Hartford Has A Stalker

Note: this post has been updated to highlight that fact that it’s a response to an op-ed in the Hartford Courant, and to emphasize what I wrote yesterday: this piece is not about young people in Hartford. Please read the op-ed piece; if you don’t you’ll be utterly confused by what follows.

Hartford is a city, not a woman, but if Hartford were a woman I’m sure she’d be feeling uncomfortable right now. She has a stalker.

This stalker has been harassing Hartford for as long as I’ve lived here. He has recently reappeared, this time calling himself “Young Hartford.”

Young Hartford, (not to be mistaken for Young People In Hartford), has insisted, once again, that Hartford is ready for a new relationship, and that this relationship will be with him. Young Hartford has been insisting this for years, regardless of the fact that Hartford has made it clear that she has no interest in an exclusive pairing. She has a lot of other relationships that make her happy and satisfied. She has friends all over the city, and enjoys the life she shares with all of her neighbors, in all of their neighborhoods. She doesn’t want to be tied down.

Of course, Young Hartford refuses to hear this, and has convinced himself that Hartford remains “hopeful” in her quest for a romantic attachment. Young Hartford is happy to remind Hartford of her “heartbreaks and shattered promises.” In Young Hartford’s eyes, Hartford is a weak and broken thing, waiting for him to rescue her. And once he rescues her, she will know how different he is; she will know that he is “valuable” and will find his absence “unbearable.”

Young Hartford claims that others have tried to change Hartford to meet their own needs. Young Hartford has stated “the charming and the rich have tried to change her, attempting to reinvent her within the confines of their expectations.”  But Young Hartford knows that “Hartford will only change when she sees all of the possibilities in a life with (him).”

Yes, Hartford will change for him.

Young Hartford has stated that Hartford “endures ignorant bullying any time she tries to be happy.” But Hartford is happy a lot of the time. Young Hartford refuses to see that. Sure, Hartford has her challenges just like any of us: sometimes she can’t manage her money effectively; her self-esteem takes some blows when people tell her that her skin isn’t the right color; she gets really pissed off when people say that some of the folks she likes to hang out with are trashy; sometimes she gives in to peer pressure and buys into the next “big thing”; her family can be pretty dysfunctional. But really, most of the time she’s happy. In fact, she thinks that Young Hartford is the ignorant bully.

Young Hartford, maybe you’ve found that Hartford “isn’t easy,” but maybe that’s because she’s just not that into you.

Young Hartford, Hartford would like you to stop showing up at her doorstep with your bouquets and plans for your future together. She grows her own flowers and is pretty happy with her life as it is. Her friends and neighbors are supportive both when she grows and when she stumbles.

Hartford isn’t a hopeless romantic, Young Hartford. You are. At least you’d call yourself that if faced with the other options: obsessed, relentless, and narcissistic, believing you know what’s best for Hartford and willing to put her down, and maybe even hurt her, to get what you want.

Posted in Creepy-Crawlies, Hartford, Street, Thought | 34 Comments

Are you there Greater Hartford? It’s me, Julie.

I don’t know about you, but I found adolescence confounding, particularly because I was an early bloomer. Having to choose a bra at the tender age of ten was a nearly unendurable humiliation. Thankfully, bras were tucked away in the northeast corner of the Youth Center, Bloomfield’s paean to seventies youth fashion (Health-tex, anyone?).

Books helped me through that period (and that period). I was mostly a Sci Fi kid (and still am), but all the girls were everyone was reading Judy Blume, so I did too. The book that I remember most isn’t the perennial Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

The book I remember most is Blubber.

Why? Because I was the fat kid. And then I turned into the kid who taunted the fat kid. I wanted the cool girls to like me. And so, even though I knew it was wrong, I joined pretty and popular Suzanne D. as she performed jumping jacks in front of Sharon H., chanting “Exercise helps keep you skinny! Exercise helps keep you skinny!” until Sharon’s lower lip quivered and she started to cry. And then she ran, with her left arm covering her face and her straight, bowl-cut, dirty blonde hair swinging like fringe, out of the sixth grade classroom and into the hallway. She was wearing a white shirt, wrinkled and untucked at the back. Her gait was awkward. She bumped into a desk. I remember everything. Everything.

I feel shame 34 years later. And the cool girls still don’t like me.

Hearing the name Judy Blume sends me back in time to those confusing days. But hearing the name Judy Blume also reminds me of how her books helped me make sense of what was happening. And although today’s adolescent confusions and behaviors are twisted and magnified by the Internet, at the core the issues remain the same: how do we respond to our encounters with racism, bullying, sex and sexuality, our bodies?

The Mark Twain House & Museum is bringing Judy Blume to the University of Hartford to speak as part of its Clemens Lecture series. Both Mark Twain and Judy Blume have written honestly about the adolescent experience in America, and Blume joins Twain as one of the  most censored authors of the current era.

Julia Pistell, a talented Hartford writer, will be holding a conversation with Blume about her work, writing life, and legacy. The audience will be invited to participate in the conversation during an extensive Q&A period, after which Blume will hold a book-signing.

The evening promises exceptional access to this important author.

The event will take place at the Lincoln Theater at the University of Hartford.

Tickets cost $25 and $40. An $85 ticket provides VIP seating and a pre-event reception with Blume. To purchase a ticket, visit the University of Hartford box office. Live in Hartford readers are being given a $5 discount on the ticket price at all levels. The discount code is FUDGE.

Programming such as the Clemens Lecture sustains the Mark Twain House & Museum, and allows it to present programs that benefit the community and bring more visitors to Hartford, such as the popular Free Family Day. The next free family event is the annual Ice Cream Social, scheduled for Thursday July 26. Visit the museum’s website for more information about its programming.

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That’s Not Funny!

My ability to drown dramatically, after being pushed by one of my daughters into an alligator-infested lake while my other daughter was getting up close and personal with a nest of fire ants, is deficient.

"Fire Ant" rhymes with "Face Plant"

Or so I learned last Sunday at the improv comedy class I’ve been taking with Hartford’s own Sea Tea Improv.

My preferred method of drowning, sinking quietly like a 5′ 2 3/4″ long stone, doesn’t heighten the scene.

I’d signed up for the improv class because I’m woefully short of a sense of humor and this fact had been causing problems in my social life. For example, I’d learned only recently that most people don’t run to answer the door when someone says “knock knock.”

It was a relief to learn, actually, because I could stop calling the neighbor kid’s parents about her pranks. I don’t like talking to those people.

On the first day of class I jumped to the front of the line when our teacher, the wiry, baggy-jeaned, hyper, funny-talking Joe Leonardo, asked for two people to sit down, face each other, and just have a talk. I figured I’d better be first because otherwise I’d be hiding in the back of the class for the remaining seven weeks wishing I was very, very small.

Someone threw out a prompt to get our discussion started – the word “tofu.” That was perfect because I’d recently had an incident with a package of tofu that had exploded in my refrigerator. I’d forgotten it was there and it was far beyond its expiration date. I think it created a little tofu liqueur, which I would have tried if I wasn’t a teetotaler. (I’m a tea totaler, actually. Tea. Totally.)

I learned that improv comedy is basically a series of games with rules. One of the rules is “always make your partner look good,” which would have come in handy when I pointed out to a senior manager that he had used the word “it’s” incorrectly while giving a speech.

Another rule is “yes and.” Basically what that means is that after one of your game partners makes a statement, you don’t contradict them. Instead you say “yes, and…”

For example, my partner might say “My, my, Percival, you surely do look lovely in your striped satin pajamas” and instead of saying “I’m not Percival and my pajamas aren’t satin!” I would say “Yes, and my name isn’t Percival and these are floral flannels.”

We play some games that I don’t think are very inspired. Like in one game we have to offend someone so much that they won’t sit next to us anymore. I don’t think I should have to pay to do something that comes naturally.

In another game four of us are each given a way to die. A “normal” way to die. An “epic” way to die. An “unnatural” way to die. A “Biblical” way to die. And we have to die by the end of the game.

And that’s how I found myself drowning in an alligator-infested lake while one daughter fell into a nest of fire ants, our picnic guest was beset upon by the lake-dwelling alligators, and my other daughter was smote (smited? smitten?) by God.

God peeps through a hole in Heaven to target someone for a smiting.

Sea Tea Improv offers all kinds of classes. An eight-weeker coming up soon is “The Game.” A single-day workshop yet to be scheduled is on the fascinating improv musical theater.

I’ll be taking that class, and here’s my debut. The heart-wrenching opener to “Julie, the Musical.”

Hey there! I'm singing! And I'm funny too!

Sea Tea Improv is having a Longform Comedy Showcase this coming Friday, February 24, at the Studio at Billings Forge. I saw the January show. It caused me to laugh.



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Hearing Movies in Hartford

The first time I saw Henning Ohlenbusch perform, it was at Flywheel in Easthampton MA on a freezing November night. I’d heard about his concept album Henning Goes to the Movies and I was a little concerned. I hadn’t seen many of the movies referred to the album. Was I going to be lost, once again, as a pop culture outsider?

Henning Ohlenbusch plays at Flywheel in Easthampton MA in November 2011. Photo by Julie Beman.












I needn’t have worried. These songs aren’t straight-from-the-dorm-room recitations of Monty Python movies set to music. They’re gorgeous. I was mesmerized. Henning’s songs are honest, wistful, melancholic, intimate. To me, other than the titles, they don’t have anything to do with movies at all. Rather, they’re about shared human experiences – heartbreak, alienation, bringing love to others – and so many other familiar pains and joys.

And the lyrics – charming, fascinating, funny, full of beautiful imagery. That’s where music gets me – the way it interacts with words.

After Henning helped me record a song for a Christmas gift (Wait. What? Helped? Yeesh, he did everything but write and sing it!), I thought the least I could do was find him a gig in Hartford. And I found it. Rather, I made it. He’ll be performing a house concert on March 3, 2012 at 7:30.

You really have to check him out.


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In the city bus system, the most mysterious and the most mundane incidents and people are observed by an elite squad of tweeters.

These are their stories.

30 Aug

Dear Fellow Bus Passenger, Please remove your forearm from my knee. Kthxbai.

31 Aug

On the Type A bus. Amazing how traffic slows at the merge of Elizabeth & Asylum. When I look I see that each car is filled with *1* person.

Lady on bus playing game. It makes bubble-pop sounds. She bobs her head when the sound is made. Or is the sound made when she bobs her head?

Just rode the Go to Work at the Mall bus.

1 Sep

In our continuing series of bus observations, I’d like to note that sitting on the aisle to block off the seat next to you is not cool.

OH: The giraffe has to get surgery now. I dropped him and a couple parts fell off.

OH: Chris, if you don’t shut up I’ll punch you in the mouth. (Adult to child.) Continue reading

Posted in Community, Fun, Hartford, Street | Leave a comment

Mathematical Proof! Hartford is a Dump

Yesterday a friend told this story:

I was at work the other day and we were talking about how the bridges on I-84 were being inspected after the earthquake. During the discussion, one of my co-workers said, “Hartford is a dump.”

I figured I had to be missing something…something that connected I-84 and earthquakes to Hartford. I did a little research and took out my trusty calculator.

I-84 runs about 380 miles from Scranton, Pennsylvania to the Mass Pike. My very crude measurement of the length of I-84 through Hartford is 4.4 miles.

View Larger Map

The equation is startlingly elegant!

Aftershock * aging infrastructure + (157 miles of I-84 in CT – 4.4 miles in Hartford)/gobshite = Hartford is a Dump.

This changes everything we’ve ever known about Hartford. Everything.

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Way Down Hadestown

I was driving along one day when this song by by Anaïs Mitchell came on the radio:

It’s called “Wedding Song,” and is from Mitchell’s project, Hadestown, a “folk opera” based on the myth of Orpheus, one of the Greek myths that captured my imagination as a child.

Mitchell has set the story in a post-apocalyptic America where hardship rules the day and the division between the Haves in Hades and the Have-Nots everywhere else is stark and cruel.

The libretto, by Mitchell, is fabulous. The score, written by Michael Chorney, suits the story perfectly. The opera is quirky and profound as it explores the question “how far will we go in order to survive?”

Hadestown Cover from AnaisMitchell.comHadestown is coming to Hartford on November 19. It’s being presented for free by the Bushnell Performing Arts Center.

While the event is free, tickets are required. You can reserve them by calling the box office at 860-987-5900 or by going to the box office at 166 Capitol Avenue. They are not available online.

To hear some of the music from the studio recording, including “Wedding Song” performed by Anaïs Mitchell and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver),visit the Hadestown music page.



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“Why does Auntie Julie like Hartford?” asked Megan.

That’s a good question, Megan.

Maybe it’s because when she’s in Hartford, Auntie Julie gets to dance with you and Kyle in a hula hoop.

Megan, Kyle and Auntie Julie are dancing together.

Maybe it’s because when she’s in Hartford, Auntie Julie gets to watch Kyle play with a hula hoop!

Kyle is almost as big as that hula hoop!

Maybe it’s because when she’s in Hartford, Auntie Julie gets to watch you play with a hula hoop!

You go girl! Awesome job!

Maybe it’s because when she’s in Hartford, Auntie Julie gets to see you cover the plaza with hula hoops and run through them!

Pretty cool game, Megan.

Maybe because when she’s in Hartford, Auntie Julie’s knows that you’re nearby, and that makes her very, very happy!

Auntie Julie's favorite Megan ever.

I love you, Megan!

Posted in Arts, Events and Premieres, Fun, Hartford, Self-Indulgence | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

What are you afraid of?

Author’s Note: It’s come to my attention that lots of people didn’t note that the event with the group of young men I describe below didn’t take place in Hartford. I thought the location was irrelevant, as this behavior happens everywhere, but apparently I was wrong. The post isn’t about Hartford anyway. It’s about fear, and the fact that we judge others for their fears. But most of you got that. Thanks.

On Wednesday I took the afternoon off from work to participate in a discussion of ways to use empty space in downtown Hartford. A group of 10 interested people met at JoJos.

As the discussion warmed up, one of the participants gestured out toward Pratt Street and said something like “As a woman, I’d be afraid to walk on that street alone at night.” I twitched a little and locked eyes with my companion at the table. “Empty storefronts don’t make me feel safe,” the woman went on to explain.


Fair enough?

Yes. Fair enough. It has to be. Continue reading

Posted in Hartford, Not Hartford, Street, Thought | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

Upcoming events at Cedar Hill Cemetery

If you haven’t been to Cedar Hill Cemetery, you’re missing out. It’s a gorgeous place that is full of history and provides some unique opportunities for bird watching and quiet reflection. There are so many famous and unique people buried there that this year, the cemetery has already offered tours related to architects, “notables,” governors, artists/authors/actors and the Civil War. Future tours include Hartford landmarks and legacy (co-led by Mayor Segarra and happening this Saturday at 10am), more notables tours and more Civil War-related tours, in connection with Cedar Hill’s Civil War Education Series. They’ve also sponsored a bird walk and a tree walk. Cedar Hill’s Haunted History Lantern Tour in October is another great event that is now so popular you can only purchase tickets in advance. Continue reading

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