29 January 2013

Boston’s Best Stationery Stores « CBS Boston

Boston’s Best Stationery Stores « CBS Boston

10 January 2013

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Breathe a Book

Reading is an alternate universe; A world set apart where I can escape from anywhere, at any moment.  I can travel to Paris or Rome from the comfort of my favorite arm chair.  Or, meet aliens in the forest that vaguely resembles my back yard, a few times a month.  I’ve met Queens of England on the subway, the Duke of Cornwall in my pajamas and various members of the CIA never noticed I’ve taken them into the bathtub.  Reading is one of my very cool super powers!
  A visit to the local library is far more enticing to me than a trip to a travel agent.  In the city where I live, the same wall poster of Bermuda has been proudly mounted in the office window for years.  The panorama is gorgeous!  But the tropical islands of Dr Murrow or Robinson Carusoe are not found anywhere in their brochures, and their vacation packages are never free.  Every so often, I’ll wander the silent aisles within the library touching the bindings, remembering each book as a past vacation I took in my mind.  The only passport I’ve been diligent to keep updated is my library card.
  Public transportation is a perfect opportunity to get lost in another place, or time.  Errands are warisome until I settle in and find the book marked page of my latest thriller.  Locked in suspense, my eyes are glued to the page.  Suddenly, each bus stop approaches too quickly.  On the metro, in the tunnels, oblivious to the weather outside, I rock and sway along with the lead characters.  Sporting T-shirts and shorts they content themselves with sifting their toes in the sun-baked sand along the coastline.  It’s so easy for me to forget the sleeting ice-storm outside assaulting the train station.  The idea to carry a paperback in my pocketbook was a stroke of pure genius.
  Now that I’ve grown older, reading is in the top ten of my survival skills.  Where would I rather be?  A dentist office: fidgeting in the waiting room dreading a root canal appointment? Give me a younger version of myself being swept off my feet by Brad Pitt, in a romance novel by Nora Roberts.  Where else can I go to, but a book; If I’m trapped in a locked ward of some type of institution?  “Say Hello to my little friend”.  A small bundle of paper bound together with string; the key to my sanity.
  St. Augustine once wrote, “The world is a book and those who don’t travel read only a page.”  My version writes, “If stuck in a small world, read a book; In case you can’t travel, get lost in each page.”  Take a moment and escape right where you are, breathe a book.
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Fifth Street Memoirs, ( first draft )

She . . . sits in a rotted folding chair at the entrance to the “Tuesdays Free Soap Laund-ro-mat”, staring out at nothing.  A young boy crouches in the street along the curbside.  He is busy grasping fistfuls of pebbles and stones, carefully plucking out the smallest to save the largest stones in his hand.  A five year olds past time, they are released just a few seconds later, only to be retrieved once more from the pavement.  Retrieve the stones, inspect and release, grasp, inspect, and release, over and over again, while he waits for his mother’s laundry.
He . . . stands on the street corner, ruddy red faced, happily holding his dog’s leash, watching each passer-by with intense concentration, yet speaks not a word.  Every day, at all types of hours, he stands his guard.   From across the way he seems a pleasant enough sort with his short pear shaped body, stubby legs and large generous hands.  Yet, upon closer proximity, just before your own eyes reach out to say a silent “Hello”. The warmth has suddenly chilled.  His smile does not waiver, it’s pasted to the corners of his mouth but not quite able to reach his eyes, just not able, to fill their emptiness with joy.  He is the clown man.
She . . . pokes the barren, plastic covered box spring with the toe of her shoe.  The floor is littered with trash, stained with drippings left to ferment on the tiles, her nose crinkles.  “There will be roaches flying into your room tonight!”
Roaches?  You mean . . . cockroaches?
He . . .  turns the corner to enter his room and low undertones of murmurs follow as he begins to close the door.  She sits on the bed, peeking around to catch a quick glimpse before the door is shut and locked.  What a pretty young girl, long black hair smooth and shiny with tiny ringlets at her backside, wearing slim pants and a matching coat of black nylon and goose down.  Sometime later, the door opens and the man emerges, pulling up his pants, while trying to clasp his belt.  Rage boils up and fear for the girl hits the back of the throat.  “You can’t make a living on your knees or on your stomach for the rest of your life!”  One of the maintenance men in the building is heard yelling through the door the next day.  “If you don’t have a hundred dollars, it’s time to go. 
She . . .  shrieks and runs, leaving the old man in a heap on the box spring.  The men pack his belongings in heavy duty plastic bags, grumbling and complaining of the mess.   While the old man slumps against the wall repeating. . .
“Where did she go?  Doesn’t she know I love her?”


Sirens blare loud enough to wake the dead.  Where is the fire station?  Raising the thin white blinds with a yank, I squint down four flights to the street into the blackness.    A flashing blue and green neon sign announces Corona and Bud Light available in the ‘Bella Villa Billares’ below.
 The shrieking persists, echoing off the surrounding buildings.  Where is the fire?  Slowly, the rhythm of the neon light overpowers the alarm in my head.   No red and yellow warning lights appear to confirm the sirens, only the blue and green, the blue and green soothing the senses.
It is my first night here in my new, tiny, little, Itty- bitty, microscopic room.  It is yet to be seen why I’ve come to reside here.  The rooming house is in the very heart of the city, is this a city?  I forget.  It doesn’t matter, I have enough to worry about with two bars beneath me, and I and not a drinker have a low tolerance for drunks.  Which most people end up being by the end of the night at bars, I would assume, yes?
 Nope, I haven’t been a very social animal lately at all, come to think of it.
  I’ve moved.  Or shall I say?  I have been thrown?  Into the lion’s den, an extremely crowded one in my opinion, but I’ve recently been informed that most cities are just that, crowded.  Is Chelsea considered a city?  I remember it lost the privilege of that title many years ago when I was just a child.   It’s a black top jungle out there from what I can make of it. 
Welcome to its memoirs.

Hopefully, the days of talking to the walls are over.
 People who are alone for extended periods of time do just that, talk.
Continuously, to a wall . . . or another human being makes no difference.  Not in my case anyway.  It feels sort of unhealthy.  So I’ve made a decision. 
Let me put it this way.  I had a very animated discussion, on my capacity to have a worthwhile conversation.  It wasn’t that I was talking to myself, I just happened to be alone at the time.  The outcome came as quite a relief. It was decided without a doubt that I happen to be great company, the life of the party, so what gives?
            The first introduction of one of the only male Caucasians in this rooming house came with a knock on my door.  “Corinne, I’d like to introduce you to your closest neighbor. “
  “Hello” he said, “I have a vacuum cleaner.”
       “Hello” I responded “yes, that’s nice, my name is Corinne, and yours?”
  “If you need it, I have a vacuum cleaner.” Came his reply.
       “Oh do you have a rug?”
  “NO!”  He glared back at me as if offended.
       “Okay, and your name is?”  Slam, his door echoed shut in an instant, I stood there amazingly confused.  “Nice intro Murph, he really wants me to use his vacuum cleaner is there something wrong with my room?  Am I too dusty? Is it the cigarettes?”
      “No Corinne, he was just trying to be nice.”
“Oh, okay then, thanks.”
Later, I was to be made aware that Murph had a tendency to sniff doorknobs in his spare time, (maybe once or twice every few hours,) and go through the trash barrels on each floor.
Meanwhile, my closest neighbor is a male prostitute in the Boston area, whom enjoys Heinekens and living in a rooming house with his rent paid in advance.   My decision to break out of my shell and be more sociable creature had to be greatly revamped.  Now was not the time or place to make new friends.  Still I tried.

     She . . . adjusts the strap of her bra from her shoulder.   It’s black satin edges dig red marks into her ashen skin.  She pays no notice.  Her eyes wonder, downcast, matching the expression on her lips.   And so it goes, night after night, same young girl, same stoop and the same lost expression.  No one stops to talk to her, not even the dates that parole the street all hours of the day and night.   It gives one pause, and the question emerges.  Why is she exempt from the game?
He. . .leans against the mailbox as if guarding its contents.  A job each drug dealer gets the privilege of depending on the day, time frame, or his availability.  They all look-a-like:   baseball hat, shirt with matching shorts, some wear socks, most do not.   Not one of them is “white.”  And if someone of the white persuasion were to talk to them, instant suspicion engulfs their eyes almost tangible in its ferocity.
She . . . stands in front of the burger joint, hoping to catch someone with an extra square.  An older man calls from across the street.  She crosses over to him in hope that he smokes a regular brand.
          “So how bad is your habit?” he blurts out, unabashed.
            “Your habit,” he laughs.  “You’re a heroin addict.”
   “What the?  How the hell? Who says I’m a?“
            “Your standing with four heroin addicts, birds of a feather flock together.”
  “I’m not standing with anyone, I’m just standing in front of the store hoping to find a cigarette.”
            “Well I’d watch where you stand.”

He. . .waits by the door front watching where she stands.

She . . . is found days later, throat slashed, slumped against the door sill.  Someone mentioned as they passed how she resembled a pile of desserted clothes left along-side the closed doors of Salvation Army.  No one mentions the blood.  No one mentions her family.   No one knew her real name. 

   I have to jot down my chicken dinner experience.  It’s just too much to bear alone, someone tell me.  How does a blind couple bake a chicken?  Sincerely, how do they know if it’s cooked?  Especially chicken, it’s a dangerous food to eat raw, in any form.  Yet, here I am, confronted with a blind couple’s chicken dinner.  Um, do I eat it?   It’s about all the control I can muster not to ask one of them their culinary secrets.  I have a hard enough time already trying to stop this fantasy of an enraged chicken flying down my corridor in route to a daring escape.  Do not ask Corinne, Do not ask.  Graciously accept their chicken and smile.  It doesn’t mean you have to eat it.

See why I have this perpetual need to double check with myself?

And while I’m at it, what the heck is really going on with the gay mans fixation to his vacuum cleaner?
Or Murph’s dire need to stay up all hours of the night, walking the halls and jingling his keys like a dinner bell on the old farmstead? 
Who the heck is Cuba? Isn’t it a continent?  And, why is his name called from dusk to dawn?  Which only makes one wonder . . .
Where the hell are the doorbells?  Or, more importantly why don’t we have any?
How about mail? Are we allowed mail? I haven’t received even junk mail for two months.
Is the blind couple the only ones who speak English in the neighborhood? And if so? Isn’t it a damn shame neither one of them can read it? 
Why do they seem to be the only people in the building who receive mail?
And the questions continue, the list grows helplessly longer, with no sign of relief, tune in next time when one hears the blind man ask. . .”Do you like pork?”

It wasn’t hard to recognize a couple of international travelers.  The first moment I entered the front door African masks and roughly hewn faces on totem poles stared back at me in mock severity.
            Paintings of acrylic and oils dwarfed the walls.  Massive book shelves stuffed with books.  Their side tables topped with atlases, some old, some new smelled of antiques.  It was a museum of the couple’s lifetime.  I felt priviledged to stand in the foyer mouth agape, eyes wide, just itching to touch each book, dying to ask a billion questions.
            I came there hoping to tutor computers, by the looks of things I was to be t heir pupil.  Travel was not my forte.  I’ve had the experience of seeing my homeland. The interior of the United States and parts of Canada and, I knew the changes of textures and climates, the changes in soil, the gradual shift in the size and shape of wildlife and their environments.  But to see Paris!  Or climb the cliffs of Dover!  The computer keyboard became a fading memory.  Here sat a treasure only a mile from my little room on Fifth Street.
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Pros and Cons

People say prison is the last place they would want to live. I’d say, “Try a rooming house, then give me a call.  We should talk.”  The few months I rented a room smaller than a two-man cell, still haunts me; it was a nightmare.  But, hindsight is wonderful’ it can heal us from a distance.  I’ve used hindsight as an opportunity for humor as often as possible.  I’d rather laugh about the insanity I go through than cry over it.
  Take cooking for example; using a microwave is basic enough, right? No, not I, I could barely boil water or defrost a frozen chicken breast, alone in my tiny little room.  Mastering the art of reheating a cheeseburger, of the dollar menu, evaded me.  With every attempt the steaming lettuce would burn my fingers and scorch the roof of my mouth.  I would try to gulp down a soggy mass of meat before the bun got chewy and turned into a hockey puck.  The cheeseburger battle is lost to this very day.
  Yet, in MCI, cooking was a breeze.  Everything on the canteen list is freeze-dried, precooked or comes with microwavable directions.  I remember receiving hands-on training, too.  I may not have known it at the time, but no one wanted me to fail.  A kitchen disaster can take away from the next person’s cooking time and basically can smell atrocious.  It was do or die.  I had to learn quickly or conveniently, my name would never find a free slot on the cooking list.  I baked cakes from cookies, fried turkey into bacon or put together make shift pizzas and pasta medleys to drool over.  My battle was won!
  In all fairness to the rooming house, many activities were not frowned upon:  farting, belching, bad breath or snoring too loudly was not a reason for eviction.   No one noticed if I talked to myself or if my bed was unmade.  But, then again, I never had many visitors.  There was no place to put them.  “Sigh…”
I could wear what I wanted, decorate in ghastly colors or slam my door ten times a day (by mistake of course).  Even having an animal, taking home some vegetables or smoking a few minerals was allowed.  Not once did the temptation to smuggle butter home in my sock get the best of me.  I noticed none of my neighbors in the house mumbled under their breath or shot me the ole evil eye when we passed on the stairs, which happens more than less on chicken frajita night; my uniform of onions and old socks from working the dish room.  Well…except for the fruitcake in room four, but she doesn’t count; she’d glare at us all and mumble to fire extinguishers on her daily walk.  God bless her!  Yet, there was a latrine and shower to share, mice to deal with, cockroaches and bed bugs that bite!  Bitten or not I was my own person.  I could come and go as I pleased.
  How could I begrudge my freedom?  On my key chain swung a set of keys to all the doors.  Simple answer, to that question:  the resident maintenance man.  “He whom shall not be named” came down a bit too often to man the heavy auto-locking door in front.  His brand of maintenance had CO written all over it.  He made sure to watch who had guests, who those guests were and, upon his discretion, who were allowed to be my guests.  I was convinced the man needed a day job, then maybe he would stop monitoring the hall, stop rifling through the community trash barrel by the emergency exit of each floor; and, Dear Lord!  What was he doing stooped over breathing heavily, no no…sniffing my door knob?  I swear it!  I found myself building a fort in the woods one day before I realized maybe it was time to move on.  I paid the rent.  I was no longer a prisoner.
  In hindsight, let me laugh.  Let me laugh as I move forward from both the rooming house and state prison.  Let me laugh and learn, and make sure to keep a nest egg squirreled away just in case moving is a necessity in the future.