The second half of my Fall Break started at 5:00 on Wednesday morning. Sort of. I zonked out on the cab ride to the airport. I zonked out on the flight to Philadelphia. I zonked out on the flight to Boston. When that plane landed, I told myself enough was enough, peeled my eyes open, and set out to meet Clay. He greeted me with a handmade sign and a hug, and then the real adventures began.
We dropped my backpack off at his duplex and spent the next six or seven hours talking while walking through Boston, visiting his favorite parks and shops and also the hilariously phallic grave of John Hancock.
At some point, we realized neither of us had had a proper meal all day, and from there on out, we were thinking about food pretty much incessantly. Clay had arranged for a dinner date with a friend of his, so we stopped at two farmer's markets to procure ingredients and also snacks for the linguistics club meeting we would go to before dinner. In between the markets and Whole Foods (where we got brie and cotswold to go with the red pepper hummus bread and the spinach garlic onion bread we'd gotten at the farmer's market) Clay took me inside the Pru to where he works: Teavana.
It's the kind of store you get drawn into because everything is really pretty and the salespeople are really nice, and then you look at all the teapots and smell all the sinfully delicious teas, and then you have a good laugh and walk out. (The laughter bit happens when you start thinking about how much their products actually cost.) Clay gets a hefty discount for working there, so when I executed a nice belly laugh and strode out of the store, he talked me back into it, wafted aromas in my face, and ended up buying me tea even though I was so shell-shocked by the prices (and so flummoxed by the way those teas smelled!) that I literally stopped being able to express myself coherently.
Tea, bread, cheese, and dinner components in hand, we walked back home with twenty minutes to spare before the linguistics club meeting. I zonked out on Clay's windowsill.
Linguistics was friendly, loquacious, and only barely about linguistics. I sometimes forget that Clay is a linguist, actually, but then I say things like "What all did you coat these squash cubes with," and he gives me a hug for using syntax that makes him feel warm and fuzzy inside. He also gets very excited about dialects. (At one point during our walk across Boston, a family walked by us, speaking in a language that was not English. Five steps later, I realized I understood half of what they'd said, and another five steps later, I'd figured out the other half even though it was not in a language I technically speak. I think they were talking in Swiss German, which is like German, but Swiss, which means I can understand the German parts and figure out the rest from there. Clay finds this fascinating. I find his fascination fascinating.)
After linguistics, we walked over to his friend's dorm to make and eat dinner. I didn't get to help much with the making part, so I automatically started cleaning up afterward, and by the time his friend realized what I was doing, it was too late for him to stop me. (Crewing is not a big deal when it's only for four people. Honestly.) In no time at all, I was back home on Clay's couch, snuggled up under four blankets, feet wrapped in a plushy hoodie, asleep in under two minutes.
I didn't get up again until nine hours later. Still had bags under my eyes.
Thursday was very chill. We got up late, spent a fair amount of time crafting interesting grilled cheese sandwiches, and hung out with Erick, a linguistics friend of Clay's who'd dropped by. As it turned out, we have some Obie friends in common (hi, Nora!), so he and I talked about our high schools and colleges and how small the world is. From what I gathered, Northeastern is a fairly regular college - some intense athletics; pretty regular academic departments - whose main distinguishing feature seems to be its co-ops. Unlike OSCA, Northeastern's co-op system is designed to allow students to apply to six-month jobs and internships while still living in the dorms (or going elsewhere, somewhat like our Winter Term). Clay is on co-op right now, studying how being at risk for schizophrenia affects brain processing, which is why he didn't have classes to go to while I visited.
Clay had to go to the lab to do a scan that afternoon, so he left me and Erick to our conversation. Erick eventually had to leave as well; I took a stab at productivity in their absence. It wasn't terribly effective. Upon Clay's return, he and I threw together a lovely Spanish omelette and some steamed veggies, followed by a long string of experimental but totally scrumptious crêpes - we're talking things like tea in the batter here (it works better if you also add extra flour). We also produced an equally long string of experimental fillings, the last of which involved pumpkin from a can, banana, dark chocolate peanut butter, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and maple sugar. Delectable.
The night wound down with me in Clay's room, learning to play his morin khuur, mouth harp, and roll-out plastic piano. (The last one was by far the hardest.)
We woke up on Friday to find that the rain had made way for a chilly, sunny morning. Clay and I, after some wandering around Mission Hill, made for his favorite used bookstore, where we spent far too long staring at things we knew we wanted but shouldn't spend money on and then bought anyway. For Clay, this meant a small book published in 1889 that is a compilation of letters to the editor of a particular newspaper about the birdsong heard in a particular town in Massachusetts that year. For me, it was a beautifully bound collection of Pushkin stories, Blue Hour by Carolyn Forché, and a book of stories by Chinua Achebe, all of which I've been meaning to read.
We rushed back home to meet a friend of Clay's he hadn't seen in a few months; over open-faced caramelized-onion-and-cheese sandwiches (leyden with cumin seeds and also white cheddar made with Guinness stout), they caught up and I got to know her. Socializing over good food: the best.
Presently, she left, and Clay and I proceeded to the apartment of another friend of his to bake an apple crisp for dessert. Again, the best.
From there, it was straight back out into Boston. Clay informed me that he would consider himself a failed host if he didn't take me to Mike's Pastries, way up in the North End, so we trekked through town, across a lovely bridge, and then through a massive throng of people to finally reach the counter in Mike's. The fact that the place was literally packed to more than capacity underscored its phenomenal reputation; waiting to eat our hard-earned confections (an espresso cannoli and a nut rum log) until we could find a place to sit down was torturous. But the pastries were worth it.
Once satisfied, we crossed the Charles river into Cambridge, heading for The Garment District, a costume shop known for its self-explanatory "dollar a pound" pile. Said pile had been dismantled for the duration of Halloween, but we had fun regardless, poking about in the two-story warehouse packed to the brim with caricatures of real clothes. We ended up patching together a decent Milo Thatch costume for Clay, and I got a monocle on a whim.
What remained of my time with Clay was uneventful. My flights home were a logistical nightmare (thanks, ice in Philadelphia), but I managed to somehow find my way to Oberlin. It was a full seven hours after I was planning to be back, and also via the wrong airport, but it was still better than having to spend the night in the Philly airport, so I'm not complaining. Much.
Final note: I enjoyed Boston more than I have any other city. It probably had something to do with the fifty-plus colleges in the city limits - and, by extension, the massive amounts of college kids running around everywhere - but, for an American city, it felt very inviting. If I didn't love Oberlin so much, I wouldn't mind living there for a while.
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February 16, 2021