Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Thoughts on being a "Mainah"

I was born and raised in Maine and I have lived here for my whole life but something I read today made me wonder, is that all it takes to make someone a "Mainah"? Being a Native of Maine is an accident of birth; you either are or you are not, and there is nothing you can do to change it. But it seems to me that being a true "Mainah", native or otherwise, is more of an attitude, an appreciation and a love for Maine and all that it represents. So someone who was born in Maine but can't wait to escape to greener pastures (figuratively speaking)is not a Mainah. When I was much younger, still in college maybe, this was me; I was certain that life would be better in almost any place other than Maine, and I intended to leave as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Clearly, I was not a Mainah at that stage of my life.

On the other hand, someone who moves to Maine "from away" and over time develops a deep love, respect and appreciation for life in Maine, someone who sees wonder in its seasons and geography,understands its people and their ways, and finds joy in even the simple aspects of "life as it should be" that we natives take for granted - such a person, I think, can fairly be called a "Mainah".

Sarah Smiley writes a weekly column called "Shore Duty" about life in general, military life in particular, and recently life in Maine. Her husband is a Naval Officer and they came to Maine (Bangor) on assignment a little over two years ago. I have read her columns for several years and I was curious as to how she would adapt to life here. Well as it turns out, she has adapted very well.

The "Shore Duty" published today was titled, "What's special about Maine", and it was what started me thinking about what makes someone a Mainah. Here's a brief excerpt from the column: "I fell in love with Maine during those first few months in 2008. Everything - from the way the heater smelled when it first kicked on to the boots people stepped out of on their front porch to the puddle of slush they left behind - was endearing." There was much more, of course, but you get the idea -Sarah is clearly smitten with life in Maine.

Then she wrote the passage that started me thinking and ultimately led me to conclude that I disagree with her on one point: "The process of falling in love was complete. I had become one with Maine (though still not a "Mainer" (sic) of course)" I think she's wrong - she is a Mainah in the best sense of the word, and even if they are reassigned and move out of Maine she will still be "one of us" - because she "gets" what life in Maine is all about. And that's what it takes to be a Mainah, by Gawd!

I guess that since I plagiarized from her column it's only fair that I plug her website, so you can learn more about Sarah Smiley at www.sarahsmiley.com - she's "real people" - I think you'll like her.

Monday, December 27, 2010

It's a "Snow Day"

Today is Monday, December 27 and what will surely be labelled "The Blizzard of 2010" is upon us. The snow started to fall late last night but the high winds and heavy snowfall didn't ramp up until after midnight (I guess - I was asleep by then) and by daybreak there were several inches of snow already on the ground and it was still falling and blowing at a pretty respectable rate; it still is as I write, a little after noon. All in all the conditions have created a personal "snow day" for me.

On a normal Monday I would spend most of the day driving a van to transport veterans to the VA Facility at Togus and return them home. It's a volunteer activity which I enjoy and I had two riders scheduled for today, so I was a little disappointed that the weather forced cancellation of the trip, but at least the decision to cancel was a no-brainer. I hate to call off a trip when conditions are "marginal" but today is anything but that so there was absolutely no doubt about the call.

I have not always appreciated "snow days". When my sons were still in school, storm cancellations necessitated making provisions for them to be supervised for the day. When they were very little that meant they went to their day-care provider for the whole day instead of just after school, which of course increased the expense, but I was still very grateful that the facility was there for us. Later on, when they were "too big" for day care but still too young to leave unsupervised I usually just took the day off from work to stay home with them, and we did some pretty fun things so it certainly wasn't all bad. Still a missed day of work had "costs" of its own so it wasn't something I hoped for when a winter storm was in the forecast.

I have to say that I am enjoying my "snow day" today, though. First, the timing of the storm made it certain last night that I would not be driving today, so I could "sleep in" knowing that I didn't have to be in Round Pond by 8:00am. So I got up at a very leisurely time, made a pot of coffee and just relaxed for a while - the morning paper had not come (it showed up at about 9:30, much to my surprise as the travelling looks really treacherous) so I spent a while just "puttering". Then I fired up the snow-blower to clear the driveway (I think I'll have to do it again, though) and retrieve the paper. Now, with the hard work done, I can just stay in and relax for the rest of the day and not feel the least bit guilty about it! It's like having a day off from my "day off", if you know what I mean - no plans, no schedule, no "to-do" list to work through. It's a "snow day"!

Winter storms can be dangerous and not everybody can just stay home and stay warm and safe until they pass. But for this storm on this day I am in a unique position to take advantage of the weather as an excuse to stay home and do absolutely nothing for a while, all the while knowing that I am doing the "responsible" thing by staying off the roads and out of harm's way. What could be better than that?!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

"The Broiler Capital of the World"

I grew up in a small town on the coast of Maine, and that's how it promoted itself: "The Broiler Capital of the World"! The boast was based on the major source of employment in the area, the two poultry processing plants that were located side by side directly on the waterfront at the head of the bay. There was a sardine plant there, too, but it was the poultry plants that gave the town its claim to fame. I was reminded of this today as I worked on a crossword puzzle and "broilers" was one of the answers.

"Broilers" of course referred to the countless chickens that were raised in the outlying areas and transported in cages by "poultry trucks" to the plants at the bottom of Main Street, where they were slaughtered, processed and shipped to markets all around the country ( and maybe the world, but the "global economy" had not really materialised yet.)

Almost everyone in the county was, directly or indirectly, involved with the poultry industry. Anybody who didn't work in one of the plants, grow chicks in a chicken house, or drive a truck to take them to them to their final destination was probably related to somebody who did. And almost everybody else in some way supported and depended on the industry. It was, in many respects, a "company town". And the "company" was a chicken plant.

Since the local economy was so dependent on "broilers" I guess it's only natural that a slogan that featured the industry was developed and promoted. So "The Broiler Capital of the World" came to be - I don't know exactly when the slogan came into existence but I do not remember a time when the town was not known as that, and my recollection goes back to the early 1950's. And it was not just a slogan - there were activities and events intended to further the town's reputation as such, foremost among them an annual "Broiler Day".

The celebration was held in July, as I recall, and was a pretty big deal for the whole area. There was a parade, of course, and selection of a "Broiler Queen", and maybe even a dance, but the main event was the day-long celebration at the waterfront park, where there were games and displays all leading up to the main event - the biggest chicken barbeque you can imagine. A good time was had by all, and the chicken was really yummy! The organizers of the event did a really good job promoting the industry that supported the whole area.

But of course there was a "dark side" to the industry that everybody had to ignore for "business as usual" to continue to go on. For one thing, travel over any road in the county inevitably wound up with you behind a truck transporting chickens and it was not a pretty sight. Chickens were crammed into wooden cages which made their misery apparent, and their feathers created a hazardous "storm" behind the truck. And there were precious few opportunities to pass the trucks safely so what could have been a quick trip to town frequently became a long, slow ride instead.

Much more serious, and what ultimately led to the demise of the industry in the area, was the fact that both plants were located directly on the shores of the bay and they discharged the effluent (i.e., "chicken guts") directly into the bay. No filters, no treatment - straight from the slaughter room floor into the water. A visitor to the waterfront was greeted with a view of floating chicken feathers, organs and offal. It was not a pretty sight. It's ironic that the city park where the "Broiler Day" celebration was held had a large pool for swimming because nobody in their right mind would dare venture into the waters of the adjacent bay for fear of encountering chicken parts floating by. The only "positive" aspect of this - and it's a real stretch - was that the Striped Bass that migrated into the bay every summer found the offal to be very tasty, and a fisherman who wanted to catch them had only to hook a chicken lung onto his line to assure a catch.

All good things must come to an end and so it was with "The Broiler Capital of the World". By the late 1960's environmental concerns led to government regulations that prohibited things like discharging untreated waste directly into our waters, and so the plants had to make major capital investments to "clean up their act" or shut down, and of course they did the expedient thing - they closed up shop and moved on and left the local economy and the waterfront they had sullied and abandoned to fend for themselves. Those pesky "government regulations" that folks are so fond of complaining about did the industry in. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing I guess is in the eye of the beholder, but I sure wish I had bought some shore-front property while the prices were depressed due to the chicken guts floating everywhere.

The end of every era is, of course, te beginning of a new one and so it was with my home town. The collapse of the local economy and the devaluation of property values resulted in what can only be called local depression conditions, but this too had a bright side: the opportunity to purchase prime waterfront property at bargain-basement prices attracted the attention of some savvy investors. Chief among them was MBNA - you remember, the credit card giant that made billions by making easy credit available to folks like you and me.

MBNA, which at the time had more money than God, came into town and bought up scads of prime real-estate and set up a call center and hired lots of local residents to staff it. And they didn't discharge anything into the bay, which over time managed to clean itself up pretty well through natural processes - chicken guts may not be pretty, but they are bio-degradable and in a few short years the waterfront was relatively pristine again. And since shorefront property is highly desirable and in short supply values began to go back up, and other people and companies with money came to the area to snap it up, and life and the local economy were good again. And then MBNA went belly-up.

Happily, by the time of this last development the natural beauty of the region had been cleaned up and re-established itself as the primary attraction of the area. It was desireable for what it was: an area rich in natural beauty and resources, a place where people wanted to come just to enjoy the wonderment of its location. So my home town no longer calls itself "The Broiler Capital of the World" but it's doing pretty well anyway. I haven't been back in quite a while but I understand it's thriving as a local center for culture and the arts, and I think that's a good thing. Maybe when I do go back for a visit, I'll take a swim in the bay just for "new times" sake.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My blog has a follower

In truth, I started this blogging enterprise strictly for my own entertainment. I like to write, mostly about myself as you may have noticed, and this space provides a forum for me to go on and on about whatever happens to be on my mind at any given moment. So I've been perfectly content to babble on whenever, about whatever for however long I felt like.

And that's still the way it is but maybe with some subtle differences. First and foremost, someone is "following" my blog. As I understand it, "followers" are notified of updates and posts to the blog they are following, so they can check in and see what's new. And this particular "follower", who (whom? - I think that's grammatically correct, but it sounds so wrong) I happen to know, says she is interested in my musings. Well first, I'm a little concerned about anyone who finds the workings of my mind interesting (except maybe in a clinical sense) - I know I'm witty and entertaining but I didn't think I'd ever convince anybody else of that. So the fact that someone would actually want to come back on a regular basis to read what I have to say is a little unexpected; plus now I feel obligated to write stuff that might actually be interesting/entertaining/informative to someone other than me - that's a lot of pressure for a hack like me! But I don't mind; in fact, I'm grateful for my follower and I hope I don't let her down. And comments would be welcome, too!

Also, I have discovered that I can track the number of "hits" on my blog and actually see the source of the "referring URL" (I'm not sure what that means but it sounds important.) So I know that some folks have come here via Google, which I guess I might have expected (you cannot be "invisible" on the internet with search engines like "Google" keeping track of every character posted) but I totally did not expect hits from Russia and Bosnia referred by some Russian English-language search site (I "Googled" it to find out what it was). And there's another website that refers its visitors to "web sites you might be interested in" (including this one, apparently), for what reason I have no idea - but I'm guessing it's not because they have visited here and found it to be worth recommending for the literary content.

So apparently in addition to my "follower" and the few other folks I have let in on the existence of this blog, I have a "world-wide" audience who have at least visited here even if they haven't actually read any of my posts. And to all I say, "Welcome - I'm glad you stopped by". But I intend to stay true to my original intent when I created this enterprise, and that is to write for myself, about whatever I find of interest and as often as I feel the urge. If someone else finds this to be of interest for whatever reason, then I am glad - you are welcome to visit as often as you like. Feel free to agree, disagree, or comment about anything you like - but just so you know, you probably won't change my mind about anything.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I love my TomTom

TomTom is a GPS device, and technically it's not mine - it belongs to Disabled American Veterans (DAV). A few months ago DAV bought TomToms for the vans we use to transport veterans from all over the state to the VA medical facility at Togus. I drive a van one day each week, and to be honest when I first saw the GPS I chuckled because I thought it was totally unnecessary. I've lived in the mid-coast region for my whole life and I like to think I know the roads in the area pretty well. Not so, as it turns out.

Some of the veterans we pick up live in pretty remote areas, way off the beaten path, so to speak. But I've always been able to find them even before TomTom arrived on the scene. Sometimes it involved a little research before I set out and every now and then I had to check the DeLorme Atlas to locate the right road, but I always got there. But now with the all-knowing GPS sitting on the dashboard all I have to do is enter the Vet's address, even if it's off the highway, down a country road and on a private lane and TomTom gives me turn by turn directions right to the front door - it even tells me, in a very charming feminine voice, when my next turn is coming up!

I admit, I didn't totally trust it at first - I turned it on and put in the address, but I still got my own directions and went the way I thought was best. TomTom and I didn't agree every time on the best route, but she was very patient with me and every time I deviated from her directions she would "recalculate" and produce a new route that was consistent with the way I was headed. And no matter which way I went, she always cheerily announced, "You have reached your destination" just as I pulled into the desired address. Over time I learned to co-exist with TomTom but I still never came to regard her as "necessary." Until today.

Today brought the first significant snowfall of the season. It wasn't bad when I started my run to Newcastle to pick up my only rider, but by the time I arrived the roads were snow-covered and getting very slick. The usual route from Newcastle to Togus, the one TomTom showed me when I first started using her, is over a series of very winding, hilly roads which are a challenge (but very scenic) in good weather but today they were just plain hazardous. No plows or sand trucks had treated the "back" roads so the ride was slow but, thankfully, uneventful and we arrived safely at Togus, where it was snowing even harder.

I felt the return trip would be safer if I travelled on the main roads instead of returning the way I had come, so as soon as I left Togus I departed from the route the GPS had plotted for me but as usual she agreeably plotted new routes every time I went by a turn she had chosen to put me on her preferred road. And ultimately she relented and produced directions that were consistent with the way I was travelling and everybody was happy. My route added a few miles to the trip but we arrived safely, dropped off my passenger and headed "home". TomTom knows where "home" is and how to get there no matter where we start or what roads we travel - today that became important.

From Newcastle to "home" is a straight shot down U.S. Rt 1 with no turns at all until it's practically time to turn into the driveway - if GPS directions ever seemed irrelevant, this would be the trip. By this time the storm had intensified and even Route One was getting greasy and traffic was moving slowly, which was OK by me. As I approached Wiscasset things started to get interesting - apparently Route One was closed just north of the Wiscasset bridge and traffic was being diverted onto Route 27, which goes to the Boothbay area - I did not want to go to the Boothbay area and if you know this area at all you know the ONLY way to get "home" is to cross the bridge in Wiscasset (or double way, way back and go another way entirely.) But I was given no choice - leave Route One and go down 27.

Now I know from my earlier travels in the area that there is a "back way" to get from Route 27 back to One right at the very end of the bridge I needed to cross - I just wasn't sure where the turn was. But TomTom, God bless her little electronic chips, knew exactly where it was and as soon as I made the turn onto 27 she "recalculated" our route to take me right to it! There was a long line of cars going down 27 and it was apparent that none of them had a clue as to how to get back on Route One, but when TomTom flashed a big green arrow to a side road and sweetly directed me to a "right turn ahead" I slowed, made the turn, and watched everybody else go straight, towards Boothbay. So there I was, by myself on another winding hilly snow-covered road; there was one hill I thought I would not make it over, and there was a 90 degree turn that, if missed, lands you in the bay but I made it and eventually I arrived at the end of the bridge on Route One. There were long lines of stopped traffic in both directions but I had come in just south of whatever was blocking the road so I just pulled out into the southbound lane and proceeded on my merry way - and as I watched in my rear-view mirror I did not see a single car come out of that detour behind me. Apparently no one else had TomTom to direct them.

So let me say it again: "I love my TomTom." I may even get one for my own truck.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I've never been much of a whiskey drinker, or any "hard liquor" for that matter. Oh, I had a fling with Scotch when I was barely, or maybe not even, old enough to drink legally. And I went through a Tequila period during my first marriage, mostly due to Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville", I think. And my flirtation with Rum was Jimmy's fault, too, since every boater needs "boat drinks" at the end of the day. And of course St. Patrick's Day calls for an Irish whiskey (Bushmill is my preferred choice) to celebrate the occasion. But beer has always been my adult beverage of preference - I switch brands depending on my mood and budget, but basically any beer will do. Red wine is good, too - not the fancy "vintage" stuff, just a nice, smooth table wine, and if I'm listening to Jerry Jeff Walker, a Sangria seems appropriate. Whiskey though, not so much.

Until a couple of years ago (more or less) when I read an article in a magazine about good cheap booze; or maybe cheap good booze - I'm not sure which it was. Either way, it mentioned bourbon. I've probably had bourbon once or twice in my life (Wild Turkey comes to mind) but this article sang the praises of a brand I'd never heard of - Evan Williams. It spoke in glowing (bourbon does give you a glow) terms of it's taste and complexity, and lots of other stuff I didn't understand, and compared it favorably to much pricier brands. Well I love a bargain, so the next time I found myself in the booze aisle at Shaw's I looked for it, and sure enough - there it was for under twelve bucks for a fifth. Everything else was much more expensive and I knew, because I had read it in a magazine, the this stuff was good (and cheap), so I bought some.

Have you ever heard the song, "God's own drunk"? It's about a still and the whiskey it produces, and there's a man tending the still, and there's a bear and - well, if you've heard the song you know what I'm talking about and if you haven't, you just wouldn't understand. But when I took my first sip of Evan Williams bourbon, that song came to mind and I knew exactly what it meant. That Kentucky bourbon danced on my tongue and it warmed the back of my throat and then I felt it all the way down to my belly. And I fell in love, and I knew I had a new mistress.

Now I've had enough experience with women and booze to know that you have to treat them both with respect and enjoy them in moderation. But I'm pretty sure that I've found the whiskey that I'm going to stick with for the rest of my life; as for that woman, well I guess she's still out there waiting to be discovered.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Decision Points

You're probably thinking that this has something to do with Dubya's recently released book by the same title, and you could not be further from the truth. In fact this has nothing to do with George W. Bush, his book, or his presidency - although I do have some thoughts on all of the above, they will have to wait for another post.

No, this essay has to do with the decisions that we all make that wind up affecting the rest of our lives in ways that we would never have predicted. Even decisions regarding seemingly small things can have a disproportionate influence - who hasn't heard stories about someone who changed their regular plans only to avert some disaster that would otherwise have befallen them? But things like that may get chalked up as blind luck, or kismet, or whatever, and that's not really what I have in mind.

I'm talking about conscious decisions that we make that we know will alter the rest of our lives but the scenario plays out in a way that is totally different than we had anticipated. Let me illustrate with an example of a deliberate decision I made that went in a whole different direction than I had intended (but it worked out anyway, as you'll see.)

I was a senior in college in 1967 and like many college seniors then and now I didn't have a clue what I was going to do after graduation. I had kind of lost my enthusiasm for continuing on to law school, and my degree in Political Science didn't really prepare me for a lucrative job in the "real world" so I was sort of in a quandry. There was only one thing of which I could be certain: that soon after I graduated I would receive "Greetings" from my local draft board. This was not something that a young man looked forward to in 1967. So I undertook a plan to avoid the dreaded letter from SSS and to take fate into my own hands. Anyone who thinks they can take fate into their own hands, I soon learned, is seriously deluded. But hey, I was 21 and one semester away from graduation so it was time to take charge of my own destiny, right? Wrong, as it turns out.

So I considered the one thing which I considered to be a sure bet , i.e. I was going to be drafted into the Army to fight in Viet Nam if I didn't do something, and I began to look for alternatives to that fate. To be clear, I was not opposed to serving in the armed services - I had even been appointed to attend the U.S. Naval Academy a few years earlier but fate (in the guise of poor eyesight) foreclosed that option. What I was opposed to was being drafted into the Army and getting my ass shot in some far-away land. If I was going to go into military service I thought I should at least do it on my own terms and in a way that would optimize my chances of actually surviving the experience.

I considered several options - Naval Aviation was my preferred avenue, but again my eyes disqualified me from consideration. So I talked with recruiters, I read brochures, and I tried to learn all I could about "job opportunities" in the armed services so I could pick the one that was best for me. Because remember, the one thing of which I could be sure was that one way or another, I was going to land in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines. So after much research, hand-wringing, discussion, interviews, and possibly a few beers, I opted to become a Counter-Intelligence Special Agent in Military Intelligence (insert "oxymoron" joke here). So I signed the papers and my fate was sealed - this was just before the semester break and the Christmas season was upon us. This timing, as it turned out, was critical to the way events developed from there on.

The Army Induction Center in Bangor, where physical exams of prospective draftees and enlistees were administered, was a busy place in the late sixties - except, that is, between Christmas and New Year's, which is when MY pre-induction physical was scheduled. In a facility where on a normal day dozens of potential inductees would be processed, there were, I think, three of us to be evaluated on that particular day. One I remember to be a gung-ho volunteer who wanted to join the Marines, the other I don't remember at all (maybe there was no other); and then there was me, just trying to get a step ahead of the Draft Board. The only other ones I remember to be there that day were a Medical Officer and an Orderly who made notes on the medical "jacket" that he had for each of us.

And so we, the three (or maybe two) of us were subjected to all of the usual physical examination procedures, with the Orderly dutifully making notes of the results. At the end of the process the Medical Officer told me that the tests had revealed a heart murmer, and upon hearing that pronouncement the Orderly wrote on the face of my medical jacket, I swear this is true, 4F which is military jargon for "unfit to serve". This, my friends, was considered by my contemporaries, to be the equivalent of winning the Lottery. On a normal day at the Induction Center I would have been sent out the back door before I could get my shirt buttoned up. But, and here's where fate comes in, it was a very slow day and the Medical Officer had time on his hands, so he sent me off to a heart specialist for further evaluation. And of course the specialist concluded, after doing further testing, that my heart murmer was "innocent" and so posed no obstacle to military service - I distinctly remember that he delivered this conclusion to me as "good news" as he apparently was operating under the misconception that I actually wanted to join up! And so I went back to the induction center with the report in hand, and the Medical Officer after reviewing test results announced that I was qualifed to serve after all, and the Orderly crossed thru my coveted 4F (with a pencil, for God sake!) and wrote next to it "1A" - and you know what that means. Oh, to add to the irony, the gung-ho Marine volunteer didn't make the grade and was sent home - the fates have a strange sense of humor.

So the irony here is, had I done nothing and just waited for my Draft Notice, I would have been processed on a regular day, found to be 4F and sent home. In fact, I might not have even had to go for my physical - my cousin who has the same congenital heart murmer that I have got a letter from his doctor to that effect and he was disqualified from the draft without further processing. But I, who only wanted to get my life in order and maybe live to tell about it, wound up on active duty in Military Intelligence. And you know what? Every time I saw my medical jacket, there on the front, in big letters with a little line through iit, was my winning lottery number: 4F.

Of course it all worked out for the best - things usually do. But I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I had just waited for my "Greetings" from the Selective Service Board. That's a "decision point" that definitely changed my life in unexpected (not necessarily bad) ways. My cousin, the one who avoided the draft with a letter from his doctor, came to a very tragic end a few years ago so I guess we can never know how things will turn out in the long run. As for me, well it's been a long strange trip, as the Grateful Dead so famously sang, but I'm glad that I made that decision back in 1967 - I take pride in my military service and it put me on a career path that ultimately turned out pretty well for me.

So that's my story about decision points. I'm not sure what the moral is, or even if there is one. Maybe we have some degree of control over our destinies or maybe "que sera, sera". I don't have the answer to that. So I guess I'll just keep on doing the best I can and accept whatever comes along, because although I don't know if I can control fate, I'm dead-certain that I can't change where it has landed me. Like the bumper sticker says. "Everybody needs something to believe in - I believe I'll have another beer!"

Friday, November 12, 2010

"When I'm Sixty-Four"

You know the song - it's by the Beatles. It begins, "When I get older losing my hair, many years from now..." It was released in 1967 which was the year I turned 21. So yes, "many years from now" semed entirely accurate. Being 64 seemed to be a lo-o-o-ong time away; in fact I don't think I could even imagine being 64 - that's REALLY OLD, right?

Well, somebody must have hit the "fast forward" button on the cosmic clock because now 1967 doesn't seem that long ago and all of a sudden I'll turn 64 on my next birthday - not that far away, as a matter of fact. The good news is, I still have all my hair (it has been rumored that there is a bald spot on the back of my head, but I can't see it so I deny its existence.) The bad news is, I'M GOING TO BE SIXTY-FREAKIN'-FOUR! Well, maybe that's not really bad news considering the alternative, but you know what I mean.

When I was 21 I graduated from college (UMO) and, it being 1968 by then and with the "police action" in Viet Nam escalating on a daily basis it was a pretty sure bet that I would be drafted into the Army (there was no mandy-pandy lottery system in 1968 - when you lost your student exemption your ass was going to be drafted into the Army!) So I did something that seemed like a good idea at the time: I signed up for a job in Military Intelligence, because that was as far away from the Infantry as I thought I could get (no offense to Infantrymen - it's an important, difficult and extremely dangerous job, especially in 1968.) And I have to say that as life-decisions go, that one worked out pretty well since I wound up with a pretty interesting job, in an area where nobody was shooting at me every day, and it actually was the start of a career path that served me pretty well for the next 35 years.

I was only 25 when I got off active duty, my whole adult life was still ahead of me, and 64 still seemed to be an eternity away. Well guess what, dear reader - 39 years is NOT an eternity! The job market in 1971 pretty much sucked (why does that sound so familiar?) so I spent a year job hunting and doing the kind of things that 25 year-olds did in the early seventies. I was married by then (for the first-, but definitely not the last-time) and we moved to Freeport so she could work in Portland.

In 1972 I got a job with the IRS - and that turned into a career that lasted for more than 30 years (32, to be exact.) And throughout that whole time I lived in Freeport, and I had what I guess was a pretty successful career considering that I only accepted jobs within commuting distance. I have to say that as I look back on my career it's all pretty much a blur. I'm sure there were some memorable moments but for the most part it's all just a fuzzy recollection, and that's probably a good thing. When I retired in the Spring of 2004 I was 57, and the prospect of being 64 still seemed pretty remote - 7 years is still a long time, right? By then I was married to wife number 4, and the prospects for a long and happy retirement (say what you will about government service - the retirement plan is sweet!) were looking good.

Then in 2006 (I think - I told you it's all a little fuzzy) I found myself suddenly single again, still living in Freeport with three dogs (the subject of an earlier post), a couple of cats and my younger son Alex. And that's the status quo in November, 2010 - except Alex has gone off to college (UMO, bless his little heart) and my 64th birthday is 10 days away - THAT does not seem like a long time!

So I guess I have to ask, before it's too late, the question that ends the song: "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four?"

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day

If you've ever visitied my website Dirigonzo Speaks you know I "support our troops" which of course includes veterans. So I guess you won't be too surprised when I say that I am disappointed that Veterans Day has become what I term "half a holiday". It's an official federal holiday so most government offices are closed and of course there's no mail delivery, but other than that it's pretty much "business as usual" for the American public. Public schools are closed, I think, but frankly I'd rather they stayed open and held an assembly to mark the occasion - somehow I think that would be more meaningful for kids than having the day off without understanding why. Maybe some banks are closed, too, but with ATMs and on-line banking, who cares? For most businesses Veterans Day is a good reason to have a sale; celebrate by shopping - what could be more patriotic?!

I checked the local papers this morning and there are a few observances scheduled in the area, mostly sponsored by veterans' groups like the American Legion and VFW and I guess that's fitting, but wouldn't it be nice if there were more widely observed activities promoted by non-veterans? I was surprised to see that the Freeport Flag Ladies haven't scheduled anything to mark the day - I just checked their website to make sure and nope, nothing going on today. I don't mean to be critical of the FFL - they do way more than most to support troops and veterans - but if even they don't do something to say "thank you for your service" who will? Maybe you?

Memorial Day is a time to commemorate those who gave their lives in defense of our nation and our way of life. Veterans Day is an opportunity to say "Thank you - we appreciate your service and sacrifice on our behalf" to ALL vets and future vets. Everybody who served or is still serving gave some part of their life to secure freedom for all of us. Their families sacrificed too, by having a loved one away or by supporting them in countless ways, and we should appreciate their contributions also.

I'm not asking for individual recognition here - certainly not for myself and not for any other particular veteran. But I do think that *veterans* as a group deserve more appreciation than is afforded by today's "half a holiday". And I'm not asking for parades and ceremonies with military bands and public speeches by local dignitaries, although those are always fun; I'm asking YOU to take a minute to remember why we have Veterans Day and maybe ask yourself, "how can I, in some small way, show my appreciation to the men and women who have served in the armed forces?" And then do it. Maybe you'll put your flag out (it's not too late as I write), or maybe you'll write a letter to your elected representatives to ask them to support veterans' benefits when they come up for a vote. Or maybe you'll just thank a veteran for his or her service - time is growing short to do this for WW II vets and I know they would love to hear it from you.

If you are just completely stuck for a way to "support our troops" go to my website https://sites.google.com/site/dirigonzospeaks/ and you'll find links to dozens of organizations that would love to hear from you and have your support. Tell them Dirigonzo sent you.

And now I think I'll go to Applebee's and get my free dinner.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


There is a saying among sailors, "If there are two sailboats within sight of one another and headed in the same general direction, at least one of them is racing." I'm a pretty leisurely sailor but even I have trimmed sail to gain a little speed when it seemed possible to outdistance a nearby vessel - it's a sailor's nature, I guess. But more often than not I would be the one not racing. To me just being on the water with the sun on my face and the wind in my hair is reason enough to sail; I don't need to be going faster than the other boat (usually).

Sailing is like any other activity - everyone participates for their own reasons and with varying degrees of passion and enthusiasm. I have lots of friends and acquaintances who are sailors and I've observed over the years that they can generally be divided into a few categories based solely on their approach to sailing, and that their sailing category pretty much translates into how they approach life in general.

First, there are the voyagers. To them, sailing is a way of life, their raison d'etre. They sail the oceans from port to port, country to country, just for the adventure. Their life is sailing and sailing is their life. If they were not sailors they would be explorers venturing into the unknown or mountain climbers seeking new heights. Voyagers, on the seas or on the shore, need to extend their horizons, seek new experiences and ,you know, "boldly go where no man has gone before." True voyagers are a rare breed but occasionally you will encounter one in a local anchorage. The late Dodge Morgan was a voyager who spent his later years living and cruising on the Maine coast and many local sailors were privileged to meet him.

The next category I call "cruisers". Cruisers get on the water as often as they can, and they usually have a destination and a deadline to get there and back. They have jobs and responsibilities that demand most of their time and attention and sailing is their "escape" from the pressures of every day life. Cruisers may spend as much, or more, time in the planning and preparations for their journey as on the actual trip. The trip may encompass a weekend or a month, it may be a short sail to a nearby anchorage or a cruise downeast, but invariably there is a set departure date and a set return date and if the weather sucks the whole time, well that's too bad. Cruisers, like most of the rest of us, are subject to the whims of nature. And then they go back to their "real" lives.

Racers need almost no explanation. They want to go faster then everybody else - on the water, anyway. Everything they do is intended to gain a competitive edge. Equipment, tuning, tactics - these all factor into the racer's approach to sailing. They want to get the most speed out of themselves, the boat and the crew. For the racer every outing is a competition - against a fleet of boats in a regatta, against the unsuspecting cruiser off the port bow, or against his own fastest time on the same course. Racers love to sail and they love to compete. And maybe, from time to time, every sailor is a racer, because, "I'll bet if I trim the sails a little, I can beat that boat to the next buoy..."

There's another category that I almost hesitate to mention because it seems, well , unkind - but they are part of the sailing community so I guess I have to include them. Let's call them, for lack of a better term, "Dockers". Dockers tend to have large, expensive boats that never seem to leave the dock. The owners (I hesitate to call them sailors) if they are on the boat at all are usually seated in the cockpit, relaxing with a beverage; they are often not apparent on the vessel at all, and I suspect they spend most of their "sailing" time at the yacht club bar, relaxing with a beverage. Sometimes I wonder why "dockers" have boats at all, but I'm sure they have their reasons; I'm also sure that it's none of my business.

And finally, there are the "day sailors". I'm a day sailor. We get out on the water at every opportunity in any kind of vessel that floats. Being on the water, sailing - that's our objective. Where we go or how long it takes to get there is not important. We may set out with a destination in mind, but if time and tide keep us from getting there, no problem - we'll make it another day. You may say day sailors have no goals - I say we're flexible. If I am on the water, I am happy; if I can get to a new destination it may add to my enjoyment but if I don't make it, it won't ruin my day. Some days, most days, when I drop my mooring I don't even know in what direction I'll head - it depends on the wind, and my mood, and maybe who I have for a crew. Some of my fondest memories are of sailing to places that had not even occurred to me when I set out, or sailing to no particular place at all - just going where the prevailing winds dictated on that particular day. It's being on the water - sailing - that is our passion; not adventure, not destinations, not speed, and certainly not staying dockside! It doesn't matter if the outing lasts an hour, a day, or a month, day sailors are happy for the ride, wherever it takes them - even it that's nowhere at all!

Is sailing just a metaphor for life? I don't know, maybe. But I do know that how a person approaches sailing tells you a lot about how she or he approaches life. So if someone invites you to go for a sail (metaphorically speaking), ask yourself, "What kind of sailor is this?"

Monday, October 18, 2010

"Good Enough for Who It's for"

Years ago, four of us went to the Virgin Islands on a bare-boat vacation. We chartered a 33 foot sailboat out of St. Thomas and spent a week going from island to island, living on the boat and going ashore when we thought there would be something of interest (usually a bar.) One such place was on St. John Island, a little establishment called Redbeard's Saloon.

To get to Redbeard's by boat, we sailed into a long cove in the middle of the southern shore; we had to anchor quite a way off because it's very shallow as you get closer in to shore. So there's a long row to a little dock, and then an even longer walk up a fairly steep hill to get to the tavern. There is a road that lets travellers coming from the posh resort hotels on the north shore drive up, but where's the fun in that?

Once at the top of the hill you discover Redbeard's - it's the only building there, and not much of a building at that. I don't remember the details, but I think "rustic" might be a little generous in describing the accommodations. The cooking, as I recall, was all done on a barbeque pit out back and I'm pretty sure there was a generator to keep the beer cold. That was pretty much it, except of course for the people there, who were wonderfully generous and pleasant to be around. It just felt good to be there. Oh, and the view from the top of the hill - wow!

It's important, I think, when you happen upon a place like Redbeard's that you take home a souvenir to help you relive the good times back home, when you're snowed in and wondering why you came back home to begin with. And of course, Redbeard's had all kinds of suitable items for sale just for this purpose. I love T-shirts, so that's what I picked out. It was kind of a salmon color with the Redbeard's logo, under which it said: "Redbeard's Saloon, St. John, USVI - Good Enough for Who It's for."

I knew exactly what that slogan meant, what it was really saying: there are tourists who would go there, take one look around and declare the place a dump, and leave (they probably drove there); and then there are tourists like us - a motley crew if ever there was one - who take great joy in finding a simple out of the way place where the proprietors are friendly, the beer is cold, and the view is spactacular. Good enough for who it's for - good enough for us!

There are lots of great place to go when your cruising in the Virgins and we went to a lot of them. I'm not even sure that Redbeard's was our clear favorite at the end of the trip, but I am sure I will never forget it, because it didn't try or pretend to be something it wasn't, it just tried to be "good enough for who it's for," and I think there's a lot to be said for that. I heard a few years ago that Redbeard's had closed and that made me a little sad, not because I thought I'd ever go back but because I think that any place "good enough for who it's for" should be successful for as long as it wants to be. I just hope it wasn't replaced by a mega-mansion or luxury hotel built to cater to "those other people" for whom Redbeard's wasn't good enough.

So if everything you have or do is good enough for who it's for, then you're probably a pretty happy camper - I know I am. I guess it's just another way of saying that being content with what you have is the key to happiness, and I truly believe that.

And if you ever happen to find yourself on St. John, USVI, please walk up that hill and take a look around to see what's there now. Whatever it is, I hope it's good enough...

Just did a little googling and got some updated info on Redbeard's - apparently a new place with the same name opened at another location on St. John. It sounds a little more - what's the word I want? - upscale, that's it, than the original. But here's the word on how the end came to the real Redbeard's Saloon (it seems kind of appropriate):

Joe Jackson May 14th, 2007 06:53

A couple of facts for the uninformed. Redbeards was Ted Johnson’s bar out where Skinny’s is now. It’s posted motto was ‘GOOD ENOUGH FOR WHO IT’S FOR’. Ted used a chainsaw to dismantle the old place when he was leaving. I understand he’ll be doing some guest bartender gigs when it opens. It’s Wally from Larry’s that’s opening it… I wish him all the best.

Here's a link to see what the "new" Redbeard's Saloon was like:http://www.on-stjohn.com/2007/05/10/redbeard%E2%80%99s-returns/comment-page-1/

I'm pretty sure the "ambience" wasn't exactly the same, but it was probably good enough for a different crowd. I'm pretty sure that if my crew and I had showed up at the new place, they would have thrown us out - it sounds like the kind of place we would have avoided anyway.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My "Conspiracy Theory"

It seems like our country is in pretty rough shape - the economy is down, unemployment is up, and the general mood seems to be, "Throw the bums out." I have a theory as to how we got into this mess; technically I guess I don't think it's the result of a "conspiracy" as such, but I certainly don't think it happened by accident, mismanagement or just plain bad luck. I think it happened as a result of deliberate decisions by a very small group of instigators.

Some men - and maybe women, but I can't think of any - have enormous wealth; more money than you or I can even imagine, even more money than some pretty good-sized nations. They like to hold on to their riches and make even more, and at least a few of them, but certainly not all, view government - any government - as an obstacle to their accumulation of wealth and power. Since they have virtually unlimited financial resources they can spend obscenely huge amounts of money to influence governmental policies, especially the ones that affect their interests. But what would make them really, really happy would be to reduce the effectiveness of government to a point where it could not restrict their activities in any meaningful way.

I don't think it matters much which party is in power, as these men have enough money to influence any attempts to impair their operations either by legislation or regulation, no matter who proposes them. But they do seem to be more likely to support "small government conservative" candidates than their "progressive" opponents.

The presidential election in 2000 produced an administration which I suspect was very much to the liking of my fictional "conspirators." In George W. Bush they had a president who was very sympathic to their cause and, more importantly, was easily influenced by his vice-president, Dick Cheney. Cheney, you may remember, selected himself to be Bush's running mate, and if we are looking for the first "act in furtherance of the conspiracy", this may be it. Cheney is more than just sympathetic to the plutocrats, he is one of them. He travels in their circles, his interests are their interests. With Bush/Cheney in office, "the future was so bright, they had to wear shades." One of Cheney's first acts was to convene a group to determine the nation's energy priorities - you know how that worked out.

Then a terrible thing happened - terrible for the nation, terrible for its citizens, terrible for the world. But maybe not so terrible for my fictional conspirators, because on 9/11/2001 they were presented with a valuable commodity: a reason to take the USA to war in Afghanistan. War always benefits these men - it makes them richer, it increases their influence, and it detracts attention from their other operations. For them, one war is good, but two wars at the same time is a bonus. So they found a reason to invade Iraq. And we citizens weren't asked to make any sacrifice, unless we or our loved ones were in the armed forces - for most of us it was life as usual. (For the record, I don't subscribe to any theory that the events of 9/11 were caused by anyone other than a small group of Muslim extremists bent on destroying our way of life. I'm not saying the plutocrats were in any way responsible for events on that tragic day, but these are men who know an opportunity when one presents itself.)

So with the nation at war on two fronts, at a cost of billions and billions of dollars per month, it seemed like there was just one more thing to do to ensure government's effectiveness would be severely diminished for generations to come: enact a tax cut. And with that simple act, our fate was sealed. With our nation hemmoraging resources on two wars and with less tax revenue coming in, the government would not have enough money to fund all of its programs, let alone enact any new ones, without running huge deficits, and that's exactly what has come to pass. It did not matter who won the election in 2008; economic woes were assured for everybody except the very, very rich who of course just got richer. I don't think anybody could have changed the course of events after the second Bush/Cheney term.

So let me be clear: I think it's possible, maybe even probable, that the current economic and political state of our nation is the intended consequence of policies enacted by Bush/Cheney at the behest of a small but powerful group of wealthy individuals to advance an agenda that served their interests. Someone (Reagan maybe?) said he wanted to reduce government to a size so small that he could put it in the bathtub and drown it. The plutocrats, I think, have another plan to achieve the same result: starve government of the funds it needs for all of its programs, and the electorate will throw it out in protest. A government in turmoil is almost as good as no government at all.

Just so you know, this is my opinion only. I do not have any facts, other than generally available news accounts, to support my "conspiracy theory" and I am not accusing anyone of illegal acts. But still, when I ask myself, "how did we get in this fix, anyway?" this seems as plausible as any other explanation. So take it for what it's worth, or leave it.

Today is October 17, the date my late father was born in 1907. So Happy Birthday, Dad - I hope you are in a happy place.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Why "Dirigonzo"?

I'm a relative newcomer to this whole "blogging" thing. I'm just starting to understand how things work here and I know I have a lot more to learn before I'll even be at the "beginner" level of competence. So when I went to Blogger to start this enterprise ("why " I did is another story altogether) one of the first things I had to do was come up with a "display name".

It seems to me that a display name on the internet is a lot like a "handle" used to be when CB was all the rage; you remember: "Hey, Rubber Duck, this here's Rough Rider - what's your 10-20?" It's something to identify yourself to others without telling them who you are. Some display names are funny, some are punny, others are descriptive (but often misleading), obscure or confusing, some seem random and a lot are just lame.

So I gave some thought to what my display name should be. I wanted something distinctive, descriptive and maybe a little bit clever - after all, it's all anybody reading my posts or comments knows about me, and we all know how important "first impressions" are. I even floated a couple of trial balloons just to see how they felt, but nothing really clicked the way I wanted it to.

Then recently I read about a web site called "DirigoBlue" and I thought, "Wow, I can work with that!" It's a simple yet clever play on words. "Dirigo" (DEER-igo, NOT deer-EYE-go, please) is the Maine State motto (it means "I lead" or something like that); and Blue in this case was used in the Blue-state, Red-state political context. So taken together DirigoBlue tells us that the web site expresses the Democratic point of view. I like it!

I'm a Mainer so "Dirigo" became the focal point to create my display name. Diri-go, Diri-went, Diri-something. Then Dirigo became Dirigone(Crazy, Nuts, Stark-raving mad, etc., etc.) and then, there it was: Dirigonzo. GENIUS! Who doesn't love Gonzo, the weird looking critter with the big nose on The Muppets? And Gonzo journalism is pretty much my style of writing (I did not know this until I "Googled" it.) So Dirigo combines with Gonzo to produce "Dirigonzo" and there you have it - the perfect display name for me.

Then, because I'm starting to learn about these things, I googled "Dirigonzo", just to make sure it wasn't already being used by a porn-star or some other unsavory type and nothing - no hits at all! So I made it mine, and if you google it now all you will get is - ME; my blogs or other sites I've posted comments on. So I am Dirigonzo, and Dirigonzo is me and no one else!

That's why Dirigonzo - aren't you glad you asked?

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Wow, another "binary day" less than a fortnight since the last one. When I last commented on the topic I wasn't focused on the circumstances that produce "digital dates", so I didn't anticipate that another, even more symmetrical, one would present itself so soon. In computer language today's date would read "on/off-on/off-on/off". I have no idea what that means but it seems incomprehensible to me that all digital operations are based on those two conditions: 1("on") and 0("off"). It kind of reminds me of an old joke about worrying about life: it went through a long series of "either-or" scenarios and culminated in the situation of, "so either you live (1), and everything's OK; or you die (0), and you won't care - either way, no worries."

So maybe that's the bottom line, even for an analog kind of guy like me: Every day is a "1" and we should live it to the fullest; or it's a "0" and there's nothing we can do about it. So here's wishing a long and continuous series of "1s" to everyone - come to think of it, 11-11-11 is exactly 1 year, 1 month, and 1 day from today - that sounds like a pretty good omen to me!

And just so you'll be prepared, the other "binanary days" between now and then are: 10-11-10; 11-01-10; 11-10-10; 11-11-10;01-01-11; 01-10-11; 01-11-11; 10-01-11; 10-10-11; 10-11-11; 11-01-11; and 11-11-11.

But every day - binary, analog, whatever - either you live (that's good); or you die ("no worries"). That we will live and then die is predestined, but how we live is up to each of us and defines who we are. And what becomes of us when we die - well, that's a topic for another discussion altogether, isn't it?

Friday, October 8, 2010

What is Government Good For?

Maybe I'm mellowing in my old age, or maybe the Apocalypse is closer than I thought, but today I read and agreed with an Op-Ed piece by a writer whose columns usually leave me incensed, enraged, or both. He wrote, "I'm a small-government conservative, but society exists so we can live in peace together and not just to enable individuals to take actions that might benefit themselves but harm the community around them." Well, nothing to disagree with there as far as I am concerned.

But a recent news item from Tennessee got me thinking about what I think is the proper role of government in our lives. The story, in case you missed it, was about a local vounteer fire company that had allowed a residence to be totally destroyed by fire because the owners had not paid a $75.00 fee for fire protection. The fire-fighters were on hand, but only to keep the fire from spreading to other homes for which the fee had been paid. This really upset me.

If I were to make a prioritized list of the services I want government to provide, public safety (including fire protection) would be pretty near the top of the list. National defense, public safety, public education, these seem to me to be "core" responsibilites of government. In our society we pay for these services with our tax dollars, and we, or at least I, expect the government to provide the services without exception. And if I haven't paid my taxes, well, I still expect the fire department to show up and put out the fire. Delivery of government services is not dependent on tax payments being up to date, nor should they be. Tax collection is a totally separate matter, and maybe that's a subject for another post (I know quite a lot about the topic), but even a tax scofflaw can expect the cops or fire department to show up when he calls 911.

If government doesn't provide the services, or they get "privitized", then scenarios like the one described above become possible. To me, this is totally unacceptable - we shouldn't have to buy "protection" to keep ourselves safe from crime or natural disaster. In fact, government should protect us from those who sell "protection" - maybe in this instance that includes the Tennessee fire company that watched that residence burn while they stood by and did nothing. How can anybody even do that?

That's what I think government is good for.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The "Brat Pack"

I'm a dog-lover - I've had one or (usually) more dogs since I was a little boy. I still remember the night my dad came home with our very first dog, a light-tan colored German Shepherd puppy. My mother must not have known beforehand that a dog was coming into the family because a big argument ensued, but once a little boy has been given a puppy it's very hard to take it away from him and so the dog stayed. I promptly named him "Sandy Beach" for the color of his fur, and of course that was instantly shortened to just "Sandy". He was truly a great dog - loyal, protective, and totally devoted to his family. He lived a full life and I had gone off to college when the time for his final ride to the vet came. I still miss him.

So of course the first thing I did when I got out of the Army and moved back to Maine was to get a dog - a German Shepherd, of course. And because I didn't want him to be lonely while I was at work (my office didn't allow dogs) I went to the Shelter and got him a pal, a small poodle, the most pathetic looking dog I had ever seen. They became fast friends, and they lived to be "old" by dog standards, but of course their times came, too. A dog's time always comes.

The next 30 years or so brought a succession of dogs (and wives) into my life, and I loved them all dearly. So when my Cocker Spaniel "Oliver" and Dalmatian "Darcy" left within a few weeks on each other about six years ago, I thought my dog days were over. I was approaching 60 years of age and married for the fourth time, and it seemed like a good time to go dogless. Fate, of course, intervened.

Fate in the person of my wife, who had always wanted to raise Labrador Retrievers, so she arranged to pick a female yellow lab from a friend's litter. I wasn't consulted and I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have mattered if I had objected (like I ever would!) so another dog was in the offing for the Mainer household. But fate is fickle, and as luck would have it the litter included just one black lab, a male and don't you know he was just too irresistable to pass up, so we got TWO puppies, the yellow female to breed ("Ellie"), and "Lance". And it was made abundantly clear that these dogs were not MY dogs, they were HER dogs, which was fine with me.

Until I opened the local paper one day and there, in the full page ad for the local animal shelter, was the picture of the cutest, most adorable Cocker Spaniel I had ever seen. And I thought, "what the heck, if we're going to have two dogs around the house we might as well have three." And so "Buddy" came to join the pack; he was just a few months older than the labs and since I never told him he was "adopted" he still doesn't know he's not one of them.

So for a couple of years three dogs romped and played at the Mainer household, and life was good. I fenced in the whole back yard so the pack (when you have 3 dogs they're a pack) didn't have to be "walked" constantly, we all shared in their care and upbringing, and everything seemed idyllic. "Seemed" being the operative word, because then a funny thing happened.

She left - I mean here one day, gone the next. Moved out, vamoosed, adios daddy-o. And guess what - she left the dogs! ALL OF THEM! So not only was I newly and unexpectedly single, but I had 3 dogs to take care of. This was almost four years ago so at least by now they have grown out the "teenage" stage where they felt like they had to chew everything (they ate my couch - literally!) and break out of the yard to go on adventures on a regular basis (now they just do it occasionally.) And I've grown quite fond of them - I even call the labs "my" dogs now since it doesn't appear that she is ever coming back to claim them.

Three dogs are a lot of company - not so good at conversation, but a lot of company and quite entertaining. We've worked out a routine that works pretty well for all of us; and it's always exciting when company comes.

So that's the saga of how the "Brat Pack" (because they really are spoiled brats) came to be- Lance, the alpha(minus) male (90 pounds of sinew and muscle, controlled by a single brain cell that may or may not be engaged at any given moment); Ellie, the pack bitch (her motto: If it moves, makes a noise or smells funny, it needs to be barked at); and Buddy, the lap lab (and the best "mouser" a dog ever was). Oh, and Thor the cat, the pack mascot (he and Buddy have a very strange and unnatural relationship.)

I do love them all dearly but my deepest, darkest fear is that, at 51/2 years old, they could outlive me! I suppose from a practical point of view I should make provisions for them in case that should happen (I wonder how my 2 sons will feel about sharing their inheritance with 3 dogs?) But whatever happens, one thing is for certain: NO MORE DOGS FOR ME!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Today is 10-01-10

It seems like all the techo-geeks get excited when a date consists of all "1"s and "0"s. Apparently it has something to do with "binary language" which I guess is what all computers and other digital devices use. Well, I'm an analogue guy in the digital world so I don't understand any of it. I mean, I have a pretty awesome collection of music dating back years and years, and it's all on cassette tape! Do you have any idea how hard it is to find cassette players nowadays? I do have a few CDs as a concession to the CD player in my truck, but from what I understand they are pretty much obsolete, too. Digital, but obsolete - "MP3" seems to be the way to go now but that's probably being replaced as I write.

I'm not complaining - digital HDTV, smart phones, cars that are smarter than their drivers, etc, etc, etc; I mean what's not to like! Well, OK, maybe I have one small nit to pick. Is it possible that we are spending too much time using binary language and not enough time using human language? I don't text, tweet or spend time on facebook but it seems like everybody else in the modern world does! While they're driving their cars, for Pete's sake. First,what news is so important that it can't wait until you get where you're going to tell it, and second, if it's that important wouldn't it be better delivered in person, or at least by phone (you know, so they can hear the excitement/joy/frustration/sadness/whatever in your voice)?

I'm meeting someone for the first time in a little while. My first impression of her was based on emails exchanged, then we talked on the phone and my impression of her changed remarkably just based on the her voice, choice of phrases, and the humurous spirit I could detect in her speech. Basic human communications stuff I think. And I'm sure my impression will change some more when I meet her in person and I can see her expressions, body language, and (hopefully) the "twinkle" in her eyes. It's called getting to know someone, and I just don't see how that happens in a totally digital world.

So happy 10-01-10 everyone. To celebrate, I'm going out to to have dinner with a real live person, and maybe make a new friend. I hope you'll have a chance to get out of the digital world for a while, too.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Pursuit of Happiness"

I live near the coast, so of course I have a boat. Now there's no law that says you HAVE to own a boat if you live by the water, but why WOULDN'T you? Big boat, little dinghy, kayak, canoe, sail, power, whatever - it doesn't matter. All that's important is that you have a way to get out on the bay (or lake, pond, river; whatever floats YOUR boat.)

My boat is an old (1984) 25-foot fisherman built by Pursuit/Tiara/Slickcraft/S2 - all of those labels are somewhere on the vessel. But the big block letters on the aft-quarters when I bought the boat several years ago read "PURSUIT" and I just knew that its new name had to be based on that word. The possibilities seemed endless because "pursuit" can be preceded by lots of words to make a recognizable phrase; to cite a few: In..., Hot...,Leisurely... or Relentless..., and my favorite for a while Trivial Pursuit.

But none of these captured the spirit of why I go boating, and many of them were already being used by other local vessels, so the "pursuit" of a suitable name continued. I'm not exactly sure when "Pursuit of Happiness" popped into my head but I liked it right away; and the more I thought about it the more I liked it, because it works in more than one way. Who doesn't know that it's an inalienable right? And the boat is a "Pursuit" model which brings me "happiness" (remember the "bluebird of happiness" from Rowen and Martin?) And when I am on it I am actively in "pursuit" of "happiness" (figuratively and literally). So it was decided, and with some snazzy red vinyl letters from the local signmaker (to go with the original blue ones already in place) my new boat proudly announced that she is the "Pursuit of Happiness" in all of those respects. And she lives up to her name every time I board her.

I'm writing about this tonight, September 30, because today was my last boating day for this season. Some say Fall is the best time for boating in these parts and they may be right, but it seems like I never get out on the water after Labor Day, despite my best intentions. Usually the boat sits on its mooring unattended and unused until it's too late in the season to go anyway, and I feel bad for not taking it out earlier. So I checked the tide chart and my work schedule and today it all came together as a good day to haul. Good, that is, in every respect except the weather. We had a beautiful Summer with lots and lots of perfect boating days, and even this week there were some really nice "bonus summer days". Today was not one of them: overcast with showers, stiff wind out of the South (at least it was warm), patchy fog - but at least I beat the wind-swept rain that is in the forcast for tonight and tomorrow.

So the weather was pretty miserable even for the short ride up the river to my haul-out site, and the occasion for the trip was certainly not a happy one, but for the couple of hours that I was on "Pursuit of Happiness" this afternoon I was a happy man. And it feels good to have her out of the water early enough to get her cleaned up and covered before the really nasty weather moves in for winter. So it was a good day. And if we should chance to have a really beautiful spell of "Indian Summer", well, I have a friend who still has his boat in the water.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why I'm here

I grew up in a simpler, more innocent time - not better, necessarily, but certainly different from today. Life's lessons, as I learned them, could be capsulized in a few short directives:

-Live and let live;
-Follow the Golden Rule;
-Practice what you preach;
-Take responsibility;
-Don't Sweat the small stuff.

There are more, but it seems to me that if we all just abided by these few simple principles the world would be a better place. Take the first one - today it seems like everybody wants to tell everybody else how to live. Sure, we need laws and standards to prevent criminal acts and totally anti-social behavior but beyond that, if what I am doing doesn't affect you then it's none of your business. And vice-versa, of course.

And the Golden Rule - that's a biggie. I read, and I believe it, that every major religion has some version of it. "Treat other people as you would like them to treat you." That's pretty simple, but imagine what a different world it would be if everybody followed it! Damn, if we all practiced that one, none of the others would be necessary! I know, we are hard-wired to protect our self-interests but imagine how different the world would be if before we did something we asked ourselves the simple question, "Would I want someone to do this to me?"

I know, I know, it's a dog-eat-dog world, and you have to look out for number one, and to the victor go the spoils, etc, etc, but when is enough, enough? How about if we all just chill, kick back and live life in the slow lane for a change? So with that in mind, I'm going to offer up my observations, opinions and comments about life in general. I'm doing this mostly for my own amusement and entertainment but if you would like to follow along, that's fine, and I welcome any contributions, criticisms or critiques you may want to add.

So here we go - let's see where this journey takes us!