Friday, August 31, 2007

I Fit Right In Here


Reader and commenter Chris Byrne dropped by and left a comment yesterday that got me to thinking:

Honestly, even given all the conveniences, I still don't understand how you manage to run a small business in Massachusetts.

The regulations, the taxes... YOu lose so much just from being there when you could easily go to New Hampshire...

Not only that, but you seem to be an independent, freedom minded sort. I grew up in Mass, and there are still things I love about it, but I could never live there again.

Hmm. I'm speechless. I believe the last time that happened was the day I met my wife.

Chris, and Melody Byrne have a blog, The Anarchangel.

I figured I'd mention that, and put a hyperlink to it, as I just figured that out, and I still don't know how to answer his question. Dissembling is the term generally used for this behavior.

How about those Red Sox! Oops, they just dropped three straight to the Yankees.

I could mention the clement weather. I think it's clement, I can't go outside. There's an enormous wasp's nest in the shrubs out front, and I poisoned it this morning just as the sun came up, and it was so big I didn't get the center of it, and a lot of very angry wasps are looking for me out there. It's just as well, as I haven't recovered from the Lyme Disease I caught from the ticks the deer running around my yard like rabbits brought. And I haven't been able to get a hold of the mosquito control person for over three months, and the mosquitoes are bigger than the wasps out there anyway.

I could take pictures of the beautiful flowers out in the gard... um... the deer ate them; my bad.

I know, I'll post pictures of my sailboat, alighted majestically on the lapping waves on its mooring... oh.. I forgot. The remnants of hurricane Katrina dismasted it and I gave it away in disgust because I never used it anyway.

We have a new governor! Deval Patrick. His slogan was: Together We Can! He appeared to mean together we can ration electricity and open a few casinos while waiting for President Hillary to give him a hind teat Cabinet Post. Let's skip that. The last governor was a Mormon. They should have just hooked up a dynamo to James Michael Curley's grave and generated electricity with his spinning corpse over that. The opportunity has passed, at any rate, and I'm sure The Curley slumbers peacefully now that a fellow with the fine Irish name of Patrick is back in his old office.

The seafood here is outstanding, and ... oh boy, I'm deathly allergic to that.

OK, the taxes are pretty bad, but I get... um...I benefit from... that is to say... well, the taxes are higher in Connecticut. So there.

The people are so nice and friendly here...

Oops, those nice people were tourists. I regret I was so rude to them. They only wanted directions to Providence. Sorry.

Jerks.

Anyway, Massachusetts has everything a man could want. It's around here somewhere. Let me fish through the cushions on the divan, I'll find it all.

So in answer to your original question, what was it again? Oh yes.

Massachusetts is filled with stubborn people. I fit right in here.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Future's So Shady... No, That's Not It.


[Editor's Note: I ran this over a year ago. It's fun to go back and look at what you've written and see if you were full of it then, or if you're full of it now. I'm pleasantly surprised that I don't regret a word of this. Things are better now than they've ever been. Here's a list to prove it.]
{Author's note: There is no editor}

OK yesterday we defamed the elderly. It don't matter; they've barely learned to use the telephone, and I doubt any of them are ever going to be reading teh intarnets, no matter how big they make teh intarnet pipes. So let's get back to where we started. If you're not a stick in the mud, technology can improve your life immensely.

As I am the foremost authority on myself, I can assure you in my case that's absolutely true. That might seem odd at first blush.

I make reproduction antique furniture. Talk about a stick in the mud. Well, go to IKEA if you want to buy Jetsons furniture made out of wooden shredded wheat and formaldehyde glue, swathed in woodgrained wrapping paper. I'm not interested. And I'm not interested because "modern" furniture is an old idea. It's just as dated as any Shaker table is. It's the method of making it and selling it that's new, and I put IKEA in the shade on that score.
So I'm a thoroughly modern mill- man, trust me. So what exactly makes my day so modern, in the true sense of the word, and how is it different than it was just twenty-five years ago? I'm glad you asked:

1. I can get really good coffee anywhere, including in my house.
This is totally overlooked. Good coffee was really hard to find 25 years ago. Home brewed was boiled, generally -a terrible way to make coffee. And your average diner had coffee from the tenth century in that pot. I've got a German coffemaker that cost $16.99 and makes sublime java, or I can drive four miles in any direction and get really good joe. I do.
2. I can live where I want.
Everybody told me I was crazy to move where I live now. They said I was too far away from everything. My house has appreciated 539% since I built it 13 years ago. Yeah, I'm a dope. You don't have to live in a crummy apartment next to your job in a big factory chugging smoke if you don't want to anymore.
3. My house is comfortable
Hot water always comes out of the shower head. It 's warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It's dry in the basement.The furniture's not bad in here either. I ride when I mow the lawn. My children have their own rooms. These were magical dreams when I was a kid.
4. I'm alive.
I've been brought back from near dead a couple of times. Twenty five years ago, they would have given me aspirin and last rites.
5. I don't have to drive anywhere.
Look, I'm sympathetic if you're a road warrior. I've been there myself. But I never drive anywhere now. It's possible now. Even bank robbers can stay home and steal on the internet.
6. I make money at home by writing.
This one kills me. I tap out some text, which is visible in a little window on a screen, and occasionally get an attaboy or WTF from an editor that I have never met, and money is deposited directly into my bank account. This is the equivalent of alchemy circa 1975.
7. People find me even though I simply exist.
I invented guerilla marketing. I was the king of "copier art" word of mouth, free publicity, you name it. Now I simply exist on the internet, and people looking for what I have to sell find me and buy things. I think I've spent about $125.00 on advertising in the last three years. The internet is making willing buyer/willing seller come true in spades.
8. I have really good equipment from all over the world.
I've bought really good equipment and materials from all over the world and had it delivered to me here and never met the people I bought it from. I remember how hard it was just to get a 1x12 piece of pine after four in the afternoon on a weekday, and forget weekends. Now I can buy a 600 pound cast iron table saw made in Taiwan and sold through a company in Washington state, 2500 miles from me, at 2 AM on Sunday and have it delivered in less a week. I know this is the case, because I did exactly that. And Home Depot is open on Christmas.
9. I have access to really good information
Of all kinds too. Maps, directions, weather, pricing, comparative shopping, the internet is an astounding treasure trove of information.
10.You're reading this, ain't you?
I really can't say enough about this mode of expression. They didn't even teach men to type when I went to high school.
11.My packages get where they're going.
I was a shipping clerk for a little while 25 years ago. Shipping used to be as reliable as lottery scratch tickets. Now everything gets there right away, and you can track it all the way there.
12.I know how much things cost.
How does a saleman get paid? It used to be that salesman got money by knowing what a customer didn't, and taking advantage of that situation. Good luck trying that now, with this screen and Firefox in front of me. A saleman is in customer service now, or he's fired. Unless you're a car salesman. Then you're still evil.
13.I can be contacted at all times.
When I entered the construction trades, the idea of a phone on the job was science fiction. We all met before the sun came up in a dingy construction office and tried to predict everything that would happen all day to everybody and fix it before it happened. Yeah, that'll work. My life has been immeasurably ennobled by the cellular phone and e-mail. I f your job is miserable because of those two marvels you've got a bad job. Quit now.
14.I can make financial transactions on the web.
I go to banks to sign mortgages. I go to the Post Office...Never mind, I never go to the Post Office.
15.I have access to money easily.
People in the real world think easy credit is a snare to catch you. I've built empires on unsecured loans. All you have to do is always pay them back. People like me used to be trapped in laboring, or preyed upon by loan sharks, because regular banks wouldn't touch us. Now they beg me to borrow money. I don't need any today, because I could get my hands on it when opportunity knocked.
16.I have digital photography

It's hard to exaggerate its usefulness. I sent a picture of the exact item purchased to a customer, with a picture of it inside its crate with one side open, to show a customer what's inside and how to unpack it. He purchased it because he saw a digital photo of the last one.
17.I have a big truck.
I never go anywhere, but when I do, I can carry an enormous amount of stuff, safely and comfortably. The very idea of air-conditioning in a work truck boggles my mind still. Is that an FM radio?!!
18.I am not isolated from society.
I reiterate: you're reading this, ain't you? I have friends I've never met, all over the world. A note in a bottle, or waiting for my Nobel Prize ceremony was my only hope of meeting such persons before.
19.I can fly.
When I was a young teenager, my father took me to Boston's Logan airport, who was running a sort of tour where the children of the great unwashed (that's me) could get a chance to ride on an airplane. We took off, circled Boston twice, and landed. I thought at the time that was going to be my only chance to fly in my life. Thirty years later I was flying twice a week to a remote office for my last regular job. I used to get home in time for goodnight stories for my kids. My father worked in Boston when I was a kid, commuting only 35 miles from our house, and I almost never saw him at the dinner table.
20.This box makes me smarter than I am.
That's not that difficult, but the computer and the internet is the greatest cheat sheet in the history of mankind.

There you have it. It's always "the future" right now, and it's so bright... well, I told that joke already. I must be getting old, I'm repeating myself.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Cabin Fever

We got a little summer cabin fever this last weekend. I was plain weary, and my wife was weary of all of us men in our little home, and we had to go somewhere else. Anywhere.

We often find ourselves going to places most people would call "anywhere." Our friends describe vacations and sporting events and concerts and so forth that sound like everyone's idea of fun. Sometimes I find myself describing our activities to our acquaintances and family and I see an expression come over their faces that I've seen on people that are hearing about eating broccoli when they'd rather be given directions to a steakhouse. I'm sorry, we can't help ourselves.

We went to the Heritage Museum and Gardens in Sandwich, Massachusetts. The four year old will go anywhere and look at anything, so he's not a problem. But a twelve year old? He can be bored, and boring.

He invited one of his schoolmates to come. That made it better. They were a pack of wolves all by themselves, and the world was their flock of sheep. We gave them a cellphone and let the line out a little on the invisible string we keep on our children. We were essentially alone in this place anyway.

The place is a big landscaping show, but late summer has few things to recommend it flower-wise. My wife and I were grateful to see a patch of grass that didn't need mowing and wasn't crabgrass, so we didn't care. We went inside that windmill, and heard the docent, perhaps only slightly older than the revolutionary war vintage structure itself, lecture the few of us on the who what when where and why of it. My four year old smiled at him and the docent turned the thing on for him. The rest of us would have got bupkis. My four year old could get a dog off a meat truck. We watched the canvas sheets pass by the dutch door for a good, long, time.

The place is pleasant, and everybody that works there was more than pleasant, but it's got no real rhyme or reason to it. And it gets a little less coherent as time passes. There's a reproduction of a huge round shaker barn, and it's filled with antique cars. I enjoy both things and find them interesting, but there's a kind of incongruity to such juxtapositions that I can't shake.

The older boys were jazzed to go because there is a an enormous reproduction sort -of-Fort Ticonderoga loghouse there, and it was filled with an interesting and compelling collection of guns and weapons and Indian artifacts and lead toy soldiers. I say "was filled," not "is filled," because we went in and it was mostly gone, and replaced by a rather tepid display of memorabilia from the Cape Cod Baseball League. And there are only so many pictures of future big leaguers looking gaunt because they haven't figured out where to buy human growth hormone yet that you can stand to look at. And what's it doing in a fort? Bring back the guns, will you? We saw a few shunted off into little niches here and there. The baseball museum could have fit in a phone booth.

But the big boys were not deterred. Boys are never deterred. They walked back out into the blazing sunshine and the breeze from the nearby lake, saw me and my lovely wife sitting in the shade of an enormous oak, sized up the beauty and utility of intervening grass, and knew what it all was for.
To be.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Our New Hot Dog Stand

I had way too much fun with the Borderline Sociopathic Book For Boys yesterday. Judging from the mail I got, you did too. So we're going to have a little sideshow called:


You can find it in the blogroll here at Sippican Cottage, or bookmark it and visit it every day.

I don't know when I became the unelected spokesman for the y chromosome. I always thought of my childhood as a kind of sheltered existence. But it appears that is not the case. I'm told that many of my readers did not take a bus ride cross-country unaccompanied by adult supervision in Guatemala when they were barely high school age. You people need to get out more.

The Borderline Sociopathic Blog For Boys.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Borderline Sociopathic Book For Boys

My son received The Dangerous Book For Boys as a gift. It's a right smart looking tome, with its old-fashioned cloth cover, Warren G. Harding typeface, and heavyweight off-white paper inside. I got to looking around in there.

Hmmm. How to play soccer. Make a paper airplane. Marbling paper.

Marbling paper? This is beginning to sound like the Dangerous Book For Emily Dickinson. It appears to my untrained eye that perhaps the only dangerous thing in this book is nine letters between "The" and "Book." Well, we are not our hearty and hardy forebears, are we? But perhaps we can punch this up a bit. Kick it up a notch. There are plenty of things a boy can do to get himself in real trouble these days. Here's my outline for new version:

The Borderline Sociopathic Book For Boys
(Since the Dangerous Book has upped the ante by claiming that learning to play chess makes you a ninja, we'll have to stoke the furnace of hyperbole further to get noticed at this point.)

1. Ride a bicycle without a helmet. You heard me. And no spandex spangled with lavender and chrome yellow blotches and French words. You'll wear canvas shoes, too. You will not have anything with you that people with helmets refer to as "hydration." Eventually, you can get a blast of rubber-tasting hot water from a garden hose.

2. Tell your 5th grade teacher, when she starts in with the Vegan lecture again during a spelling lesson, that you're going to kill and eat your supper as soon as you can get your hands on some weapons. Then inform her that if she gives you anything less than a 'B" on any report card because you told her that, your father will have a phalanx of lawyers turn her life into a deposition purgatory. Then don't pass in any homework for the remainder of the term. Let's see who has the stones.

3. We're playing FOOTBALL, without any equipment but the ball. There are no rules, so this chapter is short. Soccer is Irish stepdancing with a ball introduced. We don't want any of that.

4. We're going out with dad on Earth Day, and we're cutting down a tree with a chainsaw. Dad is hung over and is in a hurry and there is only one set of ear and eye protection, so one of you risks blinding, the other deafness. Solidarity is the hallmark of any male bonding ritual. The chainsaw's guard is cheap and flimsy, but that doesn't matter because it came out of the box broken anyway. Which leads us to...

5. Duct Tape. We're going to use a lot of duct tape. We are going to dress our wounds, splint our shins, fix our tools, and tape our little brother's door shut with glorious, magnificent Duct Tape. When the womenfolk complain about the gummy residue it leaves on your siblings, we will remove it with rags soaked in acetone. These will be disposed of improperly. I guess. Who reads the MSDS sheet? Girls.

6.We are not cave men, son. Electronics are a part of our world now. You will find pictures of girls on the internet who are not clothed. You will educate yourself on the proper procedure for removing cookies and browsing history. You will leave one picture of a girl wearing only very steeply inclined shoes and a fetching pill-box hat on the hard-drive, and when it is discovered --by mom-- you can deny, deny, deny. Then watch your dad squirm and sleep on the couch for a week.

7.Firecrackers.

8. You will have a sip of Dad's beer while you watch the football game together. You will remark on the grooming, stature, or level of pneumatic charms displayed by a Baltimore Ravens cheerleader while doing so. Dad's beer tastes awful, and dad knows it, so this isn't all that dangerous for you. He, however, is risking a decade in the pokey over this. We're in this dangerous thing together, son.

9. You will fight with your fists with the biggest jerk in your school. If you're the biggest jerk in your school, you will fight with at least two classmates at a time, or any adult that rides a recumbent bicycle. You will all be in trouble, bigtime, with every adult involved. You will sit on the bench outside some boneless wonder's school administration office, rubbing your shiners, and share the respect reserved only for the men in the arena. It's the only real way to make friends with people you don't like.

10. You will give the Dangerous Book For Boys to your little sister.

Update: Visit our Borderline Sociopathic Blog For Boys.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Was Not.


-That was a strike.
-No it wasn't
-Was too.
-Mikey, was that a strike?
-I don't know. You won't let me pitch. I'm not tellin' anyway.
-Richie, that was a strike, wasn't it?
-Look, it's my ball and bat and I'm just standing here. I'm not sayin' either.
-Look, you idiots, if I don't pitch it'll never be a strike and we'll just be fishin' the balls out of the grass over and over.
-Dad says if we fight, he'll make me mow the lawn instead of playin'. I'm gonna lie and tell him you're pick'n a fight with me.
-He couldn't beat up your sister, never mind you.
-Could so.
-You tried once. No you can't.
-Well, then, he'll have to mow the lawn. He won't say so.
-Beats standin'here listenin' to you call a ball a strike.
-See!


-Was too.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Saturday Mash-Up Goodness

I've tried to explain here before that Kraftwerk and James Brown are essentially different versions of the same thing. No one ever buys it. But I'm going to keep on trying until my medications are adjusted just so, and I forget all about it.

If you're of a certain vintage, this thing is awesome. I am:

Friday, August 24, 2007

We're Just Like This, Only Better Looking


I couldn't care less how cornball that was. All sublime things are sorta lame, aren't they?

Hollywood's sorta lost this knack. Occasionally we watch a DVD, and the mildly out-of-date coming attractions show a drunk and a hooker self destructing in a seedy motel room in Vegas while the voice over intones sonorously:

It's the love story of our times...

My wife and I burst out laughing every time. Good luck kids. No matter what, though, don't end up like my wife and I; what a hopeless square everyone will think you are. Behind your back, they'll even tell your friends you probably like the Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I Never Learn. Again.

[I've fallen behind everything outside since I got Lyme disease. Crabgrass. Dandelions. And hornets. My poor little son went out to play in the jumble of stuff gathered around the sandbox, and his big brother had to save him from the nest that had magically appeared there in the last few weeks. He's tougher than me, and doesn't hold a grudge. Which is good, because I should have been able to save him from the huge welt on his hand. Here's the evidence your honor. I plead guilty.]

If a bee or wasp stings me, I'll die almost immediately. I don't care about that.

My neighbor, who likes cutting things down on a good day, counseled, unwonted, that I should razor all the shrubs down to the ground outside my door, so as not to attract such insects, just as he had done. They'll come right in the house when you open the door, he said.

I told him I was unaware that he was also allergic to the venom of stinging insects; it seems like such rarified air I breathe. He said he was not.

The flowers stayed.

Some fears are worse than the perils they stem from. I decided not to pay much attention to it, and get on with my life. I am not reckless about it; I no longer cut down trees until the frosts have come, and other gentle nods to reality. But it does not define me. That would be worse than death.

Many persons find it odd and disquieting to see me ambivalent about this danger. They spot any flying insect and want to evacuate me like some gradeschooler during the blitz. There is an odd possibility that I'm about as cautious about being stung as I was before it became a lethal happenstance. It still hurt back then, after all; I'm not impervious to the logic of avoiding pain.

Six Flags Over Marion, we call the jumble of plastic and wood and sand and accoutrement we've assembled in a corner of the yard for the tot to play in. He contents himself merrily on the little slide and the ladder, and buries his troubles and his army men in the sandbox it leads into. My wife can see him from the house there, and he can play there alone or with his big brother. But it is on the edge of the wood, and the woods are not an urban abstraction here. We see things come out of those woods from time to time, and some are not suitable for children to encounter. And so we do watch. Who does not watch over their children? I don't know them.

My wife was stung by a wasp or bee while sitting with the small child in the yard. She wept and was confused a bit; unsure where it came from. It left a formidable welt on her arm which is still clearly visible some two weeks later. I am an old hand at these sorts of things and put a paste of baking soda on the welt, and then some ice. We forgot all about it, except the itching.

A few days later, the small one was discomfited in some way. He seemed confused and hurt, though he did not cry. He is stoic that one, and rarely speaks anyway. We looked him all over and found a welt on his leg. We couldn't tell what it was. Horsefly? Bee? Hornet? He sat quietly while we applied a poultice and he seemed hurt in multiple ways. I think it was the first time that the yard had ever betrayed him. We forgot about it.

Should I have forgotten about it? Does inuring yourself to some little creeping dread to the point of ambivalence taint your judgement? Is it worse or better than you treat it? I don't know.

We were in the yard yesterday, and the little one came running and wailing from Six Flags Over Marion.

I've heard genius is a kind of intuition. Lots of people know lots of things, but they never assemble them into the whole required to see around the corner. It is said that people like Mozart look at a piano, and it makes perfect sense to them right away.

We all have moments of clarity I suppose, we regular people. You know many things, some barely impressions, and they coalesce occasionally into hard, fast, ideas. And I saw that child and saw what I should have seen before it happened this last time. There was a frame for the picture, and everything in it.

His little ear was the size of a saucer. Stoicism only gets you so far when you're barely three, and he wept the tears of the disappointed and hurt. And I tended to him as I had been taught, imperfectly, by my ancestors. Draw it out with baking soda and bleach, and then the ice. Sit still and be calm. He sat and watched Clifford with his mother.

And then I went outside and I tore that plaything apart and found those wretched things I knew were there and poisoned them and crushed them and crushed their lairs like an archangel and a devil combined, and afraid only that I would not get a chance to kill every one.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Someone Help Me. Is This Dead? Did I Miss A Memo?

Throw me a bone, willya? I don't want to worry about this any more if it's as dead as a Pharoah. Is the education of children in any meaningful way in a public facility gone forever? Because if it is, and here I am in my foolishness, still trying to cooperate in the wreckage of the process by encouraging my children to give it their all, I'm feeling pretty stupid here. If it's over, please tell me. I'm beginning to feel like a guy attending a stranger's wedding, wondering why everyone is laughing at me for asking the girl in the white dress for a date.

If you are of a traditional mind, the school presents a problem now. My bones direct me to tell my son:

My boy, you are going to school. You must do your best, cooperate fully, and respect the authority of the the teacher.


That worked great, until it dawned on me that the majority of his teachers were raving maniacs. And I can't build the edifice of a properly educated child by telling him to listen closely to the teacher, except when they're talking ragtime; oh, and by the way, they might always be full of it, or just most of the time -- you decide.

I won't bore you with the details of why his teachers appear to have been eating the paste since they were wee. Suffice it to say, they appear to have identified the public school system as a convenient host, buried themselves in its flesh like a unionized tick, and used the tiny but important high ground they have seized to rain a sort of off-topic propaganda on people too young to protest much about it. They are like abrasive monomaniac blog commenters, only they can give your kids an F.

There is a growing minority of persons that have decided to remove their kids from the public schools altogether, and teach them at home. I can't fault them, but I can't support them either. Unilateral disarmament is not peace. And you may very well be teaching your children the correct cranky worldview to have, but it will remain a cranky worldview nonetheless, because you are the only people in it. Take it from an auto-didact: people are fascinated with what you know, and horrified at what you don't. It's a long row to hoe. And I must admit that I am reminded of people who brew their own sparkling cider from wormy apples they grow in their yard, who always want to give you some when you visit, and other such "improvements" on readily available goods. They press the recycled Grolsch bottle with the suspicious looking cracks in the rubber stopper in your hands when you leave. You know, grass still won't grow where I dumped that stuff out when I got home three years ago.

Anyway, the picture is 25 years older than I am. I'm not nostalgic for anything. I simply recognize something there that is not present any more. These children's parents are no doubt far from rich, but their children are respectable. The surroundings are anything but elaborate, but there is order and seriousness. There are numbers and letters on the board, not inane opinions founded on the rock of hiding inside a school building your whole life long. There is an unashamed token of the United States as a profoundly important reality and ideal being displayed front and center. There is a teacher trying her best to bang something useful into those lovely little knotheads.

If it's over, please tell me. I'll feel foolish if I keep on like this.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Face Rump

I've decided to attract as much traffic as possible to my blog, drawn from people who are looking for something else. Other than the Prozac Klatches of paranoid housebound agoraphobes that overpopulate the intertubes, filled with blog posts detailing in excruciating, misspelled logorrhea how

***insert innocuous political figure here*** is Hitler,

then inviting their MeTooLegions to use the word "definately" and some grade school swears one more time in the comments section, there's really only one way to get misdirected misanthrope traffic to your blog. And you know what it is.

But I don't do "Blue," as you might have gathered, so I can only get people to come here by accident, by accident, as it were. But I figure this ought to do the trick. I give you, ladies and gentlemen,

FACE RUMP.

Face rump. Face rump. Face rump. (Are you getting this, Google? I said face rump!)

I need to work on a description of the hot babes out front. Nothing comes to mind.

Monday, August 20, 2007

I'm Not Interested. Period.

I can't remember the last time I did this.

No, not have three children. I mean read a regular newsprint newspaper with any kind of interest. Now that I think of it, forget "any kind of interest;" I can't remember the last time I read one at all.

It was not always so. If the newspaper was a bank account, I'd be retired and rich now. I can assure you that I have read more newspaper than any editor at the Boston Globe has, even though I stopped completely decades ago. I got an amazing head start.

My Father was a creature of the newspaper. He brought them all home from Boston every day. Boston used to have a lot of newspapers. I used to read the Globe, of course, but the Herald used to be several newspapers, and we read them all. I remember the Record American which was two different newspapers itself not long before that. There was something called the Herald Traveler, too. Some of these papers had more than one edition a day, too. Eventually it all got mashed together into what is now the Herald. And my father would bring the Catholic newspaper, The Pilot, home too. I'd read every last item in every one, do the crosswords, and generally wallow in it all until my hands were black. Books were still an expensive luxury then, and the library was a car ride away, so newsprint mattered.

When I got older, a young man, I used to read the Boston Globe, The New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal every day. I was considered sort of odd by my classmates in college for doing so. But I was already a man, and they were still children, even though we were more or less the same age. I was used to being different. I wasn't a kid anymore. I had held numerous jobs, been around some, and I wasn't any sort of tabula rasa. I started to notice something.

I noticed that there were two sorts of topics in the papers. They were topics I had first-hand knowledge of, and things of which I knew little. And I noticed that without fail, articles written about anything I had intimate knowledge about were absolute nonsense. And I began to notice the little word shifts and shimmies and angles that the authors and editors would use to grind whatever sort of ax they had. And I'm pretty dumb, of course, just like God made us all, but I figured out that it was unlikely that the newspaper was only getting the stuff I knew about wrong, on purpose. And by looking for the method of obfuscation I recognized in things I knew about, I could see what they were trying to fool me with in things I knew nothing about.

You can read the newspaper and find things out, still. But the process is like panning for gold. There's a lot of sand you've got to swish around to get the tiny, glittering pieces of information. And so I abandoned the papers with a heavy heart, because I loved them so. They were the nursemaids of Twain, and Mencken, and Bierce, and a multitude of others that I adore. The people working there now can't even spell, or figure out the difference between nouns and verbs. I wouldn't allow them anywhere near an adjective, even though if they could, they'd print only adjectives. Nouns and verbs lead to the reporting of facts. I think they'd get a rash if they tried it now.

The New York Times et al., like to tell people that the internet is killing their business. Please. I can't be the only one that noticed that the front page is the editorial section now, and the editorial page has the quality and usefulness of unhinged rants. I'm not really in the market for either. And I'm too young to read the obituaries.

I certainly do get my information in glittering pixels every day. But as usual, they're either fooling themselves, or trying to fool you. I buried you, Mr. Newspaper, in a shallow grave, a decade before I saw that magnificent arial text on that tiny little 486 intel computer over a modem. And I'm not interested in whether they're fooling themselves, or trying to fool me, trying to blame the internet.

Because I'm not interested. Period.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Call Of The Mild

You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. Jack London

My son reads Harry Potter books. I'm told many adults read them. I don't get it.

Actually, I do. Harry Potter is in his author's idea of unsatisfactory circumstances. He believes himself to be very special solely by the virtue of his birth, and is encouraged by weirdos to change his circumstances by simply wishing they were not so.

Sounds like the lament of many people. And it's just as passive as the average person has become. I wish things were wonderful because dang it, I'm special.

You're probably not. Special, that is. Few people are in any meaningful way. Besides, most people who are considered special now are not worthwhile human beings in even the most minute way. They just manage to gain notoriety any old way they can cadge it.

I read Jack London books when I was little. People in Jack London books didn't hang around expecting that their innate wonderfulness would be acknowledged if they just wished hard enough. They went out in the world and made their way. That world was not some foppish boarding school where nothing much ever happens. And entire industries of thought devoted to the idea that you're deserving of praise and a medal because you manage to flick the lightswitch by the door, then bravely make it into your bed in the dark, seems to indicate a sort of invertebrate outlook on the world.

You don't have to go to the Yukon, son. Just don't think you're going to accomplish anything by wishing it would happen. That's a politician's job, and I'd prefer you'd avoid that sort of outright criminality, even if you're not... special.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Sorry. Not Elvis. Chuck.

[Eagle eyed commenter Sam espied Glenn Reynold's interesting and insightful essay on Elvis Presley at TCS: The King Of Anti-Fascism.
He's right, sorta. My father used to go and see James Michael Curley lead parades and orate in Boston. Politics used to trump entertainment, or be the entertainment, until quite recently. But Elvis belongs with the likes of Bing Crosby and Sinatra. He did not trump them, he just piled on the bobby soxers.

Elvis went up the front stairs and asked your big sister to go to the movies. He really wasn't all that subversive. It was Chuck Berry that came up the back stairs, round about midnight, and asked your mother if your father was home. And he did it to the whole damn world. Here he is in France in 1965:]



[I wrote this on Chuck's birthday. I stand by it:]

It's Chuck Berry's birthday. He's eighty. Happy birthday Chuck, you magnificent mean weird wonderful hack genius AMERICAN.

He's all those things, surely. And not American. AMERICAN. Only America could possibly produce such as he. The rest of the world loved him, of course, but they could never cobble together a guy like him. The Europeans sent us a bronze broad to stand in our granite harbor, perhaps so something familiar would be standing there when they bolted that dusty museum they inhabit and finally got here. We sent them Chuck Berry records as a way to show them: This is how we roll.

If you read Chuck's bios, you're bound to find people desperately trying to minimize and pooh-pooh his criminal background. The gun he used in a carjacking was broken, so it doesn't matter... Don't buy it. Chuck is what he is, and never really made any bones about it. He really was kinda mean and edgy and hypersexual and avaricious and pushy and grasping and grabby. Who cares? He went to jail occasionally, and that was that. Chuck had a chip on his shoulder after he got out of jail, but then again, he had one before he went in too. It doesn't matter.

Chuck Berry is important in the context of the 1950s. He was a big star in the sixties, too, because a whole lot of British bands adored him and mimicked him. He made a little money in the seventies by making a fool of himself with songs like My Ding-A-Ling-- simply dreadful, and not very fun, really, for a novelty tune. After a while, Chuck just showed up in varying states of sobriety, with an untuned guitar, plugged it in, then blasted away with an endless procession of ad-hoc bands he didn't have to pay or acknowledge --sometimes a few Beatles or Stones, sometimes a bar band--he didn't seem to acknowledge the difference -- just cashed the checks all the same. But the fifties; man, he defined America in the 1950s. Forget Elvis.

I offered that video with the underwater sound to show you what the fuss was about. Look at him. The stage is too small for him, and the world is his stage. America was the most important thing in the world at the turn of the twentieth century, but no one knew it. It took World War I to show what paper tigers the european empires were. America shirked the big mantle, and avoided its responsibilities as a great power until the hakenkreuz and the rising sun were waved right in our faces. So we shrugged and rolled up our sleeves and pounded the world flat again -- the way we liked it. And the Soviets stood there after, leering over half the globe, and said they would bury us.

There was the sobriety of Eisenhower. The muscle of the finned cars rolling off the assembly lines. The educated children newly minted by the public school. There was Jonas Salk and a million others who beat not only microbes, but fear of sickness itself. Hollywood gilded the country in pictures, and then gilded itself. There were things raucus and fun and serious and thoughtful bubbling out of the radio, and eventually the TV. Broadway shone like a thousand Folies Bergere.

And Chuck Berry, from the center of our universe: Saint Louis, stood up like a man and looked you straight in the eye --fearless. He was full of optimism and bonhomie and his own brand of charm. I'll strut, thank you, like the peacock I am. He didn't wink or pinch, he winked and pinched, and meant it. No idle threats, no meaningless boasts. Chuck don't flirt. Chuck asks flat out with a twinkle in his eye and an angel on his shoulder and the devil in his heart. And he'd put up his fists if you wanted it, and laugh with you after,too--when you were beaten.

Bury us? We Berryed you.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Odd "I" Torium

Step closer friends. She won't bite you and I won't bite her. That's my wife. Don't be afraid to stare. Don't worry, I've lost interest. She caught her dress in a spinning jenny all those years ago in the factory, and was pulled through the loom. She came out the other end, unhurt, in a sort of miracle. But she's never spoken since, and moves like an automaton. We have the perfect marriage; a mute woman and a man that needs glasses. Don't be shy, push right on in.

Oh, we've got it, ladies and gents. We've got the freaks and blockheads and five legged goats. We've got Queen Zoe Zingari the Circassian princess, kidnapped from a harem and held here against her will by the Mauler of Mecca with his scimitar. She's got hair like a Brillo pad, and eyes that will bore a hole right through you. Step forward and see for yourself. You there, son, you look like you want to see a genuine Circassian tattoo. Will she show it to you? Give me a nickel and she'll show you. Give me a dime and she'll show me too!

Like pigs to the slop now, wade on in, don't miss it. We've got the girl with the X-ray eyes, but when you see that raven-haired beauty you're gonna wish it was you that had the X-ray eyes; but don't worry, boy, there's not that much standing between you and her. She can see through you like a bank inspector. Come on in!

We got the human pretzel over there and he's gonna show you more contortions than a politician from New Orleans on Judgement Day. Come on now, don't be shy. Move it on over.

Man, oh man, young lady we have the Prince of Fire and he's come all the way from Constantinople to set himself ablaze for you. He eats brimstone for his breakfast and leaves the privy vulcanized. Inside, outside, the fire makes no nevermind to this boy. Step on in and he'll show you who's hot. Go on, now, go!

Oh, I know what you're thinkin' He don't have a beautiful woman and a snake, does he? A boa snake from the Orinoco? Who don't? Not me! I do! Go and see it before it squeezes that little woman tighter than you would if you got the chance. You know, I might get a little tight myself later. It's hot in the sun. Get inside for your complexions ladies. Go!

Will you come with me to Africa? Will you come with me to Africa!? Oh, they live closer to nature there than anywhere on God's green, don't you think so? They've made themselves into giraffes and they have their dinner plate with them always, but they forgot to go to the dressmaker's if you take my meaning, sir.

We've got monstrosities. Curiosities. Hell, we've got atrocities. Push on in, ladies and gents, and leave me alone out here to wish I knew what was going on in there. Move it on over.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Still Dead Not Fat Elvis




You see them at every Tennessee Titans game. Every Vegas shindig. Every Halloween and costume Karaoke. Fat Elvis.

He's iconic in that iteration. You could draw it from memory unless you've been under a rock for thirty years -- the white spangled jumpsuit, the prop guitar, the greasy piled-up pompadour and the sideburns. Glasses that could stop gamma rays with frames that could stop a sequin bullet--and have. It's been odd to see that version of Elvis become the default, because I was alive back then, a little kid watching him on TV in the late sixties and early seventies, sweating gravy and mumbling a handful of lounge numbers while doughy matrons with bad teeth and beehive hairdos in some Vegas audience threw their granny panties at him. He was a joke. A bad joke. And when he finally died, his heart hopping out of his chest after only forty-two years, bloated and drugged in his bathroom, I figured he'd go away and stay there. Wrong.

The Fat Elvis costume has become as recognizable as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Hell, Uncle Sam. It screams: AMERICA. And not fussy America, or political America, or The New York Times Book Review America, either. He's strip mall/chrome fin/corn dog/hayseed/ghetto blaster/swimming hole/fried chicken/AM radio/concrete block church/Vegas whore America. He's the whole ball of earwax in Jesusland.

But I knew Elvis because I knew rockabilly. Elvis Presley arguably invented it; at the very least he personified it before he went Hollywood. He was the sun around which Sun records revolved in the fifties. Long before Elvis become the guy that showed up in adjustable waistbands and spangles, and was Elvis, he was great. Not just great. Important.

I knew those records, right from That's All Right. Scotty Moore's clean and nimble guitar, Bill Black's percussive upright bass -- it was the most maddening and infectious beat I ever heard. Real rockabilly beats send everyone to the dance floor, where they look at each other and wonder what the hell happens now. Country bumpkins knew because it was cooked up in the hidden still of their culture. Elvis was great, and a good singer, and an important synthesizer of a new style. But he was much more than that, long before he became a caricature of himself. He didn't start out a caricature, but a comic book super hero, simultaneously absurd and wonderful. He was vital then.

I got Image/SOFA Entertainment's 3 DVD set of Elvis' appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, and it's wonderful. I began watching it thinking it would be a kind of dumb fun -- the best kind-- but I realized I was watching something else too; something that I never would have seen because I wasn't alive yet. I saw America's, and the world's odometer turn over.

The DVDs are the whole shows. Three of them, from late 1956 into 1957. It's fascinating stuff, even the dreck, because it's the context. It's the whole America-centered world as it sat-- confident, salubrious, muscular, on the go, the engine of the world with the Marshall Plan and Soviet containment carried lightly on its back. At first Ed Sullivan assembles it willy-nilly and points a camera at it. Then Ed rolls an Elvis grenade into the middle of it.

There's a long succession of artists and performers you can point to that encapsulate the zeitgeist of their times. Their replacements show up long before they're ready to leave the spotlight, generally, and they hang around long after they're hip. They become... well, Fat Elvis. I remember disinctly watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan when I was a child, and I imagine Elvis knew that he was good for broads and booze and pills and Vegas shows and B movies until the day he died, but he wasn't the lead dog anymore. He knew it because he had done it to others himself.

You watch the luminous black and white TV dubs of the shows, and you're struck by the encyclopedic nature of the proffered fare. Ed is a newspaperman still, jarring in itself -- TV is second fiddle! -- and like some bizarre librarian in the school of uncool. He's the Noah of TV, rounding up a couple of everything, and floating it on the public.

It's all there, all the things that faced Elvis like a wall to get over: vaudeville acts; European music hall ginks; Broadway singers and ballet dancers; dogs and ponies, lounge singers and clowns; eccentric actors; semi-exotic performers from anyplace that didn't have the big red boot on their face. If it wasn't hackneyed enough, there was half a dozen assorted acts straight from the circus, and the circus is entertainment straight from the middle ages.

The artist of the age that superseded the middle ages carved his David, to tell the Doges the world belonged to man. In 1956, our own hillbilly David climbed down off the pedestal and sent his ration of squares to oblivion. You've heard so much about Elvis and the frenzy he engendered, but when you see him there, in front of a phalanx of Jordanaires in checked coats, Elvis seems like everything and nothing. You can't tell if he's so self assured he's bulletproof, or so self-conscious he can't get through the song without laughing at himself. He tosses that impossible shock of a shock of hair, the girls scream, and he laughs -- at himself, at them, at the whole damn thing -- but he's as serious as a heart attack about the thing too. He seems to be all glass, like a windowpane, but he's a deep pool somehow, instead. You don't know why he's all that. You wonder if he does.

I pictured the Conn and Mack tap-dancing duo watching Elvis from the wings for a while, and then going out in the alley to find a pay phone and see if their brother-in-law still had a job opening or two at his dry cleaning store.

Get Elvis - The Ed Sullivan Shows, and watch empires crumble into the sea when Elvis twitches.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Want Socialized Medicine? Great. I'd Be Dead

I am exaggerating a little. It's very unlikely I would have died. Bankruptcy and permanent physical incapacitation to some degree was much more likely. And all over thirteen dollars.

You see, we do not yet have real socialized medicine. I live in Massachusetts, and am being fined and hounded by the government because I cannot afford paying for all my medical care in advance, plus a huge cushion, which is what non-catastrophic insurance really entails; but I am still allowed to purchase medical care from whoever will sell it to me. It's unlikely that would be the case if it was socialized. Sooner or later, it's always rationing and a diminution of rights and choice to the point of denial of care on a capricious basis. More or less, with all the meddling in the medical market already, we're halfway there.

I have Lyme disease. It's no big deal, really. That is, if you treat it in a timely manner. The effects of it can be very severe and last you your whole life long, if it goes untreated for any length of time. What length of time constitutes "any length of time," you ask? Don't ask that question at Tobey Hospital in Wareham, Mass. You'll suffer until they're good and ready to treat you. They'll insult your intelligence in the interim, repeatedly. And then repeatedly after you find someone elsewhere -- someone competent-- to help you.

I went to the emergency room. I know that people treat the emergency room like their own private nursemaid now, but that's not me. I had a very high fever, intermittently, for over a month, and when it returned again I knew that I was very sick, and if I didn't act immediately, I was in a lot of trouble.

I do not have x-ray vision and a crystal ball. I did not go to the hospital and tell them I had Lyme disease. I looked up all the symptoms I had, and what they might mean, so I could speak with some sort of intelligence about my situation. They were not interested.

The doctor was interested in all sorts of diseases I manifestly did not have. He told me, at 6:00 pm, that he was going to give me a broad spectrum antibiotic in any case, and so I put up with an enormous amount of discomfort and wasteful foolishness because I knew that no matter what version of a bug borne illness I had, the treatment for it all was the same. Immediate treatment with an inexpensive antibiotic.

Six hours later, he wouldn't give it to me. He never did give me any believable reason why he would not. I had an infected bite on my ankle, and he was testing me for Lyme, along with all sorts of other tick borne illnesses. Ipso facto he suspects it. But those tests take a lot of time. He told me to visit an outpatient facility the next day. I assumed he meant that was where I would be given the medicine and could get ongoing outpatient care. I had a very high fever and was exhausted. I surrendered.

I went to where he sent me. Two doctors there said that if the doctor that sent me would not give me any treatment, they would certainly not. One doctor lied right to my face and said antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease without a positive test is always withheld.

If there should be suspicion of disease, then a course of Doxycycline should be immediately given for ten days without waiting serology tests which only yield positive results after an interval of one to two months.
Another doctor from Tobey hospital called me the next day and refused to give me the prescription, and also lied or was incorrect, what difference does it make, and said treatment for suspicion of Lyme disease always waited for the test to come back. Then she wanted to schedule me for a CAT scan of all things. She couldn't tell me for what reason that was necessary.

I called around to anyone I could think to help me. Our neighbor is related to the local Department of Health official, who informed us that over 2500 people in our area were suffering from Lyme disease right now. There are only 4500 people in the town I live in. 2500 people in Southcoast Massachusetts is a lot. The hospital must know this, or be incompetent.

I called everyone that was necessary to conclude my affairs in business, declare bankruptcy, and sell my house and move away, with a phone propped on my pillow. I had to be prepared for it all. I have never been as sick as I was that week. I could no longer stand unaided; could not read properly; my hands shook too much to even hunt and peck type; and I had a roaring sound in my ears. I had only aspirin and water to treat it. The fevers were titanic.

And then a kind man, a real doctor, gave me the only advice that was any good from anyone. He told me I must find a doctor that knew me somehow, anyone, my wife's gynecologist, my son's pediatrician, anybody that would be inclined to listen to me and have pity on me.

My father's doctor. I take my father to a doctor every three months. He called me back at 8 pm that very night from his home, and agreed to see me first thing next day. It was 2 hours in the car, and my wife had to walk me into the building on her arm. The doctor said:

Do not trouble yourself over those other doctors. It can only make you upset, and serves no purpose. I do not know why they would not do for you such a simple thing. I will give you this right now.

I took the first pill, trembling and sweating in the lobby of the Walgreens, the pharmacist wondering silently why that beautiful woman was holding the hand of that wretched looking wraith of a man.

Four hours later the fever was gone for good. I went back to work, feeble and enervated, but no longer sick, the next week. The prescription cost $13.

The hospital called the following week. You have Lyme disease. You really need a prescription for Doxycycline. Terrible things could happen to you if you don't get it. Do you still want your CAT scan?

Save the CAT scan for the people who need it, doctor. Examine the heads of people who want to lose their autonomy, their freedom, maybe their very skins, because they are willing to turn over our lives to arbitrary and foolish people and institutions to avoid a lousy ten dollar co-pay.

How much is a thirteen dollar prescription worth, if it's free but you can't have it?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

No NIMBYS Need Apply


This is Commercial Street in Provincetown in 1940. Way before my time, but I recognize the gist of it. Plenty of Cape Cod looked this way when I started visiting it. None of it does now, as far as I know. Plenty of it is still pretty sweet, however.

Even in 1940, Provincetown was known as a haven for artists. Head down to the sand that Commercial Street fronts, and here's what you'd see, instead of those off-duty or retired fisherman on a bench watching the bus to the beach and a few cars driving by:

At this point, you're no longer looking at a few like-minded iconoclasts living out away from everybody because they like the light and the solitude. The artists have made an industry of it already, almost seventy years ago.

The Portuguese fishermen were already yielding their primacy to the big steel boats that would scour the oceans. The town was going from a place where anyone interested enough to go all the way out onto that spit of sand-- next stop the Azores-- was welcomed by the locals as a familiar, to a place where the unusual was the ordinary, and the old locals faded away with their industries. The tourists have never abandoned it.

Cape Cod, and Provincetown, are very much Not In My Back Yard Places now. It's hard to do much of anything building-wise. There is no more reactionary person than a wild-eyed progressive who has beaten the forces of the last reactionary, it appears.

I like Provincetown now. But I liked it before, too, as it is pictured in 1940. It is useful for some to remember, while you are hamstringing everything, that if you were around before, the thing you are trying to preserve would never have been allowed to come into existence in the first place.

There is no amber for any of us to hide in. We must swim in the ocean of seconds and minutes, and hope the change passes over our gills of tradition lightly enough that we don't choke on it. Good luck.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Is There Hay In Your Bed Today?

What did you do yesterday?

Me, I was exhausted. I'm a little enervated by an illness, still. I attended a wedding fete on Saturday, drank icewater for the toast, mostly sat around while everybody else carried on, and my wife still had to carry me home on my shield. I didn't hold out a lot of hope for Sunday.

It was my niece's sixteenth birthday. My little brother has big children now. We were invited. I figured I could find a chair there as well as here, and there's a chair in the car, of course, so I gave it a go. We had a fine time, with interesting and sociable people, and we did the usual thing with the scorched meat on the grill. But there was more.

My brother and his wife like odd plants. A lot of them. Their yard is a mess; the best kind. It's a riot of disparate plantings, almost in the British style, but not quite, with fantastic blooms and wandering butterflies everywhere. There were garden snakes to delight the tots, and finches to trill to the ladies, and hummingbirds and hawks to make the sky a scene worthy of the attention the whole time. I am not allowed in the sun, so I sat in the shade of the porch and its wisteria vine gone wild, and the bees bumbled around me and the little birds cut the corner and tickled my ear on their way to their nests and the feeders. It was lovely.

Then a fork appeared in the road. The fork is worthy of your attention. The virtual world diverged from the actual one. Tell me which one you'd like to inhabit:

My older son would not come out of the basement. Concrete floor, clutter, dust, an old TV set, and the Guitar Hero video game. All the participants were five years older than him, and wouldn't give him much of a turn at it. Like many a hangdog younger person, the less they let him participate, the more immovable he became. We had to force him to come up out of there to eat, even.

Our little one, just four, got cabin fever. He adores video games too, and amazed me by performing on the Dance Dance Fever mat they had, and winning the high score over the sixteen year old competition. I had no idea he even knew what it was. But he doesn't have the stubborn attention span to waste the day in there. He ran down the driveway. Let's go! Come on!

My brother lives out in the landscape. The roads to his house are sylvan, canopied entirely by massive oaks and ashes and lined with the stone walls, left over from when stubborn yankee farmers still tried to subsistence farm during the three or four months a year when the weather wasn't all-get-out around here. The houses are few and far between. The road is so little traveled that we felt safe walking right down the pavement, as there are no sidewalks, and no need for them. Poison Ivy and Fisher Cats are all you have to look out for.

My brother said he would accompany my wife and I and the tot. A pleasant stroll.

The eleven year old refused to come out of that dreadful dungeon. We left him. How did it turn out?

1. As far as I know, he never got a turn.

2. We walked down the street a little, and there was an elegant barn up a driveway, and my brother said: Let's visit Dave and Penny. They're nice, and interesting. Yes, they were, and are. So we:
  • Marveled at their garden, filled with brown eyed susans and rhodies and tall phlox and... oh my god every damn thing that was pleasant to look at.
  • Sat by their hidden koi pond and watched the bullfrogs watch us chat about nothing and everything, as long as it was pleasant.
  • Went in that barn, to marvel at its elegant and simple construction
  • Sat in a 1914 Ford Model T touring car until a toot on the Harpo Marx horn terrified the little guy into fleeing amusingly back to the garden again.
  • Laughed when he went right back in because that car was like a magnet and he was a pinball
  • Marveled that there was another half assembled Model T in the other dim corner of the barn.
  • Stood there agog when our host says: How about a ride?
  • Drove around for a half an hour down one green allee after another, my little son under my arm in the tufted leather back seat of that car; a car just seven years short of one hundred years old, with no roof but the trees and no care in the world. It was like robbing a museum.
  • Then we fed the chickens, and they gave us a dozen eggs from them
  • Then my brave little boy held his little hands cupped and trembling and full of little pellets, and giggled uncontrollably as their two llamas ate it with their crazy lips. Yes, that's not a misprint. Llamas.
  • I made the beasts nervous somehow, as I looked them straight in the eye, perhaps, but the one with the sweet face walked up to my wife and kissed her. My wife has a sweet face too, so I understand the urge.
  • Then the little guy fed the fish in the little pond.
  • Dave showed me every little thing on that car and how it worked, and we talked about the thing and what it represents, which is very profound if you know the item. That was the first thing in the world that the people who made it could afford to buy and enjoy. I had ridden in the birth of the middle class.
Our little boy fell asleep in the car on the way home, and we carried him to his little bower of Spongebob pillows and Pooh bears. When he woke up this morning, we found hay in his bed.

So I ask you. Is there any hay in your bed today? Find a way to get some there. It's right down the end of the driveway, if you'll just go.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Old People Talk About Traffic

I'm not going to talk about traffic.

Old people talk about traffic. They continue on about illusory short-cuts to avoid it after. They tell you exactly how much they paid for gasoline, and where that rate is available if you will only burn a gallon and a half of gasoline to go get it. They finish off, generally, by explaining why a meal they got at a restaurant like the Olive Garden was a profoundly enjoyable experience, which is the one thing I'm most likely to think it is not. It's Sunday, so I'm going to pray: Please God, I beseech thee. Please strike me dead before I talk like that.

I swim upstream, mostly, in affairs of the home and business. Foolish people think I'm profoundly square. If I had skinny little glasses, a few tattoos, refused to marry my wife but had two children and stayed together anyway, watched whatever was on television, read whatever was on the NYT bestseller fiction list, and combed my hair forward, they'd probably say I was not square. Everybody I saw yesterday was all more or less acting and looking the same way. The alternative is now the norm, and part of that whole alternative thing is to stubbornly imagine you're way different. Just like everybody else.

It's interesting to participate in mundane things for other people because they are unusual affairs for me. I don't find them boring. Yesterday was like that.

Everybody wanted to get over the bridges to Cape Cod at the same moment yesterday. (Oh Dear Savior, I'm begging you now, please, no talk about traffic) But everyone has been trying to get over those bridges at the same time for as long as I can remember. When I was a child forty years ago, we would sit immobile for hours, in that very spot I was in yesterday, while cars routinely overheated and prolonged the agony almost exponentially. And no one had air-conditioning in their house yet, never mind their car.

Unlike most people, I do not live in the closest suburb to whatever job I can cadge, and then bomb down to the shore on Saturday morning to get to my second house or rental from Memorial Day to Labor Day. I live here all the time, and I almost never go anywhere. But I had to go to Cape Cod during the witching hours, and sit and steam along with everybody else. I found it interesting, because I realized there was no way I could do this much and still want to do it much. Your fun is too tiring and boring for me, all you non-squares.

There was no point in trying to avoid it. I was only trying to get to a place about 10 miles from where I was, as the crow flies. Then I was going 10 miles further, to another pleasant appointment. It took three hours and fifteen minutes to accomplish this.

I'm glad you all are able to enjoy the fruits of your labors, the company of like-minded persons, the ease of vacation, the comfort of your conveyances, which decidedly no longer overheat, even if a few drivers do. I'm glad you all like what you like, and it brings you joy, or at least a sense of belonging.

I just thought I'd mention that if I had to do it two weeks in a row, I'd make a disgruntled postal worker look like Mahatma Ghandi.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Good. Better. Best.

It's Saturday. Time for amusements.

I think the Beatles were fine. It's quite possible to learn how to play the guitar by getting the two volume set of music books "The Compleat Beatles" and learning all the songs in it. Please do not write to tell me that's incorrect, because that's exactly what I did. The books seem to be out of print now, which is generally how you find all useful written things when you look for them. I'm sure you can purchase compilations of Kanye West... um... lyrics... just about anywhere.

Don't get the other Beatles songbooks because they do not have the songs in the original keys, which is daffy. They put them in the keys more convenient for the piano. I don't know which end of a piano to blow in, so that is not useful. And let's face it, it's a guitar world, we just live in it. You can skip the last 50 pages of the second volume because it doesn't matter if you can play all the orchestral stuff on the guitar. Learn Rain instead. And learn how to sing along with it too. So what if you can't sing? Neither could John Lennon, Ringo, or George Harrison, when you get right down to it.

To be considered great, you must be the raw material for further greatness by others. If someone does a parody of you, every body should know who they're talking about. It doesn't really matter that Ed Sullivan was a bizarre, talentless, cadaverous stiff. He's been dead for decades but my 11 year old can do a spot-on imitation of him. If he mattered, it was because whatever it was he was, he was; and all others weren't.

I wrote that last sentence in that fashion so you'd have to parse it a couple of times because I'm a jerk.

So here it is, the mining of raw talent ore, and the further distillation of it into the the goofy and trivial and sublime all at the same time:
GOOD:



BETTER:

BEST:

Friday, August 10, 2007

Sax And Violins

My great friend is getting married.

I'm sorry, that's wrong. He got married a few weeks ago, with only the principals present. Tomorrow he is throwing a fete to celebrate it. It's a marvelous development and Mr. and Mrs. Sippican will surely attend.

As you might have gathered, I am not a teenager. Neither is Steve, the man in question. He was married before and was divorced and is engaging now in what is generally termed by the waggish as "The triumph of hope over experience."

Not really. He was always a good husband. He was always a good friend, as I can attest. He is certainly a good father to his children, who we have mentioned here before many times. Flapdoodle and Mr. Pom Pom. I'm proud to count him as my friend, and happy for him in his new nuptials. His bride is most charming, and he has known her since Jimmy Carter was president. She won't make a face if he plays Peter Frampton. She knows all the words, too.

They'll throw an awesome party, I'm sure. Steve is like a sun that many different kinds of people orbit. But his universe doesn't seem to have any people without sunny dispositions in it. Bad things happen to people in that solar system, as we are all at the mercy of events and our humanity, but the attitude stays the same. That is the rub. There have been times when we have been working together, and I have flirted with a dark mood that lingers, as my gregarious personality is a kind of veneer, really. Steve has sort of electro-shocked me back to health by looking at me or talking or just taking the handle on the other side of the heavy thing when everybody else was finding a really good reason not to. He never says anything in particular, really. He just is whatever the hell he is.

We have performed music together for a very long time. Steve has sent me a list of music he wishes us to perform at the party, and in his foolishness he's included way too many things that I am required to sing. I stink, so he is not wise; but really, it doesn't matter. Lots of people, including the groom and his children, will perform music right there in front of their friends and family, and it will have that piquant flavor that only buskers have. It's real, and it's right in front of you. I am amazed at how few people can entertain others any more. Many people used to be able to sit down at a piano or grab a guitar and bash out a song, or just sing something unaccompanied that the assembled knew and could sing along with. Steve himself has been doing just that and more since he could shave. A born entertainer. Karaoke and Guitar Hero are like vampires feeding on the expiring carcass of that shared experience. They represent the urge without the effort.

I'll do it, of course, because I love the guy. Just like everybody else does. Even his brand new wife, I gather.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

No Clouds. No Rollers. No Worries.

"Jaysus. No clouds. No rollers. No worries."

"No fish..."

"That's your worry. Your good lady wife's name's on the boat, neh mine."

"I'll make you paddle back in the peapod if we don't put the gunnels down by the foam soon."

" You're prayin' in the wrong church or sittin' in the wrong pew, Davey."

"The fish will come if you sing. They always come. "

"OK then."
As I roved by the dockside an evening so fair
To see the salt water and take in the sea air
I heard an old fisherman singin' a song
Hey, take me away boys me time is not long

"Depressin' the fish now, are we?

" It gets worse."
Wrap me up in me oilskins and blankets
No more on the docks I'll be seen
Just tell me old shipmates I'm takin' a trip mates
And I'll see you some day on Fiddlers Green

"The fish are dumb beasts, but they're not likely to answer a call to your wake."
Now, Fiddlers Green is a place I heard tell
There fishermen go if they don't go to hell

"I fold. But please, continue as if I was all in..."
There the weather is fair and the dolphins do play
And the cold coast of Greenland is far, far away

"We bring the ice with us, you codger."
Wrap me up in me oilskin and blankets
No more on the docks I'll be seen
Just tell me old shipmates I'm takin' a trip mates
I'll see you some day on Fiddlers Green

"Oh jeez, he's back to claimin' he's bait now. There's no hope."
Now, when you're in dock and the the long trip is through
There's pubs and there's clubs and there's lassies there too
The girls is all pretty and the beer is for free
And there's bottles of rum growing on every tree

"Standin' the fish to a pint is unlikely to help here either. I hear tell they're all Presbyterians. Neither Presbyterians nor fish have pockets, so they stay out of the grog shops, generally"
Where the skies are all clear and there's niver a gale
And the fish jump on board with one swish of their scales
You lie at your leisure, there's no work to do
And the skipper's below making tea for the crew

"Now we're getting somewhere. Look at the gulls over there. They stoop."

"You get the kettle goin'. I'll have the fish here shortly."

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

I Remember

I remember June 3rd 1965.

Edward H. White II was the first American to walk in space. I wonder if much of anybody remembers his name now. Even Neil Armstrong is getting to be a trivia question. Michael Collins always was. White gave his life to it all two years later, engulfed in flames inside his Apollo mission capsule during a training session.

They were all a certain kind of wild man type then. They were test pilots who drove things through the clouds that might disintegrate at any minute. They seemed to all be a little odd, and all in the same way. The gamut of things they had to know and do and endure made you end up with a kind of person smart enough to accomplish what was necessary and dumb enough to try it. The mixture of intense boredom and wild-eyed excitement seemed to attract a kind of laconic, self-regulating type. They'd endure all the foolishness required of them for a chance to strap a rocket on their back.

The NASA page where this picture is found mentions the gold plated visor he wore to protect him from the sun's rays outside the atmosphere, but I remembered that anyway, from Walter Kronkite or Chet Huntley or someone else on the news. It is the odd details like that you remember across the decades, I guess.

I don't remember anyone ever asking anybody involved what their political affiliation was, or mentioning it if it was known. You could pry a story out of jet jockeys like Chuck Yeager about hard drinking and trips to Mexico on their day off. But nobody drove 1000 miles wearing a diaper to kidnap another astronaut in some lamebrain love triangle, behavior that seems to indicate only that the job has become such a joke that just about anyone could do it now; and just about anyone is exactly what we've got.

The astronauts would stand in the Rose Garden and accept their baubles, and I don't recall any of them using the occasion to make any vicious, partisan displays of pique over the politics of the fellow who lived there. They all just sort of stood around being American.

Me too. How about you? It is a marvelous thing to be.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Life Full Of Nothing

This is all there is of him now.

Oh how he railed at the bankers. Mother would remind him, occasionally, that he was a banker. He'd splutter and rage and Mother would leave to see what the cook was doing and return and neither of them ever missed a beat. I'd watch the dirty urban raindrops make their way down the panes, backlit by the milky sunshine that was our ration at the end of the brownstone canyons, and wait for it all to end. The rain, the impotent rage, all of it. Now it was done.

I wander through the rooms, and they are full of nothing. I never heard it put better than that. A life full of nothing. There was always someplace to be, something that required immediate attention, something that would bring on the stemwinding peroration, to no one in particular, about the hard, cold heart of everyone who came into his line of sight when he was trying to make the column on the left and the column on the right match up. A life devoted to those damn dots.

I never could muster any awe or fear of the old man. He was volcanic, and yet the rumblings signified nothing. The threat of the eruption is daily, but the actual item never comes, and so one develops a certain ambivalence about it. It was always like waiting for the last dull minutes of a boring sermon to end. There was no sin in it, and none in ignoring it. You endured it only, but did not suffer, really.

Father had that Irishman that worked for him. The only one. He was as full of life as Father was full of worms. Father mocked him when he was not here. There was a touch of the obsequious about the guy that my Father loved. "Oh, that Hibernian tugs his forelock and backs out of here like a serf, but you know he's in the tavern right now in his cups and laughing at me, and all his cronies with him. He'll never amount to anything."

Now the old man was done. Mother was gone two decades ago. It fell to me. I'll have nothing to do with this place. It had the smell of the grave in it all along. The lawyers pushed the papers under my nose, with the same dull mechanical mannerisms and basilisk expressions on their faces as their customer, laid out like a Pharoah in the funeral parlor. I suppose they laughed later, too, when they offered me a third of the value of the place, and I took it. I would have paid them to take it.

I'm going to the tavern, to look for a man.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Mallet Rings

This is Provincetown, Massachusetts again. 1940 this time.

That's a working boat. By "working," I'm referring to the fact that it's used to catch critters in the ocean or haul stuff around. A working boat is not a pleasure boat. There used to be many more working boats than pleasure boats.

I love this picture. You can still go places and find people caulking the seams of a wooden boat like this, but it's getting pretty rare. Most boats are made of fiberglass now, and are one big lump built on a plug and them popped off like a muffin from a tin, only you keep the tin and throw away the muffin. If boats are made from wood now, they are generally "cold molded;" that is, they are laid up from epoxied layers of marine plywood.

This boat is carvel planked. That means that the planks butt up to one another, and display a smooth hull when they are complete. Other wooden boats are made lapstrake, which means each successive plank overlaps the one placed just before it, which renders the zigzag profile you are familiar with from clapboard siding on a house. Most old salts call that method "clinker," not "lapstrake." You should hear what they call you after you leave their shed.

The hull of this boat is probably made from oak frames with cedar planking, but there are lots of species of wood that work as well for either item. Each plank on a carvel planked boat has to be fitted to the curve of the boat, usually a multiple curve with a twist thrown in. And the inside must be "backed out" to match the curve of the perpendicular frames, and the outside must be made "fair," or shaped to remove all trace of the faceting that a series of flat planks presents. If you saw the pieces laid flat you'd think their crazy shapes could never fit together to make much of anything. The curves of a boat hull, gentle and sharp alike, are exceedingly beautiful.

The planking is fitted in a very unforgiving way. The frames are like a skeleton inside. They are usually steam bent to get them to the curved shape you need. In WW II, Liberty boats tried to improve on solid wood steam bent frames, and made massive built-up frames using the then currently newfangled epoxy to hold it all together. They were immensely strong, and they all broke. The sea requires a certain flexibility.

As I was saying, the planks must fit together very tightly on the inside edge, but be open a bit on their outboard edge, to allow the planks to be caulked to seal them from leaks properly. The boat in the picture is being refurbished, not constructed, so you can see traces of the paint that has been scraped off on the planks. The planks were usually screwed to the frames, with each screw head painstakingly countersunk and plugged with a wooden plug. The old salt would call the plugs "bungs," and would make sure the grain in the bungs ran the same direction as the plank, even though that was unlikely to make a difference. If you asked him about the bungholes while referring to them as plugholes he'd probably tell you to shut your cakehole, after your check cleared, anyway.

You can see the skein of unspun cotton in the picture as the man works it into the seam with a "crease iron" and mallet. He has all sorts of irons for all the various places on the hull, but the crease iron is for long straight runs. He works the cotton into the seam by rocking the iron, which looks like a wide chisel, back and forth, and hits it at the opportune time to set the cotton in the seams.

There was an expression then. "His mallet rings." It was a sign of respect for a man whose easy familiarity with his task and his tools manifested itself with an audible clue. The sonorous, metronomic ringing of the wooden mallet, wielded expertly on the rocking iron, marked you as a man who knew his business.

My mallet doesn't ring. I have spent my life trying to manufacture with my effort and my mind what my hands do not give me naturally. In a way, it is like manners. If you don't have them, you can pretend that you do; it is essentially the same thing in practice.

But I know it, just the same; and in a quiet moment it rankles.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Thank You. Have Mercy.

These men are offloading the fish they caught off Provincetown, Massachusetts in 1937, which would be immediately shipped to New York City.

In 1937, men still routinely went out and pulled fish out of the ocean in small dories out of Provincetown. Many still rowed out towards "The Banks," as they called Georges Bank. Georges Bank is a raised area of seafloor about 50 miles offshore Cape Cod where all the fish are, or were.

The prayer of the mariner: "Oh Lord, the sea is so great and the ocean is so small," is more than an abstraction to a dory fisherman. After all, no boat is big enough not to fear the ocean, and there are things that swim in the ocean bigger than their craft. I always found it interesting that the prayer asks for nothing; it is a barefaced recognition of facts, a pure acknowledgment of the merciless nature of the world that gives you everything, at the risk of everything.

The fishermen in Provincetown were all Portuguese then, more or less. Their descendants are everywhere here in Southcoast Massachusetts. I am not of them, though I know them a little. It is the Sicilian fishermen I know. You can have their prayer, if you like.

The Sicilian Mariner's Prayer

O Sanctissima O Piissima
Dulcis Virgo Maria
Mater amta intemerata
Ora ora pro nobis

Tota pulchraes O Maria
Et macula non est in te
Mater anmata intemerata
Ora ora pro nobis

Sicut lilium inter spinas
Sic Maria inter filias
Mater amata intemerata
Ora ora pro nobis

In miseria in angustia
Ora Virgo pro nobis
Pro nobis ora in mortis hora
Ora ora pro nobis

I don't think it needs a translation, really. They are all the same, more or less. I am not a fisherman. The prayer suits me fine, though. What other does a man need?

Thank you. Have mercy.