Islander's Blog

Archive for October, 2008

Season on the Brink

Friday, October 10th, 2008

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(Joshua Butler is a Nantucket High School senior and member of the varsity football and basketball teams. He hopes to play basketball in college and pursue a sports management career).

Nantucket Whaler football seems to be falling apart and getting smaller year after year. From my personal experience playing varsity, I feel that the season of 2006 is the closest we will ever come to making it to the Super Bowl for a while. The Whalers finished 7-3. Their record may sound good but there was tough love between the coaches and the players throughout the entire season.

In 2007 the Whalers finished the season 3-6, resulting in the need for some new blood on the coaching staff.

There are no words that could be used to describe this season (2008 has started off 0-3) because the Whalers have yet to unite and become one as a team and find the love again. But in these past few games the Whalers seem to be getting better each time they play, and people need to remember they haven’t started their league games yet.

The 2008 roster shows that the Whalers only have 19 players, with only seven seniors. To most kids on the team, football isn’t fun anymore, because with their small numbers, they give their all while knowing they are going to fail going into the game and in the end end up doing so.

I am a senior on the football team. I have been playing varsity football for three years while being coached by my father Elvis, Beau Almodobar and Vito Capizzo, and to me, football used to be fun when you would get chosen to play varsity on account of your skill level, and now it’s because you don’t have a choice. From talking to some of the other guys on the team, they feel the same way that I do.

The Whalers just need to remember that their league games have not started yet and the games they have already played don’t matter and they just need to stay focused if they want to survive. So basically, if the Whalers don’t come together, I think it will be the end of the football program as we know it.

– Joshua Butler

Note: The Whalers will take on Diman tonight at 5 p.m. on the Nantucket High School football field. The game will be dedicated to Nantucketer Joe Viera, who died earlier this week. His son Jamie will play in his father’s honor.

Small Town Moments

Monday, October 6th, 2008

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My friend Frank was upset. It seems that a tightening of the drunk-driving laws in Ireland, coupled with a smoking ban in public places, is tearing at the fabric of society back in his home county.

In a place like Dublin, of course, you can take a cab. But in the rural west of Ireland that is not always an option. And so more and more people are simply drinking at home, which is definitely not the point. The point is for life to happen in a pub, or at least that part of life that includes people unwinding and spending a few moments together.

Frank was worried that home would never again be the same.

We were at the bar in The Chicken Box when he told me the sad story of the demise of Irish pub life, so I had no such worries.

The first steps toward community often seem meaningless. One of those small waves, sometimes just lifting a single finger off your steering wheel in the style of former fire chief and now cab driver Bruce Watts, or a few random words about sports, or whatever story is rambling around town, but always something small.

Frank is right. Once we lose those small moments, things really are never the same.

It turns out that there is a very real need for seemingly meaningless chit-chat. There is a very real need to rub shoulders with our neighbors. Nina Murray, as well educated as they come, once compared the need for people to socialize in places like bars and coffee shops, or some version of chatting across the fence with their neighbors, to monkeys picking fleas off each other. She meant it in a good way, as a necessary thing. I think.

But I got her point. The urge for contact with our neighbors is hard-wired into us all.

That is why they make places like The Chicken Box. On a recent Sunday afternoon the bar was filled with talk of football games. I usually just read the Sunday New York Times, over a pint or two of Guinness, sometimes tossing my two cents into the football chat, sometimes listening out of one ear. There are plenty of televisions, all showing a different game. Eventually, there might be steamed hotdogs.

But it is not really the football or the hotdogs that makes the place work. I have found, after much study, that sports in bars simply gives strangers something to talk about. What makes the place work is something almost indefinable. You know it when you walk in the door.

A few weeks ago there was a true moment of community, one that took place not in a bar but in a church. The occasion, unfortunately, was a funeral. I have attended too many funerals lately, both here and off-island, and come to the same sad and curious realization each time. Somehow we forget who we are until it is time to say goodbye.

This time we were gathered to say goodbye to a long-time school guidance counselor. Her dedication to that job had connected her in one way or another to generations of islanders. During the service I stole a glance around and saw that I knew, at least to say hello to, almost everyone in the church. There were even high school kids, wearing their Whaler uniform shirts, out of respect for her husband, a long-time and well-respected coach.

It was sad and reassuring at the same time.

This week we took our grandchildren to the farmer’s market. It has been a low-key part of Saturday mornings, first in the parking lot behind the old Dreamland Theater, which lent downtown a nice urban feel. Now it is out at the New School.

It is just a few tables filled with produce, baked goods, jars of honey, homemade sweaters, pottery, that sort of thing. They sometimes have music, this week provided by the Sheptones, which include Steve Sheppard, Erik Wendelken and pals.

Sustainable Nantucket organizes the market. It is far from the only thing they do to reach out to the public, but it comes as close to a manifestation of their reason for being as anything else. The kids ran around and people put up with them. We chatted with some of the people behind the tables. We didn’t buy much. A scone. Some garlic. The last of the season’s tomatoes.

Like morning at the funeral and the afternoon at The Chicken Box, it was a reminder of what small-town life is supposed to be about. Sometimes we talk about the loss of small-town life and community so much, that we forget to simply live it.
– John Stanton

Rumors of the Season

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

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I was at the gym in the morning, trying to catch my breath, when the first reports began to trickle in. A lady waiting for a step aerobic class said she had no luck on the opening day of family scalloping. Out with her husband to check a few of their favorite places, she had found mostly seed, and small ones that had to be thrown back.

I overheard a guy saying the same thing as I was waiting in line for coffee, at Daily Breads later in the morning. Later in the afternoon someone told me that the snorkelers were having better luck, the good scallops just out of reach of where you could reach them with a push rake.

Along with the news of scallops comes random comments about water temperature and the odds of catching a striped bass. I stop being concerned with water temperature when it gets too cold for me to swim in. But even I have been known to toss into conversation the water temperature and striped bass theory, right next to my thoughts on the Sox pitching rotation. The wind direction theory seems a little esoteric to me.

Someone once said that every American thinks they can run a baseball team and a newspaper. On this island you can add scallops and striped bass. It is a comfortable feeling, especially in the face of the unending march of talking heads we see on television yammering about our free-falling economy. Baseball, scalloping, and fishing for stripers have certain easy-to-understand parameters. They actually have answers that we can all agree are the correct ones.

News of scallops reminded me of a day just after the start of baseball spring training. I was standing in line for coffee that day as well, listening to two guys in front of me going over the Red Sox roster. They argued about the pitching rotation. It was still cold outside, in some places the gray dredges of snow reminded me that no matter how much we talk about baseball, early March is still winter.

Sometimes the talk of things, the random moments when you chat about scalloping, or the Red Sox, is enough for me. On this island, the people doing the talking are not strangers exactly, most of us seem to vaguely know each other.

But I have had the same sort of conversations in cities. An old guy in a run -down bar in Time Square once swore to me he was Rocky Colavito’s cousin. I was visiting some friends and we had ducked into the place to catch the Red Sox on the television, who were playing the Yankees over in the Bronx. Talk had turned to Dwight Evans, and I finished my beer and made a general announcement that Evans could throw runners out at the plate like nobody else.

The old guy took exception. We argued. We talked about baseball. It was one of the best afternoons I have ever spent in New York. A face to face chat with a real person trumps anything on the Internet, including this blog.

The first day of family scalloping season was also the first day of the major league baseball playoffs. Vladimir Guerrero’s boneheaded base-running and a great heads-up throw by Kevin Youkilis gave the Red Sox a good start in the postseason. Guerrero, a right fielder who once had an arm that rivaled Evans and Colavito, has a great Cold War name that sounds half Russian and half Dominican.

Roger Angell once wrote about 1975 World Series, the one the Red Sox lost in seven games to the Reds. The story was called “Agincourt And After” and had two images I can still remember: People running out onto triple-decker porches in Dorchester or stopping their cars on empty New Hampshire roads to howl happily at the stars after Carlton Fisk’s famous home run won game six. And snow pouring though the television screens and radios from Maine to Cape Cod when the Reds took game seven.

Is it crazy to say I miss those days before the Sox finally won a World Series? Nobody would reference the Battle for Agnincourt in writing about the Red Sox these days. Now it is the marketing tool of Red Sox Nation. Now it seems like CEOs have taken my favorite seat along the third base line, and the only way to afford going to a game is to drive to Baltimore and catch the Sox and the O’s at Camden Yards.

Don’t get me wrong. I love fall baseball and being able to watch the Sox hold winter off for a few weeks longer. I was madly happy when they won their first World Series. I watched every pitch of that postseason with my wife and kids. The whole thing was great.

Last year I wandered down to the Atlantic Café to watch the Sox win the Series. There was hardly anyone there. I watched the first few innings with Patrick Fitzgerald, who spent 25 years as a cop in Limerick, Ireland. He tells a good story. I can’t remember what we talked about, but I am guessing it wasn’t baseball. We walked down to Cap’n Tobey’s to see if we could watch the last few innings with a crowd. A guy at the bar reminded me that I had coached his basketball team at the Boys Club, when he was a kid. He was no longer a kid. I walked back up Main Street to my truck, feeling very old.

An old friend of mine who grew up in Chicago called last week, and after the usual questions about wives, kids, and work, the talk turned to the Cubs. I warned him things will change if they are finally World Series champs. I told him that those changes won’t necessarily be good. He would have none of it. He is obsessed with seeing his team win the Series. I know the feeling.

The phone call put me in mind of the only time I have ever been to Wrigley Field. The previous season the Cubs had won the National League East, before losing in the playoffs. I stopped for a beer after the game at a place near the ballpark. It was mostly empty. Just the bartender, one old-timer nursing a shot, and me.

Just to have something to say I mentioned how well the Cubs had done the season before. “Kid,” he said to me, “I been rooting for the Cubs since before I left for World War II. Just because they finally won something does mean I’m going to have a heart attack over it.”

– John Stanton

On the Road with Geno TV

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

Everybody knows the van. People who have never for one moment watched the little cable station that Geno Geng runs, remember the two-tone yellow and white 1966 Dodge. This place is small enough in the off-season that people connect trucks or cars to their owners. If you borrow someone’s truck you will drive around all day with people who think you are someone else waving at you.

So everyone knew Geng’s van, even if they had never seen one of his “drive-by” interviews, where Geng gets somebody in the van and he drives around chatting with them, a camera mounted on the dashboard recording it all. Geng is the very definition of owner/operator. He shoots the commercials. He shoots and edits most of the shows, even most of the sports.

Not only that, but he owns and operates a second little cable station in Machias, Maine. GenoTV for Nantucket. DowneastTV for Maine. The best moments on either of the stations are found in the seemingly random segments where Geno goes someplace and puts the people he runs into on camera.

I once saw him walk into a market in Providence, Rhode Island, a place where Italian flags shared the front window with large hanging salamis and cheeses, and ask the guy behind the counter what kind of food they sold there. The guy just stared at him. But they ended up having an interesting conversation about what it was like growing up in that neighborhood.

In Maine he has interviewed very-small-time professional-wrestler wannabees, the families who live in a fishing village that seemed to exist in the 19th century, and a man who lost 200 pounds. That last interview took place in the man’s favorite diner, a place he frequented less in an effort to stay skinny. When I reached him on the phone today, he was in Maine, getting ready to go on an ultra-light flight and film it.

But I did not want to talk about Maine. I wanted to talk politics. Geng is heading to Ohio after Columbus Day weekend to bring his strange but fascinating brand of television to the presidential campaign of Barack Obama.

“I always sat on the sidelines and always only got excited in the last few weeks of a presidential campaign,” he said. “But I have been so excited about Obama. He has the right temperament, the right vitality, the intelligence. There is nothing I can find that I don’t like about him, and I can’t say that about any politician I ever voted for.”

The idea of the trip, however, is more of a way to delve into politics than it is about supporting a candidate. Geng said the idea would have made sense even if he were a John McCain supporter.
“It took me awhile to decide how to take it to an audience,” he said. “So I decided I would just show people the inner workings of a campaign. What it is like to be on the staff or be a volunteer, maybe what it is like to go out and knock on doors.”

A little while ago, Geng got himself a new van. The old one had already gone through three engine replacements and was feeling its age. The new one is big, you can stand up in it, so long as you are under six feet tall. It has been outfitted with enough equipment to make it a sort of rolling production office.

The new van will allow him to shoot segments, edit, and upload them to a server and download them to both television stations. The first thing he did, of course, was have it painted yellow and white, just like the old van. You can also catch some of the episodes on YouTube: just search for “genogeng.”

The first step of the trip will be just Geno and his huge French mastiff Bertha, driving in a rental car from Hyannis to Harrington, Indiana. His first interview subject is waiting for him there, the woman who owns the shop where his van was refitted.

“She lives in an overwhelmingly Republican town, in the middle of an overwhelmingly Republican county,” he said. “She has never voted for a Democrat, but this year she says she is voting for Obama. And she has her reasons.”

– John Stanton