Archive for March, 2011

Don’t Call Us, Juror

March 31st, 2011


Serve. Don’t serve. Serve. Don’t Serve.

Until yesterday, I didn’t know there was a tap to turn on and off jury service in this fabled commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In terms of being jerked around by a bureaucracy, my recent experience is likely not in the top 10,000 instances. Yet knowing there is a preprinted postal card anticipating goofing on jurors is disquieting.

I was summoned for grand juror service then abruptly unsummoned or desummoned or whatever. The summons arrived in late January and the forget-it card this week.

It’s kind of a big deal, at least in time commitment. It is for three months, not three days. Grand jurors sit in a box with 22 other citizens and have to call each day for 90 days to see whether they have service the next day.

I’m not at all sure the gossip compensation is adequate. You can’t talk about cases with anyone or even be around anyone who mentions them until things are totally resolved. Even then, you can’t discuss the details or deliberations without explicit personal permission from the judge. Harrumph.

Anyway, I’m not much for whining, but this gives me a reason. I didn’t fall in the list of exemptions. I am not old enough (70) or young enough (17). I’m not sick or disabled. I can speak English. I live in the country and won’t be away for a  year or more. I am a U.S. citizen. I don’t have a recent felony conviction. I’m not the primary care giver for anyone. They even waited a couple of weeks after the three-year period from my last jury service.

So, I steeled myself and OK’ed the gig. Then I did the details. It’s nothing like preparing to die, but there are those tedious tasks. I rescheduled a doctor’s appointment. I coordinated with other Left Ahead podcasters to cover for me and to begin moving the Tuesday 2:30 PM shows to different times (no small thing with guests and co-hosts). I did not apply for two possible contract writing positions which would start right before or right after the beginning of service. There was more; being an adult and parent is plugged in here and there and oh, over here too.

Then Monday, the form card from the Office of the Jury Commissioner read:



This does not disqualify you from juror service for the next three years. If you are randomly selected again in future years, you must serve. Jurors who report to a courthouse as directed, ready willing and able to serve, are statutorily disqualified from further juror service in the Commonwealth for three years. This disqualification does not apply to you because you were not requried to appear for juror service.

Thank you for our understanding and willingness to participate. We hope your inconvenience was minimal.

In the greater drama of governmental incompetence and poor planning, this doesn’t really register. (I did, however, want to edit the card, including inserting the missing ready, willing comma.)

The randomly selected phrase also struck me. Every three years without fail I get a summons. I’m on a list and there’s nothing random about the timing.

From my previous experiences, I surmise that whatever big case was on tap for my grand-jury-that-wasn’t got a plea deal. Many of my regularly jury summons dribble off that way, with us attending, being seated, waiting in a room, and hearing that the judge worked magic on the defense attorney to extract a bargain.

In this case, I suppose they should have cut the deal long before a week prior to the jury seating. Brinkmanship must be mandatory in the judicial game.

I was dreading and looking forward to service. The gross and detailed inconvenience of it all is absurd. On the other hand, seeing the actual workings of the secret process of deciding whether the prosecutor has the goods to justify a trial is intriguing.

I may never know and that’s OK by me.


Mildly Buffed Lower East Side

March 27th, 2011

An overpriced bar and a hookah café on East 3rd Street? Odder than I, say I.

Walking two friends by my old Manhattan apartments included the Hells Angels’ block — 3rd between 1st and A. I had to count mentally  more than once as it was the same and different. Yes, it was the early 70s that I lived across the street from the club house.

Then we residents liked to note that it was the safest block in the five boroughs. No burglars or robbers bothered you, even on this seamy block. the two huge plate-glass windows of the Mike (Sr. and Jr.) Fiumefreddo butcher shop were clean and no one dared break them.

This week, the townhouses still look New York dreadful, but I hear they are a lot more expensive. There were five bikes on the curb of 77 instead of 20 or so on both sides when I lived there.

The butcher shop is now The Edge. Customer reviews online at Yelp say it is a dive bar that charges uptown prices (although they are quibbling over $7 craft beers they want to cost $6). Another site sums it up as, College-y meat market next to a Hell’s Angels hangout. A haven for neighborhood alcoholics during the day and a watering hole for NYU hotties at night.

To me the oddment is that there is a bar there at all. The Cafe Khufu hookah bar down the street seems stranger. Then I remind myself how long it  has been since I lived there.

The Angels I knew are gone or dead. For continuity, there house is still there, despite a failed retaliatory suit by the feds to seize the club building (lost in 1994). Amusingly enough, the club now has a website, replete with sales of calendars, collectibles and t-shirts. The latter includes the shibboleth often uttered by Vinny, the biggest, meanest, hairiest Angel and the one I spoke with most frequently — When in doubt, knock ’em out!

Suddenly I’m humming TMBG and hearing lyrics from Older:

You’re older than you’ve ever been and now you’re even older
And now you’re older still
Is marching on
And time
Is still marching on

There was a time, boys and girls, when people who didn’t live on this block of East 3rd sensibly did not go there. That’s changed, probably for the better. An overpriced dive may not be as positive, particularly as it speaks to the Fiumefreddos departure and likely demise.

Mike and his dad were great butchers and kind neighbors. They’d cash checks and lend you money. They’d donate spring lambs each year for a block cookout the Angels would host, replete with lots of nasty red wine made in the basement next to me by an old Italian woman. It was a loud, seedy, colorful and safe place to live.

Today? It’s a little the same and a lot different.


Twice Favored by the MBTA

March 25th, 2011

Harrumphing aside, and despite what my sons might say, I am capable of praise as well. On this week’s zoom in and out of NYC, the Boston T met its skeds and delivered me on time to and from the farthest reaches of this city.

Cynicism would note that I have been reduced to cheering this lumbering, sputtering, bureaucratic service for doing its job. Indeed, there are many reasons why I prefer going by bicycle in the great wheel and on its spokes from Winchester to Wellesley to Stoughton. It takes less time for me to bike from the bottom of Hyde Park to Davis Square for example than to drive or depend on bus/trolley/subway combos. Of course, as a skinflint, I delight in it being far cheaper.

Ah, though on pre-dawn Wednesday, the scant and silly Fairmount commuter rail options worked perfectly and on Thursday night, the equally spare and precise hourly buses from Ashmont to home dovetailed exactly with the Red Line from South Station. Perfecto.

The grousing on Universal Hub of late for delayed, cancelled, vomit-splattered trains, and those with surly staff is understandable. We have a fair mass transit permeation here. So many of us are carless or choose not to pay for commuting, shopping and hitting shows and shops in parking, time and space seeking that we are virtually captive to the T.

Regular readers here and at Marry in Massachusetts know I eagerly await the Purple Line. We can skip or slide the half mile from the top of Fairmount Hill in the bottom left of Boston to the often dilator commuter rail. Its sked is plain silly, with only a few morning runs into town, no weekend service, and a mere two evening returns from South Station — 7:30 and 9:40 — totally in the wrong times to see a show or have a decent meal.

The new sked supposedly within a year will give some choices to the tens of thousands of largely middle class and poor, many of color, who are far from the Orange and Red Lines and who have heard and seen the rare commuter trains roll over and through their neighborhoods with no stations and no service. Also, there’s a fair chance the fare will finally drop from $4.25 to a subway $1.70/$2. That’s fair fare for areas in Boston when many farther stops North and West have long been the subway cost.

Enough carping. Let me note that the T did me right:

  • The 5:51 a.m. arrived at 5:51 at Fairmount and hummed me into South Station in plenty of time to bolt on Bolt for Manhattan.
  • As a bonus, three of us guys got driver Dan who looked and sounded like an off-season Santa, who named our ride the Ship of Good Cheer, who took pictures of us, and who was highly skilled even in the narrow chute of the Midtown tunnel.
  • On the return, traffic in the Bronx into Connecticut had us running behind. Many fretting teens with texting thumb tics whined into their iPhones as did the inane middle-aged guys, constantly updating their families at length about nothing of action — their exit or whether they had the right cell number to call in four hours when they arrived in Boston. Blah, blah, drone. These folk must also need nightlights.
  • We arrived at South Station at 8:33 p.m. and the hourly bus from Ashmont left for my house in 27 minutes. Miss it and the half-hour ride to within 100 feet of my front door would turn into three times that, either with a Red to Orange Line, then a 32 bus to Cleary Square and a 15 minute, mile-plus walk, or waiting for the Mattapan trolley and likely walking the two plus miles in the dark up the wet road. Worse can happen, but those are not what I would seek. The option would be the kill an hour in or near South Station and take the last Fairmount train.
  • Instead, I hustled like squirrel in front of a feral cat. I galumphed the many station stairs, skirted the Atlantic Avenue side, and careered three floors down to the outbound Red Line. Within three minutes, the Ashmont train arrived and made good time to its terminus.
  • Both the South Station platform and the bus shelter on the other end were full of passengers. My trip was fully orchestrated as though all awaited me.
  • The 24/27 bus was nearly full. It is an hourly show after all. I arrived at figurative curtain time, took a seat and enjoyed the brief play. Even the passengers getting on covered with huge snowflakes seemed cast in a musical about Boston in winter.

Praise to the T…and to fortuitous timing. I appreciated jolly Dan on the ride down as well. Mass transit and cheap buses worked wonderfully. May all of my and all of your commutes and special trips be so blessed.


The Schlock of the Irish-Americans

March 21st, 2011

In Dublin and Cork, where actual Irish folk live, LGBT groups are welcome to march in the annual St. Patrick’s Day parades. Likewise, in much of America, that’s the case. That includes the second-largest such event, in Savannah, a parade and week of doings much larger…and jollier…than that in South Boston.

Notably, it in in Manhattan and South Boston were parade organizers have closed their minds into walls, their hearts into cinders, their fingers into fists. Unlike the real Irish, the self-identified guardians of what’s Irish in this country seemed to have missed the past 50 years of human and humane development.

In NYC, it is the Ancient Order of Hibernians and in Southie, the Allied War Veterans Council of South Boston that organize the parades and enforce the exclusionary rules. After the later won a unanimous SCOTUS decision 16 years ago letting them discriminate, they relish telling civil-rights supporters that LGBT folk are welcome to march in their parades. Of course, they can’t march as a group unlike the 100 or so other groups or identify themselves as anything other than of Irish extraction. The argument mirrors those who say gays can marry in their states, so long as they marry an opposite sex person. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

The hypocrisy and irony are well noted. In Boston’s Bay Windows, for example, Rev. Irene Monroe gets into this, including citations of how odd it would be that Irish-Americans as well as African-Americans so eagerly discriminate when they have been discriminated against so long and so often. Also, such hostility is respects neither the legacy of Christianity nor of American freedoms, which those groups allegedly follow and honor. Likewise, a wrap-up piece in last an Edge last year notes the overt and atavistic discrimination in such parades. Moreover, poll after poll of Bostonians, New Yorkers, Catholics and others make it clear that the vast majority of us have transcended anti-LGBT feelings in personal fears as well as discrimination in jobs, housing and more.

In Southie, this year was the first separate-and-unequal parade. The second comprising mostly Veterans for Peace and LGBT Irish-American groups had to follow the main parade and hour later, literally following the street sweepers. (…visions of following the elephants with a shovel…) Of course, most of the crowd came for the bagpipers, step dancers and such, and left sparse spectatorship.

Yet, to get a flavor of the bitter residual counterpoint, head to the Boston Herald. There a story on the two parades got at last count 119 remaining comments in two days. The paper removed the most obscene and inflammatory ones. Yet the pattern in these is clear enough. While the rest of Boston is pretty much let’s-leave-each-other-in-peace, the dozens of Herald regular comments show the city at its most hateful, least rational, most puerile, and least Christian. I won’t cite example here.

The true oddment is how out of step with the real Irish such folk and such parade organizers are. I’m certainly not the first to note many times how socially backward and slow to advance Americans can be socially. An oddment with the NYC/Boston situation is that the regressive organizers are no longer run by the WWII/Korean era folk, rather by their children. They now have marginalized themselves, while insisting they’ll never change.

Well, the world has. Even here, we follow Canada, Europe, and Catholic countries in Latin America as well. Most of America has even followed Ireland in St. Patrick’s Day parade traditions. Maybe the old guys in these two throwback cities really will have to die. There’s no indication that they are praying for guidance or even paying attention to Irish and Irish-Americans are up to — that would be fun, fellowship, and accepting Irish heritage rather than promoting pseudo-Irish hostility.

PO Love to Latin

March 17th, 2011

carmenAs I get attached to postage stamp designs, either the rate goes up or the stamp is out of stock. As there are still some bills we pay by mail, some clippings and such we package for the college lad, and some letters and postal cards we simply enjoy sending, we are a blended mail house. We buy stamps.

I have been enjoying the lavender pansies on the LOVE stamp and headed to my nearest P.O. to replenish my supply this morning. Good fortune was that I didn’t wait; the sole customer was retreating to repackage his parcel. Bad was that, sure enough, the stamp was gone.

The impish clerk grinned lovingly and as though she had been waiting to use the line said, “We have no love in the Post Office.”

She could offer me LATIN MUSIC, a series with the likeness of five dead Latino singers. These are certainly more garish than the faint flowers, perhaps as pansies are to salsa.

Skipping South in Japan

March 16th, 2011

News of quiet exodus appears in coverage of the spreading radioactivity in Northeast Japan. The best I’ve seen is in the German mag Stern. (This article translates pretty well on sites like )

As an accompanying map shows, the imperiled reactors spread out over the East coast and their danger regions are wide. As a result, folk are at least temporarily hieing to areas South of Tokyo, where life continues as normal — office perk, trains roll, and no officials or sirens insist on evacuation.

Many years have passed since my family was part of the post-WWII occupation army in Saga and Osaka. Those are safe cities in the South, one the big island and one right below it.

Over those years, my mother would occasionally discuss A-bombs (as the two we used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were known then) as well as our not-too-honest rush to nuclear power. For the latter, she saw straight through the false pride of the glories of breeder reactors we were building pell-mell. Business leaders and politicians crowed about how wonderful it was they made fuel, saving mining and handling costs, neglecting to mention the huge amounts of hot waste, deadly for 50,000 or more years we would have to do something with and pray that it remained contained for at least ten times longer than humans have had written language.

On a more personal concern, she mentioned in passing something that we could do nothing about. In Osaka, we were fairly close to Hiroshima and in Saga, even closer to Nagasaki.

Military families were forbidden from eating local produce. Ostensibly, that was because many farmers gathered night soil, excrement in public ditches, from the infrastructure and culture of the time to fertilize their crops. We also have to believe there was some concern over radioactivity from blown dirt.

Likewise, we were there in the period and location when the bombed cities were still seriously contaminated. Even for tots like my sister and me, that was and can still be part of military life. We went where we were told to go.

Most of our Japanese friends from that period eventually moved to new lives in the United States. Nearly everyone has joined his ancestors.

For us, my mother got breast/lymph cancer. However, I think that almost certainly related to her decades of cigarettes and not radiation exposure in Japan in her 20s. For my sister and me, either of us shows cancer. I assume that whatever exposure we received our young bodies were able to process adequately.

I’m not one to call for immediately shutting down nuclear-energy-generation programs worldwide. I see countries that use far safer reactor types than the U.S. and Japan do, energy generation far cleaner than the coal plants places like China use.

Instead though, I can’t believe we can’t look to Iceland’s tapping geothermal…and beyond. We have tides and winds as well as a hot earth constantly pulsing with energy. Those sources and likely others undeveloped are free of the dangers and poisons of petroleum and nuclear.

Must humans remain subject to perilous expediency?

Cross-post: At Marry in Massachusetts.

The Good Kind of Sap in the Blue Hills

March 13th, 2011

Maple sugar days in the Blue Hills seems a seasonal surprise year after year. Our bodies and minds may know better but we associate sap collection and syrup making with the fall. Don’t try to convince the maples of that; they insist on making lots of new sap ever spring.

It’s been a few years since we visited the Brookwood Farm just east of Houghton’s Pond for this annual event. We did it again today and a few of my snaps of it follow. Click on a thumbnail for a little larger view.

It’s very New England and simple fun. In warning, if you truly hate small kids, don’t go. I don’t show them here other than a straggler on a vintage tractor, but the big field there was rife with kindergarten and primary lads and lasses, squealing, using hula hoops and such. This is for adults and wee ones. There’s hot dogs, hot chocolate, popcorn and such for purchase and a mini-greenhouse let people leave with a few flower seeds in a plastic pot ready for germination. You would get more here for your $6 than at the early-bird showing of a typical movie.

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Visit and learn that any maple can make sap usable for syrup. Unsurprisingly, sugar maples have the highest concentration in the sap. The buckets hand on spiles (taps) driven into drilled holes. Each can collect up to 15 or more gallons and up to 50 gallons are needed to produce each gallon of syrup. The cover minimizes the leaf, bark and bug residue.
Maple sugaring is about the only agricultural technique (maybe other than tossing a fish with seeds for fertilizer) that the Native Americans taught the Colonists. They did not have metal pots and went through elaborate evaporation rituals like one reenacted for this festival. Drop hot rocks from a fire into a pit of sap in a log to reduce the mixture. Hey, no TV, video games or internet, and there was time for lots of productive activities. sugarrocks
sugarpot The Colonists shortened the cycle with pots to precipitate sugar from the sap. Another reenactor does the easier version.
The sugar hut at the farm is one of the fancier ones available. Many only get about two or three weeks of use a year and are just shacks. This one is in it for the long haul and is the demo kitchen for the festival. The large evaporator inside uses wood fire. sugarsmoke
sugarinside The open roof vents keep the smoke and steam from filling the room inside the shack.
Demonstrators by the Leader evaporator explain the process, show the many colors of syrup and answer questions. The palest (or fancy) A grade syrup comes from the first sap. Residue in the equipment produces darker syrups, down five levels of As to B, which is much earthier and some think better tasting. You can use a deeper sap pan and cook it longer to get the darker version as well. Visit the shack to sample the day’s production. sugarevaporator
sugarjam Outside, the Sometimers performed acoustic folk music. A dozen played for a couple of hours.
Nearby, a lumberjack sort showed log chopping and rough work in making huge beams. Here, another woodworker sat and guided adults and kids through shaping techniques. sugarwood
sugartractor The kids seemed most interested in crawling all over a couple of small antique tractors.
As befitting a farm, a few imported animals hung about. A couple of chickens were in a coop and two very wide rams lolled in the sun — they were wearing wool after all. Here, DCR horse Mike was available for petting. sugarmike

Decorated HP Ruins

March 9th, 2011

Taggers may not be big readers of 17th Century poetry. One work’s often borrowed expression might fit their amusement, even if they have not heard it.

I thought of that when I tromped up the hill through the vandalized chain link fence off Rooney Rock Path in HP’s Stony Brook Reservation. The ratty remnants of the Thompson Center have not served the recreation of the physically disabled for nine years. Instead, it clearly has a different set of visitors.

Andrew Marvell’s 17th century poem To His Coy Mistress, begins:

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love’s day.

On this desolate rise at the Southern end of the reservation, the taggers had time enough. The walls in the back show no signs of rushed spraying. They are also low enough to allow easy access.


Hyde Park does not have a huge graffiti problem. I have not noticed these tags elsewhere. These likely are HP’s extreme. Of course, few will ever bother to see them.

The accompanying playground, picnic area and wheelchair accessible pavement are theoretically not open to the public. It took quite a bit of clicking to find that the center has not been open since 2002. The fullest information is online in the DCR’s Resource Management Plan for Stony Brook Reservation.

The reservation is still an impressive park, particularly the huge Northern area, the giant lollipop on the Southern stick. We hike, picnic and bike there often. Yet little of it requires serious maintenance. There are few and small playgrounds and picnic areas. The trails are mud and stone or asphalt. The public pool, skating rink and baseball diamonds are all in the lower stick next to the maintenance facility and crew.

Even before the great recession, the $3 million to upgrade the Thompson Center alone was listed, unfunded and unlikely to find legislative champions anytime soon. From the reservation plan, I found that the cinder block main building went up in 1977. From Wikipedia, I discovered that its namesake was yet another in the line of disgraced, resigned MA House Speakers, John Forbes Thompson, a.k.a. the Iron Duke.

The plan summarizes its problems as:

vandalized both inside and out, the Thompson
Center is not sealed to the elements. Removal
of the chimney, repair of the roof sheathing,
replacing the roof, and replacing wall caps are
needed to seal this structure. This building is
not in use. There are numerous ancillary
structures, including wooden walls and an
inoperative spray pool associated with this
building. All are in poor condition
The isolation of the Thompson Center
from other Reservation facilities and from the view
of neighbors and passers-by has also made it an
attractive nuisance. Many of the Thompson Center’s
needed repairs were caused by extensive vandalism
to the building. This site may no longer be
appropriate for a building and recreational facilities.

Heavily vandalized both inside and out, the Thompson Center is not sealed to the elements. Removal of the chimney, repair of the roof sheathing,  replacing the roof, and replacing wall caps are needed to seal this structure. This building is not in use. There are numerous ancillary structures, including wooden walls and an inoperative spray pool associated with this building. All are in poor condition.

The isolation of the Thompson Center from other Reservation facilities and from the view of neighbors and passers-by has also made it an attractive nuisance. Many of the Thompson Center’s needed repairs were caused by extensive vandalism to the building. This site may no longer be  appropriate for a building and recreational facilities.

As fundamental, it could not longer serve its original purpose as it exists.  With the ADA and related laws and regulations, this separate-but-maybe-equal treatment of the disabled is just no longer cool and not legal. Everyone coming to the reservation should have access to all facilities.

With its shortcomings, it continues to dissolve slowly. The listed schedule requires removing trash every two months. Even that doesn’t appear to happen, although the graffiti gallery does not have lots of beer and soda cans, condoms or food wrappers. Let’s pretend the taggers have the carry-in/carry-out mentality — quasi-civilized Visigoths.

Street Corner Perfect Pitch

March 5th, 2011

I had some advice for a mendicant this cold morning down by Haymarket. Yeah, I gave him some money, but it came with more valuable advice I learned many years ago from a great salesman.

To drag out the punchline, I thought back to when I first lived in Cambridge during college in the late 1960s. Street bums seemed as common as donut shops — student age, indeterminate wrinkled substance abusers and on and around. Seeing them when he visited, a very bright classmate headed to his PhD in history was up for a summer and figured he’d play. He stayed with us but refused our food. He was determined to apply his savvy to what surely was easy quasi-work.

He failed miserably.

He was clean, personable and pleasant, while still speaking up and engaging Bostonians eye-to-eye. He tried places like the Pru sidewalks, where he saw many successful buskers and beggars. He just didn’t click, got next to nothing, and ended up letting us feed him before he went back home. He eventually was a tenured professor but never a winning begger.

When he was here I watched a very successful guy downtown. The big difference between him and my friend is that one had a shtick. Even after I knew the act, I gave him money in appreciation of his performance. It was cheap entertainment, something my chum did not offer. Instead, this guy would approach someone of the sidewalk and open his right palm to show numerous coins. This, of course, defied conventional wisdom, as in pretend to be penniless and at the mercy of the passerby.

Instead, he’d get the interest of the other person by touching the coins and saying, “I’ve got $1.63. I need another $1.37 to get a sandwich right there,” and pointing to a convenience store. While I don’t believe anyone thought he would rush in for an egg salad sandwich. I certainly figured he was stocking up for some wine or such and had more than $1.63 already. But the theater…

So, this morning I had a flashback when the beggar at the Haymarket garage pulled out a plastic box of strawberries. He started strong with a routine. He was an honest man and couldn’t lie; he had just stolen the fruit. He was locked out of the shelter last night and had not eaten, but they didn’t serve decent food there anyway. He needed money for a small bag of chips (strawberries and potato chips?).

In remembrance of the much better mendicant from those years ago, I was reaching in my jeans for a bill. He didn’t stop though. He went on about how honest he was and how he was ashamed to have stolen. He quickly passed from a sympathetic character to a pathetic and dishonest one. I had to tell him  that he wasn’t believable. He doubled down about how every word was the truth, the proven (eh?) truth and on and on.

That’s when I thought of a great space salesman I had known when I was an editor out of New York for Construction Equipment magazine. He always beat the results of the other guys, which was remarkable in that his territory had fewer companies likely to advertise in our magazine and directory. Others had big factory states with Caterpillar and other huge equipment manufacturers. Larry was in Texas with petroleum companies, who advertised heavily only in consumer publications and pretty much only sold lubricants and fluids to our readers.

So I got to ask him one day. The whole staff including us writers were on a week-long junket/internal conference/bonding at the Dorals in Florida. One afternoon, Larry and I were at one of the bars and I had to find out how he skunked the other guys quarter after quarter. He laughed heartily, which was unusual for him. Despite being in BIG Texas, he was pretty soft-spoken and the shortest and slightest of the sales reps. He wasn’t much for loud laughs.

He then leaned in and looked me directly in the eyes. Larry said, “I know one thing the other guys don’t. When you’ve made your sale, shut up.”

This morning, just before I handed the strawberry fellow some money, I passed that far more valuable gift to him.

Barbers’ Retirement Scheme

March 4th, 2011

Is it profession, class or culture that links tonsorial parlor operators and gambling? Yesterday I saw it again twice and had to wonder.

Way back before state governments scammed citizens with lotteries, I’d grown up noticing that barbers were often also the numbers folk. Alternately there was one barber shop in a Southern state capital a couple of blocks from the capitol with a non-shoeshiner. A middle-aged man in a well pressed suit with tie sat in the tall shine chair all the time. He was not there to pick up small bucks buffing brogans and bluchers. Instead, he had a huge roll of cash. He’s take numbers bets or make usurious loans.

In a more modern Boston, my barbers have tended toward 1) scratch tickets and 2) trips to nearby casinos. For many years, my sons and I have gone to Sebastian’s in Roslindale Square. There, the main row of barbers frequently chat up their last and their next trip to a casino. Just yesterday, the main conversation was one-way from the barber going on about his and other folk’s scratch winnings. He would plow his $40 back into more scratch tickets. He knew of a friend in Winthrop who got a $1,000,000 winning tickets, but found only a little over $300,000 net. Was that fair?

I didn’t interrupt the flow of the man with scissors by my ear how much he invested between his last hit and the $40 winner.

Later yesterday, walking East on River as it turns into Fairmount, I strode past Elvis. That would be the barber from the Logan Square shop. I haven’t had my hair cut there, but should. None of us on the hill knows his name, but we discovered recently that we all call him Elvis, from his appearance.

Just as a Pat Boone or a Cyndi Lauper has an unmistakable look, this barber is shtick. With his pompadour wig, open necked shirts, tight pants and gold chains, he’s lounge ready. In decent weather, he spends between-clipping times standing where River turns to River in Logan Square. I’ve never heard him sing though — another reason for a visit to the shop.

Regardless, yesterday as I passed, he shuffled, his chain dangling toward his busy hands worrying the scratch ticket. I didn’t hear whoops of triumph. I suspect his retirement was postponed yet again.