Archive for the ‘Brookline’ Category

Globe: Subscribe? Play our game!

August 12th, 2013


globA half hour plus with two subscription pros at the Boston Globe today brought home what a niggling, nettling surprise awaits new owner John Henry.

He’s a rich guy, principal owner of the Red Sox, builder of a grotesque, gauche, turreted mansion in Brookline, and bargain hunter. He’ll plunk down $70 million in cash for the paper, it’s online goodies and such.  In 1993, the New York Times paid $1.1 billion for the package.

He says he wants to keep newspapers vibrant in Boston. Here’s hoping he cleans house on customer service and subscriber interfaces. That’s something a rich guy’s minions should be able to do.

Simple made hard

I’ve been a technical communicator for decades, helped design user interfaces, and done usability testing for software, PDF files, websites and help systems. The Globe‘s subscription interfaces — human as well as digital — flunk.

A recap of recent interactions includes:

  • We were out of state for a couple of weeks and apparently I missed a previous bill.
  • Right before we left, I got a bill a couple of days after the home delivery stopped.
  • We got a bill right before we left. While it wasn’t at all easy to find the subscription options and current prices on the twisted website, I did notice that there was a senior rate. I had just entered that group and thought, “Swell, I’ll re-up at a lower rate.”
  • Not so fast. After going all over the site, I saw that this required copying a birth certificate or license and mailing it with a stamp.
  • When we returned, a subscription minion called to say they had gotten my senior paperwork, but would hold it until it cleared the check I told them I’d sent at the same time for delivery through 7/21.
  • We headed off for a week at the Cape with friends. The jolly sub lady said we’d talk again when I returned about starting again at the lower rate. I asked if I could return to paying annually as I had before. She said sure and there’d be a discount for doing so. She noted that while the NY Times continued to suck money from a credit card, her paper had stopped doing so because a card had expired, but they didn’t contact me for the new expiration date. Huh? Doesn’t everyone from ISPs to papers do that when there’s an expiry issue? Apparently not this one boner paper.
  • While we were gone, delivery restarted regardless of what jolly sub lady said.
  • In the mail pile when we returned was a Globe bill. It was for a full month in advance, at the regular, not senior, price, plus and inexplicable $29.64 for service “from 08/05/2013 to 8/04/2013” which makes my head hurt to wonder how even an accounting program could generate that.
  • So today, I called. Sigh.
  • The first rep had a (not her fault of course) heavy subcontinent accent and was fairly unintelligible. More important, she couldn’t answer my queries or fix the problems.  Those would include, why did delivery restart when I had an agreement with subscriptions to wait until I returned; what the devil was $29.64 for an irrational billing period when we got no papers, retroactively or forward; if I’d been approved for the discounted rate, why was the bill for the standard; if I pay for a whole year, do I get a discount on top of my discount.
  • Instead, she tried to shut me up with a 12-week, new-subscriber rate. Nah.
  • Eventually, she switched me to another hold queue, this time for a subscriber advocate.
  • At this higher level, Walter was at first overwhelmed by the complexity of what his company had wrought. To his credit he persevered and nibbled away at each problem until he squashed them…all but my mentions of the utter lameness of the subscription site, both for potential subscribers and existing ones.
  • The short of it is that 1) he took off the absurd $29.64. 2) dropped the regular sub to the senior (not all that much of a discount, at $10.99 a week from $13.99 a week), 3) found there is no compounding of discounts, that it’s either senior, educational, or annual payment, 4) calculated a few ways to find that paying monthly by senior is cheaper than anything else, even annual, and 5) explained that when the Globe stops a sub on its end, it automatically restarts delivery immediately on payment and at the former rate, regardless of any commitment from even the sub folk.

Do you really want readers?

I’ll watch to see whether Henry wants subscribers. If so, he should sit on the site and try sub folk by phone. Bonk.

After my tedious but still relatively pleasant time with Walter, I checked the Globe site sub area again. Yep. It’s terrible.

Being fairly anal retentive as most tech communicators are, I also went to the NY Times, Boston Herald and Worcester Telegram versions. Each is a little sneaky. The Globe obfuscates to the point of fraud; it shows the least and demands the most to get even to the point of knowing what the cost and options are.

All of them follow the pattern of asking for your Zip Code to see whether they deliver in your area and to present an offer. That’s reasonable, but the marketing scams that accompany the following pages are sneaky and the worst among them for the Globe.

One might think that regs, particularly in a commonwealth with a strong attorney general, would mean pricing for a contract purchase would have to obvious, clear and understandable. Instead, the deal is, in this paper’s case, not to state on the signup page or in the FAQ, what the weekly, monthly or yearly rates are, nor any options, nor any discount programs, nor what the regular rates are after the teaser offer.

Instead, the Globe site presents three radio buttons, one each for:

  • 7-day delivery for only $6.99/week for the first 12 weeks
  • Thursday through Sunday for only $4.00/week for the first 12 weeks
  • Sunday delivery for only $1.99/week for the first 12 weeks

You can’t proceed until you fill in your vitals and commit to one of those three, and either asked to be billed or entered credit card info for immediate payment. Up in the right corner is a discreet button reading, INTRO OFFER 50% OFF. You can extrapolate that after your 12 weeks, the price doubles, but absolutely nowhere does it say that. Nor does it read whether that doubled price is ongoing or subject to change.

I’m sure all this is totally illegal.

The other papers’ sites are better. They tend to offer discounts for delivery for specified times, but they are clear about what the ongoing cost will be.

Henry’s challenge

Taking Henry at his word, that he wants the paper to survive and flourish as a newspaper, let’s assume he wants readers and subscribers. If so, his folk have a plain usability challenge or rather set of challenges. Specifically:

  • Put subscriptions prominently on all the site pages
  • Create both a FAQ and sub overview that lists the sub options and prices
  • ID potential customer issues and train sub support on them
  • Sweeten discounts and other incentives to get and retain long-term, recurring subscribers
  • Enable communicate across all areas that make subscription commitments and billing

None of those is hard. I’ve managed all those areas. Yet, the first and most important aspects are, first a commitment to customers, and second having employees who can think like customers. The second requires greater intelligence and sensitivity than most executives have. They can learn.


Brookline: Just Go Away!

November 30th, 2010

goawayProbably all of us as adolescents had our cranky periods. Brookline never outgrew its.

Unless you live there, they are too good for you anyway. They don’t even want you parking there. They don’t need your damned tourist dollars. If you are from a neighboring town, why don’t you just stay there?

Speak to someone from Brookline and you are likely to hear how friendly they are. After all in schools, income, personal achievement and every other way, they are superior and have a lot of reason to be happy.

Brookline as a town makes its attitude plain on every street and road coming it. I think of it particularly as I bicycle around Eastern Massachusetts. (Fortunately for lesser mortals such as me, Brookline does not put up toll roads at its borders…yet.)

Other burgs in the area, such as Boston, Newton, Somerville and Cambridge, are different. Signs on streets entering those have this curious term that seems unknown in Brookline — WELCOME. Driving, cycling or walking into those ordinary places read WELCOME TO…

The Brookline version appears here. You are not welcome. You will not park anywhere in town for more than two hours, and there will be places that permit less time or none at all for non-residents. You will not park on the street anywhere overnight.

Go home. You don’t belong there.

It doesn’t work the other way, of course. Many from Brookline work in the financial district, medical facilities, corporations and universities of Boston and Cambridge.

thumbYou get a sense of the long standing of the Brookline attitude from its geography and governance. Brookline is a self-selected island of Norfolk County. As you can see from the map, it appears to be a thumb protruding into Boston’s bottom.

The rest of Norfolk County is to the South. Brookline refused to join Boston on several occasions, the last in 1873 when the town of West Roxbury agreed to annexation. Now Brookline is an exclave (not coincidentally sharing the first four letters with exclusive).

Back to bicycling, for all its snootiness, Brookline as a town is OK by riders. They don’t have nearly enough bike racks (goes with the car-parking attitude surely), but the cops there expect drivers to play nice with riders.

It has one nice, large park, plus the Olmsted site. We attend an old UU church there. The Brookline Village and Coolidge Corner areas have numerous OK, some good, but no great restaurants. (Note: Be very careful in the Village in the evening. Predatory towing services constantly monitor all off-street parking lots of closed businesses. They will get your car within 10 minutes.) It also has a concentration of kosher restaurants and bakeries.

Brookline never joined Boston, never formed its own county and apparently never got lonely for the rest of it body and buddies. It is content to float solo.

If you want to visit, bring quarters for the meters and for God’s sake, get out within two hours!

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Snooton Doesn’t Need You

May 10th, 2010

meter man with ticket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dukakis Calls Transit Fixes

March 2nd, 2010

The Duke feels strongly about mass transit and intercity rail. Speaking with us on Left Ahead! today, he was delightfully candid and brimming with specific fixes.

Click the player below to hear the whole show. Head to Left Ahead! or iTunes to download the mp3 file.

Among his analysis was a solution to the crippling debt of our MBTA system. The legislature and previous Republican governors had linked our mass transit’s fiscal health to a supposedly endlessly growing sales tax cut. That failed and was a terrible blunder, according to former Gov. Mike Dukakis.

He said he desperately need a workable mass transit. “If you want a first-class public transportation system, you got to pay for it,” he added. His more rational solution is adding 6¢ to 9¢ to the long stagnant gas tax, devoting it to the T and commuter rail.

In addition to stopping the every-few-year rises in fares and garnering the huge environmental and other obvious benefits of fewer cars, he sees another huge plus. Maintaining and expanding the various rail systems would create thousands of good-paying jobs at at time we need them most. He cited the 10¢ gas tax bump when he was governor. His administration, he said, “turned it into a jobs bill, which it was.”

Listen in to hear what he likes and dislikes about the current efforts. See also his co-authored piece on transportation reform that appeared in the Boston Globe. He has a very different take on the best way to manage it all, which he explains in the podcast as well.
Cross-post note: I’ll duplicate this at Marry in Massachusetts.

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Brookline Shows Its Anti-Cycling Colors

December 21st, 2009

Brookline wants it all ways and often gets it.

Locals there want to pretend they are urban and simultaneously suburban. They are likewise irrational about transportation — pretending to be great for drivers, parkers, cyclists, pedestrians. They feign being all things to all only the best, wealthiest, most privileged, a.k.a. Brooklinites.

There’s no hiding from all this after the town selectmen’s meeting last week. They voted unanimously to boot the sole bicycle-oriented member of the transportation board.  They will not renew Peter Furth’s two-year appointment.

Among the blackballers, Betsy DeWitt said, “It appeared that his participation was somewhat disruptive to teamwork.” Blunter was Kenneth Goldstein, remarking that Furth is “too focused on bicycles” and “not balanced enough in his approach to transportation.”

I would note that if a board does not have members speaking up for different components of their charge, there’s no need for the board. A single person would do just fine. How does FoxNews say it, fair and balanced?

You would suppose that Furth is one of those flame-helmeted crazed cyclists racing headlong at tweedy professors and inattentive toddlers. Instead, you’d see a transit geek, a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northeastern University. His credentials look like he’d be an extraordinary resource for the transportation board and the town transportation division. He seems as wild as adding a cinnamon stick to the warm cider.

That allegedly balanced guy they want to bring back on the board, Bill Schwart, has some expertise too. He is a transportation consultant. However, he focuses on bringing in new business for his consultancy. He bills himself as a multi-modal expert.

He does seem keenly attune to Brookline residents’ desire to park right next to where they want to visit. Consider his testimony at town meeting last year about parking. He’s with the program doubling parking fines to $30. He said, “There’s gold in those streets. Brookline can do much better in managing its curb space. Let’s not give it away, but also not make it unaffordable.”

Parking is to local conversation what weather is in much of Maine.

Brookline it must first be said is one of those outsider-hostile towns in parking. There’s a two-hour limit throughout, not just in business districts. Even those who live on a street need to rent an annual permit for $25 if they want to park in front of their own houses.

Of course, this is one of the few towns with absolutely no overnight street parking, apparently for fear that the unwashed or at least unworthy, those without driveway space for all their vehicles, might dare spend the evening. Or as the town puts it:

Why does Brookline have a Resident Permit Parking Program?

The Transportation Board wants to preserve the livability of our residential neighborhoods by discouraging non-residents (e.g., commuters and commercial area shoppers) from parking on residential streets for long periods. The Brookline RPP Program does not prohibit non-residents from parking on local streets for less than 2 hours, nor does it guarantee neighborhood residents an on-street parking space whenever they want one. Participants in the RPP Program also are not allowed to park overnight or to violate any other parking regulations that may be in effect on your street. However, residents who live in areas that experience high levels of on-street parking by non-resident vehicles will benefit from not having to move their vehicles to another street every two hours during daytime hours.

This is a similar attitude that has led to so few publicly accessible restrooms in Boston, Brookline and other towns, even in their parks. Whether it’s a driveway or a toilet, you should have your own or you really don’t belong here, now do you?

Back to the board, Furth seems a plain talker. He told the Brookline Tab that “If you speak up about bicycling things, you’re not considered to represent the town.”  He noted that he sometimes has advocated keeping parking over bike lanes and at others pushed for more bike accommodation.

He figures the real catalyst for his ouster was the Carlton Street project. The Tab reports that “Though Furth admitted he was a strong supporter of a controversial bike lane option, which would have required the removal of several heavily used parking spaces, he said he’s also been blamed for some miscommunications and procedural problems unrelated to his support.”

thumb.jpgAn oddment here is that parts of the town, particularly the police department, are very bike friendly. Having attended several Moving Together conference sessions with the Brookline cops, I have been very impressed by their enlightened multi-mode mindset.  Cyclists get run down by inattentive motorists there every year and the police do their damnedest through enforcement, education and participation in planning to keep pedestrians, cyclists and drivers in motion safely. Boston cops, many of whom seem to find bikes annoying anomalies, could learn.

Another is former Gov. Mike Dukakis. We’ll try to have him on Left Ahead! to discuss transportation. He may be the biggest advocate for mass transit in the state. Yet, I have never heard him say a single phrase in support of cycling. At 76, he may stick with his shoes and Charlie Card.

To its contradictory nature, Brookline also has a bicycle advisory committee. Their literature says the right stuff. It does seem to make inflated claims about a large number of residents biking for shopping and short trips. The eye and regular counts by the town don’t seem to support that. When I bike through, I rarely see a single other cyclist also.

The selectmen seem to be in little hurry to change that. The advisory group may talk up the car-reducing potential of biking, but that board seems fixed on preserving as many parking meters as it can. That Furth fellow must have seemed very inconvenient, asking them to consider bikers and walkers at every stage of planning.

Brookline has long been a thumb in the eye or other orifice of Boston and in fact looks like one on maps. In early Colonial days when it was known as the hamlet of Muddy River, it was part of Boston, but in 1705 it incorporated and then avoided the fate of Brighton, Roxbury and Dorchester, which became part of the capital city. Now it is a Norfolk County island surrounded by Suffolk County.

It has its little ways, ways of which it is extraordinarily, and some would say irrationally, proud. Wanting to have it several ways on non-motorized transportation really is nothing that deserves pride. Fantasy aside, Brookline is not yet bike safe or accommodating.

Many there want to pretend they are fairly European in being cyclists and cycle friendly. The town government other than the constabulary clearly conflicts with that. The of-one-mind transportation board won’t be leading to a multi-modal future.

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Ready to Dance

July 5th, 2009

I have aged into more rituals than I had as a child in high church Methodism. Today involved no bishops or incense, rather a sward and farewell to legs (or at least leg tools).

F0llowing my nasty tib/fib breaks and the surgery to fix them, I was like the classic riddle of the ages of man.

  • For two weeks or so, I was only able to move in agony 30 feet or so from bed to office. Deciding to visit the toilet was a huge emotional and physical commitment. That all required a walker. (Kind of two human legs, two struts and two wheeled struts.)
  • For another several weeks, I needed someone to move the walker from one floor to another, while I thumped unsteadily down or up 13 stairs with every leg flexing producing colors before my eyes. (Three legs.)
  • Next it was two crutches, one on stairs with the other gripped horizontally in one hand. At the landing it was two crutches. (Four legs.)
  • When I could manage the four steps in or out of the house, it was one crutch, wobbling, but gaining confidence. (Three legs.)
  • At nine weeks, after x-rays showed sufficient tibia bone growth to dump the Aircast instead of just removing it repeatedly for airing and stretching the withered calf and foot, it was to the cane. (Three legs.)

Being my re-use/recycle mother’s son, I wanted to cleanse my psyche and house of these aluminum tools. They are considered junk, just another set of disposables in a throwaway economy.

I wouldn’t have it and eventually located a savvy and civic-minded gentleman who knew better and was like minded. At Ayers Handicap Conversion Center, Chairman Bruce Ayers, adds volunteerism and helping to his health-aid business. He collects and hands out just such tools to those who need them.  I won’t dwell on how Boston should be doing the same. Rather, let us praise him.

(I shall contact my Boston City Councilor and get something like this in the works here.)


Meanwhile, I happily am bidding goodbye to my tools — walker, crutches and cane. The Aircast is surely contaminated even after I scrubbed it, but I’ll ask about that too.

It took a time to find a decent meadow in the area. The arboretum has not cut its open leas, but Brookline’s Larz Andersen park is plenty grassy. Plus the delicate locals could not be expected to walk in vegetation above shoelace height.

I amused myself this morning by posing and shooting my tools. I thank them and hope they are useful elsewhere…and also for short periods of healing.

One pic is here. The series is on Flickr.

Glory of the Small

June 1st, 2009

thinwheel.jpgBob is unquestionably better at locating and extracting glass shards from tires than I am. Let us praise the specialized abilities of others. We can also hope that we offer such small talents that can help, but first, let’s us revel in these by another when we come across them.

During the Memorial-Day weekend retreat, we were off in a churchy clump cycling on the verdant and gentle Cape Cod Rail Trail. Right near the start, my rear tire went totally flat. I was not overly concerned, as I always carry a spare tube and pump.

After sending the horde ahead, I set to work, taking the tire off the bike and off the rim. I have done this before and knew to check the interior of the tire by eye and by running my fingers inside the tire. Over the years, I have located glass, an industrial staple and small nails in such efforts. I also checked the liner and rest of the inside of the rim. That was pretty quick as the bike used 25-mm tires with little real estate to check. I found no evil anywhere and reassembled it all with my new tube before pumping up and catching up.

Another seven miles away, I had second rear flat. Double damn. I had long ago caught up and as we were just short of the destination at Coast Guard Beach, I started work again beside the road.

Well, not only had I left my patch kit back at the retreat camp, I could not find anything to patch anywhere. Shortly after, I became away of kindhearted Bob’s special small talent.

He came back to help…with his patch kit. We agreed that it was odd 1) to find no cause for the flats and 2) that the leak in the tubes was almost on the rim side, like it came from a spoke head, although all those were well sunk and liner covered.

Bob’s talent showed that I was not as meticulous as I and others think of me. He opened the same tire I had searched several times in two locations. With great attention, he pushed from the outside as he turned what seemed a watchmaker’s eye to it. In about three minutes, he has located two minuscule glints. Each was a wee glass fragment, a tiny sharp shard.

One of them surely had snuck its way into the tubes and punctured them just enough for the leaks. Bob also had a knife with which he surgically popped the shards. Then we patched a tube and I returned to the camp, where I had and installed another tube and a new tire.

I do have an earned reputation personally and as a tech writer for attention to detail. Bob’s sharp eye and carefully inspection humbled me. I’m not sure that even if I had my glasses with me that I would have noticed those very small pieces of glass. He did and I was better off for it.

Let us praise the special talents of others freely given.

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Captured by Capturing Cape Cod

May 27th, 2009

rosa rugosa and raindropsA seaside stroll grabbed me in Brewster this weekend. I found my index finger twitching at flowers and fungus and sailboat hulls and anchor floats. Digitizing occurred.

To see the set, click over to the Flickr stream here.

This was our church’s annual Memorial Day retreat at the Cape Cod Sea Camps. It seems we and two other church groups do this annually, although as discrete cliques.

dune fenceBy coincidence, I met a member of the other UU church attending (Follen in Lexington, MA) two days before the weekend. At the annual meeting of the UU Urban Ministry she was one who spoke of what the UUUM meant to her. She and her family volunteer at the youth programs in Roxbury and mentor a young girl. It’s a great example of living out faith rather than just checkbook liberalism.

At a session break at the meeting, I asked introduced myself to Lisa and asked whether she was headed to the retreat. She was and agreed to tell our group about her family’s involvement with the UUUM. She then did at the Sunday lay-led worship. Her husband, Hill, joined her and I hope inspired one or more of the Brookline couples to dare the inner city for some doing good. Plus, we had actually encounters beyond nodding chins among the two groups.

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Brotherhood of the Broken Bone

April 5th, 2009

We raised the lamb shank during the UU Seder without irony last night. However, three of us at a table of nine found a light bond around bones.

During two longish periods more or less alone, we spoke of injuries to and treatments for scaphoid and tibia. A ninth grader and two middle-aged men each had tales.

UUs stretch out events, perhaps because they are so lacking in the creed-based rituals and trappings of some many religions. Transmogrification of food stuffs and cough-inducing clouds of incense aren’t regular features in UU services.

However, in towns such as Boston and Brookline, Massachusetts, UU churches often have Jewish members or those who identify as Jewnitarians in their dual religious beings. There the annual Passover Seders are far more elaborate and much, much longer than those I attended in homes of Jewish friends in high school and college. We also manage to create a variety show angle, with sing-along folk and gospel songs, printed and illustrated Haggadah and song books, and three hours of programming.

Early on before we sat, I spoke with Scot and Joey. The former had also chaired the board at the same UU church I had many years before. They eyed my cane and Stormtrooper-style leg cast, asking for the particulars. Then I heard that Joey had broken his wrist’s big bone, the scaphoid one, requiring a graft from a hip to repair this key structural unit. My middle son had broken the same bone last year and I had learned that this bone can die and its repair is a big deal for functioning.

Somewhere after some so-so Iraeli wine and cloying tzimmes, Joey and I were at one side of the table with Ed and everyone else breaking for dessert or kitchen duty. Ed wanted to know my leg details, in no small part because he had his own version.

A couple of decades before, he had also broken a tibia. Unlike my twisting, splintered version, his was a pretty clean break. That inspired his doctors to say that rather than drill, cut, and rod the leg, they’d give him a long cast and a chance to knit without surgery. That meant seven months in an ankle-to-crotch cast, with all the implied discomfort and inconvenience, but with the mitigation of hope for healing without the heavy procedures.

He said it didn’t work. They kept x-raying and kept seeing the two tibia pieces becoming slightly more oblique instead of healing straight. Eventually, they gave up, rebroke the bone and put the metal rod in the tibia. He actually healed after the surgery…without the uncertainty of maybe.

It was not in the spirit of the evening, but I did give a thought to polling the table for other broken-bone sagas. My wife has her own from about 16 years ago. Joey was the only youth there. I wonder how many of the others, ranging from their mid-20s into their 60s could have swapped similar yarns.

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Dancing Doctor Exits Too Soon

March 11th, 2009

 The world was not through with Michael Shannon. If anyone was leaning toward immortality in his love of life and those around him, as well as in physical vigor, Dr. Shannon was he.

The Dancing Doctor as the Boston Globe‘s story calls him was returning with his wife and another couple from a tango trip. They took lessons together in Argentina. Family friend Nancy Teumer said, “This was the trip of their lifetime. They had the time of their life, dancing all day and all night.”

Nutcracker rehearsalHe, the former professional dancer of great vitality, collapsed as they changed planes in New York.

We often seek mitigation if not meaning in such cruel surprises. That could include guarded thanks that he died suddenly without prolonged pain and medical intervention. That would be scant comfort to his wife and friends.

I admit that it was the right way for my mother to go. She did go suddenly and some of us can conceive that she somehow made that happen. She dropped dead of a heart attack traveling between her bathroom and bedroom while preparing to lunch with a friend. The coroner said she looked very surprised and did not have time to hurt.

After caring for her sister following removal of a massive brain tumor, first at home and then in daily visits to a long-term facility in Santa Fe, my mother was solidly in the camps of:

  • I want to die in my own home
  • I don’t want tubes in my arms and nose
  • I don’t want anyone wiping my butt

She got her wishes and there will be those who surmise that was also the right exit for Michael. It just should not have been his time for so many reasons.

I was one who got the call early, from leaders of our church. He and Elaine also attended First Parish in Brookline. The call came to me as a parent of youth who had been through the rigorous Our Whole Lives (OWL) relationship/sex ed program that UU and UCC churches use.

As I understand he was with children and parents in his roles at Childrens Hospital,  Michael was the run-away favorite teacher of the youth and their parents in OWL. Funny, energetic and knowledgeable, he was at once the expert teacher and a comrade.

By coincidence, it also fell to me to inform a mutual friend. I had gone to undergraduate school with Jasper. He and Michael met at Duke a few years later, as Jasper got his masters in psychology and Michael finished his M.D. They were in regular folk dancing programs together. They re-met a couple of years ago when Jasper attended the UU Coming of Age program at First Parish. My youngest was one who completed the program and the old grad-school  dancers learned that they had each moved to the Boston area.

Last night, Jasper was shocked as we all have been.

Let us praise Michael Shannon. Professionally and personally, he turned the spigots on full for his talent, enthusiasm and caring.

Followup: Word is that Michael had a blood clot that migrated and ended his life.

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