Monday, August 29, 2016

Cheater Specs

Born as I was with an extremely near-sighted left eye, it has always been my contention that I was predisposed to be a goldsmith or an engraver. I have been able to work at very close quarters with my right hand without my knuckles getting in the way. Check it out.
This also meant that I sucked at sports, due to the complete lack of depth-perception, which was good, since it meant that I had more time to spend in my tiny basement workshop, honing my skills.
I only wear one contact len, which is seldom a concern, but the onset of something resembling old age has brought about a new development. Upon occasion, I require reading glasses. Carrying these around in a bulky old case is not my favourite thing, and not using a case just results in crushing said specs.
A while back, my buddy Russ and I were having lunch at the Second Avenue Grill downtown and it became obvious to our server, the lovely Natalie, that we were having trouble deciphering the bill. She showed up at the table with two of the coolest pairs of reading glasses, and we got to keep them. Once again, the problem of keeping them handy and protected presented itself. These specs were so slim, however, that they fit into a cigar tube, and my friend James recently gave me a Fuentes stogie for my birthday, the container of which worked perfectly. Whipping this out in a restaurant or at the symphony raises some eyebrows at first, but soon my brilliance becomes apparent.
It will, however, make you a little bit uncomfortable if you're familiar with Papillion, the memoir of Henri Charrière.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Back in the mid-seventies, after having cut off the hippie hair and decided that I was, indeed, a goldsmith, I had reason to enter Ben Moss Jewellers in Winnipeg. This was before I had discovered the concept of profit when pricing the stuff I was making, and I was buying chains at retail and selling them, at a loss, to my customers. This is still, somewhat, the story of my life, so it is with some regret that I think back to the job offer I received from Sid Trepel.
Sid was, as I learned later, not just a salesman or store manager, but the CEO of the whole shebang. His father-in-law, Ben Moss, had started the business in Winnipeg in 1910 and Sid took over in the late 'fifties. He was in the process of expanding the business and, for some reason, had set his sights on me. Problem is, he wanted a sales person and I am most emphatically not one of those, but now I realize that I may have missed an opportunity to learn more about, you know, business.
Ben Moss, the business entity, and I parted company from there on as I pursued making jewellery for people, rather than the masses. I often wonder whether a little bit of discipline and knowledge of the inner workings of the retail industry would have changed the way I do business for the better, or to the detriment of the kind of work I do.
I've never thought of myself as competing with retail jewellers, although what they do definitely affects the way I need to work. The fashion changes over the years, from white to yellow gold and back again, the swing from practical to flashy, bulky to delicate, have meant that my people developed different needs, to which I have had to respond.
Ben Moss Jewellers tried to respond to their customers in their own way, but the great toll of competition finally beat them and they are closing their doors after a hundred and six years. I just wanted to say thanks for the chance, Sid.
I'm still standing.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Apropos of nothing, I hereby present a piece of long-lost trivia from a bygone era.
We were moving a bunch of boxes around, preparatory to having some painting done, when I came across a box of old records. It has been necessary over the years to do an occasional cull of my record collection and whenever they turn up, it behooves me to have a look at my past.
In a boxed-set of Donovan's “Gift from a Flower to a Garden”, a truly gag-worthy pile of hippie tripe, I found this old 45.
The memories came flooding back, as memories do, and I figured it was absolutely imperative that I immortalize the flipside for posterity, as a tribute to the ingenuity of our rural folk. (I couldn't do the the Wabash Cannonball as the trial software I downloaded for the purpose limited me to a single track. It is, however, excellent software and I have paid for it, but finding all my login information seemed way too cumbersome. It's called LPRecorder/LPRipper and works great.)
The record was a gift from a friend from way back who grew up, to the extent that any of us grew up, in Nicollet, Minnesota.
In Nicollet, by all accounts, they like to kill things. This is the story of the Eden Valley Fox Hunt which concerned the winter recreational event of a neighbouring county. Rather than donning the pinks and pursuing the hounds in a display of spiffing horsemanship and jolly good sportsmanship, these yahoos wait 'til winter so's they can release a panic-stricken fox on the stark white snowscape. They give it a headstart, then proceed to run it down with snowmobiles.
As I recall, the final verse of the tune goes something like:
"Did you ever wonder how it feels,
Bein' chased by twenty snowmobiles,
Dragged underneath the bogie wheels,
And bleedin' all over the snow? Oh! Bleedin' all over the snow!"

Whether it was the isolation or the inbreeding, the sense of fun in the town was exquisite. One of the local fellows had a trapline and dogteam, in keeping with their desperate grip on a disappearing pastoral culture.
Feeding a team of sled-dogs is never an easy prospect, and when finances get tight, as they will in a small town at any given moment, one needs to get creative. In a mixed farming neighbourhood, there are always, shall we say, disposal issues.  Most especially in winter when, should old Bessie, the prize milker, unceremoniously croak, it's damn sure tough to dig a hole in the frozen ground to give her the dignified burial she so richly deserves for all her service to the family.
No, best you should call up buddy down the road who will respectfully load the deceased into his half-ton and cart her away to a finer place. Whereupon Bessie, now frozen stiffer than a wedding prick (a phrase I picked up from Wayne) is chainsawed into manageable chunks and flung over the chainlink to the waiting huskies.
So, what if your daughter's beloved Shetland pony, purchased on the cheap due to rather high mileage, becomes sad, lame, and incontinent? The twenty-two calibre out behind the barn doesn't seem to be quite the solution, so you call up buddy down the road.
Lies having been told, the pony is loaded into the reeking half-ton. "You'll give Shelby a good home, won't you?" pleads the tot. Uncomfortable and not being entirely accustomed to live livestock, the boys assure the little girl that all will be well, slam the tailgate and get back to the homestead to give the problem a bit of thought.
Now, this being a beloved family pet, it seems only fitting to do the job with a sense of style. After some cogitation, consultation, and beer, one of the boys comes up with an idea, as well as a small, eight-point rack. These antlers, having been removed more or less intact from the skull of a none-too-large buck, turned out to be the perfect fit for old Shelby. A little baling wire to secure them in place and the hunt is on.
Now, I've seen the shaky Super-Eight film of this debacle, and it truly is a wonder. Sad, really. In a kind of hilariously surreal way. They placed the bewildered little nag in a woodland clearing and she looked around curiously, antlers askew, as the boys skulked into position.
They took up a tactical pincer with the wily beast at the focus of the crossfire. On some inaudible signal, Super-Eight being very primitive visual technology, they all opened fire.
Shelby took it well and dropped unceremoniously where she stood. Typical trophy still-shots were taken to immortalize the moment; grinning buffoons astride the majestic eight-point shetland buck.  I don't have any pictures or films, but if I can figure out how to get an MP3 of the foxhunt up here, it shall be done. Further bulletins as events warrant.

 Disclaimer: Management neither supports nor condones cruelty of any sort. The above is strictly a matter of historical record. So there.