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As mentioned in a previous post, I spend a lot more time listening to the radio these days, now that I have a car. Two of the local radio stations switched to an all-Christmas music format early in November; consequently, I have listened to a lot more Christmas music in the past week than in all the years since I stopped working retail.

It’s only been a week because, as the owner of a brand-new car, I also have a temporary free subscription to satellite radio. And while I have every intention of talking to you about that, and two infuriatingly dreadful songs I’ve been subjected to, in keeping with the season I’m cutting my own line to discuss a holiday song I heard yesterday, The Christmas Shoes.

Although I only heard it for the first time yesterday, I’ve been aware of the song for quite some time. After having been released in 2000, it became a tv-movie in 2002 starring Rob Lowe, slumming in those dark years before Chris Traeger came along to make all of our lives better. So I was generally familiar with the plot of the song – it’s Christmas, there are shoes – but not until yesterday did I realize how truly magnificent a tale this really is.

In the unlikely event you’ve not had the pleasure, let’s start, as the song does, at the beginning:

It was almost Christmas time
There I stood in another line
Tryin’ to buy that last gift or two
Not really in the Christmas mood

So we have some pretty standard scene setting there. We can infer that the vague “Christmas time” is telling us that the actual Christmas Day is not too far away. And after a season of presumably intensive shopping, he’s not feeling terribly generous. Nor terribly patient, as he passive-aggressively waits in another line to buy the gifts he’s not excited to give to people he probably hates.

Yet, on this night, we ask, what makes this line different from all other lines? It was the person waiting in front of him – “a little boy waiting anxiously, pacing around like little boys do.” You know how little boys are always pacing; they’re famous for it. Snips and snails and pacing in the mall to get the best deal on holiday sales; that is what little boys are made of.

In addition to pacing in line, while waiting to buy the titular shoes I should mention, there are several notable things about this boy:

And his clothes were worn and old
He was dirty from head to toe

Just as a reminder, this song was written in 2000, and not by Charles Dickens.

So the filthy urchin finally gets to the front of the line and, as little boys also do, unspools this tale of woe to the shopkeeper:

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my mama, please
It’s Christmas eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, daddy says there’s not much time
You see she’s been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful, if mama meets Jesus tonight

Heart-wrenching, to be sure. But it also raises a lot of questions for me. For starters, if the mother has been dying for quite a while, why is he waiting until the last minute to buy her a pair of shoes? I mean, I’m sure his job as a chimney sweep keeps him very busy, but still; procrastination is not the way out of poverty.

Also, has his mother been shoe-less the entire time she’s been dying? That seems extreme, even on top of leaving behind a motherless child who doesn’t know how to wash. And if she is shoe-less, is it because her feet are a weird size? Why else would it be worthy of note that the shoes, which probably are not custom-made, are just her size? Are they really big? Have her feet been bound and she’s dying from a related infection?

I’m also very confused about the stated purpose of these shoes. Is she going to be wearing the shoes when she meets Jesus? This is maybe because I’m Jewish, but I didn’t think souls had to wear shoes, what with being insubstantial and all. Plus, even if you did step on, say, a rusty nail, what’s it gonna do? You’re already dead; don’t waste your time worrying about tetanus.

On the other hand, if a soul does wear shoes, would they necessarily have to be shoes they owned during their lifetime? Unless you’re a Pharoah, who gets buried with all of his possessions to be prepared for anything in the afterlife, that seems unnecessarily limiting, and not at all like a reward for living a good life.

Or maybe it’s just that the shoes will make her smile, and she’ll wear the smile her one-on-one with Jesus. But isn’t Jesus supposed to believe everyone is beautiful? Again, my history with Judaism is affecting my understanding of this parable, but I would expect that a guy who could cure a leper would be able to love all kinds of women. If Dionisio Vivo could do it, I’m sure the son of the Lord could also manage it.

Of course, this is the plan of a child, and children are notoriously stupid so it’s not such a surprise that it doesn’t make much sense. And it really falls apart when he attempt to pay for the shoes.

He counted pennies for what seemed like years
Then the cashier said, “Son, there’s not enough here”
He searched his pockets frantically
Then he turned and he looked at me

Are they paying underage coal miners in pennies these days? He couldn’t stop by a CoinStar to change some of that for bills? He is on kind of a tight deadline, literally, with his mother’s situation and all. I would guess that maybe he pulled a Claudia & Jaime Kincaid and fished all the coin wishes out of the store’s fountain if it weren’t already established that he’s covered in dirt and clearly hasn’t had any contact with water in several weeks.

And yet, despite the dirt and his own impatience, our jaded narrator is swayed by the child’s plight, pitching in his own money to help pay for the shoes. Conveniently, this addresses not just the issue of a woman dying barefoot, but also helps salve the narrator’s spiritual torpor. Almost as if it was meant to all along. . .

I knew I’d caught a glimpse of heaven’s love
As he thanked me and ran out
I knew that God had sent that little boy
To remind me what Christmas is all about

I have to admit that, before this verse, I was a little bit bored by the song. If I’m being honest, I have to admit that, musically, it’s not fully pleasing to one’s ear holes. And it’s long. But this declaration? That God is killing the mother’s of poor children so that this man will not be so pissy about standing in line? It’s amazing. Because that does seem like the most efficient way for an omnipotent being to deliver a message – why disguise yourself as a burning bush when there are strangers who can die tragically? – and not at all like astonishing levels of self -delusion and -grandeur. It is so sincerely self-involved and lacking in any sort of self-awareness that it’s nearly perfect.

And then a children’s choir joins in for the final chorus.

Sometimes the written word can fail to fully capture an experience. But know that, once those angelic little voices lifted in song, I immediately abandoned my secret hope that the dirt-coated boy with the dying mom was just the front man for a complicated scheme involving reselling ill-gotten designer shoes; my heart filled with glee at the unparalled achievement, and unabashed heart-string-tugging, of this song. The lack of subtlety combined with the aforementioned sincerity; someone wanted to be sure that everyone understood the moral of this song. I wouldn’t be so bold as to suggest who, but I think I, like that man in the store, can recognize a miracle intended just for me when I hear it.

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The only other time I’ve ever noticed anyone’s eyelashes was in college. It was a guy in one of my European literature classes, I believe; the only class remaining in that room where, at the beginning of the semester all of my classes were scheduled to be held in that same room. A situation I found unacceptable; I didn’t think it would be very inspiring to spend what amounted to a whopping 12 hours a week in just one space, so I clearly had no choice but to switch all of the classes I could.

And such is inspiration that the only thing worth remembering from the only class that actually ended up being held in that room  are the eyelashes on a young man who always sat at the foot of the table in the center of the room. He may very well have been striking even with less exceptional eyelashes. He seemed tall, even though I only ever saw him seated; his torso was long andhis hairwas full in a way appropriate to the ‘90s and added to the impression of height. His hair also gave him a European air along with his features, vaguely pointy in an appealing and intellectual way, which he may well have been as well, but which I cannot confirm because I have no recollection of ever hearing him speak. Just the eyelashes.

Their length was amazing; they were easily the most glorious eyelashes I have ever seen.I didn’t wear glasses then, although I did need them, and still, even all the way across the room, I could see the length of those lashes, thick and full as they hovered above his indeterminate colored eyes.

Did he know? Did he, prepping for that 10am class that seemed so early, stand in front of his mirror thinking “By god, I really do have the most splendid pair of eyelashes. They’re impressive, and I’m impressive because of them,”? Probably not.

More than the lashes themselves, or Dada and Surrealism, what really consumed me during that class was that, the tremendous lack of justice implicit in those glorious lashes. I thought of women primping in front of mirrors, wielding curlers and mascara in the hopes of artificially extending their own perfectly reasonable eyelashes,a feat which,if anyone actually noticed, would be an easy and acceptable target for mockery. Thus, the whole goal of eyelash enhancement is to have it go unnoticed by the very people who would never have noticed them in their natural state. Worse, these insensitive bastards are endowed with the very lashes we aspire to, never noticing what is literally right in front of their own eyes; nothing seemed more unfair.

Until about three weeks ago, that is, when my own eyelashes went missing. Truly early in the morning this time, I stood in the bathroom gazing into the mirror, wondering why my eyes suddenly seemed so drab. The anwser, it turned out, is in the lashes; they’re thinner than they used to be, and shorter; potentially, there are less of them now too. Definitely, they’re different than they were before, and worse.

It’s an easy enough problem to fix, of course,  with a little mascara, on the upper lashes only to avoid the spidery effect. It’s part of my morning routine now, and not a particularly time-consuming part at that, and once done my eyes pop again and it’s impossible to tell the eyelashes weren’t there in the first place. Until the end of the day, when the mascara comes off and they vanish again. It’s such a slight change, unimportant, but at the same time, it’s impossible to ignore. Every day I see it, and for a moment I think of that guy in my literature class, of his eyelashes, forever perfect in my memory. I wonder what kind of shape they’re in now. And I wonder if, they too have started to fade under the relentless march of time, he’s even noticed.

 

It’s amazing to me how many people want immediately to get in a car with you when, as a grown person, you get behind the wheel for the first time over two decades. Granted, it was actually only 2 people, one of whom was my niece who, as I surely did at 13, probably understands driving as an automatically successful undertaking for every adult, rather than a strangely unnatural thing that has to be learned and practiced. The other was a new coworker, whose enthusiasm for a potential carpool is unflagging even after the short test drive around campus that I insisted upon, and during which she remained vocally supportive even though, by the clench of her fists around the door handle, she seemed maybe a little bit terrified.

But the most immediately striking thing about driving after such a long time, apart from the shocking lack of care supportive people can have for their own safety, is how boring it is. This, apparently, is not a fully appropriate response to share with more experienced drivers who text you, on your second day of driving in 2 decades, to find out how it’s going; as each immediately replied that, sure, driving is rather dull, but there are enough benefits to make the boredom worthwhile.

With this, I can not argue. The immediate convenience of driving is irrefutable. In less than 24 hours of car ownership, I went from someone who would happily walk upwards of 30 minutes to get to the store, to a person who drove from one store to another within the same parking lot because it suddenly made sense to do so. Whereas I had always understood the thrill of finding a parking spot under challenging circumstances, getting the closest spot possible had always struck me as some petty concern, unless it was raining; but now, its utmost importance in all weather is perfectly clear.

I also, in those same 24 hours, went from someone who spent 2 hours getting home from work and had to order prescription cat food online to a person who could stop at the vet along the way and still get home in about 35 minutes. The apparently primal need to get the closest parking spot possible is indeed a small price to pay to be able to reliably and efficiently feed one’s kitten.

So of course, there are benefits to driving. But after so many years being chauffeured by the MBTA, it is a difficult adjustment to realize that, even though I’ll always get a seat, I cannot as a driver just sit back and read while I cruise effortlessly to work. I mean, I could technically do that, but I probably wouldn’t be able to finish as much as a chapter before my ride came to an abrupt and radically unscheduled stop. Similarly, as much as I might like to lean my head against the window and watch the scenery whiz by in this strange new place I live in, or close my eyes at the end of a long day, I instead have kept my eyes on the road itself, which is remarkable only in its similarity to the road in every other place I’ve ever been.

However, while I don’t get to enjoy the scenery as much as I had hoped, one unexpected pleasure of driving is the confident self-righteousness that comes from being the person everyone passes on the highway. The conviction that comes from traveling at the speed at which I am comfortable while you, all of you, are speeding is very satisfying. Not that I’m judging other drivers, mind you; unless they’re passing on a curve – that’s unsafe for me, too. Overall, though, I’d much prefer everyone hurry on toward their destination and leave me all the road to myself.

But what has stood out the most since beginning driving is not just how boring it is, nor how, and this is surely old news to everyone but me,  Taylor Swift is literally always playing somewhere on the radio; I’m  sure her ubiquity is well-earned, but, even at this very late date, I have to point out that t-shirts and short skirts are not mutually exclusive garments and thus are not drawing as clear a distinction as Ms. Swift imagines. Unless maybe it’s some issue with waxing she’s obliquely referring to? Probably not, though.

Wait, what was I talking about? Oh, right – the most startling lesson of driving is that driving, it turns out, is very lonely.

It’s not like, in the past 20 of not driving, I haven’t been in a car at all; I have, been in many cars in that time. Which sounds like the sort of thing an alien might say to convince you of his humanity, but that doesn’t make any less true. But the point is that for 2 decades, cars meant something social; getting into a car was the beginning of an adventurous undertaking to a greater or lesser degree; whereas now, the car is merely a means to perform errands – go to store, go to the work, go home.

I’m sure as I get more comfortable driving and more used to exploring all of the places that are out of walking distances, the car will feel less like a chore and will begin again to fill its old role as conduit for adventure. But, even as the stress of driving has withered a bit over the past two weeks, the car right now is primarily a reminder that, Ms. Swift’s crooning aside, that I’m going to be the only one in it for a while. And while that’s certainly safer and less stressful for everyone, it’s different than what I’m used to; different, and not really an improvement.

There are a lot of different ways to think about Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, released last week. The most obvious would be as a novel, and, as a novel, it must be said: it is not very good.

I avoided reviews of GSaW before reading it, but since the headlines were inescapable I knew the general consensus was negative. This was very much a surprise as I was reading it. It was imperfect, certainly, but things would have to go off the rails pretty spectacularly to deserve being called a “mess”. You can imagine my disappointment, then, when things did go utterly off the rails in the final sections of the book.

The problem here is, as you are no doubt aware even if you too have only read headlines, that the Atticus Finch of Go Set a Watchman is racist. Rather, the problem with the story is not that he is racist, but in the discussion of how Jean Louise – who we all remember fondly as Scout Finch, and who is the actual protagonist of this book, despite getting fewer headlines – tries to come to terms with her discovery of this great failing in her father. We all were Jean Louise Finch last week, as we, too, tried to understand what could have happened to so drastically alter the most upstanding and moral figure of our childhood, who helped shape our understanding of right and wrong, who we all looked up to.

Unfortunately, though recognizing your parents as the flawed human beings they are could be a very rich topic, it is not presented well here. It takes the form of a couple of debates between characters – Jean Louise and her uncle, then Jean Louise and Atticus, and then she and her uncle again – spanning several pages, of just individual characters talking about their ideas. Even with the best of writing, this kind of philosophical argument is generally not terribly interesting to me. But these chapters of Go Set a Watchmen are not even close to the best of writing. The ideas presented are, generously, half-formed; it’s sort of like sitting too close to college freshman who are talking, about anything really. They’re also, frankly, pretty offensive; while much ink has been spilled about Atticus’ racism, Jean Louise does not come across any better; certainly not by today’s standards, anyway, although I’m certain that at the time, you could be progressive and in favor of equality while still being pretty racist. Seriously; it’s bad, you guys.

But the debate about race in Watchman, too long and poorly formed as it is, is incidental to the plot, really. Because the true struggle of the book is how Jean Louise will come out of this crisis still loving her father. And that, I think, is where Watchman actually becomes pretty interesting; it’s not successful as a novel, but it is a great case study for the writing process, and, particularly in this time of self-publishing, the importance of editors. Because, up until the end, there is a lot to like in Watchman. The talent and joy Harper Lee has in writing is impossible to ignore through most of it. And a talented editor was able to steer the book away from the thornier issues Lee was not properly addressing, to focus on the vivid recollections of Scout’s childhood, and her adventures with Jem and Dill; to enable Scout to love Atticus in the way that Jean Louise clearly wanted to, even though she couldn’t.

In the end, if you’re looking for a good book, I would not recommend Go Set a Watchman. But, if you’re interested in writing, in watching the development of a creative project, I’d say it’s a worthwhile read. I’ve got a copy you can borrow, but, even with all of it’s flaws, I’ll definitely be wanting it back.

I like just about everything on This American Life except for Ira Glass, and the reason I don’t like Ira Glass is the way he says “Of course.” He says it every episode, not to express agreement with a guest, although he may do that too; the particular “of course,” to which I’m referring comes when the show returns from commercial (or so I imagine; I, of course, listen to it online) and Ira explains what TAL is all about: “Each week on our show, of course, we choose a theme, and bring you different kinds of stories on that theme.” Although I did confirm the wording against a transcript of the most recent podcast, I was able to write that from memory; I am not kidding that he says it every week.

What makes the “of course,” so annoying is that, in confirming that everyone already knows the set-up of This American Life, it calls into question why they’ve included this little mid-show introduction in the first place. I mean, I get that you want to offer a little orienting for your listeners rather than just plunge them back into the middle of the story, or, more often, the beginning of a new story. And I have, theoretically, no objection to restating the This American Life thesis statement during each episode – you never know when a new listener is going to tune in. But in saying “of course,”, Ira is implying that even the newest of listeners is already familiar with the TAL mission. It’s certainly possible that This American Life has achieved the sort of cultural saturation where everyone does, in fact, know what it is even if they haven’t actually been exposed to it themselves; but there’s no need to be smug about it, Ira. And frankly, if everyone already know what you’re going to say, maybe use the time to say something else. Just imagine how much more exciting weddings would be if that happened.

It seems like a lot, I know, to dislike Ira Glass entirely on the basis of two words, even if they are two words he says over and over again. But, of course, my judgement does not rest solely on those two words; instead, for me, those two words perfectly encapsulate the sense of smugness that pervades every episode of This American Life. A show, I should probably mention, of which I would consider myself a big fan: their stories are often interesting and always well told, even as it seems like the radio counterpart of The Daily Show in its reassurance that the universal japes and ridiculous straights of life it wryly observes do not impact its audience; we, the listeners, are above all that foolishness.

An ability to pinpoint a meaningful phrase in a work came in very handy as a literature major. However, as the years have passed and I’ve grown too stupid to read a book, I’ve had to find another outlet for my critical skills. And, while television would be the most obvious target, since I spend so much time with it, it’s actually people that really allow my literature-comparing skills to shine. For example, I recently had the following conversation with a co-worker:

Me: Yeah, I have to put in my air conditioners this weekend.

Coworker: Oh, do you have someone to do that for you?

Me: [?] Uh, no? I do it myself.

Coworker: Are your air conditioners not very heavy?

Me: [??? + irritation/need to suppress ire] No, the ARE very heavy, it’s just that I’m strong enough to lift them.

Coworker: [dumb expression on her face]

We here on the blog, of course, came into this conversation already in progress; while I’ve embraced the necessity of having tedious conversations with coworkers, I make a real effort never to initiate a conversation with this particular one. Because I just can’t stand her.

To you, of course, giving the credit to the air conditioners rather than to me probably does not seem like a terrible crime against my person, certainly not worth wasting your time reading about, especially since I did in the above conversation get the implied credit for having somehow gotten ahold of the world’s only light window-unit air conditioners. In fact, you may not  consider it even remotely egregious that her initial response was to utterly disregard my active statement of installation in favor of automatically assuming my incapability of said action.

I, of course, understand your point. In fact, after tamping down my rage to neutrally yet extremely informatively reset the conversation to its proper subject, I wondered if I was, perhaps, somehow overreacting to the blank stare I received in response by thinking my coworker was a dumb, stupid cow. Which then, of course, made me consider whether the overreaction hadn’t happened sooner. I mean, this a woman who once “complimented” another female coworker by telling her she looked like a secretary, and there again seemed uncomprehending when this was not greeted with thanks. I should not have been surprised by her belief that I, as a woman, am probably useless.

And that, of course, is the actual issue. Not the isolated (and, it must be remembered, very, very stupid) comment about air conditioners, but that this is only the most recent, and surely not the last, in a long line of comments betraying her weird attitude toward women. Which I initially was willing to believe due to her advanced age and being raised in a time when feminism was a new concept and something a woman wouldn’t necessarily want to be known as, until I noticed that, like a high school mean girl, none of her insensitive remarks are ever self-directed. Additionally, the negging is only a subset of her larger personality issues, which I won’t detail extensively here now at this time, but will return to later.

The point, of course, is that, as with Ira Glass, while I may be overreacting to an individual comment here or there, the much larger issue is that I just do not like this person. I don’t. And no matter how much I might try to focus on the positive or let these comments go, there will always be another one. It’s an endless if irregular flow of reminders that,the reason I don’t like her is because she sucks. And it has become unbelievably tiresome to pretend otherwise.

You, of course, are maybe wondering when this pretending took place? After all, if you are reading this, we’ve probably spent time together, and anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time with me over the past entirety of my life knows that I will eventually turn any conversation to how much I don’t like someone or something about work. Here online, though, I have actually tried to avoid the topic. For one thing, it undoubtedly does not look good during a job search for a prospective employer to find an archive demonstrating an inability to get along with one’s coworkers. For a girl, I mean; a guy can write anything he wants and it’ll be fine. For another thing, I’m sure the 6 of you reading this would tire quickly of reading the very same story over and over again, even if a few of the identifying details have been changed.

But what I realized as I sat wondering whether I was overreacting to be so bothered by this very irritating conversation about air conditioners is that I don’t actually care if I am. And that I like to complain; in fact, it makes me happy to detail an excessively minor thing and say “Look, look! Look at the nonsense that exists in the world, that I have to deal with almost every day.” Because even if I didn’t, it would still happen; in fact, there have been 3 more incidences since I started writing this. If I have to bear witness to this, then my reward is that I get to talk about it. So get ready: there will be plenty more where this came from.

An interesting thing is that I tend to wake up earlier in the summer. Actually, that’s false on two counts: it’s not at all interesting, and I wake up early year-round, due to Oola’s solid understanding of breakfast-time that does not alter with the seasons. Although it does, somehow, take into account daylight savings time. But in summer, with the sun already being up and the apartment already being warm, I will *not* go back to sleep after feeding the kitten but instead get going on my day. And while it might make sense that this earlier start would lead to arriving earlier to work, what I instead do with that extra time is extend my commute. So that I get to work at the same time, but it takes much longer to get there.

I did briefly attempt to use the extra time to get myself a fancy coffee drink with the intention of sitting in the fancy coffee place and enjoying, but it turns out the early morning baristas are a slow moving bunch and any extra time I thought I’d had was whittled away as I waited in line. Instead of subjecting myself to such frustration early in the morning, I instead use the extra time to incorporate more walking into my day, but without having to call it exercise, which I would never do.

And so it was that, on Tuesday morning, I found myself at 6:45am on Newbury Street with a particular place to be but in no hurry to get there, and I thought to myself “Self, why don’t we check out the old work neighborhood?” Which, as is once again the case, is distressingly close to my new work neighborhood. I’d seen in passing that there have been a lot of changes on Brookline Avenue since last I passed that way, and actually walking down the street I experienced up close how many of the things I used to see every day gone. For one thing, the storefront with the green awning that stood empty for the entire 9 years I walked down that street is gone altogether, having been replaced either by something completely unmemorable or a Crossfit gym which, now that I’ve seen two of them, I guess are supposed to look like the unfinished and never-used home gym in your neighbor’s garage, circa 1987.

More notably, the office I worked in – on 3 different floors – has been extensively renovated, or at least it appears to be from the sidewalk; even in passing it no longer resembles its humble beginnings as a renovated parking garage. It was too early in the day for anyone to be entering or exiting the building, unless it’s maybe staffed entirely by Oompa-Loompas held captive by a new corporate overlord; either way, it looks like the sort of place where work could be done, rather than a temporary holding cell for aimlessly malevolent chaos.

The view across the street has changed considerably too. Gone is the entire building that housed a rotating selection of failed restaurants, replaced by something unmemorable or perhaps another Crossfit. The restaurants themselves were entirely unmemorable too, all except one: B.B. Wolf, which was not memorable because of the quality of the food – as a barbecue joint it was inhospitable to the vegetarians in our lunch crowd. We seldom ate there, but it did play host to a manager’s meeting where we discussed the planned upgrade to Windows NT, a meeting memorable not for its location but because it was at this meeting a tall and handsome colleague asked me what NT stood for; I wasn’t sure but supposed it could be New Technology. We agreed that made sense, even if we couldn’t quite figure out why either of us was invited to the meeting. Although it is interesting (but again, not really) to think I was with a single company from whatever preceded NT to whatever preceded Vista. And I am glad I wasn’t there for the Vista upgrade, if there was one, because if there was, I am certain it didn’t go smoothly.

Anyway. While handsomeness and the ephemeral of necessity of new technologies are always fun to think about, what makes B.B. Wolf truly memorable is an equally trivial but slightly more explosive staff interaction when the thoughts of the Admin Team, which I supervised, turned to the mystery of what B.B. Wolf might stand for.

This was an afternoon conversation, quite likely on a Friday, but definitely at the point where people begin to realize there’s more time left in the work day than they can possibly fill on their own. It may be hard to imagine such a thing now, but remember: this was in the time of Windows NT; not even Friendster had come along yet, meaning the only people you had to pass the time with during the day were those in your immediate vicinity. Unless you wanted to use the phone. Which could only make calls. And would have been corded, so you wouldn’t even have the privacy to talk with your friends about how much you didn’t want to talk to your coworkers.

So it was in these dark times that someone chanced to glance across the street and wonder aloud what the B.B. might stand for. I momentarily shared their wonder; as far as I recall, the minds behind B.B. Wolf never actually elaborated on what the double-b might mean anywhere on their menues, and while they’d probably use their website to explain the whole history of the name today (some places do just go on and ON), if they’d had a website back in the days of NT, they probably would have been some sort of short-lived yet brazen start-up instead of a short-lived barbecue restaurant of indeterminate brazenosity.

As I wondered, I recalled noticing a theme the few times I’d looked over their menu: pigs. 3 of them. Living in houses. Maybe under a constant threat of being blown down? Thus, I concluded, the B.B. must stand for Big Bad.

I did not immediately share this with my coworkers. As manager, you want to allow staff a certain amount of room to resolve issues on their own. Also, it’s important to recognize that a conversation happening in your presence is not necessarily an invitation to join in; this was their investigation, and, as manager, I didn’t want to cut it short. Particularly since the answer was so easy, the solution would be reached soon enough.

But it wasn’t. I do not remember every possible permutation they came up with for B.B., which is no doubt for the best, but I do remember they eventually settled on Bar Be. Like Bar Be Cue, but with a wolf. That makes sense, right?

It doesn’t. I mean, it’s not a completely terrible idea, by which I of course mean that I myself had briefly considered that B.B. was some kind of play on BarBecue, and had even gone so far as to fleetingly consider Bar-be-wolf might be it. Until I realized that, even for a startup, Bar-be-wolf makes no sense at all, and moved on to other possibilities before finally settling on what was undoubtedly the right answer because I turned out to be right about the NT thing.

The Admin Team, though, wasn’t moving on. Once Bar-Be-Wolf came up, they stopped considering other possibilities in favor of discussing among themselves how that had to be correct. In the surest sign they considered the matter resolved, they made motions toward getting back to work.

I was torn. As manager, it’s great to have a staff that can be productive without urging. As a human being, there is no greater frustration than people deciding to be wrong, particularly when their decision to be wrong makes them happy. What could I do? I’m sure I had other options, but in the end, I did this:

OH MY GOD, IT’S BIG BAD! IT STANDS FOR BIG BAD! GET IT? BIG BAD WOLF? FuuuuuUUUCK.

Before anything else, I am a human being. And, even in the days before the internet, it was important to let people know when they were acting like idiots, even if you had to do it in person.

I believe I went on record not too long ago as in favor of the chaos and temporary societal breakdown that tend to accompany your larger winter storms; however, in light of this particular winter, in which storm followed storm followed storm, I’d like to amend my previous support to make it fully clear that my enjoyment stems from the temporary nature of the suspension of civility, of knowing that, no matter how dark it is, day will follow. This past winter, with its seemingly endless snowfall, which, last I checked, was still not entirely melted, proved too much even for my hardy constitution, which can’t help but rise to a challenge it knows it can win, and instead of taking joy in the conquering of elements, I too reached a point where I found myself to be conquered by them.

It happened toward the end of February. Prior to that I had also been not enjoying the mercurial turn of events so much, but I did recognize that I was getting through the season relatively unscathed. Yes, my evening commute was twice as long as it should have been, but I boarded the bus early enough in its run that it never passed me without picking up; I didn’t have to connect to another bus, or pick up children, or get to a second job. All I had to do was get to my house, put on pajamas and have the kitten stretch out over my legs, and it turns out that I can all of that just as easily at 6pm as I can at 5pm.

Despite my relatively easy travels, I did notice, on those days when traffic was too backed up and it wasn’t actively snowing or terribly windy, how much more sense it makes to be able to walk home rather than drive. Certainly, exposure to the elements is not my favorite thing, and I have in the past noticed with some dispirit how foot traffic is often reduced to single file in the snow, as all who follow fill only the footsteps of the first intrepid soul to pass that way, rather than attempt to widen the narrow trail that has been broken. Dispirit, and lack of charity, for I do the very same thing.

But, the extreme conditions of this terrible winter turned this inconvenience into a most unlikely source of camaraderie, a first as the usual brutish claiming of right-of-way was replaced by a delicate consideration of the rights and needs of fellow travelers. Instead of just brushing past one another as we would when the entire width of the sidewalk was at our feet, pedestrians seemed to be stepping aside whenever possible – sometimes even when the approaching fellow was as many as 5 houses away! – with a wry smile that acknowledged we were all in this together. In return, we received genuine thanks from the person given the right of way. On the rare occasions that I had to venture more than a few blocks out of doors, I felt not just my usual elation at conquering the elements (or at least putting up a very noble fight), but a sense of community and kinship that tends to be missing when my primary interest in my fellow pedestrians is finding out if they’re saying something stupid.

However the pleasures of foot traffic were enhanced by the inclement weather, the inclementness, as stated, was such that, more often than not, I eschewed that fellowship newly found for the exasperating inconvenience of a bus that provided me nearly door-to-door service from my home to work, and then eventually back again.

Before I go any further in my story, I want to state clearly that the MBTA and all employed by such have my 100% support and admiration for the way they operated this past winter. The underfunding chickens would have come home to roost eventually, and I believe the agency dealt with their premature arrival with determination and genuine effort to do the best they could, to keep operations running to the degree that would best serve riders while still minding the safety of their drivers. Yes: sometimes, that best service was a massive inconvenience, as I will go on to illustrate shortly; but, overall, I believe, in facing a spectacular challenge, the T did an admirable job. It’s just that, in lionizing David, we often forget that Goliath killed a LOT of people before being hit by that slingshot. [In case this tortured analogy is not clear, Goliath is the winter, and the T was slain. And, as is the case in any story, Charlie Baker is a jerk.]

So! Like I said – generally, I was unperturbed by the extreme weather and traffic conditions of the winter. Until early one morning, when I was packing up my lunch for the day and happened to notice that my sweet kitten, the incomparable Oola Belle, had gotten a little bit of pee on the floor outside the litter box. Usually she’s neater about that sort of thing, but of far greater concern than having to clean up a little bit of cat pee – which is actually barely a concern at all – was that this particular bit of cat pee was bright pink. Which is of very great concern indeed because, if you don’t have a cat or any experience with their urine, I will tell you that pink means blood. And no matter the season, you do not want to discover that your kitten is peeing blood.

At this point, I will remind that all of this happened several months ago, and Oola Belle is now 100% recovered. And, though I am happy every day that my kitten remains in good health and good spirits, on the morning of said discovery, I was not happy at all. In fact, I was quite upset. Blood in urine is not good for anyone’s kitten, but it’s particularly a problem for my kitten because she’s mine and I love her the most. In addition to which, Oola had had this problem before, and it turned out to be a chronic condition, for which she now eats a special prescription food. And though I appreciate the symmetry, pointed out by my pal Derbs, that I would happen to end up with a pet that, like me, needs a special diet because of her malfunctioning innards, the reappearance of blood meant that the special diet in this case was failing, that her condition was getting worse, and that I was going to lose my lovingly fractious kitten after only 4 years together.

Again, it didn’t actually mean any of that. But it’s hard, at 6:50 in the morning, after weeks of unrelenting darkness and cold, to think of anything but the worst, so it was in this frame of mind that I headed out to the bus stop. A few minutes late, since I had to stop to wipe up the blood of my dying kitten (not dying), give her kisses on her sweet little head for probably the last time (not even close to the last time – in fact, I kissed her sweet little face this morning! She pretended like she didn’t care, but I was undeterred by her lack of interest), and trucked my way through 7 feet of snow, to arrive at the stop just as the bus was, technically speaking, pulling away from the curb, but since there was still so much snow in the road, it was actually impossible to tell where the sidewalk ended and the road began.

Missing the bus would mean waiting 20+ minutes for the next one, that + being an entirely unpredictable variable due to the inclement conditions previously mentioned; alternately, I could continue to trudge through 7 feet of snow to the next nearest bus route, a mile in the cold to be dropped off so far from my destination that I’d have to trudge even further just to arrive at a place that I loathe. Not to mention that my cat was (totally not) dying, and I’d have to spend the rest of my life with(out) her. There was a lot riding on my catching the bus, is what I’m saying, although I would not have put it so drolly at the time.

So I began the nearly impossible task of running through the narrow rut of unevenly packed snow to catch the bus before if fully pulled away. And, for a moment, luck was on my side; I got to the bus, and knocked on the closed doors. The driver turned his head. We made eye contact, my eyes undoubtedly filled with a mix of gratitude at his impending kindness, and despair at my impending loss. And then, firmly, he shook his head. “No.”

I will point out that, in the time it took him to shake his head, and make the accompanying hand gesture that I should step away from the bus, that he could just as easily have opened the doors to let me board. Or he could have done that when he still wasn’t driving away and I said “Can you open the door?” Probably not nicely; I mean, my cat was (not) dying, and I was for some reason about to miss the bus even though it was right in front of me; that sort of stress really comes through in my voice. And I knew that the driver had a schedule to keep to, even though he had no hope whatsoever of keeping it. But he also had the option to let me on the bus; the option, and the ability. The graciousness of pedestrians, which I had come to expect, did not extend to drivers. Given the opportunity to help, he chose not to. And I, as would any reasonable person faced with the frustration of an unreasonable asshole who doesn’t even care that your cat is (totally not even) dying, screamed loud and profane, and, helpless to do otherwise, lashed out and punched the bus.

Immediately, I regretted this. I mean, instantaneously. Which is difficult to convey in writing; but the moment for you, between reading “bus” and “immediately”, brief though it surely was, did not exist between my fist hitting the bus and my realizing what a dumb fucking thing that was to do. It hurt. So. MUCH. Like, to a degree I would not have thought possible. Which is not to say that I’ve ever spent any time imagining what it would be like to punch a bus, but if I had, I’m sure I would have thought that I’d do at least a little bit of damage to the vehicle. It was shocking to realize how wrong I was, especially about something I’d never even believed to begin with.

Had I been less occupied with the stunning pain that had, somewhat amazingly, completely defused my anger, I might have taken a moment to note that the bus proved to be as unyielding as its driver. Instead, fully occupied, I could only notice that the immediacy of the pain had been paired with a simultaneous swelling and purpling of my knuckles. Not for the first time, I thought how smart I’ve always been to wear cheap jewelry as the ring on my swollen and no longer flexible finger was adjustable and could be removed easily, intact, and with a minimum of pain.

The rest of my commute was uneventful – I trudged through the snow, in the way of my elders, and eventually arrived at work. I made an appointment with the vet, who didn’t seem alarmed by Oola’s condition, which made me think she may not have been dying after all (she wasn’t!). And the next day, on the way to the vet, I discovered that, when you’re lugging a pet carrier through the snow, everyone will cede the right of way to you.


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