For this penultimate daily installment of Infinite Boston, I’d like to identify not just a location but possibly the inspiration for a particular scene. The passage in question arrives nearly two-thirds of the way through the novel, a dozen or so pages and less than an hour in narrative time following Randy Lenz’s gruesome actions outside 412 W. Brainerd, which readers are likely to recall as one of the story’s key dramatic turning points.
But that scene is prefaced by an enjoyably intricate walk-through of Don Gately’s duties on the night shift at Ennet House, including a comic riff on the bureaucratic ass-painery of Boston’s then-near future:
And since metro Boston’s serious fiscal troubles in the third year of Subsidized Time there’s been this hellish municipal deal where only one side of any street is legal for parking, and the legal side switches abruptly at 0000h., and cruisers and municipal tow trucks prowl the streets from 0001h. on, writing $95.00 tickets and/or towing suddenly-illegally-parked vehicles to a region of the South End so blasted and dangerous no cabbie with anything to live for will even go there. So the interval 2355h.-0005h. in Boston is a time of total but not very spiritual community, with guys in skivvies and ladies in mud-masks staggering out yawning into the crowded midnight streets and disabling their alarms and revving and all trying to pull out and do a U and find a parallel-parking place facing the other way.
For Gately the nightly alternation is a logistical problem and figurative headache, because he first must lock up everything in the house’s front office that’s lock-upable, then “personally escort all residents who own cars out post-curfew outside into the little nameless streetlet” next to the Enfield Marine complex. The routine is always the same: Gately ushers them outside, and then herds them back inside, night after night. But following this particular ten-minute interval—and with a big no-thanks to Randy Lenz—nothing at Ennet House is ever quite the same again.
More to the point of this entry, the streetlet does in fact have a name: it’s simply a service road of Commonwealth Avenue, which is the street name in the address of real-life locations from the novel, such as the former Provident Nursing Home.
And toward the point of identifying a circumstance as opposed to mere location, the second image above is a street sign I happened to notice at the intersection of Comm. Ave. and a street that David Foster Wallace himself once lived on. It’s a simple tow notice, applicable just two days a month—a much different time interval than DFW’s invented annoyance. But I couldn’t look up at it without wondering if he’d once looked up at it, too, and got the idea for this passage.