Tuesday, May 31, 2011

***In The Heat Of the Be-Bop 1960s Rock Night- Ya, We Were All Exiles On Main Street- “The Rolling Stones: Stones In Exile"- A DVD Review

 I am sure that Mick and the boys will gladly take a back seat to Howlin' Wolf on this one.

DVD Review

Rolling Stones: Stones In Exile, The Rolling Stones, directed by Stephen Kijak, 2010

In the old days, the old high school days when such things mattered, my best friend at North Adamsville High School (we actually went back to old North Adamsville Middle School days together), Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley to give his full moniker, spent endless hours arguing over the merits of The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones as the primo rock band of the times. The times being the early 1960s, the time of the edge, just the wee edge of the beginning of the uprisings associated with our generation, the generation of ’68.

I will get into the specifics of that Frankie controversy a little later but for the purposes of this review of a film documentary about the making of the Stones’ 1972 album, Exile on Main Street, the real controversy is over whether this album was their best ever or not. At that point Frankie and I had lost contact so that I will just give as my opinion that for pure blues-ness, pure Stones’ foundational blue-ness, for country rooted-ness, and for musicianship it is hard to argue that any other Stones' album was better. And that opinion, now with the benefit of the documentary footage and current interviews with many of the personalities from Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to the sidemen, hangers-on, gofers, and their manager during this period, Marshall Chess (son of the legendary blues label founder, Leonard Chess), about how it was produced, and what it all meant, still holds up.

I noted in the headline that in the 1960s we, at least those of us who were politically alienated from mainstream Western social norms or at wits end for some other more personal reasons, were all exiles on Main Street. Main Street being a convenient term of art for all that was square, not cool, up-tight, piggish, and a thousand other words we used to separate our youth culture out from the ticky-tack little white house with the picket fence dream that passed for social reality then (and, unfortunately, now, well kind of now). For the Stones this notion of exile, self-imposed exile, not glad-tiding self-imposed exile to hear the lads tell it, had another element. They had to flee England in order to escape from some terrible tax burdens that had accumulated and for which they did not have control over solving (or money to pay). So off to the south of France they go, to live and to produce the new album and in order to get some dough.

Of course, with such well-known edge city crazies as Mick and Keith this was not going to be a Sunday in the park. Along the way they picked up musicians, groupies, hangers-on, bag men, bad guys, dope dealers and everyone with a little cache who could get to France and be around the scene. And that scene included, surprise, surprise, dope of every kind- from pills to smack (heroin, then, as now, not a “cool” drug staple), booze by the buckets full, women, sex, and everything else under the sun. Let’s leave it that the scene was the epitome of the slogan “drug, sex and rock and roll” and along with the expression “live fast, die young and make a good corpse” will get you the flavor of what went on just about right. Oh ya, in case you forgot, it also included an incredible amount of work by Mick and Keith writing material, all members playing riffs until arms got sore, throats died and fingers began to bleed. Not a recipe that your mothers would suggest for making successful careers, of any kind. But just the right recipe to unleash the rock energy built up in one of the great rock bands that every exited, then and AARP and old age home-worthy now.

Take an hour out and look at some serious rock history. Then go up in the attic and dust off the album, or check it out in your CD collection, or download it to your iPOD, or Google it on YouTube but listen to it. Especially the blues-ish stuff like Tumblin' Dice (that will get even grandpa out of his rocking chair); Sweet Virginia; Sweet Black Angel; and the rootsy (Robert Johnson rootsy) Stop Breaking Down.

Now back to serious Frankie business. The Frankie business of figuring out the real places of The Stones and The Beatles in the rock pantheon, for eternity. Back on those hot, steamy, endless summer nights standing (or sitting on the curb) beneath those North Adamsville street lights when that question mattered, mattered as a "universal one" question. I am not sure exactly when I first hear a Stones song, although it was probably Satisfaction, and it was probably up in Frankie’s cluttered bedroom, a place that served as a refuge from my own storm-tossed house what with my mother’s tirades against, well, against anything that I might do, or might think of doing. You know that song, or have heard about it.

However, what really hooked me on The Stones was when they covered the old Willie Dixon blues classic, Little Red Rooster. If you will recall that song was banned, at first, from the radio stations of Boston. Later, I think, and someone can maybe help me out on this, WMEX broke the ban and played it. And no, the song was not about the doings of our barnyard friends. But beyond the implicit sexual theme was the fact that it was banned that made me, and perhaps you, if you are from the generation of ’68, want to hear it at any cost. That says as much about my personality then, and now, as any long-winded statement I could make. And that is what also set Frankie and me apart on this question.

See, Frankie was from no where on the blues. And I mean no where. Although Frankie reigned supreme as the king hell king of our corner boy high school scene (headquartered at the local pizza parlor, Salducci’s, owned by a mad-hatter of a zen pizza-maker, Tonio, who loved Frankie practically like a son for some reason never explained, at least that I could figure out) and was cool in many things, he was pretty square in his music tastes. He never got over Elvis, really, and followed his ever depressing descend into Blue Hawaii-dom (or worst) avidly, and Frankie really believed that Roy Orbison was a demon (there is a story behind that belief which involved the machinations of his girlfriend, Joanne, which need not detain us here). Carl Perkins was another idol, and I need not speak of the fact that he almost cried when they started picking on Jerry Lee Lewis just because he married his cousin, or something. Thus far though we were not that far apart.

But get this. He, king of the be-bop night, no question, a guy whom I talked about universal things to and got a thoughtful talking back to on, took it in strife when guys like Fabian, Booby (oops) Bobby Vee, Conway Twitty (be serious), Bobby Darin, the Everly Brothers, and Rick Nelson, jesus, Rick Nelson led the musical counter-revolution in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Music that made me, on certain days, abandon the transistor radio that was central to my home life peace. (Ya, that Ma thing mentioned previously). So when The Beatles turned up he was kind of nonplussed by them, and I swear he actually said this one night and I will quote his words exactly just in case there are any legal ramifications over it- “They did a nice cover of Twist and Shout”-jesus christ. Even I saw them as a breathe of fresh air then.

Now you get the idea of the musical gap that developed between us. That hearing of Little Red Rooster, moreover, began my long love affair with the blues, although somewhere deep in my psyche, my projects boy psyche, I had that beat in my head way before I could name it. I swear I grabbed every Muddy Waters, Joe Turner, Ike Turner, John Lee Hooker album that I could get my hands on. And then branched out to such esoteric stuff as the work of blues pioneers like Son House, Robert Johnson, and Bukka White (he did Panama Limited and Aberdeen Mississippi Woman on the sweat-dripping National Steel guitar and flipped me out, and still flips me out. Google those on YouTube) and other early country blues boys. Some of this also got mixed in at the time with my budding interest in the folk music scene, the folk protest music scene. And that is probably why, although the blues, particularly the Chicago blues, also influenced The Beatles, it is The Stones that I favor. Their cover on Rooster still holds up, by the way. Not as good, as I found out later, as the legendary Howlin' Wolf's version but good.

I have also thought about the Stones influence more recently as I have thought about the long ago past of my youth. Compare some works like John Lennon's earnest, plaintive Working Class Hero and The Stones' agitated Street Fighting Man (yes, I know these are later works, later than the be-bop corner boy schoolboy night, but they serve to make my point here) and I believe that something in the way The Stones from early on presented that angry, defiant sound appealed to my sense of working class alienation. Let’s leave it as they “spoke” to me and The Beatles didn’t. Frankie, always caught up with some twist (although mainly the Joanne mentioned above) moved to less defiant sounds. But he was the king hell king corner boy, and bailed me out of tough situations, tough girl situations and some other semi-legal things, more times than not so he draws a pass on his vanilla tastes here. Thanks, Frankie.

Note: If we were really thinking about comparisons between rock groups the better one is actually not The Beatles vs. The Stones but Stones vs. The Doors. On any given night in the late 1960s when Jim Morrison dug deeply into his psyche and bared his shamanistic soul (and dug, dug deeply, into his medicine bag as well) The Doors were the best rock band in the world. No question. But when you start to list the all-time classic Stones hits from Gimme Shelter to Tumblin’ Dice (like I say the one that will still get even grandpa up and about) and how they stand the test of time The Stones win hands down.

Street Fighting Man Lyrics
Artist(Band):The Rolling Stones
(M. Jagger/K. Richards)

Ev'rywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy
'Cause summer's here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy
But what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock 'n' roll band
'Cause in sleepy London town
There's just no place for a street fighting man

Hey! Think the time is right for a palace revolution
'Cause where I live the game to play is compromise solution
Well, then what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock 'n' roll band
'Cause in sleepy London town
There's just no place for a street fighting man

Hey! Said my name is called disturbance
I'll shout and scream, I'll kill the king, I'll rail at all his servants
Well, what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock 'n' roll band
'Cause in sleepy London town
There's just no place for a street fighting man

"Working Class Hero" lyrics- John Lennon

As soon as your born they make you feel small,
By giving you no time instead of it all,
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.
They hurt you at home and they hit you at school,
They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool,
Till you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.
When they've tortured and scared you for twenty odd years,
Then they expect you to pick a career,
When you can't really function you're so full of fear,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.
Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV,
And you think you're so clever and classless and free,
But you're still fucking peasents as far as I can see,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.
There's room at the top they are telling you still,
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill,
If you want to be like the folks on the hill,
A working class hero is something to be.
A working class hero is something to be.
If you want to be a hero well just follow me,
If you want to be a hero well just follow me.

The Red Rooster
Howling Wolf

I have a little red rooster, too lazy to crow for day
I have a little red rooster, too lazy to crow for day
Keep everything in the barnyard, upset in every way

Oh the dogs begin to bark,
and the hound begin to howl
Oh the dogs begin to bark, hound begin to howl
Ooh watch out strange kind people,
Cause little red rooster is on the prowl

If you see my little red rooster, please drag him home
If you see my little red rooster, please drag him home
There ain't no peace in the barnyard,
Since the little red rooster been gone

Willie Dixon

***War And Remembrance- A Boston Veterans For Peace Memorial Day-May 30, 2011

Memorial Day for Peace

When: Monday, May 30, 2011, 1:00 pm
Where: Christopher Columbus Park • Atlantic Ave. at Long Wharf • Aquarium T • Boston

Start: 2011 May 30 - 1:00pm

Please join Veterans For Peace, Military Families Speak Out, United for Justice with Peace, Gold Star Families for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee for a ceremony for Peace on Memorial Day.

Speakers to include:
John Schuchardt – House of Peace, Ipswich, MA

Ross Caputi – Marine veteran of the Iraq War (2003 – 2006)
President of Boston University Anti-War Coalition

Kevin & Joyce Lucey, parents of Corporal Jeffrey Lucey, U.S. M.C.

Melida & Carlos Arredondo, Gold Star Families for Peace, parents of Marine Lance Corporal Alex Arredondo U.S,M.C.

Oday Mahmood & Ayfer AbedAljibar– Iraqi Refugees – Will speak on behalf of the new Iraqi community here in Massachusetts.

James Vanloy – Poet

John Olivere – Singer Songwriter
Fritz, old battle-scarred and battle-weary purple-hearted Fritz Taylor, Vietnam, 1969-1971, Fritz John Taylor, RA048433691 to be exact, had to laugh as he made his way from Adamsville to the downtown Boston waterfront. To the green jut of land Christopher Columbus Park (and that name, causing further bemusement when he first heard the locale, could itself tell a big story about the old days European-centered military adventures to the Americas)for what he was not sure, exactly, was either the third or fourth annual Veterans For Peace counter-Memorial Day commemoration (really counter-traditional observance).

Fritz had not laughed a funny laugh as he was prone to do these days when something struck him as unusual, but laughed out loud at the thought of a no-go, not even boot camp as far as he knew, commander-in chief of all the American imperial armed forces , United States President Barack Obama, suddenly warming up to his post-Osama Bin Laden kill authorization (after having , vicariously, watched the SEAL action in “real time”) very consciously earlier this day placing himself at the center of the Memorial Day action in Arlington National Cemetery trying to draw succor from the ghost of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg. Talking aimlessly, or maybe better superficially, about valor, about the good of the cause, about the last full measure of devotion, and lastly, what war in the end is all about, saving your buddy’s ass, or he yours.

But see, to Fritz’s way of thinking, Lincoln at least had the advantage, the very distinct advantage, of not only having said those kinds of words and those kinds of sentiments first and therefore in a more free-lance, free-wheeling eloquent way but said them at humankind's hallowed Gettysburg in the wake of what turned out to the decisive great Northern victory (along with Grant’s Vicksburg victory) in a war, that by hook or by crook, turned chattel slavery times out the door.

What could one imperial chief, Barack Obama, today draw on for succor? Leading a 50,000 troop wind-down in Iraq, a thoughtlessly unjust war if there ever was one, with more than its fair share of collateral damage, read American troop-driven civilian killings, and to call it by its right name murder. Yes, yes, by all means Fritz Taylor knew, knew chapter and verse, that when it did not really count one non-president Barack Obama opposed George’s Follies but that was then, and this, this was desperately now with the latest headlines out of Baghdad announcing a 200,000 mass march calling for an American withdrawal post-haste. And Fritz Taylor, Fritz Taylor who had gotten “religion” on the subject of war, on collateral damage, on don’t give a damn about spent soldiers’ lives since those lost Vietnam days, lost in some drug addiction time, some newspaper-strewn park bench time, some lost family connection time, took a moment to reflect on that fact, and to murmur softly to himself- Obama, Mr. President, since Fritz is putting things in a more kindly fashion now- get the hell out of Iraq, completely out, and stay out.

And Fritz had to laugh, and the nature of that laugh need not be repeated here, about how big bad Barrack Obama, whom almost every non-veteran of any battle, except maybe the battle for the Democratic nomination for President in 2008, or of the bar stool in some ill-lit barroom but those don’t count in real battle scars world, has been touting as some kind of Gandhian pacifist while constantly upping the ante in Afghanistan since about day one of his administration, the troop commitment ante, the one that really counts. And making that ill-conceived policy the lynch-pin for his whole world-wide war strategy, with no serious end date in sight (and no congressional oversight to stop him, according to a recent vote on the question of war budget authorizations-the real deal when it comes to war policy).

Fritz’s thoughts just then as well dwelled on the more recent, the more off-hand stuff, the several hundred drones attacks in Pakistan, the few thousand, give or take, cruise missiles (oops, that’s a NATO operation, he forgot, sorry) in Libya and the general policeman of the world carrying a big stick, a very big stick indeed, in the rest of the world. So he felt compelled to murmur under his breathe, no really curse under his breathe, Mr. President, Fritz still being the soul of politeness these days, these got anti-war “religion,” drug- free, alcohol-free, stable home under his feet days, get the hell out of Afghanistan and stay out. And while you are at it, Mr. Obama, keep American hands off, way off the rest of the world, as he then saw the first of several white dove on black background Veterans for Peace (VFP) flags flying in the wind down near the ferry docks adjacent to this Columbus honor park.

And while a moment ago he raged with grievous anger at the American imperial state and its two-bit sheriff (oops, sorry again, President) he felt calmer, as he always felt calmer, when he spied the white-doved, black-background flags because that meant kindred, mainly Vietnam-era kindred but sprinkles of others as well. Guys, mostly, and a few women as well, now graying guys, seriously graying guys, now walking a little more haltingly due to life’s toll, now maybe not in that tip-top shape that made them prime Grade A cannon fodder back in the days, who had been through battles, real battles and post-war battles, some of them anyway just like him, whom he always argued had more than enough “cred” when anti-war talk time came around. And others, other anti-warriors, who only credentials were some well-written papers, some well-spoken speech, or a safely-protected street march in some big or middle-sized American city or town who knew, knew deep in their hearts that Fritz’s point was true. And they were deferential, sometimes just a little too paternally or maternally deferential, when the big brassy white flag-draped veterans came marching their way.

Oh sure, this third (or was it fourth) commemoration was not well-attended, maybe a hundred, not the thousands standing on those big and mid-sized city and town street corners, or walking past those benighted American flag-bedecked blessed sweet good night grave sites with their complements of still-grieving kin, but this place, this momentarily hallowed anti-war place is not measured by numbers this day but by remembrance, hard-earned remembrance, hard-earned rage against the night cannon fodder-used and folly remembrance. And, oh sure, the speeches, the speeches by those graying activists, with just the barest sprinkle of newer Iraq and Afghanistan era veterans, were directed at that hundred angel choir of kindred. And Fritz, having heard every anti-war argument before, having heard every political prisoner Private Bradley Manning story before, having heard about the collateral damage, foreign division, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Palestine, civilian horror story before; and every collateral damage, domestic division, devastated military families story before still drank in the words. And said his fair share of old-time protest “right on,” brother, or sister. And yelled loudly and proudly, “Free Bradley Manning.” Yes, these days Bradley Manning’s fight is us, our younger fighting spirit us. The torch has now been passed to the new guys, and the couple of hours as well. Fritz Taylor just for that moment felt ten feet tall for having made this day’s journey. He was charged-up again.

On the way home, or rather on the way to meet, over near the Adamsville River, his better other, Lillian, his “sweet pea” he had named her for her sunny disposition, and her tough determination to give him a home to feel planted in and, early on, a little anti-war “religion” bump start too he passed, as thinking about it later he should have expected, a very different Memorial Day celebration sponsored by the Adamsville Veterans Of Foreign Wars (VFW). Before he got “religion” he had spent many a cheap drinks drinking hour at that same VFW hall, or the American Legion hall farther up the street, and had thought nothing of retelling many bar stool battle stories to anyone who would listen. And listen they did because Fritz had another kind of “cred” in those days, battle-tested credentials, as against the state-side duty and or rear area supply sergeants that populate these VFW and American Legion barrooms.

But right now he was chagrined at this tactless “celebration” going on before his eyes, complete with family-friendly barbecue, pony rides and merry-go-round for the kids, and more thoughtless, neglected and discarded American flags than one could shake a stick at. Those quickly passed scenes momentarily brought back to Fritz’s mind ancient unhealed, unheal-able, wounds, and ancient, also unheal-able, angers as well. What was not ancient, although also unheal-able, was when, as he quietly passed by, some long-in-the-tooth ex- supply sergeant VFW honcho noticed Fritz’s still shirt-pinned buttons calling for Obamian troop withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and freedom for Private Bradley Manning and called him a “commie”. Fritz thought, jesus, where has this guy been but he also reflected, especially seeing the kids unconsciously drink in the warrior atmospherics that went with this celebration, that charged-up or not, he still had a hell of a lot of work to do. A hell of a lot.

Monday, May 30, 2011

***Those Oldies But Goodies…Out In The Be-Bop ‘50s Song Night- Billie’s Back- The Crests’ “Step By Step”

Markin comment:

This is the back story, the teen listener back story if you like, going back to the primordial youth time of the mid to late 1950s with its bags full of classic rock songs for the ages. Of course, any such efforts have to include the views of one Billie, William James Bradley, the schoolboy mad-hatter of the 1950s rock jailbreak out in our “the projects” neighborhood. Ya, in those days, unlike during his later fateful wrong turn trajectory days, every kid, including best friend Markin, me, lived to hear what he had to say about any song that came trumpeting over the radio, at least every one that we would recognize as our own.

Billie and I spent many, many hours mainly up in his tiny bedroom, his rock heaven bedroom, walls plastered with posters of Elvis, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, somewhat later Jerry Lee Lewis, and of every new teen heartthrob singer, heartthrob to the girls that is, around, on his night table every new record Billie could get his hands on, by hook or by crook, and neatly folded piles of clothing, also gathered by that same hook or by crook, appropriate to the king hell king of the schoolboy rock scene, the elementary school rock scene between about 1956 to 1960. Much of that time was spent discussing the “meaning” of various songs, especially their sexual implications, ah, their mystery of girls-finding-out-about worthiness.

Although in early 1959 my family had started the process of moving out of the projects, and, more importantly, I had begun to move away from Billie’s orbit, his new found orbit as king hell gangster wannabe, I still would wander back there until mid-1960 just to hear his take on whatever music was interesting him at the time. These commentaries, these Billie commentaries, are my recollections of his and my conversations on the song lyrics in this series. But I am not relying on memory alone. During this period we would use my father’s tape recorder, by today’s standard his big old reel to reel monstrosity of a tape recorder, to record Billie’s covers of the then current hit songs (for those who have not read previously of Billie’s “heroics” he was a pretty good budding rock singer at the time) and our conversations of those song meanings that we fretted about for hours. I have, painstakingly, had those reels transcribed so that many of these commentaries will be the actual words spoken during those conversations (somewhat edited, of course). That said, Billie, king hell rock and roll king of the old neighborhood, knew how to call a lyric, and make us laugh to boot. Wherever you are Billie I’m still pulling for you. Got it.
The Crests

Step By Step lyrics

Step, step. Step, step. Step, step... Step, step
Step by step I fell in love with you
And step by step it wasn't hard to do
Kiss by kiss and hand in hand
That's the way it all began

Soon we found the perfect plan for love
Side by side we took a lovers walk
Word by word we had a lover's talk
One word led to another and then
Then in no time we're up to ten
My heart knew it was gonna end in love

1st step, a sweet hello
2nd step, my heart's aglow
3rd step, we had a date
4th step, we stayed up late
5th step, I walk you home
6th step, we're all alone
7th step, we took a chance
One kiss and true romance

Step by step we climbed to heaven's door
Step by step, each thrill invited more
Then you promised faithfully
All your love belonged to me
Now I know we'll always be in love

Step, step. Step, step. Step, step. Step step


Billie, William James Bradley, comment:

What the hell’s going on? It is almost like I can’t even listen to my transistor radio these days without wanting to throw up. Yes, that’s right throw up. And Markin, Peter Paul Markin, my best friend over at Adamsville South Elementary a couple of years back will back me up on this if he even comes back around the old neighborhood to breathe some real air, some fresh sea air, and get the low-down on what is good in music these days. Except I won’t have much to tell him right now. Like I said I feel like throwing up most of the time when I listen to the radio. Nothing righteous. Nothing like Elvis when he was righteous, hungry and righteous, a few years back. Or Jerry Lee before he got into cousin-marrying trouble or Chuck Berry when he got into no-no white girl trouble. Fabian, Conway Twitty, Duane Eddy, Ricky Nelson, jesus, even Ricky Nelson, the Everly Brothers and on and on with twaddle, yes, twaddle about this and that oddball thing about teen life. And girls, girls with money to buy the records, who seem to just want dreamy stuff about sad movies, some sad-sack boy friends, johnny, jimmy, joey angels, following guys to the end of the earth, and all that. No more be-bop-a-loola. I tell you we are in the dumps and it ain’t getting better, if anything worst.

Here is what I am up to these days, and maybe you should be too. I am starting to listen and listen hard to doo wop stuff. The stuff that came out of the street corners of New York City and other big town places where you had guys (and chicks too) singing, no instruments, or maybe some low-down, low-key piano, just doing harmonies, and doo wop background responses. Cool. Ya, I know I got in trouble, musically anyway, trying to cover righteous Bo Diddley down here in the white projects playing off “colored” music that really, really I say, drove early rock. Just ask Elvis, if he is in a truthful mood.

But this stuff, this doo wop stuff, if it gets around more, can break the pretty boys and their dreamy girl thing up.

So here is what I am doing now that it is summer, school is out, it’s hot, and we haven’t got a damn thing to do, and no money to do it with if we had that damn thing to do. I have been listening to doo wop records like crazy, right now I am concentrating on the Crests and their great harmonies on Step by Step. Here is what I want to do just like we tried last summer when Markin was around more. A few guys, a few of my guys, my hanging-around-waiting-to-do-this-and-that-but-just-now-waiting-fire-guys, would get together around dusk in back of the old school around the playground area and start practicing harmonies. Markin scoffed at the idea at the time, as usual. But then, just as the sun started going down, a couple of girls would come by to listen and not “dogs” either, or sticks. Then a couple more, and a couple more, and there you have it.

Of course after that Markin wanted to do it every day, all day, even in the afternoon heat, and Markin hates the heat. So I figure that we can try it again this year and maybe we can break out of the Bobby Vee mold. But see here is where I am on the hook. If you can believe this I need Markin, need him bad. Last summer when he was around more I tried to keep him in the background as his voice was starting to change. Ya, I tried to ship him and his voice to Chicago if you want to know the truth, best friend and all. But lately I have been having trouble on the call and response side of Step by Step and now that Markin has a more bassy voice I sure could use him otherwise I will never break out into my proper place in the doo wop world. Got it, Markin.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

***Out In The Be-Bop 1950s Night- Ain’t Got No Time For Corner Boys Down In The Street Making All That Noise- When Billie Ruled The Roost- First Take

He was the first. A certified 1958 A-One prime custom model first. Yes, Billie was the first. Billie, William James Bradley that is if you did not know his full moniker, was the first. No question about it, no controversy, no alternate candidates, no hemming and hawing agonizing about this guy’s attributes or that guy’s style and how they lined up against Billie’s shine in order to pick a winner. No way, get it. Billie, first in what anyway? Billie, first, see, first in line of the then ever sprouting young schoolboy king corner boy wannabes. Wannabes because the weres, the corner boy weres, the already king corner boy weres, the older, mainly not schoolboys or, christ, not for long schoolboys, mainly not working, jesus, mainly not working, mainly just hanging around (laying about was a name for it, a fit name at that) were already playing, really hip-swaying, lazily hip-swaying if you wanted to win games, wizard pinball machines in the sacred corner boy small town mom and pop variety night or cueing up in some smoke-filled big town pool hall.

Or working on hot souped-up cars, a touch of grease pressed, seemingly decaled pressed, into their uniform white tee-shirts (no vee-necks need apply) and always showed, showed an oily speck anyway, on their knuckles. But the cars were to die for, sleek tail-finned, pray to god cherry red if you put the finish on right (no going to some hack paint shop, no way, not for this baby, not for that ’57 Chevy), dual exhaust, big cubic engine numbers that no amateur had a clue to but just knew when sighted that thing would fly (well, almost fly) into the boulevard night, that sea air, sex-charged boulevard night. Tuned-up just right for that cheap gas to make her run, ya, that cheap City Service gas that was even cheaper than the stuff over at the Merit gas station, by two cents.

Or talking some boffo, usually blonde, although not always, maybe a cute rosy red-lipped and haired number or, in a pinch, a soft, sultry, svelte brunette, tight cashmere sweater-wearing, all, Capri pant-wearing, all, honey out of her virtue (or maybe into her virtue) down by the seashore after some carnival-filled night. A night that had been filled with arcade pinball wizardry, cotton candy, salt-water taffy, roller coaster rides, and a few trips in the tunnel of love, maybe win a prize from the wheel of fortune game too. A night capped with a few illicit drinks from some old tom, or johnny, Johnny Walker that is, rotgut to make that talking easier, and that virtue more questionable, into or out of. All while the ocean waves slap innocently against the shore, drowning out the night’s heavy breathed, hard-voiced sighs.

Or, get this, because it tells a lot about the byways and highways of the high-style corner boy steamy black and white 1950s night, preparing, with his boys, his trusted unto death boys, his omerta-sworn boys, no less to do some midnight creep (waylaying some poor bedraggled sap, sidewalk drunk or wrong neighborhooded, with a sap to the head for dough, or going through some back door, and not gently, to grab somebody’s family heirlooms or fungibles, better yet cash on hand) in order to maintain that hot car, cheap gas or not, or hot honey, virtuous or not. Ya, things cost then, as now.

And, ya, in 1958, in hard look 1958, those king hell corner boy weres already sucked up the noteworthy, attention-getting black and white television, black and white newsprint night air. Still the lines were long with candidates and the mom and pop variety store-anchored, soda fountain drugstore-anchored, pizza parlor-anchored, pool hall-anchored corners, such as they were, were plentiful in those pre-dawn mall days. But see that is the point, the point of those long lines of candidates in every burg in the land or, at least became the point, because in 1948, or 1938, or maybe even 1928 nobody gave a rat’s ass, or a damn, about corner boys except to shuffle them out of town on the first Greyhound bus.

Hell, in 1948 they were still in hiding from the war, whatever war it was that they wanted no part of, which might ruin their style, or their dough prospects. They were just getting into those old Nash jalopies, revving them up in the "chicken run" night out in the exotic west coast ocean night. In 1938 you did not need a Greyhound bus coming through your town because these guys were already on the hitchhike road, or were bindled-up in some railroad jungle, or getting cracked over the head by some “bull”, in the great depression whirlwind heading west for adventure, or hard-scrabble work. And in 1928 these hard boys were slugging it out, guns at the ready, in fast, prohibition liquor-load filled cars, and had no time for corners and silly corner pinball wizard games (although maybe they had time for running the rack at Gus’s pool hall, if they lived long enough).

That rarified, formerly subterranean corner boy way of life, was getting inspected, dissected, rejected, everything but neglected once the teen angst, teen alienation wave hit 1950s America. You heard some of the names, or thought you heard some of the names that counted, but they were just showboat celebrities, celebrities inhabiting Cornerboy, Inc. complete with stainless tee-shirt, neatly pressed denim jeans, maybe a smart leather jacket against the weather’s winds, unsmoked, unfiltered cigarettes at the ready, and incurably photogenic faces that every girl mother could love/hate.

Forget that. Down in the trenches, ya, down in the trenches is where the real corner boys lived, and lived without publicity most days, thank you. Guys like Red Hickey, tee-shirted, sure, denim-jeaned, sure, leather-jacketed, sure, chain-smoking (Lucky Strikes, natch), sure, angelic-faced, sure, who waylaid a guy, put him in an ambulance waylaid, just because he was a corner boy king from another cross-town corner who Red thought was trying to move in, or something like that. Or guys like Bruce “The Goose” McNeil, ditto shirted, jeaned, jacketed, smoked (Camels), faced who sneak-thieved his way through half of the old Adamsville houses taking nothing but high-end stuff from the swells. Or No Name McGee, corner boy king of the liquor store clip. Ya, and a hundred other guys, a hundred no name guys, except maybe to the cops, and to their distressed mothers, mainly old-time Irish and Italian novena-praying Catholic mothers, praying against that publicity day, the police blotter publicity day.

But you did not, I say, you did not hear those Hickey, McNeil, No Name stories in the big town newspapers or in some university faculty room when those guys zeroed in on the corner boy game trying to explain, like it was not plain as the naked eye to see, and why, all that angst and alienation. And then tried to tell one and all that corner boy was a phase, a minute thing, that plentiful America had an edge, like every civilized world from time immemorial had, where those who could not adjust, who could not decode the new American night, the odorless American night, the pre-lapsarian American night shifted for themselves in the shadows. Not to worry though it was a phase, just a phase, and these guys too will soon be thinking about that ticky-tack little white house with the picket fence.

Ya, but see, see again, just the talk through the grapevine about such guys as Red, The Goose, No Name, the legendary jewelry store clip artist, Brother Johnson (who set himself apart because he made a point of the fact that he didn’t smoke, smoke cigarettes anyway), and a whole host of guys who made little big names for themselves on the corners was enough to get guys like Billie, and not just primo candidate Billie either, hopped-up on the corner boy game. Ya, the corner boys whose very name uttered, whose very idea of a name uttered, whose very idea of a name thought up in some think-tank academy brain-dust, and whose very existence made a splash later (after it was all over, at least the public, publicity all over, part), excited every project schoolboy, every wrong side of the tracks guy (and it was always guys, babes were just for tangle), every short-cut dreaming boy who could read the day’s newspaper or watch some distended television, or knew someone who did.

And Billie was the first. The star of the Adamsville elementary schoolboy corner boy galaxy. No first among equals, or any such combination like that either, if that is what you are thinking. Alone. Oh sure his right-hand man, Peter Paul Markin, weak-kneed, bookwormy, girl-confused but girl-addled, took a run at Billie but that was seen, except maybe by Peter Paul himself, as a joke. Something to have a warm chuckle over on dreary nights when a laugh could not be squeezed out any other way. See, Peter Paul, as usual, had it all wrong on his figuring stuff. He thought his two thousand facts knowledge about books, and history, and current events, and maybe an off-hand science thing or two entitled, get this, entitled him to the crown. Like merit, or heredity, or whatever drove him to those two thousand facts meant diddly squat against style, and will.

Billie tried to straighten him out, gently at first, with a short comment that a guy who had no denim blue jeans, had no possibility of getting denim blue jeans, and was in any case addicted to black chinos, black cuffed chinos, has no chance of leading anybody, at any time, in anything. Still Peter Paul argued some nonsense about his organizing abilities. Like being able to run a low-rent bake sale for some foolish school trip, or to refurbish the U.S.S. Constitution, counted when real dough, real heist dough, for real adventures was needed. Peter simmered in high-grade pre-teen anguish for a while over that one, more than a while.

Billie and Peter Paul, friends since the first days of first grade, improbably friends on the face of it although Billie’s take on it was that Peter Paul made him laugh with that basketful of facts that he held on to like a king’s ransom, protecting them like they were gold or something, finally had it out one night. No, not a fist fight, see that was not really Billie’s way, not then anyway or at least not in this case, and Peter Paul was useless at fighting, except maybe with feisty paper bags or those blessed facts. Billie, who not only was a king corner contender but a very decent budding singer, rock and roll singer, had just recently lost some local talent show competition to a trio of girls who were doing a doo wop thing. That part was okay, the losing part, such things happen in show biz and even Billie recognized, recognized later, that those girls had be-bopped him with their cover of Eddie, My Love fair and square. Billie, who for that contest was dressed up in a Bill Haley-style jacket made by his mother for the occasion, did the classic Bill Haley and the Comets Rock- Around-The-Clock as his number. About halfway through though one of the arms of his just made suit came flying off. A few seconds later the other arm came off. And the girls, the coterie of Adamsville girls in the audience especially, went crazy. See they thought it was part of the act.

After that, at school and elsewhere, Billie was besieged daily by girls, and not just stick-shaped girls either, who hung off all his arms, if you want to know. And sensitive soul Peter Paul didn’t like that. He didn’t care about the girl part, because as has already been noted, and can be safely placed on golden tablets Peter Paul was plenty girl-confused and girl-addled but girl-smitten in his funny way. What got him in a snit was that Billie was neglecting his corner boy king duty to be on hand with his boys at all available times. Well, this one night the words flew as Billie tired, easily tired, of Peter Paul’s ravings on the subject. And here is the beauty of the thing, the thing that made Billie the king corner boy contender. No fists, no fumings, no forget friendships. Not necessary. Billie just told Peter Paul this- “You can have my cast-offs.” Meaning, of course, the extra girls that Billie didn’t want, or were sticks, or just didn’t appeal to him. “Deal,” cried Peter Paul in a flash. Ya, that was corner boy magic. And you know what? After that Peter Paul became something like Johnson’s Boswell and really started building up Billie as the exemplar corner boy king. Nice work, Billie.

You know Freddie Jackson too took his shots but was strictly out of his league against the Billie. Here it was a question not of facts, or books, or some other cranky thing bought off, bought off easily, by dangling girls in front of a guy a la Peter Paul but of trying to out dance Billie. See Freddie, whatever else his shortcomings, mainly not being very bright and not being able to keep his hands out of his mother’s pocketbook when he needed dough so that he had to stay in many nights, worst many summer nights, could really dance. What Freddie didn’t know, and nobody was going to tell him, nobody, from Peter Paul on down if they wanted to hang with Billie was that Billie had some great dance moves along with that good and growing singing voice. See, Freddie never got to go to the school or church dances and only knew that Billie was an ace singer. But while Freddie was tied to the house he became addicted to American Bandstand and so through osmosis, maybe, got some pretty good moves too.

So at one after-school dance, at a time when Freddie had kept his hands out of his mother’s pocketbook long enough not to be house-bound, he made his big move challenge. He called Billie out. Not loud, not overbearing but everybody knew the score once they saw Freddie’s Eddie Cochran-style suit. The rest of the guys (except Billie, now wearing jeans and tee-shirt when not on stage in local talent contests where such attire got you no where) were in chinos (Peter Paul in black-cuffed chinos, as usual) and white shirts, or some combination like that, so Freddie definitely meant business. Freddie said, “If I beat you at dancing I’m running the gang, okay?” (See corner boys was what those professors and news hawks called them but every neighborhood guy, young or old, knew, knew without question, who led, and who was in, or not in, every, well, gang). Billie, always at the ready when backed up against the wall, said simply, “Deal.” Freddie came out with about five minutes of jitter buggery, Danny and the Juniors At The Hop kind of moves. He got plenty of applause and some moony-eyedness from the younger girls (the stick girls who were always moony-eyed until they were not stick girls any more).

Billie came sauntering out, tee-shirt rolled up, tight jeans staying tight and just started to do the stroll as the song of the same name, The Stroll, came on. Now the stroll is a line dance kind of thing but Billie is out there all by himself and making moves, sexual-ladened moves, although not everybody watching would have known to call them that. And those moves have all the girls, sticks and shapes, kind of glassy-eyed with that look like maybe Billie needed a partner, or something and why not me look. Even Freddie knew he was doomed and took his lost pretty well, although he still had that hankering for mom’s purse that kept him from being a real regular corner boy when Billie got the thing seriously organized.

Funny thing, Lefty Wright, who actually was on the dance floor the night of the Freddie-Billie dance-off, pushed Billie with the Freddie challenge. And Freddie was twenty times a better dancer than Lefty. Needless to say, join the ranks, Lefty. Canny Danny O’Toole (Cool Donna O’Toole’s, a stick flame of Billie’s, early Billie, brother) was a more serious matter but after a couple of actions (actions best left unspecified) he fell in line. Billie, kind of wiry, kind of quick-fisted as it turned out, and not a guy quick to take offense knew, like a lot of wiry guys, how to handle himself without lots of advertising of that fact. He was going to need that fist-skill when the most serious, more serious than the Canny Danny situation came up. And it did with Badass Bobby Riley, Badass was a known quality, but he was a year older than the others and everybody knew was a certified psychopath who eventually drifted out of sight. Although not before swearing his fealty to Billie. After taking a Billie, a wiry Billie, beating the details of which also need no going into now. And there were probably others who stepped up for a minute, or who didn’t stay long enough to test their metal. Loosey Goosey Hughes, Butternut Walsh, Jimmy Riley (no relation to Badass), Five Fingers Kelly, Kenny Ricco, Billy Bruno, and on and on.

But such was the way of Billie’s existence. He drew a fair share of breaks, for a project kid, got some notice for his singing although not enough to satisfy his huge hunger, his way out, he way out of the projects, projects that had his name written all over them(and the rest of his boys too). And then he didn’t draw some breaks after a while, got known as a hard boy, a hard corner boy when corner boy was going out of style and also his bluesy rockabilly singing style was getting crushed by clean-cut, no hassle, no hell-raising boy boys. And then he started drawing to an outside straight, first a couple frame juvenile clip busts, amid the dreaded publicity, the Roman Catholic mother novena dread publicity, police blottered. Then a couple of house break-ins, taking fall guy lumps for a couple of older, harder corner boys who could make him a fall guy then, as he would others when his turn came. All that was later, a couple of years later. But no question in 1958, especially the summer of 1958 when such things took on a decisive quality, Billie, and for one last time, that’s William James Bradley, in case anyone reading needs the name to look up for the historical record was Billie's time. Ya, 1958, Billie, ah, William James Bradley, and corner boy king.

Funny, as you know, or you should know, corner boys usually gain their fleeting fame from actually hanging around corners, corner mom and pop variety stores, corner pizza parlors, corner pool halls, corner bowling alleys, corner pinball wizard arcades, becoming fixtures at said corners and maybe passing on to old age and social security check collection at said corner. Or maybe not passing to old age but to memory, memory kid’s memory. But feature this, in Billie’s great domain, his great be-bop night kingship, and in his various defenses of his realm against smart guys and stups alike, he never saw so much as a corner corner to rest his laurels on. And not because he did not know that proper etiquette in such matters required some formal corner to hang at but for the sheer, unadulterated fact that no such corner existed in his old-fashioned housing project (now old-fashioned anyway because they make such places differently today), his home base.

See, the guys who made the projects “forgot” that, down and out or not, people need at least a mom and pop variety store to shop at, or nowadays maybe a strip mall, just like everybody else. But none was ever brought into the place and so the closest corner, mom and pop corner anyway, was a couple of miles away up the road. But that place was held by a crowd of older corner boys whose leader, from what was said, would have had Billie for lunch (and did in the end).

But see here is where a guy like Billie got his corner boy franchise anyway. In a place where there are no corners to be king of the corner boy night there needs to be a certain ingenuity and that is where “His Honor” held forth. Why not the back of the old schoolhouse? Well, not so old really because in that mad post-World War II boom night (no pun intended), schools, particularly convenient elementary schools even for projects
kids were outracing the boomers. So the school itself was not old but the height of 1950s high-style, functional public building brick and glass. Boxed, of course, building-boxed, classroom-boxed, gym-boxed, library-ditto boxed. No cafeteria-boxed, none necessary reflecting, oddly, walk to school, walk home for lunch, stay-at-home mom childhood culture even in public assistance housing world. And this for women who could have, if they could have stood the gaff from neighbor wives, family wives, society wives screamed to high heaven for work, money work. That was Billie world too, Billie day world. Billie September to June world.

But come dusk, summer dusk best of all, Billie ruled the back end of the school, the quiet unobserved end of the school, the part near the old sailors’ graveyard, placed there to handle the tired old sailors who had finished up residing at the nearby but then no longer used Old Sailors’ Rest Home built for those who roamed the seven seas, the inlet bays, and whatever other water allowed you to hang in the ancient sailors’ world. There Billie held forth, Peter Paul almost always at hand, seeking, always seeking refuge from his hellfire home thrashings. Canny Danny, regularly, same with Lefty and Freddie (when not grounded), and Bobby while he was around. And other guys, other unnamed, maybe unnamable guys who spent a minute in the Billie night. Doing? Ya, just doing some low murmur talking, most nights, mostly some listening to Billie dreams, Billie plans, Billie escape route. All sounding probable, all wistful once you heard about it later. All very easy, all very respectful, in back of that old school unless some old nag of a neighbor, fearful that the low murmur spoke of unknown, unknowable conspiracies against person, against the day, hell, even against the night. Then the cops were summoned. But mainly not.

And then as dusk turned to dark and maybe a moon, an earth moon (who knew then, without telescope, maybe a man-made moon), that soft talk, that soft night talk, turned to a low song throat sound as Billie revved up his voice to some tune his maddened brain caught on his transistor radio (bought fair and square up at the Radio Shack so don’t get all huffy about it). Say maybe Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers Why Do Fools Fall In Love? and then the other ragamuffins would do harmony. Ya, that was twelve, maybe thirteen year old night, most nights, the nights of no rough stuff, the nights of dreams, maybe. But like some ancient siren call that sound penetrated to the depths of the projects and soon a couple of girls, yes, girls, twelve and thirteen year old girls, what do you expect, stick girls and starting shape girls, would hover nearby, maybe fifty yards away but the electricity was in the air, and those hardly made out forms drove Billie and his choir corner boys on. Maybe Elvis’ One Night as a come on. Then a couple more girls, yes, twelve and thirteen year old girls, have you been paying attention, sticks and starting shapes, join those others quietly swaying to the tempo. A few more songs, a few more girls, girls coming closer. Break time. Girl meet boy. Boy meet girl. Hell, even Peter Paul got lucky this night with one of Billie’s stick rejects. And as that moon turned its shades out and the air was fragrance with nature’s marshlands sea air smells and girls’ fresh soap smells and boys’ anxiety smells the Billie corner boy wannabe world seemed not so bad. Ya, 1958 was Billie’s year. Got it.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

***Bowling Alone In America?- For Chrissie M., Class Of 1964

Click on the headline to link to a Website devoted to ... bowling. Of a different sort.

Markin, Class Of 1964, comment:

Chrissie, Christine Anne McNamara, bowls. Chrissie McNamara, the “hottest” sweet sixteen quail at 1962 at North Adamsville High School bowls. Oh sure Chrissie does other things, things like cheer-leading for the raider red gridiron goliaths in the brisk, bright, leave-filled fall (and doesn’t cheer-lead the basketball team because winter time is primo bowling time), participates in the school play, writes for the school newspaper, has a sweet what-you-see-is-what-you get personality, and is off-handedly beautiful. Not your drop dead, remote ice queen, who will need plenty of cosmetic help as she frightens away the age lines coming, beautiful but whole package beautiful (looks, personality, intellect) that will have you, hell, has me scratching my head. Scratching and figuring as I watch her reading something just this minute about two rows over from where I sitting in this dead-ass last period study class. Best of all, even if all my scratching and figuring don't work out today, in not too many minutes I will get to go past her house, after I have made sure she is walking in front of me, on the way to my own house, and will probably get a big Chrissie smile as I do so. And maybe a “Joey, Bowey” hi from her as well. That’s me, Joseph Bowdoin, and the Joey Bowey thing is from the kids back in middle school, and I don’t like it, like it at all. Except from Chrissie it is okay. Ya, it’s like that.

Yes, but here is the problem in a nutshell, Chrissie bowls, and if you want to get anywhere with Chrissie, as everybody knows, and has known since about fourth grade, way before I got here, is that you had better bowl too. You can be James Bond 007 (or Sean Connery) and have done all kinds of adventurous stuff but if you don’t bowl go slump-shouldered to the back of the Chrissie line. You could be the greatest running back in the history of football, breaking every record and every linebacker’s mean-spirited heart but no bowl-no go. Or get, heart-broken, in back of Sean in that just-mentioned line. If you are a nerdy guy (as I am, somewhat) but you bowl, well, theoretically you have a chance, but let’s face it plenty of talented, good-looking guys, who under ordinary circumstances would give bowling the gaff, are, even as I speak, sharpening up their games to get a crack at those ruby-red lips. Damn.

Oh, did I mention that I have been in love, or half in love, or some percentage in love with Chrissie ever since she gave me an innocent kiss at her twelfth birthday back when I first came to North Adamsville in the seventh grade. Really, the kiss was nothing but a good wishes peck on the lips that wouldn’t count for anything for older guys (or girls, either) but for a shy twelve-year old new boy I was in very heaven. Call me crazy, call me a nutcase ready for the funny farm, but every once in a while when Chrissie calls me Joey Bowey from her front door I swear she says it in such a way that maybe that kiss wasn’t so innocent after all. In any case I have been plotting, maybe not every day, but plotting ever since to get a second, real kiss from her ruby-red lips. And to hold that slender hour glass figure, to dance close to those well-formed legs, and to tussle with that flaming mass of red hair that goes with those ruby-red lips. And, and… well you get the idea.

But see Chrissie bowls and I don’t, although I have, lately anyway, spent a fair amount of time at Jake’s Bowl-a-World, the bowling alley located downstairs across from my real hang-out, my corner boy hang-out, Salducci’s Pizza Parlor up the Downs. Now Jake’s is not the kind of bowling alley that Chrissie or any other foxy girl would hang out in because, honestly, it’s a creepy place where young junior high school wannabe hoods, real high school drop-outs, rejected no-go corner boys, and beer-swilling adults hang out and make noise. But, see, it is the perfect place for a not bowling guy to hang out and “learn” bowls, on the quiet.

Oh, did I mention the other problem, the problem beyond my not bowling, my not being (so far) worthy of that second ruby-red lipped Chrissie kiss. I see that I didn’t now that I have read back. Well, here it is if you can believe it. I can’t get to bowl with Chrissie, can’t get to bowl with her that is unless I ask her for a date which is way ahead of where my current plans for her have unfolded, because at school, at foolish North, the boys and girls have separate bowling teams that don’t even bowl at the same places. Yes, I thought you would see my dilemma. See the idea was that I would start bowling with one of the teams, she would notice me and notice that I could use a few pointers, would come over and give me those few pointers, and then when I walked by her house not only would she give me that big warm smile but probably want to talk about this or that, bowling this or that, and that would be my opening to ask her to go bowling, bowling alone with me. Foolproof, right? Except for that stupid school rule thing.

Now here is how I heard the story, although I might be off on a few points, of why there are two separate teams and why they bowl at different places. A few years ago Jake’s used to be the place where everybody, boys and girls, bowled after school for practice a couple of days a week and for the home competitions with other schools. And that made sense because it only took about ten minutes to get there from school. Now, like I explained to you already, this Jake’s is nothing but a run-down place with about ten lanes, an ice cooler filled with tonic (that’s soda for you foreigners), a couple of food vending machines, a few pinball wizard machines, rest room I avoid using, if possible, and that’s about it. Small time stuff. Everything kind of dusty and seedy from the minute you head down the darkened stairs right on through. Good enough, like I also said before for hoods, corner boys, and rookie bowlers.

But then, back in the bowling team days, it was kept up better and was a magnet for kids, boys and girls alike, to come and bowl…and other things. Those other things being listening to the big oversized jukebox filled with a ton of records, rock and roll records to cry for, and three for only a quarter too, dancing, close dancing, on the small dance floor that was set up then (and that you can still see all scuffed up and scummy now), and some off-hand hanky-panky, kid’s stuff really, from what I heard, the usual boys copping a “feel” and the girls letting them like has been going on since they invented teenagers, in a couple of small back rooms that Jake, sweet brother Jake, let the kids use.

You can see where this after school jukebox rock and roll, close dancing, back room thing is going, just like I could when I heard it. Murder and mayhem. No, not from the kids gone wild under the influence of communistic rock and roll, or libertine close dancing, or hell-bent back rooms but when the parent police heard about it. That part is foggy but it, as usual, involved a snitch by someone to his (or her) parents, or something overheard on the telephone by a parent, or something. And from there to the headmaster police, and from there to the real cops. Nothing ever came of it from the real cops, which tells you automatically that the parent and headmaster cops overreacted, as usual. But now you can see what a fix I am in. So Chrissie right this minute is probably chalking up spares over at the North Adamsville Bowl-a-Drome and the guys are over the other side of town at Mr. Bowl’s place and never the twain shall meet. And you wonder why kids, including this kid, are ready to jump off the rails, and none too soon either. But I still hold my dream of bowling alone with those ruby-red lips. I’ll let you know if I work out another fool-proof plan, okay.

Friday, May 27, 2011

***Those Oldies But Goodies-Folk Branch- Tell Me Utah Phillips Have You Seen “Starlight On The Rails?”

(Bruce Phillips)

I can hear the whistle blowing
High and lonesome as can be
Outside the rain is softly falling
Tonight its falling just for me

Looking back along the road I've traveled
The miles can tell a million tales
Each year is like some rolling freight train
And cold as starlight on the rails

I think about a wife and family
My home and all the things it means
The black smoke trailing out behind me
Is like a string of broken dreams

A man who lives out on the highway
Is like a clock that can't tell time
A man who spends his life just rambling
Is like a song without a rhyme

Copyright Strike Music
@train @lonesome

“Hey, Boston Blarney, lend me a dollar so I can go into Gallup and get some Bull Durham and, and, a little something for the head,” yelled out San Antonio Slim over the din of the seemingly endless line of Southern Pacific freight trains running by just then, no more than a hundred yards from the arroyo “jungle” camp that Boston Blarney had stumbled into coming off the hitchhike highway, the Interstate 40 hitchhike highway, a few days before. Pretending that he could no hear over the din Boston Blarney feigned ignorance of the request and went about washing up the last of the dishes, really just tin pans to pile the food on, metal soup cans for washing it down, and “stolen” plastic utensils to put that food to mouth, stolen for those enthralled by the lore of the road, from the local McDonald’s hamburger joint. Like that corporation was going to put out an all points bulletin for the thieves, although maybe they would if they knew it was headed to the confines of the local hobo (bum, tramp, someone told him once of the hierarchical distinctions but they seemed to be distinctions without a difference when he heard them) jungle.

That washing up chore fell to Boston Blarney as the “new boy” in camp and before he had even gotten his bedroll off his sorely-tried back coming off that hard dust Interstate 40 hitchhike road, it was made abundantly clear by the lord of the manor, the mayor of the jungle, Juke Duke, that he was more than welcome to stay for a while, more than welcome to share a portion of the unnameable stew (unnameable, if for no other reason than there were so many unknown ingredients in the mix that to name it would require an act of congress, a regular hobo confab, to do so, so nameless it is), and more than welcome to spread his bedroll under the conforms of the jungle night sky but that he was now, officially, to hold the honorific; chief bottle washer.

So Boston Blarney washes away, and stacks, haphazardly stacks as befits the ramshackle nature of the place, the makeshift dinnerware in a cardboard box to await the next meal as a now slightly perturbed Slim comes closer, along with his bindle buddy, Bender Ben, to repeat the request in that same loud voice, although the last Southern Pacific train is a mere echo in the distance darkening Western night and a regular voiced-request would have been enough, enough for Boston Blarney. This though is the minute that Boston Blarney has been dreading ever since he got into camp, the touch for dough minute. Now see Boston Blarney, hell, William Bradley, Billy Bradley to his friends, on the road, and off. That Boston Blarney thing was put on him by Joe-Boy Jim the first night in camp when Joe-Boy, who was from Maine, from Maine about a million years ago from the look of him, noticed Billy’s Boston accent and his map of Ireland looks and, as is the simple course of things in the jungle that name is now Billy’s forever moniker to the moniker-obsessed residents of the Gallup, New Mexico, ya, that's one of those square states out in the West, jungle, although don’t go looking for a postal code for it, the camp may not be there by the time you figure that out.

Now here are the Boston Blarney facts of life, jungled-up facts of life is that no way is he going to be able to beg off that requested dollar with some lame excuse about being broke, broke broke.(I will use this moniker throughout just in case anybody, anybody Billy does not want to have know his whereabouts, is looking for him. In any case that moniker is better, much better, than the Silly Willy nickname that he carried with him through most of his public school career put on his by some now nameless girl when rhyming simon nicknames where all the rage back in seventh grade.) See everybody knows that San Antonio Slim, who belies his moniker by being about five feet, six inches tall and by weighing in at about two hundred and sixty, maybe, two-seventy so he either must have gotten that name a long time ago, or there is some other story behind its origins, has no dough, no way to get dough, and no way to be holding out on anyone for dough for the simple reason that he has not left the camp in a month so he is a brother in need. Boston Blarney is another case though, even if he is just off the hitchhike highway road, his clothes still look kind of fresh, his looks look kind of fresh (being young and not having dipped deeply in the alcohol bins, for one thing) and so no one, not Slim anyway, is going to buy a broke, broke story.

The problem, the problem Boston Blarney already knows is going to be a problem is that if he gives Slim the dollar straight up every other ‘bo, bum, tramp, and maybe even some self-respecting citizens are going to put the touch on him. He learned, learned the hard way that it does not take long to be broke, broke on the road by freely giving dough to every roadster Tom, Dick, and Harry you run into. “Here, all I have is fifty cents, until my ship comes in,” says Boston Blarney and Slim, along with his “enforcer”, Bender Ben, seem pleased to get that, like that is how much they probably figured they could get anyway. Blarney also knows that he was not the first stop in the touch game otherwise old hard-hand veteran Slim would have bitten harder.

Well, that’s over, for now Blarney says to himself softly out loud, a habit of the single file hitchhike road time when one begins to talk, softly or loudly, to oneself to while away the long side of the road hours when you are stuck between exits in places like Omaha or Davenport on the long trek west. And just as softly to himself he starts to recount where his has been, where he hasn’t been, and the whys of each situation as he unrolls his bedroll to face another night out in the brisk, brisk even for a New England hearty and hale regular brisk boy, great west star-less October night. First things first though, no way would he have hit the road this time, this time after a couple of years off the road, if THAT man, that evil man, that devil deal-making man, one Richard Milhous Nixon, common criminal, had not just vacated, a couple of months back, the Presidency of the United States and had still been in office. After that event, after that hell-raising many months of hubris though, it seemed safe, safe as anything could be in these weird times, to get on with your life. Still, every once in a while, when he was in a city or town, big or small, large enough to have sidewalk newspaper vending machines he would check, no, double check to see if the monster had, perhaps, “risen” again. But Blarney’ luck had held since he took off from Boston in late August on his latest trip west in search of ...

Suddenly, he yelled out, no cried out, “Joyel.” Who was he kidding. Sure getting rid of “Tricky Dick” was part of it, but the pure truth was woman trouble like he didn’t know that from the minute he stepped on to the truck depot at the entrance to the Massachusetts Turnpike at Cambridge and hailed down his first truck. And you knew it too, if you knew Billy Bradley. And if it wasn’t woman trouble, it could have been, would have been, should have been, use the imperative is always woman trouble, unless it was just Billy hubris. Nah, it was woman trouble, chapter and verse. Chapter twenty-seven, verse one, always verse one. And that verse one for Joyel, lately, had been when are we going to settle down from this nomadic existence. And that Joyel drumbeat was getting more insistent since things like the end of the intense American involvement in Vietnam, the demise of one common criminal Richard Milhous Nixon, and the ebbing, yes, face it, the ebbing of the energy for that newer world everybody around them was starting to feel and had decided to scurry back to graduate school, to parents’ home, or to marriage just like in the old days, parent old days.

Blarney needed to think it through, or if not think it through then to at least see if he still had the hitchhike road in him. The plan was to get west (always west, always west, America west) to the Pacific Ocean and see if that old magic wanderlust still held him in its thrall. So with old time hitchhike bedroll washed, basics wrapped within, some dollars (fewer that old Slim would have suspected, if he had suspected much) in his pocket, some longing for Joyel in his heart, honestly, and some longing that he could no speak of, not right that minute anyway, he wandered to that Cambridge destiny point. His plan with the late start, late hitchhike start anyway, was to head to Chicago (a many times run, almost a no thought post-rookie run at one point) then head south fast from there to avoid the erratic rockymountainhigh early winter blast and white-out blocked-in problems. Once south he wanted to pick up Interstate 40 somewhere in Texas or New Mexico and then, basically because it mostly parallels that route “ride the rails,” the Southern Pacific rails into Los Angeles from wherever he could pick up a freight. Although he never previously had much luck with this blessed, folkloric, mystical, old-timey, Wobblie (Industrial Workers of the World, IWW) method of travel a couple of guys, gypsy davey kind of guys, not Wobblie guys, told him about it and that drove part of his manic west desire this time.

As he eased himself down inside his homemade bedroll ready for the night, ready in case tomorrow is the day west, the day west that every jungle camp grapevine keeps yakking about until you get tired of hearing about it and are just happy to wait in non-knowledge, but ready, he started thinking things out like he always did before the sleep of the just knocked him out. Yes sir, chuckling, just waiting for the ride the rails west day that he had been waiting the past several days and which the jungle denizens, with their years of arcane intricate knowledge, useful travel knowledge said “could be any day now,” caught him reminiscing about the past few weeks and, truth to tell, started to see, see a little where Joyel was coming from, the point that she was incessantly trying to make about there now being a sea-change in the way they (meaning him and her, as well as humanity in general) had to look at things if they were to survive. But, see if she had only, only not screamed about it in those twenty-seven different ways she had of analyzing everything, he might have listened, listened a little. Because whatever else she might have, or have not been, sweet old Joyel, was a lightening rod for every trend, every social and political trend that had come down the left-wing path over the past decade or so.

Having grown up in New York City she had imbibed the folk protest music movement early in the Village, had been out front in the civil rights and anti-war struggle early, very early (long before Billy had). She had gone “street” left when others were still willing to half-way (or more) with LBJ, or later, all the way with Bobby Kennedy (as Billy had). So if she was sounding some kind of retreat then it was not just that she was tired (although that might be part of it) but that she “sensed” an “evil” wind of hard times and apathy were ahead. She was signaling, and this is where they had their screaming matches, that the retreat was the prelude to recognition that we had been defeated, no mauled, as she put in one such match.

So, as Billy steadily got drowsier from having taken too many rays in the long hard sun day and was now fading nicely under the cooling western night he started connecting the dots, or at least some dots, as he thought about the hitchhike road of the past several weeks. He, worst, started to see omens where before he just took them as the luck of the road, the tough hitchhike roads. Like how hard it was to get that first ride out of Boston, Cambridge really, at the entrance to the Massachusetts Turnpike down by the Charles River where many trucks, many cross-country traveling trucks begin their journey from a huge depot after being loaded up from some railroad siding and a couple of years ago all you had to do was ask where the trucker was heading, whether he wanted company, and if yes you were off. Otherwise on to the next truck, and success. Now, on his very first speak to, the trucker told him, told him in no uncertain terms, that while he could sure use the “hippie” boy‘s company (made him think of his own son) on the road to Chicago the company (and, as Billy found out later, really the insurance company) had made it plain, adamantly plain that no “passengers” were allowed in the vehicle under penalty of immediate firing. And with that hefty mortgage, two kids in college, and a wife who liked to spent money that settled the issue. But good luck hippie boy, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.

He finally got his ride, to Cleveland, but from there to Chicago it was nothing but short, suspicious rides by odd-ball guys, including one whose intent was sexual and who when rebuffed left Billy off in Podunk, Indiana, late at night and with no prospects of being seen by truck or car traffic until daybreak. Oh ya, and one guy, one serious guy, wanted to know if anybody had told him, told sweet-souled Billy Bradley, that he looked a lot like Charles Manson (and in fact there was a little resemblance as he himself noticed later after taking a well-deserved, and needed, bath, although about half the guys in America, and who knows maybe the world in those days, looked a little like Charles Manson, except for those eyes, those evil eyes that spoke of some singularity of purpose, not good).

And thinking about that guy’s comment, a good guy actually, who knew a lot about the old time “beats” (Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and had met mad man saint Gregory Corso in New York City), and for old times sake had picked Billy up got Billy thinking about a strange event back in Cambridge about a year before. Although he and Joyel had lived together, off and on, for several years there were periods, one of those chapter twenty-seven, verse one periods when they needed to get away from each other for one reason or another. That had been one of those times. So, as was the usual routine, he looked in the Real Paper for some kind of opening in a communal setting (in short, cheap rent, divided chores, and plenty of partying, or whatever, especially that whatever part). One ad he noticed, one Cambridge-based ad looked very interesting. He called the number, spoke to one person who handed him off to the woman who was handling the roommate situation and after a description of the situation, of the house, and of the people then residing there was told, told nonchalantly, to send his resume for their inspection. Resume, Cambridge, a commune, a resume. Christ! He went crazy at first, but then realized that it was after all Cambridge and you never know about some of those types. He quickly found a very convivial communal situation, a non-resume-seeking communal situation thank you, in down and out Brighton just across the river from hallowed Cambridge but at more than one of those whatever parties that came with this commune he never failed to tell this story, and get gales of laughter in response.

But that was then. And here is where connecting the dots and omens came together. On the road, as in politics, you make a lot of quick friends who give you numbers, telephones numbers, address numbers, whatever numbers, in case you are stuck, or need something, etc. A smart hitchhiker will keep those numbers safely and securely on him for an emergency, or just for a lark. One night Billy got stuck, stuck bad in Moline and called up a number, a number for a commune, he had been given, given just a few weeks before by a road friend, a young guy who gave his name as Injun Joe whom he had traveled with for a couple of days. He called the number, told of his plight and received the following answer- “What’s Injun Joe’s last name, where did you meet him, where do know him from?” Not thinking anything of it Billy said he didn’t know Injun Joe’s last name and described the circumstances that he met Injun Joe under. No sale, no soap, no-go came the reply. Apparently, according to the voice over the telephone, they knew Injun Joe, liked him, but the commune had been “ripped” off recently by “guests” and so unless you had been vetted by the FBI, or some other governmental agency, no dice. That voice did tell Billy to try the Salvation Army or Traveler’s Aid. Thanks, brother. Ya, so Joyel was not totally off the wall, not totally at all.

And then in that micro-second before sound sleep set in Billy went on the counter-offensive. What about those few good days in Austin when a girl he met, an ordinary cheer-leader, two fingers raised Longhorn Texas girl, who was looking to break-out of that debutante Texas thing, let him crash on her floor (that is the way Billy wants that little story told anyway). Or when that Volkswagen bus, that blessed Volkswagen bus stopped for him just outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico, in, as Thomas Wolfe called them, one of the square western states that he now still finds himself imprisoned in, and it was like old times until they got to Red Rock where they wanted to camp for a while (hell, they were probably still there but he needed to move on, move on ocean west).

But Red Rock was more than old time hippie community, including passing the dope freely. Red Rock was where he met Running Bear Smith, who claimed to be a full Apache but who knows(and where did the Smith part come in). Now Running Bear was full of mystery, full of old-time stories about the pride of the dog soldiers, about his ancestors, about the fight against the ravages and greed of the white man. And about the shamanic ceremonial that he learned from his grandfather (his father had been killed, killed in some undisclosed manner when he was very young, about three), about dancing with the spirits of by-gone days, and dancing he added, or Billy added, under the influence of communion wafer peyote buttons. Several days ago, or rather nights, just a few days before he encamped in this broken down jungle Running Bear and he had “walked with the ‘Thunder Gods,’” as Running Bear described it. Billy described it somewhat differently, after the buttons took effect and Running Bear stoked the camp fire with additional wood to make a great blazing flame that jumped off the wall of the cavern adjacent to where they were camping out. The shadows of the flames made “pictures” on the cavern walls, pictures that told a story, told Billy a story that one man could fight off many demons, could count later on many friends coming to his aid, and that the demons could be vanquished. Was that the flame story or the buttons, or Billy’s retort to Joyel? All he knew was that Running Bear’s “magic” was too strong for him and he began “smelling” the ocean some several hundred miles away. Time to leave, time to get to Gallup down the road, and the hobo jungle wait for the ride on the rails.

Just then, just as he was closing accounts on the past several weeks by remembering his reactions on entering this ill-disposed jungle that was in no way like the friendly, brotherly, sisterly Volkswagen encampment at Red Rock old-time stew ball “Wyoming Coyote” yelled, yelled almost in his ear, although Billy knew that he was not yelling at him personally, but that the Southern Pacific was coming through at 4:00AM. The Southern Pacific going clear through to Los Angeles. Billy’s heart pounded. Here he was on the last leg of his journey west, he would be in L.A. by tomorrow night, or early the next morning at the latest. But the heart-pounding was also caused by fear, fear of that run to catch that moving freight train boxcar just right or else maybe fall by the wayside.

This was no abstract fear, some childhood mother-said-no fear, but real enough. On the way down from Chicago, after being enthralled by the gypsy davies talk of “riding the rails” he had decide that he needed to try it out first in order to make sure that he could do it, do it right when a train was moving. Sure he had caught a few trains before but that was always in the yards, with the trains stationary, and anyway as a child of the automobile age, unlike most of the denizens of the jungle he was more comfortable on the hitchhike road than the railroad. So, as practice, he had tried to catch an Illinois Central out of Decatur about a half-mile out just as the train started to pick up steam but before it got under full steam and was not catchable. He ran for it, almost didn’t make it, and cursed, cursed like hell those coffin nails that he smoked, and swore to give them up. So he was afraid, righteously afraid, as he fell asleep.

At 3:30AM someone jolted Billy out of his sleep. He woke with a start fearing someone was trying to rob him, or worst, much worst in a grimy jungle camp trying to sexually assault him, some toothless, piss-panted old drunken geezer catch up in some memory fog. Damn, it was only San Antonio Slim shaking him to wake him up for the Southern Pacific coming, just in case it came a little early, although according to the jungle lore it came on time, with maybe a minute or so off either way. Billy asked for a cigarette and Slim rolled him a choice Bull Durham so smartly that Billy blinked before he realized what Slim had produced. He lit up, inhaled the harsh cigarette smoke deeply, and started to put his gear quickly in order, and give himself a little toilet as well. Suddenly Slim yelled out get ready, apparently he could hear the trains coming down the tracks from several miles away. Nice skill.

The few men (maybe seven or eight) who were heading west that night (not, by the way, Slim he was waiting on a Phoenix local, or something like that maybe, thought Billy, a Valhalla local) started jogging toward the tracks, the tracks no more than one hundred yards from the jungle. The moon, hidden for most of the night under cloud cover, made an appearance as the sound of the trains clicking on the steel track got louder. Billy stopped for a second, pulled something from his back pocket, a small weather-beaten picture of Joyel and him taken in Malibu a few years before in sunnier days, and pressed it into his left hand. He could now see the long-lined train silhouetted against the moonlit desert sands. He started running a little more quickly as the train approached and as he looked for an open boxcar. He found one, grabbed on to its side for all he was worth with one hand then the other and yanked himself onto the floor rolling over a couple of times as he did so. Once he settled in he again unclasped his left hand and looked, looked intensely and at length, at the now crumbled and weather-beaten picture focusing on Joyel’s image. And had Joyel thoughts, hard-headed Joyel thoughts in his head “riding the rails” on the way to the city of angels.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

***Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner -For Billy B., Class Of 1964

Click on the headline to link to a "YouTube" film clip of Hicham el Guerouj, the Moroccan Knight, setting the one mile run world record in 2008.

Funny how things come back to haunt you, or maybe haunt is not just the right word here, but rather a word connoting how you all balled up but I think haunt is probably the right word now that I think of it. I, probably like you were, was over the top in high school about the school teams, especially football and basketball. Many a granite grey, frost-tinged, leaves-changing autumn afternoon I spent (or maybe misspent) yelling myself hoarse cheering on our gridiron goliaths, the North Adamsville Red Raiders, to another victory. Cheering for guys I knew, knew personally, like Bucko, Timmy Terrific, Thundering Tommy, Bullwinkle, Spit (ya, I know), Lenny, and Slam (ditto Spit).

Oh sure, I was interested in the big issues of the day too. I could, and did, quote chapter and verse on why we should have nuclear disarmament, why Red China (ya, it has been a while) should be in the United Nations, and why black people should have the right to vote down South. The big literary issue too like who was the “max daddy” of the books scene between the wars (oops, I better say between World War I and II so you know which wars I am talking about), Hemingway of Fitzgerald? (Hemingway). And, of course, the big, big questions like the meaning of existence, the nature of mortality, and how human civilization can progress. But on any given fall Saturday those issue, those big weekday issues, were like tissue in the wind when the question of third down and six, pass or run, held the world on its axis.

Those guys, those brawny guys, who held our humbles fates, our spiritual fates in their hands if you must know because many of us took the occasional defeats just slightly less hard than the teams, deserved plenty of attention and applause, no question. But today I don’t want to speak of them, but of those kindred in the lesser sports, specifically my own high school sports, cross country, winter track and spring track. Running, running in shorts, in all seasons to be exact. I will mention my own checkered career only in passing here. It will be filled out more below, although I can tell you right do not hold your breathe waiting for thundering hoofed grand exploits, and Greek mystical night olive branch glory.

What I aim to do though is give, or rather get, some long overdue recognition for the outstanding runner of my high school days, Billy Brady, and arguably the best all-around trackman of the era, the era of the “geek” runner, the runner scorned and abused by motorist and pedestrian alike, before the avalanche of honors fell to any half-baked runner when “running for your life” later had some cache. Christ, even the guys, and it was all guys then, on the just so-so billiards team got more school recognition, and more importantly, girl recognition than track guys, and their king hell on no wheels champion Brady. Hell, even I went over to Joe’s Billiard Parlor (although everybody, let’s face it, knew the place was nothing but a glorified pool hall and that Joe was “connected” connected bookie connected, but the less said the better about that just in case) on Billings Road when the team had competitions. Do you think I was there to bleed raider red for them? Be serious. It was nothing but the boffo, beehive-haired, Capri-pants-wearing, cashmere sweater-wearing, tight sweater-wearing, by the way, honeys (yes, honeys) who draped the tables not being used that drove me there. So there you have it.

Needless to say no such fanfare tarnished our lonely pursuits, our lonely, desolate, hand-on pursuits, running out in all weathers. Even the girl scorer was nothing but a girlfriend of one of the shot-putters, and she served only because no other girl would do it, and she loved her shot-putter. So there again. Here is how bad it was- a true story I swear. I spent considerable time talking up to one female fellow classmate whom I noticed was looking my way one day. That went on for a while and we got friendly. One day she asked me if I played any sports and so I used this opening to pad up my various meager exploits figuring that would impress her. Her response- “Oh, do they have a track team here?” Enough said, right? Yes sad indeed, but so that such an injustice will not follow Billy Brady’s very not needing padding exploits to eternity I, a while back, determined to pursue a campaign to get him recognition in the North Adamsville Sports Hall of Fame. To that end I wrote up the following simple plea for justice, the superbly reasoned argument for Mr. Brady’s inclusion in the Hall of Fame:

Why is the great 1960s cross country and track runner, Billy Brady, not in the North Adamsville Sports Hall Of Fame?

“Okay, Okay I am a “homer” (or to be more contemporary, a “homeboy”) on this question. In the interest of full disclosure the fleet-footed Mr. Brady and I have known each other since the mist of time. We go all the way back to being schoolmates down at Adamsville South Elementary School in the old town’s housing project, the notorious G-town projects that devoured many a boy, including my two brothers and almost, within an inch, got me. We survived that experience and lived to tell the tale. What I want to discuss today though is the fact that this tenuous road warrior's accomplishments, as a cross-country runner and trackman (both indoors and out), have never been truly recognized by the North Adamsville High School sports community. (For those who still have their dusty, faded yearbooks see page 63 for a youthful photograph of the “splendid speedster” in full racing regalia.).

And what were those accomplishments? Starting as a wiry, but determined, sophomore Billy began to make his mark as a harrier beating seniors, top men from other teams on occasion, and other mere mortals. Junior year he began to stake out his claim on the path to Olympus by winning road races on a regular basis. In his senior year Bill broke many cross-country course records, including a very fast time on the storied North Adamsville course. A time, by the way, that held up as the record for many years afterward. Moreover, in winter track that senior year Bill was the State Class B 1000-yard champion, pulling out a heart-stopping victory. His anchor of the decisive relay in a duel meet against Somerville's highly-touted state sprint champion is the stuff of legends.

Bill also qualified to run with the “big boys” at the fabled schoolboy National Indoor Championships at Madison Square Garden in New York City. His outdoor track seasons speak for themselves. I will not detain you here with the grandeur of his efforts, for I would be merely repetitive. Needless to say, he was captain of all three teams in his senior year. No one questioned the aptness of those decisions.

Bill and I have just recently re-united, the details which need not detain us here, after some thirty years. After finding him, one of the first things that I commented on during one of our “bull sessions” was that he was really about ten years before his time. In the 1960s runners were “geeks.” You know-the guys (and then it was mainly guys, girls were too “fragile” to run more than about eight yards, or else had no time to take from their busy schedule of cooking, cleaning, and, and looking beautiful, for such strenuous activities. Won’t the boys be surprised, very surprised, and in the not too distant 1970s future when they are, are passed by…fast girls of a different kind) who ran in shorts on the roads and mainly got honked at, yelled at, and threatened with mayhem by irate motorists. And the pedestrians were worst, throwing an occasional body block at runners coming down the sidewalk outside of school. And that was the girls, those “fragile” girls of blessed memory. The boys shouted out catcalls, whistles, and trash talk about maleness, male unworthiness, and their standards for it that did not include what you were doing. Admit it. That is what you thought, and maybe did, then too.

In the 1970's and 1980's runners (of both sexes) became living gods and goddesses to a significant segment of the population. Money, school scholarships, endorsements, soft-touch “self-help” clinics, you name it. Then you were more than willing to “share the road with a runner.” Friendly waves, crazed schoolgirl-like hanging around locker rooms for the autograph of some 10,000 meter champion whose name you couldn’t pronounce, crazed school boy-like droolings when some foxy woman runner with a tee-shirt that said “if you can catch me, you can have me” passed you by on the fly, and shrieking automobile stops to let, who knows, maybe the next Olympic champion, do his or her stuff in the road. Admit that too.

And as the religion spread you, suddenly hitting thirty-something, went crazy for fitness stuff, especially after Bobby, Sue, Millie, and some friend’s grandmother hit the sidewalks looking trim and fit. And that friend’s grandma beating you, beating you bad, that first time out only added fuel to the fire. And even if you didn’t get out on the roads yourself you loaded up with your spiffy designer jogging attire, one for each day, and high-tech footwear. Jesus, what new aerodynamically-styled, what guaranteed to take thirteen seconds off your average mile time, what color coordinated, well- padded sneaker you wouldn’t try, and relegate to the back closet. But it was better if you ran. And you did for a while. I saw you, and Billy did too. You ran Adamsville Beach, Castle Island, the Charles River, Falmouth, LaJolla, and Golden Gate Park. Wherever. Until the old knees gave out, or the hips, or some such combination war story stuff. That is a story for another day. But see, by then though, Bill had missed his time.

Now there is no question that a legendary football player like Thundering Tommy Riley from our class should be, and I assume is, in the North Adamsville Sports Hall of Fame. On many a granite gray autumn afternoon old "Thundering Tommy" thrilled us with his gridiron prowess running over opponents at will. But on other days, as the sun went down highlighting the brightly-colored falling leaves, did you see that skinny kid running down East Squantum Street toward Adamsville Beach for another five mile jaunt? No, I did not think so. I have now, frankly, run out of my store of sports spiel in making my case. Know this though; friendship aside, Bill belongs in the Hall. That said, what about making a place in the Hall for the kid with the silky stride who worked his heart out, rain or shine, not only for his own glory but North's. Join me. Let's "storm heaven" on this one.

March 22, 2010

Markin comment, April 10, 2010:

I really do want to solely talk about the subject matter described in the headline and that I have forcefully argued for above but apparently in this confessional age, an age when anyone with the most rudimentary cyberspace skills can feel free to sabotage even the most innocent project, the simple task of getting track legend Billy Brady into the North Adamsville Sports Hall Of Fame, I feel compelled to answer, generally, some of the already crazed responses received from old time North Adamsville alumni before proceeding.

What kind of madness have I unleashed? What kinds of monsters have I let loose? Recently, as a simple act of friendship, I wrote a commentary in this space arguing that my old friend and classmate from 1964, Bill Brady, should be inducted into the North Adamsville High School Sports Hall of Fame. Now my e-mail message center is clogged with requests from every dingbat with some kind of special pleading on his or her mind. A few examples should suffice, although as a matter of conscience (mine) they shall remain nameless.

One request argued for my writing up something in recognition of his finishing 23rd in the Senior Division of the North Adamsville Fourth of July Fun Run. Well, what of it? Move on, brother, and move faster. Another, arguing for inclusion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, touted her near perfect imitation of Mick Jagger on Gimme Shelter. Please!! A third sought a testimonial from me for an employment opportunity, including a resume that made me truly wonder where she had been all these years. Here is my favorite. A fellow classmate wants me to get in on the ground floor, as a financial backer of course, for his idea of putting the ubiquitous teenage cell phone use and the Internet together. Hello! Jack (oops, I forgot, no names) I believe they call that Sidekick, or some such thing. And so it goes.

Listen up- I hear Facebook and YouTube calling all and sundry such untapped talents. Please leave this space for serious business. You know this writer's musings on the meaning of existence, the lessons of history, and the struggle against mortality. That said, at the moment that serious business entails getting the gracefully-gaited speed merchant, Mr. Brady, his shot at immortality by induction into the Sports Hall of Fame. Let us keep our eyes on the prize here. Join me in that effort. Enough said.
Markin comment, April 14, 2010:

And yet what could one make of this twisted saga, other that something, in the water in old North Adamsville, from this unknown fellow townie:

Apparently being Billy Brady’s friend since the “dog days” of Adamsville South Elementary School down in the "projects" is not enough. Recently, strictly as a sign of that friendship, I argued the merits of his case for entry into the North Adamsville High School Sports Hall of Fame. Now it seems that I am to be eternal "flak," you know, "press agent," "spin doctor,” "gofer," or "stooge" for every wannabe “sports figure” who ever donned the raider red garb in any sport, at anytime. Isn't there some kind of constitutional provision against indentured servitude? Here is why I ask that question:

I feel, after an extended e-mail from Brian Kenney, North Adamsville Class of 1965, a man unknown to me unless my memory is more befogged that unusual, now “duty-bound” to announce the latest 'newsworthy note' about this, according to his resume, silky-striding, fleet-footed, fast moving tennis player from the Class of 1965. He wants, as a matter of due, apparently, a full course Bill Brady treatment by me on his behalf as another lonely and neglected “athlete.”

Brother Brian, as part of that projected relentless campaign has upgraded his photograph on his class profile page. Ya, I know, for starters, hold the presses, right? Earlier this year he stated that had placed his Commonwealth of Massachusetts driver's license on his class site for your inspection. (For those who did not get a chance to see the picture I have not made this up. I really don't have that kind of imagination.) As one would expect of such a photo, Brother Brian, of course, looked like he had just finished a long stretch in Cedar Junction State Prison (Walpole, for those who have been out of the area for a while). And maybe he had, and just “forgot” to include that in his rather extensive e-mailed resume. Christ, Brian those driver’s ID photos would make the Madonna look like an axe murderess. What did you expect?

In any case Mr. Kenney has rectified that situation with a new downloaded photo on his profile page. As to the photo itself, and his pose, there is a method to the madness. Brother Brian insists that one and all should know that he is no longer that slender and svelte tennis player of 135 pounds of his misbegotten youth. Like we could not figure that out for a quick peep, right? He mentioned, in passing, that now people who did not know that he was on the boys’ tennis team will think that he was a maybe a bleeding raider red football player. In short, a person not to be messed around with, a person one would not dream, in a thousand night dreams of throwing sand in his face like in the old tennis days. Nice, right? And so it goes. Good luck brother but I swear I do not know you, and while I wish you luck, my eyes are on the Brady prize. And so it goes.

Markin comment, June 23, 2010:

Below is the traffic on this Billy Brady question, mainly unedited, from an old track guy duffer, Clarence “Shaker” Boren, Class of 1957, that at least has the virtue of being on the subject at hand, mainly, and includes, where necessary, my response:

Shaker Boren, Class of 1957, April 16, 2010:

Hi, Markin-Good post for us old-timers-I agree that "back in the day" the cross country, winter track and spring track athletes were usually the "forgotten ones," “los olvidados,” as we say out here in San Jose (New Mexico, not California) where I have lived in splendid and sunny retirement the past several years. Although maybe “batos locos” is more like it. You know, crazy, crazy as a loon, for running around in all weathers with just shorts and a white tee-shirt on, and funny black sneakers, or black spiked track shoes that looked like regular shoes, regular Thom McAn shoes, except they has spikes in them. Funny looking then anyway when tennis sneakers, white tennis sneakers (for girls) and black Converses (for guys), were cool and track shoes, with or without spikes were not, definitely not. ********

Markin reply, April 18, 2010

Jesus, I remember those “uniforms”, black shorts always too big or too small so that they either cut off your circulation, you know where, or practically came down to your knees. Half the time I ran in my white gym shorts, well kind of white by the race time after taking a beating all week in gym and on the roads. They probably could have run the race without me sometimes. And the brazen singlet tee-shirt that draped off your shoulder and made you look like some alluring old time female movie star like Veronica Lake, or Rita Hayworth. No wonder guys, and girls too now that I think of it, kind of steered clear of us like maybe we were contagious. What you would do to get a “uniform,” and here my memory is clearest, is at the start of the season rummage through this big old cardboard box in Coach Jenner’s class room, a box filled with about twenty years worth of discarded shorts and shirts, in all conditions except new, and try to get a fit, as close as you could. I think the track budget must have been all of fourteen dollars then, maybe less, but certainly not more.

The shoes, oh the shoes. Well, we were not too bad off for cross country and indoor track (at the armories anyway) because we could wear those old thick rubber-heeled black-striped track shoes that we would get up at Snyder’s in Adamsville Square. And get them cheap because the school has some kind of deal with that store if you brought in a note from the coach. Every fall, starting with freshman year, at the beginning of school there was always the annual trek up there to get my pair. A pair would last both seasons, no problem. Of course those low-tech days shoes, those hard-pounding, asphalt-bending shoes are, probably, at least partially responsible for our later hip and knee replacement worthiness. But the spiked spring track shoes were something else. Again we would rummage through some cardboard box for a pair that both matched (not always the case) and were within a couple of sizes of your actual foot measurement. They were mostly black and looked like shoes your grandmother might have worn, or like Jesse Owens’ if you have every seen a picture of the pair that he might have worn back in the 1930s. And then, if you did find that elusive matched pair, have to hit the coach up for spikes, if he had them. I do remember more than once, if memory doesn’t fail, having to share spiked shoes with other track team members. Ouch!

Shaker Boren , Class of 1957, April 20, 2010:

…It may have been in part because those sports [referring to cross country, indoor and outdoor track] were not considered "team sports" like football, basketball, baseball, hockey, field hockey, lacrosse, soccer, gymnastics, golf, squash, swimming, tennis, billiards, badminton, volleyball, ping pong, table tennis, darts, and bowling (did I forget any? And I forget, was billiards a team sport then, I included it anyway) since other than the relays (4X440 and 4Xmile, outdoors) each individual ran or did a field event on his own hook, the 100, 220, 440, 880, mile, two mile, shot put, discus, javelin, high jump broad jump, triple jump, pole vault and the hurdles, high, low and intermediate. (All measured in the English system then: inches, feet, yards, miles, not the metric system, millimeters, centimeters, meters and kilometers, kilograms, and so on). I don’t think anybody, officially anyway, did the decathlon (100, 440, mile, 110 high hurdles, broad jump, high jump, shot put, discus, javelin, pole vault). I don’t think anyone did the hammer throw either. About the only way a track athlete (cross country, winter or spring track, runner or field man) would be recognized would be if he were a star in at least one of the team sports, the big team sports like football, basketball and baseball not billiards and bowling or those other lesser team sports, except maybe soccer.

Markin reply, April 21, 2010:

…I, by the way, as you seemingly endlessly rattled them off, pretty much remembered the various sports offered at North, although like you I am not sure whether billiards was a team sport or not. All I know is that after the football guys, naturally, in a time when we lived and breathed raider red every granite grey-skied fall Saturday, home or away, the billiard guys always seemed to have the pick of the best looking girls. I would go over to Joe’s Billiard Parlor on non-running days just to check out the girls hanging around, hanging around looking, well, looking very interesting. But let us keep that between us, okay. I, in any case, never took up billiards. Did you? I can’t believe though that I forgot the badminton team, mixed boys and girls. Christ, they were state Class B champions three years in a row during my North time, or maybe twice champs and once co-champs. Thanks for the reminder. I know that we are getting older but I do not think that darts was a recognized team inter-mural sport. I do know that it was an intra-mural sport and that every spring there would be a championship, and every spring my ragamuffin gang that couldn’t shoot straight team would lose in the first round, and lose badly, but I thought that was strictly part of gym class.

I also, since I did cross country and track for all four years at North, pretty much remembered the various events that composed the track programs, indoor and out except, I think that the indoor hurdles, while high, were 45 yards. I also remembered that the events used the English system of measurement and not the metric system then. Although, as you know, the old home town track was actually five laps to the mile so that meant two and one half laps for the 880, and so on. I don’t know what they would be in the metric system. Anyway, the five lap system didn’t help when we went to “real” tracks for pacing purposes.

Shaker Boren, Class of 1957, April 23, 2010:

[In response to an off-hand Markin question about his running career story]… My "running career" at North was only in sophomore, junior and senior years, and was not continuous. As I mentioned before, my 9th grade English teacher Dave Mooney was the reason I considered running. At the beginning of the 10th grade (1954), he called a few of us to his classroom to see if we might be interested in cross country. I took the chance and ended up as the 5th, 6th or 7th kid in most meets that season. That gave me enough to barely get a letter. I didn't compete in the 1954-55 indoor season; because I didn't know it existed. I started 1955 spring track and got as far as running the 880 in the first meet. Sadly, I ran the race with the start of a case of the mumps and ended up missing the rest of the season.

I began working nights at a variety store on Billings Road the summer of 1955 and didn't go out for cross country that year. Then a friend, Ron Kiley, convinced me to try out for winter track in the 1955-56 season. We started running the 1000 and even ran in the State Meet at the old Boston Garden. I was near the end of that race. Running on a 10 or 11 lap board track for the first time was scary. In any given race, Ron was ahead of me, because he was faster and had a good "kick" at the end. If he was 1st, I was 2nd. If he was 2nd, I was 3rd, and so on. Coach Jenner switched me to the mile just past mid-season. I still didn't win a race, but came in second once to Natick's 1000 yd. State Champion. Jenner even tried to get me to break 5:00 during practice around the circle in front of the school. He put 2 or 3 guys who normally ran the 600 to act as "rabbits," but the best I could do was 5:01.5. Somebody later said the mile wasn't measured right around the circle, but I never knew if it was short or long. I did manage a letter for that season. Somewhere in there coach Mooney had a heart attack and I didn't go out for spring track in 1956.

I started cross country in the fall of 1956 with Coach Jenner. We had a bunch of good young distance runners that year, so I was put on the "junior varsity" team, which ran a shorter course. We even ran up and down Hemmings Avenue at the edge of North Adamsville to get some hill practice, and also ran out to Coach Jenner’s house in South Adamsville where he served refreshments. I barely made it to mid season when I decided to leave the team. I started the 1956-57 winter track season. Then in January I chopped off part of my right index finger slicing bologna where I worked nights. So much for my senior winter track season. Then came spring track again. That time I tried to give it "my all." We held a "Junior Olympics" in which all competed in all track and field events. I was one of a very few who actually did compete in all events even though I still had my arm bandaged from the January accident. Those who competed in everything were given new uniforms and shoes. I think I was near the top in the overall competition, but probably because I did try all events, though the results were far from spectacular. I ran the 880 all season with Ron Kiley again just ahead of me. The most fun race was the last one against arch-rival Adamsville High at Memorial Stadium. Coach Mooney was back and for some reason put Ron in the mile. He also switched Slim Baldwin and Slacker Russ Tandberg to the 880. Jim was a good all-round athlete who also played football and basketball. Russ was a good all-round runner. I thought, "Oh, boy, a chance to win a race." We swept the 880 with Russ 1st, Jim 2nd and me 3rd. I was a bit disappointed, but was ecstatic over our sweeping the race. I thought we had won that meet, but Ron didn't think so. Oh, well. At least my last meet was fun and I again managed to get a letter. Memories that made the rest of life in those days bearable.

Regards, Shaker

Shaker Boren, Class of 1957, April 22, 2010

…[ in response to a question about what got him running from Markin] I probably never would have participated in track at all if it hadn't been for my 9th grade English teacher, Mr. Mooney. See, he was crazy for literature, and made us crazy for it too, so when I found out that he was the track coach I figured I’d try out just be able to ask him questions about Shakespeare, Hemingway, Hardy, and Flannery O’Connor who I was crazy for after reading the short story, Wise Blood. Jesus, Mr. Mooney knew his literature, and poetry too come to think of it. Especially the magical mad man William Blake, Keats, Shelley, Lord Byron, T.S Eliot, W.H. Auden, and William Butler Yeats, naturally, because of the Irish thing. Not much new “beat” stuff though, like Allen Ginsberg with his huge up-front homo fag references and doings and swearing, no howling it, in about every line. That was not to Coach Mooney’s tastes, maybe because he was an old guy and that just didn’t appeal to him. I found out more about it later in college, and read it too.

Markin reply, April 23, 2011

I’m glad you brought up literature because I was crazy for it too in ninth grade, although I did not have Mr. Mooney but Mr. Larkin. I guess they must have both been crazy for William Butler Yeats because Mr. Larkin made us memorize his Easter 1916 in the Spring of 1961 because of his Yeats’ Irishness (even if it was Anglo-Irish, meaning in those days, Protestant Irish, and maybe just maybe not really Irish but I have since learned better). Mr. Larkin sure could make a story jump off the page when he read in that deep bass voice of his and then discussed with us what he had read to us. And asked us questions, hard questions. That’s where Wise Blood came in but also Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge and lots of poetry like T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland and the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (I loved that name). Like Mooney, no way was Larkin going to tout Allen Ginsberg to a bunch of high school kids although I read his Howl, through the Harvard Square grapevine poetry network that filled every coffeehouse there in the early 1960s. If I remember the names of other books and poems I’ll let you know. What else did you guys read?

Shaker Boren, Class of 1957, April 24, 2010:

…. [Continuing on with his reasons for taking up running] And I’d also figured that I would be able to stay in shape for the summer beach job as a lifeguard I was promised by running, as well. (That job didn’t pan out because I had cut my hand doing something, cut it badly, and it hadn’t healed in time so I couldn’t swim up to the regulation speed or lift anybody, except maybe little kids.) For him thinking I could run, Mr. Mooney that is, I guess that he thought my being just over 6 ft. tall and just under 150 lbs. I had a possibility of being a distance runner because most distance runners then, and now too, were tall and thin. He did answer a lot of my questions about literature even though his tall and thin theory was probably wrong. In other words you could be, like me tall, thin, and slow too.

Markin reply, April 25, 2010:

As for why I ran. I don’t know really except one thing for sure- to get out of the house, to blow off steam when my mother, mother and father, my mother and father and brothers, mix and match the combinations, got on my nerves about, well, about kid’s stuff really when you think about it now. Starting from getting a job (basically why didn’t I to help out) to why are you hanging around with the corner boys at Harry’s Variety over on Sagamore Street so much you are going to only get in trouble to why do you need money for this, that, and the other thing since you don’t work and are only going to spent it on some girl, some girl who is just using you (that from mother, usually, read Freudian implications at your peril though). See, really kid’s stuff. But real enough then, starting in middle school, enough to get me out of the house with my long black chino pants (cuffed, as was my odd-ball, off-the-wall fashionista statement then) since I didn’t have shorts, or didn’t like to wear them, or something like that, a white tee shirt and some kind of sneakers, maybe Chuck Taylor’s, and just run over to the oval in front of the high school, run the oval a few times, and I would feel better. So put it down as therapy if you want. To get out of my kid head, and cool out.

That and to play sports, or rather play a sport. Unlike you I was not tall and thin though. But probably like you, if talking to other guys who ran track (not field event guys because they usually were football players or other rugged sports-types) was any indication, it was because no way, no way in hell, was I big enough, brawny enough, physically tough enough or plain old-fashioned coordinated enough, mainly the latter, to play team sports like football, basketball, or baseball. And like I said I was never into billiards (or volleyball or badminton, and the like) so there you have it. The one, sour, lonely attempt at football was in seventh grade when I was a center, a ninety-eight pound center, who go to play in one game (a game that we were far out of reach as for winning), for about three plays and was manhandled, no kid-handled like some kind of dish rag by the one hundred and fifty pound guys on the opposite side. Enough said.

Running was thus the only other option. Now I mentioned that not playing billiards (and the others) idea for a reason. Tell me if I am wrong but part of playing sports, any sport it seemed, or at least it seemed at the time was about using athletic prowess to act as a magnet for the, umm, girls. And it worked, worked big time for the…football players who had more chicks around them than they could shake sticks at, if they were so inclined. Or, like I said before, those damn billiard players who had babes hanging off the rafters. Runners though, and field event guys too unless they were football players got nada, zilch, zero. I already told you about the response of that girl I was trying to chat up –no dice. I also don’t think the running teams collectively got more than one sentence in the daily P.A. end of the day notices. Maybe less. So like I said it was for the joy of running, of being at one with ancient Greek Olympus spirits, of being at one with the ancient marathon men, the ancient wind runners, and nothing as crass and crude as trying to do it in order to be a magnet for babes.

Regards, Markin

Shaker Boren, Class of 1957, April 30, 2010

… [continuing his spic saga of his high school running career which has probably by now taken him more time that the combined time it took him to run all his races in high school] Coach Jenner was the winter track coach and got me to try the mile after being in a few 1000 yd. races in the old Metropolitan Indoor Track League over at the Newton Street Armory in Boston. That was where I first saw black kids running, running like the wind some of them, and others slow like me. But those fast guys were great to watch. I was not so good in that indoor stuff, however, because I couldn’t get the hang of “elbowing” other runners around those tight corners. See, an indoor track is smaller, maybe ten or eleven laps to the mile, and the events are different, the running events anyway, 50, 300, 600, mile, two mile, 55 high hurdles, shot put, high jump, and relays. So a lot shorter program with less choices for events. What I remember most of all from those days was that we always seemed to enjoy ourselves and had a lot of laughs, regardless of a meet's outcome. Although I do not know if Coach Mooney or Coach Jenner saw it the same way, or if their jobs depended on winning or stuff like that. Then maybe we wouldn’t have laughed so much, especially on the bus back to school after losing.

I have often wondered if anyone kept track of North's cross country and track meets over the years. Winter track competitions were not always held indoors. During the 1956-57 winter track season we had a meet against Weymouth which had an outdoor slightly elevated board track. We even had to walk through about 8 inches of snow to get to the track. Those were the days. Take care, and keep it country.

Regards, Shaker
Markin response, May 2, 2010:

Shaker- Thanks for the latest attached material and note and all the good information about the years just before Billy and I ran at North. When I get a few hours, or more, I will read it through more closely. Much of the material, at first glance, was unfamiliar to me, especially about the guys who were the third or fourth best runners or field men on a team in the different events in the Metropolitan Track League. It was nice to see that you have remembered those in our era who also tended to be also-rans like us. Most of the names of the coaches, other than North Adamsville’s coaches Mooney and Jenner, were unfamiliar to me as were the locales and conditions of the various track facilities, indoor and out in the Greater Boston area. This seems like a massive task, and apparently you have some time on your hands to compile it. Or was it part of a doctoral dissertation, or something?

I do see in the blizzard of data sent that you guys ran at the same armory (Newton Street) for winter track as we did a few years later. I know what you mean about that elbowing problem because I could never get the hang of it either. I would either get too far inside and get “boxed” in or, if I laid back to avoid the box I would get too far back to be able to get back in contact with the lead runners and would have to run like crazy at the finish. I did have a fast finish, although it was not enough many times, too many times.

The situation was even worst on that outdoor Weymouth track that you mentioned. The oval was smaller, maybe thirteen or fourteen lap to the mile, and so you also got dizzy running it. And always, always, always it would be about seven below zero out when we had the meet because it was usually in January before the Met League got under way. I never ran well there because of the frostbite on my feet, the failure to bring snowshoes, and/or I would get “shuffled off to Buffalo (my expression)” on those hairpin turns. Once I got run off the track on a turn but you probably know all about that. As bad as the Newton Street Armory was it was better than that.

The worst shuffling (although not always to Buffalo) though was in ninth grade in the 600 yard dash that was the only event available for ninth graders then. Every kid, every ninth grade kid who wanted to run had to run in that one event (or maybe they divided in two sections, but either way it was massed chaos like the start of the Boston Marathon these days-for the also-rans) and sprint, sprint like mad for the first corner. That, most of the time, determined how you would do because as you know the 600 is a short, fast race that does not allow much room for error since it was only in a little over a minute, and some change.

Markin response, May 3, 2010:

…A couple of points for your information [in response to Shaker’s unsolicited, earlier in the day detailed chronology of his life immediately after high school which included service in the U.S. Navy where his ran unattached in Amateur Athletic Union (AAU)-sponsored events]. It is amazing how many good runners, not just average or below average runners like us right after high school, for a number of reasons, also joined the Navy or some branch of the military. That was kind of the point behind my comment about Bill Brady being somewhat before his time as a great runner in one of our “bull sessions.” Nobody from colleges, and places like that, was offering track guys, good track guys, much of anything in those days, especially guys who were not already on the way to college anyway and track prowess was the clincher for acceptance at say, Villanova or New York University, so the military was the escape route from a tough home situation. A few guys told me their stories and from what I can gather they had rougher home situations than mine, and mine was just the ordinary garden variety hell. Unfortunately that garden variety hell was kids’ stuff, pure kids’ stuff, compared to the impeding escalation the war in Vietnam that was staring them deadass in the face when they enlisted.

By the way looking at the meet results you sent me with your attachment my career in track and cross country seems to have paralleled yours. A few good races but mainly "the slows." I got letters in all three sports but some of them, frankly, were gifts. My best year in cross country was probably in 11th grade. Indoor and outdoor track were not memorable. Like I told you I started running in the 9th grade (actually in eight grade for fun- and to get out of the house) and thought I was going to be a star. As I pointed out in another thing I wrote "A Walk Down Dream Street" so much for some dreams. The reason I ran, at least thinking back on it, and like I mentioned before, was because I was not, and am not now, good at team sports, like baseball or volleyball, yet I wanted to do some physical activity. Such is life.

Markin response May 4, 2010;

… [in response to Shaker’s observations about the lack of college opportunities in those days for academically-challenged track runners compared to today and whether that affected their performances-Markin] I saw many, many great runner who really had the silky stride and the determination to go for it. I know guys that ran the beaches, the sand dune beaches of New England, mainly down the Cape [Cod] in the early morning summers. I would do some such running but these guys were driven to go farther and harder. With added coaching and some encouragement they could have reached for the stars. Remember that many of the best runners ran for running clubs, like the Los Angeles Striders and Grand Street Track Club (New York City). What a waste of human capital.

Shaker Boren, Class of 1957, May 6, 2010

[… In response to Markin’s question about his take on Coach Jenner’s coaching techniques, or lack of them]. You have mentioned that Coach Jenner just seemed to be "doing his time" while you were at North Adamsville. I first became acquainted with him when I went out for winter track for the 1955-56 season. I was told that he was teaching at one of the junior high schools while coaching winter track at North. I never had any difficulties in my dealings with him. Maybe my expectations weren't very high, because my "running talent" was somewhat limited.

He did seem to pay a bit more attention to those of us who needed more guidance and let the more talented kids just "do their thing." He did seem to want to get the most out of the talent he had "for the good of the team" and may have rubbed a few egos the wrong way. He, like coach Mooney, may not have been perfect, but I felt they both were fairly sympathetic to the weaknesses of all of us. In 1955-56 Coach Jenner was probably around 50 years old, so by the time you guys dealt with him, he was closing in on 60. His seeming to be just "doing his time" may have been due to other causes outside of school and coaching.

Who knows? Teachers and coaches are more-or-less human, too. We had a few who may have been a bit on the "nutty side" or may have had problems with booze or at home. Adolescents, as in most eras, don't really understand adults and vice versa. Sometimes it might just be a lack of "chemistry" between pupil/athlete and teacher/coach. Life isn't always "fair" and some of us may not be as flexible or adaptable as we could be.

Anyway, I saw Jenner as a decent coach and we may have actually won a few meets with him. We had one runner who was Class "C" State Champion for the 300 yd. dash (George Dolan) one year and later ran for the four years he was at Brandeis University. He told me that in those four years Brandeis didn't win a track meet, but he did end up in their Hall of Fame. However, it is good that you are campaigning for your friend’s being recognized. It is time to recognize the "marginal sports," including those of the past. I have tried to keep up with track at North, but it's not easy from San Jose. I even sent a message to the Adamsville Gazette a couple years ago asking about high school sports, but they said they were not allotted enough space to cover everything. As I said, life is not always fair and we may not always get what we want when we want it. I constantly tell my 9 year old grandson that he should not let frustration cause him to give up on anything.

Regards Shaker in San Jose

P.S. While touring the old school last year, I asked a guy who seemed to be a teacher or coach why there was little or no recognition for some of the sports teams after 1992, which seemed to have been a banner year. His answer was brief; "Budget."

Markin response to Shaker, May 12, 2010

Shaker- Thanks for your take on Coach Jenner. It certainly was true that he tended to cater to the better athletes but he left the rest of us to dangle in the wind in my time. But at this remove that is just so much water under the bridge or over the dam, take your pick. I know from my own observations since that time that some high school coaches take on the job as a source of extra income as much as to fulfill a desire to coach. That probably was true, or truer, in the old days when teachers' wages were very poor indeed. That is not the problem that I was trying to address though. What was the problem, as far as Bill was concerned, was that in him Jenner could have had that one extraordinary athlete of a coaching career. And he, frankly, blew it. But like I say, let’s leave sleeping dogs lie.

On another matter, a matter of the utmost historical importance I have a question. Did you guys run your practices and official track meets over in the old "dust bowl" off of Hollis Ave near the North Adamsville Middle School, a place where the football team also practiced in the fall? More importantly, did anyone come out alive?

Regards, Markin

Shaker Boren, Class of 1957, May 19, 2010:

… I think the "dust bowl" you refer to is still called Hollis Field. The first time I ever set foot on that track was our first or second practice for cross country in the fall of 1954. We started by jogging 5 laps (1 mile) and the legs were hurting for a week, since I had never really run more than a few yards before that. Then there was spring track in 1955 when I ran my first 880. The mumps prevented me from finishing my first season of track. It may have been that same spring pre-season when I tripped over a teammate's heel and fell. I suffered a pretty bad scrape, but I got up and finished the 220 without looking at the wound. It was just practice, and most were trying all events to see where we would fit in on the team. Coach Mooney cleaned up the scrape the best he could with his first aid box. The bleeding soon stopped and I still have a couple cinder chips in my left knee.

Anyway, we did have our home track meets at Hollis Field. I don't remember it as being that "dusty," but it was far from being a good track facility. There were bleachers on both sides of the field, but never many spectators. The 5-lap track made it difficult for me when I had to run on a 4-lap (440 yd./400 meter) track. Most of us still had fun at Hollis in spite of its failings. Where does North hold its home meets these days? Most tracks these days appear to have a rubberized asphalt surface instead of the old cinder/dirt. I never have run on such a track. My only running after high school was for the Navy right after high school as an unattached AAU runner, or now an occasional jog around the neighborhood. I tried to get to the Hollis Field in 2007, but was confused by the way they have one-way streets around it. It was easier when we walked from the school to the field "back in the day."

Regards, Shaker

Markin in response, May 24, 2010:

Shaker, thank you for your memory of the "dust bowl." I know, from a trip over to the old oval last year, that Cavanaugh was its real name. Strangely, after not having seen it for something over forty years it was basically the same. A little better surface on the track (although not much). They had taken out, and not replaced, the old wooden bleachers that were there in 1964.

Now for my "dust bowl" war story. This saga takes place during the spring track season in the seventh grade, which would be in 1959, when I competed for the newly-minted North Adamsville Junior High School (now Middle School). If you recall the dash was about one hundred yards and was in those middle school years the longest race junior runners could run. I assume, like with young girls and older women for an even longer period then, that the running gurus of the time, the august Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) probably thought that any greater stress than about eight yards would give us heart palpitations, or something. In any case, as I have mentioned before, I had the "slows" which were not so bad in longer races which required more stamina than speed but which would leave me in the dust in so short a race. Nevertheless I was determined to try it. Naturally, also being somewhat teenager clumsy I fell down, or was tripped, after the start of a dash. I took “cinders,” as you mentioned in your comment. Last year I had a knee replacement operation and noticed that the cinders were still there. I believe that I should get a "purple heart" and maybe a veteran’s pension or something, right? Do you have a "cinder" story?

Regards, Markin

Shaker Boren, Class of 1957, May 26, 2010:

That's what's good about getting more people involved in these message swaps. I stand corrected concerning the name of the old "dust bowl." Cavanaugh Stadium does ring a bell. Have they put that rubberized asphalt on the track?

I just remembered another incident that could have been fatal to one of our track team mates about the spring of 1957. The team's javelin throwers were practicing one day and one of the other guys took it upon himself to throw the javelin back to them from the other end of the field after each toss. The "returner" was waiting for one of their tosses when it seemed something off the field distracted him. The javelin grazed one of that "returner's" eyebrows, nicking him slightly. Talk about lucky. Another centimeter and the thing would have lodged in his eye socket and probably killed him. He didn't say much for a few minutes and had a very surprised expression on his face. I ran into that guy at our 50th reunion last year and asked if he remembered the incident. He laughed and said, "Oh, yeah. I haven't been the same since." He was another of our good all-round athletes and had a heckuva sense of humor. Good to see he still has it.

As an aside to that incident, I think it may have been Coach Dave Mooney who had told us that most high schools in the Western states didn't have the javelin throw as one of their events. That's still true today, at least here in San Jose. That scary incident at Cavanaugh Stadium kind of confirmed what he had said. Curiously, the discus probably isn't much safer.

Anyway, thanks for the correction.

Regards, Shaker

Markin response, May 28, 2010:

….Shaker- is there anyone who went on to that track [the dust bowl of blessed memory] (at least in the old days) who does not still have cinders somewhere on their body as a reminder of their youthful activity? I asked around about it and, naturally, one and all related their “cinder” experiences. Was this a "rite of passage" from the vengeful track gods and goddesses? I think you could still pick up some these days from what I saw of the track last year.

Okay, let’s keep what I have to say next between us. I have never known a javelin thrower, ah, a spear-chucker, or “returner” who had the sense that evolution has given geese. These guys (and nowadays, gals) lived in a world of their own, probably deep down in some recess caveman remembrance thing and that is probably why the Tarzan in the story you related barely remembered the incident. All I know was that whenever I ran, or meant to run, I checked, and checked carefully, to see if the javelin boys were “practicing.” If they were I, and other runners as I remember, would run out in the streets. It was safer there, honking horns and all, a lot safer. Hey, and the swarthy, whip-lashed, spin-dazzled discus throwers were not much better, believe me. In fact the only field men that had a lick of sense were the shot putters, although maybe I am giving them much the best of it. I do know I was sweet, secretly sweet, in order to protect my life even now on our number shot putter Caveman McKenney’s girlfriend, Beth. But like I say let’s keep that between us. I think she married him.

Regards, Markin

And so it goes.