Archive for the ‘Boston’ Category

Alter kakers, moms to the polls

November 8th, 2015

Last week’s Boston election was a flapping wrinkle at least, while not a revolution. No ballot questions or major offices (mayor, governor, legislature, Congress or POTUS) lured the curious or civic-minded. However, we did revisit the 13 City Councilors.

Lackaday, only 13.63% of the city’s registered voters showed, according to the posted results. I could lament the lack of participation. Yet, it was right in the narrow range the MA Secretary of the Commonwealth predicted. I could also feel a barely justifiable pride that my precinct (18-16 in Hyde Park) more that doubled the city rate, at 28.08%. We had 1572 in our book and 442 cast ballots.

I’m the warden there, the minor official in this big pond with many inlets, as in 254 other precincts.

Instead, I noticed a few trends in my nearly 15 hours there. Election workers get to the polling place at least an hour before the 7 AM opening. We leave after breaking down, putting away, checking each ballot for write-ins, and accounting for each civically-sacred ballot.

It is no exaggeration that we are accountable for each ballot — received, cast, spoiled, or provisionally marked. We count them all day long, cross-reference the check-in and check-out books, and go a final great bookkeeping of them after polls close at 8 PM.

We’re on Fairmount Hill, a sub-neighborhood of Hyde Park rife with oldsters (including me) and breeders. Those are the sets that always vote and seemed to dominate again on Tuesday last.

Years ago, I was first inspector, then clerk (effectively middle management), then warden at the Woodbourne Apartments in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, 19-12. There are many disabled residents of that building, and many of those said that voting is a highlight each election day…solid participation, coupled with the rest of the precinct.

The seniors in 18-16 really believe in voting. Like I, they surely had both civics classes in school and expectations from parents that they had to participate in democracy.

In addition, we had a steady beat of babies and toddlers all day in 18-16. Actually that’s not precise. The moms (almost no dads voting with wee ones) were not queued up before 7 with their charges. Nor did they rush in before 8 and closing.

However, many 20-, 30- and 40-somethings came in with one to up to five kids on food, in carriers, in strollers (up to triplet). There were some grandmothers with several kids as well.

As my three did as little ones, most kids seemed to love the event, perhaps for its rarity and newness. Surely adults could say it was a joy disproportionate to the actual task. I did my nefarious part as well, keeping a steady supply of Halloween treats in bowls by both check-in and check-out tables for the taking. While adults grabbed the Reese’s Cups and 3 Musketeers bars, the kids who were allowed to pick almost invariably chose lollipops. I kept the handles within view and those went fast.

Some of the preschoolers also favored the other extra, the I VOTED stickers. As odd as the power of a parent counting down, stickers have their own magic.

Keep the kids coming. They are another reason for some to get to the polls. They are are spots of pleasure for the poll workers, with cuter and less dour, New England faces from the youngsters.



South End Rife with Music, 2015 Edition

September 26th, 2015

Yes, yes, it was the Boston jazz festival, the South End one, and since Berklee took it over, now the Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival. The music college close to monopolizes it with faculty and students. Hell, there’s plenty of superb music for all of us anyway. Play on.

I went to the latest iteration today. It’s still free. It’s a food, clothing/jewelry marketplace and ethnic food vendor paradise. The terrific range of jazz, blues (not enough any more), funk and more pours out of three stages simultaneously. Take your pick.

A few of my sights and judgments follow. If you haven’t been going, you’ve missed much. There’s no atoning, just planning. Do this.


Carlos Averhoff, Jr. and his group featured the more modern, hotter sax, drum and more jazz. carlos
stefonharris4 The remarkable vibe guy Stefon  Harris played with Omar Thomas’ Large Ensemble. He kept at it the whole time and was a huge hit (with me as well). He’s another I’d gladly pay to hear.
Caili O’Doherty was another charming lyricist and composer, well adept at promoting her new album. They were good. Caili
The Berklee table offered earplugs. That initially seemed like hipster irony. Then I trotted over to hear Alissia & the Funketeers, who seemed to be playing at jet-plane decibels.
We Four was a Berklee faculty-centered tribute to John Coltrane. They had my number, particularly the famous Javon Jackson on tenor sax. javon2
felix Felix Peikli  and the Royal Flush Quintet was colorful in ever sense. They’re a wonderful throwback to the nights of hot clarinets.
The Chorobop trio performed pre-WWII Brazilian dance music that had people grinding. chorobop


My pick for the afternoon was unquestionably Jackie Foster. She stunned the audience while singing as a guest of Marty Walsh (not at all our mayor) and Total Plan. She’s not quite 20. I have no qualms about predicting a fabulous career for her.

More pix: These and additional shots are on Flickr.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

Listen for the White Squirrel in Boston

September 12th, 2015

This, the fifth year of the JP Music Fest, I caught the early (song)bird special bands. Here follow a few sample snaps. There’s a link at the bottom to a Flickr album.


Even early in the afternoon, Fur Purse was hard and powerful. Lead singer Eve left nothing behind the mic. furpurseeve3 - Copy
hstfdrums2 copy The Hyde Square Task Force was drum heavy and the best at getting the crowd moving (see below).
A huge hit for us jazz lovers was the (New England Conservatory’s) Alexei Tsiganov Trio. Alexei1
winshallbradford - Copy gtrumpetger for Daniel Winshall and the Walking Illusion,  Michael Bradford, kept pace with his kid maestro.
The very young and already highly acclaimed Daniel Winshall is a local favorite at places like Wally’s. winshall2 - Copy
junko4 - Copy Junko Ogawa was very original and self-possessed. Here she provides what she termed attitude in a send up of racism, “Oriental Rug.”
The Hyde Square Task Force inspired the locals to line and prance. hstfline1

jpfestwhite - Copy
It’s been a long time since we have seen a white squirrel, for real, at Jamaica Pond. They live in doll and t-shirt forms.

More pix: These and additional shots are on Flickr. It’s a set of 25.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

Wee Beests to Boston

August 28th, 2015

After a very unsatisfying and crowded first go at the Strandbeests last weekend, we had a much closer, leisurely and just better time when the small versions arrived in downtown Boston today.

They brought the same pair of relatively tiny TinkerToy-style, wind-in-sail driven models as at Crane Beach. I write tiny because the videos and promo material for Theo Jansen’s fantastical constructions show titanic versions. Sure it makes perfect sense that they would not try to lug and reassemble the biggies everywhere. Just as sure, it’s disappointing to see 7-foot tall models rather than major-motion-picture-scale ones.

Nonetheless, I grew up on construction toys and bought more elaborate ones for my sons, ostensibly for my sons that is. What follows are some shots from City Hall Plaza this afternoon. Geeks and nerds only need look.


Don’t let the legs and feet fool you. They are under the Strandbeest to stabilize it. These are sail, wind-driven toys. Beest1
beest7 Dutiful intern types do quick assembly on Jansen’s critters, then pull them to a starting area and wait for a good breeze.
beest4 beest3
beest6 When top and side sails fill up and get some oomph, the beest takes off, the feet and legs churn, and it seems to be walking even running.
The legs and feet really do rise and fall as the beest races along. The illusion is of locomotion beest2
beest5 The worker bees are ever at the ready to do quick repairs (frequently needed) and if necessary to pull the beests back for another run and another wait for a breeze.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

God’s TinkerToys

August 22nd, 2015

Five of us from Boston, Brookline and Worcester joined several thousand at Crane Beach in Ipswich today to jostle each other for glimpses of the Strandbeest. The plastic framed, wind-powered walking thingummy from Dutchman Theo Jansen was hard to get close to and difficult to see. You’ll have many more chances, some to observe the bigger, badder versions.

Rain or shine, wind or not, one or more will be at the Peabody Essex Museum from 9/19 through 1/3/16. On Friday, August 28th, they’ll be at Boston City Hall Plaza from 11AM-1PM and the Kennedy Greenway from 4:30-7PM.

If you look at the stills and vids at the Strnndbeest and museum sites, you’d expect titanic critters of major motion picture proportions. The pair of them that hit the beach today were more scaled-down traveling models…maybe 7 or so feet tall, plus some wind-catching sails.

strandsoloWhile you might expect something like Imperial AT-AT Walkers from Star Wars, these were more in the super-sized TinkerToy or Erector Set models. They are still way cool, just not either as big or animated as fantasy would have it.

Boomers, particularly boys from that era of gender-specified playthings, should feel very comfortable with Jansen’s updated models.

We concurred that real beast in the Strandbeest show at Crane’s today was the crowd. Either Saturday mornings on the North Shore are slow or the PR efforts worked. The roads to the beach crawled, the lots were full, and the beach was jammed.

strandincrowdEveryone seemed to feel entitled to an intimate experience with Strandbeest(s). The poor yellow-shirted volunteers really did try to get folk to stand back. The concepts seemed to be not to hurt the moving sculptures, to stay out of the way of the art, and to let people see the damned things.

People weren’t having any of it. There were several loud women telling off quiet men and women, saying they’d been there for over two hours and were not about to let anyone sit down in front of them. That was just rude and they knew it. So there.

As a couple of hours passed though, everyone interested kind of got a view. A few had parents or friend hoist them on their shoulders. Many wormed their way close enough to see the action. Others held out hope that the promise of the Strandbeest waddling down the beach would bring one or both of them within sight.

strandsailThe yellow shirts first walked the frames down the beach to a clear area for repeated promenades. The crew would attach, then unfurl the gauzy sails. The wind from the ocean would then propel a Standbeest a couple of hundred feet. Then the crew would walk it back to the starting point to repeat.

The large crowd never got rowdy and stayed pretty calm. Again, everyone got to see something, even if the script for Strandbeests lumbering along the beach repeatedly really didn’t happen.

These very large toys are clearly well designed and even better constructed. They stood up to hours of being lugged and led and reassembled. They did in fact walk on the beach, largely under wind power on their plastic stumps.

We decided we’ll have to visit them next week in downtown Boston. I rather doubt they can count on the ocean breeze as they did today. We’re curious to see these in various environments.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

Glum Hour Persists in Boston

August 9th, 2015

One of New Jersey’s legal oddities is a ban on self-service gas pumps. They occasionally debate reversing that, but it’s been the law for 70 years. Only Oregon has the same restriction.

happymanyhoursLikewise, only highly starched Utah shares MA’s 31-year-long prohibition on happy hour…in any guise. The law here is carefully restrictive, as in no two-for-one drinks, no discounted drinks at all, no contests where the prizes are alcoholic drink, no women-drink-free events, no jumbo drink with more alcohol without raising the price proportionately, no this, that or the other.

A couple of other states put minor restrictions on happy hours, like cutting them off at 9 PM. Here the dolorous day grinds on. In fact, in Boston a HAPPY HOUR sign is invariably some food deal, like $1 oysters. Shellfish have not been shown to contain booze.

Our happy-hour ban came in the midst of national concern about drunken driving. The Greater Boston chapter of Mothers Against Drunken Driving lobbied stalwartly for such a ban. Ostensibly, the legislation came via George R. McCarthy, chairman of the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. In reality though, it was from Gov. Michael Dukakis (right, and amusingly enough in a recent pic shot at Doyle’s bar in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood). He continues to pronounce that happy hours mean more death. He’s an academic as well and it’s hard to find any data to support that, but his wife, Kitty, is a recovering alcoholic and shares his aversion to free or discounted booze.

duke1I know and like them both. The Duke, as many call Michael, is razor sharp and has sponsored sheafs of solid legislation. I am still sure he would have been a far better President than the candidate he lost to in 1988, George Bush the Greater.

However, happy-hour bans were not among the Duke’s best crusades or ideas. Alas, doing so falls in that great pit of fallacy known as it’s only common sense. That means, “I have nothing. Don’t challenge me.”

Millions are inconvenienced and even lose out on small pleasures to satisfy the whims and emotions of others. The unproven and unprovable are no reasonable bases for legislation. I can hear Science Officer Spock, “That is illogical, Captain.”

Regardless, the rest of the nation and most of the world end their business day with a mini-celebration in the form of discounted drinks. We don’t.

There are current efforts here citing the pending casinos. Everywhere, they ply their marks customers with free booze. We’ve decided to go with casinos here. The likelihood is that this will loosen up the discounted-drinks rules. You can then be damned sure that restaurants and bars won’t be limited if gambling parlors can play at that.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

Hipster Food Palace in Boston

July 31st, 2015

bpmsunsHipsters, foodies and the dwindling herd of yuppies have a new (and clean, make sure to say clean) food shopping place i Boston. The Public Market opened yesterday after a couple of years of planning. It’s not bad, but it has its limits.

Regular readers here know I’ve been a fan of the Haymarket here since late ’60s college days and weekly since we moved her in December 1979. The whispers in town are that the city wants to replace the always boisterous, much beloved, remarkably cost saving, and splendidly diverse Haymarket with with a more sanitary indoor facility better suited to the temperament of tourists and suburbanites.

You can forget that. The Haymarket has been at it since 1830 and serves restauranteurs and home cooks alike. The new joint is very different. Some locals may shop at both. Certainly visitors and nearby office workers will swarm like ants for lunch and snacks to the new market. There’s no way restaurants and plain folk would want to or afford to shift to the new one.

ABPMroomsll of that written, the new market has some fine offerings already. The vendors are all New England sources, for everything from honey to cheese to bread to ale to ice cream to cheese to flowers. In fact, A Taste of New England might be a subtitle or epithet here.

PR and ads leading up to the opening were, of course, hyperbolic. The predictable unique aired repeatedly…and inaccurately. For a few, Seattle’s Pike Place Market has been at it since 1907, much bigger, grander, diverse and still local sourced;  the concept of year-round, indoor, local vendors started in Québec in 1841 with its Le Marché; even in Rochester NY, its Public Market has been perking 3 days a week since 1905 with more vendors and even the most remarkable cheese shop I’ve ever seen, even including Manhattan. Oo, oo, and the Rochester market features Amish baked goods and crafts as well as numerous NY State vineyard offerings. It’s fab.

Ycheesegorillaet, for New England, the new spot down next to the Haymarket is a remarkable place, well worth regular visits. Truth be told, I won’t make special trips. However, I’m at the Haymarket weekly on Friday or Saturday and shall certainly augment my regular haul with speciality items from next door. I’m a food slut.

I won’t build a FAQ, but you need to know:

  • Unlike the Haymarket and nearly all of Boston, this shopper-friendly market has obvious public restrooms, water fountains, and tables for two or four. You can buy and then eat. In fact, the slugs clogging up the area around the ice cream vendor should get some manners.
  • jasperhillNext to nothing is inexpensive. An exception is fresh pasta (Nella Pasta) was only $3.99 a pound. Veggies and fruits are two to ten times higher than the Haymarket, where it has the same.
  • You’ll find goods that are hard to impossible to source elsewhere and you might not have known about. Several vendors had splendid, often huge, mushrooms of exotic varieties, for example. Unlike a friend who eats Japanese knotweed shoots, I think those plants are vile pests. Yet, Boston Honey offers samples of its wares, including knotweed honey. It’s earthy, powerful and damned good. Likewise, Hopsters Alley has a wide range of New England craft brews and wines, but hard-to-find spirits, like Berkshire’s Ethereal Gin. They don’t discount, but they have the goods.
  • 1% dinners are easy here. Those who don’t mind dropping several hundred dollars for a meal for themselves or a few chbpmsilberbrookums can buy prepared or frozen meals, mains, meats, desserts and such.
  • The market offers an hors-d’oeuvre paradisse. The few cheese vendors are very high priced (up to $30 a pound), but again they have the variety and quality for a memorable cocktail event. Likewise, the Boston Smoked Fish Company gets a bit silly about its small-batch products, but they are remarkable if very high priced.
  • The airiness and high ceilings and open spaces make for a good experience. I had to stop at Silverbrook Farm (Dartmouth MA) for its beautifully arranged stalls.

In the main, the new market is at the Orange and Green Lines’ Haymarket stop. It’s worth a visit. Bring cash.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

JP Porchfest smokes in sweltering summer

July 11th, 2015

Something like 130 bands or musicians played in over 70 porches or just on the sidewalks in Jamaica Plain today in the second JP Porchfest today.

Yes, at 90-something it was too hot. Southerners certainly would have used their porches to sit or headed for air conditioned bars. Yes, there were so so-so/humdrum bands. In the main though, it was very impressive.


Again, my choice for best JP band was Grass Gypsys. Here lead vocalist Colleen Kleya belts it. she and hubby Justin perform with various pickup band members. Online on their sites and YouTube, they seem New Age and do make money playing for large yoga gatherings. At #JPorchfest, they offer powerful original rocking songs. grass5
grass4 Justin Kleya looks dull and gungy…until he plays and sings. He and his wife are well matched.
Several pols were extras in this year’s Porchfest. City Councilor Ayanna Pressley did passable renditions of Over the Rainbow and here Dancing in the Streets.I missed Councilor Matt O’Malley, but Stephen Smith got his OK version of Springsteen. State Reps Jeffrey Sanchez crooned to Pressley and Liz Malia spoke to marriage equality and read Jabberwocky. ayanadancing
titoshuffle Another local political delight was Councilor Tito Jackson teaching the crowd the cherub shuffle.
Anjimile‘s four piece rocked the Brewery. anjimile1
jphonk4 With slightly outrageous instumens and clothes, the JP Honk Band was a repeat crowd pleaser.
Another local fav, Sugarcoma, featured vocalist Paula Vivier. sugarcoma1

After trying to see too many bands last year, I planned my drop-bys and did much better. I ended up lingering at Grass Gypsys. …time well enjoyed…

More pix: These and additional shots are on Flickr.


Mysteries of gym locker doors

July 1st, 2015
open gym locker

open gym locker

Two flavors of locker jerks:

  1. Door slammers
  2. Don’t close the door types

At my local Y, about one in three men are one of those two.  At another Boston Y we used to go to, there is a third variety. There, they hand out one small towel per visit. About half the men toss their wet towel near but not in the hamper by the exit door, on the floor, or on a bench.

From my Southern background, I have to wonder who their people are. That is, how were these guys raised that such inconsideration is automatic?

Ridge runner philosophy

I often refer to drugstore psychology. It could ask easily be called lunch counter or barstool instead of drugstore.

For me though, as a youth, I philosophized often in the Romney Rexall drugstore in the small West Virginia town where I spent summers and holidays. Other local sages of various ages did too.

The drug store had a big magazine rack with window seating, a stand-up area near the coffee equipment, and maybe six round glass top tables with cafe chairs between the front and the pharmacy area. The tables each had a locking door under the top, which let employees put impulse-purchase goods, like eyeshadow or hair brushes, on display. It seemed to be good promotion, as girls would have their lime rickeys and buy cosmetics on the way out.

For my friends and me though, the magazine rack was it. We could clearly see and sneak peeks at comics and more sensational fare, like True Detective magazine.

Each group of philosophers solved various problems and mysteries in their own corners.

Locker logic

On occasion, I have said something to the locker slammers, like “Wow, that’s really loud.” I don’t expect that will change their behavior any more than their seeing me quietly close my locker will.

I do often wonder though if they are aware of what they are doing and whether there’s anything other than emotion behind their slamming lockers or leaving them open. For slammers, they are going to trouble to make a display and make noise. They are aware they are startling and annoying others…and don’t seem to care. Those who leave the doors open may be smart enough to know they are leaving sharp edges that can hurt the unalert. At the least, they have to know that someone more considerate and polite will have to close the doors they leave open.

My drugstore psychology has it for each:

Slammers — Simple male insecurity here. My wife verifies that she has never seen or heard a woman slam a locker door. On the men’s side, men often make big movements and loud displays as though they consider those manly. They’ll grunt and bellow when lifting even light weights. Some will make huge noises when tying shoes, like they were delivering a child. Some plop down on benches or chairs with loud exhalation, regardless of how it affects others nearby. They need attention and feign strain from the most ordinary activities. I figure they came from fathers and brothers who also had to prove their manliness with silly displays. Poor them, locked in a cycle of melodrama.

Open Door Types — I peg these as momma’s boys. Their mommies closed their doors and drawers for them. Their mommies picked up their socks and underpants and towels. Likely their wives do that now, as they’d marry someone very much like mommy. They leave the doors open because growing up they found that nothing was too good for mommy’s best boy. He didn’t have to do anything he didn’t want. It’s only right that someone else should clean up after them. They are special. Yawn.

There’s still a drugstore on Main Street in Romney, but it’s a Rite Aid and in a different place. The Rexall is gone. Philosophizing likely takes place in the cafes and little restaurants. Folk wisdom abides.

Pic note: Published under Creative Commons with attribution to I also enhanced the contrast and cropped the original.

Disease of the month

June 7th, 2015

When I was a tot and lad (I’m a Boomer), Reader’s Digest terrorized the nation. Within a week of the delivery of the latest monthly issue, GPs knew their regular patients would complain of identical symptoms.

The RDs had predictable ToC’s. There’d be an inspirational tale of overcoming seemingly insurmountable cirumstances. There’s be a damning example of government waste and overreach. There’d be that disease. There’d likely be a terrifying research snippet as well.

We’d learn from our grannies that virtually everything was fatal and caused cancer. I remember green beans and cranberries in the 50s. If you tunneled down into the findings, you found that you’d need to consume bushels of this or that to have the same effect as what the lab animals got, but never mind. The point was that string beans and cranberries each caused cancer.

We are so fortunate that the internet now delivers terror so much quicker and more efficiently.

greendragon1Today I walked about six miles from home down to the Fowl Meadow in neighboring Canton. There I braved the fatality of ticks and more on the overgrown nature trail.

Sure enough, I returned from a couple of hours of hiking and wading through the underbrush to play paranoid. I did go to the backyard to water the beds and pots to check, check, check.

I removed my shoes, socks and trousers. While I had left the house with both sunscreen and bug juice, I looked for ticks. Then, I put my clothes in the wash. Then I showered and scrubbed my body with the soapy brush. Finally, I washed my clothes.

Yes, it was silly. I did not see any ticks or other bugs, but as we simple-minded and literal sorts are prone to drone, “Better safe than sorry.”

Is it?