Category Archives: Boston

A Snow Adventure

You may have heard we got hit with 12+ inches in Boston last week. Ah….there’s nothing like that first big snow fall, the dazzling snowflakes…blowing horizontally in the shrieking wind of the “bomb cyclone.” Someone needs to give the weather people more to do — they have way too much time and fun at work making up scary adjectives for storms, which we in these parts are happy to just call a naw’eastah, thank you very much. The rest of us don’t get to make up words at work, so why should they have all the fun?

Despite the storm’s doomsday descriptions, I survived with heat and electricity intact. However, it wasn’t until the next day that I understood the real terror of the storm… The Space Saver.

Now that I am in a new neighborhood in Boston proper, suddenly all those stories about saving shoveled out spaces with broken toilet bowls and vacuum cleaners stop being “cute” and “funny,” and take on a menacing tone. In most areas, moving the saver is a really bad idea. Silly me, the real test of storm endurance was just beginning. Not for nothing, in my previous neighborhoods, even though I had a driveway, my visitors had to park on the street and I’ve had non-snow parking situations where people left a nasty note, flattened tires, and once keyed a car. You break the unspoken rules of your neighborhood, and you take what’s coming to you.

Oh, sure when I moved in this fall, these were the nicest people. Saying hello, organizing neighborhood leaf raking, even checking on my sister and elderly mother when they were out for a walk and taking rest.

But the first spacing saving chair had sprouted; Boston winter’s equivalent of a warning volley shot across the bow. And with another 3 days of ridiculous temps from 7 to 14, there was no luxury of having the bright, day-after 35 degrees and sunshine helping me shovel out with a little snow melt. My monkey mind went into overtime. I didn’t want to get involved with saving a space. If I left and couldn’t find a space when I came back, what were my options? Where could I park my car? I was starting to miss the “snowmageddon” of 2015 (another made up weather word!). At least then I was master of my own domain and could shovel out on my own schedule, or at least when work demanded I show up in the office.

I had managed to get as far as thinking I could take time off from work to dig out my car during the day, which was allegedly supposed to be warmer at 35 degrees. And if I couldn’t find parking when I got back, I could park in a pay garage in the next town and take the bus back to my house. But then I realized something. Something profound.

I didn’t need my car. I take the train to work, I get my groceries delivered, and anything else can be walked or cabbed to. So I let it go, and then in the way the universe likes to mess with you, I went to check on my car on the weekend, still cold as you-know-what, and saw that the spot behind me was open. This gave me some space to start phase 1 of the digging out, and I cleared in front of, behind, and next to the driver’s door of the car. Then, when the kid come home later, he suggested that we clear off the snow on the car. Of his own volition. So we did. Now all that left is the snow pack three feet wide and 1 foot high between the car and the road. But I’m looking at above 35 degree highs for the next week, so ha on you, Winter!

In the meantime, I learned that the worst that happens is people just move your space saver and take your shoveled out place. The city may also come by in the night and take the space savers because they technically aren’t allowed. That’s unconfirmed, but yeah, and naming snow storms isn’t supposed to be allowed either. People do it anyway. What? No nasty notes? No flat tires. How the heck am I supposed to blog with all this civility?

Oh, I guess I just did. Just 53 more days until spring!

Top 6 Posts of 2017

Well, kids, looks like we made it through year 1 of the Cheeto flea, and that alone is worth celebrating. But even better would be to forget about him altogether. As you run the highlight reel of the past year in your mind, acknowledge the not-so-great stuff, but give priority to the good things — the people, places, and events that gave you a lift. I’m reminding myself as much as you on this one. I think of myself as a positive person, but I’ve been noticing that I can get focused on the one bad thing sitting amongst all the good stuff. So I’m going to try to keep an eye on that in 2018. I’m also feeling like my tank is empty, and, yes, I had a big year (as the posts below will attest), but most of the big things are past, so I also wonder if it’s real or a habit? I will keep an eye on that, too.

But for now, it’s time to look back a bit, take a deep breath, and head out to 2018.

6. The big news of the year was getting the kid launched, and it was official with this post. In the process, there were highs, lows, lots of wine, and a few moments of full-blown panic. But the deed got done with Mission Accomplished.

5. I reread this one, and thought, damn, that’s good! I’ve been feeling less than inspired lately to write. In keeping with my positive theme, I’m going to recall the words of a painter friend many years ago, when I was hit with my first case of writer’s block. I had just finished a bunch of essays and thought, now I’m ready for the next thing. But I wasn’t. The faucet had nary a trickle. He told me not to worry — I was merely filling up again. So, I’m going with that. Don’t know how long the filling will take, so be prepared for reruns if you’re a long time reader and for cool old stuff if you’re new. In any event, this piece reminded me that, yeah, I still have some writing mojo. Happy Anniversary.

4. That this one is in the top 6 makes me laugh. I thought it was just me, but apparently this was something a lot of people could relate to. For the love, Leave the Curtain Rods.

3. Because I have memory issues, er, I mean, I live in the moment like Eckhart Tolle. I’m a super advanced human, I swear. Anywho, I thought this one was about Cheeto flea, but it was more subtle than that. Either way, it never hurts to remember It’s a Marathon not a Sprint.

2. I just reread this one, and it reminded me I have a blog to finish about bystander intervention. Also, it reminded me that Life moved with me to my new apartment and is still sitting in my chair, giving me the look, and motioning me to get her another drink. Happy new year, bee-atch! Dammit!

1. Oh, Celine. I hope where ever you are, you have all the happiness you deserved when you walked among us. Goodbye My Friend.

So there it is, friends. I wish you all you healthy, hopeful new year. We can totally do this. We always do.

Writing Excavation

Before I get into my blog proper, I need to detour one second for this brilliant tweet from @DrAndrewThaler: “Folks, I think we need to start coming to terms with the idea that the rapture happened and only David Bowie and Prince made the cut.”

And now back to our regularly scheduled shenanigans: While packing and decluttering before I moved, I went through my filing box of writing. Oh what a treasure trove of the good, the bad, and the incomprehensible, masquerading as mastery. Here are some of the more interesting (humor me) highlights:

This one I like — I’m not a natural-born poet, brevity being rather foreign to me. However, I do have my moments. I used to take a bus to the train to get to a 7 am meeting in Boston. One thing writers are good at is turning an unpleasant obligation into art, or at least something more palatable.

Early spring bus ride, 6:20 am
The light is so nice
It’s the planet and the sun
We’re doing the tilt.

I found a lot of random notes about possible essays from when Lucas was little. Which either shows my unbridled optimism or delusional tendencies — I had no time or energy to write an essay, but as they say in yoga, intention counts. This one made me smile:

When Lucas was about 8, he played soccer. His coach Giuseppe was from Italy and had a pretty heavy accent. We used to laugh that his son who was also on the team and a great player was the ringer — the kid probably had been kicking a ball around before he could walk. The rest of Lucas’s team was pretty much what you’d expect from a group of rag-tag, half-hearted 8-year-olds. The better teams always thought they had the game in the bag until Giuseppe’s son started weaving his way around them as if they were standing still. I also loved the way Guiseppe told the kids that “practeeks” would help them win. Short of having a wine flask to help take the edge off sitting through 8 am practices in 35-degree fall weather, the Italian imported ringer and the practeeks got me through.

In an unmarked manila folder I found a thin, plastic see-through record, a 45 size, but a 33 rpm. If you are younger than 35, this sentence may make no sense to you. Kind of like this one makes no sense to me (randomly found on a celebrity gossip site): Javi and Briana rub their romance in Kailyn’s face. Who are these people?

Back to my see-through record. It does play on my record player. (Yes, I have one, read all about it here: Put the Needle on the Record). The record is called “Star Track: Stephen Saban’s Greatest Hits,” and has excerpts from interviews by the “hottest” 80s stars, with a slant toward comedians: Judy Tenuta, Julio Iglesias, Bruce Willis, Debbie Harry, Steven Wright, Emo Phillips, Lily Tomlin. I listened to it, and it’s pretty incomprehensible — there is no theme or organization, just famous people saying random things. It says “Details” at the top, which I think means it was from the hip, happening 80s magazine of the same name, which I did not subscribe to. So the mystery remains: why was this (presumably) in a magazine, who the hell is Stephen Saban, how did I get this weird thing, and for the love, why did I keep it? Was it one of those, “Oh, this will be worth a lot on eBay in the future!” moments? We may never know as I threw it away, but was fun to find.

There were many painful attempts at fiction and interview notes from when I spent a few months as a stringer for a weekly local newspaper. Neither genre is my forte, so that’s part of the pain. But it’s not a bad thing to be reminded that being a young writer is what it is — bombastic, obvious, overly earnest, and just plain bad. But I had to write all that stuff to get where I am now: bombastic, obvious, underly earnest, and less bad.

And I’ll leave you with a deliciously bad piece of writing. Here is the winner of the 2017 Best Unoriginal Sentence: Hers was a beauty that was best seen through drunken eyes.

Thank you very much.

It’s Easy to Miss the Inspiration Around You

A few weeks ago, I went to see Kitty Dukakis discuss her book, Shock, about how electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) saved and continues to save her from debilitating depression. For any young ones out there, she is the wife of former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, (1975 to 1979 and 1983 to 1991). He was the governor when I first came to Boston in 1983, so I feel a nostalgic connection to them both. I was devastated when his bid for the White House in 1988 went down in flames, and George Bush, elder, won. Of course, time and perspective are everything, and I would not consider Bush that bad a thing right now.

But that’s a different post.

I thought it would be interesting, but I wasn’t dying to attend. A friend invited me, and at the last-minute he got stuck at work and couldn’t go. He asked me to go anyway and tell him about it. I’d had a hectic day myself, and I was tempted to go home to a cocoon of wine and binge watching “Will and Grace” reruns. But I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I decided to go, even though I left with just enough time to get there at the start, if nothing went wrong with the train.

Like that strategy ever worked.

I got a seat on the train and checked my watch — there was a good possibility I’d make it, so I turned contentedly to my book and settled in. Not long after, however, the lack of movement started to seep into my peripheral consciousness. I looked up and could see we were stuck in between stops. I wasn’t worried yet, as I knew this line often stopped briefly.

“Attention passengers, we’re standing by because of traffic ahead.” Actually it sounded more like, “crackle, hiss, pop, crackle standing pop, hiss, crackle, traffic crackle, hiss, pop, crackle.” But I’m fairly fluent in Boston subway speak, so I got it that we weren’t moving anytime soon.

Crap. Deep breath. Maybe it wouldn’t be too long. But we continued to stand still, and with each minute ticking away, I added a minute onto my arrival time. I began to hear the siren call of  wine and “Will and Grace” again. What’s the point of going if I’m going to miss half of it? I’d like to say that I put my big girl pants on and stayed the course. I did stay the course; however, it was more because waiting on the train was less work than figuring out how to get home from the line I was riding without having to backtrack or get out and walk to a different line.

Finally we lurched forward and moved along, and to my surprise, I was only 10 minutes late. Kitty was talking about her book, while I found a single seat in the filled up room. And in the next 50 minutes I was unexpectedly moved and inspired.

Kitty is turning 80 next month and he’s 84, but you’d never know it. In addition to writing two books and working on a third, she is also a tireless advocate for demystifying and destigmatizing ECT. She says most people equate it with electric shock in the 1975 movie, “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” While she doesn’t deny it was used indiscriminately back then, in the past 40 years, the treatment has been refined and targeted to the point where Kitty goes in every 5-6 weeks for a maintenance 15-minute treatment. She discovered the hard way that if she stops, her depression comes back just as deep and devastating as ever. She and Mike run an ECT support group in their home, and welcome people who have had ECT treatment and those who are thinking of having it. It’s usually a last resort for deep depression that won’t respond to other types of treatment.

Kitty’s passion for helping people navigate ECT came through clearly, and I was happy to see Michael there too. I had a moment of “it’s cool being in the same room with well-known people” feeling. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but I did not expect the amount of tenderness and respect that passed between them. She’d turn to him to help her find a word or remember a fact, and he did the same with her. They finished each other’s sentences. All this with the back drop of what they had both suffered, mostly in the public eye, due to her alcohol addiction. Before she received ECT, it was the only way she could blot out the depression. When he described coming home one day and finding her passed out from alcohol on the floor, I welled up. He said he was at heart an optimistic person and kept hoping each treatment they tried would be the one. She experienced this depression for 17 years. That is some kind of badass optimism.

He said that he is still an optimistic person, even now, in our current political climate. “We’ve been through worse, and we’ll get through this.” Hearing an elder politician who’s been around the block or two and is still so clearly committed to service to others made me believe he could be right.

And he is committed. He is just as passionate about ECT as Kitty. You could see how disturbed he was when he noted that 20 military vets commit suicide a day, many with depression. He and Kitty have been working with the VA to offer ECT as a treatment option, and they are very close to setting up a pilot in Massachusetts that they hope could be a model for the rest of the country. During Michael’s 1988 presidential campaign he was made fun of because he still had a 20-year old snowblower that he used himself, he took the train to work as governor, and to this day he can be spotted in his neighborhood picking up trash. These may have played some part in his failure to reach the White House, but from where I sat, they were hallmarks of a life lived with intention.

Being in their presence was very powerful:  in their 80s, over coming alcoholism, depression, bitter political defeat. And still passionately working together to make things better for others, both one-on-one and on a bigger scale. Thank you to both of them for reminding me that we have been through worse, and we will get through this. And the way to do to it is head down, doing what you can small and large every day that makes a difference for someone. Some days you have to get off the delayed train to wine and Will and Grace. But when you can, it’s better to stay on the train and make use of where it leads you.

Visit Kitty’s educational ECT website to learn more.

Hope Is a Thing with Feathers

Or at least hope is a thing, my apologies to Emily Dickinson. I’d been running low and trying not to get too freaked out about it. Why am I so tired and drained? Why do I just want to go home and watch old reruns of “Will and Grace”? What is wrong with me? It can’t possibly be because I had a hectic summer launching the kid to college and then I moved myself. That’s ridiculous. I’m waaaaaay stronger, tougher, and more resilient than that. Ha!

I crack myself up sometimes.

Anyway, newsflash genius. Yes, that’s why. And being tired and drained leaves you more vulnerable to things like, say, Cheeto Flea antics. And that stranger on the subway who you are certain is giving you the stinkeye. They are definitely not having their own moment of “Why the hell do I just want to go home and watch ‘Will and Grace’ reruns?”.  That’s reserved for yours truly.

But then the feathered thing landed. My new neighborhood. It’s a real neighborhood, in a way I haven’t experienced since I left a similar place in 2001. Now that says more about me than the places I’ve been in the last 16 years. I witnessed plenty of people being neighborly, and I had my moments of neighborliness, and I learned a lot, but it never felt quite like home.

But this new place does. When I walk down the main street to do my errands, in less than I mile I have witnessed a man opening a door for a woman with a baby carriage and he wasn’t even going into the store. Three women chatting over the library books one had just taken out, any number of people in twos and threes standing on the sidewalk chatting like it’s Sesame Street. The guy in the minimart/liquor store around the corner from my house didn’t care that I went in there and bought 1 banana. Just 1. The helpful guy in the hardware store apologized because the bolts I bought weren’t as shiny as the sample I had. He gave me a discount.

What fresh heaven is this? Let’s be clear. This is not in the Midwest, where I’m led to believe this happens all the time. I’ve walked in a shopping mall in Iowa, and everyone said hi to me and it freaked me out. If I don’t know you, I’m good without a greeting. Don’t they get tired putting out all that friendliness?

No, this is appropriate friendliness. People who know each other are chatting (and not engaging me needlessly), and people in the stores are giving great customer service, and strangers are showing kindness and courtesy by opening doors for each other.

Relax, this is still Boston — in the morning, the road rage honking surpasses my old neighborhood, which is saying something. But I don’t have to drive to work, so I don’t care. And it helps me know this is real. Because I’m still pinching myself.

Cheeto Flea is running amok. The shootings continue unfettered with the NRA still saying more guns will solve the problem. Hate groups are oozing out of the woodwork like cockroaches coming out on a crumb-filled night.

But I’ve found a little piece of hope, civility, and poetry to keep moving forward. And a shout out to my friend Becky whose love for Emily Dickinson made me pay more attention to her poetry than I would have.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

 

 

 

Leave the Curtain Rods

Well, I did it. I’m moved, and the unpacking is down to a dull roar. My new place is fantastic. You know what else I did? I left the curtain rods, which I’ve done for pretty much every place I’ve moved. And you know what? There are never any curtain rods where I’ve moved to. For the record, my current place gets a pass because it has fancy wood blinds. But why? Why do people take their rods? What exactly do you think you can use them for? This is Boston/New England and most windows are 50 to 100 years old, and no two windows are the same. If you’re lucky, you may get to use one or two of your current rods, but you will still need to buy new ones. Trust me. And if you are moving to one of those fancy, new deluxe apartments in the sky that have been popping up all over Boston, you ain’t need any curtains up that high, sweetheart.

As I was taking down the curtains in my old place, and leaving the rods, thankyouverymuch, I remembered how I bought them for the whole place, and all of the windows were nonstandard. There was an absurdly long front picture window, a wide kitchen window, and the teeniest, tiniest bedroom window that couldn’t even accommodate a window fan. There were more normal double French doors, but I had to position the rod carefully because of the way the doors opened to make sure I didn’t get trapped by the curtain.

And anyway, those badly fitting rods you take with you won’t help you after a long day of moving, as night starts to fall and the clear, uncovered windows mock your false sense of privacy.

Have mercy and leave me something I can put my old curtains on or at least a towel or old blanket for a night or two.

And I don’t care if the rods are cheap. I will swap them later if I care that much (I won’t). If fancy window “treatments” get negotiated and left behind as part of a house sale, you can leave your stinking rods behind in a rental apartment.

Now perhaps some people leave them like I do, and the landlords throw them away, if they feel moved to paint. But I say unto you, landlord: leave the curtain rods on the floor, for the love. Plus, who are we kidding, but most landlords don’t paint (except mine, she’s awesome).

So, how about this crazy idea. If we all left our rods behind, there would be rods when we arrive at the new place. How about that? No? Fine. Then you can go stick your precious rods. I don’t care, I’ve got fancy wood blinds.

Photo credit: Asulka.com

 

Eclipsed

The kid and I were in Columbia, South Carolina to see the total Solar eclipse. We’re still trying to get back to Boston, but that’s another blog, or maybe not — 3-4 hour delays seem to be too common to even make fun of these days, at least on Delta.

I could make fun of the total eclipse-related “traffic” we were warned about in South Carolina’s capital city, but I’d have to use Boston as a comparison, and it’s weird even for me to brag about how much more traffic we have: The bumper to bumper crawl around the city or coming to a dead stop on the Pike on any random day just before Boston or between the 3 Worcester exits (that’s Woostah to you) — where you can be stopped in traffic long enough for a drink and a cigarette. Heck, it can take 2 hours to get home on the train after the Fourth of July fireworks. So when they said plan ahead, I was thinking along those lines. Thank you, Columbia for not even coming close.

But none of that matters, because for almost 2 hours, we watched the greatest show on earth. The eclipse forecast, which had been updated daily like Vegas odds, this morning finally settled on 90-plus degrees and 50% chance of cloud cover — even money. The lucky bit was that the clouds were those great, big puffy ones that play cat and mouse with the sun, so I figured at some point we’d see something. But even if we didn’t, we were with a group of other eclipse enthusiasts, at the SC State Fair grounds, surrounded by happy tailgaters from all states, setting up their canopies and chairs, grilling, laughing, playing catch, playing music.

And then it started. Wearing our glasses that looked like we were from a 50s 3D movie, we watched as the first dark sliver appeared. The glasses block out everything else, so all you can see is a sharp gold ball, with an ever growing black bite getting taken out of it. It was great just to focus on that, and try to forget about lying on the ground in the sun’s heat. The clouds came and went. When a cloud blocked the sun, we cooled off in the car. But then I started enjoying watching the way the glasses made everything blank, and then the gold ball would peek through the darkness as the cloud passed by. While the eclipse was already an immense gift, this slow uncovering of the partially eaten gold ball made the experience even more dear. This might be all I was going to get, so I sweated, watched, and decided whatever sunscreen was left on me would have to do. 

The cars next to us were playing music, and I had to chuckle at the appropriateness of “Black Hole Sun” and “Sky Full of Stars.”

Half way. It was taking forever and not long enough. Texts from various friends rolled in, the first from my friend who was watching the total eclipse from Oregon. He was already finished seeing the eclipse before we even started, and he said it was amazing. Sending happy updates to friends, I watched the sun get darker. The clouds began to thin out, with bigger blue sky gaps.

At the 3/4 mark, the dark curve seemed to move faster. It wasn’t quite so hot and a slight breeze kicked up. People who had been only sporadically paying attention were alert and calling to their eclipse mates to come out, to come see. The sky light became more subdued, like before a thunderstorm, but more dull yellow. 

The full eclipse would occur at 2:43 and at 2:40, someone started playing “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” and a bunch of us laughed. 

The light arc was now a thin strip, disappearing at the edges…”Turn around bright eyes…” 

The last bit of light flared in what’s called the diamond ring, and we all cheered and clapped. The sun was a black circle with just light wisps of the corona showing. It was magnificent. Tears leaked down my face, and the kid came up behind me and gave me a hug. It was that kind of thing, like you wanted to hug the person next to you because of the magic and the beauty. All around the horizon, in every direction, the sky looked like sunset. With the heat blocked, the air cooled. 

“It’s going to come back soon,” said the kid, and my human instinct kicked in — No! I wanted it to go on a little longer, watch it longer, have a chance to let it sink in. But I am just a speck in the face of these enormous celestial bodies that carry on in their own mysterious ways. 

And then the diamond ring flashed again, and the sliver of light returned. The crowd clapped and cheered again — harder this time — for the flawless performance, and exclaiming delight in their own way. The kid thanked me for arranging the trip, and I gave him a hug. 
People started to pack up, but I lingered a bit, watching the inverse of the event while the light reclaimed its usual state. But nature had given us enough, more than enough, and a sun shower turned into a sun-blocking cloud, and a bit more rain. It was time to go. 

So it doesn’t matter that we’re still sitting in the airport 8 hours later, still waiting to get on the plane to Boston. Today we witnessed an amazing miracle, something much bigger than ourselves, and it eclipsed everything else.