August 19, 2020 – Happy Birthday, my friend

A very good friend of mine turns 70 years old on August 19, 2020. I too turn 70 the following month, in September of 2020. As you can imagine, I’ve had great fun at his expense, chiding him unmercifully on every previous birthday, about his advancing age. And what can he do? Facts are facts, he’s older than me (by 42 days) and as much as it may appear to be true, I am not really catching up on him. For his birthday this year, I sent him a card and the enclosed greeting. Now I’m sharing it with you. I hope you like it:

Dear Steve,

Today, on August 19, 2020, you turn 70 years old. I know, this seems near impossible to comprehend. Being older than I am, I’ve always looked up to you – sort of like a father figure. But today, it needs to be said, you’re looking more like a grandfather figure.

Seventy years old (70) just sounds, well, old – really, really old. Have you tried looking at it in terms of dog years? If a dog’s first human year equals 15 dog years and each year after is 4 dog years for each human year, you would be 296 years old – in dog years. Yeah, okay, maybe not helping?

So, how about looking at it this way — using roman numerals? Using the DD.MM.YYYY notation, you are a mere XIX.VIII.MCML I sense you’re feeling better already… gramps.

Although the 19th of August lacks any truly significant historic events such as the start or end of major wars or pandemics, discovery of important vaccines, emancipation or enslavement of any significant group of people, the birth or death of a person anyone wishes to remember, August 19 does indeed turn out to be an important day in history after all. While it did require a through reading of human history beginning in 295 BC, I was able to compile the following, in chronological order, of actual, real, genuine historical events that coincide precisely with your birthday:

  • 19, 295 BC – The first temple to Venus, the Roman goddess of love, beauty and fertility, is dedicated by Quintus Fabius Maximus Gurges during the Third Samnite War. Funds for the temple came from fines imposed on Roman women for sexual misdemeanors. I am not making this up! Imagine how much more money they could have raised if they’d taxed men, instead!
  • 19, 43 BC – Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, later known as Augustus, compels the Roman Senate to elect him Consul. His egregious political behavior leads to the first recorded campaign finance reform legislation.
  • 19, 1153 – Baldwin III of Jerusalem (no relation to Alec Baldwin) takes control of the Kingdom of Jerusalem from his mother Melisende. His time in office is marked by a host of controversial laws, including making it illegal to hold salmon under suspicious circumstances, outlawing stink bombs, making it illegal to whisper in the temple or swear out loud in public, requiring fried chicken to be eaten only with fingers and hands, and making it illegal to pick lint off someone else’s robes. Apparently, he had no issue with picking your friend’s nose.
  • 19, 1504 – In Ireland, the Hiberno-Norman de Burghs (shortened to “the Burkes”) and Anglo-Norman Fitzgerald’s fight in the Battle of Knockdoe. Soon after, “Muckanaghederdauhaulia” is founded or, in Irish, “‘Muiceanach idir Dha Sahaile,” This small town in County Galway translates to “ridge, shaped like a pig’s back, between two expanses of briny water.” It’s eventually become a favorite everywhere in the “try and say that five times fast,” game.
  • 19, 1561 – Mary, Queen of Scots, 18 years old at the time, returns to Scotland after spending 13 years in France, where she attended French cooking classes. Refusing to discontinue wearing a beret, she irritates the castle staff by speaking to everyone in a French accent.
  • 19, 1612 – On this day, the “Samlesbury witches”, three women from the Lancashire village of Samlesbury, England, were put on trial, accused of practicing witchcraft. One of the most famous witch trials in British history, the solicitor representing them had never ever, even once, cleaned his wig.
  • 19, 1666 – The second Anglo-Dutch War was brewing and on this day, Rear Admiral Robert Holmes leads a raid on the Dutch island of Terschelling, destroying 150 merchant ships by smearing them with bacon grease and setting them on fire, an act later known as “Holmes’s Bonfire.” Look it up!
  • 19, 1759 – The battle of Lagos, a Naval battle during the Seven Years’ War between Great Britain and France occurred on August 19. Soon after, pantyhose is invented in France and the war was soon over.
  • 19, 1795 – George Washington issues the first presidential pardon to the members of the Whiskey Rebellion, setting an important precedent for pandering to crybabies mad about paying taxes.
  • 19, 1812 – The American frigate USS Constitution defeats the British frigate HMS Guerriere off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada earning the nickname “Old Ironsides.” Exceeding its $100,000 estimate to build at well over $300,000, it began the legacy of all government contracts taking twice as long and costing at least 3 times the projected price.
  • 19, 1909 – The first automobile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 12,000 people attended. The oldest driver to ever win here was Al Unser Sr. when he was 47 years and 360 days old. So, almost 48 – more than twenty years younger than you!
  • 19, 1960 – The Soviet Union initiates the Sputnik program: Korabl-Sputnik 2, launching a satellite into space with two dogs (Belka and Strelka), 40 mice, two rats, a variety of house plants, a chess set, a gingerbread house and toy airplane made from popsicle sticks.
  • 19, 1964 – not much of anything happened.
  • 19, 1965 – Japanese prime minister Eisaku Satō becomes the first post-World War II sitting prime minister to wear white platform tennis shoes.
  • 19, 1970 – After downing an American U-2 plane and sentencing the pilot, Francis Gary Powers, to ten years imprisonment by the Soviet Union for espionage, the term “Cold War” was used for the first time, given how much colder it was in the Soviet Union. After the long running “cold war,” it was concluded that although violence never solves anything, it turns out it’s a fine fix for quick, short-term conflicts in many situations.
  • 19, 1974 – Gerald Ford pardons Richard Nixon, reasoning that holding a former president to the same legal standards as an ordinary citizen would be an unbearable trauma for the nation.
  • 19, 1980 – Saudi Flight 163, a Lockheed L-1011 TriStar makes an emergency landing at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Later the pilot was found to having been “just this close,” to finally solving his new Rubik’s Cube puzzle.
  • 19, 1987 – This day was the first recorded and documented acknowledgement that the 80’s was “a decade that really sucks.” This was the year the movie Three Men and A Baby beat out Fatal Attraction and Beverly Hills Cop for biggest movie of the year. It was the first ever movie/Disney Happy Meal tie-in, including Muppet Babies Happy Meal Toys. The biggest song of the year was by the Bangles — “Walk Like an Egyptian.” The first cell phones came out – they were the size and weight of bricks, had a $150 monthly service fee and cost 50 cents per minute to use. Televangelist Jim Bakker paid Jessica Hahn $265,000 in hush money from church coffers. The DeLorean was the bright and shining light in car design but the Chrysler LeBaron and Capri were the biggest sellers.
  • 19, 1989 – Radio Caroline, the offshore pirate station in the North Sea, is raided by British and Dutch governments. At the same time, a blizzard hits the northeastern seaboard of the US and crews take ten years to dig out Rhode Island. A study finds that Medical Marijuana is effective for treating long-term pain over Jerry Garcia’s death.
  • 19, 1999 – Puerto Rican activist Elizam Escobar is pardoned by Bill Clinton after it is discovered that being Puerto Rican is not illegal.
  • 19, 2000 – Archaeologists discover a cave with the earliest known built-in shelves.
  • 19, 2003 – The Concord Public Library becomes the first of many institutions to ban The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for its unfair and prejudiced depiction of alcoholic fathers.
  • 19, 2012 – A crippling Blizzard earned the name Snowmageddon, after world leaders addressed the storm during a meeting and begged for it to bring about Judgement Day at last.
  • August 19, 2016 – A Florida man, Reza Baluchi, had to be rescued by the Coast Guard AGAIN after his third attempt to reach Bermuda in a giant homemade bubble. Baluchi previously tried to make the trip in 2014 and again, last April, but had to be rescued both times. I know how much you love these nautical stories and so am attaching the video about it.
  • August 19, 2019 – A Florida man, Michael Owns, 61, was caught on surveillance footage grabbing two packs of rib-eye steaks – worth $56.35 – putting them in his pants and walking out of the store. A loss prevention officer apprehended Owens as he exited the store. The steaks were recovered but weren’t allowed back on the store shelves.

Above everything else, I don’t want today to get you down. How about spending some time reflecting on what you were in your past life? Today’s science is now able to determine, based on the correct spelling of your full name and birthdate, the precise individual you were in your most previous incarnation. I spent the big bucks ($5.95) and learned through this incredible service that their research says your most recent life, the one before this one (is this clear enough?), you were born somewhere around the territory of Western Australia in approximately 1150. Your profession was teacher, mathematician and/or geologist. I do not know how you feel about this, but you were a female. You loved marmite and kept a kangaroo named “Kurt” as a pet.

You aren’t alone, my friend. Many people were born on August 19, 1950. It turns out experts are now able to estimate with some certainty, that exactly 266,848 babies were born on this day. That is the equivalent to 185 babies every minute. So, not feeling quite so special, are we? Just be glad they didn’t all cry at once.

As your near and dear friend, I wanted you to be energized, enlightened and happy on your “oh so special day,” which is what led me to this extensive research and study. It was all for you!

Happy Birthday, dear friend!


Who got the best deal?

Jaguar XJ6

The purchase of one of my dream cars, a Jaguar XJ6 sedan, did not work out entirely as anticipated, but in the end, everyone was happy. Buying the nearly ten-year-old Jaguar from a local used car lot was easy. Making it go away was a tad more difficult. The euphoria I felt when it left was nothing compared to the buyer’s side of this tale, which I didn’t learn until later.

Immediately after Ginger was born Maggie began complaining that our daily driver vehicle at the time, the venerable, indestructible and seemingly immortal, Toyota Celica, was not meeting the standard for a good “family car.” Her biggest complaint: it only had two doors. Getting Ginger into and out of the rear-mounted car seat required a multitude of gyrations, including bending the front seats forward and holding them out of the way with your butt as you made all the appropriate adjustments in the back. “Can you just get me something with 4 doors?” she begged. Well, that left me with a lot of options and in less than a week I’d obliged.

Al Cady, John Bonte, Stu Baker, and I frequented a lunch spot a mile or so from Control Data’s headquarters. CDC occupied land near where the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN now sits. Restaurants lined the frontage road along Hwy 494, as did used car dealerships and occasionally we’d see something pretty. One day Al Cady bought a bright-red Jaguar E-type convertible. He loved this long, sleek beauty until we mentioned everyone one assumed a guy his age driving around in that sort of car, was basically announcing to the world he was having pecker problems. He sold the car.

One of the lots had a gorgeous silver 1974 Jaguar XJ6. I returned after work for a more extensive look and was immediately smitten. An early business hero of mine had been Paul Ginther, the VP of Marketing at Schaak Electronics, who drove a gray Jaguar XJ6. I thought Paul was the coolest guy ever. I wanted to be Paul Ginther when I grew up, a VP of Marketing who drove a Jaguar. They were asking $6995 for a car that in 1974 had cost almost $30K. So, a pricey car that had depreciated a great deal and looked perfect to me. I saw no rust, a big issue in Minnesota, and the dealer assured me it had been methodically serviced by the prior owner, an elderly woman who only drove it to church. After some negotiating, I brought it home for a bit over $5k plus Maggie’s Toyota. While not exactly what she was thinking, once she saw the beautiful leather and wood interior and humongous back seat, she pronounced it more than acceptable. It was March, 1984. Our time with the Jaguar began and it was sublime.

As the XJ6 reached its 50th birthday, Octane Magazine editor Glen Waddington wrote a wonderful celebration of the car. In his article, he speculated that the XJ6 may have been the best car in the world. “It rode with a comfort and silence that were alien to other cars of the day, save perhaps the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, yet it also handled with the kind of balance that normally came only with a smaller, harsher sports car.” He goes on to say: “The XJ6 is a breathtakingly refined car. It has an uncommon suppleness, as every movement of wheels and body is kept in deft control by exquisitely judged damping. The steering, often criticized for being over-light, is quick and accurate. The engine feels zingy and surprisingly potent in such a large car and its 0-60mph time of 11 seconds and 117mph top speed don’t tell the whole tale.” British car builders own this niche, and you see elements of it in the Rolls Royce, Aston Martin and Bentley. They build better luxury touring cars than anyone on the planet.

I just loved the car and we spent the summer happily loading it up with miles. We took it to Milwaukee for a wedding and a sight-seeing trip for autumn leaves in northern Minnesota. We frequently drove it to Rochester, Minnesota to display our newly arrived daughter to her grandparents and friends in that part of the state. Sitting behind the wheel was amazing. Once you got over all the wood and leather, the rows of rocker and dip switches were reminiscent of an airplane cockpit. Of great fun was picking up another couple to take them to dinner and hear them wax enviously about how much room and luxury there was in the back seat – it was like riding in a limousine.

That fall, however, I noticed two disturbing things about the Jag. First, when looking closely at the car after washing it one day, I saw nearly every inch of it was covered with small, nearly-microscopic rust pinholes. This told me immediately that the car been the recipient of a quick “Earl Scheib-style,” $99 paint job before it was set out of the dealer’s lot and it was covered with rust underneath. The second issue was that as the fall season arrived and overnight temperatures dropped, the Jaguar (which lived outside) was beginning to experience difficulty starting. The idea of Maggie and Ginger in that car through the winter suddenly seemed like a really bad idea, and so I became determined to sell it quick.

Selling a car then meant listing it in the newspaper’s cars for sale classified ad section. Maggie and I discussed at length the right price to put on it. I wanted to price it for the same $6995 figure it had been on the used car lot when purchased it in the spring. I figured that number would give me plenty of room to negotiate down since we really only had a bit more than $5k into the car. Our ad went live in the paper the following week, followed by zero calls. No responses, no nibbles, nothing for a week. The paper called and offered a renewal for another week for half price. We debated on dropping the price to $5995 but decided to let it ride at $6995 for another week. And then we got the call.

A middle-aged guy called saying he worked at the University of Minnesota and had seen our ad and wanted to know if the car was still available, and if so, would it be possible for him to come and see it and bring his friend, an English car specialist along. We scheduled a time that week after work and they arrived. The car was in our driveway, and I went inside to let them examine it without me hovering. After about 20 minutes they rang the bell. He announced he was indeed interested in the car and would like to return on Saturday. Would I allow him to take the car to a British car mechanic he knew? Might it be possible to have the car for a few hours on Saturday morning? Not having any other prospects, I agreed.

When they left, Maggie and I talked. Who knew what the mechanic would find? The car had worked flawlessly for us, and uncharacteristically for me, I’d never even checked the fluids (other than oil) or taken it to a mechanic. We just drove it. I feared that although I’d put a good coat of wax on the car, the rust pinholes might reappear. And of course, the general condition of the starter, engine, and transmission, were mysteries to me. What might be wrong? It was a British-made car from the ’70s, without a reputation for great reliability.  We were asking $6995 in the paper, but would have been thrilled to $5995, what we’d nearly listed it for. I cautioned Maggie if they found anything substantial, we might have to go well below that. We agreed we didn’t want to take less than $5k for the car if we could help it, but would need to be ready to consider and discuss sub-$5k offers. Then the two guys showed back up with the car and I met them in the driveway.

I liked the two guys and hoped they would end up with the car. They talked carefully about what they’d learned from the mechanic, reading from a list, carefully trying not to say anything that might hurt my feelings. As they showed me small nicks in the paint here and there, pointed to the age of the tires, and some worn carpet, I began to think, “Sheesh, maybe they didn’t find anything wrong,” and it turns out I was right. The mechanic had judged the car to be in good mechanical condition. Then they came to the part when they needed to make me an offer. They’d clearly rehearsed this.

One of the two, with the other one alternating his gaze intently from me to his partner, said, “Okay, we know you are asking $6995 for the car, but after looking it all over and seeing the things we’ll need to fix, we’re prepared to offer you $6500 for it.” He paused briefly as I looked at him and said nothing. Then he continued, “But, we know you were expecting more, so here is what we are thinking. How about if we agree to split the difference, and we’ll give you $6750 for the car? What would you say to that?” I waited a long minute to get my breathing under control and fight the urge to grin and then said, “Well, that is less than what we were hoping, so would you excuse me while I discuss this with my wife, who is in the house?” And I turned and left. I came into the kitchen where Maggie was feeding Ginger a snack. I poured myself some coffee, sat down at the table, and began to read the paper. After a while, Maggie looked out the window and saw the two guys walking around the Jaguar, and asked me what I was doing. I said, “Oh, you and I are having a discussion on how low we’re willing to go to sell the car.” She nodded and went back to feeding Ginger. I finished the funnies and the sports section, and 15 minutes later finally went back outside. While I knew they were more than likely to come up with another $100, it didn’t seem fair. So I told them we’d decided to accept their offer, but not before moaning a bit about it. They provided me the cash, I signed and gave them the title and they were gone. When I came back into the house and showed Maggie the $6750 in cash, she was pleased. But this is not the end of the story.

Two weeks later we attended a dinner party at the home of Dr. Walter Bruning. Bruning had been recruited by Control Data CEO Robert Price from the University of Minnesota where he had been a chemistry professor, to run the division my group reported into. He was a brilliant man and a genuine character. We loved him and his wife, Karen. Toward the end of the evening, Walt regaled the group with a story he’d just heard the night before while having dinner with some University of Minnesota friends. It seems these two professors had found a priceless Jaguar sedan owned by some guy out in Eden Prairie who had no idea what he had. The two of them, over a two-day period, had shrewdly managed to virtually “steal” this car from the unwitting Eden Prairie guy. Walt told how they’d offered far less money than the owner wanted but in the end, they’d stuck to their guns and paid only what they’d set out to pay. The car was now in their possession, and they would spend the winter restoring it.

It took every ounce of restraint not to pipe up and say, “Yeah, I think I know that guy.” But in the end, isn’t this the definition of a great deal – both parties happy with a transaction?


Macho Hubris Bites Again

To celebrate our first anniversary, Maggie and I planned a trip to the Florida Keys in March of 1983. As recently certified SCUBA divers, we were looking forward to a two-tank dive in the legendary underwater park near Key Largo, the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.

This park covers over 175 nautical square miles of coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove swamps. It was created to protect and preserve part of the only living coral reef in the continental United States. It’s named after John Pennekamp, a Miami newspaper editor, who helped establish the Everglades National Park. While the park has a wide variety of tropical vegetation, shore birds and marine life, what fascinated me was that a good part of the park is underwater. Yes, an underwater state park with a vast amount of coral formations and marine life. As newly minted divers, this area called to us like fresh sugar water in a feeder calls to hummingbirds.

After spending the night in Key Largo, we arrived early the next morning at the dock to meet our dive captain. Sipping coffee and eating from a box of donuts provided from our captain, we learned we were being joined by two guys, students from MIT, who were in Florida for spring break. Loading duffle bags with our masks, snorkel and fins, Maggie took 4 Dramamine tablets, something she routinely did before venturing out on any large bodies of water. While Dramamine failed to negatively affect her, I avoided them as even one tablet would put me to sleep. After making sure we had an adequate number of full air tanks, inspecting the regulators and completing the paperwork, we were off. The captain was alerted to a weather front moving into the area, and depending on its speed, might cut our trip short. As we headed for the dive spot 4-5 miles from shore, we noticed the wave size increasing and the boat being jostled about. At the dive site our captain lowered the anchor into about 30 feet of water, telling us this was a great spot and he’d see us in 40-45 minutes depending on how our air held.

The boat had begun to rock about a good bit, so we were all anxious to get into and under the water, where we expected to be dashed about a bit less. Descending to the ocean floor, our two new friends went off in one direction, Maggie and I in another. After only diving in Minnesota lakes, this experience was wonderful, with coral and lots of colorful fish. While not relaxed underwater, Maggie did remarkably well and before I knew it, it was time to head back to the boat.

This lack of gravity and ability to move freely in any direction in utter peace and quiet is mesmerizing. Weightless and effortless, divers move through a magical underwater world is magic. We hadn’t gone all that far and I was able to make out the shadow of the boat on the ocean floor 100 yards from us and we slowly swam in that direction. We reached the anchor rope about the same time as our new MIT companions and motioned for them to go up first. Although not all that deep, we still kept to a slow ascent as we’d been trained to prevent possible accumulation of nitrogen which could cause decompression sickness.

We arrived on the surface near the rear of the boat where we knew the ladder was located. While submerged, the wind had picked up a good bit and we noticed we were in 3-4 foot swells. Helping Maggie to the ladder I watched as she attempted to time her climb. It was not easy getting back into this 20-25 foot bouncing dive boat. Imagine you are a rodeo cowboy, attempting to get on (not off) a bucking bronco dancing around the corral. Oh, and by the way, you’re wearing SCUBA gear including flippers. Possible, yes. Easy, no! Inside the boat, the two MIT divers took turns tossing their lunches over the side. Once things had settled down, the boat Captain looked at us and tentatively said, “Well, you all paid for two tanks, and I’ll do whatever you want. Does everyone want to go down again or shall we call it a day? The two MIT guys looked at me, their eyes conveying a desire to quit. Before I could say anything, Maggie exclaimed, “Sure, that was fun, I’ll go down again,” and looked at the three of us with a big smile. In retrospect, swallowing our pride and skipping the second dive would have been the more prudent option. But the gauntlet had been laid down. How could 3 buff (yes, I was buff – sort of – this was 1983!) guys say no? We had no choice; we were doing another dive.

No sooner had we dropped the 30 or so feet to the bottom and our two diving friends had headed off, I had the overwhelming urge to throw up. Remembering my training, I resisted the strong urge to rip my regulator off my face and instead just threw up through my regulator. While not fun, it cleared quickly and I’d suddenly become quite popular with a school of small fish.

Maggie and I explored as before, me feeling much better after taking care of my stomach. When my air gauge showed a bit under a third of the tank left, I gave the appropriate signal to Maggie that we needed to head back to the boat. However, we had a problem. The sun was no longer shining and no shadows on the bottom. My mental map of the boat’s location was seriously messed up. I looked around hoping to spot an anchor rope. But it was gone. I motioned Maggie to remain on the bottom and I rose to the surface to look around. Turning 360 degrees, I could not spot the boat. Just about to panic, I realized with the high waves, I needed to wait until a swell would lift me high enough to give me a better view around. Using this technique, I finally spotted the boat, although not in the direction I’d expected. As soon as I saw it, I ducked my head underwater and memorized the terrain along the bottom between us and the boat. Submerging back to Maggie, I pointed in the direction we should go, and headed that way. After swimming along for about 5 minutes the anchor rope still had not come into view. So, back to the surface I went. This time, the boat was a good bit closer, but again, not where I expected it to be. Underwater currents were moving us around. This time, as I descended from the surface, I kept my eyes on the anchor rope and even though it faded, I had a good idea of what direction it was in and we headed there. Another 5 minutes and we were at the anchor rope with our air gauges close to empty. At the surface we repeated the climbing onto the bronco exercise now even more difficult as the waves were much higher. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to be in a boat. Without the other two guys on the boat, Maggie and I quickly got into our dry street clothes. Five, then ten and fifteen minutes went by with our Captain scanning in all directions, but no sign of our two other divers. I began to feel panic for them. Where were they? I knew it had been difficult for us to find the boat given the choppy conditions so it must have been bad for them, too. While this was going on, the Coast Guard was warning on the radio of an impending storm heading right for us and ordering us to shore. Now!

I knew if these guys had been trained properly they were not at super high risk. It was just a matter of surfacing and inflating your buoyancy vest and waiting to be found. But still, I was in shock when the Captain suddenly announced, “I’ve waited long enough, we need to get off the water now,” and pulled up the anchor and started heading for the shore, five miles away.

Sitting in shock, Maggie and I stared at the Captain in disbelief. After about ten minutes, the radio crackled out our captain’s name and call sign. He replied, “Go ahead,” and we heard the following words: “You missing a couple of divers, JJ?” When he replied yes, the guy on the other radio said, “Don’t worry, we’ve got them, see you at the dock.”

Maggie’s never hesitated to support my passion-du-jour, in this case diving. She never learned to relax during SCUBA outings, so her eyes were always as big as pie plates and she used up her oxygen tank faster than I did, but she’d give it a go – every time. In this case, she was better at it than all the rest of us. Of course, she wasn’t handicapped by a male ego!

Our wedding photo, just over a year before this adventure. From L to R: Jurene Phaneuf, Connie Morris, Maggie, Steve, Chuk Batko and John Gravley.

Never heard it sound like that

Leif playing guitar

My younger brother, Leif Larsen, has made a variety of unorthodox and sometimes unusual choices in his life. One of those decisions resulted in him living in Russia and Lithuania for over 20 years. But no matter where he lives, he’s always on the lookout for “a deal.” When he spots one, it’s nearly impossible for him to resist. On occasion, his attempts to bring me into the process have succeeded.

Leif, along with my youngest sister, inherited all the family musical genes. Leif’s also good with tools and intuitively knows how to fix things. His mind conjures up innovative ways to solve problems. He has an artistic bent, and has spent time as a potter and painter. This creative aesthetic sometimes spills into his handyman tasks. He chose to refinish a wall in my workshop where the drywall had been destroyed by the previous owner. Other craftsman discussing the repair had recommended removing and installing new drywall. Fixing what was there would never work.

But they’d not met my brother. Leif patched the wall, then smoothed on layer after layer of sheetrock drywall compound until it was perfectly smooth and straight. I showed it to one of the men who’d originally bid on the project. He looked at it and said, “Wow, you had an artist do this. It is amazing!”

When Leif was here visiting and patching my drywall, he killed time during drying cycles by browsing Craig’s List. Not for anything in particular, although some categories no doubt interested him more than others. He came across an ad for a used guitar only a few miles away and asked if I would take him to see it. We called to make sure they still had it and headed out.

When we got there, the woman explained the guitar belonged to her husband, who wasn’t home, but had decided to sell it. He bought it years before, taking lessons for a while, but never really mastered the instrument. Seems he was not keen on practice. The woman left us in the garage to give Leif time to examine the guitar. He looked it over carefully and told me he thought it was like new – had probably never been played much at all. He could tell by looking at the frets.

After strumming the strings a bit, he took a few minutes to tune the guitar. Then he launched into a rendition of a guitar classic like Classical Gas or something. After a few minutes, the door to the garage opened and the woman came out of the house, her jaw agape. Less than a minute later she was followed by her two kids, who just stared up at Leif and then back at the guitar. When he finished, he just smiled at her and the kids. The woman took a long breath and said, “Wow! That was amazing. That guitar never sounded like that when my husband played it.”

I counseled Leif to offer her less than the $75 she was asking, but he said no, the asking price was a good deal. Plus, he hadn’t considered the guitar would come with the original Ovation travel case, which on its own he said was worth twice the asking price of the guitar. Later, doing research online, I found out this guitar, in decent used condition, would fetch minimally several hundred dollars and some had asking prices over $800.

Here is a man playing the same model guitar that Leif bought, although this one is older, a 1973 model. It isn’t Leif playing, but you can click here to see the guitar and hear how it sounds.

The Ovation guitar Leif boughtThe guitar Leif bought was in very good shape and appeared lightly used. It did have a crack in the face which Leif believed he could fix and though cosmetically imperfect, would not affect the sound. From the serial number (165322), we knew it had been made in 1979. It has the big acoustic fiberglass roundback that produce its very big sound. From the model number, 1111, we knew the following:

  • First digit
    • 1 – models born before year 2000
  • Second digit is type of guitar:
    • 1 – Acoustic roundbacks (also semi-hollowbody electrics)
  • Third digit denotes bowl depth on acoustic and acoustic electrics:
    • 1 – Standard bowl 5 13/16″ deep
  • Fourth digit denotes model
    • 1 – Balladeer

It has remained in our home in Phoenix, as Leif says, “So I have something to play when I come to Phoenix.” Occasionally I pull it from it’s shelf in the closet, strum it a bit, and briefly consider learning to play. But then I’d have to take lessons and practice.