E. Graham Ward was one of the first men to make a major impression on me. Yesterday I learned he passed away in May.
Graham Ward (I only just discovered the “E.” stood for Edgar in this appreciation penned by his colleague and another former English teacher of mine, Mark Shovan) was my English teacher, wrestling coach, and advisor during my three years at The Brooks School in North Andover, Massachusetts. He was the chairman of the English Department, the coach of the varsity wrestling team, advisor to the yearbook, but intrigued me enough to ask him to be my advisor by being the man of fewest words and driest wit I had ever met. Ironic that the man who instilled in me the desire to be a writer would say so little; but that was his style, and when he did speak it was with amazing effect. In reflection, his spare style was the one he taught me to aspire to in my writing: revise, omit unnecessary words, always favor a simple word over a complicated one and then revise and rewrite again.
He had an appreciation for the extreme, reserved and quiet as he presented himself. He was the man who pressed a copy of Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas into my hands in 1974, two years after its publication. One short story I wrote for him, which was published in the school literary magazine and has long been lost to me, I submitted three years later to gain admission to a college writing seminar taught by the legendary Gordon Lish of Esquire and Knopf fame. Lish singled that story out when he made the cut for the class, and specifically told me that whomever the teacher was that was progressive enough to draw such a story out of a 16 year old, was a genius in his own right. Graham Ward allowed me to be the writer I am, not who he imagined I should be.
I’ve never written without imagining his eyes on the page. He was, and still is, the ideal reader I write for. He indulged me when the class played “Word of the Day” and I would predictably submit some off-color medical term describing feces, perverse sex acts, or some unfortunate dermatological condition that always won the vote of my adolescent classmates. He called bullshit on me once when I introduced the word “tampion” which is indeed a valid word used to describe the wooden plug stuck in the barrel of naval guns to keep out salt spray. My creative definition was that of a ball of mud, grass and saliva used by hibernating bears to keep ants and other insects out of their sleeping anuses. E. Graham Ward turned to his faithful dictionary and shut me down then and there. If I had the Google then I could have countered with this example as proof.
When it came to wrestling, well, that’s a story of him telling me to man up. Come my junior year, or Fifth Form as it was known by the Brooksian anglophile conceit, I was too near-sighted to be of any use to the hockey team as a goalie once the word got out in the league that shots made on me from the center of the rink actually had a very good chance of scoring since I could only hear them, not see them, until it was too late to react. The embarrassment of being scored on from the red line was too much to bear, and being in a teen torpor, I decided I would fill my winter athletics obligation by becoming the manager of the wrestling team, a job that entailed running the clock and scoreboard during matches, showing up with box of cut oranges and a pail full of drinking water and a ladle, and then washing the mats once a week so the wrestlers wouldn’t contract a foul skin disease. This was my happy fate until the time came to elect team captains, and the squad decided I would make a good leader, if even from the sidelines.
Graham Ward was the head wrestling coach and would not permit his team to be captained by a lowly manager. I was ordered to put on the tights, strapped a set of ear protectors on my head, and laced up the curiously flat soled shoes favored by mat men. Being a large boy, I had the unfortunate task of wrestling last, in the “unlimited” weight class; typically against big pink baby Hueys or the occasional steroid-abuser-of-tomorrow who had a beard and the ability to rip phone books, and me, in half.
Graham loved wrestling not because it was so strenuous and tied to the classical Greeks (wrestling is strenuous and I’d argue a fierce six-minute match is the equal to, or even worst than a 2,000 meter rowing race), but because wrestling was a thinking man’s sport, mano a mano, and rewarded those who could keep their wits while being twisted and contorted. He was on the smaller side, (as shown in the team picture below, far right with me standing next to him in the back row) which meant he himself had wrestled at the super-competitive weight classes during his prep school and Harvard career when success was all about the catalogue of moves and escapes one mastered. He decided my simple strategy would play off of my aerobic rowing capacity to work hard and fast against opponents who favored bear hugs and wet, sopping, sweaty suffocation moves.
His plan was diabolical and it usually worked. I would dance around the fat kids, get them huffing and puffing, and then dart in, grab one of their legs behind the knee, and dump them crashing onto the mat for a “take down” which was good for a couple points. Rather than try to pin the elphantine opponent and risk having them roll on top of me, I would jump up, let them find their feet again, dance around some more, and then take them down again. Over and over and over; point after point. By the third period the opponent, if they were the typical high school Unlimited wrestler, would be out of breath and more than willing to let me pin them, an intimate act that involved me getting closely involved in their damp panic, an incentive for me to get it over with as soon as possible.
Graham Ward simply smiled when I came off the mat in victory, or delivered a wry pat when I crawled back in defeat. He never made rousing carnivorous speeches to psyche us up, just a quiet expectation that we’d be sportsmen and give it our best.On a few occasions the team score would be tied and come down to the unlimited match to determine the winner. That meant it was up to me to carry the day. In my last year, I won the match for the team four times, always moments of great personal triumph. I also cost the team two matches and my worst moment was wrestling a kid who looked like the prison version of Mister Clean and was able to pin me in an astonishingly brutal seven seconds, a league record.
Graham rode a little motorbike to school every morning as he preferred to live off campus in North Andover and spare himself the hell of running a dorm and having to play the role of disciplinarian. He wore a striped red, white and blue Captain America helmet, just like Peter Fonda did in Easy Rider.
I know he began his career at Philips Exeter Academy, and I always wondered when I read John Irving’s The World According to Garp, if there wasn’t a bit of E. Graham Ward in the novel. Irving was a wrestler, would have been at Exeter as student or assistant wrestling coach around the same time as Graham. I remember reading Irving’s description of Garp’s favorite teacher, Mister Tinch, and feeling a strong identification with Graham Ward.
He was a very devoted fisherman, and like me, had a passion for chasing bonefish in the Keys and stripers in the Sound. I regret we never wet a line together. After his retirement he lived full time here on
Cape Cod and became a writer for the Falmouth Enterprise. His account of the Sippewisset oil spill is a masterpiece.
As an advisor, I couldn’t have asked for more. Classmates would make fun of him for his laconic style. His nickname was E. “Grunt” Ward. But I learned more from him about how to comport one’s self in the world, how to turn a decent sentence, and how to love literature than from anyone else. He will always represent the best of my high school years to me.
I spent Father’s Day weekend on the Delaware shore at the quintessential beach town, Rehoboth Beach, with my wife and her family. This was my fourth visit and I love the place as it is everything Cape Cod is not: boardwalk, honky-tonk, and big surf as opposed to stately WASPy-ness, calm bays, and no real concentration of the whole saltwater taffy-caramel corn dog thing that I’d expect from Coney Island on south.
Every evening, around 5:30, when the beaches slowly emptied of roasting sunbathers and the umbrellas and chairs were stacked and put away, when the lifeguards climbed down from their perches and packed it for the day, a huge armada of kites and wind-driven stuff would suddenly appear in front of a little shop on the ground floor of a boardwalk hotel. A few people would unfurl little kites and start to actually fly the things, in the literal sense of the word, doing more with two strings and a little triangle of sailcloth than I ever dared imagine back in the old days of buying a vinyl bat kite and six rolls of cheap cotton string and then getting a charge out of letting it get so high there was no way in hell any one would waste the time to haul it back down.
So we parted with $35 and came away with a kite that provided three hours of instant fun. The next morning we were back and bought kite #2, this one touted as the most advanced of the advanced “a bee on amphetamines” as the label claimed. And by nightfall we had kite number 3, which you don’t want to know the price of.
My son finally found an outlet for all those years of video gaming in the analog world and blew away the learning curve in minutes. He is a kite maestro. Me, not so much. I am more into the sedate than the extreme.
Here in the video is my son and my brother-in-law, who decides about two minutes into the video that it would be a good idea to strafe the camera man. The tail was zipping across my face. Apologies for mis-aimed videos, it’s hopeless trying to see the screen of a smartphone in full sun, let alone through polarized sunglasses.
I highly recommend checking these things out. Now to figure out where to fly them on the Cape that won’t put them over the water.
I was reading with some interest about the probabilities of an asteroid smacking into the planet and was delighted to learn that we have eight years until the closest opportunity will present itself:
“The asteroid 2012 DA14 currently has the greatest chance of impacting Earth, possibly crashing down on Feb. 16, 2020, according to NASA. The chance of it hitting, however, is very slim.”
This made me think about another potential cataclysmic event (other than my annual Killer Hurricane anxieties compounded by boat ownership), this one pointed out to me by my brother (the same one who blamed the KGB on spreading all flu epidemics): the Killer Canary Island Tsunami. Read more here.
“However, the destruction in the United Kingdom will be as nothing compared to the devastation reeked on the eastern seaboard of the United States. Dr. Day claims that the Mega Tsunami will generate a wave that will be inconceivably catastrophic. He says: “It will surge across the Atlantic at 500 miles per hour in less than seven hours, engulfing the whole US east coast with a wave almost two hundred feet high ” higher than Nelson,s Column ” sweeping away everything in its path up to 20 miles inland. Boston would be hit first, followed by New York, then all the way down the coast to Miami, the Caribbean and Brazil.” Millions would be killed, and as Dr. Day explains: “It’s not a question of “if” Cumbre Vieja collapses, it’s simply a question of “when”.”
The author’s inability to differentiate between the verb “wreak”: to cause havoc and “reeked”: to stink is proof that typos and bad grammar undercut credibility every time. Wikipedia’s article on megatsunami’s is a lot more tempered in its alarms. In the meantime I’ll continue to believe Nantucket will protect me from any big walls of water arriving at 500 mph.
Walk the beach long enough and you’ll see big balls of peat, festooned with a hair cut of cordgrass, washed up above the high water line, apparently uprooted to drift away from their starting point. This is a symptom of marsh die back, a phenomenon that scientists say is due to a break in the delicate equilibrium in marsh ecology.
The culprit is a small crab, the sesarma, or as we called them, Fiddler Crabs. These crabs live in burrows around the high water line and can be found in Cotuit in great numbers inside of Cupid’s Cove on Sampson’s Island and around the mouth of Little River. As kids we’d dig them up and set them on each other in gladiator battles in “coliseums” dug out of the sand.
Now scientists at Brown University are reporting that swathes of saltwater marsh are being killed off because of the negative effects of recreational fishing. They observed that marshes with dying cordgrass were not being affected by the foot traffic of anglers, but by the effects the fishing had on the sesarma’s natural predators, primarily striped bass. Saltwater flyfishermen have long known that flies patterned after small crabs can be used on stripers with deadly effect. Well, now it appears that if the striper population is reduced, the crab population thrives, and over time the crabs overfeed on the grass, and … well, the consequences are shown in the National Park Services photo below.
“With far fewer predators in areas where recreational fishing is prevalent, native Sesarma crabs have had relatively free rein to eat salt marsh grasses, causing the ecosystem to collapse, said Mark Bertness, chair of Brown’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the paper’s senior author. He led a series of experiments and measurements published online in the journal Ecology that he said unavoidably implicate recreational fishing in marsh die-off.
“We had to be so careful about dotting all the ‘i’s and crossing all the ‘t’s and making sure that we had ruled out all alternative hypotheses, because even within the scientific community, there are plenty of fishermen who don’t want this to be true,” Bertness said. “Certainly out in the general public there are plenty of people who are into recreational fishing who don’t want it to be the problem.”
I plead guilty to marsh fishing — I’ve done it on occasion in the past — the streams and muddy creeks up high in the marsh system can hold some great fish, and the surroundings can be beautiful and very peaceful. As well as buggy, muddy, and treacherous in the dark.
The condition of the marshes in and around Cotuit seems pretty healthy — there’s a large one at the head of the Mills River near Prince’s Cove, another around the Cow Yard in the Narrows, a third surrounding the “delta” of Little River, one by the town way to water at the confluence of Oceanview and Main. None see a lot of fishing traffic. Parking is tight and access limited.
Keeping the marshes and peat banks healthy is crucial to the health of an estuary. I’ve heard them described as the “lungs” of the system, filtering and absorbing a great deal of pollution and storm surge from the main shoreline.
I’m a take-it-or-leave-it Science Fiction fan. Ray Bradbury was never a favorite author, but I did tolerate Fahrenheit 451 when it was shoved down my throat on some summer reading list. He passed away this week, and this morning’s New York Times delivers an outstanding send-off to a writer who deserves a lot of credit for bridging the gulf between the lurid pulp covers of tentacled aliens and calliphygian space nymphs to the world of serious letters. Asimov, Heinlein, Dick, Herbert …. there’s quite a few “serious” sci-fi writers, but none really hit a chord with me.
The current New Yorker carried a brief but oh-very-sad reminiscence by Bradbury, possibly his last published piece. In it he talks about launching paper hot air balloons into the evening skies with his grandfather and watching their flickering light and beauty fade into the darkness with tears streaming down his five-year old cheeks.
“But I could not let it go. It was so beautiful, with the light and shadows dancing inside. Only when Grandpa gave me a look, and a gentle nod of his head, did I at last let the balloon drift free, up past the porch, illuminating the faces of my family. It floated up above the apple trees, over the beginning-to-sleep town, and across the night among the stars.
We stood watching it for at least ten minutes, until we could no longer see it. By then, tears were streaming down my face, and Grandpa, not looking at me, would at last clear his throat and shuffle his feet. The relatives would begin to go into the house or around the lawn to their houses, leaving me to brush the tears away with fingers sulfured by the firecrackers. Late that night, I dreamed the fire balloon came back and drifted by my window.”
So sad and so beautiful and now I want to go read more of the same.
Two years ago, when freed from the corporate tyranny of a mandatory Blackberry, I rushed to Best Buy and put my money down on the then-sexy HTC 4G EVO, Sprint’s flagship phone and the first Android smartphone to build any sort of geek-cred.
Last fall, sick and tired of the Sprint and HTC combined crapware, I jailbroke the phone and remade it in my own image with CyanogenMod. After a week or so of fiddling to restore the GPS and hotspot functions, I’ve been more than happy with the hardware as my primary mobile device, pushing its limits with many gigabytes of Amazon music stored locally on the 32 gb microSD, and loving its multi-functions on the dashboard of my car.
But two years are up and it’s time to upgrade to a new phone. iPhones are not an option. The screens are too small for my aging eyes (So go buy a Cricket you may say), and I continue to harbor a genetic allergy to Apple products, or rather, Apple operating systems and Apple prices and Apple attitudes towards DRM.
Android has been very good to me, so off I went looking for the hot new phone that would be most faithful to Google’s reference platform while at the same time giving me access to Ice Cream Sandwich, the ability to tether other devices to its WiFi hub, and unlimited data.
That of course meant continuing on with Sprint, even if they boned me to the tune of a $500 surcharge in March 2011 for daring to use it in Canada. Sprint’s old claims of “4G” speeds was a quaint fiction predicated on finding a WiMax signal depending on whether or not ClearWire had rigged one up. As for 4G on Cape Cod — I’ll get it about as soon as I get fiber to the old house — but I do spend enough time in midtown Manhattan to expect a fast signal should I need one.
The phone I pre-ordered this week was the Samsung Galaxy S III — a well-reviewed phone that looks fresh enough to carry me another two years without any regrets. It should arrive before July (if Apple’s attempt at an injunction fails) and will doubtlessly take a little while to set up just the way I want it.
Opening Day is at home this year, beginning at 5 pm on Thursday the 14th when the Hyannis Harbor Hawks open the season against the Kettleer’s.
Coach Mike Roberts is returning with what looks like another exceptionally powerful lineup of college freshmen and sophomores. The other night my son and I played scout and ran the roster through The Google as it’s published on the newly (and nicely) redesigned Kettleer’s website to see if there were any surprises. On several occasions we admired the stats and commentary on the players’ college bios and started rubbing our hands with anticipation on what kind of talent would emerge through mid-August.
Early season rosters are notoriously flaky due to the MLB draft, the post-season college World Series, Team USA invites and sadly, not this year, Olympic team commitments as this is the summer Olympics when the ass-hats at the IOC decided to drop one of the truly global team sports in favor of, I believe, golf. So take this roster with a bit of latitude. Some will come, some will go, and some won’t show up at all. But whatever happens, June is a blast getting to know each and every one of the players and playing the game of trying to predict who the heroes will be during the August championships.
There’s no way of telling precisely who in the following roster will show up on June 14, but of the 20-man roster, only one returns from the 2011 lineup: Kevin Ziomek from Vanderbilt, a perennial feeder for the Cotuit team.
Vanderbilt supplies the most players this year, at three, LSU sends two. There’s a pair of Bay State natives, one Ivy Leaguer, and a lot of strong batting averages and low ERAs coming to town.
There aren’t any major renovations to the field worth mentioning, but the Cotuit Athletic Association is kicking of a $900,000 capital fund drive to give us home fans a new third-base grandstand and some other improvements to the bathrooms and snack bar. So, even if you are an annual booster, you may want to consider an additional donation to the fund so we can do away with the springy green planks and get something new on a level with the visitors’ stands behind the visitors’ dugout.
Given the wet weather and my belief that I saw a snow flake yesterday when I left the gym, this promises to be a chilly June and I don’t intend to get fooled again. So he who arrives on the 14th without a fleece and some mittens probably won’t make it to the second inning.
In related news, Deven Marrero, the all-star standout from the Kettleer’s championship summer of 2010 was the Red Sox’s first pick during the MLB draft. Here’s the news at the Boston Globe.
Update: and a great piece on ESPN about Deven with a lot from Coach Roberts.