A Bad Drunk

My all too wise Canadian feral cat Clancy saw himself as a tough guy. Nothing much could get the better of the wily Ottawa born roustabout. Weighing in at about twenty pounds, he figured that he could easily punch above his class. He had successfully intimidated burglars, large german shepherds, and most of my friends. On moving to Coastal Maine, the only creatures that seemed to get the edge on him were those pesky birds that found him wherever he hid in the woods. To him, it seemed magical that his stealthy moves were so easily detected by the scouting chick a dee’s.
It seemed to come to a head one afternoon when I couldn’t locate him for dinner. I was able to track him into the woods by the loud complaints of screaming birds. There he was in the middle of a small clearing hissing and sputtering away as the birds comfortably hurled their birdy insults at him. I gathered him up and took him home for dinner, for once, he was quiet about being picked up.
Clancy was not interested in hunting birds; he liked big game animals, chipmunks, squirrels, dogs, and the wayward human. He did have a high internal sense of honor. Insult him once, and you had an enemy for life. Being he took offense quickly, he had a long list of enemies. To this list, he now added the neighborhood birds.
He abided. Fall came, and we took the first frost of the year early.
One morning I was in the shop and noticed Clancy paying even more attention to the birds than usual. I had the wood stove running to drive off the chill, and loving his creature comforts; I expected to see him tucked into the large sofa cushion that was his special place. But, no, he was just outside the shop with his tail lashing back and forth.
The frost touched the berries on the mountain ash tree and had set them to ferment. A number of the local birds were below the tree behaving drunk. They staggered and stumbled; other birds seemed to think this behavior was hilarious. For Clancy, it was nothing less the magical delivery of enemies into his paws.
Slowly he stalked out of the shop, belly flat to the ground—ears laid back, tail lashing sinuously back and forth. Revenge is mine saith the cat! Then the unexpected. A very drunk bird spots him and starts counter stalking the cat. Soon three or four birds are weaving back and forth, stalking the cat back towards the shop. Soon Clancy sees that he no longer the hunter, but is now the hunted. His sinuous stalk becomes a panicked retreat, and he slams into the shop’s screen door as he tries to get away from the nutso birds that have determined to get a bit of cat for an after cocktail snack. He dives under the workbench. It’s a few hours before I can lure him out.
We are cautious not to tease him about this. Such things do not happen to large game hunting cats.


Summer Complaints. The first I heard that term was about annual summer visitors to the coastal communities of Maine. But, the name had an earlier etymology on the coast. Older residents could speak authoritatively of spring complaints, fevers, chills, and illnesses that came on with the change of the season in the spring. Once upon a time, every grannie would have had a specially concocted mixture of herbs and secret ingredients that everyone in the family would be forced to consume, along with the Cod Liver Oil that was a medicinal standard. A spring tonic.
The Cap’n insisted that most of these foul-tasting concoctions made you automatically feel better once you couldn’t taste them any longer.

I left it at that until I came down with a cold that would not go away. The doctor over town said it was viral, and I’d have to put up with it. The Cap’ns wife Cora insisted that I have regular doses of Castor Oil and Cod Liver Oil. The Cap’n stood in the other room as Cora attempted to coax me into taking the Caster Oil. He seemed to be miming, ” you’ll be sorry.” Not too long after that, I learned that a critical ingredient in most grannie cures seemed to be stimulating the lower bowel. I nixed the Castor Oil after that.
The Cap’n was concerned because I was not perky enough to hold up my end of the work on the 34-foot ketch we sailed. He returned home that evening with a quart of dark brown liquid. Taking me aside, he insisted that I take half a glass of it every night before going to sleep, and swallow it down in one go. I secreted the bottle among the varnish, shellac, and other finishes in the workshop.
That night I went out to the shop and poured myself a half glass; how much worse could it be than Cora’s remedy? No sooner had I swallowed it down than I was re-enacting the scene from the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde movies where the doctor transforms with great agony. I did get a decent night’s sleep, however.
The next day I asked the Cap’n bout the strange elixir he had provided. “I got it from Walter Gray, over to the Fisherman’s Coop. He says it’s Demerara rum, fresh ginger, some herbs, and being he’s a marlinspike guy I wouldn’t doubt if it had a bit of Stockholm Tar in it too. He said for you not to use it longer than five days; might hurt your liver.” Might hurt my liver? “Don’t worry; you’ll be fine in three days.”
I was fine in three days. The doctor over town told me that the cold had just run its course. Cora insisted that Cod Liver Oil and Castor Oil had set be right. The Cap’n just smiled at me and collected the empty quart for return to Walter. If you can choose your elixirs, you should choose wisely.

The Alley Coffeehouse

My friends described the backside of Beacon Hill in the ’60s as a working-class slum. Not at all an accurate description. Worn at the heels, seen better times, shabbily genteel; those were better descriptors. The populace were refugees from Boston’s urban renewal in the West End, healthcare workers from the Mass General and Eye and Ear, and Folkies. The neighborhood had many charms for its residents. It was cheap, convenient to transportation, had a 24-hour drugstore, and you could roll down the Hill into the Emergency Room at the MGH. Being that most of us did not have things like medical coverage or primary care physicians. The ER was were we routinely got treated for everything from drug overdose to pediculosis. Power users of these services rarely paid. Many had no fixed abode, and the bills would go into mailboxes and from the mailboxes into the trash.

Legal, illegal, and dubious commerce flowed freely along the main thorofare of Charles Street. Coffeehouses, restaurants, antique dealers, clothiers, and head shops flourished. Habitues of both sides of the Hill had to do their business there.
On any given Friday or Saturday night, there was an influx from the suburbs of teens. Most were wanna be Folkies, proto-hippies, and the hungry eyed drugsters from the burbs that knew that they might find their need satiated here.
Some haberdashers catered to the need for just a better cut of a chambray shirt, embroidered jeans, or hat. Then there were also people satisfying other needs. Afterward, quite a few of those wound up in the ER at MGH.

The inhabitants of the third floor Grove street flat occupied by the Teahouse of the August Moon, myself, and my friend Billie had a more genteel racket. We sent Bill, a natural carnie if there ever was one, out befriend the starry-eyed and bring them back to an actual wall to wall Folkie paradise. There we would ply them with Narragansett beer, folk music, and entrust them with confidences about how life really was on Wild Side. In the process, they provided reimbursement for their tuition. They received a more humane fleecing than our friend Dutchie was providing down the street. Many returned in subsequent weeks for graduate work.
Weekday evenings we could be found at the foot of Grove street in our booths in the back of the Harvard Gardens. The table in front of us littered with twenty-five cents 8-ounce glasses of beer that the Evie, our waitress, brought to us by the dozen. One night I was a nasty drunk. I had been told by a coffeehouse owner that I had auditioned for that I wasn’t “sexy” enough. My friend Bill, always the one for wild solutions to problems, looked at me and said, “shit, we’ll open our own coffeehouse in the alley behind his. That began the Alley Coffeehouse in it’s one and only incarnation. The Teahouse of the August Moon gathered some folding chairs. Bill invested in paper cups and a bottle of cheap Chianti. I brought my guitar. Like a rapid guerrilla operation, we set up in the alley just behind the Charles street coffeehouse location. As soon as we had everything set, I began to play. Free Chianti and music began to attract customers. Bill, with waiters, folded napkin over his arm, greeted each and every new arrival and showed them to a seat. The sound of musical notes penetrated into the building in front of us. We were joined soon by one of the performers at the coffeehouse and some of the clients. Soon a screaming proprietor emerged with threats to call the police. Having achieved our goal, we began a procession down the alley towards home singing a bawdy rendition of the Kweskin Jug Bands “Washington At Valley Forge.”
Later back at the Gardens, we celebrated a successful raid upon the Establishment.


I sat down to watch the movie ” a Mighty Wind” with some trepidation. Within moments I was groaning at the portrayals of people who were almost that of Folkies I had known. The movie cut, in a humorous way, just a little too close to the bone. The preoccupations of the performers opened to public view. The jealousies, and innuendos, it was all there. We took it so seriously, and the movie exposed how mundane we were.

It was tough to watch because I know friends who either never picked up a guitar again after their last gig or those who practiced endlessly for a gig that will never come. Think of it; thousands of folkies, male and female, practicing in their basements waiting for the Folkie Apocalypse to come. Do you think I’m joking? We may be getting old, but, Folk Music is a powerful drug.

I have not been able to watch the movie ” Inside Llewyn Davis.” Just watching the trailer gave me bad flashbacks. Don’t get me wrong. I loved Greenwich Village, and I loved my life there. But, to get shoved back inside it again. No. Much too much crazy stupidity. But oh for the beautiful afternoons, evenings, nights, and entire weeks of playing that music.

Rules Of Thirds

The third-floor apartment on Park Avenue had its amenities, including a view of the Kuomintang sign down the street. I had shown up in Baltimore a few weeks earlier after discharge from the Navy and had been invited to share quarters with my friend Bill.

 Bill and I had a sometimes business carving “genuine” Tiki gods, and other countercultural junk. This we accomplished mostly with a Dremel tool and routers. One of us had to find cheap wood for these projects, and scrounging was my specialty.

Sometime that summer, I wandered into Warburton’s looking for free scrap. I walked into his studio just in time to be recruited. Three balks of wood were being prepared to become a Saint Joseph for a private chapel. I found myself helping move the materials into the shop. Warburton’s shop had extraordinary high ceilings. On one side was a balcony with a smaller workshop poised above the main work floor. The main work floor contained everything from large bandsaws to a 19th-century jointer that was ready to remove your hand in a second of inattention. Against one wall was the main work area for carving. There stood rack upon rack of carving tools. In a smaller corner was a bench upon which Warburton’s current engraving project sat with the burins and gravers of that trade neatly racked.

I asked Warburton why he used those old fashioned tools rather than use power tools. He looked at me for a while before replying than said, “You can find out yourself. I need an assistant, and if you can do the work, I’ll teach why I use those tools.” Real work on a steady basis was not what I really wanted, so I thanked him and said I’d be back to see what he was doing. 

I wound up, checking back almost every day. Warburton tolerated no lazing about, even by unpaid louts like me. He assigned me all the cleaning tasks he despised and was an apprentices lot since the Middle Ages. There was a logic to it. Being asked to sort walnut plank stock, I had to learn to gauge the quality of the planks, and how to properly sticker and stack the boards, so the was air circulation between the levels. Failure to do this could result in warped, twisted, and cupped stock that was worthless to the shop.

Warburton also had a box of old dusty wax fruit, cones, balls, and broken plaster castings that he periodically asked me to set up and draw. I would have gladly sorted several thousand board feet of lumber instead of doing still lives. It was my goal when asked to do this, to set up the items in absurd, obscene, or Daliesque tableau that I hoped would provoke him. He ignored this. Instead, he commented on the balance, composition, rhythm, and pattern formed by the objects. 

His most important lesson was about the rule of thirds. To this day, I am a terrible draftsman, but that summer, I did learn to do perspective drawings of Baltimore street scenes as I grew sick of wax fruit. I was always using the rule of thirds and looking at the balance and rhythm in the composition.

I did lots of scut work. I flattened water stones that had been used so often that they had hollowed surfaces, learned the basics of sharpening, and learned to actually use the knife. The maestro maintained that it was the foundational tool and that without being able to sharpen and control it, I’d never be a carver. 

Eventually, I was given a small block of walnut, a scrap really, and told to create an abstract shape. Emphasis had to be on the grace of curves, smoothness of transitions, and the quality of the tool work. I was warned that all the compositional elements I had worked on would also be involved. Was it to look like anything specifically? No. But he did pull out several books on the work of Jean Arp and Barbara Hepworth.

I began to be a snob when called upon to use a Dremel. My routing of Tiki’s became infiltrated with contamination from Hepworth and Arp. Bill accused me of ruining the business. In opposition to this, I began to critique his compositions, pointing out that they lacked balance or rhythm. I was eventually asked to leave the apartment. 

Down the street from our apartment was Oscar’s flower shop. Oscar’s was different. There wasn’t a real flower, stem, or leaf in the shop. Plastic floral material was just coming onto the market, and Oscar occupied his retirement, making incredible and fanciful arrangements. Oscar was impressed with my new found approach to carving. He began to offer me offcuts of cherry and walnut from his farm outside the city. These he posed with his floral creations. Our deal was a 40/60 percentage cut. This probably would not have been an issue with Bill except that Oscar decided that Tiki’s were…so yesterday. He chose to accept no more of Bill’s Tiki production and asked him to remove the unsold inventory from the shop. Riding the wave of artistic popularity, I decided to ask for a 60/40 percentage cut. I was an established “artiste.” Oscar smiled and said that we could revisit the deal when the current inventory sold. I agreed.

About that time, the desire to head up to Boston for a week or two came on me. I went on a frolicking detour, and my friend Bill sulked.

About three weeks later, I returned from Boston to find all my carvings on the back loading dock and some new carvings of Bill’s installed in Osar’s floral emporium. Asking what happened, I was informed that Bill had started routing and power sanding pieces similar to what I had hand-carved, but they cost Oscar about fifty percent less. Too Bill with his big red beard ripped and stained jeans looked much more like a real artist than I did with short hair and pressed khaki’s. 

This did put a strain on the friendship for a while. But Bill’s sense of art was not held by wood. His actual devotion lay in painting, and to that, he soon returned. Oscar also moved on. In a few weeks, he called Bill to come to get his stuff, which was left on the loading dock. Oscar had found a source for driftwood on the Delmarva that he maintained looked much better than anything Bill or I had done, and they were much cheaper. This was a different sort of rule of thirds for art: you innovate and sell. Somone copies and sells for substantially less. Lastly, the demand for the product declines.

Later that week, Bill and I stopped at Warburton’s to look at the progress on Saint Joseph. I mentioned to Warburton how we both lost a source of income from the sculptings. Warburton simply said: ” it’s hard to improve on nature.” To which Bill replied: “Yeah. Or to depend on the taste of a guy who sells plastic flowers.”

Adventures In Coastal Living – Thrift

The Cap’n and his wife Cora were not children of the Great Depression. They preceded it but lived through it. The Cap’n happily reminded me, whenever I was about to indulge in anything he perceived as a frivolous expense that ” In Maine, when the rest of the country got a cold, Maine got pneumonia.” It was his way of trying to teach me the frugal habits that had made him successful. His spendthrift son in law had not grown up impoverished. But, he hadn’t had a silver spoon shoved into his mouth either. The frivolity he was expressing dismay over was taking my wife, his daughter, out to a local restaurant. It was the second time in a month, and that was foolish.
Many of the Cap’ns ways made sense. We always painted one side of the house each year. He would make the trip to the hardware store and buy just enough of the cheapest exterior white paint he could find. We had a rotation, one side a year with some touch up on the nor’eastern side where the worst of the winter weather piles up. The slight variations in the different whites weathered out, and you really could not tell the difference. It was cheap to do it this way and divided the labor into reasonable annual amounts. Most important of all, it allowed more time to prep Psyche for summer sailing and meant more time to be sailing. The Cap’n had his priorities, and in that case, they aligned with mine.
I argued some times. He asked me to put a second long splice into a mooring line, and I rebelled. Making splices are a necessary part of a sailor’s skill set. But, multiple splices in a short line weaken the whole. In a mooring line, the single time it parts is the time you lose the boat. I won that argument and off we went to get a new coil of rope ( it’s only rope when it’s in the original coil – unwind it, and it’s line – fussy sailor stuff).
People who are not from New England tell jokes about string too short for saving. Well, I’ve been here for pretty much my entire adult life. Lots of that frugality wound up getting spliced into me.
When I emerged from a career as a government anthropologist, I walked back into boat shops where old paint, varnish, line, and wood got saved. Damn it that cost money. My shop and storage shed has lots of wood and supplies leftover from earlier projects. OK, I’ll admit it, I have wood in my store that’s been there since 1974. Every time I’ve moved, I moved it as well.
The Cap’n called it inculcation. I guess concerning my shop habits, it worked. But, I still do things that’d make the old itch furious; I love those new planes I bought last winter.


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.


Every few minutes, the little schooner tacked. The lobster boat kept on course. Both headed into the same harbor, the same distance away. The schooner looked as though it was going to cover about twice the ground as the lobster boat. The wind and tide featured large in this equation. But, the tourists were unfamiliar with the coast and had thought that the schooner was taking its time. Lollygagging.
There is a story among sailors about a captain who grew sick of the sea. He determined to move someplace where the sea and his trade were unimaginable. The captain shouldered an anchor and started walking inland. He walked for months looking for a place where what he carried would be unrecognizable. At last, he came to a place where the locals looked in wonder at the anchor and asked what it was. There he dropped anchor and became a farmer. The captain told stories to his children of the tides in the Bay of Fundy, currents, long passages at sea, and the smell of the land when you were still a long distance from the shore. They knew their father didn’t lie, but grabbing hold of the reality without experience was impossible.
The visitors were experiencing the coast for the first time. They weren’t naive, nor were they poorly educated. It’s just that knowing something intellectually and witnessing it can be different.
We all traverse physical distances as we travel. But most of the pleasure of travel is traversing experience—the cultural, culinary, linguistic, adventures of a new place.
Or of watching schooners tacking on a bay.


I am reposting this as part of Fandango’s Flashback Friday – April 16th.

<p class="has-drop-cap" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">My long-suffering guitar teacher Sid Glick: "Get that tempo down! You always want to rush!" Of course, he was correct. I was poorly self-taught, and he was trying to correct the errors of that self-tuition. Slow…down. "You can't gain mastery unless you can do slowly what you now do at full speed." My long-suffering guitar teacher Sid Glick: “Get that tempo down! You always want to rush!” Of course, he was correct. I was poorly self-taught, and he was trying to correct the errors of that self-tuition. Slow…down. “You can’t gain mastery unless you can do slowly what you now do at full speed.”

Fast forward forty years, and I found myself giving the same advice to woodcarving students. In some cases, I’m trying as Sid did to hide the frustration in my voice.
Once I started teaching carving, I had to master the art of slow. You can’t explain what you don’t understand, and every day, most of us do complex tasks at full speed. Such full speed that we don’t know what we are doing, and when called upon to show others we fumble.
If you teach manual skills, you know what I mean. The teacher has to be a master of slow to show the way to the student. The student, of course, is frustrated by slow and wants to go fast.
I thought I understood this. Then at age sixty, I returned to martial arts. I practice a Japanese sword art called Iaido. Iaido is the art of drawing the sword. There was the usual master to student instruction to “slow down.” which I found amusing and frustrating; because I thought I understood that part. I gradually started mastering the basics. Then both my senseis threw in a curve. My draw and cuts need Jo-Ha-Kyu. Jo-Ha-Kyu implies a sort of acceleration in the process of drawing and cutting. Like many concepts, there is more to the telling, but a simple English explanation is slow at the beginning, faster in the middle, and fast like an express train at the end. For something so deadly, it’s quite beautiful to watch when done correctly ( not by me). Let me add that, like many simple things, this is not easy to master.
I didn’t think there was anything comparable in carving. Then one day, I was smoothing the background of boat portrait, working hard to flatten the background with a large flat fishtail gouge. I woke up to the slow initial set of the tool. Then the gradual acceleration into the cut. And, the ending sweep as I added a bit of fast rotation to the gouge at the end; Huh. Jo-Ha-kyu.
I am very much in the early days as far as Iaido is concerned so, I won’t comment further on the functions it has in sword work. In carving, however, there is a feedback mechanism involved in the technique I described. To fast and too hard at the start, and I can dig my tool into the wood resulting in a wedge that can split and raise a shaving. After the initial set, I sense the progress of the gouge and the way the wood responds. I can detect if it drags, pulls to one side, or starts descending. If I react early enough, I can correct it. In the end, I control the rotation I use to finish the cut. As one sensei like to say, “and that’s all there is to it.”

Slow is essential, but the next level is knowing control and acceleration. But, to see that you have start slow.


The scent of place ties me to the memory of it. Walking into my shop and smelling varnish and linseed oil transports me to boat shops and boatyards where I’ve worked. Without a moment in transport, I’ve returned, even if it was long ago. Sometimes these “smellucinations” are just a bit too close to tearing the veil of reality.
I left the mid-coast in 1975 for grad school as my first marriage dissolved. I didn’t return until the dissolution of my career, as an applied anthropologist, completed and a rebirth as a carver began.
Never really being satisfied as a flatlander, I had found ways to work boatbuilders, marlinespike people, and lobstermen into the cultural programs on which I worked.
Then I got involved. I was drawn back in. You couldn’t even call it a seduction because I dove in headfirst.
I helped hang planks on a dory with a boatbuilder. I started working at my friend’s booths at boat shows, explaining to the uninitiated what a mast hoop was. Then one day, someone walked up to the booth looking for a transom banner and was referred to me.
Soon I was running my own small shop. I was ‘Yahd Cavah” at a boatyard, and I even ran ads in WoodenBoat magazine. An offer spend a week in coastal Maine teaching a Maritime carving course was not an offer I’d turned down.
The first morning I decided to walk the two miles to the shop where I’d be working. I had never been to this particular community, this specific island before. As I walked down the road, the scent of spruce came to me. Being not far from the water, the salt scent of the sea surrounded me. Not too far away, a tidal flat gave off that distinctive odor of low tide.
Off to the west, a small road led to a cove. I could almost see the 34-foot ketch Psyche swinging at her mooring, my bane, and pleasure. The Cap’n would be shoving his pipe full and agitating to set sail.
I shook free of the hallucination. It had been years since I thought of any of that. I hurried on to shop.

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