Reflections on My Saturday Morning Ride

A light snowfall on a Minnesota morning
A light snowfall on a crisp Minnesota morning

A typical Saturday morning conversation at the Bjella house goes something like this:

“I’m off to play with my racquetball friends, dear.”

[muffled sounds from under the covers]

I speak loudly in case she’s still asleep, because I am a good husband and know she wouldn’t want to waste a moment of her day, warm and cozy in bed, “WHAT DID YOU SAY, DEAR?”

“I SAID, If they are such good friends, why do you always come home covered with red welts?”

I tell her they aren’t welts, they are hickeys.

Without missing a beat she says, “shouldn’t you be spending more time with your Facebook friends?”

“My what?”

“You know, the people who don’t pelt you with racquetballs? The ones who ‘like’ you?”

My Saturday morning racquetball friends

Admittedly, I’m new to the whole social media thing, about six months since I lost my online virginity. So, I say, “but everyone is always so nice on Facebook, with their hundreds of friends, always so supportive…” It feels like the Stepford version of Disneyland, without the cartoon mice. Which is surprising, given all the cats on Facebook. Lots and lots of cats. 

She says, “Maybe that’s how people really are. Nice.” 

I let that slide with a mere cocking of an eyebrow.

“It’s all so… so make-believe. If our physical friends acted that polite around us, I’d probably call the police. Besides, it’s a veritable popularity contest for ‘likes’.” 

“Better not say that, or you won’t get any,” she says.

I reply, “We’re still talking about ‘likes’, right?” I have to tread very carefully here.

I tell her I don’t have to worry about ‘likes’. “First of all, nobody will ever read this far into my post. Second, I have you and your mom. You two are my groupies.” Sure, I have to ‘like’ some of my own posts on Robyn’s behalf using her computer, but still, it’s nice to have groupies. Even if they are sort of guilted into it. Forced, really (I know things about them).

“So why bother to post, then? You don’t post cats, and nobody has the attention span to read anymore, so why bother?”

That’s a good question. And, the second time someone has asked me that this week (so, if you are reading this, here’s your answer). Upon reflection today on my ride, I thought of many reasons, but these are the unexpected ones (and if I had time I could come up with more).

  1. Together with sketching/drawing, photography, and that brain sucking machine I saw on Star Trek, writing completes the panoply of tools at hand to capture thoughts and memories, and share them, too.
  2. It is a means to interact with friends, a way to talk about the things for which there is no time in the brief moments you have together, between cheers, while watching your kid’s basketball game. It is a way to ‘talk’ to busy friends on their schedule, those that have the time or inclination to read, anyway. It’s also a way to target those friends who are interested, without boring those who are not. As hard as it is for me to believe, there are actually people out there not consumed daily by architecture… well, we all have our passions (probably shoes).
  3. Most of my life is spent drawing and visualizing, which is about form and function. Writing has forced me to think. Actually think. To think deeper (but not quite Deepak Chopra deep) about just about everything, not just the visual. In fifty-one years I haven’t had to do much of that. Yes, of course I read and take in other people’s thoughts about life, but rarely have I reflected on my own. It’s amazing what you learn about yourself.
  4. It’s difficult. Easy things are boring. ’nuff said.
  5. It forces you to become a better writer. I look at each post and ask if I was you (were you?), would I read it. If it’s obviously boring, which it usually is, I ask how can I make it more interesting without including porn (if you follow this blog long enough, I may just get there). Turns out it’s much like architecture, which requires training yourself to approach things in new and hopefully interesting ways (come to think of it, maybe it is like porn).

By way of example, here’s my Facebook post as originally conceived during my morning ride. Nice and inoffensive (probably would have received a thousand ‘likes’ from Robyn and her mom):

My typical Saturday morning ride to the courts is an especially beautiful one today, because of a fresh snowfall… if you can get past the grey sky. The ride is an easy five miles, most of which is a mixture of trails and tracks. Happy to say no injuries today. Good thing, because my ribs are still recovering from a spill a few weeks ago.

It’s quite amazing to live 10 minutes from the heart of a big city (Minneapolis) and rarely have to ride on roads. I love this place. Except the cold. And the mosquitos. And the guys who hit me with racquetballs. Here are a few pictures from the ride this morning.

If you read another post from me like the one above one, you know I have given up and am spending the entire day in my bathrobe, talking to cats. And I don’t have cats.


Cute Cat
Cute Cat

May the Haiku be with You

Last night we took Beck to see Star Wars I, or IV (or was it VII?). It was the latest one, anyway, where they blow up the big planet-destroying, star of death. I think it was titled, “New Hope for a Big Explosion.” Or, “Search for the Phantom Jedi Tribbles.” Or, “Darth’s Revenge, This Time it’s Personal.” Something like that.

Grade School Drawings - Droid - Tim Bjella
To set the stage for this post, I wanted to include an image of something Star Warsy. But due to copyright laws and the hundreds of George Lucas attorneys no doubt watching every post I write, sadly I could not. So, instead, here is a droid I designed a long, long time ago, in a grade-school far, far away (thanks for keeping it, mom!). Any resemblance to a Star Wars character is entirely coincidental.

Bjella FamilyAfter the movie, like most of you, I naturally thought to commemorate the occasion by writing some haiku (Japanese poetry). So, while I’m waiting to read yours, here are a few of mine.

Please note, I have never written any poetry before, much less haiku. My formal training is limited to extensive inspections of toilet stalls. However, I understand it follows very strict rules (nothing at all like the limericks of which we are all so fond).

  1. It must be exactly three lines (don’t ask me why).
  2. The first and third line must contain five syllables, no more, no less (there’s probably a good reason).
  3. The second line must contain seven syllables (obviously).

So, here goes. Yes, this is what keeps me up at night. This, and world peace. And chocolate:


Lonely Skywalker,
Always looking to the sky,
Do. There is no try.


Love this new movie,
Go ahead, Luke, make my day,
Inconceivable!


Death Star exploded,
This time it’s even bigger,
Oops. Try, try again.


White plastic armor,
Fashionable uniform,
Can’t stop a damn thing.


Rebels are winning,
Except when they are losing,
Three films should do it.


If you strike me down,
I become more powerful,
Oh hell, I just died.


Black mask covering,
Black cape hanging to the floor,
Must be in Gotham.


Light sabres flashing,
I do not feel like dying,
Should have brought a gun.


Smuggled some cargo,
Kessel run in 12 parsecs,
‘course, I’ll pay you back.


Sweet princess Leia,
Love what you did with your hair,
Is that your Wookie?


The films keep coming,
How many more will there be?
It started with three.


And a few more drawings from the late seventies. Sorry, I digress…

Grade School Drawings - Another Droid Rip-off - Tim Bjella

Grade School Drawings - Life Before the Death Star - Tim Bjella
Before there was the Death Star, there was the Intergalactic Planet Peeler. Eat your heart out, Darth Vader (never mind. No heart).

Just Another Walk in the Desert…

Tim Bjella Sketches - Desert Southwest

Flipping through these old sketches reminded me of a night hike through the desert of Arizona (not to be confused with my once daily hikes through the desserts of Arizona. Those were more like pilgrimages, frankly).

Walking along a gravel road with a few friends on a dark, moonless night, mesmerized by the brilliant stars, I was startled by a sound behind me. What was that? Was that a rattle? What could possibly rattle in the middle of a desert? Did someone leave a small baby lying around? …Oh. Whipping around like Clint Eastwood without the chiseled chin, drawing my Colt 45 lookalike flashlight, I pulled the trigger and there in the beam, not five feet away, was a coiled rattlesnake – not just a rattlesnake, but the rattlesnake I had unknowingly stepped right over just moments before.

After the shock wore off and my eyeballs retracted back into their sockets, I slowly backed away, palms outstretched, saying, “Good doggie, gooooooood doggie” (because rattlesnakes are really just long, thin puppies). Go ahead and laugh. I’d like to know what you would do.

RattlesnakeThankfully, the snake had shown remarkable restraint, choosing not to strike at my exposed fleshy bits, and I returned the favor, not biting it, either. Fair’s fair.

However, what may have actually saved me (and it) was the cool fall weather. Apparently, snakes become sluggish when cold and slither onto warm roads to soak up the leftover heat of the day. I probably stepped over the snake before its delayed senses even knew I was there. Yet, I prefer to believe the snake sensed a kindred spirit and let me off with a warning. Goooooood snake.

Tim Bjella Sketch - Arizona Desert

Bathtub Surprise – Slow, but VERY Scary

Beck Bjella - Pinewood Derby Car - Bathtub Surprise 2016

Pinewood Derby 2016

As is our tradition, Team Bjella lost again, yet won again. Who would have thought it was possible to be less aerodynamic than last year’s car (for love of Pete, it was a crate! Literally, a crate.)? Well, Beck and I did it. So much for all those weeks spent in the wind tunnel testing, and testing, and testing. I guess we should have brought the car along with us and tested it, too. But, at least we got our cheeks to do that funny, warbly thing. And, our hair looks fantastic. Like Fabio. Except less.

Bathtub Surprise finished 18th out of 18, by a wide margin. Despite many creative suggestions from other parents (mass hypnosis, doctoring the video record, pulling the fire alarm, faking a heart attack), there was just no way to challenge the results.

I have a theory to explain the loss, however, one I think we can stick with: Bathtub Surprise wasn’t actually slow. It was SO scary that all the other cars drove crazy-fast to get away from it.


The Car:


The Construction:


The Race:

Beck Bjella - Pinewood Derby Race 2016
See the motion blur of Bathtub Surprise. That’s fast. Almost warp speed. Now, just imagine how fast the other cars were going to get out of its way!

Here’s a video of the final heat. You could smell the fear on the other cars as they ran away from Bathtub Surprise. Who could blame them. They probably hadn’t bathed since they were built.

So, there you go. Dead last in speed (participation trophy already in the trash), first for Best Design (real trophy on the shelf).

See prior years’ cars here.

 

Some Things Get Better with Age

Copper is one of them. The fishscale copper walls I designed for the exterior of this Missouri home are aging very slowly, but beautifully. This is the interim character we were hoping for while the copper develops its characteristic, coveted green patina.

Since the 1970’s we have seen a significant reduction of acid rain. Now, copper takes forever to patina (darnit!). I won’t be lobbying to bring back the pollution… probably, but, I still hope the green patina develops in my lifetime. Thankfully, copper is beautiful during all stages of its life.

Modern Copper Wall Cladding by Arteriors Residential Architects - Newly Installed
Newly Installed Copper Wall Panels

The installers of these copper panels, with their white, cotton gloves, were akin to surgeons as they delicately installed them. I suspect even atomic bomb technicians don’t handle their charges with such reverence. After all, an explosion is a one-time occurrence, but fingerprints left on copper, that’s forever.

Newly Installed Copper Wall Panels
Newly Installed Copper Wall Panels
Modern Copper Wall Cladding by Arteriors Residential Architects - Aged 5 years
Aging Copper Wall Panels

A Niche is Nice

Contemporary Wall Niches by Arteriors Residential Architects

When I design wall niches, rarely do I know what the homeowners will put in them. I love to visit the home years later (or days later if they’re serving dinner) and see what they contain. It’s almost like opening a present.

The owners of this home, astute product designers with their own successful company, chose simple vases of a light, complimentary color to the orange wood walls. The result has a crisp, bold appeal. I suspect these are changed out frequently, given the breadth of products made by their company (deep down, I’m secretly holding out for something out of Ripley’s, maybe the world’s greatest collection of belly button lint).

That’s the secret of museums around the world, by the way. Not lint, but change. Rotation of art. It’s also what keeps an interior space interesting. Even your favorite piece of art or memento disappears from your view when seen day after day. You may see it, but you don’t SEE it.

Contemporary Wall Niches by Arteriors Residential Architects

 

You Choose the Ending – My First Interview

No Begging SignStep into my Wayback machine and I’ll take you on quick trip to 1994 – back to a time when I really, really, really needed a job. Really. Why did I need a job? Because, I stupidly quit a perfectly good one to start my own company – a house design company without any houses to design. And, did I mention, I desperately needed a project. Any project. If someone had asked, “Will you design a house for me?” They wouldn’t have gotten past “Will” before I replied, “Heck, yeah!”

“Doghouse?” “Sure!”

“Outhouse?” “One or two level, sir?”

“Cathouse?” “I… suppose I can do that.”

“No, no, not that kind of cathouse.” “Oh. O.k., (meekly) I’ll do it.”

HammerThe reality of the world came down on me like a hammer (a hammer, I might add, that could have been better used to build one of the many house projects I didn’t have). I discovered the hard way that it’s a wee bit difficult to stay in business without any work. Not to mention, Robyn was tired, and just a little embarrassed, watching me on the street corner holding a cardboard sign (nicely lettered in architectural handwriting), “Will design your home with Pop Tarts.” I meant, of course, “FOR Pop Tarts.” Probably explains why no one stopped. I still don’t understand why Robyn never corrected me, though. I guess she thought it was some kind of artsy, architectural thing (O.k., I confess, that last part only happened in my recurring nightmares. I think. I hope.).

The FoolMost people start their architecture companies as a spin-off from another company, with stolen clients and projects already in the pipeline. Or, they have wealthy parents, friends or connections to draw upon. I was foolish enough to try it without any of that. I quit my real job, spent my only savings on a few advertisements in a local magazine, printed some business cards and crossed my fingers. Look up “fool” in the dictionary. You will find my picture next to it (in full color, with flashing neon arrows pointing to it).

If you can imagine the cliché, love-struck, teenage girl waiting by the phone, praying for it to ring, you can almost picture me. Just add a slightly deeper voice, sweat, tears and a few expletives (maybe more than a few), and you have it. To answer the phone when it finally rang, I had to set down the toaster with which I was about to share a bath.

Hallelujah! I have an interview!

Setting up the interview for the following week turned out to be a snap. Preparing for it was even easier. I had nothing to prepare. My portfolio was empty. My resume was as blank as my stare. I had NOTHING to prove that I was capable of doing the job. I had never designed a house (although I liked houses very much, thank you, especially the one I dreamed of living in someday). I spent five years after college working on very large commercial buildings, and not one of them had so much as a bedroom.

So what qualified me to design a house? Again, nothing. To land this job I needed to rely entirely on words – to talk my way into the job by painting a picture of the client’s future home. My mantra for the days leading up to the interview alternated between “Be one with the home, young grasshopper” and “Don’t blow this, idiot.”

Finally the day came. After sitting in my car for an hour on a neighboring street to ensure I wasn’t late (listen up youngsters, you could learn a thing or two), I drove into the driveway of my prospective client . Was I nervous? Let’s just say you couldn’t stuff more butterflies into a stomach without a ram rod (and that just makes a mess). Or, jitters into a chest. Or, ants into a pair of pants for that matter.

Straightening my ill fitting suit and tie (again, pay attention, youngsters), I rang the doorbell, all the while chanting “don’t blow this, idiot.” After the door opened, a man stepped out holding a tiny dog that couldn’t have weighed 5 pounds. In my most charming manner I said, “Hi, I’m Tim. Nice to meet you. What a cute, little dog. I have a Labrador Retriever. She could eat your dog for lunch.” The man looked me in the eye, quivered ever so slightly, and replied, “For dinner yesterday, my neighbor’s German Shepard ate her brother.”

(Damn)


 

Yes, this really happened. Sadly it is not the dumbest thing I’ve ever said, either. But I still have all my teeth, so that’s a plus.

How does the story end? It’s a multiple choice:

  1. I lost the job, but learned an important lesson (yeah, right). Go ahead, guess this one. I dare you.
  2. I got the job, proving once again you can be a smart ass and things will always go your way. Oh, and I lived happily ever after.
  3. The man turned to me and said, “I’m so glad one of these yappy things is finally out of my hair. I just wish the Shepard had saved room for dessert. Come inside, young man. I like the cut of your jib.”

First House Design - Architectural DigestAnd the real ending is…. a modified number 2. Happily ever after, yes, but only because I got lucky. This time the faulty connection between my brain and mouth didn’t land me in hot water. It should have ended my career. Instead, I got the job and published in Architectural Digest to boot. Not all my doing. The bulk of the credit and thanks goes to a thoughtful, kind and generous client (and now dog-less friend).

Stay tuned for before-and-after pictures and to read the rest of the story.

Arch Digest Article - Page 3 - Tim Bjella Arteriors Architects