You’re Doomed. Deal with It.

Emily Dickinson
Looked out her front window
Struggling for breath,

Suffering slightly from
“Think I’ll just stay in and
Write about Death.”

—Leon Stokesbury

“Doom” is the tough love message of New England: If you go around happy all the time, you just don’t understand the situation. I suspect this is partly the residue of Puritan religion (the real sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-God stuff, not that hormone-soaked prissiness we call “puritanical” these days). Yet it must also result from living in a place where “Spring” is mostly an abstract construct with no identifiable correlative in the physical world.

New Englanders devise any number of strategies to cope with this, and I think it’s important to remember that giving right in to gloom–à la Belle of Amherst, supra–is but one. There is also sublimation (calling all BoSox fans) and projection (“I’m OK; you’re doomed”).

A few years ago, my daughter developed car trouble taking an acquaintance back to Cambridge. I drove into the city to rescue her and naturally got lost. I have long believed that in laying out the street system for Boston, the founders sought to create a metaphor for the Calvinist’s labyrinthine path to Grace. They were breathtakingly successful.

The maps I had printed out from MapQuest served me reasonably well until I made the first wrong turn, but I was soon hopelessly lost. I knew that the situation was ripe for a classic Boston moment. With a sinking feeling, I stopped to ask directions. The first person I saw was a huge guy loading boxes into the back of a station wagon. I explained my situation to him.

He looked at the MapQuest pages in my hand and shook his head. “You got these on the Internet?” he asked.

I admitted that, yes, I had.

“See,” he explained, “that’s why you’re completely fucked, right there…” He then gave me elaborate, utterly incorrect directions and walked away.

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