Hello friends! A few months ago, I traveled to downtown Boston for Deloitte training—I had an incredible time and am in a heavy, one-sided love affair with everything Boston. It was a European America with its brick sidewalks, gilded architecture, and broad avenue of trees and mom-and-pop shops. I was inside a gray conference room learning about networking and expense reports for most of the day, but nights were teeming with aching feet, particles of side street dirt, and cream pie. I only had three days to explore this historic city, but it was enough to become infatuated. The format of his article is a short story, so I apologize for the similes, quirky words, and orchestrated dialogue leaking out of every sentence.
The first night wasn’t a burrito bowl of thrill but I did frequent Chipotle like a basic white girl. Copley Plaza yawned before me, the dab of green space squished between churches, beige skyscrapers, and swift traffic. I breathed in the sunshine as it flooded my skin. People—in cars, on bikes, with sandaled feet—whisked by me in their Harvard jackets, Boston College shirts, and Boston University baseball caps. Academia rent the air with textbook knowledge, derivatives and philosophy and overpriced education sewing the square together. Despite the Ivy Soaking, I smiled and jaywalked. I could squat on the grassy square next to hipster art students sketching the Boston Public Library. I could claim a rotted bench and devour my meat silently. I could risk getting run over by a tween skateboarder and brave the steps of the Cathedral. I chose the latter.
“Watch it miss,” said a boy, pushing the limits of 13, as his longboard skated three inches from my feet. I grinned and shoved another forkful of oversaturated rice into my mouth—a feeling of calm stole over me. I couldn’t get mad even at this beanie twerp.
The rest of the night was spent watching Game of Thrones in my gold-dripping Marriott hotel room. The air condition froze my wetted hair, but I didn’t care—Jon Snow had just defeated Ramsey and shoved his knuckles up his Bolton bastard nose.
Monday knocked, gooey eyes answered, and business casual attire ferreted me down to the lobby and into the teeming streets of downtown Boston. The coffee morning and gummy pasta afternoon was spent at training, confidentially and networking and email signatures and closed toe shoes and booking flights on Delta chewing my time. But three o’ clock dragged to four and my tamed hair was finally thrown into a gypsy bun at the hotel. Ida, another intern, skipped the social bowling event with me to slink around the city with cross body bags and not enough dollar bills for the expensive items.
Fenway Park was across the street, and judging by the thousands of people thronging towards its sea green entrance, a game was about to start.
“What is their mascot again? Socks?” I asked, holding my purse to my belly like a cloth baby of money and blotting papers.
“You mean the Boston Red Sox? You must have heard of them.” said Ida.
“Oh that’s right. I keep up with sports about as much as wine prices in Italy.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you did that.”
Every ten seconds, an unshaven, gaunt man would peer into our faces, begging us to buy tickets that were “a real bargain at $50.” Hot dog stands belched their fake meat into the crowded streets, curling around the young boys standing atop egg crates and selling $5 programs. The yells, the smells, and the banners stretched between stapled poles was a gorgeous mess of loud.
“Let’s go towards Newberry Street. I hear there’s good shopping there,” said Ida, speaking words to empty air as I stopped walking—why were there so many attractive men in Boston? My mouth was agape as I saw dark features, green eyes, and tufts of clean cut hair in every direction. These New England men weren’t suffering from the ugliness and immaturity of college.
I pulled my eyes away from high cheekbones and bright lips sipping on a stadium beer.
“Yeah, let’s go there. I saw a Books+Music store on the way here—I do need some more sheet music!”
Ida played the violin and piano and a had a slight obsession with European Opera, Mozart, and her native town of Prague.
We sprinted into the lobby of the Berklee College of Music, realized there was a security guard, and ran back out with a laugh, realizing this marble hall of snobbery and beauty wasn’t open to smeared mascara girls like us. We wanted to see if the orchestra was practicing and if their famous sounds were worth the $56,000 a year tuition. We tripped over sidewalks full of dreadlocked people—apparently the “artsy” hub was as stereotypical as anywhere else in the country. More than once, Ida and I were stopped by tourists asking for directions, thinking our oversized shirts and plain shorts meant we were locals.
“Let’s get ice cream since the music store is closed,” I said with a half sigh. If I couldn’t spend coins on eighth notes and Bach, at least a waffle cone of mint chocolate chip would deaden the pain.
“This girl is in need of some serious sugar right now. And Chipotle,” said Ida, walking into the store and spending a handsome $7 on a sprinkle waffle cone with one paltry scoop. Boston wasn’t New York expensive but it sure as hell was pricey compared to the cheapness of Florida and the hokey gas station prices of Georgia.
Shops closed early here. The sun blushed eight o’ clock and signs flipped over, registers closed, and bronze keys turned in locks. Everything except the underground anime store, of course.
Tremulous notes of parental caution whispered in my ears, but I ignored their simpering. What damage could sketchy steps papered with half-naked cartoon characters do to me? The light become more yellow, more horridly artificial as we descended the zig zag steps. Newspapers, random and out of place, were tacked the walls, their Times New Roman headlines screaming the nothings of yesterday.
“Welcome to my childhood,” said Ida as the last step vomited us out. A small store, dingy with dirty wooden floors, opened before my doubtful gaze. I wasn’t an anime girl with ten inches of makeup that wore skater skirts much shorter than that. My thighs weren’t white steel; my hair wasn’t the Disneyland of multicolored extensions. But the giant stuffed animals, vintage anime movie posters, and impractical wallet keychains that Ida drooled over intrigued me.
“I watched all these films growing up. Hell, I still do,” she said softly, fingering a miniature creature with pointed ears and a purple patch covering one eye. The dust settled into my nose, making it dance a jig of right, left, right, left until the cartilage was well exercised.
“Anything I can help you with ladies?” asked a voice behind us. We jumped, Ida clutching the bear and myself swaddling my handbag in the lower regions of my shirt. Not today, theft.
Black jacket, messy brown hair, sheepish lips. Green, almost blue, almost brown eyes.
It was the cashier, but he had a stealthy, pedophile look about him.
“We’re just looking, thank—,” I began, stammering.
“Do you have any movie posters of Akira?” said Ida, brushing past my petite frame towards his short, stocky one. He was the typical anime nerd, with deodorant stains on his jacket and a sparkling diamond in his left ear. Tight jeans wrapped around his skinny legs, ending at slim feet protected by a mucky pair of Vans. Every word he said was soft, like a hazy squeak of a mouse afraid of his voice but passionately, endlessly interested, in a culture he was not a part of.
I wanted to ask him why he was so eager about anime when he was whiter than a British landowner, but the propriety of an unknown city and a shy tongue that knotted every time strangers existed prevented my words.
We left the anime store twenty minutes later, Ida’s arms laden with anime posters and a Pez Dispenser with an eyelashed cat on the top. Newberry Street pounded under our feet, bricks uprooted where the trees grew in the urban wild of cigarette smoke and taxis. I was thousands of miles away from a relative, but not a pixel of fear or hesitation blanched my adventure. It was a notion of freedom going to college and living with my sister never gave me. Milliseconds of maturity.
The shadows tripped over our steps. The hotel was nearing, but I wasn’t done with tonight and I felt The Grand Tonight wasn’t finished with my peasant self. Copley Plaza waved a halfhearted hello in the darkness, the Library punks still asserting their claim to tween badassery across the street. My eyes suddenly landed on The Grand Tonight.
“See those bricks uprooted around the tree?”
A collection of sidewalk bricks, the vestiges of abandoned cobblestone these fast-paced Bostonians had no respect for, crumbled in our path. I had an urge, a scratching tick, to slip one of their grimy members into my purse. I toyed with the idea of a stolen brick collection; it meshed with the person I thought I was becoming, a misfit accountant with zero street cred and the insanity to long for something more than 9 to 5 clocks and sedan traffic.
“I’m going to take one.”
Ida opened her anime bag, walked casually ahead of me, and blocked me from view as I dropped down to the sidewalk for a spit second and snatch! Now Missing: Weathered brick from Downtown Boston with the word Augusta embossed on the reddened front. Made: 1932. Stolen: 2016. Level of Cares: None. If found, do nothing because no one gives a shit about local history anyway.
Tuesday smelled of empty sentences. Life doesn’t begin until the conference room and sweaty handshakes end. The clocks dial back to forgetfulness and the sunlight reminds you that air conditioning isn’t the only climate that exists. Training and clues shared only with Ida—through an eye roll, a subtle ripping of notebook paper, a sigh—dragged the hours forward like an ox pulling hay. A false face of enthusiasm clung to me all afternoon, the smiles cracking my skin and the answers to questions I didn’t care about filling my brain with gunk. Lunch rescued me from a presentation on ethics but double-crossed me with socially inept chitchat.
An Indian from Chicago asked me why my skin was so white when my last name was Patel. I “accidentally” spilled ranch sauce onto his pink polo shirt and sought Ida, the only push pin separating me from the cork of corporatism and dirty streets of slut freedom.
“Only a few more hours,” she said, stuffing a pretzel into her mouth. “And then we can walk about Boston. There’s this seafood restaurant on Boston Harbor I wanna go to. You down?”
Crabs. Steaming clam chowder. The stink of swimming wildlife poisoned by our landfill toxins—delicious.
“Of course. And training isn’t that bad. If it wasn’t for this, we would never have gone to Boston.”
“True,” she said, tasting each word like specks of Himalayan salt. “And the internship shouldn’t be so full of bullshit. It’s real work, not this compliance training stuff.”
“The real work of mixing creamer and sugar and not jamming the copy machine,” I said with a smirk, joking but somewhat worried these six weeks of $18 an hour was going to be a mind killer. But Deloitte was a financial powerhouse for a reason; they wouldn’t let their interns, no matter how little and stupid, sit around and brew Pike Hazelnut all day.
Four o’ clock stole my anxiety and we left training Day 2, the faint echoes of audit, tax, advisory, and consulting nipping our bleeding heels—I forgot to wear Band-Aids with my new shoes, and my feet were a bath of blood and ripped skin.
“Meet you at 5 in the lobby?” I asked.
Ida looked worn out, her blazer buttons coming undone and her feet as equally messy as mine. But exhaustion visited the dead and those with nothing more to say and we sure as hell weren’t done speaking.
“Yep. And don’t forget dollar bills since we’re taking the metro.”
“To this restaurant called The Sail Loft. We’re in Boston; might as well have the clam chowder and pie.”
Solitary trips on public transportation always smelled like a good mugging, at least that’s what my parents conditioned me to think. But descending down black tiles with a girl I barely knew and tinkering with a ticket machine my common sense didn’t understand, I felt safer than in any teenage vehicle. Lights blurred and urine pooled in corner cracks, but those were topical, avoidable, colorful. Public transportation without the grime and checkered floors wasn’t true. The trains inched along 1940s tracks, the scuttering of mice and rats lost in the chugging of rusted wheels. Ida jabbered on about her University and her relatives still living in Prague, and I nodded between breathless pauses. Words were lost in my mind, stolen by the happiness of traveling with someone who wouldn’t tattle to mom about my lateness or tendency to be reckless.
The subway crawled to a moist stop at Haymarket Square, bodies rustling in the station like angsty leaves dying to feel the crumbled dirt and ridged back of an earthworm. I was loosening, falling, plummeting towards the ground of an urban I didn’t know.
“Thank God for google maps. I think we have to go right? No wait, left. I don’t know, but maybe it’s better we get lost,” said Ida, shaking her phone like it would sharpen her navigation skills. We left the station and turned our Converse north, the rumble of a broken down city bus replacing my heartbeat. I grabbed my wits and crossed the street with Ida singing The Marriage of Figaro by my side, waltzing into Little Italy as my feet danced to a dead man’s opera.
“Ah, on the morning of our wedding day, how sweet to my loving bridegroom,” crooned Ida, laughing as a wash of red, green and white flew out above us. Our sneakers ate the narrow cobblestoned sidewalks, tripping around the sea of sandals, loafers, and flip flops until the hub of Little Italy consumed us.
“It’s like I’m taking a shower in a pizzeria,” I said. I wished my nose was as large as my expansive forehead so it could absorb these thousands of smells in a single whiff—cheese, fire-baked crust, tomato sauce, pesto. A line of laundry stretched from one high rise window to another above us, khakis and jeans fluttering in the warm, summer seabreeze. I had a hankering to try a cigar, but there wasn’t one sketchy liquor or tobacco store in sight, everything selling Mama’s pizza or $30 bottles of wine.
“We go up Ellis street…yeah? I guess? Whatever, let’s go anyways,” said Ida, sharply turning a corner and nearly running into a family of four wearing lobster shirts. “And judging by these people, the harbor is this way.”
Little Italy said goodbye. Boston Harbor said hello. I was a kitschy Beatles song.
“I think this was where they dropped the tea,” I said, climbing onto a cracked seawall a foot wide.
And a world of rotting pier wood, white washed schooners, and a glittering, endless sheet of water and nighttime sky laid down at my feet. The bay rippled out towards the fuchsia horizon of open water and Logan International Airport. Boeing 737’s set their diagonal course into altitude and clouds while their seaborne cousins chugged away underneath in bluish brine. Salt crawled up from below and stung my nose, agitated these fake eyes. But my contacts weren’t completely fooled—the scene didn’t need a phony Instagram filter to fit in the snug puzzle of beauty. I looked at Ida’s face: it was a museum of awe and mild confusion.
“There’s nothing like this in Chicago, in the whole of Illinois.”
“It is something else…but I grew up on a beach. This was my view every night—it was even better than this sometimes.”
“Impossible,” she whispered, unaware that her feet were hanging over the seawall’s edge, the toes drooping towards the barnacles hissing below.
“I can’t believe I’ve lived my whole life without seeing something as gorgeous as this. It’s like being stuck in Plato’s cave except I never get out, I don’t even see the shadows on the wall. I was born blind.”
“Then you’ll have to visit me in Treasure Island to get your sight back. But let’s go—you’re about to fall in. I like you, but I’m not swim in those barnacles tonight.”
She laughed and hopped from the precipitous edge after snapping a few dozen photographs of the same unwavering, New England travel magazine scene.
“Fair enough. I’m hungry anyways. You still want to get Boston Cream Pie?”
“Hell yeah. We didn’t come for Boston just for training, did we?”
I turned my back on the sea towards the downtown skyline shimmering in the twilight—the windows were confused, turning blood orange then fuchsia then deep red, but all softly charred by the setting sun. It refused to say goodbye. Sail Loft jutted out into the harbor on its own decaying pier, the scent of clam chowder building an invisible trail of seafood to its scratched wooden doors. The inside was just as worn out and authentic, the chowder steaming and crowded with dill weed. And the cream pie? A pretty five pounds was added along my beltline, but the hard layer of 80% dark chocolate, the whipped cream that didn’t come from a can, and the white cake moister than towels was worth the stretch. Besides, stomachs were made for expanding.
The waitress miffed at our measly tips, but the entitled shininess of a corporate card could only afford so much. We stepped back into the salty air, our sneakers stolen by this European microcosm. An unreal life of unattractive badge photos and 9 to 5 responsibility was dead to us now, nothing but black script on a formulated slideshow. I smelled Little Italy before I saw it, the laundry still blowing and the aromas still mixing into Mediterranean soups. Families slunk together like feet of the same centipede and sketchier characters of beard and flannel dipped their cigarettes into cupped hands. My mental bucket list tipped its contents onto my head, a neat package of lawlessness and lung-clogging arriving on my doorstep. The approaching liquor store somehow knew I had always wanted to try a cigar. Ida, on the other hand, did not and she laughed nervously when I told her my lips would straddle a few processed leaves by the end of this nine o’ clock hour.
The liquor store was cramped and more like a drive by gas station where anonymous shootings happen every night. The lights dimmed as soon as my shoe hovered above the fake wooden floors. Should we? We should. My foot struck the floor, in slow motion like a badly edited 80s film and strut with fake confidence to the cigar bar. Ida scurried in reluctantly behind me.
“I’ll have the smallest cigar you have, please,” I said to the attendant, a youngish hipster with a yin-yang tattoo on his chin and a bullring in his nose.
“Boston just changed cigar laws from 18 to 21.”
“Are you serious?”
His face softened and he stroked his barely-there beard. Red and scraggly and persistent, dying of fright of a Bic razer.
“Yeah. Sorry ‘bout it.”
I didn’t have a cigar that night. But I had my stolen brick, my Arctic hotel room, and a slew of business casual dresses I’d never wear at school.