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.


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.

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