Saturday, August 29, 2009

Oliver Wendell Holmes' birthday

Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon’s roar;
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more.

Her deck, once red with heroes’ blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o’er the flood,
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor’s tread,
Or know the conquered knee;
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!

Oh, better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,
The lightning and the gale!

The picture above (from an annual report of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society/ New Bedford Whaling Museum) is of U.S.S. Constitution visiting New Bedford harbor sometime before the turn of the Twentieth Century. Revel in the juxtaposition of the great Boston Brahmin's birthday, his poem, and a grateful nation bidding farewell to a tireless advocate for its citizens and their rights.
Although "the dream lives on" may have a better ring to it, the last last four lines of "Old Ironsides" are also eerily appropriate.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Congratulations, Mike

For those of you who have clicked on the Mike Perham link down in The Gam section on the starboard rail and discovered the gumption and capitalist enthusiam that is Mike Perham, Mike has done gone all the way around the world by boat in the water.
Unfortunately, the boat is called, which is a little embarrassing while the world's economy is collapsing, but I didn't name it.
Nor did I sail it.
Mike did, and I congratulate him on completing "the voyage for madmen." Especially since he's the youngest person ever to do it.
Now, we'll talk when teen Jessica Watson Jessicadoes it.
And then again very possibly when thirteen-year-old Dutch New Zealander (you'll have to read the story) Laura Dekker steals her own boat and escapes child protection custody to give it her own go.I've sailed with Dutch children. And Kiwis. I imagine this will not end pleasantly for anyone who's over the age of fifteen.Kids today.

...and another thing:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Edward M. Kennedy

.I don't want to hear any of the clumsy or half-hearted eulogies
I don't want to hear the smug laughter of his enemies
I just want to remember that one man spent my entire life working for me.

Friday, August 21, 2009


The official Connecticut state ship and flagship of the Connecticut fleet, the topsail schooner Amistad has ducked in behind the New Bedford Harbor hurricane barrier in anticipation of this weekend's blow.
There's a Don Cuddy story on the Standard-Time's website. You know Don, he gets to do all the yachtie stories because his name is a boat part. I link to it so that I don't have to drive over to the pier myself and deal with the ogling idiots who think that it's the boat from the movie.
You know, the Spielberg movie that they filmed in Newport, and I might have done something in. The one where Anthony Hopkins plays a much older Paul Giamatti.
Amistad is a remarkable story, and I urge you to seek it out.
I have an especial fondness for topsail schooners, and that's mainly because I don't believe that any ship is properly rigged without at least one yard. In the above photograph, I see two. (This is what makes me Third Mate. The keen observation skills.)
When I was a superannuated trustafarian living on a TallShip™ tied off to a pier -- any pier -- I would sometimes engage in lively conversations with families who passed by. The ones who balked at the boarding fee and thought that they could get me to give them the educational tour as they stood ticketless on the dock.
In most cases, I instructed them to merely listen as I proceeded with the tour already in progress....and this is where the captain keeps his bababooey...But every so often, as I polished the binnacle or made like I was battening down something, I would hear fathers explaining to their sons the niceties of Eighteenth Century rigging.
I heard a lot of "pirate" malarkey, but this was long before the Pirates of the Caribbean ride was made into the MerchandisingCashCow Trilogy.
Not that there weren't late Twentieth Century attempts by Hollywood at popularizing the "arr, matey" crap, but I'm talking about the innovational era contiguous to Cutthroat Island, the movie that killed Geena Davis's career, and to Chris Elliot's Cabin Boy. The popular culture of that part of last century really had nothing to steer by, squarerig-wise.
Sometimes the sound of an earnest entreaty would ring in my ears and I would have to respond.
"You see that, son? That's a slave ship."
I was in a "certain southern port," so I was expecting to next hear whoops of appreciation from yokels wearing the Stars'n'Bars. I wasn't expecting to see the Huxtables.
"No," I waved, trotting down the boarding plank toward Cliff, "No, we're not a slave ship, we're a ... well, the original ship had a ... well, mutiny..."
A mutiny by an entitled bipolar Manxman and his loose-bound gang of also-rans against a depressive obsessive Naval careerist just doesn't seem like much when you're talking to descendants of people who had been yanked from their homes, imprisoned, stuffed into stinking ships' holds, brought thousands of miles under wretched conditions, and sold ... at auction as ...
We had a nice chat. I explained that slavery was made illegal in 1783 in Massachusetts -- the homewaters of my Twentieth Century ship. That the actual Bounty had set sail nearly twenty years after slavery was made illegal in England. That none of the ships that you see when you go to these TallShip™ events have any history of dealing in slavery or the slave trade -- no matter what pay or conditions the contemporary crew might grouse about. (In character, I explained that I abhorred the very idea of the slave trade, no matter how much rum it gave the world.)
I shared the history stuff because I had lived it. Oh sure, I ended up working on ships that taught inner city youth the values of "teamwork" and "responsibility," and those experiences I found both enjoyable and fulfilling. But for the most part, we all denied that ships "like these" had anything to do with "that stuff."
So that is why Amistad has to do what they do. From their website:

Each year the Amistad tours ports throughout the Atlantic Ocean that have historical significance to the story of the Atlantic Slave Trade - from the US East Coast to Europe, West Africa and the Caribbean. As an educational organization, our mission is to provide a transformative experience for students through an intense and direct reexamination of the history of the Atlantic Slave Trade and its legacy found throughout the nations of the Atlantic Basin. We believe that confronting that past in an academically rigorous and experiential manner can profoundly enlighten students about the struggles for freedom that has marked nearly 400 years of history.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"...that's the kind of town it is."

Never stayed here. Because I didn't have to. Because I was in a house.In what is NOT a turnaround (I still have strong feelings about the book), I'm sending best regards to Rory Nugent, the adventurer who scribbled that little love poem to New Bedford, Down at the Docks.
Funny thing about Neue Beige (I think that's the spelling on the T-shirt): It's just any old fishing town until you walk at least a block from the waterfront. And I'm not just talking about the Belgian block streets and pretty lampposts.
Last century, I worked in downtown New Bedford. I was the guy who could get you things, the legal things that you were too lazy to get for yourself; I understood the use of electricity and all of its various doohickeys, like "spigots" and "sheaves"; I knew the guy with the crazy hair; I could get you water sometimes with ice, or even a glass; I was the guy that you didn't question when he drove down Water Street in a Bobcat; I wasn't smoking, I was just holding the cigarette for Johnny until he got back; I was mentioned in a Letter to the Editor and in one strange techno song by some guy (I think it was a guy) at an open-mic night at the New Wave; and, I was the first person to eat at most places that are no longer there.
I worked in New Bedford.
I parked my car in New Bedford every day on Johnny Cake Hill, across from the Seamen's Bethel. The famous one, with the bow for a lectern. I mention this so that I can make the obligatory reference to Moby-Dick. (I comply with New Bedford literary law.)
After a while, I moved on and toiled at other, not city-bound tasks.
And then I ended up in a hospital with complications from Lyme Disease. My kidneys shut down and New Bedford's professional medical personnel hooked me up to a dialysis machine every other day and I was put on the transplant list.
A remarkable series of occurrences followed. There were cards and notes and calls from New Bedford folk who I knew intimately and from some that I had met only once. The hat was passed among New Bedford and out-of-town artists, professors, lawyers, actors, writers, musicians, ministers, dope-smokers, dockworkers, sailors, fishermen, shopkeepers and restaurateurs, moms, dads, kids... And I was presented with an immensely thoughtful gift that would help me to occupy the time as I awaited either full renal collapse or a new kidney.
It is logically improbable that my friends in New Bedford restored my kidney function merely by being such generous and thoughtful people. Much of the credit belongs to My Beloved, for her patience and scientific attention to dietary detail.
But every time I look at or listen to that iPod, I am reminded that there is something -- something positive -- about the city of New Bedford.
When I write my book about New Bedford, that would be the story that I would tell.
I've recently heard that Rory Nugent has been in dock dealing with some health issues of his own, and I ask all of my mates to join me and share a thought for a fellow sailor who once tied off in the Whaling City.
My social connection to Nugent is certainly an obscure one, but here's the gist of my message: "Tell him that I said "Hey" and that I'm serious about sending my sincere regards from New Bedford and that we're pulling for him."
Because that's the kind of town we are.

In Other News...

Here's a story that won't surprise anyone who's done it. As long as you don't keep reading and think of how many ways this guy could sound more like Jack London than Julie London:

Radio Days

Some of my fondest radio memories -- memories of working in radio, that is -- are the lively conversations that pertained to professional and societal standards and how I felt that it was up to us to maintain them and how nobody else really gave a crap.
In general, I admired my bosses because I had to. I did not begrudge them their positions, nor did I demean their Connecticut School of Broadcasting certificates just because my family and I had spent a couple of million for my own education.
That, however, did not keep them from calling me "the smarty-pants college kid."
Although these conversations generally ended with me slamming the production studio door and calling someone an "indolent hapless clod," I still recall those days with fondness. Because whatever rancor there was existed without someone ever saying it into a microphone or for an audience.
I liked working in radio.
Back then.
I feel, however, somewhat culpable for the ensuing chaos and complete destruction of civilization.
As radio disc jockeys keep right on talking in order to fill dead air, Broadcasting itself is usually coming up with new ways to continue without sacrificing meaninglessness.
A station can announce that it is Number One in a market where there is only one aspirant. And if there were other competitors, it announces that it's Number One anyway.
Every radio station is THE FIRST "at the scene" or "with the forecast" or "with the score."
And no one ever questions that logic.
No one ever claims that the arguments have to involve logic, and it seems best for the show if the premise is loud, catchy, and wrong.
A radio "personality" claimed that his talent was "on loan from god." And no one was offended or even taken aback. Because he's "just" an entertainer, and entertainers can say anything.
Because they're "just" kidding. They're "just" on teevee, "just" on radio. Or they're "just" exercising their right to "Free Speech."
Which suddenly becomes a very popular term when ludicrous personalities say ridiculous things. Which is now a model of deportment. Apparently:

Poor Barney. It doesn't matter what the little girl says. The argument is framed so that you cannot answer it. If you don't tell them exactly what they want to hear , you are "evasive." If you point out the absurdity of the question, they will call you "arrogant."
Reason isn't as important as The Last Word.
We knew this back in the "answer-the-question-let-me-finish-why-don't-you-let-me-answer-the-question-you-never-let-me-finish" days of talk radio. I know that we never meant for it to come to this, but we were blind to our impact as we climbed down the ladder into the muck that the media has become.
I hate The Beach.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Weather Alerts, to starboard

After reading Down at the Docks, Rory Nugent's "personal history" of some miserable little fishing village called, I guess, "Nuge Bedford," I now feel very self-conscious about inserting myself into my own journal.
I'll get over that, I'm sure, and I have no aspiration to simply wander into a scene, announce that I've just delivered a boat or driven around aimlessly with a junkie and then whip up a paragraph or two with names, dates, and statistics to inveigle some respect or trust out of you readers.
To be sure, I have made some disparaging remarks concerning communities on The Beach. But The Beach is where I am. I use this forum to cast out some of the putresence that passes for discriminate confederacy here where "sailing" is a slapdash luxury for sportive pueriles or a pedantic opportunity for those who obsess over factory specifications. Those "blogs" do very well, I'm sure.
At the nav station, I gravitate to the weatherfax or the Weatherpak or the computer with the NOAA hookup. You're aware -- because you are observant and you are actually on this site and not reading it on a Blackberry like I am -- that over to starboard I publish a list of severe weather notifications that I keep relatively current.
When I hear about an Atlantic storm, I'll give you the link to the National Hurricane Center page where you can observe information about that particular weather event.
I do this because weather is a hobby that teaches and rewards.
I hope that these releases furnish you with some advantage during the Atlantic storm season.

It's National Rum Day!

Celebrate appropriately.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Book not review

I dreaded reading this book, so maybe that colored my reaction to it somewhat. But since the library limits the time in which one must do such reading, I soldiered on, sure that it would be in some way rewarding, and I would get it back to the next unfortunate.
Every eight paragraphs or so, I would have to stop to seethe or check a streetmap or go back to find a contradiction planted three pages earlier. So, there was that.
I will admit that Rory Nugent is a lyrical and beautifully poetic -- if idiosyncratically gimmicky and affected -- writer. Whom I remember personally only as a local crank.
And now I know why he always seemed so cranky: Because if this book is any indicator, he hung around with the biggest losers in New Bedford and possibly in all of Southeastern New England. He introduces these fictional fanciful conglomerate personalities in Down at the Docks, a miserable gazette of slanders, half-apprehensions, urban legends,and hyperbole which allow a cabal of caricatures to engage in grousing and gossipy distortions. Oddly, it doesn't seem that any of these characters live in the same town or even on the same coast. One of them isn't, but you don't know when, even though he gives current teevee touchstones that don't really settle anything. Much of the book seems to wander from decade to decade, and the characters don't seem to know each other, even while working the same waterfront.
But maybe that's what Nugent is saying.
That the joke's on "lubbers."
Whatever we do is invisible to these characters "at the docks." After all, they don't seem to get more than a couple of blocks past the City Pier. There are no museums or theaters or galleries or musicians or philanthropic enterprises in the book. And not one character down there has ever given a dime to support any museum or theater or gallery or musician or philanthropic enterprise. These people don't donate. They don't participate. They don't communicate. So, thanks Rory, for letting us know what they're thinking.
Besides "not about the rest of town."
"O, woe are the empty buildings and rusty hulks at the wharves... o, what corruption there must be that turns all the residents to drugs and crime!"
Yeah, we get it!
Nugent's geography of New Bedford is that of a straining tourist, not that of a longtime city resident. One imaginary ancient sage mariner that we meet can see the docks of the waterfront from behind the Public Library (The truth? You can barely see the docks on the waterfront from the roof of the Public Library because there's five blocks of buildings and trees in the way). Describing the famous National Club (rumored to soon become a steakhouse, btw) as "hard by the docks" is okay if you ignore the six-lane highway that keeps the National from actually being "hard by the docks."
On the back of the book is the ISBN barcode that insists that the book belongs in the "sociology" section. The copyright page also gives the Library of Congress' misreckoning of the book as 1.New Bedford (Mass.)--History. I warn any sociologist or historian to reconsider that gubmint labeling. Accounts of anecdotal and apocryphal tales that have blown around the docks and wafted up into town are not "history."
That's "gossip."
That's not to say that Down at the Docks is not well-researched. But besides consulting magazine clippings and quoting from the World Almanac, it's the kind of research that you can get by sitting at a table in a bar or restaurant or -- in my case -- at work. Anecdotal and apocryphal tales of rumors, told with a sneer and a wink, can be entertaining. I've heard all of the cute and naughty stories about scrimshaw "ladies' toys" and sperm whale penises in closets. Because I know some of the people who made up those stories.
And I had to pack, move, catalog, and find archival storage for all of that.
The chapter everyone giggles about in the reviews, "Whalebone," is typical of Nugent's breezy carelessness. After four chapters of constantly reminding the reader that New Bedford is a dying city of hookers and thugs and indigent low-class parasites sucking off the fishing industry for handouts and careers, Nugent paints a portrait of the Great Mary of Nantucket. First, though, he has to get to the obligatory and patronizing "horny dykes dancing in the parking lot" scene and then, in an attempt at atonement, introduces a "woman in nontraditional careers" bit. Then we get to the "history" -- seen through the smoky lens of a some fictional drama queen.
Nugent misidentifies the historic island's community as "Puritan" and only recognizes Mary Coffin Starbuck as a Quaker when it's convenient -- after playing out a tedious and assuredly inaccurate period drama of domestic abuse. Through the spooky rich old lady narrator, that fancy becomes some kind of comic book origin story which turns the good women of Nantucket into some kind of lesbian Illuminati.
And what the hell are we doing on Nantucket in the first place? Not that I have any problem with lesbian Illuminati, but, don't you pad the book out enough in the last rambling chapter, where you simply list all the negative aspects of New Bedford. Again.
Nugent is insistent about what he perceives as the real character of New Bedford: The Mob controls everything ("The Mob" is either "unions" or that one guy from Providence called "Patriarca") . People don't conjugate the verb "to be" so they all sound like pirates or end words with "-like" so that they sound like an Irish carpenter; they say "stick" when they mean "a thousand dollars" and "cheese" when the mean "money." Everybody hates "the man," and "the man" is anyone who isn't "them." Surrounded by PCBs, losers, drug smuggling, substandard English, anti-federalism, teens with semiautomatic weapons, constant sewage overflows, racist violence, violent racists, high school dropouts, drug addicts, and drunks, their businesses fail and they swindle somebody in order to get by. And they wear oilskins. I do admire how he tried to avoid the "cobblestone versus Belgian block" controversy by using macadam. (Unfortunately, that is also wrong.)
Oh, and thanks for reminding everybody about "Big Dan's."

One night while perusing the selection of gins behind the open bar at an arts fundraiser gala in New Bedford, a waspish yachtie cornered your Third Mate in what I thought was an attempt to accredit his own salty seaman cred (which, incidentally, was already substantial). "Buzz" hiccupped his way through bawdy tales he had heard while volunteering at the Nantucket Historical Society. A few moments of that was entertaining enough.
We don't all know the work required on the ships that provide the world with scallops, but we don't need to know that our neighbors who do that work are junkies and creeps.
Because they are not.
I mentioned Down at the Docks to a few folks, who waved it off, saying that they "really never get down to the docks ... Hard work, those guys. Good for them."
I wish that it were.

This doesn't ALWAYS happen...

Why does it seem that whenever NOAA announces a midseason correction on its outlook for the Atlantic Hurricane Season (that is: we can thank El Niño for less stormy tropical waters, at least in the Atlantic), something like this pops up off Cape Verde within 48 hours?

...And so, fellow stockholders... umm... I direct ... your attention... Hey Look! It's Thelma Todd! (you can read all the fancy weather writing if you click on the map)

Toddy? That's the binnacle. You're supposed to steer with the helm. The WHEEL. No, the OTHER wheel.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Charles W. Morgan readying to whale sail again. (Economy willing, of course)

(A friend in Chicago hepped me to this yesterday. Why are we always the last to know about this stuff?) This is from the Boston Herald:

MYSTIC, Conn. — Trustees at Mystic Seaport are considering whether to restore what they call the world’s last wooden whaling ship so it can sail again.
Museum officials announced Tuesday that they’re studying the feasibility of restoring the Charles W. Morgan, which was built in 1841 and named a National Historic Landmark in 1966.
Trustees plan to review the study results late next month and make a decision. The museum has already begun a $6 million renovation of the ship, and upgrades to make it sail again would cost an extra $2 million...
There's more here. Me? I'm just trying to assemble all of the pieces of New Bedford's real last whaler Me and Wanderer. NBWM has a topmast. Part of the main is in front of the Kinsale in Mattapoisett. I have a neat picture.-- Wanderer -- and get back to "orderly development of the whaling industry." Just like the International Whaling Commission wants.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Gratuity Angels

Archy Taylor says: "It was bad. The 'chew'n'screw' crowd was bad enough, with their dine and dash mentality. But then you've got the tipcheats. If they left a nickel or a buck, you were lucky. TEN percent? HAH! It had gone far enough. Too far enough."
And so Taylor, along with a group of fellow restaurant frequenters, started the Gratuity Angels. "At first, if we noticed a 'light' tip on the counter in the diner, we'd just leave another buck to even the total up. Eventually, we'd talk to the guy."
Within months, the movement had become so widespread that Taylor started deputizing tippers. By 2009, the Gratuity Angels have over 140 chapters in New York City alone; members have developed iPhone apps for tip computation; and classroom courses about service appreciation are taught in some grammar schools.
Things have changed since the bad old days. The classic tipcheat might leave jingly change. No bills. During the Reagan administration, the years dubbed "The Me Decade," things were worse. The practice of stiffing because of imagined slights or impractical expectations became endemic.
"Oh sure," Archy laments, "A hundred bucks for the doorman or the D.J. or the maître d'. But all a waitress might get was a leering glance down her blouse. Or worse. We took care of those guys." Since the Gratuity Angels have a strict "no touch" policy, that often meant simply moving the offending bar patron's stack of bills to the tip jar.
Or the Angel would simply leave a bigger tip.
This is still a favored tactic today because not only does it compensate a stiffed worker, it also acts as a means by which to lay a pretty heavy guilt trip on the tipcheat.
Of course, there are those who will say that they don't need to be reminded how to tip or when or how much.
"Tips are not your opportunity to tell a worker how badly he or she works. Tips are your opportunity to take ownership in your community and your community's businesses. The whole economy. As a whole. It all comes back to you -- are you doing your part to help the economy, or are you cheating us all? Are you not lifting a finger to end this global recession?
Sure, there's taxes, but everybody pays them. A Tip is You. Your opportunity to excel as an individual."
Local government sometimes balks at a citizens group taking matters like this into its own hands. "One mayor just figured that everybody would tip properly because he thinks it's a polite town. A lot of communities aren't like that. We're the last best hope for gratitude in a lot of
communities. Families don't eat together to share tips about tipping. Like: how to move the decimal to find ten percent and then multiplying by two to get you twenty percent. Fun stuff. Like that. We make tipping fun again. We have an in-school group of theater students that does role plays and games, teaching proper tip etiquette. You'd be surprised how many kids don't even know to expect a tip for delivering newspapers."
What about the people who call them the 'Tip Police' or the 'Twenty Percenters?' What about detractors?
"Sure, there's people who think that it's none of our business. That they know how to tip. Well, good for them! 'Keep it up,' I say! But you can't expect everyone to. Tip.
"There was one sad bunch of jerks who said that it wasn't in their rational best interest to tip. That workers were
compensated plenty for their work, and it wasn't up to them to supplement other peoples' incomes. We addressed that attitude in newspaper editorials, but this gang persisted. Because they were used to writing bitchy letters to the editor. But, like all of their other efforts, they didn't have the staying power and people simply got tired of their nonsense. Sometimes they'd leave a copy of The Fountainhead or just a a cover ripped off Atlas Shrugged. Hah hah. Very funny. But that died down when everybody realized the books sucked and most Tipjectivists were just selfish wackos who never would have tipped anyways."
Tipping, especially on this grand a scale, runs into some money. The Gratuity Angels Endowment Fund helps. Since its
inception in the mid-Nineties, the endowment has grown steadily and sometimes reinforces the work of Gratuitors in some hard-strapped areas. But "mostly, good tippers occur naturally and can even spread," Taylor admits.
Comparisons to Curtis Sliwa's Guardian Angels are certainly unavoidable. But Archy Taylor denies any crass imitation.
"Of course, Sliwa [who was a manager at a fast food restaurant] is after bigger game. Nobody tips at McDonald's, so tipping's not on his radar. We absolutely certainly help the red jacket and beret guys whenever asked."
Addressing the matter of uniforms, Taylor is resolute. "We do most of our work indoors. A man doesn't wear a hat -- even a beret -- indoors. 'Angels don't hide their halos under millinery' is our motto. Well, one of our mottoes. Well, it's more like a slogan. That I just made up. Not a motto."
Reminded that headgear is commonplace in the general population, Archy responds with characteristic inventive aplomb. "Here's another step we're trying to take, and an exciting one that'll create jobs. Hat checks. Minimum of expense -- heck, some places already have 'em from the old days. And it's another opportunity to show that you're a great tipper."

Archy leaves us with one bon mot, a 'tip' for us all, if you will: "Tipping comes at the end of the meal, just like dessert. Which is always good. So enjoy!"