Archive for the ‘Jamaica Plain’ Category

JP Music Fest Tunnel Down

September 8th, 2013

Why was I surprised? I commented again, as I have for the past four years, on the annual Jamaica Plain Music Festival.  I love it, but I am not a slavish schmuck who will defend it in every aspect against all critics.

I thank UniversalHub for its one-sentence citation that produced a thousand or so hits on what was fundamentally a photo spread. Yet, the few commenters who went on and on about how I had no right to dare criticize the audience can stuff it. Sorry, kiddies, I lived 21 years n JP, saw it swing to hipster-lite, and do damned well have that right.

Here’s a word or 12 to the anonymous sorts at UH, come over here or even stay on UH and leave a email. We can deal with your issues.

Regardless, I had a busy day yesterday and didn’t really comment on the third or so of the groups we heard and saw. For a recap, let me spew:

  • Red Dog, was not ready for even minor league. It’s a garage band, heavy on bass guitar, that is strong on beat and very low on lyrics. Try again.
  • Allison Francis. She does good deeds and has good politics, but there’s a reason she was at the top (lower end) of the bill. Her voice is so-so and lyrics predictable.
  • Afro D All Starz. were super hot. Theywere a relative big band with a variety of instruments, voices and words. Expect to hear more of and from them. We loved them.
  • Jesse & The Hogg Brothers. We found them entirely forgettable. As Southerners ourselves, we were stunned by their simplistic, clichéd words and sentiments. This was like someone making fun of New England Yankees. No. They exceed the limit of cute.
  • What Time Is It Mr. Fox? Shtick or not, these guys win. They have good costumes and far better music. They went far beyond clever, blending camp and good to great music, both instrumental and vocal. We’ll buy their stuff.’
  • Peter Sykes. Tinny and under-amplified harpsichordist was perfectly adequate for recital-classic tunes. He was not right for an open venue to engage a large audience.
  • Hobo Chili. A fun group came in with lots of horns and other instruments and a variety of vocalists. They were totally fun, but no way would you say they were your weekend listening choice. They are really strong on horns and can likely develop.
  • Coyote Kolb. They are better on their website than at Pine Bank. There’s a Black Keys pretense that they did not deliver in JP. I like their recorded tunes, but their JP Fest showing was bland.
  • The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library. This was a big hit of the afternoon, both musically and visually. We were amused by the sexy librarian conceit but more pleased by the solid performance and lyrics. Their CDs are well worth the price.
  • Merrie Amsterburg. She has a tinny voice, worthy of a student broadcaster on WERS. Nuff said.

Overview of our afternoon, is that we got a lot for free, but not everything was a gem. Do come…every year…and expect fine entertainment. If your go to the Lowell Folk Festival at the end of July, you’ll return with some keeper CDs and at least two new favorites you wondered how you didn’t know before the weekend. The JP Music fest might produce one or two on on great year that are spectacular.

We can do the you-get-what-your-pay-for jive. Lowell is far better, but, hey, JP is free, is local and easy to get to.






JP’s Annual Day Party

September 7th, 2013

It’s no Lowell Folk Festival, but the Jamaica Plain Music Festival is a quarter to a third a good, jammed into much time, not requiring hustling among six venues, and for us very parochial Bostonians, does not make us travel out of town.

[By the bye, you have truly missed it of you haven’t done the LFF. We’ve been there almost every year since it was the American Folk Festival. It’s annual for two and one-half days, blues/folk/world/more…and free, free, free.]

While only in its fourth year the JP thingummy stays pleasing to the eye and ear, and with its hipster vendors — designer cupcakes, God’s doughnuts, Indian, New Age fruit pops, food-truck sammies — for the nose and mouth. We did it again. Here’s some snaps and comments on about a third of the bands and a few of the spectators.

Look at me! Look at me!

If you go next year and haven’t been and haven’t lived or spent a lot of time in JP (I lived there 21 years), steel yourself. Many of the locals are full of themselves, but not in an aggressive and obnoxious way. They are more vain and egotistical. They know they are hip.

weehipMany men and children and a few women wear Trilby-style hats, often in straw instead of felt. They may even dress their tots in them.

Having raised three, I know how much fun it is to dress up kids before they can object. That surprises all of us ex-boys who didn’t grow up with dolls.

Today, as always, there were a couple of hacky-sack guys. Late teen or early 20-something hipster types near the stage for everyone to revel in their splendid skills, sexiness and such. They are terrifically silly but have no idea they are. They go shirtless and foot the toy up, around and laterally for an hour or more, give each of us lesser mortals the pleasure of watching their posturing and posing. Yawn.

JPplank3This JPMF had an extra though. A couple was in the middle of the Pine Bank fields, again so everyone could benefit from watching them, for two hours or more doing acrobat, yogic stuff.

There may have been some Tantric connotations, as the guy stayed on his back with his arms and legs supporting the woman. She’d plank and twist and twirl and do a handstand on him. They were slow and far from flawless, but insistent.

They didn’t watch us, but knew we were watching them. For God’s sake, they were literally in the middle of the field, being exhibitionists.

They went on and on and on and on.

Far less visually intrusive were various promenader types. It still is summer, sunny and warm, so the déshabillé young women were common, in all senses, and benign enough. In their Danskin or similar tops, they showed themselves off to all genders, ages and orientations. No foul there.

In an unfortunate variation, a few badly aging men joined the hacky-sack types but after their shirtless prime. For example, one I recognize from the West Roxbury Y weight room is 45 or so. He must believe he is still 17 and prime. Instead, he wore only shorts and shoes and showed his fairly muscular arms, his big, honking beer gut, his very shiny scalp, and his pale blue tats. Some chum should let him know he’s a chubby, wrinkled baldy who should dress for public display. Sigh.

A far better display came from several hundred dragonflies. The fields are normally for soccer or softball. Today, the dragonflies were chowing down on the likes of gnats and mosquitoes. Some spectators didn’t seem to notice, but many from toddlers to blue hairs gawked. When we arrived just as things started noonish, the dinosaur-era critters far outnumbered the audience. Even as the fields filled with maybe 400 folk, the dragonflies kept relentlessly eating the pests. Bless ’em. I only regret that they flitted nonstop, did not land, and moved so fast I couldn’t get a single shot of them.

The Musicians

Pix clix: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. If it opens in the same window, use your browser’s back button or command to return.

License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

Allison Francis was early up and a good example of the occasional solo performer. She is a politically solid local who is a Midway regular. She was fun but not a great singer. allisonfrancis
AfroDshunguclose Probably the hit of the afternoon was Afro D All Starz, a big group with driving hip hop and funk. The head dude (emcee, leader, trumpet and vocals), Pete Shungu.
Christopher Huang was violinist and per song fiddler. AfroDHuang
AfroDFriedman Adam Friedman played flute.
Steve Mossberg bend over the keyboards. AfroDMossberg
AfroDshungu Shungu alternated trumpet and voice duties.
I think this blissed out guitarist is Reid Angwin. AfroDDavenny
Foxfuries A deceptively fun group was What Time Is It, Mr. Fox? (named for a Brit kids’ game). The backing vocals were from five women, collectively the Furies.
Lead is 3rian (sic) King. FoxKing
FoxCohen3 Nathan Cohen was on fiddle.
Another equivalent of a big band was Hobo Chili. There were a bunch of them, replete with brass, strings and voice. Leader Steve sang and trumpeted.  HoboSteve
 HoboDougorAndrew  I’m not sure whether it was Andrew or Doug on guitar.
 Lance on trumpet and Geoffrey on tenor.  HoboGeoffreyLance
 Library Prize for name did not go to Mr. Fox. Rather The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library got the thematic drama queen/costume non-award.
 The eponymous leader was definitely the least librarian-esque of the bunch.  LibraryEpstein
 Librarysing The sexy-librarian conceit worked well for the women band members. Their lyrics put the lie to the sweet melodies. Civil Engineering Blues was my favorite, a riff on Seinfeld’s yadda yadda, with lines like, “and nothing they do will solve any of this
so they may as well just smile
and they may talk a lot, but it’s la la la”


Waiting for God-Snow

February 8th, 2013

Extrapolating to the looming blizzard, I think power outages past.

In our former house of 21 years in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, we had numerous localized blackouts. Some were a few hours, but an annoying and inconvenient number were days, up to five.

In the new place of four years, we fare much better.  It appears that the newer above-ground equipment, as well as the suplier — NStar rather than National Grid or Keyspan — have much to do with that.

Over in JP, transformers regularly got shorts, lightning strikes or taken down in tree falls. Those are very rare up here, long timers tell us.

cablesThe oddment is Boston’s blind acceptance of the ugliness, inefficiencies and even dangers of the power and comm cables everywhere overhead. Like in so many cities, we simply don’t see them. They are like the dreadful snapshots folk take and only notice later that there are poles appearing to grow out of someone’s head or the garbage truck as a background.

Facts are that keeping these cables up high has benefited the utilities and other providers financially…at stupid penalties for all of us. Boston keeps a third-world infrastructure by inertia.

In contrast, places like Manhattan recognized the perils of this and protected most underground. We saw the benefits when superstorm Sandy was so destructive. Repair and rejuicing the thin, long island was much quicker and cheaper than where the transformers and wires were on poles.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it costs to put the cables under the street, but some cable TV/net/phone providers got it, sucked up the cost and have vastly higher uptime than the creaky alter kaker companies. If it costs, the provider should pay most or all of it, getting an ROI from longer maintenance and install outlays going forward. They can probably scam cities and states into letting them bump their rates, just slightly, to recoup some of that. Boo, but OK.

Sorry if this alters your perception. No, I’m not. People here from the pols to us ordinary folk should notice how hideous the poles, cables, boxes and cables covering our streets are.

Bury ’em!

White Squirrel Singing

September 8th, 2012

The 2nd annual Jamaica Plain Music Festival stepped up nicely. Last years had a lot of indie groups that sounded like garage bands — as in several cats trapped in a garage. This time, the range and quality of sounds was fine.

Here be some snaps:

The ghost of the white squirrel which used to inhabit Jamaica Pond inspired the t-shirts (disclaimer: I own and wear one), as well as the graphics for the festival.
The squirrel appears now in several versions of banners too, several above each of the two stages.
Above each stage was a stuffed toy version on strings.
Fest staffer had both a squirrel stuffy in a pocket and a hipster, Trilby-style hat. Several other in the crowd had the hat, but they were to a one 40 or 50 somethings (mid-life crises?).
Morris and the East Coast’s drummer never stopped or even slowed.
Thick Wild, a.k.a. Amelia Emmet, really belted her self-written tunes, solo, and overpowered her banjo.
The fest had tons of activities for breeders, including hula hoops, water balloon tosses, drawing stations and lots to keep the kiddies perking.
A cardboard slide the length and depth of the sugar bowl kept kids and parents squealing.
A petting zoo let kids and adults play and play with a wide variety of musical instruments.
Sweatshop threw out rap, hip hop and rock.
The new JP Symphony Orchestra sent its brass section to introduce their classical versions.
Later, more reps from the well-established Cambridge Symphony Orchestra were classy and dressy as well as talented.
Cambridge’s strings do not chill like rock musicians while awaiting their time.
The lead for Riding Shotgun did his Springsteen dance.
Big folk got to use the petting zoo of instruments too.
One of the Pepe Gutierrez mariachi band (regulars at Tacos El Charro) grokked the indie rockers.
Gracious Galamity (Kate and Kit) were soft harmonies among hard rockers.
Babies and tots abounded.
Lauren DeRose show off the best emo and tattoos.
This is a very manageable festival, in the hundreds of listeners/watchers.
The rest of us scruffies in tees and shorts didn’t cut it in contrast to the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra crew.
Small tats, big tats…here’s a shoulder gem.
Riding Shotgun’s drummer loved his job.
Sweatshop’s MC Catch Wreck.

Pix Notes: These are far and without flash. You’re welcome to anything useful. They are Creative Commons. Just credit Mike Ball once up front.

Blue Bloods Birthing Babies

June 17th, 2012

Amusement and satisfaction coexist in a big shot’s indicator in today’s NYTmidwives are becoming must-have status symbols for rich ladies.  Reminiscent of the FT‘s splendidly absurd How to Spend It insert magazines, we learn that the likes of supermodels in NYC and Boston use “the best” midwives now instead of OBs to deliver their princelings and princesses.

Having long been big on midwives, I see this as a likely advance, one that will percolate into the populace. First will be the celebrity imitators, who can do more than copy the pretentiously unusual baby names. The birth method may well open up, increasing demand for more midwives and birthing facilities.

This is personal with us. Our three were all born with midwives, beginning in 1979. I know from both experience and reading that prenatal care is vastly superior with midwives over OBs/nurses and that outcomes are superior, in no small part because of preparation and monitoring. Moreover, numerous moms beyond my wife have spoken of how much better the births went without being strapped down and rushed and drugged and cut open and such. Having a couple of women with you throughout (not even including the serving hubby or beau or equivalent) is an order of magnitude better than the standard hospital routine.

We had to work to get access to midwifery services. Actually the easiest was the first, at the Maternity Center in Manhattan’s Yorktown. They’d been delivering babies and training midwives (and fighting jealous OB groups) since the Depression. They were in a gorgeous, commodious former mansion, to which we made a weekly pilgrimage (always followed with a pregnant-lady satisfying meal at a local restaurant).

There were lots of measurements, stringent rules for nutrition and exercise, and correcting or preventing problems that would preclude a non-hospital delivery. The OBs who worked with the center were of course midwife friendly. They were wont to say on the rare times we saw one to listen to the midwives, to rely on their estimates of delivery date, and to practice the breathing and other techniques we’d use in delivery.

One morning, I awoke to see my wife in the rocking chair saying, “It’s time.” When the contractions were close enough together, we took a taxi from the Village and were off to the arena, or at least the birthing room in the basement. The first one made it some work, as in back labor. He needed to go from sideways to head down, which took the better part of a day. He was healthy with a high Apgar score. My only shocks came at how slick he was when I caught him and at the official New York moment of birth, which was when I cut the umbilical cord. That was one tough tube.

A few hours later, we were in a cab headed to our apartment with our son, following the requisite OB visit to certify his health. It was great to nest with the baby the same day.

Two and three were born around here, although we had to chase the midwives.  What was then the Harvard Community Health Plan only offered a midwife center for Eastern Massachusetts on the grounds of the Beverly Hospital. That’s a haul from Boston’s Jamaica Plain. We took our mandated birthing refreshers more locally but drove to the North Shore for the birth. We got there but didn’t have a lot of time to spare.

We were both more relaxed for the second act and the labor was considerably shorter.  I caught son two too. As with the first, we headed home the same day and were a family, now of four, at home.

The third fell afoul of bureaucracy and because-we-can behavior of a teaching hospital, but still produced a healthy son. By this time, the HCHP shunted us to a midwife area at Beth Israel Hospital. That was fortunate geographically, as this labor was under an hour. We managed to drive there from a few miles away and toss the keys to the valet. I was well aware of the fast progress, but the midwives and nurse didn’t seem to get it. In the room, I immediately washed up and put on gloves. While the trio was across the room chatting, I caught son number three without them.

Unfortunately, BI being a teaching hospital, the OB on call insisted that our son’s heart rate was too slow. He also didn’t get the usual squeezing workout of delivery, so he was a bit purple. The doc had him put in a neonatal ICU. We were not pleased and this two brothers were concerned when they visited and put on yellow scrubs to see him under Plexiglas with tubes. When our own pediatrician was available nearly two days later, he came by, checked him over, pronounced him very healthy and with a heart like a future athlete and sent us all home.

I can go on about the glories of midwife preparation and delivery. I have been known to do just that. If it takes the status-seeking super-rich to spread this gospel, that’s OK by me.

Boston Dudley Do-Nothing

June 13th, 2012

Growing up in houses filled with cops and with relatives who were staties, I am predisposed to liking police officers. They make it hard.

In my childhood, my mother ran Red Cross chapters, which involved training police and such in first aid and water safety, coordinating with and training ambulance and fire folk and co-hosting disaster preparedness weekends. We knew a lot of cops.

The other side of my thinking cops are the good guys is expecting them to behave that way. I think they should act to protect the public, drive like the best examples, know the laws, and enforce the letter and spirit of those laws.

For three decades though, I’ve lived in a town where a running joke about BPD folk in blue is “no blood, no ticket.” They seem loath to do anything that involves a ticket book or other paperwork. Moreover, too many, including the Commissioner, B.S. their way through life. That makes it hard to respect cops.

Today down in Logan Square around 2:30 PM, I had another experience with incompetent make-it-up-as-you-go policing. An officer saw a serious traffic law violation, but instead of enforcing the law, he showed both ignorance and lack of concern. It’s wearing.

The short of it is that I was walking to Cleary Square, westbound on River Street by the Hyde Park municipal building. Still healing from a broken clavicle and several busted ribs, I’m tricked out in an arm sling with my bright orange windbreaker. At 6 feet and nearly 200 pounds, I’m not camouflaged.

As I entered the crosswalk, a woman whipped around the right turn on River Street, almost stopping at the stop sign. She not only continued rolling toward me, but blew her car horn, as though this crippled guy should disappear and stop inconveniencing her.

When she honked, I thought there might be an acceptable reason, as another vehicle or other case where she was blowing to avoid a wreck, you know, the legal basis for horn blowing. Turning to my right toward her as I made my way across the crosswalk, I saw her raise her fist, mouth what looked like obscenities and swerve around me. She never stopped, as required by law. She certainly did not yield to a pedestrian in a marked crosswalk, as required by law. Of course, as a minor issue, she also used her car horn  to threaten instead of its allowable safety purpose.

I pointed to her as she whipped past, barely missing me and called, “Stop for pedestrians in crosswalks!” Then the amazing happened.

A uniformed BPD officer appeared…and proceeded to scold me. I told him that she had just broken multiple state laws and deserved a ticket with fines, likely license suspension and six years of insurance surcharge.

Unbelievably, he told me:

  • He would have gotten to it and handled it, if only I had not turned and pointed at the driver
  • I had no right to point at her
  • My actions, inexplicably by geometry and time, caused him not to apprehend the driver for the crimes he had witnessed
  • Even though my walking through the crosswalk had slowed the aggressive driver, his not bothering to take two or three strides toward her and stop her was somehow my fault and not that of his indolence

I came right back at him. He saw the crimes and did nothing. He did not step forward and stop the driver when he easily could have. She violated the failure to yield  law and was subject to a $200 fine and she used her horn to threaten, which I said was a Boston regulation.

He countered that it was a $100 fine and that if I had not turned toward the driver, he was going to do something. Somehow, he implied, it was my fault he made no effort to apprehend her.

I checked and I was almost entirely right. It is $200 for the crosswalk violation. However, the horn violation is of state law and not city regulation, with a $50 fine.

Maybe I should have snagged the cop’s badge and recorded the scofflaw driver’s plate. I’ve wearied of that over the years, particularly with Commissioner Davis’  total disingenuous responses to his officers’ behavior.

Here before me was yet another Boston cop who did not know the laws, who made up what he thought violations and fines were, who saw crimes committed and did nothing, and who chastened the victim instead of taking a couple of steps (literally) to grab the perp or even calling in her plate to the nearby station. What a slug!

He even said to me, “Do you think they know the laws?” I was aghast, as in he didn’t even know the laws.

I’ve known good cops in various places, including Boston. For over two decades, I shared the block as well as the first name with one of the best in Jamaica Plain. That Mike though is not the norm.

Sponge Bob to the Rescue

April 18th, 2012

Heading to what turned out to be a large theater filled with gray hairs and baldies, we stopped nearby the Loews Boston Common for a nosh and drink. Before For the Love of the Music, we headed to Temple Place, a Boston home to the proverbial watering holes.

We’d never been to 49 Social, which had a couple of pluses. First, it was just opening for drinks/dinner and not crowded. Also, it looked comfortable and well designed.

We didn’t have time to try of their long list of $28 wines. Instead from a very pleasant bartender, we got drinks and the charcuterie plate. Chat. Eat. Sip. Chat. Sip.

All was well until it wasn’t. Blue strobe lights and eardrum stabbing siren waves queered the mood.

The bar keep emerged from the basement kitchen saying a pipe had burst and she was soaked. At least she was all in black.

We had to head out with the help. Turns out that only the fire department can turn off such alarms.

Sure enough, in maybe six or seven minutes a truck arrived. Then in another five or so, a ladder truck pulled in. The boys had their toys.

Even before they parked, the Sponge Bob Square Pants plush in the truck window was obvious (pic via my wife’s phone).

Sensibly, the firefighters climbed down and brought their hooks and axes, their gas masks and helmets, their heavy slickers and on and on. I thought of the one time we called them many years ago in JP for a creosote fire in our chimney. It was a quick whoosh, a fat tongue of flame up the top, and anticlimax. The fire was long out before the two trucks came from half a mile away. Several of our other boys in blue were terrifically disappointed. They brought in big axes and kept feeling the walls, obviously hoping for the slightest excuse to break through the plaster and brick. Surely, it had been a boring day and we offered no real excitement. They left looking unfulfilled.

Here too at the 49, the first crew waved off the second one. Nonetheless, a couple of the ladder guys just had to go down the stairs. Axes abounded….you never know, eh?

While waiting for them, we had nice, if abstemious, chatter with the bartender and waiter (no drinks allowed outside). We learned that the owner was Lebanese and that two evenings a week offered Middle-Eastern food, music and belly dancing there. The place has been open not quite a year. The owner appeared as we waited for the fire department. He was calm, as befitting the event,  which happened with plenty of time to rejigger the kitchen before the dinner and party crowds. He said there’d be no tab for us and apologized for the inconvenience. He didn’t exhibit the worst of Boston restaurant attitude, the opposite.

As the sirens and lights stopped and the crews left, we went back in to get our stuff and head to the flick. Of course, I at least left a healthy tip and also took away a good vibe. We’ll be back for a longer session and a meal.


Matriarca Rivelato

April 1st, 2012

Bless or blame Google Translate and I hope the heading is not wacky. I had a little thrill this morning to see the matriarch revealed.

For many years, I have seen the grand dame’s statue in shade. This morning the light was finally right and the trees were not at all in leaf. The life-sized representation of Maddalena Caporale, died in 1939 at age 66, was in its glory.

This columned work is in Roslindale’s St. Michael Cemetery. That is across the street from JP’s Forest Hills. As FH is WASPy dignified and largely eschews personal images, at least from the 20th Century on, SM revels in them. As FH is a garden with grand sculpture and splendid runs of grass and plantings, SM is a necropolis. Sure, it has borders of mausolea, where caskets are stacked four high and lovingly furnished with frequently visited internal altars, but SM is in the European mold — close packed graves and many, many busts of the grieved young, the esteemed old, and of course the Catholic ideals of St. Christopher, Jesus, and Mary everywhere.

Yet, Signorina Caporale sits alone. She is imposing.

Assuming the unlisted sculptor worked from a formal portrait, we can’t learn much of her personality from the work. Nor is there an epitaph or mini-bio as so many monuments have. She appears neither grinning or scowling.

We can infer she was worth a lot of trouble and expense. With the light finally on her face, I am left to wonder whether she was feared, loved, or respected.

Missing Boston’s Dark Age-let

March 14th, 2012

We felt a perverse breeze of ease last night headed home. A tony, or at least expensive, Boston neighborhood — the Back Bay — was blacked out from transformer fires.

Bordering on schadenfreude, the feeling related to the two decades we lived in a subneighborhood, the Woodbourne area at the bottom of Jamaica Plain. There the ugly, stupidly at risk power lines and transformers above the street frequently shorted, blew up otherwise, or knew the wrath of falling trees. We had several blackouts annually, from a few hours to several days. Here an almost always electrically privileged swath of real estate was humbled.

We had just seen, heard, felt the emotionally, intellectually, politically powerful Ameriville performance downtown. (By the bye, for locals or immediate visitors, it’s through Sunday, 3/18, and a breathtaking 90 minutes that musical theater barely describes.) While we like to be public-transit folk, time and early morning rising dictated parking at the Boston Common garage near the theater next to Downtown Crossing.

The garage had power and we didn’t consider that as we paid upstairs in the new automated (electronic) system and exited using our ticket, now a receipt. I wonder now whether the massive underground car park has generators or what provisions they have for humanoids to appear like fairies to let drivers escape.

A block left on main drag Beacon was like the opening of a sci-fi flick. There were no traffic lights, no street lights, no house lights, no business lights. The cops were not yet at intersections, so it was first-come to each intersection, a social convention that in Boston neglects the Golden Rule. (Oh, and the subways were closed.)

Maybe two miles along Storrow Drive with only headlights produced that odd felt sense of a desolate highway in the rural South. Then at Fenway, left was black and gray, except for blue police cruiser lights. Right was the shabby, overbuilt commercial strip of motel, gas stations, bars and the trappings of not-quite-downtown.

It seems 13,000 Bostonians are without power down there this morning and may be so for a day. With all the businesses and wealthy residents, at least they’ll know they get five-star repair service.

Would-Be POTUS, Even in MA

January 10th, 2012

Faint rustling of papers, coupled with an occasional phone call means (ta da), yes, we’ll have a Presidential primary in the Bay State. In 42 days, we get to play too. Tuesday, March 6th is the commonwealth’s go.

I got a call today to confirm my availability. I’ll be warden at precinct 19 ward 12 again, the Woodbourne Apartments at the bottom of Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood.

Because the field should be pretty well decided by then, we don’t have the drama of the early states, not even the quasi-plebiscite of Iowa’s GOP caucus. Yet, knowing we’re finally closing in on action is like being in a long stalled car that is at least trying to turn over.

I’ve been lucky to fill in my political dance card a bit. We have two announced candidates for Mayor in 2013. I’ve been having a good time with one of them, who actually has started his campaign. He may not be at all premature on this, if our longest-serving ever Mayor, Tom Menino, decides to give it a go for a sixth four-year term.

Otherwise, we have some time before the biggies  here. Among those will be the seminal battle for a U.S. Senate seat. Party candidates have until June 5th to make their final filings for that, and non-party ones until August 28th. Both have to turn in the initial papers four weeks earlier.  The state primary is September 6th. Of course, the MA and U.S. election is November 6th.

In other words, if we didn’t have a March Presidential-primary vote, it would seem a devil of a long time to have been sitting still.

We poll lackeys can be pretty sure of very different elections, March, September and November. They should run the spectrum from boredom to death march.

From previous elections when few showed, we would fret and exercise our well-honed blades of self-righteousness. Voting is a fundamental duty, privilege and function of democracy. How could only 11% or 14% or whatever vote? Harrumph, as the expression goes.

We make sure to have reading material. We tell voters to send their neighbors. We constantly keep running tallies per page to make end-of-night verification easier. We make sure the inspectors and clerk get plenty of breaks. We look for the possible coffee or sandwich delivery from some campaign. We pick at voters who break the rules by displaying campaign literature inside.

On the other hand, a huge turnout, as we had with the 2008 Obama/McCain election, we’re flat out. The first-time, recently moved, and befuddled voters come like phalanxes of attacking soldiers.

  • Some are absolutely positive they have always voted there, until the warden or clerk checks their address and personal information with Elections to find that they’ve always voted two miles away.
  • Some did not send in the annual voter form mailed and then checked by phone or personal visit. So they are marked *I* for inactive and require showing ID and filling out several forms.
  • Occasionally, someone has mistakenly been marked as deceased. That also requires ID, a call to Elections and more forms.
  • Commonly someone moved one, two or even five years before, had not voted since, and never notified Elections of the new address. That’s another big deal of calls, ID, forms, and the dreaded Provisional Ballot. That goes into the Clerk’s Book, all the paperwork gets its own envelope, and Elections hand-checks the documents that night to see whether the vote will count.

To their credit, most voters really want their ballot to count once they’ve made it to the poll. They’ll fill out the form, produce identification, and sit the extra two minutes on top to fill out a new voter-registration card to make sure they’ll be right in the computer the next time. First-timers, typically students, seem grateful that someone explains the process and helps them fill out the right forms to get in the system.

Sometimes though, middle-aged sorts are indignant that all-powerful, all-knowing city hall did not magically move their address or understand that even if they didn’t return the annual questionnaire that they would certainly vote in the next election. That too can have bits of humor, as when a woman began to scream that she knew for certain that she had filled in the annual form and returned it. Her honorable and brave son was with her and to his credit he admitted that she had indeed filled it out, but he decided it was too much trouble to mail it. She never apologized to me, but her look to him could have stripped paint from the door. That was not the first time he’d seen that gaze and he winked at me and smiled as they left.

We arrive on election days at 6 AM and take a full hour to set up the tables, signs, voting machine and on and on for the 7 AM. Polls close at 8 PM, but we’re not done. We have to reconcile the voter lists at the check-in and check-out tables, as well as match the machine counts exactly. That involves:

  • Pre-counts (done by hand) of all ballots that arrive
  • Counting all absentee ballots that arrive with the police officer as well as throughout the day, feeding those into the scanner after checking them in and out
  • Accounting for all spoiled ballots and provisional ones
  • Recounting all unused ballots
  • Clearing the voting machine (throughout the day if it clogs) of ballots
  • Checking ballots for write-in votes and recording each (even for Mickey Mouse) in the clerk’s book
  • Entering columns of votes (by party for primaries) for each office, candidate, ballot question, and tallying each until they come out perfectly

We are not allowed a single mistake or seemingly missing ballot. What we got over the day had to be exactly what goes back to Elections. There’s the extra fun of Elections giving us packets of ballots in 50 or 200, depending on the election, and a single one for the general or two to four sets for primaries. Down at city hall, they weigh them, which means packets can vary by four ballots and that inspector’s hand counts morning and night have to be perfect and recorded accurately. A single error can mean that 8 PM becomes 8:30 or 9 or later until counts are perfect.

There’s the removal of all signs and other materials, returning all materials into the proper one of two big boxes, plus the magic blue bag that the police officer carries separately when he or she checks in at city hall.

Maybe it’s like a circus. Someone has to set up the big tent, there are the various workers and performers, and someone has to clean up after the elephants as well as strike the tent.

Come 6 PM to 9 PM on September 6th, I’ll likely be cranky and wonder why I keep doing this. Till then though, I can’t wait.