Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Fin d'Annee Sentiment

Nina Simone: For All We Know, 1961

For all we know
We may never meet again
Before we go
Make this moment live again
We won't say goodbye
Until the last minute
I'll hold out my hand
And my heart will be in it
For all we know
This may only be a dream
We come and we go
Like the ripples in a stream
So baby, love me, love me tonight
Tomorrow was made for some
Oh, but tomorrow
But tomorrow may never, never come
For all we know
Yes, tomorrow may never, never come
For all we know

- words:Sam M. Lewis;music: J. Fred Coots (Coots also wrote the music for Santa Claus is Coming to Town.) That's Nina's longtime collaborator Al Schackman on guitar. For All We Know is the first song they ever played together, back in '57. Bobby Hamilton drums and Chris White provides bass. The same lineup played at Newport in '60. Since the song was her set closer, what better way to say goodbye to '06. Best to you.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Holiday Card Season

And let the Peace we're supposed to remember at this time of year truly find you.
(The card was devised and executed by a future graphic artist enrolled in the New Bedford Art Museum's afterschool program. I think he's eight. Just in case the wider world of the internets has trouble remembering that the biggest city near my mooring has something besides tragic bar imbroglios. The captains of the local Salvation Army corps are Gerald & Debra Morgan. Yep, New Bedford actually has two Captain Morgans.
Everytime I hear the Talk Radio Generation and their crossed-arms complaining cant about "whatsamatter with kids today." Everytime the Viagra Generation throws malnourishing snacks, PlayStations and DVDs at the problem. Everytime X generation is frustrated that the previous two boorish nitwits ruined our ecology, our economy, and our collective soul in the selfish pursuit of capitalism and war. Whenever I get discouraged by my own gloomy responsibilities...
Kids still wear hightops and skateboard and read comicbooks and listen to music their folks don't understand. And for a little while, they brandish a glimmer of the future: the tangible dreams, the demand for progress, education, and improvement. And hope.
And with so many "manger scenes" demanding attention among lighted deer and blow-up HomerSimpsonSanta figures, you'd think someone might notice that kid, and what a kid -- ANY kid -- represents. Happy Holidays.)

Friday, December 15, 2006


  • Guns and strippers will always make the front page, first story in the newscast. And they’ll go right on with Full Coverage© of the Breaking Story™ for a week, all the while complaining that we spend too much time on the bad and not enough on the good.
  • Guns and strippers are really great timekillers. You can do sidebars on the NRA and assault weapons, special reports on the families of sex trades workers, meaningful moments on mental illness and gun permitting, a commentary on bravery, a station editorial praising the police, a scathing rebuttal on community standards. I’m sorry I’m not an assignment editor now.
  • When I was younger, I had “an uncle” in the Massachusetts State Senate. He always told me interesting stories about Massachusetts politics, and instilled in me an understanding of local politics. One of his favorite lines was, “When I retire, I’m going out as Mayor of Fall River.” So...
  • There’s a “speak your mind loudly and rashly without thinking much” guy running for Mayor in Fall River. He’s honest about his service to the city as City Councilor. He’s honest about his success at the American Dream (He owns a restaurant). He’s honest about his heritage (He’s a Portuguese immigrant.). He’s honest about his ambition (He wants to be mayor.) He’s actually argumentative and chillingly simplistic. He should learn that he’s really just candid, inconsiderate, and tactless. Which I guess means honest in the SouthCoast.
  • This journal was cited by Keri Rodrigues from local radio. Luckily, every six months or so, I have my finger on the pulse. Hanx, K-Rod!
  • And don't forget: Tonight starts Hanukkah. To keep you up on the latest swing in CHanukkah Caroling, H.M.S. Impossible presents Kenny Ellis:

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

For those Googling© "New Bedford" to find "strip club shooting" stories...

New Bedford and surrounding environs are just as shocked by the violence you're probably searching for right now. This is not a part of our culture. Two isolated incidents of unstable people perpetrating unspeakable acts in a year is two too many as far as this sailor is concerned.
But be very sure of this:
New Bedford is one of America's first cities, and (for a few years) was actually its wealthiest. From its earliest inhabitants, the Wampanoags, to its most recent arrivals, the Mayans, we who have dropped anchor here have always found its harbor pleasant, its winds reliable, and its fields worth working.
You out in Montana or Florida or California surely have your moments that might shame you. But we all share the moments that shape us.
From the crosstrees here on Apponogansett harbour, I have been so humbled and enheartened by the outpouring of support I received just as I continue to recuperate from Lyme disease and kidney failure. I am glad every day that I was served by Saint Luke's Hospital in New Bedford. Every one who helped me -- from Emergency Room personnel to doctor's receptionists -- worked with passionate professional eagerness. To this day I haven't been able to properly thank everyone who took the time to send regards. I have been embraced by the extraordinary arts community (of which I have always been a fringe actor/director/writer) and I add my voice to theirs. We urge the world to look at New Bedford and remember us, not those headlines. Remember the woodworker who devised a lasting memorial to his beloved in the form of a travelling museum exhibit. We hope that you remember the many souls who stood in the cold to shout down civil rights abusers -- whether over last weekend or over the last two centuries. We want you to remember that our museums look to the future by providing our young people education and opportunity. We want the world to know that we are pulling off economic recovery thanks to stubborn creativity and a love of the hard work it takes.
We urge you to continue Googling© "New Bedford."
(or you might start by clicking some of the links in this entry)

Monday, December 11, 2006

I'm a square-rig sailor and a hockey guy who appreciates redemption. The news about Laura Gainey pains me greatly. She was washed off the Picton Castle Friday night, prompting a two-day search of the Northwest Atlantic. Laura's dad is Bob Gainey, a lifelong Hab and now Canadiens' G.M. The Picton Castle (homeport, Lunenburg NS) is one of the sweetest barques a-sail, with a crew every other ship envies and a terrific support organization of professionals and volunteers. As the search continues, my thoughts are with you all, just a few hundred nautical miles to your west. Peace.

Friday, December 8, 2006


"People of integrity don't force their beliefs on others, they make sure that others can live by different beliefs they may have," Mitt Romney, 1994
I am not a Captain.
I am not legally permitted to be the commanding officer of a vessel. But you can trust me to plot a course, steer the boat, set sails, and even enact repairs if needed. Hand reef and steer. I would be Captain without benefit of title. Now, for many people, that’s just fine. A lot of folk own their boat and act as “Skipper” without ever even knowing that there’s an option to be an official, Coast Guard-certified Captain. Because of certain circumstances (owners who wouldn’t log hours, being at sea at time of testing, returning to port and getting a real job, etc.) I never got a Captain’s license.
You can make a darned good skipper without a license. It’s a legal issue, simply semantics to those unfamiliar with maritime law. But I should’ve gotten my license. I would be more legitimate. I enjoy being Mate of the Third Watch, but Captain would get me a better salary, and … respect.
There’s a problem with a legal issue here on The Beach. The legal issue of marriage. There’s a gang that believes gay people shouldn’t have the same rights as straight church-going types. Y’see, the Massachusetts Constitution never said “Gays can’t marry.” So gay couples can marry. And do. But some people, whether because they believe biblical injunctions against homosexuality, or whether they reject the othered as a general rule, want to change the Commonwealth’s Constitution by taking away one group's right to marry. They think that the government should recognize a special kind of ticket for gay couples, and a specialer, more legitimate kind of ticket for straight couples.
The gay marriage opponents wanted to put a question to ban gay marriage on the next ballot. “Let the people decide,” they say. They argue that the legislature should be fined for not voting on their proposal that gay marriage should be banned.
Well, they’re wrong.
The legislature chose to recess and ignore their constitutionally unsound request. Plus, the Legislative Branch is only providing what it‘s there to provide: a "check and balance" to the politician in the Executive office (see above) who’s using this issue cynically and politically. Because even he knows you can’t leave a civil right to popular vote.
Tomorrow, the misguided who insist they have the right to take away others’ rights are going to stand at New Bedford City Hall, beat their bibles (or whatever) and hide behind their ill-conceived notion of a democratic theocracy, flagrantly and proudly indicating their basic misunderstanding of The Process. As usual, their most dignified response is jumping up and down, stamping their little feet on the deck.
And hope that some people who love each other, pay taxes, raise children, and contribute to society get to stand on the dock.
I originally wrote a big long diatribe against these individuals, but I’ll avoid pirating their selfish incivility. In fact, I plan to watch their "demonstration" and try to understand their desire to waste their energies.

I’ll be standing across the street with my arms crossed.
Because the temptation to throw something may be too strong.

Friday, December 1, 2006


A few years ago, I spent about a week living aboard at a marina in Connecticut. The folks who docked there all season were upset about the future new management of the marina, who were going to take away the convenient soda vending machine located near the convenient shower facilities. In fact, they were concerned that these new owners were going to take away the shower facilities. A couple of the live-aboards, including a year-rounder who worked as a harbor pilot, laughed this controversy off as ridiculous. "Sure," he mused over a gin-tonic, "That soda machine is convenient, well-stocked with plenty of ginger ale and other mixers, including the cola that cures hangovers when applied correctly. But the new management isn't taking over until next season. What's the foul? Plus, those lubbers can pick up whatever pop they drink at the convenience store on the way home."
Well, up here in the Commonwealth where I find myself docked, the current management has decided to take away somebody's soda machine. Let me explain: Mitt Romney, the current lame-duck Governor of Massachusetts, has slashed funding to a wide range of programs, using his "9-C powers" (which may or may not be constitutional). War memorials, healthcare, safety, housing, the arts. Look here. (It's the site.) Maybe he's trying to punish the voters who didn't vote for his hand-picked successor in the last election. Maybe he thinks Americans are so stupid that they'll elect him President in '08. Maybe he's trying to get the Massachusetts legislature to reconvene and get one last ditch effort to put the gay marriage ban on the ballot so some people who don't understand Constitutional democracy can use their supposed rights to deny the rights of others.
The local media tends to stay fixated on the simple cuts, like local theaters, development offices, and war memorials.
The fearful and incurious use this as an opportunity to bash nonprofits. Those knuckledraggers claim they don't want their tax money going to arts they can't understand. "If them artsy-fartsy thee-ay-ters and museums can't stay open, it's "cuz they don't appeal to mass audiences." In the SouthCoast, some people really believe that (a) the grants that arts programs receive come directly out of their pockets, and (b) those artsy-fartsy types are failing, and shouldn't be rewarded for failure, and thus shouldn't get those moneys.
Here's a sloppy little math lesson: Let's use the New Bedford Art Museum as an example. They'll lose $50,000 if Romney's cuts stand. If there are (2004 numbers here) 2,660,046 taxpayers in Massachusetts (yeah, I know, that's federal taxpayers, but stay with me here), each of them gave 1.87 cents to NBAM.
So don't start whining to me that they're taking money out of your pockets. 1.9 cents isn't money. Not compared to the $3 NBAM entrance fee. Or free if you're a member. Or anyone can get in for FREE on AHA! night, the second Thursday of every month. (They let in 150 people free on a slow AHA! so that's NBAM paying two staff people for 4 hours so 150 people can see the place for free.) And you wanna not give them 2 cents? Because you don't understand watercolor paintings? Or watercolor isn't popular enough?
Yeah, that's what I thought.
(Oh, by the way, the new management at that marina got new soda vending machines.)

"At Dusk" by Mike Mazer, courtesy American Society of Marine Artists. See Mike's scenes of New Bedford at NBAM through December 31.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Yeah, you can find cool stuff on old ships. Even sunken ones.

My sister once gave me a "Day-Night-Moon-Phase-Date-Watch" as a Christmas/Birthday gift. It was manufactured by a well-known watchmaker and it was bee-yootiful and --of course-- nautical. That watch was the pinnacle of wrist technology. Until a couple of years ago when I heard about this Antikythera Mechanism, which the NY Times informs us is "technically complex," as reported in today's Nature Journal. Its amazing motion is documented in this presentation by the American Mathematical Society.

I would've used it as a navigation device, since the bronze cogs and wheels gave accurate information about planetary placement, lunar orbits, and other celestial timing. That is, before it became a twisted rusted chunk of unfortunacy on the ocean floor off the coast of Greece.
Oh, did I happen to mention that it had been lying there since the Second Century B.C.?
Yeah, I know. They haven't found the Second Century B.C. iPod or Internet yet. But I'm guessing the ancients were probably better off without getting to put Apollo and Demeter on "shuffle." Has your urn got any "up-toga" shots of Helen of Troy?

Monday, November 27, 2006

My Hospitalization FAQs

Why did you go to the hospital?
First, there were the headaches, muscle aches, jaw stiffness. I had trouble lifting my arms without pain (8 on a 1-10 scale) and found I couldn’t sit upright without wretching. After about a week of various levels of this, my Beloved got me to the ER at St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford.
Was it as bad as everyone says, the St Luke’s ER?
Listen: Those people don’t understand the concept of triage. Your cough (except if you're coughing up a liver) is not going ahead of that heart attack, no matter how “fair” you think the world should be. Of course, this depends on the time of day, too. Bullet and stab wounds take precedence at night, I would imagine. Patience is important, and all the phony dramatic TV stuff is just that.

So you were lucky it was daytime? The ER was less crowded.
Yes. That and I passed out in the waiting room. ThirdMate's Tip: For faster ER service, throw up on yourself. There's a winning strategy.
You’re funny.
Well, if you’re gonna weep about it, go join an encounter group. Or get insurance and a decent primary care physician.
Did they admit you right then and there?
I think so. 62 over 30 is not a blood pressure, it’s odds at a race track. After some questions, poking, and intravenous wrangling of several types, a member of the fantastic staff had me figured for Lyme. (It was like watching a House episode, except everyone was concerned, not just Cameron and Wilson.) If it was renal failure caused by Lyme, or by diabetes, they weren’t going to send me home. According to my Beloved, I was admitted to the hospital so I “wouldn’t die.” Even though I think the hospital administrative term is “until stabilized.”
So they put you in a room?
Better than a hallway, what with all the foot traffic, buffing and waxing. Yes, they put me in a room. With plasma screen TV. Which actually does look great, even from twenty feet away, flat on your back with tubes coming out your arm waiting for your "condition to stabilize."
Sounds posh.
It was actually a brand-new room in the brand-new wing in the pretty new St Luke’s, with a great view of NB harbor and I was surrounded by the artwork of friends. Check out this swell video about how a hospital not only cares about its patients’ and visitors' health and happiness, but they also care about the community and the people who work in it.

You were there for nearly a week, what about the staff?
The SouthCoast Hospitals have really grown as a professional force. They're one of the largest employers, and...

What is this 'SouthCoast' stuff? This is Southeastern Massachusetts.
But I have more questions.
Of course you do. Feel free to use the "Comments" section. And stay affixed for "My Dialysis FAQs" coming soon.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


This video is 20 years old.
Back in the Reagan80's, we started whittling away our culture, systematically snuffing out voices from the past. We insisted the past was gone, useless. No one liked William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, those old "Beat" guys and their self-sure and often obscene chronicling, smartly raging against the hypocrisy of the society which surrounded them.
In this post-PoetrySlam era we celebrate that very hypocrisy. We eschew stark and effective language for cutesy rhymes. We trade the integrity of shocking imagery for ooh-naughty words. Words are cheap. Cheap and poorly-defined and ill-used.
As life itself.
I miss that kind of poetry.
Are we too cool to Howl ? Have we grown past the old man, or grown too self-possessed to bother listening?
Are we too jaded, too frightened, or too stupid for irony ?
And, barely facing it, do we tighten our choking grasp on the things we profess to love -- family and friends and stuff -- and choke the life out of them in our "gratitude."
Which smells a lot like "avarice."
Do we even know what gratitude means?
We stopped holding doors open because doors are mechanical, automatic.
We stopped being courteous at intersections because the signal allows us to.
You blithely Bluetooth with unseen others, scorning those near you.
Your colleague.
Your lover.
Your sister.
A stranger with an idea that might save your life.
In a pest-free world, you could thrive.
It's much easier not having to say "Thank You."
Because gratitude is a word which demands action. Gratitude is an on-going, active, impelling word.
I have learned that when I actively remind myself to be grateful,
It strengthens me.
So every day I'll studiously, seriously, persistently, and earnestly

Thank You.

(for Karie, on her birthday)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Jim Haskins

I promised myself I wouldn't get back into the eulogy business, but an old shipmate has cut the painter and I really need to say something about it. Jim was one of the few volunteers on a certain Big Blue Boat who really got it. He loved the ships, the music, the art of the time. While his wife Denise demonstrated facile scrimshandlery, Jim was real Navy, reef and steer, as well as chanteyman. (That's the only picture I could find. But I always think of him that way. Not so much the tricorn, but that constant smile.) He was also probably the only member of the Fall River Chamber of Horrors who knew what that Big Blue Boat really was. He saw potential in all and wasn't afraid to dream a little, and that's probably why he succeeded as Chamber Membership Director in a place like Fall River. A certain fishwrap claims he "captained" the ship, and I guess maybe he did. We had lots of captains. But Jim was never "The Old Man" type. He was a regular hand. I send my well wishes to Denise and the rest of his family and friends.
A heart attack took his life and I can't imagine the damage. His heart was so damned big.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Your Lyme FAQs. (Or, mine actually. Yours may differ...)

How did you get Lyme Disease?
How does anyone get Lyme? I was bitten by a tick. Which bothers me a lot because I’m a big fan of the Mighty Blue Justice Guy.
(AND: The Tick vs Season One is out. Buy me mine here.) But I suppose it makes up for the hours of joy as a boy pulling the little bastards off my golden retriever. If you want more info on Lyme, click on this. Yes, that's what the CDC says. But there are billlllllions of other sources. Whom I know and respect. And thank.
When did you get Lyme Disease?
I dunno. Some theories: …(1) Sometime in the spring of 2004, when I first experienced the non-specific symptoms that did not warrant further investigation by medical authorities… or (2) Sometime when I was working on remodeling that old farmhouse … (3) or on that new place surrounded by woods and gardens… or (4) at any time in the past 3 years walking to my car, or barbecue or laundry, or ANYWHERE on the 274 acres, or ... (5) during an outdoor event, summer of 2006. I lean toward the latter because within two days I began to suffer flu-like symptoms (chills, fever, and aches) which did not respond to home remedies.
Did you have any of the classic symptoms? The “target” rash? Anything cool like that?
No. Although, when I described my symptoms to anyone who had had Lyme, they insisted I had Lyme. Doctors, not so much.
Did you see a doctor?
A routine physical showed "nothing to be alarmed about." Fatigue could be explained by medications for high blood pressure. Aches and pains by my active lifestyle. Which wasn’t that active anymore. But tests (not for Lyme) showed elevated urine protein and blood creatinine levels, indicators of kidney issues.
Did you have kidney problems?
I’d been diabetic for 36 years. (Type 1, not the fashionable BabyBoomer one. World Diabetes Day was November 14, with the optimistic slogan "Diabetes Care for Everyone," and the hope to advocate for diabetics worldwide. Locally, this was celebrated by "Whine About Having to Stick Yourself and Not Eat Malassadas Day." ) It’s often been mentioned that my kidneys might be at risk. Although I'm tested regularly, diabetes and hypertension are factors that harm kidneys.

What's a malassada?
Sometimes incorrectly described as a Portuguese doughnut, it's fried dough covered in sugar. Like elephant ears without the cinnamon. Or flatter, more informal funnel cakes with granulated, not powdered sugar. Or sugar fritters. Or drop cakes. Or shankar palla. Very popular in parts of Portugal, the Azores, Hawaii, SouthCoast, and other places where Portuguese influence is obvious. The malassadas, not the other ones. Take that, Alton Brown. *
Do you have high blood pressure?
Yes, although it is controlled through medication, diet, and exercise.

A special diet?
No, just watching what I eat. No salt on those margaritas. Or Margarita mix. Or...
I thought this was about Lyme Disease.
My feeling is that the Lyme further insulted my already-compromised renal function. Lyme’s impact on my kidneys, although believed by some to be significant, is pooh-poohed by some medical professionals. (Including the guy who invented it, Dr. Lyme.) But I’ll be nice to them anyway, because I’ve gotten to know them and they seem nice enough. And I mean, poor them! All that expensive schooling they went through. Plus, when the Lyme tests came back positive, I was already in the hospital, so I had to be nice or they told me I wouldn’t get my shoes back.

No. Not the shoes part...
There are more questions.
Put them in the comments. Or wait 'til next time. Now, some Alton promotion:

Friday, November 10, 2006


If this is indeed "the journal I leave open on the galley table," I apologize to the Coasties, authoritahs, and others involved in its actual purpose (providing a reference of our journey and source of news for those who can’t visit or pick up the gorram phone). For you, shipmates, perhaps I have been a little busy at our uncertain helm in capricious seas these past few leagues, having now set the rig for new winds. Maybe you could say I’ve been fashioning some hull repairs, after careening. I’ve certainly been focusing the longeye on a point further along the horizon than is usual for this intrepid little barque (to we extend the cute-sea metaphor even further. Plus, the rig has changed.). In the words of the Dude: "...And then, you know, little of this, little of that. My career's, uh, slowed down a bit lately." Sometime next week, I’ll explain further…·

  • The Constitution does not exist so that anything that you think should be "the law of the land" will be. But our Constitution does exist in order to allow for your existence, even if you don’t get it. So stop trying to change it.
  • We’ve had to endure the past 6 years of sore winners. Let’s hope we’ve learned our lesson.
  • “We got a nice quiet beach community here, and I aim to keep it nice and quiet.”
  • Lebowski quotes. Just the thing for Fall.

UPDATE: An admiral who doesn't command anything is known colloquially as a yellow admiral, a "rear admiral without distinction of squadron." The yellow admiral had been "promoted" to land, impotent, unequipped, disenfranchised, and, as one maritime law dictionary holds, "unsuccessful or incompetent." I've never heard of one actually flying a yellow ensign (as opposed to the White, Blue, or Red ensigns flown at sea) but I suppose one might wear a yellow tie.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Pirates Never Win and Winners Never Pirate

For those of you wondering if
won in that elections thing the other night:


Wednesday, November 8, 2006

The battle's done, and we kind of won, so we sound our victory cheer:

...or do we just agree that the dog that has been chasing cars has finally caught one?
Congratulations to those politicians with integrity
who ran honest, clean, issue-based campaigns
concerned with the needs of the people.
Both of you.
* "Once More With Feeling" BtVS
(you may click for a clip)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I'm Not Back... exactly...

... but I thought I would share this clickable link:

The Wombat

Not THIS wombat...

... THIS wombat

(Although any excuse to have Steffi grace H.M.S. Impossible is welcome. Just to see if this still works. And give the Ian Dury stuff a rest.)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Note from Housekeeping...

SiteMeter informs me of numerous visits to H.M.S. Impossible through searches for "Ian Dury". This recreates the original post (Friday, May 12, 2006) you're looking for:

I believe that manners make a person good to know
I believe in birthday cake and going with the flow
("I Believe" from Ten More Turnips...)
Born 12 May 1942, Ian Dury was a polio survivor (also survivor of a tour with the Who), and an uncompromisingly brilliant lyricist (blending irony, ribald obscenity, brutal honesty, relentless humor, boundless intellect). His energy onstage. His constant reinvention of pop/ska/jazz. His compassion in fighting battles for others, and his courage in his own final battle. Hard to believe he didn't win that one (colorectal cancer in March 2000). Hard to believe that this little guy popularized the phrase "Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll" and told everybody else "Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick." Has the world changed since he sang "All I want for my birthday is another birthday"? Well, then, here: Happy Birthday, and "All the best, mate."

Sunday, July 2, 2006

The Second Day of July

Captain Wilberforce Humphries, of H.M.S. Impossible, personal diary, July (illegible) 1792:
We have – that is, the ship’s company has, at my order – decided to harbor on in this Dartmouth or Bedford Village, or whatever it is the locals choose to call it now. For me, it is too --- what was Hughes’ word for it? Cosmopolitan or something. I asked him which ship that was. He spends too much time with his French grammar. This Town is almost like London with its rippers and painted ladies, despite these cross and restrained Quakers. The Lord knows we left those wild Environs with the desire to stay at sea, now, didn’t we? Western ocean to the Horn to South Sea to Tahiti. But we find ourselves here, in the former Massachusetts Bay Colony, "protracting Corporation" with the King’s loyalists here nearly 20 years after the conflagration that altered our Royal Majesty George. Freetown (and one imagines this Dartmouth or Old Dartmouth or whatever) has always been the Massachusetts Colony’s Tory berth. Even before the unpleasantnesses and stronger now, since the hostilities are over. Yet they must celebrate by firing off cannon and rockets (not Congreve rockets, but entertainments), and we’ll do thus, as our armourer and gunner devise. Expect a Spectacle, bursting over the harbor here. So we keep to for diplomacy’s sake. Give ‘em a good shew, just for that traitor Adams (I say that with the fondest of respect and admiration) and get bowling along next Tide. Where away? Perhaps back on course to the Country ordered to.
Angus Swicherley, the same ship’s armourer in a letter to his daughter, July 2, 1792:
To be here is a singular pleasure, my dear. New Bedford is, indeed, new. That shining New Jerusalem, a City burst open in a commotion of Commerce and Industry. All regulated and organized so that even the least prosperous amoung them is Comfortable. And in true Spirit of Trade, eqalite, fraternite, et cetera, everyone’s money is as good as the next one’s. I am fond of this new Country’s Commerce, where everyone is a valueable Customer and treated like one. So I promised to devise a few lights for the skies to celebrate this brave Country where Commerce is King, not someone born to it, but anyone with a Brain and business Sense. Like that Franklin, and his "penny saved, penny earned." Do well, daughter, and heed his Genius! The ships filled with the whale oil – the very oil that lights your very rooms -- enter the very harbor where Impossible bobs. Captain Jos Bennett’s ship Columbia has returned from the Brazil Grounds with 900 Barrels of whale oil. He confided that an able body in for a 30th of a lay on a hold full of that or more, carries away 300 pounds or dollars or what they will! For one Winter trip! How many gloves do you need to fashion for that kind of Wealth? I keep trying to convince our third Mate that whaling would be a far better waste of time than the one we’re currently engaged in, meeting with these Americans to practice Diplomacy. Confidentially, whittling would be a far better Waste of time.
John Adams, in a letter to wife Abigail, July 2, 1776 :
But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.- I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by Solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfire and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

A Declaration by the Continental Congress, July 4, 1776:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness

Friday, June 16, 2006

Hughes delivers a lesson...

Ashore on a certain temperate island. Although the hippocampus ['seahorse'] would not be designated officially for another twenty years, the Third Mate joins Hughes remembering lessons learned from a naturalist from Endeavor...

On a strange shore, my first instinct is to seek fresh water and possibly food. Some Impossibles have other goals. The ship’s clerk, Hughes, considers himself an amateur scientist, and thus seeks interesting specimens of flora and fauna. At this moment, Hughes is waist-deep in a seaweed pool, with a strange telescope-like device in his hand. He does not train the telescope at the horizon or onto the island. He’s peering into the pool.

"Do you care to see?" he asks me, handing me the device."Here. Swicherley made this.Do you see them?"

I look and surely see not fishes, but remarkable little horse-shaped creatures. And with one, a group of even smaller ones.

"You see? Can you see how the mother cares for the offspring?

"Well, of course. That’s what mothers do," I try to raise myself to the moment.

"But there’s something different about this mother," Hughes replied conspiratorially.

"What’s that?"

"It’s the father," exclaimed the proud amateur animalier.


"With these tiny horses of the sea, it’s the male that bears and raises the children."

"The male bears the children?"


"Then," I countered. "Wouldn’t that make him the female?"

"Most certainly not," mused a wounded Hughes. Then, after a spell: "Wait’ll you have young ones."

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

With the captain, vessel, and some of the crew in Boston on a mission of diplomatic emergency, the Third Mate and several other crewmembers stay on in New Bedford. What follows are his observations…
I am fond of taverns.
As one who has chosen to hand, reef, and steer aboard His Majesty’s Ship Impossible across the Western Ocean; as one who has also toiled a-land for various unpleasant personages in numerous bothersome endeavors; and, as one who has found himself far from home on many occasions, a tavern is a refuge, a hearth, and often affording of agreeable company.
There is little about a tavern that is unanticipated, though there may be much that is exhilarating. The familiarity of a publick house is comfort. If one enters a drinking house in London, or Boston, or Halifax, one can be sure that there will be a certain atmosphere, certain identifiable personages, whether one is familiar with the locality or not. There is the fellow with the blossomy nose. There is the young woman who should not be there and the older one who should be. There are the young toughs who are not tough enough, and the quiet ponderers they admire. There are the wayfarers, the seafarers, and the wanderers – if only from just around the corner. There is the one who pours and the one who brings the meat. There may be musicians. As Mr Boswell claims Mr. Johnson said: "Taverns sell meat and drink, and will sell them to any body who can eat and can drink."
Thus it is in this country where Hughes, Swicherley, Armstrong, the two Toms, and I find ourselves.
In a new port, one seeks a tavern. Here is a clean victual house called Elnathan Russell’s, operated by the same, a Quaker with no desire to turn or alter his clientele’s drinking habits. That same Russell, his wife and his daughter (to whom our Armstrong has taken a liking) operate the house, sure enough, with rooms for lodging and a parlor for food and entertainment. But the sea in the parlor is "quite on" this particular evening, or in lubber’s parlance, "abuzz".
This particular port now is called New Bedford. I say "now," because it has had several designations. The poor little borough doesn’t seem able to hold a moniker, or perhaps has taken to collecting them. Until fairly recently it was known as Bedford Village, before that, Dartmouth. Back when it was free of Russells and Rotchs, the Wampanoags called it Cushena (which to my ears sounds Gaelic, or possibly even Irish). This information has been gotten to me by local wag Sam Eldridge Allen.
"’Old Dartmouth,’ ‘Bedford Village,’ ‘New Bedford,’ why not just call it ‘Port Village’ or ‘Docks Town’ and be done with it?" Sam started.
"Because the town is…" I attempted to converse.
"…In no need of special clever names. I didn’t fight in that war for this sort of naming and re-naming. You may as well name it ‘South Boston,’ because it’s south of Boston. Or ‘South Town.’ Or ‘Town South by the Coast.’ Or ‘Riverton,’ because it’s on this here Acushnet River," Sam suggested.
"According to the charts, you already have a Riverton," I pointed out.
"That’s ‘Tiverton,’" called a woman named Ann who had entered with a well-dressed fellow who looked like a banker.
"I rather like the ‘South by Coast’ one," I mused. "Reminds me of ‘Shoreham-by-Sea,’ and all."
The woman aforementioned spoke up: "You a bloody-backed regular?"
By this, I assumed she was using the now-defunct term of derision indicating brutal colonizers with sights trained on American land and possessions, as some sort of insult. Besides which, I am not one of the army’s King’s men; I am a volunteer in the Navy. "My coat, madam, is blue."
"Cheap blue British cloth. I can smell you lobster backs from a mile, like a goat’s passed gas. You king-cuddlers are all alike. You burned down homes and businesses, because you knew you couldn’t win against us! And so you lost the war. We should sew a huge red ‘L’ on yer blue jacket, just to show what losers you are."
Hughes, our ship’s clerk, who has no patience for insolence or sore winners, spoke up: "Madam, I wouldn’t trust you with needle and thread. I wouldn’t have you mend sail, let alone embroider and…"
"It’s another one! And I wouldn’t mend sail for you, either, you son of a lousy sailor’s mother! We have real sailors here in America, like John Paul Jones."
The crowd hushed, oohed, and I heard someone call "Huzzah!"
"To the late Commander Jones!" called another, surprising this Ann, who apparently didn’t know Jones was dead.
We all raised our glasses, tankards, and pots, drank to Jones, whom the entire house respected and admired. There were some aboard Impossible who had even met Jones when they served on H.M.A.V. Tourniquet, after this aforementioned war against the colonies. Armstrong (one of that ship’s company) beamed proudly, splendidly showing, in fact, the shirt Jones had given him, since he had none at the time of their meeting.
Ann the harridan persisted. "That is not the shirt of a fine naval man!"
"I wear it on special occasions. He give it to me just as the empress of Russia give it to him!" answered Armstrong.
"Oh, so the Russian empress, then?" she laughed mockingly. "You redbacks are liars with lies upon tales. I’ll have no more of ye."
Swicherley muttered, "You haven’t had any of us. And, shrew, you never will."
From outside came a call and the tavern door opened. In walked the beggar who had accosted me this afternoon. At that time I had told him I had no coin, but now I indeed had, and went to him with a piece.
"Thanks be to ye, sirrah,Ye have shown me a great kindness, me who has lost his home these many years, and me family, too. Look here, all of you," he addressed the room, "And see what good can come of bad. This fellow has promised and given me, proving his kind are not all to be blamed for the actions of some. Many praises, thanks to you. And joy to the company."
I asked him if he needed to eat, for one could not help but observe he was quite badly nourished. Swicherley offered his own seat and a plate of stew. Even Hughes, who rarely shows such care, called for more ale.
"Go give your good money to the dog. ’His food the land-crab, lizard, and frog, His drink a wish-wash of six-water grog,’" that woman Ann sang sharply, occasioning chuckles from some and tsk-tsk’s of scorn from those who recognized the slur. "Asking for handouts, just because he lost his family in a fire. What makes him so especial? He makes me sick with his begging. And begging from these limeys! Have you no dignity, man?"
"Have you no decency, woman?" the well-dressed fellow who had been her escort piped up. "You do not, I dare say."
Another townsman called out: "No, you have no decency, woman, and your tongue is cruel and inhumane."
"We fought and some died for freedom in this land, but you mock that self-same freedom with your free-wagging tongue," hissed Sam hoarsely, about to lose composure.
"Stop your fussing," that woman answered. "Or must I ask the innkeeper to send you all out?"
Elnathan Russell stepped out from behind his serving-board. "Madam, I stand before thee, that innkeeper. Thou hast upset the peace in my establishment. Thou hast spoken ill toward every soul within, and towards those not here to defend their selves. I understand some manners of speech are indeed free, but thou hast taken imprudent liberties here. I beg ye leave and show here again only when thou hast remorsed and repented. To aid thee in this effort, I call mine daughter, Sarah, to provide succor."
At this, Sarah Russell came forth. Sarah Russell outweighed me, certainly, and could have taken me two out of three falls. She had, however, a pleasant enough demeanor I did not wish ever to alter. She walked to this Ann, who cowered sheepishly, gathered her things and ran out the door, to everyone’s relief and cheers.
"I think I shall look more closely into this Quakerism," Hughes confided to me. "Seems to curtail quite a lot of ill-will."

Friday, May 26, 2006

Memorial Day

The crew of H.M.S. Impossible expresses gratitude for all the sacrifices of those who have fallen in the line of duty. That duty is not limited to those in uniform. We venerate: The preservation and maintenance of the peace, integrity, security and ideals of this lively democratic experiment. Our hope: That those who give their lives shall not be recognized for profitless endeavor and those who dedicate their lives to keeping our shores peaceful should be remembered for every contribution. We endorse: Those who bravely and selflessly put down their weapons and find the courage to wage peace. We esteem: Their good deeds and good will. Those without rank or office must work each day to honor that commitment with the same determination to safeguard, ensure, strengthen, build, and celebrate our communities, homes, and families.
As we must.
thanks for the image

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

from Captain Wallbank's Almanack

Wapping, on the Thames, London: On May 23, 1701, declared a pirate by the British East India Company, Captain William Kidd was hanged for piracy and murder on "Execution Dock," two over from "In-School Suspension Quay" just down from "Community Service Pier." Hired as a privateer to protect British ships in the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean when he cleverly removed the "Aarrr’s" and "Yo-ho’s" from his resume, Kidd took the opportunity to capture as many prize-laden ships as he could. He was not very good at this; he was terrifically unlucky, cursed with tragically criminal crews, and he had extraordinarily corrupt backers who eventually let him hang. Kidd found you could be a heroic privateer until Parliament decided "privateers" were "pirates." (The explanation for this change of heart is usually given as King William III’s dyslexia, but this has never been confirmed.) Sure, he may have grabbed his share of booty, and could possibly have hidden an immense pirate treasure wherever Poe said he did (or maybe on Block Island RI). (Or maybe Connecticut). (Or possibly Nova Scotia. And who wouldn’t?). Yes, he had a huge treasure: It was his wife’s dowry. If he hadn’t captured what he thought was a foreign ship (that was captained by an Englishman) by flying another country’s flag (a trick he obviously learned from a Robert Louis Stevenson book), he could have recovered that treasure. The story goes that Kidd didn’t want the prize, but that his crew did. Kidd called "Do-over!" But the captain of the prize insisted it was a fair catch. The crew of Kidd’s ship got their prize, while Kidd was simultaneously charged with piracy and plagiarism. In one of those flighty hissy fits of pique pirates are famous for, he threw a bucket at his gunner, which killed the man. So there’s your murder charge. (The bucket wasn’t even loaded, but apparently he had no representation at his trial.) All should be forgiven because he’s Scottish and one might even charitably assert that Kidd merely made a few bad choices that had disastrous results. On the other hand, Kidd did take what wasn’t legally his, and also engaged in torture. (Back in those days they hanged you for that, as opposed to re-electing you.) That, and he abandoned his wife and two daughters. To cement his reputation, he couldn’t even get hanged right. The first rope broke, tragically embarrassing the hangman, who had to bring in a second noose and a gallows to be named later. William Kidd was indeed "the pirate so not nice they hanged him twice." (Some stories have the rope breaking three times. Why? Because three is funny.) His corpse was shoved in a cage that hung over the river for two years, as a warning to kids to shun the vocation of piracy. Of course, the admonition was obscured a bit over time, and eventually became a reminder to young people to take special care of Auntie’s budgie. As far as piracy is concerned, they can still kill you for it. Because it’s illegal.
Captain Wallbank’s Almanack is not intended to be used as reference material for school projects, masters theses, magazine and newspaper articles, partisan hack radio talk shows, commencement addresses, valedictory speeches, or, especially, as an authorized authority for bets involving someone buying someone a drink.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mouse 1 March 1992 – 16 May 2006

A brilliant, if stoical, connoisseur of shrimp dinners, nepeta cataria (catnip), and humans, he could be a critic without being critical, taught us many valuable lessons, and defined friendship. If he didn’t land on your lap this time around, maybe the next. Diagnosed with feline diabetes mellitus, he defied the conventional wisdom to eventually trim down from his stately 21 (or so) pounds to become a sleek gallant and not only survive, but thrive. Ostensibly an "indoor cat" (a label he eschewed, having neither faith nor confidence in labels), he occasionally found his way to the lawn and gardens to enjoy the foliage. He endured a brief illness which ended peacefully this afternoon. If you can, raise a glass of something to Mouse The Cat. For him: We wish an eternity of grass, catnip, and fresh breezes.

Monday, May 1, 2006

from Captain Wallbank's Almanack

The ancient world celebrated the First of May, or "Beltane," as the First Day of Summer. Often, the two days fell on the same date on the calendar, but in those rustic times when information was cheap and records were kept in runes on the back of a prize hog, there were discrepancies. Sometimes May Day actually fell on the 12th of April, or sometime in June, if you had one. The modern month of "May" was actually not invented until Roman Consul Aprilifer May Junius won a drinking bet and secured the honor of having a new month named after him. Since "April" and "June" were taken in prior contests, "May" was inserted and thus the fifth month was born. This confused some bad translators, so "May" was known as "Can" until the 8th Century, when Emperor Istanbul (who later changed his name to Constantinople) needed a month to go after Wälpürgïsnächt, a night of bonfires named after Saint Walburga, the patron saint of bonfires. To commemorate the survivors, May Day was christened, and schoolchildren and other simple folk (like TV pagans, Renaissance Faire devotees, and amateur theatrical players) enjoy festivities celebrating the Earth and such, like maypole dancing and stockcar rallies. May Day’s modern significance is as "The Workers’ Holiday" or "International Workers’ Day" or "Commie Marching Bastards And Their Unions And Strikes And Contracts What Ruined This Great Nation Sonny Day." Whatever you or your red-baiting McCarthy Era uncle call it, it seems to have originated as a remembrance of the Haymarket Riot in Chicago Illinois in 1886. Hay workers in Chicago demonstrated in order to secure their eight-hour workday. The demonstration consisted of a strike and riot that lasted exactly 8 hours (including smoke breaks and lunch with the gals from the office). The American Labor Force (what The Justice League of America was called, before AquaLad and the WonderTwins) insisted that May Day be the official date for any other such demonstrations. Besides the May Day Riots of 1894 and 1919, you may recall the May Day Sit-Down of 1891, the May Day Muttering Bellyache of 1904, and the May Day Hairy EyeBall for Management of 1938. So, your Summer begins with Laborers’ Day and ends with Labor Day. (Somewhere in those months of paddlin’ up the crick, enjoyin’ lemonade on the porch listenin’ to the ball game, and plottin’ the next swelterin’ nighttime gang-related drive-by, we lose an "er." And mo’s the pity.)

Captain Wallbank’s Almanack is not intended to be used as reference material for school projects, masters theses, magazine and newspaper articles, partisan hack radio talk shows, or, especially, as an authorized authority for bets involving someone buying someone a drink.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

from Wallbank's Compendium of Knowledge

The “Fish on Friday” tradition is ancient. Early on, followers of the fish goddess, Aphrodite Salacia, indulged in orgies and fish fries on Fridays. Meanwhile, Scandinavians (who hadn’t yet discovered the orgy) named Friday after the goddess Freya and ate fish on Friday, because it all began with “F.” Early Christians used the “icthys” symbol in a stab at a global branding logo to mark secret meeting places as well as bingo halls. Some sources assert the Pope’s hat (or miter, officially adopted as bishopric and papal headgear around 1100 AD) looks like a fish. From some angles. In 998 AD, Pope Gregory V invented Lent, suggesting that Catholics fast (not eat) on Fridays, and abstain (avoid meat entirely) for 40 days before Easter. Some claim Italian fishermen had petitioned the Pope in the 15th century to make people eat more fish because business was slow. Jeez, of course business was slow. Who could respect those dawdlers? Fishermen could’ve hopped on the “Fish on Friday” bandwagon FIVE centuries earlier. Others claim the Pope actually owned the fishing fleet so he made the decree to benefit himself. Still others assert that the Pope had made a deal with the King of Norway to sell more Norwegian fish in Italy. This I doubt, since the King of Norway was already eating yummy walleye on Freya’s Day. Pope Nicholas V (or so) had declared Friday as Day of Abstinence. He also contrived a penitential dietary law that forbid the use of any animal product (eggs, meat, cheese, butter, milk, fur, leather, and beef jerky) during Lent. This has since been eased up some. Most smarty-pants will explain the distinction between fish and meat by saying fish is meat that doesn’t walk on land, and thus is exempt from its own definition. Others point out the Latin “carnus” means “meat,” while “fishusisn’t even a word. The Nice Hat Council of 1178 maintained that since a large fish saved Jonah, fish should be commemorated by eating fish. Of course the controversy of who decreed the rule (or what actually constitutes “meat”) continues to this very day because the Church rarely likes to write anything down if it means it might be blamed for something. Recently in Wisconsin, a mammal that lives in water, the muskrat, was allowed into the “fish” category just like the capybaras, a South American muskrat. In the local case of corned beef on St Patrick’s Day, a dispensation is declared by the Pope. You’ll see the Holy Father, God love him, wearing his big hat, enjoying a green beer at the VFW on Paddy’s day, chompin’ away at corned beef and cabbage, singing “McNamara’s Band.” (He delights in the “By yimminy, I'm the only Swede” part.) Go ahead, send a few bucks to the Friendly Sons of St Patrick or the Ancient Hibernians. You’ll see.
ADDENDUM: This is an AP photograph

(AP Photo/A Fifis; IFREMER) of kiwa hirsuta, a furry blind 6-inch white crustacean just discovered that lives in thermal vents 900 miles south of Easter Island. This'll get those "fish ain't meat" people going. Just remember, "Fur ain't fish."

Captain Wallbank’s Almanack is not intended to be used as reference material for school projects, masters theses, magazine and newspaper articles, partisan hack radio talk shows, commencement addresses, valedictory speeches, catechism classes, or, especially, as an authorized authority for bets involving someone buying someone a drink. Ever.

Thursday, February 9, 2006

The Third Mate calls all hands to the capstan for an uncharacteristic sermon…

"Shipmates, when did we become ‘tolerant?’ ‘Tolerant’ is an insulting shorthand, an idle buzzword, representing to some the lame inability of a society to welcome and assimilate. A ‘tolerant ship’ is a ship that dumbly endures the annoyance inflicted upon it. Shipmates, we need another word.
"‘Tolerance’ is a dismissive term, making the inattentive feel justified in their detachment. ‘Tolerance’ is an abused word, misapplied and surrounded by sophistry and delusion. The reproachable mockingly insist upon tolerance. Offensive and unpleasant practices are forced upon us, and our hands are tied by our ‘tolerance.’ We need another word, shipmates.
"The violent and hateful demand the refuge of tolerance, vindicating their anti-social habits, denying culpability or responsibility. Their transgressions become like rights to them, and they arrogantly expect to be ‘tolerated’ in their vice. The sin of pride makes them blind to their own arrogance and depravity. They may insist that they are being prosecuted, and cannot understand why they are the offensive miscreants who need correction. We need another word.
"We need a word which denotes acceptance of that which is right and good and proper. An active and generous word which says we understand that which enriches our lives. A word which asserts the positive aspects of our truly welcome shipmates. A word which corrects and shuns the unwelcome. A word which congratulates acceptance. And we must be brave enough to teach it correctly, to apply it deliberately, and to enforce it impressively.
"With that word, we can turn the violence away. With that word, we can cast away the ignorant, the hateful, the vicious. With that word, we can embrace the good, the worthy, the mates who add their enriching voices to our song. With that word, we will all sing proudly.

"That word, shipmates, is ‘Love.’"

(For David on the occasion of Amy Lowell's birthday.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

On this Date in 1778...

... James Cook stood on the quarterdeck of the Endeavor, and "discovered" Hawai'i.
Never mind that the actual chain of islands had been settled 15 centuries earlier by Polynesians who eventually developed a complex government of huge chiefdoms led by extraordinarily politically gifted warriors. Cook named the "new land" "The Sandwich Islands" after the incompetent Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty and gambler John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, major sponsor of Cook's voyage and popularizer of meat between two slices of bread. Luckily Viscount Falkland had been on the commission 100 years earlier, and not in the running for the name of strange lands. Sir Cloudesley Shovell and Lord Lauderdale had also retired, so Hawai'i is not sometimes known as "The Shovel Islands" or "Fort Lauderdale." (George Baillie was also a Lord of the Admiralty, but he couldn't get away from that darned savings and loan long enough to have anything named after him.)
Speaking of eating... Captain James Cook was not eaten between two slices of bread. That is to say, he wasn't eaten, as legend has it, by the natives of Hawai'i.
(Cleveley's etching of the death of Cook, depicting the scene just after Cook returned to Hawai'i. "It was all a big misunderstanding," said Third Mate of the Endeavor. "When we left, he said he was going to get sandwiches for everyone, and they said, 'You're a GOD, dude.' When he didn't refuse the title, they assumed he was God, what with the sailboat and gold buttons and all. When he came back without enough sandwiches for everyone...well...What I learned? You've got to be real careful with natives. It's their island after all.)