Feb 12 2015
I can’t embed this in the post for some reason, but for some reason this video fascinates me. Why the spinning Popeye Arms?
Feb 12 2015
I can’t embed this in the post for some reason, but for some reason this video fascinates me. Why the spinning Popeye Arms?
Feb 11 2015
The blizzard's moving in Looks like you're wrong again When cabin fever hits It sends us into fits Of innkeeper's disease And screaming in the trees The blizzard never ends The blizzard buries them Blizzards, Buzzards, Bastards -- Scissorfight
I haven’t been outside for more than five minutes at a time over the last three weeks of this wretched winter. My skin feels like I’ve been belt-sanded while I sleep. Vitamin D levels are at all-time lows. The cars have slush udders and are rusting out before my eyes. The driveway is where hips go to break. Yesterday I staggered to the shower, turned it on, stepped in and shrank my head in water piped down from the taiga thanks to an empty oil tank (who knew the oil guy can’t get his hose from the street over a eight-foot tall cornice of grey plow drifts to the pipe around the back of the house?). The dog defecates freely inside the house, have long ago called bullshit on any attempts to drive it out into the drifts to do its business. Strange birds desperate for food and water hang around the feeders and fight among themselves. The 180 miles of daily driving on the wonderful highways of eastern Massachusetts each and every morning are doing evil things to my soul.
People my age who live in wretched snow globe all have a Blizzard of ’78 story and every single one has the following structure:
This winter seems to be more about lynching the new governor, Charlie “The Darkness” Baker, the decrepit MBTA, and sucking it up. In the words of the Norwegians, there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.
But I love it here. For this makes us Spartans.
Jan 11 2015
I’ve had to do this and it is not fun. The way it works is this: you leave the boat in the water through January expecting to do some clamming, then one night the temperatures dip into the teens and you realize your beloved watercraft is about to get locked into the ice. So what to do but don those waders and find some friends and do a little ice breaking?
Jan 11 2015
I know. I suck. I’ve been ignoring this poor blog and that’s not right. So, in no particular order, here’s a dump:
Dec 08 2014
A poignant post by Om Malik that I guess was sparked by my maudlin post on the good old days. Funny how he celebrates his eight years off the cigs when I posted a snapshot of the entrance to the old Forbes.com newsroom where we’d loiter on the sidewalk smoking his Dunhills talking trash talk about our corporate overlords.
Nov 16 2014
The time came in college where I had to foot the bill and as part of my tuition plan I needed to work a campus job. The usual scholarship gig was washing dishes in the dining hall — one of those hair-netted jobs that seemed embarrassing because you cleaned up after your friends, but when I went to the campus employment agency to fill out a form I happened to be there as a courtly looking professor kind of man was posting a job in the Sterling Memorial Library’s print shop for a printer’s devil.
I interrupted his conversation with the clerk and introduced myself. He was Professor Dale Roylance, the curator of the library’s typography collection and its Arts of the Book department, a room on the ground floor that displayed the art and science of typography from Gutenberg through the modern era. He questioned my qualifications, he was looking for an experienced printer’s devil with some time in one of the many letterpresses around the residential colleges; and realizing there was no bullshitting the man I was honest and admitted to having no experience or even interest in bibliography and letterpresses. I was a writer and wanted to experience the mechanics of book making first hand and appreciated the craft from having run my high school newspaper and the agony of producing that every week. He was skeptical, but agreed to give me a chance. He warned me the work was tedious and messy — largely consisting of cleaning up after him, wiping up ink, cleaning platens, and putting type back in its proper cases. He’d teach me anything I wanted to learn, but only after I took care of the boxes of scrambled or “pi’d” type and various chores such as cutting mats for exhibits, and being his errand boy around the other presses on campus.
Every afternoon from one to three, I’d walk to the library, step behind the main library call desk, walk down stairs to the vast basement and unlock the door to the Yale Bibliographic Press. On the main bench would be a list of things Professor Roylance wanted done. Go crosstown to the plate maker and pick up some copper engravings. Un-ink and then unlock two chases — the iron rectangles where the type was set, spaced and locked down with quoins — and return the type to the right job box. Set and print six copies of the new library hours and mount in the wrought iron frames at the entrances. Run over to the Beinecke Rare Book Library and get a few rare botanical woodcuts for some forthcoming exhibit. Pop up to the fifth floor map collection and ask the curator for a list of maps for a forthcoming exhibition on Colonial cartography.
I’d turn on the campus FM radio station and play jazz in the subterranean press room while I put on an apron, folded a sheet of the New Haven Register into a pressman’s cap, and pushed around a pushbroom for a while. The press had to be kept clean. Dust ruined print runs and Roylance was a little OCD — which I came to learn was a requisite character trait in a good printer. The worst part of the job was breaking down the chases he’d left behind — he was nearly never there when I was there, preferring long lunches at the Faculty Club to managing me — full pages of type for some special project he was working on. Type setting (and un-setting) is done using a wooden tray criss-crossed with dividers known as a California job box. This is like a QWERTY keyboard of sorts — every letter had its own special compartment, and each box comprised the totality of that type face in one specific point size. The Bibliographic had full sets of Times New Roman, Goudy, Baskerville and Garamond in every size from 6 to 96 point in bold as well as italic versions. There were other fonts as well, but just the main four typefaces occupied a huge storage space, each job box weighing over 25 pounds.
The brilliance of the job box was the size of each letter’s compartment was proportional to the frequency of each letter’s use in the English language. Hence “E” had the biggest compartment and “Q” one of the smallest. One learns to “touch-type” and work a case without looking at it, and with practice the task of returning type to the box gets fairly automated. Setting type, the act of composing a line of text, was far more fun and challenging. A tool called a “composing stick” is used, set to the appropriate width of the text and held in one hand while the other hunts through the job box for the next letter or spacer.
Composing backwards and upside down takes some getting used to, and I was slow and sloppy with my leading, hyphenation and never had the patience to do justified margins.
There were three presses in the Bibliographic Press, but the prize was the 1830-era Albion drop press. I loved that press. It was one of the old Benjamin Franklin style presses, with a big lever one would grab with both hands and swing to drop the platen and make the impression. This is the Albion from the Bibliongraphic Press. It’s since been pulled out of the basement and put on display. I worshiped this thing.
While placards and exhibit note cards were the stuff I was mainly asked to print, occasionally Professor Roylance would pop in and teach me some new aspect of the craft. One month he taught me how to make marbled end papers, a cool process like a Grateful Dead light show at the Fillmore where a solution is prepared, inks are “floated” and swirled into amazing patterns, and a sheet of paper is pulled up to lift the inks from the carrying solution. I remember the recipe called for carrageenan, a gelatin derived from a particular kind of Irish seaweed. Roylance also taught me binding, leather work, embossing, the fine points of spacing and of course the amazing glossary of specialized terms known to printers as part of the craft.
The library became a home – a monastery away from classes, my social life, my daily rowing practices. It was one of three jobs I held down. The first was delivering the New York Times every morning to 300 campus subscribers — a dark o’clock job that involved running up lots of dorm stairs on the eastern side of the campus and which got me warmed up for the morning crew practice at the Payne-Whitney gymnasium where running a dozen flights of stairs a dozen times every day was the worst part of the off-season training regimen. In the evening, after the crew team returned from Derby and the Housatonic Rover, I’d put in two hours at the Chapel Street Wine Shop, delivering kegs of beer around campus in the store’s incredibly abused delivery van (more running of stairs, only this time with full kegs of Heineken or Michelob). But the library was the best. It smelled … like a grandfather. It was an amazing stack of precious knowledge made even more cool by the glowing alabaster walls of the Beinecke Rare Book library, a cube rumored to have a Halon fire extinguisher system that could suck all the oxygen out, kill the patrons and staff, but save the rarest books on the planet. Walking past a Gutenberg bible, getting to hold the original palimpsest of Lord Jim with Conrad’s corrections and notes, checking out Captain John Smith of Virginia’s map of the New England coast — the same map he gave to Prince Charles to do the honors of naming the places on it (hence the future King named the Charles River after himself). Beinecke was the library to end all libraries, but Sterling was my favorite.
The library was, for me, the best part of the last Indiana Jones movie. Sterling is the setting of the end of the motorcycle chase through the Yale campus at the 2:44 mark.
Cartography was, and still is, a happy thing for me, especially staring at antique nautical charts. One of the best classes I took in college was taught in the Sterling Memorial Library’s map collection by the map collection curator, Alexander Vietor. The only assignment I remember was to use the university’s computer lab to develop a computer generated map using quantitative inputs. The whole thing was done on punch cards which were submitted for a batch processing run and then output onto a big graphics plotter. I did a map of New England ports with each proportionally sized according to the numbers of barrels of whale oil landed in each in 1824. Between that class and my daily duties in the press, I got to handle some amazing maps, stuff that has come back to the public consciousness thanks to E. Forbes Smiley — the map thief chronicled in an excellent book published last spring by a Boston author, Michael Blanding: The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps.
E. Forbes Smiley III was a well known dealer in rare maps who served a select set of private collectors (one of whom, Norman B. Leventhal, owns some homes here in Cotuit and donated his collection to the Boston Public Library). Smiley, an over-extended, suave self-taught expert in colonial American maps, resorted to theft from a half-dozen university libraries, stealing hundreds of one-of-a-kind maps over the years by simply ripping them out of atlases. His undoing was when he dropped an X-Acto knife on the rug at the Beinecke in 2004 and was arrested and investigated by the FBI. His impact on Yale, Harvard, the New York and Boston Public Libraries is incalculable. I read the book with keen interest, realizing I had personally handled some of the materials Smiley stole. There were a lot of scholars and collectors who passed through the Sterling and Beinecke stacks in the late 70s when I was a student at Yale and Smiley was still a student at Hampshire College. Some wealthy student bibliophiles were renowned for their dorm room collections. One, the scion of a Manhattan real estate empire, was operating a thriving business on campus as an undergrad, and another went on to be Smiley’s more vocal critic, W. Graham Arader III, who was dealing rare maps from a Yale dorm room during my time in New Haven. The New York Times said of Arader at the time of Smiley’s arrest: “At Yale, he [Arader] said, he focused on “blondes and squash,” but became interested in maps after he met Alexander Orr Vietor, the curator of Yale’s map collection. Before long, Mr. Arader was selling maps from his dormitory room. “I love maps, and when you get hooked, you get hooked,” he said.
I was hooked but more on the book making side of things and less on collecting stuff. After all I was paying my through school and my earnings from the library went right to the bursar to off-set my tuition. My masterpiece was the printing of a full chapter of Moby Dick — Chapter 23, “The Lee Shore” — made famous in the great baseball novel, The Art of Fielding. After graduation, when I applied for a internship at the Boston publishing house of David Godine (publisher of Andre Dubus among others), Godine himself, a bit of a prickly man, was ready to blow me off as just another Yale grad dishwasher looking for a publishing job when I pulled my manuscript out and handed it over for his inspection. He pulled out a loupe and started examining my kerning and inking very carefully, criticizing the descenders on my “P’s” and generally ripping apart my work before looking up, smiling and saying, “I started out with a letterpress in my barn. It gets in your blood. The ink I mean. Doesn’t it?” I landed the internship (unpaid of course) but the best memory of my eleemosonary employment at Godine was when he handed back the Melville manuscript and told me it was “nice work.”
It’s sad what Smiley did to some irreplaceable maps but he also changed the way libraries operate and from the book’s account, ruined forever a sense of trust they had in the scholars who depend on them. Extensive security, new rules, and a general climate of mistrust has crept in behind the damage Smiley’s done. Whatever undergrad is lucky enough be the Sterling Memorial Library’s printer devil probably doesn’t get the keys to the kingdom like I felt I had.
I offer this because I started musing about my career in “content management” and my place as the last of the “typewriter generation” — those 50-somethings who didn’t have computers in college but did their work on Olivettis, Smith Coronas and IBM Selectrics. As I finished my first novel the final semester of my senior year (unpublished but proudly sitting on a shelf in the Scholar of the House collection inside the Sterling), the college’s Scholar of the House program arranged for me to hire a professional typist to produce the final manuscript. Due to the deadline I would drive to her home in Orange, Connecticut and spend hours transcribing onto her new Wang word processor, the first of it’s kind with big floppy discs the size of album covers. Those green letters on the black screen. The ability to move paragraphs, to cut and paste …. it marked the beginning of three decades working with words on computers. That summer, as a cub reporter at the Cape Cod Times, I worked on a typewriter, glued my pages together with a pot of rubber cement, and moved stuff around by cutting it out with scissors and pasting it back manually. By the end of the summer the Times was going computerized, and at my next newspaper job at the Lawrence Eagle Tribune I worked at a Hastech terminal, and was given a Tandy T100 with rubber suction cup modem for filing from the State House press room on Beacon Hill at 300bps. I haven’t seen a typewriter, let alone an Albion drop press and California job box since. Now I’m all about cloud-hosted Drupal and “content.” Somehow I don’t imagine anyone who has ever set a page of type by hand has ever called the result a piece of “content.”
Nov 13 2014
Robert Hughes, the late Australian-born art critic, wrote a masterpiece of history in 1987, The Fatal Shore, in which he called his native land a “…cloaca, invisible, its contents filthy and unnameable.”
He was referring not to his own, but to English attitudes during the Georgian era towards his yet unsettled country as England prepared to empty its hulk ships and festering jails onto the First Fleet sailing off to Cook’s oversold Botany Bay in what would come to be known as the “Great Transportation” — the forced resettlement of hundreds of thousands of petty thieves, whores, and miscreants. They had formerly been sold into indentured servitude to America prior to Great Britain losing that convenient dumping ground because of the American Revolution. No more America meant England needed a new dump and that Hughes chose a scatalogical simile is all part of the global conspiracy to paint this great country with cliches perpetuated by Men At Work, the “throw-a-shrimp-on-the-barby” guy, Discovery Channel’s “Weird Things that Will Kill You in Australia,” Mad Max and the Great Humungous, and the unnamed wit (I suspect Jeremy Clarkson) who called the place the “Alabama of the World.” Crikey, let’s give Australia a break. I’d move here in an instant.
I myself was transported to Sydney earlier this week courtesy of a seat in economy class on United Airlines and an invitation to attend a press conference announcing my company’s relationship with the Australian Government. I managed to read Thomas Keneally’s : A Commonwealth of Thieves as well as re-read Fatal Shore during the 15.5 hour flight (versus five months for the First Fleet), and arrived at Kingsford Airport on the shores of Botany Bay on a muggy day in the southern hemisphere’s version of late spring. The Sydney Opera House conveniently revealed itself during the descent, looking smaller than I imagined (a view from 5,000 feet will tend to shrink objects).
My colleague suggested a hotel at Manly Beach, an eastern suburb of Sydney fast by North Head, the northern promontory at the entrance of Sydney Harbor. Soaked in a funk of plane sweat, all I wanted was a shower, but of course the room wasn’t ready when I checked in so I staggered around the waterfront and the “Corso” in a jet lag fugue taken to an extreme by the International Date Line. Was it Sunday or Tuesday? I left California on Saturday night, but it was Monday. I think. As Hughes writes in Fatal Shore, the poor bastards that were first shipped off to Australia could have been embarking on a trip to the moon, except for one difference: you can see the moon from England.
First thing I did was flush a toilet to see if the water drained counter-clockwise due to the Coriolis Effect. It did not. According to Wikipedia: “Contrary to popular misconception, water rotation in home bathrooms under normal circumstances is not related to the Coriolis effect or to the rotation of the earth, and no consistent difference in rotation direction between toilet drainage in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres can be observed.”
My colleague met me for lunch. He observed my wretched condition and asked if I might like to go for a swim, motioning out past the tall Norfolk Pines at the beauty of Manly Bay, the surfers riding the Cabbage Palm break and the infinite Pacific beyond.
“Box jellyfish. Great White Sharks. Stingrays. Saltwater Crocodiles. I don’t think so,” I said, beginning a five day recitation of every Australian cliche I could think of.
My room was (and still is) on the backside of the hotel, away from the beach, facing some place named with a lot of vowels in it, like “Woolooloogong” or “Baggahammas” and it was very thoughtful of the desk clerk to put me in a room overlooking a school playground filled with two hundred identically blue uniformed screaming children who seemed to be on perpetual recess. A cricket pitch is across the way where — I shit you not — they practice bagpipes at night. A weird bird that looks like a cockatoo flies by every five minutes and makes a noise like a pterodactyl that has gargled Drain-O.
I finally received my shower and then lunched with my colleague. After bidding him g’day I vowed not to break the first rule of coping with absurd jet lag: do not touch the bed while the sun is shining and don’t hunker down in a hotel room when you could be out walking it off. So I set out to explore Manly Beach. I love a place named by the founding governor of Australia — Arthur Phillip — because he thought the aborigines on the beach looked quite manly. That they ran a spear through his shoulder next to a beached whale because they were tired of all his colonial incursions is besides the point: Governor Phillip survived and even accepted the locals had good reason to be miffed, what with the smallpox and pilfering convicts and what not and ordered the red coats not to go looking for revenge.
Where the governor was speared now stands the Manly Wharf, home of the “World Famous” Manly Ferry that connects to Sydney’s central business district in what I wager is the world’s most beautiful commute. I strolled down there on evening one, found a brew pub, and drank myself into a condition where sleep might be possible.
Tuesday was the big day, my reason for being there, a press conference in Sydney with the Chief Technology Officer of the Australian Government and 17 members of the local tech and business press. I like hanging out with reporters because I used to be one. I also know what I used to call ex-reporters with titles of “VP of Corporate Marketing. Flaks. Australia actually has a thriving press. There’s a half dozen actual paper newspapers in the hotel lobby every morning with lurid headlines about well endowed young women who died from Ecstasy overdoses. It was actually kind of great to schmooze with tech writers who had also worked for the late Pat McGovern at IDG, and in the published aftermath from the press conference they were more than kind even if one quoted me al s a company executive 11,000 miles away and another told me I looked like Jeff Bridges. The Big Lebowski version. Which means I must need a haircut.
A reporter interviewed me with an iPhone. I realize my mouth was hanging open, slack jawed, for most of the interview.
Wednesday morning I decided to check stuff out and went on a hike to North Head, a national park south of Manly that encompasses an old World War II artillery fortification for the coastal defense of Sydney. After a monster hill climb that turned me into aquaman, past the ubiquitous Crossfit box, I turned onto a trail and started getting lost in the outback of Manly. Signs warning of the endangered Bandicoots, bizarre birds, bees without stingers, skinks, gowannas, unseen marsupials, all of a sudden I was conscious that I wasn’t walking on the paved esplanade past the hotels and schnitzel shops, but in the bush where even the plants might kill me.
I found an army observation hut, went inside, expecting a gigantic spider attack, looked out the window for the Japanese Fleet, and seeing nothing but ocean all the way to the South Pole, went on my merry way, poking around a massive gun battery with a really big gun, then onto a very sombering memorial walk commemorating the Australian military a day after Veteran’s Day, the inscribed paving stones dotted with red paper poppies.
After that expedition what is there to really say? The people are really nice, healthy, drink in pubs they call hotels. Like their beer cold. Drive on the wrong side of the road. Are cheerful to strangers. Don’t push in lines and smile a lot. I couldn’t find “Australian cuisine” — but pieced together that “bugs” refer to lobsters of some sort, there is kangaroo meat on some menus, they are keen on Mexican food, the Thai is outstanding, and lamb on a pizza is a common thing.
Sydney is gorgeous, clean, cosmopolitan, and I even heard a didgeridoo by the ferries at Circular Quay. Now I get to fly back to the dank cold darkness of New England and wonder what cliches we’re known for. Oh, and the English dumped a ton of criminals on the Puritans, so we Americans can embrace our convict heritage too.
Oct 28 2014
Apologies to loyal readers for the monster crash that took down this blog for the last month. It happened shortly after I accepted the automatic upgrade to WordPress 4.0 (which had nothing to do with it evidently). One day the site was throwing off a “suspension” notice courtesy of my ISP — Meganet Communications in Fall River, the former Cape.com — and when I called Derek at Meganet operations he said the blog was throwing off a gazillion errors to the point where it was dragging down the performance of every other customer site on the shared server, including my beloved Cotuit Kettleers.
I made a few attempts to get into the site through cPanel to grab a backup so at the very least 11 years worth of posts wouldn’t be lost (nearly 7,000 posts) but the site was so sluggish it was nearly impossible to even log in, let alone run any file operations. Derek and I went through the file structure and there were simply too much crud in there to begin to make an educated guess what was taking it down. My suspicion was some old WordPress builds I had sloppily conflated into the main MySql database were overloaded with spam and hadn’t been weeded out in years. So I deleted those but still the problem persisted.
Finally there were some signs of life. Meganet migrated me to a new server to stop Churbuck.com from killing their other customers and the old Churbuck.com homepage came back to life, but not this blog. Last night their techs identified the culprit as a broken Twitter plug-in. That was disabled and here we are.
I love WordPress — I’ve been on the platform running my own build since 2004 when Om Malik persuaded me to stop blogging on Google Blogger and move over. From those early days of the Kubrick template and the first version of Mullenweg’s masterpiece to the most current version, WordPress was the tool that cured my cacoethes scribendi. But I’ve been a bad admin and taken it for granted and let the side rails get cluttered up with dumb, unused plugins and finally one has bitten me in the ass.
Sep 07 2014
When working for Forbes, I pointed out the dichotomy to my then boss, David Churbuck and he quipped: “Classic Parachute Journalism.” According to Wikipedia, “Parachute journalism is the practice of thrusting journalists into an area to report on a story in which the reporter has little knowledge or experience.” This is a term that has typically been used in context of reporters sent to foreign lands to cover hot stories.
Aug 09 2014
Incredible pictures. Such a shame, a Concordia yawl is my dream boat and a true work of art.
Update: she’s up
Jul 18 2014
Nice job by Maryjo Wheatley on this video for the Barnstable Land Trust’s efforts to save the land around Lowell Park, home field of the Cotuit Kettleers. I was happy to sit and talk with her but didn’t expect, well, you’ll see… Maryjo is an amazing videographer, she worked for WGBH, the legendary PBS operation in Boston, and was in communications at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute back in my Forbes days. She helped me get a story about the very earliest GPS digital charting technologies back in 1993. Her husband, Capt. Bob Boden is a distant cousin and long-time friend. The three of us sometimes catch the Kettleers together — but this has not been the most baseball-ish summer for me. Too much client work is keeping me locked to my desk, then add in house guests, bad weather….there’s still time.
Anyway. back to the cause at the center of the video. The Barnstable Land Trust has until the end of the year to come up with the money to complete the purchase of the 19-acres of woodlands that surround Lowell Park to the north and the east. At risk is a key part of Cotuit’s open space. For the team, what’s at risk is a really nice “batter’s eye” in terms of an uninterrupted backdrop behind the pitcher so the batters can pick up the ball hurling towards them at 90+ mph.
The BLT is conducting their annual fundraising, auction, to-do on Ropes Field this Sunday afternoon from 3:30 to 7 pm
Jun 25 2014
The Greedheads of Popponesset Bay will not go quietly as far as Richard Cook’s oyster farm is concerned . Having failed to sneak in a midnight amendment to the state budget to declare his underwater clam farm a “marine sanctuary,” they are falling back on that time-honored last resort of the wealthy which is to out-lawyer the little guy. Sort of like raising the bet in a poker game until everybody has to fold.
Having been denied by every Mashpee board with a horse in the race, the homeowners (a largely anonymous group who have hired Sandwich pettifogger Brian Wall to keep dragging things along), are now appealing to the State Supreme Judicial Court to kick the case to the Cape Cod Commission for their review because it is a commercial venture.
The appeals court already slapped Wall and his waterfront clients down when they said their objections are without claim because the project is outside of the town’s zoning authority because it is beyond the extreme low tide mark.
Three years and counting. And all over a clam farm.
Jun 25 2014
With regards to the biting soccer star from Uruguay, I offer the following solution to FIFA’s disciplinary committee:
My father , the late Tony Churbuck, had a proven parenting technique for stopping the biting of siblings and friends. This was a man who’s life’s motto was “Don’t get mad. Get even.”
He would examine the bitten party, calm them down, and check to see if their skin was broken and if they needed hydrogen peroxide and bandages. After calm and quiet was restored he would call the biter over and ask them to present the same body part on themselves that they had just chomped on the victim.
The biter, lulled into complacency by watching his victim be consoled and examined for damage, would usually approach Tony and sheepishly extend the same body part. At which point Tony would take a nice, firm grip (from which there was never any escape) and bite the biter. Hard. He would do this to cousins, even visiting friends, and always deny it if accused.
If I were FIFA I would hire Mike Tyson to deliver the penalty.
Jun 11 2014
5 am today, sitting down and reading the “paper” on my tablet, the birds waking up and hitting the feeders under the grape arbor and making their usual racket when suddenly out of the corner of my eye I see an explosion of birds scattering in all directions and a grey blur go whistling past the window.
This was the local grey fox who lives somewhere in the woods between me and the harbor on the hunt for a squirrel. Grey foxes used to be the most common fox on the East Coast (they range all over the country from Canada to Mexico, Cape Cod to the Channel Islands off of Santa Monica) but now the more familiar red fox is the one you see around the garbage cans at the beaches the most. They are like little dogs, in fact they are one of the most primitive of the canids, about the size of a skinny beagle with a sort of mongrelish, mini-coyote look to them. Definitely not the more stylish and regal look of the red fox.
The birds fled the scene but the squirrel who had been hanging upside down on the peanut feeder decided to hide in the grape leaves. Because the house sort of envelops the arbor on three sides in an alcove, the escape route is one way across the yard where they can either cross the open grass and duck into the bushes, or cut right towards Main Street, or left towards the back gardens and the chicken coop. This squirrel decided to wait things out on top of the arbor.
The fox circled the arbor for a few minutes. Freezing from time to time whenever the squirrel rustled the leaves and made a move towards the great escape. The fox stood on its back legs and peered into the dense green cover, then dropped back down and sat on the grass, sort of hanging out patiently.
The squirrel made its move too soon. It dropped from the arbor, literally hit the ground running, and took off across the lawn. Total Wild Kingdom scene ensued as the fox followed, about a foot behind the terrified squirrel. eventually stepping on the squirrel’s busy tail and causing it to wipe out. I was bummed. I was rooting for the squirrel. The fox grabbed it by the neck with its teeth and started shaking it hard — right in the open. The squirrel didn’t like that.
Then a clutch of the ladies-who-walk came cackling along the sidewalk. The fox froze. They didn’t see him. He dropped the squirrel (whom I figured was dead) but no, the Squirrel was resurrected and made another dash for the bushes and freedom.
The fox followed and again, the game of hide in the bush and wait started to play itself out again. Eventually the squirrel hopped from the top of one arborvitae to the next, flung itself at the black cherry tree and headed up. Meanwhile, I’m in Wikipedia reading about the grey fox and learned it can climb trees really well. This one stood up, forepaws on the trunk, looked up and seemed to shrug and say, “Screw it.”
Anyway, if the fox can deal with the rat problem under the bird feeders, he’s welcome to them If he poses a threat to the Yorkshire Terrier (everything in theory poses a threat to lap dogs) he’s toast. And we’re all relieved that one of the squirrels — a ratty, wino looking squirrel with half a tail we’ve nicknamed “Stumpy” — was seen on the arbor just a half-hour later. Now to see if this morning’s assault victim limps back with any injuries.
Jun 01 2014
The Cape Cod Times editorializes in favor of Richard Cook’s Popponesset Bay oyster farm.
I’m still waiting for some official rebuke against the greedhead property owners who are tormenting this poor man. They’ve got to be made to pay for their treachery.
May 21 2014
I forgot to mention the bluefish are back on the shoals off of Cotuit — my son and I caught a couple big ones on orange plugs off of Oregon Beach on Saturday — filleted them on the bow of the skiff and cooked them right up that night in what may be the best bluefish recipe I’ve come across since adapting Paul Prudhomme’s blackened redfish recipe to the oily things. This one is courtesy of the late, great Marcella Hazan — the grand dame of true Italian cooking who wrote two of the classic cookbooks on my kitchen bookshelf: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.
Bluefish are a fairly global species of fish — and especially popular in the Mediterranean. I’ve had snapper bluefish in January in Istanbul (cop cop) and legend maintains some unlucky downed American airmen were devoured by schools of monster bluefish off the coast of North African in World War II. So, that Marcella would suggest the oily bluefish as a preferred substitute for fillets of anchovies in her recipe for Genoese Style Bluefish with Potatoes roasted with garlic and olive oil is not a surprise. This is a drop dead simple recipe.
Simple and awesome. John Hersey wrote in “Blues” that parmesan cheese is death to bluefish — totally toxic. And I agree. Don’t get tempted to get all Mama Leone on this dish. Hazan explains that in Genoa the holy foundation of the cuisine is potatoes, parsley, garlic and olive oil — with everything from porcini mushrooms to anchovies to octopus added as the variable. I hate bluefish but dutifully eat one every summer out of some weird ancestral homage to my grandmother Nellie who truly could murder a bluefish. In past homages to the scourges of Nantucket Sound I related my family’s traditional recipe for Bluefish.
“Fish was rarely on the menu in my childhood unless it came out of a box, was pre-breaded, and could be cooked on a cookie sheet in under an hour in a 450 degree oven. My father, the original meat-and-potato man, forbade fish or chicken in the house. Chicken, because he had a phobia of chickens due to his World War II duties as the young keeper of the household chicken coop; fish, because his mother would can bluefish with a pressure cooker in Mason jars to lay up some protein for the winter months.
My brother and I took the tale of canned bluefish as pure Cape Cod legend, up there with stealing coal and catching cabbages that fell off of trucks as part of the “penny-saved-penny earned” Depression-Era lectures we were subjected to whenever the old gent finished paying the monthly bills and decided we would live without electricity for the next month (his favorite economizing move was to make orange juice with the frozen stuff but forbid it ever being shaken or stirred. The idea was to add more water over time, allowing the orange sausage of concentrate to hang on the bottom of the bottle, pale orange water above it).
The canned bluefish was just a quaint myth until I cleaned out the cellar last winter and found a sixty-year old Mason jar filled with what appeared to be a pickled demon fetus from the Omen IV. We opened it on the front lawn while wearing heavy rubber gloves. The grass is still dead there, like some sort of crop circle left by aliens.
Here are some recipes from the Churbuck Culinary Academy of Ruined Food, courtesy of my predecessors who never met a fish they could stomach:
Honey, the Dog Is Eating Grass Again Bluefish
May 20 2014
This in from the Cape Cod Times:
“The Massachusetts Senate’s 2015 budget does not include an amendment similar to one slipped into the House of Representatives’ version that would kill a proposed oyster farm in Popponesset Bay.”
The article further reports the amendment fight in the House budget, tucked there by Rep. Michael Costello of Newburyport, will move to a conference committee where the local delegation has vowed to defeat it.
May 14 2014
So the response to my screed over the shenanigans in Popponesset Bay drew a lot of traffic into this blog — about 20X the normal flow over several days and setting the all-time traffic record for this blog since I started it ten years ago as a way to scratch my occasional itch to write. I generally try to avoid politics on this blog. Three years in the statehouse press gallery in the early 1980s sort of washed the taste for Massachusetts legislative politics out of my mouth for life, and as a former bartender, I knew well that religion and politics are the third-rails of civilized conversation. I also am very turned off by the perversion of the medium into very crazed “hate” blogs used to slander local politicians. There are more than enough moon-bats blogging and I don’t intend to become one.
But, as the tongue-in-cheek tagline of this blog says, this is a blog about clamming, an attempt to blend my personal and professional writing under one umbrella. A wise man — Stephen O’Grady — warned me long ago not to try to maintain multiple blogs. One is enough of a greedy child to feed, let alone several. The result has been a muddy mix of local stuff that I like — history, sailing, fishing — and pedantic digital marketing stuff ranging from Olympic sponsorship to tech trends. I avoid blogging about causes or using this to advance some personal agenda. The habits of an old reporter are hard to break, and it would have been unthinkable ten years ago for me to write with the kind of outraged invective I did last week when the news broke that the democratic process was being perverted by some pompous wealthy dickheads.
The story is amusing though. I have to tip my hat to ML Strategies, the lobbying arm of the law firm of Mintz Levin for going beyond the pale and buying off a lameduck State Rep to pull a classic Beacon Hill maneuver of sticking bizarre midnight amendments onto massive things like state budgets. This crap has been going on forever in Massachusetts. The corruption level of the Massachusetts legislature — especially during my days there when Billy Bulger ruled the senate like some Roman tyrant, and Tom McGee fought reform in the House with every dirty trick in the book — should never be underestimated. Your average state rep is less likable than a used-car salesman and half as honest.. Massachusetts politics should become the official spectator sport of the Commonwealth, as fun and mind blowing a spectacle as the Bruins or the Celtics. That some rich guys wrote a wicked big check to keep the groundling proles from cluttering up their oceanfront view is the least of our problems. This is a state of bagmen and angles.
But still, people ask me “what can we do?” I’ve done my time at the microphone at Conservation Commission hearings opposing rich people’s applications to build their piers into the harbor. I’ve written letters and earned the enmity of countless gaping buttholes who have more money than sensibility. Yet I also know people on the waterfront with hearts as big at the Ritz. Some give their beaches to the local yacht club for thirty years to use for a sailing program; others make special attempts to minimize their impact on the environment by banning lawn fertilizers and peeing and pooping into composting toilets.Then there are those who put creepy surveillance cameras disguised as bird houses on their beaches, and make our days just that much shittier by posting stern “PRIVATE BEACH” signs to discourage the kind of free access I knew on the Cape 40 years ago.
I’ve been rattled by screaming homeowners flipping out at me to GET OFF THEIR GODDAMN BEACH, even though I’m within my rights with a fishing rod or a clam license. I know cases where ancient public ways to water — little paths designated as a way for the public to get to the water to dig a clam or catch a fish — are obscured by abutting property owners deliberately planting shrubs, or sliding a kid’s swingset over the path, knowing as the years go by that the old timers who know those paths will eventually die or forget and the public won’t be trudging through their backyards ever again.
The problem on the beaches and the sense of entitlement started in 1650 when the colonists granted waterfront property owners in Massachusetts the unique right to own all of the land down to the “mean low water mark” allowing public access only in three circumstances: navigation, fishing/shellfishing, and fowling. That means you can’t walk on any part of the sand, including the wet sand exposed at low tide. You can swim in front of their beach (as long as your feet don’t hit the bottom above the nebulous “mean low water” mark. You can wade in the water if you have a fishing rod. You can dig clams. But you can’t sit and technically you can’t stroll.
Some beaches say “Private Beach. Walkers Welcome.” That’s nice of the property owner but also a way to forestall an “adverse possession” or taking by granting the public access through neglecting or abandoning their rights. I empathize with them not wanting some family of recent Russian emigres camping on the beach, tossing dirty pampers into the beachgrass and leaving behind their bait boxes while the men folk surfcast. But — if we want to get back at these jerks for throwing around their money demanding docks, fighting clammers, posting security guards, and erecting creepy spy cameras we need to repeal the waterfront property laws.
And that is not going to happen. The most powerful advocate of repealing the Colonial beach rights was Billy Bulger, who was outraged when some Chauncy Wigglesworth Ass Clown bellowed at him to get off his beach. Bulger filed legislation from 1976 to 1991 to change the law to permit walking between the high and low water marks and finally succeeded in 1991, only to have the state courts overrule the change as an unfair taking of private property without compensation.
If you want the full story about the shitshow that is beach rights in Massachusetts, take the time to read this superb article about the situation on Martha’s Vineyard.
I think the only way to take away the tyranny of the waterfront and to stop owners from building jetties, sea walls, hiring guards, posting signs, intimidating strollers and generally being douchebags is to make beach reform a referendum question and let the voters decide whether or not to take it away from them. The legislature is in their pocket so don’t expect a letter to the editor and your state rep to have any impact. Both of them are totally in the service of these people along with the massive real estate industry that encourages them to build commission inflating add ons like piers and cabanas. We just need around 70,000 signatures to force the question onto the ballot the way the bottle bill and Prop 2 1/2 and medical weed were voted in and get ready for a well funded counter-campaign the likes of which the state will never see.
Still, it’s a nice fantasy to imagine the democratic process truly having the last word on who owns the berm between shore and sea.
May 13 2014
Cousin Pete and I hit the squid off of Osterville on Friday and brought in a bucket of the cephalopods. He was outcatching me two-to-one but hey, we got the skiff nice and stinky with a coating of angry ink and had the wonderful experience of listening to a guy on a nearby boat keep up a loud, unbroken soliloquy of f-bombs that was so utterly Masshole that it started to sound right, until the f-word was so worn out by overuse that it became like a meditative “Ommmm”
Back at the kitchen I cleaned half a dozen in the sink, cut em into rings and followed Jasper White’s recipe for “greasy and spicy Rhode Island calimari” which is basically exactly what it sounds like. Soak the rings and tentacles in a couple cups of buttermilk, roll them around in a flour-cornmeal-corn starch-cayenne mixture and deep fry until golden brown. Then toss that in a garlic butter/hot Italian cherry pepper bath and eat with a habanero remoulade. Take a Lipitor.
Hunter-gatherer season is underway. As the lilacs are out and as yours truly was born 56 years ago today, the bluefish must be back and cruising the flats around Submarine Rock. I see tautog in my future.