By CHRIS FARAONE  |  January 20, 2010

There's little talking between commercials. The lone chef clacks away out back — sizzling drumsticks in the deep fryer — but the rest look up at the reports. Snap shots of destruction fill the screen; one young man wipes tears from his cheek and turns from the TV to keep from sobbing. He looks back down at his phone, hits send, and once again reaches an empty receiver. Just three minutes remain on his prepaid cell; he used the rest earlier leaving voicemail messages.

The chicken is fried hard, with white onion slices on top and a rice-and-bean mountain on the side. The waitress is kind and even smiling, despite the fact that she lost four cousins in the quake. She greets another customer who walks in from the frigid wind: "How are you today?" "Not too good," he responds, pointing to the tube. "I know you've seen what's happening."

A news van pulls up and the patrons roll their eyes as the journalist and cameraman unload outside. "They expect us to all be in here crying," says one man. "They've been coming in here all morning," adds the waitress, not seeming to mind the disturbance. The reporter barges through the door, shattering the still agony that fills the dining room. "Have you heard anything?" he asks. "Just what the news tells us," responds one customer, coldly. "Obama might be on the way," the patron continues, shaking his head. "But these people are all out of hope."

The thick flock of camera jockeys first sets lenses on Mayor Menino, who, before answering questions, engages people waiting in the pews of this historic shrine. Moments later, all media attention shifts to Governor Patrick, who enters the side door and is ambushed by a blinding cloud of halogen. The governor wraps and then United States Senator John Kerry takes over the spotlight.

A significant but largely silent crowd of several hundred waits for Haitian-American state representatives Marie St. Fleur and Linda Dorcena Forry, who, along with Catholic Charities and other local groups, called this meeting to inform people about streamlined relief assistance underway in Greater Boston. Low conversations spark throughout the building, but between the grim occasion and cathedral ceilings, the dominant sound is of muffled misery.

This is a mass funeral, plain and simple, with many of the same faces who filled Senator Ted Kennedy's memorial this past August. The pol parade doesn't end with Menino, Patrick, and Kerry. Police Commissioner Ed Davis; At-Large City Councilors John Connolly, Ayanna Pressley, and Felix Arroyo; State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz; former mayor Ray Flynn; and interim United States Senator Paul Kirk are also paying respects. But nobody is overtly groveling for gold stars. Despite her special election being less than one week away, Attorney General Martha Coakley does not even address the congregation.

Following a long moment of silence, Representative St. Fleur opens the forum in "Crenglish" — her mix of English and Creole that jibes well with the predominately Haitian, but notably diverse, audience. Her pain is palpable — St. Fleur has yet to hear from her affected family — but she swallows a deep breath and introduces Kerry. When running for the White House, Kerry was blasted for his language prowess by a Gallo-phobic electorate, but for folks here this French-speaking lifeline to their dearest is comforting. The senator's pledge to win temporary protected status for all Haitian immigrants — so that individuals will not be deported to the rubble — earns a standing ovation.

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