Last weekís passing of professional curmudgeon Andy Rooney came right after he crossed my thoughts. I remembered an essay of his about ìsharp soapî. He said that he likes a nice fresh bar of soap. It has nice lines, appreciable heft, and those letters (Dial, Right Guard) right in the bar itself. But that pleasure doesnít last long. It only takes a few showers before the letters are gone, and within a week or two, that nifty bar of soap with itís pleasing shape has become sharp and more like a rough-hewn Neanderthalís stone tool than a bar of soap.
ìI hate sharp soapî, Andy grumped. He went to wish he was wealthy enough to be able to afford a new bar of soap as soon as the letters wore off. This was a little disingenuous, of course ñ Iím sure he could afford a new bar of soap each day, if he so chose. According to his obit in the paper, he never lost some of the habits he picked up in the Depression, and that sort of fits the inability to throw out a bar of soap so long as you can pick it up and use it ñ no matter how sharp.
Some other aspects of life a half century ago have crept into my life and they are welcome and comforting. One is butcher paper. When I was kid, it was the name for thick paper we used in art class, and maybe the stuff that covers the ìbedî in the nurseís office in school. But lately, I have been buying more meat from an actual butcher, and I love how the fresh meat comes carefully wrapped in butcher paper. No Styrofoam tray with shrink wrap, which I always hated. It all seems like something out of the 1930ís, to choose a fresh cut of meat from a burly guy with a bloody apron, and have it weighed, then wrapped in heavy paper. Itís pleasing to my sensibilities, and I know paper is much more biodegradable than Styrofoam and shrinkwrap plastic.
Another thing that seems to be a blast from the past: the town cobbler. We have a town cobbler in Martinez, and have come to know the family that runs the shop, and some of the apprentices. It feels so good to have shoes that are wearing out brought back to life with the cobblerís magic. Who really wants new shoes anyway? You only buy new shoes because the heels or soles on your comfortable, perfectly-broken in shoes have worn. When you get them repaired, itís the best of both worlds ñ shoes that are familiar and comfortable, but walking on fresh soles and heels. AhhhhÖ The cobblerís shop looks like any cobblerís shop must have looked 60 years ago ñ odd little pedestals and anvils, hammers and pliers, and some odd stuff for which I canít imagine a purpose. And the smell! The place reeks of wood, leather and polish. I bet your town has a cobbler ñ if you bother to look!
Wait ñ Iíve lost track of my subject (Andy Rooney) and havenít introduced a bluegrass context yet. OK, so whatís the deal with guitar strings, anyways? They come coiled up one to a bag, or two to a bag, and they get all twisted up! Theyíre in little paper bags, or in little plastic bags that are impossible to open! And name me something that hurts as exquisitely as a .011î E String piercing your finger as you pass it through the little hole in the tuning post? And who can make sense of all the varieties? Bronze, coated, round wound, silverplated? And phosphor bronze? That sounds downright dangerous!