Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Urine and Mine

October 2nd, 2016

tallurinalsOf course, most women have no need or desire to visit men’s rooms. I doubt they ask XY counterparts for details on urinals.So they don’t know there are a wide variety, which have changed in style in my lifetime.

I write of one memorable, re-emergent style. For details and pix see Chris Higgin’s post.

Meanwhile for the women who have never toured the men’s john, the snap left shows a pair of the ones that impressed me as a lad. This happens to be in Stoddard’s in downtown Boston.

It’s an adventure in that the stairway is very steep, very long and very narrow. Not only do the runners bring food up and dishes down, but M and W facilities are there. It’s a true test of how sober you are.
newcenturywThis tall urinal style used to be real common, mostly in fancier places. I first saw them in the hotel build in my childhood hometown (not birthplace) in West Virginia. The hotel was called the New Century; it went up before WWI and lasted into the ’70s. (For the New Century Hotel, a hat tip to Historic Hampshire. It’s a trove of snaps and postal cards of the Romney area.)

Romney long had east-west traffic on Route 50, from D.C. to Cincinnati, as well as being on the B&O line. It also featured a must-stop-at restaurant, the Green Palm, loved by Duncan Hines among others. However, until the New Century, it was short on hotel rooms, relying more on guest houses.

As a child in the ’50s and early ’60s, I’d occasionally visit the hotel, either with my grandfather for a meal or a pop, or sometimes for a meal.

Oddly enough, the urinals stay in memory. They are very much unlike toilets, small wall versions, and certainly different from the metal troughs at fairgrounds. Instead, the New Century’s looked like a boy, had he interest in doing so, could have stepped in for a shower.

They were about the right size. I see that new versions tend to be up to 38 inches high. In memory, the New Century’s were bigger. Then again, I was wee (if you pardon).

Nowadays, fancy joints tend to use flushless urinals, basically large bowls smaller than a regular urinal. They don’t require or allow flushing, which seems great until you know that someone has regularly to drain them and replace the lighter-than-pee chemical that lets the urine pass through while deodorizing the bowl. (Yuck. A job no one should have to do.)

I bet some hipster restaurant ended up with the salvaged New Century tall urinals.

Refining Rubes…Maybe

April 20th, 2016

Odds are you don’t know farm life. Not only are few of us farmers or even from an ag background, but also time, mores, economics and politics have shifted considerably from the early 1900s. I straddle times and conditions. I have milked cows (manually and mechanically), collected eggs, scalded and plucked hens, and worked corn from seeding to weeding to harvesting to turning under.

On the other hand, I never was in a position to inherit a family farm. I grew, picked and sold vegetables but was never in effect indentured servant/slave to nasty father. I never even belonged to 4-H, while I knew many peers in WV, VA and SC who were all those.

Yet, The 4-H Harvest: Sensuality and the State in Rural America (Gabriel N. Rosenberg, U. Penn Press 2016) goes far beyond county and state fairs, farm kids with beloved pigs and cows, and FFA meetings.

One warning is that the book’s index sucks mightily. I’ve done large book indexing and am positive that the author had nothing to do with this one. Many complex and detailed citations are missing (homosexuality, venereal disease, and on and on); it lacks the ideas and uses only keywords. Boo. The other shortcoming is that Rosenberg is far more concerned with the political and economic relationships than the kids. We can infer about the social, intellectual and economic outcomes for the 4-H youth, but he tells us more about the political players individually.  A third note should be that this is an academic press property; at $55, it’s a good meal price; get it at the library.

As someone who visited relatives’ and friends’ farms, I did the work, but I never actually owned and raised cows, sheep or pigs for exhibition (and eventually slaughter). My chums who did that grew up knowing the true script for animals. They had no apparent problem assisting at the birth, naming the cow, raising her, exhibiting her, then either selling or killing and butchering her, and in the latter case eating her little one.

Fatalistic comes to mind.

The 4-H book recalls other intersections. The Y is one. As a child in several places I belonged to YMCAs. When we moved to Boston, I found myself a member in the original Y. I learned it was the Garden of Eden for Northeastern University.

That is, the nation’s first Y started to be a shield for Christian young men who had moved to the (relatively) big city from the farm to earn a living. The new institution offered wholesome residence, free from bars and prostitutes and the moral perils of rooming house life. This Y offered evening lectures to keep the young men wholesome and occupied. Those in turn led to the college and university — evening activities for the mind and soul rather than the crotch.

Likewise, the 4-H clubs were specifically to counter the immorality and amorality of rural life. In contrast to our idyllic bucolic images, country life was rife with lust, pregnancy, venereal disease, bestiality, homosexuality and.well, non-refined ways to spend an evening.

The clubs viewed, described and treated the youth involved much as they did the produce and animals (other than not eating the kids). The descriptions of the programs and contests are embarrassing in their paternalism. Then again, this was largely the range of the 20th Century, start to finish. There was rampant racism and sexism, with the asininity of stereotyping,  that continued well into the 1970s.

Oddly, the author keeps his academic distance and does not wonder specifically whether the good and bad balance on the 4-H scale.

As an aside, the book reminded me of a dinner about 1970 in Cape May, New Jersey. The hosts were the former mayor, Belford (Bucky) LeMunyon and his wife Ione. She was the aunt of the woman I kept company with in Manhattan. A guest (to my embarrassment I do not recall his name) was a retired local physician. He recalled performing seemingly unceasing Army physicals during the WWI draft in a field outside of town. There were stations of long tents and much longer lines of naked men, each wearing only a bag with personal effects. He remembered to that day one potential soldier after another with secondary or tertiary syphilis, sores and a fatal prognosis unknown to them. They were farm boys given to the amoral sexuality of rural life, young men who had no idea they were close to the insanity and death that end-stage disease brings.

The 4-H book refers to the raw and common sexuality of the farm life. We can sit at a distance and snicker at the self-righteousness of the clubs and Ys preaching about the risks to body and soul from city life, while farm kids were at least as likely to suffer…or more so.



Unflinching POW tale worth the angst

September 5th, 2015

MCPJreadNothing like being slugged in the mouth by your dad…unless it’s always quaking in his presence because he was volatile and your any word or action might make him roar or threaten you. Nothing is good enough or right.

The relentless tone and theme of Cathy Madison’s memoir The War Came Home With Him both fascinates and exhausts. Of course, Amazon has it and it’s well worth reading, so long as you know what you’re committing to do, think and feel.

As a disclaimer, the author and I were wee childhood buddies, as in nursery/kindergarten time. Our mothers kept regular contact until their deaths. She and I reacquainted casually in the past few years. The pic above from right to left has mutual friend Jackie, my sister Pat, Cathy and I reading. We were at the Arden Apartments (see chapter 2) where her mother awaited word on Korean POW Doc Boysen.

Note too that my father also fought in both Korea and WWII France and Germany. As nearly all such soldiers who saw a lot of action, he didn’t talk about it, much less glorify war. That was for desk jockeys to do.

This memoir is a hard read, but not because of length (only 239 smallish pages) or turgidity (she’s a real journalist). Rather, she sporadically describes from her memory and mostly from her father’s written recollections horrors of several types. In fact, the book alternates its 26 short chapters. One recounts the vicissitudes of Army family life and then the literal and figurative tortures of being a POW, and the next speaks to the title in her memories.

The primary subject, Alexander Boyson, MD, known both as Doc and Pete, was beyond prickly. In Vietnam and later parlance, he had PTSD and has clearly changed personality for the worse during three years of Korean and Chinese imprisonment. As the eldest of three children and by the text the most sensitive, Cathy got the intermittent physical punishment and regular verbal abuse. Rather than responding to the martinet with disdain and hate, she seems to have gone the cowering and trepidation route, the survival mode.

As a writer, I was very impressed by the elegant interweaving of the two parallel memoirs. The time periods are not contemporary, but the interplay works superbly. Her own tales, while they can be jarring, act as breathing space for the reconstructed vignettes of the prison camps, forced marches, prisoner disorders, and deaths.

I suspect many readers will think of Pat Conroy’s The Great Santini. While the latter book and movie do not deal with war tragedy and horror, the harsh and overly precise dad character comes to mind.

I found some parallels and coincidences with Cathy’s story. Fortunately, I did not have a verbally and physically abusive home life. My parents divorced when my father returned from Korea to the rest of us in Japan  He quickly remarried and became a deadbeat dad, refusing to pay child support as he was assigned to Germany and had two sons by his second wife. Yet, my mother (who would have been 91 today) supported my sister and me as exec in a series of Red Cross chapters. That meant we moved every couple of years, as Cathy did in the military. Amusingly enough, she also spent time at Fort Sill, where my parents married, my sister and were born, my parents divorced, and my mother and grandfather had to retrieve us via a military court when my father and stepmother announced they’d ignore my mother’s full custodial rights and take us to Europe.

A current meme has been that we boomers are evil, sucking the financial blood from the American body. Yet, many or even most of us didn’t have cushy lives.

Cathy certainly didn’t. She grew up not fully protected by her mother, under the control of a neurotic, very smart surgeon dad. Here again I got the better of it with a single mom, where being from that period piece clicché broken home also meant I didn’t get beaten or shamed. Having two parents isn’t necessarily the ideal.

Even if I didn’t know Cathy, I’d recommend the memoir. I won’t delve here into the images of POWs’ bootless feet leaving blood and skin on forced marches over ice nor Doc’s sudden outbursts that were both irrational and cruel. Just be warned that some, no many, chapters carry harsh jolts.

For those who want the long view be aware that when you finish The War Came Home With Him Cathy comes to terms with a mother who smoked too much, drank too much and shielded her daughter inadequately, and with her often insecure self, and even with her understandably traumatized father. She does not deeply analyze her mother or herself, rather provides reportage and lets the reader do that.

In addition to her memories, her father’s writings, and a few interviews, she also includes some research on the aftermath of POWs and collaboration. As a whole, a war queerly called a UN police action, comes into focus through the experiences of Doc and his fellow POWs. If war is hell, prison camps were a whole deeper level.

Cathy’s memoir is a short, intense trip, well worth it.

The book is at once detailed and yet leaves out much. Her two brothers are very minor characters until the end of her parents’ lives; we don’t learn whether Doc’s abuse extended to them or to her mother and to what extent if so. We don’t know whether she turned to her mother to protect her and if so whether Cathy held her guilty for not doing so. We don’t read about her marriage, which she writes that her husband left. Was he in any real way like her father or did her relationship with Doc color and poison the union? We have to wonder whether the Doc who could record his memories and thoughts of the Korean year so fully analyzed his own treatment of his daughter and others.

In my many moves, I got to know numerous families under the command of an ex-military dad, and in a few cases a dad and a mom. I knew quite a few others who had abusive fathers who were neither POWs or even ex-military. Getting slugged in the face and beaten with belts and such was part of their lives. It wasn’t part of mine, for which I am grateful, and more so after reading Cathy’s memoir.





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.

Maple Sugar Day Sights

March 8th, 2014

Vapors were the order of the at the Maple Sugar Festival today (repeat tomorrow, Sunday, March 9th, 10AM-4PM). Many maples on the DCR’s Brookwood Farm had taps drawing sap. Stops on the trail included one with Native American forms of syrup making —keeping a strong fire going and plunging hot rocks into wooden bowl of sap to do the deed. (Insert big hiss.)

Down the dirt road was the colonial take — with the benefit of metal pots, they hung these over fires and evaporated the sap into syrup and sugar.

Further down was a small evaporator unit in the modern style. Its big sibling at the end of the path was a sugarhouse, with a massive evaporator unit. The evaporators spewed steam as they did their work.

Also along the way was a blacksmith, Michael Bergman. He showed his skills and pitched classes in Waltham at the Prospect Hill Forge.  He worked with an anvil, of course, and instead of a massive heath and forge, he worked off what appeared to be a round Weber grill.  It used coal to generate enough heat to turn the steel rods red hot, and along the way smoke up the place.

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.

The smith with his hand-cranked fan stoking the coal. bhsmith5
bhsmith3 The red-hot steel bar twisted quickly in a vise.
The colonial version of reducing sap to sugar used metal pots over fires. sappot
sugarhouse1 The sugarhouse is full of steam, sweet-smelling steam, as the big evaporator cooks down the sap. Your reward for walking the history trail was a little cup of fresh syrup.
Count our toes. The 300-year-old barn on the site is under rehab. The crew uses only tools available at the time. To create a beam, the team strips the bark and shapes a log into the right proportions. counttoes
bhspileguy More period drama with tool restrictions occurred at the colonial sugaring area. Here a reenactor makes a spile (a tap for a maple). He hollows a piece of wood into a tube. He then inserts this into a drilled hole in the maple to draw off the sap into an attached bucket.
It had nothing to do with sap or syrup, but Mass Audubon worked with the DCR on the event and showed up with several birds. An impressive one was a red-shouldered hawk.She survived a raccoon attack on her fledgling nest that killed all her siblings. She’s growing back the flight feathers the raccoon bit off her. She doesn’t get a name because they don’t want to treat her as or make her a pet. redshlulder4

There was also a screech owl.
Another of the hawk…just because… redshlulder2

The barn has period relics too. Several ice tongs were on shelves, remnants of when colonists cut blocks of ice from ponds, like nearby Houghton’s, and stored them under straw in cellars for use many months later.



No Need to Keep Tamerlan Alive

May 8th, 2013

stonebonesWhile it might amuse those who know me to read it, I sometimes feel I lack self-control…st least in stifling myself in commenting.

I’ve been pretty good staying away from the brothers Tsarnaev matters, despite my many thoughts and feelings. Ryan and I did riff a bit on it at the very beginning of our most recent Left Ahead show, which actually introduced the Boston mayoral contest.

I can quickly get my fill of spite and bile from protesters interviewed on the news in Worcester or Boston, or if I can stomach it, reading the comments in any related Boston Herald article. More surprising have been the preemptive moves by the nearby government officials. The Worcester cops are piling (can we say pig piling?) it on Peter Stefan, the noble funeral director who has had the guts to take the body and work for its burial by saying he owes them $30,000 for doing their jobs. That is, they directed traffic and such around the protests by his establishment. This has whiffs of when the Boston police encouraged attacking the Sacco/Vanzetti corpse transfers from the North End to Forest Hills for cremation. Self-righteousness has no place behind badges and guns.

Stefan has a long career of such as burying AIDS-related corpses and those of gang-violence victims when no one else would help their loved ones in fatal crisis. He deserves respect, not reviling. He’s one of the good guys.

Then in Cambridge, City Manager Robert Healy and in Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino each preemptively said publicly not to consider asking those cities to find a burial spot. Eh? I don’t know Healy, but I do know and like Menino. Such a position is beneath him.

At least some at the Globe have a more historically and humanitarian and reality based view. Consider Adrian Walker’s column today that in effect says bury the elder Tsarnaev brother, let the story fade from the news and give some peace and a little closure to those affected. A fitting companion piece by Peter Schworm cites how other hated mass murderers, child molesters and such were quickly and quietly planted without endless public drama and ceaseless coverage.

The classic message for no rest to the wicked is holding around here. Think the multiple places in Isiah, such as 57:20, But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.

If MA history holds, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be convicted of the Marathon bombings, he will get life without possibility of parole instead of execution, and he will die in prison not too long away — either by his own hand or that of another inmate. That’s what we do here with the infamous and despised.

Given my classics background, my first thoughts when so many began making so much of the disposition of the corpse was to reflect on Plato’s Phaedo, describing the last hours of Socrates’ life. The philosopher had the long view and made sport with follower Crito over what he viewed as petty concerns about his corpse.

With death pending for Socrates, Crito tried to be helpful and respectful, going for the mundane details. He even asked, “How shall we bury you.” The old wag started with a joke — “Just as you please. if only you can catch me, and I do not escape from you.”

Then he got more to the point. He said not to refer to the body as Socrates. It will be just a body and not the person. Thus usual or customary disposal is fine. “You must have a good courage, then, and say that you bury my body, and bury it in such a manner as is pleasing to you, and as you think is most agreeable to our laws.”

So it is here. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died three and one half weeks ago. Only those who involve themselves in keeping him alive to the public through their arrogant and self-centered proclamations cannot let him die.

Tales of the Sisters Grimké

March 10th, 2013



I sat on it for a day. Yep, there was still stinky, strained stuff at the women’s tea in glorious downtown Hyde Park yesterday.

Almost entirely good stuff abounded. Angela Menino stood up and in for her hubby, that Tom guy.  The third annual presentation of the local version of women on the year presentations (a.k.a. “Women Amongst Us”) included pots of flowers and standing O’s. Petite tea sandwiches — curried chopped chicken, cucumber, and turkey/cheese — kept the early 20th Century flavor. Three City Councilors, Consalvo, Arroyo and Pressley, showed. The upstairs at Annabelle’s was ladies who lunch, but with tea instead of martinis.

I was one of perhaps six men in a room of roughly 100 women, and come to think of it all women waitrons. I enjoyed it mostly and intend to use my bar of suffragist soap they set at each place.

The unnecessary undercurrent of male bashing was a tad surprising, Women’s History Month or not.

Two authors were there to flog their books and comment on former Hyde Park residents, the Grimké sisters, Angelina and Sarah. One, Angelina biographer Louise Knight, had trouble with men, particularly her subject’s husband. The other, poet Amy Benson Brown, corrected Knight’s male bashing without making a deal out of doing so.

The living accomplished local women included:

  • Martha McDonough — among many other civic leadership feats was cleaning up the Neponset last year.
  • Tonya Grimes — whose volunteerism has long included Civil War reenactor and active member of the Colored Ladies Christian Relief Society.
  • Sharon Grimberg — WGBH executive producer, whose series include the PBS American Experience shows, such as the recent The Abolitionists.

The deceased accomplished were the sisters Grimké. While raised as privileged daughters of a South Carolina planter, replete with slaves everywhere, they turned. They were appalled by slavery and came to Yankeeland, where they devoted themselves to abolition and later to women’s rights, particularly suffrage.

I was pleasantly surprised when I researched our newest neighborhood four years ago to discover the Weld/Grimké history. Hyde Park seems fairly apolitically suburban. The legacy of the first black U.S. soldiers, abolitionists, suffrage fighters and more was a delight. I touched on the Fairmount Hill links several times, including here and here.


This will be a more Angelina year than most, both down here and downtown. On Monday, Oct. 7th, a celebration of Angelina’s speech will be at the John Hancock Hall, with a performance of part of her speech, Gloria Steinem reading her 1970 Equal Rights Amendment testimony to the U.S. Senate, and more. The event is in the works and will get publicity.

The spot near where she lived in the house her husband, ardent abolitionist Rev. Theodore Weld, bought for them will get a plaque this spring, Hyde Park Main Streets Executive Director Patrice Gattozzi told me. I hope she does follow up on my offers to work on this.

At the least, she should know that the house is gone. Where they lived at 212 Fairmount Avenue had a facing home, but the entrance was a carriage drive on then Pond (now Highland). We bought the 1876 map that hangs in our living room. A snatch of it here shows the old digs between Fairmount and Warren.

Rightfully the luncheon and particularly speaker Knight spoke of Angelina’s courage, conviction and accomplishment. Particularly, she was likely the first non-monarch female to address a legislative body anywhere. She spoke three times in a few days on abolition to the Massachusetts legislature. This was a time when women were forbidden or actively discouraged from speaking at all in public, and certainly not before “promiscuous audiences” as groups of mixed genders were known. She lacked neither clarity of vision nor courage.

There came the rub for me.

Knight published two works on Jane Addams and just finished a dual bio on the sisters Grimké. However, if the luncheon lecture is any indication, she can’t seem to get over the partnership between Angelina and her husband. As she spoke of Angelina, she repeatedly mentioned a letter or other contact with “her fiance Theodore.” Knight never once mentioned his name or honorific. She never said he was a renowned abolitionist (often referred to by historians of the period as “the lion of abolition”). She never spoke of how the pair complemented each other’s politics and worked together, first fighting slavery, then on to women’s rights. You’d think Rev. Weld was a groupie for this outspoken woman instead of an equal. Knight said that “her fiance” told Angelina not to speak of women’s rights at all.

I sat next to my wife, who also knows the Grimké and Weld story. I said that was a really sexist and dishonest lecture. She was a bit flippant (maybe it was the Earl Grey talking), Oh, it is women’s history month, and the other 11 months are for men.  That doesn’t cut it with me anymore than the YWCA (it is the Young Women’s Christian Association. snicker) excluding boys and men from everything while the YMCA went inclusive, becoming the family organization and having a much greater impact on the nation.

Fortunately the next author and poet was more historically accurate and not male exclusionary. Amy Benson Brown did not say, “Let me correct Ms. Knight,” but she did do that. She called Weld by his full name. She noted the partnership that led to marriage, as well as the then shocking ceremony where Weld refused to claim dominion over her and she did not say she would obey him. He was after all a Unitarian and proto-feminist. He did once before they married ask her to soft-pedal the dual message of women’s rights until the abolition of slavery was settled. He had devoted decades to abolishing slavery, knew how successful she had been in the effort, and did not want her to become ineffective with a double whammy…yet. Later, they became a powerful team fighting for suffrage and leading the first-in-the-nation protest where Hyde Park women (and their men) marched to the town hall to cast ballots that they knew would not be counted, but that had strong symbolism.

They were a team from their engagement through marriage. Better stuff than lies-of-omission history about a brave woman all alone, I say.

I grew up with a divorced mom raising two of us. Neither denigrating women nor bashing males was acceptable. That should be the order of things. I can pose my typical Unitarian and progressive self-examination. Am I clean enough to comment? I think so.

Sarah was somewhat important, particularly as the much decade-plus older sister of Angelina, who led the way in thought. Of the 14 Grimké siblings, 11 of whom survived to adulthood, the pair of sisters had the intellectual clarity and morality to fight slavery, leave their comfortable surroundings, and change a nation. Angelina was the front, the orator, and the one who partnered with a like-minded reformer/radical. What a pair! Yet, let’s not lessen Weld’s tremendous influence and dedication. Yeah, yeah, yeah, he was just a man, but pretty clearly his wife’s equal.


Hipster Skins

September 2nd, 2012

OK, I shouldn’t be surprised. Yet I am. Biking out through Dedham, Wellesley, Newton and back into Boston neighborhoods, I did not see a single one of the hundred or so cyclists who did not have a pricey jersey.

I felt like such an old hippie and I guess I am. I buy my tires, tubes, tools and gear from the biking monster Nashbar/Performance/Bikes Direct. I know those designer jerseys are $100 to $150 per, replete with the logo of the beer or such you are pandering to advertise. I own a few of those, because they were two-thirds or three-quarters off. My favorite in the drawer is Mickey Mouse; it is garish and gives me an advantage cycling with inattentive drivers.

Today though, I rolled out in an orange tee-shirt with a skeleton on a cycle. It was a memento from a Tour de Graves in Boston when Ray Flynn way mayor and before he became a drunken conservative ambassador to the Vatican. I was an old guy with a T instead of a stylish fashion statement.

I know in my heart of hearts and on the occasional radar machines on the roadside that I can skunk the 20, 30, 40 and 50 somethings in their high-end jerseys and multi-thousand-dollar bikes. Instead, I find myself glad to see so many cyclists out of Labor Day weekend. In Wellesley in particular, many dozens of deuces and quartets plied their Spandex-contracted flab on public byways. Bless their hearts.

Worthy and workman-like they are. I can’t begrudge them their need for attention. Let us allow they are exceptional, privileged folk who might otherwise stress a lawn chair and instead are trying to be simultaneously fit and pretty.

That’s OK to us journeyman cyclists. The pretty pretenders server their purpose. The more humans on cycles the better. Motorists slowly, every so slowly register, “Bicycles. Must share road.”

Sorry, hipsters and fogies, though. The really scrawny and big-bellied in their high-end jerseys are laughable. If you’d been a jock in your teens and gotten the hormones coursing, you wouldn’t be a flab bowl or a skinny-jeans joke now.

Let’s all ride every weekend…hell, every day.

Grooming Corridor

July 1st, 2012

The mini-kingdom of tonsorial parlors in Hyde Park is undoubtedly Logan Square. Salons and barber shops specializing for black women, white men, black men, Latinos and Latinas, plus nails and braiding abound in a tiny stretch at the start of Fairmount Avenue.

River Street goes south and turns right to head west at the HP municipal building, with Fairmount heading east. It’s that stretch of a few blocks that starts with the Logan Square Barber Shop and sees all those related but different places on both sides of the street.

Yesterday, I got a haircut with folklore and barber lore, then I chatted with a barber specializing in African-American hair. No one seems to know quite how the hair center arrived, but everyone with an opinion seems to think there’s plenty of business for all.

As a sidelight, I recall a lecture a couple of months ago by Anthony Sammarco in the nearby library. His Hyde Park (Then and Now) is harmless enough, basically a photo collection with a little commentary in a series you likely have seen. One aspect that stuck with me was that even before Hyde Park became part of Boston (1912), it had a shopping shtick. Close by Clearly Square (a few blocks west and within sight of Logan Square) was a clothing and haberdashery conglomerate. Two large department stores and fitting shops were where many, particularly area men came for suits and shirts and such.

Now for some inexplicable reason, Logan Square is where hair comes to be snipped and styled.

We around here hopped for yet more restaurants. Alas, several promising ones have open and closed in the past few years. Most recently, first TC’s Coffee couldn’t make a go of the pastry biz and the mother eatery Townsends closed with a whiff of scandal. For those, I loved her baked goods, as did so many, but she apparently did not have the traffic of the likes of the close-by Dunkin’. The restaurant with its full bar (including a remarkable collection of ales mated to the meals), was the political and social club meeting place as well as a virtual home to Council President Steve Murphy. I sat with many pols and others by happenstance, at events, for interviews at one or the other. Lackaday.

However, a few healthy restaurants remain, notably The Hyde (disclaimer, a son works there). 

We have several particularistic churches in the same stretch, but mostly it’s hair and nails. For a bit of humor, the most popular woman’s salon, big, busy and rich went south. Salon Capri was between the two squares and where my wife went. They uber-suburbanized themselves though, planting in Dedham’s Legacy Place, making themselves difficult for former customers to get to as well as more expensive.  That might have been a harbinger of doom for the hair biz here, but certainly was not.

Perhaps symbolic of the vitality of this genre was that Qadosh (oriented toward black women) just took over TC’s Coffee. It had been next to one of those odd little churches. TC’s space is airy, has big windows and benefits from the rehab the restaurant owners had performed on what used to be the preeminent hotel on the Neponset River before it decayed. After a month with not even a hand-written sign of the salon name, Qadosh has painted its door and taken the old TC’s Coffee sign out of its frame, surely in preparation for its own lighted one.

Next is Los Magicos Barber Shop (fairly new), seeming to specialize in Latinos. Across the street is Hair by Changes, a full-service place, doing nails on hands and feet, waxing, tanning, facials and such. Heading west, there’s Mona Lisa Beauty Salon, then Luu & Nails.  Close at hand is Finesse, which claims to service men, women and children, but notes shaves and fades, suggesting more of an emphasis on black men.

Up at the River Street bend, on one side is the Logan Square Barber Shop. Opposite are a braiding salon and women’s salon that notes both they speak Spanish and can relax hair.

On my haircut day, I was in the chair with Al, who is widely called Elvis for his appearance. He spoke of his background as the Wahlberg boys’ barber from his Dorchester days. He is never short of opinions. He could not explain how so many hair joints migrated to Logan Square. However, he was plain that he had been surprised to find his shop the only one left in Hyde Park oriented to white men.

Hyde Park covers a lot of streets, but he may be right. I can’t recall another. When we live in Jamaica Plain, we ended up in Roslindale Square for haircuts and begrudgingly, finally tried Logan Square BS. We like the guys, haircuts and prices.

In several towns, I’ve had black barbers tell me they’d take a chance on my thin, Nordic type hair, but they didn’t know how to cut it right. Here, I’ve cut the hair of two of my sons. One has my kind of hair and the other has the thick, dark hair from my wife’s side of the family. Those require very different skills and electric razor guides.

I stopped by Finesse on the way from my haircut to speak with a barber out front for a smoke. He too couldn’t figure out how so many salons and barber shops concentrated in three blocks. Yet, he said everyone seemed busy and thriving.

Now I can’t stop myself from thinking that if the barber shops and salons do so well, they’ll need to invest their profits. Might they finance restaurants?


Phat and Fat: Hungry?

April 27th, 2012

Several times in my adult life, I’ve trimmed down. The old way followed the platitudinous calories-in/calories-out advice that most medical and nutrition sorts still flog. I have come to disdain that after much reading and experimenting.

Those seeming death marches featured deprivation. Feeling hungry to ravenous seemed like an affirmation of will, of virtue. Pounds disappeared, at the cost of feeling self-punished. I could hardly wait to reach a target weight and stop that silliness.

In contrast, nearly all the low-carb versions I’ve seen and one I’ve adapted for myself go for sustainable eating patterns. Unlike just-eat-fewer-calories-than-your-body-needs, eat-right-foods-until-you’re-comfortable is, as the newer cliché goes, a plan. There’s no rush to escape.

A fundamental principle in Atkins or Duke or so many other low-carb regimens is worrying far less about calories, and instead counting carbs. Have four, six, even eight ounces of fish or meat for lunch or dinner. That of course depends on your size and activity level of the day. Do without the bread, potatoes, rice and other starches. Have a cup or two of greens and other low-carb veggies.

I confess that the veggie part is easier for me than some who grew up food picky. I worked with my grandfather in his gigantic gardens for 11 summers. Asparagus, lettuce, squash, kale, string beans, cabbage, peppers and on and on were in my hands and on the table shortly after picking. We ate what we got to the table and it was all damned good.

Those who didn’t grow up with an abundance of fresh vegetables or got mushy ones from cans might have a problem. For us, my grandmother froze and jarred many hundreds of pounds of them for winter and spring.

If you’re considering low-carb, keep the key concept in mind that you won’t go hungry. If you’re masochist, you can always stick with the modified starvation plan so popular in medical circles.

This series includes:

Call it Lifestyle on the intellectual and emotional commitment to low-carb
Watching the Struggle on my grandmothers diet woes
Wrestling with Fat on overcoming fear of dietary fats
Hunger? do you starve on a low-carb diet?
Low-Carb Eats on what’s on the menu in the regimen
How Much of What Food on calories-in/calories-out cliché
Dr. Cadaver on mindless trust in group averages
Who’s Counting on body fast v. weight
Part 1 on pants don’t lie