Arthur was an unsuccessful writer of dramatic tales. His plotlines involved so much obfuscation that you needed a guide to wade through the story.
He sat in the darkest recess of the coffeehouse, drinking espresso and scribbling ferociously on legal pads. Steer clear of his corner or be dragooned into listening to his latest attempt. One night It was my misfortune to get caught. After fifteen minutes, I struggled to get away only to have my sleeve grabbed, ” hold on, I’m getting to the good part now.” It was another ten minutes before I was able to depart.
Nobody knew what his day job was. This particular corner was his demesne, territorially his and undisturbed.
Arthur appeared late every afternoon and departed just before closing. Except for Sunday, he arrived at noon Sunday carrying the air of sanctity associated with the newly churched. Most regulars were good agnostics or atheists and let slip a slight whiffle of a laugh.

It seemed as though this pattern would go on forever. The most senior employees only knew that Arthur seemed to be some tail end leftover from when the coffeehouse had been a favored spot for literary luminaries. The others had moved on to Paris and San Francisco, only Arthur sat here becalmed in Greenwich Village.

One day one of the cats in the alley behind the kitchen snuck in. A waiter went after it with a broom only to have it leap onto Arthur’s table. In second, it was swept into his arms and disappeared into the large old overcoat he wore. Two eyes peered out at the waiter and seemed to be saying, “there, see? I’m an expected guest. Be about your business, churl!”

The cat became Arthur’s new muse. The owners allowed the cat to be smuggled in as long as it was out of plain sight. Arthur became more sociable. Patrons and staff visited the corner to pet the cat and allowed themselves to be sat down to listen to the adventures that featured Snip, the Greenwich Village cat as told to Arthur.

That year the owners were looking for something unique to do in the evenings leading up to Christmas. One of the regulars looked over at Arthur and Snip and jokingly suggested that they commission Arthur to write a Christmas adventure with Snip. It could be a special family evening. The suggestion was meant as a joke. But several of us sitting at the table liked the idea. It got put to the vote, and a deputation of us wandered over to suggest it to Arthur. Arthur seriously asked Snip, and after consultation, he stated that Snip agreed that it might be fun.

So the week before Christmas, Arthur, resplendent in a red Santa suit, white hair, and beard freshly combed, sat on the small stage and told the tale of how Snip had saved Santa one Christmas Eve and won the friendship of all the elves and reindeer. Throughout this Snip sat cleaning himself at Arthur’s feet. The evening was a great success and was repeated for years afterward.

I left the Village, but when I went back years later, Arthur still sat in his corner with a cup of espresso, legal pad, and supervisory cat. Only now, instead of being the peculiar relic of literary days past, he was the literary lion of the establishment. The ongoing tales of Snip selling well at bookstores and Arthur getting pointed out to visiting tourists.


The Washington Post had a reader submission request out. What was the best last-minute Christmas gift you ever gave? But initially, I read it wrong and took it to mean presents I had received. OK, selfish me. But some impelling experiences came to me.

I was penniless and frequently on the road in the 1960s. There were times when getting enough to eat and a couch to surf upon were the overriding concerns on my mind. So I reflect on some of the things that meant so much at the time:

  • An animal hospital forgiving the cost of vet care on the Grey Menace one Christmas – needless to say, I’ve repaid that many times in annual gifts since, happily.
  • The gift of a set of guitar strings; the ones on my guitar were dying or dead, and I had a gig to perform.
  • A Christmas evening dinner when the Gray Menace and I were too poor to buy groceries that week;
  • My first real girlfriend gave me a set of earmuffs because I was on the road in lightweight clothing.

The best things do not have to be the most expensive, nor the ones you asked for. Instead, they are the ones you need and never thought to ask for.

The Mansion

I had a colleague who was adept at saving threatened historic properties from being torn down. Some accused him of using trick tactics to evade demolition, but he once confided over coffee that it was all about procrastination. Delay long enough, and some bad actors will go away because timing is key to financing the project. Delay is also critical for building support to save or restore a distressed but historically significant property.
But years after I left the community we both had worked in, I heard the rumors of spooky tricks deployed against developers. Tales that implied forces more than natural were called into play to abet his goals.

We’re talking about properties that are sometimes hundreds of years old. Places like old courthouses have had their share of lawyers and clients’ traumatic deaths through rage-fueled strokes and heart attacks. Think of all the rage generated through sentencing, fair or not.
What effect might it have if you could harness and direct the remaining essence of all that angst? A developer stumbling over his bundle of plans and having a fatal fit at the foot of the courthouse steps?

The evidence was hard to gather. The incidents were spread over my colleague’s long and successful career. But there was the architect who fell into a casement as cement was being poured. Next was the developer trying to replace the old city stables with condos -crushed when a cart collapsed and buried him in horse manure. There were others over decades. Nothing ever directly pointed to my colleague, except the reputation that those who crossed him sometimes met strange ends.

Having all that unrepentant anger and rage abet your efforts is not without its peril, and the forces that reside in old buildings are not always in harmony with each other. Old unresolved grudges persist.

It was All Hallows Eve that the fire department responded to the fire at the 18th-century mansion that housed the historical society. They found his body in the library. The chalk marks on the floor were half erased by the efforts to put out the fire, but they still radiated a sort of sickly glow.
The vellichor, that musty smell of old tomes, mingled with the scorched smell of combustion. The nearly consumed architectural renderings of developments he had prevented lay in a planned disorder at the cardinal points of the chalked pattern. In the very center, he lay with an architects scale rule plunged through his heart.

It was never clear what he had been doing. But the habitues of the society noted that he was often closed alone in the library late at night on the eves of certain celebrations: Walpurgis eve and All Hallows. After that, the historical society took care never to meet on those evenings. Certain glows, emissions, and odors were said to come from beneath the library doors.
Then there was the sad case of the demise of an entire Board of Directors. First, they had considered selling the mansion. But they were struck down by food poisoning at a banquet given by the developer. A replacement Board rapidly rejected all offers to sell.

Every Halloween, the city capitalizes on its history by offering haunted mansion tours. It’s my understanding that the historical society solved its fiscal crisis by charging admission on Halloween. The scary effects are reputed to be the best on tour. And the historical society is mum on how they do it.


John looked up the hill to where his Dad was putting the finishing touches on this year’s Halloween display. John had moved on to other interests and was not helping this year. Halloween decorations were childish, and he didn’t understand why his parents paid so much attention to this year’s decorations. Tonight’s party was much more interesting to him.

He moved the pile of travel brochures his mother had been looking at so he could sit and check who had responded to his invitation to the party.
His Mom and Dad were allowing him to use the old carriage house for the party tonight.
“John, you’ve put all my travel material into a pile. I wish you wouldn’t do that.” “Come on, you and Dad are never going anywhere. All you ever do is talk.”
An angry look appeared and disappeared from her face so quickly that John wasn’t sure that he’d seen it, ” Well, you’re old enough now. Although It would be a sacrifice, it would be fun for your Dad and me to be on our own again.” Something in the way she said that made him angry, “Sure. You and Dad talk big about how when I’m old enough, you’ll leave on some grand trip, but you never do. I wish you would. I could do with the privacy.” Mom just smiled and went to help Dad put up the new decorations.

Despite his comments about decorations, John had spent serious change on the setting for his party. The old carriage house was spooky enough as it was. But the lighting and audio effects he had added made it genuinely creepy. His big surprise was set for midnight just as the couples were looking for secluded nooks. It was then that the shrieks started, and everyone started trying to escape. So far, so good. He picked up a small remote, and stage smoke began to billow out of the old heating vents. He was laughing until the foundation started to rock; that was not planned. Soon John was joining the rush towards the single unblocked exit. Tripping past the threshold, he plunged into a pit that had not been there this afternoon. John and all his friends were scrambling to get out of the pit but not having any success. Over at the driveway, he noticed his parents loading up the car – “Mom, Dad help.” they just continued to pack. Finally, his Mom wandered over towards the mud-covered teens. “Mom? Help get us out. Please!”

Mom looked down and then back to where her husband was waiting for her. “John, you’re old enough now. Your father and I decided that it would be a sacrifice to let you go, but one that would enable us to travel.” She pulled a small remote from her pocket and typed in a code. A loud rumbling started from the area where his Dad had been placing decorations. A shambling figure made of mud, sticks, stones, and oddments of wire lurched onto two feet and started lurching towards them.

“Harriet! Hurry up; we’ll be late!” ” I’ll be right there, Ozzie!” Then, looking down into the pit, Mom blew him a kiss, ” now don’t think too poorly of us, John…we just want to travel before we’re too old to enjoy it, and you know children can be such a sacrifice!”
The thing tumbling down the hill seemed to be continuously shedding small bits and pieces; maple leaves and bits of clay. In its mouth were rows of blunt teeth that initially had been gravel from the driveway—reaching the pit, a vast muddy hand reached down and took up John first. As he entered the maw, the last thing he saw was his parent’s car turning towards the road. His father was playing that dammed song he liked so much – “Highway to Hell.”

Tools of the Trade: Sanding Mops

So, you couldn’t use these to mop a floor. The name probably derives from the mop-like look they get after prolonged use—sort of like the dark brown one at the top of the photo. The Yellow ones are just assembled and won’t look as moppy for a while. Sanding mops are lovely in the woodshop for sanding complex shapes because they’ll get into nooks and crannies. Depending upon the grit of the sandpaper, they can be more or less aggressive. I like to use these to get into the hollows of spoons and small bowls where hand sanding is awkward. The range of grits I use goes from an aggressive 80 grit to 120 and then a 220 grit shaped like a cup. You can use them in a drill, but a drill press is probably best.
I get mine from Canadian dealers ( Stockroom Supply and Lee Valley), but other suppliers sell them also ( unfortunately, I have no stock in either company).

If you haven’t tried this sanding tool and have an appropriate application, I’d suggest that you try them.


Have you ever marched up to someone significant in your life, greeted them warmly, and had them struggle to remember who you are? Well, yes, it is embarrassing for them and you. But primarily for you.
You go away wondering if they are merely forgetful or if the images in your mind are trustworthy.
Worse, in a way, are your fears that your mind, playing in the dark, created everything from a few hints or suggestions. You’ve heard about false memories, and you read articles on how memory can be selective. But to obliterate you from someone’s recollection? And worse, build your recollection of them to such importance?

Later over a brandy, you make the best of the situation. Perhaps you were hypnotized and put under “deep cover” because you’re a secret agent. – “Bond, James Bond” – and your true memories are just starting to surface. But. Alas. I have no idea where I parked the Austin-Martin, and my accent is total New York City, not RP British.

Then a lovely blonde sweeps into the seat next to you. “Charles, Charles? is that you. Oh, I haven’t seen you since the Triple-A meetings in Washington! This calls for a celebration!” Charles, Charles? I can be Charles! I wouldn’t want anyone as lovely as this to question her memory, would I?

X-Ray Vision

My wonky right eye has caused no end of trouble for me. However, I do celebrate that I have vision in it at all. A routine visit to the ophthalmologist years ago came up with a macular hole in the offending eye. While surgery closed the hole, saving the eye, it left my vision just a bit cockeyed. To most, it wouldn’t be noticeable, but I am a carver and a videographer. The adjustments to my life have been nothing short of major. I have had to learn to carve and do many shop tasks in new ways. In video, I have made sure that I check everything twice.

Jokingly, as they put me under for surgery, I asked if they could give me the X-ray vision add-on. My surgeon laughed. To date, I am waiting for that feature to kick in. OOOH, x-ray vision!!!


I posted on using cement on the end grain of a small schooner I was working on a while ago.
The logic was that this particular carving would have lots of unsupported end-grain prone to breakage while I was carving. The schooner is almost done now. And all that’s left to do is some final filing and sanding before I prime the wood for painting.
At the top of this post, you can see the prototype carving on top of a simple sign.

Unfortunately, despite my good intentions, I did have some damage, well concealed, to the jibs on this piece. After final sanding, the schooner will be primed and painted. Next, the bottom support piece will get mortised into the sign top and the ocean waves carved in and painted—more about that in the next post on this project.

Cool Baby

Hidden among the cobwebs in many family attics are the ghostly remains of Granpa and Granma’s wild past. Now at the average age of many assisted living residents, Granpa John and Granma Mary have many stories of rowdy concerts, Live ins, love-ins, bee-ins, and screw-ins waiting to get told. But, unfortunately, the pallid Netflix documentaries only show a superficial recollection through newsreel clips of protests and concerts.
I don’t think there are too many fireside chats with grandchildren in their laps as they talk about their experiences getting stoned at a Janis Joplin concert, ” and then little Jimmy, the light show STARTED! It was a gas of a trip!” Too much agitation at this age is a bad thing, and besides, your son and daughter-in-law warned you that the next time you snuck out of the house to go to the edibles store, they’d “assist” you into the assisted care so fast that your head would spin.

There is some leeway; however, keep drugs out of it, describe the be-ins and protests as “conferences,” and you’ll be all set. But, politics, let’s not forget that that little red book? Or those Marxist screeds? And those Gene McCarthy for president pins? We have to get rid of that trash …what did you think when you were young…do you have any idea what that would do to our reputation if it got out?

What do you mean “Hell no, we won’t go!”, What do you mean? I should “tune in, turn on and drop out!” Father I’m a Republican!!!


The Grey Menace liked going into class with me almost as much as he enjoyed parties. He just hated having to get into the carrying case. And so every time I’d have to trot him along with me, it meant a whole new line of claw marks up my arms and bites, oh yes, bites. But he enjoyed inflicting the wounds, so the only part he hated was the trip to class. Even years after, I’ll swear that I notice faint marks on my arms, and who will ever forget an excellent hard chomp in the thenar space – the flesh twixt and tween thumb and first finger. Once he had bitten you there, he would hold on, look at you, rate how much pain you were in and try to dash away before the other hand swept in and grabbed him. 

Once in class, he was an accomplished actor: rubbing on people, inviting pats, and generally ingratiating himself. He was especially fond of the ladies. If he invited a guy to rub his belly, it was a prelude to a clawing. With a woman, however, the paw would gently hold the hand in place, gaze into their eyes, purr loudly, and leave them wondering what sort of a shit I was to deserve such a beating from this lovable kitty. He did so much better with women than I did.

Of course, he put away the act when he decided that a particular woman was not on his approved list. Then it was glares, stares, and stalking. At over twenty pounds, he was an intimidating beast. 

Then he ran into Clair. Clair was not into cats. She didn’t dislike them; she just was indifferent to them. So when he tried his wiles on Clair, her reaction was to ignore him and continue to pay attention to the lecture. Unfortunately, one did not just ignore the Gray Menace. He began to stare at her, no response. Then he stalked her, no response. At last, he moved in and took a friendly swat at her. Clair’s reaction was to reach down, suddenly grab him, and swat his rump in return and then drop him. He reared up, growled, and invited combat; she laughed.

One usually did not laugh at the Gray Menace, but he instead ran back to me and sat near me for the rest of the class, shooting glances at Clair.

At the parties and cookouts we had afterward, I noticed that he consistently showed great deference to Clair: sitting near her, trying to buddy up to her. Clair, knowing his reputation mentioned to me that he thought that she was a badass like him, and therefore an equal.

After Clair and I ended our relationship, I realized that the Gray Menace had understood things about Clair that I had missed. I was reminded of that verse in a Warren Zevon song that suggested that a girl worked him over good – 

She put me through some changes, Lord.

Sort of like a Waring blender.

The Gray Menace missed Clair when she stopped coming around. After all, peers were hard to come by if you are as tough as he was.

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