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  • Red Line
  • John Sheehy (bio)

Riding the Red Line is for most a thing they just suffer through because they have to, but for me it is a celebration. Boston. The city. I’m here now, not visiting but living, a strand in its enormous human fabric. I swallow it whole every day, eat it up. Even now, a year and a half after I first arrived, I can’t get enough of just walking around, or of knowing that I could walk all day and never run out of pavement, buildings, strangers.

Sometimes I wear my headphones—it’s almost necessary to have them when you ride the train, because it keeps the crazy people from talking to you. Sometimes I don’t. But it doesn’t matter, because my life here has a soundtrack always. I am almost always not really here, but imagining myself here, watching myself like a character in a movie, slow-motion walking, camera fast-cutting from me to a graffiti-covered building, to an open fire hydrant spraying water on the street, then back to me to catch the look of a man with business to do here—and just the right music is bumping up in the background. Stevie Wonder sings living just enough, just enough; Jim Morrison growls I drifted into town about an hour ago . . . these songs I hear and others, songs that start out slow and then kick to life, songs with funky bass lines, songs about The City. These are the score for the film I am shooting in my head. Quentin Tarantino has not yet made Reservoir Dogs, but later, when I see it in a theater in Seattle, I will recognize instantly in that long cool walk—Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, sunglasses, skinny ties, black suits, walking in slomo time to music they can’t hear, cool, cool, cool—the image I tried to create of myself and for myself in this, my movie of life.

Right now, though, I am on the lower inbound platform of the Harvard T station, waiting for a Red Line train, hoping it’s a Braintree so I can get [End Page 17] a seat and won’t have to lose it at Park Street. Around me are others who, like me, work for the college, live somewhere else—although not many of them will be going as far as I will, 16 stops across town all the way to Quincy. Above me is Harvard itself—green, white, and red behind its ten-foot-high encircling wall.

Flash back now, to New York City three years earlier, my first trip there, to the center of it all. I am more than a little bit drunk, and I am lying in the soggy dirt in a tree planter outside a liquor store off 13th Street.

Flash back further: I am very small, in Billings, Montana, in front of a TV screen. Everything on TV is set in some city somewhere: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles are the whole TV universe. Occasionally somebody from where I am from pops up. There is an ad for PBS set in Two Dot—anyway it says, “Two Dot, Montana,” in small letters on the bottom of the screen when the ad comes on. Mountains. Hay. Cows. In the ad there are two cowboys. I know they are cowboys because they’re wearing hats like they do in Gunsmoke. They sit in some homespun diner, talking about physics, talking to the waitress about putting “rad-EEK-io” in the salads. I get it. They’ve been watching PBS. They’re not as dumb as they look. They both have southern accents. I don’t know anybody who talks like they do. But on TV everybody from the country has a southern accent, and everybody from Montana is from the country.

Back in New York, my friends—I am there with friends, two guys and three girls, all of us down from Amherst for a weekend in the city—are trying to pull me out of the planter, and I’m resisting them, laughing at them. They are looking at me like I am out of my...


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pp. 17-29
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