'El Greco': His Muse is amid the machines Tuneful repairs: Theodoris Roditis is the Electro Mechanic when he's making a living as a repairman and El Greco when he's composing electronic symphonies.

March 22, 1996|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

Sometimes he is El Greco and sometimes he's the Electro Mechanic, but always he remains Theodoris Roditis.

When elbow deep in the guts of a half-century-old Singer sewing machine, Mr. Roditis is the Electro Mechanic. When composing electronic symphonies on keyboards buried inside his Fells Point repair shop, he answers to El Greco.

His credo?

"I can fix," said the 64-year-old native of Rhodes, Greece, eyes smiling, his accent almost undecipherably thick.

Not only can he fix almost anything, Mr. Roditis will patch your sewing machine for a song and throw in a tape of his soothing compositions to calm you while you run a zig-zag stitch.

That's what happened to Dolly Jacobs and Linda Weiderhold, sisters from the Eastside who savored the full El Greco/Electro Mechanic experience last month.

"When I walked in his store, I almost dropped over," said Mrs. Jacobs. "There's only a pathway through all that stuff, but he knows where everything is."

Mr. Roditis had already fixed a sewing machine for her for $45 (about an hour's worth of labor at other service centers) and the family decided to revisit his shop after taking in a crab cake dinner at the Sip & Bite restaurant.

Mrs. Jacobs wanted to pick up a used typewriter, hundreds of which Mr. Roditis repairs and exports to Pakistan, along with old bicycles. Mrs. Weiderhold had hauled in a broken sewing machine of her own, and they wanted their mother to meet the eccentric Teddy Kennedy look-alike who had been so nice to them.

"He gave me extra needles and bobbins, and he put a plate on it for me to do zig-zags," said Mrs. Weiderhold, who had her Capitol machine fixed for $55. "And then we went home and listened to his tape."

The family is making copies of Teo's tape dreamy, synthesized keyboard music with an almost New Age feel to it, a sound he describes as "my personality" to pass around to rela- tives.

"This is my religion, you know that," he said of music, which he began studying in grade school on the trumpet. He also plays the violin. "I don't work for money, just love, to work for my music. I don't make a million, just enough for living."

For the past seven years after spending five in Philadelphia, where he has an ex-wife and two grown sons nearly all of Mr. Roditis' life has taken place behind the glass storefront at 1742 Eastern Ave.

The narrow first-floor shop, which doubles as his home, is stuffed with parts from old cash registers, broken adding machines, amplifiers and cassette decks.

A wooden pole is thick with eyeglasses, light issues from weird sci-fi lamps with stalactite-shaped shades that look as if they have fallen from the ceiling of Luray Caverns, and a revolving display case is crowded with unused tubes of watercolor paints.

No spot is free of clutter: buttonhole makers, staplers, accordions, a Seal-A-Meal machine, violins, books, baby dolls, snare drums and tape dispensers.

But mostly there are sewing machines, lime-green Singers from the 1950s and jet black ones with gold-leaf trim from the 1920s.

The sewing machines are for sale. The dolls are not.

Dolls, he maintains, carry the spirit of people, and such a thing should not be sold.

G; "Buy a sewing machine," he says. "But no buy my dolls."

A rare skill

In the sewing industry, mechanics are traditionally known as adjusters.

The ability to fix a variety of machines from the treadle models Isaac Merrit Singer pioneered in the 1850s, to post-World War II electrics built inside cabinets, to the latest computerized

stitchers is a rare skill.

"There are very, very few good mechanics that can cover a wide range of machines. Most adjusters have retired, and they haven't been replaced," said Jim Slaten, who runs a Singer dealership and sewing machine museum in Oakland, Calif. "It's a handed-down kind of thing."

Mr. Roditis, who is better on old models than on newer ones, said he learned his trade working for a Singer outlet in Athens, Greece, for 25 years.

In Baltimore, he has worked for J. Dashew & Co., a distributor of machinery to the garment industry for nearly 100 years, and Acme Pad Co., founded in 1938 to make shoulder pads for men's and women's clothing.

"He worked in our repair shop," remembered Alvin Gorn, a Dashew vice president, adding that anyone who talked to Mr. Roditis for more than five minutes knew that he was passionate about music. "He had a certain grandiosity about him. I can't tell you why he struck me that way, but you felt it," he said.

Since being laid off by Acme in 1992, Mr. Roditis has worked only for himself, making ends meet with shipments of typewriters and bicycles to Pakistan on Third World vessels that call on Baltimore every three or four months.

Why Pakistan?

"Poor people, no buy new," he explained. "A lot of English schools in Pakistan."

His own boss

As his own boss, he locks the front door to his shop anytime he likes to indulge in his music, sitting deep in the center of his great pile of stuff at his true workbench, a stack of keyboards littered with blank composition paper, inspiration coming from such diverse sources as modern Greek poetry and personal ads in the East Baltimore Guide.

If the words are powerful enough, he said, putting his hand to his heart, they stir him to "touch my keys."

In addition to the money he earns repairing sewing machines, he makes $10 to $15 for every typewriter he sends overseas and about $5 for each bicycle. But in 12 years of writing music in the United States which takes up so much of his time that he claims not to have many friends he hasn't made a dime from his compositions.

"Today I am a poor composer," he said. "But maybe not tomorrow."

Pub Date: 3/22/96

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