Cash and Value

Daily writing prompt
List three jobs you’d consider pursuing if money didn’t matter.

There is a vast difference between jobs that are just that and an occupation that has real value . And money or social status has little to do with it. Done right, what many consider low-status jobs are valuable and critically important. Some are idiot enough to put down childcare. What could be more important than establishing a firm foundation for your child’s development?

The sparkle of gelt, gold, all that glitters, and wealth deceives many into thinking that their position in life is superior to that of, say, a milkman. Perspective is critical here. At some point, many of purported high status feel a void and eagerly seek a weekend experience working on a dairy farm – “reconnecting with the earth.” Or flock to a school to learn carving, boatbuilding, shamanism, or cooking skills. This is in response to a realization that status is not everything. 

Students have told me that they envy the creative and pure nature of carving and that it has value beyond simple cash remuneration. I agree with them; each piece is subtly different, even from the same pattern. The wood is different; you’re in a different mood that day, and the light on the work varies. 

This search for value in work is an old one. It predates me. But I ran into it first when I was a folksinger and discovered that the people who shoved dollars into my basket at second and third-tier coffeehouses envied my sofa-surfing, guitar-playing existence. They’d say, “If only I could afford to live like you.” To me, they might as well have been baying at the moon. Live like me? Afford to wonder where your next meal came from or whose living room you were in tonight? To them, my lifestyle was carefree and creative.

The simple truth is that work is not life. Suppose you allow your job description to define you. In that case, you are in enough trouble that a week-long immersive residential class in carving, boatbuilding, embroidery, or French cooking will not save you. If, on the other hand, you say, “Well, I work in arbitrage, but my true passion is making craft beer.” you’ve made a qualitative change in your life. 

You may never become a professional brewmaster, but your aspirational life has improved, and you’ve made progress toward understanding that cash does not imply value or worth.


Daily writing prompt
What aspects of your cultural heritage are you most proud of or interested in?

It can be tough and exhilarating not to be tethered to one tradition. On the one hand, you do not really belong in any place, but on the other, you are free to feel ownership of many traditions and backgrounds. I knew this while growing up. The Carreras family is from the environs of Girona and the Costa Brava in Catalonia, and my paternal grandmother is Hungarian/ German from a tiny corner of the Autrio-Hungarian Empire. My mother was from a remote Island on the western edge of the Caribbean that had changed hands multiple times between the British and the Spanish. There is more. The DNA test lays it out with digital accuracy, but this is the gist.

The question of who you are could only elicit a long and varied tale because I was a person of snippets. I early on learned that my girlfriend’s parents were interested in the short story, not the long one. A bit from here and another from there can get too complicated for casual storytelling. In addition, geographical moves over the generations complicated the story. But it all came together in New York City in time for me to be born and raised a New Yorker. In many circles, that is enough to nail it down with digital precision – “Oh, he’s from New York” – it explains it all.

Maybe I should have left it at that. Nice and simple. But I don’t like nice and simple, so I messed it up by moving to New England. There, I learned very non-New Yorker ways. 

One day, it all came to a head when I flew to New York for a consulting job. I grabbed a cab and gave the cabbie directions. After talking for a while, he asked me where I was from, and I told him, ” Washington Heights, in Manhattan.” He laughed, “That’s funny. No, where are you really from?” I couldn’t convince him I was a New Yorker.

I had a bit of an existential crisis that day.

The Low Down On Logos

Daily writing prompt
What brands do you associate with?

I feel that people who walk around with little logos on their clothes or huge swatches on their t-shirts must be lacking in commercial acumen or stylistic panache. They may also be groggy from too little sleep and leave home with mismatched socks.

First, you are a giant walking billboard. Don’t you have misgivings about being an advertisement, especially one who paid for the privilege rather than being paid? Second, I feel there is an implication that you have little sense of style and must borrow it from some supposedly elite brand. Maybe try a pony or a wineglass logo rather than that cute crocodile. Explore a bit.

There is more to this you might wish to think about.

Buying my first wreck of a car coincided with a hotly contested election. I eagerly slapped the bumper sticker of my favorite candidate onto the rear bumper and thought little of it until the police stopped me; after giving me a warning rather than a citation, the officer felt free to lecture me on politics and provide some free advice. It ran like this: not everyone agreed with my political stance; some might be aggrieved and even choose to do more than disagree with me. He mentioned that on his police force, a few officers hated my candidate and thought that anyone who agreed with him must be an idiot. They might not just give me a warning but a citation. He said this was free advice; I could take it or leave it. After witnessing a bit wider taste of how people behave when politics becomes a combat sport, I decided to take it.

Brands and branding say a lot about us. I tend to avoid wearing brands. I have a few WoodenBoat hats and a Town Class Sloop hat. They are well-thought-out exceptions to my general rule; I’ve worked for WoodenBoat and Pert Lowell Company( makers of the Town Class sloop) and have a genuine affection for the companies because of personal connection. Otherwise, I avoid being a billboard.

People may evaluate you on your branding. Make it something you feel passionate about rather than placeholders for opinions or other people’s logos.*

*OK, OK, I’ll carve out an exception for Band T-shirts. Sheesh!


Daily writing prompt
What could you do more of?

How much shelter do we need?

We all are looking for that safe place; get fancy and describe it as a latibule, more basic as a hideaway, securitize it as a safe room, or go western gangster and want a Hole In The Wall. It will all be the same, someplace where we can’t be gotten at by whatever is trying to give us injury. It can be as simple as a comfy spot under a quilt. Or, if you are a paranoid billionaire, a custom-built subterranean shelter for yourself, your family, selected domestics, and security staff. You and I just want to be safe from injury. But the ultra-wealthy want to pull a substantial part of the world in with them, too.

Perhaps you think I am joking, but I am very serious. I searched online after reading a newspaper article about it a few months ago. I found sources that extolled the designs and construction details of doomsday constructions for the filthy rich. You and I may cower in our basement with water jugs and canned beans, but the well-to-do will still have pate, wine, and clean sheets.

But the article I read pointed out a big hole in the mega-shelter idea. Pay. The staff might start being grateful for the reprieve from armageddon for a few weeks. But working only for sustenance gets a bit old after a while. After a time, they might think that they don’t need you screaming for a fresh bottle of sherry at midnight. And what’s the likelihood of the security staff getting ideas and holding a coup? Think of it: the airlock opens, and you and yours get evicted from your dear shelter into the toxic outdoors.

So, with all the banks closed and you being frightened by your staff, they have a problem that the rest of us peons don’t. 

It’s such a first-world problem.


Daily writing prompt
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I was, and if you listen to some people, still am more than a bit willful. I was pretty much out of the house and on my own at sixteen, and being a bit shrewd and willful in that magnetic New York City manner made it possible for me to survive.

What I lacked was education. I was booted out of high school for spending more time at a Washington Heights pool hall than in class. I got very little out of it; I’m still lousy at pool. But it did terminate a truly atrocious time interned at George Washington High School. And I use that term advisedly. All this happened in 1963.

I didn’t need the high school diploma for my next act. I merely got on the IRT subway and traipsed down to Greenwich Village. Once there, in the center of Beat and Bohemian traditions in the City, I crafted a living as a folksinger. I played at lower-tier coffeehouses and bars; soon, I matriculated in advanced studies in sofa surfing and finding cheap eats.

It wasn’t until 1970, After time in the Navy, shifting about the US and Canada, and playing random numbers on the jukebox of life, that someone tried to put paid to me with their .38 caliber. This had an amazing and sobering effect on me. After consulting with the folks at the Veterans Administration, I found that my G.I.Bill veteran’s coverage would pay for me to return to high school without counting towards what would be available for a potential gig at college.

Soon, I was enrolled at Shaw Prep, taking English, Geometry, and History. Once again, I never completed it. But rather than my walking out, my English teacher, George McDonough, pulled me aside and told me there was a better way forward. He referred me to a counselor at Boston University named Richard Kimball. Kimball arranged for me to take night courses at Boston University Metropolitan College. What was on offer was a deal: do well enough and eventually be able to enroll as a degree candidate.

Eventually, I graduated with honors from Boston University’s College of Liberal Arts, Cum Laude, with honors in anthropology (class of 1975). Just before graduating, I was called to the Dean’s office. It seems that I failed to take a High School Equivalence test or provide proof of completing high school as required. We just sat there for a while, and then the Dean misfiled the paperwork, smiled at me, and wished me luck in grad school.

The best advice I’ve received was George McDonough, advising me to see Richard Kimbal. This story is true.

The Garden Rebels

Daily writing prompt
What things give you energy?

Yesterday was the first day of Autumn. The overgrown section of the garden calls out to me. It’s time to reconquer the wild. There is an impenetrable dome of vegetation in the front side garden that even the dog refuses to venture into. I also have an enormous amount of pruning to do. Apple trees gone rogue, a pear tree that has resisted control. And squash vines that stubbornly refused to set fruit in the damp wetness of summer but have grown vast and lanky. I have had it with the grapes; the bird’s protests shall go unheard. I’m cutting them down!

I’ve posted a few times this summer about my new plans for the garden: elevated beds, very strictly limited. I want an easy-to-control garden with no annual struggle with breakaway sections declaring outlaw rule. The initial beds I have constructed seem to fit the bill. Two more will be constructed in the spring, and I shall resist the temptation to throw in a few more plants at random; that never seems to end well.

It is always the same. Great energy and commitment in April, a busy May, and then a relaxing June enjoying the garden’s beauty. Then comes July and August with competing commitments for family trips, work, and too-hot-to-weed days. But inevitably, come September; I wake up to the loss of control, the needed weeding, and the rebellious front side garden that always simmers with rebellion. This year, though, I have taken heed from previous years and developed a plan to reduce garden size and strictly control the wilder tendencies.

Now! Do I have the energy for all this?

And a one, and a two

Daily writing prompt
What’s your all-time favorite album?

Labels can define you. They are not you, but they can place you in time and space, give people inaccurate hunches about who you are, and put actual thought on a snooze alert. So be careful with giving away information about yourself that sticks you in a niche. Admitting that you liked your grandmother’s collection of Lawrence Welk records from the 1960s will have them continually making reference to “Champagne Music,” giggling and asking if you took accordion lessons. Even worse would be revealing the info online – you’ll be showered in junk email offering you intimate bios of Welk, deals on concert videos, and the like.

We all know that such unscientific efforts to plumb the depths of a person are doomed to failure. I prefer graphology myself. A simple sample of your writing will reveal all the characteristics needed to pigeonhole, I mean to reveal a person’s most intimate traits.

Here, let’s try an experiment. Just sign on this line and here where it needs a date. No, no need to fill in the amount line. Of course not! What sort of cad do you think I am…I wouldn’t dream of cashing your blank check. It’s just an experiment in graphology!

And don’t worry; your secret is safe with me. No one shall ever know of your questionable taste in music. Trust me.


Daily writing prompt
What would your life be like without music?

A few years ago, I was put on inhalers for occasional asthma, and they warned me that my voice might change while I was on them. OK, we might envision my normal grumble turning into a mellifluous baritone in some fantasy world. But instead, I went from a grumble to sounding more like a cement mixer. Because I had been a 1960s folk singer and performer, I had few pretensions that I’d one day be invited to perform at the opera. But the new voice was something I was willing to donate pronto to makers of horror films looking for desperate creatures about to ravage the heroine.

While it has been many years since I had either sung in a choir or performed, the first time I sat down with my guitar, I was amazed by my new voice. Grinding gears sounded better. The cat left the room, and the dog began to whimper. Who was this monster, this deception who had replaced Father? The cat’s misery attracted the attention of my wife, who asked if I had a sore throat. She brought me a hot tea with honey and said it could make a terrible sore throat tractable. Rather than grunting out an unintelligible gargle of gravel, I merely smiled and sipped. It did help a bit.

The inhalers are in a box, and I hope to avoid another course of treatment with them. By and large, I have regained my normal voice, which still is not up to concert standards.

I hope they can prescribe me medication that improves my voice next time. Well, one can only hope, right?

Talk Like a Pirate Day – Davy Jones Salvage

Today is National Talk Like a Pirate Day. In honor of it, I’ve decided to break a fifty-year silence. This is no fairy tale or folly; I was there when it happened. So listen up!

In the hurricane that whipped up the coast in early October, the schooner Periwinkle had gotten caught threading the eye of the Needles, the narrow passage between the reefs called the Widows. When the tidal surge went out, she’d grounded; when it returned, she’d swamped and gone down. The Periwinkle was not the first to attempt threading the Needles, only the most recent to fail. Threading the eye of the Needles was a puzzle best left to the experienced, and the skipper of the Periwinkle had refused the advice that might have saved his boat: stay clear.

Insurance declared a total loss, and no one appeared interested in salvaging the boat. But she had been well-built by a famous Boothbay builder, and her fittings had been the finest money could provide.

My father-in-law, the Cap’n, had grown up in these waters and knew every tidal nook and cranny. He knew precisely where the Periwinkle went down and how deep she rested. He estimated which spring tide the hull should be awash at. To be there at the right time with pumps, one might get Periwinkle afloat and, on the tides, out through the needles. Once salvaged, the Cap’n’s boat-building friends could help him turn a profit off the hull and fittings.

The Cap’n could handle seamanship, and I could handle the brawn. Lyman, his brother, could bring his lobster boat to help, but where would he get the engineering skill needed to pull the stunt off? So that evening after dinner, I found myself calling New York and trying to persuade my father, a Merchant Marine engineer, to contribute his talents to the effort. But, let me say this: my father and the Cap’n did not see eye to eye on almost anything except that Bridge and Engine room would agree to disagree. But my father surprised me. He needed a vacation from my mother’s honey-do list. The opportunity to get out on the water for several days was bait enough to get him to agree, even if the bridge and engine room would have to cooperate.

On the night of the spring tide, we took Psyche, the Cap’ns ketch, and Lyman’s lobster boat and slipped unnoticed from the cove. We made the Widows just before dawn and prepared our equipment. To pull this off, the ketch and the lobster boat stood off in deeper water while we readied the gear. If we refloated Periwinkle, the ketch, under power, and the lobster boat would pull her free. 

As Periwinkle emerged from the tide, my father and I arranged the pumps, started the engines, and prayed that the hull had not been pierced.

Luck was with us, and the plan succeeded; by the turn of the tide, we were ready to maneuver Periwinkle through the eye of the Needles. 

Up to this point, everything had gone as planned. I was brewing a pot of coffee below, but I heard the Cap’n tell my father, “Nick, this could be trouble.” My father used a single two-syllable Spanish obscenity in reply. I left the coffee and ran on deck to see a wreck of an old trawler heaving towards us through the swell. A red-bearded giant wearing fisherman’s half-boots stood in the bow with belaying pins stuck in the tops. Behind him stood the foulest assortment of dreck-ridden seaman that graced the worst harborside stew we had ever seen. No, they were worse. I’d have been surprised if there was a single intact tooth in the bunch. But the big red-bearded lout had a mouth full that a shark would have been proud of.

As they came alongside, Red thundered, ” Jones salvage here. Thanks be, and Ye’ll be releasin’ the tow now. Appreciate your help and such, but ‘yer best be on about gettin’ home.”

My Dad and the Cap’n were taking in Red and his crew. There were assorted belaying pins and old cutlasses for weapons. This beat out our meager collection of rigging knives and a signal gun.

The big guy with the shark teeth had to be Davy Jones himself. As he saw the expressions on our faces, his grin grew even wider. “Now, hand her over, and there’ll be no trouble. We’ll even throw over a demi-john of “Kill Devil Rum” to ease the pain.” His crew spat tobacco juice and swilled something from open bottles. Having read up recently on the lore of Davy for a paper on sea lore, I hollered, “We demand a trial by the Prize Court of Neptunas Rex!” Silence ruled on the decks of boat boats. But Davy, looking even fiercer than before, laughed loudly and shouted back, “Agreed!” At about that point, Lyman, the Cap’n, and my father looked at me in horror. “Do you know what you’ve done, you ninny?” the Cap’n asked? “if we lose, our boats and possessions will go to Davy.” Before more could be said, Davy asked which venue I preferred for the trial. I responded that the closest Blue Anchor Tavern franchise would do. So we were off to Portland’s Old Port.

This was in the days before they cleaned up the Old Port and tarted it up with bistros, fancy bars, and such. It was rough, dirty, and dangerous. The Blue Anchor had a certain “reputation”. I had done a good bit of “fieldwork” there and knew the lay of the land. So I hollered across to Davy. “midnight till dawn, Kaile, hornpipe, and Greek line dances. Four bells of the morning watch winner will take all: belaying pins, cutlasses, the kill devil rum, your trawler, and whatever you wear. The curses from the other boat were fierce.

Davy knew the briny deep, but I knew the Saturday night Kaile, hornpipe, and line dance competition at the Blue Anchor. As we walked in all I had to do was mention “fresh fish” to Harry, the barkeep, and watch the flashing smile.

The Blue Anchor was built on the site of a famous massacre in Portland, and good report had it that the dead rose on the spring tide to dance with the living. Well, that night, we’d find out.

The crowd quickly discovered it was an early Halloween when Davy and his crowd filtered in. Cocked hats, worn and soiled velvet knee breeches, and slashed sleeve coats hadn’t been seen in these parts for centuries. As midnight approached, both teams lined up on opposite sides of the dance floor. About a dozen of my sometimes drinking buddies lined up with me, my father, and the Cap’n. Davy’s team had not laid off the kill devil rum and looked to be in bad shape to start. But they probably weren’t what we usually call living, so it didn’t matter.

At midnight precisely, the house band started playing wild, upbeat kaile music. The ancient building seemed to rock on its foundations with the dance steps, twirls, and eager movements. There was a palpable shift to hornpipe music at four bells of the Middle watch ( two AM). Dust began falling from the old rafters as twenty-four dancers sang and danced the hornpipe as energetically as possible. But soon, there seemed to be additional dancers in early 19th-century attire; Davy’s crew cried foul; we’d recruited spirits from the land to dance with us.

At the eighth bell of the middle, the pace again picked up as we whirled and stepped into Greek dances. It was now the beginning of the morning watch, and we only had a few hours to go. Cries of Opa! were coming from our team as they made complex steps that the drunken sailors of Davy’s band could not complete. Near the very end of the dance, Davy and his band wound up in a collapsed pile, with a fight breaking out as individual pirates struggled out of the pile.

Harry blew a bosun’s whistle at four bells of the watch and declared us winners. It came not a moment too soon for my Dad and the Cap’n, who promptly collapsed. Davy’s men disagreeably dragged themselves from the sizeable unsorted pile they had fallen into. The last call came, and after that parting glass, we all piled out to divide the spoils.

The take was enough to fund my next two years of tuition, repair the Cap’ns ketch, get Lyman a new lobster boat, and pay the considerable tab due to the Blue Anchor. In exchange for a promise not to revenge himself on us, we allowed Davy and the crew to depart in their skivys and take the trawler. We sold the clothes to a California movie props house. You probably have seen most of the stuff in Pirates of the Caribbean and other Pirate movies. 

The Periwinkle, you know the reason we went through all this happy huhah, was declared a total loss. We lost money on her salvage.

A day after our great escapade, the Blue Anchor shuddered and collapsed. We all thought it was due to the strain on its ancient structure caused by all that dancing. The new one they built in the tarted-up new Old Port is too sanitized for me. But on the back wall is a photo I am told was taken the night of the great Kaile, Hornpipe, and Greek dancing contest. It’s hard to tell who is who except for the antique clothing on some.

So today is National Talk Like A Pirate Day, and this is my story, and I’m stickin’ to it. ARRR!!!


Daily writing prompt
Share a lesson you wish you had learned earlier in life.

Most of us go through life too busy to analyze or catalog everything we know. I firmly believe that the average person knows more than they think; they are just too complacent to rummage around, think things over, and realize that the solutions to many of their problems lay in simple things they knew all along. Our daily haste in life compounds this into a major issue.

BS, you say? Well, let’s look at one of the most basic- the seven P’s. Most of you have heard it or something similar: Prior, Proper, Preparation, Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Yet many would instead do the magical thinking thing a la “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall” or seek visions or esoteric advice from a YouTube influencer.

I have done more than my fair share of botching things. The other week, I was in a hurry and botched the sharpening of a carving knife. What! a professional carver! Botch something so basic? Yes. I could hear the reprimands of mentors softly asking, “Didn’t we teach you better, Lou?” I backtracked and corrected my errors and wound up with a sharp knife. But, as is the case often when we have to undo what we have already done incorrectly, it was a lot more work.

So it can seem a radical concept to think before doing. I certainly knew, but I didn’t access what I already knew in a rush.

Haste makes waste, but it also makes us seem stupid.

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