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.
In the 1990s, I lived very close to the Forest Hills cemetery in Jamaica Plain, MA. I mean I practically lived in the damned cemetery on a semi-private road a few hundred feet from the entrance. There were more dead people around me than living ones, by far.
On the other hand, the house was just a stone’s throw (well, a very impressive throw of a stone) from the end of the Orange Line, with easy access to the city where a lot of alive people were crowding together, as they do in cities. To have access to hordes of alive people via the subway and almost as many dead ones via my own two feet, including Eugene O’Neill and E. E. Cummings (not to mention the restauranteur Jacob Wirth), tells you just how versatile my living situation was.
If you must know, I had a girlfriend back in those days, as was expected of young men of my social stature and careful breeding, and it goes without saying that I had a very high level of emotional maturity, which required that I have an equally emotionally mature girlfriend. Sometimes, though, two emotionally mature adults cancel each other’s maturity out, and you end up with an emotionally exhausted couple who go dancing on graves.
Human beings have been dancing on graves ever since dancing and graves were invented. The caveman Oog is credited with dancing the first jig, which he did on the grave of his late rival Boog. But once people started freaking out about the possibility of ghosts, they stopped dancing on the graves of their dead rivals, lest they get visited by poltergeists in the middle of the night.
Which brings me to some dusky evening 25 or so years ago in the Forest Hills cemetery, when, during a tipsy group amble, my girlfriend dared me and others to dance on a grave. Which we did.
I don’t know whose grave I danced on, but suffice it to say that the person buried there was emotionally mature enough in the afterlife not to come to my apartment and rattle chains outside my bedroom door.
A good friend of mine invited me to his family’s house one weekend back in college. They lived in coastal Connecticut in a beautiful old house with something like 8 bedrooms. My friend and his family were gracious hosts and people who were easy to like and feel comfortable with. My buddy had told me lots of interesting and funny stories about his family; one tale I vividly remember him telling me was that his mother had attended school with a woman named “Ophelia Dickey.” It’s incredibly juvenile to be amused by names that play on parts of the anatomy, but I still giggle when I encounter a moniker like Dick Swett or Holger Wank. Or, needless to say, Ophelia Dickey.
Anyway, the whole family was at my friend’s that weekend – my friend’s older sister and her husband, his twin brother – and we had a nice meal one night at the big dining room table. This seemed like a perfectly reasonable time for me to say to his mom, out of the blue, “I’m told you went to school with someone named ‘Ophelia Dickey.’”
“What? No I didn’t,” she replied, somewhat aghast and completely broadsided by this odd comment from me.
It’s not clear where my friend had gotten the idea that his mom had a classmate named Ophelia Dickey. In any event, whenever I encounter a funny name like “Dick Harden,” I’m transported back to that evening, recalling how stupid it was for me to mention to his mother, at dinner, in front of the whole family, that I’d heard she had gone to school with Ophelia Dickey.
J'Biden Era Haikuage
People's Arms. That's right!
200 million shots
In 100 days
We are good people
But we still have far to go
Repair. Restore. Heal.
There's nothing new here
The Affordable Care Act
We're restoring it
Democracy is fragile
The world is watching
Strategy is based
On Science, not politics
Truth, not denial
Subscribe To The Blog
Things I've Actually Published
Produce This Audio Play!
Ever wanted to produce a radio play? Think you have the mettle? Read on!