Early voting, even in MA

October 2nd, 2016 No comments »

New, Improved, Zap, Pow! For the first time ever, MA including Boston will allow early voting. That’ll be Monday, Oct. 24 through Friday, Nov. 4.

Yes, yes, this is long overdue. At least MA is one of the states going the right way. Sixteen or more other states have been legislating nonstop to limit voting. On the other hand, I’d like to see at the least:

  • Prolonged early voting
  • Same-day registration
  • Automatic voter registration upon becoming 18
  • Choice of any ballot in a primary to those registered in a party or political designation (popular in MA

However, I’m sure the legislature and secretary of the commonwealth will  look carefully at turnout this and the next few elections.

The way it work in MA and Boston this first go will be designated locations on specified days and times. You can see Boston’s locations and times here.

The overview is each neighborhood gets one ore more four to eight hour periods. Boston’s city hall has early voting every few days. For example, my Hyde Park area gets a single period, Wednesday, Oct. 26 from 2 to 8 PM.

I haven’t gotten my training for the pending general election. As a precinct warden I’m want to understand some details. For one, the election polls open Tuesday, Nov. 8 at 7 AM.

We’ll get check-in and check-out books that list each registered voter in the precinct. I assume there will be a designation beside each early voter’s name that indicates they have already voted. We have a version already for absentee voters (AV). I assume there’ll be EV or the like. So the data-entry minions at city hall area likely to be clerking away from Friday afternoon on to make sure the books we get are up to date.

Note: This also appears at leftahead.com.

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Urine and Mine

October 2nd, 2016 No comments »

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.

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5¢ Victory

October 1st, 2016 1 comment »

Ifairmounttoot can be as cynical as anyone about befuddled, unthinking, unresponsive bureaucrats. One thoroughly surprised me last evening.  I got an almost instantaneous reply…from a human…with a resolution to a complaint.

I felt like a panel in one of Keith Knight’s Life’s Little Victories.

It was just over a nickel. I figured the rules-are-rules, that’s-the-way-it-is forces would likely ignore me or eventually tell me to go away. Instead, I got a callback within 10 minutes of emailing a complaint.

Maybe it was the French connection. Keolis manages the commuter rail here, including fare collection and ticket issuing on trains. After a terrible winter with many skipped or late trains, they try to be efficient and revenue producing.

As of July 1, the MBTA hiked fares roughly 5%. A few fares fell on one side or another of a price fence. The one at issue here was the zone 1A train fare for those with a senior card, i.e. me. The rate as of July 1 went to $1.10 one way from my Fairmount stop to South Station.

Recently and suddenly, the conductors have adamantly demanded not $2.20 for a round trip, rather $2.25. There’s a bureaucratic logic to that, in that senior prices are almost all 50% that of regular adult tickets. Yet, it’s not $1.125 one way, just $1.10.

Someone had clearly trained the conductors poorly on this fine point. One after another told me strongly that the round trip was $2.25. They just knew it. I on the other hand had seen the initial price hike info, including the posters that appeared for weeks in each train with the $1.10/$2.20 info.

No Chewing Gum

I admit that today’s nickel is yesterday penny. When I was wee, it would buy a five-stick pack of gum. Not in 2016. 5¢ pieces are earning the same disdain as 1¢ ones. They are more of an inconvenience than currency.

Yesterday I decided to test my memory. I bought a $1.10 ticket to South Station. There, I went to the commuter-rail ticket office to:

  1. Buy a return ticket and
  2. Ask the clerk what the round trip fare is

She must be used to alter kakers and other sticklers. She didn’t laugh or tell me to drop dead. She immediately said $2.20 and then verified that by calling up the ticket on her database and computer screen. Sure enough, $2.20.

Last evening, I used the MBTA site’s contact-us tab. I sent my whiny complaint by their form.

Within a few minutes, I got a call. That was remarkable enough. Moreover, she said, “You’re right.” Beyond that she said they’d immediately send a memo to all the conductors informing them that the senior round trip in zone 1A is $2.20, not $2.25. She agreed what 5¢ was small change indeed, but “We should all be on the same page.”

Mirabile dictu!

 

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White Squirrel Fest #6

September 10th, 2016 No comments »

The JP Music Fest is a tot by Boston standard, but really they’ve pulled off six annual versions now.

We enjoyed a few hours there. As a note, the hipster quotient was low today. For example, I only counted two Trilby hats.

Here follow a few snaps of groups we heard in a few hours. I recommend following the links and listening to each. You can also catch a track from each at the JPMusicFest site.

The festival is this time each year, runs with continuous music from noon to 7, offers a wide variety, and is free.

Merrie Amsterburg plays a wide variety of instruments, including allegedly a washing machine. She was on the electric mandolin in JP. merrie3
amechoes2 America Echoes reminds audiences they are identical twins, Laura and Nina Ganci.
The America Echoes women do R&B and folk, electric and acoustic. amechoes6
boxofbirds1 Box of Birds is a folk rock quartet. Steph Durwin leads the vocals.
Guitarist Charlie Gargano of Box of Birds sang too. boxofbirds4
louder1 Louder Than Milk is a very local fun and funny country-like band.
Louder Than Milk has a drummer vocalist too, Jay Page (h.t. to Bridget Murphy). louderthanmilk



jpflute



On the way to the festival, we had a mini-concert from a wee flutist trying to get the ducks and her brother to listen.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

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Shoot Me Not

August 13th, 2016 No comments »

My fashooterlure as a senior engineering manager was not shooting my direct reports. That was both physical and digital.

We all put in long, productive workdays. Mine tended to run longer. I got to the office around 5 AM. They’d stumble in around 9 or 10. I was the documentation manager/head tech writer. The chief UI designer would arrive about the same time. We’d work alone and together on our stuff and the complex interface, head to the downstairs FitCorp gym at 6 or 6:30 and be groomed and caffeinated when the programmers finally showed.

They’d goof around, then work, then insult each other, and keep it going until 5 or 6. Then they’d shift from coffee to Pepsi. As all savvy tech companies, ours provide unlimited cold and hot caffeine. They’d do hours of multi-player games over our network, taking great joy in visually splattering each other for hours.

Weekend meetings might be paintball, when then mayhem was more literal, involving downers (beer) and bruises from the balls.

Old Mike instead read books, wrote blogs, worked cryptic puzzles, and philosophized. I had no interest in figurative murder or literal punishment.

I’m older. The sprouts seemed to forgive me. We all went out to lunch and after-work drinks. I just had no interest in multi-player games and feigned warfare.

When my engineering VP went off to sell the company, he dubbed me in charge of engineering, as in development, test, QA, docs and such. I became the socket for the whines. “His code sucks…he doesn’t know how to clear a memory address…she uses 54 lines to do what I can in 12…my girlfriend’s cat pisses in my shoe…I found this function perfectly done in Fresh Meat…Tom did not subversion his code and I wasted four hours waiting…”

You’ll never find a bigger bunch of kvetchers than developers.

Yet, I admit, I’d been a better sport had I picked up a paintball gun and tried to humiliate and hurt my reports. I could have upended my life and fought rush-hour Boston traffic to get in late, leave late, and devoted two hours every evening to network shooter games.

Sorry. I win.

 

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Your Name Here, On My Chest

August 6th, 2016 No comments »

IMshirt copy Gentle branding of human employees was normal and welcome. Is it still?

Companies that paid well and had good benefits and policies always seemed to try to dress their folk. Of course, the polo shirts, windbreakers, hoodies and the like had the company logo and likely a product name. I scanned part of a couple of my remainders here. Internet Manager was one of the major products of Elron Software (later bought and murdered by Zix Corp.).

micbreakerMicrocom was one f the first and surely the best maker of modems, telecommunications software and chassis and such. Of the high-tech companies I worked for, Microcom was the best. Even after its suffocation and dissolve by Compaq, virtually all modems contain vestiges of it, specifically communicating via MNP (Microcom Networking Protocol).

I have polo shirts (high-end cotton pique, of course), heavy dress shirts, Polartec pullovers, super-heavy sweatshirts, as well as Nerf footballs and various geegaws. It’s the branded clothing that stands out though.

I’d worked for sleazy companies that underpaid. They rarely would spend even for modest t-shirts. I’m also away of rich companies that went out. A friend got a leather and satin jacket from Ziff-Davis’ internet service. A son got a leather bomber jacket from Google when he worked their security division.

From a business perspective, these make good sense. Employees feel special, they are billboards for the company, the non-recurring expense doesn’t add to the salary base. You have to wonder what the cheapskates in companies that don’t offer clothes are thinking. Surely this is penny wise and pound foolish.

I do think though of my erstwhile acquaintance, the late Al Goldstein. As an early 20-something, I did some freelance photography for his Milk Way Productions, which includes the sleazy tabloids Screw, Smut, Gay and Bitch. They did very little original photography, instead, as Al proudly told me, the bought black-and-white prints by the pound from pornographers. Their files were stuffed with drawers with labels like TWO BLACK WOMEN/ONE WHITE MAN.

Al did the shirt thing, largely to sell to subscribers (yes, Screw had mail subscribers). He gave me a couple. They were the cheapest possible fabrics. I remember that the first SCREW-logo one shrank in a few washings from a man’s XL to about a woman’s S.

On the other hand, I have lots of highly serviceable logo-wear from elsewhere.

 

 

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All Lowell All Day Folk Festival

July 31st, 2016 No comments »

You don’t have to wait until the last weekend in July to go to Lowell, MA. Lots of art, restaurants and music are worth the trip the rest of the year. Yet, here we’re big on the annual Lowell Folk Festival. We’ve only missed two of its 30 years, when we were far away.

By the bye, Seattle has an older one (45 years) with more performers. It runs Memorial Day weekend.

We’ve never left the LFF without a new favorite musician/group. Oh to tip the scales, I note that they’ve kept this free. They gently ask for donations as volunteers wander, swapping Mardi Gras necklaces for whatever you chip in (and you don’t have to flash).

Fado (fate in Portuguese) is the mainstay of the country’s music. Many songs are of heartbreak, loss and jealousy. They do mix them up with some fun. Ana Laíns was extremely expressive in voice, body and face. LFFfado7
LFF16ceili1 Of course Irish music…Old Bay Ceili Band played that. Let’s call this the trad Irish mirrored sunglasses.
The several century old Peking Opera, replete with much percussion, garish costumes and battles was by the Qi Shu Fang troupe. I honestly am not sure I would be a regular but no one could say the style is boring. LFFpeking3
LFFjason2 Jason D. Williams, who may or may not be Jerry Lee Lewis’ son, more than plays piano. He uses his fingers, fists, feet, butt and like that. High energy does not being to describe his boogie woogie. I doubt a keyboard could survive more than two of his shows.
Deacon John is in his seventies, but sings and moves like he’s 22. Powerful jump blues. LFFdeacon
LFFlurrie1 Lurrie Bell, Chicago bluesman and son of one, delivered strong and pounding blues.
Gibson Brothers bluegrass band included driving base by Mike Barber and demon mando by Jesse Brock. The leads actually are brothers Leigh and Eric, only 11 months apart. LFFgibson2
LFFmacmaster1





Bad nighttime lighting and the fast movements of Cape Breton fiddlers Natalie MacMaster and hubby Donnell Leahy limited shots of them. They wowed on the violins and she claimed the Irish step dance routine she through in she hadn’t done in almost 30 years.

More pix: These and additional shots are on Flickr. There are many more snaps there.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

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Failing the Mom

July 18th, 2016 No comments »

wanda1While my mother, Wanda Lee Michael Ball, died almost 12 years ago, I continue to recall my times with her. Those are almost entirely happy and grateful. She raised my sister and me solo, did a damned good job of it, and balanced fun and moral and smart by example and word.

On occasion, I do have minor regrets though. I recall particularly how I failed her by turning down one request. Sure, she denied me this or that over the the years as well. Yet, as an old guy now myself, I am increasingly aware of the stresses and pains — interpersonal, intellectual, physical, emotional — that living and aging bring. I could have taken one for the team that afternoon.

In her mid-50s, she had a devil of a year. Even typing that, I snort at Wanda’s example. She was loath to swear or even euphemize. “Damn!” was extreme language for her. When she was angry or very disappointed, her strong language was typically, “For crying out loud in a bucket!” (full emphasis on bucket). A malefactor we might call a bastard or asshole would suffer her, “What a crumbum.”

To most of us her 1979 was a year from hell. It included:

  • She had finally found happiness and fulfillment with a lover, who was chased by his ex-wife’s lawyers and courts for new spousal and child support. He got his company to transfer him to Asia and safety.
  • Her own  company got sold to a much larger pharma who handed payouts to the entire sales staff. Thus she was jobless.
  • With her payout, she had to invest it in six months or lose much of it to taxes. That meant buying a house for her and her sister across the country a decade before she wanted to consider such.
  • She got a breast cancer diagnosis. Her doc wanted to aspirate the growths, but her nurse sister convinced her to get a second opinion in her pending new town of Santa Fe. The surgeon there saw the lymph cancers as well and scheduled her for a radical mastectomy.
  • As part of the treatment at the time, her doctors immediately stopped the heavy doses of hormones she was getting for a hard menopause. As a result, her personality changed and her always modulated and logical self became short-tempered and even occasionally irrational, in other words like most other adults her age.

Beaten up and beaten down in every way, she did cope. In Santa Fe without her friends and lover, without her career, without a breast, and on an on.

In many ways, I was there and helpful. I visited, I called, I sent her goody boxes (something she had always done for her children). I was swell to her until she asked one thing that choked me.

Her surgeon liked to tell the story of when he visited her with the post-mastectomy lady and a couple  of nurses a few days after the surgery. The woman showed with a suitcase of padded bras and prostheses. The nurses were there to observe and learn.

Wanda looked at the assembled crew and asked, “What are you doing here?” The woman said she was there to help with the recovery. The surgeon said that Wanda then stated very clearly, “I’m not sick. I just had cancer,” and shooed them out. She was definitely not interested in being fitted for an artificial breast.

You should know that she never identified strongly with her mammary glands. Hers were small. Her daughter’s large. They’d joke about it being obvious whose bras were hanging to dry.

She had cancer of both breast and lymph. The prognosis after successful surgery was death within five years. She went 25.

On one of my visits not too long after the surgery, but when she had healed as much as her body was going to, she asked and I faltered. I knew they had taken a big chunk of muscle as was the style in those years of mastectomy. When the two of us were on the living room couch, she asked in her previous style whether I wanted to see and feel where the breast had been.

I did not and she seemed truly disappointed. It was a ritual offering that I failed to accept.

Yes, yes, the idea of a son touching his mothers breast, rather where the breast used to be, sounds morally and sexually wrong. It really would not have been. It was a medical, anatomical thing. It was yet another of her healing mechanisms.

I should have bucked up and gone with it…for her. I couldn’t and didn’t.

Shortly after I was rereading one of my favorite poets, Frederick Nicklaus. In The Man Who Bit The Sun, one of his poems starts:

I remember a horse in Indiana;
it came from the fields, it ran alongside
the bus. I remember its reddish hide.

But believe me, I failed the fright of its eyes.

So here it was. My mother looked me straight in the face and asked for something pretty simple. I failed. I couldn’t do it.

 

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JP Porchfest Again

July 9th, 2016 No comments »

We’ve gone to all the JP Porchests. Truth be told, that’s a small deal. Today’s was the third annual. Yeah, yeah, it’s spottier than say the Lowell Folk Festival, but no matter what music you like, they got it and if you don’t like one group, look at the event map or simply wander the neighborhood. There are 100 or so in play at any moment.

I finally relaxed on this one. Previously, I’d planned the long day from noon into evening, hopping in 15 to 20 to 30 minute listens. I wanted to get the maximum aural and visual exposure. This year, I sussed out the performers in advance off the Porchfest site and simply picked several to listen to a long concert with each.

Liv Greene is apparently a Tufts senior and likely older than she looks. Her voice and song writing are plenty mature. She is wont to compose morose lyrics that she mixes with folk cover songs. She pulls off her sad tunes with strong guitar to match her sweet voice.

We saw her later playing with Liv Brook in the duo they call Liv and Letliv, doing Appalachian songs to guitar and fiddle. I grew up with WV hillbilly music. They’d do just fine on Jersey Mountain.

livgreene2
Aurora Birch was starkly slender and dressed all in black. She closed her eyes when she sang. She could seem forbidding except for her frequent gesticulations and grins between songs. She clearly enjoyed herself. She switch among several acoustic and one electric guitar and jocularly regretted not also playing her banjo. abirch1
Fiona Corinne followed the sincere and subtle Aurora Birch…in a very different style. She let us know that she grew up in the world of musical theater. She proved it with the strongest voice of my afternoon. fionac1
Boston’s poet laureate, Danielle Legros Georges, was serious and politically aware. dlgeorges
Allysen Callery accompanied her ethereal voice with finger-style guitar. allysen

We heard snatches of several of the many dozens of performers, but those were ones I dove deeply into. I think that suits me better than trying to catch as many as possible. This is like my beloved Lowell Folk Festival. The key is to pore over the schedule carefully and map an itinerary.

Lowell is an absolute must, but JP’s Porchfest is damned good. Each is well worth hitting the schedule in advance and plotting your performance. Oh, and like Lowell, this one is free too.

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Out-Irish and Out-Boston Each Other

June 23rd, 2016 No comments »

Provincialism and parochialism at their best were on display at Boston Police Academy and had nothing to do with cops. They simply let locals use their auditorium for public meetings like the monthly Fairmount Hill Neighborhood Association

The feature last evening was Boston/Milton developer Denis Keohane. We got to hear the Irish born (himself), even-more-(artificially)-Irish Bostonians, and the overlapping nativists. Oh, with a good dose of NIMBY to boot completing the theater.

The gist is that Keohane (originally from Kinsale in Cork for those who care about such) thought he was there as a courtesy to the residents. That’s not how many in the room figured it.

He presented an early-stage plan for eight houses on a large (91K square feet) derelict lot one long block from my house. His plan starts with meeting requirement in square footage per house (8K) and setbacks all around. The road is 40 feet wide and all in Boston, so the city will plow it in winter. One third of one of the houses sits in Milton, so that one has complicated realty taxes but the building authority and regulations are all Boston.

keohanevilleExpectation differences ruled the meeting. It quickly became obvious that Keohane was a wildly successful residential and commercial developer who came to make nice to the locals. He seemed at first quite giddy that this would be his first project as-of-right and without having to file and fight for variances. He thought he was being gracious.

Legally he didn’t have to ask the neighbors for anything or inform them of anything. His plan includes building a road up the middle of the land and plugging a row of four houses on each side. He was getting the permits to do that. So there.

Well now, not so simple to the many who wanted more than intel. They demand obeisance.

The brogues thickened as Denis sweated his hour on the stage. It made me think of Southerners I know who suddenly develop the strongest accents away from home.

Let’s be aware that Keohane is not quite 50 and has been in the U.S. for 28 years. His first 21 were in Ireland, which he left for economic opportunity. He married here, they have three daughters in their 20s, he has completed numerous successful projects mostly in Boston and some in abutting Milton, and has won town-level elections in Milton.

Shame of a key detail…

Two older men whose Irish accents got stronger as the evening progressed found a chink when Keohane freely confessed that he was not aware that there had been a reservoir on and above the property in question.

My attitude is that ignorance is almost always (baring some scientific and very specific subjects) quick and easy to fix. Give the info and get to the important stuff, I say.

In contrast, many parochial types are like puppies with a swock and just can’t put it down. Thus at the meeting, a couple of alter kakers returned repeatedly with oh-so-you-really-didn’t-know-about-the-reservoir!? The theme seemed to be that if Keohane didn’t know that, anything he said relating to ground water was untrustworthy. Pigeon poop on that.

Keohane presented salient info, specifically that he has an engineer drilling 20 holes to find out when they hit water. The 8 basements are to be 10 feet underground. He said if they find water at 2 feet, that’s a likely reason to walk away from the development. Otherwise, they’d work with pros to mitigate the water and get it to the street pipes and drains.

The old guys kept saying if he didn’t now about the reservoir, his other info was suspect. One even repeated that the water had been their for centuries and would always be there. On the other hand, I wonder whether the water guys can mitigate the water in ways that would in fact lower the water table and make basements drier for all us neighbors. (I’ll attend the water-drilling followup to ask about that possibility.)

The usual suspects…

Several area folk at this meeting come to all local hearings and info sessions. Their aim seems to be to show they can make presenters squirm or badger them. From their comments and questions, they likely would say, “I’m only trying to get to the truth.” That’s the way of jerks who enjoy acting out their control-freak nature.

At numerous such meeting and hearings I’ve attended I see:

  • Gotcha questions indicating “I know this and you didn’t.”
  • Efforts to squeeze some minor concession out of the speaker (to show personal power?)
  • Claims they support positive change when in fact they oppose all change
  • Requests or demands for more information, future meetings, and more trips to regulators

Looking for trouble…

Some folk asked where the coyotes and other furry varmints would go. One couple recalled when a large house went up above this parcel, they for the first time got rats, which the developer had to get rid of for them.

Keohane said he had pest control for development and afterward in the specs, which he detailed.

Yet water was the big issue. One resident recalled ice skating in there as a child. Charming for recreation, but not as much for basement owners.

Keohane had lots of water answers, from percolation (perc) testing to having rights to drain water-table and storm runoff into city systems. Not good enough for the toughs.

Several ended up asking him to look for trouble. Specifically even though the area is not listed as environmentally sensitive or protected, why not go out and see if anyone might just reconsider adding it to wetland shields?

Of course, Keohane noted that his folk has checked the lists and found nothing. I ask why would he create problems?

Not from here…

Bostonians at their worst can be no different than provincial types elsewhere. I was comfortable with Keohane’s Boston cred, professional and personal.

Not so some others, three mentioned his, to them, tenuous connections. When one said it was their neighborhood, he reminded her it was his as well. She went on several levels deep, trying to trump him. She alleged to feel strongly because she’d grown up there. He came back with his nearly three decades in the immediate area, a long-term wife and three kids, arriving here to make his way when he was only 21, and so forth.

She played her final trump card. She had not only lived her 50 years, but had been born here, while he had not.

That was too much for Keohane. He said, “We’re done here.” He allowed as that was not fit argument. He was understandably insulted. She muttered a faint, “I apologize.” In fact, he was out of there.

I call an unfair-fighting foul on her.

Civic theater

As petty and annoying as some of these folk were, there are worse ways to spend an evening than attending neighborhood hearings. You can learn more about your local folk than you want to know.

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