Sunday, March 26, 2006

Umbrella Man

I was walking past Christina's ice cream in Inman Square a few days ago, and I suddenly realized that someone was missing. It used to be that I couldn't walk past there without being asked to purchase a street sheet newspaper by a very distinctive and peculiar homeless man. He was very tall (at least 6'2" or so), very skinny (couldn't weigh more than 130 lbs), very pale (practically transparent) wore all black leather (rather S&M), and complimented his look with leather gloves and large black umbrella (rain or shine, summer or winter).

He was exceedingly polite, mild mannered, and always very grateful if anyone ever bought one of his "street sheets." I was fascinated by him, and often tried to figure out his story. I discussed him with my friends and roommate, wondered what the ice cream shop owners thought of him, and even considered following him one evening to see where he went after he left his regular corner.

Did he have a home that he returned to each night? Did he live with his parents? In a halfway house? Behind a building? He clearly went somewhere, since he was never out on the street after 10 p.m., and he usually showed up again sometime in the late morning. What possessed him to dress like that and where did he get his clothes? What events had brought him to the corner of Prospect and Cambridge streets selling newspapers and asking for money?

I tried to be kind to him. Even if I didn't always buy one of his newspapers, I always smiled and said hello. I was a bit disturbed by him, but I also felt incredible sympathy for him. It was difficult to admit, but he reminded me of the saddest parts of myself.

So it was with some distress and embarrassment that I realized a few days ago that I hadn't seen him in months. Many months. I can't even remember the last time I saw him, but it has to be over six months ago. I don't even know what brought him back from the recesses of my mind again. I'd certainly walked here many times without even giving a thought to him until now.

It shames me that I could so easily forget this man. It seems I didn't really pay much attention to him after all.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Family stories

My paternal grandmother was an interior decorator. She came to the career late in life, but by the time that I came along, she had become relatively successful and well known. She lived in Washington D.C. and often decorated the homes of politicians and ambassadors.

Her home was always beautifully appointed and served as a showroom and a way to bring in clients. Her office was in the third floor of her house and I remember being awed by the yards and yards of hanging fabric along the back walls. It seemed extremely glamorous and sophisticated. If I was visiting and she had to work, I would sit myself among the fabric samples and sort through them all by color, style, and texture. I loved the heavy textiles and furs the most. I remember one afternoon in particular when my grandmother let me make myself a little nest of corduroy and chenille under her desk. Swaddling myself in the yards of heavy fabric like a baby in a receiving blanket, I couldn't imagine a better place I'd like to be.

My grandmother oozed glamour. She was a former low-level royalty from Budapest, Hungary who had been much spoiled as a girl and young woman. She told stories of 20 foot Christmas trees, multiple servants, boyfriends, and glamorous garden parties. When World War II hit and then subsequent invasion of Hungary by both the Germans and the Russians, she lost everything--her home, relatives, and friends. She eventually made her way to the United States, married a very American newspaper editor, and settled into D.C. life.

I fell in love with the glamorous tragedy of her life, and it became a large part of my own life story. I didn't identify with my mother's seemingly more pedestrian working class Irish Catholic background. That was a boring and familiar story, especially in a suburb of Boston where half of my classmates were named Donnelly and O'Malley. Instead, I chose to focus on the glamour of my grandmother's past. It made me feel special and different.

I took these cues from my grandmother herself. She had a strong tendency toward ignoring the bad and distasteful, and focusing only on the glamorous and positive. She was an expert at creating images--some of which were based on reality and some of which were not. This served her well in both her career and many parts of her life, but it didn't always serve her well in others.

Over the past few years I've come to realize that a lot of the images and stories about my grandmother's side of the family aren't quite what I thought they once were. It doesn't mean that they aren't all true, but I've learned that the stories I grew up with actually have their own stories as well. It's just now up to me to figure out how to tell the new versions of them.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Time to move on

I believe that I am well on my way to setting a "how long can one make 2 week disposable contact lenses last" record.

These babies have seen about five three day holiday weekends come and go, outlasted a hair dresser or two, and have taken me through a job change.

Loyal to a fault, my lenses have certainly served me well, but my eyes have started giving me pretty clear signs that the romance is over--tearing up when I get a little too curt, drying out and becoming prickly, and of course, not returning my phone calls.

It's been a great run my friends, but it's time to move on. Thanks for the memories, and don't call me, I'll call you.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Listening In

One of my favorite activities as a child was lying on my parents' bed and listening to my mother talk to her mother on the phone. They lived only a town away from each other, but the day-to-day stresses of life made it easier for them to communicate via the phone. They used these nightly conversations as a way to stay in touch with each other, connect, and slough off the residue of the day.

I found listening in on these conversations immensely comforting. I would put my head on the pillow next to her and let my thoughts wander round my head. I liked to hear about my life: my town, my school, my sister, etc. from a familiar but slightly different and more grown up perspective. I would curl up next to her on the bed and listen to the familiar words and stories and it made me feel safe, important, and a part of something larger than myself. I was often the topic of these conversations, and I quietly basked in the unconditional love and comfort that I felt moving back and forth along the telephone lines.

I often slightly disagreed with my mother's take on a particular story or interpretation, and occasionally I would decide these disagreements were important enough to warrant an intervention in my mother and grandmother's conversations. I was usually only pushed to intervene when I felt that my side of the story wasn't getting told quite correctly or I was being somehow negatively represented.

My mother generally humored these interruptions, but it was my vanity that usually caused me to break into her conversation, and it would always break the quiet comfort I felt otherwise. My mother did not take to vanity very well. I would get slightly embarrassed, and then return my head to the pillow and begin the listening again. I would try to regain the comfort I felt, but it wouldn't fully return until the following night's conversation.

Something about the silence and uncommented upon stories was what both my mother and I needed--or at least were more comfortable with and was more familiar. We both seemed to need to have that silence there in order to feel connected to each other.

I'm not sure what that says about us, but I do know that I still make my mother call my sister in California when I am at her house and I even though now I typically listen from the couch instead of the bed, I've still been known to curl up next to her and listen to the two of them talk about life in Boston, my mom's job, my life, etc. Old habits die hard.

The Aristocrats

A recommendation:

Don't try to watch the movie the Aristocrats while eating a veggie burrito. Especially while watching George Carlin in the Aristocrats. The combo ain't pretty.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Left-handed knitting

I have been taught to knit approximately seven to ten times. The first time was in my tender youth, and taught by none other than my grandmother. Seems that if someone can successfully be taught how to knit, it would be by a grandmother. Not so. If I remember correctly, she actually counts for lessons one through three, but even though she was both talented and patient, it never stuck.

Fast forward to overnight summer camp where I was taught once again by a visiting middle aged English woman. She was very kind, but was unable to take me over to the knitting side. Maybe I was intimidated by her accent and frequent John Donne quotes. I took a break for a while and then tried to take up knitting again one cold and depressing January during my sophomore year of college. I got a little farther, but I never made it past the knit stitch, and soon lost interest as my friends returned from winter break.

When knitting became "cool" again after then celebrity best friends "Nonnie and Gwynnie" started knitting scarves for their then celebrity boyfriends "Matt and Ben," I took up knitting again. I took a class at a San Francisco knitting store and the woman was rather unhelpful. She found my left-handedness minimally distasteful and maximally an affront to all knitters everywhere. In an act of left-handed solidarity, I stubbornly refused to listen to anything she said.

The knitting breakthrough finally came about four years ago. My friend C. is an avid and talented knitter. I went to her with my troubles, and she agreed to intervene. We set the date, a quiet Sunday afternoon, and I arrived with both a high sense of excitement and doom. I had been conditioned to believe that I knitting and I were never meant to be friends, but I also had a sense that this time somehow might be different.

I was correct. C. did not chastise me for being left-handed. In fact she very kindly and earnestly went through each step with me over and over until I finally got it. Starting with "the pretzel" (basically the slipknot one used to cast on) and taking me all the way through into knit and purl, C. never made me feel inadequate. In fact she made knitting quite fun. Suddenly it seemed easy. Or at least manageable. Finally, finally, finally, I could knit!

I've taken a few classes since then (I highly recommend "fixing mistakes") at various different knitting stores and they have certainly been helpful. Even so, I'm still pretty novice, and I've come to reconcile the fact that I'm probably never going to be a "great" knitter. It's just not in my spatial make-up. I do however aspire to be a "good" knitter. I don't need to make intricate multi-patterned adult sized sweaters, but I would like to be able to whip up the occasional baby sweater or pom pom hat when the urge or babyshower hits.

An ease with knitting has not happened yet, but I am willing to be patient. Afterall, it took me quite a few years to get where I am now, what's a few more? I am particularly hopeful because C. and I are once again living in the same city. I am grateful for this for many reasons, but knitting assistance is certainly one of them. I have already put in a request for help on a baby sweater, and I have high hopes. It may take a while, and it may not be perfect, but at least I will have fun.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Making T-shirts

Somewhere along the way I started making baby t-shirts and onesies for friends' babyshowers and general kid gifts. At one point I thought I might turn it into a mini-business (who knows, I still may), but for now, I'm sticking to leaving the business ideas behind and keeping it all a hobby.

I used to try and silk screen them all, but making multiple silk screening masters proved to be too tedious and difficult a job for such a small batch of t-shirts. As a result, I turned to the tried and true iron on t-shirt transfer.

Purchased at both big box stores likes Staples and Target as well as art supply stores, transfers come in various sizes and for either dark or light fabric. Even the relatively simple iron on transfer proved to be somewhat confusing for me, but I think I've finally got the hang of it now.

I tend to like to put simple but funny sayings on my shirts, e.g. "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful" baby onesies or "Running is My Anti-Depressant" shirts for runner friends. I have some other ones in the works too, but I still may want to start that business someday, so I'll keep them under wraps for now!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Save A Guinea Pig

Please note: March is Adopt-a-Rescued-Guinea-Pig-Month. Act Accordingly.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Ex Libris

Ex Libris is my new old favorite game. It's even surpassed Taboo (and that's saying something).

Ex Libris is a English parlor game that appeals primarily to readers and writers. I used to play it a lot in San Francisco, but once I moved back to Boston 1) I didn't have a lot of people to play with and 2) I left all my copies of the game with people in SF.

Here's a description of the game:

Players try to both:

* guess the correct 1st or last line to a novel

* write a face 1st or last line to a novel and trick other players into thinking it is real

Points are scored for making correct guesses and for tricking other players.

The actual 1st/last lines for novels such as the following are included:

* Moby Dick

* Pride and Prejudice

* Jude the Obscure

* Zuleika Dobson

* The Spy Who Loved Me

* The House at Pooh Corner

A few weeks ago, I was in a gaming store in Harvard Square and saw a copy. All my lovely Ex Libris memories came flooding back. I had to get it!

I played with a few San Francisco ex pat friends here in Inman Square, and it was as just as good as I remembered. It didn't hurt that I beat the pants off of everyone. I tried hard not to gloat, but I was only mildly successful.

We haven't played it since (hmmm...should I take the hint?), but not to worry, I'm hatching a plan to bring Ex Libris into my regular game playing routine again. Let the games begin!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Save Gocco

I first became acquainted with the Gocco printer in 2003. For the uninitiated, the Gocco is a mini silk screen kit that can be used to create prints on cards, fabric, etc. Out of Japan, it was originally created as a children's toy, but it's become reasonably popular with the adult DIY crowd in the United States.

I'm still squarely placed in the novice stage, but there are many people out there in the world who can work magic with the Gocco.

See below:

Impressive, non?

But there is trouble brewing on the horizon. It seems that the Japanese manufacturer isn't satisfied with the level of sales in both Japan and the United States, and has decided to discontinue manufacturing the entire Print Gocco system. Not surprisingly, this has caused a small but powerful rebellion. A group called Save Gocco has sprouted up to try and convince the current manufacturer to either change its mind or allow another company to take over distribution in the U.S.

If you are a crafter, and DIYer, an art fan, or simply a fan of the little guy, consider joining in on the Save to the Gocco campaign. Your inner artiste will thank you.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Did you ever notice that today's babyboomer parents tend to keep their children in stroller until they hit puberty? I see children fully capable of walking, let alone reading (and probably even smoking cigarettes) strapped into strollers as their parents push them along. To make matters worse, the parents are usually completely ignoring their kids--yapping on cell phones or talking to some other adult.

I suspect that's the reason these kids are strapped into the strollers to begin with. The parents just don't want to deal with their kids. In fact they often don't know how to. They aren't used to dealing with their children on any regular basis, and they are often pretty stressed out to boot. The nanny, daycare, and gymboree play dates...they all combine so that when the parents actually do have to actually hang out with the kids, they aren't quite sure what to do with them.

Strapping the kids into strollers and keeping them from dawdling, zig zagging down the street, or stopping to pet the neighborhood dog (or whatever kids these days want to do), seems to be the best solution for many stressed out parents. An easy short term solution to taking care of your kids, but not so great a long term one. It's not the parents' fault as much as it seems to be society's, but everytime I see some oversized kid being pushed down the street and I see the comatose look on the kid's face, I get just a pang of sadness.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Middle School Students

I recently started working in a middle school. I now spend much of my day surrounded by preteens. They are a funny and weird species, let me tell you. One minute they are giving you the evil eye and making you feel about the size of a pea, then the next minute they are begging you to show you the latest dance move or walk them to their next class. I feel like I'm still quite unschooled in middle school ways, and I'm definitely on a steep learning curve. Entering into teenage land is complicated stuff. Being the recipient of their preteen angst is even more complicated.

Simply observing their interpersonal social interactions is much less complicated. That serves as pure entertainment. Just today I overheard a group of about four or five girls talking about "Joe." It seems that Joe is a bit of a Casanova. He spent much of the afternoon asking out through the bulk of the seventh grade girl population. From what I could gather, no one took him up on his offer. Not a very successful Casanova, but one nonetheless. The girls seemed both titilated and repulsed by this behavior. A pretty reasonable response in my book.