Friday, March 28, 2008

Two Posts in Two Days?

Why, I never heard of such a thing.

But I was trolling someone else's blog - he was waxing nostalgic about his hometown as it was some 60 years ago, and it got me thinking of the changes that have come about in my hometown, which happens to be West Peabody, Massachusetts.

One thing you should know about Peabody is that, like any other town I suppose, it's very much a product of the time during which it came into its own. For West Peabody, that was the late '60s and 70s - which is the exact epoch of my pre-pubescent youth.

West Peabody, situated as it was 18 miles north of Boston, was thought of as the sticks. When my parents moved there from the much more sensible city of Everett, complete with its zero-lot-lines and double- and triple-decker houses, the sprawling ranches and 1/3-acre lots must have seemed one step away from farms. Over everything, West Peabody was quiet. My father recalls vividly that the two things he had the hardest time getting used to was the lower ceilings of the house they'd bought, and the eerie, everlasting quiet that was the suburbs. He, after all, spent most of his adult life living on the same corner as a bus stop; the difference must have been startling.

In a lot of ways of course that kind of suburbia still remains; my little corner of it has changed very little. Most of the houses are still the same color as they were; indeed of the five houses that comprise my parent's closest neighbors, three are occupied by the same people that occupied them in 1970. But there were a few differences, which serve as a quaint reminder of how things used to be:

  • There was a guy who would walk a pushcart down my street, clanging a triangle. He was the knife sharpener; what a way to make a living. He was not a young man, either, and he had a lot of ground to cover. He was one of the first casualties of the throwaway society to which the US transitioned in the middle '70s.

  • There was a grand total of one Chinese restaurant, and that wasn't even in Peabody: The Bali Hai in Lynnfield. To this day it remains my favorite Chinese joint, to the eternal disgust of my wife, who, as they say, ain't from here. When another restaurant opened in Peabody, the now-offensively-named Oriental Jade, we wondered why on earth anyone would open a Chinese restaurant so close to the Bali Hai.

  • The main street that connects West Peabody to Peabody proper, Lowell Street, was at one point such a quiet sleepy street that one could walk -- hell, one could saunter -- across the street with complete confidence that nobody was coming any time soon. Now (and for the last twenty years) it's choked with traffic and crossing the street against a light or not in a crosswalk is beyond folly; it's outright suicide.

  • One of my most amusing memories is looking out my window at the garbagemen coming up the street - and my 5-year-old self would (remember this was 1972 or 3) flash them the peace sign, and they'd flash it back at me. The stop signs in our neighborhood all had the word "War" spraypainted at the bottom. My dad would use that as an excuse to run the stop sign. I remember protesting one day and he said "It says 'stop war,' not stop the car." I also remember being satisfied with that rationale. And even in deepest suburbia, there were hippies: Our neighbors three doors down, the News (you out there, Danny? We all hated you), had an odd relation who would show up in an ancient blue Saab and would, on early mornings, lean against it and play the flute. I remember liking him, thinking that the rest of his stuck-up douchebag family could stand to be more like him.

  • And of course, my Dad was a hale, strong, funny bastard with an ever-present twinkle in his eye and a shit-eating grin on his face that made you think he had the world by the short-and-curlies, my Mom was young and pretty, and my biggest responsibility was coloring inside the lines - and you can bet your ass that I miss those things way more than the knife sharpener guy.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I've been so long away...

...for which I must apologize to my faithful readers, both of whom are probably dead or wholly apathetic by now. Same old excuse, I guess: work is occupying most of my cranial real estate lately, as Your Humble Scribe has received a promotion. I'm particularly proud of the monetary negotiations that took place therefrom:

Big Cheese: I'm sorry to say that we can't offer you a raise at this time.
Me: Well, how about an increase in my yearly bonus?
BC: Sorry.
Me: A spot bonus?
BC: No can do.
Me: An extra week of vacation?
BC: No.
Me: Can I go to this year's incentive trip?
BC: No.
Me: Very well, I accept.

So for precisely no remuneration whatsoever, I inherited a great big vat of responsibility and a company cell phone that quite conveniently keeps my work tethered to my hip 24 hours a day, seven days a week, interrupted only by sporadic periods of fitful sleep during which I dream about - you guessed it - work. In short, I have turned into the precise type of corporate joyboy that I hold in quiet contempt for having no sense of work/life balance.

Nevertheless, there are some quiet corners of the ol' pumpkin that are occupied by things other than work. Forthwith then some of the mighty ponderables that poke up from time to time when I'm on the crapper.

  • In many ways, The Beatles' Norwegian Wood stands head and shoulders above the rest of their catalog, especially their catalog up to that point. This was 1965, mind you, when the Hollies were warbling ditties like "Look Through Any Window" and the British Invasion pretenders were still teenybopping. John created this masterpiece, blending a haunting, complex chord progression with angry, bitter lyrics about women who tease in general, and his first wife in particular, who he always thought cornered him into marriage ("I once had a girl; or should I say, she once had me.") Words like masterpiece are too easliy tossed about these days, but it's high time this song get the credit it deserves.

  • Are you familiar with The Flying Spaghetti Monster? It's a brilliant counter-argument to Intelligent Design. There's not enough space here to describe it fully, but essentially, some guy said that the world began when an omniscient being that looked like a plate of spaghetti and meatballs created the world and everything in it. If you believe that Intelligent Design is ridiculous pseudo-science bullshit, read about it here: Highlight: A letter to the Kansas Board of Education which reads in part "..."I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world; One third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence." Brilliant. Just Brilliant.

  • If you are in any way interested in Military Intelligence campaigns, you owe it to yourself to read everything you can regarding Operation Mincemeat. There are many web-based treatises about it; there's a pretty complete Wikipedia entry. From
    a 1995 article in WWII Magazine:

    When the campaign in North Africa was drawing to a successful close, the Allies'next strategic target was painfully obvious to anyone who could read a map. "Everyone but a bloody fool would know it's Sicily," said Winston Churchill.

    Sitting in the middle of the choke point of the Mediterranean, Sicily was the shortest route from North Africa to Adolf Hitler's Europe. It was also the base from which the Luftwaffe had pounded Malta for many months, as well as any convoy that tried to reach the beleaguered island. Sicily had to be taken, but its rough terrain favored the defender. Any attack against a well-entrenched force would be very costly, or might even fail. If the enemy only could be misled as to where the Allies intended to strike next, the attacking force might encounter something less than a fully manned defense. But how were the German general staff and intelligence service to be duped on such a grand scale?

    The solution to that problem came from two relatively junior British officers: Lt. Cmdr. Ewen Montagu, a reservist who represented naval intelligence on the interservice XX Committee (XX for double cross), and Squadron Leader Sir Archibald Cholmondley, Montagu's Air Ministry counterpart. It was Cholmondley who first suggested planting false Allied documents on a dead body and letting it fall into German hands.The XX Committee was initially skeptical of the bizarre plan, but in the end Montagu made it work.

    Before the war Montagu had been a successful barrister, and after the war he would become judge advocate of the fleet and one of England's greatest jurists. In the early months of 1943 he used his lawyer skills to blend an intricate and massive hoax into one of the most phenomenally successful deception operations in the history of modern warfare.

    If it tickles your fancy pick up a copy of the book "The Man Who Never Was," written by one of the principal architects of Mincemeat, Ewan Montagu himself.

  • My brother Ross and his wife Tara are having a baby! Join the virtual baby shower here.

Well, that's about it for now, I reckon. I promise, more to come. Peace, Love, and His Noodly Appendage.