Boston Stories IV: Points of Isolation

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Spring/Summer 1997

I occupy one bedroom of Apt. 3 at 39 Rutland Square in the South End, overlooking the courtyard in between buildings. I own nothing but a 13” TV and a coffeemaker. All of my possessions – mostly books – are in garbage bags on the floor at the foot of the bed. From my bed I can only see the building on the other side, but from the little table in the kitchen the Hancock Tower and the Berkeley Building with her weather beacon are right there.

Rutland Square is the street of my dreams: low, three-story brownstones with high stoops, landscaping and wrought iron in the middle. My roommate is a Swede studying abroad for the summer, so the place is mine. It’s perfect.

Except that I’m paralyzed with undiagnosed depression and can barely get out of bed, let alone handle a four-hour shift schlepping credit cards. Most of my days are spent napping, reading in a cloud of nicotine or walking around town aimlessly.

But I always come back to my roof. To get there I have to enter the open apartment upstairs. In their bathroom, next to their tub, is a wooden step-ladder. I climb up, push open a corrugated glass window and shimmy through a suspect, splinter-ridden wood frame.

And then all of Boston is there for me, and the empty shell of my day-to-day existence erodes…

Winter/Spring 1998

I’m subletting a basement room from a nutcase in Brookline and working at a call center in Quincy. It’s ten miles from Quincy to Brookline, and six miles from Quincy to South Station. Every night, no matter the weather, I get off the Red Line at either South Station or Park Street, grab a bite and walk the final four miles back to my room. This is how desperate I am to not be “home.”

I usually make it just before curfew. Yes, I’m 25 and my roommate has imposed a curfew. Her paranoia is such that I have to make my sofa bed, hide all my possessions and pull the transom shades every morning before leaving, lest the superintendent see me and snitch her out to management. Never mind that she placed her rental ad in the not-exactly-covert Boston Phoenix, and never mind that the super knows I’m there and that we’ve swapped shots of Old Grand Dad and stories about what a nutcase she is.

This is my life. This is why I prefer walking four miles in a downpour or a blizzard or an arctic gale to being home in my room.

My walks are solitary and free of terms and conditions. From South Station I walk up Summer St. to Park St. and the Boston Common, so named because the sheep paths that became the streets of Boston originated from this common grazing ground. I walk through the Common and across Charles St. to the Public Garden, where spring flowers will soon bloom. I walk Commonwealth Ave through Parisian Back Bay, enraptured by the brownstones, the park in the middle of the Ave, the old gas lamps.

In Kenmore Square I arrive under the flashing Citgo sign. I head upstairs to the fantastic Planet Records and buy a grab bag of CDs. I buy some Tremont Ale at the basement Kenmore Liquors and wrap the bottles in my backpack. I examine the menu at the Chinese Pizza place and think better of it.

I continue on Comm, past the stately Buckminster Hotel and on to Boston University territory, where the Green Line trolley emerges from the underground of Kenmore Square Station in the middle of the avenue. Past school buildings and dorms and the Paradise Rock Club, where I dream of someday playing. Past the site of what was once Braves Field, where the Boston Braves hosted Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial and more of my idols. I dream of crowds in pearls and fedoras and streets clogged with Packards and De Sotos.

I continue past the reverent Temple Israel and to Coolidge Corner. Almost there. I buy some pistachios at Trader Joe’s on Harvard Ave, then slink downstairs to retire for the evening. I flick on my desk lamp, crack open a Tremont and read and write and drink in dark solitude, like a WWII blackout.

I’m home.

Summer 2000

364.4 Smoots Plus 1 Ear. This is the length of the Mass Ave Bridge. The bridge is also known as the Harvard Bridge, and it leads directly to MIT. The story goes that one night a group of MIT yuksters decided to measure the bridge with the handiest tool possible: a classmate named Smoot. They laid Mr. Smoot down on the sidewalk and started measuring. The Smoot markers are still there, freshly painted every year.

In the middle of the bridge, possibly where Houdini performed his act once, the sidewalk reads HALFWAY TO HELL. This is where I stop and stand, arms on the railing, taking in the sweep of Boston before me and wondering what would it be like? I would never do it, but the thought crosses my mind every time. Just a lean too far…maybe a slight pitching…my stomach flying into my throat as gravity takes over…Would it be as peaceful as I had read? Would I struggle or accept? Would it silence the demons and the pain? Would anyone but my family notice?

I can never do it, because of my family, and ultimately because I know that all of this is transitory and I’m meant for better things. I pick up my pace and continue my walk over the Charles to Cambridge, looking ahead, always looking ahead…

Image Sources:

Boston Real Estate

heatingoil.com

MIT

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31 comments
  1. Shahidah said:

    A book of Boston short stories! You should do it.

    • hmmmmmmmmmmmmm……

      • morezennow said:

        I second that emotion!

      • …wheels…..turning……

      • Yeah, print the thing already!

      • You’re on to me! ;)

    • morezennow said:

      Right! Maybe if we nag him hard enough he’ll put us out of our misery and publish a decidedly delicious novel!

      • Decidedly?!? Gulp!

      • morezennow said:

        I know that whatever spills onto your pages is going to be a feast…yum yum in my tum. (Having a Pooh Bear moment!)

    • I third that emotion! (Wait. What does “Robert’s Rules of Order” say about voting as a third?) I really love this series. A lot. I think it works. I think it’s honest. I think the writing is really tight. Man, this is good stuff.

      • Must be that Bluebird I hear in my head chirping me on to better writing…

      • But, it’s YOU doing the writing! You really rocked the prose this week, my friend! *And now I’m doing a happy dance!*

  2. When I was a kid, I used to make up stories for the people sitting next to us at stop lights, etc. My dad always had Rush Limbaugh on the car radio, and there’s only so much of that my young mind could take before it would start to wander. Everybody has a story… I think it is great to be able to wonder about others thoughts, feelings, motivations…lives in general.

    • The mind goes in strange places when exposed to Rush…

  3. How did I luck into such awesomeness for a fan base? Seriously, you are all so great!

    This one is really hitting me, actually, especially finding that pic of my old block on Rutland Sq. And damn, I miss Planet Records! The original one in Kenmore Sq., just behind Fenway. Before it burnt down from the fire that started in the Chinese Pizza joint…

  4. Don’t think I’ve seen anything as autobiographical as this and the previous form you.
    gotta say, the true stories are as engulfing as the fiction.
    As above, put out the book already, would you?
    Guaranteed you’ll sell at least one non-family copy.

    • Thanks so much, seriously. The goal of this here page is to get some eyes on the work, and through that to get the “right” eyes on the work. So far so good, thanks to you all, and I can’t thank you all enough.

      • I don’t know about the right eyes, but I don’t think I’ve blown smoke about any of the pieces.
        For the ones that don;t move me, my comments have been along the “Hey, I know that place!” lines.
        Almost all your stuff gets compliments form me because I liked reading it.

        Can I have my purchase discount now?

      • Gulp! Hope you didn’t read anything into that! I’m absolutely blown away by ALL of your comments! I know how heartfelt it is, and that is so inspiring to me! I just mean that yes, in addition to you all I’m hoping to build this site to the point where I have enough of a following and enough hits to start submitting to agents/publishers, etc. Didn’t mean to sound snippy or dismissive at ALL, please know that!

      • No, not at all – didn’t mean to make it sound like that’s how I took it.
        Many people are polite online, but I wouldn’t say Great Writing! just to make you happy.
        I wouldn’t be (any more than usual of) a dick about it, just not as complimentary.
        Seriously, and sincerely, your stuff is really good, and I enjoyed reading the last 3 Boston shots in one go.

        Even if there’s no book, it’s nice to know I can come here and still read the new, and reread the ones that really moved me.

        But if there is a book, you know…discount?
        (Just kidding)
        (It’ll be worth full price)

      • pheewww, and I agree totally and also don’t do assy-kiss comments. ;)

        Four-finger discount, how’s that?

      • Now you’re speaking my language!

        Seriously man that comment above is the Greatest. Writing. Ever.
        The syntax, the emotion, the very core of humanity summed up so succinctly, and yet, with that little touch of emotion, as personified in the works of that paragon of authorliness, Harold Robbins.

  5. elasticstackz said:

    Hahha, I didn’t actually read the part where it said, ‘boston stories’ or even glance at the sub titles that had dates like 1997, so I thought this was your story… :/ But I did think it was sad that you had a paranoid room mate. I like the moving pictures, they look cool.You want to publish a book? is it this one, that you’re writing? Your writing is interesting. I haven’t read all of it, but the first one and second one are cool…………….. Waff-a-juice.

    • Hey, thanks a lot! Great to have you here. This week ended up being, very unexpectedly, a heavily autobiographical look back at my years in Boston (1996 – 2002). The posts Boston Stories II: South Station, Boston Stories III: Cast of Characters, Boston Stories IV: Points of Isolation (and the one coming up tomorrow!) are all me, the good, the bad and the paranoid. ;) My goal is to become a self-sufficient writer: I do commercial copywriting, and would love to break into the world of periodicals, published books…who knows. We’ll see where this work takes me!

  6. elasticstackz said:

    I meant the 1997 and 1998 paragraph thing. I thumbs up-d all the comments…. *Thanks* /Its okay. :)

    • Awesomeness!

  7. This is amazing. I love how you start off with your location and the best and worst parts of it, and add in little facts and tidbits but don’t give away all of your information. Fantastic.

    • You are so kind, Kate! I really appreciate it, thanks.

  8. I like the way you are looking back at your experiences. I see your readers are demanding a book! Good job.

    • I like the way they think!

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