Article: 261450 of talk.bizarre
From: thomasc@ATHENA.MIT.EDU (Thomas Wallace Colthurst)
Newsgroups: talk.bizarre
Subject: Somerville Snippets (Uncut)
Date: 1 Dec 1995 16:42:38 GMT
Organization: Massachvsetts Institvte of Technology
Lines: 294
Message-ID: <49nb9u$oui@senator-bedfellow.MIT.EDU>
Keywords: ftsd
Status: O

[An edited version of this piece is slated to appear in the
Sunday Boston Globe.]

Here's what the city of Somerville (Motto:  "Municipal Freedom Gives
National Strength") thinks of me, according to the census form I got
in the mail the other day:

131161  COLTHURST             THOMAS    M      06/05/71    STUDENT

What I think about the city of Somerville ("Honorably Purchased From
Pawtuckets - 1639") is best summed up by a phrase my roommate Jeremy 
liked to utter while we were cruising around to nowhere in particular.  
"Look," he'd say, pointing to some light blue paint on wood turn of the 
century three story subdivided house:  "New England charm!"

			* 	* 	*

        "Last night, the first snow fell in Somerville.
         Cars in the street, like undelivered bundles,
         wait for wool-capped, work-bound men
         to shovel them out, set chairs to hold their place."

                -- _Waiting for the Messiah in Somerville, Mass._
                   by Naomi Feigelson Chase

I first visited Somerville ("Town 1842, City 1872") in the spring of
1992.  I was moving (with the help of family and U-Haul) all of the
junk I had accumulated during three years of undergraduate work at
Brown into my friend Sheung's basement.

Sheung at the time was living in Somerville ("One M, Two Ls") on 
Simpson Avenue, and I recall that his directions to his place were 
entirely of the form, "Turn right at the White Hen Pantry."

Later that day, Sheung gave my family a tour of MIT, which included
the memorable phrase, "There's the gay bar, there's the place they
invented radar, there's the nuclear reactor ... the nuclear engineering
students drink a lot."

			*	* 	*

That summer, while my stuff was gathering dust in Sheung's basement,
I was out in Minneapolis, Minnesota proving theorems about fractals
at the Geometry Center.

I was housed in a University of Minnesota dorm, later revealed to be
the same dorm which Julia, Jeremy's future girlfriend, lived in at the
time.  (Julia dimly recalls noticing "some wierdo who wore a plaid
bathrobe to lunch.")

Next to the dorm, there was a very nice looking river.  I said as
much to the clerk at the first-floor check-out counter:  "That's a
very nice looking river you've got next door."

The clerk looked at me like I was the dumbest thing she had ever
since in her natural life and replied, "That's the Mississippi."

                        *       *       *

Meanwhile, James and Sheung had found an apartment for the four of us
(Jeremy had sent me a letter months before begging us to let him live
us because Emerson College had screwed his on-campus housing) and 
kindly moved my stuff into it.

"Sheung", James said, "has more stuff than many third world countries."

James worked for a small start-up multimedia company that mainly did 
on-line tutorials and advertisements.  The company was named "Show &
Tell."  When James told Brown's President Vartan Gregorian (they were
on buddy-buddy terms) the name of the place were he was going to be
working, Vartan responded, "Show vand Tell?  Vike in `Romper Room'?"

James' other hobbies?  (1) Recovering from the loss of power involved
in being the editor-in-chief of an Ivy League newspaper.  (2) Dating a
rabid leftist first year Yale Law student.  (3)  Formulating the 
proper ideology for the "macho intellectual."

                        *       *       *

         "Somerville has been unfortunate in some respects,
         though not so much in respect of its peculiar
         location as the character of a class of its houses,
         which has had a bad effect upon persons who might
         be attracted to it for settlement."

                        -- Somerville Journal, June 1882

I returned to Somerville ("We're not Cambridge!") in the fall of 92, 
this time for permanent residence.  I arrived in Porter Square
with nothing but some baggage and the address of my new home.  Porter
Square was very reassuring to me:  it was next to Mass. Ave., and
like many new Bostonians, I was under the geographic delusion 
that I knew where Mass. Ave. was.

On the other hand, I had no idea where "49 St. James" was, but I figured 
a taxi driver might, so I hitched a cab.  The cabby spent half an hour 
looking through his maps before finding that it was only four blocks away.
Dear Miss Manners:  What is the appropriate tip under such a 

It was 10 pm and no one was home.  Odd.  Wait an hour.  Where are they?
Wait another hour.  Thank god I brought a book.  Wait another hour.
Ring the doorbell so many times it wakes up a neighbor.  Thank god
it isn't too cold this time of year.

Wait another hour.   Wander.  Learn the local geography.  The CVS
and Star Market are both open 24 hours a day, so I buy a package of
candy corn and a package of jelly beans.  Wander some more.   It's quiet.

Thus I learned on my first full day in Somerville (State Seal:  The 
"Old Powder House") that my local neighborhood is decently safe at night, 
and while there are plenty of places to get food at 3 am, 
there ain't no where that will let you use their restroom.

[James trips over me at 7 am as he leaves the house on his way to work.
Turns out that you can't hear the doorbell at all on the third floor,
where our living quarters are.  Hi ho.]

                        *       *       *

	"Those with employment in Boston which did not demand
	 regular attendance were best-suited to residence in 
	 the first subdivisions on the hills of Somerville."

	-- _Beyond the Neck, The Architecture and Development
            of Somerville, Mass._, (prepared by the Mayor's Office) 

I had never heard of Somerville ("Paris of the '90s!") before I moved
here, and I once asked Sheung why we didn't live in Cambridge, which
seemed closer to Boston and to all of our respective workplaces.

Sheung promptly marched me out to the "Welcome to Cambridge/Somerville"
sign which serves as an unofficial border and said, "You see this
line?  Well, on that side of the line, people are chaotic evil and
pay $200 more a month in rent.  On this side of the line, we don't
have rent control and we don't have wacky professor activists runing
the local government."

And the disciple was enlightened.

A plurality of those MIT grad students who don't live on campus
live in Somerville, a fact which was quickly revealed to me as I
ran into them over and over again on the T ride from Kendall to

[MIT grad students are easy to spot:  they are the ones reading
engineering texts in the morning and science fiction pulps at night.] 

			*	*	*

James once convinced Julia for a whole week that it was against the
law in Cambridge to drive a car with less than two left/liberal bumper

                        *       *       *

        "The majority of those who reside in Somerville might
         as well live in any one of twenty other cities and
         towns so far as their business is concerned."

                                -- Mayor Edward Glines

The City of Somerville ("Our Library is Named After FDR's Mistress") can 
be divided into two parts:  a Porter-Davis square axis known as West 
Somerville which contains a large number of students and Cambridge refugees, 
and a Winter Hill-Union Square chunk which is more working class.  West 
Somerville contains the restaurants and cafes, East Somerville contains 
gas stations and McGrath highway.

Actually, I shouldn't say that because I really don't know what is in
East Somerville.  The only times I've been there have been while driving
to and from Boston.  The one time I did have to actually go somewhere
in East Somerville, I got lost and ended up in Medford instead.
			*	*	*

Speaking of Medford, my little sister and I sometimes play a game
called "The Medford Game."  The rules are as follows:  everytime your
opponent says "Medford", you must say "Medford."  The game begins
with the younger player saying "Medford."

Here's a sample game:





        "Arlington."  <-- Second Player Loses!

                        *       *       *

There is a related, more conventional game called the "Boston Suburb"
game.  Players take turns naming Boston suburbs until someone runs

Here's a sample game:



        "Jamaica Plains."



        "Cranston."  <-- Second Player Loses!

"Medford"  and "Boston Suburb" share a symbiotic relationship:  games
of one quickly degenerate into games of the other, either out of 
boredom or exhausation of knowledge.

There are some who say that the real talent in either game is the ability
to convince your opponent that you are actually playing the other.  There
are many who now refuse to play either game.

                        *       *       *

One last thing about Medford:  James once drove Sheung and I to a D & D
/ gaming store in Medford.  James refused to enter the store, on the
grounds that "Every time you enter a store like that you lose five sex
acts from the course of your life."

James is also the author of the quip, "The Surgeon General has determined
that games involving hit points are a major cause of sterility in men."

                        *       *       *

Top Ten Things To Do In Somerville:

1. Read the poetry engraved into the floor of the Davis Square T station.

2. Go candlepin bowling.

3. See a second run movie for $2.50 at the Somerville theater.

4. Buy five copies of Ronald Reagan's autobiography at Buck-A-Book while
   waiting for the movie to begin.

5. Hear Daniel Dennett lecture at Tufts.

6. Grab some yuppified Mexican food at Picante's.

7. Buy a suit for $20 at the Salvation Army Bargain Basement.

8. Listen to my band, "The Penultimate Losers", play at Jimmy D's.

9. Visit the original Steve's Ice Cream, just two blocks from my home.

10. White trash yard sales.

                        *       *       *

        "Somerville is distinctly a city of homes ... such a
         city requires unusual effort to make it beautiful,
         convenient and comfortable."

                -- Mayor Edward Glines, 1902 Inaugural Address

And now, a mere three odd years later, I consider Somerville ("Most
densely populated something or other in the world") to be my home.

I did not expect this.  I expected Somerville to be just another 
stopping off place as I worked my way up the academic ladder.
I found to my surprise that Somerville is an eminently livable city.
You've got cheap rents, easy access to the T, supermarkets and
restaurants within walking distance, candlepin bowling, the Somerville
Theater, Johnny D's, Tufts, Steve's Ice Cream, ...

I even so lucky as to have neighbors in the more than geographic sense.
Every night at sunset the girls across the street are out on their
porch, smoking and talking and slowly sipping a beer.  Our next door
neighbor's teenage daughter argues with her boyfriend every afternoon
in broad view, giving us all a running soap opera to discuss.  The
evangelical Christians next door come by to borrow sugar.  And so on.
A recent Newsweek article described how architects and planning commissions
are moving away from those soulless, need a car to go anywhere suburbs and
towards communities of buildings with homes and commercial establishments
intermixed.  What they are moving towards is Somerville.

-Thomas C