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A Father's Day story

Sunday 6/21/20

Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street run next to each other, and they do so over quite a distance. Either one will take you from the Public Garden all the way out to Boston College. Comm. Ave. is the much more urban and streetwise of the two options, if we are to attribute a kind of self-knowledge to city asphalt, as I do. Beacon St. is the far leafier proposition. There are parks like hamlets, one will see turkey, a pond with a heron. You can run in literal fields.


I always walk the length of Beacon, rarely Comm. Ave. Why am I sharing this? I am sharing this because I am telling you a story, and story is how I see the world.


My father, when he was a young man, used to go to a club called Lucifer's in Kenmore Square, where Comm. Ave. and Beacon cross and thus, for this one spot in Boston or the surrounding environs, will actually occupy, briefly, the same bit of pavement. It's like a street kiss, or a handshake, a hello and a farewell both; you pick which one you are going to go down, and those two streets will not see each other again--the infrastructure of the city makes a joint view of both impossible.


When I heard about the club, I was taken aback. As much by the name and what I assumed the club was likely like, and that the one time it came up, my parents treated it like happenstance, not worth mentioning again or going into any clarifying detail. I figured the club had to be some violent biker bar, blood on the floor and all of that, even if this was completely contrary to my parents and how they were.


I belong to an old school Boston Facebook group, and the other day, someone posted a picture of Lucifer's. It was near where the Barnes and Noble is, so that would have put it across the street from the infamous Rat, which is also now gone. Lucifer's was no biker bar--it was more like a discotheque. Quite popular, quite mainstream, it just had the name of the Dark Lord overhead. (Maybe we all do--I don't know.)


I mentioned this to my sister today, after I had walked the length of Beacon Street, and was beneath a grove of oaks encircling the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, located further below, as the ground is like a series of shelves. My father never expatiated on something like Lucifer's, despite all of the times he and I were on Beacon Street together, driving through. My sister said, correctly, that he wasn't a storyteller, that wasn't his personality. I don't mention this as a fault of my father's, a criticism, but merely an observation. Most people are not storytellers. Hardly anyone is. It's not how people express themselves. And either they don't think a person will care, or thinking that a person might--and very much so at that--isn't the kind of thought that passes through their consciousness. I thought about how I would have enjoyed my father pointing out to me that he used to go to this place over there, and it's not here now, this was the funny name, but instead we just rolled by (I believe he also challenged some Navy guy to a fight at this place, because the Navy guy asked my mom to dance or something when my father was in the bathroom, and yeah, I can totally see him coming out and saying, "Jesus H. Christ, this is not happening"). He probably was thinking about experiences he had there. He probably often was thinking about experiences he had at places near to us, people we saw.


For my entire life--or certainly from the moment I could speak--I have expressed myself in narrative. Flaubert was Madame Bovary? I am story. It's how I see everything I've ever seen, it's how I order every conversation I've ever had, how I see life. It's what I am. It is how my eyes are made. Most people think that life is something that happens, that is occurring, it possesses happenstance, it is separate from you, in one way, and also while it is going on you are a current inside of it. I've never seen the world in that manner. I've always and only seen story, because what story is is really a way of looking at the world, of seeing the world and putting terms of narrative to the giant river that contains the multitude of currents; it's not happenstance, it's not something occurring; it's something to be identified and told, if you can see the story component, if you can ID it, and it is when the telling occurs that we are most connected to life. We understand our active-ness within the larger channel. We can then turn to someone else and say, however we say it, "Let me tell you a story." The other person's eyes and ears open, and their mind, and their curiosity, and their heart--those openings are not for the gathering of distance, they are not triggers of alertness that ask, "Do I need to be ready to push away?"; they are how we make ready to become closer to another person and to the very crux of human life itself. It's story.


It might seem ironic that someone who is totally alone--more alone, I would venture, than anyone alive is alone right now--would be talking about how they are story and connection, and yet there is that aloneness. About that I would say a couple things. The first being that right now is not always. Another being that when the time comes and my time comes, people will be connected to a kind of work, a body of work, that connects people to that work, and to themselves, in ways that nothing else ever has with whatever it may have been, nor will again. And I think when that happens, as that happens, different things in my own life will open up as well, though that is a very different thing--me having people who care about me, treat me well--than what I am talking about here with the larger points of impact and change that are seismic, unprecedented, absolutely essential. When people tell me to keep going--and they often do--be it Kimball, Pratt, Vollmer, hell, Matty Freaking Sawyer--I choose to think that they are aware of all of this, and this is why they say what they do, because so much is at stake and I will get there and that is going to change this world. I choose to think that's a part of their words to me on the "keep going" front, and not just some, "eh, what else are you going to do?" kind of deal.


But back to my father. We spent a lot of times in cars, and never once did he discourage me from the telling of the stories I told, the manner in which I saw the world, conducted our regular conversations, or my portion of them. He listened. I could tell when I was interesting him, when I was making him think. When he wanted to know what came next and tried to guess it out in his head. He laughed where I'd put in the line for the laugh, for balance.


The reason we'd be on Beacon Street is because that is how we came into the city to go to Fenway to see the Red Sox. That is also part of the reason why I always take Beacon. You drive through those leafy hamlets and you see the Citgo sign rise a little ways in the distance. You're close at that point, and it's exciting.


One summer I was at hockey camp. You went for two weeks, and in the middle weekend, parents could visit. My dad came. My mom must have been with my two sisters. I think this was in Andover. We had some extra time, so he decided to check if the Sox were in town. They were, and he suggested we go to what was a day game. It was pretty easy back then--this would have been, say, '87 or '88, I think--and we drove into the city, down Beacon, parked the car, went to the game, game finished, he dropped me back off at hockey camp, it was a nice day. Then I was anxious to get back out on the ice.


Twenty Father's Days have passed since my dad died. But every single time I walk down Beacon Street, and every time when I come back into the city and see the same view I would have seen all those times in the car, I think of my father and that parents' weekend at hockey camp when he took me to a game. Now I think about that club, Lucifer's, and I think, of course, about story. And as I see my father through story--as I see my father through this story I have just told you--I feel closer to him. Because that is how story works, and I'm sure my dad understands this one.