The Simpsons Enter “The Town”

I realize it’s become pretty de rigueur to dismiss The Simpsons these days. I mean, even I, a die hard fan who remembers watching the very first episode way back in 1989, can admit that it’s not as strong as it used to be. Partially because almost nothing could ever compare to the near-perfection that is Seasons 2-6, or to the extreme greatness that is everything up to, say, Season 20. Now, in its 28th Season (that’s right, TWENTY EIGHT YEARS), The Simpsons, as Lisa once said about Itchy & Scratchy, simply can’t have the same impact it once had. This is especially true given the deaths of key cast members and the labor struggles amongst the core voice

And yet, the show that competes only with The X-Files for 1st place in my personal TV pantheon, just put out what was perhaps its best episode in years, titled “The Town.” And with it came a phrase I hadn’t heard since childhood: “So don’t I!”

The Simpson family decided to visit Boston for a “hate-cation” after the Atoms suffer a crushing loss to the Boston Americans football franchise. The episode is filled with the typical Bostonian references and stereotypes, lovingly portrayed by the various native writers and voice actors who worked on this episode: dropped Rs, Dunkin’ Donuts, Make Way for Ducklings, and so many more that I could barely keep up with them. But it was the inclusion of that one small phrase, a snippet of dialogue otherwise so meaningless, that really started the wayback machine in my brain.

I lived in a series of suburbs north of Boston growing up. I’m not one to insist “I’m from Boston” even though many people within about a 100 mile radius of the city will claim Boston as their hometown, regardless of how ridiculous that sounds to anyone else from the area. While my mother’s family was from Charlestown, one of the neighborhoods considered part of Boston, she spent most of her childhood and onward in Woburn–just north of the city. My father grew up in Wayland, which is far enough east to be separate from Boston, but still within the 495 corridor, so not far enough to be part of “western Massachusetts.”

All that heritage is to say: I don’t have a Boston accent. I do occasionally say things like “bubbler,” when anyone else might say the more pedestrian phrase “water fountain,” and I will always consider the small chocolate candies on my ice cream to be “jimmies,” not “sprinkles,” but I otherwise have very few regionalisms in my accent or vocabulary. However, I attended school with a lot of kids who had stronger ties to Boston or who had parents right out of Cambridge or the North End, and MAN, did those people have accents. Which brings me back to the magic phrase.

“So don’t I” is a very Bostonian response, one which somehow means the same thing as “so  do I.” But this is a very very inner Bostonian phrase, not one you hear in say, Somerville, Newton (certainly not Newton!), or even Medford. The same people who might say “tonic” instead of “soda” (or “pop,” you weird Midwesterners), would likely also say “so don’t I.” It’s such a specifically geographically determined phrase that upon hearing it, I was really taken back to childhood, and even to some of the activities mentioned in the show: things like the Science Museum, candlepin bowling, and the New England Aquarium. (NB: the touch tank at the NEA is, or was, if I remember it accurately, awesome. You could pick up and hold starfish and other animals! Actually, to my adult, more animal conscious mind, that sounds pretty bad for the starfish.)

I actually love Boston, and think of field trips and special visits there quite fondly. It’s a city that has a long history and an interesting heritage, some of which isn’t always pretty or  as liberal as we’d like to think it is. But it remains, and its best parts–reliable public transportation, beautiful public parks, an excellent baseball field with a team you love to hate to love–also remain. So I will dedicate my next cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee to the Town, and toast all the good memories I have of it, all brought on my one short phrase in a great episode of one of the best shows ever on TV.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get to the packy before the Bs drop puck.

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