Summer St. and Melcher, just over the bridge into South Boston where I catch the shuttle bus to the warehouse and my data entry job. That’s where The Barker sets up. Sandy brown hair, scraggly beard over a face that looks like the moon, voice shredded from years of unfiltered smokes and yelling over traffic. He has his own signature call, like a home run call.
Globes and Heralds!
Times and Wall Streets!
Buy a newspaper!
It’s August 1998, the final days of a roaring hot summer, just before the humidity breaks and the bite of World Series weather settles in. The world is abuzz with McGwire and Maris and Sosa. Every day The Barker has my Herald ready and as I approach he says, “Got another one yesterday!” I don’t need to ask what he means or who he means: the McGwire home run chase is the news. As the season ends and the unbreakable 61 is about to fall, The Barker starts to ask, “Ya goin’ to the game today?!” I return his ribbing with ribbing and we banter until my shuttle bus arrives. Just a minute, two minutes, four minutes. Nothing more.
Nothing more, but The Barker is my everyday man, my regular bit player in my daily Boston drama. And even though the protagonist starred in another great baseball city 1,500 miles away, The Barker brought the news home and made the greatest season in the greatest game a Boston association.
I hear him long before I see him.
In the early morning of Copley Square, having been up all night writing and drinking coffee, I’m sitting at my bench. The great lawn spreads before me, saturated with dew, and beyond is H.H. Richardson’s masterpiece Trinity Church. The city is still and soft, save for the flutter of pigeons and the thunk of a stack of newspapers dropped on the sidewalk.
I hear him approaching on Boylston St. from the Common. His cry is somewhere between a “WHOOOOOOP!” and a “YOOOOUUUUUUUP!” and he repeats it several times per block. Suddenly he is in view, riding his wheelchair bike like a Big Wheel, orange safety flags flapping in the dawn. He always wears a gray hooded sweatshirt, and the effect, along with his beard, is like a medieval warrior bedecked in chain mail. He is now on my block of Boylston, between Clarendon and Dartmouth. “WHOOOOOOP!” … “YOOOOUUUUUUUP!” …
He passes and continues on toward Mass Ave and the morning continues to brighten.
Her flower stand is at the front of the food court in the Prudential Building mall. She’s always setting up as I’m passing by, usually on my way back to my brownstone to call in “sick.” Jet-black hair, Cramps patch on her bag. I like The Cramps, so therefore we have a ton in common and we’d get along and fall for each other if she’d only stop me and say hi, right? Maybe this morning…? Maybe tomorrow…?
Chill October Friday nights bring me a paycheck and a weekend of solitude. I often find myself drawn to Harvard Square, writing and watching the kids. I take note of the clock under the CAMBRIDGE SAVINGS BANK sign, and start my dispatches on CSB Time. By the time I leave for the evening, my notebook is full of observations, ashes and coffee stains.
The best nights are when I see The Eight Foot Bride of Harvard Square. She is a vision of spectral beauty. Black bob wig, porcelain white skin and wedding dress and gloves. She. Does. Not. Move. No movement at all until you drop a donation, at which point she subtly, oh so subtly, hands her donor a flower. She is tranquility in a sea of creeping gentrification, creeping menace and choking diesel clouds. She is the center of the square.
Later, after I find success as a Boston musician and find myself in the process, I learn that the Bride is Amanda Palmer, leader and visionary of The Dresden Dolls, and that we have many mutual friends. But I still see her as the beautiful Bride and myself in awed solitude before her.
I moved to Boston when I was 24, September 1996, to attend Berklee College of Music. I was alone and very green, with surprisingly limited life and social skills. I stayed for nearly six years, leaving when I was 29, engaged and a self-made musician and writer. I failed spectacularly as a restaurant worker and delivery boy, failed miserably schlepping credit cards, did very well in the lucrative field of data entry and survived many periods of being “in between positions.” I bounced $300 rent checks and slept on floors and wondered if I’d ever amount to anything. I came of age, I made friends, I made myself. I lived dreams and paid forward whatever I could. Boston made me. Boston and her people and her civic institutions. And her characters. These are just a few I met along the way.
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