Sunday, August 31, 2014

***On The 50th Anniversary Of The Voting Rights Act-Blowing In The Wind - With Bob Dylan And The Generation Of ‘68 In Mind-Take Three

From The Pen Of  Frank Jackman

Scene: Girls’ Lounge, North Clintondale High School, Monday morning before school, late September, 1962. Additional information for those who know not of girls lounges, for whatever reason. (And not necessarily just guys who might wonder why they needed the extra space, silly guys, but girls from high schools who did not pamper their older girls and who had to put up with broken mirrors, cramped toilets and nowhere to dispose of their “friend.”) The North Clintondale High School girls’ lounge was reserved strictly for junior and senior girls, no sophomore girls and, most decidedly, no freshmen girls need come within twenty feet of the place for any reason, particularly by accident, under penalty of tumult. It was placed there for the “elect” to use before school, during lunch, after school, and during the day if the need arose for bathroom breaks, but that last was well down on the prerogatives list since any girl could use any other “lav” in the school. No queen, no lioness ever guarded her territory as fiercely as the junior and senior girls of any year, not just 1962, guarded the aura of their lounge. (In the age of co-ed college dorms, unisex bathrooms, and baby changing areas in both men’s and women’s bathrooms this may seem rather quaint and worse rather condescending but that was the ethos of the time, the time just before the great women’s liberation break-out that some of those same young women who guarded the lounge like that previously mentioned queen or lioness would participate.)

Needless to say the place was strictly off-limits to boys, although there had been recent talk, 1962 talk, if talk it was, about some girls thinking, or maybe better, wishing, that boys could enter that hallowed ground, after school enter. Unlike the cigarette smoking rumor this one while persistent never seemed to have gone anywhere. Moreover after school most junior or senior girls were either working part-time jobs at local slave labor department stores or restaurants, heading home to help mother take of younger children (and getting a heads up on what their future might look like), playing lady-like intramural sports far away from boy eyes (in those awful bloomers they wore while playing restricted no-contact basketball or swatting volleyballs ), or, most likely already with some boy in his latest homemade automobile (homemade after hours spent in the garage working out the kinks to made the damn thing go faster, but don’t tell the parents that, the parents of the girl) after a quick run over to North Adamsville Beach. Still that boy rumor possibility was much more likely than entry by those forlorn sophomore and freshman girls, lost or not.

Now the reasoning behind this special girls’ lounge, at least according to Clintondale public school authority wisdom established so far back no one remembered who started it, although a good guess was sometime in the Jazz Age, the time of the “lost generation,” was that junior and senior girls needed some space to attend to their toilet and to adjust to the other rigors of the girl school day and, apparently, that fact was not true for the younger girls. So for that “as far back as can be remembered” junior and senior girls have been using the lounge for their physical, spiritual, demonic, and other intrigue needs.

Certainly it was not the d├ęcor that they were fierce about. Now the physical set- up of the place, by 1962 anyway, was that of a rather run-down throne-ante room. Your standard school, heck, for that matter any public building Ladies’ restroom (remember as well this was situated in a public school so erase any thoughts of some elegant woman’s lounge in some fancy downtown Clintondale hotel, some Ritz-ish place); stalls, three, three sinks complete with oversized mirrors for proper preening, several paper towel dispensers and a couple of throw away waste paper baskets (and of course a place to dispense with those monthly napkins) all set off in bland public building colors.

Beyond that though was the lounge area maybe twice the size of the bathroom area which this year as almost any of the previous ten years contained two old time sofas, a couple of easy chairs, three end tables filled with magazines, mainly girl fashion-related magazines from various years and a couple more waste paper baskets. On one long green wall photographs of previous years of junior and senior girls who were privileged to sit in this very area. On the other providing some fresh air in season three very large glass windows with latch opening for ease of use. (Those windows rumored but only rumored to allow an errant young woman or seven to puff cigarettes and blow the smoke out into the airs. If the school authorities ever discovered that such practices went on, or if they did, did anything about it is unclear however those rumors persisted until long after 1962.)       

The “charm” of the place was thus in its exclusivity not its appearance. Come Monday morning, any school day Monday morning, the ones that counted after hard social weekend of fending, or not fending, off some sidewalk Lothario, and the place was sure to be jam-packed with every girl with a story to tell, re-tell, or discount as the case may be. If this had been a Catholic school rather than public it would have required the full-time services of a senior cleric to absolve all the lies told on any given Monday morning. Also needless to say, and it took no modern sociologist, no sociologist of youth culture, post-World War II youth culture, no one studied in the tribal norms, in the angsts and alienation, to figure it out in even such an elitist democratic lounge which apparently took it model from ancient Greek civic life except ruled by young women rather than old men that a certain pecking order, or more aptly cliques existed aplenty.

The most vocal one, although the smallest, was composed of the “bad” girls, mainly working class, or lower, mostly Irish and Italian, fathers working in the local shipyard or the factories that dotted the river, cigarette-smoking (allegedly okay), blowing the smoke out the window this September day as the weather was still good enough to have open windows. As if the nervous, quick-puff stale smells of the cigarettes were not permanently etched on the stained walls already, taking no bloodhound to figure out the No Smoking rule was being violated, violated daily. (Again no action by school authorities was ever taken while a junior or senior girl was in this sanctuary.) Oh yes, and those “bad” girls just then were chewing gum, chewing Wrigley’s double-mint gum, although that ubiquitous habit was not confined to bad girls, as if that act would take the smell of the cigarette away from their breathes. One girl, Anna, a usually dour pretty girl, was animatedly talking, without a seeming hint of embarrassment or concern that others would hear about how her new boyfriend, a biker from Adamsville who to hear her tell it was an A- Number One stud, and she “did it” on the Adamsville beach (she put it more graphically, much more graphically, but the reader can figure that out). And her listeners, previously somewhat sullen, perked up as she went into the details, and they started, Monday morning or not, to get a certain glean in their eyes thinking about the response when they told their own boyfriends about this one. If they did.

Less vocal, but certainly not more careful in their weekend doings talk, were the, for lack of a better term, the pom-pom girls, the school social leaders, the ones who planned the school dances and such, and put the events together in order to, no, not to show their superior organizing skills for future resumes as one might think, but to lure boys, the jock and social boys, into their own Adamsville beach traps. And not, like Anna and her biker, on any smelly, sandy, clamshell-filled, stone-wretched beach, blanket-less for chrissakes. Leave that for the “bad” girls. They, to a girl, were comfortably snuggled up, according to their whispered stories, in the back seat of a boss ’57 Chevy or other prestige car, with their honeys and putting it more gingerly than Anna (and less graphically) “doing it.”

And, lastly, was the group around Peggy Kelly, not that she was the leader of this group for it had no leader, or any particular organized form either, but because when we get out of the smoke-filled, sex talk-filled, hot-air Monday morning before school North Clintondale junior and senior girls’ lounge we will be following her around. This group, almost all Irish girls, Irish Catholic girls if that additional description is needed, of varying respectabilities, was actually there to attend to their toilet and prepare for the rigors of the girl school day. Oh yes, after all what is the point of being in this exclusive, if democratic, lounge anyway, they too were talking in very, very, very quiet tones discussing their weekend doings, their mainly sexless weekend doings, although at least one, Dora, was speaking just a bit too cryptically, and with just a little too much of a glean in her eyes to pass churchly muster.

And what of Peggy? Well Peggy had her story to tell, if she decided to tell it which she had no intention of doing that day. She was bothered, with an unfocused bother, but no question a bother about other aspects of her life, about what she was going to after high school, about her place in the world than to speak of sex. It was not that Peggy didn’t like sex, or rather more truthfully, the idea of sex, or maybe better put on her less confused days, the idea of the idea of sex. Just this past weekend, Saturday night, although it was a book sealed with seven seals that she was determined not to speak of, girls’ lounge or not, she had let Pete Rizzo “feel her up,” put his hands on her breast. No, not skin on skin, jesus no, but through her buttoned-up blouse. And she liked it. And moreover, she thought that night, that tossing and turning night, “when she was ready” she was would be no prude about it. When she was ready, and that is why she insisted that the idea of the idea of sex was something that would fall into place. When she was ready.

But as she listened to the other Irish girls and their half-lies about their weekends, or drifted off into her own thoughts sex, good idea or not, was not high on her list of activities just then. Certainly not with Pete. Pete was a boy that she had met when she was walking at “the meadows,” For those not familiar with the Clintondale meadows this was a well-manicured and preserved former pasture area that the town fathers had designated as park, replete with picnic tables, outdoor barbecue pits, a small playground area and a small restroom (a facility that made the girls’ lounge at Clintondale High look like one in a downtown hotel by comparison). The idea was to preserve a little of old-time farm country Clintondale in the face of all the building going on in town. But for Peggy the best part was that on any given day no one was using the space, preferring the more gaudy, raucous and, well, fun-filled Gloversville Amusement Park, a couple of towns over. So she could roam there freely, and that seemed be Pete’s idea, as well one day. And that meeting really set up what was bothering Peggy these days.

Pete was a freshman at the small local Gloversville College. Although it was small and had been, according to Pete, one of those colleges founded by religious dissidents, Protestant religious dissidents from the mainstream Protestantism of their day, it was well-regarded academically (also courtesy of Pete). And that was Pete’s attraction for Peggy, his ideas and how he expressed them. They fit right in with what Peggy had been bothered by for a while. Things that could not be spoken of in girls’ lounge, or maybe even thought of there. Things like what to do about the black civil rights struggle that was burning up the television every night. About the awful way that whites treated the blacks down there (and the way that her father, a full-blooded Irishman who had grown up in South Boston and who could find no better word for the blacks than n----r and there were plenty in all-white Clintondale who used that same word without a second thought). Pete was “heading south” next summer he said. (That term of youthful political art signifying that he would be taking a bus, or maybe as part of a carload, and head for hellish Alabama or goddam Mississippi to aid the besieged black civil-rights fighters in one of the programs drawn up by one of the increasingly active Northern campus activist coalitions.) They also as youth will talked of things like were we going to last until next week if the Russians came at us, or we went after the Russians. And behind that threat the big one, the big red scare Cold War nuclear holocaust threat that was unspoken but which she had serious dreams about, and dreams about joining with others to stop the damn madness. 

Also mingled in aside from that that not then pressing sex question, for she was a young woman of her time and upbringing as well, though why was she worried every day about her appearance and why she, like an addiction, always, always, made her way to the girls’ lounge to “make her face” as part of the rigors of the girl school day. And if not pressing then sneaking in every once in a while whole sex thing that was coming, and she was glad of it, just not with Pete, Pete who after all was just too serious, too much like those commissars over in Russia, although she liked the way he placed his hands on her. And she was still thinking hard on these subjects as she excused herself from the group as she put the final touches of lipstick on. Just then the bell rang for first period, and she was off into the girl day.

Scene: Boys’ “Lav,” Second Floor, Clintondale High School, Monday morning before school, September, 1962. (Not necessarily the same Monday morning as the scene above but some Monday after the first Monday, Labor Day, in September. In any case even if it was the same Monday as the one above that coincidence does not drive this story, other more ethereal factors do.) Additional information for those who know not of boys’ lavs, for whatever reason. The Clintondale High School boys’ rest rooms, unlike the girls’ lounge mentioned above at North, where that old time rule applied to the girls’ lounge, was open to any boy in need of its facilities, even lowly, pimply freshmen as long as they could take the gaffe. Apparently Clintondale high school boys, unlike the upperclassmen girls needed no special consideration for their grooming needs in order to face the schoolboy day.

Well, strictly speaking that statement about a truly democratic boys’ lav universe was not true. The first floor boys’ lav down by the woodworking shop was most strictly off limits, and had been as far back as anyone could remember, maybe Neanderthal times, to any but biker boys, badass corner boys, guys with big chips on their shoulders and the wherewithal to keep them there , and assorted other toughs. No geeks, dweebs, nerds, guys in plaid shirts and loafers with or without pennies inserted in them, or wannabe toughs, wannabe toughs who did not have that wherewithal to maintain that chip status need apply. And none did, none at least since legendary corner boy king (Benny’s Variety Store version), “Slash” Larkin, threw some misdirected freshman through a work-working shop window for his mistake. Ever since every boy in the school, every non-biker, non-corner boy, or non-tough had not gone within fifty yards of that lav, even if they took shop classes in the area. And a “comic” aspect of every year’s freshman orientation was a guided finger to point out which lav NOT to use, and that window where that freshman learned the error of his ways. No king, no lion ever guarded his territory as fiercely as the “bad” boys did. Except, maybe, those junior and senior Clintondale girls of any year, and not just 1962, as they guarded their lounge lair.

That left the boys’ rooms on the second floor, the third floor, the one as you entered the gymnasium, and the one outside of the cafeteria for every other boy’s use. A description, a short description, of these lavs is in order. One description fits all will suffice; a small room, with stalls, sinks, mirrors, etc. the same as found in any rest room in any public building in the country. Additionally, naturally, several somewhat grimy, stained (from the “misses”) urinals. What draws our attention to the second floor boys’ room this day are two facts. First, this rest room is in the back of the floor away from snooping teachers’ eyes, ears and noses and has been known, again for an indeterminate time, as the place where guys could cadge a smoke, a few quick puffs anyway, on a cigarette and blow the smoke out the back window, rain or shine, cold or hot weather. So any guy of any class who needed his “fix” found his way there. And secondly, today, as he had done almost every Monday before school since freshman year John Prescott and friends have held forth there to speak solemnly of the weekend’s doing, or not doings. To speak of sex, non-sex, and more often than seemed possible, of the girl who got away, damn it.

Of course, egalitarian democratic or not, even such drab places as schoolboy rest rooms have their pecking orders, and the second floor back tended to eliminate non-smoking underclassmen, non-smokers in general, serious intellectual types, non-jocks, non-social butterflies, and non-plaid shirt and loafer boys. And Johnny Prescott, if nothing else was the epitome of the plaid shirt and loafer crowd. And just like at that up-scale North Clintondale girls’ lounge come Monday morning, any school day Monday morning, the ones that count, and the place was sure to be jam-packed with every plaid-shirted, penny-loafered boy with a story to tell, re-tell, or discount as the case may be. Also needless to say, and it took no modern sociologist, no sociologist of youth culture, post-World War II youth culture, to figure it out in even such a smoky democratic setting there was a certain standardized routine-ness to these Monday mornings. And that routine-ness, the very fact of it, is why John Prescott draws our attention on this day.

And if Johnny was the king of his clique for no other reason than he was smart, but not too smart, not intellectual smart, or showing it any way, that he was first to wear plaid and loafers and not be laughed at, and he had no trouble dating girls, many notched girls, which was the real sign of distinction in second floor lav, he was nevertheless a troubled plaid-ist.

No, not big troubled, but, no question, troubled. Troubled about this sex thing, and about having to have the notches to prove it, whether, to keep up appearances, you had to lie about it or not when you struck out as happened to Johnny more times than he let on (and as he found out later happened to more guys more often than not). Troubled about political stuff like what was going on down in the South with those black kids taking an awful beating every day as he saw on television every freaking night. (And like Peggy’s father his father casting aspersions down on the “nigras” the only term he knew, or cared to know coming for backwater Kentucky and not fully aware that a civil war had been fought to decide that question of black equality). And right next store in Adamsville where some kids, admittedly some intellectual goof kids, were picketing Woolworth’s every Saturday to let black people, not in Adamsville because there were no blacks in Adamsville, or Clintondale for that matter, but down in Georgia, eat a cheese sandwich in peace at a lunch counter and he thought he should do something about that too, except those intellectual goofs might goof on him, might wonder about his motives since he made it his business to goof on them at school. But, damn, those kids down south had right to eat that freaking cheese sandwich in peace, although the Woolworth’s cheese sandwiches even grilled were awful to eat.

And big, big issues like whether we were going to live out our lives as anything but mutants on this planet what with the Russian threatening us everywhere with big bombs, and big communist one-size-fits- all ideas. Worst, though were the dizzying thoughts of his place in the sun and how big it would be. Worse, right now worse though was to finish this third morning cigarette and tell his girl, his third new girl in two months, Julie James, that he needed some time this weekend to just go off by himself, to go “the meadows” maybe, and think about the stuff he had on his mind.

Scene: Clintondale Meadows, one late September 1962 Saturday afternoon. The features of the place already described above, including its underutilization. Enter Johnny Prescott from the north, plaid shirt, brown loafers, no pennies on this pair, black un-cuffed chinos, and against the winds of late September this year his Clintondale High white and blue sports jacket won for his athletic prowess as a basketball player in sophomore year. Theodore White’s The Making Of A President-1960 in hand. Enter from the south Peggy Kelly radiant in her cashmere sweater, her just so full skirt, and her black patent leather shoes with her additional against the chill winds red and black North Clintondale varsity club supporter sweater. James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain in hand. Johnny spied Peggy first, makes an initial approach as he did to most every girl every chance he got, but noticed, noticed at a time when such things were important in Clintondale teen high school life the telltale red and black sweater, and immediately backed off. You see never the twain shall meet as far as those two cross-town rivals went, starting with the bitter football rivalry between the two schools like they were Cold War opponents. There was an unwritten law, not easily transgressed then that one did not speak to, much less date, a member of the opposing school. (And enough stories about the “shunning” of such dalliances existed so that at least publicly it was not done. Later times would find that such laws were breeched as much as honored). Peggy noticing Johnny’s reaction puts her head down. A chance encounter goes for not.

That is not the end of the story though. Johnny and Peggy will “meet” again, by chance, in the Port Authority Bus Station in New York City in the early summer of 1964 as they, along with other recent high school graduates and current college students- “head south.”

***Stories From The Old North Adamsville Neighborhood-Pay Back

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

The old neighborhood, the old working-class neighborhood of North Adamsville about twenty miles south of Boston before the demise of the shipbuilding industry broke up a lot of the old civilities, broke up a certain sense of community although I don’t want to overemphasize that because there were plenty of incivilities as well, was a place filled with all kinds of dreams. Some, like my parents, dreamed of the little shack of a house they were able to purchase by both working jobs in the mother-stays-at-home 1950s and that was good enough for them as a token that they had made it out of the “projects” which was our fate early on and appeared to be all that they could do for a long time. Others like the Dolans from across the street bought a small rug repair and cleaning company and left the dust of the old town behind even though they stayed put on the same street and house that they lived on when Mr. Dolan worked for the shipbuilders before those firms started heading off-shore in the early 1950s. Other families had their shares of dreams, better jobs, kids to college or a trade, stuff like that.

The family that interests me today, the one I want to talk about a little was the family of my best growing-up friend, Josh Breslin, from over on Maple Street. Josh turned out pretty well, made himself a small reputation as a writer of short stories and essays in a lot of less well known but respected journals and reviews (he may not agree with that characterization about the size of that reputation but a guy who lived for small press publication and regularly submitted pieces to the likes of the Evergreen Review rather than the Post or Times which were interested seems to me to be hell-bent on a small reputation). Some of his four other brothers though, and the one I wanted to do this piece on, Prescott (named after his uncle as the second oldest son), in particular did not fare so well. Prescott fell under the cracks, fell hard to the romance of the “life” in the early 1950s when there were plenty of guys, corner boys really, ready to soak up that life. Just as Josh and I fell hard to the 1960s hitchhike road in search of the blue-pink great American West night running down that yellow brick road out on the coast. Since Prescott was significantly older that Josh and I he was kind of like a legend, a presence more than a person to us. However Josh later visited him a few times in prison when he was doing a stretch for armed robbery or some such high crime and Josh learned a lot about what made him tick. Josh passed on that information to me to see what I could do with it so here goes:         

Prescott Breslin did his first robbery right after he had made his first communion (a Roman Catholic Church ritual to bring the very young, usually at five or six years old, into the bowels of the faith, to give them their first taste symbolically of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, other religions may have similar strategies but that is the one Prescott, and most of the kids in the neighborhood, including me and my brothers, had to deal with). See first communion was one of those occasions like Christmas or your birthday where you  expected to get some loot (and maybe other gifts too but loot is what we are talking about here, money to go to the corner variety store, maybe a department store or a hobby shop and get what you wanted to satisfy whatever wanting habit hunger was gnawing at you at the moment) and he had gotten a pile like his older brother, Kenny, had from his mother and father, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins (cousins, some pretty far removed, giving on the theory that if they gave then when it was their turn to get something for some event they were primed for then you would be duty-bound to fork over something to put in their pile).

He probably got about the same amount as Kenny, maybe a little less since Kenny being the oldest and the favorite of a number of relatives, including both sets of grandparents who believed he would make his mark and move the family up the social scale a little, might have dug a little deeper. That was not Prescott’s gripe though, not by a long shot, not by a long shot was that the reason that he committed his first robbery. Nor was it the fact that Kenny had, showing the good judgment that his parents expected of him, decided that he would use that money to buy a new suit at Raymond’s Department Store in downtown North Adamsville (the first communion suit, all virginal white signifying some assumed purity as the candidates embraced the faith, was, frankly, made of shoddy to Mother Breslin’s great dismay since she had expected like with all their precious hard-earned and father-sweated purchases to be able to dye the thing and let it pass as a regular everyday suit to be passed down to the other three boys, starting with Prescott, once Kenny out-grew it).

Prescott’s gripe, no, his obsession with the justice of the thing, was that the money gifts for him were to be wisely put away by Mother Breslin for him to use when he went to college. Prescott was beside himself, all six years old of him, that he would not see that loot for, as he calculated the numbers, about twelve years from then. A lifetime to a kid, no question. Here is where his obsession came in, his sense that there had been a grave injustice committed against his person. Talking to his parents did no good, although he only half-heartedly tried to make his case knowing that it was hopeless once the hard-bitten money decisions were made by mother. An appeal to his father on a money question was out of the question because he would just throw the thing back in mother’s court, a real united front. (It was only later when Josh found out how really poor they were, found out that his hard-working but ill-educated father was as likely to be out of work as in work and that every mother-counted penny had to be husbanded against those white envelopes she parceled out to the pressing bill-collectors on pay day like clockwork that the “united front” of Prescott’s  anger, his anger against his father for not sticking up for him in such matters was not a united front at all but a finally tuned strategic they had worked out unknown to him or his brothers probably in the privacy of their bedroom.)

No, this required action on his part. And that was where Prescott, like Josh and me later, probably having read too many comic books or regular books about crimes, and criminals, or seen too many gangster movies that played at the second-run Strand Theater on the outskirts of Adamsville on Washington Street where his parents took him and his brothers on the cheap went off the rails (everything on the cheap, including sneaking in the candy necessary to get through the double features rather than purchase items, items like that to die for buttered and salted fresh popcorn made right there that all the boys craved, even Kenny). He knew, did he ever, that his mother kept a lot of change in her pocketbook that she would leave out in the open on a counter next to the kitchen table. That change, nickels and dimes, but a generous helping of quarters as well for the public bus line that was the family’s life-line to the outside world when there was no money for a car (or it had hopelessly broken down requiring repair and thus back to no money and public transportation) whose driver never seemed to have change for a dollar, was in a little plastic bag.

Prescott’s idea was to grab some change every now and again from the pocketbook until he had reached the total amount given to him by his thoughtful relatives. He did not figure that his mother had the change counted (and she didn’t as it turned out) and so would not miss it like she would with dollar bills or more (which she certainly did count as noted before when I mentioned the poverty level they existed under). Still his first gambit was fraught with danger as he made sure his mother was outside doing something in the yard when he made his move. He carefully opened the purse, saw where the plastic bag containing the coins was located toward the bottom beneath her wallet, and gently opened the bag to make sure that he did not spill any coins out and took what turned out to be about a dollar’s worth of coins. He resealed the bag, shut the purse, and then stealthily left the house to run quickly to Carter’s Variety Store and bought a few candy bars, some Twinkles and a Robb’s root beer (a locally bottled soft drink that I was also crazy for when I used to hang around with the corner boys at Harry’s Variety Store and he would  order some just for me and Frankie Riley, another corner boy) to wash it all down when he went over to eat his new found goods  behind the school ballpark in private watching out for any stray brother, especially Kenny, who would know something was wrong with Prescott having such luxuries. Prescott later told Josh I am not sure when, and told his lawyer when that was necessary, that those days were probably when he developed his life-long sweet tooth.

In any case Prescott did that household robbery business for a while, although he said he figured that he never got all the dough that was due him.  All through that time he never got caught, got so he could cadge money even when his mother was in the next room. Of course he never got the money later for college since he never went to college (unlike Kenny who worked his way through) and the money had long before been taken out of his bank account when some family financial crisis loomed and all the available cash was necessary to bail the situation out. (Josh said he thought it was about pressing mortgage payments but since his parents were extremely closed-mouthed about financial matters to the boys he was not quite sure.) And that was how Prescott Breslin got his start, for those who were wondering. 

Funny about that wondering part, some know the name from the police blotter or from reading about his occasional forages with the law before they put Prescott, or had been trying to, away for good. No, he was never a Jesse James (hell, no his wanting habits had no revenge factor to them, all he wanted was to get that forever wanting habits hungry satisfied just once), never a Pretty Boy Floyd who got all prettified in song a some kind of  Robin Hood until Larry McMurtry put everybody straight on the real kick of that 1930s desperado who might have given to the poor, given them a couple of slugs in the back rather than a thousand dollar bill) or even a local boy, a Boston boy, Trigger Burke, who was the trigger man on the great Brink’s armored car holdup that captivated the minds of the kids, including Josh, in that 1950s Cold War night when heroes were hard to come by and you took what you got.

Prescott Breslin was what you would call a “soldier” a guy who did his dirty work for somebody else, somebody smarter, somebody more reckless, somebody who needed something done and needed a guy who knew the score, knew the code, and knew what breaking the code meant. Yeah, a soldier was all he was even if he did make more trouble than whatever it was that he wanted was worth going in for. But a soldier, a “stand up” guy, a guy who knows the score just doesn’t walk into a saloon, a bar, or some back alley restaurant and ask for work like some stinking bracero, hat in hand, or some rummy day labor pearl-diver looking for his next bottle. One needed a history.

Although one criminal act did not have to follow the other after Prescott had had his fill of sneaking small change from his mother’s pocketbook (he would laugh later that old habits die hard and admitted that, just to keep in shape, he would cadge some change from that purse over the years into his adulthood whenever he was not on the lam and living at home when he needed money for coffee and crullers).  At least to keep himself in dough, he moved up in the world, the hard world of the “projects” where if you didn’t hang with corner boys you were in for a very long teenage-hood. So naturally he had his rite of passage just like every other corner boy by learning the “clip,” you know the five-finger discount, the no pay , no way for various items from jewelry stores (the preferred venue, especially as guys got older, got interested in girls and in girl wanting habits, and had no other way to satisfy them except the clip, or later in effect to exchange the trinkets for sex, lots of it if you had diamonds for them), department stores (good for guys who needed to upgrade their wardrobe although Prescott was rather indifferent to that aspect of his image), record stores (when every teenager was crazy for rock ‘n’ roll and just needed a fistful of the latest 45s to spread around at a discount, no questions asked) and, a few times, a grocery store when things were tough at home and the younger brothers needed feeding.  (He had a deal worked out with one of the cashiers for the food-he would load up a cart, head to that cashier’s counter, the cashier would ring up every third or fourth item, and present the bill, Josh would pay whatever it was, give say twenty dollars, and get fifty or sixty dollars back which the cashier pocketed when they met later.

The clip was the life blood of Prescott’s early teenage-hood, and he never got caught. Part of the reason for that was his partner, Billy Riley, was a pro at the  business (you really needed a partner for this one because the guys who got caught were usually the guys who went solo. You needed the look-out to watch for owners, brown-nosed employees, or the cops, private and public). Okay, say you wanted a bracelet for some girl, you and Billy went to Sam Sloan’s up the Square, and watched to see what the customer action was (always have other customers as cover or forget it because they provided the distraction for you to do your work), once the owner/employee was busy you moved fast (Billy moved fast and Prescott learned the value of speed after almost getting caught the very first time when he could not decide which ring he wanted, onyx or emerald, Jesus). Easy, although Prescott later told Josh that too easy led him to think he was invincible until that first stretch that he wound up doing at Norfolk County. But that was later, much later when the stakes were higher and he got careless which back in the Billy days he never was.(Billy would have taken his head off if he had although in the end Billy wound up face down in a White Hen parking lot down south after a botched armed robbery for about sixty bucks. But by then the dope had Billy’s head on wrong.)

Once you decide of a life on the edge, once your wanting habits only get satisfied on easy street, kept angling the quick grift, the midnight shifting then there has to be some progression or you fall off of the cliff (or somebody pushes you). Prescott never called it the criminal life, never thought that was where he was heading, just thought all that he did was part the game, part of not being a sucker like his father who worked hard, when he was able to find work, and keep at it and still wound up down in the ditch somewhere when rewards time came. That was not the life for him, not for Billy or Ronnie or Georgie Boy either and at some point it stuck. He remembered one time in the summer after sixth grade when he was hot and restless he went into the Timothy Clark Public Library branch that was attached to the Adamsville South Elementary School with one of his corner boys at the time, Pete Markin, to sit and maybe nod off for a while before going back out into the heat. Pete went and grabbed a book, maybe two, and sat down to read. Prescott sat opposite him and nodded off for maybe an hour. When Prescott awoke and called across to Pete who was engrossed in some book Pete told Prescott to go by himself because he wanted to finish the book he was reading. Prescott said “okay” and that they would meet with the other corner boys behind the school after supper. Pete never showed. Never came around again all summer.

When Prescott caught up to Pete on the first day of junior high at Brook Meadows he asked Pete where he had been. Pete answered that he had been in the library all summer, said he was not cut out to be a corner boy, too much monkey business, too many moving parts for him. Prescott, after giving Pete a shove to show him he had to wake up to the world that they lived in, that reading books was for squares (a word via the “beat” scene that had worked its way down to the sullen corner boy streets and was gaining popularity as a way for the “wild boys” to separate themselves from all the normal television stuff they saw that was weird, very weird), and that he would wise up some day and see that. As for Prescott he went on to have a very productive career in junior high grabbing milk and lunch money from kids, jack-rolling an occasional drunk on his way for the night to the Sally’s (Salvation Army) up the Square and grabbing loose change by having the weak ones (and in junior high there are always weak ones) pay him protection in order to avoid being beaten up by the school bullies (or if the kid was not too weak to avoid being beaten up by Prescott or one of his boys). Girls, well, in those days they got a pass, except if they didn’t “come across” (“coming across” being anything from an innocent kiss to a blow job behind the gym lockers and what it would be on any given was totally whimsical and not dependent on the reputation of the girl. Many girls, prissy girls too and not just junior whores on the training program, who would deny it later found themselves, willingly or not, behind those gym lockers on their knees). So Prescott had the soft life, for maybe the last time in his troubled young life.                                        

Of course if you are living the easy life then school at some point is for “squares” but you still have to make some kind of calculation about what you are going to do for dough. And school was a no dough situation so when Prescott came of age he left school, left because there was nobody at home to stop him at that point and nobody in school who wanted to keep him there, when in a rare fit, he almost killed the headmaster when he questioned him about leaving and Prescott hung him by his feet outside his second story office window. And the headmaster never said peep one to the cops or anybody else. So from there Prescott was ready for graduate school-his first, well, not his first if you count that mother’s pocketbook stuff, but first out in the streets, robbery. A gas station late at night when Jim Sweeney, a fellow classmate in junior high was on duty, and Prescott strong-armed him into giving up the one hundred and eleven dollars in the cash drawer. And Jim, when the copper questioned him said he could not identify the robber. Jack’s luck was holding out.

But like all luck it is fickle, goes south on you sometimes and it did with Prescott. Jack was a born soldier but he was also crazy for cars, learned how to drive when he was about fourteen from Lenny Lawrence the ace driver for the Winter Street gang the other side of Boston who took a shine to Prescott when he “hot-wired” a ‘61 Chevy that Lenny had his eye on and led the coppers on a merry chase through the back streets of Boston down by Storrow Drive where they thought they had him and he just jumped over the divide and said “adios, suckers.” So yes his luck ran for a while, quite a while until he got caught in front of the Boston Five Cent Savings Bank waiting for his comrades to come out with some loot and got caught in freaking traffic with only one way out down Tremont Street since an MTA bus had broken by the old Orpheum Theater(this was in the days when it was possible to pull an honest armed robbery without all hell breaking loose and also before the advent of ATMs and other technological gadgetry which made it crazy to pull such stunts, and unnecessary as well). But see a guy like Prescott, a soldier, had that driving skill and that was about it, didn’t have the smarts or the serious “connections” to get pulled out fast and  he drew to a five and dime when the judge came down on his head.

Prescott did three but when he came out things had changed somewhat. The old connected crowd was learning ways to get their money in easier ways and Prescott was stuck, stuck good since nobody around needed a good stickman any longer. So he hired on as a guy moving stolen liquor from Canada for a while, had it going pretty good, for a while, and then the other shoe dropped when the “Feds” got nervous about that lost tax revenue just like they did with the good old boys down south, and he rapped to a ten (he could have gotten out from under all the charges since he was way down the list of who they wanted, Sonny and Soupy Barger who had run that liquor for years, if he had talked to “Uncle” but his old corner boy instincts came into play and he dummied up, dummied up good (besides if he had squawked he was a dead man with those guys he was mixed up with in that operation as they made plain (and as he learned about two guys who squawked and who were never heard from again. Prescott needed no other picture drawn for him). So Prescott drew his time but as he later told Josh when he was leaving the courthouse all manacled up he thought for a minute about what might have happened if his damn mother had given him his first communion money like she should have.                                    

Saturday, August 30, 2014

***Songs To While The Time By- The Roots Is The Toots

A YouTube clip to give some flavor to this subject.
Over the past several years I have been running an occasional series in this space of songs, mainly political protest songs, you know The Internationale, Union Maid, Which Side Are You On, Viva La Quince Brigada, Universal Soldier, and such entitled Songs To While The Class Struggle By. This series which could include some protest songs as well is centered on roots music as it has come down the ages and formed the core of the American songbook. You will find the odd, the eccentric, the forebears of later musical trends, and the just plain amusing here. Listen up-Peter Paul Markin

Sunday, August 24, 2014

***Out In The 1960s Be-Bop Night- The Recovery-The Sam Lowell Saga-The Final Story



From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

Sam Lowell was done with recriminations. Was done with remorse. Was done with self-flagellation. Was done with that game he was playing in his head about how he would get her back, mapping out exhaustive scenarios that could not possibly occur since she refused to talk to him. Was, most importantly, done with the mind game about what went wrong and who and what made it go wrong, he would leave that unanswered as he tried to move on with his life. Move on knowing that many things in life get no final answer. Naturally with that many “dones” staring him (and us) in the face the question of done with what or who could only be about a woman.

No, could only about one particular woman this year. Could only be about that short torrid affair that Sam Lowell had had with Melinda Loring, an old classmate of his from the North Adamsville Class of 1964, whom he had “met” last winter, the winter of 2013, on the website set up by the class reunion committee that was planning the 50th anniversary reunion. Sam, a friend of mine back then, back in the early 1960s in school and on the corner, although we had not been in touch for years had sought me out on the site and we became something like fast friends, especially as the affair with Melinda faded, a woman I did know back in school although I had seen her around ( who I probably gave one of my furtive glances to that I was famous, school famous, corner boy famous for in those days after seeing her class photograph on the site. In fact the more I think about it now I am sure she got one of those glances, with my slight head tilt and  quick eye glance followed by a quick turn- around to see if the she in question looked back as well, although she must have dismissed me out hand since I know I never talked to her and Sam told me that when he checked her out back then he found that every guy who knew her (or tried to know her) called her the ice queen). I do not know now Melinda for that matter (although a more recent photograph points to her glance-worthiness even now) and faded or not faded Sam needed someone’s shoulder to cry on.

Well, more that cry on because over the summer Sam had had me doing yeoman’s’ work writing about his unpleasant final partings with Melinda. But that was all over Sam said. All the bathos, pathos, thantos and any other “os” that is appropriate to that situation over and done with. Now all he wanted to do was balance out the effects of the affair. Kind of put things in perspective, kind of recover.  He said that he realized that putting a positive spin on things was not as “sexy” as spreading gossip or running through the scandalous moments of a flamed-out affair but so be it. One night, one late summer’s night after he had finally resigned himself to the fact that he would not attend the reunion, partially in order to finally put paid to the affair with Melinda, partially to avoid any further un-pleasantries since he had been informed that she planned to attend the event, Sam met me over at our favorite watering hole of late and told me in snatches between drinks about the good side of the affair. Here is the way I remember his presentation with the aid of a few notes that I took since I have been a little forgetful of late without them:                

One of the strangest parts of the relationship that developed between Sam and Melinda was the way they “met” on the North Adamsville Class of 1964 reunion website since neither knew each other back in school and neither, as they discussed later, were looking to meet anybody that last winter. (The way Sam put it, and he said Melinda had agreed, they were just “muddling along with their lives.”) From the first few timid e-mails though they gravitated toward each other. Sam despite Laura, his long-time, very long time companion and house-mate, and Melinda once she knew the “score” on Laura despite that knowledge. So sight unseen they had moved toward each other. He could hardly wait for her e-mails so he could whip one out to her in return. (She being almost as ready to wade into a blizzard of e-mails as he-that method of communication techno-pile-up may be a new modern standard as a measure of love.) They were like two magpies writing about everything under the sun. Of course Sam a guy who loves to discuss everything under the sun could not be happier that he found somebody who was as interested in such things as Russian literature and the black liberation. (Laura a quiet more reflective and less well-read women was in some ways the opposite, a trait that Sam felt had allowed them to survive over the years, the years when they were lovers in any case.) Every e-mail revealed something new, and something old. The “old” that they were destined to meet in person after an intermediate stage of phoning each other, creating another techno-blizzard and maybe another new signpost in modern romance, could not satisfy their curiosities. The “new,” well to hear Sam tell it that he would finally get to meet in person one of the foxiest woman in his class and alive enough to brag about the fact at the forthcoming reunion. That meeting became much more probable when they discussed their early childhoods and found out the following which I am placing here from a note Sam send me at the time and my response:

“One exchange, the one that matters here, involved the question of where they had gone to elementary school, she to Adamsville North and he to Adamsville South. That Adamsville South response by Sam brought out the fact that Melinda’s mother, Margaret, had been a swimming instructor down at the Adamsville South Beach during the 1950s summers and had during her career there saved a drowning boy. Melinda, nine at the time, had been present at the event.

Sam said he had flipped out when he heard that information. See, and I remember him telling me one time about his love of the ocean but fear of it, fear to go too far out when swimming because he had almost drowned when he was nine down at the Adamsville South Beach one summer. Typical boy story: as the ocean was rising he had spied a log, an abandoned telephone pole, and had grabbed onto it. He drifted out for a while and then, as he said sheepishly, he realized he had gone too far but instead of holding onto the log he decided to try and swim for shore. Not a good swimmer and just too far out he started going down. His brother who was on the shore called for help and the swimming instructor came out and saved him in a nick of time.

So what lesson did Sam draw from that today. Anything about fate, karma, or just plain good luck. No. He told Melinda that since they had already “met” maybe they should get together in person and discuss the matter more fully. And guess what, she agreed. Jesus.”

No wonder they both expressed the sentiment that their “simple twist of fate” had written in the stars all over it.               

And so they did, meeting up in Portsmouth, New Hampshire a convenient neutral meeting place for both. Oddly it was not the first date which seemed way too awkward as the evening moved along that got Sam, well, smitten but the second date a few days later, also in Portsmouth, where they really hit it off and were reluctant to leave each other. The parting was the thing that Sam vividly remembered. Remembered walking Melinda to her car, giving her a hug, a close hug, a heartfelt hug that brought a misty tear to Melinda’s eyes and in response Sam caressed her hair gently (she would mention that to him later as a point where she thought he might be her “forever” guy). Sam went back to his hotel that night perplexed but feeling very warmly about his Linny, his sweetie.       

About a week later, just a few days before Christmas, they made a date to meet in Newburyport, up along the Massachusetts coast, in the afternoon. They had argued over lunch, all good things between them always had argumentative edge on them as well centered on Sam’s relationship with Laura and this occasion was no different. Centered as well on Sam spending Christmas at Laura’s relatives’ place, a thing that he had done for years since he had no family of his own to go to, a thing that he could not get out of and which he did not want to get out of at that point (despite his increasingly strong feelings he did not see any way to resolve the Laura situation without breaking up their shared household). He smoothed things over by buying Melinda, much to her delight and as it turned out his as well (and by Sam’s insistence that she pick out what she wanted, a good healing point), a very nice seashell bracelet (seashell signifying their ocean roots and ocean love). That afternoon he/she/they had their first “lean-in” kiss (they would giggle about that one for a while and e-mail each other about whether it had been a kiss or not, and about whether they wanted more, ah, young love).

Funny Sam said that “lean-in” kiss turned into a real kiss when they met after the holidays at a museum and he thought he would surprise her with that kiss on the lips when he met her at the front door. That feeling got solidified later that afternoon when they went to the Jack Kerouac Memorial Park up in Lowell, Massachusetts and he forgetting his reading glasses listened as she read off the inscribed-sections of his works, including the famous last page of his classic On The Road, that were positioned on the columns which made up the park. And that was when the idea of sex, sex with Melinda first came up in Sam’s head, although he/they did not talk about it then but left it to a blizzard of e-mails on the subject.

[When Sam talked about the e-mail and cellphone blizzard exchanges I was beginning to see where this thing was bound to go off the rails, that incessant discussing every issue like it was an important affair of state had too many moving parts to it that was not apparent to when Sam unwound about the ungainly parts of their affair earlier in the summer. Then it seemed that she was just a weirdo who did not know a good thing when she found it laying on the ground.]

Of course, despite all the AARP-hype and occasional reference to elderly sex in the magazines the question of sex, other than the usual “thank God that is no longer a factor” among the vast majority of elders who have taken up golfing, gardening or grandchild-doting instead, is not an automatic question. Or rather the question of “doing the do” as Sam and Melinda came to call it and sleeping together came up since both were interested, very interested in that prospect. (Melinda had told Sam, kind of testing the waters, that she would understand if he was no longer interested in sex and they could just be close he replied. “Yeah, right” in that nasal tone he has. She reportedly smiled a very big smile at that remark.)      

So here is how it came to pass. And like all things Sam the situation had to be more complicated than necessary. They had bandied about the sex issue enough so both were ready to jump under the satin sheets at the first opportunity. (We will disregard Sam’s hesitations seeing the bedroom as a definite breaking point between him and Laura.) So Sam invited Melinda to visit him in his hotel room when he was in the vicinity. Not so much that time for sex as to get acquainted outside of the dinners and museums that had been their dating bill of fare previously. Melinda though had other ideas, had ideas about getting Sam under the sheets that night. So they had drinks and then went to dinner. Sam invited Melinda back to his room for a nightcap. Melinda assuming that she was staying the night had brought her overnight bag and had fed the cats. Sam just wasn’t ready that night though. Somehow they had gotten their signals crossed and about midnight a forlorn Melinda headed for home.  

Sam would make things easier after that, realized that he wanted to sleep with Melinda and so out of the blue about a week later he called her up, asked her if she was doing anything that night and when she said no he told her to feed the cats, load up the overnight bag, and stop of at a store and bring some supper to his hotel room. She/they giggled over that one. They also giggled over plenty of things that night. The strip spin-the-bottle game Melinda “forced” Sam to play where he kept losing, and losing his clothes. Sam left out the details of that love-making night but just said that she was sore and he was too the next morning. A bright point no question especially when Melinda mentioned that the supposedly shy and puritanical Sam knew exactly how to get her going. Sunnier times for sure.    

Naturally that most intimate bonding continued for a while first at hotels and then Sam was invited to Melinda lake-front home in Epping where he met the cats and tried to figure out whether he could operate in that environment. Many a cold wine-filled evening was spent in that comfortable place. (He also got to do his infernal jogging there on the snow and ice-filled almost car-free deserted back roads, a plus, no question a plus.)

No question the Washington trip a few weeks later was a highlight of their affair, feeling comfortable travelling together, sharing space for several days and learning a little more about whether they could survive together. Funny poor Melinda had had foot surgery several years before so prolonged walking, in this case prolonged museum walking, was a chore although she tried to hide her discomfort from him (by sitting down many times when he wandered off look at some painting). He caught her doing that and told her she did not have to keep doing that just to please him (he had had knee replacement surgery so he was painfully aware what limits to bodily punishment one could, or should, endure). But mainly Washington was about being comfortable together, and about making great love especially as both did special little sexual things to each other that showed how in synch they were then.  

Even during the last period, the period where things came apart, partially due to Sam’s reaction to Melinda’s breaking her hip in a fluke accident at the pool where she swan in winter to get her exercise, needing surgery and needing him to take a care-taker role more than a lover’s role they found some precious moments when they journeyed to North Adamsville to try to exorcize some ghosts of the past. Both of them had had tough childhoods, his with a screaming mother who thought he was born guilty and treated him as such (his hard-working beaten down father played no day-to-day role in his life after the first few years except to back up mother’s edicts) and hers with a father who was beside himself with the fact that he was downwardly mobile and took his vengeance out on the kids, including some very strange, probably abusive sexual antics while her mother denied the reality of her unfit husband. They visited the old beach where her mother, a summer program swimming instructor had saved him and which has been detailed above (now returned to nature) where they first “met,” had lunch at a landmark restaurant a place that neither family could afford to go when they were children, visited the storied Adamsville Beach where she had first been kissed, and travelled to her ancestral home where she showed him the spot where she had been “the girl on the rocks.” That moment both professed that their affair had been written in the stars. Hell, even a few days, less than a week anyway, before the bitter end one night when he had gone up to her house in order to take her to the hospital the next day to be examined (and to see if she could drive, a task she was desperate to do on her own) they had laid down on her bed and put their heads together and talked the night away like two magpies. Talked about plans for the future after she retired, talk about going to California in search of the great American West night to see if they should settle there and start anew like many generations before them, talked about old high school stuff which was always a glue for them, talked and talked. Ah (my ah).    

Yeah, Sam Lowell was done with recriminations. Was done with remorse. Was done with self-flagellation. Was done with that game he was playing in his head about how he would get her back, mapping out exhaustive scenarios that could not possibly occur since she refused to talk to him. Was, most importantly, done with the mind game about what went wrong and who and what made it go wrong. He would leave that unanswered for eternity as he tried to move on with his life. Yeah, this too though I could hear in his voice as he finished up, and I need no note as a reminder on this, that he was not finished with sorrows and sadness.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

***Another Way To “Seek A Newer World”-For Brother Ronald Callahan Who Has Done Good In This World-Take Six  

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

A few years ago when I began to reconcile myself, reconcile myself the first aborted time, with my roots, with my hometown roots that had been abandoned by me some forty years earlier for a a whole bunch of reasons but let’s leave it as I needed to blow the dust of the town off of my shoes, I had an occasion to write a short piece honoring the work of a fellow classmate from the North Adamsville High School (Massachusetts) Class of 1964, Brother Ronald Callahan. Brother Callahan had the “calling.” Had as my old maternal Irish grandmother, Anna Riley, would say hoping against hope for this poor sinner to see the light, to have the Riley clan which had survived the storms and stresses of America since the time of the “famine ship” give back to the church one of its own, would say moreover looking at me directly with those steely sainted blue eyes that brooked no lies, “the calling” to serve the Mother Church as a glad tidings bringer of the word.

This classmate had devoted himself in his chosen way to “do good” in the world as a Catholic Orotorian brother, an order pretty far down in the church hierarchy but close enough to the wretched of the earth to do earthly good rather than from some fiery fire and brimstone pulpit like some latter-day Billy Sunday raining down hell and damnation. Brother Callahan doing good as he recently related to us at my prompting (he is far too modest to have tooted his own horn) in the Message Forum section of our North Adamsville Class of 1964 website put together by the committee organizing the 50th anniversary reunion by ministering to the sick, the needy, those who have no other recourse, those who found themselves for whatever reason behind jail bars, and the “olvidados,” the lost and forgotten of the earth. He too has done such work, has as they say labored in the vineyards for almost 50 years as well only recently backing off a little and concentrating mainly on those in prison (an interest I share from a different perspective, that of political prisoner support so I know what he is up against in his ministry).  

This year as we celebrate our 50th anniversary of graduation from old North as the class reunion committee created the website to facilitate communications among us and round us up for probably one last time collectively. I, after a little editing, placed that piece on the Message Forum page for all his fellow classmates who have joined the site to see. I also hoped for a response in his own words and he graced those pages with a very interesting reply about the work he had done over the years. He also sent me a private e-mail (which he said was okay to make public, although I am only making my responses public) discussing a very different subject-our growing up poor in the old working class. Those remarks follows the sketch:   

For Oratorian Brother Ronald Callahan- North Adamsville High School Class of 1964- Another Way To Seek A Newer World


Frank Jackman , Class of 1964, comment:

Usually when I have had an occasion to use the word “brother” it is to ask for something like –“Say brother, can you spare a dime?” And have cursed, under my breathe of course, when I have not received recognition of and, more importantly, dough for my down and out status which required the use of that statement. Or I have used it as a solidarity word when I have addressed one of the male members of the eight million political causes that I have worked on in my life-“Brother Jones has made very good point. We should, of course, storm heaven to get this government to stop this damn war (fill in whatever war is going on at the time and you will not be far off).” Here, in speaking of one of my fellow North Adamsville High School classmates, Brother Ronald Callahan, I am using the term as a sincere honorific. For those of you who do not know Brother Ronald is a member of the Oratorian Brothers, a Catholic order somewhere down on the hierarchical ladder of the Roman Catholic Church. Wherever that rung is, he, as my devout Irish Catholic grandmother, the one who lived over on Young Street and was regarded by one and all as a “saint” (if only for having put up with a cranky, I am being kind here, grandfather), would say (secretly hoping, hoping against hope, that it would apply to me), had the “calling” to serve the Church.

Now Brother Ronald and I, except for a few sporadic e-mails over the last couple of years, have neither seen nor heard from each other since our school days. So this is something of an unsolicited testimonial on my part (although my intention is to draw him out into the public spotlight to write about his life and work of which I have a glimmer of long time ago recognition). Moreover, except for a shared youthful adherence to the Roman Catholic Church which I long ago placed on the back burner of my life there are no religious connections that bind us together now. At one time, I swear, that I did delight in arguing, through the dark North Adamsville beach night, about the actual number of angels that could dance on the head of a needle, and the like, but that is long past. I do not want to comment on such matters, in any case, but rather on the fact of Brother Ronald’s doing some good in this world.

We, from an early age, are told, no, ordered by parents, preachers, and Sunday school teachers that while we are about the business of ‘making and doing’ in the world to do good, or at least to do no evil. Most of us got that ‘making and doing’ part, and have paid stumbling, fumbling, mumbling lip service to the last part. Brother Ronald, as his profession, and as a profession of his faith, and that is important here, choose a different path. Maybe not my path, and maybe not yours, but certainly in Brother Ronald’s case, as old Abe Lincoln said, the “better angels of our nature” prevailed over the grimy struggle for this world’s good. Most times I have to fidget around to find the right endings to my commentaries, but not on this one. You did good, real good, Brother. And from the ragtag remnant of the Salducci’s Pizza Parlor corner boys in the old North Adamsville hang-out good night- All honor to Brother Ronald Callahan.


“Brother Ronald –thanks for note-[A note which referred to the fact that some of the scenes in the movie cited below  which he was using as a point of reference for growing up poor in this world which led him to devote his life to the “forgotten ones.”] I loved that the movie (and book), The Friends of Eddie Coyle, with Robert Mitchum and based on George V. Higgins novel (and probably based as well on the now captured Whitey Bulger’s life or one of his crowd, or close to it) although I did not know the movie had scenes filmed in North Adamsville. I do remember Dorchester, Boston Garden, and downtown Boston scenes.

Funny thing that movie and your reference to the scenes reminded me that in our Irish working-class dominated neighborhoods it was as likely that a guy would turn out to be a gangster (I came perilously close to that category in sixth grade but it was a near thing, as the later careers of my corner boys then confirmed), a priest, a politician (something I also came perilously close to in my Robert Kennedy days) or a cop as anything else. Our boy Eddie Coyle was just running to form, running what he knew from growing up wild on the streets of Cambridge in Whitey’s time. (I won’t speak for the gals because they were either to be nuns, very reproductive wives, or if youngest daughters to stay at home and take care of the old folks, or that is what I remember.)

Funny that your area of town was called the “poverty pit” [part of the film had been shot in his old neighborhood and his father, maybe rightly, had been upset that the film company had called the area that name] because I grew up in a shack of a house (with my two brothers, one who dropped out and should have been in our Class of 1964 and the other was Class of 1966) on Maple Street near Donegan Brothers Garage on Fillmore Street and people called that area “the wrong side of the tracks” too (including my grandparents who were born and raised on Sagamore Street-but that is another story, the story about how they thought my mother married the wrong guy). That was a tough burden to overcome, my brothers didn’t and I only make it out by fleeing the place as quickly as possible without looking back.

All I know was that it was a tough dollar growing up poor, with hand-me-downs (from the “Bargie” if you remember that institution and worse from older relatives who took us on as their family charity work) and big wanting habits that never got satisfied, when a lot of our classmates were a step above I think (although recent trips back make me thing that was just a relative thing). Those wanting habits seem kind of odd now, a car, some spending money, and a few baubles, but among the wanting habits please include that desire to get out of the house, out of the town and out to search for the great blue-pink American night which while I still have not found it loomed large, very large indeed in my life.

I carry that mark of po’ boy with me (as you do) but I have not forgotten, unlike others who moved up in the world, my roots and on the questions of war and peace, social and economic justice I know I have stood on the “right side of the angels.”

As you have, my brother Brother.  Later- Frank

P.S. Don’t forgot those Ms. Sonos memories when you get a change [our senior year English teacher].”