Sippican Cottage

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If I Had My Way, I Would Move To Another Lifetime

I’m showing an affirming flame as hard as I can. It’s all I have to warm my hands over sometimes.

Thanks to all my readers, and commenters, and everyone that purchases things through my Amazon links, and bought my book, and of course my furniture. I’d like Sippican Cottage to be an ironic point of light, where the just exchange their messages. It seems like it to me, though it is not my place to say.

Happy New Year to all.

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
‘I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,’
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.  

W.H.Auden —September 1st, 1939

The World Is A Wonderful Place

Sue Foley. The world is a wonderful place because it produces things like female guitar gunslingers from Ottawa that perform in Sao Paolo, among other more likely things.

100 Years In 10 Minutes

Some interesting orthography and grammar in there. Must be someone that speaks English as a second language, or was an honor student at an American public school.

Never Liked Old Beetle-Brow Much

Most popular music is designed to annoy you. Raucous, maybe, or tedious, or teased into an undynamic drone. I cannot pass the time with it for long. I often have music going in the shop, quietly, to mask the buzz of the fluorescent lights, but I’m apparently not as interested in being told that everything sucks in 4/4 time by someone that’s never gotten up before noon and has their M&Ms sorted for them as I used to be. Life does suck — or at least sucks the life out of you. Why make it worse?

My wife likes the Pastoral Symphony. I never liked old beetle-brow much myself. He was having a resurgence back in the seventies when I played an orchestra instrument, and he rubbed me the wrong way. And what was that little shite’s name in Peanuts that was always sawing away at him? Linux or Schroedinger or Sloppy or something. Who cares? Peanuts always sucked, too. Discerning grade-schoolers read B.C. .

But my wife wears me down in the most pleasant ways and I find myself softening on the old, deaf, dead Napoleon bumkisser. He sounds at least 14 percent better than the fluorescent lights to me now. That’s a damn sight better than Looking Glass or Sugarloaf ever was.

The Rexall

They had the Rexall for this sick society. The operation was a success, but the patient died.

Open Is A Time

I WISH IT WOULD rain. No. Sleet. Sleet would finish the scene nicely. Rain is God’s mop. It washes away the dirt and corruption. I’ve got no use for snow, either; the fat flakes are too jolly. Snow makes a fire hydrant into a wedding cake. I want sleet.
    I’d rather pull my collar up and hunch my shoulders as if blows from an unseen and merciless boxer were raining down on me. I don’t want a Christmas card. I want the Old Testament.
    Old or new – I knew it. Father and mother would open the Bible to a random page and place an unseeing finger anywhere and use it for their answer to whatever question was at hand. They’d torture the found scripture to fit the problem a lot, but it was uncanny how often that old musty book would burp out something at least fit for a double-take. But any Ouija board does that, doesn’t it?
    It was just cold and bracing. No sleet. I didn’t need to be clear-minded right now. Paul’s tip of the hat to the season, a sort of syphilitic looking tree, hung over your head as you entered the bar like it was Damocle’s birthday, not the Redeemer’s. It was kinda funny to see it out there, because inside it was always the same day and always the same time. Open is a time.
    People yield without thinking in these situations. It had been years since I had found anyone sitting on that stool, my place. It was just understood, like the needle in the compass always pointing the same way for everyone. Paul never even greeted me anymore, just put it wordlessly down in front of me as I hit the seat. Some men understand other men.

    It was already kind of late. My foreman said for all he cared, I could bang on those machines until Satan showed up in the Ice Capades, but I didn’t feel like working on Christmas Eve until the clock struck midnight. That’s a bad time to be alone and sober.
    “I’m closing early tonight,” Paul said, and he didn’t go back to his paper or his taps. He just stood there eying me. I took the drink.
    “You’ve made a mess of this, Paul,” I stammered out, coughing a bit, “What the hell is this?”
    “It’s ginger ale. You’re coming with me tonight.”
    I could see it all rolled out in front of me. Pity. Kindness. Friendship.
    “No.” I rose to leave.
    “You’ll come, or you’ll never darken the doorstep here again.”
    Now a man finds himself in these spots from time to time. There are altogether too many kind souls in the world. They think they understand you. They want to help you. But what Paul will never understand is that he was helping me by taking my money and filling the glass and minding his own. It was the only help there was. A man standing in the broken shards of his life doesn’t have any use for people picking up each piece and wondering aloud if this bit wasn’t so bad. They never understand that the whole thing was worth something once but the pieces are nothing and you can never reassemble them again into anything.
    I went. Worse than I imagined, really. Wife. Kids. Home. Happy. I sat in the corner chair, rock-hard sober, and then masticated like a farm animal at the table.
    Paul was smarter, perhaps, than I gave him credit for. He said nothing to me, or about me. His children nattered and his wife placed the food in front of me and they talked of everything and nothing as if I wasn’t there – no, as if I had always been there. As if the man with every bit of his life written right on his face had always sat in that seat.
    I wasn’t prepared for it when he took out the Bible. Is he a madman like my own father was? It’s too much. The children sat by the tree, and he opened the Bible and placed his finger in there. I wanted to run screaming into the street. I wanted to murder them all and wait for the police. I wanted to lay down on the carpet and die.
    “Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
    He put the children to bed, to dream of the morning. His wife kissed him, said only “good night” to me, and went upstairs. We sat for a long moment by the fire, the soft gentle sucking sound of the logs being consumed audible now that the children were gone. The fire was reflected in the ornaments on the tree. The mantel clock banged through the seconds.
    “Do you want something?” he asked.
    “Ginger ale.”

(From my collection of flash fiction, The Devil’s In The Cows

Stuff And Junk I Built

A nice customer asked me to build them a game table.

I get asked all the time to build things I don’t build. I take it as a compliment. People see things I do make, and like them, but need something else. They figure they’d rather give me their money than someone else. I’m grateful for the offer, but 99 times out of 100 I pass. I took a run at this one because it’s a version of something I already make.

Because I make things, it doesn’t follow that it doesn’t matter what sort of thing I’m making. I can make most anything. I’ve built everything from birdhouses to football stadiums for money. But I’m not in those businesses right now. It’s a bad idea for a business to take on work they’re not set up to do properly, and do it simply because they want or need more money. Lots of businesses expand continually until they fail utterly. They cover the loss from the last ill-advised idea with the next ill-advised idea. All the while they’re touted as good businessmen because –well, they got bigger, didn’t they? Sure, until they got very small indeed. I’m a cottage furniture maker from Maine, working all alone for all intents and purposes. Who would you call a better businessman, me or the honcho of Maine Cottage Furniture, with their dozens of employees and millions in receipts and their factories and showrooms?

It’s a trick question. You all answered Maine Cottage Furniture, but they went out of business. They were superior business people to me — right up until the time the bank padlocked their door. Sippican Cottage Furniture is going on eight years old now.

People picture me as an artisan. They do not picture my business as a business in the true sense of the word, but it is. It’s another kind of compliment, calling me an artisan — they mean I don’t strike them as a hack or rapacious — but being an artisan alone could get me into trouble. I’ve been avoiding looking for trouble lately. Enough trouble has showed up at my door already without me looking for it. It tried jiggling the knob when I got tired of answering the door, and it climbs in my windows when I’m asleep if I’m not careful.

A business like mine is a kind of bet. It’s a very big parley bet, actually. I’m making a lot of sequential bets, and all of them have to turn out perfectly, every time, or I’m dead on the spot. And there’s all this stuff that goes into the process that’s essentially invisible to the end user that looms like legions of Kongs over me all the time. I have to bet on a design and know how long it takes to make it and what kind of wood it will be made from and where I’ll get that wood and how much it will cost and how it needs to be stored and how much waste it will have and how hard it will be on the tools and what kind of finish it will have and what kind of ambient temperature and humidity and ventilation all that will require and what sort of hardware to use and where to get it and what sort of lead time it requires and how to package it when it’s done and how to ship it and how to display it online and how to find potential customers and collect their money and… 

I could go on, but you get the picture. I don’t cut down the trees. That’s about it. Most businessmen pay other people to cover large swathes of the business landscape for them, but I can’t. I have to cover every eventuality immediately out of my own exertions and remove food from my family’s mouths to cover any loss. It leads to a profound kind of caution that people with lots of resources behind them barely recognize. Businessmen read self-help books and then cobble together a PowerPoint about the hedgehog strategy they think they should try, but they disintegrate into a weepy puddle if there are no bagels in the breakroom one day or their BlackBerry has an outage. It’s a clinically obese hedgehog strategy they’re talking about. My hedgehog’s anorectic.

I had a good friend try to pay me another compliment a while back, telling me I was a bad businessman and should quit and be a writer. They meant it as a compliment about my writing, but I’ve turned it over in my mind a lot since it was offered. I at least consider what intelligent and pleasant people say to me. Sometimes I even take their advice or make the table they want. But there seems to be only one way the public measures business acumen now. Are you writing this essay from your yacht? No? Then you must suck at it, whatever “it” is. I take a different view. Who could do more, with less? It’s a great way to keep score. Context.

No, I’m not a bad businessman. In many ways, I’m a spectacular businessman. I place into evidence Exhibit A: I’m still in business.

(Update: The Sippican Game Table)

Read The Meteor, Or You Won’t Know What It Says

It’s that time of year again. The time of year between January and January when I try to pass off dusty old writing as fresh one more time. Seeing as this is the Intertunnel, I have to add a Top Ten List, too. It’s like a law.

But recycling isn’t enough. I need to kill at least three birds with one stone if I’m going to get a half-day off on Christmas. So since our friend Aubuchon Connery, the general factotum over to the Rumford Meteor,  has asked me to help him catapult his “News straight from the seat of Oxford County” up into the rarified air of the greater World Wide Web — where it can explode into many interesting colors, or something — I figure I’ll recycle his stuff and knock off early. Western Maine needs the publicity in any case. If it wasn’t for the paper mill, no one downwind would even know we were here.

Actually, I think Aubuchon is angling to get Clint Locke Muskie, a local swell that runs an extravagant quarter-page ad for his fill dirt, artisanal cupcake, coal hod fabrication, storm door, and amateur podiatry business in the Lewiston Sun-Urinal (every week! A one-percenter fer sure!), to give the Meteor a try instead. Aubuchon says if he gets a guy like that on account, he can get his ice auger professionally sharpened twice a year and not give a second thought to the expense.

So here’s double duty, Rumfid style. The TOP TEN HEADLINES OF 2011 from The Rumford Meteor: Please disregard the fact that there are twenty five items in my top ten list. It’s a habit I got into in the ten-items-or-less checkout lane when I’m buying booze at the Mexico Walmart, and I can’t help myself anymore.

The Straight Dope says of the The Rumford Meteor: “It’s like Lake Wobegon. On Crack.”  They’re obviously “from away.” We’re all on Bath Salts around here.

The Rumford Meteor

Month: December 2011

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