Published June 2009
Lost in Translation
Nick ruins your reputation
How would you describe yourself? No question packs more pressure per column inch. After you’ve stalled with the basics like age and alma mater, it’s difficult to come up with an honest answer beyond, “I’m the type of person who hates you for asking.”
Defining yourself as a Bostonian is even harder. It’s like saying you live in the year 2009. Like time, place shapes your character in ways impossible to accurately quantify. But that’s what I had to do.
A French travel program, Échappées Belles, emailed the office looking to learn about—and shoot a day in the life of—”the true Bostonian.” It took some badgering, but after making sure it wasn’t a prank show, I agreed. So a month later, two French women knocked on my door, ready to witness the supernova of titillation that is my Bostonian life… at 8 am… on a Monday. You know, when the city is just alive with possibilities.
Right away we started with a small lie, and the pressure to honestly represent all of you lessened a bit. In front of a camera the size of a RPG-7, I lazed on the couch watching SportsCenter, as men regardless of locale are wont to do, when the interviewer asked me about the Red Sox (i.e., the prism through which the entire world now sees Bostonians.) I explained that sure, I like the team, but after years of intense fandom, I was finding it harder to stoke my enthusiasm. But I was missing the point. What she wanted was a shot of me watching the Sox. So I flipped to the previous game’s replay, a mind-numbing spectacle that most fans don’t watch and, in the Internet age, is pretty useless. It’s like watching a History Channel special on what your mom had for lunch. Evidently, I was just there to give them all I could offer, and they’d spackle in the rest.
Next was a short tour around my neighborhood, where we settled in the Paul Revere mall as I desperately tried to sound intelligent by explaining Revere’s disproportionate amount of fame, and other topics I had Wikipedia’d the day before. Unfortunately, they bought it and asked me to stammer my way through the history of Sam Adams and… that other guy. Seen through the eyes of a tourist, I guess we do play up the Revolutionary War connection. So I suppose the question of whether we still hate the British was understandable. “There’s no animosity, besides them being bad tippers,” I explained, before adding, “but apparently we saved YOUR asses in World War II.” I was on fire.
From there it was a walk through the Common, where I was forced to admit I didn’t know how George Washington died, and we got some lovely footage of a terrier taking a dump. At The Improper office, the conversation turned to, “Who is the typical Bostonian?” (I guess I wasn’t filling the bill.) I explained that ideally we’re a hardworking and intellectually curious people exceedingly proud of our past, and both in love with, and sometimes frustrated by, our current cultural standing. We know we’re not the biggest, but we’ll take on all comers. And the sweat we put into our pursuits is often tempered by beer. (I may have started projecting.)
Appropriately enough, our afternoon stop was Drink, where I sipped on a cocktail named after a fictional French whore and loosened up enough to start bragging. We have a lot to be proud of, from our stance on marijuana to our legalization of gay marriage. As the hubris and alcohol went to my head, I relaxed enough to hit the men’s room without turning my mike off.
The day ended on the Charles at Restaurant Dante, which provided a beatific visual ending and fitting analogy. Obviously Boston isn’t the inferno, but it can be hellish to play tour guide, let alone to be asked to represent your people. But I pulled no punches in detailing our greatness, which I think any local would do. Because although I don’t define myself as a true Bostonian, I’m proud to play one on TV.