Every now and again, I like to examine some of the nuggets of memory I have of the last century, such as the days when I lived in a rooming house (okay, an apartment) in Brighton, MA with a bunch of other newly minted college grads. Every month, we'd have to scrape together rent money, and if we didn't pay on time our landlords would come to our apartment with thugs to beat us mercilessly.
My apartment mates were some of the genuine good guys of the 1980s. There was Guillermo, who came from New York City and had played baseball at Brandeis. There was Ted, who convinced his parents to let him attend the University of Hawaii. (The University of Hawaii! Why hadn't I thought of that?) Ted rode a Harley and famously left it with a custom paint shop, which held onto the bike from January (off season) well into the summer (peak season). It wasn't easy to anger Ted, and this was about as close as I had ever seen to him being genuinely ticked off.
Then there was Huatsu.
As far as I can intermingle confirmable facts with my memory of the 1980s, Huatsu came to us when Brian, one of the original four tenants, got engaged and moved out. I don't remember much about Brian except that he wore slippers in the apartment and slid along the floor when moving from room to room, which I found mildly irritating. Brian's departure caused Guillermo to vacate the smallest room in the apartment and move into the largest, leaving the smallest room to our new apartment-mate, Huatsu.
I have all kinds of fond memories of that pre-cellphone and pre-GPS era, when the back seats of cars contained spiral-bound regional maps showing every street in metro Boston, which were indispensable for getting you to a keg party in an unfamiliar neighborhood. One memory I have was of a keg party that we threw in our Murdock Street digs. Huatsu, from Taiwan, had quickly and seamlessly integrated himself into our group and was far more popular among my college friends than I was. While we Americans went out and got potato chips and Doritos for our tipsy guests, Huatsu drove into Chinatown in his cranky little deathtrap of car and returned with things like crunchy bits of dried octopus, and preserved duck eggs. Whut? The duck eggs – dark, translucent, gelatinous – were like something from another universe, odder than sushi, which to my mind was off limits. (A writer for the then-Boston Phoenix said to me one day, "Pat, we Irish may not be the smartest people in the world, but we know enough to cook our fucking fish.") Odder still, when I finally mustered up the courage to take a bite of one of the preserved duck eggs, it tasted not unlike your average hard-boiled hen egg.
But I may be wrong about this, as it turns out that my memory of that era isn't perfect.
In 1991 I had near-death experience when a window blew out of an apartment in Allston during the run-up to Hurricane Bob's arrival and struck my calf, nearly shearing my lower leg clear off the rest of me and creating a harrowing, bloody mess on the street. I had already decided not to sign another lease for the Murdock Street apartment so that my girlfriend and I could backpack around Europe, and now that trip was canceled and we were homeless. A friend told a colleague about our plight and this woman kindly offered us an apartment to use while I recuperated. These facts are indisputable. However, I recall very clearly that when friends kindly gathered to move us from Murdock Street, Huatsu was among the helpers. And, further, that he had brought one of the last of my possessions down to his car to transport to the new apartment – my cockatiel, whose name I cannot remember. Little did Huatsu know that the top of the birdcage had been removed so that the bird could fly around the apartment and poop wherever he pleased. My lasting memory is of the cockatiel discovering the sky above, and flying straight up into the sunlit afternoon, where no doubt he was destined to become a snack for a local raptor.
Huatsu recently contacted me, decades after we had parted ways, and when we dug into our past it turns out that he probably didn't help with that move. He had spoken to his wife and confirmed that he had moved out of the Murdock Street apartment by 1989, two years before Hurricane Bob. For him to have helped would have required someone to contact him. Remember, this was pre-cellphone, and mostly pre-email. He had left our apartment when his wife and son joined him from Taiwan, at which point he disappeared into another world, as we all tend to do. If I know my friends from that era, no one would have had his contact information.
Huatsu doesn't remember helping and doesn't remember the bird flying up and away with a piercing whistle of excitement. My friend Dave, known at the time as "Chowder," doesn't remember Huatsu being there either. It seems that some other friend had brought down the cockatiel – maybe Ted, or someone else entirely.
No doubt I have forgotten much more about that era than I remember, but it's dismaying to have had such a clear memory for so long about something that turns out to be inaccurate. What other inaccurate memories do I possess? How do I figure into other people's inaccurate memories? Maybe people from high school recall me as a tremendous student-athlete who could dead-lift huge weights. Despite the facts, I may never shake from my memory the sight of my forlorn-looking friend Huatsu staring up into the afternoon sky, watching as my pet bird whistles excitedly before disappearing over the trees, never to be seen again.
News of who has been invited into the bunker of Vladimir "Don't Put It Past Me" Putin when he launches tactical nuclear weapons makes me realize that I haven't finished the guest list for my bunker.
As with any major event, you have to get your invitations out early so people can make their plans and you can have accurate numbers to give to your bunker caterer. Imagine if you blow off this important pre-work and suddenly discover that it's time to lob a few nukes at the enemy, the enemy's civilian population, and your own soldiers who are battling at close range using conventional weapons and raping and pillaging indiscriminately. And now you have every random person who's ever friended you on Facebook expecting to join you in the bunker and eat your freeze-dried breakfast skillet. Annoying to say the least.
My recommendation is to do formal invitations with RSVPs well in advance so there is no question who is invited and who isn't. Unless you have a giant bunker and lots of cash, you're going to need to make some tough decisions. Distant uncles who vote for the wrong political party can find a different bunker, that's for sure. High school friends you haven't seen in years are typically "on the bubble" and can be put on a waitlist pending RSVPs from A-listers.
Important: Don't forget to add the requisite postage onto the RSVP envelope. History is littered with returned bunker RSVPs because the host didn't account for the extra weight of good paper!
(I know I said I'd post about Murdock Street, but I'm running an essay by the Boston Globe first to see if they have any interest in publishing 650 words about me and the old days. Give them a few weeks, and if I don't hear back I'll expand on it here.)
While trying to sort out details of my life back in the 1980s on Murdock Street with Guillermo, Ted, and Huatsu, my mind wanders, as it often does, to a recollection about Dear Old Dad, an accountant who did work for a few decades for the grumpy then-owner of the Syracuse, NY steakhouse restaurant The Scotch and Sirloin.
My father spent zillions (not really) treating us and other friends and family to drinks and dinner at "The Scotch," as did his brother George. But, from what I recall, he was never comped a single meal. That's what we learned by listening to my Dad complain about such things to my mom.
OK, not a big deal.
But then my father dies, and we come to learn that this lucrative restaurant is in arrears several tens of thousands of dollars to him, which my uncle George – executor of his brother's will – made right via several strongly-worded letters, cc'ing a few lawyers. I thought it was somewhat unseemly to demand money as my uncle did, but later in life I came to understand that this was my father's money. He had done work for the restaurant and hadn't been paid for that work. I also came across form letters that were sent monthly to people who had accounts at the Scotch and hadn't paid on time, which called for additional interest of 1.5%. Per month! In other words, an annual rate of 18%. And this restaurant was notoriously slow to pay my father.
But that's not what I wanted to post about.
Sometime in the 1980s around the holidays, when parking was hard to find at the now-defunct "Shoppingtown Mall" in Dewitt NY, in whose parking lot, detached from the rest of the mall, the Scotch was and still is nestled, my father went to deal with some accounting BS and found that there were no parking spaces. What a hassle! My father had had several heart attacks by this point and wasn't the physical specimen that I am presently: an avid biker, who nevertheless is well overweight due to the consumption of bread products and good beer and so forth.
Keep getting sidetracked.
In the early 1980s "handicapped parking spaces" were brand new. There were no tags for your rearview mirror in Syracuse, nor were there norms around who could use the spots. As I recall, early on it was the honor system.
So my father, who had been circling the vast parking lot of the Shoppingtown Mall for several hours (or maybe mere minutes – sorry, no video footage to review, alas), was encountering some of the same cars over and over, whose drivers circled the lots also without luck. Frustrated, my dad decided to nab a handicapped spot so he could drop off a redweld folder or retrieve "the books" or whatever – a five-minute task.
As luck would have it, he emerges from his car, now parked in a handicapped spot, to lock eyes with the driver of another vehicle, who had been looking for parking for as long as my father had. The driver slowed and stared, and my father, who by today's standards would have easily qualified for a pass based on his heart condition, was forced to fake it. As my Dad told it, he decided to drag a leg from the car into the restaurant.
Let's face it, it takes a really good actor to do believable fake limp, but anyone can drag a perfectly healthy leg for 50 or so yards.
Or maybe it's harder than I thought! I've never really tried.
(Coming soon: memories of Murdock Street)!
I'm not sure where these handsome little tomatoes were grown (maybe Canada?), but I can testify that they were purchased in West Roxbury, MA some 10 or 12 days prior to the publishing of this post.
Since that fateful moment, they have voyaged far and wide and still appear to be in excellent shape. Even after a tense border crossing during which I chose not to declare their existence (nerve-wracking), then traveling through complicated Quebecer country in the heat and the rain, these little fellers appear entirely unscathed. Part of that is luck: I was well fed and didn't need to consume them.
I will be honored to accompany these gutsy fruit back to their home, where I will proceed to consume them with olive oil and salt.
Next time you're traveling, consider for a moment the resilient grape tomato.