Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Whose House? Times Ten

Whose house is this?

Update: J.Beck gets it in the comments. He wins ONE INTARNETS!

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Cure For The Black Dog (from 2006)

(Editor's Note: First offered in 2006)
(Author's Note: It hasn't worked this year. It's the March that never ends. And there is no editor)

Winston Churchill was a very great man. But far better, he was an interesting man. His life was so grand, and vast, and fraught with peril and adventure, and his wit was so engaging, and his intellect so profoundly capable and cultivated that he can stand almost endless scrutiny. And when you're done reading all about him, you can read the books he wrote about everybody else.

He was funny, too. And like many men afflicted with humor, he got depressed from time to time. Not down in the mouth depressed, no; the kind of mental anguish that makes a man eye the kitchen knives while holding a tumbler of scotch. He called it his "Black Dog." He knew it would present itself from time to time, and he would get past it by doing something else. Now, doing something else for him meant throwing himself into painting landscapes in the south of France, or building a brick cottage on his country estate, brick by brick with his own hands, or any one of a hundred interesting things that presented themselves to a person of his influence and capacity. And he'd refresh himself by tiring himself out, and get back to yanking on the levers of power in the British Empire.

The Black Dog haunts me too. It comes generally in the late winter. I range around the house, unable to sleep, dogged by some lingering catarrh, bored, and greedy for the sunshine that never seems to come back after Columbus Day. What sleep there is is death, not rest. And you remind yourself that there are others with real problems, and yours don't compare. It doesn't make you feel better, generally, but it keeps you from taking poison.

I was outside yesterday. It was clement. The breeze didn't feel like a knife, or a fish to the face, the sky wasn't crowded with scuds the shade of dishwater, and the sun began to warm to its task a bit and shooed the thermometer into the fifites. Woodpeckers banged their stupid happy heads against the trees behind the shed, an osprey kited over, silent, cruising the edge of the treeline for a rodent foolish enough to look both ways but not up. Oak leaves began to flutter down from the branches they had grimly hung on to all winter, rattling and writhing through the snows and winds, now gently set adrift by the birth of their replacements. I could smell things. Things that smelled faintly like life.

And then I heard it. The peepers. It's such a pleasant little flourish they blow, indistinct, happy, variable. It's such a part of the aural wallpaper after a while you don't pick up on it right away. We've had people stay over our house who remarked in the morning that the peepers sounded like a jet engine outside the window -- they were urban folk and preferred to be lulled to sleep by the quotidian sounds of the odd distant four alarm fire and the delivery truck -- we barely noticed them.

Their little trill -- the thrill of picking up on it for the first time -- the ticking off in your mind of the first in the long litany of Nature's To-Do-List: new mown grass; the crack of the ball on the Hillerich and Bradsby; the glory of fireflies in June; daylight at 9:00 at night; the languid drone of the cicada; rich warm breezes coming in the window as you enjoy the slumber of the sunburned and contented -- it's all there -- if you'll let your mind wander a bit to the end of the road the peepers are paving for you right now.

The Black Dog plays in the swamp, and is consumed.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


The goose flew by and jarred my mind

What was the life he left behind?

A distant lake that caught his eye

But who needs home if you can fly?

You're free to go from place to place

And leave but ripples as a trace

To spread out like a ghost's canoe

And then they're gone the same as you

Do you remember where you've been?

The little families you begin?

Or do you soar without a care

For little goslings everywhere

The world seems small to such as you

Who fly above our earthbound view

But we who linger in the ponds

Can make a nest here in the fronds

We'll never soar close to the sun

We've little dreams and not much fun

But as you pass us overhead

Do you wish you'd stayed instead?

( A continuation of: The Crow. Don't ask me; I just start typing)

Friday, March 27, 2009

I'm Not A Bass Player, I'm A Bass Owner

My good friend Steve Devlin is the most productive person I've ever met, and I've met a lot of productive people. I'm sure when he passes away, he'll still help them screw down the lid, and show them how to soap the screws to make driving them easier.

He builds houses on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts. He helped me to build my house, and we've worked together many times. He's made his Central Cape Construction into that rarest of things: a success that deserves its success. Look out for flying wood! he says, and means it. To paraphrase, Steve is halfway round the foundation while the competition is still lacing its shoes.

We used to play in a band together, back in the day. It was the same way. If it needed doing, Steve was doing it while you decided, and laughing the whole time. Every once in a while he calls me and I hear the Blues Brothers yell in the receiver: I'm getting the band back together, man.

We were atrocious back then, but sublime. I can't describe it any better than that. In entertainment, you simply have to give the audience a compelling reason to look at you. We always did that, one way or the other. There's lots of ways to accomplish that. I suppose you could try learning to play your instruments properly, but that sounds hard. Steve used to say we were the band you had to see twice. The first time to have the most fun you ever had, and the second time to figure out we stunk.

Steve has done another thing which is rare and wonderful. He started a real, live tradition. Someone has to be the guy that says: You know, I think we should have a parade on Saint Patrick's Day. People might come. Steve is that man.

Only with him, it's hockey, and the The Lobster Pot Tournament. Steve was a good hockey player. He taught his sons in their turn to play, and helped the area he lives in to teach their kids, too. Like a true good citizen, he didn't lose interest just because his kids were too old for it after a while. He kept going.

I remember when he first tried to put together the tournament. He beat the bushes and worked like a slave and paid all sorts of money out of his own pocket that no one knew about because he thought it mattered. Then that rarest of things I mentioned happened. Everyone else embraced it, too, and it's become a tradition.

"I took my sons to a college hockey game, and they really liked the whole atmosphere," said tournament director Steve Devlin. "And on the way home they remarked how great it would be to play in a game like that. So when we started this tournament, we wanted to bring that kind of fun to our games. We want this to be a fun tournament for the kids and for the fans."

The action started last night and runs through Sunday afternoon with the teams combining for a total of 64 games.

Teams will be competing in four divisions: Crawfish (Mini Mites), 1 1/4 Pounders (Mite C), 2-Pound Broiled (Mite B) and 3-Pound Baked Stuffed (Mite A). Of the five BYHA teams in the tournament, four will be competing in the 2-Pound Broiled division with the fifth squad in line to contend for the 3-Pound Baked Stuffed crown. (The Enterprise)

So Steve got us all out of bed on Sunday morning at hockey mom hours, year after year, and we stand on the mezzanine freezing to death and watching the kids bob like buoys across the ice. Steve's son, who we told you about here before, is playing music with us in the pick-up band instead of hockey now. That's him over on the far left, along with my friend Chopper and another fellow from the band Cape Fear. They're the ones that sound like they practice.

I'm getting old, I guess. I'll still show up, though, if Steve tells me to. When the sun comes up, the birds sing, though they don't know why.

Arena Rock from sippican cottage on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Whose House? Niner. Neener Neener Neener

Whose house was this? Somewhat austere, but elegant. The house, too.

(Update: No one's got it yet. Here's another room:)

(Uppity update: Andy gets it.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Future Of The Internet Is A Blackboard

(Photo from AfriGadget)

I don't write a blog. I hate the word. I sorta hate the concept, really.

I'm not sure what I'm doing. I was doing it before I knew there was a blogosphere. I liked the interface and jumped at it when I saw it. I write essays, I guess.

I thought it would be a new, interesting and destabilizing force in publishing. It would sort of democratize things. Everyone had a foot in the Internet door at birth all of a sudden.

It didn't work out like I figured. It certainly has upset the applecart of the monolithic media. The newspapers are drowning in front of our eyes. There's a reason for that that not many people understand.

It's true that the Intertunnel is killing print, but it's suicide, not homicide. The newspapers are not doing the only thing that will make them indispensable to the public, and so they are dying.

The news in the newspaper, and broadcast TV news, was just the come-on for the true reason the proprietors of those institutions existed. They got all the manna you could cadge out of holding information hostage so they could get their opinion higher up the totem pole of public discourse than anyone else.

I don't like seeing the glee among many observers that accompanies the daily layoffs in the newsrooms of the papers. These are real people, most not very wealthy, and their lives are wrecked because the owners of the paper don't care if they are the equivalent of Martin Bormann in the bunker -- so enthusiastic about the proximity to, and the effect on, the exercise of real power that they don't care that in a little while they'll have to bite the cyanide ampule themselves. Let's have a care for those mowed down that don't have a triple-barrelled name and a trustfund, shall we?

The New York Times sells their building and their jet and lay off thousands who are just doing their job, but they pay hundreds of thousands -- millions -- to keep the Op-Ed page going, and the bigshot managers in caviar at their Long Island Gold Coast getaways.

All I can get on the Internet is opinion. It's an enormous sea of opinion. Everyone is doing for free what Maureen Dowd wants to earn a phone number for. That can't last. But they'll sacrifice the entire news operation on the altar of opinion to keep it going to the bitter end

The democratization of opinion would tell a normal person in a position of authority at a newspaper to abandon opinion and put factual information first, last, and always in the paper. And maybe not print it, just offer it in pixels. They refuse to do it, because of the Martin Bormann syndrome they've got. They'll fire everyone but never give an inch, because it's not exciting enough for them to be useful; they want to matter, and disproportionately so.

This man is the future of information:

A man with a chalkboard in Liberia is smarter than Pinch Sulzberger.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Whose House? Ocho

Hint, sorta: His name is Tom.

(Update: I thought this one would be easy. Shows you what I know. Here's the back of the manse:)

Not Nez Perce. Wore a pince nez, though.

(up-update: Tom L has it in the comments. Tom wins Two Intarnets!)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Def Star

Oh, you average pop star. You think you're a big deal. You're not a big deal. Solomon Burke is a big deal.

It's true you've got minimum wage flunkies to sort your M&Ms by color. But until you get a throne, a harpist, and Jools Holland, you're JAG, baby.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Wood Butcher Likies

My job is subtle, besides the bashing and chopping and whatnot.

Furniture is like architecture. It's not a totally utilitarian project, but it it better be, some, at least. And as anyone that's sat on one of Frank Lloyd Wright's chairs can tell you: art ain't enough when your backside's involved.

I use the three-legged stool example, taken from Vitruvius, to explain the constraints on what I'm doing. Furniture, like architecture, requires Commodity, Firmness, and Delight to succeed. Without any leg of the stool, you topple over. Very few items get all three right, as very few even try for all three, never mind succeed. In general, it's wise not to get too outlandish until you know what you're doing. Even then, beware. You don't want any of the legs to be any shorter than the others, either.

Sometimes I get the urge for pure creation of some sort, like any pretentious jerk would. There is no time and I am not young and the children need shoes. If your gaze wanders up from the trench, you can see the sun sometimes. Some people are making interesting things to look at in this world.

The Brotron Gallery made me smile today. Mundane things made beautiful, edgy, and interesting. It's as menacing as a chrome John Lee Hooker song, too.

It's an interesting world. Let's go places and make things!

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Crepusculo awakes and wants his Aurora to press her gentle lips on his brow once again. But Aurora has drifted down to the hearth already. I steal him like a zingaro.

There cannot be that many steps. It's not possible to count them. There's little frantic flamadiddles and insistent paradiddles and little kneeslapping sounds concatenated. We sleep in nests arranged like the lobes of a tangerine. I could cover the wooden ground in a few languid lopes and still there it is.

Daddy, are you talking with your eyes closed?

There are no curtains. We let what little sun we can put up a stump right in. It tells us all we need to know about the respiration of the Earth. Many darken their lives and then put the glowing clock right there to yell at them what the world is trying to whisper around the edges of the shade.

I pray every day to let Crepusculo and Aurora come on little footie feet one more time. I'll whisper it one last time with my one last breath.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Whose House? Siete

Update: Excellent surmises in the comments. Not correct, though. Additional picture clue:

(Up-Update: Teresa got it in the comments. Two Free Internets for Teresa! Here's the back of the old shack:)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Naomh Padraig Timeline 2009

St. Patrick's Day at 5 pm:

St. Patrick's Day at midnight:

Naomh Padraig's Day 2009

Her Uncles had found her alone, a little girl sitting quietly in her family home in the county of Mayo. For the Irish, the famine was just the last straw; they had a litany of Cromwell's leftover reasons to leave anyway. And so they left in their thousands. Sinead O'Leary was no different; first to Liverpool, then to Canada, on to Boston. When she finally moved to New York City, now a grown woman and married, she rechristened it New Cork, and no-one she knew dared disagree. She made it so.

She simply refused to remember anything unpleasant, and seemed to forget nothing else. She regaled her children and grandchildren with stories of Cuchulain, and Medb, and faeries and wee people, Naomh Padraig and his clovers and snakes; a living encyclopedia of fun and fantasy.

She saved what little money came her way, and she bought and sold things. Her long lost relatives would send her this and that from the Auld Sod, and she'd sell them to Yankees who collected such as her family had, as if the Irish were as exotic as Babylonians, not right across the Irish Sea from their own forefathers.

One fine spring morning, she opened a bible box her uncle had sent her. Inside, sheepskin glowed with monastic filigree. She knew the Lord's word was on those Latin pages. Oh yes, she knew. She was wise enough to know also: There was a devil of a ransom in it from a collector too. And when a trim woman appeared at her door, sent by her employer, the Colossus of Finance, to buy it for that mausoleum of manuscripts he was constantly stoking on Fifth Avenue, Sinead was ready. He wanted it like the damned wanted icewater. Sinead knew how long to hold out before acquiescing.

Into real estate the money went. Then her son invested it for her in the stock market. Soon the simple woman, who still retatted her own lace when it frayed, was rich. She always was, if you asked her, even though her Uncles could have told you they had found her alone in that stone cottage, all those years ago, because her parents were dead and gone right outside the door, their mouths green from trying to eat grass when the potatoes failed.

She was very old when that awful day christened "Black Friday" took her fortune, just like the famine had taken her family. Her son sat with her on the simple wooden settee she still favored, like a pew in her own church. "It has St Patrick's clover in it, and to put a cushion on it would be extravagance itself!"

He gently told her that he had lost her money, over a million dollars, in one afternoon.

"What a blessing!" she said.

Her son, now grown grey himself, and ruined along with his mother, couldn't comprehend.

"How kind of the Lord to wait until I could afford to lose a million dollars. Imagine what a blow it would have been to lose such a sum when I was poor!"

Her son burst out laughing. And he knew then, that his beloved mother was placed on this earth for a reason. And they would rise again. Surely.

"Besides," she said, "I have three more Bible Boxes"

Sinead O'Leary's Bench at Sippican Cottage Furniture

(Reader and commenter Ruth Anne Adams will no doubt spot her revision of this tale. The detail's the thing in such matters)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Politics, As Seen From The Workshop

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public man, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

William Butler Yeats
An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

Saturday, March 14, 2009

You're Not Nobody If Mark Twain Was Your Best Man

Frank Millet. You've never heard of him.

He's my dead neighbor, over in Mattapoisett. They thought enough of him to bronze him up and nail him on, but he's kind of obscure, I guess.

Who's obscure? We all are, really. Quick, who was FDR's second vice president? Never mind who was the Secretary of War under James Knox Polk. America added the entire southwest to the US map after a war he directed. Kind of an important guy. It'll take you a couple of minutes, even with Google helping you, to get his name.

So we all scratch our name, one way or another, on the cave wall of life, and puff out our chest if we manage to get more prominent than Hulk Hogan's daughter. We rage against death and time.

Frank Millet has canvasses you'd walk right by hanging in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston:

You could find something interesting by him in Detroit:

Reading the Story of Oenone. I suppose I could be a wise guy and say, quick, who the hell was Oenone? But we're down this rabbit hole far enough already. Any Oenonephiles out there? Didn't think so. She was Paris of Troy's first wife. Kind of a big deal.

Potentates pinned medals on his chest. John Singer Sargent was his friend, and used Millet's daughter as a model. He was published in all sorts of prominent publications. I've stood under his murals in the Trinity Church in Copley Square in Boston and never knew they were his.

So we bump along and try to make our mark, or don't try and do it anyway. If you're of a metaphysical mind, you know even the ones born without breath in them matter somehow. When Mark Twain is the best man at your wedding, you're someone, I guess.

It's said that the last memory of the man is of him handing children into the lifeboats on the Titanic.

Oh, no, Mr. Millet, you're not nobody.

Friday, March 13, 2009

If You Have To Ask, You're Not Qualified

You can skip the "interview" after. Dave never did know what to say to any musician.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Could You Speak To These Men?

Idaho, 1872.

If you fancy yourself a history buff, perhaps you'd give it a go, but people used to be more matter-of-fact about such things. Maybe you'd start talking about the guns and the hunting, but they'd probably wonder why you'd bring up something so mundane. Might as well talk to a mermaid about water.

You're educated if you're reading this, but what do you know, really? These men learned the 3 Rs painstakingly for a short time, and then had to get on with life. But if they had a mind to read things, they generally were very serious things, things that make today's best seller list look like comic books. Oops. I mean "graphic novels."

Maybe you'd sit by the fire and they'd ask you about Dante Alighieri, or Emerson, or Pope, or Swift. Sir Walter Scott was lightweight reading then. If you got to quoting Shakespeare, are you sure you could keep up? Never mind the Bible. You've got no shot there. And telling a joke? They were accustomed to hearing a story, a real fleshed out anecedote, told in a humorous and compelling way. They listened to Artemus Ward. I wouldn't try any King of Queens on them if I were you.

Mark Twain could talk to those sorts of men, and did. He was pretty smart. Could you?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Life Magazine Was Almost As Good As National Geographic

If you're fond of sand dunes and salty air
Quaint little villages here and there
You're sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod

If you like the taste of a lobster stew
Served by a window with an ocean view
You're sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod

Winding roads that seem to beckon you
Miles of green beneath a sky of blue
Church bells chimin' on a Sunday morn
Remind you of the town where you were born

If you spend an evening you'll want to stay
Watching the moonlight on Cape Cod Bay
You're sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod

If you spend an evening you'll want to stay
Watching the moonlight on Cape Cod Bay
You're sure to fall in love
With old Cape Cod

Monday, March 09, 2009

Management 101 (From 2006)

I'm not in the advice business. I'm willing to talk about what I'm doing. That's different.

I have no formal business training. I'm not sure it matters much. It would be nice if they could train you to be able to run something effectively right out of the gate, but it seems unlikely. All the advice I got from business educated persons while running businesses wasn't just worthless, it was actively bad.

It may be because I've always been in the construction industry, more or less. It's different in many respects from other industries. When I went to college, there was no such thing as Construction Management. It was a blue collar profession right to the top.

I read Adam Smith and F. A. Hayek to get the big picture. I have no use for Keynesians or Marxists. Keynes says bang on the side of the TV to get a good picture. Marx says steal the TV, and then break it so no one can watch it. Then we'll all be happy. The world doesn't work that way. As far as getting the small picture, I just paid attention. I've learned some harsh lessons along the way, but never as bad as educated persons did alongside me. I've seen some colossal errors made due to hubris. I just plug away, generally. I've always made the most money doing things most everyone thought were crazy when I began. I could fit it on one page in pencil and all the numbers added up. That kind of crazy.

I have absolutely no use for show-biz management. Lee Iacocca and Donald Trump and all those guys with the laser pointers and the Rah Rah speech couldn't find their ass with a map and flashlight in the real world. They either build houses of cards and sell them before the wind blows, or allow you to point a camera at them while they run things into the ground for amusement. That's why they're telling you how to do it at $450.00 a ticket in a seminar. It beats working.

When I was working at a large commercial construction company, every once in a while, I'd be sitting in a meeting room with a fat sheath of figures of doubtful accuracy and utility, pressed into my hand by some inkstained wretch who had the BIG ANSWER. Move things from column A to column H, and all would be well. Institute Protocol F to counter Bad Behavior M and we'll lay in the clover. Make Target X and Bank C will give us a toaster.

"You do realize that something happens outside of this building, don't you?" I'd ask.

These gentlemen thought that the building of large and complicated things out in the landscape from Canada to Florida and Martha's Vineyard to Sausalito existed simply to give them figures to Rubik around on their desktop. They did not realize that they existed to support the actual operation. They thought they were the actual operation. Everyone in the government makes this same mistake, 25 hours a day, 11 days a week, by the way. A quarter of a billion dollars was going through that business a year. Very few of my colleagues had ever seen one bit of it generated.

They ran that place into the ground.

I was a middle manager. I helped make them a lot of money while everyone else lost it by the bushel. They hired consultants to restructure, and the consultants were instructed to ask me how I did it. I sat in front of them and got the same feeling an ugly puppy must get when the vivisectionist visits the dog pound. Some things are not amenable to being pulled apart for inspection. The components only work when they are working together.

I told them I didn't do anything. I let other people do it. I told them that when the customers called, we always answered the phone, and asked them what they wanted. I told the estimators to accurately determine what it would cost us to perform the required work. I submitted the bids on time and told the customer I wanted the job. If they said someone else was cheaper I instructed them to hire them, and to please keep us in mind for the future. I kept accurate track of how we were doing, and made sure we charged for all the work we performed. And I directed that we deliver the jobs on-time no matter what. When I ran out of one kind of work, I looked for work that was similar to the kind we already knew how to do. I hired good people and I trusted them, while expecting a lot from them.

That was it. They seemed disappointed. They were looking for a slogan of some sort, I think. They promoted me, and I left.

I'm trying every day to make the thing I made yesterday, only better. Or faster. Better and faster is even better. If I can't make money at it, I am disinterested in giving a congressman $1000 to get a set-aside for me, or a law passed against my competition. I'll do something else. The market is wise because the market is everybody's wisdom together. The market will tell me what to do. The customers tell me what to do. I listen imperfectly, because I am imperfect, but I get it eventually. I'm going too slow, and doing a poor job, but it's always getting better.

I show up every day, and work as hard and as smart as I can. I've been told that this pays off in the long run.

Who told me that? Why, everyone that has nothing to do with the government, a university, or a newspaper or television, that's who.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

When Driving Fast Was Cool (2007)

I'm old enough to remember when driving fast was cool.

I came after the American Graffiti era, of course; but when I saw the American Graffiti movie in the theater, none of it was strange to me. We'd tinker with our elderly American cars, and occasionally we'd race. We lived in podunk. We raced right on the spur of the superhighway that was just finished that started noplace and ended nowhere. At night you could do any damn thing on that road. The police didn't even bother to go there.

I still remember the sort of sinking feeling we got the first time we opened up a car hood and saw this sort of metal octopus atop the engine block. No more tweaking the points and condenser, tinkering with the carburetor, nothing. It was all idiot stickers and towel bar air dams on ricers after that.

Racing, real racing, made a kind of sense then too. It's like its contemporary, country music. Neither one is worth a crap now, because they are just a shiny plastic imitation of the chrome and dirt thing they replaced. They are both so popular that no one goes there any more. No one like me, anyway.

With racing, it ended, like so many things, when too much was achieved. At first, there was an interesting race to innovate the technical aspects of the car and marry it to a maniac driver that had been running moonshine ten minutes before. Now third generation metrosexuals in footie pajamas covered with mercenary scout patches drive cars that are engineered to make sure they don't go too fast. Too fast? There's no such thing. Not one of them could beat me home on Friday night after work. Country music died when it forgot what the hell country the "Country" was referring to. And no, I'm not "Ready For Some Football," you penthouse hayseed.

A car is just a box to ride around in now. It has the vibe of a European tram, if it has a vibe at all. I don't even understand the need for "cars" anymore. A two door car is a joke to me now. A vehicle is a utilitarian device. People talk with disdain about "SUVs" as if they're wasteful or something. They're just station wagons. At least they function as what they are, a big cart to haul people and things in. What's a Pontiac Sunfire, exactly? And everyday cars are all different brands of ugly, more or less. Face facts. A F-150 Lightning pick-up truck will blow the doors off a sports car. The speed limit is 65. What's it all for?

You could make a whole bowl of cereal if you went through the backseat cushions of our little wagon, and you could fit that wagon inside my truck. Our vehicles are there to do things. Not be things. Do things. How can they hope to capture your imagination? Every third song on the radio then was about a car. Every third song on the radio now is ... more than I'd care to listen to. We traded Wolfman Jack for Rush Limbaugh.

Cars? I remember fondly when we wondered only what was possible. And what we could get away with. It's over. Face it.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Another Sip Of Dad's Beer

(2007) It's grey and gloomy here. And I'm stuck in the concrete workshop anyway. But the Red Sox game will be on the radio to pass the time. I don't care if they win or lose, really. Never much did. In my youth only little children and the odd addled adult would plaster their lives with the memorabilia of an athletic team. Baseball cards and autographs were fun, and so: worthless. Valuable and fun? Can't be done. Choose one.

My mind drifts back to the game wafting out of the crummy AM transistor radio on a lazy summer afternoon while my father mows the nasty brown patch of grass he kept in front of our house. We sit occasionally for a short moment in the shade of the big pine together on cheap lawnchairs made from aluminum tubing and nasty fibrous strapping that cut into your legs.

Ken Coleman's voice would wash over us, and the polyglot names of each of the batters would come in their turn, and Dad would wordlessly give me a sip of his beer right from the cold, steel can.

Hi, neighbor; have a 'gansett.

I wonder if my own son will ever remember anything so fondly about me as that.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Buddy and Smoky

Pop knew everybody. Didn't have a dime and took me everywhere. We'd pull up to the Garden parking lot in our old beater. No hope. It was full when I was born, and now I'm in grammar school. I cringed until the face leans out of the booth and it's his nephew in there. Right over there, Uncle Buddy. Where the players park.

You couldn't buy a ticket with money. The Garden would thrum with excitement and no one would miss it for filthy lucre. Pop had four. Conjured them like a wizard at work because the boss was already wearing white shoes for the season and wouldn't sweat in a seat in that hellhole when he could be on the Vineyard. Pop says he'll sit behind the pole and stare at the big rusty rivets but I'd always end up there because I fit.

Uncle Smoky would come and puff his tiparillos and jape with Dad and I was in the company of men and stood in awe like at the foot of marble Lincolns.

There was weather inside there. Cumulus clouds of smoke would meet the smog from the drunken exhalations and clash with the cold front coming up from Bobby Orr's ice under the rickety parquet wood floor.

Then we'd stand and the floor was lost to me, nothing but the boles of men in an endless forest swaying in the breeze of excitement.

I'd kill ten innocent men to go back there for ten minutes.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Amplitude Modification 2

The naugahyde was cool against your cheek. I remember that.

Driving back from Roxbury. Rambling along the Charles on Storrow. The car pitched and yawed on its butt-sprung suspension and the spidered pavement . You could reach down and lift the floor mat and see the asphalt roll by through the rusty pinholes in the floor, where the road salt had done its work, and worked overtime, too.

Pop was operatin'. He was like a sub commander. Steering through shoals with vision obscured. Our moist breath clouded the windshield. The defroster exhaled on the windshield like the dying animal it was. Pop wiped the fog away with his hanky, and pressed on.

Little brother was already asleep on the seat next to you. Mom packed the blankets and pillow around him to hold him on the seat. I bivouacked on the rest, and tried to align my face on the part where the cushion wasn't split from a thousand butts. The edge of the rip would cut your face and the foam would tickle you.

The scene was framed, imperfectly, through the lens of the side window. Left to right, the world ran past. The drops of condensation coalesced on the fogged window's screen, ran down, and revealed the Cambridge shore through the mist. Low-watt Christmas everywhere. The enormous billboards shrunk by distance and time and poverty to faraway smears of luminous color with winking neon and the stink of death on their topics. FULLER OLDS. NECCO. KASANOF'S. The window made them into a kaleidoscope.

The useless wipers went scrreee-BAP, scrreee-BAP over and over, and Pop would fiddle with everything to no effect and keep going. Mom would look out the window and over her shoulder and her thoughts were her own. The Christmas presents from doting Aunts who asked you over and over "Which one are you?" would shift and tumble over in the trunk an inch behind my head when we got to the huge sign that said REVERSE CURVE -- the one that caught Pop by surprise every time even though he was born a brisk walk from it.

There was sometimes a hand free to twist the huge, mostly useless dial on the radio. Snap, Crackle, Pop, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner came out of that thing. At night the big stations like BeeZee would bleed all over the place, and bizarre incursions of French from Canada would appear, unwonted, fight for primacy like radio chimeras, then disappear as Pop searched again for whatever you could catch and hold.

Papa Was A Rollin' Stone...

We rolled on into the night.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

My Father Asks For Nothing

(2006:)My father asks me for nothing, really. Every three months or so, I take him to his doctor, who pokes about him wondering what keeps him animated, and that's about it. He's grown frail, and has discovered the joys of "Not Going." It takes a lot to get him to leave the comfort and safety of his house. I was really surprised when he called me on Saturday, because he asked me to take him somewhere.

My father was a ball gunner on a B-24J Liberator bomber in the Pacific during WW2. He rarely spoke about that. My father and his confreres considered themselves part of a thing greater than the sum of their parts in it --or so it seems to me -- and more or less did what was expected of them as a sort of unpleasant chore, kept themselves safe as much as was practicable, amused themselves when possible, and got back to being regular people as soon as they could.

As far as how practicable it was to keep safe hanging below a plane filled with four hundred pound bombs with nothing but the ocean beneath you to bore you and Japanese Zeros shooting at you to keep you interested in the trip, you can draw your own conclusions.

My father said that the last B-24 in flying condition was going to be at a little airshow nearby, and he wanted to go see it. Would I take him?

As I said, my father is very frail. His heart is big but not useful. His mind is sharp but not overused now. It takes quite a bit of effort for him to get down the hall and into a car. And there was nothing I could do to keep him from trying to climb in that plane when we got there.

I didn't try, actually; I just was sort of amazed, and wondered how I could help him. You entered the plane on a rickety jump ladder in the tail, walked through the fuselage filled with wooden ammo boxes and gun emplacemements, climbed around the retracted ball that was his home for forty missions, and then had to walk on a catwalk less than a foot wide between the bomb racks to get to the cockpit. All this for a man who needs a walker.

We went along the side of the plane, creeping along at the pace my father goes, my father assiduously avoiding walking between the fuselage and the props -- a habit sixty years old and more -- and he saw his chance. He ducked down and crept into the bomb bay.

Down came the hands. No one needed to be told who that man was, or why he was there. Everyone behind paused to wait patiently and respectfully, and everyone within reach helped me pick that old, frail, brave man up to look on the nuts and bolts of that totem of his distant life. And they thanked him, and they asked him questions, and marveled at him. A Brigadier General and a sailor and a J.A.G. and Vietnam vets by the handful pressed his hand for the piquant residue of that life that might be on it.

He just looked for one familiar face that he had not brought with him, but there were none.

My father asks for nothing.

(2009: My father passed away on Sunday)

Monday, March 02, 2009

Butter And Egg Man

Pa was dead, that much was for sure.

Pa was a grand man. When I was small fry, I'd poke my finger in the ratty holes of his tweed coat.

"I'm always watchin' over you, buddy. Even my elbow is looking at you. Never forget that."

Pa was going to be a big butter and egg man, he always told us. "We've nothing but the meat from the shin of a sparrow today, but tomorrow, we'll have the cream."

Beltaine didn't come early enough for pa. He was buried in his coat; no flowers. Ma said he had the dark eye, that's why she cared for him. Now his eye was closed, as the box would be. His elbow was still looking at me.

Ma got hard. There were a lot of us. She was like Quincy granite after that. She'd never sing the songs any more. No, that's not right. I'd hear her clatter in the sink when she thought we were asleep, and murmur while the cold tap ran over the plates:
I want my butter and egg man
From way out in the west
'cause I'm getting tired of working all day
I want someone that wants me to play
Pretty clothes have never been mine
But if my dream comes true
The sun is going to shine
When I find my butter and egg man

I sold the papers in the traffic. A man, with a real topper, pressed the coin in my hand. "Give me The Globe, you little arab."

My face was red with the warp spasm. I gave him the paper. His companion, with a topper too, gave me the bun he was eating. "You need this more than I do, I expect." They laughed together and drifted off the curb into the street.

I threw it at them.

I'm a butter and egg man now.