(Last modified 12 January 1997.)

Wanderjahr: Week 21

Locations: Somerville; Boston
Dates: 1/5/97 - 1/11/97

At the beginning of the week, I officially inaugurated the Words & Stuff column. I'm not entirely happy with the tone of the columns so far, but I figure I'll get the hang of it gradually, and if I keep waiting I'll never get started.

Hung around Sarah's 'til midafternoon; finally got in touch with Steph's mother, whom I'll be housesitting for in VA, and made firm travel plans. (I'll be leaving for VA on 1/18, and probably spending about a month there.) A little later, Diana called to ask if I wanted to go for a walk. We walked in the mist (and later rain) to the Mystic River and back, and talked. I noted (as I'd noted a couple weeks ago downtown) that Boston is kinda nice in the mist; the edges are all softer, and the fact that you can't see more than a block or so lends an aura of mysterious possibilities. The river was especially nice shrouded in mist, with distant headlamps showing as pairs of point-source lights, in stately procession like fireflies going English-dancing.

Later I betook myself and my stuff back to Michael's. Unfortunately for me, he has cable and I have too little willpower. I watched various bits of TV, including most of a 1994 Columbo movie (with William Shatner as the villain, for once in a role in which pompous overacting worked just fine; also with straightforward acceptance of a prominent gay character), and not one but two of the movies I'd rented on Thursday. Sheesh. I'm not sure how I managed to have time for all that.

Monday morning I made it to my ear-cleansing appointment on time, but then had to spent 15 minutes filling out forms in order to get a temporary ID number so they could treat me (and then the form got thrown out by someone who'd already filled one out for me on Friday, sigh). In all, spent an hour and a half at HCHP for what could have been a fifteen-minute procedure. But at least I can hear much better now. Afterward I returned the videos from last week and rented some more.

I spent some time trying to work out where and when to have roundsinging this week, and finally concluded that no local churches were going to let us use any of their space. Ah, well, we've sung in people's homes before. Still, it seems like everyplace ought to have some equivalent to the space under the belltower at Swarthmore. Though outdoors in New England in the winter wouldn't be terribly conducive to singing, I guess. Anyway, called a bunch of people to invite them to sing. We agreed to meet Thursday night, though several people said they couldn't make it then.

Fetched my journal from Bh & S's, and discovered I haven't updated it in over a week. Bad Jed.

So of course I spent Monday evening watching TV (I'd never seen Taxi before, okay?) and a couple of movies on video. Watching all these movies is, uh, research for the screenplays I'm working on. Yeah, that's the ticket.

I can't recall what I did Tuesday daytime, and since I hadn't yet updated my journal, there's no record of it. Can't have been terribly exciting. Tuesday evening was poker; took the usual hour and a quarter to get to Fran & Ed's. Ed pointed out that it only takes an hour and a quarter to walk from Somerville to their place, so you'd think public transportation or driving might be a little faster... But at least it's a little warmer and dryer.

By the end of the game I was in a bad mood, which I didn't recognize as low blood sugar until Jim M (after driving me back to Somerville in Diana's car) convinced me to eat something. In my defense, I had had dinner and had been snacking all evening, so it didn't seem likely that I needed food... It was Jim's first Boston driving experience, and he didn't seem to mind it terribly even though he doesn't drive a lot. Maybe I've been overreacting all these years.

Jim and I played Knightmare Chess. Then Jim logged in to check email and I took Michael's car the block-and-a-half over to Bhadrika & Steve's (it was about 1:30 am by now; don't ask why it was necessary to drive it over right then), walked back. Jim was still reading mail, so I tried calling Arthur in CA; he was out, but I talked with Gerry for a bit. He told me (among other things) about the heavy flooding in northern CA. Sheesh. I leave the place to its own devices for four or five months and the whole place goes to hell.

Wednesday I spent a couple hours with Jim working out rounds -- he sang me some I hadn't heard previously, and we (mostly he) transcribed sheet music for several we'd known for a while. Eventually we hope to have accurate sheet music for all the rounds we know, but real work on that project will have to wait 'til I visit Swarthmore in a couple months.

In the evening I met Mark for dinner. We walked around Faneuil (sp?) Hall; he showed me the Holocaust Memorial. Incredibly powerful, moving. Scary shifting lights and steam under the grates underfoot; etched plastic towers each listing (at my estimate) about 300,000 7-digit serial numbers (as assigned by the Nazis to concentration camp inmates). For once in my life I had nothing flip to say.

After some time acclimatizing to the world again in an Irish wool shop, we stopped at the Rockport "concept store" and I bought new shoes. A relief to be back in Rockports and away from the Eccos that have plagued my feet for the past year, though the price was a bit higher than would've been ideal. Still, the shoes look great, and are mostly v. comfortable, and I hope will last me a good long time.

Had a fairly good dinner at a little restaurant in Little Italy, walked, talked, stopped at a cafe, went home. Michael was back, having returned from his conference in Chicago; we talked for a while, then re-watched Four Weddings and a Funeral. Almost as good the second time around.

At some point during the week I talked with Sarah, who said that normally when she returns from a trip her cat is all sulky, but this time the cat was happy and contented. Guess the time I spent scratching her (the cat) behind the ears and under the chin paid off. So Sarah asked if I would housesit for her again this coming weekend, and I said I would.

Thursday, had a writing lunch with Debby B (not to be confused with Deb B). We talked for a while, then spent an hour writing together in companionable silence. I like the idea of having a writing partner, someone with whom you agree to meet and get actual writing done on a regular basis (think we got the idea from Natalie Goldberg, but I'm not sure). Talked a little more, then went our separate ways, which involved me heading over to South Station to see the bus depot, thereby doing some necessary research for a story I've been putting off rewriting for months. Unfortunately for my story, they've modernized the depot and turned it into a sleek high-tech terminal reminiscent of an airport, so the squalor, grime, sleaze, and poor safety conditions I was hoping to remind myself of were nowhere to be found. But I was reminded of a couple of important details, so I think I can rewrite the story anyway.

Had pizza with Michael and then it was time for roundsinging. Unfortunately, only six people showed up to sing; of the other ten or so invited, most had previously declined with regret, and three canceled at the last minute. Sigh. It was still fun, but not nearly as much fun as if there'd been twice as many people in a space with really good acoustics. I was not in my best voice; my low range was doing fine but I couldn't be sure of staying in key down there, so I mostly sang in my higher, weaker, range and didn't sound all that great (to myself, anyway). But I'm paranoid about that sort of thing. Still, we did a bunch of very pretty rounds, and I think everyone pretty much had fun. When we went outside to go home, we found that it had snowed a bit while we were singing; very pretty, but I was worried about walking home in the snow in my new shoes (had left my rubber overshoes behind, thinking no way was it going to precipitate during the 3 hours I was away). Luckily for my shoes, Beth offered me a ride.

Back at Michael's, I watched another movie; Michael came home halfway through, and we talked more afterward. I stayed up too late doing email and preparing a piece for story reading.

Which meant I got up late and had to rush to meet Steph for lunch on Friday. Fortunately, she was as forgiving of my lateness as most people seem to be. We had a leisurely Thai lunch, walked around a lot, took the T to Coolidge Corner in Brookline (where she and Harlan were considering moving to), and rambled around the Boylston/Arlington area for a while. Never quite made it to Waterstone's, our destination, but I did get a nice new scarf at Woolrich's, and she picked up some Boston-area guidebooks at a map and travel store. Met Harlan for dinner, then back to Michael's for story reading; only Steph wasn't feeling well, so she and Harlan headed home to Reading instead of reading.

Story reading was well-attended and went fairly well. Stayed up afterward talking with Michael and Diana about social situations, and about how hard it is to integrate different groups of friends; also chatted with Bhadrika on the phone. Then did some laundry.

I realized late this week that my average mood has been steadily declining for the past couple of weeks. There are multiple factors, but I suspect one of them is the full onset of winter. I think it's a good thing I'll be leaving the Northeast soon.

I frittered away most of Saturday at Michael's place, between getting up late, reading, updating journal and travelogue, and playing Knightmare Chess. Rob called from CA to talk about our screenplay for a few minutes before he had to catch a plane to Japan. Eventually made it over to Sarah's place. Dahlia the kitten was happy to see me, and curled up on my lap to be petted for the next couple hours, while I talked with Arthur on the phone about our screenplay, on which we're making great progress. Afterward, I went to dinner at Tallulah's with Michael. The food wasn't as good as last time, and the service was incredibly slow, and the live music was far too loud.

Stayed up late as usual dealing with email and reading. Almost went ahead and posted the next Words & Stuff column, but decided to wait 'til it was Sunday even on the West coast, so went to bed instead.


Movies, Books, etc.

Strangers on a Train
Fairly suspenseful, if somewhat overdone (at least one completely innocent person gets iced at random near the end, and nobody seems to notice). I liked it more than most Hitchcock (but not as much as Rear Window); particularly liked Patricia Hitchcock as Babs and Robert Walker (looking a bit like Kevin Spacey) as Bruno.

Bloodhounds of Broadway
This attempt to mix four Damon Runyon stories into one movie would be far more successful if half the actors didn't think they were in a bad modern gangster flick. The actors who understand they're in a Damon Runyon story are delightful, especially Randy Quaid as Feet and Julie Hagerty as Harriet MacKyle; if only the dialogue were better, the voiceovers were removed, and the characters were introduced more gradually, this could have been a superb movie. (Note: lots of big names in this one: Matt Dillon, Madonna, Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Grey, Steve Buscemi (in a tiny role), and so on.)

The NeverEnding Story
Like the book it's based on, this never quite worked for me, and Barret Oliver as the boy (Bastian) is dreadful and whiny. On the other hand, many of the effects (especially those involving clouds, and the Rock Biter) are so well done that I can even forgive the terrible bluescreening during the flying scenes, and Noah Hathaway as the young warrior Atreyu is not at all bad at acting.

The Lady Vanishes
For some reason, I thought this was a Hitchcock thriller, not a Cybill Shepherd comedy-thriller, so I got off on the wrong foot; once I figured out it was funny, I more or less enjoyed it. If you ignore the frequent ridiculous implausibilities and focus on the interplay among the main characters, it's worth seeing. (Note: aha! What I saw was a remake of the Hitchcock movie; it didn't have a proper box in the video store so there was no way of knowing that. Grr.)

Four Weddings and a Funeral
Marvelous script, quite good cast; laugh-out-loud funny for much of its length, and cry-out-loud sad for the rest. It's true that Andie MacDowell's char has very little in the way of character or background, but that still didn't bother me at all on second viewing.

Never Cry Wolf
Not as enjoyable as someone had led me to believe, but after a slow 45 minutes of voiceovers, risks to life and limb, and frozen snowy wastes, it picks up tremendously to become fairly funny and (in places) chillingly sad. The Major Surprise of the story, however, is something I first learned about wolves when I was about ten, so it didn't have quite as much impact as it was supposed to.


Jed Hartman <logos@kith.org>