Sufficient

“Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”
It’s not like I’d ever have picked this and other semi-Biblical quotes growing up in New York City. So, people who don’t know much of my history wonder about the odd turn of phrases that I use. These verbal seasonings came from coastal Maine.
I was frequently the recipient of lectures from my father-in-law – the Cap’n. These sayings were used as capstones on discussions as though just saying ” sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” was enough proof that whatever I had suggested was sheer idiocy, and the Cap’ns utterances Gospel. It seemed as though I could never win an argument or discussion.
By and large, it was the Cap’n making the pronouncement. But, they could slip out of the mouths of my wife, who was a faithful daughter, my mother-in-law, or another family member.
Soon, I absorbed and began to use these sayings. No longer a tyro, I could spout, “The harvest is past, the summer ended, and we are not saved,” along with the best of them.

Spring on the coast was time to haul Cap’ns 34-foot ketch, Psyche. An older wooden boat that was always behind in maintenance. Like many of us, confidence can spread into areas beyond our abilities. The Cap’n “knew” everything about seamanship. But, he had some dubious ideas on boat repair.
I’d seen him drive caulk into the leaking planks of a clinker-built hull that needed refastening; the caulk rapidly opened the seam wider. That and other mistakes lead me to begin questioning his grip on boat repair.

It came to a head one spring when we hauled Psyche out for repairs. There wasn’t a ripple on the cove that morning, and the water was like a sheet of glass. I got to scraping the bottom right away while the Cap’n and the boatyard owner inspected the hull. The Cap’n was alerted that a through the hull fitting needed replacement, and he decided that this was a job we could handle. Off we went in a hectic search for a replacement.

Our search sent us to all the marine part stores in the area before winding up at a marine salvage spot that he favored. There he found the right mixture of availability and price in a used, through the hull fitting that fit his budget and his mindset.
I balked. While not old enough to have been used by Noah, it certainly looked to be of 1940’s vintage. The Captain insisted that it was good enough for a few years of service. Considering his answer, I thought about the cold waters off Sequin that we frequented. The faulty marine radio that you had to slap to get it to work and the family’s safety on cruises.
So, considering all this, I readied my response to the Captain in Biblical terms he so frequently used: “Well, You can sin in haste, and repent at leisure then.”
Yes, there were repercussions for my impertinence, but the sour look on his face was worth it all, and we bought a brand new fitting.

Life Aboard 101

Life aboard is full of terminology that can confuse even the experienced. There is a guide to Naval slang and jargon on the internet that runs seventy-nine pages; it does not cover everything. As ships and technology evolve, new “sailor speak” evolves too.
Almost with each spring tide, sailor speak grows and makes it easy to play a favorite game with newcomers. Sometimes called a “snipe chase.”
The larger the ship or yard, the more involved this can be. The greenie cannot know for sure that they are being had – especially if the person sending them on the hunt acts with confidence. No snickering here, please! Let see: being sent to the engine room for a bucket of condensed water; a trip to the cooks for thirty feet of chowline, and my personal, memorable hunt for a left-handed wind shifter.
One slight problem can pop up right after a snipe hunt. A sort of sullen ” oh, yea? is this another idiot search?” when you get told to go jettison something – an actual term to discard overboard.

Well enough for now. Next time, we’ll discuss the difference between jetsam and flotsam – if you didn’t know the difference.

Protean

Proteus was known for his ability to escape by changing his shape or appearance. It’s a handy skill to have when you need it. On the other hand being Protean to conceal your lack of conviction can brand you as shallow. 

During undergrad at Boston University, I had a friend, well, more like a drinking buddy, who was complacent about being everything to everyone. The complete chameleon. He was so good at this that I didn’t catch on till he got cornered in discussion with our political science professor. The professor mentioned that Chuck had some excellent skills at playing the devil’s advocate. Each position, in turn being taken as the class discussion, developed. But, asked the professor, growing frustrated: “Do you have any opinions or positions of your own?” Chuck grew flustered at this. He hardly noticed his habit.

Chuck had more than casual feelings for a girl who had relatively strong political opinions. Beth shared the political science class with us and paid a lot of attention to Chuck and the professor’s interchange. That evening over beers, the discussion of the forthcoming student strike grew heated. Beth was among the cadre planning the entire operation. Many of the rest of us felt less enthusiastic about a strike during reading week ( the week before final exams). During the discussion, Chuck had commented on both sides of the argument. In frustration, Beth sharply asked Chuck what he honestly felt. Caught off guard, and knowing he had trapped himself, he dithered. “Well,” asked Beth, ” do you have an opinion that you own?”

“Ahh,” replied Chuck, ” don’t know, and I’ll have to think about it.”

So you may think that Chuck had blown any chance he had with Beth after that. Not so. She was satisfied that he had finally come up with an honest answer, and she respected that. Theirs was an interesting relationship. With Beth cornering Chuck every time he dithered, he eventually became cautious in his answers. 

But occasionally, if Beth weren’t around, The devil’s advocate would slip loose for a night out.

Travel Food

Steinbeck observed in Travels with Charlie that you could still get an excellent inexpensive breakfast almost anywhere in the US. A few years after he wrote that I was able to confirm that observation personally. An evening meal was another matter.


When traveling by thumb, hitchhiking, you are not able to select the bistro of your choice. Even if you could, most discerning establishments will disdain to seat you among the other- shall we say more gentile sort. There you stand, sweaty, tired, and with backpack and guitar in hand. No maitre’D is about to loan you a tie and shepherd you to a prime table. No. You get relegated to the sort of place that boils their rigatoni with last night’s underwear. They are known locally for cheerfully serving up frankenfood of undeterminable origin.


If a friend has not already advised you, it’s wise to come equipped with something you can whip up over a discreet fire or eat uncooked. While you are always mindful of adding canned goods to your pack’s shoulder weight, an old favorite of Bill and I was B&M Baked Beans. You can warm them up over an evening fire, or in need, eat them cold.
For the Newb, here is some advice that might seem a bit trite until you think about it: unless you have a through ride, avoid eating at truck stops. They are private property and generally take a dim view of non-local vagrant types like hitchers.

As the traveling season begins, this has been your hitchhiking tip from the Old Professor.

Ancestry

A few years ago, they began creeping out of cupboards, or probably more likely rolltop desks. More than one began worrying about what the inlaws would say. Others greeted the results with interest and celebration.

The report was folded small and stuck in one of the tiny drawers in the desk that locked. The prodigious volume of genealogical effort – you know the one- he referred to it as seminal, was locked away. It now rested in the shadowed bookcase beyond eyes that prise out the question marks penciled in.
It wasn’t just that his great-great-grandfather wasn’t who the records said he was – he’d been nothing but a political hack anyway. Nor was it the six percent of American Indian nobody in the family knew about, maybe from the mysterious Tabitha.
No, it was the damming seven percent that proved him to be a mongrel that threatened his membership in the Mayflower Club and the Sons. In the old days, it would have been a brand on his forehead that banned him from polite society in his state. He took the damning report, walked to the fireplace, and burnt it.

On the other side of town:

Thomas laughed. He loved the newfound diversity: Europe, Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific. The twenty percent English, now that was a surprise! Maybe from the mysterious Tabitha? He could hardly wait to share with the rest of the family. They were going to be surprised at which famous American politician was in their genealogy.

Bocci

To learn a game, a coach comes in handy. In this case, I am referring to Bocci and how a small improvised Bocci court grew to have a sort of titanic influence on the people who casually used it.
I was working at a large folk heritage festival in the 1980s. The festival was a long national event, and its many presentations attracted national television and press attention.
As an anthropologist, I was “presenting”* Italian gardeners and members of several Saint’s societies. Several tents and small structures were part of the crafts, food, and music presentation. Off to one side, almost as an afterthought, was a Bocci court. For the uninitiated, Bocci belongs to a family of games popular since the Roman Empire’s days. There are two teams in a match. To simplify: The object is for one team to get as many of its balls as possible closest to the target ball, the pallino, then the opposing team.
There were schedules for cooking demonstrations, presentations in the gardens, woodworking, music, dance, and other things—Bocci kind of fell into an area by itself. None of the folklorists or anthropologists knew much about it. As a result, if you wandered over to the Bocci court, you were most likely met by an elderly Italian gentleman who would show you how to play the game. Word spread through the festival participants rapidly, and soon the spouses of participants who were accompanying wives and husbands began forming informal Bocci teams.

The court became one of the hidden successes of the festival. Because it was such a relaxed environment, staff began to take their off-duty moments at the Bocci court. Staff were drafted into teams, coached on technique, but allowed to play only when the game was very casual. There is nothing trivial about a match, no matter how relaxed the atmosphere. If you were spotted walking towards the court on a break, you might get asked, ” Going Bocci?” “Yeah, got a match.”
I don’t think the Bocci Court ever attracted the news organizations. It may have had more usage though than other areas of the festival. It was one of the elements that united many of those presenting and presented into a temporary community. This was so much so that many of their standout memories were of good times at the Bocci court.

*Pardon the colonialist usage of the word presenting. It implies that these very savvy people can’t speak for themselves, but it was part of the festival business’s terminology.

Operate

Part of the joy of being a long-term member of an operating room crew is knowing who has you back in any situation. The OR does not work well when significant trust issues exist within the team. Starting in OR’s in the 1960s and departing in 1980 for professional anthropology work, I saw a wide selection of OR’s. My favorite was the last Boston area, OR I worked in from late 1978 -until early 1980. It had affiliations with major hospitals and medical schools. Among the things that patients and surgeons never saw was the intense internal accountability level in the OR. Everyone participated in preparing instruments, surgical drape packs, and sterile goods for procedures in my day. Items for sterilization got sealed with a special tape that had marking bars on it. These turned dark when the article had been through a complete sterilization cycle in an autoclave ( a steam sterilizer). On each tape were the initials of the person who prepared it and the date sterilized.
The fight against bacterial contamination was constant. We did not have a separate team for cleaning. We cleaned our own assigned rooms between cases and prepped for the next day after the OR schedule ended for the day. Idle moments were spent in idle conversation – while we checked crash carts, sterile supplies, and equipment. There was an extraordinary amount of checks and counter checks to ensure that our surgical outcomes were good.
It’s not mawkish to state that while we had each other’s backs, we also had the surgeons and the patients. think about that next time you are wheeled into an OR for a surgical procedure.

Patriarch

There was nothing actually radical about most of us living at the Folkie Palace. Left-Wing, sure. While most of us were self-described as Anarchists, many argued that the description had more to do with our lifestyle than with actual political intent. Most of us disliked intensely the abuses of both the far right and the far left. But as one wag stated, sometimes even simple acts have political consequences. 

It took ages to get our landlord to fix anything. So to cover a cracked front window, a handy placard was taped in place one fall evening. It read – Fuck Communism.” The placard had been convenient, made of sturdy cardboard, and fit the window neatly. It wasn’t a political statement anyone thought about much, but it caused repercussions that were at least in part political.

One night soon afterward, we were all sleeping off our Friday evening excess; a member of a primitive communist group living across the street shot a hole in the window and the sign. The following morning we merely plugged the hole with a cotton T-shirt being more concerned with our hangovers than with the violent act.

It wasn’t till midweek that we sat down to think about how we should respond. We did what we were reluctant to do and called the cops. Our relationship with the police was mostly limited to noise complaints when they told us to knock off the party. We had on occasion been swept for drugs they never found. But the local constabulary was amazed when we approached them. Their investigation turned up nothing.

We had to take things into our own hands.

We were who we were so; the investigation began at the bar at the corner of Grove and Cambridge – the Harvard Gardens. In a night of intense study (drinking), we found out that the responsible party was Rafael “Rafe” McNichols. The Patriarch of The Root; a primitive communist collective. Rafe was planning on purchasing property in Maine or Vermont for the collective to live on permanently. In the meantime, a cramped apartment served as headquarters. Rafe, it turned out, was a product of a well-to-do family from Boston’s western suburbs. He could be seen on the streets of Beacon Hill parading like a great patriarch with a beard and a coterie of young “wives” – in the words of a later Mel Brooks film – “It’s good to be king!” 

A reasoned discussion with Rafe proved to be non-productive, so the Palace moved on to psychological warfare. My friend Bill was responsible for all the scatological, heretical, and blasphemous art decorating our quarters. He began producing satirical placards for our windows featuring Rafe in compromising poses with telling quips. One of these was Rafe’s caricature with money bulging from his pockets departing his family home – the caption read – “Rafe running dog Capitalist Fink!” Bill felt inspired, and new ones followed daily. We pasted smaller copies on the door to their building and placed them in the mailboxes. Juvenile? Sure, but within a week, Rafe was outside our building screaming for our blood. Within a few minutes, windows and doors opened along the street to allow all to witness a showdown.

Folkie Palace fielded all our members for the confrontation, as did the members of The Root. Screaming and yelling, chest-pounding, and dramatic postures were the order of the day. A primatologist would describe it as two monkey troupes meeting on the jungle trail, each trying to dominate the other through bravado. Someone from the Palace picked up a stick and a trashcan. Instead of using them to smash the opposition, he beat out a rhythm; a group grabbed the placards and began to dance about the street. Someone started a conga line. The Root retreated, yelling that it wasn’t over, but it was. By the time the police arrived, all the windows and doors were closed, trash cans neatly in rows and placards placed in them. The Root had lost the monkey troop battle of Grove Street, and folks now sniggered when Rafe went out to parade. No shots fired, no fists swung, just good old-fashioned childish shenanigans. Sometimes the best way to win a fight is to embarrass the hell out of the opposition while having a good time.

Nocturn

Tourist buses were a frequent sight on the streets of Greenwich Village. We, the proud habitues, gave them a salute in various colorful ways—some by flashing the middle finger salute, others by playfully spinning about and displaying the nether regions. Many of us stood together in groups and went “ooh” and “ah” at the faces set against the windows. The drivers were pointing out, “…and there they are folks…genuine beatniks!” The people on the busses were from so far out of town that they really wouldn’t have known the difference between mid-town and the Village if the driver didn’t tell them. We, however, made much of our income from out-of-towners and desired that they get their money’s worth – while entertaining us.
There was Jerry. Jerry made a bit of cash as a barker in front of a lowlife basement establishment dealing in third-rate folk music and worse coffee. Walls and ceiling were painted black but lit with third-hand theatrical lighting that emphasized that here were the Bohemians. From down the street, you could hear his patter ” Step right up, step right up! See 49 female Viennese dentists drilling on our stage!…yes, forty-nine dentists 48 lovely costumes. Watch out for that first Step down, sir; it’s a doozy.”
Down the way was Sue. Sue would collar out-of-town couples ( couples only) and chat them up. Soon for drinks, she’d be showing you the sights, sounds, smells, and experiences of a genuine Village Saturday night; cheap. The tour frequently wound up at some westside dive bar over by the Hudon River like The Loose Caboose. Surprise!
Folks like me would have spent all our energy on our evening sets at our regular round of coffee houses. By 2 AM, we were laid back and experimenting with stuff to the “too blasted to care” crowd at the Why Not, Dragons Den, or other lower-tier basket houses – what was put in the basket after the set was what we got paid. Surprisingly, the drunks in the midnight to four AM choir could be very generous.
Sometime after four things closed down, the habitues gathered in places like the little all-night diner on Sixth Avenue. Then we wandered home to sleep till noon. As we were getting on the subway, we were mingling with the early morning crowd going to work; two lifestyles pretty much the antithesis of each other, but side by side in a city that did not ever sleep.

The Patience of Stones

My friend Bill had a saying, “you need the patience of stones to see real change in people.” I’d hear this several times a week. One associate or another would do some lame-brained stunt that required transport to the Mass General Hospital, a loan, hiding from an aggrieved party. Bill himself admitted to several flaws. Primarily his inability to settle into marital bliss with the lovely Jeanie. Every so often, he’d promise to grow moss on the back of the rolling stone. He’d ask me to trek out to Massachusetts’s western edges with him to act as the go-between for Jeanie, her parents, and him. I was his accomplice, road brother, and friend. As they said at sea – grumble you may, but go you shall.
Jeanie was no idle gaudily attired flamfloo of a girl. As she was known to intone to Bill – she was raised correctly. When she looked down her elegant nose at Bill and me, the implication was clear: we had failings in that department. Bill and I would look guilty and find some excuse to head down to the Harvard Gardens.

In those days, I was no wordsmith but took it all in. Then came the day that Jeanie announced that she was pregnant. Bill solemnly declared that “My wandering days are done.” Jeanie looked genuinely pleased. True to form, though, I smiled, opened my mouth to speak – and Bill glared, and said – “don’t you dare say it!”
I replied that ” My mother always said that water would smooth even the most obdurate of stones in time.” Bill considered this while Jeanie smiled hugged her newly domesticated husband and father-to-be.

%d bloggers like this: