Archive for September, 2010

More Music Than You Can Pound a Drumstick At

September 26th, 2010

We flowed together yesterday for the Berklee (sponsored and no long South End) Beantown Jazz Festival — uxorial unit by T and I by cycle. It remains jamming with jamming, even though the college understandably plugs in more of its own people to showcase them. This day-long culmination of the week is free as well as fun.

Pix clicks tricks: Click on a thumbnail for a little larger view. Use your browser back button or keys to return.

Berklee prof, well-established vibe player and band leader Victor Mendoza roused. He takes particular pride in assembling his group from throughout Latin America. vibes1
rhiannon1 Rhiannon alternated between poignant and powerful and poetic.
Her bassist, Abraham Laboriel, is more intense than you and I. He would pound his guitar and shake the stage. He apparently forgot to get old. laboriel3
caged Among the last of the season, a caged flower seemed to listen behind the iron fence next to one of the stages.

I arrived at noon, the time for the first sets. Despite the great weather, the crowds were far thinner than in previous-to-Berklee-sponsorship years. The dozens of music students in their purple shirts seemed to outnumber the audience, as they separately searched for someone who needed a sked.

Two hours later, Columbus Ave. South of Mass Ave. had pretty well filled up. This time, they had one fewer stage than usual and the one set up on the ball fields was for kids and family music. It was a kinder, gentler, quieter jazz fest.

As in the Deval Patrick/Tim Murray rally at three a quarter mile down the street, the spectators/auditors represented the races, cultures and ages of Boston. That section of town that befuddles clear neighborhood boundaries seems our best showing of cosmopolitan life.

Painter Putzes Patched

September 20th, 2010

A pair of good guys repaired a nifty mural done by teens on the ped/bike path beside the Mattapan-Ashmont trolley. Some self-centered jerks has tagged it with their sigs in pink paint, over the art.

I stopped biking to chat with Vincent and Steve doing their magic with pots of paint, blended to match the diverse colors of the original.

The sneaky schmucks covered much of the mural with pink paint. This is a sample of a section the guys had not finished fixing. damage
tools The elaborate mural is a Native American setting, replete with dugout, vegetable harvest, cooking and river. It has lots of colors, which the men replicated to replace the garish pink tagging.
Steve said Vincent was an actual artist and the leader of the restoration project. He was doing what Vincent said and showed. steve
vincent Vincent painstakingly restored the smallest and subtlest sections. He noted that he was glad the taggers didn’t have a ladder and more time.

The mural is just north of the MILTON stop on the trolley. Many hundreds of commuters, walkers and cyclists pass by and can enjoy it daily. (What were those jerks thinking?)

Steve and Vincent said they were working with Boston Natural Area Network (BNAN) in the restoration. They are double good news for all of us. They are volunteering for the effort; it costs nothing to the city or state.

Good on them.

MacMilton Mansions 2 of 2

September 13th, 2010

Like an obese tourist couple on the Red Line, Wellesley-fication plops ever closer to Boston. We really don’t have the land in this jigsaw puzzle of a city for the distinguishing ostentation of the burbs…at last anymore. Yet, as with five-carat cubic zirconia rings on the shiny nailed hands of parvenus, mac mansions need only the slightest encouragement.

Ostentation must have its display!

A few hundred yards from our new-to-us Hyde Park home, this apparently will play out in all its tawdry splendor. The vagaries of zoning dovetail elegantly with the whims of the privileged.

The short of it is that an early 20 century mansion on Brush Hill Road slowly became dilapidated and then quickly lost much of its roof in a fire on April Fool’s Day eve, 2008. Its six-acre plot is under agreement with the Ruscito family of Brush Hill Properties. They want to tear down the mansion and its nearby carriage house to make way for a subdivision of five huge houses.

A little (17,000 square feet) of the land is in Boston, but the rest in Milton and the Boston bit would be lawns and not houses. The Milton Planning Board does not like the project, nor does the Brush Hill Neighborhood Association. (The Bulletin papers do not make issues easily available online. The article on this appears in the 9/2/10 issue.)

In a short-notice public meeting, locals apparently were shocked to hear of plans for five houses of 4,000 to 4,500 square feet each. The abutters, planning board members and others seemed left to sputter likely ineffective objections. For example, with limited drainage and one catch basin, where would the rain go? Yet underlying it seemed the real concern of aesthetics.

Legally though, the developers seem solid. I recall this tale from my old JP Woodbourne neighborhood. There, a family catercorner from us slapped up a pre-fab looking house for their daughter on a tiny lot, just inches outside the requirement for distance from the adjacent house. Even though it was an historic neighborhood, the new construction did not fall under the strictures and elaborate approval process of the simplest addition or other exterior changes would have.

Milton town planner Bill Clark said that the purchase-and-sale agreement provides for subdivision. Nominally, the planning board has to approve this. Likely though, while Milton could make the family alter the proposal slightly, this appears a sure deal.

In their favor, the Ruscito folk are locals. They have built and occupy their own mac mansions on Metropolitan Avenue. They are listed at 124, 130 and 140. Their sprawling, junior-college or suite-motel looking properties may not be to the tastes of old money Milton. So what? Money power, pursuit of happiness, home is your castle and so forth…it’s all as American as keeping up with and racing past the Jones.

We strolled around the existing mansion recently. The images here are from that trip. Click on a thumbnail for a larger view and use your browser back button or key combo to return.

The present path up the hill to the mansion and carriage house looks like a Wind in the Willows image.  The carriage house looks in good shape from the outside, but would be expendable in the project. hiddenhouse
approach The former grandeur of the mansion is easy to see from the approach.
The magnificent American beech is up to 10 feet around and perhaps 100 feet tall. It has split, dropping several large limbs and showing a big cleft in the main trunk. From my own experience at my previous house, I’d estimate that this is a 200 year old or so tree and would die on its own within 50 years (unacceptable to a developer).
boylefront The front entry shows piles of books and papers indicative of the dissolution within.
The roof at the front burned thoroughly. Newspaper reports said the surviving family occupant caused the fire accidentally with a cigarette. firedamage
porch The side porch still has its furniture.
While overgrown with vines, the back of the house belies the destruction on the other side. overgrownback
chest1 On the side porch, a travel trunk sits lonely in blown beech leaves. It makes one wonder what lands it visited over the past century.

The fire that hastened this process got brief, but thorough coverage at the time, like here and here. The reclusive and forlorn looking resident, Valerie Boyle, has the made-for-TV-movie look. We are left to imagine her life in the run-down home without water or electricity. The mind jumps immediately to thoughts of Grey Gardens, minus the cats.

Estimates at the time put the value of the then 102-year-old mansion at around $2 million. That could have bought a nice annuity, were she inclined to leave the family home. Meanwhile, before the fire, Milton officials had apparently told her that the house was unsafe for habitation. Her 80-year-old brother-in-law Edward Fallon, lived in the carriage house and the property apparently was owned by a family trust.

One news article in the Patriot Ledger summed up the future of the property — Fallon said Valerie Boyle has lived alone in the house since one of her brothers died several years ago. Boyle has no children. Fallon, a retired real estate investor, said the family will probably raze the house and sell the nearly seven acres of land. He said the younger family members have moved away and taking care of the huge house and rolling grounds has become increasingly difficult as the years have passed. “I guess it’s time,” Fallon said.

Now, one Milton Planning Board member would like to see a cluster development instead of a land subdivision. Another would prefer a single large condo building. Regardless, I’d bet the Ruscitos have their way, maybe with a few placation changes for the neighbors.

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MacMilton Mansions 1 of 2

September 8th, 2010

Visualize a set of four or five instant mansions at the Hyde Park border on the Milton side, Brush Hill Road. You apparently won’t have to imagine it for long. The same developer who has been plunking down oversized brick-faced thingummies is poised to re-plunk.

We strolled around the burned-out property they’ll use, snapping images of the sad and grand old house on the hill. (Pix follow in 2 of 2.)

I also found the remnants of what appears to be an outdoor teen living room where coyotes pass. It is a wonderful joke on the mansions of Metropolitan Avenue.

Originally, I went onto the well forested path behind a six-foot privacy fence because I’d seen neighborhood coyotes trot there in midday. I hadn’t considered it rec-room territory, but it looks like the local youth have.

macmiltonPix tricks: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. Use your browser’s back button or keys to return.

First, consider the environment. Metropolitan as it heads east from Hyde Park has several old, grand homes. Mostly though, it’s parvenu palaces. We realized eventually what they appear to be — a bunch of suites motels!

Architectural tastelessness is neither a crime nor limited to Boston’s immediate burbs. Wright and Wren know that Wellesley and Dover among many other nouveau riche reserves are splatted with overly large tacky manors. In general, folk can spend as they wish.

Tucked among the outrageous examples here though is that counterpoint to it, quite possibly created and enjoyed by the offspring from that superficial grandeur.

joesentmeThe path entrance is a bit horror-movie-ish. The darkness from the trees compounds the steep descent beyond the fence. It only needs Psycho music to be truly ominous.

However, instead of wild canines, the suburban jungle features junk furniture and graffiti. Just inside is a roofless rec room.

Surely this is the away-from-mom-and-dad preserve of teens. There is a Bud Light can or two, but most beverage residue is the likes of Hawaiian Punch juice boxes and energy-drink cans. There’s no obvious drug leavings, like syringes or rolling-paper packs. There are not latex gloves or condoms. There are none of the discarded nips so common on the length of Brush Hill Road, apparently tossed by driving topers.

Instead, the amusement that leaves traces seems to be tagging the inside of the fence with spray paint. The decors is simple hillbilly or squatter camp. A seriously mismatched grouping of upholstered (surely disgusting in the outdoor weather) , plastic and wood chairs. These are what we’d see on the curb on Fairmount Hill trash day.recoom

Despite the grunge, the rustic den shows a flash of wholesomeness. Again, there’s no drug or sex leavings, as well as no evidence of serious boozing or dangerous fires. Assuming this is the space of pubescent non-delinquents, they retain some decorum and know as the ancient Greeks had it not to kick against the goads.

When I told my wife out this small find and its juxtaposition with the ostentatious abutters, she had just heard a similar distant tale. A friend in a small South Carolina city had recently cleared out her parents’ house and land. She found a rec room like that hidden in the overgrowth there. It makes one wonder how many impromptu clubhouses (minus the house) there are.

Next up, the gutted mansion and its aftermath.

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Snoozers, Users and Lusers

September 5th, 2010

Being from a family of fixers seemed normal enough, but has proven otherwise. Being able to repair a machine and more only works consistently on one condition. You have to understand how things function and often how they are put together.

As it turns out, I have an earned reputation for fixing, assembling and configuring machines, computers and more. Lackaday, it seems most folk are quick to blame a poorly maintained inanimate servant for its failures. Often, it only needs a tweak.

My alleged magic is nothing more than applying an understanding of components and functions.

That came to mind this afternoon when my wife noted that one of the electronically controlled garage doors would not close with the remote controls. I looked out the back door and from 30 feet could see the issue.

The little beam at the base of the door track is part of a safety system. It won’t let the door move when something is in the way. It’s an ignorant optical/mechanical system and doesn’t know if that something is a human body part or a car trunk or a rake. If its light circuit is broken, it stops the motor. Period. The way I grew up, I notice such things and file them in wetware just in case.

I could see that number two son’s mountain bike was just inside the beam area. To the unusual who grew up taught to file away how things work, that was instantly obvious. I long ago accepted that even the otherwise bright generally would not see that. I liken it to my poorly developed musical skills and senses. I have musician friends and a musical spouse who hear notes and keys that are just music to me. I love music, but can’t begin to replicate it or explain how to make it.

Who You Callin’ Loser?

Specifically in the computer/internet world, there are derogatory terms for the ignorant and unobservant. Perhaps none is more common among the cyber-savvy as luser. A pun playing off a combination of user and loser, it expresses the exasperation of support types, sys admins (those bastard operators from hell) , and we alpha geeks who put together and troubleshoot family and friends’ system.

Given the rapid changes in and spread of technology, one slice of logic would suggest that oldsters are bound to be lusers and youngsters computer, internet and new media experts. Sigh. Not so.

To the contrary, from what I see, most 20 somethings and teens fail in far more ways than not being able to make change without the cash register lighting up the amount. Most are users only, a.k.a. lusers. They learn now to apply the most basic functions of software. They never went through any process that required them to understand what goes no behind the scenes and are helpless when anything unusual occurs, as it frequently does.

Indeed, as I am wont to allude to, these become the Eloi. Even if they have good hearts, the processes that keep their world perking are unknown.

In that tedious sniping between the Mac and PC universes, we see variations. The Mac types are compelled to say their computers are so superior that they plug in peripherals and connect to this or that without having to do or know anything. Isn’t that wonderful?

bombWell I suppose in the Eloi future that might be OK, if all systems were perfect. As a PC alter kaker, I know better and recall observing and working with my wife’s company’s struggles in the original Mac office decades ago. Mac lovers said their machines were well worth the 100% or more premium because they just worked. That is, until that bomb appeared. They worked until they didn’t. Then what?

Somehow, the Mac failure was supposed to be substantially different from the PC’s blue screen of death. In reality, both meant you had to reboot the computer to try again. Somehow the Mac folk had to feel their double-the-price failure was a better one.

The double seeds were planted way back then (nearly 30 years ag0). One was the Spple system and the other was the Microsoft fantasy.

The Apple system was expensive for two reasons. One was simple greed; they made everything proprietary and did not let anyone make cheaper versions, thus keeping the price up. The other was that they required much faster, more capable and expensive processors, with obscene amounts of RAM to hide the functions. The Mac was plug-and-play with peripherals before the PC because the operating system did tons of work behind the scenes.

For Bill Gates’ minions, they spawned the software version — that each of us is a perfect multitasking machine in a human’s shell. That’s absurd on the face of it. The vast majority of us do one thing at a time well and our efficiency deteriorates badly beyond that. Multitasking is cruel overload for nearly all of us.

Yet, managers love that concept and love to tell their lackeys that they expect them to use every second, meaning keeping open many documents, spreadsheets, email and more, spinning from one to another like a honeybee in a field of flowers. It is a recipe for assured failure, one that both bosses and workers cook from daily.

Me Worry?

So in this century, we allegedly have kids born tech savvy. They grew up with the internet, computers, smart phones, social networking and infinite varieties of applications for all those.

But big sigh, ask a teen or 20-something how anything works or what to do when it doesn’t and they are Eloi quivering before you. It’s like asking a high school or college student at the register to handle making change on a $41.67 bill when you hand over $50.17. If the register is not ready to do the calculation, the kid almost certainly can’t. If a software package punks out or the cable modem stops downloading, the lads and lasses get that idiot look.

Can you blame them? Well, yes.

I think of oldies, my late mother for one and a 93-year-old UU minister friend for another. They came with great period names, Wanda and Farley.

Wanda was sort of retired, although she never got the hang of not working and not volunteering. She grew up in a manual typewriter world, was a manager in the IBM Selectric days, and in her late 50s, semi-retired and moved to Santa Fe, learned to use computers in a state job. She then wanted 1) to communicate with distant children and grandchildren, and 2) to build and maintain a database for a local community college’s library. I got her the hardware and software (including what she needed for her impinging macular degeneration) and taught her how to use email, DB software and more. I set up her systems but, she was an ace.

Farley was a bit of a harder sell. He was interim minister at a Boston UU church were I chaired the board. His son and I worked him from different towns and angles. He was not a natural, but in his early 70s, he started using a computer writing sermons, using the net and emailing like a champ.

He and I laugh about the number of times he called late with, “Damn. I’ve worked on this sermon for 8 hours and it’s gone, just gone.” Almost always, I could recover it for him and off he went again. On his side, his son figured he’d move him from Windows to Mac. Surely Farley couldn’t goof up a Mac. Surely he could and did, but we perked along and still do over 20 years later. He’s moved to Mexico but is a regular email correspondent.

Neither Farley nor Wanda evolved much beyond the user/luser class. I had to help both regardless of how many times I explained how to avoid this or that on PC or Mac.

Unitarians v. Computers

Moreover, a couple of decade ago, Farley and I did a counterpoint sermon from the high pulpit of the Arlington Street Church. The sheer altitude of that locale, plus looking out to upwards of 1,000 congregants, focuses the mind and inspires.

He spoke on the human aspects of life so often lost in the modern technological times. He was truly the stereotypical humanist. I gave my view of how computers and the net (before the World Wide Web) enabled communications and advocacy, a trend that would only accelerate and magnify.

Farley’s attitude I consider unfortunate and one he and I still debate in person and by email. Many ministers, UU and otherwise, exhibit a computers v. people mindset. I don’t see the conflict. To me, computers are like cars or planes or telephones…only more so in each case.

Instead, I fret when I see the lameness of young lusers. There’s nothing I can do effectively beyond my three kids for the many who never had to master multiplication tables or learn subtraction and division. I think the boomers, under the Sputnik era pressures, did get a more rigorous education.

It’s still not too late for those in their teens, 20s and 30s to be inspired. It’s not too late for them to become aware and savvy.

The eldest of my three sons is an anomaly in his cohort. Actually he and one other of his high school chums have extensive IT experience and understand how networks, computers, routers and more work. They don’t whimper. They fix.

Truth be told though, he wasn’t always the guru. As a boy, he was absolutely fabulous in taking things, mechanical and electric alike, apart. Reassembling or fixing was an entirely different matter. Whether it was a toy or clock or radio, we’d often find non-functional groupings of parts.

Unfortunately or fortunately, he had a dad who was the fly in the ear or mosquito on the neck. “What do we need to do? What can we learn from this? Where does this part belong?”

Whether I had experience with and knowledge of the device in pieces before us, I could help or lead in the healing process. It appears many young adults and their younger siblings never got any of that. They simply don’t know how things work. They are willing to blame problems on the failure of this or than inanimate object. They have no curiosity about the problem or the solution.

I fear for a nation of Eloi. I’m not sure there are Morlocks who’ll keep our machines and processes in tune. I wonder how inert and paralyzed we might become if there are too many figurative Mac bombs.

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Hurricane Haiku

September 4th, 2010

Fear, then respect Earl.

One mildly rainy night later,

September Fool’s Day.

Cuddly little Earl deserves his own poetry…wee poetry.

Construction Gorillas Live

September 3rd, 2010

Trotting by a construction site in Hyde Park this morning, my flashback machine triggered. The catalyst was a worker on the top area of what used to be the tuxedo rental store on River Street. He and his sledge hammer took me back to summer days of college years.

tux2I didn’t have a camera, but I can offer an earlier still of the defunct business with its amusing BUILT TO SUIT sign. The deliciously tacky sign is gone. The worker who caught my interest was on a platform about where the E used to be.

I suppose the privileged who never had callouses on their hands from full-time or summer jobs didn’t even notice the ape on high. I write ape because that was the memory.

Two summers in Pittsburgh, I worked on carpentry crews from 7 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. building rows of townhouses. I was the sledge hammer guy.

Our houses had fronts three stories high. We’d put in the basement joists and put the sidewalls in place from cinder block basement level up. Then we’d frame the front in one piece and do the old barn-raising routine with the whole crew, grunting the three story piece upright.

Then it was crew chief Ron on top and me at the floor to tack and tap it in place. That’s how I earned my nickname on the crew, Milly.

Ron rode the 30-plus foot frame armed only with his 12-ounce rip hammer and an apron of 16-penny nails. Below, I had the 16-pound sledge, my 16-ounce rip and an apron of cut nails. On each side, a couple of the older guys were trusted with long levels.

Ron picked me out early for this job before I even knew of it. I had the chest, shoulders and muscles for the sledge he said. When he announced I’d be doing that during the summer, he dubbed me Magilla Gorilla or Milly as was his naming style.

sledgeI simply had to pound the two-unit wide, three-level high wall into plumb, and quickly bend to pound the cut nails through the studs and well into the concrete floor underneath. It was always a fun half hour of sport. Ron had no fear of the high and wobbly. His brothers on the crew road BSA bikes to work, but he rode walls and joists well above the boulders on one side and plunges into the raw houses below on the other.

I confess it was a cheap thrill to play John Henry, swinging sledge and moving the massive wall left or right, back or forward. It would hit its blue chalk marks and satisfy the level holders after some big and then more subtle strikes. Up high Ron would pound in his spikes and I would do the same with my cut nails. Then like bees spitting out comb, the crew would tap up and down to secure the front to the interior walls.

Several older carpenters also had specialized tasks later in the project. Typically, they used four or six-ounce claw hammers to attach the floor and other molding. They were as skilled and impressive as the plastering crews on stilts. Both sets did their work without flaw or visible sign. Magic!

On the other hand, for those summers, I enjoyed the gorilla work. Using my body grossly and to good effect was satisfying in a way the fastidious efforts can’t be.

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Ghostly Artifacts

September 1st, 2010

wanda1Small things as place holders and then worse than useless mementos of the beloved dead require decisions. I finally have come to terms with the last of my mother’s Scottish shortbread.

In the new-to-us house as well as the previous one, small sets of artifacts were a comforting hidden altar. I buried my grandfather in the backyard gardens. That is, a set of a photo and trinkets related to him became a nexus. Knowing that symbols were there gave me a focus for thoughts that needed consideration.

He played the father role for me all summers, vacations and on the telephone in my school years. I still want to share the bad and good and puzzling with him…and do.

When the objects are rancid, it’s another matter. My mother’s splendid shortbreads — rich, not too sweet floret cookies — were a primal communication and display of affection. She shipped us her homemade treats before Christmas every year and the tin of shortbread always came with a hand-written label MICHAEL on the top.

Six years on from the last batch, I still have a few of the last batch. What to do with remnants of my mother’s effort?

I can’t pretend that they are actually part of her. Yet, she made them for me and I had decades in college and adulthood getting them every year. It seemed as important to her to show that affection as for me to enjoy it.

The buttery cookies have long gone bad, to the point that I don’t open the tin. They aren’t moldy, but they not inviting even as ritual food.

Yet, I don’t want to place them in the trash. There’s at least that much emotion remaining in the former food.

I’m setting a couple out today to see what the various wild visitors do with them. We have many kinds of birds, including crows that are grossly fond of roadkill, as well as the night shift of rabbits, raccoons and such.If they devour the shortbread, I’ll sacrifice a few at a time until they are gone.

Had you known Wanda (above in early middle age), you would also know she would appreciate the sharing decision. She was a child in the Great Depression. While her father’s full-time job, massive gardening and tailoring protected the family from the stereotypical deprivation, she grew up in the Eastern panhandle of West Virginia, where waste is a sin.

Perhaps our two and four-legged visitors will help me here.

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