Tag Archives: Somerville

There Are Things I Remember

Yesterday I braved the torrential rain to meet a new friend from one of my networking groups for coffee at Diesel. She’s unemployed too, and so we got to talking about various ways we spend our oodles of time. Turns out that one of the things she likes to do is observe what people do while on the T. Reading material, general demeanor, other interesting things humans do to amuse ourselves while in transit. We had fun exchanging stories about strange things we’d seen. One of her finds, however, was simply fascinating.

A couple of weeks ago as she rode the Red Line, she noticed a woman looking down at a detailed timeline. This timeline had the names of teachers, friends, events, and other memories. So far as my friend could tell, the time line appeared to be from the woman’s own life, and while my friend knew she shouldn’t look, she couldn’t help herself. As the line drew toward the present, there was just one name, a man’s name, in big letters.

“She was wearing an engagement ring,” my friend said. “That must have been the guy. Maybe she was trying to come up with something to say at the wedding?”

Structuring one’s entire life to lead up to meeting one single person, even an important person like a future spouse, seemed corny and misguided to us, but we started talking about creating timelines of our own. What would we include on it? Would we do it from memory, or surround ourselves with photographs, yearbooks, old cards, etc.? How honest could we be with ourselves? After all, there are some points in our lives that we would just as soon leave to the past. Would we show it to people? Who, and why?

Last night I thought some more about trying this. I haven’t decided if I will, and I haven’t answered those questions, but the idea intrigues me. Creating a timeline of my life might prove immensely therapeutic, or it might send me spiraling downward into a deep depression, depending on my frame of mind when (or if) I sit down to the task.

In entertaining the idea, I can think of some memories that would make me howl with laughter, and other that would make me smile. There are a few things I would have a hard time committing to paper. I’m not sure if I would show a complete version to anyone. I rather like the idea of doing it from memory and then going back to check the facts. Or, maybe even create two different timelines: the one I carry with me, and the one indicated by the evidence. Insights found in the differences between the two could be illuminating.

Like I said, I’m not sure if I’m going to do this, or even if I really want to, but the idea was interesting enough that I thought I’d share it. What about you? Does the idea of making a timeline of your life interest you? Terrify you? Bore you to tears? If you were to try it, how would you go about doing it? Would you show it to anyone? Why or why not?

OK, that’s enough computer time for today. I’m going to go out and enjoy the sunshine while it lasts. Gotta get out there if the timeline’s going to be interesting.

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The Sassy Sundries: My Week in Review

Happy Friday! Quite a week here in Sassyland. The Sassy Sundries, my weekly tally of things political, personal, and nonsensical, seems like a good way of telling you about it. So, without further ado, here are the week’s Sassy Sundries:

Well, holy shit. The IOWA Supreme Court just ruled in favor of same sex marriage, striking down a law restricting marriage between a man and a woman. Let me repeat this: IOWA will allow gay marriage. Enlightenment comes to the Bible Belt. Of course, this could energize the homophobic base of the Republican Party in 2012, but for today, let’s just celebrate. Plus Five

My nephew is walking all over the place, and he let me hold him for the first time since he was six months old. He also attempted to say my name. I am now Auntie “Assy,” or something like that. Plus Ten

New unemployment figures came out today, and the figure is grim. At 8.5% unemployment is now at a 25 year high, with 633,000 jobs lost in March. That brings this year’s total to 2,000,000. Now I’m really not alone. Minus Eight and a Half

Last Friday I had a great date. Our conversation was by turns witty, silly, and intelligent. There was a spark of something. Alas, however, I haven’t heard from him again. Pity. Other fish, blah blah. I have another date next week. Even

I’m looking at a Homeland Security camera as I write this. Grrr! I am encouraged, however, that the city’s Aldermen are taking the issue seriously. I hope the people of this city fight this until these cameras come down. Minus Ten

President Obama traveled to Europe for the G-20 meeting. People in London took to the streets to protest the financial shenanigans that led us into this mess. I don’t know entirely what to think of Obama’s proposals, but I do know that I’m glad that it’s him and not John McCain representing us. Even

This week I actually made good on my resolution to have a little more structure in my life. I got things done. Yay me! Plus Two

A forty-two-year-old lone gunman in Binghampton, New York, went into a recreation center where people were taking a citizenship class, and shot and killed 15 people and took 40 hostages before taking his own life. We don’t need security cameras. We need better gun laws in this country. Minus Five

Yesterday I met up with an old friend who is living in California. We had a fine time tromping about Boston for a couple of hours before she left for the airport. Unfortunately I also picked yesterday to go sockless the first time this year. My feet are chewed to shreds. I have blisters where I never thought possible. Here’s to a week of flip-flops! Minus One

Total Plus: 17
Total Minus: 24.5

TOTAL FOR THE WEEK: -7.5

Last Week’s Total: – 5,559,999

It’s More Than a Feeling: Somebody Really Is Watching Me

A funny thing happens when you start thinking about something. As I was waiting for the 90 bus  to take me to the public comment forum on the installation of seven Homeland Security cameras in the City of Somerville, I had security cameras on my mind. I’d just done a blog post about how angry a creepy camera system rigged up to monitor a Mustang up the street on Broadway made me. Freezing my tatas off waiting for bus (it never showed up—I had to take a cab), I happened to look up at the old fire station on the corner of Broadway and Cross Street.

And that’s when I saw the Homeland Security camera, mounted on top of the building. Grr! I can see that chimney from my living room window, and while I had noticed the space-age antenna, I had not noticed the camera before. A camera that can look directly into my apartment, should I be suspected of malfeasance. Or, if Big Brother just wanted to see what I’m doing in my living room (I can think of a couple of times when he could have seen quite a show).

Department of Homeland Security Camera from My Living Room

Here’s Looking at You, Big Brother!

I arrived with boiled blood at the comment forum. There I learned that without public knowledge or input, the City of Somerville applied for and accepted a grant through the Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Bureau of Security Initiative. Included in the grant was funding for the installation of seven cameras in undisclosed public places around the city, ostensibly to monitor traffic routes and the community bike path. One camera had been spied atop the unfortunately named SCAT building in Union Square, and another in Davis Square (and now we know where the one in East Somerville is located).

According to the chair of the city’s department of Public Health and Safety, the aldermen, in approving the grant, were not aware that the cameras were included in the funding. By the time they learned of the situation, things were already underway to install the cameras. Last night’s forum was the attempt by the aldermen to retroactively allow the people of Somerville to comment on the issue. Judging from their questions, most of the aldermen in attendance were very uncomfortable with existence of the cameras and felt that they violated our civil liberties.

Prior to hearing from the public, the Police Chief Anthony Holloway gave some remarks and answered questions from the alderman. He also mistakenly gave them a sheet with the locations of all the cameras. Attempting to reassure the public, Holloway testified that the cameras were not being used to spy on people and that unless a zoom feature is used, the images are grainy (though in color) and do not show things like license plate numbers or faces. The primary purposes of the cameras are to aid in police investigations of crimes and to help the police and fire departments to evacuate Somerville in the event of a terrorist attack or other emergency.

According to Holloway, private residences are shadowed, and the cameras do not film what goes on inside (unless a crime is reported, presumably). Access to the zoom feature is password-protected and limited to nine people in the police department and may only be used if a crime has been reported. If it is used, an alert goes to the Homeland Security officer at the department. Anyone caught abusing the system will be fired immediately. Tapes from the security cameras are kept for fourteen days and then taped over (this was a change from the original thirty-day storage policy). The server keeping the data from the cameras is in Somerville, and permission must be granted for other towns or government entities to access it. With the checks and balances in place, Holloway testified, there is no threat to the civil liberties of the citizens of Somerville.

With all due respect to Chief Holloway, someone I believe to be duped, bullshit. Are we really supposed to believe that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has no access to the data? Technology is power, and power lends itself to abuse. Maybe not today, but sometime in the future, when the public became used to the cameras, the surveillance capabilities would be enhanced. Stored data is data that can be hacked and abused. It is only a matter of time.

These cameras represent a gross violation of the civil liberties of the people of Somerville (and Boston and other surrounding communities that have installed the cameras. Cambridge has chosen to dismantle them). Not only do they needlessly invade our privacy, but also, if they are used in a manner consistent with Chief Holloway’s testimony, then they are essentially useless. They will not deter crime, and only if a criminal stays on the scene will she or he be caught on film by the time one of the nine people with password access is able to get to a computer and zoom in on the location. Do we really need continuous surveillance if one of the primary uses of the cameras is to aid in an evacuation?

Those who offered public comment, with one half-hearted exception by a woman living on the bike path whose house has been vandalized, were unanimous in their opposition to the cameras and furious that they were installed without the opportunity for the people to weigh in. Although I did not comment at the forum, I will be submitting a written statement for the record. The camera on Broadway and Cross Street will catch me every single day, doing nothing more than going about my business. And I’m pissed.

If you live in Somerville, you have until April 15 to submit written comment on this critical issue. You may direct your comments here: cityclerk@ci.somerville.ma.us.

These cameras need to come down. Now.

Thinking about Security Cameras

UPDATE: Well, this little post seems to have generated a response. It’s been great to see the comments, some of it positive, and quite a bit of it informed dissent. The debate has been great, but a matter has come to my attention that I feel I must address. While it wasn’t clear in the small photo of the cheesy sports car I included in the post, the location of the vehicle was clearly visible in the full version of the photo. Since the small group of regular readers of this blog do not live in the Boston area, I didn’t think to obscure the location. To the owner of the Mustang, I apologize. Your camera pisses me off, but I should have done more to protect your privacy. The photo has been edited.

 

Tonight I’m going to a Somerville town meeting to speak out against the installation of Homeland Security cameras in our fair city. These cameras represent a gross violation of our right to privacy, and giving into their presence without a fight will contribute to a Big Brother culture not only in Somerville, but in the rest of the country.

When I heard about the meeting, though, I got to thinking about other security cameras. Although I can see the point of having cameras at ATMs, I don’t like them. When I’m feeling prickly, I sometimes extend a friendly gesture. Same with cameras in stores. However, there’s one security camera in particular that really pisses me off. It’s this one:

DSCN4973

I first noticed this camera a while back, and it really creeped me out. At first I had no idea why someone would train a camera on East Broadway. To catch people running away screaming from Taco Loco, having stolen some hot sauce? To gather material for some strange art project? To create a view on the world for some lonely shut-in?

Gradually it dawned on me that the ever-present camera was trained on this car:

Mustang

Seriously. It’s a Mustang. Sure, it’s not exactly an economy car, but it’s not like the guy’s protecting a Lamborghini or something. Is it really worth it to constantly film the sidewalk, hoping to catch some whipper-snapper keying it? If the person didn’t think the neighborhood was good enough for the car, the person shouldn’t have moved here.

Anyhow, I’m sure I’m not the only one extending a friendly gesture at the camera. Someday I would love to see a group get together and do a kick line in front of the building. Or maybe a team of videographers filming surveillance of the camera. Something to let that asshole know in no uncertain terms that that security camera is not welcome. We’re watching you, pal.

Mmmmm Doggies! The 89 Bus to Outer Space!

Yesterday evening, I caught the 89 bus to meet up with Date in Davis Square. As I tapped my card, the bus driver called out, “Good Evening! Thank you for riding the T! Doors are closing!”

Startled a bit, I said thanks and took a seat near the front. Another rider pressed the stop button, and even though the mechanical voice registered the request, she called out, “Stop coming! Woo hoo! We’re riding now!”

As she jerked the bus to a halt at the next stop, she thanked every rider. “Thank you, folks, for riding the T! Doors are closing! Mmmmm doggies! We’re riding now! Yahoo!”

I looked around the bus at the other riders. Many wore nervous smirks. Was this the bus to Davis Square, or an alien abduction? “Yes, indeed, folks! We are riding!”

“The bus driver is insane,” I texted to Date. Next text, “She keeps saying whoo doggies! And then she thanks us for taking the t.” I kept looking around. A few riders shrugged their shoulders. Language barriers tumbled down. Amusement registered everywhere.

The bus driver kept it up. “Mmmmm! Doggies! Yahoo! We’re riding. Eighty-nine to Davis Square! Thank you for riding the T! Next stop coming! Bus connections!”

A decided freak she was, but the thing is, people started responding kindly to her. A rider sitting next to me got off the bus at Winter Hill and thanked her for the ride. “My pleasure. People ain’t got no manners these days. I always say thank you. Thank you, folks, for riding the T! Mmmm doggies! Yes, we are moving now!”

She kept this up all the way Davis, where everyone thanked her profusely as they got off the bus. What a fun trip to outer space.

Dinner Theater

On my way home from work yesterday evening, I decided to go out to dinner. Nothing I could think of to cook sounded all that exciting to me, and I felt up for little exploring. I began to mull over my options.

Chinatown? I thought and quickly dismissed it. I’ve hung out there quite a bit, sampling a lot of the Vietnamese offerings there (as a vegetarian, Chinese food can be a little tricky—if you want a laugh, check out Andraste’s cautionary tale).

Oh, I could try a new Thai place and check out a different part of the city. That sounded tempting, and I decided that’s what I would do as I turned the corner onto Broadway and toward home. That was when I saw Fasika’s Ethiopian Restaurant again. I have not had a lot of Ethiopian food, but what I’ve had I’ve loved. Oh god, it is tasty stuff. When I noticed Fasika’s during my move, I was so excited. That was before I peeked inside.

East Somerville has loads of character, and some wonderful eating options (Taco Loco makes some kickass burritos, and the restaurant in the back of Vinny’s Superette is amazing). It also features a slew of dive bars—the kind that have drunk people outside smoking at ten in the morning, staring at their losing Keno tickets. Fasika’s Ethiopian Restaurant is attached to one such bar.

When I first got here, I had decided to try Fasika’s but turned around and walked out when I saw all the drunk people and the Keno sign. Last night, however, I felt adventurous enough to brave it. Why the hell not? I thought. So I went.

I walked into the restaurant side, checked out the tacky décor, and smiled. A young Ethiopian woman smiled at me and told me to sit where I’d like. I sat at one of the mesobs, and she handed me a menu. A divider partially blocked the view of the bar, where a number of late-middle-aged white people were knocking back Budweiser drafts and providing loud commentary on the evening news. Over the divider, I could see the bartender, sporting a teased, bleach-blonde do, serving her patrons without once changing her facial expression.

I turned to the menu, which had a vegetarian section with lots of tempting options. A lentil dish and a vegetable curry caught my eye, and I decided to ask the server what she recommended. The menu also listed a number of Ethiopian wines, and so I decided to try one of those. When she came to take my order, she recommended the curry but promised to include a bit of the lentil dish for me to try. She suggested the honey wine for the food, so I went with that.

My wine arrived in a little bottle resembling an oil cruet (but without the spout), and the server explained that this was the traditional glass (I don’t think I’d had wine the few times I’d had Ethiopian food). “Great,” I said, and took a sip. The wine tasted different from the mead I’d had before but was no less delicious. I had just settled in with my glass when a song blared out of the juke box in the bar. It was some classic rock song I didn’t recognize (and considering that I grew up in New Hampshire, land of classic rock lovers, that is saying something). The fat guy who played it certainly did. The bar was suddenly transformed into his living room, and he started singing at the top of his lungs.

Then he started banging on the bar for emphasis.

Now I’ve seen this kind of thing before (and, have probably done something similar in my youth), but I’ve never seen so many people take it in stride. There was this guy, shouting to the music and banging on the bar, and nobody reacted. They just kicked back their beers and continued to watch the TV.

The song ended and my food arrived. I tore off some of the bread and dove into the curry. Yeah, that’s some really good food. True to her word, the server had made sure that there were some lentils on my plate, and I sopped some up with more bread. She was right—the curry was better, but I wouldn’t have been disappointed in the lentils. I ate happily, enjoying my adventure.

About half-way through my meal, a group of four white yuppies peeked in the restaurant side, observed the bar scene, and boldly decided to try it too. They sat down at the mesob next to me, and laughed at their intrepidness. The server brought them menus, and they started going over their options.

“I told you,” one of the women said, “This place is attached to a divey bar, but I keep hearing that the food is good.” The other woman turned to look at me eating, and I said to her, “The food IS really good.”

“What an atmosphere,” one of the men said, laughing.

“Oh, you missed the drunken singing.”

“No! Maybe it’ll happen again.”

“One can only hope,” I replied laughing.

The couples ordered as I finished my dinner. I had a little of the wine left, so I sipped it while I waited for the check.

And that was when the Bon Jovi came on. The guy started up again, screaming and banging about being wanted dead or alive. Howling, the couples stood up for a better view. I did, too. Once again, the bar patrons didn’t bat an eye.

“Dinner theater,” one of the men proclaimed, nodding.

“You can say that again,” I said. Another Bon Jovi hit came on, and the guy kept going.

“Did you like Bon Jovi?” One of the women asked me.

“Oh, for about two weeks in seventh grade,” I replied.

She sighed. “I liked them for longer than that. I had a poster.”

The check came, I paid up, and, bidding goodbye to the giggling yuppies, left for home.

The View from Here

One of these days, Fluff will be making a pilgrimage around Fluff’s hometown (Somerville is the birthplace of Fluff). Until my leg is all better, though, I will leave you with photos of my view from my front window.

View Daytime

View---Evening