Friday, August 31, 2007


  • Yes. Labor Day. Summer isn't over yet. But you can get rid of the white-belt-white-shoe ensemble.
  • My shipwright friend Woody was raised in Hawaii. I defer to him on matters Aloha. He says: The only time you are allowed to tuck your Aloha Shirt into your pants is if (1)your shirt has a repeating pattern and (2)the circumstance requires a jacket. AT NO TIME should one tuck a shirt that has a "frame" or border. NEVER tuck a shirt that has figures, pictures, or silhouettes along the bottom or sides. Those who make Aloha Shirts insist it is preferable to keep an Aloha Shirt untucked. That's how they were originally intended. Mahalo.

  • The reason I mention this is because I've noticed that the tucked Aloha Shirt seemed to be the In-Thing this fund-raising season with the Chipotle Graham Cracker Mojito and Tax Deduction Crowd. I mean, who wears an Aloha Shirt to something like last weekend's DNRT Barn Dance? A barn dance. With (contra) "square" dancing? At least I had the good sense to Johnny Cash it.
  • Oh, and if that barn roof had fallen in, the entire SouthCoast medical establishment would have been wiped out. Can't keep them docs away from land conservation. Apparently.
  • The little fiscally-impaired marina where I've tied off has decided to pull every other lightbulb out in order to save $85,000. My suggestion at Town Meeting that we could make $85,000 --easy!-- selling the lightbulbs to guys in Jamaica Plain MA or Carroll Gardens Brooklyn went unheeded. This guy is bumming.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The International Dock Restoration School

Recently, representatives of Newport's International Yacht Restoration school visited the Whaling City. (photo swiped from John Sladewski at the S-T. See more here.)It was nice to have the sleek hulls of well-tended historic gin-and-tonic barges slipping past the ol' hurricane barrier again. The last time I saw that many mahogany-laden fender carriers crowding up the Acushnet River was when a veritable flotilla of 'em ducked in behind the closing hurricane barrier to wait out Hurricane FizzleOut back last century.
The IYRS had just started up in 1993 when I and my shipwright friend Woody were spending all of our free time wandering around boatyards looking for a hulk we could salvage. Woody's girlfriend Sophronia was a bit high-maintenance -- albeit lovely and keen-witted -- so we needed something we could refit that would give her plenty of, er, legroom. During a rum-soaked boastfest at a Bristol pub, we heard about a Concordia being sanded in an old mill in Newport RI. Perhaps, our limey barkeep said, "those chippies had some scooby on another such beast."
After sneaking around the perimeter of the IYRS, Woody suddenly remembered having met the founder of the school while he was matriculating at The WoodenBoat School, so we burst into the workshop and waved off the guided tour and membership push. Sophronia was pacing off the Coronet to see if her wardrobe and pilates equipment would fit aboard, so Woody marched right up to IYRS founder Ms. Meyer. We all ended up at some gallery opening, chortling about Endeavour over the Alkoomi Riesling.

And that's when I struck upon a cunning plan.
If, as Lord Nelson said, "Good ships and men rot in port," then ports themselves must lead the way to a newer, healthier water-logged economy. Without wharves, piers, quays, slips, and docks, where would those wonderful weekend burgee-wenches tie off for rendezvouses, regattas, and other bragpageants?
As someone who has leapt upon enough rickety docks with a dockline in one hand and an empty tumbler in the other, I know only too well the importance of proper dock maintenance. I have seen any number of sadly-neglected docks all over the Atlantic. And that's just in marinas.
To relieve the boating community and seaside oil artists (it's the watercolorists who dig the ramshackle), I suggested The International Dock Restoration School as an obvious concomitant to the fine work of the International Yacht Restoration School. Togther, we would make historic ships and their historic berths accomplish their ultimate shared purpose. And we would revitalize the sagging wharf-building industry with a shot of pure cynical workmanship. I promised to return the splendour of the carefully-crafted wharves of yesterday to our waterfronts, boy howdy! Our curriculum:
  • Historical pierage: From stones and mortar to big granite rocks covered with barnacles. Where does Styrofoam fit?
  • Cleats or bollards: A question of intent.
  • Why use pressure-treated when you can continually replace the natural wood? Maintenance contracts the government way!
  • The lost art of pile-driving.
  • How to deal with wild heaving line throwers, and how to see them coming. Hint: It's not always the guy in the Grateful Dead Ship of Fools tie-die.
  • Although some will argue that diving boards are too "modern," we scoff at their impudence. And yes, that marine blue fiberglass Big Rough Ride Rapids slide is an historical artifact! How to fashion a grant application that'll pay to replace that cascade nozzle and pump.
  • Our special guest lecturer shows a long-lost dock building technique:

Monday, August 20, 2007

Hysterical Reinterponstration

I often say that I "spent time in the Eighteenth Century." That's not just a cleverer way of saying that when I wasn't sailing the ship model that was my house, I got paid to give tours dressed up like Fletcher Christian.
It's weirder than that.

Every so often, this whole place just gets all lit up by people dressed in scratchy"mywifemadetheses." Like at last weekend's Rev War Battle Re-en-act-ment at Fort Taber in New Bedford. These guys are generally referred to as enthusiasts. Wallbank's Etymologies explains that:
enthusiasm is derived from the Greek en, "in" + thuzias,
"wool that smells of perspiration and mothballs"
A certain serious New Bedford idealist suggested recently, in a Letter To The Editor, that "dedicated costumed interpreters" should be "activated" to wander through the Belgian block streets, portraying whaleshipmen. And whaleboat owners. And historical figures like Frederick Douglass and Herman Melville. And characters from Moby-Dick. And Thomas the Tank Engine and Harry Potter.
Right, and as soon as the stasis pods that hold those costumed interpreters are activated, I'm sure we'll be thrilled with their occupants' charming expertise. Surely every town must have a bunch of fully-trained actors and historians stashed away, all capable of volunteering to provide impromptu improvisation for the tourists. It's a wonder that we even bother with museums and casinos and such, what with all that free historical entertainment lying packed up somewhere.
I'm sorry that Mr. Bourassa (whose hardware store is excellent, btw) mentions Edie Nichols in his piece. For those who can't read ham-handed hometown jingoist drivel, let me explain that the late Ms. Nichols dressed in stingy black and wandered about the immediate neighborhood of her shop, portraying the Witch of Wall Street, Hetty Green. Hetty was a pretty loathsome character. Arguably the richest woman in America, she was unwilling to pay a hospital to help her son, caused his leg to be amputated and inflicted any number of personality flaws upon him. He lived not far from my mooring (at Round Hill, the one with the big martini) and had a number of collections, not all of them pornography.
As a person who has portrayed both historical and fictional characters on stage and in more informal circumstances, let me be clear: It can be done. Unfortunately, it can be done poorly, indifferently, ineptly, and mawkishly. It can embarrass you. It can embarrass the audience, and it can embarrass someone's great-grandfather. Someone who just paid 4 bucks to watch you do just that.
The conscientious historical interpreter brings a remarkable amount of knowledge to the deck. Or the kitchen. Or the battlefield. I mean it. Costumed interpreteers have to know certain things before they don the silly hat or uncomfortable bustle. You can't just stand there and make up shit. Although many do, and that's what seaside festivals are for. But on land, you're probably familiar with the high school kid whose summer job requires wearing knickers and explaining the thatched roof, usually missing a few elements, like where the straw comes from. I, however, am familiar with the guy who lives in the hut all year and cooks johnny cakes on a shovel. I was his best man. Because I had the kilt and wouldn't ride side-saddle in it. (Stop it. I heard you say Renn Faire.)
When I say "conscientious"(see above), many laypeople scoff and assume that I'm saying "OCD" when I refer to my colleagues who really do research which button remains unbuttoned on the waistcoat, or which corner of the calling card gets folded over when suggesting a tryst, and which flutter of the fan signifies "suggestion noted."
It's important to do that kind of homework, even if you're just the kid in the tricorn making the extra eight bucks an hour and blowing it all on that chick from EngLit who looks like Kristen Bell. If one's job is to historically interpret, it's just shoddy workmanship if you can't translate the past into the lexicon of the present. The past is dead enough, one shouldn't go about killing it any further by not knowing the answer to a question like, "Then if you didn't have cell phones, couldn't you just raise flags with letters on them to ask the Admiralty for more bullets?"
Of course it takes research to recreate a living breathing historic moment that an audience can accept as a true representation of a given place in time. It also takes imagination. Except in the case of those people who are actually showing off their great-grand-parents' homes. They can just stop and stare significantly off through the nearby open window. (It's in the training manual. That you got from your mom.) I met the great-or-something-grandson of Fletcher Christian, who still lives at the old family place, Pitcairn Island. A really nice guy. And he has to remember that 34,872 people have written 279,348 books, magazine articles, movies, radioplays, musicals, papers, treatises, and paper towel brands about his great-whatever-grandfather. But his wide smile and eager laugh goes where all that book-learning never could. Of course, I wasn't dressed as his bipolar mutineer ancestor at the time.
Every conscientious "history ranger" (or whatever) that I know has the imagination and stamina of a high-energy prop comic. Without actually being Carrot Top. I know people who know Carrot Top, and they show signs of acute stress disorder. Which you shouldn't have when you deal with kids who are looking around your carefully-maintained quarterdeck for Captain Jack Sparrow. Or allosaurs. Or General Lee. Because, well, history is history.
Unfortunately, the goofy history teacher who dresses up like Napoleon hasn't learned that teaching is about engendering interest -- honest, questioning, inquisitive, quizzical, investigative, critical, concerned, life-long interest. And not only should those of us in the private sector endeavor to teach those around us, but we should also endeavor to be taught. Those costumes are visual shorthand for, "Hey, let me tell you about..."
That is the point to historical re-enacting, interpreting, demonstrating. Yeah, playing dress-up is damned serious business.

Friday, August 17, 2007


  • I wasn't ignoring Phil Rizzuto when I dedicated a post to the late Brooke Astor. As a kid who grew up listening to any radio station that had any baseball game going, his voice came up once or twice. No, he didn't obsess about baseball. But he made me feel that as a baseball fan and sometimes player, I was part of something much much bigger. Cannolis all 'round!
  • Not only can they poison our pets and children, but the Chinese government can now regulate reincarnation. Our gubmint only just spies on us.
  • Any one interested in seeing a Revolutionary War encampment? Anyone who isn't actually pitching a tent at Fort Taber, I mean? Those wacky historical re-enactors are at it again. I mean demonstrators. Whatever. Can't you just smell the gunpowder and noisome costuming?
  • This week, the intertubes have been filled with Elvis this and that. Here's mine. I miss Kirsty MacColl:

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Friday, August 10, 2007


  • Yes. I had Lyme last year, too.
  • In researching the last bit, I Google©d "bush lyme" and Google© asked me "Did you mean bush lame" ?
  • I had been complaining about not liking the even seasons of Buffy. Joss "announced" Season 9. Just when downtown New Bedford's Loony Toonz moves back to Fairhaven.
  • No. You cannot give somebody Lyme. No matter how hard you may wish.
  • So everyone's all excited about Johnny Depp remaking Dark Shadows, mostly because they can say he'll "sink his teeth" into the role. But nobody seems to be talking Rum Diary.
  • Paul Anka's version of Smells Like Teen Spirit is my 4900th iPod download. I didn't plan that. I really should do one of those random-iPod-list things all the kids are doing. Until then, enjoy Doug & The Slugs' early 80's "rock video" for Too Bad. Next time you raise one, raise it to Doug Bennett. I do.

Respect the slug!

Friday, August 3, 2007


I was in my patio/grotto/grilling pit this afternoon and realized, finally realized, something: I've spliced my hulk to this vineyard. The tractor which drags some contrivance, that waters the rows of grapevines, wheeled past my stern sheets and I caught a whiff of diesel. Not BMW diesel. Not green-handled SpeeDeeMaht diesel. The kind of diesel that's been sitting in an engine for "a while" and is answering to a nearly-forgotten but oh-so-welcome call for motion. It's a call I made often enough, grudgingly, on board, setting the iron genny. (That's the iron jenny "they" talk about when "they" want to sound salty.)
But I prefer -- O Cap'n GrapefruitHead forgive me -- the song of the "silent" running of topsails and mainsails, set your spanker to correct for weather. And on this day, with a rare northerly pointing one out to Bermuda or Block Island, that smell left the sound of canvas' snapping clear in my ear's memory. And the continual splashing baptism of waves. Waves expressing affirmation, consent, rendering virtuous the deck and hull, every drop of disturbed ocean dew a new beginning born of the coupling of vessel and environment.
As much as I'll complain about my neighbors here on The Beach, my rancor is the voice of a sailor who, too young, has retired to a clean bed and an immobile nav station. I still awaken and check the weather. I've quit cigarettes and coffee (pretty much), but that morning ritual doesn't die. It evolves. But it's not about diet, this landlubbing.
Last century, whether I awakened on a Port-a-potty 31 or on a 169-foot wooden ship model, I whiffed the air of a beach I would inevitably be leaving, usually within days or hours. But here I am.
I'm the guy who walks to the mailbox in his tie-dye shirt. Please don't call me a hippie. Not because it was ever an insult as I grew up, but now it seems to be one. This from the people who can't operate a baseball cap. You do know that the bill (the flat part) is there to keep the sun out of your eyes? Don't you?
I'm that guy who lingers by the rum shelf at the liquor store. No, not the one who smells funny.
I'm the guy who actually keeps things in the pockets of his cargo shorts. Like a glucometer. And currently a copy of Hunter Thompson's Rum Diary. That bulge on the belt (under the Art Blakey T-shirt?), a Leatherman™ on one side and an insulin pump o't'other.
I'm the guy who sometimes feels like he should be cast as the world-weary, sardonic vampire, if only because of the seen-it-all look, so many bodies in his wake, and that hard-learned lesson: "That we'll pass and be forgotten like the rest." Then he realizes it's hard to be cast in a comic book.
Sure, I understand that my town hates taxes, grammar, and youth. I know that nearby Fall River is filled with rats and 4529 people are running for mayor. city council, and whatever they pretend is a "school committee" so they can continue to inflict the very same policies that have filled the town with rats, bad schools, and official city websites that don't even publicize next weekend's Fall River Decides to Admit It's Part of America Celebration of Special Ness, featuring East LA faves Los Lobos, who couldn't play the New Bedford Festa because, well, you know. (Besides, what Catholic religious festival is complete without Lez Zeppelin?)
Maybe I really like The Beach.
I know I like you.
And as you leave the unlit porch to find your hybrid parked in the former barnyard of this northern outpost of the Conch Republic, I'll remind you:
"Drive carefully. I've been drinking."

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Town Without Pity

Lara Stone, right, is overcome with emotion as news of the override vote is announced as Nicole Heaney, center, and Beckie Schnakenberg look on.
JOHN SLADEWSKI/The Standard-Times

When you're young and so in love as we

And bewildered by the world we see

Why do people hurt us so

Only those in love would know

What a town without pity can do

If we stop to gaze upon a star

People talk about how bad we are

Ours is not an easy age

We're like tigers in a cage

What a town without pity can do

The young have problems, many problems

We need an understanding heart

Why don't they help us, try to help us

Before this clay and granite planet falls apart

Take these eager lips and hold me fast

I'm afraid this kind of joy can't last

How can we keep love alive

How can anything survive

When these little minds tear you in two

What a town without pity can do

How can we keep love alive

How can anything survive

When these little minds tear you in two

What a town without pity can do

No, it isn't very pretty

What a town without pity can do

-D. Tiomkin and N. Washington (you've heard Gene Pitney)