B & E

For many years, my constant associate was a large gray cat with attitude issues. Clancy J. Bumps ( with an umlaut over the U) was a feral cat who claimed me while I was living in Ottawa, Ontario in 1969. Clancy entered my life by walking up to my friends and me one day. He looked us over, and choosing me proceeded to climb up my leg, my back, and onto my head. He thereby claimed me as his personal property.

Being duly claimed, I had no choice other than to search the neighborhood for his mother, brothers, sisters, or other responsible parties. The most positive comments I garnered about my kitten’s character were, “oh good…the little brat’s your responsibility now.” Many hinted that his mother, in desperation, had kicked him out of the feline family. Being assured of his sterling character, I took him home.

The young Clancy soon expanded his rep by hanging out regularly with the most hardened cat in the neighborhood – a Siamese called Hunter – known for beating up a local Rottweiler. In human terms, Clancy would have been Hunter’s consiglieri. Of course, I became his favorite sparring partner when the blankets would not cooperate. Lights went on and off at odd hours as he practiced surprise combat techniques by leaping at the old fashioned light pulls.

After moving back to the Boston area, I moved into an old factory building behind Sullivan Square. It was far from being in a good neighborhood, but the rent was cheap for a space that was large enough to serve as a carver’s shop, and bare living quarters. The landlord hoped that having a small artist colony in the building would discourage the breaking and entering that was plaguing his property.
Clancy soon teamed up with another resident cat ( the double pawed Jean Le Foot) for nightly expeditions to catch mice and smaller rats. Watching the two cats double team on a rat was quite the thing among the workers at the coffin factory. The two were considered the sheriffs of the building, and they were shameless in their willingness to accept and expect rewards for their activities.
This was all very amusing, but none expected that the two cats would actually help discourage a breaking and entering.

The building was deserted on weekends. The factories closed on Friday, and the sounds of planers, jointers, and saws gave way to the creaks of an old mill building. Sunday, I went out with friends and left Clancy a large enough serving of food and water that he and La Foot ( who came and went through a hole in the wall) wouldn’t be hungry. I did not return that night.

Monday morning, I hurried down Sherman street because of the several police cars and an ambulance in front of my building. I was greeted inside by the owner of the coffin factory and an officer:
“Ahhhh. Wes glad you’re here…can you go up and coral your cat?” My cat? At this point, the officer filled me in on the situation. Sometime in the early hours, a burglar had made the rounds of our building: artists studios, butcher block company, casket factory, and at last, my shop. He would have gotten away with his felony, except the two cats somehow found fault with him. Clancy would attack at any opportunity, but his buddy was more peaceable. So I suspect he kicked one of the cats, and that did it. The biting and scratching began. The blood told the path of his retreat through the third-floor corridor. Then it spread and pooled in the coffin factory and into the bathroom. It was there he was found by the owner of the coffin factory. He called the police, but no one could get the felon to step off the toilet that was his final refuge. The two cats still circled like sharks below. Growling, and howling, they were just two angry kitties. I was able to lead them away with a can of food. The burglar, now in custody, passed me on his way to the police car bitterly complaining ( as he pressed towels onto his bleeding bites) that it should be against the law to keep such vicious animals. The cop just laughed at this.


For the first time, I walked to the front of the classroom. Carefully set up my pocket watch where I could track the time, sipped my tea, and addressed my class. I was teaching anthropology.

In 1963 I had been expelled from high school in New York. I spent more time in the coffeehouses of Greenwich Village than in class. Present any of my colleagues from the 1960s with a photo of me in front of a class teaching; they’d have told you it was absurd, laughed, and walked away. But, there I was in a tweed jacket, khaki pants, blue oxford button-down shirt, and regimental striped tie.

A friend had accepted another position, and she recommended me to replace her at the local college as an adjunct professor. The nursing students had a social science prerequisite for their degree, and anthropology was one of the available courses. My friend maintained that I had the edge over other candidates because I had worked in an operating room, and was familiar with the needs of professionals working in a health care setting. It was true. After grad school, I had been unable to find work as an anthropologist. My answer to new found poverty was a retreat to the operating room for almost two years. Scrubbing, as an OR tech was something I had felt was safely behind me. I had never seen it as a gateway to Academia. I was a maritime anthropologist on his way back to coastal Maine.

But soon I was to be standing in front of a class. Then it struck me. I could do anthropological fieldwork. I knew the material and approaches in all four quadrants of my discipline. I did not know how to teach.

My training had included extensive training in ethnography, analysis of data, sociolinguistics, archaeology, physical anthropology, and lots more. Truthfully many of my professors at grad school had no idea how to teach. One professor’s lectures were bound in leather with gold leaf on the binding edges. His delivery was as restricted as his notes. Never varying.

As sometimes happens to me, I found the answer in a dream. I was back at 232 Bay State Road. Boston University’s Department of Anthropology on the first floor. Buried in the back, my advisor’s office was barely more than a large walk-in closet. We frequently would spend an afternoon discussing everything from how to brew a good cup of coffee to anthropology. At the time, I did not understand my good fortune in having access to such a generous person as an advisor. Usually, it was here are the office hours, make an appointment with the departmental secretary. In my dream, we were sitting back having a leisurely smoke of some very illegal Cuban cigars I had procured from a Canadian friend. I asked him bluntly: how do you teach? ” Wes, It’s all presentation, orchestration, and knowledge. The knowledge you have. Just work on the presentation and orchestration. You’ll do fine. I taught you.”

When I woke up, I realized he was right. That weekend I made notes on everything I remembered about his presentation and how he orchestrated his lectures. Then I studied my notes, practiced gestures and mannerisms, and pulled together a suitably Ivy League wardrobe. 

On Monday, I patterned my appearance on his; the walk to the desk, setting up the pocket watch, and the style of greeting the students. After a while, it flowed naturally. 

I’ve taught anthropology, woodcarving, media, and television production to adults, high school students, and even middle school students. I eventually grew into my style. But, it began in that cramped office, where I learned the basics of teaching: presentation, orchestration, and knowledge.

Probability Zero

We huddled in a patch of woods about a hundred yards from the cemetery. From where we crouched, we could see the police car’s searchlight and the sounds of the night watchman walking by the stonewall. The watchman’s flashlight was bobbing up, and then down, we could see the vapor from his breath in it’s light every time he stumbled on the stones. A sharp wind and blowing leaves were reminders that it was late October.

A half an hour ago, we had been stumbling through the cemetery searching for the grave of our friend Bill – “Zero.” He had died earlier that week in a totally avoidable, but very fatal car crash. This morning I had served as a pallbearer. Darryl, still on crutches from the accident, had walked alongside. We hadn’t met before but shared a bond in our friendship with Bill. After the service, we hatched a plan to honor our friend in a way we knew he would have appreciated: seed his grave with Marijuana seed.
Through the day, we combed the city, visiting each friend, asking for seeds gleaned from their nickel bags, and dimes. There were many friends, and it wasn’t hard to get a bag of seeds together. There was also a volunteer corps ready to move on the cemetery. But Darryl and I figured that a small commando operation was best.
By the time we had collected the seed and a few bottles of wine, it was late afternoon. We caught a city bus to within a few miles of the cemetery. The whole time we spent walking, sipping wine, and talking about road trips and experiences we’d had with Bill.
We didn’t find the fresh grave by sundown as we’d hoped. We stumbled into the freshly turned grave soil with a mutual shudder, a fast check of landmarks, and a shiver down our spines. We ceremoniously scattered the bag of seed over the earth. We had meant to pour a generous final drink on the grave, but by the time we arrived, all but a few sips were gone. We could hear Bill saying, “…like usual. You guys never save any for me.” We spilled those few sips on the head of the grave and started to say our goodbyes when we saw the flashlight from the caretaker’s house at the gate. Then we heard the wail of a police car heading into the cemetery. Having been friends of Bill, it wasn’t the first time we’d been fugitives. Darryl flung the bottle away, and a white folky with a guitar, and one tall skinny black guy on crutches, ran into the woods. We negotiated the wall, guitar, and crutches, and plunged into the woods. The lack of moonlight hindered our progress, but also made it easier to hide from searchers.

“Hey, Wes? Do you think we’ll be stuck here long? It’s damn cold!”
“Could be a while, Darryl; you got another bottle?”
“Nah, man. That was the last one.” After that, neither of us spoke for most of an hour caught in our own thoughts and shivers. I’d been road partners with Bill for years. Darryl had met Bill in Baltimore and had been with Bill on the awful trip to California. Their opting to take the southern route had resulted in a smooth journey through most of the south but had landed them in a Texas jail. In 1966 a big red-bearded folky and black guy hitching together through some very conservative small towns attracted notice. I had been in Maine, and very grateful I’d missed their little excursion. We both had shared many miles and times with Bill. I looked over at Darryl and asked him, “you know how he got to be called Zero?”
“No. But we’re not going anywhere for a while, so tell me.”

It was initially “probability zero.”
You never met Jen, his first wife. She really loved Bill, but she loved and respected her mother more. Her, how do they say it French? Maman? She was a French Canadian. Well, Maman hated the idea of her little girl being married to this folky with all that red hair. She especially hated his beard. The longer he grew it, the more she hated it. So the longer he grew it. One day she asked what the chances of his shaving it off were. He replied that the probability was zero. So I started calling Bill Probability Zero. Eventually, that just became Zero or Captain Zero. Maman just got madder when Jen dutifully told her about the new nickname, and it didn’t take long for her to find out who’d hung the tag on him. That made me very unpopular at that house too. Maman worked on Jen for most of a month until Jen left Bill, and went home to Maman.
Bill and Jen were a matched pair of opposites: where he was absurd, she was practical, where she was timid, he was bold. They really needed each other to be complete. Jen, however, was a dutiful daughter and informed Bill that she’d come back when he changed his ways: no more wild trips, folk music, and no more beard and long hair.
Bill’s response was a big road trip. We went to Philly, D.C., Baltimore, and then came back to Boston’s Beacon Hill. As soon as we had settled into our booth at the Harvard Garden’s Bill called Jen and told her he wanted to come and visit. Jen was silent on the other end, then said that if he wanted to come, he had to shave. Bill was silent for a few. Then he agreed to shave, and send the clippings to her mom as proof. In the background, you could hear Maman shouting that when she saw the hair, held it in her hands, then he could come, not a moment before.
Days passed as Bill mulled over shaving. Finally, we bought a case of Narragansett beer to ease the trauma, and he dutifully shaved. The next morning we walked to the post office with a parcel and sent them off to Jen’s Mom. Three days later, Bill got the go-ahead to visit. Being a pair of rovers, we planned a chaotic path westward. We meandered through towns in Central and Western Massachusetts we hadn’t visited yet, and generally had a frolicking detour of magnificent proportions. Bill wasn’t too eager to show up on Jen’s doorstep anytime too soon.
It was Friday when we arrived. It was too late to go over to Jen’s, So Bill and I camped in a woods about four miles away. We cooked canned beans over a fire and told stories.

In the morning, we showed up at Maman’s house. Bill rang the bell, and I stood to one side. Maman came to the door. Smiled, then did a double-take of Bill’s unshaven beard. Then she glanced towards his crotch, shrieked and fainted. There’s more, but you can fill it in for yourself, Darryl. That cemented the name and the fame.

About that time, we decided that it was safe to creep out of the woods towards the highway. Fifty years later, I appreciate Maman’s viewpoint better. I tremble at the thought of Billy and Wes showing up on my doorstep. But, and but is the critical word here, I still grin every time I think about that trip.


Boundless inspiration. It’s not always available. That’s why art books and museums are so valuable. In my very earliest days as a carver, my mentor Warburton insisted that I regularly go to galleries and museums. Admittedly he may have wanted to get me out of the studio to where I would be someone else’s nuisance.
I always took sketching materials when I went. Not because I was so skillful at what I rendered, but because we did not have pocket phones with cameras. Well, we did not have pocket phones come to think of it. Then too many museums forbade any photography by visitors. If you needed a rendering, you drew it.
Warburton had an extensive art library to which I received limited access. Rare volumes were off-limits, but everything else was open to me. The library was several hundred of books, portfolios, pamphlets binders and loose material that begged for cataloging. Sometimes you dug for items in the piles. As a result, you frequently went on artistic detours as you found interesting diversions that related not at all to what you needed.
I had been fortunate to grow up in New York City, which still had free museums. I was no stranger to losing myself in exhibits. Warburton would send me away to the Walters or other locations with goals. Not exclusive goals, but purposeful enough a directive that I had to prepare for the inquisition when I returned.
I saw no particular discipline in Warburton’s directives. As in all things, he wisely refused to be my master. But, staying at a distance as my mentor allowed me to grow.
Never thinking of these influences over the years, my collection of books has grown. I haunt museums and scour the internet.
There are only a few points of contact where my collection overlaps with Warburton’s; we have different interests. But there are several hundred volumes, portfolios, pamphlets, booklets, binders and loose piles that make inspiration easier to find.

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