Love That Durty Water

No, Boston’s not my home, but it wasn’t Ed Cobb’s either, and he wrote the song. Two years ago I spent a fairly epic six hours in the city. From the wharf jumping Merrow men, to the Denver hatin’ Cincinnati prison guards drinking “Gingers” at Durty Nelly’s, every minute wanted to be a story.

That story wanted to be a novel; NWP’s Urban Sites was in Boston last week. I took an extra day for research.

I hesitate to quantify an entire city based on a few day’s experience, so here is my mostly chronological list of not quite random observations (most of which happen in a bar):


Durty Nelly’s downstairs, a narrow room, a gregarious crowd, everybody thanking Steve for their drinks. Colm O’brien sets up his P.A. in the corner. The Bruins skate-slap-slide toward the semi-finals.

A neighborhood spirit, capitalizing on comfort, warms the room even before O’Brien launches into “Whiskey in the Jar.” His raw acoustic rhythm winds a lively ribbon of “Fields of Athenry” and “Craic Was Ninety In the Isle of Man,” though the hockey-shouts and conversation.

A Belgian guy, who looks like Stephen King right after the accident, stares at Melissa, telling her finally, “You have lovely ears. Very shapely.”

Larry, who looks a lot like Ronnie James Dio, explains, “You can be a local without being a townie. Townies are Massholes. Locals are friendly.”

Behind us O’Brien strums into “Ordinary Man.”


NWP writing marathon–The Colonnade to the Charles, a quick slice of pizza at the Halftime (heaven just might be toasted crust). North Church, dogtag memorial, wind winking metal in the sun. More guitar, this time blues, but with sharper teeth.

Night, and Nelly’s upstairs looks exactly like my memory except that the absurdly high mirror in the bathroom is missing.


Sculpted debris among the actual, heralds the Haymarket. It’s stacked and piled outside of Nelly’s door. Upstairs, the day’s last gold-orange light washes the brick wall outside the fire escape’s open door.

Nate, the bartender, answers my many questions. What’s great about Durty Nelly’s? “This is the kind of place where everyone is equal; here, it’s always good.”  Asked about Boston’s essence, “The Sox ’04 win over the Yankees.” Favorite Sox player: “Pedroia. He’s 5’8, 180 pounds, blue collar, hard worker–ready.” Favorite Boston based national band: “Boston.” Favorite local: “The Honors. They play Hennessy’s Sunday nights.”

Feet pound up the stairs; it’s about to get busy. I have time for one more question, “What’s one thing you’d want to change about the way people think about Boston?”

He grins, shakes his head, “Nothin.”

So here it is, Wednesday again, O’Brien will be eyes closed and singing. When the Bruins fans’ flood in after tonight’s game, he’ll likely yell, “Jaysus boys, what kept ya.”

And it would be silly for me to be homesick for a place that’s not my home, but I keep wondering what color the  Atlantic will be today and thinking about dripping pools of orange-gold light.

This entry was posted in Books, Music (live), Ompholos, Teaching & Learning, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Love That Durty Water

  1. Shelle says:

    I’m so jealous! You make Boston feel like the place to be. One of these days Shelly, I will get to go there with you, and you can show me around – can’t wait to have a drink at Durty Nelly’s though. Think they know what a Colorado Bulldog is?? lol

    • shullamuth says:

      Believe me, my friend, I was wishin’ you were there:). As for your Bulldog, no, but they do have something called the “Durty Nelly.” You can order it, but they won’t tell you what’s in it.

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