Thursday, November 24, 2016

Normal eyes

My mom is dead, which is good. These terrible days would have broken her heart all over again, so painfully.

Hillary Clinton was her candidate. I seem to remember she called her "my Hillary" or "my girl." I understand she was sooooo upset when she lost the nomination in 2008 to Barack Obama. I don't understand quite why.

We spoke once a week or so from afar, but about everyday stuff, not politics. At the time I was drowning in my attempt to become a teacher, and when I could crane my neck for a glimpse of the outside world, it was in fascination at the idea Obama could be president, so diametrically opposed from a presidency of questionable and brutal war.

What goes around, comes around, with venom.

My mom, Bonnie Jean, didn't like Obama. Again, I'm not sure why, or why she particularly liked Hillary Clinton. Maybe it was simply that she would be the first woman president, or she did not find Obama genuine.

Nor am I sure what my mom would have thought of Obama's presidency. She died a week into his first term. I imagine that she would have admired his effort to wrest the country out of a recession, but would have rankled at continued war. There would be no pleasing her with him. I imagine she would have given him hell. Mom was at a time in her life when she had a mind to tell someone exactly what she thought, and plenty of time and a computer to do so.

To me, she embodied the Jenny Joseph poem, "When I am old," the ode that inspired the loosely organized organization known as the Red Hat Society, to which she belonged. She was the woman in the poem who would "run my stick along the public railings/And make up for the sobriety of my youth."

But as hard and as faithfully as Mom would have berated Obama, she would have harangued his enemies — the Republican leaders who stymied Obama's every effort, the Fox News pundits barking baseless propaganda at his ankles — so much harder.

And Donald J. Trump — the president-elect should be glad my mom is dead. He'd be no match.

For awhile anyway, then I imagine eventually she would despair at this surreal, unreal, untrue time. She would be so worked up she could hardly talk.

She'd see what I see, the latest being the astounding "thank you" rally President-elect Trump staged last night in Cincinnati, one of several to take place in the swing states he won.

He is truly still running for president, rather than getting ready to be president. He is running down "my Hillary" still, riling his rally crowd into the Pavlovian reaction of "Lock her up! Lock her up!" Still! He is amping his base over the new nonissue of flag burning, of radical Islamic terrorism, the utter bullshit of what he knows his followers want to hear.

Trump is still describing his swing-state wins — while the popular vote stands at two-freaking-point-five million more votes for Hillary Clinton, and counting — and literally pointing to the "dishonest" press who said he couldn't win. We have heard all of this before. Many, many times.

His rally came complete with a public humiliation of a protestor, who "doesn't vote. They never vote!" Trump pronounced. And the people believed!

I will not be surprised today to hear new stories of crimes in the name of hate.

Oh, and by the way, said Trump at the rally, we must come together as a nation.

He has a funny way of showing it.

My god, I can hear my mom saying, when she'd have found her tongue again, is he governing by Beer Hall Putsch? Is this our new presidency, staging rallies to whip up his base?! Can we not see how this rise of despotism, the measured steps, the grooming of we, the people, for this man's rule?!

Hell would have to be paid, right about now, by my mom, in a flurry of letters, so many letters:
  • To Steve Bannon, champion of the white nationalist movement, now Trump's adviser
  • To the proposed cabinet of Trump's billionaire beneficiaries, whose money won't cover their egregious inexperience and delight in making their world safe from us. They are draining the swamp by the girth of their fat bellies
  • To Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose plan to obstruct President Obama these last eight years worked too well, leaving us Trump
  • To Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who had hearings lined up to attack Hillary Clinton over her emails, but not a whit of consideration for Trump's staggering global conflicts of interest
And that would have been just a warmup. She'd have laid most of her unrelenting vengeance at Trump, who she'd have seen, as I do, that he's taking our country into danger as he speaks of safety, and separation has he talks of unity.

No email server could have contained my mom's fury at all this hypocrisy, this new normal.

Normalize. Normal eyes. Oligarchy. Gaslighting. Kleptocracy. Fascism. A lover of words, my mom would have rolled these, some new, others resurrected, over her tongue. And spat them out again. The new normal of words.

Even with all this nonsense, what would have really crushed my mom is what's going on near where she grew up in North Dakota, the Standing Rock Sioux and supporters standing against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

I wouldn't have been surprised if my mom had tried to join the encampment against the pipeline. She was raised on stories of the Mandan people near her hometown of Washburn, who sheltered Lewis & Clark and the Corps of Discovery during a terrible winter 114 years ago. She cultivated an affinity for native people, and drew away from the Catholic Church in which she grew up, upset at its complicity against native cultures.

Energy Transfer Partners, Phillips 66 and law enforcement in North Dakota would know my mom's name, for all the missives she would have fired at them, full of choice words.

She'd have stood with Standing Rock, wondering what has come to this country, people being driven again from their land for short-term profit.

As do I.

Rules don't apply

Dear President-elect Tru–

Sorry, still trying to ease into this odd concept. President-elect Trump. President-elect. Trump.

[Okay …]

Probably doesn't matter, anyway: You won't be reading this. I'm not really writing it to you. On this Thanksgiving morning, I'm not writing to anyone but myself

Dear President-elect Trump,

Are you still running for president? Because it seems like you're still running for president.

It seemed like you were running when you met this week with editors and reporters of what you had called the "dishonest" and "failing" New York Times. You opened the meeting with a long recitation of your victory and how many people came to your rallies and how many speeches you gave in a day toward the end of the campaign. Maybe no one has given so many speeches in a day like that, you said in your superlative best/worst/highest/lowest way.

You told the assembled news staff:
"I think I’ve been treated very rough. It’s well out there that I’ve been treated extremely unfairly in a sense, in a true sense. I wouldn’t only complain about The Times. I would say The Times was about the roughest of all. You could make the case The Washington Post was bad, but every once in a while I’d actually get a good article."
I never thought I'd say this in a literal sense but — who died and made you king?
Did your daddy never tell you he loves you? It's like all of this is about getting approval from someone, anyone, who isn't related to you, paid by you, using you or sponging off you.

It's like you want The Times to run headlines like in cartoonist Jack Ohman's latest lampoon of your ideal newspaper, with a picture of you (natch!) pushing merchandise under stacked banner headlines:
You railed against TV news executives and anchors at a meeting before that, called them on the carpet for not being nice to you. As if.

The meeting with The Times almost didn't happen. You tweeted®™— falsely! — that The Times changed the meeting rules on you, so you canceled. "Not nice," you tweeted.©®

Then you met after all, and ended up calling the "failing" Times "a world jewel."

You demonstrate two points here:
  • You are the archetypal politician, telling people what they want to hear, when they want to hear it, for your own purposes
  • You are indeed, as CNN host Fareed Zakaria pointedly called you, a bullshit artist
You don't care about truth or facts and can't be held down by them. Whatever is, is what you say it is.

Convenient for you, hell for the world.

What does it tell you that you twice demanded an apology from the cast of the "overrated" (your tweet) Tony- and Pulitzer-prize winning musical "Hamilton," which urged Vice President-elect Mike Pence to govern the country for all Americans?

Your bullshit tweet said the cast "harassed" Pence, when the world could easily see, by numerous furtive videos, that the cast stood together in a line and the actor playing Aaron Burr read from a statement, calmly and elegantly.

It tells me you don't understand your new job in this republic. Not the governing part, anyway. The branding part, yes. So far, you seem to regard the presidency as another deal done, prime real estate snatched, the Trump brand elevated big league.

What does it tell you that, while you blustered into the "Hamilton" issue on your own, The Times editors had to press you into denouncing the National Policy Institute, led by alt-right white supremacist leader Richard Spencer, which met in Washington D.C. to hail your victory, complete with Nazi salutes?

You acted as if you didn't know about them, just as you did with white nationalist and perennial candidate David Duke:
"I don’t know where they were four years ago, and where they were for Romney and McCain and all of the other people that ran, so I just don’t know, I had nothing to compare it to.
"But it’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized I want to look into it and find out why."
Yes, you had better investigate. Very complicated, this thing.

This all tells me you are fear itself.

And/or you don't know what you're doing. Making America great again, whatever manic and magical thinking that has ever meant.

You've made this country unstable and uncertain, even among those who have voted for you. You don't seem to stand for something, so we fall for anything. Except the wall. Apparently you're still gonna build the wall, and Mexico will pay for it.

Oh, and a tax plan. I read two credible sources on your simplified income tax, with fewer brackets. Married taxpayers with children and daycare costs get tax breaks, not much change for other groups. The biggest tax break would go to the wealthiest .1 percent of taxpayers.

How's that for bullshit?

You just named as your Secretary of Education a woman, Betsy DeVos, who is quoted in the book "Dark Money," that her family is the leading donor of soft money to the Republic Party, and expects influence with her millions, in order to achieve "honest government."

Either that's startlingly refreshing or just plain Trumpian frightful.

Drain the swamp, you say.

Bull. Shit.

Your chief administration strategist, Steve Bannon, champions the alt-right white supremacist movement as editor of Breitbart News, and has said he is a Leninist eager to destroy the state.

Bannon?! You and your chief of staff Reince Priebus told The Times. He's never been anything but nice to us, never said a racist thing to us!

Makes me think of words I came across this week, attributed to poet Michael Rosen:
"I sometimes fear that 
people think that fascism arrives in fancy dress 
worn by grotesques and monsters 
as played out in endless re-runs of the Nazis. 

Fascism arrives as your friend. 
It will restore your honour, 
make you feel proud, 
protect your house, 
give you a job, 
clean up the neighbourhood, 
remind you of how great you once were, 
clear out the venal and the corrupt, 
remove anything you feel is unlike you...

It doesn't walk in saying, 
"Our programme means militias, mass imprisonments, transportations, war and persecution."
You don't seem to see a problem with being president and running your businesses — for which there doesn't seem to be any clear rule because there has never been, well, you.

If someone wants to stay in your new Washington, D.C. hotel — great hotel by the way, built under budget, you never forget to say — because your name's on it, whaddaya gonna do about it, am I right?

If you don't see a conflict with that, if you don't see the conflicts and compromises and limitations and blunders that can cause with this country's role in the world, you are alone. Except for those who are related to you, work for you, use you or sponge off you.

You make children cry. Children who wonder if you, in your caprices, will decide they shouldn't live in this country anymore. Families who wonder if you will subjugate them solely by how they worship.

Your chief of staff, Priebus, said you won't rule out a registry of Muslims, that there are some problems with Islam.

What does it tell you that, at an interfaith Thanksgiving service I attended last week, a member of the Methodist church that hosted the service, stood from amid the congregation with the need to tell a leader of the Muslim community here, "We're with you, we're with you, we're with you?"

What does it tell you?!

You're not ruling anything out. You'll look into it. Deportation? Registry? Waterboarding. We'll see.

President Obama suggested we wait, that the presidency has a way of maturing the president.

Two weeks, wait's over. We joined the American Civil Liberties Union (you actually get a card!). I went to the interfaith service, an idea I've always approved of from afar, since the extreme application of our worship has often resulted in hate and war and suffering.

The fight spreads to too many fronts now. Civil liberties. Freedom of speech. The environment, global warming. The economy. Civility.

A Muslim woman at the interfaith service said, "Maybe some good can from this, in ways that we cannot now know."

I'm awake now, Mr. President-elect. And I hope that's a good thing. I will do what I can to act as a citizen, for the good of this great nation.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Sore winner

Should the new president of your country make you feel, "Uh oh!?"

No, the president shouldn't.

Yet holes have opened in me, the wind whistling through, and gravity has loosened its grip, unevenly, on my feet. I read the same sentence over and over yesterday afternoon. I rechecked meager tasks, just to feel like I was doing something until the day was over.

The day needed to be over.

I'm the last bastion in a new variation of the Martin Niemöller polemic against fascism, that begins, "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Socialist …" and ends, "Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me."

I'm at the end of that line, in among the last they would come for, the only kind our new president has not insulted and mocked in his ascendancy: A white male. I don't think he's insulted Protestants specifically, or even Catholics, poor specimen though I am. Almost everyone else, though: Mexicans (Latinos by extension), the African-Americans, women, Muslims, Jews by tangential code in television commercials and retweets, immigrants. Almost everyone else he has invited others to scorn and deride and blame.

Our new president.

What he has said and done has now been endorsed and enshrined in the most powerful office in the land.

I have escaped the scorn as a white male, but I can't escape this — this waiting. This feeling of … dread. For everyone.

Nothing so global has felt like this in my adult life. Even the tragic events of Sept. 11. Holes went through me then too, but they filled, and the world moved forward. Forward into tragic war, still fought, but weirdly, 9/11 had a feeling of ending.

A vlog by Luke Bland, an American expatriate in Finland, whom my son and his fiancee followed and used in their decision to study there, posted a video yesterday all about the election. At one point, Finnish coworkers stood around an office TV screen, and when the new president complimented Hillary Clinton on a hard-fought campaign, one of them bowed toward the screen in sarcastic exaggeration. The world watches, even more puzzled

"I'm just waiting for what's coming," Bland told a coworker in yesterday's vlog. Waiting. From all the way in Finland.

A swimmer from Ghana who corresponds with me on occasion expressed sadness and said, "We are hoping for the best."

Before this, no presidential transition I can remember caused me to feel any worse than business as usual, life going on. Even President Obama's historic election did not hit me in any particular way until I took a job as a teacher and witnessed the untrammeled joy of this moment — posters, streamers — of the school administrative staff, most of them black. It made me think of the great personal devotion I've read that many Americans held for Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

This, though. This is "Uh oh!" This is What Will Happen? And When? And When Will It End? And none of it feels like hope.

How much of this wall will be built, and at what cost in money and blood? When will the deportations begin? When the sanctioned attacks on immigrant communities, when the escalating war with a new or simmering enemy, in a show of the new president's self-proclaimed unpredictability?

What's to become of our free press? Second Amendment, sacrosanct. First Amendment? Not worth the paper it's printed on. And justice for what's it worth to you?

When will the many threats be carried out, the revenge come due?

I know I'm not alone, which may feel like a sort of hope. Most of the people I "know" on facebook™®, my only real social media, for whatever reason feel the same. Yesterday the posts didn't even have to mention the election result, but the subject was clear. Swimmers were trying to rinse themselves clean. Some offered favorite songs as a kind of antidote, or puppy videos. Others posted lyrics without any context, such as:
Hey now, hey now
Don't dream it's over
Hey now, hey now
When the world comes in
They come, they come
To build a wall between us
We know they won't win
Crowded House
But recipients knew.

Donald Trump rose to office with few detailed plans, little apparent understanding of world affairs, but an intensely brilliant understanding of what would raise the ire of the already angry. I listened to Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams, of all people, supposedly an expert at persuasive techniques, describe the new president's brilliance at this skill, of beta testing catchy insults before his supporters ("Heartless Hillary" or "Crooked Hillary?"), of evading facts with purpose and precision, and getting people to imprint those insults on their intended victim with each new actual or perceived misstep.

I get that folks are angry and frustrated. I don't feel represented; I feel like I hand over my vote like allowance to an indifferent overseer, and I am ushered out through the side door until next time. I understand the angst that the government we have is not the government we should have; that it should serve us, not the other way around. I get that money and power flow to the few, and we live and work below.

I get that change should come. This, though, this is not that change. This is not the eradication of entrenched elitism and favoritism and policies that benefit the few. The rigged economy is not going to unspool under the man who dances in its ratlines.

This is not revolution. This is "Uh oh!"

You say our president will be different in office than on the campaign trail, but his surrogates said time and again, "Why change what's working?" You say our new president will be held in check by our system of government. But the House and Senate remain Republican.

You say the president is an outlier whom Republicans will suspect and rein. I believe our president is Republican ideas unmasked and unvarnished, finally spoken explicitly, ending decorum and restraint.

But I have not been a participant in the process, either. My voting record is full and unbroken, but that's all I've done as a citizen. Even in this moment of great test, I voted and nothing more than donate some money. I did not think would be such a great test, but instead a wearying joke we could stop laughing at Nov. 8.

(Even satire, that rich and voluminous corrective salve in our jewel of free speech, seems to have lost its punch in this new and strange time.)

I need to be that participant now, even if, especially if, I'm late to the tea party. I have stood by, and now I can no longer. I dread the restrictions and limitations to come — which will no doubt happen in the name of liberty — and I want to be ready to work against them. I must stand with those under threat.

Right now I can't listen to any more words from our new president. I tire of hearing his voice, and we'll have four more years of it. But I know I need to. I need to, in his words about something different and cruel, "figure out what the hell is going on."

Damned if I know.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Lefty rube randomly roams the right coast

  • Bostonians, we read on the plane east, don't like you calling their city "Beantown."
  • Without planning to, Nancy and I drive through Salem, Massachusetts, on Halloween Day. More than 200,000 people, we hear on public radio, will converge on Salem this day. The center of town is literally a carnival, with rides and booths. We drive past the Salem Witch Museum, with a bronze statue of Roger Conant, founder of Salem. His flowing robes and pilgrim hat, so close to the museum, make visitors mistake him for a witch, apparently. The night before, a drunk driver killed a women and two children during the weeks-long Halloween celebration. We already resolve not to stick around.
  • Hampton, New Hampshire, is shut down for the year. Not getting around much, as we do, we had not conceived of a town battening itself from lack of use. But Hampton is a beach town, dependent on those beaches filling with people and staying in their ocean-view hotels and eating their hot dogs and fro-yos, and buying their sunglasses and souvenir beach towels. When the beach is empty the "vacancy" signs shut off, and the hotels stand as ghosts in the windy fall mist, and the vendors' markets are clamped down with plywood or iron accordion fences. A few people walked the beach. Who knows where they stayed?
  • After the 26th sighting, we finally succumbed to Dunkin' Donuts. Also at the 27th, 32nd, 36th and 42nd Dunkin' Donuts. Also maybe the 43rd. Dunkin' Donuts is (are?) more prevalent by far than church spires in this coastal New England to which we ventured. We avoided Dunkin' Donuts for about a day, resolving (1) we'd buy local (whatever that means) and (2) I'd had Dunkin' Donuts coffee, made from grounds I had bought at a grocery story a couple of years before; it was awful, the worst I'd ever drunk. At the 27th Dunkin' Donuts, it turns out, the coffee is not awful. The place is clean and cheerful and orange and magenta. A Dunkin' Donuts "old fashioned" is not what I'm used to, the heavy glazed pastry that looks like it was fried in mid explosion, but a plain cake doughnut. We did not dunk.
  • "My son says you must have superpowers," says a mom at Kalmus Beach with her two boys. They are collecting the cast-off armor of horseshoe crabs, with their menacing spike tails, from the beach. I have just finished swimming along the beach, named for a president of the Technicolor company. The water is clear, and below me, parallel to the shore, it looks like someone has furnished an aquarium but forgot the fish. Grasses sprinkled with clam shells sway below me. The water is 51 degrees. It is foggy and I'm leery about swimming. The ferries heading to Nantucket are rumbling and coughing invisibly offshore, shaking the water it seems, and though I think I'm safe from them if I swim very close to the beach, I am not entirely sure. I swim anyway. My friend Doug said that I could have swum past the Kennedy family's house. I didn't get very far, though, happy enough for the swim.
  • On the stone obelisk marking the grave of William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Colony, is a Hebrew inscription, translated as "Jehovah is our help."
  • The State Station stop on the Orange T line subway literally opens to the street from the Old Statehouse building, where All the Trouble Started. Subway riders are just steps away from the Boston Massacre, just a floor below where Colonial governors were being hated and plotted against. Forgive me for filtering history through pop culture, but I couldn't help feeling like we had entered Diagon Alley.
  • Two people were selling Allagash Beer, made in Portland, Maine, while we ate at a pub in Hyannis on Cape Cod. By that, I mean they weren't servers, but sales reps moving from table to table pouring samples of their beer and touting its flavor; but also approving of our choices of beer that did not include Allagash. We told the sellers we were out from California on our first trip to New England. "What part of Cali?" They asked at separate times. They read in our eyes that we didn't like them calling it "Cali."
  • "Welcome! Welcome!" said two women eating at a sidewalk table in front of Coffee Time Bake Shop in Salem. We felt welcomed, and cheerful when they recommended real cream-filled Bismarks, whatever they are. They are delightful fist-sized mounds of heavy whipped cream between bar sugar doughnuts. As in most things last week, we rationalized our wolfing them down by saying we were on vacation. One of the women told us she is soooo glad to be retired.
  • First clear sign I wasn't home anymore: A kid walking through the airport with a hockey stick in hand and two extremely large equipment bags slung around his neck.
  • Finally I can tell people I went to Harvard. The Red T Line train takes you right to Harvard Square, where we betrayed ourselves as tourists, despite our casual wear, by reading every sign available. Lesser known William Dawes rode north past here to warn residents of the British Army's coming. We know this because brass hoofprints are embedded in the concrete, as are words proclaiming Dawes' ride. We know more about Paul Revere's ride, but not much more.
  • Does anyone in California call his/her state "Cali?"
  • Construction crews are repairing brick in the street in front of Paul Revere's home, a very old home sandwiched between buildings in Boston's North End. It is small and cozy, made cramped by all the people visiting while we did, and we wondered how chaotic this place is in the summer tourist season. Revere was but one of hundreds who lived in this 350-year-old house, we learn from one of the many signs posted. Guides in each room tried to tell us things too, but the plethora of signs competed full strength with the guides' narrative, and after a short time we just had to leave.
  • Useful tip: Don't climb the 294 steps to the top of the monument at Bunker Hill immediately after eating fish and chips at the Warren Tavern in Charlestown, or anywhere else for that matter. You'll make it, and the view of Boston's harbors will be as refreshing as the breeze shooting through the openings at the top, but you won't be very comfortable.
  • Warren Tavern's fish and chips: Second best among six fish and chips meals consumed this weeklong trip. We're on vacation, we resolved.
  • "We thought Bostonians didn't like people calling this Beantown," we tell the server at Beantown Pub near Boston Commons. She is from Colombia and had only been in Boston about eight months, and didn't really know of this controversy. Later she returned from the kitchen with the cook's story about why Boston is called Beantown.
  • Beantown Pub's fish and chips: The best of six fish and chips dinners during the week. Also, someone plays two Pearl Jam songs on the jukebox there, and someone else plays a great song we'd never heard, "The Sun is Shining Down," by J.J. Grey and Mofro It sounds like salvation, and we needed saving from a long day of walking through Boston, through the wet cobbled streets in anxious search of a tavern. We had seen Beantown Pub a couple of hours before, and made fun of it. We changed our minds seeing it the second time.
  • Did you know the Boston Bruins logo — A block B inside of an 8-spoked wagon wheel shape — refers to Boston as the Hub City, an idea promoted by Oliver Wendell Holmes who called this the "hub of the universe?" Do you care? I guess Boston has room to brag.
  • Succumbing to serendipity, the real theme of this trip (the officially stated reason was to see Boston), we drove past a pedestrian bridge that led to a peninsula created by a tidal pond corralled for the express purpose of making ice for cutting and selling. Of course we had to walk it and see where it led, which was through birchy woods. The tide was going out, and the water roared under the bridge out to sea. I'm sorry to say so much happened I can't tell you offhand where we were.
  • Evening ritual: Nancy would work her magic finding a place to stay, and we'd end up in a palace of riches — two TVs! Multiple rooms! Fully appointed kitchens! — for a quarter to a third of the usual summer rates. It was a bit ridiculous for one-night stays.
  • Petey's clam chowder was as good as our friend Doug promised, and just the stuff after a swim at Rye Beach in New Hampshire, which Doug also recommended. That was the second swim, the first being at Singing Beach (the sand "sings" under your feet) off Manchester-by-the-Sea, with Doug, my swim friend who abandoned me and returned to his native New England and his beer career, and Martha, whom I had met on facebook®™ but not yet in person. She opened her home as a staging area for the swim, where the clear water was 55 degrees and calm. Rye Beach was windier and a bit disconcerting, since I was swimming by myself with Nancy walking parallel to me. Gulls hovered and dove farther out in the water, and what little I knew about hovering and diving gulls suggested something else was in the water; I swam with long looks under the water back toward the starting point. Waves exploded the sand to little dust storms beneath me.
  • Old Orchard Beach defied the compass. Even with the Atlantic Ocean as our marker, we had a hard time finding the place, and then finding it again when we left the hotel for dinner. We couldn't even find the dinner place we were looking for, and settled for something close, which didn't help us after. Old Orchard Beach is another shuttered summertime playland, the skeleton of its Ferris wheel and roller coaster showing with the next sunrise.
  • We hardly saw one ugly house in a couple of hundred miles of driving. Maybe it was the coast; maybe we had seen a rarified sliver of New England. It was all becoming suspiciously storybook in how many beautiful homes were strung together.
  • Official beast of New England: The rider mower.
  • Useful tip: Plan a whole day to go through the museum for the U.S.S. Constitution in Charlestown, across the Charles River from Boston. It is so full of interactive devices and means of explaining a sailor's and shipwright's life that you need the day and fresh energy to take it on. We had neither the day nor energy, and we regretted not spending more time there.
  • After two days, we had walked 26 miles through Boston.
  • The Freedom Trail, taking you from Boston Commons to Bunker Hill (really Breed's Hill, carved with bunkers in the battle with British soldiers), is for the most part a brick line along the sidewalks leading you through revolutionary history. It took us an inordinately long time to figure that out.
  • We saw the flashing Citgo sign from a distance, marking the site of Fenway Park, from adirondack chairs on a dock on the chilly Charles River.
  • Streets and beaches where we meandered were amazingly clean! Don't mess with New England.
  • Plymouth Rock is a boulder, carved with the year 1620 (which is not the year the year was carved in it, but after the rock had been glued back together in the late 1800s after being split apart). The Rock is on beach sand, covered in footprints despite the famous boulder's enshrinement in its own fenced-off granite temple. Nancy said she thought Plymouth Rock was like Morro Rock, a mountainous formation marking Plymouth. But it's not like we had a conversation about what Plymouth Rock would be like; we didn't necessarily plan to be in Plymouth anyway, so the topic never came up. Now we were at the headwaters of all those coloring pages from first grade, all those lessons about how the Indians saved the pilgrims from starvation with a dinner or corn and squash, and showed them how to fertilize crops with fish. If the buildings and towns are very old, it's mostly because we have forgotten about the people who were here even before that, some of whose names remain on landmarks. Plymouth Rock landed on them.
  • We saw a bronze duck and her ducklings from the Robert McCloskey book "Make Way for Ducklings," celebrated in the Boston Public Garden.
  • We heard a flutist play hornpipes from the bridge over the pond in the park, which was fun until a couple dressed for the opera took up the flutist's time insisting he play songs that the couple hummed for him.
  • The pass for the T Line subway through Boston is called a CharlieTicket or CharlieCard. They're named after Charlie, memorialized in a 1949 protest song called "M.T.A." satirizing subway fee increases at the time. Charlie, spending his dime to take the subway, learns he needs another nickel, which he doesn't have, to get off the train, and is doomed to ride the train forever. His wife throws a sandwich to him through the open window of the train each day from the Scollay Square Station (now Government Center) at a quarter past two.
  • Written for a mayoral candidate who protested the subway fee increases, the song didn't help the guy win. The Kingston Trio made it a hit, after changing the candidate's name because some Bostonians accused him of being a communist sympathizer.
  • The CharlieTicket day pass cost us $12 apiece. We're on vacation, we consoled each other.
  • Our little cocoon in California has nothing on New England for political campaigning. Signs proliferate, including a mile stretch along the New Hampshire shore of nothing but Trump signs. People stood on the overpasses on the Cape Cod freeway, waving signs for their candidates. I flipped off a Trump contingent as we passed underneath. One of them looked straight at me. Shortly after, I think the man said to his cohort, "You know, this just doesn't feel right," dropped his sign and went home to vote early for Hillary Clinton.
  • Despite having co-opted Charlie and angst over the nation's oldest subway system, the T Line is wonderful, especially for this rube who hates driving through cities, especially unfamiliar ones. It squeaks and makes horrible noises and writhes beneath the city — someone should make a symphony from its unnatural sounds — but the T Line gets you all over the area, and every train was crowded. Sacramento's Light Rail is a laughable imitation.
  • At Freeport, Maine, our turnaround point, we bypass the L.L. Bean headquarters (serendipity!) for a walk through a state park along Casco Bay. So many islands out in the water! Such calm water, and no swimmers! What a waste. A woman getting her puppy used to the water asks if we were from "away" (just like I'd read Mainers say!) and said we should go to Acadia National Park, two hours farther north. Damn this woman, enticing us away from our unplanned plans! We had yet to see Boston, our stated goal. We went south.
  • By serendipity, we saw were Paul Revere's family sat in the Old North Church. The floor of the church is penned off, sort of human corrals, and parishioners bought these pens. The walls of each pen are high, kind of like going to church in a modern rabbit warren of office cubicles. We also saw where Revere landed on reaching Charlestown at night to ride to Lexington.
  • A member of the Curley Community Center in South Boston hosts us for a swim in the harbor. Men convened on one side of the center, women the other, and they were generally not allowed on each other's beach or facilities, but they could swim together in the 50-degree water beyond the tall wooden fences that extend into the harbor. Our host was just your average Harvard neurobiology professor (he didn't say this; I found out later), cursing his forgetfulness having left his swimsuit back home.
  • "California Stop" my ass! Massachusetts residents are far more lax about stopping and looking before turning into traffic. They seem to be aggressively polite, by which I mean they are apt to turn left directly in front of you, and are almost as apt to stop in traffic to let drivers turn left in front of them. Turning left is a desperate measure, somehow.
  • On Cape Cod are "breakdown lanes," and at rush hour drivers are allowed to drive on the shoulders. I propose they be called "breakneck lanes," because drivers reached 80 miles an hour along the shoulders, onramp drivers be damned.
  • We saw where John Hancock was buried, in a burying ground (not cemetery) where lichen-licked tombstones lean and lurch. Disney's Imagineers must have had New England burying grounds in mind when designing the Haunted Mansion. Yes, my pop culture is showing again.
  • Nothing's good in movie theaters these days. Thank God, since were forced to see more of Boston instead.
  • Gulls, some cormorants, but not one barking seal, or any other sea life. No birdsong, even in deep woods, except for some chittering along a street one morning in Gloucester. What's going on?
  • Saco ("Socko"), Maine, where Sam Brannan is from, is mostly a city of theme parks now, shuttered for the winter. Sam essentially created the Gold Rush in California, and profited from it, and never went back to New England. What would he think of Saco now?
  • In Wallaston, a Boston suburb, we stayed at a brand new Howard Johnson hotel. I thought the hotel chain had disappeared, but here was a new one, with a giant adirondack chair outside the office as its symbol. Turns out (serendipity!) the first Howard Johnson restaurant was founded by a man named Howard Johnson (go figure!), in Wallaston.
  • We miss the end of the greatest Game 7 in World Series history, and we feel sorry for easterners, who have to stay up so late to watch baseball games.
  • "Paul Revere's Ride," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, we learn, is a poem that elevates a then relatively unknown man to everlasting memory, and sacrifices fact in order create an Everyman hero to rally support for the Union in advance of the Civil War.
  • We are not happy with Portland, Maine, where Longfellow was born, because it gave us a parking ticket. You'd think parking enforcement would give you the benefit of the doubt if you buy a parking pass but then park in a poorly marked commercial zone anyway. The old port neighborhood is nice, though.
  • This is my souvenir.