Mount Chocorua

When I was a kid, I fell in love with the book “Look to the Mountain” about settlers in Middle New Hampshire. The Mountain in the title is Chocorua. This weekend I got to meet her in person; on May 3rd my son and I hiked up Mount Chororua.

This was my favorite New Hampshire hike thus far. Highlights include a River crossing, a Bald Eagle sighting, a fun boulder problem in a stellar setting, and 360 degree views of the White Mountains from the summit on clear day. The last was made the more special by picking out the previous hikes. I think my hiking partner is starting to get an appreciation for geology and geography.

The Peak of Chocorua as seen from the trail.
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Jury Duty

I spent the past six work days in a courthouse as a juror.  It was a civil case, involving a house repair after a burst pipe flooded it. Verdict went in at around 3 PM (Aug. 2) 

There is so much you don’t know on a jury. You can only consider the evidence placed before you…and sometimes you have to forget something you learned before the witness reacts to the word “Objection.”

It was a construction case, and, despite having grown up as the son (and sometimes employee) of a construction contractor, they chose me anyway. I don’t think it colored my reasoning anyway.

Based on this incomplete information, we had to award money to one or the other; doing nothing was, in effect, awarding money to the client who had not paid.

While I did not agree with the other eleven people on the jury about all of the outcomes (there were several charges both ways) I was very thankful to have all of them share the burden of making the decision. I can only imaging the burden carried by a judge in arbitration.

On the other hand, in arbitration, the judge can do research. We couldn’t. We had to even forget things we know about construction (like you postpone work on the outside to get the people back inside) if it was not presented as evidence.

I was very thankful to have my dad to talk this over with afterwards as he has fifty plus years in the construction industry. He clarified some of my assumptions (based on the incomplete information I gave him) and I think I can let go of my doubts. I can sleep soundly tonight knowing I did the best I could, and that, most likely, justice was served.

The number one thing I took away from this experience is, with anything involving contracting, or money in general, is to get everything in writing, communicate as clearly as possible. Aside from covering you for a future lawsuit, it might help prevent that lawsuit by keeping the other person on track. Run your business such that someone else could step in and take over from you, and know exactly what you were doing…or you can hand over what you want to a brand new contractor and they could take over. Obviously, that is a high bar to clear, but the better you do, the better for all involved.

The Wrestle Off

The members of the team had rolled out the resilite mats in the back gym. The air was barely heated, so they had been hard to the touch as the boys rolled them in three straight sheets. The kinetic energy of a pair of teenage boys transferred to the friction of the shoes applied a sheering force that would separate untaped mats. That was acceptable during a normal practice, when the mats would be shared by a half dozen pairs at once. During a real match they would be taped together, to prevent them from separating during the bouts. The tape was an expense that the cash strapped athletic department wouldn’t waste on a practice. But there was no risk of separation during the opening half of this practice. The mats were rimmed with spectators, the members of the team focused on the two participants in the center. During a normal practice, the mats might be rolled out with either side up. The lesser used side had five circles, laid out like the dots on a die showing 5.

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My Grandfather’s Flag

The Following post was written by my Mother.

My Grandfather's Flag

My Grandfather's Flag

To the best of my knowledge, my father was given the flag while he was still in the army. He was not discharged immediately after the war but spent many years in the reserves. I remember him packing to leave for Camp Drum, as it was called in those days. He was not called up for Korea, but I think he was still in then because I can remember him going to camp for two weeks every summer for several summers. I was too young to remember him going in Ohio, and we moved to Merrick in 1949. I would have been too young to remember many summers when Korea broke out in 1950.

I remember him saying that when the war ended in Europe, they were preparing to go to the Pacific. As they were about to depart, the war ended in Japan. He said they then sailed back to NY, instead, and upon entering NY Harbor, they all through their mess kits overboard.

He became active in some military organizations. In Merrick the more active group was the American Legion, vastly different from what it has become today, a drinking, non-tipping hangout. He was an officer in that post. I am not sure which group gave him the flag, the VFW or the Legion, or the government. I remember him marching in some parades in Merrick on Memorial Day and Veterans (Armistice) Day, and they were a big group. The VFW post was, I think, in Freeport.

He won several medals which we played with, broke, lost. We were children, and he didn’t mind.

He didn’t keep up with any of the men he served overseas with but did with some of his reserve buddies.

Although he is not buried with that rank, he had told us that he was Chief Master Sargeant. I don’t know what that rank actually is. Maybe it was honorary. The chevron on his arm had lots of stripes and something in the middle. I think he is buried as a First Sgt.

As you know, his name is engraved on the memorial at Silver Lake in Baldwin. His name is spelled wrong, two L’s instead of one.

Grandpa always flew the flag on holidays. I continue to fly his flag for him and for all the men and women who have served in defence of this country. That includes just about every male member of my family–except your father. I only fly his flag on special holidays like Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day.

Uncle Gene has the flag that was presented to me at his funeral. I gave it to Uncle Gene because, like his father, he served. I would have loved to give it to you, but I thought Gene really deserved it. I will give you this 48 star flag. It is older and signifies much more. And, of course, it was definitely before Alaska and Hawaii became states in 1959. So, for whatever the story, it really is Grandpa’s army flag. And he was proud of it.

16 Random Things About Me

1. The mechanism in the brain is that is supposed to disengage the mouth doesn’t always work with me. When I remember an embarrassing episode from earlier in my life, I often yell at my self about it, out loud, usually something like “Stop think so much!” or “Quit it.” I have Programming induced Turrette’s Syndrome.

2. I read incredibly fast. I started reading in kindergarten and have always devoured books. I was reading the full length Alexandre Dumas books in third grade.

3. I wore braces while wrestling in high school. My lips were routinely turned into chopped liver by them.

4. Music has been an incredibly strong force in my life. I was singing before I spoke. I started piano lessons in first grade (Thanks Mrs. Stephanski!). My great Uncle Ben started teaching me Saxophone in second grade. I sing out loud whenever I am in the car alone. I contemplated going to Berklee school of music. As a Junior and Senior at West Point I conducted the Jewish Chapel Choir.

5. I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance while in High School. No other book I’ve read has had more of an effect of how I interpret the world.

6. As a Plebe at West Point, I got into big trouble twice. The first time was because I had a sword for the medieval studies club in my locker in the trunk room. The second time was for drinking. My roommate had snuck a bottle of Jack Daniels into the Barracks. I had to shots, and threw them up.

7. When I was a three years old I made up a Superhero named “Strong Running Man”

8. I was really into Archery when I was in boy scouts. I had a recurve bow. My cousin and I were shooting arrows up into the air in New Hampshire. One got stuck in the trees, and fell to earth right in front of my father, missing him by a few feet. He broke the bow over his knees.

9. My first crush was when I was in nursery school. Her name was Elizabeth Lubin. I still don’t know how to spell her last name.

10. I compose music. I’ve written a few jazz and folk songs. I have written about 70% of the book for “The Princes Bride, the Musical.” It is an Operatta.

11. I spent my first two and a half years as a professional programmer doing Microsoft programming. My focus on Linux and Open Source programming comes from having been burnt by MS too many times.

12. When I was Lieutenant in the Army, I lived in a beach house on the North Shore of Hawaii. On certain days, when I was allowed to do the morning exercises (PT) on my own, I would often go snorkeling right behind my own house.

13. My favorite hobby is Rock Climbing. I have done more damage to my body by climbing with out doing injury prevention exercises than any other way. My favorite type of climbing is climbing cracks by jamming my hands and feet into the wall and camming them.

14. I was incredibly nearsighted as a kid. It killed my depth perception. It is one reason I never liked sports like Baseball or Basketball. I had LASIK about ten years ago, and my eyes have continued to get worse to the point that I need glasses full time again.

15. I have a ridiculous memory for quotes. I can watch a movie or TV show once and pick up a quote that I remember for years.

16. I grew up wandering in the woods. The thing I love most about being back on the East Coast (aside from being near to family) is the woods here. There is something about the deciduous forests and terrain gentle enough to let you walk just about anywhere while out in the woods that I find really recharging. I’ve recently taken up snowshoeing because I love being able to wander through the snow covered woods and walk anywhere.

Hometown

One facet of returning to Boston after half my life away is dealing with the demons of High School. Not just my demons but those of my friends from my home town. Things we didn’t talk about then are now part of the conversations. The emotional irritants from 1986 have been encapsulated in enough mother of pearl to be taken out and admired in the light. As technology increases the frequency of re-acquaintance, old names and faces trip old traps. The strong and confident find themselves in tears over a snub two decades passed. Anger long since packed away in the attic is extracted, unfolded, and ignites upon exposure to fresh air.

When we were expecting our son, my wife and I read many books. One phrase that stood out is ontology recapitulates phylogeny. In simpler language, an embryo passes through all the stages of evolution before it becomes a baby. All those previous steps are incorporated into the nascent human. But evolution didn’t stop with human infancy. Dr Karp suggests we should think of toddlers as cavemen not yet ready to comprehend full language. Is the teenager then still carrying around the same set of energy and impulses as we needed when we were in the trees? As adults, we have built on what we were as children and teens. We’ve incorporated it into our adult selves. Have we grown from our pains or just grown around them? Nietzsche promised us to grow stronger from a non fatal encounters, but was that may have just been the optimistic aspiration of a man in extreme pain.

Like Robert Frosts swinger of birches, I have gone away and come back. My arc described not just a removal from earth, although I have spent a good deal of time looking down at earth from high up on a cliff side, but also a removal from the society in which I first developed. I can’t claim to any great insights to any development but, maybe, my own. It is not that I have grown beyond who I was in 1989, but that I’ve gotten a sense of how that boy fits inside the man I am now.

Stoughton. Mention of the name of my home town now evokes a common response: Ikea. Yes, the great blue behemoth sits in the center of the woods that we dubbed Sasquatch Territory many years ago. The name came from the trees bent, like Frost’s Birches, from an ice storm, that an older brother in the neighborhood would rather have ascribe to the attentions of a descendant of some sibling branch of our phylogeny. The naming was inspired, no doubt, by the most popular of episode from the Six Million Dollar man. Those woods were our playground, our battle grounds, where we built dams and dug for old railroad spikes. The benefit of living with such great woods behind our houses came at the cost of being removed from the center of action, around the North Elementary School, where the tighter knit subdivisions lead to the forming of alliances that would play out on the school grounds and classrooms. Four of us from the edge of Stoughton had the combination of nurture and nature to succeed in Stoughton’s Academic environment. A Catholic, a Korean Buddhist, and a Unitarian, and me, the Jew, somehow survived and succeeded, at least academically.

Stoughton is proud of its blue-collar roots.  Drinking and smoking were normal part of teen culture, as was a moderate degree of drug use.  We lost a few kids to driving accidents, most notably for me one of my older sisters boyfriends.  There was social ostracism, taunting, bullying, and fights.  The latter were often started with our version of a thrown gauntlet, the phrase “meet you at the tracks”. We even have our own minstral, singing in much more evocative terms than I ever could.  My sister’s friend Lori Gerow grew up and married into the name Lori McKenna.  How a girl from a school that prized speed metal above all grew up to be a country/folk star is just the sort of irony that you might expect from a town that is caught on the edge of the Boston Metrosprawl:  not quite farm country anymore, but not quite the city.

There are many stories triggered by this reminiscence, but they don’t really address the matter at hand. My demons from this part of my life are domesticated beasts who now rarely ruin the carpet or chew my slippers. I faced them later in life, when they were the members of a larger pack that briefly overwhelmed me. That time brought deep introspection and a truce that has held.  Nec Stoughtonia Terrent. High School Ended for me in 1989. Between there and here is a long journey. But my connection with these friends, the commonality of experience ended then, too. After that, Stoughton was a place visited for a Week during Christmas or Summer in between Training and Education. After my folks sold their place on Larson Road, I didn’t have any excuse to go back, and lots of other demands on my vacation time. So to connect with people I knew back then, I refer to events of two decades hence. But what to do when the responses bring forth such vehemence? Stoughton wasn’t nearly the worst thing I’ve faced in my life. I can’t claim I would have chosen that as my upbringing, or that there are not major steps there I would have changed, but I don’t hate the place, not by any stretch.

One common theme though is a sense that we really didn’t know each other back then. Certainly the divide along gender lines was quite strict amongst us, the geeks. There might a be a strong friendships that crossed lines, but they were ones and twos. My friends were mostly guys. Girls in class were fearsome things, more likely to laugh at you then to respond kindly to an approach. My early relationships happened during transitions: summers, trips. Even crushes were reserved for girls outside my classes, girls who wouldn’t have seen the ass I made of myself by talking too much during a class I had prepared for too little. I don’t know if a 13 year old boy and girl can be just friends. Certainly it is a chemically unstable situation, too prone to slip on one side or the other into obsession or rejection. Some of the girls in the classes were caustic . Some unconscious action of mine would bring derision, a sneer of contempt and add another layer of shellac to my shell of isolation. It didn’t keep me from speaking up to the teacher, to challenging the pedagogy, but is kept my attention focused on the front of the classroom. Another girl from these days remain fixed in my mind with a perpetually startled expression, mortified of the least attention. An essay read aloud in English class would periodically cast a brief spotlight into the mind of one of these foreign entities.

There are a few things I got from Stoughton that I might not have if I had grown up elsewhere.  It was far enough from the city that there were still large tracts of woods.  Both houses I lived in backed up to stretches of woods large enough that I never fully explored them.  I loved the freedom and relative safety I had of wandering free in the woods, a freedom that my Brookline raised son will not be ableto enjoy without travel.  Stoughton was a small enough town that we knew, if not everyone, than the majority.  Rare is the member of my graduatin class whose name does not evoke some small memory.  I remember my teachers, knew the principals.  My folks and my friends parents were involved in town meeting and in social issues that affected our town.  If I was left behind by the organized sports collectives so popular amongst my peers in elementary school (Soccer, Baseball) the music department and High School Wrestling team made up for it.  The honors program challenged me enough to get me engavged, but was not so competative that it stifled anything other than the superstars.

Today Stoughton is more memory to me than reality.  I cheered to hear that we won the football game on Thaksgiving against tradition rival of Canton, but didn’t go to watch the game.  Few of the teachers that taught me are still employed in the system, far more have retired.  My friends no longer live there:  those that stayed in the area have migrated to surrounding towns, or, like me, have been drawn in to the city.  Periodic epsidoes involving Ikea aside, the greatest draw of Stoughton remains the staple of our diet from adolescence:  Town Spa Pizza.