Perspectives of a Writer and Musician

Issues related to writing, publishing and playing jazz music: One man's muse.
by Al Stevens

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Location: Florida, United States

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Junny Rios-Martinez

Please take a moment and read this report. This just happened today.

Mark Schwab Execution Blocked

The article goes into no details about the murder. Nor will I. You can search and find reports about it online.

Junny has been gone sixteen years. He would have been twenty-seven. I knew him and know his family. They live about two miles up the road. I have worked with Junny's father, Junny Martinez, Sr., a local drummer. Junny's mother, Vicki, operates a nearby beauty salon. Vicki's stepfather is John Powers, a string bass player and a very close friend.

I have a seventeen year angst about this case, well beyond the normal pain one feels when a child is taken. John and I were working together before and during the time when Junny was taken and murdered. John told me proudly about how a national surfing magazine had sent a young reporter to do a series of articles on his grandson Junny, then eleven years old. This so-called reporter had established a relationship with the family and offered to take Junny to surfing conventions around the world. My instincts told me that they should be cautious about this fellow. It didn't sound right. I kept those instincts to myself.

A few days later the worst happened. I have beat myself up about it ever since.

I sat across the kitchen table with Junny, Sr. after the killer had confessed and taken the police to the shallow grave. We were all just learning the horrible details of Junny's final hours. I told Junny, Sr. then. "What I am feeling cannot be one one-thousandth of what you are feeling, and what I am feeling is unbearable."

On a gig with John, a singer who did not know called the tune. "God Bless the Child." John had to stop playing as he wept openly on the stand.

Now today I face yet another conflict. I am a longtime opponent of capital punishment although not an activist. And the pending execution of the murderer of a child I knew is the catalyst by which the Supreme Court will decide whether to abolish the death penalty, something I think they should have done a long time ago. Talk about being torn apart.

I am a jazz musician, and there is an indirect jazz association with this attitude. At age 18 I went to see Susan Hayward's powerful portrayal of a condemned woman in the movie, "I Want to Live." I went to see it not for any message but because the Gerry Mulligan Quartet did the sound track. I came out of the theater with a lifetime opposition to capital punishment.

Since Junny's death and the death sentence of his killer, I have had to revisit my feelings about this particular issue. I'd willingly kill the guy myself. But that would be wrong, just as wrong as, in my opinion, allowing the state to kill him. So I developed a personal rationalization for how to deal with this conflict. This is what I believe.

Capital punishment wants to serve five purposes as often related by its proponents:

  1. Punishment of the offender
  2. A deterrent to others
  3. Preventing the offender from committing further crimes
  4. Saving the cost of feeding and housing the offender for life
  5. Revenge for the victims' families

We don't know whether dying is a punishment. Statistics show that jurisdictions with the death penalty have no fewer murders than those that do not impose it. Life without bail effectively removes the offender from society. It costs far more to prosecute all the appeals of a capital case than it does to house and feed someone for life.

That leaves revenge. We cannot deny that. So, let the state not kill anyone, but let them set it up. Get the guy on the stretcher, in the chair, in the chamber, on the trapdoor, tied to a post, whatever. Then offer the switch to the family. If they are willing to pull it, so be it.

I know what Junny, Sr. would do.

It's not a civilized alternative, but it's one I can live with. Writing about it here might just help me make it through the next several months.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How Not to Install a Wig

I used to fixed television sets as a sideline. I could always tell when a set had been messed with by the owner. It was always screwed up. And it was always the wife who lugged it to my shop. Her husband, probably a rocket scientist, was too embarrassed by what he'd done. It's one thing to understand the underlying electronic design theory that specifies how a TV set works. Fixing one is quite another thing. The wife would say, "I don't know, it just quit working."

(Never let your friends and neighbors know you can fix TV sets. Or computers.)

I don't fix TV sets anymore. They don't work like they used to and they don't break like they used to. I look in there and don't know what I'm looking at. I know better than to mess with things I don't understand.

Not everyone can say that. Case in point:

Last week a client had shipped to me an old handcarved Selberg ventriloquist figure. The figure has lots of animations—jaw, eyes, winker/blinkers, eyebrows, and upper lip sneer. And it has a beautiful, expensive child's wig.

But the eyes are not self-centering, and the client wants that feature. Which is why it's here now. Usually, such a job would involve the simple installation of a spring. About a ten minute job if where the spring needs to connect is easy to reach.

I haven't opened the head to see, however. First there's no room on the workbench, which is currently dedicated to Chuck Norwood. Then there's the issue with the wig.

This Selberg boy has a very nice wig, which has always been a highlight of figures that Tim builds. They have great hair. The problem with this one, however, is how the wig is attached. It looks to me that to open the head I might have to destroy the wig, which I really hate to do. The wig is part of the original figure, which, besides being a fine ventriloquist figure, is approaching collectible status; it is from the era about twenty years ago when Tim made mostly one-of-a-kind woodcarved figures.

I know three acceptable ways to install a wig on a hard figure.

  1. attach it with Velcro strips
  2. staple it on
  3. attach it with hot glue

There are probably other ways, but these are the ways I've seen.

Velcro strips provide the most maintenance-friendly method for attaching a wig. You can easily remove and reinstall the wig, which makes for easy emergency repairs to the mechanics.

Stapling the wig is okay, but you need a tool to pull the staples and a staple gun to reinstall the wig.

Hot glue works okay, but it's my third choice. It leaves a clumped up residue when you remove the wig. Removing an old hot glue clump is next to impossible, so you just leave it there and add more hot glue when you put the wig back on. Too many wig removals make for an unruly wig with all those clumps of dried hot glue.

Those are the ways I know to attach a wig. The Selberg figure does not use one of those ways. Whoever last had the wig off reinstalled it with—you'd better sit down to read this—epoxy glue.

That's right, folks, epoxy glue. Figure makers around the world are smiling to themselves now. They're wondering if the owner's wife brought the figure in to my shop to be modified. No, not this time.

Epoxy glue is kind of permanent. It becomes one with whatever you apply it to. It flows freely, seeks its own level and bonds with everything it touches. That's okay when what it touches is wood, brass, plastic, or anything inflexible. But hair and net webbing? Alas.

This is kind of like working on your antique car and then welding the hood shut.

To remove the wig, I'll have to virtually destroy the webbing and a lot of the hair, much of which is heavily glued to the wooden head. Then I'll toss the wig fragments into my wig remnants box. Maybe it can contribute to a mustache some day. Then I'll spend several hours scraping the glue residue off the head and trapdoor. Finally I'll acquire, fit and install a new wig.

Whoever used epoxy on that wig substantially added to the cost of what would otherwise be a simple repair. And they also reduced the value of the figure as a collectible. The new wig won't be original or even like original; you can't find wigs like that anymore.

So, kind readers, if you are about to do maintenance on your valuable figure, please keep in mind that someone might have to do additional maintenance sometime later. Don't do dumb things that will make the next guy's job that more difficult. Don't weld the hood shut.

Better still, don't do anything yourself. Send the figure to someone who is qualified to work on these valuable works of art.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Plastic Wood...or would it?

Why can't they leave things alone? What the heck happened to Plastic Wood?

Mortimer Snerd was cast in Plastic Wood. So were most McElroy figures. Some vintage figure-making books suggest using Plastic Wood as a casting medium.

Chuck Norwood's trapdoor was held in place with a loose pin. It kind of rattled around. I decided to install two wood screws, one at either side of the head. One of the sides just above the ears is too thin to receive a screw hole, however, so I decided to build it up. I needed just a small bit of casting, not a major job.

So I bought a new can of Plastic Wood and gave it a try.

I built up a nice thickness on the inside of the head with Plastic Wood. I let it set up for a couple of days. I drilled a pilot hole for the wood screw and began to thread the screw into place. The Plastic Wood clump fell apart and broke away from the wood. I picked up the clump and dug my thumnail into it to see how well it had hardened. It crumbled apart. Plastic Wood not only won't stick to wood, it won't even stick to itself.

Someone must have thought the previous formula was wrong. They must have decided to fix it. It ain't the same. The can looks the same. I still have one of the old cans. Empty.

Don't try to cast a head or hands from Plastic Wood. If you drop the cast, it will break apart.

In the past I've used DAP Wood Dough successfully for such things. But I've run out of it. I went to Home Depot and Lowe's. They don't carry it any more. Maybe because DAP now owns the Plastic Wood trademark.

The DAP website has a link that helps you find dealers for their products. The nearest one is in Daytona. It might be worth the drive. Unless they fixed that formula, too.

I found several more goopy wood filler products under various names that look and work—more precisely, don't work—exactly like the new, improved Plastic Wood. I now have an assortment of cans of wood filler products decorating a shelf in the workshop. Too bad none of it will fill wood.

Maybe I can do an Andy Warhol-like painting of the cans.