Saturday, January 31, 2015

You Can’t Go Home Again, Damn It, You Can’t- With Thomas Wolfe’s Novel In Mind

Larry Larkin wondered, wondered that night as 2012 turned into New Year’s Day 2013 why he had been fixated on that title from the long ago American novelist Thomas Wolfe and his damn book, You Can’t Go Home Again. Wondered too why over the previous five years, the five years since he initially tried to “go home, again” he had not realized the truth of that simple expression, had caused himself more grief that wisdom choking over every misstep in the effort. All of this wondering, aided perhaps by a few sips of white wine that he was sharing with his companion, Laura Hoppe, as the new year came in had been triggered by remembrances of the past year’s final (he hoped final) beating about the head over the matter when he had tried to attend his 50th anniversary high school class reunion of the Class of 1962 at Olde Saco High in the early fall at the Laurent Hotel , a place that back in the day had meant nothing but trouble including the location of his first marriage wedding reception. He had in the end wound traipsing with Laura into Big Sur canyons clear across the country on the weekend of the scheduled event. After churning it over in his head Larry thought, before the wine flowed too freely to his brain that he had better go back to the beginning, better go back to look how each step taken on that “go home, again ” trail had been fraught with portents of eventual failure. And that ebbing New Year’s Eve he at least knew that that road was now mercifully closed to him.        

Sure Larry knew, knew way before 2007 when he caught the “go home” bug that he could not go back to the time of his youth in Olde Saco when even when things were tough, tough meaning the constant war between he and his mother, Delores (nee LeBlanc, descended from a long line of French-Canadian peasants he guessed they would be called, fellahin a friend of his, Josh Breslin, trying to be smart called them, who came down from barren Quebec to look for work in the mills and never looked back), there were memories, maybe good memories, that sustained him in bad times.

So Larry did not believe that year he was going to go back to that “go home” but he did believe that he could at least settle on an “armed truce” with that past. A past which included a very long period of alienation and lost contact with his people back in Olde Saco, a period of no contact by his own finally frustrated choice. One day in the mid-1970s he just decided that he could no longer take the punishing contact with the family, that it was better all around to cut his losses  and so went his own way. But humankind is funny, or at least Larry thought it was funny that one day in 2007, one fateful day as it turned out, he had an intense hankering to settle with his past, find out what happened to his family, who was left and maybe try to reconnect. That one day was ordinary enough since what had triggered his hankering (his word) was the fact that he had had to return to Olde Saco to obtain a copy of his birth certificate in order to begin the retirement process from his job as a middle-level civil servant up in Augusta. So down to old town town hall Olde Saco he went. Of course since he had spent the time and energy to travel down there he knew that he would just had to stop off at Olde Saco Beach after he had completed his task.

As Larry once again began walking Olde Saco Beach from the Pine Point far end he thought this stretch of ocean front held many memories for a man who loved the sea, had declared at one time or another that his homeland was the sea, was the mother, snarly and holy vengeance one moment, tepidly ripple running to shore and gentle splashes the next, who never abandoned him, draw what conclusions you will from that. Mainly that cold early April day in 2007 he thought about how many times when he had had some “unresolvable” beef (unresolvable then although now, having gone through the same set of experiences with his own kids he chuckled over that word) he would walk the mile to the beach from his shack of a growing up house over on Atlantic Avenue and endlessly walk until he calmed himself down (later in high school where he was a track athlete he would run that distance but the brooding walking followed, followed as day to night). The beefs always over wants, wants of one or sort or another usually over him wanting something, clothes, date money, tickets to something, could have been anything, and she, Delores, pulling the hammer down with the definite “no.” His hard-working hard-pressed shadow figure father in the background backing her up, backing her up without question. Other times the beefs were of a more serious nature, trouble nature, trouble at school, trouble after school hanging around with his corner boys, mostly thieving Irish kids, trouble with the law, mostly small unarmed felonies, trouble, trouble as he squandered half his young life gnashing his teeth against grabbing those from hunger want. It had been a close thing, a very close thing, indeed that he had taken the judge’s, old Judge Matthews over in the Arundel District Court, choice of enlisting in the Army over time at Shawshank, seeing afterward what had happened to a few of his corner boys, Clipper Johnson, George Kelly and the late Jimmy Dubois, as they edged their own paths to the big house.         

No question, and here he was not giving into any false nostalgia, or at least he did not think that was but there had been some good times too, mostly early on, but still good times. Yeah, those trips to the beach with the family and the inevitable barbecues as his father gave his mother (and maybe himself) a break from cooking, her an indifferent cook at best harried by short father pay check money to feed five growing kids, he could still smell those smells now all charcoal and warmth. Those runs down to York Beach and the amusement park when he was fascinated by his first run-in with the corner boy pinball wizards who populated the arcades during the summer. Trips to Boston, trips to lots places in the area which made up, a little, for a nerve-wracking home life. Yeah, those early days held much promise before he came of age and the Delores wars started, started him out the door to hang around with the guys at Lebreque’s Drugstore (and later Jimmy Laurent’s bar where Jimmy did not ask questions about age but only the color of your money). So after walking the length of the beach for the umpteenth time in his life Larry got a small hankering. That hankering enlarged when he surreptiously drove pass the old growing up shack of a house on Atlantic Street and found that the house was no longer there but had been replaced by a high end three-unit condo complex. He did not bother to check to see if any unit belonged to Delores and Paul Larkin since no way could they have afforded such digs. Besides he was too afraid to go near the premises in that neighborhood in the unlikely case that some old neighbors might recognize him. Yeah, it was like that.               

Then one day a few week later, out of the blue, he began a Google search the old town newspaper, The Olde Saco Tribune, to see if any of his people other than the one outlaw older brother he was still in contact (and that relationship too had stormy no contact periods), William were still around. William then in assisted living quarters in Wells after a long career of petty armed robberies in Massachusetts and New Hampshire which produced a long career in various state penal institutions nixed any involvement in the search having his own dank memories and beefs. Yeah, he developed a hankering to see who was still around (including the extended family many of whom on his mother’s side had lived in the Olde Saco area after the huge migration out of the Quebec farms to work the mills and on his father’s side too, working the mills that is, including him). There the beauty of the Internet, even the now outdated capacities of the 2007 Internet came to the rescue. That search brought forth information from the on-line Obituary section that an uncle, Lawrence Larkin who he was named after, had died in 2005 after serving many years on the Kennebunk police force. That was his uncle, no question. More importantly, among those in attendance at the funeral was one Delores Larkin, although no mention was made of his father, Paul. Delores was listed as being from South Portland and so on a whim he checked on-line to see if a land-line telephone was listed in her name. Bingo, there was one listed under her name. Larry thought this whole exercise had been way too easy, he had been prepared to go to a detective agency if necessary and here without two hours he had located his mother.                

Then the real crush began. Should or should he not made the call to confirm that identity. Larry literally held his breathe for a moment and dialed. An older woman’s voice (his mother would have been in her late 80s by then) answered and he made his identity known. As he found out later from a sister his mother had thought that he (and that brother in Wells) were dead and so she had been confused, not sure who she was talking to and told him to call back later when his sisters Maureen and Cecelia would be home. A couple of hours later even before he had a chance to call back his sister Maureen called him (another virtue of modern communications technology-caller identification) and in no uncertain terms asked him what the hell he wanted after all these years. The conversation, which lasted about an hour, or he thought it seemed that long, provided information about his father’s death in the 1980s and the deaths of other close and extended family members, including his other brother Prescott in 2003.

Beyond the family information Maureen expressed bitterness that Larry who had been able-bodied, had after all made something of himself up in Augusta (after he provided his own life information to her), and who had no good reason not to have been in contact should trouble (her word) their mother now. She and Cecelia had spent the time since their father’s death providing for their mother’s welfare, including the previous several years her living with Maureen and her husband. When Larry expressed an interest in seeing his mother Maureen cut him off at the knees. She, they, left the situation like this. She and Cecelia would explain the situation to their mother and if she wanted to see him then they would think about giving their consent. They would contact him if they did so. The old “don’t call us, we’ll call you” brush-off gave Larry a knot in the pit of his stomach, and a feeling, the first of what would be a long line of such similar feelings, that he would not be able to “go home” again.                

And so it came to pass. In late 2007 he received a phone call from a cousin, Peter LeBlanc (or rather his companion Laura received a phone call because he was then down in Boston at a conference), telling him that his mother had passed away, had passed away a couple of days before in a Portland nursing home and that the funeral would be the following Saturday at Saint Anne in Olde Saco. (Peter had also used the Internet to find Larry since he too had been on the outs with his family, and with Maureen who refused to give him Larry’s telephone number. Hail Internet, for some things anyway.) Here was the hard part for Larry to take, he knew when neither Maureen nor Cecelia called back that time he would not get to see his mother alive but Peter made it clear that Maureen and the rest of the family under no circumstances wanted Larry or William at the funeral services. So the curse would extend to the grave, beyond the grave. Larry took that knowledge hard for a while, although he and William did visit the fresh grave of his mother (and the well-worn graves of their father and other brother) at the family plot in Scarborough and thought no more about it, or better, did no more, knew then he could not go that way home again.      

Truth. Larry, smart enough to know that chapter was over, closed, still had this empty spot, or as he told Laura, this world-historic need (he really does say stuff like that) to dust off, to salvage some part of the long ago past, to make sense of the shut-out that he had just faced and what that meant to him. That is when he got to thinking about his old close corner boy from back in the days, going back to elementary school times on Atlantic Street, Kenny Bradley. Funny one night in early 2008 when filled to the brim with melancholia he thought about those times when his mother who had worked at Mister Jiffy’s Donut Shoppe in Biddeford for a few years filling jelly donuts to help make ends meet when his father was having trouble finding work after the mills started closing down and heading south, or wherever they headed to get cheaper labor used to give Kenny a bagful of day-old donuts to take home when he came over to the house. Even in high school when all hell was breaking loose in Larry’s life and it was that close thing about a life of crime that drove the main wedge between him and his parents Delores Larkin could do no wrong in Kenny’s eyes based on that childhood kindness.

He had thought to himself that night that he had been thinking about Kenny for a while, about what had happened to him, where he was if he was alive, ever since he had received an invitation to attend his 40th anniversary class reunion since graduation from Olde Saco High. He had hemmed and hawed about going to the event before backing off but that invitation had been the first time he thought seriously about getting in touch, although like a lot of things in Larry’s life he let it slide until the finality of his mother’s death brought lots of stuff to the surface. He would find himself softly singing a verse from old 1960s folk minute singer Tom Paxton’s song, I Can’t Help But Wonder, a song they both had loved back then, “I’ve got a buddy from back home but he started out to roam and I hear he’s out by Frisco Bay…and I’m going out to see him some old day, ” since Frisco had been the last place they had run into each other after Kenny had gotten out of the Navy and decided that he would start fresh in the West like lots of their kindred had.          

And here is where modern communications technology came in again after Larry had been unsuccessful in finding out Kenny’s whereabouts through a member of that 40th anniversary reunion committee who had wound up as the secretary to the headmaster of Olde Saco High and privy to any information that might be easily accessible about him. He tried a straight Google search finding eventually that Kenny’s parents had both died and since he was an only child that kind of cut short some other possibilities. Along with the search for Kenny Larry was also in something of a memory writing mood putting together some small sketches remembered from his youth about high school dances, the lovers’ lane at Squaw Rock down at the isolated end of Pine Point, hanging out with corner boys, strange dating girls hassles, football rallies, all pretty much directed back to old high school days.

Frustrated Larry Googled Olde Saco High School Class of 1962 to see if he could get anything from that end. Eventually he got to a generic all-America, maybe all-world, although he never checked that far, commercial website which for a small fee would “connect” you with your class. Larry paid the freight and for his efforts found his class listed, and more importantly a list, a fairly current list of all the members from his class who had joined the site. And bingo once again there was the name Kenneth Bradley. The way this site worked is that you or whoever you were trying to contact needed to pay that damn fee to be able receive private e-mails and so Larry did pay and sent the e-mail with a short message to Kenny and a way to contact him. A couple of days later Kenny telephoned him from Boston where he was running his own contract painting company and doing quite well. They cut up old touches for a couple of hours agreeing to meet in Boston a week or so later when Larry would be in Boston for another of his endless conferences. They met at Joe’s American CafĂ© in the Back Bay and while they both had grown stouter, and had lost some hair, unlike many of Larry’s old acquaintances they easily recognized each other on meeting. They had a good night with good food, good drink (they had been notorious drinking partners even in high school which got them both into more than one of those “trouble trouble” situations that dotted Larry’s youth. The highlight was that Kenny had brought his very own copy of the Olde Saco Magnet, their high school yearbook, and had many a nostalgic laugh over this and that. Of course Larry had been so alienated upon graduation, as well as having a few grand larcency charges hanging over him which would be resolved only by his taking the Army part of old Judge Matthews Army or jail options, that  graduation night drunk as skunk he had thrown his copy in the Scarborough River and good riddance.             

Larry and Kenny had been from elementary school days until that last time Larry had seen Kenny in Frisco as close as two guys could be without being brothers. The had laughed when Kenny made a comment at Joe’s that they probably were the only heterosexual guys in the class (maybe the school or town even) who people wondered about whether they were gay (or to use the term used then in sublime ignorance, “fags”). That Boston night had been the highlight of their reunion although they met several times after that over the next several months for dinner, to watch sports which Kenny was still addicted to, and a couple of times Kenny had joined Larry and Laura at concerts (one a Bruce Springsteen concert down in New Haven) but the old comradeship seemed to be lost, lost like that closeness vanished in the bay out there in California. During this time Larry began grinding his teeth when Kenny would endlessly talk about his painting business, about the stock market that he dabbled in, graphic detail about his sexual conquests, more endless talk about sports and frankly stuff that Larry had either lost interest like sports or never cared to talk about and from his end would be reduced to bringing up some old time flame, caper or incident from high school days to fill the time. Larry sensed that maybe Kenny realized too that they had gone very far away on their separate ways, and after dinner one night in York Beach in early 2009 they had parted saying they would give each other a call soon to get together again. They never did and that “go home” episode passed into dust.            

Although Larry felt the Kenny connection drifting away he still was producing those small sketches about life, mostly high school life, in the old days in Olde Saco and placing them on the appropriate section of the class website. Several of them, especially about the local custom of searching for “submarines” from the backseats of ’57 Chevys at Olde Saco Beach at night (the reader can be presumed to be able to be figure that one out), the infamous grapevine that provided much needed intelligence about who or who was no “going steady”   centered in Monday morning before school talkfest, and the night life at the Olde Saco Drive-In and Jimmy Jack’s Diner on Main Street grabbed a great deal of comment and reply. Some of them so he heard later from a woman classmate who had read them at the time would become the talk of his class.

All done good-naturedly, all done with trying to fill some empty hole in him, and maybe them. Then the hammer fell. Misty Gordon, Class vice-president, head cheerleader, chair of the senior dance and prom committees, assistant editor of the school newspaper The Ocean’s Edge threw down a gauntlet, made a comment, very pointedly after  forty years later like she had been holding it in for that whole period of time to the effect that who did Larry think he was, a guy who got into nothing but trouble as everybody in town knew and tittered over and never did anything to help his class now wanted to  proclaim himself the quote “ bard of the class.” Now Larry knew this Misty, you could hardly avoid her and her well-publicized exploits in a small high school, vaguely but had never spoken two words to her and said so in his very public reply. But he also said that “yes” he was trying to be not THE bard but one and wrote a funny (some thought it funny in the comment section) sketch about how he  was perfect for the job, had all the qualifications of former ne’er-do-well, drunk, loner and non-participant so that some decades later he was qualified, over-qualified for the job. This created a firestorm for a while, a couple of months with the social butterflies, sports guys, and do-gooders siding with Misty and the misfits, nerds, loners, and outcasts giving Larry the nod. But he grew tired of an essentially useless argument with people he had not seen for many years and once again he had gotten that sinking feeling that this venture too was no way home and gave it up. For a while.                 

Larry let up, gave up trying to “go back home” for a while until near the end of 2011 with the 50th anniversary reunion the next fall (according to information that he searched on the Internet when he found the reunion committee had set up a private class website for the event) when seemingly undaunted despite the previous track record of failure he got some curious “mystical” sense that he could turn the tide this time. He made contact with the members of the committee on the website and offered to/asked to be on the committee. This is how the last indignity unfolded as told to an old classmate friend of his, Josh Breslin, one night who will at least tell it straight:       

“This is the way Larry Larkin, my old friend and classmate from up Olde Saco way, told me his sad story over several meetings at one or another of our favorite watering holes a short while back where he felt he had to get something off his chest about his latest love interest gone sour, his, as he called it, last indignity about “going home” to the old home town, or rather making peace with his past. Through his activity on our high school 50th anniversary reunion committee we had communicated and met each other several times recently and he had carried me along with his enthusiasm about the event. Got me interested in the old days, and possibly going to the reunion. And he in turn confided in me about this love problem, wanted me to write something up about it as a form of therapy for him or something. I am no expert on the issue of love, or maybe better having been married three times and having had numerous affairs and flings I am as clueless as he about how to deal with the subject. In any case here are my recollections of what he had to say on that sad whiskey-filled night:    

The last time Larry Larkin saw Merissa Pinot he was looking back at the headlights of her automobile veering off as dusk approached to go north on Route 133 just south of Amesbury along the New Hampshire border in the early spring of 2012.  He did not know that that glimpse would be the last, the last physical time he saw her, although given the all-out fight they had had earlier that evening including an enraged outburst by him he suspected as much. But like many things in this wicked old world of romantic relationships that would not be the last of it, although that indeed was the last physical time he saw her. There were some final shots, some last metaphysical kiss-offs before the real end. And so as Larry had muttered to himself at some point during the last not so metaphysical dust-up whether 16 or 68 years of age the romance game never gets easier. And so this story, or end of story.    

Let’s take a step back to figure out about the whys of that last headlight glance before we find out what happened after the subsequent fall and the last dust-up. Larry told me he had been thinking about his 50th class reunion at Olde Saco High since he had received an invitation to go to his 40th reunion back in 2002. At that time Larry had dismissed the invitation with much hubris because then he still thought that the bad luck that had followed him for much of his life had been caused by his growing up on “the wrong side of the tracks” in the old town. He told me, a number of times, that he had spent half a lifetime blaming that bad luck hometown affiliation on everything from acne to wormwood. 


Subsequently through some family-related deaths that took him back to the old town Larry had reconciled himself with his roots and had exhibited the first stirrings of a feeling that he might like to see some of his old classmates despite his dismal failure to connect with our old classmate and his best friend Kenny Bradley. In late 2012, around Thanksgiving he, at least marginally savvy on such user-friendly sites, created a Facebook  event page in order to see if anybody else on the planet knew of plans or was interested in making plans for a 50th reunion. One day, a few days after setting up the page, he got an inquiry asking what he knew about any upcoming plans.  He answered in a short note his own limited knowledge at the time of any such plans but that his intention in setting up the page had been to seek others to help out with organizing an event if nothing had been established as yet. In that reply he had forgotten to give his name. And that is how the “girl with the pale blue eyes,” Merissa Pinot, came into view.  

“Who are you?” asked Merissa returning his message, a name that Larry immediately remembered from his high school days although he did not know the woman personally. He shot back a blushed reply about being sorry for forgetting to include his name, gave it, and casually remarked that he had remembered from somewhere that she was a professor at a college in the Boston area. He asked if she was still there. She sent an immediate reply stating that no she was no longer there but that she had been and was still a professor at the University of New Hampshire, and had been for the previous twenty-five years. She also mentioned that, having access to her Ocean’s Edge, her class of 1962 yearbook, she had looked up his class photo, and said he was “very handsome.”


Naturally any guy from six to sixty would have to seriously consider anybody, any female in Larry’s case, who threw that unanticipated, unsolicited comment a man’s way especially since she sent her class photo back as well. That got them started on what would be a blizzard of e-mails over the next several weeks.  


Frankly, after the first few exchanges Larry had been more than a little intrigued with Merissa, intrigued enough to think about further discovery.  And as it turned out Merissa had been as well. They discovered they both had much in common academically, professionally, politically and personally. I won’t go into the specifics of those “things in common” because in looking over my notes from Larry that would take more time than necessary to make the point.

A point necessary to make though since it contributed to the fall  was Larry’s “relationship” status which he introduced to Merissa after that  initial blizzard of e-mails and phone calls. Here’s the gist of his response:


“…You know as well as I do that we both carry a lot of baggage, busted marriages, affairs, and so forth. On the other hand we are both old enough to have whatever level of friendship we want from just friends to an affair because we both as far as I know have no ties that would prohibit that, neither of us is married now. And even if we did in this day in age we could still have whatever relationship we wanted. As long as we both have our eyes open and know the score. That “know the score” part is what I want to talk about. It is nothing bad but it is a complication. And even if we decide to be just friends it is part of what is unfolding.

Up until a few weeks ago for the past ten years or so since the end of my last serious relationship I was just rolling along writing, doing legal work, doing politics, playing golf and all the rest. Doing all of that while living in the same house as the woman that was my last serious romantic relationship, Laura, who is still my closest woman friend. I have known her for over twenty- five years and about twenty years ago we bought this modest house in Bath together. As time went on though we had, as couples will, our problems until about ten years ago we decided that it wasn’t working. But we both wanted to keep the house and be friends. I won’t go into all of that now but you can ask me about it. So that is what we did. And there is nothing wrong with that people make such arrangements all the time….”


“…Then out of the blue you came along. You know how we “met” and all so I don’t need to go into that but what happened is that I was not sure where we were heading (at one point if anywhere) and so I made a point of keeping that “relationship” information to myself. Remember I made a point about just concentrating on us and not on other baggage stuff. Part of it obviously is that if we were not going anywhere then such information didn’t matter and if we were then that would just be an awkward situation that we would deal with. That is what a lot of my concern about expectations, the way we have met and all of that, has been about. I have told Laura about you in general terms (the only way to put it since we still have not met) and since this whole thing has been topsy-turvy that is where things stand right now.

If all of this seems like too much then so be it-but as for me I still say forward- if you don’t that is okay and we can work on some other way to be friends. I think we both strongly want to be friends and should be damn it if that is what we want. Later Larry ”         


A couple more cell-phone calls and another round of e-mails got this pair to setting up the meeting in person, having a “date” like some hormonally-driven teen-agers. (Larry could not remember who suggested the idea first but neither flinched at that possibility all he remembered was that he would finally have a date with an Olde Saco  High woman something that had eluded all through high school.) They both admitted to nervousness as they planned to meet in Portsmouth up in New Hampshire at a restaurant that she had selected (he was to be at a legal conference in Portland and that locale was the closest convenient city for both of them). Needless to say they hit it off remarkably well.

And Larry, with two divorces under his belt and that also untold number of liaisons, was also in his less lucid moments thinking along some just such lines as an affair with Merissa (who had also been divorced twice as well), maybe more. Except. Oh yeah, except here is where it got tricky, where Larry’s calculations sort of misfired. Larry was, as he learned as they went along, ah, still “married,” had been emotionally “married” for many years to Laura in his head although he was only beginning to realize that, although as mentioned in his e-mail to Merissa for a number of years past they had been living as “roommates.” Roommate meaning separate beds, mostly separate lives, and most definitely no sex. That hard little fact, that “marriage” fact, a fact that I kept mentioning to him as he got deeper into the human sink of Merissa. Naturally he would not listen at that point. 

That left Larry in a quandary. He knew, just like Merissa knew, that he desired her, wanted to have sex, make love to her. But he also knew that once that happened that a bridge would be crossed, or so that was his thinking at the time. Still Merissa was there, still he wanted her so one Friday afternoon he called her up out of the blue and told her to meet him at a hotel in Portsmouth. And that was their high point, the acme of their thing. That was also the point where Larry,  back-tracking, began to squirm a little both at what he had done, that bridge that he had crossed and that home he had left behind for a minute. The omens thereafter were not good, although he never spoke other than in general terms of those nights to me and I only knew that they had had sex from the notes he handed to me.     




But Merissa  was a fretter and a planner, not necessarily in that order so at some point between that Friday and their resumption of e-mail traffic the next day she, possessed of some dream future with Larry,  tried to find out more about Laura, about that “roommate” arrangement and what was to become of her. See Merissa had certain rules as we all more or less do in that she took pride in her serial monogamous relationships. She was with a man, and a man was with her, or no dice. Once she finished with a man that was that. She told Larry that in a set of e-mail exchanges on the subject. He in a little panic over her hard and fast position kept trying to calm her doubts, kept trying to pass over his longtime relationship as some platonic boy-scout trip, kept trying to keep his head above water with Merissa. That night, that restless Saturday night, he tossed and turned trying to mull things over in his head and came up empty. Came up with the only conclusion that made sense-end the flirtation and walk away. He, and this is characteristic of Larry, “wrote” the thing out in his head first and then at the crack of dawn gathered himself from his bed and went to the computer to compose an e-mail which he sent later that morning. Larry never gave Merissa a chance to respond since a few hours later, maybe two, he called her up and begged her to forget what he had written and that they should keep on going as best they could but that he planned to do right by her.


So they went along for a while, sometimes happy, sometimes on edge with all that future talk business in the background. Probably though the end started to crumble the month before the end when a few days after coming back from a fateful Washington trip together Merissa took a big spill, a serious fall at a pool in Portsmouth where she swam to get exercise, that broke her hip bone requiring surgery and their budding romance came to a crashing halt as she convalesced and Larry took on the unaccustomed role of care-giver- general. Not so much that incident itself since it was an accident but what it did to enforce her idleness which left her too much time to think about how she wanted him with her, wanted him to leave Laura, wanted to make those 208 plans (roughly) that Merissa spent her waking hours doing in order to have him come closer to her.


Not a meeting between them in that period went by without some variation of the on-going argument. Although there were some nice times, (one time he drove her to their Olde Saco the sites of their   youth homes both of which had been torn down since the old days and they had many laughs, and some sorrows, over that). Even when he had driven up in order to allow her to teach a seminar at UNH and then drove her the next day over to the Portsmouth General to get her cleared to be able to drive she/he/they argued over that same old, same old material.


The few days before the end had not been much better (really a few weeks Larry thought since that damn accident put her out of commission placed a damper on their affair as he became a care-giver and she a patient). The inevitable Merissa war cry of when was Larry going to leave his “wife,” when he was going to leave Laura, and what, get this, constructive steps he had taken to break with her had led to a series of arguments starting with the day that she was finally given the okay by the doctor in charge of her case at Portsmouth General to drive.

Naturally the e-mail and cell-phone traffic (actually the diminished traffic, significantly down from the days when they would sent blizzards of e-mails to each other when he thought about it later) reflected those unresolved tensions. She needed to spent that first week of liberation catching up on work, house, social chores and could only spare that next Thursday evening for them to get together and since she was going to be in the Salem (NH) area they decided to meet in Amesbury for dinner. Before that though Larry made what would be a mistake, a fatal mistake, of putting into writing some of his feelings about where they were at in their relationship. Thus he sent her an e-mail which was the final piece of evidence that things had gone drastically wrong.


They had a short acrimonious cell-phone exchange after she received that e-mail but again agreed to meet in Amesbury the next day to figure things out. That next evening things started well enough, after Merissa had ordered wine with her dinner. The net result of their discussions was that they would go on as friends for a while and see where that led. Of course to go beyond the friend stage Merissa gave no uncertain terms to the proposition that she could not go on, was “ashamed” to go on under the circumstances unless Larry got a place of his own, left Laura.


Merissa ordered another wine, unusual for her, and that must have given her courage to speak again of the e-mail. She said it read like a lawyer’s closing argument, that she had been hurt and that he was basically a bum of the month. He became incensed, yelled at her and threw money on the table for dinner and walked to the men’s room to fume. When he came back he tried to tell her his point of view but he was tired of arguing by then and just said “let it go for now.” They left, she put her hand in his arm as usual and he muttered that “they were in very bad place” as he walked her to her car. He looked at her shoes, the shoes she reminded him that she had worn in sunnier days down in Washington and he commented “that seems like a long time ago” as they arrived at her car. Rather than the usual kiss good-bye he yelled out “I’ll be in touch,” as he walked back to his own car.     

Since Merissa  was not good at directions (and the Google maps were helter-skelter on this one) Larry had consented to have her follow him out of Amesbury on Route 27 which she did until they got to the U.S. 495 South entrance. A couple of exits up she veered off onto Route 133 for home. As he shifted gears from fourth to fifth to push on up to speed in the U.S. 495 night after he saw her automobile veer off to the northern route home he breathed a sigh of relief, and of sadness. They never saw each other again.”

And the final nail, hopefully the final nail, had been driven into the idea that Larry Larkin could “go home” again. 



Friday, January 30, 2015

In The Time Of The 1960s Folk Minute- With Tom Rush’s No Regrets In Mind 

DVD Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman 

No Regrets, narrated by Tom Rush and whoever else he could corral from the old Boston/Cambridge folk scene minute still around, 2014  

I know your leavin's too long over due
For far too long I've had nothing new to show to you
Goodbye dry eyes I watched your plane fade off west of the moon
It felt so strange to walk away alone

No regrets
No tears goodbye
Don't want you back
We'd only cry again
Say goodbye again

The hours that were yours echo like empty rooms
Thoughts we used to share I now keep alone
I woke last night and spoke to you
Not thinkin' you were gone
It felt so strange to lie awake alone

No regrets
No tears goodbye
Don't want you back
We'd only cry again
Say goodbye again

Our friends have tried to turn my nights to day
Strange faces in your place can't keep the ghosts away
Just beyond the darkest hour, just behind the dawn
It feels so strange to lead my life alone

No regrets
No tears goodbye
Don't want you back
We'd only cry again
Say goodbye again

A few years ago in an earlier 1960s folk minute nostalgia fit I did a series of reviews of male folk-singers entitled Not Bob Dylan. That series asked two central questions-why did those folk singers not challenge Dylan whom the media of the day had crowned king of the folk minute for supremacy in the smoky (then) coffeehouse night and, if they had not passed on, were they still working the smoke-free church basement, homemade cookies and coffee circuit that constitutes the remnant of that folk minute even in the old hotbeds like Cambridge and Boston. Were they still singing and song-writing, that pairing of singer and writer having been becoming more prevalent, especially in the folk milieu in the wake of Bob Dylan’s word explosions back then. The ground was shifting under the Tin Pan Alley kingdom.   

Here is the general format for asking and answering those two questions which still apply today if one is hell-bent on figuring out the characters who rose and fell during that time: 

“If I were to ask someone, in the year 2010 as I have done periodically, to name a male folk singer from the 1960s I would assume that if I were to get an answer to that question that the name would be Bob Dylan. And that would be a good and appropriate choice. One can endlessly dispute whether or not Dylan was (or wanted to be) the voice of the Generation of ’68 (so named for the fateful events of that watershed year when those who tried to turn the world upside down to make it more livable began to feel that the movement was reaching some ebb tide) but in terms of longevity and productivity, the never-ending touring until this day and releasing of X amount of bootleg recordings, he fits the bill as a known quality. However, there were a slew of other male folk singers who tried to find their niche in the folk milieu and who, like Dylan, today continue to produce work and to perform. The artist under review, Tom Rush, is one such singer/songwriter.

The following is a question that I have been posing in reviewing the work of a number of male folk singers from the 1960’s and it is certainly an appropriate question to ask of Tom Rush as well. I do not know if Tom Rush, like his contemporary Bob Dylan, started out wanting to be the king of the hill among male folk singers but he certainly had some things going for him. A decent acoustic guitar but a very interesting (and strong baritone) voice to fit the lyrics of love, hope, and longing that he was singing about at the time. During much of this period along with his own songs he was covering other artists, particularly Joni Mitchell, so it is not clear to me that he had that same Dylan drive by let’s say 1968.

As for the songs themselves I mentioned that he covered Joni Mitchell in this period. A very nice version of Urge For Going that captures the wintry, got to get out of here, imaginary that Joni was trying to evoke about things back in her Canadian homeland. And the timelessness and great lyrical sense of his No Regrets, as the Generation of ’68 sees another generational cycle starting, as is apparent now if it was not then. The covers of fellow Cambridge folk scene fixture Eric Von Schmidt on Joshua Gone Barbados and Galveston Flood are well done. As is the cover of Bukka White’s Panama Limited (although you really have to see or hear old Bukka flailing away on his old beat up National guitar to get the real thing on YouTube).”

Whether Tom Rush had the fire back then is a mute question now although in watching the documentary under review, No Regrets, in which he tells us about his life from childhood to the very recent past at some point he did lose the flaming burn down the building fire, just got tired of the road like many, many other performers and became a top-notch record producer, a “gentleman farmer,” and returned to the stage, most dramatically with his annual show Tom Rush-The Club 47 Tradition Continues held at Symphony Hall in Boston each winter. And in this documentary appropriately done under the sign of “no regrets” in which tells Tom’s take on much that happened then he takes a turn, an important oral tradition turn, as folk historian. 

He takes us, even those of us who were in the whirl of some of it back then to those key moments when we were looking for something rooted, something that would make us pop in the red scare Cold War night of the early 1960s. Needless to say the legendary Club 47 in Cambridge gets plenty of attention as does his own fitful start in getting his material recorded, the continuing struggle from what he said. Other coffeehouses and other performers of the time, especially Eric Von Schmidt get a nod of recognition and does the role of key folk FJ Dick Summer in show-casing new work (and the show where I started to pick up my life-long folk “habit”). So if you want to remember those days when you sought refuse in the coffeehouses and church basements, sought a “cheap” date night or, ouch, want to know why your parents are still playing Joshua’s Gone Barbados on the record player as you go out the door Saturday night watch this film.                
***Poets' Corner- Langston Hughes-Dream Boogie 


From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

February is Black History Month

Dream Boogie

Good morning, daddy!
Ain't you heard
The boogie-woogie rumble
Of a dream deferred?

Listen closely:
You'll hear their feet
Beating out and beating out a -

You think
It's a happy beat?

Listen to it closely:
Ain't you heard
something underneath
like a -

What did I say?

I'm happy!
Take it away!

Hey, pop!


Langston Hughes

[“Did you clean that women’s toilet on the fifth floor?,” yelled Harry, Harry Simons his goddam building cleaning supervisor, from across the foyer near the elevators on the ground floor who knew damn well that he had done that job, had finished all his jobs in the Acme Trust Building and then some so that he could get off before noon on this Saturday, and every Saturday when he needed his rest before he stepped out for his big Saturday night. It was during those times, those damn Saturday morning work times as if five days were not enough, Sam wished he had stayed in school like his Mama, bless her name, told him to do and get an education so he could apply for a civil service job and take life easier than she had had it as a scrubwoman for the same company, Barclay’s, that he worked for now.
But he had to sow his wild oats, do his reefer, do his two-year stretch, do his high hat corner boy routine just like all of his boys who distrusted, seriously distrusted any guy who thought being “book smart” was better than savvy “street smart.” Looked askance at Negro intellectuals, black men like that be-bop poet Langston Hughes who pitter patter poetry he read in Sing Sing just to pass the time. Brother, that Hughes knew all the words, knew the street beat too. But just then Harry came up and told him he was done for the day and his thoughts drifted from be-bop poets to that night’s doing when he would “walk with the king,” and his sorrows would soon be forgotten.]                   

…he, Sam Walker, everybody called him Sam except his mother naturally wanting to proud say his full sired name Samuel Maxwell, Maxwell like the Chicago blues street his father had worked before he hit the long dusty road west, just this moment, this Saturday night high-kicking moment being called by his moniker by Miss Ella from across the street  reflecting his Saturday night time name, Sidewalk Slim (known as such ever since his corner boy days around 125th Street back in the late 1940s when he was really slim and when he ruled, ruled for a moment in time, the sidewalk in front of Sadie Barker’s Pool Hall and guys would listen to him “talk the talk” just to hear him talk the talk and figure out how to some young thing out of her virtue), was, as always on Saturday night, dressed to the nines, yes, the nines. Resplendent in his now well-worn, although serviceable, wide lapel dark brown suit that had seeable pants creases, and off-pink collared shirt to highlight the brown (also well- worn but like the suit serviceable, serviceable Saturday night especially after a few drinks, or some reefer madness kicks, dimmed the lights), a signature string tie reflecting a local hip trend, shoe-shine black shoes, ready to dance almost by themselves. And to top off that resplendent as he walked in the front door of the Red Fez (red to make one think of sunsets, of flaming heats, and fez to make one think back to Mother Africa times and some eternal birth mysteries) was his woman, his lady, Miss Molly, fully gowned, new, new and freely given by a, ah, gentleman friend to show some appreciation for her kindnesses. Sidewalk Slim didn’t like the fact that it was new, that he had not purchased it, and that someone else had. They had argued about it for a bit but as usual Slim was at the losing end of a Molly argument when it came to her looks. Finished.

Moreover, this night, the Molly Red Fez night, Slim was eager to have Molly around as his arm piece in another man’s bought dress or not because none other than the man, Be-Bop Benny and his quartet, Benny (Benny Bartlett) from his old corner boy days, who looked like he and his crew were ready to break out, break out big in the emerging swing bing, bang, bing jazz night, maybe like the Count or the Duke, were playing the house that night and he needed to show he fit in, fit in nicely with the new be-bop, with the hip. So reefer loaded, feeling a little mellow as he sat down at the front table Benny had reserved for him, ordering some high-shelf liquor, a bottle, as befit the occasion Slim for once felt that old time corner boy king of the hill walking daddy feeling that he used to feel around 125th Street. And the night, really the night and the next morning because he and Molly stayed after hours when Benny and other guys from around town after finishing their money gigs for the Mayfair swells and that crowd came by to really blast, worked out just that way. He was beat, beat to hell and back and slept most of the Sunday away.

Come Monday morning, early, in a different suit, the green khaki uniform, complete with his Sam Walker name in white label above the shirt pocket, of the Barclay Cleaning Company, taking the old A-train to work he thought about the day ahead, the long day ahead, and about how his supervisor, Harry, would probably yell to him for the millionth time “Did you clean that women’s toilet on the fifth floor?” or something like that. Jesus.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Once Again….Then-With The Carver High School Class of 1962 In Mind  


From The Pen Of Frank Jackman


Jack Dawson as he prepared to get ready for his 50th high school class reunion (or rather prepared to think about going to the event) in the early days of January, 2012 wondered out loud to his old friend Josh Breslin, a guy from Olde Saco whom he had met out in the California great blue-pink American West night back in the mid-1960s after he had graduated from high school himself, whether their parents or grandparents had in their 50th anniversary times wondered, wondered out loud about all the changes, social changes that had taken place in their lifetimes. Since for both men that was a moot question as both sets of parents and grandparents had long gone to earth they could only speculate. Josh thought that his own Irish-French-Canadian (mother nee LeBlanc) parents and before them his F-C grandparents (he never met his paternal grandparents) pretty much acted like social change was a social disease and kept to the various old country ways (and old America ways too). Maybe, Josh thought, it had to do with the isolated existences in mill-towns, both Olde Saco and Carver being such worn-out towns, working hard and keeping their own counsel (no “airing dirty linen in public” the order of the day) and that particular Catholic fatalism which they were both exposed to as kids that attached to everything and drove both men crazy when they were trying to jail-break out of the old time mold.         

One night over high-shelf scotches, gone were the days of heavy drug use which got them acquainted back in the day and prior to that cheap low-shelf whiskies and lower shelf rotgut wines, in the Sunnyvale Grille in downtown Olde Saco across from the famous Jimmy Jack’s Diner on Main Street they decided to play a game about the changes they could recall from back then. First off was the change in attitude toward drugs which back then were seen as the province of dead-beat junkies and odd-ball New York hipsters (read jazz musicians, read black people). They had to laugh when Jack said they probably ingested more drugs all the “beats” combined. Another was the change from fag-baiting guys who seemed girlish and dyke-baiting once they had understood the idea of different strokes for different (none of their forebears would have understood the whole gay marriage phenomenon). Josh mentioned attitudes toward cigarettes, especially since that was “cool” in searching for girls and both having been long-time heavy smokers who had only quit after many tries shook their heads at that idea. Of course the whole thing with women (then girls) had gone topsy-turvy with woman now in professions like the law and medicine that were unheard of and while both their mothers had worked (in the respective town mills) and so had been working Moms that was a necessity then to keep the families afloat and had been the cause of many caustic comments by guys whose mothers did not work, did not need to work.

Jack and Josh went on that way for a while until they ran out of broad-based big ticket social subjects to think about, ran out of  booze too as the hour got late and Jimmy the bartender wanted to close up. So as they walked up the street to Josh’s house about ten blocks away they started on the silly stuff. Stuff in high school like why did the boys and girls have separate gym classes, why were there separate sex bowling teams for Christ sake. Why girls could not run track like they had done (before that “cool” smoking stuff shifted their priorities). Why girls could only play half-court basketball. Big question: why even on a friendly date was the guy, them, poor as church mice guys, supposed to pay for everything and “dutch treat” was considered bad form, very bad form even when the girls had plenty of dough. It went on like that until they got to Josh’s house and then they having exhausted the subject started talking about whether Jack was going to his class reunion. Yeah, there was plenty of wondering going on that night, wondering too about whether when their kids were getting ready for their 50th anniversary high school class reunions they would be wondering about their what their respective fathers made of their times.

[In the event Jack Dawson decided for a host of good reasons not to go to his class reunion which really is a story for another day. Josh, Class of 1965, is still up in the air about the question from last report.]

On His Majesty’s Secret Service-Rex Harrison’s Night Train To Munich  

DVD Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman


Night Train To Munich, starring Rex Harrison, 1940


Yes His Majesty’s Secret Service is right in the title as this film’s story line takes place under Queen Elizabeth II’s father, George, the one who determinedly overcame stuttering problem. One can be forgiven though for thinking there had been an error since the dear queen has reigned as the British monarch forever since for the vast majority of humankind know no other living English monarch. Along with the endless tales of her reckless and tiresome progeny which are gist for the tabloids and 24/7/365 media outlets with nothing serious to talk about.

In any case this film, Night Train To Munich, is a mock serious take on the British secret service in wartime, that wartime for those keeping tabs being the early stages of World War II when Mother England had her hands full trying to hold back the Nazi onslaught before it landed right on right on her doorstep, Munich appeasement or not. So as the film moves along we get a demonstration in a half-comic way of the British good old boys secret service which had been keen to grab anybody who could help their cause, and failing that keeping those who could help especially with weapons development out of the Nazis clutches.  

And that turns out to be the premise the plotline of this film works under. After Czechoslovakia was devoured by the Germans one of their key weapons developers escaped to England as the troops marched into Prague. Unfortunately leaving a daughter (played by Margaret Lockwood) behind who winds up in a concentration camp. And winds up escaping from that camp under an insidious German plan to use her as a foil to get to her father by using an SS man as a fellow convict. (That SS man played by Paul Hernreid last seen playing the freedom-fighter Victor Lazlo in the film Casablanca, go figure.)  Well, the German plan worked, for a while, as the scientist was spirited out of England and to Germany. Things looked tough for the benighted British, the spunky scientist, and the fetching daughter (that last part to come in handy later when the boy meets girl part gets heated up).

But here is where the good old boy British secret service network comes in and saves the day. Dickie/Guy played by Rex Harrison is brought in to lure the scientist back from the Germans by impersonating a high German officer full of chutzpah (not very well with that high British accent so we have to suspend a lot of disbelief). And the train part. Well the whole thing revolves around getting the scientist off the train to Munich and by one means or another to neutral Switzerland. Naturally there is much derring-do including a final shoot-out with that pursuing SS officer who originally kidnapped the scientist to put paid to his treachery. I am sure Kim Philby got a kick out of this one.

Oh yeah, to top things off Dickie/Gus/Rex gets the girl-you know like I already told you that had to be part of the mix so I thought I would just let you know in case you were wondering about a romantic interest for Rex (who at one time was voted the “sexiest” man in the world so that daughter had to be fetching).