Sunday, July 3, 2016

Lessons from Gilligan's Island and The Dawn of the Viral Cyber State

My brainwashing occurred not through social media, but on Channel 8 after school with Gilligan's Island reruns. There was one episode where the castaways could read each other's minds and it was not a good thing for their community. Too much awareness of each others' thoughts might be a problem for the global community, especially where it is propagated on a digital worldwide scale.

ISIS doesn't need a footprint or a capital. We can stomp the fuck out of them in Syria and Iraq and it won't be over. Even if that particular brand is discontinued, there will be another.

Through social media, this group and others can program and groom followers without any training camp, without personal recruitment, without having to even print out or distribute propaganda on pieces of paper. Such groups can instantly digitally clone all of their resources and reach anywhere on the planet- Bangladesh, Orlando, Indonesia, Nigeria, Paris, Brussels- places far away from any contested border or physical battleground. Loony tune copycats such as the Orlando shooter will appear organically.

What I see when I open Facebook aside from vacation, pet, family and food pictures is a collection of memes, rants, essays and graphics all of which "mostly say hooray for our side." I believe with no factual basis whatever that the addictive properties of social media and the divisive culture and acts of emboldened hate groups of every flavor are not coincidental to each other. How many of us do not feel agitated and less peaceful after scrolling through the reams of political and issue-driven posts? Multiply that energy by a few billion and the pot lid starts jumping and bubbling and hissing.

If the viral cyber state is the problem, and the consequence of addictive social media, what's the solution? First, call it out; admit there's a connection between maybe little too much connectedness and bad things happening. I'm trying to look at more clouds and listen to more birds.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Recycling - Double Life

 
Matinicus Island Recycles. This slogan comes from the efforts of a committed few islanders- one in particular- to change waste management away from old fashioned country livin’ methods that were probably fine when trash was almost all metal, glass or the occasional leather shoe sole. We now sort recyclables, Eva trucks them off on the ferry, and we have a hazmat disposal day or two each summer to get rid of crank case oil, old paint, solvents and other nasty things.  Here I learned to wash food packaging, and now wouldn't go back to throwing stinky meat trash in the garbage can.

Last month, on a gray windy day, I watched a chickadee engaged in its own recycling program on my deck. Seamus, our cat had coughed up his dinner a few days earlier, and the remains were now crispy dry on the deck. The chickadee pecked away and gathered tufts of Seamus’ fur out of the pile until the fluff was as big as his head before taking off into the trees.  Even hairballs don’t go to waste.

The unusually warm winter also produced some plant recycling. When I got back in April, I noticed small sproutlings of chard and bok choy in the garden. A few weeks later, the sprouts had turned into tall, shiny and thoroughly delicious greens. At the end of each lobstering season, I toss the many dozens of algae covered rope coils onto the garden. I believe the rope is saturated with nutrients that then soak into the garden and make our plants very happy.

Somebody has to be last. I got an early start that somehow ended up being a late start. In March, I got a big jump on fixing up Close Enough, though as usual, I didn’t come close to finishing up the list before deciding she should just go into the water. Somewhere between the yard and Matinicus Harbor, it got to be late May; that first few hundred feet took two months.  

 At this point, I was late, and feeling trapped by my office job, and about ready to chew off my paw to get free and put some gear in the water.

I was late and the shedders were early, so now it’s mid June and I’m still not all the way up to strength on traps in the water.

Living a double life sucks. I don’t know how preacher/philanderers, conservative congressmen who pick guys up in bathrooms, or double agent spy types can stand it.

By necessity I’ve gotten back into law practice to get through the winter, pay my creditors and keep myself fed and sheltered. I am lucky to have a nice office in a nice town, but the compass always points south-southeast to Matinicus- it’s always about getting back here to my humble cape in the middle of the island with a slightly out of tune but beloved piano. It’s all about getting back out on the water, getting bait-stinky, making muscles and joints sore.

The big downside is the back-and-forth, which needs to happen usually every week. In order to keep life here going and clients happy on the mainland, I juggle weather, court and real estate closing schedules, kid time and the ever present quagmire of whether I can fly, or whether it’s too foggy and I can take my boat, or whether it’s too windy, whether I can take the ferry, George’s charter, Marty’s lobster smack or some other random transport option. It is a 20 nautical mile salt water Rubik’s Cube.

 It's more than worth it.


Friday, April 22, 2016

Ain't No Change in the Weather, Ain't No Changes in Me; Gear Work and Title Companies

J.J. Cale was not thinking of the Maine coast in April, and I could certainly never write that line. For instance as to both, Tuesday started wet and cold, got mild and warm, got dry, sunny and breezy and then I lost track. I started the day with title work for a construction loan, cleaned up some blow-downs in the back yard for firewood, went back to the computer 'til lunch. After that, an out of state client suddenly needed something filed today, which was great except I had no printer out here on the island yet. After an aggravating hour and a half or so, documents were in the mail, so three of us switched to tree work on another property. Wrapping up the workday was a bit more fire suppression on mainland real estate matters.

I often question myself for trying to patch together this disjointed existence, feeling bad about neglected tasks for one or another of my business efforts, listening for irritation over the phone when I'm on the wrong side of the water or late on something for someone, feeling the grass get too long wherever I'm not.

Uptightness or no, the week was productive. Buoys for the year are ready. Rope has been groomed for the first batch of traps. The woodpile started to inch back up. The lilac out front looked as if a giant came down the beanstalk and stomped it right in the middle. Megan and I cut and hauled off the vintage tree/shrub, leaving one very healthy but small stalk. Fiona hauled brush, weeded, marked and bundled buoys and manage to sneak in some school vacation as well.

Last fall, the rope faery deposited large piles of rope from a retiring fisherman on my lawn. How it was loaded other than possibly a hydraulic pitchfork, I cannot fathom... It is one mass. Reason tells me there are at least two ends for the dozens of warps in the heap I'm working on this morning. Emotion prompts me to just flail my arms in an attempt to shake one length free from its clinging, entangled brothers. The last one is very sweet, because it can only tangle with itself.

Which One First?

From Chaos, Smaller Bundles of Chaos


As I do my fishing gear work for the year, I sometimes have a gnawing worry about being here or there, or neither, or doing the wrong work in life. I am getting better at mentally giving the finger to what I am supposed to be doing, or what people think. It's a work in progress.

Sometimes I am helped along by the realization that more and more are approaching life this way, by choice or necessity, and that fewer have that one job, that one career.

A recent case in point came from the real estate title business.

Real estate law practice in Maine until fairly recently was intensely local and done primarily by small firms in small towns. That's where title insurance comes in. In order to batch up mortgages and bundle them as collateral for investment banking and bond sales, title insurance makes risk more uniform, and is a condition of virtually any mortgage.

Two other forces have changed the business. One is the continual consolidation of banks. Small town banks are becoming rare. Bigger banks prefer bigger and fewer legal partners. Bigger in my opinion may help with scale and some efficiencies, but pretty much guarantees clumsiness, poor communication, bureaucratic over specialization and a lack of personal responsiveness and local knowledge. If I'm dealing with one bank officer here in town, that seems to work well. Dealing with a loan originator, processor, closer, post-closer and any number of other narrow job classifications is, my friends a recipe for poor customer service.

The other force is new banking regulations. The same financial consolidation that brings clumsiness and bureaucracy also brought you, tum ta da dum: "Too Big to Fail." [cue laugh track, because we collectively still haven't figured out who got the punchline in the nose]. Actually, they failed quite spectacularly, but at least executive bonuses did not suffer.

Shit flowing as it does, the reform measures prompted by the financial meltdown don't hurt the big institutions that caused the mess so much as the smaller title firms and banks that must meet all the new top heavy, policy-and-procedure-instead-of-common-sense type regulations. My "best practices" manual is probably the same number of pages as any city firm where there are multiple attorneys and dozens of staff in the title and closing department.

This long winded preamble brings us to Front Porch Title. I've changed the name to avoid embarrassment and litigation naming me as a defendant. (What do you call a guitar player wearing a tie?).

I wanted to put an attachment lien on some real estate before the deadbeat who stiffed my client sold it. I was too late because the sale had closed the day before I got the court order, but I did record the lien prior to the mortgage from said sale, so my guy is ahead of the bank. Banks do not like that.

In a spirit of collegial problem-solving, I set out to find the attorney who'd done the closing. "Front Porch Title" was the company listed on the mortgage recording at the registry of deeds. Google said they were in New Hampshire, but their website listed all sorts of branch offices in Maine. The one nearest the property in question had a phone number which, when dialed, was answered by someone who advised me this was her cell phone and she hadn't worked for Front Porch for 2 and a half years. I reverse engineered another phone number by searching the Front Porch address in the same town. This seemed like a match because this other title office had the same fax number as appeared on Front Porch's website. My heart warmed as I spoke with the gentleman at that number who clearly was trying to juggle kids, driving and my non-sensical call. I thought 'wow, he sounds like he lives and works like I do...I am not alone.' He had no idea who had closed this sale or why his fax number was on Front Porch's website.

The Front Porch home office at first had no clue what was going on or who had closed the deal I was asking about. It took multiple calls and emails to get things rolling. What if I'd been a customer?

Time for New Gloves, Cheap Bastard?
Front Porch Title is no local, responsive entity, no home town law firm. It is a sprawling bramble patch of everything that is wrong with the business, all the poor communication and bureaucracy and a dozen phone numbers and email adresses to nowhere.

I do appreciate that they helped me feel better about my patchwork crazy quilt existence. At least one other person in the title business is patching, too.

Back to the rope pile and the stacks of traps. It is my happy place, mostly.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Long End of a Short Winter


My boat frightens me.  Not the boat, really.  What frightens me is my ignorance of diesel injection, hydraulics, gear coolers, wet exhaust and anything fancier than a pair of oars.

The fear comes from several years of expensive surprises on days when I thought I might pay a few bills. Involuntary mooring time coupled with many calls to find out when UPS might drop the part off on the mainland so it could be flown to the island, lots of paddling across the harbor, up the ladder, into the truck and up the road and back again for the weird tool I didn’t know I needed or hadn’t even heard of before, frozen bolts in impossible to reach places, long procrastinating stares down at the rust caked greasy half ton of cast iron mystery wondering what to do. 

A positive spin might go like this: I am a ‘lifelong learner’ like they say in school.

The forecast was for near 60 degree temperatures. In the context of a feeble winter and unanimous opinions among knowledgeable fishing industry types and unqualified opinionators that the lobster runs will be early this year, a 60 degree day in March seemed like a good occasion to get a jump on my many boat maintenance and repair delinquencies.

Close Enough is waiting up on Smith Street side by each with the shrink wrapped pleasure craft, runabouts, commercial vessels and a stray Airstream Land Yacht.

Off I set on the morning ferry, full of vague dread and self conscious of my being ‘differently competent’ with boat work.

Even with all my careful mental preparation and unspooling of stressful scenarios, I had a thoroughly enjoyable day.  I realized I was very content to smell rusty diesel grease on my hands again.

Why?

There’s something to be said for the peace that comes with knowing there’s nowhere to go but up. Check out Dreamer’s Blues written by the great Steve Jones.  I doubt anyone could say it better.

After feeling like 2015 was my year to crawl out of the hole, stand up and stretch and enjoy the financial sunshine, late winter 2016 punched back hard.

Onward.

My hydraulic trap hauler leaked a little last summer. Clayton helped me redo the seals and that seemed to fix the problem entirely for the season. Then at the very end of the year, the hauler began dripping larger volumes than before.  The first step is to take the whole works apart and cart the hydraulic motor to qualified service personnel on the mainland.
Then it was on to routine tasks like new zinc anodes all around. I took the gear cooler apart to try and figure out why it might seem to run hot some times and not others. There were a flew flecks of shredded pump impeller from adventures past.

The main event was to start dismantling the crumbling remains of my fuel injection lines. Art took a look and poked his finger here and there making me wince as I do when I’m worried the dentist is going to find that rotten place or touchy spot at the gum line. “That’s not leaking. I don’t know why.” A few weeks after his boat call, I received a box full of twisted tubes, nuts, washers and other items. 

I had hoped having the box of parts aboard the boat would be enough to ward off the rust gremlins, but if anything it emboldened them to chomp away at my engine all the more.

Being a lifelong learner, and confronted by a corroded bracket held in place by even more corroded little bolts, I had to learn again that the Cummins 210B has metric hardware, but that I do not have metric wrenches aboard the boat.

While taking a break, I expressed some mild disappointment at the raw 20 mile an hour wind and damp air. “You won’t get 60 degrees with a southwesterly going across 40 degree water” said Foy. Lifelong learner, I tell myself. Foy fetched me a metric socket set which did the trick and started me on my journey toward sound fuel injection components. When that’s done, I can direct my prayers and curses to other parts of the system.

The rusty grease smell makes me happy. It’s been a long short winter.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Primary Season


Two women, one who I went to elementary school with and one high school friend, both chimed into a social media post attacking a political figure. It doesn’t matter who or what side of the fence. It was ugly. In their comments, I couldn’t recognize the girl who has at my 3rd grade birthday party or the young woman I sang songs with. How did we all get here?

The orgy of divisiveness goes on, thanks to talk radio, political commentators and satirists and other unaccountable opinion shapers on both sides of the imaginary political divide that’s been created.  The system creates monsters, labeled “liberal,” “conservative,” “tea-bagger,” “socialist,” “neo-fascist,” and so on. Whining and contempt fill the airwaves and internet.

We have two dominant noisemaking ideologies, each with polished talking points and righteous certainty that there’s only one right way, only their side knows what that is.

We have a major election coming that will leave somewhere around half the country thoroughly despising whoever wins, unwilling to support the government or be part of the business of being Americans. It is a lose-lose scenario. A house divided against itself…

How far can we get with ideological intolerance? How long until our enemies exploit the lack of unity to catastrophic effect?

Centrism is discredited as weakness. This is like saying I can balance better with all my weight on one foot. More likely, I end up on my ass.

The real strength and courage are not to be found in ideological purists who snipe and blame the other side for everything from bank and school failures to sunspots and earthquakes.

The real strength and courage are in compromising and working to the middle.  Come back Olympia, Bill Cohen, George. Stay in there, Angus.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Best Shower


After a few days of exploring and camping in a very warm climate, I was overdue for a shower. We were on the verge of bailing on the rental because of plumbing issues and another, shower related detail a couple of paragraphs down. I waited to shave because I wanted to look bedraggled or crusty for negotiations with our host. Turns out the whiskers were not necessary because the host could not have handled the situation better.

The shower is located among floor beams and cinder blocks underneath the shanty. There are a few patio blocks on the dirt to stand on and a drainage system entirely satisfied by gravity and the very steep incline falling away from the place. I can say with no hesitation that this shower has the best view of the rainforest, mountains and valleys and the most unabashed lizards I’ve encountered in a bathroom environment. If someone on the other mountain wanted to see what the gekko does, they’d have a clear view.

The half inch pvc pipe coming out from someplace dark has a shutoff valve on it that serves as the faucet handle. The water feels cold at first. All 7 teaspoons per minute. Rinsing of hair takes patience. Cleansing the rest of my large self takes time.  I’m not sure I’ve appreciated a shower as much.

Leaving was necessary but sad. The plumbing problems did not resolve, and there was another matter. We returned in the afternoon when I had so needed the cleanup to find the shower running and a watch obviously belonging to a gentleman of great discernment- our uphill neighbor. There had also been a teensy bit of concern on our first day out because things seemed to be not quite in the same order we left them.

Our host spoke to the neighbor who explained that his water supply was not working, and that was why he had been at our place. The shack is served by a cistern between the two properties and a network of pvc pipe and valves laid along the ground.

Again, I was to feel right at home the next morning when our decision to leave was forced by the flush not working. In addition to the occasional gunfire and junk cars, there was apparent sabotage of the water lines the next morning. The line to our tank was moved ten or so feet out of place, flipped over and the fitting broken off. There was no connection to the supply for our rental.

It all felt so familiar.

Puerto Rico


Although they don’t get voting representation, our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters live in American territory. It’s hard to believe I’m in America sitting here in the shanty in Anasco.

Very wet clouds off to the east.

A line of evening traffic to the south coming from Mayaguez.

We are high up on route 411 with views of the mountains, fields and ocean to the west. I hear drumming, a djembe by the sound of it, and singing- not recorded but live if I were to guess. Crickets, tree frogs and dogs are pretty constant. Birds fluttering from trees and chattering are more occasional. What looks very rural by day takes on a lighting design much more like a city at night. The air is soft and moist. When we first stepped off the cramp fest that was our Newark-Aguadilla flight, the smell is that of stepping into a greenhouse.

Driving here is fun and nerve wracking.  Unless we are on a major highway, there are no straightaways and no level stretches. Roads are curved and steep beyond anything we’d ever see in Maine. This is for the same reason that we don’t see any pickup trucks in yards with snowplows on them. Plenty of beater trucks, but no plows. There are inclines here that feel like the dreadful upward part of a roller coaster, and downslopes where you have to stop and then creep because you can’t see anything past the hood, and the road may just as likely take a 90 or 120 degree turn in the part you can’t see.  In snow, you couldn’t get a snowcat up one of these places much less a four wheel drive truck.

Below our shanty there is a tar road that looks, because of perspective as though it goes uphill very gently. Observing vehicles from the deck tells a different story. Sedans snarl and strain to go what looks like about 7 miles per hour, and an SUV comes through that gets stuck spinning on leaves and has to go back down for a running start.

Having gotten around on St. Croix during a couple of trips, Puerto Rico is a much more relaxing place to drive. Here, as at home, they operate for the most part on the right hand side, except for any occasion when you encounter another car on the twisty roads, in which case they always drive in the middle. The driving pace is a lot slower here as well, with no great straight roads with people going 70 and clearing the 3 foot mahogany trees by six inches or so as they do on St. Croix.

The other thing I found actually very nice about driving here is that there is not a lot of tension about who goes next at an intersection. This is because: A) everybody goes at once; B) nobody does it aggressively, and C) it seems to work fine.

In spite of the spectacular view from the Shanty, we had to leave. The fluch didn’t work. At all. I consulted with our host on putting in a vent pipe and doing something to clear out the hippy-style barrel-in-the-ground septic system. The other disconcerting thing was finding the shower running and a men’s watch in the shower area upon returning from the beach.

The loose dogs were ok. The trash and horse manure strewn walkway were authentic and charming in their own way. A nightly soundtrack of very confused roosters, dogs, jungle noises and club music and car alarms was also enchanting in its own way. Intruders and no place to-ahem-go, were not going to work. The junk cars, occasional gunfire and crazy neighbors actually made the place feel like home.