Gone to the Dogs: An Even-Numbered Day on Good Harbor


The City Council unanimously voted in favor of adopting a proposed ordinance change that allows dogs to run free on Good Harbor Beach on even-numbered days.   – The Gloucester Daily Times (Nov. 11, 2014)


It is high noon on Good Harbor Beach. The water shimmers in the mid-April sun, and Gloucester’s dogs are relishing their newfound freedom. Stubby schnauzers race alongside loping hounds. A curious Shih Tzu leisurely inspects the hindquarters of an unflappable St. Bernard. Mutts of every conceivable parentage leap and splash and dart, spurning the leashes that dangle pointlessly from the pockets of windbreakers. Everywhere their barks are clear and sharp—almost martial—as if saluting the city council for liberating the four-legged from their six-foot nylon shackles.

Crane-Beach-Dogs[Unleashed on Good Harbor]

Yet somehow the joyful mood has bypassed one pair of dogs, who sulk and slouch against the dunes, passing a paw-rolled American Spirit cigarette between them. Both are AKC purebreds, but neither likes to talk about it. Listlessly, they watch two lab puppies tumble after a tennis ball.

“Christ, what a scene,” says Walter, a white Bichon with a bearded muzzle groomed to a state of artful dishevelment. In lieu of a collar, he sports an organic cotton keffiyeh.

“A travesty really,” says Simone, a standard poodle whose fluffy black pompons are purely ironic. “Good Harbor is officially over.”

“Gawd, is that Coco over there?” Walter indicates a perky spaniel flouncing past some pups of dubious ancestry.

“Ugh. What a literal bitch.”

BichonWalter[Walter at home, ready to enjoy some Dave Eggers]

For years Walter and Simone have frequented Good Harbor in the off-season.  And they had been among the select few who flouted Gloucester’s leash ordinance, scoffing at their tethered peers, running circles around the skittish and pooch-averse. Now, on an even-numbered spring afternoon, they are just another pair of law-abiding family pets, as square as hamsters in a cage.

“If I wanted to frolic with the canine bourgeoisie,” says Walter, “I’d drag my owner to the Stage Fort Dog Park.”

Both shiver at the idea.

Once destined for the show ring, Walter got the boot from private training school at age 2. For a few weeks, he was technically a stray, a biographical footnote he always manages to drop into conversation. Simone too boasts a champion’s pedigree, and her mother’s Best in Class at Westminster furnished a sizeable trust fund. But this detail is strictly on the down low.

article-0-1C6A21B300000578-456_634x445[Simone, delivering a sassy remark]

“It’s like that artisanal kibble stand over on Commercial Street,” says Walter, lighting another cigarette. “One favorable review in The Times, and suddenly the place looks like a puppy mill.”

Just then two human beachgoers—a middle-aged couple in pastels—park their blanket not more than ten yards away. They kick off their dock shoes and proceed to unpack a large wicker picnic hamper.

Simone surveys the contents: fruit salad, a rotisserie chicken, and what appears to be real china and cutlery. “Classy affair,” she says.

Walter avails himself of an extra long drag. “A year ago, I’d be making a beeline for the water,” he says. “Returning with a coat full of sand and saltwater. And shaking off all over that mofo.”

“But now?”

“Not so much.”

Simone permits herself a little snort. “I get it,” she says, snatching the cigarette. “If you’re going to drop a steaming turd on somebody’s quiche, you want it to mean something.”

“Exactly,” Walter says, practically growling. “Fucking with picnickers, nipping at little kids’ fingers—these used to be acts of courage, of resistance against the whole power structure. Now they’re just ‘accidents’ our owners can smooth over with half-assed apologies.” He gestures at a nearby pack and thumps his tail on the sand for emphasis. “These mutts risk nothing more than a waggled index finger.”

“What about animal control? They’re supposed to fine owners who can’t manage unleashed dogs.”

Walter shoots a look at Simone, who is trying to maintain a straight snout. But the notion is just too funny.

By now the picnickers have distributed fruit, slathered the chicken in mint yogurt, and commenced eating. Simone’s black nose twitches, and Walter whines a bit, attracting the attention of the woman.

“Oh, look at that darling little Bichon,” she says, tapping her husband’s shoulder. “He looks hungry.” She holds out a chicken wing and makes kissy noises at the pair.

Walter’s body is taut and quivering.

“Easy, boy,” Simone says. Then, at the couple she yips: “We’re vegan, you assholes.”

The woman recoils. “Goodness,” she says, glancing at her husband and dropping the wing. “Not as friendly as they look.”

Walter hears a familiar whistle from the direction of the wooden footbridge. “Guess that’s my cue,” he says, extinguishing a final cigarette and slowly getting to his paws.

Simone waves goodbye and watches as Walter trots past a host of doggie temptations: an unguarded bag of chips, an overfriendly toddler, and—as always—Coco’s shapely rump. Somehow, he manages to leave all this to the mainstream dogs. Somehow, he makes even obedience look cool.

No Snark Sunday: Boston Stronger

I’m seeing a lot of crap on my social media feeds about particular cruelties that should be applied to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the recently convicted Boston Marathon Bomber.

Can we just not?

I’ll be honest here, I don’t want to stand next to you at the playground if you seem to spend your off hours thinking up highly-detailed Medieval-style cruelties that can be applied to another human being, no matter how loathsome. And the willingness for people to try and support about the most anti-American thing you can say, “We shouldn’t even have bothered to have a trial” followed by some kind of town-square-type justice proposal that sounds like it’s out of the KKK lynching manual makes my skin crawl.

I understand the passions of the moment during the attack. I was there myself. But it’s been two years. We need to fall back on that thing we call “having a civilization worth defending.” The anger we felt in the moment needs to give way to what makes us better than the Tsarnaev brothers and what they could ever try to pass off as some kind of “philosophy.” That thing is called The Rule of Law. You should check it out, the Babylonians dreamed it up then those crazy Jews turned it into a groove successful cultures have rocked for over eight thousand years.

The bombers’ plan to scare us and make us cow backfired so spectacularly because Boston is and always has been the place where, for all our (many) faults, in the end our belief in that rule of law, along with our general sense of ethics and morals, actually mean something. Not bullshit posturing like the Indiana idiots who want to let people refuse to make pizza for gay weddings (because Jesus never would have made some kind of concoction for a party full of “undesirables”), but here we actually have a history of giving a shit about real matters of human dignity and decency.

From the original patriots desiring freedom from actual tyranny to the abolitionists fighting against slavery to things like healthcare and (again) gay marriage, good education for all and the support of the rational disciplines of science, technology and the environment, we’re undisputed leaders. The 24th city by size in our country leads in a huge number of categories from our average public school students (who challenge countries like Finland and Japan) to our social outcomes where we have the lowest divorce rates, low crime rates, low teen pregnancy rates, all that stuff that would make a social conservative get warm in sinful places. We punch so high above our weight class not because we move our mouths around, but because we actually do the hard work of understanding root causes and then taking the actions which will make the outcomes we want real.

I know it’s more emotionally satisfying to just talk tough and then never actually do anything meaningful to solve the problems at hand, but that crap doesn’t fly here. Move to fucking Florida if you want that shit. Living here takes work. You need a snow shovel and a brain and a tough skin. And you have to use all three in equal measures.

And sorry, but that means not going all Atilla on pressure-cooker boy who’s name I hope to never have to try and spell again and who I plan on beginning to forget about starting the day after his sentencing. That’s my plan and I hope you’ll join me in it.

Oh, and for all you death penalty fans out there, read what the parents of Martin Richard, the 8 year old (my son’s age at the time of the attack) killed in the attack have to say about seeking the death penalty in this case.

“As long as the defendant is in the spotlight, we have no choice but to live a story told on his terms, not ours,” they said. “The minute the defendant fades from our newspapers and TV screens is the minute we begin the process of rebuilding our lives and our family.”

They’ve had to think about this a lot. Maybe we should listen to them.

The Gloucester Clam’s Block Party Ideas

[Today’s post is from Clamtributor Brooke Welty]

We all know that Gloucester loves a block party. But the Mayor is now soliciting opinions (via a Surveymonkey poll rather than through official civic channels, so don’t worry if you missed it) on a new approach. Rather than the city organizing the block parties, we would simply close down Main St. every Saturday evening in July and August, and leave it up to the businesses to plan anything.

According to the poll question:
” There would be no organized entertainment, but entrepreneurial merchants, restaurants and street performers would be encouraged to put provided their own entertainment.”

So we here at The Clam started thinking about planning some entertainment for one of these do-it-yourself block parties. What could be more fun? So below are some ideas for themes and events that we came up with.

  • Theme: Burning Man At The Wheel. Fire eaters, Fire Breathers, topless dreadlocked people of any and all gender options promoting art via controlled chaos. What could go wrong?
  • Have people dressed like zombies shamble down the street at random intervals
  • Hire a troupe of obscene mimes
  • Hire a White Guy Blues Band
  • Theme: Cirque du Soleil. Muscled, lithe acrobats to entertain the crowds with their feats of physical prowess, bending and twisting all over…I’m sorry, where was I?
  • Theme: Downton Abbey, Gloucester Style. Alcohol will be served in delicate tea cups by well mannered wait staff to people trying for their best moneyed British accent. Sexual repression and social strata will be strictly enforced.
  • Pony rides
  • Erect a Thunderdome to work out greivances between neighbors for the amusement of all

School Consolidation Fetishism- Weirder than Furries

To have a realistic fantasy seem believable to readers an author needs to counterbalance their made-up world with as much reality as possible. J.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series  therefore relies on an elaborate backstory including fully-formed invented languages, J.K. Rowling brings in details from contemporary Britain and typical teenage drama to make the magical Hogwarts familiar to anyone who’s been to middle school.

However, a lack of believable detail is why the “We should consolidate the Gloucester elementary schools into one big mega-school” fantasy has failed to really catch hold the public’s imagination. Its proponents have consistently failed to ever provide any clues as to how this idea would work, even in the rogue alternative universe where citizens actually want that.

And where this lady could be principal.

And where this lady could be principal.

To backfill for a second: There is the occasional call by the Gloucester Daily Times saying the neighborhood elementary schools should all be consolidated into one big school. They claim this will save money and improve educational outcomes.

Proposed design (zeppelin transport ships not shown)

Proposed design (zeppelin transport ships not shown)

But this claim is a lot like saying vampires sparkle or that Unicorn pee tastes like cotton candy. There is no evidence its’ true. Quite the contrary, in fact (read below). And none of the proponents ever provides credible numbers or a simple spreadsheet or any case studies to show how this would work or be beneficial.

Let’s Clamsplore, shall we?

First, to do this you would need a really big-ass building. Fuller School will never be the place, it’s now essentially condemned and even when it was possible to use as as school the process of converting it was deemed far too expensive by these experts here. They determined it would have cost twice per square foot what Manchester/Essex and Ipswich paid for their new schools. So that would be a bad idea, paying twice as much. Fuller is out then, so give it up. It’s done. Move on from Fuller, we beg you. There is not one credible evaluation that shows the existing Fuller building being rehabbed into a consolidated school at a price point that would seem reasonable even to your most peyote-addled numerologist. Yes, they may do something else with the building, but not a school unless you bulldoze it flat first at which point you start again from near zero, costwise (some savings on grounds and site prep. But still, not a lot.)

Screen shot 2014-05-07 at 1.04.55 PM

Who pays for this big-ass building? This is a key question because the Commonwealth covers half the cost of rehabbing our existing schools on their educational facilities list. They will NOT cover the cost of making a new consolidated school out of whole cloth. So Gloucester is going to bear the total cost of a new school to achieve this amazing consolidation cost benefit? What’s that going to run us, 60 million bucks? More? We have to pay for the whole thing? Is someone planning to pass an override for that? A bond issue? Hello? How is there a fiscal benefit here if we just lost a minimum of 30 million bucks having to build the thing?

And what do we save? There are five elementary schools. You can’t hire any fewer teachers because of the mandated student-to-teacher ratio. Same with aides, specialists and all that. You can reliably cut out four principals, a couple of custodians and maybe a few kitchen folks along with a few other support staff. There’s your big economy of scale. And what do you get for it?

  1. You have to pay full price for a new building rather than going halfsises with the Commonwealth.
  2. Kids of all ages from all over the district now have to be bussed (at great cost) to this imaginary central school. Kindergarteners will be spending 40 min on a bus each way.
  3. Crappier educational outcomes. Hey! Actual data from the National Education Policy Center tracking the outcomes of districts who had tried consolidation! What do you know? (they also note the “cost savings” are largely fictitious)

“…Moreover, contemporary research does not support claims about the widespread benefits of consolidation. The assumptions behind such claims are most often dangerous oversimplifications… Research also suggests that impoverished regions in particular often benefit from smaller schools and districts, and they can suffer irreversible damage if consolidation occurs.”

Oh, wow. Weird. Actual experts in education at Ohio University tracked outcomes and found something completely opposite of what the education experts at the Gloucester Daily Times propose in their data-free editorial (paywall because sad). How strange. It’s almost as if those calling for consolidation in Gloucester did no research whatsoever and are simply making noises out of the wrong ends of their digestive tracts.

And what else do we, as a city, get in this amazing deal? Well, imagine you’re now a realtor trying to sell a house to a young couple in Magnolia, Lanesville or one of the neighborhoods off of Grapevine in East Gloucester. You have to tell them that their future five-year-olds will spend 80 minutes a day on a bus to to get to and from the consolidated elementary school. Sounds awesome huh?

just five more stops!

just three more stops lil’ Timmy!

 It seems like this particular plan would actually dramatically increase the number of families “choicing out” of the district. I thought we were trying to decrease that number. Can someone explain how this would help?

 But maybe someone has numbers somewhere that show what an awesome idea this would be? A case study? Some projections, a spreadsheet, a table graph or chart? I don’t know about you, Clampadres, but we here are getting pretty frigging sick of a bunch of half-baked “ideas” about how to run the town that come in completely fact-free packaging. Everyone talks about running the town more “like a business.” Sure, OK, I work in business. I deal with business innovations all the time.

Urinal elephant? We'll take two.

Urinal elephant? We’ll take two.

The first thing the CEO says when you have an idea is: “Show me the numbers.” So let’s see them. Or is this whole consolidation thing less of an “idea” and more of an “ongoing obsession” for a certain people who will continue to advocate for it with no substantive proof points. Obsessions not based in reality are also called “fetishes,” by the way.

This is numbers-based argument. Let’s see some.