Boston

It looks like they got him. The younger Tsarnaev brother, that is.

He will, of course, turn out to be a fucked up kid. Then again so was Caligula.

This is not a matter on which I am really an expert, other than that I have known a lot of fucked up people. On the other hand, I have also known Boston.

I think more people read my blog from places like Europe and Down Under than in the States, and the States are big. Let me tell you a little about my encounters with Boston, a lady I have been privileged to know slightly.

I had a best college friend — a gay (he wasn’t really aware of it at the time) pianist and organist from Providence who enrolled at the New England Conservatory. He shared rooms in Jamaica Plain, where I would visit him in the summers, beguiling the hours he was in class or studying with visits to the Boston Public Library or the Common below the State House. There is a memorial there to the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; you look from the frieze of freed slaves turned Union soldiers to the golden dome of the State House — something that would not be out of place in the Caucasus, it occurs to me — and then down the Common to the skating pond. It is American in a way that not even my hometown (if you count suburbs) of DC is. New England thought the country up, and let Washington work out the details.

Boston’s transit system is complete and embracing; you might say that of New York, but New York is frightening. I passed through New York City in the seventies when I was in college and I swore never to go back; the collision of human passions and goals was like a marble game in your head, to quote my gay organist friend again. But when I stepped onto the Boston T I felt as if I were on a magic carpet that could take me anywhere. Years later I met the man who is now my Albino Ex, a native of Somerville, where big up-down duplexes house families or cohorts of students from Tufts, variably. He loved the T so much as a child that, in his forties, he had its logo printed on his pillow cases.

In Somerville, in the Spring, you walk down the streets past the shingled fronts of the big houses, whose dooryards are more cement than grass, except that lilacs bloom there in the sandy soil. In some of those walkup structures three generations of the same family have lived.

People seemed to smoke a lot in Boston, at least when I was there last. For a place that shelters Harvard and MIT and Boston College and Boston University and Tufts it is one hell of a blue collar town, and these are people who will buy you a beer, but you had better not fuck with them. Seriously. We have learned that in these last four days.

My Albino Ex’s dad was a transit cop. The Ex himself worked for a police department in the suburb of Malden. When he moved down here and got into politics, he marveled: “If I said the things I’ve said around here when I was back in Boston, two guys named Guido would have paid me a visit.”

Bostonians are tough, in a splendid way. I salute them.

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7 thoughts on “Boston

  1. I worked in Boston for over a year and it’s still probably my favorite city in the US for a lot of the reasons you mention. You can’t help but grow as a person if you sit in a meeting at MIT and the go to a baseball game at Fenway park on the same day.

    • 🙂 My friend in Jamaica Plain used to animadvert furiously about Fenway Park… because on the rare occasions when he drove in Boston it involved something that took him past the Fenway and the congestion on game days frustrated him enormously. But I bet a lot of his buddies from the Conservatory were there.

    • As you might gather from my reply to Thomas, above, driving in the Boston area is for Bostonians only. On the occasions I have been a passenger, I just cover my eyes.

  2. If British police had, in similar circumstances, pursued these suspects in Britain with the determination and speed of Boston police and shot and killed one and maimed another there would have been a human rights outcry by a certain respectable minority, automatic enquiries about police conduct and an automatic suspension of the officers, then at risk of homicide prosecutions. The alleged bombers would have been seen by that same minority as potential victims alongside those killed or maimed by the bomb.

    Thus there is a slow wariness and a clinical detachment in British police when they enter the fray. There are strict procedures which they have to follow before a gun is fired but there is still indignation from elements of the public conscience. Maybe it is the same in Boston, but that was not apparent in the news reports.

    Assuming, then, a cultural difference, which is right and which is wrong?

    • The police shootout is a very American thing, true, and the relative restraint of British law enforcement has been invoked in many a conversation here about the excessive force all too common in American police actions (cf. Amadou Diallo, Rodney King). We have plenty of lesser incidents of police manhandling and overreaction here, and fortunately plenty of indignation about them; I’ve signed onto more than one petition calling for a police chief’s resignation or an inquiry into officers’ behavior. In this case, however, you had two people connected to a mass casualty incident and one gratuitous fatal shooting, driving a stolen car and apparently prepared to resist police with deadly force, including explosive devices. Only the most insistent of bleeding hearts here would criticize the way police handled it.

      And yes, a couple of people were heard on the Internet carrying on about the way Boston was shut down and police brought in all kinds of deadly force “to chase a teenager.” Well, I myself was close to tears when I saw how slight and young Dzhokar Tsarnaev looked in the scattering of photos taken as police and emergency workers took charge of him… but he was still someone who had almost certainly assisted in the murder of three people and the maiming of scores more. Ultimately the grief I felt for everyone who was hurt expanded to include whatever it is in human hearts that can turn so dark as to do a thing like that to strangers, for no sensible reason

      As to respected minorities, the only comment I have heard of from the Imam of Boston was that he would have refused funeral rites to Tamerlan Tsarnaev. I don’t know if that suggests a national difference, too.

    • Half of me says, “Shoot and ask questions afterwards,” the other half, “what would have been the verdict at a trial of the alleged bombers.”

      As to the latter, I suspect a cultural difference there, too.

      As you point out, there are many parallel cases in Britain.

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