Note to Readers: Please click on on all the notes for essential, sidebar-related information.
Jennifer is a world-class health nut, so I knew I was in trouble when she caught me sneaking a cigarette outside her ex-husband’s wedding. But she completely blindsided me when she said she thought we should call it quits, trip to the Cape included. We’d been planning on staying at the Whale & Thief, one of the ten best bed and breakfasts in the country. Her loss. My lost deposit.
I already told my boss I was taking the week off work. I could have gone up to New Hampshire to visit my brother, Kenneth, but last time I did that he told me to call before I showed up, and I’m pretty sure that el hermano doesn’t have a phone. I’d visit my pal Jason at his store, but I’m still a little pissed about being kicked out of his Oscar pool. So here I am, enjoying what I guess they call a “staycation.” I wake up in the morning and float through the next 16 hours like some microbe in an animated health-ed video.
I’ve been getting to know my neighbor from down the hall, Shauna, a little better. She’s a waitress at a Todd English restaurant in the Back Bay. I used to think it was just another has-been celebrity-chef dumphole, but that was before the Globe ran its article on the city’s best Bloody Marys and English’s—or should I say Hot Toddy’s?— radish and cilantro-infused version made the top five.
It’s my second time here this week. Pepon, the manager, comes out of the office and freezes when he sees me. “If it isn’t the graphic designer,” he says.
“I’m in I.T., dude,” I say, but he’s decided he can’t stand me, and that he doesn’t need to listen. Still, five bucks says he’ll end up taking my advice from last time and rescue the side dishes from the ghetto of the bottom of the page. “Put them in a nice box,” is what I told him.Bacon-flecked sauteed spinach and mini-mac-and-cheeses will be sending his kids to college, no question. (I’d also suggested he get on the shad train, a tip he has so far ignored.)
Shauna refills my glass and lets me read the paper. I’m working my way through the national section. Teachers’ unions. Fillibustering. Fracking. And this is supposed to make me feel better how? I go over to the magazine rack on the wall and perk up when I see the copy of Lucky magazine hidden in there. Its cover is warped and it’s way off-season, all legwarmers this and winter coats that. But it’s here for me, which is something.
Back in my seat, I flip to a page with a zillion striped sweaters. A shaded rectangle on the side boasts: “Three Ways to Rock the Nautical Look.” I plunge straight into its thick-bordered space and a sense of calm slides in.
The loveliness is brutally interrupted when Shauna puts on music, some smooth Brazilian jam that’s probably supposed to go down easy with the soup special. I can’t stand it. The only list this tune belongs on is the one for lame things. “Ipanema bullshit? C’mon!” I say. Pepon is looking at me, and I realize I’ve banged my fist on the bar. “I’m doing you a favor,” I tell him. “The new Justin Timberlake is the jam. Let’s experience some of that 20/20!”
Shauna starts to tell me she doesn’t have the album, but I hand her my phone. “Top three comebacks of 2013?” I ask Shauna. She waits for me to answer my question. “Prince, David Bowie, and Timberlake.”
Pepon gives me a sideways look. “My daughter Bailey sure doesn’t seem to think Timberlake ever went away.”
“It’s his first album in seven years,” I say. But I know what Pepon is getting at. J.T. is everywhere. I don’t know why, but I am a fan of whatever the guy touches. Especially that Saturday Night Live sketch, you know the one I’m talking about. Only problem with it? There should have been five wieners in that box, or at least three. One is such a pathetic number.
J.T. is crooning about strawberry bubblegum when the door swings open. I make the mistake of looking up from my magazine and checking out the new customer. It’s a man with red hair. Jennifer has red hair. So does Kim, while we’re at it. My lungs constrict and I kill my Mary. “Shauna.” I tap the side of my glass. She leans over the ice dispenser, doesn’t respond. Pepon comes over instead. “We’re starting to fill up,” he says. “Why don’t you let Shauna do her job? You can come back after the lunch rush.”
People are only seated at two of the tables, but I can take a hint. Besides, I do my best thinking on foot.
I stroll over to Boston Common, drafting sidebars in my head along the way. Five sexiest balding men. Ten crappiest jobs. Three deadliest health fads. Three ultimate peanut-butter sandwiches. It’s important to mix it up, keep a variety of tones.
Jennifer freaked out when she found me working on the sidebar of notable deaths of 2013 after my father’s funeral. She said it was disturbing, that I was in denial.
But I’m not the one who lifts hand weights while I watch television, who subscribes to raw-food cooking classes. I’ll take the end when it comes, gladly. Then I’ll get to go in my very own box, and stay in there forever.