Southie is a Weird and Wonderful Place (Part II): The Rest of the Lunatics in the Neighborhood

I was the last of my high school friends to move to Boston.  I thought it was important to live in Worcester for a couple years just until I was on the brink of lunacy and sadomasochistic behavior.  One of the first places they exposed me to was a place called Fresh Tortilla (now Lee Chen's).  I have eaten tacos from a streetcart in Tijuana and I would not have walked into this place if my oldest friends hadn't sworn by it.  Now I can't go very long without it.  It's a rare drunken night out that I can resist it's siren call.  And even if I do I fall asleep dreaming about the one place that can serve me crab rangoon and a chicken burrito at the same time.  The fusion of low rent Chinese and Mexican food open until 2 A.M.?  Clearly, there were mad geniuses at work here in South Boston.

There are also just the mad.  As in both angry and insane.  I was down at the beach sunning myself, trying to hide away any vestige of my Irishness except my name (I can't be the palest one in a house of all Irish kids, it's embarrassing.  It's like coming in last in a Special Olympic race).  Two women came with their chairs and set up a gossip party about ten feet to my left.  It was a mother and her late teenage daughter (not late as in dead, of course, that would have been much weirder.  I mean she was about eighteen or nineteen).  I was reading Hunter S. Thompson (I know, you can't decide if I'm cooler or smarter.  Let's just call it a draw and move on).  All due respect to Dr. Thompson but when these ladies started talking he didn't stand a chance.

I don't usually make  a habit of eavesdropping but I figure the less effort you put in the more acceptable it is.  Glass to the door to hear a conversation in the next room: creepy.  Laying on a beach and being ear-raped by inane conversation: unavoidable.  It's called an Irish whisper for a reason.  I wasn't exactly straining to hear them.  I was more straining to hear my own thoughts at that point.  Which wasn't a big deal because their thoughts were far more entertaining.

They were silent for a little bit and it was just me and Hunter.  Then Mom said, "You see Sean's new girlfriend?"  The question was clearly rhetorical and the question mark was only there for effect.  She was building anticipation.  And it worked, I couldn't wait.

"She's awful."  And there it was.  The knockout blow that the previous jab set up.  The daughter stops looking at the pictures in the TigerBeatPeopleUs magazine she was holding and says, "I KNOOOOOOOOOOOW!"  I know it's a hard thing to quantify but if you were there you would totally agree that the way she said it there were definitely eleven O's in the word "know."  They went on for about five minutes assassinating this woman's character to the point that I was like, "Fuck this girl.  Sean can do way better."

That thought and the smell of my skin sizzling snapped me back to reality and I went in search of Aloe.  I found it in the C.V.S. a mere aisle away from my other big ticket item of the day: condoms.  I've been buying them for years and you should be too.  People are dirty.  But they're also sexy.  And if you're having sex with them you should use them (cue the More You Know music).  It's not usually a big deal for me to buy them.

Except, when I got in line.  I saw the woman that would be ringing me up.  Picture Mrs. Claus in your head.  That's what she looked like.  All of a sudden this felt wrong.  I was racking my brain trying to think if the Claus' ever had children as if that would provide some sort of loophole proving she was as dirty as me.  But it was too late, I was next and she was staring at me.

I handed over the condoms like a sheepish child handing over a shitty report card.  She took them and swiped them as if it was nothing and fumbled putting my things in the bag.  "Oh," I thought, "She's not a  judgmental old prude, she is a consummate professional, if a little bit clumsy.  Exactly how Mrs. Claus should be."

"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm a bit thrown off.  I usually work nights.  I used to work days but it's been all third shifts since 9/11 happened and I couldn't find another job for a while."

I thought I had finally lost it.  I could have sworn I felt a pop in my temple and I was bleeding out the ears.  I have heard that awful day be blamed for many things but working the day shift at C.V.S. was a new one.  I grabbed my bag and practically ran from the store.  That sentence bothered me the whole ride home.  Then it hit me: Mrs. Claus must have lost her job as a T.S.A. agent at Logan as a result of September 11.  And subsequently, caused me to string together to craziest collection of words I have ever imagined into a sentence (Hint: it's the one right before this one).

It was at this point that I started having that old worrisome feeling where I can't determine whether the craziness of the outside world is affecting my mind or vice versa.  I felt like I needed a nap.  I had a long day judging people and there were only three of them.

Five if you count Sean and his girlfriend.
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South Boston is a Weird and Wonderful Place (Part I)

I have lived in South Boston for over a year but I am just now starting to explore the area better.  I'm ashamed to say I was afraid before but it wasn't my fault.  My family for some reason is obsessed with crime novels that take place in Boston, South Boston especially.  I read them with the same vigor as they until I found myself with a leased apartment within two blocks of the Old Colony Housing Project where Whitey did a lot of dirty work.  I spent a good part of the first few months worried that I would look at the wrong guy and be cemented into the foundation of a parking garage of a federal building.

And, of course my whole family read the heartbreaking book All Souls by Michael Patrick MacDonald.  In that book there were seven children in the family.  Five of them died young, one went to prison, and the other was sold into the sex trade in Thailand (or something like that, I read it a while ago).  The point is, I am just now getting to know the locals.  And I regret the time I stayed away.  These people are a community in the best sense.

While on a run one day* I saw an very well-dressed old man fall off the sidewalk backwards.  The woman from the laundromat ran out and we helped him to his feet.  I offered to walk him where he was going since the woman from the laundromat looked about as sturdy as well-played Jenga tower herself**.

We started down the sidewalk at a glacial pace with me supporting a good amount of this mans body weight.  He was holding my hand and leaning against me.  It was far more intimate than I ever imagined getting with an old man but I tried to put that out of my mind and concentrate on my new mantra: Don't drop the old man.  Don't drop the old man.  Please, God, don't let me drop this old man.

Luckily before we could travel very far (though we had been walking for about four hours, it seemed) we walked by Telegraph Hill on Dorchester and the bartender and manager came out to see if the man was alright.  They were very kind to this stranger and called in an ambulance to check on him and a cruiser to take him home.  The E.M.T.s were something beyond professional.  They really wanted this old man to be okay and seemed worried when he refused to let them take him to the hospital.  We found out that the man was Albanian and his name was Paul (which was short for something that was 14 letters long and Albanian).  Paul said, "God bless you" and it was the first time anyone had said that to me without me sneezing.

And the only reason I told this touching story is so I don't feel guilty writing about the rest of the lunatics in the neighborhood later on this week.

*This story already seems unbelievable to those of you who know me.

**Now the people that know me are calling outright bullshit.  They realize I do not hold the elderly in the highest esteem.  They are stronger and smarter than people give them credit for and they exploit this at every opportunity.  Also, they smell like halloween costumes that sit in the attic for eleven months at a time.***

***As I reread this note, it seems a bit harsh.  But just remember the time I carried an old man through Southie and I don't seem that bad.

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