Saturday, July 23, 2005

Dateline: Somerville

So we drove across the country. After four and a half days of metal-pedaling my poor little Escort station wagon, turning off A/C to get up hills, and crossing my butt-cheeks for luck as we blazed through desolate America, we arrived in Somerville, MA on Monday evening - just in time to unload the station wagon and grab a beer and bite at the Thirsty Scholar.

Monday was the hottest day of the year. At least, that's what all the locals said. The Home Depot checker, as I bought my first A/C at 8:30AM the morning after we arrived. The parking permit office lady. The cheerful older couple at the RMV (DMV for states who aren't obsessed with using Harry Potter words like "Registry"). Yes, Monday was a scorcher, but Friday was also the hottest day of the year. I have a feeling there are going to be a lot of those this Summer.

Moving from San Francicso to Somerville is like moving to a foreign country for a California boy. The climate, customs, and language are all different. The bums are different. The stores are different - and the brands in the stores are different. They even spell Hummus differently (Hommus, all brands)! Trash night is different.

Arriving almost a full two weeks before the bulk of our stuff, I'm typing this now from the floor of my office, a cardboard box holding up the keyboard as I hunch over it and glare down at the monitor below. Fortunately, Somerville has free yard sales every night. It's always trash night somewhere. Unlike San Francisco, which moved from having twice-yearly "big trash" pickups to a policy where individual households schedule big trash pickups as needed, Somerville accepts big trash every week! And we don't pay for it! Apparently the property tax pays for it, or something. You can put out whatever you want every week, so people do! We decided we needed some "tide me over" stuff, so we went trolling around the block on trash night. We came home with an awesome blue velour rattan chair with matching table, a vinyl 60's dining chair with gold glitter flowers, which you might find for resale in SF at some place like "The Apartment," a folding chair, and a working color TV! All this in the space of about 15 minutes. It's easy to take it when you know that you can just put it back out in a week when trash night rolls around again.

Trash night (Wednesday) was also the night of our near demise. In front of the building next to us, somebody had put out a mattress and boxspring (we should have taken it! we're sleeping on an air mattress). We were just settling into watching our new street-TV while sitting on our new street-chairs, when we notice the reflection of flames in the building across the street. We get up to look out the window and notice that the mattress next door has erupted into flames, and all the piles of trash near it are igniting now, too. I grabbed my cell phone and started calling 911 when I heard the people who had already run outside confirming to each other that the Fire Department was on the way. Then a bunch of neighbors got together and pulled hoses from a couple houses to put it out. When the FD got here, they quickly raked over the doused fire, to be safe, before giving a quick congratulations to the amateur backdrafters and heading on their way.

The owner of that building insisted that "It was arson, it had to be! Mattresses don't just burn themselves!" going on to rationalize that mattresses are flame retardant. I bought this theory tentatively, but then I decided that a box spring is like, God's kindling: a web of dry wood surrounding a cavity of oxygen. Boy scouts should be so lucky! Now most of us think that one of the tenants of that building was out smoking and flicked their butt into the heap thoughtlessly. It was cool to see the neighborhood come together, though.

Last night our first-floor neighbors invited us over for a party. We didn't know what to expect, but we decided to be social, since "we're new around here." It was an incredibly hot day, as I previously mentioned. The neighbors had decided to show outdoor films for the party. This is where I explain another Somerville oddity that we get to benefit from. Our house is situated directly behind a Foodmaster Supermarket. This means we get to overlook a relatively industrial-looking cinder-block building, though it's actually pretty well framed by some large trees. Nestled behind the supermarket is a large asphalt "mini-lot" accessible only through the backyards (limited in size as they are) of the 3 or 4 houses that abut the market. Apparently this is "Somerville public space," which Foodmaster had to designate as part of an agreement for building here originally. Whatever! It basically means we have a funny little recess lot in which neighbors have placed a basketball hoop, some trashy patio furniture, etc. It's a "park" for our 4 buildings. Anyway - great for parties! The downstairs neighbors decided to project DVDs on a sheet, which they managed to attach to the cinder-block wall of the Foodmaster. When we arrived at the party, a bunch of chairs filled with people gazed up at the wall as the sounds of Shaun of the Dead crackled over boom-box sound system. A barbecue was cooking up all kinds of meaty things, and a slight breeze was finally taking the edge off the blistering day.

About 5 minutes later, I was treated to my first "flash thunderstorm." The twenty or so party guests were clamoring for space on the back deck, which is covered and spans the entire width of the building. Not quite enough space, so some folks moved up to the 2nd floor deck. If necessary, they could have expanded all the way up to our deck, and we'd have a full multi-level theatre sans ushers. We sat in the protection of the porch, getting just bit of mist and splattering raindrops as the heavens unleashed their watery fury. The projector shone strongly through the rain and the image was completely unaffected. We watched the rest of Shaun and all of I Heart Huckabees while insane sheets of rain texturized the air everywhere but where the movie actually appeared on the wall. Quite a surreal and enjoyable ending to our first "week" in Somerville.

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