Tuesday, November 29, 2005


There are several dichotomies that have never made much sense to me before like poet and writer, arts and entertainment, or arts and letters. Last time I explored my newly found understanding of the difference between a poet and a writer. The answer is simple, different muses. There is a muse for prose and a muse for poetry. My prose muse is a thinker and storyteller. I enjoy her company.

I do not always enjoy the company of my poetic muse. This muse slips thin bamboo ideas under your fingernails, forcing them, ever so slowly, twisting, torturing until something approaching perfection in verse is produced. Since no one is ever perfect you can understand why many poets lead tortured lives. That damn muse just won’t leave them alone. I’m sure the wards of McLean’s Hospital are full of people with noisy muses incessantly chatting in their heads. There are times when only drugs and alcohol will make her SHUT the F**K UP!

I personally prefer wine for the purposes of muting my poetic muse. Wine seems to civilize her, rendering her more or less harmless if a bit maudlin. On the other hand my prose muse used to love Scotch and water, neat. That old lush has an ulcer now and only drinks Scotch socially. All in all coffee is still the over all drink of choice when summoning my muses to perform.

The son of a friend of mine is the chef at a restaurant in Fort Tryon Park, in “upstate New York City,” called New Leaf Café. It’s part of Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project. Yes Bette is the boss and she checks up on New Leaf about once a month. The chefs name is James Bellicchi and I’ve known him since he was a little kid. He comes from a family of chefs. His mother is a well-known new-age “macrobiotic” chef; his uncles own a collection of individual restaurants and another uncle one created the “Not your Average Joe’s” chain.

Mother and son have been trying for a couple of years to get a TV show off the ground. James is a classically trained chef while his mother, Cathleen is an organically trained chef, whatever that means. What James would happily throw away, his mother would make into soup. That’s the synopsis of the TV show. Knowing the two of them, a TV show would be a hoot, BAM! Why am I telling you this and what does it have to do with the muse? Well there is a cooking muse I suppose but this digression is really only background for a conversation I had at the bar at New Leaf Café.

Whenever I’m in NYC I make a point of stopping by the New Leaf Café on Thursday nights. Not only do I get treated like a king (James likes to show off) but they also have a jazz band with a smoking hot singer whose “There is a rose in Spanish Harlem” sends chills up and down my spine.  I’ve been there twice and have never had a better time anywhere. This last time I met the band and a friend of the band named Leah Siegel.

I love to sit at a bar and talk to everyone within range. You get to meet people you would never otherwise meet. In this case it was Leah. Leah is a hot new singer of new-age rock. She was there to hear “her band” play backup for a friend, the sultry singer. After the cursory chatter she asked me, “Are you in the arts?” That stopped me cold for a few minutes. Several years ago at a poetry reading someone asked me “Are you a poet?” I had the same reaction. I was nonplused.

I make my living writing and teaching. While my writing is certainly creative no one would call it art. I write semi-technical reports, semi-text books and I teach various aspects of Linux, a computer operating system that’s arguably the best on the planet. I think of myself as a computer geek before I think of myself as an artist or poet. Hard core computer geeks think I’m a just a tech writer, a position that has all the luster and cache of the parts man in an auto body shop. So am I “in the arts?” Well No! Am I a “poet?” Hardly, a “poet” is a title one should not bestow upon oneself. But I am an artist, I protest!

Back in another life (mid to late 1970’s) I was a “commercial artist”, an “art director.” I mostly put together magazines and books for places like Sail Magazine and MIT Press. I was an artist, but when people talk of “the arts” they always mean the fine arts. A “commercial artist” is well below a junk jewelry artisan in ranking among the finer arts and a “tech writer”, has the rank, status and cache well below a poet, author, journalist, or advertising hack. I’m still an artist; I am in “the arts.”

These distinctions are artificial, of course. The creative act is. There are snots who turn their noises up at anything that isn’t a fine art of one kind or another but these people are usually consumers of art not its producers. Producers of fine art, as well as the Madison Avenue hack know how hard the creative process is. Neither would seriously question the “integrity” of the other in private. Posing is for public consumption.

I do not know why those who do not produce art can be so possessive of it. They are usually the ones that make the distinction between “art” (and we must mean fine art) and “entertainment” as though art is art only if it is not also entertainment. Apparently art (fine art) requires a tortured soul, as does poetry. Thus poet and writer form a dichotomy that can be equated with arts and letters and arts and entertainment. Note that the left side of the equation requires pain and is judged to be a fine art while the right side earns the money and is generally dismissed as a crass, lesser, more commercial art.

Since Leah’s question came from a fellow artist I realized that yes I could say that I was “in the arts” without having to explain. Her question was simple, “Do you have a muse?” Having thought about it for a long time I can say for certain, “yes, several.”

Monday, November 28, 2005

On writing poetry

This past Saturday I realized why people in the greater literary world make a distinction between poetry and prose, why there is a magazine named “Poet & Writer.” I’ve always thought of poetry as just a short form of writing. I never before made that distinction and although I have published lots of prose both fiction and non-fiction I have never published any poetry. That is not strictly speaking true. Kitty picked some random magazines in Poetry Marketplace and I submitted a single poem. Actually I’ve submitted the same poem a few times and it’s been accepted each time. That poem meant a lot to me and subjectively may be my best. I did, of course, have a vested interest in being validated and I was by their acceptance. The funny thing is that I cannot, for the life of me, remember where I submitted that poem. I would have remembered if I had been rejected.

Though summer now long here
the cherry blossom lingers on
and blushes in the innocence of childhood
a mischievous gleam
from an eye of Wisdom
Eternal Youth

I wrote that poem in High School, 1967. It was written for an English teacher I had named Carol Lindsey. Carol was about 23 or 24 when I was 16 or 17. From the perspective of a 17 year old 24 is very old and contrary to what the poem may imply I didn’t have a crush on her. Rather, she was one of the first teacher that ever encouraged my writing and didn’t give me a D simply because the majority of the words in my essays were misspelled. I thought she was wise. This was in the pre-word-processing-spell-checker era as hard as that may be for some people to accept. I gave her a dozen poems in a class assignment and that one was the only one she did not comment on (I still have the paper). She liked some, corrected others, and gave me a B for my effort. I just last week found her address through Warren Allen Smith. I think I’ll send her a Christmas card.

An aside on WASM and who he is: WASM was the head of the New Canaan Connecticut High School English department. He turned me on to Bertrand Russell, which I think I read in total (with the exception of “Principia”) before exiting High School. He also turned me onto the beat poets, giving me a dog eared copy of Kerouac’s “On the road” and William S. Burroughs “Naked Lunch.” I lived exactly one mile from the High School and used to hitch hike to school every morning. WASM always gave me a ride and that’s where we talked literature, between 7:15 and 7:30 A.M. WASM is, of you read his Wikipedia entry, quite a character.

I liked to read rather than do school work which is why I was always an awful student. Carol Lindsey and WASM (and a couple of others) always encouraged me in even in the face of lousy grades. In elementary school the major punishment for any infraction of the rules was to be sent to the library where we were told to read the World Book Encyclopedia. I spent most of 5th grade at the Library and used to put bookmarks in the encyclopedic volumes so I wouldn’t lose my place. No one ever moved or removed my bookmarks.

I never thought much about why I never published my poetry even thought I must have several hundred poems (I counted 96 in one notebook alone) written down. I never had any problems reading my poetry at places like Stone Soup but I just never tried to get any of it published. Getting a few non-fiction books published was, for me a big deal and publishing fiction in a computer magazine as a monthly column was a challenge but it wasn’t poetry.

Since I’ve been hanging out with the bagel bards I’ve been dragging out a poem here and a poem there. One of the plans of the group is to publish an anthology of the bagel bards work next year. Harris Gardner asked me why I have never published a chapbook. I told him that I didn’t think I had enough poems for a chapbook. He looked at me astonished, “You only need fifteen or sixteen poems.” I knew I had that at least that many but I never realized how many poems I had until I started typing them up. I didn’t edit the selections (except to delete some really bad ones) and came up with about 40 poems from that first notebook.

For some reason I’m never affected by events at the bagel bards meetings until I get a chance to mull over what’s been said an hour or two later. Perhaps it’s a delayed synaptic response in me that requires my Precambrian mind to mull things over before presenting thoughts, fully formed to the conscious mind. I must appear very dull and mentally lethargic (or aloof) while this process occurs.

I gave Harris the folder full of freshly typed poems and told him that he was now my poetry editor. I didn’t say that I hoped he would find enough usable poems to fill one chapbook. He announced that he would apply constructive criticism (as opposed to destructive criticism which is what one normally gets in school) to the collection. Someone asked me if the poems in the collection were still being revised. They hadn’t been revised or even looked at in 30 years. “No poem is ever finish, only abandoned,” I think Creeley said that. Harris immediately discovered a poem that needed a synonym. He was right but ….

There is something special about a poem and I realized it for the first time when I faced criticism for that 35+ year old poem. It was my child, however imperfect. A poem takes part of your soul to create. It’s a different muse, a more personal muse. When I write prose it feels like I’m taking dictation from that muse and while I take pleasure in whatever accolades might arise I do not feel a sense of personal responsibility for my writing. That honor goes to that disembodied muse for whom I merely take dictation.

I could write a 100 word poem or a 100 word essay and while the differences are minimal to the outside observer I would classify the work as one or the other by which muse was involved. As I said an essay, like this work, is the product of a muse for whom I take dictation. I marvel at the craftsmanship and enjoy the flow of the words and it generally gives me great pleasure when I do this for the muse. I do have an ego involvement but it’s more like rooting for my favorite athletic team. If someone says the Red Sox stink I take offense. If someone doesn’t like my writing I take offense for the honor of my muse, nothing personal.

I summon another muse: The poetic muse is different, hard to define, but intimately tied to my soul. Just summoning this muse fills me with anger, joy, pain, and angst. It’s the battle between good and evil within me, it’s the anger of repressed desire, of regret, of sorrow. It is the word of god incarnate. The passions that arise in poetry are genuine reflections of the creator, the godhead or whatever you may call it in your own persuasion. In this I am but an inarticulate scribe. Should I poorly convey the words of infinity it is because of my own faults, foibles and imperfections. I alone am responsible for the sound of fingernails on chalkboard where sirens should sing. This is the muse that leads to madness, to despair, to drug and alcohol induced comas while seeking respite from its iron grip upon the soul. Through this muse I have seen the darkness in my own soul and the soul of others it is frightening and consuming. It destroys families, careers and individuals in its manic search for perfection. If the words of the gods as rendered by my own defective talents are to be criticized it exposes for all to see the imperfect nature of my soul itself. This exposure, this display of my souls corruption is more than a simple reminder of my mortality it is, ultimately, painful.

If I ever finish the three novels I’ve started and if they get published I will be a very proud and happy person and will brag to all about my partner, my muse. Should, however, I ever publish a volume of poetry it must be kept quiet and without fanfare lest the muse discover, lay claim and take possession of my soul once again. Does that explain why I’ve never published a chapbook of poems?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Its the start of Christmas

It’s the Christmas season already and I’m broke as usual. The teaching gig in Fiji looks like it may come through. So I may become solvent again. I gota stop living like this, it’s bad for the soul and the heart. I’ve sent my empty bank account information and Invoice so if the cash flows I’m headed to paradise to teach Linux administration. This is a class I love to teach. I know it like the back of my hand and it’s really fun to teach.

I also got a call from a headhunter (do they still have those on Fiji?) on Wednesday. It’s the first headhunter that’s called me since 9/11. Would I like to be a Linux Systems Administrator for Lincoln Labs? It’s a multi-year contract job, which means that they want to get me cheaper than if it was a three-week assignment. The truth is that the job will last till they run out of money or realize that they can get a young puppy into a full time job for next to nothing. Then that multi-year contract will abruptly end. Am I cynical? Yes! It’s happened many times before. I need the money so I’ll gladly do it. I have a love/hate relationship with computers.

It looks like all the writers in the family are going to earn a living doing something else. Liz just accepted a wind surfing instructors job in Porto Rico. She’s been interviewing for a bunch of junior copywriting jobs in NYC but no one ever gets back to her. Indecision is a major form of rudeness. I give any company perhaps 2 attempts at being civil then they get blacklisted. Staples, Fidelity Investment and a few others I can’t think of right now have all made it to my list. For a girl who hates cold weather she’s doing just fine.

What would I rather be doing? Anything with the arts. Harris Gardner has been prompting me to gather my poems together. He’s seen or heard maybe 3 but he likes them. That’s cool. He has good taste I think. I have about a hundred or so that have never seen the light of day, that is never been published or even read in public. Some are, of course, awful but some are surprisingly good. This isn’t the brag it sounds like. I haven’t read some of these poems in 20 years and they still stand up which surprised me.

Here is one I found that I like:


new born, younger pine
with neighbors
to young for sky or birds nest

one small, yearling pine
with friends
moss and fern
with proud first cone
very small

five year, younger pine
with old friend
eldest fern
with cones still small
and wrens nest

ten year, still younger pine
old friends
left far behind
with many cones, still small
and wrens nest

fifty year, maturing pine
new friends
elder pine and sky
with many cones, birds nests
yearling child

centurion, elder pine
old friends
neighbors and sky
many seeds and offspring too
broken branch

almost dead, eldest pine
old friends
moss and fern
with one last cone
very small

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Dark Ages

Way back in the dark ages I used to read my poetry at Jack Powers’ Stone Soup poets. After one reading someone asked me what it was like to be a poet. I was embarrassed. I never thought of myself as a poet. A poet was someone who strutted around spouting verse and trailing sycophants like a bridal tress. I'm not a poet; I am a writer of occasional verse or short inconsequential stories. On a good day I will amuse myself spinning images out of words in sketchbook. That's not poetry that's wordplay. A poet is a title, an honorary, bestowed by an appreciative audience usually post mortis. To be called a poet is golden, to call oneself a poet is hubris. I am not a poet but if you call me one I will blush with pride.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The poetic look

The poetic look

When I’m in my car or other places where I can’t write a thought down I get a constant stream of good ideas. Most of the ideas are only good for a paragraph or so but some of them are really food for thought and some are just fleeting fragments that only leave me the feeling that I may have had a good idea … but the idea itself is far, far gone. Some ideas start out as a germ of a thought, embed themselves under a particularly sensitive piece of very thin skin and gnaw at you.

I had one of those thoughts driving home from the bagel-bards meeting last Saturday morning. Someone said to me that I didn’t look like a poet. It took an hour to realize that I didn’t know if I should take offence or not. The idea had embedded itself. That thought struck me as odd. What does a poet look like? I remember hanging out at the Grolier book shop when I was in my late teens and early twenties (in the early 1970’s), there were lots of people who made sure they looked like poets, complete with a poetic swagger, tortured souls all.

A “poet” of the middle Grolier period (1968-1975) wore black, black pants, a black turtleneck, a black beret and posed, whenever possible, in public, as if struck that very moment by an arrow from the muses, a black thought. Somehow poetry turned very dark in the 1970’s. That was, I suppose, a natural evolution from the beat stuff I loved, which was both profound and real. The 1970’s stuff was dark for the sake of being dark. I used to think the “poets” that hung around the Grolier in the 1970’s confused darkness with profundity.

I arrived in Cambridge Massachusetts in September 1970 with everything I owned strapped on the back of a Yamaha 250 motorcycle. I was 18 years old, an orphan, unemployed and without a home. I should have been in college but only Oberlin College way out in noplace would take me but only if I could find $3,000. I couldn’t. Scholarships, if you can call them that, went to jocks. So I rode my bike to Boston where I thought there might be a literary life. I found the Grolier before I found a place to live.

If you were an unknown 18 year old in a place like the Grolier Bookshop in 1970 you would have been made to feel if not completely unwelcome, then certainly way out of place. There were the real poets posing and want-to-be thought of as poets posing. Robert Bly would routinely make a grand entrance with his multi-colored poncho (and for weeks ponchos were in) then Robert Creeley would arrive with a pack of fawning grad students plucked from the sanctified halls of Harvard. The ever-present Else Dorfman would be photographing the scene. You were in if she made a point of shooting you.

I was out and so would have been Gordon Carnie, except that the crusty old man owned the Grolier.  Most of the fawning and posing went on about the grand old man of letters without his acknowledgement or so much as a nod to anyone but his select few. I couldn’t afford to buy books so I, like a lot of other people, treated the Grolier like a library. I could sit in a corner for hours, so long as there wasn’t a reception or some other event that filled the place, and read to my hearts content.

Every few weeks I’d buy a chapbook or some other cheap item to salve my conscience, but I honestly don’t think Gordon cared one way or the other if he ever sold a book. If Gordon never noticed me sitting in the corner reading most afternoons he eventually noticed my habit of buying older poets. I think the first thing he said to me was that he liked my taste and that he didn’t like any poets after e. e. cummings. A few days later we had a long chat. It turns out that he used to summer about a mile or so from my mothers house in Nova Scotia and he knew all the neighbors and characters of Poplar Hill. That started a friendship that lasted until his death a few years later.

Once I counted Gordon as a friend I made it a point of saying hello when I walked in and he would grunt something back that I took for a hello. The posers didn’t bother me after that. Gordon made me feel welcome even if I wasn’t a “know poet.” I came to realize that much of the posing was for my benefit. If I was a friend of Gordon’s then I was in the inner-circle.

How did that happen? How did he do that?

Even Elsa Dorfman has a picture of me someplace that used to hang way up on the upper right side as you walk into the Grolier. When Louisa Solano bought the Grolier after Gordon died she took down all the photos and replaced them with even higher bookracks. I can’t blame her but it’s not been the same since.

What happened? I’m not sure.

I didn’t like the academic poets, the “Yale younger poets,” that hung around the Grolier and neither did Gordon. He told me to visit the Stone Soup poets run by Jack Powers. I did and have visited that venue off and on ever since. I dropped out of the Grolier scene and indeed haven’t been inside the store in a decade. I dropped out of the poetry scene altogether for almost 10 years to raise a family and earn a living.

So what does a poet look like? What was meant by “not looking like a poet?”

The answer was something like … “well poets are … thinkers, you know deep … profound ….” Apparently a poet does not look fat, middle aged, reasonably well dressed (although I’m wearing a ripped, hooded sweatshirt and sneakers today) and is not subject many deep thoughts … at least not in public. So I guess I’ll have to stop keeping my thoughts to myself.

Monday, November 07, 2005

A tail of two cities

In this case the cities are Belmont Massachusetts and Littleton Massachusetts. No two places could be more different yet so much the same. Belmont has been, for at least the last century, an affluent bedroom community. The Boston Globe once described Belmont as the most boring town in the Commonwealth. Since Belmont is only 10 minutes from downtown Boston there is no reason for Belmont to offer anything but quiet streets. In colonial times Belmont was a days oxen drive from Boston and home to taverns, roadhouses and prostitutes. With the coming of the railway Belmont became home to Harvard professors and McLeans Hospital for the mentally imbalanced. I moved to Belmont in 1981 because my, then new wife lived there. We stayed for 20 years.

Littleton on the other hand has only recently become a bedroom community for affluent and semi-affluent professionals. Up through the early 1980’s Littleton was a “rural industrial” town. That meant that there were horses, apple orchards and a factory to process those apples: Verifine (which just became a part of Kraft foods). People who don’t know any better still think of Littleton as horse country. This vision of Littleton has been reinforced by the horse riding habits of the wife of our current governor who lives in Belmont but keeps a horse in Littleton. We moved to Littleton in February 2002.

I never particularly liked living in Belmont. For 20 years it was repeatedly made clear to me that I was an outsider and not up to the social standards of the locals. Excuses me? A geography lesson is needed to understand how one is judged in Belmont. Ones social status is based mostly on what school district you live in and how big your house is. Put simply “Butler” is bad; “Winbrook” is good with the other two schools falling on the better side of the socially acceptable line. We lived in the “Butler” school district for the first 10 years we were there and in “Winbrook” the second half.

Our social status was made clear one hot August afternoon at the town pool. The Belmont town pool is the oldest municipal swimming pool in the country so unless you have your own pool it is socially acceptable to have a town pool pass. It’s also socially acceptable to have a picnic on the lawn while your kids swim. We were sitting on the lawn, picnic blanket extended with lots of gourmet goodies. My wife, Susan, loves to cook and gourmet presentation is a must, a result of way to many hours reading Martha Stewart. The spread Sue created must have made us look affluent because a somewhat overdressed woman made a point of coming over to us to strike up a conversation with Sue. I listened in on the mostly banal conversation about children, expensive supermarkets and designer clothing. The chatter abruptly ended with the woman wheeling around and walking away. I asked Sue what happened. The conversation came around to what school our kids went to. It was “Butler.” With that the woman, without apology, explanation or even polite termination of conversation stood up and walked away. We were obviously social pariahs. Moving from “Butler” to “Winbrook” didn’t help.

When we lived in the “Butler” area we were part of a vibrant community that included plumbers,carpenters, electricians, junior faculty at all the major colleges as well as an assortment of grad students and professionals early on in their career … like me. To those on “the hill,” whose children were in the “Winbrook” school district, we were nothing but blue-collar trash, workmen and other nuisances needed but not wanted. We were transients, expected to move on to either one of the more permanent blue-collar towns like Waltham that surrounded Belmont or up to one of the junior affluent communities like Arlington. The in Belmont police have the siege mentality of a third world para-military whose function is to protect the few from the many.

The truth is that the most offensive townspeople in Belmont are themselves of working class origin. Belmont is not a Weston or Wellesley. Old money in New England is either Episcopal or Free Thinking Unitarian it’s not Roman Catholic. Belmont is predominantly Roman Catholic. To put this in perspective, I grew up in New Canaan Connecticut where in 1990 the per capita income was in excess of $100.000. The average family of four in New Canaan had an income of over $400,000. By contract Belmont had an average income in 1990 of about $54,000 for a family of four at a time when the average statewide was $38,000. Belmont is affluent but not that affluent. In Belmont the workmen, students and journeyman professionals of the “Butler” school district were helpful, friendly, engaged in their community while the rich up on “the hill” were generally disengaged, occupied and spoke to the community through their proxies (Townie selectmen and nannies). It wasn’t until we moved to Littleton that we made friends on “the hill” in Belmont. Living in Littleton is no threat to their social order so we are now welcome. Strange world.  I think we are even envied a little.

Littleton is just the opposite. Affluent professionals are a recent arrival and the town is still dominated by Yankee ex-farmers turned hourly workmen. Around 1980 Digital Equipment Corporation came to town and built lots of factories that employed both laborers and professionals. This attracted the first wave of affluence. DEC died, twice, first around 1990 and again and for good around 2000. With the rise of DEC there was an influx of programmers, electrical engineers, MBA’s and other Big Business oriented professionals. The farmers turned carpenters, plumbers, and electricians of Littleton built those houses on land expropriated from century old ancestral apple orchards. They got comfortable.  When DEC died the first time many of those Big Business professionals left. Those that stayed were a minority, mostly independent professionals, doctors, lawyers, people like that. It’s hard to have an attitude when there aren’t enough people “like you” to have tops and bottoms.

I’m not a townie and I’m not a “workman” so that makes me a professional in the eyes of the solid Yankees of Littleton. Unlike Belmont I can say, with out equivocation, that I am universally treated with friendly respect. When we first moved to Littleton people walking or jogging by would wave and say hello. After Belmont this was a bit unnerving. One warm Saturday afternoon after the third or fourth “hi” from a passing jogger my daughter Kitty was completely unraveled and ready to pummel the next jogger that said anything friendly. Of course, the following winter she flagged down a young townie with a snowplow and got him to plow our driveway for a plate of cookies and a (bogus it turned out) telephone number. Even our dog, “Ruff,” got into the act. He would growl and chase any jogger that talked to him. This prompted a visit from the police who said he had bit someone. In Belmont with the Gestapo mentality of the police such a visit would presage an immediate putdown of the offending culprit. This thought sent Kitty into a complete panic but the policeman was calming and polite and said that he was just checking on the status of the dogs’ rabies shots. Out here in the country (far suburbs really) Rabies is taken very seriously. Ruff sticks to the back yard now and only rarely barks at runners or rabbits. The police in Littleton are part of the community, here to help. The image I once had as a kid of the friendly policeman is still true here.

I was driving home one day when I came across a fallen tree blocking the road. A police car was stopped with his lights flashing to warn people in both directions that there was danger. It doesn’t matter if it is Belmont or Littleton or Podunk Iowa, police do not get out of their cars to move trees. That task is reserved exclusively for highway department crews. I think it must be some union rule or friendly agreement between unions that prohibit policemen from moving obstructions even if the task is trivial.

I got out of my car and dragged the tree out of the way. The policeman (who must have been 20 years younger than I am) was more than slightly embarrassed but thanked me profusely. Since that time he waves to me every time he sees me and now just about all the police wave to me when driving past. Strange things happen when you sail past the age of 50.

Littleton is in the middle of another building boom. I live on a corner. There are 5 houses going up on the 12 acres behind me and 3 houses going up next to the “town forest” across the street and down the road, which is really a swamp donated to the town because it was unbuildable and no one wanted to pay taxes on it. This is becoming common. If you own 20 acres and want to build 3 houses but only 7 acres are buildable then donate the rest to the town. What the rich do out here is donate all the forestland around their multi-million-dollar estate to a nonprofit with the caveat that the land be forever wild and that the public isn’t invited. Convenient isn’t it.

In Belmont if I needed a plumber I called one of my neighbors. He’d charge me what I thought was reasonable and we’d chat for a half hour. If I needed an electrician, well his brother-in-law was free after dinner. I never had a good reason to call anyone on “the hill.” In Littleton things have been reversed. I’m not sure what most of my neighbors do. I think most of them are retired from the first wave of affluence. Down the street is a collection of very affluent carpenters, electricians and plumbers, “General Contractors.” They are all to busy with the 30-house subdivision they are building on Grandpa’s apple orchard to come fix the rotten plumbing in my basement. When I can find a plumber willing to come over they charge $75 an hour and rarely finish the job. I’ve now gone through 2 plumbers and an electrician yet the problems I hired them to fix persist.

If it was the snots on “the hill” in Belmont that most offended me it is the Yankee ex-farmers in Littleton I’d like to strangle. All in all I prefer Littleton to Belmont and if we weren’t so far out of town (about 35 miles) I’d call my old neighbors in Belmont for help with my plumbing, wiring and carpentry needs.

Stepping back I can see what is going to happen, its already begun. Those ex-farmers who were happy to mow lawns in high school and wield a hammer in support of their neighbors in their youths now look upon any non-townie as fair game. I am fare game to be ripped off as much as possible because when this bubble bursts (and of course it will) they truly believe that we will all pack up and leave. Boston is growing and Littleton is becoming the same kind of suburb that New Canaan was to New York. Some of the ex-farmers will get rich as service providers to the equally rich but most will not. Having sold their heritage they will move on like so many other aimless, rootless Americans. They will become just like me.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Reversing American History

There was a time in corporate American history when the directors of a corporation were held personally liable for employee wages. This is no longer true of course and corporations are not even liable for wages. Of course if a company didn’t pay wages no one would work for them but when a giant corporation like GM screws up and looses billions as a result of incredibly bad management what happens? They declare bankruptcy. That has the effect of making any employment contracts null and void. Of course, with today’s Republican dominated Washington mindscape banks and investors are protected at the expense of the working stiffs. This is wrong.

Investors take risks and expect returns on their investment commensurate with their risk. By its nature investing, either directly or indirectly through loans, is risky. People who accept regular employment are not seeking a risky investment. They are seeking exactly the opposite. Labor in exchange for money is the bargain. If part of that wage is differed as part of a pension plan it is still a wage in exchange for labor. As such it must be paid in full before banks, investors and other creditors are paid.

At the point where a corporation declares bankruptcy lets let the employees sit at the table ahead of the executives who usually walk away handsomely rewarded got an abysmal job and banks and investors who invested knowing there was a risk. It’s only fair.

So when will we hear an articulate Democrat take up the mantle of tax reform. The Democratic Party will never regain its influence with the American people until they stand for something the American people need rather than just standing in opposition.