Saturday, April 24, 2010

Saturday Afternoon Wanderings on Long Island

Today I went to the Hamptons Lawn & Garden Show (it was not held in the Hamptons but in a tent at the outlet mall in Riverhead) wearing my Plum Island t-shirt. One anxious salesman for a house-fixer-upper contractor said to me, “We have worked on Plum Island,” then he stopped himself, ”...oh, no we didn’t. We can’t go there.” I said, well, yes, you can, sort of go there if you have a reason. I got this t-shirt at the gift shop, sort of.

Another salesperson, I think they were selling life insurance, stopped me and said, “I always wanted to go to Plum Island.” I replied, well, it is not exactly a tourist destination. They asked me what it is like. I said that they may force you to strip naked and take a shower before you leave the island. He seemed to like that idea as I ran off to learn the latest in hot tub technology.
A fellow selling invisible fence asked me if I had any pets. "No, I said, "I'm sorry." I lied.

He said, "You don't need to apologize to me. I have some extras if you want one?" Then the fellow selling home mortgages asked me if I wanted one I said, "I already paid off the one I had." "He said, "Do you want another one?"

Another young fellow explained to me that for free he would stick a fan in my door and suck air out of the house then tell me how much it would cost for him to save me money. I wanted to know his secret but he got mad when I refused to sign his pledge. The last time I joined a religion it nearly killed me.

Then I went to Suffolk Community College to the Ecology Fair and the ladies at the Lyme disease tick control table across from the all-natural purple stuff table, asked me if I work at Plum Island. “No,” I said, “I was on vacation.” I was worried they may blame their fervid health-scare cause on my nocturnal indiscretions. Which reminds me that this morning I was reading about how Brookhaven Labs, just north of where we live, shot down a UFO with a quark gluon plasma beam weapon. The craft from wherever in the universe those things come from it crashed and burned in our local park and they built a horse stable there to hide the evidence. Which reminds me I need to go over there and get some manure for the garden.

I went to Port Jefferson thinking to visit the Antique & Garden show... but decided I was not into macramé and glass all that much and walked around and found a 12 person bobsled at Bayles Boat Shop where on Saturday and Wednesday mornings I can go volunteer to learn to build wooden boats. The Timber Framers Guild helped to build the Bayles Boat Shop.

Headed home, still w/ the Plum Island t-shirt on, I stopped at a bait & tackle shop and asked the proprietor if he sold earthworms. He said, “Yes.” I asked,  “How big are they?” “They are trout worms,” he said, “they are small ones.” I said, “Are they like red wigglers? I don’t know what a trout worm looks like.” “You never seen a trout worm?” he said, “They are smaller than large earthworms.” “Can I see some?” “What you wanna use them for?” “I want to feed my chickens.” “Pretty expensive chicken food!” “I'm teaching them to eat out of my hand. I want them to get used to me. They really like worms.” “Do you eat them?” He almost caught me with that trick question and I almost fessed up. “No, you don’t eat circus chickens.”

Histo Presto: Aluminum Siding

Note: the following is an excerpt in draft from the book on estimation of histo presto that I have been working on. Inclusion here results from my friend Christopher Gray having posted an e-mail to BP [My next book: "How Aluminum Siding Saved Civilization."] re: an e-mail to him in which tfb17 shared his selection of photos that were inspired by Christopher's column on Vanderbilt Ave. in Brooklyn. "Two more gable-end houses of Gothic styling survive at 92 and 94 Vanderbilt. No. 92’s decay ventures beyond the charming into the alarming, with its falling-off siding and collapsing front stoop. Photographs from the 1940s indicate that it, too, had intricate verge-board trim, and show a delicate Gothic-style window at the top. It is a pity they are gone. At the same time, the asbestos-like shingle siding, perhaps from the 1940s, is a tour de force, vertical stripes in maroon, gray and other colors, like a weird 1950s blazer. It would be a tragedy to lose that, too." The photos take me home a bit as we lived in this very same community of aluminum siding for nearly eight years and our business offices were located in the heart of the Greenpoint community for close to 20 years.

"When I first became aware of this notion of metabolic rate connected with geographic location was on a visit from Brooklyn to a meeting in Washington DC at the National Trust offices where I was asked, as an aside and not directly relevant to the topic of the meeting, “What do you think of aluminum siding?”

At that time we lived in Greenpoint-Williamsburg, Brooklyn in an Italian neighborhood where the aluminum siding salesmen had in the 60s and 70s gone bonkers and covered over all of the gingerbread and Victorian 19th c board-work of the three and four story building stock. What I saw around me was an aging aluminum siding that presented not only aluminum, but color selected by property owners with an expression of their own cultural aesthetic, and a community that had obviously bought into the expressed merits of aluminum siding. As a built environment in itself I found the exploration and detailing of what can be done with aluminum siding to be quite interesting. So, my initial reaction to the question was that I like aluminum siding.

Though I knew that there was something wrong with my answer I had not put the aluminum siding there on the facades, so I did not feel culpable for the existence of it, and I was curious and remain curious what will be decided in future to maintain or restore it. When the aluminum siding falls off there is often an asphalt faux brick/stone sheeting, and when that falls off there is wood clapboard siding, where it has not rotted. Occasionally a house can be found where aluminum siding was never applied and the original fabric of the wood clad structure is intact (most often unpainted), and quite often the original carpentry work is elegant in simple details. To make repairs to aluminum siding when it fails can present as many conundrums as needed to restore historic brickwork, just that nobody on the larger histo presto radar particularly cares about aluminum siding. And I agree that there are a whole lot of envelope and moisture related problems with aluminum siding, as well as with vinyl and that neither material is the zero-maintenance solution that many homeowners may have bought into.

The person who asked me was the executive director of an historic trades training program for the National Park Service, an architect by profession, and it was quickly apparent to me that they did not like aluminum siding.

I note that, and based on my subsequent years of experience,  that the National Park Service is not likely to initiate a program for restoration of aluminum siding, any more than they are going to be interested in restoration of historic house trailers, even if they have a few in their remote desert portfolio, but that if there is going to be a revival or development of the trade skills needed to restore and conserve aluminum siding it is likely to be driven by the local fix-it-upper folks in the urban communities of the likes of Brooklyn where aluminum siding is prevalent and concentrated. Skill sets develop and are maintained based on an employed need. We have only to look to the development of the Brownstone revival industry, where stone facades are often scraped back and replaced with a faux brownstone stucco, and colored-stucco is the trade practice that is learned, to wonder what the future preservation movement will look like around aluminum siding."