Cape Crime

The New York Times has made Cape Cod’s dirty secret national news this morning with a story on the property crime epidemic spawned by pain killer addicts looking for flat panel televisions and GPSs to feed their pill problem.

I experienced it first hand one night last summer when my cars were ransacked in the driveway, unlocked as they have been forever, gleaned of anything worth fencing. The police came, expressed their sympathy and said we were only one of many Cotusions to get hit in recent weeks.

Since a set of keys were stolen from one of the cars the locksmith was called and the locks were changed on the house. Hasps and padlocks went onto the garage doors and suddenly, I was locking my doors in Cotuit for the first time in 50 years.

The culprits aren’t urban invaders or some “new” element that has arrived along with sprawl and pollution, but young white kids: teens to young adults living in what I would consider to be one of the worst places for a young person to begin a life in terms of economic opportunity and urban excitement.  I’m urging my children to get out and stay out until they find some opportunity elsewhere, and then they can return as vacationers.  I came here full-time in 1991 in my early thirties as a technology enabled telecommuter and even went so far as to write a  big utopian story for Forbes on how tech was going to transform the hinterland into a paradise of ISDN-enabled day traders, software programmers, and affluent bohemian “knowledge workers” who would phone it in via telepresence technology. Ha. As one old timer told me early on at the village post office, “You can’t be a fireman unless you live near the fire.” The story of my career has been: “Raise the family on the Cape, earn the living elsewhere.”

The Cape, following the torrid building boom of the 70s through the 90s, has never generated much of a year-round economy. A few tech companies here and there, nothing major and certainly no “Silicon Sandbar” as was hoped twenty years ago. There’s no manufacturing to speak of, and of course the resort/vacationer economy that has been the mainstay of the region for the last sixty years dies every winter, when even the local restaurant owners close their doors and head south to escape the snowless tedium.

The Cape has a large elderly population, mostly middle-income retirees drawn here by the prospect of light snow and the Patti Page mythical idyll of “Olde Cape Cod.”  They appear to be especially victimized by the spate of home invasions as the addicts rifle through their medicine cabinets in the middle of the night.

On the good side, at least we don’t have a meth epidemic, though I should watch my words and knock on wood.

Meanwhile the doors are locked and something has been lost that isn’t coming back ever again.

 

Insanity sailing

A buddy at a cocktail party told me he wanted to buy an “International Moth” but thought he wasn’t up to the physical challenge. “What’s a Moth?” asked I? I fired up the smartphone and searched this out on YouTube. Now I want one.

We got on the subject of weird hydrofoils because another friend raffled off a ride on his Rave Windrider. This I need to try.

Leave it to the French to build the fastest sailboat in the world, the Hydroptere

Confronting the suck

The definition of complacency is repeating, over and over, the things one is best at and denial would be avoiding the things one sucks at. I remember a McKinsey consultant relating the tale of kicking off a client engagement with the engagement manager and being asked “What are you good at?” My friend replied: “I’m pretty strong at interviewing.”

“So what do you dislike doing?”

“I’m not very good at financial models. I’m more a Word person than an Excel person I guess.”

So of course she wound up doing all the financial modeling and came out of the three months better for it.

As it is in the world of the mind, so is it in the world of the gym. I hate burpees and so I’ve embraced them. I hate push-ups, so I begin every day with two dozen. I hate pull-ups and chin-ups ….. so lots of those. Turkish get ups … double under rope skipping……

There’s something to the old flinty Yankee stoicism of cold showers and thin gruel, a spartan donning of whatever hair shirts life throws one’s way. Railroads weren’t built by localvores or hipsters wearing grandpa hats.  No one sent a Foursquare update while laying the first trans-Atlantic cable.  Your great-great-grandfather didn’t get pissed off about not being able to synch his phone to his laptop.

I’m thinking about indulgence and denial a lot these days, mostly as I read about the horror of the Civil War and the impossible decisions faced by Lincoln. I can’t help but compare that total breakdown of American society to the absolute failure of our modern Congress to confront reality and drop its partisan drama. Have we gone soft? Is our current debt level, deteriorating infrastructure and lack of global competitiveness due to the fact that this generation, my generation, has never been tested by the miserable conditions our grandparents were? Does a generation need a war and depression to make it tough? If they were the “Greatest Generation” is mine the “Worst?”

It’s time for this generation to drop to the floor and pound out 100 burpees and get serious.  Pay off our debt, urge our government to invest in the future the way it did in the 50s and 60s — decades that yielded the semiconductor and internet thanks to government initiatives — and stop pulling down each others pants in the name of  partisanship. If the best the private sector can do is a launch bunch of sillyy status sharing services and local coupon distributors for yet another yoga studio then we’re all screwed. Under the flab, under the superficial obsessions, there’s a spartan society waiting to make its mark.

This morning I realized how guilty I am in terms of denial. On the front page is the news of the S&P downgrade and its implications. Dense stuff. Inside was a baseball story about how the unwritten rules of the game have a lesson to teach us about Congress.

Of course I skipped the liver and peas on the front page and ate the sundae on the sports section … time to drop and give myself twenty.

And then they were gone ….

The definition of melancholy came to me last night in the top row of the home side bleachers at Cotuit’s Elizabeth Lowell baseball park: it’s watching 30 college freshmen and sophmores dressed in white and cranberry pin-stripes hug each other goodbye at the end of their first summer swinging a wooden bat in the Cape Cod Baseball League.

The last game started at 4:30, a half-hour earlier than usual due to Cotuit’s wonderful lack of lights and inability to play ball deep into the gloaming. I arrived on time, scorebook in hand, and staked out the top row for myself and my two kids while they bought t-shirts and caps from the Kettleer’s Store with my credit card. For some reason I thought Cotuit had a shot at making the playoffs, but alas, that was not the case. The team that won the championship in 2010 was finishing the western division of the CCBL in fat last and yesterday’s game was the swan song, the final act, curtains on an all-too-brief season that began in early June, seemed to never end in July and suddenly, like the day after Christmas, was over and done.

The worst part for me is February, when bored out of my mind and numbed by the black and white colorless movie that is Cape Cod in winter, I eventually turn my car into the parking lot and and idle in front of the home plate gate, staring through the chainlink backstop at the blue tarp protecting the pitcher’s mound and the stand of pines arced behind the outfield fence.

“Somehow the summer seemed to slip by faster this time,” wrote A. Barlett Giamatti in his famous sad ode to the game. It’s been accelerating for years it seems.  Where summer used to end in a procession of station wagons with bikes strapped to the roof on the afternoon of Labor Day, sad faces pressed to the windows in the line of traffic waiting to cross the Sagamore Bridge, it now peters out in mid-August, as the schools open ever earlier, pre-season soccer eats into sailing, and hurricane season lurks off the coast of Africa waiting, making me fret: “Will this be the year of the big one?”

Cotuit went out with a win over Brewster. A crisp 3-0 win where all went well, no major dramatics, some heroic catches and the usual eccentricities of Cape baseball. I ate a hot dog and popcorn. My children were next to me, their friends next to them. A friend I hadn’t seen since 1974 introduced herself and her children and I think we both felt older because of it. Ivan Partridge, the ageless booster of the Kettleers, who stands steadfastly at the chainlink fence and yells “Have a Hit!” at every Cotuit batter, stood before us in the stands and exhorted us to make some noise and “let the boys know how much you appreciated them this summer.” And so we cheered, dropped our bills into the plastic kettles passed out by the children, bought our 50/50 raffle tickets from the players working the stands, and scurried to the snackbar when the announcer declared it was two-for-one time as the concession owner tried to empty the shelves before lowering the shutters and locking up for the next nine months.

I started to regret every missed game, those lost chances to sit in the stands for three free hours and watch the timeless game, a little maudlin that this team would vanish forever, to be replaced by a new one next year, in the same uniforms but all different young men. Some would become stars in the big leagues. This year’s designated hitter, Victor Roache, was a pleasure to watch every time he came to the plate, and yesterday he received the top prospect award from the major league scouts who prowl the games looking for talent. So one never knows looking at the rosters which few will go on to become the next Chase Utley, Buster Posey, Jacoby Ellsbury, Nomar Garciaparra — but some will, and knowing that makes the process of getting acquainted with every year’s new team so worthwhile, so that someday you’ll be able to say: “I remember when he played for Harwich in 2008 …..”

Regret is a silly thing, so I stood and applauded while the boys hugged each other out in the middle of the diamond, stuck my pencil behind my ear, collected my trash, and headed for home.

“I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun.” A. Bartlett Giamatti, former commissioner of Major League Baseball and president of Yale, The Green Fields of the Mind, from A Great and Glorious Game: Baseball Writings of A. Bartlett Giamatti

 

Fixing Yourself

A year ago I could barely raise my right arm over my head due to a partial tear in my rotator cuff suffered one icy day when I slipped and fell on my ass while filling the bird feeders. A trip to the surgeon, a claustrophobic half hour in the MRI machine desperately fighting the urge to squeeze the claustrophobia panic bulb, and next thing I knew I was scheduled for surgery and what veterans of the procedure said was a nasty multiple-month recovery involving sleeping upright in a chair and being incapable of performing a certain unmentionable act of ablution.

I decided to cancel the operation and fix the issue myself. I think I’ve done it. How exactly, I can’t say, but for the most part it’s been a lot of work focused on shoulder strength, stretching, and some quasi yoga poses. A piece in today’s New York Times by Jane Brody confirms what I learned myself over the past eight months: you can fix yourself with some simple moves. A basic yoga stretch promoted by a New York physiatrist, Dr. Loren Feldman, has helped other rotator cuff sufferers avoid the knife (or scope).

I’ve gone through physical therapy for various muscular-skeletal ailments over the years, stretching rubber bands and lifting light weights, but nothing has done more to help me fix my messed up body more than Kelly Starrett’s Mobility Work Out of the Day, or M-WOD blog. Starrett is the owner of San Francisco CrossFit and a guru to CrossFitters for his simple message that “every human being should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves. If you have a lacrosse ball, a foam roller, some pylometric bands and the will, his daily video posting will unmess your joints and muscles in no time. His first work out of the day, posted a year ago, is humbling and very, very primal — sit in a squatting position like an Afghani villager in the dust for ten minutes. Try it. I made two minutes the first time.

I just read Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Body,  an interesting exercise in one man’s obsession with understanding his physiology and improving it without wasting hours of fruitless labor and bad diets. The punchline is this: time expended does not equate to results. A paleo diet (no grains, sugar, dairy, legumes) administered like a drug (time the intake of protein, boost the metabolism with lemon juice, cinnamon and certain supplements), a CrossFit like regimen of short, intense, but functional movements, and an obsession with measurement can yield significant results in very little time.

Anyway, self maintenance is a good thing, it’s cheap, and it can deliver great results if you stick with it. So get a lacrosse ball, bookmark the MWOD blog, and read what you can about the science that is turning the FDA food pyramid on its head.

Music solutions

With my music in the cloud and freed from the tyrannical clutches of iTunes, I next turned to the question of how to make it truly portable, especially how to get it on the boat. I juiced the memory on my HTC EVO smartphone to 32 gb with a miniSD card and find that I’m running either the Amazon Cloud Player when on the household wifi, downloading stuff locally for playback on the phone when I’m in the middle of Nantucket Sound and too far away from the cell towers, or streaming from Last.fm when I’m too lazy to deal with setlists of my own stuff.

When I was a iPod person I had one of those iPod dock things — an expensive Bose thing that required a wall socket. Battery powered portable speakers are generally terrible, but the New York Times recently reviewed a bunch of wireless Bluetooth speakers and I went with David Pogue’s recommendation for the Soundmatters FoxL unit. It’s not cheap — I paid close to $200 on Amazon — but it uses a rechargeable Li-Ion battery and cranks very loud volumes when needed. Oh, and did I say it’s wireless? This means no proprietary slot connector for the iPod/iPhone, just a discoverable Bluetooth connection that I can hit with my Thinkpad, iPad, the wife and kid’s iPhones or my Android EVO. The range is decent, but anything beyond 15 feet gives it some issues.

My favorite application for the unit is to tether it to my iPad while I’m watching Red Sox games when I’m on the road in NYC. I am tired of having ear buds jammed into my ears for hours and love the freedom to prop the iPad up and just watch it like the tiny television it was meant to be.

Three weeks and I am very happy with this portable sound solution. The unit is solid, small, and very easy to set up and use. The sound is excellent. This toy is definitely moving into the category of favorite things. Now to figure out cloud music in the car and life will be complete.

 

 

Some Summer’s Reading

I read in binges. Get me on a topic or author I like and I can’t shake it. Two are dominating this summer’s reading list: Patrick Leigh Fermor and the Civil War.

Patrick Leigh Fermor was an English travel writer who passed away in June at the age of 96. I’d never heard of Fermor until I read his obituary, but being a fan of the travel genre, especially as embodied by English writers such as Rebecca West, Wilfred Thesiger, Bruce Chatwin and Robert Byron, I ordered hard copies of three of his books and am glad for it. Fermor gained fame in World War II when he kidnapped a  Nazi general on Cyprus and smuggled him away to Egypt, an exploit which was made into a movie. But his travel writing is his legacy, started when he was expelled from an English prep school for holding the hand of a local merchant. In the early 1930s he decided to make an adventure out of his failure and walked across Europe from Holland to Constantinople. The interesting perspective of the two books is that they weren’t written when Fermor was young and fresh from the adventure but fifty years later, when as an old man he had the perspective and erudition to recall the adventure of a younger man who, unaware at the time, was walking through a Europe essentially unchanged from the culture of the Hapsburgs, one soon to be destroyed by the rise of the Nazis he brushed elbows with in German beer halls.

Fermor is the consumate raconteur, a great tippler, scholar, and wit, and any fan of travel writing will be rewarded by seeking out these two books.

A Time of Gifts: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube: the first volume which covers his perambulations from Holland through Austria.

Between the Woods and the Water: the second volume covering his walk (and horseride) through Hungary and Rumania.

 

In the early 1990s, as my writing/journalism career came to an end and I transitioned into the bureaucratic world of management when I started Forbes.com, my former boss, William Bernard Ziff, Jr. off of Ziff-Davis was retiring and selling his technology publishing company. The editor of Forbes, Jim Michaels, was fascinated that Ziff had amassed a fortune in the personal computer industry without making PCs and assigned me to profile Bill as he exited the publishing business. I negotiated with Greg Jarboe, Ziff’s PR man, to do a story about Ziff’s personal interests as his business interests were off limits because the company was being shopped and there were fears that any disclosures in the press would queer the deal. I spent a day at Ziff’s fantastic estate in Pawling. New York, touring his masterwork, an immense arboretum/garden that mimicked the flora of the Eastern seaboard from Canada to Georgia along its north/south axis. Ziff was a protean polymath — generally regarded as the smartest man in the room — and along with the work of Albert Einstein, gardening (especially naturally occurring plants), and sports, he was a big scholar of the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln. We got on the subject of the War Between the States, and I lent him a copy of my great-great-grandfather’s Civil War memoirs.

After the story was published (and the dust settled from the focus on his business interests, not his gardening passions), Bill invited my wife and me back to Pawling for a weekend to talk about the Civil War.  He urged me to read Shelby Foote’s three-volume masterpiece, The Civil War: A Narrative, and now, twenty years later, I am doing so, having nearly completed volume one which spans the origins of the war to the end of 1862 and the terrible autumn of Antietam. I owe Ziff a posthumous debut (he passed away in 2006), as Foote is a lyrical writer, a novelist turned historian who imbues what was a somewhat dry and arid subject into a truly beautiful work. I now rank it as a classic in American literature.

 

 

 

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