The Shop

I never took “shop” in high school — the class that took place in a little white building near the campus power plant behind the gym.  It was a secretive place where one could go to learn how to use a bandsaw or drill press. While I didn’t take shop, I grew up with one, a long mysterious workroom behind the house on Cape Cod, where first my great-great grandfather retired from the sea to mend sails in the upstairs sail loft, and where, thirty years later during the Depression into the1950s, my grandfather ran a little woodworking business and built Cotuit Skiffs.

The shop was idle when I was very little in the early 1960s and my grandfather was still alive, but all the tools were still in place. Planks of white Atlantic cedar stacked waiting for the next Cotuit Skiff. It was a forbidden place filled with child-maiming lathes, spoke-shaves, adzes, wood planes, chisels, saw horses, a tool-and-die set in an ornate wooden chest lined with green felt, wooden handled screw drivers shiny from use, hand saws, hand drills,  banks after banks of drawers with yellow paper labels, little hardware bins made from wooden Velveeta cheese boxes, old  crates of Orange Crush (back when Orange Crust was more white than orange), a rack of Woolsey boat paints, jigs for sandcasting bronze sailboat hardware, old lignum vitae ships blocks from long-sunk coastal schooners, kerosene blow torches, cast iron crucibles for melting lead, curls of dried out sandpaper, an old whale oil barrel filled with scrap wood, stacks of metal name plates that said “Lloyd Churbuck Manufacturing, 15 Union St., Lawrence, Mass.”

There weren’t any power tools, save an old silver Turner’s Falls drill that smelled like ozone when it was plugged in.  Once when we cleaned it we found an ancient pint of Black & White scotch and a hidden leather case containing a glass syringe and a bottle of ancient morphine tablets. The louche possibilities of those discoveries were thrilling.

The ceiling of the workshop was open, the rafters filled with lengths of bronze sail track, clusters of mast hoops, necklaces of bronze jib snaps. Goosenecks, boom tangs, gudgeons and pintles, balls of tarred Italian marline (which smell exactly like Chinese Lapsang Souchong tea). It was the saltiest place on the planet, the kind of shop you’d expect a former whaling captain and his grandson to equip and hang out in.

A lot of the stuff is still there. Untouched out of respect and the sense that someday someone might want to come in and find a sailor’s palm or a fid. Even the sailmaker’s bench is still in the sail loft, ready for someone to sit and stich a leech with a herringbone pattern.   The loft is the site of the first Masonic lodge in Cotuit, started by Thomas Chatfield after the Civil War, and when I step back there in the morning I can imagine the space filled with men in rocking chairs conducting the secret government of the village.

I cleaned the place out this past weekend: the usual spring cleaning. And as I did, uncovering the painted Skiff scantlings on the floor, vacuuming skeins of cobwebs off the windows and decimating thousands of spider eggs, I felt very at home and very happy, in a space where my father heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor on the radio with his father. The room where cousins celebrated weddings, air hockey games were contested, illegal devices fashioned, tools stolen, and  boats painted. Every year it sags a little more, shrinks a little under the pressures of modern life in a house with no basement, filled with clutter and coats and crap.

But every so often, when it is cleared out, you can imagine a crew of Churbucks and Crosby’s building wooden sailboats on a cold spring day, racing the calendar to have it ready in time for the summer people on the Fourth of July.



The Evolution of Corporate Communications

Monday Note.

Very interesting piece this morning by Frederic Filloux about the change in power between corporate PR and the press. The thesis is the changing nature of the news cycle — digital serfs churning content into the maw  as opposed to enterprising reporters developing their own leads and chasing them down — has shifted the power to corporate journalism: corporate content developed and handed over to the press for straight pass-through republishing.

“Contents are now tailored for the needs of digital media. As one of the renegade journalist recently told me – a fine female reporter disappointed by the trades’ evolution  –, corporate communication departments are switching from the usual press release to almost-ready-to-publish stories. She showed me compelling examples of product announcements treated in a variety of manners. The communiqué was largely ignored, but its transformation into a pre-packaged version showed up everywhere: internet, but also mainstream medias, newspapers, TV, radio.  The PR advisor was herself surprised by the efficiency of the process (and rather happy for her client): none of the media were eager to go outside the path she defined; reporters called the specialists she suggested, used the photo and video material she provided; no question asked whatsoever.

“The underlying facts: most journalists no longer have the time, the training, nor the motivation or even the management supervision to go beyond the surface. So, let’s feed them with what they need and we are in full control.  That’s the plan. And most of the time, it works beyond expectations.”

I suspect this will definitely be the norm, not the exception in business journalism, especially in the B2B trades, and put more of an emphasis on content creation and development skills inside of a PR agency or corporate communications team than the former model of stonewalling and spinning. In essence the creative side of journalism moves from the newsroom to the source.

Want a Sox ticket? Wait until next year

Want a Sox ticket? Wait until next year |


Michael Rutstein, publisher of Boston Baseball, has seen a sea change at Fenway during the 15 years he has hawked his magazine in the streets outside the ballpark, with the crowds growing more upscale and corporate.

In the old days, it was not uncommon for fans to bring their own scorecards. Now he wonders how many would be able to even keep track.

“The fans who are coming to the games are no longer the ones who care most passionately about the team,” he said. “They are the ones who were able to get tickets. As the price has gone up, the crowds have gotten steadily more upscale.””

There will always be an England

Gloucestershire Cheese-Rolling: a hundreds-of-year-old sporting event held on a cliff hill behind the hamlet of Brockworth in the Cotswolds. Now such a huge event (probably due to the viral popularity of this video) that it was cancelled last year due to the huge mobs of spectators trying to crowd onto the hill.

Roll one cheese down an impossibly steep hill one second before a cascade of neck-risking lunatics pursue it. Wikipedia attempts to explain. Tip o’ the hat to daughter for pointing this out.

The American Rite of Adulthood…

…has to be one’s first solo drive of a car with a brand new driver’s license and no freaked-out-floormat-stomping parent in the passenger seat criticizing every turn, stop, and move.

My son drove off this morning to school by himself — ending 12 years of morning routine — and as the tail lights vanished down Main Street I had a vision of a naked Maasai boy wrestling a lion with his bare hands.

But snapped out of it and immediately wondered what would happen to my insurance premium.

Anyway …. the incessant round trips to lacrosse practice, SAT prep, etc. etc. are over.


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