Halloween dying in Newton?

Is it just me, or the further south you drive in Newton, the less people are into Halloween?

Last night I drove from our borderline home to Needham Street in Newton Highlands, via Cherry, West Newton hill, and Walnut, and on the way instructed my daughter to keep an eye peeled for interesting Halloween decorations. On Cherry there were a slew of houses that were decorated with witches, inflated pumpkins, lights, and other paraphernalia. West Newton hill had a couple scarecrows, but once we passed Comm Ave. the spirit seemed to fade, with the exception of a fake graveyard on someone's lawn on Walnut near Newton Highlands, and a Frankenstein on the approach to Needham Street.

I heard the Underwood elementary school banned Halloween celebrations for some reason -- too pagan? Too materialistic?

But I think there's another trend at work here: the decline of families with kids in many Newton neighborhoods. My parents' place near West Newton Square hardly gets any kids for Halloween, and very few young kids live on the adjacent side street anymore. Young families can't afford to live there, and many couples who had kids in the 70s, 80s, and 90s (my parents included) want to stay where they are.

In our borderline neighborhood, on the other hand, the doorbell rings at least 20 times on Halloween. I have seen cars driving up and dropping off kids from other neighborhoods. The houses are more closely spaced, and there are lots of two family houses, and lots of other kids -- good pickings for our little ghosts, superheroes, and goblins.

We are taking our kids out with neighbors' kids from both sides of the border, and look forward to continuing the tradition. The kids love it, it brings back good memories for us, and we get to meet neighbors we seldom see or talk with otherwise.

And it gives us a chance to worship Satan, and instill in our children a sense of respect for the Dark Lord. ... mu ha ha ha ha



Depressing bit of news. WCRB is up for sale, as reported by the Globe's Chris Reidy.

WCRB has been a fixture of local airwaves for more than 50 years, and unlike practically every other commercial station, it hasn't changed its format. It still plays classical music.

It's also located in Waltham, on South Street, near the Weston line. I like to listen to it during my commute when I want to relax or think, and can't deal with rock or talk.

But there aren't many people out there, apparently. Revenue is declining. In other national markets like Atlanta, there is no classical radio station, according to the Globe article.

A few points that the Globe article doesn't mention: WCRB's audience is older than other commercial stations, and not necessarily being replaced by younger listeners, who may prefer to listen to classical music by popping in a CD or hooking up their iPod to their car stereo. Additionally, WCRB has to deal with competition from WGBH (public broadcaster, 89.7) in the morning and WHRB (Harvard's station, 95.3) in the afternoon, both of which have good classical programs.

Borderline prediction comes true: Housing prices decline

A few weeks ago I criticized the Daily News Tribune's Janet Spiegel for helping realtors hype the market despite evidence that prices are falling (" News-Tribune sucks up to the realtors ... again"). I also wrote about a potential housing bubble in Newton back in June:
... There has to be a cutoff point, at which people say, it does not make sense for me practically or as an investment to buy that house at that price, considering the amount of money my family has now, and will make in the future. When one considers that the monthly mortgage obligation for a young family buying a single family home in Waltham or a condo in Newton will likely be over $3000, and rental prices are half that, the choice of whether to rent or buy becomes much clearer.

I think prices have reached that threshhold. I have noticed in Newton particularly that there are lots of properties on the market that have "for sale" signs for months, and I know some people in Newton who had to lower the asking price on their house by $50,000 and still it hasn't sold. ...

It looks like I was on the right track. The Globe today has an article about housing prices falling across the region. This is tough for people that are selling now, or bought recently and want to move in the next few years, but it had to happen sometime.


Waltham Police Deapartment website

I didn't know the Waltham police had such an extensive website. On it, there are sections on terrorism, domestic violence, outstanding warrants, photos of wanted criminals, and more. A good place to start is the FAQ.

Today's News-Tribune also has an article on Waltham's most wanted.


Disputes with neighbors

The online version of the News-Tribune has an article about ridiculous disputes between neighbors, in Waltham and elsewhere in eastern Mass. Reporter Peter Reuell points to cases involving neighbors who argue about where trash should be put, mowing the lawn, and even the location of a rock across a property line. A particularly icky case in Marlborough: some guy living in someone else's basement without a toilet would dump a bucket in the backyard every morning, which alerted neighbors to the problem. When town officials looked into the matter,
"... An investigation confirmed the man had been sleeping on a mattress on the floor and was using a space heater, which was set up mere feet from a propane grill he had been using to cook on, and a lawnmower filled with gasoline."
For some reason Reuell says "sky-high property values" are one of the root causes of neighborhood disputes, but doesn't give a single example of how this issue creates disputes, much less an example. In my opinion, regardless of whether houses are expensive, people still care when neighbors don't take care of their property, or have tenants living in illegal setups. It can lower neighboring property values, and that's a legitimate concern if you try to sell your house in a hot housing market, or one in which houses are relatively inexepensive.


Gunshot on River Street

I was flabbergasted to see this item in the Newton Tab police blotter:
Gunshot at West Newton pizza shop
A gun was shot at a River Street pizza store sometime during the night of Oct. 7-8. The bullet smashed through a double plate glass storefront window, through a menu board behind the cash register and into the steel stud behind the board. Police searched the surrounding area, but did not discover the bullet's casing.
A shot fired at a store? In Newton? Unbelievable. The Tab treats this as if this is no big deal -- it's the fifth item in the log, right after an tidbit about a prankster hanging a stuffed cow and sheep over the front entrance of the Mason-Rice school. But I was really shocked. River Street in Newton is not Blue Hill Avenue in Roxbury, and an incident like this should not be treated as a ho-hum occurance. There is no other information about the shooting -- motive, caliber, police suspicions, or other unusual circumstances. Or what neighbors think.

Old timers will know that this Pizza Shop is in the location that used to house Bunny's Market, right on the corner of River and Cherry. Some may also remember that another market a few hundred feet down River Street was torched by arsonists in the '90s. And that the Newton Police Station is just 500 or 600 feet away, off Cherry Street in West Newton Square.

Of course, these details probably have no bearing on the pizza shooting, but the Tab owes readers more than a three-line entry in the police blotter.


Hoarding and humiliation on Cross Street

You've probably seen the news reports on TV or in the paper about the two Waltham brothers who were thrown in jail after being unable to clean up their Cross St. house, which was filled with junk, sick animals, sludge, and animal waste. The brothers aren't just pack-rats. They're hoarders.

There's obviously some sort of mental or social issue involved, and Marhsa King of the Seattle Times has an interesting report on the nature of the problem:
One of the most common causes of hoarding is obsessive-compulsive personality disorder — whose sufferers exhibit traits such as trouble finishing projects, difficulty throwing things away, exaggerated conscientiousness, perfectionism and poor decision making, according to Kent.

Other causes can be obsessive-compulsive disorder — a like-sounding, but different problem — that involves persistent thoughts, impulses or images that cause anxiety and lead to hoarding.

Hoarding also may be caused by attention-deficit disorder, psychosis, depression or dementia.

New brain-scan studies have shown abnormalities in hoarders' brains in the area involved with decision making and the ability to concentrate.
The items that are hoarded seem unusual to most people, but hoarders rationalize their decision to keep them:
The most frequently hoarded items contain information — books, newspapers, magazines, sweepstakes offerings, junk mail.

"They think they're going to read them. They have creative plans about what they're going to do with them," said Karen Roehl, a local clutter coach and professional organizer who has helped many hoarders over the past five years.

But just about anything gets saved. Kent has known hoarders who collect their own feces or chewed bits of meat wrapped in foil. And who hasn't heard of the house overflowing with filthy, poorly cared-for animals?
It's unfortunate that the two Waltham brothers were sent to jail, and were subjected to this kind of public humiliation at the hands of the media. I agree that their house needs to be cleaned, but they also need professional help, which both the authorities and media seem to have overlooked.


TV standards and kids

I saw two things on TV tonight which disturbed me. Well, actually only one thing that disturbed me, the other was merely unusual.

Disturbing TV: CSI or CSI-like show depicting the corpse of a starved-to-death five year old (around 9 pm, I think on ABC or NBC). Unusual TV: South Park (11 pm on UPN 38).

These two shows weren't on cable, or satellite TV, or PPV. It's ordinary, over the air TV that probably 20 million pre-teen kids are watching tonight (it's Saturday) all across the country. What is popular entertainment coming to? I have seen much worse in my life, and I realize that standards change, but this is going too far, particularly the CSI show of a starved five year old at 9 pm.

I actually appreciate South Park, but don't think kids under 10 should be able to watch it. On the other hand, they probably wouldn't get some of the more subtle adult humor on that show. And 11 pm is pretty late ... I hope most under-10s are asleep by then!


Old School: Mass Hardware

A few months back I posted about old-fashioned neighborhood hardware stores, and I neglected to mention one very important player: Mass Hardware, on High Street in Waltham (near the Newton line).

For a time, Mass Hardware was the biggest hardware store around, and people came from all over Newton and Waltham to shop. It took up three floors: Lumber in the basement, tools and miscellaneous supplies on the 1st floor, and light fixtures and related items on the top floor. And, of course, paintings of seashores and farmhouses in the stairwell.

It closed in the late 1990s, no doubt hammered by the same big-box competitive forces that closed the smaller hardware stores in West Newton and other neighborhoods. The building was converted to an office building for eToys, which folded along with a lot of other Internet companies in 2000 or 2001. Then a company called Brassring moved into the property, but it too closed down -- in 2004 I saw trucks carting away all of the office furniture and fixtures. Now the building is empty, with cracks in the parking lot. Sometimes customers of Green River liquors park there; otherwise it is deserted year round.

But you can still see a relic of its hardware past: A large sign "Mass Hardware" at the entrance to the rear lot about 50 feet past the building.