Happiness is Right Around the Corner

Brookline Tab, May 10, 2007

I have come to realize that I suffer from occasional bouts of depression. Sometimes it takes the form of anxiety; other times, a great gray “blah” settles over me and sucks every last bit of energy from my body.

Apart from dealing with this condition through the traditional means of therapy, etc., I have found that there are other ways I can feel happier fairly quickly. There are actually a few special places I can go right here in town that act “just like a witamin,” as my Polish-Jewish grandmother used to say. Places you go, not just for a purpose, but for the singular experience they offer.

My number-one happy spot in Brookline is Family Restaurant in the Village, for lunch, with a friend, on a weekday. The aptly named Family Restaurant makes me feel like I belong here. From the handsome, smiling fellow at the cash register to the skilled-but-besieged cook (“Number 57, please!”), the staff at this Turkish restaurant are personable personalities.

And Family is right next to Town Hall, so it is a mecca for town workers and politicos. It is the spot to see and be seen in Brookline (did you even know we had such a thing here?). Family is where you go if you are meeting with a beloved/controversial selectman-type running for reelection, seeking your endorsement. In that case, I suggest you stay away from the eggs, only because they may wind up on your face. Chicken is always the best thing to order, because if, indeed, we are what we eat, then he will understand if you decide that you are not yet taking any kind of stand in the upcoming election. And the grilled chicken at Family, tossed generously across a Greek salad, melts in one’s mouth, along with campaign promises for Proposition 2½ overrides we have yet to experience.

But seriously, where else would you be invited to sit down and have a glass of tea and a plate of cookies (“on the home”) while you wait to pick up your dinner? I can see my other, Russian-Jewish grandmother, owner of Adelman’s Delicatessen in Brooklyn, nodding approvingly of their good business sense and their manners.

Another favorite spot for me is — gasp! — a chain. Peet’s Coffee. It may be a chain, but it is still very Brookline, because it is filled with an eclectic mixture of people, from the tattooed and pierced barristas to the new moms wrestling with bulky strollers and sippy cups, to the elderly couples sipping tea. Peet’s feels like a very real hangout, with its tall, elegant windows, battered tables and scattered assortment of newspapers. I like to bring my laptop and write in the sunny window, watching the passersby. Invariably I spot a friend, who comes in to say hi. And of course, there’s the coffee: Its smoky, earthy flavors are unique and flavorful enough to please me, even in my blackest moments.

I never go to Peet’s without then going a few doors down to Booksmith. With brainy, gregarious help peering down from the registers and chairs in the aisles so you can settle in for as long as you want (as long as your cell is turned off), Booksmith feels like a place to go and be, not just a store for errands. And that kind of purposeful, clublike atmosphere is what I look for when I am feeling listless and dull.

In the early evening, when all my boys are home and we’re all together again, sometimes the only thing we all feel like doing is going to Larz Anderson Park. We drive all the way to the top and stand there, looking down at Boston in the distance. My little guy plays pirates in all the abandoned stone structures (I get to be the mermaid), my autistic son can wander and chit chat to himself to his heart’s content, and my middle, teenaged boy can sit on the stone wall and talk Geek with my husband.

I watch all of them, my “millions,” as my grandmother called them, and I then find it very easy to realize that happiness is actually kind of simple, and close at hand. Or, as another famous depressed person once said in her most famous movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I’ll never go looking any further than my own back yard.”

Or at least Coolidge Corner.