Clam Election Guide: Gloucester’s Question 3

Greetings, faithful voters/troublemakers of Gloucester. We’ve come to you today to help you learn entirely too much about the Debt Exclusion vote – Question 3 in November’s election. Maybe you’ve heard about it, maybe you’ve decided 2020 was best spent consuming no media whatsoever (in which case, good choice). Only Gloucester will have this special question on the ballot. It reads:

“Shall the City of Gloucester be allowed to exempt from the provisions of Proposition two-and-one-half, so called, the amounts required to pay for bonds issued in order to provide the necessary funding for the design, site work, construction and outfitting of a new East Gloucester/Veterans Memorial Elementary School.”

We’re here to break down the true costs of this plan, the alternatives, and why we’ve decided that voting yes is unequivocally the best way forward, even if you may not find it absolutely perfect. When you cut through the rumors and the sky-is-falling melodrama, the choice is abundantly clear.

Ok, The Clam, but how the hell did we get here?

Both EGS and Veterans are very old schools – 1948 and 1956, respectively. The last public data we could find on how old the average public schools are is from the 1990’s, so 30 years ago – and even then only 28% of public schools were built before 1950, and obviously, that number can only have decreased further as schools are replaced at the end of their lifespan. As of 2016, the average age of a main school building was 44 years old. EGS is nearly double that age. 

Veterans and EGS are both functionally outdated by modern standards, EGS being the worst of the two. EGS has far too few classrooms and relies on old, rusting, leaky modular classrooms that will need to be replaced in short order. The space means kids are learning or taking IEP-required meetings in the hallways, which is against fire codes. The safety standards are lagging- there are no central communications and that can’t be retrofitted – in an emergency when seconds count, a teacher’s  cell phone is the only way to alert 911 or the front office. The basement has extreme moisture issues and teachers have to keep windows open nearly year round to get rid of the excess moisture.  There are no art or music rooms, the teacher has to move from classroom to classroom. 

 

Pretty sure we all saw this room in the Poseidon Adventure.

 

After the West Parish project was nearing completion, the city took a long, hard look at the projected classroom enrollment, the city’s resources, and what everything would cost to repair vs replace – and since 2014, there have been over 30 public meetings that got us to where we are now – a consolidated school that combines the two smaller schools into one medium-sized school. 

Why Are We Consolidating?

Consolidation can be a hard thing to understand when you’re used to neighborhood schools, but keep in mind, we had nearly 2 dozen small elementary schools at the turn of the last century which eventually consolidated into the 5 we have now. EGS has been a fantastic community school for 72 years, but the demographics of the area are changing, and between 2001 and 2007 the elementary school population dropped from 1865 to 1492.  The best explanation is Jonathan Pope’s letter in the GDT about consolidation.

If the city could afford it, it would take a minimum of 20 years to replace the four elementary schools; in contrast, building two schools will take 10 years. Tearing down East Gloucester Elementary School and building a new school on the same site would cost $51 million. To build a new consolidated school would cost $65 to $69 million. To build four new schools would cost approximately $204 million in today’s dollars. In contrast, the estimate for building two new schools would cost $138 million. Over the life expectancy (50 years) of the new schools, maintenance and utilities costs would be substantially less for two larger schools than for four smaller schools. The delivery of education by specialists — music, art, physical education, special education, language and math coaching, interventions and social and emotional counseling — would be far more efficient in larger schools. Larger schools with four sections per grade also provide more capacity to absorb fluctuations in enrollment, leading to more stable catchment areas, and thus a more stable school community .

It makes sense that some people are concerned that 440 students in an elementary school might be too many, I sure as hell was a bit worried. However, research shows it’s not. The top ranked K-5 public schools in greater Boston (per Niche.com) all have over 500 students per school. (2020 Best Schools in the Boston Area, (Maria Hastings Elementary (Lexington) 454 students, Bowman Elementary (Lexington) 546 students, Elmwood School (Hopkinton) 549 students, Bridge Elementary (Lexington) 541 students (based on U.S. Department of Education data). Fuller had over 500 kids, albeit in a much larger and inefficient building that was closed during the biggest economic downturn we’ve been alive for. 

The final choice after dozens of public meetings whittled the choices for where to put the school down to just a few, and finally, Veteran’s was chosen. According to the citys’ handy Q&A guide, the decision to build on the Veterans’s site was based upon the following: Preserve as much open space as possible;

  • Proximity of the respective student population;
  • Potential for more students to walk to school;
  • Building a school on a site currently being used as a school;
  • Access to utilities; and,
  • Less environmental impact;
  • In terms of Article 97 and the re-purposing of land along with a “no net loss” involving a land exchange, the Veterans’ site is the more viable option.

But Why New?  We Don’t Need That, Do We? Can’t We Fix What We Have?

Nope. You’d think, right? We’re hardy New Englanders, used to fixing what we have. We’re thrifty and not extravagant or wasteful. So the thought of tearing down schools and building new doesn’t sit right with folks, because we’re in a place with old buildings. However, in this case, it doesn’t make any sense – for many reasons, including the major costs to bring the project up to code vs modern, efficient building standards.

The single biggest reason to build a new school is because it’s the cheapest option. 

 

The new school’s $66 million price tag will be subsidized by the state to the tune of $26.9 million (thanks to the 5 years of work by the School Committee and the MSBA), the cost of a new school to Gloucester’s taxpayers will be just under $40 million.  There’s a TON of data about the numbers, and if you’re interested in committing several hours researching, start with this handy guide. But turning the decaying schools into something we can use costs far more overall than the new school. Here’s a great take by our good Clam buddy, Stephen Voltz.

If this ballot measure fails, we’ll be facing an avalanche of unavoidable costs including repairing existing buildings at a cost of $18 million per school, $36 million for both – as well as new modular buildings at many more millions. Problems that need to be addressed with the existing buildings include intermittent lack of heat in the winter, structural issues, asbestos tiles that are in poor condition, inadequate wiring including electrical conduit that has corroded, rust and rot in places, copper piping and an HVAC system that needs wholesale entire system replacing (at East Gloucester), an underground oil tank that must be removed, and groundwater infiltration – a literal creek runs through EGS. Not to mention the cost of getting things up to code, like this door that inexplicably drops down and is absolutely not ADA compliant. Surprise, hope your ankles are rubbery.

 

A full renovation of EGS would help some of the worst problems, but would decrease the amount of classroom space to meet modern codes and make the population problem worse, and that would still cost us $28.4 million. 

Are these costs we could have avoided had we done more (that is, spent more money through different tax increases) in the past to keep them in better shape? Not really. Schools wear out.  In a comprehensive study of school facilities across the U.S. the U.S. Department of Education concluded that “after 40 years, a school building begins rapid deterioration,cand after 60 years most schools are abandoned.” (How Old are America’s Public Schools. NCES 1999-048. U.S. Department of Education – National Center for Education Statistics. 1999). Gloucester passed the 40 year milestone with these schools when school buildings “begin rapid deterioration” a generation ago, and have now sailed on past the 60 year mark when most school buildings are abandoned.  Veterans is 63 years old.  East Gloucester is 72 years old.

The second reason not to go the repair and rehab route is that even after we pay $36 million to fix up our old school buildings we still won’t have enough room. Right now, teachers are teaching in hallways. After a $36 million capital maintenance only project, they’ll still be teaching in hallways in a school that is still massively overdue to be replaced, and has LESS space because of the need to bring everything to current code. And we’ll still be spending more on utilities than we would for a new, LEED, green building.

Not to mention, it’s just a beautiful thing to have for Gloucester.

So Why Are People Against This?

We’re seeing arguments to vote against it. Some is based on not fully understanding that alternatives were already researched and what their costs would be, and a lot is highly emotionally charged feelings about change or not having their particular idea chosen and therefore felt unheard. The worst arguments we’ve seen are accusing everyone from the mayor, the school and city council, the architects and the Vote Yes group of lying about the math, not being transparent or even worse – being complicit in some kickback scheme, and to be honest: that’s absolutely shameful, uncalled for and inappropriate. All the groups above have been painstakingly transparent, as accurate as possible, and if any inaccuracies are brought to light, they are fixed. That’s what they take pride in and that’s their commitment to the city and community. End of story.

But here’s the most repeated arguments we’ve seen, and why it doesn’t hold up under scrutiny:

The people weren’t heard: There were T H I R T Y meetings with public input from the beginning of this process, and boy, there was a lot of input. For instance, the Green Street abutters did a thorough job of respectfully explaining why the school would not work in that area, which contributed to the final decision to place the school at Veteran’s, where a current school already exists and would negatively impact the abutters the least. Even if making a meeting was impossible, our school committee and city councilors are available by phone or email. Everyone who had a point to make could make it several times over, and most availed themselves of that opportunity.  But make no mistake – there were many choices, and the final choice not being what you wanted doesn’t mean the process wasn’t fair or your input wasn’t heard.  Screwing over a whole generation of kids because you didn’t get your way is the ultimate Karen move. 

The project was rushed! This is year 5 of the process. The only time crunch is that if the vote doesn’t get approved, we lose out on the money. To be frank, some people weren’t paying attention to news or city council meetings, the agendas of which are required by law to be listed publicly ahead of time. 

We can’t afford it! Unfortunately, we have to. The Anti-school folks have done a pretty great job at playing sleight of hand games with the math and pretending it’s between a choice of spending nothing and spending millions on a brand new school, so they can get people who don’t want to spend money on their side. But that’s just patently NOT the whole story – we already explained above that the minimum required to keep both buildings running is $36 million. Recently, new superintendent Ben Lummis made a point that seems to have been buried in the avalanche of voices: we don’t have the money even for the upgrades necessary, and if this does not pass, we will likely need another debt exclusion just to keep those schools from closing. The average cost is about $12-15 a month for a home valued at $400-$500k – basically another Netflix or a trip to McDonalds. We can either spend it smartly, or throw it down the drain.

A bit under $40m gets us a beautiful new school for the next 50 years financed at nearly 1% interest. It’s the best financial option, hands-down. The school committee, a vast majority of the city council, and the mayor all agree on this.

Well, they didn’t maintain the schools twenty years ago so why would I spend money now? I don’t know what this argument even is. honestly. I have asked over and over again, but no one can come up with a concrete example of what counts as purposeful neglect. I work in risk management and with building characteristics on a daily basis, and I assure you, there are no 80 year old buildings that would survive without being taken care of. Maintenance may have been deferred due to budget restrictions, but clearly the answer isn’t “let’s never replace anything”, it’s “Let’s correctly fund it.” A major change, shifting maintenance to the DPW, means that now a ticketing system is in place to spur fixes to maintenance issues as they happen – a welcome improvement. 

Let’s not forget that in 1996, a lot of the same people who are crowing that we didn’t maintain the schools voted down a $1.5 million debt exclusion to put money into Veteran’s. Weird, right?

The Building Doesn’t Matter, the Experience Does!  Oh this one kills me becauses it’s so often said by people in an age group that had a host of brand-new schools at the time. Adequate school buildings absolutely do matter, and there’s science behind it. Not to mention, it’s pretty hard to learn when the heat goes out multiple times in a week and the inside is 40 degrees.

“Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley Labs noted an increase of 50 percent to 370 percent in the incidence of respiratory illness in spaces with low ventilation rates, as are commonly found in schools, compared to spaces meeting industry-accepted standards.Breathing fresh air is not only critical for keeping students healthy but also for keeping them alert. Several studies have linked recirculating air and low ventilation rates in classrooms with lower average daily attendance and slower speed in completing tasks.7 Studies also have found that poor facilities are strongly associated with student truancy and higher rates of suspensions.8 Additional research shows that adequate lighting and good acoustics also help students remain alert and ready to learn. Research has examined the connection between daylight and students’ ability to focus, retain information, and maintain alertness.

But I Want Neighborhood Schools! This is an argument that has merit and is understandable. However, it’s important to note that more than 60% of current EGS kids live closer to Veterans than EGS and many families have to pass Veteran’s daily to get to their school. Veteran’s is truly their local school. It’s important to have a downtown school for downtown kids that make up such a large part of our elementary population. The consolidated school is still very close to East Gloucester. Keep in mind that other parts of downtown are bussed all the way to Plum Cove, and the majority of kids in the downtown core have been flung far and wide to all 5 elementary schools. “Neighborhood Schools” have been out of reach for a huge swath of the population for decades. It’s time more kids were given their own neighborhood school, and this plan does just that. 

But isn’t renovating or rehabbing cheaper? I know we already went over this, but it isn’t! On a cost per square foot basis, simply renovating EGS – which does nothing to solve the educational shortcomings of the building – comes in at a whopping $639 per square foot. In contrast, building a brand new, efficient, consolidated school  that actually meets our needs is $613 per square foot. There are a lot of reasons – ADA and current construction codes, cost of materials, etc. The EGS building envelope – it’s shell – is already rated in poor condition. It doesn’t have good bones. It has weak, brittle, osteoporosis bones. 

I don’t like the layout/bushes/traffic! This is typical of so many late to the party objections.  Neither the layout or outdoor space is on the ballot, and there were multiple meetings where the parking, play space, and layouts were adjusted. People seem to think if they don’t like the kind of bushes planned for the new building’s landscaping they can vote against the debt exclusion, get their pet peeve addressed and then have the city put up another bond measure that includes their favorite bushes, down the road. That’s not how it’s going to work. At the very best, we might have a shot at repeating this 10 year MSBA process in another 5 years, but with the increased cost of labor and materials, and with the very real possibility of higher interest rates and lowered MSBA money depending on the economy over the next 5-6 years, it’s going to cost us a LOT more. Plus, the MSBA is going to shy away from working with us in the future if they think it’s going to be a waste of time because we can’t come up with the money.

Ipswich had so many similar arguments, and their similar new consolidated school plan failed. Our friend Amanda, who is an Ipswich resident, explained what happened next and it’s exactly what you’d imagine.

Combining our two elementary schools would have provided a more equitable education environment for our kids. The plans provided beautiful open spaces, large rooms with all the technology required for kids and educators, natural light, climate control, green-design, outdoor spaces for play and learning, maker spaces. Instead, a vocal minority voted down the plans due to an outdated romantic idea of a neighborhood school in walking distance to only a minority of students and we lost out on the opportunity. They continuously said, “we can do better,” but an alternative plan has yet to be presented. Now we are stuck with outdated buildings with broken furnaces, leaking roofs, and overcrowded classrooms that can’t be retrofitted to suit the technology needs of a modern learning environment. The disparities between the two schools are felt even more sharply now in the pandemic. There’s no way forward now, no plan, no money to upgrade, and no idea how many more generations of students and educators in Ipswich will have to adapt to buildings that were never meant to last this long.

 Listen, there’s a lot of negativity we see out there, but we have to make sure Gloucester stays somewhere businesses and residents want to remain. We need young families to thrive and stay viable into the future so our economy doesn’t lose its middle class, and we need to be attractive to businesses looking to relocate in the area, or the town becomes nothing but AirBNBs and low skill/low wage jobs to support that industry. We have great assets like Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute, but the decaying, 70+ year old schools aren’t able to give kids the technology and skills advantage they need to have successful careers in STEM fields. We have a perfect opportunity to borrow at an extremely low interest rate to keep everyone’s taxes as low as humanly possible. A new, beautiful school will be an asset to our community, not a liability like we have now. 

This vote is a simple YES we build the school, or NO we don’t. If we don’t, we all end up paying for it down the line – and I don’t just mean financially. 

Deathiversary.

[ed: this was written for us by Jim’s wife, Bo]

 

Hi Friends, 

We are coming up on the first anniversary of Jim’s death. It is confusing times for all of us amidst a pandemic, one display after another of horrifying social injustice, and the ongoing assault on our democracy.

Yet ordinary things are happening too, birds are singing, the breeze is blowing, a full moon will rise in the sky tomorrow.

 

Please help me in remembering James Frederick Dowd and how he could hold all of it with wisdom, humor and action.

 

SHORT VERSION:

 

June 5th, 2019. Jim Died.

It’s almost June 5th again.

We want to honor and celebrate Jim. 

At 8:45 PM EST we’ll be Toasting Jim 

[We’ll put a link up on the Clam, Jim’s FB page and Caringbridge early evening June 5, 2020 so you can join us]

 

MEDIUM VERSION:

This is what the kids and I will do:

 

Friday, June 5, sunset is at 8:17 PM EST

 

At 8:30 PM, Rebecca, Treely, and I are going to have a brief private ritual near water 

We will light luminaria around 8:40 pm

We’ll raise a glass (or more likely a water bottle) to the one and only Jim Dowd

Then our friend will play The Decemberists’ Sons and Daughters on the bagpipe

Then we will spin some fire (think giant sparkler) as a symbolic act of untethering.

Then we will walk home .

 

I wish we could all be together in one place, warming each other in story and song.

But as we cannot gather in large groups here in Massachusetts, 

we’ll each do our part wherever we are. 

Here’s how to honor Jim’s deathiversary.

 

Take these three elements:

 

Find yourself a place that is meaningful. 

It could be on a beach, near a beach, by a water feature, standing over a cactus in a pot, or in front of your kitchen sink. Put the plug in and run the water.

Bring some fire into your life. Carefully.

A candle, a fire-pit, the damn weed you were trying to give to Jim to smoke (or perhaps you’ve got a newer stash), even the lighter you held in the air at that Grateful Dead show.

At 8:45 PM EST we’ll be Toasting Jim [*We’ll put a link up on the Clam, Jim’s FB page and Caringbridge  in the early evening June 5, 2020 so you can join us]

Listen to Sons and Daughters 

 

That’s it.

Beautiful or ironic as you choose.

IMPORTANT: If you live on Cape Ann

 

If you discover other Jim Dowd rememberers (Dowdists?), do a special social distance wave (or a fist-bump across the ethers) and go find a spot – with them in heart – but definitely physically away from them in a show of loving, scientific caring. 

ESPECIALLY since Rebecca just wrote THIS opinion piece.

 

EITHER WAY

 

Tune in for the toast by 8:45ish pm EST.   *check back! 

Or make one of your own and post it on Jim’s FB page

You can provide your own version of Sons and Daughters

Or listen to ours.

 

Hey Bo, I get what you all are doing but what if I can’t get to an idyllic mountain stream?

 

Yep. I hear you. 

My mom, who lives in a community that does not allow flame, has this very same challenge.

Her plan is to boil a pot of water on the stove and yell “DIRIGIBLE” as she fist pumps the air. 

Well, actually she’s found a lovely virtual image of a fire by a beach, but feel free to do the boiling water scenario.

 

VERY VERY LONG RAMBLING REFLECTION WITH BACKSTORY AND POTENTIAL THINGS TO DO IN THE FUTURE

June 5th 2020 will be one trip around the sun since James Frederick Dowd took his last breath.

Crazy, right?!

 

Someone suggested I call this day Jim’s “Angelversary”.  I can tell you if Jim made a list of the top 10 things not to call the anniversary of his death. Angelversary would be at least number two.

I’m pretty sure the Edward Gorey angel had a thick yiddish accent, nu?

 

In Judaism we have a word for the anniversary of a death, it’s a yahrzeit, it’s yiddish and it translates to something like “year-time”. 

Because  year + time. 

Which is really the same as anniversary which comes from annual + return.

 

Still I have been caught up in the idea of using this word that doesn’t feel right.

I mean it should be fine. Anniversary. We have come back around to the time of year and there’s nothing in it that says “the annual return to a happy day”  but since mostly in my life it’s been used for joyous occasions,  saying “the Anniversary of Jim’s death” feels a bit like bait and switch. 

Anniversary = happy, festive, celebratory

Death = Dead, no life, kaput. 

I feel tricked. 

So since Jim loved smushing two words to make one better word and “Angelversary” has been nixed, I will henceforth call this day JIm’s deathiversary. My feeling? It’s better to know up front.

 

So why am I caring so much about what this day is called?

I don’t know

Way back in Pre Pandemic times, Clam Nation had been planning a big memorial celebration for Jim’s first deathiversary. We were going to call it Jimapalooza.

A live Band, Video of Jim shooting Sir Patrick Stewart. Delicious beer. Powerpoints. (what’s a memorial celebration without a few well curated slides?!) But the emergence of a novel zoonotic disease made it seem like a batty idea to bring a few hundred of Jim’s loved ones together in a room.  Even if it was a very big room.

 

As restrictions and Covid-19 cases piled up I lost track of pretty much everything except how many rolls of TP were left.

How many toilet paper angels does it take to change a light bulb?

 

About three weeks ago it occurred to me Jim’s deathiversary was going to arrive and I did not have a plan.

Sidenote: It’s a weird thing to lose your spouse and get a pandemic.

 

Then some very fine people started gently asking how I was, if I had any ideas.

I didn’t. Then I did.

 

Symbolism, things burning up, letting go, 

Ooooh,

I got the idea that the fire should be in the form of 100s of flaming flying lanterns leaving the earth individually but altogether. Those who could meet on Cape Ann would but Jim’s people everywhere around the world could also light and send off (ecologically safe, of course) flaming lanterns into the moonlit sky. I started thinking maybe we could have someone play Sons and Daughters on the bagpipe.

We could livestream it from Flatrocks up in Lanesville

Or a beach. 

At sunset.

 

PROBLEM ONE: Flaming flying lanterns, even the ecologically safe ones, aren’t really all that good for the environment or the fishies and even if they were, if you’ve ever spent time on the coast you know that the breeze during the day pretty much always blows people’s umbrellas AWAY from the water and into the dunes and, according to our fire marshall, rooftops. 

 

So not that. 

I think it would have been fine but since my friend looked up the city codes and lighting those lanterns is illegal and we aren’t supposed to be on the beach at night or gather in groups of more than ten, I said fine. No Flaming Floating Lanterns. 

 

Then life got busy for the living. 

The kids had things that required my help. The house had issues. The dog got diagnosed with a possible brain tumor.

Seriously. Let’s just wait to discuss that another day

 

A week passed. Clamnation came to the rescue again.

Well what if we all lit luminaries instead. They stay on the ground.

 

Yessss, Perfect.

This is a solid alternative

Everyone can easily make a luminary!

All ya need is a paper lunch bag and some sand and a tea light and we’ll all meet on the beach and…

That’s when someone pointed out

 

PROBLEM TWO: 

And by someone I mean everyone in the virtual room. 

“Um Bo, We can’t gather in groups over ten”

 

FUCK.

The idea of this day passing without some kind of connected honoring/celebration/global rant felt fucking awful. 

So much for my wish to be with all of you.
I would have sulked a bit more but Thisbee having just been diagnosed with vestibular disequilibrium syndrome and her massive wobbliness made it seem like a bad time for me to get off balance. But hell if watching your dog veer to the left and then overcorrect doesn’t remind you of watching your beloved husband try to walk from the living room straight into a wall.

 

So yet another new plan was made and now we have:

TAH-DAH!

An OYO deathiversary celebration. Just in time for FRIDAY, JUNE 5th.

(notice the excellent depiction of social distancing)

 

 

OYO is On Your Own.

This is a favorite Outward Bound tradition that Jim and I carried forward. 

It means dinner won’t be served, you have to go to the fridge and look for whatever is available.

Be resourceful.

Clean up after yourself.

In this case I think you’ll find

FIRE, WATER and SONS AND DAUGHTERS 

And I know you won’t leave a trace if you go to some special place.

 

(rhyming was incidental, not intentional, but hey.)

 

So here we are.

We’ve made this circle round the sun without Jim and the only thing you really need to do to honor him is to be your best self.

 

But if you want to create some fire, near some water, 

By land, by sea, by dirigible

We’ll gladly leave our tracks untraceable 

Maybe not near you. 

But with you.

 

————————–

The planet, designated Kepler-413b, precesses, or wobbles, wildly on its spin axis, much like a child’s top or Thisbee when she tries to do anything with forward motion.

Naming Conventions

[Author: Bo Abrams]

My husband, the wonder-man Jim Dowd, was a naming savant. 

He named bands. He named blogs. He named bikes. 

From the day I met him I realized he had an uncanny sense of what would work and what wouldn’t in a name. 

As you might know, the trick is you can’t choose willy nilly (although he seemed to be able to) you have to have guidelines and rules. You have to be willing to free associate and at the same time be ready to cull what might be cherished. Even before Jim was naming things professionally, he instinctively understood constructs were necessary for success.

 

Before Rebecca was born Jim and I were pondering what we might name our soon to be offspring. We’d been calling the in utero creature Saugus, because place names are sexy!

But we needed a name for someone going to public school.

We chose these rules:

 

  1. You have to try it at the top of a resume. 
  2. You have to be able to yell it off the back porch easily.
  3. You have to be able to say it the same in Massachusetts as elsewhere.

(Because of the whole “In Boston you take the “R” off the Chair and put it on the Sofa” thing -it gets you Chayahs and sofers.)

 

All three have to work. 

For example, I worked at Carter Notch Hut in the White Mountains and I thought Carter would be a terrific name. Did I mention place names are sexy?

Anyway, It looked good at the top of a resume. Carter Dowd. It had a nice ring to it. Strong. Simple. Check one.

So Jim yelled it off the back deck into Lanes Cove. 

“CARTER” it carried. It soared.

Until the “In Boston you take the “R” off the Chair and put it on the Sofa” test. 

Total fail.

Sure enough when Rebecca was in kindergarten there was a boy in her class whose name was spelled  C A R T E R.

Through the entirety of elementary school not one person pronounced the R at the end of his name. EVAH.

 

Over the years, Jim’s regular rants and random titling of pets, cars, political campaigns, etc… fostered naming savvy in Treely and Rebecca, so much so, when they heard we were getting a kitten they immediately created a shared google Doc: 

They made one rule: No people names.

 

If you wonder how Jim lives on in his children I offer this:

 

Potential Kitten Names for the Kitten formerly known as Anderson

Lemon

Spoon

Spoo

Lemon Spoonful

Penguin

Dandelion (dandy for short)

Vegetables (veggies for short)

The Goat

Assweasel!

Alf

Lechuga

Mantequilla

ALL the TS Eliot cats

Bumblebee

Pyramus

The Wall

Tigger- only kidding 😉

Uncle Deadly

Colin Meloy 

Dirigible

Scallion

Zucchini (zukey) 

Wham!

Fingies (short for fingers)

Tequila

ÆëîLçæ

Mortimer

Cthulhu (short for Cthulhu Saves the World: Super Hyper Enhanced Championship Edition Alpha Diamond DX Plus Alpha FES HD – Premium Enhanced Game of the Year Collector’s Edition) 

Almond butter

Almond

Musk (short for Elon musk)

Elon (short for Elonian Armor from the game Guild Wars 2)

Bee

Ronald McDonald

Dick Turpin

Cat

Damn Cat

Cut that out!

Pedant

Mr. Meow

La la la Linoleum

—–

Also please note these clarifying questions: If this kitten has an honorific will it be Senator or The Honorable?

Answer: Senator

 

Question: Does the name need to be gender neutral?

Answer: Gender is a human construct

(not recounted here but there was also an extended pedantic discussion about if it’s not a person name how can it be gender based.)

 

Question: What about the name he was given by the foster family.

Answer in slightly pontificatory tone: Cats have more than one name. We can have that be his first name.

 

Question: Shall we tell everyone what we named the kitten?

Answer: Fuck No, Make them guess.

 

Anyway. Clam friends. Jim’s legacy lives.

 

 

 

Introducing Senator Anderson Lemon Zucchini Abrams Dowd

10 weeks old and weighing in at extremely adorable.

 

Zukey. For non resume purposes.

And easy to yell off the back porch. 

 

The Blast Crater In Our Lives

KT here. I’ve been away from the Clam for a bit – had to take a break, have a baby, buy a house, adult stuff like that. But, I am back at you today.

For the worst reason.

Our beloved leader, Jim Dowd, who made up so much more than half of the Clam, has shuffled off this mortal coil.  He is no more. He has ceased to be.

We knew it was coming, he told us goodbye, but there’s only so much emotional preparation you can do in advance. The weight still hits you like a sack of dead seagulls. 

Fuck. Extra fuck. Like super fuck, for the fuck of shit, yabba dabba fucking shit, a pantry full of dicks.

Now that I’ve offended the most delicate among us by getting the majority of the profanity out of the way (IT’S WHAT HE WOULD HAVE WANTED), let’s talk about how much this sucks (spoiler: it sucks major ass) and more importantly, Clam-eulogize Jim in a way he deserves. Snarkily and with no holds barred, but with all the love in the world.

James Dowd, EGS Santa. Because you’re gonna want a Jewish Santa.

 

“Don’t say I had a brave battle with cancer,” he messaged me a few weeks back. “I just sat there and did what they told me.” And that’s basically the truth of the matter. Jim believed that we are all just along for the ride on this planet. There’s no battle of inward steeliness that can change the outcome of any random cell mutation, it’s a team of doctors throwing everything at their disposal at the problem. There’s no amount of willpower that can be mustered to overcome an aggressive brain tumor that will keep coming back. I hate that premise as well, that surviving cancer is because someone successfully drew from some well of inner strength to somehow combat cell mutation, and the rest- the ones unlucky enough to have types of cancer where the survival rates are miniscule – just laid down and died. It’s chance.

 

Jim hated the generic and ultimately useless platitudes, sorries and condolences, nearly as much as he hated Facebook comments from well-meaning acquaintances and strangers that asked if he’d tried CBD oil. In Jim’s world (and in the world of so many others around him and like him), science and the best medical staff in the US were always the answer, and if they had no answer, that was that.

 

I told Jim that when I wrote something for him, it would be full of sports references and also talk about his lifelong passion for NFL football. That guy definitely never missed a Superbowl and will absolutely not haunt me from beyond by having me miss the last stair on my trek downstairs for coffee fortnightly until I apologize for saying that.

 

But the truth is, I don’t even know where to start in explaining who Jim was as a person or what he meant to me and my family. We ended up becoming friends over a Good Morning Gloucester rant about his stolen bike wheel, and partnered up for so many things over the last 6-7 years – Snotbot, the Gloucester Clam, marketing projects for diverse clients. And we both were prolific Facebook messengers. It was rare that more than a day or two went by without a message back and forth unless one of us was out of the country (and even then), tens of thousands of them over the years, from snarky to serious, mostly about the Clam, but also advice about starting companies, buying houses, launching careers, managing friendships, and dealing with high-energy redheaded sons and the school system that tries valiantly to keep their penchant for building rockets, massive robots or trebuchets headed in a positive academic direction. 

and this. remember this?

 

I got a message on vacation last August that he was spending time with my mom, and not for a good reason. For background, my mom has worked at MGH as a Neuro ICU nurse since before I was born, and Jim was transferred into her unit. He assured me the mass they found in his brain was most likely  just a breach in the Lord of the Rings trivia containment unit, and not to worry. The surgery would remove the mass, and he also requested they remove the area that held knowledge of the Star Wars prequels.  I don’t handle things like normal people, so my course of action over the past 9 months was to keep speaking to him like nothing was wrong, and not to treat him any differently. We joked about death a lot. 

After he told me he was starting home hospice care at the end of April, the messages kept up, but as weeks passed, got harder and harder to decipher. He mused that at the end, Keith Richards and Bob Dylan appear in the room, ostensibly to explain the meaning of life and their secret to keep death at bay. He told me that once he slipped into unconsciousness, Morrissey jokes were fair game. I joked that I would keep pinging him like the Opportunity rover, until his battery was low and it got dark. And then the messages stopped.

I will forever miss having someone that i could text at basically any time of day with “ugh, these assholes” and not only would Jim immediately know which assholes I was talking about and what the assholes had said in particular, but also launch into a diatribe about why, exactly, the assholes were wrong, what they failed to grasp about this argument in particular, and how eventually they’d be replaced by robots anyway – so joke’s on them.  

There was no one in the world, no one I will ever meet again in  my lifespan, like Jim. Jim was such a larger than life person. Come to think of it, louder than life may be a better descriptor. While most humans learn to modulate the volume of their voice when they are a preteen, Jim never truly grasped that concept, much to our community’s delight and consternation. The last time I saw him in person was at the O’Maley production of Mary Poppins, where we inadvertently ended up sitting next to each other and I had to whack him to be quiet when he loudwhispered about the numerous set changes. Jim was the kind of guy Sefatia would need to tell to take it down a notch. 

Jim was a one of a kind friend – and I know everyone who has ever had the pleasure of him diving headfirst into their lives, loudly and without apology, feels the same. We’ve lost so much with his passing. He doesn’t leave holes in our lives, he leaves blast craters.

 

 

One of my favorite and most unexpectedly wholesome things about Jim was his unwavering belief that humanity could still solve the climate change crisis. During our trip to LA to film Patrick Stewart for the Snotbot Kickstarter, we ended up at a taco bar around the corner from our hotel, and the conversation over a nightcap turned to how our planet is a sauna and we’re over here squeezing our waterbottles over the coals. Myself as well as Iain, the head of Ocean Alliance, were of the opinion that this is it for us, that humanity has another 100 good years at most, that despite the brilliance of our species and the incredible feats and inventions we’ve accomplished, we won’t be able to work together to keep ourselves alive – despite all of us still trying our best. Jim, however, firmly believed that even if leadership lagged, the incessant research of the scientific community would eventually solve the issues enough to minimize the effects of global warming to continue our species beyond the next century. It’s ironic in an Alanis Morrissette sense that he got to peace out before the ending got spoiled for him.  

Jim’s ability to weave a narrative was unbelievable. I don’t know which type of posts were my favorite – angry screeds with snarky photos, or less angry, but still tough-love filled essays about how Gloucester gets to where it needs or wants to be. Jim dunked on Gloucester sometimes, but what a lot of people didn’t understand was the nuance. Jim LOVED Gloucester, and when you love something, you want what’s best for it. You have opinions about where it goes and what goes into it. Sometimes those opinions are peppered with profanity, but they’re just as valid. Thankfully, thousands of people understood his message, and those who didn’t were usually the type of person who has their profile picture wearing sunglasses in the driver’s seat of a lifted truck. Nuance is lost on them, anyway.

 

One of my favorite No Snark Sundays was a story he retold about hosting his septuagenarian aunt’s wedding to a high school sweetheart and realizing his back porch was completely rotted and filled with larvae. He had two choices: the easy way, to just block the back porch off so no one stepped through a rotted floorboard and push the repair off to some other future time, or the hard way, to completely pull up the rot and fix the deep-rooted problem. And he somehow seamlessly compared this dilemma to our country’s problem with police brutality and accountability when it comes to murdering unarmed POC. And he did it so well.

 

And so, I’ll leave you with this, from the master himself.

 

I know we say this here a lot, but it’s important to stress that we are not a frightened people. We are not afraid of terrorists, though they attack our city. We are not afraid of Ebola even though it’s foreign and scary-sounding. We’re not afraid of our kids mixing with new ideas and different social classes and cultures because this is what will make them real people not just another set of clones blithering around a mass-produced consumer culture. We are not afraid because each of us is descended from brave people who risked everything at one point or another. We owe our civilization to those who pushed back against the darkness. Who stood for justice and equality in the face of what then looked like insurmountable odds. Their blood flows in our veins and their DNA is what 3D printed us out into this crazy place and time. We have the tools. We have the people who know what needs to be done.

So take a breath. Roll up the sleeves. This is going to be hard.

But the fucking door stays open.”

 

I hope he got to see Keith Richards on his way out the door.

 

If you have a story about Jim you’d like to share, his family would love to hear it and keep these memories for his children to read. Email heyjimdowd@gmail.com with funny observations, memories, and so on. JUST NO CONDOLENCES. You don’t want to be haunted by someone that loud. 

Respect is Earned, Not Given. Trump Hasn’t Earned It.

So our local GOP chairwoman Amanda Orlando Kesterson, as well as her brother Joe, who is running for re-election to the council, caught wind of a gravestone at the West Parish halloween party that said “Don Trump.” (UPDATE: It apparently according to a few local parents, was part of a game that first appeared at a Boy Scouts party – Kesterson is heavily involved in the local Boy Scouts, for what it’s worth.) And then they ran to the media with it, immediately bypassing the school’s principal and superintendent. I was told becoming massively offended about a tiny thing was what “liberal snowflakes” do, but I guess it’s more bipartisan than they’d care to admit. Was it in bad taste? Probably not the best taste, but there’s some serious melodrama about how terrible and disgusting it was from the same people who “hate PC culture” and whose predecessor in her chairwoman job, Angela Hudak, posted photos of Obama as Osama Bin Laden IN FRONT OF THEIR RESIDENCE. Take a look. 

 

No,  Amanda, you’re wrong. We shouldn’t teach our children that the office of the President always deserves respect. It’s sad, but until November I did not imagine I would need to type that sentence. We should teach our children to think critically about what a person worthy of high respect and honor looks like and does, so that they grow into people of high respect and honor.

Each previous president, even the ones against my particular political views, were worthy of respect. They spoke with honor, chose their words carefully (even if written by another person), understood the gravity of their office and the job they sought out. I was not a fan of George W Bush, as it just cemented the idea of “failing upward,” but I respected him just as much. Perhaps begrudgingly at the time, but in hindsight, I now respect him more than I did then. It was only the most respected of men that sought the highest office, to represent us as a people, a nation united.

And along came Trump to garbage up the Oval Office. A man who left in his wake of a career bankruptcies, racist policies that kept people of color out of his rental apartments, broken contracts ruining small businessmen, serious allegations of sexual assault,  cheap steaks, and lies. The fact that the man ascended to presidency is an anomaly. He chews respect up and spits it out, daily.  So, here’s a list of things our president has said that the local GOP wants our children to show respect for:

“Marlee, is she retarded??” (about deaf actress Marlee Matlin).

“If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened.”

“I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier.” (Rally in Virginia, August 2, 2016, upon receiving a Purple Heart medal from a supporter.)

“She [Alicia Machado] was the winner and she gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem.”

“Part of the problem and part of the reason it takes so long [to kick out protesters] is nobody wants to hurt each other anymore.”

“He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, OK?”

“Jeb Bush has to like the Mexican Illegals because of his wife.”

“You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”

“Heidi Klum. Sadly, she’s no longer a 10.”

“Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!”

“I’ve done it [filed bankruptcy] four times out of hundreds, and I’m glad I did it. I used the laws of the country to my benefit.”

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

“Wow! Just think—in a couple of years, I’ll be dating you.” (To two 14 year old girls)

‘Laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that.” (so awful I had to include the source)

“You have to treat ’em [women] like shit.”

“[Arianna Huffington]  is unattractive both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man- he made a good decision.”

“Bad (or sick) guy!” (a tweet about Obama)

I could go on, but you get the picture.

Maybe Amanda wants her kids to grow up thinking this is an appropriate way to gain respect and act in your daily life, but I will never teach my children that a man who has said these things is to be respected just because he was voted into office. I respect people who fight for our country. I respect people who run into a burning building. I respect people who give up everything they’ve ever known just to get to our country for the smallest possible chance to build a life here. But until Donald Trump does something that commands respect – literally, ANYTHING – no one should teach our children that this is what a leader who commands respect sounds like.