An Illusion Called Time

The old one stands proud and beautiful in the moonlight. Such great beauty often hides deep secrets. Softly she rocks on the water, her bones groaning but still strong. The very bones are the timbers that rejected the British cannonballs in the war of 1812, defeating four of their best warships, the timbers on which 308 sailors lost their lives and gave their bones to mingle in Old Ironsides forever. The voices of those long gone have been heard to speak in whispers, and visions of a young cabin boy have been seen. Do souls still linger on the ship they loved and died for? Many say they still walk the planks of Old Ironsides, the USS Constitution. It is reported that some sailors refuse to descend into the lower decks at night, fearing that would send them hurling through time and space into her resting past—or is it resting?

While sailors may be reluctant, I have a group of friends that went running (pardon the expression) hell bent to investigate these bumps in the night and disembodied voices, the vision of the boy and the eerie knowledge that these souls were indeed still protecting their beloved ship. My friends are well known as S.P.I.R.I.T.S. of New England and are the only crew who have been allowed to spend the night on Old Ironsides.  While investigations of this type never contain absolute proof, I know this group well enough to believe they have probably experienced what the sailors who would rather stay above deck fear. You can check them out here http://spiritsofnewengland.org/

My friends believe that the souls they encountered were as curious about them as they were about the spirits. Curious about them, hmm, curious about them—it makes me wonder if there is truly overlapping time. Are these souls people just living in their own space and place in whatever great design there is? Could it be we are the spirits and don’t know it? Is our time being visited by those from some distant future or past world? Are they paranormal investigators, hundreds of years into tomorrow, trying to understand why there are voices from the year 2014? Are we the present, the past, the future, or all of these at once?

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells was instrumental in moving the concept of time travel to the forefront of the public imagination, but it is well known that Einstein, in his theory of relativity, sited that time travel was possible. Einstein said he wished he could ride a lightning bolt, and then he would move fast enough to travel through time. (What Albert planned to use as a saddle is unknown.)

Perhaps there are no so-called spirits, just different people living in different periods in the illusion of a man-made system of counting minutes, hours, and days called time.

I hope you will spend a little time on the shores of Rambling Harbor with me as we continue to explore spooky October.




Blood on the Moon: The Day of Darkness

May 19, 1780, was the Day of Darkness. On that day, the sun rose as usual in the town of Boston, Massachusetts.  A few dark clouds hung off to the west, which was not considered unusual as many storms move in from the west, but this morning seemed different.  The air had a different feel, and those dark clouds kept moving closer and closer. By 1 p.m. total darkness had spread from New York to Boston.

Roosters began crowing as if saying goodbye, and not good night, to the world. People feared the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were riding behind those clouds. In order to compensate for the darkness in the middle of the day, people lit lanterns, but instead of the usual glow, the lanterns gave off a greenish color.

Night was no different from daytime. There was no moon, and no stars were visible, but if you were still awake at 1 a.m. and looked out windows, you could see a blood-red moon rising. Soon stars would follow, and by the next morning, the sun was at its brightest best.

The Day of Darkness really did happen. According to Professor Samuel Williams of Harvard College, the darkness was seen at least as far north as Portland, Maine, and extended southward to New Jersey. For several days before that day, the sun appeared to be red in New England and the sky yellow.

What brought on this Day of Darkness? Was it an atmospheric phenomenon, or something stranger still? To this day, no theory fully explains the events of May 19, 1780.

The most recent Blood Moon was on October 7­-8, after I wrote this. Come ashore and find out if I’m still here, or if I’m now wandering the shores of Rambling Harbor with old Blunderbuss Billy, looking for sunken rum ships.



“Monster Mash”-ing in the Marsh

They are mashing in Rambling Harbor, that is,  doing the “Monster Mash,” which was the number 1 hit for Bobby "Boris" Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers in 1962. There are a lot of songs either about Halloween itself or the spooky dark side of life or not life, the ifs, and just maybes. It is even rumored that the ghost of old Blunderbuss Billy dances around in the moonlight. Most people have a spooky story or two, some passed down for many generations. My father use to tell a story of seeing a woman around dusk in an open field who after he walked by and turned back a few seconds later was no longer there, and there was nothing to hide behind. I have heard enough “ghost stories,” if you will, to start thinking yeah, just maybe, sure.

The people of Rambling Harbor are most likely descendants of prehistoric Paleo-Indians who lived in eastern North America at the end of the last Ice Age, some 15,000-30,000 years ago. A midden mound, which is a deposit containing shells, animal bones, and other refuse, has been found that indicates the site of a human settlement. Also fishing weirs, which are wooden fence-like structures built to catch fish, have been discovered in the city of Boston.  Much of Boston is landfill and Boylston Street is pretty much the center of the city and nowhere near water today, but a fish weir was found there.

Not far from where I call home, wedged between the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the foggy bogs in back where at night the coyotes play, owls hoot, and mourning doves cry, is a Native American burial ground. In fact there are several such sacred places around Rambling Harbor. Rambling Harbor was settled around 1630, and some of the original houses are still standing, no doubt inhabited by spirits. It’s easy to imagine ancient souls roaming along the shore at night, perhaps looking for the rum ship sunk by Blunderbuss Billy so long ago.

Here’s a quick quiz and pretty easy, I guess. Do you know what the number 1 scary song is? Get ready for this…. It’s “Thriller,” which hit number 4 on the Hot 100 in 1984 and is the most downloaded Halloween-themed song of all time with digital sales to-date of 3.4 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

I still think my all-time favorite is “Monster Mash,” which is so much fun for the tone deaf to sing. But the scariest song has to be "Dragula” by Rob Zombie, one of the spookiest musicians ever.  Look at the video. It is whacked, crazy, weird, and unsettling, and it is the number 10 most downloaded scary Halloween song of all time.

There are more shadowy thoughts on the shores of Rambling Harbor. Join me there, but watch out for my plant, Audrey 2.5. She’s ok as long as she’s not hungry. 



Psycho Spam

Remember the song Psycho”?  It was written by Leon Payne, an incredibly good songwriter who wrote many top hits for country singers. He was known as the blind country balladeer, partly because he was blind and partly because he was a country balladeer. The song was actually inspired by a particular incident.

In 1966, a man named Charles Whitman strangled his mother to death, stabbed his wife, and then headed to the top of the University of Texas library tower and opened fire on an unsuspecting crowd, using his Marine Corps sniper rifle, killing sixteen people. Whitman was gunned down by police.

Apparently Whitman complained for a long time about headaches and strange feelings, and an autopsy later revealed he had a brain tumor. On the day he purchased his rifle, Whitman also bought a can of Spam.

The version of “Psycho” that inspired Elvis Costello’s version was recorded by Jack Kittel, although George Jones (yes, that George Jones) and Eddie Noack both recorded it previously. In the remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho, the song was recorded by Teddy Thompson.

Now, about getting smaller (I have derailed again. I tend to do that, and some readers think I’ve gotten weird, if not psycho, as well. I ask them to assure the newbies that they may continue reading without losing any more grip on reality than they are willing to lose). I moved from a big place to a small place, and in that process I parted, sometimes happily, sometimes with tears, with things that have been held precious for generations from many childhoods.  Many things belonged to my wife Jennifer who got her wings on September 25, 2011. No one wanted the things she had held dear, and I did not have room for them. Some things were donated, but others, like an old clay pot, are now landfill and giving back to the earth. My possessions are fewer, my struggle for money is less important than breaking the shackles of dependence on material things, and my life is simpler.  In a world of belonging and longing, I have gotten smaller.  Getting smaller is not age-reliant, but it is one of the benefits of getting older, and I will say that getting smaller can make you feel bigger. Ridding yourself of Stuff is cathartic. When you tell that to someone attached to their stuff, they may indeed think you’re psycho.

Anyone paying attention to the Charles Whitman story would have quickly seen that someone buying both a gun and spam had issues, but isn't a lot of material stuff a little like spam? No one really likes it or knows what it is, but everyone has had it at one time or another.

So, what part did “Psycho” play in this piece?  Really, none. As I said, I derailed myself, but I’m sure it made things more interesting than 500 words on landfill, and there is nothing like adding a bit of information to my esoteric ramblings on life.

There’s more on Spam on the shores of Rambling Harbor.  I hope you’ll join me there.



Jack White, Kanye West, and Other Thoughts

Jack White is one of the more talented of the recent crop of rockers. The song “I’m Shakin’” takes one listen, and it’s stuck in your head (in a positive way). I’ve been shakin' for days through Rambling Harbor, looking a little strange, as difficult as it might be to look strange here. The video is a lot of fun. Check out the featured dancer in the video on YouTube, and if you’re in the mood for a mind minder, watch the video “Sixteen Saltines” or “Would You Fight for My Love.” Jack White’s videos are strange, to say the least, and there seems to be some element of Nick Cave running through his mind. Sometimes I find it disconcerting to relate to people like Nick Cave, his album Push the Sky Away, and his cover of Bob Dylan’s “Death Is Not the End.” There is an unsettling genius in people like Jack White and Nick Cave.

Recently I had to disagree with a statement made by Jack White. In an interview with Dan Rather on The Big Interview, he recalled once saying to Bob Dylan, “In a way, you guys had it so lucky in the sixties. All these recording techniques that had never been tried before, the Civil Rights movement was coming to a head, the Vietnam War…the whole world was changing…. There was so much to sing about. It was like shooting fish in a barrel."

Jack White was right about the recording techniques, but he was wrong about the artists and the people of the sixties. Artists wrote songs about the issues, political and social, of the sixties, and many people latched on and got involved to make things better, but it wasn’t any easier then than it is now. What is needed now is the spirit of the sixties: artists who are willing to say something about issues that matter, such as peace and equality, and people who are willing to lose the apathy, step outside their own comfort zones, and offer support, as we did in the sixties.

In New England recently we saw the power of protest and peaceful demonstrations as the workers of the Market Basket food chain went on strike even at the risk of losing their jobs, and they won.  McDonald’s employees are starting to fight peacefully for better money. Someone should write a song about these things. Write about what people are doing now and what needs to be done. “Blowing in the Wind” may have been inspired by the people, but the song kept the people believing. It starts with a whisper, Jack, help make it a roar.

There are more words on this, on football violence, and on Kanye West, who can’t make the crippled stand (so much for the Jesus thing, Kanye). Come join me on the shores of Rambling Harbor.


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