Eye on the Prize

We get deluded by prizes. After a bruising year at a job where management doesn’t “give a dead rats ass” about you, we are mollified by a good review and a tiny raise. Then, six months later, we were ejected because the business environment had changed. 

After being told for three years, we were all part of the big Stodgy Enterprises family, the family turned dysfunctional, and we are scrambling to put a healthcare package together for the family. What we had saved for retirement was now part of calculating our grocery bill until we found another job.

Damn! And employers wonder why people walk off, ghost them, spend time on the job searching for the next good deal, steal pens, and generally behave as though there is no loyalty to the job. That’s because there isn’t.

I believe in reciprocity as a necessary feature of an equitable society. Moreover, reciprocity is essential since most organizations like to see themselves as societies or families in miniature. The general rule in reciprocal relationships is that what one gives is balanced by what the other gets. Don’t expect loyalty where none is given.

I once worked for a large organization where we, as workers, assumed that management’s job was to treat us like mushrooms- keep us in the dark and cover us with bullshit. Management always suspected the worst of labor. So you might say that everyone had low expectations, and we observed each other. Surprisingly this situation worked well. Better than my prior employment, where a prize always dangled enticingly, only to be snatched away.

I am wary of prizes and warm and fuzzy assurances of friendship and kinship. After all, prizes are not always what they seem, and families can be the cruelest of environments.

Midnight Dreams

Memories stir at midnight. But it’s a seasonal thing.

The memories that go with the drop-dead middle of winter are not those of mid-summer. It’s not all sweetness, either. I can swing between sitting at a campfire to walking on icy streets.

The midnight memories are pretty exciting and do not bore. One time I woke at “0 dark thirty” in the heaving hull of a Naval vessel. I was late getting up for a watch.

Luckily, my wife woke me before some petty officer found me still in my rack, half asleep.

Puppy Bowl

I will not be sitting on the couch yelling for a goal.

Nor do I want to throw sand on football fans or offer them condolences when the favored team loses. No, I’ll have a hard enough time deciding which team of puppies I’ll root for on Puppy Bowl. So many extravagant personalities, so little teamwork, and so many amusing moments.

I plan to watch it in my office with our dog Max ( pass the pretzels, dad.) and our cat Xenia ( this is soooo stupid, they’re dogs, for Bastest’s sake!)

I’ll probably shuffle back and forth on rooting for Team Ruff and then for Team Fluff.

The cat, of course, will spend the game snookered on catnip ( it’s the only thing that makes watching puppies with dad doable.) and the dog begging for treats (I’m still a growing puppy, dad.)

In recent years corporate sponsors have sponsored the stadium and various awards for the pups (MVP- Most Valuable Puppy). It’s all about finding homes for the puppies and supporting the shelters.

Somehow the cause of homeless puppies seems much more worthy of my support than the NFL.


A Flashback Friday Presentation

I was the chief cook & bottle washer. Or, in Naval parlance, Mess cook. Indeed not the chef. Culinary expertise was not called upon aboard the Psyche to serve the Cap’n. The guests may have had other expectations, but it was the Capn’s Ketch, so the cook pleased the skipper. On these cruises, cooking was basic. I only acted as a steward on Friday night, serving whatever Cora ( my mother-in-law) had prepared in advance. On Saturday, breakfast was the prescribed pancakes with wild Maine blueberries and maple syrup. I’ve been able to cook those since my Boy Scout days. Lunch almost any day was King Oscar Sardines and sea biscuits served with hot tea. Saturday evening, we usually planned to anchor in a harbor and go ashore for a restaurant meal. If we ate aboard, it was B&M Beans and Oscar Myer Franks. Sunday was cold cereal with whatever milk remained in the icebox. Lunch was sardines again.

The guests frequently complained about the meal plan, and I just shrugged. They were his children, and they knew from experience how set he was in his ways. They hoped that, as a relative outsider, I might be able to persuade him. But I’d fallen for this game a time or two early in my marriage. The Cap’n would put his foot down, and the children would close ranks with Daddy against the interloper. So I just smiled, shrugged my shoulders, and secretly ate from my stash of hidden food items.
I’d learned in the Navy that what geedunks ( sweets and specialty items not served at meals) the ship sold were not necessarily what I wanted. So I had a private stash. As in the Navy, so too on Psyche. You might think I’d share with my wife, but after she insisted that I share my stash with her brother, I became cagey. Yes, I know you’re thinking, why didn’t they bring a store aboard? Great question. I don’t have an answer except that the hunt for mine was so much fun. And they were lazy.

They knew the stash existed, and she would ransack my seabag when I was up on deck, but she couldn’t find it. But I knew she was closing in on my hiding spot, so I got nasty about the entire thing. Before we left for a weekend sail, I hid a few “special” items where they could be found, but not too quickly.
Saturday afternoon, I came below to find that they had located the cupcakes and the granola bars. My wife and her brother were sitting at the table, contentedly munching away. My brother-in-law generously offered some to me. I refused but sat there with a smile, watching them eat. After a bit, it occurred to them that something odd was going on when I reached into the engine compartment, dragged out some of my stash of chocolate bourbon bonbons, and started eating. I watched them intently. My brother-in-law stopped eating and pulled a strange face; reaching into his mouth, he pulled something between his teeth. “what’s this?” “Well,” I commented, ” when you eat chocolate-covered ant cupcakes, you have to expect a leg or two.” My wife continued eating the cricket granola bar but began scrutinizing it. As one, they bolted for the companionway and then to the rail where, as we say in the Navy, they “chummed the fishes.”
As soon as my wife recovered enough, she began screaming to Daddy about what a jerk I was ( accurate). For once, she got little sympathy from the Cap’n. He fell off course, a once-in-a-lifetime event because he was laughing so hard.
That evening we had to go ashore for dinner. Nobody trusted me enough to eat anything I might cook.


Most people won’t publicly acknowledge their little “luck-enhancing” tokens or behaviors. But most of us have them.
You may scoff at those who tote a rabbit’s foot on their key chain or the sports figure with lucky socks. But the rubber of rabbit’s feet and the lucky sox wearer are honest about their attempts to manipulate fate on their behalf. They postulate that fortune can be influenced to favor them. They are opposed by those who regard these as blatant superstitions. I’ve noticed that some scoffers have fuzzy dice on their rearview mirrors, mutter small prayers or cross extremities.

After years of carving for mariners, sailing, time in the Navy, working on boats, and knowing merchant seamen, I’ve concluded that the average sailor is less interested in making luck than avoiding ill fortune. This explains the avoidance of bananas on board. Refusing to sail on a Friday, whistling, having preachers on board, belief in Jonahs, and other items sure to bring disaster. The postulate for the sailor is that the water is a flukey place to be at the best of times, and you shouldn’t make things worse. So instead of seeking good luck, you seek the avoidance of ill fortune.

It’s up to you which way you go. But believers in luck seem to be about material gain or winning, and avoiders in ill fortune are about survival in a hazardous environment. For me, it’s no Jonah’s, bananas, and certainly no whistling.

Key- 71 words

It’s a favorite term at one professor’s lectures, ” the key point to take away…” or in a sales presentation or an article- “key to the success…” Always followed by paragraphs of complexities.

But a key is a simple thing like the keystone in an arch. Remove the keystone, and the arch collapses. Simple.
A key locks or unlocks. Not like the reams of paper that only confuse. That seems key.


I slouch around in loose dock pants, a slouchy beret, or a leather seaman’s cap. No one goes to a museum store to buy replicas of my gear!
So you wonder why my usual demur, sometimes inscrutable style of writing has become agitated? It’s the bloody New York Times.

The Times had an article on people buying replicas of famous artists’ gear. Want to look like Warhol – there’s a platinum wig. You can get Picasso’s shirt if it’s your particular kink. Klimt’s painting smock is also available. They suggest that it’s no longer enough to buy notecards with art reproductions or wear T-shirts with artists peering out at the world. Now you can dress just like the artist. You can be an avatar of Pablo or Gustav.

They have all the panache but none of the angst of trying to create, no sitting there looking for motivation, struggling with technique, and worried about if it will sell.

It’s the ultimate in an already fake society. You can’t or won’t try to create, but you’ll fake it till you make it.

Family Traditions

Write about a few of your favorite family traditions.

Humans have a prodigious ability to create and destroy. The very concept of culture ( big C or little c) is something that we are continuously developing and eliminating. So traditions exist as a process; we continually reshape them even as we celebrate them. I’ll have to beg the reader’s forgiveness; although I no longer work as an anthropologist, I’ll never shake the orientation.
Family traditions offer a look into the processes of development and loss. In October of 2023, I’ll initiate the 50th anniversary of the Carreras family fruitcakes. Were fruitcakes a Carreras family tradition before then? Nope. And I honestly do not remember why I settled on making fruitcakes that fall fifty years ago. But every fall since I start on the family fruitcakes – which after baking, settle in for a long rum-soaked gestation before being shipped off for family eating during Christmas.

I was looking for something to replace my grandmother’s Poppyseed bread. Grandma had died years before without leaving a recipe and without taking apprentices. So her tradition, dating back generations in her family, effectively died with her.
Replace a traditional Hungarian treat with fruitcake? As a family, we tried to duplicate her recipe without luck. She had always been elusive on her secrets, a sort of “pinch of this, a pinch of that” description of the process that guaranteed it could not be duplicated. So as a family, we eventually threw in the towel on reproducing it. A family tradition lost.

That was where we were the year I first made my rum-soaked fruitcakes. The first year I only made two; one for myself and my wife and one for my parents. Things evolved. Over the years, the recipe evolved; ingredients were added, quantities changed, and the rum-soaking technique matured. Eventually, I reached about twenty cakes and distributed fruit cakes in early December to any family member who appreciated them. There is a bit of drudgery involved in making that many. but commitment is part of tradition.

At fifty years, I can look back and see how the tradition started, developed, and is being passed on. A few years ago, my oldest son apprenticed, transcribed the recipe, and can now make the cakes. I fully expect that, over time, his cakes will vary from the ones I made. That’s part of what makes traditions alive; they change and develop while staying steady parts of our expectations in life.

About seven years ago, I was able to replicate grandma’s Poppyseed bread. I now bake this for the family at Christmas time and tell the story about how she rewarded and punished family members by giving them loaves with more or less filling. After all, it’s not only the food that makes the tradition; it’s the telling of the stories surrounding it.

Families are microcosms of culture, and family traditions connect members across generations leading back to the past and forward to the future.

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