I'm no expert on Boston. I've been through there in the truck a couple of times. And I've been inside the city itself for only a total of 2 nights. I hate the place even, Boston.
Brattle Street is a street in Harvard Square I think. I think because I'm not really too sure what Harvard Square is. But I think Brattle Street is part of it. And Brattle Street too for all I know could extend all of Boston. Maybe it does. But the part of it I write of is the part of it in Harvard Square—if indeed it is a part of Harvard Square—or if not, the part just near Harvard Square, Brattle Street.
Now, Boston has its bums, like anywhere. Though, round Harvard there are not so many bums—but that is an inquiry for another day. But there are bums round Harvard, to be sure.
But on Brattle Street there are no bums. Maybe just at the entrance to the subway there is a brave bum or 2 on Brattle Street, but only right there—no farther down the street. Those bums are not on friendly turf they know, so they stay close to the subway, where they can flee. They are only trying to provoke maybe.
And if they are trying to provoke, they are trying to provoke only one bum in particular. Because there is only one bum to provoke. And he is the Brattle Street bum—the only bum on Brattle Street.
The first I saw him, the Brattle Street bum, it was morning, and I had just passed my first of 2 nights outside in Boston. There was a slight blizzard occuring out there,—the end of March it was—and I ducked into the subway for some shelter from the wind and the rain and the snow. I found an empty bench and sat, hoping to catch at least a tiny nap. I chose the particular bench I chose because 2 or 3 benches to my left there was another bum sleeping on a bench. He was lying-down, wrapped in his sleeping-bag.
I only recognized this later, but the bench on which he was sleeping was one of the last benches before stairs out of the subway which lead directly to Brattle Street. But maybe 2 minutes it was after I sat, he began to wake. I watched, warm and content enough, though a touch tired, curiously.
He climbed out his sleeping-bag barefoot, this bum. Then he put-on some long-johns over the ones he was already wearing, and then some jeans over those, all which he pulled from the sleeping-bag. Then he sat and checked and rubbed his feet. And then he pulled socks from the sleeping-bag and put them on, then stepped into some shoes—which he also pulled from the sleeping bag, the shoes. He pulled a long, black, wool jacket from the sleeping-bag and threw it round himself. Then he crumbled-up the sleeping-bag and smashed it into one of those little travel-suitcases with the wheels. And off he went, rolling his little suitcase up the stairs to Brattle Street. And then I had probably a good half-hour nap or so.
My second night in Boston was like a bad dream. But I survived the nightmare. And it was finally morning.
And it was a gray morning, a bit misty and foggy—and cold still. And when I emerged to the sidewalk from the backyard in which I'd passed the early hours of morning, it was Brattle Street I was on, I had no idea—and had had no idea—where I was, all night even. So I knew I could just follow it back to Harvard—which I'd learned the day before to navigate intelligibly enough. So I did.
And maybe 2 blocks from Harvard I saw a little table on the sidewalk. And on the table were books. And in the middle of the table was a big lockbox. Take a book, pay what you think, donate, suggested price printed on front of books. Or, pay what you can, have book regardless.
What an idea, I thought to myself. I like things, people, etc. that help the poor. And what can be better? If you can't afford, here, have a book still—a book. And what better thing to do than read when poor and down and out—at least I think. Well, to make money maybe is better. But to read is right up there, to pass those miserable hours.
I flipped through some of the books. But I had to watch my pennies, so I didn't buy one then. But I took note of a few which seemed curious to me—for later maybe.
Anyway, the day got-on, and I was just wandering-round, ducking into cafes here and there, passing time. But I was back near Brattle Street now. And I noticed his long, black, wool jacket. He was following a lady closely, the Brattle Street bum. And she had a nice, long, wool jacket too—but it was blue, and a bit too small. She looked completely unaware that she was being followed so closely, possibly about to be knocked-down and robbed of her coat, and some money too, which she certainly had. But she stopt, the lady, right at the little stand I had seen earlier. And she thumbed through a few books. The Brattle Street bum stopt too and stood right next to her doing the same, thumbing through a few books. I was behind them both, on the sidewalk across, following.
The lady dropt the book at which she was looking back onto the table and walked-off. The Brattle Street bum shook his head in disappointment and disgust and off he went in the other direction. I followed him.
Down a quiet, little street—or an alley even—he went. And then he ducked into some building, what looked a little chapel. I followed, and upon approaching the little chapel, I noticed it was refurbished into a thrift-shop, an used clothing store. But it was closed. It was Sunday. I knocked on the door a few times and shouted, that I'd like to buy a jacket. There was no answer. It was Sunday afterall. All the Yiddish I heard.
So I returned to the book stand and payed the $2 suggested for the book which had earlier interested me—a book on Trotsky, on Russian revolution, and his pen as his weapon. And I found a little place to sit a bit more down the road, a bit more towards the university. And I passed maybe 3 hours there, just sitting, reading, allowing all the activity of the day to pass round me there on Brattle Street.
At one point, a lady dressed in pajamas and busted shoes appeared through the crowd. Excuse me, she said. Excuse me. Do you need any help? Do you need some food? I looked at her, said flatly, no. Do you? I said. And I felt round me on my left a crowd form, all that Yiddish, staring darts at this woman till she disappeared again back into the crowd.
And then it was time for me to go—my plane to Paris. So I walked towards the subway, where earlier had been a dirty bum with a cup asking for money. And there was now the Brattle Street bum instead, setting-up his little book stand. And I tipped my hat to him and off I went, ducking down into the subway.