(Last modified 29 January 1997.)

Wanderjahr: Week 22

Locations: Somerville, MA; Alexandria, VA
Dates: 1/12/97 - 1/18/97

My last week in Boston. Sunday I posted a new Words & Stuff column (I'll stop mentioning this each week once it's regular enough to be no surprise), and spent much of the day working on SWAPA. In the evening, I met Sarah's friend David, then spent a while with Michael creating a rules sheet for IPA Crossword, a Scrabble(TM)-like game to be played with the new Magnetic Phonetics magnetic IPA-symbol tiles from Cascadilla Press. Michael helped me get my stuff over to Bhadrika & Steve's; we spent the rest of the evening proofreading/tweaking the rules, and talking with Carrie.

Monday I tried to figure out my schedule for the rest of the week, or, how to see as many people as possible in my last week in Boston while still having time to go to a play and a concert and pack to leave on Saturday. I spent most of the day, when not scheduling, switching between SWAPA and various conversations with people who wandered in and out of Bhadrika & Steve's kitchen. Finished SWAPA around 1 am, then checked email.

I have to say it was a pretty good email week. Two notes from total strangers saying they'd happened across my pages and thought we had a lot of common interests; though I've had appreciative notes from strangers before (usually thanking me for the anti-chain-letter page), this is the first time I've gotten this kind of note. I was thrilled. Also got a way cool note from Dominus about computer searches for anagrams (I had no idea that the number of definitions a word has correlates with how commonly it occurs in general usage).

In other email, Thida pointed out that these travelogues don't go into much detail in certain areas. Her note made me realize just how much I self-censor here. I try to be careful not to talk about friends' religious beliefs or sexual orientations; specifically, I've been reluctant to out people as pagan or gay in this travelogue. As religion and sexual orientation are often major topics of conversation among my friends, my reticence on those subjects in this semi-public forum may result in a certain lack of detail. On the other hand, since both paganism and homosexuality carry a certain stigma in large sections of our society, I'm reluctant to reveal such things when I have no control over who might see what I'm writing, even knowing that very few people actually read this travelogue. Similarly, I'm reluctant to talk in detail about potentially illegal activities (gambling for money, for instance), my friends' sex lives (always a big topic of conversation, as I'm insatiably curious about such things), and any other info that I wouldn't want to see distributed to the world at large. Respecting people's privacy is very important to me. But it would be nice if I could find a balance between respecting privacy and not lapsing into dull lists of who I talked to when...

Then again, I suppose I could just ask friends if they care whether I talk about their intimate details on the Web. Some might enjoy that. :)

Tuesday I printed and mailed my SWAPA 'zine. Proofread the IPA Crossword rules one last time, then rushed off to mail various items and meet Connie for lunch downtown. I'd somehow managed not to tell her I was in Boston until a couple weeks ago; I kept meaning to, but of course the longer I waited the more obnoxious it sounded. ("Uh, yeah, I've been here for two months but I haven't called. Sorry.") Of course there are others -- especially our fellow Clarionette Sari -- whom I never got around to contacting at all, but still.

Anyway, lunch went fairly well, considering we hadn't seen each other in about three years (we were both at this past WorldCon but couldn't find each other). We chatted about classmates, life, writing, Arisia (an sf con in Boston the previous weekend). It was a little odd to visit the Houghton Mifflin building without seeing Susan; I associate the building with her.

Decided to stop by Waterstone's after lunch. A block from the store, a homeless woman on the sidewalk asked for change; as I gave it to her, we struck up a conversation. She seemed fairly coherent, but it gradually became clear that she was fixated on the question of how to get along with various local gay shopowners. (It wasn't clear how she knew they were gay.) She wanted to know about San Francisco (especially whether there really was a big gay population there) and commented that it was important to be in a place with both gay and straight shopowners because "they go through mood swings at different times." As the conversation got more repetitive I extricated myself gently and moved on to the bookstore.

Waterstone's had two copies of our book, but the only VRML book on display on their Internet table was an outdated VRML 1.0 book (still labeled "NEW!" of course). I put a copy of our book on top of it. Guerrilla marketing, as someone put it later when I told them about this.

I bought some books there (including a couple of gifts for people), stopped at Tower (where I bought several tapes and another gift; a big spending day), and took the T to Harvard Square, where I poked around in other book- & music stores. Was still completely unable to find the recording of Dylan Thomas reading A Child's Christmas in Wales, or a copy of a book I wanted to get someone. Ate a solitary dinner and then attended a play at A.R.T. Wasn't thrilled with the play, and was further disgruntled when I discovered A.R.T. had done Fefu and Her Friends, which I've been wanting to see for years, the previous week, without notifying me. Hmph. How dare they?

I stopped by Michael's on the way back to Bh&S's place to pick up my backpack (containing my computer; he'd let me use his printer that morning), and showed him how to use the Fountain tool in Adobe Illustrator for box labels for Magnetic Phonetics. Proceeded to stay up 'til 3:30 having yet another great talk with Carrie.

Wednesday I barely got up in time to meet Debby for lunch at Salt & Pepper, near Davis Square. We talked for a couple hours, wrote for an hour, talked some more; walked her home and took a photo of her and John (having realized I'd taken almost no pictures for the past couple months). Picked up a present for Michael, bought some tapes at Disc Diggers, then wandered back to Bh&S's. Talked with Cathy for a while, then Carrie and I met Michael and Diana at Michael's for a ride to Fran & Ed's. (Michael chose a route to F&E's that only took 20 minutes to drive; wish I'd known about it the last couple times I tried to get there.) We'd decided to have a mini-story-reading to give Fran a chance to read what turned out to be a great story that she'd not had the chance to read for the past six weeks. Michael read a short Barthelme bit, I read an old LeGuin story about Art and service thereto, we chatted awhile, then Michael drove us back to Somerville. I stayed up late, of course, backing up my hard drive (a relief to finally have that done), checking email, writing the next Words & Stuff column, and reading SWAPA while I waited for an excessively slow dialup connection to work.

Spent a couple of hours Thursday morning updating my journal and talking with Bhadrika & Steve, then met Sarah for lunch. Spent an hour getting to the Rockport store at Faneuil Hall to get my new shoe adjusted. The guy on duty fiddled with my shoe for thirty seconds and handed it back to me. I tried it on, and it no longer dug into my heel. I was delighted for the next ten minutes, until it started digging in again... I also stopped by the Waterstone's nearby and found they didn't have any VRML 2.0 books at that branch. Hmph.

When I got home, I attempted to take Carrie shopping at Wild Harvest, but found my car's battery was dead. Again. Michael came over later to jump-start my car, in time for me to drive to David VS's new apartment for a quiet dinner there. We played some games and worked on Leg 1 of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, an annual cross-country road-rally-by-map puzzle/contest that turns out to be largely an exercise in precision and detailed rules interpretation. Kinda interesting, especially since it roughly paralleled the route I was about to take (from NY down to VA), but I don't think I'd want to do more of it.

Stayed up late that night talking with Carrie as usual. I'm afraid she didn't get nearly enough sleep this week, seeing as how she had to go to classes at ridiculously early hours.

Friday morning, Beth and I went to the Computer Museum. It was bitterly cold out -- perhaps not quite as bad as New Year's Eve, but pretty damn cold. We tried to minimize outdoors time. Museum was fun, though I was reminded that my Exploratorium card says (incorrectly) that my membership expired 12/31/96, so I couldn't use the card to get in free or discounted. Ah, well, I suppose I can't complain about financially supporting science museums. This is, by the way, a museum-to-educate-the-public-about-computers, not a history-of-computing museum (though there's some of that too). It includes a two-story giant model of a PC, though not, alas, a working model. Lots of cool stuff, though I doubt I would go there often. The best part is a VR arcade-style game kinda like PropCycle except that your vehicle is a pedal-powered snowcat that you can pedal all around a big ski resort. The pedals get more resistance when you go uphill or shift into higher gear. There are two of these consoles next to each other, networked so two people can play and can see each other's snowcats if they're near each other. It's designed as an exercise tool rather than a game per se; I think it'd be great for a gym to buy a bunch of these as exercycles. Best exercise I've had in weeks, and fun to boot.

Beth went home to pack for a weekend trip to New Hampshire; I went home to start packing to leave. Left off early evening to have dinner with Michael at Rudy's; couldn't resist having the yummy tuna fajitas again, and this time we topped it off with a stunning "brownie sundae" (incredibly rich big chocolate brownie topped with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce -- wow). Then we went to the Kallet/Epstein/Cicone concert in Watertown. A marvelous evening.

After the concert, I finished packing while talking with Bhadrika, then talked briefly with Carrie while downloading the 59 (!) messages I'd gotten in email that day, then collapsed in bed exhausted.

Saturday morning bright and early -- which is to say around 10 am -- I got up and had yummy homemade coffeecake with all the residents of the house (first time I'd seen 'em all together in weeks), plus Michael. A nice way to close the Boston segment of the trip. I loaded all my stuff in my car, got in the car around 12:30 all ready to drive to Virginia...

And the car wouldn't start.

No problem; Michael had brought his car over for just such a contingency. We hooked up the jumper cables; we're getting pretty good at that. Nothing happened.

We tried half a dozen times, reconnecting cables, using other cables, everything we could think of. No dice.

I went back inside. ("You're back!") Called AAA. They said someone would be by in under 90 minutes.

Disgruntled, I sat in the window reading Matilda until the AAA guy showed up 45 minutes later. He jump-started the car with no trouble. I don't get it. He said it was probably just a bad connection with our cables, but I don't buy it.

Anyway, I stopped back inside for my third or fourth quick goodbye -- kind of a gruff one by this point because I was getting so frustrated -- and headed out.

The trip went smoothly; minimal traffic, only a couple of near-accidents with psycho Boston drivers near the beginning (and, later, someone leaving a tollbooth who tried to pass me in a narrowing lane). For the first couple hours, I was just retracing my northward path from three months ago. And then I stopped for gas just south of Hartford on 84, I think at exactly the same place I stopped for gas and food in that area on the way up. (It was very nice, btw, to be driving through that region in daylight and without a big storm going on. Far more relaxing than last time through. I'll have to remember that if I'm offered a choice: "Would you prefer to drive in the worst rainstorm you've ever seen, late at night, on minimal sleep, on badly marked roads? Or to drive in daylight on a road you've seen before after an almost full night's sleep?")

Anyway, I stopped for gas. And found out I couldn't get the gas-cap key into the gas cap. I'd previously always thought having a lock on the gas cap was kinda cool because it reminds me to put the cap back on -- I just leave the key in the cap, so I can't go anywhere until I replace the cap. But it had never occurred to me that the lock could get broken. Or possibly frozen. Did I mention that it was bitterly cold again? Not quite as bad as the day before, but bad enough. After ten minutes of trying to get the gas cap to work, I couldn't feel my fingers any more so I went inside to ask for advice.

The attendant suggested that I buy lock de-icer, which I did. To make a long and unpleasant story short, I spent the next hour repeating a series of steps: go outside, squeeze some de-icer (mostly isopropyl alcohol) into the lock, try the key. De-icer, key. De-icer, key. Too cold. Back inside. Take off gloves, breathe on hands, rub them together to restore circulation. When vaguely warm, put gloves back on. Repeat sequence.

It finally worked. I filled up. Thankfully, the car started again; if the battery had died again, I might've become violent. I got some "food" at McDonald's and drove south again.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. It was dark, and cold, but I had headlamps and a heater. Also lots of tapes to listen to. I managed to miss Prairie Home Companion on the radio (as I entered NY, I lost the station on which it was just starting; much later, I found another NPR station in NJ just as Keillor said "And that's the news from Lake Wobegon, my home town..."). Fortunately, several of my tapes were of Lake Wobegon monologues, so I just listened to those.

Had arranged to pick up the keys to Barbara's place from some friends of hers; despite some anxiety about finding the region (the Alexandria map I got indicated Alexandria ended well north of where I was going), I got there with little difficulty. Picked up the key (in a hidden envelope) around 12:30, found Barbara's place by 1. Couldn't find the thermostat, but I had an extra comforter with me and so didn't get too cold. Slept.

It had been a long and intense week. At the beginning of the week I got a fortune-cookie fortune that said something like "Romance will enter your life in a most unusual way this week." I proceeded to have a large number of conversations (in person and in email) with various people about sex and relationships, and about problems with same. Four different people told me about four different men crying about relationships. (On an unrelated note, at least three people, maybe four, told me they knew either Cecilia Tan or Corwyn, the editors of Circlet Press, which publishes gay sf (and BDSM) erotica.) One person commented that talking about sex seems to occur in inverse proportion to having it. A lot of painful or just intense stuff going on in friends' lives, not to mention my own frustrations in that direction. But I never did get the hang of winter. And on the positive side of this topic, one friend told me I was cute and another kissed me (lightly) goodbye.

I'm sad to have left Boston. It felt great to be in regular contact with so many good friends from Swat (and elsewhere), and to become unexpectedly close friends with several previously-unknown friends-of-friends. There were also several crushes (of varied levels of requitedness), and an enormous number of marvelous conversations. But as I said last week, I think it was time for me to leave. I like to follow the old show-biz adage "leave 'em laughing." Or maybe I just wanted an excuse to use the word "adage."

Anyway, I'll be back in Boston briefly, alliterating like anything, in April or so. And it'll be good for me, I hope, to spend some time where I don't know anyone. Unless I get sucked into going to musea and such in DC, and manage to contact friends in Maryland, and one in VA... But I'm gonna try to focus on writing while I'm here, especially during the coming week.


Movies, Books, etc.

Six Characters in Search of an Author (play)
Not as good as I'd hoped; some cool stuff about levels of reality and roleplaying, some good effects, and some nice interaction among the actors playing themselves, but the philosophical framework was muddy and the female lead was overmelodramatic, sobbing or sighing at the beginning of every line. And most of the actors had nothing to do most of the time -- 12 people on stage, but rarely more than 3 doing anything at one time.

Cindy Kallet, Ellen Epstein, Michael Cicone (concert)
This trio is even better live than recorded; if you live in the Boston area and like folk music at all, you must see them perform. Almost no songs I didn't like; lots of new-to-me stuff I liked a lot; some old favorites ("Shantyboating" and "I'm a Mammal" in particular); and a couple of moments when Kallet's or Cicone's voices hit that resonant place somewhere deep inside me and sent shivers all through me.


Jed Hartman <logos@kith.org>