For a few days, last week, I reprised a role I had once played, three decades ago, in the city of Boston.
Some friends of mine, residents of Los Angeles, will soon relocate near Boston University and one of them will enter graduate school and study physical therapy.
Thanks to a very generous cousin in Cambridge, who opened up her home and heart, we three had a place to stay, in an old neighborhood north of Harvard University, where old frame houses, brick colonials and crooked streets are intersected by Irish taverns, old firehouses, new bakeries and shabby gas stations.
I love Boston as much as I despise Los Angeles, so I eagerly jumped on the chance to bring them around to the places I had last lived in when Ron and Nancy were in the White House.
Fulfilling President Reagan’s fondest dreams, the wealthy and powerful are even more so today, and well-endowed, luxury-priced Boston University (tuition:$39,000), once a homely, forlorn and gray place along the streetcar tracks, is now full of edifying and prestigious piles of brick colleges, ornate lampposts, decorative sculptures, landscaped meridians, cobblestone sidewalks and a frenetic energy of the young, stressed and indebted.
The sun shone every day of our visit, in a weird evocation of the city we were in exile from. Spring was evident in the flowering dogwoods, crocuses and tulips and on the tinted green lawn of the Public Garden. A season earned by those who had worked through a cruel and harsh winter. A spring deserved and appreciated, as spring should be. The scarcity of something wonderful is wonderful to behold.
And there was the new, gleaming Kenmore Square, which I remembered as the ass end of the Back Bay, where broken beer bottles, Sunday morning pee-in-the-alley, and angry musicians once held court. It was now a sanitized and Disneyfied collection of luxury hotels, smart restaurants; and a ridiculously oversized twin-peaked, mansard-roofed building suited for a studio back lot.
In my old Boston days, I had always walked and dreamed and wandered along Commonwealth Avenue, under the trees and past the statues of great dead men. And my favorite was William Lloyd Garrison, the abolitionist, whose quote I memorized to fire up my own integrity:
“I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.”
He was fighting against the national evil of slavery, and this writer was only speaking up, pathetically, in defense of his own sexuality. Perhaps that is not entirely true, but when I walked there 30 years ago, I did so in the shadows, without self-knowledge, trapped in a dream and a nightmare of unfulfilled carnality.
Transcendentalism. Unitarianism. John F. Kennedy.
Paul Revere. Honey Fitz. Marky Mark. The Late George Apley.
Henry Cabot Lodge. Ted Kennedy.
Faneuil Hall. Samuel Adams. The North End. The Public Garden. The T.
Copley Square. Brookline. Charles River. Myles Standish Hall.
Concord and Lexington. Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
Isabella Stewart Gardner. Emily Dickinson. John Silber. Nick DeWolf.
Thirty years ago, and three days ago, my mind’s awhirl with what I saw and what I learned and who I might become. Thirty years have passed. But they have not diminished my passion for the people, places and philosophy of the Bay State.
Boston was the first moment, at 18, when my conscious mind came into existence.
And I felt it again, last week, that I belonged to Boston, in its fervor and trembling intellect, in its profundity and promise, and I know that I have barely scratched the surface of my own potential when I return to the place where youth crashed into adulthood and I picked up the pieces…. sculpting life anew.