Departures: Among the Yankees: Part 3

Summary: Lowell... Literary reference: Moby Dick... Literary reference: Make Way for Ducklings... My new favorite café in the whole wide world... B.J.... "hummus"... Ironsides... Wear Safety Shoes (Ouch!)... She really did smell like bubblegum... Bathroom surprise... The indescribable art of Arthur Ganson...

Threaded Discussions

1999.04.23 FRI Lowell

'Shreck drove us to Lowell, MA. We drove past Lowell High School. I went to Lowell High School, but mine was in San Francisco. Maybe I went to an impostor Lowell High School. I don't know.

At the Boott Cotton Mill museum, we learned that Lowell, MA was the birthplace of the industrial revolution in America. I didn't ask if other places might have other opinions about that. I didn't ask if the cotton mills' machines had been lubricated with whale oil. There was a big room full of automated weaving machines. It was pretty cool.

Photo: At the Boott Cotton Mill Museum
[Photo: gears!]

Jack Kerouac grew up in Lowell. In his books, the protagonist's hometown is given as "Pawtucketville," but Pawtucketville is a neighborhood of Lowell. How do you honor a famous person from your town if he spent the rest of his life trying to stay the hell away? You put up a monument. You lay out a walking tour. 'Shreck and I visited the monument.

Lowell's got a lot of canals, which makes sense--early power for industrial mills was water power, after all. We walked along the canals for a bit.
[Photo: canal]

We walked into 'Shreck's house. Someone was in the process of leaving a message on the answering machine. I asked, "Dude, you want to get that?"

"No, man."


"It's New Deal, man. It's this woman at New Deal."

"Dude, I thought you said you don't work for them anymore."

"I don't, man. I know this. You know this."

"They don't know this?"

"I guess." 'Shreck paused, listening to the ongoing message process.

I said, "She sure talks a lot, eh?"

"Man, this file she wants, I already sent it to them. I already sent them all this shit."

"How can you tell what file, dude? She's not making any sense."

"Man, I guarantee you that she's just repeating some information that she sent me in email, too."

"She's saying everything about this file except its name and location, dude."

"I know which file she means, man. I sent them this file already. I anticipated this problem. I sent them..."

"Dude, how long is she going to keep talking? This is amazing."

"Man, I'll figure it out later. C'mon."

"Dude, don't you want to see how long she keeps talking?"

"C'mon, man."

'Shreck dropped me off at the train station. I promised that I'd arrange another get-together during my Boston stay. I said I'd try and get better in the meantime so that I could actually hold up my end of the conversation.

The Devil and the Deep Blue

The train pulled up at the platform. A light rain was falling, and I was standing under a little shelter. The shelter didn't cover the whole platform. When the train stopped, I walked up to a door to the car that was in front of me. The door was closed. This seemed strange--on my train rides so far, I'd never had to open my own door. As I opened the door, I looked around. A ways down the train, a few of people were all waiting to get in the same door.

I wondered if I was supposed to be using that door instead of the one in front of me. Still, there was no way I was going to run down to that other door. I wouldn't reach it before all those other people got on, and the train might take off without me. Besides, I'd get wet. I didn't want to get wet. (Remember this.)

1999.04.23 FRI In Between Places

There didn't seem to be anyone else in the train car with me, lending credence to the wrong-car theory. Still, I decided not to worry about it. I could truthfully plead the ignorant tourist excuse. Soon, I had something more important on my mind--an urge.

Do you remember I talked about that dumpling soup I had, and the unmentionable trouble I had for a while afterwards? I was about to fall victim to my final attack. I just want to make it clear to you that I was in the midst of an emergency. I couldn't just walk away. I couldn't just say, "I'll just hold it until I can walk to the restroom in the next car."

This is going to get ugly. If you don't want to read about extreme scatalogical distress, please skip ahead.

There's this joke. I think I read it on Usenet. It might have been in a movie. It doesn't matter where I heard it. The important thing is, in this joke a naive woman and a worldly woman are talking. They're talking about men and toilets. The naive woman asks the worldly woman what happens when a man sits down on the toilet--doesn't the tip of his penis get wet? The worldly woman says that the naive woman is in for a disappointment. It's not a very good joke, but it's what I thought of when I entered the restroom in the train car.

The water level in the toilet was rather high. I'm not sure if "water level" is really the word I'm looking for here. The liquid sloshing inside was a chemical blue. Also, there was something solid floating in there.

I've been to Japan. I know how to use squat toilets. In theory, I didn't really need to sit my cheeks down on that seat. But I was in a bad state. Think shotgun effect; think choke adjusted for wide... I knew I had to sit down for the sake of whatever poor soul was going to eventually have to wash out this room.

I pulled my pants down, sat down. Certain unstoppable processes began. It was then that a certain dangling part of my anatomy sent messages up to my brain. The dangling part was getting wet--wet and, it suspected, blue. At this point, my brain decided that it would be a good time to throw up.

One of the most compelling stories I ever read was that of a man who had an unfortunate elimination and vomit experience in a Lyon's Restaurant restroom. I will never be able to top that story in terms of the amount of effluvia involved. I don't need to top it in this regard--my story has blue fluid in it. Anyhow, I managed to restrain myself from throwing up, and I don't regret it.

I finished what had to be done. There was toilet paper. I used it. There was a working sink. I used water, in conjunction with the toilet paper, to wipe off a certain dangling part.

There was no obvious way to flush the toilet. There was a button somewhat hidden behind a broken wall panel. By process of elimination (sorry), I figured out that it was the only candidate for a flush-trigger. I pressed it, held it down. There was a ripple in the blue fluid. Its level seemed to drop a bit, then stabilized. I'd done what I could.

Okay, you can start reading again.

There was no soap in the soap dispenser, but there were other restrooms to be found and things were no longer so urgent.

I sat back down at my seat, started reading. A young woman was walking towards the rear of the train. Her eyes were on the restroom door. I looked at the door with horror, looked at her. My eyes were saying, "You want to use some other restroom." But she didn't heed them.

She came back out a while later, seemed calm enough, walked back up towards the front of the car. I don't know; maybe she just wanted to use the sink.

1999.04.23 FRI Boston

The train pulled into Boston's North Station--the last stop, my destination. No conductor had ever come by--or else I'd been hiding in the restroom. There was still the possibility that I'd been in some forbidden part of the train, that I'd gotten on by means of the wrong door.

I exited the train, started walking along the platform. The conductor was outside, too, and noticed me out of the corner of his eye. He seemed startled, but he was busy giving help to some German tourists. Maybe he realized I hadn't paid; maybe he didn't.

I walked on by, thinking, Here's revenge on Boston for short-changing me on that tour ticket. But then I stopped and waited for the conductor. When he was done with the German tourists, I asked if I could pay for my ride and he let me. I got back to the hotel, washed up some more.

I went to Buddha's Delight, one of those Chinese vegetarian restaurants which specialize in faux meats. I'm not really into faux meats, but I figured that this was a place where I could be sure they wouldn't try to slip me any extra shrimp or pork.

I bought a lot of orange juice. I drank a lot of orange juice.

My Life With the Whale Kill Cult

1999.04.24 SAT New Bedford

I'd told 'Shreck I was going to New Bedford. He'd said, "Yeah, man--New Bedford used to be a good place to go to--to get shot!" He said that it had got better in the last few years. That was fine by me. I didn't want to get shot. I wanted to see an American whaling museum.

New Bedford has such a museum. I was very curious to see an American whaling museum after having seen a Japanese whaling museum (at Taiji).

In New Bedford, the first touristy place I found was some National Park Service building. I figured they could point me at the museum. I opened the door and stepped inside, my eyes adjusting to the darkness.

There was a lunch going on. The building looked barely big enough for a couple of desks and some racks of pamphlets; tables had been crammed in and people were sitting jammed around the tables, hunched over steaming food. Someone spotted me and asked what I was doing there. "I'm just here for directions." "Not for... anything special?" I looked around. "Uh, no." The ranger was able to point me at the museum.

It turns out that the book Moby Dick starts out in new Bedford. Well, really, it starts out in Manhattan, but by chapter II, the hero's in New Bedford. This museum wanted to be a Moby Dick museum. I'd look at some hook and wonder what it was for. I'd look at the interpretive text. The text would say something like,

"Then Nabob asprung up with th'hook and called out, 'Blor cap'n but 'ere's a like spout avast!' and the captain looked about him and saw that the hooks were made ready.
        --Moby Dick, Chapter 17

Whale Hook

No doubt this would have been fascinating if I had read Moby Dick. (I have since read Moby Dick.)

Still, there was some good stuff. There was a tale of adventure. In 1845 the whaleship Manhattan, commanded by Captain Cooper, returned 22 shipwrecked Japanese sailors to Japan. (This was eight years before Perry forced Japan to open up.) The ship ended up waiting outside while the gummint figured out what to do about the situation. In the end, Japanese authorities thanked Captain Cooper and warned him never to return.

There were interesting differences between the New Bedford and Taiji (Japan) whaling musea.

Taiji's had whale fetuses. If I understand correctly, for a while the whalers of Taiji were trying to avoid the world's censure for continuing to hunt endangered whales. They claimed that they were doing scientific research. To do this research, they had to kill pregnant whale mothers. This had the unfortunate side effect of killing off two generations of whales. I wouldn't have minded the absence of whale fetuses from the Taiji museum if it had meant that the mother could have lived.

Taiji's museum had little animatronic dioramas showing the preparation of a whale. Little men with little hooks peeled a little bloody layer of flesh away from a little whale carcass.

New Bedford's museum had perhaps too many Moby Dick references. It had some newage art which I could have done without. But it wasn't nearly as gross as Taiji's museum.

Put the Eew in Eewhale

There was one gross part. Recently, a ship ran into a whale, killing the whale and sort of impaling it on the front of the ship. Someone peeled the whale off, and now people at the museum have got the meat off of the skeleton and are trying to put the skeleton together. There's still some discoloration on a lot of the bones, and the work is going on where you can see it.

I think that some no-parking zones were set up so that museum visitors looking out the window at neighboring historical buildings wouldn't have their view marred by modern parked cars.

After visiting the museum, I checked out the Ernestina, a historical ship. I was kind of marine-historical-ed out, though, and didn't absorb much.

Scan: I got something to eat at the Homlyke Bakery. I didn't get what I wanted. I asked for a lemon bar; they gave me raisin instead. I don't like raisins, but I didn't notice the problem until later. Even then, I didn't go back to complain. It would have been somewhat petty, considering that their coffee had granted me eternal life (through Jesus Christ).
[Scan: flattened cup]

Back in Boston...

Photo: Upon my return to Boston, I went to the Public Garden. Like New Bedford, there was a display there based upon literature. It was a bit more audience-friendly, though. It was statues of the stars of Make Way for Ducklings. I felt a sense of relief upon seeing them.
[Photo: duckling statues]


1999.04.24 SAT Boston (near the State House)

I unwound at Curious Liquids, a café which 'Shreck had recommeded. It's kitty-corner from the State House by Boston Common, and quickly became my new favorite café in the whole wide world. They had funky swivel chairs. They played good music. They made good sandwiches and coffee.

When ordering sandwiches, you gave a name at the counter. When your sandwich was ready, they would call the name. It was the same scheme I'd seen at other places. It can work pretty well, though it can be troublesome if your name is "Larry" and the place is crowded. With enough background noise, there are a lot of names that can sound like "Larry." There's "Barry," "Carrie," "Gary," "Harry," "Jerry," "Mary," "Murray," "Perry," and "Terry," for instance. I'd been talking over this problem with Mike Touloumtzis, who I suspect spends a lot of time thinking about how names sound. We were talking about Ikeda's, a good diner on the way from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe. It's often packed with people and I always have a tough time telling when I'm being called. He suggested that I use a fake name, a nom de dinuerre, a distinctive name. We talked about what might be the most audible and distinct possible name. He suggested "B.J." I reflected that "B.J." sounds like "Vijay," but it doesn't sound like much else. My next visit to Ikeda's, when asked for my name, I said, "B.J." The clerk squinted at me. I didn't think she'd ever served me before. I'd only been to the place a handful of times before. How could these people know what my name was? "Okay, B.J.," she'd said. "We'll call you when your food's ready." She frowned. She knew that something was up. I don't know how.

At Curious Liquids, I once again gave the name "B.J." They didn't seem to mind. Then again, other people were giving names like "Paul Revere" "Shaggy" and "Sonny."

I sat, ate a sandwich, drank coffee. I read, listened to music, soaked up atmosphere. I relaxed.

Back in my hotel room, I thought about what I wanted for dinner. Before I could formulate a plan, I fell asleep.

Give Chickpeas a Chance

1999.04.25 SUN Boston (Downtown)

I had a hard time finding a place for breakfast. My travel guide recommended a place; it was gone. My travel guide recommended another place close by; it was closed weekends. I broke down and went to Bruegger's Bagels. It looked fairly awful, but I was fairly hungry.

I told the preparer what I wanted: "I'd like the hummus sandwich, please."


She set to work. I voiced a concern: "Uhm--is that salmon?"


"I said hummus, not salmon."


She returned to work. I spoke up: "Not salmon. Uhm, stop? Hey!"


"I said hummus."




"It's right up there on your menu board there. See it? It's under 'Sandwiches', the second column, right under..."

She was looking in entirely the wrong place, said, "What?"

"On your menu there, it's..."

"What is it?"

"It's--I guess you'd say it's a spread. It's made from garbanz--"

She went off for a little talk with her manager and came back, shaking her head.

She motioned at the little containers of spreads and condiments before her: "Can you help me find this 'hummus'?" The man ahead of me in line actually knew where it was and was able to point it out right away.

It wasn't very good.

Military History

1999.04.25 SUN Charleston

Photo: Reserved Industrial Hygienist
[Photo: stone wall]

I visited the USS Constitution. This is an old U.S. Navy sailing ship which the Navy has restored. To keep her commission, they have to take her out for a sail once a year. When they were first setting this up, there weren't enough USN people who knew about sailing ships to sail it. They had to bring in civilians. Since then, they've been able to bootstrap a sailing program.

They keep the ship very shiny. I took the tour. I found out about the origin of the phrase "stiff upper lip". People who wanted to desert would play dead after a battle. The ship's surgeon would sew each corpse into a shroud and dump it over the side. People playing dead would escape their shroud and make their way to the relative safety of land. Once commanders found out that people were deserting in this manner, they said that the surgeon, when sewing up the shroud, should put the needle through the corpse's upper lip.

During battle, the gun deck was kept awash in a couple of inches of water. This helped to prevent fires and kept the cannons from recoiling back so far.

Grog was a military secret stolen from the British. Before the development of grog, each sailor was issued a ration of rum. Sailors learned to ration their rum so that they could drink it before battle--Dutch courage. For whatever reason, commanders didn't want to command a bunch of rip-roaring drunk sailors. Unlike rum, grog does not keep well. It goes bad. You can't really hoard it; you might as well drink it right away.

The tour guide told us lots of other things--battles that the ship had been through. I'm not really a battle historian, so I didn't follow it all.

Photo: The other big tourist site in Charleston is the Bunker Hill Memorial. I couldn't be troubled to go there, so I took this picture from the naval yard area by the Constitution. I drew a red circle around the memorial. See it?
[Photo: Ouch! Wear Safety Shoes]


1999.04.25 SUN Charles River

The Freedom Trail is a walking tour linking lots of Boston historical sites. When I wanted to find the USS Constitution, I got on the Freedom Trail heading North and I found the place just fine--the trail used a bridge to cross a river and to the ship. On the way back South into Boston proper, I eschewed the trail, instead walking over some canal locks and watching them operate. It was more fun than the bridge. I wondered who'd planned out that Freedom Trail.

Then again, if it had been snowing, I might not have been so wild about walking on the locks.

1999.04.25 SUN Cambridge (MIT)

Back at MIT, I sought out building 48. Do you remember the trouble that 'Shreck and I had looking for a towing tank in building 48? We were looking in building E-48. On my map, I'd since found building 48--a different building. Whoops.

I found building 48. There was a sign up saying that its burglar alarm was turned on weekends. This was a weekend day. I decided not to try the door.

Uncultured Engineer Looks at Art

1999.04.25 SUN Cambridge (Harvard)

Scans: Three scans of a pencil. I should leave this pencil lying around; it would impress people.
[Scans: pencil]

I visited Harvard's art museums. Together, they were pretty good for a university museum. Their attitude seemed to be "one of each." They had a Botticelli, a Pollock, a this, a that. They seemed to have chosen works that were typical for the artist where possible.

There was some good stuff by Moholy-Nagy, including a motorized statue. If I'd been there on a Wednesday at 1:45, I could have seen the statue with the motor running. But it was a Sunday, so I just studied the works and tried to figure out what it would do if it were in motion.

My art appreciation is not what it could be. At one point, I recorded my train of thought in my notebook: Atypical Chinese pottery--but atypically plain, not interesting--Hey, that museum guard smells like bubblegum.

I saw an ancient Chinese plate decorated with a painting of grapes. I thought grapes in China? Perhaps defensively, the interpretive text explained, "Tradition asserts that the grape... was introduced into China in 126 BC by the Minister Chang Chien on return from his mission with the Indo-Scythians. Thank you, interpretive text.

Bug Tracking

1999.04.25 SUN Cambridge (MIT)

Back at MIT, I decided to look for an exhibit of Edgarton photos. I looked for them on the second floor of building four, though this is not where they were. When I was on the first floor, I noticed that a ladybug had landed on me. "I've made a friend," I thought. I walked up the stairs to the second floor in search of photos. The stairs passed by a big window and the ladybug launched itself into space and flew smack into the window, bounced off, and landed on the sill upside-down, wings clattering. Here was a lady in distress.

I scooped her up in my cap and walked back downstairs to an exit. The exit door had a big bright window in the middle, but I wisely sprang to open the door before the ladybug could smack into that window. Pretty smooth. So the door's wide open, and the lady bug launches itself into space and flies off--and suddenly veers way off to the left and smacks into the window of the open door. It was starting to fall. At that instant, a gust of wind came up, blowing the ladybug back into the building.

As near as I can tell, the ladybug didn't hit the ground. I looked on the floor for it, didn't see her. That gust of wind had seemed too powerful for a ladybug to resist, so I figured she hadn't escaped out the door. I couldn't figure out where she could have got to. I decided that I'd done as much as I could and walked up to the second floor.

I looked for photos and did not find them. This should not surprise you, since they were somewhere else.

I went to the restroom. In the restroom, I suddenly saw motion out of the corner of my eye, something very close. It was the ladybug taking off, launching off of my shoulder. She flew up, up--and smacked into a window. She fell down to the sill. The windows in this bathroom were high up and I couldn't reach the sill. That ladybug was on her own. And in a men's room no less.

It Was Okay

At the MIT Museum,

I ran up the stairs to the door of the fourth floor, where I was stopped--there was construction going on and the area was blocked off. I had come too far to give up now. I walked down to the third floor, walked along the hall, and up another stairway. Here, the fourth floor was not blocked off. I soon found the Edgarton photos.

They were cool, if you like that sort of thing, which I do. There was a double piddler. It was broken.

The hall also had other interactive science exhibits. There's a cute physics problem about a garden sprinkler. Some garden sprinklers work sort of like rockets--as they spit water out, the reaction causes the sprinkler to spin around. Physicists will sometimes argue about what would happen to one of these sprinklers if it were in a swimming pool and someone pumped water out of the pool through the sprinkler. Would the sprinkler spin? If so, which way would it spin? Here, I was able to find out the answer. (My guess was wrong.)

Family but not Famished

1999.04.25 SUN Boston (South End)

On my way back to the hotel, I walked past the restaurant 647 Tremont. When I'd asked around about places to see in Boston, someone told me that one of my cousin's cousins ran this restaurant. Too bad I found it after having had dinner.


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