Night Blues

NIGHT BLUES

My dad and I started going out for night blues when I was about twelve or thirteen. My mom packed us sandwiches and we’d stop at the liquor store for Slim Jims, ginger ale and beer. The boat left the dock from Atlantic City just after sunset. It was a party boat and our shipmates and crew were all men, mostly what my dad called ‘old salts’. There were older black gentlemen too, quietly leaning on the rails smoking Swisher Sweets, and rowdy young guys from South Philly getting loaded. I was the only kid.

You might get seasick if you stayed below while motoring out with the droning diesel fumes and a rising swell on the coal black sea. My dad called them rollers. We opted to stay out on deck and watched the crew prepare baitfish and chum to make a slick. With razor sharp fillet knives they sliced whole butterfish into chunks and tossed them into a motorized grinder, making a reddish oily pulp in a huge vat. I’m pretty sure my dad wanted to eat the chum himself. His mouth always watered around baitfish. He smoked a cigarette and sipped his can of beer while I watched schools of squid darting through the phosphors in the boat’s wake.

We’d watch the lights on shore slowly fade and disappear and the captain would cut the engine in the blackness. The fishermen prepared their lines in silence, baiting hooks with hunks of fresh bunker while the crew sprayed oily chum into a slick with long-handled ladles. All was silent save the ratcheting of reels and lapping of waves as the boat rocked and adjusted itself to the current, finding its drift. Sometimes you could see schools of bluefish flashing silver close to the surface, thumbs on reels waiting for the skipper’s signal to drop a line.

Then the baited hooks went down in a whir and the blues hit ferociously, almost immediately. We’d pull in one after the other, our arms like rubber by the end of a run. “Keep ‘er head up!”, my dad would shout. Bluefish in a feeding frenzy put up a tough fight and I prided myself on handling my own rod and landing my own fish. Soon the decks were covered with flopping blues, blood and fish scales. The night air turned cold and clear, our lungs filled with the salty sweetness of summertime Atlantic. I once hooked a very large bluefish that my dad entered into the boat’s pool. As we motored back to shore towards dawn the crew set up a scale on deck. My dad quietly slipped a six ounce lead sinker into my fish’s mouth and dropped it down the gullet. I didn’t agree with the idea but needed the money to buy a CB so went along. It didn’t matter, mine was still not the biggest fish on board.

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The Cosmic Rhyme of Fives

sea star

Alone among a mussel cluster

a sea star glows in stillness,

vermillion

like a smile

like sunshine while

the sea grass sways.

 

Today

I stand in cold tide pools

because that

is where my bare white

feet make sense, alone among

the cosmic rhyme

of fives.

 

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Within Within

 

Within Within

When I turn the radio on
I want to turn the radio on
again
I want to turn the radio on
within within
I want to turn the radio on
I want to find a frequency without
a frequency without
to tune to
too
I want to find
a frequency
without
a frequency
within

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Vernacular Scale

I realized on a recent trip to Virginia that what I still glean from experiencing the pre-industrial vernacular architecture of the Eastern Seaboard is a sense of appropriate scale. My definition of scale here incorporates relationships between people, between resources, and between the commerce, enterprise and production that connects them all.

Despite the obvious (and nefarious) social inequities comprising this sense of appropriate scale, is that it appears to be in balance with nature, self-sustaining, self-regulating, and thereby sustainable. Ironically, it is the very balance of relationships and resources that led eventually to a kind of prosperity, or surplus, that yielded conditions conducive to innovation, which became the undoing of said balance.

In many ways, I feel that the human psyche is still looking for the sense of scale exemplified by the basic tenets governing all pre-industrial vernacular architecture. This leads to misplaced nostalgia, or sentimentality, a romanticization of times past, and a cognitive dissonance with the present and future conditions. Given that this cycle appears to be a recurrent part of the human experience, I’ve tried through my work to develop an inner sense of scale that allows me to glean from the present and anticipate the future, using a deconstructed past as a template.

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My Bonfire Coat

bonfire coat

My Bonfire Coat dries by the fire, draped over a shovel handle

My Bonfire Coat is a herringbone Harris Tweed from the 1960’s. I found it at an AMVETS in Chicago in the early eighties and wore it everywhere for about the next decade when I moved from city to city to country to city. I built a house and a boat in this coat one very cold winter in upstate New York and cleared land and burned brush in Exeter, Rhode Island that spring. I met my wife while wearing this coat at the Aldrich Estate in Annandale-on-Hudson on October 1, 1988. I’ve kept the coat in my woodshop since we moved to California and mostly wear it on chilly mornings while I get a fire going in the woodstove. I also wear it for our annual bonfire, a seasonal ritual born of accumulated apple prunings, wood scraps and giant fallen ‘widow makers’ from the redwoods. The coat keeps me dry in a light rain while shielding the sparks and intense heat of a roaring fire. This year I noticed a disturbing cluster of moth holes and was tempted to throw the coat on the fire as it burned down. I think I’ll give it one more year.

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Makkeweks Final Inspection

makkeweks bronze

Earlier this week I met with the City of Oakland for the final inspection of our Makkeweks sculpture prior to installation. Installation is delayed until mid-2017 pending completion of Snow Park but the foundry completed the fabrication of the bronze castings and the sculpture’s interior, stainless steel armature in anticipation of temporarily storing the monster in their sculpture garden. The foundry treated the surface of the sculpture with chemicals to darken the bronze and accelerate its patina, which will continue to gain character with exposure to the elements over the next year.

 

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Pacem In Terris

dome2 Peace Dome, Interior View, schematic rendering by LandDesign

Earlier this summer Wowhaus collaborated with LandDesign to develop a proposal for a public sculpture competition commemorating the US Peace Corps in Washington, DC. We did not win the commission, but we loved working with LandDesign, and the project gave us a chance to prototype a model of collaboration, and to invent a replicable structure, the Peace Dome. Building on a stacked masonry block technology I developed for our Scuppernong Commons project, I designed a geodesic dome as the centerpiece for the site. The project had special significance for Ene and me; we were Peace Corps Volunteers together in Togo, West Africa in 1990-91. Here are a few images from our design process featuring the dome, whose base would have been stacked, cut stone, with a hand cast dome of earth/cement blocks. We called our proposal Pacem In Terris, and our original, brief project narrative follows below.

dome1

Peace Dome in situ, schematic rendering by LandDesign

dome3

Pacem In Terris, aerial view, schematic rendering by LandDesign

PACEM IN TERRIS (Peace on Earth)

Pacem In Terris reinterprets the universal form of the dome as a human scale symbol of peace, cooperation and interdependency. Each hand-cast masonry block in the dome incorporates the unique soil of a country served by the US Peace Corps.

The dome is raised on an open, circular colonnade over a circular stone terrace. The terrace pattern mirrors the masonry blocks overhead, indicating the country of origin of the corresponding block. A borderless map of the world is cast in bronze and inlaid into the center of the terrace. Three stacked stone benches alternate with three open spaces between the columns around the perimeter of the colonnade. Terraced, native grasses provide a serene backdrop.

The structure invites reflection on the common ground we share, inviting conversation and connection between strangers; it is also an iconic destination for prospective and returned Peace Corps Volunteers.