Jen lands in the Franklin Square House ... and Buzz can’t get her out

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Jen lands in the Franklin Square House ... and Buzz can’t get her out
by Alison Barnet Contributor
Thursday May 27, 2010

It was unusual for Jen to wander down to Washington Street without Buzz. Although revitalized, it still made her nervous - Cathedral Projects, homeless people asking for change, and the looks of some of the people sitting in the Silver Line seats. Not that she had anything against diversity, of course. She wandered into Bark Place and the chocolaterie and was standing on the corner in front of Stella’s when without any warning whatsoever she was sucked feet first into a little-known tunnel under Franklin Square. She would have preferred to be sucked under Blackstone Square, AKA Dog Park, but what can you do? By the way, Buzz and Jen had finally acquired a dog, but that’s a tale for another time.

Jen’s cell phone and most of her money had flown out of her bag in the tunnel, which she unhappily discovered upon being abruptly deposited on the steps of a grand edifice, where an old man graciously opened the door. She had only $16 left, which, luckily, was exactly the cost of a week’s room and board at this "clean, safe place for self-respecting girls," the Franklin Square House. The date on the receipt was 1964.

The room was so small she initially mistook it for a luxury condo, but quickly saw there was no granite countertop, no hardwood floor, just old metal furniture: a bed, desk, chair, and set of drawers.

"I can’t stay here!" she cried. "Buzz will get me out. Where’s the phone?"

A funny-looking wooden phone hung on the wall and, when she picked up the receiver, she was surprised that the front desk answered: "If you want to make a call, miss, you’ve got to go downstairs." It had been quite a while since someone called her miss! Downstairs? Jen was used to making calls wherever she wanted - crossing streets, while driving, and in theatres. Oddly enough, when she opened the door to her room, the cacophony caused by several young women in skimpy outfits yakking away to their boyfriends on hall phones was just like overhearing cell phone conversations. Turns out when someone called, the front desk rang you in your room and you had to go out into the hall to take the call. The girls also told her it was a good idea to place a penny on top of the room phone bell when she went out; if the penny fell off the bell, she’d know someone had called in her absence.

"That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard!" Jen exclaimed. "Doesn’t anyone text or tweet around here?"

Downstairs, she had to fight off a pack of girls trying to use one lone dial phone. Ironically, although she didn’t know it, Buzz was outside in the park at that very moment yelling up for her, like a scene out of "My Sister Eileen."

When visiting hours finally arrived, Jen entertained Buzz in a tiny room off the ballroom known as a "beau parlor." There they sat talking in two straight-backed chairs separated by a table and a lamp; the curtain didn’t stretch across the opening to give them any privacy. As absurd as it seems for a married couple to meet this way, they were still able to have a good fight: Buzz was insistent that Jen leave immediately.

"You don’t understand," she told him. "The rules are very strict. I can’t leave without signing out and then I’ve got to sign back in."

"Oh, come on, Jen, you’re a grown woman. Just walk out!" he retorted.

But if the truth were told, Jen didn’t seem as mature as she once had.

When the week was up, Jen automatically signed up for another. It was kind of nice to look out the window on a park, with the El rumbling by, and there was no end of activities: gossiping in the tea room, reading books from the library, bowling in the basement, and making cream puffs in the fudge room. Plus, the food was remarkably good. As long as you appeared to obey the rules, everything was groovy (she noticed that no one said awesome).

Men were strictly barred from the building until visiting hours, and Buzz got sick and tired of waiting outside, where he had to suffer the indignity of being the only investment banker among throngs of sailors. Although he himself hadn’t traveled back in time, one night, like many a local boy in the Forties and Fifties, he jumped over the burying ground wall and tried to scale the building from the back. All he succeeded in doing was ripping his beautiful Italian suit.

One evening, he took two theatre tickets out of his pocket and placed them on the beau parlor table.

"Oh, I’m sorry, Buzz, but I was a minute late coming home last night," Jen told him, "and they took away my once-a-month privileges. I won’t be able to go."

Buzz was furious.

The next day, Jen came across a recipe in the Fudge Room cookbook called "How to Preserve a Husband." It said, "Some insist in keeping them in a pickle, while others put them in hot water."

"How very true!" thought Jen. "I’ve kept Buzz in both a pickle and hot water."

The spell broken, as though she’d never stayed at the Franklin Square House, Jen walked out onto East Newton Street and resumed her exciting South End condo life and career as a consultant to nonprofits.

One day, on her way to Flour, she walked by the building and noticed that it was no longer called the Franklin Square House but The Franklin and that elderly people were going in and out.

"Good thing I got out when I did," she thought. "Instead of going back in time, I might have fast-forwarded to age 80. Buzz would really be in a pickle then because he’s only 35 and he’s never been interested in older women."

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