Happy birthday, Cambridge (née Newtowne)!


From Site for Cambridge Selected on Mass Moments:

On this day in 1630, the Massachusetts Bay Colony proprietors chose a site along the northern bank of the Charles River for their capital. They named it Newtowne, and laid out an orderly grid of streets fortified by a wooden palisade. It was the first planned town in English North America. Six years later, the colony’s first college was established in Newtowne. In honor of the English university town, Newtowne was renamed Cambridge. Contemporary William Wood noted “this is one of the neatest…towns in New England, having many fair structures with many handsome…seats.” Despite its well-ordered appearance, Cambridge did not remain the colony’s capital. In 1638 the General Court settled five miles downstream, in the neighboring town of Boston.

Wiser not wetter

While I’ve been training for the 1000-meter flatwater sprint all week, sadly, all of my workouts have been on land. The rental facility that I use stops issuing kayaks after 6pm this time of year. My work schedule keeps me from Cambridge into the mid-evening and therefore quite dry. I’ve been scheming ways to get onto the water in the early morning or later after I get back home, but until then, I’m bound to the gym. The weekends are another story, however. And to ready myself for tomorrow’s lesson, I returned to the river to practice on my own.

There was a bustle at Paddle Boston when I arrived around 11:30 am. A line emanated from the tent which guards the entrance to the dock where newcomers must sign waiver forms and hand over IDs. Another line wrapped around the small cabin that houses the cash register for paddlers who had just returned. No one looked too wet. And as a matter of course, a third line filled the docks which are already crowded by life jackets, paddles, and boats. Despite all of the people there, very few of them were workers. School is about to start and many of the staff are college students on summer vacation. With September just a few days away, most of the attendants have quit, leaving one exasperated woman to man the boats with only occasional help from her tiny dog.

Initially she told me to hop into a recreational kayak. I felt bad asking for a sea kayak instead; I didn’t want to be trouble. She let out something between a sigh and huff and disappeared for a moment. When she returned, I had a sky blue sea kayak. The fin on the bottom was exposed. She reached for the cord to retract it and mentioned to me, “This is how you pull in the.”

Skeg,” I interrupted to let her know that I was an insider, too.

“Yeah,” she replied. Her pace was a little slower and tone a little warmer than before. “Well, get in. I’ll push you in water from here since there’s such a line.” Trying not to sour my new friendship, I did as she said silently and swiftly. I signalled my readiness with a brief nod.

“Well, aren’t you going to adjust your foot pegs?” she asked. To be honest, I didn’t remember how far down the pegs were supposed to be. During my lesson the week before the instructor had adjusted them for me. My feet were on them. And that seemed right. So, I replied quickly, “They feel good.” What a mistake.

Once I was in the canal, the winds seemed to kick me side to side. The boat tottered beneath me in reponse. My abs clenched. For a moment, I forgot to breathe. And then I began what I could remember of the forward stroke. Toe-to-hip. Turn to the other side. Toe-to-hip. Turn and repeat. Somehow I was more unsure of myself than I was my first time out. The water was less familiar and I was more afraid of falling in. Still, I inched out of the canal.

Now in the open Charles, I suddenly realized that my right foot was up further than my left. And I remembered how I was supposed to sit in the kayak: somewhat frog-legged, with knees pushing on the braces on either side of the hull under the coaming. Damn. My foot pegs were too far down and uneven, and I could already feel my hips straining. I headed upstream under the Longfellow Bridge toward the only landing I could remember, up near the Harvard River Houses and Week’s footbridge, where I could stop to rearrange the pegs.

The entire time, my boat kept lurching to the right. I thought it might be the wind pushing me to one side. The week before, the entire class kept floating to toward the shore as a pack. I put my paddle down to check which direction the currents would take me. To the left! “Ah, so it is me,” I thought. My paddling was so lopsided, it overcame the wind. Every few strokes I paused to right my course. It was those mismatched and misplaced pegs. I picked my knees up higher against the boat. That seemed to help. I looked around at the other craft on the water. Everyone else appeared to be going straight. Then the wind picked up again.

It’s really amazing how low to the water you are in a kayak. Waves that you would never bother to notice from land suddenly command your attention by force. It was hard for me to gauge their size, a few inches, possibly a foot but probably less. But when you’re only three feet above the water, ripples become mountains. After being batted to the side by a small caravan of waves, an old Anglo-Saxon poem the Seafarer popped into my mind. When I discussed it in a waterless meeting room for a college course on Old English poetry years ago, my analysis was sharp. With all the comfort and courage that only cowards could have, I judged the author and his culture as small and afraid. They believed in monsters; I did not. But there, floating alone in my 13-foot boat, all that dross about the grim cold ocean and terrible tossing of the waves and unforgiving gale started to make sense—despite its being a tame New England summer day.

I turned around and headed home, still lurching to the right. This time with help from the wind.

Class is at 8:30 tomorrow morning.

Hell under Earth

Dead Sea bathers

Above: During a trip to visit my family in the mid-west, my aunt bade me watch a Christian documentary on the geography of hell and the history of the End of Days. The film took an archaeological perspective; the kind that unearths incontrovertible, physical evidence that the Bible, and therefore the narrator’s interpretation of it, is true. At one point, the narrator pinpointed seven portals to hell on a map. Thankfully all of gates were under water. Most of them, deep beneath the ocean. The closest to the surface, though, was under the Dead Sea. Being the lowest point on Earth, this was the most likely the first gate to open when the the unholy demon army of hell decided it was finally time to consume the world. I was about eleven, and I had trouble sleeping that night.

Then in February of 2011 I went to the Dead Sea. It was plenty hot, but not quite hellish. The surrounding mountains crumble into coarse, rocky sand. Local agencies import outside sands for the beach, which are deposited regularly by large construction machinery for the bathers. The water is so salty that crystals fall out of solution and form large balls on the sea floor. (They make great souvenirs.) The salt that remains in solution coats your body and makes your skin slick as you bob up and down in the water. Remember not to shave before taking a dip—the small cuts burn. Do not get any water in your eyes. Life guards forbid the use of goggles, as they allow swimmers to be less vigilant.

Despite the inhospitable environs and poor air quality, no one seemed to notice how dangerously near to the doorway of the Prince of the Air we all were. I don’t know why hell’s army would be pick such a terrible, uninhabited place to emerge. If I were in charge, we’d march from somewhere lush and populated. Watch out, Brazil. But again, what do I know about waging war against humanity? [Full size (4.6Mb)]

Water Wizz, Wareham, MA

Above: So, this summer I was much happier to visit Water Wizz in Wareham, MA. It’s my favorite water park on the Cape. As far as I know, it’s well away from large demonic activity. The park itself is small, but not depraved. And the Pirate’s Plunge is super fun! [Full size (4.6Mb)]

Visitation Rights

Last night I was hanging out on the couch, while DJ played video games on my living room television. I don’t quite remember what obnoxious thing I was doing—I do remember, however, that it was, indeed, deliberately obnoxious—but it prompted DJ to burst, “You make me want to drink.”

“Then you should never have children,” I replied.

A few weekends ago, I babysat my six year old friend Robert while his mother was away on a business trip. It was the longest they had even been separated. Naturally I was a little anxious about watching the little captain under such new and trying circumstances. Originally I agreed to stay from Friday after he got out of school and until Sunday afternoon. That Tuesday things change. Arrangements had been made for Robert sleep over at his friend’s house on Friday and to go to the circus Saturday morning. Officially, my duties wouldn’t start until Saturday afternoon. Great! Or so I thought.

Children have a habit of getting sick right before a big, fun event. Robert’s friend is just like any other kid in that regard. Friday morning at ten, I woke up to an emergency phone call from from Robert’s friend’s mother. Apparently, the friend was at the doctors office with a temperature of 102. The sleep-over and circus would have to wait for another, healtier week. So I frantically got ready to take the next bus in town. (Mind you, it takes about 2 hours to get from here to there by public transportation.) I get to the apartment with some time to spare, so I sit on the couch to write emails until Robert gets home. Then phone rings again. It’s the friend’s mother. Her son felt better and the boys were really looking forward to the sleep-over, so if I didn’t mind, maybe Robert could stay at his friend’s house for the night after all. I agreed. Who am I to deny Robert some quality time with his friend—especially if it frees up my Friday night? Still, it’d take another two hours to get home if that was my plan. My cell phone rang one more time. This time it was DJ.

DJ’s grandmother volunteers her time and her house to a pricy kick-drugs-through-prayer rehabilitation program called Teen Challenge, and their graduation happened to be that night. Naturally, DJ’s grandmother wanted to be there. One of women she sponsors was graduating—for a second time. Anyway, the whole situation made DJ feel a little uneasy and he was looking for company. Because they had to pick me up, we were an hour late to the ceremonies, cutting the total time there to only about two hours.

I was back in Cambridge by noon the next day, just in time for Robert’s return home. Now I’m not related to Robert. Even still, I couldn’t help but feel like a divorced dad picking up his kid for a weekend visit. First they schedule me three days with him. Then they take that away and build up his expectations with a promise to the circus. But then they steal that from him, but keep him for the time it would take to go to the circus. After that, they drop him off with me. By this time Robert feels entitled and demands that we do “something fun.” I was set up for failure. Maybe that’s what the system intends and why it works so well.

Let me tell you how happy he was when we missed the last showing of Sharks 3D at the New England Aquarium due to some unforeseen construction on the Blue Line. We ended up on a bus that took us to Wood Island by mistake. Robert refused to sleep until we did “something fun,” which translates into something expensive and outside of the apartment. There was no way I was going to take him somewhere “fun” at 8:30pm on a Friday night. Instead, I suggested we play a game: “You pretend to fall asleep. You don’t have actually to sleep—just convince me that you’re asleep.”

Robert is shrewd, though. He wanted fun and he let me know it. “Josh, I know this is just a pyschological trick,” he reminded me. “I’m not going to bed until we do something fun.” I don’t easily give in to ultimatums, especially not from six year olds who are out of line. He has a bed time and he knows it. So I sat by his bed in the dark silently for 90 minutes. Eventually, he fell asleep.

The next day we did see Sharks 3D. We arrived and had purchased our tickets by 10am. We waited in the lobby (with a painful detour near Old City Hall in between) until show time at 2:20pm. I read him some Wittengstein on the bus ride home. I don’t think he appreciated it much.

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A Conversation

Setting: a cramped kitchen.

Andrew: Did you know that all the [Nintendo] Mario music was written by a blind, Japanese man?
DJ: [Enters through the bathroom door, crosses in front of Andrew hastily.] My mother was a blind, Japanese man. [Exists through the kitchen door; leaves it open.]

Andrew: But how can that be?

Josh: Genetics. [Said while exiting through the kitchen door, closing it quickly behind him.]

[End scene.]

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A few weeks ago my friend Michelle called me a little after one in the afternoon. The ring of the telephone woke me up and I stumbled across the room to answer her call. I looked down at the little display, saw that it was Michelle, and then put on my best telephone face to accept her “Hello, Joshy.”

Michelle called to tell me that she had accepted a new job—she was in need of a new one, believe you me. This was fantastic news. Usually Michelle can spot my false wakefulness, even over the phone, like one of those empaths from Star Trek (or something). But this time, her excitement—in conjunction with my keen theatrical abilities—distracted her from the reality of my slumber, which is exactly what I was aiming for.

I wasn’t, but the question still remains: could I have justifiably been upset at Michelle for waking me up? Well, yes but mostly no. It was one in the afternoon. Most people are awake when the sun’s up. So, Michelle was right to operate on the assumption “people are awake when the sun’s up.” The world is a crazy and complicated place. We have to live our lives despite only having access to a very small amount of knowledge about our environment. Therefore most of our judgments aren’t certain. Instead, they’re best guesses that approximate what we should do if we actually knew everything there was to know. Thankfully, we’re not totally in the dark.

People are very good at working with probabilities because lots of the events in the world have a high probability of certainty. That tree in the park you saw this morning on your way to work will probably still be there during your commute home later tonight. The position and function of the knobs and buttons on your stove are not going to switch themselves around when you’re not looking—with high probability. So it’s not surprising that people believe that there are certainties in life. And maybe if you were able to know everything about everything at every time, then the world would work according to a small set of fixed laws. Unfortunately, no one—as far as I know—has that sort of depth of knowledge and understanding. So, for practical purposes, we’re left interacting with probabilities.

Now we get into trouble when we confuse probabilities for certainties. Then we become locked into a stereotype. That’s right, I think stereotypes are simply misapplied probabilities. Several years ago some fledging stand-up comedian trying to break it big played the Conan O’Brien Show. He included two “postive stereotypes” that stuck with me. “All Jews can fly and Mexicans are made out of candy,” he claimed. Being (sort of) both Jewish and Mexican, I can say from experience that very few Jews whom I know can fly and even fewer Mexicans are made out of candy. So what makes his stereotypes wrong? Well, probabilistically his claims aren’t well supported.

Here’s another perhaps less inflammatory claim: men are taller than women. I bet a lot of you agree with that. But let’s hold up just a second and see just what the sentence is saying. There are a lot of words missing that really ought to be there. My claim doesn’t mean all men are taller than all women. If you cite your friend from college on the women’s basketball team who towers over everyone else in a crowd, you haven’t disproved anything. What I really mean to say is that on average men are taller than women; i.e., if you pull a random man and a random woman off the street and compare their heights, record the answer, and then repeat the experiment several times over, then in general, you will find that the man is taller than the woman.

So what are assumptions: they are the most probable results from a distribution of possible results that we adopt as fact based on our experience. Experience varies, so assumptions vary. The key is to remember that sometimes outlying events can happen, and we must be open to the possibility that they do. Most Mexicans aren’t made out of candy, but don’t let me fool you into believing that none of us are.

All that said, Michelle should’ve known, given her previous experience, that there was a high likelihood that I would be sleeping at one in the afternoon. Don’t forget that not all assumptions apply in all contexts. These things are conditional, after all. So, she’s only partially excused.

And while I’m on my soapbox, it’s worth pointing out that because people almost exclusively interact with probability distributions, probability and statistics really need to be given more attention in school curricula. Over emphasis on deterministic systems tricks students into believing that the world really operates on certain events. I can’t think of anything further from the truth.

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I often like to take my dinner at Christopher’s in Porter Square. They provide a warm, brick bar atmosphere, good burgers, and both a rotating and static selection of fairly amazing beers. Plus one of the bartenders, here left anonymous to protect the innocent and my beer alike, knows me as a regular and sometimes passes me free pints.

I try never to pay attention to the other customers while I eat. In my experience, it’s best to let the barflies whirl around someone else. In fact, I find that that’s true in general. Since the Sox pregame was on, and not the game itself, I tried to focus on my burger and beer, measuring carefully how quickly to eat and drink. Occasionally I’d turn to my right and wonder about the woman next to me and her vegetarian burger. She’s a regular, too. She used to work as a receptionist at one of the Boston Sports Clubs, but that was years ago. She’s since moved on and works as a receptionist at Genzyme. It’s hard to guess which is better. But it’s been five or six years now, and she seems happy. She reads well, looks good, eats well. Things can’t be that bad. At least that’s what she was telling one of her old customers at the other end of the bar.

But none of that was interesting to me. No, instead I wanted to know about her veggie burger. I know she eats meat and she’s defended before that Christopher’s just serves a fine veggie burger. To judge by analogy, I’m sure I’d agree. But I’ve never tried it. I like meat. So why would a non-vegetarian order a vegetarian meal? I preoccupied myself with this thought, trying to come up with reasonable excuses.

Not fully aware of my surroundings, I was disturbed when I heard the bartender tell another customer, this time to my left, “Yeah, I’ve got a girl, but she’s spayed.”

My head swung up for the response.

“I’ve got a girl, too. So it shouldn’t matter,” the customer replied.

For the next several moments I tried to reconstruct their conversation. In not too long, I had it. The customer started out with a question:

“So, do you want to come by this weekend for some backyard doggy-time?” I knew I had heard him say it, but at the time I was still mystified by the woman on my right and her meatless patty. Even still, the words are too fantastic to understand taken alone, and the bartender’s response does little to clarify the situation.

“Sure, but do you have a backyard?” He seemed skeptical. His tone alluded to nefarious undertakings. What were they talking about: drugs, sex, something far worse? It was hard to know. In any event, it was more exciting than the two tool consultants between them and me who exclaimed loudly how awesome and important their work, and they, by extension, is.

“Yeah, I have a backyard. What do you have, anyway?” the customer answered. And here we enter.

And then it all made sense. He did not spay a human girl; backyard doggy-time was just that—time spent in the backyard with your spayed doggies. Somehow I wish otherwise.

A Long Ride

This morning, at about 7:30am, just as my train rolled into the the JFK/UMass stop my ears perked up. Across the aisle and to the right of me stood, at least according to my observations, a middle-aged woman, though I’m willing to contend that she was actually much younger than she looked. She was missing her left leg and leaned against a crutches and grasped a bar for support as she pleaded with the man to her left. He was leaving her. In fact, it wasn’t clear that he was ever with her. After all, he had been with eleven or twelve mistresses and girlfriends. Even now he was on his way to meet one of them at South Station.

Why the woman recounted these facts to him, to her, and to the entire car—it was a truly public event—I couldn’t tell. Her voice was both angry and desperate. She wore a cream colored dress plastered over with a bold floral print and bunched up sock and sneaker. It looked like her nice dress, one that she surely prized above herself and brought out only when circumstances were especially proper or dire. “I’m telling you about the past—the past has nothing to do with today,” I heard her say.

Something stirred inside me. I couldn’t tell if I was going to cry or be sick. She clung to her msiguided and unfounded hopes, denying the consequence of her words even as she spoke them. She wouldn’t be happy with him anyway. He maintained his silence throughout her rant. His disinterest was palpable.

The man left at South Station, as planned. The woman continued at him until the very end. “And now you’re going to meet this women who’s had four abortions? You could’ve been with me, and we would’ve conceived right away,” she yelled at him. “And instead you choose this woman who’s had four abortions?” He left without speaking a word.

“Just go around smirking. That’s right, go around smirking,” she launched at one of the passengers once the doors closed and the train resumed its course. I didn’t look up.

She continued past South Station, past Park, past Central, finally leaving at Harvard. But all the while she stared, like the man had before, silently in space.

On the Road Again

Yesterday, Michelle, DJ, and I made it to New York in time for last night’s Tool concert despite Mass Pike’s being closed from the 128 Exit all the way through Auburn, at least. I’m not sure why I was there—I didn’t want to see Tool; I didn’t even have a ticket; nor did I intend to get one.—but as I’ve said before, “Danny has no soul, and I have no will.” And that’s probably why I spent from 9-11:30pm alone at the Pig & Whistle on the corner of 58th and 3rd. The Mets were playing the Yankees, but no one seemed to care much. In fact, it was just my luck that I wandered into what may be the city’s only Irish-gay-sports bar. Well, it wasn’t overwhelmingly any of those things. Popular Irish phrases were painted on some of the wooden rafters in Celtic script. And the waitress I chatted up towards the end of the game had come from Northern Ireland. She wasn’t sure of the rules of baseball. I admitted that neither am I. But I did explain that all it takes is one pitch to decide the game. My timing couldn’t’ve been better. It was the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two strikes. The teams were tied at six runs each. The last pitch let up a double, bumping the Mets up 7-6 to win just as I spoke. Four people cheered. I was one of them. I heard an unemphatic boo. It was time for my new friend to bus a table.

I read that at 11pm the bar was going to host an event which featured “Party Tunes.” I couldn’t guess if this would be worse than the Robbie Williams Millenium they had been quietly pumping during the game. Luckily, the crowd thinned out, giving me hope that I could finally start what I had come to do in the first place: math. All night I had lugged around my backpack, fully stocked with laptop, a few pages from a book on type theory and functional programming, one of my books on general relativity, and the things Michelle thought people might steal from DJ’s car. [Someday I will return her camera and CDs.] All night I had been spying a table by the door. From my view, it was free. When I got there, I saw that the man whom I asked to watch my beer while I stepped outside to talk to Susannah earlier in the night hadn’t quite left yet. It was obvious that I wanted to sit; perhaps it was harder to guess that I wanted to study geometry and not talk to strangers. And so for the next forty minutes we talked about race, the theater, and Harvard. When DJ and Michelle returned, he left immediately. Having only eaten two double cheeseburgers and about three-quarters of a pound of salted cashews all day, I was a little hungry. Not wanting to incur food costs, I forced DJ to dare me to ask for some nachos from the table of girls neighboring us. So I picked out the one who was closest and begged from some food under the pretense of saving my pride over a dare that I had concocted myself. They all thought me very brave and waived to us when we left moments later.

Being from Boston, we had no problem finding free parking on the street. However, in the excitement of the moment, DJ forgot to turn off the fan to the motor in his all-too-custom car. The battery was dead. But ho! I am a platinum-level AAA member. I’m covered for towing up to 150 miles and as many jumps to my battery as I need. The problem is, though, the service isn’t especially prompt. We waived down an unmarked, gypsy cabby who stopped and started us right up. At least we were on our way now.

Perhaps inspired by Harold and Kumar, DJ went out of his way to stop at a White Castle. I knew I would regret it. This morning I was right. Stick to the big three: McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s. There’s no reason to take in local cuisine. Ever. It’ll only make you sick.

Two hours and twenty minutes later, we were back in Boston. By this time the T had started running again, so we dropped Michelle off at a stop convenient for DJ and me and headed home. Rather than spend the following twleve hours on DJ’s couch, I accepted his offer, took his keys and car, and drove home. Now it makes sense to stop a moment to describe DJ’s car a bit more: it’s a 1981 Camaro Z-28 (or something close to that) with T-tops, painted in seven glorious and distinct shades of black, brown, grey, and blue, with a working panel of instruments—even the clock—except for the spedometer, and for some reason it speeds up initially when you put on the brakes. It’s like someone beat up the Batmobile and DJ found the corpse. Not knowing my speed, and without cars in front of me to use as a guage, I tried not to go too fast as I passed a police car waiting at a speed trap in the parking lot of the old golf range. I watched him edge out in my rear view mirror. But he decided against it. Still, DJ drives over two hundred miles averaging about 100 mph and nothing happens; I drive 35 in a 30 mph zone for fourteen seconds and I almost get pulled over. How does he do it?

Another Grown-up Experience.

Today (Friday) marks the one-week anniversary of a very important grown-up event: last week I sponsored Teymour during his road test. Now, this may not seem like a big deal at first glance, but I promise you it is. Remember when you, unless you’re Liz, a sixteen year old, scared and anxious to pass your driving exam. For those of you who aren’t Massachusetts I should explain a little. Here we require an adult, at least 21, and who has had his license for at least three years (or so), to sponsor the newbie, to loan a car, insurance, and license while a usually gruff state trooper monitors from the passenger seat. Last Friday, I was such a sponsor for Teymour.

His appoint was at 4pm exactly, though I somehow misunderstand him and thought it wasn’t until 4:30pm. I picked him up from the T at 2pm to practice driving. It had been a good five or six years since I drove the course, but since it was sufficiently short, I remembered it pretty well. Go out from the parking lot, take your first, legal right — this was almost a trick direction, as the immediate right is a one-way in the opposite direction — pull over, back up in a straight line, make a three-point turn, and head back to the RMV. Simple. Thankfully, I never had to back up in a straight line nor did I have to parallel park. Had either been required I’m sure I would’ve failed. My driving instructor, Mr. Lantini, had arranged a signal to guide me through the complications of parallel parking during the test, but, due to its illegality, I was all the more terrified by the possibility.

Luckily Teymour wouldn’t have to face such trials. Unfortunately, he drove over the curb during the initial practice run. Two hours later, however, he was ready to go. We were almost late. Remember I had misunderstood his appointment time. We raced back, as fast as an overly cautious, novice driver can go, really. It was only 4:03pm when we arrived.

The statie was nice — she was a jovial, round, black woman. While I normally don’t, this time I’m willing to draw on stereotypes. She was gregarious, sweet, and unassuming. She was sympathetic to Teymour. He’s old at 21, after all. Even as a foreigner — Teymour is from Paris, France, and holds both a French and Canadian passport — by American standards he was an American driving old maid. She told us that after work she doesn’t leave her house, or, if she does, she makes her husband drive: people are just too crazy to brave the road, she told us.

Teymour acted suprised whenever she gave her orders. He was almost genuinely confused when she asked him to stop and back up. I remained silent and disinterested. If the sponsor is caught coaching, the road test is automatically forfeited; nobody wanted that.

The cop looked at Teymour’s permit. “You came all the way down here from Cambridge” she asked.

“Yep,” Teymour responded. I had warned him not to sound too much of a dandy, but he just can’t help himself. Even a single word gave him away.

“Why’s that? It’s an awful long way.” To avert an awkward pause, and to make sure that he didn’t say, “Because I heard it was easy here,” I broke in.

“Oh, I live in Avon,” which is a neighboring town. You’ve got to go where the car is, the statie agreed. She continued. Eventually Teymour admitted that he isn’t an American citizen. Why was he here, then? School, of course. Oh, he went to Harvard. Gosh, that’s impressive. I can’t tell you how much I wish he hadn’t mentioned that. When I was in Scotland with Alli and DJ, we scorned DJ when he got drunk and told as many people as he could find that we went to Harvard. Everyone expects more, be it money or otherwise, even if we don’t have it.

She asked, “You must have a lot of student loans, then, right?” He didn’t. “So are you rich or something?”

There it was, that horrible, pained, extended silence.

Again, I sighed, smiled, and spoke, “I have plenty of student loans.” To be fair, I’m sure I do. I haven’t yet received any paperwork to confirm the amount of my loans, but I’m sure they’re substantial. Anyway, this was enough to appease the cop. She offered her hand. I gave her a flat high-five, to which she responded, “That’s the American way!” She left her hand out. Not to leave her hanging, I repeated the gesture. We were all in good spirits again.

“Take a left at this light.” We were almost back in at the RMV. Things were going well. Teymour turned into the parking lot. We were done. He was done. He had passed. I let him drive me back to Cambridge on the highway. I had to take the wheel from him three times to avert an accident. We made it, though, safely.

It’s hard to explain the sort of father-son relationship a road test can engender. I’m very flattered to have had the opportunity. The license hasn’t come in the mail yet, and I certainly will never let Teymour drive my car again.