Archive for the ‘Knickknacks & Tchotchkes’ Category

Our Lady of the Dishwashing

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

our lady of dishwashingIf it were not for the Venus de Milo, of course, I never would have bought this broken statuette at my local thrift store. The Venus de Milo, more properly called Aphrodite of Milos, is made of marble, missing both arms, (hardly) draped in a sheet, slightly larger than life-size, a couple thousand years old and currently residing in the Louvre.

My bare naked lady is made of glass, missing half an arm, standing on her toes and leaning on a piece of rock candy, nine inches tall, produced I’d guess in the last 20 years and is currently perched on the window sill above my sink. So you can see why I thought of the Venus de Milo when I first saw her on the store shelf (though now I refer to her as Our Lady of the Dishwashing.)

Seriously, girl statue missing arm or arm parts equals Venus de Milo, there’s no getting around it, and why would you want to?

If we are to believe the confusingly written Wikipedia entry on this subject, the VdM was in possession of both her arms until shortly after she was unearthed by a peasant in 1820 on the Agean island of Milos. A few things happened involving ambassadors, naval officers, the Grand Dragoman of the Fleet, and Sultan Mahmud II.

At some point during all the shenanigans a bunch of French sailors ended up in a tussle with a bunch of Greek bandits, and as the sailors dragged the statue over the rocks back to the ship, the arms broke off. Likely fearing further attack from the Greeks, they refused to go back for the missing appendages. My glass statuette, on the other hand, presumably took a header off a bookshelf or coffee table somewhere.

Though she seems too substantial to be called a knickknack or tchotchke, and being all nekked lends her a fine art cloak, she is in fact not much more than a Lladro without a dress, which in turn are just Hummels without the baby fat. Still, she almost makes washing the dishes less of a chore. If only she could lend a hand.


Monday, August 24th, 2009

ball bearing with packagingAfter I had been into cycling for a while, I treated myself to a fancy titanium frame. It cost two grand back in about 1991. I bought it from Tom Kellog’s Spectrum Cycles, one of the first builders to work extensively with titanium.

I remember Tom, whose phone voice sounds like the gravelly incantations of Tom Carvel in the old Carvel commercials, almost insisting that I get the frame in the57cm size. But getting the smallest frame possible is the racer’s mantra, and this was particularly the case at that time, so I was as equally insistent on a 55cm. Tom was right, the frame was a little small for me right from day one. These days I believe a little bigger is better, and I ride  a 57-59cm frame.

A quirk particular to the first titanium Spectrums was the bottom bracket. Titanium is more difficult to work with than steel or aluminum, and most frame builders at the time did not have the machinery necessary to fabricate anything too complex with titanium. Tubesets in this material were also limited. So rather than having a standard bottom bracket shell, tapped to accept a standard bottom bracket, the first titanium frames had a smaller bb, made from the standard tubeset. The frame came with a bottom bracket axle and a set of sealed bearings.  Also included were two specially machined chunks of aluminum used to press the bearings into the untapped shell to the correct depth, some Locktite, and a multi-page instruction booklet bound in plastic spirals.

Those bearings were somewhere in the back of my mind when I picked up this ball bearing at the estate sale I was running last week. What was in my mind regarding the rest, I cannot pinpoint as easily for you. The full take:

  • 1 set Leviton easy grip plugs in white, original price 95 cents
  • 1 set GE quick wire attachment plugs, from Caldor, original price $1.49
  • 1 red DYMO 1717 label maker, without tape
  • 7 3″ oversized safety pins, good for kilts
  • 1 Evansrule key caddy (made in U.S.A.)
  • 1 2″ barely useable blue plastic shoe horn compliments Cosentini Inc, Ithaca, NY
  • 3 hose clamps (installed a new radiator on my van this summer, now I’m a mechanic)
  • 1 roll unopened electric tape
  • Some weird gear thing, which I will feature another day, and
  • 1 bearing in a box from the Ahlberg Bearing Co., Chicago, Illinois

Writing all this down is embarrassing, but hopefully it’s the first step in recovering from whatever it is that posesses a man to take posession of any of this in the first place. I mean seriously and for crying out loud. Dammit.

Of course now that I have it all, it’s not so easy to dispose of. I suppose I could donate the kilt pins to the fire department’s bagpipe brigade, and I’ll throw out the shoe horn the next time I find myself dressing in a suit and I actually attempt to use it. The replacement cord plugs I have long-term plans for.  (One word: lamps.)

There is not now, nor I suspect will there ever be, a reason for me to own this ball bearing. But how can you throw away such a well-made thing? And one with such thoughtful packaging? The corners are reinforced with metal tabs, and one side flap contains the warning Do not open this box until ready to use. Now, this is not some impersonal, lawyer-mandated safety warning from a cold and uncaring corporation.  It’s more like a stern reminder from a concerned uncle. They don’t want you losing it, or messing it up.

There are traces of the Ahlberg Bearing Co.’s existence floating on the web—an old unissued stock certificate here, a postcard there. And it appears the company may not have actually made bearings, but reconditioned them. Can you imagine? Reconditioning a small moving part? That’s green. A cursory google search turns up hints of a former executive who went out on his own just after WWII, convinced that the real money was in making, not reconditioning, ball bearings. And now I am the current owner of this Master Bearing, The Highest Development of Correct Ball Bearing Engineering. It is a heavy burden, friend.

Reptilian Rubber

Friday, August 7th, 2009

triceratopsMy neighbor Ken kept reptiles as pets when he was growing up up there in Canada. Iguanas, lizards, lots of snakes. Which may or may not explain why the shrubbery around his house is festooned with rubber dinosaurs.

They can also be found on the steps to the porch, on windowsills, and many other locations both inside and outside his home. In comparison, the few examples I have tucked away (strictly indoor types, my creatures) hardly count as a collection, never mind an obsession.

My favorite of all time, a brontosaurus of sorts, was a wind-up toy from I’ll guess the 1940s. He was a skeleton, and he was arthritic to boot, so when you wound him up he’d make a gggzzzzz noise and creak forward slightly then stop a second or two then gggzzzzz move a little more. He had googly eyes. My other neighbor Randall accidentally sold him while minding my store one day (For crying out loud, Randall, he was behind the desk.) Every time the elderly woman who bought him came in thereafter she would at some point invariably mention that dinosaur, saying oh I love that funny little thing and cackling with glee at her good fortune in having robbed me of my favorite dinosaur thing, if not perhaps my favorite thing.

My second favorite is a tyrannosaurus rex that has fuzzy brown skin. Weird. But not as weird as Ken. The triceratops pictured here as thing of the day is guarding a Rival crockpot in the cubby above the fridge.

Flying Fish

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

red fish mobileRunning around to “estate” sales is a hit or miss operation, usually miss. I was happy  when one day I came across a sale featuring a basement and garage full of  NOS (new old stock) mid-century doodads the deceased owner imported from Japan and Scandinavia in the 1970s.

Lots of Aalto-ish legs and a few tops for stools and small tables, beautiful trays from Sweden, wooden spice containers with cork stoppers, shelves full of chunky, brightly colored iron candle holders and frogs, and boxes of these wonderful fish mobiles. Nine inches or so from stem to stern, each mobile lies in a folded piece of thin cardboard tucked into a paper sleeve. This outer package has no label or markings other than JAPAN stamped in small caps in dark purple ink.

The main body of the fish was red, light blue or gold, with the remaining two colors being the accents. The fish came all mixed in the box, with no way of knowing the color until you slid it out of the paper sleeve and peered into the folded cardboard.

Having a shop at the time called The Iron Fish Trading Co, I bought several boxes of the fish. (Don’t ask me why I didn’t root around and buy every last one.) I sold them for $12 a piece. If you were willing to forgo a choice of color and be surprised at whatever the plain wrapper held in store, you paid $8.