Monthly Archives: May 2016

Alpha Flee

On Saturday, I, my friend Lin, and my son went on a road trip to Amherst, Mass., to see the Shakespeare Folio from 1623. It’s a printed book of his plays. From 1623. Think about it. It’s amazing. It was on display at Amherst College’s Mead Museum and we decided to drag my son with us to check out Amherst College, UMass Amherst, and Hampshire College. The college portion will be another blog, no doubt involving me mapping out college visits by student-only tours close to bars that open early.

Lin is a theater lover, author of her own fabulous blog, The Creative Part-Timer, and the genius behind the Tiny Colony (TC) in Boston, which alluringly combines the idea of a creative colony with the tiny house movement. I’ve been to TC and it’s fabulous, but little did I know TC can also go on the road. As we talked about our own college experiences on the trip, I unearthed one I had clearly stuffed up into the attic and is now coming to you in full blog color: Greek life.

To all of you who liked Greek life at college and actually got something out of it, congratulations. I was not one of you. When I started telling Lin the story, she, who has known me for 30 years, said, “I wouldn’t have thought you were a person who would do that.”

Indeed.

I’m not, which is how I got mixed up in it in the first place. I went to Boston University, and in the 70s it had kicked all the Greek organizations off campus. When I got there in the 80s, they were trying to make a comeback and four houses were sniffing around for recruits, two women’s and two men’s. My main interest in joining the yet-to-be-legitimized-sorority was to get invited to frat parties. The drinking age kept going up just a year ahead of me and alcohol was always just out of reach. So logically, one of my main college pursuits was procuring alcohol; who are you again? Alpha Phi? Sisterhood, alumni opportunities, blah, blah, blah. Oh, frat parties? Why, yes, I’m in!

And so for most of the year, I and two of my friends Gloria and Rosemary went along, getting our friends into the parties and attending meetings that I remember as mostly social and harmless. I’m fairly sure the whole thing was casual, otherwise I would have been suspicious sooner. Towards the end of the year, though, the group took a very disturbing and serious turn. Suddenly (or at least it felt that way to my frat-party addled brain) an adult from the national Alpha Phi organization was coming to anoint us, tap us on the head three times with a Greek wand, put a sorting hat on us, or some such thing.

The next thing I knew I was being blindfolded and led to a secret ceremony down in the bowels of a college building. I’d seen Animal House enough to think maybe it would be a cool thing, until the blindfold came off and I was sitting with a group of other 20-year-old women being sworn to secret handshakes and passwords. OK, historically women’s organizations were a secret because they were not allowed to exist. And I appreciate that reminder that women have struggled to be seen and heard. That’s cool. Still being secretive a 1986? Uncool. And dumb, like a slumber party for 13-year-olds. So we sat and had to swear to never reveal the secrets. Spoiler alert, the Alpha Phi secret handshake is squeezing someone’s hand to the syllables Al-Pha-Phi, Al-Pha-Phi: three quick squeezes, done twice. There were other secrets revealed, but honestly I don’t remember them. I was preoccupied with how we as women had worked so hard (and have to continue to work so hard) be seen and heard, and why the hell were we hiding in a basement swearing loyalty and drinking something out of the big goblet that wasn’t alcohol and passing it around? Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, they started outlining The Rules. In one minute we went from annoying 13-year-olds to feminist-destroying women. We had to agree that we would dress a certain way and act like “ladies” especially when wearing Alpha Phi crap.

Um, say what, now? I went to college to throw off society’s rules and find new ones. I became an atheist, I drank, I swore, I debauched, I wore ripped clothes and slammed against strangers to the Sex Pistols, I had a stint as the other woman. Why the hell would I want to pack all that back and cross my legs and wear “appropriate dress”?

I kept waiting for someone to jump up and yell, “Surprise! Gotcha! Just kidding! Let’s go drink!” But no one did. It should have been me, and I regret that I didn’t. I considered myself lucky to get out of there with my feminism intact. My two smarter friends bailed after that. But there was one more piece to this ghastly business: The Induction Ceremony. Requiring, of all things, a white dress. Never mind that I only come in two colors, pale and sunburn red, and look like crap in white. The real problem was how ridiculous this seemed to me. I assumed these women I’d been kind of hanging out with would all come to their senses, but they all fell in line and embraced this like a bunch of Stepford wives. Even me asking if anyone found this ridiculous made them look at me weird. Without my two friends as a buffer, I realized too late that these people were not my sisterhood.

But here’s the thing. Despite the fact that I thought it was ludicrous and hauled women’s rights back 30 years, I couldn’t throw off my family programming that quitting equals failure, even if it’s a goal you decide you don’t want to achieve. So I found a white dress, god knows where, and allowed myself to be herded to the high-rise apartment of the aforementioned adult representative of Alpha Phi, once again blindfolded. Seriously, what the fuck is it with the blindfolds? Were they getting us ready for Fifty Shades of Grey? There was white gauzy stuffed draped everywhere like we were in a bad sci-fi movie on a planet with a city in the sky. There  was some pseudo-Greek babble, more shit about swearing loyalty to the sisterhood forever, and severe awkwardness as I realized I had nothing in common with these women. It was all I could do to keep from screaming. Then it was done, and I fled the spread of cheese and crackers and a punch bowl like the Moonies were after me, and went straight to my real friends to spill the whole thing.

For many years, Alpha Phi magazine still found me after every move, which used to creep me out, but nowadays is no more creepy than Facebook knowing you were looking at blindfolds on Adam and Eve.com. Also for a long time I was mad at myself for not being the person who stood up and said, “This is ridiculous.” But speaking up is still a work in progress for me, so I try to forgive myself. These sisterhoods should be teaching that shit.

But now I realize the real purpose was so I could write about it so fully now. If I had quit after the goblet and secrets, you would have been entertained/horrified by only half a story. So thank you Alpha Phi. I dearly hope you have moved on from the blindfolds, or at least are exploring more interesting uses for them.

For Fart’s Sake

I wasn’t sure I could pull off a post about farting. A friend and I had been laughing about it, so it seemed funny, but maybe it was one of those “had to be there” moments, and you all would scratch your heads if I attempted to translate it here. But a couple of things happened on the way to writing about farting: Another friend told me about a group of poets who collaborated on a fart poem, and I saw the picture above on a pole walking in Boston. Clearly the universe was sending me messages. But the final push was my Scrabble app dictionary declaring that “fart” was not a word. Then, I knew I had to speak up for fart justice. Starting with the unjust fact that Scrabble does allow “damn,” a swear word. I thought Scrabble perhaps had some high literary standard and a soft spot for Lady Macbeth, but that argument fell down when the Scrabble dictionary also included “selfie,” which has been a word for about five minutes. Whereas, according to my faded, dog-eared Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary that survived my college days, a house fire, and numerous moves, fart has been around as a verb since the 13th century and as a noun since the 14th century. The second definition of fart as a noun is a foolish or contemptible person. I may have to try to bring that definition back in fashion, especially if Trump becomes president. I’ve only heard it used in the phrase, “old fart” to refer to an old fuddy-duddy person, but I like the nuanced layering of foolish and contemptible. Of course both definitions point out that the word is “usu. considered vulgar.”

Bless you, dictionary printed in 1983. In this world of Kardashians, celeb tell-alls, and social media debauchery, I daresay not much is considered vulgar anymore. That is unless you’re the anti-fart Scrabble people. But they need to get a grip—it’s hard enough to find small words to use your f in the game.

The topic came up when my friend who was visiting his parents texted me that his dad had just let one rip, but no one acknowledged it. Then he asked about my family’s fart handling. Which then led me to think about all the ways people handle or don’t handle farting. For example, to throw my own family under the bus, when my dad lets one rip, he laughs really hard and in a way that suggests a sarcastic pride in a great achievement. But he’s 87, so he can do whatever the hell he wants.

But before I could think about other ways, my friend asked me if I’d ever heard of a Dutch oven, as it relates to farting. I soon learned it’s when you are lying next to someone in bed, you fart, and then pull the covers over and tuck them in under both of you to trap the smell. It was unclear in our texted conversation if that is supposed to be a pleasure or punishment for your partner, but I suppose that’s in the nose of the beholder.

Being Dutch, I momentarily wondered why the Dutch, when they are referred to at all, tend to have unflattering phrases, like “Dutch treat” and now “Dutch oven.” Yes, I understand it’s named after a useful kitchen pot, but the French also have their version called a French oven or cassoulet – but somehow I can’t see the French allowing any association of their precious foodie cooking tools with a fart.

But I digress.

I commented that the Dutch oven sounded like something straight and gay guys would do—I couldn’t imagine straight or gay women putting up with that nonsense. Indeed, my scientific survey of 5 women friends revealed that only one knew what it was and another thought she’d read it in a book. No one fessed up to doing it. The guys claim they been ovened by their older siblings. Interesting.

But to continue this very serious line of inquiry, we must consider the kinds of farts and the social mores of blame assignments, must we not? There are the silent, but deadly farts that are easily denied in a group. Dog owners report that they often blame their dog. Listen up, fur balls, I hate to tell you this, but your human “friends” are throwing you under the bus. Of the farts that can be heard, many people own up to it, and by people I mean men and boys. In some cases they even use it in a close-combat, targeted way to destroy their enemies or at least annoy little sisters. Little brothers seem to be immune to this kind of attack.

Then there is the bald-faced lie approach. I know someone who is a power farter. It comes out fast and furious and he looks me in the eye and says, aren’t you embarrassed? Nice try, cheeky monkey.

My friends and I experienced group farting once, not ours of course (that’s the demure tactic, i.e., I’m too sophisticated to fart unless you catch me at it). We were hiking in the White Mountains and stayed in one of the Presidential Range huts. They have big coed sleeping rooms, with bunks stacked three high, and this one had close to 30 people in it. We’d been to many of the huts, and they generally have a similar layout, but we had never encountered the gaseous symphony like that night. It kept us up, first because a few of the worse offenders were so loud, and then because it was so stupidly funny.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a bit of farting scientific inquiry. In college, we read that farts are flammable. Because we were such excellent students, we had the intellectual curiosity to test that statement. Luckily, one person in our group was a master and could fart at will. That’s key if you’re trying this at home. First we attempted to light it while the master let one rip, but we soon realized that you only have a second to make the magic happen, and she knew best when that moment would be. Plus she didn’t trust us with a flame quite so close to her ass, and I will admit her instincts were probably sound on that count. In any event, after a few tries, we discovered that, yes, indeed, you can light your farts.

So there you have it, a blog about farting. Feel free to add your fart tactics/stories in the comments below. It’s part of a campaign to get the Scrabble people to add “fart” to the app. Fart justice must prevail.

This just in, after I posted this. My friend and DJ Brian Halligan called my attention to another very serious issue: farting on the dance floor. Please heed this all you flatulators! “Dear Everyone, Please Stop Farting on the Dance Floor

 

Put the Needle on the Record

I was at a vinyl standoff. When I last moved three years ago I sorted through all my albums and culled them more strenuously than I ever had before. I was moving to a smaller place and let’s face it — they’re heavy and take up space and the movers always cringe when they see a big box marked “albums.” Plus, I didn’t actually have anything to play them on. My ex got the turntable in the divorce, and I didn’t have the money to replace it. But I wasn’t ready to toss out all the albums either. For one thing, I’m a cheap bastard, and even my culled collection represents a serious monetary investment, much of accumulated through the Columbia House Record Club. Remember that thing? You’d get 10 albums for a penny and then be obligated to buy a boatload more at the regular price. Oh, sure they said you could cancel anytime… if you can find a phone number to call or the address to write to. And guess what, you snickering millennials, when I Googled Columbia House to make sure I had the name right (I do have some journalistic integrity), their website said the club was coming back. So now I look like a prescient genius for holding onto albums when I don’t have anything to play them on. And not, as you may have been thinking, like an old fart who refuses to keep up with musical times.

While I vigorously defend musicians’ rights to royalties from their songs, I also vigorously defend my right to access music once I have purchased it legally. It’s not my fault that CDs replaced vinyl, and then iTunes flattened CDs. If I’m going to buy new music, or old music that never got featured in the Columbia House Record Club, sure, I’ll plunk down my hard-earned $1.29 for it. But if I’m an old fart from the 80s with my Flock of Seagulls vinyl album, I’m sure as hell not going to pay another $9.99 to download it from iTunes. I should have free access to it, because I already own it.

That kind of intellectual superiority doesn’t get you very far with two large plastic tubs of albums. Sitting in a closet. Mostly likely getting warped from improper storage. And no turntable. But at least I have my superiority.

About six months ago, I broke my rule of not downloading music I already owned when I heard Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” and it brought me right back to my college years worshiping Prince, his movie and singing at the top of my lungs with my musical partner in crime, Sonia. I downloaded the Purple Rain soundtrack and was transported. Not just though time, but also by the music itself — it was even better than I remembered and I was newly awed by his musical talent. When he died, I pulled out all the albums of his that I owned, and there was one song in particular I needed to hear, “Sometimes It Snows in April,” a beautifully sad song about the death of a friend. Downloading it was not going to cut it, so I jumped online and found a new, portable turntable for under $100. It wasn’t all that different from the one I had as a kid that played 45s and I brought to my friend’s house. Although apparently the blue and white case color has given way to black. And I was amused by the instructions of how to work the arm. It reminded me of the video I saw on Facebook recently of kids being mystified by how to play video games on retro gaming systems.

I gently pulled the sleeve out of the album cover, and then slid the album out of the sleeve. I held the record by its edges and was transported by the sheer ritual of it. I gently blew the dust from the surface, and then remembered that all this visceral listening requires more stuff, like a dust brush. I turned on the turntable, placed the vinyl onto it, and lowered needle gently down. And I was conveyed to my bedroom, my college dorm room, my first apartment, my second apartment, just sitting and listening for 1,000s of hours in 20 to 25 minute increments. I listened to a whole side of Prince’s Parade album, amazed that I knew the words to each song. It was like catching up with an old friend, and the last song, on the second side, I heard the April snow song. And despite the fact that I was crying like teenaged drama queen, I was also filled with joy from the sheer visceral ritual of it.

I remembered visiting my grandparents’ house. They had an old Victrola they had bought at a flea market and restored. They played those thick 78 albums that seemed sturdy enough to use like a Frisbee. We kids enjoyed it as a novelty — the scratchy sound and the silly songs “Shaving Cream,” and “Yes, We Have No Bananas.” But now I understand they were going back in time too, and that these songs were the soundtrack of their youth.

My new mission is to listen to every single album my own to see if they still make the cut. Will I sing all the lyrics learned from hours of listening? Or is it a one-song vinyl that I got for a penny, or I was too cool to buy just the 45 (which was for little kids). So far these are keepers: Flock of Seagulls, Pete Townsend’s “All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes,” Thompson Twins “Into the Gap,” and Haircut 100 “Pelican West.” It’s going to be a great summer.

Remembering My Own Mother’s Day History

I’m so glad I reread my Mother’s Day post from last year. Truth be told, I was seeing if I could post it again, because I’ve got three blog posts in process and none are ready for prime time. I thought I could take the easy way out and repost, but I reread last year’s post, and realized I can’t use it because I have actually have evolved from that post. Oh, sure, that’s great for my development, but it leaves me diddly squat as far as an easy post. You just can’t win sometimes.

But rereading the post at least helped me avoid a bad Mother’s Day idea. I remembered we went for ice cream on the beach last year, and that it was fun, so I thought we could do it again. Being 50 has its benefits, but memory is not one of them. My blog reported that we spent about 40 minutes crawling in beach traffic at 5 miles an hour and 15 minutes waiting in line for and then scarfing down ice cream. Ah, right. On to the next idea.

Last year, I decided to start doing all that touristy stuff I did with my friends and family when I first got to Boston, and then forgot about. My son and I had started the Boston Freedom Trail last fall, so I wanted to try another leg of it. Granted, last year’s trip with my son was a little dicey — silly me, I tried to drag a sleepy teen to Boston to get my haircut and do the Freedom Trail on the same day. Let’s just say we made it three stops into the trail. But according to my memory, it was wicked fun.

I was a little worried this year because those oh, so confident, yet inaccurate weather people said it was going to downpour in the middle of the day. But the rain held off, and we got in three more sites — the Old State House, Paul Revere’s House, and the Old North Church. The crowds were minimal and we caught the blue hair special dinner at 5 pm at Kinsale in Government Center (Remember the blue hairs? Where did they go? I miss them and want to be a blue hair when I’m 70). There was no 40 minute wait for Mother’s Day brunch for us, thank god. So you know, all’s well that ends well, and I have another record of what I did. Aren’t you lucky?

http://www.thefreedomtrail.org/

 

@$#!%&^$# Drive, She Said

I’ve always had a suspicion I shouldn’t drive more than I actually do — 10 minutes back-and-forth to the train station during the week and a few errands on the weekends. I usually only have to fill up my tank once a month. I know my choice to be an urban person is right for me, but this past month, I’ve realized it’s also an excellent choice for the public. During this month of the BIg Ass Work Project with late hours, I decided to drive in rather than take the train. It’s not even 10 miles, which I know is child’s play for all you serious hard-core driving commuters out there, so feel free to flip me the bird when you drive by me. I totally get it.

In my defense, it is 10 miles of urban driving, and I did manage the highway portion of it without taking anyone out, so that’s something. The highway part of my commute involved taking the Sumner Tunnel under the harbor and into Boston. So that’s three lanes going into five tollbooths (two cash and three EZ Pass) and then we all funnel into two lanes. One mile. Under water. No breakdown lane. No escape. Wicked fun.

Some days it was backed way up, although in electronic irony, the two cash lanes were always wide open. I actually took to carrying cash to get through a little faster, just so I could then wait to get into the two-lane tunnel. But the back-up part just fascinated me — how different the traffic could be every day. Sometimes after a big back up day, there was less traffic, and I could drive right up to the tolls. So what happened to all those people from the day before? Did they just say the hell with work today? Were they fired? How can you have that kind of fluctuation? On the train, it’s pretty much the same number of riders every day, and if there are a lot more than usual, it’s because an earlier train was disabled. And if it’s empty, it’s because you think it’s Friday, but it’s actually Saturday.

So clearly I will not master the mysteries of driving to work any time soon. And I mostly behaved myself, except for the occasional sarcastic remark, “Your signal is that lever sticking out of your steering wheel. You should try it, It’s fun!”

Once I emerged from the tunnel onto the Boston side, then the real fun/potential public hazard began. From the tunnel to the garage I parked at is about 4/10 of a mile. A mere 4/10 of a mile that involves four lights, the last of which is green for six seconds, count them 1,2,3,4,5,6, five big commuting pedestrian crossings, and a major sports/concert arena. Believe me the only thing worse than a group of empowered commuting pedestrians is a group of empowered pedestrians who are also happy to be going to a concert or sporting event. Ugh! But luckily they only appeared at the end of the occasional day, whereas the commuting pedestrians are around day and night. And I’ve been one of them too, so I know these crossings are a totally game of chicken, whether the traffic light says red or green.

So between dodging pedestrians and losing consciousness through three cycles for the six-second light, I was in no mood for the final, worst final part of my drive: getting into the garage.

Look, I know Boston has no signage, and I don’t expect any, but that last configuration of how to turn into the garage was difficult to guess at, even for cynical driver like me. I was forced to do what I needed to do: I didn’t break any of the rules of the signs I could see. So I drove down the end of the short street to the stop sign. At that stop sign, most cars go right, onto another road or into a garage on the right. My garage was on the left. So I turned left and then had to wait to cross three lanes of traffic from two ramps. But apparently the ramp people weren’t use to a car on this little short street — let me reiterate there was no sign to tell me I couldn’t be there.

Not once, but three different times a car from the ramp started to turn into the street where I was patiently waiting. And then it stopped dead in front of my car. All the drivers had a completely blank look on their face. Mind you, this little road I’m on is two lanes wide, so they can go around me. But when that had not occurred to them within a few seconds after encountering me, I did what any self-respecting Boston driver would do: I gestured angrily, first pointing forward to indicate I was waiting for their lethargic butts to go so I could go into the garage directly ahead of me, and then I pointed at them — deer in the headlights– just drive around to the large expanse of road to my left, idiot. The funny thing was, they obeyed me without flipping the finger or getting angry back, so I was pretty sure I was in the right.

I admit that after the second time it happened, I carefully looked at all the signs in the area. There were no signs to indicate that what I was doing was prohibited in any way, so I felt confident in my angry gesturing. It actually felt kind of fun, as being in the right often does.

On the second to the last day of the project,  the car in front of me wanted to turn into the garage as well, but instead of going on the little road that messes with people, he drove into this little cut-out that had been puzzling me the whole month. It was a single lane actually along side of the oncoming lanes, but very obviously demarcated with a cobblestone divider between it and the oncoming lanes. There were construction cones and scaffolding between the little cut out and the lane I had been using, so it wasn’t obvious we were even allowed there. In fact, when exiting the garage, I had often driven over the cobblestone. But that car confidently swooped into that lane without hesitation, which put it close to a direct left-hand turn into that garage. And, I might add, out of harms way of the stupified people who were stopping dead in front of my car. Sheer. Diabolical. Genius.  And also impossible to decipher without a decoder ring.

On the map on my phone,  it actually almost looks like something you might be able to follow. Reality? Not so much. See below:

realitymapreality2

As you can see, there are more barriers and lack of signage than a war zone. And by way by the way, Siri couldn’t even find my garage and was trying to send me to the garage to the right.

But no worries, starting today it’s back to the train for me, and the commuter driving world will be a little safer. You people on the train, though,  better watch out.