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Life in a Northern Town
By Daniel Flatley
Times Staff Writer
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Life in a Northern Town

Ralph Nader visited the north country on many occasions

First published: September 16, 2014 at 1:12 am
Last modified: September 16, 2014 at 1:12 am
Ralph Nader appeared in Glens Falls on Sunday for Green Party candidates Howie Hawkins and Matthew J. Funiciello.

Ralph Nader. Consumer advocate, activist, lawyer, author. Poet?

Sure. Why not?

Turns out that the 80-year-old Nader has a penchant for verse, as he demonstrated at Jefferson Community College on Nov. 18, 1987.

In front of a crowd he admonished to stop acting like “consumer zombies,” Nader described the hot dog as a food “with little more substance than the coffin white bun it rests on.”

Does that remind anyone else of Emily Dickinson?

It’s a great image, albeit one that does not dissuade me from eating hot dogs, one of my favorite summer foods. But I take Mr. Nader’s point — not everything we consume is meant to be good for us.

Some of it is just meant to turn a profit.

Before Mr. Nader became a divisive political figure, maligned by many on the left for his allegedly nefarious plot to steal the 2000 presidential election from Al Gore and derided by others as little more than an eccentric crank, he was a force of nature, pushing for crucial legislation that curbed the greed and negligence of automakers, food manufacturers and the banking industry.

And he continues to fight for causes he believes in, stumping for Green Party candidates Matthew J. Funiciello, running for New York’s 21st Congressional District seat, and Howie Hawkins, running for governor of New York, in Glens Falls last weekend.

Over the years, Mr. Nader has been a frequent guest of Northern New York organizations and educational institutions.

In addition to his 1987 JCC appearance, Mr. Nader visited the community college in November 1970; Clarkson University, Potsdam, in 1970; and St. Lawrence University, Canton, in 1979.

Mr. Nader’s 1970 JCC visit was sponsored by “the various women’s clubs in Jefferson County in cooperation with the college’s division of continuing education,” according to a Times account of the event.

Prior to supporting Mr. Funiciello and Mr. Hawkins, Mr. Nader visited the north country in the summer of 2000 on his own campaign. He stopped in Watertown, Canton, Potsdam and Massena.

I had the opportunity to speak to Ralph Nader last week before he traveled to Glens Falls. That interview was published in a Voices in the Crowd blog entry on Sept. 11 and can be viewed here:

At one point during the interview, I tried to ask Mr. Nader about himself, thinking he might open up a little bit. After giving me two lines about his early days as an attorney, he quickly moved on to talking about all the work that remains to be done.

But did he ever think, as a young man in the 1950 and ’60s, that his life would go this way? That he would become so involved in politics and consumer advocacy?

“Not beyond being a justice-seeking lawyer; that’s what I wanted to be,” he said. “And then, you know, who can predict the future?”


Craigslist ad: checking in with the economic populists

First published: September 08, 2014 at 10:31 pm
Last modified: September 08, 2014 at 10:31 pm

“It’s a friend, and it’s a companion/ And it’s the only product you will ever need”

— Tom Waits, “Step Right Up”

Do you remember the NY21 economic populist movement?

Way back in February, when the district was still reeling from the news that Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, would not be seeking re-election, a group of citizens from across the district began advertising for a congressional candidate on Craigslist, a site better known for finding cheap apartments and used coffeepots.

The group posted an ad for an “economic populist who thinks and talks along the line of Pope Francis, Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.”

At this point in the race, after millions of dollars have been spent, the idea seems somewhat quaint, more for the idea that there’s a candidate out there “with a demonstrated ability and commitment to represent the 99 percent of Americans who can’t buy political influence,” than for the venue by which the group decided to seek their candidate.

After all, as we conduct more and more of our business online, is it so far-fetched to think our political will may end up there as well?

So much has happened in this race over the ensuing seven months that I thought it might be interesting to check in with a couple of the group’s members to find out if they received any promising submissions.

It turns out that though neither Democratic candidate Aaron G. Woolf nor Green Party candidate Matthew J. Funiciello submitted resumes to the group, their qualifications satisfied the members in equal, if perhaps disproportionate, measures.

“The way things were left, the group’s efforts pretty much ended once Aaron Woolf emerged as the choice of the Democratic chairs. My recollection is people kind of went their separate ways. I do think that Matt fits the bill of an economic populist much more than Aaron Woolf or certainly (Republican and Conservative Party nominee) Elise Stefanik,” said Fred Balzac, a freelance writer and Green Party member from Jay.

“I’m supporting Matt because I think he’s the best candidate and I feel the Green Party has a platform I can embrace and believe in,” Mr. Balzac said. “We have to start supporting the people we can believe in instead of your second choice because we’re never gonna change the system if we don’t.”

While Mr. Balzac is satisfied with the choice Mr. Funiciello offers, another one of the group’s members — Joe Seeman, a Working Families Party member from Ballston Spa — is more enamored of Mr. Woolf.

“I think Aaron, if he’s elected, and I hope he will and I’m volunteering for his campaign personally, I think he will vote as a populist,” Mr. Seeman said.

Mr. Seeman explained the rationale for the ad:

“We became concerned who would be replacing (Mr. Owens) as a Democratic or Working Families Party progressive candidate... We were concerned we were going to get a Democrat who wasn’t really much of a Democrat and we had a short window of time, we’re not hearing from... Let’s not wait to be given a candidate, let’s see if we can find one on our own and we did put up an ad. The idea of a Craigslist ad was a little bit of a gimmick but it is something that people have used before, the point being that we want this to be something coming from the people. And we had a few people who got back to us.”

Daniel Flatley is a staff writer covering politics for the Watertown Daily Times. He writes a column once a week for the local section of the paper. He can be reached at


At Gettysburg, Watertown follows

First published: September 02, 2014 at 6:34 pm
Last modified: September 03, 2014 at 9:47 am
A sculpture of Albert Woolson, the last surviving member of the Grand Army of the Republic, on the battlefield at Gettysburg National Military Park. Mr. Woolson was born in the north country.

Geographically speaking, the north country is the northernmost region of the state, bordered by water and foreign lands, but for all practical purposes, it is everywhere.

Its residents and progeny insert themselves into every trip I make outside of the area and I cannot, it seems, sally forth from these parts without running into someone or something that reminds me of my adopted home.

Such was the case this weekend when the north country interrupted the pleasant, if not chilly, reverie I was enjoying atop an open-topped double-decker tour bus on the historic battlefield site of Gettysburg, Pa.

Following some disparaging remarks about reporters — the commander of Union forces at Gettysburg was apparently none too fond of my predecessors — our battlefield guide pointed out to us a sculpture of Albert Woolson, the oldest surviving Union soldier of the Civil War.

Mr. Woolson, it turns out, was from the north country.

As is the common with historical tidbits, there is some dispute over the facts of Mr. Woolson’s story.

Reports from the Times and other publications in the 1950s say Mr. Woolson was born in Watertown, while reports from the original Grand Army of the Republic, of which Mr. Woolson was senior vice commander-in-chief and last surviving member, say he was born in Antwerp.

Either way, he is undeniably from the north country. And, according to the man himself, the site of his birth is Watertown.

“I was born and raised in Watertown, N.Y. I was born Feb. 11, 1847 and I’m going on 107. I was a member of the First Minnesota Heavy Artillery, stationed principally at Chattanooga and Nashville in 1864 and ’65,” Mr. Woolson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1953.

Mr. Woolson was apparently a great admirer of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, and told the Post-Dispatch as much.

“I have met Gen. Grant personally, and I think he was the greatest general we had in the Civil War. Some people extend their remarks and still don’t say much of anything. But not Gen. Grant. He was a man of few words. You could see that in the way he wound up the activities of the Civil War,” Mr. Woolson said.

Gen. Grant took command of the entire Union Army after emerging victorious from the siege of Vicksburg, which concluded on July 4, 1863 — one day after the fighting at the three-day battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest of the war, had come to an end.

A 17-year-old volunteer when he joined the Army in 1864, Mr. Woolson did not see action in Vicksburg or Gettysburg and, given his late entrance to the war, fired only one projectile — a cannon shot — into that hateful space between weapon and target.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the discharge was only practice and Mr. Woolson said it almost scared him to death. Shortly thereafter, on April 9, 1865, Mr. Woolson’s hero, Gen. Grant, accepted the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House in Appomattox, Va.

Mr. Woolson had moved with his family to Minnesota before he volunteered to go to war. At the time, his father had just returned home from the fighting with a badly injured leg.

Two weeks after Mr. Woolson was mustered out of the Army in 1865, his father died at age 45.

Mr. Woolson lived to the age of 109 and died in Duluth, Minn., in 1956, the last member of the Army that defended the Union.

Daniel Flatley is a staff writer covering politics for the Watertown Daily Times. He writes a column once a week for the local section of the paper. He can be reached at


Toward the end of summer: the timelessness of the sandwich shop in a resort town

First published: August 19, 2014 at 1:02 am
Last modified: September 19, 2014 at 6:14 pm

“‘You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted. The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves.’”

— Ernest Hemingway, “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”

If my world were ever ending, I know where I would go — Jreck Subs in Alexandria Bay.

I would order the Italian Combo, white bread, with everything, shakers and oil. I might even get some sour cream and onion potato chips on the side.

I’d sit and eat my sandwich and think back on my life, what I did right and where I went wrong.

And I’m willing to bet that by the time I finished that sandwich, I would feel a lot better.

Because there’s something about the Jreck Subs in Alexandria Bay that feels weirdly timeless.

These are the doldrums of summer. August has always been my least favorite month. And while I know more than a few good people with August birthdays, for me the month has always represented the dwindling of summer, the time when you reconcile yourself to the coming of autumn and responsibility.

It’s no different this year, accelerated perhaps by the cooler weather we’ve been experiencing in the north country.

Even though I have long since graduated from my last educational institution, I still feel the press of September against the waning days of summer.

In the cooler weather, your body picks up speed, sweating the salt that dries on the skin. But until then, there is only the vast expanse of August.

And that is why I think back to that Jreck Subs, a place where it feels like something is always about to begin.

No matter what time of the year I eat there, it feels like late spring in a resort town, the time just before the tourists arrive when there is a quiet expectation in the air.

The decor seems to be late ‘80s or early ‘90s vintage and even the advertisements look as though they are from another age. But I find comfort in their familiarity, in their timelessness.

The booths and the walls and the ceiling have absorbed the thousand laughs of summers past and it is there, among the echoes, that I find solace.

You may choose to doubt any sentiment expressed by a man who chose to end his life with a shotgun in Idaho, but I’ve always thought Ernest Hemingway was on to something with his short story “A Clean Well-Lighted Place.”

There is something enduringly romantic, or, if not romantic, at least appealing, about a quiet cafe in the evening — the prospect of uninterrupted reflection perhaps augmented by caffeine or alcohol, a chance to catch up with the world, or let the world go on ahead a bit to a point where you’ll catch up with it later.

It may not be a cafe along the left bank of the Seine or anything else conventionally charming about it, but that Jreck Subs is a clean, well-lighted place.


Don Metzger: a life on the water

First published: August 12, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: September 15, 2014 at 10:36 am
Don Metzger, St. Lawrence Seaway pilot, plying his trade. (Photo courtesy Martin B.P. Zonnenberg and Kathryn Metzger)

“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters…”

— Psalm 107:23

There are some professions in which the living is physically written on the body, like the dirt under the fingernails of a farmer or the dust on a construction worker’s back.

Don Metzger, a St. Lawrence Seaway pilot, is 69 years old. He has worked in the maritime industry for 51 years. Next year, when he turns 70, he will have to retire.

To look at his face, where a small bandage covers the latest site of excised skin cancer, is to see inscribed a hundred other waters, climes, places and wonders.

He has great bushy steel-wool eyebrows shading his deep-set eyes and sideburns — Oh, what sideburns! — extending down from his gray-white temples to the sides of his mouth.

In the late 1960s, when Don was working on the U.S.-flagged vessels bringing supplies to American forces in Vietnam, he ran out of razors, and his sideburns have occupied the same position ever since.

“I’ve been all over the world, from the Arctic to the Antarctic and everywhere in between,” Don said.

His fondest memories: South Africa, the archipelago of the Azores, and working with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute on the research vessel Knorr, the same ship that in 1985 discovered the wreck of the Titanic.

It was on the Knorr that he met his wife, Katy, a scuba diver with the Oceanographic Institute.

“It was very exciting work,” he said.

In 1977, Don and Katy were married. That same year, he took a job with the St. Lawrence Seaway Pilots Association, and he and Katy moved to the north country, first to Clayton and then to the town of Lyme, where they have lived ever since.

“We are basically, to make it real simple, we are a guide; we provide a guide to vessels in waters we are licensed for,” Don said. “We dock them, undock them, shift them in the harbors. ... We handle all kinds of vessels: old, new, large, small, tall ships, tankers, freighters, passenger freighters, passenger ships.

“It’s a lifestyle, is what it is, really,” Don said.

Originally from Utica, Don spent his childhood summers on the St. Lawrence and fell in love with the water.

Then it was four years at SUNY Maritime in the unlikely borough of the Bronx, where the East River meets Long Island Sound and then out to sea, where he worked his way up from third mate to second mate to chief mate to captain.

Looking back on it now, less than a year from retirement, Don said he has no regrets.

“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “Every job is different. I’ve never found myself bored. That doesn’t mean there weren’t times I wasn’t scared or concerned. There are all kinds of hazards when you’re sailing the deep sea — typhoons, pirates...”

But Don said the romanticism with which he viewed his profession in his early years has faded. In its place is a quiet admiration for the way that ships move goods around the world, the way some items originate there and end up here or start here and end up over there, wherever there is.

Shipping touches everything, according to Don.

“The asphalt on the highway, the coffee beans and sugar in my coffee here this morning, that coffee maker over there, newsprint. We once shipped for the supplier of newsprint for the New York Times,” Don said.

Not that he would go back, at least not now.

The profession has changed since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to Don.

Port calls are shorter, and ships are manned with minimal crews, which means a surplus of duties and busy and stressful days.

“It’s too businesslike now,” Don said. “Whatever romance was left in the profession, 9/11 killed it.”

Don has been working on the St. Lawrence River for 20 years now and spent 17 years on Lake Ontario before that, a total of 37 years.

“A lot of water has gone under the keel,” he said.

But after thousands of trips in the north country and around the world, it will soon be time to hang it up, an altogether different prospect.

“I have mixed feelings,” Don said. “It’s been a very interesting and exciting career in the maritime industry, but I will also enjoy getting up and going to bed at a normal time like everybody else. Having a normal night’s sleep ... Yeah.”

Daniel Flatley is a staff writer covering politics for the Watertown Daily Times. He writes a column once a week for the local section of the paper. He can be reached at


Borrowed time: some reflections on an uncommonly beautiful event

First published: July 29, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: July 29, 2014 at 12:09 am

This weekend I went to see one of my best friends and the best man at my wedding get married in Chicago.

Aside from sharing the same first name and a surname of dubious Irish pedigree, Dan and I attended preschool, grade school and high school together. Our families and friends are as intertwined as the double helix of DNA.

In the tradition of all truly great friendships, our relationship was based largely on my either exploiting or annoying Dan, whether it be bumming rides home from him or cursing loudly at his parents’ computer screen while editing the short films we used to make.

And, I am ashamed to admit, on more than one occasion, in a paroxysm of insecurity, fear, jealousy and a whole other catalogue of the basest and darkest impulses I possess, I would tease him about being gay.

At the time, the concept of being homosexual was simultaneously as near and as foreign to us as it could be. In the close and woefully, at times, closed-minded atmosphere of a Catholic high school in a small rust-belt town, it was more an insult than an orientation. I didn’t know Dan was gay, but, like any decent adolescent with a keen nose for difference, I suspected it.

Several years later, after we had both grown into a more mature worldview, Dan told me he was gay.

In his typically good-natured way, he even used a particularly egregious instance of my ignorance to bring up the subject, recasting it as a positive, revelatory episode.

The fact that he has remained a close friend of mine, despite my hurtful transgressions, is a far greater testament to his character than anything I could write here.

I can’t imagine, even now, what Dan was going through in those years and how my comments must have hurt him. But I do know one thing — I’ve never seen my friend happier than I did Saturday night when he married his partner, Blake.

From the venue to the vows to the speeches to the dancing, it was a beautiful ceremony.

And if you have your doubts about the validity of same-sex marriage, I wish you could listen to the words of commitment these two men spoke to each other and the song that Blake, a classically trained opera singer, sang to Dan. You would find love in those proceedings, I am sure.

A law authorizing same-sex marriages in Illinois went into effect June 1.

The wedding was small, compared with some others I have attended.

Only about 100 people were invited, I’m told. In his speech, Dan’s father made the point that Blake and Dan did not have to do this — did not have to have a ceremony, did not have to publicly declare their love, did not have to spend the money or put themselves through the stress of wedding planning to share their commitment, but they wanted to.

“And that’s good,” he said.

At a certain point in the night, I stood off the dance floor and had a conversation with another close friend.

We talked about how things were changing, about how we had both been there at the beginning of Dan and Blake’s courtship and about how they now had their own life, had experiences about which we knew nothing and would never understand.

And we talked about how, as we get older and pair off and have children, our social circles will get smaller — time off from work will be spent with family and friends in close proximity, not with far-flung high school confidantes.

That, I’m afraid, largely will prove to be true, based on what I have observed of the world.

Indeed, the ceremony and reception went quickly, time refusing to be cowed by even the most sincere outpouring of love and affection. The official event concluded, we were whisked into the night by a limousine before the night ended in one of those abrupt cosmic shutdowns that occur before the system can be overloaded.

Thus ended, the event and the evening gave way to their only logical conclusion, to the next thing: to work, to play, to another fit of memory.

Reflecting on it now, I feel immensely privileged to have been there and, in defiance of the usual order, I look forward to both exploiting and annoying Blake and Dan for many years to come.

Daniel Flatley is a staff writer covering politics for the Watertown Daily Times. He writes a column once a week for the local section of the paper. He can be reached at


Ghostly encounters in the sun: why we spook ourselves in the summer

First published: July 22, 2014 at 12:58 am
Last modified: July 22, 2014 at 12:58 am

“It could be the children from upstairs.”

In the summer, we tell ghost stories.

Whether it be the proliferation of campfires, the long days that provide a buffer against the terrors of the night, or the strange sleepy-wakefulness that marks summer afternoons, there is something about the warmer months of the year that encourages a curiosity in the supernatural.

And so it was, on a soporific Sunday afternoon at the old Grange Hall in Three Mile Bay, that a small group of residents and visitors gathered to share their ghostly encounters under the guidance of Lyme town historian Julie E. Gosier.

A woman named Mary shared a story.

Shortly after her mother died, Mary went with her brother to make burial arrangements at a funeral home in Chaumont. While discussing details with the undertaker, she noticed a small child peering around the corner of the parlor and playing peekaboo with her.

She didn’t think anything of it at first, figuring that it was the daughter of the man who ran the funeral home.

But when she commented on it to the undertaker, he simply said, “No.”

“It could be the children from upstairs,” he said.

Mary did not think too much about it at the time, her mind consumed with the more mundane details of complying with her mother’s final wishes, but, upon further reflection, she realized how strange the entire episode had been.

What did she really see? Why would children be living above a funeral home? Why was the undertaker’s reaction so nonchalant?

Now, every time she drives by the funeral home, she looks at the heavy curtains in the window and wonders, “Who are the children from upstairs?”

There is a technique to telling a ghost story, and whether the art informs the content or the content the art, most people adopt a standard approach when discussing unnatural occurrences.

They drop their voice a few octaves and speak just above a whisper. Eerie pauses are inserted, seemingly at random, as they try to remember the details of the story.

As the listeners lean in close, they are sometimes, in the best of tellings, gently lulled into a half sleep — a realm where logic slips away and dreams and reality exist together.

And if the story is told well, it will leave the audience with chills.

Some more refined stories, those that have been passed through the wine press of popular culture, will end with a resounding “boo” or some other exclamation, leaving the listeners startled.

But the best stories end quietly, disturbingly.

I’ve heard many ghost stories in my day (ghost stories, it should be pointed out, are different from scary stories, in that the former involve beings from beyond the grave while the latter involve experiences beyond the pale), but the best came from Mike Hall, a youth group director I know.

Mike has the perfect tone for telling ghost stories. It falls somewhere between sincere and skeptical, with a slightly arched eyebrow that makes you wonder whether he’s telling the truth or just shining you on. Somehow, however, his style made the stories all the more convincing.

When I first came to know him, Mike was involved with the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, the only Catholic diocese in West Virginia. He traveled throughout the state organizing events and often stayed overnight in buildings owned by the church. These overnight stays informed most of his stories, and rightfully so.

Churches and church buildings, for that matter, are like funeral parlors in that they encourage the contemplation of the unexplained. In these places, we consider what happens beyond the physical realm.

I’m not sure I believe in ghosts, but I do believe in ghost stories. And I’ve been in places, like my grandparents’ house the night we moved their furniture after they passed away, where I’ve felt ... unsettled.

I think we take our ghost stories in the summer to relieve our chills with the balm and the warmth of the sun.

Cold to revive the soul, hot to relax it away.

Daniel Flatley is a staff writer covering politics for the Watertown Daily Times. He writes a column once a week for the local section of the paper. He can be reached at


St. Swithin’s Day: rain nae mair

First published: July 15, 2014 at 1:05 am
Last modified: July 15, 2014 at 3:37 pm

“St. Swithin’s day if thou dost rain/For forty days it will remain/St. Swithin’s day if thou be fair/For forty days ’twill rain nae mair.”

Today’s column comes to you courtesy of Lisa Carr, the Watertown Daily Times librarian, who, in addition to introducing the pronunciation “nae mair” for “no more” to my vocabulary, unearthed, so to speak, an interesting meteorological artifact.

July 15 is St. Swithin’s Day, named for the restless slumber of a 10th century English bishop.

As you might have surmised from that little ditty above, legend has it that if it rains on St. Swithin’s Day, it will rain for the next 40 days, and if it is fair on St. Swithin’s Day, it will be fair for 40 days.

According to lore, when St. Swithin, Saxon bishop of Winchester, was on his deathbed, he asked to be buried out of doors where people could walk on him and where he could be rained upon.

For nine years, his wishes were honored, until the monks at the Winchester Cathedral attempted to move his remains to a shrine inside the cathedral on July 15, 971. A heavy rainstorm ensued.

The legend has survived for centuries, even gracing the pages of the Watertown Daily Times on several occasions, including on July 15, 1964, where it ran above a story about Watertown police escorting a band of gypsies to the city limits. Stories about St. Swithin’s Day also appeared on July 15, 1939, and July 15, 1914.

According to Mark Wysocki, senior lecturer at the Cornell University Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences who has studied weather folklore, the St. Swithin’s Day legend is just a story.

Measurable rain has been recorded in Watertown on July 15 for 22 of the last 64 years, Mr. Wysocki said, but there’s never been a recorded incidence in the area of rain continuing for 40 days straight.

When it comes to the days of the saints, of which there are several, take your meteorological menu with a grain of salt.

But there are some legends that ring true.

“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning.” Ever heard that one?

According to Mr. Wysocki, that saying actually is true because it was based on repeated and recorded observations by sailors who relied on weather predictions for their lives and livelihood.

According to the Library of Congress, a red sky at night means that the setting sun is sending its light through a concentration of dust particles, indicating high pressure and stable air coming in from the West. Good weather will follow.

A red sunrise, on the other hand, reflects the dust particles of a system that has just passed from the West, indicating that a storm system may be moving in.

It’s difficult to tell exactly why so much weather-related folklore has survived, but Mr. Wysocki surmised that it is because people grow frustrated with the science behind meteorology, which can sometimes fail in predicting the weather.

“Your science isn’t doing it; what difference does it make?” he said they may think.

But the alternative to the math, physics, data, observations and computer science can be just as inscrutable.

There are a whole host of weather-related saints’ days that run throughout the summer and fall, including St. Lawrence’s Day on the 10th of August, St. Matthew’s Day on the 21st of September, St. Michael’s Day on the 29th of September and St. Martin’s Day on the 11th of November.

Fair weather on St. Lawrence’s Day, which falls within 40 days of St. Swithin’s Day, indicates a fair autumn. A bright and clear day on the feast of St. Matthew is said to bring good food and wine for the rest of the year. Acorns on the ground on St. Michael’s Day predict snow for Christmas. A dry and cold St. Martin’s Day means a short winter.

“And if you don’t like it, you can talk to St. Martin,” Mr. Wysocki said.

Daniel Flatley is a staff writer covering politics for the Watertown Daily Times. He writes a column once a week for the local section of the paper. He can be reached at


No how-to after “I do”: adjusting to post-wedding life

First published: July 08, 2014 at 12:40 am
Last modified: July 08, 2014 at 12:40 am

“We hurt, and are hurt,/and have each other for healing./It is healing. It is never whole.”

— Wendell Berry, “Marriage”

First, an apology.

For those of you who read this column, I am sorry I missed a week. It was unavoidable. I was getting married.

And to the editor who hired me, I am sorry I am once again writing about myself. I resolved not to do that anymore but it’s been difficult lately. At least I can say I am performing my civic duty, increasing the population of Jefferson County by one.

On Sunday, after 10 days filled with strange and wondrous happenings, I brought my wife, Meredith, home to Watertown. Our apartment is now a mess of open suitcases and unopened presents — a bevy of gifts not deserved but wholly appreciated. We are here.

After the excitement of the federal primary election, I drove to Wheeling, W.Va., peeling my work worries away layer by layer until I arrived at my destination a new-born babe, free of cares and concerns, until it was time to talk to our DJ, who seemed perplexed by our music choices.

No one will dance to these songs, he told us.

But we sorted that out, and, apart from a few other small hiccups, the weekend and the wedding went very well. Four days later, we were married.

It was a week and a half filled with strange and eerie coincidences, like seeing my high school English teacher painting houses across the street from my parents’ place, running into my high school drama teacher at a rest stop deep in southern West Virginia, or staring at a placid peregrine falcon in the face as we walked underneath one of the world’s longest single-space arch bridges.

And then there was getting married in the church that I grew up in, sitting in the sacristy, feeling like a fourth-grade altar server again, the whole ceremony a dream, the Mass populated by people from so many different parts of our lives.

If I seem a bit disoriented, a bit shell-shocked, it’s because I’m still trying to piece the memories together into some kind of a coherent narrative. It’s good to be back at work, it feels right to try to settle back into the old patterns, but things are different, there’s no denying it.

I don’t know what happens next, or how to handle this new state of affairs. It was easy in the days leading up to the wedding and in the seemingly ceaseless party that followed. Now we are trying to figure out how to live together — not just for a weekend or a couple of weeks but for the foreseeable future.

It’s a heady experience. As I gear back up for the next round of columns, trying to find interesting local people to highlight, I wonder if any of our readers would be willing to share their experiences. What were your first weeks of marriage like? What worked and what didn’t work? What challenges lie ahead? Young and old are welcome to respond. My email address is available below and on our website. I look forward to hearing from you.

Daniel Flatley is a staff writer covering politics for the Watertown Daily Times. He writes a column once a week for the local section of the paper. He can be reached at


The perils of walking in running shorts

First published: June 24, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: June 24, 2014 at 4:14 am

“Because you know, nothing bad ever happens to a writer; everything is material.”

— Garrison Keillor, “A Prairie Home Companion,” Nov. 11, 2000

Last week I learned an important lesson: no matter what you accomplish in life, if you wear a pair of short running shorts for a walk, a pack of teenagers will make fun of you, relentlessly.

Since my back surgery I’ve had to give up running for a time. In its place, I’ve started walking regularly, an activity I’ve come to enjoy. While walking doesn’t burn as many calories as running and, in my experience, offers a much diminished endorphin high compared with running, it does have many health benefits and is reportedly a much easier routine to maintain.

I can relate to that last point. Despite having a marathon under my belt, I’m no great runner. Having a 6-foot, 220-pound frame doesn’t help. Running for me has largely been a minute-by-minute torture fest but, glutton for punishment that I am, I’ve always kept coming back for more.

The feeling you get after a good run is indisputably great but the feeling you get while walking is pretty good too. It’s easier to think about things when you’re walking and you can actually look around and enjoy the scenery instead of constantly worrying your calves are going to explode.

So, there’s much to recommend walking over running. And while I hope to return to pounding the pavement in the not-too-distant future, I’m content with my walking routine for now.

There’s just one problem.

Over the years, I’ve accumulated my fair share of running attire — including several pairs of short shorts — that works well when you’re striding toward the finish line but is less practical when you’re out for a casual stroll.

In an attempt to alleviate some chafing I had accrued over a week of walks, I wore a pair of running shorts with a mesh liner for a walk last Monday. I also made the unfortunate decision to wear a pair of hiking shoes instead of sneakers.

As I headed south on Thompson Boulevard, I encountered what appeared to be two large groups of teenagers walking north. In my haste to get in some exercise before work, I had neglected to realize that some schools had already gotten out for the summer.

I knew what was about to happen but there was nothing I could do to stop it. There is perhaps no fashion critic more discerning than the middle- to high-school-aged student.

As I passed through the gauntlet of pubescent punks, I endured not one but two assaults. The first, and most gentle, came from the group of young ladies that formed the advance guard of my worst nightmare. The second, and far harsher, came from the group of young men who trailed them, hurling invectives at me that would make a Navy man blush.

Some of the PG-rated comments ranged from, “He’s wearing booty shorts,” to, “I like his hiking boots.”

I was summarily “called out.”

In my experience, the accepted length of one’s shorts is relative to location. In the city, I’ve worn running shorts that raised nary an eyebrow but elicited insults in West Virginia. And, as a male runner, I’ve had to endure a fraction of the abuse to which female athletes are regularly subjected. But there’s a big difference between getting made fun of for wearing short shorts while you’re running and while you’re walking. Primarily, it involves time.

When somebody yells at you when you’re running, you can move on quickly because you’re, well, running. But when somebody takes issue with your attire while you’re walking, that exchange can last for much, much longer, as it did last Monday.

Now, it’s been a while since I’ve taken such a drubbing. The last time I can remember being laid so low I was in the late stages of grade school. I was transported back to those years in an instant. I’ve been questioning my wardrobe, and my worth, for about a week now.

Oh, well. There’s nothing wrong with being humiliated every now and then. It’s good for the soul. I make no apologies for the length of my shorts.

Daniel Flatley is a staff writer covering politics for the Watertown Daily Times. He writes a column once a week for the local section of the paper. He can be reached at

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