Top image: My old and favoritest apartment, at The Peerless, at 1315 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA; looking from the foyer through the living room and onto my beloved little deck over the back alley where Elisabeth would give us all tarot card readings. Sometimes we’d go across the street for drinks at Play it again Sam‘s and if the line for the bathroom was too long we’d run across the street [6 lanes and some subway tracks, which was a lot faster] to use mine. Women take forever in the bathroom.
I wake up between 4 and 5 most mornings (not on purpose) and I think (also, NOP). By 8 am I have not-purposely thought for hours. Lately this is where I not-purposely think aloud. This morning I also purposely scan. All of these images, save for those of Mr. Butch, cavalierly and purposely borrowed from sites cited below, are scanned from my collection (tattered box) of polaroids, snapshots and from prints from my BW Photography classes at Montserrat College of Art and, later, The New England School of Photography in Kenmore Square. A perusal of my images will show a reckless do-si-do with contrast and tone I suppose.
Another book from the free pile that I read this week (in addition to that excerpted in the post below) is Drinking, A Love Story by Caroline Knapp which brought back so many memories of various nouns experienced during the nearly 15 years that I called Boston (proper, that is, as I always stubbornly managed to live and park in the city and not on the outskirts till the last 2 years when I began a process of extricating myself, which I only see now) my home. I used to read Caroline Knapp’s column in The Boston Phoenix regularly – it was mainly why I sought out a copy, weekly, rather than wait for one to land in my path – and marvel at her frank and candid self-assessment in the thinly-veiled form of her fictional character Alice K (“not her real initial”). As I read I felt a sort of limited lower rung parallel to some of her exploits as she frequented the kind of highbrow and pricey places I’d been to one or twice, as the guest of a friend or on some other such special occasion outing.
Caroline was one of a handful of Boston luminaries and characters that were at the front of common perception during the time which I lived there.
Images: Left, Prophetically clowning around; Right, later – Not so funny anymore
A broken leg would inadvertently bring me to the periphery of many of these people. Oh the memories of trying to navigate rare forays to events at the opera and the museum in crutches (bad–> people in tuxes knocked me over a lot if I was between them and the champagne; people at the museum often brushed past me to cut in line for the exhibits that had limited space, meaning friends had to always catch me by grabbing a handful of my sweater), and then navigating the crowded neighborhood bars (good–> inebriated college students would helpfully clear a path for me and insist that I cut the line for the bathroom). But this is not that story.
Caroline wrote of drinking regularly at the bar at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel (I had been to the bar there once and had also been to a snooty wine taster there), eating at Biba (I ate there twice and had an acquaintance who waited tables there – a very highbrow waiter type who got some measure of satisfaction from waiting at only the most expensive and elite joints and who literally sniffed at customers he felt beneath the establishments he presided over and who gave the uppity waiter cold-shoulder-silent-smack[!] to people who did that thing of putting an s at the end of proper names of places, i.e., Biba‘s, Serendipity‘s and so on. Why do people do that? Biba was simply called Biba. Oh, tangential, well.), eating at Pot au Feu (ha! I guess if you did the s thing it would be Pot au Feus or Pot au Fuse) in Providence where I’d eaten once with my friend Charlie (who could make a cup of coffee in his french press that tasted like Paris) while he was at culinary school, and the like.
She spoke of drinking expensive wines and cognacs (I tried such things as a guest at wine tasters with my Sommelier/Concierge/Drag Queen neighbor when he was too mad at his boyfriend to bring him), spent time at the family summer home in Martha’s Vineyard (I went there twice), went to Brown (I drove by it once), and wore expensive shoes (I often taped pictures of expensive shoes to the wall in the back of my closet and would imaginarily ‘consider wearing them’, and then opt for the ones from Budget Plastic Shoe World). We’d lived in some of the same neighborhoods like the North End – although the similarities ended at the neighborhood line as I used the word ‘fabulous’ more loosely in describing the places I rented (never bought) – and we covered a lot of the same terrain unsurprisingly, as Boston is both big and small.
In 1991 I looked at her a few times from about 20 paces. She looked nice, poised, yet unapproachable. She was, after all, famous. I had broken my leg in 2 places, cleanly shearing through both tibia and fibula, and hairline fractured a few ribs in a spectacular skiing accident in which I sailed off a cliff and into a few small trees at Attitash, in an attempt to avoid 2 skiers suddenly encountered as I rounded a sharp turn on an expert trail I’d been skiing all day with friends.
They were standing, just standing there in the middle of the trail, totally blocking it, looking downhill as if (obviously) in over their heads and trying to find a safe route down. Skiers will know this phenomenon; ski patrol friends often told tales of the daily lectures sharply and redundantly doled out to inexperienced skiers about the safety considerations of standing on the side of the trail rather than in the middle and heeding the symbols suggesting the skill level required to navigate trails, with things like black diamonds. I’d been skiing for 18 years at that point and was a good skier, not a great one, and a cautious one, my days of getting lit in the woods with friends and then screamingly skiing through the branchy, off-limits and dangerous terrain, long gone and a fear of velocity and spectacular accidents having taken over.
This is my right leg on ski accident. Click for larger view. Although, it is sort of nauseating.
Anyway – after a morphine-filled week in traction with snow-filled trash bags covering my body from the waist down to reduce swelling (I thought this ingenious) and heating lamps aimed at my upper body to keep me warm (like in a hair salon, while getting a perm) and a subsequent 3 weeks learning to navigate life in crutches including bathing, climbing stairs, and carrying things in my teeth from the fridge to the counter, I returned to work where I was feted with a big welcome back party with signs and cards and bagels and cream cheeses, which after lunch turned into a massive layoff party with haggard bagels, choice exit wisdoms, and crusty cream cheeses, to which I was also, sadly, invited.
My boss felt bad so he made some calls and got me a short term freelance job doing paste-up at The Boston Phoenix. I couldn’t drive because I had this huge brace on my leg (image above) to keep it in place while it healed, with the help of a 14″ titanium rod inserted through the center of the now vacuumed-out tibia, and said brace was so big that I couldn’t make it only press one of the pedals of my standard transmission at a time. So I took the bus from my apartment in Oak Square (at that time an unfashionable and somewhat dodgy neighborhood) to Kenmore Square and crutched the whole 6 or 7 blocks past Fenway and to the offices of The Boston Phoenix. I was afraid. I was keenly aware that anyone could just walk up to me and pluck one of my crutches from under my arm and I’d be instantly immobilized and have to sit on the sidewalk and wait for help. This was before cell phones.
That first day I got off the bus and immediately Mr. Butch came up to me and said, “I will walk you there, where are we going?” and thus began a daily ritual in which Mr. Butch met me at the bus and walked me to work, all while sharing random insights such as “You are a child of the moon, your leg will heal.”
I felt safe and I felt slightly cool because only the coolest people in Boston actually knew Mr. Butch, although Mr. Butch was so cool that he did not discriminate, and I felt honored that he even talked to me, let alone walk me to work each day. Some days he was waiting for me at 5 when I got out. I wished I could let him live at my apartment but he’d not have any of that.
Mr. Butch was a fixture in Kenmore Square and he stood in front of The Rathskeller every day for a few decades. He was extremely tall and thin with wild ear-length dreadlocks, which stuck out more sideways than the long ones do. He looked like a fireworks display. Everyone knew Mr. Butch. He chose to live on the streets. Friends helped him and tried to get him into residential places but he wouldn’t do the detox required as he chose to live his life of alcohol and weed and the streets. He was always happy, as people are who live the life they want rather than the life they feel they should. Local shopkeepers gave him food, he slept in friends’ band practice places, on their couches, in ATM foyers. He sometimes wore signs letting everyone know what he needed, like food or money – my favorite was when he’d wear a hand-lettered sign that said “I NEED WEED” – and he seemed to be well taken care of. He was happy. I mourned the end of that freelance gig because I would have no reason to take my daily walk with Mr. Butch.
At the Phoenix there was a mixture of suits and jeans types. There was the very big editor of the sleekly-cool magazine who would sometimes wander into the art department with his wild curly hair and mustache, expensive cowboy boots and largeness, trailing smoke behind. Sometimes he’d drop an ash in my general direction.
I lived at 1315 Commonwealth Ave in a building called The Peerless. Lots of buildings in Boston had names. I befriended a neighborhood variety store owner, Hennock, who also had dreadlocks and who once ‘hired’ me to shoot him for his CD cover. Hennock told me about growing up in Jamaica or Trinidad (I forget exactly) and how he respected trees and rocks and how his dreadlocks felt physical and emotional pain. I liked different shots than he did. He could not understand why I would shoot him from the back for one image, which I loved. We shot on a roof to which he had access in East Boston and I was scared. My friend Kenny helped by always standing behind me because I feared backing up too far. I had to shoot the sky separately and double burn it in. All of my images would require loads of darkroom finessing and my friend Belinda and I had long talks in the dim and eerie light while we dodged and burned. Sometimes we sang songs. I had her over once for banana daiquiris and then we were going to go see my boyfriend’s band play at The Kells but the bananas weren’t yet ripe enough so after just one we felt too ‘unsettled’ to go out.
After that I worked at a very hip record store. It was the early 90s, there was a recession and the papers were full of stories of former CEOs selling their houses at a loss and waiting tables. Work was hard to find. Homelessness increased, people were desperate and scared and a posted job opening meant like 5000 applicants. A woman in the next town won like 5 million in the lottery and the papers were full of soundbites the next day of her saying “I totally plan to keep my job and I am going to buy my parents a bigger house. But money hasn’t changed me.” Readers and those of us on the verge of homelessness collectively groaned and wished she’d either open up that job for others, or just shut the hell up, with her 35 million dollars and her parents’ new house.
At the record store everyone was in a band except me. I had gotten the job through my beautiful and delightfully lovable and kooky roommate Elisabeth who always wore hats and was a self-proclaimed ‘scenester’ and knew just everyone. At the record store everyone wore either goth attire or jeans and cowboy boots. I stood out I guess. I admit to wearing mascara and lipgloss then. It was pointed out to me at least once that I was ‘mainstream’. Years later I was a bridesmaid at Elisabeth’s wedding. All the bridesmaids rented a house at the cape where the wedding was held and I ended up mediating a few incidents as I was something of the mainstream outsider. One night the most tattooed of them, who wore Doc Maartens with her bridesmaid dress, commented on my underarms so I was forced to admit to the whole house that my neighbor, whose descriptive title by now read “Sommelier/Former Concierge/Electrologist/Drag Queen, had traded with me; design work for treatments a la his new electrologist hair removal business. She replied with apall, “It’s so permanent, what if you want that hair back?” Not to be I-Told-You-So-ish but to date I have not wanted underarm hair back, BTW, and remain timidly and permanently tattoo-free, a thing which is also fairly permanent.
Image: Self-Portrait, in front of The Peerless.
————Zzzzzzzzzzzzip! This is rambling way too long. My memories have taken over the zoo. I am going to scan a bunch of pictures from my black and white photography class at Montserrat and stop rambling now.
Epilogue – Mr. Butch died last year when he crashed his scooter into a telephone pole in Allston. Caroline Knapp died in 2002 – two months after a cancer diagnosis and one month after her wedding. One of these days I will go back to The Peerless to see if Hennock is still in his store.
Addendum: Boston memories part Deux posted here.
Mr. Butch Boson Globe obit
More Mr. Butch
Mr. Butch, Wikipedia