Shy, Never!

There was nothing shy about that grey tomcat of mine. If Clancy liked you, he’d let you know at once, and if he didn’t like you, he’d let you know at once. There’d be a slight variation in technique. For like he’d savor your blood like an excellent vintage, and lick you clean while rubbing against your legs. If he took a dislike to you, he’d ignore you until an opportunity presented itself to do some genuinely foul thing. He was neither bashful nor shy.
So how did you wind up on the side of the enemy? Let me count the ways: Ignore him, push him away with your foot or hand, disparagingly speak about him (he could tell), kick him, refuse to share your roast beef sandwich with him. I could go on. He rarely forgave, and he never forgot.

On returning to the Boston area after grad school, I took up with some sailing buddies as roommates. George and Andy. George was a hard-working type, while Andy never attended a party he didn’t like. After living with them for a while, I realized that George kept to himself to avoid Andy. They were roommates for economic convenience, not because they were friends. Things could get boisterous when Andy returned from a good carouse.
George got on Clancy’s right side early – he shared his roast beef. The cat loved roast beef subs, preferably with hot pepper on it. So George was on Clancy’s right side. Clancy had never liked drunks, and Andy was one. So Andy started with a handicap. Then one night, he made the mistake of using his shoe to shove Clancy aside. A bean bag chair followed the shoe. I heard about it after I came home from work. Clancy sulked and bided his time. With him, the longer he sulked, the worse the revenge would be.

Andy used black trash bags for almost everything, from trash to housing clothes to storing valuables. One day when George and I were taking the garbage out, we put a big part of Andy’s wardrobe on the street. When he bought replacements, he kept them in a black trash bag. Clancy took the opportunity to sneak up to Andy’s room, pee on the bag, and join George and me in front of the TV. Have I told you that the cat had a perfect poker face?
Clancy was robbed of the ultimate pleasure. Andy did not blow up or stomp downstairs, screaming. It turned out that Andy had almost no practical sense of smell. The next morning he came downstairs and said he had to do some laundry because his clothing smelled a bit mildewed. George and I looked at him; Clancy looked at him. As soon as Andy left, the cat made a beeline upstairs. I did not attempt to check on what was going on. George found it hilarious and bought a roast beef sub, with hots for Clancy. I sped up my preparations for moving into an apartment of my own.
Andy moved out first. He insisted that he could never rid his room of the mildew odor. Our next roommate liked turkey club sandwiches. The new roommate shared. Clancy, being neither bashful nor shy, decided that turkey was good stuff and that Steve was an alright guy.


I almost put on my hakama* without putting on my obi. The arthritis is bad enough to force me to do standing kata, but after two months, it feels great to be practicing – remember the Katana is long, but the ceiling low. Sword cuts in the ceiling are not allowed. Must not upset she who is not to be trifled with.

Covid-19 knocked me out for only a week. I had a mild case. But the recovery has been long, very long – weeks of low energy levels and fatigue.

Today though, I cleared the living room and slowly moved through three sets of standing seitei Iaido. I was tired, but not entirely out of breath. Eventually, the dojo will reopen, and I don’t want to be the one in the corner panting because the long layoff from practice has sapped my strength, although it has. 

The problem with long periods of no practice is that you think you are doing great, but then realize that your technique has atrophied. Like other forms of art, there is a fugitive component that you struggle to keep at bay through regular practice. I’ve had similar issues when I’ve stopped carving for periods. “how the heck did I do that?” Because so much of both those arts are tied to muscle memory, you can lose it if you don’t use it. 

Sometimes it’s interesting as you work back into things. You get little bursts of “beginners mind,” and you can use those to restore freshness to your work. You have an opportunity to avoid old harmful patterns – if you are careful.

Notes for those who don’t do Iai:

The hakama is a sort of divided pantaloon that was a typical style of dress in feudal Japan- being that Iaido is Japanese swordsmanship we dress in that style.

An Obi is a broad, very long belt that we wrap around our waist beneath our hakama ( but over our short jacket called a Keikogi).

Kata is a pattern of practice. In the case of Iaido, a pattern of sword cuts and movements that mirror a combat situation. Iaido gets practiced solo.

The Katana is the long Japanese sword used by the Samurai. It takes years of dedicated practice to master its use.

Seitei Iaido is one form of Iaido. In my dojo, we also practice a type called Muso Jikiden Iaido – another school of training. 

dojo is a place where you learn and practice Japanese martial arts.

Contact me is you want to know more.

I Can’t Get Started

The Gershwin classic ” I can’t get started” was finishing as I was clearing my last table. The Poland Springs Hotel bandleader was a bit of a musical snob and preferred the classic 1936 take on it by Bunny Berigan. He had held off playing it for me until the end.
It was the closing number of the night and the close of the final season at Poland Springs Hotel. In the morning, the last guests would depart, and over the next couple of days, the staff would disperse. Many of my friends were heading to winter jobs in the Carolina’s, Florida, and the Caribbean. I was heading on one final frolicking detour before enlisting.
Beginnings sometimes feel like endings. I’d never see Doris with the gorgeous red hair, and her boyfriend, Tom. Never listen to their stories of life in the big bands, listen to Tom play the trumpet, or listen to Doris sing Cole Porter. I’d never see Gerry, the barber, talk about cutting F.D.R’s hair, and all the other famous people, and what they’d say sitting in the chair.
They half expected that I’d join them, rather than enlist as a self-punishment for losing Betty Ann. And I was tempted. They were an entry into a whole different world than the Folkie existence I had lived these last years.
But beginnings , like endings, have consequence

On The Road

What’s the old saying? If wishes were horses, beggars would ride? Well if you were hitching around in the 1960’s you wished a lot and sometimes rode. We know that magical thinking can be dangerous. But sometimes it’s irresistible; for example, when you are stuck on a rural road at midnight, the local cop has already given you the fish eye twice. Wish, wish, wish harder! The next ride arrives, and it’s a drunk who wants someone to keep him awake on his way home. Let’s talk loud, and watch for an all-night diner. Wish, wish, wish harder.
No sooner than you pull into the diner, the drunk falls asleep. It’s four in the morning, and I have just enough for coffee and pie. I’m tired of wishing and spend the two hours until dawn talking to a lonely cook who misses his days on the road. He tells me that it was lots different in his day. Truckers regularly picked you up for long haul rides, and there wasn’t a town on America where you couldn’t get two eggs, hash browns, toast, and bacon for ninety-nine cents!
As it lightens up, I get back on the road. Cookie hooks me up with a local heading towards the interstate and tells me that he wishes he was going with me. I smile. I’m eager to get off the road but wonder if I’ll be glorifying the old days in ten years too. Sleeping with ticks and skeeters, mud, and rain. But oh the songs about being on the road. Maybe I’ll write one someday.

Mothers Food For Thought

My mother was a good one for sayings and quotes. She probably managed to create many of her favorites. She also explored the creation of her own story. Light replaced shadow.

The truth was a challenge, and we now think that she preferred silence or a carefully edited dance around the shadow of what might have happened. She made smooth the rough, created a happy time, or luck, as if by chance.
Even a short passage of years early in your life, one downpour too many, affects how the flower grows; how you celebrate. She always felt that life was like a book we were writing in, letter by letter. “don’t be in such a hurry, be patient.” “don’t hold that frown, the line on your brow will become permanent.”
It was part of her way of providing support to her family, of transmitting wisdom by sign and saying.
But, “Always remember, Louis. Nothing is free.”

Tying Knots In The Devil’s Tail

“Rules and models destroy genius and art.” – William Hazlitt

I don’t know about you, but I’m not too fond of those motivational posters that people hang in conference rooms, halls, and offices. Unless I needed work badly, I’d think twice before accepting a position where corridor decor depicts scenes of eagles flying against mountain scenery, with tired slogans.

Slogans in use since Aristotle show up often: ” quality is not an act; it is a habit.” ” At Portzibie Corp, quality is job numero uno.” Copies of these are at Pompei; I’d bet.

I’ve worked at places like that, and I feel that the corridor dressing shows a desperate attempt to motivate workers and influence customers. It’s like the bridge crew on the Titanic checking navigational fixes for the next days sailing as the ship went down. By the time you line your corridors with motivational art, your organization is already in trouble. The only people doing well on this are the PR folks who are selling you the posters and framing.

At the last several corporate and governmental institutions I worked at, my goal was to tie knots in the devil’s tail. It’s a challenge. But so is the ongoing demand in organizations that we are creative, but stay within the choreographed lines. In short, deliver the image of wow, without the substance. Subvert it.

Here’s my advice: bend, twist, spindle, and mutilate. Put up your motivational poster: Graphic – turkeys in the barnyard -” It’s hard to soar with eagles when you’re flying with turkeys.”


Stay in touch. We all say it, we all mean it, but we drift off course. Soon it’s been two years since we’ve seen the person who we called a best friend. Embarrassed, we don’t call, because now we worry about how we’ll explain our lapse.
Then we only occasionally think of the friendship. In the last stages, our excuse becomes that we’ve grown so far apart that the foundation of the bond has eroded. And by the way, was it ever really a friendship?
We rarely get everything we need in life through our actions. The support of friends is what buoys us up when things suddenly go south.
I keep reminding myself of this lesson as I try dialing my oldest friend’s number: “Your call has been forwarded to an automated telephone answering system, John Smits, is not available. The mailbox is full. Please call again. Goodbye.”


Careful is not a word in the official governmental vocabulary. Procedural is. I worked as a Practicing Anthropologist for about twenty years. I worked for municipalities, semi-governmental organizations, federal and state governments, and contractual work. Doing something carefully and observing the correct procedure is tough. But, I am not among those who would suggest that the two could not possibly coexist.

The reason why I feel that coexistence is possible is because of a little phrase I learned from a senior bureaucrat early in my career. I know that you’ve heard it: “It’s better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.”

Tony Babcock, was a second-generation contracting officer. To walk into his office was to walk into a library of the Code of Federal Regulations ( CFR). Each book inscribed duly with his name. And an acknowledgment that he promised to enforce the code to the best of his abilities. I knew this because a small, very small shelf of similar volumes rested behind my desk. Like my office, his office featured a framed copy of the government code of ethics.

Our first meeting did not go well. I had failed to distinguish between the two words should and shall in a document. I received a lecture detailing the travails that could follow on such a mistake. It was not pleasant.

In subsequent meetings, I learned that no matter how carefully I prepared, if I did not have my procedural ducks in a row, I couldn’t spend a penny of the federal money in my budget. I also learned that Parental Legislation in a bureau, department, or agency was a guide to what could and could not get done legally. 

Eventually, I learned that the key to unlocking the nearly endless information available from Tony was to ask the correct question. He would sit behind his deck in a very non-issue rocking chair, smile, and tell me that I was not asking the right question. Not being too dumb, I did eventually master the art of asking good questions. It was a pleasure to see him smile and open the flood gates to two generations of knowledge.

Somewhere along the line, I learned that it was better to ask forgiveness than to seek permission. Of course, the key to successfully manipulating that process was to have prepared the groundwork with the proper shoulds and shall, references to CFR, and Parental Legislation. All this showed that your intent ( pay attention now!) had been correct.

In recent years all of us have had reason to fear the direction taken by our governments. I find myself a bit reassured, however, that in an office far away, some snotty Schedule C political appointee is discussing shoulds and shall, Parental Legislation and CFR.

Thank you! I salute all the Tony Babcocks of the world.


Rain? No. Downpour. We shivered under the awning of the closed service station. Taking turns, venturing out each time, we spotted a car down the road. The thumb was not lucky tonight.
It had seemed such a good idea in the dry warmth of our favorite bar. Let’s head out to Baltimore and visit Bob and Chris. We got as far as New York before the rain started and kept up all through the Turnpike.
We’d remember this night and laugh about it years from now. Yeah, Right.


It was among the few things I fondly missed when I left grad school to return to the world—the dancing. Anthropologists are taken up with the study of casual and formal rituals. Imbibing psychoactive beverages and dance performed the role of ceremony for our tribe of graduate students. Our tribal elders frequently joined in too.
That’s right, the booze-filled evenings with crazy dance tapes. Dancing till four AM, even if it was sometimes with enemies, was normal. Tomorrow in the colloquium was tomorrow. Tonight we danced our unity as a tribe.
The parties could start as early as Thursday, and run through the weekend. An utterly successful round of parties might see a group of beached graduate students washed up like whales at our morning coffee spot, desperately seeking to replace fluids with coke and coffee—a subdued first class on Monday, routine.
After grad school, American Anthropological Association meetings had to do. Hoteliers were happy to see us. Once I asked a hotel manager how we were as a group. He smiled and said that Anthropologists drank more, but broke less than other groups. Which I guess was his way of saying the company made money on our stay – we attended meetings during the day, then drank and danced all night.
Dance was how I met the professor who was to have the most profound influence on me. It was at an Anthropological meeting In Toronto. At the time, I barely knew what the term Anthropology meant. I was visiting friends in Canada, and having lunch in the same hotel as the meetings. During lunch, a stocky man got up on a table and started dancing. Hotel management seemed OK with the performance. Years later, I learned who he was and what he was dancing. At the time, he was just an oddity.
It’s been long years, but on occasion, I recall the mornings ( around four AM) that a group of us would wake up sober while line dancing to Greek music.

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