Category Archives: Looking back

Love That Dirty Water

When I first set foot on the algae slimed, goose-poop covered banks of the Charles River in the summer of 1983, it was love at first sight. For the first time in my life I felt truly at home. I never left, and while I still love Boston, I can sometimes take it for granted or forget how much I love it. 
Last week good weather and a decent work load combined to propel me outside at lunch to take a walk along those very same banks. It’s much cleaner now, although most people prefer to enjoy it from a sail boat or a kayak. I walked along the bank, lost in thought, until I realized it was time to head back. When I turned and saw the view, I fell in love all over again. 

Exhibit A


That’s a view of the Longfellow Bridge, better known as the salt and pepper bridge because of the shape of the 4 central towers. The state has been renovating the bridge and they took each “shaker” down to restore it and this was the first time in 3 or 4 years that I have seen all 4 back again. Add the sail boats from Community Boating, and you have the quintessential Boston/Charles River picture.

Here’s a close up of the salt and pepper shakers. 


So there I was, giddy and gushing over my city, on my walk, when I came upon city workers posting these signs.


No matter that I had just seen a dog standing in the water and lapping it up, and a while later saw a man sitting in it, communing with nature. We still love that dirty water. Boston you’re my home. 

Squeaming Is for the Squeamish

When I first published this a few years ago, I excitedly announced that it was my 7th post! I could be snarky now about my own enthusiasm (did I have so little confidence that I would actually get that far? Seriously, 7th post?). But my fatigue from all of the activities this summer is making me crabby enough, so I’ll instead take it as a reminder to be positive, whether it’s the 7th or 181st post, it is saving my bacon, and for many of you it will be the first time reading it. Win-win. Also I would like to dedicate this post to my colleague at the hospital who is retiring, and may very well have been the guy who had to make the poster mentioned below. May your life be forever anal complaint free, my friend. So, here it goes…

I’m squeamish, sensitive, and emotional, so I’m not sure how I ended up in hospital communications. I have a cartoon pinned to my cube wall that shows a doctor saying to a patient, “This procedure is not for the squeamish. Squeaming is for the squeamish.” That pretty much sums me up. The main reason I can actually work there is that most everything I write is about data, metrics, redesigning care procedures, and information technology—it’s beautifully bloodless. I could never do my colleague’s job—she writes moving profiles about patient care, like how a nurse finds a key psycho-social element to care for a dying patient. Those stories always have me bawling, which is kind of uncool at work, even in a hospital. It doesn’t help that my desk is located in the hospital building. My squeamish coworkers and I call our administrative area “the bubble.” Once we serpentine through the less public halls to get to the bubble, the rule is to avoid leaving it at all costs. Over the years I have cultivated a number of additional tactics to help: I bring my lunch most days so I don’t need to go to the cafeteria, but I also found the back way to get there. If I have to interview someone, we either meet in the bubble or a neutral place like the cafeteria. I once had to interview a doctor in the Emergency Department, but my therapist says I shouldn’t dwell on it. I do occasionally have to go to the ATM which involves running the gauntlet of the main corridor plastered with posters. For the most part though, the posters and the signage are sensitive to the fact that patients also see them, so they generally don’t get too graphic. They mainly publicize hospital support programs and celebrations for nurses’ week or patient safety week. Even the more medically related ones are pretty tame and use smaller print for the medical case details. It’s easy enough to walk by quickly without being able to read them, which is normally what I do. Except for last week.

This poster stopped me cold with its 200 point type bold headline: “Managing Common Anal Complaints.” There was no escaping this thing, but after my initial squeamishly scientific reaction (“Ewwwwww”), my brain paused, ruminated, and then started a steady fire of questions I didn’t necessarily want the answers to: how could there be enough kinds of complaints to warrant a whole lecture on just the common ones? How many are there in total? Thanks to Preparation H commercials, I know there are hemorrhoids, but what other “complaints” could there be? And if they are so common, why don’t we see more commercials for medicines to relieve them? It’s not that big of an, er, organ, if that’s the term, and it only has one function, so how on earth can that many things go wrong with it? And dear god, what the heck is an uncommon anal complaint?

Even though I was able to retreat to the bubble, my mind was trapped in front of the poster like a witness to a car crash. I couldn’t stop thinking about it—is this some kind of silent epidemic that needs to have a campaign ribbon (you know what color it would be) and a month named after it? Common anal complaint awareness month? What unlucky health problem would want to share their month? Would they have a national conference and draw straws? You could just see the pink breast cancer awareness people wrinkle their noses, while other health awareness groups pressured the “Fruits & Veggies – More Matters Month” group to team up; “Your topics are kind of related,” they’d say enthusiastically. As I was considering the fruits and veggies group’s response, I realized something.

Not only had my squeamish tolerance increased, it had taken a horrible nerdy turn. In all my ponderings I never once went to that place: you know, the teenager place of farting, pooping, sexual innuendo, and pain-in-the-ass jokes. Which is probably the more normal way to think about it, rather than imagining, say, “Common Anal Complaints Awareness Month.” OMG! What have I become? A common anal complaint nerd, that’s what. Now that’s a real uncommon pain in the ass.

I Almost Fell for It

If you have been following this blog for a few years, you know my travails with my tomato plants. And by plants I mean 2. My dear friends Becky and Susan raise tomato plants (and many others) lovingly from seed, carefully place a few in my hands, and before you can say “fresh tomato and basil” I’m sending them frantic pictures of their hapless babies, crawling with bugs or curling up and withering away. Usually accompanied by a text in all caps, “WHAT DO I DO????”

Last summer was a particularly spectacular failure. Right out of the gate the poor plant was swarmed with aphids, and I sprayed the hell out of it with soapy water, but it was too late. I got 2 tomatoes last year.

So this is my last summer at this apartment,  and I have increased the pot size (were the others too small?), stopped putting fertilizer  (have I used too much in the past?), and let it be. I’m a Zen gardener now, not attaching  to any particular outcome.

And the little struggling plant grew. And grew. Leaves unfurled effortlessly and soon yellow flowers burst forth in unbridled enthusiasm. I merely glanced and smiled serenely. Soon actual tomatoes swelled from the receding flowers, green ovals of promise. I even left the plant for three days,   while we went to college orientation, and lo, it rained.

Nearly 6 weeks in, all was well. I hadn’t made it this far before without a panicked text, or a sinking feeling.

And that’s where I made my misstep. I began desiring those green ovals, anticipating their ripe redness. I was actually going to do it this summer! Have more than a handful of tomatoes! And Buddha laughed.

This morning I went out to water my plant, and there they were. I don’t know what they are–mites, midges, bugs. To me they are the little white bastards, and the Zen gardening is over. Those little bastards picked the wrong plant to mess with. Oh, yeah, I sprayed the hell out of them this morning after I rubbed half of them off with my bare hands, like Scarlett O’Hara grubbing desperately in the dirt for food.

As god is my witness, I will have fresh tomatoes this summer. I will.

Odds and Ends

First, happy Fourth of July to anyone who feels like celebrating it. Here in Boston, we’ve had absolutely perfect summer weather all weekend, so I feel like I’ve won the weather lottery. Perhaps it’s because we spent most of the spring in cold rain. The rain we needed; the cold, not so much — I really didn’t need to see that my heating bill for May and June looked a lot like March and April. I don’t live in the far north; heating bills in June are simply wrong. But the weather has been so lovely and uplifting lately, I may actually throw myself into the Boston fireworks fray tomorrow. Or I’ll just watch them from my driveway. We’ll see…

Second, I’ve been collecting photos from my commuting travels that have made me giggle. Maybe you will, too.

The Tank

I learned to drive with what we lovingly called The Merc or The Tank, our 1968 Mercury station wagon with fake wood side paneling. It was the perfect car for a new driver because you could back into anything without getting a scratch. Except a fire hydrant, but I swear, dad, that wasn’t me. Someone must have hit me in the parking lot. Rude bastards. The Merc’s other claims to fame were the gas tank falling out while my sister and brother were waiting at a stop light, and the frame rusting clean through during one of my drives. Other than that, it could hold all my friends and was totally awesome. Those are just fond memories though, right? I mean none of those italicized words above even exist anymore. Or do they…?

I saw this in Boston, near North Station a few months ago. As far as I could tell, it had its gas tank intact. The ghost just adds to the “car of teen years past” moment.

ab_merc

Follow the Guy with the Black Briefcases

There must have been a 70’s vibe in the air, because not long after spotting the Merc, I saw this guy on the train. Who has two of the exact same cases, the perfect size to carry money or diamonds? What else could they be? Seriously, these are the “mistaken identity” suitcases of any 70s detective show or heist movie. You know, one has the diamonds that were stolen in a meticulously planned jewelry store heist, or, alternately, the priceless Queen of Sheba Black Diamond stolen from the Museum of Easily Lifted Artifacts. The other suitcase is usually owned by a hapless woman with lots of granny underwear and nighties. Hilarity ensues when the robbers grab her suitcase instead of the diamond-laden one. And she wonders how she’s going to sleep in diamonds. What I couldn’t decide was if this guy was one the of the original thieves who locked the lady in the closet and grabbed both suitcases to open at a secret location. Or was he the surprise third character who is also after the diamonds and locks up the thieves and the woman in the closet together. I decided it wasn’t worth risking getting thrown off the train or stuffed in a closet to get a closer look at him, so we’ll never know.

 

ab_switchedsuitcases

The Dancing Shoes

So this one was on my walk to the train, actually not far from the place where I found Barbie’s walk of shame dress on the sidewalk. It certainly is a lively neighborhood. I walked by these for a couple of days, and they reminded me of the fairy tale, “The Dancing Shoes.” In the story 12 princesses are locked in their room at night with new dancing shoes (they were always locking up the women back then) but in the morning their beautiful shoes are all danced to pieces. Sounds like a good time to me. The king can afford to replace them, but he doesn’t like not knowing what his daughters are up to. So he decrees anyone who can find out what’s going on gets to marry one of the daughters and gets the kingdom when the king dies. However, if you try to find out and fail, your head gets cut off. Pretty high stakes and the princesses gleefully drug all of the arrogant princes who try to find out, and they sleep the whole night away. Royal heads are rolling. A humble, injured soldier meets an old women, who essentially sells out the princesses by telling him not to drink the wine they offer him. And she gives he an invisible cloak so he can follow them! I guess girl power wasn’t a thing yet. I mean c’mon, all they are doing is dancing and wearing out shoes. How terrible, they must be stopped! So of course he follows them, and discovers they have been hanging out with 12 princes from an underground kingdom and dancing the night away. But the jig is up, the oldest has to marry him and her sisters were “condemned to be placed under a spell of enchantment for as many days as they had danced nights with the princes.” You’d like to hope that in 2017, the three princes/princesses/generally fun people who owned these shoes fared better.

ab_dancing princesses

Beauty’s Where You Find It

This is also on my walk to the train. Some of the walk is classic urban grit, like this rusty fence and broken stone wall that’s part of a bridge. The train goes underneath it, and the road is busy, and it’s near the airport, so right at this point I’ve forgotten about dancing princesses and absorbing the trains, planes, and automobile ambiance.

ab_rustywalk

But then when I take a few more steps , I come upon this:

ab_sweetpeas

A riotous symphony of color of totally wild sweet peas. Perfect.

 

Forgive Me Pink Blanket, for I Have Sinned

I’ve been so busy with the kid and life transitions, I have committed 2 summer Boston sins: The first was I forgot to look up the Free Friday Flicks list, as in, forgot it existed. Thanks to dancing Mike for picking up the slack! The 2nd was worse: once I was alerted to the movie list, I actually forgot about it again. This past Friday night was the first one. We were not there. Mike mentioned it when he saw me on Saturday night. Ugh.

I know there are far worse things, but right now these traditions feel even more important to help keep us grounded, so forgetting them seems really bad. But If I’ve learned anything during my 50+ years on the planet, it’s get over your damn self and keep going freak. Or maybe that’s what I yell at other drivers. Anywho, the movies take a 2 week hiatus to make way for the Fourth of July Pops festivities and I will be there on July 14 when they return.

While I sit in a corner to think about what I’ve done, here’s a post from a few years ago about how it should have happened. It will happen, but  just a little late. Unless I forget again. Middle age can be a real pain in the ass.

I walked to the Hatch Shell in Boston for my first Free Friday Flicks of the season—it’s my 29th year of watching movies there; the first one I remember was “Batman”— not the one with Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as the Joker. No, this was the made-for-TV Batman movie with Adam West (who has recently moved on to the bat cave in the sky) and Burt Ward, complete with the “Pow,” “Bam” and “Smash” hand drawn exclamation bubbles. (Young ones, Google it or just watch the SpongeBob episodes with Mermaid Man—same diff). Back then they also showed lots of classic movies. FFF, as we like to call it, was where I first saw Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and Citizen Kane. I’m sure they were cheap for the city to get and the crowd was easy to please. It was a handful of mostly people like me—broke post-college and college students who were happy to find something—anything—free to do on a Friday night.

I’ve seen a lot of things come and go at FFF. But nearly always, at the core has been my pink blanket, aka F*cking Pink Blanket. For years, it has been the centerpiece, nay, the very FFF raison d’être, welcoming newcomers and seasoned attendees alike. Until last night. As usual, I had arrived early, unveiled the FP Blanket and secured the area. Something was off, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until my friends came and pointed out, there were not one, not two but at least THREE other pink blankets around us. Of course, they were not nearly as amazing as the FP Blanket, but still, they were not pastel posers. I was concerned. I see you are puzzled; let me explain.

The FP Blanket, pictured above on Friday night, is at least 40 years old, and like all good things from the 70s, it’s made from an indestructible synthetic material that defies physics and logic. It hasn’t gotten any more worn, nor has the color faded. It’s just as f*cking pink now as it was when it was on the bed of whichever of my unlucky family members had it. Or maybe it was a guest blanket, which would explain our lack of guests growing up.

Before cell phones, meeting up with friends at the Hatch Shell was a challenge, as most of us left our carrier pigeons and tin cans with string at home. Thus, the neon pink blanket became an important feature for spotting our group amongst the sea of particularly unremarkable, yet confusing blankets. In the 90s, I met my friend Becky and invited her to FFF. She’s the one who dubbed the blanket the F*cking Pink Blanket. She‘s not profane, mind you—other than the blanket, I’d be hard pressed to tell you that last time I heard her swear. But she is an excellent story teller and that summer, on the blanket, she told a story about her friends who were trying to buy a tandem bike, an unusual item. They found an ad for one (in a print publication no doubt) and called the number (this was before the internet and before there were readily available photos. If you think it’s tiresome to keep reading about these stories that happened before the internet, imagine how tiresome it was to live this way — barbaric!) When they reached the seller, he said,in his pure Boston accent, “I gotta warn you, it’s f*cking pink.” The rest, as they say, is history, and ever after the blanket became the F*cking Pink Blanket.

So, you must understand, there can be no others. Because of my longevity and good nature, I have decided to give you, Other Pink Blanket Owners, a friendly warning.  I understand you must be new to FFF, so please know that I own the FP Blanket and you need to find another blanket to bring. I’m sure you will. Your flimsy, natural fiber blanket won’t last anyway, so I’m saving you a lot trouble. Maybe you can use yours for a sick dog or to cover up your IKEA furniture when you move out of Boston. Need some hints of what else you could bring? Low chairs, sleeping bags, and really any kind of blanket is acceptable. Except pink. That’s my blanket and how people find me, not you. No one wants to sit with you, who has the fake, non-F*cking Pink Blanket. And don’t think for a minute little girl with the square pink blanket that I’m going to go any easier on you than I will on the others. Cute doesn’t play in my town, sister, and make no mistake, this is my town and my FFF. Thank you for attention to this matter, and I look forward to not seeing you next week.

Sincerely,

Sandy, owner of the true and only F*cking Pink Blanket.

Paying It Forward

Another quick one, my chickadees. Yours truly had too much fun this weekend, and you know what that means. The facade I like to cultivate that I’m a dedicated, organized blogger gets blown to Cheeto land. I did get to see my best friend from childhood and her delightful, funny husband. They live in the desert, and I don’t get to see them very much, so that was completely awesome.

Back at work today, I got a text message from the kid to tell me his friends were over again and that they’d used my card to get food. I sighed heavily. They have been frequenting my house several times a week for the past few months. I get it, this is their last summer together before college changes everything. But today I got crabby. Where are the other parents? I muttered to myself. Why is my house where everyone gathers? No one offers to pay for anything. We end up driving everyone one home. Grumble, bitch. I checked my account for the food delivery damage. $60 bucks. Sigh.

But then I thought about my childhood friend. Her house was the gathering house. It had a yard all around it and had the advantage of not having a dad who yelled, like I had at my house. In the summers, we practically lived at her house, showing up before lunch and staying way past sunset to play hide and seek. And all day we inhaled immeasurable amounts of ice cream, Popsicles, sandwiches, snacks, and Kool-Aid. True, there were 7 kids who actually lived there, so what was a couple more, but still. I never heard her mom complain about us being there, sprawling all over the furniture, running around the yard, or consuming mass quantities of food.

So as I sit and listen to the kid and his friends laughing and talking trash (OK, it’s Dungeons & Dragons trash talking), I realize, I’m paying it forward for all those summers of freeloading as only kids can do — freely, without malice, and with gusto. Thank you summer second mom, I’m honored to carry on your tradition.

Keep Remembering

A few weeks ago, the kid and I were up at 5 am on a Sunday to go to the airport in Boston to send off a group of World War II veterans traveling to Washington, DC. An organization called Honor Flight Network makes this possible — they transport America’s veterans to visit those memorials dedicated to honor the service and sacrifices of themselves and their friends. Although I wasn’t sure what to expect and admit to a little grumbling about the early hour, it was quite a moving scene. More than 100 people lined the entrance to the Boston terminal to send the vets off — the kid and his fellow high school students, a military band, current military service men and women, a veterans motorcycle group carrying the colors, and just general well-wishers. As I waited, I realized that these guys would be around 90, even if they joined when they were 16. Given their age, I was prepared for something depressing, but it was quite the opposite. Some 25 vets came through, all in wheel chairs, each with an attendant from Honor Flight or a family member. They all looked alert, and one by one people stepped out from the group to look each one in the eye and thank them with a kind word and warm handshake. It was very moving.

This current administration seems receptive to creating more veterans of wars, so even as we fight that, we also need to remember to take care of the ones we have. The Honor Flight Network is one of the many ways we can do that. It’s a non-profit organization created solely to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices. While WWII vets are their priority, they are working on expanding to veterans of the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

So thank you to Honor Flight, all veterans organizations, veterans, and all our service people. Let’s keep remembering and getting involved however and where ever we can, even if it’s a smile and warm handshake.