Laboring for Service

This is a story of people laboring at their jobs. Or not.

The Post Office
The North Puffin branch Post Office no longer has a postmaster; we lost that distinction when the Postal Service decided we don’t rate service. Or at least not full time service. Our postmaster is in massive Puffin Center where, obviously, metropolitan rules must, must, must be enforced.

Our address here has been
P.O. Box 1
North Puffin VT 05990

for about the last umpty-seven years.

The North Puffin office has no real “Box 1” but our longtime postmaster set that up for us. In fact, we “share” the vanity box number with another, even longer-time resident. “It’s easy to keep straight,” she told me then.

We have a new clerk and she was ordered not to hand any mail across the window (I believe that means she’ll have to cut any packages up and fit them in our box) and to return any mail that is misaddressed. Especially mail to a “custom” box number.

In addition to our custom PO Box, we also have some mail that comes addressed to various forms of our street address. That’s fairly common in rural areas but it is increasing in these days of FedEx, UPS, and Amazon drone dropping boxes on the porch. Or the Porsche (our UPS driver left an ultra overnight envelope on the car seat once.) I’m thinking there will be a lot of pissed off campers if their credit card or cable bills or their car registrations get returned. After all, most credit card companies, cable companies, and DMVs have historically required street addresses.

“We all used to aim high. As a country we don’t aim high any more. We are too protective.”
— Walter Issacson.

Not to mention the fact that we have 37 years of precedent. And the Tyler Place, arguably a slightly larger mailer than the mighty HarperCo, has used PO Box 1 probably for longer.

Customer service? We don’ need no steenkin’ customer service. This is the Post Office, not a labor of love.

Story #2: Calendar Listings
This year is the 25th anniversary of our Summer Sounds concert series so we’re having a Big Blowout Benefit Music Festival with continuous music on Sunday, September 20, the last Sunday of summer.

The Town of Highgate, Vermont, was the original home of Summer Sounds and we’re having this bonanza in part to say “thank you!” The festival will raise money to build a band shell in Highgate for the next 25 years of music and will support programming at Camp Ta-Kum-Ta.

I posted listings for the Festival on the Free Press and Seven Days calendars. It took almost two hours each because the sites kept rejecting the entries for technical glitches. And each time they did, I had to fill in the info again.

It was so like my (and Vermont Health Exchange) experience, I wondered if CGI designed their forms.

Story #3: Internet Mail
I transferred a customer’s dot-com domain name from my old registrar to my business account at last week.

Simple, right? Get an AUTH code, click a few buttons, and away we go. It’s the kind of job that should need no human intervention.

Well, no. Finding the EPP request on the old site was a little time consuming but I did that without human intervention. Then I spent 1:39:00 on the phone with my tech support folk at making the transfer actually happen.

First the automated transfer page told me was “not available to transfer.”

Say what?

I called. The phone number on their site was out of service.

Uh oh.

Googled for another number and got through. Started explaining the problem. Got put on hold. And the call quietly evaporated. Called again. Explained the problem to a knowledgeable tech. In the Philippines, I think.

“OK,” he said. “Just send the AUTH code to me at”

Say what?

Apparently the mail system they give tech support is very slow. They use as a workaround. I had him send me an email from that address. It came through after getting hung in Gmail’s spam filtration. So. After the rest of that first hour passed, we got the transfer started. A couple of hours later, I got the “confirm transfer” instructions from I clicked the link.

Nupe. It went to the right page. I clicked the big green CONFIRM button and it faded and quit.

I called the other number and got through. Just started ‘splaining to the tech rep when the phone went back to the autoattend. I called in again and got a very nice lady in Connecticut in what sounded like her kitchen.


She transferred me back to the Philippines. Nice fellow. First level tech support so he was slow and had to consult but he got it done. 39 minutes later.

An (automated) email from this morning announced a “Successful change of provider for the domain”

This was a tale of people laboring at their jobs. Or not.

Story #1, the Post Office, is entirely a story of people at work, working hard to make a simple task harder for their customers.

Story #2, an Internet form, is a story that needed people at work, so an online form with no help desk person to back it up failed and failed for the customers.

Story #3, an Internet service, is another story of people at work, but this time working hard to make a simple task that unfortunately failed into a success for their customers.

Happy Labor Day, everyone. Liz Arden is back home from Burning Man and will labor all day to clean alkali dust out of every crevice. SWMBO and I are off to a picnic.


We’ll Always Have Paris

I write a weekly newspaper column and chair an arts council so I get a lot of press releases. You just can’t make some of this stuff up.

The nice folks at The Big E sent me this year’s entertainment lineup for the fair.

The Big E, the Eastern States Exposition, is New England’s biggest state fair, with “year-round opportunities for the development and promotion of agriculture, education, industry and family entertainment while preserving our New England heritage.” It culminates in a “field days” festival that starts in September. And it’s a lot more than farm implements.

“It’s your little girl’s squeals of delight every time a cow looks her way. Or the way your husband smiles after finishing a Craz-E Burger, or fried dough, or key-lime-pie-on-a-stick. It’s the look on your best friend’s face as she twirls through the sky on a crazy ride. Or the feeling you get when you catch a strand of Mardi Gras beads at the parade. The biggest fair in the Northeast is filled with amazing little moments. What will yours be?”

State fairs began in the nineteenth century to promote state agriculture, so they have always had livestock, farm products, competitions, and entertainment.

Gotta bring in the rubes.

The Texas State Fair had balloon ascents and “appearances by such notables as John Philip Sousa, William Jennings Bryan, Carrie Nation and Booker T. Washington.” The Iowa State Fair has had more than politicians to entertain us over the years, too.

In 1881, historian James Wilson noted that, “One of the most valuable effects of the [Iowa] State Fair is the fraternizing, humanizing consequences of bringing our people together … No one meets and mingles with 20,000 Iowa men, women and children on the Fairgrounds — the only place they can be brought together — without growth of sympathy.”

In 1922, two locomotives traveling at 10 mph crashed into each other in the second staged train wreck at the Iowa Grandstand. In 1925, more than 100 people entered the new fiddlers’ contest. The new Education Building in 1927 was a great attraction with its second floor art gallery.

The Big E is the only state fair in the nation with six states; the Avenue of States has replicas of each New England state’s original statehouse sitting on land owned by that state. The Vermont Building was constructed in 1926.

In past years, the fair has hosted bands I have booked or know well including Prydein for Celtic rock, the Western swing of Rick and the Ramblers, JimmyT and the Cobras with outlaw rock, Young Tradition Vermont, and many more. My friend Rebecca Padula who played for me at Bay Day this year was disinvited from the Big E lineup because her singing partner moved to California last week.

Some performers are more widely known.

Paris HiltonHidden among the 2015 notes that Alabama will play, that the Big E is ranked as the fifth largest fair in North America, that the Charlie Daniels Band will kick off the proceedings, and the agriculture results, is Paris Hilton.

Paris Hilton? “Yes, this is for real…Paris Hilton has added turntables and headphones to her accessories and is Western MA bound to DJ at The Big E!”

Turns out her debut album sold over 600,000 copies worldwide.

She can sing?

I watched her semi-explicit Good Time bubble gum video which features Lil Wayne.

She can sing?

The Big E had DJ Pauly D perform in 2013, something they called a “big success, attracting thousands of fans to the Fair.”

Paris might draw more, but for singing?

They have a countdown clock. The 2015 Big E with Paris starts in exactly 73 days, 20 hours, 00 minutes, and 00 seconds. I may go this year. I’ve always wanted to watch cow wrangling in Paris.


Burning Maples

The All Arts Council opens the Bakersfield & East Fairfield Caravansary Art Festival with a reception at the new East Fairfield Arts Center today at 5 p.m. The show will run through Sunday.

For centuries, travelers on the Silk Road stopped in “caravansaries,” the bustling caravan stops that were the center of cultural as well as commercial exchange. Caravansaries brought together adventurers, artists, entertainers, monks, nomads, pilgrims, and traders from around the known world to share their art, their music, and their stories around a bonfire.

Burning Man.

70,000 “Burners” will come together on August 25 in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada to create a community of art, music, self-expression, and self-reliance. They will disappear September 1, having left no trace whatsoever.

That week will see sculpture, installations, performance, theme camps, art cars, and costumes all with the caravansary theme.

We can preview some of the traveling art and music at the Bakersfield & East Fairfield Caravansary Art Festival as well as a quartet of art cars plus the All Arts Council’s own burning art exhibit.

The AAC burning art exhibit includes a pyrosculpture by Vermonter Kate Pond, a dish flambee from Kitten Ellison, and the Burning Bush, a new image by Highgate photographer David J. Griggs.

Rattlesnake BikeIt’s all about the camel. Or the wheel. Caravans require one or the other (it’s a law) so the event will feature the Austin Bike Zoo fresh from Spark! Mesa, Arizona’s, Festival of Creativity. Bike-builders, puppet-makers, and performers have created a nine- or ten-seat bicycle with a frame as thick as my thigh, eight-foot tall wheels, an old-fashioned bike bell, and training skis, just in case. They will bring butterfly bikes that range from 10-18 feet in height plus animated bat and owl bikes. The centerpiece is the giant rattlesnake bike that measures 80 feet in length and will offer rides for all attendees. There is no truth to the rumor it will be pulled by a camel.

“We have to have music!” Maple Festival main stage organizer Andre Maquera said.

Bassnectar, the Mutaytor, and the March 4th Marching Band will share the stage with a one-night only reunion of 8084 plus a special solo performance on the big screen by jazzman Will Patton,” he said.

“I’ve spent the winter working on dub-step,” Mr. Patton said from Paris, France. He has also been exploring house, witch house, dub, hardstep, dancehall, dance-floor, punk, post-punk, “Noise,” new wave, nu wave, No Wave, emo, post-emo, hip-hop, conscious hip-hop, alternative hip- hop, jazz hip-hop, hardcore hip-hop, nerd-core hip-hop, Christian hip-hop, crunk, crunkcore, metal, doom metal, black metal, speed metal, thrash metal, death metal, Christian death metal, and, of course, shoe-gazing, among others on the mandolin. He expects to have several other local musicians back him for this set.

Joni Mitchell and Grace Slick are scheduled to appear later in the week in a series of acoustic music and other performances at the new East Fairfield Arts Center Camp Café.

The Arts Center is a multi purpose organization and building that includes prime performance space for music and art exhibits.

According to the rule of desert hospitality, the Festival will provide free entry and water for travelers who stop at our tents. The Bakersfield & East Fairfield Caravansary Art Festival is open to all and admission is free but you need a free ticket to get in the gate. Tickets, schedules, and other background materials are available at Admission is FREE but you must have an advance reservation to participate. Proceeds will benefit local art projects in Franklin County.

This event is not sanctioned by the 334 Green Mountain Burners (find them on Facebook) or the Bruleurs de Montreal.

Visit my site at for more events in April.



Today’s Internoodle meme is “What books, teams, films, TV, music, food do you like?”

My friend Enola “Fanny” Guay asked, “What surprised you?” She wanted to know, “What makes you laugh and cry?”

I’m an engineer by training and inclination so I write a lot of lists. I write a weekly newspaper column about the arts and entertainment in North Puffin so I write a lot more lists. I don’t really like lists.

Fanny Guay wants a list.

The Five Ws give us the formula for reporting a story, researching a claim, or investigating a crime. According to the principle of the Five Ws, a story is incomplete if it doesn’t answer these questions:

What happened?
When did (or will) it happen?
Where did it happen?
Why did it happen?

Smoking GunThe first four are data gathering as is the meme. “What list of stuff do you want to share?”

The Why question always sounds more interesting although my cop buddy, South Puffin’s police chief Brockley Mann, says detectives don’t really care about motive. They need evidence.

Half of me agrees. The reporter in me knows the facts have to come first but motive drives my fiction/opinion writing. As Mark Twain told us, “First get your facts; then you can distort them at your leisure.”

If I know what books, films, teams, music, and food you like, I can always make up the lies to match.

For the record:
My favorite book is generally the one I’m reading right now. I prefer turning the pages and the feel of a printed book, but I do have Kindle apps on tablet, iPod, and laptop because they simplify travel. I never want to be without a good book in hand and one in the wings.

I’m fairly well-schooled in English and American lit for an engineer but today you’re likely to find a detective story by Robert B. Parker or James Lee Burke on the nightstand. I like regional writers, too, so I just finished Vermonter Chris Bohjalian’s newest novel and would like it if Key West’s Tom Corcoran wrote another.

My first jobs were in movie theaters so I don’t go to all that many now (I was an usher at the old Warner in my hometown and a manager at the Criterion in Times Square when Nicholas and Alexandra premiered; I even survived 13 weeks of Love Story in traffic-snarled Fort Lee). I do like movies with character and story and have gone to three in the last year or so. The marvelous Les Mis. Gravity in 3D with backdrops so real that astronauts called them “true-to-life.” Hubble 3D in IMAX at the space center.

I don’t watch sports although I grew with the Phillies and the Iggles, the Birds and the Colts on the radio. A high school buddy pitched for the Mets so I watched them until I realized that he lost when I watched and won when I didn’t. I still like to drive race cars.

I like most music but claim that the only two forms I don’t like are blue and grass; in fact, I’m not keen on heavy metal but I book an eclectic outdoor concert series every summer that generally includes blues, country, folk, gospel, jazz, opera, pop, rock-n-roll, and, yes, bluegrass.

I like food. Bait isn’t food.