Some more things to say about The Story Of Brick

To get back to The Story of Brick, as told by the American Face Brick Association. I don’t want to over-sell the joy I feel in this book. I know these are hard times. Maybe things that bring me a little cheer are intensified. Still, I think there is a lot to enjoy here.

There’s a stretch of book trying to show what the different brick-laying styles are. In the text this is done by pictures. The eBook reader that for some reason gave me this, though, puts some of them as text. So it’s full of weird ASCII art. Like, here:

The Common or American bond, in order to secure transverse strength of wall, can be treated in a way to produce pleasing effects, as may Fig 7.

	Fig. 3.

The Flemish bond (Fig. 5) is secured by


Header Diamonds



              /     \
      Perth ->*.--._/
                   v  <- Tasmania

And despite that fine presentation of good new LinkedIn passwords for me, it just runs a picture for “Chimney Top”. I know what a chimney top looks like. I have one on my house. At least I did last time I checked. It’s been a while.

OK, I’m back. Yes, my chimney top is still there, along with all the chimney middle. You may mock me for checking that nothing had come along and swiped my chimney top without my knowing, but I remember that this is the year 2020. You know what would be stranger than something stealing the tops of chimneys of otherwise untouched buildings? Every single day since the 14th of January.

I don’t fault the book having a pro-brick agenda. I’m sure there’s a comparable book from the American Wood Shingles and Shakes Association that keeps pointing out how lousy bricks are. This if the shingles and shakes people get along. But the enthusiasm this book brings to bricks sometimes paints weird scenes. For example, remember the Great Baltimore Fire that destroyed over 1,300 buildings in February 1904? Me neither but I’ve only over driven through 1904 on the way to 1908 or 1894. Yes, I’m a Coxey’s Army hipster. But the American Face Brick Association notes “there was something saved, however, for a special committee … reported that between 200,000000 and 300,000,000 usable brick worth $5.00 a thousand were recovered”.

So now this paints a scene of a time when “brick” was the plural of brick? Maybe it was a character-recognition error. No, but they do this all over the book. All right. Let me move on.

So this also paints a scene of Baltimore, smashed by a catastrophic fire. Through the smoldering ruins, though, a civic leader stands up. I’ll assume his name was “Archibald”, since that’s an era when civic leaders had names like Archibald or Edwin or Vernon or all that at once. “It is not all lost, my fellow Baltimoreans,” cried Archibald, holding up two pretty good brick in his right and one fractured brick in his left. “There is merchantable salvage comprising a million and a half of dollars of brick here!” I bet his news was greeted with deep, impressed looks from the survivors picking through ruin. I bet they shared their joy and brick with him. And then Archibald interjected, “Herring!”

So it’s a good thing to know there were a quarter-billion still-usable bricks in Baltimore in 1904. It shows what kind of a craftsman I am that actually using them seems like maybe more effort than they’re worth. Of course, what they’re worth was a million and a half dollars, according to Archibald Edwin Vernon. That is a lot of effort to not go to. It’s just I think of my own uses for used bricks.

There’s one set behind the microwave so we don’t push it up against the wall when we press the door-release lever. There’s a brick I use to get a crowbar in the right place, when I do my annual prying-open-of-a-window-some-cursed-former-resident-painted-shut. There’s one we keep in the basement, next to the stairs, so that we can stub our toes if that hasn’t happened already. I think if we stretched our imaginations we could use as many as two more brick.

So that covers a market for five used brick. This leaves 1904 Baltimore with needing to find applications for only a quarter-billion more brick. They could solve this by building more houses, sure, but that’s still 40 to 60 million houses to use up all that brick. It makes one wonder what they were doing with all those brick in the first place.


In which I can’t quite say something more about bricks

I don’t want it to sound like all I’m thinking of these days is that The Story Of Brick book from the American Face Brick Association. I bet the American Face Brick Association itself thinks I’m making too big a deal of it. “Look, it’s just not that important a thing. We wrote it when we were feeling all defensive about people’s bad estimates of the cost of brick faces. It’s not like we think it’s bad or anything, it’s just … you know, just this one book.” I bet they’re blushing.

If they’re even called the American Face Brick Association anymore. I just bet they went through that process where they reason, you know, face bricks aren’t all we do. There’s also slates and stones. So then they go adding that to make the name the American Face Brick, Slate, and Stone Association. And then someone points out they know a guy in Toronto. And someone else knows that guy too and he’s fun to have at their conventions. So then it becomes the American and Canadian Face Brick, Slate, and Stone Association briefly. Then someone reminds them it’s 1936 and Newfoundland isn’t part of Canada yet, and they explore calling it the American and Canadian and Newfoundlanderian thing before settling on “North American”. And then someone finds other stuff you can put in front of houses and they don’t want to list all that. So we get the North American Building Coverings Association. Then some consultant tells them that a geographic designator is too old-fashioned so it becomes the Building Coverings Association. Then you get to where it seems all fancy to have a clipped, shortened name and it turns into the BuiCovAssoc, or as it’s finally known, the Association. Except on the front of their building they still have the “American and Canadian Face Brick, Slate, and Stone Association” because they can’t agree who gets to engrave the new name.

But even with the break in the heat wave I’ve needed things to think about that are easy and comforting. And I know it’s hard to think of bricks as comforting. It’s also hard not to notice you can rearrange the words in that last sentence and get one at least as good. “And I know it’s comforting to think of bricks as hard.” That’s reassuring in these trying times. “And I think it’s hard as comforting bricks to know of.” That one turns out to have extra words, unless we happen to know someone named “Of” who’s inscrutable. We might. We know all sorts of people, I can’t know things like what to call them.

Daft? Yes. This is daft. But it’s better I worry about this than I worry about the kitchen light fixture. That stopped working the other day. You’d think the answer would be “put in a new light bulb”. No. First, the fixture has this ceramic dome on it that’s connected by I don’t know what. It’s some metal clip contraption that’s holding on to it more securely than my car holds on to its engine. I can kind of tug one clip a little out of the way. But it’s not enough to take the cover off, and I can’t move two clips at a time unless I go up there with more arms than I have.

Photograph of some strange long cylindrical tube that's wired into the ceiling. Its cover is glass or similar transparent material and it's got several lightly scored circles and parallel lines to make it look the more like a science fiction movie prop.
I don’t know what this is or what repairing it is like except that I know with a certainty ordinarily possible only for mathematical truths that it will not be good.

Also inside I can see there isn’t a light bulb. There’s just this … thing. It’s a long skinny cylinder with a couple of scratch marks on it that look like they’re supposed to be on there. It looks like a warp core’s reactor. I don’t know why we’ve been getting light from a small warp reactor. I also don’t want to know what kind of problems with space and time having this thing in the house has been causing. I think this might explain how last week I dropped eight cents on the floor, and heard the nickel and all three pennies hit the floor, and every one of them vanished. This was while the light was still working, too. I’m not upset about losing the eight cents. I’m worried that this loose change has gone and popped into the Neutral Zone and maybe been given superpowers by an alien planet of coin-based life forms, and it’ll head back to Earth zapping starships and planets and whole galaxies into a little coin-collector’s book jacket.

Anyway I probably have more thoughts about that book but I don’t remember now. Sorry.

Hardly everything there is to say about The Story of Brick

So I read that book by the American Face Brick Association that I had noticed yesterday. How could I not? By the second page it’s got into how things had changed by the time of Nebuchadnezzar. When else do you ever hear about Nebuchadnezzar? There’s times that Linus is getting all scriptural in A Charlie Brown Christmas, and that’s about it. I’ll finish any book if it starts out by how the subject had changed by the time of good ol’ Nebuchadnezzar. “How will we get Joseph to finish reading this book about modern bowling alley management,” I can imagine a niche author wondering. “Make him aware such a thing exists?” says her co-author. The first, not realizing this is correct, says, “I know!” And hastily adds to page three a sentence, “by the time of Nebuchadnezzar the management of bowling alleys had developed some techniques familiar even today”. This would clinch the deal.

I know what you’re thinking, and no. So far as I know, “Nebus” is not a shortening of “Nebuchadnezzar”. I am aware of no relation to the ancient kings of Babylon, Sumer, Akkad, and the Universe. My family has always lived in the Universe but that’s about it.

The book is written by a true believer in bricks. I suppose we all believe in bricks to some extent. It’s not like we’ll pat the brick cladding of a building, lean over to our companion, and whisper, “Of course, you know what’s really going on with these.” I mean unless it’s that new kind of brick they build stuff with today, that’s somehow bricks that look like fake bricks. I mean we believe in bricks that look like bricks. We just don’t believe in bricks as much as this writer believes in bricks.

From this book I learn that, like Gaul, the clays used for brick are divided into three parts. The first is surface clays, “of which the commoner type of brick are made” and which I trust are the down-to-earth clays. Next are shales, “nearly reduced to the form of slate” by immense pressures, I trust from trying to avoid those commoner surface clays. The last group are fire clays, “so-called because of their refractory qualities”. Can you name three refractory qualities? Share your work below.

I wouldn’t have put Gaul into the matter except the book is written all like that. There’s a bit where it talks about how John Howard Payne made himself immortal with his universal lyric. Quick, name it!

Before I go further I should explain the difference between a brick and a face brick. A brick is that brick-like thing you call a brick or use for brick purposes. A face brick is a brick that sounds like you’re writing for a comic strip or maybe a network TV cop show and so can’t say “Facebook”. I hope this clarifies matters.

Anyway the American Face Brick Association feels quite strongly that whatever it is you’re doing, brick is a correct choice. “Whether you plan some elaborate baronial sort of mantel and fireplace or a cozy little ingle nook, you will find nothing either in point of durability or beauty that excels the right kind of brick.”, they say, and fairly. I can’t imagine they would have kept the manuscript draft that admitted ingle nooks are more a hardwood floors thing. I have enough trouble imagining what an “ingle nook” is, if not a transcription error. Maybe it’s the town in Connecticut that the physicist J Willard Gibbs was from?

If the book would like me to remember anything it is that bricks are cheaper than you think. Like, that time Tuesday when you and your friend were talking about how expensive bricks are? “This is a grave mistake based, as it is, on comparisons of forty or fifty years ago.” Add in the 98 years it’s been since this book was published, and you’re degrading bricks based on information that’s as much as 148 years out of date. I would urge you and your friend to apologize. Run to the door and cry out, “I apologize to the American Face Brick Association!” I don’t mean right now. It might be after 11 pm when you read this and that’s late to shout apologies to any face brick association.

To put all this in a word so far, though? Nebuchadnezzar. In two words? Nebuchadnezzar bricks.

In which my e-book reader is calling me out

I do not know how it is I came to have a copy of the American Face Brick Association’s 1922 tome The Story Of Brick: The Permanence, Beauty, and Economy of the Face Brick House. The title alone, though, is so much the parody of the sort of thing that I would read that I had to go back and check whether I had made a joke about my getting a book like this. Of course I have. I have done this more than once. Within the last ten weeks.

I can only dimly imagine how ridiculous actually reading this is going to be. It starts well, though:

“If we possessed the story-telling magic of Sir Walter or of Dumas, the elder, we could write a best seller on the subject of brick, which most people think of as very commonplace. ”

I recognize when an “if” is pulling a load.

On the Problem of Identity During the Plague Spring

The quarantine month has been a pretty tough time, as measured by how often we’ve had to go to the basement and berate cinder blocks. It’s a better coping mechanism than punching the cinder blocks was. The cinder blocks aren’t taking this personally. They know they’re there as support. Emotionally speaking, cinder blocks are bricks. I don’t say that cinder blocks are also literally bricks, because I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble with the brick enthusiast community. I don’t need someone explaining how something essential to bricks is incompatible with the nature of cinder blocks, because I would find that fascinating. I would read three different books, each at least 280 pages, on the history of bricks. I’m already enough of a caricature of myself. I do not need to become even more of that.

But this lands me on my point four times as well as I had expected just three sentences ago. Honest, I was lost. My point is: a lot of us are having a rough time now because we don’t have anything to do. There’s no hanging out at barcades. You can’t even go to the pet store and stare at the baby guinea pigs. A lot of people don’t have jobs. Those who do, have those jobs gone all weird. Two months ago you would spend all morning in a meeting to resolve what five minutes of e-mail would have. Today, you spend all morning in e-mail exchanges to resolve what five minutes of meeting would have.

All these things that we would do evaporated. So now we face the gap between the stuff we do, and who we are, and who we figure we want to be. That’s tough stuff. I remember who I wanted to be, growing up: the astronaut who draws Popeye. It’s been an adjustment, learning that the person I am doesn’t want to make the effort it takes to draw Popeye. Or to convince the people who hire astronauts that they need someone on staff who’ll draw Popeye too. That one’s on me. I keep applying for astronaut jobs, but at the interviews I never ask if they’re bringing a Popeye-drawer on board. I just take it for granted that if they don’t list it on their web site, they’re not going to, and I don’t even respond to their offers. I’m only messing up my own life like this.

How to handle the gap between what kept you busy and what your identity is? This involves serious quiet, letting all the thoughts imposed from other people — well-meaning or advertisers — wash out. Think seriously about what you are when at rest, and see what residue of life remains. Then realize this is a hecking lot of work and the results are terrible. You know how, on your body, you have this indestructible nostril hair that every booger in the world condenses around? Your personality is like that, only worse. It starts with that time you were six and teased that kid Christian across the street because his name rhymes with the imaginary word “Ristian”. And it’s accumulated like that since then. No, you’re better off finding a new store-bought identity and putting that on.

There’s so many to choose from! You could be the person who cruises social media, finding folks who are screaming at CSS for not being able to do what seems like a simple CSS thing, and reassuring them that the problem is that CSS is not actually good at CSS things yet, and never will be. (CSS is that computer thing where, for no good reason, sometimes all the stuff in your web browser is 50% off the edge of the screen to the right.)

You could be a background character in a Studio Ghibli film. In these times you’ll definitely want to be in one of the lower-stress movies. Take up some role where you look over bunches of vegetables, that kind of thing. You’ll have to act nonplussed when a bunch of kids run through on some lightly daft whimsical adventure to help the ghost wolf reconcile with its family or something. So remember to look up exactly what “nonplussed” means. You want to know how to react.

Or you could try being an astronaut who draws Popeye. The drawing Popeye part should be easy, but the real trick is getting up into space. To do that, you’ll want to practice jumping until you’re so good at it you jump into outer space. Go practice right now! (Note to the rest of you: if you’re hired as astronaut they provide the outer space for you. I just want to get my competition for the job out of the way.)

The exact choice isn’t important. What matters is that you realize who you are. Then we can see about fixing that.

Another Little Mystery Of The Neighborhood

So there’s this city block near us that’s slated to be torn down. It had hosted a restaurant, a barber shop, a couple other small shops, some apartments overhead, that sort of stuff. It’s scheduled to be demolished and replaced with a new building. That’ll be able to host, oh, a restaurant, a barber shop, a couple other small shops, some apartments overhead, that sort of stuff. Only it’ll be a modern building, which means it’ll be lined with that new kind of brick they have that looks like a fake brick even though it’s real bricks. I don’t know how brick manufacturers have figured out ways to make real bricks look fake, but they have, and they’re going to show off that severely postmodern brick-making technique.

Anyway, behind the doomed buildings was a parking lot. There still is. It had been a metered parking lot. But at some point the city, I imagine but do not actually know, came around and took out all the parking meters. So, you know, free parking lot now that there’s nothing to go to there, which is something.

But it’s got me wondering what happened to the parking meters. Was there some other parking lot in town that had a desperate need for meters and that was finally satisfied? Or did the city decide to take the meters and put them in storage? If so, why, since it’s not like they couldn’t get at least a little spare change from people who figured to use the lot anyway? Or did they just not want to risk some kind of mischief happening, so they put them all in a storage locker? And if all these parking meters are sitting in a storage locker, are we positive someone’s paying the rent reliably? Because thinking of a 20-by-20 unit of parking meters getting impounded just makes me giggle almost to the point it could be heard.