Where the hell is our Clam?

“Hey, who turned out the lights? Anyone here? Knock knock…”

So, you may be wondering where Your Faithful Clam has gone. Truth is, we’re all pretty much still here but Real Life has gotten in the way of our trademark mix of snark, righteous indignation, and beautiful uses of pop culture references. So for the moment, they’ve left me – junior editor and Actual Elected Official Josh – with the keys.

Where are they right now? Well, Jim is in the middle of a massive client project that his small marketing company is managing. I saw him once, furtively wandering into a pho joint in Beverly (because Gloucester needs a good Vietnamese restaurant too, amirite). He looked haunted, as if he was on the verge of being a mammoth success and earning enough cheddar on this job to buy a brand new Subaru with ALL THE THINGS. He’s also kinda burned out from the damned Democratic primaries and is joining me on Team Cthulhu now.

KT moved (twice) and took on a new full-time job in the insurance biz. She now lives close enough to Official Clam Dirndl Wearer and Beer Goddess Brooke Welty that they’re quickly going from good friends to “it’s really maybe a little creepy at this point”. She’s working through post-divorce life and has an awesome boyfriend. She’s sick of the primaries too.

As for the rest of the Clamtributors? Adam headed off to Greenland in the hopes of experiencing an actual winter before climate change turns New England into Morocco. Len went to work for me in real life and had his creativity stifled. Anna is moving up to one of the identical cake decorating war shows, seeing what spunk and attitude can do to make a MB sheet cake spectacular. Jeremy was unable to be elected President in Massachusetts and has resumed warping the minds of America’s youth. And Steven has begun a retail business to see if every product can be sold with a 17% markup. Because we really like that arbitrary number here at The Clam, and it works so well for taxes.

Me? I’m just busy trying to keep the lights on here for the moment. We do have some terrific content coming up in the coming weeks, just not as fast as we’d all like to. Greatness takes time, y’all.

Cold: Why I Won’t Be Celebrating Spring Just Yet

sneeze-04Daylight savings may have docked an hour from their sleep, but the Gloucesterites who thronged Stacy Boulevard on Sunday were in fine spirits. Cousins hugged; neighbors shook hands; even perfect strangers leaned in close to chirpily observe, “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” It was as though the entire city had survived a harrowing plane flight together—one where oxygen masks deploy and grown men whimper—and now, dazed and giddy, the passengers were congratulating one another on their luck.

In this case, the danger averted was meteorological, rather than aeronautical. Notwithstanding a blustery weekend or two, Gloucester has landed safely in mid-March with a fraction of its average snowfall—and its first 70-degree day already in the books. But the city’s collective sigh of relief assumes that snow and ice are the worst, most treacherous features of winter.

As a germophobe of the highest order, I know better. And, frankly, I found the scene on the Boulevard appalling. Was I the only one who spent the morning over coffee, a Danish, and the CDC’s weekly influenza map? Did no else realize skin-to-skin contact is the surest transmission route for the human coronavirus? In my mind, the city’s touchy-feely celebrations were not only premature, but also likely to prolong our misery.

usmap09[My web browser’s home page]

Because what the winter of 2016 lacked in ice, it has made up for in communicable disease. My next-door neighbor—a man generally too busy being handsome and talented to get sick—was recently stricken with pneumonia. His skin now hangs pale and slack over prominent cheekbones, and he hasn’t the energy to continue carving that marble bust of his daughter for her sixth birthday. On Friday another local friend woke up, yawned painfully, and discovered that his entire household had contracted strep throat. Since then, he has also learned:

  1. Harvard Pilgrim does not offer a ‘fourth one’s free’ deal on prescriptions of amoxicillin.
  2. Rather than keeping up with precise dosing schedules, it’s simpler just to distribute pills around the house in glass candy dishes.

As a schoolteacher, I’m on the front lines of every cold and flu season. Lacking immunity and the faintest regard for hygiene, children are the hardest-hit among us. This winter, I’ve found myself discussing poetry with half-empty classrooms. I exhausted my annual allotment of Kleenex boxes in February. And although I haven’t kept precise epidemiological records, I’ve noticed a surge in the volume of mucus left behind on my desktops, stranded and quivering like beached jellyfish. This is bad news for the rest of us, the caregivers and parents, who must herd damp tissues and administer rectal thermometers.

cimg0220-1[Worse for desks than your standard penis doodle]

I haven’t always been so fearful of viruses and bacteria. As a toddler, I lolled in every available sandbox, snacking on whatever bits and bobs I could grasp between my thumb and forefinger. As a teen, I rarely turned down a sip from a communal Budweiser. But things changed in February of 2002, during my junior year at Dartmouth College, when an epidemic of bacterial conjunctivitis swept campus. This wasn’t your garden variety pink eye. Victims of this particular strain discovered their condition as soon as they awakened, terrifyingly conscious but unable to open their eyes without the aid of a flat-head screwdriver. For the next three to five days, they shambled around campus in rarely-worn eyeglasses, their scarlet eyelids issuing a fluid as viscous and yellow as pine sap. Classmates recoiled, and friends treated them with the same compassion they might offer a smallpox blanket. As painful as the inflammation was, we students generally agreed that—aesthetically—it was better to suffer a bilateral case. Those with a single afflicted eye took on the lurid, asymmetric appearance of certain Picasso portraits.

06379b2ed6130eb556b92acfdd2dd992[Nothing a little bacitracin can’t handle]

After a few weeks, the outbreak got so bad that it drew the attention of the national media and the Centers for Disease Control, whose agents descended upon tiny Hanover to swab our eyelids with Q-tips. Long lines formed at the doors of cafeterias, where stern women in lab coats demonstrated proper hand-washing technique. Desperate, we complied, which meant preparing to handle a peanut butter sandwich as though it were the still-beating heart of a transplant patient. Yet their efforts accomplished little. The pink eye abated only when spring break intervened and we all left campus.

The following winter, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated the total number of cases in Dartmouth’s Great Pink Eye Epidemic: over 1000, on a campus with a population smaller than Rockport’s. Of this 1000, I personally accounted for no fewer than five, with each bout flaring up a few days apart. After my third case, I refused to leave my dorm room except for three obligations: attending class, going to work, and restocking my mini-fridge with Magic Hat. “Most likely,” my doctor told me over the phone, “you’re re-infecting yourself.” I pondered this, imagining how I must have absently rubbed an eye with some contaminated item. For a moment, I considered wearing an upside-down lampshade, like a sad, post-surgical terrier. After the fifth case, I was prepared to light a torch and treat all my worldly possessions to the full Velveteen Rabbit.

velveteen[You’re dead to me.]

Since then, my germophobia has settled into a way of life. It rarely keeps me from doing things and going places, but I do confess to taking elaborate precautions and maintaining a vigilance that would make Louis Pasteur proud. Most of all, I continue to make a point of washing up before handling anything I’ll eat raw. If I so much as open the refrigerator after peeling an orange, I’ll scrub my hands once again. Because I do a great deal of eating, my hands remain forever chapped and red, as though they’re ladles I use to serve boiling pots of chili.

Shopping for food is sometimes a vexing experience. If I’m in the produce department and I overhear a teenaged employee sneeze, I’ll promptly decamp for another store. I’m unable to take the risk that, at some point during her shift, a tissue was out of reach—and she improvised with the broad leaf of my Swiss chard. Not long ago, I had a remarkable experience at a grocery store that will remain nameless. Ready to check out, I had unloaded my basket onto the conveyor belt and stood in line, pretending to ignore the headlines on the cover of Us Weekly. The cashier was a young fellow whose beefy thumb pierced the cellophane covering the final item in the order ahead of mine: a value pack of Perdue boneless chicken breasts. When the cashier lifted and tilted the Styrofoam, it left behind a glistening slug’s trail. Briefly, the boy and I made eye contact. He looked down at his fingertips, from which dangled strands of chicken slime, like bunting at a party whose guest of honor is diarrhea. The cashier looked back up at me. Then, to no one in particular, he called out: “Can I get a squirt of Purell?” I stood there, paralyzed, calculating the monetary value of my groceries and the likelihood they’d have to be discarded. At length, the boy shrugged and merely wiped his hands on the shirt stretched taut across his belly. Then he asked: “How are you today, sir?”

Often, I marvel at others’ apparent appetite for germs. Recently, I was standing in line at my favorite fishmonger, and I noticed a shallow bowl of those pastel ‘conversation hearts’ on the counter. It was well after Valentine’s Day, long enough for the candy to have accumulated the uric tang of ripe haddock, not to mention an array of microbes. Yet here was a well-dressed woman rooting through them with manicured fingers. “Be Mine?” Nope. “Kiss Me?” Nuh-uh. “True Love.” Pass. “Hep A?” Yes, please! If she lived, I assumed her next meal would be a burrito at an area Chipotle, where, while she waited, she’d lick the length of the stainless steel prep surface.

[Again? Guess I’ll have to stop by my local cruise ship.]

It’s easy for me to spot my fellow germophobes, and I’m always on the look-out for new techniques. For instance, there is the fit older woman at the MAC, who drapes a plastic bag over the spot where her delicate neck meets the squat bar. And it’s never been a mystery to me why paper towels often collect in a mound beside the doors of public restrooms. These are hiking cairns for germophobes. We grasp the handle, drop the towel, and mark our passage—finding validation in the knowledge that others have deemed the space just as squalid as we have.

Whether it’s my habits or my schoolteacher’s superhuman immune system, I don’t get sick much anymore. But when I do, the viruses—spurned and thwarted for so long—really make themselves at home. It’s like the video footage of ordinary Libyans who, after decades of tyranny, streamed into the travertine palaces of Muammar Gaddafi, overturning vases and relieving themselves on his Oriental rugs. In fact, I’m just getting over my first cold in ages, which for ten days rendered me a feverish, hacking mess. I was at my lowest on the day of the Massachusetts primary, but I managed to crawl out of bed and hobble to my polling station just up the block. On my way out, I spotted a small group holding signs for Donald Trump. And so I performed my second civic duty of the day: stopping by for introductions and long, moist handshakes.

But when it comes to exposing others to my germs, I normally try to follow the Golden Rule. So while I’ve ended my self-imposed quarantine from my wife, it’ll take some time to go over every inch of our apartment with a sponge and a 2% bleach solution. Perhaps when I’m done, the weekly flu statistics will have declined—and I’ll be ready to join the end-of-winter celebrations. I’ll be the one smiling and waving my chapped hands, all from a safe, sanitary distance.

Hot Take on Gloucester Issues by Josh Turiel

Occasionally we look to FOC (friend of Clam) Josh Turiel for “Over the Bridge” perspective. That he gives it from Salem, a place demonstrably crazier than Gloucester, just makes it better. But Josh is sane. Sorta. Anyway, here’s his hot take on some of our goings on.

As the Clam’s Official Actual Elected Politician (City Councillor in Salem, MA, and current Council President), I am often asked to comment and lend the Clam insights on issues local and national. Having gone through the election process several times and worked for a number of other candidates for office, I can bring some of that perspective to events going on, and candidates for office.

The first thing I’ll opine on for the benefit of the Gloucester audience is this. When I heard about the Soones Court plan, my first instinct was to say “this is a joke, right?” I mean, I live in Salem. We have plenty of controversial projects here in this community, mostly projects that are brownfield re-use where people are justifiably worried about density and traffic issues, and possible remediation risks.

With all that given, nobody thus far has proposed building a SUBDIVISION ON THE FREAKING OCEAN. What homes in Salem we do have balanced on the ocean are in places that at least are somewhat sheltered in our harbor, and aren’t directly exposed to the Atlantic. If there was actual land to build on perhaps this would be different, but fortunately it looks like you guys were able to shoot that bit of idiocy down. Good on you.

Because the old saying “they aren’t making real estate anymore”? It applies doubly to the seawall. That’s going away a little bit farther, even.

I’ve also been asked a lot about the election process and the presidential campaign. Well, I’m arguably the closest thing to a conservative in Clammedia Tower (as I may have been the only non-Sanders supporter on the vast payroll). That said, even with that I’m still a Democrat. Registered and everything. Not one of those “unenrolled” that dominate Massachusetts and much of the country.

So I understand, a little bit, what the complicated rules are that are used to select a Presidential nominee. The Democrats and Republicans have slightly different rules. The Democrats once nominated Jimmy Carter, and he won the Presidency. This made a lot of Democrats very unhappy, so they changed the rules to make it a lot tougher to nominate Jimmy Carter ever again. Basically, they created a big class of free agent delegates that amount to about 20% of the total delegates to national convention. They’re called “Superdelegates”, because they have the power to totally ignore the electorate and vote for whomever they damn well please.

And those “Superdelegates” are the Professional Political Class of the Democratic party. They’re elected officials (Congressmen, Senators, Governors, other state constitutional officers) and key party leaders (senior party directors and officials). The idea is that they’ll generally back whomever the preferred candidate is of the party mainstream and make sure that the rabble doesn’t win.

In reality, even though they pledge to the party favorite, often early, if that candidate goes south in a hurry (like, for instance, happened to Clinton in 2008), they fold like a cheap suit and switch to whomever has the momentum.

The problem for those Feeling the Bern, though, is that many of the key primaries after this point are not “Open” primaries, in which anyone can vote. And Sanders’ support has come very much from unenrolled voters and voters who come from outside that party structure. And the Democratic party so far hasn’t wavered nearly as much as they normally do. Between proportional delegate awarding and closed primaries, I go on record for Clam purposes as saying that Sanders is likely toast by the beginning of April. Sorry.

I loves me some Bernie, I just don’t see him winning a Democratic Party nomination. Because unlike the Republicans, the Democrats know how to stack the deck properly.

The Republicans have a different system. They gather the most offensive people they can generate and let them slug it out

uninteligble yelling

while following the strategy of appealing to the farthest right segment of their base they can – because that’s a proven way of getting the nomination. After doing so, the nominee then tries to tack as close to the center as they can in the hopes of getting normal Americans to forget the promises they made and vote for them.

In every election since 1992 (except for 2004), that’s failed, but it gets people nominated. The other custom in the Republican party is that the runner-up for the nomination is usually the front-runner for the next time out.

This year, that failed because of the orange-tinted sentient wig of spite that detonated onto the electorate this year with a splat, namely He, Trump. After eight years of unbelievably polarized rhetoric painting a utterly milquetoast black man as a Deadly Muslim Kenyan Socialist who WANTS TO TAKE YOUR GUNS (and whose signature accomplishment has been to make everyone buy health insurance) many disaffected members of the Republican base were ready to thrust their right arms in the air and pledge support to a vaguely authoritarian reality TV star.

Donald Trump supporter Birgitt Peterson of Yorkville, Ill., argues with protesters outside the UIC Pavilion after the cancelled rally for the Republican presidential candidate in Chicago on Friday, March 11, 2016. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

Donald Trump supporter Birgitt Peterson of Yorkville, Ill., argues with protesters outside the UIC Pavilion after the cancelled rally for the Republican presidential candidate in Chicago on Friday, March 11, 2016. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

Since the opponents that have survived against him so far are reduced to a Canadian religious zealot who likes to pull wings off flies and is considered the most hated man in Washington, a youthful helium balloon from Florida, and a vaguely polite, friendly right-wing patron of the Reformed Church of the Balanced Budget, the Republicans are now hoping that they can spread disorder and chaos to the point where they go into their July convention with no nominee.

And then they would have to try and bring in a Great White Hope to save the party. The likeliest person to return in that scenario would be Willard (Mitt) Romney – you hated him in 2012, but much like Bullwinkle, “This time for sure!”. The other option considered by GOP elders was digging up the corpse of Ronald Reagan, but have you seen Reagan’s actual positions? Even dead, he’s not conservative enough for this bunch. Outside of the whole Supply-Side economics horsecrap Reagan’s pretty much left of John Kasich. And he made deals with Democrats that settled for half a loaf All. The. Time.

Ultimately, we think the GOP will splinter into two or three different parties. Maybe this year, maybe not for another cycle or so. They’re getting close. But after this election, the Cape Ann GOP will have to decide whether to just officially re-dub themselves the Cape Ann Tea Party or not. I’m thinking they rebrand. But this year, they’ll be lined up solidly behind He, Trump, instead of whining about how Ted Cruz just really isn’t conservative enough for Cape Ann.

Anyhow, there is more to this battle that will come later, and the Clam will, in our inimitable fashion, weigh in on it.

Back in Cape Ann, the affordable housing project I wrote about last fall? Why in sweet heaven is this not done yet? It’s a rehab of a downtown property that will bring people living in your downtown. Trust me. This happened in Salem. It works out well for you in the end. There will be more traffic, at least a little bit more. That’s cool, you also get people living there who will shop, eat, and walk the downtown – making it look busier and more successful and in turn drawing out still more people to Gloucester’s newly cooler and hipper downtown. Yes, these are “affordable” units. It still works. Really.

There’s plenty more to weigh in on over the next few months and Your Faithful Clam will bring it all to you, complete with occasional insight. This is our first Presidential campaign as a active mollusk and we hope to help the region bumble through it as best we can. Think of it as a warmup for the local elections that we will again cover next year – and that ALL OF YOU SHOULD VOTE IN FOR CHRISSAKES.

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.

Lego Humans of Gloucester: Kristen Parsons

image (1)

 

I like to think of myself as an open minded, fun-loving and forward thinking math teacher.  Being sure the future understands it not just memorizes it!

East Gloucester School is a fantastic place to teach but when I’m not solving math problems I’m counting grains of sand at Good Harbor Beach.