Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A coupla meshugenehs walked into a...

It is raining cats and dogs.

I went to the office today. Gorgeous for most of the day.  Sunny, maybe a little too humid.

The forecast was for some severe weather from 4-8.  That weather included the possibility of hail. We have had hail here before and it can do a number on the hood of your car.  I was parked in an indoor lot on campus and I figured I would wait out the storm.

At 430 I looked out the window. It had not started to rain yet. I figured maybe I could beat the storm home. There were predictions that power could be lost and trees could be coming down. I did not want to come home and be surprised by a tree on my deck. The wizards thought the chances of hail in my locale were only 5 %.

So I left the office. When I stepped outside it was just starting to drip a bit.  My car was parked in a lot that is a 4-5 minute walk from my office. Still not teeming when I get to the lot.  I come out and am on the road that will take me to either Storrow Drive, a winding river road, or the Mass Pike--a straight shot to my town.

It is pretty congested on the approaches to the highways.  At one point, 5:26, I say to myself.  "This could take a while." Traffic is not moving real well.

And it is around this time when kaboom, it really starts to come down. I actually consider going back to my office. There is a tiny road that branches off near the Fenway and if I take that I can return.  I try to brave it.

It takes a good stretch of time before I can get to Storrow Drive.  I turn on the radio to the station that gives you traffic on the threes. I get to hear, on three occasions, how fakakt the traffic is. I heard this, traffic on the threes, report three times before I get onto Storrow Drive.

Sometime along Storrow Drive it gets worse. It looks like the day the earth stood still. Now 90 minutes later it still looks that way, but I am behind a computer not a driving wheel at this juncture. Thundering, lightening. Bad visibility.

I get out of Boston and cross a street called Galen Street in Watertown. It is still coming down heavy but at least I can see.  I am driving now on Route 16. It is definitely the long way home, but I do not want to get on the Mass Pike.  The traffic on the three guy has described the congestion on the Mass Pike in a way that is not enticing.

I know Route 16.  There used to be a very good Chinese restaurant there that was good enough to pass other Chinese restaurants to get to. When I first started getting take out from it, the very friendly proprietor would remind me that his place was right across from a Dunkin Donuts. I get to the Dunkin Donuts. Still pouring.

Meshugeneh number 1 is exiting from Dunkin Donuts. He has one of those carriers where there appears to be some coffee and a bag presumably of donuts.  Mishuguneh number one is strolling. Not moving with any kind of speed. It is pouring. He is carrying his donuts and coffee and begins to diagonally cross route 16.  I think of Wimpy, the Popeye character. This fellow with the tray has not passed up many donuts. I would put him at 5' 6 ". He is wearing shorts and he is taking his time crossing route 16. By the time he gets to wherever he is going he will have one wet donut bag. Does not seem to be troubled by this.

I keep driving. Still pouring. I see Meshugeneh number 2. He has running shorts on, no shirt. He is running. Getting in his daily jog.  Thundering and lightning. Putting his feet down in puddles that come up to his ankles. Not an issue.  I was once a runner and I ran in some bad weather. My thinking is that maybe this guy started out some time ago when it was not raining and is now far from the starting point. Otherwise, if he started when the thunder and lightning started, he is certifiable.

It takes me over an hour to get home. Crazy scared drivers, puddles on the highway making me think I would have been better off in a canoe. Barely visible in certain places.  Today going in, well after rush hour, I was parked at the U in 15 minutes.  Going home 60 tense minutes. Still pouring. It is 7 04 pm. Looks like 9 04.

Hope that guy is enjoying his donut. I, myself, had a shot of scotch as soon as I walked through the door.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

[Our] Back Pages

The Waltham Steampunk festival was held today.  This is the fifth year or so when our town has hosted this event. Waltham is a blue collar town surrounded by genuine affluence. We are nestled between Concord, Newton, Lexington, Lincoln, Belmont and Weston.  Each of these other towns is hoo-hah.  We are barely hoo.  Because of our proximity to Boston and since our real estate costs and taxes are a fraction of our neighbors', many aspiring rich people have moved here and are mingling with those who are middle class at best. In addition to our relatively sweet real estate costs, there must be incentives for restauranteurs and businesses of various ilks. Our major roadway, Moody Street, is now filled with a dozen high end eating establishments and several pricey watering holes.  I noticed the other day that a very snooty grocery store has opened near where high end condos have been built. I went in there today and the fare was impressive and pricey.  The good news is that there must be people in our town now who can afford the fare. The bad news is I have to think some of our neighbors will be forced out because of rents.

I imagine something about our relative affordability is what brings events like the Steampunk festival to town. It is a gas. People dressed up from another era parade through the streets. It is not unusual at all to see someone pedaling a unicycle or people who look like they just came out of a Victorian novel. I don't think there are strict guidelines regarding what era or culture people should represent. I noticed today on the front lawn of our library there were several civil war looking soldiers standing under a tent that one could imagine Ulysses S. Grant emerging from.  Sad for the participants today that it was pouring rain. But it was an interesting sight, even if those adorned from an era before autos, were scrambling into ubers to avoid being drenched by the downpour.

I thought of the Faulkner line, "The past is never dead. It's not even the past." Maybe these words surfaced because of the movie I saw last night.

I was in the mood for a flick last evening so I walked to town. My plan was to stop after the movie into a local imbibing emporium.  My ability to drive and drink these days is not great. So I walked the mile to the film and planned to walk the mile back with a stop for a beer to watch the last innings of the Red Sox tilt.

The movie I saw was Tully. It will be a challenge to describe it without giving away the key message.  Let me just write that as Faulkner contended and what the Steampunk enthusiasts reflect comes across clearly once you exit the theatre. I do not, do not, recommend that you read a review of the film before you go see it. I only look at how many stars a movie receives before I go and don't read reviews. If I had read a review and it gave away what I will not, it would have made going to see the film far less valuable than it turned out to be.  If you are over 40 and not dead in your head, I recommend the film. If you are dead in the head you probably won't get it.

I left the movie theatre and could go right down Moody Street or left as I had my choice of where to watch the Red Sox and drink beer.  I went right and about three quarters of a mile later on Main Street I stopped in a place I go to periodically but not regularly.  When I go there it is usually late, but last night it was only about 945 when I parked myself at a table.  I noticed something that looked odd, at least initially. The place seemed to be populated with people five to ten years older than me. This is unusual these days when I tend to feel that each person in a joint is a grandchild of someone I went to high school with.  But not last night. These were geezers and I was startled to realize that I fit right in. There was a band playing and I took a glance in its direction and, again, the group looked like a bunch of old guys who were going to sing songs from the 40s and sound like Lawrence Welk.

Well I got my beer and I was surprised to hear the band play "All My Loving".  This, those of my vintage will know, is a Beatles song and the first number that the Beatles played in their famous Ed Sullivan appearance in 1965. Well one Beatles song followed another. Then I heard Run Around Sue and My Little Runaway.  Throughout it all a guy who looked to be 75 but may have been my age was at an adjacent table, tapping his foot, and mouthing the words. A fellow at the bar who was, I do not exaggerate, a dead ringer for Fred Mertz was crooning into a beer bottle.  He had a host of others who leaned into him at the choruses. It was so incongruous. Who were these old guys singing my songs, knowing all the lyrics?

They were me. I am he as you are me as we are all together.

What is time anyway?  Are we any different now than we were. Have we just accrued the crud from travelling around the track multiple times.  The steampunks are pretending it is another century. Except for the technological advances, what is the difference between then and now. Are we just, stripped of our good and bad decisions, who we were-- and would we be to wise to get in touch with who we were if we have lost our bearings.

Ah but we were not much different then, we're just like we were now.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Killing Time

Last Saturday night we had a wedding. One of Donna's former colleagues' sons was to be wed. I've known this boy since he was a teen, and now he was getting hitched.  The colleague is someone I have gotten to be friendly with on my own.  She lost her husband a few years back and he too had become a friend.  So, this was to be a joyful occasion only diluted because Ken would not be there to share the joy.

The wedding was in a town that is South of the city.  We live due west.  The distance between the burghs is not far at all--maybe 20 miles tops--but Monday through Friday the route can be a headache.  You would easily have to plan for an hour's drive if you needed to arrive somewhere punctually.  The wedding invitation said the event would begin at 545. My experience with weddings is not all that substantive.  Usually, however, when you are told to get someplace at 545, the hosts have planned for tardiness and the dance does not begin for at least an hour afterwards.

Just to be sure to be on time we left at 5 giving ourselves only 45 minutes instead of an hour since it was a Saturday.  We got there in 20 minutes.  Since we did not think the event would begin until 615 at the earliest and we had arrived at 520 or so, I said "We've got to kill some time."

And immediately my head rocketed to an event that happened in 1959 or earlier.  My folks were visiting friends of theirs who lived on Staten Island. In 1959, while it may be difficult for anyone to believe who is not eligible for social security, there was no bridge that linked Brooklyn to Staten Island. You had to take a ferry boat to get to one of the boroughs of New York.

The thing with the ferry boat was that you could never tell how long you might have to wait on line to get on the thing if you were driving.  There were just so many cars the boat could handle.  We would always turn into the ferry line with trepidation not knowing if we were going to have to wait forever to get on.  This time, for some reason, there was no back up at all and we got on right away.

That was the good news. The bad news was that having anticipated a long wait we were in Staten Island way ahead of when we were supposed to meet the friends.  And I heard dad say to mom, "We have to kill some time."

I was at most 9 pushing 10. Could have been as young as 8 or 7.  The guy we were visiting actually died suddenly in December of 59 and I am nearly certain our visit was in the spring. I mention my age because I remember then that the expression "Kill some time" was new to me.  "Kill some time."  What did that mean?

(An aside here is that the phrase is apt right now because having checked the website before I got to the airport, and seeing that my flight to Boston was "on time" I am now parked in the august Pittsburgh international airport for three hours and have two more to wait, but that is a rant I will save for another date).

Kill time. What a concept.  I get its application of course in certain situations, but removing it out of such contexts, it is nonplussing.

A buddy of mine and I were discussing baseball strategy several years back. He asked me what was the most valuable element of a baseball game. I thought for a while and then got the right answer. "An out" I said.  They are the most valuable because you only have 27 of them in a game.  Once you are out of outs, you're out.  And there is a finite number of them.  The conversation was about the virtue of sacrifice bunts. His contention was that it was foolish to sacrifice because then you were losing a precious out.

Same with time.  We don't know the finite number of hours we have, but we know it is finite, or at least not infinite.  So killing time is the act of sacrificing, and exhausting, our most precious commodity.

This is an uncomfortable notion sitting here in the Pittsburgh airport at 9 having arrived at 528 and having been told that the plane we will be flying on, has still not left the runway at the airport it is coming from--but hey it's not like I had a choice.  If I had a choice, though, would I park myself someplace and not use the precious time I have?

Meanwhile we did a good job of killing time last Saturday. Drove down a long road. Came back. Parked in front of a synagogue to kill some more time.  Finally got back to the event venue at about 555. We walked in, and the place was packed. Everyone was seated.

They were not kidding saying to be there at 545.  We found seats way in the back in the last row that had any vacant ones. Within a few moments the ceremony began.

 I guess the wed couple to be didn't want to kill any time.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Fortunato

On Tuesday I went into a local bank where I have had, up to that day, only positive interactions with persons who work there.  As opposed to other, larger, banks there is almost never any line to reach a teller. When there is any sort of queue someone from the back offices will come out.  Always efficient and polite.  Typically I actually enjoy going in there because it is a place of efficiency and normalcy.

I had a small check.  I inherited from a grandfather who died before I was born a few shares of Kraft. He'd been employed by Kraft and somehow bequeathed shares to grandchildren yet unborn.  We all, eleven of us, received two shares. In the late 80s Kraft sold or was absorbed or something.  In the transaction instead of Kraft I somehow received a couple of shares of another stock. This company, to this day, sends me quarterly checks for amounts that are likely not worth much more than the postage and human power that is required to mail them out.  Earlier this week I got a whopper in my post office box--a check for six dollars and twenty four cents.

I walked to the bank near the post office.  I had fished out of my wallet and pants pocket, three dollars and seventy six cents. With my windfall and the 3.76 I had unearthed I would be able to get a ten dollar bill at the bank. I have done this many times when I have received these tiny checks.   I try to find the change that would give me an even dollar amount and walk to the bank. Never had any problem.

I go to the bank where I have both a savings and checking account. The teller, a woman I had never seen previously, takes my check, my driver's license, and my bank card.  She seems a bit puzzled and I figure I may be working with a newcomer.  She starts to write down my driver's license number on the check, crosses it out, writes another number.  She sees that I have put 3.76 on the table.

"What's the cash for?" she says--not truculently--but as if I am some sort of difficult customer.  I tell her, without any sort of edge, that when this amount is added to the amount of the check, I would like a ten dollar bill.

She says "The computer does not like that."

"Say again?" I respond.

"The computer does not like that." she repeats flatly.

"I'm not asking the computer to do anything.  If you add this to the amount of the check it equals ten dollars."

She sighs.  "Fine. How do you want your money, singles or a five?"

"I am just going to give it back to you. I don't care how you give it to me."

Again she says, "how do you want your money, singles or a five?"

"Whatever is easier for you. A five; fine." I say, still more incredulous than rancorous.

She puts on the counter a five dollar bill and twenty six cents in change.

I say, "The check is for 6.26"  Now I have an edge.

She looks at the check. Sees I am correct but says matter of factly "The computer read it as 5, not 6."

Now she has to call in a manager.  Before she does so, a woman to her right with whom I have interacted effortlessly for well over a year, offers to handle my case.  I am delighted to make this change but the rookie bristles and says that she has it.

The manager comes over. Does something with the computer.  The rookie says, "Okay now" and places 6.24 cents on the counter.

"Good" I say. "Now take the 6.24 and add it to the 3.76 and give me a ten dollar bill."

"Okay" she says "That is much better."

It was all I could do to refrain from asking her when she had the lobotomy.

But I leave and feel as if I did not need that. I am on my way to work, all was well, I have a simple transaction and I have to deal with someone--who has the fingers on my accounts in a bank--who can't handle a simple transaction involving a tiny check.

Not a big deal, but immediately the words that begin the Poe short story "The Cask of Amontillado" rush to my head. "The thousand insults of Fortunato I had endured."

I read the story in high school--no doubt because we had to read a short story and it was the shortest one I could find.  But apparently I remembered it, at this moment.

I thought of it because while what happened at the bank was not a major insult, it was a bump--the kind of bump we all endure. Sometimes we are at 100% bump capacity and in order to move along calmly we have to purge the bumps; otherwise we can get tense or focus on something relatively insignificant. Sure, she was a dolt, and sure she acted as if the simple transaction--counting to ten; someone who worked in a bank--was an imposition, but it still was only a bump.

All day long we endure bumps. The question I thought of as I rode into work is this: what do we do with the bumps? Can we just "forget about them" or when they accrue do they somehow skew our consciousness. If you are lugging around hundreds of bumps can you start becoming irrational with others and make inane decisions not because you are inherently irrational, but because the bumps have jostled you and you're not in balance?

Remember when we were kids and would play on a pin ball machine. If you moved the machine in your eagerness to score points, the machine would read TILT.  And the game ended. If we endure the thousand insults of Fortunato, do we not tilt, and then not function--or not function as well?

If you remember the story, the narrator decides to revenge the insults by walling Fortunato up in a wine cellar. Not advocating that here of course.  We have to endure the bumps--certainly those as minor as dealing with a lunkhead in a bank.  But we all have to be careful that as we haul these bumps around-- the thousand insults we endure--we don't let it interfere with our ability to behave considerately with others, and be kind to ourselves as well.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Marathon Monday

In 1979 I trained for, and then ran, the Skylon International marathon.  The race was, like any other marathon, 26 miles 385 yards. We started that October day from an area near an art museum in Buffalo and finished up in Niagara Falls, Canada.

I remember the event clearly. It was chilly and yet most of us wore shorts.  I finished in 3 hours and 44 minutes--and it could have been better had not the first minute or so been essentially walking as all of the runners were jammed in a very tight spot. I hypo-thermated at the end and, I was told, looked a bit blue in a tent before I could get warmed up.  But besides that short-lived setback it was a wonderful day and I'm happy to have that accomplishment on my resume.  The preceding summer and all through September I ran close to 60 miles a week in order to prepare. Toward the end of the training period I upped my regular jaunt to 15 miles a day on the weekend, and then one day--as prescribed in a book that I had--did a 20 mile run. The thinking was that if you could run a 20, with the adrenaline of the actual day you could run a 26.

And I did. I hit the wall around mile 20, but just kept plodding until I got through and then it was not all that difficult to finish. I was beat, no doubt about it, but I remember talking normally when I was done and walking around unimpeded until I turned blue.

So, every year in Boston when it is marathon Monday I think, at least for a fleeting moment or two, of how excited, more like a three year old than an almost thirty year old, I had been.

And today, all I could think of was how disappointed I would have been to wake up and see what is doing outside.

Certainly, today is better than five years ago when two unconscionable bastards suffering from hate in the brain syndrome that turned potentially constructive gray matter into manure, decided to bomb the finish line.  However, that horrible day aside, today had to be a disappointment.

Let me paint the picture for you.  It is pouring.  Now worse than it was at the start, but for a lot of plodders like I was, they were finishing around the time that it really started to rain cats and dogs, as opposed to just cats that had been the case almost all day.  And it is not rain on a warm easy day. It is a cold nasty day appropriate for say early March or even February.  Last night I decided to walk to the library to return a book. I had not exercised all day so I thought I'd walk. It is only a mile point two to the library--over two round trip.  I was an icicle by the time I returned, and last night it was not raining. Nasty. Raw. Stay at home and put the cover over your head rain.

If you ran today you ran soaked and shivering.  The fast folks are done in two hours and change.  The guys like me took nearly four hours.  When was the last time you were outside in your shorts for four hours in a cold rain. This wasn't a football stadium when you brought layers and a flask.  You are in your shorts, your shoes are soaked, your hat probably worthless after the first mile, and your shirt ready for a wet tee shirt contest. In the warmth of my house, I felt for the runners.

Add to the miserable conditions, the fact that your group of cheering supporters must have, even if they love you, decided to go someplace warm periodically and easily could have missed you at what would have been their natural viewing spots. The thing about the Boston marathon is that typically for the entire race there are people cheering you on. Today, I am sure the crowds were one deep when there were folks lining the roads at all. And your buddies were probably holed up someplace drinking brandy.

Momma get out that chicken soup for your daughters and sons that ran today. Cold and nasty and, I am sure, a bit sad for those who prepped all year for the day.

Friday, March 30, 2018

plumber's pants

Yesterday on my way to work, taking a route that I rarely use, I saw a fellow doing some work to the front of his house.  The house was set back from the road by a good thirty yards, could have been closer to forty or even fifty.  He was a large man, not large as in strong, large as in more than a little bit of extra weight on him.

What was noticeable more than anything was his plumber's pants.  Driving way away from where he was toiling I could see how low the jeans were riding in the back.  Not for the first time I wondered how it is possible that someone with plumber's pants is unaware. You have to think they would be aware.  There must be a breeze that can be felt.

Another time several years ago I was in a bar watching a football game. It was a sports bar. There, much closer to me than the worker was yesterday, was a woman cheering hard for one team or another.  Her back was to me.  Her plumber's pants were remarkable. How could she not know what everyone behind her could plainly see?

Beyond plumber's pants I have wondered what it is that we can't see about ourselves that is so plainly obvious to others.  There is a yiddish expression that when translated means: Noone can see their own hump.  It is true I guess. But plumber's pants are not subtle.  When the shirt comes out of my pants I can feel the air against my shirtless stomach.  Plumber's pants folks have to feel the air.  How could they miss it?

So, today I had to renew my passport. I fished it out the other day more to make sure I knew where it was than for any other reason.  I flipped through the pages and saw that it expired two weeks ago. Fortunately I am not planning to go to Timbuktu this weekend, but I did have to renew it. I went on line and read about the procedure.  I printed out the form, filled it out, went to my local post office where they facilitate the renewals, and will also take your passport photo.

Now, it was early. Only about 820 am.  I wanted to beat any crowd and, as it turned out, there was a gentleman in front of me.  In short order though the clerk was able to attend to me.  I had done my homework so all he needed to do was take the picture.  I walked over to the stool by the white screen- akin to ones they used to show films on in high school.  He took a picture, glanced at it, made a face as if to say the shot came out, and we walked back over to the counter.  He was able, thank you 21st century, to almost instantly make copies of the photos. He stapled one to the application and gave me the other.

The truth is that the photo made me look like a convict. An old convict. A gangster that perhaps has been living on the down low for years and finally, thirty years after hijacking trucks, has been caught.  Some sort of minor league thug from the Goodfellahs movie.

If I had not been sitting on the stool and centrally involved with the photography I might have told the postal clerk that he had taken the wrong photo from a bunch. "You are wrong sir. Yes, this person looks like me, actually more like some relative twenty years my senior. Ha Ha. But that is not me."

But I knew it was me. I was there. He had just taken the picture. He hadn't slipped a photo of say, Johnny, Two Hats, Patchagaloo onto my application.  That was me. "I don't look like that" I heard myself say.

But I do. Obviously.

Kind of like plumber's pants.  What is discernible to everyone, may not be obvious to ourselves.



Saturday, March 24, 2018

Almost Heaven

I had no intention of actually buying a ticket.  I decided last night to take the Orange Line down to North Station and feel the energy around the Garden.

Thursday began the Sweet Sixteen portion of the tournament. One of the regionals is here in Boston. So last night players and fans of West Virginia, Villanova, Purdue, and Texas Tech are hereabouts. I wanted to see if Causeway Street--the street by the arena--was buzzing.

It was. Causeway Street was populated with garbed fans identifying their loyalties with sweatshirts, hats, and windbreakers. At 650 pm it was mostly West Virginia and Villanova folks since that game was the first of the doubleheader that would begin at 730.  Amidst the fans were dozens of scalpers peddling tickets they hoped would fetch a fortune.

I walked into a tavern that in the Fall is the home of Buffalo Bills loyalists. It was jammed as in you had to turn sideways to get anywhere through Villanova rooters.  It was fun to hear the buzz but uncomfortable to get around without jostling a beer and those who were toting them.  So, I left that place and went around the corner. In this place, one where I have rooted for the Patriots on occasion, it was a madhouse of West Virginia fans. In fact, as I walked in they were crooning--many of whom not looking as if they would pass a sobriety test--the John Denver song, Almost Heaven West Virginia. It was fun to hear the place rock with the fans.

I figured that in a few minutes both the first and second place would empty out as the denizens therein would be going to the game.  Very wrong.  These people live in the Boston area and are alums or otherwise followers of West Virginia and Villanova. Not going to the game. Congregating to watch the game.  It was wild, and the publicans were not shedding any tears. This was like they had a double shot at St. Patty's Day.  Two weeks in a row the joints were jammed.

I only stayed for the first half.  The game was exciting but for me the more engaging phenomenon was observing those engaged and how, a sport, can bring together community in a way that few other causes can.

On a related note, I wanted to stay up to see the Syracuse Duke game that was on late coming from Nebraska.  As exciting as Syracuse's last game was, this one was a soporific. Both teams played stifling zones and the offense for each possession was the same.  I kept nodding off.  The announcers were saying intermittently what a great game it was.  Not for me.  If all contests during this tournament were similarly played they would not refer to this period as March Madness.