Archive for the ‘West Roxbury’ Category

Explode or Erode

October 6th, 2009

Clichés attacked my brain yesterday while lifting weights. Those who knew me young will find that itself amusing, as I did not lift in my teens, in fact not until I was in my mid-50s, long after any bulk-up effects would ensue.

At just 15, my wrestling coach ordered those of us under 16 to keep off free weights and use push-ups and sit-ups instead. They were the way he got his own steely bod. The next year, I started my swimming career, in which the coaches opposed such muscle-tightening. Meanwhile, I developed with a million or two breast strokes.

When I had a big disk (L5-S1) pop into my spinal column, I began lifting as rehab. It helped keep the blood pumping around the renegade disk to resorb (dissolve) it, thus avoiding risky surgery. I did that for a couple of years, then didn’t and just started again at twice a week for upper body. I get plenty of leg work with cycling and hiking.

With that setup, I come to the clichés.

I grew up very WASPy, with pretty standard Boomer ethics. While our WWII parents often urged behavior they did not model, one regular message was that vanity was unmannerly and self-indulgent. I bought into that and in fact, my mother and her parents also acted accordingly.

Yet with my weight loss following my tib/fib fracture and related changes, has inspired me to look a bit. I am trimmer than since I began college, plus I keep tabs daily or weekly on blood pressure, weight and body fat percentage. I have a machine for each.

My trim trouser set is back in play. I might have tossed them a few decadumbbell workdes ago but am doubly glad I didn’t. Now I have new clothes, plus my ego is pleased enough to keep me monitoring my girth.

So yesterday, I was in the dank (two working sump pumps all the time) dungeon of the West Roxbury Y for my bi-weekly strain fest, 46 minutes of arm and chest thingummies. I was wearing a sleeveless shirt and let myself look.

One of the lifts is lateral dumbbell raises. As I finished, I saw that even on an old man, some muscles had changed a cut. The backs of the triceps brachii were evident. Moreover, sitting on the bench, I noticed that the delts rippled with definition.

Suddenly a philosophical question ensued. What would be sadder, for a tuned body to just stop, say car wreck or heart attack, or for it to wither and dissipate with age, disuse or disease?

In turn, the now rampant chestnut of when an elder dies, a library burned leapt to mind. That’s often attributed as an African proverb (of dubious provenance,  allegedly inspired by Caesar’s accidental destruction of the library at Alexandria). It’s still a powerful thought. Most of us do acquire knowledge, skill and judgment from repetition and correction if not native intellectual power.

The ultimate personal injustice of life is that death halts it all and the unrecorded and un-transferred treasures of mind go into the ground or melt in the crematorium’s heat, figuratively at least. We can pretend that each of us continues to be curious, keeps reading and analyzing, adds to instead of just reinforces our knowledge and sensitivity. Thus, death is a shared sadness beyond the emotional toll on the survivors. Humanity and its intrinsic store lessens a tiny bit with each corpse.

Being my mother’s son, I seldom allow such wallowing in self-absorption and admiration. I forgive myself this time only because my body changes in the past seven months have been profound.

Just after the long glances yesterday in the Y, I thought of dancers, yoginis and athletes I know. Many maintain a fluidity of motion and remarkable muscle tone over decades of human weathering and ripening. I am the equivalent only with aids — in the pool or on a bike. Yet, here too, those trained bodies parallel the discriminating and educated minds.

A Shared Sadness


Alas, through vicissitudes of age, illness, indulgence, lassitude or accident, the finely carved muscles become indistinct as surely as the failing mind. So, to the question, is the sudden or inexorable disintegration a greater sorrow? As long as we are rhetorical, does it even matter or does simply the demise or erosion stand alone?

The answer from my old and trained Protestant ethic would be that letting oneself go would be the worst.  It would be a failure of will and duty.

That involves a level of guilt and moralization I subscribe to no longer. People who are very fat or very thin are should not be a moral issue. Instead, blame and ridicule should fall heavier on those whose minds stagnate from repetition, be it golf or TV.

Let us each stay toned, certainly inside and perhaps out, as long as we are able. Each of us should live as though we expect all who know us or us to be to sad when our treasures go.

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Permission to Die by Car

September 18th, 2009

waving handWhat are the seemingly accommodating drivers thinking? Waving a cyclist or driver into onrushing traffic is the oddest generosity of all — kindness that can kill.

For example, I have experienced this once or twice a week as I bike from the West Roxbury Y to the new alpine digs in Hyde Park.

Turning left from Quinn Way at the stop sign depends on timing for safety. When cars are racing or just rolling north and south simultaneously on Centre Street (see inset from Google Maps), I wait for an obvious clear shot.

Quinn Way map

Sometimes I get the oblivious wave that seems at once thoughtful and thoughtless. A driver stops in the nearest lane and dismissively waves me to cross three lanes to head south. I’d like to roll up to the driver’s window and ask what the hell the thought process is.

Invariably, the waver does not seem to notice cars and trucks to the left which would be visible in the driver’s side mirror, as well as more motor vehicles barreling down the hill for anyone looking ahead. Those other drivers would not be able to see me on a bike suddenly claiming a lane in front of them. Smash-o, crunch-o, ouch-o.

The body language of the waver suggests arrogance and noblesse oblige. My interpretation is, “I’m feeling generous and in control of the space around me. I shall deign to let you advance, non-driving peasant.”

That may be putting too find a point on it. Instead and in the least, that driver needs more RAM. Processing the visuals would make it clear that safety and generosity require passing so that the cyclist and on-coming traffic in both directions can see each other. Minimal intelligence would conclude that waving a bicycle into three lanes of moving traffic is, shall we say, unwise.

When I’m safe and in a chair, I have mused on what such drivers are thinking and feeling. I suspect at heart it related to another of my raps, how very few of us are capable of multitasking, yet nearly all of us are sure we are. (See one example of my take here.) If you don’t realize you are not gathering enough information to make a good decision, any check and balance has to come from others.

Too many drivers look only right in front of their cars’ hoods. Simultaneously scanning visual cues in plain sight is the rarity. That way can lead to death or maiming for the pedestrian or cyclist waved into traffic.

Yet almost invariably when I smile but drop my cleated shoe to the pavement instead of following the flicking fingers’ direction, the driver is obviously irritated. I rejected the controlling generosity.

I’ll take the scowl rather than the ambulance ride.

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Cos Play at the Y

September 1st, 2009

“Where’s your cape?,” demanded the four-year-old lad. Realizing that I had been sucked into a cos-play vortex with her kids, the mom was very quick to do almost all the lying for me. flying superhero

I had no idea my long-sleeved Superman shirt — blue with the big old S logo on my big old chest — would be so worthy of comment at the West Roxbury Y. Already two different 30-ish women in two sections had called out, “Great shirt!” and winked.

After my workout, as I sat in the entry room changing into bike shoes, the boy and his slightly older sister had to visit. It wasn’t exactly Santa, but I was their target courtesy of mom. As I passed the clot of families at the pool area, she called to them, “Look. Look. There’s a superhero.”

My youngest is just 16. My days of being even a plain hero to him are behind and maybe ahead of him. Suddenly I had the respect and rapt attention of the kindergarten crew.

They wanted to know just the basic superhero facts. Was I flying home? I said I was taking my bike. Mom added both that superheroes don’t always fly and that I was putting on my special bicycle shoes and my helmet. She was shameless in both making stuff up and entertaining her charges.

I didn’t feel the deceit was too deep or harmful. The son particularly was clearly going to continue to ask the why and how questions today and until he was satisfied, perhaps at age 35. Truth would out.

Well, I do have the big shoulders and obvious muscles. However, instead of the field of jet black hair, I wear some blond cotton candy over my shiny scalp. Had I been five or four, I think I would have wanted to know what had happened to Superman’s hair.

Nevertheless, mom made the mundane magic. Her kids had a seven-minute interlude with Superman right at the Y.

Now I think I feel the need to go fight some crime.

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How Many Halt?

August 12th, 2009

Surely my trivial enlightenment is akin to noticing your new car model everywhere. Since my leg break and prolonged recovery, I have noticed limpers everywhere too.

It seems more obvious in the naked. Slacks disguise mild claudication, but bare, you are there.

This is clear in the large men’s locker room of the West Roxbury Y and almost as obvious in the main workout and weight rooms, where little shorts are the norm. I recently sat on the SciFit machine and tallied the men, sorting into limpers and straight gait guys.

Nearly 35% limped to some degree.  Only a few had canes and only one of over 100 had crutches.

Are we a nation of gait enfeebled and I never noticed it until I was? Likely.

A quick search of ye olde internet didn’t give me anything definitive on percentage of adults who limp. I did find a considerable list of medical conditions that can cause asymmetrical anomaly of gait (if you have numbers, fill in the Wikipedia stub).  Everything from brain tumors to being a porker to injuries like mine can cause limping. The list is so long and variety, I’m surprised that we don’t all limp.

My father, whom I did not grow up with, limped and got a new knee. He earned that through decades of obesity. Unlike guys at the gym I know with new hips or knees, he was very proud of his. He convinced his surgeon to give him a sample of the replacement knee, which he kept handy in his own sort of natural history museum, along with a whale vertebra and a piece of tanned human scalp among other freak show-style artifacts.

In terms of research, I did run across numerous of those conditions with their own papers. For example, consider anterior hip pain. The American Academy of Family Physicians published a piece by the University of Washington’s Dr. John O’Kane that described it with wince-producing precision. He said that up to 40% of us 18 years or older have bilateral injuries. That could cause limping.

Thinking to the overlapping possible conditions, we should be surprised that most of us don’t have obvious limps.

Anthropologists and medical types alike are wont to comment that humans were not built for walking upright. Yet we insist on doing it. I suppose you can say if you believe in the Genesis creation tale that you might have designed humans better.

It’s too late for that. The best I can hope for now is that the many of us with some limp become less obvious to me. It’s plain distracting.

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Healing Spinners Brotherhood

July 28th, 2009

Barry and I are messes, but we’re working on it. He has a newish hip and I have that leg with the titanium bolt knee to ankle.

For a couple of years, we were just middle aged guys who saddled up on bike-like objects in spin classes at the West Roxbury Y. There and then, Dulce, Wendy and other perky sorts cranked out the rock music and choreographed our sweat sessions.

To be candid, after taking spin for a couple of years and teaching it for a few more, I find these classes sort of sissy. My first spin leader was the legend, the martinet, Marta Weinstock. While she went on to drop the h from Martha and become a yoga goddess, she was the best and most demanding at spinning. When I got my Power Pacing certification and started teaching, I carried some of her philosophy, including, “If you didn’t leave a puddle under your bike, you weren’t working!”

That was at a FitCorp. I’ve never taken a class at a Y that was anywhere as tough as hers…or mine.

Regardless, any flavor of spinning is great cardio and something we older guys can do without grinding the knees or ankles. Many of the same of us men and women would show up before 6 a.m. three times a week to do our do.

A couple of years ago, maybe three, I was bike commuting to tech-writing contracts in South Boston. I didn’t go to spin. I had the exercise, plus the adrenalin of trucks and cabs chasing me in Boston traffic twice a day. Then I broke a wrist when a pickup driver jumped a light and knocked me off the bike. I was commuting in a cast a couple of weeks later, but still not back in spin classes.

More seriously, this year with my broken leg — and walker, crutches and cane for months, I was in no condition even though I’ve been unable to find contract work in this recession. So I was surprised and a little ashamed in mid-April when I looked over from my stationary bike in the gym to see Barry.

He and I had spent a lot of hours on nearby saddles, up down, up down, sprint. I was pretty feeble then though. I had just returned to the gym after six weeks crippled, four of those eating hydromorphone (opiate analgesic) for pain.

 Two Lame Guys

The idiot, scripted physician’s assistant from Harvard Vanguard had told me by phone that healing would be better if I lost some weight. Her brilliant and repeating mantra was eat less and exercise more. I initially asked sincerely what exercises I could do when I used the walker and could barely stagger from bed to toilet. She said (ta dah) eat less, exercise more. She only had one answer.

At the Y, the staff was concerned but of little help. They said I’ve have to wait, that there weren’t any classes or equipment for the likes of me.

It turned out to my delight that they were very wrong.  I cruised (ha, figuratively) the machines rooms to discover the SciFit arm machine for physical therapy. Then I found that I could use the crutches also to thump over to rowing machines. So long as I left the leg in the cast on the floor, I could use that. Both were slow and painful, but they made me sweat and breath hard. I cranked up the resistance and time settings on both.

Finally, eight weeks after the break and surgery, I thumped over to the Expresso Fitness stationary bikes, resting my crutches on the floor. They used to be so easy, but it was all I could do to hoist the bad leg over the saddle with two hands and keep my balance climbing on. I was slow, dog slow, and with tears from my uvea.

It was from that vantage a month later that I saw I was sitting next to Barry. We were each out of context for the other. The spin room was maybe 50 yards away by the entrance and where we knew each other.

By then, I could sort of bike. The maddening, taunting ghosts of rides from when I had two working legs haunted me. Yet the ankle had finally loosened enough that I could push the pedals. An actual bicycle seemed long off in the future though.

Barry could one up me though. As we compared sad tales of absence from spin, his story was more powerful than mine.

He had heard speculation in the locker room (no one asked me or the staff) that I had been in a car wreck or a ski accident. Falling on the sidewalk lacks the flair of those.

He on the other hand got a replacement hip the previous August. It did not work as advertised. He doubted that he’d ever be able to go to spin class again. Moreover, his wife had been quite ill at the same time. While she healed, he was not driven to his own concerns.

It happens that several gym rats I didn’t know by name had eyed my progress from walker to crutches to cane to limp and from SciFit to Expresso. The staff too was fairly effusive, praising the various advances and supposed speed of transitions.

The surgeons meanwhile were glum, even grumpy. I had a one-month and then a nine-weeks follow-up, with x-rays and indifference. In the hospital, the head of the orthopedic trauma department and his residents had a hearty chuckle at my bedside when I asked, “When can I get back on a bicycle?” In the follow-ups, the surgeon and residents did not openly ridicule me, but all but one were not helpful or hopeful.

At nine weeks, the head of trauma for Partners thought it over and figured September, but added that I wouldn’t feel like riding until maybe December (just the month you want to hit the streets on two wheels after 10 months off). However, his young resident is a cyclist and had a different answer. He said despite the pain and stiffness, there was no physical reason not to start…slowly and cautiously…as soon as I could balance. He eased another concern, saying I shouldn’t have trouble kicking out of the pedal clip with my SPD shoes, despite the fact that the fibular bottom was still in tiny pieces.

Barry and I see each other regularly at the gym, but not yet in spin classes. He says he sees me as inspiration, because I push the recovery so hard and clearly did the physical therapy and more. He adds that since his wife is better it’s his turn to take care of himself by imitating me.

I’m not often a role model. It’s painless, as the expression goes. Now Barry tells me I’m his inspiration to do his exercises. He thinks when I go back to spin, he’ll try.

Except for the worst weather days or when my wife and I can go to the Y together, I bike to and from. I do various machines and weights while there. When I do the Expresso bikes, the ghost may or may not beat me, but I’m just old-man slow now.

My message for those recovering from a broken leg or something similar is to push it. Don’t get emotionally involved with the pain, just think about what you want to be doing and do it. In my case, it was the puerile delight of a two wheeler.

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Natural and Assisted Graciousness

June 19th, 2009

Today being my natal anniversary, I was pleased but not surprised to have good wishes from my wife. I was surprised from where and how else others came.

HB from Fark

My dawn greeting came in email, first from Bike Forums.  I had totally forgotten that registration asked birth date. Likewise, when I looked at Fark, I saw a greeting. As I recall, that site asks you to verify your age by birth day, month and year because of some risque content. They are savvy in using it to personalize the experience.

Oddly though, social-networking icon Facebook did not program that into its database and interface. While you don’t have to list a birth date there, many including I do. You’d think they’d be clever enough to intrude in that friendly a way, being social and all.

However, on my FB wall, a friend and an acquaintance sent greetings.

Perhaps the real surprise and an indicator of the state of the greeting technology came at the West Roxbury Y. At the desk, we wave our cards by a scanner to beep into the gym. Maggy was across the entry area but looked at the computer screen I could not see. “It’s your birthday! Happy birthday, Mike!,” she said wide-eyed and enthusiastic.

I have no doubt that the monitor prompted her. Yet, I am also sure she was sincere. When I arrived after my surgery for my broken leg, she was always the most interested and aware of changes — walker to crutches to crutch to cane to just limping. She commented and asked.

So there you have it, boys and girls, wise and oblivious uses of technology as social aids. I don’t mind that people get a tap on the shoulder reminding them to use stereotypical social lubrication.  In fact, it’s a pleasant aspect of modern life. The automated online ones? Meh. Yeah for the personal greetings.

Happy birthday to me.

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Fabulous, Disappearing Utopia

May 6th, 2009

Brook Farm is gone, mostly. The tour is still worth it though.

The pre-Civil War utopian community in West Roxbury left fewer than one building and little trace of its noble effort. Yet, it’s right there off Baker Street. You can walk the grounds trod by such Transcendentalists as Horace Greeley, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Moreover, the huge piece of puddingstone probably used as a pulpit in the 17th Century by Rev. John Eliot to convert the Native Americans is very much there.

The sure-it-was-here thing is much more common in Manhattan than Boston. In the former, you are more likely to find a plaque commemorating was used to be there than the actual building or artifact, if any trace at all. Boston is much better at keeping the real thing for the literal among us who’d like to see and touch the original.

Brook Farm though is shade with mere glimpses and hints of what was. There’s the barest foundation of the Margaret Fuller cottage (she visited frequently but was never a member of the farm) and some rubble. Mostly though, the unkind farmland that yielded poor crops remains.

It is a National Historic Landmark, the commonwealth preserves it for its wetland and other physical value, the Roxbury Historical Society (no website) owns the Pulpit Rock portion, and the West Roxbury Historical Society has worked for 25 years to protect and restore it. You can visit on your own and there are occasional tours. We just joined about 100 others for one as part of the WR library’s series of food-related events.

There And Not

You won’t find reenactors dressed as 1842 Unitarian ministers holding forth. You won’t find a gift shop. Importantly, you won’t find much evidence of the six-plus year effort to establish an agrarian utopia there.

print shopThe one building that remains was from three decades later. It’s in bad shape, although it apparently will get a rehab.

It is fascinating in itself, while having only a geographical link to Brook Farm. After the 1847 closing of the utopian community, Boston bought the land and set up an alms house for the poor. Six years later, another Unitarian, James Freeman Clark bought the land, but he ended up turning it over to the commonwealth as a Civil War training ground. Then a couple bought it after the war as a boarding house.

What finally took was when German-American brewer Gottlieb Burkhardt opened an orphanage for Lutheran kids. He sold part of the land to found the Gethsemane Cemetery (still perking) and had the print shop built. It trained the children in a marketable trade, churing out Bibles and tracts. That ran from 1872 through 1943.

Roaming the Grounds

bftour1.jpgOur tour heard first from the contract architect working on reconstructing the shop, while the WR historical folk keep trying to shake loose the long promised funds for the job. J. Michael Sullivan (shown with our tour guide from the historical society, Bob Murphy) figures the foundation is savable, as is much of the vertical wood inside. The windows and floors will need replacement. The roof has already been changed into wood shingles.

Oversights, miscalculations, misfortunes and blunders killed the social experiment, it became obvious as we walked and listened. The ideals and fancy buildings were grand enough, but the mundane details were too much.

The central idea was why this was part of the library’s food series. The Transcendentalists were to develop their whole selves in the endeavor. They would all share hard work, intellectual and philosophical pursuits and communal recreation. The plow, psalms and poems would balance.

The realities were harsher. No one was a farmer and it showed. The land was typical rocky, loamy Boston ground and so-so for crops. They really had no idea coming in how hard farm work was. Moreover, as ministers and relatively well-to-do swells, they didn’t have the business sense required to make a profit from their veggies, fruits and animal products.

There were the predictable conflicts in personalities and family cultures. However, fire really did them in. The buildings, one by one, burned. The largest, the Phalanstery burned totally when it was just about finished. They had not insured it and were ruined as a corporation.

Wikipedia has a complete rundown of the brief glories and deep fall of Brook Farm.

Our tour guide, Bob Murphy, noted that while many historians call the experiment a failure, it had lasting positive aspects. Other similar agrarian communities took their lead from it. Some of the Transcendentalists continued with the ideals, personally, from the pulpit and in their writings. One of the members, Isaac Heckler, was inspired to found the Paulist Fathers. In short, their crops were of the intellectual rather than the edible variety.

Today, the grounds make a splendid walk. You can continue all the way to Millennium Park (what my family calls Mt. Menino for its trash heap foundation) on trails. The area near the entrance (670 Baker) has parking and is a better starting point.

The president of the Gardens at Gethsemane, Alan MacKinnon, seems to love his affiliation with Brook Farm. He even barbecued for the dozens of us that day. His office has maps of the park area (and restrooms). The print shop is across the path.

bbirdhouse.jpgIt’s a good walk and a grand place for a picnic. Walk the main path a few hundred yards to find the meadows to the left. Coincidentally, we learned that a group promoting bluebirds has installed several houses for them around this meadow. We saw bluebirds there.

On the right of the path, shortly before the meadow is an odd brick structure built into the hill. Murphy noted that he used to tell people it was an armory from the Civil War period. He subsequently found that it was winter storage for corpses until the ground thawed.

Up the hill from the meadow are trails that lead to Pulpit Rock and the Greek-cross shaped Fuller House foundation. You pass through a section of the cemetery on the way to the unmistakable (15-feet high or more) rock Eliot used.

If you don’t head to Mt. Menino, it’s a short but pleasant walk. Bring a picnic basket and perhaps some Hawthorne or Emerson.

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Crawling Toward Good Food

May 4th, 2009

slowsnail.jpgIf Yuppies and DINKs and snooty suburbanites attach themselves to Slow Food®, that’s okay by the Italy-based HQ and equally fine with the NYC-based U.S. arm. On the one hand, the organization has noble and worthy goals; on the other, it has a deserved reputation as an elitist’s hallmark.

As a damned good cook and serious food lover, I am aligned with much of what SF seeks.  At its most basic, it is intended as an antidote for the fast-food culture and cuisine. As a relentless egalitarian, I have avoided them because of the cliquish reputation.

I dragged my 15-year-old to the recent lecture at the West Roxbury library as part of its elaborate food series of events. It did nothing to inspire either of us, certainly not to join SF at museum-membership prices ($75 a couple/$60 a person per year). Yet, I remain conflicted.

First note that SF Boston‘s events head, Nicole Nacamuli, is no sales type. “We don’t do a great job signing up new members,” she told the eight or so of us there. She was refreshingly candid, with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. She noted that there was a quarterly little SF magazine for members (online only for students), but “to get it is really not a reason to sign up.” Instead, she said that members do and should join because they believe in what SF does.

Snail Business

For those who ask what exactly SF is about, the list is plain and fitting the times. It includes:

  • Defense of Biodiversity. Identifying and saving foods, including animals, at risk from a culture of mass agriculture.
  • Taste Education. Everything from encouraging family meal preparation and enjoyment, to tastings and food workshops, school and college programs and co-programs with chefs. Also, SF also founded and runs the University of Gastronomic Science in Italy.
  • Linking Producers and Co-Producers.  From the local fair to the national product showcases and conferences, SF gets food professionals on the production and purchase sides as well as customer together to taste and become familiar with edible and potable offerings. 

At a higher level, SF has three catchphrases — good, clean and fair. That would be really enjoying your food, “created with care from healthy plants and animals,” biodiversity fostered with ecologically sound growth and harvest, and reasonable compensation for the food producers.

sflogo.jpgIn practice, we may also begin seeing the snail logo on restaurants that comply with SF’s mandates for food and wine produced in the right ways, ideally locally. (The SF site is really, really snotty about its trademark. I claim fair use here as educational illustration. )

Some European restaurants already sport the snail in the window to show their support for and practice of following SF’s aims and guidelines. Apparently, this is in the works for the United States as well. Nacamuli said that the Boston bunch has been talking with the NY folk. She doesn’t expect the first snails to appear for at least six months.

Who Can?

All that looks like good stuff. You may well wonder, what’s the problem?

Well, check here and then here for examples of the objections.

The short of it is that some SF advocates truly are snobs and the idle rich. Their conversations about food and wine can be just too precious. There was a family who wrote a book about eating locally for a year, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Barbara Kingsolver’s book is a huge favorite of SF sorts. However, it would require having your own fertile farm in a temperate zone, no other responsibilities, and ideally a steady cash flow.

In short, that’s what some find flawed in the SF movement. At its extreme, it works for situations most of us cannot duplicate. We tend not to be filthy rich or we don’t own the family farm and vineyards. Many of us simply can’t afford U.S. prices for farmer’s market veggies and fruits, much less have the equipment, time and inclination to can, freeze, and dehydrate for the winter and spring. You’d be hard pressed to duplicate or even locate the small, agrarian communities where the range of goals is even obtainable.

Hence, there is some justification for sneering at what could be seen here as play for the wealthy who would use SF as more proof of their superiority.

But Wait

Most important, none of us has to do it all at once to support the SF ideals and practices. I’ll still go to the Haymarket and still use non-local veggies and fruits. Yet, being aware of the concepts and working toward them helps.

Let’s stay aware that most of us also have our own marks of status and form our elite subsets in this very wealthy nation. We may not be able to eat only self-grown and harvested local foodstuffs, but we tend to pride ourselves in our own specialness.

Consider religion. Episcopalians are about as wealthy as we come and have been since our early Presidents. Yet, while I live egalitarianism, I also am a Unitarian/Universalist. UUs are a privileged group as a whole…and blindingly white as well.

Otherwise, I live in Boston, which is has about as huge a pride of place as anywhere in the hemisphere. I’m a long-time Volvo driver, a dual symbol of New England and liberals.

It goes on and on. Some of us can’t get over a prep school or university. Others live in exclusive suburbs who lord of the unfortunate inner-city families. We each have our areas of irrational and divisive pride.

So, there’s no reason to suppose that status seekers would not use the SF movement. They have three or four dozen other cocktail-party bragging points as well.

That’s okay by me as well as by the SF groups. They do support the goals with their memberships and other contributions. They may even play gentleman farmer and grow plants for sustainable diversity. Good on them. Of course, we don’t have to stand around and listen to them tell us how wonderful and special they are.

In a counterpoint to the SF lecture, yesterday’s tour of Brook Farm in West Roxbury played off some of the same themes. It was a much richer presentation and a post for another day.

Among the similarities is that the utopian community of the pre-Civil War was founded by well-off elite sorts wanting to live an idealized agrarian existence. They were to rely on farming, selling their produce, and balancing the hard work with educational, recreational and philosophical activities. It only lasted six years and change and many historians call the social experiement an abject failure.

Yet, it inspired other such movements. Many of the participants also went on to found other movements and organizations, inspired by their goals at Ellis Brook.

The SF movement seems a lot better funded and not contingent on successful hard work of wealthy folk with little business experience. There’s much to be said of efforts toward worthy aims.

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Face Time with My Councilor

April 13th, 2009

John Tobin CD symbolI suspect my District Councilor is better than yours. Mine, John Tobin in District 6, not only is very responsive, but he has roving office hours.

Today’s was at J.P. Licks. It was a bit early for a sundae, but they have good coffee there (and free wireless). He announces his City Hall, District Office and coffee-shop hours on his website.

He shows with an aide to help with any followup. This time was more check-in and social, but December’s visit with him got my neighborhood a much-needed stop sign.

John seems totally lacking in guile. Combined with my candor, we get along fine, with no one playing any social games.

Today for example, one of my questions was how tense City Hall and Council were with two Councilors and an activist running against the almost certain to re-run Mayor Tom Menino. Tobin laughed and said there were no open conflicts, much less fights. However, the added that the atmosphere was pretty strange.

For example, at a recent city budget hearing in a small room, both mayoral hopeful At-large City Councilors, Sam Yoon and Michael Flaherty, joined the mayor, as did Kevin McCrea.  It was an open meeting; any of us could have attended. Four who will surely be in a heated battle did. It must be more fun to be a detached Councilor like Tobin who is only running for re-election for his own seat, while being able to watch the theater before him. This can only get better.

Back to the ice-cream shop hours, I am not aware of other Councilors who do this.  District 7’s version has told everyone repeatedly how wonderful he is that he maintains a District Office. Well, John Tobin does that and ratchets it up a notch with a temporary office in another part of his district. You should ask yours to do so.

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Smoked by My Ghost

April 9th, 2009

ghost riderGetting my butt kicked by my own ghost may be the future. It was today.

Healing from my broken leg and still over a week away from a possible referral to a physical therapist, I’m pushing in the way a broken old man can. It was last Thursday that I crawled onto the saddle of an upright bike-like object for the first time since the early February shattering slide.

My Y uses machines from Expresso Fitness, which have heads-up displays in front of the handlebars. They also connect to a server for login and, if you buy any level of membership, lots of record keeping and optional rides.

For all of us regular members though, the long list of basic rides maliciously includes ghost riders. These reflect your best time for a given route. (They are also supposed to whet your competitive appetite for paid membership, where you can get a ghost for any level of membership.)

The malicious part is that you can be tooling along feel fine when the blue blob appears. That icon indicates you have a ghost rider for that route. In the opposite top corner, an outline of the whole route appears, with a yellow circle for the pacer rider, a red one for you, and a blue one for the ghost. Your relative position to the pacer and ghost appear at all times as in how many seconds or minutes you are ahead or behind each.

So, you’re inspired to beat your best time. However, it is humbling when you just can’t do it.

I haven’t been seeing ghost riders for a long time. I haven’t been using the basic routes. However, as a bike gimp, I am sticking with the shorter and flatter routes. Hence, I see ghosts.

Today on one route, I was skunking the pacer, which is set slow (12 MPH, I think). However, to my dread, I kept seeing the blue blob creeping ahead of me on the route map. I’d see that the ghost was ahead by 12 seconds, then 37, and when it finished, a full 1:47.

I might have been able to catch up to my previous best time, but who knows what I might have done to my muscles, ligaments and tendons, all in “severely deconditioned” states as another machine there puts it.

The ghost in the image above (click for larger view) is a portion of a capture from the machine’s manual. It was particularly disheartening to see my wisp self muscle past, knowing that was only the beginning of the humiliation. Somedays, the other guy is better, but then again, I was the other guy.

Assuming I don’t hurt myself, I’ll be back, ghost. I’ll be on the road bike before the surgeons say (September). I’ll be in the gym and on this machine on bad weather days. I’ll be sure to drop down to some basic routes. I’ll show that ghost rider who’s who.