My high school friend Jamie Hall wasn’t the kind of guy who bragged about himself very often. He had some talents, among them spectacular taste in old soul and blues music and a reliable slapshot, but he played the background and was happy in his humble role as the proud twin of a star scholar-athlete sister who he loved and looked up to.
I was wondering what we were doing near Quincy Market. He’d been living in Boston for a few years working on construction jobs, mostly carpentry, and my move here in 2004 overlapped with his time in Mass. Ten out of 10 times before this, Jamie had me find him at a dive bar, but on this occasion he told me to meet up outside of the Orvis store on the North End side of Faneuil Hall.
Short as he’d been back in high school and still sporting the same battered baseball hat and Carhartt he’d worn to work as well as formal family events since I had known him, Jamie appeared out of a scrum of tourists and pointed up to the facade above, an ornate wooden sign hugging the southeast edge of North Market over the corner windows. In an uncharacteristic display of pride, he told me that his crew painstakingly built it from scratch over the previous week.
When I heard that Jamie died in 2009 soon after his 31st birthday, I did that thing you do when you can’t process the pain of that kind of loss and drank myself dumb then walked to the Orvis store, smoked a joint, and cried. It felt good to see his legacy still nailed up there, sturdy.
Over the following few years, if something brought me to the area, and especially if I was feeling sentimental (read: buzzed), I’d swing around that back side of the marketplace to glimpse Jamie’s exquisite craftsmanship. Until one day when I arrived only to discover the entire fixture—plaque, letters, and all—had been crudely demolished, nothing left but some faint scars from where the bolt cutters removed the memory of my old friend.
In 2013, Orvis left Faneuil Hall altogether, and Hall’s corner was covered by a hideous blue awning. I almost let myself get sad about the change, but instead decided that while it would be nice to have Jamie’s wooden sign to look at, it’s not the structure that I cherished as much as it is the picture of him luring me downtown to show me his work, puffing his already pudgy chest out that much farther as he described the techniques and hand tools he employed to carefully carve, stain, and smooth all of the contours.
Buildings, landmarks, and basically most special places one and alike can be calming, reassuring, or even help us visualize long lost but not forgotten friends and times immortal in spirit if not in space.
But sometimes they are just facades. What really matters is the point of pride they stood for in the first place.
CHRIS FARAONE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.