Live Free or Die

Looking for houses.

We have been looking around in Winchester, MA. It is a very nice place, but house are expensive and a little old. It reminds me of my college days – the dumps I lived in then. One time part of the walls of our basement just fell in. I had to put up plastic sheets with duct tape to keep out the cold air. The landlord never bothered to fix the damage. By the time he got around to thinking about it, the winter of our discontent had been replaced by glorious summer and there was no immediate threat of cold air. I moved out before the next onset of cold weather. I think the word to describe most of the apartments we have visited is “funky”. I don’t like funky. Actually I like neighborhoods were everyone else lives in such houses but I no longer enjoy funky houses with “character”. I prefer sunlight and air, and the lack of musty smell.

I love the area, however. In Winchester, you can walk to all the stores. There are several lakes in town. Parks and running trails abound. There seems to be little crime, no litter and no graffiti. If I could find a non-funky house with enough room for the family – one that I could afford – I could be very happy here.

We are thinking of New Hampshire. It is a long commute, but housing is supposed to be much cheaper there and the towns are just a quaint. We are looking in Londonderry, NH. New Hampshire’s most famous natural monument was a rock formation called the old man of the mountain. I say, “was” because it collapsed. It hung from the same ancient mountainside since the last ice age and then a couple of month ago it just fell off. Nothing lasts forever. Elvis has left the building. I guess that is something I will never see, not that I planned to anyway, but there are lots of lakes and mountains I will get to enjoy. Another good thing about New Hampshire is that it has no income or sales tax. Government is small and close to the people. I also like the state slogan “live free or die”. It is on the license plates. Convicts make license plates. Imagine the cognitive dissonance when you spend your time behind bars stamping plates with the slogan “live free or die” – “live free or die” – “live free or die” – hundreds of times each day. I suppose that adds to the punishment. I don’t expect to become a convict and I would consider living in the Granite State just so I could have drive around with such a cool slogan on my plate.

Speaking of driving around, we have been noticing the strange driving habits around here. People drive slowly, but poorly. They are always cutting each other off, sometimes in spectacular fashion. It seems socially acceptable to make a left turn from the right lane or to pull out in front of oncoming traffic. Massachusetts has stronger gun control than Virginia. Do some of these things in the Old Dominion and you may get a quick and painful introduction to Smith & Wesson. You have to drive slowly around here because they mark the roads so poorly. You don’t see many signs in general and they don’t bother to mark major roads, except on major intersections. How stupid is that? If you are lost you stay lost. On the plus side, people here are tolerant of each other’s bad habits. I have not heard drivers beeping their horns as a form of protest. Of course, I have only been in the Boston suburbs so far. I have heard nothing good about traffic in Boston. Maybe conditions are different in the heart of darkness.

August 12, 2003

Salem, MA

In 1692 twenty people were executed for witchcraft in the famous trials. Most were hanged; one man was crushed by stones. Nobody was burned. By European standards of the time, this was not a big deal, but it was the most famous persecution in America. It all started when a group of girls were playing silly games and listening to scary stories. Soon they started to accuse their neighbors of making deals with the devil. In the climate of the times, they were believed. It was a horrible example of mass hysteria. Most of the people really believed in witches. We went to the witch museum, where the whole thing was portrayed as intolerance, and gives examples of anti Commie campaigns, AIDS crisis and racism. I don’t agree with the characterization. The witch-hunts were an example of superstition, lack of due process and maybe mass hysteria. The victims were not members of minority groups and the accusers were not people in authority. Nobody could say the obvious: that there is no such thing as witchcraft. One man who tried – a William Proctor – was himself accused of witchcraft and hanged. The closest modern parallel are trials having to do with accusations of sexual abuse. Today, licensed therapists replace the 1690s witch hunters. You have those famous trials of the 1990s, where children accused various adults without physical evidence. There were some guilty individuals, but it turns out that most of the abuse was created in the minds of the poor kids by therapists with agendas. It was very similar to the witch-hunts in methods. A couple years later, we all see how society was caught up in the hysteria and many of us feel ashamed. We forget that in both these cases the people who perpetrated these terrible injustices thought they were doing good in an evil world, and they did their nefarious deed in full view of the public with the willing support of “the people”. It was democratic. The jury at the first witch-trial found the defendant NOT guilty, but changed its verdict after the little girl “victims” wailed and cried and the public demanded the self-evident finding of guilt. It is easy to point the finger of blame at these benighted people of the past and let our tolerant selves off the hook. We can feel virtuous, but that would mean we learn nothing from the past. The real lesson is that we must rely on strong institutions and rule of law, not strong personalities and rule of the politically correct majority.

Modern Salem is a very cute town. We drove on to Marblehead on the coast and Marblehead Neck. That is even nicer. It is a lot like Disneyland. Everything is nice, and perfect and newly painted. I don’t think any poor people are living there, at least not after the police have swept through. The kids at the local tennis club all had nice white uniforms. There was an order on the headland. I tried to explain to Alex the difference between old and new money. A century ago, people whose ancestors made their money through war, slavery and piracy (otherwise known as the nobility) looked down on those who made it through commerce and industry (capitalists). I am not sure how it is now. The Kennedys are a big deal around here. Their money comes from smuggling booze and manipulating the political system. I am not sure if that represents commerce or piracy, but no living Kennedy has even actually earned an honest dollar. (You know that more people have died in Ted Kennedy’s car than in all the nuclear accidents in the U.S. ) I would be a lot prouder to earn my own money than get it from my father or grandfather. My father, in his wisdom, spared me the former embarrassment, and I have not yet achieved the latter. The old money is mostly gone, or shadowed into insignificance by much larger new fortunes. College dropout Bill Gates would probably not be invited to the ever shrinking circle of old rich, but he probably wouldn’t notice the shunning, or care if he did. I suppose going to the right school still makes a difference. You can always tell a Harvard man, you just can’t tell him too much at one time. The problem with being of the elite these days is that nobody knows about it anymore except you. In America you can’t lord it over others. What a shame.

Chris and John in Salem. CJ is scared of the witches of Salem. I am on the mobile phone trying to get pre-approved for a mortgage from USAA in case we buy something in New Hampshire, which is more frightening in many ways. Notice my new white beard. Last time I checked, it was reddish brown – the old keep getting older and the young must do the same. Now people mistake me for Sean Connery all the time. Notice the close resemblance. Imagine him without the toupee and me much better looking and there is no significant difference between us. Anyway, we both have white beards and that’s enough. Mine will be nicer in a month when it either grows in or I shave it off. I am growing a beard to compensate for my general lack of hair, at least that is what Mariza tells me. I just figured I should look more professorial for my new job at Tufts. By the way, I successfully resisted the urge to give myself more hair electronically with “Paint Shop Pro” or just substitute a picture of Sean. Of course I do plan to take a picture of the nicest house in Boston and claim that’s where we live – shit I should not have revealed my audacious plan.

An old Salem house. They look nice on the outside, but you know they are funky and smell funny on the inside. Also notice how narrow the place is and you can bet the bathrooms are foul. I like other people to live in such places because they are quaint. I prefer houses that look old on the outside, but have the latest of modern improvements on the inside. A good rule is to never sit on a toilet older than you are or step into a shower that remembers Ronald Reagan. Progress has been made. People who lived in these old houses would not have done so if they had a choice. Old fixtures are the true horrors of a haunted house.