Monday, April 25, 2011

O My Lily of Killarney

They meant ''Kauai.'' Looks like Hanalei.I have only ever heard two people in Rhode Island utter the name of the last Hawaiian queen, and they both pronounced that name dramatically differently.
The first -- a Fifth Grade teacher who had our class memorize the locations of Union and Confederate losses as well as the names of the hapless generals whose incompetence he held as cause -- intoned the designation as some variation of "Lily O'Killarney."
The only other person who ever said the name was the breathtaking Sophronia (mentioned here and here) who, while recently visiting her alma mater Brown University and avoiding Emma Watson, exhaled the name of "Leeliwokeelahnay" incidentally, carelessly, and as though she were referring to her mother's great-aunt.
Which she probably was.
And that's what I got for mentioning Sarah Vowell's newest book and that it's about Hawaii.
As I steamed through Unfamiliar Fishes -- Sarah Vowell's gift to us dockbound vicarious history vacationers -- it was the latter's voice that I heard wrestling control from the unmistakably characteristic Sarah Vowell. Whenever I read a rumination of historical events ruminated upon by Sarah Vowell, I invariably hear the veritable voice of Sarah Vowell reading it. And this without the audiobook version.

Blame it on my decades of blade-and-tape audio editing, call screening, or phone center customer servicing, but once I've heard a voice, it's filed in the soggy attaché that I secret behind my eyes. But whenever I see a word that isn't German and possesses numerous neighboring vowels, I can hear Sophronia's luscious mezzo-soprano, casually and fragantly dropping the name of some secluded beach or other on the island where she herself exotically bloomed, moonlight dappling her soft cocoa skin, softly dusted by fine volcanic sand languorously affixed with playful errant splashes of warm salt sea...
You know, like humuhumunukunukuāpua‘a. Or kahlua. Or uhaul.
Although, a weekend running around the former Sandwiches with Sarah Vowell would be a pleasant diversion. She apparently knows everybody and certainly recognizes the best spots for plate lunch. And the bonus is that for every hike to Kealakekua Bay with her precious nephew, we get to hang out in a moldy house museum or library stacks with some ardent and single-minded archivist caricatures.

Although I am sure that we'd argue about whether sugar laborers or American whalers are the root of Hawaiian Portuguese cuisine.
I guess we'd just have to sample lots of it.
Unfamiliar Fishes is a fine sampler of another variety of fare.
One might button down Unfamiliar Fishes as a sequel to The Wordy Shipmates in that once again, Protestant busybodies in their missionary zeal spoil everything. The Wordy Shipmates features spot-on discussions of John "Ronald Reagan Will Misquote Me Often" Winthrop and our local celebrities Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson. These folks and their progeny -- divergent though their intentions were -- sank the hooks pretty deep into New England soil. Deep enough so that a new generation of clumsy genocidists feels compelled to exercise itself even further west and further demonstrate what a bunch of greedy clever prissy selfish hypocrites they were.
Unfamiliar Fishes testifies to a historian's vocation: to introduce us to people who can no longer edit themselves or tweak their own reputations. Sarah Vowell lets the participants tell their stories, usually in their own words, and sometimes repetitively. The still-wordy missionaries ("mikaneles"), Bible-literate haoles, ill-prepared maoli -- and their historical and contemporary mouthpieces. At one point, I found myself immersed in an engaging reminiscence of the Nation of Hawaii before it became clear that I had neglected to return to Sarah Vowell's book after briefly consulting Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen on my Kindle. I don't know if Sarah Vowell was channeling Queen Liliuokalani. Recently, I've found that technology sometimes troubles me.
Pre-ordering a new Sarah Vowell book and awaiting the Kindle upload date, I was put in mind of haunting the college pub, anticipating the presence of some sweet object of schoolboy fascination from History of Literature class.
You spend a lot of the night getting up the nerve, but when you do introduce yourself, you immediately fall in with a welcoming and agreeable companion.
You giggle about Andrew Marvell's time-consuming slampiece, sing along with the Neil Young on the jukebox (who THEHELL played that ?), quote The Brady Bunch and that funny NPR show, try the drink that the bartender has "been working on," and nobody exchanges numbers because you'll be in class Wednesday and Friday.
I was mailed a copy of The Wordy Shipmates, and even though I am a self-impressed gasbag recognized widely for "bombastic pomposity" (I can't let go), I never wrote a review. I understand that when someone sends you a book for free before it is even dropped, you probably should do. No such demands were made on me, but I said nice things anyway. In a brief statement about something else.
And then Sarah Vowell comes to New Bedford, sneaks around the Whaling Historical National Scenic Shopping District, and doesn't even have her people send a note to advise me that I have been officially snubbed.
Sarah Vowell has made some impression on the local Visitor's Center volunteer coterie. Just after the publication of her exchange with a decidedly emblematic New Bedfidgian ("Oh No Not Another Moby-Dickhead"), the Cetacean Holocaust National Paving Blocks Aren't Cobblestones Dammit Park people are actively seeking new volunteers who will gush about Melville's big ole book.
I am sure, however, that the New Bedford Office of Who's In Charge of Tourism This Week appreciates Sarah Vowell's strict observance of the "You can't say 'New Bedford' without saying 'Whaling Museum'" Law (although she missed the opportunity to comment on the "burgeoning arts scene" like everybody else does). I would like to sincerely thank her for not mentioning the name of the sham house museum/banquet facility that she claims to have visited while here, and then admitting that New Beige had some passing something to do with "sailors" in Hawaii. I beg her to not do a book about whaling even though her wit, scholarship, and charm would completely blow Nat Philbrick -- and Rory Nugent for that matter -- off the shelves. And I appreciate that a woman who doesn't drive begins her book at the Rainbow Drive-In in Honolulu.
It should also be noted that, given the opportunity to take on the very same subject matter -- the effects of mikanele on Hawaii -- I would have turned out a novelty pamphlet explaining how Mele Kalikimaka ever happened.
Mahalo to you Sarah Vowell.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Teams That Meet in Caffs

Recent distracting local scuttlebutt -- referencing the comic computer casino capers of an immodest, slovenly, malaprop-wielding, aliterate bumpkin who is generally hailed by some voters of Fall River as their heroic representative -- has put me in mind of my own short-lived dependence on "internet cafés" in the past. Actual Internet Cafés, like the ones that real businesspeople use to check their e-mail, communicate with clients and remain au courant with office hijinks; not dingy storefronts filled with unashamed seniors indulging their tawdry gaming proclivities. I patronized the former and repudiate the latter. As does the state Attorney General. For fifteen or so years, I have done my home computing at my home exclusively. Except for various smartphones in various settings. But this was not always my way. At a time low in the mid-Nineteen-Nineties, I delighted in hours at the helm of somebody else's Dad's weekend carousing barge, particularly if the old man wouldn't sail it himself all the way to the holiday nest at Cape Pickatrailer. (This was the below-the-radar work that offered itself whenever I swaggered my braggadocio-laden accounts of TallShips™ adventures: "Boat Delivery.") See how they put the Irish to work? I grabbed my Army-Navy surplus store Swiss gas mask bag (which held my Sony DiscMan and not much else), heaved myself and the Port-A-Potty 37's bowline onto the dock, and made my way into town, hoping that the walk would ameliorate my three-day sealegs and I would not disconcert others by appearing the proverbial drunken sailor. On the other hand, although it was mid-morning, my shipmates hoved themselves to the nearest bar in order to become just that. Let's call them, ''Frank'' and ''Ann.''They were a nice married couple who spoke their own language. Not an utterly foreign language -- he was from White Plains and she was from Newport -- but another language which consisted of a few common English words which seemed to represent significant terms, but not the ones that we're used to. Cooing and giggling furnished the rest of their vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation.

HE: Teehee gold seams (pause) Norfolk.
SHE: Yep. And Wednesday. Mmmmmm. Ha ha.

Experienced individually, either was a pleasant and sometimes downright clever conversationalist. Together, even my penchant for linguistic vagaries was stretched. I welcomed chatting with them each singularly; I enjoyed their tales of Caribbean ports and deliveries, and I often considered joining their much- and only just-contemplated boat charter company. All that I required was a 100-ton Near Coastal Master's ticket. (And that hadn't been secured during any of the years that I had been sailing, so, well, er...) But dinner theater and office job and steadier friendships on sturdier decks would happen and those waters would just have to wait. And wait. I remember her looking like Romy Schneider. And smelling like The Ripple Girl.Years before, as over-extended costumed interpreter and crew on a just-as-harebrained wooden ship, I had become unduly -- but discreetly, which is to say, unrequitedly -- enamored of a pierced-tongued Phish Phan who insisted that I procure something called a "HotMail account" so that we could "stay in touch." I failed to see the necessity of using a computer mail gadget for this, since she waited tables near the masts that I labored under and I could stalk ogle SEE her every day. I offered that justification to her, but on the quiet recalled that these internetwork on-line cyber things were rife with rumors of potential for abuse. Plus: "HotMail." Doesn't that sound kind of sordid? As longtime readers of this Journal know, I was living in the Eighteenth Century at the time. As that stupid TallShip™ prepared to cast off docklines and embark on yet another pointless meander up the coast, that enthralling hippie handed me a slip of paper that reeked of patchouli; it displayed her name with random numbers addended plus that @hotmail suffix. That was two years before I found myself wandering, through this particular North Carolina seaport college town, seeking caffeine and a newspaper, I spied a quaint storefront clean but festooned with the usual sort of college town concert, roommate, poetryreading fliers and ... something else. This coffee shop had computers. Four of them. That one could use to access the Internetwork. This was one of those things -- an Internet Café. A thirtysomething in a light linen suit sat clacking away at the keyboard, looking up every so often at the screen of the boxy television before him. A college kid was navigating AOL. And soon, I was sitting between them, searching for a slip of paper that I had hidden in the cover of a Liz Phair CD, fumbling my way through an awful e-mail to that enthralling hippie chick whose address was on that slip of paper, and revealed that I would be pulling into Cape Pickatrailer and since that's, um, well, I was just, you know, letting her know, because, well, you know, I might, um, you know, and uh...

That was the only "gambling" that I ever engaged in at any Internet café.

Some might remember cafés like this. Except, without the Internet. And the Jan Sterling.

(This presentation includes photographs of Maureen O'Sullivan, Annette Funicello with some guy, Romy Schneider, and Jan Sterling.)

Friday, April 1, 2011


5 foot, one-half inch.

  • Fortune magazine recently published another incrimination of suckers who still pay their employees. Awkwardly encumbered with an unnecessary question mark, it's entitled Unpaid jobs: The new normal? and will surely excite profiteers. The upshot is something that non-profits have known all along -- that the work of full-time benefitted workers is a drain on office resources and there are always eager volunteers to do the work required. With or without formal training or actual experience.
  • This is not to say that eager volunteers are unnecessary burdens to non-profits. Many of them are also entitled busy-bodies with an undeserved, over-developed sense of ownership.
  • They are not, however, unaware that the reason that they don't get paid to do their "jobs" is that the hole-in-the-ring leadership doesn't bother to do theirs. Which is to effectively raise revenue for the organization.

  • In my youth last century, the morning jitney ride to school provided a remarkable glimpse into what my first job in broadcasting would be like. That is to say: both were overseen by a cantankerous judgmental old coot who chomped on a cheap cigar during his shift and played mid- to lo-tempo Top Ten Hits on cheap equipment.
  • If I wasn't rolling my eyes at whatever noises issued forth out of a self-impressed maw, I was trying to drown out the sound by conjugating Latin verbs or rereading some funnybook or other.
  • I still thank both of these creepy geezers for the opportunities that they gave me to succeed in something other than what I was intending to do at the time. I chose to walk the mile to school on nicer days and eventually swore off toiling in the bitter desolate sham that is local AM Radio.
  • Local AM radio is still a bitter desolate sham, and still allowing its on-air types the opportunity to misquote and twist even simple pop culture references. Here, we hear one of those buffoons attribute a very famous line from "Cool Hand Luke" to the wrong actor. (Don't listen to the whole rambling "editorial;" the first ten seconds will suffice.) Here's the actual scene, with what the tiresome former newspaper man calls Paul Newman's "iconic wisecrack":

  • The former "Star Station" is now providing the opportunity to log on to their website and play tacky "sweepstakes" games. As soon as you give them a bunch of personal information. All you need is an ashtray and a styrofoam cup of Cremora, and you're ready to play scratch-off games online!
  • Just like the ones you could play if the authorities hadn't just shut down the "internet cafes" owned by a pathologically mischief-making city councillor.
  • Remember when I said that I'd forgive Fall River anything because I believe in the city where I was born? APRIL FOOLS!
  • Jane Powell was never referred to as "J-Poww."
    • Suzanne Lorraine Burce

      (This presentation celebrates Jane Powell.)