Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Go Fourth

A last-minute call landed me as a classroom aide with a group of fourth-graders at one of the schools I hadn't yet been to.

These kids refreshed my brainspace. They were earnest, sweet, and as attentive as possible for kids ages 9 to 11.

Going to a new school makes me a little nervous, but as soon as I walked into the office, they knew who I was. My contact at the district had filled them in on me; what pleases me about this is that apparently I've made enough of an impression that I'm remembered.

I was taken upstairs to meet the class teacher, a kind man who reminded me of Carl Fredricksen of Pixar's "Up." Mr. L had actually retired three years ago after 28 years as a teacher; a maternity leave gave him the chance to take over this classroom in the spring semester.

After we got to know each other a bit, the time to start was upon us and the children trickled in. They were a diverse mix, and friendly. Sometimes the kids are stand-offish, but most of these you could exchange greetings and a smile with.

I was there mostly to help with one young man who has some focus issues, but other than a couple of instances, he had a productive day. One of the great things about a situation such as I experienced today is that you get the full array of courses. I assisted with writing, reading, math, science and history.

It was so much fun.

By lunch, I'd gotten invitations from a couple of the students to eat with them. I couldn't really do that, because I needed to be a monitor during the lunch. But it was a great honor to feel welcomed like that.

That's one of the great things about kids... they can be so trusting.

Fortunately some of the topics that we worked on today fit nicely with some of my strong points: writing and history in particular. I was able to jump in and augment their learning with some perspectives that were at least different from what they may have experienced before.

A good day...

Monday, April 29, 2013

My City Was Gone

Small-town living has its benefits.

The so-called "traffic" is manageable. It's easier to "get away from it all." The cost of living is generally better. Those are just a few advantages.

But living in a large city offers tremendous opportunities, especially culturally. Boston has a number of great historic attractions, museums, artistic performances. The list is lengthy.

Saturday provided one of these opportunities when journalist Amy Goodman moderated a discussion including journalist Jeremy Scahill and free-think icon Noam Chomsky. Scahill, author of the best-selling expose of the evil mercenaries once known as Blackwater, has a new book out called Dirty Wars. It delves into the disgusting, ongoing secret warfare being conducted by the United States.

Chomsky, 84 and still going strong, is a legendary questioner of the so-called American Way. Amusingly, at one point Saturday he was asked about the assemblage of the standing and former presidents at W's library opening Thursday. Chomsky said the quintet "were all criminals."

Harvard to some extent, and Massachusetts in particular, are considered centers of liberal thought. I walked through the campus to get to the auditorium packed beyond its capacity of 500 people (many of whom sat in the aisles). An arts festival at the university featured live ethnic music. People lounged on the greenspaces. Cyclists took advantage of the gloriously sunny day. Bostonians and visitors alike thronged Harvard Square. Outside Hall B at Harvard's Science Center, a band of singers could at times be heard over Scahill's speech. Not heard but no less indicative of the inclusiveness of the space was a group of half a dozen dancers just outside the hall, working on a routine.

It's a beautiful thing to see this much diversity of human existence on display simultaneously.

But this beauty was darkened by the revelations from Scahill and the thoughts of Chomsky.


Scripture first mentions the concept of the "city on a hill"-- Matthew cites the phrase as a component of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. The idea is a foundation point of the concept of American exceptionalism, and linked to Boston itself; John Winthrop spoke of setting an example of the city on a hill on the ship bound for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. (Winthrop's former home overlooks Harvard Square, in fact. Confluence!)

U.S. politicians of all stripes (most notably Ronald Reagan) have since attached themselves to the concept of the shining city, promoting the idea that America was, is and shall forever be the example of freedom, integrity and fair play that the world's lesser lights would aspire to. The United States would perfect democracy, provide opportunity and equality to all, and demonstrate through its actions that the pinnacle of human thought and decency would be found here.

Like many if not most Americans, I've wanted this to be true. Sometimes I've even thought it was true.

It's not.

Scahill spoke of the horrors American forces are inflicting in wars that our so-called "liberal media" don't tell us about.

(ASIDE: If you really think that the "media" is liberal and in the pocket of the left or progressives, then you do not know much. You're parroting something someone else told you, or you're so far to the right that anything representing the ugly truths of our existence you consider "liberal." The vast majority of the "media" has done a huge disservice to me and you, and has made me ashamed to have ever been a part of it. If you say "liberal media" I hear you say "I'm stupid.")

I can't wait to read his book and see the documentary based on it, which is due to hit theaters in June. But probably only theaters in big cities.

Dirty Wars talks about the covert murder and mayhem our cabal of armed forces, spooks and allies around the world are currently engaged in. Concentrated in Middle East hot zones, the nasty business of rendition, secret prisons and torture is being conducted in the name of American "national security" in the "War on Terror." (How spot-on was Borat in calling this a war OF terror?)

These criminal endeavors are being perpetrated on behalf of the American people, yet since they're being done in the shadows, only a muckraking few (like Scahill) are able to air out their stench. The government is doing its best to silence information and dissent. These inhuman practices don't fit very well with the "city on a hill" narrative. They're more like "slum near a sewer."

As I listened to Scahill, Goodman and Chomsky tell me these horrible truths, I thought about so many shameful things. Some I already knew about -- the American-led efforts to squash truth evidenced in the persecution and in some cases prosecution of whistleblowers like WikiLeaks' Julian Assange or Bradley Manning; the conspiracy of cooperation from corporate media (even once-reliable giants like the New York Times and CNN have been complicit); the "rah-rah" boosterism of flag-waving fascists like Fox and propagandists like Drudge and Rush; the list is embarrassingly long.

What makes things worse is the consumer-culture endorsements from corporations who represent themselves as dyed-in-the-wool examples of the value of American enterprise, but in fact are shills for the same 'ol same 'ol. Maintaining the illusion of "us or them" is good for business. So Walmart, Coca-Cola, the networks, McDonalds... all these products are fired at us repeatedly, encouraging us to swallow the myth, fly your colors, stand your ground, be Boston Strong... it's all just a huge pile of manure, served with fries and a 44-ounce soft drink. Have a nice day.

All these things are supposed to console us while we wage a war of terror that includes drone strikes that often kill innocent civilians -- dehumanizing them with the label "collateral damage." Or some drone strikes have killed American citizens. Scahill mentioned White House meetings dubbed "Terror Tuesdays" that involve "national security" representatives who create, maintain and expand kill lists, at least three of which Scahill cites evidence of.

The Joint Special Operations Command, or JSoc, is the tip of the spear implementing whatever dark objectives the government is keeping quiet about. These are the guys who got Osama Bin Laden. And when that happened, it was easy to slip into the nationalism and base sense of payback that comes from the shared painful memory of 9/11.

And that's how the terrorists win.

Remember on 9/11 when networks aired some footage that appeared to show Middle Eastern people (read: Arabs read: Muslims read: terrorists read: you don't read) dancing in the streets, celebrating the agony of nearly 3,000 (mostly) Americans murdered in horrible fashion in broad daylight live on global television?

In pain, we collectively hated "them" that day. We wanted revenge. We wanted to shed their blood.

And we have. In spades. And we still do.

So they won. When our networks banded together to demonize a few people at the margin of the Muslim world celebrating 9/11, the terrorists won. Why didn't they show the millions of Muslims who were sad over the attacks, praying for peace and solace?

Think about a role reversal. Let's say 19 members of the Westboro Baptist Church, feeling that the 9/11 attacks created an atmosphere of prejudice against Christianity, hijacked planes bound from Jiddah to Tehran, and crashed them into Mecca during Hajj. As the Muslims sort through the wreckage and carnage still smoldering, Al-Jazeera shows footage of crowds at a NASCAR race chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!"

Think they'd be pissed off?


This is happening on a smaller yet no-less destructive scale throughout the Middle East. People are being disappeared, sometimes forever, and interrogated or killed or who knows what. Drone strikes are wiping out people on the basis of dubious intelligence reports. Shoot first, ask questions later. Scahill spoke of one incident where an errant attack in a remote village resulted in the deaths of two pregnant women. Insulting attempts at appeasement from Western forces were unsuccessful. In the aftermath, Scahill reports, the people of the village who had always rejected Taliban recruitment efforts were finally won over not by the actions of the Taliban, but by the actions of the west.

In other words, potential terrorists, and now-confirmed haters of the U.S., were ultimately swayed by our own hands.

We created them.


Eisenhower famously warned of the growing strength of the "military industrial complex." More than half a century later, sowing resentment of America around the globe is excellent for business, if your business is war and weaponry. It's an NRA wet dream wrought on a planetary scale: create fear, create enemies, and there will be a lot of money to be made. One-fifth of the U.S. budget is spent on defense. In 2011, the amount was $711 BILLION... more than the combined defense budgets of the next 13 nations on the list, which include our old friends Russia and China.

Of course, JSoc's budget is secret, so we have no idea what those numbers are.

This is the city on a hill?

What could we accomplish with that wealth were it spent on something other than death?


Perhaps the most disillusioning thing about the Scahill talk was the realization that the terrible things being done by this War of Terror to inspire hatred of our country were being perpetrated as we speak.

When Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were using the freedom-depriving tools granted them by the Patriot Act, I railed, and so did millions of other concerned people. Calling them war criminals is merited.

But Bush and Cheney have been gone more than four years, and Cheney even longer. Now, as Scahill pointed out, we have a popular Democratic president who has won two terms and was a Constitutional scholar.

And the same things that made us loathe Bush and Cheney are being implemented, condoned and strengthened by Obama.

Which would make him... a war criminal.

This realization deflates and depresses me. I believed in him. I've tolerated his numerous cave-ins and concessions to the right, imploring him to strap on the pair of balls needed to defeat the domestic terrorists of the Republican Party, who place ideological loyalty above the needs of the nation.

And my reward for this belief is a president and an administration which carries on the reviled policies of BushCo, only this time with more Drone Strikes!

I should have voted for Jill Stein.


We've done some amazing things in the United States, and continue to do so. Despite Obama's deceptions, he has proven that the electorate is willing to consider a leader of color. Obama has created jobs, controlled spending, gotten a weak but needed first-step health program passed, taken on the gun lobby... he's done many remarkable things, despite the lies and obstruction from the right. Under his watch, we've seen important social issues grow stronger and many domestic policy issues take root.

But his embrace of the more brutish and fascist components of our foreign policy are a disgrace. And in fact, his ongoing approval of these hateful, hurtful paramilitary operations has the net effect of making our country less safe.

My opinion of you, Mr. President, is substantially less than it was a few days ago. You have blood on your hands.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Iron Man

I am Iron Man.

I love the movie series much more than I ever liked the comic books. And I admit to being a child of the 70s and listening to Black Sabbath. It's funny to me now that Sabbath was considered so heavy at the time.

But I am Iron Man.

Because I don't really know why, but I just continue to believe. It's not just pie-in-the-sky, Stuart Smalley optimism; after all, I can be as Debbie Downer as anyone. Example: What's the definition of a pessimist? A pessimist is an optimist with experience.

I know enough about myself to know what I am capable of. It's all a matter of application -- if I am properly motivated and determined, my achievement potential is very high.

The mind does strange things sometimes. Does everyone grapple with self-doubt? I think they do, but having self-doubt is something that people don't always admit. Do accomplished people ever feel like failures?

Last night I saw an interview among comedians Jim Carrey, Chris Rock, Bill Hader and Ben Stiller. Each told of having awful on-stage experiences. Carrey told one particularly horrifying story of being chased offstage.

I think part of strength is to be able to be honest with one's self. And another part is to present outwardly an image of control, of never showing any equivocation. However, there's a difference between self-confidence and bravado. Some people never allow themselves to be seen as anything but supremely in-charge. And I think that is unrealistic.

Yeah, I get down.

But I always get back up. You have to.

Being a bit of a perfectionist means that you tend to obsess on failures. I still remember the major mistake in my Texas Stadium piece, an award-winning effort. Yet I don't think about the 16 pages of excellence, just the one paragraph that was totally incorrect.

That's not fair to myself.

I think about the failed relationships, but all that only helps me treasure the best one I have now.

I think about not leaving school with a degree; then I remember all the great jobs I got without it, and going back to get it in 2008.

I think about the things I don't have, then remember everything I do have.

I always get back up. Because I'm Iron Man. And I'm going to win. I don't know exactly the shape of it, or the timing. I just know it's going to happen.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Click Bait

Some exciting developments on my job front today. But, trying to keep my emotions in check. More here...

Monday, April 22, 2013

Terror Fatigue

It is a few hours from being exactly one week after the marathon attacks.

It seems like that happened a month ago.

I'm mentally exhausted. I would love nothing better than to sleep for about 24 hours. There is an element of physical fatigue... sleeping has been weird for a week... but just having to think about what has been going on, coupled with the regular stresses of needing to find a job, figuring out complicated taxes, juggling finances, weird neighbor behavior, sick dogs...

Things just never seem to stop. There's always something. I don't love it.

Which sucks, because otherwise, spring here is beautiful. Since I don't have a historical context I don't know if this is typical. But things are greening out and it's just begun, so we have some niceties ahead. And it's very pretty. The sun is out longer, the days are getting warmer. I would really like to enjoy it more.

Or even at all.

But right now, I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed. I need to find a way to get that to merely whelmed.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A WIld and Crazy Night

Not long after the request to stay indoors was lifted, I sat in this very space and suddenly heard the sounds.

Shots. It seemed like 10 to 12. It seemed like they were coming from the area of Fresh Pond, which is slightly north.

No... it couldn't be. Probably just my mind playing tricks.

But actually it was the opening salvo of the end.

Soon thereafter I heard the sounds emanating from Watertown... explosions. More shots. Sirens. Helicopters. And the news reports confirmed, he was surrounded. I was sure his life was about to end.


Afterwards, we could hear the cheers of the jubilant crowd as the police dispersed. It sounded like being outside a football stadium. A misty drizzle fell like dew upon the crowd.

We decided to drive nearer; the throng was behind the still-blockaded perimeter on Mount Auburn Street. What a strange sight.

By this time we had heard that instead of being attended to at nearby Mount Auburn Hospital, the suspect was being transferred to MGH (and, ultimately, to Beth Israel). We decided to venture into the city, driving downtown to MGH, where news crews and cops were out in force. I had to pull a Bat-turn as I got too close to the police line, horrifying M. The nearby TD Garden was awash in blue and yellow lights. Downtown lampposts still bear the 2013 Marathon signage.

We thought about going to the Common but decided against. Apparently there was quite a scene of celebration going on there. Not surprising: that site has launched enthusiasm for four centuries.

Driving down Storrow was strange... after 10 p.m. on a Friday night, and the roads were sparsely traveled. Storrow is fairly similar to what Central Expressway was in Dallas 25 years ago: a significant road artery but only two lanes in each direction.

We decided to take Memorial, crossing over the Mass Ave bridge. The tower at MIT had been swathed in marathon-blue light, except for the shape of the traditional ribbon-shape, in remembrance of the marathon attacks. Turning onto Memorial, we paused to consider that just 24 hours earlier, the suspects had zoomed down this same street in a last-ditch effort to avoid capture.

On our way back we decided to check out the scene at Harvard Square. Normally hopping, and especially so on a Friday night, the crowd that normally numbers in the hundreds was instead perhaps 10 or 20. Parking near the square and on Brattle -- notoriously impossible to find -- was driver's choice. Seriously, there were hundreds of open spaces. Pick one.

But, there was nowhere to go. Most places had been closed throughout the day.

We were hungry. Most places had been shut down all day, but we found two in Cambridge that provided distinctly American options: A Burger King, and a Dunk's.

Cheap burgers it would be. Almost a dozen cars shared the line. Normalcy was already settling back in.

We came home and munched the burgers and fries while watching the finally winding-down coverage. It had been a painful, awful week in the United States and especially in Greater Boston. It was an event that happened in our back yard, and the unexpectedly swift resolution of the capture of the suspects caused millions of New Englanders to breathe a sigh of relief.

We just wanted to eat and go to sleep.


This morning is damp and cool. Fourteen years ago, the world was seeing another awful event in Littleton, Colo. Will the cycle ever be broken?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Oh, OK

Presser just ended; a question that I was surprised had previously gone unanswered was, how did White Hat get away?

He blew through the police barricade in Watertown, ditched the car and fled on foot.

Which means he couldn't have gotten far, unless he was able to steal/jack another car and either take hostage or kill the owner.

So now we're about an hour from sunset, and Boston is the darkest place I've ever seen as far as a big city is concerned.

And the authorities say "be vigilant, but we're moving along."

Ummm... huh?

I mean, this was a big enough deal that you locked down a large chunk of a huge metropolitan area trying to find this dude. And you failed. And now, "Oh well?"


This guy is going to be working on a lot of edge. Has he slept in the last two days? Has he been holed up somewhere waiting for cover of darkness? Has he taken a household hostage? Is he being harbored? Has he found someplace to get some sleep and now will try and flee? Did he manage to skip town? Did he kill himself and his body hasn't been found?

So many question, so many possibilities.

And now, the general vicinity has gone from "TERROR! LOCKDOWN! PRACTICALLY MARTIAL LAW!" to "Good luck everybody!"

I mean... what the fuck?

Alas. We've got food, we're hunkering down. We'll see what tomorrow brings.


I'm not religious.

I've always been curious about the concept of God, and the different ways people on this little planet interpret what "God" means.

Raised in a Methodist household, I've had close exposure to Catholicism, the Church of Christ, and Judaism. And I've looked closely at Islam, Mormonism and other faiths.

I haven't bought any of it. And the evil that I've seen my whole life, and this week in particular, doesn't encourage me much.

Boston, and New England, however, is a very devout place. The first New Englanders came here to pursue religious freedom. This place is crawling with amazing old churches. Centuries-old churches. They're beautiful and inspiring. People believe.

I doubt, but I cannot completely let it go, because when you consider the universe... what came before? Who made the universe? It's too much for my little brain to comprehend.

This week... when innocent civilians are murdered by bombs... when stupidity and neglect blows up a small town in Texas... when members of the Senate turn their backs on popular measures to reduce the carnage and horror of Newtown, Aurora, Tucson and more... God seems so far away.

And I wish that I had the solace that some people take from their faith.


Wake-Up Call

With the FBI's reveal of the marathon bombing suspect photos, it was another jolting newsday here yesterday.

M had an event at BU; the campus was a little down with the death of Lingzi Lu, a Chinese national and grad student who was the third victim of the bombing. BU has had a terrible year; Lu was the fourth student to die of terrible causes -- the school has lost two students to cycling accidents, and another to an alcohol poisoning.

M's event at the corner of Comm Ave and Silber Way required passing through the Charlesgate intersection three times. Remember that.

When the event let up at 2, I went to pick her up and her assistant D, a sharp pre-law student from NYC and an undergrad at UMB. D is from the DR and a rarity in Boston: a student with a car. Living in Roxbury, she'd parked her car at the JFK T stop near UMB. Since D had been so helpful, and I have been proud of finding a faster path to UMB, we offered to drive her back rather than spend two hours on the T.

On the way we passed by Mass General Hospital. MGH is one of the nation's best, and after the 11 a.m. memorial service downtown, President Obama and the FLOTUS were visiting bombing survivors at the hospital. The police presence as we drove down Storrow right across the street was significant.

They were gone when we drove back by half an hour later.


Late yesterday afternoon, the suspect photos were displayed, and we spent the evening riveted to coverage.

Our coverage now doesn't rely solely on TV, however. NECN is a regional cable news outlet that has won major stripes this week, but we'd been spending more time there trying to get a better handle on local information. Twitter especially has become a prime source of breaking news, as has Facebook to a lesser extent. Anonymous' Twitter feed is all over breaking news.

We mainlined news coverage until 11 p.m. Then we switched to The Daily Show, because man, did we ever need a laugh.

Still, things seemed to be moving so quickly that we kept checking our phones and flipping during commercial breaks to see if there were any new developments.

I saw some alerts about a 7/11 robbery, and a shooting of an MIT security guard. Curious. And the way things had gone this week, it seemed dicey.

But the bombers, who had been outed just hours before, surely couldn't have anything to do with that, right? Because those guys were surely out of the country by now, far, far away and watching the coverage from some distant point.


We were exhausted. So by midnight, we decided to call it a day.

The fan was about to be hit. Watertown's city limits start at the end of the block, about 120 yards away.

The shooters had commandeered an SUV, somehow deciding to release their hostage at a gas station (has to be the Shell station, although they haven't said yet) on Memorial Drive in Cambridge before cops got on their tail and they sped to Watertown.

NOTE: I haven't been to the 7/11 at MIT, but I've been near it. But all the other places discussed from here on out are places that I routinely drive to or by on an almost daily basis.

ANOTHER NOTE: Boston in a lot of ways, at least the area that includes Cambridge and environs, is sort of a small town. If you have business in Cambridge, you're going to hit the surrounding towns like Allston, Belmont, Boston, Brookline, Brighton, Somerville... and Watertown.

There's almost never a day when we don't cross through all of these towns. Brookline and Somerville are the ones we hit least, but Somerville is where we take the dogs to the vet, and Brookline has a heavy Jewish population. These towns are "our neighborhood."

Between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m., war broke out in Watertown. Black Hat and White Hat had a firefight with the authorities, tossing bombs. The videos are everywhere, see for yourself. The denouement of this part of the story had Black Hat killed, apparently from a combination of gunshot wounds, a possible detonation of an IED and possibly being run over by his fleeing brother, White Hat.

This happened about a mile from here. I can't believe we didn't hear it, but one thing that's surprised me here is how windy it is. The wind is usually the loudest noise in the night, except for the rattling of windows it produces.


At 6:30 a.m., our landline phone rang. Officials were advising everyone to stay home and not answer the door unless a confirmed police presence was seen.

Uh... what?

The communities were on lockdown.

For the last seven hours, we've watched and wondered. Our usually busy neighborhood is almost silent. We've seen three cars drive the street all day. A cop car and later, motorcycle, have also sped by.

Helicopters have circled overhead throughout the day. The governor has spoken twice from a staging area set up at the Watertown/Arsenal mall... a place we've visited frequently. Broadcasters have stood in front of landmarks that are among the few familiar places in our new home... outlets along Mount Auburn street, Arlington, Arsenal... places we tread daily...

Remember the mention of Comm Ave and Charlesgate? We went through that intersection three times Thursday. This morning a bomb squad detonated a suspicious package there.

It's kind of freaky.

M has seen this shit before. Her pre-teen years in Israel were marred by the terrorist dangers that people there don't take for granted, but don't let inhibit their way of life. She's told me stories in totally matter-of-fact ways that are reality are pretty harrowing... of learning how to don gas masks and hunker down in a closet, of hearing Saddam's Scuds approaching.

I'm a rube from Texas. I've been near tornados and severe thunderstorms. That's about the extent of it for me. Danger is not my middle name.

So all this insanity... it's hard for me to know what to think of it all. I've got no template for it. Being trained to be a dispassionate journalist/observer, I try and remain kind of detached and soak it all in.

But putting that aside for a moment... there's a desperate, misanthropic mass murderer loose and potentially hiding in my neighborhood. He's already maimed and killed children, and engaged in a shootout with law enforcement. His brother is dead. I'm pretty sure how this ends, and certain he's capable of killing again.


So "white hat" is on the run. The shootout that killed his brother happened a mile from here overnight. I'll write more later, but... this is just the craziest thing I've ever been around. Forget tornados, earthquakes, baseball-sized hail, blizzards, plane crashes... a new standard in insane has been set.

As they say in Boston, wicked hahhhd.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Next Day

Comm Ave, with Pru building center, background, noon 4/16/2013.
Do these people look scared to you?
Last night, after a few hours, you had to walk away from it.

We turned off the TV showing the same shots over and over, weary of the speculation in the face of no new information. We took the dogs for a long walk.

There was an eerie quiet, a solitude in the air. What was notable was the occasional siren, or the sound and sight of a helicopter a few miles away.

Today dawned bright and beautiful. As it happened, I had early business to tend to in Arlington. It was good to get out amongst the people.

A lot of schools are on holiday this week. The city seemed to be going about its paces in a relatively normal way, even though the area of the crime is normally very congested and busy.

Later in the day we went closer toward downtown. One of the tallest buildings is the Prudential Tower. Almost 50 years old, the 52-story tower overlooks the blast site. Giant skyscrapers don't really dominate the Boston skyline, so this one stands out. In the distance, as we neared I kept looking toward it, and remembering the carnage that had happened less than 24 hours earlier.

Driving a bit later down Commonwealth Avenue in front of BU (who, tragically, has lost four students to various awful deaths this year, the last a still-unnamed grad student killed in the bombings Monday)... I saw traffic, cyclists, a lot of student foot traffic, a Green Line train filled (as usual)... people jaywalking. People in cars cutting other people off. People wandering in and out of shops and restaurants.


Actually... they seemed to be shrugging off the shit that had happened just blocks away, getting on with their day and their lives.

In inimitable Boston style, their response seemed to be: Fuck you, terrorists.

This made me almost giddy.

When you think about it, the whole Patriots Day thing is a celebration of the people of Greater Boston telling those who would oppress them to shove it up their ass.

At least three people are dead, well more than 100 injured, and many have lost limbs. The horrible facts are still being discovered about this sick crime. But the people here have seemed to accept this and are refusing to let it dominate their lives.

I'm inspired to be around it.

The hurt isn't over. The first known victim was an 8-year-old boy. The second named was a 29-year old woman who apparently was quite the stereotypical Boston girl: a feisty red-headed Irish spitfire. There are still a good deal of patients who are fighting for their lives in overcoming the sadistic injuries inflicted by the terror bombs.

But more than any city in the U.S., Boston has been fighting against this kind of thing for almost 400 years. And it's been battered and bruised, but it's never backed away from a fight. And it's won a lot more than it's lost. If it hadn't, there wouldn't be those stars and stripes flying at half-staff today. Boston's going to be just fine.

Monday, April 15, 2013

You Will Not Prevail

I've been very excited to immerse myself in the history of the nation, brought to life on a daily basis by the sheer magnitude of historic, meaningful sites in Boston. It's been thrilling.

Today, on Patriots Day, a beloved Massachusetts holiday marking the start of the American Revolutionary War, more history was made.

Some evil waste of life coordinated attacks on civilians participating in the Boston Marathon. We don't know who, and we don't know why.

Actually, we'll never know why. You can't understand the thinking of anyone doing something this inhuman. Don't even try. Do you understand McVeigh? Atta? Lanza? You can't make sense of this. Trying is pointless.

Every time something like this happens, I have a moment where I think humanity is a mistake, and that God cannot exist. Because if God exists, then what possible reason can He have for allowing such a horrible, senseless act against His innocent creations? In this prism, the idea of "God" is a goddam joke. There is no "God."

But then...

The videos show cops, civilians, first responders running TOWARD the blast sites. Reports are coming in of marathon runners racing toward Massachusetts General Hospital to donate blood. People are looking for ways to help. As is often the case in a terrible tragedy... the evil actions of one or a few are suddenly dwarfed by the love and -- yes -- Godliness of multitudes more. In moments like that, when the worst of humanity indicates we are Godless, others step in and show the absolute possibility of divinity.


The crime was only three hours ago; as usual, information contradicts itself with each passing minute. I am confident that whoever is responsible for this will be caught and pay dearly.

After 9/11, the nation banded together. We always do in the face of tragedy. The sad part about that is that it didn't last.

But one thing does endure, and that's the determination to win that marks the best of the American character. We want to win. We don't quit. This aggression will not stand, man.

In Lexington this afternoon we saw people dressed in Colonial period costumes, a fife and drum band playing patriotic music, flags and generally the whole apple-pie view of America that's so corny as to be irresistible. It's a kind of Taylor Swiftian-world.


Still... I can't believe this shit has happened again, and this time, happened in my back yard. I've been as much around this town as I could be in the past five-plus months, including multiple times in the area of the attacks. Boston, in a lot of ways, is kind of a small town. Its weird, congested layout forces you to learn how to get around.

This is my home now, and I am filled with rage that some twisted, deranged people have done this. I want them to pay, I want vengeance.

That's not the answer, though. The answer is to solve this problem and prevent these animals from using these tactics to terrorize and destroy.

So I have to put aside my rage. So do you.

This can happen anywhere. To anyone. Treasure your life and those who enrich it. It's later than you think.

Patriots Day

Colonial militiaman at Hancock-Clarke House, Lexington, Ma.
Patriots Day is under way here in New England.

It's a big deal up here. It probably should be a big deal everywhere in this country.

Unfortunately most of what I was taught in public schools about this nation's history is woefully inadequate, and some of it is outright wrong. I'm going to steer around that one for now.

Last night as the hour approached midnight, M and I went to the Hancock-Clarke House in Lexington. The home, erected in the late 17th century, was the boyhood home of John Hancock.

Yes. That one.


Hostilities between the colonists and the British authorities had been running high for years, ratcheted ever higher by the so-called Boston "Massacre" of 1770 and the Boston Tea Party of 1773.

The Tea Party was the last straw. In 1774, the monarchy and parliament promptly passed punitive laws that came to be known as the Intolerable Acts. These attempted to smack down a lot of the rogue behavior going on in the colonies, but particularly in Massachusetts. These acts were iron-fisted:

* The Boston Port Act shut down Boston's seaport. Obviously, this was a huge economic blockade.
* The Massachusetts Government Act required almost all government officials to be hand-selected by the British, and sharply restricted smaller colonial government meetings.
* The Administration of Justice Act required all trials involving royal officials to be relocated to other colonies, or even to Great Britain. George Washington called this the "Murder Act" -- believing that courts under the British thumb were unlikely to impose harsh penalties against their colonial governors and military representatives.
* The Quartering Act required, under certain conditions, the British troops to be housed in privately owned colonial buildings. There is some dispute about the implementation of this Act; some historians argue that it is less onerous than it sounds, and that the Act promised not only reimbursement to the colonists, but that the quartering was only required of unused buildings (such as barns) and applied mostly to inns and lodgings regularly used for housing -- not private homes.
* The Quebec Act expanded the territory of the nearby Canadian province, but also invoked alarm among the Protestant New Englanders by allowing broader freedom to the "Papists" of Quebec. Using standard fear-mongering and timeless divisive tactics, the British authorities knew that favoring Catholicism would offend many colonists. And of course, the expansion of territories not only fenced in western borders, but effectively applied an "eminent domain" seizure of New World land that some colonists had either already laid claim to or otherwise eyed.

The stage was set.


Each year, volunteers dressed in Colonial gear take part in reenactments of historical events.

This isn't some nerdy "Renaissance Faire" trip, or worse, "Can't-Get-Over-It-You-Lost" Civil War battle replay. This is a re-creation of some of the crucial events that led to the birth of our democracy.

"Colonists" stand outside the Hancock-Clarke House in Lexington as citizens gather in the chilly April darkness. Dressed head-to-toe in period costumes, carrying long rifles, they share their knowledge of the historical events that led to the activities on April 18-19, 1775.

Despite the passage of the Intolerable Acts, resistance remained robust in Massachusetts. Loyalists increasingly found themselves outnumbered.

That imbalance was echoed in England. One of the actors outside the Hancock-Clarke House last night pointed out a fascinating statistic: In roughly 150 years since Jamestown was settled in 1607, the population in the 13 colonies had risen to close to 2.5 million people... about a third of what was back in Britain. Of course the British weren't interested in ceding representation to distant rabble-rousers whose mass numbers would seriously erode their own positions. Naturally, they were interested in the resources. But otherwise, they didn't want the bother of these uppity "Americans" across the Atlantic. How dare they!

Cecil Adams says the the middle-finger salute is thousands of years old. The Americans pretty much sustained this salute in the aftermath of the legal crackdowns. Their treasonous resistance continued in secret. Still, the identity of many active rebels such as Hancock and Samuel Adams were well-known to the British and Loyalist colonial citizens. It was an age of treachery. It was a dangerous time.

Paul Revere was a successful businessman, and also a key member of the insurrectionist Sons of Liberty, a group bent on gaining independence from the oppressive British thumb. Adams and Hancock were members. As such, all were wanted by British authorities.

So, Adams and Hancock were holed up in Lexington, several miles west of Boston, which was infested with British military. Having organized the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, a legislative body establishing self-governance, in the aftermath of the Intolerable Acts, the two were now traitors in the eyes of the Brits.

The rebels had also stashed weaponry in Concord, but fearing betrayal by Loyalists, had quietly gone about relocating their cannons and limited armory to different locations in early 1775. Nevertheless, the patriots were aware that the British soldiers would be coming some day.

Note: Longfellow's famous poem is known for its inaccuracy. For one thing, most of the colonials still considered themselves British, so saying "The British are coming" would have been kind of stupid. The soldiers were commonly identified as either "regulars," "redcoats" or even "lobsterbacks."

Boston was more or less locked down. And it was about to get worse. Spies kept an eye on troop movements, and an alert system was put in place. Lanterns strategically placed in the Old North Church  would reveal either a land crossing, or boats up the Charles River for a different tack -- "One if by land, two if by sea."

After 9 p.m. on April 18, the British troops mobilized from Boston Common. The alert was signaled. Revere hurriedly (and illegally) crossed the Charles to a waiting horse, then sped toward Lexington. Along the way he notified patriot sympathizers to prepare. From a different route, William Dawes set off with the same mission. Historians believe that these two in turn set loose dozens of horsemen warning patriots that trouble was on the way.

Revere arrived in Lexington before midnight; Dawes arrived soon thereafter.


The scene outside the historic home last night was fascinating... the old house awash in lights, but the typically black New England night swallowed everything else. Docents in period gear walked back and forth talking about the tenor of that time, taking questions and inviting conversation.

About 11:30, a column of militia arrived to stand guard. Actors portraying the defenders, as well as Adams, Hancock and Reverend Jonas Clarke, lent further perspective to set the scene.

The crowd of several hundred huddled together to take in this patriotic scene. Some held flags, and one young woman was draped in one.

Moments later, a distant shouting was heard from the direction of the Lexington Common several blocks west. The shouting grew louder, as did the sound of hooves as a rider approached. It was Revere, soon followed by Dawes!

Hours later, as the sun rose, a few hundred patriot defenders stood watch at the Common as the regulars marched through. The British forces numbered probably more than three times that of the fed-up Federalists; estimates are that the British would number about 1,700, the rebels 500.

As we left the re-enactment, already hundreds of people were assembling in the common at 1 a.m. There, at 5:30 a.m., they would re-stage the conflict that came hours after the British troop mobilization set in motion Revere's ride. On that morning of April 19, 1775, the "shot heard 'round the world" would be fired, setting off a conflict that came to be known as the American Revolution. The British scurried back to Boston, and the rebels had committed to the pursuit of liberty.


Being on the scene of these historic American events is chill-inducing, and not just because of the starry, moonlight mid-Spring temperature. Hancock and Adams were in this house... the one just feet away. Revere came to this house. Blocks away, a nation was being born. And you can walk and see where it all happened. It's not a movie. It's not a dream. It's real.


In the aftermath of this fascinating, amazing experience last night, I was struck by a few thoughts:

* I wish my knowledge of history was greater, but opportunities like this provide an opening to learn more. Click the links here and learn more, too, if you're so inspired.
* Warfare between the powerful and the less-powerful takes on similar qualities. The British had numbers, training, supplies and superior weapons. The upstarts in New England had to make do with cunning and determination. Outmanned and outgunned, they used guerilla tactics because otherwise they'd be slaughtered, and quickly. If they were in the same situation today, they'd be using IEDs and sneak-attacks. The American Patriots, to the British, were surely the terrorists of their age.
* People need to support these events. Standing in Colonial gear on a near-freezing night, trying to balance telling historical details to a crowd that includes ADD kids (parents, you need to step up) is an act of devotion that should be applauded.
* Freedom isn't free. The struggle to become sovereign was costly. M's lived all over the world; I've always lived here. She's been in war zones, cowering as missiles landed nearby. People here have had to wait in line at Disney World. I think we could benefit with a great deal more perspective.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Shut Up

Piece in the Boston Globe today about the difficulties "older" workers face when dealing with unemployment.

I didn't want to read it. I figured it would confirm some of my worst fears, and it may have.

People in my situation know the score: ageism exists. It's tough to get a job, and it may be tougher the longer you're out of the game. Technically, I've worked some in two different income situations in the past six months, but in both cases they weren't really career options.

It's scary. I need a "real" job.

So, this post is shorter. I'm going to send out some new applications. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Social Media

It's called "social media" but it's gotten pretty anti-social.

This isn't the first time I've touched on this. But today another incident brings the topic to the front.

People use Twitter, Facebook et al in many different ways. Someone I've known a few years looks at social media as a way to promote her business and the activities that she's into. She's also used it as a sort of classified ad space to sell things. Lately, she used it to try and find homes for her dogs.

Now, I'm not the boss of anyone but myself. But, I do have the feeling that the point of social media is to sustain friendships, stay in touch and share conversations.

Having things sold to me does none of that. If I want to buy a couch, I'll pick up a shopper, go to craigslist or hit the furniture store. I don't want to buy my friend's old couch.

Also, if I want updates about your business, I'll seek it out. If I want to watch commercials, I'll turn on QVC. Trying to sell tickets to an event is fine; sending the same message six times in a week, twice in four hours? That's obnoxious.

These are MY values. You don't have to share them. But I don't think that using social media in this way is very... social. To me, users who do this don't grasp the concept.

Or maybe I don't grasp the concept. Today, I saw this:
"I hate it when people fuss about what I post on my page. Last time I checked it was MY page. So therefore I will post what I like. If you do not like it, un-friend me. Rant over."
So what did I do? Unfriend.

In broad terms, users of social media choose one of two paths: using the tools as a way of engaging in conversation, or as a one-way pronouncement of their message.

I've certainly talked to the TV before. It's never talked back. When someone wants to sell me a couch, there's only one buyer of that couch. So that message is kind of ridiculous.

We live in an age of noise. Noise bombards us constantly... TV, radio, ambient sounds, going to work, being in society. I was a reluctant participant in getting a cell phone because I really didn't want to be on-call 24-7. Only doctors and other heroes need that kind of accessibility. I always treasured the commute time between home and work... blessed silence.

Silence is not a bad thing. You get some of your best thinking done then. Cell phones ended that. Now the only time you can have some silence is when you sleep.  

Monday, April 8, 2013

Opening Day

The "Green Monster" at Fenway Park. Image via sportstraveler.net.
Boston is a sports-loving place.

Although the Celtics are the most accomplished franchise in NBA history, the Red Sox own this town.

Babe Ruth's old team plays in beautifully ratty Fenway Park; the first game played there was on April 20, 1912. The news of the world on that first opening day there was about a mammoth cruise ship, the Titanic, that just days earlier had sank in the icy North Atlantic, taking approximately 1,500 people to their deaths.

The quaint, quirky old yard is revered; outside of Chicago's Wrigley Field, there is no place that has the character and special flavor that the American game recalls. Fenway and Wrigley are the last of their kind: every team in baseball has given in to monetary pressure to build a new, fancy-schmancy place that provides the most sought-after feature of a modern ballpark: expensive luxury suites.

Luxury suites are profit centers. Corporations buy them at exorbitant annual rates, guarantee a base of season-ticket sales, and almost always come with catering requirements that add to a team's coffers. In the business of sports, they're perfectly understandable.

But that's really another story.

Today was the 102nd season opener at Fenway. Think about that. Ruth was two years away his major league debut for Boston, and a few years from greater glory in New York and becoming the face of the game for generations, if not still. (In fact, the Yankees didn't even exist in 1912. In 1913, the New York Highlanders changed their name to "Yankees" -- the Highlanders were the Sox' first Fenway opponent.)

Those 1912 Sox had a handful of Hall of Famers anyway en route to an AL-best 105-47 season capped by a World Series title won by the Sox at Fenway in the 8th game of the seven-game series.

Yes. Game 2 was called after 11 innings due to darkness. Different time. The hastily needed eighth game was played before less than 18,000 fans on Wednesday, Oct. 16, with the Sox pushing across two runs in the 10th to beat the New York Giants.

It was the first Series win for the Sox, although the franchise established in 1901 had won in 1903 as the Boston Americans. Life in the new park would seem charmed: the Sox won it all in 1915, 1916 and 1918. Ruth, one of the team's young stars, won two pitching starts in the 1918 Series win over the Cubs.

Prior to the 1920 season, Ruth was dealt to a crummy franchise in New York that had never won anything.

Ruth's home-run production would turn the Yankees into baseball's most storied team. He was a part of seven pennants and four Series wins, and the Yankees have to date won 27 crowns.

After 1918, it was 86 years before the Sox tasted another Series win.

Like everything here, the park is steeped in history. If an American Leaguer is in the Hall of Fame, the odds are good that he set foot in Fenway. Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle... and in Series losses before interleague play, Stan Musial, Steve Carlton, Johnny Bench and Pete Rose... all worked in Fenway. Its left field wall, more than 37 feet tall, is called the "Green Monster" and is unlike anything else in the game.

Opening Day here is, as Joe Biden might say, a Big Fucking Deal.

The local sports channel started coverage hours before first pitch. The best day of 2013, weather-wise, just happened to coincide with the game. Temperatures soared into the mid-60s and the sky was clear. It was an absolutely glorious day, a hint of summer's promise.

And the fans were treated to a win, too.

It's going to be fun to catch a game there this year.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


A mentally ill young man left a legacy of carnage in a Connecticut classroom last December.

That's an obvious and extreme case of education under attack. But a couple of recent articles show an even more disturbing "war on education."

Wonkette wrote Tuesday about this; the points of the post were echoed even more poignantly in the resignation letter of a New York state teacher, Jerry Conti.

Both articles dovetail neatly with a trend that many observers have fretted about: the rigid standardization of basic education.

The arguments for standardization make sense. If you have standards, it should be easier to tell which students, instructors and school systems have problems. A valuable added benefit is that standardization should reveal particular areas in need of improvement. In theory, this standardization will identify which students need more work; which teachers are exemplary and which are sub-par; and which districts are most in need of assistance. Seeing results in specific educational areas will also allow districts to hone their focus.

But here's where standardization doesn't make sense: is teaching by rote truly instructive? Kids will memorize what they need to memorize; that's never going to change. But is our children learning?

Recently I was in a seventh-grade geography class. Students were working on memorizing nations, capitals, landforms and bodies of water in Asia. It was challenging work; had someone put the empty map in front of me, I know I couldn't have named all the things they were trying to remember. I would have been lucky to get 70 percent of it. Now, if the test had a list of every item, I maybe could have pushed that to 90 percent through process of elimination. Since they were working on the study, I don't know if the test would include a list, or if everything had to be done from memory.

Prior to the class, the teacher talked about holiday traditions in Asia. He had put together a PowerPoint presentation with great images and notes. This wasn't something he had just found; he had clearly spent a lot of time preparing a five- to seven-minute presentation that would be the only time in the entire year he could use it.

Standardization, according to Mr. Conti, will take all that away.

The problem with standardization is that it stifles creativity and innovation. Kids need to explore their creativity and innovation. So do teachers.

So does our nation.

American education is strictly middle-of-the-road when compared to other nations. We love winners here, and shun mediocrity. Maybe the most important aspect of our society -- educating our youth and preparing for the future when they will be in charge -- is allowed to be second-rate.

That's basically taking a lottery approach to our future... hoping that "just because" the U.S. will have some prodigies rise up and lead.


The best people I've worked for have been those who set expectations and deadlines, made themselves available for consults and leadership, and then got out of the way. They knew that there were many ways to accomplish goals, and trusted their people to get things done. It's a true meritocracy and really what should be the standard thought: The bottom line is the bottom line.

Educational standards should consist of getting kids from K-12 ready for college and society at large. One of the kindergarteners I met Tuesday was an obviously bright kid who showed a knack for computers. But in this class, he was someone who had to be handled differently because the traditional coursework didn't interest him.

The schools here try and find a way to let these kids take different paths. To me, that's somewhat enlightened. I sat individually with this boy and incentivized him to read a book that he didn't want to read. I had shown him the only card trick I know earlier; when I pulled it off, they were astonished. I told him it was a "trick" that he could easily learn, and that I'd teach it to him at the end of the day if he put in the work.

Now, was my approach "According to Hoyle" in this classroom? I don't know. It might be frowned upon. But, the student responded to it, did the work (exceptionally, if that matters), didn't disrupt the other classwork and got through the day. If I went back for another day, what would I do to incentivize him?

But the bottom line was, he did the work, he was engaged. To me, this was a win. But it didn't follow any scripted, standardized methodology.

Standardization discourages or outright prohibits any variation from the program. Mr. Conti eloquently describes in his resignation letter how he was always seeking to enhance his knowledge and consider alternatives in the service of his students. Standardization frowns on that. So he's out.

Is this a good thing for our students? I say no.

Teachers teach. Getting all kids to learn exactly the same way won't work. It wasn't working for the young man in that classroom the other day. What happens to him if he's forced to adhere to a standardized instruction schedule? I don't think it would work for him.

There's a belief in some quarters that school is a form of indoctrination. It's Orwellian and scary: kids are trained from before they can comprehend it to get on a schedule, to move through the chutes from class to class, to learn what someone else thinks is important to learn, to obey the rules, to not be different...

It's very corporate and official. It's totally anti-individual. Think about that. Is this the launching pad for creativity and innovation? It sounds like the prescription for submission and order.

A great teacher naturally wants the kids to learn readin', writin' and 'rithmetic... but a great teacher really wants a lot more than that. It's important for students to have the basics, but what's most important is to develop students who know not WHAT to think, but HOW to think.

Standardization doesn't address that at all. Standardization just wants something in black and white that they can coldly label either "success" or "failure." It's inhuman. And I don't think it's an accurate measure of whether or not a student has become educated.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

If You Don't Get It, You Don't Get It

Or, "Clueless" if you're into the whole brevity thing.

Like the spring weeds popping up, I'm seeing some remarkable displays of unchecked advance.

Without getting into too many details, I guess I'll have to put things delicately.

Whatever the nature of our relationship, I'm no longer going to carry the note. If you want to have a friendship or a relationship with me, then do the right thing. I've had some people in my lives who meant a lot to me, then we had a rift. Shit happens. Repair is possible, but time doesn't heal all wounds.

Own up to your responsibility. I've had to issue more than a few mea culpas. It only hurts a little while. If you value whatever that relationship was, even if you don't want to fix it, it's OK to make an effort.

I had a dear family member who got a bug up his ass and just decided to cut me out of his life. It still bothers me, but I realized a while ago it wasn't ever going to change, because this person couldn't accept his responsibility. So we don't have a relationship and I doubt we ever will. A few months ago I tried to reach out. No response. It's over. I tried; he didn't. Move along.

Similarly, a once good friend just today made an overture to re-establish the friendship. But the overture didn't include an apology or any acceptance of their responsibility in the damage.

Sometimes you have to have your hat in your hand. If you don't know that, you haven't learned.

I had another friend who I had a huge falling out with and we didn't talk for a long time. I thought that was dead too. But we fixed it. And even though we don't talk much, I still think we're friends.

I need to come back to this one...

Conflict Resolution

Raise your hand if you love conflict.

Those who raised your hand, slap yourself upside your head with it.

I like a good argument as much as the next guy. I usually feel like I'm going to be able to hold my own there. A decent argument, theoretically, is at least rooted in facts, and I'll take my chances arguing facts with anyone.

It's when opinions and emotions bleed into the dispute that things get dicey. You can't have a fair fight with someone who won't use facts.

This is on my mind today because of some recent neighbor drama. As JJ followers may remember, there were some neighbor issues in our previous stop. Fortunately, to some extent, time proved us correct in that one. At the end, the nutso neighbor girl ditched the adjacent apartment in a flash, leaving behind a bathtub overflow that rotted a ceiling, clothes, food, cat poop, furniture, furnishings, books and more. She basically abandoned the place, taking whatever she could pack away quickly and disappearing into the ether.

Oh, I almost forgot: She also left a flea infestation that required a ridiculous amount of cleaning to eradicate.

We'd been making our case that nutso neighbor girl was a problem for a while before being ultimately vindicated. That, at least, is worth something.

Now, however, after five months of mostly smooth sailing, a neighbor problem could be on the horizon. There have been a couple of oddities that thus far had been considered outliers. This week, however, things got a little weird.

We live in a three-story home that has a single catwoman (10 cats) on the top floor. The middle floor is a Jamaican family of five, or more, people. We're still not entirely sure. We're on the first floor.

Shared space includes front and rear stairwells, a basement, a side driveway of three assigned lanes, and a small half-unfenced back yard that is probably 20 x 25 feet. Trash cans in back and four recycling containers up front are also communal.

Almost every week, I take the trash and (every other week) the recycling to the curb. About half the time, someone else brings them back after pickup. My biggest beefs in regards to these are that for the recycling, people just dump stuff in the bins willy-nilly. My preference would be to separate them by types, but the city doesn't require it and apparently neighbors 2 and 3 don't think this is worth bothering with. So be it.

Re the trash, the high winds here have wiped out all but two of the five lids for the plastic containers. Like Honey Badger, college freshman dude on 2 don't care. In fact, the lack of a lid makes it easier for him to play trashcan basketball with the trash bags. He doesn't miss, but, some weeks we would have the open containers with a bag of trash in each, and zero containers full. Why drag out five containers instead of two or three? Well, if you don't have to drag out the containers, why would you care?

I addressed this problem by overturning the topless barrels. Once the lidded containers are full, then we can go to can 3.

Another side effect of open containers: we've got a squirrel problem here. And the squirrels are quite accomplished at getting into the cans and scattering found food treasures all over the yard... and our back porch. The dogs have appreciated this more than we have.

I've tried to mitigate the squirrel issue somewhat. One way is when picking up dog poop, to make sure and put the baggies on top of the food. Here, squirrels... enjoy some dog-droppings with your dumpster-diving. Also, there is a nice shovel that has enough weight to fit atop the lidded containers and further inhibit rodent attacks.

Now, it appears no one else here cares if trash raids clutter the yard. We've been the only ones to pick up the detritus while out there picking up dog-ends. That doesn't seem super neighborly to me.

Now about that yard and such: Not that since we've been here, it's been me who has been the only one out there picking up broken limbs and such. In the first month we were here, an envoy of the landlord did some occasional yard tending, but most of that seemed related to clearing a half-fallen tree stricken during Sandy. He's been a no-show since November. But even when he was around, it was me who raked that yard a few times. None of the neighbors were ever out there. I don't know what the involvement is like in nice weather, but thus far no one has been out there tending to the yard.

We have three 50-pound dogs. They poop at least twice each every day. In snowy times, sometimes it would be a few days before I'd wade through the snowpiles to pick up their piles. When the weather is nicer, as it has been lately, sometimes a couple of days will pass before I conduct a "poop sweep" and clean the yard. I don't know if this is normal, but it's been my M.O. The key thing is that, the messes are cleaned up. But perhaps I should do it every time they poop.

Because today the landlord called and said there had been a complaint. I'm a little perplexed, because the neighbors hadn't addressed this with us. We'll revisit some details on this in a few moments.

So, shared spaces. Always a challenge. Our drive / allotted parking area could hold four vehicles (we have two). Technically, we could park right at the edge of drive near to the sidewalk if we wanted. The "lane" is ours. But I park both of our cars further back. My thinking is that there is room to do so, and it's more considerate of neighbors 2 and 3 to not park between their cars... it helps them get in and out of their vehicles more easily. It's more easy for me, too, but if I wanted to be lazier and save myself walking a car length less, I could.

This strategy backfired during the blizzard. Because once the storm cleared, neighbors 2 started shoveling snow... into our lane. More than two feet of snow became more than four feet of snow. Not real cool. We did a bit of a workaround by making sure they could pull up far enough so that I could squeeze behind their vehicle to get out. But I thought it was kinda shitty to assume that it was OK to make me have to adjust. I wound up digging out with the help of natural melt over the following week. But the last time we had a big snow, I made sure and pulled alongside them to prevent that from happening again.

I hate living on the first floor, mostly because I don't like people stomping up and down the stairs and on my head. This has been a problem here. Neighbors 2 are stompers. They've got at least three kids and two of them are boys... and man, do they stomp. It's pushed M to the brink more than once. Unexpectedly, I've been the calmer one on these. There's not much you can do. If it doesn't occur to people to tread lightly, it probably isn't something they'll comprehend. We're just kind of stuck with it. It sucks but I feel like we don't have much choice. And with the dogs, it is probably better to be one the ground floor. It makes ingress and egress quite easier. So, it is what it is.

It also makes getting to the basement laundry easier. That basement is a damn joke, though. Seems to me that it should be split into thirds for storage space, but we have almost no storage space. Not a big deal, because we don't really need any storage space. We've got moving crates down there, and two window a/c units that are associated with the apartment and thus were already there. Everything else, with the exception of a washer and dryer, is space taken up by neighbors 2 and 3.

Neighbor kid 2 is trying to launch a clothing line from the basement. Good for him. Although he seems to think it's OK to move our stuff off the washer and dryer if he needs that space. I was sort of OK with that until a week or two ago when there was some standing water from something in a bucket on the washer. Keep it clean, son.

Neighbor 3 gets a lot of packages. Recently she got a big box and the box wound up outside on top of the recycling containers. M tells me that the box wouldn't be picked up by the recycling crews unless it was broken down. Neighbor 2 must know that as well, because a few days ago we came home and the box was in the foyer. Written on an open flap: "Please Break This Box Down."

Rut roh.

Yesterday we came home and the box was broken down and on the porch. In the foyer was a note that said "This is not neighborly. If you have a problem with it, call me."


M called neighbor 3. It wasn't us! And if shit was about to get real, we wanted to make sure our asses were left out of any neighbor dramz.

Anyway, that got smoothed out as far as us and neighbor 3. No idea how neighbors 2 and 3 addressed the issue, or if they did.

Then this morning landlord calls about the dog situation.

About that time, neighbor 3 came home, and we told her that if it was her, we were sorry and we'd address.

Neighbor 3: It wasn't me. I never go to the yard!

So... it seems we have a little issue with neighbor 2. Which sucks. We've not complained about their noise (which sometimes includes piano-tinkling past midnight, even on school nights, and generally is kinda nice except if we're sleepy)... We've not complained about the slack attitude regarding the trash, or the taking over of our limited basement space. Or of the BS snow thing.

We're going to play it slow and cool here and see what happens next. Neither of us want to have another neighbor issue.

One thing not in Boston's favor is a lack of a sense of community. Some people here seem kind of dickish and self-absorbed. The odd thing is that this is exactly the kind of thing people say about LA, a place where people are notoriously into their own shit. But in LA, my experience was that people there at least knew that they had to work together some. If you pulled some of the shit on the roads there that people pull here, there'd be road rage murders on a daily basis.

Some people here are completely selfish turds. I don't think our neighbors on 2 are like that; I think that momma neighbor is just having a bad week or two. Anyway, that's what I hope is the case.

But, it's disappointing that this has played out like it has. I wonder if I could have done something differently. What always concerns me at times like these is wondering how someone thinks their course of behavior was ever OK to begin with. It doesn't occur to me to snowblock a neighbor, but maybe it doesn't occur to them that I should pick up dog waste 12 times every two days instead of once every two days. If that's it, I am guilty, and duly noted.

But I don't get the approach. It seems passive-aggressive and a little shitty. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Five months

Nov. 1, 2012 was the day we arrived here. Five months ago today.

Probably the worst time to move here, timing-wise. Foliage season was all but over. The trees were about stripped, winter was knocking on the door, the time change (Nov. 4) means darkness is plentiful, etc etc. Not to mention: moving.

Fortunately, now that that's over, it seems like encouraging signs are out there. The days are getting longer, and warmer. I need this.

Looking for a job sucks. Well, check that: looking doesn't suck as much as not having. Sometimes it's hard to stay positive. Hindrances and negativity that you used to shrug off now seem a little heavier and pervasive.

I'm a little down.

But I also remain aware that there's no value in succumbing to discouragement. Because in this life... you're going to have discouragement.

So. Wipe those tears, and get back on that horse.