Scene in July

Boston, Massachusetts

A fire truck rumbles down a cramped street in Chinatown and pulls up in front of an old brownstone. Its alarms have been sounding off all afternoon. The first and second floors are occupied by three different Thai-Vietnamese fusion eateries—Pho, Bahn Mi, bubble tea, etc. The upper floors are nondescript but probably consist of dingy apartment and office space. A few windows are boarded. A few more contain rusting AC units. A lone pigeon struts and bobs on a sill. In the air is the lingering odor of hot garbage.

Three firemen—all burly, white men dressed in Navy t-shirts and overalls—emerge from the truck and saunter towards the building. Five Asian cooks in kitchen whites and a manager wearing a tweed blazer step out of a narrow doorway in between two of the street-level storefronts. The manager's coat is coat is too big on him. He stands with his hands clasped behind his back in the universal manner of all managers, while the cooks lean against the building and cast long looks up and down the sidewalk.

The firemen have stopped and congregated in the street, short of engaging with their culinary counterparts. The alarm is faulty. All can see this—eight men standing in a Chinatown street at four o'clock on a sweltering, midsummer afternoon. For a few minutes, they all hem and haw and stare up at the screeching building, while the crowds swirl around them. Two professions. Two languages. Two simultaneous, slack-jawed conversations. A shared indifference.

The firemen, deciding that there is nothing to be done, shrug, clamber back into their truck, and drive off into the July heat. The cooks and manager, having nobody left to standoff with, grind out their butts and retreat back through the doorway. The alarm screams on.


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