Securing a Deck Post with Big Ass Bolt

“Howdy folks,” part of me wants to say. “Today we’re gonna talk deck posts, so giddyup lil’ saw horse, yuppie-mai-tai-o-kay.” Something about Home Improvement begs for a grizzled, gruff-but-kind, suspender-wearing sage.

And something in me rebels. Maybe I’ll use an upper-class British voice: “In addressing issues with veranda fenders, it is critical that one first select the correct gin.”

Or maybe Beat carpentry, from Kerouac or Ginsberg: “I have seen the best deck posts of my generation peel from their joists like naked bananas made limp from the yellowblack rot of bad technique, flinging tiki torches and angelheaded ex-hipsters like mediocre meteors across the suburban Bellevue sky into the Nirvanic Void of drained swimming pools, and while the railing is not safe, you are not safe.”

Let’s just let it rip, shall we? There may be some stylistic swerves.

We dwell in Possibility—
A fairer House than Code—
We need not bracket deck posts—
What could—Possibly—go Wrong?

— Emily Dickenson

The Problem

It was 2:30 in the afternoon when I arrived at the bungalow. Her eyes were as cool as the ice in her Gin Rickey. She wore a thin negligee, and with the air conditioner on, I guessed the rest of her must be cool too. Anyway, one of us had goosebumps.

“Come in, Mr. Bolt. I’m Misty—Misty Carrera.”

“The introduction is hardly necessary, Ms. Carrera—I’m familiar with your oeuvre.”

Her eyes flashed hot in anger: “You know nothing of my ovaries. Besides, I don’t do those kinds of movies anymore.”

“You have a problem with your deck.”

“My deck is fine. I have a problem with an inspector—that awful Inspector Pinckney. Follow me.”

I sighed. Pinckney—James “Picky” Pinckney. We went out onto the deck.

“Look, Ms. Carrera, everyone has a problem with Picky. He’d hold up the opening of the Taj Mahal if the acidity of the elephant shit in the alley was off.”

A familiar fedora appeared above the floor of the deck, followed by the rest of his rare roast beef face. “Big Ass—I should have known you’d show up. Sorry I can’t test you for acidity, I left my pH kit at the office.”

She glanced at my butt with arched eyebrows: “Big Ass? You look more like a Titus to me.”

I’ve given up trying to explain—my parents named me Bhigas—a revered name in the old country, something to do with owning lots of land. That which doesn’t kill me.

“Let’s cut to the chase. Something about a dryer vent? C’mon Picky, let the nice lady enjoy her deck.”

“Not a chance. She coulda bolted the post into the wall of the house, but no, she’s got to be cute and let the railing float. But with the dryer vent in the way, there’s no room to screw in a bracket. And you’re not going to find a way around this one, Big. Oh, I’m sorry–I should have said, ‘Ass’.”

This is what I hate most about Picky. I’m the rebel outsider, he’s the stuffed shirt from City Hall, yet somehow he comes up with all the good lines.

Anyway, there it was: a deck post without a bracket, the smoking gun. People think that deck posts break or something, if they bother to think about them at all. But that’s not how they fail. They’re bolted to the rim joist, and they act like a lever—get enough force leaning on the top rail, and it’ll pry the joist off like a pop top on a cheap beer. Brackets create a secure “load path” to an inner joist.

I shook my head. Stoned rail-leaners on high decks, taking in the view. Lots of people have died of the view.

I turned to Misty. “So why not remove the dryer vent?”

“Are you kidding me? I had a hard enough time getting it through the foundation wall, but getting to those quarter-inch hex screws so I could secure the vent cover? I finally had to use my little 90 degree screwdriver without a bit in it—I was just lucky the standard shaft size is also a quarter-inch hex.”

I passed on the obvious joke about a quarter-inch being a standard shaft size. I was impressed—I figured she hired some Joe to do her dirty work. She was tough, and resourceful. More to her than I realized.

“I’ll take a look.”

Picky was smirking. He knew he had me.

It was worse than I thought. It was tighter than—okay, that’s two jokes I’m passing on. Even a 90-degree attachment on a power screwdriver wouldn’t fit. Her trick with the little driver was good, but these were structural screws going into wood, not sheet metal.

The Solution

The way to do the impossible is to do the impossible. If the goal is to tie to an inner joist—just do it. But how? There wasn’t room for much more than a bolt.

Maybe it was the joke I didn’t make about the tiny quarter-inch shaft. Suddenly, I knew what to do.

“Be right back.” I went out my car and came back with a namesake. They were exchanging barbs. She saw me over his shoulder.

“Wow—that’s a big-ass bolt,” she said. He turned to me, puzzled, and then his jaw dropped. He knew. I was packing 24 inches of ¾” galvanized steel—enough to go through the post, the rim joist, and through the next inner joist. The head alone was 3 inches wide.

The bright kids at Virginia Tech had figured out the loads on posts, and it got put into code: 500 lbs. My bolt had a tensile strength in the thousands of pounds.

It didn’t take long to pull the old bolt, drill the larger hole, and install the new one. I even put in blocking and bracketed the bolt to the next inner joist, just to rub it in. Picky signed the permit, spat out “Be sure to use an approved deck sealer,” and slunk away.

She turned to me, amused. “Would you care to come in and have a drink? Perhaps we can discuss my oeuvre.” She said it with a perfect French accent. There were many layers to her, and I wanted to peel them all off. Slowly.

Note: This article is written for your dining and dancing pleasure only. Want to know how to properly secure a deck post? Check out this article in DeckMagazine.com:
http://www.deckmagazine.com/design-construction/railings/code-compliant-guardrail-posts_o

If You’re Not Obsessed, You’re Not Alive

We have a dog in our lives now, Harvey, our housemate’s pet. He’s a tall black mix of bird dog, probably Irish setter, and border collie. (Happily, he got the border collie smarts and the setter’s graceful athleticism. One is reminded of the [apocryphal] story of G. B. Shaw’s reply when a beautiful woman said, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a child with your brains and my beauty?” “But what a tragedy, my dear, if the reverse were true.”)

One of Harvey’s favorite games is when Tennis Ball Fetch devolves into me chasing him around the yard. He just can’t get enough of it. It’s a good workout for me, because it involves running fast with quick changes of direction—not my usual jog. But if I played as much as he wanted me to, it’d be a full time job. He’s obsessed.

This evening we were planning dinner and trying to figure out something fun to do afterwards—maybe Lemon Drops and cribbage? A movie? I was struck by an idea: “What about tennis at Seward Park?” Suddenly, we both knew that was it. We used to love playing tennis, but somehow fell out of the habit; we hadn’t played for about eight years. It took about 15 minutes of digging in the garage for rackets, and a trip to the store for non-dog chewed balls. Dinner could wait.

The courts at Seward Park have been rebuilt since the drainage project; they sit right on the edge of Lake Washington with a view of Mt. Rainier. (In fact, I played barefoot for about 15 minutes while waiting for my shoes to dry after retrieving an errant ball from the lake.) Eagles are a frequent distraction. We were very fortunate that one of the two courts was open. In contrast to our bumbling, a couple of tennis blackbelts, a man and a woman, were zapping balls at each other like throwing stars in a martial arts movie.

We didn’t play any games, just hit the ball back and forth. At first, it was hard to get past 3 volleys without going into the net or out of bounds. Or in the lake. But, we kept improving. After about 45 minutes, Tess said, “Do you realize we’ve been grinning the whole time?” What I love is chasing down difficult balls, and occasionally getting a successful racket on them. No matter how difficult, I’ll chase it. (I think chasing Harvey helped me snag a few of them.) Much later, as the court was fully shadowed, we thought maybe we should leave soon. Okay; let’s just have a rally of six shots, then we’ll go.

Too easy. Try nine. Twelve. Fifteen. We were over twenty playable shots before we finally packed it in, sore and happy. Walking back to the car, we marveled at summer. Kids dancing to hip hop, the pungent smell of pot (it’s Seattle), families picnicking on the lawns, the chiming ice cream truck with the same songs from childhood: Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Mary Had a Little Lamb…and the variety of adults and kids lining up, Asian, Hispanic, a woman in a hijab, African American, European American, 31 flavors of American.

We pulled over on the way to Flying Squirrel Pizza to watch an eagle try to snag a fish from Andrews Bay, while another eagle hovered in position to steal it. My hands were black from the decayed tape on the racket handle, and I had to wash them in the restaurant’s bathroom before paying for the pizza.

We’ll be back. We’re obsessed.

“Life is nothing if you’re not obsessed.” –John Waters’ movie Pecker, 1998

Jacqui Naylor at Frankie’s, Vancouver BC 6.17.17

Tess and I are both fans of jazz singer Jacqui Naylor, so when we were planning a trip to Vancouver, we picked the weekend she was playing there. To say she’s a jazz singer doesn’t capture everything she does, though: she also writes original tunes that are sort of folk-rock, and with her musical and life partner Art Khu, she does something she calls “acoustic smashing”: she’ll sing the melody of one song over the groove of another, often mixing genres. For example, she’ll sing the Talking Heads’ Once in a Lifetime over Weather Report’s Birdland, or Nina Simone’s Feeling Good over Bob Marley’s I Shot the Sheriff. It works better than it has a right to; she’s the Gregor Mendel of musical hybridization.

For this concert, Ms. Naylor wore clothes. Well, she always does in concert, as far as I know; it’s just that the charming man next to us (who generously gave us a taste of his wine when we were trying to choose one) was going on about why she dressed in a certain color. Funny, I never see that much attention devoted to a male singer’s clothing. But, we also had a civil and interesting conversation with him about politics, which is apparently possible to do in Canada.

Anyway, although plagued by an elusive hum from the PA that took a few songs to eliminate, she found her groove soon enough. Her strong, expressive, wide ranging voice is always a pleasure to listen to. The most delightful song of the evening was when she sang Surrey With the Fringe on Top over Gabor Szabo’s Breezin’ (which became a hit for George Benson [which Szabo hated]). If acoustic smashing ever goes on artistic trial, this could be Exhibit A for the defense.

I think it works so well because of the geometry of the songs: Breezin’ is very horizontal, in that the notes don’t go up or down very much, and they’re also very even in length; it’s a forward-leaning, propulsive tune. Surrey, on the other hand, is quite vertical, notes going up and down, with a kind of bouncy rhythm—you can almost see the upright carriage and prancing horses, just from the music. They don’t fight for the same space. The timing of the two songs was genius: when she sang the chorus of Surrey, the quicksilver guitar riff from Breezin’ would swoop in and push it along.

However, I felt something was missing. I’d heard her in Seattle a few years ago, and I was struck by how she had different voices: there was a Rickie Lee waif, a world-wise Tracy Chapman, a tough-gal low voice, and others. One or more of them would pop into a song for a cameo, and it was like having different characters tell the story of the song. This night, it was “only” her regular Jacqui Naylor voice, which is wondrous in its own right. But getting those different points of view in one song is, to me, more interesting than acoustic smashing. I like the acoustic smashing, it’s fun, and I think says something general about the surprising shared DNA of different musics; but getting those other voices/viewpoints expands the specific emotion and world of a song.

I started wondering if I’d just imagined her “multiple voices”, because I couldn’t understand why she’d drop that, but I’m sure I didn’t. (Pretty sure, anyway—I did have an imaginary friend when I was a kid, so who knows.)

One interesting thing about Naylor was that she’d talk to fans on the break and after the show; not just “Hi how are ya,” but actual long conversations. (Maybe people she knew?) We thought about talking to her, but decided not to wait around.

Her partner Art Khu, however, was the opposite: we thanked him on the way out, and he seemed like a classic introvert: very present, but not into the schmooze. I mentioned that I thought a tune they played, “Sunshine and Rain”, would smash well with Jobim’s Agua de Berber (which I badly pronounced, and briefly mumble-sang a bar of). He nodded politely, and we said good night and walked to the door, me feeling foolish.

As I was about to step outside, he called after me: “Good point.” Musicians amaze me: in the 4 or 5 seconds it took for me to walk to the door, his mind figured out what the hell song I was talking about, extracted the relevant riff, ran it through some simulations with the other song, and decided it had enough merit to mention.

We stepped out into the cool Vancouver night and headed for the bus, full of good wine, average food, excellent music, and the pleasure of each other’s company. It doesn’t need to get much better than that.

Bumbershoot

The last time I went to Bumbershoot was back in the early 90’s with my musician friend Dave. I’ve always been a bit crowdophobic—even back then it was like wading through chunky peanut butter, and I hear it’s even worse now. But still, there were some memorable highlights.

It started out early at Memorial Stadium–so early, in fact, that the enormous 20-foot tall inflatable Miller Lite bottles flanking the stage were still only half-full, their tops flopped over. We were there for bluesman Buddy Guy, a must-see for me. I’d seen him and Junior Wells several years earlier, tearing the roof off a small club.

Okay, detour: that was in Santa Fe, I was standing in the front of the Club West crowd with my guitarist friend Tim Gagan, and at some point I couldn’t help but clap to the beat. Junior pointed at me and said, “I want y’all to do what he’s doing–soul clappin’.” I was so shocked, I stopped. He said, “No, keep it up.” So I did, and everyone else joined in. Junior listened for a minute, then said, “I don’t like the way you clap,” and launched into a kick-ass harmonica solo. Talk about not pandering to an audience (looking at you, Tony).

Anyway, when Buddy Guy took the stage, we weren’t disappointed. How good was he? Suffice it to say, by the time the set was over, the Miller Lite bottles were fully erect. (Ah, beer-filled penises: the perfect symbol of summer.) My one complaint was that even in this short 40-minute set, he still left the stage so we could kneel and plead for an encore, which, after our obligatory fellatio, he eventually deigned to provide. I guess if you get a musician up before noon, he’s going to make you pay.

One thing I like about festivals, though, is the nibbling. Nibbling at Vietnamese, Guatemalan, and Thai food; nibbling at the guitars and horns and drums, singers and dancers; salsa for the tongue, for the ears, for the feet. Even nibbling at a sour accordion (wash that one down with a beer).

Ali Farka Toure was great too, playing in the hot sun in his deep purple robe. I wondered how he could stand it, but he’s from Mali—the Seattle version of hot was probably like the dead of winter for him. (“Damn, wish I’d brought my warm robe.”) There was something regal about him, though, and he sort of presided over the show, if one can preside funkily. And the Malian percussion is wondrous—it has chops like Indian percussion, but it feels like it’s hotwired into the streetlamp of life, rather than being properly connected to an ornate temple.

The day turned into night, and we ended up at Aaron Neville’s show. Very danceable. At one point they played a medley, and I turned to Dave and said, “Isn’t this great?”

“Um, not really. I’m not into medleys—they take these tunes with their own unique identities, and compress them all into the same key and tempo.” I realized he was right, and immediately stopped enjoying myself. Don’t you love going to shows with musicians?

Near the end, I found myself dancing next to a tall woman with light brown hair. It felt timeless, as if we were big birds, maybe storks, doing a flappy ritual mating dance on some African plain. Being unattached at the time, I had hopes. But I guess I didn’t have the right moves, or pheromones, or whatever. Oh well, I thought, maybe next year.

The Music of David Bowie–Tony Vincent with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra- January 10 2017

I was hesitant about going to a tribute to David Bowie. I’ve never gone to a see a tribute band before, much less a tribute orchestra. If you’re patient, you’ll eventually see your favorite act from the past at the Emerald Queen Casino (“Live in Corset Concert!”). A bit sad when they become a tribute band to their younger selves, which the ever-restless Bowie never did.

Aside from that, there’s the troubling question of authenticity. You treasure an artist’s unique sound and vibe—would a clone be the same? Or even close? But then, how many counterfeit paintings are hanging in museums? Would it lessen your pleasure to know that you were looking at a fake? Could you tell it from the original? What if you liked the fake better? Would you have to hate yourself then?

Yet, when my friend Cubby offered me a ticket to the David Bowie retrospective at the Seattle Symphony, I decided not to overthink it (for once in my life) and just go. I trusted her taste—it probably wouldn’t be a cheesefest. And mostly, it wasn’t.

It started out oddly: it was just the guitar player shredding, unaccompanied, for a few minutes. I didn’t hear anything in his playing that related to Bowie—just kick-ass rock guitar playing. Very talented, and he would go on to play Bowie’s music perfectly, but I was mystified by the meandering solo wank. Oh well, everyone else seemed to like it.

Once the songs began, I relaxed into the music. The singer had an excellent voice for Bowie, especially the Ziggy-era songs, a little less so for the more resonant ones, like Ashes to Ashes or Changes. They wisely didn’t attempt any Blackstar era material, and stuck to the 60’s/70’s/80’s catalog. I can think of a lot of Bowie songs I’d rather hear than Fashion (like Stay), but aside from that, I had no playlist complaints.

The band was superb, and the symphony…um, they did their job very well. It was funny, some of them looked like they were serving detention after school, while some, like the clarinetists who dressed up (or down) for the occasion, seemed totally into it. We were in the very first row, and there was a mini-monitor right in front of us broadcasting just the band, so we were hearing less of the orchestra than those behind us. Still, what was great was how the orchestra filled out Bowie’s music—I felt a deeper appreciation for his songwriting–sudden swerves in the music were highlighted against the dark velvet harmony.

They missed a golden opportunity, however, with the distorted radio signal sounds at the end of Major Tom (originally done with just a guitar). They didn’t even attempt them. But can you imagine the orchestra doing that, with violins, piccolos? Sort of like the inspired symphonic fuckery in the Beatle’s A Day in the Life? Sigh.

The big fly in the ointment was the singer’s stage manner. He was fine performing the songs, but there was way too much, “Put your hands together, Seattle”, “I can’t hear you, Seattle!” “You’re awesome, Seattle! Give yourself a hand Seattle!” I haven’t heard so many “Seattle’s” since the last time I took the Underground Tour. What bugged me was that it was like being at the dreaded high school pep rally. I was a smart, lost, bisexual weirdo in high school, and David Bowie beamed down into my radio and told me I was okay. Cool, even. To hear him curated by an enthusiasm nazi was painful.

Mr. Vincent also painted himself as a bit of a Bowie scholar. His takeaway on Young Americans? “There are many interpretations of this song, but what I think he was saying is that we’re all blessed to live in this country.” Really? Cruise ship boosterism like that belongs on a floating lounge far, far out to sea.

He was at his best when he talked about his personal connection to the songs, like the wonder of being a kid and hearing “the grandiose, dark, strange” Major Tom for the first time on his dad’s car radio. The first Bowie song he’d ever heard, was also on the first colored vinyl record he’d ever seen—he didn’t know either one was a thing (back before things were “things”). Tony Vincent, you have a beautiful soul, so just be yourself, man. David gives you permission.

At the end of the evening, all quibbles aside, I loved hearing the songs. Ah, the songs, the songs. If it wasn’t David Bowie, it was at least a wonderful David Bowie bubble bath, which, after the election, is exactly what I needed to cleanse and lift my spirit. Radical self-care, as Dr. Cubby recommended, in advance of the long fight ahead.

It’s been said before: may you not rest, David, but endlessly create, in peace.

Colliding Metaphors

She was a gregarious young white woman, early 20’s, a brunette pixie out from the midwest to visit her boyfriend. She sat directly behind me, the only passenger; she asked me when we’d arrive and called her boyfriend to let him know. Then we had a lively, if not deep, conversation. At one point she stopped to take a call from a girlfriend. She started talking about her job.

Sometimes you start out on one train of thought, only to derail into another. Maybe you start to say “he blew his top,” but switch to “he had a cow.” That’s what happened to her: she was talking about a problem at her job and said, “Like, Jason, the assistant manager? He got so mad, he blew a cow.”

I held the steering wheel in a death grip. Do not laugh out loud. Do not drive into the ditch. Fortunately, because she was right behind me, she couldn’t see the war between hilarity and professionalism taking place on my face.

This was early in my shuttle career, and I chose a poor route that made us about 15 minutes late. The boyfriend seemed angry, and kept looking at me suspiciously. Good thing we weren’t near a cow pasture–who knows what might have happened?

The Difference Between the Germans and the French

Several years ago, I had a German woman riding shotgun on the van. She pointed to my coffee cup and said, “In Germany, we don’t have cup holders in our cars. We feel that drinking coffee will distract you from driving.” I thought about it and said, “That makes sense—you’re doing 180 on the Autobahn, you probably shouldn’t be sipping a latte.”

Later that year, Tess and I went to France. I was driving our rented Peugeot on the Autoroute, and we pulled over into an aire—like a rest area, but with gas and a restaurant (do not think Stuckey’s)—and went into the café after filling up. The tomato and mozzarella sandwich was delicious. I decided I wanted some coffee for the road, but the woman behind the counter didn’t have any to-go cups: she said, “You know, you really shouldn’t drink coffee and drive—the driving will distract you from the flavor of the coffee.”

Updates:

I told this story to an Italian man, and he said, “For us Italians, coffee is communal thing—a chance to get together and talk.”

Since then, someone told me the Germans now have cup holders in their cars. I’m disappointed.