Islander's Blog

Archive for May, 2010

Goodman’s Gam

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

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This is it. Memorial Day isn’t the full-tilt rush into summer. That takes place in another month. Unless you’re entirely out of touch, the local scene has started moving at an ever faster pace. More bodies are on the sidewalks and vehicle traffic is up. From now until Labor Day, this pace will continue to build. Brace yourself.

It feels as if spring has been here for a couple of months. We have been beneficiaries of sunshine and fewer rainy days than our average April and May. Nantucketers deserve a good spring and summer season this time around. Last year was anything but wonderful. Well, perhaps July and August were, but isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be every summer?

One sign of spring are NRTA buses, which seem to be everywhere of late. I’m happy when one goes by, because it means a few less cars are clogging up our (now and soon to be more so) busy streets and roads. It’s unfortunate more people haven’t figured out what a pleasure it is to have an easy ride to town and not have to search for a parking spot. Then, eat dinner with a glass of wine (if you choose) and you’ll not have to worry about driving home with alcohol on your breath.

On that same subject, there seem to be fewer driving under the influence cases in the court report over the past few months. Maybe stiffer fines and penalties have helped people smarten up, or a slow economy has put a damper on alcohol abuse. Then again, bars and restaurants have been put on notice by our police department to stop serving inebriated customers, or else they could face legal consequences.

The report concerning Nantucket having an in-house Town Counsel piqued my interest. An immense flow of dollars from town coffers to Paul DeRensis and the firm he represents had to (eventually) draw significant attention from fiscal and political watchdogs. Every year when the sums we pay for legal advice are made public, many folks are shocked. I got over that, years ago.

I expect this fiscal fiasco by now. What the figures do show is that we have a litigious society, that’s more than willing to take on the town and its legal eagle. Sometimes, it appears that we have a sparrow, rather than a majestic bird of prey to defend us.

You can’t always please the Board of Selectmen and do the job of town counsel properly. Some of our present board members like yes-men. This BOS habit isn’t limited to the job of our town counsel. There are other department heads that kowtow to the BOS at most opportunities. The difference is that these top dogs aren’t raking in big bucks. Well, not to that extent.

There are plenty of places to have lunch on a beautiful, bright day. There’s no where more pleasant to enjoy an oversized sandwich on house baked bread than Something Natural. Sitting at a picnic table, under open skies is perfection. Yesterday, driving out to the west end to look at a job, I experienced a sudden pang of hunger. Pulling into the driveway, I was quickly ensconced with beauty between a couple slices of herb bread.

We have an intrepid group of folks (The Clean Team) who get together on Saturday mornings in warmer months and gather trash from the sides of our roads. This is volunteer work. The DPW picks up the many bags of refuse they pick up, so Jeff Willet and his people deserve a pat on the back as well as the volunteer civilians.

This weekend, The Clean Team will do a second morning of clean-up, in order to accommodate what’s sure to be a glut of discarded beverage containers, from the holiday weekend festivities. On Saturday morning at 8 a.m. they meet in front of the Grand Union and go out to pick up litter for an hour. This Sunday morning, there will be a reprise of the previous day’s work. The more helpers, the merrier and the cleaner we’ll be.

Now, the Celtics are worrying me. Up three games to none over Orlando, the men in green seemed invincible. As of last night, the margin was three to two and one has to wonder if they’re going to pull a “Bruins.”

The Boston Red Sox seem to be hitting their stride. Winning three games in a row, against a team (Tampa Bay) with the best record in baseball, has to make Sox fans a little giddy. Below are a couple of lines from this column, dated April 15 of this year.

“I’ve heard all the boo birds moaning about Big Papi’s lousy average. I’m not worried, yet.”

At present, my feelings were/are justified. Be well.

– Goodman’s Gam can be found weekly in this space

Goodman’s Gam

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

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I’ve been hearing people saying Town Meeting is outmoded and boring. The last part is true most of the time. Voters have to decide difficult issues to help make this island run smoothly. It isn’t supposed to be fun. It’s important work. I have had moments of excitement while sitting in the High School auditorium, though they have been few and far between.

This reminds me of being in school. If I had a good teacher each year, it made going to class a memorable experience. Town Meeting is no different. Most of the articles are neutral votes, or ones you lose. Every now and then, a great article goes your way. To me, that puts any losses in the rear- view mirror.

Is Town Meeting outmoded? I think not. Would you prefer a city council with a mayor? We already have a partial form of that with town administrator Libby Gibson and our Selectmen. From what I see and hear, not many people are wowed by what comes out of the Town Building on many Wednesday nights.

We need the oversight that Town Meeting gives us. How would you like to have appointed and elected officials doling out your money? Spending other people’s money is sure to result in a deficit, far too few services than we now have, or both. I want a say in where the budget (and other items) are headed. FinCom does a good job, but we need to have the final vote on their recommendations.

Finally, there’s the question of lowered attendance and special-interest groups that leave once a vote is taken on a particular article. Could somebody tell me how that is any different than citizens voting at the polls? Rarely do we see a majority of voters casting ballots, unless there’s a hotly-contested election at stake. If you think special-interest groups rule Town Meeting, look at national political races. Things have, and always will be, this way.

Town Meeting does work. Voters make the difference. The fewer people that show up, the more my vote is worth. I’d prefer mine be diluted, but if voters fail to attend, I’ll still be there. Attend the meeting and you will be part of the solution.

Last week, a single member of the School Committee got it right and didn’t vote to reward outgoing Superintendant Robert Pellicone with a very golden parachute. He held them hostage by saying he was going to leave the job if he could find a better offer, forcing the committee to find a replacement. Rather than letting him go Scott free, I’d have called his bluff, and have had him sit at a desk doing nothing for a year.

About a month back, I was going to rescind some of my old comments about the roundabout. As time has gone by, the traffic circle has proved less bothersome than I originally thought. Now that winter is done and traffic has picked up in volume, my former regrets have resurfaced. The main problem comes from people that are unsure as they approach the entrances. For some reason, the Milestone Rotary doesn’t have as many of those scared drivers and things move more smoothly.

There are several busy spots on-island where ducks cross the road (no chicken jokes please). I have watched vehicles stop for our feathered jaywalkers on many occasions. In one way it shows how well Nantucketers love animals. Then again, I’ve never seen drivers slow down for a seagull on the tarmac. Rabbits are a judgment call. I like to think hitting Hoppy is a free dinner for crows and hawks. Rabbits are suicidal around roads when they’re mating in springtime.

If anyone on-island believes that green energy generated from windmills located in Nantucket Sound is only going to cost an extra $1.60 a month on your monthly bill, you must also believe there’s a tunnel to Hyannis. The estimates being handed out are as realistic as the ones we were hearing from Wasteful Options at one time.

At last week’s Board of Selectmen’s hearing, some concerned citizens brought up ongoing problems with partiers associated with the Figawi Race. I haven’t ventured downtown after dark on Memorial Day weekend for better than a decade. If I want to deal with drunken jerks, I’ll join a college fraternity. Bumping into them as they weave around the docks and filter up Main Street is to be avoided.

I do believe that the Figawi folks aren’t the only problem partiers that weekend. People are over-celebrating for a three-day weekend on-island and have been for longer than the Figawi’s have been here. Some overzealous partiers already live here. There aren’t many ways to proactively stop bad behavior. There is a way to put a halt to what happens after it takes place.

The police, both state and local forces, need to be out in force. Shut down the noisy parties outside the Main Street area and arrest or take into protective custody any miscreants wandering around in the vicinity of cobblestones. I have a question for the Figawi folks: Has any boat ever been disqualified from the race, because a crew member was taken in by the police?

The Bruins choked big time last week. Having two key players sidelined didn’t help their cause.
The Celtics are in the Eastern Conference finals, and have won their first two contests against Orlando. I’d love to see them get through this round. They’re an older team and this could be the last shot at another championship for several players.
– Goodman’s Gam appears weekly in this space

Goodman’s Gam

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

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Every spring we see flowers bloom anew. The same goes for downtown shops. I look to Main Street for a clue as to where things are, or aren’t, headed for each season. My principal means of finding what’s truly relevant are shops that have been there prior to my arrival on-island in 1971.

Beginning at the top of Main, there’s the Pacific National bank. While the building and name over the door remain the same, this isn’t your father’s bank. Today, the bank is part of Bank of America, a multinational corporation. At least the building looks like it belongs here and the people working there are locals.

Congdon and Coleman Insurance and Brock Insurance are in the same places I first spotted them. Happily, they still are. I remember wondering why a couple of businesses pedaling the same products would be side by side. As it turned out, I first began buying my car insurance from Al Pitkin and thus avoided the loyalty question.

Not so with a pharmacy. In that case, there wasn’t a choice. Congdon’s and Nantucket Pharmacy (side by side) were the only places available for prescriptions and other medicinal items. I chose the former and as we all know, Congdon’s Pharmacy is no more. Not that it mattered. I’ve always liked the fact that pharmacists at each shop were dating one another. Now, they’ve been married for a good many years, have kids and are both working together at Nantucket Pharmacy.

Next up is The Hub. Let’s hope we never lose this gem. At one time it was a slower-moving place, with boxes in the rear, where people would retrieve their specific newspapers and magazines. It was like a personal subscription service. Back then, the I&M came out Thursday afternoon. At present The Hub has changed somewhat, selling gift items, along with an abundant magazine and newspaper collection.

Down toward the bottom of this side is the Nobby Shop. I’m not much of a clothes horse and their work-clothes section is where my attention lies. The Nobby was redone years back and lost some of its funky feeling. That’s all right, the merchandise remains the same, as does Sam.

I’d like to return back up the street to the corner of Main and Orange, where one of my favorite shops resides. Mitchell’s Book Corner has gone through a few changes over the past four decades. When I first went in there, books and records were what I was seeking. The Havemeyers owned and ran the place. Terry Sylvia was the record guy.

After her parents passed on, their daughter, Mimi took over. She became a friend and my book mentor. More recently, the shop changed hands, and Mimi was soon lost to us. The shop is still an independent bookstore (a rarity in this day and age) is owned and run by Mary Jennings and her incredible staff.

The small, white, clapboard shop a few doors down is about to reopen as . . . well, I’m not sure what it’s going to be. What I do remember is what it was way back when: a barber shop. Captain Bob Francis was the sultan of scissors in there, aka Cue Ball. Some of us remember where his nickname originated.

What is now the Even Keel, was the Sweet Shop a ways back. Having a nice spot to sit down and have a bite to eat is an important thing to have in that space. Lunch on the patio in midsummer is something I don’t get to enjoy often enough.

From there on down to the Club Car, everything is new (relatively). The Club Car is much the same as it was, but the food is a bit better these days. When I first came here, I was immediately taken by a bar in an old railroad car. My feelings haven’t changed.

Some observations come to mind. I understand some things from the old Main Street are missing. While they are missed, some had to go the way of dinosaurs. Charley’s Market was a nice place and it made sense at the time. There were more people residing in the core district then, plus parking was available. Now, not so many people live downtown and others wouldn’t buy groceries on Main Street if they weren’t able to find a space to park.

I miss the Sandpiper, the Emporium and most of all Buttner’s. On the other hand, I’m very happy to see Nantucket Looms is back on Main Street. We need as much good taste and class as possible to showcase our downtown.
– Goodman’s Gam appears weekly in this space.

Goodman’s Gam

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Our national news is following the oil that’s spreading out along the Gulf of Mexico and is beginning to impact the mainland coast. Incidents such as this remind me of the Argo Merchant oil spill. We suffered little compared to what is about to take place along Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and possibly as far east as the Florida panhandle.

The Argo Merchant spilled a fraction of what is happening now in the Gulf. Some of you may remember the sight of seabirds covered with oil and tar. Many were beyond recovery. I first saw what appeared to be a small seal (at the time an unusual sight) sliding off the beach and into the water out by Great Point. A moment later, when it surfaced, a friend and I realized it was an oil-soaked gannet.

We tried to catch it for nearly an hour and finally had to leave it to a certain death. I cannot begin to imagine the size and scope of what this petroleum-based disaster will do to a system of fragile saltmarshes. Safety measures might have prevented this. Let’s hope the oil tankers plying our waters are up to snuff. I never want to see another tar-covered bird on one of our beaches.

I’ve enjoyed watching the “mining” operation when visiting the dump (aka sanitary landfill) lately. There are several pieces of heavy construction equipment perched up on Mount Trashmore, digging up our old garbage. Observing the process from a distance, the workmen look like ants alongside the dump trucks.

The entire scene reminds me of pictures taken in Italian marble quarries. There are a couple of differences, though they’re about scale and form. Quarries are indentations in the earth and here it’s a pimple out at the west end. Our version is small and becoming more so, due to the work on the hill.

These days, talking to people often involves comments about how beautiful our spring weather has been. The fact that the word spring is involved is, of itself, unusual. Spring on Nantucket is normally non-existent, until mid-May, if at all. We’re fortunate to have had a month of relatively warm, dry days. The wind never sleeps and we could easily encounter cloudbursts in the future. Whatever happens in May, the island, and its residents, are ahead of the game.

Daffodils are beginning to slump and dry up, as their run is close to an end. Now, later-blooming plants and trees are making a move. Gardeners are out in force. One thing making me happy is how well most of my herbs survived the past winter. Sage, oregano, thyme and chives are flourishing in my garden. Tarragon bit the proverbial dust. Luckily, the deer have no interest in the remaining plants, as the netting fell down months ago.

When I heard of the passing of Gilles Bridier, it made me sad. Even though Gilles had been ailing for over two years, he was around and vibrant. I first got to know him, in the early 1970s, when a group of us used to play soccer out by Ralph Marble’s track. Gilles was (by far) the most talented player on the pitch. So good, that he often played while smoking a Gauloises, yet never making a wrong move. He was funny, smart and a truly sweet man.

The Bruins are now into the second round of the NHL playoffs and are looking good. The Celtics are in the NBA playoffs and looking so-so, and the Red Sox . . . well they look great some days and horrible others.
– Goodman’s Gam appears weekly in this space and regularly in The Inquirer and Mirror.