Saturday, October 30, 2010

***Out In The Be-Bop Night- Scenes From Search For The Blue-Pink Great American West Night-Hayes Bickford Breakout 1962

Click on the headline to link to a photograph of a Hayes-Bickford on Huntington Avenue in Boston (no Cambridge one available)to add a little flavor to this entry.

The scene below stands (or falls) as a moment in support of that eternal search mentioned in the headline.

Scene Two: Got The Urge For Going In Search Of The Blue- Pink Great American West Night- Hayes-Bickford  Breakout 1962

Here I am again sitting, 3 o’clock in the morning sitting, bleary-eyed, slightly distracted after mulling over the back and forth of the twelve hundredth run-in (nice way to put it, right?) with Ma that has driven me out into this chilly October 1962 early morning. And where do I find myself sitting at this time of morning? Tired, but excitedly expectant, on an uncomfortable, unpadded bench seat on this rolling old clickity-clack monster of a Red Line subway car as it now waggles its way out past Kendall Station on its way to Central Square and then to the end of the line, Harvard Square. My hangout, my muse home, my night home, at least my weekend night home, my place to make sense of the world in a world that doesn’t make much sense, at least not enough much sense. Sanctuary, Harvard Square Hayes-Bickford sanctuary, misbegotten teenage boy sanctuary, recognized by international law, recognized by canon law, or not.

That beef with Ma, that really unnumbered beef, forget about the 1200 I said before, that was just a guess, has driven me to take an “all-nighter” trip away from the travails of the old home town across Boston to the never-closed Hayes-Bickford cafeteria that beckons just as you get up the stairs from the Harvard subway tunnel. Damn, let me just get this off my chest and then I can tell the rest of the story. Ma said X, I pleaded for Y (hell this homestead civil war lent itself righteously to a nice algebraic formulation. You can use it too, no charge). Unbeknownst to me Y did not exist in Ma’s universe. Ever. Sound familiar? Sure, but I had to get it off my chest.

After putting on my uniform, my Harvard Square “cool” uniform: over-sized flannel brownish plaid shirt, belt-less black cuff-less chino pants, black Chuck Taylor logo-ed Converse sneakers, a now ratty old windbreaker won in a Fourth of July distance race a few years back when I really was nothing but a wet-behind-the ears kid to ward off the chill, and, and the absolutely required midnight sunglasses to hide those bleary eyes from a peeking world I was ready to go. To face the unlighted night, and fight against the dawn’s rising for another day. Oh ya, I forgot, I had to sneak out of the house stealthily, run like some crazed broken field football player down the back of the property, and, after catching my breathe, walk a couple of miles over bridge and nasty, hostile (hostile if anyone was out, and anyone was sniping for a misbegotten teenage boy, for any purpose good or evil) Dorchester streets to get to the Fields Corner subway stop. The local Eastern Mass. bus had stopped its always erratic service hours ago, and, any way, I usually would rather walk, in any case, than wait, wait my youth away for those buses to amble along our way with their byzantine schedules.

Right now though I am thinking, as those subway car wheels rattle beneath my feet, who knows, really, how or why it starts, that wanderlust start, that strange feeling in the pit of your stomach that you have to move on, or out, or up or you will explode, except you also know, or you damn well come to know that it eats away at a man, or a woman for matter, in different ways. Maybe way back, way back in the cradle it was that first sense that there was more to the world that the four corners of that baby world existence and that if you could just, could just get over that little, little side board there might be something better, much better over the horizon. But, frankly that just seems like too much of a literary stretch even for me, moody teenage boy that I am, to swallow so let’s just say that it started once I knew that the ocean was a way to get away, if you needed to get away. But see I didn’t figure than one out for myself even, old Kenny from the old neighborhood in third grade is the one who got me hip to that, and then Johnny James and his brother filled in the rest of the blanks and so then I was sea-worthy, dream sea-worthy anyway.

But, honestly, that sea dream stuff can only be music for the future because right now I am stuck, although I do not always feel stuck about it, trying to figure my way out of high school world, or at least figure out the raging things that I want to do after high school that fill up my daydream time (study hall time, if you really want to know). Of course, as well, that part about the ocean just mentioned, well there was a literal part to the proposition since ocean-at-my-back (sometimes right at my back) New England homestead meant unless I wanted to take an ill-advised turn at piracy or high-seas hijacking or some such thing east that meant I had to head west. Right now west though is Harvard Square, its doings and not doings, it trumpet call to words, and sounds, and actions in the October Friday night all-night storm brewing.

The train now rounds the squeaky-sounding bend out of Central Square and stops at the station. So now I leave my pensive seat and stand waiting, waiting for the driver to release the pressure to let the sliding train door open, getting ready to jump off the old subway, two-step-at-a-time my way up the two flights of stairs and head for mecca to see if things jump for me tonight. The doors open at last. Up the two-stepped stairs I go, get to the surface and confront the old double-glassed Hayes door entrance and survey the vast table-filled room that at this hour has a few night owl stranglers spotted throughout the place.

You know the old Hayes-Bickford, or one of them if you live in Boston, or New York City, or a few other places on the East Coast, don’t you? Put your tray on the metal slider (hey, I don’t know what you call that slider thing, okay) and cruise down the line from item to item behind the glass-enclosed bins of, mostly, steamy food, if you are looking for fast service, for a quick between doing things, pressing things, meal. Steamed and breaded everything from breakfast to lunch to dinner anytime topped off by dishwater quality coffee (refills on demand, if you feel lucky). But this is not the place to bring your date, certainly not your first date, except maybe for a quick cup of that coffee before going to some event, or home. What this is, really, is a place where you can hang out, and hang out with comfort, because nobody, nobody at all, is going to ask you to leave, at least if you act half-way human. And that is what this place is really about, the humans in all their human conditions doing human things, alien to you or not, that you see floating by you, as you take a seat at one of the one-size-fits all wooden tables with those red vinyl seat covered chairs replete with paper place settings, a few off-hand eating utensils and the usual obligatory array of condiments to help get down the food and drink offered here.

Let me describe who is here at this hour on an early Saturday morning in October 1962. I will not vouch for other times, or other days, but I know Friday and Saturday nights a little so I can say something about them. Of course there is the last drink at the last open barroom crowd, said bar already well-closed in bluelaw Massachusetts, trying to get sober enough by eating a little food to traverse the road home. Good luck. Needless to say eating food in an all-night cafeteria, any all-night cafeteria, means only one thing-the person is so caught up in a booze frenzy that he (mainly) or she (very occasionally) is desperate for anything to hang the name food on to. Frankly, except for the obligatory hard-dollar coffee-steamed to its essence, then through some mystical alchemic process re-beaned, and served in heavy ceramic mugs that keep in the warmth to keep the eyes open the food here is strictly for the, well, the desperate, drunk or sober.

I might mention a little more about the food as I go along but it is strictly to add color to this little story. Maybe, maybe it will add color to the story but this is mainly about the “literary” life at the old Hayes and the quest for the blue-pink night not the cuisine so don’t hold me to it. Here is the kicker though; there are a few, mercifully few this night, old winos, habitual drunks, and street vagabonds (I am being polite here) who are nuzzling their food, for real. This is the way that you can tell the "last drink" boys, the hail fellows well met, who are just out on the town and who probably go to one of the ten zillion colleges in the area and are drawn like moths (and like wayward high schools kids, including this writer) to the magic name, Harvard Square. They just pick at their food. Those other guys (again, mainly, guys) those habituals and professional waywards work at it like it is their last chance for salvation.

Harvard Square, bright lights, dead of nights, see the sights. That vision is nothing but a commercial, a commercial magnet for every young (and old) hustler within fifty miles of the place to come and display their “acumen”. Their hustle. Three card Monte, quick-change artistry, bait and hook, a little jack-rolling, fake dope-plying, lifting an off-hand wallet, the whole gamut of hustler con lore. On any given Harvard Square weekend night there have got to be more young, na├»ve, starry-eyed kids hanging out trying to be cool, but really, like me, just learning the ropes of life than you could shake a stick at to set a hustler’s heart, if he (mainly) or she (sometimes) had a heart.

I’ll tell you about a quick con that got me easy in a second but right now let me tell you that at this hour I can see a few con artists just now resting up after a hard night’s work around a couple of tables, comparing notes (or, more likely, trying to con each other, there is no honor among thieves in this little night world. Go to it boys). As to the con that got me, hey it was simple, a guy, an older guy, a twenty-five year old or something like that guy, came up to me while I was talking to a friend and said did I (we) want to get some booze. Sober, sixteen years old, and thrill-seeking I said sure (drinking booze is the coin of the realm for thrills these days, among high school kids that I know, maybe the older set, those college guys, are, I hear, experimenting with drugs but if so it is very on the QT).

He said name your poison, I did, and then he “suggested” a little something for himself. Sure, whatever is right. I gave him the money and he returned a few minutes later with a small bag with the top of a liquor bottle hanging out. He split. We went off to a private area around Harvard Yard (Phillips Brook House, I think) and got ready to have our first serious taste of booze, and maybe get rum brave enough to pick up some girls. Naturally, the bottle is a booze bottle alright but it had been opened (how long before is anyone’s guess) and filled with water. Sucker, right. Now the only reason that I am mentioning this story right now is that the guy who pulled this con is sitting, sitting like the King of Siam, just a few tables away from where I am sitting. The lesson learned for the road, for the future road that beckons: don’t accept packages from strangers without inspecting them and watch out for cons, right? No, hell no. The lesson is this: sure don’t fall for wise guy tricks but the big thing is to shake it off, forget about it if you see the con artist again. You are way to cool to let him (or occasionally her) think that they have conned you. Out loud, anyway.

But wait, I am not here at almost four o’clock in the Hayes-Bickford morning, the Harvard Square Hayes-Bickford morning, to talk about the decor, the food if that is what it is, about the clientele, humble, slick, or otherwise. I am here looking for “talent”, literary talent that is. See, I have been here enough, and have heard enough about the ”beats” (or rather pseudo-beats, or “late phase” beats at this time) and the “folkies” (music people breaking out of the Pop 40 music scene and going back to the roots of America music, way back) to know that a bunch of them, about six in all, right this minute are sitting in a far corner with a light drum tapping the beat listening to a guy in black pants(always de rigueur black), sneakers and a flannel shirt just like me reciting his latest poem. That possibility is what drove me here this night, and other nights as well. See the Hayes is known as the place where someone like Norman Mailer has his buttered toast after one of his “last drink” bouts. Or that Bob Dylan sat at that table, that table right over there, writing something on a napkin. Or some parallel poet to the one now wrapping up his seventy-seven verse imitation Allen Ginsberg's Howl master work went out to San Francisco and blew the lid off the town, the City Lights town, the literary town.

But I better, now that the six-ish dawn light is hovering, trying to break through the night wars, get my droopy body down those subway stairs pretty soon and back across town before anyone at home notices that I am missing. Still I will take the hard-bitten coffee, re-beaned and all, I will take the sleepy eyes that are starting to weigh down my face, I will even take the con artists and feisty drunks just so that I can be here when somebody’s search for the blue-pink great American West night, farther west than Harvard Square night, gets launched.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

***Once Again-Out In The Be-Bop Night- The School Dance -Last Chance For Romance

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of The Angels performing Till.

CD Review

The Rock ‘N’ Roll Era: The ‘60s: Last Dance, Time-Life, 1991

As I have noted in reviewing The ‘50s: Last Dance of this Time-Life Roll ‘n’ Roll Era series I have spent tons of time and reams of cyberspace “paper” in this space reviewing the teenage culture of the 1950s, especially the inevitable school dance and the also equally inevitable trauma of the last dance. That event, the last dance that is, was the last chance for even shy boys like me to prove that we were not wallflowers, or worst. The last chance to rise (or fall) in the torrid and relentless pecking order of the social scene at school. And moreover to prove to that certain she that you were made of some sort of heroic stuff, the stuff of dreams, of her dreams, thank you very much. Moreover, to make use of that social capital you invested in by learning to dance, or the “shadow” of learning to dance at some Miss Somebody‘s Saturday morning dance studio. Egad.

Fair, enough, true enough, if only a rather short sketch of the preparations, the seemingly endless preparations for the ‘big night.’ A night that entailed getting into some serious grooming workouts, including procedures not usually a part of the daily toilet. Plenty of deodorant, hair oil, and breathe fresheners, no question. Moreover, endless energy used getting worked up about wardrobe, mode of transportation, and other factors that I have addressed elsewhere, and, additionally, factors contingent upon whether you were dated up or stag. All that need not be repeated here. What does stand some further inspection is something that has received scant notice in all this welter of detail, with the exception of that overblown coverage of the last dance. Nothing on the inner workings of the dance itself.

Actually, and I will only speak to the late fifties and early sixties but I am sure this observation will hold up for other times as well, there are two school dance sequels, that first tremulous middle school dance series, and the later even more significant high school dances. Age, more convoluted socials relationships, physical and sexual growth, changes in musical taste, attitudes toward life and toward the opposite sex (or nowadays, perhaps, same sex) all made them two distinct affairs, except the ubiquitous teacher chaperones to guard against all manner of murder and mayhem, or, more likely, someone sneaking out for butts, booze or off-hand nuzzling (or, have mercy, all three). I will keep strictly to the high school dance scene here since the compilation under review includes musical selections that were current in the time of my high school time.

These musical selections "spoke" to that gnawing feeling in the back of your mind, half hidden by massive teenage psychic overlay, of the need to take a constant survey of what is going on in your little so-called world. A moment's glazed stare as you wait to get into the dance venue allows you to think through the litany of problems to be addressed as soon as you get a breather. Shall I give examples?

For example; being stood up for a date; or when that certain he or she did not call; or that certain he or she had another date; or that certain "unto death" friend of yours took that certain he or she away from you; or when that certain he or she said no, no for any number of things but you know the real “no,” right?; or, finally, that mournful, pitiful midnight crying time when sometime he or she, did or did not do, or did or did not say, or he or she forget to remember, and so on. But those issues will wait for another day because right now the doors are opening and you have more pressing issues in your heated little mind. Hope drives your every move from here on in.

I don’t have to spend much time on the physical and technical details of the dance, hell, you can describe them in your sleep. And if you can’t do so watch a film like 1973’s American Graffiti, the segment on the local high school dance, as I have noted previously, once you get indoors could have been 1962 anyplace U.S.A. (and I am willing to bet anytime U.S.A., as well. For this baby-boomer, that particular high school dance, could have taken place at my high school when I was a student in the early 1960s). From the throwaway crepe paper decorations that festooned the place placed around the gym by the ever helpful Girls Club or Tri-Hi-Y up to the ever-present foldaway gym bleachers to those evil-eyed chaperones to the platform the local band (a band that if it did not hit it big would go on to greater glory at our future weddings, birthday parties, and other important occasions) covering the top hits of the day performed on it was a perfect replica of my own experience.

Also perfect replica in that film were the classic boys’ attire for a casual dance, plaid or white sports shirt, chinos, stolid shoes, and short-trimmed hair (no beards, beads, bell-bottoms, it’s much too early in the decade for that) and for the girls blouses (or maybe sweaters, cashmere, if I recall being in fashion at the time, at least in the colder East), full swirling dresses, and, I think beehive hair-dos. Wow! Of course, perfect replica were the infinite variety of dances (frug, watusi, twist, stroll, etc) that blessed, no, twice blessed, rock and roll let us do in order to not to have to dance too waltz close. We all owe Chubby Checker and Gary U.S. Bonds a debt that can never be repaid. Mercy.

Damn, my going on and on about the physical descriptions is just so much eye wash. The thing could have been held in an airplane hangar for all we really cared. And everyone could have been dressed in paper bags. What mattered, and maybe will always matter, are the hes looking at those certain shes, and visa-versa. The endless small meaningful looks (if stag, of course, eyes straight forward if dated up, or else bloody hell). Except for those wallflowers that are permanently looking down at the ground, and pleased to be doing it. And that, my friends, is the real struggle that went on in those events, for the stags. The struggle against wallflower-dom. The struggle for at least some room in the social standing, even if near the bottom, rather than outcaste-dom.

That struggle was as fierce as any class struggle old Karl Marx might have projected. The straight, upfront calculation (and not infrequently miscalculation)of those evil eyes, the maneuvering, the averting of eyes, the not averting of eyes, the reading of silence signals, the uncomprehended "no", the gratuitous "yes." Need I go on? I don’t think so, except, if you had the energy, or even if you didn’t, then you dragged yourself to that last dance. And hoped, hoped to high heaven that it was a slow one. Ah, to be young was very heaven as old man Wordsworth had it in another context. Enough memory said.

Stick outs on this CD compilation include: the late legendary blue artist Etta James’ Something’s Got A Hold On Me (fast); The Angels’ Till (slow, ouch! on feet); Bo Diddley’s Road Runner (fast); and Donnie Brooks’ classic (the one you prayed they would play) Mission Bell. How is that for dee-jay even-handedness?

'Till lyrics

Till the moon deserts the sky
Till the all the seas run dry
Till then I'll worship you

Till the tropic sun turns cold
Till this young world grows old
My darling, I'll adore you

You are my reason to live
All I own I would give
Just to have you adore me, oh, oh, oh

Till the rivers flow upstream
Till lovers cease to dream
Till then I'm yours, be mine

instrumental interlude

You are my reason to live
All I own I would give
Just to have you adore me

Till the rivers flow upstream
Till lovers cease to dream
Till then I'm yours, be mine

Friday, October 15, 2010

***Out In The Be-Bop Night- Scenes From The Search For The Blue-Pink Great American West Night- The Prequel- Germantown Monday, Summer 1957-For M.M.

Click on the headline to link to a Youtube film clip of Danny and The Juniors performing their classic At The Hop to give a little flavor of the time of this entry.

Setting The Mood

I, once a while back, was asked, in earnest, what I meant by the “blue-pink western skies” that has formed the backdrop for several entries in this space of late. Or rather the way I would prefer to formulate it, and have taken some pains to emphasize it this way, “the search for the blue-pink great American West night.” Well, of course, there was a literal part to the proposition since ocean-at-my back (sometimes right at my back) New England homestead meant unless I wanted to take an ill-advised turn at piracy or high-seas hijacking or some such thing east that the hitchhike road meant heading west.

So that night is clearly not in the vicinity of the local Blues Hills or of the Berkshires since early childhood ocean-fronted Massachusetts, those are too confined and short-distanced to even produce blues skies much less that west-glanced sweet shade just before heaven, if there was a heaven shade, blue-pink. And certainly not hog-butcher-to-the-world, sinewy Midwest Chicago night, Christ no, nor rarefied, deep-breathed, rockymountainhigh Denver night, although jaded sojourner-writer not known for breathe-taking, awe-bewilderment could have stopped there for choice of great western night. Second place, okay.

But no, onward, beyond, beyond pioneer, genetically-embedded pioneer America, past false god neon blue-pink glitter Las Vegas in the Nevada desert night to the place where, about fifty miles away from sanctified west coast, near some now nameless abandoned ghost town, nameless here for it is a mere speck on the map and you would not know the name, you begin, ocean man that you are, if you are, and organically ocean-bred says you are, to smell the dank, incense-like, seaweed-driven, ocean-seized air as it comes in from the Japanese stream, or out there somewhere in the unknown, some Hawaii or Guam or Tahiti of the mind, before the gates of holy city, city of a thousand, thousand land’s end dreams, San Francisco. That is where the blue-pink sky devours the sun just before the be-bop, the bop-bop, the do wang-doodle night, the great American Western star-spangled (small case) night I keep reaching for, like it was some physical thing and not the stuff of dreams.
The scenes below stand (or fall) as moments in support of that eternal search.

Scene One: The Prequel- Germantown Monday, Summer 1957

I wake up early, with a sudden start like something hit me but it kind of missed, kind of just glanced off me, something that felt like a pebble, maybe thinner and a little lighter, but I don’t see anything out of my watery, half-closed eyes. And I don’t feel anything around me in this feeble excuse for a bed that my father lashed together out of old blankets when my previous mattress fell apart, something like you see down at the Plymouth Plantation when the Pilgrims, a few hundred years ago, made beds for their kids except not with the corn husking filler they used. See, Ma and Pa couldn’t see their way clear to getting me a new one since my younger brother, Kevin, really needed one for his “problem”. A “problem” that I don’t understand about, and that nobody ever talks about, even Grandma, and she talks about everything and will tell me anything, anything but that, at least when I am around they don’t.

Maybe, I wouldn’t understand it even if they blabbed about it all day, but here I am with this low-rent sleeping bag, our lord in the manger kind of a bed. And Kevin’s sleeping like a king in the room across the hall all by himself away from this midget-sized room that they must have thought of when kids were smaller than they are these days, what with us drinking more milk with “Big Brother” Bob Emery every school day when we go home at lunchtime. Ma says I should be thankful (including to the Lord, as she always says, without fail) that I have any bed at all as some kids in India don’t even have that. The reasons for that, I guess, are ‘cause those people don’t thank the Lord, or at least thank our “the Lord.”

Darn it, I now suddenly remember, whatever it was that hit me, maybe something from outer space, broke up a nice half-formed dream that was just starting to get somewhere and that was about being on some television show and winning something like a thousand dollars and me getting to buy stuff for me and my friends like serious bicycles or a big record player, and getting girls stuff too, like a box of candy from the Rexall drugstore up in Adamsville Square, and just like that its gone, gone, now long gone. Just like shutting off the television before the end and the good guys, or whoever has the right to be on the right side of the law like Maverick, wins; just like missing American Bandstand before Dick Clark gets to the big dance off thing at the end where everybody’s jumping and grooving and having a good time, the band is rocking, and the guys, especially the guys that get the cute girls and not the left-over ones that they must just put on to be nice, or something are smiling, smiling the smile of the just. Double darn it.

Ya, something’s out of whack, something’s definitely out of whack, or it’s gonna be. Every time I have one of these broken-up dreams something goes awry pretty soon only not today please, and I am scared, no, really scared about it this time. Wouldn’t you be? I suddenly notice something in a split-second that confirms this bad omen coming-Oh no, not again, for the hundredth hundredth time this ratty old summer, this boring never-ending summer that I wish would end so bad I am praying, and praying hard, that it will be over and we can go back to the cool air in Snug Harbor school that we left the last part of last month. I told you it was bad, bad as all that. I’m all sweaty, I feel under my arms, underarms sticky, underwear, all cottony, sticking to me like it’s part of my skin forever, eyes sticky and half shut from a nighttime’s worth of perspiration, and maybe more than a night at that. I don’t think I took a bath yesterday, did I? I sniff, no. Sticky, that me, that’s gonna be my middle name before long if this mind-numbing weather keeps up.

Heck, I’m tired, tired to hell and back, no, farther than that, of these half-sleep, restless nights; god awful humid, sultry, breathless summer’s nights, no relief and no air conditioning in sight. No air, no wind coming from the channel across the parking lot from our house, or I should say apartment. No air, less than no air, coming from Adamsville Bay, so still that throwing a rock on it would make ripples all the way to Merrymount. And certainly no air coming from god forsaken Hough’s Neck. I know that for sure, ‘cause I went over there, walked all the way up to Rock Island and down that dusty dirt road all the way to Nut Island almost before I realized that the air had died, or gone on vacation.

Ma, making fun of me and my sweating every second of every minute of every day for about a week now, the other day told me that this was my own personal preview of what it is gonna be like for me in hell, if I don’t change my ways. Yes, ma. But that is just her con, she’s always conning me and my brothers, trying make us do good by bringing God, his son, his holy ghost, his mother, his father, his sisters and brothers and whoever else she can conjure up using to make us do good, to do as she’s says every chance she gets in order to do God’s work, but that’s impossible using her tried and true method. She must have learned that “method” from some priest over at Saint Boniface, or something. She sure didn’t learn it from that cool doctor, Doctor Spock, I think was his name, that I saw on TV the other day on that Mike Douglas, or one of them talk shows. He knows a lot about kids, they say, at least that’s what someone said. I wouldn’t know, I ‘m stuck with Ma, and that ain’t no nice to kids lady, nor does she want to be.
But saying all that ain’t doing me any good, lying here in a pool of sweat, thinking about getting up. But I’m getting mad, even though I know getting mad today is tempting fate, I guess I was born mad, or got that way early because even though I know its gonna get me in trouble , I’m mad . You would think that in the year 1957, in a year when everybody else seems to have money and is spending it, that even in this woe begotten tiny airless apartment filled to the brim with three growing boys and two grown, overgrown if you ask me, adults; in this woe begotten tiny airless room filled to the brim with two growing boys, one sleeping like a log, sleeping the sleep of the just, I guess, across from me right now; in this woe begotten no account housing project where you can’t get anything fixed without about twenty forms and a six month wait and even then you have to wait, nothing less. Even for a light fixture it takes a civil war. Christ, how long, in this woe begotten town before we could have this “necessity,” air conditioning. Ma says we can’t afford it, or whatever her excuse of the week is. “How about a fan, Ma?” Nope, can’t afford the extra electricity ‘cause Dad just got laid off, whatever that means. He’s always getting laid off so I can’t tell what is so different about this time so that we can’t get air conditioning. Johnny Jakes has it, and his father hasn’t ever worked. Can’t, for some reason.

Enough of this, I‘m getting up, if only to splash some water on my face and get my eyes unstuck, or get a cool drink of water to bring down what has got be about a 110 degrees of temperature running through my body, maybe 115. Nah, that can’t be right, we learned about body temperatures in class. I would have to be some alien from outer space maybe. But I’m feverish, that’s for sure. Just then I am stopped short by a sound, a familiar sound. A sound that if I had just one sound to hear in the whole universe of sounds that I have heard in my long eleven year old life it would be that one. The sound of fleeing this hellish, airless place for parts unknown, any unknown. Ya, that old, sweet, lonesome, high whistle sound that cuts me to the bone, that sweet old fog horn sound when the air is like pea soup down the channel ‘cause that means a big old firemen’s red, rubber tire-draped tugboat, or maybe two, is bringing a low-riding, rusty old tanker, or some ship to port across the channel to the Proctor and Gamble factory, the place of a thousand perfume smells, as we call it when the wind is up and all the world here smells like a bar of soap.

If I live to be a hundred, if I live to be a thousand, I’m always gonna watch, even if only in my mind, when that old tanker comes down the line, dragging or getting dragged by that old tug, whistling away, to keep river traffic away, and like it just as much then I bet. I know what I will be doing this morning, or the first part of the morning, heat or no heat, air conditioning or no air conditioning. I will be perched on my very own private, for invited guests only which means nobody, viewing stand at the little point along the shoreline that is my real home, or the home that I wish was my home except maybe in winter, just across from where the big boy boat will settle in.

“Hey, a boat’s coming in, I’m off,” I yell to no one in particular. And from not one of those no one in particulars do I get an answer. My brothers don’t suffer the sweats like I do, they have their own problems which I already sense will be their undoing later, but it ain’t the sweats and so they just sleep away. I rush, and I mean rush, to the bathroom, use the toilet, splash that life-saving water on my face, it always feels good, brush my teeth perfunctorily, and run down the stairs. “Ma, a ship’s coming in,” I say excitedly, even though its about the hundredth time I seen one come in, to my mother who is distracted by something, as usual, especially when my father is out of work, and especially today, Monday, when he goes off in search of new work with a lot of hope about getting some job that will keep the wolves from the doors, that is the constant phrase that he uses to deal with the situation. I’ll tell you about him sometime but today I ain’t got any time for nothing but my ship coming in, and that ain’t no lie either.

“Well, it is not our ship that is coming in so don’t worry about it and just eat your breakfast,” she, dear old Ma, blurred out, and then I know she is in a fit and even if my ship wasn’t coming in I know the ropes enough to know to keep low, very low and out of the range of fire that I know is coming from her direction. I go to the cabinet, grab a cracked, slightly cracked bowl, get a spoon and go over to the stove, take the cover off the pot, steam escaping, and without even looking start dishing out my Quaker Oats oatmeal. Rain, shine, sleet or snow, summer, winter, spring or fall that is my nectar of the gods. With a little milk, when we have it, and even if we don’t a little Karo syrup, I am fortified for the day. Ma, can be a pain, Ma and I have a thousand battles a week over two thousand different things, and I know that already things are never gonna be right between us, even if at times we have an armed truce but, mark this down I always got my oatmeal, and always when I wanted it. I guess that put her on the right side of the angels, a little.

A few gulps later, washed down with about a half glass of milk, I am out the door, hell, even my blessed oatmeal gets short shrift when the tankers blow in. Now going out the door most places that you know about means just going out the door straight. Bu in this urban planner’s nightmarish hangover not at 666 Taffrail Road. First you have the obstacle course of getting around the ten million poles and fences that are plucked right in the “courtyard” when my mother and the other housewives in the other three units that make up our mega-plex hang out their daily washing, or dry their curtains or whatever people like my mother do to keep places like this from reverting back to caveman times. Then I have to cross the parking lot, a lot filled with all kinds of cars, for those that have them. These days we don’t have one, in case I didn’t tell you before, because Dad is out of work so we are all reduced to waiting for an eternity for that slow-rolling, seems never to be here when you need it, Eastern Mass. bus that ambles on to Adamsville Square, making so many stops that I usually just walk it, if I am in a hurry to get something, even on a hot, sweltering summer day like this.

As I hit the already hot asphalt of the lot I look around longingly at the vast array of cars; Plymouths with fins that look like a fish; Chevies, my favorite, sleek and so, Timmy McDevitt tells me, go real fast when you get onto Route 128 and let her rip; Fords that look like something they want to use to go up into space with, and I don’t know what else, but there are plenty. Finally I get to the lower parking lot that’s for guests or people who don’t get a parking spot in front of their house, or maybe just run out of steam before making the turn into hell-bent Taffrail Road. I don’t know and I am now passed that spot on the move along the fence anyhow to get to the little opening that will take me to my grand viewing area. I’m okay though, I still hear the old tug whistle coming up the line so I have some time to wait.

I get to my little sliver of land, just a little jut out of the shoreline, covered with old, oil-slicked quarry rock probably from the ground around here about a million years ago, ‘cause this town is known for its granite rock, cause it’s a granite city, even though the real work done around here is over at the Five Rivers Shipyard that is just across the bridge from the Proctor and Gamble factory, and where even on this hot, god forsaken morning I can faintly hear the sounds of metal being banged by hammers or whatever they use to put the ship together, and the flashes of welders’ torches as they put that banged metal in seamless water-tight condition.

I also notice some empty beer cans, cigarette butts, chip bags left haphazardly all over my viewing stand, somebody last night, or the night before, must have said the hell with it and got out one of the sweltering houses and came over here to get whatever little, little breeze that could be eked out of the windless night. I rule the day here in this spot, especially when the boats come in, no question about that, but what others do at night I have no control over. I just wish they wouldn’t leave a mess on my sacred site.

But that is all so much made-up irritation, probably ‘cause I am so hot, for now I can see the first glimmer of the smokestack of a ship coming up the line. I wonder whose oil it is, Esso? Texaco? Shell? Esso has been in the lead this year, and they are bigger ships and ride real low in the water coming in, and real high going out. I can start to see specks on the bridge, human specks that are busy doing the work of preparing the ship for the dock.

I wonder, wonder a lot, about these guys and the work they do and whether they like it and like being on the sea and whether they ever have any trouble like in stories that I read down at the Thomas Crane Library attached to the school, and where they have been and what adventures they have had, and where, and with whom. Maybe that’s the life for me. And I wonder about the girls they know from all over and whether they are nicer than the girls in the "projects" who are beginning to get on my nerves, for some reason. At least I don’t know what to do or what to say around them, or what they want me to do, or want me to say. I hope this is just being a boy kid and that it goes away, and I hope it a lot.

Oh, there she is, an Esso. The tugs are in position, gently nudging her and getting her ready to go dockside, tie up and unload. Wonder how long she will stay? Usually its takes a couple of days and then they are gone, sometimes in the middle of the night and they are not there in the morning depending on the tides and the traffic on the roads, oh, ocean roads, that is. Hey, its almost lunchtime, guess I’ll go home and eat and go down the cellar, maybe to try to cool off. I know one thing now though that kind of had me worried and kind of bothered me for a while 'cause I am just a kid. I now know I will always take time to watch the boats as they blow in, and dream about catching a boat out, wherever I am. Maybe, that is an omen, a good omen, about my future. I'll let you know.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

***The Old "Beat" Town, Circa 2010-For Barbara, Class Of 1964

Click on the headline to link to a "WBZ" Website report on an up-coming construction project on the Neponset Bridge. This is merely for background on the old town bridge, the 'real' pre-1970 one mentioned below.

Al Johnson, Class Of 1964, comment:

Crossing the Neponset River Bridge from the Boston side these days, walking-sore-footed, ankle-ached, worn-out, scuffed leather shoes, rounded-heel shoes, soles thinned-out shoes walking-just as was almost always my mode of transportation, and maybe yours, in the old days, and sometimes for me in the not so old days-ain’t like it used to be. That new (1970s new, anyway), higher-standing , pot-holed patched, unevenly asphalt-paved even on good days, uninviting, if not just plain dangerous, walk-way, ugly slab-concreted, built by the lowest bidder, bridge that routes traffic, hither and yon, is not like the old one, “ walking to think things over friendly."

Not today, anyway, as I brace myself for a serious look see at our beat-up, beat-down, beaten-back, back-seat-taking, smudged-up, blood and sweat-stained, bitter-teared (very bitter-teared), life-drained, seen better days (although I do not, personally, remember having seen those better days, but people keep saying, even now, there was a such a time so let’s leave it at that), almost genetically memory embedded , character-building (yes, that old chestnut, as well), beautiful (yes, beautiful too, oddly, eerily beautiful, or as mad, shamanic poet Yeats, he of that that fine Anglo-Irish word edge, would put it, "terrible beauty a-borning" beautiful ), old working class home town.

It’s silly, I know, to get misty-eyed over it but I miss the old archaic pre-1970s drawbridge bridge with its ghastly-green gates to stop car traffic (how else could you describe that institutional color that no artist would have on his or her palette, and no serious professional business painter would stoop to brush on anything much less a gate) and the lonely stony-eyed concrete medieval fortress of a tower (and its poor, bored, had to be bored, keeper, or tender or whatever you call that “look out for the big boats coming and going” guy, and it was always some old guy who looked like he could swap stories, buddy to buddy, with King Neptune, and probably did) to let the bigger boats, courtesy of the law of the seas, make their way to dock.

Or, better, I hope, I fervently hope, for the boats to get clearance from that old codger, old Neptune’s brother, to race, to crawl, to put-put, to hoist sail or whatever such boats do to get to the open sea, the wide open blue-grey, swirling, mad, rushing, whirling dervish of a sea, out to beyond the breakwaters, out to beyond the harbor islands, to the land becoming mere speck, and then mere vanish, and more adventure than I could even dream of, or think of dreaming of. At least I hope those oil-stained, diesel-fuelled (including those awful faint-producing fumes), powerfully-engined, deep-drafted, fully–stocked boats that drove river traffic and stopped car traffic came back or went out in search of those adventures away from the placid wooden-lumbered doldrums docks up along the Quincy side of the river.

But, one thing is for sure, whatever happened to the boats, or on them, that old bridge, that old green-gate painted monster of a drawbridge, gave you a chance to pause mid-bridge, fright-free, not-having-to-watch-your-back-for-fast-cars-caroming-by free even, to look up and down midstream; to dream, perhaps, of tidal drifts and fair winds to the far reaches of this good, green planet, as far as you could carry yourself and your backpacked, bed-rolled belongings, or as long as the money held out; to bestir yourself afresh to think of oneness with the seventy-eight trillion life forms (hey, I didn’t count them, alright, this is just an estimate, a very rough estimate) that flow in the murky, and on some days very murky, depths right before your eyes down to our homeland, the sea; to dream vista dreams of far away picture postcard cooling ports-of-call in the sweaty, sultry summer day airs or churn madly with the flow of wild summer night airs that led from the old home town west, north, south, somewhere, anywhere; to dream the dream of dreams of misspent (no way, no way misspent), suggestive, very suggestive, radio-blared Lets Spend The Night Together or The Night Time Is The Right Time, whiskey-bottle in hand (or, maybe, beer-canned if dough was tight, or way back when and you were underage if your wino buyer didn't show that night), best-gal swinging (quaint, okay, but we are all adults and you know what I mean) Saturday nights; and, to think that one thought, that one midstream on the bridge-driven thought that would spring you from the woes of woe begotten, troubled-filled (for me, and, maybe, you) dear, (now dear, anyway) beat, ancient-ached, old timey, presidential graveyard of a growing-up home town.

This new one, this new bridge, as I stand mid-bridge and peek back to my left routes, if you can even call it that, traffic via a Daytona race track-worthy, curvy-swurvy ramp to the beach, Wollaston Beach, down the now, in places anyway, three lane-wide, freshly-paved and white-lined Quincy Shore Drive. That’s our old Wollaston Boulevard, down by shore everything’s alright, of sacred ashy memory. And as I watch the traffic flow, the car traffic I think not of vanilla, too bright, too light, too slight day time beach, for now, because I am flooded with visions of the “real” beach of my manic dreams- “the night time is the right time" beach. Enough of daytime, kiddish, bucket and shovel whines and childish butterfly daydreams, enough. Alright?

I just now, and you can follow along too, float dream of teenaged Saturday nights, or maybe even Friday nights, or both, cruising, nowhere, somewhere, anywhere, to the pink- blue, cloud-swollen, sun-devouring, Western nightdream skies, always just beyond our reach. Of you riding "shotgun" in your buddy’s car, a be-bop car, or, I hope, at least bop, late 1950s, and pray hard for a ’57 Chevy or something “cool” like that, borrowed from his old man, stopped at close by high school (remember), Merit gas station and filled, two-dollars-worth-of-gas-check the oil-please-filled. Or his own car, your buddy's, the old man's, leavings, given gratis, when that self-same old man stepped up to a new, bigger-finned, power-steered, rumble-engined, airplane of a car, a new sign that he had “made it” in hard dollar America. Of stolen sickly-sweet wines or breathe-soured whiskeys to ward off the night-forebodings, made sweeter or more sour by the stealing from that same old man’s, or maybe your old man's, liquor cabinet, if they had such an upscale thing, or else just from some dusty high cupboard shelf so the kids can’t get at it place. And, and, oh boy, visions of those moon-beamy, dreamy, seamy, steamy Saturday night beach parking, car-fogged, car-wrestled, “submarine races” watchings that were the subject of Monday morning boys’ rest room (okay, “lav”) roll call, recital and retailing (or, hell, probably in the girls’ room too, I bet, but the now women can tell their own tales). Whoa!

Beatified night-dreamed beach Quincy Shore Drive also routes, now that my blood pressure has returned to normal, to daydream summer sunbathing, or maybe even before summer sunbathing for early tans to drive away the fierce, ghost-like New England winter pales, in the real sun daytime down by the weather-beaten yacht clubs (tumbleweedy, seedy, paint-needy Wollaston and Squantum). Away, well a little away, from the early encountered mephitic sea grass marshes near the Causeway (you know where, right?-the old First National supermarket, now CVS drugs-for all occasions-store location), away from the deadened, fetid, scattered sea grasses and the muck, and in plain kid talk, away from the “stinks”, away from the tepid waves apologetically splashing on the ocean smooth-stoned dunes, away too from the jelly-fish (are they poisonous, or not?) spawning and spattered along the edges of the low tide line, and, most fervently, away, away from the oil-slicked mud flats of childish shovel and pail clam-digging adventures, clams squirting and screaming from their sand hovels that need not detain us here, that story has been told elsewhere by me, and often.

Once you have passed the fetid swamps, the mephitic marshes…, but wait a minute, who knows such un-childlike, or un-teenager-like, for that matter, words like fetid and mephitic and where, as a child, even if you knew the words, would you connect those words with pail and shovel digging to China, or some faraway place, beach; with tide-melting, furtive but fevered, sand castle-making, beach; with coolly and focused looking for treasure, somebody’s leavings, some body’s rich leavings so you think, beach; with learning about the fury of Mother Nature and the pull and push of tides first hand when old Mother (like womb mother) turns her fury on, beach; with later finger (or stick) sand-tracing of your name defying the tides to erase your brand as you fight, and fight hard, for your place in the sun (and maybe linking up your sweetie’s name, just for good measure, in that struggle with eternity), beach; with fellaheen digging for clams for fun or profit (or food for table, who knows) down at the Merrymount end, beach; with family barbecue outings, hot dogs and hamburgers, extra ketchup, please, beach. With, well, beach, beach. No, fetid and mephitic will not do, I like my dreams, my child remembrance dreams, cloud puffy and silky.

This bridge, this too far bridge, this man-standing memory bridge, or however you named it, or whatever you thought of it, or wherever you were heading, destiny-heading, heading to your growing-up-like-a-weed town, heading just like a-lemming-to-the-sea town pushes the brain in a couple of directions. Heading south anyway, shore drive south, south to the rivieras, south to the old time kid’s Paragon Park. Rickety, always needed, desperately needed, fresh paint coat, landlocked, off-limits showboat bar-entranced (gay place, before gay word existed as a social category, but what did we know then, or care, just quarters for skeets, please, ah, please), ocean-aired, between-the toes-sanded, sun glass-visioned against the furious midday sun Paragon Park. Roller coaster Paragon Park (hey, maybe sick, before you got the hang of it, right), wild mouse (kid's stuff, ya I know) Paragon Park, cheap, colorful skeet ball points trinket prize, sugar high, lips smacked cotton-candy, stuck to the roof of your mouth, roof of the world, salt water taffy-twisted, hot-dogged (hold the mustard, no onions), pin ball wizard’d, take your baby to the carnival feel the tunnel of love, Paragon Park.(Or later, coming of another age, the Surf, and a whole other memory bridge of dreams, not for now though.) Or south of that south to some old time, unnamed, misty adventure, some ancient Pilgrim-etched mayflower rocky shored adventure, some ancient forebear's praise Jehovah plainsong heard whistling through some weed-filled granite slate graveyards, not mine; mine is of shanty Irish "famine" ships and old kicked out of England convict labor, hell-hole, "hillbilly" Appalachia work the coal mines, boats. Down along that old slow as molasses, take your time, wait at every just barely red stoplight, watch out for side-glanced cop cars, two-laned, white stripped, no passing (hardly), ocean-touched (in places) road. Memory-washed, memory-etched, memory south youth road, ah.

Yes, that cotton-candy dream is enough to stir even a hardened soul, but as I shift, stiffly shift, weight on my tired old high-soled, age-qualified, age-necessary, bop-bop shoes(no more of "young" fashionista statement, skinny-soled, fire engine red Chuck Taylor’s, now of sturdy, new age, aero-flow, aero-glow, aero-know, aero-whatever, for this heavy work, this airy memory work, bop-bop shoes), I stand straight up in mid-bridge balance and veer my head to the right. That move makes me focus my mind’s eye to the heart, the soul, the guts of the old growing-up town via a narrow, straight and narrow, slit in the road, a road constructed in such a way as if to say no cuts-ups, fops (quaint, again), or oddballs wanted here, as it swerves to the edgings, the bare edgings, amidst the gathering flotsam and jetsam as it piles up on riverside old Hancock Street and as it meanders along like some far-removed river of its own, river of its own sorrows, river of its own pent-up angers, toward the Square.

But more than sorrows, ancient sorrows, more than angers, angers of whatever age, I am attacked, and not just in my mind’s eye either, by the myriad mirror-glassed buildings, mostly office buildings, maybe some apartments or condos but I hope not, that reflect off each other in some secret Bauhaus bright light, dead of night pact, post-post-modern architecture I am sure, functional I am sure, although when future, future generations dig up the artifacts I am also sure they will be as puzzled by the idea of such forms of shelter and commerce as I am. And beyond those future subjects of artifact a picture, a picture to feed the hungry buildings, of tactless, thoughtless pizza shop, take-out or eat-in, of whatever name, donut shop, take-out or eat-in, of whatever name, hamburger shop, take-out or eat-in, of whatever name, Applebee’s family-friendly food named, now you-name-it-for-me, please, fast-food shop, mini-mart shop, fill-up gas-station of many names, Hess named, that dot, no, deluge strip mall-heavy Hancock Street up pass our sanctified raider red-bled high school. And beyond to dowdy, drowsy, dusty–windowed (really, I actually touched one once, not a white glove inspection but it, the window that is, didn’t pass muster even by my liberal standards), how do they stay in business against the pull of the major chains (or their chains), small-stored, small-dreamed business ownership, Norfolk Downs.

Norfolk Downs, the good old “Downs” (although we just called it plain, old, ordinary, vanilla-flavored, one-horse Norfolk Downs back in the day) anchored still by named pizza shop, Balducci’s. Balducci’s of after school pizza slices or after nightime across the street hang-around underground bowling alley hungers. Plain, please, no one hundred and one choice toppings, thank you, and coke (bluish-green bottled Coca-Cola, okay, for the evil-minded): of nickels and dimes dropped in one-armed-bandit jukebox to hear the latest Stones (or Beatles) tune, or whatever struck a chord in those jumping-jack times, maybe some mopey thing if girl desire was high; yes, but also of weary, so weary, lonely, so lonely night time standings up against the front door wall, waiting, waiting for...(and, maybe, someone, some guy, some long side-burned, engineer-booted guy, cigarette pack, unfiltered, rolled in tee-shirt guy, some time machine guy, is still waiting, still holding up that wall today. Nobody told him the world, the world that counts, the teen world, had moved to the malls). And beyond Norfolk Downs, up that asphalt river, on to the fate of a million small city centers, ghost-towned, derelict, seen better days, for sure, no question, no question, Quincy Center.

But I find myself , just now, as a stream of cooling air, finally, finally crosses my bridge-stuck, bridge-dreamed path, not in thoughts of jumbled mist of time high school-hood Saturdays nights (nor Friday nights either) in Norfolk Downs pizza parlors or bowling alleys, but of whirling past anciently walked, shoe leather-beaten (always leather-beaten, crooked-heeled, thinning-soled shoes that could be the subject of their own separate bridge-like dream thoughts), oceaned-breezed (just like the breeze crossing over me now , ‘cause that is where it is coming from, it has to be), sharp-angled memories: some of hurt, some of high-hatted hurt, worse, a few, too few, of funny kiddish, ding-dong dumb done things (ever when too old to hide under that womb-like kiddish umbrella), the memories that is, of Atlantic streets, of breezing Quincy bays, of oceans-abutted streets etched deep, almost DNA deep.

Name names. Okay. Well-trodden Appleton Street sidewalks, drawn like a moth to flame to some now-forgotten she, by flickering, heart-quickening, unrequited, just barely teenage, but self-consciously teenage anyhow, romantic trance longings, doggedly working up non-courage, yes non-courage a very common thing in those days, to speak, or better, to write that one word, that one word still now not easily come by, that would spark interest (her interest), as I turned from boy to the buddings of manhood; of the close-quartered, no space, no space for anything but small pinched, tightly pinched, dreams , no room to breathe, no room to breathe anything but small breathe, hacked up, asphalted-up, lawn-free yards to quench driveway car thirsting, two and three-decked Atlantic Street houses passed on quick high school cross country practice runs; of family relative-burdened, just getting-started in adult life, small, cramped five room and tiny bath apartment dotted Walker and Webster Streets; of the closely-cornered, well-kept small manicured-lawn’d, busily repair-worked, no beach parking on the street in summertime, working class cottage-mansions of Bayfield Road (I always forget which is North and which is South, but no matter the description fits both as they feed to the endless sea stopped by that infernal stop light that keeps you waiting, waiting beyond impatience, to cross to the much repaired and replaced seawall and view of seaward homeland.); of Atlantic Junior High School’d (ya, I know, Middle School) teen angst (under either junior or middle school names), mad, hormonally mad, teen-brokered years, world wised-up with some twists, but also world sorry, straight-up, Hollis Avenue; and on and on, through to the beach-drained, tree-named streets. Sanctified beyond name streets all; beat, beatified streets all; mist-filled dream streets all; memory-soaked streets all; be-bop, then real gone daddy, now hip-hop, big old pie-in-the-sky looking for the universe somewhere, streets all.

But enough of old dog-eared memories let me get moving, after all with this bridge, this “new” bridge, one has to cross with purpose, serious purpose, and maybe a wing and a pray that one can get back to the old home town in one piece or, at least, be able to think that one precious thought that drove me, lemming-like, here in the first place. I walk down the broken hand-railed, dirt-piled , drift winds-sent littered steps to get off the bridge and immediately stretched before me ; one million water-logged, stubbed cigarette-butts; one thousand stray, crushed, empty, cellophaned cigarette-packages blown around seeking their rightful owners; one hundred infinite brand-named (ice cold something pictured Bud Lite seems like the winner), crushed (or at least dented) beer cans; assorted, unnumbered, brown whiskey(or were they gin) bottles, mainly cheap from the look of them, a drunkard’s feast at one time; high gloss advertisement mailings(endless CVS drugs to take your world’s pain away, Shaw’s food to curb that incurable hunger that gnaws away at your stomach, Wal-Mart back-to-school trinkets, gadgets and throw-aways when the kids find out, and find out fast, that this crap is not “cool”, K-Mart holiday bargains, three for a dollar); yellowing, dated, newspapers (local this-and-that news, distant war drum news, more war drum news from some other earth corner, bad news badder, and celebrity relief news, Lady GaGa, or some such doings, that’s the ticket for our times) strewn every which way, discarded fast food packages of all descriptions that I have no time to describe. On to the street I step, the hard-scrabble North Quincy street. Home.