I would have thought we have enough to trouble us with the recent Pandemic, the coming and going of Beta, Delta and Omicron, the acrimony between the left and right in this country, the disputes over basic facts and realities, the dramatic rise of inflation, the sad history of gun violence in this country, the altercations between peoples, races and countries and many other persistent and present problems afflicting our society, but it seems fate is not satisfied with these simple and recurrent problems. To all of those, we must now add the new War in the Ukraine.
And yes, in the words of Laurel and Hardy, we have gotten into another fine mess. Unfortunately, this situation is not like a Laurel and Hardy movie which you can watch as those two clowns find themselves in greater and greater trouble and laugh until tears come into our eyes and all the sadness and absurdity is replaced by uncontrolled mirth. No, this is not one of those situations. This problem is a really big mess and a truly serious situation and it is not certain how it will turn out.
So Mr. Putin began his invasion a little over four weeks ago and the progress of that invasion does not tell us where this fine mess may go. Mr. Putin chose to invade Ukraine from 4 separate directions. Presumably, he did that in order to take over the whole country. Strangely and maybe hopefully, he has not been successful so far. Before this invasion began many predicted that the Russian army would roll over Ukraine forces in a few days and that, so far, has not happened. In the north of Ukraine, around the principal city of the Ukraine, Kyiv, the Russians have so far been thwarted from entering that city. In the South of the country, Mr. Putin’s forces appear more successful, but appear stalled.
Now there are many opinions about Mr. Putin’s invasion. Some have suggested it was an act of genius, that the invasion showed great ”savvy”, some have said Mr. Putin is great statesman, a person who should be respected. Most people in this country have said that this invasion was an act of dictator who had no right to invade a nearby peaceful country. That is the view of the present U.S. administration.
Even before this invasion began, the present administration predicted it would occur and made great efforts to get the UK and the 27 countries of EU to agree to their point of view and to forge a united and concerted approach to this problem.
And it must said, whatever your earlier opinions about Russia and its relationship with the Ukraine, the Biden Administration has been successful in getting both the agreement and support of the UK and EU. That said, trying to co-ordinate 27 countries that make up the EU and other allies around the world has not been easy. And it has been even harder to get all those countries to decide what harsh steps should be taken. But harsh steps have been decided on and if they were not as strong as some wished, they were far stronger than Russia thought.
Some have said we have not acted harshly enough. Some have suggested we should have armed the Ukrainians well before the invasion. Some have said we should establish a ”No Fly Zone” in the skies over Ukraine. Some have said we should give the Ukrainians jet planes, tanks and other offensive weapons. So far, the United Stated and its allies have only provided the Ukraine with humanitarian aid and tactical weapons of defense. And so far, these weapons have helped slow the advances of the Russian army.
It is said by some that Russia has legitimate argument to invade the Ukraine and that it was the enlargement and encroachment of Nato that actually caused this situation. And certainly, if you listen to the words of Vladimir Putin, he has long said that Russia has been wronged and the West has stolen away a border country that always was under the control of Russia. And while that is historically incorrect, it is true as recently as the demise of the Soviet Union, the Ukraine was a satellite country of Russia.
It should be admitted that some leading minds have predicted this was a coming problem. George Kennan, the American diplomat who first formulated the ”containment theory” to handle the Soviet Union predicted as much. He said that Russia would always require its ”satellite countries” and certainly the Ukraine had been a key satellite country of the former Soviet Union. George Kennan went on to say, late in his life, after the U.S. and the EU had decided to enlarge NATO, that Russia would never accept that enlargement. And certainly it is true that Russia is in the process of trying to correct what they think is a wrong.
So there are valid arguments that suggest if we had not expanded the EU and NATO, the invasion of Ukraine would never have taken place. And that might be true.
There is only one problem with that argument. The EU and NATO did expand starting 1993 and countries did join the both EU and NATO and those countries seem to like the fact that they did join. In addition, it must be noted that Berlin Wall did fall in November of 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed December of 1991. Finally, it should be noted the present country of Russia is different in size and population from the former Soviet Union. It also should be noted in August of 1991 the Ukraine became an independent democratic country.
In short, that was then, this is now.
This brings up the conundrum of the Ukraine. Yes, it had been a part of the Soviet Union. Yes, it is not a member of NATO. Yes, it is not a member of the EU. And yes, the Ukraine does not want too be a part of Russia.
Enter Czar Putin – Vlad the Bad has decided this is a great wrong, a terrible sin against Mother Russia. It now seems Mother Russia wants to reclaim one of its lost children. In Czar Putin’s effort to reclaim the Ukraine, he has now invaded that country. The invasion has not gone according plan. It is taking longer than expected and the Ukrainians have chosen to fight instead of welcome the Russian Army. This has apparently angered Czar Putin and in an effort to secure the Ukraine for Russia, the Russian Army has chosen to destroy the Ukraine. At least, that appears to be the strategy of Czar Putin.
There is the Conundrum in all this. Yes, maybe this war would never have occurred if the EU and NATO had not expanded, but the EU and NATO did expand. And yes, Russia has now invaded a nearby country that is not in the EU or NATO, but it happens to border on a number countries who are in either the EU or NATO or both. And yes, it seems clear that the Ukraine does not want to be part of Russia.
In the meantime, bombing and shelling and hypersonic missiles are raining down on the Ukraine. Ukrainian men, women and children are being killed. Russian and Ukrainian soldiers are dying daily in various parts of Ukraine. The U.S., the UK, the EU have slapped layer after layer of sanctions on Russia. And the fighting and the invasion still goes on. The Russian people and Russian oligarchs are finding their economy being affected and their access to banks, yachts and houses being denied. And many in Russia are not happy about this.
So what is the right thing to do? Let the Ukraine be conquered and destroyed by the Russian Army? Help a country in trouble and provide arms and aid? Establish a ”No Fly Zone” and confront Russia directly in the skies over the Ukraine? Send in troops and expand the war throughout Europe? Start a set of actions that could lead directly to World War III and the use of nuclear weapons?
Further complicating this situation are feelings and wishes of the Ukrainian people. They did not get the memo that they are now part of Russia. They were living a perfectly peaceful and relatively war-free existence up until 4 weeks ago. Yes, there was a simmering war in the Donbas region of their country, but that has been contained and limited over the last 10 years. Then there is the fact that Ukrainians do not want to be a part of Russia. They, in fact, have pledged to fight Russia to the last man, woman and child.
If you think the complications stop there you would be wrong. There are other worries. The 27 countries that compose the EU have some memories of World War II. Other border countries, such as Finland and Sweden, also have similar memories. Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania also have long memories and all of these countries are afraid that Russia, if successful in the Ukraine, will keep going.
So the stakes are high and there is plenty of room for things to get worse. And yes, it is another fine mess.
It has been a busy few months. So many things to ponder. The Pandemic is still out and about, but seemingly more on the outs. The winter surge is fading and the summer surge has not yet come. Medical experts and politicians of both parties cheer the supposed end, saying the light is shining at the end of the tunnel and America is reopening. Meanwhile, new variants may lurk in the background.
Prices for all goods and services are raging and everyone on a budget who buys necessities and niceties is in a clamor over that. No worries for billionaires, multi-millionaires, reality stars, news anchors, tech entrepreneurs, trendy podcasters, social media influencers and brand ambassadors!
But for rest of us, inflation is a real concern. Yes, salaries are up, but it is a merry chase between prices and wages and somehow prices have the edge.
In the world outside of the U.S., Czar Vlad is rattling sabers and telling the Ukraine that it is our highway or obliteration. Slow Joe, our present President, says I’ve read your mail Vlad, it’s a war of choice and sanctions or you make nice nice and we might hold your hand.
Up in Canada, truckers are agitated over masks and vaccines while down here TV commentators and republicans cheer them on. I wonder if those same folks would be so enthusiastic if it was their garbage truckers not picking up their refuse.
Emperor Xi in the Middle Kingdom is trying to swat down Omicron in old Hong Kong…good luck with that. Meanwhile, the Olympics limp towards a conclusion.
There is a lot of information, misinformation and disinformation to sort through these days. Things come at us at a bewildering speed on a daily basis and it is not easy to sort out what is what. Hopefully, most of us possess come some common sense and we can discern the wheat from the chaff. Hopefully, most of us view events from different perspectives and consider different viewpoints and then make up our minds. Hopefully, we have some sense of past history to least understand the present in context of the past.
There are a lot of views about vaccines, boosters, masks, disinfectants, politics, soap, cures, inflation, stagflation and the economy. I will not try to muddy those waters here. Each person must decide for themselves how to approach the problems we face. And as we all know, many people have many different views.
A few things are certain: In 2019, a new disease started in China and spread around the world and began to infect a lot of people. This disease eventually appeared and infected people in every country in the world. In the U.S. over 900,000 deaths have been attributed to what was first called the Coronavirus. Over time, this disease also became known variously the Wuhan Virus, Covid 19, Alpha, Delta, Omicron, the China Virus and many other knicknames.
In time, it became a Pandemic affecting all parts of this world.
In this country, it is probably best known as The Pandemic. Of course, for those who have read history, this was not The Pandemic, it was only one of many Pandemics that have afflicted Mankind since history has been recorded.
The history of this new Pandemic’s arrival, spread and the different reactions to solve it are now pretty well known. First it spread in China, then it appeared in Europe. Shortly thereafter, it came to the United States, Canada, South America. It went on to spread to all of Asia, India and Africa. Within a year, The Pandemic had spread to every country in the world.
To date, almost 6,000,000 deaths worldwide have been attributed to The Pandemic.
Various solutions have been tried to decrease or eliminate The Pandemic. Many solutions have been proposed…washing hands vigorously, maintaining social distances between people, wearing masks, closing down restaurants, bars, hotels, stadiums, theaters, convention centers and other businesses. None of these measures have been sufficient to stop the spread of the Coronavirus…aka Wuhan Virus, Covid 19, The Pandemic.
Pharmaceutical companies entered into a great race to introduce vaccines which were first were thought to prevent the spread of the disease, but later came to be thought to prevent serious hospitalization and death from the disease. These vaccines were developed very quickly and started to be widely deployed about a year and half after the beginning the first virus infections.
Time and experience and the emergence of new variants of the original disease changed the perceptions of what the true benefits of the vaccines were. Nevertheless, those that had some faith in medical statistics and published medical studies could believe that at the very least the vaccines provided protection to most people against severe disease, hospitalizations and death.
This brings us to moment we now are. There now have been 5 separate variants emerging from the original Coronavirus. The latest variant, Omicron, has proven to be the most infectious. Fortunately, it has also proven to be somewhat milder. Even more fortunately, the Omicron surge now seems to be ebbing in England, Europe and the United States. Presently, experts are predicting the Omicron variant will fade with the winter chill.
What is not known is whether this variant or new variants will emerge to further pester humans. Time will tell, as they say.
At the moment if one is keeping score of the Coronavirus so far, I would give the bugs a solid 7. And if one sticks to the idea of keeping score, I would give the drugs a limpid 3, with the proviso that it is still unknown what the long term effects of having multiple injections of vaccines will be. Many may question the 3 number, whether limpid or not, choosing some other number between zero and 10.
Let’s put that judgment aside…the above scores that I have assigned to bugs and drugs are only temporary and arbitrary scores since it is not clear whether the game is coming to an end or about to go on for several more innings.
All of us have noticed that whatever the score you assign to the bugs of The Pandemic and to the drugs developed to defeat them, The Pandemic has altered the lives of many people. Again, if I were to score the effects of the Pandemic, I would give that a rousing 25. Again, that is an arbitrary score, but I think the effects of The Pandemic on people has been pretty big.
Not only did The Pandemic create affect our lives, it also altered the state of the economy. It should be admitted that when The Pandemic first arrived the American economy was on the mend and close to fully cured from previous ills of The Great Recession. Some would say the economy just before The Pandemic arrived on the scene was the best it ever has been, others would say, not quite, it was recovering from the terrible real estate and stock market collapse of 2008 & 2009 quite well, but maybe it was not completely recovered. Wherever you stand on that issue, it was very clear that the arrival of The Pandemic set us backward.
And from The Pandemic came many effects, actions and reactions. The government decided, rightly or wrongly, in beginning of The Pandemic to shut down offices, businesses, stadiums, theaters, restaurants, bars, convention centers, flights going in and out of the country.
This shutdown of businesses had the immediate effect of putting millions of people out of work. The government acted quickly to soften that blow. And those actions, sending sums of money directly to people and companies, did help many people and many businesses get by during the frightening and financially difficult times of The Pandemic.
The input of billions of dollars directly was very helpful in getting back on the road to recovery, but it was done by the simple method of the government printing money that did not exist. It was also true that the government of the United States printed money a few years earlier to get out of the earlier worldwide collapse of stock markets and financial institutions. So, it should be remembered that the government has propped up the the economy with printed money for almost 15 years.
That created quite large deficits for the government and had an inflationary effect on the economy because we debased the value of our currency to print our way out of The Great Recession and The Pandemic. It should be said that debasing the currency was probably a necessary evil in order to work our way out of these two great calamities.
With the printing of money we did not have came the inevitable and logical result: inflation.
This was further complicated by The Pandemic and some of the problems The Pandemic caused. That fact that shops and malls and restaurants were closed caused people to seek new and different purchasing solutions. Online shopping doubled in the first months of The Pandemic and what people spent money on also changed. So, instead of going to Disneyland or a movie or a restaurant, people ordered Take Out. Much of the Take Out ended up being sent in, as people had meals delivered directly to their apartments or homes. People were afraid to congregate in bars and restaurants and that was made easier by the fact that many bars and restaurants were closed.
People sought other avenues of entertainment. In home exercise equipment, streaming movies and drinking at home rose in popularity while the attendance of music festivals, trade shows, bars, restaurants and sports stadiums declined or collapsed. Air travel almost ceased and people sought activities that could done with social distancing involved. This created a new boom and appreciation home exercise, fishing, kayaking, jogging, walking, eating and drinking. So some activities were decimated while others boomed.
At the same time tens of millions of people rethought their jobs. Some got laid off, some found new occupations, some just stayed home.
All of these changes created new and odd declines and surges in demand, creating sudden shortages of toilet paper, household soaps, masks, sporting goods, groceries, cardboard, paper, warehouse workers, delivery trucks and people to work in technology companies.
And thus the economy experienced sharp declines and rises in odd and strange ways, creating huge demand for new workers, new goods and parts to make those goods. Companies were forced to pay higher wages to get people to man their businesses and that was good. At same time, because costs were rising in factories around the world and in this country, factories everywhere raised their prices and that was bad.
So inflation went from being benign at one or two percent to being a Tiger at seven and half percent. Wages rose along with prices, but it was a heady race and surely prices had the upper hand. So, I give inflation a score of 12 and wages a score of 9. Maybe that is right, maybe that is wrong.
As if that was not enough, enter Vlad the Bad! Czar Vlad had his own agenda and it just can not wait. Czar Vlad was in need of few more satellite countries and Ukraine looked mighty good to him.
Sleepy Joe, as he is known to some, our President, as he is known to others, has been trying to discourage Vlad the Bad, saying I know your game. We got satellites in the sky, we can see what you are doing…you are making a war of choice. If that is so, it’s sanctions for you. So, Sleepy Joe has been very indiscreet and rude in pointing out that Czar Putin may invade Ukraine, but he will have to pay some kind of price.
The price to be paid by Russia has been determined to be ”sanctions”, but as they say, the devil is in the details. Europe and England say they are fully on board, but Germany a little concerned about heat since most of that comes from Vlad the Bad in the form of natural gas. The thought has occurred to Germany that Vlad the Bad might be really bad and shut off the gas. So, a hot war in the Ukraine could result in cold homes in Germany.
I was an only child and that may be part of the problem. My parents gave me quite a bit of freedom to do what I wanted and that allowed me to decide what I did not want to do. I did not have sisters or brothers to take up my valuable time, to play with or to ask me to do things. And that also gave me more leeway to be lazy.
Early on I developed a lack of interest in making my bed and cleaning up my room. When going to school I quickly learned that you could work hard or you could just coast. I chose to just coast.
I will say I worked hard to develop some skills. I liked to work with clay in class, build small wooden forts, drop water bombs out of our apartment window and raise my hand to attract taxicabs. My mother taught me early on how to hail taxicabs and I have been a fan of that up until the era of Uber. I have since adapted to the use of Uber by allowing someone else to input the needed instructions on their cell phone. That has a double benefit: they do the work and they pay.
I grew up in New York City and that encouraged an early use of taxicabs and a dislike of subways and buses. That is not to say that I was an inactive boy. I liked to ride my tricycle on the sidewalks near our apartment on East 92nd Street…that is until I took my tricycle down a hill and I found myself traveling faster than a tricycle should. The result was not pretty: I hurtled over a curb at the end of block, went airborne briefly, almost ran under oncoming car and acquired seven stitches in my chin.
That experience was an important life lesson: Watch your speed!
That did not mean that I sometimes did not make great efforts to accomplish important tasks. As an example of my grit and determination, I once walked 60 blocks as a young boy, buying 12 boxes of Cracker Jacks in an effort to obtain one Captain Video Ring. Success was obtained on the 12th box. This also taught me an important life lesson: Persistence can pay off!
When I got older and went to college, my father remarried and I acquired a brother. That worked out well since my brother stayed in New York while I spent six years trying to graduate from The University of Virginia…two years to flunk out, two years to get back in, two more years to graduate. As you can see from this last sentence, I did learn the value of persistence.
And here I have to say, I also learned another important life lesson. You can coast through college, but you can’t cut two thirds of your classes, party 5 days a week and avoid flunking out. In other words, I found out that there were limits to laziness and sometimes you must apply yourself if you wish to accomplish something. Of course, that did not teach me what I might want to accomplish, but it did teach me how to finish something.
It is is true that I have worked continuously for 54 years and there are some people under the impression that I work hard. And it is true that I work hard on the things that interest me but I am only able to do that because I delete or reduce many other tasks that other people consider important.
Considering the fact that I am inherently lazy, I had to develop a system of laziness. There are many self-help books, articles, and websites devoted to telling people how to avoid gout, catch fish, make money, lose weight, grow hair, invest in stocks, be wise, have clear skin, but there are no books or literature or information online devoted to tell people how to improve and refine laziness. I thought I might correct this omission and explain my system of laziness.
I would like to point, while it may sound simple, being lazy is a kind of art. The trick is to do as little as possible and still be able to accomplish some important things, like, for example, supporting yourself and your family.
Now there are people who are very successful at being lazy, but not at supporting themselves or their family. But I say, where is the percentage in that? Being lazy is quite uncomfortable if someone is trying to take back your car, delete your cell phone service, cut off your cable service, kick you out of your home. No, laziness is of no benefit if you cannot enjoy your laziness. And that means simply that you must have some way to get by in life without being a burden on yourself, your family or your friends.
In truth that means you must either be able to financially support yourself or get enough income from a liability lawsuit or a carefully planned marriage or well-designed prenup to be comfortable. And that should include all family members – your wife, husband and/or children – because who wants a whole bunch of people complaining all the time. Laziness is something to be savored, something to be enjoyed, it should not be impaired by other more mundane difficulties.
Considering the times that I have passed through, it is not always easy to employ my system of laziness. You have to be able to twist and turn and make adjustments according the times.
I have to insert here, when I was a young man I learned something very important about manufacturing efficiency and this proved helpful in refining a system of laziness. I was working in my father’s warehouse producing something called “AutoCast Fishing Rods”. There I found the secret of avoiding ”lost motion”. That is, I discovered that you could do the same thing two different ways and one way could be far slower and harder while the other way could be far faster and easier.
This taught me to always choose the faster and easier way.
When it comes to aches and pains, they say that motion is the lotion. But when it comes to efficiency, the less motion you expend in accomplishing a task, the better. When working on the fishing rod production line, I found the more economical your motions and more direct your actions, the more fishing rods you produced. I have since applied that technique in the pursuit of laziness.
Now, recently, a new development has occurred. The Pandemic came. While the Pandemic certainly had many terrible aspects, in one way, it proved to be a blessing in disguise. It truly upped my Lazy Game. Because the Pandemic altered many aspects in the way we work and live, it also opened new vistas in how to be lazy:
Working from home. Oh, let me count the many ways and opportunities that little change made.
Now, because you do not have to get up and drive to the office, you can sleep 30 to 60 minutes more. Even better, in most cases, you do not have to brush your teeth, shave your face or take a shower, although your partner may object to that if you do not shower after several days in row. You only have to dress from the the waist up – that saves a good 10 minutes a day. Yes, if you have some important Skype, Zoom or Microsoft meetings, it may be necessary to present yourself a little better – 2 or 3 strokes with brush through your hair should do it. Wear a shirt that appears to be clean and crisp. Maybe a swipe or two with an electric razor. Remember, some stubble looks sexy these days.
And of course, because restaurants and bars are less well attended, all you have to do is eat and drink at home. That saves a whole lot of lost motion and keeps many a drinking person out of jail. Takeout: I have been a fan of takeout long before the Pandemic. For years, we provided significant income to some of our local eateries and delis by buying takeout. Recently, because of the Pandemic, local restaurants have added an excellent refinement. It is called ”Curbside Service”. Now, you can call in your takeout order, drive to a parking space just outside the restaurant, call the restaurant to let them know you are there and they will bring the order directly to your car door. Wow. That saves an easy 30 minutes a week. Now you may ask why not take this one step further and ask the restaurant to deliver the takeout order to your door, but here I must state there are limits to the benefits of laziness. Specifically, this invites the likelihood of the food arriving cold and clammy. I hate cold and clammy food, so I make the effort to pick it up while it is still hot and ready for consumption.
Starting work in the era of Pandemic has been made easy with cell phones, PCs and laptops. In my case, it is just short and quick journey from my bedroom down the thirteen steps to my living room. I have taken over my favorite lounge chair in the living room as my office. It has an excellent view through large glass picture window out to my front lawn, my dock and the bay beyond. All that is necessary is to power up on my various digital devices and flip on the VPN. Voila, I am at zee office monitoring e-mails, reviewing incoming orders. Added perks – should the tide be rolling in and the weather conditions amendable, I can be out on the water paddling or just drifting on bay soaking up sun in just minutes. Should someone need to contact me cell or Skype, I can turn down the bluetooth speaker blasting some cherished rock song, pick up my oblong and say, ”What the hell do you want?” Actually, I am far more polite than that, but the point is that I can stay in touch on land or sea.
There are some drawbacks to working from the comfort of my armchair… other people talking in the background can muddle an important call, my VPN, provide by our rotten cable service, has a tendency to drop out 5 or 10 times day. Here, I have to take a little blame. So far, I have not complained to the rotten cable service because I am too lazy to pick up the cell phone next to me.
And of course, when working from home, you can schedule your own time. That means you can eat or drink when you want, put a log on the fire, take a sun break on the porch, go to the hardware store when you want, fix that loose doorknob when you want. These days they call that multi-tasking, but in my mind it really is improving work efficiency while being as lazy as possible.
The Pandemic allows you to refine your diet while reducing time and effort. I would like to suggest the following 3 diet solutions for a quick and easy lunch – 1. P&J (aka, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches) – open 2 jars, smear some of each on 2 pieces of bread and you got yourself real meal, 2. grilled cheese – alas, you do have to clean the frying pan, but preparation is quick and easy, 3. cereal – pull out a bowl, fill it up with cereal and pour milk, add sugar as needed. These simple lunch solutions are quick and easy, tasty and nutritious and clean up is almost simple as preparation. Plus, they not only save you time, they save you money. They are the proverbial Win, Win.
The above are just a few of the ways the Pandemic has upped my Lazy Game.
But one should not forget the classics, so below I mention some other important classical methods to reduce and delete unwanted work:
Wear a hat – Why? This avoids the necessity of combing or brushing your hair, since your hat safely hides the state of your hair. If you are not going to an office to work, you can complete many important trips to grocery stores, hardware stores, marinas and outdoor bars without ever removing your hat and revealing you are a disheveled slob.
Never wash your car. It is best to depend on the Good Lord to send rain and do that for you. Should your car need more than the Good Lord’s assistance, take it to the local car wash. The time spent at the car wash reading magazines may to lead to some important discoveries about miracle diets, hair loss cures and new restaurants.
Never mow your lawn. It is said that there is much pleasure to derive from keeping your lawn green and trim. That surely is true, but there is more pleasure in watching someone else mowing your lawn and keeping it green and trim.
Do things in circles – instead of getting up to do one thing and then coming back to sit down, try to remember some of the 58 things your wife asked you to do and do one or two them on your way back to the chair. After all, if you are expending some energy to do one thing, it is not terrible to do one or two things more on the return trip. A good example of this is: if you are getting to bring your empty dinner plate back to the kitchen sink, remember to pick up a spoon and a pint of ice cream on your back. It’s a Win, Win.
Do not do anything that may extend your efforts without added benefits. Using the example above of returning from your trip to the kitchen with a pint of ice cream, you may consider that you may not want to eat a whole pint of ice cream. If that is the case, you may ponder taking out a clean dish and a ice cream scoop to download a smaller serving of ice cream. Banish that thought. You have already acquired the tools you need to accomplish your task. Simply return to your chair, pop off the ice cream lid, dig in with your spoon and eat as little or as much of the pint as you wish. Of course, this does require a trip back to the fridge to put the remaining ice cream safely away. But as they say in exercise, ”no pain, no gain.” And remember, by following my advice, you have avoided the task of pulling out a clean dish, dirtying it up and later having to wash it. Trust me, your wife will be much happier about that.
Yes, the Pandemic has provided the lazy with many opportunities to up their game. And the fact that some activities are not always practical to do, such as dining indoors during a plague or going to Disneyland, is not as bad as it may sound. These are really just self-economizing opportunities to save gas, time, money and up your Lazy Game.
We are back in Montauk for vacation in the new normal. Everyone we speak to tells us that Montauk this summer has been “crazy”. Delmack, the Jamaican lady who comes and cleans our room each day, tells us Montauk has been “crazy”.
”People do not want to go in town…it’s just too crazy…no parking, cars jutting in and out everywhere, people everywhere, no space in the shops, no tables free in the restaurants…yes, Montauk is crazy this summer.”
It was not that way last summer when many stayed away from indoor restaurants and shops. The town was still crowded, the beaches were crowded and outdoor restaurants were crowded, but then many wore masks and many were far more cautious in their vacation celebrations.
The Pandemic still about, but far more people have been vaccinated and there is a sense that things are returning to some kind of normal.
But at the WaveCrest, our Montauk vacation residence, it seems normal is already here. In the mornings, there are beautiful sunrises most days. Early in the morning, the beaches are empty except for one or two fishermen and some eager early morning walkers or joggers. During the day, the umbrellas pop up on the beach and beach chairs are laid out and families and kids come and then girls looking for boys and boys looking for girls come and then, others looking for each other come…they all sit around in little clusters and the only sound heard except that of the ocean surf is the motoring sound of the beach buggy zipping back and forth, hauling umbrellas and chairs to their appointed places. As mid-morning comes the voices of kids and adults are heard drifting across the beach with the sound of the ocean murmuring quietly or roaring loudly with waves breaking on the beach.
Today, the ocean is murmuring…making a sound more like Long Island Sound than the great Atlantic Ocean. Other days, the surf is booming. We came the day after a tropical storm and then the sea was still fierce with waves crashing in thunderous booms. But no more, the weather has turned hot, the wind has dropped to a stall, the sun blisters everything that exposes itself for more than 20 minutes. It is as hot as Montauk gets. We are at the end of Long Island and usually cool breezes sweep over these rolling hills and somewhat barren landscape and generally it never really gets that hot. But these days it is.
Big Doings are going on in the world. The present President is struggling with his new job and his recent decision to depart Afghanistan. It is not going well, two bombs went off near the airport in Kabul and over 100 people were killed, including 13 U.S. servicemen. Leaving is not easy and whether it could be done better is on the minds of many. I have decided that our exit from Afghanistan was not correctly planned, but I have no knowledge of what good withdrawal would look like. Hopefully, something less than the present chaos. That said over 100,000 people have been flown out and many thousands more are hopefully waiting to leave. Whatever, it is not a pretty or a proud exit. For those who remember, it reminds one of the last days of Saigon.
On the stock market front, all is seemingly well. Markets seem to be drifting ever higher in this strange summer. Occasionally, the market take tip, but even when they do that they remain near all time highs. The immediate market collapse that was predicted by the former President, like the reversal of recent election results and the magical disappearance and demise of the Pandemic, has not come to pass.
In fact, on the Coronavirus front, Covid 19 has again raised its ugly face. As we begin this vacation, cases are running 140,000 a day, hospitalizations are again getting very high in certain Southern States and deaths are running over 1,000 per day. In short, in spite of vaccinating almost 50% of the population, the number of cases and hospitalizations are higher than at the same time last year. Deaths are running just a little above their levels at the same time last year. We shall see how that is proceeding as one vacation in Montauk melds into another vacation in Maine.
Two vacations in the same year may sound obscene, but, hey, we are getting on in age and we have to make the most of it…so, two vacations is this year’s plan.
One thing has not changed at the WaveCrest, that is the very convenient food truck called the WaveCrave. It is parked about 50 feet from our motel room door. That is a truly great feature in this crazy busy summer season in Montauk. All that is necessary is to mosey out of our motel room door, walk the 50 feet and give Steve my order for the morning. And doing so, Steve, the proprietor of the WaveCrave truck, fills me in on the latest.
”Montauk has been Crazy this summer,” he says, echoing the very words of Delmack, our Jamaican cleaning lady. We will hear that more and more as this vacation goes on and we go on to the next vacation. The word “crazy” seems to be the new byword for this summer.
“It’s really crazy…prices of everything are going up, people want their stuff fast and I can’t get no help…I’m looking, but you can’t find people to work.”
After some preliminary chitchat on the state of the summer and Steve’s business, I place my order with Steve – a Basic Joe (2 eggs, sausage & cheese on a roll) for me and a Nancy Atlas (3 eggs, avocado and some other health ingredients in a wrap) for my wife. Steve informs me that the two orders will be ready in 8 minutes. I go off and sit down at a nearby table where I can survey the sea and consult my oblong.
Oblong is the descriptive term given to cell phones by a Japanese writer I happen to be reading. “Klara and The Sun” is the book and Kazuo Ishiguro is the author. It is the the strange tale told by an AF (artificial friend) about a sickly young lady. Oblong is the term applied to peoples’ cell phones and I think it is quite appropriate.
After scanning incoming emails, I scan the news…it is not good. Nobody is happy about the mess in Afghanistan and the Covid numbers are stubbornly high. It seems that the disease has no respect for our wishes. That is worse for the present President, since he has promised to make it go away. Well, he promised to get out of Afghanistan and indeed he did that. But what a mess. The fight against Covid seems similarly messy. The more we vaccinate, the more the virus seems to stick around. This summer the problem is being blamed on the Delta Virus, the latest mutation of that tricky Coronavirus.
”Cecil,” Steve calls out and I slip my oblong into my pocket and meander over to Steve. All is well, I pick up my breakfast orders and head back to the hacienda 50 feet away. My wife and I set up the little table on the porch where we can observe the first stirrings of people out on the beach. My wife sits in the portable rocking chair we brought, I sit in the comfy lounge chair that came with room. We sip coffee and munch away at our breakfasts. Out in front of our porch the waves break on the sand and a hot new day has begun. My wife complains that her sandwich is too big. Considering that it is advertised to have 3 eggs, that is no surprise. Fresh air blows in from the Atlantic onto our little porch overlooking the sea, the sun is getting higher, a few people are walking along the ocean beach. Life is good.
In Montauk, I spent the days going for a swim in the ocean while my wife enjoyed the comforts of her much larger oblong (an iPad Pro) and some good books, sitting in the rocker, overlooking the beach, her morning made in the shade on our covered porch. As noon passes, each day we ponder eating choices. This year we are determined to eat in as many restaurants as will have us. Of course, as a matter of ritual, we go to Gossman’s, which my wife finds lacking in the swordfish she ordered while I happily munch down what appears to be quite fresh tuna. Some days chicken, some days chicken feathers. Our meals with Gossman’s have been hit or miss recently with one invariably having a much better meal than the other. There are compensations for this not so reliable food service. You sit outside in the shade or inside the main restaurant with windows wide open. Either way, there is a great view of the inlet with boats parading in and out is just a few feet away. The sea air is fine to breathe and you can feel lucky in just being there, even if your meal ain’t what it should be.
In the days that follow, we slip into a pattern of breakfasts from the WaveCrave in the morning, swimming or paddling or walking along the beach and heading out in the early afternoon for a sit down meal at one of the many local restaurants. My wife has this theory that a late lunch is better than a lunch and a dinner so that is our solution to dieting. I have admit that two squares a day sometimes don’t always make it for me and often I hit the vanilla ice cream later in the day.
Early in the trip, I discover that I have forgotten my all important paddling gloves so I meander over to Amagansett to the Beach and Bicycle store to fix this omission. Beach and Bicycle quickly informs me that the summer has been “crazy” and that they are all sold out of paddling gloves. That is unusual because they usually carry a pretty wide selection of paddling equipment, but the lady informs me that there are “logistic” problems and that they sold out of all sorts paddling stuff. I don’t commiserate with her about “logistic” problems. Otherwise, I would spend an extra half day listing a litany of my “logistic” problems.
In any case, we both agree it has been a “crazy” summer. But all is not lost. The lady remembers they also sell bike gloves, so I buy a really sexy pair of TREK gloves with all sorts nice Italian names listed on them. The lady informs me they are the last pair she has and they are very good quality for just $65. These gloves are really more like bikini gloves, but I figure in the hot weather Montauk is experiencing, they might just be the thing I need. So, I snap them up before someone can come into the store and snatch them away.
And the $65. proves to be well spent because shortly afterward I ask her about where a good paddle spot might be where I can park my car. Most places on the East End require a Easthampton parking permit. For those of you who do not know it, Easthampton is the township that covers everything on the South Fork east of Southampton to Montauk. The parking permits cost 300 bucks a pop, but the real catch 22 is that the town doesn’t really issue any…you have a better chance of winning the New York lottery for 5 billion dollars. It seems the town of Easthampton does not want evil kayakers molesting their waterways and stumbling into their restaurants and stores.
Anyway, the lady gives me a tip on a great paddling spot on the North side of Amagansett off of Landing Road. It so happens that I actually know the spot and have paddled there several times before, but last year the Town of Easthampton had put up a sign saying parking stickers were required. The lady tells me that parking permits are no longer required there and so I get the good news I can go to what is surely one the prettiest paddling spots on Long Island.
Armed with this good news and my sexy new paddling (bicycle) gloves, I return to the WaveCrest…my mission accomplished. And of course, I tell my wife the good news. She remembers the spot and is happy to hear it.
On that good note, we head out for another afternoon lunch…this time to Duryeas. Now this a place that has a long history in Montauk. In the late sixties and the early 70s, there was a New York Assemblyman named Perry Duryea. He was reputed to be a very sharp and wise politician. He was known as the Silver Fox because of his silver white hair and trim frame. His family owned a lobster business in Montauk. In doing that, they set up some picnic tables out back where you could could come and have lobsters and beers. It was a pretty unassuming place, but it had really good lobsters, good fish and good beer to top it off with.
We used to go there for many, many years. Fast forward to the era of oblongs and the Pandemic and the same place has morphed into a super sleek and artsy-crafty seafood restaurant with some really good fish and lobsters at really high prices. I am not a fan of their service system which requires you to mark down on a paper menu what seafood specialities you want and what drinks you might require. As you come into the place there is a little sign informs you that “Everybody here is famous”. Whether that is to make you feel good or to attract famous people, I am not sure.
There is a nice French lady that, once the wait for table is over, leads you to a table. They have added some pretty striped cushions to wooden bench seats in one part of the restaurant and there is nice long dock with some nice tables and seats that leads out to several go fast boats that will, if you have an invitation, take you to some billionaire’s mega yacht. Pretty young ladies parade by on that dock past the tables of famous diners and on to the impressive GoFast boats.
The place is in one way very similar to original Duryeas, but now has been Euronized so the famous are sure to come and diners cannot escape for less than $200 a couple. And indeed, there are a lot pretty people pecking at their lobster towers while sipping some nice wine or a bit of the bubbly. And back to the subject of a wait, yes, there always is. Generally, it seems to be 20 to 40 minutes, although it may be faster for the chosen famous who occasionally drop by. The place starts and, no doubt, ends crowded, each day, presuming good weather, soft summer breezes and warm temperatures prevail.
My wife and I are partial to the Branzino which they serve whole with fish head intact and some delicious veggies and peppers and sauces surrounding the display. I have had similar servings of this fish in Italy and in Asia. And if the sauces are right and fish is fresh and veggies good, I really recommend that dish. We have had it at Duryeas a couple of times and each time we nominate it as our best meal in Montauk. As mentioned, I am not a fan of their self serve system. In particular, I do not like having to get up, walk over an order booth and order another wine for my wife and another seltzer for myself. I just think if you are going to spend $200/plus for lunch with your wife, people should come to your table and take your order and bring everything you ask for. But, it is what it is and I still think they do have the best fish in Montauk.
In Montauk, we ended up having many a lunch in many a place. Some were good, some were not. Pretty much everyday, I went for a swim in the ocean and for me that was grand. Several days, my wife and I went paddling on the North side of Amagansett in Acabonic harbor and that was grand…with birds aplenty, scenic water views and some tranquil peace on the water. On other days, I went for a paddle by myself, also in Acabonic Harbor.
During our stay in Montauk stock markets kept drifting upward. Some days the markets would take a momentary dip, but most days the markets would resume their relentless upward trend. Why stocks were moving upward was not exactly clear because economic reports were mixed and often there were earning disappointments in the case of individual companies or disappointments in employment reports. But the ever wise investors paid no heed to any economic concerns and markets just kept trending upward.
As the days passed in Montauk, the numbers of Delta virus cases began to steadily increase. And with the increase of cases, shortly thereafter came an increase hospitalizations and deaths. Since my wife is not a big fan of news, whether it comes on TV, internet or otherwise, I kept up with the goings on through my oblongs – my cell or my iPad. Because I like to look at charts, I took to looking at the interactive charts the New York Times publishes, like the one below showing the up and down progress of the Coronavirus since the beginning of the Pandemic until October 10th, 2021. By that time, the Coronavirus had kindly started to once again decline.
Of course, we all know that every media company has its agenda and the New York Times is well-known for its liberal leanings. That said, the charts I was looking at were tracking actual reported numbers of Delta variant cases, hospitalizations and deaths and these same numbers were also reported by many other media companies, as well John Hopkins Hospital, which has established a special section of their website to track the rise and fall of the Coronavirus.
As mentioned before, the rebirth of the Coronavirus through the Delta variant this summer was very embarrassing to Joe Biden, the present President. It was a key promise of his in getting elected to get control of the Coronavirus. And if one thing was very clear, it was that the Coronavirus was still not under control.
It is interesting here to note the various agendas of different left and right leaning media companies. Fox News was touting at every chance what a great tragedy it was for us to get out of Afghanistan, leaving our former friends and allies at the whim of the Taliban and what a great mess the immigrant problem was at the border. Strangely, this was the same media company backing the former President who declared it was policy of his to get out of Afghanistan. So, regarding Afghanistan, it would seem that Fox News was most upset that President Biden carried out the stated policy of the previous President in a messy manner.
And as mentioned, when Fox News was not talking about the collapse and terrible defeat of our efforts in Afghanistan, it was talking about the rush of refugees coming over the Mexican border. And indeed both of those things were happening in real time, so they both were true events.
Meanwhile, in another world away, CNN and MSNBC were busy discussing the terrible events of the January 6th “insurrection” and the fact that Donald Trump was still saying the election had been stolen from him. CNN and MSNBC ran videos again and again of the Congress being overrun by protesters and clips of The Donald saying he was robbed. It is also true that both those things were happening, but it was clear, and should be clear to anyone watching all three media networks, that each media network had an agenda and none were unbiased in their approach to the news.
Our days in Montauk were blessedly free from digital distraction and/or political discussions. We would get up, have a simple breakfast, swim or walk and go to lunch in the afternoon. My wife and I would have our 2 squares…that is, breakfast and a late lunch. After lunch, either my wife and I or just me would go for a paddle in Acabonic Harbor, taking in the scenic water views and watching birds happily munching on minnows and diving for larger fish.
Dinner most days was then omitted. We would come back to the room, watch the sun fade on the ocean, catch a little tube and retire. The omission of dinner was generally good for the diet except in my case, because almost every afternoon or evening I would run down to John’s Drive In and augment my calorie intake with vanilla ice cream. It was maybe not the best dietary schedule, but it surely was quite pleasant.
Our several weeks came and went as vacations do. The meals were good, the swimming was good, the walking, the paddling and the relaxing on the porch overlooking the ocean was all good. And as everyone said, Montauk was crazy. The restaurants had lines and in the stores you had to walk sideways just to get past clutches of customers. Each night, the sun would go down as we would watch the waves breaking from the comfort of our porch. somehow, the memory of the crowded restaurants and stores would fade with afternoon sun.
But soon, as in all things, the time passed and we headed home, back to the real world.
For next two weeks we returned to our real hacienda, which was not hard to do, since Montauk is only 60 miles from Setauket. There I re-entered the world of work and spent my time on ”logistic issues”. That consisted mainly in chasing container shipments, trying to figure out when they get on a ship, off a ship, on a truck and off a truck and finally in our warehouse. It was a merry chase. Perhaps, merry is not the correct word.
When not working on getting products to ship and sell, I am spending my time working on the two new boat models I plan to introduce in 2022. I plan to introduce a new larger pontoon boat to be named the FastCat 14.4. It will hold up to 4 people and a 20 hp motor. It will go 22 mph and I have been testing a prototype of this model at my house all this spring and much of the summer. I am also developing a new larger expedition Travel Canoe designed to take large quantities of gear for extended trips on lakes and rivers. We have already gotten two prototypes of that model and a 3rd prototype is shown above. It is not quite right, but it is getting close. The model above is to be called the Travel Canoe 17. Both the 14.4 and 17 refer to the feet lengths of the two models.
This year has been both satisfying and frustrating. Sales are up for the second year in row, but headaches about getting orders produced, shipments sent, containers into our warehouse, having stock of different models and getting orders shipped out…all these problems seemed to have been magnified by 10.
And of course, we are seeing, like virtually everyone else on planet earth, price increases on everything and delays in production, shipping in, shipping out. All of these problems cause additional problems with customers. Explaining where shipments are, when they are expected and when they will be shipped out adds a great deal of work, especially when almost every shipment coming in gets delayed. I have been having things made around the world for over 50 years and I have never seen things this difficult, this screwed up. We are seeing this both in our fishing lure business and in our inflatable boat business. And whether it is packaging or shipping or materials or production, whether it is in the U.S., Asia or Europe, we are seeing day to day cost increases. And of course, that means that we will have to raise our prices for the coming year and what effect that will have God only knows.
So, Phil, the auto repair guy in Montauk, is not the only businessman unhappy with the state of the world.
This year, we planned something unusual…a second vacation. My wife and I have planned to go visit a cousin in York, Maine. So, after two weeks ricocheting between instructions to suppliers on new products and chasing existing products and pushing out old and new models, off we go to the great State of Maine.
To do that, we take the very convenient Port Jefferson Ferry to Bridgeport, Connecticut and after 20 minutes of wandering down some sorry looking streets in Bridgeport we manage to get on 95. From there it is quite literally a straight shot to York, Maine.
York, Maine is only a little over 4 hours away driving on Route 95. The nice point here is that you don’t have to think too much, since 95 leads directly past York, Maine. In fact, the only difficult part was following signs from the Bridgeport Ferry terminal to 95. It should be easy since it is less than 2 miles away, but at the very last turn, the one you need to make, the authorities have omitted to place any sign referencing 95. That led to a 15 minute detour around some of Bridgeport neighborhoods, but after several lefts, rights and a circle or two, we were on track, on the great highway 95 corridor.
Thereafter, it was all a piece of cake. and strangely, 95 was not its usual ”crazy”. It seems they have actually fixed some parts of that road, which from Bridgeport to New Haven to Providence always had bumpy, unpaved sections under construction to slow you down and slow your way through. This time the ride was blissfully smooth and without incident.
About 4 and half hours later we were checking into something called DockSide Guest Quarters. That consisted of an old Captain’s house on a promontory overlooking the York River and a nice collection nearby of bungalows with small suites overlooking York Harbor. Our room is quite comfortable. I should say rooms because there is an outer living room with a kitchenette to the side that leads directly to our bedroom. In front of the living room, there is a nice porch with the view you see in the picture above. We arrived at our quarters around 4 in the afternoon and immediately plopped down on the porch and watched a continual parade of boats coming into the river and going out into the ocean. York has long been an active little port with recreational boaters, lobstermen, lobster ladies, commercial fishermen, commercial fisher ladies coming and going with boats of many styles.
I can say we were happy with the hotel setup. It was indeed a very nice place. Because we both somewhat tuckered from our drive, we called my cousin to let her know we would catch up with her and her partner the next day. Since the day was getting on, I took over the main job of lining up victuals for evening. I accomplished that by walking down from our room, past the captain’s house, past the operating boat yard to a small bar situated directly overlooking York Harbor. There I ordered, guess what, two lobster sandwiches, french fries and cole slaw. While I waited for the meals to be prepared, I had a large seltzer and struck up a conversation with a husband and wife who were enjoying evening cocktails as the sun was slowly declining and the Maine chill was ascending. I asked what the summer had been like.
“It was crazy, all of Massachusetts and much of the rest of the country came this summer. The stores, the roads were all clogged with people and cars and it was impossible go almost anywhere.”
And so the operative word for this summer still remained ”crazy”. I talked a little more with the couple about York and the weather.
The guy asked me I where we came from. Long Island I replied.
”Well the weather is pretty much same. We don’t get a lot of snow in winter here. They do get a lot of snow 5 miles inland, but here the ocean keeps the temperatures moderate and generally the winters are mild.”
I did not want to disagree, but already it seemed to me that the weather in York was a good 10 degrees cooler than Long Island and that afternoon as the sun was setting, it was getting downright nippy. But no matter. I was happy to talk to the couple and get some info on York.
The guy turned out to be a kayaker. That gave me an opportunity to ask about put-ins, take-outs and nice places to paddle. It turned out that there was a nice scenic place to paddle right around the hotel. The hotel was situated on something called Harris Island. I would not have called it an island because a road led onto the island. My preferred term would have been peninsula, but who was I to argue with the locals? Anyway, my conversation with the nice couple gave me a pretty good idea where to go for at least that paddle.
The open bar had an interesting setup in order to provide food. About 20 feet from the open bar and tables with umbrellas was a food truck that made up whatever meals and snacks customers ordered. In no time the lobster sandwiches and sides were ready. I grabbed the bag with the food, finished my seltzer and said goodbye to the nice couple.
Within minutes, my wife and I were enjoying our lobster sandwiches in our quaint room overlooking the York River. Since we had savored lobster sandwiches in Montauk, that immediately led to a family discussion of who had the best lobster sandwiches. That was hard choice, but my wife and I quickly came to the belief that it was a close choice between Steeve’s lobster sandwiches at the WaveCrave or the DockSide Bar lobster sandwiches. We gave the to edge to the DockSide Bar which had lobster slightly fresher and juicier, but trust me it was a very close call.
We spent the next several days meeting up with my cousin and her partner, Kerry, and going sometimes to their house for lunch or dinner and sometimes, here and there in York for lunch or dinner.
My cousin is a therapist, so she deals with people’s problems, be they real, imagined, physical or mental. And I gather people in York have just as many problems as they have on Long Island. Her customers, aka her patients, suffer a wide variety of physical and psychological problems. I gather that many of her patients came to her specifically because they could not get help from their regular doctors. And whether the problems were physical or psychological problems, one thing was always true – their problems were real to them.
In the last year, because of the Pandemic, my cousin tells me the way she treated her patients changed. Pre-pandemic, patients came to her office and sat down in front of her and laid out their problems two or three feet away. Since the onset of the Pandemic, she treated patients exclusively by Zoom. And apparently, business by Zoom has been a boom. No lockdown threatened her business, which apparently became busier than ever, with back to back Zoom meetings instead of face to face meetings in her office.
I asked her how that was working out.
”Great,” she said, ”I do not have to leave my house and the patients seem more at ease to tell me what is really bothering them.”
And I gather a lot is bothering her patients, dealing with deaths of a relative or a loved one, suffering from bouts of insomnia, some with deep traumas coming from sexual assault at one time or another, some dealing with incessant pain, some dealing with a barrage of other physical ailments, some with deep insecurities about their jobs, their life, some with hard economic problems, some dealing with alcohol and drug abuse, some just freaked out by the stress caused by the Pandemic or money problems, some dealing with stress caused by the patients themselves. So my cousin was monitoring a host of problems and trying to advise and help her patients with all sorts of physical and mental issues.
And from what my cousin was telling me the business of coping with psychological and physical problems was booming. The Pandemic seemed to be multiplying the problems people faced day to day. Her days were fully booked from 9 to 5 with patients from all over Maine with many problems. How to advise all her different patients seemed to me a very difficult job, but my cousin Wendy had been doing this for years and apparently is able to work her way through other people’s problems.
I asked her if she thought dealing with patients was easier before or during the Pandemic.
”It is easier for me now because all I have to do turn on the computer. It gives me certain distance between me and my patients and, in many ways, it seems easier for the patients. They seem to feel freer to tell me what their real problems are. It is as if the computer puts a plexiglass wall between us and they feel free to express the truth because I am not actually in the room. One thing is for sure. There are a lot more problems out there and many more people need help.”
I tried to think what it must be like dealing with lots of people with lots of problems. In a way, I feel that happens with some of my employees. They sometimes have problems and sometimes I have to figure out ways to help them. But the operative word is sometimes. Thinking of my cousin dealing with non-stop problems day after day, I am not sure I would not develop have deep psychological problems myself just listening to other people’s deep psychological problems. I can only admire cousin’s fortitude in dealing with an endless parade of Zoom patients.
My cousin happens to be a fairly active lady, so during our visit we go kayaking on several days. She has taken the occasion of our visit to take a few days vacation so paddling is practical. Our trips were on the York River, which turns out to have lots of intimate waterways and scenic spots. On the second day we go for a paddle around Harris Island, which indeed turns out to be quite beautiful. The weather is cool, but not cold, with bright sun and clear blue skies and just a few cumulous white clouds. The spin around the island takes about an hour and involves paddling around a small bay leading to a narrow water path and then paddling under a low bridge to the other side of the island. It is the kind of paddle that puts fresh air in your lungs and new energy in your body.
In the late afternoons or evenings in York, we would head out to a local restaurant or head over to my cousin’s for dinner. She and her partner are vegetarians, so the fare at her house is all vegetarian. That is fine for me and my wife. We have had plenty of meat and seafood dinners over this summer. A couple of meals of veggies cooked freshly and deliciously by my cousin not only are healthy interludes, they taste delicious. So it all is a win, win.
Our days at the Dockside Guest Quarters start in a very similar way to the way they started in Montauk. The Dockside offers free breakfasts, so in the morning, I walk about 75 feet the Captain’s house and pick up a tray for breakfast. It includes a hot pot of coffee for 2, warmed buns, honey, jellies and jams and sometimes eggs or pancakes or french toast. And like our mornings in Montauk, we would sit on the porch, munch on the breakfast goodies and check out the waterviews. The view of the York River and ocean beyond was a little different than the sandy beaches of Montauk and the ocean beyond, but the feel of breakfast in York is much the same.
On another day, my cousin and drive inland to Scotland Bridge Road which conveniently has a bridge going over the York River. Just before the bridge is a place to pull over and park with an easy put-in to launch a kayak. It takes only a few minutes to inflate and setup up one my inflatable kayaks. We then launch and head up river with the tide, which is about a half hour from full high tide. That fact provides us with some current to paddle up river, which we do for about 45 minutes.
Unlike our earlier paddle around Harris Island the scenery up river is quite different and so is the weather. As we proceed upriver, the waterway becomes more intimate and marsh-like. The weather on this day is also a study in contrasts…it now being hot and almost sweaty to paddle. The sun burns down on us with an intensity I had not considered possible for early October in Maine. On this section of the river, it meanders through reeds and marsh areas, looking more and more like a salt water tidal marsh and no longer like a flowing river.
After paddling for about 45 minutes, I sensed from afar that my wife becoming a little bored by the fact that we were still paddling and so I tell my cousin it is time to reverse course. Theoretically, the tide should be in our favor and should be assisting us in our downriver paddling. Such is not the case, the York River is seemingly unaware that is should retreating back to the sea. It stubbornly wants to take us back up river. That required a little extra paddling on our part, but we did make progress and the scenery was all good. Eventually, we did make it back under the Scotland Road Bridge. And true to form, as soon as I opened the air valves of our kayak at the takeout, I could see that the river had reversed course and the current was now running briskly back to the sea. If only we had come back a little later on that paddle back we would have had a true cake walk.
The vacation in York was fine and uneventful. We spent a lot of time sitting on our porch sunning ourselves and admiring the York River and Atlantic Ocean beyond. It was busy a harbor and boats came and went from just before dawn until just after sunset. In the late afternoons we would walk to the captain’s house and sit on one the benches overlooking the harbor. It was a pretty site as you can see from the picture below.
And again, as every vacation, our trip to York, Maine came to an end and we got back on the great Northeast corridor and drove down to Bridgeport where we were lucky enough to catch an early a ferry and get home before the sun set. It was all good.
Back at home for next few weeks, much was the same. I was busy chasing containers, trying to figure out new prices for next year. On that front the news was pretty grim. Not only had all of our suppliers increased prices, but the costs for 40’ containers had taken an astronomical increase. In May of this year the cost of a container was $7,500. By August it was $20,000, by September it was $25,000. Since we can only get 200 to 500 inflatable boats in a container, this meant a huge increase in shipping costs for each boat. So, it became our sad duty to calculate how much we would have to charge extra for each boat. That is a kind of art…you have to choose between what you think the market may accept and what you think you need. I never liked the process of raising prices, but I have lot of practice. All I can say is that I think a lot price increases will only start working there way into the system next year. God help us all.
In the meantime, stock markets have taken this period as a chance to go on to new all time records. Yes, the mavens and the economists and the pundits and the scalawags and the experts are all agreed. The markets can only go up. By end of this year, they predict markets will go up more. By the end of next year, markets are sure to go up way more. Happy Days are Here Again.
Thanksgiving has come and I still have not called this blog story a wrap. Many things have happened since we took our 2 vacations and I came back to work. Fall has come and winter is on the way. Most of the leaves on our trees have already fallen on our lawn. The temperatures have dropped day to day and winter winds have increased. I have switched over to rowing from paddling because that is a warmer form of exercise and two oars are more effective than one paddle in the brisk Northwest winds that are common in my little at this time of year.
This year has not been easy. My wife and son have been dealing with different health issues. The general atmosphere of the Pandemic rising and falling, rising and falling again, has not helped, the pressure and stresses of life going on, the early results of a change in government, the existence of old problems and new problems. And in spite all of the above, the strange fact that our two businesses are having their best year ever. So times is strange.
There has been much to be fearful of, much to be stressed out about and yet life has gone on reasonably well, with a strange sense worry interlaced with the surprise that there are some real world anchors that make you think not all is crazy, not all is ungrounded.
We end up having a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with about 12 family and friends coming over. It has been a hard time for some, but all of us have made it through. We feast on a 22 lb. turkey that arrived by UPS two days before Thanksgiving. The stuffing, the sweet potatoes with roasted marshmallows, the turnips, the salad, the heapings of gravy, the mashed potatoes and more stuffing are all great and everyone agrees…it has been a hard year, but we have made it through and we are thankful.
The next day, Black Friday, so named because it is the day when retail stores supposedly become profitable for the year, is somewhat concerning. A new mutation of the Coronavirus has just been discovered in South Africa. It is thought to be more contagious than even the dread Delta virus. The new virus is named Omicron and it is thought to be a ”virus of concern”. Some speculate that it may evade vaccines and re-infect people who previously had Covid.
Stock markets around the world all take a sharp dive. They are still close near all-time highs, but suddenly there is the strange and unknown fear that markets may be subject to going down. Who knew?
In a slight paraphrase of a once popular song, ”We Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”
None of us knows how long we shall live. I wish to take this moment to make a small summing up of what I have come across in writing this collective story of my family, myself and the times we live and lived in. I began this blog in 2011. It now 10 years since I have been posting stories about my family, myself and the times we are passing through. Perhaps in another 10 years I will write another summing up. Perhaps, in another 10 years I will be long gone.
I think of the changes in my own life and I find many of them strange. For example, when I was 16, I took a jet air airplane (a Boeing 707) across the Atlantic to Europe. It was only a few weeks after jet travel had been introduced to transatlantic flights. That flight from New York to Berlin was to meet my new family. My father had remarried and in doing so I gained a step-mother.
My mother was still alive at the time, but her life was already over.
When I flew across the Atlantic I thought about what might be the future of airplanes. At 16, I had a number of convictions: Airplanes would become far faster. Airplanes would become far more comfortable. Airplanes would become accessible to all. Of those three things only the last became true. Of course, in this time of continuing Covid, not everyone is ready to take advantage of air travel. The most surprising thing about the flight in 1958 and air travel today, such as it is, was that airplanes did not become faster. That was supremely strange to me. Then the fact that they became far less comfortable was also amazing to me. How could that be?
I will say jet airplanes have become somewhat quieter. I do remember the noise flying to Europe being quite loud, but then again, jet airplanes are still loud.
Most surprising to me was the fact that airplane seats today are far closer together than they were in 1958. And then there was the service. In 1958, stewardesses could bring things to you fast – drinks, blankets, plates, knives, forks, napkins, food…even in “coach” the service was great by comparison to today. Today stewardesses cannot bring you anything, period. And so the uneven course of progress proceeds.
I think about the different members of my family…what they did during their life…what I did during my life…what they might think of today.
Of all my family members, I would love to have conversation with my father about what he might think of today. He predicted to me and my brother in 1993 that the internet would change everything. And surely he was right, but surely he would surprised by the changes the internet has brought.
“When are you going to get on that goddamn internet?”, he would say once the first few people got on it.
“It is the new Western Union, it is the new telephone, it is the new TV”, even in the middle 90s, my father knew the internet would change all.
And so it did, but change came in many ways. I think my father would have surprised by its different mutations…perhaps, in the same way we are surprised about the many mutations of the Coronavirus.
I doubt that my father would foreseen the entire social media scene that has evolved …Facebook… Twitter… InstaGram… Left and Right Wing Websites …misinformation …disinformation … gay pride … transgender rights … new age cures … pandemic statistics … Capital riots … instant answers to new and bizarre questions … a hodge-pudge of commercial claims, goods for all, hopes for sale, fury for the furious, promises of tranquility and peace of mind for those on the elusive search for tranquility.
Indeed, he would have been surprised in many ways the internet has evolved and in the many ways governments and financial institutions and media outlets and pornography and truth and myth and everything between has spun out onto the digital universe. How much is essential to modern life, how much is worthless, how much is useful? Truly there are many sides to the internet and many questions it poses.
Thinking of what other family members might make of these new times. My uncle, Hamilton Hoge, started a company called U.S Television and I think he would also be surprised by the present times. He is in the family picture at the top of this blog story just to right of my father and mother. He was a marine who almost was sent off to storm Japan. A million men was the estimate of how many would be lost in the effort to invade Japan, but it never happened. Truman dropped the big one on Hiroshima and another big one Nagasaki and hundreds of thousand died in each city in minutes. And then the Japanese surrendered and the war was ended. My uncle got to keep his uniform, but he never had to wear it in combat.
After the war he came back and started a television company and like Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront”, he could have been a contender. But that was not be. My uncle Hamilton nevertheless had some interesting views on the future of newspapers. He thought everyone would have printer on the top of their TV and they would print out their personal newspaper whenever the desire to do so struck them. That kinda happened or at least some parts of that are in place today.
Today, we do not remember much about World War II or The Great Depression or World I or the Pandemic that came at the end of WWI. My uncles and father were born either before World War I or during World War I and they grew up in The Roaring Twenties and lived through The Great Depression and World War II. They got see and live through periods of war, peace, depression and prosperity that were interlaced with booms and busts and smaller regional wars.
My uncle Hamilton felt the Vietnam War was a war we should have finished. We should have won…it was a lack of will, he said, that we lost. My father did not agree, he felt it was a sad interlude of history. I felt it was a mistake and stain on our history.
We are presently in the process of disengaging ourselves from another regional war. The Present President has ordered the departure of all American troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. The military experts, the politicians, the pundits, the conservatives, the liberal and the biased…all are offering their instant analysis of that. Most say it is a mistake, some say it is a great deed and many offer a kaleidoscope of opinions in between.
I think of my great, great, great uncle, Andrew Shewan, who sailed in clipper ships from Scotland and England in the 1840s, 1850s and 1860s across the Atlantic, around South America, across the Pacific Ocean to Australia, India, Hong Kong, Shanghai and many other Asian ports while trading goods for tea. What were his thoughts of his world and what would his thoughts be of this world…that is a mystery that time cannot undo.
You can only imagine what thoughts might be going his head as he left Scotland at the age of 23 as 1st Mate of one the world’s greatest and fastest clipper ships in the world, the “Norman Court”. He must have been a young and vibrant man. Andrew Shewan sailed repeatedly around the world from 1840s to the 1860s. What did he think of the new worlds he saw…South America, Pacific Islands, Australia, Indonesia, India and, of course, China? And what might he think of those same worlds in this digital age?
And on those trips around the world what did he bring and what did he take away? That is a complicated question and I cannot know the answer. I do know what he brought back tea, but what did he bring? I do know he went to India often before going to China. Yes, what did he bring and what did he take away?
Andrew Shewan was moral man, a long married man, a family man. He wrote a book called “The Great Days of Sail” published in 1923, just before his death. He lived a long life. He was, I believe, happily married, for over 60 years. He had great pride about sailing clipper ships around the world and I imagine it must been one of the most exciting, most demanding jobs on the planet. Imagine sailing at 20 knots per hour across the Pacific Ocean through seas and weather conditions experienced by few humans in what was then one of the fastest ships on the planet. It must not have been too different from being an astronaut today.
But what he bring and and what did he take away? Iron nails and knives from Scotland and England, Molasses and rum from the Caribbean, and, of course, supplies of food, fruits and drink for months at a time. And why did he go to India? I have seen the logs of some of the journeys he took and yes he did go to India, but why? Could it be he traded the iron nails and knives for rum and molasses and the rum and molasses for opium? Could it be he brought the opium to China and traded the opium for silver and then traded the silver for tea? I do not know, but that was how many clipper ships conducted their trade.
Imagine my great, great, great uncle setting out as the first mate at age 23 from England with his father, the Captain of one the great clipper ships of its time, The Norman Court. Imagine his father takes ill after two days at sea and father and son realize the father is dying. Imagine father and son, talking about what to do…abandon the journey, return to port and quit the trip? Father and son talked it over. Yes, they did return to port. The father disembarked, the son remained on board. They said their goodbyes and the son sailed to China, the first mate now a captain, responsible all goods and all souls on board, 22 other men now under his command at the age of 23.
Yes, it must have been with heavy mixed emotions when father and son parted company and no doubt the crew of 22 men also had doubts and emotions about the journey that were undertaking. My great, great, great uncle completed the journey at the helm of his 192’ long by 22’ wide clipper ship. He described coming through the gales of wind, 50 to 60 miles an hour, crashing through waves 30 to 60 feet, with each wave surging across the deck and forecastle, swiping it clean of any loose belongings…sailing at 20 to 22 knots for days at a time…dark and gray gale winds howling during the day, pitch black and boiling seas and ever roaring winds during the night.
He said that each time his ship hit a wave in those conditions, the entire ship would vibrate and make a humming sound like a tuning fork.
I suppose his thoughts at such times were a strange mixture of terror, exhilaration and ecstasy. Few on the planet could relate to his experiences…then or today.
I mention the above because I feel they are related to the here and now. When my great, great, great uncle sailed to China that Empire had already faded and fallen victim to the greater powers of Europeans and Americans. Today, the wheel of history has rolled on and China has regained its Empire, but it has not forgotten what the Western World did to it. And so the tables have changed. England is no longer an Empire. Germany and France are no longer empires. America has already had its century of Manifest Destiny, Empire and world dominance. The colonies around the world that once made Western countries rich and powerful are no longer, but the memory of what happened remains.
We cannot step into the future without treading through the past. Those who are stepping ahead often forget where those before them have trod, but the past is inseparable from future. In one way or another, it is all connected.
This leads me to think of my great grandfather, Joseph Milton Cunningham, attorney general of Louisiana. He wrote the brief for the State of Louisiana defending the decision of Plessy v. Ferguson. My great grandfather’s legal brief was reviewed by the Supreme Court in 1898 and the Supreme upheld my Great Grandfather’s arguments and the earlier decision rendered by courts in Louisiana. And the result of that case and the Supreme Court Decision, was school segregation and a reversal of some of the results of the Civil War.
I am not proud of that although I am quite sure that my great grandfather felt that he did the right thing. And on his behalf, it must be said that he was considered to be a highly respected attorney who did many good things for the State of Louisiana. That is part of this country’s history and the Supreme Court ruling that agreed with my Great Grandfather’s legal brief, affected the next 90 or so years of American history. Yes, we cannot disengage ourselves from our history. We are all part of our own family’s history and every family’s past is interconnected with our country’s past, present and future.
My Grandmother, Sidney Cecile Cunningham Hoge, was daughter to Joseph Milton Cunningham. She is in the picture at the top of this blog story, in the bottom row, sitting on the right of my grandfather. She grew up on a 5,000 acre plantation that was still tilled and tended by the descendants of former slaves of my great grandfather and his father. Sidney Cecile was a very prejudiced woman, but also a very strict and strong and strangely moral person. Of course, morality is often in the eye of the beholder. Still, she had large family and many friends and she was highly respected.
And of course, Sidney Cecile was the reason that my father and I inherited our first and second names…Cecil Cunningham. She was very upset that her sons were never able to make sufficient money to support her in the way she expected to be supported in her old age.
“Life,” she said, “is so unfair.
“They found oil on the plantation next door and few years later they found oil on the plantation on the other side of our plantation, but they never, never found oil on our plantation. And we had the largest plantation. Life is just so unfair.”
Years later she told me she was disappointed in the fact that her sons never made enough money to support her in the style she expected.
“Life is so unfair,” she would say again in her slow New Orleans lilting drawl, “Why my husband, Huber, had such good prospects. And for many years we had a fine life with nice apartments in the city and fine houses to go to in the summer, but then that damned depression came and my poor husband lost everything. But I thought my boys were growing, surely they would have good prospects, surely they will find a way to support me in the manner I have always expected, but that never happened.”
It would seem unfairness is also in eye of the beholder.
Personally, I thought her sons did a pretty good job of taking care of my grandmother. Admittedly, they had to work through the damned depression and truly times were tough, but my uncle went on found a TV company, which was a contender for a while, and my father went on to restart my grandfather’s old advertising company and he passed through prosperous and not so prosperous times and still was able to send me to various boarding schools and college and help support my grandmother and various other members of our family.
And as I have written, our four families, 3 brothers and a sister, were able to collectively hold the greater family together, have apartments in city and pool funds for a collective summers in some pretty nice houses in Southampton. And my grandmother Sidney Cecile was able to reap the rewards of that lifestyle still associating with society folks and keeping up appearances, even if their wealth was not so deep and long.
I never met my mother’s mother and so I don’t know what she thought of the times she was in or would think of the times we are in. She married my other grandfather who was a very rich guy at the time. That marriage did not work out and my grandmother went off to the Riviera in search of happier life. It was not to be…she died in her thirties, a victim of dwindling funds and too many parties.
My grandfather also did not fair well. He sold Shewan Shipyards, at one time the largest shipyard in America, to Bethlehem Steel for $15,000,000. That was a lot of money in those days before taxes, but my grandfather gave away some of it to his sisters and spent the rest of it on himself, gradually selling off works of art that in earlier years he had purchased. So what comes sometimes goes.
I still have a magnificent 100 + year old desk, a marble top table from the time of Louis XIV and a quite beautiful portrait of my mother done in 1920…so all was not lost and the connection with past and present is always there.
I wonder what my great, great, great uncle, Moses Drury Hoge would have thought of these times and the recent discovery by many Americans that were people in America’s past who owned slaves and some of those people actually had statues erected to them.
Moses Hoge was the official minister to the Confederate Army. He had a church in Richmond Virginia and he preached to Jefferson Davis himself. So Moses was somewhat conflicted. He did not believe in slavery although in fact he owned 3 slaves. They came to him from his wife, so he did not actually buy the slaves. Nevertheless, Moses thought slavery was regrettable and before the war he was not for slavery, even if he was not against slavery.
But the carnage of the war, the many friends and family members that he lost, hardened his opinion and in the end, he definitely felt that the cause of the South was right and true and the principle of States Rights should be upheld. Of course, history moved in a way contrary to that and after the war he accepted the fact that the South had lost and slavery was wrong. But he could not bear not to pay tribute to some of the former leaders of the Civil War.
After the Civil War was completed and the South was vanquished, he gave a speech to 10,000 Richmond residents on behalf of Stonewall Jackson citing Stonewall’s bravery when he served the South and faced his death. In doing so, Moses was personally responsible in having a statue set up in Richmond commemorating the faithful service and bravery of Stonewall Jackson. I believe that statue has been recently torn down and so world moves on and looks at things differently.
It would be my guess that my great, great, great uncle would not be happy about that, but that is only a guess. Moses Hoge went on to live another 34 years after the Civil War. He became a quite prominent Presbyterian minister, touring Europe, talking and meeting with other high church officials. In truth, he was a prominent church minister before the Civil War, but that event temporarily diminished his career. Moses then went on to reinstate himself among church officials and become quite a prominent force in the Presbyterian Church. His life ended strangely in New York City when he crossed the path of a trolley car.
I am thinking of another relative, my great aunt Princess Olga Obolensky. In truth, she is only a relative by marriage. My true aunt, Barbara Hoge, married Ivan Obolensky, Olga’s son. Olga was a princess and she grew up in the court of Czar Nicholas, but at the age of 23 the Russian Revolution came along and her life took a drastic turn. She was able to smuggle her two sons out of Russia shortly after the beginning of the Revolution, but after that things got really tough. Her life went from luxury and privilege to poverty and prison and then to more poverty and near death.
In the end, she made her way out of Russia and then she found her way to Berlin. That was like going from the frying pan to the fire because Berlin at that time was being bombed everyday by allied forces. Strangely, she stayed 3 blocks from where my future mother in law was living. They never met in Berlin, but many years later, my mother in law met my great aunt in America. Such is the strange motions of time and history and happenstance.
It was Olga Obolensky who first suggested I should write a book about my family. Well, this is not a book, this is a blog, but it does cover some of the bases.
I met Olga Obolensky in New York City when I got to meet my new uncle, Ivan. She had a elegant and stentorian voice, loud, authoritative and lilting. She would always remind me of my mother’s elegance.
“Your mother does not enter a room,” Olga would say, “She makes an entrance and when she comes in, all heads turn.”
I think that is pretty nice thing to say about anybody. Olga was very obsessed with appearances and it was always true that she never lost the sense that she was still a princess. Surely, her view of this world could be useful at this time. I am not sure she would be impressed by our present progress or our present sense of elegance.
I am pretty sure she would think of the Pandemic as a sad time when sense of dress and decorum have been lost. But she would know about that, having spent time in prison, time trying to escape Soviet officials, time in a Communist hospital system in a brain-numbing job as a hospital director in a squalid Soviet city being bombed and invaded by Germans.
Olga Obolensky saw it all from the court and time of the Czar to the Russian Revolution to war plagued Europe to a kind of rebirth in America.
New York City had a formidable collection of Russian aristocrats, some impoverished and in-prisoned by their fate, some who cruised through this world seemingly untouched by bad luck.
One such person was Olga’s uncle, Serge Obolensky. He married in 1916 Catherine Alexandrovna Yurievskaya, the youngest daughter of Czar Alexander II. So, you can say he started out pretty high in life. He left Russia just in time to miss the Russian Revolution. In 1924, he married Alice Astor, daughter of John Jacob Astor. So, you can say he landed safely on his feet. Eventually, he came to U.S. with whole bunch of other Russians and they all settled in New York City.
Because I had a new Russian uncle, I came meet of these Russian ex aristocrats. I was very young at the time and I did not fully understand who they all were or their many varied histories. What I could understand was that some them faired far better than others. And I suppose all them would have different and conflicting views of what is happening in this time or what happened in their time. Certainly, the Russian Revolution changed their lives, just as The Depression changed my father’s and his generation’s life and, perhaps, just as The Pandemic is presently changing our lives. Of course, we know what transpired during their lives. We are yet to fully understand what will transpire during our lives.
I think of my mother often. I really do not remember all the things she told me. I remember riding around in taxi cabs with her, charging all over Manhattan. I remember her dragging me into Cartier’s to see some silverware and jewelry, into Zsa Zsa and Magda Gabor’s jewelry store to see more jewelry. I remember tagging along when she went with friends to the bar at the Carlyle, I remember going to The Stork Club with my father and mother. I always got to take away one of the miniature wooden storks with miniature glass stem vases that always held a rose.
My mother liked “creme de menthe” – a drink she first acquired a taste for in France. Her life must have been strange, coming from a background of great wealth, growing up on yachts and in 5 houses around the world. How she came to marry my father is a mystery. He was a man who was interested in making a mark in the world and he hoped to make a lot of money. I don’t think my mother was impressed. She just wanted live her life in comfort and style…ride horses, live a simple, but elegant life. Money meant nothing to her.
She was born in 1919. She married my father in 1941 and she died in 1963. Just 44 years old, a victim in the end of alcohol, cigarettes, car collisions and cancer. What she could have been no one knows. I do know she was both an Olympic Class horse woman and an Olympic class swimmer. I do remember her taking me to the Squadron A Armory on 94th and 95th between Madison and Park Avenues. There we watched horse jumping exhibitions and polo games. My mother loved horses. I never could get enthusiastic about that. It seemed dangerous to me and that was confirmed when I fell off of horses a couple of times. I guess I was a disappointment to my mother…at least in regard to horses.
What she might think of the last 15 years we have just gone through, with the Great Recession, the great recovery, the Great Pandemic and the Great Recession again and the many unknown unknowables, all that is a mystery. Surely, her time was also topsy turvy, born at the end of World War I, with her childhood in the Roaring Twenties and her twenties starting with Prohibition and the Great Depression, only to be ended by World War II. And after the war, the Cold War, the great scare about Nuclear War, Joe McCarthy and the dread Communists. Yes, there had to be a lot of confusion in the 44 years of her life.
My mother thought rock and roll was an abomination. I remember her playing old 78 records of her favorite big bands and singers from the 30s and 40s. She was convinced, like Bing Crosby, that there would return to that kind of music. Both Bing Crosby and my mother were disappointed in that hope. A new kind of music welled up out the youth of my generation and big comeback did not come back. All things pass away as Mr. Harrison says. And so it was for her.
I think there is more to tell about my strange and quirky family. Some of us have faired badly and some of us have done pretty well. It is hard to say what is a true success. If I had to name something…it would be to live happily within yourself and within your family, to love your wife, to like what you do and do what you like. I do not know whether it was Wilbur Wright or Orville Wright, but one of those two said, if you can support yourself and not be burden to your family, then you are success. I suppose that also is a good definition.
I will continue on with this blog. For those who might want more details about my family, please refer to the many stories on this blog site.
Something is happening here. But what it is ain’t clear. We have a new President. He seems to be concentrated on reversing everything that the past President did. The Past President, by the way, concentrated on reversing everything his predecessor did. So, now we have a tradition of Presidential Reversal. The New Edict: Do the opposite of what your predecessor did.
In a way, that makes things simple: you just to reverse whatever the previous guy did. Your platform for the next election is set. All you have to do is promise the opposite of the person before you. In this system, there seems no middle way. Rather, it is like a light switch going on and off…today no immigrants, tomorrow, immigrants come what may, today tax relief for the rich, tomorrow tax relief for the poor, today get rid of socialized healthcare, tomorrow expand socialized healthcare.
But even these differences are not very clear, because there are some subtle exceptions. It seems both of the last 2 Presidents think tariffs are good…at least, tariffs on China. Both the new guy and old guy agree that the guy before them left them an empty chest and a stack of problems that was created by their previous predecessor. Of course, they disagree on what problems each former President left.
The young 2020s are beset by an array of problems…some of which are new and unique, some of which are as old as the republic itself, some of which are as old as humanity itself. We are still dealing with the fallout of the country beginning with the institution of slavery. We are still dealing with the history that immigrant Europeans took over lands formerly occupied by Native Americans. We are still dealing with the battle between States’ rights and Federal rights. We are still dealing with free speech and what that entails. We are still dealing with myths and theories of conspiracies. We are still arguing over what is true and what is not.
At the same time we are still in the midst of a Worldwide Pandemic. An interesting fact that should catch somebody’s attention is that there have been more cases and deaths worldwide from the Pandemic in the first 6 months of this year than there have been cases and deaths worldwide in all 12 months of last year. As I write these lines we are passing through the 4th of July Weekend, our present President is getting ready to celebrate what he calls “Independence” from the virus (aka Coronavirus, aka Covid). And while there are many reasons to be grateful about the progress against the virus in this country, there are also some outstanding concerns that may make that celebration premature.
This is not the first or the last plague to sweep across different parts of the world, but this Pandemic is truly unique in its own way. It is true that at the end of World War I there was a similar Pandemic that swept across the world. It is true that after that Pandemic, the memory of the spread of that disease and war that had just ended faded fast and the 1920s became what was called The Roaring 20s. And so, shortly after World War I and the 1918/1919 Pandemic, the 1920s proceeded in a gay and vibrant manner.
It is thought by many a pundit that such will be the case in the 2020s. And so, all the economic gurus, all the stock market mavens, all the business billionaires, all the respected financial observers are predicting boom times ahead for foreseeable future…whatever that may be. And yes, the assumption is the same presumption as our present President – we have achieved “independence” from the Pandemic. With that presumption, there is this belief that “normal times” are just around the corner.
We now have inoculated more than 60% of our population with one vaccine dose or more. The economy is blasting ahead…but the upturn is from the lows of the Pandemic and not above the previous economic activity before the Pandemic. The number of people getting jobs is increasing rapidly. Restaurants, bars, hotels are welcoming people back. And yet, and yet, some strange things abide. We are still far short of the economic and employment levels achieved before the Pandemic.
And while the American public seems inclined to accept that Coronavirus as a thing of the past, the Coronavirus does not seem inclined to agree. Instead, it hesitates and mutates and pops up with surprising virulence in other parts of the world just as it seems to diminish and become more controllable here.
But controlling the Pandemic in the U.S. and having it rise up in other parts of the world is not the same as having it disappear and be forgotten. It is true that the number cases, hospitalizations and deaths have declined rapidly in this country in the last several months. Yet it is pretty hard to say it is under control – even now, 5,000 to 20,000 cases are being announced each day and while that is a lot less than this winter, it is not that much less than same time last year.
There are big differences this year. About 47% of the population has received both doses of the vaccine (the full course needed for full protection) and over 60% plus has had at least one dose. There have been some Snafus with the vaccines. Our present President had hoped 70% of all Americans would have had at least one dose of at least one the 2 vaccines in use. That did not happen, but we came mighty close.
More concerning is the fact that new variants of the Coronavirus have popped up – the Alpha virus, the Delta Virus, the Delta Plus virus. So it is obvious that just as we have a plan to protect our population against the virus, the virus has a plan to infect our population anyway. And this might be considered to be simple evolution in motion.
More concerning still is that the latest versions of virus are succeeding in becoming the most deadly, the most infectious and most dominant versions of the virus. Just as we are developing better pharmaceutical solutions to protect against the virus, the virus is mutating into more infectious and deadly versions of itself to infect people.
And it should be noted, just as we have been quite successful in reducing the present number of cases here, the Coronavirus has been successful infecting and killing more people than ever in other parts of the world. So our victory against this particular Pandemic can hardly be declared final. It may be that defeat the virus is just around the corner, but it also may be that virus is just about to sprout up again in the good old USA.
And so the new normal is not the old normal. And while it is true that the 2020s have begun to pick up speed, it is premature to say that the 2020s have reached the stage of roaring. To be sure, things are happening. Lumber prices for houses exploded in ways never before seen and now have recently retrenched some portion of their upward motion. Copper, that ancient commodity that has been so useful to the many purposes of humanity, whether to make brass, electrical wiring, jewelry, tools or pipes, has also exploded in price and is still happily in the stratosphere.
It is thought by the Pundits and the Mavens and the Experts and most Economists and the Fed that this explosion of prices is but a temporary blip that will soon pass away. All think we will soon be roaring along with little inflation.
Surely, prices have begun to roar. Many commodities and materials are also exploding in price. So the issue of fast rising prices is spread across almost all materials that are used to make things. Other prices, food, gas, heating, air conditioning, rent, house buying and transportation are going up rapidly. Getting containers to ship goods to the States is difficult and frustrating- it sometimes necessary to wait several weeks just locate a container and several weeks more get it on a ship.
And within this period of rising prosperity there are many shortages of different goods and many delays in getting those goods shipped from one place to another.
So something strange is happening, something hard to quantify. This is not my father’s Roaring Twenties. I remember what he had to say about that…it was a fun and exciting time…the alcohol flowed, the stocks roared and the Pierce Arrows, the Duesenburgs, the Packards reigned the highways. The parties were grand and the more Prohibition was ostensibly enforced, the more alcohol was indulged in.
All the economic pundits tell us another Roaring Twenties boom is upon us and it will last as far as the eye can see. Growth will be the new permanent condition. But somehow it feels as if we are not quite there.
This week new unemployment numbers are announced for June. And happily the numbers showed a strong increase in the number of people getting jobs. 850,000 people found jobs this last month, but strangely the percentage of unemployment increased in this country from 5.8% to 5.9%. Go figure. It would seem that the more people who get jobs, the more people who want jobs and so the percentage of unemployed to those wanting employment actually increased.
Heavens to Purgatroid, what does that mean? Something does not jive.
But do the stock markets care? No way, Jose. They blew it off and went on to higher highs because that is what the markets have been doing…going on to higher highs just like prices of just about everything. The pundits come out one and all and say, it is obvious the markets will go higher! Bonds, that former safe investment that used provide the elderly and the cautious with some reliable returns offer no returns that can outrun the debilitating effects of inflation. So we must invest safely in stocks…they are insurance in these fast moving times. And besides, the market mavens add, The Fed is your Friend.
I have to say I am agnostic about these opinions. Anyway, I feel I gamble enough in my businesses so I am not going to take the time to learn about gambling on some smart stock investments.
Speaking of higher highs, New York State has recently officially legalized Marijuana. Truly happy days here again. A more cynical person might think the Governor of New York was looking to divert his constituents from the fact that he had bad habit of hitting on young ladies. What better diversion than to legalize pot? But there is a complication – there always is, you know – you cannot buy Marijuana yet – at least, you cannot buy it legally. The State has to figure out how to maximize taxes from it and that will apparently take a year. In the meantime, you can smoke it and plant it, if you can find dealer to sell you the weed and the seed.
So big things are happening in the 2020s.
But all is not the same. Many of us now still work at home and some of us like that and some do not.
I spend two days working in my office and three days working from home. And when I work at home that allows me to schedule paddles or rows around the tides at my house – sea water is in my backyard twice day for 8 hours at a time and out for 4 hours at time. And so by working around my office and home schedules I manage to get out on the water 3 to 5 times a week, depending on weather and obligations.
Recently, I have noticed some changes on the waterways where I paddle, row or motor. This year there is a new, more prolific crop of algae about my bays. It is thicker and denser than last year’s variety. I am not a marine biologist, but I would guess a new species of algae has come town with thicker and denser strands that hold together as one great clump. When your paddle or oar hits one these dense clumps of green/brown algae it gets stuck. You have to maneuver your paddle or oar to carefully disengage. That doesn’t bother me. Last year I developed quite good disengagement skills and those skills still work with this year’s crop.
I am not quite sure what happens when one of our local knee boarders or water skiers whiz by at 30 mph+ being towed by their magnificent MasterCraft. I imagine when they hit one of these clumps they go for an unexpected ride and get the extra thrill of flying through air 20 feet before splashing down in the not so clean bay water. To each his own.
But the presence more algae and more pollution is not all I have noticed. It seems to me that the tidal currents in our 4 bays are running faster and stronger. I cite as example of this that I can now see tidal strong currents with running waves being created by the outflow or inflow of the tide. In the 40 plus years I have lived on these bays, I have not seen that kind of visible current in these bays. So I can only wonder: what is going on?
No matter, I watch the currents, paddle the waters and go my way…it is still a wondrous privilege to paddle, row or motor on the waters of the Seven Seas.
My wife spends her time reading, planting vegetables and flowers and fruits, keeping the house going. The garden is a big production each spring and summer. I am not the best helper, but I do bring 20 or so 40 lbs. bags of garden soil each year, spread them around and aid in the planting of various fruits and vegetables. My wife is the main boss in that department. I just work around edges because frankly, I am more of a hunter gatherer than a farmer, but my little efforts do aid her bigger efforts and strawberries and eggplants and tomatoes and asparagus and sweet potatoes and various herbs (not the above mentioned marijuana) are the results of her efforts.
My hybrid office/home work schedule allows us to take lunches with my wife at the local beach one or two days each week overlooking Long Island Sound. We pack simple sandwiches and simple beverages, drive to the beach and watch the scene of people walking, exercising, sunning, picnicking, enjoying the scenery like us, some wearing masks, most not now. Recently, because the mask regulations have been reduced, we also head to a local restaurant and have lunch or dinner once or twice a week. It is not bad way to pass through the Pandemic.
In my spare time, I work on various new inflatable prototypes and work on new designs. I do not think of designing inflatable boats or other products as work because I truly like to do it. And surprisingly, the older I get, the more new designs I seem to produce. This year I introduced new boat called the Sea Eagle FastCat 12. Now I am working on a larger model of that – see the picture above.
The first shipment of FastCat 12s, which were just introduced in May, was sold out before it arrived. The second shipment is already partially sold out and since it only arrives early next month, I am guessing that shipment will also be sold out before it arrives. It is not a terrible problem, but I do look to the day when we catch up with demand and actually have stock on hand.
FastCat 12s have been caught up in the worldwide logistical problems that are afflicting overseas production and present day shipping. They were designed by me and are made in Korea. The production was slowed by high demand for materials, inflatable boat parts and accessories. That resulted in long waiting times for delivery of materials and that resulted in the boats being produced later than they were scheduled to be produced. It is a common problem these days.
So, both production runs were delayed. The first production was supposed to be produced and shipped December (2020) and arrive in February 2021. That did not happen. Production of both the first and second productions were held up by lack materials and then both the first and second shipments were delayed, first because containers in Korea were not available and then because container ships were not available to take them to the States.
Welcome to the new world of delayed everything.
In short, materials/metals/commodities, inflatable boat materials are hard to come by, production is difficult to schedule, and inevitably, there are multiple delays in shipping and delays in receiving. The FastCats, as mentioned above were supposed to be here in February. Instead they arrived at the end of May. No matter, we have been blessed paradoxically with booming sales even as we struggle to keep up with the many things people demand . This situation is true in both our fishing lure business and our inflatable boat business.
I am presently finishing up with 2 new models…a larger FastCat and a larger Travel Canoe. The Travel Canoe was a product I designed about 5 years ago and have a patent on. The first year of sales was tiny…less than a 100 units. But the selling price was quite high – $2,000 – so it seemed valuable to continue. The first two years we offered this product with inflatable canoe seats…they were very comfortable, but not appealing to canoe enthusiasts who were used to and who preferred wood/mesh seats. In those two years the sales gradually and steadily increased. I surmised the gradual sales increase was a problem about seats.
At the end of 2019 I went off to Korea on one of my many Asian trips and redesigned the Travel Canoe to have wood/mesh seats. My theory was most canoeists would prefer traditional wood/mesh seats. And that proved to be true, I think.
Then the Pandemic came and with that tragedy came a strange new interest in inflatable kayaks, Travel Canoes and anything outdoors, so sales doubled last year and sales are way up again this year. So, my idea that wood/mesh seats would double sales might have been true. Of course, it also might have been the strange and strong new interest in outdoor goods driven by the Pandemic.
Indeed, it is strange to think, as hotel and airlines and restaurants and bars and stadiums and theaters struggled to survive, we were blessed with this new found interest in outdoor activities. The reason, of course, was clear – you can solo distance outdoors pretty safely and people figured that out real quick.
It is kind of strange that when I was in Korea, I predicted to my supplier that we might double our Travel Canoe sales just because of offering wood/mesh seats instead of inflatable seats. I am sure my supplier thought there was a bit of blue sky in that prediction. Anyway, the sales did more than double, but in truth, I cannot say whether it was my new wood/mesh seats or the Pandemic that made that happen. No matter, I will happily take the credit.
Back to designing inflatable boats and new models, so this spring, I have been concerned on creating these two larger models – a larger FastCat and a larger Travel Canoe. The larger FastCat takes up to a 20 hp motor and goes 22 mph with 3 people. It is a kind hybrid pontoon boat. Pontoons boats account for almost 50% of the total rigid boat market in the United States. Of course, my larger FastCat is considerably smaller than a lot of cruise about, cocktail pontoon boats. And it is also as lot cheaper.
This introduces a theory I have: I think America is divided between people who can afford to buy a rigid boat – I guess 30% – and people who cannot – I guess 70%. Consider the fact that almost any rigid boat these days costs $30,000 or more. And if you look at the general average cost of boats, more is an understatement. Because the average may be much closer to $100,000 or $200,00 when you take into account everything from lowly 14’ aluminum duck boats to billionaire boy toys measuring 350 feet or so. Yup, rigid boats can be mighty expensive and that don’t begin to include that actual cost of maintaining, docking, launching and storing such things.
So, in my mind, I produce the only kind of boats that the majority of Americans can afford. And yes, some of the products we sell are expensive compared to other inflatable boats, but way cheap when compared to the rigid alternatives. So, I think I am in the right place at the right time.
Back to the models and explaining how designing them occupies time and mind. The larger Travel Canoe will be designed to carry more stuff, to run whitewater rivers, to take enough stuff to camp for weeks along a river or on an island in a lake or bay. So you could say that product is geared to a different segment of the market our 16’ Travel Canoe is after. The 16’ Travel Canoe is more like a day to week or so paddling canoe that fits in your car trunk.
To create these two new models takes a lot of time. I make simple drawings on my iPad showing dimensions and angles and views…top, side and bottom. I send them off to one of my suppliers and ask if they think can make that type of product – each product has different design needs, different materials, different construction techniques and each supplier has different manufacturing skills. If they say yes, they think they can make it, I ask them to make one or two prototypes from my drawings. When we get them, we test them – usually they work in some ways and don’t work in other ways. We then consider other changes to remake or improve them. I make more drawings and we make one or two more prototypes to see if were are getting close.
If we are getting close that is the time my brother starts getting interested in the project. He then makes new drawings in a much more sophisticated drawing program that I have no idea how to use. Anyway, that takes a lot more time, but it produces 3D views and true CAD drawings that are far more precise than what I can do. Then and only then, if all goes well, we issue an order for a production of 50 or more and an order to make production prototype for approval of final production.
As you may or may not imagine, it is a long process, usually at least 6 months to 12 months from the time of my first drawing to the time of the product on sale. But my part, making first drawings and getting first prototypes made never seems like work. For me it is pure pleasure because I feel I am developing things that never existed before. So, all through the Pandemic I had this kind of work and pleasure to pursue and that made the time easy to pass and the concerns of disease and danger and being closed in by the Pandemic much, much less. I can say I have been truly lucky in that respect.
Through all of the last year and half I always have the almost daily ability to walk out into my yard down to my dock and get on a boat and paddle or row or motor out. So I have been truly lucky in this strange period of flux and disease and opportunity, with hopes now of better times and still looming threats and doubts that all is not right, all is not yet booming, yet all is something new and unknown and uncharted.
In this present time of worldwide pandemic, shifting political tides, disinformation, misinformation, high unemployment, impeachments, fake news and stock market speculation, I thought I might return to an earlier time when things were simpler and choices were easier. At least, they seemed easier at the time. So I am continuing my blog series – “It Was The Music” and going back to 1967. This one is Volume #5 of the series.
In the years I had spent in college, I had developed a greater and greater appreciation of music. My appreciation was not focused on the lofty heights of classical music or opera. No, my interests were in popular music. More specifically, in folk and rock music. Certain songs would come out and you would hear them on a radio in car or someone in my fraternity would have a new album and there would be one song playing that would infect and almost permanently sear into your brain. Somehow those songs became associated with a certain moment or a certain mood of the time. “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procol Harem was one of those songs. Certain words and phrases clawed into my mind:
The room was humming harder
As the ceiling flew away
When we called out for a drink
The waiter brought a tray
And so it was that later
As the Miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly
Turned a whiter shade of pale
I did not know it at the time, but the lyrics above were influenced by certain drugs. My colleagues and I were into beer and while the influence of drugs was being discussed and reported at the time, the actual drugs had not made their way into our fraternity house. That changed one or two years after I left college, but at the time we were just awestruck by the new music that we were hearing. Of course, it was not just the words, it was the instruments that blended with the words to create a new mood and a new rhythm …haunting, doubting, beautiful, melodic and dangerous.
I, like many of my generation, was struck by the sudden emergence of new popular groups and the rise of The Beatles was a prime example of that. At first I thought of those 4 guys as just producing pleasant tunes for the ears of young teenybops – “Love Me Do”, “Please Please Me”, “She Loves You” – these songs seemed composed by teenagers, sung by teenagers, for teenagers. But as time passed and more albums came, I came to think that they were a much more complex band.
When I last posted “It Was The Music – Volume #4”, I had just managed to graduate from the University of Virginia. A few days before my graduation, The Beatles latest album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” had just come out. It was that surprising album that made me and many others think that The Beatles were much more than just four guys who could sing some pleasant melodies for teenybops. That album, far more complex and utterly surprising, made me think the Fab 4 really were Fab.
In my last 2 years of college I also developed a love/hate relationship with The Rolling Stones. At first I thought they were just some scruffy druggies with these hard and harsh sounding songs that made no attempt to sound pleasant or nice or kind. As time went on, I came to think of them as truly great. Their songs, while snarling, dissatisfied and dissatisfying, had a different and more dangerous take on the times…whether it be wishing to Paint It Black or dissatisfaction with the commercial world or fleeting, tender and passing moments of new relationships…they had a sense of frustration, anger and change that was in the air.
And of course, there was folk music which seemed to start out with the likes of Joan Baez on the banks of the Ohio only to develop into parables of truth from the likes of Mr. Bob Dylan. And it was Bob himself who shape-shifted from old and semi-pure folk fables to harsher electric chair truth serums. The music was changing rapidly in those days and it was new and evolving. It was, to quote some opening words from Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man”:
“Because something is happening here but you don’t know what that is…Do you, Mr. Jones?”
In the last year of my long and winding journey to graduation, my hastily chosen major was Philosophy. That choice had been necessary since I failed all the other humanitarian alternatives and I had rejected scientific, engineering and mathematical courses as outside of my wheelhouse. After 9 separate courses in Philosophy in the last year at The University, I emerged, ready for life, with a degree in that vague art.
To celebrate the occasion, I headed home with a small entourage – 3 fellow graduates from The University and a girlfriend…Miss Penny Zetterstrom.
I knew my life was at a turning point and soon I would have to decide on my path in this world, but I figured there was time for all that. So we headed to my family’s summer rental house a few days after graduation and a fine time we had. My girlfriend and I held hands, and together with my fellow graduates, we all went to the local discos and bars for dancing and celebrations, visited the Southampton Bathing Corporation for swimming and sunning and went to the Meadow Club for tennis and, as I said, we all had a fine time.
My fellow Virginia graduates could not help noticing that I had some drop dead beautiful female cousins who were living in the same house and who were kind enough to accompany us on some of our nighttime activities. At the time, they ranged in age from about 18 to 21, so the stars were aligned for my college buddies. However, my female cousins at this time had discovered new forms of mind stimulation, developing their own new boyfriends and theories on socially acceptable activities. At the time they were seriously involved in listening to the Doors, The Moody Blues and, of course, The Rolling Stones. So, while they were happy to run around with us for a day or two, they went their way and we went ours.
My girlfriend, Penny, could not help but be overwhelmed and taken by the beauty and style of Southampton. The high hedges, the big, sprawling “summer cottages”, the lush green lawns of the Meadow Club’s tennis courts, the nearby beaches all enthralled her. My family were blessed that summer because this was one of their more flush financial years and they had rented the Zirinsky House. That summer palace, shown in the painting above, had 13 or 14 bedrooms, a wrap around porch able to accommodate hundreds, about 3 acres of land and a cottage out back designed for young folks to disappear and do naughty things. And, as Mr. Dylan says, it was all good.
I Decide To Become a Clam Digger
They say all good things come an end and so it was that summer. Two of my college mates soon realized that they had scheduled appointments for real job interviews. Penny Zetterstrom, my beloved girlfriend, came to the sad realization that I was not prepared to marry her that summer and so she returned to Virginia to be a Super Woman in the future. That left Rich Miller and myself to cogitate on our our situations and ponder our options. Neither of us had the presence of mind to schedule potential work interviews, perhaps because we thought, after just completing the arduous work of getting college degrees, we should lay back for a while before doing anything rash.
And that is what we did for a week or so after my other good college buddies and girlfriend deserted us… while they went off to pursue actual careers and life style changes, we settled into a life of swimming, beaching, sunning and playing tennis. In the evenings we would return to the hacienda with a couple of six packs of the less expensive bubbly to properly consider our options. One thing became very clear… neither of us wanted to pursue anytime soon a responsible career… it was just too early to put on the harnesses of life. Another thing became clear… we were quickly running out money in our efforts to maintain a life of style and leisure.
We considered these problems for another one or two days, maintaining our healthy schedule of swimming and tennis during the day and not so healthy schedule of beer consumption during the evening. As the days passed and options available dwindled, a sudden inspiration came upon us one evening after several of the said beers.
“I own a boat,” I said.
“I own a motor,” Rich said.
We had been ruminating what a great thing it would be if we could remain in the Zirinsky House for the summer. To do that, we would have to find some form of employment. That was a serious concern on my part. I had actually never held real job before, other than occasionally helping out in my father’s factory/warehouse. I know that is shameful but it is the truth. It occurred to me during this conversation of boats and motors that many years ago as a young boy, I had learned to dig clams.
As the beers dwindled and our conversation became more focused and animated, Rich Miller took a quantum leap in logic and made the following suggestion:
“Why don’t we become clam diggers?”
The logic of that was overwhelming.
“That’s a cherry idea,” I said.
Rich put his hand to his chin and asked.
“What do we have to do to become clam diggers?”
That set off more thinking and the requirement for two more beers. I posited we probably would need a clam digging license. Where would we get that Rich queried. The Town Hall I said…because we are living in a rented house I could claim to be a resident.
What else would we need? Implements of the trade. What were those implements? We did not know. Then, if we get the boat, the motor, the license, the implements of the trade, where do we go?
Easy, I said, Shinnecock Bay. Then how would we sell the clams if we got the clams?
We had a lot of things to work out, but our minds were moving swiftly and so did the remaining beers.
The next few days, we were all about activity – I headed over to the Town Hall. I found out that it was all pretty simple. You just walk in, ask for the clam digger license form, fill it out and pay $25 bucks. The folks at the Town Hall were very kind and accommodating… they even told us about Ray the Clam Digger… he apparently made all the implements of the trade… baskets, graders and the all important clamrakes… he was in nearby Hampton Bays. So things began to come together.
The day after Rich headed to faraway New Jersey to retrieve the motor – a mighty 5hp Johnson. The day after that, Rich and I headed to Bellport to retrieve my 16’ boat.
Well, as they say, the rest was history. Rich and I had a truly fantastic summer. We spent our days gathering one or two bushels of clams each and selling them that day to Catena’s, the local seafood market, at $32 a bushel. We spent the afternoons and evenings spending our hard-earned cash pretty much as soon as we got it. Should you wish, you can read all about Rich’s and my adventures as summertime clamdiggers in my nearby blog story, “I Graduate to Clamdigger”.
Around this time, 1967, a bunch of things were happening in what might be said to be the real world.
Just as Rich Miller and my other college buddies were graduating, in mid June of 1967 Jimi Hendrix was playing at the Monterey Pop Festival along with a raft of other music celebs or soon to be celebs…The Grateful Dead, Janus Joplin, Otis Redding, Buffalo Springfield and many others… it was the first of many giant concert venues with dozens of great or soon to be great music stars. This concert had a kind of vibe and there was a feeling that “Something Was Happening Here” and indeed it was.
But life was not all music. Other things, not so optimistic, not so fun, we’re happening around the world. General William Westmoreland asked Defense Secretary Robert McNamara for an extra 100,000 troops for Vietnam. We needed to finish the job, he said. There were already 464,000 troops in South Vietnam, but the General said we were winning slowly and we needed more troops to polish off the VietCong…that proved optimistic.
Just as our summer clamming season was coming to an end, in early September, Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California, urged the U.S. do more in Vietnam, suggesting we should consider nuclear weapons. Fortunately, that suggestion was never adopted.
My summer job as clamdigger came to a conclusion. Rich Miller, my college buddy and clam-digging partner, decided it was time to get a real job. He went off to a bank job interview and within weeks he had put the harness on and was going out into the world as a young banker. That was not to last, but that is another story.
That left me without a job at 6s and and 7s. The weather was becoming chillier by the day, it was no longer practical to continue my summer job as a playboy clamdigger.
So that fall, I stayed on the Hamptons and once again, considered my options. During that summer, I had noticed a new publication called The Southampton Summer Day. It had quirky and offbeat stories that pricked my imagination. I liked the humorous and irreverent style of the publication. Throughout most of my life, I had harbored a desire to become writer. I was not sure how to go about that, but I decided to call the paper and find out if they wanted to hire someone who wanted to be a writer. I got a fellow on the line who said he was the publisher. That surprised me. I was expecting a secretary to answer the phone. But, no, it was a leaner operation than I had mind.
I asked if they might be looking for a writer to help out with the work involved.
“Yes and no,” was the answer. After some further questions, the guy who answered the phone, suggested that I send some samples of “my work”.
I mailed some short stories I had written to the guy I had spoken to. His name was Dan Rattiner. The stories were not very pertinent to the paper, but at least they indicated I could type somewhat and put words down on paper in sentences. That apparently was enough for Dan to suggest a follow up meeting. That was arranged and a few days later I found myself sitting next to a thin guy with glasses in a diner that was near to East Hampton. I remember the Diner very well because it was next to a tank just off of the main drag leading into Easthampton. I never learned just why the tank was next to the Diner, but I gathered it commemorated something.
Anyway, the young man opposite me explained that while he might be able to use a writer and even publish some of my writer’s stories, he could not do so full time. He did say that my writing showed “promise”. I did not know it, but Dan Rattiner was to become rather famous over time and in the future, his paper, or papers, became mainstay publications of the Hamptons, growing from a small 18 to 24 page black and white tabloid format to over 100 pages an additional 24, 36 or 48 page color wrap featuring famous local painters on the cover. All that was to come.
When I first met Dan, his paper was mere shadow of what it became. It was 18 or 24 pages, all black & white featuring some scribble cartoons that Dan regularly turned out. But, Dan’s stories were humorous and light-footed and the cartoons he drew to illustrate his stories were simple and crude, but they fit the paper and it all worked.
In our first meeting, Dan pointed out that the paper was closing down for the winter and would not reopen until the next season. This was a disappointment since I was hoping to start my new career that very Fall, but apparently, I would have to wait about 6 months.
And then the young publisher revealed the fact that what he really was looking for the coming year was one or two delivery boys. Someone who could drive around a truck/van and drop off the papers at each and every location. Apparently, there were quite a lot of locations to drop his papers off to. It turned out that Dan was regularly publishing 4 papers, most of which were the same, but there were special editions for each of the Hamptons…so there was a paper for Hampton Bays, Southampton, Easthampton and Montauk. Each had a different name and each had some local content, but most of the inner content was the same for all the different papers.
An intriguing aspect of Dan’s business model was that the papers were free to anyone who wanted to pick them up. I thought that was unusual and I liked the concept.
Dan suggested we have lox and bagels for lunch. I did not know what that was, but being adventurous, I went with the flow.
Well, Dan, spoke glowingly about all the opportunities his paper offered. He explained how he had started his first paper, The Montauk Pioneer, a few years earlier and how each and every year it had made money, in just the last two years, he added new papers in Easthampton, Southampton and Hampton Bays. He had high hopes that one day his papers would become an important publication on The East End.
In addition to needing a delivery boy and a part-time writer, Dan pointed out I could be a part time type-setter, a part-time ad salesman, and/or a part-time secretary. Well, I did not know what to make of this job interview, but I liked the idea of working in the Hamptons as writer and if I had to be a delivery boy as well, that was all right with me. I had to start somewhere. So, I agreed to the plan.
That meant making some further compromises, so that fall, winter and spring I went to work for my father. I told him this was just a job to get through the next six months and I insisted on working in the factory, rather than in the office. During the days, I packed fishing lure orders, built frog lures, assembled some weird fishing rods my father had acquired. I learned to unpack, repack boxes, tape boxes, mail out boxes, load boxes on trucks, bring boxes to the post office, pick up the mail, deliver the mail and many other exciting things.
In the evening I wrote stories that I thought Dan Rattiner would like for his paper. That was not easy since I was writing them at time of season that paper did not operate telling stories that did not have much to do with the East End of Long Island.
The months passed quickly and quietly on the North Shore of Long Island as 1967 slipped into 1968. I worked that winter and spring in my father’s warehouse, packing, shipping, making rods and lures, learning many things that I then thought worthless, but came later to consider valuable. In my father’s warehouse, I ended up running a fishing rod production line. Considering my zero knowledge of manufacturing and my eclectic approach to it, it is truly a miracle that any of it worked. And for while, it seemed I was on the road to establishing myself as a failed producer of fishing rods, but I endured and somehow it all worked out.
My production team was a mixed group of high school burnouts, dis-employed and displaced workers and drug addled teenagers. At this time, many things were changing. At the same time I was trying to develop writing skills for my summer job to come, I moved from packing, taping and shipping things to making fishing rods. At first I worked during the day and wrote at night, then I worked at night and wrote during the day. The latter schedule seemed to work out quite well, even if it started in chaos and disaster.
What had happened is that several years before my father bought the rights to this weird fishing rod product. It was called the AutoCast rod. It was a spring loaded, automatic casting rod. Not that the distances covered by this device were very impressive. In my father’s ad copy it said you could cast 50 to 70 feet, but I was never so lucky as to get it to cast more than 30 or 40 feet. No matter, it turned out that there a real market for this product. The best customers turned out to be paraplegics because they were generally physically unable to cast a fishing rod. So, the product had a true market base.
The sales of this thing were never that great, 5,000 or 10,000 units a year. My father was used to selling things in the hundreds of thousands, so you can say it was a lost child. That was up until the time my father struck up a relationship with a guy named Ed Downes. Ed turned out to be a kind of mail order / marketing / publishing genius. He owned a mail order catalog company called Madison House, which was bought with the proceeds of a product that Ed successfully sold as he emerged from college. That product was called “The Fur-lined Potty”. Ed ran a tiny classified ad in Esquire Magazine using this classic copy: “Gentleman, This Is It…The Genuine Fur-lined Potty!”
Now the product itself was pretty simple – a white enameled pot about 5” high, 10” around with a 1’ lip on top. To dress it up, Ed glued some squirrel hair around the flat 1” lip of the pot, hence the name, “The Fur-lined Potty”. To make a long story shorter, Ed had a hit on his hands. In doing so, he learned how to acquire, refashion and sell tens of thousands of the fur-lined potties. He also learned about advertising in magazines and he made $100,000 while still in college at a time when when $100,000 was really a lot of money. Esquire was so impressed by his regularly running little classified ads that they suggested he become classified advertising rep, which he did.
One thing led to another and when Ed got out of college, he went on rep more magazines and take on more products for mail order advertising. When my father met Ed he was already doing over $6,000,000 a year in mail order products and earning a hefty income from representing direct mail print advertising in number of magazines and newspapers. The match between my father and Ed proved to be made heaven. Ed put our AutoCast Rod into his Madison House catalog and soon he was selling over 5,000 rods year himself. Shortly thereafter a multitude other mail order catalogs took it on and pretty quickly the demand jumped up to over 50,000 units a year.
Enter humble me into the business…I only wanted to tape, pack and ship, but within a month or so, I found myself in charge 10 or 12 drug addled 18 to 22 somethings. A ragged crew it was. And need I mention, not only we’re the times and the music a-changing, so were range beverages and stimulants. Now all through college we were weaned on a steady diet of beer and other forms of alcohol, but now out college, in the real world, other world stimulants were coming into favor. In particular, wacky tabacky, also known as pot, ganja, weed, herb, grass and reefer, had become known to me and my nighttime workers.
It must said here that such things are not recommended for cohesive and precise manufacturing, but as Donald Rumsfeld once said, “You don’t go to war with the army you want, you go to war with the army you have.”
And so it was. My team of exiled high school drop-outs and some older, not so alert blue collar guys, were assigned the task of speeding up fishing rod production. I have to give some description of the manufacturing production line, which while not very sophisticated, was just that – a manufacturing production line. There 21 different production stops, drill presses, riveting machines, cutting machines, slotting machines. Along the way there were different parts that needed to be added or screwed on to the product, so there also things to pick up and put together and hopefully, we remembered to add the required elements.
You may imagine that my team was somewhat taken aback by the task before them when being confronted with a line of machinery and parts. Of one thing you could be sure, before starting every single evening, we would begin with a group meeting which included a discussion of production goals followed by passing around the sacred herb. After 20 to 30 minutes of mind stimulation and preparation, the evening production would get underway.
Now these corporate methods were not immediately successful as you might imagine. I believe the first evening we produced a total of 7 AutoCast fishing rods and several of those needed to be discarded due to “shoddy construction” or missing parts. The second evening was not much better. I think we got up to 9 units and our defect rate got down to 1 or 2. Considering the the day shift, run by my German stepmother, and some quite together young guys and gals, were churning our 200 to 300 units a day, our performance left something to be desired.
What to do? I thought. Actually, I had no idea, but I began to try things. The thing is, no matter what my approach, I tend to be competitive and persistent. So, I persisted. And gradually the production soared to 20 or 30 units a night. That still left some things to be desired. So I tried more things and the production did rise the next week to almost 100 rods per evening. In the end, what seemed to work best was me being at the end of the production line finishing things faster things just a little faster faster than the guys directly in front of me. That encouraged them to speed up. When they speeded up, the guys in front of them also speeded up, when the guys in front them, the rest of guys speeded up. Then I tried getting at the beginning of the line and feeding the first parts faster. Both systems seemed to work.
To finish this strange interlude, within a month or two we were producing 500 to 700 rods a night. And that was how I spent most the fall of 1967 and the winter of 1968. So my schedule became pretty set: I wrote short stories during the day and produced fishing rods at night.
Other things in the real world occurred. In October of 1967, Che Guevara, the famous revolutionary, was killed by Bolivian rebels. He had gained a cult following among lefties and revolutionaries and Vietnam protesters. And suddenly, he was gone. The myth had evaporated.
I was not a Vietnam protester, but certainly I felt the Vietnam War was crazy. Each night on TV, they would announce the number of U.S. casualties in dead and wounded, much as they have been announcing Coronavirus cases and deaths this year. In November, Joan Baez was arrested during an anti-war protest. In December, the British/French Concorde Jet was unveiled in Toulouse, France. A trip on that new plane from London to New York took only 3 to 4 hours versus the regular 8 to 9 hours by Boeing 707. Yes, things were happening.
Popuar music kept turning out new offerings that fall and winter: “Ode to Billie Joe” that mysterious and seductive song by Bobby Gentry about a couple throwing something off of the Tallahachie Bridge. Other songs came along and provided haunting warning signs that not all was right in the world. A prime example of that was Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of Bob Dylan’s song, “All Along The Watchtower”. In that song, it was not just Bob Dylan’s lyrics, it was also Jimi Hendrix’s solitary voice and fearsome guitar that gave the song power.
In January, 1968 the Tet Offensive took place and sowed doubts that we could ever win the Vietnam War. It is hard to understate the effect the Tet Offensive had. For years, leading up to it, our leaders, mathematical geniuses like Robert McNamara, President Johnson, and military leaders like General William Westmoreland had said that Vietnam was a crucial key to America’s effort to keep Communism contained worldwide and as we went from a few hundred troops in 1960 to over 500,000 troops 1968, the general, the Secretary of State and the President kept saying that victory was right around the corner.
All of that 8 year history of hard efforts and high hopes, as our country went from sending a few hundred American “advisers” to Vietnam to hundreds of thousands American troops to Vietnam, was effectively denied, refuted and obliterated by the Tet Offensive. How could the North Vietnam launch an offensive and invade all the major cities of South Vietnam if we were winning the war, if after 7 years of efforts, after tens of thousands of American dead, after hundreds of thousands wounded, how could we be winning that wear?
In short, the Tet Offensive changed many minds, convincing many who had previously believed the cause was righteous, that the cause was fruitless and the effort to win was impossible. By this time, most of America’s youth, in addition to listening to new and daily emerging kinds of rock music, in addition to quickly acquiring addictions to all sorts of drugs, had already decided that the Vietnam was wrong, fruitless and a waste of blood, money and trust. So, for those of us who were young, most of us had long since lost faith in the war effort. Most of us had decided that it was the wrong war in the wrong place.
Now, of course, there was a big body of young men who were actually in the war in Vietnam. And their opinions about the war were nowhere near as clear. Many of them believed in their country’s need to be in Vietnam, many of them had lost buddies in the war, many of them had friends who had been wounded either physically or mentally during the war. And at the same time, the same rock music and the same proliferation of drugs was finding their way into Vietnam. And so, when these young men and women returned home, they found that they were held in contempt by their own contemporaries. This created more conflicted emotions between their patriotic duty and their actual combat experiences in Vietnam. And when they did return to what they considered their homeland, they found it different from the place they had left.
The Tet Offensive started at the end of January 1968. It came in three phases. January through March, May through June and August through September. By the end, it was said that we had won and the Viet Cong and North Vietnam had lost. But truly, that was a Pyrrhic victory. It turned out we had won the battle, but lost the war.
So the country was torn and divided about Vietnam, as I worked through that winter, with my band of somewhat befuddled and dazed and confused workers. It was a strange time in America and for me it was a transitional period from clam digger to factory worker on my journey to newspaperman.
Other disturbing things were happening on the American scene. In April, President Johnson decided not to run for President and that same month Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Shortly thereafter black riots erupted across the country. So there was, in addition to widespread protests in the U.S., a lot of of turmoil and doubt. And this general atmosphere of new music, proliferating drugs, ongoing war, rebellious and confused youth and the assassination of a black leader was all part of the tapestry of our lives in the first half of 1968.
And the turmoil that was going on in Americas was worldwide. In May, student demonstrations clogged the streets of Paris. In June, Bobby Kennedy is assassinated. In July Andy Warhol is shot by a model.
And this was happening just as I was returning to the high hedges and green lawns and sandy beaches of Southampton to start my new career as a newspaperman.
In the beginning my real job was delivering newspapers. That turned out to be far more elaborate than I imagined, although I must say, it was interesting. I would drive to a printer somewhere and pick up the papers…at first the location was somewhere on Long Island, but soon that changed to New Jersey. Dan had given me full control of a beat up Volkswagen Van. That van, I can say this because I have a long history of using them (in the coming years I was to use or own no less than 5 Volkswagen Vans), was very utilitarian, but it had some weight limits and disadvantages as a craft negotiating America’s highways.
Let me address the weight limitation issue. If one read a Volkswagen Van owner manual (Dan’s had long since been lost), one would find, somewhere buried in the many pages of text, that one should not carry much more than 1,000 lbs. of cargo weight. I did not know that at the time, but some things you learn from experience. Now, I am not quite sure exactly how many pounds each load of Dan’s Papers amounted to, but remember, in those days it was not called Dan’s Papers. In those days, there were four separate papers that Dan was producing weekly. As mentioned before, these were not too hefty for one paper considering it 18 to 24 pages of tabloid newspaper stock, but if you multiply that by 15,000 or 20,000 by 4, it adds up to anywhere from 60,000 to 80,000 papers, each 18 to 24 pages thick.
I do not know what the total weight was, but I can tell you this, it was way more the recommended max cargo weight for a Volkswagen Van. The added weight changed the driving characteristics of the intrepid van. Pickup, which with only one person and no cargo, left something to be desired, when loaded with me and 60,000 to 80,000 newspapers, left a lot more to be desired. Let give you a picture. Have ever come across a heavy loaded truck heading up a high hill? You might notice that the speed of the heavy truck is dramatically reduced, especially when loaded with 10 tons of gravel or 6,000 gallons of fuel. The case was essentially the same with Dan’s Volkswagen bus loaded with me and one week’s quantity of Dan’s different papers.
Now trucks carrying 10 tons of gravel or 6,000 or more gallons of oil or gas, are actually designed to do that, so even if they are slow, they keep a solid grip on the road. Not so with Dan’s Volkswagen when heading from New Jersey to the shores of the Hamptons. The weight in the van had a tendency create what I would call a free floating effect every time the vehicle came to any bend or curve in the road over 15 mph. That meant one had to compensate for the listing effects to the left or right. So just learning to drive Dan’s van was a real experience.
Combine that with the fact that once I got to the Hamptons I was expected to deliver the papers to each and every location that Dan had selected. And that, as I mentioned earlier, turned out to be one heckuva a lot of places. Specifically, I dropped off papers at every store, barbershop, restaurant, bar, supermarket, deli, dry cleaner, florist in the Hamptons. That is to say, every one that would accept the Free Papers. Not everyone was enthralled to have 30 to 50 newspapers set up somewhere in their location, but most accepted it as OK. At the time, Dan’s Papers was not so well thought of. Some people liked the papers, but many were indifferent and some were antagonistic.
In between delivering papers, I endeavored to write articles suitable for the unique blend of satire, frolic and quasi news that Dan spun out. It turned out that most of the stories that I had labored on the winter or spring before were of no interest to Dan, primarily because they had no Hampton or Long Island content.
There was one first writing assignment that I did get an early start on. And that was Dan’s “Guide to The Hamptons”. This was an additional publication that Dan printed at the beginning of the summer and my first real writing project started with working on that project. Parts of the guide were very boilerplate…like descriptions of local restaurants and bars that advertised. That consisted of 3 or 4 lines of copy. These were little blurbs that generally just regurgitated some advertising points about the different bars and restaurants. So they all had the same feel to them.
The part that turned out to be quite interesting, to me at least, was a history of the Hamptons. Dan explained the the Hamptons were really were a very old part of the country. I knew some of that because my family had rented one summer the oldest house in New York State. That was the Halsey House on South Main Street in Southampton. In order to widen my knowledge all things regarding the history of the Hamptons, I went to the local library in Southampton. At the time that was on Jobs Lane.
In working on “The Guide to The Hamptons” I learned many interesting and surprising historical facts about the The Hamptons, such as the fact there were over 100,000 Indians (aka native Americans) living on Long Island when the first Europeans arrived. What really surprised me was that there were many separate tribes and each controlled their own designated areas…there were the Shinnecocks, the Montauks, the Setallcotts, and several others. And apparently, from what I read, most of these Indian tribes were peaceful, but occasionally some other more warlike tribes would come over from the mainland to plunder the local crops and acquire some of the local Long Island Indian ladies.
I was also surprised to learn that it was the Dutch who first came to New York and Long Island and began purchasing land from the Indians. The Dutch settled in New York City and on Long Island, from the 1620s until around 1665. Then the Brits came along and displaced them. I think that is it a nice way to put it. So, New York City and parts of Long Island were first settled by Dutch settlers, then English settlers arrived with some large, well armored warships and quickly said, this land is ours. Now, some the Dutch remained, as did many of the Indians, but the English were the new guys in town.
I learned other things as well as I did my research. Somewhere in the late 1600s, the local Southampton drunk was punished for repeated offenses. Apparently, the jail facilities and amenities were limited and so they used a different form of punishment. Imagine the town drunk out on a big bender one night staggering around and howling at the moon, even scaring the local ladies and children. The next day he wakes up on a mud path that happened to be the main thoroughfare into town. So the good people of Southampton find this eyesore sprawled in the mud as they pass by in their local finery…well, maybe finery is too strong a word.
Anyway, you can imagine the local residents highly disturbed because this the third time they have found this guy sprawled in the mud after a night of keeping the owls awake. Something has to be done – so they put him on wooden platform with a large wooden post. The post has 2 wood cross boards that are attached to a hinge at one end. In between the 2 cross boards are 3 cutouts – one large, the other 2 small. The large cutout is for your head to go in, the 2 smaller holes are for your hands to go in. So, the town gets you to stand up on the wood platform and place your head and hands in this device. They lock you in for one, two or more days. Of course, the drunk gentleman stands outside with his torso and legs behind the post and his head and hands locked in between the boards in front of the post.
What a tempting target that must have made for the local kids as they pass by. A perfect excuse to throw some rotten tomatoes or melons or clam shells or other refuse. In the meantime, the guy stands there for hours and days, in bright sunlight or frigid darkness or on hot summer days or frozen winter days. The target of kids, flies, mosquitoes and perhaps manure. And as you can imagine, bathroom facilities were slim so whatever happened, happened. It is all enough to make guy reconsider his drinking habits.
So I learned a lot about the older times, past or present. Speaking of the present, important events were then happening in the Hamptons. I even got to include one such event in writing the Hampton Guide. That was the marriage of Zal of the Lovin’ Spoonful. I happened to be passing Saint Andrew’s Church on Dune Road one morning when several members of the Lovin’ Spoonful emerged from that church, gaily dressed in bell bottoms and tie die tee shirts. There were men, women and kids all spilling out of the Church…harmonicas, guitars and symbols were playing, rice was flying. It was the late Sixties, man. It seemed like a perfect example of new things happening in the Hamptons.
So, for most that summer I delivered newspapers and wrote articles for the papers. As the summer dragged on it came to my attention that I was delivering papers more than getting stories published. It was true that I wrote many of the blurbs describing local restaurants, but where was the art in that? So, I confronted my boss, Dan. He did not seem to react to my pleading to get more stuff published, but I kept pestering Dan and then one week he must have felt sorry for me because published 4 stories at once. That made me happier, but I could tell the writing on the wall…there was a finite limit to how much stuff Dan was going to publish!
More sadly, I found out there were not many other publishing companies that were interested in my quaint and quirky stories about the Hamptons. They were humorous and pleasing in their way, but no one took them seriously. I got bunch of interviews with different publications…The New Yorker, Esquire Magazine, Newsday, The Daily News, the New York Times, but none of those folks felt my work and my abilities were for them.
That led to me ultimately returning to my father’s business. My interest at the time was still not serious. I still viewed working for my father as a station along the way to finding my true career. However, something had happened that changed my view of father’s business. He had just acquired a strange new business that sold something that I had never heard of before. That was inflatable canoes. I did not know what that was at the time, but that business ended up attracting my attention and, ultimately, it became my long term career. And so it goes.
In August of 1968, Soviet tanks invaded Prague, Czechoslovakia. Later in the month there were demonstrations outside the Democratic Convention in Chicago and all the TV stations covered that.
In October, Jackie Kennedy wedded Aristotle Onassis, the shipping magnate. That seemed like a big come down after being married to the President of the United States. But, the handsome, young President had been assassinated and the living have to make their own life decisions and Jackeline Onassis Kennedy made hers.
In November of that same year, Nixon and Agnew went on to win the 1968 election.
In December, the first U.S. Astronauts orbited the moon.
Meanwhile, the war in Vietnam continued to spin out of control.
Yes, there was something happening here and no one was quite sure what it was.
Through it all, music helped me navigate this topsy/turvy period.
At the beginning of last year I posted a blog story entitled, “Into the 20s We Go”. At the time, 2020 had begun with a number of dramatic events. The most dramatic event was the targeting and killing of an Iranian General, Gassem Soleimani. He expired at the beginning of the new decade in a drone-caused explosion ordered by Donald Trump. It seemed a traumatic start to the 2020s and I noted that. I went on to mention several other things that were happening. One of those things were reports of a strange new disease beginning in China.
At the time, I did not know where the story of that spreading disease would go, but having just come back from China 60 days before, I had a premonition that the story of the Coronavirus would be a part of the new year. That proved all too true. As as the Coronavirus moved through China and on to other countries, other events and other explosions occurred in 2020. And at the end of 2020, the election of Joseph Biden as President was certified by 50 states.
After the election of the new President, Donald Trump, the old President, denied that he had lost the election, even after Republican and Democratic electors in 50 states had certified the results and even after Donald Trump’s lawyers had lost 60 legal cases decided by Republican and Democratic judges.
On January 6th, a protest was held in Washington and then President Trump spoke to several thousand of his followers. What followed was another kind of explosion – the storming of the Congress of the United States. What was different in this case was that Donald Trump, the President at the time, had set in motion certain events that came back at him like the missile from the drone that killed Gassem Soleimani, the Iranian general the year before. And so, the President was undone by his own efforts to undue the 2020 Presidential Election.
“It is double pleasure to deceive the deceiver.”
That line is used in a recent movie, “Atomic Blonde”. It also comes from Niccolo Machiavelli in the early 1500s. Somehow that line seems apt in this case. Certainly, the deceiver and became the deceived.
As a result of the storming of Congress, quite a few officials and politicians got quite upset and they proceeded to initiate a second impeachment of Donald Trump.
I cannot say that I am sorry that Donald Trump was impeached for the second time. I find those events truly odd, but then again, I also find them inevitable. It is indeed a strange tale. To be impeached once during your first term as President is exceptional. To be impeached a second time, one week before the end of your term is a true historical precedent. And so Donald Trump achieved what no other President did. He got impeached twice.
As events swirled on in Washington and elsewhere, I try to live a normal life with my family in these crazy times, despite the double impeachment of The Donald, despite the raging Coronavirus, despite the fact that millions of people have lost their jobs and despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of businesses are going bankrupt or about to go bankrupt. I still work. I still design inflatable boats and I still try to introduce new models. I work half from home and half from my office.
At home, I attend to my normal duties. Each morning, I help my autistic son take a shower, help him dress, help him make his bed. I get up in the middle of night to give him his seizure medications. My wife, my son and I all have breakfast at our little kitchen table. I like that spot – the sun comes in from 2 skylights above and I can see my bird feeder while I sip coffee and munch my breakfast. It is a good to time to gather as a family and get ready for the new day.
In between breakfast and take out – oh yes, we do indulge in take out – my wife and I take lunches once or twice week to the local beach which overlooks Long Island Sound. And there we sit munching crackers and cheese or sandwiches. It can be beautiful and sunny or cloudy and windy, but no matter, the Sound is but 50 feet away and in the distance we can see the outline of the hills of Connecticut in the distance.
Our beverage for those meals in our car is simple water. It is a simple pleasure and we do that weekly. And yes, we would prefer to sit in a fancy restaurant and have a truly good meal brought to us. But these times do not afford us that luxury. We are concerned about the risk of disease that some think is a hoax. We stick to our bubble and have lunches overlooking the Sound.
In the winter, if there is a big wind at the beach we go to, there are generally windsurfers or kite surfers scooting back and forth, zipping over waves, jumping some times high into the air. They get well rubberized and insulated for their chilly adventures and I would go myself if I were younger. It is a super charged form of physical exercise, high energy and frigid exposure. I would think cups of hot coffee before and after are required.
For us, though, it is a grand site as we munch on crackers, salami and cheese. They zip back and forth while we sit warm and content in out SUV.
On days when I am home and the tide is right and the weather not too foreboding, I will go for a paddle or a row. On days when I am heading directly to the office, I will get in some early morning exercises on the elliptical exercise machine we have in our bedroom. By alternating these different forms of exercise, I am able to average some kind of exercise 5 days a week. I am not into peak fitness… I am into maintenance.
It is, of course, the paddling or rowing that really seems to maintain my “wa” – that is a simple Japanese word for a sense of harmony. Paddling or rowing on the bay that laps right up to my backyard is a mind-clearing, harmony-filling activity. I have written about that in many of these blog stories. It is always different, it is always changing, it is always rejuvenating and I always feel better after doing it.
Now many folks would think paddling or rowing at this time of year is truly crazy, but I would object. In truth, it is no crazier than windsurfing in winter on the Sound or cross country skiing in Vermont. Yes, you do have to dress appropriately for it, yes, you should be prudent, but it is not uncomfortable even on the coldest days. As I have said, one should not go for a row or paddle if there is ice, but if there is no ice, and it is not too windy or too cold or too rainy or too snowy, it is really pleasing and really invigorating. And so, by this January 17th, 2021, I been able to go 4 times since the beginning of the year. And that has helped my “wa” and my mood and allowed me to feel pretty darn good in these crazy times.
In between work and exercise and take-out, I also engage in boat testing. This year we just introduced a new model – the Sea Eagle FastCat 12. I am happy about that, but I am also working on a larger model, so that also takes some time. Like rowing or paddling in winter, you might consider it a truly crazy activity in winter and I might agree with you, but it has to be done. There timelines involved in introducing inflatable boats. It takes time to make a design. It takes time explain the design to one of your suppliers and then it takes time for them to make a prototype. And then, you must test it.
All of that does not explain why it seems that every year the new prototypes arrive in the dead of winter. I can assure that motor boating, where you are fully exposed to freezing temperatures and an unrelenting winter wind, is far chillier than rowing in the exact same conditions. Trust me on that.
Nevertheless, testing is a regular of my life, just as stopping at Starbucks for a cup of Java before hitting the office.
On January 8th, I had the opportunity to visit New York City. I had visited the city the year before on almost the exact same date and the contrast between the two visits could not have been more different. First, I must mention my visit in first days of 2020 was to reconnoiter the New Boat Show while my visit in 2021 was to take my son for a MRI at MSK, aka Memorial Sloan Kettering. On each of these two occasions, I had some time to check out what was going on in my beloved city where I was born.
As I have said above, the contrast between visits could not have been more different. When I visited the New York Boat Show at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in the first few days of January 2020, I was overwhelmed by the many people and the bustling development that I saw. First and foremost, the city around the Javits Center seemed be bursting out all over, with new buildings going up all, throngs of crowds of people visiting, and glamorous new architecture to behold.
Having displayed many years at the Javits Center, I have to say that area town was very desolate. It was hard to get there. It was hard to get out of there once you got there. There were long lonely blocks that were scary to walk at night and one had the impression that that part of the city had either always been either doomed or simply forgotten.
Fast forward to the first days of 2020 and compare the area as it used to be with the area that it was fast becoming. Now the Hudson Yards has just emerged in all its new born glory…with striking and interesting architecture, brand shopping malls, brand new high end restaurants and large new apartment building shooting up on all sides. Even the Javits Center itself seemed to be enfused new life and one had the impression that all of New York City and a good part the surrounding suburbs had discovered that something new, something bold was emerging in that formerly lonely area of the city.
Before going to the Boat Show, my brother and I met up with our young techie cousin. He was busy in that area of the city frantically helping some the new businesses set up web services and the like. We decided to meet at an Asian Fusion restaurant in the swanky Hudson Yards Mall. After wandering through a parade of high luxury goods shops that gave me the impression I had entered a new section of Shanghai or Shenzhen, we scooted up escalators and without too much difficulty found ourselves seated in a very sleek looking Korean restaurant.
This was comfortable for me my since I was only back from a visit to Korea and China four weeks before. The restaurant was crowded, but we were able to get a nice table. Since our techie relative was running late, I took the opportunity to soak up some green tea while we waited for his arrival. He soon arrived and told us how crazy everything was in this new area. Impossible to park, people rushing everywhere, his customers wanting instant web services. All mad, all rushing, all people in enormous hurry to get up and running.
Remembering this same area from boat shows in the past, I could not but be struck by the new life and verve of this area. In the past, the area around the Javits Center was kind of haunted by desperate and dark loneliness. No more, now it was surrounded by surging new buildings blasting there way into the sky.
After a fine meal of seaweed salad and shashimi (raw fish to those not familiar) we headed out of the restaurant, passing the intriguing new architecture of the area, on our way to the nearby Javits Center. It was all new and I had the feeling that the city had been reborn in a way that had been missing since 2001. As we approached the Javits Center, it seemed a new vision. There were throngs of people heading into the Javits Center. Whether they coming to see boats or to inspect the new surrounding areas was not clear. What was clear was that there were people alive and well and apparently interested in boats streaming into the Javits Center.
And so we went into the Javits Center and checked out the new boats. In truth, there were not a whole lot on display. The New York Boat has never regained the glory days it once had in the 70s and 80s at the New York Coleseum. That location was midtown just on the West Side corner opposite Central Park. Lincoln Center was nearby and there always was a mob of people wandering around the area. All of that helped the New York Boat Show.
When the Javits Center was completed, it was, as I mentioned, in a desolate part of town, way on the West Side and it never got the crowds the The New York Coliseum enjoyed in its heyday. No matter, the attendance at the boat show this last January was a Renaissance in itself with greater attendance and more people populating the general area.
Who knew that the Javits Center would become a temporary hospital for Coronavirus patients in just 3 months?
The contrast to the trip last year to my visit in the first days of January 2021 could not have been greater.
As I walked around the nearby streets around Memorial Sloan Kettering, I saw restaurant after restaurant, shop after shop boarded up and closed. And I could see by looking into the open windows of the closed bars, restaurants and shops that the end had come suddenly and not in a good way. Instead of neat and clean empty business spaces, tools, abandoned tables and had been left helper-skelter and the building spaces themselves seemed to be evacuated half finished or half unfinished. In looked like, peering into those desolate windows, that the first reaction to Covid was to start building and changing the interiors and then it looked like something changed the mindset of those working on rebuilding and they just gave up, leaving circular saws, rolled up carpets and cans of paint where they were last deployed.
Looking across the street there were entire blocks that looked like they had been ravaged by Covid. Stores were empty at the base of the buildings with signs for lease prominent, while apartments above looked like they had been vacated en mass.
In the truth my walk about the city was only in one chosen area and that was for a good reason…I would have to get back to the hospital soon because my son’s MRI would soon be over. So, I only walked around for about an hour and I was soon back at hospital well before my son was finished with his MRI and ready to be released.
So, my view of the city was a quick hit and quick impressions can be wrong. I will say I know this part of the city very well and have visited or lived in that area for many years. So, I did have some comparisons in my mind. And when I think of that area, I remember it always as bustling with crowds trying to get into restaurants, with mothers and children walking around either getting air or stopping by shops, with people exercising out in the nearby parks, with cars honking and circling around trying to find parking spaces, with trucks parked on street lanes unloading goods, with people walking their dogs. And while there were still people and cars and trucks out on the street, they were a mere shadow of what was normal the year before. The city blocks had a lonely and somewhat fearful look as you walked by people with masks on who carefully moved to the left or right whenever as you approached.
In short, it seemed a different city.
January 20th, 2021 –
“When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade”
Above are the first 4 lines of Amanda Gorman’s poem that she recited at Joseph Biden’s Inauguration this January. It was a beautiful, clear day in Washington.
I am happy to say this day has come without incident. There was a lot of concern that the recent storming of Congress could spill into the inauguration of Joe Biden. 25,000 National Guardsmen have been called out to guard the proceeding. 10,000 FBI are on hand to make sure protesters are out of sight and out of mind. All goes surprisingly well. A young black lady recites a wonderful poem and the new President promises to pursue unity. And on such building blocks, many a new Presidency is begun.
But as my father has told me many times, “Many is the slip between cup and lip.”
So we must hope that all goes well with the transition to the Biden Administration and somehow the country finds new peace and prosperity and is able to get past the terrible changes that the Coronavirus has brought. It is not an easy task. Apparently, a significant percentage of Republicans who voted for Donald Trump, still believe the election was stolen and that The Donald won.
I guess it comes down to who and what you believe?
Do you believe Republican and Democratic electors in 50 separate states? Do you believe that mail-in ballots were subject to massive fraud across the United States? Do you believe that there was a nationwide conspiracy to change the votes for one man (Donald Trump) and not all the other Republican candidates for other offices? Or do you believe that Donald Trump and all Republicans across this nation did far better than reported?
I believe the vote counts that have been certified in 50 separate states by Republican and Democratic electors. I believe the Republican and Democratic judges, some of whom were actually appointed by Donald Trump, who ruled against Donald Trump in 60 separate legal cases.
Nevertheless, it seems that millions of Americans believe Donald Trump instead…they believe the man that told millions of his followers that Mexico would pay for the wall, that Covid would go away after November 3rd.
I would ask people if that makes sense? But as I said in my last blog, common sense is not an admired quality these days. These days, conspiracy theories have become more esteemed. And so, that is the state of play in the good old U.SA.
January 31st, 2021 –
The month is ending cold here. Ice has formed on my bay. It is no longer practical to go for a row or a paddle. I must content myself with my elliptical machine and cold walks in our neighborhood.
The Biden Administration began its new term with high hopes, a flurry of executive actions and the beginnings of the second impeachment of the last President. Fox News is already beating their populist drums, saying they told you so…all this talk of unity, it is not true, they are only failed efforts to proceed with a second impeachment and a snowstorm of executive orders over-turning as much as possible of what Donald Trump did. In the meantime, efforts to get further relief for the unemployed founder in the political turmoil.
As the month ends there is a lot of excitement about a stock called GamesStop. It seems the markets somewhat bewildered by the rise of young independently minded stock investors using new apps to trade stocks. The youngsters are attacking strategies developed by fabled Hedge Funds. In particular, they seem to have a beef with the short positions of Hedge Funds, thinking the Hedge Funds are probably destroying perfectly good companies. That may be true, but young Turks are changing the game and there is a lot of fear and speculation regarding that.
My Democratic hat says this is a good thing. My historical hat is more hesitant, thinking beware of what you wish for. In the last two trading days of January the market took an abrupt hit from the varying forces of speculation, with GameStop rising, falling and rising again in moves that exceeded 1000%. For the moment the stock is at a relative high while other portions of the market dived.
It gives me un-peaceful, uneasy feeling. The Biden Administration does not seem to know what to do about the market turmoil other than to consider some form of new regulations. Politicians on the left and right seem to exult in the rights of the new boys on the block. Me, I wonder if the result will be a stock market that tumbles from the clouds. The markets have been on tear upward for the last four years, all through the Trump Administration and now into the Biden Administration, despite events that have grossly harmed the economy. The economy sputters on like a man walking on crutches with a broken ankle and a dislocated shoulder.
I would like to leave you with the hope of the young black female poet:
I am now back from our summer Montauk vacation and well-settled into a routine of paddling, rowing, working, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and living day to day with wife and family.
Yes, I do get other things to eat besides peanut butter and jelly…Italian take-out, Chinese take-out, Mexican take-out, and, believe it or not, some nice home cooked meals. Simple, yes, but good. Pastas with veggies, salads with chicken, chicken with veggies, chicken with chicken, occasional fish, even a juicy ribeye steak once in a while. But we have to stay close to the Hacienda, not wanting to expose ourselves to the raging and rising cases of the Coronavirus.
In between work and family and food, I get to paddle or row.
At this time of year, I prefer to row. The reason being as the season gets chillier, rowing is a warmer form of exercise, especially if there are high winds passing through. That is because rowing with my sliding rigger arm employs both arms and legs rather paddling a kayak, which uses just arms and torso. Rowing also provides more power because 2 oars are in the water at the same time and that is more powerful than one paddle blade at a time.
On this day, I need that all the added power I could get because the wind was passing through very vigorously, with steady winds of 15 to 20 mph and gusts up to 35 mph. Knowing that the forecast called for even higher winds in the afternoon, I took the opportunity to head out just as the tide was peaking.
That was around 11 am.
And truly on this day the tide was peaking. As I approached the path to my dock, the aluminum walkway going to the dock, was covered with water from the Seven Seas. That made it necessary for me to walk the upper rung of the aluminum railing of the walkway to get over the 8 foot section of walkway that was now underwater. That required some skillful footwork while handling an insulated carry bag I have for my bluetooth speaker and two seltzers.
You might ask why I bring chilled seltzers on cold November day. It was pretty nippy – the temperature being in the high 30s at the time – but I knew after rowing a while, I would welcome those seltzers. So, off I went, walking on the upper side rungs of my aluminum walkway down to my floating dock or in this case, up to my floating dock. That was because the high tide had angled my aluminum walkway up at a 30 degree angle because it was connected to my floating dock which was floating about two feet higher than normal.
No matter, I made the journey with my carry bag in hand. On the dock, I placed my carry bag on my rowing vessel – a prototype inflatable SUP I had made thinking I would make it into a sailboat. I gave up on the sailboat idea, but hating not to use a good prototype, I converted it into a rowing vessel using a sliding rigger arm rowing system from my good buddy, Urs Wunderli. He calls this rowing system “RowBoard”. Urs has a company called DiscoverRowing.com where he sells those. I will never cease chastising Urs for calling his wonderful rowing design such a prosaic name as RowBoard. For me, it will always be the Wunderli Rower. That catches the spirit of the thing much better.
I have used Urs’s rower for 5 years now, first with a special prototype version of my Sea Eagle RazorLite kayak, then with one of our Sea Eagle NeedleNose SUPs and most recently (for the last two years) with my leftover prototype. That prototype is 14’ long, 40” wide with more of surfboard shape than a kayak shape. So, it is wider and longer than most kayaks or SUPs. And because I row it all year around, I have two side air chambers attached to the SUP below by D-rings and oval connectors. I feel this arrangement is safer and more stable for rowing in the winter. One does not want to fall into 40 degree water. It ain’t healthy.
So off I went on that windy day. On this occasion, the wind was coming from the Southwest, but it had more South in her than West. Now, when there is a strong wind coming across my bay, I first head for the opposite shore and then hug the shoreline, taking advantage of the “lee of the land”. I have spoken about this in the past, but I will translate what it means again – if you are in the “lee of the land”, it means that the land is protecting you from the wind because there are trees and houses and other such things blocking the vigorous wind. But given the agitated state of the winds that day, I still had to pull hard on the oars to get across the bay and, because the wind was more Southerly than Westerly, I still had to row directly into the wind.
The good news was that on the other side of the bay, the wind was more muted because trees and houses were nearby. Now, because rowing entails some effort, especially when you are rowing against the wind, it is really not practical to stop and enjoy a seltzer. Not unless you want to see the wind undo all your hard efforts. In sailing, you want the wind at your back. In rowing, you want the wind on your chest. And as I headed out, I had no choice but to row against the wind with the wind at my back. But once I got to where I was heading – the Southwest side of Little Bay – I knew the return trip the wind would be far easier with the wind at my chest and life, as they say, would be a breeze. And so it was.
On the sheltered side of the bay, I set up my Bluetooth speaker, hooked into my phone and started streaming music from my favorite radio…WFUV…that is the Fordham University station in NYC. They feature an eclectic selection of rock and alternative music, mingling Dylan with Lizzo with Avett Brothers with Coldplay with Gorillaz…so some old, some new.
Out on the bay, the music streamed pleasantly as I rowed my way along and while the wind was brisk and chilly (upper 40s), the bright sun toasted my dark fleece lined jacket and black gloves. And as Mr. Dylan says, it was all good.
After about 20 minutes I made it out of Little Bay all the way to the back of Setauket Bay. This was not my normal route, but on this windy day, I kept to the leeward side of the bays and had a fine time. The day was not yet cloudy…heavy clouds and nasty rains were predicted for the afternoon, but that morning the sun was still appearing though the first incoming gray clouds.
The back of Setauket Bay is nicely nestled in a small narrow part of the bay that is truly in the “lee of the land”. I secured my position by rowing right into the reeds at the end of the bay. I took a pull on my seltzer and looked back over the turf I had rowed. There is something very satisfying when you know you have blasted through wind and waves and know that the return trip will be blessed with more favorable conditions in the opposite direction.
There is only one problem in being in that section of Setauket Bay. It is only a few hundred yards from SE-Port Deli. And with the wind blowing from the Southwest, it meant that the smell of bacon, sausage and eggs wafting from the deli was particularly strong. Fortunately, the endorphins I had just gained from my row, were pulsing through my system, flooding me with good will and well being and suppressing my somewhat irresistible urge to paddle a little farther, get out and run over to the deli to pick up a sausage, cheese and double egg sandwich. Fortunately the urge to do that was suppressed by my endorphins.
I took the time to cherish the moment. I sipped my seltzer and listened to Lana Del Rey singing about her and her girlfriend dancing in summertime and pondered the good and bad in life. Yes, rowing could be hard against the wind, but then, when you have gone that distance, rowing could be “a breeze” in the opposite direction. I felt the bite of the bubbles in my mouth and the coolness of that simple beverage. I took time to savor the moment, looking back at the water I had just come over and seeing clouds passing by overhead with moments of sun and moments of gray. It was good to be alive.
The row back was downright fun. As soon as I pulled out of the reeds and got out into the bay, the wind picked up and started pushing me back home. I was still in the “lee of the land”, but as I continued to pull out into Setauket Bay, the brisk Southwest winds began to give my row strokes some extra ummph. Rowing became a “breeze” with my speed picking up and my effort becoming non-existent. I felt bad about that. It was getting too easy. My craft was sliding over wind and waves almost as if it had caught a big swell. I could justify that by the thought that the beginning the trip was a bit of a struggle, so this was my just reward.
The further and further I went out on bay, the higher the wind, the higher the waves and the more sensation that I was not rowing…the more the sensation that I was surfing. Considering the waves and whitecaps were only 9” to 12”, surfing might be something of an exaggeration, but certainly I was cruising along at a lot faster pace than I came. I have clocked my rowing speed with an app on my phone. On flat water I can row comfortably 3 to 4 miles an hour and if I hump it, I can get up to 5 or 5.25 mph. That’s it. Now, since I did not bring my phone, I had no precise calculation, but on that return, I felt sure I was blasting along at 6 or 7 mph with little or no effort. Yes, it was a good day to be alive.
When I finished the last blog story in this series – “Paddling in a Pandemic Chapter 4“ – it was in the middle of July a little before our Montauk vacation. At that time, Coronavirus cases had just peaked at 68,000 in a single day and the total number of cases in the U.S. was a little above 3,000,000. This last week, two days ago, cases peaked at 181,000 cases per day and the total number of cases in the United States was almost 11,000,000. I cite numbers, which are terrible in their truth, to show you what has happened in less than 4 months.
So you can safely say there has been an incredible increase in the breath and intensity of the Pandemic. That was too be expected…this summer, the country opened up a lot of the economy, outdoor restaurants welcomed diners and the weather became comfortable to eat outside. In the Fall, schools opened up while restaurants continued to try and service customers as the weather got cooler. And so we let down our guard and mingled and tried to resume normal life. And as we did, the Coronavirus came back in spades.
At the time I finished the last blog story in this series, I mentioned that our present President was very concerned about the upcoming election. Surely, the advent and increase of mail-in ballots meant that those Commie/Liberal/Pinko/Radical types (here I use some of Fox News and the President’s lingo) would stuff ballots and commit mammoth fraud. The President went on to say that mail-in ballots invited massive fraud by Democrats. And now, as I begin this new blog story, it seems that some part of The Donald’s concerns have come to pass. A great number of mail-in ballots were cast in the most recent election and, heavens to purgatroid, the numbers of certified mail-in votes showed Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had won.
Now the President is convinced (or says he is convinced) that millions of these ballots were fraudulent, just like in the last election, when the President was convinced that millions of ballots for him were discarded and he actually got more votes than Hillary Clinton. The new President said at the time there was no way Hillary could have gotten 3 million more votes than him.
That previous theory of the President was shot down by a commission that Donald Trump appointed. They investigated his claim and looked everywhere they could, but they were unable to find the missing three million votes. In fact, they were unable to find any missing votes.
Now the President is on new quest – to find altered ballots in the 2020 election. The President has said there is massive fraud in this election, but he and his minions have yet to be able to uncover any fraud. No matter, his lawyers are hard upon it, losing battle after battle, ever convinced the next battles will be winners and the fraudulent ballots will be presented to the world. But so far, nada!
So, now we have a standoff. The present President says he was wronged and the subject of massive fraud, the new elected President says, not to worry, January 20th is coming soon and The Donald will have to pack his bag and be gone.
I shall not worry about the true outcome of this story because I am betting by the time I am ready to post this story, the outcome will be known. I shall update this story at the end of this blog post.
In the meantime, I would like to point out two predictions that The Donald made a few days before he was dis-elected.
The present President said in the first days of November, just before the actual election, to several different crowds of tens of thousands of his followers:
“Covid, Covid, Covid, that is all the media reports. By the way, after November 3rd, you won’t hear about it. It will be gone.”
Well, it is November 15th, and, sad to say, we hear a lot about Covid.
The second prediction that the President made was that the stock market would collapse upon the election of Joe Biden.
Well, Dear Donald, it is several days after the election of Joe Biden and it seems the pundits, the experts, the quants and the scalawags who move markets and exhibit wisdom known only to them have not heard your prediction for the stock market. They have driven it to all-time highs.
I cannot say that the prediction of a collapsing stock market does not have some merit. It may someday become true. Not because I think Slo Joe (The Donald’s name for Joe Biden) is going to cause a crash, but because I think the economic factors that Joe Biden faces in the near future are likely to be very grim.
Here, I would like to introduce a little “Common Sense”. You know this quality, common sense, used to be an American virtue, but recently its reputation has been tarnished and it is no longer thought of highly. Instead of common sense, conspiracy theories have come into favor. Conspiracy theories are the new common sense.
I mean if a guy says we are going to build a great big, beautiful wall on our border and Mexico is going to pay for it, that is one thing, but when the same guy, Donald Trump, asks thousands of people:
“Who is going to pay for the wall?”
And the thousands of people shout out: “Mexico”
One has to wonder what happened to “common sense”? I mean, do you think Mexico would want to pay for our wall, especially, if that wall was designed to keep Mexicans out of this country? Do you even think Donald Trump thinks Mexico will pay for the wall?
Yet, tens of thousands of people swallowed that lie whole and when the President said Mexico would pay for the wall and then immediately asked them with his hand to his ear, “Who going pay for the wall?” and then they happily cry out, “Mexico”.
I can only think that is a case of millions people wanting Mexico to pay for a wall because they, quite sensibly, did not themselves want to pay for a wall.
I think, given that example, it is fair to say that the knack of “common sense“ has been lost by many people.
I would cite the stock market as a prime example of emotion, rather than common sense, ruling reality.
The stock has gone up a huge amount in the last four years, but was that because there was a real and true improvement in our economy? Yes, in the first three years, there were improvements in employment and the tax cut did increase salaries somewhat, but did that justify an 40% increase in the stock market? And now that the economy has been decimated by the Coronavirus and millions have lost their jobs, does that still mean that the stock market should still be up over 40%?
Let’s consider the recent case of a leading drug company (Pfizer) announcing that their “initial tests” of their new Coronavirus vaccine has over a 90% effective cure rate. Now, this is truly good news, but I would like to point out another American saying:
“Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Have Hatched”.
This is a wise edict, but one that is unheard of on Wall Street.
On Wall Street, they count chickens before they have hatched. In fact, they count chickens before the rooster has been introduced to the hen. In fact, they count the descendants of the chickens that have yet to be hatched.
I would point out that the “initial tests”, which were very good, have yet to be approved by the FDA. And it must be mentioned here that the efficacy tests are measured against a placebo. So, in this case, there were about 30,000 people tested – 15,000 with the new vaccine and 15,000 with a placebo (usually sugared water) – So half of the people get the actual vaccine and half get a harmless placebo. So, the results showed more people who got the placebo got the Coronavirus than those who took the actual vaccine. On that basis, the Pfizer vaccine was said to be 95% effective.
The stock market went up. And yes, that was very good news, but the fact is that Coronavirus is still raging at this moment and still killing thousands of people each day.
Now I should point out that there are few more hurdles for this vaccine to go through before it is truly effective. But never mind, in the eyes of Wall Street the Coronavirus is cured. So, it is time to buy hotels, airlines, cruise ship companies, brick and mortar retail companies. Happy days are here again.
But let’s get back to several hurdles that need to be overcome. For example, the new vaccine has to be approved by the FDA. That should not be problem if the “initial tests” are as exciting as promised, but it will take time. Specifically, about 3 weeks according to the CDC. Then there is the little matter of producing the vaccine in the quantities needed once it is approved. And then there is the logistical issues of shipping the vaccine where it is needed. Then, there is the issue of actually vaccinating people. And, oh yeah, then just maybe, it is going to take some time to see if it works. Maybe not everyone is going to Disneyland the day they get vaccinated.
My father has said to me, many times, not once, the following:
“Many is the slip between cup and lip.”
By that he meant that you might have a fantastic glass of vintage red wine in your hand, but something might happen before it actually gets into your mouth.
With that in mind, I might point out that things do not always go smoothly. There can be delays in producing the vaccine, delays in shipping the vaccine, delays in distributing the vaccine, delays in inoculating people. This is a vaccine that has to be refrigerated at minus 70 degrees Celsius. That is minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. Kind of chilly. For that you need all sorts special freezers to store it in and to ship it in. Then the vaccine has to shipped to drug stores, hospitals, nursing homes and other locations.
The States have to get the vaccines to their citizens, so they have to have funding for that and so far Congress has not approved funding for States. And then there is the little matter that viruses have a tendency to mutate and by the time the vaccine does get into distribution the virus may have changed its DNA and the vaccine may no longer be effective. Ooops.
So I would say, use a little common sense and realize just because a vaccine appears to be effective in a test of 30,000 does not mean that it will immediately eliminate the Coronavirus in 7,400,000,000 people on this planet.
I would also like to extend the concept of “common sense” a little further. In this last election President Trump got over 70,000,000 votes – 3 million more than he got in 2016. In this election Republicans gained seats in both the House and in the Senate. If Mr. Trump is right that there was massive fraud, does that mean that Democrats changed the votes of the President, but not change the votes for Republicans in the House and Senate? It would seem to me if you are going to go to the trouble of committing widespread fraud, you would like to see both your President and your Party get elected. But that is not what happened. Republicans gained Senate and House seats, Democrats lost Senate and House seats. Only the Republican President did not get as many votes as his Democratic opponent Joe Biden.
That would indicate that only the little box for President was altered while all the other little boxes for all the other offices on the ballot were not altered.
Does that make “common sense”? I think not. I think if I was a “Commie, Pinko, Left-Wing Radical Democratic plot”, to use the beloved terms of the Fox News commentator, Lou Dobbs, it should apply apply to all Democrats. I think I would make sure both my President and my Commie, Pinko, Left-Wing Radical Dem Senators and Representatives were all re-elected. I mean, if you are in for a penny, why not be in for a dollar?
November 23rd, 2020 –
I went for an early morning row around 6:30am on the day after Thanksgiving. The wind was brisk, about 10 mph, the day was just dawning, somewhere between darkness and light, the sun was trying to peer through the cold gray clouds and in doing so it threw off a yellow red hue in the sky, giving the day a beautiful and somewhat threatening start.
New developments in politics have occurred – the GSA has given tacit approval to the Biden Administration acknowledging that Biden won and the transition from one Administration to another has begun. The present President has tweeted that he has now told the GSA to proceed with allowing the Biden Administration access to transition funds. That was strange, since the lady in charge of those transition funds had written in a letter that the White House had no influence on her decision to recognize the election of President Elect Joseph Biden.
No matter, the present President Trump continued to say he had won, even though every legal challenge his lawyers have presented so far has been thrown out courts around the country…all for one simple reason…no compelling evidence of fraud had been presented or proved!
I thought not about these matters. I knew the sun would soon come up, so whatever is to be, will be. I am guessing our great Republic will somehow endure.
As the sun rose, weather conditions quickly changed. From a dark and cloudy and forbidding early morning sky, the scene above changed. The cloud bank moved on, mirulously swept from the sky. The air was still brisk, but now the sky was a clear, the water flat and glassy. In the picture above, you will get some idea of how calm and beautiful it soon became. The temperature was still in the low 40s and I had dressed accordingly thinking that it might be quite chilly once I got out on the bay. So I had my fleece lined pants, a nice warm Filson flannel shirt, a Duluth fleece lined wind jacket and a pair of waterproof work gloves. Topping off all this was a lightweight wool scarf.
How wrong I was. It turned out warmer on the water than I thought. The morning clouds swept away, the wind laid down. The now clear blue sky let the sun make its full play. Soon I was divested myself of my scarf and unzipped my jacket. And I, in motion, rowed steadily, and soon I easily, quietly worked up a sweat. The cup of coffee I brought along had a nice bite to it, but it added to the feeling that I was too warm. So I shed my jacket and rowed on, instantly feeling cooler.
After about 45 minutes of rowing some words bubbled up in my mind:
“Oh, what a beautiful day.”
And indeed, it was. Cold yes, but now clear and beautiful, with a cloudless blue sky above.
This is why I take such great pleasure in paddling or rowing. You can start out cold and depressed, full of worries about life and family and politics and just 20 or 30 minutes later all the sense of foreboding, all sense of something that might go wrong or all sense of some particular problem that was nagging you…it all evaporates and soon you feel nothing but well exercised and lucky to be alive.
Thanksgiving the day before had been particularly pleasant. It was a small gathering of people of people at our house who were in our “bubble”. My son, my wife and 5 family friends, 2 of which, had done the courtesy of getting tested for the Coronavirus, the other 3 happened to be trusted members of our “bubble”.
The dinner was a replay on smaller scale of Thanksgivings in the past. And we all felt like some normalcy had occurred and we all were grateful to have a sumptuous Thanksgiving feast in this sad period of diminished expectations. This was especially true considering the ever rising Coronavirus cases and deaths and declining economic situation of the many who were less fortunate.
Among our group we had all gotten to this point relatively unscathed. All of us, had various life issues, our son being autistic, my wife’s health not so good, the others still struggling with health and the financial vicissitudes of life. I have mentioned that my two businesses have been lucky in this period because people still wanted to go fishing and kayaking and felt they could do that safely outdoors. Among our guests was a teacher, a bus driver and 2 health care workers. All had been affected briefly by the Coronavirus crisis, having lost jobs and incomes briefly, but all were re-employed and all had avoided getting the Coronavirus. So we all had a lot to be thankful for – good health, reasonable economic stability and wonderfully tasteful Thanksgiving dinner.
We had a classic, succulent turkey, roasted skins, stuffing galore, cranberries, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes topped with roasted marshmallows, string beans, turnips, pumpkin pie…yes, it was all like it should be and we were truly grateful to God for our good food, good fortune and happy gathering.
So, the day after, when I was out of the water, after the red cloud-ridden sky had cleared, after the words, “Oh what a beautiful morning” came bubbling up to me, I can only say it was so.
December 12th, 2020
The Donald has lost another legal suit in his quest to overturn the election. This time the Supreme Court has denied to hear a case brought by the State of Texas to throw out the votes of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia. Specifically, the Supreme Court denied the request to be heard because it said that Texas had no legal standing to overturn the votes of other states. Later that day, the great State of Wisconsin, said in yet another Trump legal case, that his lawyers had shown no evidence of fraud and had not demonstrated any reason to invalidate the certified votes of that state.
Poor Donald. It is not easy to become a dictator.
The present President tweeted his dismay with the highest court in the land:
“The Supreme Court let us down. “No Wisdom, No Courage!”
I would not agree that, but I am only one person who voted for Joe Biden and against Mr. Trump.
You know what I would say? I would say maybe it was good idea that Texas had their lawsuit thrown out. I am guessing Texas might not like it if New York sued Texas to get the legal certified votes of Texas thrown out. What say you Texas? Would you really like it if some other state tried to get your legal State Certified votes thrown out?
Donald Trump has now lost or withdrawn from over 50 lawsuits. The Supreme Court denial was the second time the Supreme Court denied and shot down the hopes of the present President in the last two weeks.
In addition to being denied twice by the Supreme Court, the 50 or so other cases were lost or withdrawn for one simple reason. The President’s lawyers were unable to present any significant evidence that showed widespread fraud. The lawyers claimed widespread fraud when being televised outside of the courts, but when they got inside the courts and were requested to present evidence they were unable to do so.
Like “Mexico will pay for the wall.”, like “15 cases today, in a few days 2 or 3, then the Coronavirus will be gone “, like just before the election, at multiple rallies, where the President said, “Covid, Covid, Covid, that is all you hear. On November 4th, you won’t hear about it…it will be gone.” There were no facts or reality to the claims.
Well, Covid is not gone, but maybe Donald Trump will be gone from the White House.
On the Coronavirus/Covid front, as I come to the close of this blog post, cases are now averaging 200,000 to 300,000 a day, deaths 2,000 to 3,000 a day. Hospitalizations of Coronavirus cases are also now are at an all time high…over 108,000 people are in hospitals sick from Covid. In many hospitals, they are running out of beds to accommodate the rising flood of Coronavirus cases.
I would like to end on a truly good and hopeful note. On this day, the Pfizer vaccine has now been officially approved by the FDA. That probably was helped a little by the nudging of the White House who told Stephen Hahn, the head of the FDA, if he did not approve the Pfizer vaccine that very day, he would have to resign that very day. So, when faced with put up or shut up, the FDA put up.
Let us hope all the hurdles, all the difficulties and all the potential problems that now face the country in deploying the vaccine and getting it safely into peoples arms are now quickly overcome. Let us hope soon the Coronavirus will be truly gone and soon we will hear no more about Covid.
PostScript – 1/14/21
I said at the beginning of this story that subsequent events might change some things.
That has proved true. Events have changed the ending, have changed the perception of these last weeks and have changed our Democracy. From the very beginning, from the moment Donald Trump was elected President, I expressed fear and doubt about his Presidency – see “I Go For A Row In the Dark and Ponder The Donald”.
It seems my premonition about a Trump Presidency had some basis in truth.
Three weeks before Donald Trump was to end his term in office, the President encouraged his followers to protest the results of the election. Several thousand of his followers gathered in Washington and, then after hearing a speech by the President at this demonstration, thousands of those followers marched on Congress and physically broke in while Congress was in the process of confirming the certified results of the Electoral College. Several people died and extensive physical damage was done.
These events disturbed Congress and within a week they impeached the President for the second time, making Donald Trump the one and only U.S. President to be impeached twice in the history of The United States.
Had President Trump simply acknowledged that he lost an election and not encouraged his followers to protest, he would have gone down in history as a President with many achievements.
While it is easy to disagree with the reasons, for most of Donald Trump’s Administration, the U.S. economy prospered. Other achievements occurred. Peace agreements were reached in the Middle East between Saudi Arabia and other middle eastern countries, Isis was defeated and the country reduced its troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Donald Trump’s idea of “America First” was popular with many people in this country. Donald Trump’s confrontation with China on the trade deficit and national security also had many adherents. Whether these policies were good in the long term will be debated in the future, but the fact is that they were enthusiastically supported by many Americans.
Finally, his program to build a wall on our Southern border and reduce incoming immigrants coming into this country was thought by many to be a good policy.
And while it is absolutely true that the Administration’s response to the Pandemic was uneven and a tragedy in itself, many people might forgive him that because he clearly did not cause the Pandemic.
I personally disagree with almost all of what the Trump Administration did, thinking those policies to be unfair, unwise and not in the long term interest of the country. That said, many would argue they were true achievements and certainly if Donald Trump had learned to just admit that he lost, his legacy would be different. But like Icarus, he flew too close to the sun and the wax that held his feathered wings melted and he fell from the sky.
As we know from the last days of Donald Trump in office, he not only lost the election for himself, he lost the election for the Republican Party, specifically in Georgia, but nationally as well. In insisting falsely that he won, he incited some of his followers to storm Congress. Had he read American history, he would have discovered that inciting a riot to overturn the Government is not a legal act, but, according to reports, reading was not his thing.
No doubt, if Fox News or CNN or any left or right wing media had known in advance that the Congress was going to be stormed, they would have analyzed the legal ramifications of that and pointed out that it might result in the impeachment of the President. Perhaps, the President would have watched those news reports and acted differently. Of course, no media – left, right or in the middle – anticipated that the Congress of United States would be stormed and so Donald Trump had only his gut to go on and his gut said Go Ahead.
My wife and I have often taken a summer vacation in Montauk. We did last summer and because of the Coronavirus and the fact that Montauk is nearby, we decided to do the same this summer. The drive out to Montauk was relatively easy. I took the most direct route from Setauket – Nicholls Road to 27 to Southampton. From there we wisely chose the back road through North Sea to Sag Harbor taking 114 through to Easthampton, and then Main Street through town to Amagansett and then on to Montauk. There was surprising little traffic on that summer day and the trip took less than two hours.
Once out in Montauk, we wisely headed to Gossman’s for lunch. This was doubly wise since our hotel room was not ready and we were getting hungry. My wife and I have not had much opportunity to eat out in the last several months, so we were looking forward to make up for lost ground.
This sign greets you as you enter the little village of Montauk
Coming through town, there was a large sign on the right warning people to wear a mask and stay at least 6’ apart. As we passed through Main Street it was obvious that most people, if not all, were observing this new edict. It was strange watching tourists and visitors and residents walking along the sidewalks, all with masks, but that was to be expected in this time of the Coronavirus.
Taking the circle in the center of town to left, we headed for Montauk Harbor. Soon, we were pulling into Gossman’s. This restaurant is fortunate to have a lot of open space and outside seating. And equally important, it was a bright and sunny and warm day. Walking into the restaurant the scene was much like the summer before, with tables and seats almost fully occupied. People sitting at the tables looked just like they did the summer before, smiling, joking, laughing and chatting, their faces free of masks. I did notice that the inside of the restaurant was empty, occupied only by a few waiters rushing back and forth, bringing trays of foods and drinks out and trays of empty plates and glasses back. There was a waiting line with people wearing masks and standing by a lady taking down names behind a small stand.
After a 15 minute wait, we were comfortably seated overlooking the water. I have to say the food and the service were both great. Gossman’s, as perhaps is true of many an older restaurant, has gone through many changes and often the food and service were not, how shall I phrase it, the best you might expect. That said, the ambiance of sitting by the inlet and watching boats come and go makes up for a lot, even when the food is not the best. That turned out to not be a concern this time. Food and drink came promptly and actually seemed better than it ever has been.
One constant with Gossman’s has remained the same and that is, it was always pricey. So no matter whether the food was good or lackluster, you can depend on being impressed by the check.
At the outside tables, eating and drinking outside took on a familiar feel. I have to say I am in the camp that believes it is fairly safe to eat outside. My wife also agrees with that. So, our meal outside was really pleasant and carefree and, if one closed your eyes and forgot that everyone coming into the restaurant were wearing masks, all would seem normal, except of course, for the large unoccupied indoor part of the restaurant.
A pleasant surprise was just how good the food was. My wife and I shared oysters and they were truly excellent…fresh, clean, plump and naturally salty as they should be. Apparently, they are being farmed locally in Lake Montauk, so they were truly fresh and clean. My wife went on to have the salmon while I settled on lobster tails. My lobster tails were great and she lavishly praised the salmon. So, both meals were excellent and much appreciated after not dining out for many a day. I did notice that when the check came it seemed about 30% higher than the year before. Yes, $154 pre-tip seemed high, especially considering that the only drinks we had was two glasses of wine and a bottle of sparkling water.
But we did not mind, the meal was great, the ambiance was great and we could now head back and check in our motel by the sea.
I would interrupt here to say that the diet and lifestyle we had been living since the Coronavirus had taken hold left something to be desired. Take out dinners, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and even cooked in meals had all become stale and quite weird. And since I was still a working man, my life as both a remote worker and sometimes office worker had also been pretty weird. Wearing face masks and rubber gloves in my own office was truly strange, but then the times were truly strange.
I must say I did come to have a new appreciation of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches…I think I began to channel my early life as young boy when I lived on those two joyful substances, day and night, winter, spring, summer and fall.
It is true, since the restrictions around the Coronavirus had been recently softened, my wife and I had taken the opportunity to have a few lunches out in our local area of Setauket and Port Jefferson. Still, the chance for a nice “normal” lunch out in Montauk while sitting overlooking Gardener’s Bay and Lake Montauk was a true pleasure.
The hotel/motel we had selected was the WaveCrest. It is located about a mile and half west of town, directly on the beach. We had stayed at the WaveCrest many times before. To be sure, there are fancier, better heeled places, with more luxurious accommodations, but the WaveCrest offered pretty much everything we were interested in… a direct view of the ocean, a short walk to the beach and ocean and a hidden benefit, Steve’s WaveCrave food truck. That was to prove invaluable in the time of the Coronavirus.
Once in our room, sitting on the outside porch directly overlooking the beach, we could get a lay of the land. People were on the beach as ever…sitting under umbrellas, girls laying their back, their bikini top straps loose, their backs gleaming with lotion, boys and girls were out on the beach soaking up the sun. Families were gathered around on beach chairs shaded by umbrellas in a circle, coolers full of beer, drinks and sodas. Masks were nowhere to be seen. Overlooking the beach from our shaded porch, all seemed in order, as it ever was.
Off to the right, away from the lounge chairs, the umbrellas and the sunbathers, two fathers were throwing a small plastic football with their two sons, one father gathering weight around the waist, slowing, but still with the old football throw, the other father, more in shape, but also thickening around the waist, but still with a strong, hard throw, one of the kids diving for the plastic football which bounces off his small chest. That must have hurt, but the kid gets up, runs over to the ricocheted ball and throws it back. The throw goes high and short, the hit to the chest must have caused the kid a loss of timing and breath.
The two kids both have good throws, the two fathers also. I am guessing the fathers played team ball…high school or college. The heavier one is definitely the slower one. The toll of time beginning its relentless roll from youth to middle age. It is a normal beach scene, one you would have seen the summer before…one that you might see any year out in Montauk.
Me, my shadow, some foot prints and the beach just east of the WaveCrest.
That evening, I took a walk along the beach. The walk in the sand is somewhat arduous, somewhat surprising…the sand giving way with each step, making you feel that your progress is impeded by the soft sand. And it is surely true that it is easier to walk on a hard surface than a soft surface. Of course, I knew that and I expected that. After a few hundred yards of walking along the beach, my legs become more accustomed to the giving nature of sand. I walk on, passing beach front houses perched high in the sand dune hills that are features of the topography just east of Hither Hills.
I walk east about 3/4 of a mile with the declining sun at my back. I get to Gurney’s Inn Beach. At that time of the afternoon – 5:30 pm – the beach crowd at Gurney’s has thinned out, the cabanas are mostly empty, the life guards are no longer in their high chairs and there are only a few walkers or runners or anglers to be seen. That being enough of a walk, I turn back with sun slowly going down as I walk towards the WaveCrest.
When I come back to the room, my wife is reviewing movie choices on the TV which are limited at best. The WaveCrest has the same cable system we have at home, but with a trimmed down selection of programs. I grab a seltzer from the small refrigerator in the room and walk out on the small porch to watch the dimming light of the sun as it fades behind the sand dunes. The beach is now empty of walkers and runners. There is only the sound of breaking ocean waves, and the sight of the waves in the dimming light washing up on the beach and then receding. The endless commotion of the sea washes out any noise coming from the TV inside the room. I sit sipping my seltzer for a good 30 minutes, content to watch the ever dimmer light descend over the beach in front of me. Yes, some things change, but other things stay the same.
So the first day went just the way we liked it.
The next day we get up, have couple of cups of coffee on the porch – there is a small kitchenette in our room and my wife, knowing the importance of coffee, has used the included coffee pot to brew several cups. We watch the beach as the first people walk onto to it and go about whatever it is they wish to go about. Fishermen set up their rods and buckets, cast out their lines…walkers, some solo, some couples, walk the early morning beach, some walking in the direction of Hither Hills State Park to the west, some walking towards Gurney’s Inn to the east.
That morning we see a thick school of fish cruising along the shore 50 to a 100 yards out, a white line of commotion 25 feet wide, a couple of hundred feet long. A Montauk fisherman is on the beach casting out and pulling them in…they are some kind of large baitfish, 10” to 16” in length. I am not sure why the Montauk fisherman is making such an effort to catch and pull them in, considering their small size. Perhaps, he wants them for bait for larger fish. I know he is a Montauk fisherman because I have seen him driving up in the 4-wheel drive truck. On the truck it said “Blackwater Charter Expeditions”. I asked him about it.
“That’s my charter business.” From the tone of his voice and the lack of enthusiasm in it, I gather the charter business is not his main gig.
Steve’s WaveCrave truck was a true asset in the time of the Coronavirus. Our room was in the building just beside the WaveCrave about 50 feet away. Talk about convenience.
That morning we decide to take advantage of Steve’s WaveCrave food truck. Steve and his wife manage it. After a quick hello and ordering, I ask how the season has been.
”Very stressful, but it ended good” he says.
I gather that at the beginning of the year, it was hard for him to know if he could even open.
“We couldn’t open until June,” he says.
But now that he has opened and the season has gone surprisingly well and he tells me he is satisfied.
What is really surprising about Steve’s WaveCrave truck is how amazingly good it is. I order what known as a “Basic Joe” (2 eggs over medium with cheese and sausage on a roll) and for my wife, a “Nancy Atlas” (an egg wrap sandwich with avocado). After taking the sandwiches back to our room, we sit on the outside porch overlooking the beach and munch our breakfasts happily. After the WaveCrest breakfast is washed down with several cups of my wife’s coffee, we feel like the day has started with a solid foundation.
Normally, in pre Coronavirus times, we would have gone to John’s Pancake house, but when we passed it the day before we could not help but notice that it was totally packed both inside and out with a line people waiting to get a seat. If that was the situation in the afternoon we could only imagine what would be like when people eat pancakes.
After breakfast I hit the ocean. My wife stayed on the porch of our room…content to oversee my activities and read a book. The waves were not great, but they were large enough to dive and occasionally body surf. It was all good. I came back duly salted, refreshed and reborn. The ocean has a special place in my heart.
After taking an hour or so to sit on the porch and enjoy the beach scene before us, we notice the lunch hour creeping up fast. We decide to go for a ceremonial drive around Montauk checking out the various points of interest…the harbor, Montauk Point, The Lighthouse, America’s Oldest Ranch, East Lake, West Lake, Fort Pond, Duryeas…they were all still there. On our drive to East Lake, we stopped to have lunch at the Crabby Cowboy. It is not the finest fare, but it is located overlooking Lake Montauk and has a fine view of an adjoining marina and the lake. As an added bonus, my wife tries a can of some Long Island wine raised, picked, squished and fermented in Mattituck, Long Island, about 30 miles away as the crow or seagull flies. It is a little longer as the car drives since you have to navigate around Peconic Bay to get to Mattituck.
The cost was reasonable – about half of what a lunch would have cost at Gossman’s. We split some Buffalo Chicken wings, had a couple of hamburgers with French fries and Cole slaw – maybe not so good for our health, but still yummy in the tummy. They had a interesting Coronavirus ordering system – you are given a piece of paper to fill out your order as you walk in the entrance where a sign says, “No mask, No service”. You bring the filled out menu up to a window. You pay and they give you your drinks – a can of wine for my wife, a seltzer for me. Then you bring your drinks back to picnic table of your choice and settle in. It was a warm and breezy day. So we sat with the wind blowing and the sun shining. We had an excellent view of the lake and some floating oyster pods where oysters are being grown…the same oysters we had partaken of the day before.
My wife never heard of a wine being delivered in a can, but there it was and from the smile on her face, I concluded it was not half bad.
In a few minutes a waiter delivered our lunch in a shopping bag. Nice touch. It is up to us to pull it out. It was kind of like a picnic where we did not bring the food. All in all, it was surprising good.
On the way back, we stopped at what was the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Stand. I would note the Ben and Jerry’s name seems to have been deleted, indicating some change of management. No matter, they still serve some kind of ice cream. I am a vanilla ice cream guy. Just as Henry Ford said you can paint his cars with any color you want as long it is black, I will try any flavor of ice cream as long as it is vanilla. My wife, being more adventurous, opted for coffee ice cream. I cannot say if they were still using Ben and Jerry’s real ice cream, but I can say it was awful tasty.
We took our ice cream back to the WaveCrest, sat on our front porch and fattened ourselves as we watched the waves break on the shore in front of us and people laying about the beach and frolicking in the ocean. It was fine way to spend the fading hours of a sunny afternoon.
One of the things I was curious about was what effect the Coronavirus would have on Montauk and the people visiting Montauk in the summer? What would happen with the restaurants, the bars, the shops? I cannot say that after 2 days all seemed normal, but I can say that the town seemed to be adapting to the situation. I sensed a new somber reality to summer…on the main drag in town or on the beach, people seemed afraid to engage and talk, they kept their distance, if you wandered a little close to them on a sidewalk or the beach, they were liable to give you a wide birth. And just the sight of people wearing masks on the streets gave a different feeling.
Other than that, the restaurants we visited seemed relatively normal. The tables were mostly full and people at the tables took their masks off. The people sat eating and drinking as they always do…munching their meals leisurely, sipping their drinks, laughing, smiling, talking…couples holding hands, families gathered around at a table, kids running about, not quite sure what social distancing is.
That evening, I went for another walk on the beach. This is a normal pattern of my vacations in Montauk. I usually take a walk out the beach, usually in the direction Gurney’s. There and back is an easy walk, about a mile and half, not too long to be tiring, long enough to feel exercised and refreshed.
As I walk along the beach, waves, as usual, are washing up on the sand and spilling over small embankments near where I am walking. The water rushes over footprints, beach buggy tracks, bird prints, dog prints and truck tracks, erasing them and then almost instantly the salt water sinks into the now swept sand. A thick line of froth rides at the front of each advancing wave. The foamy froth lasts longer than the water when it comes to rest, settling on top of the sand, the bubbles of the froth being blown out gradually by the wind, some bubbles popping by themselves and collapsing. Only a salty, darker residue remains and that portion of sand now seems swept clean of human intervention.
Some stronger waves rush over the embankment ridge that I am walking along and threaten to get me wet. I alter my course occasionally and scuttling off to higher ground to avoid getting my sneakers wet. It is a cat and mouse game I play with the ocean, with the ocean being the cat and me being the mouse.
Strangers, other walkers or runners, some girls, some guys, some couples, some old, some young, walk or run along the same beach, we wave to each other, saying no words in this time of the Coronavirus, our hands making small gentle gestures of hello. Some are going in my direction slower or faster than me, always no words or conversations are passed, only the small hand gestures. And of course, social distancing is observed and nobody is going to stop and chit chat with a stranger. No, the times are too precarious for that.
One of the concerns I had about the Coronavirus and vacation in Montauk is what effects would I see as I wandered about. I cannot say that I saw obvious signs of great changes. There were a few restaurants that seemed not to re-open. There were a few stores that seemed to have been vacated. But other than the absence of some businesses, much seemed normal. The town seemed teeming with visitors and vacationers. Restaurants with outdoor seating seemed busy.
Breakfast places in town, like John’s Pancake House, seemed fully booked now with extra outdoor seating and people waiting on the sidewalk trying to get a table. The Main Street of Montauk seemed busy as usual. But I noticed not many people were entering the stores and if they were, it was selective. There was a crowd around John’s Pancake House, the bakery, the coffee shop, but gift shops seemed less occupied. An exception to that seemed to be the surf shop at the end of town. It seemed to have as many customers as John’s Pancake House.
I made a trip the next day to White’s, the local pharmacy in the center of town, to get some toothpaste and other necessities. Entry was not easy. The front door was locked and a sign advised that you had to walk through a side alley and around to get into the rear entrance. I am not quite sure what the reason was. Either they did not have enough people to man or woman the store or they did not trust customers, thinking they might run off with some of the store’s precious goods or they wanted to restrict the number customers. Or maybe there was some perfectly good health reason that I could not discern for their rear entrance and exit policy.
One thing was sure, you could not social distance very well if a customer was coming through the rear entrance as you were leaving. The store was unusually empty for summer day and there still was a line at the counter in spite of fact that there was only 4 people in the store. In any case, I was able to get my selected goods, pay and get out without bumping into anyone.
My wife was lucky enough to get this shot of a whale just off of our beach. You do not see that every day! Please excuse the grainy look…some resolution was lost in the process of cropping the picture.
After we got back to the room that morning, we saw a whale rising out of the ocean not far from the shore. It was the first of many whales that we saw during our stay.
That day, because it was rainy and windy, we had breakfast in the room. My wife, a believer in backup, had brought ample supplies to get us going that morning. Coffee, cereal, fruit, cold salmon, cheese and nuts…it was a healthy start to a dreary day and as we watched the rain come down in sheets outside.
Later, after watching some obligatory tube giving weather updates and other lackadaisical activity, we decided to take advantage of Steve’s WaveCrave for lunch. This time we went for Steve’s Famous Lobster Sandwich which well deserves its name. Steve has an unusual theory on how to make a lobster sandwich, deciding to make it with whole chunks of lobster lathered with butter, rather than cutting up bits and pieces of lobsters and adding mayonnaise and other filler ingredients. Steve then takes the whole chunks of buttered lobster and places them on a bun. The result is buttered lobster on a bun…quite yummy!
At Steve’s food truck, I met a ConEd employee from the city while standing in line waiting for my lobster sandwiches. Of course, we were social distancing appropriately, both wearing masks and standing 6 feet apart. In the short time there, I was able to get a conversation in and so I learned some interesting information from the ConEd guy. It turns out that he worked in Queens and was very busy running around the city installing WiFi connections for all the people trying to work remotely.
“It’s really weird,” he said, “I got a brunch of buddies who were laid off and I am out all over the city working my ass off.”
”The demand for the stuff I do is through the roof,” he said, “I love the work and am glad I have a job, but I am so happy to get out to Montauk and get a break.”
And then he turned a little bit pensive:
”I’m from Queens. We don’t see the stuff we see here…the open space, the clean air. We don’t get to see the ocean, we don’t see whales and dolphins running just offshore. It is just unbelievable, I love it.”
I would have launched further into the conversation, but my lobster sandwiches were ready. So, I said nice to talk to you, grabbed my sandwiches and headed back to the room. My wife and I enjoyed those sitting out on the covered porch watching the rain come down…just back from the wet action, but still outside and dry.
That afternoon, I took the opportunity to dig further into a book I brought along for the occasion. It was about why reconstruction failed after the Civil War. It recounted the story of how the emancipation of slaves and the installation of Carpetbagger/Scalawag politicians from the North and former black slaves turned elected Republican officials got reversed by the white Democrats in the State of Louisiana. Things were complicated back then. Maybe just as complicated as they are today…although instead of sorting out the winners and losers, North and South, from the Civil War, we are sorting out a badly damaged economy, widespread protests and civil unrest, record unemployment, a raging worldwide Pandemic and an upcoming Presidential election.
No matter to all of that, back in Montauk, it was a quiet day off…no swimming, no outdoor meals…just reading, some tube time and lots of rest. In short, it was just what the doctor ordered.
The next day the sun came back as it often does after rain and the sand on the beach slowly changed from a darker shade of color to a lighter shade as the sun warmed and dried the sands. We had breakfast in the room and by and by, when I deemed the sand had warmed enough, I went for a swim in the ocean while my wife settled in to our porch for some more reading.
The wind was from the northwest, smoothing out and throwing up the waves, giving them perfect formation and me an opportunity for some really enjoyable body-surfing. After 5 or 6 pretty good rides, I came in, feeling new and refreshed.
Later that day we decided to go to an old haunt of ours for lunch. That would be Duryeas. When we first went out to Montauk it used to be a simple place with some basic picnic tables and a small counter to place an order for fresh seafood. After ordering, you came back to your picnic table, made of 2 x 4s painted white…very sturdy, but not particularly comfortable. A few minutes after you were called up and then you went over to the counter and picked up your order. After that, it was only necessary to walk back and spread your feast over the wooden picnic table.
It was simple fare and a great place to have fresh lobster. At the time, Duryeas was a lobster and shellfish harvesting company, so you could always depend on the lobsters or the clams or the oysters being fresh. The restaurant was just a side offering of the shellfish gathering business. But times change and so has Duryeas. This summer it has gone uptown, with fancier layout, nicer tables, fancier fare and even fancier prices.
Presently, it seems more celeb oriented, with lots of handsome folks who might be actors or movie directors or hedge fund folks or just plain well-healed rich people. There was a line even though it was a Tuesday. Two young ladies stood behind a wooden gateway stand trying make sure everyone was seated in the order that they thought they should be seated.
From the crowded tables ahead of us and the even more crowded line directly in front of us, it was quite obvious that the place was prospering. After a suitable wait, we found ourselves seated out on a dock with brisk wind and a grand view of Gardener’s Bay. The ordering system was interesting and still relatively simple. They brought you your choice of flat water or sparkling water and menu list to mark. After marking that, you had to make your way to two counters with two young ladies behind plexiglass taking orders. You hand in your order sheet, she happily inputs your scribbles into the computer and then asks you what kind of tip you want to apply.
I usually like to add tips at the end of the meal after I know something about the meal I had, but this system assumed you would prefer to tip before your meal. And so I did. Because I could see I was now in an uptown place, I went with 20%. I did restrain myself from taking the 25% tip opportunity.
Having given in our order, I went back to my wife who was diligently trying to hold down our napkins in the quite brisk breeze. At the end of the dock were a couple of really fancy motor craft. While we’re waiting for our meal (oysters, French fries and blackened Branzino) to arrive, a parade of beautiful young ladies marched by…young models that seemed to have been selected by Jeffrey Epstein himself. The young beauties walked by, their hands playing with their hair as it went this way and that in the wind, trendy sunglasses shielding their sensitive eyes. They walked down the dock and then onto one of the million dollar motor crafts.
Now this vehicle was no doubt just a tender boat for some larger dream yacht, but the tender was a good 50 feet itself and it seemed to have no problems accommodating the 14 young ladies. They immediately stationed themselves on various prominent parts of the motor craft, looking good, their hair fluttering in the brisk wind, the trendy sunglasses protecting their peepers. They were dressed appropriately in brief summer wear…with midriffs and long legs showing.
Shortly thereafter, we heard the purr of 1200 horse power or more warming up, lines were disengaged and off the ladies went out into Gardener’s Bay, no doubt to meet some new mogul trying emulate the life and times of Jeffrey Epstein. You know what our President said about Jeffrey:
”He’s a great guy and really likes the ladies like I do, but I hear he likes them on the young side.”
And so it goes in Montauk.
In short order our oysters and French fries arrived. They served as a delicious bridge to the main course. I do not know what you have to do to make the French fries as good as they were, but the new management had obviously applied their secret sauce. We had good time keeping our napkins from flying into the bay below as we downloaded the oysters and fries. By and by, the main course arrived – it was beauty – the whole Branzino, head and all, was served with some truly delicious vegetables along the side. My wife was so excited she sent me off to retrieve another glass of white wine. This precipitated a second trip to the ordering counter.
Inside, around the corner from the 2 order counters, I saw there was an inside room with a large selection of fresh oysters, shellfish and other kinds of fish on display, laid out beautifully on chopped ice under glass. It was very impressive. Wow, I thought, you get to see what can order before adding the tip. Also, on display, was an impressive display of wine bottles, aperitifs and after dinner liqueurs. It was all very uptown. Back at the counter, the girl took another swipe on my credit card and 24 dollars later I was on my way back to the table. By some magic, the glass of wine arrived before me.
Anyway, it was all good, even if the total bill for 2 was cruising well over $200. And after such a fine meal, there was only one other thing to do. Swing by the ice cream stand and collect some before going to bring back to the room. That didn’t work out too well, since it turned out the ice cream stand was having some kind of management issue. Apparently, one or two of the employees failed to show up and there was only one poor girl trying to take orders at the order window and make ice cream cones behind the service counter with a line of 5 or 6 families angrily waiting for their ordered goods. That was not easy to do since the order window was a good 20 feet from the service counter. The situation, in short, was hopeless.
I decided to move on to John’s Drive-in. That was on the way back to the motel just as you head out of Montauk Village. John’s Drive-in (not to be confused with John’s Pancake House, although the ownership may be related) had people waiting for ice cream, but fortunately they also had people to serve the orders almost as fast people came in. Within a few minutes, my wife and I were ice cream enabled and we headed back to enjoy our desert for the day while we overlooked the ocean from our porch.
Later that day, just about the time we were finishing up respective servings of ice cream, a small plane flew by dragging a large banner, maybe 10 feet high by 30 feet long. Because the wind was still pretty brisk and the plane was fairly high up, it was difficult to read the banner. What I could see clearly were the words: “Feel Even Calmer”. Next to the words was an image of a can that also had a name on it, but unfortunately, the plane and the banner were a little too high to read. I presumed it was the name of whatever was in the can. Alas, on that day, I was not learn what would make me “Feel Even Calmer”. Talk about stress.
Just to shake off the stress, I went for another swim in the surf and later, as the sun fell behind the dunes, I also went for walk on the beach.
It was not until 2 days later when another plane came by dragging the same banner. This time the banner was closer and I got to read the name on the can – it said “Recess”. So, I guess the point of this marketing effort was to promote a new product called “Recess” that would make you “Feel Even Calmer”. That was good information to know as I pondered the changing systems of marketing in this new age.
These natural wooden protrusions were seemingly put in place for some reason just to the right of our room. The fog provided an other worldly look and the sign advised that Hither Hill State Park was just beyond.
We spent most days of our vacation with an almost identical routine. We would have breakfast at the WaveCrave. I would alternate between “Basic Joe” egg and cheese sandwiches with sausage and “Basic Joe” egg sandwiches with bacon. My wife, being more adventurous than me, would choose “Nancy Atlas Egg Wraps” and “Australian Egg Wraps”.
After breakfast my wife would settle in with a good book or her trusty iPad Pro while I would go for a swim in the surf. On a couple of days we took out my trusty inflatable kayak on Fort Pond and paddled for an hour or so. Then to lunch, which ranged from reasonable (Salvadore’s, Crabby Cowboy or Navy Beach) and not so great or unreasonable (Gossman’s or Duryeas) and quite good. We did hit Duryeas one more time and they outdid themselves by charging more than $250. Go Duryeas!
After lunching, we might check out a few shops, careful to wear masks and social distance. Then, on to pick up some ice cream and back to the room. Usually, about an hour after digesting my ice cream, I would go on a walk on the beach to Gurney’s Inn and back.
It was all very unexciting and boring and restful and wonderful and healthy. And soon, as all things do, our vacation was drawing to a close.
There was always the sound of the surf.
And in the background and in front of our room, there was always the continual sound of the ocean waves breaking upon the beach…first rising, then crashing, then rushing forward and then receding…a continual commotion of rising and falling sounds, a kind of roar, as the sands of the beach were picked up by the incoming water and then pulled back…sounding like a drummer with a soft and subtle brush.
I could not help but wonder as I would have seltzers on the porch and sit overlooking the ocean: What was going to happen to Montauk as fall and winter closed in? No doubt restaurants and bars and shops would close as many do at the end of the season, but some who normally dared to stay open all year would have to make decision: Was it worth it to stay open all year around this year? No doubt most summer folks would head back to the cities and towns they normally live in. That would leave fishermen and Montauk residents and perhaps a few city refugees facing a winter of cold quiet. For, as we were getting ready to leave Montauk, the Coronavirus was in evidence everywhere and it seemed certain it would not go quietly into that good night.
While we were on vacation, the stock markets of the United States reached and stayed at or close to all time highs, seemingly unaware that 20 million Americans were still out of work. I had long given up trying to understand why stock markets could be so buoyant in times of economic difficulties. Of course, it must be admitted that the present economic difficulties did not come from economic policies, but rather from a strange virus that rose up out of nowhere like some beast of monstrous size in a SciFi movie. But we were not living in a SciFi movie, we were living in real life.
As our vacation came to end and we drove back to Setauket, I also wondered what the Fall and Winter would bring. As I am finishing up this blog story, Coronavirus cases are once again advancing with over 50,000 cases averaging daily this week. While long predicted, it seems as the weather gets colder and winter approaches, a 3rd wave of the Coronavirus is coming. How strong that will be and what effects it causes are still unknown, but it seems sure this is a period of doubt and dismay.
While we were in Montauk we saw a lot of whales, some close to shore, some further out. We also saw schools of bluefish and baitfish and striped bass swimming by in streams. We also saw dolphins sporting and jumping offshore and once, I saw a seal raise its head from the sea, look around and then disappear. It was nice to see that other life still resides in the sea. And it was nice to see families and couples and singles, old and young, all out on the beach, sunning and running and walking themselves, throwing frisbees and footballs, hitting shuttleclocks and volleyballs over nets, sitting under umbrellas or out in open warming themselves or lathering up with sunscreen, sipping sodas or wine or beer, laughing and smiling as they huddled to together by themselves or in groups on the beach.
On most nights while we were in Montauk, some of the WaveCrest guest would go out on the beach with flashlights and radios and light fires and sit around in groups. That was legal at the WaveCrest, although from the frown on my wife’s face, she thought it must be breaking some law somewhere. No matter, the WaveCrest guests gathered in groups in the evenings and sat on the beach around fires, their voices raised higher with the benefit of adult beverages, laughing and shouting and listening to music, no longer aware of the Coronavirus and what further discomforts it might bring this Fall and Winter. I can only wish them well.
I have long thought that there are two worlds. The world we live in…the indoor world of houses, air-conditioning and heating, in offices or restaurants or theaters. And then there is the other world…the outdoor world with flowers and grasses and beaches, with hills and mountains and valleys and dunes and bays and lakes and rivers and ponds and oceans, with other life teaming throughout, some of that life unaware of us humans, other parts of that life all too aware, some thriving along with us, others striving just to survive. Of the two worlds…the indoor and the outdoor world…I have always felt the outdoor world was the more real, the more beautiful and the more permanent.
An ominous cloud and sea view from our room one morning.