My Brighton Dunkin’ sign story is better than yours or theirs. It has an old lady, a plaster Christ, evictions, and a bully university.
We don’t often head down Market Street by that nasty retro sign. It is on the way to the New Rep and such, but I don’t see it frequently. When I do though, I get the same couple of powerful memories.
Pic Click Trick: Click on a thumbnail image for a larger view.
It means the substantial crucifix overlooking my bed in my single days, the evidence that mayors too often care more for money than people, and how small graces can define us as human and humane.
On assignment as a reporter in my very brief career with the dilettante’s radical rag Old Mole, I was on North Harvard Street in Allston in October 1969. According to The Harvard Crimson article I just found on the net, it was the 17th.
I was there because the Suffolk County Sheriff’s office was evicting families and individuals from their homes of decades, for some the houses where they had grown up and from where their parent’s bodies headed to funeral homes. The eviction was not from unsafe housing, rather it was about politics and money.
Boston Mayor Kevin Hagan White cut a deal with Harvard University. While all sides claimed they would build mixed income housing on the spot, in fact, it was blue-collar removal, a.k.a. urban renewal. It allowed Harvard Business School to expand and created high-rent apartments taken by faculty and grad students. Those inconvenient and troublesome residents were disposable. That day, they were disposed of.
Boston did the nasty work on paper and on the site. The sheriff ‘s guys showed up with a phalanx of riot police. I don’t know where they hid these gorillas. They were giants who looked even fiercer in clear face shields with their long batons. They shoved the few of us protesters (not the disinterested reporter I would later become). I had twin horizontal pectoral bruises for more than a week to show for that.
After the cops moved us aside, I saw an elderly woman on the lawn of what had been her house. She was weeping and looking confused.
I regret now that I don’t recall her name. We should all have names, at least to those who interacted with us.
Likely my reporter instincts were at work as well as my humanity. Her story was predictable but still moving. Her parents and siblings had lived there. She was the only one left and had been evicted. They found her a spot in a ratty public housing project not too far away.
Meanwhile, the bulldozers were on order.
I had my car not too far away and offered to take her and her stuff to the apartment. I drove around, argued with the SWAT cops, who eventually relented and I loaded up the back seat and trunk.
Best I can recall, the new digs were spartan — brick exterior, cinder-block halls and no known neighbors. As we moved the last of her stuff in, she hoisted her massive crucifix toward me. I must have shown horror or amusement, but recall stepping back.
I also remember her simple words, “I want you to have this.”
While raised as a Christian, I was not by then. A six of beer would have made sense. There’s not a lot of utility and no emotional ties to an 20-inch wooden cross with a bleeding Messiah in painted plaster.
She’d have none of my denials. She explained that she wanted to give me something for helping her when everyone else, including her mayor, abandoned her. Then she got me. Said she didn’t have anything else more valuable and it would mean a lot for me to take it.
As soon as I agreed, she relaxed and then became sparkly. She quickly asked if I’d do one more thing for her. She used to get a ride to that Dunkin’ with neighbors who had moved away during the eviction. She loved her donuts and wanted to have one now to make herself feel better.
We climbed into my old Dodge 330 with the garish phoenix-rising-from-flames decal covering the hood. Then she did in fact enjoy her donut. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone enjoy one more. That must be the meaning of comfort food in uncomfortable times.
I took her to her project. She kissed my cheek . Then Jesus and I headed to my King Street flat in Cambridge. So, I knew then that I was wrong, that there was an emotional tie to the crucifix.
At that time, I was, as we Southerners are wont to say, keeping company with a woman. We had a couple of awkward nights after the crucifix went up in the kitchen. It wasn’t over the bed, but you could see it from there, or in her case, just know it was there.
I think of that day whenever I see the Dunkin’ sign. I don’t believe it was anywhere near as rundown looking then or that its paint was peeling so badly.
Biking by today to snap a few before another bully has its way with the lives people are perfectly happy living, I must admit it looks dated. The cartoonish font brings Comic Sans to mind and the sign looks almost craftsman like and handmade next to the new Dunkin’ logo on the tiny building.