Back in 1978 I was 25 and in objective terms an utter failure. A dropout, a month shy of graduation, from the Cornell Graduate Business School. I had become suddenly afraid that I would become a CPA. And just as suddenly unemployable.
Inherited a job in my hometown from my sister, editor-in-chief of a Bicentennial publication called The Way It Used to Be, sponsored by the Salem County Historical Society.
Her tenure was almost exclusively about women. Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. Mine was different: What the hell am I doing here?
But in my usual way, I got lucky. She was editor during the 1776 celebrations, which were national, flag waving, and generic. Why she tried to drill down into ‘issues’ that concerned her, namely women. When I took over, we were on the cusp of Salem County’s REAL participation in the Revolution, a local militia defense against a multi-pronged British offensive on a key barrier to the agricultural resources of South Jersey.
it was called the Skirmish at Quinton’s Bridge. It happened. Big names were involved. Mad Anthony Wayne. John Graves Simcoe, colonel of the Queen’s Rangers. I was handed a manuscript by an elderly Woodstown dentist-historian who had written a pamphlet called “When War Came to Salem.” Review it or something was my instruction.
So I did. In the Salem newspaper, Today’s Sunbeam.
Then I got called into a meeting with the publisher of the Sunbeam and a man named Stony Harris. The publisher, An eminence grise named Thomas Bowen, who couldn’t have cared less about the daily content of his daily paper, said, “Stony thinks we might be able to do a Reenactment. What do you think?”
I knew OF Stony Harris. He was a legend. The founder of Cowtown Rodeo, the local cattleman who prided himself on traveling to cattle rancher conventions in Texas for the express purpose of reminding them that his family’s cattle brand was older than any in Texas. He wore a cool ivory cowboy hat and a string tie. His eyes were miss-nothing blue. He looked at me, friendly, casual, penetrating. “What do you think, son? Tom thinks we can do it.”
Everything after that was kind of a blur. I made a plan, an impossibly ambitious one. At every turn when resources were needed, Stony provided them. I was a general, arranging for Continental and British troops, instructing county works department employees on signs demarking the course of the skirmish in three locations, writing the promos for the event, and when it came time for the key event, the axing of the bridge over Alloways Creek in Quinton, Stony Harris had the bridge made in a single day. I got to watch like Napoleon on his log at Waterloo. Except disaster never came.
It all came off without a hitch.
And I can prove it happened.
I guess we didn’t hit the right date. My first promo under my own byline for the Skirmish at Quinton’s Bridge was published on September 11, 1978. Go figure.
It was a five part series in Tom Bowen’s paper.
Part Five was this.
The still missing middle was this:
Don’t be fooled. The conquest of Alloways Creek was for the Brits a phantom victory. While the Salem militia held up the Queen’s Rangers, Mad Anthony Wayne scooped out all the hay, food, and cattle in Cumberland and Atlantic counties. Which was a lot. Hallelujah.
Oh you millennials. Probably no way you get the lessons of this experience. I was a lackadaisical snob in my home of homes, where I had one grandmother in the D.A.R. and one in the Colonial Dames. Meant nothing to me till I got drafted into a re-experiencing of an authentic historical event. And had to work and organize and decide and see and hear and smell it. Command decisions about when to move, sweat, and gunfire and axe blows and genuine yelling, even in reenactment. Call it Project Management 101.
What you’ll probably never learn. Real responsibility is actually fun. I actually found green buckskins for the Queen’s Rangers. Try it. You’ll like it.
P.S. The Brits were thieves too. They stole a grandfather clock from Benjamin Holme in the 1778 raid, which was eventually recovered and is now on display at the Salem Historical Society.
Wouldn’t mention it, but I’m a Cohansey boy, meaning a Greenwich boy. I lived in the Benjamin Reeve house on Ye Greate Street. The house is unnaturally tall because Reeve was also a maker of grandfather clocks. We did it as good as they did, you know what I’m saying?
It’s in the blood, dude. My grandfather also made grandfather clocks. Want to talk about White Privilege, do you? Some things are earned, come hell or high water, both of which we have in Elsinboro.
See, libs? We really are Satanic. When the grandfather clock chimes twelve, you’re done.
Some history. I wrote Deerhound Diary to get away from it all. Then, when I couldn’t get away from it all, I went on to a blog called InstaPunk Rules. Over a thousand posts. But the lords of WordPress decided to shut me down. I can no longer post there. As soon as I log in, I am informed that there has been a system error and I can’t even see my past posts, let alone create a new one.
But I’m an old dog with an old bag of tricks. Deerhound Diary is still where I abandoned it. Raebert is seven now, a divine number in the scheme of things.
I will blog from here as if I had never left. Watch this space.
I’m three. Or so they told me when they gave me the hamburger last time from the white bag with the yellow legs on it. Which is supposed to make me dumb I guess. But my kind aren’t dumb except for the dumb ones. What we are is ancient instead. I have an old guy who thinks he’s the boss and a mommy who thinks she is too but I know my history whether they recognize it or not. I know every one who has lived in this place because I can smell them. All I need. There was one like me before and the boss and mommy thought I would be just like him.
I am but I’m not too and I know this because I am a sight hound and we are special because we can see mice running in the grass a hundred yards away and all the way through eyes into what bosses and mommies are thinking right now. Not all of us but me anyway. Why I worry about the boss because we have the same blood and there is sadness that runs through our heads the same way we run through fields.
The boss is sad because he used to run his mind through the plastic kibble he never ate but always chewed with his paws in front of the box of pictures he couldn’t take his eyes away from. He has become a sad boss and I have all I can do to take care of him. He needs to go to bed at the right time, which is seven lie downs after my dinner and out, but he never does. He watches the box of colors without his plastic kibble and he doesn’t run in his head the way he did.
His head only works like mine does in dreams. He sees things happening there and the things happening there are terrible. I know the best way out of those dreams is Cheezits and Cheetos. He has these but they don’t please him and I keep trying to make him see that I see what he sees and it is not so bad because there are Cheezits and Cheetos and that is enough.
Eyes are enough. My kind doesn’t need plastic kibble to speak. We just look what we want to say. What I am doing now and you hear what I look don’t you?
I am looking this thing because I want my boss to smile and he does not know how anymore. I am looking harder than I need to look because I need to find how to give him the look he needs to be better. I am seeing names of things he sees and I am working to run through them like he should. Like the worst out there is only one more deer to be run down.
So. I’m suddenly a retired blogger. The webmaster who was posting my work suddenly stopped. That’s okay, actually. I probably said what I had to say several times over. What’s not okay is the feeling that your fingers should still be lodged in the dike, preventing the imminent catastrophe.
It’s probably ego that’s holding you against the wall that is the failing dike. You don’t want to admit you never made a difference, ten fingers or none.
Ego fades with age. But habit holds time hostage. I’ve noticed the phenomenon that stars of long-lived TV series look the same year after year. Then, when the show is cancelled and they appear on a new series, they’re suddenly much older. Less makeup, fewer kind cameras? Maybe they just quit clenching their youth.
How I feel. I fought so hard for so long, maintained the same grim convictions at all costs, and now, cancelled, I feel, well, different.
Not better. It’s like the end of a losing war. Defeat was not real as long as you kept fighting, no matter what casualties you saw on the battlefield. But when you lay down your arms at last, there IS a lassitude that sets in. I know it has set in on me. Even the cats and dogs are staring at me strangely.
But every end, even disastrous ones, portend a new start. That’s what this is. My heart still beats, I will still write, and –I know my own DNA by this time — I will never ever give up on what I believe in.
I know that wasn’t exactly a ringing invitation to join me here, but do accept the invitation. When you’re not always in combat, you can be in better tune with yourself and others. You can laugh more easily. Even on the gallows.
I intend for us to have some fun here. And there are donuts in the lobby.
Here we are at break of day, the wind howling outside, and all the males in the house are surrounding me on the couch. We are our own gang. Raebert the impossibly good and gentle Deerhound. Buster the impossibly cute Scotty, Elliott the impossibly discerning cat, and me the impossibly impossible one who pisses off the whole world and is still the chief of this particular tribe. And right now, precisely in the middle. See how that works?
You may have heard that Raebert had a trauma some weeks back. But if you’re of noble blood, you always come back. The native spine and heart kick in. There’s a kind of trumpet call to the soul, as exemplified by Peter Tchaikovsky.
The trip to the vet. A heroic adventure. The bosomy vet tech part begins after 4.5 minutes in. (More formally known as the “Nipple Interlude.” You’ll understand when you hear it.) Before that there’s lots of not going anywhere today, getting reluctantly into the Jeep, people looking through the windows of the Jeep in Salem, the New Jersey Turnpike, and the hoi polloi at the vet clinic. At the beginning, though, there’s the piercing act of courage to go see vet boobs… Call it a breast quest. Mammary bravery. Whatever. The thing that gets us off our giant deerhound ass. Maybe you missed the lesson of the leash. When to keep it, when to slip it.
Or, as Lady Laird characterizes it…
Shaking, quaking, panting, drooling. Indeed. Just don’t let a deer cross his path.
Same thing, mostly. If a deer had crossed his path, he’d have been all over it. No quit in our boy, you can bet on that. Which his mother was anxious to point out and I confirm. You can see how regal he is in utter darkness today. Most of his kind are afraid of the dark. Not Raebert. One of his many prodigious royal talents is sleeping when it’s dark.
I concede he was a bit tentative yesterday in the daylight when we embarked on the massive expedition to see the vet for an annual checkup. Some of us were concerned that after the difficult grooming episode he might be resistant to traveling somewhere by car. No such thing. After we hauled him out from under the couch, we snapped on the leash and he was so unconcerned that he didn’t move at all.
He was just being considerate of his 12 year old greyhound companion Molly. As soon as Lady Laird thought of it 5 minutes into our sudden schedule crisis and brought her upstairs, Raebert got to his feet and trooped, like a trooper, out to the Jeep. Molly jumped in, but she’s no Scottish Lord. If you’re a Scottish Lord, you need servants to place each and every one of your feet in the proper locations and then lift them into place, approximating what in a commoner sort of being would constitute an easy leap.
But the key criterion is eager anticipation of what’s coming next. Raebert had that in spades. It’s a half hour trip to the vet’s office and he was so looking forward to it that he stood the whole way, trembling with excitement. Molly lay down and went to sleep on the Turnpike. Raebert chose to vibrate continuously instead. Remarkably, his noblesse oblige was so pronounced that upon arrival at the vet’s office he insisted that Molly disembark first. He was so adamant that even after she had disembarked he wanted proof, in writing, which when we couldn’t produce it caused him to stand like an old school gentleman, in the back of the Jeep, unmoving, in fact immovable, until we threatened him with telling the vet about his habit of eating women’s jewelry.
Scots do not like scandals. He consented to enter the veterinary establishment.
But there was a problem. The place was filled with common dogs and cats. As soon as the first peasant exclaimed, “What is that?!” upon his arrival, he commenced to quiver in aristocratic disdain.
Lady Laird quickly picked out a remote corner bench where Molly and Raebert could await their appointment without further unwelcome contact.
Molly is such a party girl. While Raebert delicately concealed himself under a bench half his size, the old girl was trying to plunge out of our corner and meet everybody. “Greyhound,” everybody yelled. “Come here, beautiful.” A small child across the room pointed his finger at Raebert. “What’s that?” he demanded to know. “A wolfhound,” somebody answered. “They kill wolves.” “Right,” the kid laughed. “All the wolves under the bench.”
I was screwing myself up to tell the kid that deerhounds do not kill wolves but deer and how did some little rugrat know whether there was a deer under the bench or not when the vet assistant came out to call for “Molly and Raebert.”
Suavely, I dragged Raebert past the pugs, poodles, and Pomeranians who were behind him in line and, with no help from the terrified vet assistant, planted each of Raebert’s four huge feet on the scale. Then heaved his body upright for the first time since we’d entered the clinic.
She should have helped. Even Raebert knows that his sacred corpus must be contacted at times by servants. But she was distracted by the fact that his eagerness to meet the vet was causing his whole body to shake to a degree that changed his weight from 102.4 to 103.8 pounds every nanosecond. I called a halt. “He weighs 103 pounds,” I told the girl. She agreed.
Once in the office, Raebert lurked demurely behind Lady Laird’s handbag, certain no one could see him. Then a pretty vet tech came in. She wanted to trim nails and do heart worm tests. She had breasts. Raebert left the room with her without a backward glance. So much for accusations of cowardice. Lords are fearless when it counts.
True, there was a certain amount of hiding afterwards — under my seat, behind Pat’s handbag, underneath Molly — before the vet showed up, but she had breasts too. Raebert became so relaxed by their roundness that he rolled on his back to show her all the stuff deerhounds have on their belly. When we told her he was a bit of a diva, a drama king, she just laughed at us. Then he looked her in the eye. She looked back. Never a good idea. She was his from that moment on. (I removed the card with her phone number from his collar before we left the joint. What faithful retainers do.)
Then we went back to the car. He still wanted help getting back in. Because Mommy was inside paying the bill. Why should he have to get into the Jeep with only one valet to assist?
He stood the whole way back home. Still vibrating like a motel Magic Fingers bed. What lords do. Masters of all they see. Attuned to all the manifestations of their chattels. It’s inspiring.
I like the vet. She has boobs. I like boobs.
Calm down, son. She can handle it. Thrash around any more and you might break my nose.
He’s getting better. You’ll see. As long as his mommy gets home safe from her Formula 1 fantasy, everything will be fine.
Raebert’s squashing my foot.
I’m not yelling. But Ow.
He’s heavy. Ow.
We all know poetry’s a young man’s game. This time an old man borrowed it for a bit. How’s it feel young’uns?