Saturday, April 22, 2017

Opening Up, 2016- Before Rodent Friendly Pex, America Once Made Real Pipes, Nails and Battery Connectors

After a winter of desk work, I was more than ready to get back to the island for the year.

My personal abrupt climate change started with me in a suit on Wednesday afternoon when, after a transaction, I met up with Eva to pile roofing supplies into the recycling truck. On Thursday I was happily decked out in comfy well worn work clothes.

The crossing was sunny and beautiful. The malfunctions came as they usually do.

1. My first task was to get a truck going so that I could drive to the recycle barn and retrieve my groceries and other stuff before the seagulls got to them, or the freezer items melted. The black truck was four for four on flat tires, but my handy new compressor had her back to proper elevation in a few minutes. Next I needed ignition and combustion. After a couple of unsuccessful turns with the battery powered jumper go-go box, I went to politely wiggle the battery connections, one of which promptly transformed itself into four or so partial battery connections and fell through engine area and onto the ground.

So now since the battery wire is caput, I can't start the truck to go get my stuff that I need to do the work I came to do. @#%^&

Knowing how they built things in the 1940s, I pushed up the hood of the once dark green pickup truck parked in the trees out back. "It was running not that long ago," I was told when I moved here; not that long ago being possibly during Ford's term of office. By amazing good fortune, one of the battery terminals came out easily, and if melted down could make a dozen of the new ones.

The go-go box still couldn't quite bring Black Beauty out of hibernation. Samantha's full size GMC was another story. Black Beauty sensed the roar of 8 cylinders and whinnied to life instantly.

2. Megan and I reroofed the middle section of our house, and refurbished the cedar shingle siding with nice clean white solid color stain. Aside from discovering that my knees and confidence at heights are not what they were a scant few decades ago when this was my work, setting and moving staging humbled me the most. Being on the roof and needing to dismantle one set of planks, move them up and restage the next layer are plenty enough of a challenge. As a bonus, though, one of the 16 pennies I set to keep the planks together lost its head as I - again politely- encouraged it to let go. So here we are, up on the roof and ladder jungle gym with a spike firmly holding two planks together and nothing to reef on. Profanity, a pry bar and a nail punch did the trick.

It was good that we pushed the roof and siding job through on the early side of our time here because as I write, inches from the wood stove, I am counting 6 consecutive days of sour cold damp weather.

2.5. How to bury two- not one- two chainsaws.

Thursday morning came in around 37 degrees and promising little warmth and no sunshine- perfect weather for tree clearing. Bucking up blown down spruce trees and hauling off the obstinate, tanglesome brush are things to do when it's chilly because it is impossible to be cold while doing these tasks.

There were many new blow-downs awaiting us at the property we help look after. The whole island, or at least large swaths of it, has spruce trees that have either over matured or picked poor places to try and stand up because there are many large trees down every spring. When Fiona was enjoying the view from the roof ridge pole, she could see water in two directions, which was not the case when I first began cleaning the chimney and enjoying the view 10 years ago.

Our mission for Thursday was a half dozen blow-downs intruding onto the yards and roads of the friend's property. One in particular was a non-conformist. I believe it was a fir tree rather than the spruce, whose eccentricities I have learned. This tree was bent like a rainbow and partially split near the base. That made me wary. I decided to work from the top to the base, lightening up the remaining portion.

I thought the potential large heavy wooden surprises were accounted for because all that was left was 5 or 6 feet of trunk at the base. I figured I'd just cut through it and knock it over. Usually, when the weight is off a tree, so is the tension and the hazard of getting the saw stuck. This tree, though, had memories of standing straight up and was, unknown to me, planning on doing just that, so when I cut into it on the uphill side, the saw was quickly entrapped in a vise of fiber memory as the small bit of remaining trunk tried to stand back up straight. Fortunately, we had a second saw. I figured I'd just run that one through a ways up, and take the strain off, except that it's not strain but recoil. The tree trunk, even a few feet of it, really, really wants to stand back up and so I buried the second saw in exactly the same way.

Rope, pry bars and fishermen's prayerfanity eventually freed saw #2 which helped liberate saw #1, but only after more splitting and unpredictable tree behavior.

3. Waterfalls are lovely in their proper place, which is not in a closet.

Since the mice and rats had an extra enthusiastic time in empty houses this winter, and since the weather made other outdoor pursuits pointless, we decided we'd go take a swipe at decontaminating Megan's family home on the south end.

This started with turning the house-closing checklist from last fall upside down and starting where we finished a few months ago. Faucets were closed, valves opened, main breaker thrown and all seemed just fine for a few minutes. Then there was a vigorous running water sound where it was not welcome or anticipated. Water cascaded down through a bedroom closet. The upstairs bathroom was flooded, but not from any visible source. Under the sink, I pulled up the bottom of the vanity cabinet and could see with my practiced eye, that it was garden hose kind of wet in there.

Megan turned the water back on and I saw the leak in an awkward but not impossible place. Pex plumbing- using poly ethyl something instead of copper tubing for water supply lines is apparently as delicious to rodents as it is quick and convenient to install. Not only did they parade their rapidfire pooping, jar knocking over selves all around the house, but they also ate into our water lines.

Good fortune or common sense planning again paid off as there was a full pex kit in the barn. After trying to recall the one time I helped install the stuff and fiddling with the cutter and crimper tools, I started dismantling the vanity because of course the little shitters had to chew into where I couldn't fit the tools or my hands to mend the line.

Feeling ever so puffed up, I asked Megan to turn the water on to test my mending job. The repaired spot looked great, especially compared to the additional two chewed places further into the space that I hadn't seen before, but which were now spit-in-your-eye obvious.

The next two fixes were easy enough and nothing sprayed when Megan turned the water on for the third time.

I reassembled the vanity, and Megan soon had the craptracked biohazardous wasteland turned once more into a shiny and inviting place. With heat starting to reach the corners, and things smelling and looking much better, we stepped back out into the cold rainy easterly and headed for Aunt Belle's.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Taking Up 2016 - Malfunctions and Extreme Stubborn Persistance.

Getting my right hand into the glove was a painful struggle. The glove was soaking wet and my hand was griping at me about the hundreds of knots untied, the 4+ miles of rope coiled and the hundreds of traps lifted. Each one gets picked up six times at the end of the season between the water and my trap yard. Mine is a small scale operation.

The rain started 4 hours or so earlier and had sheeted down for a couple hours by the time the last load reached the wharf.  This was Thursday, November 3.

No amount of November rain could dampen the glow of relief and joy of knowing all I had left was to truck the gear to my yard. That process is hard work, but the uncertainty of sea and weather conditions and tide is no longer relevant.  I confess having a warming measure of wine on the trips back and forth. Readers can bear in mind that top speeds on the short largely deserted dirt roads to my home are approximately 10 miles per hour, so I’m not rationalizing buzzed driving anywhere but in this peculiar context.

The end of the season was a nightmare ordeal of breakdowns, gales, lost and mangled gear.

Typically because of weather getting uglier and mainland obligations, I try to take my traps up after Columbus Day weekend. Last year, the last load came in on Halloween.

This year’s ending was a train wreck, or better a boat wreck. I lost most of September to the Monster Under the Engine Box (the last post). After getting Close Enough, operational again following large expenditures and large lost revenue, I had the most lucrative 3 days of my life.

The only cloud came on the second day, THE SECOND DAY- after getting the boat back. The voltage meter was reading slightly low, a tenth of a volt here, another tenth there, back up, a little down. Just enough to get me fretting and wondering if maybe all of the work done just changed things a little.

I pulled the engine cover and peered into the monster’s cave, but saw nothing amiss.

Weather and scheduling blotted out the next week or two, and by the time I got back the panicxiety of winter coming and a big job ahead was keeping me up at night and driving me by day. I got one load of traps up on a Tuesday afternoon, and thought I would get the train rolling. More surprises proved me wrong.

1. Snap-Snap-Snap!

Wednesday morning it was a little rougher than I’d prefer, but I planned to find a sheltered side of the island to work. Half way there, the growl of the diesel was rudely interrupted by loud snapping sounds. The needles on the gauges were jumping. I throttled back and embraced the twist in my middle. 

Oh God, please no. Not breakdowns this late in the season with almost all my gear still in the water. Yes, my wayward son, that’s exactly what is happening. Enjoying my sense of humour are we?

I nursed the vessel back to the mooring and took a close look at the electrical system. This time I saw the top bolt on the alternator had backed itself out and crushed the wiring harness plug coming off the top of that component.  That explained the arcing snapping sound. I figured on just winding the bolt back in and being on my way.

I scrunched myself into the space and started working on the bolt, which was having none of it. In the dark place under the alternator, I saw that a brace holding it up had snapped in half and that the main engine belt was chewed up on the edge from the misalignment. Those explained the charging discrepancy.

Fortunately, Clayton had a 13/32 inch socket and an adaptor to get it onto my wrench handle. This got me past the first and often worst repair struggle- removing bolts in a marine environment.

Michelle did not know when they might have the new brace, so I headed back to the mainland on Wednesday afternoon. The part came on the following Monday, along with 7 straight days of high winds.

Megan and I headed out the following Monday morning in a brisk northwesterly wind. I had used my insomnia time to rehearse the repair steps to get all the parts back together properly. I did not factor in the cosmic sense of humour of the deity.

I got the new brace installed and went to wind in the top bolt. After a few different approaches and confused irritation, I pulled it out and discovered that it had sheared off, leaving a piece securely wedged in to the top brace and the alternator itself.  I need another new part and to get the broken piece out!? At that moment, I noticed oil seeping from the top of the filter housing. God was pissing his pants.

I paddled back to the wharf and went where I always go in despair and asked Clayton how to proceed. ‘Can you get the brace off? It would be a lot easier to work on here.’

Drive back down, paddle out, put wrench on bolts, ease first one out, round edges off the next. Nope. Not working on it back in the shop. I put a screwdriver into the opening in a vain attempt to wiggle the remnant out. God was obviously attending to other things, because it came loose. Now I knew how big a bolt and what threads I needed for a replacement.

A five gallon bucket of bolts is heavy. Clayton heaved it to the doorway where we could tip the pail into a sorting tray. My hand landed immediately on a miraculous replacement.

The reassembly was straightforward. I started the motor up and saw that there was no charge coming from the alternator. F* F* F*. I was ready to recruit someone to set fire to Close Enough, or just head up the bay a little and do it myself.

Everything looked fine. I retensioned the belt, replugged the plug, retried, reF*’d several times and headed back to Philbrooks’.

‘It’s got to be a wire. Try this Shop Solve.’

Drive back down, paddle back out, clean the plug. Oh, that’s bent. I straightened a tongue inside the alternator, and voila, on restarting, everything was normal.

It was still too windy to work on the water, so Megan and I headed out the next morning, timed to the tide. There are only a few hours on either side of high tide in which to get into the dock, so timing is key. I had never gotten 3 trips in on one tide.

Thanks to the hardest working person I know, we got three trips in on three consecutive days- something I’d never imagined.

Day one was brutal, but effective. After getting the three loads heaved onto the dock, the victory lap was 7 trips back and forth to truck the gear to my yard.

2. Floppy, the Valve Cover
Day two was more brutal and, according to the hardest working person I know, I got in a whole year’s worth of F*s.

Wednesday started with the oil level being significantly low. I couldn’t tell where the problem was but suspected the filter housing. In putting some fresh lube in, I noticed the valve cover with the filler cap was very loose. Even my rudimentary knowledge of diesel beasts told me that this should not be flopping about. None of the other ones were. I tightened the bolt which helped not a bit. Two days later, when the gear was up and I took the works apart, I noticed a washer was missing. Must not have been put in during the massive job in September.

I decided we’d chance cooking the engine and started across the harbor, only to see that the alternator was not charging again. We tied up at the lobster car and located a rotted wire. This thankfully was literally a 5 minute repair.

Even though it was an easy one, it seemed at that point as though the malfunctions would never stop, which I suppose is true of all boats. I wished though that they’d not all come at once with winter breathing down my hoody.

The day was far rougher than forecast, and I couldn’t seem to find a cubby hole to work in where the wind wasn’t frothing things up at that particular time.

We managed to get three trips in anyway and earned every one. The last one saw a couple traps go overboard when we got surprised and tossed by 3 unusually big waves.

The next day was our lucky and last one. The sea was calm and we were now in a solid groove. Even in a driving rain, we were both tasting victory.

With the last load from the west side aboard, we came around the corner and realized how lucky we were to not be taking up gear on the east. It was dark and ugly and rough.

It was just a matter of hard work from that point. The tide, the wind and the rain were no longer factors.

We had been just a hair more stubborn and persistent than the malfunctions and bad weather. It was enough.

Thanks, Megan.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Monster Under the Bed - Engine Box

Sometimes the monster is real. Even though those we trust unconditionally assure us there's no monster under the bed, we learn otherwise. Just as soon as the comforting smile is followed by the door closing, the scaly claw and dank, sour breath emerge, accompanied by a dry low laugh.

And so on September 7 I would learn this lesson again: Never trust people who say 'everything will be fine' in a kind and nurturing voice at bedtime.

The hauling had been good. We all decided to take the boat to town as we all needed to be on that side for a couple of days("couple of days"= not a month). I'd had a couple of years of nervously gluing my eyes to the temperature gauge and worrying about the relentless advance of salt water on Detroit iron. Worrying for good reason, because parts failed, alarms went off in not-so-great conditions, shit happened.

I bought the boat 5 years short years ago. The motor and everything coming off it was severely rusted even at that time. I tried to scrape and paint every spring to make myself feel better, but I was always worried about the rust monster under the engine box. Kids on the boat? Engine monster, be nice. Rough weather? Please don't come out now, just stay under the bed. Really need to make this loan payment? Oh gods of the sea, salt and oxidation pass me by one more time.

Most of the time, those prayers were answered. Along the way I tried to learn to not be afraid, to not stress over broken things that needed fixing. It's just part of the job. I tried to train myself to take it in stride, to expect the malfunctions and not get stressed.

On this particular beautiful early September afternoon, the first since I redid the temperature gauge and the first since the late murky evening when we put in a call over the vhf saying we were having troubles and where we were, I was concentrating hard on being relaxed. The new mechanical temp gauge was reading normal, we had plenty of fuel and coolant, oil was good, business was good. I needed to stop believing in the monster under the bed and just enjoy the beautiful crossing.

But of course, it does not go this way. Two thirds of the way over Penobscot Bay, Megan and I, just like Obi Wan and Annakin Skywalker, both sensed the same disturbance in the force at the same time; probably because the disturbance in the force was loud and came from right under Megan's backside as she sat on the engine box. tstststststststststs!!!! She levitated- "what was that?!" I throttled back and gave up on trying to sooth my nervous system with deep breathing.  It was an obvious unhappy sound.

Pulling off the engine cover and going down forward did not yield a diagnosis. There was a little smoke, which it seems like there often is. Oil is fine, Coolant is fine. Nothing is oozing, flapping or visibly distressed except me.

I restarted and moved slowly forward. It was a beautiful evening. Everything was normal at 5 knots. The problem there is that it would be several hours before we got into Rockland.

I called Art Stanley, the Yoda of Diesel. "Go slowly into harbor, you will. Seeing you at 6:30 tomorrow I am."

The next morning, Art quickly located the malfunction, namely a rust hole through the supposedly bulletproof Cummins 210 cylinder head. Not something one can fix with muffler tape or Bondo. This is more in the nature of dismantling the engine, 3 weeks of down time and a four page list of replacement parts.

The next 3 weeks went by in suspended animation. I called to check on progress of locating and shipping and picking up parts. Michelle and Art did everything they could to find these rare sculpted items in cast iron and go pick them up on a Friday evening if necessary.

Finally, it was time to go back into the water on a particularly snotty, gray air, green wave, whitecap, white knuckle, red eye, stomach knotting sort of day. Isn't this fun?! Yes, it is, because MY boat is back in the water. Fuck yeah!

It would take a few more days to actually find the weather and schedule window to get back to Matinicus.

When we got back, I was looking for a fleece hat, but the clothes in the laundry basket consisted of tank tops and shorts. Abrupt climate change occurred while we were gone.

Now we're looking forward to hauling pots with a few days of gentle weather.

The monster is now back under the engine cover, but also is shiny and painted up in a cheerful color.

Extra bit: Matinicus is the kind of place you can install your own gas stove, check for leaks the way one friend taught you, pull it back from the wall to find the tiny little oven and broiler valve that explains why the range worked and the stove didn't, then fire the thing up to only watch it catch fire, take the bottom of the oven apart to find that part of the manual slipped down into the oven burner and charred itself, put the works back together and have it work just fine. If I didn't figure it out, Clayton or Paul would have got me pointed in the right direction.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Two Paths, Two Maines and the New North Maine Woods National Monument

Most of my social media network people seem happy about the new North Maine Woods National Monument. I am not so cheerful on account of my origins.

I grew up until about age 13 as a privileged Bowdoin faculty brat- travel, resources and security were part of my early life. I climbed in the Arches National Park, took piano and guitar lessons and went to a great nursery school. Mom and Dad were there. I was safe.

After that, I grew up a bit more, with gratitude for tins of government cheese and peanut butter and especially grateful for a shower courtesy of MSAD 75 when there was no hot water at my home for long stretches. Winter was a prison.

One side of my family was educated and landed.

The others were laborers and servants.

I am grateful deep down for both. I am grateful for my father, the earth scientist, world traveler and authority on structural geology. I am grateful for my mother who at 83 knows how to swing a mattock like nobody's business and soak up the joy that brings, knows how to grow vegetables, slaughter chickens, pile on blankets and get by.

Maine has the same dual identity. We are sophisticated and we are dug in. So regarding the new North Woods National Monument, I have mixed feelings. Conservation is great, but it would be better if conservation included meaningful human activity rather than just being about aesthetics and recreation.

Roxanne Quimby has every right to do what she wants with her property. All of the free market, conservative, property rights types who are frothing about the new monument need to shut up and remember this fundamental premise of our private property economic model. It's extremely hypocritical to blather on about private property rights and then give someone grief about disposing of acreage as they see fit.

That said, the move makes me sad because if the wealthy buy up wilderness and set it aside as a playground for other individuals wealthy enough to come and marvel as they hike the woods and canoe the lakes, it ensures there will be that much less space for meaningful interaction with the environment by those who live in Maine. There will be no contact with nature that is not carefully controlled by the government or a board of trustees. It will occur during designated hours. Guests will walk carefully and avoid touching things.

We are not spectators. People are not transplanted aliens despite what everything from Judeo Christian to Taoist traditions tell us. We are part of the environment, 4 wheelers and all.

Throughout my life, what brings the most meaning to me is not hiking, taking pictures and saying "oh, how grand," (although I've done plenty of that) but actually physically interacting with the environment in a way that helps feed me, helps me make a living and cultivates a deeper relationship with the natural Maine.

I grew up blessed to work on a farm from the second or third grade until I left for college. After that I worked in the woods. Now I am blessed beyond words  to work on the ocean.

The coast and islands in particular have seen locals forced out first by high real estate values, then by conservation easements and land trusts which exclude working families and elevate views and recreation over all other functions of the land. This is a serious process of segregation, a cultural displacement, a cleansing of those who live and work in connection with nature. Islands where there was a living, breathing community are now the exclusive domains of kayakers and grad students.

The Roxanne Quimbys of the world view locals as ignorant, and a messy threat to the natural environment, not as custodians who are deeply connected to the place where they live, and who also have to provide for themselves. I believe this mentality is why the monument has been greeted with such resistance.

Conservation easements, national monuments, gated communities, pretty much all of Isleboro- they are all the same. Those measures are about turning a land that fed, warmed and housed people into a Disney World experience for the affluent, and where the locals are properly segregated and not messing about digging clams, growing food, hunting, fishing or otherwise interfering with the view.

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.