If the BBC asks me to write an epilogue to the 3rd season of Downton Abbey, I’m ready. In this 2-hour post-finale episode, the ghost of Lady Sybil will be hugely prominent. Dressed in the same night gown she wore when she perished in a fit of seizures, she sneaks back to retrieve part of her ample wardrobe and abscond with it into the afterlife, but accidently runs into her husband, the Irish republican chauffer Branson, on the stairs. Branson has been secretly going into town clad in tatters to down pints anonymously at local pubs, returning home later to raid the sherry and eventually stumble and belch his way up to bed. Coming upon his beloved (and sheet-white!) Sybil on the stairs really freaks him out, but he keeps telling himself it’s the alcohol talking, it’s the alcohol talking while she explains (unprompted) that she’s come back to snag ball gowns for some parties they are throwing in the afterlife, and no William isn’t involved! Before leaving, she plants a wet one on Branson. She’s real! So he starts making out with her just as Robert comes to the stairs to see what the hell the ruckus is. What does Robert see? Branson making out with the air! “Get hold of yourself, man!” says Robert.
Sybil has evaporated, and Branson jerks his head around and sees what would apparently be the trail of her nightgown disappearing around a corner. And you know what? Cora sees it too! But Robert doesn’t (metaphor? he’s blind!). Cora’s all, “Who was that?” and Branson pushes past her mumbling about needing to barf. Robert gives Cora a hopeful look, and I swear the glare she shoots back just about knocks him on his ass and down the stairs.
In his bedroom, Branson finds a note from the ghost of Sybil saying that she’s going to be coming back now and again to retrieve stuff like tiaras and pretty things, and please try not to be freaked out. The next night Branson gets himself tangled up with half a bottle of Irish whiskey and comes to the dinner table weaving. There are two empty chairs beside him because Matthew and Lady Mary are “under the weather” (yeah, right, wink-wink!) and can’t make it. Sybil materializes in one of the chairs and this time has brought William with her. Robert is speaking but notices Branson staring at an empty space at the table, his eyes wide and jaw slack, and looks over at Edith, who shrugs, and then at Cora, who’s all, “Sybil!” Branson says, “You see her!” She does! But a close up of Cora reveals: she’s out of her mind! During the ensuing silence, where Robert, Edith, The Dowager Countess, and Mr. Carson all look at each other like “What the...?”, Sybil suddenly demands that Branson release her so she can move on with her afterlife, which includes marrying William. Branson’s thinking, You're taking up with the dead second footman?, but he can’t say anything because: a) he’s hammered; and b) he’s speaking to an empty chair.
The rest of this episode pretty much writes itself.
As of Tuesday, January 29, 2013, the Boston “Globe Reader” became a thing of the past, a relic of publishing history that had a brief life of – what – maybe five years? The Globe Reader was an installed program on your computer that delivered the Boston Globe newspaper to your breakfast table in a easily readable format without any ads. For a while, it had been promoted to old timers like me, who still pay real money to have some guy (or gal!) drive the print version to their home and hurl it at the front door, where it sometimes decapitates the tulips and, rarely, lands somewhere close enough for you to reach out and snag it from the porch without the neighbors seeing you in footy-pajamas or curlers.
Not long ago, the industry relied on mere children to get the days’ news from house to house. Paper routes were a rite of passage for youngsters like me, who started when we were barely tall enough to haul the sack of dead trees without dragging it through puddles. I delivered the Syracuse Herald Journal in an era when small Midwestern* cities could support fat versions of both morning and afternoon dailies. We walked our route and were told by the customer where s/he wanted the paper delivered (such as in the side door of the garage, where the family hound would quietly wait in the shadows, then leap out in a ferocious attack on the poor paper and, sometimes, your hand). The worst part of having a paper route was having to go door-to-door once a week to “collect” cash from the customers, then fork over money to the newspaper company that was paying 2 cents per paper to deliver the route (I know it sounds like 1910, when a nickel would buy you a cobblestone-size block of cheese, but it was really the 1970s). You’d go and ring the doorbell and say “collecting,” and they’d say something like “We’re eating dinner. Can you come back?” When you’d return they’d be watching All in the Family or mowing the lawn with a cigarette dangling from their lips – too busy to be bothered with paying the 11 year old kid – so you’d pay the newspaper company on the customer’s behalf from past wages and then collect for two weeks next time, when, inevitably, they’d claim to have paid you already.
I don’t know why I’m complaining. I made some money and got to “meet people,” like roughneck neighborhood dirtbags who’d want to kick my ass for showing up on their street from the other side of the main road. Anyway, at 11, if you wanted money it was either deliver the paper or trap muskrats, which some kids would do before catching the bus to school.
A not uncommon sight among the peers of my youth
I suppose I won’t really miss the Globe Reader, since I get the print version and can go to Boston.com to get the e-paper (if I could just remember my damned log in name and password). But for some reason that I can’t quite describe, I do miss the era of boys and girls ambling along the street in the morning or afternoon, pulling a wagon full of newspapers and sticking one of them between the inside and storm doors of each house. Soon, I'm sure there won’t even be guys in beat up sedans launching papers at front doors and decapitating the tulips.
*Syracuse, NY is, I contend, the eastern most city in the Midwest. Blog entry to follow, one day.
As the name suggests, this radio play is going to be entirely original. Set in a fictitious, awesome, futuristic world, where people not only have jetpacks but also jobs like “Head Beer Taster for the City of Boston,” (which come with old-fashioned “defined benefit” pension plans at a time when people are retiring at age 69 and ½ but then live to be, like, 250 years old), the story revolves around The Cook, who has built an enormously successful food empire in an awesome, futuristic Boston (either an underwater city, or a floating city, as I’m currently conceiving it).
One day, The Cook hears on the local sports radio station that a full-contact football league for bored middle-aged guys is forming, and, deciding that he’s bored with his empire, joins the league as a wide receiver and sustains a head injury from a violent helmet-to-helmet collision (much cheaper to do on the radio that in a movie!). He emerges from this experience as a fully-functioning human entity, except that he acts strangely, particularly with respect to his food empire, which he converts into a fry-only empire. Chicken Parm? Fry it! Filet mignon? Deep fry it! Baked Alaska? Try Fried Alaska!
At first, this causes a drop in patronage, as people are too worried that they’ll die before they reach 150 if they frequent his eateries. His restaurants fail and close; soon, The Cook’s lone, signature restaurant, “Duck, Duck, Goose Fat” is all that remains. However, the most respected food critic in Boston gives DDGF 5 out of 5 stars, raving like a lunatic at what a great idea frying everything is, and suddenly, you can’t get a reservation without pulling strings with descendants of the Meninos.
What we (the listener) don’t realize is that the food critic is also The Wife of a food-mobster, The Thief, whose role is to threaten distributors if they don’t get The Cook fresh food at the cheapest prices in town. The review of “Duck, Duck, Goose Fat,” it turns out, is an inside job!
As if this world isn’t cutthroat enough, The Wife discovers that Her Mother, head of the Massachusetts Alcohol Beverage Council, has overcharged the Cook, by about half a million dollars, for the Liquor License she procured for him, pocketing the difference. This means that, even as the restaurant is packed every night, selling wine at this huge 400% markup and requiring patrons to rent their tables out in half-hour-long increments, Duck, Duck, Goose Fat keeps racking up a financial losses in the books.
“…His Wife, Her Mother,” as this will come to be known in cult circles of the future, climaxes in a series of threats, veiled threats, non-threats, etc., to life, limb, and so forth. I really haven’t gotten that far. But the end will be either loud and bloody with lots of bang-bang sounds, or else an emotional roller-coaster, filled with characters shouting epithets at one another and culminating in tears and recrimination. (Or, ideally, all of that.)
Biking through the winter months in Boston has never been for the faint of heart. Beantown motorists are a frazzled enough bunch in pleasant weather; in the full of grip winter, having some dude on two wheels taking away part of their shrinking lane can make these people snap and draw their weapons. But the last two warm winters and the increase in well-marked bike lanes have emboldened formerly fair-weather riders, such that now I don’t look like a lonely outlier with nerves of steel or bona fide psychosis when I embark on my morning commute in the middle of January.
Last Wednesday, Boston experienced an increasingly rare winter event – actual snowfall – which gave me the opportunity to use the new wheel I had spent untold hours and lots of money building up. This wheel was already fitted with a cyclocross tire, which would be perfect for the wet, packable stuff that was falling from the sky. By the time I reached Jamaica Pond at 7:45 in the morning, the bike path had already seen plenty of action, despite the snowsquall. After all, biking in the snow is much more agreeable than sitting in a car, stopped.
Evidence That I'm Not Alone
Maybe this winter will morph into something more like what we got 3 years ago, when the snowfall was measured against Shaquille O’Neal’s height and led to hazardous, crusted-up lanes. If we get 7-plus feet again (we won’t), I expect the number of bike commuters to drop substantially. I intend to press on through whatever mother nature throws at me this year because I’ve become addicted to this pollution-free and speedy means of travel. To wit, I made a recent visit to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough for the AFC Championship game (sniff, sniff), and might have been the only person who did so on two wheels. I rolled by hoards of tipsy former tailgaters who were hoofing it for more than a mile from their cars to the stadium, and eventually locked my bike within a stone's throw of the field (I have quite an arm!). Of course, after the game is when having a bike is most useful, as you wind your way through 55,000 people idling in their cars, waiting to get onto route 95. It’s almost (but not quite) enough to reinvigorate a person who has just witnessed his team get beat.