Sippican Cottage

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Well, That’s Just, Like, Your Opinion, Man

When our younger son was a little boy, we sent him to school like good citizens do. We didn’t think the public school would be very scholarly, or up to the task of educating either of our boys at the level they were capable of. We felt like our children were a sort of gift we give to the world, and that we should share that gift with our neighbors.

That was back in Massachusetts, which I do not miss. Our younger son was hounded mercilessly by his public school staff, although he was a quiet, intelligent, well-behaved, cooperative little boy. Eventually, the school administrators wanted to essentially take him away from us. They said he was defective, and needed their careful ministrations, and maybe some drugs, and god knows what else. Finally, when our boy hugged one of his classmates because they were sad, they claimed he was violent. We learned later that the school system would receive an enormous extra sum for every pupil they could label as defective, and we suspected this was their true motivation. Or maybe their anthracite hearts were giving them dyspepsia, and their loose shoes were making their cloven feet itch. One or the other.

We went to meetings with the school administrators, where they relentlessly tried to make me lose my temper, so they could say I was violent as well, and they could no doubt call the cops on me to get their way. That didn’t work. Finally, exasperated by our reluctance to flip our lids while speaking to them, one snidely blurted out, “So, what are you going to do? Take him out of school?”

Well, that’s exactly what we did, right then and there. The administrators stamped and fumed while our boy’s teacher wept, because unlike the others, she still had a soul hidden in there somewhere. Shortly after that, we moved away to an unheated hovel in a mill town in western Maine, where my wife doggedly taught the boy his lessons at an ancient school desk we bought at a flea market for ten bucks, sometimes with his breath visible in the air in front of him.

I’ve been writing on the internet for a long time. Fifteen years ago I wrote down exactly what they said was wrong with our son:

[He is]unable to express ideas in front of a group, unable to selectively listen for sounds, follow multi-step directions, and unable to to complete assigned tasks in allotted time.”

Let’s take them one at a time, shall we?

Unable to express ideas in front of a group

Unable to selectively listen for sounds

Follow multi-step directions

That last video won him a Physics prize at his charter high school, where he graduated as the Valedictorian. He composed the music in the background, too, by the way, and cut all the floor tile in the bathroom on a tile saw while I mortared them in.

Unable to to complete assigned tasks in allotted time

Well, you’ve finally got me there. That’s him shaking hands with the President of his university today, graduating summa cum laude, I think, if they were still keeping score in Latin. He got a Bachelor of Science degree in Cybersecurity. He was on the President’s list for his entire tenure at college.

But I have to admit, he didn’t do it in the allotted time. It only took him three years.

Chef, Or The Greater Creep Theory of Internet Success

My wife and I watched Chef last night. We enjoyed it. Movies, TV shows, and websites about cooking as serious bidness are thick on the ground these days. We are studiously unaware of them. The milieu was brought to its perfect form by Big Night, and hasn’t required any care and feeding from me since then.

I have seen the TV show with the screaming Scot, however, and enjoyed it. Not the execrable American thing. Before he was Intertunnel famous, there was a British version where that wasn’t a total fake. There were failing food businesses, he went in and told them how they had screwed the pooch, and showed them how to fix themselves. They rarely did. The reason they all failed, no matter what the hectoring pict did to help them, was that it’s easy to know what to do, but hard to do it. The not very lovable losers all secretly liked their lack of success, because it put no pressure on them. Customers are a pain in the arse, after all. They all wanted to have a restaurant to lord over, with no pesky customers or creditors to bother them while they did it.

The American version of the show was more like looking for the restaurant version of a homeless person who was begging on a street corner for a crust of bread, but instead of giving them a tenner for a square meal, you bought them a brothel with a food court in the lobby. No thanks.

Chef isn’t about cooking porn, although there’s plenty of that in there. Favreau knows he has to put Iron Man in Iron Man movies, and Iron Chef in Iron Chef movies, and he does his duty. The movie is about honest work, which I appreciated, and the movie properly portrayed the mystification of a boy, not yet grown, presented with parents living in separate places.

The movie is trite in the right ways to suit us. Its stereotypes are gentle, and the people in it long for the right sorts of things, and get them in the end by exertions that seem mildly daring but mostly rely on a shoulder to the wheel approach to your circumstances. It’s more Aesop than Shakespeare, but a lack of swordplay and mutual suicides never hurt anyone.

For all its cartoonish qualities, there are many accurate details in the movie. The movie gets one thing absolutely right. The tweenish son understands social media, but the father does not. The father participates in it in an off-hand way, but is quickly made to understand what a sewer it is. The child is wary of social media accounts like Jitter and Friendface. He knows about them, but doesn’t care about them. He likes Vines.

If you’re not familiar with Vines, they were the next big thing in social media for about ten minutes, and then disappeared without a trace. The service archived five-second videos. I suspect they weren’t able to prove their value to an insane investor class by hemorrhaging billions every quarter fast enough to look important. They probably didn’t have a ball crawl in the boardroom, or a ten-ton chrome panda in the lobby or anything. I bet their CEO didn’t even want to go into space.

I can testify that my little son has no interest whatsoever in Jitter and Friendface, but he loved Vines. He watched very wholesome people making quick little jokes that suggested flash fiction written by the Three Stooges. It was all very amusing and harmless. When Vine disappeared, my son was so distraught that he made his own on his desktop. He wrote and recorded hundreds of them on his own. In the Chef movie, Favreau got one detail wrong. When his character watches the Vine compilation his son made from their Crosby/Hope/Leguizamo road trip, he doesn’t cry. No man is that strong. Believe me, I know.

The accuracy of that detail highlights a rule about the internet. If you want to know how successful something will be on the internet, judge it solely on how creepy it is. The creepier and more degenerate it is, the more likely it is to prosper.

Twitter is really, really creepy. Uber was creepy long before you found out exactly how it was creepy. The only human thing about anyone who worked there was their hamhanded attempts to grope the help, now that I think of it. When that’s the top of your interpersonal heap, Dante Alighieri should write your yearly reports. Facebook, and the avaricious little twerp that runs it, is the creepiest thing I’ve ever encountered on this world, and I’ve renovated apartments that had a dead body in them. Google is creepy turtles, all the way down.

Snapchat prospers, if you define success as the ability to use up borrowed money for a longer period of time than your creep competitors before the laws of supply, demand, and plain old addition and subtraction start to apply. Snapchat gives their users the impression they can get away with being a creep on their service. Being creepy is the appeal. Google Glass failed because they lied, and said it wasn’t supposed to be creepy. Snapchat makes the same thing, and touts creepiness as a feature, not a bug. That’s how you do it fellows. You’ll be able to borrow another half-a-tril with that approach.

Virtual Reality goggles can’t work. Because of the way your brain and eyes work, they will invariably make you physically ill, or deranged, or both. So what? They are immensely creepy, so they will be a success. People will drug themselves, or vomit and go back to them, for another suckle on the creep tit.

You can tart it up any way you like, all you Singularitarians with a dream of a WestWorld honey, but you’re just humping a knothole in a dress dummy, and always will be. It’s a supremely creepy concept, so you can’t go wrong dumping your 401K into it. Your broker will just dump it into another Creep Unicorn if you don’t.

Getting Fresh and Familiar

There’s a concept in design called something along the lines of, “Fresh, But Familiar.” It means in order to be the Next Big Thing, you’ve got to organize familiar things in a fresh way. Or more likely, you add a single novelty, while the remaining 99% is the usual stuff and junk. People will go crazy for a small excursion from a well-beaten path, but they’re wary of truly new stuff. I used to explain the concept as, “Pioneers are the fellows you see lying by the side of the trail with arrows sticking out of them.” That has too many words, so we’ll stick to FBF. Alton Ellis covering A Whiter Shade of Pale is FBF to the max, ain’t it?

FBF is a very important concept for people who attempt cover versions of very familiar songs. Being an essential concept doesn’t mean anyone who wants to cover A Whiter Shade of Pale is going to listen to me. People dutifully try to copy what they like, usually with their tongue in the corner of their mouth the whole time. It never occurs to them to bring anything new to the table, because their table of talent wobbles too much to keep anything on it anyway.


I’m Out of the Fruit Loop

My life is endlessly interesting. There’s a Chinese proverb, “May you live in interesting times.” It’s meant as a curse, of course, but I have to take my pleasures as I find them. My life hasn’t been boring for so long I forget what boring looks like. Three square meals a day and central heating is what I imagine it looks like, but how would I know?

My older son is off visiting a friend for a few days. My younger son, who is 12, likes to sleep in his room when the large son is away. The room is ten feet away from his own room, but a big brother’s room has special magical powers that make it magical and special and tautological. He also likes using big brother’s computer. It’s a special treat that also makes no sense. His older brother’s computer is at least a decade old and runs Vista. The computer in his own room is newer and faster, and at least has Windows 7, but the magic beans extend to his brother’s computer, not just the room itself.

Before school and after school we pretty much let the little feller do what he wants. He spends most of his time monkeying around with various computer programming tasks. He’s learned a scripting language in order to produce new versions of Doom rooms, likes working on it a lot, and has basically abandoned Minecraft over it. Kid stuff.

Doom is an old “First Person Shooter” that invented a lot of what is take for granted nowadays in computer games. The computer language that runs it looks vaguely like Javascript to my eye. He knows at least a smattering of Javascript, HTML, and several other programming languages. He uses Khan Academy to learn what he wants, and he has a big pile of programming books that a friend of ours gave to him in a fit of generosity.

I looked over his shoulder this morning as he was writing code. He looks really funny in the morning. His hair is going this way and that from his nightly battle with the Laocoon of his pillows. He still has sleep seeds in his eyes, but he can’t wait to get at the computer.

On the screen was the usual text editor window used to code Doom levels. Inside the text editor was something that looked entirely like hieroglyphs to my eye. It was like four hundred Led Zeppelin IV album covers strung together. Line after line of something way past gibberish, because regular computer scripts look like gibberish anyway. This looked like a telegram from Alpha Centauri. What the hell are you doing, son?

I’m writing Doom scripts in WingDings, Dad. Duh.

Blind Beautiful Devotions Which Only Women’s Hearts Know



This child was her being. Her existence was a maternal caress. She enveloped the feeble and unconscious creature with love and worship. It was her life which the baby drank in from her bosom. Of nights, and when alone, she had stealthy and intense raptures of motherly love, such as God’s marvellous care has awarded to the female instinct — joys how far higher and lower than reason — blind beautiful devotions which only women’s hearts know.


             –Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

My wife is reading a little book. It shows the touch of other hands. Its spine is gone gray by touting its charms to everyone, unheeded mostly, and settling for an even century of the attention of the passing sun across the sky, slanting into homes unknown. It is a sort of a missal. It fits in the palm of the hand. The pages are like the skin of an onion. The print on the other side of the page shines through a bit, and in every way. Backwards, right to left, it shines through. This book is the little blue tent of the sky in the prison yard of my wife’s life. Inside the cover, it says that it’s part of EVERYMAN’S LIBRARY. I am beset by doubts on that score.

It was smuggled in to her by her little son. He gave it to her for her birthday. I wish I could give my own mother a present so fine, but my heart has been toughened by the calisthenics of living and it’s fit only for lifting heavy objects — and dropping them, generally. It works enough to wish things were different, which is something, I guess. I fear that there is nothing truly heartfelt left in my heart. Nothing pure. My little boy’s heart is a flower, and mine a potato. It is the way of the world. He did the exact right thing because he had no idea what he was doing. How many walking the Earth could claim that?

My wife must consort with dead imaginary people because there is no one left to talk to in this world. Only they understand her, so she takes her encouragement where she can find it.

Happy New Year From Sippican Cottage’s Spare Heir

My eleven-year-old son is the last person on the face of the Earth to produce animations in Microsoft Paint. He may also be the first, but there’s no way of knowing one way or the other. At any rate, Happy New Year to everyone. Hope it’s a good one for you and yours.

I Get Swag

There are only two important videographers working in the milieu today: Knox Harrington, and Stamford Waffles.

Knox won’t return my calls because I borrowed his Autobahn records and brought them back scratched, so I hired Stamford to make this video mashup for me. He doesn’t come cheap, either; he’s demanded 11 years of room and board so far, and I had to set him up with a Flip camera and a Playstation 2.

It was worth it.

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)

Good Chemistry

I see the dead hand of dad on that young fellow’s video. Not a signature. Brush strokes or something.

My little son is importunate. He starts his pleasant little harangue the minute his eyes pop open. I heard him, bang on seven this morning, begin the little burble of narration he keeps for his life. It’s Sunday and the sun is out and the world is his oyster again today.

I’d been awake for a couple hours. I’d left the windows open in my office last night and so I was outdoors instantly. The sun rose gently over my textual exertions. There cannot be a sweeter place to be than western Maine staring down a sunny day knocking on June’s door.

I went up to his world, filled with talking sponges and grinning dinosaurs and the Google Earth carpet of a cartoon town.

Dad, I want you to help me make a video with Bionicles and muzzle flashes and space ships and galactic battles and dancing robots and talking animals and it won’t be hard because we can do it in 4 fps so the camera won’t die of no battery and the moviemaker won’t crash and mom says you have to work all day today and tomorrow and the day after and even more days so I’ll wait until you don’t have to make furniture one day but don’t make me wait too long because I’m impatient.

There is no quality time. There is no such thing as quality time. There is only time. Time is teflon and adjectives and adverbs just slide right off it. It cannot be condensed, or frozen, or hoarded, or distilled, or saved for later, or borrowed and paid back.

You don’t have any story that anyone wants to see, son.

What is a good story?

It doesn’t matter what it’s about. It just needs to make people want to keep reading it, or hearing it, or seeing it. People need to feel differently when they’re done. That’s all.

I don’t know any stories like that.

You are a story like that. Everybody is a story like that. You’re a little boy. What happens to a little boy?

I don’t know.

Of course you know. It’s whatever you want. What’s in the bowl there in the kitchen?


You eat the banana. What do you become?

A monkey!

That’s a story. There’s an apple. What do you become?

I don’t know!

You have to think of something. That’s all.

(A hint of tears) I don’t know!

Of course you do. Don’t be sad or you’ll spoil your story.

Johnny Appleseed!

Mom puts honey on your waffle.

A grizzly bear! Then there’s cheese and I’m a mouse! Another mouse comes and I’m a cat! Another cat comes and I’m a dog!

And when you’re all done, you’re a boy again. That’s a story. It’s slightly better than every book you’ve gotten from the library for a year.

And then he went out back and rode his bike in a circle because his father lied, and his time has adjectives all over it, and under it, and all around it. The adjectives are stacked like cordwood outside the door.

And so Dad has his story too.

[First offered in 2012, rerun with comments intact]

Perfect Pitch

My little son is only ten. He hands me teeth when he walks by every once in a while, and likes Minecraft, and riding his bike and sledding, and lots of other little kid stuff. But he’s kind of wonderful around the edges.

He plays the drums in a band with his big brother. They call themselves Unorganized Hancock. Just the two of them. He can, and has, played in front of live audiences for as many as three hours at a time, without making many noticeable errors. He’s homeschooled. He has not been drilled in drumming fundamentals very much. I gave him rudimentary lessons for a few weeks to start him off a couple years ago or so, but he really learned simply by playing along with his brother.

They were rehearsing a new song, and the little feller asked why his big brother was playing the first note of the song as a D#. That’s wrong he said, the first note of the song is supposed to be E. The big guy had tuned his guitar down a half-step, which makes it easier to sing some songs while still playing the guitar as if it was in a standard tuning. There was no way for my ten year old son to know that. He just hears the first note and knows it’s not correct.

Musicians with absolute perception may experience difficulties which do
not exist for other musicians. Because absolute listeners are capable of
recognizing that a musical composition has been transposed from its
original key, or that a pitch is being produced at a nonstandard
frequency (either sharp or flat), a musician with absolute pitch may
become distressed upon perceiving tones they believe to be “wrong” or
hearing a piece of music “in the wrong key.” Wikipedia

He doesn’t need a reference note to know what any given note is when he hears it. That’s Perfect Pitch, also called Absolute Pitch. People without the gift of Perfect Pitch can train their ear to recognize intervals from a reference note to name notes on a scale, which is called Relative Pitch, but there’s no way to “learn” Perfect Pitch. My older brother is a very fine musician, and is quite adept at hearing “Relative Pitch,” by dint of lots of work on his part. Me, I was a bad musician and don’t even play the radio now. I told my older brother that his nephew, who is also his namesake, seemed to have Perfect Pitch, he told me that he thought that perfect pitch was the noise you hear when you throw a bagpipe into a dumpster, and hit a dulcimer you threw in there yesterday. He says try the veal, too.

Wikipedia says maybe one person in 10,000 has Perfect Pitch, but that number sounds way wrong to me. I was a working musician for a long time, and played with and alongside hundreds of musicians, and never met anyone with perfect pitch, never mind among the general populace. Maybe lots of people have it, but don’t know it. It’s an uncanny thing for me to see in my little boy. It’s much more neato because it’s just a part of him, like a freckle or something.

It’s one hell of a freckle, though, ain’t it? You know who else had that freckle?

Bach, Bartok, and Beethoven; Casals, Cole, and Chopin; Miles and Ella and Hendrix…

[Update: Many thanks — no, really, many of them — to Teresa C, and Robert J for hitting our tip jar. My wife and I generally use the money to buy musical instruments for our kids and tranquilizers for ourselves]
[Yet More Update: Many thanks to J.P. in Waco, too!]
[Across the Pond Update: Many thanks to Saul J in the UK for hitting our colonist Tip Jar! ]

Tag: The Spare Heir

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