Sippican Cottage

A Simple Qwirkle Of Fate

I don’t know how my children ended up in an attic in a ramshackle house at the edge of the map.

A man likes to fancy himself in control of his world. An actor, not being acted upon solely. It’s mostly illusory, that feeling of wisdom you get when you set down your family’s roots in a familiar and salubrious place and settle in for the long haul. Other fellows might have had the same idea you did, only they lived in northern France in 1939. Hey, what could go wrong? 

Lots could go wrong, and often does. But many more things will go right if you let them, no matter what’s going on around you. You have to let it be. You cast your bread upon the waters and hope.

My older brother is coming to visit us. A visitor from away is a rare and exciting thing here. I live in a fairly remote place. Thirty-plus years ago, my older brother taught me to play music. He did it in an afternoon in his rundown flat in Providence. He was very poor, and I remember it was very cold in his apartment that day. I’d shovel my walk in shorts and a wife-beater in that temperature now. In that one, long afternoon, he explained my instrument to me, and the entire essential framework of the music I might play. He then made a phone call and got me a job, for money, playing in a blues band at the Metropolitan Cafe in Providence, Rhode Island a week or two later. I was no worse than anyone else in the band. I didn’t do that. My brother did that.

When my older son was very young, my brother sent him a Spanish guitar, and an instruction book for wee children. My son studiously ignored it. But it was in his room, and after a while, he wanted me to play it for him. It got so he wouldn’t go to sleep until I played him a lullaby of my own devising on it. I didn’t do that. My brother did that.

After a while, I used to take my older son to my music jobs, when they were salubrious enough for a child. I remember being dragged on a flatbed truck through downtown Provincetown in a July 4th parade. He was a kindergartener, and got to ride on the float in a big mob of people, and throw candy, a little too hard, I thought, at the onlookers. I played a bunch of hoary pop and rock anthems with my mates, and the float won the first-place trophy for the parade. I had a moment of near-panic towards the end when the crush of people on the float obscured my vision of him overlong, and I went wading like a bouncer through men, women, and children alike to the back of the truck, and there he was, my boy, hugged tight on the lap of the float’s sponsor –who made Marilyn Monroe look scrawny — with one huge breast on either side of his head, holding the enormous trophy.He looked as if he might like to have something to do with music.

The littler fellow never spoke. I’d take him everywhere and talk to him and wonder. One time I sat him on my lap at my drum set, and moved his hands in mine to play a back beat. He’d wince every time the sticks would hit a drum head, but he loved it. He tried to do it himself, but his feet didn’t reach the floor when he sat on the drum throne. He’d resolutely hit the high-hat, then then snare, and then climb down from the chair, step on the bass drum pedal, and then climb back up and do it again. It lent itself to a languid tempo. We attempted not to laugh.

When we moved to Here Be Monsters, Maine, we set the drums up in an empty bedroom, one formerly reserved for squirrels and rainwater. I never play anything anymore, but I figured the older one might find some friends, and owning the drums means you practice at your house. The little fellow sat down and played a perfect backbeat, exactly as he had been shown, even though four years or so had passed and he’d never touched the drums since. You never know about these things.

Because I am ostensibly their teacher, I am given a lot of credit for their playing, but I don’t deserve it. I just showed them in the same fashion as what I can remember from the way my brother showed me. My wife and I allow it to happen. We encourage. We help if we can. But whatever they’re doing they’re doing for themselves, and I hope and imagine they will continue to do so.

But I really do want my brother to hear them. Because he did it.

My Back Pages

Had a hard-drive meltdown disaster boogaloo situation this week. My computer is an ancient Funkenstein monster of a thing. I can’t remember how old it is. It runs XP, and as I recall XP was the spiffy new thing just then when I bought it. I’ve added hard drives and a network card and assorted other things to its festering hulk over the years. The hard drives were partitioned like the Austro-Hungarian Empire after WW I, and with about as much long-term viability. I had a dash of ones here and a spritz of zeros there and panoply of pixels from pillar to post.

The hard drive that’s coughing up blood this week actually died a while ago, and I replaced it with another, but I left the original in the case, hanging on a ribbon wire, as a warning to the other components. I used it as a sort of half-assed backup to the new drive, but it’s about as reliable as a brother-in-law, so I’ve got to yank everything off it now or lose it. I found that not all of what’s on it is a copy. There’s stuff I didn’t know I had.

I found some sort of article I must have written for some other website. The style is too dull for any of my webpages, so it must have been for money. The squares don’t like frivolity. I don’t remember it being published, and it doesn’t turn up on der Google, so I figure I’ll recycle it and go back to erasing things. I found it interesting to read, mostly because it’s so dull. It’s a top-ten sort of list, and I wrote it in 2006. Most people who make predictions hide them from scrutiny six months after they make them. Let’s see how six years have treated mine:

Frustration is a symptom, not a disease. When you’re frustrated, it’s generally because you’re trying to accomplish something, but circumstances conspire to keep you from achieving it. There’s a moment of peace that generally comes to those that abandon lines of attack that are too arduous because of extraneous factors: I’ve done all that I can, there’s nothing more I can do.

Frustration is the meat and potatoes of people who wish to predict future trends, though. What are people trying to do, over and over, despite how difficult it might be to do it? That’s what people really want; they prove it by how much crap they’ll put up with to get it. Do you remember the busy signal you got trying to get online ten years ago, just so you could look at a few pages of text or a picture of a girl with her clothes off? The potential of the internet was shown by the amount of discomfort people were willing to endure early on to get just a glimpse of it.

Let’s use frustration as our canary in the coal mine and see what people are desperately trying to do, over and over, despite many obstacles. We’ll use it as a barometer to see what the onrush of civilization will make obsolete.

Because it’s obsolete that I love. I love all the things I used to have to do that I don’t have to do anymore. I don’t want to stand in line at a bank. I don’t want to punch a time card. I don’t want ink all over my fingers just to read the baseball box scores. I don’t want to have a hair farmer on the network news reading the least interesting, ofttimes made-up stories to me at 6:00 PM — really slowly. I don’t want to stand in line at the Registry of Motor Vehicles twice a year. I don’t want any of that, and more. Or less. Or something.

So here’s Ten Things I don’t want any more, at least in their current iteration; Ten Things I’m going to have to tell my grandchildren about, if we’re all lucky:

10. Blockbuster Video– It’s got the smell of death on it already, doesn’t it? The idea of going to a bricks and mortar store to get a copy of digital information is going to seem as useless as drive-in movie theaters do now. The only difference is that drive-in movies seem quaint. A video rental store will seem like a shuttered crackhouse.

9. Stuntmen- Sticking with the movie theme here, who’s going to pay another person to get blown up in a car and pushed over a cliff when a computer can just put that guy there with a few mouseclicks? Lots of jobs like that are hanging on by the skin of their union teeth in Hollywood right now. Bye Bye.

8. Movie Theaters- Yeah, I said it. When the screen at home gets big enough — and you’re tired of listening to rap song ringtones and mindless chatter all the while the movie’s playing, with your feet stuck in a congealing puddle of $6 soda — you’re never leaving the house just to see a movie, ever again.

7. A Written Check- When someone whips out a checkbook at the checkout line at the supermarket, what do you do? You’d be a mass murderer if you acted out every tenth fantasy you had about those people. It’s going to seem so quaint, scratching out a little promise to pay people on a slip of paper, like a note from your mother, the bank.

7. (part B) Your Signature on Much of Anything. Never mind a check. With all the ways they have of identifying people, and the neverending cycle of identity theft and countermeasure, pretty soon you’re just going to put your thumb on a pad, or your eye in a scanner, or wave your subdermal barcode thingie at something, and your transactions will be complete. I’d sell my stock in BIC pens, if I were you.

6. Paper Money – You know, adults never have any of that stuff on them, unless you’re a drug dealer or a stripper. Or a congressman from Louisiana. It’s the mark of the rube or the criminal already. And the laser printer/Treasury Department Mutual Assured Destruction countermeasure broadsides have been fun, but paper money is silly. And any government that collects more than half of what you make (that’s all of them, as far as I can tell) isn’t going to ignore forever the fact that tax collection is sometimes- how do I put this delicately?- overlooked in cash transactions.

5. The Post Office- God I hate the Post Office. You can almost separate the world into only two sorts of people: people that hate the Post Office, and people that love the Post Office. Let’s round up the people that love it, and mail them to France, whaddya say? Let’s send them UPS, so they’ll get there, though. Nothing the Post Office does isn’t being done better by other entities right now. That includes mass killings. Good riddance.

4. Wired anything – If you’re of a certain age, you remember the first telephone you had that didn’t have a cord. A little older, and you treasure the memory of the first phone you had that allowed you to leave your house and talk into it. You didn’t care if the battery weighed forty-four pounds and lasted ten minutes. Don’t get me started with getting out of your chair to turn the channel on your TV. No one’s going to accept anything that needs to be plugged into anything alse pretty soon.

3. Light Bulbs – Edison, we loved you. But the time has come to stop burning a little wire really slowly in a glass bulb to see what the hell we’re doing after the sun goes down. And don’t give me any of that compact flourescent crap either; we can find better ways to illuminate things than exciting rare gases in a gossamer glass tube. That’s rationed whale oil thinking. LED’s, anyone?

2.Telephone Poles –There’s nothing more ubiquitous, and nothing uglier, on display everywhere you go than that endless phalanx of tarred tree boles with wires strung from them. The idea of getting your electricity from some smoke belching factory via four hundred miles of copper wires, and getting telephone service brought from even further, all so you can plug a cordless phone into the end of it is going to seem as bizarre as it is, and soon. Power generation will be local, or even better: on-site at every house, and everything will be beamed to you. Power outages will seem quaint.

1. Newspapers – You’re reading this, ain’t ya?

Crewmen, Set Your Teleblasters To Stun

Yes, that’s Nora Jones singing a Willie Nelson song, and in a band named after Willie hisself. The Little Willies. They’re going too fast for the lyrics, but what the hell, they look like they’re having fun. And doesn’t Jim Campilongo spank that plank? Good — extra good.

Nora’s retired now, of course. She sold twenty million copies (!) of her first record, electrifying an entire generation of mopey girls and holding down the ‘eat ice cream from the tub while weeping’ fort until Adele showed up, and immediately started paging through AARP brochures, most likely. 

By appearance alone, it’s hard to picture that Nora Jones’ father is Ravi Shankar. It’s like finding a Faberge egg under a Colonel Sanders chicken. Life is full of such mysteries. I can’t understand how my brother can look just like me, and still be so ugly.

The Naked City

A while back I had a kinda corporate job. After a time, they made me a manager, and a while after that, they made me the managers’ manager. I had to travel from office to office, firing people, mostly. It made me a kind of tethered vagabond, expected to see everything in an instant and to be mean without malice. I found out that to be really lonely in this world, you have to be included but feared; and I was certainly that. A city is like that, writ large. In a city everyone is included, but feared. It’s not lonesome in the woods. It’s lonesome hanging on a strap in a tube full of people trying not to look at one another much.

The company was based in New York, and I had to start going to their… my… the office out on the island from time to time. When they canceled the plane from Providence to Lawn Guyland, I had to drive it a lot. I remember the first time I drove into The City as part of my job. I’d driven through it before, but to be a part of it, a participant in its affairs, is an entirely different thing. I was accordioning into one of its many tunnels, the cars jostling and pushing their way into the maw of the underpass, and I can still recall the feeling of immense power invested in the place. When London was the center of the world, they called that feeling The Hum. I’d read that, but until The City digested me and I passed into its bloodstream instead of passing right through, I didn’t really understand The Hum.

If you don’t have a skin in the game, and visit it as a tourist, you might miss that. If you’re a denizen, you might become inured to it and miss it too. But someone that’s in it, but used to observing his surroundings with a bit of a detached eye, now that’s a valuable guy to have around. My friend Gerard of American Digest is such a man. Bookmark the Tumblr stream of photos of the city he called home, taken right after the foundations of that city were rocked to the granite ledge beneath them. He left it after that, but he was smart enough to make an impression of the key to the city in the wax of his camera before he made his escape. Feel The Hum.

Tag: 2000s

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