No Hoodies

No one wore a hoodie. No one wore jeans, or a T-shirt. No one had a ball cap on, backwards. I knew I was no longer in San Francisco.

It was Tuesday evening at the Liberty Hotel in Boston and it was a Bowdoin College career-networking event. I looked around and thought, these are my people. Many undergrads were there, the young men all in jackets, a few with ties. The young women wore dresses, even though it was twenty degrees outside. Alums from many years participated, including a classmate of mine I hadn’t seen in perhaps forty years. An ER physician from Marblehead—he was wearing the same clothes as the last time I saw him those many years ago: blue oxford shirt, navy blazer, khaki pants, and a red striped tie. Now however he sported a thick gray beard, a salty look on an old sailor.

I remember not too many years ago, I think 2010, when I was met by my friend Marcia H in front of the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Providence and asked whether I should wear a tie to my first meeting with the board of a failing start-up about to develop a new product line. I was there to convince them to continue investing in the venture. She said of course, Niland, East Coast Sensibilities.

My now former wife hated those sensibilities, and condemned all of Rhode Island, all New England, anything that could be labeled Back East. She never wanted to go there, not even to visit my sons. She never agreed to let me show her Bowdoin, much less travel to Maine, places she knew I loved.

Now I am back, back in Boston. It’s early winter, no snow on the ground but frigid cold this past week. I’m wearing a down parka, thick gloves, woolen scarf and cap, and I’ve still been cold outside. My Californian body needs more time to acclimate. But everything looks right. I love it. Standing on the edge of Boston Common, looking up the green at the State House, all seems right in the world, a comforting sight.

What lies ahead is a future I need to create. I can’t pull the past into it. I am about to rent a very small apartment, a true mouse house, on a brick cobbled street deep in Beacon Hill. I feel like I’ve stepped into a Henry James novel, maybe the poor relation hanging on the fringe of grander society. Still, it feels right, right where I need to be, now and always.

Perhaps the hoodies will have to go as I downsize my wardrobe to fit in the closet-less house. A lot will have to go. My former wife would take sardonic pleasure in seeing the de-acquisition. She always told me I had too much stuff, and of course she was right. I didn’t need to hear it from her.

I don’t need to hear anything from her.

Tomorrow Sam, the twins, and I are driving north to Portland: Maine—“the way life should be.”

I’m on the right coast.


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