California Dreamin

+smaubyMQJmex21wFmSN4w.jpgh1KePr97Sci1fneFQlRbnwMusic plays such an important part in your life- especially when you’re younger, searching for answers, wondering what you are going to do. I remember the Mama’s and Poppas song California Dreamin as an absolutely monument. Plus Michelle Phillips was pretty good looking and floating around in your adolescent brain somewhere is the idea that she might really like you if she only got to know you, which she might do if you went to California. Right? So have I been to California? Of course About a million times. In a van and everything. Surfboards on the roof. Living the dream. And I came back. And I went again. And I came back. And I went again. I worked for 20 Century Fox. Had a real job, could have stayed. I loved Sausalito when I first saw it. Had I had a more confident view of myself I could have stayed there, too. We are talking a million years ago.  I’d bounce back and forth between Connecticut where my parents lived,  California, where my friends lived, and Cape Cod, where my heart lived. Bounce bounce bounce. I couldn’t stay anywhere. I was restless, unsure. I felt inadequate because I didn’t want to stay in California, but I couldn’t stay. I remember feeling pretty lonely. My job required a freeway commute. I wasn’t getting to the beach much- some surfer I proved to be. I didn’t see my friends as much as I wanted because we all worked different schedules. I got pretty lonely feeling. I wanted just to be back home, where it rained now and then. I wanted to go back to the Cape, and walk on a lonely beach- right to relieve loneliness, right?

Well I ended up here in the East, but our son has moved to California. It’s been over a decade now. You know. Jobs. Friends. Except for the fact that real estate is beyond the reach of anyone we know, he likes it. He’s been with Iris for along time; they both have interesting jobs that pay well, although not well enough to quite afford a house. They love the climate: skiing and surfing both available a few hours apart. They can dine out, play board games with friends, take in films, hit interesting book stores. Life is good.


So we go out to visit. it’s been our custom for the past few years to get out there for Thanksgiving and stay a few days either side of it. We visit with Saben and Iris in LA in their dramatic and comfortable apartment with the 20 foot wall of glass overlooking the city. It is so much more homey than last year when they were just moved in and living still out of cardboard boxes. Saben’s built a nice dining room table, they’ve got a newly upholstered chair-tres chic, the couch is set up to divide the room into a living space and a dining space. They have projector that uses the big wall for a screen where we saw stunning  pictures of their latest travels. It was pretty wonderful to see it all. We all like to see our progeny do well. Yes we’re proud parents.

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Suzy and I had a great time.  When we arrived Saben and Iris hustled us off to Sam Maloof’s house. .   This was wonderful. Maloof is a preeminent woodworker whose handbuilt house is on the historic national registry. He built the most graceful furniture right up until he died at ninety-three. His rocker is especially nice. You can pick a new one up still made by the fellow he worked with a lot. It’s only 25K. We were going to get a pair, but they were reluctant to gift wrap them.
On Sunday we went to some open houses. Impressive. But pricey. 1.2, 1.5, 1.5. Right, that’s millions of dollars. What’s the mortgage payment on a house that costs 1.5 million. Do you put down  $150K? These numbers make my head whirl.

Saben and Iris had to go to work on Monday, so we headed out for a dip at the beach in Santa Monica by train. I had no idea the pier was such a scene. Wow. Street performers galore: dancers, singers, guitar players, electric violin, a cello and a magician who amused us for half an hour. And food. Right. I’m glad we got our swim in first, because it was a bit chilly and the pier was really fun to hang out at. Next day we hit a book store- Skylight Books,  next to which is a knitting store that designed the pink pussy hat. Yes. I am now the proud owner of a pink pussy hat- a gift- I might add. 8GRWQP7OTG6XmzJuVv1I2A

That night we went out to the LA Athletic Club where Suzy and I played a bit of racketball with iris and Saben. It was an absolute blast. I haven’t played for thirty years or more. Suzy’s never played. You won’t believe what the score was so I’m not going to tell you.

Wednesday we all toodled on up to Oxnard in Saben’s Audi S4 wagon along the Pacific Coast highway which had recently been closed down because of the fires. We went to see my lifelong friend Guy and his wife Kathy for the Thanksgiving feast. In the past we’ve had the feast at Guy and Kathy’s spectacular house. It is a stunning creation. Guy has been working on it doing some fairly serious  remodels on his time off. He was a cameraman for the movie and t.v industry and so would have some time off each year between jobs. He’s invested a lot of time and  money into it over the years to the point where now magnificent: a solar paneled house of extreme comfort with an artistic feel to it, right at the beach, close to his in-laws and brother. It is an extremely comfortable and cool place to have a Thanksgiving dinner- nooks to sit in, open space for larger groups, conducive to good conversation. A warm and wonderful home that reflect Guy and Kathy.  It adds to the spirit of the day. He’s there for life. Here are some shots to give you some idea of how it feels there.


Cool walnut counter top.S0ZMJtMTQC2v9vInMQ0M5g

Downstairs, polished cement counter top with tiles embedded with sea glass mosaic. Messy job sanding and polishing that concrete, but a stunning outcome.pIlxr78dQYm5WQrrCGnY3A

Pool table by the downstairs fireplace.xm1k7ZHERiGp4IP66ju6uADetail of the stone floor.rHq18cd0ToOFoESkM74JOwBright spot to prepare coffee and breakfast.Wn7WVStYR%6kA3G903QOWQ Waiting for breakfast with a cup of coffee or tea, comfortably ensconsed in the sunny table nook.AfAjzBQvSjGhDf%JIpokuQGuy clowning around as he presents the latest two perfectly poached eggs. He is a master breakfast chef.

N4nrjoiVT%uo9wxb32u5IgPoached eggs dotted with hot pepper sauce on toast, avocado slices, tabouleh left over from Thanksgiving, bacon and fresh squeezed o.j. from the tree in his brother’s yard.

Z5Tt7JA3Td2K2XGnocdIeACool decoration on the way up to …l0p7W0XlQ%awgrQ8PEHHYwThis fantastic space


with this amazing skylightEScQlZGzRuGbBhFPV7NxzQCool old surfboard, one of three hanging up here. The others eight or ten are out in the garage. WETxMFh2Sde7bKRhxIITxgPretty wonderful fireplace in the living room with the Super Star Glider seat just visible. You can roar around the room on that seat with wheels just as Guy did with a camera on his shoulder for the show 24. Yes, I want one, too.IMG_0536


This year the feast was not at Guy and Kathy’s house, but at one of Kathy’s sisters. It is marvelous and we feel a part of the family. Guy’s brother Bill was there with his new wife Valerie- both just recently relocated to this area. Kathy’s mom is there, at 92, still very much a story teller. All the Hagans are storytellers. I remember our first year there. I wanted to say something about one of the stories told, and you can’t just politely ease your way in. The competition for air time is pretty ferocious. And they’re all really good story tellers- so I just sat back and enjoyed the show. Some stories resurface- the bongo drum story- but mostly there are no repeats from year to year. They have had a close and rich life together and it is very nice to be a part of it.


And over the course of the next few days we have fun. We eat terrific breakfasts, we surf, we skip the sailboat race to go surfing again,mtcSXMUqRmmSIX8k2HQYbw since the wind has died, I wreck Guy’s favorite board. BOyCsMz8R2yCv7bCs5BjFgWe visit his brother Bill’s new house for dinner, we ride around town on bicycles and golf carts. Go with the flow.FSQGIbN0Tiq6Hu5vXZCpCA

Saben and Iris up front. Guy and Suzy in the back.QRfKzU2CTJyIF7b+oJFgxAKathy and I are identical twins, separated at birth, now joyously reuntied and riding bicycles behind the gold cart.

4m9q6Lg%R5GRb5RwbhxrUwWe go out to eat. We see Charlie after about thirty years. We talk with Guy’s daughter. We watch James Acaster is screamingly funny.  We talk until way too late at night every night. And when we leave to go back to L.A. with Saben and Iris we continue eating and drinking and talking. Good. Meaningful and good. We need this. Everyone needs this. To talk and laugh and share and dream. California Dreamin’?

Old Friends

Well that’s a horrible title, right? Old? Isn’t there a better way to say it. Former friends- no they’re still friends. Erstwhile friends? Come on. Who knows what erstwhile means except erstwhile English teachers and besides it means former. Old is actually about right. Kenny’s birthday is next month and it is good bye to the 60’s. Hello 70’s. And I’m right behind him. Oh. I guess old is not so bad after all. Except the wives are no where near as old. I’d like to go on record as saying that. Kenny and I married much younger women. There’s no telling just how much younger but I know Debbie has been mistaken for her daughter and Suzy regularly gets carded. So old friends it is. And it was an absolute blast.


I’ve written about Kenny- he’s big part of my memoir. Growing up he was my best friend. He introduced me to more of the world than I could have imagined existed: Boy Scouts, Sea Scouts, tromping around the woods, going to North Carolina with his family in a Shasta travel trailer, teaching me how to eat hot dogs raw so we could run away together on our bicycles and not have to stop to cook them and thus possibly get caught, running, carpentry, model building, riding unicycles, paper routes, making mini slingshots that fired ammo we made with the wire off the newspaper bundles and then marauding around town attacking any semi truck trailer that moved, crossing dangerous ravines on our mothers’ old clothesline, drag racing down Maple street Kenny in his old Volvo P 44 and me in my sister’s Metropolitan. Oh we had a big time. And now that we’re both not dead or maimed, I can say without hesitation that it was all Kenny’s doing. I never had one idea. Too dumb? Apparently.


Last Friday Suzy came out to the barn where I was working- always busy. She had a big grin on her face so I knew it wasn’t some stupid fundraiser and she hands me the phone and says “It’s Kenny,”


Wow. Kenny Peterson. Conspicuously missing from our 50th high school reunion, but back in my life a little bit because of the miracle of the interweb. He and Debbie sold their house in Simsbury three years ago and are living full time in their R.V. I can’t remember when I first found that out, but I do remember the pang of jealously I got when I heard it. Suzy and I seem to be hopelessly mired in projects sometimes. I mean I love our life, but I sometimes wonder if I am retired. We don’t get to as much fun stuff as you think you’re going to get to when you’re still working and contemplating all that time you’re going to have when you stop showing up at work every day. Whoa, Kenny and Debbie are living the dream. And then this summer I learned through their blog   check it out-  that they are off to Alaska for the summer. Oh god. Suzy and I have dreamed about this for years. ARRRGGGHHH. I mean our life is nice- we’re stuck in Owls Head for the summer right? Not bad.  Sailing and swimming and sitting on the porch and visiting with friends and dining out and  moving buildings and repairing porches and sinking boats. That kind of thing. Then we come back to our lovely home in Storrs and we try to catch up. Grass. Weed whacking. Weeding the pond. Getting the roof on the tractor shed. Why was it again that I decided last fall I needed a shed to put a tractor in? That project that I convinced myself would take two or three weekends. Oh  I am a horrendous judge of how much time something will take if I decide I really want it. Oh sure, I could build a 30×50 foot barn to house a boat I’m looking at so I don’t have to pay someone else to do the storage.  Oh yeah, sure, two to three weeks next summer. No sweat. Well a little sweat, but just two to three weeks of it. Oh and I have to move the stone wall out front so the truck can make the swing into the driveway, and we’ll have to get permission to take down five trees. No problems there that I can see.


So Kenny is on the phone and we have a lot of fun talking, and he’s in Connecticut! He and Debbie agree to come out to our place for dinner. And when they arrive we hug and start talking, Debbie gets out and we hug and start talking and Kenny hands me a bottle of wine while he gets out a six pack of Coronna- and a couple of limes- and in we go, talking the while. There is so much to say and we tried valiantly for three or four hours, but didn’t get it all said. Not by a long shot. Hobbes on the floor, we hear about their dogs- they just lost their beloved German Shepherd last spring- that hurts. We heard about their daughters, Tommy Hart, sea scout stories, Hartford- the Saab mechanic. I didn’t get to hear enough. I didn’t ask enough about Billy and Ray and Mark. Not a word about his folks. We didn’t really get to the good old days. They’d offered to tell us all about their move from a house to an RV and so I started with questions. And we learned a lot. We didn’t hear about New Brunswick, or Alaska. So, as Kenny said, we’ll have to get together again. Right. We’re off to California for Thanksgiving, and they’re off to Maine to see Billy and Jackie then heading down to Flagler Beach, Florida where they’re rented a spot for six months. Flagler beach this winter? Hmmm. Easy enough. Just hop in the van and go. And not one of the places we own needs any mowing in the winter! How cool is that? Just how important are all those projects anyway? V7MsU7FfRmaxyjClkfIzew.jpg


So the idea is looming of simplification. Simplication? Simplify and complicate jammed together give you simplicate and Suzy and I are masters. Thoreau- Simplify, simplify, simplify. In Walden, Thoreau throws out three rocks he’d collected because he didn’t want to dust them. Well we have more than three rocks to throw out. Metaphoric rocks and as well as actual rocks. Both Suzy and I collect rocks. Note the chimney in the above photo. I can’t throw out any rocks. Suzy can’t throw out any rocks. We need them for the pizza oven we’re going to build. Right after the boat barn, and the wood working barn and the quilt studio. And the outboard skiff. And the place on the Cape. And the sailboat I want to build when we decide to downsize our big sailboat. Whoa! Who wound this guy up?


Growing up I didn’t have much. Now I’ve got maybe just a little more than I need. But I don’t really want to give anything up. But I want more time. And everything thing you own is a little chunk of time gone. Time taken away from what? From what you really want to do. So the ordering of your life, the prioritizing  is important. I’m starting to know that. What is the point of living. Is it reminiscing? Is it hanging on to old things that trigger memories. Is it all about new experiences? Do you want new things, new moments, new times with new friends, old friends. do you want time to figure it all out? Do you want to keep yourself so busy that you do not have time to think. We all come equipped with a great brain, and we think all the time, until we are distracted by- something:  new stuff? new songs? new you tubes? new pretty pictures? new places, old places, cleaning clutter, getting mad at trump and his minions. Some people are fighting for their lives. Some people are spending most of their time looking for food for their kids. Some people are trying every new distraction they can find to stop from thinking about the world. Look at our opiate crisis, our obesity crisis. Global warming, economic meltdown, greedy bastards getting richer, while others’ lives, children’s futures are trashed. Yeah. We all have our problems, don’t we?  Kenny and Debbie and Suzy and I had a wonderful time last night just talking. And that’s important. Life is full of important stuff. So live your life as if it were important. Live as if the lives of others are important, too. Honor that. Honor that everyone ought to get a chance to work out a beautiful life. Not just some of us, everybody. Kids, dogs, other people in your life, people you don’t meet. We ought to have system in place to help as many people as possible, don’t you think? Where we can all have friends and talk excitingly and share and dream and plan and then work to make it happen?



Go out and vote.



“18 Percent Don’t Love America!”

There’s been a lot of grey in the weather department this fall, so Saturday Suzy and I decided to take a break from our self-imposed work schedule to  tour the Friendship peninsula up in Maine while the rain and clouds sorted themselves out. We stopped in Thomaston at the public ramp to check out some sailboats. It’s late; most sailboats are out, but there was stunning one at a dock out in the middle of the river, a yawl with a bowsprit and no sails. Coming out soon. And another pretty little 24 footer at a dock closer in. I walked over to admire the small one and dream. The sun broke through while I looked- an omen? On the way back to our truck an older fellow sitting in his Mercedes looked up from his device. We talked a bit. He’d been startled by the sunshine,  absorbed in his work. I asked what brought him here. “Trying to reach out to some people.” O.K. Here I am. “MAGA.” I didn’t catch it quite right away. “I’m sending missiles out, each one loaded with a barb.” Oh right, make America great again. Trump. I’d assumed he’d be against Trump. I assume that about everybody. Most are that I meet. He talked about sunshine and God then asked me if I loved America. I was a little taken aback. Talk about God is something I can listen to. I don’t mind hearing what people believe. If the sun breaks through the clouds I don’t instantly think god did it, but I get it. Rays of sunshine steaming down from the heavens. The love America question, though, threw me. I don’t know that I’ve ever been asked that. I’m not a flag waver, although I own four American flags and regularly fly two of them: one off my boat and one in my dojo. The two given me from military funerals I leave folded in their cases.  I have always been leary of people who wore their love on their sleeve. Super patriotism is a little scary. When people question my patriotism I wonder what they are selling. Am I being maneuvered into position for some reason. Am I about to lose an argument?  I was about to lose an argument.


I said that I did love America. I do. I live here. I’ve lived here for seven decades. I have never wanted to leave. I believe in America. He started right in. “18 percent of the people living here do not love America. They live here, but they do not love America. Do you believe in due process?”


Well I got excited here. Yes I do. Rule of law. Following the rules we all make up or break one you don’t believe in to protest and go to jail.Thoreau. Ghandi, King. Yes. I’m all over due process, our courts, freedom of the press, of speech. America!


I had a Trump fan in front of me. And not a raving backwoods bumpkin. This guy was sitting in a Mercedes Benz.  I have some questions I’ve  been eager to ask someone who loves Trump: Does it bother you that he is dishonest? Does it bother you that he bilked the U.S government out of a considerable amount of tax money, that in fact he bragged, in a debate with Clinton, that that made him smart? Does it bother you that he so easily befriends dictators and offends our allies? Does his utter lack of honor stick in your craw at all? Do you like that he is smug, snarky, and petty? Do you like his tweets? Why do you believe him and not journalists whose careers rely on accuracy? Does it ever seem that he might have some ulterior motive for what he says? Does his obsession with money rankle at all? Do you believe he has the good of the country in mind? Really. How about his daughter Ivanka and that disquieting comment to a talk show host about sex with her? How do you square his treatment of women with making America great again? Is there some unstated objective here- racism, sexism? Does making America great again really mean returning to white male domination of everything?


But of course I never got to ask any of my questions. I did get to find out that his son, age 33, “Same age as Jesus,” died of a drug overdose and I was concerned about that and wanted to know more. He was just about to return home, for the third time, and someone gave him some heroin. I wanted to commiserate, but he was on to our borders. “20,00 people are marching toward us, the lying media says it is 10,000, but it’s 20 and they are marching arm in arm chanting about the welfare they are going to collect in the U.S. Their own country offered them a chance to stay, but won’t put them on welfare. They have to work. Democrats? You want Democrats? You kick down the front door of your house on Thanksgiving and invite every homeless person you can find and let them eat your food while you sit on the porch starving. He started on some senator. You know how she got to be a senator? Sex with the incumbent. Net worth of 138 million dollars. They’re coming. Trust me. You can’t understand. I spend 90 hours a week at this. I used to dress like you, right out of a catalog so people would think I came from Maine. But I’ve been here since 911 and I know things you can’t know. I spend 90 hours a week doing this. Research. He mentioned lying Hillary and aren’t I glad she didn’t get elected and I said that I would have preferred her by far. The tirade increased, citing things: Haiti, Venezuela, god blessing me and my beautiful wife and dog. Trust him. I can’t know.


I felt my blood rise. I calmed right down again. No. Not worth it. This wasn’t an argument. This was a quarrel. And he was loaded with ammunition: sounds bites and stats.  There was nothing I could say. I started to think about my clothes. I’d just been called a fashion plate. Well I did have on my practically new Carhartt jacket that I sprung for an embroidered catboat on the back of- 40 bucks. It’s just a year old and hardly dirty yet. True, my pants didn’t have any holes. My shirt has paint on it and the cuffs are frayed. My hat is four years old and well worn, painty. My boots are the same kind I’ve worn for thirty years. Wow! I’m practically a  model. I’ll admit I wasn’t paying as much attention to his harangue at this point. I wanted to escape. He got out of his car. God got mixed in. Danger. 90 hours. 18 percent. Hillary. Due process. Trump is the only one strong enough. To expose my ignorance he asked if I knew what some two words meant. I didn’t. I asked; it had the root “therm” in one word and I was curious. I’m not actually as ignorant as he seemed to think. He said, “Google it.”  He went on about how terrifying it would be, and more god and more about my beautiful wife and dog and how blessed I was and trust him some more because I can’t understand and Trump and 90  hours and  those bombs were no more powerful than half an M 80.


I’d begun walking away, to see the sailboat with the bowsprit, politely trying to shake him. He got back in his car and drove along side of me. I nodded a little and listened as he wound down. Finally he drove off in his snappy white Mercedes 280 SL Off to do more research I suppose.


I was amazed. I was a little rattled. That was no discussion. I’d been demeaned. I felt pretty bad when he told me I couldn’t understand. I’ve been a teacher my whole life. I took pride in being able to help people understand when they may have had some confusion. Can’t you explain it to me? We’re all pretty bright really- that’s been my impression of four decades in the classroom and seven just living.   Oh, right, I’m too dumb.


I was shocked at the lack of listening. He doesn’t know more about me than what my clothes told him and that I like Hillary. 90 hours a week is 13 hours a day seven days a week.  Are there people who put in 90 hour weeks studying things? Scholars? Journalists? Writers? Artists? Musicians? Yeah I think there are people who are passionate about things who hit 90 hours now and then. Not continually. We need to breathe, and eat, and walk and meet other people. You don’t want to become a fanatic. Is that what happened to his son? I had a feeling that a lot of his 90 hours might have been spent watching t.v.  Cable news? Yeah, that’s where all the careful analysis is.

Moving Heavy Things




Sometimes life is easy and everything goes well. Then sometimes that’s not the case. Usually? Last summer, I decided that we needed to get our original Owls Head shed, a 12×16 foot building, up off the ground or we would lose it. We’d built that shed in 1987, our first totally independent build. No fathers or bosses to guide us or tell us what we could do. Liberty! Well actually that’s not quite true. Suzy’s sister Lynn’s  husband at the time John, had some very definite ideas about how to go about it even though he had no building experience at all. He wanted it closer to the forest at the west end of our land. We’d bought the land together because we couldn’t afford it alone, and Lynn and John agreed to go in with us so we were co owners. I was enough of a conciliator to go along with John on where to put the building. He also wanted the roof to be a low pitch. I wanted it much taller, so there’d be a little room upstairs. He wanted it low and I remember he wouldn’t say why, but again, I was the great conciliator. We did it his way. It turns out he was afraid of heights. He didn’t do anything on the roof at all. Well there you are.

We loved that little shed. We lived in it all summer without any electricity or running water or television or phones or computers. Yep, outdoor outhouse. We called it the Sheep Island shitter, a little box cobbled together with drift wood from Sheep Island over a hole in the ground, out in the woods that separates us from the cemetery. We put a toilet seat on it and it was the height of luxury. I’d  scatter grass clippings to make a pretty comfortable path to it, hidden out there in the weeds and trees. Pretty nice. Yeah, we had a Tarzan swing and a bunk bed that was supposed to be for Saben so Suzy and I could sleep together down below with a little more room, but it turned out that I got to sleep in the bunk bed. Yes, I was then still able to use the Tarzan swing to get out of the bunk. I don’t know that I’d try it today. We had a  counter made of two pine boards and  two by fours  where we kept our little propane camp stove and a dish pan. We had a little three legged table- also pine boards cleated to the wall, and a wood stove. We were pretty cozy and comfy in there. We’ve since built a bigger cottage, 24×28,  oozing charm: wood shingled roof and sidewalls, a wrap-around porch, a little bay window, and a beach stone chimney- all the stones hauled home six or seven at a time in my dory on my morning rows and yes, a flush toilet now, and sheet rock, and finished floors- all done on a shoestring and over the course of the past 25 years. ZDs%kScqT9+p03%f00uidA.jpgLoving it all you understand. It was vacation. We’d go up and luxury camp, and build and row and sail our little dory or Beetle cat or Suzanne or the Herreshoff 12 1/2, whatever boat we had in the water that year. Heaven? Heaven. Badminton and soccer and baseball and golf and archery and chicken chasing in the big field we owned. We’d bought Lynn and John out at some point way back. A lot of love and life up there in Owls Head. and we hated to come back to Connecticut to return to our jobs as teachers. Oh it was hard.

Well I noticed that our little shed, this seat of joy and exuberance that was our life in those days, was on the ground. The concrete pads I’d set it on- carefully putting gravel from the beach under each of the six pads- now tipped and sunk into the ground. Our shed was touching the earth and beginning to rot. Not only did it need a new roof- an aside for those idealistic young carpenters who labor along under the impression that a white cedar roof will last a lifetime; it won’t- the bottom course of sidewall shingles and all the corner boards were starting to rot from contact with the ground. No! I didn’t want this shed to die.

So last summer I dug some sonotubes and poured them full of concrete, and put down a pair of 16 foot 6×6 pressure treated beams as a sill.

That was the hard part, right. All that digging? And mixing. How could anything be harder than that?  All I had to do this summer was jack up the building and move it. At the end of the summer last year I’d dug a hole near one of the corners and had stuck a two-ton floor jack under there and tried it, and it lifted. EASY! Next summer. And we left for the winter. Brimming with confidence.

Well I do this a lot. I determine that something will be easy and really convince myself that it will be easy. Like my brilliant idea last fall to clean up the side of one of our sheds here in Storrs by putting up a couple of beams and posts and putting a roof up. What could be hard about that? A couple of weekends and done. You doubters. Next project, please. And I hatch more projects. Oh I can hatch projects.

Well I’m not done with that couple of beams and posts and roof yet, and it is one year later. I’ll finish this fall- I hope.

The building move was the same way. What’s so hard? I knew I could jack the building up. And I want to put a plug in for those who have a gift for this sort of practical thinking. This is the blue collar world, right? And some who go to college disparage this world. I think Trump rode to his sloppy victory, with a little help from his friend Vlad, on this idea that there are elites who run the world who have no respect for the people who actually do the work. I think there actually are a lot of elites who run things and are essentially clueless about who the work is actually done by, and have no respect for us schmucks who labor along. Trump is one of those elites. How he bamboozled, continues to bamboozle so many working class people is amazing.

I count myself lucky to have dropped out of school for long enough to have worked for much of a decade with a most remarkable group of people: farmers, carpenters, masons, septic tank pumpers and installers, restaurant people, automobile mechanics, factory workers. My hat is off to many who work with their hands and minds in that practical way. I am handy, but I am not gifted. Some people are gifted that way. We used to call Kenny Peterson the doctor. We said, and it appeared to be true, that he could walk up to a car, and whatever problem it was exhibiting would  clear up just because Kenny and his toolbox were there.

So here I am with a building to move. One jack and my opposable thumbs and big brain. Well you can’t go too high at a time in one corner. I figured that out. One jack. Then you need to block the building up to move the jack to the next corner. So I had to make blocks strong enough to hold the building. BO4UCsGOSKS9VX7NHAG4AgI used two by fours and two by sixes and half inch plywood so I’d have two sizes. I made four of each.  A sheet of plywood, a few two by’s and an afternoon, then it was jack, block, move the jack. Four inches on each corner. Then up to six, then up to ten. It took forever. It became apparent that this jack was working its tail off. I have a three and a half ton jack but it was back in Connecticut. I’d make do, but you could tell this jack was at its limit lifting the corner of this building. Then once it’s all up in the air a foot, you have to move it. Oh right. Rollers?  F.J. used rollers to move a building with his son. What could be easier? But I’d need a roadway to roll the rollers on. This was lawn and it was rough. And I had to keep the building over a foot in the air to make it over the new foundation. So I bought some 2×10’s. I started with two, but it became apparent that I’d need more. The length of the building, plus the length of the move? Well once I’d moved the building off the first set I could maybe place them ahead. Oh, yes. It became apparent that I’d need a framework to hold the building up, too. It can’t roll on the plywood boxes, they’re only two feet long and I was beginning to see that that wouldn’t work. So for the movable building support frame I decided to buy 16 foot 6×6’s. They’re $60 each. I needed four. And I needed some way to hold them together, I couldn’t  just pile them underneath and hope they’d stay. From the way this jack- which will lift a car effortlessly- groaned and leaked when hoisting, and from the reaction of the plywood boxes when I set the building down on them, I was beginning to have a healthy respect for the weight of this building. The task started to seem enormous. It just got more and more complicated. I’d have to tie the 2×10’s together somehow as a road way so they didn’t move around. I was buying more and more lumber and screws. And when I first tried to move it I’d used Ivory Snow, after the advice given me by an old house mover par excellence Baxter Cook. But I used liquid soap and had to let it sit for a while before I tried to move the building because we had to run home for medical reasons and that liquid soap was more like glue than lubricant by the time I made my first attempt. I had the framework all set, a start of a roadway and my two ton come-along hooked up to my truck and I started to crank. I put the beef to her and nothing budged. Then it happened: I pulled my pickup truck backwards. Yes, it’s a full sized pickup truck.

What to do. I got some grease- David who’s done some boat building and launching had recommended lard as lubricant. Marti concurred that lard would be good,  better than Crisco- it certainly is for pie crusts. I couldn’t find any lard and so tried to goop up my roadway with Crisco, but it is really hard to grease a roadway with a four or five ton building on it. It still wouldn’t budge. I talked with F.J., my ever so practical lobsterman friend. Rollers. We needed rollers. I decided to go with iron pipe. We’d talked about the strength of pvc and if I could have set the building down on a dozen rollers evenly I think pvc could have done it, but I knew I could never set the building down evenly. It had to go one corner at a time and I saw what it did to my plywood boxes. I went with black iron pipe. I hacksawed the stuff into short lengths, 14-18 inches, That took a while. Then I had to jack and block one side, get the rollers under, un block, unjack. I know I’m exaggerating, but I’ll bet I moved that heavy jack one million times. Did I mention that it is heavy? And I had to lift it because it doesn’t roll well in the grass, and you have to lift it over the 2×10 roadway anyway, and the electric cords and all the junk I was collecting around the building in this move. And it’s heavy. Yeah.IMG_1545.JPG

Then there’s the element of discouragement. One night, after six or eight hours of fun, I sat perplexed, wondering if it would be five or ten thousand dollars to get a crane to come in to lift this stupid building.  Suzy came out to sit with me and tell me how she didn’t want me to do all this work, meaning to make me feel better, and why didn’t we just leave it where it was?  I’d explain about rot. I’d explain how she’s always wanted out outbuildings closer to the house and I wanted her quilt studio to be just perfect. And she’d still feel bad. Then Billy and Marti and Loren Eiseley (he’s the Wheaton Terrier on the table) came over one day for tea.IMG_1711We love their visits, but this time Billy said he’d just dig a new foundation under the shed and why go to all that effort? So it starts to feel as if everyone in the world is thinking that you are a pretty big idiot for what you are doing, and of course you begin to think that way yourself. Then we go over to visit a carpenter friend, William, and he says he knows somebody that would move that shed in one hour for five hundred dollars, you really start to play mind games. The sum and substance of the mind game is this: “You big idiot! You’ve spent almost $500 for lumber and screws, never mind the number of hard and greasy and dirty and frustrating hours you’ve put in. Why do I ever listen to you? You big idiot!”

So on the day when I finally had steel rollers between the 6×6 frame the building rested on and the roadway, placed every 18 inches or so, and I hooked up my winch to the five loops of half inch nylon anchor line I had around the frame, there was a lot riding on it.

I cranked. Six or eight times. And it moved. It just eased about two inches. Oh my god as they say. I kept ratcheting. The come-along has a pretty long handle, designed to bend if your overload the thing, and I could tell I was no where near max. The day it pulled my truck backwards was probably close to max. I moved that shed six feet in as many minutes. I was exultant. Yes! I’m not an idiot! I can do it.IMG_1498

It was dark. We stopped to drink beer and dream about moving the shed.

And you start to think. I’ve got to swing the building sideways in the rear to get it to line up with the new foundation. Oh, I’ll have to jack and block and set up a roadway that runs sideways to the one I’ve got now. Groan. More work moving that five hundred pound jack. It doesn’t weigh five hundred pounds. It weighs fifty or sixty.  I was tired.

So the next day brings a whole new set of problems. This sideways move- this translating of the building- isn’t going to be easy either. I buy some 2×8’s to make the sideways road. It only has to move about a foot sideways on the west end. I decide to use a 2×8 on the other roadway, rollers, then another 2×8 under the building frame. Should roll easy. Right? Theory and practice are not always the same, you may have noticed. Trump has his theories about tariffs. current republicans have their theories about economics- I don’t think they tell us the whole of their thinking- but they have their explanations which they think will sound plausible- innocent until proven guilty. I couldn’t budge this damn building sideways. I’d crank on that come=along and it wouldn’t move an inch. I finally bashed the frame with a 2×10 while I had the come-along ratcheted up tight as a drum. The rope and cable became a bar. I’d read the phrase, “the tow rope was like a bar” in a Farley Mowat book about sea rescues I just finished, The Grey Seas Under. I had this rope like a bar with tension. And when I bashed he frame ten times with the 2×10 the building would move half an inch. And I’d be out of breath. I’d bash and measure and catch my breath. And bash and measure until I had the ten inches I needed so I could line up on my skinny little 5 1/2 wide foundation.

All stupid day. So much for triumph.

And that’s when I noticed that I’d moved the frame under the building so the frame was no longer on my main roadway and the building looked dangerously close to tipping off my framework. And then I noticed the frame was also broken under the sideways strain I’d put on it.

It was jack and block so I could repair. All afternoon.

But the good news is that by this time I was really beginning to know what I was doing. I knew now that I could get the building to move an inch or two sideways when towing it forward by putting braces ahead on one corner or the other, and I could nudge with my truck to move it sideways an inch of two, too. It didn’t take long from the point I finished the repair to the frame and roadway and I got the building in perfect position over its new foundation, Oh course it didn’t set down quite right. It moved a bit as I jacked, and unblocked, then lowered each corner separately, but I could handle that now. With grace? I was getting there. Let’s just say I could handle it.


What’d I learn?  Two jacks would be better. Four jacks would be nice. House jacks? Hmmm. Take your time with building the roadway. And frame. Grease is good. Rollers are good, but they can go off track if you go too fast. And I know there aren’t many out there who are going to move a building, but we all do heavy lifting. Same thing, Different tools. But the attitude, is the same. Don’t force things; they can break and that doesn’t mean you’re tough or strong. It means you broke something, and now someone needs to repair it. Should be you. Even if something seems immovable or irresistible or impossible, if you need to do it, persist. You can move things.  Listen to what others say, but weigh what they say carefully. Don’t be so quick to doubt yourself. Work with equanimity. It’s how you handle the mistakes that will be important, not whether or not you’ll make any. You will make mistakes. When you get discouraged, take a break. Talk with someone who knows you, or who knows something about what you are doing.  Things takes time. Things take forethought. Things take consistent effort. Life takes courage. Believe. Practice.IMG_1623


IMG_1615  As Aristotle said,”Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” I kind of get what he means now, in a way I never did before.

Elementary Sex

IMG_2698Elm Hill Elementary School was the center of our lives for years. There were five of us Murray kids who went there, and you’d go for kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth fifth and sixth. Except by the time Joey and I got to fifth for Joey and sixth for me, Newington had grown so that we were moved over to over to the old Northwest Annex, the complete other end of town. Joey had Mr. Hadijian, and I had Mr. Silver. Both Joey and I recently went to a funeral back in Newington and met Mr. Hadijian. That was amazingly cool, except he remembered me as his student and had some words to say about what hellian I had been. He didn’t remember Joey. I was mystified, because I didn’t have Mr. Hadijian in fifth grade. I had Mrs. Beck and she was beautiful. My first crush.  A word about memory. Mr. Hadijain is older than Joey and me by more than a decade. Already a teacher when were 10 or 11 years old. So he’s in his late seventies, possibly  80’s when we meet him at this funeral. I don’t remember having him. He remembers having me. Who’s right? The teacher? We were always taught to look up to our teachers, and believe them and all, but I have pretty strong memories of Mrs. Beck. I have no memories of Mr. Hadijian except that he was my little brother Joey’s teacher when I had Mr. Silver in sixth grade. So this stuff can all get a little fuzzy. Our memories can change. I mean I have run into people who remember an event that I also remember and they remember it happening at a different place. If enough people started to tell me that I had Mr. Hadijian, would it, could it shake my memory, change my memory? Wow. Is this what brainwashing is. People harangue you until you admit you did the crime, or were somewhere that you weren’t. You can be confused. I am writing this as memoir. I am not making stuff up. I am writing down what happened according to my memory and I am admitting that my memory is not as dependable as written records. What if I found a report card from fifth grade and it was Mr. Hadijian as my fifth grade teacher? My head would swim. I have to believe my memory. I was madly in love with Mrs. Beck. Could that not have happened? I mean I wasn’t all mooney. I didn’t sit there staring at her all day- just a few minutes now and then. I do remember being terribly fascinated with Mrs. Beck when she started wearing sleeveless dresses in the spring. I knew where she lived, in that brick house down by the second hole on the golf course. No I wasn’t stalking her. That wasn’t invented yet. Someone mentioned that that was where she lived, and I remembered. It was a part of our neighborhood stomping grounds. In warmer weather we’d play on the fairways out of sight of the country club, and in the winter we’d  use that second hole water hazard as a skating pond. And when there was snow with a crust on it, we’d slide down there, too. And her house was visible from the fairway and the water hazard was pretty much right in back of her house. But it was a harmless schoolboy crush and I don’t think Mrs. Beck ever noticed. If she did she did I never knew. If my memory is wrong, that changes things, doesn’t it? My parents would both undergo electric shock treatment later- spoiler alert, life is not all peaches and cream. Electric shock therapy erases memory. I know because of a memory that got erased from my dad’s mind. To retain my sanity I have to believe my memory. I’m not playing fast and loose with it. Honest.

So is that crush on a teacher, Mrs. Beck, the start of elementary school sex? It was next year, sixth grade, at the annex, in Mr. Silver’s class. He was the first male teacher I‘d ever had. And I loved Mr. Silver. He made learning so fun it was beyond belief. I remember clearly voting to stay in from recess to have extra science lessons, and for me -a hyper active little kid who lived for recess- to even consider giving up recess was big time. We were learning the human body. Bones and muscles and circulatory system and I was totally captivated. I wasn’t the only one who wanted extra science, either. But not enough of us wanted it to carry the vote and we didn’t get to give up recess for extra science.

That year Joey and I  had to ride the bus to Northwest Annex. Once past kindergarten we’d always walked to Elm Hill Elementary. My mom told stories about how she had to walk up to the bus stop with me in kindergarten and make sure I got on the bus because apparently I didn’t a couple of times. Not too fond of school? So taking the bus in sixth grade was very different to what I’d come to love, that time walking to and from school in all seasons. The little maple helicopters. Frogs, cattails, learning how to whistle with a blade of grass, popping leaves against your fist. The bus would turn off Willard Avenues onto the road the school faced, then we’d turn left into the parking lot and there was a spectacular maple tree which turned into brilliant flaming orange as the first few weeks of school passed. Mr. Silver points this out. ”Good morning boys and girls.”

We probably all said, ‘Good morning, Mr. Silver!”  in unison. It was the times.

“Look out the window.”  We looked. He looked at us looking. He waited. “What do you see?” We saw various things and of course some smarty pants girl noticed the flaming orange tree. Most of us were being too subtle: blue jays, frost on the grass, a fire hydrant being visited by a dog.

“That’s right, Sandy. Do you know what type of tree it is that turns such bright orange?”

Sandy did not. Sandy was a girl who lived in our neighborhood and I had noticed her as pretty cute. We do weird things as kids; at least I sure did. Did I go up to Sandy St. John and talk to her and tell her I thought she was cute? Are you kidding? Not on a bet. Admired from afar. It is not wrong to think someone is cute, to like them, but I did not have the temperament then to even think about approaching a cute girl. I was painfully quiet. Sometimes to get myself to do things that I didn’t want to do I would threaten myself with having to go up to Sandy St. John and talk to her if I didn’t do the thing. Say for instance I did not want to run around the block one more time. I could break out the Sandy St. John threat, and away I’d go. Another half mile was way easier than the thought of talking to Sandy. Young love.

So we have little lesson about trees turning colors, you know, the usual stuff, but Mr. Silver gets us wicked hooked. “So when the leaves have turned color, it is the beginning of the end of their endless cycle. They will eventually fall off the tree….” And of course we all knew this because there is nothing quite so much fun to a young and short person as walking through colorful, crisp, wonderfully fragrant, fallen leaves, up to your knees in places, on the way home from school.

“Does anyone think all those leaves will have fallen off that tree by tomorrow morning?”

No one did.

“Oh, so you have a sense of how long it takes for this to happen. Because you are all young and bright and notice things. Good.”  He walks to the window. Looks. “ How about by the end of the week?”

No one.

“You guys are good. Of course they will not all be gone by the end of the week.” He looks out the window again, thinking. He turns back to us. “How about next week?”

And there were a couple of hands. “Good.” He rubs his hands together. “Here’s what we’re going to do. I want you to watch that tree all this week. Observe it closely. Every chance you get. And next week, not on Monday, but by the middle of the week, we are going to set up a chart with your estimates of when all the leaves will be gone from that tree.” He let that sink in. I mean that’s pretty exciting, right? “And whoever wins, who ever has the date closest to when they are all gone, will win…” and he names a prize that I cannot remember but it wasn’t really important because we were pumped. We wanted to set up the chart right then. “No. You watch this week. Next week. Make good estimates.”

That tree was the focus of my life for the next month. When the bus took the turn off Willard every kid in Mr. Silver’s class would have his face plastered against the window looking at the tree. And when you got into the room after you ditched your coat in the coatroom you’d go hang out on the windows looking at the the leaves falling, comparing today to yesterday, guessing. As kids got eliminated for guessing too early, interest waned. October, and still leaves. I sat up front then. Captivated. One day Mr. Silver needed a desk. He asked me, “May I take yours, Paul?” Of course he could. And when he took it I felt pretty funny, sitting there with just a chair and no desk. “Feel pretty naked, don’t you?”  I blushed a deep scarlet. Naked was not a word you could say. Not to a boy in front of class. I was relieved to get my desk back. By November it was pretty well over with the tree. We’d all been eliminated, except Mr. Silver. He had picked a pretty late date. It felt a little bad to have Mr. Silver be the winner, but there you are. We had been pretty keyed for quite a while. And now we were onto the bones and muscles anyway. There were two momentous events the year. The first had something to do with sex. The second had to do with Norway. Innocence was about to end.

I still don’t really know what went on. There had been a talk to just the girls. The nurse? Some other older woman? What would they talk about? Oh…. Was it about what was happening to their bodies? Was it a frank talk about menstruation and breasts and urges and relationships. Did the nurse sit down and say, “Now girls, this going to be an interesting talk because we are going to talk about changes the are happening in your bodies and in your feelings, some of you now, some later, and that’s fine, It’s not a race.  I want you to feel free to interrupt and ask me anything if you have any questions as I talk. It’s going to be a little awkward at first, but we’ll begin by being frank and listening to each other carefully.”

Are you kidding me? It couldn’t have been. This was way too long ago for anything approaching frankness. I imagine the talk was guarded, exceedingly awkward and brought up issues that weren’t talked about or resolved in any way. I bet no one was frank for one second. And that stirred up a hornet’s nest. Kids were eager to know and suddenly there were more notes being passed than you could imagine. Questions? Guesses? Comments? Observations? Mr. Silver noticed. He intercepted one. He just stopped teaching, walked over, and stood with his hand out to the girl who had just been handed the note. He was tall, too, and big and bald. And it was scary when he did that. His demeanor was complete different. The girl wouldn’t look at him.

“Give me the note, please.”

She did.

He took it. He opened it.

He walked, not a word, to the back of the room. The note was in his left hand. A piece of chalk was in his right. Every eye was on him, turning as he went by.

When he got to the back of the room. He turned to face the wall with the windows. Suddenly he fired that piece of chalk at what must have approached the speed of sound into the wall right by the windows. There was a loud noise as that chalk exploded into dust with a terrifying violence. Where once had been a teacher at the blackboard explaining the human body to a group of eager boys and girls, now sat a group chastised. Severely. Chalk dust drifted to the floor in the sunlight coming in the window. We were stunned. Not a sound. Mr. Silver quietly walked to the front of the room. He looked us over. “I want to see every person who knows anything about this note or any of the other ones that have been going around. When I dismiss you for lunch those of you who don’t know about this will leave, and those who do, will stay. And we will talk.”

And class was different after that. I think we were a little older than he thought. Not such an innocent bunch of school boys and girls. Sixth grade. Trust had been broken. Some boundaries had been pushed. I don’t really know. Should we have talked about it openly. Yeah. Of course. The child’s world asking about the adult world. We never did. Would we now a days? Hush.

The previous winter we’d all been mesmerized by the winter Olympics. My father would sit in his black leather chair; my mother would sit in her chair, black vinyl. None of us wondered then why my mom got vinyl. We kids’d loll around in the living room, on our new beige rug- long cotton fibers with gold flecks. Before we housebroke two dogs on it, it was soft and nice. Some of us might be on our orange vinyl couch with ranch oak arms, or on our pull out sleeper/couch that was much more comfy,  covered in cloth instead of that vinyl. We had the ranch oak coffee table that converted to a full sized dining table for our Sunday dinners and you could put your legs under there and feel pretty cozy.  All of us flopped somewhere and together and it felt great. My parents and all. Family. As nice as it gets. And we’d ooh and ahh over the olympics. The downhill skiing was thrilling! Jean Claude Killy.  Such speed. And the skating was wonderful. And the ski jumping. My god, they flew!!!  Absolutely flew.  I think it is safe to say that my passion for skiing developed in the living room with my parents and brothers and sisters sitting around the television set.  And then the next Christmas, I got the gift of a lifetime. My parents got me a pair of skis. It was a pair of blue wooden skies with real cable bindings- not just leather straps.  I was no longer so interested in sleds and sliding. I wanted to ski. It was probably not yet seven in the morning. We’d get up pretty early for Christmas. Our parents were not up yet. I took those skis out in to the kitchen, by the back door near the utility room to try my boots in the bindings. I was a short kid, but I had pretty big feet. I had pair of workbooks with green stitching that I’d written  an essay about and got a decent grade once. The green stitching I guess won the day with the teacher for good description. I loved my workboots  and was completely cool with using them on my skis. I knew ski boots were really expensive. I put one boot in the binding. It was a little struggle.  I pushed the lever down in front that tightened the cable to clamp your foot in and the boot bent the sole off the boot up in big arch. WAY too small. I was a little disappointed. I was more than disappointed. I was stunned.

My mom showed up in the doorway from the hall, by the refrigerator. “How do you like ‘em?”

I let the binding loose to free my boot and looked up at my mom, fighting back tears.

“Oh, those look a little small.”

“Yeah.” I blinked. “I love the skis, though.”

“Can you adjust the binding part?”

Sometimes you just need a mom there. I looked at the bindings.  I had just joined Boy Scouts which encouraged handiness and self reliance and my time in the woods with Kenny sure helped. I started to feel better. I got a screw driver and started to move the toe piece forward so the boot would fit. Half an hour later, drilling holes with my little awl, I got ‘em to fit.

“We didn’t get you poles. We thought you might be able to use tomato stakes.”

And that was that. I got an old tomato stake from the garden, pretty long and used it as a single pole between my legs. An idea I got from reading about Snowshoe Thompson, an incredible biography of a man who skied all over the rockies delivering mail in all sorts of conditions before postal was really invented. 

Suddenly I was a skier. Back yard, front yard, the street when it was snowy. I remember one winter after a good storm, Henry Leinhardt’s dad drove his little Mercedes convertible two seater with the top down all around our block towing Henry behind him on skis. It was total hoot to see him whip around the corner to climb Oak street. But the ultimate was to get out to the golf course. We’d slide on any hill we liked, and I started skiing all over the place Had I been given a pair of skis with a cross country binding, and been taught to wax them up, I’d have been in heaven, but we didn’t know about that stuff so I was in heaven anyway. These bindings were just clamp your foot to the ski bindings for downhill work.We built a ski jump up at the back of the country club. That hill was quite steep. I saw it recently and it is quite steep. A lot of hills I thought were steep when I was younger have shrunk, but this one is still steep. So of course this was the hill we built a ski jump on.

The jump was about two feet off the ground and when you hit it you flew. It was awesome. And you didn’t need poles for ski jumping. The olympic ski jumpers didn’t use them. We’d measure our jumps and go do it again. We could go around 20 feet. I started to really jump off but my right ski would always let go, so I’d have to land on one ski and watch out for the loose one coming behind.

Kenny’s dad, a carpenter, had made us a sort of snow unicycle, too. It was a single ski with a little platform and seat on it. You sat about knee height off the ski and could sort of steer with your feet. It was tricky. did we ever take it over the jump? Are you kidding We were boys. We’d have jumped the thing off Niagara Falls if they were handy. Landings were dicey, but you could always laugh and it wouldn’t hurt.

So when it came time at school with Mr. Silver to do a report- our introduction to research- and you could choose any country in the world, I of course chose Norway because they had skiers. Norwegians were always featured in the skiing events of the Olympics. What could be better?

Well as it turns out, doing reports on Norway is no where near as much fun as skiing. I didn’t really know how to do the report and after the new sourness in the class over all the notes being passed, I wasn’t exactly comfortable asking Mr. Silver for help. So I did what any kid would do and avoided the task. Kids began turning in their reports and giving reports and Mr. Silver is glowing with pride in each and every one of them, and I just slid lower and lower into my chair.

It changed school for me. I started to hate school. I’d loved it so in the fall. Now I dreaded each day. The reports were assigned in the winter and by spring I had not done a thing. Not a thing. Mr. Silver started pushing harder. I was not one who was pushed well. He began talking about retention. If I flunked social studies he could hold me back from going to the junior high school next year. I became sullen. You couldn’t have gotten me to smile. School was pure dread. Hold me back. I don’t care. This was a dark time. Finally, just before the end of the school year, he called my mother in for a conference. Retention was discussed. My mother was alarmed. We had so liked Mr. Silver and sixth grade. What had happened? It was this stupid Norway report. I just wanted to ski and now the snow was all gone and who ever cared about Norway really?

They struck a deal. My mom explained it to me when she got home.

“Mr. Silver and I had talk about you.”


“Did you know he was thinking of holding you back?”


“Don’t you want to go tp Martin Kellogg Junior High School?”


“Don’t you?”


“Paul, don’t you?”

“I don’t care.”

“Well I care. I want you to care, but I can’t help you there. You have to do that report. Then you can go to the junior high.”

I sat with my lower lip sticking out.

“We decided that if you would produce one hundred words, it would be enough for you to pass, and with the good work you started the year with, he can comfortably recommend you to go on.”

My lip went out a little further.

She got up. Went down the hall to our book shelf and got an N encyclopedia from this old set we had. She opened it up to Norway and set it on the kitchen table. She got out a sheet of paper from the paper drawer and got a pencil. She set them down by the open encyclopedia. “One hundred words.” She left.

I stayed still. After five minutes she came back.

“Have you started yet?”


“Would you be more comfortable working on the floor in the living room?”


“O.K. then. You may.”

I moved all the stuff out there and lay on my stomach. I looked at the entry on Norway. It was huge. It was more information than you could imagine. Pages. I was not really there; I didn’t really exist. My world was over. Adults can never understand how this can happen. This was impossible. One hundred words.

Just for those of you who don’t know, a hundred words is not much. Anyone could write that much by hand in less than five minutes if you knew what you wanted to say. A good typist can go along at a clip of close to a hundred words a minute. To both Mr. Silver and my mom I’m sure this was not at all an insurmountable problem.  It was for me. I stared. I was a zombie. My brain was dead. I didn’t have a brain.The sun began to sink outside. I was not outside. I needed to be outside. I had my rule of staying outside every day for three hours. I was just frozen with something. Fear? I think if my mom hadn’t intervened I would be there still.

But she did intervene.

She came out and picked up the book and paper and took the pencil out of my hand. She put them at the kitchen table again. She picked me up. She took me with her arm around my shoulders and said, “Come on. Let’s sit at the table and get this done.”

“Here’s what we’ll do.” She took out the paper. “Write your name.”

I wrote my name.

“Now write Norway.”

I wrote Norway. Ninety-nine to go.

“Now I want you to copy from the encyclopedia until you have a hundred words.”

It started to sink in. You’re not supposed to copy. I knew that. I was being cut a deal. Collusion? Collusion.

I copied from the encyclopedia. Until I had a hundred words.

And when my mom next came over and asked if I was done I was.

“Did you count?”

I nodded.

“You give it to Mr. Silver, tomorrow. You go outside and play.” 

And I did.

That year changed me. The end of innocence. Next stop, Martin Kellog Junior High School.

That Sinking Feeling


We’re home from Owls Head. It feels really good to be back here in Storrs. The grass is not quite up to my neck, plants are parched, the cellar had a dripping pipe and the dehumidifier shut off so we’re a bit soggy downstairs; but the lights and hot water work and our home looks absolutely beautiful. We got in at ten-thirty last night after a marathon day in Owls Head. I had to drop the big chain into the mud on our second mooring, then pull our dory out. I’d pulled the dinghy earlier when the tide was high. I’d had one more strake to put down on the porch rebuild. I’d run short of fir flooring boards and lost momentum by the time the last piece of wood showed up. It took a couple of hours to get that board in and get the last of the trim up. A little paint. Then cleaning up the front yard, moving Suzy’s kayak onto the porch, loading the canoe on the roof of the van. And my paddle board. And our bikes in the rack on the back. And I wanted to get the rope in place that I’ll use to pull the shed that I’m moving  and that took a while. 300 feet of rope isn’t as easy to handle as say fifty, but I wanted to do four complete laps of the building.




Then the clothes and musical instruments and food out of the fridge. Now I’m so hot and sweaty that I want to hit the beach for a quick dip; Ahhhhhh. Luscious. Then sandwiches.  And I owe a guy a pack of beer for a favor he did me. The day before when we were talking about leaving, a brake warning light came on in our Sprinter. Scary. I stopped at Genuine Garage  in Rockland.

They have the coolest sign. John asked me what color the warning light was. Red. “Not your brakes, then. It would be yellow. Must be hydraulic lines or fluid. How’s your fluid level?” He checks. It’s low. He puts in fluid. “Start her up. See if the light is out.” It was! I ask what I owe. “Nothing.” So I wanted to give him a six pack of beer. The good neighbor award of the week prize. We were so slow getting going that the shop was closed before I got there with the beer. Then the three hundred mile drive. Long day. So after unpacking, and I tell myself when I’m driving that I do not have to unpack tonight, but when I get home I just want to get most of it off and out of the truck. So it is midnight before Suzy and I sit down on our front step. I drink one of the beers I was going to give to John. Suzy has some leftover wine from our visit with our friends Jennifer and F.J. up in Owls Head a few days before. On the step on a warm summer evening, marveling at the morning glories and how well they’ve done in our absence. Just like a couple of teen agers, staying up till 2:00, drinking too much, thrilled to be with each other, on our front step. Alive and happy.


This has nothing to do with the sinking feeling that I wanted to tell you about. Well it does. We’d gone sailing in our big boat a week ago last Sunday. EBzLjPMST9Wf1nu1ttzmGQWe left our dog at home- he does not enjoy this boat since I have terrified him on it. The first day of the season I’d ridden over with the truck to launch the boat, and then gone over the Sharp’s to use his crane to get the mast up. Then I rigged the sails and left from Rockland. Suzy and Hobbes were at the Faunce’s dock where we keep our dinghy. I pulled the boat in. That’s a little nerve wracking. Small dock, metal things protruding, I’m alone in the boat. I manage though. We get Suzy and Hobbes aboard and I decide I’ll tow the dinghy out to the mooring now, so  I can get back in from the mooring. The dinghy line got hung up on the dock while I backed away.  I tried to clear the dinghy line and  the prop  sucked up a dock line, wrapped it up so tight around the prop that the engine stalled. I had to get out to clear the dinghy, and then I noticed the line that had been sucked up into the prop was cut.  The dinghy was now clear but  my boat was floating away. No sails. No engine. Suzy and a dog aboard. And I’m on the dock. I hop into the dinghy and try to row the boat back to the dock. Can’t do it. Pretty funny, right? I mean this would be a great little film. Of course I might have let loose just a minor swear word or two, I can’t quite remember, and Hobbes doesn’t handle that well since our mountain bike accident. Stop laughing. This is serious. And it gets worse but I’m not going to tell that part just say that a very nice guy with an outboard did rescue us before we drifted downwind into the fishing fleet. Day one of the summer sailing season in Owls Head. A propitious start.


So we left Hobbes home for the Sunday sail. He just doesn’t enjoy this boat. He’ll go in the dinghy and the dory, but not aboard Suzanne. He’s a smarter dog than I am a human.




So Suzy and I are out to our boat. She goes below to fiddle with cushions and I remove the sail cover, hand her that and the sail stops and winch covers. I free up the tiller, fire up the trusty old Yanmar 3 GM 30 to let it run a bit and top up the batteries. The stuffing box has been leaking  all summer. Not much. the pump comes on every two minutes and just spits a burp’s worth.  If the batteries are good, the bilge pump runs and we won’t sink. So I run the engine every time we sail, but I really like to sail off the mooring and back to it. You know like a real sailor. That’s how good I am. I go forward to get rid of the genoa because it’s pretty breezy and I don’t want scare Suzy, so I put on the smaller jib and run the sheets back to the cockpit, put the port jib sheet around the winch and cleat it loosely. Suzy has come up from below, has placed the cockpit cushions around, has put up the American flag we fly off the stern and is ready at the tiller. She’s going to sail it off. I hoist the main, I hoist the jib. “Ready Suzy?” She is. I get the pennant off the mooring cleat and hang on until the bow is headed out. I let go. Suzy sheets in the main. I run back to tighten the jib. The dinghy painter looks like it’s clear. We’d caught it with the propeller just two days before when we had our neighbor’s daughter Lucy aboard. We’re off and it’s glorious. Suzy is sailing us out toward Monroe. We play a game. If you can sail off the mooring, out toward Monroe Island, come about back to shore, come about to head out again and if you can get south of Monroe and be in the gut between Monroe and Sheep with just two tacks on a southwest breeze, then you are playing par golf. Suzy was playing par golf. I coach her a bit and tell her all these sailing terms, downwind, upwind, fall off, head up, sheets and halyards and tillers and today I wanted her to sail the boat through the gut- between the rocks off Monroe’s southeast point and the rocks to the south that mark the other side of the gut. The tide was low enough that the rocks are all showing on both sides and Suzy is feeling some tension as we sail between. IMG_5593She did fine. Once outside, the breeze starts to pick up a little once you’re out of the lee of Sheep Island. The waves get a little bigger. Suzy says, “You take the tiller.” I’m eager to. She stays with me a few minutes and I am revelling in this. The sun. The wind. The waves. The boat feels fantastic. It rises over the bigger waves and settles into the trough with a very satisfying whoosh. Sailing is such a sensory sport. Dazzlingly visual. Visceral-the motion of the boat and the tiller alive in your hand. Of course the smell of the sea is wonderful, but we mustn’t discount the sound of it all. The water moving past the hull, the surge of the boat into a wave, the wind, the sea birds. It is just this side of heaven.

Suzy gets up to go below for something. She calls out of my reverie. “There’s water in the boat!” I look.

My God! There is water sloshing back and forth above the floor boards. Our bilge holds about thirty  gallons of water. To come over the floor boards means a lot of water is in the boat. I come about. We are over a mile off Sheep Island. We’ve been bombing along away from it. Now we are headed back to it. I ask Suzy for my phone. I am approaching panic, but I know I can get a call off. I grab the radio. I cannot make it work. My fingers are fumbling. What I really want to do, though is call F.J. our friend who is a lobsterman. I abandon the radio with its myriad  buttons. I take the phone from Suzy. It, too, has quite a few buttons and my fingers are really scared. I cannot think. The water is getting deeper. Suzy is up to her knees. The engine is in water. Oh my god. We have roasted our engine. We have to bail. Where can the water be coming from? I have a canvas bucket that I’d made out in the rear lazarette. It has a six or seven foot long rope with a float on the end of it so in case you drop it overboard, it can’t sink. I lift the cover and grab the bucket. I hand it to Suzy.  What is F.J.’s number? The bucket hangs up. F.J doesn’t have a cell phone. I yank the rope- stupid float. Yes he does have a phone.  It’s his wife’s cell phone number I have in my phone though. Jennifer and I both got smart phones at the same time. Where did that stupid bucket go? Why don’t I have a five gallon bucket on board? Look at the water. Where is that rear lazarette cover?  My God. I look at Sheep Island and it is still a long, long swim. “Suzy, life preservers!”

“Where are they” I tell her. She hands me hers.

“No Suzy. This one is for you. Put it on now.” The water is coming higher. It’s so fast! The bucket has gone overboard. “Suzy! Get that flare thing.” I’m yelling. She’s got her life preserver on now. I’ve never been this nervous in my life.

“What flare thing?”

“It’s orange.” Home phone. Do I have F.J.’s home phone number on my phone? Suzy hands me the flare canister. I open it. I hand Suzy the top half and say “Hand me buckets of water.” She does. She hands me a little orange bucket of water. I throw it over. I am trying to call. The phone has just little stupid buttons. My fingers are not doing a very good job of working. I hand Suzy back the empty bucket. She hands me it back full. I am steering with my legs.  I throw over another half gallon of water. This is stupid. Look at the water. It’s almost up to the alternator and that’s at the top of the engine. I am fumbling with the phone. My life preserver is loose in the cockpit. I cannot put it on. I am too busy panicking. I am steering, I am bailing. I am fumbling with the phone. I manage to get the call made.


“F.J. It’s Paul. We’re sinking.” I look at the back side of Sheep  where I’d been heading. I look into the boat. Suzy hands me another half gallon of water.

“Where are you?”

“I’m off Sheep.” I can tell we are not going to sink for at least a few more minutes. I pull on the tiller to head more down wind. “I’m going to try to bring her in between Monroe and Sheep.”

“I’m off.”

O.K. I can forget calling the coast guard. F.J. is on the way. We’re sailing around the northeast tip of Sheep. It gets shallow in here. I don’t want to try to make it back into the gut because the fishermen use that passage. If I sank there it would be dangerous. The shallows are perfect. I felt relief. Suzy and I are going to be o.k. We can swim from here. The water is now covering half of the alternator. I say to Suzy that we are not going to bail any more. I’m going to ground her out. We are sailing where years ago I saw a  man sail a small boat through at high tide. I was on the rocks on Sheep Island exploring, and this guy just sailed through and dropped an anchor. I marveled because I know it is rocky in there. Well here I came at low tide. With a four foot draft. I knew I’d hit. I wanted to hit. We hit. The boat shuddered, I stumbled, Suzy lurched. We got off again. We hit again and this time we stuck. I almost fell. It felt so good  to get the boat aground. Safe!


F.J. showed up pretty quick. He brought his son, Chris,  and his skiff along.LfVLgCdKRrW5v6hifJEUcw It was like the cavalry showed up. I knew we’d be o.k. We talked on the radio. I could work it now. The panic was gone. They came over in the skiff. Chris and I bailed. He was a trouper. I stood in the water past my thighs and handed him buckets of water. He stood in the cockpit and threw them over. We talked. About the good old days. Bucket after bucket. Boards and cushions floating everywhere in the boat.


mO1dl3p+SoKM4bV+vJrwqQ.jpgF.J spelled Chris. We bailed. You don’t get tired. I was a machine. F.J. asked if I wanted a break. I didn’t. I wanted to bail. I wanted now, that F.J had come, to save the boat. I’d given up before. I’d thought I’d sunk the boat. Going aground didn’t change my mind. I knew that the tide would swallow her and she’d lie there on the bottom but it was in the rocks where no one went. When F. J. started talking about towing her back to Owls Head, and I got encouraged. F.J set and anchor to hold us still. Then he and Chris discussed getting us off. Chris thought to tow us out the way we’d come in would be smarter because we wouldn’t have to wait for the tide. He brought his dad back to the Sandpiper to bring her around, then came back to us.

To show you how quick this happened, the difference in time between the last two pictures is 33 minutes. The one of Suzy I took at 4:17. We’re having fun. The one of F.J. and Chris I shot at 4:50. The terror was over. From fun to almost sinking and grounding out and being rescued in half an hour. One amazing half hour.

The Coast guard showed up in a small outboard boat. Someone had called them from land. By this time we’d bailed her down enough to try the tow back home. F.J had the Sandpiper around to haul me out the way I’d come in. I had a 300 foot line that Chris ran over to  Sandpiper in the skiff. I’d been on the radio with the Coast Guard and they wanted me to stay put. The had a pump aboard. I asked if we could borrow it.”I’ll have to get back to you on that.” By this time we were off the rocks and towing to Owls Head. They finally decided I could use the pump so I was feeling pretty good. F.J. was towing, and I’d have pump on board. But where were those guys? My boat was taking on water. It got really low in the water awfully fast. I was getting frantic. It turns out the Coast Guard boat had gone around Monroe island. It’s about a three mile trip, instead of going through the gut that Suzy had sailed through and F. J had motored through. By the time they got there I was really scared we were going to go down. The first man got aboard, but the second guy didn’t. Their boat fell back. They came alongside again  and got the second guy on board. I wanted to grab the pump but the outboard fell back again. We finally got the pump on and I wanted to start the damn thing up and PUMP. They had to prime it. “Stand over there, please, sir.” I didn’t want to stand over there. please sir. I wanted to pull the starter cord  on that Honda engine.


Well they did get it going in time and it moves 250 gallons of water a minute. Wow! We were going to make it. F.J.  brought me right to Pete Reed’s wharf. That felt great. Home. The tide was too low. though. and we were grounded out right where everyone would be working in the morning. I couldn’t stay. I didn’t see how I’d pull the boat up as the tide came in.  F.J. told me later that we could have rigged an electric pump and done it. Anyway, Charlie’s Marine Service showed up and said he could tow me to Rockland and get me hauled out tonight. I decided that would be best.


It was all over. No more danger. Suzy ands I were safe. Rescued by our frinds Chris and F. J. Our boat was safe. F.J. assured me that Art Stanley could take care of the engine. My boat would be fine. The Coast Guard had to inspect me. I didn’t have a no oil discharge sign. I didn’t have a no trash overboard sign. A third infractions and you get a ticket. That would have sucked. I got towed over and when we got to Journey’s End marine where the travel lift was waiting it felt pretty comfortable. Jamie got me into the slings and hoisted me out.


S+b98AzIR4y1WYEgDKx8rQWhen the boat came clear of the water he said, “The shaft is out of her.” My propellor and shaft had separated from the motor and come out of the boat.



Oh. That leaves a one inch hole in the boat. My. Yes. Harrowing.

Tiny Houses



Suzy and I began a book as a read-aloud this week called  The Big Tiny, a Built It Myself Memoir, by Dee Williams. It is hilarious. She is a fantastic writer; you just want to meet her. We are enjoying it immensely. Every time I look over at Suzy as I read to see if she thought that was funny she’ll be leaning back enjoying a stifled chuckle, or a big grin or an outright guffaw. Then we comment. This woman is a pistol. This woman is funny. And perceptive. It is not just a humor book. She writes from the heart. She was a young, with-it single woman enjoying the Pacific northwest as a climber, hiker, kayaker.  Sho buys a  house- shocked at the cost- and manages with a series of housemates and friends to fix it up nicely and live out of it as she continues to work and climb and enjoy her friends. What precipitated her move to a tiny house was an incident at 41 years of age- she passed out in the grocery store one day, woke up in the hospital with a major cardiac problem, has a defibrillator installed and now sees life so very differently. While waiting for the doctor one day she is absorbed by an article about tiny houses by some guy named Jay Shafer

She is totally absorbed; she’s the type who gets into things. There is an emergency call at the hospital so she has to wait longer.  She reads the whole article avidly, and “Deciding that I needed to take some kind of action I tore the article out of the magazine and smuggled it out under my shirt like porn( pg 86).”

When she gets home she calls up directory assistance in Iowa City, where Jay is from,  and the operator gives her the number.  Her brother is from the same town. She calls. She buys a plane ticket. She is hooked. You’ll love the book. She finishes the tiny house on wheels in 2004 and the adventure begins.


Suzy and I are wrestling right now. We’re retired and we seem to have enough on our plate to choke a horse. Part of the problem is that we own three places. Storrs is four acres and a mowing/weed-whacking/driveway maintaining/house projects, oh wouldn’t it be nice to have tractor shed, oh- wouldn’t-a- sauna-be-just- right  problem. I admit it’s me. I love to build things. I get ideas. My life is still expanding. Anyway, if we just lived in Storrs life would be good. But we bought a piece of land in Owls Head, Maine thirty-one years ago and have been building that place ever since. And three years ago we came into enough money to afford, sort of, a lot on Cape Cod- my heart’s desire of so many years. My parents had had a place on the the Cape and I dropped out of school to go live on there for seven years. I wanted a place up there bad. When Suzy turned to me, that fateful night when we were busy trying to orchestrate this piece of land and said, “Could you live here?”  I was dumbfounded. Yes, I could live here. I’ve been trying to get back here all my life. We’d been talking about buying it in conjunction with her sister- we’d inherited less than half the price of the land and so weren’t really in a position to afford it. With a co owner we could just swing it. Plus it would making building, maintaining, sharing it all better, right? That night Suzy suggested taht we might want to try to do it alone so we could retire there. Well we swung the Cape land by ourselves. We had to borrow quite a bit of money, but we manage. We just don’t have money to build a house up there. So we built a tiny house. A garden shed as they call it.

You can tell I’ve had fun with it, right? Look at the latches on the hobbit door: kissing whales.IMG_4435


But we’re pressed. We came home to Storrs last week from Maine so I could have a basal cell carcinoma removed from my forehead; we’d set the date last June. The grass here was up to my neck. I spent five hours mowing. I busted out the week whacker. I had my operation, And of course I have to start to put the roof on the tractor shed here. I’d brought home 300 board feet of pine from Maine that I have hanging around up there. I just needed the collar ties, some plywood for the deck, and the rafters. What else would you want to do after you’ve had surgery? it’s a minor surgery.




But I like to avoid the sun and the worst of the heat, so we hang around on our porch a lot, and I started reading this book The Big Tiny aloud to Suzy. And now I am thinking. Just what is it I am doing? Oh, did I mention that we have a van, ready to travel, and I also have good friend from high school, Kenny Peterson, who, with his wife, is currently living full time in their motor home. I believe they sold their house and are on the road. I am dying to talk with him.

I heard two tiny house proponents talk last night on you tube. And they make you think. I am not ready to buy in. They both argue that when you no longer have this giant house to pay for and maintain that your life gets so marvelous you can hardly stand it. One guy dropped a statistic about the average size of houses. All three of our houses do not add up to much over what the average size house is today 2600 square feet. We’re 1900 and 800 and 192.  And we have less money tied up in them than a house costs today because we have built every thing ourselves. But when I think of Kenny and Debbie riding around the west in the summer, climbing mountains, and riding bikes, going to Alaska, and does Kenny have is motorcycle with him? Oh, I can start to think that this might be better than today’s list: call Aunt Susan about coming to the Cape, call Artioli’s about an oil change and the check engine light in the van,  mow, weed whack, pay bills, get the last set of rafters up on the tractor shed- the ones that hang out there in space for the overhang- you’ve got to have an overhang on your tractor shed- get the laptop looked at, write to Guy for his birthday, which I missed, and get the stitches removed from my face.


So we’re thinking. The only problem is that I love so much. I love our house here. I love our place in Owls Head. I love our boats, and bikes, and tractors, and projects. I love our little place on the Cape. I love my paddle board, and Suzy’s kayak, and our dory, and our sailboat. I even love getting a boat ready for the water. I mean sanding and painting strikes me as fun- well, the painting does. I love my bicycles and my Moto Guzzi and our van and our canoe. I want it all!!!!! Tiny house/tiny life? No I want to read and write and live and laugh and talk and sail and swim and teach and visit and row and take pictures and eat lobster and go to Dorman’s for an ice cream cone as large as my head and lounge on the porch and go out to eat and have cook outs and mow and drink beer and imagine what comes next in the building department.