Wednesday, October 21, 2015

As the cockatoo flies…News from Brookline, Massachusetts.

Since early September, I have been living with my sister in Brookline, a near (non-killer walking distance) suburb of Boston.

Brookilne is lovely, but as far as news-making goes, it’s pretty much a non-starter.

The big news items are generally around how high to go on funding their already excellent public school system.

Not that Boston is crime central, but compared to Brookline, it’s a lawless free-for-all where you take your life in your hands the minute you step toe out of your house.

Oh, there was a carjacking in Coolidge Corner (an area of the town where there are a number of stores), but Brookline is mostly a place where you can walk around after dark without looking over your shoulder. (An urban habit I haven’t managed to shake, given that there are not that many street lights in my sister’s ‘hood. I may have a greater chance of being mugged in Boston, but at least I’d get to see the mugger’s face.)

While there hasn’t been a lot of crime news since I’ve been here, there have been a few stories that my sister and brother-in-law tell me are well out of the ordinary in this affluent, educated, liberal – in 2012, Brookline went Obama over Romney by almost 4:1 – enclave. Two of them are crime stories.

Smoked house: One is about a local restaurateur – owner of a joint called the Village Smokehouse, of all things – who was arrested for arson of a spec house he was building. The other day, Kath and I took a walk by the “quote unquote scene of the crime”, which took place a couple of years ago. The plot of land where the house burnt down is in an area full of what I’m guessing are $2M homes (probably a low ball estimate…), and is one of the few pieces of open, unhoused land in the town. A few years back, this fellow put up a house that violated the size rules for the plot. The town (and some neighbors, of course) went after him. Next thing you know, the house is in ashes. Hmmmmm. Anyway, the guy’s just been arraigned and, of course, is proclaiming his innocence. What’s bizarre about this one if just the idea of an arson incident occurring in this neighborhood of magnificent homes. Arson – and fires – are risks that the poor shoulder, not the well-to-do.

Naut Guilty? Maybe, maybe naut.The other crime involves an off-duty firefighter who got in a “let’s take it outside” tiff with a guy who was taking too long to order at Anna’s Taqueria. The jake has been charged with assault with a weapon (shod foot). But what makes this crime of above-average interest is the lawyer who’s defending one of Brookline’s Bravest. It’s none other than Benjamin Urbelis, a local attorney who mostly does DUI cases. Anyway, late last spring, Urbelis was arrested because of an incident that occurred on his boat, the Naut Guilty. (Naut Guilty. Get it? Ha, ha, ha.) Anyway, the story involved a bunch of guys in their early thirties – including Urbelis – and a bunch of young, bikini-clad women in their late teens. Urbelis’ arrest came after a young woman on his boat lost her arm when trying to get back onboard. She had jumped into the drink to retrieve a seat cushion that went overboard.As it turned out, Captain Urbelis was not at the helm when the poor girl lost her arm. But it was, all in all, a terrible and messy story. And now he re-appears defending Brookline’s pugilistic fireman.

Free Larry Chen! This is a town that rightfully prides itself on the quality of its public schools. By all accounts, Larry Chen – a young, middle-school teacher – was on the best teachers in the system. Loved by parents, adored by students, and – in a town with a significant Asian population – one of a handful of Asian-American teachers. Chen was fired a few weeks ago after a fellow teacher reported him for saying “bullshit” in front of students. That this occurred outside of the classroom, and in front of high school students, apparently didn’t matter. The School Committee hinted that there were other issues with Chen – not, they were quick to acknowledge, issues that were criminal or sexual in nature – and that the use of foul language was just the frosting on his cake. Parents and students alike called BULLSHIT! The subtext in all this is that Chen might have been too popular for his own good, and that he may have ruffled more than a few colleagues with his unorthodox methods (and popularity). Parents and students came out in droves to support Larry Chen, and it paid off. Chen, as of yesterday night, has been un-fired. He has to go through some professional development training, but he’ll be back in a couple of weeks. (No, teachers shouldn’t be cursing out students. But using a relatively mild expletive like bullshit, in conversation outside of school, and with high school students. Well…I can pretty much guarantee that you’d be hard put to find many kids in the Driscoll Middle School who haven’t heard (and probably used) words a lot stronger than bullshit.) Congratulations, Larry Chen!

As the cockatoo flies. Last summer, a nasty, screeching cockatoo flew its coop in a Brookline apartment. “Dino” – so named because his screech was likened to that of a dinosaur – may, in fact, have been shown the door by his owner’s uncle, whose finger Dino had bitten through. Anyway, Dino headed over to one of Brookline’s tonier districts and started terrorizing the residents. In particular, Dino took a liking – or disliking – to the woodwork of the home of Nancy Gertner, a retired federal judge who lectures at Harvard Law School. Gertner’s home is not just any old house. It’s the birthplace of Robert Kennedy.(Kath, Rick, and I walked by last Saturday, but did not spot or hear Dino.) Despite numerous attempts – including those by Dino’s owner – no one’s been able to capture this bird of prey (whose prey equals wood). Dino is a cockatoo of few words, but the one word he does use is “no”, which is what he’s been saying to his potential captors. The fear – or hope – on the part of the locals is that a solid freeze might take care of the Dino problem, while still giving Gertner enough time to fill in the holes in her house before the snow flies.

That’s all the news that’s fit to print from Brookline, Massachusetts. I’ll miss it when I’m back in the Big City with all its true crime, teachers who no doubt say bullshit all the time, and rats and pigeons, but no cockatoos.

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