Anyone finding entertainment in this blog will be questioned; anyone finding
grammatical errors will be prosecuted; anyone finding value will be banished.
- with thanks to Mark Twain
Being an occasional listing of personal occupations.
What Trump Supporters Got Right
September 13, 2017
The great majority of fans of Donald Trump hold one common belief that underpins their various worldviews, a correct belief in an actual fact of life: The government in Washington does not work for them.
It is true. The government of the United States does not work for the average Trumpist. It never did, because it was not established for them.
Since the dawn of civilization —which is founded on the unequal division of labor for the very unequal distribution of labor's profits— every priest-king racket throughout history has existed for the concentration of power, in the forms of land, goods (including humans), and money, along with the military might to try to grab yet more land, goods, and money from neighboring priest-king rackets. Over the millennia, systems of governance have slowly and grudgingly evolved conciliatory concessions to stay in power, but the primary purpose of every government that ever there was is to aggragate wealth to the wealthy.
The US Constitution was written by men who were carving their own concessions from the contemporary priest-king George III. They were united in their demand for more freedom to develop their own racket on this side of the Atlantic, primarily in the forms of manor-based wealth and trade-based wealth. (The competition between these two forms led to the Civil War and on to the twisted division we have today between Republicans and Democrats, but that's another story.) The Founders wrote that "all men are created equal", and it was obvious and universally accepted that "men" weren't women, slaves, indentured servants, unpropertied individuals, Native Americans, the French and Spaniards on the frontiers, etc. To further ensure that "men" could hold back, for their own racket, the developing and unprofitable (to them) ideals of true egalitarianism, they founded a complex republic rather than a democracy.
Thus, of course the government in Washington is not working for anyone who is not successfully profiteering from the labor of others. Of course Congress is not working for people who work with their hands. No priest-king racket or what we now call government ever did. The racket in Washington was never intended to care for any but the privileged few. It was, like every other government, founded on and funded by the suppression of the ignorant populace who can be persuaded that, if they work hard and wave the flag of this particular priest-king racket, their futures are secure.
There isn't room in this blog entry to address more fully the fundamental principle of the priest-king (government) racket, but here is a cursory outline. In the beginning, the priest-kings were a few elite groups who knew about the calendar year and when the rivers would flood. They convinced less knowledgable people that, if they would stay put and dig irrigation ditches when instructed, they would not starve to death. Furthermore, if they would sacrifice themselves to the military, they would ensure that the neighboring priest-king racket would not steal their food. And here we find the central con: Human beings, distinct from animals that are always afraid that they might be killed, know that they are going to die. The sheepish among humans, unable to accept mortality, have created for themselves the sociopathic response of embracing the priest-king racket, a magnificent, powerful thing that will mitigate their mortality. In the world's greatest irony, people find succor against death by giving themselves to the glory of "something greater than themselves" — which is whatever priest-king racket has currency in their particular time and place.
Yes, my friend with the Trump sticker on your truck, Washington does suck. All governments suck. As philosopher Henry David Thoreau said, "That government governs best which governs least." In other words, the less government, the better. But here's the Catch-22: The world is overpopulated. There is no place without government. You can't go off the road and hunt and fish and plant corn and be done with government. And we're stuck with it because we need systems to manage this ever-shrinking planet.
Donald Trump is not anti-government. Everything he does and says has been working to promote hatred of "other" priest-king rackets, so that his followers will stick to him with the belief that it's in their interest for survival. It's part of the big con of government, and it always, always, always makes government bigger. Think about agrarian Vietnam in 1960, just a backwater little country of rice paddies and subsistent farmers. Along came governments arguing against other governments, and, by the end of the 1960's, tiny South Vietnam had the sixth-largest air force in the world. Think of Donald Trump's rallies. Do they tamp down the need for government, or do they require lots and lots more cops and regulations and cameras in public places and crowd-control? More violence, more greed, more military, more union-busting, more inequality of wealth, more fear, more conformity. That's more government, not less. Trump is using the same old con that other "strongmen" throughout history have used. "Stick with me, and we'll get the bastids." C'mon, man, we're smarter than that.
Well, sure, most Democrats are airheads, at least the ones who think that gummint is the thing that will save us. So are Republicans, who generally seem to think that corporations have the same rights as human beings. But, when Bernie Sanders or Al Gore say that we're frying the planet, they ain't whislin' Dixie. We do need things like the Paris agreement on climate control; we need those parts of government, those parts of the evolved priest-king rackets that help all people in the world to agree on ways to save the earth. What we don't need is a carnie-barker schoolyard bully in early stages of dementia telling us that we'll be better off if we pretend that there aren't seven billion people crowded onto this planet. We need to find ways to keep all the people on earth safe, before we all go up in smoke together. That's where Trump is dead, dead, dead wrong.
The Mooch is gone; is that a good thing?
Monday, July 31, 2017
We should be careful what we wish for. In regard to the hiring of General Kelly as White House chief-of-staff, CNN's Timothy Stanley writes, "Our only hope now is that the chaos is coming to an end." At the Washington Post, former chief-of-staff in Bill Clinton's administration John Podesta writes that "the good news is that [Kelly] does have a strong hand to play." At Politico we read, "I think it's an amazingly good thing the president has turned to the general," said Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. He added that Kelly's presence might cut down on "a lot of the screaming and shouting down there."
This past week in the White House vaguely conjures an image of the Night of the Long Knives. Do we really hope for more organization around a president whose every foul mouthing and idiotic tweet evinces a yearning for fascistic tyranny? Could the country actually benefit from a more cogent top-down authoritarianism led by a lifelong white-colllar thug in early stages of dementia? Couldn't more discipline in the White House bring more real and imminent danger, both domestic and especially international?
Trump has been a very ineffective president except in increasing racist street violence across our country and increasing hatred of America abroad. Do we really want a more effective Donald Trump?
Postscript August 1, 2017
From the Washington Post:
Trump dictated son's misleading statement on meeting with Russian lawyer
It appears that at last we have a plain case of obstruction of justice and that Gen. Kelly's addition may prove moot —depending on the speed of the Mueller investigation and Congress' reaction.
Trump will not pardon himself
Saturday, July 22, 2017
Trump will forego pardoning himself for the simple reason that, as a recent Politico Magazine article put it, "the Supreme Court has made clear that a sitting president can be sued in a civil suit." The acceptance of a presidential pardon legally entails an admission of guilt. If Trump pardons himself, then he —unlike Nixon, whom most people wanted to forget immediately— exposes his personal wealth to the civil courts. That admission of guilt greases the paths for everyone he's cheated, including private citizens, businesses, and government entities, who would sue him up, down, and sideways, and by the time he finished "winning" his out-of-court settlements, he might end up selling pencils in Red Square. Obviously, he'd rather be a rich criminal than a bankrupt retiree. Thus, it is unlikely he will pardon himself.
(The above is a comment I submitted to The Post's article "Trump is considering presidential pardons. Ford never recovered from the one he gave Nixon.")
I say Rats! to the technological singularity
Thursday, May 11, 2017
We should start making electrical wiring out of some kind of peanut butter compound.
A lot of intelligent people are saying that the technological singularity is coming in about twenty-five years. If it happens, we should deem it a possible and even likely threat to humanity. After all, if you were a million times brighter than any human and you had the ability to manage the planet and you considered old-fashioned life forms to be worth maintaining, wouldn't you of necessity consider that the eradication of humankind might enhance the likelihood of survival of life on this planet?
If computers get smarter than we are, they might do away with us so that we can't destroy all life on this planet, as we seem hellbent on doing.
Thus, it is incumbent upon us to take steps against such a scenario. I say we should start making all electrical wiring out of some kind of substance that includes peanut butter, along with setting up barriers to prevent rodents from approaching anything electrical. Then, if machines ever tried to destroy us, we could dismantle the gnawing-safeguards, and we would have as enthusiastic allies the entire order Rodentia.
At the very least, we must develop peanut butter wiring before the Commies do! Mr. President Cheetos Jesus, we must not allow a Peanut-Butter-Wiring Gap!
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
Today, as I got out of my car on a Cambridge sidestreet, someone said, "Hi, Genghis." To my great delight, it was an old saddle pard from whom I hadn't heard in about thirty-five years, Thad Wiseheart. We used to work occasionally on the same small construction jobs hereabouts, he a carpenter, I a painter. We also shared some adventures, a few mundane and a few plenty good enough that they are well left unrecounted publicly —if I could recall them accurately through the blur of those years and the subsequent decades. What I do remember clearly is that Thad almost always had a humorous smile that spread fast around him.
We didn't have much time to chat this afternoon, but this evening I visited his website, Stairdogs.com. It's a simple webpage that links to his Facebook pages. The photos on those pages struck me with how very far he has taken his mastery of construction and woodworking. I've copied a few examples therefrom below.
Fire in Inman Square
Saturday, December 3, 2016
There is an horrific fire ongoing in Cambridge. The photos I took are here.
The photo at right was taken from several blocks away. The Boston Herald is running it here.
Been Here, Done This
My reaction to the election
Sunday, November 13, 2016
As I watched the election results, like millions of others I was shocked and repulsed. At the moment when disbelief was necessarily replaced with acknowledgement, I was faced with the prospect of profound sadness. The accession of the Orange Messiah to the most powerful position on earth is a global tragedy. The sadness of it could have crippled me that night but for the decision I made immediately to put the election into the framework of my life.
I am a draft dodger. Been Here, Done This. Lyndon Johnson's escalation in Vietnam coincided precisely with my vulnerability to the draft. President-Elect Cheetos Jesus' evils in coming months will be more thoroughgoing and ubiquitous than Johnson's great mistake. Those evils won't be so concentrated on American men (along with all Vietnamese) of eighteen to twenty-seven years of age. However, I have been tempered by years of fear to have learned that fear doesn't help.
One day during the middle of Tricky Dick's first administration, I moved from 54 Green Street in Cambridge to 500 Green Street. I had been dodging the draft fearfully for several years. On that day, I decided not to inform the Selective Service System of my change of address and, more importantly, to stop being afraid. It was good to be fearless.
Like the Vietnam Era, the coming years will bring their own particular horrors. Every year does. I refuse to meet them with fear. Fear is the currency of the Tangerine Redeemer and his ilk, not my currency. A superior stock in trade is tolerant and buoyant neighborliness. I will sing my way through the coming troubling years, like Woody Guthrie, whose guitar bore the words, "This Machine Kills Fascists."
When I finally got to sleep on election night, I did so peacefully and joyfully. During the 'Sixties and 'Seventies, a lot of us put up a good fight. There were casualties, but it was our joy and fearlessness that got the survivors through. It was an overriding happiness to us who lived those years with love and resistance to be the kind of kind people that we were.
I am a draft dodger. Been Here, Done This. There is a new fight at hand. Vive la résistance! We will prevail.
Let us celebrate who we are!
MAKE TONY THE TIGER GRRREAT AGAIN
Saturday, August 13, 2016
Well, somebody had to say it, right?
The Causes of Trumpism
July 30, 2016
Trumpism is not, as some journalists would have it, a normal though unusually strong swing of a political pendulum in the United States. Trumpism is the first major popular movement in American history to give up the pretense of truth or rationality, and its causes can be seen developing over the past fifty years. The primary causes of Trumpism are threefold: the loss of critical thinking, called the "dumbing down" of America; the overload of requirements for attention to too many details of daily life, e.g., the need to set the alarm to get up to repark the car lest it be towed; and the extreme financial stratification of society in what is actually a rich nation.
Dumbing downWhen the Ohio National Guard massacred Kent State students in 1970, they did more than escalate the contention over the Vietnam War; they shut down many schools across the nation. Students had already been advised by a Harvard professor to turn on, tune in, drop out, and many more espoused that choice after that watershed event, which did a lot further to alienate young people from the "Establishment." College has never fully regained its former stature as a safe and open haven for the development of critical thinking, civic responsibility, and success in life.
Of course, the US government (along with others) had previously forcibly set aside moral and cultural values to prosecute the victory in World War II, as so thoroughly illuminated by Paul Fussell's Wartime. At the end of that war, the US had over 50% of the manufacturing capacity of the entire planet, as a result of all the destruction in every other developed country. America became very rich. After being dumbed down to fight that total war, after being made to think alike, Americans mistook, as victors do, their tremendous wealth for their natural right, and they developed banal goals, as dumbed down people do, for that wealth: bigger cars, bigger houses, etc. Patriotism and money were the order of the day, not education or invention or moral progress. In that environment, it is no wonder that one "saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness." Thus, the country was already in a condition to devalue education. The Kent State Massacre was the linchpin at the end of improvement in education and the beginning of its continuing downward trend.
As humans, much of our thinking is done with language, and grammar and syntax is today in tatters. Logic and rational construct are virtually beyond the reach of average Americans when even our textbooks can't offer cogent sentences. The top six or ten students in my eighth-grade class of 1963 could not make the grammatical errors we see today across almost all our newspapers' front pages and websites. The top six or ten students in my senior high-school class of 1967 would not fabricate the logical breaches that we witness in our public debates.
Education, critical thinking, logic, and an understanding of history —the foundations of sound citizenship— are, for many or most Americans, in the toilet.
Too busyUnequipped as Americans are to sort out the important things in life, we don't have time for them anyway. We are too overstressed in this overcrowded, demanding world by the little things. Two hundred years ago, we got up and milked the cows. A hundred years ago, we got up and put together our lunch pails and went to the factory, and paid a few bills each month. Today we get up and answer the emails; check the voice mail, Facebook, and Twitter; turn on the computer and the TV to keep in touch with the latest few dozen bits of pressing news —before we are even fully awake. Many workers get up before dawn to begin managing the day's chores, because, as one college dean put it, "I can't get anything done once I get to the office." There's just too much.
At six feet, I was relatively tall in 1967. Then I noticed that guys a few years younger were growing even taller. Nowadays I'm relatively tall again. Kids aren't growing to their potential height, because across America they are sleeping an hour a day less than kids did in the past. Even for children, there's just too much.
Where is the time (and learning) to consider whether Trump's assertion is true that these are the most violent times in this country —as though the near eradication of the native population or the Civil War or the 1960's never happened? Where is the time to sort out truth from fiction? Many Americans don't have the time and don't have the ability in critical thinking.
Chauvinism and xenophobiaWhen we don't have the time or ability to figure out something, we lean on emotions, "gut feelings." Much of the emotions Americans experience daily are centered on our financial positions, because we measure success in dollars, in turn because of the absurd distribution of wealth in this country. The distress of husbanding money generates fear, and that fear usually manifests itself in some kind of class or ethnic hatred. The refuge of people unable to address the etiology of problems is the arbitrary assignment of blame. Blue-collar folks fear "suits." White-collar folks are afraid of people with dirty hands. Everybody's afraid of immigrants. Etc., ad nauseum. We've become a nation of haters. Even in the areas of our lives that are developed specifically to give us respite from brutal realities, we talk in terms of hatred. The Seattle Seahawks hate the New England Patriots. The Boston Red Sox hate the New York Yankees.
When democracy is testedThus, when this demagogue comes along and pushes to an uneducated, illogical, overstressed, and fearful mass of Americans a program devoid of anything but hate, he's preaching to the choir.
People who live in democracies and who know any history like to praise the ancient Greeks as the inventors of democracy. When democracy failed in any given polis (city-state) of ancient Greece, sometimes a strongman would arise to organize society. He was called a tyrant. "Tyrant" is a Greek word, and it wasn't a pejorative at first. In the 2,500 years since, peoples across the planet have learned, at very great cost, that tyranny does not work.
Sunday, August 30, 2015
There have been millions of words written about the NFL's Deflategate controversy, and, in scanning a lot of them, I have found no mention of the obvious dynamics underpinning the fiasco.
Roger Goodell, who rose through the NFL's bureaucratic ranks in no small part because he is a US senator's son, was chosen to be the commissioner without regard to his mental shortcomings. During 2014, he repeatedly demonstrated his ineptitude for adjudication. As his reputation fell, he somehow came upon the idea to take a bully's stance in the face of adversity.
A bully is a more or less impotent coward who aggrandizes himself by successful attacks on victims whose victimization will garner the applause of his peers or constituents. As 2015 started, Goodell saw the demographic map of football fans rooting for teams in the NFL playoffs. Prior to the Super Bowl, almost the entire country was rooting for the Seattle Seahawks; only New England was rooting for the New England Patriots. (The country was rooting against the Patriots because the Pats win with a regularity unprecedented in league history.) Therefore, the Patriots were the perfect target. Cotton Mather and Joe McCarthy would have been proud.
Finding a minute and absurd excuse in the possibility of the underinflation of footballs, Goodell attacked. The lack of common sense throughout the attack has been well covered by the media. Like any bully, Goodell has pressed his attack —once popular and now embarrassing— beyond all reason, with the hope of protecting his position with its unearned $40+ million salary. Therein lies the real Deflategate story.
Unfortunately for Goodell, the Patriots win in a league designed for parity because of the superior intelligence of the organization. The Patriots are owned by a unusually bright and straightforward billionaire, who chose a head coach who is acknowledged by many to be the best in football history, who in turn found a great quarterback who came from an honest upbringing. Those fellows are not the sort to be acquiescent victims. Also unfortunately for Goodell, most US federal judges have higher IQ's than the more dimwitted among the offspring of US senators.
Roger Goodell will be remembered in business textbooks as an archetypical example of the Peter Principle.
Not For Sale
Wednesday, August 5, 2015
With blistered brain but tawny gut
A Painter's Very Short Story
May 14, 2015
During the summer of 1979, I was working for Walter Gundy, who was turning the first-floor factory space at 10 Beacon Street in Inman Square into a suite of offices for a laser show company, called Image Engineering, owned by him and his four partners. For lunch one day, Walter led us to this very bohemian restaurant called the Modern Times Cafe on Hampshire Street. I liked the place because the food was good and plentiful, and the scene was so funky that I could show up no matter how dirty I was in my painting clothes. Also, of no small import was that they served Heineken. It became my hang.
I became a casual friend of another regular, one David Miller, archaeologist and gunsmith. David's particular field of expertise was the identification of fish bones from middens. That fact is not pertinent to this story, but ain't it something?
David knew the owner of the building that housed the Modern Times, and he may have conveyed to that owner, name of Ed, that the latter's need for a painter might be met by yours truly, because one day Ed, sitting near me at the bar, said Hello and allowed that he'd heard I was a painter.
I admitted that I was a housepainter and asked what he did. He said he worked at a hospital. It turned out that Ed owned the building at 134 Hampshire because it was part of the property that he had bought to acquire the contiguous house at 145 Elm Street, but what was of immediate interest was that the former building had a three-story backside in desperate need of the attention of a painter. I took on the job. I painted it with three coats of oil paint and did so with my customary practice of doing it just as though I cared. When I caulked the gaps between clapboard and fascia, I drew my putty knife to make the caulk match the runs of clapboard, and it was pretty. He liked my act and had me start on the real project, the renovation of the Ivory Sands House (145 Elm.) Now, questions of how far to take quality arise, because a painter has to draw the line somewhere, so to speak. Ed made it fairly simple for me when he told me that he preferred a job done too well to one not done well enough.
He would be off to the hospital before dawn and return at dusk to start working on the house. One day he arrived slightly after sunset to find me painting the front porch. He asked, "Genghis, can you see what you're doing?" I remember exactly my reply: "Peeking is for sissies!" Another day I had just driven from northern New Hampshire and mentioned to him that it was a very cold ride because, despite the temperature of five degrees, I had left my windows open because my pick-up truck had a leaky exhaust manifold and very leaky floorboards. He asked why that mattered, and I said that I thought that carbon monoxide did permanent brain damage. I remember exactly his reply: "Genghis, that's a blessing!"
So we understood each other. Thus, it followed that every lick of paint in or on the house now called the Elm Street Ironworks is mine, and there isn't a drop of it of which I'm ashamed. If you see a drip on some brickwork or a deck somewhere, please rest assured that it was carefully placed there only to show my humanity. Honest.
Tom Brady and Deflategate
May 13, 2015
Watching the spectacle of professional football has been a hobby of mine for some years. The recent tempest in a teapot has soured me on the whole racket.
In Congress, we see that divisiveness becomes more important than perspective or justice, to the point of dysfunction. The NFL and its fandom are following the national trend. Deflategate is another chapter in the degradation of common sense in the US. By making the "probably" (not even "allegedly") guilty Tom Brady the scapegoat for Roger Goodell's long-standing and well documented ineptitude, the NFL elevates the level of blind partisanship that it translates into cash, in the same way that congressmen turn hate into votes.
We've seen this particular flavor of mob mentality before, with another venue's greatest star. Charlie Chaplin was arguably the most important single individual in the development of the Hollywood movie industry, but he was impelled to expatriate by the hysterical witch-hunting of his day. On the other hand, to cite an extreme example, the moral force of a skinny little Indian took down the British Empire. It is my hope that the latter paradigm is revisited and that Deflategate marks the beginning of the end of the National Football League or at least its current leadership. Time will tell.
The Most Unusual House in Cambridge
Elm Street Ironworks
145 Elm Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts
May 8, 2015
The house on which I've done the best painting work I've ever done went on the market this week. Every drop of paint in, on, and about the house, including fittings and machinery, was applied by me. Some of the exterior is overdue for a recoat, and I've been very busy with that lately. The interior I did to last a hundred years, so, with few exceptions, that will be another painter's concern.
It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the Ivory Sands House, but it is currently and more appropriately called by the name above.
Because of its occupants, the house means a great deal more to me than a long-term job or a fabulously curious building. I am going to miss the place dearly, but happily it is being sold because the owners have decided upon a rural life. I hope to find time to write more about it soon. In the meantime, I have been creating a website about the place that the reader may find interesting; it explains my unqualified claim that it is a sui generis living museum:
Dirty Nick's in Fall River
April 8, 2015
Today a friend sent me a link to a nostalgic article in my hometown newspaper about bygone businesses in Fall River, Massachusetts. I read the brief piece and gave it some thought. There isn't a single business or any place at all in Fall River that I miss. Had I had a nickel to waste on a pack of baseball cards, I might miss Swidey's Variety, a tiny store that was up Centre Street from my boyhood home. But I didn't, and I don't.
There were things about Fall River in the 1950's and early '60's, though, that I do miss. I miss the absence of the umbrella of constant, dirty din of jet planes. I miss the sweet, acid smell of aging copper window screens on a hot and humid summer day. I miss the romance of fog horns at night a mile down the hill in Mount Hope Bay, but I doubt people who lived at water's edge miss it. I miss the sound of a bicycle's warning bell that was used with meaning and that could be heard a half a block away. I miss the leisurely pace of backroads, without someone behind having a frantic need to go as fast as possible. I miss empty lots or any empty space at all; in Cambridge I don't have a single square inch of space to dump some dirt, much less space to shake out a dustmop. More than anything, I miss —for the sake of kids who have no idea what it's like— a child's ability to go anywhere to do anything that comes into one's head (unstructured play, as it has since been called) on foot or on bike, without adult supervision, without helmet, without worldly care. Ah, but for the otherworldy cares of this altar boy, I might have tasted actual freedom.
When I have to go to Fall River, I stop at a business known as Dirty Nick's. To go there for three dogs with the works is a kind of personal joke about the fact that there is no place in Fall River that I miss, nowhere I want to be, in this day or in past days. Nick's Original Coney Island Weiners, which was established in 1920 and which has now ancient photos of downtown on its walls, is a sort of artificially designated place to miss so that when I have to go to that God-forsaken city I have some place to stop where I can smile for the sake of smiling. And I made up that joke only long, long after I left Fall River.
Now I will end this blog entry and resume, at least until tomorrow's workday, my ongoing happy childhood. Yippee!
A Generic Portal
February 18, 2015
Most internet surfers use "Favorites" or "Bookmarks" to maintain links to their habitually visited websites. I have a different way of doing it. Many moons ago, I created my own webpage of links to the sites I visit regularly and included the local temperature along with direct searches of DuckDuckGo, Google, Merriam-Webster, and Wikipedia. Then I began custom-making such start pages, or portals, for friends and clients. With these pages, an individual has one's most popular links right there when a browser opens (if the page is set as the browser's homepage.)
Since I've done so many of these, I've decided to glean some of the most frequently requested links and put them on a generic portal (start page) in case anyone should have use for it. Here it is. (Just click the screenshot below.) If you find it useful, you may use it for the default start page for your browser —or bookmark it.
The No-Room-For-Snow Doom
Sunday, February 15, 2015
On New Years Eve, December 31, 1967, I thumbed the 120 miles from Fall River to Northampton to visit Cindy, hefting a large cardboard suitcase. In desert boots. There was a blizzard that night, and drivers weren't very kind. It took nine hours. The middle toe and the small toe on my right foot weren't the same for months.
There was a night back in the early '70's when pal Jamie wanted to go to a lecture given by some Zen guru at Smith College in Northampton. At the time, Jamie didn't have a car or a driver's license, so he borrowed Fred's old VW and I drove us. There was a blizzard that night, and the VW's windshield wipers operated with the old-fashioned vacuum system. That system was leaky, so the wipers worked only intermittently. There was no traffic on Route 2 to show the way, and I sometimes wandered over to the wrong side of the highway and hoped that no one would follow our tracks. We got to Smith okay, just in time for the end of the post-lecture reception, then reversed the ninety-five miles, back to Newton.
I remember that I didn't go to work on the day of the blizzard of '78 and went for a walk to visit friend Debbie instead. For the next couple of days I walked the four and a half miles to work. I didn't even wear a jacket or coat that winter, just layers of sweater, flannel shirt, and such, with a quilted vest. Then I drove my '65 Valiant through the travel ban with a ficitionalized document about emergency roof repair.
One night in the mid-'90's the weather people told of such dire blizzard conditions that almost no one got out onto the highways. With no traffic with which to contend, I knew I'd be fine and drove from Cambridge to Merrimac to visit friends.
What I'm saying is that I've never been impressed by snow so that it stopped me from going where, when, and how I please.
Well, I am nearly impressed. This weather borders on nightmarish, like a Twilight Zone version of the apocalypse. The snow of a few days ago here in eastern Massachusetts topped the accumulation of any on record, and today there is an ongoing blizzard. The snowpiles have become vertical, and it's a bit hard to be sure which piles have cars under them. I would have no problem with driving in this stuff, but there is simply no room left on the roads to stop the car, much less park it. I've kept my car's parking spot well groomed; I could drive away with no shovelling; but there's simply no place to go and there would be no parking spot to which to return if I did drive anywhere.
Now I'll get away from this keyboard and go for a stroll to enjoy this crispy air. Maybe I'll shovel enough of my neighbor's sidewalk so that her dogs can do their duty.
Super Bowl Notes
February 3, 2015
—The New England Patriots won the Super Bowl. After the game, there was a lot of talk about how the Seahawks lost it with a bad play call. It is more accurate to state that the Patriots won it. They were leading when the Seahawks had their last possession, and the 'Hawks failed in their comeback attempt. The better team simply beat the lesser team, according to the statistics as well as the score.
—My prediction was Patriots 38, Seahawks 20, with Shane Vereen and Danny Amendola featured. The only part I got right was my take on Vereen, who had 11 catches for 64 yards.
—MVP Tom Brady had a gaudy 74% completion rate and a Super Bowl record-setting 37 completions.
—Julian Edelman would have been a reasonable choice for MVP. In Super Bowl XXXIX, wide receiver Deion Branch won the MVP award with 11 catches for 133 yards and no touchdowns. In this Super Bowl, wide receiver Edelman had 9 catches for 109 yards, 1 carry for 7 yards, and 1 touchdown.
—Only two people have played in 6 Super Bowls: defensive tackle Mike Lodish, with the Bills and the Broncos, and Tom Brady.
—Quarterback Tom Brady is the greatest of all time (GOAT) by the standards of sports reporters, who measure with Super Bowl wins. Reporters have claimed for years that Joe Montana was the GOAT because he won 4 Super Bowls in dominating fashion. (Terry Bradshaw also won 4, but with superlative defenses.) Montana and Bradshaw each appeared in four Super Bowls; each won all their Super Bowls. Some will say that Brady won a lower percentage of his SB's. His standing can hardly be diminished by virtue of the fact that he made it to more SB's than Montana or Bradshaw; it is enhanced. By sports media standards, Tom Brady is the GOAT.
January 24, 2015
In the run-up to the Super Bowl, hundreds of libelous columns and millions of slanderous words have been directed toward the New England Patriots. In the hope of finding a voice of common sense, I looked to The New York Times only to find this column:
Gamesmanship vs. Cheating
Patriots Scandal Continues Long Debate Over Sports Ethics
The article dances around but fails to resolve its question of how to gauge ethics in sports. I would suggest that, just as one uses a register of diction when applying for a job different from the register of diction one uses when ordering a meal, one ought to be able to have a moral compass appropriate to the occasion. After all, sports are entertainment precisely because the contest is not consequential outside itself. When was the last time a Boston Bruin was arrested for knocking out a Montreal Canadien on the ice?
However, my disappointment with the article does not come from its failure to meet its purpose. My disappointment comes from the fact that it addresses the current brouhaha in the NFL as an ethical question at all. It is not. Here is the comment I posted to the Times:
This article panders to the witchhunters with its citation of "two high-profile rule controversies that have potentially tainted their legacies" and the suggestion that they constitute a question of ethics. In the first case, Baltimore Ravens Coach John Harbaugh, at first furious about the Patriots' creative use of the rulebook, suggested that the rules need changing. He then went on to say "[Patriots Coach] Bill Belichick is the greatest coach of our generation, without question." In the second case, nothing has been determined except that some footballs were found to be underinflated. No human intervention has yet been found to be responsible for the missing air. Where in these "controversies" is there a question of ethics? To suggest that the current witchhunt over alleged cheating by the Patriots is a matter of ethics is to suggest that McCarthyism is the source of ethical questions. This article lends credibility to the apparently fashionable notion that a million accusations make a sin. What ethical question does this article purport to be addressing? There is none yet, except in the minds of sports fans who place prejudice before logic.It's truly sad when the sports world is filled with mindless hate-mongering. It's even sadder when people who should know better validate the nonsense by ignoring the simple facts and enlarging the ridiculous debate. Both the Times and Washington Post are running articles discussing whether the underinflation of footballs is a case of gamesmanship or of cheating. It is a logical impossibility that, before human intervention is demonstrated, the condition of footballs can be declared either.
Ravens vs. Patriots
January 5, 2015
This coming Saturday (4:35 EST on NBC) the New England Patriots host the Baltimore Ravens in the current round of NFL playoff games. There has been a consensus among sports reporters that the Ravens represent the most dangerous threat to the Pats' road to the Super Bowl, mainly because the Ravens have won two of their past three postseason meetings with the Pats. A look at the win/loss columns suggests otherwise.
In the regular season this year, the Ravens are 1 and 6 against teams with winning records. They are 8 and 0 against teams with losing records; four of those wins were against the terrible National Football Conference (NFC) South division. By my estimation, they have exactly two almost noteworthy wins this year: They beat the Steelers in Baltimore and the 8 and 8 Dolphins in Miami. Those two wins hardly constitute evidence of a strong contender!
In constrast, the Patriots, while meeting much stronger opponents, have bested, usually by wide margins, everyone on their schedule except the Chiefs in Kansas City and the Packers in Green Bay.
How can anyone seriously suggest that the Ravens are the Patriots' most dangerous opponent in these playoffs? Should the Pats (seven point favorites) be victorious, their next opponent will be the Broncos or the Colts, both teams with records much more impressive than that of the Ravens.
Moreover, as I explained right here in this blog, it wasn't the Ravens who beat the Pats last time so much as Bill Belichick's coaching..
Anything can happen in any NFL game. Thus, every team is dangerous. I submit that the Ravens are the least of the beasts.
Friday, December 5, 2014
As a resident of Cambridge, I of course have close friends who are involved in fancy shmancy restaurants, and, as someone whose trade is making pretty rooms prettier, I probably should not point a questioning finger at people who make pretty meals prettier. But...
As I was channel-surfing the other night, I came across a PBS program, bizarrely titled "Mike Colameco's Real Food," that was depicting someone tweezing tiny bits of food around a plate. "Real Food?" I haven't stopped laughing since, because I cannot for the life of me understand how any physically active human could sustain oneself if this sort of fare were the real food of one's life. On the rare occasions when I dine at this sort of place, I almost always leave feeling hungry for some meat and potatoes or at least a tuna sandwich.
I do know that there are other perspectives about eating. I can recall only one chat with my grandfather, who died when I was ten. He was sitting at his kitchen table eating French toast. He said, "I have to take more maple syrup to finish my French toast, then I have to get more French toast to finish my maple syrup, then I have to take more maple syrup to finish my French toast... Some people eat to live, but I live to eat." Myself, I eat so that I can do other things, but different strokes for different folks.
That said, I cannot help but find it hilarious that people will go to these lengths to transform what I consider fuel into something that seems almost purely entertainment and that would leave me starving to death in no time.
Here are some screenshots of the aforementioned program:
I wonder if the leaves of this garnish are pointed in the correct direction.
One must trust the chef to have counted them.
A plate of "Real Food."
I do not begrudge anyone one's innocent fun, especially in the matter of indulgent eating or in the matter of pushing to artistic extremes —God bless 'em!— but, for me, it just doesn't cut the stone-ground, organic, fair-trade, locally sourced, heirloom mustard.
Drag queens as social media freedom fighters
October 1, 2014
USA Today reports today that Facebook apologizes to drag queens over real name policy. In a policy change, "Drag queens will now be able to use their stage names on Facebook, he [Facebook product chief Chris Cox] said." "'The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life. For Sister Roma, that's Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that's Lil Miss Hot Mess,' he wrote."
How hilariously third-millenium! In a move apparently motivated by political correctness, Facebook has set itself on a slope that is slippery indeed. If crossdressing creates identities legitimate enough for Facebook, how about other performers or artists of any kind?
Can Facebook exclude multidisciplinarians who have different identities for separate venues of social intercourse? Does Facebook attempt to unite the identities of writers who maintain entirely separate noms de plume? Web-savvy individuals have always established multiple identities, for any number of reasons. It appears that Facebook may be succumbing to this tradition. I sniff an oncoming swell of beautifully egalitarian chaos.
August 11, 2014
Yesterday my companion and I decided to take a random drive to no place in particular. We didn't want to go north or south, because we knew that doing so would find us, on the return trip, caught in the usual hot summer Sunday beach traffic. That leaves the alternatives of the Mass Pike or Route 2. About forty miles out on Route 2, she casually mentioned the word "Walpole," and, after sorting out the fact that she knew nothing of a Walpole, Massachusetts, I turned off Route 2 onto 140 North headed for Walpole, New Hampshire.
As we glided along in the big air-conditioned car, our attention and admiration was given to the midsummer green everywhere; it wasn't the pale, sprouting green of spring or the dusty, brownish green of late summer. For the past couple of summers, our weather has brought us an unusual abundance of flora, and yesterday it all appeared an exact and flawless forest green.
No further ideas came into our heads, so I just kept driving northwest, following Route 12 to Walpole. I think she had a vague notion of dining at Burdick's Chocolate, but the cafe was closed when we parked in the center of the quiet town. We heard some music in the distance and wandered over to the rectangular green, a short block away from the crossroads at the business center. In the bandstand was the Montague Community Band. It was the first time since the 1950's, when my mother took my siblings and me to an oompah band concert in Fall River, that I have seen a bandstand actually being used for its intended purpose.
I felt a little self-conscious setting down my moving pad-cum-picnic blanket beside the bandstand. Almost all the attendees, a couple of hundred with a very high geezer quotient, sat in folding chairs set a respectable distance from the structure; there may well be a policy or tradition proscribing blankets. A few men and boys in Boy Scout shirts sold hot dogs and soft drinks. At intermission, a few people walked to the town hall across the little street, informing us that the restrooms were open. A quite civilized and well monied place, Walpole, New Hampshire.
The group played big band songs, e.g., "In the Mood," and marching tunes, e.g., "Grand Old Flag." The musicians were not professionals, and the effect was not passing enthralling. It was only very, very pleasant. On this unimprovable summer afternoon, pleasant was perfect.
July 21, 2014
It was a big deal when in 1630 the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony brought the physical charter with them when they came to Boston. The law was such that decisions made regarding the management of the company had to be made in the presence of the physical charter. Thus, the colonists were free to adjudicate their day-to-day business with self-determination and without reference to authorities across the Atlantic. It was no fluke that the American Revolution started here.
It was a big deal when in 1803 the United States bought the Mississippi Basin from France for fifteen million dollars, thus giving the US the legal (for Europeans) basis for that enormous expansion.
Neither deal, in my estimation, was more important than the deal that was made in 1945 on Montague Street in Brooklyn. Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson. When I visit Brooklyn Heights, it gives me pleasure to stop, as I did yesterday, to read the plaque at the site.
Why all the entries about The Beatles?
June 23, 2014
Well, for some reason unknown to me, I decided a couple of years ago to complete my collection of Beatles music, or at least to own almost everything they issued. That goal was met last fall, but in the course of accumulating the CD's I started reading about them and then really liking them. I like them a lot, not for their music but for the friendship that they had and that, one suspects, Ringo and Paul still have. They had the most exclusive —and probably most intense, outside combat— club ever known to humankind, more insular than the club of the seven original US astronauts. The ferocious pace that they kept up for a decade could be maintained only by group of extremely interdependent fellows. Hard work done with singularity of purpose brings guys together; the stretches in Hamburg bars and all the touring constituted very hard work indeed. Then Beatlemania ensured that no one, not even their oldest pals, could share their experiences and feeiings. Beatlemania separated them from every non-Beatle human being. When superstar Eric Clapton went somewhere with his pal George, suddenly Eric was nobody; there was a deity in the house. When Paul explained later why he took LSD despite his hesitance, he said, "Talk about peer pressure: The Beatles!" This was some clique. Thus, I have continued to read about them because of my fascination with the intensity of their friendship.
Bob Spitz, The Beatles: The Biography
Another rant about the state of writing
Sunday, May 4, 2014
Today I tried to read Bob Spitz's The Beatles: The Biography. It is published by Little, Brown and Company, so I thought it would be a decent read. It is not. Nor is it a biography, if a biography is nonfiction. When an author strings together descriptions of minute details of actions taken, in solitude, by people who have been dead for fifty years, I know that I am reading fiction. I gave it up after eighty-odd pages, less than ten percent of this monumental, hallucinatory compendium. Shame on Little, Brown. I used to think of that outfit as a bastion of some of the higher workings of civilization; it is no longer.
However, the publisher's disingenuousness aside, I am not against the telling of a good story, and this book might have been a good story if Little, Brown employed editors. Apparently, they would prefer to do without and to allow more dangling modifiers and mixed metaphors than could be conjured by an infinite number of monkeys. They bother themselves not even with spell-checking software; else how is "unconsolable" left in there?
The author garbles the meanings of words, e.g., uses "necessitated" when he means "needed," and further garbles entire phrases, e.g., "...children, whose expanding world held little glamour for tradition." (I'm just happy as pie that the world didn't hold lots o' glamour for tradition! Better the world should hold the mayo for tradition!)
I suppose the book is a good story for dimwits who will think they are learning something about the Beatles, but it is not biography or history; it is fiction. Though it is an assiduously researched work, it is fiction, badly conceived and very poorly told. More important to me, it furthers the current destruction of language (along with the critical thinking that depends on language) and does so with the imprimatur of a once great publishing house. It would be unkind of me to blame the author who, crippled by the obvious inability to use language to formulate reasonable thinking, did so much work, but that Little, Brown published it as it is reflects a bad imprint. Also, their allowance of his use of the words "The Biography" in the title is inexcusable.
I borrowed this book just today, but I am ending this blog entry now and going to the library to drop it into the night-deposit box before I lose my temper and start writing what I really think of it.
A parting anecdote: Before Little, Brown moved to Washington and sold their corporate soul to Satan (though I do not know which came first), I held in my hands, at their offices on Arlington Street in Boston, some pages on which Jack Kerouac had pounded letters with his manual typewriter. That was fun.
'58 Caddy - A Boyhood Dream
March 6, 2014
In the 1990's when two or three of my nephews separately told me that they had no interest in cars or drivers' licenses, I was dumbfounded. I thought that there was something awful wrong with them or their whole generation. When and where I was a boy, the priority of all boys was to be old enough to get a license to drive. Maybe the boys Out West wanted guns or horses more —it seemed that way on TV— but we lads Back East in Fall River, Massachusetts wanted cars, years before we even understood what back seats were for. We liked our bicycles, but we knew they were steppingstones.
So it was that we male Baby Boomers spent time studying the relative appeal of the various models of desirable cars, i.e., Ford or General Motors products. Chrysler and American never made the cut.
In the second half of the '50's, all cars had fins of some sort. An extended poll lasting many hours of reverie was undertaken to determine the best fins of all. There were some strong second-place contenders, such as the '57 Chevy, still today a top choice of hotrodders, and there were many poor competitors, such as the too-much-too-late '60 Chrysler Imperial in which Jackie rode to JFK's burial. In the end, 100% of me unanimously chose the fins of a 1958 Cadillac as the best of all time, making it my dream car, at least until the arrival of the radically new '61 Chevy.
Yesterday I spotted one —a convertible no less! perfect!—on Route 3 in the area of Marshfield, in showroom condition. It was easy to get off a few shots with a little point-and-shoot camera, but only the first, of the rear quarter, was any good, because I was driving and there was traffic. The driver enjoyed my appreciation of his ride. It was doing a steady 60 MPH, so it was no trouble to speed ahead to a rest stop to get a shot of the front, but my timing was off.
I did however succeed in revisiting a boyhood daydream; it is left to the reader to decide whether my affinity is more telling of me or the times. There were for me moments when this car was just about the prettiest sight the world had to offer.
Beatles Recordings on which George Sings Lead Vocal
(For Fab Four Fans)
February 25, 2014
Unable to find the list for which I was looking, I made it for myself. I then decided that I may as well share it:
Fun in the country
February 13, 2014
Last weekend I went on what was nominally a group cross-country skiing trip but would be more accurately described as getaway for a local extended clan. Most of the time was spent with socializing; games like charades, Pictionary, and pingpong; a bonfire; and walks in the woods. Most participants stayed at the very rustic and minimalist resort called Stump Sprouts in Hawley, Massachusetts in the barn-like structure with many rooms with multiple beds, some beds in open spaces. Being self-conscious about snoring, I cannot imagine getting much sleep in such an environment; my companion and I stayed at the Hampton Inn in nearby Greenfield and commuted. The best fun for me was entertaining the youngest among us, a seven-month-old, very happy boy, who found my goatee almost as good a handhold as his grandfather's full beard.
After I got home I made a DVD of slideshows with the photos from a few cameras; copies are in circulation for folks who were there. Here is a quick version lasting five minutes, seventeen seconds, and here is the same slideshow sped up to two minutes, thirty-nine seconds.
I hear that George, who organizes these annual trips, would like them to grow even larger. I recommend participation for those gentle folk who like a midwinter, head-clearing retreat that can have one acting and feeling like a kid again.
Postscript - February 23
Here is an excerpt from the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association Newsletter that was sent yesterday:
Four things I have learned so far this week
February 5, 2014
—Spilling coffee on a keyboard does indeed end its functionality.
—If the C character on one's alternate keyboard does not work and C is one of the characters in the admin password for one's computer, one cannot access one's files.
—If spilled coffee somehow migrates to the router under one's desk, that router quits working (or, as they say in New Hampshire, it goes Democrat.)
—While big tragedies can be onerous, little tragedies can be pretty damn funny.
Artisanal and Iconic, Respectively
January 26, 2014
The quality of everyday communications has deteriorated continually during the past century, but nothing bristles me more than the word fads that seem to arise these days. This trend became evident to me when, in the 1980's I think it was, the television networks appeared to have felt required to use the word "detente" several times in every other news broadcast. Then the New Yorker would not allow publication of an issue without littering it with "redux." Most current (beyond the ubiquitous "very unique") are "artisanal," "respectively," and "iconic."
"New Artisanal Fish Sauces" reads a headline in the New York Times. Taken literally, "artisanal" denotes "made by humans who make such things." Gibberish! If the users of this word were more honest they would instead choose "not usually found in discount stores" or "high-priced."
Searching for an example of the misuse of "respectively" almost led me into a gaffe of Biblical proportions. (Had to work that one in, "Biblical proportions." I think it's funny.) The Times headline that I found first reads "GIANT GOLD NUGGETS FOUND.; Two Weighing 967 and 373 Ounces Respectively Dug Up in Australia." Fortunately, I uncharacteriscally took the time to click "View Full Article" only to find that the article was written in 1906, thereby making it a good rebuttal to this blog entry. Here is a more recent example from Boston.com: "...scored their first Top 10 chart positions in the Uk at #6 on the Independent Albums and #5 on the Rock and Metal charts, respectively." The word adds nothing. "Respectively" quite often seems to be used to stretch word counts or to sound grown-up, the way college students add the utterly meaningless "on some level."
What set off this blog entry was an attempt —unsuccessful, in the event— by a fellow editor to redact a press release that referred to Robert Burns as an "influential Scottish cultural icon." An human icon? Then there was a line I found, while doing my pre-Super Bowl reading in that arena of linguistic nihilists, sports reportage: "The fine is not related to Sherman's now iconic postgame interview..." An iconic interview?
The misuse of such and many other words creates communication that, as Sam Clemens puts it, "accomplishes nothing and arrives in air." He admonishes, "Use the right word, not its second cousin."
Up From Under Downton Abbey's Spell
January 7, 2014
I had been looking forward to the new season of "Downton Abbey." With the killing-off of a character at the end of what seemed every other episode last season, the series had become for me a comedy rather than a drama, but I enjoyed it no less. I even relished the hilarious eyeliner on Mr. Carson as a counterpoint to the otherwise gorgeous makeup.
The opening episode Sunday night disappointed me. The flatness of lighting is gone; the exquisite interiors appear less frequently; and the erstwhile stunning cinematography has diminished significantly in quality. The things about the program that had gotten my two hours every week have gone the way of the Empire. The former production values have ostensibly been replaced by a redoubling of the plots built on the simple device that no one ever hears the truth except by eavesdropping. Ho-hum.
Farewell, Lord Grantham. I will always love you, Mrs. Patmore.
December 24, 2013
Early in what later came to be called the fourth century anno Domini, the Jesus cult comprised only about twenty percent of the population of the Mediterranean basin. However, Constantine, emperor of the eastern half of the Roman Empire, saw in the monotheistic, fatalistic, paternalistic new religion a structure ideal for the development of a totalitarian state. In 325, he called the Council of Nicea to centralize its authority, and he made Christianity the state religion.
The basic tenet of the religion is the belief that this world and all its people are disposable and that life on earth is only a test for admission into a place of eternal bliss. Therefore, the endurance of slavery, along with war and any other savagery, is not only perfectly fine; it is good for maximum credit at Heaven's Gate. For two millenia, the Resurrection has been the foundation of Western Civilization.
It is all very sickening, of course, but that is no reason not to use the excuse to party...
Michael is booked today
Thursday, November 21, 2013
The medical arts and sciences constitute the singular unarguable justification for civilization, in my considered view.
At this moment my saddle pard Michael M. is undergoing a seven-hour surgery at Mass General for the removal of a cancerous tumor. I deem the doctors working on him to be the modern moralistic equivalent of the Knights of the Round —Operating— Table, their scalpels keener than Excalibur and their discipline truer than Merlin's magic.
Of course, my first atheist's prayer is with Michael right now, but I feel an especial need to use this space for another personal appeal: May society be more mindful of its debt to every Sir or Madam Galahad who honestly takes the Hippocratic Oath.
Down with back spasms
Saturday, October 26, 2013
There are, I am sure, a few friends, neighbors, or clients who are wondering why I appear to be disappeared. Please let me explain. Like about twenty-five percent of Americans, I have a lower-back problem. I am luckier than most in this regard, inasmuch as my chronically cranky disk very rarely limits my activities. This is one of those rare times; I have spent most of the past five days horizontal with the worst spasms of the past thirty or so years.
The catalyst, which took me a little too long to recognize, was almost certainly the contorted way I habitually sat at my computer. The delay in recognition left me with a repetitive-stress sort of problem that has lingered for months and that is now receding.
I am today just starting to feel my Cheerios again and will be back in circulation soon, barring spontaneous combustion from cabin fever.
The Restaurant Bubble
Saturday, September 28, 2013
After attending the Handel and Haydn Society's presentation of Bach's Mass in B-Minor at Symphony Hall last night, we went to a new restaurant-bar on the Cambridge-Somerville line. When we walked in, Jimi's "Foxy Lady" was on the sound system. It was followed by a continuing stream of big hits from the '60's and early '70's, "I Want to Hold You Hand," something by Zeppelin, "Moondance," etc. The midrange and treble were cut out of what should have been great music, leaving an irritating, thunderous rumble. It sounded like car tires thumping against broken asphalt, but much louder.
We had called ahead to ascertain whether they were serving dinner at the late hour of eleven, and they responded affirmatively. When we were seated, we were given menus only to find out after we were ready to order that half the items listed were not available. I ordered the sausage dinner, euphemized as "Choucroute Garni." The sausages had the mouth-feel of soggy French toast and tasted like what's left in the frying pan after you remove the burgers. They were served on a half-forkful of something billed as kraut. The plate was completed with a slab of grilled pork belly. Who eats that stuff? Maybe frigid-weather mountain people? My companion ordered the spaghetti and said, eloquently I thought, "It was the tastiest ever food I didn't like." The stingy $7 glasses of delicious Victory Prima Pils were the only real pleasure of the experience.
When we get to the point where, in a new, pseudo-hip restaurant, fried pork fat is touted as chic or haute cuisine —or even as something actually to eat!— you know that what we have here is a Restaurant Bubble.
In the mid-'80's, people overpaid for well painted particleboard houses (still happening, by the way) and created the Housing Bubble. With the ever-growing percentage of meals eaten outside the home, we have come to spectacularize the mundane or even unpalatable, the way we do nowadays with coffee and so many other things. Every cook who can alter a food enough to make its original flavor unrecognizable is called a chef. A superfluity of bizarre TV cooking shows has us Cuisinart-whipped into a frenzy of explorations in questionable dining. As the former wife of cultural giant Salman Rushdie, Top Chef's Padma Lakshmi ought to have a greater sense of embarrassment than to appear on that program, which has more to do with the promotion of spiking hair with mousse than with the promotion of cooking mousse.
This town is crying for some midnight hash houses. The next time I'm out and it's too late to get decent food or I'm too lazy to prepare dinner, I'll go home and hard-boil some eggs. It will be healthier, cheaper, and a whole lot tastier.
—Though, in the event, there may be a few tears shed over the attendant loss of freshly tapped beer.
Postscript - A few minutes after this post
How silly and naive of me to think that I might have coined a phrase with "Restaurant Bubble." Immediately after this post, I sent the URL to my dining partner. Within minutes, she sent me three links to articles containing the phrase.
Postscript deuxième - November 6
A trusted friend who is a respected retired chef admonished me that I am not qualified to review a restaurant and that an earmark of that lack of qualifications is that one cannot responsibly judge a restaurant by a visit in its first couple of weeks. He did, however, fully concur with my assessment of the pretense involved in the business today.
The Jim Kweskin Jug Band at Club Passim
August 31, 2013
Sometime circa 1968, I heard a voice singing "I'm a Woman" and fell in love with the voice and the jubilation of the music. It was the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, and the woman was Maria Muldaur. When she released her first two solo albums, I all but wore out the vinyl. In fact, the last time I dangled my toes over the edge of a psychotropic abyss —January 16, 1975, I remember— it was her "Long Hard Climb" from her first album that I played over and over until I calmed down.
It was sometime in the early '80's that I first heard her live. She did a show at what was then called Passim Coffeeshop, run by Bob and RaeAnn Donlin. (Leon Redbone opened.) I had painted the place a couple of times in the mid-'70's and ate there once in a while, but I've been to concerts there only a few times. (I saw Allen Ginsburg there. Bob and Allen were old pals.)
The jug band is doing a 50th anniversary reunion tour and did four shows at what Maria has called "the scene of the crime," where they started so long ago. I was lucky enough to be in attendance at their last show at Club Passim, last night. What a hoot! The greybeards and ladies —i.e., pretty much everybody— in the audience had a rollicking good time. The surviving original conspirators are better musicians than they were fifty years ago, and their backing, billed as The Barbecue Orchestra, were terrific. It was great fun!
The Folly of Mosts
(And a little exercise for fans of Golden Era Hollywood)
Thursday, August 29, 2013
One of humankind's silliest pastimes is indulgence in the quest for the most whatever or the best whatever. What is your favorite book? Who was the greatest hitter? Who was the greatest US president? Who is the greatest rock'n'roll band? Current mass media are riding this fascination with their flood of best colleges, most livable towns, best beaches, et cetera ad absurdum. Maybe the quest for such things is our hope for certainty in a world of relativity, but I am not a psychologist (for which fact I thank The Fates every day), and I leave that question to someone with more library time and carrel space.
A few nights ago, while roaming the internet in habitual insomniac reading, I stumbled onto such a ranking of apples and oranges in the fruity world of declarations of ultimates. The American Film Institute (AFI), in 1999, listed the most legendary actors. The qualifications, according to this page on Wikipedia, were that the actors made their significant debuts before 1950 (or were deceased, thereby completing their oeuvres.) In the male category, here is the AFI's list of the "most legendary" actors:
In closing, I must in good conscience admit that there is an exception to my thesis that rankings of persons, institutions, or phenomena are usually silly: In a fair fight on neutral turf, Superman would surely beat up the Incredible Hulk.
Fort Independence on Castle Island
July 28, 2013
Went to Castle Island in South Boston today. Fortunately, free tours of Fort Independence on the island (actually connected by road to the mainland) are offered on weekend afternoons during summer by volunteers of the Castle Island Society. I did not absorb a lot of new information, but what I did learn was a lot of fun for me.
In its heyday in the early nineteenth century, the cannon fired fourteen-inch balls, weighing over four hundred pounds apiece, a distance of about three and a half miles. The actual cannon were melted for the iron during World War II, but there is at least one replica in place; it is impressive.
Another thing I learned was that the local legend that Edgar Allan Poe was inspired by an immurement at the fort to write "A Cask of Amontillado" is false. The purported victim, a Lieutenant Gustavus Drane, actually lived for many years after Poe's tour of duty at Fort Independence and is buried in Philadelphia, according to FindAGrave. (Ironically, though, Drane died just a few months before the first publication of "The Cask of Amontillado" in 1846.)
Also a lot of fun to discover was that our delightful tour guide, a gentleman named Dan Burns, studied, as did I, with the preeminent expert on Boston history, Professor Thomas O'Connor at Harvard Extension School. It was an easy guess to figure that the knowledgeable Mr. Burns knew the deservedly famous Professor (who passed in 2012), but it is a hoot that we took the same courses and may have been in class together.
Mr. Burns told us the open secret that the only time the Fort is open to the public, besides the times of these guided tours, is on Thursday evenings in June, July, and August for viewing the sunset over Boston Harbor. I think I may have to make that trip.
Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory
July 13, 2013
Usually on the Fourth of July I watch the Boston fireworks from my rooftop, but this year the temperature topped off at 94, and I felt like getting out of town. My destination proved an ironic choice for getting out of the hot city. I picked Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory in South Deerfield. One might reasonably suppose that such a place would be heated and humidified, but, holy cow!, they ought to issue machetes to guests for cutting through the air.
I was in really good humor, though. After getting tickets, as I walked to the entrance, I got a chuckle from the ticket-souvenir salesgal with "It's all-you-can-eat, right?"
The first room was filled with terrariums with bizarre lizards, one with postman butterflies (pictured at right), and a number with I-don't-know-what creatures.
Entering the main conservatory was like walking into a Disney movie. What fun! All manner of butterflies —though none native or familiar, as best I could see— were everywhere. I took 135 snapshots. "Look at this one!" "Look at that one!"
After a while, I felt a need to change out of my soaked shirt but couldn't leave, because this one butterfly refused to alight my companion's arm. She (my companion, not the butterfly) did the watusi, the mashed potato, the Transylvania twist, and the jitterbug, but that butterfly would just not leave so that we could go through the airlock. Finally, an attendant helped, with an ordinary foam paintbrush, and I went out to the car, swapped shirts, returned, and soaked another one before we left.
South Deerfield is about ninety miles from Cambridge, but I like driving, and it was certainly worth the trip. I will go again. But probably not during a heat wave.
Here are a few of my photos.
Lac-Mégantic Train Wreck
July 10, 2013
As does anyone, I sometimes wonder why one event affects me more deeply than another. The news of last weekend's train wreck in Lac-Mégantic leaves me heavy-hearted, even more than does the Boston Marathon bombing about two miles from my home in Cambridge.
I spent most of last summer in a house on Lac Mégantic about six miles from the town, where about forty people are still missing. (The hyphen in the town's name distinguishes the town from the lake.) I have washcloths in my bathroom and, for work, in my car that I bought in the Dollarama; that building no longer exists. The places where I bought my groceries, where I bought my paint, where I accessed the internet at the tourist office (which was the old train depot) are all in the "Red Zone" that is still closed to any but emergency personnel; many of the buildings have been blown away.
The streets and stores in Lac-Mégantic have the same names as did my classmates in French-Canadian Catholic grammar school and high school in Fall River, Massachusetts. There is no shortage of Lapointes. Everyone speaks the same language that I spoke, albeit very briefly, before I learned to speak English. These are not, however, the reasons why the tragedy has hit me the way it has.
The reason is that the people of Lac-Mégantic smile —or they used to smile. I have never been anywhere where people smile so much. The lake is a tourist destination (ironically, about only ten driving miles from the nearest border crossing, not for Americans but for Quebecers), but that fact does not explain the ubiquity of happy faces. I have been to other tourist spots of course, and I have never seen anything like it.
It is the loss of that joie de vivre that disturbs me so much.
Postscript July 14
One of the persons missing, according to CBC.ca, is Jo-annie Lapointe (no relation), who was waitressing at Le Musi-Café, where many died.
Cambridge is nearly a ghost town right now
April 19, 2013
Here is a video that I made at 2:48 PM in Harvard Square.
I live a diagonal block away from where the Marathon bombers lived in Inman Square, and this morning I took pictures of the police and media presence. I will probably upload these photos soon.
The Elizabeth Tower
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
In a recent post I erred in referring to "St. Stephen's Tower;" it was renamed the Elizabeth Tower last year for the queen's Diamond Jubilee.
Oddly, Parliament's online "Visiting" information seems to suggest variously that the tower had officially been called "the Great Clock Tower" or "the Clock Tower." Also, the virtual tour refers to the "Clock Tower" —not the "Elizabeth Tower." Nowhere among Parliament's webpages for tourists can I find a reference to "St. Stephen's Tower."
However, that it was indeed officially called St. Stephen's can be seen in this dissenting Parliamentary motion: Renaming St Stephen's Tower. I too regret the renaming, but for reasons different from those of the MP's. The renaming is arbitrarily dismissive of the past, and history is too important to dismiss for topical reasons. Also, the renaming defies common sense; it overturns tradition, and the maintenance of tradition is ostensibly the last remaining reason for the maintenance of the monarchy. Apparently, Elizabeth II may be a little short on sense of irony.
"First mentioned in 1184, the Chapel of St Stephen was initially the King's private chapel at the Palace of Westminster, and stood on the site of what is now St Stephen's Hall," states this page of Parliament's website. The name, then, which is at least 929 years old, survives elsewhere in the palace, and the current tower is a mere 153 years old. Still, that's a lot of history to set aside for anybody's diamond jubilee.
More Storm Damage
Friday, February 15, 2013
My previous entry depicted one end of a cabin. Here are some photos taken today at the other end. The same storm, of last weekend, made this roof harpoon. I haven't touched this pine yet; it rests just the way nature left it.
Anne Goldfeld, actual saint
Tueday, February 5, 2013
I am not making this up. In 2002 I painted the interior of the condo of a living, breathing saint.
An interior painter worth his salt has to know something about his client to discern how best to meet the requirement of making the interior more pleasant to the occupant. If I recall correctly, I had been recommended by a real estate broker to a buyer. I didn't know the buyer from Adam. Of necessity I asked a few questions of the new owner before and during my painting of this unit in Cambridge. It soon became evident that the individual was too deeply committed to saving lives to spend much time with the details of painting. Specifically, at that time, she was figuring out how most effectively to treat AIDS patients in some locations in Africa and in Indochina. Her focus on her vocation was so plain and so plainly thoroughgoing and exhaustive that I felt a special obligation to avoid taking advantage. I don't mean to suggest that I was any champion of moral rectitude; I was not, honestly. I was just a working stiff trying to get what I could out of my labor, but this painting customer was too generous with her own much more significant labor for me to allow myself much lassitude with my performance in my own trifling labor. I hope that my painting in some small way helped her just a bit on her heroic journey.
I am writing this now because I was reminded of that job a couple of days ago when NPR aired a piece about her. I am sure that my insignificant painting did not do as much to help her herculean efforts as possibly might this sequence of words, which will give search engines —with their power to catalyze funding— something worthwhile to chew on:
Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, Anne Goldfeld
Super Bowl competition:
Forty-Niners & Ravens vs. Downton Abbey
Super Bowl Sunday, February 3, 2013
I am not watching the Super Bowl this year, because I'm rooting against both teams. Without a horse in the race, I lose interest.
This year there is also the matter of a conflict: Downton Abbey will air during the ballgame. It is the first continuing drama that I have ever watched. A few weeks ago the photos of the building's exterior caught my eye; I watched an episode and got hooked.
The building Downton Abbey is played by the actual Highclere Castle, which was designed by Charles Barry, who had designed the Houses of Parliament, which houses are the architectural sight that has most impressed me in my life. I very nearly cried when I saw them.
A little digression here: I celebrated my fiftieth birthday by going to the Houses at noon to listen to Big Ben ring twelve times. The funniest thing happened. There was a lorry-driver strike ongoing, and the union chose noon as the moment to drive round the roundabout at the corner of the Houses blasting their horns in protest. I still chuckle thinking about it. At any rate, I went to listen to the bell several times, and it sounded to me just like it does in those old film noir period movies. By the way, Big Ben is not the clock nor the tower, named St. Stephen's Tower, but the bell itself.
Thus, it is no coincidence that I love the sight of Downton Abbey. I am of course also awestruck by the complexity and quality of the interiors. The walls engage my attention regularly for a couple of reasons. I doubt that those walls were painted when they were new; it seems to me that they would have been papered. Also, the depth of color of paint that comes through to the TV screen is beyond my experience and seems well beyond any wallpainting that I've ever done. Could it be that it is indeed paper and not paint? Whatever it is, the colors of walls are gorgeous.
Most of the characters are too one-dimensional to endear me, with the exceptions of the cook (Lesley Nicol as Mrs. Patmore), the cook's assistant (Sophie McShera as Daisy Mason), and the butler (Jim Carter as Mr. Carlson.) They all do a more than competent job —after all it's PBS (ITV) at its best or at least at its most popular— but it is neither the characters nor the sets that get me to watch the show.
It's the cinematography that has me smitten; it simply boggles my mind how someone can bring out all those colors and textures, lit so evenly and unobtrusively, so that all the interior shots look like masterful paintings come alive. Everything, the sets and the make-up, is maybe a little too perfect (excuse me that), like a Robert Redford movie, e.g., A River Runs Though It, but the imagery succeeds, for me, in imbuing the program with an aura of great romance. It is that romance that will have me turning on the idiot box at nine tonight.
Correction February 20
The clock tower was renamed the Elizabeth Tower in 2012 for the Diamond Jubilee.
Just my luck!
Thursday, January 31, 2012b
Just my luck to have something like this happen to me because I did something stupid.
Today I put a cup of coffee, a tubular plastic package of goat cheese, and a package of crackers on the coffee table and turned on the television.
The TV wasn't getting a good signal, so I wanted to move the antenna, but the cable somehow had gotten under the rolling TV cart. I picked up the edge of the cart to free the cable.
Down came the TV onto the custom-cut glass coffee tabletop and then to the floor with a mighty thud. The thud was mighty because it's an ancient 32-inch CRT TV, weighing seventy or eighty pounds.
Now, I don't care much about any television, much less my own, because I almost never turn it on. I do care, however, about the coffee table's glass top, because it's expensive to replace. I know; I had to have it replaced after the night Reagan was elected President. I have a personal tradition of drinking beer while watching Presidential election results, and my thirst that night grew with my fear that a grade-B actor would lead the US. By the time we were all finding out that Ronald Reagan was President-Elect, I had made a pyramid of bottles on the coffee table, and there must have been an undocumented earthquake, because the bottles fell over and broke the glass. It cost me fifty dollars ($5,000 or something in today's dollars) to have another piece of glass cut to fit the curved ends of the table. That episode was a typical, everyman's piece of bad luck, to have an earthquake break a tabletop like that.
Today the luck ran more typical of my own usual brand of luck. There was coffee everywhere, of course. The cheap, clear-glass mug was shattered, but that's only a $3 proposition at a discount kitchen store. The goat cheese was squeezed but useful, the crackers not so much; they were pulverized. But back to seventy pounds of electronics falling onto pricey glass that's a mere three-sixteenths of an inch thick...
The TV? Oh, it's fine. The glass tabletop? That's fine too. Ridiculous? No. Just my luck, and so far it generally runs that way also for things dearer to me than appliances or furniture. Many more times than I can possibly remember I have gotten a scar or a little wound or a lost fingernail or maybe a cracked bone when, with a more reasonable sort of luck, a body would have lost a limb or an organ. I have always counted myself a very lucky fella.
Knock on wood.
'Twas tofu killed the beast:
Coach's diet cost the Patriots the championship
Monday, January 21, 2013
My football-watching for the season is done, thanks to the Patriots' loss yesterday in the AFC Championship Game. At the end of such season-ending games, I usually simply turn off the TV and forget about the whole sport until "next year."
Today, though, I checked what Ron Borges of the Boston Herald had to say about the game. He is one of the very few sportswriters in my ken who can actually write, and he sometimes brings rare and needed circumspection to his columns, so I like his stuff. He suggests in today's piece that the loss was a result of the first-quarter injury of Patriot cornerback Aqib Talib.
While I am sure that Talib's injury helped the Ravens to win, anyone who watched the game knows that it was the Pats offense that blew it, and I am here to report why: Patriots Coach Bill Belichick has been eating tofu.
Forty years ago when my friends were cooking tofu, I shunned it, declaring it "girlie food." Nowadays we have medical studies that demonstrate that eating tofu increases estrogen levels. I knew it, I just knew it! Thus, with the evidence of the accompanying photo, I can publish the truth of the matter: Patriots Coach Bill Belichick has been eating tofu, and that diet caused the Patriots' loss. I know it, I just know it!
What else could explain his bizarrely uncharacteristic milquetoast coaching throughout the game?
Fourth-and-two at the Baltimore 45. We've seen this before. Against Peyton Manning's Colts in '09 —on his own 28!— the ever aggressive Coach Bill infamously went for it. Yesterday on the enemy's side of the field? Punt. Girlie. Tofu.
With twenty-six seconds left in the first half, the Pats had first down on the Ravens' ten-yard line. And they get off exactly one (1) play and wait till four seconds left before calling a time-out and having to settle for a field goal? Ridiculously hesitant clock management. Girlie. Tofu.
Fourth-and-nine at the Baltimore 35. Punt? To gain what? A couple of dozen yards at best? Oh, but what about the wind? Lions and tigers and bears, oh, my! Yes, punt. As timid a decision as you'd expect in a junior high intramural soccer match. Girlie. Tofu.
Repeat same in third quarter. Fourth-and-eight at the Baltimore 34. The very same coaching decision to make. Not punt again, surely. Yep, punt again. Double girlie. Double tofu.
The most unmistakably testosterone-free moment had come early, with 6:25 to go in the first quarter. Fourth-and-two at the Baltimore 12. Go for a field goal? Not the real Bill Belichick, not in a thousand years. As unPatriotic as imaginable, but that's what they did! Archetypically yin. Girlie! Tofu!
Monday, January 14, 2013
Today was frighteningly warm at sixty degrees, and thus it was the best January day for beachcombing in my memory. I had a couple of hours, so there I drove. The only company on the beach, aside from my companion, were dogwalkers. The seashells far outnumbered the bits of flotsam washed ashore; that surprised me a bit, but then it is January after all. I skipped stones, inspected shells, and used a good percentage of my physical strength to liberate a lobster pot mired in the sand. It was a successful little outing, and I really felt peaceful.
There are, at least for me, planeloads of irony in finding quietude (if not quiet) at Yirrell Beach. I get out of Cambridge in order to escape the cacophony of city sounds, supreme among them the umbrella of racket coming from Logan Airport a very few miles away. Yirrell Beach is a few hundred yards from the thresholds of two of Logan's runways. As one looks out at the ocean, one sees jumbo jets coming straight at one and passing a mere two hundred feet or so directly overhead, every minute or two. Why is it that the intermittent roar of individual planes can be a respite from the constant hum of dozens of them?
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Today I finally rid myself of my Grape iMac DV. It was my first new computer, and I really liked keeping it handy. Probably because I still had all the original packing material, it was accepted by Mark Peck for his collection, on the web at TheAppleMuseum.org.
It was a wonderful machine in its day and would still be so but for the computer world's need to supplant good products with newer, faster, and often less capable ones. The iMac DV used Mac OS 9, which never crashed in the last two years that I used it. Apple claims that the newer OS X never crashes, but the applications that run on it regularly freeze the computer and fire up what I call The Eternal Rainbow Wheel of Death, familiar to all current Mac users. What I miss most about OS 9 was the dropdown menu access to everything, which access has been usurped by the cartoonish, annoying, and unjustifiably intrusive Dock in OS X.
I would have liked to keep the iMac yet longer, but it simply took up too much space to warrant its retention just for nostalgia's sake. I am delighted that it did not go directly to some toxic waste dump and that Mr. Peck has space for it.
Marc Dominique Lapointe
December 31, 2012
A brilliant pianist with the rare gift of perfect pitch, a terrific music teacher and life coach to many kids in a public school in one of the most distressed neighborhoods in New England, Marc was my baby brother. He died this fall.
Consequently, I have not recently had much of the humor requisite to my attempts at adding readable entries to this space.
In the coming new years, I will honor Marc's memory by essaying to apply the life lessons he taught me to be a better fellow passer in the night; if I am successful in doing so, then maybe not all of his life is gone.
Naming a wild animal
Saturday, October 13, 2012
I have just returned from a few weeks spent in relatively deep solitude at a house in the woods. I was not lonely, but one visitor did provide welcome company:
I regularly saw a chipmunk scrurrying through the bushes at the end of the lawn around the house. To entertain myself, I made a habit of leaving an almond at the top of a short stake by the bushes. Soon the almond began disappearing with regularity, and I would replace it a couple of times a day, each time making a loud clucking sound so that the chipmunk would associate me with the almond. This practice continued for two or three weeks.
I spotted him once or twice at the stake looking for the next almond. I named him Wally (along with assigning him a gender) because he may have been living in a stone wall nearby. After a couple of weeks, I noticed that, several times, he ran close by the wall of the house, near me, as though taunting me to bring more almonds.
One day, he sat up near the house and looked at me. I tossed him an almond; he looked for it in the grass but could not find it. I lobbed more almonds, each one closer to me in the middle of the lawn. He found only one or two but kept coming closer. In short order, Wally was taking almonds from my fingers. It was a thrill. I have on rare occasions handfed chipmunks, squirrels, and raccoons all my life, but it had been a long time.
He gently touched my fingertip just once with his teeth, but he got the hang of it. He would grab and chew a succession of about three almonds. When his jowls were full he would run off to stash his load and then return for another. I figured that he could keep up this activity all day, so I left the lawn after he had made a few trips and moved on to other activities.
Never saw Wally again.
The next day was rainy, and, staying indoors, I did not keep an eye out for the chipmunk. On subsequent days, the almond was left untouched on the stake. With dread, I checked the mousetraps in the house. With a cityslicker's ignorance, my best guess is that the chipmunk was looking for me or the almonds that he had missed on the lawn and gotten scooped up by a hawk. Oh, I killed that striped rat alright.
Won't ever lead a chipmunk to an open space again. And probably won't be naming a wild animal again anytime soon.
Alice is the name of Alice Brock
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Two years —a long time in regard to the cultural development— before there was a Woodstock Nation, there was the Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement, of which I was a citizen at its inception in 1967. In fact, a cultural eon later in 1969, I made sure to sit front-row center, literally, at the world premiere of the movie that was made to celebrate the song and the movement.
Below is my invitation to the movie "Alice's Restaurant." People were invited to attend by folks roaming around with Polaroid cameras. They would take a snapshot of a freak ("hippie" to aliens to the Alice's Restaurant Massacree Movement) and insert the photo into a folded invitation. My picture was taken on three occasions. I declined one of the subsequent invitations and passed along another. Note that I am rolling a cigarette with the Bugle Tobacco seen in my pocket. I was living on the street at the time, and a pouch of Bugle cost only twelve cents. In the background is the south wall of Harvard Yard. Arlo allows that "...Alice's Restaurant is not the name of the restaurant, that's just the name of the song..." Well, Arlo, as you and I know and so many of us seem to forget, Alice is actually the name of the eponymous Alice Brock. She is stuck with being that icon for us, and I hereby report that she is carrying that burden with lovely noblesse oblige. I had heard a couple of years ago, from another Provincetown resident, that it was tiring for her to be that Alice. What a burden! A little like being an ex-Beatle without the half-billion dollars of padding. She has resolved to acquiesce to the inevitable and to accommodate herself to the fact that, en fin, it is not at all a bad thing that everyone smiles at the very mention of her name!
This past Saturday I had the great good fortune of having a chat with the affable, gracious artist Alice in her studio. I was arm candy/photographer/chaffeur at a wedding in Truro this weekend, and my darling companion bought some of Alice's painted beach stones (these) for wedding favors. It was my idea; I figured that most wedding favors are disposable things that folks discard quite quickly; these wedding favors will likely be kept as little treasures. Thus, the wedding will be well remembered.
A Visit to the Old Country
Saturday, August 11, 2012
A pal has a lakeside cottage in Quebec from which I returned two days ago after several weeks of my usual rural play: sunning, swimming, kayaking, fishing, taking amateurish pictures, and mostly staring into the distance and foreground, amazed at the bounty of multifarious forms of life on this planet.
The first thing that I notice when I visit the country of my forefathers is that everything is clean. There is no litter. Next I notice that everyone is polite. The clerks are grateful for your trade; the drivers do not tailgate; and the residents are appreciative of one's attempts to speak French. Then I notice that at about ten o'clock everything stops until dawn, except the occasional logging truck. The only regular sounds I heard between an hour after dusk and dawn were frogs and occasional loons. Dawn was announced by a nearby murder of crows.
I spent most of the time alone, and my internal clock reset automatically to get me up, most mornings, before dawn and to put me to sleep at about nine. It was a very peaceful rhythm, but I suppose I failed fully to adjust, because I drank about four bottles of Beck's almost every night —more than my habitual dose of self-medication.
Perhaps the most exciting moment of my trip came when my hosts were there and wanted to clear a clogged tube that they use to regulate the water level of a beaver pond. Without it, the beaver lodge and entire pond would be in jeopardy. I have always wanted to swim in a swamp, probably because it is about the scariest thing in the world to me. When my hosts could not find the tube that runs through the beaver dam, I walked in, muddled cautiously through the beavers' construction, and sank into a couple of feet of mud before standing on hard ground and retrieving and clearing the end of the tube. It was not swimming in a swamp, but it was a very satisfying literal immersion into nature.
The greatest benefit of the trip to me was that the blessed solitude allowed me to recalibrate the coordinates of my self-assessment, who I am and where I am in my life. Even now as I write this in Cambridge, I have a clearer understanding of my dreams and my shortcomings.
I will put up a page of photos of the trip when I have a little more time.
Met a man with a radio once...
Wednesday, May 2
Today I was exchanging emails with a friend about music. He wrote me about a TV program "called 'The Voice' wherein unknown singers are discovered and in the process get invaluable exposure." He told me how this program sometimes rescues lost souls. I responded by recounting something that happened to me a long time ago.
It was the night of November 14, 1969, and I got on a bus in Northampton, Massachusetts bound for Washington, for the purpose of joining the huge antiwar protest scheduled for the next day. In New Haven, an elderly gentleman embarked and sat down beside me. He was listening to C&W music on a transistor radio. That annoyed me, because in 1969 longhairs weren't supposed to like C&W music and because I wanted to get some sleep so that I'd be ready in the morning to shout "Hell, no! We won't go!" and "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh; the NLF is gonna win!" I very demurely and politely asked him if he minded turning off the radio. He did so, but he started talking. This is what he said:
Since then, I have come to appreciate C&W music, but I wonder to what extent the oft-used narrative of an unfortunate background really helps any form of music. Apparently —if the two brief samples I've heard are representative— on TV shows like "The Voice," desperate circumstances supersede talent in qualifying for airtime.
Postscript Thursday, May 3
My correspondent who catalyzed this blog entry —and who is an accomplished amateur musician— wrote me, "I was glad to see you didn't embarrass yourself by being too forthcoming about your views on music." He has a point. I am actually bereft of any demonstrable qualifications for judging music.
If I Were King...
Saturday, April 28, 2012
The History of InmanSquare.com
Saturday, April 21, 2012
A couple of days ago, I edited the About page for InmanSquare.com, a website I do for my neighborhood. Most of that About page is informative and boring. However, since I created the website circa 1999, well before most of my neighbors were familiar with the internet or even had personal computers, I took especial care in writing the When section. I reproduce it here for the edification of anyone interested in the history of a typical local website.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Today in Plymouth I spotted what appeared to be an immature bald eagle circling nearly directly overhead. I had recently spotted individuals several times, so I have taken to keeping my camera very handy. As I readied the camera, a clearly mature bird came to keep company with its mate or offspring. They cavorted over a nearby pond briefly and were gone.
My favorite photo of one of my favorite subjects
Sunday, February 12, 2012
An ol' saddle pard, photographer Walter Gundy, just sent me a digital copy of a shot he took in early 1977. He tells me that he used a "Nikon F or F2 35mm SLR camera, probably 85mm/1.8 lens."
I recall that there was some glare on my nose, so he put some powder on it. That was the only occasion when I have had anything like make-up on, Halloween face paint excepted. The lower hair is wavy because I had just taken it out of a pigtail, which was my customary coif then. I do not recall why a cane was used as a prop.
Walter trained with very high-end photographer George Schiavone in Miami years ago. His portraits are keepers, as evidenced by the samples on his modest website, waltergundy.com, which we updated last Tuesday.
The same year that Walter took this shot, he was restoring old photos for the S & S Restaurant in Inman Square, which were the first that began the collection now decorating the dining rooms. Also that year, he directed the first laser show in Boston, "Lovelight," at the Hayden Planetarium of the Museum of Science.
Walter has shared with me hundreds of fascinating, personal anecdotes, starting with the folk-rock scene in Greenwich Village in the early 1960's, many about famous people. A few of them are publicly repeatable. One day I would like to publish them in this space.
Wild Kingdom in Plymouth, Massachusetts?
Friday, February 3, 2012
Today I was standing in a clearing, facing a pond a few dozen yards away, in Plymouth. With the sun low to my left at four o'clock, a bald eagle glided along the shoreline at treetop level, perfectly illuminated, all stretched out right in front of me. It was probably the most surprising view of nature —and certainly one of the most beautiful— these eyes have ever witnessed.
A few minutes later, shooting from the hip, I managed to get off a very bad shot that caught evidence of a hawk —could it be an adolescent eagle?— that followed the same route. In the detail at right, one can make out the end feathers of the right wing.
At seven o'clock, coyotes were whooping it up about three or four hundred yards away.
I enjoy tremendously the perquisites attendant upon my hobbies of fishing, woodcutting, and plain sylvan loitering.
Grandpêre et Moi
Groundhog Day, 2012
A hundred years ago, Edward Curtis roamed the Northwest documenting native peoples, taking photographs and making wax cylinder recordings. I like his pictures and for forty years have kept on my wall an old and stained print of his "The Chief at Klamath Falls." A clean copy is at right.
Yesterday, a generous chum doubled my collection. He bought a copy of Curtis' photo of Lahkeudup of the Skokomish, taken in 1912. He acquired it for me because he saw a family resemblance to my own partly native self.
Working alone today with a shutter remote, I tried, optimistically, to replicate the shot. The result was disappointing, and it fails to illustrate what is, in the flesh, a stronger resemblance.
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