Archive for May, 2010

Why Is The Hill Blue?

May 23rd, 2010

The one-word answer to why the Blue Hills are blue is not plastic. It’s riebeckite.

lestWe sweated a little and learned a lot tripping our way up and down the red-dot tail at the reservation. The guide was geologist Les Tyrala. His ceaseless fascination with rocks inspired him to stop suddenly and repeatedly at remarkable specimens, huge and wee.

Fair notice: He’ll do the same thing at Hingham’s World’s End on Saturday, June 19th.

We’ve hiked those trails, including that particular one, many times. We just didn’t know what was there.

silkmothsideBefore we started, actually before Les opened his trunk with samples and maps for the pre-hike lecture, we got a seasonal treat that has nothing to do with geology. Normally the giant silk moths in the area are out for their pre-dying mating flights in early June. One was posing for us on a fence post.

This beauty was the size of my open hand. It was otherworldly in the face. silkmothfaceClick either moth image for a larger view.

To the trail!

This is to recommend heading out with the experts instead of your brilliant, complete recollections from youth or even a guidebook.

We learned some too about rattlesnakes and cooperheads there. The ranger and helper all added to the lore. There aren’t many rattlers, but since the kill-‘em-all edict from the commonwealth was withdrawn, they are coming back. They are mostly on the Houghton’s Pond side. They slither about around this time of year as the young males try to find their own turf. The females mate with several males and hold the sperm for years, using it as they need to, although they only give birth (live not eggs) every few years. Black snakes can hardly wait to find and devour the young.

Before we headed up, Les produced a sketch of the hills. It seems a few hundred million years ago, there was maybe a mile thickness of rock and other material covering it. We hike on the leftovers.

We knew there was glacial moving of the boulders and even smaller rocks, as well as volcanic action. Les stopped repeatedly to show how the rocks (bedrock or country rock in his lingo) changed up the hill.

The nasty old glacier simultaneously left striations and overall smoothed the boulders. You can see the direction (mostly southeast) that the glacier moved, taking the lithic baggage with it.

He was most fascinated with the color changes. He showed us where the true blue granite began and how it deepened going up, until it stopped. That showed the layers of sediment. The blue rock contains the relatively uncommon riebeckite.

Les was also great at finding xenoliths. Those are big rocks where a different stone has been pressed, likely by a glacier into the stone itself. Unlike the smooth, small roundness of the composite pieces in pudding stone, these are often sharp edged. We’ve walked over and one many of those for years and had no idea what that were. Largely, we never noticed.

Likewise, another geologic trick was the quartz striping in the granite. I had thought it just formed with the stone, but it isn’t that simple. Striations and cracks left openings many millions of years ago. The commonly occurring silicon dioxide settled into it and under extreme compression became strips of crystallized quartz. Many of these stripes are higher than the larger rock, because they are harder and erode less.

graniteironOur guide is full of such goodies. For example, the granite walls and benches below the observation tower are of stone from the West Quincy quarries. Their iron ties hold them in place because of technique that Old World masons brought to the quarries with them.

Iron by itself would expand perhaps 8% with rust. That would eventually split and destroy even these huge granite slabs. The masons had learned to line the grooves with lead, which does not rust. Then they drove the iron into the space, where it keeps for centuries.

Les is a graybeard and has been in the geology game his whole career. He says he never ceases to be fascinated by what he sees, hypothesizes and proves or disproves. Several of us asked him questions that seemed to pique his interest. When he didn’t know, he said he’d find out.

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Gardening Ghosts

May 21st, 2010

petunia1The outdoors in the new-to-us house makes me realize I’ve been Mabelized. My maternal grandmother, Mabel, is visiting me again from the inside out.

Twice this afternoon, I was aware. First, I had in hand watering cans with sprinkling heads. Then came the grass clippers. It was into the WABAC machine to Romney of my youth.

Mabel was very bright and often funny. She was also a martinet. My sister and I spent our summers with her and our grandfather, her husband, from shortly after we returned from the occupation army in Japan. I think with good reason, she resented taking care of her divorced daughter’s kids. So, she had us earn our keep, not in the Cinderella way, but more 19th century.

For example, weekly we dusted the stair uprigthts from newel to newel. She’d inspect each baluster’s turned bulbs and angles before approving, or not. We regularly did an unfavorite task of window cleaning too. That wasn’t traditional washing. Rather we used crumbled Cumberland Times and Hampshire Review pages with ammonia. It meant hours of tearing, coughing and red skin.

As the boy, from six I had boy duties. That included lugging out the galvanized cans of trash or slag from the coal furnace. Then there was digging out the proliferative dandelions. I also mowed the lawns, which brought with it hand clipping around the trees, steps, sidewalk and bushes. For reasons I can’t quite understand now, my least favored was watering the damned petunias.

The front porch offered grand views of two mountains up from Romney’s plateau. Apple and peach orchards made fabulous variegated green embroidery of the entire slopes. We could sit in rockers or a swing to watch the curtains of rain slowly advance west to east down the orchards toward us.

For me, the downside of the porch was those damned petunias. Mabel loved her petunias, which became mine for each summer. Three sides of the porch had low walls of white planters the width and the depth. Every inch had a petunia plant by roots or flower.

One of my jobs was to take one, two, three…maybe six or even eight sprinkling watering cans filled and to drown the petunias every single day, even rainy days. I also mowed the little lawns front and back, which took longer than watering those damned petunias, but for some reason, I didn’t mind the mowing. Perhaps it was using my whole body and feeling puerilely manly. Perhaps it was simply the stunning aroma of the cut grass.

So today, I was out again with the watering cans. It’s not petunias, but my containers of tomatoes, those of peppers and the railing boxes of annual herbs. Then I either hook up the hose or take cans to douse the three-by-six-foot raised bed of perennial herbs.

I honestly have to chuckle as I do. I remember the petunias.

I also hit the borders around the raised bed, the compost container and next to the stairs, bushes and trees with clippers. As in Romney, I clip after the mowing. Unlike in Romney, two sons alternate weeks mowing.

I can’t say I don’t know how to water or clip. I have experience.

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Pedal for Plunder

May 21st, 2010

tuneupWhat could befit our New England frugality than useful and free goods? If Bike Fridays on Boston city hall plaza do not appeal for their athleticism nor for their camaraderie, perhaps as much swag as you can carry, inside or out will.

It must be the endorphins. Biking can turn you sappy sweet, the antithesis of the crazed messenger stereotype. The reasons to cycle are many and those to attend the jolly mornings of Bike Fridays are several. Yet, grabbing useful or delicious freebies doesn’t hurt as motivation. Plus, the stuff is useful.

More chances

I just returned from the first of the season. You can redeem your self and join in the last Friday of the next three months — June 25, July 30, and August 27. Get there at 7 for the uncrowded shot at free bike tweaks from pros, plus the goodies. It all continues for nearly three more hours.

Today’s ridership seemed typical. There were huge (well, 10 to 20 in a bunch) gangs coming together from various neighborhoods and towns. You can come on your own, but the convoys have regular stops and times.

We can all fit it. There’s folks in suits, in skirts, in Spandex. There’s every somatotype and age. I only saw one pet, a pup in a trailer who seemed quite used to a chauffeur.The only warning is that over half the cyclists acted like suburbanites in a supermarket; like their counterparts fearful of losing their carts, they clung to their bikes rather than locking them on a rail or bike rack. That clogs up the works, such desperate ownership.

shadows

Over a dozen tented booths filled the upper plaza next to the T-stop, which disgorged amused and bemused commuters gawking and greeting the cyclists. Exhibits included organizations like MassBike and the DOT, Landry’s and Wheelworks bike shops, the Swiss tourist folk, and food and drink.

Swag to Consume and Carry

So, to the goodies. There was food and drink. We cyclists need or pretend to need replenishment, even after a short ride. We can justify treating ourselves, even at 7:13 a.m.

Boloco had the only real line, handing out burritos by tray. They also joined the city and state in offering high-end water bottles. In fact, TD Bank North accosted the convoys as they arrived — in the ear with cowbells, to the eye with YOU MADE IT signs, and in the hand with the event water bottle.

muffins

Abutting boxes elsewhere had muffins the size of a newborn’s head and healthier fare such as bananas. If you arrive hungry, you don’t have to leave that way. For drink, there was coffee but the water bottles were dry. Likewise, Harpoon held a raffle, but didn’t expect us to drink and ride.

So the various exhibitors offered goodies including:

  • A great trousers-leg strap from the DOT and MassBike, with a secure slot for a key. This is keen for runners as well. It is also a reflector.
  • A slap anklet like a slap bracelet that keeps the cuff out of the way and is also a reflector. That was from the Swiss tourist folk, who also offered those fab Lindt chocolate balls.
  • A pair of tire levers.
  • Bike maps of Boston.
  • Bike Week t-shirts.
  • Key chains.
  • Clif bars, Bare Naked and other brands of energy snacks.
  • Zipper eyeglasses cases and foldable Frisbees from TD North.

It went on and on. Being judicious  and only taking stuff I thought I’d use, I still ended up stuffing my small messenger bag. I had had two personal water-bottle tragedies recently; replacements were timely. The anklets with key slots should be good for three of us.

So, you have three more shots this year. Go to a Bike Friday because it’s fun and there’s fellowship…or go for the goodies.

Welcome Evolution

About 8:30, the orations began. Some downtrodden city hall fellow brought a podium and mic by dolly to the upper level. The resulting queue of speakers was an obvious shift from when this was the end of Boston Bike Week and not as it was today, Bay State Bike Week 2010.

Even ownership has become dispersed and diverse, and likely more sustainable. It used to be that a few Boston bureaucrats emerged from the cave that is city hall. Typically, Mayor Tom Menino, Bike Coordinator Nicole Freedman, and a city councilor who likes bikes, like President Mike Ross, would chat and whoop it up. Today, a series of state-level organization and agency folk took the mic.

They heaped praise on each other, only taking credit tangentially. In fairness, there’s lots worthy of praise. The shift in those attending and speaking also suggests that many more machers at higher levels see the short- and mid-term future in biking around here.

More cycles, fewer cars, healthier citizens, less noise and pollution. Everyone involved should get credit.

A Bike Friday is a feel-good morning.

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Who Hates Cyclists?

May 19th, 2010

We all have to know there’s no quick fix to the emotionally based bike/car/pedestrian scuffles. When I recently had coffee with cycling friend Boston City Councilor John Connolly to discuss bikes, I confessed to my UU and progressive bent — as in trying to resolve underlying problems instead of treating symptoms.

In his efforts to improve riders’ safety and to increase bike use through a downtown sharing program, he goes for the achievable. In contrast, when he asked what would make the biggest difference in safety, regular-cyclist I had a different answer than tweaking car travel-lane widths.

Citywide enforcement of existing laws and regulations for cyclists, pedestrians and motor-vehicle drivers would do it. Virtually everyone who travels in Boston calls for enforcement, which we decidedly do not get. They differ widely and often irrationally on the bad guys. They identify as the victim class and it’s those others who need to wise up.

Name the Villain

Any set of comments orally, written or online will give us more than our fill of the vitriol and self-righteousness on the issue. The latest I’ve seen appears on Universal Hub in comments on a post about the new Commonwealth Avenue bike lanes.

Consider:

  • Quick Question By anon (not verified) – 5/18/10 – 12:01 pm
    Will anyone be enforcing laws for cyclists, like having them actually FOLLOW THE RULES OF THE ROAD and not try to run over people in crosswalks during a red light? If one more dbag from Slumerville does it to me again, they’re getting slugged.
  • As a pedestrian in Boston who uses several major By roadman – 5/18/10 – 12:38 pm
    intersections on a daily basis, I see FAR more bicyclists run red lights than drivers do. For one thing, I have yet to see a driver pull into the opposing lane (or up on a sidewalk) to pass other traffic stopped for a red light and blow through the “all red” pedestrian phase, nearly running down the people LEGALLY within the crosswalk. Most of the “red light running” cyclists I observe do this sort of thing all the time.
  • Good points. By anon (not verified) – 5/18/10 – 2:00 pm
    And let’s use some common sense here. If an experienced cyclist comes to a full stop at a red light, then determines that it is safe to pedestrians and the other vehicles to proceed, we shouldn’t kill him or her for doing so. It’s akin to jumping on pedestrians who cross in the crosswalk against the light when there are no vehicles in the intersection and it is safe to do so.
  • Let’s extend this to all vehicles, shall we? By KellyJMF – 5/18/10 – 5:06 pm
    So you’d be ok with experienced car drivers coming to a full stop at a red light, determining it’s safe to proceed, and then running the red light?
  • So when you’re in your car, By NotWhitey – 5/18/10 – 2:55 pm
    So when you’re in your car, you’re a normal, law-abiding citizen. Get on the bike and laws no longer apply to you – the rest of us should just trust your judgement. In other words, a typical bike-riding knucklehead.
    Is it something about the bike seat that causes this? Or maybe the air blowing through your ear-holes?
  • How many cars blow through By anon (not verified) – 5/18/10 – 1:35 pm
    How many cars blow through lights that have changed from yellow to red? At least one if not two or three along my commute, regularly. Those initial seconds are when bicyclists whose light has just turned green are most vulnerable. Or how about this one… how many drivers make turns or change lanes without using turn signals? That’s one that seems to happen about 25% of the time and a move than can be a deadly one for a cyclist who can’t tell what the car is doing next.
    Oh and how many times has a cyclist running or rolling a red light hit or killed a car driver?
  • And how many cars travel By AdamPieniazek – 5/18/10 – 3:24 pm
    And how many cars travel above the speed limit? 100% 150% Infinity percent?
    A biker blowing a red light is dumb and dangerous. A biker treating a red light as a stop sign is less so. But a driver blowing a red light and/or speeding is several magnitudes more dangerous.

Those are some of the gentler, politer chatter such discussions engender. Virtually everyone trades in empirical knowledge and stereotype. The trappings of those are absolute confidence in one’s position and churlish disdain for those of others.

Running Start

I admit to my own calls for more nuanced solutions. For one, I have already proposed legislation to allow cyclists to treat red lights like stop signs. Apparently such new concepts require repeated tries and testimony if they ever get through committees, much less to discussion, and more rarely to a vote and passage. Those who have shepherded even such minor laws say to expect six or more goes.

Moreover, the lawmaker who helped last year, Rep. Willie Mae Allen, is retiring. I had gotten her to work with me when my busy-and-distracted senator, Marion Walsh, couldn’t be bothered. It looks like I have to break in a new one when the elections are settled.

The fairly disingenuous same-road-same-rules slogan and campaign has the support of MassBike among others. It is an oversimplified and ultimately unworkable stopgap. Dressed in seeming logic and fairness, this passes the common-sense test. It fails the reality one.

Unfortunately, anything short of such literalism is a bit subtle and not binary enough for many drivers and cyclists to consider important distinctions in travel modes. For drivers in particular nothing seems to annoy them more than the idea that someone might be able to do something forbidden to them.

The puerile reaction is somebody-got-more-than-I-did. “Billy got a Popsicle. I didn’t!” The teacher might point out that Billy had a bloody, fat lip from a softball and was sucking on a frozen pop to keep the swelling down. The response is still likely to be, “Billy got a Popsicle. I didn’t!,” repeated many times.

For my nascent legislative effort, a primary point in red-lights-as-stop-signs is giving cyclists a literal head start. When the bike leads the car, truck or bus, the driver can overtake it safely. When they leave an intersection at the same time and there’s no bike lane painted on the blacktop, far too many drivers swerve, turn right into the cyclists’ paths without signaling or yielding, and generally seem confused enough to risk a wreck to the left or right.

Several times (ah, empiricism again) when a driver has behaved dangerously at an intersection, I have caught up and discussed the matter. They invariably like the idea of being in control by overtaking me on the bike rather than being unsure of exactly where I am. It’s not a hard sell.

I’m a big guy and I wouldn’t advise most cyclists to do that. However, I find it reassuring to know that a little logic and solid geometry go a long way very quickly.

Serving Notice

That noted, the issue remains that many drivers have felt that roads are for cars, trucks and buses only. They’ve felt like that from their teens. Unless they are frequent pedestrians and/or cyclists, they view those others as others, inconveniencing them on their streets.

This is where the constabulary can make the difference. I admit upfront that it would require support and mandates from Mayor Menino, Commissioner Davis and maybe Superintendent in Chief Linskey. Boston police would have to:

  • Set aside the fantasy that they are all movie-star crime busters who face barrages of bullets daily and live to haul in murders and drug kingpins, also daily.
  • Accept that it’s well past time to make a huge difference in our culture by making the Boston driver, pedestrian and cyclist rare or extinct.
  • Enforce the devil out of traffic laws for everyone.

This would probably only require a couple of months. If cops would first obey the laws themselves.Then, they would pull and ticket every driver who runs red lights. Our drivers often do that in chains for two to five.

Do the same for cyclists and ticket jaywalkers. You can be damned sure the word would spread in and around Boston quickly it did in other cities and have done this (I think of D.C., where pedestrians actually wait for walk signals and how amazed my firstborn was on his initial visit to San Francisco at six. He said in wonder, “The cars stop for red lights here.”)

A couple months of that and over a century of wild, wild east behavior would surely see a major transformation, if not to civility at least leaning to the rule of law. The cops could get back to their fantasies and occasional realities of heroic deeds.

The legislature could help here too. Make the fines for bike violations $50 instead of the maximum of $20. Make the jaywalking penalty $25 instead of $1. Do as some places like the D.C. do and haul offenders downtown if they won’t ID themselves and hand over the ticket price on the spot. In other words, give us incentives beyond the golden rule to obey safety laws.

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Behold Boston’s Bike Lanes

May 17th, 2010

bikelanesYes, it was a silly, short bike tour. Yes, I loved it.

Billed as the opening to the now-statewide bike week and billed as a ride with the mayor (Boston’s Tom Menino), cycling the few miles to play on the new Commonwealth Avenue bike paths was a spoke-geek’s delight.

First, a disappointment was that this was not a ride with the mayor. Instead, it was a ride to the mayor. I’ve asked him personally several times to ride into city hall together. He demurs — I’d be too fast; he only rides around his (our) neighborhood; and lately, he has been recovering from knee surgery. I even got City Councilor Steve Murphy, also from Hyde Park, to say he’d ride in with us.

Today when we arrived at the podium and mic set up on Commonwealth Mall for the press conference, Menino started his words with a promise to get back on the bike…starting next week. He got applause instead of snickers.

For us who ride in Boston, he remains a hero. Long stereotypically disdainful of cyclists, he had an enlightenment a few years ago. He hired hot shot champion cyclist Nicole Freedman to run the city’s biking program and backs her up with resources and words.

So today, he and she chatted up Boston’s emerging shift from bike-hostile to bikeable. As illustrated at top, they implemented one of the Comm Ave plans. That’s no small accomplishment and it compounds the bike lanes going in piecemeal as roads are built, rebuilt or re-striped. This actually makes a place on a major street, on the left, away from parked cars with their dooring dangers. It also sets the pattern for the possible.

For many decades, cycling advocates before Freedman heard repeatedly that we were unique among cities (horse feathers!) and such things couldn’t happen here. What critics, which used to include Menino, meant was that motor-vehicle operators had the rights and weren’t going to be asked to share the road.

bikerossmenino

Joining Da Mare and Da Champ was City Council President Mike Ross. He’s a cyclist, mostly, although he doesn’t commute by bike. This week, Bike Week, though he intends to go by cycle. We’ll see how his resolves holds up in Wednesday’s predicted rain. (That’s Ross and Menino.)

His head’s in the right place. He’s the one who encouraged Menino to bike. He backed that up with a gift of a mountain bike…and more encouragement. Ross was the catalyst, Menino has said repeatedly.

We’ll get Ross on a Left Ahead! podcast soon. It’ s been over a year since we’ve done a biking one. He told me today he’d like to do it.

Today was the week’s teaser. There’s lots of activities, free breakfasts, rides, movies, and of course, Bike Friday. Thursday evening, there’s a one-time presentation on cycling successes in various cities, at BU’s Sleeper auditorium. During the week, most towns in the Boston area will have their own bike events too.

Plus, it doesn’t stop with this week. For example, on Monday, June 7th, there’s the annual Redbones party to benefit MassBike. That’s only $15, with brew and food…and valet bike parking. Then, the Bike Fridays with all the goodies reappears on Boston’s city hall plaza the last Friday of the month through the summer.

In other words, you don’t even have to roll to Boston to do some of the stuff. There’s no way you can do all of it, but there’s plenty in many places for everyone.

Today was a little more focused on bike advances. Thursday’s presentation will be more serious still.

bikefreedman1

The good stuff this afternoon came from Menino recounting some of the successes of the city’s successes and continuing projects. Freedman (right) was as excited as the rest of us on the bike lanes, which she called “more than a four-inch stripe on the road.” Also, Ross promised more bike lanes coming to Boston.

I’m slowly becoming convinced that patience will out here. Word is that when car, truck and bus drivers see more cyclists, more bike lanes, more sharrows that there’ll be less threatening cyclists and resentment expressed in other ways. Bikes become part of the traffic. That can’t come fast enough for me.

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The Good Word Through the Open Window

May 17th, 2010

“Great legs! Strong!,” she called out. The words, coupled with a winning smile were very unnecessary but very pleasant.

I was in slight laboring mode biking the long, steady incline up Washington from Green to Egleston Square. I wasn’t flirting, not even with 20-something Latinas in mini-vans coming behind me. She didn’t have to, but it was OK by this aging, somewhat chubby guy.

My legs must be acceptable to the eye. I’ve been hearing the occasional acclaim since at least high school. A native Chinese girl I new blushed as she told me what beautiful calves I had. It seems in Canton, where she was born, strong, attractive legs are one way women evaluate men. Years of competitive swimming and now cycling do well by my nether limbs.

Being a UU, I’m relatively political correct. I compliment my wife and a few other female relatives and long-term friends. Otherwise, I’m pretty cautious.

Yet, considering the little lift a phrase of physical praise can provide, even to such as me, I should not be so cowardly. Surely I can find non-lecherous and non-threatening ways to put in a good word or ten.

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Look! Over There!

May 15th, 2010

Who do the 20  and 30-something balding guys think they’re kidding? Would that be everyone else in the gym?

The surest male-pattern-baldness indicator is wearing a baseball cap when you’re on the treadmill. Puffing and perspiring, you’d have us believe you wear the Red Sox cap to support our team. Instead, it is like so many diversionary vanities.

A cultural myth we just can’t seem to shake is how vain women are, with the corollary that men are just slobs who don’t care about their looks. Without their women — mom, girlfriend, wife, mistress — all men would pull their greasy jeans over their holey underpants and top it with a t-shirt that may or may not smell.

Sure, we can all reach just inside our bags of experience to back up those stereotypes…so long as we ignore what is all around us.

Perhaps it’s unfair to draw on the fashion or entertainment world, but male vanity pranced its way before me again with the Cannes coverage. The as-hard-to-behold-as-Donatella-Versace designer Karl Lagerfeld was doing his turkey-neck thing as always.

karlneckHe’s moderately old, at 76, but he’s no way ready to come to terms with it. If his collar gets any higher, it will strangle him or slice his dewlap open. Like the baseball cap in the gym, that absurd fashion screams that he has flippy, heavily grooved, old-man neck.

When I see him, I recall a piece I did a lot of years ago for a management magazine on shirts. Interviewing the founder of Custom Shirts, Mortimer Levitt, I had been chosen to bell the cat. He was notorious for ridiculing what individual men wore.

He dispensed with me relatively quickly — the suit wasn’t hand tailored…obviously. However, I had never seen his slide show and was not quite prepared to a few entries. He flashed up stills of famous and powerful men so he could comment on their shirt flaws. The most striking was President John Kennedy.

Vanity, Thy Name Is…

Having grown up in the manufactured Camelot images of the Kennedys, I had kind of ignored how he porked up. We learned later of his various diseases, including hyperthyroidism that led to his piling of 30 pounds in his last three years. Well, Levitt’s slides hasn’t not ignored any of that.

There was Jack on the wall, fat hanging over and all around his collar. The then most powerful person in the world, with a reputation for handsomeness and plenty of money to clothe himself never bothered to buy shirts to adjust to his new girth. He went three years, getting fatter and fatter while likely struggling to button his collar.

Everyone else may have feared pointing out the obvious to him. We can be surprised that his stylish wife apparently did not, or changed nothing if she did.

Women as a group, of course, have made this illusion and delusion process more of an art and more open. Any women’s service magazine at the checkout line shows as much.

At its baseline, women teach other other from girlhood the tricks. The chubby are supposed to flatter their figure, as the euphemism goes, by wearing vertical stripes to trick the eye. Conversely ectomorphic young women with no visible secondary sex characteristics are supposed to go for horizontal stripes to give the illusion of hips, butts and breasts.

More severe are such physical restraints as body shapers, which have taken the role of the old girdles and corsets. The aim is the same, to squeeze the corporal paste to different locations on the body tube.

serious

I think of the then horrifying long-line girdle my grandmother used to wear. I only saw it hanging on the drying rack in the basement, down there with the working pickles, the jars of last summer’s beans, and the freezer for fish and venison her son would bring. (Southern women of that era did not hang unmentionables on publicly visible lines.)

The amazing object really belonged in a museum, perhaps with medieval iron armor. My sister and I could only imagine what it would be like to spend 16 hours a day squeezed from clavicle to mid-thigh.

Yet such highly engined compressors were the norm for women born in the early years of the 20th century. They had a moral aspect as well. Women whose parts jiggled when they moved were immodest and advertising their sexuality.

Tricks Are for Grannies

How tough it must have been for my large-boned grandmother. We can rightfully credit or blame her for our big feet and massive shoulders. Her husband and his forebears were much more delicate.

Yet Mable was big and worked at the illusions of her era. To worsen it, she had a failing here though. She was  renown cook, particularly as a baker. She tried so hard to follow those absurd height/weight charts when they came out. Those were about as meaningful for individuals as today’s BMI is (group yes, person no), but pop culture gave them enormous credence, even when insurance companies disregarded them as non-predictive and non-diagnostic of health and longevity.

So, Mable tried to follow book and magazine diets meant for much smaller and less active women. She had several of Gayelor Hauser’s books, with titles like Eat and Grow Beautiful. There was lots of dry Hollywood Diet bread and daily totals of something like 900 calories.

Sometimes she just couldn’t take it. We knew that when she covered her plate she prepared in the kitchen with a paper napkin. Again like the cap on the treadmill guy, we all knew there was more food on that plate that she thought she was supposed to have. She was the matriarch and no one called her on it, but like that gym guy, she was ashamed and did what she felt she had to do.

So sure, women have their clothes and makeup tricks. They and increasingly men are getting faces and other body parts done by surgeons. As surely, we all like to look at attractive people. Maybe we don’t offer as much to the public as we’d like to see.

Yet to our credit, most of us let others get by with a lot of failed illusions, tricks that fool no one and in fact draw attention to what we’re trying to hide. I guess that’s fair enough. The convention is to expect those others to cut us some slack when we act out too.

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No Bragging, Y’all

May 10th, 2010

Yes, it must be Southern week. This time, I checked in on an old college newspaper to see a clear Yankee/Southerner distinction.

7minutesUp here in New England, I’ve told locals who never get below Hartford that a lot more than dialects differs. One clear distinction has to do with what Southerners call with disdain bragging on yourself. Granny warned them abaout that, so did their teacher, as did their minister.

Of course, as with so much, there’s some biblical grounding for the admonitions against pride. Think Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel, having to eat grass with the cattle because of his pride. Then in Proverbs, “When pride cometh, then cometh shame” (11:2) and “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” (16:18). Front to back, the book is full of such.

On a personal level, Southerners consider bragging a great personal flaw. That’s not to say there aren’t loudmouth, arrogant types down there, rather that the larger society looks down on them.

Up in Boston and larger New England, the culture is quite different. We consider it honest and necessary to establish our bona fides (that would be Latin for good faith, as in a type of notice) when we meet.

Seven-Minute Drill

Some sociologists might compare it to dogs sniffing each other’s  nether regions, or various beasts thumping their chests or making other displays. Regardless, by the watch, you can expect New Englanders to display everything, every last thing, they are proud of within seven minutes of meeting them.

That should include their colleges, prep schools, and most notable employers. They circle back to famous forebears, from whom they infer genetic transference of alleged virtues. They don’t talk absolute money, but they will certainly list big-deal property they or their immediate families own or owned.

In short, they do exactly what a Southerner finds reprehensible — brag about themselves with an aim to impress. Yet, in this culture, they are wont to say this is necessary to place themselves in context.

Ancient Voices

This came to mind as I read, “Braggers should learn humility:
Those who advertise accomplishments appear conceited, alienate peers
” by Chelsey Seidel in the Daily Gamecock. She’s in the same journalism college and sequence (print) I attended, lo those decades ago. More important, she clearly heard the same admonitions I did as a child.

seidelcropShe delineates three kinds of braggarts — the classroom achiever, the MVP type, and to her the worst, the out-doer. The latter tops everyone’s contribution to conversation and brags to the point of lying to appear the best at everything.

Yankees should know that such predictable and expected behavior here has its costs there, as in people not wanting you around or “the out-doer usually ends up pitifully walking home alone at the end of the night.” In a culture that prizes sociability, those aren’t light punishments.

Seidel, whose cropped face appears here, offers a moral to the column. Southerners also prize storytelling and often end with a take-home, in this case, “Braggers need to realize that people would be much more congratulatory of their accomplishments if they learned to show humility instead of constantly making others feel inadequate.”

Of course, Bostonians aren’t about that. They want others to feel inadequate, in least in contrast to their magnificent selves. It’s different there and here.

Maybe you do learn more about someone else in the New England style and timing. I certainly grew up parceling out good stories and personal history to keep friendships spiced and fresh. In a way, this contrast is of two kinds of showmanship. Do you throw everything on the stage in the single act or make a real show out of it?

By the bye, the columnist is a fair scold from the look of her work. For example, a man trying to be his companion’s “best girlfriend” turns him into a “girlie man” who waxes his chest and eats small salads. Then too, she finds public displays of affection by teens disgusting.

She actually offers quite a sample of Southern manners and culture. It’s different there, but even after all the decades in Boston, I could talk with her.

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Snooton Doesn’t Need You

May 10th, 2010

meter man with ticket

Boston has its own parking jokes. In near-burbs like Newton and Brookline, there’s no joking.

In Beantown, for example, many downtown areas have stretched meter times to 8 p.m. from 6. We also have some South End tricks like metered spaces that suddenly turn into resident-permit-only ones at 8 p.m., often with the signs revealing that gimmick largely hidden by common linden branches.

Boston though has this weird by suburban standards idea that meters and on-street parking are for the convenience of residents, visitors and businesses. In fact, the stated concern is that there be adequate turnover at meters to encourage people to use local companies.

Don’t fantasize that this sentiment extends to any of the wealthier burbs. Your warning for predatory parking enforcement are no-overnight and 2-hour-limit parking limit signs where you would expect to see welcome-to (our fair burg) ones.

Brookline has those and they mean it. While they don’t have roving gangs of parking enforcers, they do have some and ticket as freely as they can. Moreover, most restaurants and other businesses with lots in the back contract with relentless contract towing companies who live to snatch cars when the businesses are closed. Ten minutes often means a big ticket, towing fee and the time to retrieve your vehicle. Ptui on you.

Newton though stands alone in its viciousness. It actively discourages visitors from its business districts. They would far rather charge fines than encourage shopping and service usage. They back this up with a huge crew of ticket writers and an unbelievably detailed set of regulations and restrictions.

This came to mind again this morning when the Boston Globe ran a feature on the latest effort to extract every dollar from every vehicle owner who dares to patronize a local business. The city paid $150,000 for three systems to scan license plates and notify passing enforcement crews when a car has been in a space too long.

In the garden city, a chalk mark on a tire to flag a car for a meter man or maid is not efficient enough. Such manual checks don’t churn the fines. You can be damned sure they see that investment as something requiring quick payback, thus tickets and more tickets.

The rules-are-rules types may well love that. Not surprisingly, today’s article quotes some locals as saying it’s not a good idea.

Yet, delve a little into Newton’s thought process here and see the proof of the rabid compulsion. The regs suggest they have made this a moral issue.

Click to the city site and search for parking. You’ll find:

  • parking restriction (453 times)
  • street parking spaces (341 times)
  • parking lot (187 times)
  • parking meters (187 times)
  • long term parking (150 times)
  • municipal parking lots (149 times)
  • commercial permit parking (146 times)
  • Boston College parking garage (126 times)
  • long term parking spaces (123 times)

More telling may be a separate 174-page parking regulation document. There are hundreds of special rules per street. They even have multi-paragraph, per-public school specifications for permits and limits on parking in those lots. Newton is obsessed with parking enforcement in a classic Teutonic way. Only following orders, rules are rules, it’s the law and such come to mind.

Newton doesn’t want you. Newton doesn’t need you. It doesn’t really like residents or businesses. I suspect you can find whatever you need elsewhere and can just drive on through.

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Y’all Got Pet Lobster?

May 7th, 2010

Aiken10Post time for the green and orange tonight! Here’s my bet — PETA won’t like the 26th annual running of the lobsters in Aiken, South Carolina.

This silliness is a spoof of the extravagant Kentucky Derby hoo-ha. The event site is replete with:

  • Adopt-a-lobster (not cheap, but they make it easy with PayPal)
  • Tickets are cheap at $5, and that money as well as adoption and sponsorship fees help three local charities
  • “100 thoroughbred lobsters will compete in several heats leading to the main races that will be held at 7:30, 8:30 and 9:30 pm.”
  • Other features include a midway with rides, food for purchase as always in the South, and three local bands, plus the East Coast Party Band from Charleston

This is supposed to be the day before the Kentucky Derby. This year, the event was screwed out of temporal proximity by a bad calendar break and follows it by six days. The history page notes, “The event began as a small get together of local friends and has continually grown into a large festival and Aiken’s biggest reunion.”

There’s no word on the fates of the winning and losing hardbacks. I have my suspicions.

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