Week 20: First Night

Locations: Somerville, MA; Boston, MA


Dates: 12/29/96-1/4/97

Sunday and Monday: more SWAPA, more lazing about. On Sunday saw the Les Mis tenth-anniversary concert video; hadn't ever heard any of the music or seen any of the show previously. Pretty good. Monday I went with Bhadrika to get First Night buttons, and played poker in the evening.

Tuesday was the day of Boston's First Night celebration. It's an idea that has spread to many other cities since starting in Boston a few years back: from afternoon through midnight on the last day of the year, provide dozens of performances, events, and activities for people to enjoy together. A lot of the events, especially in the afternoon, are family-oriented, and (as I understand it) no alcohol is allowed at any of them. You pay ten dollars for a button, which then allows you free admission into any event. The events are spread out all over the downtown area of the city (it takes half an hour to get from many venues to many others, even by T—which is free from 8:30 pm on), and range from dance performances, to dancing anyone can join in on, to face painting, to vaudeville performances, to short films, to Internet demos, to aquarium and museum tours.

Unfortunately, downtown Boston chose that night to develop a temperature of fifteen degrees below zero (counting wind-chill). Beth had already decided she couldn't go (too much walking around), so I asked Mark if I could tag along with him and the others he was going with; he said sure. At his advice, I dressed as warmly as I could manage, with multiple layers over most of my body; I was perfectly warm except for my toes (encased only in thick socks, ordinary shoes, and rubber overshoes, which on a medium-cool day is too warm), my fingers (wearing only Thinsulate gloves) and my face (wearing nothing but glasses and a beard). All of which cold parts combined to make me pretty miserable any time we had to be outside for more than a few minutes.

I'd hoped to get to the afternoon events, especially the demonstrations of stunt bicycling and rollerblading, but didn't get my act together in time to leave the house before 4. So I met Mark at 5:30 downtown. Our first stop of the evening (after the disappointingly slow, sparse, and frozen parade) was an act billed as something like "Fred Garbo's Inflatables Theatre." My first thought was that it would involve blow-up dolls, but that seemed unlikely given the "family-oriented" idea; my next thought was that it must be balloon animals. It was neither. The "inflatables" are big objects made of parachute silk, which inflate with air rapidly. Garbo and his partner (a Brazilian dancer) cavorted about the stage with the inflatables, climbing inside them, juggling them, running away from them, using them as props, and so on. Somewhere between Mummenschanz, performance art, gymnastics, and modern dance, with old (but still funny) vaudeville bits thrown in. The duo were perhaps a little weak on staging and stage technique, but they more than made up for it in enthusiasm, energy, and sheer bodily strength and agility. This performance alone was well worth the cost of the First Night button.

Which, alas, was a good thing, because the rest of the evening didn't go nearly so well. We didn't make it to the chime-ringing, the short-film festival, any of the storytelling events, the tap-dancing, the bluegrass and folk and a cappella musicians, or various other things various of us wanted to see. We did attend the Russian choral performance, which was nice but too quiet and I had a hard time focusing on it; we also attended an irritating "African Rhythm" performance, with lots of energetic but repetitive and out-of-synch drumming by half a dozen men, a screeching female vocalist who couldn't decide when to sing and when not to, and a few moments of "dancing" now and then consisting of any one of the performers moving to the front of the stage, wildly shaking ta's whole body, and then flipping ta's skirts up to reveal ta's pants. We stayed through about three songs and then couldn't take it any more. Most of the performers gave the strong impression that they'd been engaging in various pharmaceutical experiments before the performance. Not my cup of tea, I'm afraid.

After a spot of dinner (my lemon chicken appeared to consist mostly of breaded deep-fried chicken skin, but it improved my mood tremendously as I'd had nothing to eat for most of the day), Mark and I headed over to Bhadrika & Steve's for the remains of a very low-key party. Got there in time to watch the ball drop on TV, then hung out and chatted for another hour or so. I walked Mark to his bus and then went back to Deb & Charles'.

On New Year's Day I had a late lunch with Bhadrika at a Thai restaurant; it was nice to spend some time with her without being constantly interrupted (by kids, telephones, visitors, and so on). Walked my stuff from D&C's to Bh&S's. Took the T to Fran & Ed's, stopping en route to pick up David VS's new apartment key in preparation for helping him move the next day. Spent the evening with F&E, Ed's brother David, David & Allison, Michael, and David K and his sweetie (?) Anja. A day of many Davids. We ate dinner, played Once Upon a Time, and generally hung out and conversed. Amusing to me that six of us knew each other from, and had last seen each other together in, San Francisco, especially considering that half the people I'd seen in the past few months have never even been to California. Anyway, I also read part of the new large-format Doonesbury collection, much of which I'd missed as it came out.

Thursday started badly, when unfortunately my alarm failed to go off (only about the third or fourth time this trip that I've used an alarm, and it didn't work...). Fortunately, David VS called me to get me moving. I dragged on some clothes and rushed downstairs, figuring it'd be quicker to take my car than to walk to David's new place; but of course unfortunately my battery was dead yet again. I've got to get someone to look at my electrical system; I'm convinced it's drawing some small current from the battery constantly, so that if I don't run the car for a week or more the battery will always be dead.

Fortunately I caught a bus that took me directly to David VS's new place. Unfortunately it was then another hour before the movers actually showed up... Fortunately the move went extremely smoothly. Gentle Giant, the moving company, appears to hire only people over 6'3" tall. They do an impressively quick, thorough, and friendly job.

Hung out with David and Ed at the new apt for a couple hours, helping David settle in, making it feel more like a home; then went to CVS to try to find something to unclog my wax-filled ear. Stopped to pick up Sarah's key, so I can housesit for her this weekend; with all the housesitting I'm doing, I'm beginning to think I should print up a business card that says "Jed Hartman, Housesitter." Stopped at the tiny hidden gaming store in Davis Square (at least, the store portion is tiny; the back room, reserved for actual gaming to take place in, is pretty big), looked over some roleplaying books. Got a video rental card at West Coast Video and rented some movies. Walked back to Steve & Bhadrika's, where I spent the rest of the evening watching TV with them. I really like Mad About You; it's sweet, and funny, and the two protagonists obviously care a great deal about each other. (I should say I like their interactions. The other characters don't do much for me most of the time.) I saw my first episodes of Spin City, which was okay but not great (I mostly liked the woman who plays Michael J. Fox's character's sweetie), and Newsradio, which was interestingly off-kilter, not at all like an ordinary sitcom, but not remotely funny for most of the episode. Dave Foley didn't get enough good material, and the main joke for the other characters seems to be that they're dumb: the dumb but charismatic weatherman, the dumb Gen-X ditzy blonde, the dumb but earnest Trekkie/geek, and the dumb sex-fixated handyman/repair-guy. The boss is a kind of interesting character, and the token black woman isn't dumb in any obvious way, but they don't redeem the show.

Over to Michael's place that night; watched even more TV (my first episode of Silk Stalkings, which is stylish and has sexy protagonists and is produced by Steven J. Cannell, but nonetheless has bad dialogue and silly obvious plotting), and finished off the evening with some anime.

Spent Friday lounging around Michael's place and preparing the final push to launch my wordplay column over the weekend, mostly involving putting the logo together using Pixelsight, which is still way cool but can be awfully slow if anyone else is using it at the same time. Also downloaded new versions of a bunch of freeware and shareware applications and utilities, and tried to find a VRML 2.0 browser for a 680x0-processor Macintosh (half a dozen companies say it's on the way, none actually have one).

Had some dinner, then walked to Sarah's with yet another subset of my Stuff. Played with her cute kitten/cat for a while, familiarized myself with the apt, spent far too long uploading new and revised Web pages, and watched a movie before going to bed.

My ear was still clogged, alas. On Friday I called Harvard Community Health Plan (located in Davis Square) and determined that I could in fact pay to see a doctor there even without being part of their plan; I've had this ear-irrigation done before, so I'm pretty sure I know what's wrong and what needs to be done, and I'd rather have a professional do it and just get it over with than keep it lingering on. Yes, I have insurance, but it's for emergency stuff, and the deductible is high enough that I doubt it'll cover any of this procedure. But that's fine with me, considering how little I have to pay for the insurance; it's really only to ensure that a big-ticket emergency item won't bankrupt me.

Saturday I lounged around Sarah's place for a change. Played with the cat more, read most of an autobiographical book, ate. Finally walked to D&C's for an evening of parlor games, in honor of Jim's being in town. Much fun—a dozen or so Swat alums + relatives, playing games of varying degrees of silliness. I particularly liked Diana's simile game, where abstract and concrete items are paired randomly and participants give reasons why one is like the other; also David VS's categories games, in which players try to guess which item in a category was chosen by other players. The evening lasted well into Sunday.

Movies, Books, etc.

Vampire Hunter D (dubbed into English)
Visually interesting, with some particularly cool bright-light effects, but a dull mishmash of a plot and lots of gore. Skip it.
Truly Madly Deeply
Slightly off-kilter ghost story, not as good as I'd been told but better than I'd expected from the previews. The cast are (this is a British film) all marvelous, but the only scene that I really loved was the hopping scene, and the ending didn't really work for me.
"And So It Goes": Adventures in Television, by Linda Ellerbee
Light, almost fluffy memoirs (mostly consisting of anecdotes) of Ellerbee's years as a slightly off-kilter TV journalist at NBC. Moves very quickly (the first time I've read 300 pages of nonfiction in under 24 hours), lots of fairly funny pieces, and a moving chapter on Overnight, a late-night newsmagazine show run by a bunch of people who really cared about producing good TV.

(Last updated: 7 January 1997.)

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