Monday, June 13, 2011

State update: Massachusetts

I spent most of last week at a conference in Boston, a city I haven't visited in an extremely long time.  It was unexpectedly lovely -- amidst the usual unpredictable cruelty of Massachusetts weather, we enjoyed a beautiful summer evening on my first night in town.  I went for a run on a route traced out for me by the hotel: from Boston Common along Cambridge Street, across Longfellow Bridge and along the Charles River, then crossing back over on Harvard Bridge and running along the Esplanade back to Cambridge -- a nice four-mile loop.  As I ran, I kept thinking, "I am not in New York, these are not New Yorkers, this is another city where people live.  And it is beautiful here."  Sunset over the water, sailboats bobbing along.  Brilliant office towers reflecting the orange-yellow light.  Running blindly and confidently.

One evening I abandoned the conference program to visit with my grandparents and aunt in nearby Beverly.  I was proud of myself for navigating the commuter train and making it to the Beverly Depot, where I had a great summer dinner with my aunt and grandfather (steak, grilled out in the spitting rain; salad, potato salad, sliced tomato (first good one of the year), brownie and ice cream, Bud Light) and then went on to the hospital where my grandmother was unfortunately checked in.  It had been five years since I had seen this side of the family, and being with them again felt easy and familiar.  I saw unexpected glimpses of my dad in my aunt's features or my grandfather's gestures.  Their home was full of pictures of my sister and me, Alice and L.  I felt like I had discovered some kind of reservoir of love, and I felt horrible and strange about letting so much time pass between visits.  It was wonderful, but it came with a certain ache, too.  I called L when I was standing on the dark, rainy platform, waiting for the train to arrive to roll me through the night back to Boston, but we could barely talk before the flashing lights and clatter of the train roared into the station. 

Another train ride and a few days later, and now I'm back at home.

Sunday, June 05, 2011


This morning at 8:30, I was walking out of the apartment to head to the gym, untangling my headphones in my hands, when I heard our next-door neighbor yelling for help inside his apartment.  "Help me!  Help me!  Is anyone there?  Please help me!"  I continued walking down the first flight of stairs before I stopped and came back up.  I called to him through the door.  From what I could understand, he said he had been stuck in his bathtub for two days, and could I go to the superintendent and get the keys to his apartment.  I said I would.  I went downstairs and knocked on the super's door, and got no response.  I called him and left a voice message.  I knocked on my neighbor's door and he started yelling again -- "Help!  Someone, please!" -- and his voice faltered.  He must have thought I had left.

I conferred with L and we decided to call the police.  She called 911 and spoke to the operators.  Soon other neighbors had gathered with us outside of his door: the neighbor who was the reason we called 911 the last time, a girl doing her laundry.  When the police arrived at the building, they buzzed our neighbor's apartment to be let in, which struck me as grimly hilarious.  Key in hand, the superintendent came spilling out of the elevator with the cops and EMTs.  Everyone went inside the apartment.  We hung back, afraid to look through the doorway.  They were worried about what kind of mess they might find.
A few minutes later they rolled our neighbor out in a rickety wheelchair that looked like lawn furniture.  He was wrapped from head to toe in a white bedsheet, with his skinny legs dangling and his gnarled feet dragging on the floor tile.  He was every figure of the Pieta.  His body was bisected by bright orange straps tied tightly to secure him.   They asked him his name and if he knew his social.  Soon he and the police and EMTs had all vanished back down the elevator.  L said, "Should we wish him good luck?," but by the time we tried to say it they had already gone.  Before they left one of the cops made sure his lights and air conditioner were turned off. 

A few of us were still on the landing.  The super said he didn't mind helping our neighbor.  He was old and alone, and not all there.  Lou Gehrig's disease.  From our apartment we can hear him playing classical music most of the time, and yelling to himself when he gets frustrated.

In the afternoon we saw the neighbor from the last 911 call, who said he was going to the hospital to check on the man.  Since he's all alone, you know.  But before he left for the hospital, our neighbor had to check the building directory posted by the buzzer to make sure he knew the man's last name.