Last Exit to Brookline

Unlikely nostalgia for a cool sort-of suburb

JadeBrewer_CoolidgeCorner2Photo: Jade Brewer

By Dan Forward


re-watched the Will Smith masterpiece and Isaac Asimov perversion I, Robot the other night, and while I cannot stress enough that this is a movie that everyone should watch before dying due to lack of watching I, Robot, I realize that—spoiler!—there’s a problem with it. It is too improbable that the evil robot intelligence in the movie would exist only as a giant cube hanging in an easily accessible office building, where it would be vulnerable to Will Smith’s stabbing it with a bottle of nanobots and killing it at the end of the movie. It would have had copies of itself everywhere to ensure its survival, right? Has the future not invented cloud computing?

Yet, just as in Independence Day, another classic Fresh Prince romp, as soon as the biggest thing gets blown up, all the littler things start falling like pretty-legit-CGI-for-their-time dominos. Did this realization ruin the movie for me? No. But it colors my former memory of this dark-and-charmingly sarcastic vision of the future from 2003 as a flawless work of art, and, believe it or not, leads me to my real point here.

Don’t go back to the things you’ve loved and lost. I lost something very dear to me recently: Brookline. No, no, a meteor didn’t hit it. Perhaps it’s more apt to say that Brookline lost me. I’ve moved away. Below I’m enshrining some of my best memories of the place, and I hope to live off the residual happiness of these madeleines of Proustian reminiscence until I die at age 48 in a fight against a Roomba that has foresworn the Three Laws of Robotics.

The ice cream. I don’t want to brag, because I think bragging is more about bringing myself up, when really I just want to make the rest of you feel bad so you can share in my postpartum misery: I took a trip to France this summer. When I got back and showed everyone the pictures, the most common comment was, “Huh, you ate a lot of ice cream.” First off, I’m still angry at everyone who didn’t say “Wow, you are really owning that beret and pencil mustache.” Second, sure, I ate a lot of ice cream. It was vacation. And France makes great ice cream. Lock me up, Judge Judy-Dredd. But I’ll tell you, la glace over there isn’t any better than J.P. Licks over here. There’s a feud raging in Paris right now between the devotees of Berthillon and Amorino’s ice cream, according to my beyond-hip tour guide, Alma. The infighting there is just as bad as it ever was between the liberal Orleanists and the Republican Socialists in 1848. Trust me. So I tried both kinds. They’re both excellent. However, the J.P. Licks 12 minutes from my old apartment had an Oreo cake batter that makes you want to guillotine yourself rather than live 13 or more minutes away from it.

The animals. Back to France for a minute. I want you to all thank my “friend” Andrew for the fact that you’re not reading a whole column about my trip to France right now. He sat me down and said, “I hope you don’t write a blog about France because I wouldn’t read it and you’re not funny.” Everyone say, “Thanks, Andrew!” Anyway, animals. Everyone has an adorable pet in Brookline, and they all share them. I knew two cats on my street that were better companions to me than the human being Andrew, and now I can’t see them anymore. One of them was Salem, because that’s what his owner called him, and the other was Toes, because he had a lot of them. It was weird, but I’m told that polydactyly is actually rather common, if sort of freaky. I came to think of them as my own pets, but without the burdens of having to take care of them. But that’s what it’s like in Brookline. People park their pets on the streets while they go into secondhand designer clothing shops and Jewish bookstores and you can have a puppy of your own that’s tied to a tree for five minutes and no one’s going to fight you over it. I also saw a coyote on Beacon Street once, but no one believes me so I’m not going to waste my time trying to convince you, either.

Downtown Shooz. This shoe shop in Coolidge Corner is an institution, or at least the owner is. It’s worth it to go in just to see every single customer attempt to get over the shock of how solicitous the old man who runs the place can be. Last Marathon Monday I had to tell him the exact qualifying times for all age groups for the race and he diligently wrote them down and for all I know he’s out training right now for it as I sit here eating peanut-butter Ritz Bitz at my computer and getting crumbs stuck underneath the keys. I’m pretty sure he actually does sell shoes, too, but I’m not really into that sort of thing so you may have to ask someone else.

The runners. Like JP Licks, running is not uniquely a Brookline thing, but the town is full of good examples. Like any fast walker, I take a lot of pleasure in thinking up the filthiest names possible for slow people in front of me who are blocking my way to, well, nowhere, I guess. On any given road in Brookline, though, at least half the people are running their big healthy hearts out, and therefore not in anyone’s way. And if you’re running also, sometimes they’ll give you high fives. Which is much better than when I was running in Virginia once and an old woman tried to say hello to me. I’m from Boston, lady. I’m not your buddy!

The people. Brooklinians possess that rare northeastern balance of aloofness and courtesy that’s so hard to perfect. On the one hand, they’ll give you a dirty look if you try to make eye contact with them. But on the other hand, they’ll hold the door open for you as long as your molecules don’t mix with theirs in any way. Actually, I might be projecting here. It’s very possible that everyone else is a whole lot nicer than that and I’m just a jerk and they’re relieved not to have to deal with me anymore. Please take me back! I’m sorry!

I was just kidding about not going back to the things you love, by the way. I still go to Brookline like three times a week, and I’ve already re-watched I, Robot on DVD to see it without all the swear words muted.

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