Duty

You cannot duck certain duties. There comes a time, as the days lengthen and winds slowly shift to south-westerlies, that you can no longer delay the inevitable. The boat’s ” on the hard,” so you make pilgrimage to the boatyard and get under the wraps to see what winter has wrought.

Let see:

  • Clean out the nests that kept the yard cats comfy all winter as they swept the yard for rodents.
  • Pick up empties from the last visit of the fall when you and Terry had a few too many.
  • Check how successful your other winterizations were.

There’ll be more down the line. You’ll gradually move in with cleaning supplies, paint, varnish, sandpaper, steel wool, mops, and brooms. You’ll have the yard mechanic check on the diesel; your skills there are much too shy a full load to handle that.

You begin the slow job of totaling up costs. Every year the old saying – ” a boat is a hole in the water into which you shovel money” seems more accurate. 

You’ll be in the water before Memorial Day, with luck. The cost is high, but it is such sweet anguish.

A Certain Avoidance Of Good Fortune

It was a slow day—the type of show where artists and craftspeople spend most of the time talking to each other. My booth neighbor was Josh, a ceramics artist. We were trading art and craft business horror stories. We both had some good ones. There was the poorly planned show on Plum Island. By noon everyone demanded show fees back, and by three, the producer had fled the show. Josh added his stories to mine, and we spent an hour talking. At some point, I mentioned how a client had stiffed me on final payment. Josh smirked and told me, “that doesn’t happen to me much anymore.” “Oh?” I asked. Josh settled back in his chair and related this story:

” Back about three years ago. I was reading a post from a guy in New Jersey who had trouble getting paid. The client ignored all payment requests. In frustration, He sent a note saying that he’d activate the curse at the end of the week. The curse? Yes, the jinx, he’d placed just for this sort of eventuality. A week went by, the second week, no cash. Week three rolled around, and he got paid. The client had a pinched nerve, his dog bit him, and he had shingles. He cashed the check and called the client to tell him they were square.”

I asked Josh If he had ever thought about doing something similar? Then he told me the rest of the story:

” I went down to a local Botanica and asked about having something like this done. After buying lots of candles, incense, and oils on my fourth visit, the owner admitted that something might be arranged. From the backroom, his grandfather emerged. The owner asked about my request. The older man looked at me and primly shook his head no. The translation from the owner was that his grandfather would never do such an evil thing. After much discussion, grandfather agreed that he could whip up something that translated as ” a certain avoidance of good fortune.” No ill-wishing, no tragedy in the family, just a particular avoidance of good fortune. I smiled, paid the requested cash, walked away with the bit of scribble and the activating ritual.

But Josh, I asked, have you ever used it? “Once. The client laughed at me. Then I told him where to find the mark on the bottom of the piece. I described the effects of the curse – nothing dramatic, but that raise? Instead of five percent, it was two. Instead of a great steak, it always came out overcooked. Forget about good weather on vacation or finding out that your auto repair was under warranty. Just a certain avoidance of good fortune; He paid later that week.”

I thought about this lot. Sailors and their wives made up a good percentage of my clientele; they can be superstitious. They replace old coins in mast steps when rerigging, do arcane things when changing a boat name, and I’ve even seen men surreptitiously pour libations to Neptunus Rex. If I told a client to look for a scratched rebus on a boat portrait of an eagle, they’d assume that I’d cursed their boats. I’d have an unfortunate accident in a boatyard.
I’ve thought about his little squiggle and the certain avoidance of good fortune a lot. But, in the end, all I’ve done is increase the size of my down payments. And I ask for cash in advance for anything under a thousand. It’s safer this way.

Fun At The Interview

In a long life in the beautiful world of work, I’ve run into my share of awful job interviews. There was the interview where it became apparent that the only reason I was getting interviewed was that, for some reason, the interviewer was looking for dirt on my current employer. I was invited to spill it all. I declined. Then there was the interview in which they viciously attacked me as soon as I said hello—half an hour of innuendo. Reasons unknown.
In situations like those, you don’t want their job. If you are so desperate that you’ll take the job if offered, you’ll regret it immediately. In the nasty old ’60’s you’d be better off going and selling blood or plasma, and yes, that was a thing.
I know that these days resumes are prefiltered, sorted, and optimized long before you face an interview. I’m also aware that most are virtual these days, at least first interviews. But the interview is a terrible place to discover that your homework on their company has missed a few glaringly bald spots. As 1950’s hipsters used to say, ” you need to cut to the chase ace!” Do your research.
You get a good idea of what’s about to go down in three minutes. The pleasantries are over; you’ve found out that he has a pet scorpion named Sid. From the spots on his tie, you’ve learned that his favorite color is mustard, and the actual favorite candidate is Bob from their motor pool. But Bob will need an assistant to do all the work, at much less pay. Regrettably. You begin to connect the dots and wonder if this job may not be a good fit for your skills in Systems Dynamics. Typically, you’d look at your watch and tell them their five-minute speed interview is over; have a nice day.
An alternative is to take a deep breath and have some fun. You know that in this quality organization, the interviewer found a list of questions they should ask on the internet: Where do you want to be in five years, why should we hire you, tell me about a time you failed, and what is your dream job. So here are some suggestions:
1) Where do you want to be in five years? – Well, when my probation is done, I plan on leaving this sorry excuse for a state.
2.) why should we hire you? – Someone needs to pick Bob up off the barroom floor and bring him home after he does a five boiler maker Xertz chugalug at the Tiki Bar and Lounge.
3.)Tell me about a time you failed – Just the other day. I saw the ad for this job and failed to skip over it.
4.)What is your dream job? Tollbooth toll collector. You meet interesting people on their way to exciting destinations, but there is no pressure to commit to a relationship.
Extra Credit – pull out your Magic Eight Ball and ask loudly should I accept this job? Tell them that the answer was Very Doubtful. Get up, walk away and have a nice day.

Spring Cleaning

I have several springtime reorganization projects that I need to tackle. I’m never lukewarm about these projects. I either look forward to them or dread the entire thing. 

Yesterday the workshop became the target of my attention. I’m in the shop so often I’m especially aware when its typical clutter descends into chaos. I estimated that I’d spend an hour sorting out the tools I rarely use, putting them into labeled drawers, and move on to another project. 

That was ten in the morning. At ten in the evening, I still had work to do. As usual, bumping one thing to make room for another created a cascade effect. Each little cascade resulted in one or more items that needed relocation. 

Why do I persist in mentally oversimplifying complexity? Blanket statements are dangerous, but I feel safe saying that some of this is avoidable. Have you heard of the “seven P’s” – Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance? My goal was to clean and reorganize; honestly, there are several hours of work left. 

Here’s a nice German word for you: schlimmbesserung. It means an effort to make things better that ends up making them worse. Enough said.

Pig Pen

Exactitude creeps into our lives at different times and places, depending on our personality. Some have refrigerators in which everything is carefully marked with the date made; no Science Fair experiments in there. Others have elaborate methods for organizing tools.

Then there are the organizationally impaired.

Before I married, I had two roommates. One was a neat freak- a place for everything and everything in its place. My other roommate – If you remember Pig Pen from the comic strip, that was him. You might have to tunnel through debris to get to the entry of his room. His clothing storage method was by black plastic garbage bag: one for clean, one for maybe, and one for dirty. As a result, he looked perpetually rumpled.
There was a weird balance between the two. One straightened up; the other made messes. I tried to stay neutral and avoided common areas of the house except for necessary activities. Then we all became involved with girlfriends.
Pig Pen had issues retaining girlfriends; few were interested in the caretaking level involved in a long-term relationship with him.
My girlfriend and my other roommates’ made a brave effort to keep the house clean for a few months before mutually deciding it was a lost cause. One night Pig Pen finished boiling up a nasty greasy mess of something. He then upended the dirty pot on the clean dishes the women had just washed. Separate sets of dishes and cookware appeared in our rooms after that, and the household’s delicate balance was lost.
The end came when Pig Pen found someone compatible. No, she did not clean up after him. Rather than complimenting his behaviors, she supplemented them. From the outside, it might appear hilarious, and in retrospect, it is. But, it drove the rest of us out of the house into homes of our own.
More recently, we found out that my former roommate had emerged from counseling for hoarding and was now offering his services for Marie Kondo-style house cleaning. On the brochure was a photo of his former girlfriend, now wife, and he looking rumpled in front of the old house we all used to occupy. On the back was a personal note: “We’d love to renew our friendship! Call us now for a Family and Friends discount!”
My wife and I are wondering how fast we can move out of state.

Dig?

I’ve known many people who need to come clean about the ’60s and ’70s. Come on, folks, your kids and grandkids won’t flip out when they find out that you wore a pair of love beads, gave the peace sign, or dropped a tab. Well, OK, if they are very conservative, you may have to go to counseling sessions. But in general, they’re likely to look at you with a new sense of discovery. After all, the most exciting thing they’ve done is attend college.

Let me pull on your chain a bit. If you actually want OUTRÉ, you need to back a bit further to the Beats, Folkies, the folk rediscovery folks like the Weavers in the Village, and people like Woody Guthrie. Go back a bit further, and you find Harlem roots, Jazz clubs, and the Lost Generation. Even further back and you see the Ur outer limits of the tribe – the Bohemians. Uh, you didn’t think that we just invented this stuff in the late forties, did you? So that’s the begats – just like Genesis but for Hippies.

So remember, a Hippie has an impressive cultural lineage. It’s not a shameful thing. Get out your love beads, snap your fingers and come back to the mothership! Don’t consult the oracle. Do something Other! https://onewomansquest.org/2021/03/01/vjs-weekly-challenge-dig/Dig?

State of the Art

It may have seemed as though I flit about Boston University’s world my first two years there. But there was a method to it.
I enrolled in an expanding series of English courses that explored the development of the “city” through world literature. I needed some science, so I began taking geography courses. Eventually, I gravitated towards political science, history, and then Anthropology. The nice thing about my hunt and peck style of coursework turned out how the information gleaned in one applied to the other. As my fund of general knowledge grew, I did specialize; in anthropology. Years later, when I left anthropology for other professional pursuits, I was grateful for the broad and deep fund of education Boston University had given me. I had multiple capabilities and knowledge.

In recent years, the type of education I received has fallen out of favor as more specialized education tracks have developed. The success of strict specialization depends on the “state of the art” in the industry in which you studied. You can quickly become redundant in an age where the educational system has become a factory conveyor belt for business. Being perceived as too old, too stale, or unable to continue learning can be fatal. The phrase “lifelong learning” seems to come along in the nick of time, conveniently. It allows professionals to hop on the academic conveyor belt to another degree or specialization.

I’m not sure that this attacks the underlying problem.


These are some of my observations. After starting my business as a woodcarver, I found myself not only producing but also teaching. For my week-long classes, I set up a library of art, carving, design, and books on other topics. I also brought with me the widest variety of carved samples that I could. I always encouraged students to take a break and use the library.
Over the years, I witnessed many talented lawyers, engineers, and others dig into topics that they had never gotten exposed to in school. More than a few of my students were in my class because they had sensed that they needed new directions. They were canny enough to begin the exploration process on their own.
Among the things I learned early in my education was that there could be a synergy among seemingly unrelated items. To an extent, this has become a keystone concept for interdisciplinary studies. There can be some exciting results of specialties running together. My first brother-in-law was an engineer and mathemetician for NASA. He became an enthusiastic amateur Archeologist. After dinner one night, he showed me some studies he had done on a Virginia midden ( ancient trash heap) that explained how the material had gotten deposited by the colonial settlers. I believed he used it as the basis for his thesis in archeology.
These sort of synergies only occur when people get exposed to multiple streams of knowledge. To end with a very bad mangling of a trope from Ghostbusters, you need to cross the streams.

Thunderstorm

People who know me well enough know that I don’t do a great job of long-term anger. I complain loudly, but it passes rapidly. Stoic I am not. I like to discuss, and if not persuaded be left alone. When I was younger, this meant that I was taken advantage of by people who didn’t know the meaning of the word “no.” I had no strategies for handling people who’d continually tried to get to “yes” no matter what I said or did.

I’ve learned the hard lessons, though. Some people need periodic reminders the sunny skies can disappear rapidly. Like a thunderstorm approaching on the coast, it builds slowly to the northwest and sweeps in. The sound and fury are frightening but pass. You’d prefer to avoid repeats. I’d love to say that I learned this tactic, and a tactic it is, from my mother, father, or some sage tactician of human behavior. Well. I guess I did. I learned from my cat, Clancy.

We were living at my studio in Charlestown. The big old mill building was right alongside the Boston & Maine railroad tracks and was home to a colony of semi-feral cats. The building had a long yard alongside which the cats would use to sun themselves, the lords of creation. Clancy established his rank in this crew near the very top. He enjoyed being among the elite, but not the work involved in maintaining it on a day-to-day basis. He loved his catnip toots and naps in the sun too much to put that much effort into it. His strategy was to meet challenges with measured intimidation. One day a scruffy tom named Rufus decided that he wanted Clancy’s spot in the sun.
What ensued was a cat standoff. Rufus yowled, inched forward, yowled again, and hissed. Clancy ignored him, stretched out in the sun, and purred. Enraged at being ignored, Rufus repeated his actions but now added an open pawed swat. Clancy rolled over, took a long look at Rufus, and got up. Clancy stretched, licked his paw, examined it, and then growled a warning. Before Rufus could lift a foot off the ground, Clancy used his extra bodyweight to tumble Rufus over, grab the surprised cat by the back of the neck and bite down hard. Clancy calmly walked back to his place in the sun with nary a flick of his tail, stretched, and carefully cleaned a few drops of Rufus’ blood from his claws. While licking, he looked directly at Rufus, who rapidly ran away. It took several repetitions for Rufus to learn that you didn’t bother Clancy at naptime. But being a cat and thereby smarter than some people, he did understand.
Some people only respond to the storm, and unlike a cat, don’t learn.

Mid Watch

You get a sort of meager slumber. Night-Ops rumbling above, General Quarters can sound any time; and up you’d rise to your assigned station. You don’t bother shucking off your shoes; you might not have time to put them back on. That was Operational Readiness Inspection.
Given that as a background, you’d think that a quiet anchor watch in a friendly harbor would be a piece of cake. Not so when the anchor, solo, is holding loosely on shingle, and the skipper and rest of the crew have flexible ideas of what constitutes a watch. Four hours you’d say (except for the two dogged watches). Perhaps if you’re more familiar with bells, it should be eight bells ( two bells in each hour). These days you might pull out a phone or tablet and spend the time with music playing. Not so then; things that played music did not fit in a pocket unless they were a harmonica.
Inevitably, your mind wandered to things best left unexamined. Why did I agree to come on this stupid cruise knowing that I’d catch the mid-watch? Then the sound of oars and loud voices came to me over the water. “Hey. Pipe down. Everybody’s asleep…except for the anchor watch.” “Ahoy Psyche! Is that young Westerly? Do you want a bottle? We have one more drop, and we’ll be chumming the fishies!” I thought this one over before answering quickly. ” It’s Wes, and I assume that you’re the crew that shut down the Twin Dolphins tonight.” The reply- ” We are. So, you want the bottle?” I jumped into the skiff, let off the painter, and rowed out to meet them.
A companionable two hours of conversation and sipping killed off the balance of the watch. The crew that shut down the Twin Dolphins rowed back to their schooner and me to the ketch.
As I was climbing on board, a groggy Cap’n emerged on deck. ” I thought I heard voices…is that rum I smell?” My reply: “Sure is Cap’n. In the middle of the mid-watch, I rowed out to meet a bunch of rum-toting drunks. We drank all their rum, and only now am I reporting back for duty.”
He blearily looked at me. If he weren’t just fresh from his bunk, he’d have pulled out his pipe and done his little routine of filling it, lighting it, puffing on it, and then pointing the stem at me. Being it was 4:30 in the morning, he just grumbled, ” the mid-watch can do strange things to the mind, but providing rum doesn’t count as one of them.” Before he noticed, I quickly deep-sixed the empty pint of rum over the side.

But

You may have a friend who likes to bask in the glow of a personal or idealized past; I do. Let’s see hitching rides in the rain with a hole in the sole of one shoe; squish squish to Boston. Owning one blanket, and the girlfriend who is staying over is a blanket hog; so romantic. These experiences come to my mind when people bring up their youth’s golden days. Halcyon, my left big toe!

Perspective is important. Yes, I miss the friends I had at the Folkie Palace on Grove St. And, I miss living in coastal Maine.  But…

Gordon Bok once pointed out that the most critical word in his song The Hills of Isle Au Haut was the word but. But I have something else that has to get done. But what happened afterward was avoidable, but…

Bathing in Halcyon Glows presents dangers to your mental health. You spend less time improving the present and future while gilding the past. You go like a lamb to a shearing. Memory can be a valuable escape when needed or an opiate. 

As my old friend Bill put it, ” Ya gotta learn when to let the joint pass by you.” Learn to have the past abide near, but not master you.

%d bloggers like this: