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If you’ve read the news, you know that Ethiopia’s Deriba Merga beat Kenya’s Daniel Rono to win the 2009 Boston Marathon earlier today. From where we sat, cheering, near the corner of Chestnut Street and Commonwealth Avenue in Newton, Merga was just starting to pull ahead of the competition.

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Having started before the men, the women front-runners passed our vantage place first, with first-place winner Salina Kosgei of Kenya preserving her strength near the rear of the pack while defending women’s champion and eventual second-place winner Dire Tune and third-place winner Kara Goucher of America enjoyed an early lead.

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Our vantage spot was about 18 miles into the 26-mile race, and before greeting the men and women runners, we’d already cheered a pack of wheelchair-competitors racing their way toward the uphill challenge that give Chestnut Hills its name.

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South African Ernst Van Dyk won the men’s wheelchair competition, and Japan’s Wakako Tsuchida won her third straight women’s wheelchair medal. These are the names you’ll hear in news reports as having “won” the marathon, and they certainly deserve the awe and admiration of spectating fans.

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From where we sat near the corner of Chestnut Street and Commonwealth Avenue in Newton, however, there were just as many cheers for the anonymous competitors far behind media-darlings who led the pack.

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Who, for example, could fail to cheer for the smiling faces on Team Noah, who pushed 30-year-old Noah Zack the entire marathon in order to raise money for special needs residential programs?

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Or how about Richard Whitehead, who proved once more why he is the Marathon Champ by running 26 miles on not one but two prosthetic legs.

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From where I sat near the corner of Chestnut Street and Commonwealth Avenue in Newton today, everyone who ran in today’s marathon is a winner, regardless of where they finished in the race.

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Click here for a photo-set of images from today’s Boston Marathon. Enjoy!

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Tomorrow morning, J and I will take the T into Boston for an afternoon Bruins game, just as we have the past two Saturdays, and just as we will next Sunday. That’s how our 12-game Boston Bruins weekend ticket package was scheduled, with a grand finale of four straight weekend games to end the regular season.

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In the course of going to so many weekend Boston Bruins games, J and I have become practiced at our pre-game ritual. We leave home two hours before the game is scheduled to start, and it takes us about an hour to arrive at North Station, where the TD Banknorth Garden is located. Doors open an hour before the game, so we make our way to our balcony seats, stopping first at the restroom, Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee and hot chocolate, and the concession stand near our seats for our usual game-day lunch of two hot dogs a piece. We always go to the same concession stand, so we know “our” concession workers by name: James and Allen. By the time we’ve made our way to our seats, we have just enough time to eat our hot dogs and start sipping our coffee and hot chocolate before our Winter Parents arrive and the Bruins come out on the ice for pre-game warm-ups.

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Winter Parents, you ask?

If you’ve seen the movie Fever Pitch with Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon, you might remember the scene where Fallon’s character (a diehard Red Sox fan named Ben) explains to Barrymore (a baseball-oblivious girl named Lindsey) that the folks who sit around his coveted Fenway Park season ticket seats are his “summer family.” Over the course of a summer courtship, Lindsey comes to appreciate the devotion Ben and other Red Sox fans have for “their” team, and she also learns how the simple act of sitting next to the same folks for a season’s worth of baseball games does create a kind of familial bond. By movie’s end, Ben’s summer family has “adopted” Lindsey just as surely as she’s fallen for both Ben and his lovable Red Sox.

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With a nod to Fever Pitch, then, J and I quickly dubbed the couple whose balcony seats are right next to ours–folks from Hartford who drive up to Boston for each of the weekend ticket package games–our “Winter Parents.” They have grown children, so they’re old enough to be our parents, but unlike James and Allen, they don’t wear name tags. We don’t know these folks’ names, but we know a bit about their lives: they used to be Hartford Whalers fans before the Whalers moved to North Carolina, they have grandchildren who play peewee hockey, and they traveled to Florida last year to catch some rays while catching a game between the Boston Bruins and the Florida Panthers. We don’t know our Winter Parents’ names, but they still feel like a kind of kin to us, at least for a season: after next weekend, it’s possible we’ll never see them again, for there’s no guarantee that the balcony seats we had for this year’s 12-game weekend ticket package will be the seats we’ll presumably buy next year.

It’s a lucky break, then, that last Saturday our entire row of Winter Family members was named the Massachusetts Lottery “Lucky Row,” a turn of fortune that gave us each a prize pack of Bruins gear and got our cheering mugs on the TD Banknorth Garden Jumbotron: a few seconds of fame that are now preserved for cyber-eternity:

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Click here to see a larger version of that final Jumbotron shot: that’s J with his telephoto lens on the far right, me with my #37 Patrice Bergeron jersey and new camera on his left, and our Winter Dad next to me. Winter Mom is hidden behind Winter Dad, with only her upraised arm visible.

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, The Weekend. Given the number of weekend Bruins games we’ve shared, J and I might as well call our Winter Parents our Weekend Parents. Click here to see my entire photo-set of pictures from last Saturday’s Bruins victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. Enjoy!

We delete users unfit to date!

Online dating isn’t an exclusively urban phenomenon: there are, presumably, plenty of people in need of a fix-up and looking for chicks in the suburbs, exurbs, and rural areas. But only in the city will you find subway billboards advertising online dating sites, and there’s something ruthlessly urban in this Boston sign promising to “delete users unfit to date.” It’s a jungle out there, people: the Sex in the City crowd isn’t afraid to apply the rules of survival of the fittest in the search for a “keeper.”

Human are stupid

Neither are city dwellers (at least the ones with indelible markers) shy about correcting others’ grammar-goofs. On the same subway ride into Boston this past Saturday, J and I spotted this bit of grammatical repartee on the window-sill of an MBTA green line car. “Human are stupid” says one vandalizing subway rider. “So is your grammar,” responds the second. On this National Grammar Day, it’s intriguing to realize that in the city, even the Grammar Police are willing to indulge in some corrective graffiti every now and then.

This is my belated contribution to last week’s Photo Friday theme, City Life.

Empty in the middle

When I was a graduate student doing my PhD coursework at Northeastern University, I often took advantage of the fact that the Museum of Fine Arts was right across the street from campus. In those days, my student ID got me into the Museum for free, so on days when I didn’t have much to do between classes, I’d go to the MFA to stroll the galleries. Because I went to the MFA so often, I came to see it not merely as a storage vault for fine art but as an indoor pedestrian path: a kind of secular cloister-walk where I could walk even when the weather was bad.

Fisheyed and angular

I still like to go walking at the MFA, although I do so far less frequently now. When I go to the MFA with a friend, I look at art as you are supposed to, considering each of the works in a given gallery, dutifully reading the placards that identify and explicate each item, and otherwise absorbing the educational intent of the museum space. But when I go to the MFA by myself, as I did on Tuesday, I typically go there simply to walk, not focusing in particular on any piece of art or any given gallery. Instead, I occasionally go alone to the MFA because it is a space dedicated to looking and thus a space that is amenable to strolling. Where else (except, perhaps, at a mall) is it okay to walk around with no other purpose than just looking?

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Tuesday just happened to be my 40th birthday, and Tuesday’s trip to the MFA to go walking was my understated gift to myself. Over the New Year, I made a list of 40 things I’m grateful for as I turn 40, and it was an illuminating endeavor. Although some material possessions made it to my personal Top 40 list–my car, for instance, which I paid off in 2008; my camera, which continues to work even though I’ve recently water-logged and then dropped it; and my audio player, which I use to listen to books for free–most of the items on my list are intangibles. I’m grateful that my apartment in Keene is within walking distance of my job, and I’m grateful that J’s house in Newton is within walking distance of the T. I’m grateful to be blessed with friends, family, and a menagerie of pets, both my own and J’s. I’m grateful for my good health, my meditation practice, and my blog and the people who read it. And in tough economic times, I’m grateful that I have food to eat, shelter over my head, and clothes on my back: more than enough.

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Museums are a great place to go when you want to rejoice in simple abundance. Both greed and gluttony are deadly sins, but there’s no shame in relishing beauties we all can share. Why do I need to own a storage vault of beautiful belongings when museums house so many lovely things we can collectively enjoy? The fact that I don’t go walking at the MFA more often–the fact that this space and its contents are an easy T-ride away, but I only occasionally take the time to visit them–is an embarrassment of riches. Museums and the beauties they contain are simply there for the looking, as is the natural world with its ample riches. Given these gifts, which are already within my easy reach, why would I dream or desire to reach for more?

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It’s not that I undervalue possessions; instead, I’ve come to realize I overvalue experience. I am deeply grateful for the things I own; nobody but the deeply deranged would rejoice to have their material goods destroyed by fire or rain. But this being said, there isn’t much I want other than more time to enjoy the things I already have. More than tangible things, what I want is my own life and the health to enjoy it. This past December, J and I agreed not to exchange gifts for Christmas or our birthdays; instead, we split the costs of board-walking in Ocean City, agreed to buy one another soccer tickets for Valentine’s Day, and have begun to brainstorm our next unorthodox adventure. Gift-wrapped surprises are fine and good, but J and I have come to realize that what we most deeply enjoy from one another is time and experiences shared.

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And so on Tuesday, my fortieth birthday, I went walking at the Museum of Fine Arts, where I bought myself a membership so I can enjoy an entire year’s worth of gallery rambles. In the gift shop, I bought myself a bracelet and a pair of earrings: only the deeply deranged would deny herself some small, precious thing to mark a momentous milestone. And now, having come home and sorted through the photos I took while walking–free souvenirs captured by my still-functioning camera–I chose forty from my fortieth to share with you: a kind of virtual cake sliced and shared across cyberspace, there being no need for the further illumination of birthday candles lit and extinguished.

There are several reflective self-portraits in my images from the MFA, it having been a long time since I posted many of those.

Shade tree

I just now submitted the very last batch of grades for fall semester, which means I have a respite from teaching until after the New Year, when the next round of online classes begins, setting the whole cycle in motion once again. But right now and for the next week, I’m all clear from teaching and grading: the closest thing to a sabbatical my year-round, multi-institutional teaching schedule ever allows.

Empty bar in afternoon light

I’m looking forward to writing more substantial posts again: anything more than the short picture-posts I’ve been slapping up these past few busy weeks. But anything so ambitious will wait until tomorrow, or the day after, or the day after that. In the immediate Now, doing anything offline sounds better than spending a single minute more in front of my laptop trying to say Anything Meaningful. Perhaps that’s why this image of an empty, afternoon-sunlit bar is one of my favorite images from yesterday’s Christmas walk in Boston’s South End, the glint of liquor bottles hinting toward a bright country beyond my gradebook.

A sight no one wants to see

It’s a sight no one playing on or rooting for either team wants to see: a lone hockey player lying face-down, unmoving, long after play has continued down ice. At yesterday’s Boston Bruins game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Patrice Bergeron collided with opposing defenseman Dennis Seidenberg and lay on the ice for a heart-stopping handful of minutes while fans and players alike were silenced, holding our collective breath while watching for any sign of movement.

With a little help from his team

During that heart-stopping handful of minutes we all watched Bergeron’s lifeless body, I flashed through other heart-stopping Boston sports moments: the face-first slam against the boards that took Bergeron out for an entire season last October, for example, or the heartbreaking moment in 1995, when Travis Roy was paralyzed from the neck down only 11 seconds into his Boston University hockey career. Outside hockey, there’s the image of Celtics captain Reggie Lewis collapsing during an off-season basketball practice in 1993, dead from a sudden heart-attack at the age of 27. Sports fans thrill at the sight of honed bodies performing at their best; we don’t expect the young and strong to fall victim to the random vicissitudes of injury or accident.

Travis Roy (just like Superman!) went on to establish a charitable foundation for victims of spinal cord injuries, there is an inner-city track and athletic complex commemorating Reggie Lewis, and Patrice Bergeron eventually regained consciousness, slowly regained his feet, and skated off the ice with the help of a handful of teammates. There is, in other words, hope after any one of us–young or old, strong or weak, in shape or out–suffers injury or accident. In Zen, we say “fall down six times, get up seven”: it’s not about never failing, but always getting up to try again, and again, and again…somehow. You can’t keep a tough player down, especially if he has an entire team of friends helping him to his feet again, and that applies both on and off the ice, in hockey and beyond.

Love those Hanson glasses!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If you’re a pretty woman, you’ll look good wearing a trash bag. That fact apparently applies to geeky glasses, too.

Puttin' on the foil

Friday night’s Bruins game was a tribute to the classic hockey movie Slap Shot, and to get into the spirit, local sportscasters Kathryn Tappen and Barry Pederson donned taped, geeky glasses in honor of the movie’s trio of hard-hitting hooligans: brothers Jeff, Steve, and Jack Hanson. To ensure Slap Shot silliness ruled at Friday night’s game, the first 10,000 fans in attendance received a free pair of taped black glasses, which meant the “girls (and guys) who wear glasses” motif was unavoidable. Whole families of fans–mom, dad, and kids alike–wore Hanson glasses. Ushers wore Hanson glasses. Concessions staff selling beer, chips, and hot-dogs wore Hanson glasses. Even the Bruins’ mascot, Blades, wore a bear-sized pair of Hanson glasses…and yes, I wore mine perched atop my Bruins ballcap for that “girls who wear two pairs of glasses” effect.

Hanson wannabe takes a slap-shot

To say that Slap Shot enjoys cult status among hockey fans is a monumental understatement. Like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Slap Shot was a movie I’d heard endlessly quoted and reverently referenced long before I actually saw it. Slap Shot‘s popularity among hockey fans might stem from the fact that there aren’t many mainstream movies about hockey…but more likely, the movie enjoys perpetual popularity among diehard fans because it manages to capture the comedy in a sport that the uninitiated might think is simply brutal. Yes, hockey is rough, tough, and merciless, and hockey fights can get ugly. But hockey is also a game that’s played on ice, so it naturally involves a lot of silly slips. Bare-fisted (or even foil-fisted) fisticuffs might be pure drama, but a fight that’s doomed to end in an icy pratfall is pure comedy. Slap Shot manages to capture that zaniness.

Steve Carlson (aka Steve Hanson) shows off his foil

In a word, Slap Shot is pure slapstick, and hockey fans apparently have an endless appetite for humor. The gags in Slap Shot are purely physical, and like a vaudeville banana peel, they get laughs every time. The Bruins’ pre-game video, for instance, alludes to one classic scene where an organist gets beaned by an errant puck while playing “Lady of Spain.” Time and again, fans laugh at the gag with its boneheaded reminder to “Be aware that the puck can be propelled into the spectator area with enough force to cause serious injury. Please stay alert at all times.” Saying “watch out” would be simple enough, but what better way to drive the point home than with a goofy gag?

Perhaps because I’m a girl who really does wear glasses, I see a serious undercurrent even in Slap Shot‘s shtick. The minor league hockey team featured in the movie–the fictional Charlestown Chiefs–becomes wildly popular after adopting the brutally physical play of those aforementioned Hanson brothers, but only after the Hansons sign onto the team during dismal economic times. Based upon the real-life mill-town of Johnstown, PA, the fictional Charlestown is financially distressed in the aftermath of floods and departed industry. Only after the town becomes literally and fiscally washed-up does full-out hockey hooliganism provide unemployed and dispirited fans with something to cheer about.

Slap Shot fans all!

Johnstown is to Slap Shot, in other words, what Sheffield is to The Full Monty. In both movies, the male population, like the economy, is depressed by the closing of the local steel mill. Both Slap Shot and The Full Monty suggest that men can’t be men if they don’t have the monetary means of supporting themselves and their families. Economically emasculated, the men in both movies determine that over-the-top, testosterone-laced spectacle mixed with a touch of humor is one way to resuscitate male pride. Even a man without a job can bloody his fists, cheer for the local team, or take it all off to feel like a man again…and if you’ve seen the end of Slap Shot, you know that the climax of the movie incorporates all three of these strategies to comedic effect.

There are no steel-mills, closed or otherwise, in Boston, but times are tough everywhere these days. You don’t have to be a girl who wears glasses to see that both sports and movies about sports are one way that the economically depressed fight back, finding catharsis in a good game.

Click here for the entire set of photos from Friday’s night’s Boston Bruins game against the Florida Panthers, which the Bruins won 2-4. Woooo!

Flight deck

It’s not often that I read news items about the President where I sit up and say, “I’ve been there,” but that’s exactly what I did today when I read about President Bush’s Veterans Day ceremony on the USS Intrepid, a World War II aircraft carrier that’s being recommissioned as a museum. Although I’ve never set foot on the Intrepid, I have set foot on the USS Bataan, the amphibious assault ship that was docked in New York harbor next to the Intrepid during today’s official recommissioning ceremony. In my book, that’s close enough.

Open doors before starting engines

I rarely have reason to hang around aircraft carriers or amphibious assault ships, the latter being (slightly) smaller vessels designed to carry the helicopters that deliver and support ground troops in an amphibious attack. But this past summer, J and I jumped at the chance to tour the USS Bataan while it was docked in Boston Harbor over Independence Day weekend. When else, we figured, would we have the opportunity to tour a vessel we automatically began referring to (at least when we were out of earshot of any of its crew) as the “big-ass boat”?

As a civilian, I typically take for granted (read: don’t take time to consider) the things enlisted men and women do for their “day job.” In my online teaching, I frequently encounter military personnel (many of them in the Navy) who rely on distance education to pursue their degrees during deployment, but I don’t often consider how these students’ day-to-day lives differ from those of my civilian students.

Weapons staging area

Touring the USS Bataan gave me a renewed sense of respect for the men and women who choose to serve in the armed forces. As a college instructor, I know the enlisted men and women in my online classes are usually my most dependable students: they do their work, they submit it on time, and they don’t complain about busy schedules or other distractions. As befits their military training, my enlisted students simply Do Their Job without excuses. Having visited the Bataan, I now have a mental image of what life for my Navy students might look like as they live and study at sea, the big-ass ships they call home serving as self-contained cities. Juggling the demands of my adjunct teaching load seems downright simple when compared to the demands of juggling school and military service, but my enlisted students seldom complain: they just get the job done.

Flight deck with Boston skyline

As a civilian, I’m often ambivalent when it comes to military matters. On the one hand, my inner-pacifist believes any loss of life in the defense of any cause is a price too high; on the other hand, my inner realist realizes freedom is not free. The very fact that I don’t normally have to think about who is protecting my freedom–the very fact that I and other civilians can rest in the bliss of ignorance while someone else guards the ship–is itself a luxury paid by someone else’s sacrifice. Although the USS Bataan is designed as a warship, perhaps its finest hour happened here at home, when it was among the first to deliver aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While the rest of us were wringing our hands, helpless, at the horrendous images of natural destruction we saw on TV, the sailors aboard the Bataan sprung into action, rescuing stranded citizens, delivering water and relief supplies, and providing medical treatment.

Although I can’t see myself serving on either an aircraft carrier or an amphibious assault ship, I’m grateful for the men and women who have chosen that path. As President Bush prepares to pass the baton of leadership to President-Elect Obama, I know that the men and women aboard the Bataan will continue to get their job done, their service and commitment transcending the vagaries of mere politics.

Click here for a photo-set of images from the USS Bataan, and a special thank you to veterans past and present.

Mannequins and reflections

The moment I saw today’s Photo Friday theme, “Sharp,” I started humming ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man.” What better excuse to revisit the sharp-dressed mannequins from a Christmas Day walk down Boston’s boutique-studded Newbury Street, which I blogged last December. Enjoy!

Mascot meetup

It’s a pretty picture. Four Boston-area mascots met to play “pass the puck” with two local kids during one of the intermissions for last night’s hockey game between the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars. The two kids were, I’m sure, excited to be on the Bruins’ home ice, and I’m sure they were wide-eyed when they met the Bruins’ own Blades, Rhett the Terrier from Boston University, Wally the Green Monster from the Boston Red Sox, and some knight, Trojan, or warrior mascot we didn’t recognize. (Please enlighten me, folks, if you can think of a Boston-area sports team or college with a knight, Trojan, or warrior for a mascot.)

Gloves off

This meeting of mascots was a pleasant little interlude during a game in which there were far more fights than goals, with the Bruins beating the Stars 5-1. We saw six goals over three periods…and countless fights. Some were mere scuffles and shoves; others resulted in the standard “five for fighting” penalty, with Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton spending five minutes at a pop in the penalty box to “think about” his behavior.

Because just as many (and in some cases, more) Stars engaged in such “roughing,” the Bruins as a team didn’t suffer for their infractions, with both penalty boxes peopled with players who looked like extras from the set of Slap Shot. I’ve written before about the cathartic power of hockey fights, which are usually closely monitored by on-ice referees who make sure things don’t get out of hand. But last night, the refs had their hands full and then some as they discovered that a game of 2 on 8 adds up to a losing battle against the brawl.

Hockey brawl!

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