July 2003-August 2005
205 Salem Street, #4
The easiest transition from New York to Boston is made by those with a preexisting hatred for the New York Yankees. Not caring is not an option – in the summer, the Sox are front-page news nearly every day. In the winter, it is not uncommon for programming to be interrupted by an utterly pointless press conference with the perpetually rumpled Bill Belichick. No, sports are not capital I important. But in creating a collective unconscious, sports are priceless.
Boston is an underdog city. But it’s nothing more than mythology. As the Red Sox have the 2nd highest payroll, things are never quite what they seem. But buying into a mythology can be dangerous. Existing solely on the surface puts off getting to the unknown core of a place. Of a person. Writers are liars. Or, we can be. It’s hard to write but so easy to lie. Oh, and drinking. Drinking is so easy too.
Before grad school, I had played maybe one drinking game my entire life. I didn’t start drinking until the tail end of freshman year of college – the secret appeal of getting fucked up was not something I ever cared about. Both of my grandfathers were bartenders and, though they died before I was born, the respect for alcohol trickled down to my adolescence. My father and, on occasion, my mother drank. In our basement growing up, there was an entire refrigerator dedicated to beer – and sometimes the Thanksgiving turkey or a surprise birthday cake. Two of the friends I met in Boston also had fathers with beer fridges. Bonding over vice became virtue.
The bars of Boston are legion and wonderful. From the wheel of indecision at Bukowski’s that introduced me to Rogue Dead Guy (go before 10p if you want to talk – the Smiths gets turned up to 11 after that), to the tall glasses of cheap Bass at Pourhouse (which cost me part of a tooth in 2003), to the sleek fantasy of the Enormous Room (still there?). But mostly, the Pourhouse – somewhat equidistant from Allston where everyone I knew lived and my place in the North End. I remember toasting 2 friends with giant beers and six rounds of shots – we raised our many glasses to our own gods. They chose commerce, I chose art.
When I decided to go to grad school in Boston, I never even entertained living elsewhere. For reasons of blood and psychology, I don’t have a huge extended clan or a set of traditions that extend beyond the nuclear family. My mom is Italian, and by default, I’ve gravitated towards her heritage as a marker of identity. The North End called to me – or, more likely, I wanted so badly to belong to something that I felt compelled to choose a neighborhood that had the history I never did. I looked at a few places in the neighborhood with my sister who lived in Boston at the time. After begrudgingly rejecting a 5th floor walkup (!) with a spiral staircase, private roofdeck and view of a cemetery, I ended up on Salem street.
Living on the Freedom Trail is truly bizarre. When you’re not waiting in line behind dudes in tri-corner hats at CVS, it’s so easy to forget you are literally walking in the footsteps of prominent figures of American History. My apartment was a few doors down from the Old North Church. Only maybe once a month did it dawn on me that, oh yeah, “one if by land, two if by sea” happened rightoverthere. But damn this soup is heavy. Mythology is everywhere.
I was deep deep deep into my own mythology in grad school. I was a loner, there to work, not to make friends. I don’t need to make friends. I’m fine on my own. I remember a friend of mine asked me how I liked living alone – wasn’t I lonely? It was the most ludicrous question I had ever heard. Living alone was Who I Am, I thought. Finally around winter I started to crack and started taking invitations to come out with people. I’m glad I did. My liver, less so.
I began drinking more heavily than I ever had. Drinking in Boston is just what you do. Well, this was my experience – I know plenty of people who controlled themselves. I wanted to lose control for the first time. The beliefs I had clung so rigidly to were starting to wear thin. The loneliness I nursed like a habit was starting to seem less like security and more like addiction. So I tested myself, tested who I could be. But I never felt like anyone else – anything other than timid and strange. For all my talk, I was just an open wound the entire time. Unloved and, I believed, unlovable. So I lost myself. I was so fucking grateful to lose myself.
Home was the best – my 4th floor walkup sanctuary. Had I counted the number of tipsy cab rides I took home from downtown, I’m sure I would have figured out somewhere along the way that I had a bit of a problem. Beer and scotch became my familiars. Even though I drink a lot less now (for financial reasons moreso than delusions of clarity) I still find it easier to joke about my drinking, adopting the “grizzled old man” persona that I wore out in 2005. How boring is it to work all the time, to be dedicated to one’s job, boyfriend and cat? And part of that is my not believing that those things are me now. Have I grown up? Sold out? I don’t know. I do know better than to forsake happiness.
Back to the apartment. It was all mine. The bedroom was tiny, room enough for a twin bed and dresser and 3-CD changer. (Wow! Old!) The bathroom, for some reason was HUGE. Easily twice the size as the bedroom. This was a selling point from the broker’s point of view. But, really, what the hell was I going to do with all that space in the bathroom? I ended up putting a chair in the corner because, well, why not? Sometimes after the drunken cab rides home, I would pop a mix tape in the radio (Older!) and sing along, sitting on the bath mat in the dark. Alone. Though, really, duh. Of course alone. The living room was fine, windows facing Salem street and the endless parades of, well, parades that ran past every Sunday. But the kitchen was my absolute favorite. Big enough for a full-size table, I would sit and write there most nights. Geese wallpaper throughout. It was perfect.
But it all started to fall apart – literally – the next year. Accumulated snowfall melted, leaking brown water around the windows until the ceiling itself started caving in. And I found myself in familiar territory. Overwhelmed, struggling, wanting everything and feeling nothing. I chose art. But Boston, like my apartment, was good to me. The Red Sox won a (THE) World Series and it was magical, even for an outsider. The city was small enough to pace listlessly. From my place to the Common down to the big Virgin Megastore and then back again. It was a city I felt comfortable in – a fellow underdog. But we all want to win. We all want to be better than who we are. The Mets fan in me knows disappointment like a shadow. But the person who left New York wants something else. Something new, something outside myself. To escape my own mythology. To tell the truth.