Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happy Halloween, You Bunch Of Freaks

Hallowe'en's a mess. Everybody tells me so.

Read the newspapers. Hallowe'en is a combination salacious bachanaal, devil worship love-in, and workplace sexual harrassment playground-- with the added attractions of being fired, run down by cars, dressing your daughters as Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, and perhaps getting razor blades or anthrax in your kid's candy. Other than that: Have Fun!

Pope Gregory III moved Festum omnium sanctorum --All Saints Day -- to November first to put a Christian gloss on the thing, but I bet appeasing dead spirits that walk the earth with treats goes back to the times of the caves of Altamira. The actual caves, not the Steely Dan song.

Co-opting an existing tradition for a current generation's amusement. Hmm. Sounds exactly like what every crank, weirdo, jerk, and dogooder busybody is trying to do right now with Hallowe'en. At least the Pope just monkeyed about with the day after Hallowe'en, so his flock could enjoy a pagan festivity without worrying about it much. It's like a Fortune 500 company hiring P Diddy as a spokesman. It's more about image than any change in substance. My apologies for referring to him as "P Diddy." I think he's just "Diddy" now. Or perhaps he's changed it again; it's almost 10:00 am and I haven't checked today.

I don't have much of an opinion about Hallowe'en. Everyone seems to have lost their minds about it. There, that's an opinion.

I see problems:

1. People use the day as an excuse to do vicious things to one another. I don't care for that. And I really don't think you want to be placed in any jail population wearing a costume.

2. Adults participate in it more than children now. That's silly. Adults are supposed to walk behind their children with a flashlight and carry their charges and their loot for the last 7/8 of the trip.

3. People's insane ideas about what other people should eat are intruding on the fun. Hint to homeowners: Children like candy. Children don't like candy designed for diabetics. Trust me on this one.

4. Paganism is the root of Hallowe'en. If you're an actual Pagan, or Druid, or Wiccan, or think you're a witch or warlock, I've got news for you. Hallowe'en ain't your night. It's NOT the one night when everybody sees the essential coolness of your Wal*Mart Vampirella thang; it's the one night of the year that normal people pay enough attention to the imaginary trappings of your foolish worldview to make fun of you. That's it. Just like everybody else on Hallowe'en, you should behave and look differently for a short period. In your case, you should dress normally and act in a dignified and intelligent manner for a little while . You can spend the other 364 days acting like a loon.

5. Hallowe'en considered changing its name to "The College Kids Don't Wear Much, Drink Still Liquor- Keystone- Cough Medicine-Rohypnol Smashes While Re-enacting the Sack of Troy, Amateur Arson/ Rapist/ NASCAR driver/Insane Jehovah's Witness/ Melee Night." It wouldn't fit on the t-shirt, so they left it alone. College kids don't need Hallowe'en. College kids only need the calendar to read "Thursday; PM," for all that. No use eggin' them on.

I'm here to help. Let's solve all our problems with Hallowe'en:

At around dusk, small children dressed in cute and fantastic costumes will visit the doors of their nearby neighbors, who will give them a little Snickers bar for their trouble. Any child old enough to be unaccompanied by an adult is too old to trick-or-treat. The children's parents will stand slightly behind their children and wave to the neighbors and they will exchange pleasantries. The home will have a pumpkin or two on the step, and perhaps the silhouette of a witch on a broom and a black cat, cut from construction paper by a gradeschooler, in the window. These small children will not be frightened by this activity, and startling people for your amusement will get you only a rap on the head from a Maglite flashlight that you will commemorate for several weeks by rubbing the lump it leaves on your addled head. The small children will be home and asleep at the regular hour, more or less.

While they sleep the deep, comforting sleep of the weary and contented child, I will steal their candy.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Words To Live By For Monday

I decided to write an aphorism from scratch today. It's harder than I thought. Here goes:

If one man is playing checkers, the other chess, the man playing checkers will win.

Whew. That was a lot of work. Just like playing chess. I'm going to play checkers for the rest of the essay and just steal other people's stuff. All unattributed, because I'm lazy and who knows who said what first anyway?

  • Technology is dominated by two types of people -- those who understand what they do not manage, and those who manage what they do not understand.
  • Brains x Beauty x Availability = Constant.
    This constant is always zero.
  • Any change looks terrible at first.
  • Sow your wild oats on Saturday night. On Sunday pray for crop failure.
  • Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.
  • Air goes in and out, blood goes round and round; any variation on this is bad.
  • If it's stupid but it works, it wasn't stupid.
  • An expert is someone brought in at the last minute to share blame.
  • Every thorough investigation leads to confusion.
  • Simple things are hard.
  • The chance of a computer crash is directly proportional to the importance of the document.
  • Any subject interesting to teachers is boring or counterfactual; usually both.
  • We could do worse; we always have.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Acting Is Better In The Second One

Whoever's idea it was to have Mozart say: "Thank you Eddie" is a right genius. Happy Birthday, Basil.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

SpongeBob Rocks

I have two children. One is a diplomat, one is feral. Assembled, that makes me.

Anyway, they browse amongst the luxuriant undergrowth of amusements like everybody else. We don't have TV, so more or less we choose what we're going to look at. We often choose SpongeBob.

There's something profoundly wrong with you if you don't like SpongeBob Squarepants. You should have someone unscrew the top of your head and mess around with the wires if you dislike it. It's Shakespeare and the Three Stooges with all the interim stops thrown in. It's sublime.

There's all sorts of diversions offered to my tots -- and their parents as collateral damage. My older son is a gaping maw for content of all kinds now. Even the little one doesn't watch the same VCR tape over and over any more without protesting. I've seen all the usual suspects, and I have no problem with Sheen and Karl Weezer and Billy and Mandy and a bunch of other harmless tripe. But in general, each micro-generation attracts all the best --or at least the most appropriate and timely-- ideas and people and distills it into something that defines that infantile generation. Bugs Bunny. Fred Flintstone. SpongeBob. Like that.

I think the coalescence of talent and the spot to put it in is not predictable with adults, never mind children whose minds we once had but are completely opaque to all of us now. It's like a mature economy is; no one knows exactly what's going on with everybody, and we all throw all sorts of stuff at the wall and gauge people's reactions to determine if we need a new wall or new stuff to throw or a new thrower. Anyone that tells you that they can predict the next big thing is a liar; or more likely is telling the truth as they understand it, which is not very well. You can only be correct in that big way by happenstance and probabilities. And almost without exception it's a trick any person can only pull off once, anyway; so your track record in the last smash hit makes you as qualified as a homeless man on the corner yelling at the traffic in predicting the next one. Yeah, you knew in advance the obscure dork bit player that held a clipboard on Coach would be a worldwide sensation as an animated talking doofus starfish. I bet the guy that hired him didn't. He was just flinging the best thing he could find and afford at the likeliest wall he could imagine, and hoping.

It's a great wall. It all stuck.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Sippican's Got His Wealth Of Nations Freak On

Look, I'm doing it wrong.

It's not that I don't understand how the Intertunnel works. I do. But I can't bring myself to do what you're supposed to do and grub around on the ones-and-zeros ground for attention. I'm too busy making things anyway.

But no one writes things and hopes no one reads them -- unless they're crazy. I'm a lunatic, of course, but a much different kind than that. I appreciate it when people come and read what's offered here. It is a constant source of fun and interest to read what visitors here offer as comments, and to see how many other people point to what is here and talk about it.

Part of me "doing it wrong" is how badly I keep up with all that. Based on manners alone, I wish I could correspond properly with everyone that says: Hey, look at that Sippican drivel today; it's the Shiznit! And I'd like to acknowledge a lot of such people right now, but I am loathe to do it because I will undoubtedly leave out a bunch of people, because I forgot, or I didn't even know about it in the first place. I do find my name in the damndest places these days.

I must mention one thing, because it is so piquant. I am terribly fond of everybody's crazy intellectual uncle, that wild wigged wag from Edinburgh, Adam Smith. I sheepishly admit I keep a hardbound copy of The Wealth of Nations at my bedside and reread it all the time. It is like a secular bible to me. Of course I'm so poor that reading it is more akin to looking at pornography than scripture, but still. As someone who is fed into the maw of the woodchipper of primitive barebones commerce daily, but has likewise run things large enough to come under the rubric of "Macro" economics, I can tell you that if you're looking for a pinmaker, well, Adam, I'm your huckleberry.

Oh yes, that one thing? I am a devotee of a website across the roiling Atlantic called The Adam Smith Institute blog. I've been reading it for years, and stealing jokes from it, too. Of course any institute devoted to the memory and teaching of Adam Smith is my kinda place, and their blog is very interesting, in an I'm-interested-in-things-other-people-avoid-like-homework and-would-rather-watch-CSIMiami kinda way. And I was reading it the other day, and flummoxed to see them telling everybody to read Sippican Cottage. It seemed like such an out of the way/wonderful place to find myself.

Again, thanks to the legions of people who read and comment and link and riff and so forth. But you gents and dames over there on that foggy lump of rocks and coal out in the Atlantic? You made my day.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Dodo Writes About Dodos

The pictures are like deja vu all over again, I know. But I've defaced two of yesterday's The Wellfleet Oysterman's House with text to point out ten aspects of house construction that will likely disappear during our lifetimes. They are quite familiar; at least they are to me, who's been poking around old New England houses my whole life. Your mileage may vary if you're already living in a rammed earth ranch in Arizona. Click on the pictures to embiggen them, if you like.

1.An open, site-built masonry fireplace for burning wood
Already really expensive, with a massive shortage of skilled masons and plenty of onerous regulation. Illegal in some places over smoke or the danger of fire from sparks up the chimbley. Not to mention how few people have access to firewood, and access to the get-up-and-go it takes to make a fire with logs. Gas flames in a metal box is all you'll see in a few years.

2. Single pane divided-lite windows
Energy use regulation is fascinated with exotic windows. A single pane window with a low-e glass panel fitted on the outside is practically as energy efficient as the most cutting edge ventana, but I'm probably going to be the last human extant that can set a pane of glass in a muntin window with putty. Modern windows got no soul, people

3. A wood shingle roof
Also now illegal in many places over fire regulation. Sawn wood shingles or rough split shakes are going to be as anachronistic as slate roofs are now in a few years. Notice even the Oysterman's house has asphalt tab shingles on the (dreadful) enclosed porch addition. People are used to ugly roofs now. They don't even notice how drab they are.

4. Shutters that operate
Just plastic slabs nailed to the faux colonials now. The fellows I first worked with called the hardware that real wood shutters swung on: "gudgeons and pintles," just like the nomenclature used for the hanging hardware on boat rudders. Spell-check is freaking out about the words "gudgeons" and "pintles" as I type this. It's a lonely thing to know more words than spell-check does, my friends.

5. A front door used as the main entry into a house
9 times out of 10 I'm looking at nothing but your garage door when I look at your house. If you do have a "front door," it makes a mummy's tomb sound when you open it every decade or so. But even an infrequently used ceremonial grand entry door beats a snouthouse design.

6. A masonry foundation
Poured concrete isn't masonry, really. I'm referring to bricks and blocks and stone. When I was a kid, people were still assembling concrete blocks into masonry foundations. By "people," I mean "me" helping "my uncle." I'm not even sure people are going to go into the ground much anymore to make a basement, never mind building one one 35 pound chunk of concrete at a time. I know I'd pitch myself into volcano before I signed up to do another one. (Note: I put that "one" right after the other "one" to confuse and delight you)

7. Wooden gutters
I used to repair and install these all the time. Every fall I'd be hired to clean the leaves out of them and paint the inside with linseed oil. The fellow I worked for wasn't too bright. We'd wait 2 weeks too long to get around to this, so the gutters were filled with ice already. He told me that taking a teaspoon of linseed oil was considered an old-fashioned health restorative in his family. It explained a lot. Raw linseed oil has many such uses among the homeopathic crowd. Unfortunately, all he had was Boiled linseed oil, which is a deadly brain-destroying poison if you eat it. Most alternative medicine type advice pans out like that; not wrong, exactly -- off-topic.

8. Painted wood shingle sidewall
They used to use red cedar sidewall shingles for use under paint. "R and Rs," we called them; resquared and rebutted. They cost more than space shuttle tiles now. Wood clapboards will hang in there for a while, but painting sidewall shingles is a doomed proposition. Jeez, I hate plastic ersatz anything on a house.

9. Unexposed timber-frame walls
People still think timber-framed houses are swell, and continue to build them now and again. They think the medieval method of making a barn to live in is so interesting that they leave it exposed on the interior to show it off. Colonial people would never leave the guts of the house exposed. No one will do it the insane hernia/black thumbnail way and then cover it up ever again.

10. Oil-based paint
The pigments and vehicle in water-based paint are almost all sorta plastic derived from petroleum, but that's not what I'm referring to. The days of mineral spirits constituting the base for any paint are numbered. They contain Volatile Organic Compounds, ie: pollutants. If you've purchased a gallon of what is referred to in the vernacular as "oil-based' paint recently, you've noticed that it has the consistency of block cheese. The manufacturer is assuming you --wink wink --understand that Home Depot is selling gallons of the ingredient they are forced to leave out to pass VOC regulations, right there on the shelf next to the paint. Since mineral spirits is used for--ahem... cleaning your brushes!-- not for paint thinner, no sirree no way uh uh-- they don't mind that it's 100% VOC, and this ingredient sold alone is not regulated somehow. You can buy all you want of it and splash it into the paste masquerading as $40-per-gallon alkyd paint, which can't have hardly any mineral spirits in it anymore at all nosirree nada.

You didn't hear that from me

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Well, You've All Been Pleasant, I Guess.

I haven't gotten death threats from any pacifists over yesterday's remarks -- I think they mostly sleep in -- so I guess I have to pony up the pictures of the Wellfleet Oysterman's House described in Henry David Thoreau's Cape Cod.

That's called a "full cape." It has five bays. A bay is nomenclature for the portion of the facade allocated for each door or window. A "half cape" would have two windows and a door beside them. A "three-quarter cape" would have two windows, a door, and then another window on the other side of the door. It's a full cape with ell, as there's an addition sticking straight out the back, too.

Not a lot of the interior was original, even when these pictures were taken as part of the vestigal tail of the depression-era Historic American Building Survey. The house had been purchased shortly before then by a somewhat notable person, Joseph Jay Deiss. I assume it's still there but can't find any current pictures of it on the intertunnel.

The house itself is interesting, especially to a person as consumed with anachronism as I am, so tomorrow maybe I'll point out ten things about this house that more or less will disappear in our lifetimes. The ghost of the Wellfleet Oysterman will rattle around in there forever.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Henry David Thoreau Was A Knucklehead

I've never had much use for him. He has a whiff of trust fund about him. And he's become a sort of patron saint of the idle rich neurotic. Strike two. When I go to visit the mansions in Newport Rhode Island, I am struck by how frenetic the lives of the scions of the captains of industry were, and how little they accomplished compared to their fathers and grandfathers. Cornelius Vanderbilt built a steamship line from nothing. His children raced yachts. I don't mind that people race yachts, but such activities do not advance the sum total of human accomplishment. Leisure, however frenetically engaged in, is still leisure.

Thoreau is the patron saint of everybody that thinks that amusing themselves with asceticism isn't a form of leisure activity. Living in the Petit Hameau doesn't make you a peasant. And peasants have to pay with the sweat of their brow for you to pursue asceticism; a leisure they generally never see. The rapacious Cornelius made steamships to deliver things to poor people, and to deliver the poor people themselves. The yacht just delivers the owner. No one that's not rapacious has ever helped me one bit. The same goes for the factory of the mind. Thoreau is just a yacht racer of lettered asceticism. His minions can shove a rope up a drainpipe, as far as I'm concerned.

But I read Thoreau, because Thoreau wandered around, looked at things and talked to people, and he wrote it down. He was a good writer. He was just a bad thinker. Good writer/bad thinker should replace "All the news that's fit to print" on a certain masthead, now that I think about it. And "Bad writer, worse thinker" should be the name we use if we ever rename the Internet. At any rate, there's lots of interesting and remarkable things in Thoreau's writing. He wrote about Cape Cod with a lot of affection and interest, and that's how I read it.

Here's a snippet from The Wellfleet Oysterman, a chapter in Thoreau's Cape Cod.

Before sunrise the next morning they let us out again, and I ran over to the beach to see the sun come out of the ocean. The old woman of eighty-four winters was already out in the cold morning wind, bare-headed, tripping about like a young girl, and driving up the cow to milk. She got the breakfast with despatch, and without noise or bustle; and meanwhile the old man resumed his stories, standing before us, who were sitting, with his back to the chimney, and ejecting his tobacco-juice right and left into the fire behind him, without regard to the various dishes which were there preparing. At breakfast we had eels, buttermilk cake, cold bread, green beans, doughnuts, and tea. The old man talked a steady stream; and when his wife told him he had better eat his breakfast, he said: "Don't hurry me; I have lived too long to be hurried." I ate of the apple-sauce and the doughnuts, which I thought had sustained the least detriment from the old man's shots, but my companion refused the apple-sauce, and ate of the hot cake and green beans, which had appeared to him to occupy the safest part of the hearth. But on comparing notes afterward, I told him that the buttermilk cake was particularly exposed, and I saw how it suffered repeatedly, and therefore I avoided it; but he declared that, however that might be, he witnessed that the apple-sauce was seriously injured, and had therefore declined that. After breakfast we looked at his clock, which was out of order, and oiled it with some "hen's grease," for want of sweet oil, for he scarcely could believe that we were not tinkers or pedlers; meanwhile he told a story about visions, which had reference to a crack in the clock-case made by frost one night.He was curious to know to what religious sect we belonged. He said that he had been to hear thirteen kinds of preaching in one month, when he was young, but he did not join any of them, — he stuck to his Bible. There was nothing like any of them in his Bible.

So read Thoreau, even though he's a knucklehead. The real dolts revere Walt Whitman anyway. And visit tomorrow the king of the internet knuckleheads -- me -- because I've found pictures of the actual house of the Wellfleet Oysterman, and if you're pleasant I'll show them to you.

Monday, October 22, 2007

I'm Fresh Out Of Fresh Advice

Ben Franklin was an interesting fellow. He had a wide range of experience compared to many of his contemporaries, who were educated farmers from Virginia, for the most part. Having experience in many facets of life is very useful, I think, if only for one thing: It reminds a person that they don't know very much about any particular thing, never mind most things. I find people who are scholars tend to think they know a great deal more than they actually do, and it's because they've mistaken the library for the whole world. There's a whole world of books in a library, but that's not the same thing. Oh, and politicians: You can't run the whole world if you're bright and expend "sleep on the couch in your office" effort. Scholars don't know much; you don't know anything.

Franklin and many of his peers wrote lists and papers and folios and whole books filled with advice on mundane matters. I have a wonderful book written by George Washington as a young man called Rules Of Civility, and while it's great fun to read, advice like "don't stick your knife in the salt cellar if it is greasy" is of dubious utility right now.

George was only thirteen when he wrote his book on civility, and he really wasn't writing, per se, he was copying imperfectly lessons he was being taught, in French, which were just tradition forms of etiquette. You can easily trace Washington's lessons back to Il Galeteo, written by a Jesuit priest named Giovanni della Casa in the mid 1500s in Florence. Renaissance Humanism manifested itself in many more ways than naked statues and paintin' on the ceiling.

Anyway, there's lotsa dopey stuff mixed in with perfectly good advice in Washington's book, which is interesting but not useful, and explains why Washington bowed instead of shaking hands, for instance. But you can still read Franklin -- lots of Franklin -- and use almost everything to your advantage, and it probably will continue to be useful 300 more years into the future.

In a way, you can simply hold up your life to Franklin's advice and make your comparison. Rank your success as a human being on a sliding scale and it will have an uncanny correlation to how closely you adhered to his advice:

Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

You can refrain from sticking your greasy knife in the salt cellar all day long and be a wastrel jerk. Franklin listed the thirteen bones in the decency skeleton, right there for you.

Me, I'm just trying to beat Ted Williams' batting average.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Buttonhook on Three. Your Shoe's Untied

I never played organized football. I was skinny and contemplative, and it never occurred to anyone involved, me included, to even try. But we used to play all the time.

It was somewhat like the picture, in that there were never enough people to make a full team, never mind two. In extremis, the quarterback had to hike the ball to himself. We actually made the fellow turn perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, and toss the ball up in the air and catch it again before he ran or threw it. Hilarious. I remember Danny, one of my friends, hiking the ball to himself; throwing the ball up in the air after receiving his own snap; running underneath his own wild heave of a pass and catching it; then like a final, magnificent capstone to his herculean if bizarre effort, tackling himself by putting his foot in a ground hog hole while picking his way through the cowflaps and tacklers, falling face first into the pasture grass.

I'd pay ten dollars to see it again; but it's free in my head, and unavailable at any price elsewhere.

The ball often had the bladder bulging out of one or more of the seams or the lacings. To this day, I see professional players throw those marvelous spirals, the camera capturing it revolving slowly as it sails into the galloping wide receiver's hands, and all I can think is: That's a nice ball.

We didn't have any equipment whatsoever. We got smart after a while and wore a half dozen coats or sweaters for the padding, and after the first time being excoriated by your mother for tearing a pocket off the only winter coat you were going to get that year, you learned to put the crummiest garment on the outside.

Once a kind cousin who had become a man and abandoned childish things gave my father his old shoulder pads. My father gave them to me with a straight face. I bet after I skipped elated out of the room with them, his laughter began -- and will echo down through the eons like some second big bang. I wore them outside my clothes, the dense fiberglas flaps clacking as I ran and pinching the opponents' fingers when they tackled me. It is hard to come up with a tableaux more absurd. I must have looked like some insane earthbound Icarus trying to get lift as I ran.

We'd butt heads like rams with our preteen nubbins, bloody our noses and rend our garments literally --figuratively if we were losing, and had a grand time.

The football game is on today, but I am a man now and must work. I will tune it in on the AM radio to carry me along as I bang on my work like a blind cobbler's thumb. Don't matter. The faraway crackling descriptions will be better than being there, or that marvelous fraudulent stand-in for being there, the TV.

It will be better because I will see it in my mind's eye, imagination trumping reality every time, just the same way it did, stumbling and clacking and flapping across Miller's field all those years ago.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Got Autumn?

You can see the blue of the sky in the sheen of the front door. That's why you need to avoid much blue in the red color you choose. Out in the world it will look too purple.
Mums and gourds around the side. Done.
It's officially autumn when clouds of ladybugs appear for a day or two and cover every surface like a first-round cornerback.

Doo, doo, doo, lookin' out my front door:

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Beer Is Gettin' Warm

I was on the floor all of a sudden. That was bad.

Potentially bad, anyway. It had a tendency to give a stiff bracer of courage to a fellow not quite sure of himself to see his man on the floor. If he gets hinky about you gettin' up, he might bring in the boot. And if he has hinky friends, well, they're all shod, ain't they?

All the dirt and corruption of the world is on the barroom floor, my mother would say. Now, I was no stranger to dirt and corruption, but I had no desire to get right down in it. Still, a man could pause a short moment and take stock. That fellow is as surprised as me to find me down here. He's like a fellow that prays in church but don't really believe it. He looks around halfway through, to see if anyone notices him funnin'. That's what he's doing now.

You can never go halfway in church, sonny. And this is my church.

He thinks I'm old. He thinks it might be over before it started. He thinks I might not want any more of what's he's giving.

Son, I'm not going to get any more of what you've got.

He paused, and I did too. I hit my head on the way down somehow. There's nothing soft in a bar that ain't a woman. And in here, they're all pretty hard, too. They're lookin' on like any Roman watching the lions do their business.

Well I ain't a Christian right now, exactly.

I kinda like the tingly feeling where I hit my noggin'. It's not pain right now. Plenty of time for that tomorrow. It's like a vibration; it's the soothing warmth of a rock that's had the sun beatin' on it all day. I feel it travel through me like a telegraph signal, to the very heart of my bones. And I feel Cuchulain in those bones.

I can't linger in the moment. Shame. A man's switch is on the outside, and only another can throw it. Roll over easy, like you might not get up, to get the right buffer. Then stand up, and put your hand one inch behind that feller. The beer is gettin' warm.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

(Still) The Same As It Ever Was

I've been hanging around the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston with bad intent. Well, it seems that way, a little, as I'm peeking in on this poor woman in her reverie. The picture is called "Leisure," and it was painted in 1910 by William Worcester Churchill.

I feel a little better knowing that she must be dead. That didn't sound quite right. I meant, I'm glad she's achieved a kind of immortality by posing for this picture, at least until the oil in the paint flakes off the canvas or the Museum burns down; and I'm glad I can't disturb her, because she looks comfortable.

In 1910, leisure was a newfangled concept to most of the people that trod the earth. The idea of a "weekend," a rest from the work week, was just about to be invented in Britain, but for the aristocracy only. You didn't get a day off at all if you were a beater for some viscount on a quail hunt on Sunday.

Look closely at the painting. The room is spare, but not barren. It looks urban outside the window, and the room looks small and cosy. To the right, there's a screen in the corner to allow a modicum of privacy when dressing, and there's a brass tub on the floor that looks like our heroine just used it to soak her feet. She's propped comfortably on a divan, and reads the newspaper by the light of the window, and the leaf on the floor hints she's had a minute to enjoy it already. A book and perhaps a folio stand by on the table if she wants to continue her bluestocking afternoon.

It's been almost a hundred years, what's changed? Well, everything, of course, but what about the idea -- the idea of leisure?

Her surroundings are not drab. She has a modicum of privacy. She has time to herself. She has donned informal and comfortable clothing. the divan looks comfortable to perch upon, and allows a great deal of motility; that is to say, she can shift her position in it to various postures to avoid becoming cramped or stiff. She has something to occupy and stimulate her mind. She has likely performed her ablutions as part of a salubrious and languid ritual we might all enjoy after a hard day.

I don't know Churchill's work from a hole in the wall. But he knew his business. He showed us a person, and an appealing idea, and intimated to us something about himself too, by the composition of the painting and its subject. And he gave us the gift of understanding another person's point of view, and perhaps seeing something of ourselves in it; something familiar but interesting.

She has no telephone. No radio. No television. The candle on the table might be for more than mood lighting. She could catch polio. Her dentist might work on horses too.

None of that matters when she was captured there by the window. We all need what she's got. A cushy spot to rest our bones. Something to occupy our mind. Time to yourself. A little privacy. A little elegance.

Same as it ever was.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Marboo House

We visited Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island this weekend. I've written about it before:
The Greatest View In The World. It was a fine fall day; the sky had that pure blue look to it, with clouds in the most delicate shades of warm gray drifting languidly past. The summer's humidity has cleared out, and lends an air of crispness to long views normally partially obscured in a faint haze. The neighbor's Italianate cottage showed off the sunshine well.

At the gate:
Somewhere along the line someone lost interest in the place, and paved the circular drive up by the house with barbarous bituminous asphalt, and impressed brick shapes into it. It's amazing to see something so shabby next to such a stone confection. But then again, your average dry-cleaning magnate has more money and a bigger house these days than your odd Vanderbilt. The trees are very old, and very fine, though.

It's got your standard turn-of -the-20th-century/Beverly Hillbillies/White House/Neoclassical thang going on:

Any Roman would recognize this view:

It's the back yard that's got the real view:

And the Japanese Teahouse to take advantage of it:

There's a walk along the ocean there. They've put a barbed wire topped chain link fence along it to keep the riff-raff out of the palaces. I might be riff-raff, but I know better than to put barbed wire chain link anything anywhere that's supposed to a serene view. Better to skip it than ruin it. The interior version of barb wire was the replacement of the human docent with a headphone tour. Anyone that would wear headphones as a form of relaxation is... not me and my wife, anyway. We just wandered around and looked at things. It was far better, really. We know what everything is, mostly, anyway.

And of course: The Simpsons:


Blogger won't let me load pictures today. Check back later for more Sippican Cottage Goodness.

Monday, October 15, 2007

My Life, Explained.

This tableau has every element of my life in it. That's the only house I've ever owned, my own handiwork along with my friends. My wife gave me that chair for my birthday. It came from the second hand shop and needed a small repair, so I like it better than if it was brand new. I made that table for very pleasant customers. It has gone out into the world to be another ambassador for my furniture monomania. I made the cabinet in the background to hold my children's SpongeBob collections and a screen to show them on. And there are eighteen roses in a vase; one for each year I've known my beloved.

There is nothing more you need to know about me. I'll talk about you for the rest of my time on earth.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Being Rational Had Nothing To Do With It

But when considered dispassionately, it's the only truly intelligent thing I've ever done.

Friday, October 12, 2007

I Don't Remember Writing This

I slept in a dresser drawer until I was four. Pater would always tell me that.

Pater was always saying the same thing. His head was stuck. My head is never stuck. I wish my head would stick, and not run off like Mater says it does.

There were four flights to the basement. I don't understand the counting. The house only has the three stories. When I'm on the piazza, though it slumps a bit with my few stone, I can see into the neighbor's kitchen. They're on the third floor, same as us, and leave the lights on like a millionaire, my father says, when he's not stuck.

We go down four and I don't understand. We stand on the dirt floor and dad peers into the furnace. Sometimes I look in the furnace too, just for the feeling on my face. Pater feeds it like an animal.

Other people's lives are in the basement. They are stacked and boxed and moldy, other people's lives are. They die and go away or go away and die. Their bedsteads stay forever. Where they go there is no sleeping, I guess. Pater's stuck again and won't tell me.

I have a clock in my head and it never stops. We have a clock in the parlor but my clock can't keep up. Pater leaves the faucet in the kitchen open a crack. The valve is like a violin for him. He plays it. No one else plays it like Pater, Mater says. He has the touch.

He rubs his hands like Edward Robinson in front of a safe and puts his hand on the valve each night in the winter. He says things under his breath when it won't let him start my clock. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, he says, so I know he's praying. Pater is always stuck when he's praying. Or maybe he prays when he's stuck. I don't know.

Then the drops come. Not as fast as the mantel clock; no. It's sinful to waste it. Let it drip and it keeps the pipes from freezing in the night he says to no one in particular. I hear my clock, those drops, in my head even when I'm outside. They slow me down because they can't catch the mantel clock. Pater snores and Mater sighs and sisters and brothers go down the hall but I don't care because I'm warm and I can hear my clock. Pater puts the coats on me when he thinks I'm asleep.

I put the sugar and cinammon on my bread, and I spilled it. Mater was cross. She said I was acting the maggot. That's what I am when Mater is cross.

I don't understand what I am when Mater is cross.

She sits me on the chair, and tells me such as me doesn't deserve to be abroad. My friends are skating and sliding in the Public Garden, but I can't go, because I'm acting the maggot and it's Mater's turn to be stuck.

It's warm by the stove when Mater is there.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Japanese Thang (Rerun)

Maybe it's because it's a pile of rocks out in the ocean. I know about those.

The Japanese are always fascinating. Their culture is likely born of the hothouse- long periods of segregation from outside influences, like in a greenhouse, promote a lush growth, but also a delicacy that does not always translate into the greater world. And a fear of The Other.

They have produced some of the most interesting things to look at. Frank Lloyd Wright, among others, was greatly enamored of the Japanese style. Through reading about him, I was steered towards Hiroshige, and Hokusai. I never tire of Mount Fuji and cranes and waves when such as they churn them out.

What am I to make, then, of Kodomo No Kuni? Kodomo No Kuni (Children's Place, or Children's Wonderland) was a children's magazine published in Japan from 1922 through 1949. And it's beautiful and touching. And it's disturbing, because it's not disturbing at all.

I've always found that period of the 1920s and thirties fascinating. The world was becoming modern, in the true sense of the world, and various cultures and countries were trying to make sense of it. And no one got it wronger than the Japanese.

Everybody got it wrong, really. There were just varying versions of bad, and worse, and frivolous, and stubborn obsolescence. No one really understood what the enormous changes in technology and macroeconomics meant to the human race. Do we now?

If you look at the pictures of the children in Kodomo No Kuni, you can see how the artists are trying to convey a message about fitting in in a world that's shifting rapidly. We in America still read Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel to our children as a nostalgia piece, but originally it was made to explain the newfangled world to a disoriented public. Time marches fast, and sometimes people rely on old thinking because they are adrift in events. The best things in culture help us to see the new things while standing on the shoulders of what has come before. Dynamism yoked to Traditionalism. Not Reactionaries and Deconstructivists, thanks.

The real problem is that old thinking is tarted up as the Next Big Thing all the time. The most antediluvian idea is presented as cutting edge by the same old busybodies. And the oldest idea in the world is "us against them" when the going gets rough or disorienting.

Even when wonderful things happen, the pace of change accelerates and makes people nervous. Nervous people are susceptible to the idea that there is a force behind everything, and that force is nefarious by its very existence, and since somebody designs everything, we might as well decide who that someone is and put him in charge. There is never a shortage of persons ready to tell you they're up to the job.

The real problem is that human society isn't really "run" by anybody anymore. Everything has long since become too complex for anybody to know very much about anything, never mind most things. But human beings always desire to see a face in what is formless. And to my way of thinking, people who see the hidden hand of human interactions and think: it must be a cabal, and we can run it better, are much more superstitious than any holy roller. At least the vast bulk of holy rollers ascribe to the idea that life, the universe, and everything is not knowable. It's the fellows and ladies that say: "I can run the world better than the folks that do now" that worry me. Because "no one" is running the world now, and replacing "no one" with "someone" makes perfectly lovely people, raised in beauty and love and respect for others, like the beautiful children depicted in these amazing magazines, grow up and fly kamikaze planes into aircraft carriers when they're done with the Rape of Nanking.

Read Kodomo No Kuni, and weep a little, perhaps, for those weaned on it who didn't get to live in the world they saw in it.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Many of my readers are curious to see me at work, so I've decided to include a video of me building some sort of thing today. Surprisingly, I'm sure, I like to speak only German all day at work, for reasons that will remain obscure.

It's Hammertime.

Also, for some reason, no doubt a defect in the camera, I am depicted inaccurately as a sort of dweebish continental with metrosexual highlights in my hair and theatrical looking smears of various construction detritus here and there on my person, instead of the ruggedly handsome visage and winsome persona I generally project.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Colon Day

I remember Columbus Day because I used to play music in a hundred and one bands anyone that would have me and try to make money to eat and get cigarettes and I don't smoke and there still was never enough money and I played at a tee-totaling biker association party for two members' wedding not gay a man and a woman that arrived on a motorcycle with the woman I think wearing a white Wedding Dress and no helmet and we played for one hundred sober bikers and ninety-nine of them were like accountants and one was like a serial murderer but they all looked exactly the same so you had to assume they all would kill you if they got the chance instead of the more likely thing that they'd do your taxes if you asked nice and I never played Born To Be Wild for a Wedding Song before and the bride's father was in jail I think so she had to dance with the groom twice and the whole thing was held at the Italian-American Club on Gano Street in Providence but everybody calls it Guano Street for a joke haha and it's a real long time ago but it might have been the Portuguese-American Club I don't remember but I do remember it was Columbus Day and I went into the bar to get away from the sober biker accountants and that one serial murderer that were in the function room and it didn't matter if it was the Italian-American Club or the Portuguese-American Club or the Knights Of Columbus Hall haha that would be funny but I don't really remember but I distinctly remember a guy with a knife a real knife not a just a knife a dagger that came to a perfect point and didn't fold or look like you could do anything wholesome with it it just looked one hundred percent like it was designed and made to gut a bass player and that guy held that knife right under my chin and explained to me in Portuguese that Cristobal Colon was Portuguese and don't you forget it and my Spanish was very sketchy and Portuguese sounds like Russian to me not Spanish anyway but believe me I understood every damn word he said and I advise you all to answer the question did you know Cristobal Colon was Portuguese in the affirmative at all times.

The end.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Screen Test

You know, you can practice and try and suffer and work. You can cultivate your innate talent to as fine an assay as possible. You can have luck. And after all that, you can probably come in third on American Idol, or maybe get to read the news on the weekends in some rectangular state.

Then some other person appears, and looks so sketchy you wouldn't rent an apartment to them without a year's rent in advance; ten minutes later they show up on a red carpet somewhere clutching a statuette. You grumble when you notice that some people are just born to have the camera pointed at them. And that's that.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Smore Oldish Nantucket

A place? An accusation? Blissfully before the grocer's apostrophe reared its ugly head, anyway.

I defy you to take a picture of this Nantucket street without a person in it now. Can't be done.

Cast iron palings, wrought iron rails. Mix Hunter Green in with Lamp Black to get the proper color to paint them. It looks black when the sun shines right on them. In the shade, the green hue appears.

Rapunzel got a pixie cut and moved in here.

The lost use of the louvered door. When houses front right on a pedestrian street, you can use a louvered door for privacy while allowing you to keep the inside door open. The breeze will come.
Coming or going or staying?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Will You Come With Me, To Nantucket?

Before they come. Or after. Everything there is "after" now. There's still plenty of leftover before in the after, though. Or something.

The ocean is not an abstraction when you box the compass and see it in every direction.

The dinks confer.

An alley. Must be a bad neighborhood.

The rarest sight in Massachusetts. The horizon.

Speed bumps.

It's a small world; but I wouldn't want to paint it.

Let's get some sinkers.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

When In Rome, Rome Around

Audible jokes look bad typed out.

Hey. look at that crazy old-time picture of that crazy old-time fish restaurant in decrepit old Boston. If you were visiting, and you wanted to do some old thing that tourists do--unlike going to the Cheers bar, which is really called the Bull and Finch, and got so full of people who know it as the Cheers bar that no one that knew it as the Bull and Finch ever bothered to go there again --wouldn't it be cool to go and sit in that hoary old place? Well you can. The Union Oyster House is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in America. It still looks more or less like that, although the magnificent gaudy oyster stand-off sign is gone. Something more tasteful and less exuberant was no doubt mandated by the city in a fit of not-minding-their-own-business.

Sippican met Mrs. Sippican about a block from there. The statues and plaque have not been forthcoming; back-ordered, I expect.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Dem Bones

That boneyard you see in the picture of the old Boston City Hall is behind King's Chapel, stop number 5 on the Freedom Trail. Here's the church itself:

That building is pretty old; finished in 1754. But there was a wood-frame version of it standing in that very spot on the corner of School Street and Tremont since 1689. That's old. There's a bell cast by Paul Revere behind those louvers in the tower. Everybody needs a hobby, even midnight riders.

The Parker House Hotel is across the street to the right in the picture. My wife and I stayed there once, and we stumbled across the street to poke around. I've lived around here for most of my life, but the Freedom Trail was just for tourists as far as the locals are concerned. I'd never been inside. At any rate, it's really beautiful in there. It's like an icebox made from Quincy granite. It's still a working church. Unitarian now, not the original Anglican sort of thing. It's all the same to me, a Hibernian, raised Catholic. To paraphrase former Mayor James Michael Curley: A Unitarian is a fellow who believed Jesus Christ was just a pleasant fellow with whiskers who walked around in a bedsheet.

My brethren Irishmen think Boston really got going when we all moved to town after the famine in Ireland made Boston an Irish City. Observed dispassionately, we've driven it into the ground, more or less. If you stand in that chilly boneyard, and read the names on the stones worn almost smooth by nothing but the gentle rain over and over, you see who built this place out of nothing.

Winthrop. Dawes. Emerson. Chilton...

Look at Mary Chilton. Moldering in the earth behind the church -- a decade before the first church was even built. Passenger on the Mayflower at just fourteen, her father was the oldest passenger at sixty-four. She is said to have been the first person ashore at Plymouth when she got excited and waded ashore from the rowboat.

Her father died, still on the Mayflower, in 1620. Her mother six weeks after. I'd wade ashore, too. She married John Winslow, had ten children and died in Boston in 1679. Me, I'm just amazed there was a Boston to die in. People such as she made it.

All sorts of people can claim ancestors on the Mayflower. According to Wikipedia, Mary Chilton is claimed by Pete Seeger, Pamela Harriman, Jane Wyatt, the woman who called herself "Betty Crocker," Vincent Price, Elliot Richardson, Dan Quayle, and former governor of Vermont Howard Dean.

My own friend Steve is a descendant of Mayflowerer... Mayflowerite... Mayfloweritizen... Mayflowerionette... Mayflower dude John Alden, I believe. Figures. John Alden was hired to be a crewman, but decided to stay on and join the settlement. Steve's Irish, like me, and is still banging nails into houses for these damn Yankees.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

I Wanna Go To Adriaen Blocks Eylant

I remember it in a mist, really. When I was young, we went on an excursion to Block Island. It's a tiny lump of dirt and rocks out in the Atlantic, just a short ferry boat ride from a couple of places around here. We bicycled around there. It was like another planet to us.

It seemed like Holland or something. Self contained. At the mercy of the elements. Obscure and isolate. No bustle like Martha's Vineyard. It must have been four decades ago we went; I'm not sure going would be the same. Nothing is the same for very long.

On an island like that, a lighthouse is not a decoration. But like many things used to be, the utilitarian nature of the structure doesn't mean it has to be industrial looking, or ugly. We used to be better at such things. I want to bicycle past this again, and wonder where all the ships that scan the foggy horizon for its beam are going.