June 4, 2017

Saturday & Sunday  June 3 & 4

When this process started, I made a vow that I would not allow the house to own me as the renovations are being done. There was no visit to the house on Sunday, although I did stop in on Saturday, mainly to work on scale drawings of the kitchen. I need this so that I can demonstrate to the General Contractor what I want. As they knew in the Middle Ages, drawings are good for conveying one’s ideas to builders.

There has been some activity on Amazon, things I would never have imagined I would ever buy: 1) Hose and sprinkler 2) 27 Gallon Trash Can 3) Work Bench 4) Bat Door Knocker. None of these is applicable to to my lifestyle in an apartment. I have noted that my attention is drawn to more utilitarian things at thrift stores. One question, where do the garden tools go when someone breaks up a house?

Is it odd that one has 7 moving boxes full of drinking glasses? Made major headway on the packing thing. When the day comes, I want things pretty much done well in advance. The thought of panic packing un-nerves me. 

Yesterday two of my favorite people celebrated their birthday. June 3 is most definitely an auspicious day. Both dudes are hilarious, smart, intelligent and most importantly, kind.

Renovations and demolition start tomorrow, the EZ Box shows up, and Amazon promises all sorts of junk is going to arrive.

June 2, 2017

June 2, 2017

Most of the day was spent running errands and getting a massage. Popped off a dual artist posting for Facebook, Rogier van der Weyden and Hans Memling. Their saints and angels are so severe and their demons are fantastic. The 15th century was tough and I suspect they were pretty comfortable with the adversity of the times. The incredibly great masseur worked magic and rubbed out all of the stress from this week. I walked out of his office feeling like a new type of human. He looks like Jesus, but has the hands of God.

Arrived at the house around 3.00pm and spent the next couple of hours doing scale drawings of the two rooms which warrant a visual guide as to what will be happening. The Master Bath with Low tiles, and the splash back in the kitchen with Pewabic tiles, will know more Tuesday when the person in charge of “that” gets back from vacation. If you are not familiar with Pewabic Pottery, google it, they are both old [150 years this year] and new- being part of the Detroit Renaissance. Being alone in the house was a wonderful experience, no interruptions or distractions.

I was reminded of a book I have where one of the characters talks about how he cannot believe all the blessings God has given him, and isn’t he lucky? I have tried hard to be grateful in adversity; lots of trudging the road. Today when all is bliss and sunshine; piece of pie.

June 1, 2017

House Buying
The deed is done. I stand here with the smoke still coming out of the barrel and him lying on the floor in a pool of blood....................

Closing uneventful except I asked for a new survey 3 or 4 times prior to closing, and while they charged me for it, they never ordered it. Supposedly they are taking care of that now. I show up in nice shirt, long pants, dress shoes and a blazer. The lawyer is one notch above pajamas. Apparently, like the Catholic Church these days, you can show up dressed like a street urchin to settle a sale.

I have a toy office set up in the kitchen to keep the project going. The Genl Contractor arrive 1:45 with the locks and locksmith. They use keypads rather than keys so one must know the secret code[s] to get in. The locksmith reminded me of a blonde Edgar Allen Poe, petit, wiry, strange beady eyes and very tweaked. He does good work, so I guess any peculiarities on his part should be chalked up to his artistry. His boss said that Patrick was "different" but excellent. At least if I lose my keys, I can still get in.

Todd, the Genl Contractor, his boss, Mark, owner of the company, and I, the frightened owner, spent 2 and a half hours going through absolutely every little bit. New aluminum side shades for the back, like the ones Auntie Em had on the farm house, I asked for blue & white [my high school colors], dehumidifier for the basement,  correcting the drainage for the washer & dryer, they completely reconfigured and redesigned the access to the master bath to be ADA compliant, added little side shelves for the sinks, we are putting a fan out in the screened in porch, much discussion about the kitchen splash back [most of which cannot be answered without some info from the Pewabic Pottery people who struggle to return phone calls.....], mutual agreement that the swing arm for the TV is going to be expensive.. There was a discussion about what a crappy paint job had been done on the ceiling with satin finish paint, and we all know it should be flat matte. Exactly what is going on with the fireplace mantle, everything is more expensive than replacing it. A protracted debate about where to put the dumpster,  the ideal place is apparently directly in front of where the EZ Box unit is going to go.  Best reasonable guess is that it was a $5,000 additional expense day. Agreed to provide bottled water, chocolate, and will buy lunch on Fridays for the crew, starting next week. Wrote a large check           . 

Some of the local flora is attached. I now own a fig tree; memories of David Zehmer making her justly famous and fabulous aromas and fig preserves bubbled up to the surface. Final picture was a wise realtor who knows how toi calm the savage breast.


5-31-17 2 hr 4 min 48 sec
What could I possibly expect, that I would be invulnerable to Comcast’s incompetence? As I need internet service and an alarm system at the new location, and need to retain my service here at 8800 until I move, my friendly sales guy, Brian, told me I needed to start a new account and retain the bundle, which included phone service, at a significantly lower price. We agreed to terms and set up an appointment for June 7 between 1-4pm. I remember thinking at the time that I had gotten away pretty unscathed; 13 min 53 sec.
An e-mail appeared and advised I needed to set up my user name and password for the new account.  How hard could this be? Went in to set the account up and it asked for my CPNI number, a 4 digit code for the voice mail system security. Reviewing previous confirmation e-mails received, none of them contained this 4 digit code.
Foolishly, truly foolishly, I called Comcast. Between 4 departments, and 2 hours and 4 minutes and 48 seconds,  I finally connected to a guy who clearly understood what was going on and what I needed. He advised it would be 1-2 hours before the CPNI would arrive in my Comcast e-mail. It arrived, but in the wrong e-mail, they gave me the CPNI for the service I currently have. UGH!

I am getting stage fright about tomorrow.

May 29, 2017

In March,  I was sent the offer to renew my lease which ended in April. Having lived here for 39 years, it was time to take stock of my living situation. I had moved into Three Chopt West in May of 1978. At that time, it was a very good address and they were highly selective to whom they rented. The buildings had been built in 1962 and many of the movers and shakers of Richmond lived here. Built to the highest standards of the day by Stern & Arenstien. The rooms were large and bright, the appliances the best available, and the bathrooms tastefully done in a rainbow of colors. When I came to sighn the sublease, the apartment director at the time, Jane, looked at me and told me that if there was one complaint of any kind, they would throw me out so fast my head would spin. This was a nice complex and it was going to stay that way.

Over the years, there have been multiple owners of the property, some good, and some bad. Management of the property ranged from excellent, like Jane, to people who made white trash seem like the Vanderbilts. As time went on, the apartments lost their luster and it became necessary to lower the standards to ensure greater occupancy. Section 8 applicants were now accepted and while on the whole these tenants were fine, there were some who decidedly weren’t, like the young man who sped around the corner of the driveway, lost control of his vehicle, went airborne, crashed through a lower apartment unit window and landed on a mother and her 2 children who were lying in bed. The mother was killed. Shortly after this, one tenant knifed another, and recently there was a home invasion during which the drug dealer tenants were able to shoot at the assailants, kill one and gravely injure the other.

The purchase of the complex by one of the noted slumlords of Richmond brought new management whose aggressive pursuit of cost containment has led to many services being taken away from the tenants. Due to an insect problem, we essentially became our own trashmen as service was reduced to 5 days a week. Hallways littered with trash bags until the trash people pick them up is definitely a sign of sophisticated and elegant housing.
The place had really gone downhill. It was time, and so began my adventures in home-ownership.  I figured if I lived anywhere in the future, it would be from where I would be taken to the crematorium. It would be one floor, 3 bed, 2 bath, carport, built prior to 1970, brick, gas utilities, and hopefully not too done over.

My realtor and I looked at a number of properties, including one with an abandoned pizza oven in the basement, and happened upon 4415 Wistar Road. It had been on the market for a while, price had been reduced twice, and within seconds of walking into it, it was home. The house, built in 1969, reflected almost identical construction practice with my 1962 apartment, down to fixtures and tile used. It had everything I had wanted with some incredible pluses, the original pine kitchen cabinetry from 1969, new appliances in the kitchen, original wood paneling in the den/family room, and an 812 foot basement, ideal for storage and a home eBay business. There was a large screened in porch, and the yard was small and attractive.

Amazed at how ideal this property was for me, my realtor put in an offer and subsequently, after a long waiting period so that the current owner’s new townhouse could be built, we are closing on June 1.

This is the introduction to the blog that I hope will follow the events leading up to the moving in. Before I get there, there will be renovations and decorating. Many laughs, surprises, frustrations, surprises, and tears. 

January 17, 2011



Everyone has birthdays. Like it or not, they creep up on us as we live our lives in the middle of the spin cycle responding to the daily challenges presented to us by ourselves and others. Turning around this past week I discovered another one. No surprise; it falls shortly after Christmas, which serves as the tocsin of its impending arrival. It is the final push for the end of the year which is decked in tinsel, colored lights and a fantastic amount of expectations and stress. If I can survive the holidays then I am entitled to another year here on earth.

This year, I turned the same age as my father was when he died, or so I thought. I was mentioning this to my sister when she corrected me, reminding me that he died in May and his birthday was not until September, so in actuality, he was 55. This means that I have now officially outlived my father. It was a strange feeling to know that I had done this and that now, I am absolutely on my own in an unknown land.

It also reminded me how little I know about him. A while back I found his obituary in the New York Times, one little paragraph giving the basic facts of birth, death and employment- he worked in New York City, dying in the Chrysler building. Architecture and Art Deco fans frequently bring up the Chrysler building as being one of the great edifices of the age, and while I can intellectually understand this, it remains for me a monument of miscommunication and lost opportunity.

While my mother was, and is, an enormous presence in my life, I have almost no real emotional remembrance of my father. He was there, occasionally; he travelled a great deal to afford his family a better standard of living than his own in a copper mining town in Nevada. He loved golf, hated seafood, and his soft-spoken nature was frequently overwhelmed by the drama going on in the household. He was a typical Irish father, brought home the bacon and expected his wife to tend the home and raise the kids. Our most memorable interactions involved a disastrous attempt on his part to teach me to box, his disgust with how I played golf, and, when I was very little, climbing into his lap to have my good night sip of his scotch.

Due to lack of proximity, we were on the East Coast and his family remained mostly in Nevada, we seldom saw his family. Today, I know there are relatives in Nevada, as one of his brothers had a mess of kids, I have no relationship at all with any of them. Growing up, it was as though that side of the family never “counted”. No efforts were made to get us to know them. My father became my maternal grandparent’s adopted son for all intents. Since my father seldom spoke, we had to rely on piecing together bare snippets of what his life was like. What I have gleaned over the years sounds fascinating but we’ll never know……… he seldom talked about it. The only interaction with his siblings that I recall was at his funeral when three of them came east. One of them asked for a chance to view him in the coffin because he had not seen him in many years. They were shadows.

My Higher Power understood what I needed as respects adult male guidance and after my father died when I was 17, I had the benefit and blessing of one of his friends, a WWII vet who stormed the beach on D-Day. While not always the most tactful, his advice, constructive criticism, his humor, enthusiasm for living and his own example more than filled the role of surrogate dad. His patient and long suffering wife smoothed the edges and remains my best girlfriend. They are a remarkable pair. I doubt I could have accomplished much if I had not had my mother’s and their help. Getting me into adulthood was very much a tag-team process. All three of them worked extraordinarily hard to get me where I am today. Words cannot express my gratitude to them. I the early 1990’s I acquired an older brother by self-appointed adoption and he and his family have provided some of the craziest and happiest family moments I have enjoyed.

So this birthday was in some ways about birthdays past for me. I looked to see what had happened then and what is happening now. Much that is good. I have my family, my family of choice, my friends, and numerous others who enrich my life beyond my wildest expectations.

Living right now is not perfect; dare I say for anyone. I am NOT unique in that respect and that’s absolutely OK, it’s what it is. I am now in virgin territory, which remained unexplored by my father. My past tells me that those that I need to help get me through this foreign land will always be there and that it will all work out fine.

It always has.

October 16, 2010

Great Voices

In October of 2009 NPR solicited comments from the listening audience about the greatest voices. It was a wonderful opportunity to put something together. Here is the memo that I wrote to them, along with links that were active at the time.

As a child I grew up loving music and the only recordings I could afford were the 78s that I could buy for a nickel at the local junk stores in my CT hometown. Those 78s served me well and provided a breadth of vocal understanding that I would otherwise not have. Patient parents helped a great deal when I would play the same new to me record over and over again. Schipa's "Ecco Ridente" was a repeated favorite. As a result of this education, when people tell me that Pavarotti or Bocelli are the greatest tenors who ever lived, I go back and recall Gigli, Caruso, Schipa, Piccaver, Tauber, Melchior and most especially McCormack and give myself pause…………….

1) John McCormack Il Mio Tesoro http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSHnxlf2DPs

As a vocalist myself, this remains, to me,  the single greatest male vocal performance on record. McCormack displays incredible vocal control in one of the most difficult examples of the male coloratura in the tenor repertoire. Most amazingly, recorded in 1910, this is sung into a large horn with an orchestra playing behind him. No microphone, no editing, no technical magic just the most beautiful record of singing.

2) Mary Garden Depuis le jour http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_o4DKajxuQ

Mary recorded this in 1912 at the peak of her career. She would ultimately become “la directa” of the Chicago Opera. A friend of Charpentier, he coached her in the role. Her ethereal approach to singing led her to become the source for late 19th and early 20th century French opera.

3) Ernestine Schumann-Heink Stille Nacht http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdSF404AHCA

It wasn’t Christmas in the Teens and Twenties in most American households without hearing Mme. Schumann-Heink’s performance of Silent Night. A woman whose life was filled with abundance: joy and despair. When told she would never become a singer, she lay down on the railroad tracks to end her life, she had second thoughts and the world fell in love with this astonishing contralto.She had sons fighting on both sides of World War I and yet became a legend for her ability to bring in the money during war bond drives throughout the US. When advised by a conductor that she would be less likely to knock into the orchetsra music stands if she went in sideways she replied, "But Otto, I have no sideways!"

4) Enrico Caruso and Titta Ruffo Si Pel Ciel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMySAq_tiVs

If you know only one great voice from prior to 1920 it is probably Enrico Caruso. His Vesti la Giubba [No More Rice Kripsies]from Pagliacci was the first million selling classical record. His brilliant career cut short by lung cancer in 1921. The OTHER incredible voice on this duet being the absolutely greatest living baritone to perform in America, Titta Ruffo. [ His actual name being Ruffo Titta] Ruffo’s voice was so big that he sang at the opening of Radio City Music Hall without the benefit of a microphone. He lived a long retirement in Italy writing his remarkable autobiography, “Mi Parabola”. This is the only recording the two did together and they never once sang together in the United States. This is also recorded without a microphone or editing.

5) Geraldine Farrar Un Bel Di Vedremo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5Y6_93jeVo

America’s first Cio Cio San in Mme. Butterfly and one of Puccini’s muses. A firey soprano with remarkable vocal ability and one of the better dramatists of her day. Her fans were called Gerryflappers and it is believed the iconic term for the 20's "flapper" derived from this. Her autobiography is enormously entertaining. Someohow she leaves out her affair with Kaiser Wilhelm…………..

6) Claudia Muzio Voi Lo Sapete O Mama http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBx6xS_Lj14

There will be numerous battles over the greatest soprano singer prior to 1940 and I will not jump into that snake pit. Few, however, will dispute who the finest mezzo was of the day. Here, in a 1934 performance Muzio demonstrates why she was was referred to as the Eleanora Duse of Opera. This is verismo singing at its finest.

7) Kirsten Flagstad and Lauritz Melchior Tristan & Isolde Love Duet http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ch3o0qV6TiA

I can’t imagine referring to these two separately; they are like Beer & Pizza, RC & Moon Pies. The whole is even greater than what would be the greatest individual part. They defined Wagnerian opera for generations and as a pair have never ever been matched. I can hyperventilate listening to the two of them together.

8) Nora Bayes Over There http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aed8-0C6XcY

Wow! What a great voice sending the boys over to France to fight for right! Born Leonora Goldberg, Ms. Bayes was the Army’s secret weapon in WW1. Recorded in 1917 this classic is identified as few other songs with a specific event in history. A composer herself she holds credit to “Shine on Harvest Moon” with her then husband Jack Norworth.

9) Paul Roebson Old Man River http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEQEeNhtosg&feature=related

Robeson was one of the greatest basses to ever tread upon any stage in the United States. A man of extraordinary personal courage and immense artistic ability.

10) Marian Anderson National Anthem http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQnzb0Jj074

It would be easy to forget that aside from being the trailblazer that she was, Anderson was one of the greatest contraltos America ever produced. We are right to be focused on her performance at the Lincoln Memorial as one of the landmark events in the Civil Rights Movement. A noble artist whose Schubert and Brahms still beguile the listener http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAvX_UwmQzQ&feature=related

11) Ethel Merman I Got Rhythm No You Tube version [Amazing!!]

Toscanini famously observed that it was “not the voice of a human being” and that she was the greatest heldentenor he had ever heard. For shear lung power it would be difficult to beat Ethel Zimmerman. If we stick with her performances prior to 1940 we get Gershwin and Cole Porter masterpieces as no-one else could sing them. Wise, witty and sly as a fox Merman could put off the would terrific terrifically and it’s why Cole Porter wrote it into so many of her songs.

12) Ira Louvin In the Pines http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWrSg5znyMU

Simply the most incredible tenor voice ever granted a human being. Even though it is outside my self-imposed parameter, it would be a crime to leave this vocalist out of any list. How does he do it, where do those upper notes come from? Like so many other phenomena Ira was a comet and he tragically burned out well before he should have, tormented by demons.

Finally, like many others, the greatest voices on earth I ever heard and  from whom I continue to seek wisdom, comfort, and guidance are my mother and and late father. As a little boy they were there for me and I can still hear them back then. Happily I can still hear my mother’s voice on the phone and do so almost every day.