A Summer Night’s Made Up Stories

It was a beautiful summer evening. I was out walking around my neighborhood. I went by this little plaza.  A guy was standing on the sidewalk. He looked at me, smiled and said: “Hello. Beautiful night, isn’t it?” “It is indeed,” I said. “I work at the pizza shop, you can come in and hang out, if you want,” he offered a little too eagerly. “That’s cool,” I smiled and continued walking.

I glanced back at the pizza shop. It was small and empty, mostly a takeout place, I thought. It was a sad looking place, which contrasted the guy’s mood. I wondered how he felt about working there. How was it being all by himself, working on orders, surrounded by pizza boxes?  Perhaps he was lonely. Perhaps he couldn’t wait to get another job. Perhaps he couldn’t stop thinking how he could not do it anymore and how he had to figure out an escape plan; how things had to change and how he would need to get another job. Perhaps a professional job in an office, would be nice. Somewhere where he would make small talk with his co-workers around the water cooler, talk sports. On TV that’s what people in offices do. Maybe he would have a crush on the front desk girl. He would go on fantasizing about his front-desk crush. Building a dream life in a thought bubble.

But what if the guy was happy in his pizza shop? What if running that pizza shop was his life’s dream and he had achieved it? He had been working in pizza shops his whole life, pretty much, and finally he had been able to save up and open his very own pizza shop. Not having to listen to anyone boss him around or complain, he was now responsible for all losses and gains. His family would come and visit him and sit at the lone table to eat the pizza he would make for them. His kids would think it was the best pizza ever. He knew that the secret to the best tasting pizza is to make it in your own pizza shop, with your own hands, with all the care and love in the world for the people who matter to you the most. He was the king of the pizza shop. He was content.

I walked to the grocery store. It was darker now, a night with perfect temperature. I was in a good mood. I walked past a Dunkin Donuts. I glanced in and saw a couple sitting at a table making out. They looked very happy and very into each other. Which you have to be to make out in a harshly lit coffee shop. They would look at each other for a second, smile and then dive into each other’s face, their hands all over each other’s body. What was their story, I wondered. I decided they were having an illicit affair. Both of them were married (to other people) and had kids. They had offered to do grocery shopping and they were able to to sneak in to Dunkin Donuts for a little bit to catch up. In that rather unromantic environment they had eyes for no one else. America might run on Dunkin, but these two were running on their infatuation for each other.

“I’ve missed you,” they would say. “It’s so difficult to get a minute to myself,” one of them would say. “No more talking,” their eyes would say, interlocking hands over steaming mediocre coffee. “I think I’m ready to do it,” she would say. A dark cloud would pass through his eyes, but for a second only. Then he would smile, his eyes would go bright and excited, and he would grab her tiny hand in his hand, and kiss it a thousand times. And that is how it always goes in the badly lit coffee shop, there is hope for a minute. In the end they would go their separate ways, go back to their ordinary lives. They would carve out a little space inside their minds and hearts and fill it with desire, longing for each other’s body, and elaborate getaway plans. They would go in that little space to escape until the next time they meet again.


The Babbler

Here’s a thing about me: I don’t like talking much, and I am not a big fan of people who talk much. In a world where the ruling law is Murphy’s, approximately 80% of the people in my office love to talk. They tell seemingly endless stories, and by the time they reached the end I have lost any interest and I am spacing out compiling my grocery shopping list. They are the kind of people who when you tell them oh, yes you told me that story, they will still go on repeating the story anyway. They are the kind of people who will go on talking to you when  you are opening the office door to get out. You step out of the office, close the door and they keep talking. When there is no audience, they talk to themselves.

People who love to talk are pretty often in a chatty mood. So, they come into your office and casually drop a  how is it going. You are not really in a chatty mood yourself, so you reply fine without even looking at them. Then they will go on asking questions you have to reply to.  You give short replies just to be civil and you don’t ask any questions back, however, they still fail to see you don’t want to engage in a conversation. It seems there is an undying hope inside them that you will eventually ask them something, and they will get to share one of those endless stories of theirs. It is almost that their attitude says “I’m Bored. Entertain Me”. Perhaps someday I should talk to them about that amazing thing called the internet. It is not that I am absolutely opposed to chatting, I am fine with someone sharing things, but I hate it when the expectation is for me to do the talking, when in fact I’m busy, or I hate talking.

These are the same kind of people who will say hey, do you want do lunch today, you say sure, and then they ask where do you want to go? And when you say I don’t know I haven’t thought of that, they say OK, think about it, and tell me what you would like. Are you serious? YOU ask me to lunch and now you are expecting me to do the thinking, and essentially provide solution to your problem? Is it so difficult to throw a couple of suggestions out there with your initial question to get the conversation going?

I don’t know if this is still the same kind of person, but I also dislike the person who will call you on the phone, will start yapping without allowing a single word from the other side, and then suddenly announce OK,  I need to go now. Oh, sorry, don’t let me keep you with my silence. Please. Do. Go.

Oh, and now I’m on it, allow me to rant about the perpetually “helpful” people. The ones who volunteer to help, when it is not really their job or their business, then promptly fail to do anything useful simply because they can’t,  and then complain about the fact they have to do everything and they are the only ones trying to be helpful. Hey, “helpful” people, if you minded your own business someone else might have been able to be of help, instead of “help”.

Worst (potential) customer service

I go out to lunch, dinner or brunch at least three times a week, and thankfully I do not have many restaurant horror stories to share. Of course, I have had my fair share of indifferent or forgetful waitstaff, or rude hosts, or bland dishes. But overall when I go out to eat the level of service I get is decent.

Last night I had my worst restaurant experience, and I didn’t even have to step a foot in the restaurant! It was around 5 p.m., and as we were driving back to Cambridge, we wondered where to go to dinner. I suggested going to Strip-T’s in Watertown. I had been there once before, and I liked it. With all the snowstorm interruptions, I thought  I’d check their website to see if they are open before we drove all the way to Watertown. I googled the restaurant name on my phone, and the search result was their website, which showed on my phone as http://www.stripts.com “Strip-T’s Restaurant… 93 School St Watertown, MA 02472. WELL WILL [sic] BE CLOSED…” I clicked on their website, but it went to a general page without any updated information. I clicked around to other links to see if there was any information related to the “WELL WILL [sic] BE CLOSED”, but since I didn’t see anything I decided to call to see if they were open.

A man answered the phone. I said hello, and asked “are you open for dinner tonight?” And this is how he responded: “No, we’re not, I just like coming here and sitting around and having beers with the boys ’cause I don’t have anything better to do.” Pause. What. The. Hell. Then he said: “I am being sarcastic.” I said “Yeah, very funny”, and hung up. Wow.

Dude answering the phone, really?! Whatever the hell your problem is, I am pretty sure it wasn’t me. So, when I ask if you are open, just say “yes, we are” or “no, we are not” and that would be it. The end. Simple, isn’t it? If you think you are being clever or witty, you are not, you are just being rude. If you are not in the mood to answer the phone, have someone else answer the phone, or have an automated phone system with options for hours, reservations, etc. If you want to be sarcastic, you can do so with the boys while drinking beers. I didn’t call to ask if your restaurant is open because I didn’t have anything better to do, or because I wanted to chat or experience your talent for sarcasm. I called because with all the snowstorm interruptions plus your crappy website that shows no updated helpful information, I thought I’d better check.

Seriously, what the hell. Who interacts with strangers like that, let alone potential customers?  That was the most rude and uncalled for response I have ever received. But if that was their plan, they surely found a pretty effective way to turn away potential customers. Well done.

The blizzard of 2013

The blizzard of 2013 was not technically a blizzard, but it was certainly a big snowstorm with strong winds and 26″ of accumulated snow — in Cambridge at least. (It wasn’t a blizzard because the wind and visibility criteria were not met. “By definition, a blizzard occurs when the following happens: winds reach a sustained speed or frequent gusts of 35 miles per hour at the same time the visibility is at or less than one-quarter mile due to snow or blowing snow.”)

Even before the first snow flake fell we knew it was going to be a big storm. TV, radio, on-line media was going crazy about the storm. And when it comes to weather events I just get sucked into the hype. I normally do not watch much TV, but when there is a storm coming up I can’t get enough of the weather forecasts. I mean, all of the weather forecasts, on every channel, non-stop. But in the end Harvey Leonard on Channel 5 is my trusted weather source. What I didn’t really get into was the name Nemo: I guess the Weather Channel started a thing where they name snowstorms, and this one was named Nemo. Hurricanes do have official names, but to me unofficially starting naming snow storms is a little too much.

The forecast was calling for the storm to start around noon on Friday, so the office closed at 11 a.m. I went to Whole Foods to get a couple of things, and it was so busy, it looked like a Market Basket wannabe. It started snowing lightly on Friday afternoon and intensified on Friday night into Saturday morning. In addition to the standard snow emergency procedures that go with a forecast of 2-foot snow accumulation, the Governor of Massachusetts issued a travel ban starting 4 pm on Friday, virtually banning all travel from all the roads in the State. The ban was largely heeded, and anyone breaking the ban would be subject to $500 fine and up to a year in prison, we were told. Travel ban aside,  I had to go from North Cambridge to Spring Hill in Somerville and back, and I had to drive. So I drove. The streets were eerily quiet, the empty streets coated with snow. I saw people cross country skiing and a few people walking around. Driving down Highland Ave I found a deserted street, with flashing lights of police cruisers and plows, and a couple of lone figures trying to walk against the wind. Thankfully I wasn’t stopped by the police. And even if I were, I had prepared a list of excuses to get away with it.

The winds picked up late Friday night and the snow was coming down heavier. When I got up on Saturday morning everything looked blanketed with snow. Mass. Ave and the bike path were completely covered by seemingly deep snow. It was bright and beautiful. People were walking and cross country skiing along the bike path.

The travel ban was still in effect until Saturday 4 p.m. When I went out for a walk in the afternoon it was quite nice to see people enjoying the snow, kids having a blast. Seven Hills Park at the Davis Square T stop turned into a snowmen park. No cars on the roads meant people on the roads. Walking on the street was much easier than walking on the sidewalks which were pretty much still covered by almost two feet of snow.

The wind drifts created 4 feet high piles at some places. Walking on Highland Ave you could see people had started digging their cars out, cars completely covered with at least a foot of snow. Some side streets looked like they hadn’t been plowed at all. Even where the streets were plowed, the travel lane width was reduced. And trying to clear the snow off sidewalks, driveways and cars did not get any easier as there was no room to put the snow.

I finally made it to Spring Hill in Somerville with my right hand almost frozen. I helped shovel a sidewalk and driveway, and actually that was my first time shoveling.  The snow was light, but still my shoulders and upper back got really sore. And that made me appreciate the fact that my car is parked in a parking garage and the sidewalk around my building is shoveled by a crew.

Later in the evening I walked to Harvard Square, and it was quite something to walk around the quiet city. Everything looked beautiful covered in fresh white snow. But what I enjoyed the most was the silence. Walking everywhere made me think of our ancestors, who at some point in our history did just that, they walked everywhere.

On Sunday things slowly started to return to normal. More plowing, more shoveling, more digging out. Mountains of snow in every intersection made driving and walking dangerous, and you could see dump trucks hauling snow away. It is now raining, so the snow is getting heavier. Most catch basins are under feet of snow, and the streets are already looking messy. This week is supposed to be rather warm and there will be some snow melt, but I wonder how long it will take for the last of the 26″ of snow to go away.

2012 Year In Review

Here we are on the last day of 2012. A year that went by fast, and looking back, it was a mix of good and bad. Now is the time I am looking through my notes to see what happened in the year expiring soon. Here’s a summary of what fun things I did, what I liked and didn’t like, and the notable things that happened in my life in 2012:

Movies: I counted them all, in 2012 I watched 83 movies, that is an average of 1.6 movies per week. During the Independent Film Festival of Boston I would see up to three movies a day, but generally I go to the movies at least once a week. It turns out this year I saw plenty of classic and old movies at the Brattle, and finally did the wise thing and acquired a Brattle membership, which saves me some money. The movies I liked best this year were ‘The Kid With A Bike’, the Belgian movie by the Dardenne brothers; ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ a documentary about the Japanese sushi master Jiro Ono; Wes Anderson’s ‘Moonrise Kingdom’; the offbeat, different ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’; the heart breaking ‘Take This Waltz’; the tough and incredibly moving ‘Oslo, August 31st’; the touching ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’; and the fascinating documentary ‘The Imposter’. A quick note to mention ‘Lincoln’ for the superb acting by Daniel Day-Lewis, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘The Master’ for the visual beauty. I also liked a lot Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’. The movie that creeped me out the most, made me feel extremely uncomfortable and wish I had not seen was Pedro Almodóvar’s ‘The Skin I Live In”. Oh, and I am not seeing ‘Les Miserables’ because I absolutely hate musicals.

Music: I went to 18 live shows this year. Some shows stood out, like the Radiohead show, the Mogwai show, which finally happened after two prior cancellations, and the Saint Etienne show at the Paradise, where everyone was dancing happily away. I saw the most interesting lighting and staging at the Grizzly Bear show at the Orpheum. The worst show? The Jesus and Mary Chain, no contest. The Paradise still remains the best venue in the area to see live music. I just wish it was located somewhere in Camberville. I can’t say there was a band or album this year I adored, but I did listen to some music I liked a lot, like Tanlines, Alt-J, Beach House, Lower Dens and Beach Fossils. After seeing Frank Ocean and the Dirty Projectors making everyone’s best music of the year list, I tried to listened to them, but I find them unbearable. Frank Ocean’s music is plainly boring, and the Dirty Projectors singer sounds like your friend who keeps singing along to every song he hears, and he is always off-key.

UPDATE: I can’t believe I forgot to mention this but my favorite song this year was Japandroid’s ‘The House That Heaven Built’. Yeah.


Theater: Not too much theater in my life this year. I mostly went to plays my friend TMB was in, like ‘Measure For Measure’, ‘Waiting For Lefty’ and ‘Anne of the Green Gables’. I also saw an interesting production of ‘Uncle Vanya’ at the Apollinaire Theatre in Chelsea, and David Adjmi’s ‘Marie Antoinette’ at the ART, a play I found was trying too hard to be witty.

Art: I visited the ICA and the MFA a couple of times each. I liked the exhibition Degas and the Nude the best, because I really, really like drawings. Really. Also at the ICA I saw Sam Green’s live documentary ‘The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller’ with live music by Yo La Tengo. And I love Yo La Tengo.

Food, Drink: I liked Casa B in Union Square in Somerville, a space with unique and pretty cool interior design and delicious tapas. I finally made it to Santarpio’s where I discovered the best pizza in town. I also liked Strip T’s in Watertown, West Bridge, and Belly Wine Bar in Kendall Square. I was impressed by the food at the Garden at the Cellar, which might be Cambridge’s best kept secret. The food is amazing, how come I didn’t know? I also paid many visits to iYo the new frozen yogurt place in Davis Square. The square will soon be fro-yo central, as a second fro-yo place opened, and there are plans for a third. I had some very good cocktails at Stoddard’s downtown, and at Brick & Mortar in Central Square.

Travel: Nothing extraordinary travel-wise. I spent three lovely days in Provincetown, I love this happy and laid back place, and the amazing beaches. Speaking of beaches, I discovered Duxbury beach this year (the best beach area is south of the bridge), pretty much one of the best beaches around Boston (sorry, North Shore beaches, no comparison, really). I went to Greece for a couple of weeks to see family and friends, eat well and swim in the Mediterranean, and that’s always pretty neat and relaxing. I also visited my brother and his family in Germany. I finally got to meet my nephew, who is a very cute baby, and got to see my niece again, who is a very cute toddler.

Exercise: In the beginning of 2012 I found myself ten pounds overweight, and ten pounds is a lot for a person of my size. I had a hard time shedding off the extra pounds just by eating less. So, I started eating less and exercising more,  the magic combination that always works. After hating running for as long as I remember, this year I followed a 5k training program, and after eight weeks I was pleasantly surprised to see I could comfortably run 3 miles. I participated in my first 5k race in December, and completed the race in 28 minutes. I also started taking tennis classes, and I loved it. I can’t wait to start new classes again. I biked a lot, as usual, and I took a bicycle repair class at the Broadway Bicycle School.

A couple of other notable things from 2012: I refinanced my mortgage and once again discovered how inept the people who work in this business are. After twelve years of living here I finally decided to apply for citizenship, and became citizen on September 11. I voted for the first time, and was happy with the results. I got to meet Elizabeth Warren, the new senator from Massachusetts, so now I have met both Senators from MA in person. Oh, and being a citizen means I can now run for office, but don’t worry, I don’t plan to.

In 2012 I experienced some disappointments, but no reason to talk about that now. I do not have any major new year’s resolutions, but I will definitely try to do certain things different: I will try to visit places I haven’t been to before. I would love to have someone willing and able to travel with me, but I am also willing to travel by myself. I will try to read more, and after many years I have cancelled my New Yorker subscription in order to free up time to read the untouched books in my bookcase. I will try to get back to creative things I used to like, like drawing.

Above all, in 2013 I will do my best to find time for all the small and big things that make happy. Happy New Year.

Cursed to be a weirdo magnet

Eight out of ten times when I take the bus by myself, something weird will happen. Most likely a chatty strange person will start talking to me. I am not really a big fan of strangers (normal or not-so-normal) talking to me, which  ironically enough enforces the magnetic field of my being a weirdo magnet.

The other day I get out of my building to catch the bus, which is three minutes away according to NextBus. There is another person at the stop, and ten seconds later he asks “Excuse me, do the buses run on a 20-minute schedule?” “I don’t know about their schedule,” I reply “but the next bus is coming in a couple of minutes.” That was easy, I think to myself. Oh, boy, am I wrong. “Oh, thank you, you look like you know what is going on, people these days have their smartphones and they can tell when the bus is coming, I bet you have a smartphone too,” he says. “Yes, I do,” I reply and turn my head to the other direction from where he is standing. “I don’t take this bus often, I just got here from the other bus stop, I waited for 15 minutes,” he says. Who the hell asked you what you did, I think, yet the only response I manage is “Oh.” One would think a one-word response would get across the message that the other person does not wish to engage in conversation, but this guys is impervious to the message.

I don’t exactly remember what was the next thing he says, but somehow within a couple of minutes he has told me that his nephew who was in jail for years and was a heroin addict is now married to an attorney, that his father is 84 years old, he has three sisters and three brothers, one of his sisters lives in Arlington across the street from this restaurant, as in directly across the street, when you get out of the restaurant and look across the street his sister’s house door is the first thing you see (the guy was pretty talented in making boring things sounding even more boring). At this point I wonder what happened to those bloody three minutes the bus was supposed to come in, did they magically turn into three hours? Because this is how it feels like.

I start noticing what he looks like: mid to late forties, dark brown hair, skinny, around five-ten, wearing a turtleneck and a clip with his keys like a pendant, hung from his turtleneck. Dude, that’s not where the clip goes, but whatever makes you happy, I thought. He keeps talking non-stop: his mother died from cancer fifteen years ago, she was in and out of hospitals and chemotherapy for a long time, but he knows she’s happy now because she’s in heaven with the angels. At this point I am kind of jealous of the mother, because she doesn’t have to listen to this guy.  The angels reference triggers the next theme of his unending monologue: religion. “I believe in God you see, I read the bible, I have a study bible and a King James bible, and the study bible has an index, you can look up a word and it tells you what page it is on. The bible is a very useful book, and I read it when I don’t know how to handle situations, because when I get angry I am scared of what I might do, ’cause I might kick someone hard and my legs are very strong.” What. The. Fuck. I take a couple of steps back, and I’m glad there is another person at the stop. It is not that I feel threatened he might kick me, he doesn’t look angry or anything, but now I feel uneasy on top of annoyed.

Thankfully (relatively) he goes back to talking about the bible and he tells me he’s a Catholic, while adding, “I bet you are a Catholic too.” Funny, you just lost the bet. He then proceeds to get even more annoying: “Oh, man, and all this gay marriage bullshit, it’s in the bible, it’s a sin, I cannot stand those queers, just get out of my face you queers. ” I bet the queers would like you to get out of their faces, buddy. What a bigoted piece of shit. Up to this point I restricted myself to politely smiling and nodding, but this last point wipes the smile off my face. Suddenly I feel like I am acting in a farce, and I get the urge to start laughing in his face, but I stop short when I remember his anger reference. So, I turn serious, I put much effort so that my face looks as serious at it can. The dude notices that and stops yapping. “Do you know what the most dangerous sin of all is?” I ask. “Do you?” I add for effect. I have the guy’s attention, he blinks and nods. “GREED, greed is the greatest sin of all,” I tell him, dead serious.

He tries to process this for a couple of seconds, and it gets him going about the sins listed in the bible, and I just want to scream shut the fuck up, enough already, and the bus finally appears, and I am pretty sure these have been the longest three minutes of my life. I get on the bus and he’s right behind me. He asks the driver “Do I know you?”, while the bus driver gives him a wtf look. The bus is jammed, he yells for the people to move to the back of the bus to make some room for the people getting on. I need to escape, I just need an available single seat, but every seat seems occupied. Then I spot a third of a seat, it is a middle seat between two gigantic people wearing gigantic puffy jackets. Fuck that, I think to myself, and I jam myself in that one-third of a seat between these two huge guys, but at least I am away from the weirdo, who walks back towards the front of the bus to annoy some other unlucky person, I’m sure. I start feeling that the huge guys are crushing my bones, but I have escaped the weirdo, I have escaped!

My first 5k race

Last Sunday December 2, 2012 I ran the Yulefest 2012, my first 5k race. It was fun, the weather was not too bad, and I managed to finish it at 28:36, my best 5k time so far. As someone who only started running in April, it felt pretty good to be able to run it comfortably. My overall ranking was 787th out of 1,363 runners. The race course was around Harvard Square, and was mainly flat, apart from an uphill section a little before the finish.

There was a cool after-race party on Bratlle Street with music, snacks, and free-flowing beer. And good beer, mind you, from Pretty Things, Notch and Slumbrew. So much beer on a virtually empty stomach made me very happy for the rest of the day.

The thing is, it is a nice surprise to see my body liking this new running thing. Every time I go running I feel strong and powerful afterwards. I might be a little obsessed with it too, as I now plan to concentrate on improving my running form and my running time. And the plan is to run many more 5k races. On one condition: there has to be (good) beer at the after party.

Just ran my first 5k race! #c5kyule @cambridge5k by Acidgalore

Just ran my first 5k race! #c5kyule @cambridge5k, a photo by Acidgalore on Flickr.