Sippican Cottage

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Amplitude Modification (2007)



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone…

We rolled on into the night.

Politics (From 2008)

My venerable hard drive has breathed its last. It was eight years old. I rely on the Internet for all my wages, and all I have is a low-end Dell from 2002 with the hard drive 99% percent full and XP patched to hell and gone, and now I don’t even have that. So you get cut and paste from 2008, sent from my son’s computer. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.)

Let me tell you about safety.

If you live in the educated, white collar world, you know nothing of safety. That is to say: you know nothing of danger; you’re insulated almost totally from real peril.

As you move up the intellectual food chain, and your experience with the world inhabited by those faced with real, daunting challenges is practically non-existent, your attenuated worldview becomes almost worthless to people who are faced with real danger.

If you are entirely insulated from the consequences of your actions, it would be decent to recuse yourself from offering advice to others, no less so than a man who stands to profit from the outcome. When a man is facing a spinning blade, the cardinal sin is to distract him. Yelling: “Look out!” is akin to shoving him into the blade. The time to identify danger is before, not after. It is predictability and stability and a certain kind of respect that is helpful. Nothing else.

Let me tell you about the blade. You think you can handle it because you fancy yourself intelligent. You’re wrong. Because the danger it presents, the real danger, is hidden from you.

I watch people who have no business offering advice to anyone telling amateurs and professionals alike how to do what they’re trying to do. I see the safety fetishist’s clown shoes — safety glasses worn to hang a picture — and the matching squeak-nose of warnings over the toxicity of stuff you could eat, never mind touch, juxtaposed with behavior that reminds me of sheep sniffing around the shambles.

You think that you’re smart. You think that you can put your hand near the blade, as long as you don’t push your hand right in it. It doesn’t work that way.

You have to avoid putting yourself in the position where your hand will be drawn into the blade and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. There was no danger, really; you were maimed without danger announcing itself first. It was there all along in a way you’ll never “get” until it’s too late.

The wood lays there on the table. Perhaps it’s some mundane species. Straight, plain grain. Maybe it’s exotic or unusual. You like the look and feel of it. The smell of it. It gives you a little thrill to think what could be made from it. It’s full of a kind of promise of a fantastic future.

But it grew from a little sapling. Buffeted by winds, warped and enfeebled by its greedy reaching to get up to the sun before the others that would wither in the shadow of its canopy, there are stresses built up in the wood. Maybe the tree grew straight up, but the ground where it was born and raised was tilted, and the constant stress was locked in the grain. Maybe the sawyer saw that it was growing at a crazy angle, and put it on the logging truck anyway, out in the landscape where no one would know that no straight timber could ever come out of it. He’d have his money and someone else closer to the blade would find out what was in there the hard way.

Besides the stresses in the wood, there is a phenomenon associated with how it is seasoned. Most wood must be seasoned out in the air — or in an oven to do it quicker — to allow it to become useful by acclimating it to its future use. Leaving the lumber out to dry is time consuming and has its risk: bugs and weather and fires and so forth. But there is a real danger in drying out the lumber too quickly in a kiln, too. It’s referred to as case hardening. Sounds like metallurgy, but it’s not. It means when you try to pass the blade through the baulk of wood, the tensions locked into the wood are released –or better put: are revealed– by its travel through the blade. The outside of the wood seems OK. But the inside is different.

You are holding on to that piece of wood, if you trust yourself not to put your hand too near, and trust others never to fool you, or be fools themselves. You’ve been told that others have made you safe, and so you trust it a bit more than you should, maybe. On the table saw, the case hardened wood might pinch the saw kerf closed, and it will grab the back of the spinning blade and be hurled at you. Or conversely, perhaps you will hang on to it tightly enough, and it will buck and rocket away in some unexpected direction, and draw your hand into the abyss.

Buy, Mortimer, Buy!

The Maine Family Robinson rolls on at the Rightnetwork: Buy, Mortimer, Buy!
And leave a comment or two or fourteen over there, too. Lets the management know I’m more popular than a gynecologist with warm hands. 
The house in the picture is still for sale, if you want to be my neighbor. Won’t you be mine?

Month: October 2010

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