I was eating lunch at Viga, a little Italian bistro-type place at the corner of Columbus and Stuart Street in Boston. They have a colorful sign hanging out front that features a psuedo art deco plump, ripe tomato from the vine, an essential ingredient used in many dishes. It’s a fairly unassuming spot but the comfort smells of roasted garlic, caramelized onions and baking pizzas makes it ever so hard to turn away. They do have great pizza and some remarkably creative sandwiches. I’d ordered a roll-up called the “Bari”, a hot roll-up. It starts with a fresh spinach tortilla to which they add a mélange of shredded carrot, diced cucumber, soft white rice and sliced grilled chicken breast. They top off the sandwich with crushed peanuts and a generous slathering of their own spicy Thai Peanut sauce. It is absolute heaven. Just something about this sandwich for me, I guess. Obsessive by nature, I always promise myself I’ll try and order something different, but I never do. So much for change. The reason I mention this place at all is that sometimes if you’re there at the right moment, you can get a seat that looks out onto Columbus Avenue. It’s not particularly scenic (actually, it sucks) but you can watch people. I love watching people; how they move, how they talk to themselves sometimes, how they look, what they're wearing. Boston is the best city for watching people, anytime of the year. I was fortunate enough to nail a seat one unusually warm day last fall (I’m just writing about it now, sheesh, what’s that all about?).
All sorts of people walk by the long, rectangular windows. Tall, short, fat, skinny, rich, poor (they stop and actually ogle at what you’re eating, which can really creep you out), white, black, yellow and green, you name it.
Viga usually has a CD playing in the background adding to the sometimes chaotic vibe of the place. It can get crazy at lunchtime. But this day, as I looked out the window, my mind drifted and suddenly locked onto the song that was currently playing :“Every Breath You Take” by the Police. It was never a favorite of mine but I didn’t mind listening to it now and then. It just so happens that as I’m listening, I notice a very attractive woman walking down Columbus Street towards Park Square. I can’t remember what she was wearing but I remember the rhythm of her walk. It was in perfect synchronization with the fundamental pulse of the song. Coincidence? Another woman, same thing, right on time. A man walked by as well, too fast. Hmm…
I wondered how Sting arrived at the tempo of the song. Perhaps he was watching a woman walk while sitting inside a dimly lit London café drinking Earl Grey tea. It's possible, I guess. It’s just cool (to me) that I made the connection between the rhythm of the song, and the pace of a woman walking. You should try it sometime.
After the song finished, “Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads came on as a punk guy bopped by the window. He was sporting a neon pink Mohawk, a spiked dog collar around his neck, and roughly 25 pieces of shiny metal stuck into various parts of his weirdo punk face. A two inch gold stud, the diameter of a thick crayon, passed horizontally through his chin, which was very impressive. No, you’ll never have the chance to meet my daughter, pal. It was time to go back to work.
© michaelm 2005
I was given a link to a bizarre website
by a friend (thanks, Smitty)
It is irreverent, weird, funny and a veritable wonderland of comic-strip creativity.
I lovingly pass it on.
It is somewhat reminiscent of Gary Larson's "The Far Side".
I am fascinated by the many people I see in Boston on any given day.
This piece was written back in the Fall but I thought I'd post it here.
Sadly, this man really exists.
It’s a late October day in Boston as blowing leaves weave a chaotic pattern of dark crimson, burnt orange and flaming yellow floating carelessly, endlessly across the common.
For a moment this landscape reminds me of some long forgotten Monet watercolor.
Then I see him near Tremont and Park Street standing, ironically, on the spot that marks the beginning of the Freedom Trail.
He is threadbare, mangy and sporting a dirty blonde beard that hasn’t seen a pair of scissors in months, maybe years.
He is screaming at the top of his lungs, his hands clenched into tight fists swinging at the air around him, a prisoner for the entertainment of the masses.
The fall leaves form an autumnal vortex that curves around him, raises him, a seemingly mundane ascension.
Before today, I thought I’d truly experienced human rage but I was wrong.
I can clearly hear his undecipherable wails of anguish at a world that not only looks upon his display with a blatant passivity but with a collective apathy that seeps directly into ones own soul.
I stand safely on the other side of Tremont and I watch him as his already fragile spirit seems to fracture before my eyes.
In my mind, I see the many frigid winter nights he’s spent roaming the side streets and alleyways of the city in search of anything edible; a stale crust of bread, water or wine—our refuse, our needless waste.
I think about the fact that he is alone, scared and sick to death of this pestilent world he’s been sentenced to live in.
He’s wearing a tattered and badly soiled T-shirt, riddled with more ragged holes than a one-pound wedge of Swiss cheese.
His pants are 3 to 4 sizes too big and cover his blackened bare feet. His hair covers most of his face, save for his eyes. As I cross the street, I see that they’re this penetrating crystal blue. Upon closer inspection I realize he’s been crying.
I feel wrong to stand there and watch but a part of me is moving with him, wanting this to be over for him.
And though I can’t begin to feel all that he feels my heart aches for him.
I think about all the aid we send to various places around the globe, all the alms—the children we save, the countries we rebuild, the peoples we protect, the perpetual comatose we sustain.
In some small way, these people and places somehow belong to us.
We should be more responsible.But for all the good we seemingly do we can’t find the time to help this one blue man. He is invisible; a prisoner of his own demons, trapped by an unaccountable and sleeping bureaucracy that is often too ashamed to admit there is a problem.
As I walk back through the Common, the cries that seem to follow me diminishing with every step I take.
Maybe it’s just my own selfish device that allows me to walk away gracefully yet dignified, my hypocritical pride still in tact.
The further away I get the more normal (and pointless) the world becomes.
I watch lovers walk, old ladies feeding squirrels,
(even the effing squirrels are treated more humanely) and I wonder if one person can make a difference in another's life; the answer is an unequivocal yes.
Maybe someone else will take care of this man, I think to myself.
Distance allows us acceptance of almost any situation.
We exploit our learned indifferences and throw up walls that supposedly keep us safe and sane.
I know I'll walk through the Common again.
Maybe this time my eyes will remain open…just maybe.
Sometimes I wonder about our real purpose here on this little blue ball that floats effortlessly around the sun and then I see a quote like this and it somehow all starts making sense…
"In the best of times, our days are numbered anyway. So it would be a crime against nature for any generation to take the world crisis so solemnly, that it put off enjoying those things for which we were designed in the 1st place: the opportunity to do good work, to enjoy friends, to fall in love, to hit a ball, and to bounce a baby." ~Alistair Cooke