Like many people, I love being in the North End. Filled with locals and tourists alike, the sidewalks provide an endless parade of people-watching, as hungry customers prowl in front of packed restaurants, desperately searching for somewhere that can seat them despite their lack of a reservation.
Last Sunday, however, a blustery cold night, those crowded North End sidewalks were one of the last places I wanted to be standing, especially with a platter of calamari in my hands. You see, my mom, who was visiting for the weekend, and I had gotten to our reservation early, and while we were waiting outside the tiny restaurant packed to the gills, the hostess had brought us a huge amount of fried squid to make the time pass faster. Unfortunately, the two of us really hate calamari—I for one find the rubbery texture unpleasant and have never been able to shake the image of tiny squids swimming away from fishermen in terror. They have very expressive eyes.
As we stood there, seriously contemplating how exactly to deal with this giant pile of squid, two people approached the restaurant entrance and began asking no one in particular whether this tiny restaurant was any good. Their thick Boston accents rose above the murmur of the crowd, and eventually they became so loud that I turned my head to look at them.
What greeted my eyes kind of shocked me, because they looked like they had walked off of the set of The Sopranos, a TV show that I’ve been watching that follows the life of the Italian mafia in New Jersey. I briefly thought that I might be dreaming (my dreams do tend to take place around food and restaurants), but no. When I opened my eyes, they were still there.
The first, and loudest man, was dressed in a grey wool coat that almost reached his ankles. Under the coat was a dark turtleneck sweater that drew attention to his face and his meticulously gelled black thinning hair. His fingers were decorated with huge signet rings, but most striking were his shoes, which were decorated with shining and pointed steel tips. The second man was dressed in athletic loungewear with a shiny dark zip-up jacket and similarly carefully coiffed hair.
The duo turned to my mother and me, and began asking questions that I couldn’t really hear. It was like my ears shut off, all I could think is that there I had obviously encountered the mob—something that, from the cozy cradle of Chestnut Hill, I hadn’t even considered existed in Boston.
Apparently they were asking about the calamari, because all of a sudden I heard my mom excitedly say “take some!” and the two men began demolishing the mountain of squid.
Something about them, maybe it was the steel-tipped shoes, made me freeze, and all I could think was that I hoped they were leaving soon.
Eventually, they walked away (leaving just one ring of calamari behind) and I felt my muscles begin to unclench.
“Hunh,” I said turning to my mom, “they actually scared me.”
When you’re little, danger is alluring. Bad guys are usually confined to far-off dreams of pirates, the mafia, cat burglars, and evil scientists, but even those aren’t so bad in the end. There is a fearless part of you convinced that if you ever encountered one of these terrible entities, you would either use your vast intellect and courage to defeat the enemy, or, who knows, maybe even win them over and become fearsome in your own right.
But somewhere along the way, that fearlessness fades, along with that desperation to go on quite so risky an adventure. You come to terms with the fact that the pirates would probably kill you before you have a chance to prove your (now questionable) brilliance. And even more than that, the villains you pictured when you were little don’t even exist anymore. The strange thing is, you don’t even notice that that part of you had disappeared until you find yourself faced with someone who looks like a character out of a television show in a place you thought you knew, and your lack of fearlessness becomes abundantly clear.
Featured Image by Kelsey McGee / Heights Editor