A Sissy Society of Social Sneerers

Recently, a friend who owns a business hereabouts reported the following to me. After responding to an anonymous internet inquiry describing an automotive problem accompanied by a request on the scope and cost of the repair, my friend and the now identified owner reached an agreement that the vehicle would be brought to the shop and duly examined with a repair estimate to follow. Lo and behold, the vehicle was found to be in a state of long neglect and in need of serious work to make it safe to operate. But before turning a screw or loosening a bolt, my friend then called the owner and conveyed the bad news that the cost would be in the multiple dollar signs (ouch!) and asked the owner their pleasure. After the standard hemming and hawing that any of us would engage in, the owner apparently decided that their forthcoming stimulus check would come close to covering the work and reluctantly gave the green light for the repairs to go forward.

We all hate those unexpected repair bills and even if we possess the foresight to set aside a budget for such things, who wants to break it out for car repairs? It’s like having to cough up four large on a root canal and crown after biting into that delicious, gooey, chocolate caramel turtle with cashews. Wouldn’t we rather lavish the money on ourselves with purchases of other foolish stuff that will eventually break and need costly repairs as well? Admit it, you know you would. But some days you’re the windshield wiper and other days you’re the bug, so shell it out we must.

All well and good so far. The vehicle was under repair and would be back on the road soon. However, my friend, who spends way too much time on the internet than is advised, noticed the appearance of a mewling, indignant, self-righteous screed on the not-so-social media denouncing the rip-off grade cost of local car repair shops (none named of course) and pleading for support in this injustice from the cyber-mob. Of course the cyber-mob responded immediately with an angry array of similar gripes, grumbles and denouncements which apparently made the poster feel validated and supported in a safe environment. It will not surprise that the poster was none other than the owner of the vehicle currently on my friends hydraulic lift. After reading this post, my friend, who has undergone years of anger-management training, took a deep breath, completed the repairs as requested and then called the owner. The ensuing conversation was a contemporary example of meaningful dialogue between two stakeholders resulting in understanding, consensus and commitment to a path forward. Actually, the owner / poster was awash in guilt-ridden anxiety when confronted by their perfidy and unable to muster much of a defense for the whinny whimpering that was posted. My friend, being an honest and righteous business owner, did not tell the vehicle owner where they could insert the post or the vehicle for that matter, but simply sighed and released the vehicle after accepting payment in Bitcoin. End of story, sort of.

Have you noticed that social media has reduced human interaction to a level resembling (I will date myself now) to that once found in Junior High School? We all recall the passing of nasty notes about that certain someone, spitting out cutting remarks behind their backs, seeking support and solace from other ill-intended gossips, rallying the mob, and the lapping up of passive-aggressive pettiness like mothers milk – sorry mom. The back door back-stab is generally employed by those hoping to avoid a retaliatory punch to the jaw, and flipping the cyber bird is merely the latest version of this old saw on steroids. Humans being human, it should not surprise that what was initially purported to be a new way of building social good and universal understanding has precipitously devolved into viper pit of vicious, vituperative hog wash, my friends experience just being one of millions. This bold new leap into the future has set humanity back decades, and I’m not so sure we will make a timely return.

All right, I’m done here. I’ve had my say and you must get on with your day. In closing, please note that any pronouns in this screed were scrupulously scrubbed by your scribe to protect the identities of the righteously innocent and the villainously guilty. It is my hope that I got rid of them all and that my friend will knock a few bucks off of my next oil change in appreciation. In addition, your affiant recognizes the sublime irony and his own hypocrisy (and hopes you did not) in writing a post condemning social media by the means of social media. Doublespeak is all the rage today, and I just couldn’t resist.

The Problem with Plans

Some days it’s wrong to expect things will go as planned, assuming of course, that one has made a plan for things to go by. Plans, as the philosopher has observed, are merely ideas that fly into our heads to support the mistaken assumption that we have control over things outside of our own thoughts. This craving we have for plans is spurred by our innate fear that without them, our lives will rocket out of control and crash to the ground in a loud explosion, just as we realize that we hadn’t planned for this to happen.

Plans are seen as useful in that they purport to provide us mere mortals with the favorable direction and guidance needed to accomplish our mundane goals and lofty aspirations. This is both ironic and comical as we fail to realize that these plans are made by the same flawed human beings (us) compelled to create them in the first place. Similarly, it is often noted that one mans’ plans are another mans’ tyranny. Just ask anyone who lived in the former Soviet Union. Under the yoke of various murderous dictators, the masses suffered a dreary succession of Five Year Plans, which in reality were discarded every other year when they failed to produce anything beyond perpetual, unplanned misery.

Plans come in all shapes and sizes; battle plans, peace plans, master plans, building plans, vacation plans, business plans, financial plans, career plans, wedding plans, treatment plans, and ultimately, funeral plans. These sundry plans are subject to the ambition, authority and supervision of naturally bossy people and those stuffy, regulatory bodies such as Planning Boards, Wedding Planners, Financial Planners, Planned Parenthood, IKEA Closet Planners and Plan 9 from Outer Space. Further, as plans have been around since Noah built his Arc, why is it that we insist upon making them anew, generation following generation? Can’t we be satisfied with those recorded millennia ago, or were those plans written in disappearing ink and lost to history?

Bureaucracies seem to thrive on profligate plans, much like lawyers thrive on frivolous litigation. When I retired from the police world and took a job with Elder Protective Services, lazy me was much chagrined to learn that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Regulations required me to formulate and submit to my bosses a detailed “Investigation Plan” prior to meeting any Elder reported to be the victim of neglect or in need of assistance in some way. Originally, these plans were elaborate constructions of the old “who, what, where, when and why” questions; workable for sure, but largely discarded in the normal course of human interaction. As administrations changed, and a carpetbagger rocket-scientist type from the left coast was hired to revise the rules, this document “transitioned” to an inchoate slurry of impenetrable, sociological psychobabble, detailing a whole lot of nothing and absorbing needless time and effort. After writing a few hundred of these, it became an enervating exercise to create ones with anything new or documenting even vaguely interesting inquiries. In growing frustration, I reverted to the straightforward simplicity mastered by a former colleague; “I plan to meet the Elder, get him / her to trust me and find out what I can help with.” If anyone in authority ever noted disapproval of my retrogression, they kept it to themselves, and I leave it to you to decide which approach was more effective.

Another form of errant planning I am familiar with concerns those made by people planning to be naughty in some way. Now, I realize that naught behavior assumes dishonesty on the part of the planner, but I have found that some folks are capable of deluding themselves into the belief that their actions are righteous, so please hear me out on this. When we determine to do something that we would not want our mothers to know about, our minds shift to high gear plotting the various steps needed to accomplish our deliciously illicit goal. Our misguided ambitions compel us to believe that we have clearly weighed the pro’s and con’s of each move, crossed all of the T’s and dotted the respective I’s. Ever more motivated by our lust for whatever it is we would be better off without, our eyes blinded and affixed solely on the presumed prize, we fall prey to tunnel vision, discarding all of those red flashing lights signalling “Danger, Danger, Stop NOW!” When the inevitable happens and the Judge announces the verdict leaving us destitute and friendless, we sit in stupefied wonder of how things unraveled so completely and just didn’t go according to plan.

Confidentially, I must confess to you the hypocrisy of my seeming anti-planning attitude. In truth, I am an inveterate planner and list maker. I have voluminous lists of things to do for every day, week, month and year, written upon color-coded pads, spiral notebooks and various sized sticky notes. I meticulously record these plans in pencil only, never ink, as I reserve the right to change them at will and don’t wish to feel beholden to any of them. Writing in pencil allows for easy erasure, thus eliminating the potential guilt associated with the failure to execute any or all of my plans. It can be the best of both worlds.

So by now you realize that most of my plans aren’t worth the paper they are written on. Such is fate of the frivolous minded. But perhaps some day I will remember to reevaluate my current practice and either eliminate planning altogether or embrace it without reservation. Stranger things have happened for sure, but at this age, I wouldn’t plan on it.

A Rocky Republic Indeed

So much to choose from, so little time. Riots, insurrection, Covid death count, lockdowns, lock-ups, unemployment, billionaires, catastrophic, unprecedented, monumental, unacceptable, incomparable, typical. What did you expect? Where are we going? Are we there yet? Haven’t we been here before? Is it cold outside, or is it just me? Lot’s of questions, so few answers? What a week, period. 

Browsing the headlines can make ones’ head ache these days, even crusty old craniums like mine. But tough times make for tough people. Resilience, they say, is the coin of the realm. Shag it out and let it dry. Eventually, it will regain its original shape. Or will it? Might the fabric be stretched, the corners upturned and the thread worn down just a degree or two?   

Why all the shouting on a cold January day? Why can’t we all just get along? Is it something about us, an inherent human flaw, deeply embedded into our beings that prompts so many to reach for the sword before the tumult dies, the question is understood, the answer considered? When did we leave the reasonable harbor of civil disagreement and sail into the angry sea of accusation, demonization, and ultimately, hatred of those who have a different idea than us? Beats me, I don’t know much about these things. I guess we never saw it coming. But did we see it coming, and just choose to ignore what was right in front of us?

For at least half of my time on earth, the temperature in America has been rising in ways not attributable to climate change. Pick your poison, name your cause; endless war, taxes, migration, economic disparity, job loss, debt, too much education, too little education, racism, elitism, liberalism, conservatism, progressivism, fascism, socialism, patriotism, environmentalism. Did I miss an ism? Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter. It doesn’t matter. Stake your ground; plant your lawn sign, fly your flag and flip the bird to those who see it differently than you. It’s the new American way.

When the Founders were endeavoring to create a more perfect union and not a perfect union, James Madison, both knowledgeable of civilization and human nature, pondered failed governments throughout history and noted the horrors that had befallen nations divided. He feared political parties and saw them as the vessel of factionalism and disunity. Madison knew a thing or two. 

We have willingly climbed under our rocks of ideological, myopic atrophy, comfortably sated by a media that thinks just like us. Change the channel and find your ideology. Hug your Rachel, kiss your Tucker, make them rich, but who’s the sucker?  Social media war zones fuel the mix. Add in a generous dash of pandemic-laced isolation, resistance and paranoia. Don’t forget the special sauce offered by our politicians. Rest assured they are just like us, only smarter about how to promote division and monetize discord. The message is always the same; support us and save the country from them. And yet we wonder how a January 6th could ever have happened here.

Perhaps things will level off, temperatures cool, wisdom prevail. Ah, wisdom, that sublime quality we seem quite short of these days. Apparently it can’t be taught in school. We’ve never claimed to be more educated nor acted more stupidly. What matters most to me is that we right the ship and change our misguided course. Dump the extremists, who hate us for our flawed history, and toss them overboard in the same bin with the hustlers and the ideologues who promise to make us all great again, just like we were before. They only offer another reason for us to hate each other, pipe dreams of a past that never existed, and the shallow promise of a future that will never be. The water is always deeper in the center, that’s where the big ships go.

This would be an excellent time to just be good to each other – plain and simple. Especially to those who look, speak, think and claim to be different from us. We all share the same space and time, and that time is very limited. Our only guarantee is our final destiny, and we all get the same one.  And were this the last day, would we think about things differently?

A Year to Remember, A Year to Forget

It has to end sometime. Twenty-twenty that is. What more can be mentioned about this troubling, tragic and confusing year that hasn’t already been said? Your humble scribe offers nothing here of earth shattering insight, but perhaps I can manage a few thoughts worth a sip or two of coffee or another favorite beverage as you read and consider something better to do. Like many of you, the annus horribilis that was 2020 seems to me to have passed in a whirlwind, or better still, a cyclone. The year began more unsettled than usual in America, which is saying something. This might be attributable to having a President who seems incapable of just having a quiet day, one without bombast, controversy, and cross-fire ridicule that dominates the daily news and where deemed safe, adult conversations.

I could recount the myriad of sub-crisis controversies that fired through the preceding months up to today, but I’d just as soon not. It would be too much like binge-watching a tag team of Air Disasters and Tragedies at Sea, where almost everyone dies and the survivors are left to tell the tale and question why they were spared. Anyway, these pale in comparison to the pandemic that continues to rage across many parts of the world, sickening millions, taking countless lives, upending economies and accelerating a societal disconnect and isolation that already seemed well in play. So let’s just say that if you’re still here, you get a gold star. You lived it, saw it, and dealt with it one way or the other. Life has always promised a ying and a yang, and this pandemic is no different. The important question is what is taught by it all and how do we think about and respond to it.

Retirement (also known as voluntary indolence) allows me ample time to observe the ebb and flow of daily life and reflect on how the pandemic has impacted human social interactions; our abilities to effectively communicate, feel and express empathy, as well as establish and maintain trust in others. In short, the things that grease the gears of sociability and glue us together as people. To varying degrees, we are all social beings who require a certain level of intercourse with others (no, I’m not referring to that type specifically) but the day to day interactions among humans that helps make the world go round. Shaking hands when greeting each other, holding the door for others as you run into Cumberland Farms for a cheap coffee and a scratch ticket, looking each other in the eye when speaking and noting facial expressions and body language for unsaid nuances of meaning. Add in maintaining appropriate boundaries of speech and behavior in the workplace, practicing patience with others and those golden human qualities once referred to as manners. Note that the words other or others appear six times in this paragraph, indicating the presence of someone outside of the self.

My sense is that many of these positive social attributes have been in decline for sometime, with the pandemic and accompanying “social distancing” rules only accelerating their erasure. I do not dispute these precautionary rules at all. During the Great Influenza pandemic of 1918-1920, isolation was one of the few means of slowing the wildfire of infections. It’s more than a fair trade, but will there be long-term, detrimental effects? Masked for safety, we currently step aside when encountering other people, eye contact is minimal and few stop just to chat on the sidewalk. Will these practices, when repeated for months at a time, establish a more fixed mindset of self-preservation in society? Will self become primary, and concern for the other be an afterthought that is mostly ignored?

The pandemic has also rocketed a quantum leap in telecommunications and a stunning reliance upon technology, resulting in the abandonment of many traditional worksites for people engaged in certain classes of work and the deterioration of traditional classroom learning. Work and social meetings resemble something once seen on a Jetsons cartoon of yesteryear. Computer screens have replaced faces of real people, imbuing voice with an electronic tone and reducing humans to a two-dimensional image. For many, this new normal is easy to navigate and a preferred way to communicate and work. For others, it’s a pesky, unsatisfying aggravation. Still others, by reason of their occupation, are exempted from participation in this new environment. If still employed, they operate on a traditional, person to person basis, experiencing first hand the widening class distinction and social differential in an economically skewed and politically divided nation.

I also believe that accelerated technology has resulted in a redoubling of group think, with people insulating themselves within their electronic bubbles, reinforcing their preferred notions and opinions, shutting out and shouting down divergent viewpoints they disagree with, all to the derogation of independent thought and the stunting of intellectual freedom. Modern life has revealed that technology has outpaced our abilities to think through all the effects it has had on our society, as well as how to effectively identify and limit the harmful ones. To where all this leads, I do not know.

There must be a plus side to all the mess somewhere, right? This pandemic, like all through history, will eventually end. Deaths will return to a pre-Covid level. Our face masks will come off, people will gather, the restaurants and other establishments that survived will return to greater capacity, schools will re-open and some of the people working at home will return to the businesses that employ them. But when the masks go back in the drawer, will people feel gratitude for their survival, or just remember the inconvenience imposed by the pandemic? Will we return to a more open, honest and personable manner of human interaction and cooperation? I am hopeful that this will be so, based mostly on my conviction that this is the only way that people and societies survive. No person and by extension, no society maintains itself indefinitely when isolated from others. We are created to cooperate with each other, difficult as that is at times. If we are able to recover this notion and behave accordingly, the year 2021 may truly be one to remember.

Happy New Year

Duty Meets Savagery – Murder in Massachusetts

You don’t expect to run into much trouble at 7:30 on a Sunday morning. The Saturday night drunks, fights and domestic disturbances have been dealt with, accidents investigated and any OUI arrests either bailed or sleeping it off in a holding cell. No, for a midnight shift officer, the minutes are winding down to when he or she can sign off, punch out and go home to see the family and catch a few hours sleep. But policing is often unpredictable and occasionally very dangerous work. This seems to hold true no matter the locale of the job; a big city, a small town, or anywhere in between.

Perhaps these thoughts were foremost in the mind of Weymouth Police Officer Michael Chesna as he responded to his last call on Sunday July 15th. In those moments following a report of an erratic operator near a local hospital and Officer Chesna’s encounter with a savage murderer whose name will never appear in this space, there was certainly time for both to consider their actions and prepare themselves as best they could for what would come next. That’s the thing. Action precedes reaction. The bad guy’s get to act, but the police can only react to what is happening in front of them.  The bad guy knows what he wants to do, no matter how brutal and depraved his decision may be. The police officer can only guess and then respond in an instant. In many circumstances, an instant is just not enough time.

Officer Chesna must have known that he was in for trouble. Observing his murderer vandalize a home after crashing a car he was diving, Officer Chesna drew his pistol to defend himself and control the threat in front of him. The encounter could not have ended more tragically. The murderer somehow managed to strike Michael Chesna in the head with a rock. While Michael Chesna lay disabled on the ground, his murderer took possession of his pistol and fired ten rounds into his head and torso. Another responding officer then shot and wounded the murderer as he tried to run away. The murderer then fired an additional three rounds at a nearby home, striking and killing Mrs. Vera Adams, a widow who was sitting in her sun room, simply enjoying another Sunday morning.

Allowed to live, the murderer was taken into custody and transported to the hospital for life-saving treatment. Michael Chesna and Vera Adams were transported to the Medical Examiner for forensic autopsies. Michael Chesna, a veteran, a husband and a father, leaves behind his wife and two children. Mrs. Adams leaves behind a community of friends and family. They both leave behind a vanguard of decent, caring, law-abiding citizenry who today are shocked by this savage act of depravity.

I don’t wish to speculate on what motivated this murderer. Society has debated cause and effect since the dawning of criminal law, and we continue to do so to this day. Guns, drugs, poverty, mental illness, a breakdown in civil behavior, judicial leniency, parental neglect, violence in media and entertainment, etc., etc., ad nauseam. I am sure there are reasons aplenty for what happened; but none in my mind which justify, mitigate or excuse these acts.  Sometimes things are simply as they appear to be. Murder is murder, evil, just evil.

I do know that Michael Chesna is the second Massachusetts Police Officer murdered in the line of duty this year, and the third in the last two years. Ronald Tarantino of Auburn and Sean Gannon of Yarmouth preceded him; all killed with a firearm wielded by another angry, explosive monster with a criminal record. This disturbing cluster of violence against Massachusetts Police Officers, to my experience, runs far above the norm for our state.

Our nation sees a good deal of deadly violence every day. Mass shootings, random killings and many other depraved acts fill the news. We grow weary and immune at times, preferring to look the other way as we whistle past the graveyard. It’s understandable. We are good people. Violence disturbs us. We seek certainty and meaning in our own lives, security and safety for our loved ones. Yet the truth is that two good people are dead for no good reason, and their loss robs us of our belief in a just and fair world.

Most of the cops I know and worked with have never had to fire their weapons at another person. A few close calls during their careers, perhaps, but nothing approaching what befell Ronald Tarantino, Sean Gannon or Michael Chesna. As cops, you think about this stuff constantly, and contemplate on how to avoid it happening to you. Or you just put it out of your mind and think about something else. An officer’s spouse, family and loved ones think about it too. But their fear is different as they can only guess at what their loved one might experience and encounter during an eight hour tour. It adds an odd sort of tension to a marriage and a family. It’s mostly unspoken, but as real as the elephant in the living room that no one dares mention.

Good people know that the best society is one in which the citizens can mostly police themselves. Yet wise folks also know that barbarity and inhumanity bubble just beneath the surface of our civilized world. They empower their police with the necessary authority and responsibility to act as the guard rails of lawful behavior. It is a complex task carried out by fallible human beings who do their best to fulfill their duty.     Sometimes that’s hard, but bad people only seem larger when good people pull back and retreat into their own selves. The act of a good person is a thousand times greater than that of a coward. And although the guard rail of decency may have been damaged on July 15th, it was not destroyed. It’s the duty of good people everywhere to ally when tragedies like this enter our lives and remember that we are all in this together, and there are more of us than there are of them.


The time with the Ancient Mariner

On this humid third day of summer, the air was heavy, the skies threatening, the bugs, bugging. So what better way to spend a day off than to take the tin can out for a shake down splash in the local waters of Ipswich Bay. One problem though, this shaky skipper was nursing a bum shoulder, and wimp that he is, didn’t want to press his luck hitching up, pushing off, and hauling out. So a call was made to the Ancient Mariner.

“Up for a boat ride?”

A thoughtful pause precedes a skeptical query, “Today?”

“Sure, why not. Hot day, flood tide, weekday traffic at the Wharf. I’ll even spring for a sandwich.”

“Beer too.”

“Okay. You gotta help me with the trailer though.”

“Add a cookie. When do we shove off ?”

“Oh nine thirty hours, or thereabouts.”

Now the Ancient Mariner knows a thing or two about boats. We both grew up on the river of course, but unlike this land-based flat foot, the Ancient Mariner earned his bread piloting The Howard Fitzpatrick – the celebrated  Massachusetts Port Authority Fire Boat. He spent years cruising the turbulent waters of Boston Harbor and its environs, dousing pier fires, trawling for former close associates of James Bulger, and escorting political wannabes’ through the choppy seas of Bay State politics. Such experience, to say the least, has provided the Ancient Mariner with an uncanny ability to accurately read the waters and thus avoid the treacherous shoals of life.

To prepare for our journey, I keep my promise and pony up accordingly at Ipswich River Provisions. One TCBLT (no onions please) a six-pack of Lighthouse IPA (the Ancient Mariner has expensive tastes with other people’s money) and a ginger snap safely stored with water and sunscreen. A final scan of the skies as the trailer clanks onto the hitch, and we’re off on the quarter-mile journey to the boat ramp.

We’re greeted by the ever popular Dock-Master Ed Walsh, and my heart swells to see him wearing an Ipswich Police Association ball cap. Ed knows me well enough to mention that it’s always a good idea to install the drain plug and ignition key  before backing down to test depth. But I’m on my game today and managed to do these things independently. The ramp is quiet today, so we will avoid the intense scrutiny of other trailer-backer-uppers. The Ancient Mariner is expert at this and in seconds, the Lund is in the water, it’s forty horse Mercury purring like a kitten.

We cast off and make our way down river, passing the milestones of our shared youth. Carl Nordstrom’s old home, lovingly restored and cared for by Barbara Ostberg and her late husband Dick. The flat rock where we would dive into the multi-colored waters of yesteryear (depending on what industrial material was released upriver from the Sylvania plant) and the final resting place of the Nancy II.Things have changed in the last fifty years, but much remains as before.

I’m distractedly fiddling with the cable to the depth finder when the Ancient Mariner casually suggests a course correction to avoid striking the rocky end of Nabby’s Point. I take his advice and bear to starboard. There’s plenty of water, so who needs a depth finder anyway? With a wave to the Green Homestead high above the riverbank, we clear the no wake zone, steer through the short cut and in no time enter Plum Island Sound.

The light wind and calm surf makes a run to the outside irresistible. A curious seal marks our progress along the beachfront. Cape Ann glimmers through the morning haze against the deep blue of the ocean. Clouds roil above, and turning past the spit, we enter the Essex River.

“Hey, I finally got the depth finder to work,” I exclaim.

“Good. Try not to hit that Boston Whaler in front of us,” chides my elder.

Another seal bobs along the surface, this one with white markings on his head.

“Grey hair, like us,” observes the Ancient Mariner.

We back down for the mooring area and glide slowly through Conomo Point. Passing a small charter boat bearing a half-dozen anglers trolling for strippers, the Ancient Mariner ruefully observes the slackness of their lines.

“Amateurs,” he chuckles between bites of his cookie. “Who else would pay good money to go fishing so close to shore. Just stand on the dock and do it for free, for Crissakes.”

We power up, continuing  toward Essex Harbor. The flood has drawn floats of marsh grass into the river, requiring sophisticated and repeated maneuvering on my part to avoid fouling the prop.

“You got trouble going in a straight line?”

“I’m taking reasonable preoccupations to avoid a catastrophic failure of the engine.”

Noting that the sun was crossing the meridian somewhere, the Ancient Mariner helps himself to an IPA.

“Not bad,” he observes.

Essex Harbor swells with power boats of all description.

“If you fired up all these oversized outboard motors at the same time, the noise would be deafening,” I’m told.

“True. It would likely draw all the water out of the river as well.”

We turn and glide downstream. I relinquish the helm to the Ancient Mariner and try an IPA.

“Agreed, these are pretty good.”

“Why don’t you break out that sandwich,” he suggests.

“A splendid idea.”

As we jointly rave over the culinary talents of Chef Markos, the Ancient Mariner suggests a course correction.

“Let’s go through the creek behind Hog Island.”

“They call it Choate Island now.”

“Who said?”

“I don’t really know for sure. The Trustees, I guess.”

“Why the hell do some people think they have the right to change everything? No one ever asked me what I thought. I’m not sending them any more money. Screw em’.”

You send them money now?”

The silence is deafening.

Observing the effect of the flood tide, the Ancient Mariner notes, “It’s hard to find the channel when you can’t see where the sea grass is.”

Looking over the side into the water below, I mention that I can see the grass very clearly.

“Oh, shit. You’re right. The depth finder says two feet, two inches. Guess we should get out and push us clear.”

“We? You gotta mouse in your pocket? You’re the one who put us here.”

“I thought the channel was to the left of the Osprey nest.”

“I think you are wrong. And I’ve heard that the Osprey kill wayward boaters and feed them to their young.”

“Hope not. There’s one circling above us now. But it looks deeper over there. We’ll just ease it slow,” he says as he trims the motor.

We eventually wind up where we belong, but not without an invasion mutant gnats from hell.

“Jesus. What are these things? You can’t slap them fast enough. Get us in open water and make full steam,” I plead.

Finally, we break out into the Castle Neck River and leave the gnats to the couple struggling on their SUP’s.

Recovering our stoic composure, we find the entrance to Fox Creek and slip under the road Argilla. The Castle looms ahead, the marsh a pastel of emerald greens, the egrets and herons magnificent as they volplane to grassy landings.

Noting the obvious, I say, “Funny, we never strayed too far from Ipswich.”

“Look around. Why would you want to.”

“Your right. For the price of a couple of gallons of gas, a beer and a sandwich, it’s a little bit of heaven.”

“That’s what I just said.”

“Okay. You get the last word.”


Here We Go

Well folks, we are only hours away from the swearing-in of POTUS # 45, Donald J. Trump. Some view this event as the beginning of the end. Others see it as the end of the beginning, envisioning more of the same thrills, chills and spills that had marked his unorthodox campaign and shocking victory. Plenty to love or hate here, depending on what horse you backed. But I wonder what the forty-plus percent of eligible voters who didn’t cast a ballot think of it?

The reaction of many in the Democratic Party, soon to be renamed the Party of Sore Losers, defines the old adage, “It’s all over but the crying.” From safety pins, sit-ins, street demonstrations, bumper stickers, Facebook posts and all variety of “Not My President” protestations, it seems the president-elect is in for a rocky road indeed. At last count, sixty-two members of the shrinking Democratic minority in Congress now plan to skip the Inauguration entirely, poking their collective fingers into the eye of this cherished ceremony long symbolizing our history of peaceful political transition.

The Inauguration promises to be a more toned-down affair than seen in years past. This is due primarily to the left-leaning entertainment industry turning their collective derrieres on any thought of celebration. So, no Beyonce’, Mariah Carey (thank God) The Boss or Madonna. Party-goers at the several Deplorable Balls staged throughout the Capitol will have to settle for entertainment from Tony Orlando (without Dawn) and Kiss cover bands.

But the Big Story is the promised Women’s March on Washington scheduled for Saturday. Liberal ladies and others from across the nation and beyond are planning to descend on the Capitol to occupy, resist, and voice their collective disgust, dismay and distrust of the new man in the White House. The march will be transformative. It will be empowering. It will give men complete license to act foolishly during the NFL playoffs on Sunday. But mostly, it will screw up Washington traffic for hours and create havoc for the poor slobs trying to schlep to their weekend jobs to put bread on the table.

The media coverage of this march will be ubiquitous and predictable. CNN, NPR, MSNBC, the New York Times, the Boston Globe and other progressive media outlets will breathlessly report crowds totaling in the millions, preaching solidarity and sending a message to be heard round the world. Fox, Breibart, the Boston Herald and MAD Magazine will casually mention that a few dozen misguided people wandered down Pennsylvania Avenue seeking a selfie with Ashley Judd. Clearly, big media wins huge with this election.

The passing of the torch to a new President and Republican majority causes my cynical heart to wax nostalgic. I will miss the rants of the Rabid Right claiming Barack Obama a closeted Muslim and jihadist agent-provocateur, plotting to disarm America through the deployment of blue-helmeted United Nations peace keeping forces made up of battalions of third world troops surreptitiously garrisoned in red states with orders to confiscate every last AR-15 and AK-47, even sacrilegiously prying the late, revered Charlton Heston’s treasured flintlock from his dead hands.

But I take solace that this nonsense is being rapidly supplanted by the howls of the Loony Left. Coping with the shock of Hillary Clinton’s uncanny achievement of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, they have emerged from a very brief period of soul-searching and finger-pointing to conclude that she really had won all along. Her victory was merely muted by “non-college educated,” (their pc term for illiterate) white voters from the more backward, reactionary, culturally primitive and rusty parts of the country – roughly within the confines of the Appalachian Mountains, the Sierra Nevada, the Canadian border and the Gulf of Mexico.

They reason these poor dupes were grossly manipulated by a cynical billionaire with a smart phone employing tactical support provided by Russian intelligence and the F.B.I. Throw in the obsolete, inherently racist, democracy confounding Electoral College, and you have a trifecta casting long odds.

To counter this, the L.L. supports massive increases of Planned Parenthood funding in the red states, professes a new-found affection for their long time enemy the C.I.A., and demands the elimination of the Electoral College – or at least the merger of it with Harvard University.

The election has brought about a climate change in the rarefied air of the Washington political environment. The Democrats have suddenly discovered their latent Federalist tendencies. Suddenly, the succor and support offered by local and state government as a backstop against the bullying Federal behemoth seems like a very good thing indeed. Separation of Powers is hailed by Progressive Federalists with a zeal not seen since the time of John Breckenridge and Jefferson Davis. They have also become New-Age Cold Warriors, expressing antagonism and hostility toward anything generally Russian and specifically Putinistic. (I invented a new word here) They have convinced themselves that Donald Trump is merely a martinet, jerked to and fro by the puppet-master and former KGB strongman.

Rumors abound that Russian intelligence agents not only had the dirt on Hillary Clinton’s machinations against the late Bernie Sanders campaign, but more shockingly, unconfirmed reports hinted they have POTUS # 45 on tape in flagrante delicto in Moscow with someone not Melania. Mr. Trump immediately mounted a vigorous defense of his fidelity to wife number three, claiming to be both a germophobe and someone far too wary of surveillance to fall for that old honey-trap. But oh, how far we have fallen. Note this as we say goodbye to a president embodying class and replace him with someone known for crass.

The Republicans, now in control of the whole shooting match, do what power-drunk politicians always do. The shocking thing is the speed in which they managed to stick both feet in their gaping mouths when caught attempting to de-fang an “ethics” watchdog committee on the first day of their congressional majority.

“Whoops, what were we thinking,” they said after the rest of the world cried fowl. Even the President-Elect chided them for acting so hastily.

Indeed, with approval ratings in the thirty percentile, it would appear that President Trump has nowhere to go but up. I hope that he does show up for the swearing-in on Friday and doesn’t just tweet “I Do” from his Manhattan fortress. We are entering a new political reality on January 20th,  with a President who really doesn’t give a hoot about his adopted political party and threatens to act independently….or so he says.

This maliciously moderate, cynical centrist has only two words for you:

Stand by.



A Cup of Kindness

Well folks, another year bites the dust. So goes 2016; fading from view, receding in the mirror, evaporating in the mist of time and space. Probably many are cheering good riddance and bring on a new and better year. The passage of time; straight, chronological and sequential, disposes us to linear thinking. A leads to B, followed by C, etc, etc. But do our lives truly unfold this way? Or are they more circular, buffeted constantly by the winds of change and unpredictable events?

All of us experienced some form of change this past year. Much of it good; perhaps a new job, a home, a grandchild or some other positive experience. Many have tasted the bitter sadness of life brought about through the loss of loved ones, friends, health or security. But the undeniable truth is that we all lived this year as it came to us. And if you are able to read this you have lived to see the dawning of a new one. So give yourself a gold star, you are a survivor.

To be alive is to be challenged. Life is designed to be hard and people similarly created to cope with it, engage with it and remain awake and involved, not timid and passive. I don’t mean to imply that one must be a raging, extroverted, hard-driving dynamo. We have plenty of these in the world and they’re doing just fine, thank you. But for the rest of us, rather than just breathing the air, or marking the days off the calendar as they slip from our grasp, we are better rewarded by engaging in life at the level we were meant to. Taste the joys, feel the sublime pleasures, share a laugh, give a hug, watch the sky, bring the hope.

You may be saddened by the loss of someone who meant so much to you. This person may have been your spouse, brother or sister, child or best friend. Remember that as much as they meant to you, life is a two-way street, and you meant that much to them and more. You shared the gift that mattered most, the gift of yourself.

Many years ago, a very wise friend told me that on every New Years Day he would make a list consisting of three things he hoped for, three things he feared and three things for which he was grateful. He found that by doing so, he could lay out some hope for the future, give a name to the things that troubled him, and express gratitude for his present and his past.  He then would seal the list in an envelope to be opened on the following New Years Eve.

I do the same now and when reviewing my list, am often amused that the things I feared the most rarely came to pass. Some hopes were realized, others will be renewed for the coming year. Gratitude, at this place in life where more years belong to yesterday than tomorrow, is a daily thing. Blessings untold; the pleasures afforded me by the people in my life, the opportunity of expression, the quiet joy of solitude, the mystery of existence.

Let me close by wishing you all every blessing and hope in the next year. This past one was a doozy, but we’re still here, just as we are supposed to be. The passage of time will illuminate the good things and dim the glow of the more forgettable ones. And for a quiet, contemplative farewell to 2016, the opening verses of “Years End” by poet Richard Wilbur seem appropriate.


“Now winter downs the dying of the year,

And night is all a settlement of snow;

From the soft street the rooms of houses show

A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,

Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin

And still allows some stirring down within.”

          Happy New Year

Interesting Time To Be Alive

We are fortunate to be living through interesting times. Life seems to have an intense urgency to it now, an edgy feeling of uncertainty and doubt. Having undergone a year of blistering, enervating and sometimes tragically comical presidential political campaigning, we emerged in November with an unexpected result. Some are happy, some sad, many, like me, wearily skeptical of what comes next. No one seems energized in a particularly positive way; but this is a qualified observation, living as I do in eastern Massachusetts, an epicenter of progressive political orthodoxy.

People much wiser than I saw this all coming. They’ve pointed out the huge disparity in turnout at the various political campaign rallies; legions waiting hours to hear Donald Trump, somewhat less for Bernie Sanders and far fewer for Hillary Clinton. And where Hillary Clinton’s staid, scripted, politically correct and carefully crafted campaign speeches did little to fire up the faithful or persuade the undecided, her one “Deplorable” slip during a weak moment only magnified the suspicion of many as to her true feelings toward those who opposed her.

Contrast this to Donald Trump’s endless barrage of insults, innuendos and off the wall pronouncements; statements if said in another time by another person would have been fatal to a political campaign, but for him apparently attracted as many as were repelled. The pundits missed this and his support has been attributed to “non-college educated whites,” as if being one or the other or both is a sort of disease. Even the term “Rust Belt” has been adopted as a put-down by some of Trump’s detractors.

I know many good people, from all ages, walks of life and levels of education. Some voted one way, some the other. Each believed in a valid reason to do so. None of them are stupid, radical, racist, anti-American, misogynistic or any of the other labels and judgments heaped upon them from the opposite side. None of them wish bad things for America, but instead yearn for a way forward in their lives. Recounts, recriminations, and continued droning on about the results seem to me both counter-productive and draining. It’s all over but the crying. This should end too.

What has not been widely discussed however is the issue of voter turnout, or lack thereof. In 2016, over 231 million Americans were eligible to vote. But fewer than 136 million chose to do so – about 58% of all eligible voters. This in spite of early and absentee voting created to increase turnout. Why is it that nearly 96 million people didn’t bother to vote? When you consider that the popular vote winner received almost 31 million fewer votes than the number of people who didn’t bother to cast a ballot, it suggests such dissatisfaction with politics, on the national level at least, that both major parties should hang their heads in shame.

In terms of selecting our President, I believe that our nation is simply too large and too diverse to prosper with such high levels of voter disgust and disengagement. But such widespread alienation from the political process seems to have had little effect on how the two major parties go about doing business. Their structure, rules of engagement and win at all cost philosophy ignores the desire of the millions of Americans in search of national unity, common purpose and a shared vision.

It’s been said that in a democracy, politics is the stage where our personal differences are played out.The parties are intended to advance our differing points of view in ways that seek solutions through compromise and consensus building. But rather than seek consensus and support compromise, the two major parties do all that they can to exacerbate these differences in a cynical manner to gain or maintain power. Rallying around opposite poles, the parties remain afraid to drop their labels, cross the aisle and cooperate to the degree that actually solves problems.

Where will be in another four years? Perhaps only Donald Trump’s hairdresser knows for sure, but this is doubtful. Will we be a freer people, more prosperous, more civil toward each other? Or will we be tilting away from democracy and toward a new fascism, once defined by Mussolini as the perfect marriage of corporation and state? Like I said, we are living through interesting times.