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Image Source: EListMania

September, 1986: I was freshly fourteen, freshly home in Maine after four years of Florida exile and ready to start eighth grade. I missed Maine like crazy, but I got used to the life of a pre-teen Florida beach bum/skate rat. Every day in Jacksonville was like a Cameron Crowe film, and I was straight out of central casting, bedecked with a devil-lock (nicely highlighted by fourteen bottles of Sun-in), surf and skate tees, Jimmy-Z’s skate shorts and violet Chuck Taylors.

My new Maine chums were, to put it mildly, a little taken aback by me. Walking into Sugg Middle School, Lisbon Falls, Maine, circa 1986, was like walking into a documentary about the Nixon years. I decided to dress up in a Cosby sweater for that first day. My classmates were all bowl cuts and bangs and jean jackets. I was listening to and skating to The Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, The Ramones and Agent Orange. Transportation for the rest of the class revolved around the most extreme engines on two or four wheels, and the Maine airwaves were filled with Grace Slick and John Kay and Steppenwolf on the dinosaur station.

And there were only two feet clad in violet Chucks for many miles around.

It was September, 1986. Reagan and Gorbachev were staring each other down. The Red Sox were cruising in the American League East. The Beastie Boys, Robert Palmer and Don Johnson (sic) ruled the charts, and Who’s The Boss?, Growing Pains and ALF were must see TV.

I was fourteen and finally back home after four years of dreaming. And I was about to become a middle school pariah; a purple-wearing faggot.

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3rd Ave. EL
Image Source: Olde New York

It’s funny how two lives can intersect.

I met Dolores at the Christmas party. She had recently moved from Arizona, and had been working in the office for a few months. I was unattached, and we gravitated toward each other and stayed together the whole party.

As it turns out, she was soon moving back to Arizona on her way to Los Angeles. There wasn’t much time. We met a few times after that, each time better and more, shall we say, cozy. We had so much in common! We liked the same pictures and orchestras and radio shows…everything. She even liked the Dodgers! She was perfect.

I thought about her all the time, and told everyone about our relationship. I called and called. We talked for hours, but the calls gradually grew shorter. One time she said she didn’t think we should get cozy anymore, since she was moving. I agreed, but kept calling.

Eventually her room mate started picking up and saying Dolores wasn’t around. I thought that was a little strange, but I kept trying, and eventually got her. I’d had a few Rheingolds, like usual, and I was feeling really good about us and what we had, even as it was ending. We made a date to meet at the Automat on 3rd Ave at 42nd the next day and I went to bed.

And Delores never showed. And I never saw her again, and I never heard from her again. Dolores’s room mate told someone that Dolores thought I was a creep because of all the phone calls and especially the last one.

I guess I can see that. I just couldn’t believe I had met someone so perfect. And she was leaving me! Like everyone I ever fell for, leaving me alone and mortified and wondering. Maybe I did get carried away, but you would too, right? Anyway, I didn’t mean to…

Two people come together, and it’s like two rivers flowing south and coming together. Sometimes they cross and keep going separately, and all you can do is wonder where they would have ended up if they had stayed together…

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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…

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Boston Real Estate

heatingoil.com

MIT

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"Man's Best Friend"
Image Source: Meredith Kleiber

It’s a racket, ya know? Like any other job, really. Lots of people get in here, they expect Travis Bickle an’ gun fights an’ crazy stuff, but it ain’t like that. Nine out of ten fares, nothin’ happens. I pick people up, take ‘em where they wanna go, they pay me, an’ that’s it. Nine out of ten fares.

Most of my fares are real nice. Sure, I get plenty of obnoxious drunks, an’ rich old ladies that come in with a superior attitude. But for the most part it’s all uneventful. Sometimes my fares an’ I have great conversation the whole trip, an’ sometimes it’s silent the whole way. That don’t bother me. I gauge it out dependin’ on the vibe I get from the fare. They don’t want to talk, they don’t want to talk, an’ what am I gonna do? That’s fine with me, an’ I can’t take it personal-like. But it ain’t like some people think, like how people think I must spend the whole ride tryin’ to talk about every little thing an’ muttering about cheapskate fares an’ how I’m gonna drive off a bridge with a fare one of these days.

Not to say that things never get interesting, of course. I’ve been hacking nights for twelve years now, an’ just when you think you’ve seen it all, well…I ran out of gas on bridge-an’-tunnel jobs on two consecutive nights once, if you can believe that. I’ve had more near-miss bathroom experiences than I can count. An’ I once had a lady JUST missed havin’ her first-born in my back seat! Got her to the ER just in time.

An’ sometimes things can get scary. Had a guy once, got in, an’ I could tell he was tweaking. I was about to pull over an’ kick him out when he pulled a blade an’ stuck in into the back of my neck. Naturally this one night I got a cab without a partition. My insides was turning to goo, but I kept calm as I could an’ kept driving. Tough to do with a shank in your neck. I kept scanning the street, lookin’ for a spot where I could pull over an’ jump out, but all the meters was full up. An’ this guy was getting real agitated. Finally I saw a spot an’ pulled over, an’ the guy tried to make his move an’ jump me across the back seat. Let’s just say that I was glad that night that I was packing an’ knew what to do with my piece.

But like I say, that’s the exception. Nine out of ten fares, nothin’ happens. I pick up people up, take ‘em where they wanna go, they pay me, an’ that’s it. I go home in the mornin’, an’ I’m a husband and father, puttin’ my kids through school. One fare out of ten is a doozy, but for the most part it’s just a racket, like any other job, really.


Image Source: New York Times

1:17 AM: The percolator finished bubbling and Kevin Walton pulled himself away from the window to pour a cup. He had the cushiest day-job ever, working a four-hour shift schlepping credit cards, so he was free to keep whatever hours he wanted. And he was fortunate enough to have found an apartment in the back of a building, offering quiet and seclusion. It wouldn’t last, but it was perfect for the time. He often stayed up all night, listening to jazz, playing his piano and staring out the window at the action, or lack thereof, across the air shaft.

Hot night, windows open, Ellington on the stereo. “Harlem Air Shaft.” Kevin remembered a quote from The Duke that he read for an assignment in Jazz History class at U Maine Augusta. He still had it in a notebook. He found the notebook in a steamer trunk and flipped through to the page:

“Take ‘Harlem Air Shaft,’” Duke said. “So much goes on in a Harlem airshaft. You get the full essence of Harlem in an air shaft. You hear fights, you smell dinner, you hear people making love. You hear intimate gossip floating down. You hear the radio. An air shaft is one great big loudspeaker. You see your neighbor’s laundry. You hear the janitor’s dogs. The man upstairs’ aerial falls down and breaks your window. You smell coffee. A wonderful thing is that smell. An air shaft has got every contrast. One guy is cooking dried fish with rice and another guy’s got a great big turkey. Guy-with-fish’s wife is a terrific cooker but the guy’s wife with the turkey is doing a sad job.” Duke laughed. “You hear people praying, fighting, snoring. Jitterbugs are jumping up and down always over you, never below you. That’s a funny thing about jitterbugs. They’re always over you. I tried to put all that in ‘Harlem Air Shaft.’”
The New Yorker, July 01, 1944, Pg. 26

Kevin read that quote several times, staring out the window at his own air shaft, listening to the song that inspired it all, amazed to be living that dream. He thought of all those times walking across the campus at UMA, with the wind tossing up cyclones of crystalline snow, heading for another warm classroom filled with music. He thought of reading that Ellington quote and how much it resonated back then, and the feeling of sitting in class and thinking of maybe having an apartment that faced an air shaft one day. And here I am…

He looked out the window at the warm summer air shaft. He heard the guy in 6B yelling at family in San Juan. He got a whiff of curry – maybe a bowl of Mulligatawny from the Indian joint down the block. Somebody was playing salsa music somewhere. The night was alive in the air shaft, as alive as the Duke had made it. And here I am…

He thought of the amazing and unknown that is serendipity, and how some things just present themselves at precisely the right time. No known reason, other than perfection. And he thought of all the moments of serendipity in his life, from far past to near, that had aligned so perfectly. And here I am…

It was one of those moments when everything solidifies, when every thought and notion and dream and plan that had come and gone before suddenly is realized and makes sense. Nothing revolutionary, but still monumental. The lonely night wore on and Kevin kept the moment close, savoring the feeling of being the most content son-of-a-bitch in the building.

Read the article that inspired this post here:

And listen to the Duke:


Image Source: Larry Clark

You ever thought about it? Hah? Ever think you could? You ever think of how easy it would be? Just level your sights, just like you’re hanging a picture on the wall, and then a quick squeeze…easy as taking a shit in the morning, right? Hah?

Yeah, but you couldn’t do it. You got rules and order and structure. I use to have order and structure too. In boot camp. Then they handed me a fuckin’ M-16 and threw me on the front line on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Me, goddamn eighteen, fresh off a potato farm on Long Island, wasn’t old enough to pick my friggin’ nose right. And there I was, seeing my buddy’s brain explode into mush two feet from where I was just standing. Think you could handle that, tough guy? Yeah?

I humped the boonies and killed all the goddamn Cong I could while all the shit-heels in office today were getting deferments and trying to get laid on campus. Same sleazes that cut my VA benefits after their “Cost Benefit Analysis.” Welcome to the Home of the Brave, right?

Think your goddamn senator knows what it’s like to try to sleep in the shit, ten thousand miles from home, in the kind of heat that makes you feel like you’re suffocating just breathing? And not knowing when or where the next air strike is gonna come in from and who’s going to make it and who isn’t? Nah, they know all about playing records on the hi-fi and smoking dope and getting gonorrhea tests and spending daddy’s money at the mall.

They don’t know shit about me, after I came home through a shower of spit with a bullet in my thigh and the goddamn nightmares that don’t ever stop. You know what I got now?
All I goddamn got in life? I got a beer and a syringe. And a gun. That’s my life. Think you could handle that, you candy-ass punk?

And now I can’t even get a job at a Pizza Hut because they say I ain’t right in the head. Well how right in the head do you think you’d be, tough guy? Think you know how you’d handle it? Nah, you don’t have a clue. Not a damn clue, son.

And you couldn’t pull that hammer back. You couldn’t end it, for anyone else, or for yourself.

But I could…


Image Source: Sonali Mangal

The bottle hit the floor with a thud, rather than a smash. Her hand had fallen off the side of the bed after she nodded off, long past giving up the charade of formalities and a glass, so the bottle had a short fall. But now a fine Argentine Malbec was spilling all over the floor. She got up, cleaned the mess, got back into bed and slugged back the rest, as the two hemispheres of her brain came together in hazy concentric circles. Diminishing circles, diminishing returns. It was over. All over. The last time…

A few hours later she dragged into work, dragging as always, made the call, got the reservation confirmed and left the office early. She got a ride and got dropped off. Paperwork, paperwork, more paperwork, interviews, questions, more interviews, more questions. Everything taken away, all possessions locked in storage. Hospital gown, hospital pants, hospital socks. Hospital bed with rubber mattress and ill-fitting sheets, a swing-out tray with a room temperature turkey sandwich and chips, a painting that was clearly done by a grade-school child and Jesus paraphernalia all around the room. No TV, no books. No clocks, no phone. Nothing but the sound of the ice machine across the hall and the beep of machines. Nothing but…

nothingness.

Nothing but fear and solitude. She tried to sleep, in spite of the late August afternoon sun streaming in. Then the first nurse arrived to check her vitals. And then she was strongly encouraged to go to her first optional meeting.

The room was full of kids. Not her. Kids kicking crystal meth and mainlining coke. Not her. She wasn’t that bad.

There was a woman, probably 40, who looked at least 60, with two shiners. Not her. She wasn’t that bad.

She teetered between indignant detachment and empathy.

I’m not THAT bad!

But I’m bad enough to be in…

The meeting began, two speakers, similar stories, common narratives weaving through both and connecting, touching where she was at and had been. More stories around the room, more connection, more empathy. And more indignant rage and snark since I’M NOT THAT BAD

There was an old commercial:

“Drinking made me lonely. Lonely, lonely, lonely!”

She used to laugh unmercifully at the overwrought off-off Broadway performance, but the sentiment was so true now that it was her life story, except I’m NOT that bad and the sentiment was there in all the stories being told…the same fuckin’ story over and over and OVER again and I’M NOT that bad she was able to plug her own life into the shared narratives…

not THAT bad…..

but bad enough…

Back to the rubber mattress which I’m not bad enough off to be sleeping in…(but I am), and back to the fear…loneliness…the woman with the shiners strolled in and took the next bed…she pretended to be asleep, not wanting to talk, not wanting to connect, to come to terms…nothing but silence, the silence of holding it all in and being terrified

and alone

and not that bad….right?