Sunday, February 16, 2020

A Hot Mess Part Eighteen: Purgatory

Courtesy of Tom , a  true goober.

15 February 2020

I: Warm-Up

"Why am I doing this?"

"Doing what?" Alchemy asks.


I'm standing in the middle of the studio, watching the newest students on one side of the room struggle with our warm-up exercise, and the hotshot advanced students creating everything out of nothing on the other side.

I'm signed up for the warm-up side. I've relegated myself to working in clear glass until I can control every step and come out with what I want at the end. I need to center my pieces. I need to make them even on all sides. I need the tops to be thin and the bottoms not to break. I need to make the vase shape I have in my mind. I need to figure out how to get there. I have no idea.

Our exercise tonight is to make a small cylinder all in one go. We get one gather of glass, one chance to reheat it, and one chance to open it up. Our Instructor doesn't care how horribly they turn out; he just wants us to do it. He wants us to learn how to make a big gather, which many of us who have done this before still haven't figured out.

My first warm-up attempt lands on the floor. "You got the bad energy out of the way," Sleepless says. "Go again."  This one works. Hers does too. She goes home.

I stick around with two of the others: Extra, who Sleepless and I shared time with last semester, and Potter, who was a beginner last semester. After everyone else has had their turn, we go again. Somehow my gather is hollow, so I dip in a second time, technically violating the one-gather rule, but ending up with the amount of glass Our Instructor wanted in the first place.

So far, so meh.

At least making these things is quick. When our lab day rolls around, Sleepless and I do the assignment along with Extra. At the end of the night, the annealer is full of lopsided little shot glasses from us and the teams that went before. If we figure out whose are whose, it'll be something short of a miracle. [Two weeks later I still haven't figured it out; there's a pile of the buggers still in the cabinet.]

I also try to make a straight drinking glass. It's not straight. I make a clear ornament that cracks when I put it away. I roll into some of All The Glass' spilled frit for a second ornament; it's not quite round, but it's all right for a first day back.

When these things come out of the annealer I can only be sure of three of my four one-gather-one-reheats. The cracked ornament goes into the re-melt bucket right away. The rest will be trashed too, after the first crit.

II: Stupid Heart

Sleepless is home sick tonight. Before Our Instructor gets to his ritual basic shapes demo for the new students, Sage has an assignment for us. I'm not at all into it. I ask her if she'd be upset if I skip it. She says she would. One doesn't cross Sage. I do the assignment, but I don't care how it comes out.

I text Sleepless when I get home:

You picked a good class to miss. [Sage] made us make hearts for some campus-wide commemorative thing so that we could show we exist and get some club funding and recognition as well as commemorate a kid who was bullied to death. I don't do hearts. I don't emoji them. I don't draw them. I hate them. I made a stupid heart out of guilt. It was kinda fun. Bleah.

[A week later I've seen all the hearts. Mine is among the worst, and I still don't care.]

III: Extra Saturday

I've already begged forgiveness from Plain Jim, Tom, and Ricky for planning to spend Saturday morning in the studio instead of on the road. There's some solace in the cold temperature and high winds. I ask Tom if he's leading, and, if so, should I leave my phone on in order to receive the mandatory middle finger text photo. He's doing a one-way solo ride to the shore. I'm off the hook.

I'm looking forward to a morning with Sleepless. There's a text message waiting for me when I wake up. She's still sick. I text Extra, who answers, "Shit, girl, yes!" She clears it with LT1.

There's some calendar kerfuffle when I arrive at the studio. Fish is there, thinking he's signed up for the extra slot. My default is to assume I'm wrong; this time I know I'm not. Fish is signed up for next weekend. I try to be as polite as possible when I point out that today is February 8 and the week he's looking at starts Monday, February 10. He leaves in a simmering huff. Fish has been here for years. He should know how the calendar works by now. I know I do, because I have to commit to a Saturday nine days out, well before I can be sure of the weather.

Extra arrives as Fish is leaving. We get to work. My goal, I tell her, is to get a vase shape. I want the bottom to be round, like a teardrop, and the top flared. I'd tried this a few times last semester and never liked the result. Our Instructor gave me a few hints Thursday night. I'm going to try to do what he said.

My first two attempts go straight into the re-melt bucket. The third try goes better.

As I always do when I'm feeling timid, I stay small. I put the second jack line in too far down. The top is thick. When I open it up, the result is comical. [When I bring it out of the cabinet to show Sleepless three days later, I wiggle it back and forth, chanting, "dork dork dork!" She responds, of course, with "I love it!"]

Potter wanders in, early for her afternoon slot. She's Alchemy's partner this semester. They'll be good together. "I'm just here to watch," she says. There are only a few people in this class who can say that and not make me nervous.

When my turn comes up again, I tell her and Extra that I need to relax. I'm going to go with the flow. That means making my favorite shape. It's based on the "martini glass" that we all had to make as part of our four basic shapes exercise that Extra and Potter are doing this week and next. In the early stages it looks like a strawberry. I never open the strawberry into a cone, though; instead I leave the inward curve.

If I'm going to make a vase, perhaps the second jack line should go in after I transfer to the punty. This time I don't leave much glass for the lip. It's barely a lip at all, but Extra and I like how it turns out.

I do the same thing again, this time with an attempt at crackling the glass by dipping it quickly in a bucket of cold water and then heating it again immediately. It doesn't crackle, so I try again, without heating it first. Big mistake. It cracks. I shove it back into the heat and keep it there until the cracks heal. In doing this I completely lose the intended shape. The first crackle made the glass cloudy. [After I take its picture, I chuck it into the re-melt bucket.]

I'm not getting any closer to what I want to do, and it's pissing me off.

Late in the afternoon I get a series of texts from Tom.

"The Holy Kickstand made me do it. I hate the fact that I spent 30 minutes on my ride today thinking about this. I am not a good person."

I got my middle finger! I send the photo along to Sleepless, who has already seen the middle fingers the Slugs and the Insane Bike Posse have sent me over the years, and has called them all buttheads. 

"Your bikers are goobers. I love them," she replies.

IV: Vases 4, 5, and 6

Thread Sherpa is absent on Tuesday night. Extra works with All The Glass and I work with Sleepless.

I make strawberries again, putting a jack line in the top once the piece is on the punty. Every time I do this, I throw the top off center.

I don't know how to prevent it from happening, much less fix it once it does happen. The shape is more severe than I had in mind. I want a longer neck.

I'm assisting Sleepless when, out of the corner of my eye, I see Extra putting away a vase with nearly the shape I want: a flared top, a long neck, and a body that curves out. Save for the triangular shape, it's exactly what I'm going for.

"Damn, man," I grumble to Sleepless. "I'm banging my head over this thing and she just does it."

I ask Extra how she does it. She draws it on the floor in chalk and tries to explain. She can get a long cylinder that's hot enough to put two jack lines in. When I try, I get a strawberry again, without trying. I go with it, achieving close to the same shape as hers, but with a rounded bottom and far too much glass on top. To make matters worse, I'd used the wooden jacks to make the neck line, and I ought to have known that they would scar the glass, just like they did last semester when Classmate's Partner used them.

Now I'm really in a funk. Maybe I'm not explaining my idea correctly. I need to find a picture. At home I do an image search and find what I'm looking for at an online store (Wayfair, for $40). I text it to Sleepless, who says I could sell that for $60 on Etsy. Maybe, but I'd have to be able to make it first, and, so far, that ain't happening.

I'm supposed to be glassblowing for fun. Right now it's messing me up. I want glassblowing to be my mango, the way biking is.

V: Sage Sets me Straight

I'm right back at it in the morning. I'm working with Sage today, which makes me a little nervous. One doesn't cross Sage. I don't want to do anything wrong. LT1 is in the studio today too. When I arrive, they're waiting for the glory hole to get up to temperature. I show them the vase picture. 

"Oh!" Sage says, "We can definitely do that!" LT1 looks over. "You paper the bottom sides while someone paddles," she says.

"What's your plan today?" I ask Sage. "No plan," she says. "I never have a plan on extra days." 

When it comes to plans, the people here fall into two camps: those who come prepared, sometimes with drawings, videos, or, in the case of All The Glass, color photographs of each step; and those who decide what they're going to do sometime after the second gather. I'm in the fist camp. I've found that if I don't know what I want to do, I wind up with garbage.

The glass is fresh and the crucible full to the top. I'm so used to the tank being half empty that I dip my pipe far too deep on my first gather. This puts a lot of glass on the pipe on the second gather too. Sage guides me through getting it off the pipe into the block.

The glass, not yet raked, is full of bubbles. While this is a pretty effect, most people don't want bubbles in their glass. The bubbles are there because, at the end of each night, the technicians shovel piles of clear glass chips, called cullet, into the furnace, where they melt overnight. Because the chips are like little pebbles, air gets trapped in between them when they go into the crucible. Overnight the air rises to the surface in little bubbles and stays trapped there. To get rid of the bubbles, we rake the surface of the molten glass with a flat paddle: we push the top couple of inches off to the sides, leaving bubble-free glass at the surface. Glass Ninja rakes before each gather. He taught me how last year.

I'm working my bubbly mass of glass. LT1 comes over to paddle the bottom while I paper the lower sides and Sage keeps air pressure in the pipe. I get a second jack line in while the glass is still on the pipe. After we transfer, I let the top hang and pull up on the rough edges. Sage shows me how to cut the rough stuff off (something I flubbed and tossed last night), and I give the top a small flare. It's not the shape I showed them, but it's a lot closer than I've been so far.

Sage takes a turn, and then I try again. This time I pull much more, lengthening and thinning the neck. I also pull it off center. Sage shows me how to get it back: heat and gravity. Duh.

"You should try three times then do something fun," Sage says, echoing what Our Instructor told me last semester. 

Fine. I'm'a bust out of clear glass purgatory. I pour out some orange frit and start on a big strawberry. It's going well enough until transfer, when it becomes obvious that the sides are thinner than the top and bottom. They start to collapse in the glory hole. Every time I bring the piece out to fix it, things get a little worse. I'm trying to smooth out the sides by cradling it in wet newspaper when the whole thing falls off the punty into my hand. We put it away, but while Sage takes her turn, I pull it out and lay it in the colored glass waste bucket. I can hear it crack right away.

Right, well, I guess I deserved that.

With ten minutes left before the next shift comes in, I make a tiny cat.  At the end of the day, I'm feeling a little better about my progress. Sage and I worked so well together that we decide to do this again in two weeks.

I wash up, change clothes, and drive to work.

At the end of the day, I take the round vase from my office into the lab and draw vines with the glue gun.

Before I leave for work the next day, I dig out dork dork dork and a sheet of stickers.

VI: I Suck

I get to class early so that I can use the sand blaster.

"Will you be my vase sherpa?" I ask Extra. I want to learn how she gets her long necks. She tries to show me, and I sort of have it, but not really. When it's time to transfer, I grab my favorite punty rod, the one with the foam handle. It's a little cold. My punty is a little cold, but it looks like it attaches the way it should. "One, two, three," Extra says, and hits the pipe with the jacks. Whether the neck was too thick, the punty too cold, or the strike too violent, or any combination of these things, we'll never know. The piece crashes to the floor and shatters. Right in front of Sage and Our Instructor.

"You were holding the punty at an angle," Sage says. Rookie mistake.

I stick around, hoping that we'll cycle through the list on the whiteboard and I can go again. While I wait, I help Extra and Potter, and then Tall Vase. I tell Extra I want to go again if there's time.

Next week's schedule is posted. I check my work calendar and sign up for Wednesday in pencil, then  contact Alchemy to see if he's free. Sage is wards me off of taking the same slot two weeks in a row, three if we stick with our plan.

When I go back to the benches, Extra is working again. She jumped the line, reminding me that she'll be absent for next week's lab. So much for redeeming myself tonight.  I help her make another vase. She shows me again how she stretches the neck. She doesn't like the top, so I show her how to pull and cut it. She does such a good job that the top is flat and thin. It looks like and Erlenmeyer flask, another shape that I'd hoped to make at some point.

Right now I pretty much hate myself.

VII: Other

When I get home I take a few minutes to get pictures of the vases I made on Tuesday. 

Aside from the off-center top, which I now know how to remedy, this shape is kinda cool

This one is closer to the shape I want, but the top is too bulky and there's that scar line from the wooden jacks. I'll have to sand-blast this one.

My mind is a jumble as I try to go to sleep. I'm convinced of my incompetence, and also wondering why I'm comparing myself to anyone else. It took me a few years of bike riding with the Free Wheelers to find my place, and while I still compare myself unfavorably to every other rider, I'm relatively comfortable being the slow, fat one, the Hill Slug. Maybe not so much comfortable as used to it. Why can't I get used to being a Glass Slug? 

In my distorted perception there's an unspoken hierarchy in class. The Anointed Ones share bench time with Our Instructor, or assist him in class. Glass Ninja is one of the Anointed Ones; he deserves it. The Kid is another; I've never seen him work. Tiny's Daughter and Tiny's Other Daughter are Anointed Ones, up-and-coming artistes in their own right. Classmate's Partner's Other Partner seems to be in this group; they look after him.

There are people like Alchemy, Tall Vase, Grace, Classmate's Partner, Fish, All the Glass, and Thread Sherpa, who are all Masters of the Art, yet not in the inner circle. 

There are those who are just passing through. They're the full-time students on their way to Associates degrees. They can't take any class more than once if they're taking it for credit and a grade. Some promise to come back after they graduate. Some disappear.

Then there are the Others, people like Tiny, Low Key, and Sleepless, who seem not to figure into anything. They come in, they participate, they do their thing, and they leave. Some of the Others have been in the class forever. Some, like me, are relatively new.

Taking extra sessions and working with different people can only help me. I've known that all along. But it's obvious now that the Anointed Ones don't waste their time with anyone but Masters and other Anointed Ones. If I wind up at a bench with any of them, it will be purely by accident.

I think Extra will be an Anointed One if she sticks around.

Finally I fall asleep. When I wake up, the foul mood is still with me. Towards the end of the work day, I take the jack-scarred vase into the lab to play with the glue gun.

I put the egg-shaped vase by the window in my office, letting it catch the afternoon light.

I'm running out of room at my desk. The egg has displaced the threaded vase. I put the threaded one on the shelf next to two other pieces. This displaces a lumpy, flask-shaped vessel I made in Don Gonzalez's studio in 2015. I'm almost at the point where I could make one like it, only better.

An invitation to go on a short towpath ride tomorrow, in 20-something degree weather, snaps me out of my grumpiness.

VIII: Maybe I Don't Suck

We start from Washington Crossing, which is, more or less, halfway to Newtown. I might as well go the rest of the way, sand-blast the vase, and pick up Wednesday's work.

After the ride, sweating and shivering at once, I drive to campus and enter the studio in full bike gear, minus the helmet. I dig my stuff out of the cabinet.

Sage is in the classroom ahead of her afternoon slot. "Look at you!" she exclaims as I enter, hands full of vases.

I don't even need to grind them down. The punties are indented and the tops are centered.

And I almost forgot! The cat! I go back to the cabinet to fetch it.

It's tiny and it makes me happy. I'm going to bring it to work so my office mate and I can stare at it on the window sill. I'm giving myself psychological whiplash from these mood swings.

The folks down the hall in the metal shop have installed a new sand blaster. In seconds I cover what would have taken minutes. I don't like how the bottom half came out, so I peel away the tape and glue, cover the top with bubble wrap, secure the wrap with my hair tie, and go back in for another blast. Much better.

Alchemy comes in. I'm glad I have a chance to chat with him. We'll work together one of these days, maybe a Saturday morning. This coming Thursday still has an afternoon slot open. I pencil myself in. I'll be working with two beginners and an advanced student I haven't worked with before. I'm okay with that. I need to be able to make vases without guidance.

I already know what we're doing in class next week. Our Instructor might put me at the helm of a group again, not trusting that I can work under pressure. He wouldn't be wrong.

At home I unpack. So far this semester, nothing I've made has been good enough even for the purgatory of the window sill, where some pieces will move to a permanent cabinet slot, be given away, sold for charity, brought to work, or discarded.

Now each vase goes up, in chronological order.

I'm not there yet, but I'm closer than I was a week ago.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Two Wheels and a Camera

Yard Road, Ringoes, NJ

1 February 2020

I've been trying not to stop so much for pictures. In the winter that's relatively easy. We're staying closer to home. There's not much I want to take a picture of that I haven't already.

Winter is good for pictures of the sun through tree branches. I snapped this one after riding from home to Jim's Six Mile Sunday. 

There were nine of us. "Your brand is growing," Bob said.

I'd seen the route ahead of time and had told Jim that every hill on the way to Hopewell fit into Tom's "annoying" category. Jim then decided to crowdsource a good adjective for a series of annoying hills. I suggested "grumble," which didn't make it to his final three of "affliction," "infection," and "hassle."

We snaked through back of Princeton up to Pretty Brook Road. I could have stopped a dozen times to catch the Stony Brook, rushing and muddy, but I didn't.

When we got to Bayberry Road, though, both Jim and I had to stop for the pile of sheep on the pile of compost.

We briefly considered a "sheep pile" of annoying hills, but it didn't stick.

Boro Bean was crowded. We got split up. I did my best to enjoy some slow coffee. When it was time to leave, I turned toward Carter Road while everyone else continued down Route 518. I'd taken so few pictures that I'd forgotten about them until today.

Today was chilly and clammy. There had been a little rain overnight. The roads weren't wet, exactly, but they weren't quite dry either. I'd listed my ride, late in the day yesterday, as a no-registrants-no-ride affair. Pete registered immediately. Jim and Bob signed on in the evening.

If I hadn't had any takers, I'd probably have driven to Cranbury to get my ass kicked by a bunch of strangers. Time was when I went out on a lot of other people's rides and mingled with different crowds. Now that I lead so many rides myself and tend to ride with the same set of people on the ones I don't, my circle of Free Wheelers has shrunk. This is probably not a good thing. On the other hand, the people I see regularly have become good friends.

Because I knew Jim was registered, because I didn't want to do the same old thing (Pete might give me guff), and because we hadn't been to the Sergeantsville General Store in a good long time, I chose the counterclockwise route Jim calls "widdershins." I think it's a mellower way to get to Sergeantsville. The biggest sustained ascent is on the way back, but at least it's not too long after the rest stop.

We met at the Pig and headed out the usual way, past the Watershed and up Stony Brook. Pete almost turned onto Snydertown, which is also my usual way. It isn't the widdershins way, though, and as I motioned him to turn around, he signaled to me that I needed to take a picture of the two chickens by the side of the road.

We climbed to the top of Stony Brook, turning off before the dirt section (which would have been a right mess today anyway). Then we descended on Rileyville. From the top we had a good view of the hills all the way to Flemington. We could also see just how misty and gray it was. I didn't try for a picture because I figured my camera wouldn't capture the different grays very well.

At the bottom of the hill I did take a handful of pictures of the farm on Wertsville Road. I haven't edited them; it really was that gloomy.

Jim's favorite part of the route is Yard Road. He warned me ahead of time that he'd be stopping for a lot of pictures. You can see them here.

When I lost sight of him before a sharp bend in the road, I stopped. I happened to be standing next to what appeared to be an abandoned property, and there was plenty on it to keep me entertained until Jim came pedaling up.

 Add this to the list of things one only sees in the wintertime.

Around the bend there was a good view to the north of the winter drab.

A little zig-zag got us to Lambert Road, which is my usual way out of Sergeantsville. It's a slight incline, and when we're cold and caffeinated, we're going too fast down the hill to really see anything.

That's probably why I saw the longhorns for the first time today.

Magnificent beasts know they're magnificent and show you their best side.

On the other hand, some are too busy eating.

We were the only cyclists at the general store today. Jim saw some pass by as we were getting ready to leave. Other than that, I think we crossed paths with two, maybe three, other bikers in the 40 miles we traveled between the Pig and the general store.

This being Saturday, the Pig was still open when we got back. I hadn't been in there since mid-December. They've added to their decor:

The ram on the wall is sporting the antlers I gave the buffalo last year.

Tomorrow will be above freezing and not rainy, so I'll take Kermit to Jim's Six Mile Sunday. If I give myself enough time to get there, I might snap a few photos of Carnegie Lake or the canal on the way.