A necessary addition to a Somerville stop sign. © The Middle Ground, 2012
I recently took several long, leisurely strolls around Somerville to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather. I had a few errands to run, including taking some preliminary photos of an unmarked land plot that I am investigating for a forthcoming blog post. March 17th was Evacuation Day in Boston (and Somerville), which is basically a made-up holiday that people in Boston use as an excuse to have a long weekend to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Needless to say, tons of people were off from work, out and about, enjoying the weather on Friday the 16th. I decided it would be a great opportunity to chat with fellow Somervillians and do research for the blog. I’m admittedly not the best at sparking small talk, and I generally don’t make a habit of walking up to random strangers and inviting their crazy upon me. It’s not like I’m a horribly awkward person. I can certainly be borderline charming when necessary, but I tend to have a suspicious nature, one that makes forced conversation or networking (I even hate the word) a challenge for me. I look fairly harmless and young for my age, but it still comes across as inhuman and unnatural when I try to force the beaming friendliness vibe from my eyes. My wave ends up looking robotic and foreboding. But I decided to go for it and talk to EVERYONE I met on the streets of Somerville. If someone looked like they had a story to tell, I gave them the old charm. At first, the old charm just got me a few hollers and one lecherous wink, but after a while people spoke to me. Here are a few highlights from my Friday 3/16 encounters, though most of my meetings were pretty uneventful. Sadly, I didn’t chance upon any crazy people. Next time.
FIRST ENCOUNTER: Old Man on High
Location: Just outside Union Square. Time: Noonish.
I’m not having much luck until an old man sitting five stories up in Properzi Manor (known as “old folks home” to some, but I don’t think it’s all elderly housing) calls down to me.
OLD MAN: Hey you there.
I am confused. I look around. I think I spot an old man on high.
OLD MAN: You there. Down there. You!
I am the only person in sight. He’s definitely talking to me.
ME: Oh. Hello?
OLD MAN: How ya doin down there?
He seems nice. I am very excited about this conversation. He might share stories with me, and I can learn about Somerville in the 1930s!
ME: I’m doin well, sir, how are you?
OLD MAN: Ohhhhhh, I’m good.
Then he goes inside, shuts the balcony door, and walks out of my life forever. Old Man is all done with me. I feel sad.
I recover. I engaged with a stranger and I *think* it was a success. Part of me worries Old Man found me inadequate, but at least I wasn’t awkward. I also didn’t get stabbed. The whole thing was very neighborly, right?
SECOND ENCOUNTER: Artsy Guy by a Church
Location: Trull Lane, next to Mission Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ on Highland. Time: 2ish
I am heading towards Trull Lane from Highland Ave because it’s one of my favorite areas, but then I hesitate when I spot a hipster man sketching something. This means he is artsy. I assume he’s sketching the awesome church behind him, but turns out he isn’t. I fight my unfriendly instincts and proceed downward the lane. He is staring at a very unremarkable old house with an equally unremarkable old shed. It is red. Again, I am guilty of not initiating the conversation. He sees my big camera and decides I must be an artist too. I SMILE and prepare.
ARTSY GUY: What do you think?
He stares intently at the ubiquitous shed.
ME: Of what?
That didn’t come out as friendly as I had hoped. No matter, he’s staring hardcore at the same shed.
ARTSY GUY: The house. Doesn’t it look like an old country house?
I am not so sure about this. I think I hate this house. It doesn’t seem historic.
ME: Um, yeah. Definitely. Are you going to draw it? Cuz you know the church behind you was built around the turn of the century. And that other church across the street is really creepy and cool if you go to the back lot… like behind where they keep the dumpster…
System fail. I try to not look like a crazy person who hangs out in creepy back lots (I totally am). I am smiling.
ARTSY GUY: Creepy or cool?
ME: Both. Yeah, both. Very cool though.
ARTSY GUY (disinterested): Interesting. Maybe I’ll check it out.
Shit. That shed was definitely some sort of a litmus test for artistic minimalism. Can’t help it if I go for the obvious, but I like me some big church.
ME: Yeah! Do it.
I resist the urge to run away shouting, “Enjoy that shed, motherf*****!” Instead, I smile and walk away.
THIRD ENCOUNTER: Lady with a Really Nice House on Prospect Hill
Location: Prospect Hill Time: 2:30ish
This one was all me. I see a lady on the porch of a really nice house.
ME: I REALLY LIKE YOUR HOUSE!!
LADY: Oh. Thanks.
ME: Yeah, I really like your house. It’s really nice. I’m from Somerville. I have always really liked your house. It’s really nice.
The lady starts to walk down her front steps, presumably to leave and walk her dog. She has a dog with her. I like this dog.
LADY: Thank you. That’s very nice of you. Take care.
Cue to me that she is leaving.
ME: HI DOGGIE!
She walks off.
ME: Yeah, have a great day!
We didn’t get to talk longer, but I was definitely friendly. I really wanted her to invite me into her home, perhaps even take me on as her ward.
FOURTH ENCOUNTER: Gardening Couple, also with Nice House
Location: Highland Ave Time: around 4pm
This one went much the same as the last. Again, I use my awesome people skills to start the conversation.
ME: Hi. I like your house!
Husband turns around. Wife keeps digging a hole.
I am very enthusiastic. I like this home. It’s definitely not a house, but a home. I want in.
ME: Yeah, it’s really great. When was it built?
HUSBAND: I think around 1895.
ME: You don’t have it registered with the Historic Preservation Commission????
HUSBAND: No, we thought about it a while back, but then they could tell us what color to paint our house and stuff. We didn’t want to be bothered with all that.
ME: I hear ya. They restrict my dad all the time with his house. Cool, well have a nice day.
HUSBAND: You too.
That was pretty successful. They really should register that house. I decide to walk north of Highland towards Winter Hill.
Things are getting less yuppie. People are more suspicious, but still friendly. I see a house with a bunch of bird cages and live birds on the porch. I like these birds, but realize I am too easily distracted and could spend all day recording my conversation with said birds. I keep walking.
FIFTH ENCOUNTER, OR THE FINAL ENCOUNTER IN WHICH I GET OWNED: Punk Kids (not as in kids who listen to punk, rather, kids that are turds.)
Location: Around Medford Street. Time: Around 5pm.
I’m walking. I see two teenage boys, probably between ages fourteen and seventeen. They look like punks. Real Somerville kids. I’m excited. I used to be a punk Somerville kid too. One is wearing a red cap, the other a blue Sox cap.
RED CAP KID: Hey. Sup?
Awesome. He’s talking to me.
ME: Hey! Howya doin’?
GUY SITTING ON THE PORCH BEHIND ME TO PUNK KIDS: Sup.
I realize red cap kid wasn’t talking to me.
This is bad. They are giving me dirty looks now. I am passing them by. They are detecting I am lame. I think they think I am a yuppie. Shit.
I pass them.
PUNK KIDS (RED CAP, then BLUE CAP, then in a mocking CHORUS): Hey, Oleeeve Oil! HEY OLEEEVE OYL!!!! OLIVE OYL!! OLIVE OYL!!! OLIVE OYL!!!! OLIVE OYL!!!! OLIVE OYL!!!!
Well, shit. They are making fun of me. What’s worse, they are calling me Olive Oyl, the fictional gangly love interest of Popeye the Sailor Man. This isn’t the first time punk kids in Somerville have called me that. These little punks have struck a nerve and unknowingly tapped into a quarter century history of people calling me frickin’ Olive Oyl. Bastards, totally got me. I am tall and skinny, and I guess slightly resemble the fictional character in that way, but I swear the resemblance stops there. Course, I am wearing an Olive Oyl-esque ensemble, but it looks way more Zooey Deschanel than Olive Oyl, right?? I look damn good. I thought the Olive Oyl days were behind me. ALSO, how do they even know who Olive Oyl is??? I’m pretty sure they don’t air the old Popeye cartoons like they did when I was a kid. Lucky shits. I DO NOT START CRYING. I tell myself I am ‘losing the light’ and there’s no point in taking any more photos of Somerville or talking to anymore strangers today. I convince myself that I am happy that those two little shits even know who Popeye is, and that the whole encounter was awesome. IT WAS AWESOME. I make my way home, having been owned by two kids nearly half my age. I do not look like Olive Oyl. I will not look like Olive Oyl. 
Those kids were punks, but they were true Somerville punks, and you have to respect that.
© The Middle Ground, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.
 Yes, the British did evacuate Boston and head north during the Revolution, but the holiday wasn’t observed until the 1930s, and it was at the bequest of the large Boston Irish population. It’s really quite an awesome day and I’m glad Somerville observes it because we were after all part of Boston during the Revolution. I’m also a quarter Irish myself (aren’t we all?).
 I later checked Wikipedia for more info on Olive Oyl’s background, and I’m sad to say I only discovered that Olive Oyl and I do in fact have a great deal in common. To make matters worse, I also discovered that she was once portrayed by the actress, Shelley Duvall, another person that people I dislike will often say I resemble. Sometimes these people even make slashing gestures and ask me to make grotesque faces of fear, à la The Shining. I can no longer deny that I look like Olive Oyl. This information is quite disheartening.