Monday, April 22, 2013

That was the week that was…

I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the past week, and what it’s meant for Boston and the country.

The shock, horror, sadness, and outrage we all felt after Monday’s bomb attack on our friends and family, our city, our special holiday, our Marathon.

I’ve already forgotten whether I even set foot outside the house on Tuesday, so all-consuming was the news. (So crushing the pictures of little Martin Richard, and, as they were identified, of Krystal Campbell and Lingzi Lu. Heartbreaking.)

On Wednesday, I ventured out early. As I walked through the Boston Common, I passed a few National Guard members (including a couple hauling a major league Dunkin’ Donuts bag; America really does run on Dunkin’),and their vehicles (not quite sure what they were: jeepish-tankish), and their tents. 

As I usually do, I picked up some trash along the way.* As I stooped to pick up a mega-Burger King cup, the thought did occur to me that it might be booby-trapped.

But I decided not to live in fear, picked it up – cursing the slob who’d dropped it within 20 feet of a trash can – and threw it away.

My morning’s destination – the gym – was in a building a couple of doors down from the Mexican Consulate. Which had a guy posted out front carrying a machine gun.

This may have made the Mexican Consul feel safer, but it did not make me feel safer. On the contrary, it made me feel frightened.

I expected the armed camp to be in full evidence when, later in the day, I took a train from North Station to visit my sister. I was carrying with me some information on the chemistry of fire – info that my husband (the former chemist) had pulled together for our niece, who has a paper on the topic due soon. The info included a chemistry book, generously outlined and commented in my husband’s red pen, which, admittedly, some might take for the work of a madman. When I was leaving the house, Jim warned me that, if I were searched at North Station, the searcher might think I was up to no good. Hard to believe you have to worry about a high school chemistry project, but you never know. I tucked it under the Tupperware I was returning to Trish.  But there was no – blessed relief –  mega security presence at North Station, and I was able to hop my train without delay, which made me feel far better than the armed guard at the Mexican Consulate.

The next morning, on my return to Boston, I took my usual cut-through Mass General Hospital on my way home from North Station. I knew there were bombing victims still being treated there, but was nonetheless surprised/unnerved to see men – were they Homeland Security? – stationed out front of the hospital carrying machine guns. As with the Mexican Consulate, this did not make me feel safe. It made me feel sorry. (Later in the day, the President paid a visit to MGH to meet with some of the bombing victims, so perhaps that was the reason for the souped-up security. I will say, however, that the back of the hospital was not thus secured.)

By Thursday, Boston was all a-vigil. I didn’t participate in any of them “live”, but I did watch some of the very moving memorial service on TV.

By this point, all the Boston Strong “stuff” was starting to irk me a bit. As if wearing a tee-shirt that says Boston Strong is really going to do or prove much of anything. As if there were ever any possibility that Bostonians were going to go collectively to pieces. (Fat f-in’ chance of that.) I was about to call BS, when I realized that I was the one choking up a bit when I saw this tribute that had appeared in The Chicago Trib, especially since just before I came across it, I’d seen a picture of Martin Richard that had been taken at a Bruins game.

Tribune Sports: Hang in there, Boston

And that I completely thought it was sweet and touching that the Yankees sang Sweet Caroline – a Red Sox anthem of sorts – during their Tuesday game.

Boston Strong, Sweet Caroline.

Time like these, we’re all entitled to gather our comforts where we may.

Then there was this one – which pretty well expresses the general ethos and essence of this city. Needless to say, it didn’t make me tear up . It made me laugh:
Keep Calm

Especially when you realize that three of the victims, Martin, Krystle, and Sean Collier, the MIT cop murdered Thursday night, have Irish lineage.

(Boston is, of course, more than just Irish, or even Irish-by-osmosis, as one local African-American politician once claimed was true of all our citizens. And, thus, we were cheered when Red Sox great David Ortiz, Bostonian by way of the Dominican Republic, told the crowd at Fenway on Saturday: “This is our f-in’ city.” Right you are, David. Right you are.)

What also made me laugh was the fact that, by special request of the authorities, Dunkin’ Donuts throughout the area were kept open on Friday while other businesses were asked to close. (Maybe all of America doesn’t run on Dunkin’, but Boston does – and so do the PD’s around here.)

Thursday night, of course, the FBI revealed the pictures of the suspects, and a bit later it was search-on.

Friday, like everyone else in the area, I was glued to the television. We were, after all, on city-wide lockdown, with little else to do but spin between one TV station and the next, one website and the next, one Twitter feed and the next. A disquieting quiet in the city: no car noise, few people seen on the streets.

As it turned out, I almost missed the climax, my husband and I having turned on House Hunters International to see if the woman from Los Angeles would go with the fixer-upper near the Louvre or the over-budget place in Saint Germain (spoiler alert: fixer upper); and whether the family from South Carolina would take the infinity pool or the gated community in Belize (spoiler alert: gated community). We did not find out which place the Walshes of Summit, NJ, chose in Anguilla, as my sister Trish texted me to let me know things were coming to a head in Watertown.

It goes without saying that, like every other decent person on the face of the earth, I am thrilled that they got Suspect Number Two. And that they got him alive.

The less said about Suspect Number One and Suspect Number Two – those evil POS - the better. But I will admit to being curious about what’s going on in that 19 year-old’s head just about now. Terrorism with your bro seemed like a cool idea at the time, eh pal? Well, no more girl friends, pickup soccer games, tweeting, or joints for you, you little bastard. Martin Richard’s life stopped at 8 years of age, thanks to you. Now yours- whether physically or metaphorically we have yet to learn – will stop at 19. Doesn’t seem like quite a fair exchange though, does it? What we all wouldn’t give to give Martin the gift of years. There’s really no payback here that’s quite enough of a bitch.

(At first I thought there was some possibility that the younger brother was duped by the older brother into thinking it was a prank, a statement, a smoke bomb. No harm, no foul. Of course, after Monday at 2:50 p.m. he would have certainly known that this was the real deal. At which point, it would have been time for the 19 year old boy to man-up and turn his brother in. But this fleeting thought was before I heard that the younger brother, hiding in the Watertown backyard boat, had scrawled on the tarp something about his brother’s being a hero…)

But, grateful as I am that they got their man, and thankful I am that they did so without any further loss of life, and acknowledging as I will that the the forces amassed for the manhunt were all there with at least some possibility that they could lose their lives, while I was watching the Watertown manhunt, I couldn’t help but think that deploying all those forces, locking down all these cities and towns (sure, maybe Watertown and the places adjacent to Watertown made sense, but all of Boston?), was maybe just a bit over the top.

Maybe if I’d lost a child or a leg I’d feel differently, or if I lived in Watertown, but when I saw all those state troopers lined up next to the Arsenal Mall, standing there with their Smokey hats, arms folded behind there backs, doing – well, there’s no other word for it – nothing, my first thought was ‘this is overkill.’  As I did when I saw those thousands of “forces” massed for the hunt.

And I have plenty of concerns when I think about how for every Officer Friendly, there now seems to be an Officer Hardass wearing combat boots and carrying an assault weapon.

We really need to think long and hard – as a city and a country - about whether all this show of force makes us any safer, or whether having the force to show means that we’ll just naturally find more occasions when we feel forced to show it.

Anyway, we’re now back to normal, or near normal, or new normal. (At least those of us who didn’t lose a child or a leg, who will never get back what they lost.)

I really hope that, come next Marathon Monday, come next Patriots Day, people don’t have to go through patdown security to get to the finish line. That the 26.2 mile route from Hopkinton to Boston isn’t lined with staties with their hands behind their backs. That twice as many people will run, and twice as many people will watch. That Boston Strong – it’s starting to grow on me - means that we won’t be cowed. And that we won’t need – and don’t want – an armed guard on every corner so that we can feel safe. Even if it does mean that there may well be another nihilistic, cowardly bastard out there, with some pathetic axe and the need to irrationally grind it by screwing with us.

We’re a long way, fortunately, from being a police state.

Let’s see if we can keep it that way.

Meanwhile, if you want to make a donation to benefit all of the victims of the Patriots Day bombing, you can do it here.


*I know, I know: goodie-two-shoes. But I’ll tell you just what inspired me to do become a regular trash-picker.

A couple of years ago, on a frigid February day, I was walking across Boston Common when I saw an elderly woman paused at the opposite end of a long path that was thickly iced over. (The city actually does a good job of keeping these paths clear, but there had been a melt the day before, and a freeze overnight, and it was early…) I was cutting around, walking through the crusty snow, and I hollered to the woman to wait up, that I’d help her over the moderately-difficult-to-navigate snow.

The woman – both beautiful and beautifully dressed: a real Beacon Hill grande dame - gratefully took my arm, introduced herself – Nancy Ellis – and told me it was her 85th birthday. We chatted for a while, and she told me that she was on her way over to the New England Medical Center, where she was a regular volunteer. I told her that I hoped that when I’m 85, I’ll be going out on a cold, icy day to volunteer.

Nancy Ellis looked a bit familiar, and after a moment or two I realized that she was George Bush’ sister. When I asked her if this were so, she smiled and said, ‘Yes, and George Bush’s aunt, too.’

Anyway, Nancy Ellis had an empty Poland Springs bottle tucked under her arm, and I offered to toss it for her.

She then told me that, whenever she walked through The Common, she would pick up some trash along her way.

Heading out to volunteer on your 85th birthday, in the dead of winter, and cheerfully picking up after some slob while you’re doing so.

Now that’s Boston Strong…

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