A Q&A with homegrown Boston author Adam Abramowitz
“Everything you’ve heard about Boston drivers is true: Signaling is for the weak. Sideview mirrors are purely decorative. Stop signs are optional.”
And for caffeine-fueled bike messenger Zesty, a run-in with a car door is not a matter of if, but when.
In Boston native Adam Abramowitz’s debut novel Bosstown, it’s not a car door that gets him but instead, a gold Buick aiming for the cash he unknowingly carries in his messenger bag. Bosstown is an adrenaline-pumped, free-wheeling dive into Boston during the Big Dig where Abramowitz mixes a zany zigzag of youthful storytelling with a nostalgic homage to a changing city.
He’ll talk more about his book at the Brookline Booksmith on Aug 9, just a day after Bosstown is officially released. Ahead of the talk, I met up with Abramowitz in the South End across from a fancy brick apartment building Abramowitz tells me used to be a laundromat where he (and Zesty) could use a pay phone.
A central part of this book is Boston changing and gentrifying, using the Big Dig as a time marker. What would you say has changed most about Boston in your lifetime?
Boston used to tolerate fuckups, basically. It used to be a place where you could afford to live here with jobs that aren’t professional. I’ve worked in the moving business, in an ice cream shop … [you] used to be able to just cobble shit together. It let you grow into the city. That’s the biggest change. Now that it’s so expensive … it’s kind of lost that friendliness and ability to … let people figure out who they want to be. But I still love Boston so much. I love Boston in that way you love an old girlfriend or boyfriend who totally screwed you over. The book, to me, is a love letter to Boston. I wanted my kids to know … that I was just knockin’ around and shit was just happening all the time … that this is the way the city was.
When you wrote this book, were you thinking about connecting with Boston locals to kind of reexperience that sense of what it used to be like, or were you thinking of giving the outside world a taste of Boston?
It was very much written for people who had lived in Boston. For those who haven’t lived in Boston a long time, to give them a taste of what it was like, and for those who were here at the beginning, give a little wink and a nod. It really is a love letter to Boston. You chewed me up, you spit me out, you hurt me so bad, but I still love you. I can’t get over you!
So, how much of the book is actually based on your own bittersweet experiences?
It’s funny, they made me get a Facebook … and all of a sudden people from my past pop up. And one happens to work in the film industry, so we sent him a copy of the book. A few days later, he writes back, “Hey Zesty…” So, yes I am Zesty. I’m ashamed and I’m proud at the same time.
The addresses, the loft where he lives, that is where I actually lived. Harrison Avenue and Baker Street were exactly as I said in the book … A lot of it is so real.
Poker is a key plot device in the book.
I’m not a gambler. I play poker, but I don’t gamble, I like to say, because poker is a skill game. I was drawn to poker early on. I grew up in communes in Allston in the ’70s. There used to be this great big penny poker game at the Spanish House commune; it was in the former Spanish consulate on Commonwealth Avenue.
Poker was a huge thing for me. When I moved into [Boston], I would run a few games at the moving company where I worked. We used to have these backroom poker games. And then when I moved to New York City, I bumped into somebody who said, “Oh, there’s this poker game on Monday nights. It’s all stand-up comedians.” So my entry in there was Sarah Silverman … Sarah’s older sister is married to my brother. It used to be every Monday night. The game would start at 10 pm and go til about 5 in the morning, and then we’d all go out to breakfast.
What is it about poker?
The skill. And… well… you’re expected to lie. You’re not expected to tell the truth. And everyone knows that everyone else is trying to screw them, and yet you sit at that table in relative peace and harmony, telling lies to each other.
And even with skill, you still have to depend on Lady Luck to be with you. Sometimes you just have to give it up and hope for the best.
As a first-time book author, what was the process like? What was most surprising, most challenging?
The best part was realizing how much I lived in this city. How much I did, and really did it in the way I wanted to do it. I wasn’t chasing money. I certainly wasn’t chasing fame. It just allowed me to grow into who I really felt that I was. And that was just the best thing to realize that. So much of [the book] is true, and I wanted that to be recorded.
The hardest part was two parts: one, the realization that it will never be this way again. Just like I’ve changed in many ways, the city’s changed. In some ways for the better, in some ways for the worse. The other part was that I didn’t get a chance to put everything that I wanted into the book. But there’s the next book!
How many car doors have you hit in your life as a bike messenger?
I’ve hit four car doors, and I’ve gone through a cab windshield and walked away. That was exciting, that one. The crazy thing is—and Zesty will talk about it in the second book—the more you get hit, the more invincible you feel. You keep walking away from it.
You don’t feel like you’re using up your chances?
No, that didn’t enter my mind. Zesty goes through a bunch of bikes, and that’s really his attitude. I felt that way too. And boy is that a dangerous way to go through life.
ADAM ABRAMOWITZ. BOSSTOWN. WED 8.9. BROOKLINE BOOKSMITH, 279 HARVARD ST., BROOKLINE. 7PM/FREE. BROOKLINEBOOKSMITH.COM