Thursday, October 31, 2013

Living The Potemkin Life

[Thanks to my friend Andy for sending this video along]

Love, love, love that guy's speech. That Pepperidge Farm accent is actually getting pretty rare in Maine. I live in western Maine, and you hardly ever hear it around here. This delightful fellow is in Deer Isle, about two or three hours dead east of here, right on the Maine coast. Western Maine isn't Yankee. It's more continental polyglot than Albion. People have a distinctive twang here, but it's more like a frostback NASCAR lilt than ayup.

The Intertunnel loves stuff like this. They treat the discovery of such work online as akin to unsealing Tutankhamen's tomb. While I've never done it myself, I've seen it done lots of times. Landscapers for tony houses in Massachusetts routinely split granite in this fashion to make outdoor steps while I was working alongside them doing something else. Feathers and wedges. Of course, there's one gigantic bit of handwaving involved with the video. Someone's got to drill those holes, and drilling holes in granite is no picnic.  Most use an air hammer. The wedge and feather work is the easy part, if more fun to film.

I was told that our colonial ancestors used to split rock in quarries by drilling holes in a line, which must have been very hard work indeed, then filling the holes with water and waiting for the winter's hard freeze to expand the ice in the holes and crack the block loose. Most heavy stuff out in the landscape, prior to the internal combustion engine, anyway, was moved in the winter on sledges. Loggers like working in the winter because it's easier to drag big boles over frozen ground with no puckerbrush around.

This fellow and his wife(?) run a hostel in Deer Isle. Of course it's an eco-hostel, because moral preening adds oodles of enjoyment to any Potemkin vacation. I find such quirky people interesting and generally enjoyable, and people have been known to lump my family in with such quirkies, which is all right by me; I just have no appetite for the intellectual horsehockey necessary to think that subsistence farming is "ecologically" less intrusive than a two bedroom ranch filled with people that buy beefsteak tomatos at the Stop &Shop. New England, and especially Maine, is now empty, and that emptiness has been filled in with lots of trees, not pavement, because subsistence farming for everyone was shot dead a long time ago, and there was no longer a need to flatten the entire landscape to plant a few wan acres of the barely edible, looked after by people one hard winter from destruction.

If you do things for yourself, Intertunnel viewers are quick to praise it, generally, unless it's self-defense, of course; but there's a limit to what's sensible, or even possible to do on your own, and you rub up against that limit pretty fast. It's ridiculous to poop in a hole in the ground with a solar panel on the roof over your head and talk about sustainability. Solar panels aren't made in a shed, and you don't swap last fall's rhubarb crop for them. Your hammer came from Home Depot, not a forge in the back yard. And money made right next to a smokestack and spent with you out in the landscape is still the same kind of money.

They're interesting people, and backbreaking work is fun -- if you're visiting. Why can't people leave it like that?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Unorganized Hancock Makes Videos, Like Humans Do

Your favorite unorganized band, Unorganized Hancock, is back and better'n ever, with their gloss on Like Humans Do by David Byrne.

David Byrne is an interesting fellow. He's part of a very fertile batch of artists, musicians, authors, actors, and assorted ne'er-do-wells that emerged from The Rhode Island School of Design back in the late sixties and seventies, which also includes two other members of the Talking Heads, Charles Rocket, David Macauley, Martin Mull -- and my older brother, who shares the ten-year-old drummer's name, and who gives the big one music lessons on Skype in all his spare time, a non-existent thing if there ever was one. He tried to teach me how to play thirty years ago, but I'm lazy and discovered you could get gigs if you just owned a bass, so not much of it did me any good. He's having more luck banging glissandos and fermatas and solfeggios, which are all various kinds of pasta, I think, into The Heir's head.

If you'd like to throw those minstrel boys a coin, there's a PayPal button in the right hand column. The boys play live, and record, using equipment we were able to purchase for them because of the generosity of my readers. Many thanks! Generosity: it's what humans do, or at least the ones I've met on the Intertunnel.

[Update: Wow, Charles E. from New Mexico made a generous donation to the boys, and suggested they might like to purchase Nehru jackets with the loot. Sage advice, if you ask me, but the boys will probably waste the money on a digital input/output signal processor instead. Jeez, kids these days. No sense of style. Many thanks!]

[Up-Update: Wow again. Melissa K. from Tejas is very generous, and we all thank her for it. They should make her the mayor of Texas. I'd vote for her twice]

[Upper-Update: Kathleen M. from Connecticut restores my faith in humanity -- not one iota less than that]

Sunday, October 27, 2013

There's Always A New Trend

Bossa Nova means "new trend" in Portuguese. Born in the fifties, made big in the sixties, it took a Brazilian beach samba vibe, mashed it with smooth jazz, and became a new trend indeed.

If you hear it in the elevator now, you might think The Girl from Ipanema is trite. But then again, things have to become more or less universal to become trite. If you've a mind to, you can transport yourself to the time and place and circumstances of the ears hanging by the transistor radios and wonder what it would be like to hear Astrud Gilberto's whisper and Stan Getz' lounge saxophone for the first time. There was nothing like it. Compare it to the blattering roar of big bands, still abroad in the land from their heyday in the forties.

I'm not sure what the new trend is right now. I don't try to keep up as much as if I was still performing, or even listening to popular records. But there's got to be something out there. There always is. Maybe my children will invent it.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Beware Justin Gotta

[Editor's Note: first offered eight years ago. It got edited heavily, but there's still some ancient references in there]
[Author's Note: I've been doing this for eight years? Either I deserve a medal, or the readers do. There is no editor]

Who's Justin Gotta, you ask? Why, he's your consultant for house design and decorating, work, home life, play, finances, politics, childrearing…

Maybe I should explain.

I've discovered a rule of thumb that has carried me through my life without disappointment for many years. I came to two realizations by observing my housing customers' as well as my employees' behavior. Only later did it occur to me that it applied to almost any stripe of life. Here it is:

Part 1: When the customer uses the word just in a sentence, you’re about to hear something dumb.

Example: Why don’t you just build the second floor first, we have the lumber for that, and slip the first floor under it later? Why can’t we just do that?

Or: Why can’t we just make the house two thousand square feet bigger for no money?

Part 2: When an employee uses the words I gotta in a sentence, it’s going to be followed by something stupid, or a lie -- generally both.

Example: I can’t work today because I gotta ...

There's no need to bother listening to that sentence, because it really doesn’t matter what follows, you don't want to hear it.

On the one hand, I've had employees come to me and ask permission to leave work fifteen minutes early on Friday afternoon so they could go to chemotherapy. They scheduled their treatments on Fridays as late in the afternoon as possible, so they could recover in time for work on Monday.

People like that never use the words "I gotta."

The "I gotta" is a sort of a vestigal verbal tail, left over from the teen years, an attempt to weasel out of your obligations or get treatment you don’t deserve by appealing to a goldbricking, layabout deus ex machina, an overriding imaginary obligation that makes further discussion or disputation impossible.

"But I told you I gotta have Wednesday off! Didn’t you hear me? I gotta! It’s not like I have a choice in the matter; I gotta pick up my brother and go to the casino and get loaded and then I gotta have another day off in a couple weeks to go to court for missing my child support payments that I blew at the racetrack on the way home from the casino and the barroom. I just gotta."

Keeping a watchful eye out for those two terms has served me in good stead lo these many years. And I always hope to give as good as I get, so I’m careful to beware of them lest they appear in my own sentences.

Customers, beware the just and gottas on your own end, as well. Like an accusing index finger, the just and gottas generally have a malefactor on both ends of them.

If you hear: “We were going to work at your house this week but we gotta…”

Oh no. We gotta. The "we gotta" is an especially virulent form of the virus, and has been known to wipe out entire work weeks.

"Can’t you just pay us in advance? Because we gotta... "

This is the equivalent of the plague sweeping a medieval town. If you spot the dreaded we gotta, in the same sentence, or egads, in the same prepositional phrase as can’t you just?, abandon all hope. There is nothing left for you but prayer.

I began to notice that the rule applied to everything in life, not just work. It's as close to the Golden Rule as I’ve ever gotten, and I'm no philosopher. Think about it.

It's charming to remember a time when that jugeared martian from Texas, Ross Perot, was considered a legitimate presidential candidate, and his whole party platform consisted of saying why can’t we just about everything. Why can't we just tell those Palestinians and Jews to knock it off? Why can’t we just raise the gas tax fifty cents? Why can’t we just run the federal government out of a Motel 6 in Austin?

And so forth. It's a testament to the attraction of "just" and "gotta" that he got as far as he did, and likewise a testament to the good sense of the electorate who finally realized he's just a cross between your boss asking you don't you just work on Christmas eve for free, and your plumber telling you he can’t come for two days, to make your finless brown trout disappear, because he's gotta wax his boat.

And so, gentle reader, remember: when someone says: Why don’t you Just Do It, tell them it's unlikely you'll just become a two hundred and seventy pound mass of muscle who runs as fast as a sprinter by buying shoes that look like moonboots. When you hear: Why don’t we just get five gay men to decorate our shabby apartment on television, or: I gotta talk to the president again and dictate American foreign policy from a ditch by the side of the road, why can’t we just... caution is called for.

Beware Justin Gotta.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

We're Winning The Desultory Race

We went for a walk by the seaside by mistake. Just my wife and me. The sun tried to climb its ladder to its summertime nest, but it's weary now and falls a few rungs short. It hangs lower in the sky, and you can take the full measure of its power without worrying that you'll get too much. You'll dream of too much for the next six months.

The road dipped and swelled and swayed back and forth along the wide green pastures that rolled on down to the granite border of the surf. Walking along the margin between pavement and grass, you could see that a pasture isn't a carpet; it's more like clumps of grass, elbowing each other for room. A pasture is not a lawn. It was only shin high, but it looked like it could swallow you as easily as the surf. There were barns, well cared for, dotted here and there along the route. You could tell they'd been there forever. Really old barns don't have any windows. Their cedar shingles, gone silver with a fringe of black, were ready to shrug off another winter's weather, and many more after that.

The ocean's different here than the one I remember from my childhood. Cape Cod has flat patches of sand, slowly forming and reforming themselves into one hillock after another, sprinkled here and there with beach roses and dune grass. Someone surprised me once and told me that the roses, rosa rugosa, didn't belong there and are considered an invasive species; but so am I, and took no offense. Here in Maine, the water wears a stone belt, and the big pines and spruces often creep right down and lord over the margin between earth and sea and sky.

Oh, yes -- the mistake. We had parked a long hike from our target, and egged on by a local man that likely thinks the moon can't be more'n ten miles from here, we'd forgone a chance for a shuttle and we'd walked it to our destination. Half our party decided to wait and return with the bus ferrying people to and fro, and we decided to hoof it back. We made it into a desultory race.

We are seldom alone. There is no place to go without our children. But there we were, with nothing but the sun in the sky and the endless green pillows in the fields rolling down to the sea. We talked little about next to nothing, and didn't hurry, like contented diners with a cup of coffee going cool in front of them, unwilling to yield their table. People long married don't talk like they're on a date when they're alone, thank God. There's no need to prattle on. It's too late to try to impress anyone. No one can be impressed with you after they've heard you snore. We were alone, and together, and the world was a jolly place for the three hundred and fifty miles or so that fellow thinks a mile is.

We won our little race, going away, and spread a blanket on the grass and sunned ourselves for a little while, my head in her lap, with twenty-three years of marriage arrayed behind us like a chorus to murmur their assent.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

I Have A Headache So You Get A Rerun From 2008. Deal With It

I heard the original version of Louie Louie the other day. It's the best.

The Kingsmen are associated with the song, but they were just carpetbaggers. Richard Berry was the progenitor. I like the relaxed, vaguely Caribbean sound of the first version.

I never understood why almost everybody couldn't decipher the lyrics to the song, and made up all sorts of wild tales about what was being said, as I'd heard the words coming completely intelligibly out of Richard Berry's mouth in the first place.

I'm trying to remember, but I think the Richard Berry version is in the soundtrack of Animal House somewhere. [Update: It isn't. But they used it on Northern Exposure once] I played party music for money for a bunch of years, and there was a progression of cultural totems for the milieu. I always had the most fun in the "Otis Day and the Knights" kinda thing. I see the boneless MADD-supervised PC fun college-aged kids are allowed to have now, and I weep for them a bit. They need to rediscover their inner Elvis; a kind of rude, harmless infantilism. 1960 beats 1968, every time, if you hipsters are looking for a cool vibe to mine.

One of the most disconcerting moments of my entire life involved Louie Louie. I may have performed that song more than the Kingsmen ever did. Thousands of times. It was just another day at work to hear it or play it. All songs like that become a sort of aural wallpaper that you don't notice much any more because you've been in that room so many times. I woke up late in the morning after playing some job that lasted until 2 AM. I worked all day in construction and all night in music trying to get by, and it lent an air of befuddlement to my life. A sleepy automaton vibe. The clock radio started beating me about the head, cajoling me to get back at it. I'm laying there in a half stupor, trying to remember what the hell day it was, and all I can think of is: That version of Louie Louie coming out of the radio is the worst version ever; who the hell is that? They should be horsewhipped.

As I fumbled for the off button, I realized it was a demo tape that someone had sent to the radio station, and I was playing on it.

Monday, October 21, 2013

I Get Around: Beijing

Oh God oh God oh God not Pomp and Circumstance. I'm begging you, no Pomp and Circumstance. I played that goddamned execrable piece of merde eleventy-billion times, and on the trombone, to add insult to lip injury. Please please please please don't ever make me play Pomp and Circumstance ever again, ever, hear it ever again, read its title, or even see little jots and tittles that look vaguely like the sheet music for Pomp and Circumstance.

I can picture it now, all those pimply adolescents marchin' down the aisles between the battered metal folding chairs to get their blank High School diplomas because the real ones aren't printed yet and four of the kids didn't really graduate and have to go to summer school. They're all fumbling around with that blasted tassel appended to that shabby mortarboard they're renting -- every single one, while we have to go 'round again with the blattering Elgar ONE MORE TIME.

I want to drive to England and find Sir Edward Elgar and harm his shrubs and sneer at his garden gnomes and discomfit his dog and make cutting remarks about the back of his drapes. I want to crank call him from one of those red phone booths and put a hankie over the receiver and ask him if he's got Prince Albert in the can, but for all I know he knows Prince Albert and goes to the Hall with him to conduct Pomp and Circumstance for an audience of deaf people with no taste and he'd say, "Yes, he'll be out in a minute," and then I'd be flummoxed.

Well, at least it's not Ravel. I mean, that guy drinks paint and writes down the effect.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

But The Original's Still The Greatest...

Lawrence Brown moved to Los Angeles and they told him no one named Lawrence Brown was gonna get hired so he named himself after Dobie Gillis, and Sonny Bono got him a gig and he had a hit. Later on he grew the requisite 70s fro and had a bigger one. He's dead now -- as dead as the faux-Motown show he had going on. There's probably a little puddle of cool where he was standing, though, right up to this very day.

Then Ramsay Lewis got ahold of it. Jazz musicians gotta play something. Might as well be that. It's a big cow and he's still milking it, as far as I know. He's really swinging it here, and the snare drum is a metronomic gunshot blast, and the bass player's just toying with it, trying to keep the greezy line reined in, because he wants to stretch out. Then at a minute and a half Ramsay loses his shit and starts playing the sort of stride thing that audiences applaud, but I notice it very shortly sends them on their way to the john or out for smokes. Let's go out for white bread.

Pet Clark's gonna give you the version you need if you think The In Crowd requires perfect diction. She clips her syllables like a German prison camp commandant, and sounds about as cool as Algebra class. There's more brass than a foundry, and they sound like they're all pounding some sort of big, musical nail.

No, we need the absinthe and hashish version. We need the version playing in de Sade's elevator. We need to get an unstructured evening coat with a shawl collar and slink around the pool like a skink. We want mothers to reel in their children when we walk down the sidewalk -- except we don't walk on the sidewalk, ever. We step from the car, over the gutter full of butts and broken glass, to pass through the velvet rope, held aside.

There's a drink on the polished mahogany bar for you, but you're already carrying one. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

How I Became The Most Famous Anonymous Person In Contemporary European Football: I Wrote The Feed The Monkey Joke

So, England's playing Poland in some sort of soccer game or melee or match or tilt or pitched battle or contretemps or whatever they call it over there. At half time, if that's what they call that, the coach reportedly told his players a joke, which appears to have offended the usual people who like to be offended. It's reported in the Mirror, and The Guardian, and on ESPN, and in The Daily Mail, and The Telegraph, and in USA Today. It's featured on many websites and bulletin boards as well. It's everywhere.

I don't know if Roy Hodgson, the the coach of the English national football team, actually used the joke I wrote on April 25th of 2012 verbatim. This blog seems like an obscure place to find something unless you're already looking for it. But I do know that every one of those newspapers I mentioned copied it directly from my Sippican Cottage blogpost, and not one of them offered any attribution, or a link. Here's the text from my blog entry titled Feed The Monkey:

I recall a very bad joke from way back when we were still hurling men up into space, but hadn't quite reached the moon yet:

NASA decided they'd finally send a man up in a capsule after sending only monkeys in the earlier missions. They fire the man and the monkey into space. The intercom crackled, "Monkey, fire the retros." A little later, "Monkey, check the solid fuel supply." Later still, "Monkey, check the life support systems for the man." The astronaut took umbrage and radioed NASA, " When do I get to do something?" NASA replies, " In fifteen minutes, feed the monkey."

Like most things I write on this blog, I wrote that right out of my head. I referred to nothing. The joke in its original form was told to me forty years ago or more. I remembered only the gist of it. In fact, as I remember it, it wasn't as even as good a joke as I wrote it. But the wording of that joke is most assuredly mine own. And another "tell" in the use of that joke, unattributed, is that they didn't call it NASA when they were shooting monkeys into space. Eisenhower organized NASA in 1958. I used the term NASA there because nobody remembers the space program's name before then and it was just easier. Poetic license. The joke itself is one of those tiresome things that everyone knows, but has to sit through over and over no matter how many times they hear it, and it only elicits groans, not laughter. A duck walks into a pharmacy and says, give me some Chap-Stick and put it on my bill.

Oops, I forgot, if my stuff is going to be copypasta in Merrie Olde, it's a mallard toddles off to the chemist...

So The Telegraph says this is the joke:

“Nasa decided they’d finally send a man up in a capsule after sending only monkeys in the earlier missions,” the joke goes.
“They fire the man and the monkey into space. The intercom crackles, 'Monkey, fire the retros’. A little later, 'Monkey, check the solid fuel supply’.
“Later still, 'Monkey, check the life support systems for the man’. The astronaut takes umbrage and radios Nasa, 'When do I get to do something?’
“Nasa replies, 'In 15 minutes – feed the monkey’.”

The Mirror says:

“NASA decided they’d finally send a man up in a capsule after sending only monkeys in the earlier missions,” the joke goes.
“They fire the man and the monkey into space.
“The intercom crackles, 'Monkey, fire the retros.'
“A little later, 'Monkey, check the solid fuel supply.'
“Later still, “Monkey, check the life support systems for the man.'
“The astronaut takes umbrage and radioes NASA, 'When do I get to do something?'
“NASA replies, 'In 15 minutes - feed the monkey.'”
"Nasa decided they'd finally send a man up in a capsule after sending only monkeys in the earlier missions. They fire the man and the monkey into space. The intercom crackles: 'Monkey, fire the retros.' A little later: 'Monkey, check the solid fuel supply.' Later still: 'Monkey, check the life support systems for the man.' The astronaut takes umbrage and radios Nasa: 'When do I get to do something?' Nasa replies: 'In 15 minutes – feed the monkey.'"

Please note that the only editing they do, is to make what I wrote grammatically incorrect. They change NASA to Nasa, which is not how acronymns work, and turn "took umbrage" into "takes umbrage." I decline very few verbs and no free drinks these days, but even I know it was correct in the first place. There's about fifteen other news outlets I found, before I got bored, that use the whole thing copied and pasted, but attribute it to The Mirror, or The Telegraph, or The Guardian, because there's honor among thieves, but not outside their coven, it appears. Others paraphrase the joke and use only the punchline verbatim.

If you enter the whole text into Google, it only returns two references, both to me, and a website in Great Britain called Orphans of Liberty, who printed the joke verbatim back when I wrote it, but gave me a link and attribution, so good on them, and hail fellow well met and all that.

Hey, maybe Roy Hodgson reads Orphans of Liberty, and he did tell my version of the joke verbatim to his team. I'd be tickled if that were the case. If so, Roy, you're welcome to it. Sorry it wrecked your life, and you probably didn't even get a laugh out of it for all your trouble. I warned everybody before I told it that it was a bad joke. But does anyone listen?

To the rest of you ink-stained plagiarists: Expect to hear from my lawyer, um, solicitor,  er, barrister or bannister or beelzebub or bumbershoot or whatever you call a law-talking guy over there on that pile of rocks and coal you inhabit. To paraphrase Stanley Motss, " I want the credit."

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Innocents Abroad: The Damariscotta Pumpkinfest

We went to the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest on Sunday with new friends. We had more fun than a congressman left alone with the spoons.

Damariscotta, Maine, is a village about forty percent of the way to Canada along the Atlantic coast, with about 2500 people living in it, and at least that many gawping at it at any given time. It's cuter than a baby trying to eat an apple.

Damariscotta is an Indian name that means something in Indian, I suppose. I don't speak Abenaki, and neither do Abenakis, so there's no use askin', but I think it means: "Place we'll burn down during King Philip's War, and again a few times whenever we're bored and the sheriff's drunk during the French And Indian Wars." The colonists got jealous of the Indians getting to burn the place down fortnightly, and burned the place down themselves so the British couldn't occupy it during the Revolutionary War, or maybe so the bank couldn't repossess it, I can't remember, I was very young back then.

There's a monument to the Indians in Damariscotta, at the site of the only evidence of the former landlords' existence, which consists solely of a 1600-foot square, 30-foot deep dump, which is entirely made up of discarded oyster shells. The current locals, although no doubt keen to do so, have been entirely unable to locate the Indians' enormous pile of smashed champagne bottles, but surely it must be around there somewhere.

The town is certainly twee, but that will only get you so far in this world. Towns in Maine look for some celebration of local culture that will galvanize the general public into a frenzied mob that will spend money willy-nilly if you can lure them to your burg. Our town of Rumford tried a Paul Bunyan day, but I don't think they sold many axes, perhaps because, as I've noticed in the comment sections of the Bangor Daily News and The Portland Press Herald, most everyone has one to grind already. Damariscotta, which has a long tradition of brickmaking and shipbuilding, and of course being burnt to the ground, has had much more luck attracting people from far and wide to watch them desecrate pumpkins in amusing ways. It's less crazy than it sounds; after all, bricklaying is hard work, and modern shipbuilding consists solely of sniffing fiberglass resin until your eyes are as red as a town drunk's -- if the town is New York. Pumpkins say: New England. Pumpkins mean: Thanksgiving. Pumpkins remind one... to get the furnace checked. It's just fun to say "pumpkin." Pumpkin!

Damariscotians gussy up pumpkins to look like this and that, set them out on the sidewalk, and judge them on their merits, and give out prizes, which should be attempted with the grammar school kids someday, too. They defy the local growers to find new and novel ways of force-feeding Miracle-Gro to a gourd day and night to produce the largest orange-y blob that can have a portion sent to a laboratory to determine if it's a pumpkin, because it stopped looking like one after about five hundred pounds or so.

I witnessed them shooting pumpkins out of a big cannon at a van with great celerity. The pumpkins, I mean; the van didn't move much. They threw pumpkins into the ocean with a catapult, instead of politicians, for some reason. I'm told that they hollow out pumpkins, put an outboard motor on them, and race them in the river, or pond, or estuary, or gulley, or sluice, or runnel, or whatever they have there. I had to be told because I was drinking Black and Tans in the haunted restaurant by that time, my ears ringing with the cannon percussion blasts, and my head haunted by the knowledge that  people shoot pumpkins I'd eat at a van I'd drive.

The restaurant was identified to me as haunted, anyway. I was likewise informed that there's a tour that points out all the local haunted houses, which includes most every building in town but the Rexall. No one ever wants to die and haunt a Rexall. It ain't dignified. I believe to a certainty that I was supposed to be interested in the fact that the building I was in was haunted by someone besides a man with a liquor license, but I have a defective nature and I wasn't; but I was fascinated to learn that out-of-plumb doorframes, squirrels in the attic, and a hint of cupidity is enough to get you a paying job lying to people "from away." And to think I've been lying to strangers for free all these years, and on more diverse topics.

There's an interesting phenomenon I've noticed in small cities in the East. The really nice looking cities are made of brick, and all the buildings look like one another, because everything that was there before burned down eleven or four or nine times, until the residents all decided brick buildings were cheaper than a fire department, and built everything at the same time under a regime of architectural and intellectual coherence that is not abroad in the land just now. Damariscotta's like that; Providence, Rhode Island, parts of Boston, and Portland, Maine are too.

One likewise cannot help but notice that in Damariscotta, the rhythm of the lovely brick buildings, with the occasional gawjus neoclassical residence smattered in, is broken only by the public library, which is fairly new, and built in the Prairie/International/Cow Barn/Reform School style, because reasons. There's a plaque on the sidewalk that declares the entire downtown a member of the National Register of Historic Places, so you have to check with someone official about the color of the mortar you're using to fix a brick on your haunted ice cream parlor or haunted Kinko's or whatever you've got, but the town can hire Frank Lloyd Wrong to design the library and place it there like a dead cat at a picnic.

The library is called the Skidompha, a name somehow even less elegant than the building, because the club that raised money to build it wanted to make an acronym of all the last names of its founding members -- at least those who performed in the 1885 town production of The Mikado. I do not wish to cast aspersions on these noble ladies, but I'm agog they couldn't assemble a better acronym than SKIDOMPHA. They probably spent all their time trying to get the vote so they could close down all the local  grog shops (haunted, natch), with not enough time left over for Scrabble. I also aver to no one in particular that I'd rather die and haunt a Rexall, forevermore, than go to see a local production of The Mikado.

Let's see if we can do better, acronym-wise. SKIDOMPHA. Hmmm. Oh yes. Perfect for a summer vacation rental in Downeast Maine; like a telegram from an honest realtor: DAMPISH, OK?

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Portrait Of Cristóbal Colón As A Young Man

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 Cristóbal Colón 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 Cristóbal Colón was Portuguese in the affirmative at all times.

The end.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

I've Seen Supreme Evil, And It's As Cute As A Puppy

Ah, pop music. There's serious money in unserious music. And wherever there's money, people sense importance.

After a professional football game, which involves around one hundred illiterate and innumerate neanderthals, looped on steroids and ADHD medicine, shoving each other on a striped lawn over possession of a malformed basketball for a few hours, dozens of likewise illiterate and innumerate sportswriters and TV hair farmers push microphones into the players' faces and ask them their opinions, more than occasionally about topics outside their field of expertise -- said expertise solely consisting of fooling a piss test. Such is the end result of lots of money applied to trivial things.

People ask pop singers who should be president, which is much the same. And if a person has a million-seller, you can be sure some intellectual holding down a chair and a sinecure at a university or a magazine will invest that success with the veneer of seriousness. Lady Gaga's meat dress means something, I can assure you. It wouldn't mean something if she was playing Debbie Boone covers at the Ramada Inn, but a vapor trail of zeroes makes Goofy into Laika.

I have suffered from the syndrome myself, when I was much younger. I thought pop songs were important. You can get your fun out of taking all the fun out of things if you try. All-night arguments about whether the Dave Clark Five were superior to the Monkees can fill your life with meaning. It's sad and pathetic meaning, like worrying over a State Senate election, or arguing on the Intertunnel, but it is meaning.

If you see it as just fun, you can make more fun out of it, without worrying overmuch. Mashing E.L.O. and The Supremes together isn't going to cure cancer, but hey; it isn't going to cause it, either. Enjoy. 

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The Fair Boys

My two sons, AKA: Unorganized Hancock, appeared for three shows at the Fryeburg Fair in Fryeburg, Maine on Sunday. It was lotsa fun.

It was the last day of a week of fairderol. It was sunny and seventy all week, but of course when Sunday rolled around, the temperature went down to 55 and the sky turned the color of aluminum. But the show must go on. The weather gods took pity on us somewhat, and it didn't rain until after they were done and packed up. You have to take your luck where you find it.

I was a bit stunned by the size of the thing. The fairgrounds are huge. About 300,000 people attend the fair on any given year, but in my innocence, I figured it was all encompassed by a couple of booths and a gazebo and a couple of porta-johns.

Goes to show what I know. There were real bathrooms, and they had attendants. The animals are displayed in barns that didn't look like they were built by the low bidder -- and there were lots of them. The barns were pretty big. The animals were... bigger than pretty big.

If you spend much of your mealtime sitting at a table by a window and talking to a waitress, it's easy to forget that everything comes from farms way out there in the landscape, and the farmers raise animals, and like all humans, they enjoy being competitive and collegial at the same time. The animals were astonishingly well-kept and varied, and it was fun to go gape at them.

 The boys played at a bandstand at Draft Horse Park, and the barns behind them had massive pulling horses displayed in rank after rank, and I noticed that all the horses been to the hairdresser recently. I took The Spare Heir in to have a look at them during one of his breaks, but he took umbrage that the horses were in their stalls head-first, and he wasn't going to look at horsie heinie willingly.

The Spare Heir is only ten. He spent the forty-five minutes or so it takes for me and The Heir to unload the truck and set up the equipment playing leapfrog, rolling around in the pine needles, with his new "Best Friend," who came all the way from Los Angeles to see them play. I'm sure there were a few spit-takes from the audience members when he got up, dusted himself off, went into our van, changed his clothes, and marched back and sat down at the drums. The Heir had a very pretty best friend in the front row as well.  I didn't want to be left out, so I brought my own.

Halfway through the show, the little one made the entire audience stand up. He's uncanny that one. He tells people to do things, and they do them. He then told everyone that wasn't his mother to sit down. Then he told them how much he loved her. I've heard that mothers like that sort of thing, but I really can't imagine why.

They did three shows, forty-five minutes each. That's a man's job, and I was proud of them. They made very few errors, and had a nice crowd throughout the whole thing. I got a bit of amusement by hanging at the back of the semicircle of seats, where two broad footpaths converged, and watched the faces of the people passing by and stopping to gape when they hove into view and saw two little kids making all that noise. It's the same sort of look you see when people have just gotten an offer from a salesman that's too good to be true. Must be some sort of catch. I'm told fathers like that sort of thing, but I really can't imagine why.

Many thanks to all my readers who've supported my boys' efforts with your praise and encouragement and your donations for their efforts. They're playing through speakers you bought them. My wife and I love you all.

[Update: Many thanks to the Thud family for their generous support of our boys' efforts!]

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

It's Real To Me, Dammit

When I was young, I went to the library all the time. It was a marvelous neoclasical pile of stones. In the basement, they had a children's library and a big empty room for whatever what-have-you the library might host. It was there that they judged the model contests.

No, not creepy toddlers wearing bridesmaid dresses and enough makeup for a Tijuana hooker; I'm referring to the scale models of cars and boats and planes that you purchased as a kit and assembled. It was the most common hobby of grade-school boys in America at the time, if the town I grew up in was any sort of barometer.

We had a shop in town that sold nothing but models and glue and paint, run by a very sketchy looking fellow that collected Nazi memorabilia for a hobby. I was too young at the time to be suspicious of such things, but with the halting wisdom of age, I imagine he was selling dope along with the dope, too.

I won that damn contest lots of times. I had the right combination of intelligence and moronic monomania that such things require. I learned to dip toothpicks in paint and paint the numbers on the car's speedometers by just touching the tiny raised bumps molded into the plastic. I made WWI airplanes and used my mother's thread to wire them with interstrut rigging, and did the same for the clipper ship Thermopylae. I'm fairly certain you'd be drugged into oblivion if you displayed this sort of behavior now.

Hot damn, we were all pikers compared to this guy.

Michael Paul Smith

Monday, October 07, 2013

There Will Be Brahms

Every once in a while you get weary of Bach on the guitar, and Mozart being cute, and Beetle Brow the deaf alternating between adoring and hating on Napoleon. You start poking around Mendelssohn and Brahms looking for something different to listen to.

Brahms. Brahms Third Racket. That'll do.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Thursday, October 03, 2013

I Know That Smell

[Editor's Note: First offered in 2006]
[Author's Note: Man, I was smart in 2006. Of course, like Cassandra, knowing what's going to happen and doing anything about it are two different things. And there is no editor.]

BY god, how I know that smell. Old plaster and dirt and corruption and mildew and rockwool insulation and nasty fibrous plaster; it's the smell of grandma's grandma's attic. The smell of grandma, too.

We walked past this doorway in Bristol, Rhode Island. It's the entrance to a vacant turn-of-the-twentieth century single-story retail business building. My wife commented on what a neat place it would be to sell my furniture. I've done that sort of mental arithmetic a million times, for myself and others, and I know anyplace cheap enough for me to buy is generally cheap for a reason. If it was easy, someone would have done it already.

That little padlock you see is to "keep the honest people out," as we used to say. It's probably there to protect the valuables of the people working on the building, not the building itself. Some sort of demolition had happened, and the woolly interior of the walls and ceilings was partially exposed, but there was no sign of anything but the most desultory activity. No Coming Soon sign. No building materials. No people.

Now, I told you I know that smell. I've worked on buildings and/or their furnishings for my whole life. And I've seen most everything at this point. I've seen wooden plumbing and DC electricity and steam piped in by the city for heat. I've seen vestigal carbide gas works and elevators with accordion doors,and secret rooms. I've seen ranks of identical rooms -- whole closed up floors of them-- one bed, one window, one dresser each, for the long dead live-in servants of the ghosts of the mansion's long dead original owners. I've seen the cubbyholes where settlers hid their children during King Philip's War. I've repaired houses sheathed with 24" wide oak planks 1-1/4" thick and as hard as a banker's heart. I've seen more lead paint than a Dutch Boy.

That smell used to be common thirty years ago. It was a building that had gone to seed, but with hard use, over a long time, and barely altered. It wasn't continuously fiddled with, with only a vestige of its original form showing through the years. It was old, and a wreck, and wonderful, and had potential -- and nobody wanted it.

Everybody wants everything now. I caution persons slightly younger than me that life was not always as rosy as it has been for the last 20 or 25 years, at least for the most part. There was a time when it was very difficult for a hardworking family to get by, and you jumped on any work situation that promised even a modicum of stability. With both feet. You'd accept work situations that would look like indentured servitude now, more or less. You never ever ever quit your job before you had another one. Never. And it took real nerve to buy a rundown building like this and turn it into something.

My elders warned me about the Depression. It led them to certain habits which seem like madness now -- overreaction and paranoia. When you hear about honest people hoarding cash outside of banks, saving newspaper and cardboard and scraps of this and that, never throwing anything away, always afraid that all prosperity is ephemeral -- that's the Depression talking.

Twice in my working life, unemployment in the construction business has exceeded 25% for a substantial stretch. That might be news to you civilians, but the reason you can't find anyone to do anything for you that involves heavy lifting, hammers, and speaking english, is that everyone but the hardiest souls and people with nothing but a strong back were driven out of the sector for sunnier economic climes. Everybody bailed out if they could manage it.

Well, I'm not going to warn you about the Depression. Preparing yourself for a cataclysm that never comes is a form of unpreparedness, really. But recently, I hear that certain ex-government officials have gotten the idea in their heads that 1970 was swell, and had just the right ratio of carbon dioxide and economic activity, and we need to return there, pronto.

I know that smell. It's the smell of the cake I'm going to be allowed to eat, when there is no bread.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Unorganized Hancock's World Tour, Which Encompasses Three Whole Counties In Maine At This Point, Rolls On

My Heir and the Spare Heir, AKA Unorganized Hancock, are appearing this Sunday the 6th at the Fryeburg Fair in Fryeburg Maine.

The Fryeburg Fair is the last agricultural fair of the season, and the largest of its kind in Maine. According to Wikipedia, about 300,000 people attend each year. The fair goes on for eight days. Sunday's the last day. The leaves are turning color smartly, and the weather's perfect all week -- sunny and in the high sixties, low seventies.

I rather enjoy agricultural fairs. I'm no farmer, but I find the animals and equipment durn interesting. I have an affection for regular people. Regular people go to, and participate in, agricultural fairs. I always wanted to be a regular person, but I couldn't manage it. Come and see my irregular sons play; three shows: 1, 2,and 3 PM. Be there and be square.

Here's the boys playing some Beatles earlier in the summer at the Skowhegan, Maine River Fest.