Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009-Things that Sucked

I started to write this column because some of my facebook friends were listing the 10 most significant things that had happened to them this decade and I realized that a good portion of the things on that list had happened to me in the past six months.

I've often said that the older you get the worse your definition of "really bad things" gets. (in 6th grade it's a pantsing or a bad grade, in 12th grade it's getting dumped by your SO of 3 months, in your 20s it includes death of family members, etc.) If you're lucky you don't get hit with the heavy stuff until you're ready for it. I've also occasionally observed that grief is something we get an apprenticeship in.

In 2009 a whole bunch of sucky things happened to me and around me. A friend of mine got laid off, another one got arrested and another one died. Some good things happened too-most of them the results of the bad things that happened (which makes it hard to think about them.)

In the Spring of 2009 my friend and partner/mentor was laid off. Despite the fact that she assured me that she was going to A Better Place, I was angry at the powers that be for laying her off and terrified from my own point of view-how would I survive without her. Surely there would be challenges that were beyond my skill set-how would I face them and, just as bad, there would be no one to talk to who understood what I was saying. In the long run she really *is* in a better place, and I'm more confident in my ability to stand on my own two feet.

Not every cloud has a silver lining-or at least one that makes up for the cloud's existence. I mentioned about that (if we're lucky) we get an apprenticeship at grief-first we see grandparents and great uncles and aunts die and we're more sad that our parents are sad than we are that Great Aunt So and So (who we'd only seen twice) died. This year someone more important to me died. Irving Liss, proprietor of Hilton's Tent City; a man who'd been *wicked old* as long as I'd known him and a man we all thought would live forever, was hospitalized in the beginning of June and died the day after Labor Day.

His illness and death were not entirely without small blessings (we saw him more and talked to him more than we would have otherwise-we got a small chance to give back for the many things he'd given us, the Hilton's Family grew closer as a result, etc), but nothing quite makes up for the fact that he's not walking around in the world anymore. I know he went quickly enough that that it wasn't too bad for him and slowly enough to let everyone who needed to say good bye could show up and do so (and an awful lot of people saw him in the last few months of his life), but it still sucks.

And of course, lets not forget the part where my boyfriend of nine years decided he couldn't live with me anymore-a week after my birthday and the day before Ted Kennedy died. I had felt it coming all summer. I don't remember when I first noticed that the glue that stuck us together had come undone, but I had been noticing it for months and still I was shocked and hurt. It was one of the worst things, if not *the* worst thing that has happened to me in my 34 years on this planet*.

Yes, I'm much happier now than I was hiding from people in my apartment in Cambridge but that doesn't mean that it didn't/doesn't suck a whole lot.

But now let's move on to the good things that happened this year; many of which are blessings unalloyed.

At the beginning of 2009 I made several resolutions (I may have even put a blog post listing them.) I resolved to fold 10 paper cranes a day, learn to drive, get into business school and wear heels more often. I don't feel too bad about failing to do some of these things (there's always next year to start my crane collection) since I managed to achieve one of the big things. Even though I procrastinated and didn't work as hard as I could at it, I got into UMass Boston's MBA program (now all I have to figure out is how to pay for it!)

Accomplishing this meant taking a GMAT, getting recommendations and writing two essays. Each of these things was a challenge and I am proud of myself for accomplishing them. Taking the GMAT meant relearning geometry. As strange as it may seem this was probably the highest barrier to me achieving post-graduate education. I really, really didn't want to relearn junior high school math. I was sure it would be an exercise in mortification. I was right. It turns out I still really suck at geometry and arithmetic-even with an adult's study habits, I couldn't make a go of them-my brain is just wired wrong.

The verbal on the other hand... I won't lie and say it was a piece of cake or that it was fun, but I came away from the verbal instruction with better grammar and with confidence in my ability to write coherently.

The recommendations were a different challenge. I know you might find this hard to believe, but I really don't have much self-confidence. I couldn't possibly imagine anyone would be willing to sit down and write a letter of recommendation for me (It's one thing to ask people to serve as references-then they only have to answer a phone call-but to ask someone to sit down and *write* good things about you requires a certain amount of chutzpah-more than I'd have thought I had.) But the very nice people I work with wrote me recommendations, for which I am very grateful.

I've whined at great length on this blog (and on facebook) about how little fun writing the two essays (for a grand total of three pages) was. But having gone through the GMAT experience and posting more often to this blog I no longer assume my difficulties with the essays were due to an inability to write properly. I was willing to take my copy editrix's word that no-one is any good at writing That Sort of Essay (kind of like writing two cover letters for the same job.)

So I forced myself to do something difficult and I succeeded-in spite of all the less than stellar things that were happening in the mean time and I feel proud of myself for that.

Other things that have happened to me include the discovery of cheese that I can eat, and the birth of my new nephew G (he's a jolly, tubby fellow and weighs in at 15 pounds at age two months.) Some of you are laughing at me for putting cheese and the birth of a child in the same paragraph. Go ahead-laugh-you have no idea how I feel about cheese.

A few years ago I came to the conclusion that not only was I severely lactose intolerant, but that the over the counter pills that I was using to help digest cheese were not working either. I very sadly gave up dairy entirely (and started losing weight-by the time I moved out of Cambridge I had passed "thin" and was on my way to "malnourished"). A foodie friend of mine kept pushing the idea of sheep or goats milk cheese. Because he was also the guy who drives me to the grocery store, he pulled me over to the cheese collection and grabbed a block of sheep-cheese and put it in my hand. I couldn't put it back without losing face, so I took it home and ate it. Rediscovering the ability to enjoy cheese has been one of the bright spots in my existence in the last quarter of 2009 and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

In the final category, wonderful things that have happened to me because of getting dumped there's Sugar Magnolia's, my lovely apartment (centipedes and all) and the friends who helped me duct tape myself back together, convinced me I wasn't crazy (well not any more than I had been previously) and especially the ones who help me keep my appointments with my poodle therapist. You all know who you are.

And then there's me. I came out of this mess broken, miserable and pissed, but never unsure that I was human because I was sans-boy. I am not invincible and I am not made of steel, but I'm coming out of 2009 with more confidence in myself and my abilities and that is certainly a good thing.

That said, can we have a boring year starting tomorrow?

*Before you roll your eyes at me and say "well if being dumped is the worst thing that's ever happened to you, honey you've had it easy" please keep in mind that I haven't chosen to share all of the bad things that have happened to me.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Going home for Christmas

Going home for Christmas is always interesting* tiring, and tasty.

The transportation is always a bit of a pain but once I arrive there are cookies to be baked and Gravlox to be um, cooled, packages to wrap and children to amuse. There's a Christmas Eve party we attend every year followed by church at 11 PM. We watch the choir process and listen to to the Christmas homily (this year "Change brought by a Palestinian peasant lying in a feed trough") and light our candles for "Silent Night"

But the thing that's been nagging at me for a few Christmases is Christmas dinner at my sister's house. My sister's husband Miguel is from Puebla in Mexico and most of the people who attend the dinner are more comfortable speaking Spanish than they are speaking English. I have nothing against that-rather every year I grow more annoyed with myself for not bothering to take a class in Spanish.

It's not that I want to intrude on their family conversation-its more a matter of respect-particularly since I know that I am language receptive. I don't say this to boast-its just one of the things that I can do. And because language is one of the things I can do easily I am annoyed with myself for not having taken Spanish 101 again.

I don't want to be the Caucasian girl who has deigned to learn a few words in Spanish. I just want to be able to say "pass the salt" or "that's a nice sweater you're wearing" or "wow this is delicious"or "Don't clean up the toys-Susi would prefer if you left them for Jack and Juliet to clean up-since it's their mess."

As I mentioned above-I don't want to intrude-if they all spoke English there would still be some conversations I would have no business putting my oar into and I'm (hopefully) old enough to understand where not to put my foot. But when I go to my sister's house and there are a lot of Miguel's relatives around (good people all) I always feel like "That White Girl With an iPhone-Susi's Sister." Subtext-"who don't know shit."

Because I absorb languages (starting with a background in French and ill-remembered Spanish) I understand some of what people are saying. I laugh and nod, to indicate my understanding (so I'm hoping my sister's relatives have upgraded me to the equivalent of mildly retarded in Spanish)

*when I was a kid trying to describe things to the Parents they wouldn't let me use this word because its too general.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A winter day on the North Shore

Yesterday, Mike told me that he planned to drive up route 127 today to go to Sugar Magnolias and take his dog to the beach. Mike has a truck (that should be a long u truuk.) That is to say he has a giant, bright red pick up truck that (of course) has 4 wheel drive and can handle anything that old man winter throws at us. "We'll play the Pogues all the way to Gloucester!" he said.

I found the idea of driving up beautiful 127 in the snow in a high truck cab with good heat, an ipod input and a cute fluffy poodle compelling. Especially since we'd get to see Gloucester and the beach all covered with snow. And also, you can tell me I have to wake up at 6:30 on a Saturday to go to Sugar Mags and I'll do it happily.

But , although this pains me to admit to it since I'm one of the people who ragged on Mike when he bought the thing, it really was all about the truck. Mike had a shiny tool that could handle this "butloads of snow thing" and I was happy to see it in action.

In execution the plan failed at one of it's objectives (Sugar Magnolias was closed when we got there) but I feel it was a success overall. Mike and Ellen picked me up and we drove on the beautiful coastline and there was no sliding. As we drove (listening to the Pogues and petting the poodle) Mike (who is from Pennsylvania) explained what he was doing and how to drive through the snow to Ellen (who is from Virgina.) I would reproduce their dialogue but since I don't drive myself, I only sort of understood it. It had to do with what gears to use uphill and downhill and with making sure you (and not gravity) were in charge of the tires.

And there was no condescension in the discussion at all. No hint of "I can't believe you don't know this" or "Honey, I'm not gonna allow you to drive when it's snowy." Here Mike knew how to use a tool (the truck in the snow) and he was trying to teach Ellen to use it-the same way I'd show her how to use ccleaner.exe or she'd explain capitalization to me.

So we took the truck to Gloucester and found a place that would serve us breakfast at 2 PM and took the dog to Good Harbor Beach. We discussed whether Tanya Huff should get a new editor, and horrible things people we know have done with toilet plungers (think twice before inserting one into yourself or someone you love) while admiring the scenery and noting the bad driving of our fellow travelers.

When we got to the beach we discovered that the wind had mixed the snow with the sand. We tromped through it and the dog bounced through it. Mike walked down to the tide line and mucked through some of the wetter sand and snow mix and said "oh do you know what this reminds me of? Boston?" As he stood there up to his ankles in sand and snow we could not but agree with him.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Good News for the Universe

According to Wikipedia this December's volume of the journal of Current Biology reports that the veined octopus uses coconut shells to create an exoskeleton-like fortress for itself. This is the first recorded example of an invertebrate using tools. See the video below-it's pretty cute.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


I was talking with my upstairs neighbor about the Thanksgivings of our respective youths and I came to the (admittedly belated) conclusion that some people just had much better Thanksgivings growing up than I did.

For example, my neighbor told me that when he was a kid "it was all about the food" (he's Italian). His family would cook a nice big meal for Thanksgiving and they'd eat it and then later they'd all go out for dinner. "Wow." I thought "How simple and how pleasant."

Thanksgiving was never my favorite holiday-even in college when it's advent signaled the end of a trimester. I never understood why some people liked it (unless they were really into football.)
My objection wasn't political (way to thank the Native Americans!) It's just that Thanksgiving when I was a kid was never any fun. It was always more of a ceremony than a celebration. It involved dressing in Nice Clothes (for the people who saw you in your pajamas a few hours ago) and eating food that we would never otherwise prepare and eat at an odd hour. Usually after having driven up to Massachusetts from New York.

Memorable Thanksgivings include the first year I was a vegetarian. My younger sister was also enjoying a spot of vegetarianism at the time. My mom asked "but you'll eat your grandma's turkey-right?" and was upset when we explained that turkey is not a vegetable. My father refused to take us on an extra shopping trip to get anything for us to eat. So I made Pasta Primavera with what was in my grandma's house-canned peas and french green beans and at least a fresh tomato and some garlic. In hindsight, we could have done what I usually do at Thanksgivings-eat only the sides and still leaved the table sated. But the sides at our Thanksgiving (with the exception of the mashed potatoes) had never appealed to my sister and I. They were mashed turnips, mashed squash and stuffing. None of it had any garlic in it and none of it would have been presented for us to eat at any other time of the year.

Then there was the Thanksgiving my senior year of high school. I got menstrual cramps for the first time. I had never experienced such outrage to my body before. And since I had no idea this could happen (I'd heard rumors-although none to explain how horrible I felt-but it had never happened to me) I didn't have the forethought to pack Advil. I was clearly incapacitated, but I was too embarrassed to explain why and it wouldn't have done any good anyways. It was Thanksgiving and there were no drugstores open. So I told them I had a horrible headache and they came up with the only pain killer in the house -very old baby aspirin. None of us cousins had been young enough to need such a thing for quite a while so who knows how old the bottle was. I took four. They didn't really help.

I can still remember my dad's smile as he doled them out-he joked with me about exceeding the maximum dosage because I weighed more than the expected consumer of baby aspiarin-and my embarrassment as to why I needed them. In hind sight, my grandma, who suffered from arthritis probably had a good deal of different kinds of pain killers-but I can understand why she didn't think they were appropriate for her teenage granddaughter.

There were fun moments as well of course (I strongly suspected there would have been more if the New York City Public school system hadn't decided to assign my sister and I extra homework for the long weekend.) There was the year my mom read that a good way to keep your turkey moist was to put the bird in men's briefs. So she bought a set of XL tighty-whities for the turkey and we soaked them in butter and put them on the bird giggling all the while.

Thanksgiving also, for some reason or other always had a course of Weird Fruits Dad Got in Brooklyn. So my sister and I were introduced to pomegranates, quinces, star fruits and kiwis decades before the rest of the world caught on. This course also contained Mozart Balls. It took me years to figure out what all the wonderful, nutty tastes were and nothing else I've eaten since then involves all of them at once.

And then there was the last Thanksgiving before my grandmother died and we stopped coming to MA. I don't remember much about it but I remember one small moment. It was a nasty day and my dad and I were sick of being cooped up in the house. So we took the car and went to West Beach. We walked maybe a quarter of the length of the beach-to about where the pilings stand from an old dock that used to be there-and then we had to turn back because it was too windy for us to hear what we were saying to each other. Also, our ears hurt from the wind. I was surprised and disappointed. I'd never been turned back by conditions on that beach before (we just wanted a walk-it's not like we planned on swimming.) But as we got back to the car I noticed something which redeemed the visit. There were bunches of seaweed at various high water marks on the beach and the seagulls were pulling mussels out of the seaweed-and dropping them back into the seaweed again. This "Pick the mussel up and drop it" instinct works okay when you've pulled the mollusk out of the rocks, but it's useless when you've pulled it out of seaweed on sand. So the seagulls would pick things up and drop them and then not only did the shells not break, but another seagull would pick the same mussel up and drop it into the same pile of seaweed and watch the shell not break again.

It was at that moment when I realized why seagulls are not the master race on this planet.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

In praise of the Cityside Diner

I love weekend brunches. I love them so much that when I've placed an order I feel sad-because that means I've made a choice and I don't get to eat all the *other* breakfasts-yes the Spanish Omelette is wonderful, but because I've ordered it I can't get the Eggs Florentine, or the carrot-cake pancakes. I am also happy to eat these things for dinner. This might be because I'm a vegetarian or it might be because I really like omelettes and home fries.

All of this makes me a big fan of breakfast joints and diners. And I have to say that the North Shore selection kicks the Cambridge/Somerville selection's ass. Sugar Magnolia's in Gloucester is better than all the brunches in Cambridge combined. I would happily get up at 6:30 AM on a Saturday to go eat there. A foodie friend of mine admitted "I come here to overeat" on one visit and really-who wouldn't want to order pineapple fritters and dropped eggs?

However much I love Sugar Mags, part of my heart belongs to the Cityside diner on Cabot Street in Beverly. I have been there for dinner when it's been empty and for brunch when it's been full and never have I ever gotten less than wonderful, friendly service and cheap and tasty food.

When I go there on the weekends they have both grills going-one full of hash browns and bacon and one for pancakes and eggs. I think a grill full of fresh bacon is beautiful-even though I'm a vegetarian. It is wonderful to watch the two fry cooks work together and slide the eggs or pancakes onto the plate while respectfully (!) telling the waitress that one of her orders is up. Really, I wish the place I worked ran so well. In spite of the fact that it's they're busting their asses the cooks are happy to talk with you if you sit at the counter. They brew good coffee and the friendly waitresses keep your cup topped off. Even at the busiest they have a cheerful word for you even if it's just "Take care dear and have a nice day."

In the evenings on weeknights it's quieter and there are different people working but it's still awesome. The evening staff remembers me from previous visits and the fry-cook (instead of insisting on waiting for the waitress to take my order) will ask me what I want tonight. If they are out of home fries she will cook me fresh ones instead of making me french fries. And one of the waitresses has (more than once) noticed that I was reading and muted the TV (which at least is not showing Fox.)

Tonight I went there for dinner because I'd stayed at work late and it was cheap so I could justify eating out instead of coming home and waiting longer to have dinner. As well as an affordable that someone else cooked I got smiling, intelligent dinner conversation. This last is something I couldn't get at my own table in Cambridge-let alone at The Friendly Toast in Kendall Square.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audry Niffinegger

This book reads like a cross between the author’s first two books The_Time_Traveller’s_Wife and The_Three_Incestuous_Sisters. This is a story about two sets of twins-Elspeth and Edwina Noblin and Julia and Valentina Poole. Elspeth and Edwina are identical twins. Julia and Valentina (Edwina’s daughters) are symmetrical twins.

Elspeth and Edwina are estranged. When Elspeth dies of cancer, she leaves all her earthly possessions to Edwina’s daughters Julia and Valentina on the conditions that they live in her flat in London for a year and never admit their parents to it. The girls accept and move from their parents’ house in Illinois to the flat in London. A few months after the move, it becomes apparent to them and their neighbor (and Elspeth’s lover) Robert, that Elspeth is haunting the apartment.

I suggested in the first paragraph that this book was a cross between Niffenegger’s first two books. There are certain similarities between this book and The_Time_Traveller’s_Wife. In both stories the female lead is beautiful and rich and creative. Both stories are love stories and in both cases the male lead has a cool-but-quirky job. Henry is a librarian who works with rare books and Robert is a grad student studying (and volunteering at) Highgate Cemetery. Both stories have an element of the supernatural. And of course, both books involve older men and younger women.

The similarity between this book and The_Three_Incestuous_Sisters is that the relationship between Julia and Valentina, while not quite incestuous borders on being so. The two sleep in the same bed wrapped around each other and their relationship has to date, kept them from being seriously involved with anyone else because if one of the twins got a boyfriend (or even had sex) the other twin would be “left behind.”

A rule I learned in a creative writing class in high school is that for every one thing you tell the reader (“Valentina didn’t like the underground…She tried not to let Julia know that the Tube frightened her, but somehow Julia guessed.”) you must show the reader four other things through the characters’ actions. This book suffers from an excess of telling and not enough showing. This is partly because a good portion of the book takes place inside the characters heads. They state things to themselves (“If he met Valentina he would probably like her better. Everyone did.”) and we have to take their word for the truthfulness of these statements.

This book also suffers from a lack of sympathetic characters. Julia is holding her sister back by insisting that she not pursue an education or any interest. Martin has OCD, Robert displays a certain Humbert Humbertish creepiness. Elspeth is dead and not entirely benign and Valentina is willing to let her family (including her twin) think her to be dead in order to escape from her sister’s grasp.

The plot is interesting over all, although I feel that the first half or two thirds of the book is an introduction and some of the twists have a “I just pulled this out of my butt” feel to them.

I enjoy visiting the quirky worlds that Audrey Niffenegger creates-they’re full of artists and weirdos and people who genuinely love books. But the cast of characters in Her_Fearful_Symmetry is lacking in soul. I find it hard to believe that real people would do many of the things the characters do (particularly the two sets of twins). Perhaps that’s part of the point-maybe this book is a 400-page demonstration that Twins are Weird.

But perhaps I’m judging these characters too harshly. After all, most of the really weird/bad courses of action are taken by the twins when they’re in their early 20s. I don’t recall being over-burdened with good ideas myself at the age of 21.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Beverly Project- Six weeks in

I'm actually doing okay. While it pains me to admit this, I'm much better off over all that I was in Cambridge. There are many reasons for this but I think a major one is that while I live alone, I see more people socially than I did when I lived in Cambridge. This is not just better for me in the, general "laugh with friends and you'll live longer" way, but it also makes me less afraid of people in general. This is probably a good thing. While I still have some free-floating social anxiety, I also have concrete evidence that I can in fact interact with other people without annoying them or pissing them off or boring them.

For this I have Mike and Ellen to thank (and thank them I do-every morning when I wake up on the bed they donated to my cause.) Ellen came with me to look at this apartment (she actually found the apartment on Craig's List) and hugged me and took me to the beach when I started crying after visiting it. Mike took me to Target and BJ's (and made me laugh until I fell down at the ridiculous stuff they have there. I believe the killing blow was "Wow-here's enough Splenda to get yourself a flipper-baby."), helped me get furniture and took me to Sugar Magnolias and Dom's Trattoria. He also killed the big spider that I found on the bookshelf they're lending me.

There's more to this than just Mike and Ellen being wonderful people. (Or people just being nicer in general in Beverly than they were in Cambridge-my upstairs neighbors are friendly guys-I have no idea what my upstairs neighbors in Cambridge looked like.) And some of this is, in hind sight, so obvious that I kick myself.

In Cambridge I had given up on people-except for a few. I decided that since I wasn't any good at dealing with people I just wouldn't. I'd "outsource" people-dealing to Sean, who was much better at it than I was, I thought.

But (although I admit I may feel differently in February) I feel much better dealing with people now. Perhaps it helps that even if I don't yet (and may never) feel completely comfortable in my own skin, I'm a little more grounded now that I have my own place by myself. Perhaps it's that the people I meet socially through Mike and Ellen are people who I would have got on with better anyways (and therefore I should have spent more time with them anyways-der) than the people that Sean introduced me to. Perhaps it's the sea air (that certainly helps.)

It's still also kind of terrifying-having friends that are my friends-not Sean's. But I am cautiously optimistic.

This afternoon I was in Ellen's car (she was driving) with Ellen, Mike, Hiro, and Elisa and Mike started singing "South Australia" by the Pogues. I threw in an attempt at a Shane MacGowan scream (which Ellen said sounded like a Velociraptor) and then I found the tune in my iPod and Mike plugged it into their car's stereo system. We sang the Pogues (and Mike made the dog dance) while driving to Newburyport. I didn't know I was allowed to have this much fun anymore. And then it occurred to me that for some people this is the norm.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Year of Loving Dangerously

This is Ted Rall's new graphic novel. Ted Rall is a New York based lefty cartoonist. I first found his work in the New York Times online edition. He also writes a weekly political column.

I must admit that I was attracted to this book not just because I like Ted Rall's work but also because I too lived in New York City in 1984. And, coincidentally, I was also having a horrible year in 1984. I was in the fourth grade at the time. My attraction was historical and anthropological--I wanted to see what was going on in the cooler parts of my home town as I was struggling with long division in the suburbs.

This graphic novel is a departure from everything else I have read by Rall. This is a personal memoir in graphic form about the author's experiences in 1984-his "annus horriblis"-and how he survived getting kicked out of college, being homeless and unemployed. In his introduction Rall explains that part of his reason for writing this book is to show "how easy it is for anyone-even a white male attending an Ivy League school-to fall off the merry-go-round of U.S.-style laissez faire capitalism."

That theme is certainly timely. I know how close I am to falling off the edge of the world and I'm sure most of my friends and co-workers do as well. But I suspect there's another reason Rall chose to write this book--misery makes for a great story. There are certainly some cringe-inducingly miserable moments in the book, but it's clear that the main character can still see humor in the weird situations in which he lands.

The_Year_of_Loving_Dangerously reminds me a bit of Alison Bechdel's _Fun_Home. This is not just because both main characters-Ted and Alison-have the same haircut. Both books are graphic-memoirs about personal events and neither is author is afraid to go where angels fear to tread. Bechdel talks honestly about her dysfunctional family, her parents reaction to her coming out, getting her period for the first time and her deceased father's homosexuality.

Rall tells of being kicked out of college, stealing, and how he avoided sleeping on the street for a year when he was without an apartment by having numerous girlfriends.

In both cases I was not shocked at what was going on in the stories themselves so much as shocked at the author's willingness to tell about the situation. I was not shocked that Alison's dad seemed to care more for his house than his family-merely that she would admit to it. I was not shocked that Ted dealt with his homelessness by having multiple girlfriends-just that he was willing to write about it.

The other similarity in my mind is that these are both cartoonists whose work I had read for a long time, so that reading their memoirs was a bit like finding out more about an old friend's past.

The_Year_Of_Loving_Dangerously is also another great "New York City" story. Strange things-stranger than fiction things-are more likely to happen in New York than elsewhere because New York has more people than most other places, but even so, Ted seems to experience more than his share in a 12 month period.

On another note, although Ted Rall is a cartoonist, the artwork for this book is not his. This took me by surprise at first, but the collaboration works out well. Over all it's an interesting and enjoyable read. It will never be Business Casual Stag Devil Death Boy, but then again it's probably better for all of us that there's only one of him running around.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Little Friend-by Donna Tartt

This one's definitely weird. The time-frame is not 100% clear, but I believe the book takes place in the 70s. It is set in Mississippi. The story follows the fortunes of two families-one well off enough to hire a housekeeper (but fallen from greater fortune-they used to have a plantation) the other trailer trash.

The link between the two families is that Robin Dufrensnes (the Dufresnes' being the better-off family) encountered Danny Ratliff a few minutes before being hanged from a tree in broad daylight at the age of 9. It is now 12 years later and Robin's brainy sister (born after his demise) is looking for a project for the summer. She decides at first on figuring out who killed her brother, and after determining that Danny Ratliff killed her brother (based on circumstantial evidence) switches her summer-project from detection to vengeance.

Danny Ratliff lives with his older brother Farish(a taxidermist with a methamphetamine lab) his brother Eugene (who was Saved in prison and now preaches on the side of the road) his retarded brother Curtis and his grandmother Gum. Gum is an odd woman-her grandchildren-even the psychotic speed freaks-love her but she's very negative and often reminds her grandsons never to expect to get anywhere. On the other hand, Gum has had numerous fatal diagnoses over the year and is still alive to tell the tale. She's also the only character who brings and humor to the plot.

I'm not really a connoisseur of Southern American Gothic writing, so I can't tell you how well this fits the bill but the book certainly touches on some of the creepier aspects of rural American life (speed-freak-rednecks, snake handlers and the unexplained murder of Robin Dufresne in broad daylight) as well as some of the things I'd expect to find in a southern novel (racial tension, longing for the past, mental illness and an unwillingness of the part of the Grown-ups to address unpleasant subjects) However, I am unsure how much of this is necessary to the plot of the novel and how much of it is thrown in because city-dwellers like me expect it to be in the deep south. We expect them all to be bible-thumping,snake-handling psychotic racists down there.

Either way, there is a strong element of the ridiculous in this book-much of which centers around Gum (the Ratliff boys' grandmother) This redeems the book whenever it's headed towards sheer pathos. Although that said, I'm not in a hurry to read anything else by Donna Tartt.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I Heart XKCD

Geeks of the world rejoice!

I Love xkcd from NoamR on Vimeo.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Stay Free

If you know me, you know I love the Clash-like I love coffee, breathing, big books and IPA. But although I love the loud angry punk sounds of their first album and the well done rock and roll that is London Calling, my favorite Clash song of all time is "Stay Free" off of Give Em Enough Rope (a much underrated album.)

This is a surprising choice for me for several reasons. For starters, it's got Mick Jones singing lead and not a Joe Strummer. For another, it's not lyrically perfect. In general I think lyrics are as important , if not more so, than melody. As a result my favorite songs tend to be songs with clever lyrics. It's also entirely solo-no nice tenor on tenor harmonies. And I still love it.

But it's partially because of the imperfection of the lyrics that I love the song. Give Em Enough Rope is proof that more mellow songs can still be punk.

"Stay Free" is a ballad (and I always have a soft spot in my heart for ballads.) It is hopeful and has good guitar and base in the background. But what really caught my heart was that the lyrics of the song sound like an essay written by some public school kid in NYC a good 15 years after the song was written. I could see some kid with whom I'd gone to high school, who came from Bed Stuy writing this song (or something like it) up for a poetry assignment.

No that's not quite right. I can see some kid writing up something like this song at one of the schools where my mom worked with the New York City writing project (they went to some of the nastiest schools in NYC.)

But the point is, it sounds like a kid trying to make sense of the world around him. It is differently beautiful than "I Fought the Law" or "White Riot" or "Janie Jones" in that it's not angry. There's a soft, chewiness to the song, but for all that it's still punk (see subject matter, also aforementioned lyrical quality) even though there's no screaming involved.

If it wasn't for all these things the song would be my favorite for another reason. My sister is 29 years old, married and about to have her third child. Although I'd obviously heard of the Clash she's the one who waved them in front of my face and insisted that I buy their albums. The last time I hung out with her before she became a mommy, we went out drinking and walked all over Manhattan and stayed up far too late. Just as we were on the porch to our parents house getting our keys out, she asked if I'd heard Give Em enough Rope and Stay Free in particular. She said I had to hear the song because it was awesome. In spite of the fact that I was practically asleep on my feet I was thrilled that she had picked out the same song that had caught my attention. We had a brief conversation about it and then we went to bed. The next time I saw her she was a different person.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

more about the recently disolved partnership

This is not the part where I beat my breast and sniffle and discover that I was a terrible girlfriend-entirely unworthy of Sean's affection. Instead this is the point where I affirm to myself and all within listening that loving someone-being in love-is not enough. It's also the part where I admit to some of the things I've done wrong, but like I said, no breast-beating.

I admit that the things I am willing to post on the Internet are not my only sins. But the others are too personal for me to write up online. That's fair right?

Sean and I had nothing to talk about. He didn't want to hear what I had to say of an evening and I would get annoyed with him when he interrupted my reading to tell me something. This had been apparent for sometime, but did not seem to me like cause to end the relationship-after all we still loved each other.

But it finally occurred to me today as I walked to the commuter rail that you cannot keep a human happy by treating them like a cat. What do I mean by that? Well, I was perfectly willing to accept that Sean liked to spend time playing with the Internet , or playing with the Wii. I thought I could just live with him and we could just pursue our own interests--but still pass each other in the hall or in the kitchen and talk and that this would still constitute a relationship.

I admit that even now I'm wondering what was wrong with that model (perhaps some of the things I'm not willing to write about on the Internet) but I also know it is not a good one. For one thing, your SO should get more respect than your pets. When I say this I do not at all imply that this was my lack of respect for Sean was my fault-or at least not entirely. I mean that your SO should be someone that you respect and treat differently than you do your cat. And that's about the level of involvement I was willing to give Sean. Any more would have given me a headache or caused arguments.

None of this means I don't love him and didn't value his companionship-it's just that somehow-bizarre as it seems to me still-people who love each other and value each other's companionship can't always live together.

I now feel like I aught to sing a few lines out of Chess-the musical. I really don't know what the take-away from all of this is for me. There's "Sorry you wasted 9 years" or "humans suck" or "you're weird" or "you're unlucky." I'm going to choose the last, kindest summation.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Raison d'être

It's okay if the thing you do best and like to do best is not how you make your living. Or at least I hope it's okay. The reason I was put on this earth is to be a Bookseller. For the purposes of this rant I am defining a bookseller as something other than someone who works in a bookshop. I suppose I could say "book-enthusiast" or "book-lover" but the first of these terms is ridiculous and the second is only a subset of what I meant.

I have been a professional bookseller. It was no fun. I hated shelving and working retail is, well, not remunerative. I found that even though I worked in bookstores (and as such was at least smart enough to enjoy reading) the management of these stores tended to treat me and my co-workers as if we were teenagers working in a CVS.

But getting books into people's hands is another matter-one that has nothing to do with money. I love getting people to read. I love helping them find just the right book-or introducing them to something they never would have considered before, but end up liking. Working in a bookstore makes it easier to do this (0r at least provides a wider audience) but doing it on a non-professional basis is also possible. If anything, doing it for your friends and family is more challenging and therefore more rewarding.

This afternoon, a woman I work with (at a financial services firm-not a bookstore) said that she enjoyed reading more because of me. It made my day and justified my non-paying quest.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I recommend Gaudy Night

I've been on an "all you can eat" Dorothy Sayers binge lately (as my facebook friends have no doubt noticed) and I have to say that my favorite of her novels is still _Gaudy_Night_.

Why? Well for starters, as many of my friends know, I have a fondness for Strong Female Characters (yes, I know,some of you are shaking your heads right now-pretend you don't know me for a minute) so I naturally prefer the novels with Harriet Vane in them to the straight up Lord Peter Wimsey ones. (another aside-I've mentioned earlier on this blog that at some if my lowest points over the last month and a half I have imagined Miss Vane talking to me and saying stern but comforting things and it really has made me feel better. Does that make me crazy?)

Not only is _Gaudy_Night_ a Harriet Vane novel, but it appeals to my inner Romantic, my inner Feminist, my inner Historian and my inner Pragmatist/Enjoyer-of-Thorny-Problems. Needless to say, It is very rare for a work of literature to interest all of those aspects of my personality at the same time.

So let's start with the easy ones. This book is historically interesting because it was published in England in 1937 and is set at a woman's college (well a ladies college). This is long before all women became "sisters." there are female servants(Scouts) who are treated no better or worse than the domestic staff at any of the other locations in which Lord Peter solves crimes. The male staff have no problems discussing amongst themselves how England could use "a 'itlar." I find this comment particularly interesting because I cannot imagine any post WWII English writer including such a remark-even to give historical verisimilitude. This book is a snapshot of a rare environment. As such it is historically interesting.

My inner Pragmatist finds it interesting to watch the discussions of the "professional" women-the professors and dons about the difficulties of having staff that have to stay home to deal with sick children. They wonder what they went and hired these women for-knowing that they had children who were bound to get sick sooner or later. In fact the axis on which the book turns is Woman's Place in Society and whether one can have a life of the mind as well as a romantic life (until I meet my own Lord Peter I think the answer is still no unless you are very, very lucky.)

For the record I have some sympathy with the characters who wonder what they've gone and hired women with children for, but I was also pleased to see that some of the dons are happy to put up with the bother because one of the women in question is a widow and needs the job.

As the book is set at a ladies college in 1937 and concerns a poison pen writer, the members of the college are reluctant to involve the police for fear what people will say (celibate women, "soured virginity"--of course one of 'em went of her rocker-weren't made for the life of the mind, women.) Even our heroine Miss Vane is sure that's what's at the bottom of it all. Lord Peter is more rational. He says "It's no use saying vaguely that sex is at the bottom of these phenomena-that's about as helpful as saying that human nature is at the bottom of them. Sex isn't a separate thing functioning all by's usually found attached to a person of some sort." which statement I thought rather forward-thinking for 1937.

That's most of the interesting analysis. My inner feminist is intrigued that they *had* women's colleges in 1937 (although they were obviously not for everyone, Harriet Vane is a country doctor's daughter-not an aristocrat.) And my inner romantic finds it interesting watching the interaction of Lord Peter and Harriet Vane and seeing what she thinks of him and about him.

And for the record I don't think I'll ever use this app again. Not only did this take at least twice the time it would have taken for me to write this out on a computer with a real keyboard, but I'm sure it has way more spelling errors than it otherwise would have had.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Yay! No more difficult mobile blogging

It's a good thing I got this app since I don't have internet service yet.

Friday, September 25, 2009

What do I want?

I am hurt by this breakup. I've spent the day crying and packing. And yet, some part of me wonders if I've been barking up the wrong tree.

What do I mean by that? I'm not sure.

I've had a boyfriend of some sort for most of the time since October 1992. In 1998, in Paris, I discovered that being in love (and being beloved) was not enough to make me happy. Well, what does make me happy?
Being in love (and loved back) but that's not enough
Having friends, but that's not enough
Having partnership of some sort. This is different than just having friends or a partner. This involves having a person, or people with whom you share a common goal. I don't know if it would be enough to make me happy, because I've never really had it "straight up" I've worked with friends and lovers on projects but nothing really long term and "significant." For example, working with my ex-boyfriend the two of us managed to buy furniture together and occasionally to fix a computer together. Working with a friend of mine, we've implemented cool new software. But neither of these is the same as something as significant and as ongoing as starting a business venture or a charity or even (and at this I've tried and failed to get interest) a blog.

I'm banging on about this because I like useful partnerships.

Then there's domestic partnerships. They involve working on things like having a nice apartment, buying a house and a car and having children. While I liked having a domestic partnership, I have to admit that these goals are mostly uninteresting to me. I mean, well yes it would be nice to have a house-paying money to a landlord or landlady feels like throwing money into a furnace to me. And my ex and I did look forward to having a dog together, but I haven't been interested in having kids for a decade at least (and watching my sister have them has put me even more off the idea.) I suppose that having a nice house and having children might be more attractive to me if I had succeeded in making something of myself before now. If I had satisfied my ambition (I really think it's silly to think that I'm ambitious but I must be.) If I'd known that I was doing all I could do-putting my brain to a good use 10 years ago, then maybe I'd be thinking it was time to buy a house or make copies of myself, but then again I am a late bloomer.

So while I admire and envy my friends who've just gotten married, or bought houses or had beautiful children I mostly envy them for not being dumped by their partners.

Which brings me back to the idea that I was barking up the wrong tree. I don't need most of the things that come with domesticity. I need...something else. Although I love Sean very much and would be very happy to have had him around while I found the something else I was looking for, profited by it and bought a house for him to fuss with.

My ex and I are very much alike. As I say of the people who understand me and who I understand implicitly, we vibrate on the same frequency. More so than was good for us, apparently. But I don't give a toss for a nice curtains or any of the other domestic niceties (he does). I'm a bear in a cave. Can I find my computer? With Internet access? Can I find my books? Is there something clean to prepare food with/eat food off of? Is there food? Are there tools to prepare the food? Is there coffee? Is there beer? Does the shower contain any new lifeforms? No. Then I am happy. Really I should have been born a male.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


just to say I'd done it. i forgot my book at work today. so. iI am creating a blog post from my iphone to prove it can be done. for those of you who consider smartphones as potential alternatives to laptops iI have this to say. not any time soon. this post took about 15 minutes including the time it tool to sign in to blogger.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I just packed up my library

I filled 18 liquor store boxes with books. And now I'm feeling rather raw and hollow.

One year and 11 months ago I moved into this apartment. I thought it would be home. It was home for 1 year and 11 months. I am sitting at the kitchen table. My perch they called it-the place I most liked to be in the apartment. I'd sit here with my books and my laptop (because you never know when you might need to look something up online) and people would come through to make dinner or grab a snack or on their way out to the porch or laundry. This way I could sit by myself and read, but still be part of the flow of the apartment.

Now I've got to leave. I think of all the stupid things we bought-together or separately for our apartment. The TV makes me sad. I'm sad I'll no longer own a cool flat screen TV. I don't want a cool flat screen TV-I wanted one for Sean to have-for us to have for the few occasions we actually watched something on TV together. A small part of me admits I wanted it so that the guests would be impressed that we had a nice flat screen TV. But there'd be no point in me taking it since I don't watch TV and don't plan on having guests to impress. Also, now that I think about it, one of the best TV moments this house has had was watching the polls come in for the 2008 elections and we watched that on Dan's CRT TV and the lack of cool-flat-screen bothered us not at all.

The kitchen counter came from my office two moves ago. It's a hideous mottled purple. My boss brought me, it and a circular saw to cut it down to size back here in 2004. I will miss it. I will of course also miss the bananas painted on the kitchen floor. I was sure that one day we'd have a party and someone would bring an old friend who'd come in to the kitchen and say something like "Holy Shit! My buddy painted this floor in 1980!" Now I will miss that revelation, if it ever happens. The kitchen table and chairs came from my ex roommate/landlady (rented out rooms in her condo) She was going to get (or had got) a new set and she gave them to Sean in exchange for fixing the shower head. So they are also old friends. I bought cushions for them on one of our first attempts to buy a mattress from Ikea. The one I favor has an extra-soft cushion I bought just a days before he dumped me. Amazing. At that time he was still looking for things that "we" needed to buy from Ikea (although not very hard-we were both doing our best *not* to buy more than we needed.)

I am strangely reminded of a song from Les Misérables. Marius is lamenting the loss of his friends in the student uprising. He sings "From the table in the corner they could see the world reborn..." I just think of what these pieces of furniture have seen of me and how I will miss being in this place that has them. The only other move that has felt this bad was leaving college. Even leaving France, while miserable (Goodbye my existence on another continent and goodbye to the language I spoke so fluently) didn't hurt quite as bad as this does.

Sean has done righteous cleaning to scrub away former occupants of this apartment. And will he do that to scrub me away too. Probably.

I know there are worse crosses to bear than being dumped/divorced. I know at least three people who are in worse situations. The lady whose wonderful husband (and friend of all of ours) Irving has just died. My cousin, who is 16 and has just discovered that the only way to heal the ulcer on her eye is to get a cornea transplant. My other roommate, who's facing assault and battery charges because he had junkie roommates.

But its still making me miserable. I wake up in the morning and my brain reminds me of a few things I have to do today and then, oh-by the way you're dumped/evicted. Like this morning "You've still got a cold. You've got a meeting with X today to talk about backups and you need to prepare a spreadsheet for Y and, by the way Sean has cast you out."

There are just no words for how shitty this feels. And how much I will miss all of this. Dysfunctional this household and this relationship both were, but they were a comfort to me. Like Katisha I wonder "where shall I find another?"

Friday, September 18, 2009

I shouldn't have picked the Dorothy Sayer's novel with a wedding in it

But of course I had to. After reading two other novels with Harriet Vane in them, I had to see how they would deal once actually married. I like Harriet a lot, and at my most miserable have tried picturing her telling me "My dear Cantabridgienne, this just won't do. You must pull yourself together. Of course you feel terrible, but you really can't go on like this. Now, what shall we do about it?"

But reading about the wedding has just made me very sad. What I wanted very much, was for someone to love me and cherish me and never leave me. I've always hated weddings. I never put my finger on why, but some of it was that I hate ceremony and some of it was I couldn't imagine ever going through the the ridiculous process of having one. Also, I think some of it has to do with the fact that I could never imagine anyone looking lovingly at me and smiling as they said their vows. (Really, who would ever feel that silly and sentimental about me? I couldn't imagine it even before my relationship of almost 10 years ended. I certainly can't imagine it now.)

I did want to be a wife (or at least a mate/partner) but I haven't wanted to be a bride since my first communion (playing with my white dress, veil and bouquet at age 12.)

Reading this silly story about made up people getting married in 1937 had made me very sad.

I have tried telling myself (as mentioned in an earlier post) that surely I don't need a man to be happy, surely there's more to life than that. Which is all very well and true--when you have a partner, but there are some things the feminists missed. It's wrong to have becoming Mrs. Him as a goal, but it's okay to want a partner, and if you're heterosexual that partner is likely to be a guy. And it's all very well to say that I'm fiercely independent (which is probably part of why it all broke down. I can't trust enough to let go and follow the lead) but I couldn't go to a 4 day conference in Florida with out feeling at loose ends because Sean wasn't there. The final separation in a week and a half is going to feel like an amputation. Everything that hurt before will hurt again (along with my back-after moving my books and bookshelves.)

On another note, Sean decided after looking at MIT Medical's helpful webpage that he has swine flu (looking at it, I couldn't disagree.) Unfortunately this means that me and our roommate also had/have swine flu (since we all got the same infection-we came down with it after attending the funeral of the old man we all loved.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I find myself thinking strange things

They are so strange that I put them in little Tupperware containers in my mind and only take them out to examine when I have the time to do so. Some of them have not been taken out yet, but I know they're there.

There are so many different things that hurt some of them surprise me-like the sweater in Hilton's yesterday. I am still not sure which hurts more-to lose Sean's companionship or to think that I may be alone, possibly permanently. These are separate things. If Sean had had his epiphany 5 years ago, I'd be 5 years younger and prettier and I'd have had 5 years to meet someone else. As it is now, in my mid-thirties, pretty much everyone I know my age has found their mate. I feel like I've kind of missed that boat. Besides, if even Sean is unwilling to put up with me what hope is there?

There's another thought I have which is-maybe that won't matter. (I doubt this but time alone will tell) maybe I can get over drinking Gilbert and Sullivan kool aid all through my childhood. Yes, a mate is nice. But ultimately even I agree that by the end our relationship was not providing most of the things that marriages or partnerships are supposed to provide. For either of us. I had more meaningful conversations with my co-workers than I did with Sean for most of this summer. So maybe, instead of spending energy on pleasing someone else (or being upset that I couldn't) I can learn to spend it on me. And maybe that will be okay. It really sounds so cliche when written out. That doesn't mean it's not true.

There's also sometimes a feeling of freedom. Yes this sucks, but I think of all the things I was never going to be able to do because doing them with Sean would be-difficult, expensive, less fun. Of course, there's a flip side. There are things I won't be able to do anymore because he's dumped me. Things like going to Cape Cod (since I don't drive.)

So those are my strange thoughts for today.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

It's strange the things that hurt and why

I went to Hilton's Tent City tonight. I'd been meaning to go for a while. I wanted to make it clear that I plan to be a loyal Hilton's customer even though the former owner is deceased and I'm no longer dating a member of the staff.

My friends among the staff were just as nice and helpful to me as they had been before I got dumped (which wasn't really a surprise.) The visit hurt though--not because Irv is gone (although I need to take a picture of the "Irving the World" sign before they take it down) but because I happened to notice one of the beautiful wool sweaters that Sean had gotten me for Christmas. This one was last year's present. It was a true thing of beauty-natural wool in a traditional pattern, but in a cardigan with a high collar (for drafty offices.) It was perfect. And seeing it, I was so sad that no one was ever going to give me something like that again.

That sounds awfully avaricious when stated that way. I don't mean it that way. I was perfectly capable of buying the thing for myself and when I see whatever beautiful wool sweaters they stock this year I may just buy one of them for myself, but it won't be the same as having someone else come across a thing of beauty like that and decide "I need to buy this for Cantabridgienne! This is just what she needs and she'll think it's beautiful."

That hurts as badly as leaving Cambridge, having to deal with Comcast and the landlord myself-having to fend for myself.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

RIP Bill Hilton 1921-2009

Irving Liss, the long-time owner of Hlton's Tent City in the North End died on Tuesday. Everyone who knows Irving and knows this is true must be saddened by his passing. I did not know Irving as well as the many young men and women who worked for him in the past 62 years, but I am happy to think I knew him well enough to call him a friend, and just well enough to be allowed to write something about his passing. I am not an authority on the man and I know that the people who gave speeches at his funeral yesterday knew him much better than I did, but he was my friend and so I feel I must write something.

What to say about such a man? Irving was a great business man with a heart of gold. That's a rare combination. Many whose hearts are of gold are (as a result) terrible at business and many good businessmen and women are rotten human beings. So what should I write about--how proud I was when I told him that I'd taken the GMAT? The time sold me my boyfriend's birthday present for 1/3 it's listed price? (I was prepared to pay full retail for it. He grumbled about how expensive it was and gave me a discount saying "you're a very sweet girl to get it for him.") The way he was still cracking jokes in a bed at MGH after they'd opened his head three times?

Instead I'll tell you two stories--one about the first time I talked to Irving and one about the last time I talked to him.

I first heard about Hilton's Tent City through a couple of friends of mine who worked there. It was like the Filene's Basement of outdoor gear (with the atmosphere of an indie bookstore or coffee house). And even if you don't hike much, if you live in New England you need outdoor gear. It sounded like a great place. I called to talk to one of my friends one night. The guy who answered the phone said "Yeah?"

"Can I talk to Sean?" I asked.

"Well maybe. Just hold on a second wouldja?"

I got put on hold. When Sean picked up the phone I said "you need to talk to whoever it is who answered the phone. They need to work on their retail phone manners."

Sean said "That was the owner."

The last time I spoke with Irving was a few weeks ago. He was doing well. He was talking a bit-although he was hindered by a dry throat. He took my hand and asked "Have you had your lunch?" It was such a small thing-an almost indefinable thing (Tolstoy could explain it better than I can) but the way he took my hand and asked a mundane question in the same way that all of my older relatives (especially the ones from MA) would have done set me at ease and made me wonder how I could ever have felt awkward visiting. All of the concerns I'd had previously--"What am I doing here-I don't even work for the guy-aren't people going to think it's weird-doesn't *he* think it's weird?!"- went out the window. It was as if he'd said. "Oh good-you've come."

On that occasion, Irving was more talkative than I had seen him since before the first of three surgeries. He said his throat was dry, but they sold some chocolate ice cream downstairs that would be just the thing to make it feel better-oh and they had these great chocolates-about the size of Susan B Anthony dollars-could we get these too?

Sean and I were confused. As far as we knew the North End rehab hospital didn't have a downstairs that sold chocolate ice cream. "Maybe he still thinks he's at MGH-with the cafe in the basement." said Sean. We asked at the front desk about the possibility of purchasing chocolate ice cream downstairs and were told that yes they sold chocolate ice cream downstairs, but no we couldn't buy any because we weren't patients.

There was a convenience store we could visit--they might have chocolate ice cream. The convenience store turned out to be the Connah Store in the North End. There were pictures of the pope taped up on the wall and the proprietor's cat was sitting on the counter impeding customers from handing over their money. But we found some chocolate ice cream.

When we got back we tried to explain the situation to the woman at the front desk. No we weren't patients, but we were trying to buy something *for* a patient--might she send someone down to look for chocolates the size of Susan B Anthony dollars? "I don't know why they put the vending machines all the way down there where no one can see them." she grumbled and went in search of our chocolate.

Of course, it was important to us to find Irving his chocolate, but we also felt it was important to let Joan have him all to herself for a few minutes. So we didn't care that we'd had to go down the block and were now waiting on the nurse from the front desk.

We brought this in to Irving along with a spoon and he had at. I will never forget the sight of him sitting there in his hospital bed eating chocolate ice cream with a single-mindedness that precluded caring about whether he got melted ice cream on the Globe or on the sheets, or-for that matter most of what we were saying as he sat there.

Joan asked him to put the ice cream away so that he wouldn't spoil his appetite for dinner and we all looked guilty as one of the nurses aides came in-we were afraid she was the dinner service. So we did finally put the ice cream away (when the dinner came I came to the conclusion that he had better have eaten the ice cream.)

I don't remember what we talked about that afternoon and evening. We had the Sox game on--Irving always asked for that. We probably discussed Ikea and the difficulty of buying a mattress, my new iPhone, the computer Joan had gotten that Sean was going to set up for her soon, the postcard Kenny had sent from Yellowstone Park and several dirty jokes.

Toward the end of the evening Irving got grouchy and frustrated "Maybe I'll jump out the window!" he yelled. And while I hated that he was yelling and making Joan cry, I took it as a good sign. I thought that he must be getting better if he was together enough to be bored and frustrated.

He also asked for a piece of paper and a pen and started writing things down. He wrote down the date and the room number and the telephone number of the room "Call this number and make sure I got it right" he said. I took this as a good sign too--maybe he was going to be able to talk on the phone again.

I kissed him on the cheek and told him I'd see him soon.

I meant to see him the next day. I bought him a notebook in which to write things down-things to remember to ask Joan or the doctor. I gave it to Joan to give to him. But with one thing or another I never managed to get back to see him.

I was standing in Battery Park with a backpack on--I'd just gotten of the Staten Island Ferry and I was about to go look for the little Dutch village I'd heard about (New York's 400th anniversary) before going to Penn Station to get the train back to Boston--and Sean called me to tell me that Irving had died that morning. He was crying. He knew (as we all did) that Irving was rapidly getting worse. But he had thought (as we all did) that we had a little more time-just enough time to see him once more-maybe another week.

I wandered around stunned. I tried to pray and decided I was not together enough to manage an actual prayer (some things are important enough that you have to talk to God-even if you're not crazy about the protocol that you learned for doing so) so instead I wandered around a bit and then got on the subway to start making my way back home and preparing to say goodbye to my friend Irving.

Monday, August 31, 2009

I did the unthinkable-I turned down an apartment

I turned down an apartment-something I have never done in my life-because I realized I didn't want to live there. It was a nice studio between Harvard and Porter Squares. It was fully furnished-it even had a tiny TV (which I would never watch) and a tiny washer and dryer in the unit.

But I realized that I didn't want to live there. It was sterile. It would be like living in a hotel room. So I turned it down. On the hope of something better. I must be crazy. Or sane. I haven't decided which yet.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Should I stay or should I go?

I am sad to leave the only place that has felt like home in more than 10 years. The one condition I make for my leaving it is that wherever I go it will be to a new home. Post college and previous to moving in to this apartment, I've lived at my parents place, Paris, Milton, Brookline, JP and another location in Cambridge and none of these places were home. They were all just garages in which I parked myself at the end of the day. My "living room" was cafes and bars. I refuse to go back to this situation although it will double my rent (and possibly greatly lengthen my commute.) At the very least, even if I'm not a fit companion to my chosen partner, I still deserve a home.

I'm looking at apartments in Cambridge and probably Somerville and Beverly. Beverly would be comfortable-my best friend lives there and even though I can't drive I can walk or bike to the grocery store. And of course there's the beach.

I will never be comfortable unless there's a large body of water near by. But If I move up there I lose Cambridge, and I love Cambridge as much as I love anything else. I went to Harvard Square and saw one of the members of my favorite bands outside the Harvard Bookstore. How will I live without the Harvard? Or Pandemonium's science fiction emporium? Or 1369?

Friday, August 28, 2009

A few things that occured to me today

Today I had to go see an apartment. I walked from Central Square to just outside of Porter Square. I didn't take the T and read a book for a few reasons. I am still too messed up to enjoy reading. (That says more about how I feel than pretty much everything else. I need to read like I need to breathe. I could still read when I was sexually assaulted in 2002) I also thought that this was important enough that I ought to walk to the appointment and think about things. Sort of the reverse of L'esprit de l'escallier.

It occurred to me that in fact I have felt this terrible before, and gotten over it. The things that made me feel this bad in the past were mostly not as important as this (my dissolution of an almost 10 year relationship) and this is still either the worst or the second worst thing that has happened to me, (and as such the reasons I feel this bad are far graver than the ones I felt this bad previously) but I have recovered from feeling this horrible before.

In 1997 I graduated from college and had no clue what to do with myself. I had to break up with a boyfriend who I truly loved (he was a freshman and I was a senior) and I left all my friends behind in Minneapolis while I went back to New York to figure out how to get to Paris. I was given "an eviction notice written in Latin." I was leaving my world behind and I had no clue how to get to the next step.

In 1998, I was miserable because the same boyfriend (we decided to un-break up since we loved and missed each other and besides we'd be together in Paris in 6 months) left Paris to go back to school. I was inconsolable. I hated my job and had no friends. I hated Paris so much that I had visions of Godzilla (the remake came out that year and terrible as I knew it was I had to go see it because I'd get a glimpse of New York.) rising out of the Seine and mauling the Eiffel Tower before heading off to Pantin to eat the office building in which I worked (and hopefully, my boss.)

In 1999 I was miserable because I left Paris. And then later in the year, (and the only time in my life where my reasons for being miserable were possibly as grave as my reasons now) I was miserable in Boston. I'd had a terrible job where I worked as hard as I possibly could, came in at 7 am, worked til 8, came in on weekends and still had a "quit or get fired" conversation with my boss after only 3 months. So I got a job for significantly less money at a bookstore (and the previous employment opportunity only paid $16,000 a year). I had to get my parents to help pay for my rent. I broke up with the Boy who I went to Paris with and took up with another Boy. We were making ourselves miserable. The bookstore job was in fact (in hind-sight) pretty horrible. The scheduling changed from week to week-to the point that I could no longer remember my menstrual cycle. After one week of work one of the managers told me that my work wasn't satisfactory (my shelving was bad or something) and, because I was in a quit or be fired situation previously I was scared to death. I didn't say anything to defend myself-maybe I just cringed too much. After this interview (keep in mind I'd worked there 1 whopping week) the owner needed to talk to me about how I hadn't accepted criticism well. This was not the last time I got "talked to" by the owner in the 6 months I worked there full time. I'm not a slacker. I work hard. But that place was so horrible and I felt so bad that I called in sick once a week after a while.

I felt that the whole situation was my fault (unable to work at a real job or sustain a good relationship or have friends.) This is what broke part of me. I've never been well since. I really don't know what particular thing did it though.

I found my way out of all of those situations. In 1997 I got a job at the Strand on Fulton Street by South Street Seaport(RIP) and made great friends. One of them had a list of contacts for me in Paris, so that I was able, when I got there, to get an office job with a 1 year visa instead of waiting tables. This was a mixed blessing. The office job was horrible. It's been too long for me to say for sure, but it was probably as bad as my job now. But it allowed me to stay in Paris for longer and to make better money there. This meant that when the Boy from Carleton arrived, I was still there and when he stayed for the summer and couldn't get a job for a while (and then got an awful job) I was able to help him out financially.

In 1998, after the boy left Paris, I was able to find my own feet and make some friends (very fucked up friends, but better than nothing) and learn to love my home city (with all it's bugs/features.)

In 1999, well things didn't get much better until 2001. In 2000 I got a better job as a receptionist at a web company. About 5 months after I started it ceased to be a *sucessful* web company and started laying people off. I was dumped and then re-girlfriended. And then dumped again right after George W Bush was innaugurated. I figure I was miserable on and off for at least a year.

Shit. I hope this doesn't last that long. Almost every single one of these episodes of misery is because of men. Hmmmm

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I am heartbroken

A very bad thing just happened to me. My Boyfriend of 9+ years just dumped me because even though he loves me and I'm his best friend, he's been very unhappy about several things for a long time.

I could see this coming, but I thought I had a few months. Our roommate just moved out and things could get better once it was just the two of us. It's also been a stressful time. A friend of ours has brain cancer, work sucks etc. So I was completely blind-sided when he told me this.

Now I have to find a new apartment (probably at double the rent since I do not want a roommate. There's one person I wanted to live with and he does not want to live with me.) I'm completely shattered. I thought that after 9 years or so we were past that point. Living with him has been the only place that felt like home for the past 10 years.

But what has occurred to me is that I really really need to stop hating myself. I mean, I've known this for a while (duh) and this year I've made steps towards that-deciding to go for an MBA was one. It made me feel like I was back on track to being a human-that I didn't need to be ashamed of myself. A lot of that is, at the moment not in play-given the whole dumped thing. But you get the idea, maybe.

But if I didn't hate myself, then I wouldn't put up with bad treatment. I'd say something about it. Instead of being too afraid that I'd cause an argument. On the surface this sounds like it would have ended the relationship sooner, but there's more to it than that. If I didn't hate myself I wouldn't feel so insecure and un-willing to let go and take direction or trust someone else to show me a good time. I wouldn't get so annoyed by unsolicited advice.

I just got the feeling i was lucky the Boy put up with me, so I shouldn't make waves. If I didn't hate myself, I wouldn't put up with me. I'd find and fix the crack in my soul (I don't know exactly what it was but it appeared around 1999) instead of pussyfooting around it for fear it would get worse. No, this would not be fun at all. But I might come out a better human for it (I could hardly come out a worse one) and I might, one day be able to be in a romantic relationship again and this time not get dumped.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Friday, August 21, 2009


Not all the things you do "for the first time evar" with your boyfriend are romantic or even fun.

Upon reflection, this seems obvious. Calling the landlords because our hot water was busted was not fun, for example. But I was thinking of "nesting" things. Things that have to do with making your crack house a crack home. Things that have to do with you (and your S.O.) finally having enough money to consider the niceties of decor and kitchen goods (instead of acquiring home-furnishings from other friends' cast offs or the curb.)

My boyfriend and I have been to Ikea together 4 times in the last 6 months. The first time was kinda fun. We bought a bed and a few other sundries (floating candles, seat cushions, lamps and glasses that were so cheaply made that one of them broke by the time we got to the counter.) We had written down the bin number for the bed slats incorrectly. When we got there, we were looking at twin bed slats. I suggested that maybe for a full bed we should just get two sets.

When we got home and started assembling the bed our error became obvious. We laughed and decided that there was a chair we had both liked so we might as well go back. So we rented another zip car and went back to Stoughton. We decided we were definitely done with Ikea for a while. We even discussed the possibility that they made things as confusing as possible as a marketing ploy. (Well, you'll get the wrong thing from the wrong bin and then you'll hafta come back and then you'll buy more stuff.)

And then it became apparent that our mattress was dead. Neither of us had ever bought a mattress before. I had lived in furnished rooms previous too moving in with the Boy and he had inherited a mattress from friends that moved out of town. Buying a mattress was *complicated.* I couldn't just go to and pick one out (the way I could with electronics, kitchen gear, children's toys or most of the other (non-book) purchases I make.) Moreover, we discovered, mattresses are wicked expensive. The one we had been sleeping on cost just under $2000. If we had bought it, instead of inheriting it from friends who moved off to S.F., we could have replaced it under their warranty plan.

Mattresses companies offer financing. This wouldn't have been such a big issue if it wasn't 2009. Where I work we all got no bonus and pay cuts. My boyfriend got a raise so small it reminded me of a song in The Pajama Game.

There's a Sleepy's in our neighborhood (which would be downright bizarre if it wasn't for the fact that we live halfway between Harvard and MIT.) So we went in and tried a few wicked expensive mattresses out. It was weird. I live in Central Square, so there were crazy bums just outside the big windows watching me and my boyfriend try out mattresses. The salesman said that previous to becoming a mattress salesman, he had delegated mattress choice and purchase to the lady of the house. This frightened me. I trust my boyfriend to choose a mattress before I'd trust myself to do so. He's much better at That Sort of Thing (buying home furnishings) than I am.

After the weird evening at the Sleepys we decided to try out Ikea. After all, I explained, an Ikea mattress might not last as long, but assuming it lasts 2 or 3 years, the economy ought to be better, and we'll have advanced enough in our careers that we should be in a better position to make a large purchase.

But then, a friend of ours came down with brain cancer, and related activities didn't leave much time for visits to Stoughton. Finally we scheduled a zip car and went down on a week night. We had colossally bad directions. It took forever. While we were there my Mom (who was due to be in town for a few days and was supposed to have called the day before) called to talk about plans. I had to talk to her. It was just terrible, weird, timing. We chose a mattress and took it home.

It soon became apparent that we had not chosen wisely. The "firm" mattress in the show room was not nearly as firm as the "firm" mattress we had purchased. It was like sleeping on a board. So we found the receipt and rented another zip car. The Boyfriend was just about to go get the zip car when he got a text from a friend "Somerville Police Station right now $40." Being a good guy he took the zip car off to the Somerville cop shop to find out what the story was. A fight with a roommate. A girl roommate. Blows were exchanged, and a restraining order was filed. I sat around and wondered if I'd misjudged my friend's character. I knew he lived with some fucked up people, but he didn't seem like the kind of guy who'd punch a girl in the face.

Apparently it was a good thing we'd just gotten a zip car. The boyfriend returned several hours later with a car full of our unfortunate friend's stuff, the unfortunate friend himself and another friend who'd come to help out. Turns out the Boyfriend and the other friend had managed to get to the unfortunate friend's apartment and get all his clothes before the restraining order took effect. And no, my unfortunate friend had not punched his psychotic roommate in the face. He had merely grazed her face while trying to protect his own face from the coffee maker she was attempting to hit him with.

That was all last week. Since then, we've been putting up the unfortunate friend and I'm happy to say that we managed to get to Ikea on Friday night to return the unsatisfactory mattress and since then we've slept like babies.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Good Deeds-do they sometimes go unpunished?

SO. I have managed, with very little effort on my part, to do a good deed. As I had mentioned previously, I have an 88 year old friend who's in hospital recovering from three surgeries on his head (all of which failed to remove the entire brain tumor.) As I had also mentioned, one night a bunch of his friends (people who had worked at his store and their wives, girlfriends and boyfriends) happened to be out having dinner and a few drinks and since it was close, we all went over to visit him (at 10 PM) and that this, surprisingly, turned out well. By "well" I mean that not only were we not ejected and told not to visit him again, but it was a good visit. One of the guys who usta work at his store (the store of my friend in hospital) is now a football coach and he asked didn't my friend play football in college and were there any pictures of him in his football gear?

I happen to work with a guy who went to the same college as my friend and so I asked him how I'd go about finding pictures of someone who graduated in 1943 (who was on the football team). It took me a few days to work up the courage to do this since I felt a little silly about the fact that I don't know how to find pictures of someone who went to *my* college in 1943 (short of showing up in Northfield, MN and going to the library or Dacie Moses House.) But my coworker pulled up an alumni directory and found my friend and then e-mailed some alumni affairs people. The alumni affairs people connected him with someone who offered to 1)photo copy pictures of the football team from the appropriate years for a nominal fee 2)scan the photos of the same or 3)send us the yearbooks for 3 out of the 4 years that my friend had attended this college for the price of shipping. We chose 3.

The yearbooks arrived today. The receptionist was puzzled at the package, but yet not at all surprised when I said "Oh that's for me." When I explained why I was ordering yearbooks from the 1940s all the young ladies of the office opened them up and leafed through them and helped me find and mark the pages with my friend's picture on them.

I took the books over to the hospital this evening (since my friend's wife and one of the guys from the store were there.) I can't really tell if my friend was happy to see these books (because he was exhausted from physical therapy) but his wife was very happy. And I was very happy to see his wife holding the book out for him to see and asking where to find pictures of him and his friends. Actually it was adorable.

But here's the thing. While it is possible that *if* I'd known where this guy went to school I might have used my coworker's help to look up pictures of him while he was healthy, it is unlikely. I made the effort (even though it really was no effort at all) because he's dying. And that fact sticks out like a sore thumb. He's a smart guy my friend-he majored in Econ and so even though he's to tired to talk he's probably not too tired to think.

At the very least I can say to myself, his wife is happy to see the pictures and she probably would have been in any case. She'd have been happy even if he wasn't in hospital because she can see pictures of her man at 18, 19 and 21. Think about it--don't you enjoy seeing pictures of your partner as a kid? Now let's say that instead of photos of your darling that are 20 years old someone brought photos of your loved one that were *60* years old. Wouldn't you be amused?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

And since we're on the subject of things I like to watch

Although I strongly suspect I am using the royal We here, I have become obsessed with Firefly to the point where I'll pull up the video of the theme song and watch it for comfort. I am not a TV person. I read books and occasionally watch movies for fun. But recently I've been harangued about my anti-tv snobbishness and as a result I decided to try a few TV drama series.

So I started with Heros, which my sci-fi geek co-worker (since laid-off :-( had recommended as "the new Star Trek." That was okay. Mad Men creeped me out. Then there was a reference in XKCD to Firefly and I looked the series up (since I hadn't heard of it) and since it sounded interesting, I started watching it. And fell in love with it. I'm sad there was only one season.

Anyways, here's the theme.

Monday, August 3, 2009

another video I like

I like this video of Radio Clash partly because I like seeing one of my favorite bands evar in New York City as I remember it from when I was very young. It was dirty and nasty and the we were playing SUICIDE and other versions of wall-ball while the older kids break danced.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I Fought The Law and The Law Won

This has always been one of my Clash favorites (and I love the Clash!) One of the nice things about YouTube is that I can see live performances of older bands--things I would have seen except that I was 2 or 3 or unborn at the time. Another nice thing about YouTube is that someone has taken the time to upload pretty much everything to the site. By this I mean you can pick any song that you want to hear--no matter how obscure the band--and there is probably a YouTube recording of it. It may not have video, but the song will be there-it is the Cloud iPod.

So over the past few days I've had a few gigantic and really boring spreadsheets to wade through and make sense of. While engaged in this really boring task, I've been listening to music off of YouTube one song at a time (since we have a no-i-pod policy where I work.) While engaged in this I re-discovered the Green Day cover of I Fought the Law. I listened to it several times before watching the video (being a good worker-bee I didn't watch any of the videos at work--I just pulled up the songs and continued working on my giant, boring spreadsheet.)

I think it's a good cover. Green Day manages to put their own mark on the song without diminishing it at all and although I'm not a guitar player I think they did as well as Mick Jones on the riffs.

So here's the video