Away in a Manger: My Life as Livestock

There are plenty of reasons to love the holidays—even for people like me without children in their homes or Christ in their hearts. The carols and the twinkling lights are obvious charms. So too is the scent of evergreen and wood smoke. Subtler but equally potent is the way holiday advertisements persuade me of my generosity. According to the moral calculus of Target and Best Buy, all I must do is lavish gifts on my materially comfortable friends and family, and I’m excused for the past fifty weeks of being a garden-variety asshole.

But more than anything, I love the holiday season because it’s the one month when my year-round eating habits suddenly seem normal. At Christmas dinner, nobody bats an eye as I politely exchange my china for a wooden cutting board—then methodically erect three edible tiers. Using rolls and biscuits as cobbles, I first lay a sturdy carbohydrate foundation. Next, I spoon the casseroles and potatoes into a sort of quivering, cream-based mortar. Then on top I carefully assemble a flavorful façade of meats—which, at any holiday meal in my native South, will include roast beef and turkey, as well as ham studded with cloves and salted with the tears of Gwyneth Paltrow.

For me, a holiday meal is not so different from an average Tuesday night in April. The fare may be simpler and less butter-laden—salmon over rice, let’s say—but the result is the same, calorically-speaking. Because when I say “salmon,” I mean “a salmon”—or, at least, as much of the slippery devil as I can wrestle onto the top rack of my oven. True, I may steer clear of the eyeballs and fins, but otherwise I go after sockeye like a hibernation-wasted Kodiak bear.


In my household, I do the grocery shopping and cooking. It’s good exercise to crisscross Market Basket with racks of beef ribs and a burlap sack of potatoes slung over my shoulders. Moreover, it would be cruel to force my wife to handle so much food that she will never eat—and unfair to encumber her with the ceaseless task of keeping my stomach topped off.  When, as is often the case, hunger pangs awaken me at 3 AM, I only have myself to blame.  That’s what I get for not capping the evening with a glass of warm milk and a large pizza from Mike’s.

My wife knows that, when it comes to food, she has only one responsibility, which is to keep her hands and arms away from the chipper-shredder that is my mouth. The comparison is only a slight exaggeration. As an eater, I am not only immoderate, but also indiscriminate. When people tell me about their distaste for olives or their gluten sensitivity, I listen sympathetically—but with profound incomprehension. The notion of a meal “not sitting right” is, for me, a pure abstraction, like division by zero or leftover bacon.

Dining outside my own kitchen, I always feel a certain anxiety about getting enough to eat.  After all, at dinner parties it’s stressful to excuse myself, when everyone else is chatting over half-eaten pie, and go rummaging for more calories. I generally have a pretty good nose for the whereabouts of the hosts’ pantry. But it’s sometimes hard to judge—in the heat of the moment—which snack foods their children are least likely to miss.

At restaurants, especially fancy ones, things can get awkward.  A recent exchange went like this:

Waif-like server with sleeve tattoo: “Finished with this, sir?”

Me (looking down at a bay leaf and a cleanly gnawed bone): “Yes. I’ll have another.”

Server: “Another merlot, sir?”

Me (avoiding my wife’s imploring eyes): “No. Another dish, please.”

Server (smiling and searching my face to confirm the mischief): …

Me: “Another lamb shank.”

Server: “Oh.” (Pause.) “Yes, I can box up another to go.”

Me: “No, I mean to eat. Like, now.”

Wife (helpful and considerate, as ever): “Or, you know, whenever it’s ready.”

Server (dazed, recalibrating, ashamed for me): “Yes. Okay.”

Me: “Thanks for understanding. It’s a problem I have.”

Server (slinking away): “Mm hmm…”

Me: “Miss?”

Server: “Yes?”

Me: “Another merlot as well.”

At this point, I suspect you are picturing me as a large man—or perhaps some mythological hybrid with a chambered stomach. So I feel compelled to state that I am, in fact, 5-foot-8 and decidedly stringy. You can go ahead and carry on about how lucky I am to eat what I want and get away with it. I won’t protest. But let me remind you that the calorie is a unit of thermal energy—and the laws of chemistry cannot be escaped. So you might, more accurately, picture me as one of those old-timey, coal-fired boilers. But since I’m not attached to a steam locomotive, all my heat must be dissipated through my pores.

I didn’t fully appreciate just how sweaty I am until a few summers ago, while vacationing with my extended family near Cancun. Our resort offered a variety of amenities, including six pools and one cramped gym. Inexplicably, it was the only place on the grounds that lacked air conditioning, and its ceiling was scarcely tall enough to accommodate a hoisted dumbbell. On my first visit, I hopped on a stationary bike and commenced to ride with my usual gusto. With my headphones on and engrossed in a trashy telenovela, I was at first oblivious to what was unfolding. My aerobic output—stoked by the resort’s all-you-can eat buffets—had combined with the gym’s jungly heat to generate the perfect metabolic storm.  Eventually, I became aware of some commotion behind me. I turned to find two hunched maintenance workers squeegeeing sheets of my perspiration toward a drain hole in the corner of the rubber floor. Ever mindful of guest safety, they had placed yellow cones along the perimeter. Piso mojado, they read—which, I think, translates to “sweat gully.”

H_2838_MWhen I returned to the gym two days and many churros later, the gym attendants recognized me immediately. One wide-eyed woman hissed over her shoulder, “Mira! Look!” Her colleague wheeled and, perhaps dubious of American bilingual education, muttered a string of epithets that could have served as a vocabulary unit titled, “Odors of the Barnyard.”

One reason I moved from the South to New England was that I was tired of being el cerdo, the pig, for nine months of the year. Here in Gloucester, I can usually count on bitterly cold winters to provide a respite—or at least an excuse to layer over the dark stains that bloom across my chest and back. Normally, after Christmas dinner, I like to slip out the back door, open my jacket, and let the steam rise off me like a piping soufflé. But this year I’m headed back South, and word is they’re calling for record heat. Who knows: maybe this will be the year I find religion once again. If there’s any truth to those carols—“Away in a Manger” and all the rest—the Baby Jesus was never too good to consort with the likes of me.


We know, Clamfans, you’re probably a little sad we don’t post as often anymore. We have good reasons – Jim is working his butt off starting his own ad agency while supporting a whole family, KT is in the middle of a divorce w kids, moving, and trying to build a social media marketing business (she is also speaking in the third person right now). We apologize for the lull, but it won’t always be this way – 2016 will bring blogging back. We can’t guarantee every day, but it’ll be more quality over quantity. Probably. 


A ton of you guys know Peggy and Chris Lyman. They are locals here, with four (FOUR) kids, including a toddler/preschooler and a brand-new baby. They’re fixtures, they’re One Of Us, and they are part of the social fabric that keeps Gloucester awesome. They’re in the Clam gang, virtually, if one existed (it doesn’t, we lost most of our gang to a rival comprised of mostly Juggalos). They’re the rare breed of people who nearly everyone knows, and no one can say a harsh word about. You know those people. Yeah. The Lymans are them. 

Anyway, Peggy’s doctors just found a mass between her lungs. Right smack dab before Christmas. No one deserves that news, let alone this family who aren’t exactly living in a McMansion with a heated pool encroaching on Dogtown. Peggy’s a schoolteacher, Chris works with boats and busts his butt, and they’re raising 4 young kids. Have I mentioned the four kids?



So for this holiday season, they’re facing a lot of unexpected transportation – both for Peggy for cancer treatments and the kids around town – and childcare needs, as well as other expenses. Peggy’s cancer is treatable and her prognosis is relatively good, and she’ll obviously be facing a lot of medical interventions starting really damn soon. The last thing Chris, Peggy, and their kids should have to worry about during this time is if they are going to be able to stay afloat financially – they need to concentrate on mom’s health. 

This is Gloucester, and the best thing about Gloucester is how we come together when we’re needed, to help out our own. We’re damn good at it – we prove that time and time again. And it’s time to do that for the Lymans. We live near a world-class city for cancer treatment. We have a lot of hope.

We can’t control cancer, but what we can control is all the external factors this family has to deal with. So let’s make it easier for them – all six of them.

Here’s the gofundme that BYG czar Lara Lepionka put together. Please donate if you can!




Josh Turiel’s Take On San Bernardino

[ed: This is a guest post from Josh Turiel because your regular Clam editors are just too exhausted and drunk to post another goddamn diatribe on our outrageous gun problem. Also, if you’re unfamiliar, “Daesh” is the word we now use to describe ISIS. According to a Globe editorial, “Depending on how it is conjugated in Arabic, it can mean anything from “to trample down and crush” to “a bigot who imposes his view on others.” And basically, ISIS hates it so let’s do it from here on out. USA! USA!]

So the San Bernardino shooters were a couple, apparently led by the woman, who were inspired by ideology to commit terrorism. Which means that OMG Daesh is here.

Except they aren’t here. What we have is a dangerous hybrid of terror wannabes who aren’t part of any organized effort. Some have been overseas and exposed to the extremism virus over there. Some have been following it here and been inspired by Facebook, news coverage, Twitter, and bajillions of things you’ve never heard of. Maybe there’s one nutty charismatic Iman at a local mosque who inspired someone.

Or maybe they broke down and went rogue after listening to this the entire goddamn length of the Pike

Or maybe they broke down and went rogue after listening to this the entire goddamn length of the Pike

In a lot of ways, that’s more scary than if Daesh were actually here in this country setting up operations, but it’s less dangerous overall. America is a pretty free nation, despite what nutters on both sides may think, and there’s always going to be that risk that a couple of people will be inspired by whatever ideology and do something horrible. We’ve been dealing with domestic terrorism for a lot longer than most of you think.


Remember Timothy McVeigh and his partner Terry Nichols? Yep. Domestic terrorists inspired by radical ideology to commit the Oklahoma City bombing. But it was Christian ideology, developed right here at home. The Atlanta Olympic bombing along with several others? Eric Rudolph, a member of the Army of God. Christian. The Sikh Temple shooting? Wade Page, a white supremacist. This past June, Dylann Roof killed nine people at a Methodist church in Charleston, South Carolina. Remember the guy in Colorado just a week ago?


There’s plenty more.


I’m not saying that Muslims are blameless, either. We remember the Tsarnevs pretty well in these parts. Nidal Hassan killed 13 people on the Army base where he worked (he was a US Army Major) at Fort Hood, Texas. Also that year, Abdul Muhammad killed one man and wounded another in a drive-by shooting in Little Rock, Arkansas. There are plenty of instances that a simple Google search can find of arrests and interrupted plots.


The reason that most of these would be terrorists are caught and arrested before they can try to do harm is simple. They organize. They set up groups and networks. A group of people acting suspiciously sets off alarms in law enforcement. They aren’t so good at keeping secrets. They’re noticed, and ultimately arrested. Our FBI isn’t perfect, but they’re pretty damned good – and working with local and state law enforcement they usually stop these plots before they go anywhere.


Note that in the above paragraph I did NOT say “Islamic terrorists”. Law enforcement is good at catching terrorist plots regardless of religious or ideological motivation.


As I mentioned at the beginning, the problem for us (and this is inherent to any society that’s even slightly free) is the lone actor. The married couple. The one angry person and his or her close friend. The brothers. They form a self-contained unit, rarely set off warning signs, and aren’t usually interested in surviving their acts so much as they are sending a message.

The scary thing about it is the simple truth that WE CAN’T STOP THEM ALL. Every city has some potential people that could fit. Every backwoods could have a rusty old trailer with a McVeigh living there. Every neighborhood can have Tsarnev brothers. We never know for sure.


Should that make this country into something else that’s meaner, more suspicious, and more xenophobic than it’s been for generations? I hope not. I don’t blame all my Christian friends for Eric Rudolph. I don’t blame my Muslim friends for the Tsarnevs. I also understand the actual nuance between Daesh as a fighting force in Iraq and Syria, and Daesh as an ideology that has inspired a new wave of nuts in Europe, Asia, and America. We can pretty easily defeat the military Daesh. But it doesn’t stop the people here that are motivated by them. This is the problem we face as a nation and as a people.


That said, if you think that this sort of existential threat is best suited to Facebook memes about Obama being weak because he understands the difference, too? Well, you’re a fool – and you’re probably not reading this article, either. You don’t get nuance. OK, it takes all sorts.


Basically, to sum this up, we have two real military foes right now. Both are extreme fundamentalist Islamic-inspired groups – the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Daesh in Iraq/Syria. We also have a global problem with terrorism committed mainly by individuals and small teams that are inspired by these groups, and by other extreme religious groups around the world. Religious-inspired violence and terror has been a problem for societies since before the modern era. It remains one today. Here in the United States, the Islamic threat of the last twenty years or so is added to the Christian and racially-inspired terror we’ve dealt with since before the Civil War. We need to fight this as a nation without letting the fight destroy us as a nation.


And based on the rhetoric I see all the time, even from serious candidates for this nation’s highest office, we’re not doing so good at that. We’re better than this, people.