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For Miles

My wife and I had to leave the house the other day. That hardly every happens. Our teenage son is almost a man, and looks after his little brother like a lion, so we don’t worry overmuch.

Our older son had a friend over. We left them alone in the house. What would two teenaged boys do to get into mischief in your house if left alone? Ours went into this huge, overstuffed and tumbledown room we call a closet off our bedroom. It’s where everything goes to die, or to wait; whichever comes first. There’s a bare bulb depending from the ceiling in there, and clothes we don’t wear much, and VCR tapes, and a dishwasher we purchased three years ago that I never installed because the floor is too out of level in the kitchen, and I have to fix it first, and we ain’t got the dough for that. So my wife stands at the sink, listing to port a little, and washes the dishes by hand and dreams of a dishwasher she already owns.

Anyway, those two scamps broke open some boxes of lps. You know, records. Vi. Nyl. And they listened to Charlie Parker records and played board games until we got back. Full of surprises, those kids are.

I Figured I’d Better Brush Up On My Architectural Skills

Winter Storm Warning for Southern Oxford, ME











Mmm. Walrus blubber.
En francais, s’il vous plait:

Make Something If You Can. Own Something Someone Made In Turn

I’ve lived a fair bit now. Long enough to see simple commodities that everyone thought were consigned to the ministrations of machines alone on a factory floor being made by hand again.

Of course movies are made by, for, and about robots now, instead of people, so the economy is still in equilibrium.

Merry Christmas From Sippican Cottage!

We can’t thank everyone enough, but you can’t stop us from trying. So here goes:

To everyone that reads, and comments, and links, and corresponds, and buys my book, and purchases furniture, and uses our Amazon links, and pitches in to help us buy musical stuff for Unorganized Hancock — even though they sing a clunker now and then –many thanks from the entire Cottage family; we hope the blessings of the season brighten your life, and that the new year brings you all good health, good fortune, and many amusements. We love you all.

[Update: Thanks, Dave R.! Thanks, Bilejones!, Thanks, Kathleen M.! for hitting the tipjar]

Traditional, Now

[Editor’s note: From 2007. Somewhat traditional.] 
{Author’s note: There is no editor. Merry Christmas}

Ginger Ale 

by: Sippican Cottage

I wish it would rain.

No; sleet. Sleet would finish the scene. Rain is cleansing. It washes away the dirt and corruption. No snow either; the fat, jolly flakes just hide it all. Snow can make a fire hydrant into a wedding cake. I want sleet.

I want to pull my collar up, and hunch my shoulders as if blows from an unseen and merciless god 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. I could bang on those machines like a Fury until the sun winked out, 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 find 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 is 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.”

Days Of Mad Romance And Love

Art Tatum plays Yesterdays by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach. He made a record of it in 1949, so I imagine this video is from sometime around then. He died in 1956.

Practically blind, drank a lot. Could still blow anyone’s doors off on the piano.

Things Are Different Today; I Hear Every Muvva Say

Oh how I love to watch dull things.

I liked to read dull things when I was younger. Still do, but don’t have the time anymore. My head is kinda full, now, too, so I look for opportunities to lighten its load before I take on more ballast.

I’d rather read a newspaper that was one hundred years old than a brand new one. Everything in a newspaper is interesting if everyone’s dead. The mundane-r the stuff you’re reading in it, the better. The ads are better than the articles in any publication, generally.

Look what had to happen to get a book in print in 1947. It’s the reason that the apparatus to publish a book had so many gatekeepers along its Appian Way to the bookseller. Can’t waste copper plates on fanfiction. Eventually, like with so many things, the gatekeepers thought they were the business, and became a calcified roadblock for anything their crabby little worldview didn’t like.

Reform is not possible with large, complex, monolithic entities. They have to collapse. In general, they collapse right after their hegemony over the entire landscape of their walk of life is reached. No one can imagine a competitor. This lack of imagination is a swamp where the noxious exhalations of innovation come from.

I typed a book on an ancient Frankensteined Dell computer running XP, sent it to Amazon, and less than a week later I had a box of them in my lap. No other human was involved in its production on my end. At the printing end, for all I know, seventeen Yetis with a glue gun and a barrel of ink made the damn things.

I don’t know much, but I do know that if the entire edifice of publishing was still in place, I’d have never written anything, and would never write anything else. Good riddance to bad trash.

Landfill Harmonic

People are valuable, and often do wonderful things.

That’s not the impression I get reading about the wonder of a classical orchestra springing up out of a landfill like a daisy in a graveyard. Everyone’s fascinated with the trash. I don’t know how to break it to you, but in general, a violin is made from the structural fibers found in the boles, branches, and roots of trees. I can open the windows of my house, reach out, and touch trees. I can go out to my pile of firewood and get fifteen-violins-worth of tiger maple in one five gallon pail and bring it inside and get to work. Trees are even less valuable than trash. And I saw plenty of animals in the video, and if you have animals, you have glue.

That’s real recycling, red in tooth and claw, you see going on at the Cateura landfill. Not the smug dump of your Dasani bottles in a bin on the curb. Trash has to go somewhere, and someone has to deal with it. If what you dump is valuable, people or machines pick through it and make money. The people in Cateura are there because they know that the trash is full of what for them is treasure. It’s funny that most of the instruments are made from metal, which is the most high-value stuff in the dump. They should sell that, and get a load of pallet lumber and make better violins. But who knows how transparent the economy is in Paraguay? I offer no advice to the Cateurans, except perhaps: Keep going.

Paraguay’s had a very lively history. “Lively” isn’t often good in politics. From the fifties to the present it’s been at least fairly stable, and as recently as 2010 they’ve enjoyed a 14.5% GDP growth rate, third in the world behind Qatar and Singapore. How’d your 401k do in 2010? Just asking.

So things are getting better in Paraguay, and there are lots of children, and the children need things. People, being clever, make those things for their children out of what’s at hand. It’s obvious that someone loves the children in the video, because even though they live in a dump, they’re well-turned out, clean, and learning Mozart instead of Eminem. I can’t say the same for the children I saw at the Walmart near where I live.

Paraguayans have children and make violins for them out of next to nothing, both signs of hope for the future, and are celebrated by childless first-worlders obsessed with their trash who talk endlessly about the end of the world. A Paraguayan seems to know that people are valuable. Do you?

(Thanks to reader and commenter and friend and artista especial Casey Klahn for sending that along)

Earwax And Zima

Some sort of stuff has been falling from the sky for four days straight now.

What it is, I cannot say. It accumulates on the ground is about all I can report about it. It changes itself from one thing to another from time to time, to avoid monotony. I am having a great deal of difficulty attempting to identify this substance. It has a passing resemblance to “partly cloudy,” which of course in New England is measured in inches, generally, but there the similarity ends. I’m used to shoveling six inches of “partly cloudy.” This was something else.

At first, I was gulled into thinking it was snow. It was white, and sort of fluffy, and tasted like nothing, and you could push it around with a plastic blade mounted on a wooden dowel. But that was a canard and a swindle. You went out into it, and whoever has his hands on the levers of the machine that makes it dumped all this other stuff on you. Bad stuff. The snow-like stuff was just to get you onto the lot, as the car salesmen say.

The first day was no picnic, but we piled the mysterious admixture up here and there around the place where we thought we’d like to have another look at it in May. The second day brought even stranger material to earth. I tried applying the encyclopedia, and the dictionary, and word of mouth, and the wreckage of my education to the problem of its composition. The town assayist turned down the contract flat. Said he didn’t want to spoil his thimble with the gunk. I had to rely on my good sense. So, here goes: I think it was equal parts Visine, petroleum jelly, heavy water, asbestos, and earwax, with just a hint of Zima in it.

The third and fourth days were just variations on the theme, worthy of a Mozart or any of those German fellows banging on their pianos while portly women with viking helmets hit the big notes. My senses are somewhat dulled from constant exposure to the elements, and I am weary from my exertions, so forgive me — of course it was redundant to mention earwax and Zima in the same sentence. Mi dispiace.

Month: December 2012

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