Beantown Diaries

I’m in Boston.

As I tweeted upon my arrival:

I’m in Boston, tweeps.  Hello Harvard Square.  Hello Newbury Street.  Hello stomping grounds of my misspent youth.

Whenever I’m in town, I always find myself remembering all the crazy shit I did when I lived just an hour, exactly, from this place.

What? What’s that you say?  You want me to regale you with crazy tales of my crazy exploits in crazy Beantown, Boston Mass, birthplace of the nation?  Just a hop skip and a jump from Lynn, Lynn, city of sin?

Well.  Have yourself a seat, little buckaroo, and I’ll dangle a couple tasty morsels of high school chicanery in your general di-rection.

Like the time I was waiting in Harvard Square for my best friend Kim.  I was fresh out of my first month and a half at Syracuse, on my way home for Thanksgiving break.  I was mohawked.  I was purple haired.  I was disillusioned youth-ed.  I was so punk rock.  I was going to hang out in Boston with my friend Kim for a day before heading home.  I was 100% rebel.  I was also going to Syracuse University on partial scholarship as an aerospace engineering major.

Right.  So in retrospect, I suppose the Boston street kid task force didn’t pick up on the whole engineering student vibe.  I tried telling them I really didn’t need any clean needles or a place to stay, thanks.  But the sandwich wasn’t half bad.

Then there was the time I totally ditched work the summer before I left for college and Kim and I headed down to Boston for a night on the town with some other friend of hers.  We went to a goth club and were gothy.  We emo’d all night long.  I met a boy named Derrick who I fancied.  He was very pale and full of angst.  WINNER!  I pined over him for a week or two, despite never seeing him again.  I remember walking back to my car, about 2 miles away.  Kim and our other friend were fast walkers, and sorta left me behind.  Drunk, you know.  So, I was walking down Comm(onwealth) Ave, at about 3am, essentially by myself.  I had my knife out, in my hand.  Ready.  Because I was not alone…and it was dark…and not well lit…and not a good part of town.  Plus, there’s the whole I’m-a-total-badass thing.

I also discovered Clannad that weekend.  Still, my favorite Irish band EVAR.  Maire Brennan is the shit.  Makes her sister Enya sound like a walrus needing an epinephrine shot.  (Total exaggeration there, in case you were wondering.  Enya is fab.  Just, her sister is More Fab.)

And of course there was the day I skipped school and Kim and I and a couple others (Kim was quite the bad influence on me, wasn’t she?  Wish I could find her 😛 ) We hung out on Newbury street generally being nuisances and having just a grand time being Not At School.  Being Not At School makes everything more fun.  It’s like…cinnamon.  With cherries on top, and a dollop of homemade whipped cream.

Now I’m here to visit my new nephew.  See my baby brother as a father for the first time.  Meet my sister-in-law’s parents, who are visiting from Brazil.  That makes them my inlaws, right?  Right?  Because I kinda like them.  Can I keep ’em?  I foresee a trip to Brazil in my future.  Who knows, maybe I won’t come back.

Anything’s possible.


Just look at everything that started in this little colonial town.

But I do miss Portland.

And my dog.

Driver 8

On January 6th, 1990, I boarded a train in Boston with all my possessions packed into a couple boxes and balanced on my skateboard.

On January 9th, 1990, I arrived in Portland Oregon, where I found my friend and her parents waiting to pick me up.

In between those two events was one of the most profound experiences of my life.

Even now, looking back, those three days on the train feel like some strange dream I had. The colors were all muted, yet raw. Figures, people, floated in and out of my existence, but never seemed to really be present, or real. It was like I was passing through some sort of transitional dimension, and I would come out the other side changed.

Perhaps that’s exactly what it was, because I did change. The person who boarded in Boston was not the same one that arrived in Portland. The trip changed me, in subtle yet profound ways. Yet still, after all these years, I can’t quite put my finger on how I was different. I just knew, and still know, that I just felt different. And not different like if you dye your hair a different colour and look in the mirror. Not different as if you took a different path to work and saw some new stuff. Different, as if you just had a small animal die in your arms. Different as if you just witnessed your math teacher have a complete nervous breakdown, and you don’t know how to react.

So here’s what happened. It will probably sound quite mundane and boring. But something about it wasn’t. Perhaps this exercise will help me figure it out.

I spent a month saving every penny to buy this train ticket. My mother, who was dead set against the whole idea, refused to lift a finger to help, even though the passage from Dostoevsky I used to explain my reasons seemed perfectly clear. But fine, I hadn’t gone home for her help, I went home to say goodbye. I had enough money for a taxi to the bus station in Manchester, for the bus from Manchester to Boston, and my train ticket was already purchased. I didn’t have money for food on the trip, but I figured I’d raid the pantry on my way out. Fortunately, the night before I was planning to leave, my mom relented and offered to drive me to Boston. Yay for food money.

Although this was after CD’s were entering mainstream use, I didn’t have the money to buy very many. Most of my music was still on cassette tape. The two tapes I had with me were a mix tape that my friend Sean made, and REM’s Fables of the Reconstruction.

Awkward goodbyes at the train station. I boarded the train, stowed my stuff, and settled in. I was nervous. Not so much at the prospect of moving across the country with nothing, basically. For that, I felt a lot of fear. But the nervousness, that was for 3 days, alone. I wasn’t very good at talking to strangers back then. I was 19.

The trip from Boston to Chicago went pretty quickly. I remember passing through Syracuse and being in a foul mood just being in close proximity to that place. I so hated that town, and that school. It was years before I could even stand blue and orange together. Heh.

The first night comes. I slept. Sleeping in a train seat is not much better than sleeping in an airplane seat. Somehow, it’s worse, although less pressurized.

Change of trains in Chicago, and then the long trip from there to Portland.

They hand out cards to everyone when you board, with a list of interesting sights to look for along the way. I remember that I couldn’t wait to see the Rockies. I imagined how majestic, glorious and soul-lifting they would be. I had worked myself up to quite a fever pitch about them, in fact. But they were a day away still, at least. So the next interesting thing on the list was a beautiful statue of a wolf, in Wolf Point, Montana. The statue commemorates the town’s beginnings as a wolf trapper’s camp. I waited hours to see that wolf statue.


Hours of nothing. Nothing but seas of wheat, and rolling hills, and emptiness. No towns. No houses. No people. No nothing.

And then…a house, in the middle of nowhere.

And then…more hours upon hours of nothing.

That’s the kind of thing that makes you think. Which is what I did. I thought. I wrote stories about G-d. Parables. I silently panicked at what I was doing. I thought about death, and family, and faith, and something deep inside me shifted, shifted away from the angry, disillusioned girl desperate for meaning. Shifted in subtle ways, finding flashes of calm, tiny moments of introspection and peace in between the fear and uncertainty.

And I listened to that REM tape. Fables of the Reconstruction. Driver 8.

The walls were built up stone by stone,
Fields divided one by one
And the train conductor says
Take a break driver 8, driver 8, take a break,
we’ve been on this trip too long

That song will always transport me back to those three days.

We pulled into Wolf Point, and I saw the statue. It was about the size of a medium dog, in a bank parking lot.

We entered the Rocky Mountains around 11pm. It was pitch dark outside. I saw nothing.

I met people, who were nice to me. I found them confusing, threatening, and comforting all at once. Confusing because they used strange words, like ‘pop’ for soda and ‘sack’ for paper bag. Threatening, because I knew I was different somehow, and they were (or seemed) normal, and I was afraid they’d see I was different and hate me for it. Comforting, because they didn’t.

I arrived in Portland the afternoon of the next day. Changed. A bit more accepting of life. A bit more introspective, and forgiving, and perhaps a touch less judgmental.

I wrote about the larger story of my move here a while back. If you’re interested, check it out. It’s in two parts.

Sept Choses

aka Seven Things.  aka Confess!

1. I’m a card carrying SCA fighter.  I haven’t fought in about a year, but I have every intention of returning this spring. 

(Wearing armour in the cold and wet sucks.  What sucks even more is wearing armour in the cold and wet, and then getting beaten with sticks.) 

I have a full set of armour, much of which I made myself.  Thanks to that experience, I now have the skills required to  build armour, including basic metalsmithing, basic to advanced leatherworking, and expert chain maille.  Ergo, I am a total geek with a very high pain tolerance, a knack for tools, and a penchant for beating grown men and woman about the head and body with sticks, and a tendency to occasionally dress in funny clothes (some of which I also made myself).  Fear me.

2. I am a pyromaniac.  When I was a kid, I built a fire on my front steps out of newspaper, took a disposable camera (they were the latest thing!), stuck my hand in the fire and took a picture.  I never did develop that film, but I really really wish I had.  Heck, I might try it again someday. 

3.  I’m convinced that I will die in a car accident.  I’m hoping that the fact that I *am* convinced of that, will cause me to be more cautious.  So far so good.  *knock on fake wood laminate*

4. I’m not sure this one counts, because it’s not something I did, but I didn’t really see any rules.  And I just have to get this out – I’ve never told anyone this.  A friend of mine, who I used to hang out with a lot years ago but have since lost touch with, had a cat.  A calico cat named Q.  She was cute, and young.  And unfixed.  Sooo, my friend, who was living on very meager means at the time, couldn’t afford to have her fixed.  And then cute little Q went into heat.  My friend was working hard at home on her career as a fashion designer, and got so frustrated with Q’s incessant yowling that she one day took a Q-tip to Q.  Yep, you got it…she fucked her cat Q with a Q-tip.  Apparently it worked though, Q was…satisfied.

5. I watched the very first video on MTV.  I know lots of people who *know* that Video Killed the Radio Star was the first video, but I don’t know a lot of people who watched MTV go on the air.  It’s kind of a cool memory to have. 

6. I used to be fluent in French.  It was a pretty weird feeling when I realized it.  I was walking down the street, just thinking about the stuff I had to do, and people I needed to talk to, so in my head was “Blah blah blah blah blah”  Except I realized, mid street crossing!, that what I was actually thinking was “ze Blah ze blah ze blah ze blah ze blah mais oui!  Zut alor!”!  Have you ever thought in a foreign language without realizing it, and then realize it?  Weird.  It’s long gone, of course, since I quit using it as my relatives learned English/passed away, but those synapse highways are pretty fused.  The cool thing is that I realized not only could I pick up French again pretty quick if I needed to, I could probably do Spanish pretty darn quick too.  But what I really want to learn is Portuguese, so I can talk about saudadeThere’s no real english translation, but I am intimately familiar with the feeling.

7. I am a feeling person.  I live in my feelings.  So it should come as no surprise that I am a total romantic, with a streak of realism that’s been beaten into me.  I truly believe in love, in all its forms, and in my opinion it is one of the most important things in the world.  It is human connection.  In my mind, it is the reason we exist; to foster, create and perfect those human connections.  And as love, connection, exists on a human scale, so it exists in others as well.  Love exists in the attraction of planets, and in the attraction of electrons to protons.  It is the compulsion to unite.  But then, my beliefs have been called ‘the science of faith’. And I better quit there before I get all preachy…I have a tendency to do that when I get on this topic.

I knew I should’ve been a physicist.  Damn.  Physics is the branch of science most likely to prove the existence of G-d. 

There.  Thanks @jarvitron for taggin me, and I mean that in the nicest way.  I’ll tag @cecivirtue, @djtv, @metroknow, and @camikaos.

Fond memories of the far right coast – continued…

Read the first part first

Alrighty then, where were we? Ah, yes…I had just discovered the ‘transitional housing’ by the train station. I ended up only staying there one night, thankfully – those cots weren’t that comfortable. Everyone that stays there has to do some sort of an intake interview with someone who works there, and I was no exception. When they found out I was under 21, they told me that there was a youth shelter on the other side of downtown. (I had, by this point, discovered that Portland was not really a ‘quaint little town’, but an actual city, and a fairly nice one at that.) They said I could stay there that night, but I should head over there the next day.

There were lots of people staying at this shelter. Many of them were kinda scary. Some of them seemed really nice though, just down on their luck – much like myself. One in particular I found to be somewhat interesting, as he carried a guitar around with him. I, of course, decided to strike up a conversation with him. I was an artiste, you remember. So we got to talking. I can’t remember his name for the life of me, but I’ll never forget the things he told me. He showed me around town a bit, bought me (a very meager) lunch, and was just generally terrifically nice to me. We both layed out our life stories, or particularly the part of our lives that brought us to our shared situation. He was quite a bit older than me, probably in his mid to late 30’s. It’s amazing how quickly you form bonds with people when your circumstances are less than desirable.

When I had told him how I ended up homeless in a strange town, and that I was going to head to West Virginia, he told me something I’ll never forget:

“So you’re just going to run away again?”

I remember that that statement hit me like a brick in the gut. I’d never looked at my actions in that light, but once that light came on, it blinded me. That’s exactly what I was doing. Running away from my responsibilities, running away from facing not just the things I had to do, but facing my life. It was past time that I took control of my life, and made it happen, instead of just going with wherever it took me.

He also said to me “You know, Portland isn’t such a bad place. It’s a good place to make a stand, to start your life, to make things happen for you.”

So I did. It took me a while, but I did it. I made my stand, and I named Portland my home. There were times when I almost moved away, went back home, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I love this place, and the experiences I’ve had here – good and bad. And right now, I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone’s.

Fond memories of the far right coast

There are a few constants in my conversational life:

  1. I will get asked if my hair is naturally curly, and when I answer yes, the response will be various levels of envy which I do not understand in the least
  2. If the fact comes up that I was born in New York, I will get asked how I came to be out on the left coast.

So here goes. Once and for all, for posterity’s sake…here is The Story.

The year is 1989 and I was living in Syracuse, NY, after a miserable bout of trying to go to college. I was working for the Syracuse University Parking and Transportation department, a job laden with possibilities, all of which end up with me being sub-poverty level. My friend, co-worker and roommate, Judy, her friend Al, and I were all hanging out outside our apartment one day around October, bemoaning our circumstances. We were all three of us obviously meant for much more than this, we decided. And we all knew that Syracuse is the armpit of NY State, so that is certainly no place for such gifted young artistes as ourselves.

What to do, what to do. We decided that Out West was the place for us. And wouldn’t you know, Judy’s parents lived in Vancouver Washington, just a hop over the river from the quaint little town of Portland, where we could certainly find some work. From there, it was just a few miles down the coast to San Francisco, and on to Los Angeles, where our gifts and talents would surely be appreciated.

That was the plan, in a nutshell. Judy would leave for her parents house and grease the wheels. I would go home, say my goodbyes, and meet her after Christmas in Vancouver. We’d stay with her parents until we could find a place in Portland; by then Al would have finished his schooling up and would come out by bus. From there, we’d continue to work until we had enough money to head down to San Fran or LA. What we did at that point I don’t think we really considered, but what the hell, it was a big city with big city life and big city prospects. And the streets would be lined with gold.

It was all going according to our plans….until Judy and Al started getting a little cozy in the one bedroom hovel we were sharing. I was completely repressing the issues of my sexuality, despite the fact that I had already dated the same sex once. I wrote it off to the probability that I was bisexual. But when my jealousy of Judy and Al’s growing relationship started to cramp their style, they kicked me out. Boy was that ugly. They wouldn’t let me take half of my stuff. That guy Al could be damn intimidating.

So, let’s analyze the situation. I had no job, no money, no friends or family and no place to stay in a strange town. Pretty bleak outlook, to say the least. So I hailed a cab back to the train station, the only other place in Portland I knew, where I could collect my thoughts and figure out my next steps. Of course I had no money to pay the cab driver, and to her credit she didn’t press charges or beat me up when I started crying over the fact that I couldn’t pay for the trip. (yeah I do that sometimes :P)

I called a friend of mine back in Syracuse. He happened to be going to college in West Virginia, being one of those few people I met who actually *live* in Syracuse. A wonderful man, he set me up with a job, a place to stay with him back in WV, and he wired me some cash for food. Since my train ticket was round trip, I talked the Amtrak people into letting me go to WV instead of back to Boston, and I figured things would work themselves out. I checked my luggage at the station so I wouldn’t have to worry about it. The only problem left was the train didn’t leave for about 3 days. I had to find a place to stay.

So I figured I’d hang out in the train station, maybe hide out in the bathroom and sleep there at night. That didn’t pan out, since I didn’t count on the security being as efficient as they were, so I faced sleeping outside. Yep, it happened, I slept in a parking lot. For maybe a few hours at least. I couldn’t handle that for very long, and I just started walking around. I ran into these obvious heroin junkies who were very nice to me, and informed me of the homeless shelter just around the corner. So without any delay I made a beeline for there, and got to sleep inside in a cot. Yay!

To Be Continued….

NY Memories

Category: Stories_, Thoughts_
I have lots of memories of my hometown. I find myself always wishing I could spend some time and write them all down so I don’t forget them. Do you ever remember a memory that you had forgotten about for years? Yeah, that happens sometimes. I’ve tried several avenues of ‘self-preservation’, so to speak, such as scrapbooks and journals and photo albums, but none of them have held a long-term attraction for me. But I seem to like this blog thing…so maybe that’s the ticket! So without further ado, here is the first installment of Morgan’s Memories.

Edition one: New York State of Mind
Yep I was born in the Empire State. The Big Apple. When I think of the time I spent living there, the first memory that always pops….well make that the first two….err…well, the first memories of my hometown are:

Eating mulberries off the bushes across the street from our apartment building. Boy were they good.

Learning to ride a bike at my friend’s house around the corner. See, they lived in these townhouse type things, with the garage on the first floor accessible from the back. So every townhouse contained two apartments, with two garage doors in the back. And between these townhouses were ramps that led to the back of the house. So, I would start at the top of one ramp, coast down (all on my friend’s bike, which I borrowed) make the turn to the left onto the road that was behind all of these houses, and then make the second turn up the next ramp, pedaling all the way. I found it’s a lot easier to balance on a bike when you’re moving fast, than if you have to get up to speed by pedaling…And then there was the time that I missed the second turn, and launched headfirst into one of the garage doors. Boy did I laugh…after the stars went away.

Going for a walk in the park across the street with my mom and my baby brother, and getting mugged by a bunch of first graders with broken beer bottles trying to steal my bike, and having the super’s wife chase ’em away with a broom handle.

Getting caught in a torrential downpour with my dad in the parking lot of our apartment, and having that be the absolute worst thing I’d ever experienced. (Might explain my vague discomfort with water…)

Wow. Once you get started, they just keep coming and coming…

One last one: I used to imagine that I had the power to know the future, and could predict what total strangers would do as I passed them by. This is a really vague one…I don’t remember it very well, so I must’ve been really young…but I would try to predict what someone would do while they were in my immediate vicinity. Such as predicting whether a car would park in that empty spot or continue down the road. Weird huh?

Ok for real, the last one. I was playing soccer with my dad in the park across the street (lots happened in that park….oh damn! more memories arising!!) and I had my very first (and last) asthma attack. At least that’s what I thought it was. Short of breath and all. I had to go to the emergency room, and they shot me up full of something and that fixed it right up.

One last thought… Italian ice lady! mmmmmm yummy!

Category: Thoughts