Archive for category Fabrications

Groggy Fidgets Blues

Abilify all upside my head
Oh lord, all upside my head
Abilify all upside my head
Got them groggy fidgets blues
A man’d be better off dead

My doctor say a man’d be bp
Yeah, my doctor say I might be bp
Got them groggy fidgets blues
Sure could  use some sympathy

Oh the rage and  the prinks
And all the risk taking, too
Oh, the rage and the prinks
And the hypersexual too
When’s the next time the 2:19’s comin’ thru?

I’m not sayin’ ‘d be better off dead
No, not better off dead
I’m not sayin’ ‘d be better off dead
No, not better off dead
But some lonesome railroad line
Sure’s wailin’ for my head.

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Proper Saloon Pilot Etiquette

Those few of my readers who do not regularly surf the internet looking for something to eat will not have noticed the rise in popularity of the saloon pilot. Although of Scottish origin, the saloon pilot is now an Hawaiian soda cracker, but one with a difference: the saloon pilot is round rather than square or rectangular and about 4 inches in diameter with a thickness of approximately inch. It is basically what amounts to a survival ration taken to an elegant extreme, i.e., you’re not so apt to break your teeth on them nowadays, i.e., not like they were 100 years ago. You can google on “saloon pilot” and find out all about them and their role as hardtack in the era when scurvy plagued traders plied the seas in dingy, dank schooners.

When first presented with a saloon pilot, one might be tempted to heat it up in the microwave and then butter it, but that is so lame and hardly worth commenting on except to say that this is more or less something a bachelor would regard as a major staple in his/her diet, or if not that, something, like the hamburger helper a desperate homemaker will resort to once the household budget has been exhausted but household members still need to eat. I’ve been told, but have never seen it myself, that some people eat their saloon pilots topped with peanut butter and grape jelly. Now while this treatment sort of has the right idea, it is nonetheless an obscenity and a corruption of the proper way to eat a saloon pilot.

No, the correct way to eat a saloon pilot is as follows: top your saloon pilot with a generous layer of gorgonzola cheese, and then over that add an equally generous layer of minced red onion. Then, once you’ve subjected the layer of minced onion to a liberal sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper, you’re in business. This combination is probably an acquired taste owing to the disagreeable stench of the gorgonzola which resembles (I’m told) the foul odor of a teenage boy’s gym socks badly in need of laundering, and may take some getting used to. I know that my Aunt Gladys and I who truly savored this ‘concoction’ would inevitably be banished by the rest of the family who did NOT to the kitchen whenever we sought to enjoy it as a late evening snack in front of the TV. My recollection is that we always ate our saloon pilot treats while standing, there being no dinette set handy in our kitchen, nor stools arranged in front of a dining counter, but this never deterred us.

There’s a trick to eating gorgonzola—as you open your mouth to take a bite of your decorated saloon pilot, don’t breathe.  And while you stand there enjoying, or waiting to enjoy, a mouthful of what for many of us is pure bliss, just ignore the fetid stink in the kitchen Your rewards for doing so will all be in the eating. And always be sure to store your left over gorgonzola in an air tight container in the fridge; this, not so much for the sake of the cheese, but more to prevent someone from throwing it out as they rummage about in there for something to eat.


If you chance to live near a real Chinese market, you can usually find them there, but I have no idea why that should be.

But if you don’t, you can order a box of saloon pilots at this website







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Whoi, a Collapsion

If you google about you’ll discover that ‘collapsion’ is the archaic form of ‘collapse’ and not the least bit new at all, but never mind that, by appropriation I’m extending its meaning to include, “To form a new word by combining two or more other words.” Here’s an example: ‘Whoi’ a collapsion of ‘whoa’ and ‘oi’, where the latter is Cockney for ‘hey.’ It is an exclamatory response to something witnessed or heard.

From February 3, 2011, under the heading of “Fabricationes de Maladie,” an early collapsion of mine: Scachycephardia from the collapsion of scachocephaly and tachycardia. Meaning— that no meaning can be found or invented for a new collapsion doesn’t count— “A mental condition in which the sufferer is cursed with an abiding fondness for klezmer music.”

Try this one first to sort of ease into the genre, to see if you, too, suffer from Scachycephardia:

Then listen to this one, just to make sure:



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On Reading Hilton Als In TNY

“Who is Hilton Als?” you ask. He is a theater critic whose pieces often appear in The New Yorker (TNY), and in its most recent issue, June 3, 2013, he has a review of sorts of Ibsen’s “The Master Builder” currently being revived at BAM’s Harvey Theater. So? Well, hearken back to my lament aired in my blog piece, “On Reading James Wood in TNY.” Once again I find my literary ambitions singularly discouraged. And how did what Hilton Als wrote lead to this dreary outcome? The specific prose in question appears in the final paragraph of this brilliantly wrought piece, “[It] detracts from Turturro’s efforts to remain true to his very Ibsenian understanding that our only certainty is isolation, and the only idea we can express, over and over, is that, individually, we are everything and nothing.

I was struck by the sheer brilliance of this observation; then crushed, and after reading it over a second time, thoroughly crushed, and a third time, discouraged and depressed. Yes I am sensitive, no argument there, and am so to the point that a single sentence from the right source can trigger an episode of bipolar depression. Didn’t I say, at the launching of my blog in December, 2011, that my reason for so doing was to examine that unexamined aspect of aging, the pervading sense of loss—“in late adulthood one is forced to deal with the sense of loss, all the time, it’s always there, and it’s painful, it takes great faith to live on even though one knows it’s going to end and that whatever they accomplish, if anything, is not going to matter all that much. How does one find meaning or a sense of fulfillment in life knowing that it’s coming to an end?”

And here comes Hilton Als, cutting to the chase, “…our only certainty is isolation, and the only idea we can express, over and over, is that, individually, we are everything and nothing.” Given my penchant for ferreting out the identities of famous manic depressives, I’m inclined to wonder if Mr. Als isn’t bipolar too, for the hallmark of the bipolar life is the isolation it imposes upon it, but I digress. So, in our efforts to make our minds known to each other, the upshot will always be, according to Ibsen, but a rehash of the idea that we are everything and nothing.  Is it fair to say that one can’t help but come away from this last with a deep sense of loss, a loss of innocence? How does one find meaning or a sense of fulfillment in life knowing that it’s meaningless?

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As a child, a memoir

In ancient Greek philosophy, the four Hellenic elements out of which everything was comprised were Earth, Wind, Fire and Water. I mention this only because as a child I and my constant boyhood pal, Ronnie, systematically made use of them in our play. That is to say, we were poor and so had few toys. Mostly we played with dirt. Dirt is nothing short of a wonderment and can easily be landscaped into scenes suitable for play. For us then, the game of choice was “war!”  We’d fashion highways replete with overpasses (ice cream sticks), and inter connecting roads and streets laid out into a grid with stones taking the place of houses in the absence of sufficient ice cream sticks, all suitable terrain for a toy car or two. We’d spend most of a morning creating the scene, and then later, over the span of just a few minutes destroy it all with bombs and mortars (stones dropped or hurled respectively). By tying a piece of string around an ice cream stick and burying it in the abutment of an overpass or a hole under a row of buildings and concealing the string under a heavy dusting of dirt, you could, from a safe distance, simulate an explosion by suddenly yanking on the string. The craters thus created were realistic in the utmost and the devastation complete. No memory of my childhood can quite measure up to the thrill of seeing our peaceful and peace loving villages, meticulously laid out in the dirt, be devastated and destroyed by many such explosions.

By mixing dirt, the first Hellenic element, with water, the fourth, you can create that other equally miraculous play thing, one that has absorbed the attention of humans since they first walked the earth—mud. Boys are quick to discover all the appealing shapes that can be fashioned out of simple mud—balls, phalluses of one sort or another, and turds. As for the kind of fun one can have with the latter two, I’ll leave that to the reader’s imagination. Suffice it to say that when you place an adobe turd in the family fireplace, surreptitiously of course lest one or the other of your parents object to you placing a lump of shit in it, subjecting it to the influence of the third Hellenic element, the result is a rock hard facsimile of excrement, one that can later be burnished using the back of a pocket knife blade giving it a life like sheen, and once thus freshened, a spritz or two of Windex is all that is needed to complete the illusion that some one or some dog has taken a colossal dump on the living room carpet. My mother was not amused. She caught on quickly, and as that summer progressed, I had to rack my brains to find new and startling places for my lump of shit. By far the most successful location was the lid, or better still, the very seat of the downstairs toilet.

Balls are another matter entirely . A ball of mud, especially adobe mud, is easily affixed to the end of a supple willow switch and can be launched into the air with a considerable velocity in a simple whip-cracking motion. With some practice one can become adept at hitting a variety of targets, mostly inanimate but not all. Back when US 101 was but a two lane affair snaking through the middle of our town, we’d idle away an afternoon launching mud balls at the traffic on it. The mud was very sticky, and 3 or 4 of us would conceal ourselves in the bushes along the highway, lining up, shoulder to shoulder, like archers manning the parapets . Timing was of the essence, for the highway was almost entirely concealed from view by the thick undergrowth that grew along it. As we heard a car approaching, though we could not yet see it, we cocked our switches. You had to launch the balls at the first glimpse of the front bumper as it passed opposite the only clearing there was, there where we stood side by side. We were merciless and spared no car. Merciless and egalitarian, we splattered Buicks, Cadillacs, Chevys and Fords without regard for the social status conferred by each upon their respective drivers. It wasn’t so much a matter of being egalitarian as it was a matter of timing. You had but a microsecond from when you first spotted the leading edge of the front bumper to strike.

We continued with the splattering throughout much of that summer, but it abruptly came to an end the day we muddied just one car too many. The car, a chopped, channeled and souped up 1950 Ford Crestliner, with a beautiful two-tone maroon paint job with black side panels , with Frenched head lights and re-chromed in toto, came sauntering into range, its dual exhaust pipes rapping, popping and rumbling, its driver being one of the local high school boys, but a hood. He took great umbrage at seeing the object of his automotive ardor pelted with adobe mud, and screeched to a stop on 101’s shoulder and was out of his jalopy and down the embankment, cursing loudly and profusely and threatening great bodily harm, headed our way in less time than it takes to say these words. We scattered into the bushes like a covey of startled quail and somehow managed to elude danger, the way fleeing quail do, by crouching down and holding stock still in the dense underbrush. I shudder to think what he would have done to one of my friends if he’d caught him. Arms yanked from their sockets is the image that comes to mind when I think of this incident. And not wanting to have our arms ripped out by the roots, or our snoots stuffed with adobe, we gave up hurling the mud balls.

Precisely because the timing was so critical, you couldn’t be judicious in this game, passing over the cars of friendly neighbors or humorless hoods. We couldn’t know as we let fly with our balls if the approaching victim was friend or foe, and this imbued the game with a kind of exhilarating and potentially lethal indeterminacy. It was strictly an all or none at all proposition, one fraught with great peril and therefore delightful and therefore addicting as hell.

When we were younger, my older sister, Olive May, who was in high school and worked part time as an apprentice window dresser in the lingerie department at the local Mode O Day would bring us little kids all the damaged mannequins  and their clothing that, for obvious reasons, could no longer be sold, and we’d while away a long Winter’s morning, right after breakfast, dressing them to suit ourselves. It must’ve provided a macabre pastime for my mother as she watched her clutch of urchins decking out the deformed, the crippled and the halt in intimate apparel, for most of the mannequins had missing or broken limbs, cracked faces and/or obliterated noses, or eyes knocked cockeyed or one eye permanently shut.

I quickly learned all there was to know about women’s underclothing—simple brassieres whether full cup or demi-cup or balconette , and the bandeau, and the more complex underwire item with padded lycra cups and ruffled lace trim, and panties, knickers and even French knickers, and pantyhose, girdles, corselets, pantalettes , teddies and a variety of body briefs and bodices, and once a Vietnamese yěm . Of course, back then, I had neither awareness of nor knowledge of the vast lexicon encompassing women’s undergarments. Nevertheless I became adept at how to put each one on in the right and true fashion and, as well, how to take it off again, and this, with aplomb. Much later and in high school, I became a kind of resource for my peers in this regard.

These were formative years apparently, for I became infected with a certain androgynous fashion sense which persists in me to this day until now I can’t be trusted to buy my own clothes without looking like I shop exclusively in the Castro, and must rely on my wife to buy them for me. Whereas most children acquire an appreciation for the anatomical differences between males and females by playing doctor  with their siblings and their friends, since my prudish mother wouldn’t allow such play, I had to make do as a child by playing dress up with our mannequins. It was inevitable, I suppose, that this would lead to me having a somewhat simplistic understanding of what seemed then to be an inordinately smooth and featureless female anatomy.  I didn’t learn, until much later, how complex and intricate women’s bodies are, and later still, how complex and intricate they themselves are.

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Biscuit Roller Blues

                     Biscuit Roller Blues

I went down to the station to feel ’round for my shoes
Oh I went to the station, feel around for my shoes,
I feel so lost and broken
Got those biscuit roller blues

I’m your biscuit rollin’ man, I roll most night and day
I’m a biscuit rollin’ man, can roll most night and day
But these downtown women,
They will not let me be.

I don’ want no biscuit roller who will not let me be
No, don’t want no biscuit roller, who will not let me be
And if I ever fin’ my shoes
She’ll’ve seen the las’ of me.

My poor feets afreezin’, my money’s done up’n gone
My poor feets afreezin’, my money’s done up’n gone
If I don’ find them shoes real soon,
My biscuit rollin’ days are done

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What’s in a name?

Yeah, right. What?

And what is it with the Japanese to name one of its pseudo folk heroes “Godzilla,” , given how difficult it is for the Asian tongue to wrap itself around the ‘el’ sound. By now all Japanese children under a certain age must regard Godzirra as having the same mythic proportions as Santa Craus.

It’s hard to imagine one’s ancestors sitting around in the evening pondering given names for a soon to be born little blossom and coming up with Sigourney, or Uma, say. And what could possibly motivate a Mormon couple, or anyone for that matter to decide that ‘Mitt’ was a suitable name for a son? I’ve heard of ‘Mutt’ before, because that was the name of one of the characters in the old comic strip “Mutt & Jeff” , but it was always assumed that Mutt was a sort of nickname. And I’m totally comfortable with Matt, Mick, Mort, Mike, Mack, and even Mork, but ‘Mitt’? With a little googling I discovered that Mitt is a nickname for Milton, which was the name of Mitt’s father’s favorite cousin, but be that as it may, Mitt Romney’s full, legal name is Willard Mitt Romney, and not Willard Milton Romney. I don’t know. I don’t think I could ever get used to saying (or thinking) “President Mitt.”

Well, not to draw too fine a point on it, I’m a fine one for questioning that sometimes parents give their children unusual names, because my first name is ‘Wilmer.’ There’s a story that goes with that.  My mother’s father, whom she hated her whole life long, was named Wilbert Bryson Inman.  There were four children in her family—an older brother, named Wilbert, and 2 older sisters, Irene and Elizabeth. Apparently it was the custom of the time for children to name their children after a parent, grandparent, great grandparent, etc. Well, my narcissistic and domineering auntie Irene elaborated upon that custom by insisting that they (she and her siblings) name their children not only after a parent, etc., but after each other as well. My mother railed against this sisterly dictum and named her firstborn George Edward, after no one in particular. Irene was not pleased as she had named her first born, Norene, after herself, and my uncle Wilbert, with Irene’s insistence, had named his son Wilbert Jr, after himself. It’s not clear at this point in my life whether my cousin’s name is Wilbert, or Wilbert Junior, because he was always referred to as Wilbert Junior. This is not as farcical as it sounds, because I had a step father once, my very first, whose full legal name was Frank Junior Watson.

With the arrival of a second child, my mother settled on naming her Olive, after herself. Irene could scarcely find fault with that given that she’d done the same thing, not only once but twice, having named her second daughter, Charlene. The inter-sibling peer pressure must’ve gotten to my mom at some point, because when I showed up, she named me Wilmer, after her brother Wilbert and her father Wilbert, and since I was born along with a twin sister, it seemed only logical to name her Wilma. Irene seemed if not pleased at least satisfied that all was right with the universe. And then when my sister Janice was born, middle name Irene, Irene was ecstatic and seems to have left off pushing givens onto my poor mother. That is, she was “allowed” to name her last daughter Adrienne Louise, totally unique names in the Inman lineage. That’s how the Wilmer came about.

Now it is one thing for a person to be named something and a totally other thing as to what a person is actually called, something thoroughly explained in a poem by the White Knight in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass.” I was always called Bruce, from the git go. Here is a picture of me and Wilma taken at age two months, and it’s clearly labeled “Bruce” in my own mother’s handwriting.

That “Wilmer” had been imposed on her (and me) by her oft manic sister Irene, must’ve stuck in my mom’s craw, as she NEVER addressed me as such, and the distaste she had for it eventually corrupted my own view of it, for I detest my first name almost as much as my mother did. Interestingly enough, whenever we visited my auntie Irene as a family, she insisted and persisted in always calling me Wilmer. At some point in my life she gave it up and started calling me by my real and proper name. This, probably when she realized we twins, along with my sister Janice Irene, were all illegitimate.

After that, Wilmer didn’t reenter my life for more than 70 years, until my employer, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where I’d been known as W. Bruce for over 45 years, one day decided that all employees would be known by their first name, middle initial and last name. And that’s how my badge is printed now. The security officers who must inspect and read every employee’s badge as they enter the site, have taken to calling me by their nickname for me, Wil, as I come to work every morning. Some how they just can’t bring themselves to call me “Wilmer” which probably means that my mother’s instincts were right on. I’ve reconciled myself to being called “Wil” at work, and find much consolation in knowing that it could’ve been worse, much worse—my mother could’ve named me Willard.

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After I’m King

Yes, bless me, I’ve applied, and the people at the county office where I turned in my application said I stood a very good chance of getting it. Just think, once I get it, the government will have been shrunk to just one person, me! Talk about small government!  All citizens of my realm will have the usual rights, the ones they’re used to, but the corporations will NOT be considered citizens of the realm and so will have no rights, except the one: the right to sue and be sued.

No citizen may own mineral rights, and all natural resources will belong to the citizens of the realm, held in common, and the wealth derived therefrom will be fairly divided amongst the citizens of the realm and this may very well avoid the need for taxation.

All citizens will serve in the armed forces for 4 years upon reaching the age of 18. All education from K to PhD (or MD, LLD, etc.) will be free. All citizens will be expected to learn how to type by touch. All citizens of the realm will be provided free and unregulated access to the internet, cable TV, am/fm radio, telephone, newspapers, magazines and books, and the stock exchanges. There will be but one bank, mine and banking services will be provided to the citizens of the realm free of charge. All savings accounts will earn 6% interest per year with NO minimum balance.

Once a year, on Thanksgiving, all bankers, brokers, realtors, corporate types, and their ilk will participate in a lottery, and the winners therefrom will be slaughtered and fed to the poor of the realm, and the widows/widowers and orphan children therefrom will be indentured for a period of time not to exceed 10 years with the profit derived therefrom to be given to the poor.

Only married couples will be allowed to reproduce at the rate of one child per citizen of the realm.

Public transportation will be free. All libraries will be opened and staffed 24/365. No unmarried citizen of the realm can be a librarian. Every child will be quiet at all times, and no whining about it. Every child will receive a thorough grounding in human sexuality and how humans age starting with Kindergarten and continuing on through the 5th year of college. Child molesters will be drawn and quartered with the first offense. Zealotry of any form will be a punishable offense, with the King calling the shots.

The King (me) will publish annually an official list of acceptable names for children. ‘Ashley’ will not be on the list, ever. Nor Wilmer. The King’s first name will NOT be Wilmer. No child of the realm, whether male of female, can be named Hexene, Latrine, or Norene, etc. Twins born in the realm are NOT to be given names that have a similar sound, e.g., Monique and Unique, Irine and Urine, or Ira and Youra. Twins are NOT to be separated upon entering the public school system unless they hate each others guts. It is illegal for aging married couples to wear matching outfits, dementia notwithstanding.  It is illegal for dog owners to dress their pets in human style clothing, and it is especially egregious for a dog and its owner to wear matching outfits.

The minimum wage will be adjusted upward until single wage-earner families re-emerge. There will be ONE (1) employees union in the realm, mine, w/ me as its president, with modest, affordable dues. No strikes, i.e., if the employees feel they need something, they need but ask me for it, and as long as their request is cost effective, it will be granted.

No citizen or corporation of the realm can own media of any kind. All media is held in the public trust and is financially supported by me. Postal services are free of charge. No corporation is allowed to advertise anything. All medicine will be developed and subsequently tested by my designees. All medical treatments will be free of charge, and all medicine will be distributed free of charge. Marijuana and GHB will be taxed and regulated right along with alcohol.

The officers of any corporation found to have adulterated their dog food products with clay shall be drawn and quartered upon the first offense. GMO foods are not to be allowed, ever. Genes are not patentable in my realm.

All citizens of the realm will be issued a firearm of their choosing upon their 18th birthday, no exceptions. All citizens will be trained and drilled in the safe use of their firearms, and have achieved a grade of “Marksman” by their 19th birthday, no exceptions. All firearms and ammunition will be provided free of charge. Any citizen who intentionally shoots another citizen will have his firearm confiscated and then be ground up and fed to hogs with the first offense, no exceptions.

Crepe paper is NOT EVER to be substituted for toilet paper in public conveniences.

That about covers it. Gosh I’m going to be busy. Will there be time for madness?



A lot has been written about attachment and attachments, and almost none of it have I read. That said, I was wondering how quickly they can form and whether the “soundness”  or “intrinsic value” of an attachment is in anyway related to how quickly it had sprung to life. Behind my inquisitiveness is a suspicion, harbored by many I fear, that this relationship, if it exists at all, is an inverse one, such that a really speedy attachment is next to worthless, the more the more, love-at-first-sight notwithstanding.

Something, or rather someone, happened to me this week that’s provoked all this speculation—Sylvia. Because of my polycythemia I had to pay a visit to the Contra Costa Oncology center, the infusion room to be exact, to have blood let. It’s a rather large narrow room, one dominated by wall space as opposed to floor area, with the two longer walls populated by a generous number of comfortable recliners, each accompanied by a wheeled rack suitable for supporting bags of chemo compounds during their intravenous administration to cancer victims. Things were pretty quiet the afternoon I was there, only two of the chairs were in use, two older women, one accompanied by her husband for moral support. She had a full head of hair, and just sat there with a rather dour expression on her face waiting for the last of the poison to drip into her blood stream.

The other woman, Sylvia—for I heard a technician call her that—was alone, no moral support for her, and I wondered about that. She was an attractive, slender, sixty-something. She was bald, or so I presume, because she was wearing a red, cowboy style neckerchief  wrapped tightly around her head as a barely adequate scarf. And while I saw no hair, I saw no scalp either.

As I entered the room heading for a recliner as far removed from the other occupants as I could find, I passed her close by, and as I did, she looked up from the magazine splayed across her lap and straight into my eyes. She had that abandoned puppy at the shelter look, the kind they give you when you’ve paid them the least bit of attention, the kind that says, “Mother of God, please take me home with you.” I couldn’t help myself and greeted her as if we were long lost friends, and she quickly returned the greeting. I now know that I should’ve stopped then, if but for a moment, and taken her hand. How many opportunities does one get in one’s life to greet, however briefly, one’s glimmering girl, or failing that, to find refuge and sanctuary, or a safe harbor in a storm, all the more so when one is mad?


In the Matter of the Penny (d)

Did you ever wonder how the ancients managed to build wooden structures without using nails? Well, I have and they didn’t. And while I don’t lie about the live long day wondering how the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria were cobbled together exactly, I will admit to similar questions crossing my mind every time I pick up a nail. When were nails invented and by whom, and given that steam powered machines didn’t make an appearance until the late 18th century, how does one go about making a nail by hand? And given that early nails were all handmade they must’ve been pricey. Is that why ‘penny’ came to be the unit of measurement for nails?

Starting in 15th century England, nails were sold not by the pound but by the count. That is, they were priced at a certain cost per hundred. And of course, the larger the nail, the higher the cost per hundred. For example, a hundred ten penny nails cost 10¢ or more accurately, 10d, where d was the symbol for cents. d is the abbreviation for denarius, the Roman penny. Clearly that d was the symbol for penny back then is a manifestation of Britain’s roman roots. So, to sum up, a ten penny nail cost 10d per hundred and in time 10d became the designation of its size.

Jesus was likely crucified with hand wrought, 70d spikes driven into the fleshy part of the palm at the base of the thumb at an angle inclined towards the wrist so as to pass thru the carpal tunnel, one per hand, and his feet were likely nailed, this time with hand wrought, 60d spikes, to the sides of the cross, legs astraddle, one through and perpendicular to each heel. Back then, crucifixion was a common enough sentence for every kind of criminal, anarchist, and revolutionary, and sometimes adulterous women, homosexuals, schizophrenics and/or manic depressives, yet archeologists have never recovered any of these nails owing to the fact that, because hand made nails were so expensive, they were removed from the rotting corpses for later reuse building a stable or shed of some kind, say. Or maybe there were knackers of sorts, under contract with the city to remove the crucified dead from their crosses, and part of their compensation consisted of them getting to keep the four nails. Sometimes there was a fifth nail, a gruesome, inch thick 70d spike, but I digress.

10d for a 100 10d nails sounds pretty cheap to my ear, but don’t forget, back then you could buy a 2 pound loaf of higher quality white bread for about 1d. Translating that to the present time, since you’d expect to pay $5 for a loaf of high quality bread nowadays, were nails still selling at the same price they were in the 15th century, you’d expect to pay $50 for a hundred 10d nails now. So, yes, nails were pricey back in the good old days when they were still handmade.

So, from around 500BC up until 1900AD or so, nails were made by hand, by a Nailer and how long would it take an experienced Nailer to knock out 100 10d nails? And what did he use for nail stock and where did he get it from and at what cost? Well, at the outset, craftsmen called Slitters would cut up iron bars to a suitable size for a Nailer to work on, so some fraction of the $50 would be paid to the Slitter for 100 slits. Later, with the invention of steam-powered machines, sheets of steel of various widths and thicknesses could be cut into slits. Although such slits had to be turned into nails by hand also, their size more closely matched the size of the finished product, so the hand forging was simpler. These were known as cut nails, and they were considerably cheaper than the traditional handmade nail.

Starting around 1900, steel was produced as rolls of wire of various thicknesses in addition to sheets, and the process of cutting and fashioning wire into nails was completely automated. Cut nails are superior to wire nails in every regard but one—cost. The cost plummeted and overnight the wire nail drove the cut nail business into extinction.

In colonial America, nails were in such scarce supply that just about every able-bodied person knew how to make nails by hand. Every home had a nail making setup located next to the fireplace, and entire families would while away a foul winter’s night making them, and what nails they didn’t keep for their personal inventories were later sold or used as barter, acting as a kind of currency. Thomas Jefferson is on record for having bragged about his collection of nails, nails he had made with his own hands.

Now as a youth, I was pretty normal, i.e., I didn’t have any real interest in nails per se. That is, until I was 13 or so, at which time the whole family moved North out of LA and settled in a poverty pocket just 6 miles South of Eureka along 101. The town was blessed with three saw mills kept well supplied with redwood and Douglas fir logs by a steady summer long procession of behemoth 18 wheel logging trucks. One of the three, the smallest one, specialized in redwood shingles and shakes. Another one, lathe and 1”x2”’s and 1”x1”’s. The third mill, the largest operation by far, turned out construction lumber, i.e., studs, planks, beams and 1 by sheathing. The town was awash in lumber of one sort or another, and each mill sported a scrap heap, comprised not only of sawdust and scraps but a treasure trove of reject lumber also. The citizens of Fields Landing were given free access to these scrap heaps that continuously fed the burners located right next to them. These burners were made of sheet metal and conical in shape, about 30 feet tall, and a conveyor belt would transport scrap up to the top of the burner and dump it letting it plummet down onto the conflagration inside. With three gigantic burners going 24/7, the air quality of the place was found wanting, with the town perpetually bathed in a blue haze of wood smoke and a light mist of charred and partially burned sawdust, that would go on to choke and clog the rain gutters of the houses downwind from these burners.

The point of all of this is that Ronnie and I never wanted for lumber of one sort or another for carpentry projects of one sort or another: the bigger pieces were turned into carts (provided we could find wheels), or forts (both elevated and below ground), or rafts (some even big enough to keep both of us afloat at the same time), or foot bridges across sloughs, or sheathing for duck blinds, and these all required considerable assembly. Smaller pieces were turned into javelins, broad axes, small swords, medieval Halberds, catapults and these required next to no assembly. By some assembly required I mean, of course, that one must use nails to attach one piece to the next. Ah, yes, nails—now we’ve come to the crux of the matter.

We were poor, and nails, while they didn’t cost any where near $50 per hundred, were nonetheless an expense greater than what the normal, blue collar household would budget for, i.e., they were still expensive. They were never wasted: if in the process of driving in a nail you bent it, you didn’t tear it out and toss it aside and start anew with a fresh one. No, you carefully removed it taking care so as to not bend it even further, or, worst of all, turning a simple bend into a compound one. Once removed, laying it flat on a flat surface (usually the street) and with a hammer, you carefully straightened it out, making sure you kept the head of the nail perpendicular to the shank, because if you didn’t, the chances were very good that the rescued nail, since it had been bent one or more times already and therefore prone to bend again in the same place, would bend again. The more the more. Sometimes if the bend wasn’t too severe and the nail had been sunk a good ways into the wood, you could straighten it in situ using the hammer’s claw and a twisting motion.

This is not to imply that my stepfather Clyde didn’t have a nice inventory of various size wire nails, for he did. But it was off limits to Ronnie and me, and we knew it, and more importantly, he knew it too and knew that I knew it. And convinced that he knew exactly how many nails he had, down to the smallest d, I never once pilfered so much as single 6d finish nail. Were I to dip into his stash of 70d spikes to build a raft, say, a beating most certainly lay in the offing when their theft eventually came to light, like when he needed a 70d spike for one of his projects.

By and large, Clyde’s inventory consisted of wire nails, but nestled among them as sort of a sub inventory could be found an extensive collection of cut nails. That is, over the years that we lived there, Clyde would undertake one construction project after another with the very first one of these being a bath house, laundry room and restroom for the tenants who parked their trailers in our trailer court. And one summer he even built a huge smoke house, right next to the bath house, one in which to smoke the many salmon he and my mother caught on weekends during Salmon season. He needed a steady supply of lumber for these projects and this he attained through various demolition projects he undertook in Eureka, as stately, old Victorians were regularly torn down in the name of progress. Building contractors would hire him, dirt cheap, to tear these old houses down, and this he would do, painstakingly, board by board, nail by nail, brick by brick.

During the summers, when not working, he’d haul home truckload after truckload of ancient redwood lumber, sheathing and studs mostly, still full of nails, cut nails. I would spend the better part of many summer days pulling these brittle, wrought iron, blue beauties from lumber that hadn’t seen the light of day in over a century, taking care not to bend them further, or, God forbid, break them. I straightened them, if I could, as I went along and thus some were salvaged and placed into Clyde’s inventory.

So, you see, the lumber wasn’t the problem. It cost next to nothing, and I had free access to the various stacks of it in our backyard. The nails, however, were another matter entirely, and had to be bought with cold hard cash. They were valuable and highly prized. In Clyde’s ethos, a man without nails was scarcely a man at all. His trove sported shelf upon shelf stocked with cans and jars of all sizes, and crumpled brown paper sacks, interspersed with myriad smallish boxes, the kind that wire nails come in when bought at a local hardware store, a hundred or so at a time. Some of the containers held nails awaiting straightening, and some of these were so grotesquely misshapen that they hardly seemed worth saving, but Clyde, true to his penny pinching ways, saved them anyway.

Given what a nail-miser my stepfather was, how did Ronnie and I come into nails when the time came to build something? Well, there was in town, down on the waterfront, the ruins of a burnt out Salmon cannery. It had probably caught fire and burned down 50 years earlier back when the whole town burned down following the explosion of a vat of whale oil at the whaling station located at the end of our street. The explosion splattered virtually every structure within a radius of a 100 yards of the vat with burning whale oil. The ensuing firestorm reduced the thriving town to a burned out hulk, and the people, rather than rebuild, moved north and built homes and businesses in Eureka where there was no whaling station. Our house was the only structure in town that didn’t burn to the ground. The whaling station, fully insured of course, rebuilt itself almost immediately, and for a long time, Fields Landing consisted solely of our house and the whaling station each located at their respective ends of the single street that connected them. Ronnie and I would salvage nails from the cannery ruins as we needed them. The supply seemed limitless. And so did the days of my youth.

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