Consider the Lobster Roll

I scarcely remembered how to go through the motions

It’s the eight year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing. Here are some things I wrote about it at the time and in the years since then. The first, originally in Vice, is a favorite of mine then you can find links to the rest below.

Consider the Lobster Roll

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts rarely runs a deficit of mythology. That's particularly true when it comes to our devotion to sports; during normal operating hours, the idea of Boston itself is 15 pounds of symbolism stuffed into a ten-pound city. But this month in particular has brought with it a surfeit of rhapsodizing and tenuous thread-connecting that would make the purplest of hacks go red in the cheeks.

Earlier this month Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty on all 30 charges against him for his role in the Boston Marathon bombing, two years ago this week. The conversation around the case has now shifted from the question of his guilt to whether or not the state should, in turn, end his life in our name. On the two-year anniversary of the bombing, the second most high profile trial in the region—which is saying a lot when it involves a prolifically murderous professional athlete—came to a conclusion when former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez was found guilty of the 2013 murder of a friend, merely one of three slayings he's suspected of. Hernandez will now spend the rest of his life in prison, a mere few miles from the stadium at which we once lavished him with adulation for his talents. Meanwhile a fierce debate rages on between city leaders and the community over Boston's bid for the 2024 Olympic games, the literal blueprint for the marathon, and the pool from which we all draw the water of our collective sports mania. All of this as the 2015 Marathon rears its head today, on Patriots' Day, a statewide holiday in Massachusetts that commemorates the first battles of the Revolutionary War in 1775 in the nearby towns of Lexington and Concord.

A man in search of a metaphor could give himself a hernia.

Contrary to popular consensus and street vendor t-shirt marketing slogans, there was nothing inherent in the region's steadfast reaction to any of this that should be read as uniquely Bostonian. Grandstanders and politicians have talked at length since then of the city's wounds healing, something that's a lot easier to say when you weren't among the hundreds of actually wounded of course. And in the early days, much of that healing process, or at least the outward expression of it, took place, perhaps fittingly, at Fenway Park.

Twenty-four hours after Tsarnaev was apprehended, just down the street from where I live in Watertown, after a prolonged shoot-out with law enforcement officers had transpired the night before, the Red Sox played their first game since the marathon. David Ortiz, as potent a totem of Bostonicity as you can find (short of Bobby Orr sitting in with Aerosmith), addressed the Fenway crowd in one of the period's defining moments.

"This is our fucking city!" he exhorted us, to rapturous applause, and more than a few FCC complaints. "And nobody's going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong."

Re-watching the video now, even the wettest of provincialism-jaded blankets can't help but relive the emotional pull of the moment.

I thought about that speech in the stands at Fenway on Saturday as I watched Ortiz and company lose to the Baltimore Orioles. I didn't particularly care about the game, instead I was there trying to find something to believe in. Fenway, often called the cathedral of Boston, was where so many found catharsis after the attack. But like any good Massachusetts lapsed Catholic who hasn't been to confession in years, I felt like I was forcing it.

Much like church, I also haven't been to a game in a long time. I scarcely remembered how to go through the motions, when to stand, when to sit, when to be quiet, and when to make the appropriate noises. The last time I went to any sort of game was to see the Patriots at Gillette Stadium years ago. The post 9/11 jingoism extravaganza that's come to characterize all major sporting events was still in full blush, and my friend and I were loudly berated by those around us for failing to sufficiently genuflect before the militarized show of force at halftime. The pageant of believing in something together is a powerful drug.

In the ensuing months after 9/11, president George Bush infamously encouraged Americans to get back to the business of being American, by which he of course meant spending money. Go shopping, he exhorted us. Something similar happened after the Marathon bombing. We were told by city and state leaders that in order to heal we needed to resume our lives as normal. The return to business at Fenway on the day of Ortiz's speech was a galvanizing moment in that regard. People were afraid to ride the subway those first couple of months, to go to large gatherings like sporting events. But, it seemed gradually, that each act of consumption served as a sort a minor political victory. Our resolve would not be bent by the cowardly actions of two shit-heel terrorists. We'd once again circulate, without fear, within our fucking city, and, more importantly, circulate our hard-earned currency. Congratulations to us all for overcoming the odds.

Some of us are more capable of engaging in the capitalistic healing than others. Unlike sentimental jargon, a trip to Fenway Park doesn't come cheap. The recent Fan Cost Index compiled by Team Marketing Report found the Red Sox are once again the most expensive ticket in baseball. The team topped the list in both the price of an actual ticket, at $52.34, beer, at $7.75, parking, at $35, and hat price, at $25. For the average group of four to attend a game, it costs about $350.86, they conclude. Little wonder that after a tragedy we're encouraged to get back into the park—there's a lot of hot dog money at stake.

Having been denied press credentials for the game as a VICE reporter, I lucked out with a friend who happened to have an extra $30 ticket for standing room only in the grandstands. All things considered, it wasn't such a bad way to spend an afternoon, although without a dedicated vantage from which to watch the game, it's easy to lose track of the action, to forget where you even are. As my attention drifted, each cheer from the crowd snapped me back into the present like a cold slap in the face. It's an effect only exacerbated by watching the action on one of the many TV screens strewn throughout, playing on a momentary time delay—visual and auditory clues fall out of sync.

Otherwise I might as well have been at a crowded mall with a particularly robust food court. This isn't unique to Fenway, of course, but there's a curious disconnect here, given its century-plus history. It's an anachronism inside of a simulacrum, a document of a past that probably existed, but certainly not in any way resembling this onslaught of noise and commerce. Once inside the park, and along the enclosed open air mall of the adjacent Yawkey Way, Sox fans can avail themselves of all manner of concessions. A pepperoni or cheese pizza for $22, perhaps, (pepperonis come free). For the health conscious, a gluten-friendly pizza is only $8. Elsewhere, pigs in a blanket are available for $8, fried dough for $5.50, mac & cheese bites for $5.50, while something called "Oreo Churros" sell for a vaguely reasonable $5. For beer lovers, a can of Corona or Harpoon will set you back $9.25, while a cup of clam chowder is a mere $8.

I roamed the underbelly of the park, looking for a concession line that wasn't 30 people deep, for what seemed like an hour. You could miss an entire inning of action, say the Orioles scoring two runs to put up what would prove to be an insurmountable lead for the Sox's cold bats, while trying to order a beer. On the plus side, what you lose out on in witnessing actual athletic competition you more than make up for in the spectacle of dozens of men in baseball jerseys hunching over trashcans wiping chicken finger grease out of their goatees with cheap napkins.

Somewhere around the fifth inning, my second lap of the Escherian complex complete, I happened upon a lesser-populated line for a seafood stand. This being New England, I thought, what better way to force-feed myself into the hometown spirit. And there, in all of its resplendent, horrific, hulking majesty I found the leviathan I'd been chasing this entire time: a $29 lobster roll. Speaking of white whales, Melville's line "There is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men," comes to mind.

Let me dash my hull against this craggy shore, I thought.

At Island Creek Oyster Bar, a highly lauded seafood restaurant just around the corner from Fenway, a lobster roll will cost you $29 as well. But that comes with all of the attendant service and atmosphere a high-end restaurant like that provides. Here, at Fenway, the mayo-doused claw and tail meat comes with a few french fries, and a condiment table to hover over while eating it. It's 4.5 ounces of meat, but a thousand pounds of symbolism.

They sell about 15-20 of them per game, the cashier told me. "It's really good stuff," she said, excited that I was trying it. The lobster comes from Legal Seafoods, the unavoidable New England chain. "You're gonna get the Fenway up-charge burn, but if you're gonna spend $5 for a hotdog you might as well eat right," she said. Inside the park numerous other stands sell lobster rolls for $13, but unlike this monstrosity, those are frozen, the proud cook explained. "It's not old stuff, it's worth it."

They weren't the only ones excited. "So that's the infamous $29 lobster roll?" a security guard type who watched me order it said. "For that price it better be good. If it's not, say it is anyway."

About a half dozen people stopped to gawk at the lobster roll before I even began eating it. You might've thought Dustin Pedroia was walking through the crowd the way it caught people's attention.

"How much they grab you for that," a fan walking by stopped to ask. "Oh my fucking God it better be good," he said when I answered him. Behind me a group of what I presumed were children, but were actually 30-something grown men, were squealing with delight playing a ball toss game.

I took a few bites, and, true to its reputation, it was pretty good. It was fine, that is. A nicely toasted bun, and solid chunks of fresh-seeming sea arachnid. I carried it back through the winding staircases and ramps to where my friends remained up in the grandstand, navigating through boozy fans, paranoid I would drop it like I had been asked to hold onto a friend's baby.

"They got the whole claw in there, but I still feel like it's really mayonnaise-forward," a Baltimore fan said.

"There are baseball stadiums that serve the upper-echelon of food. Lobster rolls are what you expect in Boston, but $29 is pretty high."

"There's a lot of lobster in it," another friend said. I was passing out bites to anyone who wanted. "I was expecting it to be sweet, but it tasted like relish."

"This was my first lobster roll," my friend Mike Fournier, author of the 33 1/3 series book on the Minutemen, said. "I wouldn't eat it again based on that."

I could overhear the bros gathered behind us talking about lobster rolls, this had turned into a real conversation piece. Just then Pablo Sandoval hit a double, sending Ortiz in for the Sox' first run of the game. This was a goddamn rally lobster, I thought. I finally did it, I made the right purchase that would bring the city together. My spending power, specifically, had galvanized the team.

That wasn't meant to be, of course, as the Sox would go on to lose the game. But the important thing was that I'd come out of my self-imposed cultural exile, and gotten back into the spirit of my city. The lobster roll may have been over-priced, cold, and mayonnaise-flavored, but isn't that a pretty good description of Boston itself?

When I got back to Watertown later that night, my street was blocked off by a dozen plus police and fire trucks. It was two years ago that night that Tsarnaev had exchanged fire throughout the neighborhood, and this was certainly the most emergency response vehicles the town has seen since then. A three-alarm fire, it turns out, had completely devastated the corner store I walk to for groceries. It burned fast and strong for about two hours before they could knock it down. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

I thought about how quiet it was on the street here the day they were looking for the bomber. Teams of machine gun-toting military types walked door to door asking us if we'd seen anything suspicious, armored cars passing by in the distance. Tonight was different, however. Everyone had come out of their homes to see what was going on, to stand together and pay witness to what had happened as a community. I talked to people I've lived next to for years and never shared a word with. We watched the fire smolder for a while, then we all went back inside. From my porch I could smell the smoke for the rest of the night, the lobster roll digesting in my belly.

Sheltering in Place

Despite what I wrote the other day, all I really want right now is to be able to go to Dunkin Donuts. Unfortunately, here in Watertown, where I live, we’re being told to stay in our homes and off the streets. Businesses have been instructed not to open. Late last night, the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects switched to this suburb of Boston, which is adjacent to Cambridge, where an MIT officer was shot by brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Slate

Facebooking Through Tragedy

Unlike Twitter, which might be a great way to find out in real time what our favored celebrities think about a tragedy, it’s Facebook where are our actual friends and family live. New Republic

Chased From the Courthouse, Bombing Skeptics Continue to Ask Questions

Among the more curious incidents in the entire ordeal, many agree, is the killing of Ibragim Todashev in Florida by the FBI. The Chechen immigrant, and friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was being questioned at the time about an unsolved triple murder that took place in Waltham. The FBI has said Todashev confessed to the crime before lunging violently at an agent, who then shot and killed him. Boston.com

Please stop talking about how flinty and resilient Boston is.

Watching Boston begin to assert itself as “Boston,” I felt a comforting sense of solidarity transform into an uncomfortable sense of embarrassment. Slate

What Patriots Day Got Right About the Boston Bombing Aftermath

While the attack on the Boston Marathon — and the images of destruction and devastation that day in April of 2013 — have been well documented, the story of what happened next isn’t as widely known. For four days, the city of Boston was in a state of confusion and fear as the Tsarnaev brothers eluded capture. In the meantime, the brothers shot and killed MIT police officer Sean Collier, kidnapped a man, Dun Meng, and engaged in a horrific firefight with law enforcement agencies in nearby Watertown — where the older brother Tamerlan was ultimately killed, and Dzhokhar was later found in hiding. Esquire

Beantown’s Big Brother: How Boston Police Used Facial Recognition Technology to Spy on Thousands of Music Festival Attendees

Although we look back on it now through a mournful or angry lens, it’s easy to forget just how downright disorienting the days and weeks following the Boston Marathon bombing in April of 2013 were. Adding to the surrealism of the drama for me was a night spent on lockdown in my Watertown home while the gun fight between authorities and the alleged bomber raged on blocks away, and the intrusion of heavily armed law enforcement trampling through my front yard during the next morning’s manhunt. For weeks after in the city, riding the subway or at any sort of big event, a sense of unease would sneak up on me from time to time when I realized just how easy it would be for something like the bombing to happen again. Vice

There Are Mixed Feelings Surrounding Mark Wahlberg’s Boston Marathon Bombing Movie

For the residents of Massachusetts in attendance and the participants in the race, the carnage of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, in which 3 were killed and over 250 others were injured, is likely the worst experience of their lives. It’s a trauma that most would prefer to never experience again as long as they live. For others, they’ll have an opportunity to do just that, this time with the provincially coveted imprimatur of Boston’s most famous hamburger franchisee, Mark Wahlberg. Esquire

I Can’t Figure Out Why Patriots Day Exists

t was trash day. I’ll always remember that detail. The thud of the bin lids being tossed open one by one up the street by heavily armed patrols that had descended on our Watertown neighborhood. Everything else was silent. I’ll remember being apprehensive about even stepping outside my home, the governor having advised all residents to shelter in place. Wondering if I pointed my phone at the sudden occupying force to take a picture if they’d panic and mistake it for a weapon. My wife not wanting me to go outside for a cigarette. There’s a scene just like that in Patriots Day, right before a neighbor finds Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hiding out in a boat in his backyard. It felt real. It all felt very real, and yet disturbing in the way that the act of dramatization necessarily translates the currency of fact into the uncanny. Esquire