Category Archives: Cambridge, Mass.

Street signs in Cambridge

The heat is making me even crankier than usual, but at least the signs I see when I’m out walking keep me entertained.

Neatly chalked on a sidewalk blackboard in front of a bar at 2046 Mass. Ave.:


Not all of North Cambridge has succumbed to the onslaught of chi-chi boutiques selling things you don’t really need. A few places still supply the necessities of life.


Spray-painted in neat capital letters, alternating lines painted in red or blue, on the asphalt sidewalk in Cambridge Common parallel to Mass. Ave.:


Yes, Virginia, we are in Cambridge.


On Oxford Street, a few blocks down from Lesley University, the “Oxford Laundry Dry Cleaning Coin-Op” displays the following sign in their window:


You probably guessed that the “o”s in “Love Story” are hearts. I’m just surprised that anyone still remembers that movie.


This summer, life is punctuated by storms. This happened yesterday.

Early in the afternoon, the sky got darker, the wind picked up, and it started to rain. I went around and closed windows. Carol and I kept working. In half an hour, the rain had stopped and the air had turned heavy and dank.

In the late afternoon, Carol went for a walk.

The sky grew dark. Suddenly it began to rain, but the wind was coming from the other side of the building so I didn’t have to close any windows then. The thunder started. A woman hurried by under an umbrella, pausing behind a tree for a moment, but then hurrying on again. The rain grew heavier, the wind grew stronger. A bicyclist rode by, completely soaked by the rain.

Carol called on her cell phone to say that she was going to sit out the storm over in the Someday Cafe.

Then the rain just poured out of the sky, and the thunder came fast: boom, boom, boom boom, boom. A bolt of lightning out the kitchen window and a huge crack of thunder came simultaneously, and I jumped. I imagined running out of the house in this pouring rain because the lightning had started a fire, but it hadn’t. The street in front of the house was completely covered in water, and the water ran an inch deep down the driveway below the kitchen window. The sirens started. A firetruck came by with red lights flashing and siren going. Another siren in the distance. An ambulance, fluorescent green and white, followed the firetruck. More thunder, more sirens. A red paramedic’s SUV, siren wailing, sped by on the street below, headed in the other direction.

The rain tapered off. A little more thunder, a car alarm went off somewhere. The wind died down. The rain stopped and I opened the windows. The sky is dark gray with brilliant white and pale blue.

A woman in a turquoise blue tank top walks by the house as if the rain had never happened.

The driveway is partly dry. The sky is growing dark again: more rain coming.


Cambridge, Mass.

Our first summer heat wave of the year settled in late last week. Humid, and hot with temperatures into the nineties yesterday. When heat like this comes, for the first few days my mind just doesn’t function particularly well. I don’t like to go outdoors in the early afternoon, the hottest part of the day. Carol and I tend to stay up late and take long walks at ten o-clock when it feels a little cooler. It’s tempting to stay up all night and try to sleep through the day, but I know I wouldn’t sleep through the heat.

Within a few days, I’ll have made my seasonal adjustment. I’ll be able to think more clearly in the heat — or think less and not worry about it. I’ll get used to walking around in the heat. We’ll sink into our regular schedule. The heat waves will become normal, though we’ll still long for the arctic cold fronts coming down from Canada.

Reading beside the window

By midnight the sounds from Rindge Avenue have died away: the shouts of the children coming home from their summer school, the roar of the city buses, rush hour traffic, people returning from wherever they went for the evening. The church bells on the Catholic church chime, then stillness. I can hear a faint nasal sound from the sky — peent peent — a nighthawk flying somwhere over the city in darkness.

Pym in Cambridge

Perhaps you missed the announcement, but the Barbara Pym Society of North America will host a “Barbara Pym Garden Fête” on Sunday, June 25, 3 to 5 p.m. at 10 Chester Street, Cambridge. Pym fans who are in the area should send e-mail to Tom Sopko at

I love the way Pym illuminates human character in very few words — as in this passage from An Academic Question, her novel from 1970. The narrator Caro is chatting with Iris, whom Caro suspects of having an affair with her husband Alan:

‘Tell me about Coco Jeffreys,’ said Iris. ‘I believe you and he are great friends.’

‘Yes, we are friends,’ I began.

‘But not lovers, I imagine. No, not that, obviously! What is Coco exactly?– I mean, sexually.’

‘Well, nothing, really,’ I said, embarrassed.

‘But he must be something.’ A note of irritation had now come into Iris’s voice — irritation and impatience of my ignorant stupidity.

‘You mean hetero or homosexual?’

‘Of course that’s what I mean,’ she mocked. ‘Surely you must know.’

‘We’ve never talked about it. In any case, are people to be classified as simply that? Some people just love themselves.’

Iris frowned into her empty glass. I could see my vagueness worried her….

Those who attend the Barbara Pym Garden Fête “are asked to bring finger food á la Pym, or suitable beverages.” I imagine this means there will be sherry. But I have a hard time imagining the kind of people who would attend such an event. Unfortunately, I am committed to attending my denomination’s annual General Assembly; otherwise, I would go myself to the Pym Garden Fête to see what kinds of people turn up.

If you go, please write and tell me who is there.

A tale of the city, conclusion

First part of this series: link.

After the trial was over, I looked for news about the trial. (To my surprise, as I was researching this piece, I found a news story about the original murder online: link.) The trial of Lazell Cook didn’t make it into the Boston daily papers — it wasn’t important enough. On Thursday, March 12, 1992, the weekly Cambridge Chronicle reported:

A third man has been convicted of murdering two city men outside Newtowne Court in January 1990.

After three days of deliberation, a Middlesex Superior Court jury on March 6 found Lazell Cook, 21, of Brookline, guilty in the murder of Jesse McKie and Rigoberto Carrion. Cook was convicted of two counts of first degree murder and of one count of unarmed robbery….

In a separate trial, which ended Feb. 12, Ventry Gordon, 20, and Sean Lee, 20, both of Mattapan, were also convicted of first degree murder in the stabbing and beating deaths of McKie and Carrion. They were sentenced to consecutive life terms in prison — one for each murder.

Assistant District Attorney David Meier, who tried both cases, believes Judge Wendie Gershengorn, who heard the cases, will also sentence Cook to two consecutive life terms….

Another defendant, Ronald T. Settles, 28, of Mattapan, was found guilty of being an accessory after the fact in the earlier trial. He was sentenced to 6-1/2 to 7 years in prison. A fifth defendant, Ricardo Parks, 19, of Dorchester, was cleared of two murder charges and an armed robbery charge.

Nothing good came of these murders. As far as I know, Lazell Cook is still in prison. Jesse McKie and Rigoberto Carrion are still dead. I have never been able to explain the murders — these young men killed McKie so they could steal his coat; they killed Carrion because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is no sense in that. There is no satisfying ending to this tale of the city.

Nor can I make sense out of the recent murders in New Bedford. Those who are directly connected with those murders can tell the story of what happened, but I don’t see how they can make sense out of those stories. Those of us who are further away from the murders can listen to the stories, can look on in horror, but I’m not able to make sense of them. And I know there are all the stories that don’t get made public — the widespread domestic violence in America where people are beaten in the privacy of their own homes, other violence that isn’t reported.

As a minister, people expect me to make sense out of violence and violent acts. But if I’m honest with myself and with them, I am not able to make sense out violence. I have to look elsewhere for hope. Which, eventually, we will have to do here in New Bedford. We human beings do have that capacity: to not make sense out of something, and later to go on and lead hopeful lives. We just have to reach over and gently wipe the tears out of each other’s eyes, so that we can (sometimes) see hope again.

Coda, with link to another blog’s account of the same murders

A tale of the city, part four

First part of this series: link.

As it happened, Jesse McKie’s grandfather went to the same church I did, the Unitarian Universalist church in Concord, Massachusetts. He came up to me once during social hour one Sunday, and said, “Are you on a jury in Middlesex County Superior Court in Cambridge?”

“Yes,” I said, surprised.

“I’m Jesse McKie’s grandfather,” he said.

I told him since the trial was still going on, we could not talk about the trial, or anything to do with it. So he showed me sketches he had made while he was sitting watching the trial. I remember one quite good drawing of the judge — I no longer remember her name. After the trial was over, we really didn’t talk about it. We would smile at each other and say hello, and that was about it. He died a couple of years later. What could we have said.

I still remember the expressions of the faces of the defendant’s mother and stepfather when we returned the verdict of “Guilty”: expressions that you might have when the nightmare that has you moaning in your sleep suddenly gets much, much worse.

Conclusion of the story…

A tale of the city, part three

First part of this series: link.

I did not make another entry in that journal until three days later….

7 March 1992

The trial is over; the deliberations are over. We the jury returned a verdict of guilty of armed robbery, guilty of two counts of first degree murder (felony).

We went out afterwards, 9 of us out of the 16, for pizza and beer. Afterwards, on the train ride home, I was overcome by lassitude; sinking into a state of —- letting inertia keep me from moving on. One has to be completely dedicated, utterly disciplined, in order to accomplish anything. That of course is not possible. And one would like to let go of ambition and drive, and let go and relax and sit and watch while letting go of action. But to do that is to allow death to overcome. Strife is the constant.

The man being tried was twenty or so, a slight black youth. The crime was what the legal profession calls a “joint venture,” that is, a gang or group of people together, armed with two knives between the four of them (although we were only allowed to know of one knife), roughed up one young man named Jessie McKie, held him while punching and kicking him and while one of them cut his face twice with a knife then stabbed him three times in the chest, two of the stabs almost simultaneous, a double thrust to the heart that severed a rib on the way in. They took his jacket and left him on a snowbank. They turned to someone who had been walking with McKie, one Rigoberto Carrion, and stabbed him, punched and kicked him, pushing him against a chain-link fence so hard that they rubbed skin off his buttocks through his jeans, and left him staggering down the street leaving behind him drops of blood. He died a week later in the hospital: brain-dead, so the doctor turned off the respirator. Jessie McKie died in the snow, they were unable to revive him in the hospital.

The photographs of the bodies in situ were horrific. As were the photographs taken during the autopsies. Senseless. No perceptible motive for the crimes. Enough said for now.

I wrote nothing further about the trial in that journal; indeed, I stopped writing in that journal soon afterwards, and there are still thirty-nine blank pages left.

Part four of the story…

A tale of the city, part two

First part of this series: link.

The details of the murders came out over the course of the trial. My most vivid memory, I think, was the testimony of the blood spatter analysis expert. As she was qualified as an expert witness, it became obvious that she was an extremely bright young woman: degree from one of the Seven Sisters colleges, a long line of qualifications for someone so young (she must have been in her early twenties), articulate. She was attractive in a geeky sort of way; at least she seemed attractive until she was asked when she first decided to become a blood spatter analysis expert: “When I was 13,” she said, turning to face the jury (she always turned to look at us when she testified), “after I read a true crime book where the crime was solved due to blood spatter analysis.” That was just a little too creepy; to know at thirteen that you wanted to become an expert in such an arcane, and, let’s be honest, such a gruesome job.

When the two victims were stabbed, the blood went everywhere. It was on the clothing of the defendant: little spatters of blood on his boots, on his pants, everywhere. We learned about the different types of blood spatter, and how a blood spatter analysis could tell how far away someone was standing when the blood was spattered. The defendant was standing very close indeed.

A week ago, I happened to stumble across a journal that I had kept in the summer of 1983; and tucked in the back, I just happened to find five entries from March, 1992. I don’t remember writing them. Two of those entries concerned the murder trial….

4 March 1992

We continued deliberations today; all twelve of us shut into the jury room, with the symbolic mace leaning across the closed door, from one jamb to the other. Because of Ash Wednesday, the judge allowed us to start an hour late, and our foreman came in with his forehead smudged. Ash Wednesday I know is the first day of Lent but aside [break in the original]

Carol just came in and wanted to talk….[long digression about our trivial conversation]

I had meant to write about the jury, our deliberations, the gory incidents brought out at the trial. At least I have gained a few minutes when I have not thought about the trial and our deliberations. Tomorrow, I am cooped up again in a small room with eleven others, becoming rubbed raw, each of us, against the others and the moral horror of events.

Part three of the story…