When Boston Became Home – Part 1

Looking out the window onto Braddock Park, I am sitting at the table in the front of the condo on a reasonably warm late December evening. I haven’t written here in a very long time – not on a computer at any rate. It feels strange and exhilarating, a return and a new beginning all at once. The first time I did so was in the earliest part of 1996. We’d only just closed on the condo that previous November, and it didn’t quite feel like home. I’d stayed here in the first few weeks – in a sparse, barren, completely unfurnished place that didn’t even have a light in the bedroom. There was no couch, no bed, not even a chair to sit upon – and I loved every minimalistic minute of it. Without television or stereo or computer to entertain, I was alone with my thoughts. Any voices I had in my head were free to chatter, to no avail. Once those voices tire out, they tend to leave you alone. Still, such quiet was not meant to last – at least not when it concerned wall color and furniture. I needed to put the Ilagan stamp on the place, or it would never be ours.

That year, my favorite Uncle and a few cousins were visiting for the holidays, and we cajoled them into going to Boston and painting the condo. (By “cajole” I mean my father probably gave them a hefty sum to put up with my fanatical attention to detail and color coordination, and paint the place in a professional manner.) It’s what my Uncle did for a living, so it would be done properly, and I was itching to try a rag-off technique I had been reading about in some painting book. I also wanted all the white walls to disappear, so after New Year’s Day my Mom dropped us off and we set about that first night to prepping the place for painting the next day. According to my Uncle, the preparation was where the real work in painting happened – and also the most important part of a proper paint job. We sanded and scoured, set up ladders and laid drop cloths, made a bunch of coffee and smoked a bunch of cigarettes. It must have been midnight when we finally crashed – on cots and sleeping bags (there wasn’t even a bed yet).

The next day, they were already working when I awoke. The kitchen was almost done, in a rich astroturf green. No boring neutrals here, not for some time. I was more excited about the living room. I taped off the plastered crown molding and painted it in goldleaf. Yes, I was that garish at the ripe age of twenty. (All gay guys have to grow out of this phase. Some never do. I was lucky.) For then, though, the gold went perfectly with the bordello red I had in mind for the living room. I figured the rag-off technique would soften the glaring hue, and to an extent it did.

My Uncle would roll the color on, and I’d take a rag and dab it quickly before it dried, leaving a mottled look and a softness to the walls. In person and up close it worked quite well. In photographs it simply comes across as a fire-engine worthy explosion of bright, flaming red. Let’s make it gay indeed. My Uncle and cousins never said a word. Well, they probably did, but nothing too harsh or I’d have remembered. Instead, we all worked into the evening, when it was time for a break.

One of my Uncle’s favorite things to do was watch a James Bond movie. A new one had just opened that Christmas, so I brought everyone to the Copley Square Cinemas (back when there used to be a movie theatre at Copley Place). We ordered popcorn and watched the movie, and when we finally began the short walk home, the temperature had turned brutally cold. If it was frigid for me, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for a few native Filipinos, one of whom had only ever encountered the “cold” climate of Washington, DC and only saw snow for the first time when he visited us in Albany once. I will always crack up remembering my Uncle that night, rushing down the street with a tiny scarf tied around his head like some ancient Russian woman, looking like a crazed bat out of hell and asking me frantically why it was so cold. I literally had to stop walking because I was laughing so hard.

That night we returned to the condo, to its warmth and solid walls, to its honey-like amber hardwood floors, to its hot water ~ and we gave thanks for its comfort. I knew then that I was home.

{To be continued…}

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