Monthly Archives: April 2012

Let the good times roll – in a cab

Chef Wayne’s Big Mamou is a Cajun restaurant in Springfield, MA. When my friends and I asked for walking directions from the Sheraton Hotel, the concierge expressed surprise. We interpreted his response as skepticism that three women would rather walk than take a cab so we persevered, got the directions (which were quite straightforward), and set out happily, looking forward to a drink and a nice dinner. It wasn’t long before the pretty retail facades and business addresses gave way to empty lots and corner bars, but it was still light out and we were enjoying each other’s company so it was all good. Then we walked past the bus station and turned right. Now we could see the YMCA down the street. We began to understand why the concierge thought we might want a cab.

We knew the restaurant didn’t take reservations. We didn’t know they didn’t have a liquor license. There didn’t seem to be any other choices in the neighborhood so we decided to stay and wait for a table. We joined a line of people who were leaning against the wall. The guy in front of us was wearing a Columbia Teacher’s College baseball cap. V. went to Columbia for grad school. She made friends with him and his party while D. and I entertained each other.

At one point, she turned back to us and said, “Tim thinks we should take a cab back to the hotel.” She also told us what he recommended for dinner. Apparently he was a regular, as, it turned out, were most of the other diners.

When we were seated, perusing the menu, I noticed that on the floor at the next table was a cardboard box with an untouched six-pack of Mikes Classic Margarita. The table was scattered with crumpled napkins and empty glasses. It was clear that they were finished and getting ready to pay the bill. Before I could lose my nerve I leaned over and said, “Excuse me, if you guys are done, would you consider selling me that six-pack?” Even for me that felt a little ballsy, but I was never going to see these people again so I figured what the hell. The guy closest to the six-pack picked it up and brought it to our table.

“Take it,” he said. “It’s yours.”

Now I was making friends. Our benefactor was eager to share tourist tips with us. He was bullish on a local bar, even recommended a particular drink, but urged us to take a cab. Et tu, Margarita Guy? Why did everyone want us to take a cab?

Another guy at his table joined the conversation. He told me that he and his wife had just moved back to South Hadley because his wife had gotten a job as the Director of Communications for one of the area colleges. When I told him we were all children’s book writers, in town for a conference, he mentioned that she had a blog, The Musing Mama. I visited her blog and was surprised to find that she’s a good writer. I read a few posts and bookmarked the site. I’m now mulling over a new way to promote my blog, a six-pack for each new subscriber. It might work…

Back at Chef Wayne’s, when Tim was getting ready to leave, he and his friend, Louis, came to our table to say good-bye. Tim reminded us to take a cab.

I said, “What’s with the cab thing? It’s not that long a walk.”

He replied, “This is Springfield. Do you know what the murder rate is?”

Actually, no, I thought.

His friend nodded and said, “I’m a court officer. I hear a lot. Take a cab.”

When we were done with dinner, we gave the three remaining margaritas to a group that had just been seated and called a cab.

At Chef Wayne’s Big Mamou the food is delicious, the atmosphere is funky, and the people are great. Next time you’re in Springfield, check it out. But BYOB ─ and take a cab.

Storytelling from The Moth

The Moth, True Stories Told Live, is a radio show that airs on NPR. The story tellers are real people with interesting stories to tell. They may also be actors or writers, but they’re just as likely to be ex-cons, teachers, mechanics and dog-walkers. They tell real stories about themselves, live on stage without notes or other crutches. That is not to say that these are extemporaneous performances, far from it. The stories have beginnings and middles and ends. They are polished and practiced and committed to memory. But they don’t sound like theatrical pieces; they sound like stories.

The main stage for The Moth is in New York, but the show travels and recently came to the Somerville Theater. Andrew was online during the teensy, tiny window of opportunity for getting tickets and succeeded. It was an incredible evening. We had a ball. We heard five storytellers that night and only one would I characterize as a performer by trade. Of the others, one was a leader of the Human Genome Project who still teaches biology at MIT, one was an ex-DA turned funeral director, and one was the author of a memoir called Jarhead. The theme of the evening was “Shapeshifters: Stories of Transformation.”

I don’t know how many of The Moth performers are featured more than once. Since the stories are all true it’s hard to imagine anyone having more than one. However, the ex-DA’s story was about being shocked out of his drug habit after an attempted armed robbery in his law office. Since his bio tells us he’s now a funeral director, I’m betting he has another story or two in him.

I want to tell my stories to a big, appreciative audience. Reading my zip code story, 02476, to a bar full of people at a Literary Lounge evening was a major rush. I was high for days. I would love to tell a story at a Moth open mic night. I have lots of stories. I write a piece for you every week, don’t I? And I mine my own life to come up with them! It should be easy, right? Maybe not. On The Moth’s website is a page called Storytelling Tips. One of them is:

No essays: Your eloquent musings are beautiful and look pretty on the page but unless you can make them gripping and set up stakes, they won’t work on stage.

Damn. But then I read more and had a small epiphany – it was all good advice for writers as well as storytellers. Here are a few of their other tips: have some stakes, start in the action, steer clear of meandering endings, no standup routines, no rants. Lest you think novelists don’t employ stand up routines and rants, let me assure you they try to. I removed a small rant from my work-in-progress just the other day.

And talk about rants, have I ever told you about the time my car broke down on the highway during a rainstorm? Well it was late and… You know what? I think I’ll keep that off my blog. It might make a good story for The Moth.

02476

I wrote this for a contest for Zip Code stories that Radio Boston co-sponsors with The Drum Literary Magazine. I read it during the open mic portion of an evening that celebrated the February stories. The winner was my friend, Lisa Rogers. You can hear a snippet of the evening, and a few of my sentences, here.

02476

I moved to Arlington because I wanted a house that was close to the city, in a town I could afford. I didn’t check out the school system or compare MCAS scores to surrounding towns. I didn’t inquire about the town’s tax base, or whether or not they were responsible for plowing sidewalks. When I moved in I was single. I didn’t get the local paper and I didn’t vote in local elections. I only knew my immediate neighbors by sight, and I couldn’t name a single person on the Board of Selectman.

About a year after I bought my house, I met a man. He moved in, we got married and had a baby. I started pushing the baby carriage around the neighborhood. I met other people pushing strollers, walking dogs, working in their gardens.

I subscribed to the local paper, and joined a town email list. I discovered that while I wasn’t paying attention, Arlington had become sought after by people being priced out of Lexington and Cambridge. I volunteered for a “Vote Yes for the Override” campaign. More time passed. I joined the Board of Directors of our pre-school, and then moved on to the PTO at my daughter’s elementary school. I went to School Committee meetings and worked on another override campaign.

After vigorous debate, liquor stores came to town, and restaurants began to serve alcohol. Arlington became a dining destination. We rebuilt several of our elementary schools. My work on the overrides helped make that happen. Recently, several small, boutique shops have moved into town. I worry about whether they’ll be able to make a go of it in our still shaky economy, but if everyone shops locally, they should be okay.

My daughter takes a town bus down Mass Ave to the high school and my husband takes the bus to work. When I have meetings in Boston, I catch a bus around the corner from my house that takes me to Alewife where I can hop on the T. Our Subaru is over a year old and it has less than four thousand miles on it. I applaud the plan to make Mass Ave more bicycle-friendly, and intend to lobby the MBTA to preserve our bus routes.

I’ve lived in Arlington for over twenty years now and I’m fully invested in it. My roots have grown deep. Today, when I meet someone who is thinking about moving to Arlington, I tell them about the bike path, the restaurants, our schools and yes, our MCAS scores. I explain that we don’t have much industry in town so our tax base is limited, but that our population has a very high percentage of people who work in non-profit sectors so we have a lot of heart. I tell them that Arlington is a wonderful place to raise a child and that if they move to town, I guarantee, it will grow on them.

Would you be able to “humble yourself?”

When Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida, by a member of the local neighborhood watch, the opinion and editorial pages had a lot to say. There were two recurring themes; reminiscences of similar, albeit non-lethal, experiences, and concerns over how to raise black sons so they stay safe.

I was saddened to learn that many parents of black children, particularly sons, are still teaching their children to respond to authority the way they’ve been doing it for generations. The first line in Yvonne Abraham’s March 29 column in The Boston Globe, Fatal differences, summed it up, “Humble yourself – as quickly as you possibly can.” Parents urge their children to demonstrate that they are not a threat before addressing whatever issue brought them to the authority’s attention in the first place. That’s a lot to ask of a child who hasn’t done anything wrong. If someone accused me of something I hadn’t done, I doubt that I could “humble myself.” I would probably ooze anger. And I’m not a child.

On March 28, Mac D’Alessandro wrote in his Globe editorial, No more ‘yes, sir,’ that after a lifetime of practicing what his parents taught him, “There’s no more room inside to swallow any more pride or dignity, and I have found that anger and confusion have become indigestible.” I’m amazed he made it as long as he did.

Why is the onus on the innocent to be calm and accommodating?

There’s a new book for middle grade students by Cynthia Levinson called We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March. It covers a period in the civil rights movement in Alabama that focused on a strategy to “fill the jails” in order to draw attention to the cause. Schoolchildren answered the call and went to jail. Before they were allowed to participate in the act of civil disobedience that would land them in jail, they were required to attend sessions on nonviolence. It was a good strategy at the time, and I’m not advocating violence, but wasn’t that all done so black people could be treated as equals and not have to behave that way as a general rule?

I had just started reading Levinson’s book when Trayvon Martin was killed. It’s well-written and since it’s told through the stories of four particular youngsters, it will engage the readers for whom it is intended ─ children. But I think grown-ups should read it as well. We need to be reminded how recently these events took place, and redouble our efforts to guard against behaviors we know to be unfair, and uncalled for.

When I was a little girl, I was innocent of anything that went on outside of my immediate surroundings, as are most children. As an adult, I’m horrified to think that while I was happily taking advantage of all my town had to offer, elsewhere other little girls may have been crying because they had to go to the bathroom and the facilities were for whites only.

To think that for all the progress we’ve made, parents still need to admonish their children to be “humble” to avoid the risk of arrest, or worse, is sad beyond words. Why does it take so long to effect change? What is wrong with us?