Archive for June, 2008

Mickey Doesn’t Live Here

June 30th, 2008

mouse in trapMickey was dead: to begin with.  There is no doubt whatever about that.

(If you are squeamish, do not click to enlarge the pic of our very dead rodent. )

I must confess that most mice are pretty cute.  I did grow up during the Mickey Mouse Club era, both feeling the good vibes and keeping an eye on Annette’s sweater — third-grade pig that I was.

Yet we had no ceremonies or burial rituals for this hapless fellow. He played in a minor horror drama, The Creatures from the Stove. After months of setting a trap and wandering away slowly, whistling, I managed to win a mechanical victory and feel no shame in my pleasure.

Our large feather duster, Chi, is the stereotypical slayer of vermin, a house cat. However, she was adopted in young adulthood. The previous mistress said, “She not a hunter. She’s a pointer.”

That seems true enough and now that our mice are seemingly a tiny tribe, we see Chi in action…rather inertia. A few years ago, there were more mice. Actually, they appeared to be voles from the back yard, small and dark grey. When we found cereal boxes nibbled through and bread not in a metal box already sampled, I did the chores. That was steel wool in any visible hole, bread always in a tin box, cereals in plastic boxes and so forth.

Chi, the pointing cat

Now we seem to have a couple of mice, whom Chi is happy to point to but never catches. They seem to move around the back of the stove. On occasion, one climbs in the back and we have seen a tail drop down on the air vent over the burners.

Chi does her best meatloaf imitation on the floor in front of the stove. She apparently hears a mouse scurrying. She spreads out and waits…and waits. If a mouse would come from beside the stove and approach her, would she do anything at all?

Perhaps it falls to me to be the executioner if she won’t be the hunter. This vaguely recalls my days when I chaired the personnel committee of a large church. I had to set about getting rid of quite a few dysfunctional employees. There were no human-sized traps and I believe our laws disallow such dismissal anyway.

My uxorial unit can be a snoopy sort (she prefers curious) and just had to pick up the double plastic grocery bag containing the very deceased rodent and trap. She also just had to ask what it was. She then did a classic shriek-and-drop maneuver.

She was then pleased a little to find that she had gotten to the kitchen first and poured her first mug of coffee from right beside the burner without noticing Mickey Le Mort. I suppose we all secretly want others to do some dirty tasks. I, for one, would appreciate Chi doing the cat thing.

Bob the Glob Cover

June 30th, 2008

Glob MaggyI’m not the only cheap punster calling the Boston Globe the Glob — it’s sometimes the Glib to me too.  So, what trickster editor did the deed for us yesterday?

The cover of the Sunday maggy uses the running joke, with the trailing e effectively blacked out by a smear of hair. That’s the kind of wit I don’t associate with the paper.

Now it makes me wonder when we’ll see the Glib. It will be harder and may involve an upright hand sign as well.

Meanwhile, let us pass along mild praise that at least someone on Morrissey Boulevard has a flash of visual humor.

Whalebones and Sermons

June 26th, 2008

Some skills we are wise not to advertise. One of mine is paper folding and envelope stuffing, which often come in a pair.

I recalled my childhood. While not Dickensian, the hours preparing Red Cross mailings were on task.  This morning my memories transported me as I prepared an order of service for this Sunday. This time it was only 45 sets.

Playing Preacher

It is amateur hour, quite literally at First Parish in Brookline. I am in a set of sparsely attended summer services. Ordained ministers, perhaps largely so congregants don’t forget them, preach a few of these June through August. Most services are by one-shot pretend ministers. Perhaps like every cab driver, business executive and others, we believe we have at least one book and one sermon in us.

I am somewhat anal retentive. Coupled with nearly two decades as a technical writer, I have the tool (FrameMaker)  and the procedural oreintation for an order of service. But it is to my mother, Wanda, that I owe my efficiency at creasing paper and assembling such packages.

There’s no whalebone paper creaser here, but I learned such clerical skills using them.

I came after the days of buggy whip handles and corset stays in common use. Yet, I grew up when whales and other high-intelligence mammals were fair game — literally. Today, it is illegal to import or export whale parts, although interstate trade and selling antique objects is permissible.

From centuries ago, people knew how good whalebone was for creasing paper. Don’t think a  basketball or larger sized vertebra. Whalebone is not whale bone, rather the osteoid filter blades in the mouth of a baleen whale. In fact, whalebone is the baleen.

It is much denser and ivory-like than a more porous bone. Even without smoothing and carving, whalebone has soft edges. A piece about the size of a letter opener presses down paper, making a crisp edge without catching or tearing.  You can also use one a long time without getting a cramp or blister. The modern plastic versions imitate the whalebone proportions and curved edges.

Lifelong Skills

Because volunteer availability is often unpredictable, my sister and I were unquestioning volunteers in our mother’s Red Cross chapters from primary school. In part, she instilled a worth ethic in us, as well as the awareness that volunteering  should be part of everyone’s obligation to neighbors and other humans around.

(I confess that we did the same to her many times. After the years we lived in Japan, she would end up in front of our of our classes in kimono and obi, holding up cultural objects and lecturing.)

Back to the not-so-thrilling days of mimeograph machines and German Gestetner copiers that reeked of ammonia… We sat and joked and folded and stuffed. Mailings by the many hundreds were possible and passable with good company and a couple of whalebones.

We saw that process in the summers at my grandparents’ backyard as well. My grandmother, Mable, played a little game with her husband a few times a summer. She’d say, “Bill I need a few Lima beans.”  Another time, she’d say the same about tomatoes, green beans, peaches and more. Granddad would go to his gardens or the nearby orchards and arrive with two or more bushels of the stuff.

Then the neighbors and kids in our immediate family would show. Under the wide maple in the yard, we take chairs or picnic benches and bend to work. Back when string beans had strings, we’d pull those and chop the beans. We’d press our thumbs into pea or Lima pods until they popped and we’d push the beans out with our thumbnails. Mable was off to canning and everyone got a share as she stocked the whole basement, floor to ceiling with jars and her deep freeze with bags.

Today, I only had 45 orders of service. It wasn’t worth gathering a community. The work would be complete before the second story finished.  Pity. There’s much learn and enjoy in communal tasks.

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Globe Squelches Biz Smarts

June 25th, 2008

The birthday box from New Mexico arrived yesterday, including a sheaf of Corporate Curmudgeon columns. Like scones popping with raisins, those clips brim with wit and business savvy — stuff to amuse and stuff you can use.

Cross-Posting: This appears at Marry in Massachusetts too.

The Boston Globe decided you don’t need those. Instead, they run their tired set of cliché mongers and shameless local boosters. Along with the other major daily, that paper is desperate for black ink. In that effort, it is dropping the good stuff and buying out the good writers. We get the junk food but not the sustaining goodies.

Dale would fit in with the edict from Inc. Magazine founder Bernie Goldhirsh. He was brilliant, but a befuddled character, sometimes pressed to translate his instincts into useful words. When I worked there, he used to tell our all-hands meetings things like, “I want an MBA education wrapped in the cover of my monthly magazine.” Unlike Globe columnists who tell you how to scold a coworker who uses too much bad cologne or touting local companies, Dale’s weekly piece is a concise, often amusing and very readable business-school lecture.

Tepid Disclaimer: I apparently was instrumental in getting the Globe to rent Dale’s work, with a one-person email, letter and telephone campaign. Afterward, he sent me a free copy of his The Laughing Warriors book. You’ll have to buy your own.

We had access to his work from January 2006 through this April. The business editors (Caleb Solomon to Shirley Leung about a year ago) apparently use the failure-prone network-TV trick of shifting Dale’s columns. By moving him to the new Sunday classified circular (pretending to be a business supplement), they effectively buried the column out of sight. I suppose, like broadcast bozos, they gambled that sacrificing a popular feature would boost ad readership elsewhere. Certainly too as business sorts they should know that the tens of dollars a week for a great column is a ton more effective than paying a staff columnist, a boring, predictable staff columnist.

You have surely noticed the Globe similarly flounders with its Sidekick and other special sections. Honk. Wrong. When something continually doesn’t work, stop doing it!

I’m likely one of the few in our burgh who gets these columns. They appear in both major New Mexico dailies in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. My sister clips and sends them. Many end up in the hands of friends who likewise don’t care for the local pap but do like solid brain food.

If you were a regular reader wonder what happened, you might address a note to the business editor over there, Shirely Leung. I get my Dauten fix on the side. How about you?

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Princess Tree: 2

June 22nd, 2008

pblossom.jpgI had time to visit the princess trees (Paulownia Tomentosa) again this afternoon. The original on this funky Asian delight is here. My uxorial unit and a mutual friend had stumbled under a few more and gotten caressed by lavender blossoms on the way.

So here are the flowers and a slightly annotated map. The blossoms are blue or lilac, often high in a mature tree. They are bell-shaped and hang down like foxglove. There are hundreds of them in a tree. They tend to fall in large numbers.

There seem to be about a half dozen of these trees in the Arnold Arboretum. They don’t rate a listing on the interactive map.  However, for your ambling and gawking pleasure, look at the purple Ps on this version. There’s one on the gravel walkway between the Forest Hills Station and the South Street Gate, two on a dirt path East off Beech Path, and three up the hill South from the middle of the lilacs. Check in mid to late May (around Lilac Sunday) for the profusion of blossoms.paulownia.jpg

Rolling with an Idiot Grin

June 16th, 2008

A current meme of MSM and blogs has to do with things bicycling. A necessary angle to a gas-crisis story is more people on bikes. More cyclists give folk chances to vent about the effrontery of those who would share streets with drivers.

Meanwhile, I am at least temporarily giddy with bonhomie after a ride through JP/Roxbury/Chinatown/Financial District and home again. I promise that I have not been into a pile of Reader’s Digest.Jolly cycling

Instead, I’m back with the waves and grins of indeterminate sincerity.

I have been inspired by the hate notes to cyclists that I commented on recently. Isn’t it peculiar that so many folk in public fora would claim justification for plowing down cyclists with 3,000 to 4,000 motor vehicles — metal and plastic weaponry?

Instead, I’ll be biking with sappiness, hoping to disarm them. Eye contact, a wave, a grin and always respect is the mix. My devious hope is that motorists will think that here’s a cyclist who’s nice to them, so perhaps they’ll be likewise with a cyclist.

It seems to work when I drive. It’s not hard to tell when another Boston driver is threatening with a vehicle. It often mean too much speed and too little space from the back or to the side. The race to wait at the red traffic light is more than sport for many. I have been entering traffic with a wave of thanks and a smile for those who can see me. The assumption appears to be that I just know they were being nice and yielding to me. Inside, I suspect that they had no such intentions, but the smile and wave just may make them think that being nice is, well, nice.

It can vary a bit on a bike. Some drivers have the electric-shock look. They seem to look at me on the bike the way one watches a wild animal on a forest path. The drivers may race into the intersection over the crosswalk, only to stop at the last instant, wary of what this crazy cyclist might do.

They are also ripe for a wave and a smile. They too likely had only one thought, how quickly can they get into traffic. Yet, pretending they were being safe and considerate is harmless theater. It might just work for the next cyclist.

I have been thinking of this on my longer rides, particularly on weekends. In some of those same newspaper and blog comment sets about cycling there is the occasional musing about the decreasing camaraderie of fellow spinners.

It is certainly true that even a decade ago, cyclists used to nod to, wave at, and even call out to other bike riders. Now that’s rare. The Spandex crowd of both genders and a wide age range seem a sullen bunch in the main.

I’m waving and nodding to them too.

Grow Your Own Packing Peanuts

June 15th, 2008

The latest treasure we found at JP’s Arnold Arboretum was a tree that has long been important to the Chinese and Japanese, and one that made its own packing peanuts hundreds of years before Styrofoam™.

I’m one of those tag readers and feel a cheap thrill when I discover something like the PAULOWNIA TOMENTOSA. Rationally I know that this is akin to reading a road sign, but hey I’ll take my pleasures as they come.

There are only a few of these 50-footers there. One is on the gravel path from Forest Hills Station. Another is just east of Beech Path overlooking the state labs. A few are on the hill above the lilacs. These are not important enough to be listed on the map.

Paulownia tomentosa podsOn the other hand, it has a fine history and click on those seed pods!

That’s what first caught my eye. Then looking way up, the pale violet bell-shaped flowers were both subtle and profuse. They look like foxglove (digitalis). The leaves are worth mentioning too. They are perhaps a foot long, broad and ovate. They seem to belong on a swamp shrub instead of a sizable tree.

Once I found its copper label, I wanted to know what the deal was with those pods and why weren’t any seeds around amidst so many of them?

The Pods. The seed pods have their own tale. The tree is native to China and cultivated widely in Japan as well. We are at the North of its range and apparently the many hundreds of tiny seeds in each pod are not very efficient. They should be capable of germinating in the spring, but you don’t see babies popping up. On the other hand, the seeds like warm weather and in parts of the Southeast, this is an invasive tree. It was introduced as an ornamental and well, you know how that works.
The pods turn out to be great protective packing material. Merchants shipping valuable and fragile objects from Orient to Occident used these for centuries in their crates.

The Name. Paulownia is an honorific to someone who basically had nothing to do with the tree. When she was a duchess, the daughter of Russia’s Tsar Paul, Anna Pavlovna (1795-1865) of the Netherlands got the honor. She later became Queen of the Netherlands. In case you’ve forgotten you terms, tomentosa means furry, as in the backs of the leaves.Japanese PM seal

The Culture. It is also known as princess tree. Traditionally on the day a daughter is born, the parents plant one. It grows rapidly and matures about the time a young woman is of marrying age. Its wood is highly prized in both China and Japan for cabinetry. She receives an elaborate cabinet as part of her coming of age.

The tree is viewed as important enough that it is a feature on the seal of the Japanese prime minister.

The arboretum includes the tree in its history of how Frank N. Meyer came to bring them from China a century ago.

The flowers are abundant in late May. They are remarkable for their delicate coloring, their being out of reach, and that they tend to fall by the ones and dozens as you pass.

By the bye, despite the seeds’ seeming infertility here, propagation can be by root or greenwood cuttings. Young, unfolding leaves can also create a new Paulownia. Finally, after being harvested, the tree invariably puts up a new main trunk.

Except for the floral period, Paulownia isn’t showy. It’s trunk is pretty dull too. It’s a scholar or poet though, with a lot at work behind its quiet appearance.

Risking Haymarket Death

June 14th, 2008

June tomatoes

Despite the little round red terrorists, this morning was a good Haymarket day. I had to ask a couple of vendors and sure enough, they said people were wary of buying tomatoes, any tomatoes. One who sold me the tomatoes above said, “They point to the tomatoes and ask me, ‘Will those kill me?'”

Ironies abound.

We put all manner of junk, toxic quick and toxic slow, in our mouths. The faddish medical profession alarms the public as it has for centuries. It was green beans and cranberries when I was little. Like any other oh-now-we-know meme that follows the latest study or report of a death, tomatoes got it this month.

Moreover, tomatoes are poison. At least, the leaves and stems contain toxins. While a few people break out and otherwise react to touching tomato leaves, nearly all the rest of us would have to consume large amounts of tomatoes’ green parts to get sick.

The basis is that tomatoes are one of many members of the nightshade family. That includes the aptly named deadly nightshade (belladonna), petunia and potato. Leaves carry differing quantities of poison. Nice for us though, the yummy part of the plants, like taters and maters, do not.

Fact is, we get food poisoning regularly. It tends to be mild and quickly works its way through our gut or in severe cases out our mouths. It can be in dairy or meat or fish or fruits or vegetables. We all have to eat, but sometimes something bad is on or on our food. C’est la vie.

In this house, we have a food-poisoning joke that we try not to repeat around our first born. We lived in Greenwich Village and were out to dinner with a high-school chum, Pete Anderson, visiting from Denver. We had a long, fun evening at Jane Street Seafood.

During dinner, my wife felt a little ill and was concerned, being nine months pregnant. She didn’t want to harm the we-intentionally-didn’t-ask boy or girl. We went to bed, but unbeknownst to me, she got up in the night with what she knew then to be a bad piece of fish. She was in the big Kennedy rocker when sometime during the night she realized it wasn’t the fish. She woke me by saying she was in labor. Mild food poisoning has a lot fewer ramifications.

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Thumping South and Twanging North

June 5th, 2008

It’s music time again around Boston. Think Great Woods Tweeter Center Comcast Center down in nondescript Mansfield and the peachy keen Lowell Folk Festival.

First, non-harrumphing news is that the TBAs in the huge Lowell festival performance list are now almost entirely announcedl. I’ve been touting this greatest free folk festival anywhere for years. There’s still room for maybe 50% more attendants, so I’ll do it again. Its’ free. It’s easy to get to. It has great known to you and you’ve never heard of musicians. It’s free. It’s two full days (7/25-27 this year)  and change of everything from straight folk to hard blues to world music. Did I mention it’s free?

We’ve been going almost every year for a couple of decades. We have literally never gone without returning with new loves — and the CDs — of a couple of finds. You don’t do that every day, month or even year.violin

Some coverage and commentary from last year are over at one of my political blogs. Plus, when you get up there, you learn about their other music series and get a sense of the restaurants and sites of the old mill city.

I have friends and even co-bloggers who say that Boston gets all the attention and money unfairly. A lot of fellow Bostonians think of Lowell as out-there, hard to get to sticks. I equally ridicule both sets of provincials. Chomp on these fruits and let the juice run down your chin!

To the no-longer-Great Woods, I had a better time at last night’s Eric Clapton concert than I expected. My own prejudice as an early boomer is that too many of me would be there. That was half true. I also figured his opening band would be some clod designed to rouse the crowd but not be good enough to offer him competition. I was dead wrong there.

It was moderately amusing tailgating in the amusingly labeled VIP parking lot (150 yards closer to the constipated exit). There were a lot of boomers playing Frisbee badly with their teen children, and blowing joints without their teens by the portalets. But a surprising number of early 20s and 30s couples were there too.

My adult son as well as my teens at home discovered my Clapton music, both in CD and on vinyl. They’re particularly fond of album covers bigger than dinner plates.

I remember Clapton from the Yardbirds and Cream days. He didn’t do that, didn’t play that last night.

The review in today’s Globe pretty well covered the Clapton end of the concert. He did not play to the memories of people my age and nearly his. He was as bluesy and rocky as a guitar great who loves love ballads can be. The two women with me, my wife and her Brownie Scout buddy, play guitar and really related to the big screens that showed his finger positions repeatedly. Their only complaint was one I shared. I suspect the camera guys were as stoned as the foursome in front of us. The bass player or the women vocalists would be churning for a long time before they’d wake up and pan over to them for a few seconds.

The big surprise was the opening group, Robert Randolph and the Family Band. If you haven’t heard him, click over to his website. You can see and hear over a dozen cuts and videos there, and catch a lot more on YouTube. Make sure you spend 14 minutes with his slamming vocals and hot steel guitar on What you come to do on the audio portion of his site.

Warm weather is hot music around here.

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Boston Bikes, Love and Hate ’em

June 2nd, 2008

bikegeek.jpg$10 gas would do it. Meanwhile, we who are fonder of bicycles than cars must content ourselves with moderated increased pedalers in Boston.

Not long ago, an adult on a cycle meant either a fitness junkie or a struggling college student or someone paying the consequences of DUI convictions. Now even the trend-trailing Boston Globe has noticed more bikers. (Even the left coast is seeing such.)

We’re not ready.

Our new believer and new enabler (bike convert Mayor Tom Menino and bike czarina Nicole Freedman) are chugging along trying to get out of granny gears. There are bike lanes to be painted, public education to design and promote, racks for parking and bus transport, and even cops to be dope slapped.

If we were suddenly to quadruple our street cycling load, everyone from motorists to pedestrians to police would be making motorboat noises with their lips. We know from the billion or more in China and India, and the 100 million or so in Europe and the U.K. that streets full of cycles can work. We also know that if we don’t have systems and education in place, they can be nearly as unpleasant as motor vehicle traffic.

Actually the latter isn’t accurate. For all the commentary about every cyclist being a homicidal madman, few are an dangerous as the average motorist. Also, a 30 pound plus cyclist bike is a relative powder puff contrasted with 3,000 pounds of speeding metal, glass and plastic.

It is worth reading some of the newspaper, magazine and blog chatter about cyclists. Such commentary illustrates what people face in trying to get more bikes and fewer cars and trucks in urban areas. We can all agree on the pollution, noise, safety and other benefits, but the emotional issues are another matter.

Spend an hour or so with the Boulder, Colorado, Daily Camera for a compilation of offense and defense on this. The laws there are pretty much the same as here too. Bikers have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers, but are also supposed to ride single file and stay to the right as far as safety allows.

The Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden is fairly anti-bicycle, in a keep-the-kids-off-my-lawn kind of way. He started a furious dialog recently with his column on this. He likes to cite the laws implying that cyclists need to get the hell out of the way of motorists. However, he neglects to cite the same types of statutes we have here in that any driver overtaking any other vehicle, including bicycles, must slow or stop and yield to traffic ahead. That’s common sense. That’s courtesy. That’s the law.

The many pages of pro-cycle, bike hating, calls to reason and more follow the article in the Daily Camera. Some of anti-bike ones are astonishing. Some motorists seem to claim the right to mow down anyone who slows their headlong race to wherever.

This is where cops need to get involved. Here in Beantown, cyclists are generally amused to hear outraged motorists talking about the lawless biking community. As a cyclist, T rider and driver, I too have a strong experiential knowledge of who’s breaking the laws and putting people at risk. For example, decades ago, I learned to watch after a change of light before I followed proceeded on green — on foot, in car or on bike. Two to five cars running the red light are normal. If cyclists were anywhere near as reckless, the number of pedestrian/bike collisions would be in the thousands instead of singles or tens.

Until his recent enlightenment, Menino too spoke of the fear of inconveniencing motorists by adding cycles to the street mix. Despite existing laws that accommodate both in town and on most highways, it is a little different. For the betterment of all of us, motorists might have to obey the laws and even keep to the speed limits in town.

For the police, many get it and a few don’t. I am sure not all understand the laws and city, state and park cops often tend to favor the bigger vehicle over the one with the right of way. It shouldn’t be hard for BPD Commissioner Edward F. Davis III to tell the cops to put cyclists in the mix. Those who run lights should get tickets, as they do sometimes in Cambridge. Likewise, any motorist who menaces or endangers a cyclist needs to face the ticket, charges, fines, points and whatever else comes with it. You can be sure the public would catch on pretty quickly and brag about how wonderful their cops are.

Anyone who would like bicycles to disappear is due for continued culture shock. There are and will be more bikes on Boston streets.

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