Witness

A week ago today, I was hurtling down Interstate 93 en route to Boston, anticipating comedy music, Star Wars jokes, and stylish tacos. I’d just bid adieu to Granitecon, my now-annual retreat weekend in southern New Hampshire with some of my favorite humans. Lakes were cruised, games were played, and Internet concerts were streamed. Wild turkeys bobbled across our front lawn. My bed was parked in the middle of a science fiction / fantasy library. It was glorious.

My absolutely rubbish view for 3 days.
My absolutely rubbish view for 3 days.

Rather than fly back to New York straightaway, I’d elected to remain in the Boston area one more day so I could attend Nerd Night Out, a geek cabaret featuring nerd-folk heroes The Doubleclicks, comedian Joseph Scrimshaw, and ukulele songwriter Molly Lewis. I normally apply a healthy degree of skepticism to coincidences, but the fact that I was in the city on the same day they had a concert to perform was clearly cosmic premeditation.

Scrimshaw's crest - a squirrel drinking a martini and holding a lightsaber--is one of those things that, once created, has ALWAYS existed, because the possibility of a world without it is simply too grim to consider.
Scrimshaw’s crest – a squirrel drinking a martini and holding a lightsaber–is one of those things that, once created, has ALWAYS existed, because the possibility of a world without it is simply too grim to consider.

If cities can support continual waves of foot traffic and still temporarily be considered a ghost town, Cambridge somehow managed it; despite our rush-hour arrival, the roads were completely uncongested, an occurrence so rare that we should have skipped dinner and opted for some Powerball numbers instead. As we strolled out of the taqueria, an army of crunchy shell crumbs in our wake—those tacos know what they did—our ambitions and hopes turned shamefully decadent.

We rounded a corner and I noticed two people in their mid-20s sitting on a bench, perhaps 50 feet away. The man sobbed incoherently, rocking himself as if to find solace in the recurring motion. His companion cradled him, promising that things would be OK in a timbre that was both pacifyingly gentle and firm enough to be reassuring. She loved him, and would protect him, and it’s true that there was no map for navigating This, but they would. Together.

The concert was as peculiar and delightful as you’d expect. The Doubleclicks sang about a President comprised entirely of snakes, the virtues of attending a party so you can socialize with the host’s cat, and love (as compared to a burrito). Molly’s verses implored Stephen Fry to consider her as a surrogate mother, and touched on the karate-chop posterior assassinations employed in the Goldeneye 007 video game. Scrimshaw tackled Star Wars, being a social justice warrior, and a point of contention with which I strongly identify.

***

And yet, when I reflect on that evening a week later, it’s the couple on the bench that I remember most vividly. I don’t recall what they looked like, or what landmarks and storefronts were on the street, or any other details–I shared their space for only a few seconds. What lingers is his fragility, her compassion and intensity, their struggle to repair an unknown rift. A private moment played out in the most public of places.

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