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Following Nancy Home Linda Lawson SATURDAY night in Harvard Square. Ignoring Nancy is impossible. The timbre of her high-pitched voice commands as much attention as does her unusual approach to begging. Nancy's act is to be exceedingly unfaiUngly polite, so that every address is a sweet, wheedling whine. With rising inflection: "Spare change, sir? Ma'am? Ladies?" Ifno donation is forthcoming she lets her voice fall slightly. Resignation. "Enjoy your day." Nancy is panhandling at her usual spot, a granite stoop at 1324 Mass. Ave. She holds a taU plastic mug and a smaU cardboard sign: Homeless and sober. Please help! Even Big People Get Hungry. God Bless! I have been observing Nancy since I moved to the Boston area three years ago. Tonight she is without her trademark stool, a homemade affair fashioned from two plastic milk crates. She does, however, wear her basebaU cap and her favorite plain green sweatshirt. With fall approaching, evenings are getting chiUy; probably she wiU remain at her stoop until the crowds thin around nine. Tonight her bright pink sweatpants make her easy for me to spot when, a block away, I walk to the edge ofthe courtyard outside Au Bon Pain and glance her way, checking to make sure she has not left without me. AU summer I have been trying to foUow her to the home I suspect she has. A friend who fives in Davis Square, two stops up on the subway, reports frequent sightings there: Nancy eating brunch at Johnny D's, Nancy drinking coffee at Au Bon Pain, Nancy buying money orders (one for thirty doUars, another for seventy-five) at Store 24, where an employee—a sister?—bears a striking resemblance. Nancy has worked Harvard Square for ten to fifteen years, according to former and longtime residents. Surely she has some apartment , maybe a subsidized place. But homeless? No. When she arrives at her stoop in the morning she appears cheerful and weU rested, her hair damp as if freshly shampooed. 162 Linda Lawson163 Success has been curiously elusive. Nancy is about five feet taU and obese. She moves slowly. Her schedule is predictable: most mornings she arrives around nine and leaves when it gets dark, or cold. And yet she has repeatedly given me the slip. On days I plan surveillance, she fails to show up. She has disappeared when my head was turned, stepped onto the subway only to spot a friend and step back off, stayed at Harvard so late I finaUy gave up and went to my own bed. I once sat closer to Nancy, intending to watch her every minute, but moved away after worrying that she might become suspicious, even complain , as I foUowed her. This woman accosts me for money every time I walk through Harvard Square, on weekends as many as six times in one day; how ironic it would be for her to accuse me of harassment. Part of me wants to bag this fool's errand, born of exasperation in the midst of my darkest financial hour, when it seemed that professional panhandlers had taken over greater Boston. Now my curiosity begs obsession. I have no wish to confront Nancy on her doorstep. I have no plan to sit on the stoop beside her, holding my own sign—She's Not Really Homeless. I merely want to know where she lays her head at night. Ofthis I am certain: she is no more homeless than I am. ? Summer 1996. After fifteen years in rural Maine, I yearned for color and excitement. Maine had been ice-jammed culverts, mud, black flies, cows licking the car, pumpkins, frost, snow; lovely but predictable. Boston was a sensory feast. My first neighborhood, AUston, was Boston's premier student ghetto. Buildings here were rundown, ratty. Poor, blue-coUar, and immigrant families fflled those apartments that students refused. Unfamiliar foods were always being cooked; my mouth watered at meats and spices I could not name. Cheap restaurants and bars gave the neighborhood an air ofseedy prosperity. I walked one block and heard five foreign languages. The bedroom I sublet for the summer overlooked a parking lot and aUey Students across the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1544-1733
Print ISSN
1522-3868
Pages
pp. 162-174
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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