Jul 28, 2010

Before stepping off, she turns to SpongeBob and says, "it was nice to meet you!" Only on the MBTA could that happen.
"Wow," Gray top remarks. "We do look alike!" "I told you!" Says SpongeBob. The bus pulls into the Jackson Square station and Gray top gets up to exit the bus.
Pulling out her phone, SpongeBob rifles through a folder of images, stopping at one of her and another girl who resembles Gray top. They could be twins.
SpongeBob turns to Gray top, looking at her closely and says, "you look just like my friend." Gray top smiles. SpongeBob continues, "let me show you a photo."
One girl is wearing a bright yellow SpongeBob Squarepants t-shirt and athletic shorts. The other, a gray top and jeans.
I'm riding a bus to work. It's mid morning and the bus is packed. Because of that two girls are forced to sit next to each other. They don't know one another.

Jul 24, 2010

Culture Shock

[The following is an excerpt from a collection of short stories I wrote about growing up in Boston and riding the T.]

All types of people ride the “T.” It is transportation for the masses. As long as you pay your fare you can ride. Most people on the “T” are good people as far as I can tell. The high school students are loud and considered obnoxious by the old women who are riding downtown the shop. There are young professionals who wear crisp suits and read the New York Times on the ride into town. I’ve seen construction workers, and even homeless people. The weekend is even more diverse as people shed their work clothes for more comfortable party clothes. This is the time that you see drunken people on the train. They deserve a story unto themselves. While I’ve seen all types of people on the train, I’ve seen all types of people on the train. This includes those that don’t quite fit the mold.

During the summer after my first year of college I worked as a camp counselor at a writing camp based out of Tufts University. This meant that every morning, I would meet my buddy and fellow counselor, Matt, and he and I would take the Red Line to Davis Square. Davis Square is on the other side of the city, and thus it was a long train ride both in the mornings and the afternoons. Most mornings we would pass the time by finishing the corrections to our campers’ journals. Being the good counselors that we are, we rarely saved journals for the morning commute. However in the afternoons it was a little more difficult. We could get an early start on the journals, but that would mean not having anything to do on the morning commute, so that was out of the question. We often resorted to looking at women and talking about video games that we had played or wanted to play. Sometimes we would discuss deep philosophical issues, such as censorship in the media, but this was a last resort.

On one particular trip we had exhausted video games, and seen enough pretty women to last us a life time. Matt was opening his bag to pull out a journal. I had to act quickly or all would be lost. Fortunately I would be saved from discussing the pros and cons of communism because a new topic of interest stepped on to the train. It was an Asian woman with two children in tow. One was in a stroller, and the other looked like a boy. I wish I could give you a definite answer to the older child’s sex but I can’t. It looked like a boy and even had some characteristically young male mannerisms but because of the way it was dressed I couldn’t be sure. The way they were all dresses, save the baby who was dressed normally, was enough to spark a conversation alone. The (boy?) was wearing a Japanese school girl’s outfit. You know the type. A loose white blouse with a red neck tie that splays out in two even ends down the chest, a short blue skirt with pleats, white socks pulled up to mid shin, and black patent leather shoes that reflected the overhead lights in the train.

The mother was wearing a magenta pink waistcoat that was unbuttoned down to the place where her ribcage split. She was not wearing an undershirt or bra. She had on black leggings that were pulled up and covered by the end of her waistcoat. Over the leggings she wore chaps. Yes, chaps. Like you’ve seen in westerns or more recently, as an accessory in bondage sex. These however, were not black leather, they were silk or satin, and they shimmered as she moved onto the train. They were gold in color and covered with Japanese characters. She was also wearing stiletto heels with a severely pointed toe. Her outfit caused most of us to stare; those that regained their senses looked away and opted for furtive glances in a show of discreet politeness. Others cursed politeness to hell and stared outright.

One woman in particular, a heavyset black woman seemed to take personal offence to the Asians woman’s presence. The black woman acted as if the Asian woman has walked on the train and slapped her in the face. She shook her head in disgust stopping only to look at the Asian woman, and go back to being outraged by her presence. Matt and I watched the Asian woman board the train with curious interest. We had no need to discuss communism. The Asian woman seemed to be oblivious to all the attention she had received upon entering the train. She told her son (daughter?) to sit down in a seat and be quiet while she gently rocked the stroller. As attention over her entrance died down, Matt and I proceeded to make comments in hushed voices about where she was coming from and where she was going. We amused ourselves and almost forgot that she was even there. But at JFK/UMASS she reminded everyone of her presence on the train.

As the train entered JFK/UMASS, the Asian woman coughed and then spit out some phlegm onto the floor of the train and then wiped it with her shoe. This was too much for the black woman. She looked at the spittle, and then at the Asian woman and shouted at her.

“That is just disgusting! I can’t believe you would do that!” she looked around for support from other people on the train. Getting none and needing none, she continued her tirade.

“Look at you! Who dresses that way huh? And then you spit on the train! It’s people like you who make me sick!” the black woman yelled.

“Shut up you! How dare you insult me!” the Asian woman spit back. Her accent was thick but you could make out everything. Matt and I were all ears. This was great.

“No you shut up!” the black woman countered. “You just a dirty bitch! Just filthy”

“No you bitch!” the Asian woman retorted.

This seemed to strike a nerve with the black woman. She stood up and took a menacing step towards the Asian woman. The black woman easily had fifty pounds on the Asian woman, who took a step back when the black woman stood up. I had never seen a fight on the train before. I couldn’t believe my luck. Timing has a lot to do with what happened next. I often wonder if the train was not pulling into a station would there have been a fight, and who would have won. But as it was the intercom crackled and broke the staggering silence of the compartment.


The doors opened and the Asian woman, seeing her opportunity exited the train dragging her daughter (son?). The black woman just stood there, breathing heavily, nostrils flaring. I could see the sweat running down the side of her face. She went back to her seat and sat down heavily, not saying a word. In fact the whole compartment was silent; it felt as if no one knew how to move past the situations that had just occurred. I laughed, loud and hard, clapping Matt on the back hard enough to make him shake. Everyone looked at me, but I didn’t care.

“Did you see that? She was ready to hit her, that’s crazy.” I said through fits of laughter. I was laughing so hard I was crying. Matt just nodded and opened his bag and pulled out a journal. I wiped my eye and settled down. By now the compartment had gone back to a facsimile of normalcy. That was my best train ride ever.

Jul 22, 2010

Just a Hook-up

[This was a post I did for another blog a few years ago. That blog has folded, but I liked my piece, so here it is.]

Charles Blow wrote an Op-Ed column in the NY Times on December 13 entitled “The Demise of Dating,” saying that amongst the younger generation, dating was a thing of the past and the hook-up was now the standard. The thrust of his argument is that the popularity of just hooking up has led to a decrease in our ability to establish and maintain one-on-one relationships; the emphasis on the group relationship has or is destroying the individual relationship.

Hold up a sec Chuck.

While I agree that the phenomenon of hooking up is seemingly replacing the old standard of dating, it doesn't mean that dating is dead. Relationships are not easy, and while the hook-up does simplify certain aspects of it, it also adds complications to others. The idea that hooking up “emphasizes group friendships over the one-pair model of dating" is only the surface of the issue. If people in a group friendship are hooking up, they are creating added layers to their specific relationship which creates one-pair interactions within the group friendship. On the surface, the hook up appears to only strengthen the group dynamic but it pushes the one-pair individual dynamic just as much.

Charlie also talked about how the hook-up is gender-biased toward men because eventually women want individual relationships and we, commitment-phobic, men only want to hook up. That's probably true. Still, I find it a bit silly to think that only women would want a hook-up to turn into a relationship. Hooking up is a two-way street, men get can get just as attached and begin to look for that individual relationship.

I take umbrage with the way Mr. Blow paints a picture of the future of social interaction as one that is solely a group dynamic with everyone hooking up with their friends and no one taking the time to get to know someone on an individual basis. Are we, as a generation, doomed to just move from one hook-up to the next with no real emotional foundation or attachment? I hope not.

A friend of mine told me "Love is important, it's what we live on, the delight we produce in others."

She's clearly smarter than me and I agree with her fully. I find it difficult to believe that through hooking up with someone you'll be able to make a connection that can lead to something deeper. The process of getting to know someone through hanging out with them is so integral to a relationship that skipping or holding off on that until after you hook up strikes me as backwards. If there is a connection, the intimacy will be there. It'd be good to know that the intimacy is just a part of a larger, deeper connection you share with someone.

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, and need to get with the times, but I can't think of anything better than hanging out with someone I like and getting to know them... Then hooking up.

Jul 19, 2010

New Blog!

I've started a new blog with my fellow writer and West Roxbury Education Complex Writing Tutor, Gage Norris. He's legit and as a result, our new blog is legit. Phreelance Writers is the name. Check it out, we'll be posting new content almost everyday. We'll even have guest contributors because we both know some great writers who are currently "freelancing." I promise, you won't be disappointed!

Andventures in Maine - North Berwick

I was back in Maine this weekend hanging out with my friend Gage. The trip was a bit impromptu but it worked out for the best. He called me around 2:30 p.m. on Friday asking me if I wanted to come to his place in Maine for the weekend. This was something we had discussed before but were never able to coordinate. It seemed like this would be another one of those times since he was leaving within the hour. I had errands to run and wouldn't be free until after 4:30. As it turned out, my sister was heading up to Bar Harbor, ME that day so I was able to catch a ride with her to Wells and get picked up by Gage.

The weekend was fairly relaxing. We hung out at his house, a legitimate farmhouse, including a barn and wood chopping space on 150 acres of pure, Maine forest. I loved the front door, a double door, one inner and one outer, that would swing closed to maintain the temperature in the house. Inside, everything was wood. It felt very rustic and authentic.

We spent Saturday at Ogunquit Beach. Until that day, the last time I went to the beach was in Hawaii. The water at Waikiki beach was probably around 70 degrees. I remember it feeling like warm, pleasant bath water. The water at Ogunquit was much colder, I'd guess around 58 degrees. I had to laugh when Gage remarked that the water was warm. Ogunquit Beach is one of the more interesting beaches I've been to. During low tide the water recedes far enough back to expose an 80 yard swath of sand that extends from a raised parking lot and beach front restaurants. During high tide the water comes all the way in to the rocks and boulders used to raise up said parking lot and restaurants such that the beach itself disappears. When we first arrived, we set up our towels and beach umbrella about 50 yards from the water. By the end of the day we had retreated onto the rocks in front of the parking lot. However while the tide rose, we tossed a Frisbee around and Gage and his friend Melanie went skim-boarding.

The best part about watching Melanie's video is the boy jumping out of the way at the last minute. Even though Gage brought two skim-boards to the beach, Melanie was forced to use Gage's larger board because the other one was damaged. It should be noted that Melanie may in fact be a foot shorter than Gage. I mean, look at her compared to the skim-board, it's almost her height! Melanie came with a friend to join me and the Norris family at the beach. It quickly became evident to me that Gage's younger brother and Melanie's friend were more than just acquaintances. I suddenly felt like the odd man out and had to fight a severe bout of longing for my girlfriend! Later that evening everyone reconvened for sushi in Portsmouth, NH which was only a 25-minute car ride away. On Sunday Gage, his brother and I played basketball in the sun at a nearby rec center. Probably not the best idea when the temperature is topping out at 90 degrees, but still fun. The Gatorade afterward was even better.

This last jaunt to Maine, combined with my other trips, has illuminated something for me. I've come to realize that I like Maine. It has the isolation feel of deep country forest but it's only a train ride away. This is a unique combination because it makes the state close enough to get to and at the same time feel very far away from everything. I'm not one who is particularly interested in communing with nature but the stillness of a Maine morning in July is something to behold. I just wish I got better cell phone reception...!

Jul 17, 2010

Got Books? Or, too much of a good thing

I like to read. Blame my mother. While I say this in jest, the truth of it is that my love of reading is one of the fundamental things about me. It's a foundation and a starting point for much of how I view the world. So much so that when I meet or talk to people who claim not to be "readers" I have an almost visceral reaction, a physical recoiling. It's as if I can't be friends with someone who doesn't read. That may not necessarily be true, but I have on more than one occasion cut conversations with people short once they told me they don't read.

As much as I love reading, it can also be a burden. I'll read anything. I mean that. If someone suggests a book to me, I'll try to find it and read it. Feel free to suggest books in the comment space... My most recent way of finding new books to read is through movies. Many movies, these days, are based off of books or graphic novels. I enjoy finding the source material for the movie, reading it, and then seeing the movie to do a comparison. With the exception of one book and movie combo, The Ruins, by Scott Smith, every book I've read has been better than the movie.

I recently saw Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and in true form I went out and bought the five-book set series on which the movie was based. This brings me to an issue I seem to be developing. My ability to suspend my disbelief is so genuine that I get frustrated when the characters I'm reading about balk at the crazy situations they find themselves in. I understand getting sucked into a story, but this may be too much. Still, I can't help myself.

Percy, you're 12-years-old, weird stuff has been happening to you all your life, you find out you're half human, half god and then you have the nerve to affect surprise and shock when your true nature is explained to you? Come on!You need to be more like Harry Potter. Sure, he's older and has had a few more years experiencing the weird, at some point, you have to be like him and just "go with it."

I tried to explain this to my sister. She just laughed at me and shook her head. I recognize that I'm complaining about a fictional character, but if I'm going to follow their exploits, I shouldn't be more on board with all the insanity than them. I'm just third party viewer, living vicariously through them. If I'm going to believe, they need to believe too!

Jul 15, 2010

Updates, or lack thereof - 4th of July

A friend of mine made fun of me the other day. She called my status as a writer into question, saying that I hardly ever update my blog so how could I call myself a writer, even a freelance writer? I got upset, not so much because of what she said but because of the truth of it. I've been slow to update this blog and my lack of writing here, as well as other places, does raise some doubt as my status as a writer. Let me augment all of that by posting something here and now:

The fourth of July was last week, hooray American Independence! I went out with some friends to watch the fireworks display in and around Boston. They were pretty sweet, Check out the finale of the big show below.

The fourth is a bit of an infamous day in my life. A year ago, that day, I broke up with a girlfriend in the most awkward of manners. I refer to the whole event as my "Epic Fail." A year later the memory of it still makes me flush with embarrassment and brings a chuckle to those of my friends who know the details. Not one of my best moments.

I strive to look at the incident from all angles and take away from it the best parts. It's fair to say that the incident put into the play several events in my romantic life over the next few months which brought me to where I am now, in a happy and committed relationship. It also taught me not to force anything. The idea of the square peg, round hole comes to mind and if I'm honest with myself I was trying to fit one into the other. Never a good idea. Finally, and probably most uncomfortable for me, is the whole thing is hilarious from a third party perspective. I tell people what happened and they laugh. At first that upset me, but now, a year later, I can see how amusing the situation is.

I just wish I had been able to spend this past Independence Day with my current lady-friend. It would have created the perfect epilogue to a very humorous gaffe.

Jul 9, 2010

Driven Desire

Does privilege breed apathy or lethargy? For the longest time I argued that it did not, that the nature of an individual was what caused apathy or lethargy. but perhaps the idea that having more opportunity than one knows what to do with can just as easily be a hindrance as it can be a boon. I have been accused, in the past, of not being "hungry" because my parents did well in providing for me. Because I was never deprived of that which I needed, (noted I did not say wanted) I never have fully appreciated or felt the drive to earn something. This argument also states that I will never be truly successful because I will never know what it is like to desire something that cannot be easily gained.

I take offense to this argument on general principle because it assumes that without "hunger" or struggle one cannot fully appreciate success. It also suggests that it was a mistake to provide so well for me without some type of counter-balance because it makes me soft and not able to truly handle the reality of the world. That reality being that one has to go out and and get what they want for themselves and can't/shouldn't rely on someone else to help them. While I agree that the effort put in towards a goal is directly proportional to the success of meeting said goal, I chafe at the idea that "hunger," in the sense of deprivation, is the only way to measure success and fulfillment therein.

I think with privilege, or providing for people, it's more of a desire to equal if not succeed those who provided so much for you. I know what drives me, apart from wanting to be successful, it is the desire to live up to the high bar my parents set in terms of success and comfort. From my position, I need to do at least as well as them, both successful lawyers, if not better. The reality remains that I am not driven by trying to fill a lack that I experienced when I was younger, but rather attempting to live up to and surpass the exacting standards set by those who came before me.

Jul 6, 2010

UMass-Boston Piece

I wrote a story about student athletes at UMass-Boston back in April. They just published it, this past month. The link can be found under the "Freelance Writing section." This is one of the interesting aspects of freelance writing. Often, you write something and send it to your editor and hear nothing. Your story disappears into that ethereal space in an inbox stuck between a staff meeting reminder and the follow up email from that guy in the Chancellor's office that he's been meaning to get back to... Well, they sent me a check so I guess I should have known they were going to use the story.

The story came out well. Much thanks to my ex-KDH writer/editor (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). A funny side note about the story: I called the entire suite of coaches and UMass-Boston athletic department officials. One of the few who picked up the phone was the coach of the now-defunct sailing program. We had a short, terse conversation in which he explained how his program was being shut down due to a lack of funding. He also intoned that if certain other officials in the athletic dept. were to cut back on what he called "unnecessary expenses" perhaps the sailing team would still be around.

It was incredibly awkward!