October 16, 2009

Death in the Heart of Roxbury, MA or The Hawk Takes the Squirrel.

As I was getting out of the car this afternoon, and walking around the corner of the house to the front door I heard a small commotion in the grassy triangle across the street. Something rustled in the trees and then thumped on the ground. Walking across the street, I saw a hawk in the grass. I assumed at first that it was injured as it had it wings spread and seemed to be limping along the ground. I quickly realized that it was not a limp at all, but that it had a squirrel gripped in its talons. I always carry a small camera with me and I took a few quick shots of it on the ground. The camera doesn’t have a good zoom capacity, so I took a chance and went in the house to get my video camera.

When I returned the hawk was still there seeming to be looking for a place to consume its prey. After a moment or two it flew down to the end of the cul de sac landing in a tree. Waiting there but a moment longer, it hopped over to an adjacent roof and proceeded to consume the squirrel. I did manage to catch a little video in spite of the cold fingers and my jittery focus.

I was thrilled to witness this more than anything. One would think that living in the ‘inner city’ that the wild life would be restricted to birds and a few squirrels and other rodent. Surprisingly, this is not the case. And while we aren’t seeing deer and bear, I have had occasion to see wild turkeys, and there is a large family of skunk that occupy the neighborhood. There are also reports of coyote sightings in some parts of town. So I guess that I should not be surprised to see a hawk acting out the fundamentals of its existence.

A little postscript here: This is my first posting in months. I think I got to the point where I had other things to do besides hear myself talk to myself. Now that the weather has cooled off I think I will be more prone to filling my time with endless babble.

July 8, 2009

I've been away.

Yes, it has been a month since I posted anything here. In some respect, I just haven’t been inspired to write, and in others it has been a busy month which included a included a lot of home projects as well as two weeks vacation in Seattle, and a total computer failure which required the purchase of a new computer.

At this point I am certainly not going to give a day-by-day chronicle of the months events, but I will cover a few highlights. My last entry was for July 4th, the next day we packed up the car and headed to Cape Cod for the annual Mashpee Wampanoag pow wow. This is an annual event that we try to attend every year. There is always any number of friends attending as well as a few of Mrs. ‘cousins’. We got an early start for a change, and were actually out of the house by noon. This was also the test drive for the van that had been in and out of the shop over the previous week with transmission issues. I am happy to report that the car ran beautify much to my relief. And it was good to get it out give the engine a run. It actually gets somewhat decent mileage on the highway, as opposed to the 14mpg it gets in the city. I am sure we qualify for the cash for clunkers program but I digress. The weather at pow wow was beautiful, and especially appreciated after the wet and cold June that we experienced. Not thinking ahead, we forgot the sunscreen and managed to get light sunburn. The dancing, singing and drumming was better that I recall in the past, and the number of people attending was larger too. We of course spent amore money that we should have at a couple of vendors. Both Mrs. and I buying wampum earrings, mine were just simple disks, and hers were a cluster of traditional style wampum beads hanging in a cluster.

Because we had gotten an early start, we left a little earlier that usual and decided to drive around a bit on the return trip and do the sightseeing we usually don’t have time to do. The boy, sitting in the back seat just wanted to go home, but we pulled rank, and he proceeded to fall asleep leaving us to take our time and enjoy the scenery. After an hour or so he awoke and was disgusted to find that we were no closer to home that we were when last checked. We did finally get on the road back to home, and blissfully the traffic was lighter than we expected.

So let me post this, and I’ll try to catch up wit the more in soon. In the meantime here is a collection of photos from the pow wow that I put together in a little video.

Independence Day in Boston

We finally got some decent weather in Boston for Independence Day. After weeks of overcast and rain, the sun finally came out and the temperature reached into the upper 70’s. (That is mid 20’s for you in Europe.) I deemed it ‘get out of the house day’ in celebration. I am one who enjoys wandering around the city or taking a long drive on a Sunday afternoon. Neither the boy nor Mrs. is fond of either activity, the boy would rather play video games and the Mrs. would rather bead or read.

Boston does a big celebration for the 4th in and around the Quincy Market area, with music and other events. Thousands of people attend, primarily tourists but a good many locals as well. I enjoy the event, as much for the people watching as anything. Some negotiations ensued, and Mrs. begged off claiming that she hated crowds and had to clean her office. The boy had no such negotiation point, having spent several hours already playing video games. So around noon we grabbed out subway passes and headed down to the station. On route we stopped and chatted with a couple of other neighbors who were out also enjoying the summer weather and the holiday.

Hopping on the T we arrived to a Quincy Market teaming with hordes of people as expected. One of the more enduring fixtures of the area is the street performers. Most of them fall into the juggling / magic act format with a fair amount of snappy patter tossed in to keep the audience interested. The acts of this sort all tend to blend into one another after a while, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t entertaining. I enjoy seeing the variations they the try to put in their acts to make them stand out. The big theme this year seemed to be about Gaining height to be able to be seen over the heads of the crowds. We saw two acts working on straight ladders, and another act, a pair of local twin boys who are masters of the Diablo, perform with one standing on the others shoulders. A Divine Street Performer?
That alone is worth the price of admission. Their mastery of the Diablo is pretty amazing as well. We didn’t watch the street acrobats this time. They do a hip-hop break dance routine with lots of tumbling thrown in, it is pretty amazing but the boy decided that he had a mission in mind and didn’t want to stop.

One of the street performers we watched. (Not my video. )

The boy decided that he had to visit his favorite store, Newbury Comics, a local purveyor of pop culture. You can read that as music, videos, comic books action figures and other trinkets. (Actually I used a visit to the store as a bribe to get him to accompany me.) It wasn’t too painful of a visit, he passed up action figures of Dr Who characters, but conned me out of 15 dollars to pay half of the cost of a video game. He promised to pay me back at some time in the future, but we both know that it probably won’t happen.

That duty taken care of we crossed over to City Hall Plaza where the commercial vendors set up shop, and the city has a bandstand. The music was ok, and the vendors passing out free sample were fewer that usual, we scored a couple of bottles of Cholula Hot Sauce and little boxes of Honey Bunches of Oats. Victorinos, the makers of the Swiss Army Knife had a tricked out Airstream Trailer but were only passing out samples of a soon to be released Swiss Army knife cologne. Mutual of Omaha had and exhibit called Adventure Tour, celebrating their sponsorship of the Wild Kingdom television show. It was full of animatronic animals that begged to have you be photographed with them, but the final piece de resistance was the animatronic bust of Marlin Perkins, the long deceased host of the program, popping out if a plastic iceberg on a wetsuit. A creepy Marlin Perkins

We both agreed that we had enough entertainment for the day and hopped the subway home where a piece of wild caught Alaskan sockeye salmon was waiting to be grilled. That is possible the favorite food of everyone in the house. I slow grilled it a western red cedar plank that I acquired for that purpose. Joining it on the grill was corn on the cob and grilled bread. Dinner was delicious, the salmon was done perfectly if I do say so myself, and we all wished that there had been more fish.

After dinner we discussed where and how we were going to watch the fireworks, and after a brief discussion we decided that watching them from the house was the easy no effort answer, that way we could also watch them on TV. One of the advantages of living close in to the center of Boston is that we can see them pretty clearly from the bedroom window on the 2nd floor. And after wards we don’t have to fight crowds and traffic on the way home. A couple of years ago we decided that we would go down and watch them from the Esplanade we packed a picnic dimmer and took the subway down. It was fun, but the place was packed, but when it came time for the fireworks we discovered that out location was less than ideal. We moved around and finally found a place to watch from, but it was a pain in the darn as hundreds of other people were doing the same thing. When they were over of course all 500,000 people watching from the Esplanade left at the same time. It was all foot traffic but is was no less backed up as if it were cars. We got home well after midnight exhausted.

Doing that once was enough, and this year we wanted to rise early and well rested the next day as we were heading down the Cape Cod for pow-wow.

A couple of other sights not mentioned earlier:
Living Statues - note the water bottle behind the sign at her feet.

Another living statue - you have to be pretty self assured to stand around all day in a silver lame' leotard.

June 30, 2009

What's been going on?

Apropos of nothing herein.

It has been nearly a month since I have added anything here. I guess in part that I just haven’t been in a writing some times the mundane events in life are just that, and I find that I just don’t have anything to say about them. That being said let me see if I can catch up a bit without going thru a blow-by blow of every event.

The first topic is usually the weather, which has been absolute shit for the last month. As of a week or so ago, the Boston Globe was reporting that we were experiencing the cloudiest June since 1903. I don’t know if that record was actually breached, but it is the topic on every ones mind. On an average we are having one day of sun for every five days of rain. The rain of course is usually on the weekends. The upside of this is that the yard is looking better than ever before. I reseeded large patches of the lawn in the spring, and they are doing great, what in past years has been a scrubby patchwork lawn is actually looking pretty lush. Of course is it also a little over grown because the weather won’t cooperate to allow me to mow it. Our plots in the community garden are also doing quite well, although I am sure that the plants would like a little more sun than they are getting. The weeds love all the rain too unfortunately. The Mrs. and I spent a couple hours on Sunday dodging raindrops and weeding. The results from 320 square feet of garden space were wheelbarrow full of weeds. We are starting to harvest a few herbs from the garden and there is some broccoli that will be edible in a few days.

Not my lillys but I walk by them all the time.

Next topic: the boy. He finished school on the June 12, and the 13th was his 14th birthday. He thought it was an appropriate way to celebrate the end of the school year. The last week of school was almost like he was already on vacation. I think he had but one day of actually classes, two days of that week were half days with various events at the school of which parents were invited. And one day was ‘skip day’ on which there were no classes, but one of his classmates decided to have a party. I was a good thing that work has been light for me since the term finish for me as I spent a lot of that week ferrying him to and from school and other social events. There was one day that week that I made 4 round trips to the school and back. Thankfully it is only 3 miles from the house.

He started his summer program this week, leaving us two weeks to keep him entertained or otherwise occupied in the interim. And you wonder why I haven’t updated the blog in a while. I took him to work a couple days and had him help me unpack some new equipment I purchased. His mother took him to work with her a couple of days, I took of work a couple days to do stuff, and somehow we filled the time the available time. The summer program is designed for Native American kids living in Boston to give them a link the their native heritage. It is sponsored in part by the Indian Center and Harvard University. He has been attending since he was 6 years old and it is something that he looks forward to every summer. It is mostly run by Harvard students most of who are also of Native heritage. It has been hit or miss over the years, but is currently on a ‘hit’. It is a nice mix of just fun stuff to do, swimming and games and the like along with workshops and field trips centered on their common heritage. Among the projects this summer are workshops in traditional drumming, dancing and jewelry making, and the summer will be finished by a trip to Washington DC to the American Indian Museum. I am jealous.

As for me, I have been plugging along I have a list of outdoor projects that I need to get to but the inclement weather has been preventing me from doing so. The major project is rebuilding the entry shed over the back door. It has some serious rot issues around the base that need to be attended to before the fall. I just need a few day s of good weather so that I can dismantle portions and rebuild it, but no such luck so far.

I am currently involve involved in car issues. The beast, as I have taken to calling the Dodge Grand Caravan that we drive is misbehaving and is doing it’s best to avoid actually being repaired. We are planning to drive down to the cape for the holiday to attend the Wampanoag pow wow at Mashpee. But if I can’t get the car in condition for a road trip we will be spending the holiday weekend locally. It has two issues, one is a clunk in the front end the feels like the drivers side wheel is coming loose. The second is that transmission which is not shifting correctly. Solving these has required daily trip to the mechanic since Thursday, it took two trips to solve the ’thunk’ but we are still working on the transmission issue, it seems to be an electronic sensor issue but we have not been able to track it down. So far it has only cost $550 but we ain’t done yet. Say a prayer and wish me the best.

Also seen on my daily travels

I won’t go into too much detail about the other technology failure issues that I have faced in the last couple weeks. Let me just say that a hard drive failure on my computer was made less catastrophic by the purchase a week or so prior of a 1TB outboard hard drive for back up. The replacement hard drive cost a mere $70 for 320GB, replacing the original 80GB drive. I was down for maybe a total of 36 hours including the time to reformat and rebuild the files. Salute to the Mac Time Machine for making the process relatively painless.

Now I notice that the CDR drive in my ‘puter isn’t functioning. Is it something in the stars?

But to finish on a happy note: the boy received in the mail the other day a letter from the head master of his school. It was an official “Head of School’s Letter of Commendation’ for his work in drama.

It read: ‘P.. deserves special commendation for his contributions to the Schools drama program this year. A three-season ‘varsity’ player P.. has demonstrated his acting talents and range by bringing to life the characters of the Baker in Into The Woods, Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Phil the Techie in Ax of Murder. P.. is a true ensemble player who leads by his quiet, focused discipline and his love for the dramatic arts.’

June 7, 2009

The Patched Pants

I started writing this a year or so ago when I heard a story on NPR about the 40th anniversary of HAIR. At the time I couldn’t figure out how to finish the story, and I put it down unfinished. With the revival of HAIR on Broadway, I thought I would go back and see if I could pull it together as a story.


I have a story to tell for a change. This is one of those brushes with sort of famous people tales. I was listening to NPR in the car the other day, and they ran a story about it being the 40th anniversary of the opening of the musical Hair. The article was complete with interviews of the authors and some of the original performers. It painted a very vivid picture of the time, and it brought back a memory that had been pretty much forgotten.

The original production opened in NY in 1967, in 1970 a local professional production opened in Seattle. At the time I was just out of high school and attending community college and doing a lot of community theatre. One company I working with was called Le Pensee Players, they made their home in a former church. They mostly were doing touchy feely avant-garde works by playwrights like Jean-Claude van Itallie. That particular summer we were doing a production of his called The Serpent. It was an improvisational piece set in the Garden of Eden, sort Greek tragedy in shape, including a chorus of women who commented on the progression of the story; I remember it being described as a ritual and a celebration.

Being the ensemble improvisational piece that it was the costumes came mostly from ones personal closet, drawer or laundry bin. My costume was a tie died sleeveless t-shirt and a pair of old 501 Levis. A note about this particular pair of Levi’s, I am not sure exactly when I bought them, but I recall that in those days I could get a pair of button fly Levi’s for about $6. By the summer of 1970, this pair had seen better days, much better days in fact. When they first got a hole in the knee, I patched them, and it being the last of the 60’s, the patch was brightly colored. As more holes developed, more patched appeared of a variety of fabrics in a variety of colors, until the point that the patches were beginning to overwhelm the Levi’s. They soon became known as the ‘the patched pants’.

As part of my costume the patched pants showed up on the stage of the church turned theatre every night in the summer of 1970. This is where I get to the crux of the story.

There was a party, it may have been a closing night party or just one of the pretty regular parties that we had after rehearsals and performances. There was a lot of wine flowing, and I am sure a bit of smokeable material as well. The guests of honor at the party just happened to be James Rado and Jerry Ragni the principal writers of Hair who were in town for the local production. They had seen our show and were quite enthusiastic about it as I recall. As the night went on and the wine went around, I found myself sitting (on the floor) next to Jerry Ragni. Eventually the conversation came around to ‘the patched pants’, which I was wearing. He was wearing a pair of Levi’s that were signed by cast members of the various productions of Hair, and wanted to trade jeans with me.
Being a somewhat insecure 19-year old, I was wary of his motives, my first thought was that he wanted to get into my pants more than he wanted my pants. But actually what had me more uneasy was the fact that I wasn’t wearing any underwear. Jerry worked the trade for a while, pointing out names of different actors signatures.

This is the point where the story should take a turn where I decided to accept the trade and I am now the owner of a historical pair of jeans, and my life took a magical turn. But in fact I demurred and turned down the offer; I kept my jeans and he kept his, and my life, I don’t have too many complaints. It has been an adventure if nothing else.

I wonder what happened to his pair? My patched pants became iconic over time. The number of patches continued to increase, but their wearability decreased, and eventually they could be worn no more. Being the labor of love and creativity (questionable) that they were, I never parted with them however, and to this day I keep then as some sort of relic of another time.

I wonder if they would qualify as a family heirloom?

The Patched Pants - Front

And from the rear

Bonus photo - production photo ca 1971 - Doors at LePense Theatre

June 3, 2009

Bleeding: a Rite and a Privilage

Warning: The following entry is not for the faint-of-heart. If you have an aversion to the to the thought of blood or the description of physical injury, do not read any further!

This picture of Alejandro Escovedo performing with David Pulkingham and Susan Voelz performing at the MFA last November has nothing to do with the following entry, but serves as a last warning for those who are squeamish.

I cut my finger while preparing dinner last night. Nothing serious, I just bumped the back of my index finger with my excruciatingly sharp favorite knife. The cut was small but deep enough to start bleeding immediately. A curse on my part, and few tissues, blood droplets around the kitchen, a nice tight band-aid, and the bleeding stopped within 5 minutes, and I was back to chopping.

But it got me thinking. The boy who turns 14 in a couple has never really bled to any great degree. It may be due to the protected life he leads, and he is not a physical risk take. He has had a few skinned knees and bloody lips over the years, but nothing that require much more than a band-aid and certainly nothing that required stitches. I mentioned this to the boy, and he said that he didn’t see the need to change the situation.

I don’t care to change the situation either, but I remember back to my childhood and it seems to me that some one was always bleeding for some reason. Growing up in a family of 8 kids, with six being boys, perhaps the ratio per person was low, but added together it just seems like there was just lots more blood. Among my brothers, there are a couple of legendary events that required trips to the emergency room, which fortunately was just blocks from the house. There was the time when Pete was about four and he walked into the bedroom just as another brother kicked the door closed. Pete took the doorknob to the side of the head. Lots of blood and hysterical crying of course with the result being several stitches and a shaved spot on his head. Then there was the time Mike was playing in the woods across the street and fell on a broken coke bottle, it was one of those old thick green glass ones. He cut the palm of his hand pretty deeply, as I recall it took something like 13 stitches to close that one up. I recall that a couple of my brothers could produce a nosebleed at will. This was particularly useful in preventing themselves from being pounded to a pulp by their older brother (me). The blood would stop the fight without any real bodily harm actually being inflicted. (A side note: In spite of the sometimes knock-down-drag-out fights we had as kids, we are all very close as adults, even if our behavior is still childish.)

If it wasn’t our family, it was one of the myriad of other kids in the neighborhood courting disaster. Moe R. rode his bike down the ramp to their garage, unfortunately the door was closed at the time and he took the garage door handle in the mouth. (Moe was not considered the brightest kid on the block.) There were bloodstains on the concrete for days afterwards. Eddie K. stepped into Kirk A’s back swing with a 9-iron, taking the golf club at almost exactly the same location as Moe took the garage door handle. My recollection of that was mostly the resultant swelling and range of purple, greens and yellow that his face was for days after that. Lance R. who had mild cerebral palsy lost his balance walking from the garage to the patio and put his arm through the glass on the door. I don’t remember a whole lot of blood, but I do recall seeing all the tendons and muscles on the underside of his arm for that one. I there when that happened, and having been in Boy Scouts, I grabbed a towel and did the old direct pressure thing and brought him back over to his house. Again it was luck the hospital was just blocks away. I don’t recall anyone being permanently disfigured by these incidents, and with the exception of Moe, they were all just chance accidents.

As for myself, I never required stitches of any of my mishaps, but I did my share of bleeding never the less. My most memorable mishaps took place in 5th grade. There as a cul-de-sac on the block behind us, with a nice long sloping decline to it. Near the bottom, a neighbor kid had propped a slab of plywood against a concrete block making a crude ramp. I peddled my bicycle pell-mell down the maybe 100-yard length of the street and launched the bike and I into the air. The launch went fine, the landing not so much so. I think I tumbled entangled in the bike for another hundred yards before coming to a stop. I was bruised, scraped and lacerated, and bleeding from my scalp above my right ear. I somehow managed to peddle home before collapsing in tears at the back door, crying that I had cracked my head open, a fear of every boy of the 50’s and 60’s. I spent a day or two on the sofa after that one, and I can still feel the scar on my scalp.

Bicycles are a great device for providing cuts and other physical damage to kids. Another time while riding down the street, a friend riding along said’ Never try to steer you bike while crossing your arms and holding the handlebars.’ So, what did I do? Of course, I crossed my arms and grabbed the handlebars! The nearly immediate result was that I lost control and I found myself lying in the crushed rock on the side of the road. Arms were lacerated from taking the force of the fall. A word to the wise; the voice of experience, do not cross your arms and try to steer your bike!

There were numerous other incidents beyond those. I tended to lead with my head; I can find at least another 5 scars on my head beyond that previously mentioned. There was the time I didn’t duck low enough under the half-opened garage door, and took the front edge at my hairline, and the time I slipped on an area rug in my parents bedroom and connected my eyebrow with the cedar chest. That eyebrow has one other scar in it, and the other side eyebrow has at least one as well. I could go on, but my purpose here was not to list my entire history of bloodletting encounters, rather to illustrate that blood was an integral part of the growing up process when I was a kid.

So by my figuring, if the boy had been growing up at that time, there would have been a half-dozen times that he would have had bloodied himself by now. I think that they must find all their risk taking adventures in video games these days. Again not that I want him bleeding all over the place, but I wonder if he hasn’t missed out on some rite of passage.

June 2, 2009

Missed Opportunities #2

This was taken a few weeks ago and the Springfest at the boy's school. (Did I neglect to mention that in a previous posting ?) There was an activity area for little kids to learn circus skills, and this beautiful little girl in tiger make-up was working very hard to learn to walk on stilts. I must have taken a dozen shots of her between my regular camera and phone camera, and this was the best of the lot. Either the light was wrong, or there was movement that ruined the picture.

This was another moment where that item on my list 'get a decent camera moved way up the list. I think I have a birthday coming up...

Rambling Road

I guess that last posting of a photo and a pithy statement do not a blog entry make.

Ok I have totally neglected this blog the last few weeks. I guess it is a case of bloggers block or something. I thought that with the end of classes a few weeks ago that I would have more time on my hands, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I keep thinking that the weekend will be the time to collect my thoughts and do an up date, instead the weekends are fuller that the weekdays.

For example last weekend went like this:

Friday night: 3:00 Pick up boy after school. 5:30 bring boy back to school along with Mrs. for school play. Work on makeup crew before show. 7:30; watch school play. 10:00 clean up make room then proceed to JP Licks for ice cream for impromptu cast party 11:30 home again boy to bed and a tall glass of bourbon before bed.

Saturday rise 7:30, throw some clothes into the wash. 9:15 leave for karate class. (Boy skips karate to rest up for school play.) 11:00 class over, stop at CVS for makeup supplies on the way home. 11:30 arrive home prod boy into activity, switch loads of laundry. 12:15 leave house to return to boy’s school for matinee performance of school play. Again work on make up crew before show. 2:00 show time. 4:30 clean up after show and head home. More laundry. 6:00 head to work for benefit show at the theatre. (Mrs. and the boy attend graduation party for friend while I am at work.) 11:30 return home, more laundry, a glass of bourbon and bed.

Sunday: Sleep ‘til 8:30 more laundry, coffee and newspaper ‘til 9:30. Followed by shower and breakfast. Noon, help desk duty until 2:00 while folding laundry. 2:30 to 3:30, domestic chores. 3:30 to 5:30, Mow triangle and backyard, and clean street side planter box to prepare for planting. 5:30, rack a beer. 6:00 attend online meeting. 6:45 assist with dinner preparations. Following dinner at approximately 8:30pm, clean kitchen while Mrs. assists boy finishing his ‘anthology project’. 10:00pm watch a little TV before bed at 11.

I don’t recall seeing any entry for ‘sit back and meditate on the meaning of life’ in there.

So as you can see I have managed to fill the time with out too much trouble at all. It hasn’t been all hustle and bustle, but it seems like it at times. We have managed to put in an expanded plot in the community garden, that has been a lot of work but very satisfying. In the past we have had trouble finding the time to get up to the garden and tend to it. It is now nearly double in size, but the time available for it hasn’t doubled. We share the plot with out neighbors, but like us, they both work and they have two adolescents in the house.

In addition to the community garden there is the triangle across the street to tend to. This is another community space; it is in fact a vacant lot that the neighbors have kept up for the better part of 30 years. That up keep is pretty intermittent, so I have taken it upon myself to at least keep it mowed. Another neighbor own a power more, so once a week of so I traipse over to his place grab the mower. I own a rechargeable weed-eater that I take to the edges, and in an hour or so I can get the place looking pretty good. Later in the summer as the weather warms the neighborhood gathers of the community cook outs. I am looking forward to that and showing off the new grill this year.

Did I mention that I bought a new grill? My old one finally rusted thru on the bottom. It had put in 8 years of service while spending the four seasons out doors. Not bad for a $50 grill huh? I am a bit of a purist, as I prefer a good old charcoal grill. I just think that if you are gonna char a hunk of dead cow; charcoal is best for flavor and carcinogens.

I have managed to fill my time with other things, many of them revolving around the boy’s and his social, academic and athletic life. I posted a picture of the karate exhibition so you are up on that. The following week he got his senior belt in class. He swears that he will be black belt by this time next year. I am not going to hold him to that, but it is great to see him with. Finding a decent charcoal grill however proved to be a challenge. Going into one of the popular big box hardware stores, the majority of what I could find were the console like propane grills with prices starting at over $200 and going to $500 or more. Costco had a set up that was bigger than my kitchen and was priced at $6000! In the charcoal category, All they seemed to have was a flimsy collapsible clamshell affair, or enormous grill smoker combination that seem to be made from a 55 gallon oil drum sawed in half. (I have never been a Webber fan, in that you can’t adjust the height of the grilling surface over the coals.) That hardly seems suitable for my postage stamp back yard. Eventually after many stops at different store Target, Lowe’s, Home Depot, I found one in my neighborhood grocery store. For the princely price of $100, it is a smoker style grill, but a compact version that fits in the yard and can easily be rolled down the street for the neighborhood cookouts. Best of all it had a large cast iron cooking surface the distance between the colas and the grill is adjustable and there is a warming rack. It is quite the little gem. I have managed to season the grill and have done a couple of test runs on it, but I can’t wait to really fire it up and give it a good run.
My new baby; don't phone cameras take great pictures?

The back yard is providing a little satisfaction, it is in the process of bursting forth into height of its bloom. It has passed thru the blue phase, which was the grape hyacinth and the violets, and has moved into the fuchsia stage with the peonies and dianthus bursting forth. The colors are by chance we just planted liked and Mother Nature did the rest. The yard has reached the point that we need to do little to it other than basic maintenance; every available space is filled with annuals. Maybe this is why I have been expending effort on the other gardens, I need more raw materials.
Backyard 4/6/09

Backyard 6/1/09

Amazing the difference that two months makes.

I guess I should mention the school play. As usual the boy chose drama rather than any of the other daily activities for the post class period from 2:45 to 4:30. This time they were performing a trifle of a play called Ax of Murder. It is a murder mystery comedy set in a theatre, and takes place in the course of a rehearsal in front of a live audience. The boy played a stagehand called Phil Jenkins, and is repeatedly called upon to fix the lights after a number of mysterious blackouts. When all is said and done the production values were pretty low but we are talking about a middle school show, so I will with hold judgment there. I do have to say that he boy has an easy relaxed manner of stage, while others are on stage, acting their butts off, he has the ability to walk out onstage and do his business like he belongs there. I over heard one of his teachers say to some one. ‘There is everyone onstage and then there is Padraig’. I have watched him grow and develop over the last 3 years in shows, and I am beginning to think that there is something there. He seems to have the ability to find the ‘moment’. When everyone else onstage is trying to ‘show’ the audience, he just goes out on stage and ‘does’. He is a bit shy by nature, and perhaps it is that quality that causes him to underplay enough to make the moment real. Maybe there is some real talent there, at any rate, he seems to have tapped something that gives him stage presence without having to overact Admittedly I am NOT a unbiased observer, but I have also seen enough acting over the years to know when it feels real. Ok he is only 14 – almost, who know where this will go, but if he is serious about it as a craft and an art, he may be able to make something of it.

Ok Enough! ..

Flower shots from the back yard:

May 17, 2009

Stuff you never knew you needed!

Let alone ever asked for!

As seen at the grocery store today.

Aerosol Pancake/Waffle batter; but it is organic, and somehow that makes it alright?

PS. I know I haven't written anything in a while, I am working on it I promise.

May 9, 2009

What I done today

9:00am– leave to attend annual Karate Exhibition, see the boy and 100 other kids show their chops. Exhibition begins at 10am and continues until 11:30.

12:00 - go to JP Licks for ice cream to celebrate neighbor boys 10th birthday. On the way back to the car we stop at a local toy store where I buy 2 tin wind-up toys that are on sale.

1:30 Return home begin chores which includes:
Clean 1 and ½ bathrooms – 2 toilets, 2 sinks 1 tub and associated walls and floors.
Sweep and mop 2 sets of stairs and the basement hall.
Mow the lawn and trim the edges (it’s small)
Wash dry and fold 4 loads of laundry. (ongoing)
Vacuum parts of the dining room and kitchen that the boy missed while doing his chores.
Make fresh lime-aid (with the help of the boy) 1&1/3 cup fresh squeezed limejuice, ½ cup sugar, 1 qt water.
Make batch of tortilla chips from corn tortillas – cut 1 a pile of corn tortilla into 6 piece pie sections, lay out on cookie sheet, salt lightly and bake for 15 min at 350°
Wash dinner dishes.

10:30pm sit with glass of bourbon fold last load of laundry while watching last weeks PBS episode of We Shall Remain.

11:00pm write this while thinking that is it time to send the boy to bed.

Lost Opportunities

The above photo was taken at Lars Anderson Park across the street from the boy's school. I drove by yesterday about noon, and the hill side was covered with dandelions creating almost a yellow mist effect above the emerald green of the grass. I couldn't stop to take a picture as traffic was heavy and I was on my way to meet a friend for lunch. I made a mental note to try for a photo later in the day when I would be picking up the boy from school.

I arrived a little early to give me time, I pulled into the parking lot, grabbed my camera and walked out to the street in anticipation. And this is what I found; sometime in the previous 4 hours they had mowed the lawn..

(I drove by again this morning on my way to karate class and noticed that dandelions were again beginning to appear. I'll keep my eye on the park for the next days and see if the effect returns.)

May 5, 2009

Not Much Ado

‘S 'bout time I added another update I think, time flies when you are having fun.

Speaking of fun, spring has really sprung here; the weather has been noticeably warmer now for a couple of weeks, but the kicker is that all of the trees have come into leaf in the last week. It always surprises me how quickly it happens in this part of the country. One week the trees are bare and you turn around, and they are green and leafy.

Big fun in the neighborhood over the last couple weeks; a film shoot is taking place up our street a couple blocks from the house. The film; ‘The Company Men’ stars Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner and Tommy Lee Jones, not that we have seen them in the neighborhood, but the local press has been keeping us filled in on their every move. The shoot is taking place at what we called for lack of a better title the ‘Munster House’; actually know as the Hodgden House it was built in the 1860’s towards the end of the ‘estate ‘ period in the Roxbury Highlands. The house has been in disrepair for the better part of 50 years, going from Italianate mansion to rooming house and apartments, and vacant for many years. It is now owned by a cab driver. One of the more endangered old houses in the neighborhood, the owner has barely had the funds to keep the house standing let alone actually make any repairs. The plot of the film revolves around the Affleck character, once a corporate hotshot who looses his job and goes to work for his brother (Costner) who is a contractor. The house happens to be one that they are working on over the course of the story. The upside of the filming in and around the house is that the film company is putting a substantial amount of money in the actual repairs of the house as the house transitions from derelict to repaired over the course of the film.

The house in transition.

The downside of the film shoot is that they keep blocking off the street for days starting early in the morning until early evening. The street happens to be narrow and one way, and the only straight route over the hill to the other side, and is the main route I take in the morning to take the boy to school, the first couple of mornings he was late for school in part because of the longer route. It isn’t like I could just take the next block over either, the streets were laid out in the 1830’s tend to meander all over and are often one way going the opposite direction.

Speaking of construction, the houses that are being built behind us are nearing completion. The last couple weeks have them digging up the street and sidewalks while installing the utilities. The houses dominate the view from the back of our house and make our humble home look even smaller and humbler. It will be strange having some one living so close. When we first moved here 8 years ago, we were the only house on the block with vacant lots to the back and to the side of the house. With the completion of these last two houses, what had been vacant land will now contain 10 units of housing, which is 6 to the side and 4 to the rear. It used to be that ours was the only car parked on the block and we could always park next to the house. That has changed dramatically, and god forbid you don’t have a space by 8:00am on Tuesday mornings when they are sweeping the streets and parking is prohibited on one side.

Before: October 20, 2008

Current: May 3, 2009

The other one: May 3, 2009.

In the broader picture, work is slowing down. The last few weeks were hectic with a variety of student groups performing in the theatre, of ten with four or more events in a given week. I’d like to say that they were all brilliant productions, but alas they all seemed to blend in to one mass of student bodies bouncing around the stage to pop tunes played and a painful volume. I was most disappointed by the burlesque troupe, I was hoping for something a little different from the other dance groups. But alas ‘twas not to be. Whereas the other groups we attempting to be ‘artistic’, the burlesque troupe was a little more ‘wink-wink’ about flouting their sexuality on stage, where it could have been more crass and in your face, in reality it was more of the same.

Good news; the triangle across the street from us that has been a vacant lot for 30 years or more which the neighbors have been tending for nearly as long is soon to come into the possession of a local land conservancy, and will

And they by ended the academic year, as classes ended Monday a week ago. I had two more events in this weekend, both of them benefits for worth causes, which featured a lot of good live music on stage. Unfortunately both events were poorly attended, and I doubt if either made any money for their chosen charities. It is kind of a shame to see the tacky student shows packed with kids, and when something of a higher artistic merit comes along the house is empty. I understand that the students are going to see and support their friends onstage, but it is still a little disheartening.
All that is left now is commencement exercises on the 17th and a few events scattered over the next month.

Beyond that life has been busy but pretty routine, get up in the morning, work and go to bed at night.

I am always raving in these pages about the neighborhood, here is a video that a local organization Roxbury Cultural Network put together.

April 27, 2009

History on a Roll

1st Church Steeple

Patriots Day

Last Monday was Patriots day in Massachusetts, and contrary to popular belief it is not named after the football team, it is a state holiday to commemorate the battles of Lexington and Concord, which were the opening salvos in the revolutionary war in 1775. It also happens to be the day that the Boston Marathon is run, but that is a whole other story.

We care little of either the football team or the marathon, so that leaves the commemoration part of the holiday for us. As I have mentioned before, our little neighborhood of Roxbury was once a separate town from Boston and was nestled on the first high ground once one passed out of the city and across the narrow strip of land (the neck) that connected Boston to the mainland. All roads out of Boston passed through Roxbury. This made it a strategic location when it came to the Revolution. What had been town square and is now the grounds of the 1st Church of Roxbury had been the site of much to-do in that period, and a number of the local community group had organized events to commemorate that on the grounds. I think this was the first year that we actually planned ahead for the event, usually we kind of remember sometime after breakfast, and by the time we are ready to go most of the events are over at about 9:30 we met our neighbors from across the street and walked the two blocks to the church. The festivities were already in progress, and a good number of our other neighbors were gathered in front of the church for the speeches and awards. The highlight of the morning’s events was the reenactment of the ride of William Dawes to warn the citizens of Lexington that the British were assembling to attack. Dawes was one of two other who went on the ‘midnight ride’. After a pronouncement from the rider and a reading a parody of the original poem, adding Dawes into the events, the rider was off, to supposedly follow the path of the original ride. I was concerned for the safety of both the horse and the rider, the route has changed a lot in 235 years, and they didn’t have Boston traffic back then.

Friends and family gathered

After the rider disappeared into the traffic. I went into the church to listen to a talk on one of the local African American patriots of the era. Although the talk was interesting, I was more interested in the church. Built in 1804 it is the oldest wooden frame church in Boston. The congregation has shrunk over the years, and while the church is in solid condition and has been maintained, it has not been heavily restored, and many of the original furnishings are extant. It is showing it’s age like a fine patina over the structure with just enough age and peeling paint to let one know that is has been in service a long time.

The next event of the day was a trolley tour of the historic sites in the neighborhood that was narrated by a local state Senator who spent many years in the neighborhood. I like to think that I have learned a lot about the local history, but I jump at the chance to hear from local residents. This turned out to be a gold mine of a trip. There were many people on the ride that were old time residents, and there was much discussion and many memories that rolled out at each stop on the trip. It was fun and enlightening.

One of the other activities of the day was tour of the Shirley-Eustis House. This is the only remaining royal governors house remaining in the country. Located about a mile from our house in what is now a densely populated urban neighborhood, when it was constructed from 1747-1751, the location was open country that backed up to the slat mashes of the South Bay. The house was a private residence until roughly the civil war but then was divided into apartments and later abandoned. It was rescued by a private organization in 1913, but wasn’t restored and opened to the public until the 1980’s.

We drive by the place on a regular basis but never had the opportunity to actually visit the house. After the trolley ride we drove over to see if we could join one of the tours. Much to our disappointment we had missed the last one of the day. As we were about to leave the proprietor of the house saw recognized us from earlier in the day and mentioned that the caretaker was giving a private tour a little later to a couple of friends. He offered to include us on that tour. We jumped at the chance, and after a short wait, we were treated to a leisurely casual tour of the house. The caretaker turned out to be a dental student at a local university, and while he had a good grasp of the history of the house. He wasn’t a longtime resident and didn’t know a lot of the local history and lore. The 4 other people on the tour were not locals either, so we were able to add what we knew of the local history into the details of the history of the house I think everyone came away a lot richer for it. The house has been restored to a period of the late 18th century when most of the interior details has survived from some how thy had managed to find furniture and other artifacts that had once been in the house, as well personal affects of some of the more rebound residents, and while the house was not packed with antiques of the period, it was enough to give the feeling of how the house might have looked and functioned at the time. Most interesting to me were a couple of cubbyholes where behind a small door one could see some of the old interior walls left from another configuration of the house that dated to a period later that the period of the restoration.

What a day! I have not been inundated with that much living history in a single day. I just hope that I can retain a small bit of what I heard and saw.

The Great Hall

The Great Hall looking towards what had been South Bay

The Master Bedroom

A hidden nook showing old renovations, note the painted 'wallpaper'.

April 21, 2009

Harvest Time

Time has come to harvest the last of the herbs.

We were given an Aero Garden for Christmas. If you aren’t familiar with them, they are a mini hydroponics garden for your counter top. It has a pair of grow lights and a circulating pump that delivers water to each plant, and all of this is controlled by a micro processor that turns the lights and water on at a predetermined time and reminds you when you need to add water and fertilizer. The plants come in little single serving cups that fit into receptacles on the top, and each one has it’s own water supply delivered by the pump. The version we have has spaces for 7 plants. With it we received a kit with 14 cups of a variety of herbs, we chose our 7 for the first planting, they were 2 different varieties of basil, chives, oregano, savory, parsley and epizote.

We ‘planted’ right after Christmas and the first sprouts came up in about a week and within 4 weeks the plants were growing enough that we could harvest a few leaves occasionally. In a couple of more weeks the plants reached the point that we could harvest leaves without worrying about striping them bare. But overall the results were mixed. The cats decided that they liked the chives and kept eating the shoots. Unfortunately chives can be toxic to cats so we removed that cup; they never got taller than an inch before they ate them anyway. On the other hand we found that the oregano also had mint growing in with it, so that made up for the lost chives. The parsley never really produced enough to use in any quantity, and we never really found a consistent use for the epizote or the savory. The basil on the other hand grew like gangbusters, and it seems we were using it every day in something. We love basil so that waa more of a treat than a problem. The same is also true of the oregeno, but it was getting a little crowded by the mint so we didn't have it in a large quantity.

Now the plants are nearly spent, and it is time to do a final harvest. We will try drying the remainders. We have a kit on order for starters for the garden; we will see how that works out. It has been great having fresh herbs in the house during the long cold winter, although having the grow lights on 18 hour a day was sometimes annoying.

So as we were picking the last of the herbs I did a little calculation. Let see, 70 watts of light for 18 hours a day for 30 days a month at 20.7 cents a kilowatt hour (that is 12.7 cents generation charge and 8.0 cents delivery charge) is $7.83 a month x 4 months equals $31.30. I thought I noticed the electric bill go up a notch over the winter.

Them’s some expensive herbs! I could surely get them for less at the grocery store, but that somehow isn't the point.

April 19, 2009


I have been just a little busy lately, lots going on, but no time to write about it, but I wanted to relate one quick anecdote.

I was taking an online survey a bit ago, and the race question came up. Instead of asking 'What race are you?', It was worded as "With what group do you most closely associate?' This is an entirely different question. I am white, but I live in a primarily African American neighborhood, on the other hand Mrs. is Native American, but I work at a university who's population is primarily white.

I was stumped!

April 7, 2009


I have a confession to make. I have an addiction, it occasionally gets in the way of me leading a productive life, but more often that not, it makes me the subject of ridicule from my wife and child. When it rears its’ head, they both just look and me and shake their heads, my son will occasionally break out in out in derisive laughter. That is hard to take from a 13 year old. I suppose I could seek some sort of help for this, but I’d prefer to deal with it on my own.

My addiction: Solar powered yard lights!

See, you are laughing too.

This is serious.

I have it mostly in control bet every so often it rears its head and I have a deep personal battle of the will.

It started out simply enough; the back yard can be dark at night, and there are no lights on the rear of the house. I bought the first two as sort of nightlights for the path from the gat to the door. They weren’t very bright but they did the trick and those sufficed for a couple of years. As we improved the yard with plantings and replaced the cyclone fence with a wooden one, the lighting needed upgrading as well. I went on to my favorite online auction site for electronics Ubid and found a couple of sets of 4 for a few dollars a piece. The new ones were sleek and shiny chrome, and the LEDs we re clear white and much brighter than the original ones, when the garden fills out they look really cool glowing in amongst the plants at night. Being the lazy sot that I am I didn’t bother to being them in during the winter, but I found that they looked equally cool at night in the snow. Since then I have often eyed the lights in various stores, thinking how they might look in the yard.

They are now a couple of years old and the weather has taken it’s toll on them; the batteries don’t take a charge as well, and the solar cells are getting flakey from being exposed the elements 24/365. It is time to replace some of them and maybe even add to the total.

I returned to Ubid earlier in the spring and again found a set of four for a couple of dollars apiece. These ones are color-changing no less, now how cool is that? I placed my order and waited. When the order arrived I found that they had accidentally doubled it sending me 8 instead of 4. Double Cool!

Suddenly I am seeing sets of solar powered yard lights every store I visit. Home Depot has them, the grocery store has then even the drug store is selling them. The worst of all is Costco; they must have a dozen sets. There are the copper ones that look like antique coach lanterns, and there is the French Provincial ones with curving sensuous shapes. There is a set that looks like champaign flutes where the whole body of the light is illuminated. There is even as set that is reminiscent of the old bubbler Christmas tree lights.

I want them all!

Having lusted after them on previous visits, on our last visit to Costco I couldn’t resist and purchased the set that had been tugging the hardest at me. Mrs. looked at me with bemused chagrin as I put them in the shopping cart. This was a set of 4 lights; each copper shaft with a small colored glass ball with an LED inside, surrounding the ball is a copper figure of either the sun or the moon. Did I mention that the light change color too? They look almost magical as they glow and change in the dark. I can’t wait to get them out in the yard when the plants start coming up.

I am afraid to go back to Costco, because I know that I will not be able to resist those champaign flutes ones, and we are due for another trip this week. On the other hand, maybe I’ll just swing by after work and pick up a set.

If I have my count correct, I have about 20 working solar yard lights. That may not seem like a lot but you need to understand that the yard is only 25 feet on a side. We know people with larger living rooms than our yard! One part of me says is it totally out of control, and another part says the more the merrier. It is a serious internal battle, and I am worried that the ‘more’ side is winning out.

I think that I might be getting a little eccentric in my middle age. This has me worried as well. Just the other day I was talking with the boy and mentioned that one of the denizens of the neighborhood was a ‘character’ and he replied, “Well you know dad, you are a bit of a character too.”

Out of the mouths of babes, or at least 13-year olds…

I am doomed, I tell you, doomed.

April 6, 2009

More Plumbing fun

As I was writing that last entry, little did I know that the plumbing in the main bathroom was planning a revolt! The diverter that switches the flow from tub to shower suddenly got very hard to turn and would not completely switch from tub to shower. Again with an old house you never know what you are going to find when you embark on repairs. I disassembled the faucet, with a little help from a rubber mallet and in spite of my vast collection gaskets and washers, nothing in my stock fit. The next stop, on the next day was a to the local Home Depot, when I showed the core to the clerk. He said that they didn’t carry that part but suggested some possible solutions. I shuffled through the washer and gasket selection, choosing a few that I thought might work with some alterations I also checked out what replacement faucet assemblies were available. I didn’t relish the thought of replacing it, but I was fully prepared to do so if necessary.

After dinner on the next night I settled in to attempt repairs. With the help of my trusty Dremel tool, I shaved and drilled the washers to match the worn ones. With great anticipation I reassembled the faucet. Victory denied! It still didn’t work correctly. After several tried at taking it apart again and tweaking and readjusting (and spraying my self with water) it was obvious that nothing I could do would make it work, so I gave up, consigned to the task of replacing the entire faucet assembly. I returned to the Home Depot the next day. But before springing for the new faucet assembly, I returned to the parts department, where upon I discovered a book that listed a wide variety of faucet cores complete with illustrations of each one. Clutching my worn part in one hand I went through the book page by page comparing it to the photos. Wonder of wonders, the part was listed in the catalogue! Miracle of Miracles, the part was in stock, although buried on the rack. Mentally dope-slapping the clerk who had told me the previous day that the part was unavailable, I left the store a much happier guy. That evening I was able to install the replacement core in about 15 minutes, familiar as I now was with the assembly procedures. The best part of all; the thing worked perfectly when I was done.

There is a lesson in there somewhere let me know if you figure it out. I was just pleased that I didn’t have to do a major repair.

As a footnote, as I was taking the garbage out to the curb at 7:15 this morning, I ran into a gentleman who had grown in the house from 1937 to 1961. He is now a college professor but occasionally stops by the neighbor hood just to see what has changed. we chatted for a few minutes, he mentioned that he was happy to see the house still standing after so many houses had fallen to disrepair and were demolished in the 70's. I joked that I was surprised as well as it was a money pit and that the house required constant attention to keep it from falling down. He retorted that some things never change, it was a money pit back when he lived there and he remember his father and his brothers doing the same thing 50 years earlier.

Picture: First Church of Roxbury, built in 1803 is the 5th 'meeting house' to be built on this site. It is the oldest wood frame church in Boston The 4th meeting house on the site (1746 - 1803) was the location from which William Dawes departed as one of the three riders on the night of April 8, 1775 to warn Lexington that the British were coming. The other two riders were Paul Revere and Samuel Prescott.

Running as Fast As I Can

Let me see if I can rescue this blog. I started this entry almost a week ago, but time and inspiration has transpired against me.

So spring seems to be in the air finally, the light is right anyhow, all we need is the warmer weather. We have been opening the windows a crack just to get some fresh air in the house. It is just a little too chilly yet to really open them wide and air the place. Other signs of spring: I have a sudden urge to clean. It might be the change in the light; suddenly all the dirt and smudges show. The previous Sunday I was wiping the kitchen counters after breakfast and looked at the cupboards. Before I knew it I had the Murphy’s Oil soap out and had was scrubbing down the cabinets from top to bottom. I think that the same thing must have affected Mrs. as she decided to scrub out the refrigerator after we got home from the grocery store. Now if it would just inspire the boy in the same way.

Whatever the force is that dives the urge to clean also seems to be awakening all sorts of slumbering urges. All of the ignored home maintenance and repair projects are also coming to the surface. I had planed to take care of at least one of the indoor jobs over the winter break, but entropy set in and I accomplished almost none of what I had planned, the bedroom remains unpainted, and the wall in the lower bathroom still has a large hole in it resulting from the major plumbing repair job last fall.

Of course there are the outdoor projects now are added to the list, and that doesn’t include the garden and yard projects. The front porch needs some TLC, and the shed over the back door has some rot at the bottom. Both are projects that have either the easy solution or the more complicated one. In both cases, I can disassemble them and rebuild them using mostly new materials or only remove and replace the badly worn or broken parts. Both have their advantages, the first solution is more expensive, and also means it should last longer before the next deeded repair. The latter solution is should be faster and cheaper but living in a 135 year old house, one never knows what surprises on may find when you start taking things apart. One can easily end up doing the complete rebuild anyway. Thinking about all the projects that need to be done around the house, I could easily take the summer off and do nothing but home repair and maintenance. It is kind of tempting; I think I will check my vacation accrual.

Before undertaking any major projects, I still need to get thru the next few weeks. There are multiple events every week until the end of the month. The previous couple of weeks were no different, with the added complication of the boy being on spring break for tow weeks both Mrs. and I were able take a few days off to keep him busy, but he also spent a few days home alone as well. He doesn’t seem to mind that, but it isn’t something I like to do if it can be avoided.

So in the last couple of weeks a wide variety of events have taken place in the theatre we have seen a local community school talent show, an a-cappella group competition, a student production of Into the Woods and a lecture by author and nutritionist Michael Pollan. The latter was sponsored by the campus office of special events and was expected to be a very popular event. In the planning stages, to make sure that it was well attended, they distributed 50 % more tickets than there are seats in the theatre. When I found that out I protested, asking them what they were going to do when 700 people showed up for a and event with only 600 seat. They suggested that they just stand in the back. I explained that state law dictates that the fire department dictates what the capacity of the space is and that state law does not allow us to exceed that. Having worked in theatre for most of my adult life and having been a theatre manager for the last 7 or 8 years, audience safety is rule one, and the particularly hit home when a few years back when a night club in Rhode Island burned down killing over 100 people. It is one area in which I will not compromise. They were finally convinced that they needed to have overflow spaces for the potential 300 additional attendees. The day before the event, I got an email from one someone in the upper levels of the administration asking if they could forgo the reading of the fire safety and evacuation procedures before the event because it seemed ‘amateurish’. I explained that is wasn’t my call and that it was required by state law, and then emailed them a link to that statute in the state code.

I don’t think I made any friends with the organizers on this event.
It just galls me that the administration would bring in a speaker whos' principal theme is food safety, but then will turn around and want ignore all the safety rules set in place to protect the audience at the same event. I don’t think anyone got the disconnect.

For all the trouble, the event went off very well. They begrudgingly abbreviated the fire safety announcement, but did it never the less, and the over flow spaces were packed nearly to capacity, with a total attendance in all spaces at well over 800! I felt vindicated after that.

Picture: Dillaway-Thomas House: built around 1750 is was the parsonage for the First Church of Roxbury. It served as General John Thomas headquarters during the the seige of Boston 1775-1776. The city almost tore it down in 1927, in order to build a school on the site. The residents protested and the school was built around the house.

March 20, 2009

The Slab and other Stuff

Standpipes Waiting
The calendar says that spring begins today and there is a little bit of spring in the air this week, but it isn’t June yet.

I am trying not to write about the weather, but this time of the year living in New England IS about the weather. Though spring be around the corner it is never too late to snow, and we have had two snowstorms in the last week or so. Two weeks ado Sunday we had an overnight storm that dumped close to a foot of snow on the ground. That shut down the city for a day, by midweek it warmed into the 50’s and melted most of the snow. But come Monday, it was cold again and we got another 2 inches or wet sloppy snow. And then once more we re back to warm weather, currently it is in the low 40’s and rain.

But that isn’t really what I wanted to write about. More it is the secondary phenomenon related to all this snow that I call ‘the slab’. This is when a given car owner is too neglects to sweep the snow off the roof of their car. On the day of a fresh snow, this isn’t really a problem if one goes driving around it generally blows of the roof of the car creating a mini blizzard behind the car as one goes down the road. It is when the vehicle has been sitting for a few days and the weather has been through a couple of freeze / thaw cycles that it really turns into what I call The Slab. The layer of fluffy snow has turned into a solid slab of frozen crystallized snow, and if you are lucky and the thaw cycle was warm enough, there may be a couple of inches of solid iced on the bottom. At this point it can weight hundreds of pounds if it is on a large car or SUV.
A Mini-Slab

The fun part comes when one drives down the road with the Slab on the roof. If the roof of the car is smooth, that mass of snow and ice can let loose at almost any time; favorite points are on curves or at stops. A sudden stop can send the slab sliding down in front of the front windshield, sometimes taking out the wipers as it slides. A sudden start can leave it in a pile on the road forcing the car behind to drive over or around it. More spectacular is for one to take a curve fast and dump the load on into the oncoming lane. Hopefully the mass doesn’t hit another car but merely crashes to the road. He most terrifying version of the slab is found on the roof of semi trailers going 70 miles per hour when it suddenly catches the wind, flies into the air, breaks into chunks and then scatters about the highway. It is kind of the cluster bomb effect if you happen to be following closely.

Ah, life in the fast lane. I am not sure why I went into all of that – it has just been in the back of my min for some time.

Beyond that, life ha been following it’s own rhythm. The day-to-day routine has been the theme. Work for me has been pretty busy with multiple events most every week. There was a brief pause this past week with spring break upon the university where I work. At the same time it is the boy’s spring break as well. I have been able to take a couple days off and work from home, which means emails and telephone calls, but with things slow at work that is pretty easy to do. The trick has been to keep the boy busy, other wise he will spend most of his waking hours at his computer in Second Life, where he has a 2nd and 3rd and possibly 4th life acting out fantasies related to Star Trek, Dr. Who and Stargate. It is fine in moderation, but we know how members of the family can be about certain things. The concern is next week, which he also has off, but I am back to work being busy with multiple events. Mrs. is planning to take a couple of days off to tend to him next week; we will see what they have planned.

Speaking of the boy, we got his mid term grades a few weeks ago, and he was crashing and burning in math and science. About the same time we got an email from his math teacher telling us that he had only gotten a 29 on his most recent test, and she wanted to set up a conference with his advisor and us to see what we needed to do about his falling grades. We knew what to do: no drama next term, it was going to be study hall in the afternoons and we were going to sit over him while he did his home work to make sure that he was doing it all and doing it correctly. He protested mightily saying such things as, ‘I am going to be an actor, what do I need algebra for?’ you can guess how far that argument went. After several arguments over several days, we agreed that we would not restrict him from doing the spring play if he got it together and got his grade back up before the end of the term. He was satisfied with that compromise. A few weeks pass, and his grades arrived the other day. Miracle of miracles, he did manage to get his grades in science and math back up. It was up to a C, but it was passing grade. His teachers in both subjects commented on his sudden turnaround. For now he has earned the right to participate in the spring show, and we are still going to meet with his teachers, and formulate a plan to make sure that he doesn’t backslide.

By the way, my counter argument about actors not needing math went something like this, when I was about his age, I wanted to be an actor too, I went to college and studied theatre and acted, but to make money to go to school I started working in the scene shop at my college. I found out that I was much better at technical theatre that I was at acting, which in turn lead mea to career as a technical director, production manager and theatre manager, and without decent match skill, I never would have accomplished that.

March 9, 2009

Playing Catch-up.

Ok, where was I?

Dear blog it seems that I have been neglecting you lately, It hasn’t been willful I assure you; life has been a little busy lately. Both work and family have been keeping me going most of the waking hours, and when I do have some time I am usually just to tired to actually write. On top of that, I have come down with one of the many colds that are going around, and that succeeded in sapping both my physical and well as intellectual energy, such as it is.

Let me think what has gone on. As I mentioned, work has been pretty busy. Last week there were 3 different events in 2 days, this week wasn’t quite so busy, but I have been having lots of meeting with the various groups who are putting on events. Sometimes I have a little trouble keeping them straight, I have been working with two groups that are producing similar events, one for the Caribbean student population and another for Latin American Student Association. There is a little crossover between the two groups, both of the contact people are young women with an accent, and for the life of me I keep confusing which group I am dealing with. Life is tough!

Beyond the usual student organizations doing their culture and dance shows, there have been a couple of different events that have broken the monotony. The first of the bunch was a puppet show being presented as a fundraiser for the children’s school that is part of the early childhood development program at the university a nursery school. Unfortunately it was an early Saturday morning event, that seems to be the best time to do shows for kids I was out of the house by 9am I arrived the puppeteers were already setting up, being an itinerant company they were well prepared and self-sufficient. I chatted with them while they were setting up. I have always had an appreciation for puppets. In my early career I worked and technical director for what is now a leading children’s theatre company and as a result I fell in with a whole variety of performers and other people who worked to entertain children. In amongst that community were a number of puppet people. I can honestly state that I got that know some of them and their puppets pretty well. More that once I found myself having a conversation with a particular puppet as opposed to the puppeteer behind it. I am a sucker for suspension of disbelief. Anyway, we had a little common ground to chat on. They were doing a piece called the Dragon King based on the Chinese folk tale, and while the dialog was recorded and sounded a little forced, their actually puppetering was quite skill full, and the puppets were particularly beautiful, in fact they left me a little slack jawed when I saw them the first time backstage. The pictures taken with my cell phone don’t really do them justice.

In the same weekend the theatre also hosted a local film festival. There were a few student entries along with some professional contributions as well. The most intriguing of them all was a student production called Honk: No Noise is Illegal. It is a 12-minute short documenting the annual Honkfest that is held in nearby Somerville over Columbus Day weekend. The event itself might be described as a community marching bad festival. But that would be understating the events, which more approaches what would happen if you had an anarchist convention with marching bands. I couldn’t find a copy of the movie online but here is a video that captures some of the energy of the event.

The films followed by a live musical performance by jazz drummer Terri Lyn Carrington who just happens to be a local girl gone famous. She is now teaching at Berklee College of Music. It was nice to have professional musicians on stage.

I wish that those were indicative of the event that have taken place in the theatre, but that is not the case. We did have the University president speak about the financial state of the school. The news while not good didn’t turn out to be as bad as some had expected. The schools endowment has lost 25% of its value like so many other institutions, (some of that to Bernie Madoff) but unlike the big brother school in the neighborhood like Harvard and MIT, thanks to some conservative use of the endowment, the cuts will be minimal. There are no big layoffs planned, and other than some belt tightening no major cuts are planned, at least for the time being.

The big thing that has been keeping me occupied the past two weeks it he boy and the school play. His school mounted a very ambitious production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, in which he was cast as Oberon. If you don’t know, Oberon is the king of the fairies, and it is a pretty big role, and he managed it quite well. His performance was appropriately regal and he had a good grasp of the language. The latter is sometimes difficult even for adults when dealing with Shakespeare. The boy seems to have some ability, dare I saw talent for acting; he is able to find the ‘moment’ where the text and the character meet, and he seems to have pretty strong stage presence, and he likes being on stage. In everyday life he is a little shy and reserved, and the stage seems to be where he can let lose a bit. That sounds like a familiar scenario. The big issue with this particular character was what to do with his hair. Waist length hair on a 13-year-old boy does create some costuming problems. Fortunately his mother, resourceful as she is every day in dealing the mop, came ups with a solution. She formed two braids at his ears trailing forward and then wrapped them around the front of his head pining them at his hair with about a thousand bobby pins, the addition of some gold bric-a-brac and viola a crown! A boy and his crown

I think I am back on a regular schedule now, between all the events at work and taxing the boy to and from rehearsal, I think I may have some time of my own in for the next few weeks. Spring break begins this weekend at the university where I work, and the boy has that week and the next off from his school for break. Mrs. and I have been scouring our schedules up the days to decide who takes what days off to tend to him and see what days we can take him to work with us. This is always a bit of a trial. In past years we have sent him off to the grand parents for at least part of the time he was off. That really wasn’t an option this time. I foresee lots of museums in the future.

I mentioned a while back that I was thinking about blogging about music, and hat comment brought positive reviews from for a couple of readers. In turn I have been giving it a lot more thought and I am working on an approach and trying to decide just how and whom I should write about. I read a number of music blogs and I am often impressed by the writing and insights that they bring to the topic. I don’t know that I am capable of that, but I will try to bring my own thought, likes and dislikes. May taste in music is varied and leans to the obscure, so we shall see how it goes.

Let me wrap this meander up. And hopefully I will get back on a regular schedule with a little more focus as to topic and subject matter.