Sippican Cottage

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Ralph Bellamy, I’m in Love With You

I used to play in a Happy Hour band that played Stump the Band with the audience. We had to stop when Massachusetts made Happy Hour illegal. No, really, that happened. My life is one long list of vocations, jobs, life callings, and hobbies that were made illegal. If I were smart, I would have started out doing illegal things right from the get-go. Illegal pays better.

Anyway, we’d wait for the audience to get some tonsil polish in them to loosen them up a bit, and then I’d drag the microphone out front and start interviewing people like a game show host. If that wasn’t working out — because everyone was too rowdy, or not rowdy enough — we’d play Stump the Band. The drummer would challenge the audience to call out the name of any one-hit wonder band that had had a top ten song in the past thirty years, and we pledged to play a minimum of ten recognizable seconds of it. A lot of times we’d play the whole thing if one of us knew half the words.

People would really, really, really try to stump us, which was a fool’s errand. We were pros, and the 1910 Fruitgum Company, or Cannibal and the Headhunters held no terrors for us. Guys that had giant record collections and tape on their glasses would try to stump us over and over again, but that sucked for everyone. The rest of the audience had no idea what the song was even if we did play it, so we mostly ignored those guys and waited for a pretty girl to yell out TEE SET! or something. Truth be told, we always ignored guys for any number of reasons, and no girl ever asked for some dirge nobody would recognize. They asked for fun stuff, like THE TEE SET! PLAY THE TEE SETTTT WHOOOOOOOOO!!!!

They always asked for their favorite oldie, something their big sister or their mother listened to when they were little. And without fail, we’d ruin it utterly and forevermore for them by playing it perfectly but mucking around with the lyrics. Once you hear it perfectly wrong, you’ll never hear it right again.


Puppet Show And Steppenwolf

My two sons, AKA Unorganized Hancock, are performing tonight in the very first venue they ever appeared at, The Mystic Theater at 49 Franklin Street. It’s right here in town, so it’s convenient, and it’s one of the nicest stages I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them.

49 Franklin is a function hall on one floor and a performance hall upstairs where the kids will play. It’s a re-purposed church of some sort, not sure what flavor. I was born a damn Papist and I can’t tell those Know-Nothing sects apart. Presbyters or Unitarians; makes no difference to me. They don’t even have incense or candles or anything. What’s the sense of putting money in the plate if they’re not going to put on a show?

The boys are in the Big City newspaper again. The Lewiston Sun Journal, or as my neighbor refers to it as: The Lewiston Sun Urinal. Well, we take our publicity as we find it, and don’t cavil. I have no idea how they found out our sons’ names, but they did. Any mocking references to the Journal have to be accompanied by a caveat that acknowledges that they at least do their job, and find things out and report them, unlike some hoity-toity rags that allegedly publish All The News That’s Fit To Print. Those papers seem decidedly uncurious about a lot of things they report.

The show is being billed in the Journal
as “Unorganized Hancock And Others”. Snicker. Reminds me of this:

very long time ago, I played in a Happy Hour band on Cape Cod in
Massachusetts in the summertime. We played every weekend at the largest club on
the Cape. Since we were the first act hired every summer, the bar
manager would dutifully go out to the billboard on Rt. 28 and fish
through the mismatched letters he had in a big box and put our name up
there first. When the nationally known acts came through for one-night
stands, he’d add it to the billboard with whatever letters he had left
over. Our band had a lot of words and letters in the name, so he’d
really have to scrounge sometimes.

One of the most
unintentionally funny moments in my entire life was driving up to that
tired old barn of a nightclub, and as the billboard hove into view it


In Furtherance Of My Evil Plan To Resurrect Wichita Lineman And Make It The Official Cover Song Of The Twenty-Teens: Glenn Tilbrook

(Earlier on Sippican Cottage: Another In The Long List Of Songs I Don’t Like That I Like  )

There appears to be a magical barroom somewhere in Great Britain where you can stumble in on an odd night and find Glenn Tilbrook, along with a motley assortment of other musicians — and some people just dragged out of the audience at random — in the corner, banging away at whatever song comes to mind. Glenn Tilbrook was the driving force behind Squeeze, if the name doesn’t sound familiar.

When I started playing music for money, I more or less stopped going to musical performances. I really couldn’t derive any enjoyment from them, and simply fidgeted until I could bug out early. The only exceptions were performances that were so unlike what I was doing that they didn’t even seem like the same thing. I went to La Boheme with my wife, for instance. That’s another galaxy removed from pop covers in the corner of the pub, so it didn’t count. There’s no way my lizard brain could transmogrify my presence just behind the orchestra pit while How Cold Your Little Hand Is soared overhead into the urge to be facing the other direction and helping out.

Another exception to attending other musicians’ performances was Glenn Tilbrook, although it didn’t start out that way. A fellow musician and friend dragged me to a geriatric music tent in Cape Cod to see Squeeze, and it turned out they’d gone bust and were touring as two buskers instead of a power pop band. It was there that I came to the realization that Glenn Tilbrook is the most talented busker in existence. Every venue on this planet with a liquor license should have entertainment like this in the corner all the time, and never does any more.

I was the worst of the bad musicians I generally played with. But the last bunch I ended up with did entertain people, without exception. Whoever showed up got a show from us. Four people or four thousand, we DID THE SHOW. Glen Tilbrook DOES THE SHOW. It’s nice to see.

That YouTube video is the first time in a long time I’ve seen THE SHOW being performed anywhere. It’s almost exactly the format for what we used to do. None of us were a shadow of the singer or player that Glenn Tilbrook is, but the bones of the thing are there. We’d drag people from the audience, and make them play a note or sing a word, or pretend to sing along, or just dance around with us and have fun. We talked to them, and they to us, and if a pretty girl and her tubby friend said they like Brown-Eyed Girl A LOT, we’d play it two times in a row to make them happy, because what’s the harm?

This is sort of uncanny for me to see:

Twenty years ago, my friend Paul, the stand-up drummer, would halt our show, and mockingly threaten our audience: “If you don’t start dancing, (Sippican) is going to sing Tom Jones!” He’d repeat the threat mordantly from time to time, like reeling in a fish, and then we’d trot it out if things got quiet. Stevie would throw me a wig, and the two guitars and drums would start vamping It’s Not Unusual. There was an ubiquitous TV commercial back then, featuring a bald guy with a muskrat glued to his head, selling weaves or wigs or something, called the Hair Club for Men, with the tag line: “I’m not only the Hair Club president; I’m also a client.”

So then I’d stuff the wig partway down the front of my shirt, and Paul would say that I was not only the President of The Chest Hair Club For Men, I was also a client, and then I’d sing an amusing version of It’s Not Unusual — amusing being the only kind of version of it I could sing, because I never could sing, really — and when we’d come to a hard pause at the end of each line, I’d bow my head like some exhausted Fat Elvis while running my fingers suggestively through my nylon chest hair,  and wordlessly lever my wrist to point the microphone I was holding towards the audience, and without exception, no matter whether the audience looked like a nursing home or a biker bar, guys and girls, young and old, deaf and dumb, mean or jolly, drunk or sober, labor or management, barfly or barkeep, every manjack of them would roar in unison: BA DA DA DA DA DAHHHHHHH.

It was glorious. I think I improved our approach to the thing when I started stuffing a second wig down the front of my pants for the full Tom Jones effect, but then again, I’m not sure it was possible to improve the effect of the original.

I’m Going To Say Something Rude Now

[Editor’s Note: Written two years ago. In the interest of verifying “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is,” one cannot help but notice the author and his family moved into a somewhat larger version of this shed one year ago. Reposted with comments intact, as they are so trenchant.]

[Author’s Note: There is no editor, and there are a lot more squirrels and bees in my house than in that shed.]

Here it comes: I would rather live in this shed than in your house.

Click on the picture. It’s a very high resolution shot. Look at it. It’s beautiful.

I’m generalizing, of course. It’s possible that I’m not referring to you. But there are so few of you that are exceptions to my impertinence that I simply say it matter-of-fact-like: Your house has no soul. It’s got no anima. It’s a misshapen plastic lump dedicated to the exaltation of your car and your television. It is the bastid love child of a realtor with the taste of a vegas hooker and a contractor with a prominent eyebrow ridge.

It makes you unhappy. You don’t know that, because many of the ways it does that are subtle. Paying for the damn thing, though it brings you little pleasure, is not so subtle.

I do listen to people a little in these matters. I watch them a lot. And what they do about their house cancels out what they say about their house every time.

You tell me that absolute neatness is paramount. Then I see you camping out in one little corner of your house in a midden of messy but prized possessions.

You tell me you want to luxuriate in a whirlpool while reading poetry with candles next to an open window. Then I see you showering in a hurry in a room with all the shades drawn. The spiders like your jacuzzi, so it’s not going to waste, exactly.

You tell me that you like your television over the mantel in the living room. I see you turning one room after another into a “den”, then eventually building additional rooms, trying to make a comfortable place to look at a screen. I call your living room the “Furniture Mausoleum” when you’re not around. Sorry.

You tell me how much money and effort you’ve spent to make your home perfect. Then I watch you leave it, gladly, on any provocation. You can’t wait to escape your homemade Colditz.

You’ve explained to me in some detail that under no circumstances should you be expected to pay any attention to the maintenance of your house. If a material can deteriorate in any way, and so require the touch of a hand, it’s verboten. So you flee your vinyl house for a vacation in Tuscany and wish your house had soul like the one with grime from the 17th century still visible in its stucco.

You spent $35,000 on windows, and then boarded them up with blinds and drapes because they don’t look at anything.

No stranger can ever find anything in your kitchen without asking, or find a bathroom.

The sun doesn’t shine in your windows, except in your eye when you’re trying to sleep.

It’s impossible for guests to sleep comfortably at your house, though it covers 3500 square feet and is two stories high.

You can’t prepare actual meals from raw materials in your kitchen.

You feel isolated but have no privacy.

You exit and enter your house every day by bumping into a trash can in an unlit warehouse for your car. Your dog wouldn’t.

There are birds in your yard and you’ve never seen them.

You tell me all the live-long day you adore your house, but when your mortgage is ten cents more than your Zillow estimate you mail the keys back to the bank.

It may just be that my idea of what a house should be is dead. I have to respect other people’s opinions, after all, especially about their own affairs. I might tell people they shouldn’t do things, but I’m not interesting in telling people they can’t do things. I mostly try to dwell on the positive in these matters, but if my opinions about housing were unleashed, I’d make Gordon Ramsey look circumspect in comparison. In a way, my cottage furniture business is a rearguard attack in this regard. I’m trying to save the entire stock of housing in America one end table at a time. Big job. It would be unwise to bet on me. But it’s always unwise to bet against me, too. I sense that many are dissatisfied with their abodes now but are confused about the genesis of the feeling.

I’ve watched the “Let’s Wander the Earth with a Floozy Realtor and Choose Between Three Tawdry Split-Level Houses” show with my wife, and my advice to all the prospective homebuyers is the same. I yell at the screen: nuke all of them from orbit, and maybe you can make something pleasant out of the hole.

Archie Tecter Is Alive And Well And Living In Chatham (From 2006)

(If you’re just stumbling in, it’s Chatham, Massachusetts I’m referring to.)

(It’s on Cape Cod, which is only technically Massachusetts. Live over the bridge and you’re a different sort of person altogether.)

(If you drive through Chatham at dusk, you can often see foxes trotting right down the middle of the road. Scarlet jacket optional.)

(Half Cape with wart and pickets, garnished with arbor vitae and served with sea air reduction.)

( It says here in my Archy Tecter fer Dummies book that someone called Italian Nate musta lived here, along with a Greek feller. It’s a Mediterranean thing: you wouldn’t understand.)

(I don’t know who lives here, but they have more money than me. And you. And you and me. And you, you, and you, and me and you. And you over there and me.)

The Long View (From 2006)

Ah, we’ve returned in pixels to the lovely Chatham, Massachusetts. Chatham’s way out there on the cape, near the elbow where you turn north and head for Provincetown, and then… well, Portugal, if you’ve got a boat.

Pilgrims have been mucking around in Chatham since 1656, when they first came here to farm. Eventually even a pilgrim can figure out the ocean was full of fish, and didn’t require weeding, and the local economy quickly turned to fishing from farming. My own uncle used to fish based out of the harbor down the road… um shore — Harwich. There’s more tourists than fishermen now, of course, but you can still get in a fight at the local taverns in the dead of winter if you so desire. It’s the traditional way for the Cincinnatus of the ocean to pass the time in any dead period in their schedule. It has its amusements, these fights; for the fisherman and the onlooker, anyway.

Chatham’s a rich place. And it still looks like a beachside resort, not Disneyland. It’s fun to walk around and look at, if you like shore architecture. I do.

The first picture is a scenic overlook and stairs to the beach, located across the street from the Coast Guard station and lighthouse. It’s a busy little strip of parking and gawking and shoe-sand shaking. The sand bar you see in the distance used to go right across the horizon to the left, but was breached in a hurricane a few years back and stayed that way. The beach rarely stays put in this world, no matter how much you paid for beachfront property. There were dire predictions about this breach in the sandbar, but like most dire predictions, it hasn’t amounted to much.

People from the midwest don’t understand how rare it is for people around here to see the horizon. It’s hard to get far enough away from anything around here to see it. It’s the reason, besides the water, that the ocean captures the imagination of the average person.

People build bad houses that gape at the water through big sheets of glass now, because they have money and no sense. It’s not the way to go. You quickly get a surfeit of any view you hog like that, and it becomes a sort of wallpaper. The first time you go to someone’s house that has a second floor deck served by banks of sliding doors on the ocean, you’re captivated, and massage their ego for owning the whole thing. You big scene gaping swell, you say. Stay with them for a week, and you’ll notice it’s the glowing blue thing in the cabinet, not the luminous blue thing under the sky, that they’re looking at. You’ve got to frame that view if you’re going to look at it every day.

It’s nice to be at the shore, with the great corona of the sun beaming upon your mien, and the gentle zephyr wafting the fragrant sea air all around, and tiny devils of sand like talcum swirl underfoot. You’re outside. On a boat, with land in view, it’s even more wonderful and striking. But when the shoreline disappears on a boat, the ocean becomes blue textured shag carpeting, as seen from a mezzanine in a lobby — unless you’re in a small boat, when it becomes kinda scary.

So that’s a lovely place I showed you to go and see and sit and swim. But this is how to meter that loveliness into your quotidian life, like divdends on some wise investment. Frame it and show it, and snatch it back from sight and reveal it again.

I walked back and forth right there until the owners of the house called the police.

(I Had) Cabin Fever (In 2007)

We got a little summer cabin fever this last weekend. I was plain weary, and my wife was weary of all of us men in our little home, and we had to go somewhere else. Anywhere.

We often find ourselves going to places most people would call “anywhere.” Our friends describe vacations and sporting events and concerts and so forth that sound like everyone’s idea of fun. Sometimes I find myself describing our activities to our acquaintances and family and I see an expression come over their faces that I’ve seen on people that are hearing about eating broccoli when they’d rather be given directions to a steakhouse. I’m sorry, we can’t help ourselves.

We went to the Heritage Museum and Gardens in Sandwich, Massachusetts. The four year old will go anywhere and look at anything, so he’s not a problem. But a twelve year old? He can be bored, and boring.

He invited one of his schoolmates to come. That made it better. They were a pack of wolves all by themselves, and the world was their flock of sheep. We gave them a cellphone and let the line out a little on the invisible string we keep on our children. We were essentially alone in this place anyway.

The place is a big landscaping show, but late summer has few things to recommend it flower-wise. My wife and I were grateful to see a patch of grass that didn’t need mowing and wasn’t crabgrass, so we didn’t care. We went inside that windmill, and heard the docent, perhaps only slightly older than the revolutionary war vintage structure itself, lecture the few of us on the who what when where and why of it. My four year old smiled at him and the docent turned the thing on for him. The rest of us would have got bupkis. My four year old could get a dog off a meat truck. We watched the canvas sheets pass by the dutch door for a good, long, time.

The place is pleasant, and everybody that works there was more than pleasant, but it’s got no real rhyme or reason to it. And it gets a little less coherent as time passes. There’s a reproduction of a huge round shaker barn, and it’s filled with antique cars. I enjoy both things and find them interesting, but there’s a kind of incongruity to such juxtapositions that I can’t shake.

The older boys were jazzed to go because there is a an enormous reproduction sort -of-Fort Ticonderoga loghouse there, and it was filled with an interesting and compelling collection of guns and weapons and Indian artifacts and lead toy soldiers. I say “was filled,” not “is filled,” because we went in and it was mostly gone, and replaced by a rather tepid display of memorabilia from the Cape Cod Baseball League. There are only so many pictures of future big leaguers looking gaunt because they haven’t figured out where to buy human growth hormone yet that you can stand to look at. And what’s it doing in a fort? Bring back the guns, will you? We saw a few shunted off into little niches here and there. The baseball museum could have fit in a phone booth.

But the big boys were not deterred. Boys are never deterred. They walked back out into the blazing sunshine and the breeze from the nearby lake, saw me and my lovely wife sitting in the shade of an enormous oak, sized up the beauty and utility of intervening grass, and knew what it all was for.

To be.

Cape Cod, 1950

Before my time, of course. But maybe not.

I saw the vestigal tail of summering on Cape Cod when I was young. It wasn’t a year round home for people so much then. You got a summer rental and suffered on the clogged highways in the smothering heat to get your ration of seabreeze. The rental house and the idea behind it smelled a bit of mildew by the time I was there, but you could make it out on the receding horizon.

Later on, I used to perform at all the nightspots there in the summer. The owners were still trying to cobble together one more year of sunburned customers with too much cash and nothing to do but get a bit loaded and party. Jimmy Buffet has a sort of traveling Potemkin Village of the ideal, but it had gone grey and thick in the middle well before he latched on to it, and it hadn’t moved to God’s Great Waiting Room down south yet.

I played Happy Hour on Cape Cod before Happy Hour was made illegal here. (I’m not exaggerating; Happy Hour is illegal in Massachusetts.) The young girls would come and dance and the men would eye them warily until they all had enough tonsil polish to mix properly. We’d run sweat while we played badly and told a few bad jokes, and preside over it.

Afterwards, we used to go to an old shack called The Sandbar on the access road to the West Dennis Beach, and hear Rockwell King exhume a couple jokes and play moldy standards on the piano to people with blue hair. It was like visiting a club you were grandfathered into but never really joined, and seeing the pictures of dead club presidents on the wall in the lobby, half-remembered when alive, only half dead now that they’re gone.

No one’s born with blue hair, you know.

The Fireflies Take Their Vigorish

You should read The Hobbit at the beach. Who the hell reads important books in a sling chair in the sand? It’s like dinner theater. An insult to the cook and the composer.

People that play chess on vacation, do, I guess. Do a puzzle with five pieces missing and read a Reader’s Digest Condensed book, I say. Feel the flush of the sun rising in your cheeks from the afternoon, mixing with the bit of gin you nursed in the kitchen, and leave the heavy thinking back over the bridges. Play backgammon, and cheat badly, and laugh.

You can’t win if you don’t play, someone once said. A loser, most likely. A spectator, even more likely; the pinnacle of losers. What would they know about it?

You see, you can’t even play if you won’t lose. That’s the world. You have to steel yourself beforehand, understand that the game is fixed, and you’re born to lose. That’s the cover charge to even get on the pitch.

It was a perfect moment there. The sun was just an ornament hung on the Christmas tree of my life. The reeds murmur assent; the muck beats anything a doctor could conjure. She was a flawless diamond hung on a chain of luck around the neck of a muse. I saw it, and knew, that I must lose, right there, if I was to play. Even if she could hide a portrait in the attic, and play keep-away with time, there isn’t much chance for me to mark time as well.

A decision must be made. And you cannot be eying the bridesmaids, forevermore, after you make it, or it’s not really made. You will drift through this world, forever trying to win, and not really playing.

So you make up your mind, and wend your way back through the wicked edged grasses and the beach roses, the faint sound of the table radio in the kitchen getting louder as you get nearer. The screen door can’t keep mosquitoes out, or music in. Milt Jackson is identifiable at a hundred yards, Percy Heath at fifty. Eventually you sit at the battered kitchen table that’s hardly suitable for a third house, not someone else’s second, but it’s your legs that are wobbly.

On the way home, you stop at the crazy old boneyard hard by 6A. The white marble is too soft for the centuries and the names are as fuzzy as the people they were. But you think for a moment, what you’ll risk together, when you see the little nameless granite stubs at the foot of the graves.


I Feel Good — You Should Too (From 2006)

(Editor’s Note: I really don’t feel that good today. I felt better after I read this)
(Author’s Note: The boat was dismasted and made a total loss by Hurricane Katrina. Anyone that doesn’t think that was a pretty big storm should keep in mind the boat was moored in Massachusetts. There is no editor, and there is no boat, and I’m hitting my thumb all day. My point stands:)

The world is a wonderful place. It’s hard to see the forest for the trees sometimes, and the fellow weaving in the next lane jabbering into his cell phone while eating a submarine sandwich and occasionally nosemining can distract us, no doubt. Many things intrude. But sometimes, if you’re available for wonderment, you can have a moment of clarity.

On the ocean is a place for moments of clarity. You cannot be in a motorized anything, unless the motor is turned off, because you’re just a commuter if the engine is running. Sailing’s better; contemplative.

You can’t sail like the kind of people who always want to tug on the lines to get an additional half a knot out of their breeze bucket. You need the kind of sailing where you set the sails, fix your course to nowhere to allow the fewest interruptions, then lay your leg over the tiller, trail your hand in the water, and consider your situation. Coronas with limes never hurt, either.

You have nowhere to go, and nowhere to be, and after the second time you take them, your sailing companions must lose the urge to talk about the process of sailing in an enthusiastic fashion and simply enjoy it, and the company. With the sky arrayed overhead, and the sea below, you are content to examine the world dispassionately. The beauty and simplicity of the clouds that drift, the terns that swoop, the wavelets that tap their gentle knuckles on the windward side, the feeling of motion snatched without struggle from the endless breezes that massage your cheek and sail alike allow you to enjoy the world and all its wonders, and everybody in it, if just for a moment.

That’s a complicated and unusual apparatus to distill the elixir of life, ain’t it? We need to find ways, every day, to get the simple flavor of the sublime, in an espresso dose — short, fast, concentrated; ephemeral but available.

Two minutes of pop music can do it for you. It has to be good. It can’t be serious. Serious pop music is an oxymoron. You’re not saving the world, Bono, you’re just a preening middle aged man in a ridiculous getup who’s first job is to entertain, but you never got around to learning how. I’ll raise my hand when you’re Woody Guthrie. Don’t hold your breath. On second thought — do.

My bad. We’re filled with love for our fellow man today. Our fellow Irishman too, last paragraph notwithstanding. Maybe’s he’s trying hard but failing. I’ll leave him be. You too, if he makes you smile.

It’s not supposed to sound like you’re trying hard, even if you are. Try hard in rehearsal. It’s generally best when it’s a melody that sounds about fine whether played by a chamber orchestra, a busker, or a chicken pecking it out on a toy piano. The lyric is generally best about as complex as a nursery rhyme, a little obscure maybe, but with a hint of the recognition of the sublime percolating in the background, and hints of the whole daft fabric of shared human experience like a breeze blowing over your face.

It should be over in one minute fifty eight seconds, and comprise one third of your quarter’s worth of selections in the DiMeglio’s Pizza jukebox in 1968, too.

Tag: cape cod

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