A New Year’s Fantasy: Buzz and Jen in Wonderland
A New Year’s Fantasy: Buzz and Jen in Wonderland
by Alison Barnet
Tuesday Dec 22, 2009
Buzz and Jen were at home in their condo getting ready to meet friends at Lala, the newest South End restaurant, where they were looking forward to a special prix fixe New Year’s Eve dinner for the awesome price of only $250 each. They, like, totally loved living in the South End and so resented it when their parents persisted in calling it a slum. Afraid to park on the street or talk to strangers, Mom and Dad hardly ever visited.
Buzz and Jen had heard about the South End’s less than illustrious past-rooming houses, sordidness, crime-but condos now sold for millions, and it had become one of the more desirable neighborhoods in the city.
Clipping on his bowtie, Buzz felt a little dizzy. The tie suddenly flew off as Buzz went plummeting down a dark hole, clear through the underground garage. Putting in a diamond earring, Jen looked around in confusion, felt dizzy herself, and also plummeted. Minutes or hours later-who could tell-they found themselves walking along a rundown, unrenovated Shawmut Avenue, Jen clutching Buzz’s arm in alarm, and into a big building controversial among their friends. The sign outside said SAHARA. Next thing they knew they were seated at a table and stuffing themselves with spring lamb, sweet green peppers and tomatoes; shish kebab; rolled grape leaves; and baked eggplant. It was exotic and delicious, and when the bill came, it was less than $12 for the two of them.
"What is this, Buzz? Have we traveled back to the Sixties?" asked Jen.
"I don’t think so, honey, because they didn’t have restaurants back then," Buzz replied. "Not good ones, anyhow."
After another dizzy spell, they woke up on an elevated train, flying through another poor section of the South End, looking into top floor apartments, and tilting toward the Cathedral as the El rumbled by. It was fun. They came to a station and descended a long flight of stairs into a dark, seedy area with a lot of bars, all lit up for the holidays.
"We’re the only white people here!" Jen whispered.
"C’mon," said Buzz, "we’ll have a Martini in one of these places. How about Big Jim’s Shanty Lounge?"
All heads turned when they opened the door, but the drinks were cheap and plentiful, and the guy sitting next to them-Buzz kept his hand on his wallet-was a real character who seemed to know everything about everything. He asked Jen to dance and, to her surprise, she said yes. Then she and Buzz danced, something they hadn’t done for years.
"Let me show you another place," their new friend said, and they started walking up Mass. Ave.
"This is not an area to walk around at night," Jen whispered to Buzz, but the weather was mild and they enjoyed it.
They came to a section of nightclubs the man called Crosstown and entered the Savoy Café, which was in full New Year’s Eve swing, everyone having a high old time. As at Big Jim’s, it seemed strange to see people smoking-you never saw that anymore!-and laughing and talking to each other instead of yakking on cell phones. There were many interracial couples-which you also never saw anymore. Jen had only one anxious moment when she read the Mid-Town Journal headline "Two Murdered, 3 Shot as Holiday Spirit Booms," but Buzz said, "Shush! I want to listen to that Duke Ellington impersonator; he sounds pretty good."
"Honey, look over at the bar! I could swear that guy with the red hair is Malcolm X! And isn’t that the writer Nat Hentoff? What’s happening to us? This can’t be the South End in the Forties, can it? We’d better call the police!" said Jen.
A man came over, very welcoming, and they began to talk. Turns out he lived on Tremont Street at their same address but they’d never seen him. Small world! He said he cooked at Lenny’s Lunch downstairs, but a dog boutique, not a restaurant, rented the commercial space. Maybe he’d had too many drinks. Buzz noticed that he didn’t seem to understand when Buzz explained he was an investment banker and Jen was a consultant to nonprofits.
Very little made sense, but Buzz and Jen couldn’t deny they were having a great time.
"You know," said Buzz, slightly tipsy, "sometimes I wonder if there’s more to life than money."
After the club closed for the night, or rather morning, some of the people they’d met suggested going to an after-hours place.
"Aren’t they illegal?" asked Jen.
On the way, they stopped at a barbeque chicken place and ate a late repast. Across the street in an alley, the Pioneer Club was dark and hush hush, but they stayed until dawn listening to the best jazz they’d ever heard.
Jen turned to Buzz and said, "You know, this place isn’t modern and fancy, but it’s wonderful. Do you think Chad and Tiffany would come here with us sometime?"
"I don’t know, honey. I don’t think they like mixing much."
"Yeah, I know, but all these famous musicians! And everything’s so reasonably priced! And, by the way, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so relaxed!"
"You know what strikes me is the level of the conversations we’ve had. We’ve covered every imaginable subject: politics, war, race, the South End. Except for that one guy who wanted us to buy the building, it’s all been very positive."
The bartender, noticing their glasses were half-empty, offered to freshen them up.
"Thanks very much," said Buzz, "but it won’t be necessary. Our glasses are half-full."
Happy New Year!