Tuesday, March 30, 2010

***Busted Visions Of Wollaston Beach- For Diana N., Class Of 1964

Click on the title to link to a Wikipedia entry for Wollaston Beach, including a picture for those who have moved away from the area. Damn, thanks Internet technology on this one.

Originally posted July 2008. Revised and updated March 2010.

Al Johnson, Class Of 1964, comment:

Okay, okay in an earlier entry ( "Daydream Visions Of Wollaston Beach")in this space this writer got all misty-eyed, some may say even teary-eyed, about the old days at Wollaston Beach. I went on and on about things like the various flavors of ice cream at the now long-departed HoJo's Ice Cream stand across the street from the beach; the vagaries of clam-digging in the jellyfish-infested and slimy oil-drenched mud flats, for young and old, down at the Merrymount end; and, about the smell of charcoal- broiled hot dogs and other delights at what then called Treasure Island (and now Cady Park, I think) at that same end. And, further, I did not fail to mention the obligatory teenage longings for companionship and romantic adventure associated with the sea. That, my friends, is shorthand for "parking" and "submarine races" this we are sworn to secrecy about while the kids or grand kids are around. But today I say enough of the "magical realism" that I invoked in that posting. Today, as we are older and wiser, we will junk that "memory lane" business and take a look at old Wollaston in the clear bright light of day, warts and all.

Last year (2007) as part of the trip down the memory lane trip that I have been endlessly writing about in this space I walked, intrepid observer that I am, the length of Wollaston Beach from the Squantum Causeway (near the ubiquitous "Dunkin Donuts")to the bridge at Adams Shore (and the entrance to dreaded Quincy High territory). At that time the beach area was in the last stages of some reconstruction work. You know, repave the road, re-do the sidewalks, and put in some new streetlights. Fair enough-even the edges of Mother Nature can use a make-over once in a while. The long and short of this little trip though was to make me wonder why I was so enthralled by the lure of Wollaston Beach in my youth.

Oh sure, most of the natural landmarks and outcroppings are still there, as well as some of the structural ones. Those poor, weather-beaten Wollaston and Squantum Yacht Clubs that I spend many a summer gazing on in my fruitless search for teenage companionship (read girls). And, of course, the tattered "Beachcomber" in much the same condition and with that same rutted parking lot is still there, just like when we first tried to get in at what age, as are the inevitable non-descript clam shacks with their cholesterol-laden goods. That is not what I mean. What I noticed were things like the odd smell of low tide when the sea is calm. The tepidness of the water as it splashed almost apologetically to the shore; when a man, no stranger to the sound of crashing waves on this continent, craved the roar of the ocean. And the annoying gear-grinding noise and fuming smoke caused by the constant vehicular traffic. Things, frankly, that I was oblivious to back in the days.

There is thus something of a disconnect between the dreaminess and careless abandon of youthful Wollaston as describe in "Visions" and the Wollaston of purposeful old age-the different between eyes and ears observing when the world was young and there were vistas to conquer, and at times we were in, as the poet Wordsworth wrote "very heaven" and now when those sights have been transformed by too many other pictures of a wild and wicked world. The lesson to be learned: beware the perils of "memory lane". But don't ever blame the sea for that, please.

.....and the tin can bended, and the story ended (title from the late folksinger/folk historian Dave Van Ronk's last album in 2001). That seems about right.

Friday, March 26, 2010

***Daydream Visions Of Wollaston Beach, Circa 1964- In Honor Of Elizabeth Silva (nee Drury), Class Of 1964

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for Howard Johnson's Ice Cream Shop, a fixture on Wollaston Beach for many years, to set the mood for this commentary.

Al Johnson, Class Of 1964, comment:

I have been dedicating my posts to various people. When I first wrote this post in 2008 I had not one in particular in mind but when I recently rewrote it I did have Elizabeth in mind. I did not know her at school , and do not know her now, but I felt her presence very strongly when I was rewriting this thing. So here it is.


Originally posted July 2008 on Classmates. Revised and updated March 2010

Taffrail Road, Yardarm Lane, Captain's Walk, Quarterdeck Road, Sextant Circle, and the Snug Harbor Elementary School. Yes, those names and places from the old housing project down in Germantown where I came of age surely evoke imagines of the sea, of long ago sailing ships, and of desperate, high stakes battles fought off shrouded, mist-covered coasts by those hearty enough to seek fame and fortune. And agile enough to keep it. Almost from my first wobbly, halting first baby steps down at “the projects” I have been physically drawn to the sea, a seductive, foam-flecked siren call that has never left me. Moreover, ever since this writer was a toddler his imagination has been driven by the sea as well. Not so much of pirates and prizes but of the power of nature, for good or evil.

Of course, we know that anyone with even a passing attachment to Quincy has to have an almost instinctual love of the sea; and a fear of its furies when old Mother Nature turns her back on us. Yes, the endless sea, our homeland the sea, the mother we never knew, the sea... But, enough of those imaginings. If being determines consciousness, and if you love the ocean, then it does not hurt to have been brought up in Quincy with its ready access to the bay and water on three sides. That said, the focal point for any experience with the ocean in Quincy centers, naturally, around its longest stretch of beach, Wollaston Beach.


For those of us of a certain age, including this writer, one cannot discuss Wollaston Beach properly without reference to such spots such as Howard Johnson's famous landmark ice cream stand (now a woe begotten clam shack of no repute). For those who are clueless as to what I speak of, or have only heard about it in mythological terms from older relatives, or worst, have written it off as just another ice cream joint I have provided a link to a “Wikipedia” entry for the establishment. That should impress you of the younger set, I am sure. Know this: many a hot, muggy, sultry, sweaty summer evening was spent in line impatiently, and perhaps, on occasion, beyond impatience, waiting for one of those 27 (or was it 28?) flavors to cool off with. In those days the prize went to cherry vanilla in a sugar cone (backup: frozen pudding). I will not bore the reader with superlative terms and “they don’t make them like they use to”, especially for those who only know “HoJo’s” from the later, pale imitation franchise days out on some forsaken highway, but at that moment I was in very heaven.

Nor can one forget those stumbling, fumbling, fierce childish efforts, bare-footed against all motherly caution about the dreaded jellyfish, pail and shovel in hand, to dig for seemingly non-existent clams down toward the Merrymount end of the beach at the, in those days, just slightly oil-slicked, sulfuric low tide. Or the smell of charcoal-flavored hot dogs on those occasional family barbecues (when one in a series of old jalopies that my father drove worked well enough to get us there) at the then just recently constructed old Treasure Island (now named after some fallen Marine) that were some of the too few times when my family acted as a family. Or the memory of roasted, really burnt, sticky marshmallows sticking to the roof of my mouth.

But those thoughts and smells are not the only ones that interest me today. No trip down memory lane would be complete without at least a passing reference to high school Wollaston Beach. The sea brings out many emotions: humankind's struggle against nature, some Zen notions of oneness with the universe, the calming effect of the thundering waves, thoughts of immortality, and so on. But it also brings out the primordial longings for companionship. And no one longs for companionship more than teenagers. So the draw of the ocean is not just in its cosmic appeal but hormonal, as well. Mind you, however, we are not discussing here the nighttime Wollaston Beach, the time of "parking" and the "submarine races". Our thoughts are now pure as the driven snow. We will save that discussion for another time when kids and grand kids are not around. Here we will confine ourselves to the day time beach.

Virtually from the day school we got out of school for the summer vacation I headed for the beach. And not just any section of that beach but the section directly between the Squantum and Wollaston Yacht Clubs. Now was situating myself in that spot done so that I could watch all the fine boats at anchor? Or was this the best swimming location on the beach? Hell no, this is where we heard (and here I include my old running pal and classmate, Bill Cadger) all the "babes" were. We were, apparently, under the influence of "Beach Blanket Bingo" or some such teenage beach film. (For those who are again clueless this was a ‘boy meets girl’ saga like “Avatar”, except on the beach...and on Earth.)

Well, for those who expected a movie-like happy ending to this piece, you know, where I meet a youthful "Ms. Right" to the strains of "Sea of Love", forget it. (That is the original “Sea of Love”, by the way, not the one used in the movie of the same name sung by Tom Waits at the end, and a cover that you should listen to on “YouTube”.) I will keep the gory details short, though. As fate would have it there may have been "babes" aplenty down there but not for this lad. I don't know about you but I was just too socially awkward (read, tongue-tied) to get up the nerve to talk to girls (female readers substitute boys here). And on reflection, if the truth were to be known, I would not have known what to do about it in any case. No job, no money and, most importantly, no car for a date to watch one of those legendary "submarine races" that we have all agreed that we will not discuss here. But we can hardly fault the sea for that, right?



*****

Below, unedited, is the traffic from the North Quincy School Classmates site in response to the above post

Replies 11 messages

(2) Wollaston Beach

Bernadette Gil 1985 (view profile)
Posted: Jul 22 2008 11:00pm PST
In reply to Alfred Johnson 1964


I grew up close to Wollaston Beach...I used to ride my bike there, runaway there... was a great bike path, I love it as a kid. I used to hang out with friends from school, had some great jelly fish fights there..Ahhh my friend and her boy fell asleep on the beach divider with his hand on her stomach, how was she going to explain that one to mom and dad? I Lived in Wollaston in the 70's to the early 80 and then moved to North Quincy. I love the views and the clam shack the ice cream all the clam diggers... the pond on the way from Marlboro Street , jumping the fence trying to catch the bull frogs going to the swamp cemetary swinging from the willow tree I think... I live in California and have a son thats 7 around the age I would ride my bike the freedom the safeness I had skate boarding around loosing track of time, I haven't been back since my 10 year reunion I miss it, my friends, but then again I'm older with responsibilities maybe some day again I will take my son and show him Wollaston beach and throw a few jelly fish his way??
Bernadette
North Quincy High 85


(3) Memories Of Wollaston

Alfred Johnson 1964

Posted: Jul 26 2008 05:31am PST
In reply to Bernadette Gil 1985


Bernedette- Thanks for reply. The glint of silver off the Long Island Bridge when the sun hit it at a certain time. The early morning winter sun coming up over the horizon on the bay. The Boston skyline at dusk (pre-Marina Bay times). Well, we could go on and on with our memories but the one thing that caught my eye in your reply was the word escape. In one sense I was using Wollaston Beach as a metaphor for that idea in my story. I do not know about you and your family but, to be kind, I had a very rocky time growing up and certainly by the time I got to high school I was in desperate need of a sanctuary. It is no accident that I (and my old running mate Bill Cadger) spent a fair amount of time there.

I went back to Wollaston last year (2007) while they were doing some reconstruction and cleaning the place up. I wrote about that in a commentary entitled "Do You Know Wollaston Beach?" that I posted on this site but then deleted. My original idea was to draw a comparison between the old hazy, happy memories of Wollaston in our youth and looking at it with today's older eyes. Somehow it just didn't fit right as a discussion item with the things I am trying to write on this site. If you would kindly reply to this message I will place it as a reply to some of what you have mentioned in your message about 'coming home'. By the way the jellyfish are still there in all their glory and please, take mother's advice, do not step on them they might be poisonous.

Finally, I will not let you off the hook. Yes, I know as well as you, that this is a family-friendly site but how did your friend explain away her 'sleeping' on the old wall to mom and dad? Regards, Al Johnson

(4) Wollaston beach . . .

Craig Warren 1957 (view profile)

Posted: Jul 23 2008 10:34am PST
In reply to Alfred Johnson 1964


Alfred;

While writing the track reply, I realized what you meant about exceeding the site's character limit. I had to chop out some of my message.

I don't have an awful lot to say about the beach, since I lived in a few other places while growing up. I do remember walking along the old sea wall and jumping across the openings trying to grab the rail to avoid falling. I once caught the rail, but hit the edge of the concrete wall with my shin. It hurt, but I didn't think it was broken.

Once a friend ran into a guy at the, and for some reason began to "exchange words." They were about to go at each other, but the lifeguard told them to take their dispute elsewhere. They went across the street to the grass in front of a stand where clams and other goodies were sold. The friend proceeded to tear the other guy apart. It didn't last that long. The friend was 5'-7" tall and the other guy 6'-3". I heard that some years later they ran into each other again and had a big laugh about the whole thing. Kids do grow up.

When I visited Massachusetts with my wife and two kids in 1983, my brother took us through some of the "old haunts," and we roamed the beach a bit. They got a kick out of a pair of horseshoe crabs skittering along the edge of the low tide line. I also went back there in 2007 and took a few walks along the beach. I did miss the old candle pin bowling alley, which appears to have been replaced by condos as was the old Quincy Grammar School where I went through 1st grade (Miss Gray) and most of 2nd grade (Miss Lindberg).

Oh, yeah. I believe the Squantum Elementary School on Huckins Avenue is still in operation. I read that there's a boundary somewhere in North Quincy and that kids who live east of the line go to Squantum School and those west of that line go to Parker Elementary on Billings Road. What is now North Quincy High School included grades 7 through 12 till 1958 or 1959. So, even though I lived in 3 or 4 places, I was able to attend all 6 years at the same school.

Overall, most memories of Wollaston Beach are pretty good.

Craig S. Warren
NQHS 1957


(5) Do You Know Wollaston Beach?

Alfred Johnson 1964

Posted: Jul 23 2008 12:51pm PST
In reply to Craig Warren 1957


This entry started as a discussion comment in this space but I deleted it because it did not fit in with what I was trying to evoke in these pages. It does serve as a decent reply though for Bernedette's 1985 and Craig's 1957 comments. Al Johnson

*****

Okay, in the above entry ( Anyone Remember Wollaston Beach?) this writer got all misty-eyed about the old days at Wollaston Beach. I went on and on about things like the various flavors of ice cream at HoJo's, the vagaries of clam digging in the flats and about the smell of charcoal- broiled hot dogs. And I did not fail to mention the obligatory teenage longings for companionship and romantic adventure associated with the sea. But enough of magical realism. Today, as we are older and wiser, we will junk that memory lane business and take a look at old Wollaston in the clear bright light of day.

Last year as part of the trip down the memory lane that I have been endlessly writing about in this space I walked the length of Wollaston Beach from the Squantum Causeway to the bridge at Adams Shore. At that time the beach area was in the last stages of some reconstruction work. You know, repave the road, redo the sidewalks, and put in some new streetlights. Fair enough-even the edges of Mother Nature can use a make-over once in a while. The long and short of this little trip though was to make me wonder why I was so enthralled by the lure of Wollaston Beach in my youth.

Oh sure, most of the natural landmarks are still there, as well as some of the structural ones. Those poor, weather-beaten yacht clubs that I spend many a summer gazing on in my fruitless search for teenage companionship (read girls). And, of course, the tattered Beachcomber in much the same condition is still there as are the inevitable clam shacks with their cholesterol-laden goods. That is not what I mean-what I noticed were things like the odd smell of low tide when the sea is calm, the tepidness of the water as it splashed to the shore-when a man craved the roar of the ocean-and the annoying gear-grinding noise caused by the constant vehicular traffic. Things, frankly, that I was oblivious to back in the days.

There is thus something of a disconnect between the dreaminess and careless abandon of youthful Wollaston and the Wollaston of purposeful old age-the different between eyes and ears observing when the world was young and there were things to conquer and now. The lesson to be learned- beware the perils of memory lane. But don't blame the sea for that, please.

.....and the tin can bended, and the story ended (title from the late folksinger/folk historian Dave Van Ronk's last album. That seems about right.


(6) On Our 'Code Of Honor'

Alfred Johnson 1964

Posted: Jul 26 2008 05:42am PST
In reply to Craig Warren 1957


Craig- I am very interested in having you fill out this story about the fight between your friend and the other guy down a Wollaston Beach. I do not need to know the gory details nor what happened years later. What I am looking for is your take on the whole incident meant at the time. This was hardly an unusual event at the time (or now for that matter), right?

I am trying to put together an entry based on our working class 'code of honor'- male version- at the time before women's liberation and other social phenomena helped to expand our sense of the world and how we should act in it. Even 'loner' types like myself would not back down on certain 'turf' issues (girls, walking on the street, who you 'hung' with, where your locker was, etc.) and took a beating rather than concede the point. Enough for now but give this some thought. Regards Al


(7) Fight . . . ?

Craig Warren 1957 (view profile)

Posted: Jul 28 2008 09:09am PST
In reply to Alfred Johnson 1964


Alfred;

The scuffle between a friend of mine and a much bigger guy at Wollaston beach was not really "earth shaking." It started a couple days before when the friend and I were walking along one of the streets leading to the beach, Bayfield Road, perhaps. The "other guy" passed by in a car with some of his friends, including a couple girls. That guy yelled some insult at my friend in reference to his "eye-wear." He probably was trying to impress the girls by showing them he could insult anyone and all could get a good laugh out of it. Of course, my friend yelled something equally offensive at those in the passing car, which kept going. The "incident" appeared to have terminated.

A few days later the friend and I crossed the road to the beach near one of the yacht clubs and there was the guy who had yelled the insulting remarks. Apparently, he thought he could continue the verbal abuse without suffering the consequences, because he yelled something similar again. My friend went after the kid, but was informed by the lifeguard that they better take their "dispute" elsewhere. They went across the road to a grassy area and, encouraged by a small crowd that was gathering around them, proceeded to "get it on." My friend was usually a fairly pacific person, but when "pushed," he was like a cornered wolverine that would take on anybody or anything. The scuffle didn't last long, and the bigger kid got the worst of it. That time was the end of the dispute. Apparently nobody was seriously hurt, but maybe some had a bit more respect for the smaller kids after that. Some years later the two met, and remembering the incident, shared a good laugh over the whole thing.

Then as now, I saw no esoteric meaning to the "battle." It didn't seem like the medieval days when one would "defend his honor" or that of a "damsel in distress." It was just an exchange of words that developed into a short round of what may be referred to these days as "ultimate fighting" where no rules are observed. I had a couple scuffles in elementary school and my son did in middle school, but we more-or-less outgrew such things. Sadly, nowadays those "scuffles" can become more deadly and end with somebody paying the "ultimate price." Are we reverting to the "Dark Ages." I hope not.

Anyway, enough said of a "juvenile incident."

Craig NQHS 1957


(8) "Code of Honor"

Alfred Johnson 1964

Posted: Aug 03 2008 11:31am PST
In reply to Craig Warren 1957


Craig, thanks for story. It gives me an angle for a story that I will write about our youthful sense of 'honor'. This story, especially about impressing the girls, etc. really says something about that code. Regards, Al

(9) Day and Night At Wollaston Beach

Alfred Johnson 1964

Posted: Aug 02 2008 06:21am PST
In reply to Bernadette Gil 1985


I mentioned in my original entry in this space that all of us would talk about daytime Wollaston (although once the kids are out of sight-the nighttime is the right time- can come into play). I hope that at some point Bernadette Gil will expand on her comment about her girlfriend down at the day time beach and the incident alluded in her comment about her falling asleep. Ms. Gil is more than capable of telling her own version of the story (she has related it to me and I got a real kick out of it). The only point I want to make here is that some of these day time remembrances are as funny as what might have happened at night. Funny now, that is. Regards, Al


(10) Anyone Remember Wollaston Beach?


Robin Menz 1978 (view profile)

Posted: Aug 15 2008 04:35pm PST
In reply to Alfred Johnson 1964


Totally agree that growing up on Wollaston beach was an experience. So natural at the time, but looking back I now see how fortunate I was. I don’t remember the HoJo’s but I do remember the 19 cent hotdogs sold on the beach that was a few blocks from my house. What a treat for the neighborhood kids to get together and go get a dog.

As far the beach was concerned as kids, we followed the tides. Some parent would parade a group us kids and watch over us. Generally for two hours before high tide, and two hours after, and they always had snacks and drinks in tow…just gotta love the moms for that! Swim, dig in the sand, play catch in the water and when finally tired, lay on a towel and listen to wrko or wmex on the transitor radio.

Once I hit teenage years, I choose not to venture near the beach. I think my parents knew about the cosmic and hormonal appeal as well as primordial longings going on there. I was taught at a young age, the beach is not a good place at night. I totally thank them for instilling this and letting Wollaston beach be filled with wonderful childhood memories. With that said, I am thrilled at the revitalization, and hope this generation of children will have a chance to create memories that they can cherished forever.

(11) Back In The Days

Alfred Johnson 1964

Posted: Aug 18 2008 02:49pm PST
In reply to Robin Menz 1978


Robin-Very nicely told memories. That is the thing that I was trying to evoke in writing this particular commentary. A few points.

*The reason for the boxes in your entry is that when you transfer from a word processor to the message space the apostrophes and quotation marks turn into some Serbo-Croatian dialect in the process. It happens to me all the time. You have to change them in the space

* Do you, or anyone else, know when HoJo's left the Wollaston Beach site?

* Did you mean 19 dollars for a hot dog? You put 19 cents but that can't be right. Nothing ever cost 19 cents.

* You realize, of course, that this is an all class site and therefore members of generations X, Y or Z may not be familiar with the term transistor radio. For their benefit, that was a little battery-powered gizmo that allowed you to listen to music, the 'devil's music', rock 'n' roll without your parents going nuts. And no, sorry, you could not download. Yes, I know, the Stone Age. Regards, Al Johnson


(12) The Nighttime Is The Right Time....

Alfred Johnson 1964

Posted: Aug 21 2008 08:08am PST
In reply to Robin Menz 1978


...to be with the one you love. Yes, that classic Ray Charles tune (covered by many, including a steamy tribute version by The Rolling Stones in their 2005 Fenway Park Concert) is a good lead in to what I want to mention here. Most of the comments on this entry have concerned day time Wollaston Beach but I have been thinking that it is time to open up to the night time episodes. Here are my reasons:

• Hey, it is entirely possible that some of our fellow alumni never went to Wollaston Beach during the day. They might have a legitimate grip against us for that. Remember we are using this cyberspace so that everyone has their "15 minutes of fame".

• The heck with protecting the kids and grandkids. They know this stuff already. Let's face it, as well, no self-respecting member of the hip-hop/iPod/Sidekick generations (or younger) would dream of reading this far down into the entry. Ugh!

• Frankly, there is only so far we can go with the day time Wollaston Beach. While there have been some nice comments there is only so far you can go with jellyfish, 19 cent hot dogs, teenage romantic longings and getting sand kicked in your face. We need to spice this up. In short, sex, or the hint of it, sells.

These are all good and sufficient reasons but, as usual, my real reason for arguing inclusion here is personal curiosity. I have been waiting some forty-four years to ask this simple question. Why, while we were driving down the boulevard on those cold October nights, let's say, were most of the cars all fogged up? What were their defrosters not working? Come on, please, tell me.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

***Fragments Of A Treasure Island (Cady Park) Dream #2- A Family Outing- For Alan G., Class Of 1964

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for Wollaston Beach. The photo in the entry appears to have been taken from a point not far from Treasure Island (Cady Park).

Al Johnson, Class Of 1964, comment:

Do you need to know about all the little trips over to Treasure Island, a picnic spot down at the Merrymount end of Wollaston Beach, that I have threatened to talk about in previous entries? Trips that kind of formed the bookends of my childhood. Jesus, no. A thousand time no, and I say that having lived through them. My childhood memories overall can be best summed up in the words of the now long-departed black rapper extraordinaire, Biggie Smalls. He expressed it best and spoke a truth greater than he might have known, although he was closer to “hip-hop nation” than I ever could be, or could be capable of – “Christmas kind of missed us, birthdays were the worst days.” Ya, that’s the big truth, no question, but not the little Treasure Island truth, wobbly as it might come out. One such episode will give you an idea of what we (meaning me and my brothers) were up against but also, in the end, why although there were precious few wonderful childhood memories that are now worth the ink to tell you about, this one serves pretty well. Let me have my say.

******

There was a madness in this country in the 1950s. No, not the Cold War atomic-bomb-is-going-to-get-us-we-are-all-going-to-be-dead-next-week or “better dead than red” kind of madness although there was plenty of that, but a madness for the automobile, the sleeker, the more airplane-like, and more powerfully-engined the better. And, it wasn’t just, deafeningly mad as they were, those guys in the now almost sepia-faded photographic images of tight T-shirt wearing, rolled sleeve cigarette-packed, greased Pompadour-haired, long side-burned, dangling-combed , engineer-booted, chain-wielding, side of the mouth butt-puffing , didn’t care if school kept or not types bent over the hood of some souped-up ’57 Chevy working, no sweating pools of sweat, sweating to get even more power out of that ferocious V-8 engine for the Saturday night “ chicken" run.

And it wasn’t even those mad faux James Dean-sneered, "rebel without a cause"-posed, cooled-out, maybe hop-headed guys either. And it was always guys, who you swore you would beat down if they ever even looked at your sister, if you had a sister, and if you liked her enough to beat a guy down to defend her honor, or whatever drove your sense of right. And, of course she, your sister no less, is looking for all she is worth at this “James Dean” soda jerk (hey, what else could he be) because this guy is “cute”. Go figure.

No, and forget all those stereotypes that they like to roll out when they want to bring a little “color” to the desperately color-craving 1950s. This car madness was driven, and driven hard, by your very own stay-at-home-and watch the television, water the lawn, if you have a lawn and it needed watering and sometimes when it didn’t just to get out of the house, have couple of beers and take a nap on Saturday afternoon father (or grandfather, I have to remember who might be in my audience now) who always said “ask your mother” to blow you off. You know him. I know you know him he just has a different name than mine did. And maybe even your very own mother (or grandmother) got caught up in the car thing too, your mother, the one who always say “ask your father”. You know her too, don’t say no. I hope by now you knew they were working a team scam on you even if you didn’t have the kind of proof that you could take to court and get a little justice on.

Hell, on this car thing they were just doing a little strutting of their stuff in showcase, show-off, “see what I got and you don’t” time. Come on now, don’t pretend that you don’t know what I am talking about, at least if you too grew up in the 1950s, or heard about it, or even think you heard about it. Hey, it was about dreams of car ownership for the Great Depression-ed , World War II-ed survivors looking to finally cash in, as a symbol that one, and one’s family, has arrived in the great American dream, and all on easy monthly payments, no money down, and the bigger, the sleeker the better and I’ll take the heavy- chromed, aerodynamically-designed, two-toned one, thank you. That was how you knew who counted, and who didn’t. You know what I mean?

Heck, that 50s big old fluffy pure white cloud of a dream even seeped all the way down into “the projects” in Germantown, and I bet over at the Columbia Point “projects” too, although I don’t know for sure, and in the thousand and one other displaced person hole-in-the-walls “projects” they built as an afterthought back then for those families like mine caught on the slow track in “go-go” America. Except down there, down there on the edge of respectability, and maybe even mixed in with a little disrespectability, you didn’t want to have too good of a car, even if you could get that easy credit, because what we you doing with that nice sleek, fin-tailed thing with four doors and plenty of room for the kids in the back in a place like “the projects” and maybe there was something the “authorities” should know about, yes. Better to move on with that old cranky 1940s-style unhip, unmourned, uncool jalopy than face the wrath and clucking of that crowd, the venom-filled, green-eyed neighbors.

Yes, that little intro is all well and good and a truth you can take my word for but this tale is about, if I ever get around to it, those who had the car madness deep in their psyche, but not the wherewithal- this is a cry, if you can believe it today, from the no car families. Jesus, how could you not get the car madness then though, facing it every night stark-naked in front of you on the television set, small as the black and white picture was, of Buicks, and Chevys and Pontiacs and whatever other kind of car they had to sell to you. But what about us Eastern Mass bus dependents? The ones who rode the bus, back or front it didn’t matter, at least here it didn’t matter. Down South they got kind of funny about it.

As you might have figured out by now, and if you didn’t I will tell you, that was our family’s fate, more often than not. It was not that we never had a car back then, but there were plenty of times when we didn’t and I have the crooked heels, peek-a-boo-soles and worn out shoe leather from walking rather than waiting on that never-coming bus to prove it. And not only that but I got so had no fear of walking, and walking great distances if I had to, all the way to Grandma’s Young Street, North Quincy if I had to. That was easy stuff thinking back on it. I‘ll tell you about walking those later long, lonesome roads out West in places like just before the mountains in Winnemucca, Nevada and 129 degree desert- hot Needles, California switching into 130 degree desert-hot Blythe, Arizona some other time, because it just doesn’t seem right to talk about mere walking, long or short, when the great American automobile is present and rolling by.

It’s kind of funny now but the thing was, when there was enough money to get one, that the cars my poor old, kind of city ways na├»ve, but fighting Marine-proud father would get, from wherever in this god forsaken earth he got them from would be, to be polite, clunkers and nothing but old time jalopies that even those “hot rod” James Dean guys mentioned above would sneer, and sneer big time at. It would always be a 1947 something, like a Hudson or Nash Rambler, or who knows the misty, musty names of these long forgotten brands. The long and short it is, and this is what’s really important when you think about it, that they would inevitably break down, and breakdown in just the wrong place, at least the wrong place if you had a wife who couldn’t drive or help in that department and three screaming, bawling tow-headed boys who wanted to get wherever it was we were going, and get there-now.

I swear on those old battered crooked-heeled, peek-a-boo soled shoes that I told you about that this must have happened just about every time we were going on a trip, or getting ready to go on a trip, or thinking about going on a trip. So now you know what I was up against when I say that when I was a kid. Like I already told you before, in some other dream fragment, I was an easy target to be “pieced off” with a couple of spoonfuls of Kennedy's potato salad when things like that happened. Or some other easy “bought off” when the “car” joke of the month died again and there wasn’t any money to get it fixed right away and we couldn’t go more than a few miles. I blew my stack plenty and righteously so, don't you think.

So let me tell you about this one time , this one summer time, August I think , maybe in 1956, when we did have a car, some kind of grey Plymouth sedan from about 1947, that year seems to always come up when car year numbers come to mind, like I said before. Or maybe it was a converted tank from the war for all I know, it kind of felt like that sitting in the back seat because as the middle boy I never got to ride “shot gun” up front with Dad so I bore the brunt of the bumps, shakes, blimps, and slips in the back. I do know I never felt anything better than being nothing but always queasy back there.

This one, this beauty of a grey Plymouth sedan, I can remember very well, always had some major internal engine-type problem , or telltale oil- spilling on the ground in the morning, or a clutch-not-working right, when real cars had clutches not this automatic stuff, making a grinding sound that you could hear about half way around the world, but you will have to ask some who knows a lot more about cars about than I do for the real mechanical problems. Anyway this is the chariot that is going to get us out of “the projects” and away from that fiery, no breathe “projects” sun for a few hours as we started off on one of our family-famous outings to old Treasure Island down at the Merymount end of Wollaston Beach, about four or five miles from “the projects”, no more. It was hot as blazes that day that’s for sure, with no wind, no air, and it was one of those days, always one of those days, you could smell the sickly sweet fragrant coming from over the Proctor and Gamble soap factory across the channel on the Fore River side.

We got the old heap loaded with all the known supplies necessary for a “poor man’s” barbecue in those days. You know those cheap plastic lawn chairs from Grossman’s or Raymond’s or one of those discount stores before they had real discount stores like K-Mart and Wal-Mart, a few old worn-out blankets fresh from night duty on our beds, some resurrected threadbare towels that were already faded in about 1837 from the six thousand washings that kids put even the most resilient towel through in a short time, the obligatory King’s charcoal briquettes, including that fear-provoking, smelly lighter fluid you needed to light them with in those barbaric days before gas-saturated instant-lite charcoal. For food: hot dogs, blanched white-dough rolls, assorted condiments, a cooler with various kinds of tonic (aka soda, for the younger reader) and ice cream. Ya, and some beach toys, including a pail and shovel because today, of all days, I am bound and determined to harvest some clams across the way from the park on Wollaston beach at low tide just like I’d seen all kinds of guys doing every time we went there so that we can have a real outing. I can see and hear them boiling in that percolating, turbulent, swirling grey-white water in the steaming kettle already.

All of this stuff, of course, is packed helter-skelter in our “designer” Elm Farms grocery store paper shopping bags that we made due with to carry stuff around in, near or far. Hey, don’t laugh you did too, didn’t you? And what about hamburgers you say, right? No, no way, that cut of meat was too pricey. It wasn’t until much later when I was a teenage and invited to someone else’s family-famous barbecue that I knew that those too were a staple, I swear. I already told you I was the “official” procurer of the Kennedy’s potato salad in another dream fragment so I don’t need to tell you about that delicacy again, okay?

And we are off, amazingly, this time for one of the few time in family-recorded history without the inevitable- “who knows where it started or who started it” -incident, one of a whole universe of possible incidents that almost always delayed our start every time our little clan moved from point A to point B. Even a small point A to point B like this venture. So everything was okay, just fine all the way up that single way out of “the projects”, Palmer Street, until we got going on Sea Street, a couple of miles out, then the heap started choking, crackling, burping, sneezing, hiccuping, smoking and croaking and I don’t know what else. We tumbled out of the car, with me already getting ready to do my, by now, finely tuned “fume act” that like I told you got a work-out ever time one of these misadventures rolled around, and pulled out every thing we could with us.

Ma , then knowingly, said we would have to go back home because even she knew the car was finished. I, revolutionary that I was back then, put my foot down and said no we could walk to Treasure Island, it wasn’t far. I don’t know if I can convey, or if I should convey to you, the holy hell that I raised to get my way that day. And I did a united front with my two brothers, who, usually, ignored me and I ignored them at this point in our family careers. Democracy, of a sort , ruled. Or maybe poor Ma just got worn out from our caterwauling. In any case, we abandoned a few things with my father, including that pail and shovel that was going to provide us with a gourmet’s delight of boiled clams fresh from the now mythical sea, and started our trek with the well-known basics-food and utensils and toys and chairs and, and…

Let me cut to the chase here a little. Of course I have to tell you about our route and about how your humble tour director got the bright idea that we could take a short cut down Chickatawbut Street. (This is a real street, look it up. I used to use it every time I wanted to ride my bike over to Grandma’s on Young Street in North Quincy.) The idea of said "smart guy" tour director was to get a breeze, a little breeze while we are walking with our now heavy loads by cutting onto Shore Avenue near the Merrymount Yacht Club. The problem is that, in search of breeze or of no breeze, this way is longer, much longer for three young boys and a dragged out mama. Well,the long and short of it is have you ever heard of the “Bataan Death March” during World War II. If you haven’t, look it up on “Wikipedia.” Those poor, bedeviled guys had nothing on us by the time, late afternoon we got to our destination. We were beat, beat up, beat down, beat around, beat six ways to Sunday, beat every way a human being can be beat. Did I say beat? Oh ya, I did. But Ma, sensing our three murderous hearts by then, got the charcoals burning in one of the fireplaces they provided back then, and maybe they still do. And we were off to the races.

Hey, do you really need to know about mustard and relish crammed char-broiled hot dogs or my brother’s strange ketchup-filled one on white-breaded, nasty-tasting hot dog rolls that we got cheap from Elm Farms or maybe it was First National, or my beloved Kennedy’s potato salad that kind of got mashed up in the mess up or "Hires" root beer, or "Nehi" grape, or "Nehi" orange or store–bought boxed ice cream, maybe, "Sealtest" harlequin (chocolate, strawberry and vanilla all together, see), except melted. Or those ever- present roasted marshmallow that stuck to the roof of my mouth. You’ve been down that road yourselves so you don’t need me for a guide. And besides I’m starting to get sleepy after a long day. But as tired, dusty, and dirty as I am just telling this story… Ah, Treasure Island.

Monday, March 22, 2010

***Fragments Of A Treasure Island (Cady Park) Dream #1, Circa 1955

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for Paragon Park down at Nantasket Beach. Once again, thanks Internet.

Al Johnson, Class Of 1964, comment:

It’s funny how working now, on one thing or another, will bring back those childhood hurts, those feelings sealed, or is it seared, so deep in memory that one does not expect them to resurface for love or money, although this little piece did not start out that way and probably won’t finish up that way either. This “dream” started off from seeing, a few months ago, an unexpected and fairly unusual surname of a fellow female elementary school classmate innocently listed in an off-hand, indirect North Quincy Internet connection. The very sight of that name triggered a full-blown elementary school “romantic” daydream, from my days down at the old Germantown “projects” where I came of age, that blossomed into a pining prose sonnet that would have made Shakespeare blush. I’ll tell you about that one sometime, but not now.

That flashback, in turn, got me into a fierce sea-faring dreaming, rolling-logged, oil-slicked, ocean water on three sides, stone-throwing Germantown mood that turned into a screed on the trials and tribulations of growing to manhood in the shadows of tepid old Wollaston Beach. And that, naturally enough, triggered a quick remembrance of too infrequent family barbecue outings as the old Treasure Island (now named after a fallen Marine, Cady, if I recall correctly). At least I think that was the name in those days. That’s what we called it anyway, down at the Merrymount end of the beach. You know where I mean, you probably had your family memory barbecue outings there too, as least some of them. But enough of that background let me tell you what I really want to talk about, the tricks that parents used to use, and still do, to get their way. The story isn’t pretty or for the faint of heart.

I swear I knew, and I am pretty sure that I knew for certain early on when I was just a half-pint kid myself, that kids, especially younger kids, could be “bought off” by their parents and easily steered away from what they really wanted to do, or really wanted to have, by a mere trifle. Probably you got wise to the routine early too. Still, it’s ridiculous how easily we were “pieced off”, wise as we were, and I firmly believe that there should have been, and there should be now, something like the rules of engagement that govern civilized behavior in war time written out in the Geneva Conventions against that form of behavior by mothers and fathers. After all what is childhood, then or now, except one long, very long, battle between two very unevenly matched sides with kids, then and now, just trying to do the best they can in a world that they didn’t create, and that they didn’t get a say in creating.

I learned this little nugget of “wisdom” from battle-tested, many times losing, keep- in-there-swinging, never-say-die, first-hand experience, although I guess I might have been a little too thin-skinned and have been too quick to feel slighted about it at the time to really focus in on its meaning. I know that you learned this home truth this way as well whether you got onto the scam early on or no. Sure, I could be bought off, I am not any better than the rest of you on that score, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t nurse many a grievance to right those wrongs(and, incidentally, plotted many a feverish revenge, in my head at least, some of them, if impractical, pretty exquisitely drawn).

Sometimes it was just a word, sometimes literally just one word, usually a curt, cutting, razor-edged one from Ma that sent you reeling for cover ready to put up the white flag, if you ever even got that chance. Sometimes it was a certain look, a look that said “don’t go there”. And, maybe, depending how you were feeling, you did and maybe you didn’t, go there that is. Hell, sometimes it could even be a mere inside-the family-meaningful side-long glance, a glance from Ma, a thing from her eye, her left one usually, brow slightly arched, that said "case closed", and forget about the pretense behind the “don’t go there” look, which at least gave you the dignity of having the opportunity to put up a little fight no manner the predetermined ending. Sometimes though, and this is hard to “confess” fifty years later and ten thousand, thousand other experiences later, that lady switched up on us and "pieced" us off with some honey-coated little thing. That damn honey-coated thing, that “good” thing standing right in front of full-blown evil, or what passed for that brand of evil in those days, is what this dream fragment is all about.

Now don’t tell me you don’t know what I am talking about in the Ma wars, and don’t even try to tell me it wasn’t usually Ma who ran point on the “no” department when you went on the offensive for some thing you wanted to have, or some place you wanted to go, especially when “desperately” was attached to the "have" or to the "go" part. No, just don’t do it. Dad, Pa, Father, whatever you called him, was held in ready-reserve for when the action got hot and heavy. Maybe, in your family, your father was the point man but from what I have learned over the last couple of years about our parents from information that I have gathered from some of you that was a wasted strategy. We were that easy. No need for the big guns, because our ever-lovin’, hard-working, although maybe distant, fathers were doing what fathers do. Provide, or go to the depths in that struggle to provide. Ma was for mothering and running interference. That was that. Thems were the rules then, if not now. The main thing was the cards were stacked against us because what we really didn't know was they were really working as a team, one way or another. In any case, I don’t have time to dilly-dally over their strategies as I have got to move on here.

See, here is what you don’t know. Yet. Those family trips to old Treasure Island, whether they were taken from down in Germantown or later, in North Quincy, as they tapered off when we three boys (my two brothers, one a little younger one a little older, and me) got too big to pretend that we really wanted to go, were really the ‘booby prize’ for not going to places like Paragon Park down in Nantasket or down to Plymouth Rock or, Christ, any place that would be a change of scenery from claptrap Germantown. Of course, the excuse was always the same-dad was too tired to drive after working some killer hours at some dirty old dead-end job, or one of a succession of old, hand-me-down, barely running jalopies (and I am being kind here, believe me) wasn’t running, or running well enough to make the trip, or something else that meant we couldn’t go some place.

Ya, that was all right for public consumption but here is the real reason; no dough, plain and simple. Why Ma and Dad just didn’t tell us that their circumstances were so tight that spending a couple of dollars on the roller coaster (which I didn’t care about anyway), or playing “Skeets” (which I did care about), or getting cotton-candy stuck every which way (which I didn’t care about), or riding the Wild Mouse (cared about) would break the bank I will never know. Or the extra gas money. Or the extra expense of whatever. How do I know. All I knew is that we weren’t going. Period.

But, here, finally, is where the simple “bought off” comes in, although I really should have been more resolute in my anger at not going and held out for better terms. Such is the fate of young mortals, I guess. My mother, and this was strictly between me and my mother as most things were in those days, dangled the prospect of having some of Kennedy’s potato salad in front of my face. You remember Kennedy’s, right? If you don’t then the rest of this thing is going to come as less that the “Book of Revelation”. Or ask your parents, or grandparent. There was one in Quincy Square about half way down Hancock Street on the old South Shore Bank side and there was one in Norfolk Downs almost to the corner of Hancock Street and Billings Road next to the old A&P. I am not sure, and someone can help me on this, whether it was called Kennedy’s Food Shop, or Deli, or whatever but it had the best potato salad around. And fresh ground peanut butter, and sweet fragrant coffee smells, and… But I will get to describing that that some other time. Right now I am deciding whether I can be bought off or not. Yes, shamefacedly, I can and here is the closer -I can even go to Kennedy's and get it myself. What do you think about that? From then on I became the “official” Kennedy’s boy of the family. Did I sell out too cheaply? No way.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

***The Bard Of 1964?- For Linda, Class Of 1964

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for "Rebel Without A Cause", an appropriate link for today's post.

Al Johnson, Class Of 1964, comment:


Recently someone from our class, who shall remain nameless, wrote an e-mail, a friendly e-mail I assume, asking me if I, with this never-ending (my word) stream of messages, was trying to be the bard (her word, oops) of the Class of 1964. I rapidly replied with this short answer- “What, are you kidding?” Later though, after I thought about it for a while, I realized that I did mean to be ONE of the latter-day voices of the class. Why? I have, with all due modesty, the perfect resume for the job. Here it is:

I belonged to no clubs, not even after school ones. I played no major sport that drove a lot of the social networking of the time (I am being polite here: this is a family-friendly site after all). The sports that did drive me throughout my high school career, track and cross-country, were then very marginal sports for “nerds” and other assorted odd-balls, and I was, moreover, overwhelmingly underwhelming at them, to boot. I did not hang around with the class intellectuals, although I was as obsessed and driven by books, ideas and theories as anyone else at the time, maybe more so. I was, to be polite again, painfully shy around girls and therefore somewhat socially backward, although I was furtively enthralled by more than one of them. Gorls, that is And to top it all off, to use a term that I think truly describes me then, I was something of a ragamuffin from the town's wrong side of the track. Oh, did I mentioned that I was also so alienated from the old high school environment that I either threw, or threatened to throw, my yearbook in the nearest river right after graduation; in any case I no longer have it.

Perfect, right? No. Not complete enough? Well how about this. My family, on my mother’s side, had been in the old town since about the time of the “famine ships” from Ireland. I have not gotten that far back in the genealogy but way back someone in the family was a servant of some sort, to one of the branches of the presidential Adams family. Most of my relatives distance and far, went through the old high school. The streets of the old town were filled with the remnants of the clan. My friends, deny it or nor, the diaspora "old sod" of North Quincy was in the blood. How else explain, after a forty year hiatus, this overweening desire to write about the “Dust Bowl” that served as a training track during my running days. Or the oddness of separate boys and girls bowling teams, as if social contact in that endeavor would lead to .....whatever. Or that mysterious “Tri-Hi-Y” (a harmless social organization for women students that I have skewered for its virginal aspirations). Or the million other things that pop into my head there days. Oh ya, I can write, a little. Not unimportant for a bard, right? The soul of a poet, if not the language. Time and technology has given us an exceptional opportunity to tell our story and seek immortality and I want in on that. Old Walt Whitman can sing of America, I will sing of the old town, gladly.

Well, do I get a job? Hey, you can always “fire” me. Just “click” and move on.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

***As March 17th Approaches- A Moment In History…For M.M, Class of 1964

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of William Butler Yeats', "Easter, 1916".

Al Johnson, Class Of 1964, comment:

“A Terrible Beauty Is Born”, a recurring line from the great Anglo-Irish poet William Butler Yeats, “Easter, 1916”.

At the corner of Hancock Street and East Squantum Street forming a wedge in front of our old beige-bricked high school, and from that vantage point giving the building a majestic “mighty fortress is our home” look, there is a plaque that commemorates a fallen soldier of World War I, and is officially known as the Frank O’Brien Square. The corners and squares of most cities and towns in most countries of the world have such memorials to their war dead, needless to say far too many. That plaque furthermore now competes, unsuccessfully, with a huge Raider red billboard telling one and all of the latest doings, or upcoming events or honoring somebody or something, and in due course will be relegated to the “vaults" of the history of our town as well. This entry, however, is not about that or about the follies of war, or even about why it is that young men (and now women) wind up doing the dangerous work of war that is decided by old men (and now old women), although that would be a worthy subject. No, the focus here is the name of the soldier, or rather the last name, O’Brien, and the Irishness of it.

A quick run through of the names of the students listed in the “Manet” for the Class of 1964 will illustrate my point. If Irish names are not in the majority, then they predominant, and that does not even take into consideration the half or quarter Irish heritage that is hidden behind other names. And that is exactly the point. If North Quincy in the old days was not exactly “Little Dublin”, the heritage of the Irish diaspora certainly was nevertheless apparent for all to see, and hear. That North Quincy was merely a way station away from the self-contained Irish ghettos of Dorchester and South Boston to the Irish Rivieras of the area was, or rather is, also apparent as anyone who has been in the old town of late will note.

And that too is the point. Today Asian-Americans, particularly the Chinese and Vietnamese, and other minorities have followed that well-trodden path to Quincy. And they have made, and will make, their mark on the ethos of this hard-working working class part of town. So while the faint aroma of corn beef and cabbage (and colorful, red-drenched pasta dishes, from the other main ethnic group of old Quincy, the Italians) has been replaced by the pungent smells of moo shi and poi and the bucolic brogue by some sweet sing-song Mandarin dialect the life of the town moves on.

Yet, I can still feel, when I haphazardly walk certain streets, the Irishness of the diaspora “old sod”. To be sure, as a broken amber liquor bottle spotted on the ground reminded me, there were many whiskey-sodden nights (complete with the obligatory beer chaser) that many a man spent his pay on to keep his “demons” from the door. And to be sure, as well, the ubiquitous pot on the old iron stove for the potato-ladened boiled dinner that stretched an already tight food budget just a little longer when the ever present hard times cast their shadow at that same door. And, of course, there was the great secret cultural relic; the relentless, never-ending struggle to keep the family “dirty linen” from the public eye. But also this: the passed down heroic tales of our forbears, the sons and daughters of Roisin, in their heart-rending eight hundred year struggle against the crushing of the “harp beneath the crown”; of the whispered homages to the ghosts of our Fenian dead; of great General Post Office uprisings, large and small; and, of the continuing struggle in the North. Yes, as that soldier’s plaque symbolizes, an Irish presence will never completely leave the old town, nor will the willingness to sacrifice.

Oh, by the way, that Frank O'Brien for whom the square in front of the old school was named, would have been my grand uncle, the brother of my Grandmother Radley (nee O'Brien) from over on Young Street across from the Welcome Young Field.



Easter, 1916-William Butler Yeats



I HAVE met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

***From The Be-Bop Night -The 'Real' Scoop on "Tri-Hi-Y"- An Investigatory Report- "Inside Edition" Move On Over

Click on the headline to link to a "YouTube" film Club of the modern doings of one school's Tri-Hi-Y Club. Hey, don't shoot the messenger on this one. I just like to provide a relevant link with my posts

Al Johnson, Class of 1964, comment:

Originally posted in June 2008. Revised and updated in March 2010

Today I have my investigative reporter's hat on. This is intended to be a light-hearted look at an old school organization. But I have a lawyer in the wings just in case.

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. That was good, if unheeded, advice a few thousand years ago. Apparently it is advice that we should have also heeded back in our school days. The subject today is the mysterious, seemingly nefarious, doings of Tri Kappa Phi, colloquially known as Tri-Hi-Y. (I have, as yet, been unable to untangle the relationship between these two names but I suspect the latter is merely a classic front name.) Ostensibly this was a girls' club devoted to public service. Or, at least, that is what they would have us believe. However a glance at page 17 of the 1964 "Manet" belies that story.

According to their own words this organization was committed to furthering "pure thoughts, pure words, and pure actions" among the members. This, my friends, reads, to these old eyes at least, more like the program for the vestal virgins in the temples of pagan Greece than a program for a society then on the edge of a sexual revolution. That should have been the tip-off. Now we live in a more skeptical age and would have had our antennae out when confronted with such shameless hyperbole. Then, naive as we were, we bought the story hook, line and sinker.

Look, I am a fair person, or try to be. In order to get a grasp on this unfolding story and learn more about the group I, innocently, e-mailed the president of the organization in 1964. Result- Nada, a resounding no reply. I then pursued another avenue that I thought might be more fruitful. I e-mailed the chaplain of the group in her junior and senior year on the North Quincy Alumni site. Now she is not just any fellow classmate but currently the secretary to the headmaster at North Quincy High. Dear readers, she has access to the records!

I, good-heartedly, offered this ex-chaplain the opportunity to place our correspondence under a confidential attorney-client blanket. I further suggested that she might fall under priest- penitent immunity provisions concerning her testimony. Result - Stonewalled, no reply. Apparently, this is one secretary that went to the Rosemary Woods Secretarial School. Moreover, another closer look at the "Manet" told the tale. The winsome smile and twinkle in her eye of her class picture on page 117 did not jibe with her Cotton Mather-like visage on page 17. I then determined that I needed to investigate this matter further.

Right now, I admit, there are more questions than answers. Little did this pair and their accomplices know that some forty-four years latter an intrepid alumnus with some time on his hands was going to fall onto their little threadbare operation. I will continue to try to unravel this tangled story to the bitter end. Here are some questions that I have right now though that you, my friends, can help me with. Why did a so-called 'public service' group in a democratic, secular institution need a chaplain? What deep, dark secrets were being kept from us? Moreover, apparently, from the lack of response to my inquiries, members are sworn to secrecy unto the grave. Why? And here is another little tidbit to feast on. Why was the turnover rate in the organization so high, especially in senior year? Was it impossible to keep to the public "3 purities" slogan mentioned above with a straight face or did a number of members fall afoul of the cabal at the top? Are there any whistle-blowers out there? More later. Tri-Hi-Y, indeed!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

***The "Projects" Boys... And Girls-For Dennis Volpe, Class Of 1964

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Tom Waits performing Jersey Girl

"Ain't Got No Time For The Corner Boys, Down In The Streets Making All That Noise"- The first line from Bruce Springsteen's classic working class love song, Jersey Girl. Although the best version of song is Tom Waits' that you can link to on YouTube above. Al Johnson, Class Of 1964, comment:

Taffrail Road, Yardarm Lane, Captain's Walk, Quarterdeck Road, Sextant Circle, and Snug Harbor School. Yes, those names and places from the old housing project down in Germantown surely evoke imagines of the sea, of long ago sailing ships, and of battles fought off some mist-driven coast by those hearty enough to seek fame and fortune. But, of course, we know that anyone with even a passing attachment to Quincy has to have an instinctual love of the sea, and fear of its furies when old Mother Nature turns her back on us. Yes, the endless sea, our homeland the sea, the mother we never knew, the sea... But, enough of those imaginings.

Today I look to the landward side of that troubled housing project peninsula, that isolated expanse of land jutting out of the water and filled with wreckage of another kind. No, this will not be a sociological survey of working class pathologies made inevitable by the relentless struggle to scramble for life's necessities, the culture of poverty, or the like. Nor will it be a political screed about rising against the monsters that held us down, or the need for such a rising. Nor even about the poetic license necessary to cobble pretty words together to speak of the death of dreams, dreamless dreams or, maybe, just accepting small dreams to fit a small life. Rather, I am driven by the jumble of images that passed through the thoughts of a ragamuffin of a project boy as he tried to make sense out of a world that he did not create, and that he had no say in.

Ah, the scenes. Warm, sticky, humid summer nights, the air filled with the pungent, overpowering soapy fragrance from the Proctor and Gamble factory across the channel that never quite left one's nostrils. Waking up each morning to face the now vanished Fore River Shipyard superstructure; hearing the distant clang of metals being worked to shape; and, the sight of flickering welding torches binding metals together. The endless rust-encrusted, low-riding oil tankers coming through the channel guided to port by high whistle-blowing tugs. The interminable wait for the lifeline, seemingly never on time, Eastern Mass bus that took one and all in and out through that single Palmer Street escape route. Or that then imposing central housing authority building where I was sent by my mother, too proud to go herself, with the monthly rent, usually short. Oh, did I mention Carter's Variety Store, the sole store for us all the way to Sea Street, another lifeline. Many a time I reached in Ma's pocketbook to steal money, or committed other small larcenies, in order to hike down and get my sugar-drenched stash.

And the kids. Well, the idea in those days was that the projects were a way-station to better things, or at least that was the hope. So there was plenty of turnover of friends but there was a core of kids, like me and my brothers, who stayed long enough to learn the ropes. Every guy had to prove himself, tough or not, by hanging with guys that were "really" tough. That was the ethos, and thems were the rules. I took my fair share of nicks but also, for a moment, well for more than a moment as it turned out, I was swayed by the gangster lifestyle. Hell, it looked easy. With classmate Rickie B. (who, later, served twenty years for a series of armed robberies) I worked my first "clip" in some downtown Quincy jewelry store. Moving on, I was the "holder" for more expansive enterprises with George H. (who, later, got killed when a drug deal he was promoting went south on him). But that was then, right?

Oh, the different things that came up. Oddball things like Christmas tree bonfires, and annual Halloween hooliganism... Hey, all this is so much eyewash because what, at least in memory's eye, is the driving "projects" image is the "great awakening". Girls. And being ill at ease around them, and being a moonstruck kid, and the shoe leather-wearing out marathon walking, thinking about what to do about them, especially when the intelligence-gatherers told you about a girl who liked you. And the innocent, mostly dreaded, little petting parties, in dank little basements that served as 'family rooms' for each apartment, trying to be picked by the one you want to pick you and, well, you get the drift. Now a lot of this is stuff any kid goes through, except just not in "the projects". And some of it is truly "projects" stuff - which way will he go, good or bad? But this next thing kind of ties it together. Just about the time when I seriously committed to a petty criminal lifestyle I found the Thomas Crane Library branch that was then in the Snug Harbor School. And one summer I just started to read every biography they had in the Children's section. While looking, longingly, over at the forbidden Adult section on the other side of the room for the good stuff. And I dreamed. Yes, I am a "projects" boy, and I survived to tell the tale.


Tom Waits Jersey Girl Lyrics

Got no time for the corner boys,
Down in the street makin' all that noise,
Don't want no whores on eighth avenue,
Cause tonight i'm gonna be with you.

'cause tonight i'm gonna take that ride,
Across the river to the jersey side,
Take my baby to the carnival,
And i'll take you all on the rides.

Down the shore everything's alright,
You're with your baby on a saturday night,
Don't you know that all my dreams come true,
When i'm walkin' down the street with you,
Sing sha la la la la la sha la la la.

You know she thrills me with all her charms,
When i'm wrapped up in my baby's arms,
My little angel gives me everything,
I know someday that she'll wear my ring.

So don't bother me cause i got no time,
I'm on my way to see that girl of mine,
Nothin' else matters in this whole wide world,
When you're in love with a jersey girl,
Sing sha la la la la la la.

And i call your name, i can't sleep at night,
Sha la la la la la la.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

***Hats Off to 50 for The Class Of ’60- Ouch!-For Dorothy Graham

Click on the headline to link to a "YouTube" film clip of Mark Dinning performing his teen tear-jerker, "Teen Angel" to set the mood for this post.

Al Johnson, Class Of 1964, comment:

Recently I have been getting a stream of “guestbook” and “add to friends” visits from members of the Class of 1960 at my profile page (on the Classmates site). I am not altogether sure why this is so since the members of this class would have already been out the door and entering the “New Frontier” (although that word was not in usage at the time) while I was entering the freshman class at North from Atlantic Junior High. The only thing that I can think of, off-hand, which connects us, is that those members and I are marking the same year anniversaries, their 50th from North and my 50th from Atlantic.

Whatever the reason for visit to my profile I am very interested in your take on old North. I am particularly interested in “war stories” from the old “Dust Bowl” playing field over off Hollis Avenue near Atlantic, the stories of people who hung around Norfolk Downs on Saturday night, especially at Balducci’s or the bowling alleys, Or who were corner boys and girls at Harold’s Variety on Sagamore Street, or any corner store. Or remember Doc Andrew’s drugstore at the corner of Young and Newbury Streets, or have a tale to tell about Wollaston Beach, day or night. Or…well, you get the idea, tales of our collective youth. We, after all, all bled Raider red, right? In the meantime- Hats Off to the Class Of 1960!


....and a trip down memory lane.

MARK DINNING lyrics - Teen Angel

(Jean Surrey & Red Surrey)


Teen angel, teen angel, teen angel, ooh, ooh

That fateful night the car was stalled
upon the railroad track
I pulled you out and we were safe
but you went running back

Teen angel, can you hear me
Teen angel, can you see me
Are you somewhere up above
And I am still your own true love

What was it you were looking for
that took your life that night
They said they found my high school ring
clutched in your fingers tight

Teen angel, can you hear me
Teen angel, can you see me
Are you somewhere up above
And I am still your own true love

Just sweet sixteen, and now you're gone
They've taken you away.
I'll never kiss your lips again
They buried you today

Teen angel, can you hear me
Teen angel, can you see me
Are you somewhere up above
And I am still your own true love
Teen angel, teen angel, answer me, please

Monday, March 1, 2010

***The Gas Wars, Circa 1964-How Much Was The Price Of A Gallon Of Gasoline?

Click on the headline, but only after you have read this entry and after you have made your guess, to link to a "1960s Flashback" Website for the answer. For those who graduated in other decades you can link from there. Thanks, Internet


This entry was originally posted on the Classmates site in March 2008. Revised and updated March 2010.

How much did it cost for a gallon of gasoline in 1964? In the interest of "speaking" to the wider "North Quincy Graduate" audience on "Facebook" just pick your year of graduation


Oil at $100 a barrel. Gasoline over three dollars per gallon at the pump (Remember this was written in March, 2008. AJ). No, do not worry, this is not intended to be the start of a political screed about the need to bring the 'Seven Sisters' oil monopolists to heel or to break up the international oil cartels, although those are very good ideas. Remember at the beginning of this series of commentaries I promised that I would not be political, at least not overtly so. All I want to ask today is whether, through the mist of time, you remember how much gasoline cost when you went to "fill 'er up" in high school.

Now this question requires some honesty on your part. Please, no Googling the "Quincy Patriot Ledger" or "The Boston Globe" to search their archives of the time. Nor should you use a calculator to factor back the effect of the rate of inflation on oil since 1964 to come up with an answer. Dear readers, this is not some torturous calculus problem. What you basically need to do is to remember some numbers from when you were daydreaming out the window in study hall. Or when you went out the door onto Hancock Street after school.

What is this guy talking about? Just this. Unless you were a total grind and always had your nose in a book then the answer merely requires that you had looked out the window. Directly across the street from the school were two gas stations (I believe somewhere near the MBTA parking lot and the MacDonald's are now) that were always in competition with each other. They, and I am not making this up for I do not have such a vivid imagination, actually were having very public price wars to bring in customers by REDUCING the price of their gas. But enough hints. Your answers, please?

P.S. For later, post-North Quincy MBTA, graduates you are left to your own resources about finding the gas prices.