Monday, December 29, 2014

29 Dec 1993

It was a cold night. A clear night. I remember the brightness of the moon and the stars.

Bailey's birth day.

She was born at 12:30 a.m. in Presbyterian Hospital. Living here now, no one had ever heard of Presbyterian before the Ebola scare a few months ago.

On New Year's Eve that year, Bailey went home. First time out of the hospital. A little scary. We were rolling down the Tollway, and ERRP. That night, after finally getting her to sleep, she awoke sometime with the loudest wail I have ever heard. It seemed to have a physical presence and bounce from wall to wall.

Things were different, it was apparent. And so was I.

There were a few scares. She had a temperature spike past 100 degrees at about five or six months that happened on a Sunday; we rushed her to Parkland Hospital's emergency room. We were all terrified. Infants are so fragile.

You remember when they were sick; I guess it's the protective gene kicking in. Bailey was never really a sickly child, but I can remember when she was really under the weather.

But you remember the fun stuff too. She loved to swim, loved the water. She had a bit of adventurer in her; it wouldn't be surprising to see her pursue outdoor things at some point. When she was about 10, I lived at a big apartment complex that had an elevated area walled off with a 10-foot stone wall. As we walked past, she made an abrupt right turn and headed straight for it, and began climbing. It was ballsy, kind of hilarious.

I still feel guilt at the times I made her unhappy. She didn't like me fussing over her hair sometimes. As a soccer dad, instead of just letting her enjoy what she was doing, I projected too much onto her. When I moved to California, she cried and I bawled on the plane for an hour. Children should never have to pay for the mistakes of a parent. I'm sorry, Bailey.

She got that competitive fire eventually. She took up tennis, and got pretty good at it. The first time we played, I thought "Don't try and fire aces at her." No worries; she won handily. Then I thought "OK, now assert yourself." She won handily.

Now I was irritated. "Teach her a lesson!"

She won handily.

Eventually I won a set from her, but I had to resort to drop shots and cheap moves and generally being as underhanded as possible. It's the only time I ever won.

A few years ago it didn't seem like our relationship was as good as it could be. Most of that is on me; I didn't live nearby anymore. And teenagers just don't have a lot of interest in their parents.

I didn't really know what to do, I knew I missed her. The hardest thing to do is be comfortable with time sorting things out.

Bailey went to college, and I moved to Boston. I watched from afar. I didn't see her for almost two years.

But she visited last summer, and she'll visit next week.

She's young, but not a child. She's interesting and seeing the world from a different perspective. She's herself, and that's a good thing, and something that a father has to learn about too. I think parents want to see some of their own imprint manifest itself -- but only the good parts. I'm glad she has my height and my smart-assery. Although sometimes a little less smart-assery would not be bad. I got myself into trouble.

Someone once told me "I can't make your mistakes for you."

I want the lessons Bailey learns to have soft landings. Some mistakes leave marks; those are good. Hopefully there aren't too many that leave scars.

How can my daughter be 21?

James Taylor wrote, "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time." That's not an easy thing to do. I missed big chunks of Bailey's life, but that happens to everyone. It bugs me at times like these, but on the other hand... she's in a good spot in her life, and so am I. And in the last year or so, our relationship has gotten better and better.

She's more focused than I was at her age. She's working toward her goals and is not making mistakes I made. Well, most of them. I'm super proud of that, super proud of her.

Happy birthday, my sweetie.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Rank 'em: The Pretender, Jackson Browne

Yesterday we way back, 1969 in fact, to look at the classic Abbey Road. Today the mix yielded something just a few later but very different: Jackson Browne's fourth album, The Pretender, released in 1976.

By this time, Browne had developed a reputation as perhaps the best example of songwriting in the "California" style of the '70s that would be perfected by the Eagles (who he was close to and contributed a major part of the credit for their breakthrough hit, Take It Easy).

Browne wrote catchy-ass tunes, and backed by the studio musicians who would sometimes be most of a fringe group called The Section, he had a distinct sound. Most folks today might find it a little dated, but two things endure about Jackson Browne: 1, he wrote a TON of hits, and 2, women swooned over this guy. Some of us considered this inexplicable, kind of the way we evaluate John Mayer today.

One girl I was really interested in, Shirley, was a music major in college. She liked Jackson a lot more than she liked me. I bought her a JB songbook, which she liked. More than me. Another girl I liked, Lynn, was even more enamored with him. Later, when rumors came out that he had been physically abusive, I hoped it wasn't true, because I hate people who hurt women, but it took some of the sting out of constantly ranking behind this mopey long-haired German-born star.

Complicating matters was the fact that I really liked his music, though. His first scores, Doctor My Eyes and Rock Me On The Water, took him from acclaimed songwriter to big star. People who weren't around in the 70s don't realize how big he was. With The Pretender and then Running On Empty in 1977, Jackson Browne was about as big a star as their was in the rock world. The Eagles were bigger, as was Elton John, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Who... but after that, he was way, way up there.

The first album of his I bought, and to this day my favorite of his, is The Pretender.

The album opens with The Fuse, a tone-setter for the dominant mood of the album's eight songs. Some lyricists just free associate and that's their "art." JB would go on in the 70s to be one of the leading voices of social activism for a number of issues, and he's pretty clear in The Fuse about what's on his mind and what he's going to be talking about for the time it takes to get through The Pretender:
Whatever it is you might think you have / You have nothing to lose / Through every dead and living thing / Time runs like a fuse / And the fuse is burning / And the earth is turning. 
The almost six-minute long song starts slow but winds up with a long instrumental workout as it builds toward the end. Very nice bit of music.

Browne's 30-year-old wife had committed suicide just a few months before the release of The Pretender. For a writer who focuses so much on lyrics, there's obvious pain and searching throughout the album. A generation of teenage listeners could easily find some common ground with the earnest questions JB seemed to find unanswered throughout The Pretender.

This is especially true on the second song (as well as the title cut). Your Bright Baby Blues tackles a lot of topics: Loss, longing, love, loneliness... even drugs and spirituality make guest appearances. It's a beautiful song (lyrics here). The girls probably wanted to wipe away JB's tears. The guys wanted to say "Umm, you can wipe away MY tears."

The next song, Linda Paloma, is kind of a head-scratcher. It's fun, but it's very... Mexican. I mean that positively. In the 70s there just was almost nothing like it, outside of regional acts like Freddy Fender or the Texas Tornados. The charm is that it introduced a new cultural experience to listeners who probably had never heard mariachi music before. It works, but it's certainly a stretch.

Here Comes Those Tears Again was perhaps his biggest hit from the album. It was given a co-writer credit to Nancy Farnsworth, the mother of his late wife. Obviously poignant, although the song deals with a relationship gone wrong and not overtly about the tragic suicide of his wife. Still, anyone who's had to deal with relationship shit can relate.

The second side of the album (I'm going to keep using this info when albums where the "thing") began with my favorite song on the disc, The Only Child. There's so much wisdom in this song... it reaches into your heart and holds you close. The album's cover art had JB walking across a crowded LA street; the flip side had a small child running through the surf on a beach. I wondered if that was JB's young son, then not yet three. JB was a single dad now. The song begins with the lyric "Boy of mine..."

I tried to find the perfect excerpts from this song, but couldn't... because it's front-to-back meaningful. So read them all.

JB fans won't need to click that link, because they probably already know them all. They're just looking for another lonely child.

Daddy's Tune starts kind of sad, about the age-old story of generational/parental conflict. The lyrics tell of JB lamenting a rift with his father, or a father... how hard it was to communicate. But the song kind of pivots to a romp, and the lyrics turn to an acceptance of the wisdom gained only through time.

The upbeat end is welcome, because it won't be found on the next song, Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate, which would make Morrissey suicidal. The final verse offers no real respite:
Sometimes I lie awake and wonder / Where the years have gone / They have all passed under / Sleep's dark and silent gate
There is a tiniest bit of good news: The song's only 2:37 long. A good song, but not a happy one.

The Pretender closes the album, and it's classic JB. The big difference is that in almost all the songs on the album, JB talks about personal traumas and concerns. Even though the title track is spoken in first-person, it seems to be more about everyman than just the singer. The song talks about the emptiness of consumerism and capitalism... living to work, instead of working to live. A guy named Bruce Springsteen on the other coast was tapping into this hopelessness at about the same time.

The final lines describe the acceptance, the assimilation, that so many Americans just give in to. Still relevant almost 40 years later:
I'm gonna be a happy idiot / And struggle for the legal tender / Where the ads take aim and lay their claim / To the heart and the soul of the spender / And believe in whatever my lie / In those things that money can buy  / Thought true love could have been a contender / Are you there? Say a prayer / For the pretender / Who started out so young and strong / Only to surrender.

Jackson peaked with this album, for me at least, although he'd have a great followup that probably sold more, and a few more hits. But this album scores and soars across the board.

This one's tough to score. I had it pegged below 4-6 originally, but am instead going to move it to No. 4 because of its thoughtful messaging and the fact that Nilsson and Tom Tom Club are kind of lightweight. Let's update the rankings:

1. Abbey Road, The Beatles
2. Sandinista, The Clash
4. The Pretender, Jackson Browne
5. Nilsson Schmilsson, Harry Nilsson
6. Tom Tom Club, Tom Tom Club
7. Son of Schmilsson, Harry Nilsson
8. 311, 311

Sorry, 311.

Rank 'em: Abbey Road, The Beatles

No. 1.

OK, I mean... the list is only seven items including this one. Of course this is going to rank No. 1. Let's just update the list, then I'll get into specifics:

1. Abbey Road, The Beatles
2. Sandinista, The Clash
4. Nilsson Schmilsson, Harry Nilsson
5. Tom Tom Club, Tom Tom Club
6. Son of Schmilsson, Harry Nilsson
7. 311, 311

This was the last album the Beatles recorded together. Although Let It Be was completed mere weeks before they hit the studio in 1969 for what would become Abbey Road, the band released this album in October 1969 and Let It Be in May 1970.

If anyone's seen the movie of Let It Be, it's a sad peek at the disintegration of the greatest rock band ever (and what is almost certain to remain the greatest rock band of all time).

This album is the first Beatles album I purchased. Of course it has great sentimental value but it's truly an amazing work of art across the board. The Beatles had nothing to prove by 1969. They were so far beyond what any group would ever experience. Every breath was pioneering.

Some people like to argue how great the Beach Boys were. Good band, but they never grew. The Beatles could have cashed check after check after check signing variations of "She Loves You" but they kept pushing themselves and the form. It's kind of astonishing to think that if they'd never existed before today and started releasing their music, they'd be every bit as critically acclaimed and commercially viable as they were 50 years ago. The music is timeless -- very few bands release anything as good today, and none better.

The album opens with Come Together, a Lennon piece with a funky vibe and obscure lyrics that seemed to be a continuation of the heavy themes first tackled on the White album. The Beatles' incredible versatility is on display here. The darkness hinted at in the album opener would be revisited in a couple of other songs, but interestingly, there's more light than dark on this album. But it was a dark time. 1968 had seen political assassinations, the widening of the war in Vietnam, the election of Nixon, and 1969 brought more. Yes, you had Woodstock. You also had Altamont. And Charlie Manson, the band's worst fan.

A great, intriguing song.

Something was a revelation that showcased the burgeoning songwriting skills of George Harrison. Two of his greatest compositions would have hallowed places on this album. George had contributed a few excellent songs through the years -- Taxman, If I Needed Someone, While My Guitar Gently Weeps leap to mind -- but anyone would remain dwarfed in the enormous shadow that was Lennon-McCartney.

But Something hinted at the creative strength Harrison had developed and would soon reveal with All Things Must Pass.

George was never a fantastic songwriter. But he was good and Something was the best thing he'd ever done... until it was eclipsed five songs later on Abbey Road.

Paul's first song on the album, Maxwell's Silver Hammer, was by some accounts a pain in the ass. Perfectionist Paul apparently could not be satisfied with the cut, and the already tense situation among the bandmates was not eased by recording this one. The final piece has some great George Martin touches... the final verse has an incredible organ countermelody embedded; sublime. I am drawn to it every time.

This is without a doubt the best song about a serial killer ever written. So dark... but Lennon called it "granny music." When I had a few days as a substitute music teacher, I should have played this for the kiddies.

Paul has then and since caught a ton of shit for being Paul. If anyone tells you Paul McCartney is a lightweight or can't rock, play them Oh Darling. Then tell them to shut the fuck up.

Story goes that Paul smoked up and worked to rag out his voice to record the vocals for Oh Darling. He rips it, hard. The tune is catchy enough, but it's Paul's vocals that make this song. The music itself is kind of simple. Granny music my ass. Paul is an elite talent and wrote a ton of superb songs, many that rock really hard (Helter Skelter, Why Don't We Do It In The Road). Macca kicks major ass with this one.

Ringo even got a winner on this album. Octopus' Garden is credited to Ringo, and to this day remains one of the most delightful, fun songs ever written. Kids love this song. Even old kids. Starr's persona as the happy-go-lucky guy was confirmed with Garden. No one doesn't like this song.

My favorite track on Abbey Road closed side one of the "album" -- I Want You (She's So Heavy). This is a Lennon "love song" to Yoko and it's also so heavy, and very very dark. The repeated phrasing and playing drones on and on, carrying the listener away on a scary late-night ride. You can't stop. You don't know where you're going. You don't know if it's going to be OK. But on you go. The pace picks up. The focus narrows. The sound grows louder and louder and louder. Still you go.

This song is about as far from the silly love songs of 1962 that one can go... a complete 180 from the lightness and sunshine that the band hit with just a few years prior. In a lot of ways this song echoes the transfer from hope and optimism of their early songs and JFK-era positivity to the mood in 1969 of the end of the hippie dream, the dark side of drugs, war and violence... It's probably the Beatles' most underappreciated masterpiece.

As the song unrolls over almost eight minutes, the listener wants to grab hold of something for the coming impact. So of course, the song ends with a sharp cut and you're left to figure it all out all by yourself. And then the album side was up.

It was incredibly harrowing and jarring. The album was released just weeks after the Manson murders. I had just enough inkling of the times to know that there was a mood of things getting black and bad, and no one who thought they had the answer of peace and love felt so sure any more. The song slams against the wall, it's over, and further, you have to get up and turn the album over. I Want You (She's So Heavy) is perfect on many levels. John always did want people to think.

Flipping the album, George was back and the atmosphere lightened completely. Here Comes The Sun was the hand held out to pick you up from the wreckage of I Want You (She's So Heavy). For all the incredible, sweet charmers that Lennon and McCartney had produced, George played this card and stunned the world.

This is such a happy, hopeful song. As I write this now, and through many listens in my life, I often tear up at the simple beauty of this song. In My Life does it to me every time, too.

George didn't write many songs as good as this in his post-Beatles work.

Sometimes I wonder what we all lost when those cancer sticks took George, or that asshole took John. Whatever it was, it was significant.

Throughout Abbey Road, the Beatles seemed to put aside their issues with one another and a world that just wouldn't let them be just long enough to show everyone how magical their collective gifts were.

The harmonies on Because, set against the backdrop of Martin's harpsichord, are breathtaking. In a way, that blend of voices from John, Paul and George were one of the band's greatest achievements.

The beauty continues with the next 16 minutes of song snippets that were incredibly fused by the band and the genius Martin. You Never Give Me Your Money's sensitive piano opening, augmented by soulful guitar accompaniment and Paul's lovely lyrics... so pretty. And then the song shifts gears, getting jazzy and upbeat, before closing with some tasty drumming by Ringo, an epic guitar signature by George, and then as the song fades with the countdown verse ("1,2,3,4,5,6,7, All good children go to heaven"), some kickass soloing from John.

The song blends into a John piece, Sun King. It's kind of a playful workout, but things come fast and furious from here on in... King is followed by Mean Mr. Mustard, another typically quirky Lennon piece, as is Polythene Pam. John was into the Yoko thing and pretty fed up with the Beatles trip, but the old soul had plenty left in the tank when he wanted to kick out the jams. This was John's band, after all.

The entire sequence lets everyone show off a bit, and then they hand the thing off. It works. After a nice jam to end Pam, Paul takes the baton with She Came In Through The Bathroom Window. Guitars carry the song, and Ringo drives the bus.

Ringo is so underrated. The Beatles probably still would have been huge with Pete Best. But Ringo was the even-handed backbeat that kept it all together. In a few minutes, he'd get his due.

Golden Slumbers is next, after a somewhat conventional "end" in the run with Window.

Did Paul know it was over? I think what makes us fans ache at the end of this band was the things they seemed to tell us as Abbey Road wound down. The lyrics for Slumbers ("Sleep pretty darling do not cry / and I will sing a lullaby") and the next song, Carry That Weight, seem to be saying goodbye.

But they weren't going to end it on a downer.

The End is a kickass jam, begun by Ringo's amazing drum solo. Then Paul, George and John play solos. Epic solos.

I mean... these guys could do anything.

And of course, they wrap the song with some of the most quoted lyrics of all time, delivered in that astonishing three-part harmony: And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.

As we catch our breath, they send one last kiss: A cute little snippet called Her Majesty

And then it was over. By the time Let It Be hit a few months later, the band was done, and everyone knew it, although no one wanted to believe it.

I rank my songs on iTunes. I gave Her Majesty four stars out of four; everything else gets five. This album is one of the greatest pieces of art ever gifted to humanity.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ranking my CDs

I've had the hardest time finding time to write. A couple of days ago, I thought I had better force myself to do it. This is that attempt.

On JJ, I started reviewing my CD collection as a way to "exercise" my writing, to stay limber. I just went back into the archives... at one point, my idea was to rank all of my (our) CDs. Here's what I had so far:

1. Sandinista, The Clash
2. The Bends, Radiohead
3. Nilsson Schmilsson, Harry Nilsson
4. Tom Tom Club, Tom Tom Club
5. Son of Schmilsson, Harry Nilsson
6. 311, 311

Obviously, I didn't get too far down the list. iTunes says we have almost 42 DAYS worth of music. I'd better get crackin'...

  • I'm going to let iTunes randomly pick a song, and I'll review that album.
  • 311's 311 is currently ranked No. 6. That's going to be a high until I review anything else. How low can it go?
  • I reserve the right to change the rules. What are the rules again? Oh right, there aren't any. I should devise a scientific approach and have thought about this. But music is subjective. Millions of people like Creed, Nickelback, Bieber. Not me. My rankings are going to be simply this: When I listen to something, is it better than the first disc on the list? The second? The third and so on.
  • Clearly, those first five are all better than 311. Someone might disagree. That someone is stupid. (j/k) (Not really.) (yes, really j/k. Lighten up.)
  • I'm going to try and do one of these per day. Or at least every other day. Or at least, once a week.
  • Or at least, today, for sure.
Comments, of course, welcome. Or even, suggestions about what to review next! I may actually have it.

But now, yardwork beckons, and since I've spent most of this day off sleeping and/or goofing off, I am going to do something responsible, then take a nice shower, then hopefully add No. 7 to the list.

Monday, July 7, 2014

An excellent adventure

Friday is my virtual Monday, but it's become more fun by virtue of a taco restaurant that just opened about a month ago in Harvard Square.

Begun as a food truck, this tiny bricks-and-mortar place has chicken, beef, pork and fish tacos, some decent sauces and a handful of other Mexican-type menu items. It's pretty good. Best of all, on Fridays and Saturdays, it's open until 2 a.m. Those hours work for me, and the food is light enough to make for a solid late-night snack option. We've probably already been at least a dozen times.

Last Friday was July 4th; work was unusually frustrating. It was a holiday, a lot of people have been on vacations, we had a sort of irregular mish-mash of staff. It also rained all day from the remnants of Hurricane Arthur off the coast. Just a weird day. Best to cap it off with something good, like tacos.

Around midnight we found parking in the square and darted through the raindrops to get to the restaurant. Two of the three staffers there already know us; the third was a young girl, maybe 19-21, we hadn't seen before.

She seemed nice, and the three of us struck up a conversation.

She didn't usually work nights, but had taken someone's shift because she had needed the previous day off to attend her mother's GED graduation ceremony and swapped out. That's a wonderful story, right?

But for this girl, it meant getting up early enough on July 4 to take the T to Harvard Square by 8 a.m. And then... she worked for 18 hours, until the 2 a.m. closing.

"How are you holding up?" we asked.

"I'm OK, but my shins are hurting a little bit."

"Do you live nearby? How are you getting home?"

"I catch the last bus to get to Dudley Square, then I have to walk the rest of the way."

"Wow, that sucks! How long does that take?"

"Well, the bus takes about 30 or 40 minutes, then I have to walk about a mile or so. So I get home after 3, maybe 3:30. Then I have to get up at 6 to catch the bus coming back because I have to be back here at 8."

Can you imagine?

I work hard. Most of the people I associated with work hard. But I haven't had many 18-hour days bookended by public transportation travel of at least an hour each way. And I haven't had many 18-hour days followed up by returning to work just six hours later. That's brutal.

M and I looked at each other and conferred. Should we offer a ride home?

Of course we should.

"Hey, we could take you home if you want a ride."

"Really? You sure?"

"Yeah, that's a long day, we'll save you an hour of sleep that way. I just got off work so we're awake anyway."

"That would be great, thank you so much."

We finished our meal, exchanged phone numbers, and headed home for a bit. At 2, still under a light rain, we were back. She came out a couple of minutes later and hopped into the back seat.

"OK, where do you live?

"In Roxbury. It's a little rough."

Well, too late to worry about that now. Besides, we weren't going for a hang. And if the neighborhood is rough, that's even more reason a young girl shouldn't be walking more than a mile through it in the dead of night. She's around my daughter's age.

We set off down Memorial to Mass Ave., crossing the bridge toward the roads we've traveled many times en route to Northeastern. We have figured out that once past Tremont Street, the neighborhood starts to get a bit meaner. Two blocks past Tremont, we turned right on Washington Street.

We perhaps should have stayed on Washington, but I missed a turn at Malcolm X Blvd. and instead wound up on Warren Street toward Dudley Square. Malcolm lived near here as a teenager, and worked in a store at the corner of Humboldt and Townsend.

As we drove down Warren, I saw a white cop waiting to cross at a light. We briefly made eye contact. He seemed to have a bit of a quizzical look on his face.

Moments later, a white older car passed on my left. Two black dudes glanced over at me. I started to realize there weren't a lot of white people around. Passing MLK Blvd. was also an indicator. But no matter, this was going to be brief.

At Townsend we turned right, past a stately old school called Boston Latin Academy. Down a few blocks... the streets here, curiously, had a lot of names that started with the letter "H." Haley, Harold, Harrishof, Hazelwood, Hollander, Holworthy, Homestead, Howland, Humboldt, Hutchings. We passed six of them in mere moments before turning down the destination street, Harold.

At the end of this narrow, one-car-only-at-a-time street, an SUV appeared to block the end. That made me a little nervous, but it was actually just a car parked where the street T'ed out on a one-way circular street off of Harold. I went down the street.

We were there. She hopped out and we waited as she got inside. It was about 2:25 a.m. Our good deed had saved this hardworking kid an hour of sleep.

But now, we were getting a little freaked out. A left onto the narrow one-way street circling back out took us between large project housing on either side of the street. On our right three guys stepped from the shadows toward the street. Just passing through, not staying, ta-ta!

I moved as quickly as possible down the skinny street and got to a larger street, turned right, and quickly found well-lit avenues and headed toward Mass Ave.


I spent a lot of time Saturday and Sunday looking closer into this neighborhood. What I found out scared me a bit. Boston's streets are a mess; very little here was laid out on a grid. The streets twist and turn and curl and undulate and ramble in a way that would be great if you have "home-street" advantage, but otherwise, you're going to get lost.

Getting lost here could have been a problem. I found that I was mere blocks away from Blue Hill Avenue -- the most notorious street in Boston. It runs right through the heart of the city's most troubled neighborhoods of Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan -- charmingly called "Murderpan" by some of the more cynical locals.

These H-named streets are known collectively as the "H-Block." The H-Block gang is one of Boston's most feared. Look 'em up.

Boston PD regularly update crime statistics. The district we cruised through is B-2. Have a look.

If you want more specifics, try this. And this map if you're so inclined goes into greater detail. Follow our path to see teh stoopid!



Would we do this again? Would we have done it if we knew how rough that neighborhood was beforehand?

I don't know. At one point M and I wondered... how sad a time we live in when doing something nice for someone is something you second-guess.

A lot of big questions. On this street once lived Melnea Cass, a woman with streets named after her, a giant in the historic Boston black community. It's kind of a shame that her neighborhood now is Ground Zero for gang violence.

I guess I'm naive in thinking that just doing something good for someone is enough protection to get you through a rough place. I'm not Gandhi, I'm just a guy who admires seeing someone work an 18-hour day because they wanted to attend their mom's big day. Those are real values that not enough people seem to have these days.

It just seemed like a nice thing to do. Maybe it was stupid. But we both felt like even a little gesture might be worthwhile in helping each other out.

We are all in this together, you know.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The truant

I was requested to sub at "my" grade school last week. I didn't accept. Nor did I accept the many requests I got this academic year, which ends in two days.

This wasn't because I was scarred or scared after what happened last year. That time left an indelible impression, but on balance it was positive. I saw things I needed to see, had experiences that taught me many things about many things.

My "new" job -- well, "new" despite being just two weeks from a year there -- takes a decent amount of time, and a lot of energy. I've worked very hard at doing well and will go out on a limb and say that those efforts have been recognized and appreciated. I've had time to sub, but just felt like it didn't fit with my new schedule.

And now, it looks like that door will close. I can "re-up" to be on the active list of subs for the next year, but I don't think I will do it.

Education will survive.


It's our first truly hot day in the Hub today. Pushing 90 and humid. I installed one of the window AC units last week in anticipation, and it's cranking the cool as hard as it can. Nicer days are due soon.

You can always use another barometer: The dogs. When they're more sleep-oriented than normal, it's hot.


I've got new car fever, and the "want" is a Volvo SUV.

I've driven a few Volvos and they're nice rides. We had a posh car when we came up on our scouting mission in October 2012.

It's not like me to covet something luxurious. In all those years of driving nice cars, I never really succumbed to the allure of the higher-end stuff.

But I guess growing older has made me less idealistic, in a way. I just want something nice, and this one seems to be the answer.

The Altima has more than 90k miles on it now. It's been a great car, with very little trouble. So much so we ditched the Contour a few months ago (donated to the MSPCA).

I don't see us adding a car payment any time soon, but some day we will likely need to.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Trouble Bruin

I have loved hockey for a long time, which is a bit unusual when you were raised in a place where ice mostly congregates in tea glasses.

My team was the Chicago Black Hawks, because its Central Hockey League-affiliated club was the Dallas Black Hawks.

Before the games, they would play this cheesy (written in 1968) song, "Here Come The Hawks!" (Listen to 2:25 of glorious lameness here.)

Hockey's a great game, and it should be a lot more popular in the States than it is. It will never approach the level its got in Canada, however.

Boston has a big hockey fan base. People here are really into it. When I was at Hometown Rag in Gawd's Country, I had to fight to get even NHL standings in the paper. "Nobody here cares about hockey!" But I guess they cared about ski reports, bass fishing tournaments, JV football, etc.

So it's nice to be around a place where hockey matters.

Unfortunately, most of the people here are fans of the Boston Bruins.

I love Original Six teams. When they're successful, it seems to make the playoffs mean more. This is true in other sports as well: baseball needs the Yankees to be contenders. The NFL is better when Dallas, Green Bay, Pittsburgh are competitive. The NBA is better when the Lakers and Celtics are powerhouses.

Sports seem to be a little more interesting when there are villains.

As a Showtime-era Lakers fan, I hated the Larry Legend Celtics. As an NBA fan, I really hated the Laimbeer Pistons.

In hockey, there haven't been that many truly hate-worthy teams for a while. The league has missed some chances. It has too many teams. It hasn't done a good job fostering rivalries.

Enter the Bruins.

Simply put, these guys are asshats. In some ways they represent the worst entitlement mindset of this area. A lot of people here seem to think that they "deserve" things simply by existing. They "deserve" to not have to wait in traffic and cut in on people, they "deserve" the right to throw ciggy butts anywhere and everywhere, they "deserve" this or that.

I asked a longtimer here about why that was. He theorized that since a lot of the locals have had family here for centuries, they felt like they owned the place. And then there are the trust-fund types who come here for an upper-crust education. Those people already think they are special snowflakes.

This place is supposed to be the liberal paradise, but if it is, it's not very pretty.

But I digress...

The Bruins are populated with players who think they're entitled to different standards than those that apply to the "commoners." They think they can violate the rules, show shitty sportsmanship, bully opponents, showboat... and they do all those things. They're goons, but some of them are talented goons, and much of the rest of the roster is filled with strong players who make for a complete team that won a Stanley Cup in 2011, lost in 6 games last year, and posted the best regular season mark this year.

But the poor sports and jerks on the team draw attention and overwhelm the artistry of the team as a whole.

  • Patrice Bergeron is a 28-year-old center who Bruins fans think is a superstar. However, in 10 NHL seasons, he's scored 165 goals, with 31 of those coming eight years ago. He's overrated.
  • Gregory Campbell is a fourth-line scrub the likes of which can be found on any NHL team.
  • David Krejci is another alleged star who in seven seasons has only had more than 19 goals in a season twice, and never more than 23. He makes $4 million a year. Fans here think he should be a dominating scorer. Why? Totally overrated.
  • Carl Soderberg is just a guy.
  • Jordan Caron is a young guy with 12 career NHL goals.
  • Loui Eriksson is an electric scorer who potted 118 goals in a four-year stretch with my beloved Stars before coming here in the Tyler Seguin trade (whoops!). Eriksson is a silky scorer, but very soft. He had five points in 12 playoff games.
  • Milan Lucic is a hulking, humpbacked goon. He's had some on-ice success, largely through strength of will, planting in the crease and mucking about. But he's been involved in cheap shot after cheap shot, such as in these playoffs alone hitting a guy in the crotch from behind with his stick, mocking other players, and best of all, reportedly telling a couple of Montreal players he was going to "kill them" next year. He's a punk. Boston fans love him. Cheech's big mouth was the only thing that worked for him against Montreal: He had an empty net goal and two whole assists. Boston pays this monkey $4.25 million a year.
  • Brad Marchand. Lucic's Mini-Me racked up a whole five points (no goals) in the playoffs and is known for being a cheap shot. He's like Pat Verbeek, only without the talent. His antics cost Boston big in the deciding game 7 last night as he got penalties for pushing a guy into the goalie, and snowing Carey Price. He's a terrible person.
  • Daniel Paille once scored more than 12 goals in a season. Among his one point this postseason was a goal.
  • Jarome Iginla is a legend who signed with the Bruins as a free agent to chase a cup. He's starting to have that Karl Malone look to him.
  • Reilly Smith is the guy I wished the Stars could have kept in the Seguin deal. In his first full NHL season he had 20 goals and 51 points. He's a keeper.
  • Shawn Thornton is a 36-year-old child, whose sole impact on the series was looking like a laughing dick when he squirted P.K. Subban as he passed the Bruins bench. Teams looking to employ a guy with no skills and no future will likely be hot on his trail this offseason. Which for Boston, is about 16 hours old.
  • Boston's defense crew is not even worthy of note, other than Zdeno Chara. He's already made NHL history (but, only by being its tallest player ever at 6-9). He's a lummox and looked a very old 37 in this playoffs. Maybe now that his season is over, he can get some rest.
  • Tuukka Rask is a solid goalie. I think he's quality and seems to "get it." But the way this team operates, he's probably going to be the one fans criticize, even though he's a strong Vezina candidate who posted a 2.04 GAA this season.
I don't like the Bruins. I don't like the way they play. I don't like their attitude and their thinking that winning erases being obnoxious turds.

And since they aren't winning anymore this year, all that's left is that they're obnoxious turds.

Lucic's final threat last night took one of the greatest traditions in sports and shat all over it. Has he been the only guy who was angry at the end of his season? Unlikely. But he's the only one I can think of in more than 100 years of hockey to take that beautiful show of sportsmanship and use it as an opportunity to continue his selfish ways. It's ugly. He's ugly. But like a lot of the Bruins, he thinks it's about him.

Bruins fans are a sour, front-running bunch (kind of like Rangers fans). They have a lot to say when things are going well, not much otherwise. This offseason will be interesting. They run off scapegoats (see Thornton, Joe; and Seguin, Tyler). But the reality is they really don't have enough talent to be parting with anything this year. I think they are done, and won't see a legitimate Cup contender any time soon. These guys now will be like the Flyers: good enough to make the playoffs, not good enough for anything else.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I'm big in Japan

So my other blog is neglected, but I had an idea for something that didn't really fit here so I checked in.

Apparently, I'm big in Japan. As in, hundreds to thousands of pageviews.

Thanks, Japan. Even though I'm about 99.98 percent sure that blog is being used in some nefarious way. Hey, NSA, it's not me! xoxox and all!

I've got a freelance writing gig coming up again. HORRAY! (Inside joke, that.) But I don't write as much. I'm so behind on things. I've got a stack of books I want to read, and I just can't get to them. I see my life racing past but I don't want to be an observer, I want to be a participant. It's just one of those periods, I guess. Or rather, I hope.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The fire

The City of Boston lost two firefighters Wednesday evening.

A winter that has been brutal and unrelenting spat one last blast at the state Wednesday. The worst snow hit Nantucket, which got more than 9 inches worth, and wind gusts up to 83 mph. Most of the snow stayed offshore.

But the wind slashed across the state. That wind served as gasoline for a Back Bay fire in a brownstone two homes down from Tom Brady's place.

We drove right by it just a few hours before it ignited. Investigators are still looking for a cause. The blaze jumped from relatively routine to the max 9 alarms very swiftly. It raged for hours, whipped by those hellion winds, and stealing 33-year-old Eddie Walsh and 43-year-old father of three Michael Kennedy.

A Walsh and a Kennedy. How Boston.

Fires have ravaged this city from time to time. Part of the roads I drive several times a week are built on the bones of detritus from fires that were pushed into piles as landfill.

Boston knows tragedy -- we're getting ready to remember one in just a few weeks. Walsh was going to participate in the 2014 Marathon.

Out of that "fire" emerged a slogan: Boston Strong. This city has an iron will; it's people are tough. I think the phrase "tough love" must have come from Boston. A co-worker recently laughingly pointed out that "We eat your Southern Hospitality for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert."

I don't know what causes the iciness here... tradition? The winters? Old-world mores? 400 years of "going it alone?" Is it an Irish thing? It's not the best quality to have. People are disrespectful of one another and their surroundings. People wantonly throw trash in the streets. They drive stupidly at best and selfishly at worst. They don't understand personal space. They aren't always neighborly.

This isn't true ALL the time, but it's probably true most of the time.

What's interesting is that every now and then, however, humanity wins. Unfortunately, this happens after tragedies. I've seen it after the Marathon bombings, weather-related hardships, and some horrific local crimes like the Puppy Doe case, the Amy Lord murder, the Colleen Ritzer murder, and now this fire.

In the aftermath of those things, people make eye contact, they hold the door open for people, they let people cut into traffic, they start makeshift memorials, they donate blood or time or money or more or all of the above.

A lot of talk these days is about how there are "takers" in society and that these people are just welfare cheats and layabouts who contribute nothing to the common good. To which I say: Yep. Some people suck.

But it's very unlikely we're ever going to be able to eliminate these parasites from our lives. There's a deadbeat enclave near South Station that I see a few times a week. One woman I call "Cryface." She looks sad and convincingly upset about her plight.

Yet I see her with different clothes and outerwear. And she recently had her hair colored. And she makes enough to buy cigarettes. And she and others carry the same sign: "I need $32 to get back home."

I mean... in all this time, surely she's raised $32? I feel like giving her $32 and saying "I never wanna see you out here again."

Tangent, sort of.

I believe she's chosen this perch as her job. I think she might be one of those "takers" and it pisses me off more than it makes me sad about the actual homeless people I've seen sleeping on cold benches near the Federal Building.

These people are in every city. I hope they manage to achieve a better life. I've given food (not money) to these people. You can't really buy cigarettes or booze with a cheeseburger, so that's my best solution.

How does this relate to two lost firefighters?

Mean people... BAD people... "takers"... EBT cheats/welfare fraudsters... Bernie Madoff-style corporatists and thieves... it's a shitty world in a lot of ways. This contributes to the "Fuck you I'm getting mine" mentality that in micro relief is some asshat cutting into traffic while everyone else has waited in line.

The only way to win is to not become that. Fight it if you want, and win when you can, but don't think for a minute that they're going away. Just say "God bless" and let them on their empty way.

In moments of tragedy this city softens just a bit. People think about the fact that two brave guys ran into a burning building when ordinary folks ran from it. And then they never went home, and people are confronted with their mortality a bit, and they think "Geez, those poe-ah bass-tahds..." and they are distracted from their self-centeredness ever so briefly.

It's not a weakness to care about other people.

So I want to remember "Eddie" and "Mikey," two guys who put EVERYONE else ahead of themselves. My grandfather and an uncle were firefighters and I never had the guts to do something as noble as they did or anyone who ever donned that gear has done. We're lucky to have people who care so much about other people. That's Boston Strong, or Watertown Strong, or Strong wherever they are. We can't all fight fires, but we can all work on showing the kind of human compassion and caring these guys gave their lives for.

Monday, March 24, 2014


This winter has taken it out of me. And it ain't over.

It's going into the teens overnight three of the next four nights. May be record lows. And a snow is expected, of undetermined severity but guess are all over the map, for Tuesday night into Wednesday.

Honestly, I'm kind of sick of it.

I guess this is just a low ebb, but it's all kind of wearing on me. I've never in my life had to go through one of these and I'm just fucking over it.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Party of One

Snow No. 15 today. It's pretty and will push us toward 60 inches officially on the year, although the number is surely higher since we're a little inland. The official measurement is at Logan, which is right on the sea and totals generally change pretty quickly as you move away from the coast.

I don't know if we'll have many snows left. Despite the hassle sometimes, I really love the snow.

And despite yesterday's ranty post, I don't want to give the wrong impression... things are good. My life is good.

Of course there are things that could use improvement. I really want to lose weight and be healthier and more physically appealing. I guess that's shallow. Oh well.

Ferris was right... things move pretty quickly. I don't want to miss any more than I have to. And that's the bummer, we DO miss things. We CANNOT have it all. There isn't enough time. I want to see the world, I want to be better at life in all facets... fact is we're all going to have to cut some corners every now and then. That's hard maybe to accept but I believe it.

I'm not calling this a "bucket list" because I think that's a totally fabricated concept. But, there are some  things I want to do. But, I also think that I won't complete this mission. The first one is just to see the amazing sights in the world, and I just don't think there's enough time. When I read "Into Thin Air" I couldn't believe the hacks that basically paid Sherpas to haul their asses to the top of Everest. "I climbed Everest!"

No, fuckheads, you didn't. You didn't spend years learning how to mountaineer, you spent money to achieve a faux "accomplishment."

I'm never going to be like that. I've earned my scars, paid for them in tears, and they're real. And they're spectacular.

It's been almost 16 months in Boston now. I'm only recently starting to feel like it's "home." It's still so foreign in so many ways, and what's been harder to acclimate is the fact that the people are a bit aloof and reluctant to bring you into their circles here. It's hard to fit in, and a lot of the "natural" social circles aren't available to me. I don't participate in a religious setting, a school setting, anything like that.

My only real options are neighbors (they kind of suck), work (always dicey, for all the usual reasons, plus here co-workers don't even sometimes live in the same state) or people I meet randomly. Except here if you start a random convo with someone they eye you with suspicion. No, dude, I'm not trying to pick you up. No, toots, I ain't hitting on you.

But I think in the last couple of weeks I've kind of adjusted my thinking on this. If people aren't welcoming me into their world, I'm going to throw a party of one. Not to get all Stuart Smalley, but I feel like I'm a good enough person to be worthy of friendship. Some people pay lip service to that; I don't.

So, you know, if you want to be my friend, let's hang. If not, that's cool too, because I've got M, I've got the hounds... and I have ME.

So the next time someone tells me to go fuck myself, I should take that as a compliment, right?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Write said Fred

You may not know this, but once upon a time I got paid to write little stories. I wrote a lot of them. Usually several a week.

And they actually got published! Really. I've got boxes of clippings to prove it. Even though over time I've pitched probably 75 percent of that stuff.

I wrote some columns, but most of the stuff that got published was not personal at all. To this day, even here, I have to make myself let go. I tend to try and write things from as detached a position as possible. It's not really that easy to open those doors.

Today and two days ago, I got some things published here. It's my first byline in a big paper in a long time. In the 90s I was in three big newspapers; it's been a while since I had a quality placement.

It feels good. I really wanted to do a great job, even though these are small pieces and will be quickly forgotten. But not by me.

I thought I had left newspapers for good in 2000. I had a chance to take a dream job in a dream location, and I was smart enough to know that the business was struggling and that things were going to get worse. The timing was pretty good.

A few years later, though, I had the chance to jump back into journalism. It was with a lot of quality people who I had worked with before, and an exciting venture that held so much promise.

For the next six months, we had a ton of fun producing a clever publication that without some underhanded shit from our competition, could have been truly epic. Instead, for reasons I think still haven't been fully explained, we had to shut it down.

At the time it seemed like a complete disaster for me and 25 others. That was going to be my second farewell to journalism. But it turned out OK. I wound up going back to school and completing my degree.

And, setting up my third farewell to journalism. What made going back to school possible was taking a job at a third-rate newspaper near the university. There were some nice people there, and a handful of lifelong friends to meet. But in general, the place was populated with dead-enders, suck-ups, and hacks. Most of them in management roles.

Nepotism. Favoritism. Sexism. These were just some of the entrenched "isms" there, and overcoming them was difficult. Some people were allowed to screw up over and over. Some were allowed to be lazy. Some were allowed to be routinely incompetent.

And as I would discover, the office politicians had the best shot at longevity. Boat-rockers were shit-listed.

It was probably inevitable that it would go bad. It was almost five years ago now, that day when 16 heads got lopped off. It was no surprise that many in this jettisoned group would have one thing in common: We valued the quality of the product more than we valued kissing ass.

Most people lament things that happen in the workplace. Dilbert, The Office, Office Space... workplace bullshit is so commonplace that everyone can relate.

Some of the people let go that day have gone on to much bigger and much better. Although one of the leftovers, we would learn, told the frightened remainder that they had been retained because they "were the best of the best."

Some of them were really good. But the day of the lopping, they slashed two of the best at their jobs they had. And another who went on to a successful career at one of the region's biggest employers. And another who got a graduate degree and now makes globally recognized films. And another whose axing sparked a community outcry that got him re-hired quickly. And me.

"Best of the best." Fuck you, John, you coward.

Anyway. Now I work someplace great with amazing professional co-workers. They treat one another with respect. It feels incredible. I used to hate going to work. Now I look forward to it. The days fly by. We have fun, we do a great job.

And I get to be part of it.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

More lil bit o this, lil bit o that

Life seems to be moving so quickly now...

M and I have both been swamped. I consider myself fairly proficient at time management, so although I could probably do even better, I feel like I have time scheduled fairly well. Wish I had more of it.

Random thoughts:

I've been thinking of places I've been lately. Wistfully? Not so sure, but I have appreciated them. And the good thing about memory is that I can appreciate them again. A few things that have been in my head include, of course, Redondo. I loved it there. The job interview there in 2012 was cool. It was a great place to live and maybe some day... Fayetteville, I now have memories of this place at two very different times in my life. There were different places. That's kind of odd, I wonder if Redondo will wind up the same?

I also have been reflecting on some of my oldest friends. Ricky, I miss you. Dale, you too. Becky... Happy Birthday, wherever you are...

Moose has been sick. He's epileptic and had a very rough couple of days. I know he's just a dog, but if you have a dog... they aren't just dogs. I probably owe Harrell an apology, because I was kind of not very nice to him about his dog.

Which kind of leads to the real reason I wanted to sit down and punch out a few thoughts...

I'm a cynic and a wise-ass. It's easy to be snarky, because most of us share common views about the worst parts of the human condition.

I had a really awful end of my work week a while back. The day was filled with stupid stuff; institutional things that are unlikely to change. But I didn't handle it as well as I should have and spent the next few days rehashing things. I determined that when I went back to work, I would make sure and understand that some things simply lend themselves to frustration. You've probably heard this before: Control what you can, and that starts with your attitude.

I made up my mind to let the stuff roll off my back, do as good a job as I could possibly do, and if a frustrating situation came up, I vowed to handle it with grace.

It worked.

All of it.

When the institutional problem surfaced again, I understood it, and realized the best approach was not to ratchet up my own anxiety. And it played out without difficulty. In fact, people around me were starting to melt down a little, and instead of falling in with them, I tried to alleviate their stress and make the situation better.

It felt great -- not just to be able to be a positive part of it, but in not letting my own head get cluttered.

This isn't my strong suit. I'm one of those "wear the heart on the sleeve" types. Being passionate is great up to the point that it clouds your big picture.

I'm not sure if I'll be able to maintain this level head, but the good feeling it created for me is something I am trying to replicate.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Where have you been?

Oh wait, that was me...

Quick hits:

* Snow No. 8 was last night. It wasn't as bad as expected and not as intense as Nos. 4 and 6. But it's damned cold now. So of course, today we ran out of heating oil.
* One of the biggest challenges in life is to let douchery go by without losing it. This is a difficult thing for me. There have been three significantly douchey things this week; I've handled them but not as well as I could.
* I really need to visit here more often. But I've just been dog-tired lately. I think cumulatively, the night schedule has converted me to trending toward trying to sleep in, which isn't fair to M and isn't really doable anyway because of the damn dogs. My sleep is erratic, I'm not eating as smartly as I should, the winter has made me sluggish, I don't exercise as much as I need to. If just one of these things were a problem, no problem. Combining them is not optimal. I gotta work on it.
* I haven't even updated on French Cottage, the holidays, the guy I saw on the train last week... man.

It's so flipping cold right now. The temperature gauge in the house is below 50. It's going to be a challenging night.

I'm watching the Hogs online, and when that's over, I'm going to go bury myself under dogs and blankets.

Better days ahead, then.