Hidden Away

Mr. Harris stood there in a sharp Botany Five Hundred three-piece suit. since his elevation to the chief clerk at the saddlery, he dressed for his role. Tall, Slender, and very black, he would have been imposing even if he lacked the trimmed Van Dyke he sported. He directed a cast of dozens from the center of the old showroom as they burrowed through the saddlery’s remaining stock.

Those of us who had worked for him held him in the highest regard. The original business owners had been in mute awe of him. The new owners, not so much. Currently, he was employed to liquidate the stock. When the Blatt family’s younger members had decided to sell the saddlery, there had been talk of an employee buyout. But nothing had ever come of it. The sale had been to an investment group that was in the process of selling the “brand.” the real estate and the inventory would be sold separately. These days you can go online and find the brand, but it’s only another front for a company that produces everything in China.

A group of old employees familiar with the labyrinth of storage and stock had been called to assist him with the liquidation. Regular liquidation firms had run from the job once they became lost in the maze of buildings, basements, and attics. Despite the mutual distrust and dislike between the old and the new, things would have moved smoothly; Mr. Harris was a consummate professional. But the casual racial slurs finally wore at his neutral exterior. 

From reports, I gathered that things began rolling downhill when one of the new owners accused Mr.Harris of theft. He had been looking at an old inventory. Mr. Harris had tried to convince him that the old lists had never been accurate. No one had ever been interested in spending the effort and cost of hauling out and counting all the myriad boxes, cases, and containers in all the storage areas. The lawyer looked at Mr. Harris and said, ” You people always are up to something, aren’t you?” Refusing to acknowledge the slur Mr. Harris looked down on the man. ” I would not impignorate my honor for petty gain in this world. I am a deacon in my church; my honor is not so easily soiled.” The lawyer was evidently up on his Latin because he then asked, ” So what would you pawn it for Harris; everyone has a price?”

That was when Mr. Harris called in my friend Bill, and Bill called in me. He wanted us to provide some Special Services. When we arrived, he explained that it was not the slurs alone that had gotten him upset. The waste bothered him too. Anything that the new owners did not appreciate or understand was directed to a dumpster. The rest was spirited away in vans to an auction house.

Years previously, when Bill and I had worked for him, we had been his personal “tunnel rats” going where no others were trusted to go in the labyrinth. The saddlery was as “old as dirt.” The storage rooms snaked through the bowels of nearby buildings, through subterranean vaults, and into forgotten attics. Bill and I had spent days in the maze, some of it working. Mr. Harris was willing to forget our youthful foibles then. Now he needed our knowledge.

Mr. Harris knew his stock intimately. Need an original Fort Sills Cavalry Manual? “Up the steps, Level two, Martin building isle three, don’t knock over the McClellan saddles!” He knew some of the treasures would be unrecognized by the idiots in charge and directed to the dumpster. Rather than have auction house personnel evaluating the goods as they emerged, they were doing the job themselves. They missed lots.

A lesser man might have taken advantage of this for his own gain. But that was not who he was. He had a different idea. “Wes, Bill? you remember where the old bank vault is located in the Sturmer building?” ” Sure, but no one has the combination.” He slipped us a piece of brown Kraft paper with a series of numbers on it. We looked at him with innocent hurt in our eyes. “Oh, come on, you’d have wound up locking yourself in if I’d given it to you.”

The plan was simple. The vault was on no map, registry and was in no history. It had been lost to man in the panic of 1857. It had been an obstruction; we had moved around it to get to the outlying storage areas. We had dreamed of opening it. Not a single time had we walked past it without attempting a combination. And, here, it lay in Bill’s hands. Mr. Harris’ directive was simple, special items were to be stored in it as a time capsule of the saddlery’s history. Candidates for this included the chaps George Custer had returned for fancy leather tooling ( the Sioux got to him first) and the Gene Autry guitar that Mr. Harris’ predecessor failed to ship out. The silver engraved spurs that John Wayne had returned as to fancy we also included. To this, we added a genuine Buffalo Soldier’s hat from the 1880s and many other smaller items.

We alone knew, and we alone were trusted with this project. On a large display table, we laid out one of the old display mannequins. We dressed the dummy in genuine 1930’s western attire from our stock, added the chaps, hat, and guitar. Like funerary offerings around the figure, we scattered essential items the dummy might need in an afterlife. A printed history of the saddlery and old brochures was on a table in front of the figure. At last, we were finished. We closed and locked the vault.

The location of the vault was known to the three of us alone. Mr. Harris swore us to secrecy and directed us to brick in the opening that leads to the vault. It was to be a time capsule and sealed shrine.

At the end of that day, Mr. Harris gave his notice, Bill returned to Denver, and I returned to Boston for classes. I do not think that the vault has been located yet. It’s stayed undiscovered now for fifty years now. Yes, I know how to find it, and Bill copied the combination and gave it to me for safekeeping. But I like Mr.Harris’ idea of it being a shrine to a worthy old enterprise, the like of which no longer exists.


Clancy, the Gray Menace, enjoyed three activities most: a good fight, a good meal, and a nap. The order of these did not matter. If you squeezed three into a day, then that day was notable. A duel with a neighborhood cat satisfied the fight requirement. But being farctate on a roast beef sub ( with hots, please!) was sublime. Follow the gluttonous meal with a nap, and well, it was a great day.

Don’t let it be said that the Menace was without compassion for fellow cats. After subjugation, the subjugated got inducted into the ranks of pals. Several times a week, the regulars showed up for catnip and snacks. I got to play a waiter. “Waiter…another serving of your best filet mignon for my friends; hurry, please.”

Yes, filet mignon. My father’s friend was a butcher. A few times a month, dad would send up deep-frozen filet to feed his son. There was more than I could consume, and Clancy generously assisted. Mere cat food for an afternoon repast was so plebian. We shared the wealth with a lot of overweight gourmand strays.

“Even overweight, cats instinctively know the cardinal rule: when fat, arrange yourself in slim poses.” – John Weitz.


It was the summer of 1995. I was back working a boatyard. My last stint doing bottom paint, wooding old varnish, was almost exactly twenty years prior. I was a few hundred miles south of Spinney’s yard, but little had changed. Bottom paint was better for the marine environment but still a mess to apply. The chief varnisher was a different woman, but just as hard to satisfy on the prep.
I rejoiced in the sameness.
The Clinton-Gore reinvention of government deep-sixed my government job as an anthropologist. I was not sorry. Working in the boatyard was therapeutic. Within days there was a lessening of the stress symptoms that had troubled me for most of five years. I stopped grinding my teeth, the twitch in my left eyelid went away. By the end of the second week, the sores in my mouth disappeared.
I began to look upon the detour into my history as healing summer fun.
Then I got a call from an old associate at work wanting me to return as a consultant. I looked around the boatyard, then told her that there was too much work for me to leave just then, call me in the fall.

Folk Guitar

As an experienced folk guitarist, I’d thought that teaching guitar would be easy. But of course, teaching is different than doing.
The pastor of the church, my fiance, and I attended talked me into it. He desired a non-religious community outreach program for youth. Folk guitar classes, he felt, would be ideal. Donations partially covered tuition keeping the expense to student low. I needed additional income with a wedding looming in my future. I agreed to teach the class.
I started with five students, but things did not go smoothly. My nemesis of the guitar class were the “Twins,” Hugo and Elise. I had assigned an old classic as the text we’d use. It was the book I’d used years ago to introduce myself to the guitar. I was familiar with it and understood that even years later, it could teach me new things. The problem was that to the Twins; it was boring. Rather than complete the assignment of the week, they’d get bored, not learn it thoroughly and skip on to the next technique or song. To a degree, I had sympathy with this approach. My dark secret was that I did this, too, when I was learning.
But as a teacher, it was disruptive to the other three students. The three “pluggers” would never be Dylans but worked hard at becoming technically proficient with the instrument. It was satisfying to work with students who, if not exceptionally talented, would learn and enjoy the instrument.
After a while, I feared the pluggers would become frustrated and drop out of lessons. That would leave me with less income and the Twins. Speaking one evening to a fellow guitarist who also gave instruction, he suggested giving in to the Twin’s desire to forge ahead and let them go until they succeeded, fell back into line with the class, or left. As a matter of technique, he also showed me some finger mobility exercises I could incorporate into study and practice time.
The pluggers found the mobility exercises entertaining and useful the twins baulked; they were not challenging. It was Paul, who had suggested the mobility exercises that came to the rescue. Paul had been my teacher when I had attempted to take up classical guitar several years earlier. Paul’s plot was to take on the twins for a genuinely challenging course of instruction.
Next class, I had a conversation with the twins and pointed out that such advanced students needed more challenging instruction. They preened. I suggested that Paul was always looking for promising talent and that I’d speak to him on their behalf if they wished. The following class, the twins were absent, but I followed their progress, or lack of it, during conversations with Paul. Paul told me that he had them practicing the Segovia Scales; I shuddered. Several weeks later, he assigned them some challenging Guitarra Rasconada exercises of Emilio Pujol. I groaned at this; it was the Pujol material that drove me crazy. Paul’s plot was simple – toss the Twin’s right into an accelerated course that included the hated mobility exercises, music theory, many many scales with variations, and challenging exercises.
About five weeks later, the Twins returned to my class eager to return to the beginning folk guitar’s less complicated world.

Good Grades

The line between a rogue and a bastard can be razor-thin. In younger days, friends had schooled me on the finer points. No overt cruelty. No severe damage to the other person. A sense of humor in what you did and how you achieved it. And importantly – enjoying yourself. The preferred term for these activities was “tying a knot in the Devil’s tail.”
Sometimes this happened unintentionally.
One fall, I was teaching an introductory level anthropology course for nursing students. One of the assignments was a research paper. It was a large class, and after collecting papers, I had a good-sized box of documents to read through and grade. Well, after getting home, I had other work to do helping my wife with curtain rods. The box sat in the corner that entire weekend. When I started reading and grading, I saw that my two-year-old son, Nick, had started for me. He knew three letters and loved crayon drawings of horses. Erasing the crayon was impossible, so I just continued grading.

Next week I had forgotten about the crayon scrawlings and distributed the papers to the students. Victoria was the first to stand up and exclaim: ” Mr. Carreras, I have an F! and a drawing of a horse in red crayon.” so it went around the room.
Sensing an opportunity to have a bit of fun, I addressed the class. “Well, the class is large. I felt the need to enlist the aid of my two-year-old in grading your papers. Nick has soaked in anthropology through living with me for two entire years. He’s a consummate professional in all regards except age. You may not be aware, but the “baby system” of grading has been around for years and is well regarded in professional circles.” Silence. ” Of course, for those of you dissatisfied with your “baby grade” evaluation there is an alternate system available.” What’s that, Mr. Carreras?” Waiting for the moment just a bit…I replied, ” Well, there is the staircase method. I take your papers to the nearest stairwell and toss them down the stairs. The further down I go, the lower your grade is. Frankly, Nicky is a safer bet. He only knows three letters – A, B, and C, so you can’t fail.”
By now, the class was in on the joke and showing each other their Nicky grades. One lucky student had an A and three blue horses, which was a good thing because she needed the grade.
When final exam time rolled around, most of the papers had a note written at the top: Hi Nicky!!! Please give me a good grade.
My son will never make it in Academia. He’s much too lenient a grader, and his horses need improvement.


Juggling three jobs was not easy. There was a full-time job on the rock pile breaking stone for Joltin’ Joe, the Endowment consulting assignments researching curricula, and teaching guitar in the evening at the church hall. I needed all three to keep up payments on educational loans, pay the rent, and have some money to take my fiancé out once in a while. Since my fiance left to go to nursing school, a new hire had taken her place. The new hire, Sandy, was my first experience with a political hire. She had been engaged by my bosses to keep someone in City Hall happy. Knowing that she had a safe appointment, it was nearly impossible to get her to do anything beyond staring at the wall or granting me the occasional moue of distaste or displeasure. I was sure that part of her duties included tattling on me to Joltin’ Joe. I tested this early in the game by feeding her a tidbit and waiting till it came home.
I was saved by my advisory panel members – locals with interests in the programs we were producing and the research we carried out. Julia, a group member, was a veteran of many volunteer organizations. She advised that I “leave Sandy to us.”
Over months, the advisory panel members allowed Sandy to overhear snippets of gossip and fed her as much misinformation as she could absorb. One Portuguese liqueur store owner let slip that I was so desperate for money that I was clerking evenings behind the counter at his store. An Italian restaurant owner let slip that I was working at her restaurant in the afternoons when I was not in my office. Sandy had no filters and dutifully reported these fantasies to Joltin’ Joe.
Joltin’ Joe showed up for lunch several times at the restaurant and made purchases at the liquor store. Some of his sycophants followed up on other stories. Sandy lost credibility and was suspected of disloyalty. The one thing that a political hire cannot do is prove disloyal. Joe began to threaten her job.
Sandy was nearing the end of her ninety-day probationary period and was very likely to be fired. She truly needed the job, had no marketable skills and was pretty clueless. So I was surprised when my advisory panel suggested that we save Sandy from Joltin’ Joe- “she’s so much fun!” Julia quipped. The liqueur store owner concurred. The owner of the Italian restaurant was laughing in the corner. Joltin’ Joe had no friends in this group. Julia suggested that a few of them contact Margery, the assistant director. Unlike Joe, Margery had fans among my advisory panel. Calls got made, and Sandy retained her job. Subtly, it was suggested to Sandy how and who had saved her job. The blank stares continued, but there was many fewer Sarcastic Moue.

Evil Santa

I met my wife at work. Over about half a year, a comfortable working relationship began to evolve into an even more comfortable partnership. Not long following that, I conceded that it was much more. She had made it to that finish line before me, but considering my rocky past, that was not surprising. What took me by surprise was the suggestion from the assistant director of the system I was working for that she “might want to look around for something else.”
Margery had not been a great intermediary between Joltin’ Joe and myself. Life with him as a boss was like a trench warfare, and when the big guns were shooting, you hid in the trench. Margery hid well and could be someplace else whenever Joe was about to explode. Typically, at his right hand, you could tell that something nasty was in the offing when she was absent.
So when she offered grandmotherly advice over a surprise lunch, I was taken aback. She explained that couples did not fare well with Joltin’ Joe. While we had been exceptionally discrete, she knew it was only a matter of time before Joe found out and exploited the budding relationship. At that point, there were no guidelines in the personnel handbook forbidding my girlfriend and me from dating. I pointed this out to Margery. She smiled and said, ” When has the handbook ever stopped him from doing whatever he wanted?” the conversation then glided effortlessly from my personal life to our current program initiatives.
I knew that Margery’s advice was on target. Joe could flip out at a misplaced pen on a desk. He wandered the corridors and offices shrouded in a haze of Lucky Strike smoke bringing chaos wherever he entered. One hapless coworker had his desk flipped during a full-fledged Joe harangue. You might lawyer up these days and bring suit for his creating a hostile workplace; then, you worked as hard at staying out of his way as you did in trying to get your work done. Just getting through a week was a triumph.
It took time to arrange an exit, but my now fiance was in nursing school within a year. At the end of that year, we decided to attend a staff Christmas party. We hadn’t been there long before in walked Santa. Joe made his entry in full Santa regalia, a bag of presents over his left shoulder and Lucky Strike smoking from the right hand’s fingers. Sort of a tough guy Santa. Behind him to the right came Margery, dressed as an elf. Most of the attendees stood there, stunned. Knowing Joe, we wondered what sort of presents could be in the sack. Cartons of Luckies’ for his few favorites, and coal for the rest? A prolonged smokers cough succeeded the Ho-Ho-Ho that pealed out. “Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!!”
Margery then began to lead Santa around to spread Christmas cheer to all. Eventually, Santa arrived at the little knot of people that included my fiance and me. I introduced her to Joe using her full first name, not the shortened version she had used at work. If you hadn’t known her at work, you might not have recognized the elegantly attired, perfectly coiffed young woman at my side that evening. Josh, a coworker started talking to her about work only to be interrupted by Margery who gently, but firmly took his elbow and guided him away. “Josh? Have you met my husband?”
After a moment, Joe moved on but kept looking back at us. He knew that he had missed something but couldn’t quite place what it was.
Margery soon came back to attend to Santa, leading him to his throne at one side of the room. He glanced our way several times, speaking intently to Margery, whose body language and facial expressions implied that she had no idea of what he was going on about.
The staff began to enjoy the event. We all made an effort to ignore the smoke-shrouded grim Grinch dressed as Santa that sat in the corner. Periodically Santa sent questioning glares my way. To the right of the grim Santa stood Margery. Margery gave me a broad grin, patted Santa, and seemed to enjoy having put one over on Joltin’ Joe.

For more on Joe see: Joltin’ Joe

E Pluribus Unum

At a Library Association luncheon, I sat with a slight acquaintance just hired by a library system as an assistant director. A smaller system hired me.
Ostensibly, our engagements were motivated by impressive resumes. We were competent professionals. But we both agreed our hiring was inspired by an organizational need to show diversity. He was the first African American hired in a senior position. I the first Latino.
He mentioned that his new office was being built custom for him right out in the central circulation area. A principal feature of the office was a glassed-in front. The office design placed him on view continually. I was greeted with an important-sounding title and name for the center I would head. We both snickered.
The typical hamfisted American mode of looking at race and ethnicity had missed the true diversity we represented. He – descended from African Americans, Cherokee, English, and German ancestors. Me- descended from Spanish, Hungarian, British Caribean, and Scotch. Neither of us planned on being in glass cages for long. We snickered again; both sides could play at manipulation. Our organizations took count.; That was tokenism.
The future was recognizing diverse heritages. We were the future.

Venus Callipygea

How to put this delicately; my wife resembled the Venus Callipygea. Poised and posed, one heel raised, glancing back to examine her stockings. Breaking the suspense, she glanced up at me and demurely asked: “Lou, do you want the casserole tomorrow or the turkey empanadas?”
Gazing at my wife of thirty-some-odd years, I diverted my attention from her graceful form and replied: “Ummm, the turkey?”
Marriage – that great compromise between desire and practicality.


When I reentered the marine marketplace in 1992, after about 15 years of absence, I thought my business would be eagles, quarterboards, and transom banners. To some extent, I was correct. I’ve done many transoms, quarter boards, some eagles, and a smattering of other carving projects. But fully one-third of all my sales came from small carved table items. At any boat show, there are many overwhelmed wanderers. They are following a partner, parent, or spouse who is nautically obsessed. They hope to find something that might spark their interest. Responding to this, I began offering spoons, spatulas, cutting boards, small carved boxes, and a wide range of small carved items. It was surprising how Sales improved.

As a result of the newfound sales, I sometimes had a fair bit of cash in my pocket at the shows. But having a family with you at a three or four-day event offers opportunities to get separated from the money; fast.

My oldest son earned the nickname “Bottomless Pit.” Yeah, I know, you had one too.
At one particular show in Maine, an entire group of us went to dinner together. My friend, Ralph, generously offered to pay for the Carreras clan – myself, my wife, the two girls, and the two boys. Wanting to maintain the friendship, I protested. He insisted. He assumed I think that the kids couldn’t do too much damage at the Rockport House of Pizza. He had not calculated the sheer ability of said Bottomless Pit to pack it away. My friends have never had children. They had only heard stories of how adolescents can consume vast amounts and then fill up with more. The Bottomless Pit saw the disbelief in their eyes as he devoured pizza and decided to play to a rapt audience. He reached for an entire fresh pizza, rolled it up, and proceeded to swallow it much as a sword swallower consumed a sword. OK, you ask, what was my wife doing – Trying to get her renegade son under control. What was I doing – watching the disbelief on my friend’s faces as the Bottomless Pit consumed the pizza in one go. He belched softly and asked for more. About that time, the check arrived, and I saw my friend blanch. I took the check and paid for the family; about $200.00, most of which had been consumed by the Pit. I saw lots of my pocket cash disappear in one meal.

Years passed, but at boat shows, the Legend of the Bottomless Pit lived on. Not wanting to let go of a good story, we staged the photo above just a few years ago to email my friend. An assurance that, yes, the legend continued.

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