Baby Boomers '52

Born a third the way into the 18-year Boom

we 1952-ers travel just ahead of the crest of the wave . . .

. . . we're the froth.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pre-Election Consumption

It's getting harder to to de-personalize enough to blog for pre-election consumption. Former colleagues suggested this would happen.

Let's be clear here. My husband is the president of the local governing board -- a five-member county commission in St. Mary's County, Maryland. His first term wraps up the end of this year. He's running for re-election.

My former employer, The Enterprise newspaper, made clear a few years ago that his elected office is intimately connected to my health insurance coverage -- coverage that for nearly 20 years I carried via The Enterprise newspaper. Let that stand as my conflict of interest disclosure.

The point is, I want him re-elected, so I refrain. Still, I keep watching state and local politics play out, I'd like to make a couple suggestions that federal office holder are welcome to take as well.

If office holders could just take votes I think government might move a bit more efficiently. Just vote. Stop delaying. And while you're at it, talk less. Quite a bit less. Actually I'm not all that terribly interested in why you decided to vote a particular way. I'm just interested in the vote.

And quit blaming other people and other governments or agencies for what's going wrong. Figure out how to fix what you can on your watch. Even just make some suggestions. Or go asking for fixes. Just quit talking about it or worse waste your time fixing blame on someone else.

Here's the thing: You have all been elected as conduits, not as the brain trust of the civilization. Your job, which you clearly wanted -- you ran for it, begged for it, grovel for it every day you're in it -- is to vote on how specific things are to run. You're the deciders.

I vote based on your votes. All of your talking isn't likely to alter that fundamental. It may be that I vote as a bloc but even so, the rhetoric I adhere to is based upon your vote.

All of this talking, this vitriol, this backstabbing and finger pointing -- such a stall. Office holders perhaps believe that if they take no votes, voters will never cast one against them. Or maybe they believe they are the brain trust of the civilization. Power, even the tiniest crumbs of it, can warp reality. Even the best of you, you're the conduit. The system will roll on without you in large part just as it rolled on before you and while you were in place.

It's the system. And that is what you've been elected -- as a conduit -- to keep rolling. So vote, that's the required activity. Vote as soon as you're informed on each piece of each decision just as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

Stalling the vote is just pissing me off. All of the talking is really annoying me too. And by and large you're all starting to look silly.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


     It’s more than a quarter century now I’ve watched and written about this dwindling handful of watermen parading themselves and their vanishing culture, resignedly and relentlessly before governing councils, scientists and their incoming neighbors of far deeper draft boats.
     “Indeed by God!” and “Christ may kill me,” they’ll sing, their lilting vernaculars lifting even their cursing to Shakespearian levels.
     I have seen them fall to their knees their clenched hands raised in mock prayer.
     Science, bureaucracy, progress and diplomacy fail to inspire in the face of a man resembling a Paul Bunyan icon with broken blood vessel cheeks crying and raising his calloused, stained and torn hands to the sky, “’Tis thee ways of my daddy and his daddy and his daddy as weil.”
     I have seen them sprawl across podiums, sweep chairs aside row by row upon their approach. I scratched out quote after quote of their increasingly irrational pleas for reason.
     They make for incredible copy. They say ludicrous things. They say uncanny things. They know things. Things about natural order and secrets about nature itself, like where a spring of freshwater bubbles out of the bottom of the Potomac River. Really. It is as David Sayre said, a mason jar could catch a fresh drink midst crabbing if you timed it right.
     They can make electricity from gasoline engines and from batteries. They can put food in their families’ bellies. Most can cook the meat, fish and fowl they bring home. Most can cook it well.
     They are dinosaurs. But they are not reptilian in thought. Even those not particularly clever are savvy. Most of them, by the time I started taking notes, knew one another or knew of one another, or of a cousin, brother. There weren’t all that many left, even then.
     Jackie Russell stood out among the pirates. For pirates they were and they remain an uncooperative lot, distrusting, clannish, unforgiving and un-forgetting.
     “Quick, get that basket in the cabin,” Jackie hissed at me the day he first took me trotlining. “In the cabin,” he hissed again and kicked the basket forward. Its lid bulged, the basket packed so full of jimmy crabs. Tossing a basket lid on a partial basket of females he jerked his head to indicate I should lift it onto the full jimmy basket now secured in the cabin. When I did he shut the door with his foot.
     All this time he’s speeding toward another boat, the broad smile on his face never faltering despite his abrupt and impolite commands to me.
     “Latch the door,”’ he said to me, “ and don’t say anything about them,” he added before coming alongside the other man, who, as I thought to be the point, cased me up and down. I smiled. Took his photo. Wrote his name down. Jackie puffed up his chest.
     “Got a good run over at Tarkhill,” Jackie said, and shook his head toward the single partially filled basket in the boat and the one full basket toward the stern. “How’re you doin’?”
     “Comin’ back from Windmill Point,” said the other man, shrugged over at a pitifully small catch and they pushed off from one another and went along.
     “That can’t be enough for him to keep crabbing?” I asked.
     “Hell, he had five baskets in his cabin. I’d like to know where he’s been working.”
     “Windmill Point,” I offered, just as puffed up as he’d been.
     "He hasn’t been near Windmill Point all day. Sonny’s workin’ over there and I just talked to him.”
      I met Jackie Russell as he turned 40 looking a decade younger. He dressed like Marlon Brando on the waterfront, only dirtier. Fish guts, dried paint, sweat, the smell of crab crap or oyster mud, depending upon the season. Like a mechanic, his hands never come clean.
     He will grab your shoulder, open wide his eyes and poke their icy blue gaze into your face. He can grin hugely or purse his lips tight when he tells you something in a high pitched laugh or in a hissing growl. Regardless, whichever voice, whatever the tale, you believe him. You believe him with all your heart.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I Wanted To Like Jim Schroeder

I had lost interest in Jim Schroeder as the Political Spouse I wanted to sit by well before he started in on how Pat helped him get a job through Hillary Clinton's staff which was different than helping him get the job. That would be Pat, as in the former congresswoman from Denver that gave James Schroeder the credentials to publish Confessions of a Political Spouse.

Early on in the book I suspected Jim and I shared few if any confessions. He served at higher rank. He was national. The way that works is, the farther away the elected office is from its constituents, the higher the rank of the politician. I'm married local.

His feminist credentials were a bit cloying as well. I regret that about myself. It's sexist, right? To distrust a male spouting feminism. I struggle with guilt about this. Jim Schroeder did confess to male chauvinistic behavior in high school when he "dated his fair share of bimbos." He itemized a couple. He used the word "bimbo." That made him seem a bit more local to me, actually.

Then came this tender confession "that I never seemed to solve: cleaning up and dressing up the kids when Pat was unavailable." He clucks on about a photo of the Schroeders at Christmas with President and Mrs. Carter with the children looking "like urchins from a Dickens's novel."

Come on. This is an international lawyer who, presumably, is capable of dressing himself. He can't figure out how to locate appropriate clothing for his children to meet the president --- and he gets a pass on this?

Dang. It's not rank at all. It's right back to gender. No politicial wife would get a pass on urchin-looking children at a presidential greet and flash. Michelle Obama would not get a pass for that.

Then just when I'd about given up and turned the Kindle back to The Tipping Point Jim does come up with a teeny bit of tattling. (Why did he think I downloaded?) Jim dropped the dime on Bob Dole's failure to actively support Elizabeth Dole's stab at the Republican nomination. That would have been fun to flesh out at one of those long-winded affairs where the spouses are otherwise disposed and there's too long of a line at the bar to get another unobtrusively.  That's the kind of story I want during those dinners where I usually can only say "Oh," a lot and, "My."

But then Pat's husband went and ruined it by praising Bill Clinton as "a terrific asset in [Hillary Clinton's] historic campaign." Puke. I love Hillary Clinton. I loved her as a political spouse. I loved Bill Clinton. Would have voted for him a third time if given a chance. But who are these husbands kidding? Bill was a millstone around his wife's neck from start to go.

So I was already puking before the (spoiler alert) Follow the Golden Rule ending. Turns out this memoir is a cautionary tale of dual career families when the wife holds the primary career. A small market you would think, but in a funny little chapter near this golden rule ending, Schroeder finally slips in a little bit of tongue. He introduces Charles Horner.

Horner founded the nebulous Dennis Thatcher Society for husbands who remain obscure behind their wives success. Charles Horner knighted Jim Schroeder into the society when called by a Washington Post reporter who had heard of what may or may not have been pure whimsy at that point in time -- this is never made explicit by Schroeder.

Ultimately Horner and Schroeder met and even a few times convened with appropriate members who could meet their rules which included always meeting at a club where they could sign the bill off to one of their wives. Their slogan was, "yes, dear."

And, "The element of obscurity was crucial," Schroeder wrote, "As Horner once observed, 'Bob Dole couldn't possibly be a member.'"

Now that's the kind of stuff I'm talking about. You come on over to my table, Mr. Horner, sit down right here by me.

Nice Walk

     St. George Island dangles like a crescent wrench off a peninsula of St. Mary’s County into the mouth of the Potomac River. In 1985 it came to be that I landed from afar and firmly planted one foot here. It was then a small fishing village. By 2000 I still had one foot out but the fishing village was gone.

Spring 2010  I have walked St. George Island for more than 20 years. It is March now, so the osprey will soon be back including the pair on the low nest at the crook in the road – I have an old essay about that nest and will try to find it for my next post. My walks include two mismatched dogs now so my interactions with the birds are quite different than when those essays were fresh.
     Passing me and my dogs were two well behaved Scotties, unleashed and at the side of the new weekend couple. I realize with a tinge of embarrassment that by “new couple” I mean they bought a house on the island less than a decade ago. It is surely pretentious to flounce my two decades over their one or that I married local. (My girlfriend's brother said he'd heard I'd "gone local" when at that time I was merely dating local. Clearly nothing to flounce.)
     The new couple is down from the city for a weekend in the country. My dogs are on their retractable leashes and acting like dogs which made their dogs act a little bit more like dogs but all was fine and we passed the time as neighbors do while their dogs sniff.
     He said, “There are really a lot of cars.”
     I said, “Yes. Particularly on the weekends.”
    And then they walked on to our place at the end of the road where our two cars and one truck park. I walk up past their house where their three cars were parked.
     Nice walk.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Albert Poe

Albert Poe knew best where to lay his traps on St. George Island for meat and skins. He knew where the crabs were in the summer and oysters in the winter. He knew when and where he could dig a mess of piss clams, if anyone should want them.
He knew when the fish were in and where they would school. He saw the first osprey arrive every year and the first martin. He knew the day their young ones flew and the day they left.
He knew when it would rain to harm a day’s work and when it would only hinder.
He read the newspaper aloud in the island’s store. He explained to his neighbors what came above their scrawled legal signatures.
He died in the state mental institute. Vitamin deficiencies, his daughter said with a shrug.
A framed, black and white photograph of Albert Poe, skinning something spread across newspaper upon a kitchen table, sits on my husband’s dresser. He is an older man in the photograph. Not too old. He is smiling a small, nice smile. He looks nice.
His daughter called him Daddy to her last breath. Her youngest son is his embodiment. So goes the talk. So grows the legend.

Jackie Russell
Legends were easily made on the Chesapeake Bay, filled, as it was, with lone fishermen upon emptying seas. Watermen are the last true hunters of the continent. Those few remaining were sons of women who in the 1960s still ordered chicks through the Sears & Roebuck Catalogue to hatch the egg money that ran their households between seasons.
When their mothers were girls, at least on the Chesapeake’s islands, laundry was carried by boat to the nearest mainland high enough above sea level for hand-dug wells to reach freshwater.
In the early 1980s Chesapeake Bay watermen still made plentiful livings from a diminishing wilderness. Cash bulged in their pockets. They were weathered, muscled and independent. If they’d kept up their dental work they made for attractive legends. They still held unquestioned dominion over the water and the shore. They were wily but direct and somehow trustworthy despite the air of piracy that clung a bit to them all.
Their sudden standing in a legislative hearing, their rolling stride up a center aisle quieted the room. One alone could fill a bar with the nearly sexual smell of oily fish and ammonia.
Jackie Russell was the living embodiment of it all. He claims an island lineage from the English no-goods and stow-a-ways traveling beneath the decks of the Catholics who in the early 1600s sailed to the Calvert’s Merrye Lande of tolerance. He makes the claim, and plenty of others, with still a piece of an accent of that long-ago England.
It was mightily picturesque in the waning of 1983 to stumble upon a living legend. It was, in fact, irresistible. And it has dominated everything since.
“I’ve never met a man so popular,” a client gushed 20 years later, trying to charm me into a better cruising rate. “For all the places I’ve traveled and people I’ve known, I tell you, I’ve never met anyone, not anyone, there’s just no one more popular.”
“Yeah,” I tell him, “I know.”

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Mandatory Unemployment Workshop

Unemployment insurance recipients in Maryland must attend a workshop (put on by another branch of state government) regarding job seeking skills and coping with the stress of unemployment.
It used to be a two-day workshop but was halved as the numbers of unemployed grew, Maryland instituted a hiring free and then began furloughs of the remaining employees.

I hope the workshops aren’t phased out entirely. Call me a Baby Boomer but I love workshops. They appeal to me as a quick fix like magazine quizzes: What type of man wants the real you? Can you wear black? Are you a Paul girl or a John girl?

Set before our dozen seats were the ubiquitous folders and blank name badges. The first page in the folder was a scrambled set of encouraging aphorisms titled, “101 Stress Relievers.” The page was blanketed with these hundred sayings spewed about in dozens of fonts and sizes, some reading across and others up and down. The workshop leader had been told the inanity of the layout was stress producing.

“Talk to yourself,” extolled one piece of advice further suggesting two phrases, “I can do a great job.” and “I can stay calm under pressure.” Another prodded, “Write down your fears. Write down your dreams. Write your congressman.”

And that was that for the stress management portion of the day. It seemed sufficient. Short of passing out Valium, how much stress reduction is actually going to be accomplished in six hours minus one hour for lunch and two fifteen minute breaks?

The rest of the time was spent shaping us into attractive new hires. We needed different things. All we had in common was that we’d worked on-the-books (meaning we’d paid into our unemployment insurance funds) and had job histories. No small feat as it turns out.

Nine of us were young – I’m saying nobody closing in on 40 any time soon. Three of the young men – one black, two white – were laid off from the construction industry. Six more young people – two white women, two black men and one white man – came from the service sector from jobs in food service, educational services, retail and automobile repair. And three older workers (let’s say 45- to 60 years old) consisted of a white man out of work after two decades in menial non-union retail labor and two white women – one with top notch administrative and para-medic skills and me, refugee from a dinosaur industry.

The workshop leader was among us oldsters and was spot-on with her assessments of each of us. She rallied with the spirit of a wise if slightly tired scout mother. But it's got to be a tough job, trying to arm a disparate people with the tools to battle increasingly bad odds. There's the economy, of course. But that allows for everything else to escalate, she tells us. And she has touched at a piece of each of us by now, so we believe her. Discrimination is alive and well, prepare for it, she says. There are hundreds and in many cases thousands of applicants for a single job, be the best candidate and know someone on the inside. You will take an income cut, the older you are, the bigger the cut.

And that specific information that gets through, it is just damn terrifying, such as: Cut 25 years off your resume.

That's a quarter-century.

But she gave good workshop. Here's some of  my specialized good news: Desktop Publishing is one of the projected “future careers.”  Old white women are, as always, encouraged to return to school to update their skills or open a small business.

I think I see a future career in this interplay. All I need now is to get one of my daughters to pose for my honed, on-line resume photo.