Monthly Archives: September 2005

Cell phone conversation

There’s a new used book store in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Raven Used Books, on the basement level two doors down from Shay’s Wine Bar on JFK. I was standing looking at the history books when a man stopped in front of the store to talk on his cell phone. I could hear him very clearly even though he was all the way up the stairs on the sidewalk.

[Something about plans for the evening…]


[in a louder voice] Dad, you don’t have to pick me up after work. I can…

Long pause.

[in a definitely loud voice] I’m telling you right now, I don’t want to go out for dinner.


[in softer voice] I don’t want to go out to dinner. I just wanna go home and unpack my s— and just sit there and relax.

He was still talking when I left the bookstore some five minutes later. I had expected a college student, but he was in his late thirties, curly brown hair touched with gray, blue flannel shirt and purple baseball cap, still trying to make plans for the evening.

A few more days

Headline on the front page of today’s New Bedford Standard-Times:


I know the Curse is over after last season, but I had a hard time reading that headline. Too many bad memories.

What I really want to have happen this weekend, for the final showdown between the Sox and the hated Yankees, is to be transported out to George and Walt’s, a neighborhood bar near hte Rockridge BART station in Oakland, where I could sit sipping one of their perfect martinis while watching the games with my friend, Michelle. Universalist that she is, Michelle is always filled with hope, certain that it will turn out all right in the end. She could explain the things I still don’t get (like, I still don’t get this middle reliever strategy — why put a pitcher in for two outs? — but Michelle can make me understand it). Yeah, that’s where I could watch the games this weekend — you just can’t feel the same way about Curse flashbacks when you’re under the bright California sun.

Coming out our apartment this evening, I was greeted with a huge, perfect rainbow. The red was particularly bright because of the red setting sun. I watched it until the sun faded, and the rainbow faded into the gray clouds rushing overhead, until all that was left was a red pillar of fire on the northeastern horizon.

No more floods, but fire next time. You hear that, Yankees? You’re gonna go up in flames this weekend!

Dangerous clams

When Carol and I were at the Working Waterfront Festival on Sunday, we met an author named Doug Campbell, who was there selling his book The Sea’s Bitter Harvest. Campbell was a long-time reporter for the Philadeplphia Inquirer, and he got assigned to report on the story of four deep sea clam boats that went down in January, 1999. (Much of the deep sea clam industry is based in southern New Jersey, not far from Philadelphia — thus the Inquirer’s interest.) Campbell’s interest in the topic grew, and next thing he knew, he found himself writing a book.

I’m most of the way through The Sea’s Bitter Harvest, and it’s a fascinating read. Not only is it a suspenseful story, but Campbell gives us a picture of the life of clam fishermen, which is very different from the long-line fishing that you’ve probably read about in The Perfect Storm. And one of the boats that Campbell writes about, Cape Fear, was based in New Bedford before she sank, so he also gives a picture of this less-well-known side of the New Bedford fishing trade. (I learned that the clam boats are the ones with the big black hose coiled on the stern and a steel clam dredge on either the stern or off to one side.)

One interesting point that Campbell makes is that the men and women who go out on New Bedford fishing boats not only have easy access to drugs down on the waterfront, but because fishing can be so lucrative they have also lots of income to spend on drugs. Of course, many in the fishing trade will have nothing to do with drugs. But like stockbrokers, fishermen and -women are in a high-stress job that pays extremely well. No surprise that some people in both lines of work use drugs.

Fascinating book, and worth reading.


Carol and I got over to the New Bedford Working Waterfront Festival this afternoon, and we had a blast.

Carol was over at the festival yesterday and got to see the scallop shucking contest, which she said was pretty good. We made a point of seeing the fish fileting contest today. Those guys were fast — as a recreational fisherman, I take forever to filet a fish, and these guys would filet several pounds of fish in the time it would take me to finish one filet. After the contest was over you could get a little closer, and I watched the winner skin his filets. Man, he was good, taking the skin off with a few fluid, practied motions. (In case you’re wondering, all the fish was immediately chilled and donated to the hungry of the city.)

I also spent quite a bit of time talking to the fellow who made scallop drags — still hand-assembled right here in New Bedford, and each one has to be pretty much custon-made for a given ship. The fellow said that much of the work is grunt-work, bending metal rings to make the chain-link bag that holds the scallops. But, he said, since every one is a little different, it takes a good bit of brain work, too. I love to know how things get put together, so I was fascinated.

Carol and I toured a couple of the boats, but I have to admit I wasn’t all that interested. Now if we could ahve toured a boat yard, I could have stayed all day — I’m more interested in how boats go together than in sailing them. We somehow wound up on a harbor cruise instead of going to the blessing of the fleet. There was just too much going on at once.

We did manage to catch some of the great traditional music sponsored by WSMU. David Jones and Heather Wood were there singing their a capella English songs — I like their unpretentious manner, and their resonant harmonies. We caught part of the set by the New Bedford Sea Shanty choir. Singer and guitarist Gordon Bok told a series of long involved stories instead of playing his usual music, saying that stories are the way we get taught by our elders, and as an example he told the story of how he was about to go on deck of a boat in a long coat when the captain stopped him and told him a story of how another man got killed by wearing a long coat on deck, and that led to another story, and another story, all drily funny and most pretty grim, as New England stories usually are — but we never did hear the end of that first story, and I still don’t know if Gordon Bok took off that long coat before going up on deck.

As we walked home, Carol remarked on the way the festival brought together all the different kinds of people who live in New Bedford. To me, it felt like the New Bedford equivalent of the midwestern county fairs. In any case, it was a great event. If you missed the working waterfront festival this year, don’t miss it next year.

Quarter of a million?

Washington, D.C.

I arrived in Washington late last night, and stayed with my friend Elizabeth, who is a lawyer, a Quaker, and a yoga teacher (not in that order). Got a call on my cell phone as we were headed over to the peace march and rally — the rest of the contingent from First Unitarian could not make it down due to a mix-up on their bus seats.

Got to the Ellipse for the rally a little before noon. An interesting group of speakers and not the usual suspects — not many aging (white) activists from the sixties, no leftover (white) hippies — instead, more people of color speaking, and a fair number of younger speakers.

The march around the White House and up and down the streets just north of the Mall was supposed to step off at 12:30. The speakers were still going strong, but Elizabeth and I wandered over towards where the march was supposed to start off. I saw a blonde woman walking quickly in the other direction, surrounded by a small coterie, who were surrounded by photographers and videographers. People around us started following here: “Cindy Sheehan! Cindy…”

The crowd kept getting thicker and thicker. Elizabeth, a long-time resident of Washington, said, “There’s a lot of people here.” I had figured there would be maybe fifty thousand people, the march organizers got a permit for a hundred thousand — but Elizabeth’s best guess was that it was more than hundred thousand, based on seeing past events in and around the Mall.

We finally wormed our way through the crowd and got to where the march was supposed to be starting, but all we saw was people just standing there on the street waiting to start walking. I began to think that the sheer numbers of people who showed up had overwhelmed the logistics of the march. We tried to skirt around the beginning of the march route, and after an hour of working our way through the crowd, and taking a wrong turn here or there, we wound up where we could see the marchers coming down the street towards us. Elizabeth has been having back problems, so she kept heading north and caught a bus home. I joined the march.

The marchers were heading along at a good clip, a steady stream of people through the streets of Washington. I looked around to see what kind of people were marching. For the large part, they were stunningly normal-looking. Yes, I saw a few college kids in dreadlocks, a few anarchists dressed in red and black, someone on stilts. But mostly I saw normal, ordinary people. Many middle-aged people, quite a few elders, quite a few younger adults — and a fair number of children and teens.

Being a minister, I noticed the people who announced their religious affiliations: Methodists for Peace, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Quakers for Peace and Justice, Church of the Brethren, Unitarian Universalists for Economic Justice, an Episcopalian group, Ethical Culture Society — in other words, lots of liberal Christians and other religious liberals. A fair number of Muslims, too. One tiny contingent of Buddhists.

I got to the end of the march by three thirty or so — the people Elizabeth and I had seen waiting to start marching were still standing in the same place where we had left them — the pre-march speakers were still going strong. I wandered over to where the post-march “Operation Ceasefire” concert was supposed to happen.

A band called Living Things was playing some pretty good hardcore with a peace and justice message. A far cry from the folk singers you might have heard at rallies in the late seventies, when I first demonstrated in Washington for peace (we were trying to end the Cold War and the nuclear arms race back then) — much hipper, far more upbeat. Living Things were followed by some speakers, including Maxine Waters who gave the best speech I heard all day. Although her speech was clearly a partisan Democratic speech, and al though she didn’t get into religious or moral reasons for ending the war in Iraq, it was still an excellent summary of reasons for getting out of Iraq now.

Maxine Waters was followed by a young woman from Louisiana Peace network — I missed her name — but she made the obvious link between what happened in New Orleans, and the fact that we’ve committed too much money and personnel to Iraq. Two dynamic African American women in a row. For me they were the highlight of the whole event. One of the organizers of the event came on next and announced three hundred thousand people at the march and rally. Then Joan Baez came onstage. It sounded like she hadn’t warmed up her voice — her famous vibrato was not happening, her intonation was way off, her voice cracked — it was past four, so I decided to leave.

So how many people were actually there? The New York Times did its usual weak coverage of Washington political rallies including their trademark statement, “The National Park Service no longer gives estimates of crowd size.” A good reporter could have gotten a crowd estimate from another source — with modern satellite images, no doubt someone has come up with a pretty accurate estimate of how many people were there — but the New York Times wasn’t interested. We’re on our own to come up with a guess. I’d guess more than the hundred thousand that had been planned for, but less than the three hundred claimed — somewhere in that range. A lot of people. A lot of people who are praying for true peace now.

Update 9/26:

The Washington Post had good solid coverage of the march in a cover story yesterday. Reporter Petula Dvorak wrote in part:

Protest organizers estimated that 300,000 people participated, triple their original target. D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who walked the march route, said the protesters achieved the goal of 100,000 and probably exceeded it. Asked whether at least 150,000 showed up, the chief said, ‘That’s as good a guess as any. It’s their protest, not mine. It was peaceful — that’s all I care about….’

There were more Americans at the march than we have sent to Iraq. Dvorak goes on to report that,

Roughly 147,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq. Since the war began in March 2003, 1,911 U.S. members of the military have been killed and 14,641 have been wounded.

Peace march

Getting ready to head off to the peace march in Washington, D.C., tomorrow. A small group of people from this congregation are heading down to witness for peace.

When I was trying to decide whether or not to go down, I called my friend Elizabeth, who lives in DC. I asked her if this peace march was worth going to — Elizabeth has connections with the world of political activism, and since I can’t afford to head down to Washington every five minutes, I’m cautious about which actions of public witness I’ll get involved in. It’s not like I have a lot of money to throw around, and of course I could give that money to a charitable organization.

I called her, explained that I was thinking of heading down, and asked, “So is it worth my while to go?”

“I’m going,” said Elizabeth decisively. “It may not be all that well organized. But this war has gone on too long, and we’ve got to do something.”

As she often does, she helped me clarify my thoughts. From a religious point of view, I am willing to say there is a possibility of a just war, but there is no possibility any longer that this is a just war. We are sending our servcemen and servicewomen into risk of serious bodily harm, no doubt about it. But when a war can no longer be considered just, we are also sending them into risk of serious moral harm, causing them to make impossible moral choices. For they cannot say that at least their actions are in service of a just war.

If the war in Iraq can no longer be considered a just war, the implications for our country are serious. To use traditional language, even a just war requires repentance and penance by religious persons — but war that is neutral in terms of justice or even unjust will require even more repentance and penance. At this point, much of this country is not even ready to engage in repentance and penance for a just war, let alone a war that cannot be considered just. I am beginning to think of my upcoming trip to Washington in terms of a pilgrimage and a beginning act of repentance. Or if you prefer less tradititional religious language, I might say that this is a first step towards the healing of the web of relationships that has been damaged by the war.

Yikes. Who knew I felt so strongly about all this?

In any case, don’t know if I will be able to post to this blog while I’m in Washington, but I should be able to post again no later than Monday.

Still waiting…

Our technology woes continue. Verizon sent a repair tech out again today, and though he solved one problem he was unable to connect our home phone. Supposedly someone will come out tomorrow. We asked for phone service on August 19, and we’re still waiting.

And my new Mac Mini came today, which I bought so I will have a computer to use when my laptop goes to the repair shop (and after that to have as a backup in case I have another laptop malfunction). It will live in my office at church, and it’s up and running — except that it can’t access the DSL line through the office network. So we will have to call in our church repair tech one more time to fix the network.

I don’t mind being so dependent on technology that I can no longer survive without a computer (in fact I kinda like it). But I do mind being dependent on unreliable networks, or on phone companies that take more than a month to set up phone service.

Road trip

Heard while eating lunch today in New Bedford: “I never go to Boston. It’s too far. It’s like going to a foreign country.”

Got in my car just after two, drove to Concord to see Nancy James, the insurance agent I used to use when I lived in Massachusetts before. This past Sunday, she was at the big celebration at the Gloucester Universalist church, the first Universalist church in New England (according to some historians). Nancy’s ancestors were among the people who signed the original charter. So if you want to play the “I-was-born-a-Unitarian-Universalist” game, just remember that it’s almost impossible to beat Nancy.

After spending a year in the midwest, I’m used to driving an hour or more to go shopping. As long as I was in Concord, I slipped over to Maynard, to the Maynard Outdoor Store. I’ve been going there since I was a kid, and some of the same people are still working there. As usual, they had everything I wanted, and cheaper than you can get things through mail order. Still family-owned, too. (Someday I’ll do profiles of “real stores” on this blog….)

Met Carol in Cambridge, where she stays during the week for her job. We had sushi at Whole Foods Market in Cambridge. Great people-watching — from classic nutty-crunchy aging Cambridge hippies, to Muslim women in veils, to tanned-and-fit yupsters, to students — and the cutest little baby sitting at the next booth while we were eating, whose parents apparently were speaking some East Asian language.

Driving back, listened to WUMB, the folk radio station in Boston (which has a repeater in Falmouth, at 91.9 FM, so we also listen to it in New Bedford). It was dark and late, and I was in one of those meditative states you get into sometimes when you drive, and the announcer said, “Neil Young has a new record out, blah blah blah,” and Neil Young’s quavery, slightly out-of-tune voice came on the air. Wait, isn’t Neil Young dead or something? You mean he’s still singing, and sounds exactly the way he did in the 70’s when I used to sit in front of Dad’s big stereo set listening to Captain Ken Shelton play Neil Young every Thursday on the Top 40 Countdown? Either that, or I’m suffering from some kind of hellish flashback to the miserable 1970’s. I turned the radio off.

Stopped at the Bridgewater service station off Rt. 24 to top off my tank. As I pulled in to the gas pumps, I noticed an attractive middle-aged woman pumping gas into her Ford Explorer right in front of me. I took my time getting out of the car, fiddled with my credit card, eventually started pumping gas into my little ’93 Toyota Corolla. She finished filling her tank just after I finished filling mine — I hate to think how much gas she had to put in her SUV, or how much she paid at $2.87 a gallon. And hey, I sympathize with her, I’m feeling it at the pump too. My poor little Toyota used to get forty miles per gallon on road trips, but with age now it’s down to thirty-five miles per gallon.

Three days without access

Friday, I came in to the church office to check email and update this blog. The church computers were completely unable to access the Internet. This morning, we found out that the tech we hired to “fix” our Internet access completely messed things up. The church is now using another tech, who got us back online today.

You might recall that my laptop was out of action, and I still haven’t repaired it. I’ve managed to use it for wordprocessing, but given that it appears to have problem with conflicts in Finder preferences, that’s about all I can do. Looks like I’m going to have to take it in for repairs.

Nor would it make a difference if my laptop were working. Verizon still hasn’t managed to provide us with phone service, nearly a month after I first called them to set up phone and DSL. Our landlady was over on Saturday, and she and I looked into what could be wrong. It turns out that in spite of the fact that Verizon claims to have sent techs over on three separate occasions to connect our phones, they still haven’t connected the wires to their service box in the crawl space under our apartment. Obviously, the techs never bothered to even look in the crawl space, where they were told to look. (By the way, I’m now fairly sure that the reason my laptop is sick is because of the Verizon DSL software I installed on it — that’s two strikes against Verizon.)

So when Carol came down for the weekend, we went over to Panera Bread in the Dartmouth Mall to use their free Internet service. But guess what? AOL had some kind of problem in their servers. We could access mail (mostly), but nothing else.

Technology is failing me this week. Wish me luck as I try to get everything resolved.