Boston is not a handy place to be anonymous. It is small, and familial, and people will talk at you, which is charming when it’s morning and it’s sunny, but not so much when you haven’t washed your hair since Friday and have a penchant for not wearing real pants.
The people at the coffee shop know me by name now. Sometimes I come in before my bar job and I look like a passable human. Most of the time I sit slumped to the side of a table between classes and I look homeless. They still know it’s me.
Or maybe it’s that they still know it’s me when I go around pretending to be a solid member of society. The kind who doesn’t pretend not to hear whilst wearing headphones that are not playing any sounds.
“Miss, you doing ok?” The man beside me had asked me this three times already. This time there was actual sound in my headphones because I was making a playlist for class, but I knew what he was saying. Each time he leaned in close and ducked down toward my face. He smelled faintly of pee.
I had met him before. He’s part of the group of older people in my Italian neighborhood who pull seven tables together to sit with their two friends and a bunch of plastic bags with individually wrapped snacks to talk about “you know, the lady with the dog who lives off of Battery.”
He comes in with a man about the same age - which is nebulous because who can even guess at that - a slender man who smells far less like pee.
“You’re a student?” They had asked me the first time, months ago.
“Oh no, I graduated a long time ago,” I said.
“What’s your study?”
I looked at my table, littered with books. I could be studying something.
“Um, what am I studying?”
“What did you study, what’s your major,” the slender man said.
This did not solve the present v past tense issue.
“I graduated in Journalism,” I said.
“What’s that,” the rounder, leaning man said.
“Journalism,” the slender man said in a shout meant for half of a harangued married couple.
“Ah, Journalism,” the rounder man said. He sidled over to me by way of leaning in and down enough times that his expanse was suddenly and warmly close to my elbow. “Now, tell me, you must make a good living.”
“Well, I guess I’m OK.” I didn’t want to have a money conversation with a stranger, in public, who moved quite quickly for someone of such stature, and so I did not mention that I currently do not make any money from a career in which I spent all of my training and money for college.
I make a living from selling workouts and beers.
“You live around here,” he said. His face was smooth, save for the under-eye folds of grey and the errant hairs high up on his cheeks. He spoke with an adopted Boston dialect, one that rested just above his heavily accented Indian lilt. A comfortable verbal jacket practiced over years of Northeastern winters spent at these tables, talking about the lady with the dog who lives off of Battery. You know.
“Ah, she looks Italian,” he said. He slapped the table and his gold ring struck a dead chord.
“Hmm,” the slender man nodded with his eyes closed.
“You look Italian. Everyone around here is Italian,” he said. “Me, I’m Irish.”
I suppose you are what you think you are. Or what you think is the most indelible. I think I’m forgettable and sweaty and slightly racially indistinct. This man with an Indian accent thinks he’s speaking with a brogue.
Maybe I’ll try to be anonymous tomorrow. I might have to give up the ghost here.