After the Music is Over

It starts in Kenmore Square, which the song says is deserted, but you’ve never been here when the college kids are here, so you don’t really know what that’s like (or not like). When you get off the T and exit the station, you always have stop and do a full 360 spin and make sure you’re pointed the right direction, because Boston has a way of spinning your inner compass.

In one acutely-angled corner, where Comm Ave, Brookline, Beacon, and Deerfield all come together, there is a two-toned, roughly triangular building. This is your hotel. The floors in the lobby are stone, murderously slippery when wet. There’s a restaurant/sushi bar/karaoke bar just off the lobby. The elevators are small, and old, and take forever. The stairwells (one on each side of the building) wrap around the elevator shafts, and it’s often faster to use them—but they’re also slippery, also murderous when wet.

The hotel was built in 1897, and god knows when it was last renovated. The windows don’t have screens, so if you open one to get some extra air, you have to mind how close you sit to the edge. From one side of the hotel, you can see the Citgo sign. From the other, you can see the backside of Fenway Park. If you can’t see either of these, well, there’s always the roof, which a careless employee has left unlocked. Just climb the rickety-ass iron steps and push on the door that says AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY. There’s never any stars to speak of—it’s Boston, it’s December, it’s generally overcast; even if it’s not overcast the city lights drown out the sky—but you can see all of Kenmore Square from up there, watch people crossing the street below you to get to 7-11 or Dunkins.

The carpet is maroon with little pale spots on it, and it’s the same carpet regardless of what floor you’re on, or whether you’re in a room or a hallway. In spite of the hotel’s general triangular shape, the inside is a warren, with dead ends and side hallways. No matter which direction you turn when you come out of the elevator, it is the wrong direction. Some of the rooms are freezing, some roasting.

It was one of the first hotels built in Boston, and when it was built, it was one of the largest buildings in the city. One has to think that there was splendor here, once. The lobby tries to call back to it, with its fancy ceiling and the aforementioned stone floors. The wooden staircase railings that swoop down black and gold metal balusters (are they supposed to be wrought iron? Cast iron? Colonial something-or-other?). But that was awhile ago, and Kenmore Square is no longer upper class (if it ever was), no longer the “it place” in town. It has shops and offices and restaurants, it’s like 3 blocks away from Fenway Park, and it has the Citgo sign. That’s it.

According to Wikipedia, the hotel was used to house Italian prisoners of war in World War II. It’s where the fixers of the 1919 World Series met to iron out their conspiracy. There used to be a radio station in the basement (man, now I wish I’d found my way to the basement, I bet there’s still equipment down there). There used to be a nightclub in the space that later became a pizza restaurant, with performers like Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong.

So that’s the actual history. The history that matters to the rest of the world.

The important thing is, there’s no cops at this hotel, no noise complaints, and the rooms are big enough to cram in a truly criminal number of people. She is old and shabby (like me, like so many of us), but so many things happened here, the kind of history that only matters to a few people, here and there, who passed through her hallways.

Here’s the punx room, stinking of beer and sweat and sweaty beer after three days, floor covered in sleeping bags and duffels and lanky, hungry humans who either didn’t want to or couldn’t pay for their own hotel room.

Here’s where we—grown-ass adults with steady jobs and retirement savings accounts—almost got in a fight with teenage girls who wanted to party for a weekend and mouth off.

Here’s where that guy kissed you, that one time.

Here’s the room where somebody—not saying who—hid action figures in the ceiling, to see if they’d stay up there until the next year, or if someone would find them and take them.

Here’s people making sure everyone they know has tickets to the show, has food, has beer. You know, all the important stuff.

Here’s where W built a whole-ass bar out of plywood and ingenuity, and that one actually did cause a noise complaint, because he was using power tools, but when the security guy came to see what the fuck was happening, W was so charming and competent that the guy just made him promise to take it down at the end of the week (he did).

Here’s Bill, outside smoking, Bill who got you drunk when you were 17 and has never asked you to be anyone other than your own sweet self. Bill, who’s seen enough fucked up shit in his life, that when he tells you, “That was fucked up, what happened to you,” you know to believe him.

Here’s someone in a tiger suit, opening beer bottles with her teeth.

Here’s Skippy, carrying a shrub through the lobby. As you do.

Here’s a guy bringing a dozen people out into the city on a Pizza Tour of Boston.

Here’s another, showing everyone the route over the bridge, past the college campus, down to the Harvard Square post office.

Here’s half a dozen people sitting on the floor in the hallway, beers next to their ankles, wrists hooked over their knees. There’s like 40 people in the hotel room and no room for more.

Here we are, every December. Slightly different cast, maybe, but same general, hospitable, welcoming insanity.

The hotel is closed now, killed by the pandemic (and maybe other factors? I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been unprofitable for awhile). The lobby is dark, the elevators still. Did the owners sell the hotel furniture, try to even out their losses? Are the tourist pamphlets about the duck boats and Freedom Trail still in the empty lobby? Did a homeless guy jimmy his way into the basement? Did they remember to lock the door to the roof before they left, or is it swinging open?

I’ve been listening to the Mighty Mighty Bosstones since I was 14 years old. I went to my first Throwdown (and met Bill) when I was 18. That whole time, I felt lucky: To like this band, who didn’t force me to wrestle with the idea of problematic faves. To find these friends. To explore this city. To find new bands that I loved because the Bosstones took them on tour or talked them up in interviews. To love a band that played this many shows for this many years.

The Bosstones broke up in January, and my streak of having non-problematic faves is officially broken (thanks, Dicky, and fuck you). As I wrestle with my anger, I realize that this is what I will miss: all these people, all these friends. I hope I see you all again. I hope you’re all doing okay, keeping safe, all that.

I had plenty of time with the Bosstones. With their songs, with their shows, with them as people. I didn’t have enough time with my friends.

After the music is over
When what needs to be’s been said
After the tears have all been shed
When it’s over, what is after that?

….After the music’s over, we will hear the music again.

Happy New Year

(Okay, but seriously, me making a timely post within two weeks of the actual time? I am fucking on it, you guys.)

Thank you, to all the vigilant/anxious/conscientious people in 2020 who worked really hard to make wearing a mask and not leaving home the norm in 2020. It helped. I’m a person who wants to be vigilant and do the right thing, but ultimately I’m also lazy, and keeping my attention on something in a consistent way for weeks and weeks and weeks and months is impossible for me to do if I’m not around other people who are also doing it. (I don’t know if this is typical? If people in low-compliance areas would wear masks if it was more the norm? In some ways I notice myself being really susceptible to just rolling along with what everyone else is doing; in some ways I’m super ornery.) Surrounded by different people (or surrounded by no people), I know I would have continued to wear a mask, but I’m not sure if I would have stayed out of restaurants. I maybe would have forgotten about staying away from people at the grocery. I might have given up on social distancing at work. I would have just made doctors’ appointments and dental appointments and kept going to starbucks.  I admit I did keep going to get my hair cut, partly because I couldn’t stand it and partly because my stylist owns her own business, but that was one of the only “That’s a really stupid thing you’re doing” things I did all year, and on balance…well, at least I didn’t have to pay a price for it.

Throughout this whole thing, I’ve underestimated the danger and the longevity of it. I started getting anxious about my work needing to shut down only a day or two before it actually did. I didn’t really think, in April and May, that we’d be settling in for doing the whole year like this, even though people said we would. I am still only half-believing the people who are saying that we need to be prepared for this to be our life for another six months. By this time I know to trust other people and not my instincts, and that my disbelief/disunderstanding is probably more self-preservation than anything else.

Thanks to the people who tweeted about non-instacart grocery ordering apps. Thanks to the people who tweeted about mental health and the agony of combining grief with waiting. Thanks to the people who normalized Saying No To Everything. Thanks to the people who gave me words with which to say, “No, I’m not doing that right now/this year/etc.” Thanks to the people who figured out how to have writer’s conferences online. And movie parties online. Thanks to the people who made me feel guilty for even considering doing a thing, which then steered me away from doing that thing. Thank you to the people who know that human life matters, and that all the lives we lost this year mattered, and that they all left holes behind. Thank you for making pushing back against boomer parents who still want to go to restaurants and to church a thing that we can do with love and humor and compassion.

Thank you to the pets, the dogs and the cats and bunnies and bearded dragons and iguanas and chickens and whatever, who made staying home a tolerable project. Thank you to the lady who let me keep coming over to watch her dog and hang out with him even though she probably didn’t need to. Thanks to the dogs for giving me a reason to leave the house, walk around, and look at the sky. Thanks for keeping me company on zoom meetings. And for interrupting zoom meetings. Thank you for the snuggles, for collapsing across my lap so thoroughly and heavily that my legs fell asleep.

If you still exist in the world and are reading this, thank you. I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad you’ve survived this long. Thank you for helping all the people that you helped. I’m glad you kept on as best you could. I hope you have something good to look forward to in 2021.

Thank you to all the activists who took to the streets in 2020, risking literal life and limb to do so. Thank you for telling your stories. Thank you for telling me what were the good orgs to donate money to. I hope in 2021 we can make progress on defunding police and treasuring black life, and not have to take to the streets and protest every time the police kill a black person.

And to thousands of firefighters, across a dozen states, who left their families (in the middle of a pandemic) to fight the worst wildfires ever (during a pandemic). Thank you for working to keep the homes of total strangers safe. I’m really sorry that the season was so long, and hard, and relentless. I hope you’ve had a few good nights’ sleep since October.

Thank you to the people who gave me stories to read, listen to, play, or watch in 2020. Thank you to everyone who figured out how to find the bandwidth to do creative things in 2020. Thank you especially to the people who made things lighthearted and compassionate, things that seemed as far away from 2020 as possible.

Thanks to the kids, the little ones. I know that in a lot of ways you don’t even know how fucking weird this year was. Thank you for being adaptable, for being bouncy and bubbly and bringing us all up with you. I know that I spent a lot of the year wishing that everything would be less noisy, but the truth is, if you were less noisy, I would be a whole lot sadder. Thank you for continuing to find fun and excitement even within all of this nonsense of a year. I hope I was able to support you in a way that was helpful.

Here’s to 2021 being better in any number of ways than 2020.