Friday, April 17, 2009

No escape...

...as I should have known that when things don't go well, running away doesn't always help.

The trip to Catalina was, in many respects, a disaster. I'll explain, but warn all that this may get a little, well, convoluted....

A friend asked me to explain exactly what it was I was "fixing" last time I wrote about a journey to Catalina and, when I was through telling her, thought I should write about it. So that's what I'm doing, though under circumstances less happy than I envisioned.

My trips over to the island have been taken to help a friend fix a pipe organ that was installed in the Avalon Theatre in 1928...



This is, of course, a slightly less remunerative and interesting gig than, say, blacksmithing, building horse-drawn buggies or making incandescent light bulbs and vacuum tubes. It is, at best, a dying profession. But I began learning the tricks of the trade some 33 years ago and have some expertise, as if anyone cares.

This particular pipe organ has roughly 1200 pipes, plus some percussion instruments (xylophone, glockenspiel and the like) playable from its four keyboards and pedal keyboard. The last organ of its type was built in the 1930s, and those of us who work on them do so primarily out of love instead of financial gain.

The spaces (there are two) in which the pipes are installed are far from spacious, as this photo suggests...



The mechanisms that operate the pipes and other sounds are now 81 years old. The leather and felt used in the operating systems are wearing out, and need replacing. This involves working in cramped quarters, in spaces that haven't been thoroughly cleaned since 1928. It also, as I mentioned in a post last year, involves climbing less-than-sturdy ladders to gain access.

So what's the problem? Until now, the contract under which a friend of mine maintains the instrument has called for patching those bits of old hardware that are failing. But we have reached a point where the failures are coming faster than the repairs can cope with, meaning that we need to essentially rebuild the organ completely to make it work properly.

That involves not only the pipe actions themselves, but many other subsidiary parts....



The company that owns the Avalon has indicated some willingness to pay for a full restoration, but nothing has reached the contract stage. My friend who has been doing the servicing (most recently with my assistance) is trying to get them to sign on the dotted line. The alternative is that the organ will soon no longer be usable at all.

This last trip was frustrating. As quickly as we could repair one part of the puzzle, another would fail. The decay of old leather and other parts is outpacing our ability to repair and replace.

Therefore, my friend decided that this was our last "service" trip over there. If we are not given the funds to do the job properly, the organ will simply fail and become an unusable relic.

I couldn't argue.

That has too many parallels with my current situation to be comfortable to think about. I have worked hard, because I believe in what I do, but those I have worked for seem to think I'll always be there, and it doesn't matter if they pay me or not.

After the somewhat frustrating trip over to the island and back, I was "greeted" (if you want to call it that) with even more bad news which, thanks to the publications that have chosen to pay me at their own convenience instead of being up-front with me, I cannot answer.

This is simply getting to be too damn much. If everything is going to cause stress and disappointment, I might as well give up now and avoid the rush.

And, as frosting on the cake, my little camera decided to start turning up its digital toes on this trip. I expect it to fail totally within the next few days. I can't afford to replace it right now, and I will miss it.

Perhaps the last photo I'll be able to take with it was this shot of the sculpture in front of Avalon's snooty Tuna Club, yet another place that will never welcome me within its walls....



Damn. I need something (or someone) to hang on to, Jim.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

All very sad.

Kimmywoo said...

You know what? I think it's wonderful that you have these amazing talents. You write beautifully and you can repair huge organs. Although not appreciated in a monetary sense, your talents are appreciated in an emotional sense.

MrScribbler said...

Kimmy -- Means a lot to me that you'd say that! Over the years, this has been something of a thankless job....

There are many similar organs in your land. Wish I could get down there to see them!

Dorrie said...

I have to agree with Kimmy. Have you put these other talents on your resumé? If not, you should have.

And do you send those publishers a bill, with a DATE by which time it is to be paid? In business that's standard proceedure, and if they don't pay up, get some legal action. They don't hire you again? Their loss! They are, after all, not doing you a favor by not paying.

I know, you've heard it all before. I just feel bad that the people you need to appreciate you, publishers, don't. {hugs}

Justfly said...

Very impressive talent you have there repairing pipe organs. I am surprised your services are not in more demand, unless of course they don't know about you.

aka mag said...

Wow, what a gorgeous bellows system for that organ!

Part of being not appreciated in our chosen careers, avocations and combinations thereof is that most fail to realize the enormous amount of time and expertise required to 'do the job right' (and they especially don't want to pay the true value). You can only patch for so long and then the cumulative tiny leaks manifest as the dike bursting.

I'm so thrilled that you have blogged about the Avalon organ and that you have come out of the windchest about your love of pipe organs.

aka mag said...

Hope you don't mind me copying this here...(certainly with cultivating this kind of public image, they can find the funds to do it right)!

Copied from ecatalina:

The movie theater itself, also included in a Casino tour if you can't catch a movie, will take your breath. Its high elliptical ceiling, covered with 60,000 individual squares of silver leaf, is inset with tiny twinkling lights to evoke nighttime stars. Murals by John Gabriel Beckman, who also painted those in Hollywood's famed Chinese Theatre, cover the walls with romantic scenes of the island. The full-scale pipe organ, however, installed to provide musical accompaniment during the last days of the silent film era, may be the most wondrous draw of all. Built by the Page Organ Company of Lima, Ohio, it includes 16 ranks of pipes (with 73 to 85 pipes per rank) in the ceiling lofts. The organ, now one of only four surviving Page Organs in the world, was added in 2003 to the American Theatre Organ Society's National Registry of Historic and Significant Instruments, and it is still played live on Friday and Saturday nights before the feature performance. And each year it stars in a silent film festival that raises funds for the Catalina Island Museum.