Saturday, February 13, 2010

A New England character

New England is home to many interesting people who have contributed in their own ways to the vibrancy of its economy and culture. I am going to try to capture, in a few word and pictures, one such person, a friend, Ira Molay, who died over ten years ago.

I am prompted to do this because I joined his daughter yesterday in trying to clean out his basement workbench and was stunned to see how much of his presence persisted there. (You will soon understand why the clean-up has taken this long.)

As this obituary suggests, Ira was an an inventor, silversmith, and industrial design engineer. He was the closest thing to Thomas Edison that I have ever seen. He had infinite curiosity. He would always be scribbling on the napkin when you went to a restaurant, either practicing Japanese or designing a new electronic circuit or sketching an idea for jewelry. He held several patents, one in 1976 for a portable sound system, but he mainly designed things for sale to electronics component companies or for pleasure.

If I may stereotype a bit, Ira was unlike most Jewish boys who grew up in Brooklyn in that he joined the Marines and loved to hunt for wild boar.

And then he would used the boar's tusks for jewelry, first performing the equivalent of a root canal to clean out the insides and then filling them with resin so they wouldn't crack.

The workbench was not really a workbench. It was an explosion throughout the entire basement. Of course, there were electronics of all kinds, and fasteners, and tools.

But there were also music box and clock parts and exotic woods to make cases for those music boxes and clocks. Ira would collect burls while in the forests for his boar hunts to use for the same types of items. An abalone shell provided mother-of-pearl for jewelry or to inlay into a wooden belt buckle.

A Shopsmith was the centerpiece, providing a versatile tool that performed lots of functions. There was an acetylene torch, an industrial sized oxygen tank, and hazardous chemicals too numerous to mention. There were illegally acquired syringes for squirting substances into small spaces.

The assortment of containers to hold all this stuff ranged from high-end cabinets to coffee cans.

Of course, there was a fully stocked darkroom. Then there was the fishing gear, too.

The curiosity extended to horticulture. Ira would take a seed or pit from a fruit or vegetable he had eaten and try to grow the plant. An avocado was easy. How about a naval orange? These are supposedly sterile, but he found one with a pit and nurtured it into a small tree. On the one-year anniversary of his death, it produced a tiny orange, and it lives on to this day.


Unknown said...

Paul, so nice of you to take the time
to help clean out Ira's basement and
to tell us about gems in his personality I was not aware of.

Anonymous said...

Haha! This reminds me so much of my dad the New Englander (Pawtucket), who died 8 years ago today. Friends like that are priceless.
The New England characters are not always understood by those outside the region. For years I worked with a female Mainer who ran our lab computer system. Her dour reserve was resented/feared/misinterpreted by all with whom she worked. I found myself translating and defending her New England personality to various superiors who wanted to fire her due to their lack of understanding of her inability to cowtow to anyone.
To my pride, she remains there today; outlasted me!


Jerry Ackerman said...

A very sweet experience... I had a similar one eight years ago when I helped clean out my father-in-law's basement. He too was an inventor, and a huge model-railroad and steam railroad fan. I now proudly preserve several of his tools, a small steam whistle, and a bell like those that streetcar motormen used to clang.

Anonymous said...

From Facebook,
Jim: Warm tribute Paul. A man I would have enjoyed knowing.

KSPENCER said...

Paul, he sounds like quite a treasure himself. It must have been so much fun to watch his ideas take shape....and then to relive that feeling while in his treasure trove! Looks like a space where I could spend hours, myself, imagining the possibilities. My studio looks tame compared to his.....looks like I should shake things up bit! Thanks for sharing the story.

Maureen Bisognano said...

What a wonderful tribute. Wish I knew him. Thanks for introducing us to a true innovator!

Carole said...

What a wonderful tribute. I tweeted about your blog just now. Cheers.

Debbie said...

What a nice tribute to Ira; he was an incredible person with a personality to match. Thanks for sharing.

Kathy said...

You captured Ira perfectly! Great pictures, too. Thanks for sharing.

Dorothie said...

Thank you very, very much. A terrific and lovely tribute to a special person.

Lisa said...

What a lovely portrait of Ira through his things. It captured the man so well.