By Dom Cioffi
I spent this past week in Boston. I was there with a couple of my coworkers attending a marketing conference. Our goal was to pick up some valuable knowledge concerning the future of online marketing, which is changing rapidly.
It was unseasonably hot and humid in the city, with each day we were there reaching 90-plus degrees. Generally, this wouldn’t matter during a conference since most modern-day venues are climate controlled. However, we were staying in a hotel that required a 40-minute walk to the conference center.
Personally, I didn’t mind the walk. Conferences mean a lot of sitting around coupled with extended bouts of eating. The extra exercise, in my mind, would help balance out the hours of inactivity. What I didn’t like was being drenched in sweat just prior to sitting down for the first lecture.
The two young women who attended the conference with me had never been to Boston. Given that I’m a New Englander, I raved about the city and promised to show them around during our downtime.
When the days’ events drew to a close, I would walk them up to the North End where all the restaurants and pastry shops are. We ate like royalty every night, enjoying various Italian fare for our meals and then delighting in sweets afterwards.
And then we would walk home.
Walking through any city at night can be unnerving. Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s not a problem, but every so often you encounter an awkward situation. During this trip to Boston, we seemed to hit an awkward situation every day we were there.
The first morning we walked to the conference center we were hit with a small stretch of sidewalk that was inundated with homeless addicts. Some were asking for money, others were too strung-out to communicate.
I quickly led my coworkers through the maze of bodies, commenting afterwards how sad it was. They agreed, but also looked slightly disturbed. I then realized that neither of them had ever been exposed to such a situation.
Unfortunately, the hopelessness was coupled with the pungent smell of urine, which was exacerbated by the high humidity. I could tell my coworkers were less than impressed. I immediately started to defend my small corner of the country, assuring them that every city had these unfortunate spots.
The next night, as we were exiting a restaurant after dinner, a young woman approached us asking for change. She looked horrible with battered teeth and skin peppered with open sores. She couldn’t have been more than 30 years old, but her visage looked like a woman three times that age.
I calmly denied her request, telling her that I had no cash or change available. My two coworkers stood in shock as she mumbled a few obscenities before turning and walking away.
Again, I apologized for the situation and began defending the city of Boston. I spent the next 15 minutes speaking about the character of the city and the history it encompassed.
On our last night in town we decided to have a nightcap at an Irish pub. We found the perfect spot and proceeded to order a round of Guinness. The first NFL game of the season was on the television so the environment was electric. We laughed and told war stories and spent the better part of two hours reveling with the rest of the crowd.
As we were getting up to leave, another patron – a gentleman in his mid-40s – brushed past us and out the door. We chuckled amongst ourselves at how intoxicated he was, commenting that he should have ended his night an hour or two earlier.
Not more than two minutes later, as we opened the door to walk out, there was the 40-year-old guy face down on the sidewalk. Someone was attending to him, and after a minute or two of wondering if he was unconscious, the guy pulled himself up onto a nearby car and then stumbled away.
At that point, the women looked at me and insisted I not try to defend the city again. I acquiesced and admitted that even with all its charm, the ills of the urban lifestyle seemed to be getting the better of Beantown.
This week’s film, “ Puzzle ,” also takes place in a big city, but in this story, the problem is not with drugs, but with an unhappy and unfulfilled marriage.
It’s been a long time since I have seen a film with this much emotional depth. “ Puzzle ” is an immensely satisfying portrayal of loneliness and self-preservation in the face of a seemingly unchangeable situation. This isn’t a mass market film so you’ll have to search for it, but I promise it will be worth the effort.
A poignant “A-” for “ Puzzle .”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at email@example.com.
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