Monday, August 21, 2017

Alt-Wrong

I sometimes ask myself what I would have done if I’d been living in Germany in the 1930’s. Oh, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been a Nazi. And I’m pretty sure that I would have done plenty of sneering at and about them. Until they came to power, that is.

Then, what would I have done? Probably kept my mouth shut in public and spoken only to those I trusted 100%. I suspect I would have had many sleepless nights. I suspect I would even have prayed.

Would I have been Sophie Scholl, the university student who was beheaded for her anti-Nazi activism in 1943? Probably been too scared.

Would I have helped a Jewish friend? Probably given money to help them flee the country; probably not hidden them in my home.

Thankfully, we don’t live in Nazi Germany, and comparisons between the 21st century United States and post-WWI Germany are pretty thin. But one lesson we can take is just how fragile countries can be. Germany was prosperous, cultured, “liberal.” And then…Things can and do happen fast.

But if you’re a well-off white person, living in a safe area, things aren’t all that scary, even in our present not especially pleasant times.

Still, when I started hearing about the “Free Speech” rally that was taking place pretty much right in my front yard on Saturday, and that the organizer had invited some alt-righties, it was pretty clear that I couldn’t just sit in my house watching HG-TV and eating bonbons.

It became confusing fast about who was actually going to be speaking. Was the nincompoop who did all the Pizzagate “work” for Alex Jones going to be given a microphone? Remember Pizzagate? Hillary and her pals running a pedophile ring out of the basement of a DC pizza parlor? That Pizzagate?

How about the numbskull Holocaust denier? The one – well, there may have been more than one – who spoke at the Charlottesville rally? One of the “nice people” who attended that event? You know, the one where a lot of innocent folks carried tiki torches while chanting “Blood and Soil,” and “Jews will not replace us”? Was he invited? Uninvited? Decided not to come?

I couldn’t imagine that Boston would turn into Charlottesville, but I sure didn’t want a bunch of neo-Nazis and Klansmen tramping around my neighborhood. Talk about ‘get off my lawn!’

But there was Charlottesville, and that straight out of Leni Riefenstahl (but at blessedly lesser scale) torch light rally. And those Klan salutes. And Heather Heyer. All playing over and over again in my mind.

So I checked out what was on offer for a counter-protest.

There was some gathering at the State House, which would have been easy-peasy. Five minutes up the hill and I’m there. But it sounded a bit “off” to me. One of the sponsoring group was demanding that end to sanctions on North Korea. Say wha’? It just looked like the kind of scene that might attract an anti-fa element. No thanks.

Meanwhile, there was a march, starting in Roxbury, sponsored by Black Lives Matter and a whole lot of clergy. I’d participated in a BLM march a few years back, and it was well-organized, heartfelt, well-run. A walk out to the starting point at the Reggie Lewis Center. The walk back into Boston Common. Why, I’d even get my Fitbit steps in!

It took me a while to decide on what hat to wear.

I have the Red Sox cap with the 1950’s logo. But – ugh – that was the logo when the racist Tom Yawkey was the own of my beloved olde towne team. I love the cap, but an anti-racism march didn’t seem like quite like the venue.

I considered my Red Sox cap with the kelly-green B and the shamrock, which I wear to show the world that not all shamrock-wearing Bostonians are punks.

And then I remembered the cap I bought for Fourth of July. The one I wear to show the world that liberals are patriotic, too. I’m not much of a selfie taker, but this is me, right before the march was about to start:

MR at march

The sign in back of me shows the Obama post-Charlottesville tweet with those cutie-pie babies and  the Nelson Mandela quote:

"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion..."

The sign is being held by Chuck, husband of Deb, brother-in-law of Pam, a crew I met on the way to the march and ended up staying with throughout . Along the way, we added Ayesha to our band. Here’s Ayesha with her sign:

20170819_110306

She was marching so her grandkids don’t have to.

The crowd was large, loud, spirited, blissfully diverse with respect to race, age, and sexual orientation. And from where I walked in its midst, 100% peaceful. Not to mention full of excellent signs. Here are a few of my favorites.

20170819_11515420170819_11130320170819_103958

It was overcast when I left for the march, and overcast was predicted for the duration, so I figured I’d be okay without water. Wrong! The sun came out, so I popped into a Subway to slake my thirst, and pick up a bottle for Pam, who’d gone through hers already. I grabbed three bottles, but the line was so long at the checkout.. I will have to admit I did my old lady privilege thing and just handed one of the kids working there $20 and walked out. Nice to be able to throw down $20 for three bottles of water without thinking twice. Not everyone, I realize, can do that.

By the time we were approaching Boston Common, I’d gotten a text from my sister Trish that the “free speech” rally had been virtually unattended and was already over. It turned out to be pathetically organized. Apparently the mikes didn’t even work.

On the way, I’d been making jokes about outnumbering the alt-wrong 1,000 to one. And that was about the way things turned out to be. 40,000 of us, about 40 of them.

Overall, there were 33 arrests. Our quite wonderful Police Commissioner, Bill Evans said:

“99.9% were here for the right reason. To fight bigotry.”

Actually, if you do the math, it looks more like 99.999%. Five nines! That’s pretty damned good. And not all of those arrests were fringe, anti-fa elements, either. (By the way, a shout out to the BPD who did an excellent job as far as I’m concerned.)

Anyway, yay Boston!

I’m all for free speech. Let those a-holes chant “Blood and Soil” all they want. But part of my free speech is getting out there and chanting, No Nazis, No KKK, No fascist USA.

They – the Nazis, the KKK, the fascists - turned out not to be here. But if they’re thinking about coming to Boston, I want them to know that we outnumber them 1,000 to 1. (Which I hope is the ratio across the entire country, by the way.) And our signs are a whole hell of lot better than their ridiculous tiki torches.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Shake, shake, shake. Shake, shake, shake. Shake your salt shaker.

This is my go-to salt & pepper shaker set. I like it for a couple of reasons. First off, they were a gift from my late, much beMarie SPloved, and greatly missed friend Marie. So, when I use them – and they are my go-to, so if I’m salting and/or peppering, I’m mostly using them  – I think of Marie. Second, they’re amusing (to me anyway). They just make me smile.

Once or twice a year, when I’m feeling a bit fancier, I use this set. These I inherited from my mother, who used them for holiday dinners. She had two sets – holiday dinners meant a long table with a lot of Crystal SPpeople sitting at it – and one of my sisters has the other pair. I like them because they remind me of family, and family history.

I have a bunch of other salt and pepper shakers, some gifts, some that I bought, and some that, like the crystal set, are part of my inheritance.

My mother quasi-collected sale and pepper shakers, something I think my father got her going on, but which she kept up so that her kids always had something they could get her for her birthday or Christmas. Woolworth’s sold S&P shakers for 49 cents.. I remember getting her a pair of cute little pink pigs, and another set of smiling Dutch SPturnips. I have the pigs around here somewhere. I also have one of the pairs I believe my father got for her. They’ve been smashed and glued back together, and have missing pieces. They sit on my kitchen counter, and I like them because they remind me of my parents, because they’re sort of pretty, and because the blue in the Dutch maid’s skirt and the Dutch boy’s shirt matches the accent color in my kitchen.

I also have a pepper grinder, which is as high tech as I want to get when it comes to dispensing pepper, or salt for that matter. I mean, the basic design of a salt and pepper shaker is pretty simple. It just works. Sure, the salt can clump together if it gets some moisture in it. And the corks that hold the S&P can fall out, fall in, or just plain get lost. Mostly they work. And if it ain’t broke…

Nonetheless, Herb & Body “a California-based lifestyle company” feels that things could be improved on. So they have developed Smalt:

THE FIRST MULTI-SENSORY DEVICE TO MAKE DINING EXPERIENCE FUN

Isn’t dining already a multi-sensory experience? Even if you’re eating by yourself, there’s taste, touch, smell, look. And if I’m eating with others, that means friends or family, and adding talk to the multi-sensory experience is plenty enough fun. Do we really need a device that’s more complex that the knife, fork, spoon, and salt shaker combined? I mean, the more stuff a device can do, the more things there are that can go wrong. With the exception of the Swiss Army knife, multi-function usually translates into multi-problem.

But Herby & Boy thinks the time is right:

Our aim is to develop smart home devices that aspire to make ordinary life more fun, easier, and healthier.  Connected kitchen is the next wave of smart home tools and our company’s ambition is to be at the forefront.  We will be bringing tools to the market that will be interactive and fun while enriching peoples’ lives.   Our first innovation, “SMALT”, is the first of it’s kind to market and will transform an ordinary kitchen tools that people have been using for centuries into a fun experience. (Source: MySmalt)

Maybe it’s just me – old fogey, quasi-Luddite (especially when you consider that my career has been in technology) – but I really don’t see how making something as brilliantly simple as a salt shaker more smaltcomplex makes “ordinary life” easier. (It goes without saying that having this device on my dining room table won’t be making my life more fun or healthier.)

And, God knows, I really don’t care to have a connected kitchen. My life gets enriched by friends and family, by experiences, by looking at my salt and pepper shakers that remind me of friends, family, and experience.

Features mood-lighting to set the ambiance (sic!) and a Bluetooth speaker to play music!

I don’t have much call for mood-lighting, but isn’t that what candles are for? And is there anyone who doesn’t already have a couple of ways to play music, without involving their salt dispenser? Do we need a smart-aleck salt shaker playing tunes?

Maybe this is just a way for Herb & Body to get attention. (Mission accomplished!)

But I have to say it bothers me when people with fine minds and good technical skills devote those minds and skills to things like the Smalt.

Go head, please. By all means, make our lives smarter and easier. But aren’t there any more useful places you could be focusing your efforts on?

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Saw this on my friend John Whiteside’s FB page. Thanks, John.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Baseball Gloversville

I’ve driven through Upstate New York, on I-90, many times, and one of the towns you pass through is Gloversville, once the home to the American glove making industry. Not all American gloves were made there. The same interstate passes through Amsterdam, NY, and – although I’m not sure it’s still in operation – you can still see the Fownes glove factory from the Thruway.

Driving through and around Upstate (and through parts of New England) you get to see all the evidence you need to of the rise and fall of American manufacturing. We used to make things in America. Now we don’t so much. Which is not to say that there is no manufacturing here. There’s plenty. It’s just that a lot of the everyday objects we take for granted are made elsewhere. Like shoes. And clothing. Gloves. And baseball gloves.

I played baseball as a kid. The boy: girl ratio in my neighborhood was skewed towards boy; we were one of the only families on our street that was majority girl. So if you wanted to play with the pack of kids running around the ‘hood, you ended up playing a lot of “boys’” games. Like baseball.

But I never owned my own glove.

Not that you needed one.

As long as there were enough gloves to go around, so that the team in the field was gloved, it really didn’t matter whose glove you used.

But my brothers, who played Little League (and, one of them, beyond: Babe Ruth, Legion, high school), always had their own gloves, starting with some flat little kindergarten starter glove that one of them had when he was really little – it looked like something out of the dead ball era; something Nap Lajoie might have worn – and moving on up to the “real” gloves you needed to play “real” ball. Which, of course, you outgrew. So we had plenty of mitts around the house over the years.

I remember my brothers breaking in their new gloves, a process that involved sticking a ball in the pocket of the glove, folding the glove over it, and wrapping some rubber bands around it. Once the rubber bands were off, they sat around punching their fist into the center of the glove, to make it more supple.Then there was something to do with oiling a glove. Not quite sure what that entailed. I’m guessing that a nine year old didn’t exactly do a bang-up job with it, although my father, of course, would have known just what to do. He was a ballplayer from way-back.

I can’t remember what brands those gloves were – Spalding? Wilson? Rawlings? Whatever they sold at Western Auto, I suppose.

But I don’t remember ever hearing the name Nokona until I saw an article on it on Bloomberg the other day.

Nokona, as it turns out, is the last baseball glove that’s actually made in America. Spalding, Wilson, Rawlings. They all still market gloves. They just make them in baseball happy (not!) places like the Philippines, Vietnam, and China, where they’re:

…stitched together thousands of miles away by people who couldn’t afford a ticket at Fenway Park. (Source: Bloomberg)

All this was oversea-ing was happening in the 1960’s. (Thanks, Obama!) But:

One company didn’t get the memo. Since the Great Depression, Nokona has been making gloves in a small town outside Dallas with a long history of producing boots and whips for cowboys. There’s a livestock-feed store next door to the factory, which offers $5 tours for visitors who want to see how the “last American ball glove” is made. You can watch employees weave the webbing by hand, feed the laces through the holes with needles, and pound the pocket into shape with a rounded hammer. The American flag gets stitched into the hide — and that, they say at Nokona, is more than just a business matter.

“Made in America means you believe in our country,” said Carla Yeargin, a glove inspector and tour guide at Nokona, where she worked her way up from janitor. “We have the love for the ballglove, because we made it here.”

Well, I’m not going to get into it with Carla, but it is actually possible to believe in your country without believing that everything needs to be Made in America. That said, it might have been nice if we’d given some thought to what the folks who lost their jobs to offshoring were going to do with themselves. Maybe we’ll get it right before all the remaining factory jobs are automated.

Nokoma ball gloves are made with an exacting process made up of about 40 steps that take about 4 hours to complete. The end product is pretty high end:

The company emphasizes the craft that goes into each glove, and that’s reflected in the bill. Rawlings has gloves for all budgets: Its top-end models cost plenty, but you can get a 9-inch children’s version for less than $8. Nokona’s equivalent-sized mitt costs $220, and its pro model runs to $500. 

I don’t know who’d pay $220 for a glove for a little kid, but I’m guessing that the $8 Rawlings is pretty cheesy and useless. For the 7 years old compelled to play, hovering in right field, hoping that no ball is ever hit his way.

Of course, in baseball’s early days:

…it was considered unmanly to use a glove. Broken bones were common. The first mass-produced gloves had little padding and no fingers.

Well, that sounds almost as much fun as playing football and getting your brain rattled.

Anyway, Nokona doesn’t produce a lot of gloves. A mere 40,000 of them, which is less than 1% of the 6.2 million gloves sold in the U.S. each year. And they don’t have a lot of big name ball players sporting their wares. But they keep at it. So I’ll be keeping my eye out for someone (in the stands or on the field) sporting a Nokona next time I’m at Fenway. You can customize your Nokona – right down to your name on it, and your color choice for the laces. I suspect I’ll end my life without ever having owned a baseball glove. But if I were to go for one, sign me up for a custom Nokona with purple laces.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

I hear Guam is lovely this time of year

Much as I loathe, despise, and – when it comes right down to it – out and out abhor Donald Trump, I will acknowledge that he does seem to possess some sort of talent for branding, for marketing, for giving his audience what they want.

Still, I’m scratching my head over is words of support for the president of Guam, spoken in the aftermath of Kim Jong Un’s disturbing threats to the safety and security of the island:

Mr. Trump said: “I have to tell you, you have become extremely famous all over the world. They are talking about Guam; and they’re talking about you.” And when it comes to tourism, he added, “I can say this: You’re going to go up, like, tenfold with the expenditure of no money.” (Source: NY Times)

Admittedly, Trump is past master of getting maximum bang for his buck. Just look at the bankruptcies, the flim-flam, and the vendor-screwing. Not to mention the ability to con the media into a kabillion dollars worth of free advertising during the election-cycle-that-dares-not-mention-its-name. And let’s not into the emoluments clause. (Do all those Secret Service golf cart rental feels fall under that?)

And he’s great with the memorable, colorful branding phrase.

But surely he can’t be right in his prediction that Guam will be experiencing a tenfold increase in tourism? Without spending any money?

First off, there’s that tenfold increase.

Last year, Guam hosted 1.5 million visitors (more than half a million from Korea, by the way). Tenfold would be 15 million.

I think you can support a tenfold increase if you’re starting with a pretty low base. Say, 1,000. Or even 10,000.

But going from 1.5 million to 15 million – over whatever reasonable period of time (and, perhaps cagily, Trump didn’t predict when this tenfolding would occur) – is pretty much unfathomable. And 15 million visitors to a country the size of Guam – population 160K. Well…

This type of growth would be plenty difficult to achieve under normal circumstances. Let alone abnormal circumstances. I.e., a proven madman threatening to drop bombs off your coast, while another likely madman is threatening to end the world as we know it, including setting off a war that will domino-effect end in the obliteration of the source of so much of Guam’s tourist traffic (i.e., from South Korea and Japan).

Sure, Guam has become “extremely famous all over the world.” But not for its waving palms, sunny days, and pristine beaches. Which I assume is what Guam has on offer. Most of what I know about Guam is that tit was the site of a major battle during WWII, that it’s an important military location for the US, and that, even if they can’t vote, Guam sends folks to our political conventions. They wear funny hats and, when they cast their votes, they always give a shout out to being the place where it’s tomorrow before anyplace else in the States.

But really and truly, is anyone actually looking up from their TV, turning to their spouse and saying, “Honey, how about Guam this year?”

Maybe Donald, Melania, and Barron can upstakes from Bedminster, NJ, and spend the last few days of their vacation in Guam, just as a show of faith and good will. Putting his – or, rather, the taxpayers’ – money where his tenfold mouth is. Or perhaps Ivanka and Jared can spin over with the kids, when Jared gets back from his upcoming deployment to the Mideast – once he delivers regional peace, that is.

I mean, wouldn’t the saber-rattling (make that nuke-rattling) on both sides give you some pause? If you want aquamarine waters and umbrella drinks, wouldn’t you be better off going to someplace in the Caribbean that’s not in Kim Jong Un’s gun sights?

That’s for new tourists, of course. The ones who’ll make up part of the tenfold increase.

Apparently, those who’re already committed to a trip to Guam are hanging in there. Or at least the tourist bureau folks are wishing and hoping that this will be the case.

The Guam Visitors Bureau has heard reports of cancellations, but [the Bureau’s Antonio] Muna said it doesn't yet have any concrete figures on how many took place. Officials are still expecting a strong August, Muna said…"Japan and Korea make over 90 percent of our arrivals. And they're much closer to North Korea than Guam is," Muna said. (Source: OregonLive)

Way to spin things, Mr. Muna: “Hey, Korean and Japanese tourists, come to Guam. Because, when you think about it, your countries are more likely to get nuked out of existence than we are. So come on over.”

Why that’s actually a spin worthy of one Donald J. Trump. Maybe marketing genius is actually contagious.

I’ll have to keep my eye on Guam’s tourism stats, but I’m not holding my breath about that 10x happening anytime soon.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Think I’ll do me some back to school shopping

As a decidedly nerdly child, I always looked forward to heading back to school in September.

There was always the possibility of a new nun being transferred in. There was the fun of covering your books with brown paper bags or cool “college” covers. (At one point, I had a four pack that included Penn State, Villanova, and Kentucky, I think. Quite a random assortment. I bought it because it had a Holy Cross purple and white cover in it.) And by the end of summer, I was actually getting a bit bored with lolling around playing Monopoly and making gimp lanyards at Bennett Field.

For all the anticipation there was not much actual preparation for going back to school, not all that much back-to-school shopping to be done. Other than a new pair of Stride-Rites (grammar school) or Weejuns (high school), there wasn’t much by way of clothing purchase. Throughout grammar school and high school, I wore a green jumper and white shirt.

In grammar school, these were handed down from my sister Kath. In high school, you got your jumper and shirts freshman year, and that’s pretty much what you wore for the next four years.

You also carried your school bag until it fell apart, so that wasn’t an annual buy. For part of grammar school, I carried a hideous bright green fake suede-ish bag with the school name and logo in bright yellow. Then I graduated to what was called a Harvard book bag: a dark green rubber lined canvas bag that you slung over your shoulder.

Until seventh grade, I went home for lunch so – oh, boo-hoo – I never had the pleasure of a lunch box. What I wouldn’t have given for a red plaid lunch box with Thermos. Or a Cinderella one. Or any sort of lunch box, since that was what all the kids on TV carried. Maybe it was a suburb thing, but why didn’t any of those TV kids come home for lunch? It’s not as if their mothers did anything but hang around in crisp housedresses, heels, and pearls. Surely, they had time to heat up some Campbell’s Vegetable Beef and slap a piece of baloney on white bread.

From seventh grade on, I ate lunch at school. In seventh and eighth grade, the nuns wanted us to have something of a junior high experience, so we “ate in”, sitting at our desks, which we covered with sheets of clear plastic. There was a lunch room in our school, and not that many kids in the younger grades ate at school. So there was certainly room for us to eat there. But for some reason, we weren’t allowed to eat at the cool fold down tables in the lunch room. Maybe it would have been too much effort to pull down the tablews for us.

In high school, Catholic school became more normal, and we ate at school. In the caf. In any case, school was too far away to go home. I don’t even remember the Whelan girls, whose house was practically on the school property, going home for lunch. Anyway, from seventh through high school. I carried my lunch in a brown paper lunch bag. No back to school shopping required.

But in grammar school, there was always the new pencil case to look forward to. And a couple of black and white marble notebooks. In the later grades, a loose-leaf binder and paper was a requirement.

All this was available at Woolworth’s.

So, as exciting as going back to school was, back to school shopping was not a big deal in my world.

These days, of course, it is a big deal – lots of advertising, back to school sales, etc. And Walmart, of course, understandably wants to take advantage of the seasonal splurge.

But in one store, Guns at Walmartthey combined back to school with something of a Guns of August theme, with a sign reading “own the school year like a hero” hung over a display case full of guns.

I don’t know what – if anything - the person who hung this sign was thinking.But what comes to my mind is Columbine and Newtown.

Guns and back to school shopping don’t seem to go hand in hand. Not even at Walmart.

The sign appears to be part of an ongoing superhero-themed marketing campaign that is not related to guns. (Source: Boston Globe)

Walmart investigated the unfortunate sign, and now says that the entire matter is a prank. Not clear whether the store was pranked by an employee, a shopper, or a Photoshopper. But whatever the circumstances, Walmart is saying ‘not us.’

It’s not, of course, much of a surprise that folks jumped to a conclusion that it was something of a serious promo on the part of Walmart. After all, just last month there was the incident in which a third-party seller offering their wares on walmart.com described a wig’s color as “n***** brown. And there are those who believe teachers should be armed. So why not the school kids, too?

How do the PR folks at Walmart keep up with all this? Especially when they have to be doing all that back to school shopping that didn’t even exist back in days of yore.

Me, while I don’t use a pencil box, I do enjoy shopping for office supplies. I think I need some pens. Maybe I can take advantage of the back to school sales at Staples.

Monday, August 14, 2017

All concerted out

Amazingly – to me at least – I’ve been to three concerts in the last couple of weeks.

First up was Mary Black, pretty much my favorite Irish singer. Mary is a folk singer – and then some. I’ve been a fan for years, had seen her a few times in concert, and have about a dozen of her CD’s. A couple of years ago, she did what was billed as her final tour. Unfortunately, I missed the Boston stop. Fortunately, that final tour turned out to be a semi-final, and on her recent swing through the States, she made a stop in Beverly, Mass. So off I went.

When Mary came out, her voice was a bit – well, off is not the right word; she’s never off – let’s just say a bit “under” her norm. She mentioned that she was warming up, and that her voice would be fully back as the night went on. I figured that, at age 62, her incredibly powerful voice had lost some of its power. But damned if her voice didn’t come back.

Roisin O opened for Mary, and Roisin O, as it turns out, is Mary Black’s daughter. My guess is that Mary unfinaled her final tour to introduce her daughter to Amerikay. Fair play to her. Roisin was wonderful – a very engaging performer. But my heart and ears belong to Mary.

She couldn’t possibly have covered all of my favorite songs of hers – there are just too many. But she hit plenty of my high points – “Dream of Columbus,” “Carolina Rua,” “No Frontier” – and it was a fine night.

I’d been to the venue – The Cabot Theater – before, and it’s a great old rehabbed theater. It was a vaudeville theater in the 1920’s, and its funk and charm has been brought back. That said, they could do something about the AC. We were there on a cool (for late July) evening. If it had been really hot, the theater would have been pretty unbearable. Other than that, a very fine evening.

Last Thursday, I heard another Irish performer – Emmet Cahill – that’s CAH-hill, not CAY-hill, as they say around these parts. Emmet has a tremendous voice, as pure an Irish tenor as you can imagine. He’s often compared to to “The Great John MacCormack.” Of course, there can’t be three people under the age of 100 who would get a comparison to “The Great John MacCormack.” But I’m here to tell you that Emmet’s voice is a little more current than the voice of his predecessor, which to modern ears sounds just a bit orotund. (If you’re curious, here’s Count MacCormack singing “Maggie,” one of my grandmother’s favorites.)

And not to be a look-sist, but young Mr. Cahill has it all over John Mac when it comes to the looks department. He is absolutely adorable, and comes across as very charming and sweet. (Seems for real. Hope he’s not an axe murderer in real life…)

I had seen Emmet perform in Worcester this past winter, and that concert was fine, even though some of the songs he covered were a bit on the schmaltz end of the spectrum. “Danny Boy.” “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.”

And “Machushla, Machushla”???? Not quite as bad as “Mother Machree”, but, oy vey. Speaking of “Mother Machree” - in my book “The Horse with No Name” of Irish music - at the Worcester concert, someone in back of me requested it during the open request session. I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I let out an involuntary, yet audible, gasp. Fortunately, Emmet either didn’t hear the request, or he figured I might create a scene if he honored it, but there was no “Mother Machree.” He was more partial to my request, “Galway Girl,” a fun Steve Earl song.

Last week’s Emmet Cahill concert was in a lovely old Catholic Church in a Boston ‘burb. This was an odd setting for a concert, but it worked. (They had de-churched things a bit by taking the hosts out of the tabernacle, but it did feel a bit churchy. I almost reflectively genuflected. Talk about muscle memory!)

Emmet was in fine voice, and, while he did hit most of the Irish chestnuts, he through in a few more show/pop tunes than he did in Worcester. And he really does have a lovely voice and is a thoroughly charming performer. Once again, I was able to get in my request for “Galway Girl” there – quite fittingly, as I was there with my niece Molly, recently returned from a uni semester in Galway.

Molly wasn’t the youngest person there, but when I ran the numbers in my head, I came up with a median age older than my own. I may be flattering myself here, but there were a lot of older folks in the crowd. I do hope that Emmet breaks through before his audience dies off. (He also performs with the cute-young-Irish-guy group, Celtic Thunder, so he has another audience – admittedly with some overlap – out there.)

And then, last Friday, on a perfect summer’s night, I saw James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt at Fenway Park.

I saw him there last year (Jackson Browne in tow –  with JT, not with me), and last Friday night was even better.

Bonnie Raitt – bless her – hasn’t changed her look in 40+ years – but the girl can still rock it. Lots of fun. James Taylor, well, he’s 69, and his look has changed over the years. For one thing, he’s bald (and looks exactly like his father, who I used to see around the neighborhood). But his voice is still warm, mellow and sure. And he can be very, very funny.

I’ve always loved James Taylor. How can I not like a guy who wrote a song with my birthday mentioned in it? That doesn’t happen to most folks. Sure, there’s “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” (A real, live nephew of my Uncle Sam, born on the Fourth of July.) And a few others where the date is noted. I may not get a mention in any song – there’s no “I’ll Take You Home Again, Maureen” out there – but for a great lyric, it’s hard to beat The first of December was covered with snow, so was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston. Thank you, Sweet Baby, James for a wonderful night at the old ball park.

The only downside was that, 200 miles away, the Yankees were beating the Red Sox…

Anyway, three in two weeks is a lot of live music, and I’m all concerted out for a while. But all three were great in their own very different ways.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Happy Working Wanderers (Valderi, valdera!)

I’ve been to Germany several times, but most of my time has been spent in cities, not tootling around the countryside. So I can’t say that I’ve ever come across any “Wandegesellen.” And I’m quite sure I wandergesellenwould remember if I’d seen any guys dressed as bell-bottomed chimney sweeps.

The Wandergesellen (translation: journeymen) are:

…young men, and these days women, too, who have finished their required training in any number of trades and are traveling to gather experience. Most are from German-speaking countries. In the past, journeymen traveled under the auspices of a trade association, and today many still do. But many also take up the practice freely, though still adhering to the strict, often arcane, rules handed down largely through word of mouth to preserve the tradition. (Source: NY Times)

Journeymen are 30 and under, unmarried, and not in debt. To compete their training – as carpenters,bakers, gardeners – journeymen take off for two to three years:

— plus a day, and to live by their wits, their trade and the generosity of strangers.

While they’re on the road (primarily in German-speaking countries, but sometimes far afield) the journeymen rely on other journeymen, and – oh, so sweetly - on the kindness of strangers.

While on the road, journeymen are not supposed to pay for food or accommodations, and instead live by exchanging work for room and board. In warm weather, they sleep in parks and other public spaces. They generally carry only their tools, several changes of underwear, socks and a few shirts wrapped into small bundles that can be tied to their walking sticks — and that can also double as pillows. Most journeymen will work in the jobs for which they are trained. But they also take other work, either to expand their skill set or out of a need for food or a change of pace.

The Wandegesellen have been around since Medieval times – with hiatuses for during the two world wars. After WWII, the tradition died out until the 1980’s. Which may explain why, during the time I spent in the German countryside in the early 1970’s, I didn’t spot any of them In Germany, people recognize who they are because of their distinctive garb. And they can translate the jacket colors into the trade. The fellows in the picture above are wearing black. That makes them carpenters or roofers.

Others are not so in the know.

“Outside of Germany, we are often taken for cowboys,” said Arnold Böhm, 25, a carpenter from Görlitz who spent time working in Cape Verde, Namibia and South Africa.

Maybe not cowboys, but definitely independent and traveling light.

Traditionally, a journeyman was not allowed to travel or seek work within a 60- kilometer radius of his hometown — a guideline intended to encourage an exchange of ideas among those practicing any given trade. Today, it remains a way to ensure that the journeyman develops independence.

I think this is a great tradition and wonderful ideas.College is fine. For a lot of kids, it gets them away from home. But it doesn’t necessarily foster independence, especially if they’re subsidized by the Bank of Mom and Dad.

Getting drafted – and I do remember the day when EVERYONE male went into the service – pulled kids out of their home town and their comfort zone. It was a good leveler, good for democracy. But who wants to see their kid get shot at in Afghanistan, let alone North Korea.

My niece Molly spent a recent semester abroad. Like most kids who spend a semester somewhere in Europe, she and her new friends did plenty of weekend and school break traveling. (Thank you, Ryanair and AirBnB.) But Molly wanted to take at least one trip on her own, in a country where she knew no one and didn’t speak the language. So she took off on a trip to Italy, where she made her way through Verona, Venice, Pisa, and Florence.

We were all so proud of our very own Wandegesellen, even if she didn’t have to work while she was out exploring.

But most young folks don’t even do something like Molly did, let alone what the Wandegesellen take on.

Wandering around, singing (or gardening, or tiling, or roofing) for your supper. What a great idea.