LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION
Please enter your information below and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Please include "Sewing Machine" or "Clock" so it stands out in my spam filter. Thank you, Merlin
Merlin Tinker, F.S.M.
Fixer of Sewing Machines
"I Fix Anything" (no vacuums please)
Specializing in "Sewing Machine" and "Clock" repair. I fix just about anything and if not I do not charge.
Servicing Mendocino, Little River, Casper and Fort Bragg for over 50 years!
Due to recent unpleasant experiences, the following conditions need to be read and agreed to before I can accept your broken machinery for repair.
1. No estimates. In order to give you an estimate, I must go through your machine, cleaning, oiling, lubricating, testing and adjusting all facets of its workings until I am satisfied that it is performing to the best of my ability to adjust. Only then will I know how much time it will have taken to do the above repairs. If, then, you say that the estimate is too costly, am I supposed to reverse all of what I adjusted, lubricated, etc., breaking everything that I fixed, just so I can give it back? And then charge you nothing?! No estimates!
2. No jobs taken out of sequence. When you give me an item to repair, I give you a numbered tag. It is by this sequence number that I do repairs. I have been cajoled and pleaded with, told that you earn your living with your machine. So does the person ahead of you. I am working as quickly as I can, and will get to yours when your number comes due.
3. Please do not call to ask me if your machine has been done. To your detriment, most of my days are spent answering such calls. There have been days that every time I lift a screwdriver to adjust your machine, the phone rings, with the next person asking if theirs is done yet. I can understand if you have been out of town for a week or two; yes, you may call, but please understand if I am curt on the phone, as I have just answered a dozen before you.
4. If, when you leave your machine, you tell me you are in a tremendous rush to have it back, why is it that when I call to tell you that it is ready, you don't show up for a month?
5. I enjoy the satisfaction of your smile when I am able to repair something perfectly. Not all machines can be repaired in such manner. Please remember that I, too, am a person, and desist from screaming, raving and harrasing me if I cannot put the expensive toy, which you broke, back to its' brand-new mint condition.
6. And, yes, I do expect to be paid for my time if I have improved the condition of your machine. I do not charge for a machine I was unable to repair.
Merlin Tinker, F.S.M.
Merlin the Tinker
by Jenny Lasser, MBA1, University of Michigan Business School
As I move farther away from my family, there is a proportional increase in my interest in fabric. Maybe it is the softness, comfort, texture, and richness of color that reminds me of home and of family. Maybe, like arms, the material envelops and protects, without letting the cold in. Maybe the connection is more literal than I like to imagine ― I am longing to touch the fabric of my being ― that from which I am made.
For whatever the reason, as soon as I moved to the tiny Northern California town of Mendocino, quilted squares, downy clothes, and soft dolls danced in my head. I needed to work with fabric, and couldn't get started fast enough. Part of the longing may have been just to use the sewing machine ― itself, steeped in the tradition and longevity which I craved. My grandma's old Singer was given to my mom as a wedding present over 25 years ago, and then given to me just recently.
But the old Singer is old, and had been breaking my heart with every missed stitch and gnarled bobbin thread. It had a creaky, broken foot pedal and a wall plug that had to be bandaged with scotch tape just to get the electrical juices flowing into the machine's rickety parts. When I used it, I felt like I was taking care of a friend's dog that is way too old ― I was struck with the paralyzing fear that I would be the one who killed it.
One day I decided to get the thing fixed, no matter what it cost. I figured I would have to drive the three hours back to San Francisco, but looked in the Mendocino County Yellow Pages anyway, just in case. Under 'Sewing Machine Repair' were two lines;
Merlin the Tinker: I fix anything.
What luck! Caspar was just 5 miles away. I didn't know that people really even lived or worked there, though. Mendocino, with population 400 was the thriving metropolis around these parts. I gave Merlin a call and he said he was available until 6 p.m. that night, and told me to come by. I got directions and hopped in the car, my whimpering sewing machine by my side.
"There's only three buildings in the town of Caspar, and I'm the third one. There's a big sewing machine on my roof. You can't miss me," was what Merlin had said. He was right. The Caspar Inn, Black Bear Press, and Merlin the Tinker are the sole inhabitants of Caspar. I lugged the machine up to the front door (it is his house and office, both) and rang the Tinker Bell.
A little bespectacled man ― kind of like a gentle, old rabbi, kind of like a full-grown gnome ― came to the door and showed me in to the impeccably ordered, but old and dusty front room. In between the ancient mahogany cupboard that held a myriad boxes of bobbins, screws, parts and pieces, and the squeaky old leather reclining chair where I placed my self, sat a super high-tech Sony sound system that belted out Klezmer music.
He seemed anxious and happy to get his hands on my sewing machine. He hummed and screwed and smiled and peered and peeked all at the same time. Merlin the Tinker had certainly found his passion in life. Simple and perfect ― this was the life that he wanted more than anything in the world. I felt it as soon as I walked in the door.
Another woman didn't ring the Tinker Bell, but walked into the big room just a minute after my entrance. Merlin wheeled around, shocked to find a total of three whole people in his room at once. He looked a bit claustrophobic. "Are you together?" he asked, uncomfortably. "No," replied the woman. "I have two cameras here that are broken. You looked at one last year and said it was fixed but I haven't used it all this time, but it doesn't work now. And this one here won't..."
"Stop! Now I am working on something else right now. You just leave them with me. I can find what is wrong ― that is my job. Now here is your slip and you really must go!" He said all this very quickly and quite flustered, all while shooing her out with his arms and shaking his head as he focused his eyes on the faded patterns of the purple and maize rug.
I sat silently in the chair, resolute not to disturb him anymore, for fear of getting shooed, too. But as soon as the woman's car pulled away, he turned to me and smiled, "I've had problems with her before. Pushy! Pushy!"
I was instantly relieved. He worked and I studied the room in silence. A little of everything. Some old Russian-looking vases. Pictures of the San Francisco Bay before a bridge spanned it. Models of airplanes and other flying contraptions. I finally mustered enough guts to ask my favorite question, "So, how did you end up in Mendocino?"
"Oh, I walked here. But not straight here, mind you. I walked for three and a half years. I didn't really know I was coming here -- I was just walking. But when I got to Mendocino, I felt like I was done walking."
The question of why people come to this tiny coastal town in the middle of the California wilderness always reveals incredible stories. No one ends up here by accident, or because they had no where else to be. The people who are here want to be here with all their heart, and can't imagine life any other way. I had already heard the story of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning physicist who does plumbing locally, and that of the former CFO of a major fortune 500 company who now does people's taxes for $50 a pop from his office on the corner of Lansing and Little Lake. But I had never heard, "Oh, I just walked here," before.
Merlin the Tinker went on to tell me his story, never once looking up from my sewing machine, only pausing a few times to shuffle through little boxes for just the right doodad.
"I always loved fixing things ― taking machines apart, putting them back together. As a kid, I took apart the toaster, the radiator, or the radio at my house when I was bored. Ah! How my mother would scream at the mess!" he mumbled to himself with a faint Brooklyn accent, chuckling under his breath.
"When I graduated from high school, I went into the army and got to work on all kinds of new machines like radar systems and airplanes. When I got out the army, I got a job working on planes for Lockheed.
"One day, in the lunchroom, over the coffee machine appeared a little sign that said, Computer Programmers Needed. All employees welcome to take the qualifying exam. Test duration: 4 hours. You can take the exam on company time. I remember thinking, 'What's a computer? What is a programmer?' Keep in mind, this was in the early 1960s. But I would be paid to take the test, so why the hell not! In fact, everyone in the company was thinking along those same lines, because 4000 people showed up to take a test in order to be something no one knew anything about.
"I went into the conference room set with tables and chairs. They handed out a 1/2 inch thick test booklet and a little long skinny answer sheet with ABCDE spaces to pencil in your answers. As the test -giver rattles off his instructions, which I cared nothing about, I noticed some little writing in the top right-hand corner -- so small, I don't think I was even supposed to see it. It said, 'R=1, W= -1, B=0'. I wasn't sure what that meant, but I thought, "Well, it could mean a right answer is one point, a wrong answer takes a point away, and if you leave it blank, then they don't even count it.
"I flipped through the book and found a question that looked doable. I worked real hard, checked the answer over and over. Fifteen minutes into the 4 hour test, I turned my test in and walked out of the room.
"I was the only person in the whole group to get a score of 100% and I was sent to IBM programmer school for 2 years!"
I howled at his story, forcing him to finally looked up from his work. He gave me a sweet little smile, simultaneously embarrassed and delighted by my ring of laughter. "That is so cool!" I was standing next to him now. "But what does that have to do with walking to Mendocino?"
"Patience. Patience," he blurted. "Are you always this nosy?" We both had forgotten our shyness and etiquette.
"Only when I am in the middle of a great story and can't wait to hear the end!"
"Well, I became a programmer and loved it! Huge rooms filled with blinking-lighted machines to play with. I worked for a big fancy company in Manhattan and became a workaholic. I loved my work and spent 18 hours a day at my job because of the sheer joy it brought me.
"But then the CEO's son, some 18 year old brat, was hired as my boss, and told me I had to take a 30 minute lunch instead of an hour - even if I did come in 4 hours before him and stayed 5 hours after he went home. All these rules and regulations got me down. I started to not have fun anymore. And I started to feel sick of New York City, the place I had lived all my life.
"So one day, I got out a little back pack, put in a few socks, a few changes of clothes and some extra shoes, and I left. I left my Mid-town apartment door wide open, with my wallet and all my money right there on the table. I'm sure the place was cleaned out within hours!" This was obviously an image he had rolled over and over in his mind, and received great joy from recollecting it.
"I just started walking north. And within 2 hours, I was in the beautiful forests of New Jersey. I said to myself, 'This amazing forest has been here only a 2 hour walk away from me and I haven't seen this yet? What else must be out there!' So I walked. I walked up to Canada, then back down to the South, through the Southwest and the Grand Canyon and then back up to Canada, then along down the coast of California.
"I never once possessed any money, spent any money, or panhandled for money. I simply went to nice, respectable-looking houses, knocked on the door and said, 'I can fix everything in your house if you'd make me a sandwich.' I'd fix their car, the old leaky washer, the vacuum, and the TV. People would usually be so amazed and thankful, they'd ask me to stay for dinner, then make me a bed in the guest room. Then, after a few days' visit, they'd send me to their friend's house and I'd do the same. All over the country for 3 and half years. But when I got to Mendocino, I just felt done. My life was supposed to be here. So that's my story."
I had a million questions. What did he pack in his one bag? Did he ever feel scared? How did he get food in rural areas? Why did he stop in Mendocino? Did he ever think about going back to see Manhattan? How many pairs of shoes did he go through? Did he see Forest Gump?
But my sewing machine was fixed. The job, and story time, was over. I paid him $40 dollars, and thanked him for the wonderful afternoon and my perfectly fixed sewing machine. I had to at least ask if his name was really Merlin.
"No. I was born Barry Weiss ― but you can call me Merlin."
I think we all dream that one day, we'll be driving along and suddenly glimpse our destiny. At least I think of it that way. I will hear a big screeching sound, as the whole mixed-up life I've lived up to that point comes to a grinding halt, and a crystal clear, new, and real life begins. But how do we ever find that place or that calling that ends the searching, unless we are searching. Daring, curiosity, and movement are the only things that will deliver us to our destination.
Yes, this is the end. One year down for some of us. The end of school altogether for others. But endings are also beginnings. Don't get too attached to the past, because life is about always moving on.
Have a great summer, and a great life, second-years!
Copyright © Lesley Vanderhoof. All rights reserved.