The Mahogany “Patrick” Desk Restoration

In honor of Hurricane Florence, which is due to hit the east coast in a few hours, I thought I’d start to work on the Mahogany desk that was rescued from my uncle’s shop, The Wagon Wheel, in Ellicott City. This was a victim of the May 2018 flood, and it decided that it wanted to separate all of its pieces at once. The drawers basically disintegrated when I brought it home and cleaned it. Even all of the separate pieces they glued up to make wider boards for the drawer sides all just came apart. I thought I should start this before the next rains come, because frankly, I’m afraid for Ellicott City.


I like a challenge. Most of the veneer had separated from the substrate of the serpentine drawer fronts, so I removed all of the remaining veneer that I could. One front is missing large pieces, so I guess I’ll learn how to do veneer work this Fall! Plus, I have to figure out how to put all this stuff back together. I dumped out the bag of pieces, small and large, and started figuring out which ones go where. So these photos are the first ones being put back where they belong. As you can clearly see in the photo below, I don’t have nearly enough clamps.


Surprisingly, the hardest part of this so far has been getting the hardware off. The handles are brass, but the screws are steel, so they rusted and jammed themselves up real good. I used PB Blaster, which is automotive penetrating spray, and that worked for all but two screws. The drill took care of one of those, but I still need to get the screw out of the handle.

Once I get these fronts sorted, I’ll figure out the best way to reattach the veneer. I’ll make new backs out of poplar, and new drawer bottoms (those were really gone). I contemplated cutting off the dovetails from the drawer fronts so I could add bare wood and re-cut them. But on second thought, I will either hand-cut them, or I’ll custom make a template for the dovetail jig. Either way, the process has started. . . Stay tuned!



Decisions, Decisions. . .

It’s been four years. That’s when I first put the proverbial pen to paper on a book that I have called from the very beginning, SubAqua. The first thing I did at that time back in June of 2014 was to write an extensive outline for where I wanted this story to go. The next file I created was a map of a still unnamed city where all this action would take place. This was also about the time I started hearing about NaNoWriMo. I didn’t know what a NaNoWriMo was, but my writing and critique group did.

I had been writing for a couple of years by this point, and I had a completed manuscript for a middle-grade historical fiction novel called Jacob the Armorer. Let me say this about that—if you think you’re a pretty good writer, go back and read that masterpiece after it’s been in the back of the fridge for a couple of years. My poor critique group friends had to read that thing. But I digress. They were all about this NaNoWriMo thing, and encouraged me to join in. I sort of did, and it was fun.

SubAqua was the manuscript I chose to write for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), with a goal of writing 50,000 words during November, which should result in an SFD (Let’s just call it a “Sloppy” First Draft). I had an extensive outline, and though I didn’t officially register for NaNoWriMo, I believe I finished that month in the neighborhood of 62,000 words. My critiquers have done full reviews and edits, I’ve had beta readers, I’ve revised it myself continuously for four years, and I’ve submitted the work to forty or so agents.

So renaming my novel Undercurrent is a difficult choice to make. This is like renaming one of your kids after a few years. “Well Bobby, you’ve had a good run. But, we’re going to call you Edgar now.” This change has been coming though. I’ve long realized that SubAqua was not the greatest title, but I couldn’t come up with a better one. Sometimes, when you get to the end, you look back at what you’ve created and a title will jump out. I mean, after all, I didn’t know how this book was going to end when I was writing it. I love surprise endings, you know. So it wasn’t until I made that other decision—to stop submitting to agents and self-publish—that the decision became more real.

When I started working on that real concept for a real book cover, that’s when things got weird. I was thinking “Undercurrent.” Hmmm, that could work. But I hated how the title looked on the cover. It’s a long word, and it just looked awkward. But in the end, I think it is “Matura MT Script Capitals” that has given me the appearance I was looking for. I think it’s set. New title is Undercurrent.

Now, if only I can find a good graphic artist who can bring my Undercurrent symbol (a dolphin jumping through an inverted Omega) to life, I’ll be able to get my concept cover together. Incidentally, in engineering, the Omega is used to represent “Ohms” or (electrical) resistance, and since the Undercurrent group represents a kind of resistance, I thought, why not?


On my way to work, I often use a four-way stop at Ten Oaks, which is along the back way (read, not Route 32) to work. I’ve written about this intersection once before in my post, “Coexisting with Civility.” This intersection, as I’ve noted, performs more effectively than a roundabout. People approach and just instinctively know what to do. Your turn, his turn, your turn, her turn, your turn, MY turn. Magical.

Today, this was an intersection of impressive horsepower. A show of might. A display of flagrant, American purchasing power.

To my right, dressed all in black, with tinted windows, 18-inch aluminum wheels and Brembo brakes—powered by the 460HP 5.0-liter V8—the Champion. . . FORRRRRD MUSSS-TANGGG!

And to my left, wearing the bright red cape, trimmed in flat black, with 20-inch chrome wheels—the shaker scoop over a 392-cubic inch 465HP Dodge V8—The CHAL-LEN-GERRRRRR!

Okay, enough with the wrestling drama. . . There was also some little sporty car, possibly a Honda or something. I don’t know. . . it was silver. What I do know is that, whatever it was, the other two could have eaten it if it had gotten in the way. He did leave his stop sign with vigor, and he had one of those little four-cylinder mufflers that sounds like a fart machine, and THAT is what started the display.

The Challenger noticed that, and then he noticed the Mustang, clearly in an opposing position, and he established himself as his namesake. There was a loud chirp of squealing tires as he wound his first gear out near the red line, and then his tires hooked up, and he left the area promptly, and with authority.

The Mustang, now that his opponents had already cleared the area, gave less of a show. Nonetheless, he couldn’t let that gauntlet slap across his grille with no response. He rolled forward into the clear intersection, and then sent a million decibels through his injectors and out of his exhaust system as he went into hyper-drive.

But there’s one thing that NONE of these drivers had noticed before. They were so busy trying to impress each other that they failed to notice the fourth vehicle in the ring. They were so quick to leave, that they all missed the show, for there I was.

The 2011 Kia Optima, equipped with a stunning 2.4-liter motor with wheels and lights and stuff. I clicked off ECO mode, flipped my shifter into sport mode and jammed down the accelerator, wound out first gear as I tore across the intersection. The sound coming out of my exhaust was about the same as what was coming from the bar when they were making my Pina Colada at Chili’s.

Pure awesome. . .

How to Change Lanes

I’ve been driving for a very long time, but I’m still learning new things. By studying other drivers, I’ve learned the proper way to make a right turn on red, how to text and drive, how to be courteous to other drivers, and how to eat pretty much anything while driving. I’ve studied all the controls in my car and my truck and many of them are the same. Even when I think I know what something does, I can still be amazed to find out it can also do something else.

There’s a skinny little lever on the left side of the steering column that make the lights blink. If I push it down, it makes a little green arrow pointing to the left, blink. If I push the lever up, a green arrow pointing to the right blinks. Once when I was playing around with the lever while parked in front of a shop window, I noticed that in addition to the little green lights on my dash blinking, it also made an amber light on the front of the car blink. I turned the car around to see the reflection of the back of my car in the shop window, and sure enough. . . BAM! A red light on the back of the car blinks too.

This feature on its own turned out to be amazingly useful. For years, I’ve used this lever to communicate my intentions to other drivers. When I wanted to turn left, I’d push the lever down and the lights on the left side would tell them what I was going to do. But, there’s more to it. I just learned today, that the lever has magical powers. Repeatedly during my drive today, I noticed drivers near my car—in fact very near to my car—used the lever to create a space for their car. It’s so simple!

I noticed the driver of the Honda Accord to my right reach for the magic lever and push it downward. Even though there was no space for the Accord in front of me, somehow, the lever created space, and the Accord appeared directly in front of me. I felt the gravitational forces on my face as the Accord slid in front of me. The effect was so strong that it caused a bag to slide off my seat, and my coffee to slosh against the lid. The seat belt anticipated the gravitational disturbance and tightened against my shoulder. And then the red light blinked.

It happened again with a GMC Yukon, and then again with a BMW 530, and again with an F-250 filled with plumbing supplies. Damn! All this time, I’ve been doing it wrong. When I’ve been on the right trying to get into the left lane, I’ve used the lever to make the lights blink. Sadly, nothing seemed to ever happen. They’d just blink, and blink, and blink, and no space would open up that my car would fit into. It seemed that the longer the lights blinked, the more the other cars would close up any space that even came close to the size of my car. But now I know.

Tonight on my way home from work, I tried the new trick. I pushed the lever down, and before the little green arrow even lit up, I cut the wheel to the left, and my car was magically inserted into the left lane. At that moment, I learned that this maneuver also causes headlights to flash, and sometimes horns to sound, which I think signifies a successful lane change. So I tried it again, and again. It worked every time! Many of the drivers waved their hands, cheering me on. It was SO invigorating. I can’t wait for the drive to work in the morning.

Drive safely, my friends.

Hungry, Hungry Hyundai

ElantraAs you all probably know, (You do all subscribe to my blog, right?) I have been known to stop at Chick Fil-A just about every morning for coffee. It’s really preparation in case I run into traffic, which only starts the second I leave my house. If I have time, I will go inside for a spicy chicken biscuit. I must go inside to eat a CFA sandwich, because their biscuits, delicious as they are, tend to explode into a cloud of crumbs when you bite into them. You should know that my car doesn’t do crumbs.

When it was McDonald’s—and I don’t stop there much because their coffee always tastes like cigarette smoke to me—I could get a Sausage McMuffin, and if I was in a hurry, I could grip the sandwich by the wrapper (much as a migrating sparrow might grip a coconut by the husk) and munch the last couple of bites while driving the back roads of Great Star Drive, carefully calculating my last bite to be finished before turning onto the wild and crazy Rt. 32. McDonald’s doesn’t tend to put things on their breakfast sandwiches, like the ½ cup of mayonnaise, 93 pieces of chopped onion, and 13 pickle slices that they put on their lunch sandwiches, all ready to squirt onto my console.

But, not everyone has the same high standards as me (That should probably be “same high standards as I,” but that sounds stupid). I’ve seen many people on the roads who have highly developed multi-patella-dexterosity, aka, the ability to use both hands and steer with your knees. The left hand is to hold the sandwich, and the right is for holding the steering wheel, phone, cigarette, dog, lipstick, or stickshift (depending on your preference or bad habits), leaving your right foot to accelerate wildly while steering with your left knee. Believe me, this is WAY harder than it sounds.

I have seen women applying makeup in the sun visor mirror (which is wrong on a couple of levels), and a guy shaving with an electric razor. I’ve seen dogs in laps, their heads sticking out the open driver’s window. But the strangest thing I’d seen until today was a guy eating a piece of cake. With a fork. Off a plate. On the highway. I can’t even imagine trying that without scraping the paint off the Kenworth T680 semi in the next lane. What’s worse is, he was so nonchalant about it. The plate was level, he was probably steering with his knee, and every once in a while, the fork would stab a piece of cake and he’d gulp it down like Augustus Gloop turned loose in Wonka’s factory.

Tonight though, on the way home from work, there was the Hyundai Elantra in the next lane. The lady behind the wheel was talking to the little microphone in the roof of her car, even occasionally waving her right hand around like she was trying to dry her nails (Okay I haven’t seen that one yet). But in her left hand was a ginormous, completely peeled orange. She took a bite. There was a lot of traffic, so we passed each other several times over more than five minutes, a couple of miles, and every time, there was the orange. A couple of bites taken, but most of the orange was still there. She’s probably on her sofa right now, watching reruns of the Golden Girls, talking to her sister Amoeba on the phone, gripping that stupid orange in her left hand.

All I could think about while we passing each other was that juicy, sticky, nasty orange leaking all over the seat and the carpeting, juice getting all over her hand and running down her arm, little droplets dripping off her elbow and oozing into the power window controls. I imagined her in front of me at Chick Fil-A the next morning trying to buy her coffee, handing the cashier a handful of sticky money through the open door because her window no longer works. And that’s when it dawned on me where I went wrong. I should have hit the horn and put the window down and yelled, “Gladys! Yeah, you in the Hyundai! Eat that damned orange!”

Volmares: Roots of the Central Maryland Urban Dialect

There are many lost languages in North America, including Apalachee, Mohawk Dutch, Tilamook, and Yurok. But some have not become completely extinct. A few hundred years ago in this very region, the original settlers of Baltimore practiced a very rich dialect that is still spoken in many areas in and around the city. It was in 1608 that Captain John Smith explored the upper Chesapeake Bay, specifically the area surrounding the Patapsco River, which means “backwater” in the Algonquian dialect.

The original settlers of that area blended their English with sounds from the local Algonquians, and that evolved into the dialect originally called, “Vol-ma-res” which in Algonquian, translates loosely into “Majestic Waters.” The settlers mimicked their language, right down to the pronunciation of Valmareese, and it is this Valmareese accent that has given the region around Baltimore City its rich lexicon and vibrant treat for the ear.

The diacritical marks have all but disappeared from the written language. Most notable among them is the ewmlaut (not to be confused with the German “umlaut”). The ewmlaut (pronounced “EWWM-lowt”), uses two backward slashes, typically over the vowels “O” or “U” (e.g. ȍ), also seen as a conjoined O and E or U and E, such as “Œ.” The “auhawn” diacritical mark is expressed as a small circle beneath the A (e.g. “ḁ”) and is typically pronounced as “ehhAY.”

An exception to most of these rules seems to be a diversion of the original Algonquian. When a U with an ewmlaut (an accented long U) follows certain consonants, everything after the U is slurred. The most widely known example is the English word, “ambulance.” In its original Algonquian, ambulance (any form of conveyance of the infirmed), would have been pronounced as AM-byu-lantz. As the language evolved into Valmareese, the pronunciation changed to Am-b’-lamps, and is still used widely throughout the urban centers of Baltimore.

All of these pieces have helped form the modern day dialect which evolved from the original Valmareese, into what is now called “Bawlmorese.” You may have heard traces of this dialect near the neighborhoods of Baltimore. For clarity, I’ll avoid all the diacritical marks in the following examples, but will attempt to phonetically express the sentences, although it is impossible to express Bawlmorese accurately in written form.

“Yewse awl better come ouwn in here an’ giyt yewur dinner, ouhr it’s gohna git cold.”

“Hey, did’a Owh-ri-oles win dere heome owhpener, th’other day?”

“When yewse hiear a amb’lamps*, yewse better pewhl owhver to da sahd of da rowhd.”

(* Also pronounced “am-blantz”)

“Hey Jimmie, bring me a glayss o’ wuhrter ouwt o’ tha zink.”

It is still very common to hear the Bawlmorese dialect in use even today. To hear it in its native glory, it’s best to visit the Hampden, Bel Air (also pronounced “B’lair), Canton, Fells Point, Locust Point, or Highlandtown (also pronounced “Hollin-town”) regions of the city, particularly diners, grocery stores, beauty shops, and lottery ticket sales terminals.

By now, you should realize that this whole thing is complete BS. But if you’ve made it this far down the page, “Awww. Gawd love ya, hon.”

Here’s a link to help you:



Five liters of unbridled anger roars in the lane beside me. The red glow of the traffic light reflects off the glistening black paint of the Mustang’s hood. The driver grins behind the cloak of dark-tinted windows, no doubt assessing the worthiness of my machine. I am undaunted.2015-gt-mustang-doing-a-burn-out

I pull my front wheels to the stop line, cautious of the changing light, watching it, for I know my vengeance is coming. The Mustang revs, loudly boasting its readiness. I sneer, tightening my grip on the leather-clad wheel. It’s on.

My right thumb finds the “ECO” button on the steering wheel, disabling it. I won’t be saving fuel this time, friends. My left foot depresses the brake pedal, holding back the 190 horsepower that paces in its stall, trying to escape, waiting to throw its rider. My right foot sends more revs to the orange tachometer needle. My eyes study the traffic light. My ears ignore the wail of the stallion to my right.

The Mustang eases to the thick white line, our bumpers neatly aligned. We do not make eye contact. Our cars taunt each other. The amber light on the cross street glows, and I know I’m seconds away from victory. Three. Two. One. Green.

I release my left foot and jam my right to the floor. The Traction Control warning lights up on my dash as the tiny front wheels lose traction in the remnants of loose salt, spread so profusely a week earlier in anticipation of a quarter inch of snow.  Damn it!

The chrome horse on the Mustang’s fender rears up and kicks its hooves as steam blasts from its nostrils. The Mustang leaves two trails of black evidence in the street, visible only until the tire smoke blocks out my view of his taillights as he blisters into the future, leaving my Kia Optima coughing and embarrassed. The engine wheezes like a turbocharged leaf blower. By the time the Mustang has reached the next county, I’m traveling at a speed of almost 25 miles per hour.

Until we meet again, Mustang. I will turn off my traction control, and we’ll see who’s boss around here. Oh yes, we’ll see.