For the first time in a few weeks, today we venture back outside of Boston proper; from now through early next week—the last of Infinite Boston’s daily updates—we’ll visit a few locations in Watertown, north of the Charles, west of Cambridge. First among them, let’s check back in with one of Infinite Jest’s least appealing characters in one of his most appalling circumstances.
Since the “affairs of Wo and Copley Library and heart”—each covered in the China Pearl, Boston Public Library and Harvard Square entries—Poor Tony’s “entire set of interpersonal associations” has dwindled to “persons who did not care about him plus persons who wished him harm.” He has has nowhere to run, and fewer, decreasingly tolerable places to hide.
Unable to cop, Poor Tony first seeks refuge in a “dumpster-complex behind the I.B.P.W.D.W. Local #4 Hall” in the Fort Point neighborhood, and begins to “Withdraw From Heroin.” The stay is short-lived: after he accidentally befouls his formerly “new and unutilized” dumpster, Poor Tony is forced back out on the street.
It was the incontinence plus the prospect of 11/4’s monthly Social Assistance checks that drove Poor Tony out for a mad scampering relocation to an obscure Armenian Foundation Library men’s room in Watertown Center, wherein he tried to arrange a stall as comfortingly as he could with shiny magazine photos and cherished knickknacks and toilet paper laid down around the seat, and flushed repeatedly, and tried to keep true Withdrawal at some sort of bay with bottles of Codinex Plus.
The Codinex does not so much lessen the withdrawal as draw it out, slowing Poor Tony’s perception of time down to a crawl. If the narrator is to be believed, he spends more than a week in this stall, lifting his feet off the floor when the library staff makes a final check and turns off the lights at night. In the dark, Poor Tony begins to hallucinate: first a “red martial column” of fire ants, and then an orange-eyed bird that is a metaphor for The Bird he is unwillingly Kicking. In this basement (?) library bathroom, Poor Tony comes to know “the experience of time with a shape and an odor”; for the reader, the experience is harrowing, disgusting, and exhilarating—an example of DFW at his best.
And hey, what do you know? It turns out there is a real-world counterpart: the Armenian Library and Museum of America, located at the wholesome, all-Armenian-American address of 65 Main Street. It even has a Wikipedia article. The Armenian Library was among the first places I was surprised to find really existed—a discovery which was soon and often to be repeated.
But even after coming all the way to Watertown, my investigation ended at the front door. I suppose I had the opportunity to inspect its restrooms for plausible withdrawal sanctuaries, whether in the basement or simply a windowless, interior room. But when I arrived on a Friday afternoon in July, I just couldn’t bring myself to go inside and look around. After all: what could I possibly say at the front desk?