New Year’s Day I met my brother and his wife for brunch at some new spot on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain. When you haven’t lived in a town in over twenty years every corner of it you once knew becomes more and more unknown. After we were seated, I tried to recall the breakfast spot I liked along this stretch in the 90s but couldn’t remember its name nor address. Model rockets were suspended over the length of the small room and menu items were all galactically-themed. But Boston itself is becoming like outer space to me now.
I visit once or twice a year because my parents live here. I have dinner with Harry and Amy and maybe do something with my brother; otherwise I’m mostly at my parents’ house till it’s time to go to the airport. They’re getting older so there are errands I can run to make their lives easier and I’m happy to do so. The New Year’s Eve celebration—a mainstay of any Soviet Jew’s childhood—has dwindled down to just a few friends now. I hardly ever get baited into the political conversations that go on around the table but fell for the trap this year. An ignorant statement about Mexican illegal immigrants overrunning the US border with narcotics made me blow up a little. I felt the need to remind the gathering that we were all immigrants. It was kind of pointless but this is no time to let hateful and flippant pronouncements stand. Afterwards I did dishes till past 3am just like most other years.
After brunch with my brother I had a few hours to kill before an afternoon show at Lizard Lounge. A few weeks ago Thalia Zedek had played Chicago and told me she’d playing at this Cambridge spot New Year’s Day. I was so happy to have something to do in Boston that I promised her I’d be there. I drove my parents’ car in a meandering route from J.P. to Cambridge. I was searching for a coffeeshop to park myself at for awhile and eventually located one in Inman Square. College kids to my left had spread out some board game over two tables and were trading first-love stories, while on my right a poorly-matched Russian-speaking couple were trading monosyllabic banter in the few second intervals each wasn’t glued to their phones.
I thought I’d been to Lizard Lounge before but ended up driving up and down Mass Ave three or four times before spotting the sandwich board by the door to Cambridge Common indicating the entryway to the little basement club. I was early as always so I went into the sprawling bar and grill upstairs and ordered a Bloody Mary. At 3:30pm I was third in line waiting for the club’s doors to open. Downstairs the couple ahead of me quickly took over the prime tables so I was forced to take one to the left of the stage. If I’d been in this place before I had no memory of it, but it was snug and comfortable and quickly filled with people. Most seemed to know each other. I waved hello to Thalia and got some rye with a couple ice cubes.
My table was right by where David Curry—Thalia’s viola player— was setting up. He nodded my way but I figured he’d recognized somebody behind me. I mean you he pantomimed. I’m not sure whether I’ve ever talked to him before but I have at least half a dozen drawings of the guy. Sitting off to the side ended up a good thing as I could watch both the band and the audience. There were fifty people tops in the place but it felt like a full house. After they were done I talked to Thalia a minute. I thanked her for the music and asked if she’d be into playing a show to celebrate the release of my book in the spring. She seemed into it. I left before the next band started, not wanting to spoil the good feeling.
I met Harry and Amy at a drafty Asian food court in Allston. I’ve known them since the 80s. Harry was my manager at the Coolidge Corner Theatre and Amy rented the ovens at Edibles (where I worked) for her dessert business. They’re basically my only Boston friends and a trip to town wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t break bread with them. Even in that oddly unwelcoming environment I was glad to see them.
Driving back to my folks’ place afterwards I was struck by how little emotional charge this town retained over me. I spent eleven years of childhood and then three more in my twenties here but I might as well have been driving through the place for the very first time. I’ve reflexively said I hate Boston almost since we arrived here in 1978 but now I can no longer call up the vitriol to even say that much about it. Whatever negative power it once had is now mostly gone. It’s just a place where some family and friends live. If they weren’t here I’d never come again. But as long as they’re here I’ll keep coming back. Finding my way around will become harder and harder. Maybe that’s for the best since this isn’t my home.