Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Best Friends Forever: A Myth?

By Christine Chew

People can befriend over hundreds, even thousands, of friends on Facebook, but how many are actually real friends? A true friend is someone who tries to better you for your own good, but respects the choices you decide to make in the end. They are trustworthy, stay true to their promises, offer good advice and assistance in times of need, and most importantly, they continue to do all of this even when it is inconvenient for them.

I have over 800 friends on Facebook but why is it that I can only name a handful who I can consider a good friend? Although online social networks, instant messaging, and texting may be a good resource to connect with someone you just met or an old friend from the past, this convenience is becoming detrimental to friendships in the future because there is a lack of personal interaction.

Friendship used to be rare and precious. Greek philosopher Aristotle defines friendship in his book, “Nicomachean Ethics,” as mutual love and wishing good upon the other friend. He also groups friendship into three different categories:

1) The first kind of friendship is between friends who love each other for their pleasantness so that each friend makes the other feel good in some way, either comforting them in times of need or giving them some support and hope. 

2) The second kind of friendship is between friends who love each other for their usefulness so that each friend is beneficial to one another, such as giving good advice when needed.

3) The third kind of friendship is a strong and everlasting one where it is made up of people who are both good to each other and alike in excellence.

The third friendship is a compromise of the other two friendships because it consists of people who are on the same level of greatness and do not require pleasantness or usefulness from someone else. 

Now in 2012, it seems as though only the first and second kind of friendships exist today. William Deresiewicz, author of “A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter,” explains that friends today “tell white lies, make excuses when a friend does something wrong, and do what we can to keep the boat steady. We’re busy people; we want our friendships fun and friction-free.” He labels these friends the false friend or flatterer. This is because no matter how bad a person’s deeds may be, the false friend will continue to wrongfully praise and flatter them rather than scorn them just to avoid conflict. This common practice between friends has steered friendships to a superficial path, but what caused it?

There is a correlation between technology and friends. The more advanced technology is, the greater number of friends can be achieved. However, these friendships are not genuine because people choose the false friend out of the friend pool. The process of making friends has become too convenient for our own good. Rather than taking the time to know someone through lunch dates and phone calls, all it takes is one click on a social networking site such as Facebook or MySpace to “confirm” friendship. There, you can essentially access a person’s whole life on one page—from where they went to high school, where they attend college now, their favorite music and television shows, even to their photo albums of their private life. There is no need in having a meaningful conversation to find out all this information. On top of that, social networking users can easily find other friends based on their listed common interests without meeting the person. Because of this, friendships are not as sacred anymore and newly acquired friends may not be appreciated as much since there is little to no effort involved in making them.

On the other hand, just as simple as it is to make a friend, it is also quite effortless to get rid of one. When someone deletes a “friend” on Facebook, it makes their separation official because they are no longer in that person’s friend pool. Other Facebook users may view the deletion of friendship as an announcement. Because of how easy it is to “unfriend” someone, people are growing wary of upsetting their friends in fear of losing them in a split second. This causes friendships to be frauds if both parties constantly worry about hiding their criticisms from each other when they should be sharing those criticisms in order to improve one another. Yet, a small argument or fight could potentially lead to a speedy friendship breakup from the click of a button on the computer or even on a cellphone, without regards as to how much time and effort were put into the friendship in the past. It seems so much easier to find new friends instead of mending old friendships.

How can we fix this problem?

It’s important to take advantage of technology instead of relying on it. The next time you complete a big project at work or school, you’re most likely going to tweet about it. Just don’t assume your closest friends will find out that way and then get upset when they haven’t congratulated you. Make sure you call them and tell them yourself about your accomplishment. They’ll feel more honored that you’re reaching out and sharing this celebratory moment with them.

The same goes if you’ve just had a fight with your friend. There’s no need for public name-calling followed by a spree of deleting your friend and removing all your tagged pictures. You don’t want to cause a scene online just like you wouldn’t want to cause a scene at a restaurant. Just give it a day or two and talk to your friend privately. It’s easier to make up when you haven’t displayed your whole life to everyone through a computer screen.

Even though friendships have changed over time, it doesn’t have to be for the worse. Technology, if used the right way, can strengthen friendships instead of breaking them.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Senior Panic

By Loren Cruise

Have you ever experienced that sequence of thoughts and emotions when you realize something big is coming up and you are thoroughly unprepared? You feel that painful clenching in your stomach, followed by an increase in your heart rate. At the same time, you have that initial “uh-oh” feeling which is closely followed by the brief moment of utter hopelessness. At this point, you either shut down and give up, or start panicking. With increasing desperation, your mind runs through all your options. How can I salvage this, or am I too late?

I am currently at a later stage in the escalating panic that every student must go through at one point in their college career. I just realized that graduation is in nine short months and I feel as unprepared for the real world as I was when I entered my freshman year of college. Looking back on what I have done that could possibly prepare me for entering the job world, I have come to a painfully harsh conclusion. For all my pathetically short resume will do, I might as well write, “I promise I will be a good employee. Trust me,” on a blank sheet of paper and submit it with my application.

Here I am, accompanied by the majority of college students, with the daunting task of selling my life’s experiences for acceptance into the working world. I am sure I am not alone in desperately thinking, “How in the world do I do that? What have I done that will make me stand out in a crowd of possibly one hundred people applying for the same position?”

I made an appointment with a counselor from the Center for Career andProfessional Development at my school, Wheelock College, which is something I advise all students to do. We met to discuss an issue that has been on my mind since that “uh-oh” moment: “This is what I want to do when I graduate. What should my plan be this year to get there?

Krystyn, the counselor I spoke with, gave me some good news. I just completed the first step, which was to come to the Career Center. She told me about how students can utilize the Career Center throughout their college career. Yes, she told me, even freshmen use the Career Center. The most important thing the Career Center does is to help students create a professional identity and it’s never too early or late to start the process. “Employers want to see the whole package and there is a lot that encompasses that,” she said. Internships, jobs, volunteer work, and extracurricular activities build a professional identity. As she and I went through all my non-academic achievements and experiences over the years and talked about what would be valuable in a resume, she gave me some advice. “Employers want to see that you have diverse experiences and skills, so your resume should reflect what you have done and the valuable skills you have developed.”

I decided to consult two employers who are in charge of hiring for entry-level positions. David, a manager who often hires for accounting and manufacturing positions, said that he would “be reluctant to hire somebody who all they ever did was go to college. They had no outside interests, no volunteer work. I’d want to see someone who has done and tried a number of things.” Karen, a manager in a software company, said that resumes that show diverse interests stand out to her, grab her interest. She said that a resume that shows that an applicant has diverse experiences and interests tells her that this person has motivation, drive, and initiative. Krystyn advised me to branch out and try different things this year. Her suggestions were to apply for an internship, do volunteer work, or find a relevant part-time job.

David said that he often faces a hundred resumes for a single job and that the initial screening process usually narrows it down to around a dozen possible applicants. He said that there are things you can look at in a resume that would immediately tell you that someone is not qualified for a job. For example, people sometimes put objectives in their resumes. If the objectives aren’t for a job that he is offering, “that’s an immediate resume headed for the trash.” Or, if the person is clearly unqualified for the position, not having the experience or educational background for the job. David said that he sorted the resumes into two piles, rejects and possibles. “When I choose to interview someone, I want to make sure they can, on paper, do the job.”

The next step Krystyn listed is to prepare for interviews. The Career Center at my school does mock interviews with students and teaches them skills to use when interviewing for jobs. “The biggest thing is to be confident,” said Krystyn. “Many students can get very nervous in interviews. I like to remind them that the company gave them an interview which means that they are already interested in them as a candidate.” She said that an interview should be like telling a story. You should use examples and elaborate on your answers.

“Initial appearances are important. Dress professionally and appear eager, engaged, and polite,” said Karen. She and David both expressed the importance of keeping the interview professional. “There are some folks that try to become buddy-buddy with you right away. I want to be seen as a professional, a hiring manager that somebody has to work hard to impress,” said David. Before an applicant steps into the building, he needs to research the company and the industry. “Don’t go in saying that you absolutely hate writing on a Mac and going on Facebook if the company’s entirely Facebook and Macintosh focused. Know who you’re talking to,” said Karen, “and remember that not only are the companies recruiting you, you are recruiting the companies, so have a couple questions ready for the employer.”

After I spoke with Krystyn, David, and Karen, I asked my friend and recent graduate, Alyssa, about her experience finding a job. “It was a little bit scary,” she said. “I emailed everyone I could and looked at every job posting and applied for every job I could find.” She also went to a number of job fairs and interviewed there. When I asked her what she thought helped her find a job, she said that she got tons of help with preparing for job interviews and putting her resume together from the career counselor at school and that she was able to put a lot on her resume because of multiple internships, jobs, school projects, and relevant courses.

Krystyn said that students need to understand that the job search process can be time-consuming, frustrating, and difficult at times, but also exciting, fun, and interesting. I’m starting to understand the exciting, fun, and interesting part, but I’m pretty sure I’m still very much stuck on the difficult and frustrating aspect at the moment. The overall advice I was given by everyone I talked to is that the key to success getting a job is to be prepared for all aspects of the process.

To learn more about the Career Center and what Krystyn does for students at Wheelock College, go to http://www.wheelock.edu/academics/career-services

Or, for information about Career Services at UMASS Boston, you can check out its website at http://www.umb.edu/academics/vpass/career_services/

Friday, August 24, 2012

So Good So Good: Roslindale's Sophia's Grotto by Cris Driscoll

When I tell people I live in Roslindale, more often than not I'm greeted with one of two responses. They both sound the same: "Oh yeah, Roslindale" but the accompanying facial expressions convey two different understandings of the place. People either believe the area to be fairly rough around the edges, reflective of how it was 30 years ago. Others simply know nothing of the town and assume it's in a far off and distant land. “Roslindale? Is that near Worcester?” I once belonged to this second group, until house-hunting led me here, where I found my home and discovered my commute downtown was somehow shorter than when I lived in Brighton.

For decades, leading right up until the late nineties, the neighborhood boasted a no-frills, working class environment. Admittedly, there are still some sections of the town that are run-down and are less than desirable locales, but these areas have shrunk considerably throughout the years. A concerted effort by both private investors and the City of Boston to restructure and revitalize the town began right around century’s end and continues to this day. When one now encounters Roslindale village for the first time they realize they've been let in on one of Boston's many well kept secrets. "The Square," as residents refer to it, holds a unique blend of charm mixed with grit, posh meeting practical and trendy butting up against tradition. At the heart of the village, hidden seemingly intentionally lies one of the city's finest restaurants. The best part about Sophia's Grotto, is that it somehow manages to go easy on your wallet while still stirring and awakening all your senses.

Birch Street is one of the four streets that makes up Roslindale Square. It is arguably the newest and most transformed of the four. A gourmet cheese shop, a top-notch wine store and a fine-dining bistro all call the tiny one-way street home. Interestingly, one has to traverse a small alley in order to find the Northern Italian and Mediterranean restaurant that is Sophia’s Grotto. After fifteen-feet of enclosed brick walls, the alley opens up into a sprawling outdoor dining area. One is transported, in an instant, to a place far from the hub of Boston. White, sparkling strands of Christmas bulbs serve as lighting, a fountain bubbles in the corner beside a yellow and red cement wall ripped right out of Florence and soothing lyric-less music echoes off the walls of the enclosed courtyard. While Sophia’s shares this space with two other restaurants, it inhabits the bulk of the area. There can be upwards of twenty tables set up for al fresco dining while the dimly lit, exposed-brick interior holds only ten and room for eight squeezed at the bar.

The food is simple, but I’ve yet to have a dish that doesn’t hold some surprising quality as it blossoms with more and more flavor with each bite. If you’re with a party of three or more I highly recommend starting by sharing some small plates. The fried rolled eggplant crammed with three cheeses ($9.95) and the artichoke hearts filled with goat cheese and wrapped in prosciutto (11.95) are just two of the many stellar choices to pick from. At Sophia’s, as is the case in Italy, guests are not required or even encouraged to order a pricy entree next as the restaurant offers four wonderful sandwiches and six delicious pizzas, cooked in an authentic wood burning oven, all for $13 or less. If you’d rather the full gourmet experience, dishes like the spinach and ricotta ravioli (17.95) and the stuffed pork tenderloin (19.95) dance with flavor, leaving you wanting nothing more and costing far less than any dish of this quality would anywhere else in town.

If you’re part of that large faction of Bostonians who know nothing of Roslindale, it’s time you pay us a visit. Spend a few afternoon hours taking in the beauty of the Arnold Arboretum before heading into the village. Sophia’s Grotto should most certainly be your destination for dinner. Enjoy creative Italian cuisine that rivals the North End’s best at a fraction of the cost, free from the annoyance of tourists and without the hassle of finding a parking spot. You won’t regret it.

Charlie's Kitchen: Half a Century of Burgers and Beers

By Keller McGuinness

Tracing its roots all the way back to the 1950’s, Charlie’s Kitchen has long been a fixture in Harvard Square. It has gone through some changes and improvements over the nearly two decades that I’ve been a customer, (the asphalt area on the left-hand side has been transformed into a “beer garden,” the live lobster tank has disappeared from the front of the first floor, patrons can now have alcohol along with their meals at the tables on the sidewalk out front), but the menu has remained largely the same. The food is, for the most part, “greasy spoon,” roadside diner fare. The food is also incredibly inexpensive, considering the location, and it is pretty darn tasty, if I do say so myself.

Though I occasionally venture out into the land of the tuna melt and the surprisingly excellent chicken fingers, my go-to Charlie’s meal is the double cheeseburger. This is something for which they are, or at least make a neon claim to be, famous for. I’m not entirely sure about the legitimacy of that, but I am sure that you simply cannot beat the $5.25 it’ll run you for the twin patties, served with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pickles, and placed upon a sesame seed bun. Who doesn’t love a sesame seed bun? Their regular thin fries also come with it, but if you’d like you can switch those out for mashed potatoes. I’m fairly certain the latter come from a box in powdered form, so if that’s not your thing you can also choose to upgrade to waffle or beer fries for a small charge. If you’re like me, and you have a culinary death wish, then might I suggest asking for some gravy on the side. It won’t cost you anything other than a few minutes off of your life, and is a must for the fries, unless you’re one of those boring ketchup people. Don’t be one of those boring ketchup people.

As previously alluded to, there are quite a few dining areas to choose from. The downstairs feels the most like a traditional diner, with booths along the left-hand side and a bar along the right. It is a good place for families, as well as those disinclined to climb stairs. The second floor is my preferred haunt, with a comfortable meandering bar and plenty of booths and tables. Other attractions are the fantastic jukebox, featuring an eclectic assortment of punk, metal, soul, rap, as well as local music, and a cave-like and generally windowless atmosphere. The latter is good for avoiding the accusatory rays of the sun while enjoying a few pints on a random afternoon.

If you are the type who enjoys the outdoors, you can sit in the small section of tables set up on the sidewalk in front. But if rumbling buses and Harvard Square traffic are not your idea of a pleasant backdrop for a meal, then you can opt for the “beer garden.” Enclosed in the area to the left of Charlie’s and behind the small building next door, it is a world unto itself. It has its own smaller bar and a number of tables and tends to attract a bit of a younger crowd. Though I am all for imbibing a few outdoor beverages when the weather calls for it, I’ve never gotten acclimated to either spot. Give me the faded, yellowed, drop ceiling, and cocoon-like ambience of the upstairs any day!

Are you going to have the best meal of your life here? Not likely, unless you’ve been eating nothing but cardboard and expired yogurt your entire life. But you will get far more than your money’s worth and you will leave satisfied. And with the extra money you saved on food, you can get an extra beer or two, or maybe upgrade that PBR to a Brooklyn or a Lagunitas. Live a little!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

"Could you use that in a sentence, please?"

I’m on an 88 bus, headed east along Highland Avenue in Somerville, nervously trying to think of words which are considered hard to spell. For some reason I keep coming back to ‘coelacanth,’ though I’m not entirely sure why. This might seem like a curious way to spend a short bus ride, but I have a very good reason. It’s the first Tuesday of the month, and that means it’s time for another spelling bee at Highland Kitchen. But instead of insanely smart and probably awkward kids, the participants are beer-swilling and slightly less awkward adults.

 I’m an hour early, as the competitive spelling kicks off around 10:00. The place is packed, especially for a weeknight, though that is a testament to the quality and renown of the cuisine more than to the popularity of the bee. There’s no sign of the two friends who are supposed to join me, and there is no room at the bar. I’m not sure what to do with myself. I confirm with the hostess that what I’ve come for is indeed happening and she asks me if I’d like to sign up. I am the first name on the list. My friends appear, we get drinks and put our name in for a table, and we wait. We are all far more nervous than the situation warrants, and the group’s anxiety begins to feed on itself. I sip my can of PBR and try to think of some more words.

This whole thing began a little over two years ago as a potential means of boosting business on what was at the time a slow night. Highland Kitchen owner, Mark Romano, had heard of a place in Brooklyn which was running a regular and successful spelling night and asked his friend Nicole if she’d put something similar together for him. Nicole runs a dance-theater company called Ego Art, and in her words is, “no stranger to public speaking and running a show.” She agreed to do it and enlisted her partner, Victor, to round out the team. At first, it ran every Tuesday, but they eventually settled on once-a-month as it became a bit much to commit to weekly. Nicole also admits it tends to “wreak a bit of havoc in terms of the dinner business,” what with tables not turning over as they would on a normal night. The number of those participating can range anywhere from around 15 to a maximum of 30, any more than that would create time issues.

My two friends and I will be up against at least around 20 others. We’ve gotten our table, a cozy spot in the far corner, opposite the emcees. I opt for a small serving of chili, a deliciously economical choice. My compadres order lamb tacos and gnocchi. Everything is attractively put-together and flavorful, interesting without being too far out of left field. Even the bread is fantastic. The food temporarily distracts us from the impending competition.  

It suddenly dawns on me that having signed up first, I’m almost assured to be the first to have to step up to the microphone. This brings on a whole new wave of anxiety. The only thing worse than going out in the opening round, is going out before anyone else. What if I choke on an easy word? Hey everybody, look at the moron who probably can’t even spell his own name! Ugh. I order another beer.

The time has finally come, and I try to mentally prepare myself. My name is called. I make my way over to the other corner amidst a smattering of polite applause. I’m braced for the unknown. I’m ready for whatever obscure and almost-never-used word they want to throw at me. “Would you please spell the word ‘rancid.’” Wait, seriously? Rancid, like the band? I double check it in my head, so as not to make some lazy and stupid mistake, and easily put down this first offering. All that anxiety for nothing! Both of my friends, as well as everyone else competing, make it past the first round.

The emcees have a small keyboard they use for short musical interludes. The familiar opening to Beethoven’s Für Elise makes many brief appearances. It is also used to imitate the game show-like “waah – waaaaaaaah,” for wrong answers. This adds further ignominy as you skulk back to your seat, finished for the night. I head up to begin round two. This time my word is ‘osmosis.’ Easy peasy. A bell sounds to signify a correct answer, and mostly everyone gets to hear it throughout the second round.

At this point I’m feeling pretty confident, perhaps overly so. My third round word is, ‘gauche,’ and I don’t even have to think twice about it. Unfortunately, one of my friends mixes up the vowels in ‘ostracize,’ and slumps down to sip his beer in shame. The words are getting harder, but for the most part the field is still fairly large. I finish off a rogue piece of bread and order another beer. I am ready for round four.

I am not ready for round four. They give me my word, and I have never in my life heard someone say it before now. I have to ask them to repeat it, and to use it in a sentence, and to repeat it again. I am that guy. The word is ‘crescive.’ I think okay, maybe it’s related to ‘crescent,’ and so I’m thinking along those lines. But then I second-guess myself, therefore sealing my doom. I picture it with double esses. I’m still not certain which way to go as I begin spelling. I say, “C-R-E-S, [pause] S-I-V-E.” I am sent back to the table shrouded in defeat.

The fourth round is full of words you couldn’t begin to guess the meanings of, and it is the end of the line for nearly everyone. There are but two survivors, who then go head-to-head for the championship. There is a $25 gift certificate at stake, as well as a certain amount of nerd pride. A winner is soon crowned. We pay our bill. I check my phone and realize that a bus is due in less than two minutes.  I race to catch it, wishing desperately to have that moment back. I vow to go with my gut next time. I’m still thinking about coelacanths for some reason. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuesdays at The Plough and Stars: Boston's Best Kept Secret By Cris Driscoll

Massachusetts Avenue will most likely seem almost uncomfortably quiet.  You'll easily find parking.  If traveling by way of the T,  you will walk the sleepy city blocks while only passing a few other pedestrians.  You'll finally arrive at your Tuesday night destination, swinging open the front door of The Plough and Stars when immediately, it happens.  You find yourself transported to a foreign world.  The dimly lit room is cozy, insulated in worn wood.  Tucked away in its far corner, three musical virtuosos communally wail before a transfixed and dialed-in crowd who would spend big bucks to be here, but are asked for nothing.  Scanning the faces of the folks inhabiting the enthusiastic room, you notice they vary greatly in their age, ethnicity and style but all seem to share in something intangible.  They've adopted the unstated rules of Le Pigeon at the Plough -- personal stress and ego must be left outside on the sidewalk.  Doing this frees up space for an honest appreciation of music and a true acceptance of one another.

If I sound a bit attached to this unique night, it may be because I was there when the trio played their first Tuesday before a handful of semi-interested patrons, almost one year ago.  I have also been there for almost every one of the following fifty-two Tuesdays.  My small roles of the evening lie in keeping the crowd's glasses full, helping them to feel at home, and when I'm fortunate enough to be asked, in singing a heartfelt number for them as the night comes to a close.

The actual hosts are the musicians.  They all are true professionals.  Their only chosen means of making money is by playing, yet they all willfully take a severe pay cut on Tuesdays showing their collective commitment  the night.  When they perform, drummer Dave Brophy and guitarist Johnny Trama surround organist Rusty Scott.  Scott sits dwarfed and buried behind his mammoth Hammond B3 organ and its accompanying giant, spinning Lesley speaker.  It takes all three to move this instrument into the club.  Hearing and seeing it in such a small venue is entirely unheard of.  No one goes through all that trouble unless they're playing somewhere theater-size and up.  All invested in the evening understand how necessary the Hammond is.  No keyboard made before or since could ever claim to come close to reproducing the magic of the B3.  Sharing such a small space with the instrument, as Scott pilots the beast with keen  expertise, one is aware of its full capabilities.  It can turn on its listener in a seamless flash -- soothing sweetness morphing to an alarmingly brutal bite.

The trio known as Le Pigeon have slowly fine tuned and cultivated their sound over the course of the year.  If forced to place them in a genre, one would most likely say they dwell in a realm closest to that of classic soul.  That being said, both their original songs and reinventions of classics possess prominent threads of rock, jazz and funk.  No single Tuesday is even remotely like the one before.  As the word has spread, the city's top tier of musicians frequent the night.  A revolving cast of bassists, vocalists and players of every conceivable horn show up each week, usually with hopes of being invited to sit-in with the group.  

This past Tuesday, veteran guitarist Jeff Lockhart unexpectedly showed up with his guitar and amp in tow before the evening's music began.  His first time performing at the Plough came as he was called in as a sub for Johnny Trama.  Since that night he has returned with increasing frequency.  Upon hearing him live, it would be difficult to find someone who could argue that the man's fearless playing should not be ranked amongst the world's best.  Megastars like Beyonce, Dido and Brian McKnight have recognized this and hired Jeff for both session work and extensive tours.  This night, Jeff seemed to push the boundaries even further than he has previously.  The trio were wholly accommodating as songs that were usually 6 minutes in length swelled to greet the twenty-five minute marker.  The crowd was focused and hung on the tension and release created by each passing musical phrase.  In Cambridge, Massachusetts and on a Tuesday night no less, I am here to report that I witnessed a packed room wherein more than half the crowd danced with complete abandon.  You read it right.  There was real, live dancing on display like in the fabled days of yore.

I wanted to know what this experience was like to a first-time visitor.  Whether or not they found it to be as refreshing and rare as I still do after an entire year.  I knew almost every face in the room but did eventually come across someone who I knew had entered the club a Le Pigeon virgin.  I asked Nisa, a mother of two, in her early thirties and  enjoying a rare night out, what her impression of the night was.  Surprisingly, she reflexively replied as if she'd been rehearsing her answer.

"It astounds me that one could walk into a tiny little bar and witness musicians as good as these.  These men are so talented, yet I fear they struggle financially.  I was actually just thinking that we need to create a pay structure for musicians based on stats and talents like we do in sports."

Tuesdays with Le Pigeon evoking awareness of the plight of the struggling musician?  Fantastic!

Jennie Siegel is arguably the most dedicated Hammond B3 Trio enthusiast.  She very rarely misses a night.  Regardless of how many people occupy the room, she dances with reckless fervor, her eyes closed tight.  Her committed, trance-like behavior begins when the band plays their first notes, and doesn't end until I reluctantly raise the lights as the night ends.  I asked her what keeps her coming back each week.

"There is something magical that happens at the Plough that I look forward to.  I love that I feel comfortable enough to dance and not feel judged, but welcomed.  I can't totally explain the synergetic mix of musicians, patrons, staff and mojo, but everyone that I have introduced to Tuesdays has felt it.  As much as I love bringing new people and as much as I want the staff and musicians to do well, part of me hopes it never gets too big and somehow loses its magic, or outgrows the space."

This is a valid concern.  July is typically one of the three quietest months of the year for the venue.  Two out of five of this past July's Tuesdays at the Plough were packed, each flirtied with reaching capacity.  If this sounds like a night that you may enjoy, I suggest making the trip sooner than later while the show is still cover-free.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Cirque du Soleil Visits Boston

By Christine Chew

One warm and sunny Thursday afternoon, my date says he has a surprise for me. Not knowing what to expect, we walk along the waterfront in South Boston. The scenery is lovely as we pass by fancy restaurants and cruise ships. As we head towards the Bank of America Pavilion, I see spirals of blue and yellow circus tents instead of its usual grey dome. A big sign showing masked faces and contorted bodies read “Totem by Cirque du Soleil.” My date tells me we’re here and I stare at him in disbelief. Sure enough, he takes out two tickets and we are escorted to the front row of Section G, which is the end section of the semicircle theater.

The show starts promptly at 4:00PM as a spotlight shines in the center of the stage and drums beat loudly. Acrobats wearing bright blue and green suits do flips and jumps inside what appears to be a giant tortoise shell. Then a man covered in crystals descends from the top. As soon as he lands on the turtle shell, all the amphibian-like creatures jump out of the shell and the tortoise shell is removed.

As the crystal man ascends back up, two crystal women descend to the stage with crystal cloths. They spin each of them on their hands and feet and toss the cloths to each other, all while lying upside down in a chair. Then the crystal people vanish into the sky almost like UFO’s.

The audience returns to Earth as five ladies on unicycles roll onto the stage balancing bowls on their head. Their costumes have patterns of leaves and are very autumn-like as if to portray a harvest. I began to wonder why the bowls on their head were empty but soon enough, they placed one bowl at a time on their right foot and kicked it to the top of their head. Just when I thought their performance of balance couldn’t be more difficult, they took turns kicking bowls to each other as they balanced on a unicycle with one foot.

As the ladies finish sharing their meals on unicycles, a Native American man and woman roller-skate on stage and dance with hula-hoops. They twirl it around their waist and move it up to their necks and eventually to their arms and legs. Then they go on a very small platform shaped like a drum. Here, they spin each other so fast I thought they would fly away like a Frisbee. Their dance reminded the audience how much people have wanted to fly for a long time.

Eventually, ten performers in monkey suits jump and roll around on stage until a man in a business suit joins them. As they continue to jump around, they somehow form a line with the businessman in front, caveman in the middle, and the smallest monkey last in line. They pranced around the stage lined up like the history of evolution. That’s when I realized each act in “Totem” was showing evolution!

As the ten monkeys frolic around the stage, the ringleader announces that the half-hour intermission begins now. The whole time, my date and I stayed in our seats talking about how amazing the first half of the show was.

A clown then comes onstage to announce that intermission is over. As he goofs around on stage, he makes a mess and the ringleader comes out very irate. He takes off his top hat and cape and waves it like a bullfighter. The clown attempts to run through the cape but fails. Perhaps the ringleader was trying to taunt the clown for littering on our beloved planet.

When the ex-ring-leader-now-toreador leads the clown offstage, ten businessmen immediately enter the stage. It’s almost as if the ten monkeys before have evolved into sophisticated creatures. When they all gathered, the businessmen take off their suits to reveal their acrobatic attire and open their briefcases to take out long, metal poles. They work together acrobatically to assemble the poles. Finally, one man reaches the highest point of the pole and we all applaud their great teamwork.

A scientist enters and the stage becomes a laboratory. His assistants tap the beakers in a rhythmic beat and I was impressed at how pleasant the chimes sounded. The scientist has lit-up globes that he juggles and he goes into a giant glass cone. He awes the audience as he glides the globes inside the cone. 

After his experiment was over, the most traditional circus act begins. It is the trapeze act, which is the performance I anticipated for most. A man and woman elegantly hang from the air and seduce each other as they intertwine their bodies in midair. The whole time they were telling their love story, I was amazed at how high they were and still doing all those tricks effortlessly.

Once the trapeze artists were lowered to the ground, all the previous performers go on stage and take a bow. I give them a standing ovation, as does the rest of the audience. As my date and I leave the show, we are amongst the crowd of people trying to figure out which part was the best. We finally conclude that each act was great and vital to telling the story of evolution.

Peter Finnegan: A Hidden Hero

By Christine Chew

Peter Finnegan, age 46 of Charlestown, grew up in Everett with his parents and sister. As a teenager in high school, he considered himself a bad egg. He admits, “I got by in high school but I didn’t have any plans on going to college. I just wanted to ride my motorcycle with my friends and see the world.” Peter never committed any crimes, but he did not have too many accomplishments to be proud of. That is, until he made his own decision to join the Marines at the age of 18. 

Believing his parents would also be proud, he told his father first. Peter reminisces, “The first thing my father said after I told him was, ‘Son, are you gay?! Why did you join the Marines?! Why are you trying to leave home?!’ I tried to ease the situation by joking, ‘If anyone’s gay, it’s you because you were in the Navy!’ but that didn’t work. I never did get along with my father.” On the other hand, although worrisome and distraught, the women in Peter’s life were more accepting. His girlfriend even decided to marry him before he left.

Immediately after graduating high school, Peter left to go to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, which is the Marine Corps Base to the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). Every day, he and thousands of other Marines woke up at 5AM to practice physical training. “This is where I really got whipped into shape, physically and mentally. The snooze button didn’t exist and no matter how drained you were, you couldn’t stop training or the whole crew was punished,” Peter describes.

Although Peter never actually fought in battle, he played a valuable role. He boasts proudly, “There is a role for every Marine and no one is more important than the other. We all work together and teamwork is what builds the Marines.” The role of MEF was to support fellow Marines on the ground with supplies. He loaded aircrafts with weapons, food, water, and medicine that would fly overseas to deliver the equipment.

It wasn’t until three years later, at age 21, when his wife became pregnant that he had to make the decision if he should renew his annual contract with the Marines. After careful consideration, he decided to return to Everett to care for his wife. “I would have made a career out of the Marines if I could, but I knew the most important person in my life needed me more,” Peter claims. He decided to serve and help civilians in other ways by joining the police academy. Unfortunately, three days before his police exam, his wife gave birth to premature twins who died 45 minutes later in his arms. With so much on his mind, Peter walked out after completing 50 of the 100 questions. He later found out that he got all 50 questions right.

As much as he wanted to retake the police exam again, Peter’s wife did not support his decision. He clarifies, “I couldn’t leave her again. I know if I were in a situation, I would take a bullet while on duty and that would be unfair to my wife after what she went through.” Peter Finnegan is not your typical hero but he is a hidden hero to his wife and three daughters and adds, “Serving the Marines was the best decision in my life. It made me who I am today and if I could change anything about it, I wouldn’t.”

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Going East When the War Was West

By Loren Cruise

We’ve read stories about the heroes of the Vietnam War, about soldiers who fought and died for their country. We’ve read about heroic deeds and we’ve read about horrific tragedies. These stories have already been told, so I’m going to give you a new story. I am going to tell you about my friend, Charlie Albrecht, who served in the Navy in the 1960s, not to fight in Vietnam, but to keep peace and offer support to those in need in other parts of the world.

Charlie knew that he would be drafted to fight for his country, so instead, he enlisted in the Navy Reserves right after he graduated high school. After being deferred a year, he was finally called to take his part. For the first two years of his service, he trained in Worcester, Massachusetts along with a couple of friends drafted to fight in the war.

Young and barely adults, they did not know what to expect being in the military. The Vietnam War was already underway and they heard stories about what went on overseas. “A lot of the guys thought they were going to Vietnam to fight communists, but it was really just two parts of a country thousands of miles from home fighting each other.” When I asked him whether he supported the war, he said, “It didn’t really matter, did it? We were all part of the war whether we thought it was right or not.”

Charlie said that most of the men training with him believed that they were going to go to Vietnam. After all, there was a war being fought and more and more American soldiers were being sent in. “We had this list,” Charlie said. “We called it a dream sheet. I put that I wanted to go west to Vietnam. My buddy put that he wanted to go east.” He told me that the men were pretty sure the Navy didn’t read the sheets, that it was kind of random. So, Charlie was not surprised that his friend was sent to Vietnam while he was sent to Europe. “Go figure,” said Charlie. During his two years of training, he volunteered three times to go to Vietnam. “They kept turning me down. After the last time, they wanted me to see the psychologist ‘cause I had to be crazy to want to go there.” Charlie was not a thrill seeker. He did not have a death wish. When he joined the Navy in 1966, Americans who fought in Vietnam were eligible for combat pay, which was significantly higher than what Charlie would have received otherwise.

After their training, Charlie and his friends threw a good luck, goodbye party. “I had these two friends who went to Vietnam. At that party, they told me they weren’t coming home,” said Charlie. “Sure enough, they didn’t.”

Charlie and his friends parted ways. The Navy sent Charlie east to the Mediterranean, Norway, Spain, and Italy and he served as a petty officer, third class on a destroyer. “I was a boiler tech. I wasn’t training to be, but as soon as I got on board the ship, a boiler tech 1st class grabbed me and told me that’s what I would be doing.” I asked Charlie what a boiler tech does. “We just kept the ship running.”

While Charlie was far away from the fighting in Vietnam and the antiwar movement in the United States, the strong feelings against the war followed him. “There were protests at every port,” Charlie explained. “One time in Norway we had an open house. It lasted about ten minutes before we had to turn the fire hoses on the protesters.”

At the end of one of the most controversial wars in the history of the United States, over 58,000 Americans were dead. Among that figure were two of Charlie’s friends. Yet, when he and his fellow soldiers came back to the United States, there was no welcome home. “It was hard,” said Charlie. But if he had a choice, he told me, he’d do it again. He was proud, and still is, to be part of the Navy.

Sacrifices and Consequences

By Keller McGuinness

Ever since he was a kid, growing up in and around Portland, Maine, Rick thought about joining the military. He very nearly saw this through in the wake of the events of September 11th, but friends wound up talking him out of it. Nearly a decade later, in his 30’s and newly married with a child on the way, he made an appointment with a recruiter. Thanks to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, he found out he would be able to transfer his college tuition and VA benefits to his daughter, thereby ensuring her future education would be paid for. With that as a prime motivator, he enlisted in the Army.

First he spent about eight months becoming familiar with his 12-person unit in the SDDC, short for Surface Deployment and Distribution Command. Then, in early June of 2010, he began his basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. After completing that, he underwent Advanced Individual Training, (AIT), during which you learn the specific skills for the job you’ll be doing. In Rick’s case, he was to be an 88 November, otherwise known as a Transportation Management Coordinator. When things need moving, whether that means equipment or soldiers or whatever you can think of, it was going to be Rick’s job to make sure it was done. He was allowed leave to spend the holiday months back with his family, then from January to June found himself training at various bases throughout the U.S. Finally, in July of 2011, he was deployed to Afghanistan.

His home for the next thirteen months was to be on an airfield base about 45 miles south of Kandahar, the second largest city in the country, and a center of Taliban activity. His first thought upon landing there was, “what the fuck did I do?” Within his first week of active duty he’d help arrange and take part in twenty convoys ferreting cargo between the city and the base. It wasn’t long before he encountered his first IED, short for Improvised Explosive Device, a staple of the Taliban insurgency. In this particular instance, it was a 300-pound device which had been planted in a ditch beneath the road and was triggered once the lead vehicle had driven over a pressure plate connected to it. Rick was in the fourth vehicle, (there were fifteen total). The explosion caused the first vehicle to flip over and wounded the two soldiers inside. At that point the entire convoy took on fire from hidden insurgents and the resultant firefight lasted around twenty minutes. They then created a perimeter around the downed vehicle and Rick helped carry the wounded men into his vehicle. Though continuously taking fire, the convoy was able to make it safely back to base without casualties.

During the thirteen months of his service, danger was not only encountered while travelling outside of the base. For the entire duration, rocket attacks were also a regular nuisance. Usually the rockets are set to be launched from hidden spots using a delayed trigger mechanism which Rick and his fellow soldiers call “Mohammed clocks.” The way the device works is this: a jug of water with a copper piece on the bottom and a piece of wood with copper attached to it floating on top, which is in turn connected to a launching device. A small hole is punctured in the bottom of the jug and the water slowly drains, leaving the attacker time to get far away from the spot of the launch. Once the water is nearly drained, the copper pieces touch each other, and this creates a charge which then fires the rocket, and there is no one left to be fired back upon. Over time Rick said he became so inured to these attacks that rather than take cover, he and his bunkmates would sit up on the roof and simply watch the rockets fall, adopting the attitude that, “it was either going to hit you or it wasn’t, war is random.” One rocket nearly did hit him, exploding above his building, and the resultant shrapnel tore a hole in the roof above his bed. This would later pose problems for him whenever it rained while he tried to sleep.

Rick came home about a month ago, though not until after enduring a four-day delay due to rocket attacks and sandstorms, as well as a two-week layover in Kuwait, during which his unit had a job working in the port. Before being allowed to return to his home and family, he, like all returning soldiers, had to go through medical and psychological assessment. Over ten days at Fort Dix in New Jersey it was determined that he had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, (PTSD). He was offered medication, which he declined, and now sees an Army psychiatrist once a week at the VA hospital.

Incidents like the one which mostly contributed to his PTSD are an incredibly sad, and unfortunately not all that uncommon occurrence in the ongoing War in Afghanistan. During the last four months Rick was over there, the situation in and around Kandahar had gotten so dangerous, that he was now manning a machine gun atop an armored Humvee for all trips “outside the wire,” military slang for being off-base. For a number of weeks, they would meet the Afghani, (and non-Afghani), civilians the Army subcontracts much of the transportation and other outside work to, at a designated meeting place near a NATO-run school for local children. Often the soldiers would spend time with the children, playing games and giving them candy. All the while, the Taliban were watching, biding their time.

On the day they finally struck, Rick’s unit arrived late to the meeting place. A car laden with explosives was driven to the spot with the intention of attacking them. Instead, the suicide bomber’s victims were five schoolchildren, two teachers, and one civilian worker. The convoy soon arrived to this horrific scene and immediately took on fire from hidden gunmen. Rick would survive this terrible day, but he would not be able to forget it.

Rick is safely home now with his family. But all is not entirely well. He has recurring nightmares involving the incident with the schoolchildren, only now he sees his own daughter as one of the tragic victims. He has had trouble readjusting to civilian life and has had no luck finding work. Many of the specialized skills he has learned during his time in the Army do not translate into the non-combat world. He is also not the same person he was before this whole experience, and is unable to relate to those around him as such. Having your life stripped down to a day-to-day fight for survival can do that.

As an active reservist, there is always a chance that he’ll be called back to Afghanistan. He has good reason to believe that this will in fact be the case, and sooner rather than later. It seems fairly incredible, but a part of him actually aches to go back, to serve with the people in his unit again, to continue with the work he was doing, work he is exceptionally good at. He is deeply saddened for having missed being around for most of his daughter’s life so far, but at the moment does not feel he belongs where he is, idling away, drinking too many beers and trying to figure out just who he is, who he’s going to be. Whichever way it turns out, let’s just hope he stays safe, and that people truly recognize the honorable sacrifices he has made.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Seeing All of Boston in One Hour

By Loren Cruise

I stood outside the Prudential Center with a notebook in one hand and my camera in the other. I was not there for a new fall wardrobe from the countless stores at the Center, free samples at Teavana, nor delicious pizza from California Pizza Kitchen. I was going much higher today. My eyes scaled the side of the Prudential Tower, instead, slowly climbing past window after window until they reached my destination, the Skywalk at the top.

Today, I would stand on a cloud and look at Boston, a miniature model of the city to scale. I could reach down and pick up the moving cars or splash the Charles River with my fingertips. Well, actually, I was going to walk around the Skywalk on the top of the second tallest building in the city at look out at Boston through thick glass windows, but it felt like the same thing.

I’m not a huge fan of elevators, but to get up to the 50th floor of the Tower, it made a lot more sense than taking the stairs. When I stepped in, we shot upward like a rocket and I wouldn’t have been surprised if there were a button that would carry me into space. The elevator landed smoothly on the 50th floor with a small ding and I got out, followed by a French-speaking family of four and a couple who looked confused, as though they arrived there by mistake. Or maybe they were just in awe? I wouldn’t blame them because I felt the same way. The first thing that I saw out the window was Hancock Place, the city reflected on its sides looking more like an impressionistic painting than a mirror image.

The Skywalk in the Prudential Tower is unique. It is an observatory, the only place in Boston where you have a 365 degree view of the city, 750 feet from the ground. As you take a tour of Boston from the Skywalk, you can listen to an audio guide that draws your attention to specific landmarks and gives you a brief history. Along with being an observatory, the Skywalk is also a museum featuring exhibits about Boston in the past and present, and about immigration to the United States. I won’t get into detail about the museum, not because I did not like it, but because I feel like the truly magnificent thing about the Skywalk is the view.

I should really know Boston as well as the back of my hand by now, since I work at an information desk downtown, but standing up here it looks initially like a completely different city. However, when I look closer, I start to recognize Boston.

Working at an information desk, you get asked all sorts of questions, but one of the most frequently asked questions is, “I’m in Boston. What should I do now?” That is, unfortunately, one of my least favorite questions because I have known these visitors for twenty seconds. How am I supposed to know what they would like to do? So, I try to narrow it down. “Do you want to see historical sites?” I ask. Then, I suggest the Freedom Trail which would lead them to the Massachusetts State House, Faneuil Hall, and the Bunker Hill Monument to name a few stops. Standing here on top of the world, I can trace the Freedom Trail with my finger. The trail itself is two and a half miles long, but I can visit the whole thing in five seconds.

“Would you be interested in biking or sailing?” I ask. I pull out a map and give them directions to the Charles River where they can rent a sailboat. Or, I point them to the nearest Hubway station where they can rent a bike and cycle along the Esplanade. On my left is a trickle of blue with little white dots which look as though they were accidental brush strokes on this cityscape from way up here. If I walk around the Skywalk, I can follow the Charles from the Museum of Science past Fenway until it turns a corner.

When families need to cool off, I suggest that they visit the reflecting pool and fountain at the Christian Science Plaza. From my spot at the top of the Prudential Tower, I can look straight down at the plaza. I can vaguely see Newbury Street from where I stand, which is where I send people to shop. Scanning the bank of the Charles River on the Boston side, I can see the Hatch Shell, which is where I tell visitors to go for free concerts in the summer.

I felt like this was a map, one so detailed that even I could give accurate directions. I overheard a mother from New York commenting, as she looked at the Copley Square area, “You don’t see gridlock here. Everything just moves.” As I moved past the family, I overheard another conversation. As though they were looking at a large, fold out map, the woman had her finger pressed against the glass and was showing her husband how to get to Fenway Park. “But you can’t cross there,” said the husband. “It’s a walking bridge. See?”

This is a huge step in my career (in other words, my summer job). You want to see Boston? I can show you the whole city in an hour! It also changes what I want to do myself. I was familiar with the downtown area, Back Bay, Fenway and Kenmore, and a little bit of Cambridge, but when I was on top of that building, I saw so much more of Boston and Cambridge that I didn’t know existed. So, I’m going to put on some walking shoes and venture out into the strange, new places I have never explored before.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bullied Bus Monitor Receives $700k in Donations

By Christine Chew

Bullying does not stop no matter what age, which holds true to 68-year-old Karen Klein. In June 2012, Klein was doing her job as bus monitor for Greece Athena Middle School in upstate New York. Bus monitors are required to make sure students are safely seated while the bus is in motion, maintain order among the students, and ensure each child is released at the correct stop to the proper guardian. However, a 10-minute video of four boys tormenting Klein was captured on a cellphone and went viral on YouTube.

The boys in the video constantly call her “fat-ass,” “ugly,” and “old-ass,” and vulgarly remarked, “If I stick a knife in you, it’d go through you like butter because you’re so fat.” Then they proceeded to poke her sides and slap her arm. Klein did not retaliate except asking, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Immediately, the boys shouted, “How about you shut the [explicit] up!” When Klein started to cry, the bullies pointed out, “Look at her sweating. Karen, why do you have sweat on your face?” After she answered, “I’m crying,” the bullies did not stop and the last verbal attack they made before the video ended was “You don’t have a family because they all killed themselves because they don’t want to be near you.”

Video footage screenshots of Karen Klein sitting in her seat.
Klein is a widow after losing her husband in the war, and her son had committed suicide ten years ago. Whether or not the boys were aware of this is unclear. It is also uncertain how long she has been bullied, but Klein claims she has had her hearing aid knocked out by the same students in the past. She has spent 20 years working as a bus driver and the last three years as a bus monitor.

After the video circulated online, overwhelming support from all over the world surrounded the victim. The father of the boy who made the comments personally visited Klein and apologized, “I’m sorry. I made my son watch the whole video and he cried about it. This is a lesson he’s going to remember and he won’t treat anyone like this again.” Max Sidorov, a nutritionist from Toronto and a victim of bullying in the past, started a campaign to raise $5,000 for Klein so she could go on vacation. After a month, a total of $703,873 was collected.  Disneyland Resort also presented to her a three-day vacation and Southwest Airlines agreed to pay for her ticket.

Although Klein is extremely delighted to see so much support, the tables have turned against the four boys. Captain Steve Chatterton of Greece Police Department comments, “When someone watches the video, there’s not going to be a lot of remorse for the children but they have received death threats and we have custody of one of the kids’ cellphone and he has received thousands of missed calls and texts threatening him. I mean, he’s only 13-years-old.”

Klein does not want to press charges against the boys and only asks for an apology from them. Despite the tremendous amount of emotional and financial support she has received, Klein has decided to keep her bus monitor position, which pays $15,506 a year, and requested a new bus route. Her plan is to donate the proceeds to the “7 Million Acts of Love” campaign, also started by Sidorov. Their goal is to raise $7 million to help provide free counseling for bullied children and support a nonprofit television series and social website devoted to featuring other acts of kindness and charities. Klein remarks, “I want to thank everyone and now maybe, I can help others. I’m real excited to be supporting this campaign.” To learn more about this anti-bullying campaign, visit http://www.indiegogo.com/7million.

Karen Klein and Max Sidorov discuss plans for the 7 Million Acts of Love campaign to stop bullying.