Some of us are on a safari, sampling life as we move from place to place or experience to experience. Others seem tied to one locale by an invisible byssus that holds them to one environment.
At some time in my wandering, I landed briefly at a coastal community and envied their sense of home location. They, too, wandered away for a while – to work a job, college, or a voyage. But they always returned to the cove, harbor, beach, or bay.
Occasionally, I like to visit, feel connected, and feel home away from home. So last week I called an old friend, Paul. I mentioned I’d love to visit and see the old town. He said come on and visit, but it’s not the old town anymore,” the only thing that looks like it used to is the Town pier, but that’s overrun with riff-raff off the cruise ships. I’ve been thinking about moving further Down East, but I understand they have the same problems.”

Perhaps somewhere off the map, there are still destinations where cruise ships cannot navigate, climate change does not destroy, or the coast is not inundated with the jetsam and flotsam of a world’s rejected plastics. But I’m not going to go on safari looking for it. I’d only be joining the mass exodus of people looking to escape the mess we’ve made of what we have while carrying the problems we’ve created to new places.
Paul’s advice to the people on the cruise ships? “Stay home, clean your messes up, and don’t bring them where I live.”

People Watching: the boat show

My friend sat there sipping his bourbon, looked over at me, and said, “Oh, what stories we could tell!” But, of course, he was referring to some of the things that happened at or that we saw during our years of doing boat shows. Although to be honest, we don’t share the good stuff with potential customers, that would be tantamount to warning them to behave at the show. No fun for us!
Just look at couples. We see the entire range: the young couple shopping for their first little sloop, the older couple looking for something suitable for cruising with the kids, and the older ones looking to downsize and longingly looking at the little sloops that remind them of when they were young and frisky.
I don’t have enough words to describe the frisky ones. From the older couple away from the kids, staying at the hotel with that ” Oh, honey, wait till we get to the room” look in their eyes to the non-matched couples meeting up at the show – she’s into lobster yachts, he’s into traditionally rigged sloops or 22-foot catboats, but they are clearly into each other. Then, at last, there are the older gentlemen who hoped to revive their romantic fortunes with much younger trophy wives. But that deserves an entire post by itself.
Staffing a booth at a show is hard work; you answer questions all day ranging from the inane to the insane to the wise. You tell people where the bathroom is so often that you make up a sign with an arrow indicating the direction. And you pray that one of your friends will show up with lunch soon or relieve you – so you can go to the bathroom. It’s all in a day’s work.
My friend and I have retired from doing the shows, but we do like to go and browse. But mostly, we watch people. After years of observing, we know what to look for. It’s not dull.


A good day by the water involves at least a bit of time looking at ripple marks, jetsam, and flotsam. Jetsam is those things people have tossed overboard, and flotsam is the many things that can be found floating. After a storm, a fantastic array of goods can be on the shore.
Back when you could spice up a day at the waterside by telling the kids stories based on what was found. Now you fill a trash bag with plastic debris and deliver a talk on environmental responsibility. Unfortunately, that is not my definition of an exciting sea story.

One represents a creative venture where almost anything is possible through exploration. The other is a sad commentary on litter, a lack of environmental responsibility, and industrial cupidity. As we leave, we notice that we are not the only ones with a bag of collected trash. Others are also interested in leaving the shore a better place than they found it.

Once upon a time in the Navy

Daily writing prompt
What makes you nervous?

Fights always make me nervous, scare me and make me almost ill. I was taught and trained to avoid them, and if not able to avoid them, end them.

Being graceful in your interactions with oafs shows that you have character. This advice was from my mother.
Various ministers also lectured on turning the other cheek and the many virtues of peace.
Later on, my senseis in martial arts reinforced this; dignity and respect for others were the marks of a real martial artist. Courtesy and kindness deflected many conflicts. Students of their dojo were not to swagger about and provoke conflict.
Then there was my father, the former Marine and Merchant Mariner engineer, ” Louis, don’t start a fight. Just be prepared to finish one if you must.”

So there I was, standing in the Blue Anchor with my arm around this heavenly young woman I’d been dancing with. Four fast dances left us elated and slightly out of breath. Then in walks the boyfriend. Sweet Jody, the young woman, runs over to him, kisses him, and clutches him possessively. Seeing how things are developing, I try very hard to make myself small, inconspicuous, and unnoticeable. Walking slowly back to the table where my buddies are waiting, I hope the boyfriend is not an oaf and interested in starting a fight. I have my apologies ready for the ordeal.

Sure enough, he comes sauntering up to me as I approach the table and makes the error of grabbing my shoulder. I turn, brushing the hand off. I told him I had not known the young lady had a boyfriend. From the look on his face, I see that he really didn’t care; he just wanted to have a bit of fun with me. Past him, over his shoulder, I see Jody with an expectant look on her face. I should head for the exit, except that never happens because Oaf-boy has already started to swing a roundhouse punch at my face. Never use one of those theatrical roundhouses on a martial artist. I grabbed him in a wrist lock, twisted his arm so the elbow pointed upward, and levered him to the ground. His arm was mine to snap if I so wished. I now shifted my grip so I could twist his pinky finger. The pain from this is sublime. I whispered that one form of this hold allowed me to dislocate his shoulder and snap his neck. But if he apologized nicely, I’d let him lick my boot. He groaned.
Several of his friends had entered the bar at that point, but seeing the four Marines I had been drinking with, decided that oaf-boy was on his own. My Marine buddies were howling with laughter; docs aren’t generally known for fighting skills.
I pushed Oaf-boy away and went to my table. The bouncer was already on his way over, so my friends were preparing to leave. None of us wanted to be taken in by the Shore Patrol.

On the way out, I saw Jody throwing me a kiss; I looked away. I pitied her boyfriend.

Favorite Food

We all have favorite things that we’d be loath to relinquish, even if threatened with death. And I’ve known patients who told their doctors and nurse exactly where to place it rather than give up their beloved kielbasa and kapusta. So this is not some capricious whim of ill people to make things worse for themselves. Food does a fine job of helping define us. I might be tempted to pull a blade on someone suggesting that my grandmother’s poppyseed bread, with all that rich poppyseed filling, was something I was no longer allowed at Christmas or Easter.

When faced with such opposition, most practitioners I’ve known back off a bit and calmly reason that limiting the serving size and frequency would be a great help. Feeling appeased, I dutifully reduce the portion and only have the goody on the actual holiday, not every day leading up to and from for a week. Ok, if I get a bit shady and cheat once, so what?

There is one exception to my enlightened attitude. Overcooked New England Boiled Dinner. Once the specialty of church dinners this time of year all over New England, but now, thankfully, relegated to backwoods corners of unorganized rural territories. Made with corned beef, cabbage, carrots, and potatoes, It can be a savory treat on a late winter evening. But left to boil endlessly like some witches’ caldron, it takes on the odor and taste of boiled clothing.

Boiled dinner was a great favorite of my father-in-law. The Cap’n would trot the entire family off to “enjoy” some. Blindfold me, and I could tell you when we were within a thousand yards of the church hall where they served it. I blanched as the entire family tucked into large portions of the stuff.

I have to stop! I’m having a flashback. Please…a large bowl of ice cream with a topping of crushed nuts, whipped cream, and maple syrup..That’s the only thing that will snap me out of this, Please! Help.

Directions, Not Places

The other day I let my fingertips travel to the website of a small regional newspaper that covers the community on the coast that once was a focus of my life. I observed that some small things remained the same. But that many had changed. I chuckled when I noted that two grandchildren of folks I knew were now Town Clerk and a Select Board Member, respectively. Other things were eerily the same or different.

The internet saved me the six-hour drive that would only prove what I already knew. It’s true; you can’t go home again. Or, in this case, the place that almost became home.

I don’t think there is anything pathological about regret like this, provided you don’t dwell on it. But unfortunately, romanticizing the past is an easy trap to fall into. I had bookmarked the site but then deleted it.

Driving into work later, I recalled a favorite quote: “Happiness is a direction, not a place.” (Sydney J. Harris)


I received an early indoctrination from my father on volunteering and management. He had a sort of pragmatic wisdom from having served in the Maine Corp and the Merchant Marine. He’d say that ” the conventional wisdom says don’t ever volunteer. However, sergeants and bosuns Mates know this and will “volunteer” you for the duty. Protesting too much can get you extra duty later on. Volunteer smart. Keep the bosun happy, get your buddy off hard duty occasionally, and gain credit from your shipmates.” My father’s take was this was a wheel; you had to keep it spinning.

The spinning wheel only works when everyone pitches in once in a while. In other words, you don’t wait for an appointment to do your part. And in a pinch, everyone gets together to keep things working. The time to argue about the duty roster was not while the ship was in danger of sinking in the storm.

As my father used to say, all this was in a perfect world; but the world is not perfect. He maintained that you needed sergeants, bosun mates, and officers because some people are lazy and won’t contribute their energy, effort, or money to keep things working. So you have to have people who manage things, and that’s where the real skill comes in; just the right amount of encouragement, the correct amount of discipline, and a knowledge of the personalities involved.

When we had the final conversations about this, my father was a maintenance supervisor for a large real estate company in New York City. He had to oversee several crews, contracts, and sites. His attitude had not changed. After a while, he stated you knew from a historical view how things might not work. He understood that the one person in the crew who shirked his share torpedoed the team’s efforts. So he managed lightly, but diligently and kept an out for who was slacking.

Without thinking much about it, I’ve adopted my father’s methods and thoughts on management. However, over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to view others. The worst is a system sometimes called ” management by ambush.” In this system, you ambush unsuspecting workers even if they’ve done nothing. The thought behind this is that they’ll never know when you are watching and will always be working hard. But, of course, what happens is that they game your system, resent you, and try to derail things in revenge.

In discussions I’ve had with adherents of the management by ambush method, they maintain that my lazy system allows smart slackers to control the system. I respond that spending your energy where needed leaves most of the crew alone to finish the job. They understand that you are watching, but know that if they do their part, you will leave them alone- in other words, treat them as adults.

Well, not everyone can be left alone and treated as an adult. But if you want to be a manager, you should invest in learning enough about the people you supervise to know who needs mentoring, who you leave alone, and who you manage closely.


Twilight is not just a simple fading of the light. If you’re a sailor, there is civil twilight and nautical twilight. Then some sit, gin and tonic in hand, waiting to see the green flash as the rapid tropical sunset fades into the short tropical twilight. All these, except for that elusive green flash, can be gauged and timed. But, so far as I know, no attempt has succeeded in predicting the green flash.

The flash is debated. After exhausting that topic, a few more Pusser rums are consumed. Then the group discusses other maritime mysteries, like how the ship’s cooks can ruin perfectly good chow. Interestingly, the vessel size seems immaterial; everything from a thirty-four-foot ketch to a colossal tanker suffers the same fate.

After this, things settle down, and as the evening rolls on, other mysteries are divulged, discussed, and interpreted– the best bars in ports they’ve visited, the worst storms, women, and how much they miss the Loran-C navigational system. This last start a debate among the master mariners in the group about who can still use a sextant for a noon sight.

When midnight comes, and the Mid-watch is about to commence, the topic turns to nautical versus civil sunrise.
It’s terrific being a sailor…there is always something to bull shit about.

Drama Versus The Prosaic

As a carver, I work with many flammiferous materials; the worst are the solvents and finishes. But I’ve found that while you can take precautions around the shop to be safe from things like a spontaneous combustion of sawdust and rags, safety from inflammable people is something else.

You see this at shows. People are away from home, perhaps on vacation, but away from neighbors who might inhibit their tacky, infantile behavior. One couple stood directly in front of my booth and had a screaming divorce-inspiring meltdown. It wasn’t just your idle recitation of curses and accusations of infidelity. Both were cruelly creative.
This happened at the Mystic Seaport during a WoodenBoat Show. My booth was less than a stone’s throw from the restored whaling ship, the Charles W Morgan, and I could almost see the ghosts of the old whalers listening in admiration as the pair flensed directly to the bone with each cutting comment.
I cautiously asked them to move away from my booth, and they gleefully turned and started on me. Luckily their kids showed up and distracted them. All four strolled away in a haze of recriminations and accusations over who would pay for lunch.

An hour later, a young couple appeared. If the preceding pair had hit the pinnacle for the worst behavior seen at a boat show for a couple, the young lovers were at the extreme; hands clutched together, loving glances, and respectful questions about what the other liked. Following closely on their heels was a pair of boisterous pre-school age kids who swamped me with questions but politely kept their hands to themselves. Unfortunately, the first couple’s public battle occupies your memory and gets repeated over dinner with your friends.

It’s an attractive proposition to assume that either couple symbolizes more significant societal traits. In isolation, each couple seems to represent an extreme. But the real people watcher, and believe me, you have plenty of time for people watching during these three-day shows, realizes there is an almost infinite variety.

It’s just that the flammiferous couple attracts and holds the most attention. Drama trumps the prosaic every time.


Romance is where you find it. For an anthropologist, it’s the places where you do fieldwork.
It’s like an old love, in the past but not entirely forgotten. Then, years after the separation, you find an old love letter and are transported on a wave of sentiment. That happened to me just yesterday.
I was sorting through a box of old paperwork and found some material I thought the local historical society in the coastal community I worked in years ago might like. I made the mistake of opening the folder and suddenly felt a wave of nostalgia rush through me- places, names, silly things, recollections of kinship relations in the community, and a specific boat swinging at its mooring.
Then I decided I was not emotionally ready yet to donate yet. Most of the stuff in the box was worthless junk and could go out in the recycled paper, but not that folder with the field notes badly typed, the pamphlet on the town’s history, or the newspaper clippings. So I’m justifying all this as material I’ll use in more stories about life on the coast. But actually, it’s the same reason we store old love letters away in the attic; some things we can’t easily be parted from.

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