Sunday, November 30, 2014

Out In The 1960s North Adamsville Corner Boy Night-The Smells, Ah, The Smells Of Childhood- Ida's Bakery

A little tune from the time to set a mood for this sketch.
From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

In memory of Peter Paul Markin, 1946-1972, North Adamsville High School Class of 1964:

This is the way the late Peter Paul Markin, although he never stood on ceremony and everybody in the corner boy night at Jack Slack’s bowling alleys down near Adamsville Beach called him plain old ordinary vanilla Markin, would have wanted to put his response to the question of what smell most distinctly came to his mind from the old neighborhoods if he were still around. Many a night, a late night around midnight usually, in the days and weeks after we got out of high school but before we went on to other stuff, maybe some of those nights having had trouble with some girl, either one of us, since we both came from all boy families and didn’t understand girls, or maybe were afraid of them, unlike guys who had sisters, who maybe didn’t understand them either but were around them enough to have figured a few things out about them we would stand holding up the wall in front of jack Slack’s and talk our talk, talk truth as we saw it although we never really dignified the jive with the word truth. Or maybe dateless some nights like happened a lot more than either of us, hell, any of us if it came right down to it, would admit to (I won’t even discuss the shroud we placed over the truth when talking, big talking, about “making it” when we were lucky to get a freaking kiss on the cheek from a girl half the time) we would talk. Sometimes with several guys around but mainly Markin and me, since we were the closest of the half dozen or ten guys who considered themselves Frankie Riley-led Slack’s corner boys we would talk about lots of things.

Goofy stuff when you think about it but one night I don’t know if it was me or him that came up with the question about what smell did we remember from the old days, the old days being when we were in school, from around the neighborhood but I do remember we both automatically and with just a couple of minutes thought came up with our common choice- Ida’s Bakery. Ida’s over on Sagamore Street, just up the street from the old ball field and adjacent to the Parks and Recreations sheds where the stuff for the summer programs, you know, archery equipment, paints, sports equipment, craft-making stuff, how-to magazines and all were kept during the summer and after that, between seasons. Since both Markin and I when we went to Josiah Adams Elementary up the next block (named after some guy related to guys who ran the town way back when) would each summer participate in the program and as we grew older (and presumably more reliable) were put in charge of the daily storage of those materials during the summer and so got a preternatural whiff of whatever Ida was baking for sale for the next day. So yeah, we knew the smell of Ida’s place. And so too I can “speak” for old Markin just like if he was here today some fifty years later telling you his story himself.         

Unfortunately Markin laid down his head in a dusty back alley, arroyo, or cul-de-sac we never did really find out which with two slugs in his heart and nobody, not even his family, certainly not me and I loved the guy, wanted to go there to claim the body, worse, to start an investigation into what happened that day back in 1972 down Sonora way, that is in Mexico, for fear of being murdered in some back alley, arroyo, or cul-de-sac ourselves. See Markin had huge corner boy, “from hunger,” wanting habits back then, going back in the Jack Slack days. Hell I came up with him and had them too. But he also had a nose for drugs, had been among the first in our town as far as I know although I won’t swear to that now since some kids up the Point, some biker guys who always were on the cutting edge of some new kicks may have been doing smoke well before him to do, publicly do right out on Adamsville Common in broad daylight with some old beat cop sitting about two benches away, marijuana in the mid-1960s. That at a time, despite what we had heard was going on in the Boston Common and over in high Harvard Square,  when the rest of us were still getting our underage highs from illicit liquor (Southern Comfort, cheap gin, cheaper wine, Ripple, more than a few times, Thunderbird, when we were short on dough, nobody, including  our hobo knight in shining armor who “bought” for us as long as he got a bottle for his work, wanted to bother lugging cases of cheapjack beer, say Knickerbocker or Narragansett, out of a liquor store and pass it on to in obviously under-aged kids  so we all developed a taste for some kind of hard liquor or wine). Markin did too, liked his white wine. But he was always heading over to Harvard Square, early on sometimes with me but I didn’t really “get” the scene that he was so hopped up about and kind of dropped away when he wanted to go over, so later he would go alone late at night taking the all night Redline subway over, late at night after things had exploded around his house with his mother, or occasionally, his three brother (and very, very rarely his father since he had to work like seven bandits to make ends meet for the grim reaper bill collectors, which they, the ends never did as far as I could tell and from what I knew about such activity from my own house, so he was left out of it except to back up Ma).

One night, one night some guy, Markin said some folk singer, Eric somebody, who made a name for himself around the Square, made a name around his “headquarters,” the Hayes-Bickford just a jump up from the subway entrance where all the night owl wanna-be hipsters, dead ass junkies, stoned out winos, wizened con men and budding poets and songwriters hung out, turned him on to a joint, and he liked it, liked the feeling of how it settled him down he said (after that first hit, as he was trying to look cool, look like he had been doing joints since he was a baby, almost blew him away with the coughing that erupted from inhaling the harsh which he could never figure out (nor could I when my mary jane coughing spurt came) since he, like all of us, was a serious cigarette smoker, practically chain-smoking to while away the dead time and, oh yeah, to look cool to any passing chicks while we were hanging out in front of Jack Slack’s.

Of course that first few puffs stuff meant nothing really, was strictly for smooth-end kicks, and before long he had turned me, Frankie Riley, our corner boy leader, and Sam Lowell, another good guy, on and it was no big deal. And when the time came for us to do our “youth nation,” hippie, Jack Kerouac On The Road treks west the five of us, at one time or another, had grabbed all kinds of different dope, grabbed each new drug in turn like they were the flavor of the month, which they usually were. And nobody worried much about nay consequences either since we all had studiously avoid acid in our drug cocktail mix.  Until Markin got stuck on cocaine, you know, snow, girl, cousin any of those names you might know that drug by where you live. No, that is not right, exactly right anyway. It wasn’t so much that Markin got stuck on cocaine as that his nose candy problem heightened his real needs, his huge wanting habits, needs that he had been grasping at since his ‘po boy childhood. And so to make some serious dough, and still have something left to “taste” the product as he used to call it when he offered some to me with the obligatory dollar bill as sniffing tool he began some low-level dealing,  to friends and acquaintances mainly and then to their friends and acquaintances and on and on.

Markin when he lived the West Coast, I think when he was in Oakland with Moon-Glow (don’t laugh we all had names, aliases, monikers like that back then to bury our crazy pasts, mine was Flash Dash for a while, and also don’t laugh because she had been my girlfriend before I headed back east to go to school after the high tide of the 1960s ebbed out around 1971 or so. And also don’t laugh because Moon-Glow liked to “curl my toes,” Markin’s too, and she did, did just fine), stepped up a notch, started “muling” product back and forth from Mexico for one of the early cartels. He didn’t say much about it, and I didn’t want to know much but for a while he was sending plane tickets for me to come visit him out there. Quite a step up from our hitchhike in all weathers heading west days. And of course join him in imbibing some product testing. That went on for a while, a couple of years, the last year or so I didn’t see him, didn’t go west because I was starting a job. Then one day I got a letter in the mail from him all Markiny about his future plans, about how he was going to finally make a “big score,” with a case full of product that he had brought up norte (he always said Norte like he was some hermano or something rather than just paid labor, cheap paid labor probably, and was too much the gringo to ever get far in the cartel when the deal went down. Maybe he sensed that and that ate at him with so much dough to be made, so much easy dough. Yeah, easy dough with those two slugs that Spanish Johnny, a guy who knew Markin in the Oakland days, had heard about when he was muling and passed on the information to us. RIP-Markin          

No RIP though for the old days, the old smells that I started telling you about before I got waylaid in my head about the fate of my missed old corner boy comrade poor old Markin. Here’s how he, we, no he, let’s let him take a bow on this one, figured it out one night when the world was new, when our dreams were still fresh:

There are many smells, sounds, tastes, sights and touches stirred up on the memory’s eye trail in search of the old days in North Adamsville. Tonight though I am in thrall to smells, if one can be in thrall to smells and when I get a chance I will ask one of the guys about whether that is possible. The why of this thralldom is simply put. I had, a short while before, passed a neighborhood bakery on the St. Brendan Street in a Boston neighborhood, a Boston Irish neighborhood to be clear, that reeked of the smell of sour-dough bread being baked on the premises. The bakery itself, designated as such by a plainly painted sign-Mrs. Kenney’s Bakery- was a simple extension of someone’s house like a lot of such operations by single old maid, widowed, divorced or abandoned women left for whatever reason to their own devises trying to make a living baking, sewing, tailoring, maybe running a beauty parlor, small change but enough to keep the wolves from the door, with living quarters above, and that brought me back to the hunger streets of the old home town and Ida’s holy-of-holies bakery over on Sagamore Street.

Of course one could not dismiss, or could dismiss at one’s peril just ask Frank, that invigorating smell of the salt-crusted air blowing in from North Adamsville Bay when the wind was up hitting us in front of Jack Slack’s bowling lanes and making us long to walk that few blocks to the beach with some honey who would help us pass the night. A wind too once you took girls out of the picture, although you did that at your peril as well, that spoke of high-seas adventures, of escape, of jail break-out from landlocked spiritual destitutes, of, well, on some days just having been blown in from somewhere else for those who sought that great eastern other shoreline. Or how could one forget the still nostril-filling pungent fragrant almost sickening smell emanating from the Proctor &Gamble soap factory across the channel down in the old Adamsville Housing Authority project that defined many a muggy childhood summer night air instead of sweet dreams and puffy clouds. Or that never to be forgotten slightly oily, sulfuric smell at low- tide down at the far end of North Adamsville Beach, near the fetid swamps and mephitic marshes in the time of the clam diggers and their accomplices trying to eke a living or a feeding out of that slimy mass. [Sorry I put those smelly adjectives in, Markin would have cringed.] Or evade the funky smell [A Markin word.] of marsh weeds steaming up from the disfavored Squaw Rock end of the beach, the adult haunts with their broods of children in tow. Disfavored, disfavored when it counted in the high teenage dudgeon be-bop 1960s night, post-school dance or drive-in movie love slugfest, for those who took their “submarine races” dead of night viewing seriously and the space between the yacht clubs was the only “cool” place to hang with some honey. And I do not, or will not spell the significance of that teen lingo “submarine race” expression even for those who did their teenage “parking” in the throes of the wild high plains Kansas night. You can figure that out yourselves.

Or the smell sound of the ocean floor at twilight (or dawn, if you got lucky) on those days when the usually tepid waves aimlessly splashed against the shoreline stones, broken clam shells, and other fauna and flora or turned around and became a real roaring ocean, acting out Mother Nature’s high life and death drama, and in the process acted to calm a man’s (or a man-child’s) nerves in the frustrating struggle to understand a world not of one’s own making. Moreover, I know I do not have to stop very long to tell you guys, the crowd that will know what I am talking about, to speak about the smell taste of that then just locally famous HoJo’s ice cream back in the days. Jimmied up and frosted to take one’s breath away. Or those char-broiled hot dogs and hamburgers sizzling on your back-yard barbecue pit or, better, from one of the public pits down at the beach. But the smell that I am ghost-smelling today is closer to home as a result of a fellow classmate’s bringing this to my attention awhile back (although, strangely, if the truth be known I was already on the verge of “exploring" this very subject). Today, after passing that home front bakery, as if a portent, I bow down in humble submission to the smells from Ida’s Bakery.

That’s good enough for the Markin part, the close up memory part. Here I am for the distant memory part: 

You, if you are of a certain age, at or close to AARP-eligible age, and neighborhood, Irish (or some other ethnic-clinging enclave) filled with those who maybe did not just get off the boat but maybe their parents did, remember Ida’s, right? Even if you have never set one foot in old North Adamsville, or even know where the place is. If you lived within a hair’s breathe of any Irish neighborhood and if you had grown up probably any time in the first half of the 20th century you “know” Ida’s. My Ida ran a bakery out of her living room, or maybe it was the downstairs and she lived upstairs, in the 1950s and early 1960s (before or beyond that period I do not know). An older grandmotherly woman when I knew her who had lost her husband, lost him to drink, or, as was rumored, persistently rumored although to a kid it was only so much adult air talk, to another woman. Probably it was the drink as was usual in our neighborhoods with the always full hang-out Dublin Grille just a couple of blocks up the street. She had, heroically in retrospect, raised a parcel of kids on the basis of her little bakery including some grandchildren that I played ball with over at Welcome Young Field also just up the street, and also adjacent to my grandparents’ house on Kendrick Street.

Now I do not remember all the particulars about her beyond the grandmotherly appearance I have just described, except that she still carried that hint of a brogue that told you she was from the “old sod” but that did not mean a thing in that neighborhood because at any given time when the brogues got wagging you could have been in Limerick just as easily as in North Adamsville. Also she always, veil of tears hiding maybe, had a smile for one and all coming through her door, and not just a commercial smile either. Nor do I know much about how she ran her operation, except that you could always tell when she was baking something in back because she had a door bell tinkle that alerted her to when someone came in and she would come out from behind a curtained entrance, shaking flour from her hands, maybe, or from her apron-ed dress ready to take your two- cent order-with a smile, and not a commercial smile either but I already told you that.

Nor, just now, do I remember all of what she made or how she made it but I do just now, rekindled by Markin’s reference to that sour-dough yeasty smell, remember the smells of fresh oatmeal bread that filtered up to the playing fields just up the street from her store on Fridays when she made that delicacy. Fridays meant oatmeal bread, and, as good practicing Catholics like my family going back to the “famine ships,” and probably before, were obliged to not eat red meat on that sacred day, but fish, really tuna fish had that on Ida’s oatmeal bread. But, and perhaps this is where I started my climb to quarrelsome heathen-dom I balked at such a tuna fish desecration of holy bread. See, grandma would spring for a fresh loaf, a fresh right from the oven loaf, cut by a machine that automatically sliced the bread (the first time I had seen such a useful gadget). And I would get to have slathered peanut butter (Skippy, of course) and jelly (Welch’s Grape, also of course) on oatmeal and a glass of milk. Ah, heaven.

And just now I memory smell those white-flour dough, deeply- browned Lenten hot-cross buns white frosting dashed that signified that hellish deprived high holy catholic Lent was over, almost. Beyond that I have drawn blanks. Know this those. All that sweet sainted goddess (or should be) Ida created from flour, eggs, yeast, milk and whatever other secret devil’s ingredients she used to create her other simple baked goods may be unnamed-able now but they put my mother, my grandmother, your mother, your grandmother in the shade. And that is at least half the point. You went over to Ida’s to get high on those calorie-loaded goodies. And in those days with youth at your back, and some gnawing hunger that never quite got satisfied, back then that was okay. Believe me it was okay. I swear I will never forget those glass-enclosed delights that stared out at me in my sugar hunger. I may not remember much about the woman, her life, where she was from, or any of that. This I do know- in this time of frenzied interest in all things culinary Ida's simple recipes and her kid-maddening bakery smells still hold a place of honor.

Free Chelsea Manning - President Obama Pardon Chelsea Manning Now!

Birthday Vigil for Chelsea Manning In Boston


In honor of Chelsea Manning’s 27th birthday, this December 20th 2014, responding to a call from the Chelsea Manning Support Network and Payday Men’s Network and Queer Strike long-time supporters of freedom for Chelsea Manning from the Boston Chelsea Manning Support Committee, Veterans For Peace and other activists in Boston will celebrate Chelsea’s birthday. Currently, Payday Men’s Network and Queer Strike actions are planned for London, San Francisco, Berlin, and Philadelphia.

Supporters are encouraged to also organize an event in their area, and Payday Men’s Network and Queer Strike will publicize it.  Write to for more information and to share details of your event.

Boston vigil details:

1:00-2:00 PM Saturday, December 20
Park Street Station Entrance on the Boston Common

Imprisoned in 2010 and held for months under torturous conditions, Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in August 2013. If this stands, she’ll be out in 2045. We cannot let this happen- – we have to get her out! We will not leave our sister behind. Bring yourself and encourage others to attend and sign the petition for a presidential pardon from Barack Obama in this important show of support to Chelsea Manning  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Ancient Dreams, Dreamed-To The Tune Of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl     


Peter Paul Markin, North Adamsville Class Of 1964 and thus already past sixty-four, comment:

Many of my fellows from the Generation of '68 (a. k. a. baby-boomers) will be, if you can believe this, turning sixty-four this year. So be it.


Ancient dreams, dreamed.

Yah, sometimes, and maybe more than sometimes, a frail, a frill, a twist, a dame, oh hell, let’s cut out the goofy stuff from youthful reading too many Raymond Chandler Philip Marlowe tough guy detective stories, or chasing after Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade for that matter, and far too many Saturday afternoon double-feature matinees at the old Strand Theater uptown woman monikers, and just call her a woman, and be done with it. Such women (frail, etc., okay) will tie a guy’s insides up in knots so bad he doesn’t know what is what, and not just guys who did not know what was what but guys who had been around a bit, had tasted the fruits, hell, knew the score, or thought they did. Tie up a guy so bad he will go to the chair, you know the big step off jolt chair, the ‘lectric chair, kind of smiling, okay maybe just half-smiling thinking about that scent he could smell even in that last dingy cellblock although he had not smelled that smell in the flesh in years.

Frank, Frank Corbett (but read: future Markins and a million, more or less, other guys) had it bad as a man could have from the minute Ms. Cora (excuse the anachronism) walked through the door in her white summer blouse, shorts, and the then de rigueur bandana holding back her hair, also white on that hot summer day, no breeze to be had except hers, in 1946. She may have been just another blonde, very blonde, (and a real blonde, always a question in the back of every guy’s mind as he would find out to his satisfaction once they hit the satin sheets) frail serving them off the arm in some seaside hash joint but from second one she was nothing but, well nothing but, a femme fatale to our boy, our boy Frank with the big hungry eyes. I, Peter Paul Markin, swear, I swear on seven sealed bibles that I yelled, yelled through the womb or from some toddler’s crib maybe, how would I know, all I know is that I did, at the movie screen that year for him to get the hell out of there at that moment. But do you think he would listen, no not our boy. He had to play with fire, and play with it to the end. Play his hand out right up to the big step-off smile, half-smile whether I had yelled or not. And hence my own Frank troubles from that day forward:     

Nose flattened cold against the frozen, snow falling front window “the projects” apartment, a place built on “wait on better times, get a leg up, don’t get left behind in the dawning American streets paved with gold dreams” but for now just a hang your hat dwelling, small, too small for three growing boys with hearty appetites and desires to match even then, warm, free-flow oil spigot warm, no hint of madness, or crazes only of sadness, brother kinship sadness, sadness and not understanding of time marching, relentlessly marching as he, that older brother he, went off to foreign places, foreign elementary school reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic places and, he, the nose flattened against the window brother, is left to ponder his own place in those kind of places, those foreign-sounding places, when his time comes. If he has a time, has the time for the time of his time, in this red scare (but what knows he of big red scare Cold War doing heard on some gloomy radio and later seen on some gloomy black and white small television, only brother scares), cold war, cold nose, dust particles floating aimlessly in the clogging still air night.

More.  A cloudless day, a cloudless blasted eternal, infernal Korean War day, talk of peace, merciless truce peace and talk of uncles, cold war, cold feet, cold bite, coming home in the air, hot, hot end of June day laying, face up on freshly mown grass near fellowship carved-out fields, fields for slides and swings, diamonded baseball, no, friendlier softball fields the houses are too close, mixed in with thoughts of gimps, glues, cooper-plated portraits of wildly-maned horses, of sweet shaded elms, starting, now that he too, that nose-flattened brother, has been to foreign places, strange boxed rooms filled with the wax and wane of learning, simple learning, in the time of his time, to find his own place in the sun but wondering, constantly wondering, what means this, what means that, and why all the changes, slow changes, fast changes, blip changes, but changes.

Nighttime fears, red-flagged Stalin-named fears, red bomb aimed right at his head unnamed shelter blast fears, named, vaguely named, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg hated stalinite jews killed fears [laughing thoughts fifty years later of Allan’s one million Trotskyites mushrooming on American negro streets, sorry brother, off by almost a million], jews killed our catholic lord fears, and what did they do wrong to get the chair, the ‘lectric chair just like Frank, did they cause somebody like Cora to be killed, anyway fears against the cubed glass glistening flagless flag-pole rattling dark asphalt school yard night. Alone, and, and, alone with fears, and avoidance, clean, clear stand alone avoidance of old times sailors, tars, sailors’ homes AND deaths in barely readable fine- marked granite-grey lonely seaside graveyards looking out on ocean homelands and lost booty. Dead, and the idea of dead, the mystery of dead, and of sea sailor dead on mains, later stream thoughts of bitch proctoresses, some unnamed faraway crush teacher who crossed my path and such, in lonely what did he do wrong anyway prison cells, smoking, reading, writing of the mystery of why dinosaurs die and other laments. Dead.

Endless walks, endless one way sea street water rat-infested fear seawall walks, rocks, shells, ocean water-logged debris strewn every which way, fetid marsh smells, swaying grasses in light breezes to the right, mephitic swamps oozing mud splat stinks to the left making hard the way, the path, the symbolic life path okay, to uptown drug stores, some forgotten chain-name drug store, passing perfumes, lacquers, counter drugs, ailments cured, hurts fixed and all under a dollar, trinkets ten cents baubles, gee-gads, strictly gee-gads, grabbing, two-handed grabbing, heist-stolen valentines, a metaphor in the making for future conned hearts without the valentines, ribbon and bow ruby-red valentine night bushel, signed, hot blood-signed, weary-feet signed, if only she, about five candidates she, later called two blondes, two brunettes, and a red-head, sticks all, no womanly shape to tear a boy-man up, would give a look his way, his look, his newly acquired state of the minute Elvis-imitation look, on endless sea streets, the white-flecked splash inside his head would be quiet. Man emerging out of the ooze, and hope.

Still more. Walks, endless waiting bus stop, old late, forever late, story of a young boy’s life late, diesel-fueled, choking fumed non-stop bus stop walks, no golden age car for jet moves in American Dream wide-fin, high tech automatic drive nights, walks, walks up crooked cheap, low-rent, fifty-years not fix rutted pavement streets, deeply gouged, one-lane snow-drift hassles, you get the picture, pass trees are green, coded, secretly coded even fifty rutted street years later, endless trees are green super-secret-coded except for face blush waiting, waiting against boyish infinite time, infinite first blush of innocent manhood, boyhood times, gone now. For what? For one look, one look, and not a quick no-nonsense, no dice look, no time for ragamuffin boys either that would elude him, elude him forever. Such is life in lowly spots, lowly, lowly spots. And no dance, no coded trees are green dance, either, no high school confidential (hell elementary school either, man), handy man, breathless, Jerry Lee freak-out, at least no potato sack stick dance with coded name trees are green brunette. That will come, brother, that will come. But when?

City square, any-town America, his American city square, filled with no  trespassing- police take notice signs meant his eyes, his sneak-thief eyes on the hunt for trinkets, the first in a long line of trinkets to dazzle some forlorn damsel, not so different from Frank, Frank from the movies when he got his wanting habits on, his chaste wanting habits which would build to those lust wants that drove Frank to the big step,   no standing either, no standing in front of low-slung granite buildings everywhere, bank vault exterior solid buildings, granite steps leading to granite doors leading to granite gee-gad counters, hated, no name hated, low-head hated, waiting slyly, standing back on heels, going in furtively, coming out ditto, presto coming out with a gold nugget jewel, no carats, fools’ gold didn’t you know that was your station, no russkie Sputnik panel glitter for his efforts such is the way of young lumped-up crime, no value, no look for value, just grab, grab hard, grab fast, grab to get yours before the getting is over, or before the dark, dark night comes, the dark pitched-night when the world no longer is young, and dreamed dreams make no more sense that this bodily theft. Those damn trinket thefts would do him in, if he was not careful.

First interlude: A bridge too far, an unarched, unsteeled, unspanned, unnerved bridge too far. One speed bicycle boy, Schwinn maybe, or low-sling English racer that was all the rage, dungarees before they became jeans and sleek, rolled up against dog bites and geared meshes, churning through endless heated, sweated, no handkerchief streets, names, all the parts of ships, names, all the seven seas, names, all the fishes of the seas, names, all the fauna of the sea, names. Twelve-year old hard churned miles to go before sleep, searching for the wombic home, for the old friends, the old drifter, grifter, midnight shifter petty larceny friends, that’s all it was, petty and maybe larceny, hard against the named ships, hard against the named seas, hard against the named fishes, hard against the named fauna, hard against the unnamed angst, hard against those changes that kind of hit one sideways all at once like some mack the knife smack devilish thing.

Then back to business, back to trinket worries (and sprouting up like no tomorrow, underarms stenches, daily lathers, acrid mouth, unkempt, cow-licked hair sans Wild Root solutions worries before he even got out the door). Si, lindo, lindos, beautiful, beautifuls, not some spanish exotic though, maybe later, just some junior league dream fuss though, some future cheerleader football dame though (smelling of Raymond Chandler influences and Bogie growls), some sweated night pastry crust and he, too slip-shot, too, well, just too lonely, too lonesome, too long-toothed before his time to do more than endless walks along endless atlantic streets to summon up the courage to glance, glance right at windows, non-exotic atlantic cheerleader windows. Such is the new decade a-borning, a-borning but not for him, no jack swagger, or bobby goof as they run the table on old tricky dick or some tired imitation of him. Me, I’ll take exotics, or lindos, if they every cross my path, my lonely only path.

Moving on. Sweated dust bowl nights, not the sweated exotic atlantic cheerleader glance nights but something else, something not endless walked about, something done, or with the promise of done, for something inside, for some sense of worth in the this moldy white tee shirt, mildewy white shorts, who knows what diseased sneakers, Chuck Taylor sneakers, pushing the red-faced Irish winds, harder, harder around the oval, watch tick in hand, looking, looking I guess for immortality, immortality even then. Later, in bobby darin times or percy faith times, who knows, sitting, sitting high against the lion-guarded pyramid statute front door dream, common dreams, common tokyo dreams, all gone asunder, all gone asunder, on this curious fact, no wind, Irish or otherwise. Stopped short. Who would have figured that one?

Main street walked, main street public telephone booth cheap talk walked searching for some Diana, greek goddess, wandering wholesale on the atlantic streets. Diana, blonde Diana, cashmere-sweatered, white tennis –shoed Diana, million later Dianas although not with tennis shoes, really gym shoes fit for old ladies to do their rant, their lonely rant against the wind. Seeking, or rather courage-seeking, nickel and dime courage as it turns out; nickel and dime courage when home provided no sanctuary for snuggle-eared delights. Maybe a date, a small-time after school soda split sitting at the counter Doc’s drugstore date, or slice of pizza and a coke date at Balducci’s with a few nickels juke-boxed in playing our song, our future song, a Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall song, and dreams of I Want To Wanted sifting the hot afternoon air, maybe just a swirl at midnight drift, maybe a view of local lore car parked submarine races and mysteries unfurled, ah, to dream, no more than to dream, walking down friendly aisles, arm and arm along with myriad other arm and arm walkers on senior errands. No way, no way and then red-face, alas, red-faced no known even forty years later. Wow.

Multi-colored jacket worn, red and black, black and red, some combination reflecting old time glories, or promises of glory, cigarette, Winston small-filtered, natch, no romantic Bogie tobacco-lipped unfiltered blends, hanging from off the lip at some jagged angle, a cup of coffee, if coffee was the drink, in hand, a glad hand either way, look right, look left, a gentle nod, a hard stare, a gentle snarl if such a thing is possible beyond the page. Move out the act onto Boston fresh-mown streets. Finally, that one minute, no, not fifteen, not fifteen at all, and not necessary of the fame game, local fame, always local fame but fame, and then the abyss on non-fame, non- recognition and no more snarls, gentle or otherwise. A tough life lesson learned, very tough. And not yet twenty.

Drunk, whisky drunk, whisky rotgut whisky drunk, in some bayside, altantic bayside, not childhood atlantic bayside though, no way, no shawlie way, bar. Name, nameless, no legion. Some staggered midnight vista street, legs weak from lack of work, brain weak, push on, push on, find some fellaheen relieve for that unsatisfied bulge, that gnawing at the brain or really at the root of the thing. A topsy-turvy time, murder, death, the death of death, the death of fame, murder, killing murder, and then resolve, wrong resolve and henceforth the only out, war, war to the finish, although who could have known that then. Who could have known that Tet, Lyndon, Bobby, Hubert, tricky dick war-circus all hell broke loose thing then, or wanted to.

Shaved-head, close anyway, too close to distinguish that head and ten-thousand, no on hundred-thousand other heads, all shave-headed. I fall down to the earth, spitting mud-flecked red clay, spitting, dust, spitting, spitting out the stars over Alabama that portent no good, no earthy good. Except this-if this is not murder, if this is not to slay, then what is? And the die is cast, not truthfully cast, not pure warrior in the night cast but cast. Wild dreams, senseless wild dreams follow, follow in succession. The days of rage, rage against the light, and then the glimmer of the light.

Second interlude: The great Mandela cries, cries to the high heavens, for revenge against the son’s hurt, now that the son has found his way, a strange way but a way. And a certain swagger comes to his feet in the high heaven black Madonna of a night. No cigarette hanging off the lip now, not Winston filter-tipped seductions, no need, and no rest except the rest of waiting, waiting on the days to pass until the next coming, and the next coming after that. Ah, sweet Mandela, turn for me, turn for me and mine just a little. Free at last but with a very, very sneaking feeling that this is a road less traveled for a reason, and not for ancient robert frost to guide you… Just look at blooded Kent State, or better, blooded Jackson State. Christ.

Return. Bloodless bloodied streets, may day tear down the government days, tears, tear-gas exploding, people running this way and that coming out of a half-induced daze, a crazed half-induced daze that mere good- will, mere righteousness would right the wrongs of this wicked old world. But stop. Out of the bloodless fury, out of the miscalculated night a strange bird, no peace dove and no flame-flecked phoenix but a bird, maybe the owl of Minerva comes a better sense that this new world a-bornin’ will take some doing, some serious doing. More serious that some wispy-bearded, pony-tailed beat, beat down, beat around, beat up young stalwart acting in god’s place can even dream of.

Chill chilly nights south of the border, endless Kennebunkports, Bar Harbors, Calais, Monktons, Peggy’s Coves, Charlottetowns, Montreals, Ann Arbors, Neolas, Denvers by moonlight, Boulders echos, Dinosaurs dies, salted lakes, Winnemuccas’ flats, golden-gated bridges, malibus, Joshua Trees, pueblos, embarcaderos, and flies. Enough to last a life-time, thank you. Enough of Bunsen burners, Coleman stoves, wrapped blankets, second-hand sweated army sleeping bags, and minute pegged pup tents too. And enough too of granolas, oatmeals, desiccated stews, oregano weed, mushroomed delights, peyote seeds, and the shamanic ghosts dancing off against apache (no, not helicopters, real injuns) ancient cavern walls. And enough of short-wave radio beam tricky dick slaughters south of the border in deep fall nights. Enough, okay.

Third Interlude: He said struggle. He said push back. He said stay with your people. He said it would not be easy. He said you have lost the strand that bound you to your people. He said you must find that strand. He said that strand will lead you away from you acting in god’s place ways. He said look for a sign. He said the sign would be this-when your enemies part ways and let you through then you will enter the golden age. He said it would not be easy. He said it again and again. He said struggle. He said it in 1848, he said it in 1917, he said it in 1973. Whee, an old guy, huh.

Greyhound bus station men’s wash room stinking to high heaven of seven hundred pees, six hundred laved washings, five hundred wayward unnamed, unnamable smells, mainly rank. Out the door, walk the streets, walk the streets until, until noon, until five, until lights out. Plan, plan, plan, plain paper bag in hand holding, well, holding life, plan for the next minute, no, the next ten seconds until the deadly impulses subside. Then look, look hard, for safe harbors, lonely desolate un-peopled bridges, some gerald ford-bored antic newspaper-strewn bench against the clotted hobo night snores. Desolation row, no way home.

A smoky sunless bar, urban style right in the middle of high Harvard civilization, belting out some misty time Hank Williams tune, maybe Cold, Cold Heart from father home times. Order another deadened drink, slightly benny-addled, then in walks a vision. A million times in walks a vision, but in white this time. Signifying? Signifying adventure, dream one-night stands, lost walks in loaded woods, endless stretch beaches, moonless nights, serious caresses, and maybe, just maybe some cosmic connection to wear away the days, the long days ahead. Yah, that seems right, right against the oil-beggared time, right.

Lashed against the high end double seawall, bearded, slightly graying against the forlorn time, a vision in white not enough to keep the wolves of time away, the wolves of feckless petty larceny times reappear, reappear with a vengeance against the super-rational night sky and big globs of ancient hurts fester against some unknown enemy, unnamed, or hiding out in a canyon under an assumed name. Then night, the promise of night, a night run up some seawall laden streets, some Grenada night or maybe Lebanon sky boom night, and thoughts of finite, sweet flinty finite haunt his dreams, haunt his sleep. Wrong number, brother. Yah, wrong number, as usual.

Fourth Interlude: White truce flags neatly placed in right pocket. Folded aging arms showing the first signs of wear-down, unfolded. One more time, one more war-weary dastardly fight against Persian Gulf oil-driven time, against a bigger opponent, and then the joys of retreat and taking out those white flags again and normalcy. The first round begins. He holds his own, a little wobbly. Second round he runs into a series of upper-cuts that drive him to the floor. Out. Awake later, seven minutes, hours, eons later he takes out the white flags now red with his own blood. He clutches them in his weary hands. The other guy he said struggle, struggle. Yah, easy for you to say.

Desperately clutching his new white flags, his 9/11 white flags, exchanged years ago for bloodied red ones, white flags proudly worn for a while now, he wipes his brow of the sweat accumulated from the fear he has been living with for the past few months. Now ancient arms folded, hard-folded against the rainless night, raining, he carefully turns right, left, careful of every move as the crowd comes forward. Not a crowd, no, a horde, a beastly horde, and this is no time to stick out with white flags (or red, for that matter). He jumps out of the way, the horde passes brushing him lightly, not aware, not apparently aware of the white flags. Good. What did that other guy say, oh yes, struggle.

One more battle, one more, please one more, one fight against the greed party night. He chains himself, well not really chains, but more like ties himself to the black wrought-iron fence in front of the big white house with his white handkerchief. Another guy does the same, except he uses some plastic hand-cuff-like stuff. A couple of women just stand there, hard against that ebony fence, can you believe it, just stand there. More, milling around, disorderly in a way, someone starts om-ing, om-ing out of Allen Ginsberg Howl nights, or at least Jack Kerouac Big Sur splashes. The scene is complete, or almost complete. Now, for once he knows, knows for sure, that it wasn’t Ms. Cora (now no anachronism) whom he needed to worry about, and that his child dream was a different thing altogether. But who, just a child, could have known that then.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

***You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby-George Cukor’s The Women

DVD Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

The Women, starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell   and many of the leading film ladies of the late 1930s, directed by George Cukor, 1939  

It is hard to know what second and third wave feminists today would make of the film under review, George Cukor’s The Women. On the one hand this vehicle for a look at then, 1930s then, married life, haute bourgeois married life, in the first wave post-suffragette period has an all women cast made up of many of the up and coming leading women stars of the day. On the other, despite the comedic look at that life, the “elephant in the room” is the male of the species. All the conversation, or almost all of the conversation, revolves around getting a husband (serial husbands in some cases), keeping a husband, getting rid of a husband or, in the main case, getting a husband back. That narrow view of life, while not unusual for the time is hardly the stuff of liberation. I know I had mixed feelings about the film on that score and I am sure plenty of today’s women would also.        

The plotline is rather simplicity itself since the film runs on the comedic element mentioned above, runs on spoofs about women’s gossip among themselves, about life and scandal at the beauty parlor, at the gym, at the ladies’ luncheons and the like. Runs ons as well about the various types of women, especially the catty, back-biting ones. One New York socialite (played by Norma Shearer) and part of the horsey set as well who had been living in a dream world finds out through much indirection, courtesy of a busy-body matron (played by Rosalind Russell) that her high-end Wall Street husband had been having an affair with a shop girl, somebody from the perfume counter at Macy’s or some such place (isn’t that always the case in these things, that or a secretary, or for doctors a nurse, in any case usually some female slightly below the wife’s class, but in any case younger and sympathetic, very sympathetic, to his plight that his wife no longer understands him), a conniving gold-digger shop girl (played by Joan Crawford) who winds up grabbing the guy, the husband, to the chagrin of our socialite who decides to soldier on with her daughter, her heart-broken daughter, despite her continuing love for her man.

If that is what he wants well then she, true heart, will not stand in the way. So she grants his wish for a divorce, although not in tough to get New York then but heads west for an easy Reno divorce (just like the better known, better publicized anyway, easy Reno marriage complete with replica chapel all for twenty-nine, ninety-nine or something like that) and takes their young daughter with her. In the aftermath of the divorce proceedings and once ensconced in to her upscale New York apartment digs our gold-digger shop girl shows her real colors by fooling around with another guy and before long our socialite is back in the fight to get hubby back. And succeeds in the melodramatic end.        

Along the way in this one there are a lot of gags, some that seem anachronistic now like the goof gym sessions, the high-blown dress up charity balls and the like, but also a lot of ways that woman looked at marriage very differently then, seeing it as “for keeps” like it said in the wedding vows. We get their “take” on the institution from our stellar true-blue soldier on socialite, from a much married countess whose serial marriages don not blight her thrill at being married, married until the other shoe drops anyway, from a young married who got skittish about divorce, and from to a been around the block woman, a “from hunger” woman trying to keep a roof over her head just trying to break even in the love game. Of course, we also have the high-end easy meal ticket gals like our catty matron and that gold-digger shop girl to throw water on the whole idea of blessed marriage. But there it is, a slice of comedic marriage life from the first third of the 20th century.    

Monday, November 24, 2014

When Johnny B. Cashed His Check- Edward G. Robinson’s Bullets or Ballots 

DVD Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

Bullets or Ballots, starring Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, 1936

Not one of the Bronx corner boys, not one of Harry’s Variety’s bookie joint backroom horseplayers, not one of the crap-shooters from the 242nd  Street back alleys, not one of the flim-flam armed robbery, grand larceny  guys, not one of the grifters, drifters, or midnight sifters, not one of fixer boys, not one of the percentage guys, cried a tear when they heard that Johnny B., Johnny Blake, Detective Johnny Blake (played by Edward G. Robinson) cashed his check in a pool of blood on the street in front of the Oceanic Bank. Oh, well, maybe Moll, Moll the queen of the numbers on that side of town, Bronx , Harlem, places like that, did cry one tear but what would you expect from an old Johnny flame whose operation he winked at. Winked at since Moll was seen on more than one occasion coming out of Johnny’s digs and he after her with a smile on his face from her “curling his toes.” But she will get over it, if she hasn’t already, when the next Johnny cop comes by and needs his toes curled for a wink at her operation.

Oh, yeah, in the interest of full disclosure, nobody will be crying a tear over the fate of the late “Bugs” Fenner either (played by Humphrey Bogart), the guy who helped Johnny cash his check in that big pool of blood while cashing in his chips at the same time, courtesy of the late Detective Johnny Blake. Nobody from Fulton’s Fish Market where he extorted (such an ugly word, let’s say received tribute) so much for each fish that passed through, nobody from Biggie’s Meat Market where he also got tribute for each steak that passeth through, nobody from the Dairy Co-Operative when each glass of milk for growing city kids required a tariff, and no fruits and vegetables guys who were weighed down by a Bugs toll. No strong arm guys, no axe murderers, not safe-crackers, and none of the aforementioned grifters, drifters and midnight sifter either, not a sentimental guy in the lot. Not sentimental either would be one Jimmy the Slice, Bugs, number two guy in his extortion rackets, oops, tribute operation, who even a couple of minutes after Bugs’ sent-off had been seen is removing Bugs’ name from his office door. See Jimmy and a whole slew of guys just moved one rung up the food chain, nothing else. That was just how it was with the tough guys who gave no quarter and expected none in the film under review, Bullets or Ballots.

But maybe I had better step back and give you the story of how and why Johnny bought his ticket (everybody called him Johnny, copper or hood, so we will use that designation here as well) and why nobody cried that precious tear over the matter. Johnny and all those corner boys, bookies, extortionists, armed robbers, murderers, con men, numbers racketeers, drifters, grifters and midnight sifters all grew up in the same neighborhood, all  started out life with a two strikes against them and a chip on their shoulders, even Johnny. But Johnny, had been smart, “street smart,” Johnny played the percentages and figured that if he didn’t want to do a nickel or dime at Sing Sing for this and that, maybe more than once, he had better move on. Moving on meant joining the cops, and why not, since he already knew who the clientele would be. Not just a regular New York City cop cadging coffee and doughnuts just for being a copper though, a hard-boiled honest one too. So he pinched a lot of his old time cronies, worse, he made them (when they were not in the slammer) tip their hats to him, to the law, on the streets. That little act of homage ate at a lot of them and explains why there were tearless Bronx boys.

So Johnny good cop went about his business of smacking down the bad guys and making them like it, almost. But you know cities, cities like New York, have more criminals and more rackets per square mile than you can shake a stick at so crime was rampant, out of control, beginning to take over the ethos of the city.  A few guys, do-gooders fought back, including one publisher who really was serious about cleaning up the town, a guy who guys like Johnny Blake could look up to and maybe help out. Except that publisher was disrupting the flow of criminal dough, no, was making such a ruckus that he might disrupt the flow of criminal dough and that was enough, enough for Bugs, and so one night under the orders of this reputed crime boss he went down in a hail of bullets. The irony, or maybe the na├»ve on his part, was that this publisher’s idea was to use the ballot box to get rid of the public officials and coppers who were “on the take.” A silly, if brave, man with a silly idea then, or now, when money, lots of it, greases the wheels of government in your favor if you have the kale.                             

Johnny, and not just Johnny, took that publisher’s murder hard, took it hard knowing flat-out that Bugs had done it, had decided to send a strong message to do-gooders to put their heads down and take it, take whatever was dished out and like it. But Bug’s free-lance action caused waves among the racketeers too, especially Bugs’ boss up the food chain, Al Kruger, and his bosses at the top, the central committee of the WASP establishment of the city who were bankrolling the rackets and raking in the profits (okay, okay since this is New York City maybe a few Dutch guys thrown in the mix too). So there was an upper management dispute as Kruger was given orders to clean house, to get rid of guy who still believed that shoot-outs were the way to do business.

Meanwhile that murder stuck in Johnny’s craw, others too, and he and his co-thinkers really wanted to take a little action, and they did. And here is where Johnny’s skills as an old corner boy who knew all the hard guys, especially Kruger, came into play. The plan hatched at the highest levels of the police department was for Johnny to take a tumble off the force, get kicked off for not playing ball with the new police regime, then take umbrage at being kicked off the force in a public way, and in revenge take a “consultant” job with Kruger checking for weak spots in his operations. The number one weak spot of course being one old Capote-like Bugs Fenner. And so the deal went down, Johnny got on the inside, got tight with Kruger whom he had known from the old days, and started to see how the operation worked right up to the top, up to that WASP central committee (and the Dutchies thrown in).               

Funny it worked, well, mainly worked, for a while. Johnny was moving in nicely and Kruger was happy, happy until old Bugs got his nose bent out of shape and knocked him off. Meanwhile Johnny keeps plugging away at the mechanics of the operation and wound up being the guy who delivered the dough to the guys at the top, their profits. A big deal, and that might have worked out in the end except Bugs really did not like Johnny, didn’t believe he had turned rogue cop, and went after him prior to Johnny’s deliver debut. That is when the shoot-out occurred and Bugs wound up very dead and Johnny mortally wounded. Johnny, good cop to the end, delivers the dough to the WASP committee as part of the “sting” operation and then cashed his check at the coppers busted up the committee’s operation. So that is why Johnny may draw a tear from his old sweetie, Moll. And why no self-respecting hard guy will shed any, and empathically not tip his hat, when they hear Johnny Blake passed on.        

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Watch Out For Little Old Ladies- Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes

DVD Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman


The Lady Vanishes, starring Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Dame Mae Whitty, directed by Sir Alfred Hitchcock, 1938  

Modern film audiences, you know audiences who came of age in the 1960s and beyond are used to having our spies, our good side spies anyway, somewhere on the order of James Bond, at least. You know guys, cool guys in form-fitting suits, working for the “good guy” alphabet intelligence agencies against the nefarious enemy (the ‘reds,’ if not stated) with plenty of high tech equipment to off the bastards and plenty of time too to bed in the downy billows some comely female, friend or foe. Or if a female spy, a “good guys” spy just as likely to crack-back a guy as “curl his toes.” We are certainly not expecting to see a little old lady in tennis sneakers (okay, okay I’m a little over the top on that description but you get the point, a seemingly harmless woman looking forward to pensions and stuff and not rough and tumble), some sweet old lady governess with no more than a good memory and an ear for music, carry the day against the bad guys of the world political scene, especially in the 1930s when the world really was filled with many bad guys. Yeah, the 1930s when we know who was blocking the world and for what purposes and lots of people, especially in blood-drained Europe, were after the fall of Spain forced to make decisions about fighting the bad guys, or taking a dive when the deal went down. Lots did the latter but this would not be much of film if some did not take up the fight, a fight to the finish. This film under review, Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, is strictly a homage to those little old ladies and their sneaky ways around the “dark world” of espionage.   

But enough of homages. Here is the skinny on the do’s and don’ts of little old lady espionage. Miss Froy, our little old lady spy, working the old sweet lady governess cover, is stuck in some Middle European location during the 1930s a time when lots of bad things were going on in Middle Europe, things like the disappearance of nations under the jackboot of the Nazis, German or homegrown, and although the locale named was fictitious we can fill in the dots about the world political situation as it got filtered in that spot. She is stuck in a hotel for a night because the train that is carrying her to jolly old England has been sidetracked by an avalanche. Well they get the train going the next day everything points to an uneventful train ride to the nearest port and home to merry old.         

But of course no such thing is in the cards for our Miss Froy. Somehow nefarious parties figured out she was a spy and decided to do something about it, about what she could give to the British Foreign ministry if she made it that far. Here is how it went and as a plan it wasn’t bad even if it did have too many moving parts to success. Miss Froy struck up a hotel friendship with Iris (played by Margaret Lockwood), a young debutante-type going home to marry the next best thing, the next best thing with a serious bankbook, a few days later. On the train they got even friendlier. Then Miss Froy vanished, gone, left no forwarding address, a hard task from a fast-moving train. Iris got worried, worried even more when the passengers on the train played dumb and “saw no evil.” Well everybody but Gilbert, a wild boy clarinet player (that mad monk clarinet thing the every be-bop-less 1930s mother warned their daughters against and which should have made Iris very wary but you know how boy-girl things go in the movies). He finally believed her and they began a search of the train but see here is where the thing got tricky. The bad guys, led by a doctor, did a switch, brought a “sick” person on a stretcher on board at the first stop and made her the Miss Froy and the real one was placed under wraps as “sick” to be disposed of by that evil doctor. But Iris and Gilbert figured out there had to have been a switch and they, not without some rooty-toot-toot rough play, got Miss Froy back and help get her out of the jam she was in order to make a run for it.

Eventually Gilbert and Iris, alone with several upstanding British citizens who were also travelling on the train left the bad guys high and dry. And Miss Froy, well Miss Froy sang, sang like a canary at the Foreign Ministry when the dust settled. And Iris and Gilbert, well you know Iris was made of better stuff than grabbing the best next thing rich guy with that big bankbook, and she ran off against all good advice if you ask me with a damn clarinet player. Ah, boy-girl stuff, go figure.               

Friday, November 21, 2014

***Out In The Be-Bop 2010s Night -The Wise Guys Cometh

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

An old geezer, heating himself up in some gentle hot tub provided courtesy of the swanky hotel, swanky for him who in the distant past had slept on discarded chairs in midnight bus stations rolled newspaper for a pillow, had slept by the side of some misfit state road listening to cows mooing in the dark after being left off of some hitchhike trail, had slept under the Golden Gate Bridge when some con artist larcenies and cocaine addictions got the better of him so, yes, swanky, on the beach, room service, catered breakfast, four  o’clock high tea swanky, that he was staying in down in late season Naples (Florida that is) trying to loosen some ancient ankle injury that has recently plagued his walking moments. Since nobody wants to, or should want to, hear one more tale of woe from an aging guy who did not lead a pure life, he sat in that tub within earshot of the subject of this sketch, a quiet  conversation between two younger men, not kids but also not some senior citizens. The conversation perked his ears since he had, after rekindling some old time corner boy high school friendships, recently discussed a similar subject with those guys who could draw back on ancient memories of a time “when men were men” and “a man’s word was his bond” and there was “honor among thieves” and not just in the breech, well mainly not in the breech.

The younger men, splashing away while yakking away in the spa, heavily upper arm and shoulder tattooed telling some arcane story in ink as is the fashion these days among certain hard guys, or hard guy want-to-bes, among high-bred celebrity and low-rider biker women too (long gone the simple Mother tattoo or some long forsaken woman who name sits inside a rose or a snake mid-arm. Gone as well the days when a woman had a simple flower or butterfly on the back of her shoulder. Now all sported full-length arms, shoulders and chests to speak nothing of legs and other places tattoos must tell a story, a “to be continued” story or be filled with cryptic symbolic designs to even be noticed. Certainly as the younger men talked they were not noticing the older man, nor attempting to hide their old time appetites freely discussed about what hard knocks they had learned from the streets, the hard mean streets of drug-dealing Boston, and so the old man perked up, perked up to their tales of prior mischief. A tale of progeny corner boys. The gist of their stories were of young men gone wrong, gone wrong and able to come back from the edge and therefore provide some cautionary tale, a fate not very different from that of the old man’s.

One man’s story, the one that was representative of the two tales and so will stand for the completed conversation, call him Mike, maybe Mickey , but Mike fits here (the other guy, well, let’s call him Jimmy, yeah, Jimmy seems just about right), had come from good family, a good Italian family with strong values, serious religion, Roman Catholic of course if he had been asked, had moved out of the rough and tumble North End in Boston to a vanilla an up and coming suburb north of Boston where the Italian migration tended to drift after that first landing in the North End,  had had plenty of breaks, breaks coming easier in low-density trouble suburbs, and greased hands, had plenty of educational chances since he was pretty smart under that “street smart” exterior that every Italian kid who wanted to survive had to maintain (Mike’s comment but the old geezer knew from his own old Irish neighborhoods upbringing that same ethos applied in his case), summer vacations in a town where “to summer” had been an assumed condition of life, and such, but when it counted, when he came of manhood age, had gotten involved with some hard- time corner boys. Some corner boys from the wrong side of the tracks, Sumnertown version (a town just outside of Boston that the old man was very familiar from his own drug days a generation or so before the younger men), and for those not in the know Sumnertown was the headquarters for the famous corner boy Sumner Hill gang that wreaked havoc on Boston, its criminal justice system, its drug streets (you name the drug, and name it in quantity), its heist streets, and maybe its art treasures. Yes, guys, whether you honor thieves in the breech or the observance or not, not to be messed with, not if you wanted to live to be the old geezer’s age.

So Mike worked his way up the food chain a little, enough to handle some interesting things, things not necessary to describe here just in case the statute of limitations has not run out on that brand of interesting things, and besides the old geezer had said when he retailed the story “he ain’t no snitch, not even indirectly,” observed that rule in the observance at all times to his benefit since once a man became a snitch he was not slated to move up in the world, or maybe be of this world for long. Mike worked the middle-man drug trade, the trade when the drug of choice was cocaine, sister, snow, lots of it to fill rolled one hundred dollar bill eager noses and the route from South America was free and open to meet the high-end demand for quality coke from yuppies and other discretionary-spending types. But the “life” is full of pitfalls, full of guys who want to rise to the top, guys not knowing that the top is fixed, filled up, guys not knowing who is, and who is not, “connected” which had been fixed, been etched in blood since about 1898, and will not change, will not be un-fixed, until, until doomsday maybe and that a wise move for an up and coming soldier, a pretty smart guy and “street smart,” is to know that fact and accept whatever position he winds up with and deal with easy street from that perch. Mike knew enough to have figured that out, and if he didn’t his father took him aside one day and gave him the one-two.

[Mike also related a story that showed he knew that part of the program. A guy he grew up with, a friend and some kind of distant cousin, Guido, Mike called him had a small group of corner boys who hung around one of the suburban shopping malls since out in suburbia there are no accessible pizza parlors, drugstores, or convenience stores to put your knee against the wall of, was moving up the chain just like Mike, except he was a little greedy, wanted to move up too fast, or maybe go off on his own. So he cut some corners, who knows what, although the old geezer could not hear what Mike and Jimmy were saying at that point since Mike was whispering the tale, but he wound up very dead on the Chelsea side of the Mystic River Bridge so you know he had not taken some candy from a store or something like that. That bloated body of Guido kept everybody straight for a while, as it was meant to do, until the next fast-moving short-cut guy winds up on the Charlestown side of the bridge or someplace like that. The old geezer, once he heard that last part, which Mike spoke of in his normal voice, remembered back to his own corner boy days when his best friend from childhood, from the “projects,” Pete Markin made his own Guido decision, trying to go “independent” with two bricks of cocaine in a suitcase he was “muling” for the boys down in Sonora, Mexico and had gotten two slugs in the heart and face down in some dusty back street for his efforts.]          

Mike fell down on the hardest pitfall of all though, he sampled the merchandise, like what he sampled, and that started him on the slippery slope to many bad judgments and many nights, many nights of “walking with the king.” Until the other shoe dropped. And that is where the other pitfall came in, the one where the upwardly mobile guy stumbles, and about twelve guys are about to rat him out, rat him out to the next guy up in the food chain, but more likely to “uncle.” To “uncle” (used here generically but it could be the feds all the way down to some podunk cop on the beat) in order to clear the path for themselves, or to fix some “uncle” problem that they had to try to get out from under. A snitch in plain English.

And so Mike fell, fell hard, did a nickel’s worth for his troubles. But he made two smart moves during his stir time, one, he dried out (hard, very hard to do in stir where there is probably more dope per capita than outside and that hard time can be done easier in some 24/7/365 dope haze), dried out for good, and after he did his time, after he took the fall he looked at his percentages to see which way the winds blew for him. This is how it looked to him in the clear light of day. A guy getting older, a guy who was not moving up the food chain (the slammer had put a big dent in his value since he was on ice and by then twelve other hungry guys had been eying, and one had taken his spot), a guy who had to look over his shoulders and maybe start putting newspaper around his bed so nobody snuck up on him and was as likely to find himself being dragged out of the Mystic River one fine morning as to collect his Social Security check. So he went straight, straight as an ex-con can. And so after he told his Jimmy companion, his brawny beefy companion, his story and the brawny guy responded with his tale they both began to speak of family-friendly cars, of the virtues of buying houses in Florida, with or without swimming pools, and where they were headed that night with their families for a big beef-infested dinner. Main Street stuff, future Social Security check stuff.

The old geezer thought about that story, thought about how he knew Mike’s story line almost before he had finished his tale. See he had grown up, grown up hard in North Adamsville, a town with its own Sumner Hill-type gang moving everything that could be moved in the way of illegal materials, and were hooked into the Boston prostitution rackets as well (the Sumner Hill gang out of some Irish, or some Catholic, or some both thing would not traffic in women, at least, that was their reputation, although that might have been honored in the breech as well). He, when young, much younger than when Mike took his vows, had been in the junior division of a corner boy gang much like the Sumner Hill cadre and he had many corner boy friends who would wind up face down in some ditch, doing nickels and dimes in the slammer, or being uncle’s pet.

He had, around the age of twelve, done a fair share of kid’s stuff “clips” (petty theft at jewelry stores and department stores), a fair share of look-out work for some older boys who were doing midnight shifts (breaking and entering in the nighttime, burglary, armed robberies of gas stations), had been best friend with the corner boy king, junior division, that Pete Markin mentioned before, later, 1960s later, manhood time later, found face down in a dusty Sonora, Mexico street after a drug deal when south on him, and had for a minute that twelve- years old summer began to think about easy street. Then just as quickly he stopped, figured out what the percentages were, or were not, and moved on. Although he later had his fair share of lonesome hitchhike roads, skid- row dumps, scads of socially-induced addictions, and women troubles just like every guy. But for just one minute while Mike was speaking he remembered what a thrill it was to go for easy street, go for glory or broke, and maybe, just maybe, still have avoided Mike’s fate...