Last Tuesday night Pedro Martinez’ number was retired at Fenway Park and Vickie was there for it. A text flashed up on my phone reading “SPORTS!” and was accompanied by a photo of her and her boyfriend, Matt, at Fenway wearing their Pedro shirts and smiling brightly. They had decided to go to the game after they realized they couldn’t make it out to Cooperstown for Pedro’s Hall of Fame festivities the prior weekend…because Vickie had boxing training (I’m sure Matt had some stuff, too.)
One of the best parts about this project is discussing possible options before settling on the thing they want to ultimately discuss. The options are usually unrelated, but one of the things I realized during this particular interview is that sometimes a love for something can lead to a love of something else and that’s a pretty interesting road to go down.
It was hard to imagine that we would sit down and not talk exclusively of her love for the Boston Bruins. A table in her dining room is dedicated to autographed hockey gloves, pucks and other memorabilia. Her family have been Bruins season ticket holders for a few years now and she’s made a tradition of arriving to games early and taking photos during warm-ups. The idea for practicing her photography skills in this way came from her dad, a former Patriot’s season ticket holder, who used to take dozens of shots throughout the game and file them away in albums.
She’s managed to take some incredible action shots primarily using only two lenses. “If I have my camera with me I usually have two lens the fix 50 which is really good for being good at being able to get crisp shots. You can get really nice shots if the light’s not super great. It takes having dim lighting and turns it into an asset. I’ll have my standard 18-35mm that comes with most cameras that you can kind of adjust.” Recently she’s posted some amazing photos from her trips to Brazil and Eastern Europe proving she has an excellent eye for photography regardless of the subject.
Vickie is not your typical Red Sox fan. Shortly after moving to Boston from her home state of Vermont in 2007, she became a weekend tour guide at Fenway Park. How did she land that gig? Lots of follow up e-mails.
Having taken a few tours with her I can verify that her Sox knowledge was on point. “I could tell you the day that Ted Williams hit the home run 502 feet into right field. That’s where the red seat is up now. I knew at that point who the pitcher for the Detroit Tigers was and what the count was.”
She spent a few weeks studying and cramming Fenway facts prior to the start of her tour guide tenure, but it was impossible to learn everything. “The alpha dude would definitely want to come up with that questions and try to stump the perky blonde tour guide. If it was a little kid I would turn that into a thing where I would kind of celebrate the kid and be like ‘You know what I’ve been doing this for a really long time and this kid [is the] first kid ever to stump the tour guide’ and get everybody to give him a round of applause.” With parental permission, she would get the kid’s email address, do some research and get back to them. One question that stumped her was how many lights are in the light towers, so she just went and counted them.
Of course the job came with some incredible perks. She joined the organization just after the Sox won their second World Series and was able to take part in the dress rehearsal for Opening Day.
“They needed people to stand in for the people who were going to be getting the rings. So one of the days I was a guy who was like one of the trainers [the next day] I was Coco Crisp and my brother was JD Drew.”
Despite her involvement, she has yet to attend Opening Day and a World Series game, but she came so close to making it inside Fenway Park for their third championship win in 2013. Vickie and her brother were 20 people away from being able to get inside. Since it was a few weeks before her birthday, her brother really wanted to get her in for her present. Instead, she watched the game at home with her friends and boyfriend. Her brother continued to wait in line, but never made it in.
Prior to meeting her boyfriend, a huge Liverpool FC fan, she began to research what English Premiere League football team she wanted to follow. “I said to him ‘I want to learn about things and see what’s going on, but just because you like Liverpool doesn’t mean I like Liverpool. I’m going to try to find my own team.’ He said ‘Don’t let it be Chelsea. Otherwise we’re good.'”
In the end she ended up choosing Liverpool because of their similarity to the Bruins. “[They have] that storied tradition where you have guys that won before and are focused on playing hard and not necessarily being the flashiest and recognizing your price.” She’s a member of the Liverpool Club of Boston often watching games early on Saturday mornings with other local supporters.
She’s not always a spectator. For the past four years Vickie has played in a social dodgeball league. She’s completed a Spartan Race (at Fenway), runs on the Slumbrew team for the Cambridge run series and ran the Chicago Marathon in 2010. Every now and then she contemplates running the Boston Marathon, but the fundraising commitment and training are challenging. Right now she’s putting her time and energy into boxing training and raising money for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society through Lights Out 4 Leukemia.
A few years back she purchased a Groupon for The Ring boxing gym – primarily because Shawn Thornton trained there. It was not the idea of running into Shawn Thornton that was so appealing, but being trained by the guy that trains him. (I also want to see she ran the stairs at Harvard as part of the November Project for the same reason…) As most people can attest, walking into a boxing gym is intimidating. “I remember walking up to the club and seeing people walking out the door and I was like ‘Okay’ and promptly walked past the place and walked around the corner to the little football stadium area for BU and hung out there until I could actually gather the courage to go back and walk in,” she recalls.
If you’re considering trying out boxing, remember that no one is going to punch you directly in the face the minute you walk in the door. You do not have to spar if you do not want to (a question The Ring’s paperwork asked her TWICE) and you can concentrate on conditioning. There’s so much to learn and be aware of and there isn’t a trainer that would force you into the ring to spar if they didn’t think you were prepared and could execute a safe fight.
Since she started training with Lights Out back in May, she has earned three black eyes and a bruised sternum proving herself to be incredible tough. Despite those injuries, she has continued to push herself as much as she possibly can. She knows she can learn something from visiting the basics while she recovers and learn from watching others.
Despite her previous experience at The Ring, she didn’t arrive into training feeling ahead of everyone else that had never had a fight before. “Going from ‘I kinda have a sense of maybe what I’m going to be doing’ to ‘I know absolutely nothing’ and really having to be okay with that and recognize the fact that it’s a process. Over the course of time I’ll learn enough to be able to get into the ring and hold my own and learning how to take punches, which I am growing very good at being able to do as my face will attest.” She’s going to rock it on September 19th.
Now all she needs is a basketball team.
You can hear our entire conversation over here! We briefly mentioned the Derek Jeter story, but never went in to detail. Feel free to ask either of us to tell you the story next time you see one of us. We also talked about U2’s Beautiful Day and how it ruins fun things, favorite (and least favorite) karaoke songs, attending private Catholic universities and choosing an entrance song for boxing (tell her to use Natasha Beddingfield’s Pocket Full of Sunshine.)
Passion Forward was created to give people an opportunity to discuss one thing that they’re truly passionate about. I’ve always been interested in why people love the things that they love and I will try to experience their passion as best as I possibly can.
Maybe you’ll learn something here or discover something new that you might like to try, but I really hope that you think about what brings you joy and spend more time doing that.
Naming this project was a challenge. All of my original choices were taken, but I was desperate for alliteration. I half heartedly settled on Joy Jam. Joy for talking about things that bring joy and jam for actually talking about the joyful things. Of course when I ran it by Harry, he dumped all over it by pitching it back to me as a personal lubricant with 28 flavors including tangerine, grape, lasagna and sea. As you can see Joy Jam is not the name of the project. You can thank Harry for that. I wasn’t sold on it anyway.
There’s a lot I can thank Harry for over the course of our friendship. We met thirteen years ago while I was working as a theatre usher at a comedy club in Boston and he was one of the MainStage performers. Without a doubt, he is the funniest person I know and probably ever will meet. So, of course it would be natural for Harry and I to talk about comedy. Instead, we sat down to talk about one of his other major passions: Zen Buddhism. Just kidding! (Although Harry is a practicing Zen Buddhist.)
Harry changed his mind when we arrived home to his kitty cats who came running to the front door to welcome him home. When he’s home, his primary passion are his cats. For the sake of this project, Harry wanted to discuss something else, but love conquers all, so cats it is!
Growing up in Montpelier, Vermont, Harry only had one pet as a boy – a Norwegian Elkhound named Erik the Red. He and his brother waited outside while his parents picked Erik out for the family. Harry came home from college one summer to discover his room had been taken over by his parent’s cat, Wesley, who was less than happy to have his space infringed upon. You would think this invasion of privacy and shit attitude would turn Harry off to cats, but he and Wesley developed an understanding and survived the summer.
Back in 2012 Harry moved into a bigger apartment and realized that he now had the space to adopt a pet. Initially, he thought about getting a dog, but his hectic schedule meant that he would rarely be home. He mentioned to me that he was thinking about getting some cats so I recommended that Harry check out Kitty Connection, a no killer shelter in Medford. They immediately responded to his email (or maybe it was my email? I was so excited about knowing more people with cats) with a picture of two bonded male cats – a grey tabby and a white and black short haired with an underdeveloped back leg (he bunny hops – it’s so cute!).
These guys were found on the steps to a vet office inside a cat carrier with a note saying that the owner could no longer care for them due to her children’s allergies. Every adoption origin story is heartbreaking and I know there is no easy way to surrender an animal, but I can’t imagine not leaving them physically in someone’s hands and know that they will be cared for. (If you ever need to surrender a pet, please bring them to a no-kill shelter during business hours.)
Most might think that cats all have the same personality. They’re selfish assholes who only want to be pet, fed and rubbed when they want it. And while that’s mostly correct, cats do have their own individual personalities. These two guys are very different from each other. The grey tabby, Huckleberry (formerly Sawyer – Harry has a friend named Sawyer and didn’t want to confuse them), is very chill and quiet. He’s usually sitting on the arm of the couch next to Harry which makes him “feel like a pharaoh.” While Finn, the white and black gentlemen, is more vocal and aggressive. He’s the first one in the kitchen when the sound of dry food hits the bowl.
In the beginning, Huckleberry hid behind the stove and in the cabinets while Finn was more brazen. “Finn is the alpha. He’s smaller than Huckleberry. If food or snacks are put down he’s the first person….,” Harry caught himself. “Yes, he’s the first sentient human being to vote in the morning.” That wasn’t the only time Harry referred to them as though they were people. He also spoke of “making Huckleberry his dinner.”
Some might argue that Harry’s cat’s have definitely inherited his comedic sense of timing. While discussing how incredibly affectionate his cats are, Finn jumps off of Harry’s chest and nonchalantly walks away. This type of aloofness is what Harry was concerned about when he first made the decision to adopt. He used to frantically call me every few days to describe some strange behavior the boys were exhibiting and my answer would always be: Because they’re cats. Harry thought I was being a pain in the ass, but it’s the truth. Cats aren’t always trying to tell you something, sometimes they’re just being cats. Thankfully, Harry’s own research led him to this conclusion as well.
There are times when “because they’re cats” isn’t the answer and you need to take seemingly bizarre steps to attempt to fix behaviors. Finn’s aggression towards his brother always worried Harry. While I said “…because they’re cats,” his vet gave him more concrete advice. “It’s insane what I do! I bought pheromones to put in an infuser to plug into my place that only cats can smell and it smells like their mother or some shit so it calms them down. I don’t know if it helped or not. I can’t really tell. But I also don’t want Huckleberry to live in fear.” Finn still attacks Huckleberry from time to time. First, he will demand that Huckleberry clean him and then make his move. Other times, he just attacks him from behind out of nowhere (because they’re cats.)
On a flight home to Boston Harry chatted up the woman next to him who happened to be a breeder of Burmilla cats (“They’re white with blue eyes, short hair and it’s a mix of a Burmese python and a chinchilla.”) She only feeds her cats raw meat because of all the crap the pet food industry uses in their wet and dry food. It’s best to start them on the raw diet as kittens, but it is possible to transition cats to the raw diet by mixing it with wet food. It doesn’t work with every cat, so don’t get frustrated if they don’t take to this like they don’t take to being toilet trained. (I’m convinced it’s impossible. Also, because they’re cats.)
If you’re thinking about adopting a cat, Harry has some advice for you. “Cats should not be allowed outside for several reasons. One, they’re communists and they may take over the country. They are supposedly responsible for the extinction of many bird species in North America and other parts of the world because they’re such proficient hunters. That they will kill billions of small animals all over this great land of us. Cats that go outside live much shorter lives because they’re fucking idiots who do dumb stuff.” Remember this as you try to decide if adopting a cat is right for you. Do you really want the communist blood of extinct birds on your hands? Do not take this decision lightly.
Having known Harry for as long as I have, it’s very evident how much of a positive impact these two guys have made on Harry’s life. When we talk on the phone, he tells me to hold on so he can “Yessssss Mr. Huckleberry. Good boyyyy. Yess.” them for at least a minute. I believe this is mostly to aggravate me, but there is sincerity and love in his voice. Harry is aware his love is reciprocal. “They don’t just want to sit on you or sit near you. They want to be rubbed, pet, scratched.” These cats love Harry just as much as he loves them. They’re so lucky to have an owner who will buy a $30 infuser of cat pheromones month after month to keep them from killing each other.
Because they’re cats.
You can listen to the full conversation about Harry’s passion for cats here. We also discuss magazines, Richard Pryor’s brother Pets Pryor and do (thankfully brief) Christopher Walken impressions.