Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Across the years...

"The Berlin Stories" have illuminated much. How anyone could have claimed "they didn't know", or "they weren't sure" in the late 30's is beyond me; people were telling Isherwood in '30 and '31 "just wait until they get them in the concentration camps".

With his words evoking the people and their times, I dug out a disc I bought a few years ago of Ute Lemper's called "Berlin Cabaret Songs". English translations of the original tunes playing in the clubs there when Marlene Dietrich was headlining...when Louise Brooks was lighting up the screen...

From the first track on the disc, 3rd verse:

are magicians
who make swindles disappear
The bribes they are taking
the deals they are making
never reach the public's ear
The left betrays, the right dismays
the country's broke and guess who pays
But tax each swindle in the making
profits will be record breaking
Everyone swindles some
so vote for who will steal for you
Life's a swindle..."

from "It's All a Swindle" written by Mischa Spoliansky and Marcellus Schiffer.

I'm guessing I shouldn't read anything into the fact that the composers, born in 1898 and 1892, died in 1931 and 1932...

Each day I hear people proclaim they aren't trying to take away my rights, only those of someone else. That I'm entitled, but someone else isn't. They step behind their masks of religion; they hide behind a flag and don't realize; I've seen it all before, if only in the history books, in literature, in poetry.

If the revolution is lost, now (and I fear it is) then it's only a matter of time before the knocks on the door start coming...

May the week be kind to each of you!


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Old loves...

While in Vermont this last summer, we visited the Shelburne Museum. Among the standard displays there (well worth a visit in themselves) they had two special attractions going on as well. There was a Tiffany exhibition (more later) and a motorcycle show, with not only some Arlen Ness "dream" bikes, but some of the loves of my youth.

I was lucky enough 36 years ago to meet an old gentleman in San Diego who was supplementing his retirement by selling basket case motorcycles he had spent his lifetime acquiring. He had been a machinist, a tool and die man in the aircraft industry; he used to say he never married because his job was so critical he wasn't allowed to enlist during WW2. He was the lead inspector at Rohr Aircraft; they were building engine nacelles and other things related to the war effort. He said that during the war all the girls wanted a hero; right after the war they wanted a returning one and then, suddenly, he was too old for anyone to want.

He was the first "Anglophile" I ever knew; his mechanical loves in this world were Triumph and Ariel motorcycles & British motorcars. Born in 1910, he had attended machinist school at Ryan in San Diego the year after they built the "Spirit of St. Louis".

In 1936 he bought his first motorcycle, a Royal Enfield. It had it's share of mechanical deficiencies and in '37 he sold it and bought a new Triumph Speed Twin. He was still riding that Speed Twin when I knew him, though he had pulled the original girder front end ("two sheets of paper with an axle bolted between them" was his description) in favor of a later set of hydraulic forks, and bolted a sidecar on it. He used it as his parts chaser and it was ridden almost daily, up until the day he died.

During the war he acquired an Ariel "one-lunger", a 500cc single cylinder bike for the economy during rationing. They became his second love and he had 3 different models of the singles while I knew him, along with two of the "Square Fours" that have gone by in the photos thus far. I was lucky enough, having worked for him a bit to earn parts, to have him let me ride his '56 Square Four to a show for him one day when he was taking the Speed Twin. It was a treat I've not forgotten!

After the war as everyone traded their "rigid" Triumphs for swingarm ones, he bought them; as the "non-unit" bikes were traded for "unit" construction ones, he bought them as well. He did machine work "on the side" and did some race tuning along with a lot of riding, including some with a group of "desert rats" that included Keenan Wynn and Steve McQueen back when you rode the same bikes off road you rode on the street. I have an accessory "oil bath" he made that was intended to keep sand from getting into the motors; apparently he made a good little fortune selling them. Later, after he retired he also was doing Smiths speedo and tach work and rebuilding magnetos and generators, as well as assembling engines and transmissions.

Though he really didn't approve, a lot of the knowledge I acquired from him was applied to BSA's and a few Norton's I ran across through the years. He had no use for Harleys at all- "tractor engine in a cultivator frame" was his description of them.

I bought three basket case Triumphs from him. Mine was a stocker, a 1958 TR-6 4-speed. The one I bought to put together for my wife was also a '58 and looked stock, but had later model 750 internals and a 5-speed (some of that machine work he was so good at was involved in relieving the engine and transmission cases). The 3rd was a '47 500 rigid. To this day I regret parting with them during a long lay-off from GM when my boys were small...

So with all the fond memories the Ariel above brought me, for me the Crown Jewels of that display were:

(a World War Two flathead Triumph messenger bike)


(a 1952 Trophy model racer)

We had always talked of buying a bike again once the kids were grown and gone (and every now and then I can't help but go price a new Triumph) but the reality is that with her hip and knee replacements she'll never dare get on one again and so I can't really bring myself to be selfish enough to ride when she can't...

After we had moved here, in the early 80's I got a phone call from someone I had introduced to my friend as they were looking for Triumph parts. During one of those awful Santa Ana days his emphysema had finally gotten the better of him and someone found him in his shop.

I was told his nephew was going to sell the parts off along with the machinery and keep the technical stuff for those he knew to use as an open library. I hope he did; there was far too much knowledge there for it to end up in a landfill somewhere!

Dwight Dean, it was an honor to know you and to call you friend!

I hope you and Lou Kaiser and Jimmy Phillips and Wynn and McQueen are all out somewhere having a helluva good time!

May the week be kind to each of you (especially if you made it all the way down here)!


(a click on each photo will enlarge it. They have pretty good detail for handheld 1/8th and 1/15th exposures at 200 ASA setting...wanted to go back the next day with a tripod, but there wasn't time!)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Doctor says...

keep doing what you're doing; if it hurts, stop doing it, at least for a bit!

He showed me the MRI slices; the bone bruise on the upper legbone that is still healing, the partially healed extent it started out at; the swelling around the partially damaged MCL ligament that "gave" and started this all; the fluid around the rest of the joint.

He also told me there is arthritis under the kneecap that was aggravated by all of this, but it's not something that needs surgery until much further down the road.

He told me not to start the therapy his assistant had written me the scrip for 12 days ago (was kind of avoiding that 'til I had the MRI results). He said I can go downstairs and start walking on my treadmill when I feel like; if it aches to get off it and let it rest.

They faxed me in a 90 day prescription for the anti-inflammatory, Meloxicam, they started me on the other week.

So that's the health update...time for some late lunch and maybe a nap!

May the week be kind to each of you!


Thursday, January 14, 2010


Not so many years ago, in reading Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus" I was astounded by her calling out of the treatment doled out by "Americans" to the native populations that were here when they arrived with their "manifest destiny". After all, an 18 year old, writing in 1816...her awareness of what was going on in another "world" far removed from hers was quite amazing to me.

Last night, partway into "The Berlin Stories" I've had another such moment. Christopher Isherwood bringing up the 1931 Japanese invasion of Manchuria with the ensuing murder, rape and pillage as he was writing in Germany during the Weimar Republic just before Hitler's rise to power. (In doing a bit of reading this morning, I just ran across a Time Magazine article from 1932 about a small part of that invasion and the "accidental" beating of an American ambassador by Japanese troops.)

I realize that nothing on Earth ever occurs in a vacuum; that there is always some news "out there" for those willing to look for it.

I also realize, having lived through the time of the Balkans and Rwanda and Darfur, that seldom are things like this ever halted before the wreckage of lifetimes is scattered. The toothless "League of Nations" of that day; the inadequately funded and under-empowered United Nations of this one aren't so very far apart in their abilities.

That so many generations have passed since Mary Shelley called attention to the plight of the Native American and yet 200 years later they are not given their due, or given apology, but have to fight in court against the government that has robbed them at every turn...

That so many years after our "War Between the States" to have a Senator stand up and say that had the "Dixiecrats" elected Strom Thurmond president in 1948 we'd all be so much better off now...

That so many years after "The War to End All Wars" the bullets and shells still fly...

That at this point that should be the pinnacle of human existence there are those who feel that they can vote away the rights of anyone they disagree with; they may imprison them in law as surely unjust as any prison camp...

That they may be executed or imprisoned for life if some of the "new laws" under consideration in some places aren't stopped!

Will we ever realize that every life is just as precious as our own?

May the week be kind to each of you!


Monday, January 11, 2010

"No use permitting those prophets of doom...

to wipe every smile away..."

Lines from old songs haunt me; like the headers on a page, they set the tone or summarize; they cajole or commiserate.

I was playing music from "Cabaret" 40 years ago, in band at school and along with Armstrong albums; I knew a bit of the mythology of the story. It was many years before I would see the movie; even more before I read of "The Berlin Stories" that first the stage play "I Am a Camera" then the musical "Cabaret" were sourced from. On my "bucket list" of reading material ever since, I finally caught up with Mr. Isherwood last night and am delighted.

So now I'm having a hard time convincing me to go out and chip the icicles off the facias and such and do some of the other things I'd been putting off while gimping around this last month. T'would be so much easier to escape to the Berlin of Sally Bowles and Lulu, Peter Lorre and Marlene Dietrich...

"Life is a cabaret, old chum..."

May the week be kind to each of you!


Wednesday, January 06, 2010


It's been hard to come here and write of late; I've been "living" on hydrocodone a lot of this last month as I blew something up in my left knee four weeks ago. In the beginning I thought I could give it a week and it would be better, but that has not turned out to be the case and I have an appointment tomorrow morning so someone can figure out whether it was one of the cruciate ligaments I blew out, or something worse. It's not much good like it is, or me along with it!

I hobbled through the holidays; everyone else's were great! The grandkids, the boys and their wives; my sister and her family. Bill and Laura made it home to D.C. yesterday after a detour through North Carolina for a rockslide the wiped out the Interstate highway they were on as they trekked east. After an afternoon's rest in Charlotte, they got home about 1:30 Tuesday morning.

I've not been sleeping well, so falling asleep sitting in my chair reading, trying to watch TV, sitting here at the keyboard, playing a video game; they've all become new experiences for me. Part of my excuse for not blogging...waking up as you rock forward in the chair because your knee is saying "don't do that, dummy"! isn't fun!

May the rest of the week and may this month and this New Year be especially kind to each of you!


Postscript: Thursday afternoon...

X-rays inconclusive; they don't show anything wrong, only the things that should be there...MRI tomorrow.

At least I know now it's not cancer! Not everyone's first thought, but my favorite jazz saxophone player went in 15 years ago for some knee pain, found out he had bone cancer and was gone in 6 much as my family has been decimated by so many different kinds of it, it wouldn't have surprised me!