Sippican Cottage

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Tear The Roof Off The Sucka

The big, brown stains bloomed on my son’s ceiling while half the rain still remained in the sky. The wind wasn’t much, but it was enough. Attention must be paid. The next one would rob us of our second floor. 

The ground was covered with this sort of thing. I know the evidence well. A house neglected while the calendar repeats itself. Not the months. The centuries. I knew the roof was a horror when I bought the place, and fixed the worst part right away — where the rain had pulled up a chair in the kitchen and lingered over coffee, as difficult to banish as any lonely neighbor. The squirrels came and went through the holes, and fought a valiant rearguard action against the dying of the sky in their world. I was as merciless as any dread god, and had to be. I murdered them all and my eyes watered for each one. Such is real life.

 I had to go up to a spot that’s not visible from anywhere on the ground in any direction. There’s an octagonal turret on my Queen Anne with a squared-off dunce cap roof for my older boy’s room. The roof didn’t look good or anything where you could see it, but really steep roofs don’t need to be very good — that’s why thatch worked, more or less, before we unleashed the wonder of shingles on the crown of our houses. But I live in a house that the former owners had shingled inside. One must be prepared to find foolishness everywhere.

The back of the roof, away from the street. I crouched in the somewhat complex valley betwixt the main, hip roof; a large cross-gable; and the turret. On my right was three or four layers of roof, gone to various states of reward in the roofshingle afterlife, and on my left was 1901, the first roof the place had ever had, never even attempted in the intervening century because it’s deuced difficult to get to.

As I said, attention must be paid. I was a good manager in my past, better than my circumstances might indicate. No one I’ve met is a good manager. You must become one, as fast as you can, before the world and all its people run you over like a dog in the street. The very worst managers tell the people they manage to stand still while they figure something out. It is the mark of the bad manager breed, generally; coming soon...

I am not young any more. I have a bad back. There is a great deal wrong
with my feet. I am still a bit feebler than I’d like to be from a bout
of Lyme disease. All my neighbors, the nicest people I’ve met in this
world, no exaggeration, passed by and told me to be careful up there, fearing
that I might fall, never suspecting that if one of the bees buzzing
around the chimney took umbrage I’d die right there without ever
making it back to the top of the ladder, never mind the bottom.

I don’t care. Attention must be paid. I’m alive; right here, right now.  Are you? Or are you waiting for your manager to make up his mind?

Sippican’s Guide To Post-Irene Rumford And Brand Marketing In Education

The semi-mighty Androscoggin River rolls past my house on its way to the sea. The town of Rumford was founded to take advantage of the falls you see there. They’re the largest falls east of the Mississippi except for Niagara. Whoopdy. There’s a hydroelectric plant up there on the right, with a nice tangle of Frohnkhenshteen coils and such out by the road. It’s close enough to my house to make the hair on my arm stand up if I’m near the window, and yet somehow I pay some of the highest rates for electricity in the country. Ah, public utilities conjoined to “green” power.

Electricity was just a sideshow for the river. They wanted the river for paper. They’d cut pulpwood in the vast empty nothing north and west of here and pitch it into the river, and collect it here to make it into paper. There’s another river right on the other side of town, the Swift, and they join up downtown. Locals still refer to the area betwixt and between the rivers as “The Island.”

The river was roaring yesterday. We’re used to it here in the spring, when the snow melts, but it’s unusual this time of year. It smelled unusual. It was the color of poorly mixed Bosco and smelled like the mulch aisle at Home Depot. Every once in a while a whole tree would bob past like a drinking straw.

The towns around here are piquantly named, and would serve to name a thousand bad rock bands. Ladies and gentlemen: MEXICO FIRE !!!!!

I don’t know what the “University College” is. I know no one will be playing softball next to their sign anytime soon.

“University College” reminds me of Blutarsky’s sweatshirt, or Doctor Nick’s “Upstairs Hollywood Medical College.” Personally, I think there’s a chance that all that name firepower isn’t going to be enough to get your average, or even below average Mainer off the couch (the one on the porch, natch)and into the classroom. Why chicken out halfway? Why not the University College Academy? The University College Academy School? The University College Academy School Institute? Hows about: The University College Academy School Institute Lyceum? We could go with: The University College Academy School Institute Lyceum, Truck Driving Asylum, Fill Dirt Conservatory, Storm Door Seminary, and Hairdressing Matriculatin’ Military School. Done.

See, I’m an idea man. I offer these nuggets up every day, like a racehorse. Take one and pass it around.

It’s A Calvin And Hobbes World

My parents’ generation had a kind of nervous blame tic. If something undesirable occurred, they’d immediately come up with a scenario of who was to blame, and how it could have been prevented. The “who” was always you, by the way. Jews have schlemiels and schlemozzles. We only had schlemiels.

If you fell down and skinned your knee, you should have been more careful. Pick up your feet when you walk. Of course you caught cold, you weren’t wearing a scarf. You got a headache from sitting too close to the television. If Sputnik landed on you, you should have come inside sooner.

Catholic school was likewise full of warnings that the machinery of the universe would tick over immediately to punish the incautious. Hell, (whoops; sorry, sister) if you threw your dessert uneaten into the trash some foreign kid would immediately keel over and die for the want of it. That was never his fault, somehow, and it didn’t matter that dessert was prunes from a huge dented can, and even Biafrans were known to turn up their noses at those. You killed those people. A+B=C. Period.

Darwin has taken the place of Greg Brady’s sketchy dad and the nun inspecting your lunch leavings in the universe of the younger generations. Whenever anyone dies for any reason, it was a sign of the intrinsic foolhardiness of whatever they were doing. If a hurricane kills you, you shouldn’t have lived near the ocean, silly; if you move to Oklahoma to escape New Orleans you were just begging for that tornado to hurl you into the ether. It’s a form of self-flattery: If those people were smart enough to confine themselves solely to commenting on all behaviors from the cockpit of their mother’s basement, they’d be alive now. They’re not smart like me, bravely doing absolutely nothing.

If Darwin had any useful opinion about current affairs, there’s only one class of people he’d be interested in, and they’re the legions of timid, second-guessing people that live in their mother’s basement and aren’t interested in procreating. Or more precisely, aren’t interesting enough to anyone else to procreate with.

Of course bad things happen to basement dwellers, too, and must be explained. Explained away, as a rule. Someone did it to me. Evil people. If you get cancer it was some chemical. If you’re kid’s moody it’s because he was immunized. If you’re poor, someone stole your money. If you’re depressed about being, well, you, it’s because evil people won’t acknowledge how swell you are and double down on their perfidy by demanding you pay a copay for your Effexor. You didn’t smoke for forty years and get cancer; you were targeted by an evil corporation for smoking. The morphing of prosecution witness into a defense witness is the denouement of this process:

1950: Your honor, the defendant just snapped and killed three people.
2010: Your honor, I’m innocent, I just snapped and killed three people.

I’m hard-pressed to come up with any segment of the population that doesn’t have a pre-medieval answer ready to be trotted out, at flight-deck-McGlaughlin Group volume, for any social ill or misbehavior, and a ready-made template to call any productive behavior a crime, too. There’s isn’t a dime’s bit of difference between Pat Robertson or Al Gore in these matters. (A)Gay people or (B)Ford Explorers cause hurricanes. Take your pick, but there’s no (C) 

People who heeded the call to be cautious, first, last, and always took tolltaker or public school teacher jobs, and they’re angry right now because the only thing those jobs offered was security and even that was illusory, apparently. The Ivy League drudges wonder why the government doesn’t tax their plumber more and leave them alone, so that they can go back to hiring illegal aliens to do their scutwork while trying to catch up with the Secretary of the Treasury on cheating on their taxes. And they’re all angry at unemployed people for not paying taxes and not having enough sense to be born Chinese next to an iPhone factory.

In short, I find myself living in a Calvin and Hobbes world, and I don’t like it. Predestination and barbarism are man’s lot in life. But it’s not the Calvinists against the Hobbesians, no; it’s one faction, half and half, against another faction, half and half. Half the Calvinists say their money is the sign of God’s approval of them, and the other half say money is the mark of the devil and evidence only of some great crime. 50 percent of the Hobbesians say the world’s fine except there are too many nasty, brutish people that end up having indoor plumbing and golf clubs, and the other 50 percent say the world would be fine except for the nasty, brutish people who haven’t got a pot to piss in ruining it for everyone else. In both cases, they’d like the other half to have nasty, brutish, short lives and stop leaving big carbon footprints — or smoking department stores, depending on budget — in their wake.

Me? It’s occurred to me lately that a person could do most everything right in this world now, cooperate and do what is demanded of them –behave in an exemplary fashion, almost — and get creamed anyway. Where would a person like that go, to find someone to talk to? Beats me.

Read My Stories For The New Depression, Inspired By The Last One:

In 1976, A Hungarian Guy Goes Swimming While Wearing A Black Mohair Sweater With Some Actressy Girls He Met Before Boob-Jobs Got Affordable

My goodness. Korda György. You know this guy’s a stud. He’s got “orgy” hidden right there in his name. Well, örgy, anyway. I’ve never been to an örgy, but I bet it’s even more betterer than a regular one. They have cake, too. They go swimming with cake. Downright Caligulan.

I could try until the sun winked out to match the charm and humor of the Google-translated Wikipedia page for Korda and never approach its sublime touch of madness:

The Drum Street was born out chemical polytechnics. His parents are divorced, grandparents and aunts were raised. He has worked in the Cable Factory, a soldier in Békéscsaba was. Vecsey Ernest , first as an apprentice in 1958 , came into the stage, the success of the first love song to see won.

In the sixties, at the beginning of the country’s most popular singer. The beat the shift from “traditional” style of dance is not favored, but he was among those who could stay on track. The popularity of retention, increase meant a lot of television and radio also broadcast by song and dance festivals and competitions. A daughter who in 1980 was born.

In the eighties he met at the beginning of the vocal singer Klárival Balazs , whom he married shortly. Mutual inspiration for their art fulfillment, Korda is meant for renewal. After several months of touring for almost ten years spent in North America and Australia .

Card passion [2] legends are bound, therefore, not surprising that the sports TV broadcast via poker games, sportriportertől unusual empathy, which has been in the spotlight again with one stone.

Korda György

Exactly How Far North Do You Live, Sippican?

Well, let’s not get nuts. Those “reindeer” don’t live in Rumford, where we’re from. They live in Norway.
Norway is a town about a half-hour south of here. My wife and I like going to Norway, and not just because you see elks that don’t belong to a lodge. We like going to the coffee shop downtown, and look in awe at the person behind the counter with the gumption to put out business cards that refer to him as the “executive chef” of the place. I’m unsure if there’s an assistant vice-president in charge of paper cups and Sweet’n Low or a Minister without portfolio mopping the floor. I’m afraid to ask anyone anything in there. 
My wife thinks the passel of elk was in South Paris, not Norway. Could be. I’m new around here, and don’t leave the house much on top of it. I usually just set out on the von Schleiffen overland route — driving in western Maine is like being a WWII re-enactor — we’re driving through South Paris, invading Norway, rolling over Poland. Nuvi’s crisp, vaguely Scandinavian-accented directions lend a Quisling touch to the directions.
We were on our way to Kennebunk on business. I’d never been to Kennebunk. My soul has become somewhat corroded by owning a painted house in a sea of aluminum and vinyl siding in my down-at-the-heels mill town. I needed to see some paint. Kennebunk is painted, thank goodness.

Kennebunk isn’t Kennebunkport. Kennebunk’s very particular about such matters. The town’s slogan on its webpage is: “The only village in the world so named.” The next town over is Kennebunkport, but their point, whatever it is, still stands. At least Kennebunkers can sleep serene in their Kennebunks at night, knowing that they aren’t arrant liars like those Kennebunkportholes who claim that their burg is: “The place to be all year.”  I didn’t notice a prison in Kennebunkport, and I’ve been in Maine in the winter once or twice, so I doubt the veracity of this statement.

Kennebunkport is for the rich swells with whales on their pants, I think. Kennebunk folk just wear lime-green slacks and white shoes at their clubs, with no cetaceans, like regular people.
Everything really old in Maine’s along the coast. I live in a 1901 Queen Anne, and it would be a Bauhaus design compared to some of these places. 
Here’s a big old rambler that every realtor and media person would call a “Victorian,” because its a Colonial Revival and they don’t know a turnip from a truffle: 
I didn’t notice any riots over austerity measures outside the Acropolis here, but maybe I was there too early. Union people do tend to sleep in a lot: 
Nothing duller than an Adam Colonial. It’s as dull and useful as every other thing in this country that was worth a fart in a windstorm that we’ve thrown away with both hands and then clubbed with an oar:
Here’s the other side of Agamemnon’s joint. It’s got the highfalutin’ version of Maine’s signature rambling house layout: Little house, big house, back house, barn.
There’s some exuberance in the color schemes, thank the savior. I’m afraid to go to the bathroom in a New England downtown because I’m afraid they’ll paint my pecker white and hang green shutters on either side of it. Victorians were exuberant people and painted things exuberantly, too. And while you’re looking at surly stick-figures with bolt-ons in the Victoria’s Secret catalog and building Lego Deathstars even though you’re forty and childless, those stuck-up Victorians were having fourteen kids on the weekdays, and chasing the maids around the back house while the missus was on the fainting couch with the  footman on Saturdays. 
Mount Vernon is done like this next Italianate job. The wood is carved to look like stone blocks. The corners are clad in what are called “quoins” if you know what you’re talking about, and “coins” if you’re a realtor that only watches TV and doesn’t read much. 
I think I wanna buy the next shack. It’s for sale, too; rather cheaply if you ask me, for $1.35 mil. Some escapee from a home has installed a pool behind it, but you could overlook their mental problems and ice skate on it after Labor Day or something. The blue shack you just looked at is for sale, too, but they want $1.75 mil for it, and their swimming pool is full of frogs and weeds. Farg that noise. I want the Munsters house, and I’ll use the 400 grand I save to buy a french maid costume for my wife to wear when she dusts.
I’m a little short of funds just now, and the owners signaled a kind of coolness toward my scheme of making them a straight swap for my $24,000 palace in Rumford by furtively looking over their shoulder as I passed by and fleeing indoors. So you folks are going to have to buy another copy of my book and hang it on a nail in the outhouse like the first copy if I’m going to be in by Christmas, because it’s straight cash homey in Kennebunk, I guess.  

Caruso, Two Tin Cans, A String, And You

Think of a progression of musical bigshots. Spare me the Biebers and Gagas and Eagles. I’m talking transformative, iconic persons. Perhaps I’m not qualified to offer an opinion on current musical affairs, or they’re so atomized the there’s no overarching person lately. I’ll start back a bit.

There were the Beatles. Before that was Elvis. Before that was Sinatra. Before that was Gershwin. Before that was opera, and the tubby Neapolitan. I think his musical shadow might have been bigger than all that followed.

You have to read about him to get the whole gist of him. Recording the voice was invented around him; it was all very low-fi, and time-constrained, you have to interpolate just how powerful and sweet his voice must have been. I feel like a poor street urchin with my ear pressed up to an opera house door when I listen to recordings of him. A world full of street urchins did, and the rattling of jewelry inside the houses never drowned him out.

Vesuvius erupted near Caruso’s  hometown of Naples, and reporters went to San Francisco to ask Caruso about it. Then San Francisco rattled apart and burned to the ground, and the world asked: Is Caruso OK?

You Run Faster When There’s Other People In The Race

As I’ve mentioned before, well-meaning persons often worry aloud that our home-schooled children will not be “socialized.” They do not know what they mean.

They know what that used to mean, and so cling to the formulation. Children used to be thrown together, and would learn this and that by observing others and comparing themselves to what they saw. A natural kind of competition springs up and children test themselves against others over and over. This is all dead as a Pharoah.

Children are now thrown together to inure them to being thrown together, forevermore, among a group of persons that must not in any way compete with one another. They must remain passive, or they will be made so by discipline or a trip down pharmaceutical lane. By never being allowed to test themselves against others, and ratcheting their efforts up to match what they’ve seen from others, they never reach their full potential.

I have run in footraces. Longer than that one in the video. You run faster in a race than you do in practice. The other people spur you on. Cheerleaders don’t. It’s an interesting and exhilarating phenomenon.

We had a child in our home to visit. He described a class he had in school. The teacher was dyslexic. No one was allowed to “notice” that the teacher was dyslexic for fear of ferocious consequences. Since the teacher was chalking mathematical equations on the board with the integers and letters scrambled, the children found themselves adrift as to what to do, but they knew better than to say anything about it. Egalitarianism is often an interesting thing in practice.

The child that told us this is a perfectly intelligent and well-adjusted kid, and I questioned him closely about this because it seemed so fantastic, but I was ultimately convinced that he was telling the truth. I also noticed that he looked both ways, furtively, before speaking, as if someone would overhear what was said, even though it was said in a place that no one with any connection to the school could possibly be. I recognized it as the unconscious cringe of the beat dog when the paperboy makes a delivery.

So maybe I’m wrong, and nothing much has changed. Children are all still thrown together for their own good, to test their mettle among a crowd of their peers — but it’s now a race now to see who can walk backwards the slowest. The trophy doesn’t shine, but at least it doesn’t have any sharp edges.

The Timid People Stayed

Stephen Fry is a public intellectual. Great Britain seems to produce these persons by the hogshead. I think America produces them, too, but we don’t notice them so much. Public intellectuals seem to matter more in Europe.We lump Dick Cavett in with Pat Buchanan as “talking heads,” turn off the TV and go fishing, generally.

Stephen Fry might want to be Oscar Wilde, but ultimately they all want to be Bertrand Russell. They wish to flash an intellect so vast that they can indulge their crabby little opinions with impunity. The US version of these sorts of people seem to come from the stands at baseball games (see Limbaugh, Rush) or from seedy theaters with sticky seats (see Maher, Bill), but in Great Britain they all seem to have upper crust crumbled on their Eton ties. There’s a kind of Posh School Mafia that runs the media on that pile of rocks and coal in the North Atlantic now –Fry, Hugh Laurie, Rowan Atkinson, Jeremy Clarkson, Eddie Izzard. Only Gordon Ramsay comes to mind as being anything but a toff, and he’s not exactly a soccer hooligan — he sounds like a little kid or a woman when he swears.

Fry is fairly well known in America because of his various terrific turns in TV shows, Blackadder, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, etc.; but I’ll always think of him for his marvelous, if miscast (too young) turn as Jeeves in Jeeves and Wooster.

It’s hard to pass up a job that entails wandering around, eating at the best restaurants on an expense account, and having opinions. Stephen Fry seems to have discovered that he could make a living on a Twitter stream at this point, why bother with anything else, and was sent to America to get some footage and offer a mordant opinion or two.
I imagine the Beeb, or whatever entity sent him, mistakenly figured they were getting a Tocqueville, but Fry will do. He’s genial and curious, two attributes almost totally lacking in public intellectuals like Christopher Hitchens, who are just rustbucket brain freighters laden with tedious opinions drifting around the world looking for any odd pier to bump into to spill their cankered cargo all over.

My impression of Europe is that it’s the place where the timid stayed. Bravery is entirely a matter of how you fared in the gang showers at a gothic campus and whether Beeb producers answer your telephone calls. At least Stephen Fry knows enough to gape in awe at what bumpkins can cook up when they’re off the leash.

His observation that we’re “overpopulated” shows a glimpse of intellectual garter that he just can’t help, though: too many of you, just enough of me. It’s hard to be Not Quite Our Class of Persons, Dear, but we Americans try to bear up under the shame of it.

Month: August 2011

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