Posted on September 17th, 2012
Boston, a decade ago. Dark, cold nights wandering the streets of Somerville, getting drunk on Guinness and scotch, trying to one-up each other to find the dankest, divey-est bar where one of us will win the party. Inevitably, though, we end up back in the boys’ kitchen in Union Square, yellow cans of Café Bustelo along the walls. We play records loud, talk louder, and never stop cooking. Classic Tina and Ike goes with beer-can chicken, “Pet Sounds” with coconut curry, early Springsteen with spinach dumplings from the hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant in Winter Hill, where you can see the old ladies making them in the back through an open door, standing at a long table, pinching dough between their fingers. I eat kalamata olives for the first time here in this kitchen, listening to one of the boys give a discourse on Etta James. Another night, a different boy teaches me to make lentils the Madhur Jaffrey way and to love the Pixies. And I learn here too that crusty bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar isn’t just a thing to eat at fancy restaurants but also seated at a beaten-up wooden table under a stained map of the city in a kitchen that smells like cigarettes and PBR and sounds like a college radio station.
The boys, some who live there and some who don’t, come in and out the door, bringing fresh-made pasta from the Italian deli, glass growlers of Ipswich Ale, spices from the Bombay Market, and runny cheeses cut minutes before at the late-night wine store on Washington Street. We are all so young and so broke, but we don’t know it here. Often, I am the only girl, stretching my legs out from my kitchen chair, watching my brilliant, wild brothers of the night stirring a pot on the stove and telling rambling stories that always seem to end in someone turning up the volume on The Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner” and standing on the arm of the sofa to play air guitar: “I’m in love with Massachusetts, I’m in love with the radio on…” I am in love with all of them.
We eat, we sing, we argue with our mouths full, we make flat-bread pizza with homemade dough, tomato sauce that doesn’t come from a can, roast vegetables with sea salt and herbs. There is always more beer and more music. Other friends show up, sit in doorways, lie down on the floor to eat and keep the conversation going past the point where any of us can stand up anymore. I have never known before that food could be eaten this way or that music could sound like this, every bite and every note dissected and rebuilt from scratch – this is why this olive oil tastes so good, this is why punk needs to be shouted, this is what Brian Wilson must have been eating when he wrote “Vegetables.”
Every weekend and most week-nights, we’re all there on Stone Avenue, listening to The Walkmen on repeat and making penne with vodka sauce in the kitchen of an ancient triple-decker that will, one year later, when most of the boys have left, release sewage from its bowels in one sigh of relief and flood the entire first floor. The boys are my kingdom, the kitchen our fortress, and they have my back: when I meet a guy I want to cook for, they write me recipes for tahini dipping sauce that end with instructions to pour it over his naked body, then, weeks later, drag me out to do donuts in a frozen parking lot while blasting Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” when it becomes clear that the only thing I’d dipped into was a fresh batch of heartache.
We are our own revolution, and our anthem is food, feeding each other in their kitchen with stories and music and stories about music. Years later, we will all become writers, musicians, lovers of people and the noise they create. In the meantime, we invent ourselves nightly as Capote or Kerouac, Iggy Pop or Bowie, Alice Waters or Julia Child. We have all just learned how to brew Turkish coffee that tastes like chocolate, slam-dance until someone collapses laughing, pick out recipes from stained and dog-eared cookbooks, and do it all over again the next night, when we’ll tell the story of the night before like an epic drama, going for laughs. Only by luck – a chance meeting, a bluegrass show, my embarrassing habit of quoting Robert Frost when I am most uncomfortable – am I a minor character in this plot and at this table, and I am grateful for it. We eat and we talk and we eat again and there is always one last beer.