BOSTON. For many years one of the most visited sites in this city full of tourist attractions was Filene’s Basement, the off-price retailer where men’s and women’s clothes that other stores couldn’t sell were displayed without ceremony and sold at deep discounts. “It appealed to a New Englander’s sense of thrift,” says Omar Hayes, a professor of history at Brandeis University. “‘Thrift’ is code for ‘cheap,’” he adds.
But “The Basement,” as it was known to locals, closed its flagship downtown location in 2007, leaving its annual “Running of the Brides” sale without a home.
That misfortunate end inspired wedding planner Desmond Hathaway to suggest a make-over for the event, at which women race to grab gowns marked down by 50% or more. “I thought we could turn it into a fund-raiser for my charity, the ‘Left-at-the-Altar Foundation,’” which he says re-locates brides and grooms who are stood up on their wedding days to a different town where they can start over. “You have no idea how it can stigmatize you to be left at the altar,” he says, his eyes glistening as he fights back tears. “Also, the father of the bride will sometimes try and stiff me, and the foundation has been very supportive of me, my work, and my need to get away from Boston to someplace warm in the winter.”
He modeled the re-branded event on the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, challenging Boston’s bachelors to take to the streets to see if they could outrun women whom they have dated and then dropped or disappointed in one way or another over the years. “It’s for a good cause,” says Tim Hampy, last year’s first-place finisher. “The guy who makes it to a singles bar in Quincy Market first without being caught wins the pot, net of Twinkle-Toe’s expenses,” he explains, nodding his head in Hathaway’s direction.
Among the bachelors who have paid the $75 entry fee are Jim Ornwald, a graduate student working on his third masters degree, and Hampy, a roue who has cut a wide swath through the downtown “yuppie” scene. “I try very hard to let women down easy,” he says with a look of manufactured sympathy on his face. “If I run into them at a club when I’m with another woman, I always remember to say ‘I’m sorry I’ve been neglecting our friendship’ or something quasi-sensitive like that.”
“You hold him, I’ll hit him!”
After the women have chosen their gowns, they line up with the men twenty yards ahead of them. Margie Tabor, who was unceremoniously dumped by Hampy after she developed a pimple on her chin in 2012, works her way to the front of the crowd like an Ethiopian marathoner, intent on breaking a world record.
“He can run, but he can’t hide,” she says, her well-toned calves peeking out from under the hem of her tulle and crinoline outfit. “I’ve been training for six months to hunt him down like a dog.”
Ornwald, on the other hand, would like to be caught. “I find it hard to meet women,” the self-described introvert says. “I need to carry 3 x 5″ index cards with me wherever I go, in case I think of something I could use in my dissertation someday. Those little file boxes, as handy as they are, don’t project a very romantic image.”
The starter calls out “On your mark–get set” and shoots off his pistol, sending the men around the corner to Washington Street with the women in hot pursuit. Ornwald slows to a trot, hoping he will be overrun and crushed beneath a cloud of Vera Wang perfume, but the women, sensing his desperation, stride past him in the hope of catching a man with a lower student loan balance to pay off. He stumbles as Julie Furman, a management trainee at Lord & Taylor, bumps into him, and sprawls to the ground.
“I’m sorry,” she says, and a flood of sympathy causes her to overlook his unfashionable outfit; blue jeans, black Converse All-Star low-cut sneakers and a ripped “Star Wars” t-shirt. She dabs at a cut on his head with an Elizabeth Grady moisturizing pad that she takes from her purse. “You know, you have nice skin, but you need to take better care of it.”
Meanwhile, Hampy has escaped down Milk Street and turns onto Congress Street. He has only two blocks to go to the finish line at Clarke’s, a singles bar, and he has a fifty-yard lead on the pack of female runners. “This is a day at the beach,” he says to himself before he is blindsided by Tabor, who knows a long-abandoned cut-through from her days working for a large mutual fund.
She takes him down with the brutal efficiency of a linebacker and drags him back into an alley, where he cowers beneath her as she pulls down his pants.
“Wh-what are you going to do to me?” he asks, a look of abject fear on his face.
“The worst thing I can imagine,” she says with a bitter smile. “Brazilian bikini wax.”
Available in print and Kindle formats on amazon.com as part of the collection “Boston Baroques.”