Small-craft warning.

A series of trucks rumbled up to our house in the last few days, delivering gallons of epoxy and marine-grade plywood. This weekend the boat-building project commenced, which means I won’t see Alan for a few months, but that’s OK, he’ll just be in the garage, building his driftboat.

Sunday he spent much of the day sanding two 8-foot sections of plywood so that they can be glued together to make the bottom of this craft, a process I’m told is called "scarfing." "How’s the scarfing going, hon?" I asked this afternoon when Alan emerged from the garage looking like the abominable sawdust man. Just fine.

While Alan is an excellent, painstaking amateur craftsman, he is fairly slow about it. (Motto: Measure 14 times, reread the plans, cut once.) I wondered what the target date for completion of this puppy is; he said late June, but that was probably optimistic. After years of marriage to a serious fly angler, I recognize late June as the window for the northern-Michigan hex hatch.

All things considered, this is much preferable to a guy who obsesses over college basketball, if you ask me.

It was as good a weekend for boat-building as anything else, as we had another cold snap. The wind has some teeth in it, and if I’m reading the weather map correctly, we’re in for some pink stuff in an hour or two, pink stuff being weather-map code for the meteorological hell known as "wintry mix." Two to four inches of wintry mix, in fact, which irritates me mightily. For more on this, enough to bring a teary mix to the eyes, see the archives.

On second thought, don’t bother.

Bloggage: I know Amy loves her, I know she’s flattered mightily by the attention paid by her, but if you ask me, Peggy Noonan’s a little goofy. To test my theory, ask yourself this question: Is Michael Kelly’s death a) a tragedy for several families and all who loved the man; b) a loss to American journalism; or c) a sin against the order of the world?

If you answered C, welcome to Peggy’s world. "A sin against the order of the world" — I guess you have to be a serious Catholic like Peggy to write stuff like that, because I’m about as Catholic as Billy Crystal these days, and even I was offended by that one. Of course, Peggy has extraordinary access to the Almighty — he’s offered her some incredible scoops lately — so I guess she feels confident making sweeping pronouncements like that.

If Kelly was a tenth as humble as his friends say he was, he must be squirming in the afterlife over Noonan’s overheated tribute, which quoted a friend of Kelly’s who was devastated at his death but didn’t want to be quoted by name saying so, as though mourning a friend is something you don’t want others to pin on you. (Maybe someone will take a memo from him on the subject, like Peggy did with Paul Wellstone.) But she really saves herself for the big finish:

His remains will come home now soon enough, and I hope what comes home is met with an honor guard, for he has earned it, and a flag, for he loved his country, and a snapped salute, for that is one way to show respect. And maybe it would be good if this son of Washington–born there, educated there, drawn to its great industry, politics and the reporting of it–were to find his final rest nearby, among those who fought with distinction for America. Michael Kelly went at great peril to be with U.S. troops, and he fell among US troops, while trying to tell the story of U.S. troops. So perhaps his final rest should be with U.S. troops, in Arlington, where we put so many heroes.

A civilian reporter in Arlington National Cemetery? Maybe he can be laid next to David Bloom. What does Peggy think about that?

For a far less wacky, but no less heartfelt, tribute to Kelly, try Jack Shafer’s, in Slate. Or Maureen Dowd’s (love that detail about the chaise lounge!). Andrew Sullivan offered this: Notice that he noticed things. And wrote about them clearly. His reportorial skill was that simple but that good. Some descriptions still stick in my head; he once called a small spring of water "gin-clear." I never forgot it. (Andrew: Come to my house. Read the stacks of fishing magazines on every toilet tank and beside every chair. Prepare to be disillusioned. Kelly was not the first to use the phrase "gin-clear.")

Deb was inspired by last week’s account of license-branch woolgathering. We’re going to let her go on and on about it, because Deb is a writer who notices detail, too, and that stuff about bologna fresh off the slicer trumps "gin-clear," if you ask me:

here’s a story i’m sure i never told you. i used to work in a license-plate branch in ohio.

i use the term "branch" very loosely, because the branches back in the early ’70s were nothing more than seasonal storefront operations–literally, in my case. this branch was run by my best friend cheryl’s mother, who was some sort of big shot in county democratic politics. cheryl’s family had owned a little grocery store in the sticks–store in front, family living quarters in back. i loved going to cheryl’s after school. my grandparents owned a rural grocery store, too, two houses down from my own, but it was always fun to make sandwiches of bologna fresh off the slicer, washed down with a soda from the cooler, from somebody ELSE’s store.

in those days, every small burg had its own license plate branch. by the time i got in on the action, the store had been closed for years and was being used for storage. the "license branch" consisted of the front 20×10 feet or so of the store, blocked off from the storage area by a flimsy wall. the front doors looked smack out over a busy u.s. highway, with just enough space the two for a car to park on the gravel berm.

cheryl and i worked at a battered wooden old desk, made change from a metal cash box, and plucked the plates from cardboard boxes. framed photos of big jim rhodes (former Ohio governor — ed.) hung behind us, looming as large as elementary schoolroom classroom portraits of george washington.

it was a short-term summer gig, and we’d leave the front doors open to let in the breeze. our desk was so close to the highway that we could feel the rush of wind when a semi blew past. we knew most of our customers, or would realize upon seeing their names that we knew someone related to them, so a fair amount of socializing took place. there was never much of a line, but when there was, nobody bitched about it–they just visited. we especially enjoyed flirting with the old farmers who tried to convince us to paw through the boxes until they found a plate number they liked.

you could tell where somebody lived by just looking at their plates, because each community had its own two-letter suffix. mt. orab had two–"GZ" and "HB"–and most people preferred one over the other. try to give a diehard GZ person an HB plate and you’d hear about it. we caught on fast and learned to look at the suffix on the old plate (they had to turn them in to get new ones), then go to the box with the same suffix. i don’t remember anybody paying with a check, and nobody had credit cards.

i loved that job. i got to sit on my butt, chat up my neighbors, feel the summer breeze on my bare legs, smell the field corn from denver hughes’ farm across the road, and perform a public service all at the same time. i have no idea what cheryl’s mother’s cut of this was, nor do i recall what i was paid. it was fun; i probably would’ve done it for free.

As for me, I’ll see you here tomorrow.

Posted at 12:00 pm in Uncategorized |

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