Boston Souvenirs

by Jay Nordlinger

Last week, we had a fundraiser in Boston — a party at the Harpoon Brewery. By “we” I mean National Review and National Review Online. It was an interesting, satisfying, and rollicking time.

I expected the Harpoon Brewery to be a restaurant with a serious amount of beer. Near our offices in New York there’s a restaurant called “Heartland Brewery,” and it’s just a restaurant, as far as I know, possibly with a Wisconsin theme. But Harpoon Brewery? It looks like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, as some of us pointed out. It’s a genuine, sure-’nuff, bells-and-whistles factory.

But they have a beer hall, which I figured was appropriate for us NR types: If they’re going to call you beer-hall right-wingers anyway . . .

The owners and operators of Harpoon are great supporters of NR, for which we thank them a lot.

It had been a while since I was in Boston, and I had forgotten what a beautiful city it is. You could put it in a snow globe. It is a beautiful, compact, and, of course, watery city.

I like the manageability of Boston: its size. I thought of an expression I heard about Florence, years ago. The expression is an Italian one: “within the hand of man.” Florence is a city within the hand of man — walkable and all that — and so is Boston. I don’t mean to call it dinky. It’s just — manageable, a city on a human scale.

Boston and Massachusetts are sore spots in the conservative mind. Some years ago, Massachusetts adopted a license-plate slogan that went “The Spirit of America.” A lot of conservatives choked on this: “The Spirit of Sweden, more like it.” Still, Massachusetts once represented the spirit of the country. (Think of the Tea Party.) Only in recent years has leftism become the official religion. Howard Zinn is sort of the conscience of Boston — which is a damning statement if I ever heard one.

But the noxious politics should not be allowed to detract from, or negate, the wonderfulness of Boston as a city. Moreover, Massachusetts is arguably the most beautiful American state (though California is probably champeen) (speaking of noxious politics).

A friend from San Francisco told me something — this was shortly after the 2008 campaign. There had been a rally in the Bay Area, featuring Sarah Palin. (Yes, the Republican ticket was campaigning there, odd as it may seem.) People were surprised to see their friends and neighbors at the rally — people they never suspected were conservative.

Some families had known one another for years. The subject of politics never came up — because everyone assumed that everyone else was Left. No one was bold enough to let his views be known. But the families turned out to be full of righties.

For my column of November 24, 2008, “GOP life on the down low, &c.,” go here.

In Boston, some of our partiers saw friends, acquaintances, and co-workers of theirs. They never knew that these others were NR-friendly or conservative.

I met a young man who is not “out” at work. It would be detrimental to his position in the office if the brass knew he was conservative. He suspects that another guy is conservative, but he’s not sure how you find out without revealing your own conservatism.

A number of years ago, I received an unforgettable letter from a schoolteacher. He told me that he had a feeling that the teacher one classroom over was a fellow conservative. But he didn’t know how to go about confirming this. He couldn’t imagine broaching the subject. He said, “Maybe I could tap on the wall. Is there some secret knock that means, ‘I think Western civilization is by and large a good thing’?”

I think it’s outrageous that Americans can’t be free with their political views, and that conservatives feel they have to go sneaking around, keeping their heads down and their mouths shut. They have to listen to their bosses and their co-workers badmouth their political views, or the politicians they admire, and keep it zipped — or else.

Pluralism and toleration are fine old American values. But I’m afraid “old” is the key word there.

Nobody kept it zipped at the Harpoon Brewery. At the beginning of a panel session, I introduced some of the NR/NRO folk to the crowd.

I always say that Jack Fowler, our publisher, would give you the shirt off his back. And it’s true. I added, “On our cruises, some of the ladies, particularly of a certain age, have maybe asked for other articles of clothing. I don’t think Jack has ever obliged, even for the good of the team.”

Jim Geraghty is the author of Morning Jolt, and he is therefore our “Joltin’ Jim.” I said, “The boxing world had its Joltin’ Joe, and we have Joltin’ Jim.”

I was thinking of Joe Frazier — who, I later remembered, was called “Smokin’ Joe,” not “Joltin’ Joe.” “Joltin’ Joe” was a nickname for Joe DiMaggio. In the immortal words — word — of Rick Perry, oops.

Kevin Williamson, I called a rare combination of sage and hombre. Actually, I said “sage and bada**,” but I’m writing for a family publication here . . .

For ten years or more, I’ve introduced Jonah Goldberg, poor guy, as “America’s Sweetheart.” I have also been known to call him “a flower of the Upper West Side.”

I now say that Mark Steyn is “the spoonful of sugar that helps the collapse of Western civilization go down.” I used to say “the decline of Western civilization” — but I believe I’ve had to intensify the line to keep up with the times.

Mark mentioned that Jack had used the word “heinie” in a fundraising appeal — we needed to kick the “legal heinie” of someone who had filed a nuisance suit against us (a nuisance suit, but an expensive one — for the appeal, go here). We had some laughs about the word “heinie,” particularly as qualified by “legal.”

And I was reminded of Reagan, back in his first term: “I’ve had it up to my keister with these leaks.” Bill Buckley told me he had never heard the word “keister” before Reagan uttered that complaint.

At Harpoon, I met a man from Brockton, Mass. I remembered that this was the hometown of Marvin Hagler — Marvelous Marvin Hagler, the boxer. Yes, said the man, and also of Rocky Marciano. I had never known that. The high-school teams, I learned, are called the “Boxers.”

He also said that, when Hagler won one of his big bouts, everyone had the afternoon off from school, for a parade. The city didn’t even wait for the weekend: They took the kids out of school, for the parade. That was kind of a big deal.

One more thing I learned: Rocky Marciano’s original name was Rocco Marchegiano. I imagine a “marchegiano” is someone from the Marche, a region in Italy.

Come with me to the Boston Common for a second. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument bears the following inscription: “To the men of Boston who died for their country on land and sea in the war which kept the Union whole, destroyed slavery, and maintained the Constitution, the grateful city has built this monument, that their example may speak to coming generations.”

I wonder, Why were Americans able to word things so well back then (1870s)? How did we get reduced to “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” etc.?

Needless to say, there are graffiti on the monument — obnoxious, foul, totally expected, humdrum graffiti. Is there anything in America that’s not defaced with graffiti? The Grand Canyon, maybe? Travel the world, and you are unlikely to see important monuments, or even unimportant ones, defaced or profaned or ruined by graffiti. But this is an American signature, I’m afraid — one of our character defects, and one we accept too unprotestingly, I think.

Across from the statehouse, there is a Fox News outlet. Wonder how that sits with the good “progressives” of the Massachusetts legislature.

The statehouse has a “General Hooker Entrance.” If his name were other than Hooker, would they use the honorific? It would be the “Jones Entrance” or the “Smith Entrance,” right? But can’t have a Hooker Entrance . . .

I was surprised to see Filene’s gutted — Filene’s the department store. By the way, can we discuss pronunciation for a second? Most people say “Fye-LEEN’S” or “FYE-leen’s.” When I lived in Cambridge, in the 1980s, I had a landlord named Miss Sugrue. She was an octogenarian, maybe. At least a septuagenarian. She said “Fih-LEEN’S.” I asked her, “Miss Sugrue, is it ‘Fye-LEEN’S,’ ‘FYE-leen’s,’ or ‘Fih-LEEN’S’?” She said, “Well, I worked for Mr. Fih-LEEN, and it was ‘Fih-LEEN.’”

But the pronunciation, as happens, evolved.

A sight in Chinatown made me think of something. For years, certain conservatives I respect have said that they oppose race preferences in hiring, except in particular instances. What might those instances be? Oh, police departments, let’s say — it might be advantageous to have black cops in black neighborhoods, etc.

I can buy that, even if I bridle at it a little.

Anyway, I thought of this when I saw a Chinese-American cop talking to an elderly Chinese — Chinese-American? — woman. They were speaking in English. His English was accented, hers more so. It was a somewhat touching American scene.

Care for some language? I mean, besides “Filene,” “keister,” and “heinie”? In Boston, I saw a strange sign, for an eatery. It said “Uno Dué Go.” Now, no one knows how to pronounce Italian, true. (That’s why people say “brooshetta” instead of “broosketta.”) But the Italian word for “two” is “due,” with no accent. That accent would be absurd in Italian. Moreover, it could lead people in various countries to say “doo-AY” instead of “DOO-ay.”

But I know the eatery is simply trying its best. I wouldn’t have put the Italian word “due” in the name of an American restaurant at all. More trouble than it’s worth.

Care for some music? I had lunch, in Chinatown, with a pianist friend of mine. She had just performed a work by Arthur Foote, the American composer (1853-1937). She told me something I never knew: He was awarded the first master’s degree in music ever awarded in this country (Harvard).

At the train station, my eyes almost fell out of their sockets. I saw a place that said “Cheeseboy Sandwich Meltery.” I didn’t try it, because I had just had lunch (Chinese). But I thought, “From the description — from the mere name — I could eat there every meal — breakfast, lunch, and dinner — unto forever.”