Archive for January, 2008

Giving Hell (for a century)

January 30th, 2008

Rip ’em up. Tear ’em up. Cocks give ’em hell!

That was the favorite cheer from the (red) Carolina stadium in the mid-1960s. The university’s fascination with the nasty little birds included naming the student newspaper The Gamecock.

I note this because:

  • The paper is 100 years old this year (same as the FBI)
  • I reported and wrote columns and editorials for it waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back
  • A current editor tracked me down and interviewed me on a scandalous article for the recap

Pic Note: The logo above does not have my cupcake art. I adapted it from the paper’s site.

Cross-Post Note: This also appears at Marry in Massachusetts.

Up here in Yankeeland, the assumption is that all meaningful history occurred in Boston and Cambridge. Locals don’t even seem to recognize Florida, New Mexico, Virginia and New York settlements, much less that anything of moment could happen below Milton.

Truth be told, the Harvard Crimson is older by three decades. Yet other colleges had student journalists and journalism schools too. In this particular instance, you can go to the only repository of all of The Gamecock — the oldest separate college library building in the nation, South Caroliniana. Before this USC was a party school, it was one of two where the smart Southerners went, the other being Virginia.

As you might surmise, when I was on the paper at the height of the Vietnam War, I was the thumbtack on the chairs of the university president and numerous politicians. Although it is a state school, it has a lot of alumni funding (and interference) and virtually anyone of import got an undergrad or law degree from it. The Gamecock has a huge alumni readership.

Locals also have no shame over the newspaper name/mascot. The same t-shirt that would get raised eyebrows, invitations or worse here is classic there.

Now, any right winger or redneck is likely to have long hair and at least one earring. Back then (when I had hair), those were up-yours-conservatives symbols. My inflammatory columns and articles were surely worse. Even if you were not in the same room, you could get offended by reading. I loved it.

I don’t know how you spent your college years, but I can tell you tales. The various editors-in-chief can likewise recount the letters, calls and visits from students, faculty, alumni and lawmakers complaining about me. I loved it.

The recap touches on the f-word article. It doesn’t mention:

  • Interviews with hookers and drug dealers
  • Ridiculing the athletic director
  • Calling the frats on their self-satisfied once-a-year visit to orphanages
  • A view of an acid trip
  • A fake article about me as a filmmaker and director
  • Slamming Black students for wanting to imitate the white Greek life
  • Calls for coverage of and accepting ads from women’s reproductive clinics
  • Going head to head with a rabid legislator wanting to fingerprint all students in the state
  • Publishing pix of undercover Army cops and their unmarked vehicles out to find soldiers fraternizing with anti-war coffee house folk

I swear that an intense and passionate life is much superior to a calm and cautious one. I have to thank Paul Bowers at The Gamecock for tracking me down and triggering those cheap thrills. (Swallow your coffee if you intend to click the link.)

If you’re still holding back on your strong opinions, consider letting fly today. The reactions won’t be nearly as bad as you project, you’ll feel much better, and you just may get more of both respect and meaningful conversation.

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Inner City Comes Visiting

January 29th, 2008

Have lunch downtown with your adult son…and what happens? I returned to my boring one-block street in JP’s Woodbourne to find every form of police vehicle, plus a guy in a garish FBI jacket.

FBI agent

Updates via Adam: Apparently the guy in the red cap that the FBI and city had to convince to come out was the (alleged) perp. There was a CVB cover here and a MassMostWanted one here. Thanks muchly, Adam.

I used to laugh at my grandmother in a small county seat in the eastern panhandle (apple country) of West Virginia. She was always at the windows and sent me to the volunteer fire house whenever the alarm went off. They wrote the emergency names and address on the chalk board and Mable had to be first to know who was in trouble and of what type.

Cuffed ladOur section is so quiet and crimeless, I had to wander out to chat with the cops. Unlike the TV dramas, we had no pistol duels or screaming. No one called, “You’ll never take me alive, copper!”

Pick Click Trick: Click on a thumbnail for a larger image.

Perhaps more interesting than those fellows who were in plastic cuffs were the many officers of various agencies. You could certainly see who had been a Marine and still had the buzz cut with gray hair. I must say that for others the effect of a silver mullet is not a good fashion statement.

Checking the trunkI’ll update when I discover the real story. Neither MSM daily nor the freebies was carrying anything. I share the frustration of Adam over at UniversalHub in getting a 509 — bandwidth exceeded, trying to get something from Boston Police Department News.

I figured it was drugs because of the FBI involvement. That would be quite the news in our staid little corner of town. The folk in that new house have had visits from cops a few times for being loud. They don’t seem to notice that this very quiet block has one of the city’s best known and respected cops on it, and that no one else has loud parties or yells obscenities at their kids…at least not so anyone can hear.

Selfishly of course, we hope that this helps reduce their youthful exuberance.

So far, the city cops outside my front door said that they think one or more recent guests were involved in bank robberies. (What does Adam write, innocent until proven guilty? In this case, that would have the caveat of and until we know the accusation.)

I know the fellow in the white sweatshirt. He was in cuffs, then free. The ectomorph with the Mohawk on the other hand is a stranger to the block. He went away with new companions to discuss the matter at hand.

It’s all too much for a tiny niche with no notable behavior. To be continued…

Minor and Major Update: The Boston Globe ran a slight amplification on the Woodbourne police flurry in Woodbourne yesterday. Angel Robles is a suspect in numerous bank robberies, but so far cops have charged him with one — BOA in Roxbury on 1/4. The BPD News is back up and has a lot more, including the likely identify of the handcuffed guy, who they say is held in investigation of other bank robberies.

Thursday Followup: The Boston Herald returned at least briefly to its old self with a nice feature on the robbery suspect. O’Ryan Johnson located the city detective, Steven Blair, who explained the police work behind the bust. He also said why we neighbors hadn’t noticed him or odd activity:

He said the crew was tough to track because they had no fixed address and slept wherever they laid their heads at night.

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Milkweed That Ate JP

January 26th, 2008

Milkweed on LamartineWhile I am ecstatic that I have been able to cross-country ski so many times in Boston this winter, my seed packets sing little ditties to me. I have herbs, vegetables and flowers whispering to be from their flat packets in 20s and 50s.

Milkweed on Lamartine alsoSomehow, I can’t stop myself from obsessing on future foliage as I bike or walk about JP. It’s not time to start the seeds…not yet…not yet.

Today, it was all too evident on Lamartine Street, where the equivalent of a beachfront view is the Southwest Corridor with the Orange Line. Yet even there, aggressive plants proclaim their splendor. (Please forgive me. I am a certified Master Gardener. I can’t help myself.)

It appears while I wasn’t looking milkweed is poised to overtake JP. As evidence, I submit a couple of pix of 7-foot canes just waiting for spring moisture and plaint earth. It’s as though Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors had aged into white hair. The evil urge to thrive remains.

The wispy white pod floss and brown seeds care little for the snow, wind and cold. They can wait. Don’t be surprised if the 2008 version comes tapping at your windows.

Hot and Cold Elephants

January 14th, 2008

On my stoop, even the gods are subject to the elements.Ganesha before the stormGanesha after the storm

Pic Click Trick: Click on a thumbnail for a larger view.

On Sunday, sunny Sunday, my elephant-headed chum, Ganesha fairly glowed, as in the image at the left. During this morning’s storm, he made us cold to look at him, as at the right.

Traditionally, Hindus do not start any new project or endeavor without consulting and praying to Ganesha. He also is the protector of writers. I guess he should be the blogger’s guy, eh?

Dunkin’ and Jesus

January 9th, 2008

Brighton Dunkin’ Donuts signMy Brighton Dunkin’ sign story is better than yours or theirs. It has an old lady, a plaster Christ, evictions, and a bully university.

We don’t often head down Market Street by that nasty retro sign. It is on the way to the New Rep and such, but I don’t see it frequently. When I do though, I get the same couple of powerful memories.

Pic Click Trick: Click on a thumbnail image for a larger view.

It means the substantial crucifix overlooking my bed in my single days, the evidence that mayors too often care more for money than people, and how small graces can define us as human and humane.

On assignment as a reporter in my very brief career with the dilettante’s radical rag Old Mole, I was on North Harvard Street in Allston in October 1969. According to The Harvard Crimson article I just found on the net, it was the 17th.

I was there because the Suffolk County Sheriff’s office was evicting families and individuals from their homes of decades, for some the houses where they had grown up and from where their parent’s bodies headed to funeral homes. The eviction was not from unsafe housing, rather it was about politics and money.

Boston Mayor Kevin Hagan White cut a deal with Harvard University. While all sides claimed they would build mixed income housing on the spot, in fact, it was blue-collar removal, a.k.a. urban renewal. It allowed Harvard Business School to expand and created high-rent apartments taken by faculty and grad students. Those inconvenient and troublesome residents were disposable. That day, they were disposed of.

Boston did the nasty work on paper and on the site. The sheriff ‘s guys showed up with a phalanx of riot police. I don’t know where they hid these gorillas. They were giants who looked even fiercer in clear face shields with their long batons. They shoved the few of us protesters (not the disinterested reporter I would later become). I had twin horizontal pectoral bruises for more than a week to show for that.

After the cops moved us aside, I saw an elderly woman on the lawn of what had been her house. She was weeping and looking confused.

I regret now that I don’t recall her name. We should all have names, at least to those who interacted with us.

Likely my reporter instincts were at work as well as my humanity. Her story was predictable but still moving. Her parents and siblings had lived there. She was the only one left and had been evicted. They found her a spot in a ratty public housing project not too far away.

Meanwhile, the bulldozers were on order.

I had my car not too far away and offered to take her and her stuff to the apartment. I drove around, argued with the SWAT cops, who eventually relented and I loaded up the back seat and trunk.

Best I can recall, the new digs were spartan — brick exterior, cinder-block halls and no known neighbors. As we moved the last of her stuff in, she hoisted her massive crucifix toward me. I must have shown horror or amusement, but recall stepping back.

I also remember her simple words, “I want you to have this.”

While raised as a Christian, I was not by then. A six of beer would have made sense. There’s not a lot of utility and no emotional ties to an 20-inch wooden cross with a bleeding Messiah in painted plaster.

She’d have none of my denials. She explained that she wanted to give me something for helping her when everyone else, including her mayor, abandoned her. Then she got me. Said she didn’t have anything else more valuable and it would mean a lot for me to take it.

As soon as I agreed, she relaxed and then became sparkly. She quickly asked if I’d do one more thing for her. She used to get a ride to that Dunkin’ with neighbors who had moved away during the eviction. She loved her donuts and wanted to have one now to make herself feel better.

We climbed into my old Dodge 330 with the garish phoenix-rising-from-flames decal covering the hood. Then she did in fact enjoy her donut. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone enjoy one more. That must be the meaning of comfort food in uncomfortable times.

I took her to her project. She kissed my cheek . Then Jesus and I headed to my King Street flat in Cambridge. So, I knew then that I was wrong, that there was an emotional tie to the crucifix.

At that time, I was, as we Southerners are wont to say, keeping company with a woman. We had a couple of awkward nights after the crucifix went up in the kitchen. It wasn’t over the bed, but you could see it from there, or in her case, just know it was there.

We learned to accept Jesus, not as our savior, but as an inanimate resident.Detail of worn Dunkin’ sign

I think of that day whenever I see the Dunkin’ sign. I don’t believe it was anywhere near as rundown looking then or that its paint was peeling so badly.

Biking by today to snap a few before another bully has its way with the lives people are perfectly happy living, I must admit it looks dated. The cartoonish font brings Comic Sans to mind and the sign looks almost craftsman like and handmade next to the new Dunkin’ logo on the tiny building.

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Mire and Muck and Bike

January 9th, 2008

bike frame after winter rideI’ll go to spin classes when the streets are icy or the wind chill is in the eenies minus. In fact, I led spin classes for a few years and have an emotional tie.

No matter how much you do jumps and slides on a stationary bike-like object, the scenery doesn’t change much. You work your heart but not your eyes and brain.

Pic Click Trick: Click on a thumbnail image for a larger view.

Now, a day like this, I’m on the road bike. I was today and returned with the skunk strip up my butt and back, but happy.

Last month when I returned from a ride too red from wind burn, one of my teens asked what it would take to keep me off the bike. He spoke with unmistakable pity and disdain. The real answer is roads to slick for 25mm tires.

My mountain bike’s frame broke and I’m trying to get by with one bike. Also, I not one of those (fool)hardy types in a slicker and goggles mushing with the buses in the slush. I figure if I can’t see the truck driver’s eyes, he can’t see me. I’d lose in the collision.

A day like today though fairly ordered me to take a break and hit the still wet, still trashy, muddy streets. road muck after a winter ride

I have a fender that I have not put on the bike. It would have helped a little today. Likely, it would have considerably reduced the skunk stripe of road muck off the rear wheel and seat pack. It wouldn’t have done squat for the underside of the frame or the gunk in the brake pads front and back.

The extra 12 minutes cleaning, degreasing and lubing the bike and chain is a wee price for heart pumping, road-warrior action. I had already bought a new supply of workbench towels for such purposes. Plus, I have a good supply of spray degreaser that is virtually instantaneous in removing grit and grime, leaving just little puddles to wipe.

We tell spin classes that we’re going up a big hill. We all up the resistance and feel it in the legs. It’s definitely not the same.

There are several nice hills from Woodbourne through JP and Brookline, into Allston and Brighton. One of my aims was to take a new pic of the Dunkin’ sign on Market Street before it comes down. More on that here.

Meanwhile, I may not get my money’s worth from gym membership, but it’s there when the weather’s bad enough. Don’t be afraid of cold; be afraid of dulling yourself with boredom.

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