Sippican Cottage

Close this search box.

It All Just Was

Delightful to come to Truro. Never in high season. When the winter has pounded the sand as hard as concrete, and every footprint has been erased; that’s the time to come.

The light is nice in the early spring. The orb of the sun hangs low in the southern sky, even at noon, and reaches into the room and picks out the details in even the most mundane of objects. The owners have such a treasure trove of trash in here. There’s a weird vibe to a room filled with things that aren’t even good enough to throw away. They are like amulets, or sea glass. Like shims under the wobbly legs of someone else’s life. Like finding a totem in the wilderness from a dead religion. Trash too valuable to part with.

The first few times I stayed here, I’d pick up one awful thing after another and wonder: what could possibly make someone bring this into their home, never mind keep it through all these years? What power do these talismans hold for their owners? How can you build an altar of peeling paint and worship this god of kitsch?

I got over it. I’d hear the scree of the spring and the slap of the screen door behind me and wander the sand alone, and divide my hearing between the whistle of the wind, the sigh of the surf, and the shh shh of the dune grass reminding me I was in their nursery. There was no point to the things in the shack, or the lapping of the idiot ocean against the fool earth. In the pale moonlight it all went about its business whether I was awake or not. It all just was.

I’d call the people and tell them I wanted to stay in the cottage where it all just was, and they’d put their hand over the receiver for a moment and I knew they were using the word “daft” to their companion about that fellow that wanted to go where no one wanted to go in a season where no one went anyway. And then they’d come back and say they had checked and there looked to be a hole in the schedule. There’s a hole in Hiroshima, too, I’d think, but not say.

I’ve always liked the little stove. You sit right next to it, and feed it like a baby. You can put your hands right on it after you light a fire in it, and feel the power of the flames slowly mount to warm your hands. It gets too hot in an instant, like many things.

I love a stove. You can feed a stove almost anything on a cold morning. Kindling. Rags. A love letter.

Short Rations

I’m working except when I’m sleeping. So you get more YouTube videos of people I’ve performed with. At least the ones I can recall. People approach me from time to time and start talking to me about what a blast they had at such and such a venue for so and so’s fete or whosamajiggy’s convention, and I have no idea what they are talking about. I cashed the check and moved on. Glad you had fun, though.

I remember vaguely a night at least twenty years ago where some R&B combo I was in with too many members and not enough musicians played at a place called The Channel in Boston. It was a great big cave of a joint. I have no idea if it’s still there. We started the show, as I recall, and then we played with the headliner, John Lee Hooker. I had an elderly aquaintance hear about my job and inquire whether they might be related to Mr Hooker, as that was their maiden name. She was a descendant of Joe Hooker, the Civil War general. I said I didn’t think they were related but I’d be sure to give Mr. Hooker her best.

I remember the act that played on the undercard. The Joe Perry Project. Aerosmith got tired of money for a little while in the eighties and made little individual messes like this for a short time, until they got tired of no money. Joe Perry Project. (You Tube Link) Aerosmith used to play in my High School gym. I’ve sunk pretty low, musically, but at least I never played in the high school gym, and opened up for, well, me.

For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the band I was in, or the names of any of the other musicians in it. The Dialtones? the Superfonics? ‘Nuff Said? Jay Murphy? No clue. I’d play with anybody at that point. I do remember that the Channel had sidefill stage monitors, which are big stacks of PA speakers in the wings of the stage, instead of just those wedge shaped floor speakers you are used to seeing in front of musicians.

I remember them, because the BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM coming out of them at flight deck level makes my ears ring to this very day.

Spring Potatoes

-Pa, how do you get the coverin’ disks to hit the furrow?

-They jest do, son.

-But you never look, pa.

-Keep your eyes on the horizon, boy. Sound advice always.

-But how do you know?

-Waste of time to tend that which tends itself, son. Got to trust to God and yourself. Who else you gonna trust, exactly?

-Did you learn what goes on behind you?

-Same as you, son, riding and asking a lot of damn fool questions. My pa said that if the nattering ever stopped in his wake, he’d know enough to turn the rig back towards the house and arrange a funeral. Nothing else would shut my piehole.

-You’ve gone quiet now, pa.

-What a man says has meaning, son. Gotta choose your words careful. Can’t get two drinks in you and start a ruckus with a neighbor you might need someday. Makes a man pick through his words like picking through the taters looking for eyes. Don’t pay to plant them if the seed ain’t there, or the ground is like to be barren. Children can talk as they like.

-I’m a man now, pa.

-Shaving don’t make a man, son. You’ll go quiet in your turn. Don’t rush it. Talk to that girl, the one from away, at the Grange Hall fetes a bit first. Or you’ll never get anyone to hound you from the back of the tractor for your own.
And sakes; keep your prayer handles between the hoppers or you’ll muck up the line of the pickers and the furrow opener. I can feel it.


I want you to be happy.

I’d like to be happy, too, now that you mention it. And sometimes my wife and I wonder if we wouldn’t be happier in a little village than out in the woods.

Consider the picture. It has those wonders of wonders – girls – in it. I don’t have any girls. I have no idea what to do with them. My wife is as mysterious to me as the day I met her, so she’s no good figurin’ it out, either. It is good that I was given only boys to raise as I am a lummox and cannot be entrusted with the care of female children. I’d be willing, but unskilled, like minimum wage laborers.

It has other wonders, besides three people in the frame. If you live out away from things, there is seldom other people in the frame. It has sidewalks, where you could push a pram with a bebby in it. That’s the pleasantest thing in the whole wide world, I think. Some muck it up by considering it exercise. It is a promenade, not a 10k. Calm down.

The sidewalks have that patch of turf between the concrete and the curb. That’s essential. Urban sidewalks just butt the street, and you feel too close to the traffic, always. There are no sidewalks where I live, and walking along the shoulder of the road is a seesaw between the Scylla of the poison ivy and the Charybdis of the cars rocketing by occasionally. No thanks.

There are trees that dapple the sunlight, and ameliorate the heat, and line the street like nature’s own corinthian columns. A place for the birds to natter and the squirrels to chatter when the housecats come outside. Trees are different out here. They are an advancing phalanx, not a peristyle arbor. You trod the edges of them, but they don’t invite you in.

It’s lovely to live in a semi-urban setting, and have a broad porch with a stoop to sit on and watch the passing scene. Semi-urban setting have a passing scene to watch, too. There’s a little drive next to your house leading to a garage in the back, where it belongs, and the houses sit up on their foundation a bit to gain privacy for the occupants even though the house is almost right on the street. The yard is in back, slightly untidy, where the occupants can feel a little more privacy. It’s a grand place for a garden or a swingset or a brick grill; or if you’re rich as Croesus, a pool.

There can be rental units, but only if the owner of the property also lives in the building. No one is a bad neighbor when the landlord is right downstairs.

You have to have a lot in common with your neighbors for it to work, and that’s what makes it harder nowadays to find this scene. You can’t always trust your neighbors to have approximately the same worldview as you any more. More has to be carefully defined in your interactions because less is predetermined by homogeneity. You have to ask if your neighbors let their children play Grand Theft Auto instead of with Barbies. You can’t assume much of anything anymore.

There is no one way to live. We all can’t be happy in concrete urban dovecotes, or log cabins. There has to be a mix, so that each can find his own. I’m good out by the bogs with the Ospreys kiting overhead. By I find myself looking over the zoning fence these days, and wondering how the tree-lined street might suit us. You guys on either side wouldn’t mind a table saw running at one AM once in awhile, would you?


I have to work all day today, alone.

My children and my wife are like a tonic. I gulp a big draught of domesticity in the morning,like Lawrence slaking his thirst in an oasis before setting off across a desert; and then I go off in my solitary fashion and turn on the machines. Because the furniture elves did not come last night and help me out. The radio is on in the background, mostly because even at the volume of a murmur, it cancels out the buzzing sound of the fluorescent lights. That’s a fairly low threshold of entertainment to get over, isn’t it? More interesting than a ballast buzzing. It’s rarer than you might think. Maybe it’s me.

When I was a young man, both the Bay City Rollers and the Staples Singers would come out of the radio. The same radio station. I can’t quite reconcile that. I drift through the radio now, like an oceangoing fish, searching for anything notable enough to listen to. I would be hard pressed to explain to anyone exactly what I was in the market for at any given time.

I’m Ambivalent About His Tailor, However.

I have never been unhappy while listening to Al Green. I can’t recall if I started out unhappy; I’m just certain I never ended up that way.

When in doubt, listen to Al Green.

The Grind

This picture is sixty years old, easy. I’m doing the same thing today. How many people are doing anything the same as half a century ago?

The Grind refers to the mental and physical aspect of the day. He’s sanding, not grinding. Me too.

There are some details that have changed, to be sure. This fellow didn’t write a blogpost before beginning. He arrived at work a half an hour early and read the newspaper a bit and drank bad coffee from his thermos.

It’s ever so slightly clunkier than mine, but he’s using a belt sander, same a s mine. His might be better, as it weighs more. It’s easier to use a heavy belt sander than a light one.

I won’t get the enormous snootful of dust this guy got, as a vacuum hose is hooked up to mine. Nose cancer and a condition like miner’s lung from the wood flour was very common in the wood trades. Still is, just less so now. I’m 99% sure the guy smoked like a chimney, too. Everybody did then. Come to think of it, you can still find a lot of construction workers that smoke now. It’s one of the few patches of life I rub up against where a lot of people smoke. People who work with their hands tend to be very fatalistic about such dangers.

It’s very difficult to get them to use devices to safeguard their health and safety, generally. Most large construction companies have to have rigid protocols, strictly enforced, to get people to take the smallest amount of care about such things. They chafe in the harness, that’s why they choose to work out in the wild world instead of in a factory or office. They don’t like being told what to do, and perform a simple rough calculation of loss/benefit/discomfort in their head, and throw dustmasks in the trash the minute no one’s looking. You have to make it safer and easier at the same time, or it doesn’t work. Laws mean nothing in this regard.

The fellow shown above is making a big pile of cheap furniture, and his job is on another continent today. No one shed a tear for its loss. Some one else wanted to do it more, and proved it by doing it better for less. It’s the only calculus that should be allowed into the equation. That guy’s sons and daughters have an enormous amount of consumer goods available to them because the creative destruction wrought by progress was allowed to make his livelihood pass him by. Consider also that there were craftsman making tables before this fellow, that glowered at him and his economy of scale in his big official factory with his state of the art lighting and tools and salesmen and secretary and bathroom and timeclock and power supply and so forth. He did not shed a tear for them, and we do not for him. In particular, it’s sad when people’s livelihoods are swallowed by progress. In general, we all get richer so it’s fine. In a way, I’m more like the guy the fellow in the photo replaced. People shop at IKEA and Wal*Mart and so forth for inexpensive home furnishings. I don’t play in that game, and try to take a big piece of a small pie that’s left over. It’s enough.

I do not expect anyone to shed a tear for me, if the time comes. I’m sanding today, because for right now, nobody wants it more.

Like A Rolling Stone

I used to be a musician.

I still play occasionally, but only if you really make me. I never paid much attention to learning to play properly. My older brother is a very fine musician and taught me how to play the electric bass in the late 1970s. I bought an axe and amp, had a lesson, and got a job working in The Met Cafe in Providence a week or so later.

Playing the bass is like owning the baseball. You’ll play all you want to if you can manage to show up and mind your business. I did.

The music business was filled with guys like me. They worked with their hands all day in construction, and played music at night. But I was the exact opposite of them, too. I played music for money and built things for the love of it.

I’ve had a few book’s worth of odd and interesting things happen to me while I was playing. I could never remember all the places I’ve played in, and I can’t even remember all the bands I’ve been in. For a while, I’d play with a different set of people four or five nights a week. I don’t miss it all that much, really.

I got to wondering how many people I could recall that I played with that would turn up on YouTube. I was tickled to find two in one video. Pinetop Perkins and Luther Guitar Junior Johnson. They’re both playing with the magnificent Muddy Waters:

Pinetop seemed ancient to me back then, twenty years ago and more, and he’s still alive today and performing at 94 years old. We played in the Civic View Inn in Providence. The dressing room for the bands was upstairs, and it was… how do I put this delicately… um, well, they had shag carpeting on all the walls and the floor and ceiling too. There was a TV bolted to the wall up in the corner; the movies they were playing on there continuously would make an animal husbandry specialist blush. I avoided the doorknob, and there was no power on earth that could compel me to enter the bathroom under any circumstances. Pinetop was bored, so we went down to the bar. I thought it was funny that Pinetop called Johnny Walker Red, his favorite, “high test,” just like my uncle does. He was almost fifty years older than me, but we had more in common than I had with people I considered my friends. He wore a huge cowboy hat, was skinny as a rail, told a million stories. We had a blast. Some guys in his band didn’t show, so we opened for him and played with him too. All he needed was a piano, really.

I can’t remember where the Luther Johnson gig was. That’s him playing the guitar over in the right hand side of the frame. He was one of those guys — lively, talented, good enough to make a living at it, never making a lot of money. I remember giving him a ride back to his house. He lived in a tidy little suburb south of Boston somewhere, and was anxious to get back home to his family. Now that’s my kind of guy. I always am too.

Sixteen Tons and What Do You Get…

I have a very difficult deadline to meet. It would be much simpler if it was impossible. Nothing is simpler than that:

It can’t be done. Not worth trying. What now?

It’s the tantalizing possibility of finishing well despite great odds that captures our imaginations. It’s the reason very able persons are often disorganized in their surroundings and dilatory in their activities. They’re spotting the world a few points before the game begins. Just to make it interesting.

I would never ask an employee to accomplish what I’m going to accomplish today. It wouldn’t be fair, as you need a bigger dog than just wages in the fight to make that appropriate. When managing others in the past, it has been my responsibility to exhort others to give effort in excess of what was normal. It was always subtracted out elsewhere. It is the nature of the situation, and just.

But I’m going to finish. I’ll write this blogpost, just to spot the world a few points.

Play Is The Work Of Children

I never get tired of watching the little ones play.

I have a larger one, as tall as his mother now, almost. He’s lots of fun in a different way. But it’s the little one, not yet four, and all his compadres that capture my imagination. I literally watch him do nothing. I never get bored of him, ever.

He has a routine as fixed as any salaryman. There’s a pleasant frantic rhythm to it. You can still see the unaffected gears turning in his head as he goes from one activity to the next. Nothing much is hidden behind any sort of pretense. It’s like watching the raw clay for a human pot spin on the wheel, and you put your hands on it and the shape of his personality is made, or revealed.

He will be past it all very soon. He types his name and a few words now. How much longer can we hope for, before that marvelous transparent being is rendered opaque to us?

Month: March 2007

Find Stuff: