Extreme Closeup

Here’s one last picture before I power-down the laptop for Thanksgiving: an extreme closeup of a rain-soaked fashion magazine, one of several in an abandoned pile outside a Waban, Massachusetts hair salon.  Enjoy!

Extension corded

It’s beginning to look a lot like…extension cords. J tells me they keep the lights wrapped around the towering spruce tree in downtown Waban year ’round, and he’s probably right. But I don’t remember seeing these extension cords on previous dog-walks, so I’m guessing they don’t keep Festive Holiday Tree plugged in all year, just during the Festive Holiday Months of November through February-ish.

Be-bulbed

Yes, February-ish. I met J last January, and the first time he gave me directions to his house, Festive Holiday Tree was a notable (and conveniently illuminated) landmark. Newton is a largely Jewish suburb of Boston, and Waban is a largely Jewish section of Newton. This means there aren’t many Christmas trees in Waban, but Festive Holiday Trees are a different story. If you keep your Festive Holiday Tree lit until sometime in February, no one can accuse you of celebrating Christmas at the expense of other sectarian holidays. Instead, Festive Holiday Time, like Festivus, is a celebration for the rest of us.

Plugged in

Apparently it takes a lot of extension cords to keep a Festive Holiday Tree lit. In the past, I’ve used the metaphor of laptop power cords to refer to the way different religions tap into the same unnameable power source, and I suppose that applies to Festive Holiday Trees as well. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Buddha’s Enlightenment, or any of a number of light-focused winter festivals, you have to light your fire somewhere. It’s heartening to know a nice Jewish neighborhood like Waban makes room for both a Festive Holiday Tree and a Catholic born-again Buddhist who believes in truly eclectic holiday decor.

Every year, I think “they” (i.e. the Powers That Be who put up and plug in Festive Holiday Trees) are getting an earlier start on the season…but then I realize it’s later than I think. While I’m still getting used to the fact that it’s November already, the rest of the world is zooming into Thanksgiving. If Thanksgiving is here, can Festive Holiday Time be far behind? A quick check of my blog archive shows I posted a similar picture of the Festive Holiday trees in Keene on–you guessed it–November 18 last year. Whether “they” live in New Hampshire or Massachusetts, “they” have an impeccable sense of timing.

So whether your Festive Holiday Tree is a ginkgo with a light-lined trunk or a spruce with bulb-bedecked branches, ’tis the season for everyone.

Towering, with extension cords

Fall fungi

Two days ago it was frost underfoot; this morning it was fungi. Apart from this morning’s dog-walk, I’ve barely left the bedroom where I’ve been doing online teaching tasks all day. The danger of teaching online–or of teaching too many classes anywhere–is the way you easily slip into the educational ether, surfacing only for an occasional dog-walk or trip downstairs to the washing machine.

Morning mushrooms

This weekend I’ll be holed up with forty longish research paper drafts; next week, I’ll collect twenty more. Whenever I put my head down to critique other people’s prose–and as a college comp instructor, that’s mostly what I do–I eventually reach a point where Grading Mind threatens to dominate my entire consciousness. When under the power of Grading Mind, I can make great progress with my paper piles…but I have trouble letting go of my red pen. When Grading Mind takes over, I find it nearly impossible to curl up with a good book, the experience of processing more words feeling all but overwhelming.

At this point, I think it’s time to power-down and step away from the laptop, back to the tactile, tangible world. I don’t know if these mushrooms are dangerous to the taste, but their real-world presence might have been medicinal this morning when, essay drafts entirely forgotten, I knelt to the ground to snap a picture that communicates more than words.

This is my contribution to this week’s Photo Friday theme, Dangerous.

Autumn

This past weekend was sunny, so the trees glowed as if someone had turned them on with a switch.

Brilliant

Leslee has blogged the TVs of others, and Maria has blogged others’ dreams. On a weekend when many New Englanders headed to New Hampshire to peep northern leaves, I was considering the leaves of others in Massachusetts: the neon flashes of foliage seen during my routine weekend morning dog-walks in Newton.

I’ve spend spending my weekends in Newton for several months now, and I’m still not comfortable taking photos of the residential neighborhoods there. In Keene, I’ve been snapping impertinent pictures for over three years, so my neighbors have grown accustomed to that crazy woman who walks her dog with a camera. In Keene, I have no qualms about walking into the middle of a quiet residential street, crouching on my hams, and shooting whatever strikes my fancy; if someone were to question my odd behavior, I’d simply respond that I live here. For good or ill, I haven’t attained that level of comfort in Newton. Although these days I spend more time in Newton than I do in Keene, I still don’t feel like I live there. My mailing address remains in Keene, as do most of my belongings, and Keene is where I pay my own rent, utilities, and other necessities of “Real Life.”

Crowning

In Newton, I still feel like an interloper, as if at any moment the Propriety Police will come upon me unannounced and escort me from the place: “I’m sorry, but your kind isn’t welcome here.” I’m not sure where or why I’ve gotten this impression: it’s not as if anyone in Newton or elsewhere in Massachusetts has ever treated me like an unwelcome outsider. Perhaps my unease stems from my earliest days in New England, when I was a fresh-faced graduate student at Boston College and couldn’t afford to live in Chestnut Hill, the tony Newton neighborhood near campus. I still can’t afford to live in Newton, even more than a decade (and a completed PhD) later. Profs and professionals abound in Newton, which boasts an inordinate concentration of people with PhDs…and yet when I walk the streets there, I’m acutely aware that my adjunct instructor’s paycheck does not reflect my academic credentials. Although I really am a doctor, I typically feel like I only play one in academe. In a lush and leafy neighborhood where people drive nice cars, live in even nicer homes, and enjoy other accoutrements of financial success, at times I feel like I’m only playing house.

Towering

When I first began teaching as a graduate student at Boston College, back when I lived a long subway-ride away in relatively affordable, working-class Malden, my grad student colleagues and I used to discuss our lingering sense of fraudulence. Standing in front of a classroom of freshmen, we felt we were faking it, our knowledge only diploma-deep. Surely if the Real Professors in our midst could detect phoniness like a stench in the breeze, they’d sniff us out for sure. When would our freshmen, we wondered amongst ourselves, figure out that we were clueless students just like they were, only a couple years’ older?

More than a decade (and a completed PhD) later, I still feel like a fraudulent faker: I somehow feel it’s only a matter of time before some intrepid Toto pulls back the curtain and reveals my show as sham. Walking the streets of a lush suburb populated by the Settled and Successful, I feel more like the clueless graduate student I was than the presumed professional I’ve become. At what point, I wonder, will someone figure out I don’t belong in Newton but am simply faking it?

Golden glow

Newton, like other surrounding suburbs, is a bedroom community for Boston, and I’m mindful that most folks don’t like strangers snapping pictures in their bedrooms. On Sunday when I snapped these shots of the turning leaves and neighboring houses I regularly see when I walk Reggie there, I did so semi-surreptitiously. It felt weird to be ogling other people’s leaves, as if leaf-peeping and window-peeping share more than a common gerund. Would people mind if I shot images of “their” houses even if I did so from the public space of a city sidewalk? Would homeowners be rightfully protective of “their” trees? Emerson claimed that poets are the only ones who own the landscape, for “There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts.” But still, the citizens of Newton pay a pretty penny for the privacy their abundantly leafy trees afford; isn’t it somehow criminal–or at least morally suspect–to intrude?

Gleaming

Faced with the ethical question to shoot or not to shoot, I chose the former. Given the number of visiting Massachusetts leaf-peepers I’ve shared New Hampshire roads with over the years, it seemed fitting to return the compliment. There’s plenty of landscape, I think, to satisfy poets, profs, and professionals alike, at least from the suburban safety of Newton’s streets and sidewalks. If we can share the road, presumably we can share the gleaming autumn leaves that right now are screening our sky.

Click here for a photo-set of images from Sunday’s dog-walk. Enjoy!

Let's update this for 2007, okay?

Here’s hoping the kids at the John W. McCormack Middle School in Dorchester, MA have reason to update their playground billboards. (They could do us all a favor by painting over Johnny Damon with a portrait of Dustin Pedroia, for starters.)

I think NH blogger Amy Kane summed up the morning-after mood in Red Sox nation nicely in her post “Papi ate my homework“:

Boston Red Sox billboards

So we won and here we go again. Red Sox Nation (dark green, on this map, plus Japan) will effectively secede from the union for the next week and a half, all because of some guys who play a sport in their pajamas, have weird hair, and spit a lot.

We will be overexcited and overtired. We will get less done. We will pay little attention to national and local news. We will ignore politics. We will be poor citizens. Meetings will end early. Term papers and newspaper articles will be turned in late. Test scores will drop. There will be less charity and volunteering. On sidelines and in auditoriums parents will be tuned into small high tech devices rather than the strivings of their kids.

Production will be down! Emotions will be up! And oceans of cheap beer will be quaffed! (With fistfuls of Halloween candy.)

Painted Red Sox players

Amen to that second paragraph particularly! In the middle of an overloaded semester, I already feel “overexcited and overtired”; I’ve already been ignoring politics along with national and local news. Now that the Red Sox have clambered their way out of the almost-eliminated hole they’d allowed the Cleveland Indians to dig for them, I have an excuse for my grading backlog. How can I keep up with grading, for heaven’s sake, when the Red Sox are heading to the World Series?

In Newton, I watch baseball games on an enormous HDTV; in Keene, I have a tiny TV that doesn’t get any channels other than E! Although I’ll miss Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday, I’ll be in Newton for Games 2, 3, and 4…and I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to catch the remaining games should they be necessary, even if that means getting up at the crack of dawn on the morning after a game to drive back to Keene for my 8am class.

A girl has to have priorities, after all, and I for one find weird-haired men in pajamas particularly persuasive.

Parallel parking, Masshole-style

Boston isn’t known for vehicular kindness. The streets here are narrow, crowded, and poorly marked, and drivers act accordingly. I notice myself driving differently on my long weekends in Newton compared to my short workweeks in Keene. In Keene, I drive slowly and defer to other drivers; in Newton, I run yellow lights and heed the dictum of “every driver for herself.” When in Rome, act like the Romans; when in Massachusetts, drive like a Masshole.

Gangsta chic?

Today J and I went to lunch in Waltham, and on the way we witnessed a hit-and-run accident. The car in front of us swerved, sideswiped a parked car, and kept going while pedestrians stood slack-jawed on nearby sidewalks. “We’ll get his plate number,” J shouted through his open window to several shocked passersby as we continued after the culprit. But because it was lunchtime on a Friday in Waltham, we were quickly cut off by another car and never got close enough to the Anonymous Masshole to read his or her license plate.

Hit-and-run accidents are not unique to Boston. But somehow the notion of “keep moving, and perhaps no one will notice” seems particularly urban, as if the sheer number of people sharing our streets and sidewalks makes it easier to pass the buck. Today after enjoying a thank-God-it’s-Friday lunch, some poor soul returned to his or her parallel-parked car to find its driver’s-side mirror torn from its now-dented side. Shit happens, and so do hit-and-run accidents. It’s part of what living in the city is about.

This is my submission for today’s Photo Friday theme, The City. In defense of the oft-maligned motorists of Boston, I shot both of today’s pictures in Cambridge, MA.