place in Denver the day after the Super Bowl. I'd been expecting to drive into a happy city. Instead, I found it stunned and disbelieving, still reeling in the humiliation of a poorly-played game.

In any case the interview went well. They called that same night with an offer, and I started a couple of days after that. So now I'm driving into Denver each day. (I may switch to the bus soon.) The timetable for getting everyone where they need to be, and getting them there on time, has necessarily called for some re-arranging. Busy busy busy.

Not much time for this silly, inconsequential blog.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Theme de Yoyo: Music Hath Charms

A long time ago I moved from one city to another. The distance between these towns was several thousand miles.

I drove to the new berg in a tiny car that lacked enough power to haul a trailer. So I shipped some of my stuff ahead, but also took the opportunity to shed a lot of what I'd accumulated over the years.

That included hundreds of albums. My record player was broken, vinyl was obsolete, so most of them had to go. I pulled out those I could not part with and stored them in a friend's basement. The rest went to a used record store, where I reaped a tidy windfall.

My life in the new distant city expanded and contracted, the way life usually does. I did not forget about all those treasured LPs in my friend's basement. But by the time I reclaimed them, three years had passed. I was married. My wife had a functioning turntable.

I took them out of the shipping crate with great anticipation. First thing I played: Les Stances a Sophie, an Art Ensemble of Chicago LP. As the first track began – with the softly pulsing bass line of Malachi Favors, and Don Moye's percussion – I felt like I'd bumped into a dear old friend.

The late Fontella Bass ("Rescue Me") is on vocals. She and AEC trumpeter Lester Bowie were married. Check it out:

There are many, many records I wish I hadn't sold all those years ago. Some have been replaced by CD and Internet download. I'm amazed at some of the stuff I've found on iTunes, including a favorite old drum solo by Baby Dodds. (That solo, sometimes called "Spooky Drums," does not appear to be available for linking, but another one by Baby Dodds is similar.)

Some of those old sold records have never been released on CD. Woe is me! I may never hear them again. Which is very very sad.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Buddy and Bird (Kansas City Lightning)

Earlier this month I read Kansas City Lightning, a new biography of the great Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch.

Stanley Crouch
Right away I decided to write a little bit about Crouch's book, because I love Charlie Parker and his music. I'll still write about Kansas City Lightning, at least a little bit. But the idea has morphed into something else. Reading this book became one of those pleasant experiences where one thing links to another; it led me into other stuff.

I enjoyed Kansas City Lightning quite a bit. I can’t remember now where I first heard of it, but when I did I immediately requested it via interlibrary loan. I expected a rather straight-forward biography. Kansas City Lightning is not straight-forward.

Crouch performed a great deal of primary research over many years, including interviews with Parker's first wife. Perhaps the first thing to note is that this book focuses almost exclusively on Parker’s early life. It ends just as he begins to establish himself in New York, where he became the Bird we know and love. I saw no indication that Crouch intends a second volume. He may, and I hope he does. Crouch is a jazz authority and an incisive social commentator, and a follow-up would be invaluable. But with several other Charlie Parker biographies already extant, Crouch may think his later life is a well-worn trail.

In any case, my interest in Charlie Parker was renewed. I picked up copies, again via interlibrary loan, of Celebrating Bird by Gary Giddins, and Charlie Parker: His Music and Life, by Carl Woideck. Crouch’s text directed me to both. It is plain that Stanley Crouch has not only researched Charlie Parker extensively; he also shared his research with Giddins and Woideck, both of whom acknowledge this generosity.

If I have any criticism of Kansas City Lightning, it’s that Crouch indulges in extended digressions that aren’t always completely relevant. I don’t really mind, though. They provide context, and have gotten me interested in, for example, checking out Jack Johnson, the boxer.

Buddy Bolden
One of these digressions got me looking further into the legendary Buddy Bolden. Crouch discusses him over some four pages, and references In Search of Buddy Bolden by Donald Marquis. (This meant another trip to the library.) Bolden was a New Orleans cornetist active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He is considered among the first, if not the first, to play the style of improvisational music that evolved into jazz.

If only we could hear Bolden’s sound! But Bolden ceased playing around 1906. Marquis describes a near-mythic recording by Bolden and his band, said to have been made on one of those old-fashioned cylinders. In 1939, one of Bolden's former sidemen told journalist Charles E. Smith that the recording “had been made before 1898, and Smith ... began an extensive search for it. [His] leads met frustrating dead ends...” By this time Bolden was dead. The cylinder was supposedly made by one Oscar Zahn. A revised edition of the Marquis book reports that in 1999 Marquis got a letter from Zahn’s niece, who wrote that a shed on her property, containing many of her late uncle's old cylinder recordings, was torn down in the early 1960s – and the cylinder collection destroyed along with it.

There is only one known photograph of Buddy Bolden. It's the group shot at the bottom of this post. Bolden is second from the left, in the rear, holding the cornet. The other Bolden image on this page is a painting thought to be made around 1895.

The apparently lost-forever cylinder is listed on a Library of Congress site.

There’s an interesting article from 1957 about Charles E. Smith’s search for the cylinder.

I found a curious, semi-official Buddy Bolden web site.

And Charlie Parker? Bird lives. Check out the video below. Coleman Hawkins plays off the top; Bird comes in at 1:12. A remarkable contrast in styles!

And be sure to read Kansas City Lightning.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Anti-Fan: An Inchoate Football Rant

So, the Denver Broncos are headed to the Super Bowl. No surprise there. They'll take on the Seattle Seahawks, and easily defeat them, on February 2.

I live in the Greater Denver area, but I'm not a Broncos fan. I like them more than I used to, because I've always liked Peyton Manning; he's an amazing quarterback. Yet I can't fully come around.

It isn't just the Broncos. I enjoy football and watch it all the time; it's a good distraction. But I'm completely turned off by the culture of professional sports, and the enormous amount of money driving it.

A repulsive sector within this culture is the sycophantic media that brings us games each weekend. Those nitwit sportscasters and bigmouth ex-jocks – self-important, under-educated, proud of it – are offensive, as are the toadies who write local sports columns.

Primarily, the job of these people is to elevate pro sports to a level far beyond its true worth. I often watch games with the sound turned down.

Most of these media lickspittle have been seduced by the extravagant rewards that come with their jobs. They are without shame. Before Manning came along, the local media here, print and electronic, shredded every Bronco quarterback since John Elway. Even Tim Tebow, after a brief honeymoon, felt their wrath. Their sole offense? They weren't John Elway!

Show me the money. A major part of football revenue, of course, is in the advertising. When you watch a game on TV, commercials give three main messages: drink beer, buy a car, and join the army. There's an additional message for men of a certain age: pop a pill to cure that erectile dysfunction (temporarily), but call your doctor if it lasts more than four hours.

Anyway ... in spite of everything, I enjoy football. I'll watch the Super Bowl; I may even be invited to a Super Bowl party. How 'bout those Broncos?

I grew up a Lions fan. Poor me! Most years the Lions are anywhere from abysmal to middling good. Never a serious contender. But I am nothing if not loyal; another reason I don't like the Broncos. I do not easily switch allegiance. But the Lions are a long way from the Super Bowl.

There's an air of inevitability about the Broncos this year. I'm hardly alone in predicting they'll win on February 2. In baseball it is axiomatic that good pitching will beat good hitting. Is there a similar axiom in football? The Seahawks are supposed to be a very good defensive team. But Peyton Manning is an amazing quarterback. He's going to pick their defense apart.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Toilet Appreciation

What a piece of work is the modern commode!

Incredibly, my discourse on toilets a couple of years ago remains the single most visited post on this entire blog, according to the blogspot counter (although the dump festival is catching up). It's quite puzzling, although I've speculated on why it may be.

I had to fix our toilet again the other day. This time the lift arm snapped. It was a cheap piece of plastic, so of course it gave up the ghost after fewer than ten thousand flushes.

But I had that usual sense of wonder – how ingenious an invention is the toilet! What happens when you flush? You press a lever. That activates the lift arm, which pulls a chain, which lifts the rubber flapper, which lets all the water in the tank rush into the toilet bowl, which by weight of water forces the contents of the bowl through the outflow passage and into a mystery tube, and thence our pristine water supply.

Or something like that.

Anyway, I had to replace the lift arm. As luck would have it I already had a toilet repair kit. But it was the same kind I used before, so I wound up replacing the old cheap lift arm with a new cheap lift arm.

The whole process only took a few minutes. It was easy; I didn't need any tools, didn't have to consult a repair manual, or search for a YouTube video.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Grain Elevator: Rehab At Last

That rickety old grain elevator in my town is finally getting its desperately-needed overhaul.

Work underway: the grain elevator on a recent winter morning
I've written about the grain elevator before: how it's been the subject of an ongoing conflict between real estate developers, anxious to tear it down and grab a prime piece of commercial property, and preservationists who call it a part of my town's heritage.

The preservationists won the battle. The long-delayed first step in rehabbing the grain elevator is stabilizing it. When I drove by recently, I noticed for the first time that work has finally begun (above). Various plans for future use have been bandied about, but frankly I'm not sure just what they intend to do after this first phase is complete.

The structure is more than a hundred years old. It sits alongside some railroad tracks but hasn't been used since the mid-1950s. In recent years it's been inhabited mostly by various wildlife. But I love this old stuff, so I side with the preservationists.

On a pleasant winter morning a few years ago
Saving the grain elevator may be part of a trend. Just today, an article in the local press said elected officials here are adding incentives for owners of historic properties to preserve them. They'll do away with requirements to have properties declared landmarks.

The article did not say anything about the grain elevator. And it used landmark as a verb – "to landmark" – which isn't necessarily the same as having a property designated an historic landmark.

Still, it's a good thing. There must be, or must have been, a lot of red tape involved; the article says having to landmark a building or property is too often a deterrent. “We have had three or four different commercial property owners who showed interest (in landmarking) and then backed out,” one of these brainiacs declared.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

This Is Not Your Father's Marijuana

Once upon a time, it woulda been a dream come true: marijuana is legal!

During my Reckless Youth phase, the idea was – well, a pipe dream.

And yet that dream has come true! Marijuana, for all intents and purposes, is as legal as a shady stock deal. A law approved by voters here in 2012 went into effect with the first of the year. Media types are one-upping each other with bad, predictable puns, like "the buzz on the new law" and "Rocky Mountain high."

But, alas! It's a little late for moi. Yeah, I'll be tempted to step inside a pot emporium, first time I see one. Novelty, you know? But I won't buy anything, or accept a free sample. Smokin' dope, I'm afraid, has long since lost its charm.

I still welcome its legalization, though. It's a new source of revenue, taxable, and a means of eliminating the criminality long associated with it.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em – if you're so inclined.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Resolutions: A Story for New Year's Day

Have you broken your New Year's resolution yet? What's taking you so long?

Some people take New Year's resolutions seriously. That can be a good thing: start the new year with a vow to improve yourself, or correct some detrimental behavior.

Imagine: some guy at a crowded party on New Year's Eve. It's a few minutes before midnight. He goes into the bathroom and lights a cigarette. Resolved: My last smoke forever.

As he savors that glorious first puff, he flips on the overhead fan so as not to alert his non-smoking host. Then he crumples his pack of Winstons and lobs it deftly into a wastebasket.

Soon he's back in the living room with the other revelers. The clock strikes midnight, and on the wide screen Smart TV, the big ball falls in Times Square. He yells Happy New Year! along with everyone else, grabs a woman he does not know, and presses his smoky lips against hers.

Fifteen minutes later, in the throes of his first nicotine fit, he's back in the bathroom sifting through that wastebasket. There mighta been one last smoke in there, he thinks. But when he finds the package and uncrumples it, it is empty.

So he bums one from that woman he just kissed. The party's host admonishes them: if you must smoke, please step outside. They do. The woman has but one cigarette, for she too had thought of quitting, and only brought a few. She is willing to share it. It is a Winston, his brand. As they pass it back and forth, they fall in love.

Or something like that. It could be that a year later, they get married. Again it is New Year's Eve. They both still smoke, but this time, instead of resolving to quit, they resolve to love each other, til death do they part. Afterward they fly off on their honeymoon – to Winston-Salem, or Marlboro Country, or some other ironic destination.

Or something like that. It could be that both are ticking time bombs, with monstrously carcinogenic tobacco sediments in their lungs already spawning cancer. But this isn't an anti-smoking rant, so I'll leave that out.

I don't do resolutions, myself. No behavior will change because of a new calendar. Behaviors change because an individual wants to change. You want to quit smoking; you want to get off the couch and start working out. It doesn't matter whether it's December 31 or August 9. If you want to change for the better, there's no time like the present – if you'll pardon the cliche.