In the 1960s, when Alison Barnet was living in the South End as a BU student on scholarship and loan, her grandfather expressed his concern about her safety. "I'm willing to contribute something so that you can live in a better area; say, Brookline or Belmont," he wrote. "I know that you would be happier in the long run to live in an attractive suburban area." But Barnet's $50-a-month apartment at 49 East Springfield Street was all she ever wanted. She didn't mind the prostitutes sitting on the steps next door, or the pimp directing business from the top of the stoop. She appreciated Mrs. Grant, her 82-year-old landlady who prepared a home-cooked meal for her large dog each afternoon at four: fried chicken thighs, skirt steak, liverwurst, broccoli and lettuce with mayonnaise. She loved the names of the businesses she walked by: Uncle Ned's Money to Loan; Big Jim's Shanty Lounge; Tiger's School of Boxing; Checker Smoker; Turf Tavern; Miah Murray's Bowling Alley. She still misses the "El" that used to thunder across Washington Street because it got you someplace fast, she says. Barnet's fiercely remembered details of a South End described by others as "a mulligan stew of filth, poverty, dead-end futility" became the deep well-spring of her rich weekly columns in the South End News, beloved by the old crowd in the 'hood,' sneered at by the new. Collected partially in South End Character, they sound a unique voice that re-interprets the social lexicon of words like "affordability," "homeownership," "diversity," "revitalization," "luxury." Barnet lays down
tough ground rules for who can claim to be an Old South Ender: "was born at City Hospital," is one; "knows four people who were shot and killed and knows who did it," is another. And then there's this one: "No true South Ender would be without a handcuff key." The reading will take place at the South End Library on Tremont Street at Rutland Square on Tuesday, January 21, 6:30 PM. It's free, but seating is limited. South End Character will be available for borrowing and sale. The branch is fully handicapped accessible.