Window dressing

One of the perks of the sunset years for both Ben and Eleanor Olson is reading the daily newspaper. He plunks down two dollars for a copy every morning ($3 on Sundays) at one of the neighborhood stores and leaves it on the dining-room table for Eleanor. She devours it front to back after polishing off her bowl of fruit and before turning her attention to the “Wonderword” puzzle. Ben’s turn comes in late afternoon. Like most people their age they are accustomed to spending an exorbitant amount of time on their favorite features, pages or sections and then exchanging thoughts and opinions— occasionally words of disagreement— about a particular story or column. Eleanor is fond of marking up items that she feels Ben should not overlook, writing “read this!” above Dianne Williamson’s Trump-bashing or Rich Garven’s slant on the Pats. Or she will draw an arrow to “The Family Circus” strip that she wants Ben to see, knowing that he usually only pays attention to “Blondie,” “Classic Peanuts” and “Beetle Bailey.” Similarly, Ben will ask if she has read a letter to the editor arguing that “Charter schools are no threat.” She is inclined to vote against expanding the number of them in November. He is leaning “yes.” The newspaper is how they stay connected to the city in which they once lived and worked but also to each other. It is every bit as shared an experience as sipping coffee side by side on the porch swing, walking the aisles of the grocery store together or watching “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” on TV. Eleanor is not nearly as keen on the city as Ben. Except for trips to Sam’s Club to replenish household supplies—which she likes to buy in bulk—an occasional lunch at Zorba’s Taverna or Peppercorn’s, a visit to the Hanover Theatre for a performance of “Jersey Boys,” her involvement with the city is mostly limited to what she reads in the newspaper. Her perception of the city, therefore, now that she is apart from it, is clouded by the badness that jumps out at her, headline by headline, article by article. Home invasions, stabbings, roadrage altercations, traffic congestion, domestic violence, the drug den that was the Albion, malls that don’t work, a school system that struggles (“can your friend Ms. Binienda really raise the thousands from the private sector she needs to offset underfunding woes?” she asks Ben), ATVs terrorizing neighborhoods, down-and-out’s holding handmade signs as they scrounge for food and money on the ramp from 146 to 290, at Chandler and Park. Ben views things differently. Through his dealings past and present with the arts, business, education and nonprofit communities and City Hall, he is familiar with all of the good that is occurring. Didn’t he just receive an email from Tim Garvin hailing the success of United Way’s 23rd annual “Day of Caring”? Seventy-six service projects completed by 1200 volunteers? Employees of the Coghlin Company unpacking and distributing “case after case of infant formula to Pernet”? Rachel’s Table expressing an “Oh wow!” upon receiving “one hundred fifty healthy meals for their clients”? He is more conscious than Eleanor as well of the startling physical transformation taking place as condos, hotels, office buildings, college expansions and bio manufacturing turn a city that has long been disparaged as second rate—an underachiever—into something of a powerhouse. Ben’s astonishment, then, when Eleanor asked, after he’d invited her out for their fortyeighth wedding anniversary, “can we see the murals? I’d like to do that. They may be only window dressing but it’s a pretty neat thing, don’t you think? And we can do it from the car.” “Sure,” Ben said, acknowledging in his mind Eleanor’s difficulty in getting around. On their tour of “The Creators Project” (i.e., “POW! WOW!) Ben and Eleanor observed only a smattering of the more than twenty works adorning structures that were done by nineteen artists from eight different countries over a period exceeding a week. On the walls of the Hanover Theatre, Mechanics Hall, a parking garage, the Commercial St. side of the DCU Center, for the YWCA facing Francis J. McGrath Blvd. Ben could tell that Eleanor was impressed by what she saw. “Are there more?” she asked, expectantly, as he tried to recall where ones were that  they hadn’t yet viewed. They missed Michael Hachey’s “A Wall for Quock Walker” on the Harold Donohue Federal Building (the painting depicts “the law as protector of individual liberty,” drawing on the case of a local man who’d been promised his freedom at age twenty-five in the late 1700s—predating the abolition of slavery). Ben didn’t realize either that the collection included a self-portrait by Anthony Mancuso. Beyond the inner perimeter too there were other examples of street art that serves as amplification of the manager’s, the mayor’s and councilors’ contention that Worcester is undergoing a revival no less spectacular that those that have redefined cities like Austin and Cleveland and Portland (“great cities deserve great art,” is how his honor Mr. Petty put it), as for instance the music motif gracing the southwest wall of the WCUW building in the vicinity of Clark University on Main St., where DJ Paul Lauzon still spins the sounds of the Fifties. And on Park Ave., “Leitrim’s” appears in italics amid a landscape of three-leaf clovers, flowers and spouting streams by way of celebrating (along with a sign for Guinness) the bar Ben’s friend Stu Herman hangs out on Friday and Saturday nights. Ben and Eleanor came away from the visual show giddy with adoration for the city. A short while after the artists had put away their brushes Ben heard the effort referred to as the “Big Bang of Beautification.” “Why not?” he thought. “Why not our own ʽIn the Beginning’”?

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