Sunday, May 31, 2020

Steamer Trunk Project

Remember that century-old steamer trunk I found in the basement? Well, I want to display it but when I found the trunk it was in very poor condition. So I decided to restore it -- a process I've never tried before. To accomplish this I researched a lot about restoring wood and metal. But before delving into that subject, let me report that I discovered the trunk's original owner -- and he has a fabulous name.

On top of the trunk are initials: "B.A.B." I learned they refer to Bernard Aloysius Beirne, an Irish immigrant. Aloysius! Government statistics say the name Aloysius is very rare, with babies getting it less than 0.001%. That's one in 100,000. Or about the chance of you being named in my Will.

Bernard Aloysius Beirne was born in 1886 and lived most of his life in New Jersey. He died in 1960. Bernard was Maura's grandfather. He owned the trunk in his youth, using it around 1905-1910. Remember, these trunks were popular from 1880-1920.

Back to the restoration. Restoration involves materials, techniques and physical labor. I researched how to remove rust and mildew, how to stain and finish wood, etc. Apart from picking the right materials, the process requires a lot of elbow-grease. I enjoyed doing it because you can visually see results of your effort. Here's what I did:

- Clean dirt and dust
- Pull off frayed canvas and wood
- Scrape off inner lining (decayed paper)

Metal parts (clasps & hardware):
- Hammer in loose nails
- Replace some missing nails
- Re-attach lid hinge
- Lubricate closing latches with WD-40
- Lubricate metal wheels on bottom with WD-40

- Scrub with wire brush
- Brush on vinegar and salt mixture; leave overnight; wash off
- Sandpaper metal to remove final bits of rust
- Sandpaper wood to smooth surface and remove aged surface

- Stain wood with wood stain
- Apply wood lacquer to protect the wood and give it a glossy finish
- Apply second coat of lacquer

Here is the final result and the trunk's new resident who lives rent-free. The process took a full week because of its multiple steps.

What do you think? Have you ever restored anything?

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

One of the greatest movies of all times, "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946), is about the struggle three soldiers have when then return home from war. It won 7 Oscars including Best Picture. If you haven't seen it, check it out. You'll be entertained and moved.

My favorite line is when an angelic young woman falls in love with one of the soldiers and believes she'd make a better wife than the one he has: "I've made up my mind....I'm going to break that marriage up!"

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Life With Holga

Having Holga at my side opens my eyes to new sights I'd otherwise overlook. Like these...

Friday, May 22, 2020

Old Treasures

Like many, I'm handling the pandemic by tackling old projects that have been on the back-burner for years. Like cleaning the basement. A chore I planned to do a decade ago but always found excuses to avoid. Sometimes, however, these projects turn out to be fun and not drudgery. While sorting through old things we can discover treasures. I did this morning.

Buried under piles of crap, there was an old steamer trunk. I wasn't sure where it came from or what, if anything, was in it. So I pulled it out and opened it up. Wow!

The trunk was full of vintage stuffed animals and toys from a half-century ago. They belong to Maura, my first girlfriend, who loved them when she was little. Pictures are below. I alerted Maura to the find and offered to send them to her. She replied I can continue to store them, which I will, only now I'll store them out in the open instead of hidden away. Since Maura is 63, these delightful items are at least a half-century old.

One that really appeals to me is a doll make of cloth attached to a round wooden box. Inside the doll is a wooden dowel which lets you raise the doll up and down -- including into the round box where it completely disappears as the cloth scrunches together. What a fun toy!

Also of note is the trunk itself. I asked Maura where it came from and she said it was her grandmother's. Which dates it accurately: steamer trunks were built and used from 1880 to 1920. Maura's mother was old when she got her (40-ish) so Maura's grandmother lived during that period. That makes the trunk over a century old.

The trunk, despite its age, is beautiful. It's made of pine wood with metal clasps and hardware. The wood was originally covered with canvas, some of which is still there as parts have fallen off. Most of the leather straps have disintegrated.

Steamer trunks were not just intended for travel, they were used as containers for objects after arrival. Given their decorative beauty, that makes sense. One reason I pulled this trunk out of storage was to consider displaying it prominently in my future playhouse. Now I certainly will.

What's in your basement?!

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Hot Dogs Made In Beer

With pandemic restrictions, we're bored and need diversion. So I came up with an idea. It's actually an old idea which I transported into this new decade -- and it works.

Back in the Sixties and Seventies, there was a popular restaurant chain named Lum's. Their famous dish was hot dogs made in beer. They steamed frankfurters in the stuff. The beer's flavor infuses the franks. Memory of eating at Lum's with my parents put an idea in my head.

This week I made hot dogs and used beer instead of water. (I boiled 'em.) The process was easy and inexpensive. I recently bought a six-pack of German lager at LIDL at a very low price so using beer didn't cost much. And it enhances the flavor of the dogs and plumps them up. Of course you can dress your hot dog any way you like, such as adding mustard, onions, cheese and avocado.

What new ideas have you come up with during the pandemic?

Sunday, May 17, 2020

A Life

I just read a great story (here).

John Olson is a lobsterman in Maine. He's 97 years old. He's been catching lobsters since 1938. John still goes out on his boat every day; his only help is his son Sam who's 72. In terms of physical strength, John chops 100 cords of wood every Winter.

During WWII John's war-boat was blown up. He survived. In peacetime, John was close friends with famous painter Andrew Wyeth who's now buried in John's family cemetery. Wyeth's most famous painting -- which you've seen -- depicts John's aunt Christina in the field at John's house. The painting is called "Christina's World."

What a life!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

My Best Investment

I can't claim to be prescient, just lucky. Five years ago I identified Netflix as an investment likely to soar in the future. I bought its stock at $55/share.

Since then Netflix's business has grown rapidly. It is one of very few stocks to actually benefit from the pandemic since people have to stay home with little to do except watch television. In the first quarter of this year, Netflix gained twice as many new subscribers as Wall Street anticipated. Plus, Netflix has been expanding globally for the past two years; that growth is designed to offset the product's saturation in this country.

Netflix's stock value has moved accordingly. Today, it reached an all-time high of $450. $450! As I said, I got in at $55, which means my money has grown eight times its initial investment. And the crazy thing is everyone now believes Netflix will continue to go up.

I also believe that for multiple reasons: (1) global expansion still has room to grow; (2) streaming is replacing broadcast TV and the company is the streaming leader; (3) Netflix's investment in new content is deep and will pay future dividends (including now, when it has enough completed new shows to last through the year while other places have had to suspend production); (4) pricing for Netflix is still relatively low so the company can raise prices (and profits) in the future; (5) the company is now more valuable than Disney and all other competitors; (6) the company snagged the best talent in entertainment with long-term deals (promising the best show-creators with artistic freedom, unavailable from old media); and (7) the company is benefitting from "vertical integration" (the holy grail of the entertainment business which was previously illegal as antitrust violation).

I don't tell anyone what to do with their money; just saying where mine is. If you have any questions, contact me.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Looking Back

I've always wanted to organize my photos but there was never enough time. Now we all have spare time so I'm attacking the boxes.

Here are some photos from the Summer of 2000. My favorite annual motorcycle event is a two-day ride over challenging country roads in upstate New York. It's called "Ramapo 500" because you ride 500 miles and the event is sponsored by Ramapo motorcycle club. The location shown was a restaurant popular among bikers; sadly, it has since closed. It was the starting point for the run where you'd register, say hi to friends and head off on a fun weekend.

The bike shown is my second motorcycle, the touring Yamaha Venture Royale (1200cc). I loved that bike.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Brownie Starflex Camera

This is a fun story about photography, history and art.

I used to assume one needed a fancy new camera to take good pictures. My Holga film camera has taught me otherwise. A cheap, plastic relic from the past offers unimagined artistic possibilities. The pictures it produces aren't shabby even if the camera is utterly basic.

A good deal of credit goes to its use of film. Photographic film was carefully developed over a century to optimize quality. Like vinyl records, film records reality accurately, surpassing digital reproduction. Two decades ago film photography was replaced by digital photography for commercial, not artistic reasons. Cheaper technology always wins the marketplace even when it's not as good because the majority of consumers value cost over quality.

A few years ago I picked up an old Brownie camera in a thrift store. I paid $5 for it. I bought it as a decoration and assumed it won't work because it's old.  Again, an assumption.

After discovering my first assumption wasn't true, I just decided to test this second assumption. Simply because a camera is old doesn't mean it doesn't work. In fact, it can produce attractive images on film when used with a good eye.

The first Brownie was made in 1900. Not only was it one of the first cameras used by ordinary people, it was the most popular. Kodak sold tens of millions of them during the middle of the last century. The original Brownie was simply a square cardboard box and glass lens. Later, the cardboard was replaced by Bakelite, the first synthetic plastic.

The model I found was made between 1952-1964. Back then it was inexpensive ($10) and intended for children and teens. The camera is very small and fits easily inside my hand. It has no battery or electric parts. The design couldn't be simpler: just a chassis for holding film tucked into a plastic box. You lift a metal hood on top of the camera and look down into the viewfinder to see a reflected image coming from the upper of two lenses. (The bottom lens takes the picture.) This kind of camera is called "twin-lens reflex" because of the two lenses; most other cameras (SLR; point-and-shoot) have only one lens. SLR actually stands for "single lens reflex."

The design of the Brownie is surprisingly simple and barely evolved from its 1900 predecessor. There's only one shutter-speed (1/50th second), one aperture (f/14) and one lens-length (51mm). There is no way to focus the lens. There's no hole to attach a tripod, no way to change lenses, and no place to add a filter. The camera was made to take basic "snapshots."

Researching the Brownie, I found its original instruction manual online. The camera uses a type of film I've never tried before -- "127 roll" which is larger than 35mm (SLR) and smaller than 120 roll (Holga). Kodak stopped making 127 roll film in 1996 but there's one company in Japan that still produces it. I just ordered two rolls online. I plan to load the Brownie up with film, shoot these rolls of 127 film and see what happens.

Part of the appeal of a project like this is you don't know how it'll turn out. I might get back a set of blank negatives (which happened to me last month with the Holga). Or a bunch of outstanding photos (another Holga experience). Or something else entirely. Who knows?

I can't wait to find out. I'm playing with history. :)

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

A Date With Holga

Holga and I are getting close. We spend time together, travel as a team and pursue mysteries of the world.

Friday, May 1, 2020


Few of us have exciting careers. Patrick Keeffe is an exception.

For several decades starting in the 1960s, Patrick worked in the field of print journalism. That’s what we call it now; back then, it had a more romantic name – Pat was a newspaperman. Classic movies have been made about such characters.

Pat grew up in the Midwest and first went west to San Francisco to work at several newspapers. Later, he and his wife Linda moved east to New York where Pat worked at several national magazines, like Esquire and Money.

I know Pat and Linda; they’re friends of mine and live in my hometown. When I learned Pat wrote a memoir about his career, I fired up Amazon and bought it (“City Desk: A Reporter’s Journey,” Patrick Keeffe). I recommend the book highly; it’s a lively account of an exciting life.

How exciting? Pat interviewed Neil Armstrong – the first man to walk on the Moon – during which Armstrong corrected the popular, but mistaken quotation about the words he spoke on that historic occasion. Pat reported on a 5.1 earthquake he experienced himself, as well as a major fire in an underground train system. Pat profiled a famous mountain climber who scaled Mount Everest. He even shook Bill Clinton’s hand when Clinton was President.

Best of all, Pat tells stories. The wild tales that were common in newsrooms back then. Once, a co-worker was fact-checking a story on Marlene Dietrich and called the famous actress on her private line. “For a long moment, there was silence on the line. Then Dietrich said, ‘Tell your editor to go fuck himself’.”

How did a young man with no contacts break into a glamorous field? Persistence. At the outset, Pat offered to work for free. When editors saw the quality of his writing, they felt guilty and starting paying him. Then, throughout his career, Pat met colleagues who referred him to others with job opportunities and spoke highly of him. That’s how a career is built.

There’s a lot to learn and be entertained by in Pat’s book. Buy a copy or ask me and I’ll lend you mine.