IT HAS BEEN dark for two hours in Harvard Square. Ten minutes ago the 7:30 show at the Brattle let out, and couples are kicking their way up Brattle Street, some of them stopping at the menu posted outside the Yard of Ale. Most go straight on to the Square.
The corner newsstand is doing a nice business with its tropical fruit lifesavers. Banana lifesavers, mango lifesavers, coconut, pineapple, tangerine and orange. An ecstasy of esters. Looking into the newsstand through the large window heaped with apples and oranges, the old man with the dirty magazine is the center of a depraved still life.
"Hello," says the tattooed cacodemon to the China doll, as he stepped off the curb into a bit of spring mud.
And look, here comes your ex-lover's latest friend. The Harvard Square Theater has just let out, and there is no telling who you will see, it being Saturday night.
It being Saturday night and the Square is greasy from too much desire. Teen-agers in turquoise and cranberry, all chewing with the mouth open. Pass behind the Coop pillar and wait.
Three girls cross the street as the walk sign ticks don't-walk. Closer, closer, arm in arm, into Brigham's. More light and an ice cream cone. Ha, voices like high woodwinds. Ha. Oh for the directness of rape.
Three boys coming from the Garden Street graveyard. Young men of slight stature, who might, given sufficient provocation, carry a fork from the school cafeteria and extort dimes in the bathroom. A girl glides by and three heads snap with the comic suddenness of recalcitrant window shades. "Fine bod," they say behind their hands and pass on to higher conquest. They stop to dispute, and not knowing the civilized use of velleities, fall to pushing. "Hic Rhodus, hic salta," cries one. They just shove him again, which is clearly what he deserves.
A boy with cowboy hat and sun glasses. His hands are over his ears. That way he won't hear the ambulances coming.
Consider the ears. Saturday night is the night for virile sounds: sports cars roaring like motorcycles, motorcycles roaring like sports cars, boys and girls laughing with their teeth together. You would laugh too if you didn't avoid the Square Saturday night and creep up Mt. Auburn Street or sneak by on Brattle Street. Come, come behind the pillar and watch the three girls, now in a red Sprite. Too bad girls, the light is green and you have to ride straight through. These things, you know, are a matter of timing.
Where do they live, which places? Arlington, Arlington Heights, North Cambridge, Medford, Belmont. Change at Park Street for Brighton--Nootin--Wahtertown. To be specific: Arlington High, Arlington Central Catholic, Cambridge High and Latin, Rindge Tech, Matignon High School, Our Lady Help of Christmas High School, Newton High, Newton South, Belmont High, St. Mary's, Medford High School. South Boston, an hour away by MBTA, keeps to itself; the plusher suburbs are too self-possessed.
It may be asked, and it often is: what draws them, the boys with the pinched faces and the girls with little fat pink stars for hands? The Square on Saturday night is the more tumultuous aspect of hum drum. A more intense, violent and glanduar aspect of quiet lives. When they were eight, there was the mechanical horse outside the Wellington Circle Woolworth's, the collection of baseball cards to be flipped down alleys blown clean by the spring wind.
To purchase, not to acquire but to purchase and consume, to be swarthed in a tissue of things. Some desire to associate with the larger people at the Club 47; others follow along. It is not Harvard that sucks them in. They seldom traipse into the Yard, never go below Mt. Auburn Street. As they do not aspire to the College they do not atempt to understand or revere it. The physicality of Harvard Square is to their taste, the flood of objects, people, shoes in store windows, neon signs half put out and grimy behind the light, candy boxes wrapped in shiny green and sculptured, candied loaves piled on display. Through all and over all the too sweet smell of oil of coconut.
Adopt for the moment the macro, that is to say, comprehensive point of view. No longer forced to rummage about for detail, be free to indulge in geographic and historic analogy. Consider Nathan's Famous. Not Nathan's Famous in Coney Island, hot-dog server to the world, but Nathan's Famous of Oceanside. Situated on the broad Long Island plane, accessible by car from all directions, Nathan's of Oceanside is what Harvard Square would be if city planners took teen-agers to heart and let traffic control go hang. Conceive a commodious space, roofed with wood, full of metal picnic tables. The air is rotting vegetable incense, the food, all of it, has the consistency of a day-old french fry.
Nathan's succeeds. The nearest subway entrance is miles through the dark, there are no buses to chariot you home if the stares don't turn aside, no pillar to lean against. Try leaning anywhere and the private cops scoot you along. Lounging is bad for business--and constant circulation means inevitable collision.
The police in the Square do not consider marginal propensity to consume and in general are not rude. Perhaps this is because they are small. Most policemen fill more space than they occupy physically; authority makes them fleshy. But in the Square the police are stumpy and given to standing with their arms crossed, pressing themselves into ever smaller dimensions.
Hello again, girls again. Red light, you lucky devils. Up to the curb in the little red car, push on the handle and the door's ajar; and here are two tall boys. Tally ho, Tally ho.
Now comes the green truck of the Boston Globe to drop stacks of Sunday papers at the kiosk news stand. Heave away my hearty, bail by bail, comics outermost.