Opening the Gates of Hell

On January 27, 1945 the Red Army advancing in Poland arrived in a sleepy town called Oswiecim. Next to it, they found Hell. As they crossed the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau, they saw discombobulated walking skeletons staring at them with empty eyes. Emaciated corpses were strewn everywhere. The stench of death was overwhelming. Over a million people-mostly Jews-had been murdered there. Auschwitz was the largest and deadliest of the 20,000 concentration camps built by the Germans to create a new world order free of Jews and political dissent.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which occurs on January 27, was designated by the United Nations to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. The date, which marks the day in which Auschwitz was liberated, was chosen as Auschwitz has become emblematic of the Holocaust. Of course one could ask the question of why the United Nations thought it necessary to select a new date, given that there already was another Holocaust Remembrance Day date which commemorates the revolt of the Warsaw Ghetto. But a more important question is to analyze what the meaning of the word “liberate” is in this context.

Obviously from a literal point of view the Soviet Army liberated Auschwitz, in the sense that prior to their arrival the prisoners lived and died under the German boot and after the Red Army arrived those that were still capable of surviving were freed. From this perspective it’s also valid and true to say the American Army liberated Dachau, and the British liberated Bergen Belsen. But I would argue that we need to qualify the word “liberated”, because what the Allied armies did was remove the German occupiers everywhere in their path. None of the Allied armies had as a military objective the liberation of these camps. None of them specifically sent troops in the direction of the camps with the objective of liberating the prisoners there. No, the camps just happened to be in their path. As a matter of fact, most of the Allied troops were understandably dismayed at what they found, but actually they were surprised because they didn’t even know those camps were there and what they had been used for.

But this was not the case with the top military echelons, or of the highest political figures. Indeed, a long time before the Soviets arrived in Auschwitz a detailed report of the inner workings of the extermination camp was circulated in the Vatican, in Washington and London. A little over half a year before the liberation of the camp the Germans began the deportation and extermination of Hungary’s Jews. Many Jewish organizations pleaded with the Allied authorities so that they would bomb the railroad tracks going from Hungary to Auschwitz, and even the gas chambers. Churchill ordered his military to look into that very possibility, but was told that the railroad tracks and Auschwitz were outside the range of British bombers. The American Air Force gave similar excuses.

But the reality is that both the railroads and Auschwitz were indeed within range of American bombers. As a matter of fact, the Americans had already photographed Auschwitz from the air and conducted several bombing raids of the German industrial facilities surrounding Auschwitz-Birkenau. Stray bombs actually fell in Birkenau. So, the American Air Force definitely had the capability of severely hampering the German deportation efforts from Hungary and even of destroying the gas chambers, thus severely hampering the German extermination effort. But saving Jews was not an Allied military objective, and neither the railroad tracks nor the gas chambers were bombed. As the American Air Force dithered, over 10,000 human lives were consumed in the flames of Auschwitz every day.

These facts should give us pause when we consider the meaning of the “liberation” of the concentration and death camps.

As the world commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27th, it’s also important to understand, and remember, what drove the Germans and their helpers in the various countries they invaded to perpetrate the Holocaust.

In Nazi Germany, the ancient hatred toward Jews had evolved into something secular and pseudo-scientific. This was something the post-Enlightenment, highly cultured German people could accept as a replacement for the ancient Christian anti-Judaism of their ancestors. By the time Hitler came to power German antisemitism was firmly grounded on the notions that Jews were racially inferior and for being a threat to Christian Germans and everything that was good. Ultimately, any message of hatred that conformed to the conception of Jews established by almost two thousand years of certain Christian teachings made sense and was acceptable.

Elsewhere in Europe, particularly in the East where the genocide took place and where the Germans found no shortage of auxiliaries for the genocidal duties that took place there, the situation was different. None of the locals who willfully collaborated in the execution of the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” had been brainwashed by Nazi racial propaganda. In those countries the locals hated Jews for the same reasons other Europeans had hated Jews for centuries: for killing Jesus, for desecrating the Host, for poisoning wells, for bringing about the Black Plague, for killing young Christian boys to extract their blood to make Passover bread, for being minions of the Devil, for being greedy money-lenders, and any number of other baseless accusations.

But it’s not enough to understand and remember what the motivation of the perpetrators was, because the perpetrators would have been unable to execute their monstrous deeds if it hadn’t been for the fact that the majority of the populations of the world had the choice of acting to stop the genocide and chose not to. Even though it’s true that some chose to remain as silent bystanders out of fear of the Germans, many overcame the fear and acted to save people. We do not know with certainty why the American military authorities chose not to bomb Auschwitz, but we do know that many in the military establishment and the State Department were antisemitic and felt no compassion as millions of Jews were mercilessly slaughtered.

So, now that the world is paying attention to the consequences of this hatred when looking-in through the old electrified fence at Auschwitz-Birkenau, we should not forget where antisemitism came from, and recognize that despite the great progress in Jewish-Christian relations made since the Second Vatican Council, more work needs to be done.

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Warehouse Artist Studios

An artist/bohemian type working for themselves is perceived in a variety of ways by the general public. A lot of the perception has to do with a combination of the artist’s cashflow and apparel strategy, as opposed to the stirrings of their soul. Strangely, as a young man, people often saw me as a responsible, solid guy. Ha!

In the early eighties I ran my screen printing operation out of a funky old warehouse by the railroad tracks in Eugene, Oregon. Enormous pastry and coffee in hand, I’d get to my shop a bit past nine and dig in for the day. Usually I’d run out of work between 1:00 and 3:00 pm, leaving the rest of the day to run, draw comics and hang out.

Being that the economy had had the shit kicked out of it just then, I was moderately proud that I’d been able to scape up enough business to keep a roof over my head… ultimately I turned enough of a profit to embark on my checkered career publishing my own wacky comic books, but that’s not the subject of this rant.

Warehouse Artists Studios was the literal name of the co-op warehouse wherein I rented space. The studio took up the second floor of a truly dilapidated old funkster warehouse that had most recently been used to store spices. Add to that the gay girls who lived illegally in the space next to mine, burning patchouli oil night and day. This place had a certain bouquet!

I’d been printing T-Shirt jobs out of my flat, and it was getting a bit ridiculous. At an opening in a local gallery, I saw a flyer for “Warehouse Artist Studios”, a 5000 square foot space that magically divided up the floor into 170 square foot units that rented for forty bucks a month. I went down the next day and rented two adjacent spaces, which apparently I’d be paying $75 or $80 a month for. A slight, nervous man named Lynn rented my space to me. He was the manager, he had a chair upholstering business in the studio. Straight away, I could see ‘ol Lynn was a duck seriously out of water.

This impression was dramatically confirmed like three days later when Lynn informed me that the Warehouse was failing economically, and that he was resigning as manager. He handed me the studio ledger and checkbook saying “you seem like an astute fellow, why don’t you manage this dump?”.

I was rather taken aback at this, but sure enough at the next meeting of the co-op, the members all but begged me to save their studio. I had my serious doubts, but figured there wasn’t much to lose, so why not? It wasn’t lost on me either that as manager my rent for my 340 square foot space dipped to $35.00 per month!

The co-op had about 12 members. We were several hundred dollars in the hole. We could pay rent, but couldn’t pay the heating bill. We were required to carry basic liability insurance, which had gone unpaid and lapsed, for starters. I sat down and did a bit of math. I figured if we raised the rent on the basic space about $10.00 a month for five months, and attracted a couple new members, we’d squeak by and could continue renting the dump.

The measure passed at the next meeting. At least with the eight or nine people who decided to stick it out, as a couple members dropped out with the news of the temporary rent increase; we did indeed need to attract new members straight away. We papered the town with flyers for the warehouse, and got free listings in any newspaper we could. Miraculously, the plan worked. We lowered the basic rent back to $40.00 per month ahead of schedule and got an infusion of fresh blood. I can’t take too much credit for it, as the place snapped to with an esprit de corps I’ve rarely encountered… I’d say it was goddamn grassroots socialism is action, almost.

Now here comes the fun part, the personalities that made the place click, the swashbucklers, crackpots, con men, assholes, and outright brilliant geniuses I encountered in my stint at Warehouse Artist Studios. First comes a woman named Kathy Caprario. She was a dramatic beauty from New York of Italian descent, the best known painter in Eugene, an “older woman” to me of maybe 33-35 years (I was all of 24 at the time). Kathy is the person who was singlehandedly most responsible for the survival of Warehouse Artist Studios at the time of the financial crises. To say she was resourceful and a bit of an aggressive shark is an understatement. For starters, she marched me down to see the owner of the owner of the building when the lease came up. The guy was a real estate money grubbing slum lord type, who claimed an artistic background. Right. Our rent was $650.00 per month. Kathy figured that Jeff, the slum lord, was lucky that anyone at all was renting this dump in a crappy ecomomy. She advises me to offer the guy $450.00 per month. No problem! It was an invaluable early lesson in having brass balls.

So we’re in this real estate lizard’s office, and I make the rent offer. Jeff, the lizard in question, completely ignores me and starts this serious, near lecherous flirt with Kathy. She plays this guy like a fiddle, and we walk out of there with a lease for the next year of $550.00 per month, a hundred bucks per month rent reduction. Yes folks, in 1982 in Eugene, you could rent a 5000 square foot studio for that low price. I should mention too, the year after that, Kathy had moved on to a private studio space, but I’d learned well and got that damn rent down to $475.00 per month!

Kathy also had us apply for City of Eugene room tax grants. Turns out there was actual civic support for the arts afoot! We hastily threw together grant applications to run a gallery in our common space, such as it was, and to offer figure drawing sessions to the public. Given the level of initial interest in these projects, we all saw it as a way to get the city to help pay our rent with minimal execution of said projects.

But who knew! The figure drawing sessions maintained a core of attendance for a couple years. The gallery stared off as nothing–an unrented space was hung with art. But before long, a 22 year old painter of promise named Mike Perkin rented a space and started doing some pretty cool work in his cubicle. He tried his best to ape Francis Bacon, but the works looked a bit like Francis was a werewolf Mexican wrestler or something.

When it came Mike’s turn to show his work, he turned a critical eye at the tiny room where I asked him to hang his paintings. He asked me if I had the studio checkbook. What do you have in mind, Mike? He directed me to the Eugene Planing Mill, a massive lumber yard across the street from us. “Let’s stud up couple walls so I can hang my big paintings”. Outragous! Here’s this wild kid, plays the same tapes over and over (Scarey Monsters by Bowie, anything by Lou Reed) and yells at his paintings. At the drop of a hat, we get some lumber and flail away for a couple hours with hammers. Before you know it, instant gallery! We build some pretty decent walls in a jiffy (other studio members drifted in a pitched in) and whitewashed them.

Mike’s paintings for that show were terrific. They were done in ruddy reds, earthtones and orangey yellows, with wood and burlap assemblage fastened to the canvases. The average size was maybe 3′ across by almost 5′ tall. My favorite was called “The Inside of Lou Reed’s Stomach”. If I wasn’t blowing every cent on publishing comic books, I woulda bought it. The opening was a revelation. Mike’s family showed up, and they were the most amazing bunch of open minded art, theatre, film and literature lovers you could imagine. A lotta beer went down. I remember late at night, Mike’s mom was wrestling on the studio floor with one of her four sons. From there on in, our little gallery stood a few decent shows, and even better parties. And through it all, the city kept the checks coming!

Keith the retired Air Force colonel is next in our cast of characters. Bald, prim, post heart attack, gentle former Texan Keith. A late life painter, an ultra practical man. Ruled by logic on the outside, soft as a grape inside, he had a good heart even if it was failing him, he did his share to keep the warehouse afloat. He painted small landscapes that revealed a luminous take on Oregon’s rainy colors. Nothin’ amazing, but nice. Fluid, painterly, sea foam light permeating the canvas with a bit of warm ochre and alizarin crimson, tacking it to the surface of the earth.

Keith enjoyed regaling the Warehouse crew over beers with stories of flying B-52’s through mushroom clouds after bomb tests in the Pacific, back in the day. Knowing that I was involved in the anti-nuke movement of the day, he teased me “I did H-Bomb tests all day long, and I’m not glowing yet”.

Although he had a son who was around forty, Keith took a fatherly interest in me, and used to take me to lunch in his enormous four door GM pickup truck (with one of those worthless diesel engines they tried to manufacture for a couple years). He’d take us to the local Lions clubhouse. The food sucked. He’d insist we have a beer with lunch, which I didn’t like as I usually would go for a run later in the day. Hell Steve, have a beer, indulge the old boy! Unbidden, he told me his life story. Before retirement, had risen as an assistant to one of the joint chiefs of staff. After retiring from the military, he’d been a ROTC instructor on the University of Oregon campus in the sixties. He’d have run ins with various rag-tag groups of pseudo Maoist college kids. Then one summer, Keith and his wife were vacationing in the Cascade mountains east of Eugene. Hiking in the foothills, they came upon an encampment where some of these same youths were enacting a military training drill with assault rifles! They were indeed serious about the revolution bit. After a tense momentary face off with no word exchanged, Keith and his wife turned on their heel and hiked out. “I felt like I had a target on my back”, he said, adding that he never saw those kids again.

There was another older painter at the studio, one Nick Nickolds. He was maybe 60-65 at the time. He was the real deal, a life long bohemian, painter and philosopher dedicated to the pursuit of his art. He’d been an orphan from Denver who lived the middle decades of his life in Mexico. Nick scored the studio to the right at the top of the stairs. It was the best studio there, as it had a separate private entrance.

Nick Nickolds painted in a style that at once reminded me of William Blake and Titian. His color was rich, saturated and full of light, yet he built up layers of delicate glazes that gave body and air to his figures. He was painting the figure, faces, and the natural world, yet it was semi abstract. It was as if Blake had decided to lapse into abstraction and gotten about 73% there before deciding he still had to have a face here, an eye or a breast there.

This work was technically masterful and evoked images and emotion like a skeleton key. It alluded to everything while putting it’s finger on nothing, like a Robert Hunter lyric. Nick was so consistently true, dignified and full of heart that you had to love him. He was a slightly rotund, dapper little man with ample sparkle in his eye.

Once, Nick showed me a vial full of crystalline dust, claiming that it was a sort of emulsified, crystal LSD. He stuck a pin in it, putting a minuscule amount on the head of the pin. “That’s enough”, he said. He claimed he’d had the vial for years, had been in San Francisco in the sixties with it (it was full back then). He asserted he’d provided hundreds and hundreds of trips from his little vial. Today, I almost wonder if I made that part of the story up! It just sounds too good to be true.

Nick was a guy who was always fascinating, who revealed himself to me a little bit at a time as we became friends. He approved of my comic books, and my attempts to explain the nature of reality, time, the singularity of the eternal now in cartoon form, and all that jazz. Nick told me I was on the right track as an artist. “All you have to do is be careful about the beer”, he advised me, and boy was he right, as I developed enough of a drinking habit that I ultimately had to stop altogether for my own good. Nick eventually moved back into what he considered the morass of Marin County, as he had money connections down in California. I never saw him again, don’t know if he’s still around or not. I often reflect on what Nick taught me about maintaining integrity as an artist, and about having respect for every human being regardless of anything. I consider it immense good fortune to have known Nick and been his friend, albeit for only a couple of years.

P.S. Nick is indeed still around, at http://www.nicknickolds.com

Freak Magnet!

If you manage to set yourself up as a successful Boho freelancer/self employed artist, you will attract an amazing array of people from all walks of life to bask in your glory. Say what? Take my word for it, people will be attracted to your good thang, offering everything from sublime lessons in human dignity, to blatantly vampiric attempts to hi-jack your time and energy.

With a bit of practice, it becomes easy to recognize the latter–within minutes of meeting the vampiric leach, they attempt to wrangle the discourse to a place where you are somehow in the position of owing them something; most often a deep discount on your product or service. You’ll see a red flag, and you will get rid of them asap. Try adding a 50% “asshole fee” to your usual rate. When they get ugly, be sweet as pie but stick to your guns. And remember, you don’t owe them a thing.

The other sort, offering the sublime lesson, a peek into the bottomless well of the beauty of the human spirit, can be a real pleasure. They will probably try your patience a bit too, but it’s worth it. My rule of thumb is to attempt to offer the same basic respect to any person I come across in the course of my business. Easier said than done, but something to aim for.

As a self employed freak magnet, it’s been my great pleasure to encounter quite an array of swashbucklers. How about the charismatic actor who financed his theater company (and his t-shirts) with a successful drug dealing operation? He did quite well with it, but I guess his success was tempered by the little fact that he was a junkie…

One of my favorite encounters with an unusual person came early in my “career”, when I maintained a screen printing operation at Warehouse Artist Studios in Eugene, Oregon in the early ’80s. One fine rainy morning, when nothing much was going on, a slightly bellicose balding guy named Abner Burnett stepped through the door and asked how much I would charge to print one t-shirt. Sorry, minimum order is two dozen. OK, how much for two dozen?

Abner ends up ordering something like 2 shirts. He understands that the economies of scale are not working for him, that with set up charges, these will be very expensive shirts, but he doesn’t seem to mind. I wish I could remember what the design was–it may have had something to do with his beloved Chevy Vega (those were great cars, right up there with the Ford Pinto!). As Abner cuts me a downpayment check, he notes that he lives off a trust fund, and is bored, and is really glad he met me. Great.

When will the shirts be done? I can print them on Tuesday, I’ll call you when they are done.

Arriving at the warehouse on Tuesday morning, I am less than thrilled to find Abner at the door waiting for me with a curious half smile on his face. This is the first time I think, “axe murderer”. Turns out Abner wants to watch me print his shirts. He wants to learn about screen printing. Usually, it unnerves me to have a customer watch a production run, but hey, it’s only two shirts. And, Abner said he wants to learn about screen printing. He said the magic words. I love teaching people how to screen print. I figure it’s like teaching a poor man to fish. Or, it’s like giving someone a lesson in a tool that can be used to exercise your first amendment rights. So I am into it.

As I set up and print his job, Abner opines, “Mr. Lafler, I can tell that you are independently wealthy”. I bark out such a hearty laugh that I almost botch a print. “What makes you say that, Abner?”

“Well, you just leisurely hang out at your studio every day, doing just what you want.”

The fact is, Mr. Burnett, I am here in the studio to try to scrape together a couple bucks, with which to buy some burritos, beer and a can of food for Ed, my cat. If I make some extra cash, maybe I’ll publish a comic book or two, but independently wealthy? Ha!

Abner pays for his shirts, and he’s gone. I enjoyed the encounter, but I also was happy that it’s over. Or so I thought. Abner started showing up at my studio almost daily, to “learn screen printing”. He would stand there, half glassy eyed, issuing a series of loosely related comments that weren’t quite non sequiturs. One day I tried to leave, just to shake him. “Where you going?”, Abner wants to know. “I’m going to get some screen printing supplies”, I say. Abner wants to drive. Oh hell, why not? I don’t have a car.

Although I didn’t exactly like Abner, I was just a bit fascinated by him. What the hell was he up to? What was his story? He kinda gave me the creeps, but he exuded a thickly benign sense of serenity.

The jig was up one day when he came in, affable yet strangely agitated at the same time. What’s up, Abner? “Mr. Lafler, I’m a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, and I didn’t take my medication today”.

Okay. That explained a lot. Abner came around a few more times, then I guess he lost interest. As mentioned, he made me rather nervous, yet I was curious enough about him to indulge his presence. I like to think he was just another manifestation of Buddha nature, come to teach me a lesson, or something like that.

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Erico Verissimo – Prodigious Brazilian Storyteller

Erico Verissimo, the son of a pharmaceutical business owner, was born in 1905, in Cruz Alta, South Brazil, of Portuguese ancestry. In the past, his family was prosperous, but at the time of his birth their economic situation was growing difficult. His father was a bon vivant who spent money carelessly.

At the age of 15 he attended the Cruzeiro do Sul High School in Porto Alegre, a Protestant establishment, but he returned to Cruz Alta without graduation. In 1922 his parents separated and he stayed with his mother. In his hometown, he worked in a series of jobs until he finally went to Porto Alegre in 1930 to become a writer. The combination of that family trauma and the later lonely death of his father in São Paulo were to haunt him for the rest of his life.

Ranked beside Jorge Amado, Erico Verissimo is one of the most popular writers of Brazil. He attended the literary circle of the writers of the 30s in Porto Alegre. And beside Dyonelio Machado, with whom he shared a literary prize in 1935, he created the modern urban fiction of South Brazil. Because of his clarity and exactness, his prose is a joy to read. It is well known that Verissimo used to call himself a storyteller. But, in fact, he was a genuine novelist and his stories reflect his remarkable versatility, his penetrating insight into character, his brilliance in describing a scene, his talent for probing into the concealed fears and desires of ordinary people. Obviously, he loved his characters, not for any virtues they may possess, but just as they are.

In 1929, Erico Verissimo began to contribute short stories to journals and magazines. His first story, “Ladrao de Gado” (“Cattle Thief“), appeared in the Revista do Globo in 1929 and his first novel, Clarissa, was published in 1933. In addition to many short stories, children books, autobiography and travel he wrote some thirty novels. Clarissa is an impressionistic portrayal of the life of a naive young girl with prose-poem passages. His second novel, Caminhos Cruzados (Crossroads), was published in 1935. His third novel, Musica ao Longe, a sequel to his first novel, won his the Machado de Assis Prize in 1935.

Erico Verissimo was presented for the first time in the English language in 1943, when his second novel was translated by L.C. Kaplan and published by Macmillan in New York. Crossroads is often taken to represent the author’s condemnation of the hypocrisy of the little bourgeois. More importantly, it is representative of Verissimo’s narrative art, it is made up of little stories lived by characters with diverse social backgrounds, thus creating a narrative that does not follow a linear sequence. So the story does not have a central nucleus.

This technique of fragmentation points to the general question of influence on Verissimo’s fiction, and beyond that to the wider issue of its place in the development of Brazilian modernism. The debt to Aldous Huxley and John Dos Passos was fully evident and in his memories Verissimo admitted the influence of Huxley’s counterpoint technique. In an article written for the literary supplement of the New York Times in 1943, book reviewer William Dubois commented that Erico Verissimo had an “electric” style. Note that Verissimo himself translated in 1934 Huxley’s novel Point Counter Point (1928) to Portuguese. A second point to be made is that another important skill that our author inherited from English tradition was how to handle the passage of time in fiction. But, it seems to me that the really important influence exists at a profounder level of composition.

On the other hand, critics agree that the primary influence at the first stage of his career were Francis James and Katherine Mansfield. Notice that he was translator of Edgar Wallace, James Hilton, John Steinbeck, Robert Nathan, Katherine Mansfield, W. Somerset Maugham, among others. Of these, he had no doubt that Maugham was a supreme storyteller master. Surely English literature will be a constant reference in Verissimo’s work. During the period he lived in the United States he had the pleasure to meet some of his idols: Thornton Wilder, Pearl S. Buck, W. Somerset Maugham, John Dos Passos, and Aldous Huxley. At the same time, Verissimo was fluent in French and in 1949 he had the honor to make a welcome speech to novelist Albert Camus in Porto Alegre. Perhaps because he disliked the experiments with language of the modern French novel, his attention was caught by the structural innovations of the English novelists.

Olhai os Lírios do Campo (Consider the Lilies of the Field, Macmillan, 1948), Verissimo’s first success, appeared in 1938. The main characters are two physicians. A physician dedicated to social issues, Olivia, falls in love with her colleague, Eugenio. He had a poor background and was in search of an easy fortune. Being so eager for social recognition, he turns his back to Olivia and decides to marry a rich woman. But ultimately Eugenio and Olivia become lovers and have a daughter. The turning-point for Eugenio occurs when Olivia is on her deathbed. One of the more obvious advances between Consider the Lilies and the earlier fiction is in the sparing and more pointed use of dialogue. Now the free indirect discourse is used to describe the unspoken thoughts of characters without resorting to conventional dialogue. Besides, the flashbacks are highlighted by italics to help the reader to understand the passage of time.

In fact, the novel is of great pathos and sometimes indulgent sentimentality which appealed hugely to its readership and was instrumental in building Verissimo’s great popularity. However, it has to be admitted that the novel is also characteristic of Verissimo’s realism. The story is set in the shadow of the Revolution of 1930. And there are even some critical remarks on the political program of Getulio Vargas, the Brazilian dictator. Since his second and fourth novel touched some social delicate issues Verissimo fell under the suspicion of communism deceiving the public into the belief that his books were immoral.

What attracted him most immediately were the search for liberty and the inner states of feeling of his characters. Traditionally the critic divides Verissimo’s fiction in three levels: a) the chronicle of the cities and of the bourgeois; b) the historical revision; and c) the world society. The middle phase takes his art into an entirely new dimension.

At the same time, it is important to recognize that, like the postmodernist writers, Verissimo’s works demonstrate knowledge of his own fictionality. Verissimo continues to show his creativity throughout the remainder of his life and eventually alters his trajectory when he realizes that his most important task was to recreate the history of his native state, Rio Grande do Sul. Surely the writing of O Tempo e o Vento (Time and the Wind, Macmillan, 1951) was a turning point in his career. The story consists in three parts and is Verissimo’s magnum opus. The composition and publication of the complete saga were realized during the years 1947-1962. The story was translated to English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Dutch.

In 1954 appeared Noite (Night, Macmillan, 1956). People did not expect Erico Verissimo to write a dark novel. But we need to recall that throughout his life he was an avid reader of mysteries. The novel takes the reader into a claustrophobic world where the amnesic main character, “the Stranger”, is looking for his identity. His companions through a dreadful night are a cynic pimp and a psychopath dwarf, the two night birds he met up in a sordid pub, a low café along the docks. And the Night along the City are always there oppressing the Stranger. Despite being a narrative about loneliness there is plenty of humour in Night.

Now it is necessary to look at the books in which Verissimo reveals his political thought. That is the theme from O Senhor Embaixador (His Excellency the Ambassador, Macmillan, 1967), published in 1965, and O Prisioneiro, published in 1967. These novels must be seen as a development of Verissimo’s ideas about imperialism. Of course, the international scene pervades the last literary phase of our author.

His Excellency the Ambassador is set in the imaginary Central American republic of Sacramento and in Washington D.C. The novel shows the conflicts of an artist, Pablo Ortega, during the period in which he is working in Washington with the Latin ambassador who represents the dictatorship. Pablo Ortega is trying very hard to decide if he should support a communist revolution in Sacramento. Finally, in O Prisioneiro Verissimo takes us to the conflict of Vietnam and explores the moral conflict faced by a black Lieutenant who apparently must torture a Vietcong prisoner.

Verissimo’s works seem to offer us many ways of manipulate conflicts and enjoy life. Open to infinite possibilities of reading, his fiction has finally achieved its recognition. Erico Verissimo died of a heart attack in 1975.

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Amazing Stamp Collecting In America

Stamp research is called Philately. Many Americans become drawn to this large field of research. This attraction with stamps and all of the history concerning them has started a hobby connected to philately, which is stamp collecting.

Normally, stamp collecting starts by acquiring a few stamps and choosing a certain type of stamp that the collector will pay attention to. Stamps can be acquired for the collection either through the postal office, private letters, dealers of stamps, making a trade with fellow collectors of high quality and rare stamps in whatever type that is chosen.

Although, the philatelic hobby might appear to be hard or vague, it really is not. It is not an uncommon idea to study and collect stamps. There are over 100 countries throughout the world that have a group of people called philatelists (people that study stamps).

In the year 1886, numerous philatelists joined together in America and formed the American Philatelic Society(APS). It has been over a century now, the APS gives its members not only a way to get together with other enthusiasts, but also provide many programs and information to help in the pleasure and enrichment of the collecting experience. Over a long time, many people have helped APS by donating, selling different publications, and collecting dues of members. The group of people in APS is large and may not be overlooked. In America, there are over 44,000 philatelists members of APS officially. There are a large number of people getting involved but have yet to discover APS. This great amount of people is validated by the fact that many states have conventions in the area for people excited about Philately. There is another philatelic association in America with many experts and that is the Philatelic Foundation.

There is a large variety of collections that are available. Many have postage stamps which came from different countries (mainly those of age).These include stationery postage, revenue stamps, and first day cover stamps.

However, there is one category that stands out in the USA. These are Federal Duck stamps, which duck hunters need. The purpose of these is to conserve the environment and help the ducks. A popular conservationist by the name of Ding Darling created the first Federal Duck stamp in 1934. After a while it became a tradition and many wildlife artists competed. The winner of the competition had his or her design picked to be on the new Federal Duck stamp for the year. That person gained a good reputation and was held in high regard for winning the competition. The American government works with local state agencies and the Department of Interior to manage the sale of Federal Duck Stamps. The sales of the stamps produces a large enough revenue that new wetlands can be acquired which help to preserve and protect the ducks.

First-day covers (FDCs), which many stamp collectors are finding more interesting, are stamped envelopes that are terminated on the same day the stamps were released. Some of the FDCs that were designed later will bear the motif of a special stamp’s issue, also called a cachet. In 1923, George W. Linn a famous philatelist cacheted the first FDC for the Harding Memorial stamp issue. Many people consider cachetmaking an art form today and is accomplished by different means. These ways include lithography, drawing straight on the envelope, using laser printer, and block printing. There are several cachetmaking companies like Colorano, House of Farnam, and Artcraft that make a large amount of the cacheted stamps in America.

Stamp collecting in the U.S. was not always easy to follow. During the 1920s, the U.S. stamp values were much higher. This motivated countless Americans to acquire large quantities of U.S. stamp issues in mint condition and hoping to sell them much later for a profit. Since there was an abundance available in the market, they are priced only a little more than their original face value.

The trend of stamp collecting and philately in America may increase in the coming years. Email and internet use has many critics saying that philately interests will go down. Many people still need stamps and demand is continuing as stamp designs change frequently. The world of philately will continue to be an exciting place.

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Seeking ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’

Milly (Jane Powell): Well, it wouldn't hurt you to learn some manners, too.

Adam (Howard Keel): What do I need manners for? I already got me a wife.

I think I must have seen "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" on TV when I was small. It is just the kind of movie that my grandmother loved, and it is not a reach for me to imagine her watching it with my mother.

I have no distinct memory of that, and I could be wrong. But some of the shots – and the music that goes with them – are so familiar, it is as if, whenever I watch it, the movie is tapping on some mostly forgotten memory buried deep in my brain.

It's more than that, I suppose. The images of 19th-century Oregon in that movie match my mental picture of the Old West. But, for some reason, my picture of a pioneer woman isn't of Jane Powell. It is of Debbie Reynolds. Strange. Perhaps I am confusing "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," which premiered on July 22, 1954, with "How the West Was Won" in my mind?

Maybe someday I will remember – and it will all seem so obvious to me, as things often do in hindsight, why it has been lodged in my brain all these years. What was it, I would like to know, about "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" that stood out for me? Was it the music?

Actually, none of the music in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" struck me as exceptional. None of the songs made the American Film Institute's list of the Top 100 movie songs of all time. The movie received five Oscar nominations; not one was for Best Song.

Yet AFI did rank the movie #21 among movie musicals.

Why?

People who know more about movie musicals than I do have told me "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" is perhaps the best of MGM's musicals from the 1950s.

That is quite a claim, considering that MGM was synonymous with musical excellence, especially in the '50s with movies like "An American in Paris" and "Singin' in the Rain" earlier in the decade. "The Band Wagon," considered a classic today but hardly a blockbuster when it was at the theaters, came out a year before "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."

It was a time when television was keeping more and more people away from the theaters. MGM released what is regarded as its last great musical, "Gigi," in 1958. The genre sputtered along through the '60s and '70s – fueled by other studios – and seemed to reach its zenith when "Chicago" won Best Picture in 2003.

The entertainment landscape was already shifting when audiences watched Powell and Howard Keel sing and dance in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."

The movie musical wasn't dead – but it was moving in that direction. To remain viable in the years ahead, musicals would have to be even more lavish, more outlandish. They would have to have a few tricks up their sleeves.

One trick was color. Color television was available in 1954 – but it was still new and very expensive. It was a real status symbol to own a color TV in those days.

Routine color programming of TV series was still more than a decade away. Meanwhile, more movies were being made in color.

To emphasize the color – and to differentiate between them – the seven brothers of the title wore differently colored shirts.

I have to concede that Keel and Powell were a good match on the screen, even if their relationship was a little odd. They met when Keel, the oldest of the seven brothers, came to town for supplies – and "get a wife" was on his to-do list.

Inexplicably, he did find a bride (Powell) and took her back to his rural home, which he shared with his six brothers. Powell not only met his brothers for the first time, she learned of their existence at the same time. And it became her mission to clean them up and make them presentable to court brides of their own.

Her character was also a bit of a feminist for that time. She resisted the idea that a wife was only good for cooking and cleaning.

And the dancing in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" was extraordinary – better than most, in my opinion. I suppose much of that was due to the fact that about half of the brothers were played by professional dancers. That paid some nice dividends in the barn-raising scene, which still has some of the most astonishingly athletic dance moves I have ever seen on film.

Unfortunately, co-star Julie Newmar, who did have professional dance training, was paired with one of the brothers who did not. Consequently, her character and her beau could be seen off to the side during some of the dance numbers. Her only dancing came with the other bride wannabes.

She went on to a certain amount of fame a decade later as the villain Catwoman on TV's Batman.

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The Wood Shaper

The wood shaper is a very useful machine, whether you have a garage woodshop or a commercial shop. Shaping wood is a rather easy process, once you have the right equipment, and some knowledge of how they work. Almost all woodworkers have used a router table at some point. The shaper is pretty much just a larger version, with more power, and the ability to handle much larger cutters, such as those used for raised panels or crown moldings. The variety of cutters is also much greater that those for routers. (plus you can still use all your router bits with them).

Shapers range in size and are identified by the horse power of the motor, and the diameter of the spindle. From less than one H.P. for bench top shapers, which I think if that’s what you need, you might as well stick with a router table. They increase in size to 2 H.P., 3 H.P., 5 H.P. and larger for industrial purposes. The shafts, or spindles are threaded on the end and range in size from 1/2″ to 1 1/4″. Many machines come with a couple sizes of spindles, as well as having router collets to allow router bits to be used in it.

These machines are much quieter than a router, due mainly to the fact their belt driven, and turn much slower than a router. Generally, the shaper cuter is turning between 7,000 – 10,000 R.P.M.’s, changed by relocating the belts on the stepped pulley system, much like a drill press, whereas a router will turn at between 20,000 and 25,000 R.P.M.’s, and are direct drive. It’s easy to understand the difference in noise levels, and the pitch of the noise. Instead of a high pitched whine of a router, it’s a quiet hum of a quality motor. (hopefully).

Shapers are also able to run in reverse, which is necessary in performing some cuts. It is very important to always check the position of the directional switch, particularly if you work with others. Feeding a board into a shaper that is turning the wrong direction could result in the board leaving the machine like a missile. It could be FATAL if the board were to hit somebody.

The shaper is considered to be the most dangerous machine in the shop, but with proper precautions and careful set-up it doesn’t need to be feared. There are several safety precautions you can, and should use. First thing would be use the plastic guard supplied with the shaper. It has a bearing in the center of it which allows it to spin freely, and is installed above the cutter. This alone would stop many of the injuries attributed to the shaper.

Jigs and fixtures are also a big help in reducing injury, and generally result in better cuts. The time spent to make them is well worth the effort. A very small device, but important one is the starter pin supplied with the machines. This is simply a metal rod, threaded on one end which screws into a hole located a few inches away from the cutter. Holding the work piece against the starter pin, and then feeding it into the cutter is the proper way to start a freehand cut.

Probably the best and also most expensive safety device would be a power feeder. As the name suggests, the power feeder is an attachment that feeds the workpiece past the cutter at a steady speed. While these were probably not designed as a safety feature, they certainly are. The benefits to using a power feeder, in addition to keeping your hands far from the cutters, (as if that weren’t enough), is the fact it will hold both down and in towards the fence with a great deal of force, while feeding the board steadily past the cutter. Both of these details are critical to nice smooth burn free shaping.

Instead of trying to shape narrow pieces, shape wide pieces and then rip them. Use a miter gauge, on end grain with a backer board to prevent tearout as the board leaves the cutter. On panels, such as raised panels for doors, shape the end grain first and then the edges parallel to the grain. This way any tear out on the end grain will be shaped off when you shape the edges. Make several shallow cuts instead of trying to make large moldings in one pass.

With some caution, careful planing, and common sense, injuries from this machine can be avoided. As always, if it doesn’t seem safe, DON’T DO IT.

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Think and Grow Rich Review

Think and Grow Rich should be required reading for all entrepreneurs. Although it was originally published in 1937, a quick reread shows that its philosophy has stood the test of time. The content of this book is just as relevant today as it was when it was published near the end of the Great Depression. “Think and Grow Rich” was inspired by Andrew Carnegie, one of the wealthiest individuals in the world at the time, who disclosed his formula of personal success to Napoleon Hill. Hill went on to interview more than 500 very wealthy men do discover their personal secrets and philosophies of success. From his research, Hill went on to identify the similarities in the philosophies of these magnates and assemble the ultimate “what-to-do” and “how-to-do-it” manual for personal achievement.

The book is not only for those who want to achieve financial success, but for anyone who needs a breakthrough in order to achieve a personal accomplishment, whether it is financial, technical, physical, mental, emotional, or even habitual. One of my favorite passages of “Think and Grow Rich”, that I immediately committed to memory upon reading, is taken from the second chapter entitled “Desire, The Starting Point of All Achievement, The First Step Toward Riches” Hill states, “Every human who reaches the age of understanding of the purpose of money wishes for it. Wishing will not bring riches. But desiring riches, with a state of mind that becomes an obsession, then planning definite ways and means to acquire riches, and backing those plans with persistence which does not recognize failure, will bring riches.” Hill then goes on to list the six ways to turn desires into gold. It was at that point that I was immediately hooked, not only because of his writing style, but because every chapter was teeming with lists and how-to’s on various topics of achievement and success.

This is not to say that Think and Grow Rich is simply a book of lists. On the contrary, the lists are usually generalized summaries of the preceding passages, and they typically paraphrase and present the moral or lesson of the story of an individual or group who was able to accomplish a seemingly impossible task by 1) taking control of their mindset, 2) creating a definite plan, 3) persisting until success, and 4) not accepting failure as an option. As an example, in the chapter on Desire, before presenting the six ways to turn desire into gold (or more symbolically, riches) Hill tells the story of Edwin C. Barnes. Barnes was a man who at one point in his life would be considered a tramp by any reasonable person’s standards, yet through a burning desire and definite plan, created a partnership with Thomas Edison five years after deciding that was his goal.

As he revealed how he accomplished this feat he stated, “There is but one thing in this world that I am determined to have, and that is a business association with Thomas A. Edison. I will burn all bridges behind me, and stake my entire future on my ability to get what I want.” It was through this dogged determination he went from a man who a) did not personally know Thomas Edison and b) did not have enough money to pay railroad fare to Orange, New Jersey, to a partner of Edison’s as the chief distributor and marketer of the Edison Dictating Machine, which was a new office device Edison had recently perfected. Think and Grow Rich is the result of over 20 years of research by Napoleon Hill, who studied and interviewed over 500 of the wealthiest individuals in the world in order to learn their secrets to obtaining financial success. The list of subjects reads like a Who’s Who of the Industrial Revolution and Political Landscape of the early twentieth century.

Those that have read “Think and Grow Rich” in the past (before 2004) will be pleased to learn that the book is now being published in unabridged format, presenting a higher fidelity of Mr. Hill’s original writing and including a lot of material and whole sections that had not been previously released in the Fawcett Crest Version that was published in 1960. I have not yet read this latest edition, having read the Fawcett Crest Edition several times, however I understand it to be very favorably received. This Tribeca Books Original Classic Edition is in my queue of Kindle books to read in order to glean even more nuggets from Mr. Hill that may have not been included in the Fawcett Crest Edition. Whether you have never picked up Napoleon Hill’s writings, or you are due for a reread like I am, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of “Think and Grow Rich.”

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Writer’s Watershed

The parable goes that there were three men chopping wood all day. Two men worked steadily and never stopped to take breaks throughout the day. However, one man stopped working several times during the day, and from what the other two observed, was walking around, whistling, smoking cigarettes, and in general, lallygagging. Yet, at the end of the day, when it was time to get paid and settle accounts, the first two men were surprised to find that the latter had the most wood chopped, therefore, received the most money.

In amazement, they couldn’t help but ask, “We don’t understand how you got more wood chopped than we did. Just what were you doing when you were taking those long breaks?”

The last man paused and laughed. Finally, he answered. “I was sharpening up my ax.”

This moral could apply to writers today. In this busy world as we know it, everything is fast-paced. We use computers to cut our time in half. We fax or email

documents to save time. We fly so that we can get everywhere faster. So time is of the essence. But at the rate we move during the new millennium, we seldom have enough time to introspect, or to “sharpen up our ax”–a very necessary tool for writers. And actually, I made this discovery through happenstance.

The summer of 1997, time delays notwithstanding, I decided that taking a train on my vacation would be a desirable mode of transportation. And ironically, during my travel from Los Angeles to my hometown, Detroit, I spoke to many like-minded travelers in my midst who were of the same mind. At any rate, as a writer, I found that during this period of “downtime,” there were other serendipitous benefits, more spiritual in nature, which were a payoff in this trip. Trains, for my ancestors, have always held the connotation of freedom. In general, in African-American literature, trains have been a symbol of freedom.

Consider “The Underground Railroad.” “The Freedom Train.” Furthermore, trains have played a significant thematic role in the works of great writers, such as James Baldwin’s “Tell Me How Long The Train’s Been Gone,” or August Wilson’s play, “Two Trains Running.”

And true enough, as the train rocked from side to side, lulling me with the same soothing emotions that a cradle gives a baby, I somehow felt free. Free from the demands of my social work job. Free of the pressures of my day-to-day writing life. Free from the hurry-sickness.

On the way back to Los Angeles, I pondered over my first visit home since my mother’s death in 1993. I had read somewhere that the death of a parent is considered a watershed in one’s life. I also read, that as a writer, our censorship often ends with the death of a parent. Given the fact that I didn’t finish my first novel, The Ebony Tree, until a year or so after my mother’s death, perhaps this is true. As I considered the promotion done on my novel while I was at home, I wondered if I would have had the nerve to do this before my mother’s death. I don’t know. But trying to stay grounded and know that this experience has happened in some form to other humans, and that other humans have dealt with it, has helped.

Due to the slow pace of the train, I found myself reflecting over being at the crossroads of my life, career wise. Just as a train is often used as a metaphor for the journey of our lives, the delays, or the derailments, often happen to clue us as to when we are on the wrong track. Crossroads are the paradox we face when two desirable courses are presented to us. The paradox is that we can only choose one.

Will we always wonder about the road untraveled?

As a writer, I had reached this fork in the road. Should I pursue my writing full-time, or was it possible to continue writing in the evenings and the mornings, while working a job which involved writing court reports, dealing with the most complicated of family lives–families involved in the court system for child abuse and neglect?

My answers didn’t come easily. As I watched the Colorado River unfurl and snake behind the train window, I saw people riverboating. Suddenly, I decided I want to ford rivers, scale mountains, even, if only in my writing. Then, I realized that, as I overcome my fears as a human being, I will do so as a writer.

Staring out the window at the Rocky Mountains, I thought back to a lifetime of experience. Juggling the demands of small children and working as a social worker during the seventies, before it was commonplace for mothers of

preschoolers to work, wondering if I had made the right choice, but pushing forward, because nothing else felt right. I remembered the loss of all my comfort zones and trappings when I left Detroit and relocated to Los Angeles in 1981.

How, in addition, to the unexpected, cataclysmic nature of earthquakes, the figurative ground of my life kept shifting under my feet. How there were days when I didn’t think we would pull through as a family, or how I would be able to survive one disaster after another without reprieve.

I had spent my twenties conforming to the ideas of what others thought that I should do. During my thirties I began my forays into the writing world, first through poetry, then short stories, and one failed novel. My early forties dealt with my first true self-invention, as well as confronting some of the larger issues of life.

Getting older. Being a grandmother. But then, on December 1, 1993, without warning, my mother died of a sudden heart attack. All prior crises, all previous adversities, were suddenly eclipsed by this tragedy. The demands of life continued on, while my grief enshrouded everything I touched. From then on, everything was measured in its importance and usually diminished by this “Bigee.” Nothing could daunt me at work or at home. What used to register on the Richter scale of stress for me, no longer caused a ripple. So what? If the court is going to sanction you, and you’re in contempt of court at work over a subpoena you never received, “So be it.” Of course, no such disaster ever became of it, and I’m now wondering if my new attitude had something to do with it. My motto at work has become, “There is no emergency. The only emergency is death.”

So somewhere, in this twilight-zone, state-of-being, I discovered my right to be heard as a writer. To say my truth, unapologetically and without censor. Through the darkest days, teetering on the very edge of endurance, I survived. In time, I healed. And my writing returned. Renewed. Stronger than ever.

Sweet adversity. Lesson learned. We are all mortal. It is out of our mortality that we created immortality–our art, our writings, our music.

Recently, at a small book signing before a women’s group, a reader paid a compliment to the main character in my story.

“Jewel (the protagonist) reminds me of myself. I have a sister who is a president over an advertising agency. I have another sister who sings. I am the

plain one. But after I read this book, I realized, ‘It’s okay to be ordinary. We can’t all be center-stage. It’s usual those of us in the back ground who hold everything together.'”

The main character, Jewel, was loosely based on my mother, who was a connoisseur of people. In addition to the legacy of love that she left her children, she left behind a batter recipe for homemade waffles which I understand has traveled to Zaire, Japan, Thailand, and Paris via my sister, who currently lives in Japan. This was another insight gained during this train trip.

After our deaths, we live on in so many little ways.

In retrospect, my train trip and the time it gave me to reflect, helped me to understand why the last woodsman had chopped the most wood. For it was during a time where I had had to move slowly, that I found my answers. Yes, I can continue to work for now and write. It is generally during my working–my downtime from writing–that my material comes.

Because I had slowed my pace, I discovered something else, too, which had, heretofore, eluded me. And that is, that out of the depths of the blackest grief I’d ever experienced, I found the strength to recreate a facsimile of my loved one, my mother, in my writing. For it was through her death that I learned that love does not die. It continues. And it is the only thing that matters in this life.

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K-12 Schools Plan To Centralize Services Long Overdue

A recent proposal that Long Island schools should have all operations handled by one agency instead of independently for multiple school districts is a sound one. It will be a less expensive, more efficient way of running the business of keeping Long Island schools running well.

Long Island Schools Need to Find Ways to Cut Costs

Schools on Long Island, as well as schools in general, have reaped the benefits of being funded by taxpayers for years. If they have needed more funding, then it was provided for them. The time has come for area schools to be run more like a business. There is only so much money available from taxpayers and administrators for area schools need to be accountable for how those tax dollars are spent within the school district.

All organizations need to be more fiscally responsible, and Long Island schools are no exception to this rule. By making good choices now about how to use the available funds wisely, more funding can be freed up to maintain and repair school buildings, provide better resources for students, and hire more teachers.

Taxpayers Should Not Be Paying for Duplicate Services for Long Island Schools

Business owners know that paying money for duplicate services is not a good use of company resources. Long Island schools need to operate more like a business than a government agency that has access to unlimited funds; that is not the case. There are only so many tax dollars available and the people supporting Long Island schools are quite reasonable to expect that they should be getting good value for the money they are spending.

Having the same services being performed independently by 56 different districts for schools makes absolutely no sense. Let’s get one agency in place to perform those same functions. The money saved can then be used to give students the resources they need to succeed.

Somewhere along the way, the purpose of having schools in our society has been overlooked. Schools are to educate our young people so that they can become contributing members of our society. This next generation that we are bringing up is going to be lawmakers, judges, and school board officials making decisions for the generation that follows. We need to make sure that they have all the resources they need to be well prepared for this role.

The tax dollars being used to run area schools are an investment in the students’ future. By using those funds wisely, we will be taking steps to ensure that the next generation is well prepared to run our school boards, our businesses, and our government in the years to come.

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Leave the Finishing to a Drywall Contractor

Over the years, I have reluctantly undertaken many drywall projects. Not by choice, but simply out of necessity. When money has been tight, rather than hiring a qualified dry wall contractor who actually knows what he is doing, I have often gotten in over my head with what turned out to be a remodeling fiasco. And if there is one thing I have learned as a result of my experience, it is that finishing drywall should be left to the pros. Like me, maybe you too have fallen prey to the how hard can it be school of thought. This mentality has frequently gotten me into trouble, but the frustration I have had when trying to finish drywall has been some of the greatest trouble of all.

On one such occasion, I had the ambitious idea of building a room in our two car garage to house a large model railroad layout. At first I had planned to simply build a wall with a small pre-hung door in it to separate the two bays from one another. But as often is the case with me, that basic design ended up being way too simple to fit my taste. Thus I proceeded to hang drywall on three of the four walls so that the painted landscape would look right in the background. My thought being that it would be cool to have lots of picturesque mountains, blue sky, and little painted trees surrounding the trains. In retrospect, just connecting a painted panel border to the table would have probably worked just as well. But that would have been far too easy. Being the glutton for punishment that I am, I had to finish out the entire room to achieve the effect I was looking for.

That being said, I have never had much trouble hanging drywall. Cutting the boards to the right dimensions and then zipping a few screws in to the studs is the easy part. The fun starts when I get the finishing tape and a mud knife in my hands. That is when all hell breaks loose and the swearing commences. I do not know about you, but I have the kind of personality that usually resonates with the philosophy that if a little is good, than more must be better. But in the case of drywall mud, this is just not the case. After countless hours of slapping on a thick coat of mud, followed by furious sanding, followed by more mud, and then more sanding, I usually end up with a floor to ceiling speed bump where the seam used to be. Not to mention that the room I am working in is now covered in about two inches of powdery white dust second only to the surface of the moon. As I shake the thick residue from hair and wipe the dust out of my eyes, now bloodshot and as dry as the Sahara, I behold the end result of my labor. Generally, it really looks like crap! Why did I not hire a good drywall contractor to do this?

If you have ever watched a dry wall contractor finish drywall, it is truly a sight to behold. Delicate little skim coats fly on like paint from the brush of Divinci. A flick of the wrist and that screw head disappears. The tape clings to the seam like it was begging to be there all along. And sanding? Who needs sanding? It is like they could complete an entire house in about ten minutes. Who are these people? Is there some clandestine training facility tucked away in the Himalayas where they sit for years under the tutelage of an aged drywall Guru? How did they learn to do this? And more importantly, what kind of mental retardation am I suffering from?

If you are currently thinking about undertaking a drywall finishing project, take it from me, think again. Good drywall contractors are worth their weight in gold. The headaches you will avoid will far surpass any money you might save. If you currently need help finding one in your area, there is a link to a detailed directory listed below.

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