March 14, 2008

I’m Back

Posted in Boston, family, food, Identification, Samwich, transgender at 7:38 pm by Michael

Well, not really, still in Boston.

Anh, Samwich and I went to Boston on Tuesday night on the redeye, and I worked here all week.

Honestly, after all the buzz from last week, I needed a bit of a blog-break. But, here we are, it’s Friday, it’s the weekend, and I’ve got some stuff to say. Here goes.

Commenters and Supporters – Thank You!

I sincerely appreciate the comments that people have posted, and the mails that have been sent – both with support and also questions. It’s all good, and it means a lot to me! Thank you.

JetBlue – Please don’t go out of Business!

As I’ve written about at length, we love JetBlue. Between lots of legroom, DirecTV on board, friendly crews, new planes, great website, good customer support, and reasonable and understandable pricing – by far is our favorite domestic airline.

Last couple flights though – scary – probably only 25% full. Now, for a redeye, this isn’t the worst thing in the world – for the passengers. But, you have to question in this day and age, how long empty flights can keep flying. Maybe it’s the season, or the day of week we fly (Tuesday), but I’m a little scared that the reliable redeye will go bye-bye.

Boston Cannoli Fest V2

Wednesday night we did a little cannoli-comparo. I’ve been a big fan of Bova’s for a very long time. The others in the big-three in Boston are Modern Pastry, and Mike’s.

We tried Mike’s and Bova’s again – side by side. (Large ricotta, plain (no nuts of chocolate chips). Yes, I realize that Italian cannoli are made from marscapone generally, but in the US is more likely sweet ricotta based – lots of discussion on that in this space back in early January).

I believe that we have a new winner – by far – Mike’s. The filling was lighter, and the crust thinner and crispier. The Bova’s entry was too thick – both the crust and the filling. The ratio here matters, and Mike’s was better.

Good Italian

Try Pomodoro on Hanover Street in the North End. The menu is small, but the food was in general very good. The chicken carbonara pasta and the veal with carmelized balsamic served with green onion risotto were both tasty and unique. Hallmark of a great Italian place – the simple things are fantastic. We had the fried calamari appetizer to start – it was light, crisp, hot, sweet, not chewy, and came with a (big) side of tomato sauce – which was light and perfect.

“Are you a man?”

Anh and I went to Filene’s Basement to check out jeans and some shirts, both for me and for her. There wasn’t a ton, but we picked out some stuff, and went to the dressing room. I was carrying Samwich in the baby carrier, and Anh had most of the clothes (I had a few). At the basement, you have to check in at the dressing room and get a number tag for the number of items that you bring in. As I was going through this process w/the attendant, she said to me:

“Are you a man?”


“Are you?”

“No, do you want to see my ID?”

Pause, still not giving me the number tag.

“No, really, do you want to see my ID?”

“No, that’s ok, go ahead.”

She was not convinced. I tried on some stuff, liked some, didn’t like others, and while I was, I was thinking about how to handle it – ignore it? Talk to her? Talk to the manager?

I decided to just take by bargains and run, and not say anything. I’m not sure if I didn’t have a “F” on my license what I would have said. It would have been harder.

It brings up the fundamental question of what it means to be male or female in general, in a public situation like this. Who is being protected? For what reason?

I’m still not sure what I think about this. Maybe tomorrow I will… Maybe not. Maybe I never will.

“I saw you on Nightline”

After dinner, we were taking the T (Red Line) from South Station to Kendall Square. We love the T, and really wish that Seattle had public transport like that. It was just about 9pm, and the train wasn’t too full. Just after we had gotten on, I noticed that there was a guy, probably a little older than us, with lots of facial piercings. He was looking at us pretty closely. As the train stopped, he looked at us, and said:

“I saw you on Nightline!”

Me and Anh almost at the same time said:

“Yes you did!”

He said: “Well, good for you!”

I almost asked him “What did you think?” or “How did you recognize us?” but I was afraid in many ways to break the barrier of anonymity that seems to exist in public places like this. Yes, he did reach out to us, but I wasn’t sure what to do except for smile and say thanks….

I looked at Anh and said (quietly) “I never expected that!” Anh said “Me too!”

Neither of us were freaked out – just a little surprised…

He got off one stop before us, and said the following to us as he got off:

“I wish you both the best of luck and may god bless you.”

I’ll take it that he was supportive from both the words and the tone, and I give him a ton of credit for reaching out to us, and I think we probably could have done more to reach back.

I honestly never thought that we would get recognized on the street, especially so far away from home.

Happy Birthday Samwich

Samwich is One. Congratulations Samwich! Thank you Anh for being such an amazing mom.


January 12, 2008

Reactions East v. West

Posted in Boston, Identification at 12:06 am by Michael

Boston Skyline 

I was extremely interested in going to Boston this week, not just because I love it there, but because I really wanted to see if there was a difference in reaction to me both at work, and out and about with Samwich.

Bottom line – no. No difference.

The only real difference I noticed was at work – and this was subtle. Basically, few to none of the people in the office there knew me as “Michael”. I started managing this group three weeks before Thanksgiving, and a few days after the announcement went out, I did send mail telling them all of my transition plans, but I hadn’t met many of them (ok – to be clear, there is one person on that team who I worked with before or who I had even met before)

As a result, the vibe I got when meeting these folks for the first time was very subtly different from meeting with people who had known and seen me before as “Michael”. Its very hard to explain, but it seemed more “Matter of Fact”.

I take away from this that meeting people for the first time post-transition may be easier than re-meeting people who had maybe seen you, or knew of you, or maybe even worked with you a bit. In the first case, you aren’t resetting expectations – you are who you are. In the second case – it’s a reset.

(Note, for friends and people who know you very well, I don’t think this applies — totally different dynamic).

As far as being out and about – only two notable things. One, the server at Il Panino (crappy experience documented below) was short with us, whereas before our servers there have been great. She could have been having a bad night, or maybe it was related – hard to say.

The other issue is a bit more complex but also a “passing” issue. As most people are aware, New England accents are pretty strong – Providence, Boston, Maine – all pretty distinctive. New England in general, and Boston in particular is an “Insider’s” place. If you are part of the club, you can get a lot of stuff done that “Outsider’s” can’t. Hard to explain, but if you are from there, you know what I’m talking about.

Both of my parents have/had very strong accents. My mom “Pahks the Cah”. I love it – it’s the way she talks. Before I was in kindergarten, because of my Dad’s job, I lived in Massachusetts, Long Island, Virginia and Connecticut. As a result, I really have no accent to speak of, but I can “turn it on”. Effectively, from a regional accent POV, I can “pass”.

In my experience though (and I’m sure there’s research here, and I may be WAY off), vocal patterns and accents for men and women in New England, even from the same geo-locations are different. I can do Guy Boston. I can’t do Gal Boston. As a result, I didn’t even try Guy Boston. Il Panino was a place that I used to use Guy Boston to effect. I’d use Guy Boston when I was buying something or doing any other transaction with someone who was also clearly a local.

I sounded like a tourist.

In many ways, that was more impactful to my experience than the whole trans-thing.

Not what I expected.

January 11, 2008

The North End and Second Dinner

Posted in Boston, food at 10:54 pm by Michael

Thursday night after work we went over to the North End for dinner. Almost every trip that we’ve made to Boston (probably 20+ in the time I’ve been gone – and at least 4-5 for Anh and I) I love to go to the North End to get some great Italian food, and cannoli. My favorite haunt is Trattoria Il Panino on Parmenter and Hanover. There’s great debate among Bostonians as to which place has the best cannoli as well as what comprises a cannoli and whats an aberration.

I assert that true cannoli filling is the sweet ricotta filling. No chocolate chips and no nuts (pistachios are the most common contaminant) should decorate the ends, IMHO. Chocolate or Vanilla pudding may be yummy, and one may put them inside a cannoli shell, but this doesn’t make it a cannoli.

Powdered sugar on the outside… I’m neutral.

The best cannoli are filled “on demand”, as the moisture in the filling will soften the shell. This means naturally that to get the true cannoli experience, you need to eat them as soon as they are filled (which means that you eat and walk, which is just good times).

Once you resolve what a cannoli actually is, then the debate is “where”. There are three major choices in the North End: Modern Pastry, Mike’s, and my favorite – Bova’s. All three are great – its just a question of variation in the shell – flaky to crispy – how sweet the filling is – and how smooth the filling is. For me, Bova’s does the best, and will fill on demand if you ask.

So of course we went to Il Panino for dinner, and honestly, it sucked. Bad. I was amazingly disappointed. We’d been there six months ago and it was great. Anh had lobster ravioli that were inedible. Fishy – this happens when they are frozen incorrectly. They have to be fresh to be great. There is ZERO excuse for this in Boston where pasta and lobster are like air. I had a pasta (a large style ziti) with a beef, veal and pork ragu. The sauce tasted fine, but they skipped the ragu part. It looked like they put about a quarter of the meat in the dish that should have been there. Anh ate half of one ravioli and made the same face that I make when I smell durian. I finished about half of my dish, and we were done.

We went to Bova’s, and luckily the cannoli there are still great, and we also got one for Samwich.

I asked Anh if she wanted to go to Chinatown to try to get something else to eat, and she said ok, so we cabbed it down there, and looked for the busiest place with the most natives of whatever country’s food was being served. We quickly came upon “Gourmet Dumping Restaurant” just inside of the Chinatown gate. At nearly 9pm it was packed, and this was a good sign. We had some pan-fried dumplings, watercress with garlic, and noodles with beef. It was all good! We’ll definitely go back. Samwich woke up while we were there (he was taking his afternoon nap, as we kept him on West Coast time), and after he had his dinner, he got his cannoli dessert. It was his first one, and it was memorable.

Lets just say that Samwich ate the vast majority of the filling osmotically.

Cuz I Love That Dirty Water

Posted in Boston, food at 10:53 pm by Michael

(Extra points for getting the title of this post).

For seven years I worked in Kendall Square in Cambridge at a company called “Intersolv” (first Index Technology). Coincidentally, the Microsoft team that I manage is just across the street from where I used to work. I can see my old office from the new Microsoft office.

I’ve been back to the area a few times in the past eleven years, but haven’t spent a long time there.

Back in the late ‘80’s, Kendall was going through a bit of a revitalization, as old warehouses (Just look at the illustrations of Cambridge from “Make Way For Ducklings” to see what it used to be like) were being torn down and turned into office building, retail space, and other new construction. This trend has accelerated after a slowdown after the Dot-Com bust. In fact, office space is now scarce in the whole area.

It was interesting to see what businesses have opened and closed since I was there last time. There was an amazing photo development shop right in Kendall – long closed. Who prints photos anymore in that way? Two of the really famous restaurants in the area – closed – Florentina and the Sail Loft.

BayBank – after numerous acquisitions and mergers – gone – now Bank of America. Sad.

We had gone over to Harvard Square – that’s changed a lot as well. Its been way more “Gapified” than I remember – and a Harvard Square landmark – Wordsworth Books – gone – space empty.

It still felt familiar – but not the same.

However, the margarita(s) at The Border Café are just as good as ever, and go down just as smoothly.