Sippican Cottage

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Litttle Known Fact:

Although he was only twelve at the time, the US government discussed dropping James Brown on Japan. They decided the damage would be too severe and dialed it back to atomic weapons. After the war, in a vain attempt to avoid abruptly changing the Earth’s rotation, they tried dividing him up into sections and shipping him over in a convoy of superfreighters. The fallout was still immense. The background radiation still glows there:

Another little know fact: Reactionary elements of the US government demanded that James Brown be dressed in a suit fashioned from a checked tablecloth, in a futile attempt to make him unattractive to American housewives tired of cooking meal after meal and setting their tables –thereby keeping James Brown from getting all the women.

They suspended this practice when James Brown served a fourteen course meal on his shirtfront — including mashed potatoes — while dancing — including mashed potatoes — and did not spill a drop of the beverages.

It could not be independently verified that the glasses of water were turned into wine, however.

My Mind Drifts Back To Bangladesh


It’s a bad brew that gets uncorked there from time to time. You can’t understand the impetus for it by only scanning to the horizon. The Raj isn’t far back enough to go. You must cast your mind further.

Nandas? Guptas? Auryas? Do you know your Pashto? You could pick through the ruins of the Mughal Empire and see the world, in all its potentialities. The British did. That world looked back at them with a thousand yard stare.

God does not seem like a wooden totem only, there. He takes his millions in a rainstorm alone. The stones are soaked once again with blood, to mix with blood spilled by Menander.

You can look into your heart and try to find the notion that life itself has meaning. You hope others do, too. If their heart has that place.

The Automaker Bailout

I delivered furniture to far-off locations the other day.

There’s a lot to keep straight in your mind. Program your GPS for the stops, phone, camera, receipts for the items, folders with the contact numbers for the customers, arranging the items so they don’t shift in the truck when you people drive like you do. I had a bucket filled with a limited amount of tools in the back to effect small repairs. More about that later.

The items themselves were a success. People who purchase the stuff over the Intertunnel seemed to have steeled themselves to be slightly disappointed by the things they buy. I confound them by sending or showing up with furniture that’s better than what they expected. I apologize if I’m ruining the Intertunnel for everyone else.

I drove from before 5:00 AM ’til 9:00 at night. I’d still be driving if I didn’t have the GPS device. Washington should abandon all future ratcheting up of CAFE standards for cars and just give a Nuvi to everybody and cut gas consumption by 5%, easy. I was lost more than 5% of the time before. Your directions always stink.

So you return home, kinda tired, and try to remember everything when your mind is fried. You pick up all the stuff you have and bring it in the house. But you’re bound to forget something.

I forgot the bucket of tools. When I started working the next day, I turned to the spot where the glue bottle was, and it wasn’t. “Light dawns over Marble Head,” we used to call that. You go outside to get it.

Forgot it was the coldest November in memory, too.

So I’m faced with the horns of a dilemma. Horn One: You’re not supposed to waste things. Two: What if it froze?

I checked the weather on the Internet. I honestly don’t understand why anyone would watch a lunatic waving his arms at a green screen talking about someone else’s weather. But then again, he’s on a broadcast that has brittle-looking clothes horses reading a bad newspaper slowly. Kinda a matched set. You must think you’re going to live to be a thousand if you’ve got time to watch a news broadcast. It was below freezing, barely, the night before.

I’m an intelligent person, I guess. I know things. There were many considerations fighting for primacy.

  • Frozen glue is no good.
  • It takes a while for it to freeze. It barely touched below freezing. Might be OK.
  • The truck is warmer inside than the weather. I was working again eight hours after returning home. (Welcome to Small Business)
  • Frozen glue will work after you thaw it, even if it’s frozen hard. It’s just weaker than it normally would be.
  • Its weakness would not manifest itself for a good long while, in all likelihood.
  • Aliphatic resin glue is not expensive, and I buy it by the gallon. Less than a pint was in the truck overnight. But “It’s a sin to waste” has been driven into my head by my Depression-kid parents, and by nuns standing by the trash barrel after school lunch explaining that children would starve in China because I didn’t eat my beets.
  • My children won’t even get beets if I’m profligate and waste even mundane things like glue.

I could go on. You can find all sorts of facets to any problem right out of your head, and go looking for more on the library shelf if you’d like. You can find accomplices on the Intertunnel for any behavior or mindset, no matter how manifestly crappy it is, or find detractors of the most strident kind for even the most benignant behaviors. You can think about things forever.

You’re not supposed to have abstract standards of right and wrong any more. The Ten Commandments have been whittled down to the Five or Six Sotto Voce Suggestions If They’re Not Inconvenient And Someone’s Looking. You’ll find PETA protester heinie on display in public more often than the hoary stone tablets now.

It’s considered irrational to follow any rules with any gusto. But I consider you irrational if you think you can understand everything with your own unaided intellect. The truly rational pick salubrious abstract standards to follow. “Rational” people think they understand everything and then spend their lives seeing great conspiracies and UFOs and Thetans everywhere.

I used to be an executive. You are required to take decisions. “Take” is the correct word, not “make,” because it was implicit by your position that if it got as far up the food chain as you, you’d decide. Your first duty, however, was to never take decisions others should make. Bad managers make decisions about things they shouldn’t even take. People often mistake bad managers for good managers because they have huge piles of folders piled all over their offices. Must be working hard. They’re afraid to do their own job so they do other people’s jobs instead.

Many people likewise think you’d be an automaton if you have abstract standards of behavior. Very wrong. Adults always have competing ideas available to them. Nothing much is simple. Your job is to sort through those competing ideas and get to the point where you can apply your standards. It’s Sophie’s Choice all day long in the real world where your decisions have consequences. If you live in the world of ideas alone, you imagine it’s Sophie’s Choice over where to eat lunch today.

You can torture any idiotic thing into a cogent idea, and fool yourself into thinking you’re swell for doing so if you’re shameless enough. Lawyers get pilloried for that, but that’s their job. You ordered them to be shameless on your behalf, and bought the neckbrace they suggested. You took the decision.

I didn’t waste one moment of my time worrying about what to do about the glue, unless you call this essay “worrying.” I dumped it out immediately because you do not risk launching problems into the future for the unsuspecting for immediate gratification.

Sippican (Re) Lowers The Boom

There’s a great joke in one of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster stories.
Wooster, amazed at some obscure thing Jeeves knows, asks: “Is there anything you don’t know?
Jeeves considers for a moment, and replies mordantly: “I really don’t know, sir.”

None of us know what we don’t know, do we? But I’d like to offer this: none of us knows what we do know all that well, either.

I visit various salons on the internet — the culture and information kind, my internet hair is fine. People are always shrieking in there at one another about some real or imagined slight they feel about their political persuasion. And someone comes across with some sort of nuclear weapons grade comment that shows what a low down dirty thieving warmongering totalitarian babykilling something or other somebody or other is.

And the rejoinder? Link, please!

Ah! It doesn’t exist unless it’s on the internet. Cut and paste that sucker right in there, and you’ve proven it.

I’ve got news for you. No it doesn’t. The internet is a sewer, and you guys are trying to salmon fish in it. There is no “fact,” never mind opinion, that I can’t find on the internet in five minutes flat, with annotated footnotes. The fact could be aliens made crop circles to Donald Rumsfeld shot Kennedy, doesn’t matter, it’s out there. I once saw the text droppings of two different very agitated persons arguing whether Ahmadinejad was a highly placed operative in Khomeini’s hostage gathering Iran back in the day. I’m not interested in such things, really, but the person who was defending (!) the obviously loopy Iranian midget millenarian seemed to be saying: cut and paste a picture of Ahmadinejad doing something bad right now, or he’s Gandhi and Nasser’s love child.

I had a picture of Ahmindinejad, in a book on my desk, his arms linked with Khomeini’s other henchmen,on a platform in Iran, getting ready to make Jimmy Carter watch Ted Koppel every night until Ronald Reagan was elected. But it wasn’t on the internet, so it didn’t exist. I certainly wasn’t going to put it there. I’m busy, and I don’t care. But it illustrated to me that there are plenty of things that are not on the internet that are very, very, real. And in greater measure, plenty of things all over the internet that just ain’t so. Smoke over Beirut, anyone?

I don’t know why I know what I know. None of us does. I do have a tendency to know things other people do not, because I’m a little odd. On top of being odd, I’m an auto-didact, so I’ve gleaned odd stuff, while going about it in an odd way. That’s like odd cubed. I’m not a catalog, I’m a Secret Santa, as it were.

“Lower the Boom.” I saw that used the other day, and there was some discussion about its etymology. In my humble opinion, the etymology offered is wrong.

Everybody comes at etymology from their own point of view, if you let them, just like cut and paste oratory on the internet. Sometimes you can trace etymology right to the source, but that’s rarer than you might think. Someday etymologists will search for the reasons “ever” began to be spelled “evar.”

I always refer to my hoary old copy Wentworth and Flexner’s Dictionary of American Slang. The internet is great for neologisms born on the internet, but that’s about it. Here’s what the internet says about “lower the boom”

lower the boom
: 1. To deliver a knockout punch. Prize fight use. ->
: 2. To chatise or punish; to attack with criticism; to treat sternly; to demand obedience. …
: 3. To prevent another from succeeding; to act in such a manner as to harm another’s chances od success.
: From _Dictionary of American Slang_ (1960) by H. Wentworth & S.B. Flexner.
: ———-
: lower the the boom on … This expression refers to the boom of a sailboat — a long spar that extends from the mast to hold the foot of the sail. In a changing wind, the boom can swing wildly, leaving one at risk of being struck. [Slang; first half of 1900s]
: From _The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms_ (1997) by Christine Ammer.
: ———-
: As a sailor, the story ran, he had knocked men overboard with a single punch, when he “lowered the boom” on them. (Dempsey & Stearns, _Round by Round_, 1940)

LOWER THE BOOM – “to reprimand harshly, to stop someone from doing something. A boom is a long spar or pole used to extend the bottom of certain sails; or, it can be a spar that extends upward at an angle from the foot of a mast from which there are suspended objects to be lifted. Derrick, the famous hangman during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, devised the prototype for the ship’s boom – a hoist that still bears the inventor’s name. Ashore, lowering the boom on someone means to call that person harshly to account. This can be done severely enough to leave one’s ears ringing.” From “When a Loose Cannon Flogs a Dead Horse There’s the Devil to Pay: Seafaring Words in Everyday Speech” by Olivia A. Isil (International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press, McGraw-Hill, 1996)

I don’t think they know what they’re talking about. They’re sniffing around it with Derrick, but they feel compelled to meld it forward into a reference to a ship’s boom.

Boum is an old Dutch word, related to beam. It has something to do with a tree limb. But if the expression lower the boom is related to the boom on the sail hitting you on the top of the head, why are the derivations so recent? People have been getting hit on the head with a boom for thousands of years. Why all of a sudden in the twentieth century is this expression for getting clobbered in fashion?

Because it was something else, and I know it. I think I know it, anyway. The part of a crane or other hoisting device that swings around to drop that famous hook is the boom, too. And I’ve stood in a ditch, and on a dock, and in a loading yard many times, and signaled to the boom operator to “Lower the boom” thousands of times. You use hand signals, as the operator of the boom is far away, and the surroundings are noisy anyway.

To signal “Lower the boom,” you extend your right arm straight out, close your fingers, and extend your thumb straight down. Death to the gladiator. Lower the boom. Contemporaneous with the introduction of such signals to cargo hands on the docks — and stevedores are the greatest treasure trove of American slang outside the military.

I say that’s what it is. And if it isn’t, it should be.

Now it’s on the internet. Someone will cut and paste it somewhere, and I’ll be right, whether I am or not.

Every Day Is The Best. Day. Evar.

I don’t quite know what to say to my brethren here on the Intertunnel. You’re all so far down the rabbit hole of woe we need spelunkers to find the top of your head.

I’m Irish. All my songs are supposed to be sad, and my wars merry. But compared to you all, I’m Pollyanna. Listen to me: Every day above the lawn is the Best. Day. Evar. –if you’ll let it be.

Ask any five-year-old. Or their father.

California’s Broke And I Don’t Care

[Update: Since I wrote this, they’ve amended the expenditure number to $136B from $141B by including “a decrease of $4.673 billion to reflect expenditure offsets provided by the issuance of Revenue Anticipation Warrants in 2009-10 for costs incurred in 2008-09.” Hmm. I remember Revenue Anticipation Warrants from Popeye cartoons. I’ll gladly pay you Wednesday for a hamburger today. Oh, and they wiped the entire linked 2008-2009 budget line items completely. Ah, government transparency]

Don’t get me wrong; I like California. I lived there for a year or more back when Jimmy Carter was still desolating the landscape. My brother lives there still. I was as much an itinerant migrant worker as anybody referred to on that map. We didn’t have a Dust Bowl to drive us west from my native Massachusetts, but we had the Blizzard of ’78 and Michael Dukakis, which was pretty good, too.

The reason I don’t care “California’s broke” is I know that means that the government of California is broke, not its citizens. Unlike everybody involved in the dissemination of news, I don’t conflate the two.

The Governator has his hand out for federal money. With San Franciscan Nancy Pelosi running congress and some high-powered senators on the other end of the hillhall, he might get a taste. It’s a bad idea. When a fellow you know comes up to you at the racetrack and says he’s lost all his money because his can’t-miss horse threw a shoe, and wants to borrow a few hundred so he can buy groceries to feed his children, you’re wise to at least consider that his kids might go hungry no matter what you do.

The media, who are useless, report California requires a $28 billion dollar “bailout,” because they can’t add and don’t own a dictionary. According to California’s own webpage, there’s a $14.5 billion dollar deficit for the current year. Your eyes will glaze over trying to research the real numbers for the California state budget; like all such things, no one will give you a straight answer, because they either don’t really know but can’t admit they don’t know, or… they really need to borrow a couple hundred to feed their children because this can’t-miss horse threw a shoe…

This chart, supplied in execrable .pdf, says the budget for 2008-2009 is $141 billion, so we could run with that. The Governator’s office, which I imagine has a weight room and gives yoghurt enemas free to all state employees, reports that they’re spending $139 billion while collecting $129 billion for 2008-2009. I imagine that Ahhnold ate some of both piechart pies. Let’s go with $141 billion and a $14.5 billion deficit and stop wasting our time.

I ask you: Could you trim ten percent out of your budget and still eat three times a day? Of course you could. I’m not going to go out on the skinny tie/big beltbuckle/hoarding gold, ammo and canned goods limb and say everything the government does is useless, but nobody in any government seems to be walking both ways to work, carrying a sandwich in a bag. A sane person could trim ten percent out of that budget and no one sane would notice.

We shouldn’t make the mistake of equating a state budget and a household or business budget. Likewise don’t equate sanity with participants in almost any government. It’s not a person to be reasoned with. Not even the participants understand exactly how to run it any more. They just think they can demand money and it will show up and they will spend it. Until it doesn’t.

Money isn’t showing up right now, so they’re looking for it in the federal couch cushions. There’s even less money there, because we’re talking all deficits all the time of course; but even if California borrows the borrowed money, would California’s citizens be better off? I doubt it. The runaway train aspect of governance allows very little room for maneuver. On one hand, anyone who campaigns on the “Let’s close down government and have a barter/gold coin economy again” isn’t talking sense, and deserves the .05 percent of the vote they get. The flip side of that (gold) coin is the notion that if you raise taxes over and over, we’ll all be rich when the tax rate gets to 110%. I have my doubts.

A good politician these days simply says “I wont make things worse,” and doesn’t. That’s not a sexy mandate, and since politics is showbiz for ugly people, and California has gone whole hog and made politics into showbiz for ugly showbiz people now, the only hope is that the whole thing fails and you start over. It’s a shame, because then the real California — the people that live there — will suffer.

I went into the line items for the actual budget, to perform the usual back-seat-driver-blog-thing of finding the dollar value of the deficit in golden toilet seat covers and diversity training fees for gay/lesbian/transgendered college republicans and other easy to find fiscal abominations. I found something so much more disquieting and Kafkaesque, which made up my mind that the California government needs to collapse into a pile of dust before it gets one more cent of anyone’s money.

Look at this enormous list of enormous expenditures. Scroll down to: Tax Relief.

[Up-update: California keeps wiping out even the cached version of these pages. Here’s a screenshot of the Budget for 2008-2009 as enacted.]
The State of California taxes its citizens over $500 million dollars and then spends it on giving relief to its citizens because their taxes are too high.

Ponzi wept.

Bog Hockey (The Season Is Coming, The Concept Is Gone)

This picture is a lot older than I am. Probably thirty years older. But it is an exact rendering of my winter life in our little suburb — check that– exurb — check that — that word didn’t exist then– out in the sticks where we lived in the sixties.

I was born in Boston. When I was but small, we moved into the country. And my life was amazingly different from my cousins who remained in the city.

We didn’t have any money, really, but not so’s you’d notice. We lived in a little house on a little plot in a little neighborhood, and had little, salubrious lives. Our mother would turn us out of doors, no matter the season, and we’d take our battered belongings, pool them, and play self -organized sports. We’d sort out the teams, and the rules, and the size and shape of the playing surface, and rarely quarrelled, unless it seemed like more fun than playing any more. And we could have sorted out the Mideast thing, if they’d let us. Maybe their quarrelling is more fun than they let on.

In the summer, we’d play baseball, and have to mow the field before playing. Right field’s an out! In the winter, we’d play basketball in the elementary school gym. Shirts and skins. Onlookers were no doubt sorely tempted to play xylophone on many of the skins team’s ribs. Weight training was still far in the future. In the fall, we’d play tackle football in a cow pasture with no equipment. There were no hash marks or goal lines demarcated, of course, but in a field recently used by ruminant animals, those weren’t the things on the ground you would have been keeping an eye out for anyway. And in the winter, we’d dress in wool, gather our rusting hand-me-down skates that lacked steel toes, grab the sticks that were generally broken and discarded and then repaired with electrical tape, and we’d shamble on down to LaFleur’s Pond, and get up a game. The idea of actually owning and wearing a replica of the sweater worn by our local professional hockey team was as remote and mystical as a strawberry on the kitchen table in the winter.

We were always half frozen with the cold. We had no protective gear of any kind. Hell, at the time, there was only one professional hockey player who wore a helmet — Terrible Teddy Green– and he only wore it because he’d already had his head staved in from a stick fight, and needed to protect the steel plate in his head from any further persuasion. When we first started going to Boston Garden to see Bobby Orr’s mighty Bruins play, some of the goalies weren’t wearing masks yet.

The ice was never really frozen properly, one way or the other. If it was thick enough to be safe, it was so corrugated it would rattle your teeth out of your head. If it was fresh enough to offer a smooth surface, it was thin enough to drown you. We always skated anyway. If you got checked, you’d occasionally slide to the margins of the pond, get caught in the brambles reaching up through the ice, get tangled up, and fall in up to your waist, and you’d spend the rest of the day skating with your pants frozen to your legs. You wouldn’t stop.

“NO LIFTING!” you’d shout every time the more adept stickhandlers would get the puck up off the ice and crack your shins. We’d all readily and solemnly agree that there’d be no lifting, before we began each game, of course; some of us because we knew we were incapable of lifting it, and the others because they were incapable of not lifting it, so no one was much put out by the bargain.

We’d put two sticks five feet apart on the ice to mark out the goal, and get to it. Guys who never passed at basketball never passed at hockey either, we noticed. And they’d forever be taking shots from fifty yards from the goal, missing by fifty yards, and requiring a ticklish trip to the brambles to fetch the errant puck without swimming amongst the prickers.

When we got older, we’d fashion real nets out of scavenged lumber and chicken wire, and without fail we’d forget to fetch them off the ice in time for spring thaw, and we’d see them, on the bottom like scuttled privateers, winking at us beneath the new year’s ice.

I wanted to be a goalie, but had no equipment. My father drove an old Rambler Station Wagon. Underneath the carpet in the back, there was — check that — there originally was a layer of foam rubber.
My brother and I spent many a miserable car ride rolling around in the back of the car with only the thin carpet between us and the rivets and bolt heads because I cut the pad up into rectangles, wove olive drab straps from army surplus utility belts through slits in the foam, tied them to my legs, and played the net like that.

At the time, the Bruins had a goalie named Gerry Cheevers. He was cool. He wore a white plastic mask, and he’d draw the stitches he would have received had he not worn the mask right on it, in magic marker, adding one every time he got hit in the face. He looked fierce like that. Young boys like fierce. So I tried to fashion one for myself out of the plastic scavenged from a Clorox bottle, held on my head with an elastic band, and burned my face with the residue of the bleach. The plastic was as thin as a negligee, and wouldn’t protect me in any case; I didn’t care, I wore it anyway.

And some of the kids were real good. A few played college hockey. One played on the Olympic Team and the Bruins and is now an NHL coach. But by the time he had started coming around, there was a real rink next to the high school to play in. Real equipment started to show up. Right handed goalies didn’t use their brother’s left handed hand-me-down baseball glove and bleach bottle mask and Rambler foam as equipment. Time marched on, and the younger kid’s parents started getting up at 3:00 AM to make it to the rink for their allotted ice time, supplanting the older kid’s ritual: mothers sticking their heads out the back door when the light got weak and the sun skimmed the horizon, painting at the last only the very tops of the dormant oaks that ringed the pond with the winter dusk’s fire, shouting your name to call you to dinner.

My son played hockey on the Playstation once. Didn’t care for it.

Month: November 2008

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