There is a door we always leave open

A couple of years ago my aunt decided to marry a guy she had a crush on in high school and asked to have the rehearsal dinner at our house. She’s 70, I should mention. The only answer to that is “Fuck Yes!” right? But we had this little issue before we could host. Our back porch, which was to play a critical part in this operation, was…how does one put it? There were a couple of “soft spots” in a few places I had noticed in the six years we’d owned the house. It needed some TLC, I figured.

But it’s cool. I volunteered on the Schooner Adventure during the dark “rotting next to the dock” years of the mid ‘90s and I’m handy with my Irish Miter Box (sawzall) and what Douggie Parsons dubbed “Schooner in a Can” (Bondo). I figured I could fix it. So I got out the crowbar and pulled back the sheathing to expose the structure.

This Old House, Off-World Colony ediiton

This Old House, Off-World Colony edition

Remember that scene in Aliens when Sigourney Weaver winds up in the room with about one million carnivorous aliens, eggs everyplace and that giant queen thing she eventually goes all WWF on with the exosuit/forklift deal? Yeah, it was like that but I didn’t have the sweet pulse rifle/flamethrower combo. Ants. Almost everything I thought was holding up my house had been rotted and eaten away. There was creepy terrible shit everywhere. I started carving the larvae away with the end of my crowbar until I realized those white puffy bits might be doing most of the load-bearing with so much wood gone.

Today, on the day when I realize we as a culture are pretty much okay with authority figures regularly shooting unarmed black kids, I find myself with the same feeling as I did after exposing the maze of tunnels in the dark, wet wood next to the sill. It’s one of those words we don’t have in English but what I’m going to call “retroactive dread.” It’s the realization that the little problem you thought you had is actually a huge, systemic horrorfuck of Lovecraftian proportions and that your complacency in the matter up to this point has made things worse.

I find myself today in a sea of mental gymnastics, along with a lot of people doing internal bargaining. It’s the same feeling as when the little bastards started spilling out in writhing fountains all around my ankles. You go down a lot of cognitive dead ends, direct blame all over the place- mostly to irresponsible stewards of the past. Fear and panic make their traditional appearances.

But as I did, eventually we will all, as a culture of mostly good people, come back to the cold, hard reality: Something is broken. Something is really, really fucking broken.


And making the decision about what to do, or really “if” to do was similar as well. In my case it was between fixing the porch or just nailing the back door shut and stringing caution tape all over everywhere. It’s a natural tendency (Here in Gloucester, it’s not only natural, it’s default) to just compartmentalize and move on. I could have just sealed it. I could have just put the plywood back and ignored it, hoping it wouldn’t collapse under the weight of a dozen odd tipsy septuagenarians. But I took a step back. I took a deep breath and said, “I can fix this.”

Obviously, that was the stupidest thing any human has uttered since: “Zune? I like the sound of that!” What the fuck was I thinking? I’m not a contractor. I’m not a carpenter. This was a statement of profound dumbassery.

Like a lot of challenges we agree to take on with insufficient detail of what would be required (being a parent comes to mind) this was way beyond my skills. Doing it right would involve shoring up the supports, installing a full compliment of new beams, at least one new post, all new decking and railings. To even physically get access to the stuff I needed to work on the actual roof had to be jacked up a foot. I did not possess the skills nor the tools required. I didn’t have the money, the time or a professional who would work over the long holiday weekend. I was fucked.

But once you start trying you send out a powerful signal. In my case the signal was the screech of saws and a steady stream of curse words that would have made a phone-sex operator blush. My neighbors started to wander over over like zombies to a MENSA meet-up. They came at first to make quips like, “You don’t need a carpenter, dude. You need E.O. freakin’ Wilson;” (NPR has ruined these people out here) but then they offered advice, came back with gear, dug in to help and even brought the most critical of necessities: beer. One dude had bottle jacks for the roof. Another had wood hardener for the post I wanted to salvage. The guy down the street leant me his truck so I could go to Rockport and buy a sixteen-foot pressure-treated 6X6 for that would have collapsed the roof of my Subaru like a lead pipe into a Market Basket birthday cake. We are not alone in this world and there are always people who will help.

But we have to start.

As bad as it was, finding this would have been worse

As bad as it was, finding this would have been worse

In the case of my porch we got it fixed though it was exponentially harder and more expensive and scarier than I figured when I put my hands on my tool belt and and implored to my wife, “I got this.” I wanted the party to happen as planned. I wanted the house to be healed.

But mostly I didn’t want to be the kind of person who nails the back door shut, as far over my head as that puts me sometimes. I don’t ever want to be that guy. Not then, not now.

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.

Thanksgiving Mad Lib

This week families get together to celebrate Christmas’ younger and distinctly more chill sibling, Thanksgiving. Sure it’s only one day not a whole ‘season’ and there are only a couple of TV specials and that one Adam Sandler song everyone pretends is funny (it is not funny) but there is certainly parity in both holiday’s ability to leave you stranded in transit with nothing to do. Whether you’re splayed out across the terminal seats at a crappy regional airport or stuck in the off-smelling waiting area of a small-town service station held-up until “Chester” can look at your Honda after it started making that weird grinding noise on the Interstate, we’re here to help. You and your traveling companions can while away some fruitless minutes with:


Not pictured: small pox

Not pictured: small pox

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday! It’s a special time to get the whole clan together for meal fit for a [title of William S. Burroughs Novel]______________________. Our family has many traditions, some you’d recognize and a few carried over from [unfashionable foreign country] ______________.

We’re a little old-school, so around here the [exploited group] _____________ are up early to start cooking first thing Thursday morning. By noon the house is full of delicious smells and [negative emotion typically responsive to medication] _________________.

 Soon the family begin to arrive. Some travel by [unaffordable and unnecessarily oversized vehicle] ____________________ others we have to pick up from [neglected public transportation hub] _______________. Uncle [first name of 20th Century European dictator] ___________ will no doubt pour himself a glass of [mass-produced brown liquor] __________________and tell his story about the time he shared an overcrowded restaurant table with [regular guest cast member from Love Boat] __________________ when visiting Los Angeles.

Soon we’re sitting down at a table full of meats dripping with [human hormone] _______________ and and roasted [vegetable that will inevitably be passed over in favor of potatoes] ______________. Also, there is always plenty of [different vegetable with some kind of processed sugar added to make it remotely palatable] ___________________! And let’s not forget a big bowl of [food in the “NEVER” column on the list handed to you by the cardiologist] ___________________with lots of butter. Every year we try a new stuffing recipe. This year will be one featuring [nut and dried fruit combo on sale at Trader Joe’s] _________________________!

 To remind us of the true origins of the holiday Mom reads a prayer by [Native American chief, but it was actually written by a white college professor in the ‘60s] _______________________reminding us of our connection to the Earth and all we have to be grateful for.

 Now it’s time to eat! We always have lively conversations about [topic that is not: immigration policy, climate change, the statistical unlikelihood we live in a universe controlled by a just god and the nature of the relationship of the female “friend” your sister has brought for the past three years running] ___________________. There are a variety of opinions, but the one thing we always agree on is desert! [Person who actually has Master’s Degree in topic everyone else is spouting off uninformed opinions about] _____________ will always be the first one to say, “Hey Mom, isn’t it time for [heated combination of dextrose and carbohydrates] _________________?”

 After the meal we all sit down to watch [Screw it, just write ‘football’] ____________ . Dad always likes to comment on his love for his favorite player [Athlete with multiple arrests and a history of violent behavior] ________________. It’s always great to see our guys out on the gridiron not matter if they wind up with a win or a [permanent, debilitating injury] __________________. Sometimes cousin [overused millennial name like ‘Justin’ or ‘Ashley’] ___________________will suggest we head outside to play a little ‘touch,’ but it usually depends on the [thinly veiled excuse] ______________ if we actually make it out or not.

Eventually Dad succumbs to [chronic, unacknowledged medical condition] ________________ and falls asleep on the couch while mom cleans up and listens to [band that reminds her of a carefree youth oh so many years ago] __________________. That’s the signal head downtown and catch up with old friends. Maybe you’ll even run into [the girl who said, “I’ll wait for you’ and then when you came home from freshman year told you she was confused about her feelings for ‘Jake’ and you’re like, “Who the fuck is Jake?”] ____________________!

 I hear they have two kids now.



Len’s Phonetic Alphabet for Call Center Workers Who Hate Their Customers

[Today’s post is written by guest blogger Len Pal.]

From time to time over the last twenty years, I’ve worked in some capacity or another in call centers. Occasionally while speaking with a customer over the phone, one must spell out names or words. In technical support even more than in other types of call groups, accuracy is critical. If a customer doesn’t type the right letters, the command they are typing either won’t work at all, or worse, it WILL work, but will have a very different result than the one intended. To avoid this, we use phonetic alphabets – saying things like “B as in boy, A as in Apple, D as in Dog”, and so on.

I personally always fell back on the phonetic alphabet I learned in the army: alpha, bravo, charlie, delta, foxtrot, etc. This worked well nearly all the time, and most of my co-workers used it as well. But every once in a while, some unenlightened customer would take issue with our choice of words, despite that alphabet being designed by experts to ensure clarity over radio waves, and the fact that it has been in use by NATO forces for over SIXTY FUCKING YEARS. It is the most widely-used phonetic alphabet in the WORLD, and this customer is annoyed that I said “November” instead of “Nancy”.

Do you think I LIKE spelling out everything for you? Buy a damn “For Dummies” book if you don’t like my word choices. I’m doing this for YOU, to make sure you don’t make your problem any worse by typing the wrong phrase into your Windows registry file. You know how when you press the power button, eventually Windows comes up and you can play FarmVille and look at pictures of cats and stuff? Do you like that? Because if you put the wrong stuff in your registry, your Candy Crushing days are over.

Instead of letting myself get all worked up, I decided to offer an alternative. I wrote my own custom phonetic alphabet, just for those special customers who feel the standard NATO alphabet is too weird. I don’t do much phone work any more, but I’m passing this alphabet on to those that still do. I encourage you to use this alphabet whenever someone gives you crap for using NATO’s… it will teach them to keep their opinions to themselves. And so without further ado, here it is:






















V VOILA (pronounced well-ah)




Z ZWIEBACK (pronounced swee-beck, it’s a kind of biscuit)

No Snark Sunday: I Don’t Hate You, I’m Just Introverted

[Today’s column is by guest blogger Josh Turiel, who is a city councilor in Salem, as well as being a friend of the Clam.]

Many of my closest friends are people I’ve never (at this writing) met in person. I know them through Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail. What makes this interesting is that I really do know a lot of people personally. I enjoy their company. I like to spend time with people. But mostly I like to hang out in the room and watch the fun. I’m a politician. I run a business. I have no problem addressing large rooms of people, and in a small group of people I know well I can be quite entertaining. But put me in a small room where I don’t know everyone and I clam up and stay in the corner. I usually avoid parties with lots of strangers.

Because, despite all the trappings I give off, despite the witty comments you see me write, despite the speeches I give on TV, I’m an introvert. That basically means that when I’m in the midst of a group of people, particularly strangers, I’m really freaking uncomfortable. In fact, for the most part deep down in my lizard brain I’d probably rather be undergoing dental surgery. I’m terrible at names, I have a tough time remembering new faces. There are people I know well whose names I have no idea of. I recognize them, though. It can take me years sometimes to remember a name.

None of it is personal. I like most people once I get to know them. It takes me longer, but it’s worth it. And, like many of us, I recognize it. In fact, I’ve deliberately tried to compensate for it as best as I can almost since the day I arrived within shouting distance of adulthood. I took theatre classes and learned to act. I did a Dale Carnegie course at an old job of mine. I taught myself public speaking – and in fact I’ve become pretty good at it (it’s far easier to speak to a group of strangers than it is to speak to an individual stranger). I ran for office a few years ago, knocked on nearly 800 doors, and won the race (I still have the job, even). It’s very possible to function well when you’re fundamentally introverted. I’m fortunate, especially knowing people with much more burdensome physical and mental issues than this. Being introverted isn’t a disorder. It’s just who I am.

There are some skills you develop as a defense mechanism. You become really sensitive (maybe even over-sensitive) to people’s reactions to you. You can really focus on an individual person in conversation. Reading is a pleasure, and it’s pretty easy to find things to entertain yourself rather than rely on other folks to do it. All pretty cool.

The tough part is when you need to crack that shell open and acknowledge the strangers in the room. Painful, but it’s the only way you can grow as a person, and I can tell you from experience that it’s totally worth it, even if I haven’t always been able to pull it off. Small talk is a struggle for us. If we do engage with you, we can have amazingly deep conversations about nearly anything that interests us mutually. And we’re interested in what you have to say – even when we don’t know it. Depth appeals to introverts. We’re the life of the party online, where we can pick and choose our interactions, engage people at an arm’s length, and we can think through what we say more carefully. All my funniest friends online pretty much fit into this category. Most of the Clamtributors are among them as well.

In musing upon this as I write, it’s probably not as surprising that introverts like me wind up going into electoral politics, or that a lot of us wind up in theatre, or performance-based pastimes of any sort. If we can perform for a lot of people, it’s in a small way easier and less painful than performing for just one person. It also can make for difficult childhoods for many of us in the social jungle that is elementary and secondary education. We tend to be the geeks in school – not so impressed by the mundane things that happen, not comfortable around groups of people, and usually interested in the esoteric and obscure. Extroverted people are the ones who project confidence in school. That’s a system made for them to live in their glory. It’s only after that high school diploma that the world really makes room adequately for both. I’m blessed to have had a relatively normal, well-adjusted childhood going to a school where the people like me were able to find each other and create a peer group. Not all kids are that lucky.

The biggest thing for you all to remember from this, though, is that when you see one of us at a social event, a meeting, or even just if you run into us at Market Basket, when we barely blurt out a “hi” when we see you and then don’t start chatting about the weather? We’re really not trying to be rude. Sorry about that. This is what life is like to an introvert.

No Snark Sunday: Get a Clue, Get a Plate

So this week’s no snark is a pair of important announcements brought to you by two people who are prominent among the reasons we have nice things:

Number one, brought to our attention by community improvement powerhouse Maggie Rosa is that David Weinberger, one of the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto, is speaking Monday, November 17 at the Cruiseport on how libraries should remake themselves for the digital age.

What, you’re not falling over yourself to go to this because you have important ear-hair grooming to conduct that evening? You are a FOOL my friend! Cluetrain broke open the way we use the Internet. It was the piece of writing that showed the conversation we’re having here, here at our beloved Clam and millions of other places, is where real decisions get made instead of through paid advertising. Back in the day if you wanted to tell people something you just tossed some dough at a bunch of flacks and they got told. Now you need to have a conversation. The unintended consequences have been bullshit like the anti-vaccine people, climate deniers and 9/11 truthers, but overall the level of connectedness has given us, the average persons, immense power that we’re just learning how to wield. Think of how Good Morning Gloucester took away the conversation from the sad, misspelled, thrift-store-puzzle-missing-several-dozen-pieces of information that is the GDT. That’s happening everywhere.

Cluetrain also pioneered a lot of tone you read here: simple, short, not afraid to be crude or hyperbolic. Like we’re talking in a lively bar after a couple of drinks, rather than the stilted parlor-speak of old media.

I’m really curious to hear what he’s going to say about libraries, I’m sure it will be awesome and it benefits the Gloucester Education Foundation who are also responsible for so much awesome. In short: will be awesome.

Screen shot 2014-11-09 at 9.36.17 AMOk, Next. License Plates.

Brought to us by Ruth Pino another person who’s hand is behind so much good that happens around this little berg.

This is about the special Cape Ann license plate you can get.

Right about now you are thinking, “Holy Shit Jim, you’re talking about vanity plates? On The Clam? Aren’t you about angry challenges to “The Man”? This should be more about how to make your own illegal license plate out of tin foil, hot glue, spray paint and Sharpie-brand markers. You suck now, The Clam!”

Shut the fuck up.

This is important because we get screwed. Cape Ann generates tons of money for the Commonwealth and we get shit back. We generate huge tax revenues out of E. Point and other places and we get screwed in our education funding. We play the lottery at rates orders of magnitude higher than other parts of the state and Gloucester and Wellesley get the same percentage of distribution. We’re got all kinds of salty authenticity and all the Beacon Hill attention is directed toward that other cape where they happen to have cottages. The same with tourist promotion dollars. More gets spent trying to bring people to Lowell than here (remember the coin fiasco?). Fucking Lowell. Tourist Mecca (though they have great Pho there, just sayin).

This is a way for us to directly spend on something that comes back to support our community. So if you’re getting a plate, get a Cape Ann Plate, here is the link:

Fill it out online here (scroll down slightly)


link to the paper form you can just drop by the chamber



That’s all this week peeps, I have a more challenging couple of pieces coming up in the days/weeks to come and stay tuned for The Clam’s War on Christmas, or at least the shitty parts of it.