Monthly Archives: October 2003

Freaky Friday

Freeform Friday. You’re in trouble today, people. I had 4 shots of espresso before 9:00 AM. Mainly because I was up all night sottering electrical wires and snorting paint thinner.

The candy surrounds me. Just say no.

One of my coworkers went to Orlando for the week and I just asked him how Mickey Mouse was. He says, “Pretty fascist, but…”

**********

Notes from my Interstate Archive, transcribed for your reading pleasure:

    October 1st – 30th, 2003

  • (Too busy for fruit?)

  • Another stunning retort from Ruby while sitting at my kitchen table reading the Photoshop 7 manual: “I’m all for selecting the gull, but…”

  • Ass sticking out in traffic now, a stolen cigarette, the torn-up Allston skyline, buildings and dreams in the making, reality and pasts in the breaking. No connections to these new sidewalks, my two feet. Only the broken dawn trembling home with no money for the bus.

  • Sometimes when I’m on the escalator and people in front of me have little pockets in their bags or backpacks, I want to unzip them. Is that so wrong?

  • Singing about fall via All-Time Quarterback, it’s so perfect as September crawls out of August, snarling behind its haunches at the month that thinks it’s the shit. August’s ego needs a fucking reality check. Running around all “better-than” and flamboyant, the only month that gets away with not having to host a National Holiday. WTF????

  • “I don’t know what’s worse, getting blown up in a nuclear war or having a Starbucks on every corner.”

  • Graffiti over toilet in Someday Café: “Matt, just piss and get the hell out. -God”

  • He loves her. He paints her nails while she’s dying and changes her oxygen tanks without asking.

  • Ruby dedicated a song to me on her half-watt radio show. She played it even though she knew I’d never hear it. Dedicated it to the girl going under the knife today. I wonder how many of us make long distance dedications that the other person never hears. I do it a million times a day.

  • What would Richard do with the girl who doesn’t trust magicians? Would it be like the girl who falls in love with the violinist but hates classical music? The blind woman who marries the painter?

  • Writing in a dimly lit, half-empty bar. Moth in the spotlight. Red lights on oak, the Burren on a Tuesday night, the smell of quality beer. One looking too much like one’s brother in a dimly lit, half-empty bar could be dangerous. Funny I think of him most when his blood flows too closely in the room. But what is too close? His blood is never close enough, too far away to carry my oxygen, when I want to inhale him and have him fill my lungs, half of him in each, to hold inside me again — if just for one breath.

  • As a diversion, think of the other J’s — with the porcupine prickly-topped, soft-nut treat inside. Like nougat. Fluffy on the tongue, daisy-skinned and weightless. Ruby: “Maybe we should wrestle him to the ground and tickle him with pink feathers.”

  • I wish I was left-handed. I was thinking at one point of cultivating a certain ambidextrosity.

  • I always drink from a glass without picking it up from the table. I’m protective of my straws. What does that say about me?

    Drive-by cigarette snuffing.

  • 13-year-old boy eating a toasted bagel with classic plain cream cheese — the saddest thing I’ve ever seen, on this rainy Monday night bus. He enjoys it sullenly, sandwich-style.

  • You make me burn a little brighter.

**********

Happy Halloween, my friends.

Kamikaze Creation

I’m embarking on a completely irrational mission. While reading one of my favorite diarylanders, I was enlightened on the topic of NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month. Upon further research, I realized I haven’t been getting enough abuse at work or home so I’ve decided to take it upon myself to cause severe brain damage every single day at 7:00 AM.
I have to write first thing in the morning or I will spend all my creativity for the day ruminating on why I don’t have to write. It would take me an hour to put some words down, but I’ll spend six convincing myself I don’t have to.

In any case, the point of the challenge is to write an entire novel during the month of November.
While this sounds like an asinine task, the participants assure you that it can and has been done. And in Bird by Bird fashion (and if you haven’t read it, read it now — I mean, now) it is broken down into 1,667 words a day. How do you eat an elephant? Bite by bite.
The point is to write every single day, 1667 words, whether you want to or not. 1,667 words is not an enormous amount of writing. I think the hardest part is doing it every day. Because if you skip a day, the count becomes 3,334 words, which is an enormous amount of writing.
In preparation, and to figure out just how much time I need and how to schedule my day (writing first thing, remember?) I’ve been warming up. I started a week ago, just kind of freewriting, what Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, calls “morning pages.” 1,667 words takes me about an hour. And that includes getting coffee and adjusting my chair and changing my music every half album or so. If I stopped to think about where I wanted to go with the writing, I would stall and end up useless. So I’ll be writing and hit a block and just keep on anyway. A lot of it sucks. But looking back through what I’ve written (and I’ve made a pact with myself — NO editing, you red-pen-loving freak) and there are a few great images, or paragraphs, that just give me goosebumps and the feeling of,”wow — I wrote that?” It’s really great.
And then, as the NaNoWriMo site guarantees you, there have been days of I Hate Myself and I Want to Die. There have been a day or two when I hit the “Word Count” button every sentence or two, when I’m pulling teeth without novocain, but then I’ll hit something good, someone will walk by and I’ll get to write about their ugly hat, and I’m off and running.
This will not be the first time I’ve written a novel. I wrote one in the fifth grade called Stride for Stride which was a story about the horse racing industry and the people behind it. Their relationships, their dedication to that life. The ugly sides of it too. Pre-Seabiscuit Block Buster. It was a beginner’s novel, but a beefy 250 page work of fiction nonetheless, and my mentor had me research publishing houses. I sent the manuscript out to a dozen or so agents who wisely did not offer to publish it for me. She knew very well, just as I do today, that it was clearly a fifth-grade novel and could never, by any stretch of the imagination, be distributed in print. But she encouraged me anyway, and backed me up, and the enthusiasm of that support has stayed with me for 15 years.
Today was really weird in a synchronicity way. I have this stack of cards, called the Observation Deck, that I use frequently. They have the simplest phrases on them, like “Take a look inside” or “Capture the scent.” But combined with a random image or thought, they can really get me going. Inspired by an emotional outpouring last night that left me drained and cried-out when I woke up, I started thinking about loss. I was thinking about how so much of what we feel as loss is not losing something in your hands, but the plans you had for that thing in the future. You’re mourning not the lost child who was two years old, but all that child might have been in its lifetime. We do this to ourselves. And our fear of not being able to realize those plans is what paralyzes us to the present. It’s pretty textbook I guess, but being able to truly get it, and to be able to apply it to a situation in my own life was a sudden and unexpected gift.
Deep in this thought, I bent over my backpack (having one of those mornings when nothing fits anywhere it’s supposed to and I’m dropping everything and unable to get out of the house) and my deck of observation cards fell out of my bag where they are crammed in an elastic band. The one that landed face up said “Locate the fear.”
It takes me 40 minutes to walk to work each morning, and I’ve been using the time to think about what it is I want to write about, so when I get to the café I’m ready to go. And I walked all the way to Harvard Sq. this morning thinking about a million different kinds of fear, and how frightened I am of some things, things more important than trains, and when I got to writing I knew what my main character feared the most. I knew it clearly, just how I knew that the fear of losing a friend to distance was causing me unnecessary pain.
So this morning I located the fear. Inside the fiction. Which made everything else in my life seem a step removed. Less dramatic. Strange, huh?
I’m looking forward to this project. My sister is doing it as well, and some of her students (she teaches English). I think I can do it. I really do. Not only does the abuse appeal to me, but also the idea of showing up every day to prove just how important this words thing is to me.
Anyway I have to go finish my Halloween costume. I’m high as a fucking kite from this spray paint. Wait till you see this costume. You’ll be so scared of me that won’t sleep for weeks.

Austin to Africa

And at 10:00 on a Wednesday night, in the middle of a crowded bar, your beloved friend tells you off-handedly that he’s moving a million miles away in eight weeks. He says “I thought I told you.” But doesn’t he realize? If you had known, there would have been more urgency in your hug tonight — your eyes would have burned more intensely. He tells you this and turns away, steps up onto the stage, picks up his guitar sympathetically and smiles with lips of gratitude to you for being so understanding.

Your feet and fingers go numb, and suddenly you’re crying in that 10:00 Wednesday night bar, and suddenly the coke you’re drinking tastes like tin on the roof of your mouth, and suddenly you’re walking ankle deep in wet leaves through the Somerville night. Choking on autumn air and walking because you don’t know what else to do. You sit down in a parking lot, in the dark, across from the sad playground with the squeaky horse on a metal spring; the sound makes you feel alone. The tears slip to your collar bone and you can’t imagine the hole that will be left when he is gone.

He says, “I thought I told you.”

You say such clumsy things — about playing up North sometimes, about going to New Orleans once a year and isn’t that so close to Texas, or Africa… you say it automatically, not believing for a second it offers any consolation, but saying it because it’s easier than enduring the silence that says, “It’s going to be a long, long time before I see you again.”

And he doesn’t understand how he’s changed you. You think about the colors he chose to paint your world with — the night he set down his phone and tilted it up so you could hear him sing, playing one of his songs on the ukulele, slightly digitized over your cell phone connection.

How you set the alarm an hour earlier so you could sit in the filth of the subway station listening to your favorite song, sit one foot underneath you, smiling at 6:00 AM. How that made going to work okay. How seeing his daily commitment made you want to get up at 6:00 in the morning to show dedication to your own art.

How he earnestly and unwaveringly supported your writing. How he made you laugh when you didn’t want to. How important these regular Wednesday nights have been to you. The ones before this absent-minded revelation.

And you were the last to know. And that stings a bit, too.

So you walk home, to the little park by your little house where you pace when you’ve got something to pace about. Then you sit red-eyed in your blue bed with your purple laptop propped on your knees — writing because you don’t know what else to do; writing because that is what you do.

And writing.

Death Cab for Karma

Okay with the Friday night being really strange.

When I say “I’m lucky that…” a friend of mine always assures me, “it has nothing to do with luck.”

So a year ago I found this Massachusetts driver’s license on the sidewalk next to where my car was parked. I picked it up with the intention of mailing it to the girl who lost it. However, it somehow got lost in the bowels of my car and I forgot about it. When it resurfaced again, it was months later and I figured she’d gotten a new one so I didn’t bother to return it.

Suki was under 21 when I found the license, but we celebrated her 21st birthday for her. Every once in a while, someone would get in my car and ask me whose license it was and I’d say, “Oh that’s Suki.” Like it was quite natural to have a 20 year-old Asian chick’s driver’s license in your car.

Anyway.

Friday night was the Death Cab for Cutie show at the Middle East. We all know I’ve been pissing my pants in anticipation for this show. We got to the Mid E at 7:00 so we could have some falafel before waiting in line for an hour. I was stressing that parking on a Friday night in Central Sq. was going to be a bitch. But the golden angel of parking (or as Ruby calls him, “Chauncey”) opened up a spot for us directly in front of the club. I always call the good spots “rock star parking” but this truly was.

So we sat down for dinner. Midway through my extra-tahini treat, I felt a sharp scratch on the roof of my mouth. I stopped chewing. My eyes grew wide and my lips were sealed and my friend stopped talking and just looked at me. “Stop! Don’t swallow!”

“I swallowed.”

I opened my mouth and removed my tongue ring — the half that didn’t go down my throat. I stressed over this for a few minutes. “Well, it’s only moving in one direction,” he assured me.

I guess I was more concerned that it was a $60 piece of jewelry I had just ingested with my pita.

We finished our dinner and got in the line outside that was snaking around the restaurant and all the way down the street. I didn’t have a coat because I hate standing in line for the coat check. I forgot we’d be standing there for a long time.

After every exchange of conversation, I remembered that I was currently digesting a sizable piece of stainless steel. “I’m cold. I can’t believe I swallowed.”

There were kids standing in front of us who had driven from Rhode Island for the show. When the bouncers started coming down the line checking ID, the small Asian chick in front of us told him that she lost her license and all she had was a student ID. The show was 18-plus. He wouldn’t let her in. He harassed her for a full three minutes about all the ways she could have gotten a replace ment ID in the four days since her wallet was stolen. She was practically in tears. She said she drove all the way from Providence for the show and he told her that was only an hour away — he turned down three people who drove up from New Jersey. I know what a bitch they are about the door there — I once got turned away from a show that was 18-plus for not having an ID, and I’m 27.

So the girl gets out of line and starts walking away with tears in her eyes. And I grabbed her arm. “Come to my car. I have an ID.”

“But I don’t look anything like you,” she cried. Small Asian chick? You don’t see the resemblance?

“It’s for a small Asian chick.”

So we go to my car and suddenly Ann becomes Suki, who is now over 21. She scoots to the front of the line, avoiding the bouncer who originally denied her access — and passes winningly through the second gauntlet at the door.

Meanwhile, the guy who works at the Mid E has seen me going to my car and tells me they’re going to tow it at 10:00, when that space becomes a cab stand. I just imagine what it would have been like to come out of the show elated at 1:00 in the morning to find dear Verna back at Pat’s Towing, where she has frequented enough recently to get her own parking space there.

I can’t believe I swallowed.

So if it hadn’t been for Suki, Ann wouldn’t have seen Death Cab. And if it hadn’t been for Ann, my car would have been towed. And if it hadn’t been for Death Cab, I wouldn’t have danced and smiled so much Friday night.

The show was good. It was really weird, but good. It was weird to see them performing the songs I knew so well. I mean, I listened to We Have the Facts… twice a day all last winter, and to see them performing the songs live was just strange. They didn’t sound the same.

They are one sloppy assembly, too. I’ve seen high school bands more put together. I couldn’t get over it. For all the playing together and touring and album recording, you’d think they’d have their shit together. But there was guitars everywhere, and Ben sometimes at the mic and sometimes not and knocking it over, and the drummer not paying attention, and broken strings and long intervals between each song where they took five minutes to tune.

One entertaining part was during a long stretch when they were tuning, and Ben asked, “Does anyone have any questions?” Someone yelled out, “What’s the J.A.M.C.?” This question was so purely obsessive fan. “We looked like Giants,” one of the songs on their new album that came out two weeks ago, has a line: “Do you remember the J.A.M.C. and reading aloud from magazines?” So Ben said, in his best English professor impersonation, “Good question. Can anybody answer it?” And a lone voice from the back answered “The Jesus and Mary Chain!”

They played the Cure’s “Lovesong” during the encore which was silly, but probably their tightest song, which is sad, if you think about it. Not that I expect bands to be all perfect during a show, but I guess I felt a little let down at the sloppiness of the performance.

Still, it was a treat to secure a spot up front after standing in line in the cold to hear a shoddy rendition of “A Movie Script Ending.”

I still can’t believe I swallowed.

Performance Anxiety

It’s Free Form Friday, kids. And you know what that means? I can go pointless. Woo hoo.
As a preface, the death of Elliott Smith hit me hard, and I’ve written a long piece about it that I’m not ready to post yet. But my reaction was similar to Shannon‘s, probably because I will always link Elliott Smith to her and the show he played at the Roxy 1998 and sprawling on my hardwood floor in Winter Hill in pain and listening to Waltz #2… strange too (yet appropriate) how she, Jenn and I all chose the same subject line when we posted about his death. I’ve always been aware of the brink of madness/depression that artists seem to experience; as though that state of mental instability is necessary for creation. Sometimes one of us dips over into the other side and never comes back.
Speaking of death, though in a joyful context, the Death Cab for Cutie show is tonight. It should be a pleasant antidote to the heaviness of losing a beloved musician. In that way, I can’t sit still. I’ve got my dancing shoes on. I think I may go down to the Middle East and wait in line for the doors to open. I want to be up front. DCfC is also playing an in-store performance Saturday at Newbury Comics in the Garage in Harvard Sq. at 3:00. This is good news. There’s a Ben & Jerry’s there as well. Brownie Batter and Ben.
Another excellent in-store performance is on Sunday, when Calla will be playing at Virgin Atlantic on Newbury St. at 2:00 p.m. This helps mollify the fact that I’m missing their show Saturday night at the Paradise.
Speaking of shows on Saturday night, porterdavis is playing at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, and everyone should come. Their new material makes me either dance or cry, often at the same time. Daniel says he’s heard that one of the three requirements of a successful show is to make a girl’s heart ache. And I have never walked away from one of their performances not aching. Go early to get one of those good tables under the red lights by the big ‘ol Victorian mirror. You can make out in the dark corners.
It’s that time of year where I break out the Happy Lite, and I actually brought it to work this time. My office is pretty liberal, but I was prepared for the looks of “We know she’s weird, but we didn’t know she’s that weird.” I haven’t gotten so much attention since I accidently died my hair fluorescent pink. The Happy Lite is this big board of ultraviolet bulbs that mimic sunshine. They stabilize your circadian rhythm, boost seratonin levels, and get you high if you leave it on too long. It’s good for fending off seasonal depression. I have it on my desk. It’s bright — it looks like the door to another world from across the room. Word spread quickly and people were coming down from the floors upstairs to check out the situation. I didn’t think it was that cutting edge. But now everyone’s studying my face to see if I’m happy. It’s not exactly like I was crying at my desk before. That was at my last job.
Which reminds me — I’ve been thinking about my last job at the dot com a lot lately. Half the time I’m cringing, and the rest of the time I’m just seething and I want to go back there with my industrial-strength stapler and have it out with a select few. Granted, I spent the last seven months there doing absolutely nothing and spending eight luxurious hours a day on ICQ, writing an article when the mood struck. I was a good writer — when I wanted to be. But it was ugly at the end. And I knew they were talking about me. There are few feelings that piss me off more than knowing people are saying shit behind my back and don’t have the balls to say it to my face. Duplicity is the worst characteristic of a human being. Duplicity and dishonesty. Plus it felt like high school.
I look back and I realize how obvious it was that I didn’t care, how much I was getting away with. I came and went as I pleased, took two and a half hour lunches. The systems admin took one look at my Internet usage and knew. If they had monitored my phone conversations it would have been worse. Why do I care? I quit there. I told them I hated my job. That it was making me physically sick to be there. My manager tried to talk me out of quitting because it made her look bad; she called me into her office to have a word with me about fucking up the Norton Anti-Virus home page and I quit. I cried. And then I quit.
So, what? What is it that makes me want to go back through there and take out The Stacies and the two-faced faux-cheery back stabbing manager? I’ve tried to let go. Some days I do. But the past two or three weeks it’s been driving me mad. The other night I went on a walk and passed the old building, saw my office window. I suddenly felt like I did when I quit, shamed, low, like a fuckup. I had to remind myself that I’m no longer that person. I had my first review at my Harvard job on Tuesday, and my boss had a hard time coming up with anything negative to say about me. He finally admitted that my troublesome weakness is that I’m too hard on myself.
In less bothersome news, my hairdresser called me this morning to find out how long my appointment with her would be because she heard through the grapevine that I shaved my head. She said this in disgust, and I could hear her snarling her lip and stamping her foot over the phone. Ah, Linda. I go to her for my monthly treatment of abuse. Serves her right — the last time I was in there, in June, I told her I wanted to cut my hair so it was short around but had long pieces in front, pixie-style, and she said, “No. Absolutely not. You’ll look like a dyke.” She’ll just love my at-home clipper head-in-the-sink styling when she sees me tomorrow.
I’ve been working like mad on my VolumeFreak site. I just got Photoshop 7 and I’m in the process of learning all the new features. It’s fun stuff and I highly recommend picking it up if you have the means.
I don’t think I have anything else random to roll on about during my Free Form Friday set. I’d say that I was going to post a review of tonight’s Death Cab show on Monday, but I probably won’t. My heart will sing for joy and that will be the review. Unless I drag Ben Gibbard home and make him breakfast, you probably won’t get any details.Have a sparkler of a weekend, people. It’s on me.

Stranger Than Fiction

Last spring I was temping at a college in the Fenway. I was suffering from a long, drawn-out heartbreak, listening to a gut-wrenching mix on my walkman, and was in sweeping melodrama mode. It was early in the morning, I was feeling the gloom of the entire universe descending on my head, my shirt was itchy, the air was irritating me, I was on the verge of tears, and I tripped out of the train at Fenway. On the sidewalk, directly in front of the open doors, was a perfectly lettered message in red spray paint: I LOVE YOU KRIS.
My heart ripped open as I stood there with the sign between my feet. And I took another step and there was another one, and another one, and on — a path all the way down the street, each step a proclamation of love. I was floored by this. Mainly because that’s my name. Also, considering my emotional state, I was looking for any shred of proof that would make the awful rejection go away. It was the very type of thing that the person causing me heartache would have done — the cinematic, the ridiculously passionate, the magical.
After a moment, reality sank in and I admitted that the message was not for me. I knew that some other girl would be smiling that morning. But imagine the scene — this person calculating where their true love would get off the T on their way to work, sneaking around with a hand-made stencil and crouching down in the dark with a red bottle of spray paint. Scrubbing the evidence from their fingers when they got home.
I think about how that person came up with the idea to do that. What happened before that lead them to take such dramatic measures. If the love in question was a new declaration or a wild reinforcement. It’s the kind of story that ends up in cloying romance blockbusters like Sleepless in Seattle. And in the movie you get irritated because shit like that is obnoxious and only the stuff of heavy-handed fiction. You think brazen love note graffiti never happens in real life.
I wanted to know how the story unfurled. I wanted to sit and wait to see her come off the T — she who knew the message was for her. I wanted to see the expression on her face when she stumbled upon the careful stencil. I wanted to see her do more than I could — stand there with my disposable camera, taking the next shot in my photo-a-day project.

Maine Welcomes You!

“Meet me at the pier at Old Orchard Beach at eight o’clock,” he says. “To the left of the roller coaster.” He provides little else in the way of directions. But I’m always one for adventure so I load up the car and hop in and drive to the green state of Maine on a Friday night, barefoot, listening to Rilo Kiley and singing the whole way.

In Maine I feel welcome. “Welcome to Maine.” “Welcome to the Maine Highway.” The toll collector smiles broadly — “Welcome!” I hear the refrain from Beauty and the Beast, “Be our guest, be our guest, be our guest!” If you actually decide to leave Vacationland, the signs mourn your loss but tell you, “Thanks for coming! We hope you enjoyed your stay. Come again!”

By the time I hit Old Orchard Beach I’m part of the family.

I make only one stop the journey there — to augment my current Polaroid project on hair salons with wacky names. This one is “Curl up and Dye,” and well worth the u-turn on the serpentine road.

curlup.jpg

I make it at eight o’clock, despite insane weekend rush hour traffic, and I can smell the cotton candy and sea spray as I park. Salt and wet wood, spilled popcorn, gasoline, cool water, moist air … there is that carnival smell, amusement distilled to a thick aroma that hangs in the wet night, not all of it pleasant but most of it comforting. It’s misting out and the roller coaster screams throw me instantly into 1986.

I cut smoothly through the main street of the amusement park between the casinos and the photo booths. I reach the entry to the pier, and there’s the boy I’m looking for, waiting. Sweet smiling as always. After I get my fill of cold sand and waves between my toes, we cross the pier and hang over the ocean and begin catching up. It’s been a few months. I’ve changed jobs and Nate’s hit a dozen foreign countries. I got his post cards and emails — Athens, Venice, Barcelona…

I haven’t been to the seaside boardwalk in a long time but the madness swallows me instantly. There are so many perfectly awful sights at the beach, and they are the same everywhere. The cheesebag airbrushing stands (I decide I want to get an airbrushed picture of us on a pink baby-t but he insists on the leather jacket), middle-aged women wearing way too little clothing and teenage girls at the temp tattoo boths, bent over, exposing their asses to make way for pink hearts and daisies. I feel, well, clothed.

Our adventure truly begins in the arcade — the mad swirling chaos of children screaming into the night, gripping sheets of pink paper coupons in one hand and crappy trinkets in the other. Nate and I rock the skee-ball alley, tickets spewing out all over the floor. I toss my balls up his ramp, trying to stump the machine. My arm is limbering up as summers at the beach flood back to me.

What do you do with those tickets? The choices are tantalizing — blue plastic dolphins, paisley plastic cats in baskets, plastic pins that say, “I’m with stupid->” What I really want is a Pet Rock. I used to get one every year. It was the first thing I won. Plastic base, statement of the obvious carved into its side: “Pet. Rock.” It cost me $70 in quarters, but it was a trophy among Spiderman key chains and fluorescent smiley rings.

They’re fresh out of Pet Rocks. Instead, we opt for superballs, mine delivered in the hands of a beautiful Swiss girl who takes pride in her job, laying out the array of colors for me to choose from. If she knew the devious destination of this ball she wouldn’t have bothered.

We begin plotting the fate of our superballs. Someplace naughty. There are dares and double-dares involved. Finally we duck behind the roller coaster and with 20 years of baseball seasoning behind him, Nate hurls the ball over the parking lot, across the street, just a few inches shy of the target balcony where diners are quietly enjoying the ocean view. He nails the metal sign above the bar squarely with a loud crack. There’s a bit of commotion among the patrons. They’re not sure whether to cheer for us or take cover. Surprised at his good aim, we squeal and run.

To finish out our attack, we covertly piece together a follow-up drive-by and I lob the second superball directly up into their martinis from the street below. We are convinced an all-points-bulletin will be issued and there will be grainy photographs of us plastered across the front page of the Old Orchard Beach Times, billed as the “Superball Bandits.” All of Maine will fear our wrath.

So we drive to Portland at midnight. Cobblestone streets between bars and galleries squatting in renovated warehouses. There’s more human traffic on these cramped alleys than I’d ever seen on a Friday night in Boston. People are singing and dancing and puking in the streets. We hear Kid Rock and punk rock and blues. The architecture is incredible — storefronts from 1912 with viney engravements and bent glass windows 20 feet across. All of this lies opposite the industrial oceanfront, surrounded by barges and abandoned fish stalls, which are at the same time surreal and gorgeous.

Nate’s family has a tea company in the middle of Nowhere, Maine. On the top of a mountain, tucked into a million miles of pure wilderness, surrounded by acres of farmland. The air is so clean I get lightheaded. It is two o’clock in the morning by the time we get there, and I can smell the tea from the driveway. Chamomile, Earl Grey, apple. The whole house, where they prepare and pack the tea, smells like spices. There are flagstone floors and a wood-burning stove and they never lock the doors. He has a cat that will only drink running water from the kitchen sink and a box of kittens barely three weeks old that she sings to. If you go to the end of the street and look at Nate’s house, you’ll see it’s actually made of gingerbread.

Saturday is flawless in its cool sunshine. We drive to New Hampshire with the sunroof open, listening to Jeff Buckley and Turin Brakes and Howie Day. In this little town, in the general store, we find a display rack of his parent’s tea in little glass jars with tea diffusers shaped like stars. I have the same jars lined up on the windowsill in my kitchen from holidays past. Then, in one of those enormous old fashioned candy cases, stowed safely behind glass, I discover wax lips. We’re done for.

lips.jpg

bottle_1.jpg
sandwich.jpg

We ask people on the street to take awful pictures of us grinning like morons in clichéd locales. We do all the cheesy touristy things in irony. Except somehow they don’t feel cheesy or ironic.

I realize I have to overcome my deeply instilled neurosis about trains or my spiritual growth will forever be stunted. When I was little, the train tracks ran through our back yard. My sister will deny every word of this, but she and my cousin would pick me up by the ankles and dangle my over the tracks. I’ve never recovered. But Saturday I face my demons, and adrenaline rushing, place one hand on a safely parked, antique train that has been out of service for 50 years. Hey — it’s a start.

bostonandmaine_1.jpg

There’s something nourishing in all of this. It’s almost as vitamin-packed as the dancing banana we encounter on the way, which we have to turn around and drive past twice in order to capture the phenomenon on film.

By the late afternoon I am out of cigarettes. I see a Victorian cigar shop; it’s called “Smoke and Mirrors,” tucked snugly in between two stores on this miniature main street. The interior is dark and woody with gilded mirrors and old, ornate furniture. It smells earthy and delicious. Plush velvet curtains frame huge windows overlooking the sunny sidewalk. We sprawl on the couch beneath the window in the warm glow of the afternoon, slowly and deliciously smoking an amaretto cigar, drinking mango Italian soda. At four o’clock, in a perfect golden moment, time stands still. Curls of smoke lift from our fingers and we smile dreamily, full of warmth and light. We talk softly and languidly. A flawless hour passes. The light changes from amber to red.

uscigar.jpg

The two owners are affectionately bickering about music and I cause a stir by defending Johnny Cash. This has clearly been a long-standing conflict between them and I’ve crossed the line. The two women across from us — regulars — make the “uh-oh” sound. In response to my support of Johnny, one side cheers and the other side groans. The Johnny fans lose and instead we listen to the Eagles. The music fits the afternoon in some strange way, in this Victorian smoke shop in a seaside tourist town. The owner gives me an imported cigar box with gilded letters as a momento. I want to put the day in it.

natecigar.jpg

Nate’s one of those friends I can talk to for twelve hours straight, about books, love, spirituality, music, travels, and everything in between. We dig deep, and I always come away feeling fresh and inspired, with a whole new slew of thoughts to think. Questions to mull over. Because most of the time we don’t have the answers.

It’s ridiculous how full the weekend was — how much New England we had, how storybook that world is. The laze of Saturday afternoon stretched on as I napped on a hammock overlooking acres of wheat-colored fields, hoodie covering one eye, the other watching the movie script sun sink behind the trees. The laughter of Loons skimming the lake echoed through the sky. We picked Maine blueberries from the field with our hands and twirled them into vanilla ice cream. We spent the evening in the woods eating s’mores. (I may be a pale citygirl, but I build a mean campfire.) The moon was full and cherry-colored.

It blows my mind to see this boy in his native environment — in the countryside. We spent all of our time in Boston and now he lives in Washington, D.C. — he’d just stopped in Maine for a quick visit. It’s so strange how we end up, for one reason or another, estranged from what seems most natural to us. I’ve been to the beach twice in the past year, and growing up my feet were either in sand or water until I left for Boston at eighteen. Pavement is not my first love.

I kind of missed the ambulances and wrought iron, gasoline and controlled chaos of my metropolis, but weekending in Vacationland soothed my frazzled nerves and gave me a lot to think about. I’ve been a little lost lately, without a map, and driving to other towns without one can give me a new perspective.

On the way home, “Massachusetts Welcomes You…” to toll booths, taxes, and miles of turnpike construction.

banana.jpg

What’s This Button Do?

I was a photojournalism major in college and by graduation I wanted to hang myself with my camera strap. I got over the education and the spot news pieces involving severed limbs and screaming children enough to start bringing my camera to shows. The majority of work that I have been doing lately is for bands and shooting live music.

I got a bit frustrated with that namely because of finances and eye surgery that has left me with sparkling lines bursting from every light source (story to follow on that one. It starts with “I don’t know if you’ve ever had a needle stuck in your eye…”) My answer to that frustration was my “Picture Per Day” project, which I have been doing monthly ever since, using a disposable automatic camera.

It’s crazy, but I’d never used a digital camera until last week. Literally. It’s bizarre. I’m not afraid of the technology, it just didn’t interest me. Images are just a slice of why I take pictures. The sensuality of film, of pans of liquid, of grain that can be manipulated with fingertips, still quiet darkroom, running water, Dektol that smells like my childhood, the click of the shutter, the response of the flash, the maleability of emulsion. Even Polaroids are magical to me. But it’s getting old to shoot, print, and then scan, losing so much quality in the process.

Here is my first run of shots. I took a walk home tonight and this is what I found. Isn’t it cool that you can just take these pictures and have them up on the Web like an hour later? My gosh. I’m starting to sound like my father.

“My Walk Home” – A Digital Photoessay by JT



“Why I Buy Advance Tickets”
Window of the Middle East, Cambridge, MA.


“A Love Affair with My Least Favorite Venue”
The Middle East, Cambridge.


“Hey Look Daniel — I’m Earning My Sushi!”
Porter Sq., Cambridge.


“The Hallow Phallus”
Harvard Sq., Cambridge.


“Food.”
Plough and Stars, Cambridge.


“Things Are Just All Kinds of Orange”
Rodney’s Book Store, Central Sq. Cambridge.


“A $4,800/mo. View”
Newbury St., Boston


“A Postcard for the Folks Back Home”
Mass. Ave Bridge, Boston side.


“Back in MY neighborhood…”
Broadway, Somerville


“My motto”
Boylston St., Boston

Olfactory Fatigue

This week I inadvertently caused a ruckus at work. It was one of those situations where if I had said something from the beginning it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but before long the situation was too out of control for me to reveal my involvement. It was a total trip to watch the chaos unfold around me — knowing I was responsible for all of it — but owning up to none of it.

It started innocently enough. I bought a bag of broccoli at the supermarket a while back. Apparently it was a long while back, as you shall see. In Somerville, our power is unpredictable. I don’t know why, but we often lose power weekly, if only for a minute. I know this because the clocks in the house are perpetually blinking. It’s also why I own a battery-operated alarm clock. So the power goes out, and my little refrigerator trips the surge protector when it comes back on, cutting power to the fridge and other major appliances. All the food gets a little too close to room temperature.

I figured most of the stuff would be okay and I tossed the stuff that wouldn’t. A week later I brought the aforementioned bag of broccoli to work.

The first sign should have been that the bag had expanded and was straining at the seams. I ignored this ill omen and tossed the bag into my backpack anyway. By the time I got to work an hour later, the broccoli had once again progressed to room temperature.

I usually arrive earlier than most of my coworkers, which luckily was the case on the Morning of the Rancid Broccoli. I was concerned about the rate at which the bag was expanding, and to keep it from exploding, I squeezed it open.

What emitted from within was the fetid smell of rotting flesh in low-tide seawater. Swallowing hard in attempt to overthrow the gag reflex, I headed swiftly toward the kitchen and immediately deposited the body bag in the nearest receptacle. I then returned to my desk. Problem solved, right?

Without my knowledge, the aroma of violently rotting vegetables began to seep from the kitchen into the hallway and the ventilation shafts, infiltrating every inch of precious fresh air in the building.

The first clue to the seriousness of the situation was the commentary of the woman seated behind me, who must have gotten a whiff of the bag when I initially opened it at my desk. I sniffed my backpack and shoved it deep into the filing cabinet under my desk just to be safe. I sprayed desk sanitizer all over the place in attempt to erase the evidence.

I was unaware how viciously the decay raged on.

“Do you smell something?”

“No – what do you smell?”

“It smells like, like somebody’s cooking something.”

Hmmm. Maybe I’m off the hook.

“No wait – its smells like they’re cooking something really bad. Ew. Really really bad.”

At this point, two women pass the open door of the kitchen and enter the office area. “Do you smell that? Oh my god! What is that awful smell?”

This chain of events began to truly unfold as my coworkers file one by one into the office. At this point I could have assured everyone that I had discovered some spoiled goods in the fridge and had disposed of them irresponsibly, fixing the situation instantly. But instead, I joined in and vocalized my dismay to conceal my guilt.

“Yeah – what the hell is that? It smells like a dead body.”

Just like any disaster where the facts are unclear, people began to speculate on the origin of the dastardly aroma, brainstorming explanations. The kitchen is across the hall from the bathroom. “I think someone had a little trouble with dinner last night.”

“There must be a backlog in the pipes.”

“I bet there’s a dead rat behind the fridge.”

“Does anyone smell a gas leak?”

Before I know it, there are twenty people congregated around the front desk, holding their noses and chattering fearfully about the Emergency Evacuation Process. An email goes out to the entire six and seventh floors assuring everyone that both security and facilities have been notified and the problem is being investigated immediately.

When the fire trucks arrive, I’m hiding under my desk.

A team of firefighters spill out of the elevator and trot down the hallway, trailing yellow “Danger!” tape behind them and dropping cones to form a barricade. “Stay back, people! Stay behind the yellow line!” The fleet of facility workers arrives in nuclear fallout suits with oxygen tanks strapped to their backs. The chief is holding a tracking device that emits a high frequency wail as he nears the entrance to the kitchen. The team halts, pressing their backs against the wall as he pauses in the doorway. He raises his walkie-talkie. “It’s coming from in here, men. I’m going in.” He plunges into the kitchen and his allies dash in for back up. The broccoli doesn’t have a chance. In a single gagging breath, the trashcan is toppled, the offending vegetable is cornered, sprayed down, and secured in an airtight container for incineration. The throng lined up in the hallway cheers in relief.

The following two hours of speculation revolve around whose broccoli it was.

It’s a bad day to be a vegetarian.

From Absorbing Everything

My boss told me today that he proposed to his wife at Charlie’s Kitchen. For the non-locals, picture your local dive bar. When I exploded in a fit of uncontrollable laughter, his defense was that they had a decent liver dinner and it only cost $1.75. I asked him if he’d been in there since. And then I warned him against it. The locals would eat him and his liver alive.
Okay kids, today’s assignment: Go to the Barsuk web site and buy Death Cab for Cutie’s new album Transatlanticism. It came out last week and I’ve listened to little else since. It’s full of ache. I’ve been aching a lot lately in an undefined way. Walking around overflowing with the human-ness of people in my life and wanting to connect with them. Music’s all about connecting. Last night I sat at my piano for hours figuring out the songs on the new album, which surprisingly is filled with piano and acoustic guitar. I lit amber candles and sat at my piano, heart-aching in my fleece pajamas drinking chai. I don’t know what’s going on with me.The Frames show on Thursday night left me breathless and full of desire. I love the Paradise. Shea and I got there before the doors opened so I could run in and claim my spot stage right and watch Colm MacConIomaire play electric violin like he’s making sweet love to it.
When the Frames play, they create this little world. I realized it’s the same world that Jump, Little Children used to create for me that made me love them so much — especially live. It makes me say, “I want to be that happy.” It makes me unwilling to compromise on so many levels. The live Frames shows are so dynamic — they suck you in, and you become a part of them, and they are never the same and never like the albums. Their following is quietly rabid. During some parts of the songs, Glen Hansard looked out over the audience and smiled at us, trying to judge whether we’d pick up where he left off if he stopped singing. So he did, and the audience held the tune in such a soft recall. It was not the loud beer slogging back and forth that goes on at Dashboard Confessional shows or similar. It was muted and beautiful. “Star, star, teach me how to shine…” and everyone was singing to him, and he loved it.
Then he told the story behind the song “Lay Me Down.” He was in love with this girl and so he bought them gravesites next to one another as a token to say, “I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” But she took it all wrong, called him a psycho and ran away. I don’t know. I’d be pretty psyched to get buried next to Glen Hansard.
For the encore, Glen stood between Shea and I to sing an acapella old Irish song, getting everyone to snap for the beat. It was the kind of show that made me want to climb into that world and live there. Like when you’re hanging out with some amazing person, and you don’t want to leave them because they create such a wonderland for you to exist in. And you wonder what they do as a part of that world alone — and you could never picture them washing dishes or being depressed or fighting with their roommate. I didn’t want it to end.
Last time I saw them at the Paradise, I felt the same way, and I was so unwilling to go back to my own world that I drove to Connecticut at 2:30 in the morning in a snow storm with my oatmeal wool scarf listening to Coldplay just so I wouldn’t have to surrender to my small Somerville existence.
There was more aching following the show. There was a turbulent re-entry into my own world. But there was also the inspiration that comes with such a transition.
I haven’t taken the subway commute in a long time — a month probably — and this morning in the pouring rain I hopped on the T and realized how awful and dark it is in there without my buskers. And how much I miss the Rotunda at Quincy Market where Daniel and Mike played last fall and winter — miss leaving work to go sit and drink coffee and listen. They’re down South and now I’m in Cambridge. I’m getting nostalgic for last year, but at the same time I want to create a new year. Like I said, I’m all achey. It’s not a bad thing. It gives me a break from the sarcasm and irony that is perpetually spewing out of my mouth.I’m going to go cry now.