Sippican Cottage

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I Knew It All Along

“Charlie I been thinking. I shouldn’t but I do. I get to brooding on a thing and then it gets hold of me and worries me to no end until I think it all the way through. We put one foot in front of the other but we never arrive noplace. How can that be? The train, he runs from point A to point B and that’s that, unless the boiler gives out. There’s a bill on the wall in the depot, and it stakes its reputation about the comings and goings of the world and generally turns yellow before it misses. But we never arrive where we’re going even if we hop the train. It doesn’t seem possible but there it is.

“When we walk along the ties we fall into an easy rhythm, don’t we Charlie? There’s nothing else a man can do. You know I’m right in this, Charlie, it’s plain. You remember when you was just an angelina the ties would break your step and confound you and you’d try every kind of thing to beat them at their own game. You’d walk along the edges of the railbed and get poison ivy real good, or find a bramble, or step in a chuckhole, and pruddy soon you’d find yourself back on the ties and counting the anchor plates for amusement, now wouldn’t you? If we had minders we couldn’t be herded any closer. They cut the railbed through the wilderness and it’s the only way from here to there and a man knows it for a fact if he’s not a fool. But we never arrive at anywhere we need to go, do we, Charlie? The rail is laid for another man’s trip but that’s all there is.

“When I was little they took me to the church, Charlie. It was the plain church with no Romans, but I can’t remember the name. The only sign that it was a church, besides how hard the seat felt, was the cross marked on the wall as plainly as the chalk on the curb outside a kind lady’s house, the kind that talks religion and gives food. But they never gave me nothing. Then a feller that looked like reform school got up and took out his watch and set it on a little desk next to a book he never looked at once and started thundering about this and that. He looked me straight in the face and said in our occupations we spread our nets but God brings the fish. I don’t know why he looked at me like that when he said it but he did. He put that sentence on my mind like a mark on cattle and I never forgot it. I didn’t know what it means but it stayed with me.

“I think he meant to tell me that if you got fish in your net then God almighty himself put them there. And I guess that means if you haven’t got no fish that you don’t deserve any. I know upon reflection that was a hard thing to say to the face of boy that hadn’t seen breakfast. Having fish God gave you with his own hand seems to come mighty easy to those with nothing but ink from a bill of sale for the net on their bony fingers, don’t it?

“I’ve been turning it over and over in my mind, Charlie, and I think I had it all backwards. We live in a world where you never arrive no matter how many steps you take. Your destination is never posted in the depot and if you say you’ll go along to another then you find you’re in the wrong place every time, and have to start over again and again.

“I been looking at the nets and the fisherman and I’ve seen the fish on the plate through the window when I’m standing on the sidewalk, Charlie. I don’t know anything except that the fish is never on my plate, Charlie. And I’m beginning to think that the loud feller with the stern face was telling me the opposite of the truth, and doing it on purpose. That’s why he made it hurt. That’s why he left a mark. To keep me rubbing it over and over like a tender spot but not looking at it for fear of it. Like when your tooth is gone you put your tongue in the spot it where it belongs over and over but you never want to see it in the mirror because no man wants to know he’s ugly.

“I’m beginning to see that we’re walking in a world where fish on your plate is a sign that the Devil himself knitted your net. No one has nothing they deserve, Charlie. If you got it, you got it in some underhanded way. Money is the mark of the Devil in this world. What do you think of that, Charlie?”

“I never went to church so I knew it all along.”

You Got A Face With A View

Back in the day it was my job to figure out if a song “had legs.” A song with legs had a durable framework that would lend its familiarity to a cover version without requiring the authenticity of the artifact of the original. There’s a reason why there’s a DJ at weddings now. People don’t want an imitation of the thing they like. It’s fairly easy to make an improved version of most pop songs live, but most people don’t think improving things is an improvement. They have invested the original artifact with meaning and it’s hard to wean them off it. Otherwise someone that looked vaguely like Tom Hanks would be playing at every cinema in the world.

This is one of the oddest songs I ever encountered that has legs. David Byrne is a very odd person to be producing pop songs. That’s what made them wonderful, I guess. They’re bent in an interesting way. Still, here we are, with the backwards chicken plucking getting over one more time.

My bandmates thought Psycho Killer had legs but it didn’t. It’s instantly recognizable so it gets played during a third down timeout, but people want the actual thing. There’s no there, there.

This song? It’s got a face with a view.

Notes From The Oud Factory Outlet

I received an email invitation from the Guitar Planet or the Music Galaxy or the Trombone Shack or the Oud Factory Outlet or maybe it was the Accordion Diaphragm Superstore or some other purveyor of only the finest noises. They’re having a drumming contest. I’m sure it was a very exclusive offer. They no doubt sent it to me because I purchased an A string from them back in Clinton’s first term or some similar big outlay, and they’ve kept me in mind since then. It’s an honor I don’t deserve but I will accept, like a Nobel Peace Prize or something.

A drumming contest, you say? I know a drummer. He’s currently the best eleven-year-old drummer on Earth. He used to be the best ten-year-old drummer on Earth, but he can’t seem to stick to anything for very long. I counseled him to continue being ten years old for as long as possible, but he doesn’t listen. Now all his business cards will need re-printing.

He’s not eligible for the drumming contest, of course, and for two different reasons:

  1. He would have to be five years older than he is to enter. Five!
  2. He knows how to play the drums properly. That’s not allowed.

I have no idea why they wouldn’t be interested in letting him enter because he’s eleven. They’re supposedly looking for a “man bites dog” headline for their contest. If he won it, they’d have something unusual to tout, I’d say. But of course, they want everyone to be unusual in exactly the same way. That is to say, everyone is required to look reliably dissolute and buy one more cymbal instead of practicing, forevermore. Their music store is almost useless for a real musician. Their stock in trade is selling instruments to people who will never learn to play, but develop exquisite taste in choosing the perfect black T-shirt with the finest Big Daddy Roth typefaces announcing tours of geriatric thrash-metalers from days gone by. 

So he’s too young. Got it. But what about problem number 2?

To enter the contest, you’re supposed to, and I’m not kidding here, drive to their musical Lubyanka satellite store at the appointed hour, take five minutes to adjust the drums they have already set up, and then play for three minutes. Play what? With whom? What they mean is you’re assumed to be a musically incompetent show-off, and you’re supposed to make as much noise as you can, and the loudest noise wins.

A three-minute drum solo is a penance. It’s a plague. It appeals to the basest instincts of humans. It’s noise. My son has been taught to play music with others. He can, and does, accompany his much older brother perfectly, and he never plays a note out of place, or misses, or steps all over the vocals, or plays drum fills that go three quarters of the way to the bridge, then get frightened by how fast they’re going and turn around and try to go back home to the verse in the wrong spot. He has never played a drum solo, and he never will. He plays music. Playing music is apparently not allowed in a drumming contest.

I don’t really care about the drum contest. I wouldn’t enter him in it even if it was allowed. It doesn’t have anything to do with music. And besides, he gets paid to play, so if you want him to perform in The Bouzouki Vivisectionist’s Warehouse or the Dulcimer Grotto or whatever you call your stripmall slice of bedlam, then write him a check, upfront, or buzz off.

(My two sons, of whom I’m inordinately fond, call themselves Unorganized Hancock, and will be appearing at the Fryeburg Fair in about a month. Be there and/or be square. There will be no drum solo)

Wonder Boys

You can’t spend what you ain’t got; you can’t lose some little girl that you ain’t never had

I don’t read books like other people do.

I didn’t listen to music like other people did, either. When I was a little kid, I did, I guess. But pretty soon I was casting a longing eye at things that came out of the radio instead of simply listening to them. When you play music for money, songs are just oxen pulling your plough, or in my case, ground beef on the plate. Farmers don’t fall in love with pigs.

Had money in the bank; I got busted, people, ain’t that bad?

I read all the time when I was little. All. The. Time. A whisker came out of my chin and I entered the world of men. I no longer read books for entertainment. I didn’t read books for amusement. I read books looking for fellow travelers.

Had a sweet little home, it got burned down; people, ain’t that bad? My own fault, people: ain’t that bad?

There is dynamism in life always. It’s not generally where you think it might be. I believe that most forms of culture and commerce have a trajectory. They are born, mature, and die. I have been subjected to the death throes of so many modes of commerce and art forms that I’ve become jaded. I don’t know why everything that has ever presented itself to me as an avenue from poverty and obscurity has been croaking its death rattle by the time it got around to me, or why it has always chosen me from among all the other fools to hug while it pitched itself headlong into the grave, but I’m not dumb enough not to notice the pattern.

“Wonder Boy.” “That man,” he said, “has offered me unsolicited advice every day for six years, all of it bad.”

Oh, what battalions and legions of Wonder Boys, what phlanxes of Wonder Boys I’ve encountered over the years. The schiltrons of Wonder Boys with the pointy ends of their ideas always facing out. Listen to me: I won’t charge at the machine guns anymore while you cower in the trench lobbing only advice that wanly hits the ground around me.

Well you know you can’t spend what you ain’t got: you can’t lose some blues you ain’t never had

Why don’t you just… ? Why don’t you just… ? Why don’t you just… ? Why don’t you just… ? Why don’t you just… ? Why don’t you just… ? Why don’t you just… ? Why don’t you just… ? Why don’t you just… ? Why don’t you just… ? Why don’t you just… ? Why don’t you just… ? Why don’t you just… ?

I don’t know. Why don’t I just… ?  Because I’m Spengler’s little brother, that’s why.

Great Moments In Advertising, Chapter 11: Proofreading

That’s kind of a personal question, there, Bub.

This was in the mail today.

I don’t know what it’s like at your house, but we don’t get any mail to speak of anymore. Even junk mail like this is rarity.  The postman drives his route, and stops in front of our house, but he generally doesn’t get out of the mail truck. There’s a pause, and then he drives on.

I remember a story I was taught in school when I was a little boy:

An old man delivers milk every day on a wagon pulled by the same horse. Many years go by, and all the other delivery drivers marvel at how the old man and the old horse are able to make their rounds so precisely and reliably. After a while they figure that the horse could even make the rounds without any direction from the driver. The owner of the business tries to make the old driver retire, out of respect for his age, but the driver refuses because he says he loves the horse.

One day, the driver comes to work and finds out his horse has died from old age. They offer the driver another horse, but he refuses, and walks out the door into the street and is immediately struck and killed by a truck. It was only then that they understood that the driver had been blind for many years.

I don’t want to be the one to break it to the Post Office, but just between you and me, the horse is dead and the driver is blind.

25 Manly Things Every Manly Man Should Know How To Do

I wear wingtips to the beach. Deal with it.

I’ve been reading Popular Mechanics again. I checked their back issues, just to be certain, and indeed, men used to work there once upon a time. I think men used to read it, too, not just women who wave it under their boyfriend’s nose while saying, “See, Orlando Bloom can defrag a hardrive while giving a foot massage, what’s your problem?”

I thought that I could help. Lend a hand, like a narcoleptic at a bandsaw, as they say. I am, after all, the Manliest Man on the Intertunnel. I know Lawrence of Arabia once brought a horde of Bedouins out of the Nefud Desert, but I once brought a man out of a wine cellar four times in an hour-and-a-half. Seriously.

Since the Dos Equis guy got ten minutes older and now he’s just another guy in the nursing home, I thought I should step up to the plate and offer the youngsters some guidance on what makes a Manly Man. It’s not enough that they should learn simply from studying Freddie Mercury posters while listening to Black Oak Arkansas records. I mean, that’s pretty manly stuff, and it’s a good start and all, but this is Graduate School for Pheromones, baby. Here’s my 25 Manly Things Every Manly Man Should Know How To Do:

  • Parallel park a supertanker
  • Gap a spark plug while windsurfing
  • Bring a woman to orgasm using only cologne
  • Walk into any room, approach the biggest, meanest person there, say nothing, and then punch them in the throat — Bonus points are awarded if there are any adult males in the room.
  • Circumcise a Great White Shark — A boat is cheating.
  • Eat a flash cube — Remember to punch anyone that asks you what a flash cube is.
  • Drink from the skull of your vanquished enemies — If you’re currently battling a squirrel in the attic, it’s more of a shot glass thing.
  • Hear the lamentations of their women — That’s why you should always wear hearing protection. Don’t want to miss out on the lamentation because of tinnitus
  • Carve a holiday turkey with a chainsaw
  • Iron a button-down shirt while you’re wearing it
  • Fell a tree
  • Tree a feller
  • Use a torque wrench to, like, you know, torque things
  • Wear a hockey helmet to a board meeting
  • Drive a stick shift to drink
  • Grow your own lasagna
  • Mix concrete in your wife’s blender and get away with it
  • Replace a broken windowpane using molten glass
  • Know how to treat severe sunburn caused by exposure to the little lightbulb in the refrigerator that holds your beer
  • Perform the Heimlich Maneuver on anyone that sneezes
  • Give a tick Lyme Disease
  • When you’re at work, and there’s a Women’s Studies graduate in the next cubicle, every time you make a mistake loudly declaim: At home I put my wife on top so I can screw up there, too!
  • Lose those love handles using a jack plane
  • Build a fire in the wilderness using only one match and fourteen gallons of gasoline
  • Your mother

A Particular Kind Of Salieri

She’s gone past gray to the shores of Thanatos.

And there the children of dark Night have their dwellings, Sleep and
Death, awful gods. The glowing Sun never looks upon them with his beams,
neither as he goes up into heaven, nor as he comes down from heaven.
And the former of them roams peacefully over the earth and the sea’s
broad back and is kindly to men; but the other has a heart of iron, and
his spirit within him is pitiless as bronze: whomsoever of men he has
once seized he holds fast: and he is hateful even to the deathless gods.

No matter. She was born to be old. I’m sure she wears Cleopatra’s blue eyeshadow still. She would pick up the rice in the church where the wedding has been, but the children of her charges do not marry as she did and there is no rice. Rice kills the birds so we killed the marriage.

She put her hand on my teenaged leg all those years ago and said I could be a writer. I knew I could be a writer without a spotted hand on my leg and left it there empty. She filled her hand with a particular kind of Salieri.

He had another Italian name, one of those names that will always sounds like jetsam from a terrible shipwreck on a foreign shore. None of us belong here; but then again, we don’t belong anywhere. To belong you must stay or conquer, and we could do neither. One coward in Santa Vittoria is worth a battalion of heroes in America.

He loved things overmuch. He didn’t know his ass from his elbow but he loved things. It’s a glorious thing to love things that have no merit at all with a fury that defies all understanding. He would drop the needle on the song over and over and tell you why it was wonderful. No — past wonderful; it was the hinge on which the stripmall of his little galaxy went round and round under the benificent gaze of a Newberry’s god.

Mozart could kick such a man in the shins and hand him a business card that said I’m Mozart on the front and back and he’d still push past him to get at Mouth & MacNeal in the cutout bin. He was a man that wanted desperately to be a lotus-eater but rhododendrons were everywhere and twice as tasty, surely.

I think she was wise to marry a man that would love her like a retarded boy loves a baseball player. He’s dead now and she’s alone forever but at least she can say that she was revered by a particular kind of Salieri, a man that could live with her for forty years and never figure out she wasn’t Cleopatra.

Month: September 2014

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