Once a year Cambridge, Massachusetts – known as The Peoples’ Republic of Cambridge – closes down the main street and organizes a block dance party in front of City Hall. They use a mega sound system, local DJs, and everyone comes out. This has been going on since 1996, when it was founded to celebrate Cambridge’s 150th anniversary.
It was a beautiful evening last night so I decided to go along. Just before leaving the house I reminded myself that as the sole marketeer for Lillian, I should take some postcards. But to avoid just thrusting Lillian postcards at uninterested people, I decided to riff off my friend Lucky’s idea and made myself a button out of cardboard that says, “Ask Me About My Book.” (Here’s a nighttime photo and what it looks like in daylight.)
Waiting for the subway, there was a groovy young woman, maybe 22, full of piercings and tattoos and colbalt-blue highlights. She was staring at me. My first thought – a flashback clearly from a quarter a century ago – was that she was kinda cruising me. I wanted to scoop her up and run off with her. Then I remembered that I’m now 66 and that I was more likely to conjure up thoughts of her grandmother than lust.
“Okay,” she said to me, “what about your book?”
Oh! I had forgotten about the button. So I gave her a card and told her that I’d be extremely grateful– if she decided to read it – to hear her reactions. I realize that I don’t personally know any young people who have read it and I have no idea how it resonates with them.
Once at the party, I ran into Denise Simmons, former Mayor and now City Councilor of Cambridge. Denise was the nation’s first Black, openly lesbian mayor and it was from her that I heard that the block party was this weekend: she announced it at our monthly LGBT elders’ community dinner.
The music was cranking up. The dancing was wild. When folks broke out into a line dance, I joined them. Later a tall, blond, Mr. Hunk leaned in and screamed over the decibels, “What about your book? My friend wants to know.” He pointed to a group of about 5 college-age guys, one of them kinda shy and plump. I went over and asked him if his friend was just riffing or if he was interested. Turns out he was a journalism student and interested in reading all sorts of stuff. I asked him how old he is, he said 20. I realized that I didn’t know if “adult” counted as 18 or 21. When I told him what Lillian is about, he folded the card into a tiny size and stuffed it in his back pocket. “I’ll read it,” he said, “but don’t tell my friends.”
Then something happened that discombobulated me. Three kids came up. “What about your book?” Oh shit.
“It’s for adults,” I said. The biggest one, maybe nine years old, stepped forward, in the middle, and stretched his arms out to either side, holding back the two little ones –they were about seven years old. “Okay,” the middle one said, “you can tell me.” I bent over, “It’s romance stories about very old people,” I screamed over the music. His eyes bugged out then he grabbed his two little buddies and ran like hell.