Saturday, August 22, 2009

Greasy, Archaic Skills.

Being a greaser in the digital age is not easy. There is nothing more diametrically opposed to Rockabilly than modern technology.

Computers were designed by geeks and therefore work on geek logic. These tin-foil hat wearing , klingon language course attending and sandal with socks wearing pointdexters could never integrate into society as a group, so they created their own virtual one.

We anachronistic greasers had to adapt. Not being a Luddite by any means, I never saw the need to get a cel phone or a computer. They almost seem to be a necessity these days, and I grudgingly learned how to use these incredibly unintuitive gizmos from hell.

I have learned to embrace my cel phone and find it useful for social situations. Last minute parties, waiting for a gal to return my call, hell, even got a job thanks to my cel. Let's face it though, there is nothing quite as satisfying as slamming down one of those old style phones.

The exponential rate of technological development has left me with some archaic analog skills, some useful, some not. Read on.

1. Stick welding.
I didn't attend any fancy tech school to learn welding. My old man taught me in a old shed while sharing beer and cigarettes. I was able to build anything with my trusty old 300 lb. stick welder.

The dangerous, full spectrum UV glow that would sunburn my left arm, the horrific fumes that would cause the shop to glow in a blue haze, the satisfying crackle of melting metal and lots of electricity, it was primitive, but got results.

It was the old school, hillbilly way of making things; just keep adding metal until it works.

The satisfaction of the finished product was unparalleled. I would crack a beer, light a smoke, stand back and just revel in the hillbilly-ness of it all.

I was recently hired for an outdoor contract in Whistler, BC because I do have these skills. A dude that I know, who is an excellent MIG welder, is a little too young to have had experience with stick welding. Some oxy-acetylene cutting was also required.

He was terrified of those oxy-acetylene tanks and the 6000 degree flame. He looked at them like they were an atom bomb about to explode.

We drove up to Whistler where this large sculpture had been erected in a hotel courtyard. I fired up the gas powered welder and did my thing. The crackling and hissing and sparks flying everywhere were scaring the rich tourists. When the cutting torch lit up with a satisfying poof, that scared the squares even more ( which was satisfying unto it's self).

Choppin' and welding, that was a good day, one of the very few times that these archaic skills were needed. Back to MIG welding ( which I suck at ) and plasma cutters.

2. The Metric System.

As some of my American friends may or may not know, Canada switched to Metric in the 70's.

Fuck, I hate Metric. Yeah, yeah, I know it's all based on tens and is logical, but I still hate it.

All the trades are still in Imperial, so that should tell you something. You buy 1/2 inch tubing and a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood, that's the way the world works.

I am 6 feet tall. how much in metric?, no freakin' idea. 3.7 meters ? 800 deciliters? 4000 kilopascals?

While we are on the subject, what the hell is a kilopascal. If my tires are low, I know to put 75 psi. With kilopascals , I run the risk of having the tire explode right there on my crotch as I squat down trying to figure out the gauge.

I know that half of 3/8 is 3/16 and I am always amazed at the fact that some seemingly intelligent people can't convert decimals into fractions. The simplicity eludes them, .5 of an inch is 1/2 an inch, how hard is that?

This may seem like the senile rantings of an over the hill tinkerer, but ask any tradesman in his 20's, they still use Imperial on construction sites.

I guess it was a rant after all, not so funny, but I had to get that one off my chest.

3. Vinyl

Here is picture of my J.A. Michell Hydraulic Reference turntable with a Formula 4 Mayware tonearm and Goldring cartridge.

Even today, the debate of CD versus vinyl goes on. Vinyl sounds great, but we have to face the fact that is a dead format. I won't even attempt to get involved in that argument.

I will focus on the days when records were the only format. You could walk into any record store, browse for hours and find records from some really obscure bands. Checking out the artwork on the covers was part of the experience.

Owning a turntable, especially an expensive one, was not for the faint of heart. Booze and turntables was not a good combination either. The expensive ones were manual, and you had to gently put the needle to the record by hand. Not easy to do with the six-beer shakes.

Damn things would stop when the record was finished, so you had to pay attention and run, before the needle hit the label. Not easy to do after a bunch of beers.

After ten beers, you would say, fuck it, and put on a cassette.

There was definitely skill required to own a precision turntable. You had to know how to mount your tonearm of choice and get it at the correct height and tracking angle. You had to know how balance it ( very tricky with a silcone damped uni-pivot) set the the anti-skating.

Mounting the cartridge was an nerve-wracking chore. That Goldring cartridge cost 700 bucks at the time! A replacement needle was 300 bucks. You had to mount it with the world's tiniest screws, set the tracking angle and adjust the azimuth. Not easy to do with big greasy fingers. Absolutely had to be done sober.

Dropping that needle could have disastrous consequences ( to the tune of 300 bucks). That gut wrenching vvtt! sound was never good, and if the volume was high, adios tweeters.

CD's and boozing, : a match made in heaven.

4. Opening beer bottles.

Most beers these days come with twist off caps, but some smaller breweries still have the caps that require an opener. Most people don't even own one. Some will look at it like a quaint relic from the past, not understanding it's original intended use. They will blankly stare at the beer bottle, completely perplexed, not knowing what to do next.

Greasers can open a beer bottle with pretty much anything on hand. My preferred method is with the butt of a Bic lighter or the edge of a pair of pliers. seems to impress a lot of people for some reason.

I recently opened a beer with the edge of a big, dirty dog bone that my buddy's dog had been chewing on for an hour. This drew a combination of disgust and admiration from the people around me, but it was cool, and the dog seemed to like it.

Here is a partial list of things that I have used to open beer bottles.

Claw Hammer
Crescent wrench
Belt buckle
Latch on the door of a pick up truck
Another beer bottle
Metal ruler
Keys (broke key, couldn't start car)
Knife (ouch)
Piece of rebar
Can of soup.

A lot of beer comes in cans these days. Bottle opening, yet another wasted skill.

5. Bicycles.

Keeping with developing thread here, I can safely say that owning a car and being a boozer is not a good combination.

I recently bought a car. Just some regular P.O.S. car. I had agreed to buy it while drinking with some buddies, which would explain why I bought it in the first place.

I was constantly retrieving it from whatever BBQ, party or show that I had attended the previous day. It was turning into a constant game of "dude where's my car" and was getting ridiculous. I would trundle my bike to wherever the car was, try to wedge it into the trunk and drive home.

I sold it before something bad happened to me. Now I can go where I please, drink as much as I want and happily wander home on my bike. Funny part about riding a bike hammered, is that you don't notice how far you have to go and time just flies by.

For my take on bikes, see previous post; Tales of the Enviro-billy.

They are simple to work on, but tricky to get right. With a few specialized tools, you can be rolling in no time.

The bike as we know it came into being in 1890. The basics haven't changed, and it is almost impossible to improve on the elegant and clever design of the bike. The basic ergonomics make this one the most efficient machines, to this very day.

For lifestyle abusers everywhere, bikes are also great exercise, and you can even buy beer holders that bolt on to the handle bar. They even sell gimbaled beer holders, so that you won't even spill a drop.

You should always carry tools, because even though they are easy to fix, you ain't fixin' nothing without tools. I have had a few angry, drunken, very long walks home due to lack of tools.

Bikes and booze, another perfect match.

Here are a few random archaic skills that various greasers I know still possess;

Rebuilding carburetors
Building entire hot rods
Making the perfect pomp
Rumbling ( ya gotta love a good ole fashioned rumble)
Gittar pickin'
Upright bass slappin'
Map reading
Pin striping
Bronco busting ( horses, not Fords)
Finding vintage threads
Knowing where all the liquor stores are
Knowing how to tie the perfect tie-knot
Knots in general
Un-doing knots
Spotting hippies from a mile away ( we all have that)

A little blast from the past, hope you enjoyed it.

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