Sunday, October 31, 2010

Florence & Felix Leger

First I want to apologize in advance to any Leger's living in the in the area - I mean no disrespect, none at all.

One of my frequent dog walks is what I call the cemetery route.  It's up on a hill, it has well defined walking areas, it's peaceful up there and you get beautiful views in every direction.  It's a nice walk.

I pay attention to the headstones and frequently wonder about the lives of the people buried there. One that has repeatedly drawn my attention, and my wondering, has been the marker for Florence and Felix Leger, who both died young, within 7 months of each other. 

First, I assumed they were married.  They share the same last name and the same headstone, Felix is somewhat older than Florence so it fit nicely with preconceived notions and assumptions.  But you wonder what could cause a husband to die just past his 33rd birthday, and a wife to die 7 months later a month shy of her 24th birthday?  My thoughts were accident or disease, not entirely original thoughts, or even hard to think of thoughts.  Anyway, I've been walking up that way for some time now, and I've frequently wondered what happened, but I just let it go.

Well, I mentioned this to Patti Anne and she did some quick research.  Her research turned up some interesting things and some discrepancies, as research often does.  Had we the money and inclination (we probably do have the time, now that I think about it) we could research this much further and maybe find some definitive answers to things, but I believe what Patti found is good enough.

Apparently Florence and Felix were not married - they were brother and sister.  Felix died of kidney disease, and Florence died in what must have been a horrific automobile accident, so their deaths were completely unrelated, just one of those terrible random tragedies that sometimes strike families. 

There are a couple of discrepancies - the headstone list's Felix's birthday as Sept 5, 1907, while other documents lists his birthday as Sept 5, 1908.  Also, the first initial on the tombstone (M. Felix Leger), does not agree with a census entry which lists his name as Wilburn Felix Leger.

So...... a couple of possibilities. 

First, back then all these documents, census entries, birth & death certificates etc, were hand written.  And as I recently found when one of my older relatives died, there is sometimes disagreement among relatives on the actual date of birth, so a year's discrepancy on a headstone is easily explained.  But the first initial I wonder about.  Is it possible for someone to mistake a "W" for an "M"?  Is is possible for someone to write down Wilburn in a census, when perhaps his name was really Milburn?  Sure it is.  Or could someone had made a mistake when carving the name into the marker?  Maybe "W. Felix Leger" was written, but whoever was doing the work read the "W" as an "M".   Maybe the template was turned upside down.

The second possibility is all our assumptions are wrong.  Possible, but I don't think so.

Back in late 1940 & early 1941 this family went through a pretty rough time.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Finished "Life: A User's Manual" by Georges Perec.

I'm not going to review this book because I'm positive I could not do it justice.  And I'd hate to spoil it for the legions people who read this blog (ha!) who may feel inspired to tackle this book.  But I'll write just a bit about it, and it's possible this may turn into a lengthy post. 

This book is about the current and former occupants of an apartment building in Paris, as well as the building itself, located at 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier.

First, physical characteristics of the actual book I read:  it is paperback, measuring 9 1/4 x 6 x 1 3/8 inches - so it's quite a bit larger than your typical mass market paperback.  It weighs 30 ounces - almost 2 pounds.  The "story" part of the book is 500 pages, divided into 6 parts, 99 chapters & an epilogue.   In addition to these 500 pages, there is a table of contents, a preamble, an outline of the apartment building at 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier with notations of current and former residents, an extensive 58 page index of people, places, and other items in the novel, a chronology starting in 1833 and ending in 1975 (the books 'present time'), and an alphabetical checklist of some of the stories narrated in the novel.

This novel is a challenge to my intellectual abilities, and I'm not just talking about the author's use of big words.  The story is not straight forward, in fact the first time I read it I didn't even realize what the story was until near the end.  And the author assumes a the reader has a very high level of cultural knowledge.  Not only of things like history & literature, but also science, medicine, economics, religion, various world wide cultures - from highly advanced civilizations to tribal organizations past and present, languages, the ancient Greeks & Romans, Mathematics, music and on and on.  It seems endless. 

There are a couple of interesting things about this book, and I shall mention them right now.  Puzzles play a large part in the story, particularly Bartlebooths puzzles created from him by Gaspard Winckler.  All told, Bartlebooth commissioned 500 puzzles.  500 puzzles, 500 pages.  From what I know about Georges Perec, that is probably not a co-incidence.  But why?  And the next, and this is really odd, has to do with the chapters.  There are 99 chapters, so they tend to be short, only a few pages a piece.  They are titled with the chapter numbers & a subtitle, followed by a number to indicate how many times this subject has been covered.  So chapter 41 is written as "Forty-One On The Stairs, 6",  Chapter 42 is "Forty-Two, Foulerot, 2" and so on.  All 99 chapters are written in that format except chapter 51.  For some reason it is written as "The Fifty-First Valene, (Servants' Quarters, 9)".  Why is it written "The Fifty-First" and not "Fifty-One"?  This isn't an accident, but I don't know the reason.

There are lots of stories in this book about the current and previous occupants of the apartment building.  The stories are interesting and exhausting at the same time.  One of the stories is a very detailed examination of a map on Bartlebooth's wall.  It is an antique map of the New World, I believe from the very early 16th century, just after it was discovered by Europeans.  The story includes the historiography and scholarly debate about Amerigo Vespucci's role (or lack of) in lending his name to North and South America.  After several pages of this I was wondering what in the heck this story had to do with anything.  Turns out, this was the only officially commissioned map which had a name other than "America" for the new world, and as such was purchased by Bartlebooth's great Uncle James Sherwood, who collected unicum - objects which are the only ones of their kind.  James Sherwood was the ultimate source of Bartlebooth's great wealth.  Suddenly, the whole map story sort of made sense.

It is very tempting to skip over large sections of some of these stories - when the author decides to list the contents of the various cellars, for example, or when he lists 179 subjects & scenes Valene the artist would like to paint.   But my advise is to not skip a word.   There is a fair amount of humor & satire in this book, but it's not going to knock you over with obviousness. You have to recognize it when you see it, and it pops up when you least expect it. 

The book has a story - rest assured.  It's a very strong story and I could tell it to you, but I aint gonna. If you've never read it before you won't know what it is for a long time, but it is there.  It's neither a happy nor sad story.  It's life, I suppose.  The creation theory or big-bang theory aside, life is life.  The world chugged along happily before anybody who is alive now was born, and will not stop when everyone who is alive now is dead. 

This is one of my favorite books, ever.  It just blows away most other books I've read.  It's not easy to read, but it's worth it.  It's entertaining (I especially liked the story about how the Danglar's (a staid & prominent couple who occupied Bartlebooths apartment before Bartlebooth did) found their kink), and it's thought provoking at the same time.  It's actually kind of mind blowing.  When you think about it.

I bought this copy off eBay for just a few dollars.  You can also get it cheaply on Amazon, or if you're lucky you could find it at a thrift shop for a couple of bucks.   It is well worth the investment of time it will take to read it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


When I was young I didn't realize I had any kind of accent.  I could not hear it in myself or others, even when I was removed from my native Kentucky environment.  When I was 11 years old, I found myself living near Glasgow, Montana, the definition of the middle of nowhere.   It was there that I had perhaps the first inkling that I grew up speaking a different way than most of the people I was surrounded by.  I still could not hear it - the people there sounded normal to me and I thought I sounded normal to them.  Even when we took trips up to Saskatchewan, I couldn't hear any difference in speech.  Maybe I wasn't paying attention, or maybe I was a child. 

Children are like that. 

The inkling about my speech pattern came from 2 sources, one at school and one back home.  I was sitting in a 6th grade math class way up in the frozen tundra of eastern Montana, a class taught by a very strict teacher I didn't like (Mr. Bach - pronounced just like the musician), when I was called on to answer a math question.  I was very quiet & I never volunteered, so he actually called on me.  It just so happened that the answer to the question was "nine".  Mr. Bach made me repeat "nine" 3 or 4 times, because he couldn't believe what he was hearing.  And you know how kids in a classroom are, they start to giggle and stuff.  I remember I finally spelled "n-i-n-e" which just made things worse.  I didn't realize that he understood me perfectly well, he just thought the way I was saying it was odd.

Anybody familiar with North American English knows that most native speakers born & raised south of the Ohio River tend to elongate and flatten out words with a long "I".  It's like a marker, and if you're losing a southern accent without realizing it, that is apparently one of the last things to go.  Apparently in Montana that kind of speech was a novelty.

A little later, when we had gone back home for a short visit, an aunt told me my accent was changing.  I'm sure it was, but I didn't have a clue.

From that point on, I felt like I was in a speech pattern no mans land, though I still wasn't particularly conscious of my way of speaking.  In the South people thought I came from the North, in the North they thought I came from the South.  When I was 16 or so and my father had been transferred to Germany, I remember asking one of my friends one day where he thought I came from.  Without hesitation, he said Tennessee.  That was actually pretty close, the speech patterns in the area of Kentucky I come from are extremely similar to the patterns in eastern Tennessee (or Western Virginia, or western North Carolina). 

At some point I began to be able to hear accents in other people.  When I went back home, the accents were so strong they'd knock me over, and I began to understand what my aunt had meant when she told me my accent was changing.  The people back home hadn't changed, I had.

Here are ways of speaking I never lost, no matter how long I had lived away from Kentucky.  I've always said "you all".  I've always had a great tendency to say "I reckon" instead of "I think" or "I guess so".  It's just so familiar to me.  I elongate and drag out words with a long "I" in them (nine, time, fine, mine, dime, night, fight, delight etc).  I've always had a tendency to place an accent on a first syllable of some words that others might not (IN-surance, UM-brella).  Depending on my level of anitmation (which is generally pretty low) I can easily turn one syllable words into multiple syllable words.  Words as simple as "this" and "that".   There are probably other things going on I don't realize. 

Speech wise, I do not feel out of place living in western North Carolina. People who lived around here all their lives may or may not know I'm from somewhere else, but they certainly won't think that I'm from Pennsylvania or anything like that.    It's not hard to find people around here who are from way north of the Ohio River, and speech wise it's very noticible.

You people from Iowa don't think you have an accent? Guess what - you do.  And it's very strong.  Same to you all in Montana.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Things we did today

The highlight of the day without a doubt was the flu shot.  We went to a Walgreens drugstore in Hudson, right on Rt 321, and we took the scenic route up thru Rhodhiss road.  We got to take all kinds of strange turns in the Alfred Hitchcock like small town of Granite Falls along the way. 

The pharmacy was actually quite busy - not because there were so many people waiting for service, but because there were so few pharmacists.  I wonder about that, people dealing with medicine who are obviously professional, but at the same time VERY busy, quite overwhelmed. 

At any rate, we managed to get a flu shot & it was even covered by our insurance. This year's shot included the "pig flu" shot that was so scarce last year (and which I never did get), so we should not be oinking any time soon.  (I said OINKING, pay attention).  And of course we spent some money on the way out, which I'm sure is one of the reasons they offer flu shots there in the first place.   We were classic flu shot customers.

On the way to get flu shots, we took advantage of early voting in North Carolina, voting at the Connelly Springs Town Hall.   We were approached by a couple of ladies while in the parking lot - and one gave us a sheet telling us all the conservative candidates to vote for.   They may have technically broken the law by approaching us in the parking lot - you have to be a certain distance way from the polling station, and that may have been too close - but they looked like a cross between Aunt Bea and your favorite grandmother, so I doubt the Burke County police will slap them in the hoosegow any time soon, unless Barney Pfife shows up.  They were very nice, and we thanked them, but I'm pretty sure I didn't vote for anyone on their list.

Today we also dealt with installing a new DVR box, which was a lot more difficult than it should have been.  But basically all that had to be done was put the TV input (or is it output) cord on the correct post & pull out and re-seat the smart card.  Took a few minutes to figure that out, especially the smart card.  But now we are back in the 21st century.  We can once again DVR programs, pause live tv and skip the commercials.  Skipping commercials is important.  It's how I get past all the political ads, and in a month or so, it'll keep me from going crazy because of the Christmas ads. The old box suddenly quit working yesterday, and they got the new one to us today - pretty quick.  We have to send the old one back, so that'll be fun to deal with.

The day started with a dog walk, as usual.  We took the long way up to the cemetery, which means I got to walk up lots of hills, but only one way.  Not like in the old days when you had to walk up hills both ways, thanks of course, to modern engineering.  The last few days have been very pleasant, warm days, cool nights, clear skies, and the mountains are quite visible.  The leaves are changing, and things are very beautiful.   I hear it's going to rain though - fine with me, let it rain.  Just means Pickles and I will get wet when we go for our walks.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Just a little motoring

It's a beautiful fall day here in the foothills.  I always wondered why there is both a foothills region and a Piedmont region in North Carolina, since Piedmont is French for foothills, I think.  You see & hear "foothills" everywhere - on the news, names of businesses and so on.  Secretly (or not so secretly), even though they say we're in the foothills, I'm pretty sure we're in the Piedmont.  There are actual mountains to the south, west & north of us (I know they're there, I can see them out the kitchen window), and we're in an area that is anything but flat, but is not in the mountains, which spells Piedmont to me. 

I got off topic before I even got on topic.  Maybe it's the pre-topic.  Think of it as pre-boarding, or pre-ordering, or all those other "pre" things they tell you you're doing before you actually are, hoping you never stop to think that it is impossible to do something before you actually do it.  It's a marketing thing to try to make you think you're special, take my word for it.  OK, that's off topic discussion number 2.  Enough!!!

The real topic:  I went for a ride today in the little red mustang.  I shifted gears with abandon, flew up and down hills (only going airborne a couple of times) careened on two wheels around curves on these narrow, twisty, country Piedmont roads which frequently co-exist within sight (or hearing) of I-40. I laughed maniacally & rudely pointed at all those drivers plodding along on staid, old I-40, driving from here to there in relative safety, speed, comfort & respectability. How boring!  Leaves are starting to change, the air is clear & crisp, the mountains are beautiful and it was good to get out and about & careen around curves.

Hmmm.  So I wrote almost twice as much about things I didn't mean to write about than the thing I did mean to write about.  Interesting.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

One of those days

Today I woke up early, feeling ill, a little stomach bug.   This is the first time since April, and it's not as bad as it was in April.  So, once every 6 months - is that normal? 

I had things I wanted to do today.  There is a church sale and a boy scouts sale going on downtown, and I wanted to check them out.  I'm always on the lookout for books, and of course the ever possible "objects de arte", such as a small horseshoe rocking chair we bought the other day, suitable for sitting out with all our other "objects de arte" on some bricks near our bird bath.  I'll take a picture someday.  But instead I'm sitting around the house taking it easy, on this sunny but crisp autumn day. 

It seems I may actually survive once again.   I need to figure out something to eat that won't make matters worse, because, though I'm not 100% sure, I think I'm hungry.  Symptoms of hunger may be masked by symptoms of mild agony, never can tell.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Photographs of Photos

A major part of an eBay listing is a picture of the item we're selling. 

Like everything else, I have my standards, which, also like everything else, are better than some & worse than others.  We sell mostly old postcards and antique photos, and getting a good quality picture of them to go in our listings is not always easy.  I feel that the picture is vitally important though, maybe the most important part of the listing so I try to do a good job.

So here are my rules for our listings.  The picture should be in focus, with no glare from lights etc., for postcards & photos, both sides should be pictured even if there is no written information on the back side, backgrounds should be minimized, the colors as displayed on MY computer monitor should accurately reflect the colors on the actual item.

In Focus:  this seems like a no brainer, but I buy things off of eBay etc, and I am surprised at out many out of focus pictures there are about, and also how many pictures have a glare from a flash.  This lack of attention to detail does not reflect well on the seller.

Both Sides Pictured:  I take pictures of the front as well as the back, making sure in both cases that all corners and edges are visible.  Lots of times it's the corners & edges that determine if an item is in good, very good or excellent condition. 

Minimize backgrounds:  When I take pictures of my cards & photos, I crop them to the point that you can see the whole thing (including edges) and not much else.  The less background the better.  Personally I like back grounds - I like looking at the little details of someones life that have inadvertently slipped into a listing, but backgrounds are a distraction.  So keep it simple, and as minimalist as possible.

Item colors:  Getting the colors & general look of an item exactly right is unbelievably hard.  The best I can generally hope for is to come as close as possible, and make sure I'm not way off base.  I'm not a professional photographer.  I use a simple light box, and an old 5 MP digital camera bought long before we started in eBay.   I've also become good friends with a simple freeware photo editing tool.   Frequently, what I see in front of me, and what I see on my monitor are two different things.  I edit the photo to try to get what's on my monitor to reflect what I see in front of me.  But even if I'm successful in doing that, what other people see on their monitors may not be exactly what I see on mine.  So I do the best I can, and so far it's been ok.   19th century Cabinet Photos and CDVs can be especially tricky, because even though they fall under the broad term "black and white", they aren't really.  The ones that have survived in good condition have lots of subtle shades of light in them - some of those photographers were very good.  My little camera cannot reproduce all those shades accurately, so I try to coax it out with the photo editor.  And I have to be very careful to not misrepresent the picture in the process.

Generally if I'm thinking of buying something online and the picture is not good - out of focus, glares, doesn't show good detail etc - I move on.  I figure if  I do that, lots of others do too, so I try to take a decent picture.  A picture is the only opportunity a potential buyer has to see an item they are buying online, and as as seller I may be competing with others selling the exact same item.  The better the picture, the better my chances are.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Afternoon Thinking

Been watching the playoffs off and on between the Rays & Rangers.  Most of what we watch on TV we record with the DVR, then watch it later & flip thru the commercials.  This is live, and I now realize how much I enjoy not watching commercials. 

I helped Patti Anne hang some blinds.  Which is to say I hung the blinds, but it was her idea, she managed the project, bought the material & was the driving force behind it. She created a little template that showed me where to drill the holes - but I'm tall and she's not, so I got the honors of doing the labor.  I've always hated blinds, because it seems like everything has to be exact.  Holes have to be drilled, there's strings, and hooks & things that remind me of wires.  I don't like wires, and strings &  anything you have to pull, and exactness is not my strong point.

Another trip to Lowe's this morning, not to be confused with Lowes.  Lowe's is a large home improvement store, Lowes is a grocery store.  Neither of them sell anything fun.  Except I'm sure Lowes sells various forms of chocolate.

Still reading Life: A User's Manual by Georges Perec.  I've just finished the chapters which detail the contents of the Altamont's & Gratiolet's cellars.  I had no idea there was that much wine in the world.  That takes me up to page 175 or so, with about 400 pages to go.  Slow going, but I'll get there.  Next book will be a tad more linear.

Time to sit on the porch for awhile, listen to some birds.  Another beautiful, warm October day in Valdese.  This warm weather necessitated a rare Saturday grass mowing.  I usually don't mow grass on weekends, mostly because I don't have to, but yesterday was a nice day for mowing and it was time so I just did it.  I expect I'm going to have to mow once more this year, then that'll be it.  It's quite a bit of grass to mow - I use a John Deere riding mower with a 48 inch deck, and it takes 2 hrs or more to get it all done.

I like TweetDeck.  I just create a column and search on #alds & I'm kept pretty much up to date on the game, in Spanish as well as English, with occasional random thoughts thrown in.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Life, 2nd thoughts

On September 30th, I wrote a bit about a book I was getting ready to read, "Life: A User's Manual" by Georges Perec.  I'm well into the first part of the book, and this conjured up some other thoughts on it.

I had mentioned that the book was written in the 3rd person, told by some unnamed entity who knows everything about all the characters in the book.  I forgot to mention, or perhaps I forgot entirely, there is no dialog in the book.  There's mention of one person talking to another, but so far, and I believe for the entire book, there is never any dialog.

It is as if this narrator is describing a photograph.  Frequently there is no one in a room he describes.  If there are people, he describes them as in mid-action, not as going from point A to point B for example.  It's as if there characters are frozen in an instant, like in a candid photo, and the narrator describes the picture.

A lot of time is spent describing the things in whatever apartment the narrator is in at the moment.  Frequently these are mundane things described in detail.   The narrator also seems to have a very deep level of cultural literacy, and assumes the reader has the same.  Well this particular reader (me) has a fair amount of cultural literacy, but there are lots of references in this book I don't have a clue about.

The main thread, the main story is well underway, developing quite nicely, in fact.  I only know that because I've read the book back in 1989 or so.  If I hadn't I wouldn't even know what the main thread was at this point.  I'm sure, back in 1989, I wasn't even aware what the point of the book was at this point.  So I've lost that element of surprise - I won't have that OMG moment I had 20 years ago because I know what's coming, I know who the main character is & what's going on.   But I'm enjoying it just the same.

This is a beautifully written book.  I assume anyway, it was obviously translated from French into English, so  I guess I really wouldn't know.    It has complexities on several levels.  And besides complexities, it has a preamble, an index, a chronology, and an appendix where it references all the stories the narrator tells. 

I enjoy reading it, though I think I'll be at it awhile.  It is a book you have to want to read.  I don't expect I'll ever understand it completely.

Monday, October 4, 2010


I am not a zealously routine person, but even I have tendencies to do similar things at familiar times during the day.

When you work from home, especially when there is no external motivation to do this work, a bit of routine is necessary.   I have found that we have developed informal routines surrounding our eBay day.   I refuse to make it formal, but most days this is the way it happens.

My eBay day starts with a dog walk.  If ever there was an animal that lives by routine, it is Pickles the Dog.   While I'm gone on this walk, my partner in this eBay experience is frequently involved in what amounts to a bit of eBay housekeeping.  It depends on what needs to be done.

When I get back, I take pictures of the items I'm going to list, edit the pictures (cropping, straightening, making sure everything looks right) & load them into a 3rd party system for photo storage etc.  After I load a picture or a group of pictures, I slide the item (usually a postcard or photo of some sort) across the table to Patti Anne, and she does the initial write up for the item.

After she has all the items I look over the write ups, checking for typos or anything else that could be askew.

When they are all done, I schedule them for listing in eBay.   I schedule auctions to start in the evening (about 9:30 PM eastern), and fixed price items start more or less immediately.    When I have things scheduled, I proclaim our accomplishment on twitter with a link.  Believe it or not, we get hits.

We do this every day, Monday - Friday.

This takes 2 hours or more, depending.  After that is done, we take a break, grab a bite, watch some tv shows we recorded the previous evening and so on.  This lasts anywhere from 30 mins to 2 hours, again, depending on moods and how much we have to ship out etc.

In the afternoon, I package up stuff that has been sold and paid for.   Some days this isn't much, some days (like today) it's a lot - it is a very rare day when there is nothing at all.  This takes anywhere from 30 mins to 2 hours or more.  Today was a bit over 2 hours I think.

When everything is packaged, we all (Pickles the dog included) pile into our old truck (we don't let the dog ride in the new stuff yet) & head down to the post office.

After returning to the post office (and anywhere else we may have gone), I do what I call "getting out the spreadsheet".  I update an excel spreadsheet with totals for all the money that came in, and all the expenses involved. When I'm done I attach it to an email msg and send it to another address - in effect backing it up.  I learned to do this from hard experience.   In addition I make sure all my customers receive a "shipping notice" from me, I squirrel away all the pictures of the items we just shipped, with an eye to deleting them in 60 days or so, and I record item cost & shipping cost, which helps with a little reporting eBay provides for us.   I also keep records of items that sold, the subject, type, auction or fixed etc and so on.  This can take anywhere from 30 mins to over an hour, depending on how much sold.

We do this every day Mon thru Saturday. 

In the evenings, or whenever I take a notion, I'll select items for the next days listings, and do some quick research to get a handle on pricing and what else is out there. 

There are lots of other things that happen - ending, relisting, month-end stuff, sending off state sales tax collected and so on, but the daily routine is pretty straight forward.

It's the routine, I suppose it's important, and the fact that we do it means stuff gets done. 

I proclaimed Friday Oct 1, to be a listing holiday.    It threw my whole routine off.  I felt like Saturday had come a day early, so maybe that wasn't a good idea.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Pray for the O's.

I came across this picture just now.  It was taken in 2005 in Baltimore.  It is close to both Camden Yards & the Inner Harbor, so it's right down town.  

Things haven't changed much over the years.  The O's are dead last, so the sign is still applicable.