Five Years Ago, A Tea Party Happened.

Many of you are probably unaware, but the Clam wasn’t the first time I’ve used my obnoxious voice to bring some snark and ridiculousness to the table. Here’s the story of the most awesome event I ever pulled off, though. I’m probably not topping it ever.

Five years ago today (thanks for the reminder, Timehop), Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express came to the Boston Common to rally their troops, arriving in a terribly decorated series of buses. It was an event not to be missed if you liked things like “a lot of guns” and “elastic waistbands”. On an online community I was a part of (LJ b0st0n represent) someone asked, “How could we show up and register our displeasure with the tea party in the funniest way possible?” Because let’s face it, the tea party was a pretty big joke.



I, being, well, you know, me, said “With a real Tea Party. The joke will be that we thought it was a real Victorian tea party, and we’re all quite confused at why there’s so many angry people in fanny packs.” I made the comment offhandedly. We all had quite a lol. And then it took off. It was a thing. People wanted to do it.

And so then it began to be A Thing I Had To Do. I didn’t know anything about protests. I rolled up my sleeves, dug in and figured out how to pull it off. Luckily, I had previously worked as a logistics coordinator, and planning events is not out of my skillset. I had some help promoting from other folks who thought it was a great idea, and local improv groups started showing interest. I pulled the permits with the City of Boston, I set up a website, and we were good to go. We had to make some ground rules, of course, like fashion and demure behavior:

-There’s no point in having a counterprotest if you can’t look good doing it. Everyone should attempt to dress to the nines, or, if you can’t do that, at LEAST to the four-and-a-halves. Of course, TECHNICALLY, one shouldn’t go to a tea party in evening dress, but, since so many people don’t have proper morning coats these days, I think that it would be wise to let this slide.

-Inoffensiveness. This, I suspect, may be the most controversial proposal. I think that we should attempt to have the world’s mildest, most inoffensive, polite counterprotest ever held. My ideal would be for the press to come up to interview people about their opinions on tax policies and health care, and have responses such as, “Oh, dear, isn’t that a rather personal question?” and, “Really, I prefer not to discuss politics over tea. Would you care for a cup?”

"Who ordered the buckets of twee? Anyone?"

“Who ordered the buckets of twee? Anyone?”

It turned out to be an absolute blast, and pretty successful – we had more than a hundred people sitting with us at one point near lunchtime, although people filtered in and out all day. And aside from a few assholes saying jerk things under their breaths, most people didn’t have the guts to be mean to us, and a lot of people thought it was a great idea. Sure, there were more “Tea Party Patriots”, but we had better-decorated signs, and better-decorated people. Also, we had a couple who dressed as  Latex Betsy Ross & Paul Revere (not even kidding), a well-executed Red Queen, plus some shoeless hippies that wandered through and stayed a few hours. For everyone not in the area for Palin’s shrill voice screeching across the common like a hyena, we were a welcome distraction from the kind of grotesque displays of ignorance they were subjected to. Like uh, these dudes:

We literally were surrounded by these giant motherfucking assholes.

We literally were surrounded by these giant motherfucking assholes the entire time.

It ended up getting a small amount of local and blog press, I got on Wonkette and Laughing Squid, and I even got to sit down with the chair of Yale’s American History department to tape an interview about it. It was awesome.

There was some butthurt, obviously. Turns out, a lot of these “We The People” small government types don’t particularly like other people exercising their first-amendment rights. Michele McPhee, for one, both called the City of Boston to make sure I had pulled the adequate permit (while then calling me names on-air for refusing to appear on her WTKK radio show later that day like I was the asshole). Some local republicans even reported me to Inspectional Services because it was a potluck. Yes, that’s right, the party of “less government” tried to use ridiculous bureaucracy to shut down a farcical group meetup that might have cookies.

I'm sorry but are you trying to make a point WHILE ON A SEGWAY?

I’m sorry but are you trying to make a point WHILE ON A SEGWAY?

Some of the backlash did take me aback, and it’s pretty hard to rattle me usually. I was doxxed by a MA-based Law Enforcement forum (it has since been removed) who also posted the resume, with personal contact info, of a friend of mine. They called my children dogs, and me a useless layabout  living off the government dole (most of the press grabbed on to the “unemployed” part, and glossed over the “laid off, mom of toddler” part). It was an eye-opening and terrifying experience, but five years later, a decidedly unsurprising response from a section of law enforcement who enjoy being shitty to other people. We’ve seen more of that these days, but that’s another post for another day.

I’m not sure I’ll pull together anything like that again. It was worth it, of course. I mean, someone had to highlight the absurdity.








We Need to Stop Thinking Public Assistance is a Luxury.

I was on food stamps once, and it wasn’t a fuckin’ luxury.

I’m writing this for the Clam as an anonymous contributor (adding all the swears I possibly can), because of the social stigma that comes with being on food stamps. It should not be there, but it is. Here’s the thing: the recession hit and shit happened. I lost my job, we had young kids, I decided to go back to school after I could find nothing at all in my field for a ridiculous length of time, and we ended up on food stamps for a time. It took awhile to get back on our feet, but now we’re off – kind of like most people. After all, the average family is on food stamps for 8-10 months.  A lot of people had it way worse than we did.

This week, a Missouri lawmaker proposed a bill that would limit the kind of food that could be purchased under the SNAP program. Not content with the reasonable federal food stamp guidelines like “no alcohol, hot prepared food, or cigarettes”, they set out to make their own.

What do they want to cut? Lobster and steak, naturally. Because you know, people below the poverty line are so clearly going hog-wild and blowing taxpayer money on lobsters and filets. In addition, chips cookies and soda would be on the banned list. Potato chips.

Not for you, poor person! Also, no ginger ale. For reasons.

Not for you, poor person! Also, no ginger ale. For reasons.

This kind of thinking irritates me beyond belief. Policing what the poor eat is meant to do absolutely nothing more than shame them. It sends the message that they are too stupid to make their own choices for the sin of not having money. Some of the same people who crow on about the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, and limiting the scope of our government have no problem, apparently, telling other people what to do.

Here’s some truth about food stamps from someone who was on them long enough to know.

The average benefit per family member meal is $1.45, although in MA it’s higher (we got closer to $1.60ish, but there have been cuts to the program since my income came back). That amount leaves little room for error, and most families have to make hard choices about what’s going to feed them or end up spending some of their own cash. I was lucky (loose quotes on that) that we still had one solid income and unemployment, so we could go over that amount and cover the difference with cash and not lose our house. For comparison, the average family’s grocery bill runs from $146-289 per week. At the low end, that’s $1.74 per meal. At the high end, $3.44. Food stamp recipients get a below-average benefit allotment every month.

So why, exactly, are we limiting them from buying steak or lobster? Where does the “steak” line get drawn? What if it’s heavily discounted because it goes bad tomorrow? Still not okay to buy? This seems especially stupid for anyone who lives in this area because let’s face it, Market Basket always has lobsters extremely cheap for a few weeks in the summer, and it can be cheaper or at least comparable to any other meat source. Either food stamp recipients are cutting that money from other parts of their food budget (for instance, cutting out cereal and replacing it with Krusty Brand Imitation Gruel), or at the end of the month they’re going to be spending their own cash anyway. And, more importantly, steak and lobster tastes great, it’s packed full of protein, and it’s a nice treat for people who don’t really have that much else going for them. More than 30% of food stamp recipients are employed, by the way, and that number is rising – with many more on Social Security. If there is no child or elderly person in the household, adults with no income are limited to 3 months of benefits.

And that, really, is the sad part about it. The lawmakers in Missouri want to remove one of the little joys in life – a really good, tasty meal that can make or break your entire week – from poor people. People who lost their jobs. Single moms. Retirees. The kind of folks who need a small thing now and again to grind through an exhausting existence. And soda? Let me explain something to you: you go to school full time, while your spouse works, and you have two small kids without a goddamn caffeine boost in the afternoon and then come back and we’ll talk. Yeah, I bought soda. I didn’t drive into a bridge abutment out of sheer delusional exhaustion on the way home from night class. And yeah, I bought steak once in awhile. Because steak is fucking awesome and this is America and I ate a lot of Krusty Brand Imitation Gruel in my off-time.

I dare anyone supporting this kind of asshole legislation go to their nearest Walmart or McDonalds and tell the worker behind the counter that they don’t deserve to eat steak and lobster ever, not even for their anniversary, not for their birthday, because they don’t work hard enough and don’t deserve it.

Yeah, that’s what I thought.





No Snark Sunday: Gloucester Needs Ferret Juggling

Years ago I got the best career advice ever. I was trying to figure out what next to do with my life and my advisor said, “Picture yourself stuck in a strange city. It’s snowing and you’re cold, lost, hungry and alone. But through a downstairs window you see people having a dinner party. It’s warm, there is an awesome buffet and drinks are being served.

 “Tell me, how would you go about getting in there?”

It was a surprisingly excellent question. How do you go about getting what you want from the people who have it?

 One strategy is begging. If you knock on the door and give a sob story they might take pity on you and let you sit in the foyer with a plate of whatever they choose to hand over. You can’t be like, “Hey, I’m famished, can I have at that shrimp?” (I later realized this is, in fact, entirely possible for attractive people).

 But how can you encourage them to invite you (if you are not stunningly attractive) inside? How can you make them want you there?

What if you just marched in and announced in a loud, clear voice:  “Ladies and gentlemen, pardon the interruption, but please observe for just a moment as I juggle these six live ferrets who will in no way be harmed and actually greatly enjoy the experience.” How awesome would that be? Afterwards you’d find yourself parked next to the ice sculpture loading Swedish meatballs onto a plate and telling stories of your life on the mustelidae performance circuit. Even the ferrets would get fed. It would be great.

Wizard of Oz theme? You beautiful bastard

Wizard of Oz theme? You beautiful bastard

 In my opinion, the ferret juggling is what’s missing from 99% of our conversations about the future of Gloucester.

 I hear and read endless bits around “what do we want Gloucester to be?” I hear surprisingly little of what I consider to be realistic talk regarding what we have to offer. In short, what is our ferret juggling? What particular assets or set of skills do we possess that anyone actually gives a shit about in the outside world? In short, what are we willing to trade to the world in order for Gloucester to be successful?

Wait, discarded nip bottles that have been under snowbanks for three months work as room-temperature superconductors? We're rich!

Wait, discarded nip bottles buried under snowbanks for three months work as room-temperature superconductors? We’re rich!

 Because, like the person standing out in the snow, no one inside actually cares what we want. They’re not even thinking about us. To the extent they do, they care about what we can do for them. So what is it? Our landscape? A site for marine industry? How much call is there for this really and how much of it can be more profitably completed in a modern building in an industrial park near a highway? (see Ice, Cape Pond) Do we trade on our gritty toughness and how do we monetize that besides as the occasional film set? An arts and culture hub? Do we really support the kinds of arts people outside Gloucester are interested in? I hear a lot of talk about us being a hub for innovation and technology, so what do we offer innovation and technology organizations? What endeavours already going on in town do we highlight and support? Should the schools have to beg for funding as our neighbors pass overrides if we are really going to be part of the innovation and technology economy? (spoiler: no)

 Seriously, what is it?

 f you’re gonna make your meals on ferret juggling, you’d better invest in some ferrets, you’d better practice and get good at it and I’m also going to strongly recommend you get a top hat and a purple, velvet blazer like the one Johnny Depp wore in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Or Russell Brand's costume as Trincolo from the Tempest. Your call.

Or Russell Brand’s costume as Trincolo from the Tempest. Your call.

 Or we can just stand in the snow reminiscing about how awesome it was long ago when we didn’t have to throw live animals around for food and bitching about the current situation. Sure, do that for a while but those folks in there are going to finish off the samosas pretty soon.

Three words: tiny little tutus.

Kids These Days

Earlier this week on Yon Internets Somewhere, someone posted a picture of East Gloucester School, which is coincidentally where your trusty The Clam has our kids enrolled. Great school, awesome community, lots of kale. And almost immediately, the comment chorus of ‘Kids these days don’t play outside or walk to school anymore! What’s wrong with parents today!’ started, as it has about a dozen times in the last month. It’s like a phenomena. You post an old picture of anything, and someone will complain that things are different and scary and kids don’t have respect for anything and you can’t hit your kids anymore and that’s probably why.

Pretty much like this.

Pretty much like this.

You know what? It’s time we put that idea to bed for good. I am completely and utterly tired of it being socially acceptable for older generations to loudly judge children -and the parents raising them- for being lazy, entitled, and coddled. Every damn generation thinks they’re the greatest and the ones following them are rude, loafing babies. And it turns out there’s even studies that show that’s untrue:

“…Every generation is basically exactly the same, and there is very little new under the sun, and, my god, even Socrates was complaining about the lazy ways of the youth back in his time, what the fuck would make you think that your generation, whatever it is, is in any way inherently special compared to the thousands of human generations that came before you? The entire farcical idea that humanity reaches its peak with your generation and then proceeds to go into decline with the next generation is made all the more hilarious by the fact that every generation before you believed the same thing, as will every generation after you.”

Yet, it keeps happening, the “youth of today!” comment party. Kids these days are online too much. They can’t walk to school anymore because it’s not safe. The parents are nearby when they’re on the playground. They are scheduled for too many activities. They watch too much TV and play too many video games. They mouth off and they don’t learn as much as they used to.

Where is this coming from? “Kids these days” are testing on or above the levels of previous generations. They watch less TV than we did.


 It’s pretty unfounded to also assume somehow now unsafe for our kids to run around unsupervised because “it’s not safe anymore”, like criminals are just running through the streets of East Gloucester, starting kale-based gangs and recruiting our seven year olds.

The thing is, kids are still walking to school here. They stay after school and play on the playground and in the nearby woods. There are often large sticks around which an entire small boy caste system is based. Last week there was an actual mud fight. It’s 2015, and nothing’s really changed. Do we supervise our kids on the playground? Yeah, sorta. We’re here in case someone falls, in case someone needs something, and to break up issues. Last week, a kindergartner was getting pelted with snowballs by a much older kid, and when it was obvious he really didn’t like it, an adult stepped in. But mostly we’re there to socialize with other parents. Kinda like every previous generation ever.

It turns out we’re safer parents than previous generations, actually. That awful super bowl ad wasn’t hatched out of nowhere: childhood accidents are a leading factor in the mortality rate. But, things are getting better with each new generation:

But a growing share of the accelerating reduction in child mortality since 1970 stems neither from medical advances nor from immunization campaigns, notes NBER researcher Sherry Glied. Rather, it arises from a sharp drop in deaths from unintentional injury or accident. Among children under five, deaths from these causes dropped from 44 per 100,000 children in 1960 to 18.6 per 100,000 in 1990. Among children five to nine, the mortality rate from injury or accidents fell from 19.6 to 9.8 per 100,000.

We make our kids wear helmets not because we’re overbearing, but because we understand how head injuries work better than we ever did before. We don’t leave them unsupervised near pools not because we want to keep them in bubbles, but because we’ve learned that it leads to tragedy. We check in on them a bit more often – yes, sometimes by the dreaded iphone – so if the worst happens and they get lost in the woods or hurt, we’ll know quicker. We should celebrate lower fatalities among children, no matter what we need to do to get there.

As far as video games, iphones, and Angry Birds – yeah, kids play video games – but they also learn how to make them. This is how we create the software engineers of 2028. And it turns out video games aren’t super harmful and can actually help cognitive abilities.

So you can complain about things that patently aren’t true, and whine that life’s changed, but that’s not going to do anything. Meanwhile we’ll roll up our sleeves, build 3D printers, advocate for bike lanes, and make this city more livable for kids these days, and the ones after them.