Archive for July, 2010

Pity the Feeble Racist

July 30th, 2010

groceryweaponMy still quick reflexes for an old fart kept my legs from mangling by a cart in the Roslindale Stop & Shop a short time ago. It was not propelled idly by an inattentive shopper or even a helpful, but too short, kid. Instead a hostile, angry and racist older black woman came right at me.

Sure enough, we forget or at least compartmentalize when we don’t have to deal with obvious racists regularly. After 21 years in Jamaica Plain and one here in Hyde Park — both very racially and culturally diverse Boston neighborhoods —I don’t experience or witness much of that.

There was no question this woman wanted to hurt me and why. I was a couple of feet from the front of my cart, ready to load in some greens. The cart was against a veggy display. She cut across about six feet of tile, veering hard left directly toward me, leaving me no exit and no way to avoid her.

First she glared and sneered as she aimed at my legs. I dipped into my t’ai chi background to touch the front of her cart as it came into contact with me and divert it just enough to keep it from smashing my legs.

That further enraged her and her racism became obvious. She swore about white people and said they were always pushing around black folk. She remained furious.

The three women with her, ranging from perhaps 50 to 17 were likely a daughter and granddaughters. They sort of looked down, but it was quickly obvious that this was not new behavior by the matron of the family.

Trying to give granny an out, I said pleasantly, “God bless you.” In return, she literally spit back, “No, God bless you!” as a clear curse. They left and I could hear her continuing to defame white people.

I did get an odd chuckle of recognition though. A black friend from way back had warned me of angry, elderly black women. The stockier they are, he’d say, the more evil their evil eye and the more likely they’d be willing to have at someone verbally and physically. This crazed shopping lady was exactly what he’d warned me to avoid.

Of course, like the good UU I am, I look for the lessons here. I not only ask my three lads what they can learn from an unpleasant experience or error, I ask myself.

First, I’m glad I could retain my equanimity. She was spoiling for a physical and verbal confrontation and literally bruises and blood. She picked the wrong white guy for that.

Next, I do recognize home-turf advantage. The American Legion Highway store is patronized and staffed almost entirely by African Americans. It’s much more comfortable for racists to act out when they perceive they are the norm. I rather doubt she would have pulled the same antics in the Dedham S&S.

Moreover, I felt for the trio with her. It has to be tough to regularly accompany a bigot, kind of watch out for her and be associated with her acting out.

What I didn’t feel was an empathy or even a sympathy for the racist. I don’t know wat she may have seen or heard at home or in pubic life. I do that that each of us gets our share of unfair knocks and slaps. None of that excuses smearing whole sets of fellow people, much less attacking individuals who differ from us.

Regionally, I regret how the allegedly liberal and open Boston area still has its onerous share of racists, of all races themselves. When I moved from the South first to New Jersey for high school, some time in Cambridge in college, a decade in Manhattan and the past three decades here, I was initially surprised at the racial tensions and negativity in Yankee lands. Yet in all those places, the locals were quick to scold me for my Southern roots, contrasting them to the enlightened Northern places. They seemed truly oblivious.

I found again and again that this was naive or disingenuous or both. Boston as a whole has never gotten over its own sordid history and racism and largely segregated sub-neighborhoods.

Here today I found that old brick back in my bag. It wasn’t the classic North End teen slurring passing black Bostonians. It wasn’t even snooty Brahman remnants running down others on race, class or schooling. It was an old bigot with absolute no reason to dislike me, feel threatened by me or certainly feel justified in physically and verbally assaulting me.

I would wish her peace and freedom from hate. However, she’s likely rounding off her life and may simply be who she is for the rest of it.
Well, God bless her, regardless.


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Music Highs in Lowell

July 25th, 2010

Like the cold buffet under the eyes and hands of the great garde manger chef, the Lowell Folk Festival can get a variety of presentations. We went again, for perhaps the 20th time, to the nation’s largest free folk festival. Alternately, we trotted less than 30 miles from the very bottom of Boston to one of the great yet oddly obscure regional annual music events.

I don’t fear telling Bostonians of the glories of the festival. We Bostonians don’t even go to most of our own local free or unique local events. A grand cultural aspect of Boston is that we have great pride in our individual neighborhoods; the dumb aspect is that we rarely travel across town, God forbid, much less to places 25 or so miles away.

We’ve been trotting to Lowell for this for over 20 years of the 24 it’s been going and you likely haven’t and almost certainly won’t next July. Thank you very much. You can cram next to a half million others at the July Fourth Esplanade thingummy.

Lowell meanwhile has:

For the folk festival, it’s still easy to saunter over to one of the nine simultaneous stages and get a prime seeing and listening spot. I don’t expect Bostonians to ruin that any time soon.

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Choiniere Among the new-to-us folk we heard and saw today was Michèle Choinière, French-American singer/songwriter from northern Vermont. She can do an amazing dance while seated.
She sings of French lyric themes of love, loss and lust. choiniere1
bua The festival seems to stretch to include folk from far — Asia, Africa, eastern Europe, Latin America and on and on. Of course, there’s always Celtic/Irish. This year included Bua, a traditional Irish band, comprising American musicians. An amusing angle is that they performed their skillful music with the stereotypical stiff posture. At one point, a 11-year-old or so girl went to the lower stage and step danced to their jigs. While her legs flashed, her upper body was as still as the musicians’.
A crowd pleaser was Bruce Daigrepont and his Cajun band.  The audience jammed the dance floor for the whole hour of his animated set. Couples spun or hugged and left the floor with smiles and sweat. Little boys and girls sat on parents’ or grandparents’ hips or jumped in glee. You’d have thought Lowell had waited a year to dance to Cajun music. Daigrepont
icepatrol The festival is also family and kid friendly. There’s lots of activities and foods aimed at younger listeners. I suspect the pair nestled in the 90-degree day next to the ice-cube bags were helpers and not just hot.
A Southern delight and consummate showman was Swamp Dogg (a.k.a. Jerry Williams Jr.). He sang rock, accompanied by the traditional horns. He also filled the dance floor. swampdog2
swampdog1 He’s short and stocky, but that didn’t keep him from hopping down from the stage to dance.

Honestly, as much as I fear to write it, more of us from Beantown need to make the half hour or so trip (under an hour by train, including the T to North Station) to Lowell. Regardless of how it might crowd up the festival, I have to tell you it’s worth going.

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Up the Creek with Paddles

July 24th, 2010

…and down…

We joined 18 others today in the second Neponset River canoe-arama or as the hosts called it, CANOE the Future Greenway. As in an earlier post, we did the wet parts. Chris Lovett joined a landlubbers version on a Neponset Greenway Walk.

Moreover, I’m now a believer. The bike tour we took with the ever dour Doug Mink earlier didn’t have a lot to show for it. He pointed to where the bike/ped path was supposed to eventually come. I was skeptical. Yet, as I found last week, the DCR sprang a new park off Mattapan Square at the beginning of the completed section of the path. You can picnic, launch your canoe or kayak, sit at river overlooks and laze.

I’ve cycled up and down the Neponset bike paths, on and off-road as well. Nearly all is paved now and has very active pedestrian traffic, with a few cyclists. The section around Pope John Paul II Park has a long loop that is walkers only for some strange reason, but there’s lot of bikable trail.

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canoes Rob McArthur of the DCR starts unloading the canoes. He supplied the boats, paddles and life vests…plus instruction and nature lore.
My wife and I were early, so we got the newly donated the beast, a two-person kayak, simultaneously heavy but still swift enough for the non-raging Neponset. beast
choco The 20 of us paddled a bit upriver to the Baker Chocolate Factory. Originally, we were to head up toward Paul’s Bridge at the lower Hyde Park/Milton line. Despite our wettest-ever spring, water levels prevented that. BNAN guide Shea Ennen had scouted the Neponset before and knew the story. So he used his back up plan and headed us East to Gulliver Creek and more of the story of granite and the building of the Bunker Hill Monument.
Near the factory, the cormorants had seen it all at the little marina in Milton. Even about a dozen colorful boats and nearly twice as many flashing, splashing paddles didn’t rate with them. divers
sean Doing his best Lance Armstrong imitation, Shea was a font of history on the Neponset and its human users, industrial and recreational.
At the Eastern end, Rob and Shea tag teamed to describe the granite blocks that remain from the wharf where the 60-ton slabs were staged for barges. Rob also describe his love for his totally recycled Walden kayak. Rob

We were all set to be disappointed at the duplication of river section from the previous paddle. Most of this batch of river tourists were different. We had hoped to head up toward where we live and explore the Western end as it goes into Hyde Park. However, Shea and Rob made sure we experienced different aspects of the river.

We want more.

Call Yogi and Boo Boo

July 18th, 2010

neponsetsignAbruptly, an excellent pick-a-nick spot has appeared at the Milton/Boston line. Just Southwest of Mattapan Square, the Netponset Esplanade Park awaits picnickers, gawkers and canoers.

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It has:

  • Easy access from where Rte. 28 South curves and Truman Parkway branches off
  • Parking for a dozen or so vehicles, including two big handicap-access spaces
  • Lots of shade
  • Five picnic table/bench combos
  • A half dozen sturdy benches beside the path
  • Two river overlooks with wooden seats
  • Stairway to the river, a canoe/kayak launch

neponsetmapIt does not have:

  • Grills
  • Toilets
  • Water fountains

neponsetoverlookWatching the languid and sporadic development of the walkway beside the river has not inspired confidence in its completion. Seeing the precipitous and nearly entirely blocked banks of the Neponset on both sides was also foreboding. Would there be any way to get to or even get a good look at this urban river?

neponsettablesWell, the answer is clearly yes. A look at the master plan shows more of the same coming. The inset here includes a section from that showing where this new park is and its features.

I’ll try to be a bit more patient. I’ll certainly take my pick-a-nick basket down to a quiet, shady park with easy access.neponsetstairs

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Dolor and Sense

July 16th, 2010

abecentSkipping pennies was and remains a teen amusement. Yet when I was in high school a dear friend a little older than my mother wove an entirely different tapestry and forever changed my mind.

She was Evelyn Justice, my biscuit lady. We had known each other from my elementary-school days in Danville, Virginia. She worked for the dentist we used and became a family friend. She was surely the kindest and happiest person I have ever known. We were sad when she and her husband moved to Plainfield, New Jersey.

Jump to high school and my mother moved us to that same city. There, I would walk across a broad park and a few more blocks to her house. She was a master biscuit maker (look and feel; no measuring) and glad to oblige me.

One afternoon though, Evelyn was still upset from what she had experienced walking home. She had been just behind three guys from school — my school. They gouged pennies from their jeans and with one in hand, they took turns skipping it along the sidewalk.

She was aghast and transported to earlier times and distant places. She had grown up in a tiny town in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The region, including her family, was among the hardest of the hardscrabble during the Great Depression. Few had much and no one had anything to spare.

To Evelyn, one U.S. cent, one one-hundredth of a dollar, was real money. A few pennies could make the difference of the family eating OK that week. Every cent was precious. The family coin jar was a shrine.

In Plainfield, nearly four decades later, she was riven by the puerile pleasures of those young men. A penny by itself didn’t count for much to them, so little in fact that they could use them as disposable toys. Those guys did not share in family fears of want and deprivation. They did not save, remake, repair and conserve.

She said that she followed behind them, picking up every penny they threw away. She didn’t care if they thought she was a crazy old lady. She knew what a cent had meant and still meant to her. She didn’t really need a palm of pennies, but she would be damned (a word she never would profane the air with herself) if she would let them literally throw away what had been so powerful to her.

She asked me and I was able to say that I never engaged in skipping pennies. Yet when she asked I realized that it would not have been out of the question for me. I had never been presented with the activity. Plus, I had never been wasteful. I had earned money selling vegetables, being a paperboy, life-guarding, and on and on. I made my own money and quite literally did not throw it on the street.

My mother said that she realized in college that she had been shielded from the Depression. Her father had a full-time job on the B&O Railroad for 48 years, including those when many were unemployed and hopeless. He also grew one or more one-acre vegetable and fruit gardens every summer for fresh and cannable food. He sold Chevys on the side.

He also had a tailor shop and made clothes for the family. That led to a story my mother told on herself. She was always embarrassed to be wearing clothes her father made rather than store-bought dresses, skirts and blouses. She was short but long-waisted and could hardly wait to be fashionable when she was away from home. She rushed with her spending money to buy off the rack and was flabbergasted. Nothing fit. She had lived her life in tailored clothes!

Even so, like many of the WWII generation, raised by those who navigated the Depression for their families, my mother carried that mindset. She taught us as she had been thought — respect objects, whether they be food, clothes or pennies.

So in Plainfield, Evelyn had me tearing up with her. Her tales of how a few pennies might mean subsistence or the rarest of the rare, a treat, brought me beyond my frugality. In our nation of plenty, even in these hard times, we toss much, thinking nothing of what it means to those who have nothing or what it might have meant to other Americans.

You’ll never catch me skipping pennies. That’s a lesson that went from Evelyn to me to my three sons and now to you.

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Lagomorph Life

July 11th, 2010

My newest paperboy is furry. Out this morning around 6:30 to pick up the papers, I was not amazed to see a rabbit, but was surprised that he was not the least bit upset by me.

Likewise, at the end of the day in distant (13 or 14 miles away) Allston, I turned into a thoroughly urban warren of houses that barely squeezed onto their lots, leaving no space for more than a few bean plants. Another rabbit squatted in the middle of the street, a car length away from two teens shooting hoops.

Now, I’ll expect to see eastern cottontails morning and evening daily.

Up on Fairmount Hill in Hyde Park, we expect rabbits. There is an urban wild one long block East of us, reputedly home to a pack of coyotes. I’ve seen at least the parents, individually trotting around the streets like we’re the visitors and they the residents. I have found remains — tufts of bunny fur like the leavings after a canine snack in the yard. In the winter, tracks in the snow indicate that there is a warren under bushes on our property. We have seen one or two rabbits many evenings foraging around the fence 40 feet or so from our back deck.

This morning though, the newspaper bunny was refreshingly bold. Our youngest, a teen, figures that he  recognized me, at least in the sense that he knew I lived there and presented no threat. Perhaps — he sat on the sidewalk a foot or so from the papers and didn’t move until I was inches away from him. Then he hopped a few steps as I picked up the bundles. As I headed back to the house, he hopped without urgency or changing speed, a few feet ahead of me. At the driveway, he went behind the hedges and I headed up the steps into the house. An unhurried, unspoken moment shared…

This evening was a bit more curious though. What the devil was a wild animal doing so far from any trees, park, woods or protection of any type?

I was on a bike headed to a Boston Cyclists Union BBQ. The streets were as citified as you get without skyscrapers. Again, two guys were shooting baskets a few feet away. The rabbit was seemingly comfy hunched down in the middle of Riverdale Street.

We humans seem used to the idea that wee furries fear us. We appear, they scamper. Not so my eastern cottontails today. I could get used to this.

Update: Two mornings later, two rabbits were a few feet from the papers — speckled bookends on either side of the walk. I did not have a camera but have been keeping one at hand. Now I don’t see them and feel like Bessie Bighead from Under Milk Wood. “(She) picks a posy of daisies in Sunday Meadow to put on the grave of Gomer Owen who kissed her once by the pig-sty when she wasn’t looking and never kissed her again although she was looking all the time.” I’m looking.

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Cyclists’ Imaginary Shields

July 11th, 2010

Two cyclists, a young women from Allston and I, share the same pretense from very different perspectives. We each believe that our appearance protects us from the worst of road rage…at least face to face.

Yet, we could hardly be more unlike each other.

As well as being much younger, she is much shorter and much slighter, and of course, female. I am tall with an absurdly broad chest and shoulders. We have arrived into adulthood thinking our bodies make us undesirable victims.

Note that as a child, I tended to be one of the smaller kids in classes. I just kept growing until I was 21 or so, putting up about an inch and one-half in  height after high school. The team wrestling and swimming, plus vocations like house carpentry crew and avocations like cycling added muscle.

As one of the less formidable elementary and junior-high boys, I didn’t seek fights. Instead, I had a pretty good sense of troublemakers and could almost always deflect them before they got nasty. Even today, I don’t feel like I have to play alpha male and prove myself around other men.

Charlotte Burger of the Boston Cyclists Union surprised me last month with a different take on the same attitude. We both attended a Hyde Park zoning advisory group hearing, where she introduced herself.

When the presentation part of the meeting broke, we chatting bikes, naturally. I had my tail tale of my purple butt from a hit-and-run driver. She spoke of a recent run-in with a road rage guy.

In her case, a cyclist hater was threatening her with his car and words. She spoke, shall we say, negatively, to him. He was ready to beat up that insolent little guy. Then when she removed her helmet and saw that she was a little woman instead, he backed off and clearly had no intention of proving himself at her expense.

From her perspective, being slight, even a bit delicate, is all to her advantage in such situations. Even the worst jerks don’t want to pound a woman.

From mine, I’m big enough that nearly all guys don’t want to mess with me. I just don’t look like easy pickings.

She’s too easy and a girl. I’m a boy and might well be too tough. Our very different physiques may in fact work the same for us from different angles.

Wouldn’t it be great if all drivers simply respected cyclists and didn’t have to act out against them or feel drivers had rights to use their cars like weapons and even start fights on the ground. Lacking that, I recommending being small or big.

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Secret Boston on That Other River

July 10th, 2010

Why am I telling you? Surely, it’s to my advantage to keep the Greenway Festival very, very quiet.

I think the bonhomie residue from this morning’s freebie canoeing still tricks my brain. Plus, I know from decades of living here that Bostonians in general don’t drift afield of their known, usual events.

bnanfestRegardless, this relatively secret Neponset River Greenway Festival is hidden Boston outdoors in its splendor. It’s free. It runs for a couple of months. It has active and passive events. It has stuff for adults, kids and families. Did you note that all events are gratis?

This morning, for one mixed group, we were in a squadron of eight canoes struggling against the tide and then tooling around the Neponset between Pope John Paul II Park and the chocolate factory.

Our leaders were Rob McArthur of the DCR and Shea Ennen of Boston Natural Area Networks. The former was key here not only because the state runs these parks, but Rob also brought the canoes, paddles and life jackets. Did you note this is all free?

We were on the water for an hour and half, a little longer maybe. There were only a couple of power boats passing and they were obeying the no-wake rules. The water had a lot more ducks and geese, a few cormorants and a egret. The latter is a wading bird, but it was waiting…in a tree…instead, with no beach on either side.

It was reedy all around, quiet and just enough work to justify a hearty lunch. You almost certainly were not there.

Despair not. the sixteenth annual Greenway Festival continues into late August. Check the sked for more canoeing, hikes, bike rides, and for the exercise adverse, butt-friendly free flicks, arts and nature workshops, and playground shows and activities for the tots.

Now I’m riven. We always go to the Lowell Folk Festival on the last weekend of July, and have for decades. We favor Saturday, which invariably has the best and most varied music. Yet, the Greenway gala has a canoeing expedition in our new neighborhood on that Saturday.

I suppose we could do Lowell on Sunday…

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Lingerie Jungle

July 8th, 2010

Girdles, panty-girdles, pettipants, slips full and half, stockings, underpants and of course brassieres…

Those were my daily teenage jungle. They were vines in the family bathroom, but not even of any utility for swinging from place to place.

In apartments with two females, I moved or pushed aside curtains of lingerie to shower, use a toothbrush or shave. I was the minority adjusting the the nylon tyranny of the majority.

That meant heaving the foldable wooden Rid-Jid drying rack (carefully so the dowel structure didn’t collapse) from the tub to the floor to get to the shower or tub. That meant pushing aside the shower-curtain rack of stockings and white wear and moving it to someplace obvious and safe.

It’s good I didn’t have a fetish for women’s undergraments. Perhaps the daily dealings are what kept me from fixating on them. I never understood the guys in college who sat at student union stairwells hoping for glimpse of what I had seen far too many of, thank you very much.

The amusing part though was not my daily bra bushwhack. Rather, my busty sister and flat-chested mom kept a regular banter about their contributions to the jungle. There was never a doubt about whose bra was whose.

They’d laugh about their respective attributes, feigning jealousy.

I ran into that again a few years later in my first job after journalism school. As editor of the black weekly in Columbia South Carolina, the Palmetto Post, I was usually the only white person around. Other than ad sales reps, the two always-there office staff were black women who had been best friends since first grade. They even went to the two neighboring black colleges there before starting working for the paper together.

They knew each other very well.

Part of that was play like I grew up hearing. They had the two stereotypical African-American women’s bodies. One was was slender with no bottom or top to speak of and the other short and heavy top and bottom. The slender one, Ida, would not let a day pass without lamenting how much she wanted big breasts and a substantial rear. Jackie would counter with how chubby she was and how much she wanted Ida’s right bod.

Here again, I was outnumbered and on their turf. They remained the best of friends and used body talk like too many of us go through riffs on the weather. Plus, I think they enjoyed watching me blush.

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Southern Delights Appear

July 5th, 2010

I knew those peaches from a distance. From over 20 feet away when the PriceRight doors slid open, I knew they were from McBee.

License plates can be tricky. Georgia bills itself as the peach state and South Carolina has long grown more peaches, while California trumps everyone.  Let them quibble. What Southerners learned a long time ago is that Mac’s Pride and McLeod Farms labels are worth seeking.

scpeachThey aren’t going to be those mealy west coast peach-like objects or the rot-before-ripen junk. Whether it’s for sloppy hand eating, pies or ice cream, great peaches are treasures.

Sure enough, when I got to the fruit bins at PriceRight, I could smell them before I got close enough to read the Mac’s Pride sticker. I loaded a big bag.

Down there, where they grow serious drupes, this is peach season. So I am left to wonder how a chain store that started in western MA got so savvy about peaches. They have a very limited selection of many items. Most of their produce is not particularly well priced or the highest quality, but they nailed peaches.

My in-laws in Florence, South Carolina would make the trip to McBee to buy baskets of the McLeod’s goodies. They had fine enough peaches down in the PeeDee, but they considered it worth the drive for the best.

I confess that I have had even better peaches. From my childhood in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, the local orchards spoiled me. The perfect apples as well as peaches grew on the mountain slopes outside of Romney. My grandfather had known the orchard people for a half century and they sold or gave him their very best.  Those fruits were perfectly ripe and could out-smell his cigar-saturated car upholstery on the drive home. Of course, they were not meant to travel more than than five miles or so and would never have been shipped by train and truck to maybe ripen in a grocery store.

I have to say, my little find on River Street in Hyde Park was a delightful flashback to pretty damn good peaches. I do believe this is a pie day…and there are others to await us in a ripening bowl.

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