Harvard Square: Portal to the Underworld

QUhAx

I’ve decided to try something different with this blog, as it has lain fallow for many a long season. I find myself interested in writing again and this seems like a fine place to once more pull out the old keyboard. This time, however, I’m taking a break from reality. I still might write about issues that I care about, like global warming and information literacy, but from now on the format will be fiction, the subject Boston, and the themes purposely strange, unless I specifically state otherwise. Enjoy! 

This could be my last entry. I don’t know. I have a widget, some stupid thing to help me write, that’s going to post whatever I have down here in exactly 15 minutes. That way, if I don’t make it, there will be some kind of record. People have to know about this. So sorry about any spelling and grammar errors – I’ll probably use a lot of dashes – but oh god now is so not the time.

I’m in a Starbucks in Harvard Square. I’ve been here for a while, waiting for my fiancee to get out of her grad class. This is a good ‘bucks. Pretty quiet, really small, lots of plugs. I always get one of the round tables. You know? If you’ve ever been here, you know what I mean. I got the one that’s not wobbly. I’m babbling. Am I going crazy? I might be going crazy.

The homeless guy came in here about an hour back. Homeless guys don’t bother me much. People around here treat them like shit, but they come into my library pretty much all the time and usually they’re not the bad customers. Moms, especially ones with designer bags, you’ve got to watch out for them. They’ll swipe your iPhone faster than a magpie with a steel washer. This old fart in the flannel and the ragged canvas cover-alls, he wasn’t going to cause any trouble. A little noisy, maybe. Kept yelling for coffee at the top of his creaky old voice. Maybe he was deaf, I figured.

Anyway, I kept doing what I was doing, headphones on, as everyone else in the place edged away from the dude. Pretty soon, the shop was basically empty except for me and the homeless guy and the Starbucks staff, who all looked like they’d rather be pretty much anywhere else. Now, I’d glanced at the back of his wispy-haired white head once or twice, but I hadn’t seen the guy’s face. From his voice, I imagined a kind of leathery deflated-balloon look. Think sleeping outside without a tent. How bad could it be?

I seriously had no idea that anything was up until I paused for a second and he. Was. Right. There.

And his face.

It was tentacles.

I’m talking full-on octopus tentacles, suckers and all, squirming out of this hole that should have been his mouth, but which was circular and lined with rows and rows of tiny, pointy teeth. He had eyes, kind of, but they were miniscule and situated too far apart on his head. Also, there were about ten of them. They were all about six inches from my face. No nose.

I must have gasped, because the smell hit me like a rocket. Putrid fish, mold, ancient horror and cheap wine. Shit. I was still wearing my headphones, so I don’t have any idea if I screamed or not. I probably did. I’m kind of a coward. Weird how easy it is to admit that now, after years of picking fights and doing stupid shit to convince everyone I was some kind of modern fucking knight. One tentacle-faced homeless wino beats ten solid years of therapy.

He motioned for me to take off my headphones. I did.

His voice was exactly what I’d heard when he was talking to the baristas. Yelling. Croaking at the baristas in his wheezy old-man way. Wheezing now at me. He said, right into my face, “You votin’ Bernie?”

I mean, what the fuck? I was so shocked that I actually calmed down enough to reply. Barely. I said, “Uh, I don’t know yet.”

“Hillary’s a crook!” the thing wheeze-bellowed, waving its arms. “I have a document right in my bag that’ll destroy her!”

I glanced at the baristas. Were they seeing this too? They did look uncomfortable, but none of them were screaming or calling the authorities or anything. One skinny guy with kinky purple hair did cast a sympathetic glance in my direction. I was afraid to interrupt the unholy horror before me to ask the barista what the hell was going on. I should have been more careful, though. The eldritch wino whirled around to see what I was looking at and started howling at the baristas again. “What were you sayin’ about me? Huh? What were you sayin’?”

“Nothing, Tom,” said the large, blonde, tired-looking manager. She was repeatedly mopping the same place behind the counter, as though she could drill a hole in the floor and escape to the comparatively safe and comfortable confines of Hell. “We all love having you here.”

“Yer doin’ sign language! Yer talkin’ about me!”

“No, Tom. No sign language.”

“Oh really?” Tom the abomination started making ridiculous, convoluted hand and arm gestures at the baristas. He looked like he was having some kind of fit. “What’m I sayin’? Huh? What’m I sayin’?” I realized that now might be my chance. But should I take my computer? I needed the damn thing, that much was certain, but most of my work as backed up online and abandoning it would not be a career-level catastrophe. Plus, I could borrow my fiancee’s for a little while. I started to scootch away, quiet on the bench.

Not quiet enough. Tom rounded on me, his gaping tentacle-maw closer than ever. “You tryin’ t’git away?”

“No!” I said. What the hell was I supposed to say? My bowels still felt loose, but I was starting to realize that Tom wouldn’t hurt me. His face was jacked up, sure, but otherwise his abilities seemed to fall within normal human parameters. Plus, what kind of a cthonic demon drinks Mad Dog? “I have to go to the bathroom.”

“Oh,” Tom said, his tentacles contracting toward his mouth-hole. “Well I guess that’s all right.”

I slid away from him and made my way to the back of the cafe, catching the purple-haired guy’s eye as I did. He followed me into the back hallway where the bathroom was. Tom stayed in place, muttering commentary at increasingly shocked Harvard students who were starting to gather outside the giant panel window at the front of the store. I slipped into the bathroom and beckoned the barista to come after. Without missing a beat, he followed me. God bless the friends of Dorothy. I slammed the door closed.

I said, “What.”

“I know.”

“The.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Hell??

“OK, first of all, it’s not you. He’s really got an octopus for a face. And I’m sorry he did that to you. Usually he’s a lot calmer.”

“How long??”

Purple-hair wore a name tag on the front of his green apron. It read “Leon.” Leon sighed, eyes going to the ceiling. “About…three years? The tentacles only just started, though.”

“Just…?”

“A month? Maybe? We know it’s him. Like, from his voice. He won’t hurt you.”

“I’m not talking about hurt,” I said, “I’m talking about what the fuck??”

Leon shrugged. “I’m really sorry. We can offer you a refund.” We stared at each other in silence.

“Did you ever, I don’t know, call a priest or something?” I asked.

“We did alert our regional manager,” Leon admitted reluctantly.

“What did he say?”

“He was already aware.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

We stood there for a minute in silence, listening to Tom rave outside, and dumb DIY dyke that I am, I just could not leave the situation alone.

It’s been a while since I last participated in an exorcism, and it wasn’t for a Lovecraftian nightmare. I’d been hanging out at a friend’s house in college when one of her vintage Barbies came to life and tried to either kill us or give us makeovers. The lack of articulation in its hands, arms and face was so crippling to the demonic entity within the doll that we really couldn’t determine its true intentions. After a few minutes of tottering around, it flopped onto its side right on my friend’s heirloom shag carpet and emitted an absolutely pitiable mewl of defeat. We found a site on the Internet and exorcised the entity out of mercy. It went easy, departing with a grateful backward glance and so little trouble that we decided that its half-hearted struggles were probably just for keeping up appearances. Then all my friends got drunk and I drove everyone home.

So it wasn’t quite the same thing, but can you see how I might have thought an exorcism would be a good idea? I mean, NOW I’m kicking myself, obviously. NOW I see how stupid this was. Now that the restaurant is engulfed in green flame that consumes memories but not flesh, I realize what a fucking idiot I am. Now that ticks the size of Pomeranians are getting swollen on the twitching bodies of Leon and the manager, I realize that I should have left well enough alone. I was wrong, OK? Here, I’m admitting it! If this comes up in a court of law, then let the record show that I am admitting that I opened a portal to a horrifying dimension of horrors in what used to be the Harvard Square Starbucks, against the express wishes of Leon and the manager and everyone who was watching from the street. Literally everyone. I am that idiot and it really is all my fault.

The giant squid-guy is still mostly Tom, I think, because he’s still screaming about Bernie Sanders, but he’s also scooping up handfuls of undergrads and tearing them in half with his mouth-tentacles, so his personality might have developed some.

And I just risked everything to reach outside of my circle of protection and grab my laptop, the better to write my last words, which you are now reading. Such a millennial. The last stupid thing I do is post a blog entry. The ticks saw me, of course, and came skittering right over. They are now crowded outside the chalk line like eager kids waiting for the ice cream man. I could just hang out in this four-foot radius, but for how long? It’s chaos out there beyond the shattered remains of the panel window. Police cars are overturned and smoking amid piles of bleeding corpses. Not a building remains unleveled. The dust of pulverized buildings is literally raining from the sky. Random citizens are shooting at Tom’s face – where the hell did all these assault rifles come from in Cambridge? – and the bullets are just straight up bouncing off his flesh. Someone just screamed that we’ve got to nuke it. Nobody’s coming to help me. Hell, nobody’s coming to help any of us. The species will count itself lucky if we all vaporize into radioactive ash.

Now Tom is reaching down, down, down out of the black-swirling sky above. His hand is seven-fingered and clawed, two thumbs on opposite sides of the palm, no fingerprints that I can see. Green, scaly-looking skin. Red mites about six inches in diameter crawling around on it. I’ve got my chalk circle. It keeps the ticks out. Oh christ, what am I saying? The hand’s directly above now, protective circle be damned, descending with terrifying, molasses-like speed. Would I rather be tick food? Or should I use the plastic knife I got with my bagel?

He’s coming. My timer widget is down to two seconds. I’ve made my choice.

This is obviously fiction. I love Harvard Square, sort of, and would be upset if it got demolished by a tentacle monster. Glorious image courtesy of Shirtsploitation.

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Daylight Savings Time is Ridiculous

Like a burpee that makes your mornings suck, springing forward is the worst part of falling back. That’s the best you’re getting today. Have a video.


Haircut Warrior

If you have never had to cut your own hair, then you have not lived a full American life. This is particularly true if you are of that subset of American humans who value the practicality and comfort of a short, but not very short, epic ‘do. Shearing off a couple inches of long, flowing locks when they finally inch their way past your butt seems like a fairly simple proposition. Judging from my experience with a parade of hair stylists, all of whom ought to have known better, short hair is a mountainous challenge, a subtle artistic shaping of the head based on factors ranging from the shape of the scalp to the nature of the hair to the amount of moisture in the upper atmosphere on the given day of cutting. Every trim is a masterpiece. Except, you know, not. I’ve had more disastrous haircuts from certified woman-hair professionals than I’ve had zits on my certified oil well of a nose.

Actually, I’ve had wonderful experiences with barbers, every single on of whom have been perfectly happy to take my money despite the fact that I am a woman. For this, I am extremely appreciative. I’ve had other experiences with designated male spaces where the company hasn’t been so welcoming. (In fact, just today, in the menswear section of our local H&M, a couple of hipsters whistled and snapped at my fiancee and I until we left the area. I understand the concept of peeing all over the walls and declaring a space Free Of All Female Evar, at least in the sense that I understand that a man might be inclined to behave this way if he were to miss certain adolescent developmental stages, but in a fashion outlet? Really? Wouldn’t a nice bear cage be a better test of their masculinity?)

As I was saying, I can’t say enough about barbershops as an institution. I’ve never been to one where I haven’t gotten a great cut. My estimation of the skill of a barber to style short hair is vastly greater than my consideration of a hair stylist. Furthermore, the barbers were vastly more affordable on my limited budget…until I ran out of money altogether.

I accomplished my first self-haircut in 2008 with a pair of fabric shears. The impetus: poverty. Plain and simple. Well, poverty and grad school. The day before my haircut, I had not been poor. In fact, I had been extremely wealthy. My humble little starter bank account had contained no less than $15,000. For a single golden day, I had been the mighty ruler of University Hill.

Then I paid my grad school tuition and bottomed out my savings. Alas, payday for my pathetic part-time convenience store gig (thanks, recession!) did not arrive for several days, or even possibly weeks, depending on whether or not my manager remembered that I was still working for him by Tuesday. I was broke. Broke like a little Tonka truck that has been smashed to infinity by the merciless tires of an 18-wheeler.

Food was not a problem. Like all of the other employees of the convenience store, I unabashedly stole hot dogs from the grill. However, they constituted their own punishment in many ways, and my school, rife with random pizzas, proved a much more fertile ground for foraging. At night, I mopped for a friend’s cafe, and in return I got all the vegan food I could possibly eat. Which was, I assure you, a lot. I mention this because I feel that my nontraditional diet may have played a role in my deranged decision-making process as regards to my hair.

I’d been studying for about six hours, having returned home from work at 5:00pm and set right to work. The muggy night air oozed through the open window, carrying the scents of a city still exotic to my rural mind. Despite the fact that my studio was tiny and infested with at least three different species of cockroaches, the view from its one large window could not be beat. The array of the city’s lights lay out before me as though someone had spread out a giant picnic blanket in the dark and caught a million falling stars. As I sat on my narrow bed, gazing at this scene, my head stuffed with cataloging protocols and my belly stuffed with the best bean burger in town, just one thing vexed my mind: the fact that my hair was poking my ears.

There is nothing that annoys me more than when my hair pokes my ears. It is an abomination unto my soul.

Having nothing else to do at midnight, I began to scrounge around my place for something sharp enough to fix my hair issue. I came up with a pocket knife, a butter knife, and a pair of sewing shears that I’d borrowed from my mother years before and simply never returned. (I don’t know why. I don’t sew, but I do sometimes cut fabric for various secret reasons.) The shears seemed most practical.

My place didn’t have a bathroom sink per se. It had a sink, and a bathroom. The sink doubled as the kitchen and I washed my hands in the bathroom’s shower, which did not come with its own mirror. This left the sink a preferable option for hair operations. Scattering a small group of roaches I leaned close to the mirror, over the metal sink, and, angling the shears delicately at my head, took a snip.

A finger-long hank of hair fell to the ground.

I inspected my image curiously, seeking signs of success. My hair was certainly off my right ear, but a new problem had arisen: a wedge-shaped gap was now visible close to my temple. More cutting would be necessary to repair the general shape of my head. Again, I snipped. Whoops – wrong hair. Now half of my bangs were gone. Oh well. I’d never liked bangs much anyway. Off with them!

Over the next four laborious hours, I managed to remove almost all of my hair with the shears, which were dull well before I’d made it halfway. Eventually, I resorted to using the penknife as a razor. This worked badly. However, that did not matter. Morning had broken and it was time to bring home the bacon!

I stumbled out of my wheaty-smelling building and immediately frightened a pigeon. Several passers-by recoiled and my manager took one look and fired me. I shambled back to my apartment and passed out. While I slept, my manager called to re-hire me, my mom asked if I was the mangy baby bear everyone on the Hill was talking about, and my sister had found and summarily distributed a picture of my new look on social media.

If you ever doubt the presence of a compassionate consciousness in this universe, ponder this: every bad haircut grows away. The soothing flow of time rounds all embarrassment down to harmless pebbles in the bed of your memory. I believe I cried about my hair that day, but two months later, I did cut it again. This time, the result was, if not beautiful, passable. The next cut was standard. My style was established. Uncreative, but functional.

Today, I cut my hair for the 70th time. I have a kit now: a $15 set of electric shears, a hand mirror, a barber’s scissors, and an old baseball cap that I use to shape the back. I measure each hank of hair against my fingers to make sure it ends up between one and a half and two inches long, snip, and then use the shears to even up the edges and get a nice close shave on my neck. I like to think I look pretty good. It’s routine enough that I can watch TV while getting everything just right.


Hydro-WHEN Power

SPEAK OF THE DEVIL.

People are saying that the Toyota Mirai is going to give Tesla a run for its money. I’d love to believe that. Toyotas are notoriously affordable in comparison to the Model S, over which I have spent many a long drive salivating. However, much as I’d love to trade in my gas guzzler for a hydrogen-powered futuremobile right now, my guess is that I’ll need to wait maybe twenty years for Toyota’s gamble to pan out.

First of all, I have a lot of respect for Toyota as a company. The last car I owned had a Toyota engine and when I got rid of it at 150,000 miles, it was still capable of making a 400-mile trip as long as you were willing to dump two quarts of oil into it at regular intervals. From the perspective of the absolute non-businessperson writing this blog post, their business strategies seem pretty well thought-out. If it were any other company inventing a completely new power source for automobiles, I’d be leery. But toyota’s good name has me hopefully optimistic.

That said, I see some problems for them on the horizon.

First of all, I think they’re going to have a hell of a time if they want to sell this thing in the U.S. Building an infrastructure won’t necessarily be a practical issue – Tesla’s been there and as a company, their market base is far smaller than Toyota’s. (At least Toyota has something other than luxury cars in production.) But an energy source that isn’t gas? In a country that freaking loves gas? I anticipate a veritable fiesta of regulation funded by fossil fuel interests. I have a feeling that regulating the cars themselves is going to be hard, especially since there’ll be a spike of interest. Wealthy idealists and collectors might be willing enough to get their hands on a Mirai that they’re willing to jump through a few hoops and hand out a little extra cash. But regulating the hydrogen filling stations – ay, there’s the rub. There are all kinds of weak points there, from ensuring hydrogen quality to making sure the damn thing doesn’t blow up. Fighting that will cost a nice chunk of change.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m on board with a greener car. I happen to be aware that gasoline blows up too. But, you know, “the CHILLING DANGERS of HYDROGEN BOMB CARS” is something that can be media-spun pretty easily. My guess is that regulation will keep fuel cell cars outside of your average commuter’s budget for a while yet, and by the time the mainland U.S. sees them in significant supply, there may be better options out there.

Nevertheless, it’s a step toward the realization of my first video game car come true. (Minus the mutants and the radioactivity, of course.)


Watch out for my body rolls


Wars of the Snowses

So, my neighbor and I have been engaged in a cold war (heh) of parking space ever since the roads in my town became mostly impassable. We’re lucky (?) enough to share off-street parking, and if I manage to get my car to the interior of the space, there’s no problem. My neighbor is far more alacritous than I and, despite all evidence to to contrary, probably does not enjoy giving me the stink eye when I emerge, bleary and eyesore after a late night of freelancing, to move my poor little busted-up Nissan out of the way of her spiffy smarthipstermobile.

Anyway.

I’m given to understand that sea levels in Boston are, in fact, rising. Now that I’m driving 70 miles a day for my part-time library gig, I feel that I may be the tipping point. Me. Personally. Until I began driving, I never heard about a sea level rise in Boston.

Bitterly do I I weep as I burn the dead dinosaurs before the God of Rent and Bills and Career and Stuff.

But there’s a Worst Part. In the course of interacting with my neighbor, I nearly obliterated my car, her smarthipstermobile, her, and her boyfriend’s hipster bicycle because I did not have snow tires, a truth which caused me to slide into a wall and damage my vehicle while simultaneously cementing the neighbor’s opinion of me as a hazard to her life. Very well. Determined to be a good citizen and at my fiancee’s insistence that she wanted a living wife, I purchased and installed two spiffy snow tires. Would you believe that those spinning turds increase the gas consumption of my car by close to 5%?

I like my job. I love being a librarian. But dear God do I hate driving. As I rocket down the road, all that runs through my mind is a litany of “I’m sorry grandchildren, I’m sorry grandchildren, I’m sorry grandchildren” until the very noise of those spiffy damned snow tire spinning turds mocks me. What’s the point of being an environmentally conscious human if you can’t afford to maintain an environmentally conscious lifestyle?