Dribs and Drabs, too

Not a lot to report today. While I wait for a break in the weather to take the battari shōgi out to the museum for the final install, I have been puttering around with various projects. One of them, pictured above, is a five-legged version of the Mazerolle trépied etabli (detailed in last year’s post French Connection Part Deux) that I have started playing around with. So far I have drawn in one possible x-brace arrangement. Each of the openings between the posts will have a different type of x-brace arrangement. I think I might draw one with a inclined reciprocal beam arrangement as well, in which the posts go right to the top and directly support the glass top. By reciprocal beam arrangement, I mean something like this:

There are so many possibilities to choose amongst – it’s great to have the option of drawing in 3D to compare different pieces.

I have also been relentlessly re-editing the Japanese carpentry layout essay, Volume I and II, and am doing my best to have it ready for the 28th. Of this month I mean. I’m serious! It’s amazing how much time it takes to re-edit and re-edit and rearrange the darn thing. And I know that even once I’m finished, there will be more errors that will come to light, but these can be amended over time, and I’m looking forward to reader feedback which will enable me to improve the product.

I had an interesting experience recently with hardware stores. I was looking for some liquid hide glue, which isn’t carried by most stores. I phoned a supplier in nearby Northampton Mass., and asked them if they stocked the product. While they didn’t have any, the fellow on the phone suggested another hardware store in town, a place he described as “like an old-time hardware store, with lots of tools, even fancy Japanese tools”. Well, I was intrigued – to think I might be able to obtain Japanese tools without having to order them by mail was a surprising thing to consider. huh!

I set off and half an hour later arrived at the store, which was a branch of the Ace Hardware chain. As I walked up to the front door, passing through a chain link fence which surrounded the store, my eye was caught by a sign in the glass front of the store: “FREE RIDE in a Police Car to anyone caught Shoplifting“. Of course, the emphasis on the ‘free ride’ in large block letters is what catches the eye at first, and then to read the rest it is almost, well, humorous. Inside the store, one was greeted by sign after sign along the lines “Smile, You’re on Camera“, and the old standby, “Shoplifters prosecuted to the Fullest Extent of the Law“. All the power tools on display, only a modest selection of the usual stuff, were of course gang tethered with a wire security cable. As I walked around the store, checking things out, seeing more and more signs similar to those already described, you know, I couldn’t help but have a negative feeling. Obviously, the owner of the store had suffered, at some point in the past at least, some theft from his store, and that’s terrible. It’s perfectly reasonable to take steps to protect against that, however it seemed like he/she had perhaps gone a little overboard. Perhaps the overreaction was giving them a greater sense of safety, and perhaps their rate of merchandise ‘shrinkage’ as it is termed in the accounting profession, had declined, however I was left with a feeling of not being trusted as a customer, that i was under close surveillance, that any minute now some attack dog might pounce on me if I took too much interest in something, or similar. It wasn’t that ‘old time homey’ sort of feeling I was hoping for in this store! When it came to Japanese tools, yes, they had some. Two, to be exact, both cheap, run of the mill saws. Kept in a locked glass display case, like they were something valuable. Hmm, I suspect most people wouldn’t even have any idea what they were, like a lot of hand tools, if they saw them. The staff weren’t hostile, but they weren’t amicable either, and after I found the bottle of hide glue I needed, which I noticed was right at its expiration date, I quickly went to the cash register, gave my money to the bored looking staffer, and exited the store. I won’t be going back.

The last ‘good’ hardware store I was in, where the staff were friendly and the selection was broad, quality was good or better, and any purchase came with a solid discount, well, that was in 1999, when I was last in Hokkaidō Japan. Boy, I miss that store sometimes! When I left Japan, I was so pleased with the kindness and excellent service I had received at that store that I made a gable barge board with gegyo, or hanging pendant, as a token of my appreciation, and presented it to the shopkeeper, Mr. Hayase and his family. Here’s a photo from that time- they were really pleased and wanted a commemorative photo:

That’s Hayase-san’s wife on the left, and his mother on the right. So, I’m feeling a little wistful, a little natsukashii, as the Japanese say, for a good old Japanese hardware store. Everything in that store, pretty much, was made in Japan with a few European items. Even the mundane stuff, like the riveting pliers, or the casters, the baling wire, etc., were decent quality. This is just a small city hardware store – and many if not most hardware stores in Japan are, or were, very much like the Hayase’s place. In Japan the prices for given items are fairly standardized right across the country, so the different stores compete by providing very good service, and strive to maintain long term relationship with their customers.

It seems to me that if you’re a store selling widgets, of whatever kind, then all you have to compete upon are selection, price, and service. In most cases, it seems, the selection in the stores in this country at least is becoming ever more uniform, ever more of a monoculture. I mean, what’s the difference really between what they have in Home Depot or Lowes? The stores are even laid out pretty similarly, play the same mindless Muzak – it’s devolved down to pretty much a choice between orange or blue I guess. And the smaller chains, as they get squeezed out, can’t compete on the selection or the prices with the big box stores, so all they are left with really is service.And I have observed in most cases they have poorer service than the big stores (which is, all the same, nothing to rave about). Tell you what, in 9 cases out of 10, if the service is excellent, and the store has or can get what I need, I will pay MORE to shop at that place. There are fewer and fewer stores like that though. Hida tools in Berkeley was one exception – friendly people and a decent, albeit specialized, selection. One of their competitors, located just miles away, Japan Woodworker, has such appalling service that I will never set foot in there again, and I did try several times, each time worse than the previous. No point flogging a dead horse as they say.

Anyway, on another front I have come across a few decent reads lately on architecture and building and plan to be doing a book review shortly. I read a lot too on history and politics however I tend to exclude that stuff from this arena.

I’m looking forward to the end of the rain and getting that Museum work wrapped up. Thanks for dropping by today.

2 Replies to “Dribs and Drabs, too”

  1. Second that about Hida Tool. Best damn store I've ever been in. Never been to SF and not stop by. Osamu-san is such a delight to deal with. I will also second your statement about JW

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