Monthly Archives: April 2002

Land of the Free

We live in America® Land of the Free, permanent residents on the Consumption Superhighway.

Somebody said, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” and everyone in Boston is out to prove them wrong. Last week was National Free Cone Day at every Ben and Jerry’s. Today was National Free Coffee Day at Starbucks. This morning 15 of my coworkers dug into free donuts. Let me tell you about the donuts.

At work we have a giant calendar where we post the status of all our projects. On the calendar, in the Friday square, there is always the name of whoever was pulled out of the fishbowl for the weekly breakfast ritual. And during the meeting we review all the important tasks to be taken care of, Web site going live, email being broadcast to 600,000 people. Today I am the bearer of all things sugary and sweet, and I am as important as the launch of the new Verizon site. I was the star of each meeting this week, beginning on Monday. “German language site goes live on Friday, and JT is bringing breakfast.” Yeah.

My first issue is that bagels really cost about 60 cents. It is a nice thought, and kind of fun to chill with my coworkers Friday mornings and shoot the shit over free bagels — don’t get me wrong. But you should hear the passionate talk of pastries all week. I just can’t wrap my head around this.

So Starbucks — you should have seen the line there, spilling out of the front doors and down the street like they were handing out SUVs and I overhear two chatty people jumping up and down, hardly able to contain themselves, “I don’t even like their coffee — but hey! It’s free!”

I also think there was a lack of age verification going on, and I know there’s no legal coffee-drinking age, but it reminded me of the tobacco companies marketing to kids, getting them hooked because youngsters are the perfect lifetime customers. My friend from Japan used to have little packs of cigarettes given out as free samples on the street in hopes of winning over kids. I saw the girl giving out the coffee at Starbucks, ladling out the frothy brown liquid into small paper cups, leaning toward the grade schoolers with a sly smile, “Here kids — first time’s free.”

I could understand if it was the Great Depression and Starbucks was handing out loaves of bread and toilet paper. But christ, their coffee isn’t even good.

There is also the Free Swag phenomenon witnessed at concerts, when people on stage start whipping shit into the audience and everyone raises their hands, elbowing each other out of the way to grab . . . what is it? They don’t even know. But it’s free.

You are a target market.

And walking by Ben & Jerry’s downtown last week on Free Cone Day, there was a traffic jam, as if Boston needs more congestion on Boylston St. People were double-parked, setting up a relay while waiting in line, one person saving a spot while others took a break to go to the bathroom or buy a cup of coffee.

Oh the perfect irony of consumers.

I guess I’m in a mood today. I wasn’t earlier. Must be the taterdogs.

Busking & the Shower Song

busk (v.)
busked, busk·ing, busks
To play music or perform entertainment in a public place, usually while soliciting money.

I was going to work early but inspired by Daniel Barrett busking in the subway I had to come to the purple velvet basement – as if that makes it more romantic – of Starbucks and write about things far more important to me than the small business network security articles that pay my rent.

Daniel Barrett is not a Starbucks kind of guy. He said something to the effect that playing in the subway is a fall from the Rock Royalty lifestyle. I don’t know about that. In my mind, the subway musician is one of the most noble people you’ll find underground; a valiant knight among commuters, spilling his heart to the toughest crowd in town.

This morning rushed and wildly irritated, I scampered to the T with wet hair in the chilly morning, a wrinkled coat, quite a mess but needing urgently to get to my office and write about salsa and antivirus software. I had no money for coffee so I stumbled down the steps of the Davis Square T uncaffeinated at 6:43 in the morning. Just minutes before, I had tumbled from my bed, heavy with lurid, unwholesome dreams about my co-workers.

I heard the drummer first, unmistakable. I recognized the rhythm immediately, strokes on the up beat, knowing I would see him rising slightly in his seat once I turned the corner and headed down the escalator. Bells, a shaker or tiny cymbal on each moving limb, wispy brushes — a human drum kit with a big smile and a voice like October honey.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

My recent love affair among the Cambridge and Somerville buskers began courtesy of Brian Webb, who impaled me through the heart one morning as I dragged myself through a pit of despair to the T and heard him singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” golden voice echoing through filthy bricks and buzzing mercury vapor lights. I’ve been trying not to cry in public so much but… He was intense, his voice simultaneously rough and delicate, wearing gnarled wool gloves with the sawed-off fingers, and the little caramel and white dog was curled up in his guitar case. It was one of the first times I’ve skipped the train to sit and listen to someone play.

I pored through the Phoenix each week looking for potential Brian gigs where I could actually sit down in a chair and order a drink. The Kendall Café it was, and I only had to wait two weeks.
But a few days before the show, I ran into another round of buskers. These two guys were playing in the Davis T, so good I had to stop and listen, toss them a buck, and jot down their name in my journal for further research. The guitar player sang this bittersweet song, his smiling drummer harmonized, and all was right with the world.

I have this “Shower Song” problem. Sometimes a particular song will grab me against my will and begin playing in my head whenever I turn on the shower first thing in the morning. It is some phenomenon that prevents me from concentrating on any other song for most of the day, and it often grasps me insidiously before I can defend myself. As annoying as it can be, it is the mark of a truly well-written tune.

Around the time of my enchantment with the Davis T buskers, I developed a new Shower Song. It began in the morning and lasted all day. I couldn’t get it out of my head, and I couldn’t remember where I knew it from. Some movie? At first I thought it was a Nickel Creek song, or maybe I heard it during the sprawling hours I spent tuned to the Emerson radio station. Its origin escaped my memory but stayed at the forefront of my mind and I sang it to myself while making shampoo horns.

Wednesday, March 27 was the Kendall show. Brian Webb was up on stage, endearingly silly with a radiant smile and ridiculously talented guitar playing. He was so aggressive and confident with the guitar – his sound is bold, honest, and passionate. I was glued to my seat, and grateful to hear an entire set without standing next to a trash can that smelled like dairy swill and decomposing copies of the Metro.

My friend and I decided to stick around for the next two acts, figuring they might be good. When the headlining band came on, I was immediately bowled over – so many of them on this tiny stage, big sound, and the lead singer saying “don’t be afraid – we’re just going to rock out here.” And the fiddle player who I fell in love with instantly, jamming out on violin in a Hustler t-shirt, finishing his solos with a dramatic sweep in perfect form (summoning visions of him at age 12 in a little tux playing classical recitals with his parents clasp-handed and breathless in the audience). I’m sitting there with the biggest smile I’ve worn in months because the music was so bright and beautiful that it wrapped me warm and happy like a yellow cotton cardigan.

As the next song began, I turned to my friend, saying, “This is a cover. Who is this?” He was drawing a blank. Then I realized all at once who the band was – and that they were playing the Shower Song I’d picked up in the subway, and it was their song, “Carter’s Tune.” I opened my notebook to the page where I write down new music, and there was the name: the Daniel Barrett Group. What a wonderfully strange coincidence! That show was so amazing I left and my face hurt from smiling all night.

So this morning to see them again playing the Davis T on my wet-hair angsty morning was a gift.
Street musicians have always fascinated me – music in general being my reason for living. Maybe it’s the urgency of the performance, immediate and organic, just a voice and a beat-up acoustic guitar. Maybe it began when I was 16 and first running around New Haven, and the boys in my favorite band would play on the sidewalk across from the café and we’d sit for hours listening to them. Even if they didn’t book a gig, they had an audience. I remembered their favorite brand of cigarettes to toss in the tambourine with a flower and a note saying thank you for brightening this little corner of my world. I’d sit and write truly awful poetry about the sad, starving eyes of the street performer which I will spare you right now. I haven’t read it in a while. Something about crying for help with bleeding fingers on silk and steel strings. *Cringe* I was a tender and volatile youth.

One of my newest project ideas is to do a piece on busking in the Cambridge/Somerville area, and find out all the things I am dying to know about it – do research and of course take tons of beautiful photographs. Which may be difficult because I believe in college in Journalism Law I learned that shooting in the MBTA is illegal. I will fight the law in the name of art.

Perhaps my biggest fascination comes in the midst of a realization that most of my favorite bands ever are accessible to me in that I can walk up and say hello that was a breathtaking set (even if that means sneaking into the dressing room to eat pizza with Rob Dickinson from Catherine Wheel — but that’s a whole other story for another time) and how lucky I am that is the case.

I know this is a crazy stretch but try and follow me here: InSync was playing on TV or something last night; I saw some commercial during my weekly hour of television that I allow myself (and yes, “Felicity” — and no, not worth it) thinking what people go through to see this music, their favorite bands, so rarely. No matter who people listen to, or how bad I think their taste is, they are just as impassioned about InSync and Britney as I am about Jump, Little Children and Josh Ritter. Except I can go see these people play, and not in a hockey arena, hearing their voices as they sound naturally. When Jump, Little Children plays “Where She Lies” completely acoustic without amps in a sold out venue, and you can hear Jay Clifford taking a breath between lines, it’s another Kristin Cries in Public moment…

I mean, they are so real, these humans giving the gift of song right before me, so casually. That satisfies me in a way that I can’t explain, the ability to approach them after the show and say “GODDAMM! You knocked my socks off.” In my mind I know their CD has held residence in my disc changer for over three years – seriously now – and I can never really make them understand that the third track on their first album was my Shower Song for five weeks running. But I can say thank you, and smile, and hope somehow it will be enough to keep them making beautiful music.
Thank you.

The Right Side of 7 AM

Oh flawless weekend. Flawless like the duck. Perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

I saw 7:00 AM on a Saturday for the first time in years. I saw it from the appropriate side, I mean — not crawling home pained and broken in the gray Allston dawn or sickstomach up all night Ritalin hangover on the #69 bus. Good spring night openwindow clean and dream-laden sleep, waking up with the sun on my face.

I had one dream of being in this giant hotel at night with enormous glass windows, and outside the windows was this space-age land, like Bladerunner, and I floated in the darkended room. The objects in the room would rise to meet you if you concentrated on their name in your mind. I would be floating and think “chair” and the chair would float up slowly, bobbing, to meet my feet ‘veso I could stand on it. I have no idea where this came from. Everything was clean and cold and lit by small, bright LEDs.

I wrestled my mountain bike up from the cellar on Saturday, excited to take on the city, and discovered after three blocks exactly how out of shape I am.

There is nothing like this city on a bike, though, careening through Central Square, hit full in the face by curry and car exhaust, hearing the music in different stores as you whizz by, pedaling like mad through the potholes, almost getting killed by bike messengers. My favorite part is on Mass. Ave, right by the NECCO factory, and for one instant the whole world smells like Necco Wafers, or on a lucky treat day, mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Last summer the Boston Phoenix put out their annual Best of Boston edition, and one of the categories was the “Oh Yeah This is Why I Live in Boston” spot, and the Charles MGH T-stop took the cake; I took on the bridge on my bike at that magic spring 7 PM time immediately after sunset, the sky this incomprehensible blue that is impossible to recreate on anything two dimensional — especially bedroom walls — and the stars are slightly visible, and the clouds are darker than the sky. I swear my heart broke open with joy, the warm wind and churning muddy river…

I’ve become so sentimental and silly in my old age.

On the Subject of High Fidelity

On the subject of High Fidelity (and we were on the subject, you might just not have been hanging out with the right people) I bought the novel in Borders a few years ago. I have a little game I play where I just walk down the fiction isle and randomly pull books off the shelf. I want to prove someone wrong about that because I think it’s simply not true; I have found several of my all-time favorite books judging them by their covers: Enrico Brizzi’s fantastic Jack Frusciante Has Left the Band, as well as High Fidelity.

But Ruby and I were talking about this last night — one of my biggest pet peeves ever is when a new version of a novel comes out following the movie release and the covers of the books have, say, John Cusak’s face on them. And the title of the book is done in the Miramax Film font. Few things get under my skin as thoroughly as that situation.

Although there is one more situation that might even be worse, and I stumbled across the unfortunate setup a while ago when replacing the Nick Drake CD I lost in a break-up. I could not find Nick Drake in the folk section, nor the rock section, nor anywhere else that made sense. So I asked for help, and the guy said, “Oh yeah — we have it. It’s over here.” And led me to the TELEVISION section. Huh? And he flips through and pulls out “Pink Moon,” the album in question, and across the front of the beautiful, dead face of Nick Drake is a white sticker that says: “Featuring ‘Pink Moon,’ as heard in the VW Cabrio commercial.”

So that, I believe, is worse than Winona Ryder looking shocked and vacant on the cover of “Girl, Interrupted” with deliberately smudgy eyeliner.

However, back to High Fidelity. The issue here is one of Mix Tapes, or as times are moving quite quickly these days, Compilation CDs, or just plain Mixes (especially when traded in MP3 format — scandal!). I don’t know if our technotools have rendered things less sensual or meaningful, but I do know that Mixes seem to have lost their validity — their immediacy and importance. I remember spending hours on the floor in my bedroom surrounded by all my CDs, with a little calculator to make the songs fit on the tape, and having to listen to each song all the way through, thinking about the person I was making The Mix for listening to that song, and hand cutting photos and such for the tape cover. And on. It was an involved process and not to be taken lightly. When I handed that tape to someone, they damn well knew it was from the heart.

Here is the best quote from High Fidelity:

“A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to hold the attention. Then you have to take it up a notch, but not blow your wad, so maybe cool it off a notch, and you can’t put the same artist twice on the tape, except if some subtle point or lesson or theme involved, and even then not the two of them in a row, and you can’t woo somebody with Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” and then bash their head off with something like GBH’s “City Baby Attacked by Rats,” and… oh, there are a lot of rules.”

Part of the reason I was so enthralled by the book the first time I read it was because he understands the Mix Tape. A subtle art lost among the turning tides of technology and FTP servers. *sigh*

Also related in a similar fashion to High Fidelity is the fact that I went to see the Beta Band last Friday with Jared, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable show. The sound girl, however, was too busy dancing to realize that the treble was through the roof and I couldn’t hear a word the guy was singing. Maybe she thought she was on lights that night. At the end of the show: “Oh shit, yo! I’m on sound?” If you haven’t heard the Beta Band, I highly recommend checking them out. Their live show was insane in the “I wish I still did lots of drugs” way with manic lights and multimedia presentations and happy songs about sunshine and rain. Reason for the High Fidelity allusion is because in one of the scenes, Jack Black says he will now sell 5 copies of the Beta Band’s new album, and he puts it on in the store and everyone buys it. It’s pretty much like that.

Anyway, this is largely a directionless entry, but I’m feeling directionless, and very upset by the cover of the Harry Potter book I saw earlier today, with that little dork’s screen shot, and I think the proliferation of magic as a theme in children’s media is warping the minds of our youth and encouraging wicca and devil-worship to seep between the ears of otherwise trustworthy catholics, soiling our future generations.

Knock it off.

Ming Farrah Piedrita

I brought Ming home on a Friday night. It was the same night Shannon brought home the 27″ television that seemed to take up the whole living room. We sat on the couch saying, “I can’t believe that thing is in our apartment.” I was talking about the TV and she was talking about the chinchilla.

Ming came into my life in a fit of creative exuberance veiled as a poor excuse for treating seasonal depression. It was February — that dreary month in Boston when the asphalt and sky have merged into one slate gray, the wind whips through your Gore-Tex and sunny days seem so far off you want to say your good-byes and head over the railing of the Mass. Ave. bridge.

So I decided I needed a pet. Another pet. The twin partners in crime — key-stealing, Velcro-eating, remote-control-chewing ferrets — weren’t enough of a handful.

I stopped at the Pet Shop on my way home. The bunnies, cute and dumb like your high school sweetheart, were plentiful. And right next to the bunnies were the chinchillas, like elusive, fuzzy little old men, seemingly crossed between a squirrel and a kangaroo, sitting on the edge of a dusty glass bowl. It was a cage full of big ears, bolts of velvety wrinkled fur, and feather duster tails that moved swiftly in circles.

I’d worked in pet shops my whole life and had encountered several chinchillas along the way, but was never particularly thrilled about picking them up because in general they didn’t like to be held, they were quicker than I could ever hope to move, and their skeleton under all that fur is about the size of a lemon. This allows them to jump four feet straight up and to run five times faster than your average household dog. For some reason I didn’t think these acrobatics would be a problem in an apartment with few walls, lots of furniture, slippery hardwood floors, two people, two ferrets, and an occasional golden retriever.

I stood for a while, watching the half-dozen chinchillas bouncing around upside down in the cage and rolling with chinchilla glee in their dust baths. I fed them raisins and began singling out the ones with the most personality.

There was one courting me through the bars of the cage, handing me peanuts in exchange for the raisins I offered. He’d pull down his ear for cleaning and then it would spring back with a tuft of moistened fur sticking up like a lynx. He knew he was cute. Watching him I thought of the Mogwai in “Gremlins,” the one you keep in the dark that sings and coos sweetly. And like the Mogwai, our nocturnal chinchilla hated bright light and must never get wet.

But the chinchillas were strange and beautiful and exotic. And in case I hadn’t already made up my mind, I got a rush of creative rationalization.

I would write children’s books about the adventures of this chinchilla, and use the live one as a model for my illustrations! I could teach children about South America, chinchillas’ native land. I could even toss in a bit of rudimentary Spanish. He could be my muse, my little creative energy box in an imported bamboo cage on top of my writing desk.

I promptly ordered up the chinchilla with the peanut in his hand.

As the owner reached in to grab the fur ball of my choice, which I had spent almost an hour selecting, he squinted and said, “I can’t sell you that one.” I questioned him agonizingly. The man pointed out that my chinchilla was missing a hind leg. He had adapted well but the owner refused to sell him to me. After some debating I picked the female that kept pushing my first choice off the bowl. She had sass. The owner informed me she was more rare than the traditional grays because she was cloaked with a hood of charcoal black. She looked somehow Asian under all her sudamericana – she had sly and sleepy Japanese eyes. Piedrita seemed appropriate. “Little stone.” But she was begging to be called “Ming.” Ming Piedrita traveled first class from The Pet Shop to my house in an empty box of antibacterial hand soap. That should have been a sign.

I sat on the couch and slowly opened the box, lifting Ming out and holding her against my chest. Her little heart was beating furiously. Her fur was so soft, any Gund would be jealous. I set her down on the couch next to me. She hopped up to the highest point on the couch, and then to my shoulder. She began grooming my hair with little monkey paws. Instantly, I was smitten.

She grew more comfortable in her surroundings and before long, Ming had made the jump from the love seat to the couch, almost a foot apart. On baby legs she was already a pogo stick with a mission.

Our little household seemed happy. The animals came out in shifts because they’re natural enemies. Sometimes Ming could play in my bedroom while the ferrets raced around the living room tipping over beer bottles and stealing our keys. Then Ming had my whole room to herself, including two windowsills and a seven foot high rug-covered chinchilla condo my dad had built. It was during this time alone that the little demon in her began to fester, encouraging her to inflict damage I am still finding years later.

I think Shannon liked the chinchilla but didn’t know quite what to do with her. That was most people’s reaction. She didn’t come when called, she was nearly impossible to catch, and she took to fibrous textures like a lawnmower. If she found a postcard on the coffee table she would give it a scalloped border in under a minute, turning it carefully to each new flat side, leaving a lacey pattern meticulously gnawed into the surface. She especially liked books, and especially books with glue bindings. Unfortunately, this included several on Shannon’s book shelf in the living room.

One book in particular suffered a nasty fate. When Ming was finished eating the entire cover off, all that remained was a few pale green fibers. I felt awful. I promised Shannon I would replace the book. I asked her where she got it, my keys and wallet in hand. Dublin. Used book store. It was a first edition.

Strike one for Ming.

Soon after, Ming took a middle name, “Farrah,” which was, coincidentally, Shannon’s middle name.
Strike two came a week later during a much-needed recuperative dinner. We’d both had a hectic week and we were relaxing with a spread fit for queens: hommus plate, Greek olives, mesclun mix with raspberry-walnut vinaigrette and fresh mozzarella, a bottle of Chianti. I poured two glasses and we sat down to enjoy our meal.

Ming wanted in on the action. She hopped up onto the back of the love seat a few feet from the table and looked simultaneously cute and disinterested. Every time I looked at her she looked away. I reached out to grab her and she fled the couch, only to return during my first bite of salad. Soon I realized she had every intention of jumping. Ming lifted off into the air and my arm shot out to block her landing. She propelled herself directly into the center of the dinner table. Exiting via Shannon’s shoulder, she sprang cackling from the room, leaving behind her a wake of broken antique wine glasses, pita, and raspberry walnut vinaigrette.

From this point on she was no longer “Ming Farrah” to Shannon. She became “Chinchilla.” A name said often, and always with a certain degree of accusation.

During an online research session in which I tried desperately to find advice on handling the increasingly difficult Ming, I came across an interesting tidbit. As I relayed it to Shannon her eyes began to shine. On my laptop was a photograph of a five-year-old holding a chinchilla (the animal must have been drugged) and underneath it, the warning: “If you squeeze your chinchilla too hard, its eyes will pop out.” A concrete threat emerged in our household after that day. “Chinchilla!” Shannon would call, affecting a generic Asian accent, “I’ll squeeze you till your eyes pop out!”

Strike three resulted in Ming being confined to my bedroom forever.

One night our friend Leila was over and we stayed up late talking. When I was almost too tired to get off the couch, I began to call Ming. I rattled the box of raisins that often drew her out of hiding. She ducked her little head out from under the couch with a huge dust bunny crowning one ear. We remarked on how precious she was. We spent the next hour and a half trying to catch her.

Ming decided she was going to play tag with us. She skimmed the floor with the grace of a figure skater on crack. She was careful to knock down or break anything she passed. She screamed the whole time, a loud, pulsating half-hiccup half-squeal that made me feel simultaneously guilty and annoyed. She couldn’t really be scared; she knew the nightly drill. Raisin can shake. Show of head from under couch. Thirty seconds of playful chasing. Corner and catch chinchilla, cuddle soothingly for ten minutes, apply yogurt covered raisin, then cage. The process never varied. Until this particular night. Which ended in Leila, of Barbie doll dimensions, lifting up one end of my enormous couch so I could parachute beneath it on top of Ming with a bath towel.

After that, Ming didn’t see the rest of the apartment. Except for a few times when she rushed by me, sneaking out my door and into Shannon’s room, climbing into her dresser to chew little holes in her Victoria’s Secret underwear.
Theories abound as to why Chinchilla finally lost it. Being a grains and berries kind of girl, she luckily lived in a vegetarian household. The closest thing to meat our refrigerator ever saw was the frozen swordfish that Shannon brought home periodically and threw out a week later.

So this is my theory. Suddenly it was summer. The Boys Next Door shared an alley with us and my bedroom windows opened onto that alley. They had a large grill and several insatiable appetites. And they were not vegetarian.
Little Ming’s favorite spot in my room besides my bookshelf, which she tended to with tireless relish, was my window sill. The Boys Next Door barbecued every night and they talked to her when her silhouette appeared in my window. The grill, directly across and upwind from my left window, exhaled a constant and overpowering stream of carcinogenic smoke and the smell of searing beef hide. Sometimes when I opened my door to enter, I had to wave the black smoke aside to see my way across the floor.

I think the smell of burning animal flesh made Ming nervous.

Since her quarantine to my room, Ming and I became bunkmates. The only problem was that I slept from eleven until seven and she from seven until eleven. While I tossed about on top of my sheets in the August night, she chewed furiously on her chinchilla bungalow, stopping only to spring onto the bowl for a hearty clank to break up the monotony.
As summer wore on and the barbecues came fast and furious, Ming began behaving strangely.

She became exceedingly vocal, yowling until all hours, especially if there was a full moon. Her squalling began whenever something existed near her. She would bark at the book case and then run and hide in her hut, or push on the screen top until the stone gargoyles weighting it down fell to the hardwood floor with a deafening thud. Soon the ever-sweet werewolf chinchilla supplemented her howling at the moon — with biting me.

I was appalled and insulted. I thought we had a connection. This clearly drew a line between Ming and me. No more yogurt covered raisins from the hand that feeds.

Ming picked up one last bad habit. And this was when her gender came into question. One night after I had caught her for bed, I was holding her in front of me. She turned her head and bit me once on each hand, as usual, and then sprayed a healthy stream of urine directly in my eye with the accuracy of a sniper. At which point I dropped her and ran from the room to exclaim to my slightly concerned, but mostly entertained, roommate that my beloved pet had pissed in my face.

For me this meant war.

For Ming this meant mating season.

I was wrong about Ming’s gender. Not that I ever checked, but I got a feminine vibe from “him.” Besides, the sex of my pets is irrelevant to me unless I plan on breeding them. Even if I had thought about breeding chinchillas in the past, I would not be stocking up on 70 lb. bags of yogurt covered raisins in my lifetime. So Ming was coming into sexual maturity, and wanted to mate, and was surrounded by steak fumes. Ming Farrah Piedrita became a different animal to me. He became, well, “Chinchilla.”

Chinchilla was adopted by a lovely woman in Salem with plans to breed and a need for a “feisty” male. Well, that’s just what she got. I think.

So over a year later I see my exposed stereo cords scalloped and shining copper, I open an old jewelry box and find it stuffed with pilfered raisins, I find my J. Crew Grecian leather sandals with only one of five straps left — perhaps her only way to deal with smoke signals sent from an ailing calf on the grill.
Oh, Ming. I do sleep better at night.

Three Minutes of Bliss

I got it this morning on the way to work — it all came together after last night’s directionless, artistic babble.

I walked into the Porter T sipping my iced coffee, the people as usual moving like robotic wind-up toys down the mighty escalator, like in the opening scene of Metropolis. I stepped onto the subway platform and these two old black men are playing Dixieland, smiling and pulling the stops on an ancient saxophone, and I wanted to cry with joy. I looked around and the people were all worried about getting to the end of the platform to maximize their waiting time efficiently so when the doors open wherever they get off they’re twenty feet close to their destination, and I stood in amazement at the acoustics and the full rich sunshine sounds bouncing off the cement walls a hundred feet underground. I dropped my last five bucks in the guitar case with the little sign that looks like it was made by one of their six-year-old kids that said very simply and appropriately “bliss.”

I looked around incredulously — these people didn’t hear the music! I mean, they actually couldn’t hear it! And I began to understand why i freak out so easily. I mean, if they can’t hear that gorgeous Dixieland echoing through the T station imagine all the buried subtleties of day to day that they miss! Never mind words or sounds or colors or full-blown scenes, how about the aura of someone when they walk in the room? If they can’t hear this music, how can they tell by a spare wrinkle under someone’s eye that they’re not sleeping and they need to talk? And now I realized I cannot blame other people for treating me roughly. They do not see the same world I do. They do not feel emotions against their skin. They do not realize how much a tone of voice can wound me. And they do not understand what it’s like to live with no skin. How much responsibility comes with that innate sensitivity. How much more I have to think about and worry about and taste and touch and feel. How exhausting it is. And that is how they are able every day to get up and put on restrictive clothing and get on the T and sit in a fluorescent lit office doing other people’s important work and arranging other people’s important meetings and writing other people’s important letters. And that is okay for them because they cannot feel.

But I know I will never be happy doing anyone else’s work, or conforming to anyone else’s ideas. And I can admit that and stop attacking myself for trying to fit into some round hole. I’m a square peg, dammit. This looming picture of my mother haunts me ceaselessly — extended finger shaking reproachfully — put on a dress and some DECENT shoes and blow-dry your hair and go to an office because that is the only job on this planet worth doing. My whole life I’ve been punishing myself for not fitting some stupid mold and thinking that I was selfish because I wanted live my life differently than most. I may be selfish, but not because I want to be happy. Now I feel I can accept fumbled human interactions more gracefully.

Yesterday I was standing in the crosswalk at Central Square and this car slowed down and waved for me to go, even though it was rush hour, this woman smiled and was like, “Go ahead, hon,” you could totally see her at some diner slinging cheesefries wearing a pink apron, smoking a cigarette, driving her lime green ’67 Dodge Dart. So I step into the street and halfway across this powerbitch driving one of those metropolitan land rovers that eat up more gas than a Mac truck and kill people who drive sensible Escorts in accidents — she looks at me, he eyes squinted in a fierce glare, whiteknuckled grip on the enormous steering wheel — bet she felt pretty big in that truck even though she looked like a five-year-old — and she floored the gas pedal. I swear she wanted to kill me! She screeched right through the crosswalk a foot from my face going fifty miles an hour. Embarrassingly, I gave her the finger. I couldn’t help it. She blew her horn at me as she drove by.

And that is how I started my day yesterday. And that is why I gave those guys in the T station this morning my last five bucks, for three minutes of “bliss.”

National Appreciate Old Friends Day

I have designated today as National Appreciate Old Friends Day.

There is something so important and vital found only in old friends. In people who can tell you who you are when you’ve forgotten. And also being able to append a previous story and have them understand, without the words. They just know. That is priceless, and something we’ve lost in the new technoworld, where people get to know each other instantly online and disappear just as quickly; in this city where four years is a long time.

Hang on to your old friends, people.

Here are my albums of today. It is a rainy dreary morning, and one of my favorite hoodie-laden secret shiny days, so I need dark and vibrant music to accompany me on wanderings through Beacon Hill.

  • Charlatans UK — Somefriendly
  • Bright Eyes — Fevers and Mirrors
  • Bob Mould — Workbook
  • Tricky — Juxtapose
  • Cranes — Wings of Joy

Happy tramping and sunshine on this gorgeously murky day . . .