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TV in the Time of COVID

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“Today is…Saturday,” I said recently to my kitty daddy (KD).

“Are you asking me, or telling me?” he responded.

Yes.

It’s true, I approach each day with a mix of contempt, curiosity, and confusion. Haven’t you seen those memes indicating each phase of quarantine? Schitt’s Creek, Britney Spears, Nicolas Cage–they each have nine distinct looks to which we can all relate during lockdown.

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I’ve been averaging four of these on any given day since embarking on the long, strange journey of social distancing in March.

COVID-19 weight gain, quarantine morning boozing, pants-free Zoom calls–these things exist now, at least with more regularity. All of these shifts can be attributed to the trials and tribulations of social isolation and fear-based mania and malaise.

Another characteristic I’ve noticed well into month two of lockdown is the extent to which some of my loved ones seem to identify with fictional characters on television. As a tortured empath, I fell prey to such emotional meltdowns even during times of peace and relative good health, but can usually separate the good, bad, and ugly from reality.

The more rational, alpha individuals in my inner circle have recently been infected by dramatic engagement with fictional characters, and the results are delightful.

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One incident occurred while I watched the season 16 finale of Grey’s Anatomy, prematurely ending due to Covid-related scheduling disruptions. One evening after the original episode aired (Saturday? Tuesday? Does it matter anymore?), I hunkered down solo in the den to soak in the medical soap opera I have been enjoying with only a tinge of guilt since 2005.

I nearly always watch this series alone, save the company of a sleepy Coco and glass of rosé. On this particular night, KD was in the other room, working on a puzzle and a pint (his Thursday night Grey’s equivalent, at least in the time of Covid)–out of sight but not earshot.

During the shocking scene [*SPOILER ALERT*] when Teddy (accidentally) calls Owen while cheating on him (intentionally) with Tom, my eyes widened and then rolled. That breach, and the careless voicemail, broke from character so egregiously that I found it hard to believe. I’m forced to suspend enough disbelief as it is to watch the hospital drama and fantastical storylines, which I’m willing to do, provided that the character development and dialogue remain genuine and consistent.

Owen Hunt

While Owen listened, in horror, to his fiancée’s breathless message from the OR, I SMHed and silently asked, “WHA-? Well, that’s just unlikely. Maybe the final three cut episodes would explain this clusterfuck in greater detail.”

Audibly, from the other room, KD yelled, “What the fuck is wrong her?”

“Who?”

“That woman. What’s her name? The doctor who is cheating on her husband,” he shouted from the puzzle table, unable to see the TV screen.

“They’re not married yet…wait, sweetie, are you listening to my show?” I asked.

Ignoring me, he continued, “She shouldn’t be getting married if she’s banging some other dude.”

I couldn’t agree more. I asked if he wanted to join me to finish up the season finale together.

No, he didn’t.

He did, however, want to know if “that doctor” plans to go through with the wedding, because, he had some strong emotions about that choice he felt compelled to share while piecing together a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle of colorful bugs.

I had to pause the program to field his many questions, and opinions, about the fictional situation. He just wasn’t having it. All from thirty feet away from the action.

“If Tammy isn’t sure, then she just needs to talk to, uh, Adam about their relationship,” he said, more adamantly than he speaks even about people he knows in real life.

“Teddy and Owen…”

“Whatever! They shouldn’t be together. And she’s an asshole,” he added with passion I rarely see emerge after watching a program to which he has committed for years. He has watched a total of about 37 cobbled-together minutes of Grey’s with me, and vanishes whenever a patient is opened up in the OR.

Meanwhile, his ability to watch (fictional yet explicit) CIA or Al-Qaeda torture scenes while enjoying a cheese plate continues to baffle the more squeamish types.

After several hours of distractions and occasional heart-to-heart conversations, KD eventually moved beyond the dramatic denouement of my medical brain candy.

I chalk it up to Covid fatigue and normal-life sensory deprivation. The struggle is real, and even the most impermeable are affected in the most unexpectedly poignant of ways.

 

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Communal Cat

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My beau and I have a cat. Her name is Coco, and we adopted her in 2010. She is an indoor/outdoor type, not unlike her adoptive human caretakers.

As we have doors and windows that allow for privacy within our home and access to the world beyond them, Coco too has a tiny window that remains open just wide enough to allow her eight-pound frame to enter and exit as necessary (or preferred). It is conveniently located along the wall of our only indoor stairway, and one factor weighed in our decision to move into our current home.

We make executive decisions to close the window when the New England winter temps start to hover around freezing. Those moments have been fewer and farther between this year than in winters past, so Coco has enjoyed ample freedom in recent months to gallivant around the neighborhood even more than usual.

During extended absences–more than three days–kitty daddy (let’s call him KD) and I ask our friendly neighbor and fellow cat owner to check in on Coco. We leave the kitty window cracked, at least during the milder months, and ask our sitter to freshen the water bowls, top off the food supply, and provide any level of companionship that she and Coco may desire.

More often than not, Coco is out and about, flirting with passersby (of the people variety, not fellow felines), rolling around on the dusty sidewalk (a habit the pleasure and purpose of which still elude me), and hunting rats (a genetic instinct that remains intact despite her frequent indoor meals of processed morsels).

Oh yes, and sipping the occasional Dr. Pepper…

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KD and I recently returned from a week away, during which our cat sitter (let’s call her CS) would pop by on her way to or from home to hydrate our aloof and unappreciative feline. KD is superb at showing extra love, sitting with Coco if she happens to be indoors and feeling sociable, and brushing her winter coat with a Furminator, the best pet investment we have made since adopting our little shedder over a decade ago.

When KD and I walked in the front door, we switched on a few lights, turned up the heat several degrees, and started calling to Coco. After no sightings of her, we deduced that she was still out and about, no doubt enjoying the unseasonably balmy March day. After nearly an hour, though, we found the lack of Coco cameos strange. She had not yet made an appearance, even a brief one, to check in, scarf down some Meow Mix, and glare at us before scampering out her window for some nocturnal pandemonium.

As though on cue, KD and I, almost simultaneously, crouched down to peer under the sofa. Sure enough, Coco sat on her fuzzy bed we had placed near one of the heating vents. She looked in our general direction, and might have given us the finger if:

1.) she had a finger to give
2.) she could be bothered to summon the energy

At KD’s behest, I continued to give her a wide berth. In most cases, if given enough time and space, Coco finds her way to us on her own accord.

Sometimes, though, I force the issue. I  steamroll her with affection and displays of unrequited love. After a week away, I wanted to reconnect. She wanted to be left the fuck alone until she was ready to emerge from her post kitty cave and join us on our cushy human bed.

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This time, once again, I coerced. I lay flat against the hardwood floor and used my go-go-Gadget reach to snatch her out from under her not-so-secret hiding place. She switched her tail, but the resistance seemed lackluster and, ultimately, she relented.

Something seemed off. It wasn’t her indifference to our return–that was expected. Nor was it her hunkering down under a bulky piece of furniture–that too could be anticipated.

It was an addition to her wardrobe. A blue collar with small, colorful bells adorned her neck. She was not wearing it when we left the week before.

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When Coco was a wee one, she blew through a few breakaway collars, all of which included engraved tags with her name and my cell phone number. The longest she kept one on was about two hours.

Since she is microchipped, I never much worried about her collar ID. She was a freedom-loving hippie cat who wandered the streets naked.

“Aww, CS must have given her a jingly collar when she checked in this week,” I said. “It’s just strange that she didn’t mention it, though.”

We let her keep it on all night, and to our surprise, she did not attempt to rip it off, even though it looked almost uncomfortably snug around her plump winter coat.

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The next morning, Coco still jingled and jangled like a Salvation Army volunteer outside of Macy’s. I snapped a photo and sent it to CS, pointing out the new bling.

She replied, “Did you get her that collar? Or did she have it on when you got home??”

I wrote back, “Wait, I thought that you got it for her!”

Nope.

CS confirmed that she last checked in on Coco sometime on Saturday and there was nothing but fur. We returned Tuesday night and were greeted with aloofness and bells. Something happened in that three-day span. Someone gifted my cat a multicolored collar.

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I raced home after that revelation and immediately removed it.

I’m curious now, though, if someone in my neighborhood wants to claim her for their own. I mean, I can’t blame them, but she does have a home. I’m happy to share her time, attention, and death glare with the entire block if anyone on it wants a piece of that feline fickleness.

It does, after all, take a village.

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Horse Thieves Tavern Opens in Dedham

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(This article was originally published in Dedham Patch on March 30, 2019.)

After months of nail-biting anticipation, Horse Thieves Tavern has opened its doors to the public. Laurence Wintersteen and Chris Lutes, the co-owners of Dedham Square’s newest establishment, announced that the restaurant opened last week. Located at 585 High St., Horse Thieves Tavern is in the space that was formerly Wardle’s Pharmacy.

HTT daytime

Wintersteen and Lutes wanted to take a modern approach to the traditional New England tavern. The space has a rustic atmosphere with an open-hearth fireplace, bench seating and several communal tables. There is a full bar, and the food menu includes several regional items, such as baked cod, succotash and skillet cornbread.

HTT menu

The name is a nod to the The Society in Dedham for the Apprehension of Horse Thieves, founded in Dedham in 1810. It is the oldest social club of its kind in the United States, and continues to this day. The group’s members, who have included former presidents and popes, meet for an annual celebration in town. With this in mind, the owners thought it was appropriate for the horse thieves to have a place to call their own.

“This is intended to be a fun gathering spot for locals and newcomers alike, even if they aren’t horse thieves,” says Lutes. “It’s another piece, and the next logical step, in the redevelopment and revitalization of Dedham Square.”

Horse Thieves

The duo are veteran restaurateurs, childhood friends from Maine and longtime residents of the Boston area. Lutes also owns Miracle of ScienceMiddlesex Lounge and Cambridge,1. — all located in Cambridge. Wintersteen is the former owner of Pressed, The Carving Station and the Kenmore Square location of Amsterdam Falafel.

The general manager is Michelle Kousidis, who formerly managed Mocha Java at The Blue Bunny Bookstore.

The project, which has taken over two years to complete, required substantial improvements to the base building. The building work as well as the restaurant construction was done by the Cambridge-based company Sincere Construction. The project architect is Dedham-based Moran + Associates.

HTT bar

Horse Thieves Tavern is open for drinks and dinner seven nights per week, starting at 5 p.m. Daily lunch will also be available by the end of April. Reservations can be made for parties of eight or more.

For more information, visit www.horsethievestavern.com.

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Watching the Watchdogs

(This op-ed was originally published in The Politico Magazine in August 2013.)

While enjoying dinner in Cambridge recently I noticed two police cars parked in front of the restaurant. Two officers bent a man over a squad car, and cuffed his hands behind his back. The man did not resist and the police did not seem to use excessive force. It was also public. If the cops wanted to hide something, they would have difficulty doing it in that spot with daylight to spare. Dozens of patrons witnessed what I did, and several of them began to whisper and buzz about the excitement outside.

As my boyfriend and I exited, I used my iPhone as as camera to take three shots of the scene, which we had to pass to leave the building. While I didn’t flaunt the gesture, I didn’t attempt to hide it, either. No one seemed bothered by this mundane action (and it was far less obnoxious than a selfie)––except one of the police officers.

He confronted me and asked if I had taken a photo. I confirmed that I had. He demanded that I hand over my phone. I politely declined. Then he grew more aggressive and claimed that it was ‘evidence’ in his crime scene. Again, he insisted I relinquish the contraband. Again, I declined, knowing that his claim was a lie. He said that I didn’t have a right to take photos of the cops. I replied that, actually, I did.

As I tried to pass him to reach my car, the officer moved his body to block my path. Then he tried to take my phone from my hand. I leapt back, a knee-jerk reaction more than a deliberate decision. I told him that his actions were illegal as I slipped my phone into my back pocket. He lunged for the phone, trying to grab it from my jeans. I dodged his effort, restraining myself from kicking him in the crotch (which is what I would have done to any other man harassing me in such a way).

He eventually backed down, realizing that I was more aware of my rights than he had anticipated. I went to my car, shaking, with a rapid heart beat, but with my phone triumphantly still in hand.

This situation is hardly an isolated one. American citizens face arrest, or the threat of it, on a regular basis for keeping an eye on the very people hired, trained, and paid (with taxpayers’ money) to “protect and serve” them. The list seems to grow exponentially every day.

There was the high-profile incident on Leon Rosby, who was arrested in Hawthorne, California, on June 30 for the crime of “obstruction” of police as he recorded video of their cars parked outside of a house in the neighborhood. After agitating Rosby’s dog with the illegal arrest, the officers fatally shot his pet four times.

The evidence? Another citizen taking a video of all of this with his own phone camera. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Mum5iJMlyk)

Also, more recently, Dominic Holden of “The Stranger,” a Seattle, Washington-based publication, wrote about a similar experience. In the July 31 issue, Holden published “Police Threatened to Arrest Me for Taking Their Photo Last Night,” in which he describes interactions with Seattle cops threatening him for taking their photo while they questioned a man who was not under arrest. (http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2013/07/31/police-threatened-to-arrest-me-for-taking-their-photo-last-night)

When Holden followed up with the police department, the response he received was this: “King County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Sergeant Cindi West explains, ‘It’s a free country, and as long as you have a legal right to be there, you can take a picture.’ She elaborated in an e-mail that ‘in general a person cannot be ordered to stop photographing or to leave property if they have a legal right to be there.’ ”

Holden writes, “What happened to me was minor. But I’m writing about it because it’s minor. Officers went out of their way to threaten a civilian with arrest and workplace harassment for essentially no reason. Because they could. Because they didn’t like being watched.”

That’s right, civil servants––whether they are politicians, TSA agents, or police officers––don’t like to be watched. That is what they are, by the way: servants of the people. They are here to help protect and provide services to its citizens. We pay their salaries, after all. So, when did “servants” become “leaders” and “authorities”? People must arm themselves with knowledge of their rights and take back their power.

These self-proclaimed leaders and authorities insist on forcing naked screening images at airports of people simply trying to visit their in-laws in Chicago or fly to Orlando for a trip to Disney World. They justify widespread National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance of all phone calls and emails exchanged by law-abiding citizens who used to be (and presumably still are) protected by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. And they insist on violating personal space and civil liberties with such intrusive and humiliating tactics as “stop and frisk.”

The response to resistance or even simple questioning of these policies is, “if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about.”

Yet, when free, law-abiding members of the populace do something as simple, harmless, and legal as take photos of officers arresting someone in public or standing around eating donuts, they face harassment and threats of arrest, not the transparency they seek and deserve.

Voyeurism is a two-way street. So is surveillance. And we, the people, should take advantage of that, utilizing our rights to watch the watchdogs. Because, according to Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

If these people in power have nothing to hide, why do they worry so much about an iPhone and curious citizenry armed with knowledge of their rights and basic video technology?

(To avoid arrest or further harassment from the local law enforcement, I am not including the original photos taken of this incident.)

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Please Hold

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Things I did while waiting to speak with a representative at Brigham and Women’s Hospital this morning (in no particular order):

  • Kegel exercises
  • Thought of funny, nonsensical lyrics to match the smooth, jazzy instrumental hold music
  • Realized that the background music may have in fact been a diluted easy-listening version of a Beastie Boys song
  • Imagined the name of the representative who may or may not eventually interrupt the hypnotic Kenny G rendition of ‘Brass Monkey
  • Facercises (for real, this is a thing)
  • Started to read a pocket version of The Constitution of the United States (it’s shorter than you may think), courtesy of the ACLU
  • Pilates, which required a little physical maneuvering, contorting, and speakerphone (idea inspired by Amy Schumer)
  • Forgot the issue I was originally calling to discuss with a B&W rep

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Urban Improv Celebrates Another Year at Banned in Boston

Aerosmith bass player Tom Hamilton (C) performed in the April 26 “Banned in Boston” skit “Downtown Crossing Abbey”...

(Aerosmith bass player Tom Hamilton (C) performed in the April 26 “Banned in Boston” skit “Downtown Crossing Abbey” at the House of Blues with Urban Improv players Carol Fulp, Barbara Lee and Anita Walker. Joshua Lavine, courtesy of Urban Improv.)

Some of Boston’s biggest celebrities helped Urban Improv celebrate its 20th birthday last week at the House of Blues. Governor Deval Patrick, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, Mayor Thomas Menino and Aerosmith bass player Tom Hamilton, among a slew of others, joined the group’s cast for its annual “Banned in Boston” fundraising performance.

Urban Improv is an educational program that helps youths and teaches them, through theater, to tackle difficult issues like violence, bullying and peer pressure in positive ways. At “Banned in Boston” its members and volunteers — including local politicians, entrepreneurs and media personalities ­— use their theatrical talent to enact parodic skits on stage.

The humorous and often musical performances revolve around politics, pop culture, social events and recent news headlines. This year’s themes included Republican candidates and their foibles, cell phone technology, reality television, the Occupy Boston movement and the arrest of South Boston’s notorious mobster Whitey Bulger.

The preliminary cocktail party took place next door at The Lansdowne Pub, where several Boston and Cambridge restaurants provided signature dishes from tasting stations.

Chef Lydia Shire, representing Towne and Scampo, served curry noodles; Paul O’Connell, chef owner of Chez Henri, ladled out bowls of chowder to the crowd; and for a sweet bite, Upstairs on the Square’s co-owner Mary Catherine displayed mini cupcakes and chocolate turtles.

At 7:30 p.m., revelers ambled to the House of Blues, where the celebration continued. Cone-shaped birthday hats, jelly beans, Goldfish crackers and programs topped each table, and waitstaff with trays of wine and cupcakes from Sweet made the rounds. Boston-born David Walton, who now lives in Los Angeles and stars in the NBC series “Bent,” emceed the performance.

The night on stage opened with an energetic greeting from the Urban Improv co-founder Lisa Alvord, followed by a personal account from Shana Auguste, a former student of Urban Improv’s Youth Unscripted program and current member of the program’s artistic staff.

Born and raised in Dorchester, Auguste is now an Emerson College student studying communication. “I was really able to be myself in Urban Improv,” she said. Auguste cited three roles that the program played in her life: a family who provides love and understanding; a teacher with the lessons it offers; and a friend who gives advice and support.

The first skit was “Downtown Crossing Abbey,” a parody of Masterpiece Theater’s “Downton Abbey,” a British period piece presented by Masterpiece Theater. The local spoof had the Boston crowd chuckling with characters named Lady Allston-Brighton, Lord Somerville and Chelsea Revere.

After that, Gov. Patrick showed off his vocal chords and Frank Sinatra impression with a ditty called “Drive Me ‘Round the State,” a light-hearted political song sung to the tune of “Fly Me to the Moon.”

Artistic Director Toby Dewey thanked the actors, reminding them and the audience that the performances are making a difference in the Boston community. He noted how far the program has progressed in 20 years. Dewey explained that Urban Improv is an educational program that uses improvisational theater to promote “three-dimensional learning … using the mind, body and emotions.”

(This article originally appeared in an April 2012 issue of the Bay State Banner.)

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Individual Aesthetic

Interiors

(This post was originally written in February 2015 for Heidi Pribell Interiors, heidipribell.com.)

Welcome to The Inspired Eye, the official blog of Heidi Pribell Interiors!

Each week we will discuss topics related to design––ranging from patterns and color to beauty and style. The posts will cover a broad range of subjects, both practical and philosophical, and include images that reflect Heidi’s fun and vibrant energy.

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Let’s start with the concept of ‘aesthetic,’ something that we can all agree is essential to interior design, and life in general.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of ‘aesthetic’ is “a particular theory or conception of beauty or art; a particular taste for or approach to what is pleasing to the senses and especially sight.”

However, in Heidi’s words, “aesthetic is truly a style that resonates with the individual.”

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Every person has his or her own style, preferences, sense of beauty…that is, aesthetic. Here at Heidi Pribell Interiors we want to help you find, fine tune and express your own.

Our goal is to help you come closer to identifying what you think beauty is, and, conversely, what it isn’t. What is beautiful to you and how do you transform this choice into an action?

These ideas, inherent is children, fade as we grow into adulthood and start doubting our instincts.

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Heidi says: “As an adult, we are more paralyzed with our decisions than we used to be as children. Children are more in touch with their inclinations––they know what they like, they know what they hate. We tend to step back and second guess ourselves as we take on more responsibility. This makes us out of touch with ourselves.”

How can we help make the decision-making process run more smoothly? Let’s simplify. Get back to basics, relax, have fun, feel inspired, and follow your instincts!

That’s a good start.

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