Sub Rosa

I always think it best to start with the disclaimers. I am not now nor ever was associated with any intelligence agency. Like most of my ilk, Folkie, I believe that intelligence and government agency represents a truly tactless oxymoron.
That, having been said, Billie and I were fixers, scroungers, and locators in a small way. We were not operating a racket. We were always running a little “commotion.” It was how we avoided gainful employment. We were careful to be just this side of legal, and we had a good sense of how far we could go and stayed to that line.

So there was a bit of trepidation when Brother Isaac pulled into our booth at the Harvard Gardens one evening.
Brother Isaac should not have been there. He was part of the Church of Revealed Disciples. They showed up once a month on a Saturday morning to attempt to lead the Teahead of the August Moon to salvation. The rest of us inhabiting the exclusive Grove street digs were never bothered, which was strange.
Brother Isaac sat down, grabbed the Teahead by the arm, almost spilling a beer, and just said: “Johnnie, it’s all over. Won’t be seeing you again Keep your nose out of bad snuff.” with that off rode Brother Isaac into the sunset, and it was the last heard of the Church of the Revealed Disciples.
Billie was sitting there with a bemused expression, but I just put it down to the healthy surrealistic life we lead those days. A Pooka could have appeared in the Harvard Gardens, and I would have given it a chance to explain itself. The world was a miraculous place for me then.
Over the next year or so, I found out more about my friends. Both of them tasted intelligence operations at some point in their military years. I had pieced that together from things unsaid, said, people met, and uncommonly odd bits of knowledge. Their long term association, our Folkie Flop House, our forms of making a living, and our endless traveling habits all said Folkie. But, it did not add up.

Years on the Teahead has become a conservative shock jock on the radio, Billie dies in an avoidable car accident in Baltimore, and I have begun to morph into a staid anthropologist. Then I went to grad school. I began drinking with a former marine. Who, after taking in enough bourbon to float the ark started talking about the Church of Revealed Disciples. It was a cover used by Naval intelligence for an operation. Not being as sloshed as he was, I coyly asked, ” So, how’s Brother Isaac doing these days?” All of a sudden, not quite so high, outshoots: “who’s Brother Isaac?” “You know – Church of the Revealed Disciples.” He claimed to have never heard of it, but the remainder of the night, he kept on looking hard and deep at me. I tried a shot totally in the dark – “Have you heard from Mike the Vike recently?” I thought he’d explode – ” Jesu Christi!” I smiled. The Vike had been another of the continual threads of life on Beacon Hill. The Vike was always in supply, always on the move and never who he seemed to be.
Over the next couple of days, I spiced life up by dropping hints in George’s presence that implied that I knew more than I did. His paranoia grew, but we became fast drinking buddies. Through him, I came to recognize who else in my Department were also former intelligence types.
But nobody made me. I was an enigma, and George, one night in a DC hotel, pulled a little pearl-handled .32 and point-blank asked me whose dog I was. I flippantly answered, ” the DAR’s.” Not long after this, George passed out, and I secured the thirty-two where he wouldn’t find it and went back to my room. Our friendship was at an end.
Life slipped into high gear after grad school. I eventually wound up working only a few miles away from the old digs on Beacon Hill, but the cognitive distance was enormous. I rarely thought of the Teahead of the August Moon, Brother Isaac, strange churches that were fronts, not even my friend Bill. I eventually wandered into working for the federal government.
And that’s where it gets funny again. I was a GS-12 programming officer. I did not need classified information, but they required that I get clearance. I dutifully complied with the request for data, but the inquiries always came back unanswered. What was wrong with me? And I answered that in truth, there was nothing. That was not wholly true. During my time in the Navy, I’d had a high-security clearance. Not because I was so essential a person, but because the work my squadron was doing was, and presumably still is sensitive. The reason they would not grant me a confidential was that my top-secret was still operational. This item pissed off the local hierarchy. If a secret document came into the agency, a lowly GS-12 would be the only one allowed to read it.
Thinking about this, it came home to me that the evening in a DC hotel was explainable. Somebody had run my file and found out that I was a total cipher with an impressive clearance. To people of a certain mindset that read intelligence agency. I was also a pretty bland sort who none the less had a history. Whose dog indeed?
Everyone I’ve written about in this is dead. Convenient. So we’ll never be able to check it out, but if you are out there, don’t ask about the Church of the Revealed Disciples, and whatever you do, don’t get involved with Brother Isaac.

Patience

<p class="has-drop-cap" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">I met Cap'n Brown while chasing my big grey tom Clancy over to the other side of the island. Cap'n Brown was more than a Cap'n by courtesy, but less than a retired master mariner. He was a handy boat builder. And, respected in the community. He was known to be tolerant of grandchildren in his shop, and he put up with an elderly cat who was as cantankerous as my Clancy. Tiger had been there and done all that in his youth. Clancy, naturally eager to learn from the very best, became a fast companion for Tiger.<br>On the day I found out where Clancy had been lighting out to every morning, Cap'n Brown had just finished laying out a bowl of ice cream for the two buddies to share. The shop was a cavernous barn with molds, patterns, and lumber everywhere. Half hull models lined whatever space was available on the walls not already taken up by photos of a much younger Cap'n Brown standing by the many boats he'd built. Cap'n Brown was not too friendly but offered a cup of strong black boiled coffee to take the chill off the early May morning.<br>Being that Clancy and Tiger were regular buddies, I found myself walking over frequently to make sure that my cat was not overstaying his welcome. My father in law warned me that Cap'n Brown had some strange habits, like being seen shambling about the woods near his house, mumbling to himself. I took this with a big dose of salt; my father in law thought everyone not in his family was strange.<br>Still, the first time I found him walking by the side of his driveway bent over looking intently at something I could not see, I wondered. Seeing me, he called over and excitedly showed me the early Trout lily coming into bloom—the leaves were green mottled with bronze, and the small flowers a pale yellow. Over the next few weeks, I became familiar with the early blooms of Trillium, woods anemone, and other springtime ephemeral flowers. These flowers were the initial sign of spring. But, the calendar could not tell the date on which they appeared. Every day in early coastal spring could be a surprise, and this was why neighbors saw him wandering the woods hunched over mumbling. Appear a couple of days too late, and you missed the flowers of bloodroot until next year.<br>My father in law was more concerned with when he could get a date for hauling out Psyfhe than little weeds in the woods. I got the impression that he thought Cap'n Brown a bit odd, but as with most things with my father in law, all was made right by the correct maritime credentials. Brown was a boatwright of local renown. He could mumble all he wants in the woods if his curves are fair, and the sheer lines of his boats sweet. End of issue.<br>Many years later, my second wife and I wound up buying a house bordered in the back by a local Audubon sanctuary. The dense cover of cherry and maple in the rear of the lot precluded growing much. The kids had already decided on digging out a pond, so I put my mind to what sort of landscaping I could do with that much shade. I decided on re-wilding the area with native plants. Some volunteered from the neighboring woods: false Solomon's seal and Sasparilla. Some I bought through plant sales, and from nurseries.<br>Eventually, one year I noted that my next-door neighbor was peering at me from her window. Was she looking at me?<br>I realized that there I was fussing over the little patch of trout lily that had green and bronze leaves, but not yellow flowers yet.<br>I had bluets, May apples, black Cohosh, dolls eyes, spikenard, spirea and lots more. There was a lot of mumbling and shuffling going on in my yard. My current cat Xenia ( empress of all she surveys), was being watched by Sam, the great hunter of pond frogs. I smiled. All was well; it was spring in New England. Patience, abetted by some mumbling and stumbling, helped you get through.I met Cap’n Brown while chasing my big grey tom Clancy over to the other side of the island. Cap’n Brown was more than a Cap’n by courtesy, but less than a retired master mariner. He was a handy boat builder. And, respected in the community. He was known to be tolerant of grandchildren in his shop, and he put up with an elderly cat who was as cantankerous as my Clancy. Tiger had been there and done all that in his youth. Clancy, naturally eager to learn from the very best, became a fast companion for Tiger.
On the day I found out where Clancy had been lighting out to every morning, Cap’n Brown had just finished laying out a bowl of ice cream for the two buddies to share. The shop was a cavernous barn with molds, patterns, and lumber everywhere. Half hull models lined whatever space was available on the walls not already taken up by photos of a much younger Cap’n Brown standing by the many boats he’d built. Cap’n Brown was not too friendly but offered a cup of strong black boiled coffee to take the chill off the early May morning.
Being that Clancy and Tiger were regular buddies, I found myself walking over frequently to make sure that my cat was not overstaying his welcome. My father in law warned me that Cap’n Brown had some strange habits, like being seen shambling about the woods near his house, mumbling to himself. I took this with a big dose of salt; my father in law thought everyone not in his family was strange.
Still, the first time I found him walking by the side of his driveway bent over looking intently at something I could not see, I wondered. Seeing me, he called over and excitedly showed me the early Trout lily coming into bloom—the leaves were green mottled with bronze, and the small flowers a pale yellow. Over the next few weeks, I became familiar with the early blooms of Trillium, woods anemone, and other springtime ephemeral flowers. These flowers were the initial sign of spring. But, the calendar could not tell the date on which they appeared. Every day in early coastal spring could be a surprise, and this was why neighbors saw him wandering the woods hunched over mumbling. Appear a couple of days too late, and you missed the flowers of bloodroot until next year.
My father in law was more concerned with when he could get a date for hauling out Psyfhe than little weeds in the woods. I got the impression that he thought Cap’n Brown a bit odd, but as with most things with my father in law, all was made right by the correct maritime credentials. Brown was a boatwright of local renown. He could mumble all he wants in the woods if his curves are fair, and the sheer lines of his boats sweet. End of issue.
Many years later, my second wife and I wound up buying a house bordered in the back by a local Audubon sanctuary. The dense cover of cherry and maple in the rear of the lot precluded growing much. The kids had already decided on digging out a pond, so I put my mind to what sort of landscaping I could do with that much shade. I decided on re-wilding the area with native plants. Some volunteered from the neighboring woods: false Solomon’s seal and Sasparilla. Some I bought through plant sales, and from nurseries.
Eventually, one year I noted that my next-door neighbor was peering at me from her window. Was she looking at me?
I realized that there I was fussing over the little patch of trout lily that had green and bronze leaves, but not yellow flowers yet.
I had bluets, May apples, black Cohosh, dolls eyes, spikenard, spirea and lots more. There was a lot of mumbling and shuffling going on in my yard. My current cat Xenia ( empress of all she surveys), was being watched by Sam, the great hunter of pond frogs. I smiled. All was well; it was spring in New England. Patience, abetted by some mumbling and stumbling, helped you get through.

NEW FROM OLD

Sitting above my desk is a display shelf of small gifts and unique items. One of these is a piece of baggywrinkle. Don’t know what that is? It’s a particular rope product made for sailing vessels, fishing boats, and other craft. The bosun makes it by unlaying rope and then braiding the result together. It looks like someone lost their beard. Its use was to prevent chafing between lines or between lines and sails. Rubbing together created wear, wear opened the path for the failure of the parts rubbing. You used anti-chafing gear like baggywrinkle to stop that.
Well, the baggywringle was new.but it was created out of the old. The old line got reutilized to make new products for use onboard the ship. Baggywrinkle was one of those products. A rope parted? The bosun spliced it. Anyone rated Able Bodied Seaman would have been able to do basic ropework.
A rope was not the only thing, reused. When sails passed their useful life, the canvas could recycle into a variety of products. The list of items that you can fashion from sail is long: Small bags, ditty bags, for seamen to hold personal possessions, seabags for carrying around more substantial objects, hats, and even clothing.
Cooking grease found use as a dressing for the masts aiding mast hoops on their journey up and down with the sails.
In the 19th century, a sailing vessel could be very close to a closed system once out of sight of land. Making something new out of old was a necessity. This reuse extended into the sailor’s art—pieces of line, seashells, fragments of wood, and on whalers baleen and teeth.
Sailors fabricated models of ships from materials scavenged onboard.

Sailor’s – being superior sorts- were well in advance of the modern world when it came to reducing, reusing, and recycling. They made new from old.

Mind Your Helm

<p class="has-drop-cap" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">While growing up in New York, my Merchant Mariner father sought to teach me how to survive either ashore and afloat. Here are his rules:While growing up in New York, my Merchant Mariner father sought to teach me how to survive either ashore and afloat. Here are his rules:

• Always keep your wallet in your front pocket. It can’t be easily stolen from that location. Seeing a sailor running down the street in a liberty port pursued by a pimp who had cut his wallet out of his back pocket confirmed my father’s take on this.

•Be careful what articles and agreements you sign. Fairly obvious, but for a sailor, this one can be deadly. Near mutiny of the crew, except for the engine room, on my father’s first passage ingrained that in him, and subsequently in me.

•Tattoos are used by the police to identify you, and many people have the same design. My father had the usual eagle with fouled anchors that thousands of mariners had, so he knew.

•Sooner or later, every sailor winds up under the tutelage of some deck ape bosun. The bosun wants you to chip paint. So, learn how to chip a map; it looks like you are keeping busy. My father’s favorite was a map of Ireland. I assure you that this does not work when deployed against older mariners.

•When drinking in foreign ports with your buddies, buy a sealed bottle from the bar. Have the bartender open your bottled beer in front of you.

•Museums are generally a safe place for sailors to visit.

•Always walk like you know where you are going, look confident. Looking confused or lost is an invitation to a mugging.

 •Most importantly, “Mind You Helm” – the nautical equivalent of mind your own business.

Many of these are adaptable to current situations, the rules generally encourage you to be cautious and prudent.

Adventures in Coastal Living – Clams

The mess I made behind my uncle’s couch was a life-changing event. It wasn’t just a three-year-old getting sick after too much excitement on Easter. The doctors were sure. The youngest Carreras was allergic to bivalves – clams, quahogs, scallops. Anything possessing two shells that clapped together was forbidden.
Seafood was a significant part of the family diet, and there was little my father loved more than day-long ocean fishing trips. Weeks followed as my family tested my tolerance to types of seafood. Shrimp seemed to be OK. Cod, fluke, and flounder passed muster. No one even thought to try lobster or crab. Those were experiments I’d have to make on my own later.
As an adult, some of my “research” grew bolder. Friends in Boston took me out for seafood and drinks the night before I shipped out for the first time. The ship sailed directly into heavy weather, and I spent the midwatch worshipping the throne. I deny that I was seasick. It had been the clams.
Years passed. I developed a passion for Oysters Rockefeller. Perhaps the serving sizes were not large enough to tilt my body into reaction. Then came a physical exam in which I gave a complete medical history, and the story of the scallops came out. My doctor gave me that look: “you know, it’s only a matter of time before you have an anaphylactic reaction.”
Years passed. I religiously avoided anything with two shells that clapped together. My current physician urged me to go to an allergist for my seasonal allergies. During the evaluation, the story of the scallops came out. He rather thoroughly tested me—no allergy to bivalves. I was free to visit the Clambox in Ipswich; I could once again visit the Old Union Oyster House in Boston.
Are you sure? “The acid test is for you to bring your favorite meal and eat it here under controlled conditions.” The thought of eating Oysters Rockefeller in an exam room while he and his nurse waited to give me a shot or intubate was unappealing.
I’ll leave things as they are for now without visits to the Union or the Clambox.

Coastal Cooking- Cod a la muffler

There we were sailing along on Penobscot Bay. As we passed a local lobster boat, I saw a wad of aluminum foil wired to the upright muffler. Turning to the Captain, I smiled and said, that’s a strange muffler bandage. “No,” he replied, ” It’s Lunch.” then he explained that lobster traps caught more than lobsters. The by-catch included crabs, cusk, cod, and other species. Most of the by-catch got discarded overboard, but the odd cod could end up as lunch.*
If you’ve been snowmobiling, you may have run into the little steel pans that look like old fashioned mess kits. You pop them on your exhaust manifold, and it warms up your hot dogs. Well, hot dogs and beans ( Burnham and Morril or homemade) are too much a New England tradition to ruin them that way. Buried in a beanpot over a slow cooing bed of coals…but, that’s another story. Cod a la muffler was a different sort of meal.
One day I was out with Lowell, and a lovely cod came up in one of the pots. He promptly pulled out the tin foil, gutted the cod, and onto the muffler it went. About a month later, I was out with someone else who prepared the cod with more than salt and pepper; a feast in several courses was prepared by compartmentalizing the cod, veggies, and condiments to cook together. when I asked if he ever tried steaming lobster on the pipe, he looked at me if I were crazy and told me, ” I don’t eat the darn bugs at all.”

*The events described here happened in the early ’70s. Back then, the problems with by-catch were not understood. Since that time it’s become a significant issue in fisheries.

John’s Art Of The Con

In my early adult years, I moved around, plying the trade of a Pious Itinerant. To wit, I was a folksinger. I first performed in coffeehouses in New York’s Greenwich Village, but moved on to Boston, New Hampshire, Philadelphia, D.C., Maine, and importantly for this story, Baltimore.
Baltimore was an essential stop in my periodic ramblings not because the coffeehouse scene was so good for me, but because some of my best friends lived there. Bob and Chris had a house open to all wanderers. Life at their home in the ’60s was exciting. There were political radicals of all stripes, folkies like me, artists, and lots of people who just wandered in. Chris was the emotional den mother of this band of unlikely cohabitors. Almost anything could happen during a night of round-robin folksinging, political discussion, and sometimes body ( and bawdy) art.
An occasional visitor was John, no known last name, no known previous residence. John was a self-declared “artiste of the con.” He claimed to be so good that he had run a successful rent scam on several of the disreputable fortune-telling parlors downtown. He convinced them, in his tale, to pay their rent to him after convincing them that he had purchased the properties. He’d go to city records to get some official-looking public documents for their specific addresses and convince the fortuneteller to fork over their rents. The con was a onetime only scam, but lucrative. It was also dangerous; some of those folks played rough when they discovered they’d been conned. I believe that was what led to John’s sudden departure from Baltimore.
Before John split town, he decided during one night of alcoholic fug to impart to me what he humbly called “John’s Art of the Con.”

1.) A good con artist enrolls the fish in the scam. The fish becomes a collaborator. If and when the swindle collapses, the fish is too embarrassed to turn in the artiste.

2.) Be honest in all the little things; this lowers the level of suspicion when you tell a whopper. A corollary to this is that a half-truth is much more effective than a whole lie.

3.) Be generous. Gifts to charity help establish your bone fides as a pillar of the community and place you above suspicion.

4.) Don’t be greedy. Most scams artists get caught because they don’t know when to stop.

5.) Don’t involve family or close friends; you need them for protective cover when things go south.

There were others, but considering the amount of beer consumed that evening I am surprised that I remember these.
The one rule that truly stuck with me was number one because it was later confirmed by people who had worked in the intelligence field.
Conversations with a colleague working in criminal justice and a friend in corrections suggested that few career criminals have the discipline needed to apply the rules coherently or consistently. This explains why so many “smart” criminals are in prison, as my C.O. friend points out.

That’s where it pretty much rested until the mid-’90s. I was traveling into the Mid-Atlantic for an in-water boat show. After setting up the afternoon before the show started, I retreated to my hotel room for a shower and a nap before dinner. I rarely watch T.V., but when I travel, I’ll turn on the hotel set to see if I’m missing anything. That afternoon I was surprised. The spokesperson for a Congressman was making an announcement about the Congressman’s upcoming reelection bid. It had been thirty years, but there was something about the guy that seemed familiar. The hair was thinner, there were jowls and about twenty excess pounds around the waist. But, the diction, the facial expressions, the choice of words, and the hand gestures were all John.
John was one of the smart ones. He had latched onto a long-running scam with a low conviction rate.
It was really our fault. We had thought John was a petty scam artist. In fact, he had higher aspirations.

Bowls And Scrapers- Flash Back Friday – August 13 -2021

Sooner or later, most woodworking sites and blogs have some sort of post on scrapers. Rather than duplicate what others have demonstrated in the care, feeding, use, and maintenance of scrapers. I’d like to point out that they produce much less dust than sanders – that’s a hell of a significant point when you have a confined shop and allergies. They also can give you a crisper, almost cut, finish. If you look at the picture of the bowl with all the shavings, you’ll notice that they are shavings, not dust. A properly sharpened scraper produces shavings.

In this instance, the birch short had been around the shop for about ten years. At some point, I had outlined a bowl shape on it. Last week I moved it from the maybe soon bucket to the on schedule bucket. A few days ago, I rough shaped the outer contours and took some latex caulk to the bottom. I used the bead of caulk to paste a pine cleat to the base; when I no longer need to secure the bowl in a vice or a clamp, the caulk will quickly release with some alcohol and a putty knife. Cleaning up the caulk is easy with the scraper. In the meantime, It will take all the rough handling I can give it while shaping the bowl.

Today, I needed a break from some other work, so I roughed out the inside of the bowl. A few years ago I would have done all of this with hand gouges. These days I use a variety of Arbortech ball gouges and Kuztall discs to rough out the bowl. Warning: these tools require a dust mask, face shield, glasses, hearing protection, and heavy-duty gloves. Not used with care, they will cause severe industrial injuries. But, in hardwood like cherry, maple or birch, they save labor on the rough out. I like to use these tools out of doors. They produce prodigious amounts of chips.

After roughing out, I used a relatively flat gouge to clean up the shape to the proportions I wanted. At this point, you might be tempted to get the sander out, and I won’t tell you that it’s wrong to do. It comes down to work style.

I reached for my scrapers and put in about forty-five minutes, smoothing out the inside of the bowl. When I thought I liked the result, I applied a bit of Turps to the wood and observed all the holidays, dings, and other imperfections I did not see while the bowl was dry. Another test is to close your eyes and run your fingers around in the bowl. If you don’t like the feel of a bump or a small divot, chances are that the client might not either. Closing your eyes to see is a much underutilized free tool. Tomorrow I’ll go back with a pencil and highlight the areas I need to fix before I start to work on the outside.

This is a carved bowl, not one turned on the lathe. I tend to leave more meat on the sides and bottom of these. My goal is not to make a fragile walled vessel, but one which has some substance to it

My final picture shows a selection of scrapers and scraper tuning tools. Not shown are my collection of little homemade scrapers; they are pretty easy to make to any pattern you desire. The scrapers pictured, and more, are available from a host of suppliers for a wide variety of prices. If you don’t have any, I advise that you buy a basic set from a reputable dealer, like Lee Valley or Woodcraft Supply. Most of the people who are disappointed in scrapers have not put the time in on learning how to set them up. I know, because for years I was one of them.

Slow

Almost every week Sensei says this in practice: “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” — Confucius
Studied deliberation seems harder than going fast.
But, at this time I’m under little economic compulsion to produce in haste, and going slow allows me time to master what I previously left unmastered. Which I guess is what both Confucius and Sensei meant.

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