Friday, July 13, 2007

Boston Street Icon “Mr. Butch” Dies at age 56.

Boston Street Icon “Mr. Butch” Dies at age 56.

It is poetic justice that Mr. Butch died on the streets of Boston in a motor scooter accident. He was a true creature of those streets for so many years.
When I first moved back to Boston in the late 70’s I was living in a rooming house on Newbury Street (yes there were rooming houses there!) and working at a grocery store at the corner of Newbury and Mass Ave. I worked the 3 to 11 shift, and I had a wonderful but unsavory cast of characters who frequented the store. There was a buck-toothed African-American prostitute who proudly told me: “I only give head to my man.” There was a middle-aged security guard Maynard, who reminded me of a uniformed Noel Coward; his hat tilted at a rakish angle, an ever-present sardonic smile, and a cigarette dangling elegantly and effeminately between his fingers. He would tell me of his sexual encounters during his shift. It seems he was always approached by a handsome young man who insisted on doing “favors” for him. “I mean what’s a girl, I mean…a guy to do!” The famed rock group “The Cars” recorded a few buildings down and they all had sophisticated tastes, requesting a variety of Drake’s Cakes.

But one of the most memorable characters was a tall, lanky, Blackman with dreadlocks and an infectious laugh, who always tried to cop a cup of free coffee and a snack. Sometimes he would have a bright red guitar strapped to his back. He often smelled of booze, or the sweet smell of marijuana would waft my way when he approached the counter. One very cold winter night I let him stay in the store, forgetting to let him out when I locked up. He spent the night there, and I am sure he had a nice meal, and an undisturbed, peaceful sleep, much to the manager’s chagrin. Suffice to say I wasn’t long for that gig.

Over the years Mr. Butch was like a welcomed Beacon to me. I used to run into him in Kenmore Square outside the now defunct Punk Rock club the “Rat” during my pub crawling days. He was such an enigma. He survived the streets by choice for so many years, and 56 is a ripe old age for a street person. At times he was a living statue, standing squarely and straight, strumming his red guitar amidst the maelstrom of all the Brooks Brother suits that detoured around him. He gave his long, callused finger to conventional society--the cell-phoned hordes rushing to make the almighty buck--or a killing.

In some ways it was a comfort to see him. He was a memory of my seminal days in Boston, a simpler place, more accepting of “eccentrics,” a place where you could rent a cheap room in the Back Bay and start your life in the city. You could actually afford to live the life of an artist for a while. I used to sit out on the steps of my Brownstone in the summer and slap the hands of all the beautiful and not so beautiful street people who flowed by in the humid breeze.

Butch was known by many generations of students, rock bands, hucksters, ner-do-wells, and poseurs--the whole maddening crowd that made this city so attractive to me when I cut my teeth here. I will miss passing this man on the street, how we nodded to each other in our world-weary fashion, saying: “Hey, man, what’s happening?” He has passed and so has another phase of my life.

Doug Holder

1 comment:

  1. Don Share10:38 AM

    RIP Mr. Butch. Thank you for remembering him.