Ode to Urban Artifacts: A Bear, a Brick, and a Pity Party

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Teddy bear, festival-ed-the-f**k-out © The Middle Ground, 2015

 

Is there anything more Somerville than a stray teddy bear armed with a brick, lying wasted against a concrete curb on Highland Avenue?

Disillusioned and abandoned, perhaps she is heading to the first ever Pity Party, the latest event in the city’s never-ending festival season. Described by organizers as “a funny exorcism of all that’s been getting us down,” or as the New York Post put it “Miserable Massholes throw themselves a Pity Party,” this community event features someone called Drabby the Sad Clown and a host of self-indulgently morose activities. Basically, Pity Party is the mopey, Morrissey-listening cousin of Pizza Party.*

Or maybe Miss Teddy is just festival-ed out and that’s what the brick is for.

 

* I like Morrissey. I like pizza.

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Ode to Urban Artifacts: A Curious Bird

© The Middle Ground, 2015

© The Middle Ground, 2015



The winter of our discontent and the long hibernation are over.

A mysterious woman was recently spotted dragging a red wagon full of old toys and trinkets around the neighborhood. There were no children in tow. When I arrived home later that afternoon, this small urban artifact – a tagless Beanie Baby of unknown value – awaited, perfectly perched on the rock wall below. It stood there for two days, disappearing on the third just before a rainstorm moved in.

The bird, subsequently identified as “KuKu” the Cockatoo, was about 7 inches long and retired from the beanie circuit on December 23, 1999.

Perhaps KuKu’s arrival was a coincidence, perhaps a whimsical gift from a neighbor. We may never know.

I, however, remain forever wary of unsolicited treats from colorful caravans. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, I’m talking to you.


Doors and Windows

Secret Garden © The Middle Ground, 2013.

Secret Garden © The Middle Ground, 2013.



European portico or Somerville stoop? Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between the two.

Window © The Middle Ground, 2013.

Window © The Middle Ground, 2013.

Portal © The Middle Ground, 2013.

Portal © The Middle Ground, 2013.

A lifelong pedestrian, I am forced to roam the streets by foot or bus to get to many a destination. Walking  allows me to appreciate the hidden treasures of Somerville streets and homes that I might otherwise miss. An elaborate bird house, a hidden terrace, a dancing neighbor in the nude—all wonderful details worthy of prolonged gaze.

This of course includes architectural details such as ornate doors, stained glass windows, balusters, stone facades, swags, and other external decorative features that welcome visitors entering Somerville homes and gardens.

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Porch with all the fixings © The Middle Ground, 2013.

So, in the spirit of springtime walks and house-gazing, I’ve chosen the broader theme of doors and windows for this post. I’m also looking forward to having an excuse to check out people’s front yards during PorchFest 2013 this coming weekend!

A great way to enter a basement, © The Middle Ground, 2013.

A great way to enter a basement, © The Middle Ground, 2013.

You shall not pass. © The Middle Ground, 2013.

You shall not pass. © The Middle Ground, 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One other, somewhat random, reason for this theme is an old saying of my grandfather’s that has been stuck in my head all week. “Shut the door, they’re coming through the window. Shut the window, they’re coming through the door,” he would say rather ominously before breaking into a chuckle. I always thought it was a bit strange, though not enough to actually ask him about it. I figured it was some wartime saying or anti-commie reference.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

You really shall not pass. © The Middle Ground, 2013.

You really shall not pass. © The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

Secret Garden 3, © The Middle Ground, 2013.

Secret Garden 2, © The Middle Ground, 2013.

 

After much Googling, I discovered that the old saying was, in fact, a song by the name “Shut the Door.” The version he most likely listened to was recorded by Vaudeville alums, Billy Murray and Walter Scanlan, in 1929. Though I’m still unsure of its exact contextual meaning, it seems to be a humorous radio tune on either surveillance, immigration, or just plain silly nonsense. My grandfather would have first heard it as a teenager and it’s funny to think he was still repeating it some eighty years later.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.



So enjoy these windows and doors! I’ve left the locations off the captions in case you’re in the mood for a mystery.

A few damaged tiles on an otherwise awesome roof © The Middle Ground, 2013.

A few damaged tiles on an otherwise awesome roof © The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

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© The Middle Ground, 2013.

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Stenciling below porch balusters © The Middle Ground, 2013.

Barn © The Middle Ground, 2013.

Barn © The Middle Ground, 2013.

Window © The Middle Ground, 2013.

Window © The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

Magic shed © The Middle Ground, 2013.

Magic shed © The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

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© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

© The Middle Ground, 2013.

Return to the Middle Ground: Cover Story for Scout Somerville

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Cover of the January/ February edition of Scout Somerville; photo by Michael Rose.

 

The time for excuses is over and I have thus made the obligatory 2013 resolution to return to The Middle Ground as frequently and as consistently as possible. This may only be every so often, but it will be more than twice a year, rest assured.

To kick things off, I’m including a link to my latest article for Scout Somerville (the magazine formerly known as Somerville Scout). “The New Face of Old Somerville” discusses changes to Somerville and the growing sense of  disenfranchisement among lifelong residents in the face of ongoing gentrification. It also deals with many of the issues featured on this site and includes a brief ode to the now extinct local supermarket chain, Johnnie’s Foodmaster, so please check it out.

If you live in the Somerville area, try to pick up the print version of the magazine as it features some great photography by Michael Rose and several stories of interest, including a beautifully written portrait of the Somerville poet Matt Ganem by writer Eli Jace.

Happy 2013 and cheers to a more productive future!

Oh, your house is on fire? Get off my lawn.

Is this hydrant for real? I think it is. I threw a pebble at it and it made an appropriate ding, more like a dung actually. Then I ran away. I’m not sure fencing off a hydrant is legal (especially on a dead end street), but I like the juxtaposition of white picket fence idealism and Somerville ‘no trespassing’ suspicion. © The Middle Ground, 2012

Ode to Urban Artifacts: Lawn Ornamentation

The Wesley Park Robot. A hero from the 1983 intergalactic war with Cambridge. © The Middle Ground, 2012.



Lawn Ornamentation: Visionary art or backyard junk?

In this latest installment of urban archaeology, I will document objects of intrigue found in Somerville yards. Some of these items seem to be placed with great intention, others, not so much. I will leave it to you to determine their artistic value, anthropological merit, and overall effectiveness. You may find yourself wondering, “Where are all those terribly classy stone lions I see in Somerville yards?” Have no fear, I am currently on a mission to document as many of the stone/ceramic/ gold/ lions proudly displayed in front of Somerville homes. Much has been written about the Blessed Virgin Mary statues with accompanying bathtub shelters. Now it’s time for the Somerville Lion to take his rightful place as the king of lawn ornaments, before he is extinct. Cataloguing the lions will be an ongoing and highly edifying endeavor.

In the mean time, if you know of any particularly striking lawn ornamentation, urban artifacts, or interesting backyard junk in the ville, shoot me email with its location and I will try my Somerville best to feature it in a subsequent Ode to Urban Artifacts post.

We begin with Hobo, The Stripper-Clown, friend to the Wesley Park Robot. Times are clearly tough and he has taken to the bottle. No one understands him, but his frog, Afterthought.

Hobo, The Stripper-Clown and Afterthought the Frog. © The Middle Ground, 2012.



Also in the same yard, Not-Optimus Prime, enemy to Wesley Park Robot. If you thought Not-Optimus Prime was in fact, Optimus Prime, chances are we don’t travel in the same circles.  His markings are distinctly Power Ranger-esque, so I’d have to say he’s The Power Rangers Ninja Storm dX Power Megazord Transformer. Let’s call it an educated guess. Not-Optimus is relatively new, though his compatriots have been in this yard since before 2007. Very interesting choice for a lawn ornament, especially given his proximity to The Wesley Park Robot and Hobo, The Stripper-Clown. What does it all mean?

Not-Optimus-Prime

Not-Optimus-Prime. © The Middle Ground, 2012.



As we  move uphill, just off Walnut Street, we find a Time Machine. I am pretty sure this is a time machine and not art. It may also be a torture chamber, given that it seems to have an oven door. Whatever it is, we can all agree that it’s awesome.

A Time Machine. No big deal. © The Middle Ground, 2012.



Next up, is a yard that appears to be full of crap. And yet.. there is something beautiful about the disarray of objects. It could be townie. It could be yuppie. It’s definitely part of The Middle Ground.

Yuppie art installation or Townie Junkyard? © The Middle Ground, 2012.


No Urban Artifacts post would be complete without a pile of tires (See: Ode to Urban Artifacts: The Quintessential Somerville Tire). Here we have a collection of tires of various sizes and models. I walk by this house on a weekly basis and happened to know these tires don’t see much action. There are seven tires; no more, no less. Always the seven tires, but I will let you know if anything changes…

Pile O'Tires. © The Middle Ground, 2012.


In the same yard, we find Pipe Man. It may very well be that Pipe Man collects tires. Though comprised of a few old pipes, I’d venture that Pipe Man is a sculpture. Pipe Man and I share certain physical characteristics. I’d like to think we  have chemistry and that our children would be athletes.

Pipe Man Cometh. © The Middle Ground, 2012.


You can find these next little creepers on Hall Street, off of Cherry. Despite some moderate shelter, they appear fairly weathered so I was curious as to how long they may have been living in the streets. According to an image from Google Earth, timestamped August 2007, the twins have lived outside for at least 4.5 years, although I would venture longer. Sheltered by the house’s gas meter, they resemble Hummel figurines, but with the glazed-over eyes evocative of a post-apocalyptic pastoral society. The boy holds a white dog; the girl a white cat. There is some type of deep symbolism going on here and it reminds me of the wolf cub in I, Claudius, who falls from the talons of  an eagle into the hands of a young Claudius foretelling of his future reign as protector of Rome. Yup, that’s what comes to mind.

Post-Apocalyptic Pastoral Twins. © The Middle Ground, 2012.


Now to birds. One of my favorite lawn ornaments is this fake rooster in a birdcage with accompanying twinkle lights. The cage has been here for at least three years. A few houses down, there’s a house with numerous bird cages on the porch with actual live birds. This one is clearly a booby trap for yuppies seeking farm fresh eggs. Trouble is they’re not cage-free and they come from a rooster.

Booby Trap. © The Middle Ground, 2012.


Last but not least, we have some birds of prey. Are they eagles? Hawks? A combination of two species? Impossible to be certain. In a city with an abundance of stone lions, the owners of this house made a bold choice to veer from the Somerville standard. They even had their beaks expertly painted red. Or maybe that’s just blood from a recent kill?  I think I will investigate any particular significance these birds may have in Portuguese culture (I say Portuguese because the owners also have a statue of Our Lady of Fátima and a Portuguese flag displayed to the right of the birds).

Birds of Prey. © The Middle Ground, 2012.


This edition of Ode to Urban Artifacts has come to an end. Stay tuned for future posts involving Somerville bricks, random glass bottles, gang symbols, derelict basketball hoops,  and more curious sculptures. Thanks for reading!



© 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.

Patriot’s Day in Somerville

Paul Revere, as portrayed by one of his living relatives. What a smile! Notice the kids gathered atop the laundromat. © The Middle Ground, 2012.



Observed the third Monday in April, Patriot’s Day commemorates the 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord. On the night of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere made his historic ride toward Lexington to warn patriots of the impending arrival of British troops in that area. Revere left the North End, headed through Charlestown, and took the inconspicuous route through what is now Somerville. He then travelled through nearby Medford and Arlington. Somerville, aka Charlestown beyond the neck, served as a key crossroads during the Revolution and several of its hills provided natural fortification in battle.

Each year on Patriot’s Day, a re-enactment of Revere’s ride takes place, usually with some descendent of Revere playing the starring role. A Somervillian feeling particularly patriotic can normally intercept Revere on Broadway in Winter Hill, between 10:30- 11:15AM on the morning in question. Foss Park is the most popular of viewing locations, given its proximity to both Dunkins and the occasional slush stand if weather is permitting. (Weather was permitting today.)

Not to be outdone, my family has its own traditional Revere vantage point at the fork of Broadway and Main Street, right before Main Street changes from Somerville to Medford. There’s a little island in front of the 391 Broadway Apartment complex with a couple of tiny Revolutionary monuments (see below). This little island is across the street from T&T Ocean Liquors (formerly Paul Revere Beverage) and the Spin Cycle Laundromat. For a very long time, the laundromat was the home of the  M&S Police Supply store (short for Medford and Somerville I believe) and it had a picture of Paul Revere riding on the sign. I’m not sure if we go there because it’s a more intimate viewing experience of Revere, or simply just to be different, but my family has gathered at that spot for generations now. There are always a couple other random people there too and plenty of people sitting on their porches on Main Street.

So today, like always, my family gathered at the Broadway-Main Fork ready to see Paul. He was running a bit late, perhaps because of the unexpected heat. As a kid, I would get ridiculously giddy when I would see the flashing blue lights of the police motor brigade approaching, followed by the unfamiliar sound of horse hooves galloping on Somerville pavement. Today was no different.

Prepare Yourself. Paul is coming. © The Middle Ground, 2012.


While we were waiting, some nice old biddies slowly walked by, remarking, “I’m glad we aren’t the only ones waiting for Paul!” A few other guys drove by proclaiming, “Paul’s coming! Paul’s coming! Get ready!”.  In fact, no one really mentioned the name Revere. When Paul finally arrived, he was greeted with the enthusiasm and familiarity of an old friend who had been missed  all year. Paul’s the kind of guy Somerville wants to bump into and share an impromptu beer with. Everybody loves old Pauly. Poor Willy Dawes just can’t compete.

These people are wicked excited to see Paul. © The Middle Ground, 2012.

Close-up on Paul. © The Middle Ground, 2012.



This year’s Revere was a pro. First of all, he was sober. Not even a rosy glow despite the heat. Secondly, he actually looked a lot like his ancestor. The phrase “real deal” was definitely tossed around by onlookers. Thirdly, this Pauly  was engaging and friendly. Past Reveres have had varying degrees of composure and friendliness, with a Revere or two appearing “three sheets to the wind.” This Paul Revere briefly  stopped in front of our group to say hi to the kids and of course, to let us know that, “The Regulars are coming up!” My mom couldn’t help but respond with a simple, “Hey I think we’re gonna win!!” Paul took it in stride and gave us all a smile and wave before galloping onward through the pits of Medford. You can’t help but miss the guy as soon as he turns to leave.

One Patriot’s Day many years ago, we actually tried to follow Revere all the way up to Lexington. We thought it would be exciting stalking Revere and evading the red coats. We hopped in our old battle axe jalopy and drove through towns that progressively grew less welcoming to our automobile. Turns out, following a dude on a horse and a bunch of staties on motorcycles is not fun.  Also, no one was chasing us. You just seem crazy rolling down the windows, screaming “Kill the Brits! They’re after us!” when no one is behind you. Our historical pilgrimage ended up  being more like a really long and frustrating traffic jam.

We learned that day that although Paul Revere is a good friend to us all, he’s best viewed once a year, from a distance, for a brief 20 seconds of historical magic.

See ya next year, Paul!

Bye, Paul! © The Middle Ground, 2012.




A memorial stone placed by the Somerville Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1909. It reads: "To the Memory of Anne Adams-Tufts. Born 1729. Died 1813. A heroine of the Revolution who did active patriotic service after the Battle of Bunker Hill. This was the door-stone of her home which stood about 130 feet southwest of this spot." © The Middle Ground, 2012.




Stone marking the site of Revere's ride and the Winter Hill Fort. © The Middle Ground, 2012.



© 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.

Easter Greetings from The Anarchy Egg

The 2012 Anarchy Egg of Somerville, © The Middle Ground, 2012.

 

On the eve of Easter each year, my family partakes in the pagan ritual known as egg coloring. My mother hard boils about three or four dozen eggs for our extremely loud and incredibly close family. Both children and adults draw on said eggs with crayons. We fight to the death over the “magic crayon,” the clear crayon that reveals secret truths upon dyeing. We fight to the death over desired colors of dye.

For the most part, we abide by standard egg coloring decorum and practice, save one minor familial invention – THE ANARCHY EGG.

Guts of The Anarchy Egg, displayed in an old creamer, © The Middle Ground, 2012.

 

I’m not sure who first thought of The Anarchy Egg or when it started, but it was definitely prior to the birth of the glorious youngest child (that would be me). As legend has it, it is but an ordinary egg born from the depths of fowl despair, doomed to fall at the hands of negligent children, and destined to rise from its outer shell of indifference, into a beast of beautiful chaos. Quite simply, it is the egg that some kid drops or breaks during the decorating process. Once we have dyed all of the perfect eggs, we combine all of the dyes into a vat, sometimes sprinkling a little of this or that to add to the holy discord. Then we place the unholy beast into a cup or vessel and stab it Somerville-style with martini swords, straws, or whatever bizarre things we can find. I’m not sure why we do this or what it says about my family, but I think we can all agree that The Anarchy Egg is an awesome Somerville invention.

Please note The Anarchy Egg is meant for worship, conversation, and anarchy. It is not meant for consumption.

Old cell phone photo of the 2008 Anarchy Egg, © The Middle Ground, 2012.

 

© 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.

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