Archive for March 2006
Denizens of Boston do not have reputation for being friendly. In fact, some might say they’re downright rude. Walking down the street, people shove past you without saying “excuse me”. People will step over homeless people begging for money without even seeming to notice them. Cops stand on the street corners smoking cigars, while screaming at you “Whaddya want!?” if you ask for simple directions.
But I want to say that I think that this perceived insolence is just a misunderstanding… The other day I was reading one of those silly little emails that begins:
“You know your from __________ if you….”
This particular one was for Massachusetts, focusing on Boston. It had a bunch of funny things about wacky driving, why Bostonians call the liquor store a “packie” and little jokes about the Big Dig. But the most interesting one went something like this:
“You know you are from Boston if, when people smile at you, you think they either want something or are from out of town.”
And I had to smile in spite of myself, because it’s so very true.
Since I gave up my car when I moved here, I take the public transporation system everywhere. Formerly called the MBTA, it’s efficiency (or perceived lack there of) is on the top of the list of the Bostonian’s complaints. In fact, however, it’s a wonderful, trusty system.
Known as the “T”, the subways, busses and commuter rail trains run constantly (except from 1 to 5 am) and will take you anywhere in the city or even Massachusetts that you might need to go. It is completely easy and pretty fast to get around this city without a car. Not to mention, I couldn’t be happier not having to worry about gas prices or Boston’s awful issue with parking.
I ride the T everyday—twice a day, at least. It picks me up in front of my house and drops me off just a one minute walk from my job. The subways are often crowded, with all types of people, from drug-addled whinos to tourists to Italian suits who work in the ritzy Financial District. During baseball season, the trains get so crowded on game nights that there are never any seats left on the train. They’re usually so crowded, that you are shoved up against at least three or four strangers, cramped like sardines with barely enough room to expand your ribcage to breathe.
It’s just part of life here, and those of us who live here have gotten used to it. We’re used to sitting next to strangers on the busses and standing with our faces mere inches of other people’s faces or hands or crotches. Because the subway cars and busses can get so packed, you just have to learn to sacrifice all personal space. The subway rides usually don’t last more than 20 minutes, depends on where you’re going, so people just tolerate it for the little amount of time it takes to get to their destination.
If you’re new to Boston or just visiting, the close contact with that many strangers may be a little off-putting. But after you’re here for a while you’ll begin to understand how we Bostonians deal with it—we ignore each other. We cut ourselves off from other people and we don’t really interact with other people. It’s our way of maintaining some sort of privacy and at the same time respecting other peoples’ as well. This is a tacit unwritten law that those who live here follow.
But what to do while you’re sandwiched between the ancient woman who smells like cat poop and the crazy weirdo with scabby knees who has a serious case of Tourette Syndrome?
You watch people.Boston has the best people-watching. It’s become my favorite past-time. Some people read on the T or stare out the window, but I like to put on my headphones, pretend like I’m totally absorbed in my music, and stare at everyone.
This town is super-diverse and it’s almost guaranteed that as soon as you step on the train, you’ll glimpse someone that deserves more than a casual glance, for whatever reason.
With all this shared space and people watching, the citizens here have become accustomed to looking at people without smiling. When I first moved here, I thought it was rude that people would stare me down for up to 3 or 4 seconds without blinking or smiling. Soon, however, I found myself doing it as well.
Growing up in the mid-west, when I found someone looking at me, I was taught to smile to show that I was friendly. Especially growing up in Oklahoma, which has mild-midwestern manners mixed with southern-style hospitality. I was used to people smiling and waving and returning the gesture in kind.
But, after living here for 2.5 years, I’ve realized that the smile is a front. It’s a wall. If people smile at you as soon as you look at them, really they’re preventing you from seeing what they’re thinking. With Bostonians, you don’t get that. They don’t put up that instant pretense that blocks their thoughts from you. They just stare at you; direct and intent, to the point of it almost being intimate.
And I have found that I prefer this type of contact with people. It seems like so much more of an authentic response upon encountering another person: You look at them, and they don’t put up a guard. They let you look into them, if only for a second, and you get to see what’s really there instead a contrived politeness. It isn’t rude, it’s just honest.
Currently listening to: Popular Favorites (disc 1) by the Talking Heads
Sometimes I think that we are a species that was meant to sleep together in numbers, in big piles, where people are just lying like lions or chimpanzees or puppies. And maybe that’s the way it used to be. We slept together for communion, for warmth, for protection. But with the advent of our little separated units in our domiciles, with our individual rooms and our individual beds, our locked doors and our blankets, we have removed all necessity for that behaviour and as a result, we have forcibly removed ourselves from this habit.
I guess I’m not endorsing that families sleep in big piles: I saw that once on Trading Spouses and I thought it was weird. Seven people in a family had piled all into one room, and they walked around with no shoes on during the day. I guess I thought it was a bit too hippy-commune for me.
But I find it interesting how much we rely on affection from people, and if we don’t get it, how damaging it can be to our lives. Babies, for example. They absolutely need affection from their parents. If they don’t get it, it invariably warps their mind in some sinister fashion and they have to suffer the consequences in one way or another for the rest of their lives. Serial killers and psycopaths are made this way.
But as we get older, we are weened from this contact in an attempt to make us independent from our families. We are asked to drop our childish reliance on human contact and told to learn to sleep in our beds alone and not to talk to strangers. And for good reason, there are a lot of creepazoids out there, who are probably suffering on some Freudian level of not being held by their mothers as children.
Part of the problem is that we have let our culture has become so obsessed with sex that any sort of human contact after like age 12 may be construed as sexual or abusive. As a result we are told to keep our hands to ourselves and be careful who we hug.
I think it’s counterintuitive to be this way because it seems we really never lose the desire for affection or a human touch. Instead we are just schooled to forget our reliance on it. It is a cover up, a mere bandage over a huge festering wound of denial that we are no longer animals. Why do we fancy that we aren’t, but rather a higher, more elevated creature?
The fact is that we’ll never truly be able to rid ourselves of this animal instinct. So we’ll keep on denying the majority of our lives, and relegating this closeness to aminimal facet of our lives.
I think in order to live a sane life, we have to have certain amounts of human contact. I can’t explain why hugs feel so great, but I always feel so much more whole when I get a genuine hug, or even an arm around my shoulder.
And despite sleeping alone every night and dodging people carefully on the subway so my body does not come into contact with theirs, I feel myself grasping for human contact in other aspects of my life. I don’t know for sure but maybe it’s my biological clock kicking in these days. Maybe I’m supposed to be having children soon. They’re clingy and needy.
I’m sure that having children would satisfy any sort of primal need for human contact. They’re to be produced in and fed from my body, which is the most ordinary but also the most bizarre concept I can possibly imagine.
I suppose some little ancient urge in my bloodstream, some little bit of primitive information in every one of my cells is slowly twisting my mind in the direction of motherhood. I’m not trying to deny it, but I still don’t feel like I’m ready to have children.
Currently Listening to The Mollusk by Ween
Hello there, blogland. I had a nice, relaxing weekend. I did spend a bunch of time working on some ad designs for the new ebiblelesson.com. My business buddy is showing them to his cohorts today so here’s hoping that they like them and want me to do more! The one above is aimed at a teenage audience, while the one below is general.
Their Tagline is Omnipresent Inspiration, which I like.
Anyway, the boss is gone this week and half of next on vacation, so I’m hanging out at work today hoping to catch up on some of my personal projects and reading.
However, today looks like it will be packed with work….sigh.
Currently listening to: Sumday by Grandaddy
I am so happy that it’s now officially Spring. Boston is a wonderful, wonderful city in all seasons except winter, which unfortunatly lasts way too long. Actually, Boston is nice in winter too, for about two weeks until you realize how much the cold and sunsets at 4:30 pm are gnawing away at your soul.
I work until six o clock on week days and so it’s always dark when I get out of work (thank God for Daylight Savings time which starts in two weeks). I generally don’t see much of the sunshine during the day unless I get out and take a walk on my lunch break.
I have the good fortune of working right next to Boston’s wonderful Public Gardens. I walk through them almost every day in the summer. I found this picture online today, which is an everyday sight for me during the summer. The swan boats haul people around the little cultivated pond inside the Gardens for $2 a ride. It’s cheap and a great tourist attraction as well.
The park still looks pretty grim as of now because it’s still wintry here, but the park people have emptied the pond and are now cleaning it out to get ready to refill it before they lug out the boats, probably sometime in late April.
It’s going to be in the 50’s next week, and thank God for that. Boo to Winter, Yay to Spring.
And then all the trees will be blossoming and the flowers will be planted in the park, and warm sunshine will reign again! I can’t wait.
Currently listening to: Z by My Morning Jacket
As you enter West 52nd off 8th Street on any Saturday night in New York City, you will encounter a special strain of excitement that crackles electric through the air. This is a particular brand of energy, one triggered by the anticipation of throngs of people as they gather outside of the playhouses and auditoriums in the mecca of theater, Broadway.
It’s night but the streetlights glaring outside of the theaters tell me it may as well be day. Neon signs and bright marquee boards sit just above the headline of the jittery theater patrons as they crowd the entrance to the playhouses, dressed in their best suits and fur coats, waiting to experience one of the oldest and most defining elements of civilized culture, theatrical drama.
It’s cold out here in mid-March but I can’t think about it because I’m too busy looking at the signs for the plays that people are crowding towards: There’s Hairspray. Wicked. Barefoot in the Park. Avenue Q. The Odd Couple. And dozens of other amazing shows that perform every night to thousands of audience members. This is my first time to see a Broadway play, and so I don’t quite know what to expect. But if it proves to be as good as the general anticipation in the air tells me it’s going to be, I know I am in for one hell of a show.
The August Wilson is a small theater, housing only 1200 people, but that doesn’t make it modest. As I walk into the entryway, I am greeted by a luxurious old world elegance that immediately makes me think of the charicature of the top-hatted, monocled blue-blooded man that is the embodiment of The New Yorker. Warm ochre walls and old glass chandeliers are aristocratic and timeless—the room welcomes the men and women of 2006 but seems to hearken back decades ago to a Golden Era of post-World War I gentility and style.
Andrea and I have made the mad dash from Boston to this New York City theater with only three minutes to spare until the start of the show. We greet Carmel, a friend of Andrea’s and a lovely woman whose brother is in the play—she’s also the reason we’re getting in free to the show. She hands us our tickets, and we climb the staircase where the ushers are efficiently and quickly steering everyone to their seat.
Walking down the carpeted aisle, I glance up at the balcony above and behind me and then the stage in front of me. More beautiful glass chandeliers hang from the ceiling but the stage is large and dark and set with a giant chain link fence that lends the otherwise warm and cozy theater an industrialized feeling.
The theater seats are small and unbelievably close together. Forget your spacious, airplane-style seats at the AMC cineplex; this place really packs ’em in. The deep seats and close proximity to your neighbor create an intimate environment, but I only dwell on it for a moment before the auditorium lights dim and the stage lights come up. The din of the crowd becomes a rustle, and then the opening song for the play explodes out of the theater as three young people burst onto stage in a dance.
Broadway was about to prove to me just what a force it could be.
Over the years I have seen several high school and college plays, but nothing I had seen there could prepare me for this. On the car trip to the city I had been more or less ambivalent about seeing Jersey Boys, a play about Franky Valli and the Four Seasons. I didn’t have all that much interest in the story—and I was approaching this experience more for its cultural value—A Night on Broadway in New York City—than I was for its entertainment value. But, to my surprise and amusement, I more than just enjoyed the play—I was mesmerized with the performance and the story from the moment it began to the very last second of the show.
Theater is sandwiched between real life and art; the highly-stylized backdrops and perfectly choreographed moves seem at first fictional and surreal, but the commanding voices of the actors and the details of their movements, such as the bits of spittle flying out of their mouths as they storm around the stage is intensely real.
The opening monologue of the character Tommy DeVito performed by Christian Hoff is quite amazing. He snaps his body up to the front of the stage, and delivers his lines with such perfect timing, wit, style and character that I find myself with a silly grin spreading across my face, completely engaged and entertained.
But it was not just Hoff; every actor was perfect. Every scene was without flaw. Every moment was choreographed and executed with absolute perfect timing. The backdrops were beautiful but judicious and the costumes were radiant. The actors were spot on with their Jersey accents and their singing voices were so true to the original band that I swore they were lip-synching. But they weren’t. Every bit of music and every song was performed live. I can only sum this performance up in two words; complete professionalism.
I never thought I would be this dazzled by a play, and a musical at that. But if you ever get a chance, go to New York City to see Jersey Boys, it won’t let you down.
Throughout the show, the audience was enthralled; everyone clapped and cheered, all 1200 of us were completely silent during the poignant scenes, and in the end, we all gave the cast members a much-deserved standing ovation as they bowed at the edge of the stage.
Afterwards, Andrea and I headed out with Carmel and her brother Steve, who plays several parts in the play, along with a group of about ten other people to a little bistro. A few minutes later, two other members of the cast showed up, and I shook their hands eagerly and told them how great I thought they all were. They smiled graciously and warmly but I knew from the smiles on their faces that accepting endless praise and admiration just come standard when you’re a star on Broadway.
Currently Listening to: well…nothing..but I’m mentally reliving all the great performances of the classic songs of The Four Seasons
The Porter Square T station in Cambridge has about a thousand steps. It’s true. Climbing out of there feels like you’re climbing out of the center of the earth, it just goes up & up & up.
Last night, at precisely 9:58 pm, I emerged from these cavernous depths into a light drizzly rain over Porter Square. I crossed the street quickly and ran down a ways to the entrance of Toad, a tiny little bar you may not even notice walking by. The only demarcation is the 4 neon letters above the door.
Toad is a great little bar; it’s set up like your typical Irish Pub, of which there are literally hundreds in the Boston area, but due to it’s diminuitive size and local-clientele atmoshere, it seems friendly and warm.
Being as tiny as it is, there isn’t much room for guests and things get complicated on nights when Toad hosts local music acts. There’s never a cover and so people pack in the bar quickly and within seconds all the seats are gone, and then it’s standing room only–but well worth it, as the music is always lively and engaging.
Last night, as I approached the door, several people were standing out side, waiting for people to leave so the bouncer would let more in. Maximum capacity is 65, but it doesn’t even seem like that many people can fit in. I found my friend Ashley waiting to get in, and stepped into line with her. Hugo and Alissa showed up soon after, followed by some more of our friends a bit later.
The first band ended their set around 10:15, but no one wanted to leave after that; and I can’t blame them: Tim Grearon was to play next. Slowly, though, we were let in one by one, and we gathered in the corner waiting for Tim Grearon to play. This was my first experience seeing this guy and his band, but I had heard wonderful things.
A staple Monday night act, Grearon and his band of musicians squeezed in around the packed crowd, affably smiling and greeting people there, many of whom seemed to know the band.
20 minutes later, five guys with instruments crowed into the little dark red corner of the bar, lit by warm incandescent lighting, and started playing without any introduction.
They were fantastic.
The style of music, which I believe is typical fare at Toad, is sort of a general, laid-back Americana style, with some blues and blue grass influences. There was a mandolin, a saxophone, a trumpet, a guitar and drums. Grearon, wearing a black shirt and a grey felt fedora,