CHEAP EATS We're not related by blood, but he's as much of a brother to me as my many brother brothers are. He has brothers too, but no sisters, and he always wanted one. So there's that.
My brother Boomer makes poetry out of radio news like I turn food sections into fiction, sports, gossip, society, philosophy, agriculture, gender studies, travel, apolitical commentary ... If, during the past 20 years, you have found yourself in Boston with a radio on, you may recognize his voice.
"Sister!" he boomed, and I heard it in the pay phone receiver and in the room. (Here room = Logan Airport.) I turned and saw him walking toward me, cell phone pressed to his silvering head with the big goofy grin and shining eyes.
"Brother," I said. We hugged, and he took my bags.
It had been some years. A lot had changed. He was skinnier. I'd been long divorced; he was getting there. His wife, always the insanely jealous type, had been cheating on him and was in love with some guy in LA.
Boomer had taken a couple of days off work to chauffeur me to the University of Maine, where I was giving a reading. It's five hours from Boston to Orono plenty of time to catch up, but not enough time, apparently, to eat.
Starving, I dropped hints. "Hilltop Steakhouse still there?" I asked, perhaps too casually.
He nodded. Then: "I tell you, Sis," he said. "I don't know what I'm going to do. The boys ..."
Route 1 was a parking lot. Boomer called his station's traffic desk: "Hi Jim. Boomer."
While he was getting the inside scoop and then getting us out of it, I sat there seat belted and safe, feeling kind of cushy, or soft, like I was in good hands. Informed. I wondered if this was how people expected to feel when they ate in restaurants with me or came over to cook something.
"Why are you laughing?" Boomer asked.
There was the Hilltop. "Nothing," I said, twisting in my seat.
Surprisingly, little had changed on the Saugus Strip in the 20 years since I'd haunted it. I looked at my now silver-templed, golden-voiced newscaster friend and remembered him shirtless behind a drum kit, spit-shouting angry, stupid, and inspiringly poetic punk.
Over barbecued chicken, jerked chicken, and chicken sausages at the party after the reading, Boomer confessed. We were pressed between a table and a refrigerator, holding paper plates and drinking fizzy water while all around us the academics, grad students and their teachers, were drinking hard.
Years ago Boomer had driven back and forth, he told me, between a tree and a telephone pole tree, telephone pole, tree, telephone pole in the end settling on the pole, which snapped like a bean.
Power outages, burned houses, abandoned babies, train-wrecked lives, gang bullshit ...
"Do you think you knew deep down it would do that?" I asked. "Is that why you picked the pole, do you think?"
"I don't know," he said.
Call me crazy, but I think that compared to at least one alternative half-assed suicide attempts rock.
On the way back down to hard news, as on the way up, Boomer periodically rolled his funny car's window down and shouted at the trees, at Maine, at the way life should be, "Good luck!"
Environmental disasters. Assassination. God. Government. There's a cat, a fox, and a hawk stalking my chickens. Not to mention the farmer.
"Good luck!" Boomer booms, and you can hear him clear across the country.
My new favorite restaurant is Taqueria Reina's. It has the cheesiest chiles rellenos ever, very good carnitas, and excellent salsa. My only complaint was we had to eat with gloves on, it was so cold in there.