Thursday, August 25, 2005

Six Months Into It

I was going to call this the six month reality check but it’s actually been a couple weeks more than that. But, hey, who’s counting. Since I’ve last posted I’ve been to the Newport Jazz Festival, to Shelburne Falls and to the Boston Museum of Science. I’ve also been continuing to coordinate, schedule and train on the Virtual Gateway, which, of course, is my day job. The other day I went on a lunch time tour of the Boston Library, but I’ll get to that another time as I want to go back and check it out some more. And, finally I guess, I’ve now seen the movie “What The Bleep Do We Know,” for the fourth time. I also found out that I’ve gained 10 pounds since moving up here – I have to stop eating milk chocolate from Trader Joe’s, but – it’s soooo good. Cadbury bars, too. And Halvah. Pecan pie. Ice cream. Beer.

Ok. Let me start at the Newport Jazz Festival. Julie and I went on the Sunday of the two day event. It was the first time for either of us. I have to admit I’d been wanting to go to the festival for, oh, 30 years or so. It was very cool. The day, however, was pretty hot and I did get good and burnt. We took chairs and sat on the lawn. We listened to Dave Brubeck, featuring Wynton Marsalis. We also wandered over to the acoustical stage and listened to Larry Coryell and, on the third stage to some other folks whose names I don’t recall any longer. The festival took place in Fort Adams Park. The park is located on a peninsula and so while you’re walking around there’s water and sailboats on three sides, with jazz on the land.

The music was not so loud that it was overbearing but there were three different stages and so as you moved from stage to stage and weaved in and out of the vendors’ tents, music was all throughout the air. Then, you’d look out and see all these sailboats in the water – the scene was almost surreal – and not hear anything of them. It was almost like the water was a simulated backdrop for the festival.

I was very glad to have gone. It was a day well spent, even though we were both well-spent by the end of the day. It was a two hour drive down and back. In order to get to the park you had to drive through the town of Newport, itself. Newport is like a combination of a tourist trap and an historic town. Also surreal. We saw tiny little houses on narrow side streets and huge mansions on manicured, landscaped lawns.

That was a few weeks ago. Time seems to run together up here. I know I’ve done other things in the ensuing weeks between then and going to Shelburne Falls but for the life of me I can’t remember what I’ve done. Last Friday I went to the Friday night dance and danced to the vocals of Lynn Washington and her band. On Saturday it was too hot and humid to be outside much so we went to the Museum of Science in Boston. Actually, it’s in Cambridge, at least part of it is, but who cares. The science museum is a blast. Suspended from the ceiling was the starship Luke Skywalker (& R2D2) used to fight the Evil Empire.

We also walked through many other parts of the museum. One part had to do with medical technology and we took turns trying to thread a line through eyelets using the same instruments doctors use to do microscopic surgery. Talk about eye hand coordination. No, talk about the lack of it, at least on my part.

We were in the museum for about 3 hours or so, and now, trying to think back on it, I find that much of it runs together in my mind. We saw an MRI full body scan, watched a 3 D scan of the brain, went thru an explanation of the Big Dig and sat in on a movie of nature in an urban environment.

Then, that evening we went to Lexington to go see Broken Flowers, starring Bill Murray. Unfortunately, we were a tad late and the theatre was filled by the time it was our turn to get to the ticket window. So, instead of waiting for the 9:30 p.m. show, we elected to get a homemade ice cream cone and walk around Lexington a little. Not a lot happening on a Saturday evening in downtown Lexington. Barnes and Nobles was open so we wandered around in there. Eventually we got back to Julie’s and watched some of the Red Sox game.

You know, you have to root for the Red Sox. People up here wear t-shirts that say - I’m for the Red Sox and any other team that beats the Yankees. I saw a t-shirt worn by a middle aged woman that said on it – Real Women don’t go out with Yankee Fans. Since the Orioles are out of the race, I have to say I’m rooting for the Sox, too. Anybody but the Yankees.

Last Sunday we went to Shelburne Falls. Shelburne Falls is way out in Western Mass. People who live in Boston don’t consider there’s any life west of Framingham, but what do they know. It was a two hour drive to get out to Shelburne Falls. Shelburne Falls is a little town in the wilds of Western Mass. that has resurrected itself as an arts and crafts colony. There’s a glass blowing factory there where the artisans blow glass by hand. There are lots of arts and crafts stores, and there’s the flower bridge.

The flower bridge was an old trolley bridge that spanned the river and was converted, back in 1974, to a flower garden. There’s a walkway down the middle of the bridge and on either side are tons of annuals and perennials. It’s a wonderful walk. But that’s not why we went. We went to go swimming in the river among glacially made pot holes.

Shelburne Falls is known for it’s rocks that were uncovered when the dam was built, oh about 100 years ago. There are a whole mass of rocks that include pot holes created by glacier melt. The river is wide enough to swim in, the rocks high enough to jump off of and the pot holes and rock formations interesting enough for geologists and nature photographers to journey to and record.

We were there to see the pot holes but mostly to jump off the rocks into the river. At least that’s what Julie’s twin teen aged sons did. Dixie went swimming and clambered around on the rocks; I took pictures and went swimming and Julie took in the day of sunshine. Afterwards we all went and got an ice cream cone. Two days later, while getting the pictures developed, I noticed I’ve become the incredibly expanding man. Starting to get a humpty dumpty look; you know, kind of thick in the middle. I’ve always been thick-headed, now….

On our way back east, we drove through some of the most beautiful countryside in New England. I forgot to mention that Shelburne Falls is about 10 miles south of where New Hampshire and Vermont come together. It’s also less than an hour’s drive from New York State. It’s out there. But it’s well worth the drive.

The other day we journeyed into Cambridge, through Harvard (Hahvahd) Square to a long time friend of Julie’s and had dinner in a little corner bar/restaurant that had gone from being blue collar to upscale. Julie’s friend, Phil, is a black belt in Tai Kwon Do and is also a mental health practitioner and so we got into a deep discussion on our way to eat, which was a couple blocks from his condo. When we left the bar/eatery I was totally turned around. Generally I pay very close attention to my surroundings, and, in a new environment, am hyper-vigilant about where I am. As it turned out, even though I’d only had one beer (and pecan pie), I had no idea where I was. Then, when we left Cambridge and went back through Hahvahd Square to get back to Watertown, I was completely lost. We went through a part of Hahvahd U. but, as it was after dark, I have no idea what I saw.

This weekend we’re going to go dancing on Friday and then, on Saturday evening, we’re going to go into Boston and see Menopause – The Musical. On the list to see also is Blue Man Group. But that’ll be another night.

I just got finished reading “The Historian,” by Katherine Kostovo. It’s her debut novel and it’s about Dracula (rather, Vlad, the Impaler). It’s a good mystery – all 646 pages of it. Dracula, flesh wounds, - Let me suck your blood. Bite your neck.

However, I just just got finished reading “The Alchemist,” by Paulo Coehlo. I recommend this book to everyone who has ever had a dream. I don’t know if being up here is part of my Personal Legend, but I think so. There may not be any fortune for me to find up here, at least not working for the State (or working for a non-profit, either; that’s for sure), but then again the riches we find are what are inside of us, anyway. It’s the spiritual journey we’re on; not so much where we’re headed, but the path we’re on that counts. I want to read another book of his – “The Valkyrie.”

Dixie’s doing well, at least for right now. She seems to have an inflammation about every three weeks. Last week, after we got back from Shelburne Falls, Julie seemed to think that Dixie would stiffen up from all the climbing, sliding and swimming so I gave her a half of an Aleve. The next day she was as loose as a goose. Today, four days later, her left hind leg seems to start to be stiffening up. I think tomorrow morning I may give her half of a Rymadil.

Anyway, that’s what’s going on up here 10 miles west of Boston, 400 miles north of Baltimore on a Thursday evening at the end of August. It’s supposed to go down to 45 degrees tonight. Over the weekend it’s supposed to go up to 85 and be humid. Tonight, however, it’s extra blanket on the bed time.

I envy those of you who can snuggle up to stay warm. Maybe one day.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Dixie Goes Where I Go

It seems like it’s been a while since I last posted, although I believe it’s only been two weeks. I could be wrong, however. At any rate, I’ve had some ups and downs since my last posting, although things are looking up at the moment. Work has settled down, the weather has been fairly cooperative, except for the next few days which may prove to be hot and humid. I have casually followed the weather in Baltimore and saw today that it was going to be in the mid 90’s with just about the same humidity. I tell you, that kind of weather just tears me up. It’s not quite as hot or as humid up here, 400 miles to the north, but it is definitely warm.

I forgot to mention, in my last writing, of having gone to an opening at an art gallery. Talk about hot. It must have been close to 100 degrees in there. The gallery was in the Brookline section of Boston, along Commonwealth Ave. (or, as the locals say, Comm.Ave.). Anyway, the artist was a 20 something woman who made three dimensional art out of paper. But first she made her own paper. Then she made things out of it. One piece she did was a wedding gown out of paper. It was beautiful. Everything, the eye hooks, the buttons, the bodice, the layers of gown, all were made out of paper she made. Am I being redundant?

Another artist exhibiting there took photographs of people and attached skeletal parts onto the picture. She made her own paper, too, and made the bones as part of the paper and then overlaid the photo of the person, which she then developed onto the paper she made using a palatine process (old-timey photo processing). As though making the paper was hard enough, and developing photographs using a process that the early, early photographers used, she had to line up the bones to match the photo of the person she had taken a picture of. If what I’ve just said sounds complicated, it is. As she explained it, “it is very time consuming.” I don’t think I’d even be interested in trying a little bit of it, but if you are into making things, this may be the ultimate collage.

I wish I could remember their names, but I can’t. And, since at least one of them was a patient of Julie’s, I couldn’t divulge their identities even if I wanted. Which, of course, I’d want to do because that’s the way I am so maybe it’s better I didn’t know who they were. Nevertheless, outstanding art done by outstanding artists.

Last week, which has bled into this week, I managed to get myself in trouble at work. As you all know, this kind of stuff just seems to follow me around. Here’s what happened.

I had scheduled an afternoon Virtual Gateway training session at the Central Office for a service provider agency. One of the trainees showed up in the morning, instead. For some reason, he decided he wanted to look at blueprints of one of the state institutions and, since DMR is the repository of this kind of stuff, it has them. So, somehow he got down to look at the blueprints and apparently had been sitting on the floor doing so for a while before anyone questioned him – who let you in, how did you get here, how did you know where to look, yada, yada, yada. I wasn’t even in the building that morning, having conducted a training session for the WIC application in box workers at their location and then attending a VG meeting at a separate site before walking back to DMR at lunch time with an assistant commissioner. But, somehow, it turned out to be my fault. You know the reasoning - if I hadn’t scheduled the training the guy wouldn’t have shown up.

At the end of the training, which was at the end of the day, just after the trainees left, the guy in charge of the blue prints and the assistant to the commissioner came into the training room and wanted to know who the guy was, where did he go and how come he was here. They were huffing and puffing and talking about breaches of security and how all of what he had done had serious consequences. It wasn’t until after they told me the story that I even knew what had happened. I gave them the sign in sheet and said it was one of these two guys. I said there were four guys in the training session, two white, one black and one Vietnamese. If the guy was white then it was one of these two. They looked at me, they huffed and puffed some more, and then they left, telling me not to worry about it.

Then, the next day my supervisor called me in to her office and I repeated the story to her. She said that they said “I hadn’t taken the incident as seriously as I should have.” I said, how could I? I didn’t know what had happened, I wasn’t even there. She went on to tell me that now there were going to be a whole string of security measures put into place. A committee has been formed at the commissioner level to discuss whether DMR Central Office personnel have to wear visible badges. You know, like around your neck. Like an Albatross. Like a noose. Like a security badge. And, all because of me there’s all this high level discussion going on about breaches of security, and terrorism and, like Arlo Guthrie’s song about Alice’s Restaurant, people sittin’ on the group W bench and pictures bein’ taken of the crime scene and all this other nasty stuff goin’ on.

I tell you. We have George W. Bush and his administration to thank for the paranoia this country is now under. Under this administration, terrorism attacks worldwide have increased tenfold, people in America are more divided than ever before and we now don’t even trust each other. It’s a sad day for America and for all of us Americans.

I’ll wear a badge; I’ll give the receptionist my list of trainees at least 24 hours in advance; I’ll make sure that the only places they go while in the building other than the training lab is the bathroom. I am happy about having won one battle, though: I was able to get my department to buy paper cups for the drinking fountain in the training lab so now trainees – outsiders - can have a cup of water. And, the cups left over I covet and return to the supply cabinet so nobody else can get to them without authorization. Even if they are showing their badges.

Two Saturdays ago I went with Julie and her two sons to Six Flags in Agawam. The boys are 17 year old twins. We came together and we left together. In between, well…. I did go on the Mind Eraser roller coaster and sat in the front seat. Far out. Freaked out might be a better term. But, I loved it. Julie and I went on the Buzzsaw, which, after the Mind Eraser, was kind of lame to me, but it was a cool ride. It just didn’t go upside down and corkscrew at 70 mph along a slick, steel track.

We also went on a water ride, the Typhoon, which was also very cool. We were on a raft that was like a roller coaster on water. Unfortunately, the ride, like all the others we went on, didn’t last long enough.

The park was so packed that day that we had to wait an hour on line to get our turn on the water ride. Every person in the region who thought about going to Six Flags that day was there. There were so many people there it had to have been over fire code, even if it was outside. It also cost $41.99 per person over 34” tall to get in. But not for me – I got the senior citizen discount of $26.99. Hmmn. Wait a minute.

Kind of hard to take that I qualify for the senior citizen discount at an amusement park. On the other hand, I did save $15. As you know, I showed them my phony senior citizen ID just so I’d get the discount. It was amazing how much the picture of the guy on the driver’s license I had looked just like me.

This past Saturday Julie and I ventured up to Lowell to take in the Lowell Folk Music Festival. An annual event, the downtown area of the city turns into a 2 day music fest. It was very cool. Aside from excellent local and national talent, there was an incredible display of ethnic foods on sale – Phillipine, Greek, Polish, Jamaican, Chinese, among others. We ate our way through part of the day. Dixie even had a shish-kabob. One of the workers from the Greek stall came over and said a shish-kabob had hit the ground and could Dixie have it. Does a bear shit in the woods? I’m pretty sure Dixie tasted at least one piece of it as she inhaled it all. She liked it even more than licking out the last of the ice cream from the cup. We didn’t give her any of our beer; she had to settle for bottled water in her Outward Hound portable drinking bowl.

A show stealer, that dog. If one person came up to pet her, I know it was at least 50 who did. The elderly, little kids, men, women, and teenagers all came up to pet her. At one point Julie said to me – “You know, Dixie’s like a chick magnet.” I just smiled. I knew it was an innocent reflection on her part. Dixie’s my dog. Why do you think she goes everywhere I go?