Sippican Cottage

Close this search box.

A Demonstration Of The Inner Workings Of The International Monetary Fund, Made Out Of Wood

Far be it from me to point out that half the world gets its monetary marching orders from an elderly backup singer in a ska band –after a scintillating synchronized swimming career– with a Paul Anka-grade addiction to suntanning. Of course, she took the place of a homunculus who likes to run around in a bath towel with his pud in his hand and show it to any passersby in his hotel room, so things are looking up!

Pers Makanniska Kabinett

There’s A House On My Block

There’s a house on my block
That’s abandoned and cold
Folks moved out of it a
Long time ago
And they took all their things
And they never came back
Looks like it’s haunted
With the windows all cracked
And everyone calls it
The house, the house where
Nobody lives

Once it held laughter
Once it held dreams
Did they throw it away
Did they know what it means
Did someone’s heart break
Or did someone do somebody wrong?

Well the paint was all cracked
It was peeled off of the wood
Papers were stacked on the porch
Where I stood
And the weeds had grown up
Just as high as the door
There were birds in the chimney
And an old chest of drawers
Looks like no one will ever
Come back to the
House were nobody lives

Once it held laughter
Once it held dreams
Did they throw it away
Did they know what it means
Did someone’s heart break
Or did someone do someone wrong?
So if you find someone
Someone to have, someone to hold

Don’t trade it for silver
Don’t trade it for gold
I have all of life’s treasures
And they are fine and they are good
They remind me that houses
Are just made of wood
What makes a house grand
Ain’t the roof or the doors
If there’s love in a house
It’s a palace for sure
Without love…
It ain’t nothin but a house
A house where nobody lives
Without love it ain’t nothin
But a house, a house where
Nobody lives.

Tom Waits Mule Variations at Amazon

The Alamo May Have No Basement, But You Can Stand Across The Alley And Listen To The Quebe Sisters

Across the alley from the Alamo
Lived a pinto pony and a Navajo
Who sang a sort of Indian Hi-de-ho
To the people passin’ by

The pinto spent his time a-swishin’ flies
And the Navajo watched the lazy skies
And very rarely did they ever rest their eyes
On the people passin’ by

One day, they went a walkin’ along the railroad track
They were swishin’ not a-lookin’ Toot! Toot!, they never came back

Oh, across the alley from the Alamo
When the summer sun decides to settle low
A fly sings an Indian Hi-de-ho
To the people passing by

Across the alley from the Alamo
Lived a pinto pony and a Navajo
Who used to bake frijoles in cornmeal dough
For the people passing by

They thought that they would make some easy bucks
By washin’ their frijoles in Duz and Lux,
A pair of very conscientious clucks
To the people passin’ by

Then they took this cheap vacation, their shoes were polished bright
No, they never heard the whistle, Toot! Toot! they’re clear out of sight

Oh, across the alley from the Alamo
When the starlight beams its tender glow
The beams go to sleep and then there ain’t no dough
For the people passin’ by

Lovely close-harmony singing to go along with the bluegrass fiddling around. That’s an old Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys number as I recall.

Written by Joe Greene from Spokane, according to Texas Monthly in 1984. Joe said he’d never been to the Alamo, and he wrote the song while he was asleep with a broken arm. I’ll have to try that method. Yields results. It reminds me of a story I heard about a woman with a wooden leg named Irene. I regret that I can’t remember what her other leg’s name was.

The Quebe sisters website. 

The Quebe Sisters on Amazon


Pure Pop For Then People

Paul Carrack in 1976 performing How Long with Ace. Paul Carrack is cooler than you because he was in Roxy Music and Squeeze. The only way you could be cooler than that is if you were Miles Davis, and you’d be dead so you wouldn’t leave a comment.


What is dynamism? Off to the dictionary.

… great energy, force, or power; vigor: the dynamism of the new governor.

No, this won’t do. All the examples in the dictionary mention a politician.

Dynamism is what happens when politicians aren’t paying attention. 

There, that’s my definition. Take that, Sam Johnson.

I don’t know of an example of dynamism that sprung from political action. All politicians try to control everything, and in advance. They generally suck at seeing even ten minutes down the road with any accuracy. Then they glom onto whatever’s worth taking credit for.

Hewlett Packard. Apple. Google. Disney. Amazon. Mattel. Harley-Davison. What do these companies have in common? They were all started in a garage. In Harley’s case, it was really just a shed. Why do people start the most successful businesses in the world in a shed?

Because everything they’re doing is illegal. No, really. Everyone tries to spin it as frugality, or spontaneity, or whatever — but it’s just a way to dodge all the roadblocks the political class has put in the dynamic person’s way. There are no OSHA inspections of garages. No wheelchair ramps. Hell, there are no demands to hire a state senator’s brother-in-law in a garage.

Pretty much all the examples I gave you turned into raging fans of the government after they were well established. Apple was next to nothing until they did a dirty deal to make their computers the only thing ever used in public schools. Harley got bailed out. Google spends all day using the government as a proxy to keep out competition. They all know there are bright people and garages everywhere, and give campaign donations to politicians that promise garage inspections daily.

Remember that Netflix “internal” PowerPoint cultural statement that made the rounds of the Intertunnel a few years back? Lots of people, deep thinkers, said it sounded like how every business should be run. To me, it sounded like what you’d do if you had a business in your garage.

Well, you don’t have a business in your garage anymore, and garage strategies don’t cut a lot of ice at the SEC or the EEOC or the EIEIO or whatever bureau run by basilisks you’d care to mention. You can’t talk about only having people that have those wonderful x characteristics on your team. Someone from the government wants to know how many of them are brown or have ovaries or roll around in wheelchairs and lots of other things you may or may not care about. Strategies like a devil-may-care attitude towards a dress code sound great in theory, but the first time a presentable woman wears a unitard and gets a somewhat longer longing glance from the fellows in the mail room than she’d like, you’ll figure out why pasties or speedos aren’t allowed at IBM. It will be explained to you in some detail by her lawyer.  Hey, Woz, they don’t let you throw things away in the household trash that smell vaguely like Chernobyl once there’s a logo on the building. And promising people stock options instead of wages will only get you so far out in the exogarage sunshine when the government wonders aloud where their FICA money is.

So everyone wants dynamism, but no one wants to allow it as soon as they don’t need it any more. Politicians never need dynamism. Dynamism can build institutions they can’t control. Institutions that might oppose them. Dynamism gives regular people ideas.

In every case I can think of, dynamism is regular people unleashed. I don’t find the founders of most of those businesses I mentioned earlier to be that dynamic. They’re usually a certain kind of inspired drudge. They barely understand the forces they let loose. But by hook or by crook, they unleash things. Not just among their own employees. In most cases, it’s the customers that get unleashed, and love it. Google sounds like a cushioned gulag to work at. But its customers use it to find things, including finding me, thank goodness. Who cares why?

The industrial revolution in England happened because the landed gentry wasn’t paying attention. They scoffed at the importance of guys with grease under their fingernails right up until the greasy guys’ clout –political, monetary, cultural– eclipsed their own, and there was nothing they could do to put the genie back in the bottle. It was the same in America. When we just paved the roads and didn’t worry too much about what was going on in all the sheds, America ran wild economically. It wasn’t until we fixed everything in advance that it all got broken. You can’t micromanage dynamism. Look at the explosion of commerce that happened in China when they took the communist boot off the average person’s face, and improved it to an autocratic slipper on their neck. Russia may be a gangster state now, but a gangster is better than a commissar.

Until regular people are allowed to swing their elbows again in the US instead of listening to the national intercom’s continual funds for this worthy project are soon to be released message, nothing much is going to happen.

I run a business out of my house and we teach our children at desks in their bedrooms. We make music instead of buying it. We write books. Food comes from recipes, not reservations. We make our own heat and our own fun. You can kill us, but you can’t make us stop trying. Dare I call it dynamism?

Climate Change In The Land Of The Midnight Sun

I never paid much attention to the weather.

Why should you? People rarely go where the weather can get at you. A weather report on television always seemed like it was by, and for, lunatics. Watching a hair farmer in an off-the-rack suit wave his little stick-arms at a green screen depiction of the alleged weather happening somewhere else is for people with onions on their belt. Only people that have nothing to do with the outdoors watch the weather on TV.

It’s lovely here in western Maine today. Around eighty, a little breeze, sun and clouds. You live for days like these. Well, I do. Everyone else here has barricaded themselves in their houses, windows shut tight, and turned on their air conditioning. If I had an opinion of them, I’d say they’re sort of insane. I only recently moved here, so I don’t have opinions yet. But it seems to me they could open the windows and be happy, but they won’t. They pray to the weatherman deity and the weatherstripping gods now, and immure themselves in a plastic box with tiny rubber windows that they never open, are told it’s so hot, and suffer. The suffering makes them happy, I surmise. Why else would they do it?

I’ve recently developed a nervous habit of checking the weather very carefully, very often. It was 22 below zero here one early morning two winters ago. I work in a semi-unheated workshop. I need to know about the temperature. I haven’t seen TV in years, so I visit, which is the URL for The Weather Channel. I visit it a lot.

I’ve noticed a phenomenon at the Weather Channel website that was “a poser,” as we used to say. The Weather Channel tells you what the high temperature at your location is at around three or four in the afternoon, no equivocation, just bam, here it is. That number stays there for the rest of the day. But if you check it the next day, someone’s added between two and five degrees to it and entered it into the monthly schedule of high and low temperatures. Observe:

It was 84 degrees yesterday. I have a regular old thermometer, in the shade outside my window in my office, and I checked it, and took a screen cap. Here’s today’s monthly report of high temps from the same source:

My goodness. It says it was 87 degrees yesterday. It also says it was 93 degrees on the thirteenth. Yes, and I’m Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. I live here. I was paying attention on the 13th, too. It was 88. I wonder where the temperature butcher with the heavy thumb lives?

Let’s try another outlet. The insanely named Weather Underground. (I guess the URL for PLO_Olympic_Squad_Weather dot com was taken already) What do they say the temp was yesterday?

Hmm. 84. Exactly what I observed, and what observed just before they didn’t anymore. And they have 88 for the 13th. We’re sympatico, I guess, but this lends confusion to the proceedings. No worries. Since The Weather Channel bought out The Weather Underground this month, I’m sure these discrepancies won’t continue much longer. It’ll be 105 in the shade yesterday every day except Christmas.

So all this leads me to admit a terrible secret, and forces me to apologize to you, my faithful readers. I am a fraud, and I’m sorry.

You see, I know that since I’m one of only fourteen persons that live north of Norway, Maine, and I’m the only one of them you know, you depend upon me to give you the skinny on all the various doings out here in the Willie-Wacks. And my terrible secret is this: I go to bed before 10:30 every night. I feel like a fraud giving you the impression I know what’s going on around here, all day, when of course I’m obviously entirely unaware of the second sun that rises around 11 PM in Maine and incinerates the landscape after I’m asleep, pegs the high temp meter, and then sets before midnight. I imagine that all the locals know all about this second sun, and never told me about it, and snicker behind my back when they see me at the Dunkin’ Donuts.

I just figured since there was ice in the birdbath in the morning in May, that I could get away with not paying attention all night. I apologize unreservedly, and for my penance, from now on I’ll be sure to leave out a bowl of kibble for any Yetis that might pass by in the night, heading north, looking for a patch of shade.

We Took To The Ramshackle Victorian Near The Woods

“There is nothing that I so greatly admire as purposefulness. I have an
enormous respect for people who know exactly what they are doing and
where they are going. Such people are compact and integrated. They have
clear edges. They give an impression of invulnerability and balance, and
I wish I were one of them.” –Louise Dickinson Rich

I do not have any money, and suddenly I want some.

I’ve made rather a lot of money — for other people– at one time or another. Upon reflection I realize I didn’t like any of these people, and I made the most money for the people I liked the least.

If I made money for my own use, I’d have something to lavish it on today. I’d reach out the hand of the man with resources and make something happen for no reason other than that it should, and I could. I’d buy Louise Dickinson Rich’s Maine cottage. 

Oh, they want 1.3 million for it, but that’s not enough. I’ll need much more than that. There are two houses, a “winter” house and a “summer” house, and I want them both. They’re only selling the summer one. I want to offer the owner whatever it takes to stop monkeying around with it, and acting like a real estate vivisectionist by parceling out hams to fools. I want the whole pig.

Louise Dickinson Rich wrote We Took To The Woods in those houses. Hell, the chair she sat in and the typewriter she banged on is still in there.

The whole place is just as she left it, and it will be pulled to bits, or perhaps brined and immured in an aspic she never would have tolerated. One way or the other, the wrong people will get hold of this place, and do the wrong thing in it, and to it. Her Wikipedia entry mentions: “…a Thoreau-like existence…” Yeah, sure, if you don’t know anything about Thoreau, and never read her book.

We belong to no cult. We are not Nature Lovers. We don’t love nature
any more than we love breathing. Nature is simply something
indispensable, like air and light and water, that we accept as necessary
to living, and the nearer we can get to it the happier we are.

Don’t forget: Henry David Thoreau was a knucklehead.

When we first moved to Maine, our neighbor, a sterling fellow, gave us a copy of We Took To The Woods as a gift. It’s considered rather quotidian to an educator in Maine, I’m sure, but it was news to us and immediately gained a pride of place on the shelf with Twain and Bierce and Wodehouse and a few others. Everyone’s always trying to get me to read things. It’s a rare person that hits the mark on the first shot.

I love that book. It matters. My older child reads her history of Maine, called State O’ Maine, for his history lesson. He’s homeschooled. The local schools don’t require students to learn about the state they live in any longer as part of the curriculum. The book’s out of print, which tells you a lot about what Mainers worship these days. There’s always money for a homely mural about work where all the workers are on strike, but a Maine author writing the best history of Maine, who should rank with Longfellow and White, Millay and Stowe, goes out of print. The schoolchildren play with iPads instead of reading.

I felt a bit of wry amusement to read about her trips in from the wilderness to the big city of Rumford, and know that she had to pass right through the shadow of my house on the only road into town back then. She was my familiar all of a sudden. A neighbor, dead and buried, but not forgotten.

Someone cranky and pleasant and standoffish and friendly and outgoing and solitary should live there and write books about living in Maine. Ain’t gonna happen. We live in a weird world, where you have to write the book first, so you can afford the house later.

We Took To The Woods, at Amazon

The Tribe

Mairead Hickey from Cork, Ireland. Just thirteen years old in the video. Fifteen now, and something of a big deal in Cork. 

Sullivans like me are thick on the ground in Cork. Lord knows what drove us from the place. I think they made it past the whole of the famine, and then bugged out. That strikes a familiar chord. Stubborn, then mercurial.

Nulla manus, tam liberalis atque generalis, atque universalis, quam Sullivanus

No hand so liberal,
And so general and universal,
As the O’Sullivan.

America is not a people. It’s an idea, one that many people share, or shared, anyway. I have trouble discerning that idea with any regularity out in the landscape recently. Sometimes the tribe calls out to me.

Month: July 2012

Find Stuff: