Spies in Boston

We walk hand in hand through the tight streets. The magic in the North End seems to rise from the granite slab sidewalks, our foot falls releasing it all as we ever so slowly grind down the grooves carved into their surface so long ago.

She is wearing a skirt, which seldom happens away up north on our island home. Shhh. She is blending in with the fabric of the city.

Passing for Urban.

We walk briskly, with purpose. Not ogling the old brick facades like so many, but stealing glimpses from the corner of the eye, remembering details to discuss later over the privacy of our dinner table.

We are not tourists with fanny packs and cameras on straps. Not obvious with outsized hats and backpacks bulging with swag. We pass like spies, changing our manner, moving like locals and step around the knots of lost sight seers ‘till we reach our goal:

“Two cannoli, please.

Gratzi.”

Arrival, Part II

As the robotic female voice clipped efficient driving instructions from the little moving map suctioned to the dashboard, I fumbled with the radio in the hopes of possibly finding a bit of classical that might lull my boy back to sleep. Just because I had to be bright tailed and bushy eyed for the foreseeable future didn’t mean that he couldn’t take advantage of the car trip and get a little more rest. This however, was my point of view and though Short Stack might be able to understand the opportunity, bringing it to his attention served little purpose. There was a good reason for that.

My wife, if not a night person, is at least and evening lover and she can easily stay up until eleven or so with little effort. I, on the other hand, am a certified, dyed in the feathers, night owl and have been since… well, I was Short Stack’s age. If allowed to keep to my own schedule, I will happily stay up until some time around two AM or so and then somehow, after a few hours sleep, manage to crawl back out from under the covers at a still respectable eight o’clock.. I might try to shoehorn in a ten or fifteen minute power nap in there someplace to avoid nodding off unintentionally at an inopportune moment… such as when I’m running machinery at high RPM, but on the whole, I’m happiest to work on projects when it’s dark out and tend to get the lion’s share of my stuff done when most of my contemporaries are either asleep or watching Letterman through three quarters closed eyes. This would all be fine if the world let you keep the schedule that your body and brain was inclined to, but sadly, it rarely does. There are pre-set times when certain things must be done and that means that I first must convince my late night son to just lay down and TRY and fall asleep and then a few hours later, do the whole thing over again on my self. I just try not to put us as much of a fuss and I can easier tell if I’m lying about actually having to go pee again.

My son has completely inherited this nocturnal gene of mine and now I’m forced to choose between being the stern parent enforcer who demands that he go to bed since it’s already two hours past bedtime or simply cave in and let him stay up and continue to play quietly since I know that, truthfully, he really isn’t tired in the slightest.

I know this.

I’m not either.

Now, as we rocketed down the Florida Interstate system with a sigh of relief and a heady sense of mission, I happily put the lit up sprawl of Entertainmentville behind us. I eventually gave up on scanning the unfamiliar radio frequencies since it appeared to be an split between country music and tent revival style preaching, neither of which is my particular cup of tea. Instead, to keep my mind occupied, I started watching the clock, averaging my best, “pretty unlikely to be pulled over” speed and tried to work out our arrival time. If things went as they should, we would be pulling in just at the appointed moment. This naturally got me nervous. With any possible time buffer we could have had, taken up with actual sleeping, it was exactly the sort of thing that Murphy’s law loves to have for a delightful little snack.

“Dad?”

“Yah, buddy? What do you need?”

I was living in fear of another unscheduled pee break since pulling over on a Florida highway at night boasted not only vicious mosquitoes and chiggers but the ever present possibility of the random seven foot long alligator looking for a little something extra to go with his road kill platter.

“What are… um… What…” Words were still coming slowly and quietly, but I could sense that he was coming around to the coherent world., even if it was only at a minimum power setting. “What are they doing with the Space Shuttle now? Is it ready to launch?”

“Yah. It’s just about ready to go.” I scratched around in my head, trying to remember what I had read and seen about the preflight routine for a Shuttle launch and did my best with what I had. If he was going to be awake for the trip, as it now seemed to be, at least I’d have a chatting companion, even if the conversation was bound to be one subject deep only. “Well, I’d guess that the astronauts are awake and getting ready for the launch too. They’re having breakfast, getting dressed in their orange launch suits and will be soon be getting driven to the Shuttle and made ready for lift off in just a little while.” In truth, I didn’t know what the schedule was, but it seemed like a good guess.

He mulled this for a few minutes as we bumped along at the regular intervals of each pad of concrete.

“What are they having for breakfast?” This is exactly the kind of question my kid would think of and I liked the fact that he was curious about both what was going in to the Shuttle’s and astronaut’s respective fuel tanks.

“Hmmm… I don’t know. What ever they want I guess”

I wasn’t sure, but I sort of hoped that if you were a professional astronaut and about to ride a controlled explosion all the way into low earth orbit on a multi-multi billion dollar rocket, that the least NASA could do was splurge and get these incredibly brave folks what ever they fancied to start their day. It seems like the least that we could do.

Much of the rest of the ride went by quietly and from time to time I’d look back in the rear view mirror to see if my boy had finally nodded off during a long silent spell.

He hadn’t.

No surprise there.

The roads were black and sparsely dotted with the red tail lights of fellow travelers. In the quiet of the car, a nagging doubt had started to coalesce on the inside back of my skull and as its grip got firmer and firmer on my brain stem, I began to pay more attention to the road signs that blasted by in the glare of my rented headlights. I had started to doubt my digital navigator.

GPS’s are amazing tools I’ll grant you that I loved to fiddle with them when a friend happened to have one. I thought they were kind of neat, in roughly the same way I thought salad spinners were neat. They did a job, but they still seemed sort of silly to actually own. When it came to driving, I tended to be a luddite. I liked maps. I liked road signs. I liked not having to use batteries or plugs when I wanted to find out where I was. I love technology but really, I like to be able to do things my self. This trip though, had gotten me to choke back my caveman-like attitude and embrace change. When I had factored in my young traveling companion, our tight time schedule and driving unknown roads for unknown distances to unknown exit ramps, I realized that the safe money was on having a navigator to assist me, electronic or not. So, it was with hat and hand that I had visited my neighbors whom I knew were the owners of just such a magical device. I had knocked on the door and, after they had finished spinning dry the freshly washed spinach leaves that would be part of their dinner, happily entrusted me with their GPS. I had thanked them, packed it in our luggage and once we had arrived, used it happily. What I hadn’t done, naturally, was read the manual.

I am still part caveman, after all.

Traveling Together

“Hi Mom. Yes, I just got on board a few minutes ago… Oop, looks like were starting to move. Yah, I’m excited to go too but I’m missing the kids already.” I was trying to keep my voice down as I spoke into the phone, aware that the rest of the train car was nearly silent.

This is going to be a special couple of days. Not only am I taking off to go play all by my self, just like other adults do, I was getting there by rail. The “there” part is Boston, and the “all by my self” bit doesn’t mean “alone” as much as “not having to referee small children bent on annoying each other and cleaning up my living room which has been turned into a multicolored mine field of easily crunchable toys.” Action Girl is at the helm of the house for the next forty-eight hours and I’m getting a chance to reconnect with my inner adulthood and an old friend from High School, Ioseph.

I’ve spent some really wonderful time on trains over the years. I like the sway of the cars, the muffled rumble and the view of the back sides of cities and towns that the you get no other way unless you spend a lot of quality time with hobos and drifters. As I type these words right now, my coffee is at hand, my legs are crossed and I’m bumping along at fifty or so miles per hour, watching the trees go whipping by just past the lightly grimy windows. My train departed right on time and, for me, the unusual thing is that I’m doing this in my own country.

The vast majority of my rail experience comes from time spent over seas. The U.S. woefully underutilizes rail as a form of domestic travel and if you can find a train going from a place you live to a place you want to go to, it’s a noteworthy event. Europe and much of Asia is exactly the opposite. If there isn’t a train to whatever little podunk village you want to get to, it makes you stop and think, “Really?!?” Naturally, if there’s no train, there’s nearly always a bus.

I love that.

Here, in the land of the automobile, things are very different. Once, rail crisscrossed our country, taking goods and people just about everywhere they wanted to go. I’m aware that there was never the sort of rail coverage here that there is overseas, but still, it was pretty darned good. Then, for reasons totally inexplicable to me, they started to tear up the tracks. Literally. I remember this happening in my hometown when I was a kid. As a child, I can clearly recall running full tilt out of the cobbler’s shop where my mother was valiantly trying to get me crammed into a new pair of very nice and highly uncomfortable back-to-school shoes. I ran not because an escape was in order, but because the train was coming through. The tracks used to run right through downtown and bisect Main Street bringing all traffic to a halt bringing every kid within jogging distance out onto the sidewalks. It was great. Then one day, the tracks were gone and sold as scrap. I couldn’t believe it.

I didn’t get a chance to ride on an actual passenger train until years after I managed to finally get rid of those shoes. True, I did take a “scenic rail” trip with my Grandparents aboard a steam locomotive, but we didn’t really GO anywhere. It was really just a gigantic carnival ride and though I did manage to get a cinder stuck in my eye by hanging out the window like a dog in a station wagon, it was at least fun. But it was only part of the equation. I’m lumping the Disney monorail into this category as well. Though not steam powered, it was still essentially a “ride.” Come to think of it, steam would make the monorail far, far more cool and awesome. Can you imagine that one? Ohhh!

Once I started traveling abroad, I got my chance to do the train thing for real and I instantly fell in love. This was the way to travel. Leg room, sleeping compartments, the ability to ride them all night and wake up in not merely a totally different country, but a different region or even continent, and all at eye level. I loved to fly, but trains offer you a human touch that you just can’t get at thirty thousand feet.

Sometimes that human touch can be a bit powerful and hit pretty high on the Irony-O-Meter.

As I boarded my train, I looked down the empty car to pick my seat. Now, I’m not an overly tall individual, nor am short. I like to think of my self as stunningly average. I measure in at almost exactly six feet tall and though the seats on the train are far more generous in the leg room department that just about anything with wings theses days, I nevertheless eyed the four vacant front row seats, boasting easily six feet of open space in front of them, with envy. I couldn’t take one for the simple reason that I had also noticed the sign overhead mentioning that these super convenient, leg friendly seats were intended for individuals who might have legs that weren’t so friendly to their owners. They were reserved for the disabled.

No problem. I had a whole car to pick from and quickly sat in down in the next row. It was about this time that my Mom had called to see if I was already on my way. We chatted while I watched the freight yards disappear and give way to trees and fields. It was a wonderful way to spend the morning. When the conductor came though and took my ticket, I was taken a bit by surprise by something you don’t see much any more, but recovered quickly and don’t think I showed my reaction outwardly. After he left, I thought no more about it and went back to my window view.

At the next stop just a few minutes away, new passengers piled in and shuffled past my seat hauling bags like unruly children with travel plans of their own. The car was still only about twenty percent full, but this seemed to be all the excuse that was needed for the woman who plunked herself down in the reserved section and then, sitting just a bit sidewise, take up both seats. She was sixtyish, very well dressed and had no baggage to be seen outside of an expensive looking purse. The aura she projected was of a woman who did what she pleased. I don’t know where her sense of entitlement originated from, but I do know that she was ill prepared for what happened next.

Guilt, is an amazing thing. Some folks are impervious to it; some simply have a very high tolerance. People like me, crumble at the notion that someone, somewhere might be disappointed in my actions in some way. I’ve learned to live with it. This lady, looked like she had some pretty good guilt armor. She appeared unflappable. Then the ticket agent returned.

Dutifully, he examined and punched her ticket while the woman did her best to not pay him any but the most cursory attention. Then he pointed out the sign.

“You might not have noticed,” he said in a quiet but firm tone, “but these seats are reserved for disabled riders.” As he said this, he tapped the very obvious sign hovering a few inches over her head. The tapping, he did not with the hand holding his paper punch, but his other one.

The hook hand.

You don’t see many hook hands these days. Most amputees use more realistic prosthetics, but this, I feel, did a far superior job of pointing out her error. The effect it had on the able bodied woman in the disabled seating was obvious. She turned a shade of red that matched her silk scarf beautifully and after a mumbled apology and rapid gathering of personal effects she said something about how it was no problem to move to another seat which she did, eyes averted from the rest of the car passengers.

The rest of the trip down is uneventful from my perspective. The towns roll by and soon, Boston will loom ahead. I’ll be down just for an overnight and I’m staying with my friend Ioseph, so who knows what’s planned. The ride on the train though is something that I have already found a lot of joy in. It gets people all together in one place with a common goal. We’re all on the same track, literally and figuratively.

A smile shared here.
Something interesting, overheard there.

It’s all good. It gets us closer to each other, even if we’re not actually engaged in conversation. You loose that in a car. We learn how to be around other people and to respect them a bit better; something the red scarf lady got a refresher in today. Hopefully it will stick with her better than before.

I’m almost at my destination now and I expect to have a lot of fun while I’m here. I have to confess though, I’m already looking forward to riding the rails again, back home.

All aboard!

Whatalya have, Hon?

There’s a newly reopened landmark in my city and I’ve been watching with some excitement if not out right glee for it to officially welcome the public in through its doors. Only one kind of establishment could get me this pumped up. It has to be a food related. Specifically, it needs to be a greasy spoon. Preferably, it should be a diner. It is!

When Action Girl and I moved to our adopted hometown in Maine, we did so with little working knowledge of the city. We knew generally how to get around and where the city anchor stores were but the back roads, cut throughs and eating establishments were mostly unknown to us. This was fine. We were, after all, broker than broke so the prospect of going out to an upscale eatery was practically laughable. Diners, on the other hand, were not only with in our price range but had the added bonus of being one of my favorite places to find “nourishment”. Food designed to give a thick, protective lining to heart and arteries. Now all I needed to do was find one.

The only fly in the soup was that at the time, Action Girl was a vegetarian. This didn’t rule out diner eating, but it mostly forced it to be a breakfast only option. Lunch menus at such placed tend toward the carnivore aesthetic, rather then tasty quiches and portabella burgers. For those meat free years, I had to pretty much let go of the notion of eating at such places.

This wasn’t always the case. When my wife and I had first met, she was still an omnivore. She was never a big fan of meats in general, but she tolerated it and eating out at these types of establishments was not that big a deal. Being younger and possessing a stomach lining made from space shuttle heat shields and Kevlar, we happily stopped at diners wherever we found them and partook of their greasy bounty.

There’s just something about a proper, old diner. To qualify in my book, it needs to be the real McCoy. A long and narrow restaurant that found its way to its current home by being driven there. Once in place, the wheels were removed and substituted with cement block and a decorative skirt added to hide the now useless axles. Inside is a long counter with backless stools that spin easily. On the opposite side are the booths, capable of seating two full grown adults or four midgets. The countertops are Formica, the surfaces behinds the counter, stainless steel and the floor, made up of a mosaic of itty-bitty tile. To finish the picture and for extra points, add a rotating display rack of pies and a waitress who will call you, ”Hon” or “Sweetie”. Put these all together and you have a slice of heaven.

The diner in my hometown was always my favorite place to go and seating was at a premium. You had to be fast and early, At one point in my early working life, I had the double benefit of not only being located just next door to this diner, but also having a boss who liked to eat heavy, greasy breakfasts with company to chat with. I often didn’t get a lot of work done until after ten, but I did get to have second breakfast on company time, sanction by the individual who signed my paychecks. Not great for my cholesterol but it made the day easer to take.

When I visited my girlfriend, Action Girl in Vermont, we often haunted a diner that sat on the main drag on the way out of town. Though the original diner car had been all but obliterated through numerous expansions and renovations, it stayed true to its roots and more than a few tractor trailer rigs and other delivery trucks filled the parking lot. I specifically remember a waitress my mother’s age with peroxide blond hair piled high on her head calling me, “Hon”

I love these places.

When we moved to Maine, I heard about a diner that was hidden down in the rough end of town, and by “Rough”, I mean literally rough. On the back side of the city where the roads are still partially paved in heaved cobble stone through disregard and lack of caring rather than preserved as a kitschy tourist attraction or in the conservation of history, sat the diner. Surrounded by scrap yards and the municipal truck garage, the little blue diner fed the blue collar and black fingered inhabitants of this corner of an otherwise polished town. I wanted to go.

My wife however, though never one to shrink away from the rugged, hard working crowd, wondered aloud if this was a good idea. It was the look of the establishment rather than the clientele that put her off. The diner was obviously on hard times and she surmised that the condition of the kitchen must have been suffering right along with the façade and roof. She begged off and we simply never went back. A year later it was closed by the health department. Sometimes she has a good eye for the better decision.

Being a landmark since the 1930’s and having been constructed to be mobile from the start, city officials did something astonishing. They made a choice to save the structure from the wreckers, though it would have only needed to be dragged a few hundred yards to the car crusher down the street. Saved for the moment, it was put back on its wheels for the second time in its life and parked in a city lot next to the snow plows and earth moving equipment and wait for a knight in a stained apron to take it home.

One day, not long ago, a publishing executive living in New York read about this wonderful old diner and how it languished, unloved and unused. Being a native son of our fair city and remembering the diner from the days of his youth, he took a look at his life and career in the Big Apple, and decided, “Screw it”. Moving his family back to whence he came, he bought the diner and did what needed to be done.

It can’t have been cheep.

As luck would have it, new college housing was being put up in the vary area where the diner had sat for over seventy years. The scrap yards are disappearing and the roads repaved and widened. This portion of the city is really starting to come into its own. The diner’s benefactor moved right next door to the college apartments, made some improvements and enlargement and opened for business. With a building full of fresh faced college students not more than a few steps away, this beacon of all things fried will no doubt do well.

diner

The aesthetic of the rejuvenated diner is just right. The stainless steel is polished and shines nicely, the ice cream bins are loaded with chocolate, vanilla and strawberry and though on my visit, I didn’t find a waitress to call me “Hon”, hope springs eternal. Everything is just as should be. The food is basic, good, hot and filling. The booths, though small, are intimate and comfortable. I can’t wait to go back.

diner2

The best part? After thirteen years of vegetarian eating, three years ago, Action Girl had a change of taste. Meat was once again back on the menu. With that decision, our dining options have blossomed. You can guess where I hope that will take us.

If you want to find me around lunchtime, I’ll be at the counter with the cheeseburger and side of onion rings.

The Tone in Dresden, Part III

As we worked our way through the suburbs of Dresden, the view was less than inspiring. All around us was the rusting wreckage of Soviet era industry. Dilapidated buildings full of frozen machinery simply walked away from by its workers once the State no longer existed to prop it up. My memory of much of the ground that showed through snow appeared in rude shades of red and yellow, mirroring the shades of the forgotten steel trusses and tanks, now sitting disused and fenced off from hapless passers by. It was obvious that it would take years to clean up. If any one could do it well however, I had faith in the ability and efficiency of the Germans.

Once the outskirts had been successfully pasted, we drove to the heart of Dresden. Well, Perhaps, “heart” isn’t quite right… The lungs, then. We had to meet up with Carla’s friend, Laura. The place scheduled for our meeting was one of the beautiful stone churches that punctuated the cityscape. Old and massive, our meeting place loomed against the grey skyline and we piled out of the car, unfolding long bent legs and backs.

“So, where are we meeting her exactly?” I asked.
“Hmmm.” Carla thought for a moment. “I didn’t ever really specify a place. I just told her to meet us at the church.”

I can see how this could sound like a good plan but there is one thing to consider. These churches are huge! Dozens of people milled around the square in front of the church and since our new travel companion wasn’t quickly spotted, we decide to go looking. Mountain Man had met Laura once and so I went off with him while Carla went off alone to search. True to form, once Carla was out of sight, Mountain Man threw me a curve ball.

“I don’t really remember what Laura looks like.”
“Eh? Then what good are we going to be? There’s not much we can do, then.” I retorted.
He looked back at me with his big, goofy smile. “Let’s just ask around. One of them must be Laura.”

So, the two of us walked around the church asking young woman if they were Laura. In retrospect, I’m more than a little amazed that we didn’t get questioned by the police. After only a little while, we were rewarded for our persistence when we did, in fact, find Laura. Well, actually, it was “a woman named Laura”, but not “OUR” Laura. A brief and somewhat confused conversation with the indulging lady and we figured out that she was not the Laura we were looking for. Just as we were completing our apologies and goodbyes with Laura #1, Carla appeared with Laura #2. The correct Laura had been found.

After a round of introductions, and a brief flurry of chitchat in auf deutsch, Laura noticed that I wasn’t joining in the conversation. Once informed that I didn’t speak German, she quickly switched to a very nice, upper class British English. As it turned out, that was no hardship for her. She was, as it turned out, English. Her father was in the British military and had been stationed in Germany, where the family lived during most of her young life. Later on she explained that she’d actually spent more time here than she dad in England.

Carla knew of a place we could all stay for cheap in the out skirts of the city. Technically, it wasn’t even in Dresden but in a town called Pirna. As we passed back through some of the old industrial wreckage, Carla told us about the way it was when she grew up here.

“The city was still a mess. There were bombed out buildings everywhere, left over from the war. The Russians didn’t foster fixing the old buildings, too much. Most of the programs were about new construction. Giant apartment blocks and manufacturing complexes. For fun after school, my friends and I would go and dig through the old ruins, looking for treasures. All the industry made the air here filthy. My father worked in one of these plants and I, for one, am not sad to see them closed. They were awful.”

As the story ended, we pulled into a parking lot. Looming over us was the quintessential Soviet era hostelry. It was a mustard colored block with windows and a door. Once inside, the décor did not change much. The best parts were the goodies being sold at the check in counter. They were still trying to sell off the last of their DDR flavored memorabilia. Key chains, patched and stickers did their best to evoke pride in a cast off and failed system. Happily, I bought some to stick on my truck and confuse folks back home.

After check in, we stowed our stuff and headed out on the town. This is where things start to get fuzzy for me. It was late in the day by now and we were getting hungry and thirsty. The hunger was taken care of at a Chinese restaurant that Carla knew of. The thirst was taken care of at a variety of venues. As the evening wore on, Carla informed us that she was going to be heading along. This wasn’t a surprise. She had told us earlier that her mother lived in Dresden and she was going to be spending the night with her. We wished her good by and made plans to meet tomorrow. As she walked away from our little group, I increasingly became aware that none of us left knew what to do next. Laura didn’t know Dresden very well and Mountain Man and I, not at all. So, we did what we could. We had another beer.

Once we realized that we needed to get back to the hostel and had completed a chilly “sober up” walk, we encountered another problem. None of us were sure where Pirna was. After a quick and lively discussion, we started to drive in the direction of consensus. It was not a sure thing, by any stretch. Three sets of eyes swept the road signs in the hopes of finding the breadcrumbs that would lead us home. Nothing… Not good.

“A-Ha! There we go!” It was Laura.
“What? Where!?” Mountain Man and I shot forward in our seats and scanned the dark roadsides.
She triumphantly declared, “The car in front of us! They’re from Pirna! We’ll just follow them!”

Either she was joking, had an unbelievable memory for cars or knew something I didn’t. Which ever it was, I wasn’t the one driving so the choice to take the next exit wasn’t mine. At least I had the back seat to my self. That would be comfortable enough to seep on.

Next, I actually get to the city!

A Sailor’s Rest House

The view out my early morning window was one of beautiful timelessness. The small village square two stories below me was quiet except for the sound of a distant highway and the cooing of pigeons. The rough cobblestone streets below undulated with the effort of hundreds of winters and the romanesque Catholic church opposite our building was undisturbed except for the elderly woman who appeared from a side street some time around six AM and disappeared behind it’s massive oak doors. Perhaps she did this every morning. The old brick sidewalks were silent and empty and the fresh, low rays of the sun briefly lit up corners that would likely be in shadow for the rest of the day. It was the epitome of Europe and expressed to me perfectly why I loved it so much.

Except I wasn’t in Europe. Just three weeks before, I could not have imagined that such a place existed so close to home.

“Absolutely not. There is no way that I’m okay with that. No way at all.”

I’m a pretty laid back guy and can usually be relied on to be agreeable to any hair brained adventure. I don’t put my foot down often but this was one of those rare times. Action Girl looked back at me with a, “That’s very sweet, but you worry too much” look on her face and told me that it was probably fine and that I was blowing things way out of proportion.

What she had proposed was spending the night in Boston. This was hardly something to strike terror in my heart. She and I had been loads of times, either together or on our own. We love Boston. What worried me deeply was where she was intending to stay… Alone.

As in, “With out me”.

She had been working as a longshoreman for a local ferry company for quite a few years now and had of late, bent her will to studying for her Captain’s license. She had worked her way up to Mate and now wanted to have the helm to her self. I was all for this and did my best to assist with studying and flash card quizzes over the dinner table. She had her sea time requirement fulfilled and had been studying her guts out with riveting tomes such as “Chapman Piloting & Seamanship” and other text books so dry that you needed to dump your water glass on them before attempting to read.

Now it was time to go take the test. That took place at the U.S. Coast Guard facility in Boston and the test started early in the morning, necessitating an over night stay. She told me about the discovery of a great, cheap place she could crash at, right down the street from the exam facility! She was intending to spend the night at place especially set aside for sailors and sailors only, right down on the waterfront. All I could picture was the flop house where Ishmael first encounters Queequeg, the tattooed behemoth when they had to share a bed. Action Girl is tough and all but as a concerned party for her well being, I had problems with this. I needed to know more about this house full of sailors, down by the wharfs before I was going to even entertain the possibility of her staying there alone. I’d find the money somewhere for a room at a real hotel.

As I dug for more information about this place, I started to feel a little better about it. The sailor’s home had apparently just had a major refitting in the last year. The rooms were private and the facility actually had a religious component that it was built on. The place is called the Mariner’s House and was established in the 1800’s as an alternative abode for sailors on leave to the whore houses and taverns . There are non-denominational religious services in the chapel, breakfast served on the premises, no drinking or smoking allowed in the building and absolutely no one other than proven sailors, their spouses or children allowed inside. No exceptions. I felt a lot better knowing this and relented in my opposition. Action Girl was kind enough to let me think that I had a say in this decision in the first place.

I was still a bit uneasy when she left but a phone call from her once she arrived put the last of my fears to rest. She took the test the next day, passed and it was official, I was married to a sea captain.

When she came back home, elated with her new hard won rank, she had glowing things to say about this place. We needed to plan a trip soon. A few weeks later, she returned with her hesitant husband and proceeded to check us in. It was actually quite rigorous. She needed to have proof that she was in fact, a sailor and then we needed to provide a copy of our marriage certificate to prove that she didn’t just pick me up from the Gigolo’s Home for Excessively Handsome Men.

Ok, that wouldn’t be hard to prove.

Once inside I was impressed with the simple antiquity of the place. The building dates from the early 1800’s and the architecture shows it. Huge, double hung windows open onto a European style village square where cars are few in the early day and the Italian language burbles up from the streets below as morning news is shared among locals. The high ceilings inside make the otherwise smallish rooms feel airy and the furniture, though simple, was new and comfortable. It was wonderful in every way. We were nestled in the heart of the North End. That night we had our pick of the fantastic restaurants down the street and finished off the night with cannoli from Modern (service with an attitude) Pastry. It was the perfect way to enjoy this corner of Boston.

We have since spent many more nights at the Mariner’s House, both as a couple and with our kids. Short Stack takes to city dwelling well and helps me make dessert runs to the pastry shop (I find that the service improves markedly with a well behaved two year old in tow). We only went once this summer and are hoping to make a trip again soon. We’ll leave the hoards of leaf peepers driving north and clogging the secondary roads while we pretend to be city folk for a weekend and do our best to blend in. For us, the Mariner’s House is the only place to stay. We wouldn’t dream of going elsewhere. We’ll see if our usual room is available, go out for a much appreciated Italian dinner and after our ricotta fix is taken care of, head back to that old sailor’s rest. Queequeg won’t be joining us I hope. It’s not really his type of place.

Badger, badger, badger, badger, MUSHROOM, MUSHROOM!

My mind is slightly bent. I don’t know when this happened or how, exactly. I can take an educated guess that the steady diet of Benny Hill, Monty Python and Dr. Demento in my youth had something to do with it, but I also think it was just part of the way I came wired. It can be a tricky thing at times and my outward appearance probably doesn’t help me out when it comes to trying not to confuse/weird-out the locals.

I don’t look very odd, so far as I can tell. I have a normal, short hair cut (quite short in the summer). My usual daily dress is Carhart shorts, t-shirt with a some what odd print on it, a worn, unbuttoned flannel shirt and Teva sandals. Oh… And a hat. If I’m out side, you can just about bank on a baseball hat. The one I have today is from a trip to Hawaii and has a volcano on it. Nothing too odd there.

It’s the silliness that my mind defaults to that makes life interesting for me, and I suppose, for those standing nearby who are paying attention. To put it another way, I’ve never felt the need to partake in recreational drug use because quite honestly, that’s the way my brain works all the time. That, and the fact that I didn’t dare kill off any brain cells. I need all the cells I can get and if I’m going to put any of them in front of a firing squad, I was determined to use high quality alcohol as my weapon of choice. Each to their own. The bottom line is, seeing the world like a “normal” person takes effort for me.

So one morning, as I dragged my bent mind, kicking and screaming to work, I happened upon something that, figuratively speaking, tickled me.

It was a bit of a cardboard box that had once held mushrooms and it was sitting on a short flight of stairs in the alley next to a popular restaurant. Obviously, it had fallen out of a garbage can on the way to the dumpster out back, but it sported a print of two, little blue mushrooms on it and it made me stop and smile. I took a few steps away, stopped, turned around and picked it up. What next?

Lately, the city has been doing its bit to dress up its more forgotten parts. This alley had until recently been graced with a set of rotting wooden stairs that led from the main street, down to the parking lot below. The steps had been ripped out an replaced with nice granite ones, complete with a small flower garden to one side. The gardener in charge of it had gone out of her way to give it a “woodland” feel, complete with moss and bits off rotting logs. Perfect.

I took my little bit of found art and carefully nestled it in behind a log so it just peeked out at a jaunty angle. Just after I took the picture, a man wandered along, saw it and laughed. That made my day. It stayed there for at least three weeks.

A few days ago I noticed that the gardeners had been back to do some more work and that my mushrooms were gone. The very next day (and I’m assuming here) someone from the restaurant had noticed it missing as well. They were kind enough to replace it with another little cardboard cut out mushroom from another box. It’s good to know you’re not alone when it come to odd shaped humor.

I could get into this kind of gardening!

By the way… for those of you who don’t understand the title of this post, here’s the explanation. I’ll take no blame for the earworm. You have been warned.

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