Dave? Dave’s not here man.

I hate the phone. I hated it as a kid, I hate it even more not.

The old phone in Cotuit was on a party line shared with a few neighbors and as a child I was warned never to pick it up unless it made some distinctive ring, like a long/short/short sequence I could never remember. The phone was a wall phone, rotary dialed, and in those days one didn’t have to dial the entire prefix when dialing around Cotuit or even Osterville — a simple five digits were all that were needed.

When I was allowed to answer the thing I was expected to be some perfect Lord Fauntleroy of telephonic etiquette and say “Churbuck Residence” and never “Hello?” There was one, and only one phone in the entire house, and if the call was for a grown-up one was expected to haul ass screaming from room to room that there was a CALL!

Long distance calls were expensive. As I grew older and called summer friends at their winter homes out of loneliness my father would call me to task and confront me with $15 charges for daring to yak with my buddy Jeffrey in Philadelphia. I’d have to work the conversation off raking leaves or doing some grim chore until I was so paranoid I never dared use it again.

The lack of mobile phones meant children were truly out of sight and out of mind. No one could stalk us if we took off on our bikes — the only rule was to report in ASAP if the firehouse whistle blew two times, the signal for an ambulance which made every Cotuit mother a nervous wreck until her flock checked in.

Skip ahead to 2017 and I have an ADHD inducing supercomputer in my hand that chirps, rings, belches and vibrates every time someone posts a picture of their latest meal on Instagram, tweets their displeasure, shares a video on Facebook, decides its cool to call me with a robot offering me solar panels, or finds me on LinkedIn and cold calls me to hear their sales pitch for “dynamic social engagement metrics solutions.”

So I turn the thing off and people are pissed. I get it, the entire purpose of the little tyrant is to be reachable anywhere, anyplace, anytime, but if nine out of ten actual phone calls are from IRS scammers in India, if text messages consist of incomprehensible emojis of poop, guns, vomiting smiley faces, and the rest is just so much shitty noise in a life already driven to Adderall by email, Slack, instant messages, news alerts, and all appointment reminders; then who the hell wouldn’t set the thing to “no disturb” and learn to ignore it?

Don’t get me started on the asshats who stroll the sidewalks of Boston with their earphones plugged in and their eyes locked onto their screens, just begging for a Silver Line bus to put them out of their shoes and their misery while obliviously crossing Atlantic Avenue. Don’t get me started on the parking lot entropy caused by some dipshit with their hand held to their ear as they blab away while trying to take off the bumper of my car. Don’t get me started on the pissed off accusations of “DON’T YOU EVER ANSWER YOUR PHONE” when I go silent on friends and families.

In my retirement I think I’m going device free. Heck, the inner Amish in me might even go back to candlelight and kick electricity out of my life.

The Mashpee Woodlot Revolt of 1833

I met someone yesterday who has a summer home on Briant’s Neck on Santuit Pond in Mashpee. Of course I got all professorial on them and started babbling about the Trout Mound and the old Wampanoag meeting house that used to stand on the neck until it was moved to its present location by oxen in 1717 ……

Anyway, I dug around on this blog to find my posts from 2013 when I presented a paper to the Cotuit Historical Society on the history of Mashpee and the “Woodlot Revolt of 1833 and realized I didn’t have the full paper on the site.

So here is the PDF. All 23 pages of it.

The Mashpee Woodlot Revolt of 1833

The end of a long voyage: the Aubreyad

In the 1990s, as the maritime novels of Patrick O’Brian emerged from obscurity to the top of the bestseller lists,  I took the advice of my good friend and neighbor Phil and invested in the first few volumes of the 20-volume epic. For some reason I never had the attention span to march through them all, as O’Brian was still living and writing new volumes at the rate of one per year up to his death in 2000. Maybe I was distracted by work or fatherhood, but  my reading tastes  were then focused on the history of the Byzantine empire and not the exploits of a Royal Navy Post Captain and his learned, naturalist-spy-surgeon during the first two decades of the 19th century during the Napoleonic Wars.


Maritime fiction and nonfiction has long been a personal favorite, beginning with the Hornblower series by C.S. Forrester,  Melville’s Moby Dick  and Typee and Omoo, the accounts of the first solo circumnavigators like Joshua Slocum, Bernard Moitessier, Sir Francis Chichester; the Atlantic oarsmen, Blythe and Ridgway and Robert Manry’s account of crossing the Atlantic in the 13-foot Tinkerbelle. At the top of the maritime stack has always sat Joseph Conrad, maybe my favorite writer in the English language, particularly for Lord Jim and The Nigger of the Narcisssus. From my earliest introduction to the shelf of sailing yarns at the Cotuit Library in the 1960s by the patient Ida Anderson to my college major in American maritime history, I have always been a sucker for a good sea story.

tinkerbelle_by_robert_manrySo last winter, as I whittled away at a 1:16 scale model of a New Bedford whaling boat, I found myself in a maritime history kind of mood, feeling truly an armchair sailor, and without giving it much thought decided to pick up the first volume in O’Brian’s 20-volume, 6,900-page saga — Master and Commander —and read it during my morning and evening commutes across Boston harbor on a Kindle.

By the time I paid my book tax to Amazon for the third time I realized I was screwing myself with ebooks, as I would losing the opportunity to collect the full   set to share with my sons and fill out yet another bookshelf in the home library. So I went on eBay, poked around, and found a complete set of paperbacks and hardcovers for $60. With Amazon gouging me over $10 per electronic edition, I was ahead as soon as I hit the buy button. A heavy box arrived a week later from some used book dealer and I’ve been buried in it ever since.

For the past nine months I’ve been savoring the series and using it as a springboard to dive deeper into the history of the Royal Navy, the War of 1812, the Enlightenment’s blossoming of the Royal Society as naturalists and scientists devoured their discoveries  and explored the globe. Yes, like most I had associated a lot of the series with the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, but the experience was much more than any two hour film could hope to deliver (and I liked the movie a lot).

Like the critics who embraced the novels, I consider it a masterpiece of not just maritime literature or historical fiction, but one of the most ambitious and finely realized epic masterpieces of the English language. The depth of the language, the nautical nomenclature, the interweaving of actual historical events with the fictional characters and their personal backstories is nothing short of a masterpiece. While I whipped through the first volumes, I found myself slowing down, savoring the experience as winter turned to spring, reading a few pages on the train every morning and evening, index card marked with obscure vocabulary and nautical terms to look up later and add to my running O’Brian lexicon list. Then, these past few weeks, as the stack of books dwindled, I started to feel sad that it was all coming to an end; and last night it did. The twentieth volume — Blue at the Mizzen — ending sweetly with a piquant closure that leads me to believe the two familiar men – Captain Jack Aubrey and Doctor Stephen Maturin would evermore sail on.

Yes, there is a 21st book — it consists of the first 60 pages of the next book which O’Brian started at the age of 85 before his death in January 2017. I have it ready to go,  fascinated by the prospect of reading a master novelist’s handwritten first draft and corrected typescript, just as I was when I once handled a page of Conrad’s palimpsest for the Narcissus and saw how the master struck out redundant words and experimented until he found the magical bon mot.