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Vaughn Slowaski

George Annan

Seltzer Time

JT Ethier

Thu Nguyen

High Command

Manny Alvarado

Jermoh Kamara

John DiNovella

Danielle Brooks

Colin Mulvey

Liam Coleman






DINING REVIEW Dining Review: Chashu Ramen + Izayaka



LIFESTYLE Worcester Native 17 Delivers First Comedy Album 420 in 508


Hot & Now 11

Out and About


PulseBrew 12

Style Savvy


New Around the Woo: 13

Lulu’s Bakery


SPORTS + FITNESS Finding Balance


Leslie Graff – 14 A Nod to the Human Experience at Worcester Art Museum Fat Foot Films



NOW STREAMING: 16 Imploding the Mirage

Paul Giorgio, Publisher pgiorgio@pagioinc.com Kevin La, Art Director kla@pagioinc.com Josh Lyford, Editior jlyford@pagioinc.com David Simone, Vice President, Sales dsimone@pagioinc.com


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Bernie Whitemore, Ryan Cashmen, Molly Prior, Josh Lyford, Jason Savio, Paul Giorgio, Rachel Shuster, Giuliano D’Orazio, April Goddard, and Jennifer Russo, Writers

FOLLOW US ON SOCIAL MEDIA: TWITTER @WORCESTERPULSE • INSTAGRAM @WORCESTERPULSE • FACEBOOK.COM/THEPULSEMAGAZINE PULSE Magazine is produced 12 times a year by Pagio Inc., 134 Gold St., Worcester, MA 01608. (508) 756-5006. Copyright 2020 All rights reserved. Pagio, Inc. does not hold itself responsible for statements made by any contributor. Statements or opinions expressed in Pulse reflect the views of the author(s) and not the official policy of the Pagio, Inc., unless so stated. Although all advertising material is expected to conform to ethical standards, acceptance does not imply endorsement by Pagio, Inc. unless so stated. Material printed in Pulse is covered by copyright. No copyright is claimed to any work of the U.S. government. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without written permission. For information on permissions, reprints and other services, contact Pagio, Inc. Also by Pagio Inc.: Worcester Medicine, Vitality Magazine, Thepulsemag.com, Thevitalitymag.com, & TasteWorcester.com

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PEOPLE TO WATCH 22 00 22 11 Written by Josh Lyford

Jermoh Kamara has a focus: serving people. She’s the director of health and wellness at the YWCA. She spent time getting word out to the black and brown communities about the US Census. She’s an adjunct professor at Clark and WPI. She’s the founder and director of HVK Children’s Foundation that gives back to children in Liberia, where Jermoh was born. It is tough to list all of the work Jermoh does, because she doesn’t stop. In 2019, she ran for school committee and while she didn’t win enough votes to secure victory, she is running again this year. Jermoh hopes to better represent the students of Worcester and uplift the city’s youth, as she has throughout her career.

For Worcester locals in the know, Danielle Brooks was probably already on your radar. Perhaps you saw her art on the wall at the popular Worcester Wares stores, where she is a manager and designer, or maybe you are wearing one of her shirt designs right now. For many though, their introduction to Danielle’s work would have been through Redemption Rock Brewing. The craft brewery has been using Danielle’s incredible work to illustrate many of their beers with miraculous results. Danielle’s art explodes with whimsy and gets more delightful the longer you look. Pair that with Redemption Rock’s delicious beer and you have something truly special. She’s also recently begun design work for Worcester’s fine doughnut establishment, Glazy Susan. We can’t wait to see what she has in store for 2021.

Two years ago, Vaughn Slowaski was selling sneakers out of his car at conventions. It was a hobby and a passion, but Vaughn was tired of working late into the night at a dirty factory and decided to take a shot in the dark. The Worcester native, who was born and raised on Belmont Street opened Scoop Drip, a sneaker and streetwear shop on Millbury Street with a third special ingredient: exotic soda and snacks curated by Loud Pop Exotics. While the lease was signed last November, COVID-19 changed the world and it took Vaughn until Sept. 12 of this year to feel confident in safety protocols. If Vaughn and Scoop Drip can survive this, what can’t they survive?

You are probably already familiar with Ricky Nelson and Travis Duda. Maybe Ricky served you a beer at the area-favorite (but sadly, now defunct) Dive Bar. Maybe you met Travis while marveling at some of the incredible public art you’ve seen around the city. When Travis isn’t “popping seltzer cans,” he spends his time with Hunchback Graphics + Design, his company. Both have their hands in all things Worcester, but there’s an even better chance you know the pair from their breakout podcast, Seltzer Time. Sure, it started humbly, but these days it’s hugely popular with guests from Worcester standouts to artists, to new restaurateurs, to musicians and those involved in local outreach. It’s got a little bit of everything, but the pair manage to keep it tight and entertaining and look to continue into the future. 6 JA N UA RY 202 1

Thu Nguyen is unwilling to leave those in need behind. The Vietnamese refugee, youth worker and artist is also the first non-binary candidate for Worcester City Council. Long before announcing their bid, Thu has been hands-on in helping meet the needs of a multitude of communities. They are director of projects at the Southeast Asian Coalition, they’ve worked with Mutual Aid Worcester, co-founded N-CITE as a way for young people to tell their stories through multimedia, worked with Worcester Youth Center and Recreation Worcester to give the city’s young people new opportunities. After seeing the needs of the community left unmet over the last year; due to the pandemic, police brutality and more, Thu knew that representation and the diversification of city council could bring people hope in a year with little light shining through. Thu’s constant work in lifting others and new aim to amplify that hope through city council gives us every reason to believe they are going to be a guiding light into the future.

George Annan grew up in Worcester’s Vernon Hill neighborhood and graduated from Worcester State University in December of 2019. The photographer has been finding inspiration in shooting his friends for years, but when he got an email from Converse Shoes during the early stages of the lockdown, he figured it was spam. Turns out that George had been selected to be a part of Converse’s Elevation Campaign and teamed up with creatives from South London, Milan, Paris and Los Angeles to co-create a lookbook for a revamped Chuck Taylor All Star. During that time he was also a part of their #Createathome campaign, where he photographed himself in his family home. Since then he’s continued to work with Converse as well as shooting for Bodega. George has a humble goal: to learn as much as possible, create quality work with good intentions and keep a smile on his face. It’s safe to say George Annan has an exciting future ahead of him.

John DiNovella hails from the South Side of Chicago, but he set his sights on the cannabis industry at 21 when he moved out west to Salem, OR. It was there he became Diem Cannabis’ first budtender. While John dropped out of school to avoid student loan debt, he took horticulture classes to establish a baseline knowledge with cannabis and took every customer experience seriously. It was with that initiative that John was promoted to store manager, then operations manager and eventually oversaw the Worcester dispensary’s opening. These days, John lives in Worcester while operating Diem. The entire time, community has been at the heart of Diem. John’s goal is to make a positive impact every day, an extension of Diem’s “Cannabis is for everyone” messaging. With expansion on the horizon and a personal goal of

If you’re a fan of craft beer, you are familiar with Worcester’s Greater Good Imperial Brewing Company and if you’re a fan of Greater Good, then you’ve almost definitely met JT Ethier. As Greater Good’s Beer and Brand evangelist, JT is everywhere. JT grew up in Spencer, attended Worcester State University and has been a part of the Greater Good team since its inception in 2017. While JT certainly excels at his role, it’s his personality that shines. As the brewery got started, the message was success starts with winning the neighborhood and these days Greater Good isn’t just synonymous with Worcester, it’s a reason people visit. JT sees himself and the team he represents as ambassadors of the city and in that, they have been incredibly successful. With their continuing growth and natural flexibility in navigating responsible practices during COVID, the future for Greater Good and JT Ethier is bright.

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At just 17 years old, Liam Coleman has already started down the road to country music success. The Charlton phenom hasn’t finished high school, but he has already signed with Marathon Talent Agency out of Nashville, TN. While he plans to finish up his education and graduate, Liam will then head to Nashville and start writing music full time. In the meantime, Liam has made the most of the COVID world by discovering new ways to engage with his fans with live videos on Facebook and Instagram. With live music, collaborations and conversations with fans, Liam is ahead of the game. Liam will be releasing a brand new single on Jan. 8, which you can find through his website at Liamcolemanmusic.com.

If you’re familiar with Worcester’s Unity Radio, WUTY 97.9, -- and you should be -- then you should know that behind the scenes, Manny Alvarado is making a difference. Director of programming? Yep, that’s him, but he also produces the shows, books guests, directs onset and does all the audio engineering as well as the day-to-day elbow grease work. Manny grew up in Great Brook Valley and he was never sheltered, he understood early that being able to survive meant knowing the truth. He took that understanding with him into adulthood and applied it to his mentoring strategy. When you face adversity on the work site, how do you persevere? Manny does his best to give a voice to the underprivileged and underserved communities of Worcester. Growing up hispanic and poor, Manny knew what it meant to feel silenced. For that work, Manny was recently honored by Amplify Latinx for bringing positive awareness to successes in the Latinx community. Manny won’t be slowing down any time soon and as Unity continues to expand its reach, we suspect Manny

Colin Mulvey grew up in Worcester’s Main South neighborhood and fell in love with hockey early on. Colin went on to win an NCAA National Championship with Vermont’s Norwich University in 2010 and was voted Best American in College Hockey his senior year. Colin went on to play in the ECHL for several years and spent time with Germany’s Erding Gladiators in the 201415 season. His last pro season would end in 2017 with the Fort Wayne Komets. Colin wasn’t content to relax, however and decided to take on a brand new challenge: men’s underwear. Colin launched Vora in 2020 as a way to produce better-fitting underwear for men. Having developed what he calls “the first new technological design in men’s underwear in years.” They stay in place and they don’t need adjustment even after working out. From professional hockey, to men’s fashion, Colin’s future is a bright one.

When crossover thrash act High Command released The Secartha Demos in 2016, anyone paying attention to Worcester’s heavy music scene knew that big things were on the horizon. Their follow-up EP, The Primordial Void continued to stun listeners in 2018 and in 2019 they teamed up with Southern Lord records to release their debut full-length Beyond the Wall of Desolation. On Dec. 4, the band released their Everlasting Torment EP through Southern Lord and Triple-B Records with a physical 7” dropping in early 2021. They’ve even teamed up with Decimation Hot Sauce for their own Everlasting Torment edition. Having toured extensively pre-COVID and finding ways to entertain their fans while stuck in Worcester, High Command are set to continue their path of domination.

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Pandemic precautions: on entering we were ‘shot’ in the forehead by the temperature gun-wielding host. Laughing, she exclaimed, “97.1? OK, come in!”. That, in theory, assessed our risk to others; our own safety concerns were gradually assuaged by the large cavernous dimensions of the dining room, spacing of the tables and noticeable ventilation. Also, our strategy of ‘beating the rush’ to dine just before six o’clock assured a sparse crowd and lots of open tables. Beginning a story about Chashu with pandemic precautions is, sadly, a pragmatic bummer. What this really should be about is a blast of new life, potential and fun detonating in Downtown Worcester. Just take a walk into Chashu Ramen + Izakaya. The open space has black walls and a high ceiling hung with ductwork and dangling cables. All this blackness forms a dramatic backdrop for monumentally scaled murals that dazzle with color and artistry that fuses classic Japanese woodblock themes with op-art technique. Muted TV’s above the full-length bar Japanese-style animation. The further into the dining room you go, the more of all this you discover; at the rear is an exposed kitchen with Korean grill. Should all this urban cool set your sophistication sensors to ‘pretentious’, just relax. At all levels, the staff is enthusiastic, embracing and professional. Our server took time to explain the menu categories, offer advice and welcome our own creativity in assembling an order that strode the menu’s sections. Chashu’s cuisine is Korean-centric slash pan-Asian; menu items range from small dishes to ramen to elaborate entrées. We started out with a grouping of Izakaya, small plates akin to Tapas. Our first dish was Chashu’s Seaweed Salad. At first bite I knew we were in for a great meal. Wakame is one of my favorites and at Chashu it was deep-forest green, springy and sweet-spicy in a light dressing flecked with sesame seeds. Everything about it screamed ‘Healthy!’ and we stabbed every last shred out of the bowl. Then, on to a Pork Belly Bao Bao. A thick slice of pork belly had been braised till buttery-soft, topped with a slaw of shredded apple and then crammed into a sticky-moist steamed bun. Perfect finger-food, we were encouraged to pick it up and enjoy. Bao Bao was served alongside another small dish, Charcoal Grilled Kushi of Sea Scallops. Two

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plump scallops on a skewer had been soy-glazed and flash-grilled to sear in juices and a coating of charred-in flavor. One for each of us; a perfect appetizer. Chashu’s menu lists four groupings of ramen. I was keen to pick from either of them; we agreed upon Butter Corn Chicken. Dramatically served in a cone-shaped bowl that tapered down to tippiness, mild chicken broth was flavored with white miso tare and a big dollop of black garlic butter that oozed into the ramen as we watched. A tangle of springy-thin ramen noodles came with slabs of chicken breast, shiitake mushrooms and tiny niblets of sweet corn that tasted mid-summer fresh. To explore Chashu’s versatility, we also shared one of their grilled plates, Korean Short Ribs. A generous portion of bone-in ribs, char-grilled for immensely deep flavor, were fall-apart tender and moist with marbled-in fat; perfect finger food and highly addictive. Even tastier when dipped into the little bowl of gochujang sauce; deep red, sweet and spiced with chilis. The plate of short ribs came with a sprinkling of cubes of bright-pink pickled watermelon radish, each a spark of crunchy-tart flavor contrast, and a salad of mixed greens coated with an incredibly light vinaigrette dressing flavored with razor-thin slices of fresh ginger. I chop-sticked every last shred. Rarely do I bother with dessert, but when I saw that Chashu features aisukurīmu made of durian fruit the analyst in me prevailed. After all, durian has such a putrid reputation I just had to try this featured ice cream. I loved it. Custardy-creamy vanilla, it had a faint bean-like flavor. The texture was luxuriously smooth. Try it! Chashu impressed me as a versatile, high-energy place that delivers dramatic décor with an impressive range of accomplished Asian cuisine. Versatile, in that it could serve as venue for an elegant dinner celebration or coworkers out for after-work drinks and tapas. Or, simply, a fun place for ramen and friends.

HOT & NOW What’s hot and happening now in the restaurant scene PAUL GIORGIO

Check before you go. With the numerous temporary and sometimes permanent shutdowns, we advise you to check with a restaurant before you go. A Baker’s Dozen. With Governor Charlie Baker’s recent edict limiting restaurants to 25 percent occupancy for the next few weeks, many places will be closed temporarily or switch to take out. So, our advice is to check before you go. More Fuel. Fuel America plans on opening a second location at 100 Grove St. in Worcester. According to the company, their downtown Worcester location has done so well, that they are expanding in the city. Several restaurants victim of COVID-19. A few area restaurants have closed permanently due to the Coronavirus. Pomir Grille, an Afghanistan restaurant on Worcester’s Shrewsbury Street has closed its doors. Also in the same neighborhood is the Pub 99 on East Central Street a few blocks down has also turned off its stoves. Shrewsbury has lost a couple of eateries with B. Good on Route 9 across from Trader Joes’ closing up shop and Udupi an Indian Vegetarian restaurant in the Fairlawn Plaza also closing. No more painting. Further north, Picasso’s Restaurant in Barre has shuttered its doors. Take down that banner. Worcester’s Banner Bar & Grille in the Canal District has temporarily shut down until the Governor eases restrictions. It’s not Pleasant. Shawarma Palace has moved to a new downtown Worcester location. The restaurant specializing in traditional shawarma and Mediterranean fare has moved to 20 Franklin St. from its previous location on Pleasant Street. Wooberry Closes shop. Brenden Melican owner of Worcester’s Wooberry Frozen Yogurt has closed his Highland Street location due to Covid-19 issues, Melican opted to close the doors during the winter and until the pandemic is under control. And the beat goes on. Worcester’s West Boylston Street has a new eatery-Foodbeat Mediterranean Grill across from QCC. It is owned by George Makhlouf, who used to own Wraps N’ Bowls at the same location and Mario Azrak, who owns Spoodles deli in Downtown Worcester. They specialize in Mediterranean cuisine and are mostly take out. More than a maze. Davis BBQ Restaurant opened up at Sterling’s Davis Farmland, which is better known for its mega maze during the fall season. They have a full liquor license and offer indoor and outdoor seating. It’s a half-baked idea for Oxford. Oxford has a new eatery: Half Baked and Fully Roasted recently opened. Owner Ralph Verzillo offers homemade comfort food in a casual setting. Dishes range from lasagna to corned beef. In addition to his meals, Verzillo offers baked goods made in-house and Peet’s Coffee. I guess that’s where the fully roasted part of the name comes from. Brady’s hibernates for the winter. Bill Brady-Chef/Owner of Leominster’s Brady’s has announced a temporary shutdown until March due to Covid-19. Brady, the former owner of Sonoma in Princeton, opened to rave reviews.

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I am not here to argue about the efficacy of mass lockdowns, but it’s no secret whatsoever that some businesses have fared better than others. Who, at the start of last year, would have thought that sign printing store on the corner, you know the one with dust in the windows, would soon be cranking out order after order of lawn signs reading: Congratulations to the Class of 2020? It’s a slippery slope when we start deeming what businesses are essential and which ones are not. And while independent breweries haven’t exactly been deemed unessential, they’ve certainly been wounded.


This, my first column of the new year, has ended up being more philosophical than I originally intended. I’m not going to drone on about the trials and tribulations of 2020, though I do have to bring up one specific point, on which I will wax philosophical for the next 400 words or so: the independent brewery. It’s no secret that we, as a nation, have been drinking more than we have in many, many years. There’s even a witty drinking poem some local beer columnist wrote that you can find somewhere - wink wink. With more drinking comes more purchasing of alcohol and the majority of that alcohol is being bought at large package stores. To be clear, I have no issue with package stores. They very often have what you’re looking for and for a price that, hopefully, doesn’t make you cringe. That price, however, comes at a price.

Many breweries are still active and operational and are still brewing some truly excellent beer. However, the spirit of the brewery, the crowded bar, the taproom buzzing with conversation, is all but gone. I visited my local haunt, Purgatory Beer Co., the other day and it is a shadow of its former self. It was all but deserted, with only a few people sitting at properly distanced tables, keeping well to themselves, and watching the football game projected on the back wall. Tables acted as barriers against anyone leaning on the bar while waiting for their order. It felt hollow and sad. I had a very similar feeling at Bay State Brewing Co. in Worcester over the summer. The beer isn’t the only reason that independent breweries have gone from a rarity to a staple over the past decade. There was a community about them. There was a life, a vitality, an atmosphere of good humor. Breweries were expanding to accommodate more and more crowds. They became places to meet friends, to celebrate occasions and, funnily enough, to try new beer. That is something you cannot replicate over a Zoom call. It is something you can only find in bars, restaurants, and breweries. The independent brewery is our equivalent to the Irish pub. They welcome families. They welcome friends. They welcome all who are looking for good conversation and good beer. My hope for this new year is that we can return, in some way, to that sense of togetherness. Hopefully the vaccines that are coming out will aid with this, but even so, humanity is not meant to be locked away in solitude. At some point we will come together again, and I hope to see you there. Happy New Year.





Located at 806 Pleasant St., LuLu’s Bakery and Café is a quaint spot named after the co-owner’s childhood nickname, with big flavor and big heart. Opening Oct. 14 of this year, owners and husband and wife duo Olivia and Mohamed Hashesh took a chance to follow their dreams and open the spot. “It’s far exceeding expectations,” Olivia Hashesh says. “We had low expectations with COVID but have been blown away by the neighborhood and people supporting us and local business. We are very lucky to be in the Newton Square neighborhood. During these difficult times, we all need something new and positive and we’ve been very fortunate.” While opening a bakery and café was always a dream, Hashesh and her husband weren’t actively looking for a space for rent. “I always thought that if I were to open a shop, my perfect location would be Newton Square,” she says. “One day my friend said Corner Grille had closed and space was available. I knew I had to jump on it and it’s worked out so well.” For Hashesh, the daunting part was making sure they were bringing something new, different and great to the community, especially since Corner Grille was such a staple to the neighborhood. “We had big shoes to fill, but we were determined to bring something special to the minds, hearts and bellies of the community,” she says. For the Hashesh family, they knew their concept was strong and felt that it would be an opportunity for the neighborhood. “We’ve lived here for quite a while,” Hashesh says. “I love this neighborhood, but there’s nowhere walkable to take kids for coffee, cookies, a light lunch or breakfast. We felt like that was a void and we wanted to fill it. It’s so great to hear people come in and say, ‘This is just what I wanted.’”In the time of COVID, Hashesh and her husband had to adapt to what they were thinking when opening the bakery and cafe. “Normally, we would create an experience where people could come in, sit down, etc.,” she says. “With COVID, instead of seating, we tried to make the food and experience ‘easy grab and go.’ We limit dining in, we’re always in touch with the Public Health Department to ensure we are following guidelines, etc. The business model of grab and go, having everything prepped in [the] morning has really worked out well for us. Opening during COVID has helped our business be better and think of things we might not have before. We’re thinking about the smarter way of doing things instead of what’s convenient.” While Olivia runs the day-to-day, her husband spends time between the bakery and café and managing hotels in the greater Worcester/Boston area on the weekends. LuLu’s is truly a family-run business, making goodies with lots of love. “I’ve always loved baking,” Hashesh says. “I grew up with a family of bakers and cooks. My dad owns a wine shop in London.” Olivia’s mother-in-law is from Egypt and makes delicious falafel and weekly specials of middle eastern style dishes, Indian style hand pies, as well as her shakshuka on the weekends. LuLu’s signature chicken roulade sandwich is a family recipe given to Olivia as a gift when LuLu’s opened by her Godmother. “She’s another mother to my mother and getting this recipe was so special,” Hashesh says. Other delicious menu items include their most popular, scones coming in a variety of flavors. “We have 5-8 varieties every day,” Hashesh says. “Our most popular is brie and fig, along with raspberry white chocolate and maple.” You can also find other goodies like croissants, daily quiches, cookies, brownies, salads and sandwiches. Everything is baked in house. LuLu’s also offers a variety of vegetarian options daily. Pricing is very reasonable with scones at $4, cookies starting at $2.50 – $4, quiche $6 $7, salads $6.50 - $8 with add-ons, sandwiches $7 - $9. Did I mention LuLu’s is BYOB? So there’s that! LuLu’s is working on a catering menu, which will be primarily Mediterranean-focused. “We are also working on family meals to take and make at home,” Hashesh says. “We are also excited to start community-led events and are working on things like doing a book club every two weeks and having a ‘children’s morning where we put out coloring books and kids toys and let parents relax while kids play,” she adds. Check out LuLu’s Bakery and Café on social media, call 774-420-7455 or visit LuLusworcester.com. t h epu ls emag.com


ENTERTAINMENT, ENTERTAINMENT, ARTS & & CULTURE CULTURE ARTS LESLIE GRAFF – A NOD TO THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE AT WORCESTER ART MUSEUM JENNIFER RUSSO Sutton’s Leslie Graff was deeply honored when the Worcester Art Museum approached her about being featured in their gallery as part of their Central Massachusetts Artist Initiative. Her two works on display, On Her Mind and On His Mind, separately depict a female and a male sitting on a couch reading, but the meaning behind the pieces dives deep into the idea of social expectations and roles. The subjects are seated in very different poses, reading different types of literature, one seemingly more focused and one more deep in thought. The settings are similar between the two works, and yet result in strikingly different emotions when viewed side by side. Her process involves taking photos, often hundreds of images, of different poses and attitudes of different activities to study the composition, then determining from these images where she wants to go with an art piece with the ultimate goal of creating the biggest impact. Unique to Graff’s portraiture in her Domestics series is the focus on the body language and action of her subjects, who are mostly female, showing only a hint of the face. This is done purposefully and for a number of reasons. “I appreciate the way feminist frameworks taught us the value of speaking from first person. It feels more authentic to speak from my experience… my body, my clothes, my home. I like that by changing the identity or historical framework, you can change what the painting is saying. I like that ambiguity and blurring of context. I like that one image can tell multiple and even conflicting stories, simultaneously. I like that they focus on the actions which relate to their identity. It raises questions about domestic work, roles, outsourcing, and our perceptions. I like how the pieces play with the power dynamic between the woman and the viewer,” Leslie shares. Leslie’s work uses many clean lines and minimalist style to convey her ideas. She is deeply inspired by mid-century art and furniture as well as lifestyle periodicals of the time and the compositions and color used. She likes the dynamic between simplicity of the art style and the complexity of the story she is telling. Graff, who has been painting since she was a child, never expected to have a career as an artist. In fact, though she has been painting regularly for a long time, she has only more “intensively” been painting over the last seven years. Having gone to school for education and working in the space of human development and later becoming a child life specialist, she has a unique understanding of the social sciences and this greatly influences her work. Fascinated by the complexity of the different experiences and varied lives people have, and the emotions that are tied to these within the individuals, she embraces capturing these “interesting intersections within culture and context” to help create a connection, helping people to better understand each other. “I want to ultimately provide people with a sense of value, voice, and validation. No matter what series I am paining, the pieces always explore deeper, psychological themes,” says Graff.

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Even her different still life series images become representations of ideas and social issues. Her paintings of cakes and other desserts speak to different elements of the human experience, and items in her Rewind series which have become obsolete, such as pay phones and cassette tapes, tell the story of both advancement and a desire to hold onto the idea of a more simple way of living before technology became so prevalent. Leslie encourages creating art or incorporating others’ works into our personal spaces. “I want people to connect with the arts, especially visual art, to see its richness and its imperative role in our society and culture, and to be inspired and use their own voices to create and give expression to their own experiences,” she shares. As an art instructor at Danforth Art Museum School in Framingham, Leslie encourages aspiring artists to explore and work on the type of art that they feel most passionate about and which give them energy, worrying less about finding a specific style. She advises to become immersed in the art and to find a community that will help inspire and support along the journey. In a recent interview with Springville Museum of Art, she also shared that it is important to explore other interests outside of art, because those interests can also lend different ideas and cross-pollinate to create interesting things within the artwork that is created. Graff’s art will be hanging in the Worcester Art Museum through May of next year, so be sure to stop by and enjoy them along with the other exhibits offered in the space. Her work can also be seen on her website at Lesliegraff.com

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What started out in 2001 as a group of high school friends from Sutton, MA getting together and filming sketch comedies and skate videos has turned into a sought-after, Worcester-based production company called Fat Foot Films. Ed Gutierrez, one of those high schoolers is now the President of Fat Foot Films and takes on additional roles as producer, casting director, and helps with writing. “With independent film and lower budgets, we all find ourselves filling other roles along the way,” Gutierrez says. “It’s all part of it.” Gutierrez and business partner Ryan Convery both grew up in Sutton. “We met in high school,” Gutierrez says. “We were both the new kids. I moved up from Washington DC. Ryan and I lived near each other too and began experimenting with filming ourselves and friends doing dumb stuff.” One of their friends, Erik Johnson, worked at Sutton’s local access channel at the time which gave the friends the opportunity to broadcast their sketch comedy to public access. “We ended up pushing the limit a little too far, which got us kicked off public access, but we’ve never looked back,” Gutierrez says. So how about that name? How the name came to be speaks to the true passion behind the production company. “Ryan has the weirdest looking feet, and we thought, ‘wow, those deserve something!’” Gutierrez laughs. “He’s got odd looking feet and we decided to name the company after them – true story!” Since the high school days, Fat Foot Films has shot dozens of award-winning short films, three feature films, music videos, corporate videos and commercials. “You name it, we’ve done it,” Gutierrez says. “Our passion is producing film. We love horror. We love all forms of comedy. We love the journey, the stress, the finished product and the response we get from the viewers. It drives us to see what we can pull off with a small fraction of a budget the big guys get.” Gutierrez and Convery compile a team of talented freelance filmmakers for each project they tackle. “Daniel Black, Tom Ribeiro, Aaron Bouchard, Josh Tate, Erik Johnson and Shauna Convery each play vital roles in most projects we take on,” Gutierrez says. Prior to COVID, Fat Foot Films felt great momentum. “We spent a year in production of our best film to date, a 35-minute thriller called ‘STRAY,’ sold over 400 tickets to two screenings, the first selling out in 10 days, we won Pulse Magazine’s People to Watch Award, planned a filmmaker’s mixer at the new JMAC theater in Worcester for June, had a sit down with the mayor (Joe Petty) and city manager (Ed Augustus) in discussion of bringing a large film festival to Worcester and had ‘STRAY’ win best thriller at our first film festival,” Gutierrez says. “We were on top of the world.” Then, COVID hit. “Festivals canceled, cancelled events, no more productions, no work

to chase,” Gutierrez says. “The hype train came to a complete halt.” However, Gutierrez and his team didn’t see it as a stopper, but a way to adapt. “We don't stop, we just learned to pivot,” he says. “In March and April we pushed clients towards using stock footage and voice overs for commercials. There is great stock footage available online combined with locally hired voice over actors to tie everything together.” Gutierrez also shot a five-page short film called “There’s a Ghost in the Bathroom” during COVID. “It was to get our feet wet with new procedures,” he says. “Minimal crew, temperatures taken, social distancing enforced, KN95 masks, constant sanitizing, etc. It's tough, but it worked and it was still fun. We are optimistic that we will return to normal.” While pivoting as needed, the future looks bright for Fat Foot Films and they plan to pick up where they left off before COVID. “While navigating COVID, we got a call from a gentleman we met at the Pulse awards asking if we could help him produce some commercials,” Gutierrez says. “It was for a new film platform called Reveel – a startup that had the same mindset we had when it came to what we like and don't like in a film platform. No commercial interruptions, no DIYs and cat videos, but a free platform geared towards original film and creating a community of filmmakers with people who are fans of film.” In the months that followed, Gutierrez and his team created a few commercials and sponsor videos for Reveel. “We have never been so impressed with a platform,” he says. The feeling was mutual and a deal was struck. “It is a five year exclusivity deal, and now ‘STRAY’ can be seen all over the world on Reveelmovies.com available on Roku and Amazon Firestick,” Gutierrez says. “The film is also screening at hundreds of pop up drive-ins in the upcoming spring season. One of our biggest and best moments as Fat Foot Films happened in 2020.” Gutierrez and the Fat Foot Films team are now in talks with Reveel to bring more content exclusively to the platform. “We’re getting the boys back together to tackle another script in our pile,” he says. Fat Foot Films also plans to revisit bringing film festivals to Worcester in the future. “It’s such an awesome, untouched city that has so much potential,” Gutierrez says. “We want to do that for this city.” For more information on Fat Foot Films, visit them on their Facebook page Facebook. com/fatfootfilms, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube or website Fatfootfilms.com. t h epu ls emag.com



Brandon Flowers once again embraces his Springsteen-influenced lyrics, but, more often than not, this time around they are backed by a more mature sound than in previous albums. Sure, there is still the group’s trademark ‘80s synth pop hooks, especially in the funky “Fire in Bone,” but those moments are few and far between when compared to the sweeping, operatic feel the rest of the songs have. That sense of forging ahead is captured more than once, as Flowers struggles with the complexity of change and the inevitable urge to push back. His paralyzing doubt is captured in the rousing “My Own Soul’s Warning” as he sings, ““I tried going against my own soul's warning/But in the end, something just didn't feel right.” And later, in a line that many can probably relate to in 2020, Flowers finds himself on the breaking point and no longer able to ignore the sea change when he sings in “Caution”: “Tonight the winds of change are coming over me/If I don't get out/Out of this town/I just might be the one who finally burns it down.” “Lightning Fields,” featuring k.d. lang, is The Killers at their most fully developed sonically, going for substance rather than a quick radio pop hit. “When the Dreams Run Dry,” sounds like three songs in one, complete with a calypso melody before speeding back up into a happy carousel of carefree disposition by its end. There is more of an ‘80s world-music feel on “My God,” a song that sounds somehow dated and new at the same time.

The title of The Killers’ sixth studio album suggests that the group is breaking out of any sort of collective view others have of them and forging a new identity. With original guitarist Dave Keuning missing from the lineup, it seems like high time for the remaining members to re-evaluate their sound. The group is at a crossroads on Breaking the Mirage, but it proves to be beneficial to them.

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So, do The Killers succeed in breaking their own mirage? In a way, yes. Breaking the Mirage is definitely The Killers making a strong effort to experiment with new sounds while still keeping the heart of Flowers’ lyrics intact, ultimately giving them even more weight than previously. Perhaps more importantly, they have survived a lineup change and turned that corner so many other bands have crashed into. There are elements of the familiar on this record, but also enough signs of growth that should give fans hope for a long future for The Killers. “My God, it’s like the weight has been lifted,” Flowers sings in “My God.” Now that it has, he and his band can do whatever they want. For more, visit Thekillersmusic.com.


Photo Credit: Bryan O’Donnell Pictures

WORCESTER NATIVE DELIVERS FIRST COMEDY ALBUM JASON SAVIO Shaun Connolly has a lot to smile about. Not only has the stand-up comedian and Worcester native recently welcomed his first child into the world, he is also celebrating the release of his first comedy album, Hot Dog!. “I always wanted to record an album, but I didn’t think my comedy could fit into the confines of an album,” Connolly says, laughing. “It sounds so pretentious, but I still feel like it’s true.” Hot Dog!, recorded at George's Coney Island in October of 2019, isn’t your typical comedy album. Instead of just standing up on stage with a mic and telling jokes, Connolly has a wheel he spins that helps determine what bit he tells. This device, which he uses as part of his monthly Hot Dog! A Comedy Sideshow performance at George's Coney Island, proved to be what helped Connolly get over the hump when deciding how to approach the album. Whereas other comics would come up on stage to spin the wheel with him at the monthly gig, on Hot Dog! the album, he would do it solo. “After doing the Hot Dog! show for a while, I realized maybe that’s how I can do the album, so that way it’s not just a regular straight stand-up set and there’s some spontaneity and creativeness that I think I bring on stage that could get captured better in an album format,” he says . A lot of material on the album is Connolly addressing how he was bullied while growing up. When asked if it feels good using that experience to his benefit now, he says, “Oh totally. I think that was part of the allure of stand-up for me, too, was that I get to be a version of myself that I like for people and they hopefully get to really enjoy it back. It’s a socially acceptable way for me to talk about my pain.” The album also serves as a farewell of sorts for a lot of Connolly’s material, some of which he’s been telling since 2011. “I needed a little fire under my butt to force myself to start writing new material,” says the 33-year-old about the inspiration behind creating Hot Dog!. “I needed to stop resting on those jokes. I needed to force myself to create new material.” One of those older bits is what got his foot into the world of comedy. During a standup competition when he was attending Bridgewater State College his freshman year, Connolly told a joke that would ultimately help him win the contest and turn heads. “I just told this story that I used to tell all the time in high school about how I shit myself at the Greendale Mall,” he says. Older standups that were in attendance at the competition invited Connolly to check out the Boston comedy scene. “That’s when it clicked with me that comedy can happen for me,” Connolly says. In 2010, after graduating from Bridgewater State, where he studied theater, Connolly would come back to Worcester and become a substitute teacher at South High

Photo Credit: Artrocity

Community School. But he still had his mind set on his stand-up dream--he’d teach from 7 a.m. until sometimes 5 p.m., take a nap for an hour or two, and then drive into Boston and do a show at places like the Comedy Studio and the Middle East. “It was nuts,” he says about his schedule. “It was a whole lot.” But trying to fit into the Boston comedy scene presented a whole new set of challenges, and being from Worcester, he says, made him an “outsider.” “When you tell people when you’re at an open mic or a booked show in Boston that you’re from Worcester, you’re already looked down upon, and so you’re just not in the club because you’re not from Boston,” he says. A big part of stand-up is socializing with the other comics before and after a show, but because Connolly was always getting to his gigs right before they started and having to leave as soon as they were over to get back for his teaching duties the next morning, he was missing out. Connolly would eventually find his niche performing in Worcester and helping build up the comedy scene in his hometown. He credits the Center Bar, which is now the Hangover Pub, for giving him his break in Woo Town. A promotion of getting a free pizza if you bought a pitcher of beer didn’t hurt either, Connolly says. “That’s how we got people in the door.” Now, when he’s not working for the Massachusetts Educational Finance Authority as a content creator during the day, Connolly is juggling an assortment of comedic-centered projects, including hosting duties for the Sort of Late Show at Nick’s Bar (which is temporarily not happening because of COVID-19), and recording his podcast “An Actual Alt-Weekly.” Connolly is also a co-producer of the WOOtenanny comedy festival and is working on creating a Twitch channel for it this winter. And on top of all of this, he just became a dad. “That’s the joke, that’s why we had the kid so I could get some new material,” he says. Originally as a student at Burncoat High School, Connolly had aspirations to be an actor and make movies. But now, as a new family man with his comedy roots firmly planted in his hometown, Connolly is happy with the world he’s created for himself. “I thought that would be the way to be funny, be like Jim Carrey or something like that, just be a goofball onscreen,” he says. “And then I found out I can be a goofball every night. I don’t have to wait for someone to offer me a movie deal.” Hot Dog! is available to listen to and download on Bandcamp For more, visit Shaunconnollycomedy.com

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SMOKE AWAY YOUR WOES ELLIOT MERCIER 2020 should’ve been a wonderful year full of achievement, technological advancement and joy to the world. Hell, if you read science fiction from the 60s and 70s, they look upon the pleasant sounding start of a decade with optimism. It’s a shame we have to tell them that no, we do not have jetpacks as a viable source of transportation, and we have not colonized planets next to other stars. Instead the year was one of the few instances where being a hermit and not physically interacting with other human beings was considered a positive. It should come as no surprise then to find out that the consumption of cannabis had reached an all time high during this stressful collection of days. According to a study provided by UMass Dartmouth, out of a survey of 346 people, half of them admitted to consuming cannabis more this year in comparison to ones prior. These participants were in the older range: 57 percent being over the age of 40, while the remaining were under that, which gives the study a fair amount of diversity in demographic. Most of their increased smoking was attributed to stress, but there was a fair amount of confessions that correlated their green indulgence with the desire to use it rather than the expensive medications they had to deal with mental forms of strife. Cannabis has been heralded by many to be particularly effective at treating anxiety, depression, insomnia and chronic physical pain. The amount of folk who cultivate cannabis at home has also increased from the impact of COVID, going up to 17 percent, a noticeable increase from the 6 percent noticed in 2019. The pandemic also discouraged folk from buying the smoke stacks by a small margin compared to years prior. 33 percent of surveyed individuals in 2019 admitted money was the main culprit in why they wouldn’t indulge, with that number going up in 2020 to 39 percent, no doubt being caused by dwindling security in their current job and financial holdings. This study will continue throughout 2021, with what I imagine will be a surge or decline in cannabis activity throughout January due to New Year’s Resolution hype or dismay. Little factoids to remember from this year include: The CCC announced that 80 retailers have collectively earned a billion dollars from gross sales. The CCC announced a merger with the Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA), which will standardize practices regarding cannabis throughout the entire country rather than making unique policies for an individual state. Quoting the CCC: “The Cannabis Regulators Association is not an advocacy group and takes no formal position for or against cannabis legalization, but rather seeks to provide government jurisdictions with unbiased information to help make informed decisions when considering whether or how to legalize or expand regulated cannabis.” Optimistically this means we will have definitive rules everywhere. Cynical minds ponder on the inevitable delays in establishing rules now that we are accounting for the entire nation rather than just our meager bay state.

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HOW CAN WE SHAPE WORCESTER’S FUTURE IN 2021? GIULIANO D’ORAZIO Happy New Year! With a COVID vaccine on the horizon, and a new administration in the White House this month, many are gleefully welcoming change in 2021. So often, when we get informed and involved in politics (and I argue that queer life ​is​inherintly political, so… let’s get it) we jump to national politics. The big races, the larger-than-life debates and the 24 hour news cycle that glorifies it all can grab our attention like a big shiny object, and don’t get me wrong, national politics is super important, but we often have the most impact as individual voters in our local​elections. The more I’ve learned about Worcester politics, the more I realize we need real change. For starters, it’s an election year, and if you just thought “no, it’s not, that was last year”,well that’s part of the reason we have such a low voter turnout. In Worcester, we hold our municipal elections every two years, in the odd years (2017, 2019, 2021, etc…). We also have a “weak mayor” system, wherein the City Council appoints the City Manager, who is in charge of major executive decisions. That’s why our council members are the most influential elected officials in Worcester. The statistics I’m about to reference are pulled from the Worcester Regional Research Bureau’s report entitled “Absent Voters: Who is Voting and Not Voting (Yet) in Worcester Municipal Elections”, released in March of 2020. I encourage you to check it out for yourself, as my space here is far too limited to highlight all of its eye-opening information. Only 17 percent of registered voters in Worcester voted in our last municipal election, held in November of 2019. Demographically, they are a largely white, middle class slice of our constituency, with the vast majority of them living in single-family homes. Worcester politico types call them the “District 5 Voters” (the West Side vote disproportionately decides our races). In short, the people

who vote in our municipal elections do not accurately represent our city’s diverse population. When it comes to age, the average voter in our last election was around 58 years old. As a queer millenial living and working in Worcester, I feel like my community’s voice is not a welcome part of the dialogue at City Hall. Yet, the decisions made by the council have major impacts on all of us, especially marginalized populations. As a case-point example, look at the council’s decision to support an increased police budget, even after massive pushback from community voices in the wake of the Worcester PD’s violent response to racial justice protests in Main South. I believe the conversation and attitudes of the City Council would be different, were they truly beholden to all of our city’s residents. If councillors knew they were competing for progressive votes, queer votes, BIPOC votes, young votes, I definitely don’t think it would be so easy for them to brush off callers jamming up phone lines during public participation. This being a queer-community-focused column, I would like to encourage all my fellow LGBTQ+ siblings to get the eff out there and register yourself to vote if you haven’t. If you usually skip out on the local elections, cut it out! This is our year to get in the game. We’ve said enough is enough to the fascist regime that plagued our White House for the last four years, surely we can say no to the run-of-the-mill status-quo-serving attitudes that are the norm in Worcester’s politics. Change can ​be on our horizon ​if​we make it happen. There are folks out there who want to break City Hall’s politics-as-usual culture. Keep an eye out for some really great progressive candidates throwing their hats in the ring - I’ll be shouting them out in my articles as the year rolls on. Giuliano D’Orazio (he/him pronouns) is a Worcester native, musician, music educator, active member of the local LGBTQ+ community, and a board member of L ​ ove Your Labels​. Follow him on instagram ​@musicbygiuliano

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Happy 2021 to all of our readers! We here at Pulse hope that you had a restful and healthy holiday season and an excellent start to the New Year. As we close the chapter that was 2020 for better or worse, we look ahead to the hopefulness that a new year can bring. On a lighter note, although most of us are continuing to work and spend most of our time home, a new year is still the perfect opportunity to try a new trend, hairstyle, overall look- and we have brought you just the trends to start your 2021 fashion game right! Read on for the up-and-coming must-haves for this season. Pearl Jewelry- This is the time to grab grandma’s vintage pearl earrings and make what’s old new again. Pearls are back and appearing on a variety of things in excess from carefully crafted earrings to yards of pearl strand necklaces. Want a slightly different take? A broach adorned with pearls is a great go-to for those looking to be slightly more unique. Black, White and Pink all over- Neutrals with a subtle pop of baby pink seem to be popping up everywhere. Not usually a fan? Try a light, barely distinguishable pink on something as simple as an eyelash knit sweater. Style the rest of the outfit in neutrals, with a white or blue jean, or a beige trench coat for a more toned down look. Don’t forget to maintain the neutral with your mask if you are going out-a black or white will do just fine!



Pop of eyes, neutral face- One thing that we can be sure we will continue to focus on are the eyes. With everyone wearing masks, the eyes are one way that we can continue to express ourselves through makeup. Bear in mind though that the natural look is still in- a strong, fluffy, yet natural brow paired with a smudgy eyeliner and a lot of lashes will do just fine. You can forgo the face makeup if you’d like-give your skin a breather. For zoom meetings, keep the rest of your face natural and as light as possible if you are wearing foundation and add a touch of a glossy lip. Crimped/wavy Mermaid hair- The waist-length mermaid hair is everything this season, and we will continue to see this through spring 2021. Length certainly adds a wow factor, but you can rock crimped hair at virtually any length; from grown out pixie cuts to shoulder to waist length, this versatile and flattering style will work well on everyone! Don’t forget that if you are using a lot of heat to keep up the hair care- weekly masks as well as hair oil should help to keep hair’s health and shine despite using heated tools to achieve your mermaid look.

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GETTING DIRECTIONS JENNIFER RUSSO In Native American culture, there is much emphasis on the four directions: North, South, East and West. They can be found in prayer text, on the medicine wheel, are associated with specific colors and animal spirits and represent the phases of life. Together, the focus is on achieving balance between these pulls across our whole self. There are times when we all experience what feels like a lack of direction. A crossroads where we just aren’t sure what to do or where to go next. Though in the physical sense, these directions are just, well…directions…in the deeper spiritual meaning they may help to provide some guidance to determine our higher path. This begins with an understanding of what the directions mean in this way. North – This direction is about finding enlightenment and renewal. It is where we find solitude and quiet. It is a retreat, putting space between yourself and things that hold you back and distract so that you can find yourself once again, reconnect and listen to your own truth. It is a readjustment and alignment to who you are at your very core. South – This direction represents following passions and living abundantly by following that which brings joy. It is the belief that anything is possible and building our identity, putting in hard work to achieve and experiencing growth, fulfillment and learning. East – This is the direction of the sun’s rising and is symbolic of starting something new. Putting stake in great ideas, creativity and visions. It is looking toward a fresh start or achieving clarity and acting on that new line of sight into what we need. West – The direction of the sun’s setting and represents an ending, but from the standpoint of having true wisdom and understanding. The darkness also brings a calm and a reliance and trust in our own intuition to guide our way. It is a time to purge that which does not serve us and a readiness to transform. It is important to recognize that no direction can exist without a center point to measure it against. The compass will always point North when you are holding it because YOU are the center point. Directions are simply guidance in relation to where you are right now and where you want to go. Ultimately, it’s a decision you make yourself.

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