Humdurgan There is More to it Than That

Tales of Vashon

For years, John has been after me to clean up my fifty by ten foot deck, clear the cracks and stop the rotting.  The little flock of birds don’t clean up after themselves and their spent sunflower shells clog up the spaces between the cedar boards.  I tried borrowing John’s pressure washer one year and turned the power up too high and left water grooves all over the deck.  John’s management technique was simple, every time he came over here; he would take out his pocket knife and clean out a section of decking and then use the garden hose to wash it off.

His hint was taken; I found the machete to be the proper tool for cracks in a fifty-foot deck.  It took a week to complete the task because I get “dizzy” bending over, probably a medication imbalance. If you like wood, you should use a 50/50 mixture of turpentine and boiled linseed oil.  The wood likes it and will beg for more.  I learned that trick from a cabinet-maker friend who tried to pass counterfeit money in a Spokane tavern and served time.  Paint thinner can be used in lieu of turpentine as it is much cheaper.

Now my deck is half-oiled, waiting for me to drop the computer and return to work.

Dad was a painting contractor and was in a partnership with a good Mormon who hired his own crew, mostly relatives.  I say “good Mormon” because Le Nay called himself a “jack Mormon,” because he did not go to Church. The painters all drank except for Sonny, the shell shocked marine from WWII whose hands shook like the devil; but when he was cutting sash, the line was clean and straight.  They say that it was from being in contact with lacquer spray that drove the painters to drink.  I know this for a fact, having been spraying lacquer on school desks where they told us to be sure and open up all the windows.   We wore double respirators to protect us from the fumes.  I didn’t last long as a painter, because I took a “dare” and closed all the windows and took off the respirator.  Within minutes, the room was filled with lacquer fog and giggling.  Somebody pulled the fire hose off the wall and turned it on an unsuspecting painter.  It was hours before I was sober enough to drive back to Vashon, never to spray lacquer again.

John recalls building model airplanes out of balsa and getting so dizzy from the glue fumes that he fell out of his little chair, or painting a car in a closed garage and walking out in a dazed unsteady way.

Years down the road, I was in Scotland with Dick Gilbert at the Seagram’s distillery in Keith, Banff shire; to shoot an industrial insert for their “100 Pipers” scotch commercial.  Dick and I convinced Perry Luntz, the New York ad agency rep on doing a documentary of the people who work in the distillery and the influence of the Scottish highlands on scotch whiskey.  I called the producer in Seattle to work out a $50,000 budget in lieu of the $3,000 insert we were hired to shoot and we stayed in Samuel Bronfman’s castle in Keith for six weeks, filming.

Every night at the end of the shift, the men running the stills, lined up in front of a glass case where the clear alcohol could be seen coming down a pipe and splashing up-against a copper flap causing the liquor to splatter at the bottom of the case.  Each man was awarded a tumbler of raw liquor, almost a pint; while the suppliers and contractors from town were drinking 20 year old scotch from a small keg in the corner closet of the distillery manager’s office, one floor up.

I made arrangements with Jimmy, the customs man, to shoot in the warehouse while the men rolled the 55 gallon casks about and that is where I learned of the “dog.”  Jimmy picked a 12-inch tube with a lead bottom off the top of a cask.  The tube had a string attached to a hole in the side and the “dog” held about a cup, just enough for a “snootful.”  Jimmy asked if I would like to try the “dog.”  I said yes and headed for a barrel dated 1906.  The whiskey had gone “woody” and was bad.  The warehouse having been used for storage of estates that had been tied up for 50 or 100 years.  The stone plaque on the front of the distillery said 1609. Jimmy found me a nice 18 year old and we shot the afternoon away, moving whiskey barrels or just watch the coopers as they pounded the rings down that held the many sides of a barrel together.

Peter Simms was the mash man and had been passed over for promotion more than once.  He took us out to his Father’s “wee crofty” where they were busy cutting hay.  The tractor was a ford, but the cutter was the old horse drawn kind that required a rider to lift and drop the cutter bar.  Peter’s father was riding the cutter when he yelled for his other son to stop the tractor.  As I filmed him, Mr. Simms got down off the seat, knelt in the hay, and lifted up a piece of the broken cutter bar.  He turned toward the camera and shook the broken blade at the camera and said, “That’s what you get in this fuckin business.”

The manager was Irish and I had to fly back to Scotland to re-record voice-overs, because he had a brogue and the ad agency complained because they couldn’t understand his English.  I stayed in town as we weren’t going to record until the following day.  In the hotel, there was a brass slot in the fireplace heater and as long as you fed it shillings, you stayed warm.

They decided to heat a part of the castle to record the manager in and in order to justify their having flown me back and forth.  I set a six-pack of Guinness between us, but when I offered the manager one, it was turned down.  “I’d never drink anything I couldn’t see through,” he said.