Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Dementia & Losing a Parent to Far-Right Ideology

Jonas visits and easily wins her heart

Yesterday I became an orphan. My mother, a simple woman with a deep distrust of doctors, succumbed to lung cancer a month or so after discovering what was causing her shortness of breath. I'd like to write that I'm devastated - and I am to a degree - but honestly I feel as if I lost her years ago. There was a time when my mother despised George W, forwarded endless emails about Iraq war crimes and police cruelty, repeatedly warned me (a man with a journalism degree) to not watch FOX News and reliably voted for the more progressive candidates whether or not they were Democrats as she considered herself nonpartisan.

Then came Trump and his MAGA promises and towards the end of his presidency my mother was arguing that the Holocaust never happened, that Obama was gay and his wife Michelle was "Michael with a sex change", that Democrats should be shot or hanged, that Qanon were fighting the Democrat Deep State pedophiles, that a Soros funded Muslim army was stationed in the American desert southwest waiting to wage war and ... you get the gist. And that's just a small example. Generally I tolerate Republican ideology (and embrace some of it) but this blatant insanity was beyond the pale. After a while I stopped reading her emails as I couldn't stomach their unhinged content and phone calls with her were hardly better. Worse still was her flip flop a few years ago from loving my wife Jennifer as the daughter she never had to treating her as an enemy.

It didn't occur to me that this shocking paranoid change in her personality must be dementia until after she'd been scammed out of thousands in a blatantly obvious Publisher's Clearing House phone scam (plus her astonishing, changing stories defending it) then destroyed her home in an easily preventable fire caused by a microwaveable pet bed warmer. Also there were the ceaseless and strident complaints that her home's power 'smartmeter' was making her house radioactive and literally violently shaking her bed every night, then extreme anger at me for not somehow "fixing" that problem + a thousand other insane things like robotic dragon flies spying on her. I could go on ...

I helped her move into a local assisted living facility and conferred with their social worker about the issues I'd been having and she said "get a guardian". She explained that a guardian would, for a fee, take care of a demented parent and handle their finances and health needs, thus firewalling the toxic and emotionally painful behavior that I as her son and caregiver couldn't tolerate any more. My feelings about this were solidified further when she perjured herself in her deposition against the seller of the defective pet bed warmer and destroyed her chances at restitution from them.

An emergency guardianship with Florida's Polk County court was filed in July and granted. An attorney was assigned and went to her house to alert her to this new reality. She was enormously angry - the expected reaction of someone lacking in self awareness. The county court then sent three psychiatric professionals as an Examining Committee to evaluate her over a week with observation and cognitive tests. She failed all cognitive tests, behaved bizarrely and all three recommended full "plenary" or 100% guardianship. It was at this point that I discovered a fourth doctor had also evaluated her upon her move into the assisted living facility and similarly had noted her failure to perform in the cognitive exam and recommended a guardian.  A court date was set for early October to finalize the guardianship and I began to breathe easier, knowing that she'd be in good hands. 


As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished. I have two older brothers who haven't been even remotely a part of her life: one who hasn't made any contact since 1987 and Lewis, my extreme right-wing sibling who stopped visiting or calling her in 2005. Back in 2008 when my mother was still a clear-headed woman she wrote both of them out of her substantial estate and granted me Power of Attorney as I was the one who made a concerted effort at visiting often, taking care of whatever business I could when home, calling and writing regularly. Thus it was a surprise to find my mild mannered attorney and myself in court battling Lewis' two aggressive shark lawyers who spun every misdeed of my mother into paradoxical proof of her cognitive excellence.

They hired a local gerontologist who charged $1700 for four hours of her time to write a lengthy document full of superfluous and unrelated details suggesting my mother was somehow passably okay - despite not successfully giving her any cognitive exams. She made an aborted attempt at the Clock Drawing Test then quit and refused any further testing. This report then pads out multiple pages with comments on how neat her house appeared despite the reality it was freshly rebuilt and she'd just moved back into it and the contents of her refrigerator as if that conveyed a clear mind.

They introduced into evidence some cherry-picked snapshots of her home after the fire that suggested the damage was minimal: a close up of an expanse of bright blue carpet without noting that it was the carpet protected under the removed bed in the most distant room from the fire, a detail shot of a white wall and more carpet with the brightness boosted to the extent that the grey smoke damage wasn't evident, a shelf in the same room with books that had been behind a tchotchke which protected them but was now gone and so on. This fraudulent portrayal of the destroyed home whose debris my wife and I had spent weeks sifting through was an insult - but our attorney hadn't thought to introduce our photos into evidence. (additional photos taken by Jennifer). The official photographic record as far as the court is concerned is that her home - written off by her insurance company as a complete loss - was okay.

His lawyers also contended that she was doing a great job at managing her own healthcare - contradicting my claim that I'd never been able to get her to go for any physical exams. Obviously now only eleven weeks later she's dead from an enormous malignant lung tumor I noticed every time I hugged her that would've been caught had she actually been seeing doctors for proactive care...

I surmise my brother inserted himself into this situation and leveraged an opportunity for personal gain with a very substantial carrot in the form of a revised will if he'd contest her guardianship - and he succeeded. His attorneys found minor issues with the examining committee's three reports and they somehow got the fourth doctor's assessment tossed out because it was a letter and not a proper "medical document". After eight hours in court the judge sent us home and rendered the heartbreaking edict the next morning that based on the examining committee's reports minor issues and one report's suggestion that she was borderline, yet still recommended a 100% guardianship, the whole guardianship was tossed in the trash. And just like that I saw my $24,000 in legal representation and perhaps another $10,000 in fees relating to other legal expenses evaporate. I also knew at that point she'd retaliate, likely at my brother's behest and either write me out of her will or give some insignificant portion that would be an affront after my decades of help and love.

You may have read my post a few days ago about nearly being arrested at her hospice and wondered how it was possible for brothers to possess that level of animosity. I'll spare the details now, but it didn't help that we had a manipulative father who pitted his sons against each other, nor did it help that my mother failed to either notice or make an effort to raise her children like a cohesive unit. Honestly I could write a book about my parent's and sibling's toxicity. 

So you made it this far. I loved her - she was my mother. Now she's gone and every step along the way has been pointlessly traumatic.  The only moral I can leave you with is the same one I ended my almost arrested at the hospice story with, so here it is again:

Why am I sharing this private disaster with you? I can't say exactly. Perhaps as a cautionary tale for siblings you don't trust. Maybe also as a warning to raise your sons and daughters in a manner that lends to them solidarity with their siblings. Teach them love and inclusiveness. Be a good parent. Be the parents I didn't get. And when you write lengthy odes to how fantastic your parents were and how they always bent over backwards for you and inspired you to achieve greatness, remember that there's other adults out there who view your words as emblematic of the pile of cinders they'd been handed.


An addendum: I've omitted numerous illuminating details in the hope that I could keep this brief enough to make my point without taxing the average attention span. If or when I flesh this out you'll see what I mean. Some details will never stop bothering me, like my brother unapologetically asserting in his deposition that his mother's plunge into appalling far-right ideology proved she was clear-minded and that "it's never too late", blissfully ignoring that it took dementia to put her in his ideological corner. 

To be fair (& balanced) FOX News was the gateway drug that lead her to YouTube where the algorithm only fed her a straight diet of extreme right wing bigotry and Russian disinfo. When I tried to explain to her it wasn't representative of the actual world she wouldn't listen. It was the perfect brain candy for a mind teetering on madness, a diet of constant anger and outrage. Those suffering from dementia see their love and happiness fade as their capacity for wonder and inspiration departs leaving only fight or flight as the fundamental primitive emotions that outlive the others. To her the algorithm she'd fallen into WAS objective reality, as real as Walter Cronkite had been to her in the 1970s. In the end, I found myself paradoxically hoping that she watch FOX News as at least they occasionally reported on the news rather than the frightening content she consumed on Youtube.

We've got to fix this problem before our society goes up in flames. We also need to protect our oldest generation from those who'd prey on them.

Meanwhile, here's the kitten we attempted to gift her while she was at her independent care facility last year. She'd lost her cat in her house fire and we were willing to handle the responsibility of my mother outliving her new pet - but she wasn't swayed by the monumental cuteness of Miette. I think having a pet in her life would've made an enormous difference in her disposition but it wasn't in the cards.

Post Funeral & Burial:

Jennifer and I attended her funeral in Colquitt Georgia December 23rd. Also attending was my brother and four people I've never met who appeared only as a result of me telling them about it as far as I could tell. The officiant was a pastor of some small local church who operated in a complete vacuum as to who Vera was and then got the number of her grandchildren wrong, omitting Lewis' first two children Paloma and Sofia from a failed previous marriage of his. Obviously he'd been given bad data. In lieu of knowing anything about my mother he'd been told "pretend Vera was your grandmother ..." and so he rambled for 20 minutes about his grandmother and somehow also about America's "freeloading society looking for handouts rather than a hard day's work" because if you can't get a misleading political jab in at a funeral, when can you?

The next day she was interred at the cemetery with Danny the funeral home director soon departing leaving only myself, Jennifer and two gravediggers as the sole remaining witnesses to my mother's 89 years on this planet. Lewis' absence was thematically on-point regarding how much he'd been in her life since 2005. I was asked if I had any final words. At first I said "no" but then I changed my mind and asked the two gravediggers to do me a favor - always make damn sure that they vote. Both were emphatic that they always did and the older one told me about an argument he'd had with his wife back in 2018 when she said she wasn't going to vote because she didn't think that it mattered. 

"Do you think Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X died so that you could not vote?" was his reply. 

We then shared our thoughts on what an inspirational and sincere person Stacey Abrams is and our hopes that she'd become governor of Georgia.

Those were the last words spoken over her grave that day. I'm sure that my pre-dementia mother would've approved.

Interment attended only by me, Jennifer, Danny and the gravediggers


There's some irony that probate sounds like prostate, two topics generally not given much consideration until things go sideways. Vera drafted a new will December 3rd then passed away two weeks later on December 20th. If you don't know where to look for a will and if your brother doesn't want you to find it it's on you to figure that out. In this case it was posted in Polk County Florida's court probate system

It's a most instructive example of spiteful will-writing apparently drafted with the assistance of my sibling. As legalese is hard to stomach, I'll provide a summation as to what happened to my inheritance - a sum I'm omitting but which was quite substantial, enough to buy a home in Germany for example:
  • I get 30%
  • But only after I die
  • My wife is specifically denied any stake in it
And Bob's your uncle. My brother is naturally quite pleased and posted some gloating comments here - which he deleted though their text is archived, then several expletive-laden comments I chose to not pollute my blog with as they only postured without meaningful rebuttal. All read like a deeply insecure fourteen year old authored them and motivated me to add him to my spam filter. I won't bother quoting but it does engender within me a deep sadness that a man significantly older than me could never let go of his lifelong antipathy for his youngest brother.

Our mother told me a startling anecdote a few years ago that answered the question as to why he'd never been remotely a brother to me. She said when she was a week or two from term and about to give birth to me that our estranged father who was seeking a divorce told him and his younger brother (12 and 10 at that time):

"When your mother has her baby, she's going to stop loving you".

Both boys were traumatized and crying when he dropped them off. 

How is it that he could grow up, internalize that and never stop to think "man that was some fucked up shit my father said to me when I was twelve"? Or consider how manipulation like that might've shaped him. He's been that same damaged child inhabiting an adult's body ever since. 

And for that I honestly feel some sympathy for him.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Hospices Are For Goodbyes, Not Arrests

A semicircle of six bored Lakeland Florida cops are standing around discussing the merits of arresting me. The Black one, obviously the lowest ranking member of the group is fixated on me, his body language telegraphing a strong desire to see my face in the parking lot gravel. I hand my license to him but his eyes only look at me, not my license. As I extend my arm to hand him my identification he pulls his hand back making me reach even further in a subtle show of dominance. He then looks at it dubiously as if holding something unclean.

It's a warm December day and the sun is incongruously pleasant as I stand there in the parking lot of the Lakeland Hospice House where my mother lays dying, wondering how sideways this will go. I can't believe that forty eight hours previously I was hugging dear friends goodbye over pilsners in Germany, having no idea my brother Lewis was hiding my mother's impending death from me.  

The officers exude an air of detached levity, one of them lightheartedly mocking his superior for being so serious when he called for backup against the calm, grieving man. I guess two cruisers and four cops were not enough. My wife Jennifer stands a distance away observing and afraid. The third cruiser had just arrived and a young blonde female officer exited which dominated the attention of the cop who seemed to be the ranking member of this group of Polk County intellectuals. Noting his name tag I offer my explanation regarding what had transpired but he was so focused on the woman that he didn't respond. I try again, but louder: "Officer Pettit!" at which he snaps out of his trance and blurts "Yes ma'am? - uhh I mean sir?". Uncertain as to whether he was trying to insult me or just dumb, I press forward in an attempt to communicate.

"My mother is in that building dying" I explain, not sure they understand what happens in a hospice. "I'm here to tell her goodbye but apparently my brother has told the staff I'm not allowed." 

Just a few minutes prior I'd signed into the facility's guest register (noting that my mother's opportunistic and unsettlingly weird neighbor Miriam's name preceded mine). I asked to speak to a nurse for the latest status on her palliative care. Instead of a nurse I got a shockingly dour woman named Supervisor Sue and a big broad shouldered man she introduced as a "social worker". In case you wonder, this is all verbatim:

"There was a miscommunication, the family is requesting no visitors." says Supervisor Sue.

"I am the family".

"Sir the family is requesting no visitors".

"I'm literally the son".

"I need to ask you to leave".

"Since when is a son not allowed to see his mother?" 

"I'm asking you to leave the building"

"Under whose edict?"

"Sarah call the police!"

"Have you no empathy? Stop and consider this from my perspective ..." 

Her reply was to wait in the parking lot while they attempted to contact my brother - the first I was aware he claimed any jurisdiction over my dying mother. Seeing no path forward and in disbelief that my brother could legally make such a request, we exited and sat in our Fiat by the entrance.  I called my mother's friend Vicky who was also being kept in the dark and didn't know her friend was in hospice. She was thankful to hear from me said she'd come straight over.

I wouldn't have known my mother was dying had I not called my estranged cousin Lee that morning after our ten days in Germany and asked her how my mother was doing. Her guarded answer only raised more questions as it was apparent she was telling me the minimum her conscience allowed but not the specifics. I surmised that between a cancer diagnosis at the age of 89 and a hospital stay from which she hadn't returned that she must be in a hospice. I called a number of hospices in the area using the gambit "I got a garbled voicemail from you and I'm worried about my mother ..." until Lakeland Hospice House answered in the affirmative. 

Now I'm standing in their parking lot trying to reason with six cops itching for a distraction. I explain to Officer Pettit that Supervisor Sue cleared us to remain in the parking lot to await our friend. Officer Pettit says that when they made the call they reported I had "made fists and stepped threateningly towards her" - an utter fabrication. He adds that Supervisor Sue wants me "trespassed" to which I pointed out the glaring contradiction "then why would she grant permission to remain on the property with my car?" This logical Catch-22 confuses Officer Pettit, but he presses on "the power of attorney is the one who said you can't be in there". I'm not a lawyer but find it hard to believe that a power of attorney would grant the right to keep my mother prisoner.

Ever the optimist, I offer "you guys gotta know what it's like to be a son ... all I'm asking is that you show some empathy" to which I swear to the gods above and the devils below that Officer Pettit looked me blankly and said "wut?" and I again said "empathy" at his blank expression of incomprehension. 

"It's one of them situations where you gotta make an arrest, where you think the person being arrested really shouldn't be arrested but you don't got a choice" to which I again said I'd been permitted to remain with my car. He said they'd been told that too then added "it don't make no sense" to which I agreed. They bantered for a bit, then the Black officer with the attitude hands my ID back to me in an odd slow motion and says "we come back here for another 'issue' there's gonna be problems". 

That all went down December 15th, a bit over a day ago. Vicky did show up, they let her sign in and she walked to my mother's room and noted weird Miriam sitting in the corner like a guard. Miriam who is not a family member told Vicky that my mother was unconscious and Vicky had to go as she wasn't a family member then called Lewis. Vicky ignored her and managed to get a couple uninterrupted last minutes in the room with her friend.  She offered the lighthearted quip that she needed some Tennessee Ernie Ford music (a favorite of my mother's) to put some life into her - and my mother who they claimed to be unconscious and unresponsive raised her hand, which Vicky perceived as an affirmative. Then the staff tossed Vicky out too.

The next day I contacted Gerald Hemness, a local attorney I knew to have a reputation as a fighter and who had been a cop in a former life before realizing how low he'd aimed at vocations. Our consultation revealed my gut instinct that a Power of Attorney didn't convey the right to imprison a person was true.  Gerald used the metaphor that while a person could be evicted from a place of business, a hospice was a different case altogether and was like an apartment complex: each room represents a different family "living" there and if the apartment complex owner doesn't like someone, they don't have the right to deny anyone entry who was behaving lawfully. Furthermore, a PoA similarly doesn't convey the right to deny visitation from immediate family, so on both counts I was correct. Attorney Hemness (who was at that point out of state and not able to make an in-person visit) called Lewis' attorney to request he stand down. Obviously while I am legally permitted to visit, without a lawyer physically present I risked cops unfamiliar with the law arresting me - and as we know, when a cop screws up absolutely nothing happens to them 99% of the time.

This was my text exchange with him that afternoon:

LEWIS: You and spouse are cleared to enter while strictly observing rules Supervisor Sue has explained to you. The visit will be 60 minutes maximum and should occur ASAP. You will notify me of your ETA

ME: To be concise: we were never NOT clear to visit. I'll coordinate with the staff as you're not part of the equation. -- Stay clear of me.

I called Supervisor Sue once I was sure she'd gotten word of her error so I could get a mea culpa. None was forthcoming. I then asked her who told the police I'd made fists and stepped towards her to which she became angry and refused to offer any explanations. I made it clear I was on my way and would prefer a visit without drama.

We drove back to Lakeland again, an hour's drive. We signed in and I noted Lewis had signed in just a few minutes earlier, obviously intent on not letting me visit my mother without him hovering outside her door, which he did. Weird Miriam was there and vacated upon our arrival in a manner reminiscent of Gollum. We stayed for two hours and I held my mother's hand and talked to her with no signs of consciousness at all. 

My window to speak final words to her had closed. 

Why am I sharing this private disaster with you? I can't say exactly. Perhaps as a cautionary tale for siblings you don't trust. Maybe also as a warning to raise your sons and daughters in a manner that lends to them solidarity with their siblings. Teach them love and inclusiveness. Be a good parent. Be the parents I didn't get. And when you write lengthy superlatives and odes to how fantastic your parents were and how they always bent over backwards for you and inspired you to achieve greatness, remember that there's other adults out there who view your words as emblematic of the pile of cinders they'd been handed. 

The full backstory will eventually appear on my blog. As for now I must await notification of her death, then funeral, then the obvious aftermath of that. This story is far from over. 

Friday, September 24, 2021

Baby Advent II Speaker Repair


Nikki's vintage 70s hi-fi system. 

Back in college I never ceased to be astonished at the crappy stereos my female friends owned: no-name garbage like Kraco, Soundesign, Yorx or whatever. Sometimes that was borne of economic factors but generally even the silver spoon crowd either had something lackluster or just a clock radio. I don't know why this divide existed between the genders and in retrospect it seems that having a high fidelity stereo is considered a "guy thing". Then there were the exceptions, the women who loved their music and wanted to hear it properly. They were a vanishingly small percent and very intriguing for me - and still are for that matter. A good example is Susi, a cherished friend whose home audio consists of a beautiful pair of matched Conrad Johnson components with some Magnepan SMGa speakers that stopped me in my tracks when I first spied them and are a point of pride for her.

Recently another dear friend lost some of her possessions for ... reasons ... and I felt compelled to step in and assist. Nikki is a collector of vinyl and has far more LPs than most of the guys I know who claim to collect but her turntable was awol. What she still had was her dad's very lovely vintage Marantz 2235B receiver that she'd had serviced and re-capped. This demanded a period correct player to replace the Marantz turntable that had been its mate. I had a vintage 1972 Pioneer PL50 that would make a nice companion to her 1975 receiver so I set to sprucing it up: I installed a new needle on the stock cartridge, replaced the belt, oiled the bearing and adjusted the speed. A bit of oil on the plinth and then a blob of rubbing compound with the buffer on the dust cover and it looked nearly mint. 

But her speakers, oh my. Let's not mention them. Something had to be done. I trawled Craigslist and Facebutt Markethole and didn't see anything in the cheap and cheerful range. Then Nikki's pal Jonathan stepped in with his high school pair of Baby Advent II speakers which needed a bit of work. My pair of speakers for many years in college and afterwards were Advent Tower Prodigy and I had nothing but fond recollections of them. They punched well above their weight and made me happy for many years so their baby brothers were welcome. One of Jonathan's Advents appeared to have a burned out woofer, literally stuck at the bottom of its excursion and silent. I began looking for 6.5" replacements that had the same five ohm resistance, wattage and efficiency. My first foray was a no-name "5 Core" India manufactured woofer:

5 Core? What is this, a CPU?

Here's the replacement on the right. Despite mostly matching the OEM unit in specs, its got a small magnet and a similarly weak bass response. It was really unimpressive compared to the working speaker, missing what I'd guess to be an entire octave of bass compared to the stock Advent woofer. Back to the drawing board and time for another speaker.

A Sumo wrestler vs a bantam weight boxer.

Seen on the left, a Pyle PDMW6. It's 8 ohm and a good efficiency rating with a conspicuously large magnet. The higher ohm rating should yield more sound per watt. In theory. In reality it sounded just as thin in the Advent box as the tiny 5-Core speaker. My theory is that both had very stiff surrounds that needed breaking in. Who knows? What I did know was that the engineers at Advent had magically synergistic woofers for their speakers and I needed another stock one before I'd be satisfied.

The Pyle woofer arrived very bent and only worked after some brutal prying on my bench vice.

I reappraised the "burned out" Advent woofer: fully jammed at the bottom of its excursion, I'd nearly chucked it in the garbage. Closer scrutiny however revealed that the speaker cone didn't seem centered in the frame and the foam surround was distorted. I ohm'ed it and it measured normally. Jonathan told me someone had refoamed the cones in the past and I was suspicious that it was so off center that it got jammed. Maybe if I refoamed the cone? Not wanting to throw more time and money at it I bought literally the cheapest speaker surrounds anywhere: all the way from China, a pair for $3. 

Aliexpress is crazy cheap and sometimes has good quality too.

What I got was some of the most desirable woofer surrounds one could ask for: butyl rubber, chemically stable and tougher yet more pliable than any foam. Score!

Off with the very well adhered old surround ...

Now it was time to remove the old surrounds, not easy as they were fresh, not the crumbly decaying ones I usually scrape off. The cardboard trim ring disintegrated and the foam surround only came off after 45 minutes of rubbing with acetone, carburetor cleaner and Q-tips. Then with all surfaces clean it was time to attach the new surround.

Barge: not just for shoes!

There's no end of discussion online as to the best glue for this job. Ideally you use a glue that takes a few minutes before setting firm so that any needed adjustments can be made. The glue should be for whatever best suits your needs: woofers can be paper or polypropylene or aluminum and so on and the surrounds can be either foam or butyl rubber.  I used rubber contact cement as it's the gold standard, but there's no room for screw ups. If things aren't centered, they're instantly adhered. A more forgiving glue is Aleene's Gel Glue, 8-Ounce, clear on Amazon but I didn't have any and was confident I could get it on the first try. There's two tricks to centering the woofer, the lazy route is to use a D-cell 1.5v battery and energize the coil so that it's centered, hopefully. The other is to carefully cut the dust cap off with an Xacto razor leaving a tiny bit connected and fold the cap back and put shims in between the voice coil and the magnet. I started with the battery but wasn't confident it would work so I used shims too. Some 3x5 cards were the needed thickness.

Beefy butyl rubber surround.

The cone does look a bit distressed after the acetone bath. In retrospect I could've colored it in with a big Sharpie? I used the battery to keep the cone fully retracted and I applied the shims. I then painted the contact cement on all surfaces and waited for it to dry tacky. I'd marked on the speaker basket exactly where the surround edge went and slowly applied it. 

When you cut the cap, don't sever the speaker wires.

It's real easy to screw this up as any deviation will compound. Once the surround was on the basket I removed the battery and slid the cone back up towards the surround until the edges touched then helped them along with a light touch until all surfaces were fully adhered. I glued the dust cap back down with Uhu model glue and cut a new trim ring out of black foam core and glued it over the surround edge. Success: the woofer now made a full excursion from top to bottom without touching.

Voila: the finished setup! This is a temporary placement as there's no room anywhere else. Yes, the turntable is slightly impeding convective cooling from the amp and might pick up some hum - and yes the speakers shouldn't share a surface that acoustically interacts with the turntable but despite all this it sounds great. The walnut Advents look appropriate even if they are from a later decade and Nikki can get back to jamming to her Syd Barrett and Donna Summers records.

Thanks to Jonathan for donating the speakers and thanks to Nikki for being a cool friend. This system is a great example of a true entry level audiophile system and it looks sharp too. I'd be proud to own it. Mazel tov!

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Corvette Summer 2021! (SOLD)

Our Corvette's spirit animal

(Apologies to everyone who dithered on this deal. Congrats to Dylan for being a man of action!)
We've owned her for four years, long enough to check off "own a C4 Corvette" from our auto bucket list. Now it's your turn. We bought an Abarth for schlepping four people around so she doesn't get used as much as she should. I'd honestly not hesitate to get in this Corvette and drive across the country. She leaves us in better shape than we acquired her so our investment is your gain, esp. considering this is the lowest price you'll see for a very nice 6-speed convertible now appreciating in value. She's rattle free, drives smooth and the fresh suspension feels both taut and somehow ... comfortable.

Just The Facts, Ma'am:
  • 1990 Corvette with 6-speed manual transmission as the gods intended
  • Convertible for ruining your date's pompadour or bouffant
  • 110,000 miles on the odometer, just enough to correct all the mistakes the factory made
  • Kenwood DDX6904S state-of-the-art headunit & stock Bose speakers
  • Headunit incorporates both a crash dash camera and backup camera
  • Cold air conditioning because we're not savages
  • Cruise control that works and has a user UI that still makes no sense to me
  • At least 50% tread on Cooper 275/40R17 tires
  • New aluminized complete exhaust system and new catalytic converter
  • New KYB Gas-a-Just shocks front & rear, aligned, tires rebalanced
  • New knock sensors, new oil pressure sending unit, new valve cover gaskets
  • Adjustable temperature cooling fans: this car never overheats
  • A great mechanic services this car in St. Pete and conveys with her ...
  • A whole bunch more
  • $8500 or a very, very interesting trade on a Datsun or RX7
Minor Details I Chose To Live With:
  • Tachometer reads 50% too high 
  • Should be driven once a week or left on battery tender. Has battery disconnect switch
  • Brakes work awesome but one rotor is slightly warped thus a minor wiggle at quick stops
  • The price reflects the small demerits on this list 😀
Seminole Heights is a mural neighborhood

The left side (not shown) is also excellent

Dash warning lights lit only when engine is off

Nice cockpit with no overt blemishes

Clean engine bay

Mmmm, glossy paint ...

A surprisingly useful feature. The headunit also runs the dashcam

Cold start!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

In Russia, Vostok Watch Wears You!

Vostok Komanderskie watches, broken & new

Some people deal with their deep insecurities about aging by attempting to manipulate their slightly older friends into feeling paranoid about their age, all while casting themselves as a paragon of youth. To wit: my pal Scott who perceives wearing a watch as synonymous with sending telegrams, mail order catalogs, rotary phones and perhaps banging rocks together to make fire. "Just look at your phone for the time," he says then adds "older people sure like their watches". I had this conversation with him just before the Apple Watch came out so I guess the joke's on him now that everyone has a glowing screen on their wrist. The rest of the joke was that I was 46 at the time and Scott was taciturn to admit his age: thirtymumblemumble he'd say. I had an earned schadenfreude when I later discovered he'd turned forty and I could then call him fortysomething for the next decade of his life. But I digress.

Phones don't scratch the itch of having a nice timepiece on your arm and don't allow the subtlety of a sidelong glance at your wrist when you want to be covert about checking the time. More than that is the appreciation of excellent mechanical engineering that is embodied in a bespoke watch, especially if the timepiece has a mechanical automatic movement. The idea of the artistry and engineering that goes into microscopic gears, cogs and jewels for fulcrums to pivot on inspires in a way that quartz controlled battery powered watch cannot. 

To that end, the variation on this theme is nearly infinite. Picking what inspires you can be difficult. I've pushed some friends into watch ownership by gifting them one. The idea that this manifestation of my respect for them then becomes a daily article of appreciation brings me joy. I've given mechanical watches to more than a few friends over the years ... but I've never had the favor returned. 

Until now.

Leonid is a cool fellow from Nizhny Novgorod, Russia who stayed in our Airbnb a couple times over the years with his wife and daughter. He and his family are a good natured, progressive group who Jennifer and I got along with surprisingly well. It was an opportunity for me to show the section in my library on Russian history, their space program, dissertations on communism, collectives and Soviet era armaments. Similarly he was interested in American aerospace, music and our insane politics. It was a fortuitous meeting. We sent them home with our NASA flag to be discreetly flown in private quarters. Maybe Russians neighbors might not react well to this display of fandom but I could be wrong. 

We've been discussing visiting Russia and I expressed my desire to replace my broken KGB Vostok Komandirskie watch I've owned since shortly after the wall fell. Looking online at the Vostok website a number of great replacements called out to me and I fully intended to stuff my bags while there with a dozen of them considering how insanely inexpensive they'd be after the dollar to ruble conversion. Then the pandemic struck and we all know what happened after that.

Cut forward in time a number of months and an unannounced package arrived from Russia with no fanfare at all. Here's what I got:

Vostok Watch
Vostok Komandirskie "Amphibia" TU 25-07.1347-77, GOST 10733-98

A very tidy standard KGB issue Vostok watch, the most representative of the genre that one could find on the Vostok site! Honestly, many of the modern Vostok watches are styled awkwardly, are ungainly or have unfortunate or cliched graphics on their watch face. But this one was already in my fantasy cart when the day came that we visited. For the record, I'm very anti-fascist and don't celebrate the brutal foreign intelligence and domestic security agency of the Soviet Union, but I do find it fascinating and hew to the dictum that those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. There's elements of Russian workmanship I admire, from their very reliable Soyuz capsules to their Ural motorcycles based on an ancient BMW design to the Lada Niva VAZ-2121 to the Mig-15. A Vostok watch is a collectible example of their heritage for making work-a-day mechanical items for the common man.

Snobbery is rampant in the world of watches and keeps me from desiring a new watch from marquees like Tag Heuer, Cartier or Tissot. They make good timepieces but I'm not a fan of the ostentatious crowd who wear them. I'm conflicted about Rolex and would probably buy their Milgauss in a moment of weakness. I especially loathe branded pieces of junk from Versace, Gucci, Bruno Magli, Kate Spade, Calvin Klein etc. as you're buying a name slapped on garbage. My collection focuses on 70s era Seikos, especially Bell-Matics and Bulova Accutrons, some of the most honest watches ever made. A Vostok slots in well to this aesthetic: effete watch snobs wouldn't wear them or know of their existence but any watch collector who appreciates simple mechanical designs and heritage will have a positive word for one of these.

Sizing my Komandirskie

I needed to size my watch and keep tools on hand for sizing and most watch repairs. For this I needed the blue press with the rotating collar for driving out the pins that hold the links on the watch band. I did help one out with the hammer and push-pin, removing a total of four links as five was too tight. There's also four notches on the clasp that allows for finer adjustment of size. It's important to injure yourself at least once when removing or reinstalling the link pins.

No task is too small for an injury

The watch now fits perfectly and I'll be wearing it to secret informant meetings, during prisoner exchanges, using it to time interrogations and as a token of my rank within in the Soviet apparatus. I'd bet Putin still wears his from the days when he was an ambitious and murderous young GRU officer. Thanks Leo!

Damn good lume - second hand included

The following section is Google photo translations of the manual which came with the watch. I made no real effort to correct translation errors so be warned.

ACCELERATED FLOOR ADJUSTMENT  1 CALENDAR.  Floor.  3 Position 3. Move the crown Move the hour hand from the number “12” to the number “8” in the direction opposite to the arrows, and then along the direction of the arrows to the number “12” (until the new date of the calendar appears).  Repeat the cycle "12-8-12" until the required number appears, After Paul 2 to finish the calendar adjustment, turn the crown to position 1. MAINTENANCE INSTRUCTIONS the watch must be protected from shock, exposure to chemical products and the effects of magnetic fields;  - to prevent fogging of the glass on the inside, it's necessary to control that the threaded cap is well screwed in; - to avoid getting dust and dirt into the mechanism, do not open the watch case.

MANUAL FACTORY There's no need to wind the watch for everyday wear.  If the watch has not been used on the wrist for more than a day, wind it by making 20-25 turns of the crown.  To wind the watch, unscrew the crown from the sleeve - position 2 and wind it, slightly pulling the crown away from the case.  Don't immerse the watch in water if the crown is not in position 1. (Position 1 - crown is completely screwed onto the sleeve). TIME SETTING Move the head to position 2 and pulling it until it clicks - position 3 set the arrows by rotating the head. After setting the arrows, turn the head - position 1. CALENDAR ADJUSTMENT Move the crown to position 3 and turn the arrows in the direction of their movement to set the date. Screw the head back in and fix it in position 1.

Specifications for mechanical wrist watches "Amphibia", TU 25-07.1347-77, GOST 10733-98.  Watch with a central second hand and an instant calendar.  Automatic movement "Vostok" 24165. АЯ54 The number of ruby stones-31.  Anti-shock device of the balance assembly.  The case is stainless steel.  Water resistant up to 20 ATM.  Organic glass.  Stainless steel bracelet.  The daily rate at a temperature of 20 + 5 ° C within -20 .. + 60sec. / Day.  The power reserve from one spring winding is not less than 31 hours.  Average service life of the watch is 10 years.

WARRANTY OBLIGATIONS.  The warranty period of the watch from the date of its sale through the retail network. The shelf life of the watch is 1.5 years.  12 months.  In the event of any defects found during the warranty period, we recommend contacting the workshop at the address indicated in the appendix, the company that sold the watch, or the manufacturer.  Disadvantages of watches are eliminated free of charge within a period of not more than 20 working days from the date of their receipt at the factory or another organization authorized by the Manufacturer for repair or sale.  Warranty repair of watches, replacement or refund of money is carried out in accordance with the Law of the Russian Federation "On Protection of Consumer Rights".  For the addresses of the warranty workshops, see the Appendix "Service and Warranties".  OTK EXTERNAL NUMBER CODE RELEASE DATE REGISTRATION 420457-22 03.09.20

Mechanical wrist watch "Amphibia" date of sale stamp of the store CJSC CHISTOPOLSKY WATCH FACTORY "VOSTOK" 

Closed Joint Stock Company Chistopol Watch Factory "VOSTOK" Russian Federation, Republic of Tatarstan 422981, Chistopol, st.  Engels, 129T, bldg.  Н-2 Phone / fax: (84342) 9-00-00 Sales department: (84342) 9-00-05 Warranty workshop (84342) 9-00-15 e-mail:; B rch5 @ mail  .ru Vostok Russian watch since 1942

Petersburg, st.  Odoevsky, 29, Primorsky shopping center, section 2, tel .: 8-812-904-5 / -01.  St. Petersburg, Komendantsky pr-t, 9 bldg.  2 lit.  A. TRK "Promenade" pom.  five;  tel .: 8-812-965-98-43.  St. Petersburg, Aurum Service Center "Lentrapny", Nevsky pr., 48, tel. :: +7 (812) 385-58-44.  St. Petersburg, Aurum Service Center "Severny".  Engels ave., 154, tel .: +7 (812) 385-58-33.  Degerurg, Service Center Aurum "Yuzhny", Kosmonavtov Ave., 14, tel .: +7 (812) 385-58-11.  tseterburg, Aurum Service Center "Zapadny", Komendantskiy pr., 9, building 2, tel .: +7 (812) 385-59-22- St. Petersburg, Aurum Service Center "Vostochny", Kollontai street, 3  , tel .: +7 (812) 385-56-95.  St. Petersburg, Clock House "Anker +", Ligovsky prospect, 111, tel .: +7 (812) 764-99-63 Ufa, Timeservice LLC, Prospect Oktyabrya, 62, tel .: 8 (347)  257-99-07.  Chelyabinsk, "Watch repair", st.  Engels, 34, tel .: 8-951-792-17-71.  Chelyabinsk, mn "Prospect", 2nd floor, st.  Kuznetsova, 12, tel .: 8-900-069-12-14.  Yaroslavl, shopping center "Frunzensky", Moskovsky prospect, 97, tel .: 8-901-994-23-61. - Thilo Muth, Neue Str: 3, DE-06311 Helbra, Germany Phone +49 178 1972073, e-mail

Astrakhan, O00 Timesservice.  st.  N. Ostrovsky, 21, tel .: (8512) 62-63-03.  Balakovo, "Watch repair", st.  Lenin, 94/1, TC "Garant", tel .: 927-100-82-38.  Barnaul.  "Watch repair", st.  Yurina, 203 (2nd floor) 8 (3852) 40-20-37.  Barnaul, "Watch repair", st.  Pushkin, 76, tel .: 8-903-992-21-25.  Volgograd, OOO "Timesservice", st.  Naumova, 10, tel .: (8442) 98-03-33.  Volzhsky, Lenin Avenue, 84, Central Department Store, 1st floor, left wing, tel .: 8 (8443) 45-90-10.  Vinnitsa, LLC "Aviatekhservice LTD", per.  K. Marx, 56, apt.  3, tel .: 38 (067) 7970088, 26-13-16.  Yekaterinburg, IP Chinkova, TC "Moskovsky", pr-t.  Lenin, 5, 2nd floor, tel .: 8 (343) 2-68-52-26.  Yekaterinburg, LLC "Mokosh", TC "Kit", st.  Amundsen 65, tel .: 8 (343) 290-92-42.  Yekaterinburg, LLC "Mokosh", SEC "Megapolis", st.  March 8 149, tel.: 8 (343) 290-59-50.  Irkutsk, mn "Russian Watch", st.  Litvinova, 2, tel .: (3952) 488-262.  Kazan, "Workshop for repairing watches", Bauman st., 51, 2nd floor, TC "GUM", tel. +7 (987) 290-32-08.  Kazan, TC "Dolphin", IP Minizanova, st.  Zorge, d. 68, 1st floor, tel .: 898728945 39; B 8987 284 00 25. Kirov, LLC "Caliber-Plus", Khlebozavodskaya pr., Industrial complex No. 3, "MAYAK", tel .: (8332)  40-54-39.  Kiselevsk, Trade House Oksinite, st.  B-Dachnaya, 69 A, tel .: 8-960-915-69-09.  Krasiodar, O0 Timeservice, st.  Krasnaya, 174, tel .: (861) 242-46-88.  Lviv, FLP Khomenko, st.  B. Khmelnitsky, 212, bldg.  2, office, 212, tel .: (+38032) 232-97-67.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Parappa & His RAV4 2-Door

Fun fact: this Rav4 debuted in 1996, the same year as Sony’s Parappa The Rapper and is very likely the car Parappa learned to drive in.

I'm not saying that a two door 1st gen RAV4 is gangsta cool or even modern rap cool. But it's definitely hip-hop cool: I can't imagine Parappa learning to drive in any other car. Here's our rare and sought after 2-door Rav4, perhaps the nicest in the country hanging out with our new-to-us 1990 Nissan Pao.

The Rav4 coupe is an extraordinarily uncommon and cute vehicle with the driving dynamics of a tall Honda CRX. Two door coupes demand a premium, which reflects the rarity of these quirky, fun cars.
Ours has super glossy paint and a fresh set of Lexus ES 300h hybrid wheels.  Original stamped steel wheels included in sale. Spare tire on hatch replaced with a much lighter temp spare.

Required equipment for any aspirational hip hop mutt, the Kenwood kdc-bt360u bluetooth stereo sounds great & matches dash lighting + the original cassette unit is included. 

Entire windshield Llumar tinted to reject heat and UV with dark band added at top. Cold AC, keyless entry and an alarm. USB charger on dashboard. Five speed manual, like god intended. Shifts well. Front wheel drive. 150k miles on odometer. The only nonfunctional part on this car: the tachometer.

Fun fact: all seats can be folded flat providing space for two people to catch a nap on a long trip. 
Fun fact: there’s two enormous, removable sunroofs for a near-convertible experience.

NEW within the last two years:

  • Timing belt, water pump and tensioner
  • Distributor assembly including cap, wires and spark plugs
  • Alternator
  • Kenwood kdc-bt360u with bluetooth and USB inputs
  • Brake master cylinder and brake fluids
  • Fresh transmission gear oil
  • Front main seal and valve cover gaskets replaced: no oil drips
  • Alignment
  • Infinity Kappa 621x Two-Way door speakers and Pioneer in rear
  • Llumar highest spec ceramic nanoparticle tint 

  • Fresh marker lights & all bulbs LED including brake lights that strobe for a split second
  • And probably many more things I'm spacing on...

Cruising around to Parappa's driving test music.

Lots and lots of space for a tiny car. It's insanely well engineered for being practical. The rear seats flip and fold forward presenting a very tall space for big stuff.

There's a lot of thoughtful touches to the 1st gen RAV4 two door like glass headlights that never turn yellow or fade and upholstery that's borderline insane by today's standards. Also these Lexus wheels were meant for this car - as after all, a Lexus is a Toyota.

If you're interested in buying this minty RAV4, drop us a line! Others have sold for much more than this one at $4900 so hurry before it's gone ...

Note: this RAV4 sold in Arizona for far more. I'm not that patient and feel that I'd rather break even on mine than reap a giant profit:

NOT my RAV4 - but indicative of the coupe 2 door values

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

RIP Florian Schneider: 26 Days Of Silence?

Florian’s Beetle fahren auf der 3d Autobahn

Strolling a narrow Düsseldorf street close to the Altstadt district adjacent the Berliner Allee you may have stumbled upon a cultural and metaphorical Easter egg parked on the street. The more astute among any Kraftwerk fans would’ve felt a frisson as I did, a tingling sense of discovery and wonder that someone you’ve spent your entire life idolizing might be close at hand. Such were the thoughts that overwhelmed me upon encountering this particular grey on grey split window Volkswagen Beetle humbly awaiting its owner late one night a couple years ago.

Glorious Grey!

And upon further nearby investigation, confirmation. Briefly I felt like the human incarnation of the Television Personalities song I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives.

Sometimes I feel like Columbo.

And that was that. I didn’t ring the bell because I’m not an asshole and I didn’t meet him and never will and frankly would’ve made a mess of it if I had. There’s an old aphorism about not meeting your heroes and I’m generally a believer. I’m not naming names but I’ve crossed paths with a few artists I admire only to later find myself selling their albums on Discogs and I’m okay with preserving Florian’s dignity in this regard. Yes, I can recount a life-affirming encounter with Florian’s bandmate Wolfgang Flür (see the interview here on Medium), I once had crepes with Philip Glass and his son Zach and discussed Daniel Johnston with Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan & Georgia Hubley but then there’s the time that I stood outside Elizabeth Fraser’s hotel door and realized it would be madness to knock. There’s a time and a place. Elizabeth: you’re welcome.

Wolfgang, my amazing wife Jennifer and Electri_City author Rudi Esch

But that’s not why you’re here. You’re here because Florian is now relegated to history and you’re grieving. He meant the world to you, you own all the Kraftwerk albums and posted in usenet groups back in the day lamenting the dearth of new material. 2008 found you grieving in a different way when Florian said Auf Wiedersehen to Kraftwerk, adjusted his jaunty wool alpine hat and departed to his favorite Westphalian Altbier pub forever leaving behind the band he’d founded 39 years previously. That’s who you are, we are one and the same, you and I. Therefore I won’t regale you with facts lifted from his Wiki and I won’t rehash the monumental significance of his achievements. You know them. 

That said, I must weigh in on the discrepancy of time between when the world felt a disturbance in the Force and today when news broke of Florian Schneider’s departure. In a statement, Kraftwerk co-founder Ralf Hütter confirms “the very sad news that his friend and companion over many decades Florian Schneider has passed away from a short cancer disease just a few days after his 73rd birthday.” As I write this it’s May 6th 2020. Florian’s birthday is April 7th and so “a few days” generally means three, so we’ll assume we lost him April 10th.

What, exactly transpired in those 26 days? Can Ralf Hütter perhaps, set me straight on this? What about you Sony Berlin? Hello “one of his musical collaborators, who said Schneider had died a week ago and had a private burial”, what do you know about this Manhattan Project level of secrecy that has surrounded the death of one of the most influential musicians who has ever existed?

Had the same level of secrecy existed around Prince’s death Minneapolis would have burned. Had David Bowie’s transition to the aether been similarly smothered? Riots I assure you. Did Laurie Anderson sit on the news that her beloved husband Lou Reed no longer was waiting for the man? No. 

Unlike those examples, Florian never had a dreadful Christian phase like Prince and never stooped to working with hacks like Gwen Stefani or Sheryl Crow. Florian never birthed anything as bad as the Glass Spider tour and never bought songs from other artists to rebrand as his own. He never contractually phoned one in like Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. In fact Florian never composed so much as a mediocre song. There’s literally nothing be apologetic about, legendarily inspiring countless electronic bands from Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark to Daft Punk. Apologies to fans of Prince, David Bowie and Lou Reed, I’m a fan too but I’m just belaboring the point that Florian had a perfect, unspoiled record of awesomeness. And yet, unlike those artists I just dunked on, twenty six days elapsed before we knew the supernova that was Florian shines no more.

I understand that there’s decorum and protocol regarding our fallen heroes and I’m glad that I could pay my homage to Falco at Vienna’s Zentralfriedhof cemetery. Similarly I once spent an hour with William S. Burroughs at St. Louis’ Bellefontaine Cemetery and remember the cold, grey day well. These were public figures and in death they still contribute to their fans. So then, what does the future hold for Florian? A memorial? A statue on the beautiful Königsallee? I ask out of fear that the memorial will have to exist in our hearts and minds. I ask for all the fans.

I'm NOT equating Falco to Florian but his glass obelisk memorial is truly astonishing!

Would someone please give us a clue? Throw the smallest bone? I'm the antenna, catching vibrations here and feeling very receptive.

David Sanborn is a rabid fan of Kraftwerk who once went to the DMV and changed his name to Kraftwerk. Feeling that wasn’t sufficient, he then proposed to his fellow Kraftwerk fan girlfriend that they get married as Kraftwerk. Since then they’ve had a blast and made some great friends.