Monday, July 21, 2014
A Walk Through The City: My changing landscape By Doug Holder
There is something that I used to do frequently but now hardly at all, and that is walking through the streets of Boston. I had a dinner I had to go to recently, so I decided to leave early from my home in Somerville, grab the Red Line to Park Street, and got my dogs on the hot pavement. I have been around Boston since 1973 , from the time I entered Boston University as a freshman. One of the things I noticed some 40 years later is the change in Boston and the change in me. I am no longer looking at the city as an adventure; I am looking at it nostalgically. While walking down the street in Downtown Crossing I saw the ghost of the Barnes and Noble store that I used to frequent and picked up, by mere chance, “On the Road,” simply because the book cover looked cool. That started me on a Kerouac reading binge that had me devouring everything he ever wrote, and made me realize how exciting life and literature can truly be.
A mere block or two away I remembered the subterranean Filene’s Basement that used to reside on the street. I had a short-lived job there as a security guard in women’s wear—of all places. In the bowels of the earth, amidst the roar of the subway, I was also one of the denizens of this store, rushing the doors the first thing in the morning for the slightly irregular Arrow shirts and the discounted suits hawked by wisecracking and world weary salesmen and women.
Still further down I saw that a favorite haunt of mine Borders Books has been replaced by a giant Walgreens that even houses a Sushi bar amidst the health and beauty aids. I remember reading there at a poetry series my friend Harris Gardner hosted back in the day. I also can recall the thrill of seeing books I published or wrote myself on those shelves.
After passing through the tourist mecca of Faneuil Hall, I took note of all the street singers, and of course that brought up an idea for a poem, which I composed on a bench looking out to the waterfront in the North End.
The North End also has a special hold for me. I lived on Salem Street in the mid- 80s with a girlfriend of mine (She threw me out protesting that she couldn’t stand all my eating—hey! -- we were in the hub of Italian cuisine after all!), and I can vividly remember the large men sitting outside the social club, and yelling: “ Hey, twinkle toes!” at me as I jogged by, my skinny legs flailing on my morning run. As I walked down Hanover St. and Salem St., the smells of the Italian bakeries brought back that image of couple across the way from our apartment who played Caruso recordings, and invariably get into loud operatic domestic arguments. They were punctual—the fireworks always seemed to start at 5PM.
The late poet Jack Powers (who I was friends with), lived in the North End during his later years, after his long stint on Beacon Hill, known to his crowd in the 50s, 60s, and 70s as Beatnik Hill. I remember interviewing the poet Lyn Lifshin at the long gone eatery DA’s Italian Cuisine—Jack was at the table too. He lived behind the restaurant, in a dark, damp, gone to seed apartment. Rotting in his basement were letters, etc… from the likes of Ginsberg, Corso, and Ferlinghetti. I tried to get him to archive the stuff before it decomposed. I asked Mike Basinski, of the University of Buffalo Poetry and Rare Books Collection to come down to take a look at Jack’s archives. Basinski came down, but Jack did not want to give it up…it was like a vital appendage he couldn’t bring himself to sever. Jack’s backyard was full of found art sculptures –built from tin cans, cigarette butts, rocks he salvaged from construction sites…you name it. This space was now covered with a wooden structure, and his apartment was gone—it is now used for storage space for a new restaurant on the scene.
Finally I stopped at the Parker House on Park Street-an old haunt of mine. I had a drink at the Last Hurrah (Once in the basement of the hotel, now a diminished version is on the lobby level). I grabbed a table with a window view, my schoolboy notebook at my side, and proceeded to write this essay. With my view of the rush hour crowds careening down School St., I felt like I was home. And I was. Believe it or not this was one of the best days I had in a longtime.