George Carlisle, photographed at the Exit Zero office with the 60-year-old manuscript we will be publishing next May. Maciek Nabrdalik
Quite A Story
PICTURE this. A man pecks away at his typewriter, the one that’s held together with strings of fishing wire. The one which sits on a desk he carved himself in a humble cabin he built by hand. He’s a carpenter by trade, but his passion is writing. And he’s good, too; if only someone would realize it. And then someone does. After the man’s death, in a dusty drawer in a dusty study, his family finds a manuscript. Beautifully written. Surprisingly well-crafted. It’s a work of art.
This is the stuff movies are made of: the poor, hardworking farm boy makes good. An ordinary life becomes more poignant than anyone could have imagined. Only this time, it’s not a story. The man — Charles Whitecar Miskelly — was a real person, born in 1880, and his woefully under-read manuscript is real, too. Exit Zero is preparing to publish this novel — a Cape May-centric tale about a white man who was shipwrecked off the Cape in the 1600s, and his eventual ascent to leader of the Lenni Lenape tribe he encounters here — this spring.
The manuscript was brought to EZ Global Headquarters one year ago by the author’s grandson, 74-year-old Bridgeton native George Carlisle. And that’s where it stayed, again untouched, for the better part of this year. George, a retired writing professor at St Paul’s School in New Hampshire who has mentored several writers on The New Yorker masthead, called every three months or so to see if we’d gotten a chance to read it yet, and when we told him “no,” he’d cheerfully and patiently thank us for our time. Perhaps he knew that when we did eventually sit down with the book, we’d be completely taken by it.
And that’s what happened. The plot itself is engaging — it’s so believable, no one can say for certain whether or not it’s truly fiction — but it’s the infusion of intimate detail concerning the seascapes and skyscapes of our area that have us so excited to share this manuscript with the rest of the world. We asked George how his grandfather, a boat-builder/chicken breeder who was born and raised in Millville, could have become so familiar with, and articulate about, the natural world, and he explained the man’s penchant for disappearing on his own. He’d spend his off-time fishing on the Maurice River, hoping to catch “the big striper,” and, no doubt, taking careful note of the way the sun would play on the water, or the way the long grasses would bend the morning light. Sometimes, he’d disappear on bike, into the country or the woods, without telling even his wife Ida where he was going.
But none of this explains how Charles learned to write such exquisite prose. Forced to leave school after eighth grade to help his family on their farm, he had no formal training. “It’s amazing,” George told us.
So amazing, that sometime in the 1950s, Philadelphia-based publisher Lippincott wanted to add it to their fall print-list, but because they wanted to make some minor edits first, Charles wouldn’t stand for it. The manuscript was put away until Charles’ death in 1963, when it was given to George, who says it’s nagged at him ever since. “It made me sad,” he told us. “I always felt it was a shame; I thought, ‘When I die, it’s all going to get burned; no one will ever read it.’ So I feel good about this. I think it’s good; It should be read.”
We think so, too, and we’re excited to add this story — one with such a wonderful back story — to your list of beach reads this summer, when it will be exactly 50 years since Charles’ death. Keep an eye out for it, Cape May, and if any of YOU have unpublished, 50-year-old manuscripts tucked away under your bed, we’d love to read those as well.
Home For The Holidays
LATELY, we’ve been hearing a great deal about Family Promise of Cape May County. The Women’s Club of Cape May has pledged to make this nonprofit their fundraising focus for the next two years (see page 44). Last month, the Mad Batter hosted An Evening of Giving Thanks, in order to raise more money for the cause (see pages 50-53). And Cabanas is hosting its seventh annual Christmas in December, which also benefits Family Promise, this Friday (see page 34).
In case you haven’t heard yet, this is the group which works to keep homeless families together by providing them with shelter in local houses of worship (Methodist, Presbyterian, and Catholic churches; synagogues; you name it). They offer warm meals, the support services necessary to get the downtrodden members of our community back on their feet and, perhaps most importantly for the 28 families and 63 children who’ve benefited so far, they offer hope.
This time last year, a couple with two young girls who’d been used to bringing in $80,000 a year, found themselves without a home. He’d gotten in a car accident that left him unable to work; she’d been laid off. A traditional shelter could not taken in all four family members, so one of the daughters went to a friend’s house; another, to a relative’s. The father wound up sleeping under the Wildwood bridge. A week before Christmas, he thought to inquire about Family Promise, which was able to place the group — all of them — in a church shelter (one of 34 participating houses of worship in this county) in time for Christmas Eve.
Members of the congregation asked for the sizes and interests of the girls, so that they might buy some gifts for them to wake up to in the morning. “They told everyone they didn’t want anything,” Family Promise Director
Laurie Johnson told us. “Finally being together was enough for them. Of course, they received presents, anyway.” Now, thanks largely to the resources provided by this organization, this family is once again working and enjoying their independence.
Because of success stories like this, as well as the generosity of volunteers and pledges, Family Promise is expanding. Their current center of operations — the place where families can shower, do laundry, store personal belongings, and prepare each day to leave for their designated house of worship — is located above a produce stand in Rio Grande. “It’s so small,” Laurie told us, “that if you look at the produce stand from the outside, you can’t even tell there’s an upstairs.” But with the help of a loan from the USDA, the organization has purchased a four-times-larger property at 505 Townbank Road. “We’re taking root,” Laurie said.
If you’d like to volunteer your time — helping kids with homework, answering phones, lending a hand with laundry — give Family Promise a call at 609-846-7862. “The one thing all of our volunteers have in common,” Laurie told us, “is praciticing love for a stranger, no matter what their faith.”
Have A Nice Day, Dammit
WE RECEIVED this letter from a frustrated reader, and we’ve decided to print it because, well, we’ve experienced many of the same frustrations ourselves, which makes us think many of YOU probably have, too. We know it’s hard to predict what a businesses hours will be, in a town where it’s difficult to predict what the population will even be, from off-season month to off-season month. (Judging by crowd only, this past weekend felt like the Fourth of July, for Pete’s sake.) But it’s a fair point that customer service involves more than just being friendly, and though we think most of the businesses in town do a great job, it only takes a few bad apples, as they say…
To Cape May’s shops and restaurants…
It’s the holiday season, and I’m doing my best to be of good cheer, but let me tell you, I’ve reached my limit with a lot of Cape May’s businesses. Sure, you have friendly service in the store. I’m greeted with a smile and treated nicely. So then why am I ready to take my money elsewhere? Let me give you some examples…
• Today I checked the website of a very popular store, saw that they were open seven days a week, and decided to drive from my Middle Township residence (about 10 miles each way) to buy some holiday presents. Except that when I got there the store was closed, with a sign in the door that tells me that they’re only open Friday through Sunday. I probably should’ve seen this coming; the same store did the same thing to me last year too.
• I recently placed a special order at a local shop. I could’ve gotten what I needed faster elsewhere in the county, but this shop has always treated me well. Three weeks later, my order finally came in, except that now the store isn’t open seven days a week from 9am to 5pm like the sign in their window says. It only seems to be open when the owner feels like showing up, which doesn’t seem to be when I’m there. The owner had given me his cell phone number, and I left messages, but he doesn’t call back. I finally found someone there, but he didn’t know what the price of my order was. I offered to come back the next day to pay, but sorry, I was told that the store might or might not be open because the owner was probably going fishing.
• Three times in November, I went into Cape May restaurants, perused the menu, ordered something from it, and was told by a helpful waitress that the dish in question wasn’t on the menu anymore. In fact, it IS on the menu, it’s just not in the kitchen.
• I made plans to meet a blind date at another restaurant. Their website says they’re open, and the recording on their phone says the same. So how stupid do I look, sitting outside a closed-for-the-season restaurant waiting for my date?
• The team I root for was going to be on Monday Night Football. I made a point of asking the manager of a bar I frequent if they’d be open. “Absolutely,” he said. But when I got there, the place was all but shut down. The big screen TV was dark, the kitchen was closed, all the servers had been sent home, and even though the game started at 8:30, they were locking the doors at 9:00. “Sorry, slow night, not worth staying open,” was the explanation.
I can’t be the only one to whom this is happening. Surely other customers are having the same problems. Am I asking too much to want shops and restaurants to update their websites, change their answering machines, and keep regular hours? If a restaurant is going to have a seasonal menu, could you print new menus? Or at least put some sort of note on the out-of-date bill of fare? If you say you’re going to be open, could you be open?
A trip to Cape May for me means at least 20 miles of driving. So when I waste my time and gas trying to shop at places that aren’t open, there’s still a cost. Right now, I get the feeling that too many Cape May businesses value my money, but don’t give a damn about my time. If that doesn’t change, I’m sure that I — and other potential customers — will be opening my wallet at a higher-numbered exit.
Exit Zero Burns Supper
It will be here before you know it. On Thursday, January 24, Exit Zero will once again host what promises to be the event of the winter season at the Ugly Mug. We are, of course, referring to the Ninth Annual Exit Zero Burns Supper, which pays homage to the national poet of Scotland, Robert Burns. It’s a sell-out every year.
A bagpipe brigade, whisky cake, some of Robbie Burns best poetry, and delicious haggis (and fish and chips for those who don’t want to try Scotland’s national dish) make this a night worth marking your calendars for. Reserve your tickets early; they’re already selling. You can do so by giving us a ring at 609-770-8479, or by visiting ezstore.us.
You don’t have to be Scottish to have a great time, and tickets are the same price as they were the first year — just $30.