Sunday, May 31, 2015

Out In The 1950s Be-Bop Night- Josh Breslin Comes Of Age- Kind Of

 

From The Pen Of Sam Lowell

 

One night, not late, not late since his time clock had switched over the long years from going to bed at five in the morning to getting up at that hour, Bart Webber, an old friend of Josh Breslin’s out of the blue began thinking about a story that Josh had told him (and others) one night around a campfire out in the California high desert near Joshua Tree the first time they had travelled together along with the late Peter Paul Markin on the long cross-country hitchhike road. That hitchhike road influenced by getting caught up in the tail end of the “king of the beats” Jack Kerouac’s on the road sagas (physically, spiritually and emotionally but don’t use those words around Bart, or Josh for that matter, since you will get nothing but side glance sneers for your efforts) and the first stirring of the yellow brick road “on the bus” mantra put forth by new age guy Ken Kesey and his merry pranksters (also physically, spiritually and emotionally but don’t use those words around Bart, or Josh for that matter, since you will get nothing but side glance sneers for your efforts).

 

Bart had been, as befits an elder of this world, thinking more lately about those youthful days when everything good physically, spiritually and emotionally had seemed in front of them (remember don’t you use those words if you don’t want the Carver or Olde Saco corner boy version of the big chill), and everything seemed possible. Added to this memory lane trip a story that his granddaughter, Amanda, had told him about her much more recent coming of age first date with some young guy in middle school [known to him in his day as junior high but they are both the same hormonally-charged, mind-boggling, heart-breaking institutions not one whit more forgiving today than in his day] that got the floodgates of past time remembrances flowing.

 

Of course, Bart and all the guys who had survived to tell tales had the name Peter Paul Markin uppermost in their minds these days as the fortieth anniversary of his disappearance came on the horizon when they would meet to toss down a few at Jimmy Higgin’s Tavern in Plymouth next to the town where they all grew up, Carver about thirty some miles south of Boston. All had grown up in that town except Josh who hailed from Olde Saco up in Maine, a guy whom Markin had met on his first trip out to the West, met out in San Francisco when Markin was “on the bus,” on Captain Crunch’s converted yellow brick road school bus roaming up and down the coast looking, well, looking for the way out of whatever ailed them (and society for they were very idealistic and na├»ve as well) and Josh had stopped at the psychedelically-inscribed bus and had asked the first “dude” he ran into [dude a term of usage well before it was made “cool” popular by actor Jeff Bridges] ran into, Markin as it turned out, and asked for some weed [marijuana], the high times symbol of the early part of the 1960s jail break. (Josh’s words had actually been “anybody got any spare dope, a spare joint for a weary traveler, for a seeker of truth.”  Yeah, the times were like that, at least in some minds.) Markin had flipped him a joint, a book of matches, and a high five revolutionary brotherhood handshake greeting popular at the time among the politico brethren, saying “don’t bogart that joint [meaning don’t waste one milligram, no, not one nano-gram a word not in ready useage at the time by correct, of that precious elixir and save anything that could not be reasonably smoked in that joint for the next one that was rolled] and that started a relationship that lasted until Markin fell off the face of the earth in the mid-1970s. Fell off the earth and has still been high holy moaned about to this day. Markin when he had come back to Carver from the West Coast on one of his periodic returns then brought Josh back and that is where they had all met and bonded (the old time working-class ethos of Carver and Olde Saco which they all grew up imbibing being very much the same in both locations). A few months later they all went west together on that same hitchhike road and that trip is where Josh told Bart (and others) around that campfire his coming of age story.

 

In those days Josh slightly older than Markin, Bart and the Carver boys had kept body and soul alive by some free-lance writing for the proliferating alternative journals, newspapers and broadsheets of the time. [It seemed like every week a new paper would rear its head, make some waves, and then either fold or get fused with another paper until in the end they all, except iconic vehicles like Rolling Stone and the Village Voice, went to ground as the writers moved back to the bourgeois press [Josh’s term] or the dwindling readership for such materials told the tale to abandon ship.] He was particularly in demand for a time for his reviews of music, in those day records, small and large, singles and long-playing, and concerts, mostly rock concerts. Of course the only music that the Carver boys were interested in was rock and subsequently when that music made its minute splash, acid-etched rock but Josh as it turned out was very keen on the whole American songbook and later would make a certain reputation on that score. So when, and maybe particularly when he was “on the bus” and high as a kite on bennies or something Josh would be writing a mile a minute.

 

The night that he told Bart his story he had been working on reviewing an album, a retro 1950s rock album compilation which had had in contrast to the more recent flaming artwork that had increasingly inspired acid-etched rock albums a black and white family album-style photograph that graced the cover. That now golden age (ouch!) of rock and roll album glanced by Josh at in some cheapo retro record store in the Fillmore district where there was probably a record store of some type on every corner to meet the demand of the young crowds flowing into that place [its most famous, or infamous street names, Haight-Ashbury evoking even now fond memories of high times among the brethren and rage and rapine among the death-dealers who wanted to have every hippie executed or worse). For the young or the forgetful records were, oh hell, it would be really too hard to explain why we bothered with such an odd-ball way to listen to our music, jesus, on 45 RPMs only one song at a time on each side of the platter [slang for record, okay]. Look it up on Wikipedia like everything else from olden times, ah, that is everything before last week.

 

On this album Josh was talking about the viewer was treated to a photograph of a well-groomed boy and girl, teenagers of course, who else would listen to rock and roll in the be-bop 1950s night. (The “beats,” you know high priest Kerouac, shamanic Ginsberg, demon Burroughs and their crowd who slightly touched the “hippies” were serious Monk/Parker/Gillespie “cool” jazz freaks so those emulating the beats with their berets, black outfits and midnight sunglasses were not who were being pictured in that album but rather perhaps their older brothers and sisters.) They are indeed well-groomed he with a sports jacket, white shirt, tie and black chino pants(probably bought at Robert Hall’s a well-known national clothing chain store that catered to providing cheaper formal goods to the sons of poor and working-class families. The mere mention of that old time name brought laughter from the males who all were very familiar with the ritual of the first sports coat mothers forced on them which were either ill-filling, made of bizarre fabric, or looked like an item only a mother would think was “cool.” Maybe all three.) She with her first party dress, a frilly girly thing and nylons with matching shoes (probably bought at Filene’s or Macy’s but not ill-fitting or anything like that since no self-respecting girl would allow her mother to foist such an item off on her). The young women around the campfire did laugh when Josh brought up the issue of “falsies,” the attempt, the futile and potentially embarrassing attempt if things sagged or fell out to “enhance” their breasts with toilet paper or napkins or some such in their training bras). They, boy and girl, each in their own happiness, awkwardness, sweaty-handed-ness, worried about “b. o.” [body odor], mouth breathe worlds, from the look of the photograph were trying to “connect” by carefully perusing the pile of records that were stacked in front of that vintage RCA record-player (same advice for the clueless on this item as on records-go to Wikipedia asap).        

 

But see just then every parent, every square parent, and they were legion, almost universal, who had just gotten used to the idea that the “beat” manner and style of the older brothers and sisters would not sent the world, their world to hell in a handbasket were fitting themselves up to be tied if they had any sense at all were banning, confiscating, burning, or otherwise destroying every record, 45 RPM or long-playing, that came through the front door with junior and missy. Reason? Said rock ‘n’ roll led to communistic thoughts (turning Junior and Missy into brain-washed zombies of Moscow or Peking [sic] body –snatchers it was never clear which in the days before the big split between the Communist behemoths but probably the nuclear-savvy Soviets  ready to do serious harm to the American way of life without a murmur, without mercy too to hear it told in that red scare Cold War executive the traitor Jewish Rosenbergs and all the heathens too night), youth tribal hanging together (to the exclusion, no, to the denials of the existence of, parents with their transfixed transistor radios glued to their ears, clueless again look at Wikipedia), bad teeth(soon among the middle class and other upwardly mobile types to make some dentists very rich creating Ipana smiled children), acne(never really conquered and always the cutting point in the boy-girl universe), brain-death (from too much television, radio, or just bewildered staring into space, or most dreaded the “s” word, s-x, maybe the most dreaded of all the nightmare scenarios in that pre-“Pill” time with every parent sworn to secrecy by church no matter he denomination and politician no matter the party like the mere mention of the word would wreak havoc on   gentile society. Jesus, no, double Jesus. 

 

Of course Josh Breslin an aspiring writer then saw his “hook,” saw that Rosetta Stone photograph could provide a snapshot of what Josh’s own first date was like. So Josh told those who were around the campfire in the high desert night to think back to their own introductions to rock and roll, leave the world of parents behind and concentrate on the couple in the photo. Call them, the couple, Josh Breslin, and his date, his first date, his first date ever, Julie Dubois, who were just then looking spiffy if uncomfortable for all the reasons mentioned above and were emphatically not shuffling the records for show at the practiced eye whim of some besotted record producer trying to create his or her own “hook” to the nostalgic 1960s crowd looking back those few years to their innocent coming of age times but looking to see if Earth Angel by the Penguins was in the stack to chase away the awkwardness both were feeling on this first date. It turned out that both of them were  crazy about that platter so they were reaching way back in their respective young minds' recesses to come up with every arcane fact they knew about the song, the group, how it was produced, anything to get through that next few moments until the next dance started.

 

Now Josh said he always thought he was cool as kid even in that hellish junior high school night, at least cool when he was dealing with his corner boy boys that hung out in front of Mama Leclerc’s Pizza Parlor on Main Street up in Olde Saco, that’s up in Maine if you don’t remember (but also remember this could have been anywhere USA then in an age before mall rats when every guy who was not a loser had his boys to protect him, but mainly to hang out on those tough girl-less, dough-less, car-less nights when other guys in the same boat provided an audience for dreams, for thoughts of the great jail-break from whatever the town did not provide). That Mama’s pizza parlor on that corner was by tradition then given over to a new crop of guys once the previous junior high hangers-outers moved up to Johnny’ Roadside Diner in high school (with girls, guys with cars and a jukebox to die for to tell one and all you had arrived). And now too according to Josh although the place has changed hands several times since then and the cops tend to harass the kids more now since the owners are not happy to have a bunch of wise-ass guys hanging around when young families come in for their give-Ma-a-break pizza night.

 

But this girl thing, pretty or not, and Julie was very pretty, getting Josh worked up or not (actually forget that “or not” part he was worked up, okay) was a lot harder than it looked, once he had exhausted every possible fact about Earth Angel and then had to reach way back in his mind’s recesses again when he tried to do the same for The Clover’s version of Blue Velvet. No sale, Julie didn’t like that one; she smirked, not dreamy enough, meaning more sappy, more for elementary school girls to get all weepy over not for the likes of her to have a guy’s shoulder to rest her face on (she would not give Josh the full explanation until later but that was what she was thinking behind that smirk. Then ditto, naturally, since Josh had felt snubbed trying to almost painfully reach down for what he thought was a surefire girl-winning song when, Julie, seriously trying to hold up her end went on and on about Elvis’ Blue Moon cover. No sale, no way, no dice, too country bumpkin boy sailing under the starry night in some goof movie a girl had asked him to take her to at the Alhambra Theater, said Josh to himself and then to Julie since they had vowed, like some mystical rite of passage passed down from eternal teenager-ness, be candid with each other. (That candor had it limits, its very circumscribed limits, since candor was not a characteristic high on any teen-agers list except that prevailing wisdom deemed it necessary in the boy-girl night to show you have the capacity to show it in the interest of moving things along and in showing you had some gravitas, Jesus, once again.) Finally, Julie’s shuffling through the platters produced The Turban’s When You Dance and things got better. Yes, this was one tough night, one tough first date, first date ever night.

 

After that seemingly futile bout Josh began to think maybe the whole thing was ill-fated from the beginning. Josh’s friend, maybe best friend, at Olde Saco Junior High, Rene Leblanc, was having his fourteenth birthday party, a party that his mother, as mothers will, insisted on being a big deal. Big deal being Rene inviting boys and girls, nice boys and girls, dressed in suits (remember sweet mother’s choices), or at least jackets and ties (boys), and party dresses (girls, and remember the big nix on mother’s choices something out of the 1920s Jazz Age or some time like that) and matched-up (one boy, one girl as befitted the times). Josh had said recently to Bart over drinks that he would not have known what Mrs. Leblanc would have made of today’s same-sex arrangements probably would have called out high heaven’s damnation, the Gaullic Roman Church’s damnation against the sins that dare not speak their name. For that matter Josh would have at that time fag-dyke baited the hell out of any such relationship that came through the door just like he did down at Olde Saco Beach when the fags hung out at Billy’s Bad Boy Tavern where the placid gay bikers, not Hell’s Angels-types but limp-wristed motorcycle clubbers, from Quebec would hang in summer.

 

Mrs. Leblanc was clueless that such square get-ups and social arrangements in the be-bop teen night would “cramp” every rocking boy and girl that Rene (or Josh) knew. But the hardest part was that Josh, truth, had never had a boy-girl party date (meaning “petting” might be on the agenda if he played his cards right and did not screw everything up by being too candid) and so therefore had no girl to bring to Rene’s party. And that is where Julie, Rene’s cousin from over in Ocean City, came in. She, as it turned out, had never had a girl-boy date. And since when Mrs. Leblanc with Rene in tow picked Josh up on party night and then went over to Ocean City for Julie, introduced them, and there was no love at first sight clang although she no question pretty but seemed to angelic, too ethereal, Josh figured that this was to be one long, long night.

 

So the couple, the nervous couple, nervous now because the end of the stack was being reached when mercifully Marvin and Johnny’s Cherry Pie came up, both declared thumbs up, both let out a simultaneous spontaneous laugh. And the reason for that spontaneous laugh, as they were both eager to explain in order to have no hurt feelings, was that Josh had asked Julie if she was having a good time and she said, well, yes just before they hit Cherry Pie pay-dirt. Just then Rene came over and shouted over the song being played on the record player, The Moonglow’s Sincerely, “Why don’t you two dance instead of just standing there looking goofy?” And they both laughed again, as they hit the dance floor, this time with no explanations necessary as Julie almost immediately rested her head on that Josh shoulder. The night turned out not so bad after all. The “petting” well Josh even in his drug high “truth is beautiful” phase out in the high desert left his listeners to figure that out for themselves.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

On The 103rd Anniversary Of The Great IWW-led Lawrence Textile Strike Of 1912-Reflections In A Wobblie Wind

 

From The Pen Of Sam Lowell

 

One night Bart Webber, the now retired master print shop operator in Carver who made his mark in the business by early on in the 1960s counter-cultural explosion hiring a silkscreen artist to take advantage of craze for emblazoned posters and tee-shirts, and Frank Jackman who provided Bart with plenty of such business after taking his first trip west with the late Peter Paul Markin from up the road in North Adamsville and telling Bart of the craze for such materials out in Golden Gate San Francisco when he came back were cutting up old touches at Jack Higgin’s Sunnyvale Grille in Plymouth. Since Bart and Frank had reconnected several years before via the “magic” of the Internet when they were both seeking information about an upcoming class reunion they periodically, sometimes just the two of them, sometimes with Frankie Riley, Jimmy Jenkins, or Johnny Callahan, would gather together and discuss old times, or if in a philosophical or political mood attempt to figure out what all that meant.

Back in the 1960s, the earlier part of that decade at least neither Bart nor Frank were all that political, were not ready to slay the dragon, and had both gravitated to the musical, sexual and dope end of what was going on at the time. It was only later in the decade after one of their hang around boys from high school, quiet Billy Badger, was killed during the Vietnam War in some jungle outpost whose name they still could not pronounce correctly that they began to go to the anti-war marches and take part in various acts of civil disobedience by sitting in at draft boards, including the hometown Carver one, blocking government buildings and stopping traffic to make political points, stuff like that. They had both been arrested and held for several days in a football stadium (then RFK Stadium) during the great if doomed May Day action in Washington, D.C. in 1971 when they tried, futilely tried, along with thousands of others to shut down the government, a government which had no intention of ending the war. That dramatic action was something of a last hurrah for the pair as they both agreed afterward that something more than a symbolic street action where they were easily defeated by the massed arms of the state was necessary to change the way the business of government was done in this country.

During this short few year activist period though they had also read a lot, been caught up in left-wing reader circles, had read significant labor and left-wing history including plenty of Marxist-tinged material that was something of the flavor of the month at one point once all the student-centered actions proved to come up empty and the pair had picked their villains and heroes accordingly. And although they both forsook political activism as the seventies brought quiet on the left-wing political fronts and they went back to Carver “normal”, Bart to amp up his commercial printing operation once the silk screen craze died down in order to provide for his growing family and Frank to editorial work with a small commercial publishing house, they separately had kept up an interest on what went right and wrong back then as the years went by. So it would not be out of character at one of their gatherings for anybody to comment on almost anything political whether they were going to do anything about the matter or not.

This one night in particular Bart had gotten on his “high horse” about the odd-ball commemoration craze that had kind of snuck up on everybody with the advent of 24/7/365 media coverage of events and the need to “fill in” the time on slow news days or periods with hype, bells and whistles and the appropriate “talking heads” to explain what it meant to a candid world, or better an indifferent world. What Bart had meant by this reference was that unlike in the old days when there was a certain order to anniversary dates like five, ten, twenty-five, fifty and so on observances now there were odd-ball ones like the thirtieth this or fortieth that. The reason that Bart had brought that subject up that particular night was that he had recently seen and heard a jumble of coverage about the fortieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon [now Ho Chi Minh City] and the thirty-fifth anniversary of the release of Dave Sargent’s masterful song, Don’t Rock The Boat. Frank, in response, challenged Bart on this point although he acknowledged that the craze existed, was something of a media and social networking contrived firestorm, and that far too many events were getting odd-ball year recognition. Frank, remembering as he had to in his later jobs on the editorial staffs of publishing houses, the Verve Left Publishing Co in particular, which inclined to publish left-wing book and academic studies and to republish classics of major works on their sometimes odd-ball years, that certain events fell outside of the normal anniversary cycles they had known from childhood. To make his point Frank mentioned that the recent 144th anniversary of the establishment of the Paris Commune in 1871, the first working-class in power government, if short-lived, in history, the upcoming 98th anniversary of the October Revolution in Russia in 1917, although since 1991 a major world working-class defeat with the demise of the Soviet Union and the 103rd anniversary of the great IWW-led (Industrial Workers of the World, Wobblies) “Bread and Roses” strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912 one of the great strikes of the pre-World War One world all fit into his exceptional category.                               

Now you have to know the long-time one-upsmanship characteristic that had been a part of the relationship between Frank and Bart since early high school which the years apart had not diminished to know that once Frank created the exceptions Bart would challenge him on such assertions. [And not just that pair, the whole hang-around Jimmy Jack’s Diner on Main Street gang, Frankie Riley in particular who had made it an art-form, on lonely girl-less, car-less, dough-less weekend nights, and almost any night in summer almost made a “religion” of one-upping even if a guy said a color was brown and another guy would “correct” him and say beige.]  Bart had no quarrel with the commemoration of the Paris Commune which in his funny now very middle-class and prosperous way said could be celebrated yearly since the leadership of that government such as it was didn’t exclude anybody but known counter-revolutionaries, spies, and thieves from participation and he had been to Paris and had taken part in the annual commemoration in the late 1970s. Bart also said he could see why there would have been an annual commemoration of the Russian Revolution while the Soviet Union existed even if he personally was still in thrall to the red scare Cold War anti-Stalinist ethos of his, his family’s, his town’s and his country’s attitudes toward that event but he would be damned why anybody would do so once the whole Potemkin Village edifice fell apart at the first serious wind in 1991. [Frank less in thrall to that Cold War ethos did an end around on Bart and reminded him that in 1972 just as they were getting wary of the political they had both attended, both had wanted to attend the fifty-fifth anniversary commemoration of the revolution put on by the Soviet-American Friendship Association which in turn brought Bart back to the point that at least there had been an actual dysfunctional society to pay homage to.] What really befuddled Bart though was about the Lawrence strike of 1912 which while important in Wobblie history and left-wing trade union history didn’t seem to merit special odd-ball anniversary status any more than the great general strikes in 1934 in Toledo, Minneapolis and San Francisco which had a couple of years before been correctly honored on their seventy-fifth anniversaries.

Needless to say despite a few hours back and forth that night, despite a few too many high-shelf whiskies consumed too quickly as they got a little hot under their respective collars Frank later when he thought about what Bart had said decided to write a little something to argue for the great strike’s inclusion in the exception category. Here is what he had to say: 

 

“Every kid who has had wanderlust, even just a starry little, little bit on his or her way to the big bad world had said “bread and roses” under his or her breathe (and not just shop-worn shop girls drawing insufficient pay to buy bread let alone roses while waiting for some immigrant young man from their respective immigrant communities to sweep them off their feet and move them into married bliss in some cozy triple-decker close to the mighty Merrimac and from there who knew where in gilded golden age America). Meaning every half-starved (brought up on baloney sandwiches, grey clumpy oatmeal, and flatulent baked beans and franks), ill-clothed (older brother hand-me-down, too big, too long, too last year or the year before fashion, worse, Mother-selected at the local Bargain Center, home to all the train wreaks of 1950s fashions), hard-scrabble kid (hustling dough here and there collecting bottles, selling newspapers trying to out-hustle the crippled “newsie” down the block, a go at the Mayfair swells caddying at the country club, pearl-diving [washing dishes], and if worse came to worse, even later on the midnight creep, hit Ma’s  pocketbook for change), memory Carver kids too, reduced to life in walking paces (no automobile, no father automobile in trade in every three years prosperous America), footsore (those raggedy-assed Thom McAn’s bought for Easter time well-worn by summer’s end after walking what seemed like half the continent), time-lost sore (self-explanatory), endless bus waiting sore (walking half that half the continent rather than hoping against hope for that privately run solo Eastern Mass to come with its surly driver), and not the speed, the “boss” hi-blown ’57 gilded cherry red Chevy speed of the 20th century go-go (and, hell, not even close in the 21st century speedo Audi super go-go) itching, itching like crazy, like feverish night sweats crazy, to bust out of the small, no, tiny, four-square wall “the project” existence and have a room, a big room, of his or her own (shared dream with that shop-worn shop girl, and that crippled newsie too).

Meaning also every day-dream kid doodling his or her small-sized dream away looking out at forlorn white foam-flecked, grey-granite ocean expanses (the ocean trains catering to Mayfair swells and not to pensive walk tow-headed boys), crashing, crashing if that is the right word to tepid waiting shores),flat brown-yellow, hell, beyond brown-yellow to hate all such earthen colors to some evil muck prairie home expanses (and desires not to stay put in the center of nowhere), up ice cold, ice blue, beyond blue rocky mountain high expanses and stuck(winter stuck, light jacket against snow-bound white howls). Just plain, ordinary, vanilla stuck in the 1950s (or name your very own generational signifier, hell, go back to that turn of the century, 20th century and you will still not be far off, double hell go forward to the 21st century and if you believe the “talking heads you most certainly will not be far off) red scare, cold war, maybe we won’t be here tomorrow, one size fits all, death to be-bop non-be-bop night. Yah, just plain, ordinary, vanilla stuck. What other way is there to say it?

And every kid who dreamed the dream of the great jail break-out of dark, dank, deathic bourgeois family around the square, very square, table life and unnamed, maybe un-namable, teen hormonal craziness itching, just itching that’s all. Waiting, waiting infinity waiting, kid infinity waiting, for the echo rebound be-bop middle of the night sound of mad monk rock walking daddies from far away radio planets, and an occasional momma too, to ease the pain, to show the way, hell, to dance the way away. Down the road to break out of the large four-square wall suburban existence, complete with Spot dog, and have some breathe, some asphalt highway not traveled, some Jersey turnpike of the mind not traveled, of his or her own.

Meaning also, just in case it was not mentioned before, every day-dream kid, small roomed or large, doodling, silly doodling to tell the truth, his or her dream away looking out at fetid seashores next to ocean expanses, corn-fed fields next to prairie home expanses, blasted human-handed rocks up rocky mountain high expanses and stuck. Just plain, ordinary, vanilla stuck in the 1950s (oh, yah, just name your generational signifier, okay) red scare, cold war, maybe we won’t be here tomorrow, one size fits all, death to be-bop non-be-bop night. Yah, just plain, ordinary, vanilla stuck. What other way is there to say it?

And every guy or gal who has been down on their luck a little. Like maybe he or she just couldn’t jump out of that “the projects” rut, couldn’t jump that hoop when somebody just a little higher up in the food chain laughed at those ill-fitted clothes, those stripped cuffed pants one size too large when black chinos, uncuffed, were called for. Or when stuffed bologna sandwiches, no mustard, had to serve to still some hunger, some ever present hunger. Or just got caught holding some wrong thing, some non-descript bauble really, or just had to sell their thing for their daily bread and got tired, no, weary, weary-tired weary, of looking at those next to ocean, prairie, rocky mountain expanses. Or, maybe, came across some wrong gee, some bad-ass drifter, grifter or midnight sifter and had to flee. Yah, crap like that happens, happens all the time in “the projects” time. And split, split in two, maybe more, split west I hope.

And every guy or gal who has slept, newspaper, crushed hat, or folded hands for a pillow, all worldly possessions in some ground found Safeway shopping bag along some torrent running river, under some hide-away bridge, off some arroyo spill, hell, anywhere not noticed and safe, minute safe, from prying, greedy evil hands. Worst, the law. Or, half-dazed smelling of public toilet soap and urinals, half-dozing on some hard shell plastic seat avoiding maddened human this way and that traffic noises and law prodding keep movings and you can’t stay heres in some wayward Winnemucca, Roseburg, Gilroy, Paseo, El Paso, Neola, the names are legion, Greyhound, Continental, Trailways bus station. Or sitting by campfires, chicken scratch firewood, flame-flecked, shadow canyon boomer, eating slop stews, olio really, in some track-side hobo jungle waiting, day and day waiting, bindle ready, for some Southern Pacific or Denver and Rio Grande bull-free freight train smoke to move on.

Hell, everybody, not just lonely hard- luck project boys, wrong, dead wrong girls, wronged, badly wronged, girls, wise guy guys who got caught short, wrong gees on the run, right gees on the run from some shadow past, drifters, grifters and midnight sifters, society boys on a spree, debutantes out for a thrill, and just plain ordinary vanilla day-dreamers who just wanted to be free from the chains of the nine to five white picket fence work forty years and get your gold watch (if that) retirement capitalist system was (and, maybe, secretly is) an old Wobblie at heart. Yah, just like one-eyed Big Bill (Haywood who loved his Nevada Jane according to the lore), Jim Cannon, the Rebel Girl (Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, later that stalwart Stalinist that every red fearing young Carver boy crawled away from), Joe Hill (executed out in the Utahs, Frank Little (ditto private posse Montana), Vincent Saint John (the “Saint” who held it all together in those tough times around World War I when it counted, and me. Yah, all the one big union boys and girls from way back, just to name a few.

Except when you need to take on the big issues, the life and death struggle to keep our unions against the capitalist onslaught to reduce us to chattel, the anti-war wars giving the self-same imperialists not one penny nor one person for their infernal wars as they deface the world, the class wars where they take no prisoners, none, then you need something more. Something more that childish child’s dreams, hobo camp freedom fireside smoke, or Rio Grande train white flume smoke. That is when day dreaming gets you cut up. That is when you need to stay in one place and fight. That is when you need more than what our beloved old free-wheeling wobblie dream could provide. And that is a fact, a hard fact, sisters and brothers.

If that coming up short against the monster back in the day doesn’t deserve full yearly recognition from one Bartlett Webber then nothing more I can say to give him the spirit of the commemoration will do it.”

On The 103rd Anniversary Of The Great IWW-led Lawrence Textile Strike Of 1912-Reflections In A Wobblie Wind

 

From The Pen Of Sam Lowell

 

One night Bart Webber, the now retired master print shop operator in Carver who made his mark in the business by early on in the 1960s counter-cultural explosion hiring a silkscreen artist to take advantage of craze for emblazoned posters and tee-shirts, and Frank Jackman who provided Bart with plenty of such business after taking his first trip west with the late Peter Paul Markin from up the road in North Adamsville and telling Bart of the craze for such materials out in Golden Gate San Francisco when he came back were cutting up old touches at Jack Higgin’s Sunnyvale Grille in Plymouth. Since Bart and Frank had reconnected several years before via the “magic” of the Internet when they were both seeking information about an upcoming class reunion they periodically, sometimes just the two of them, sometimes with Frankie Riley, Jimmy Jenkins, or Johnny Callahan, would gather together and discuss old times, or if in a philosophical or political mood attempt to figure out what all that meant.

Back in the 1960s, the earlier part of that decade at least neither Bart nor Frank were all that political, were not ready to slay the dragon, and had both gravitated to the musical, sexual and dope end of what was going on at the time. It was only later in the decade after one of their hang around boys from high school, quiet Billy Badger, was killed during the Vietnam War in some jungle outpost whose name they still could not pronounce correctly that they began to go to the anti-war marches and take part in various acts of civil disobedience by sitting in at draft boards, including the hometown Carver one, blocking government buildings and stopping traffic to make political points, stuff like that. They had both been arrested and held for several days in a football stadium (then RFK Stadium) during the great if doomed May Day action in Washington, D.C. in 1971 when they tried, futilely tried, along with thousands of others to shut down the government, a government which had no intention of ending the war. That dramatic action was something of a last hurrah for the pair as they both agreed afterward that something more than a symbolic street action where they were easily defeated by the massed arms of the state was necessary to change the way the business of government was done in this country.

During this short few year activist period though they had also read a lot, been caught up in left-wing reader circles, had read significant labor and left-wing history including plenty of Marxist-tinged material that was something of the flavor of the month at one point once all the student-centered actions proved to come up empty and the pair had picked their villains and heroes accordingly. And although they both forsook political activism as the seventies brought quiet on the left-wing political fronts and they went back to Carver “normal”, Bart to amp up his commercial printing operation once the silk screen craze died down in order to provide for his growing family and Frank to editorial work with a small commercial publishing house, they separately had kept up an interest on what went right and wrong back then as the years went by. So it would not be out of character at one of their gatherings for anybody to comment on almost anything political whether they were going to do anything about the matter or not.

This one night in particular Bart had gotten on his “high horse” about the odd-ball commemoration craze that had kind of snuck up on everybody with the advent of 24/7/365 media coverage of events and the need to “fill in” the time on slow news days or periods with hype, bells and whistles and the appropriate “talking heads” to explain what it meant to a candid world, or better an indifferent world. What Bart had meant by this reference was that unlike in the old days when there was a certain order to anniversary dates like five, ten, twenty-five, fifty and so on observances now there were odd-ball ones like the thirtieth this or fortieth that. The reason that Bart had brought that subject up that particular night was that he had recently seen and heard a jumble of coverage about the fortieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon [now Ho Chi Minh City] and the thirty-fifth anniversary of the release of Dave Sargent’s masterful song, Don’t Rock The Boat. Frank, in response, challenged Bart on this point although he acknowledged that the craze existed, was something of a media and social networking contrived firestorm, and that far too many events were getting odd-ball year recognition. Frank, remembering as he had to in his later jobs on the editorial staffs of publishing houses, the Verve Left Publishing Co in particular, which inclined to publish left-wing book and academic studies and to republish classics of major works on their sometimes odd-ball years, that certain events fell outside of the normal anniversary cycles they had known from childhood. To make his point Frank mentioned that the recent 144th anniversary of the establishment of the Paris Commune in 1871, the first working-class in power government, if short-lived, in history, the upcoming 98th anniversary of the October Revolution in Russia in 1917, although since 1991 a major world working-class defeat with the demise of the Soviet Union and the 103rd anniversary of the great IWW-led (Industrial Workers of the World, Wobblies) “Bread and Roses” strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912 one of the great strikes of the pre-World War One world all fit into his exceptional category.                               

Now you have to know the long-time one-upsmanship characteristic that had been a part of the relationship between Frank and Bart since early high school which the years apart had not diminished to know that once Frank created the exceptions Bart would challenge him on such assertions. [And not just that pair, the whole hang-around Jimmy Jack’s Diner on Main Street gang, Frankie Riley in particular who had made it an art-form, on lonely girl-less, car-less, dough-less weekend nights, and almost any night in summer almost made a “religion” of one-upping even if a guy said a color was brown and another guy would “correct” him and say beige.]  Bart had no quarrel with the commemoration of the Paris Commune which in his funny now very middle-class and prosperous way said could be celebrated yearly since the leadership of that government such as it was didn’t exclude anybody but known counter-revolutionaries, spies, and thieves from participation and he had been to Paris and had taken part in the annual commemoration in the late 1970s. Bart also said he could see why there would have been an annual commemoration of the Russian Revolution while the Soviet Union existed even if he personally was still in thrall to the red scare Cold War anti-Stalinist ethos of his, his family’s, his town’s and his country’s attitudes toward that event but he would be damned why anybody would do so once the whole Potemkin Village edifice fell apart at the first serious wind in 1991. [Frank less in thrall to that Cold War ethos did an end around on Bart and reminded him that in 1972 just as they were getting wary of the political they had both attended, both had wanted to attend the fifty-fifth anniversary commemoration of the revolution put on by the Soviet-American Friendship Association which in turn brought Bart back to the point that at least there had been an actual dysfunctional society to pay homage to.] What really befuddled Bart though was about the Lawrence strike of 1912 which while important in Wobblie history and left-wing trade union history didn’t seem to merit special odd-ball anniversary status any more than the great general strikes in 1934 in Toledo, Minneapolis and San Francisco which had a couple of years before been correctly honored on their seventy-fifth anniversaries.

Needless to say despite a few hours back and forth that night, despite a few too many high-shelf whiskies consumed too quickly as they got a little hot under their respective collars Frank later when he thought about what Bart had said decided to write a little something to argue for the great strike’s inclusion in the exception category. Here is what he had to say: 

 

“Every kid who has had wanderlust, even just a starry little, little bit on his or her way to the big bad world had said “bread and roses” under his or her breathe (and not just shop-worn shop girls drawing insufficient pay to buy bread let alone roses while waiting for some immigrant young man from their respective immigrant communities to sweep them off their feet and move them into married bliss in some cozy triple-decker close to the mighty Merrimac and from there who knew where in gilded golden age America). Meaning every half-starved (brought up on baloney sandwiches, grey clumpy oatmeal, and flatulent baked beans and franks), ill-clothed (older brother hand-me-down, too big, too long, too last year or the year before fashion, worse, Mother-selected at the local Bargain Center, home to all the train wreaks of 1950s fashions), hard-scrabble kid (hustling dough here and there collecting bottles, selling newspapers trying to out-hustle the crippled “newsie” down the block, a go at the Mayfair swells caddying at the country club, pearl-diving [washing dishes], and if worse came to worse, even later on the midnight creep, hit Ma’s  pocketbook for change), memory Carver kids too, reduced to life in walking paces (no automobile, no father automobile in trade in every three years prosperous America), footsore (those raggedy-assed Thom McAn’s bought for Easter time well-worn by summer’s end after walking what seemed like half the continent), time-lost sore (self-explanatory), endless bus waiting sore (walking half that half the continent rather than hoping against hope for that privately run solo Eastern Mass to come with its surly driver), and not the speed, the “boss” hi-blown ’57 gilded cherry red Chevy speed of the 20th century go-go (and, hell, not even close in the 21st century speedo Audi super go-go) itching, itching like crazy, like feverish night sweats crazy, to bust out of the small, no, tiny, four-square wall “the project” existence and have a room, a big room, of his or her own (shared dream with that shop-worn shop girl, and that crippled newsie too).

Meaning also every day-dream kid doodling his or her small-sized dream away looking out at forlorn white foam-flecked, grey-granite ocean expanses (the ocean trains catering to Mayfair swells and not to pensive walk tow-headed boys), crashing, crashing if that is the right word to tepid waiting shores),flat brown-yellow, hell, beyond brown-yellow to hate all such earthen colors to some evil muck prairie home expanses (and desires not to stay put in the center of nowhere), up ice cold, ice blue, beyond blue rocky mountain high expanses and stuck(winter stuck, light jacket against snow-bound white howls). Just plain, ordinary, vanilla stuck in the 1950s (or name your very own generational signifier, hell, go back to that turn of the century, 20th century and you will still not be far off, double hell go forward to the 21st century and if you believe the “talking heads you most certainly will not be far off) red scare, cold war, maybe we won’t be here tomorrow, one size fits all, death to be-bop non-be-bop night. Yah, just plain, ordinary, vanilla stuck. What other way is there to say it?

And every kid who dreamed the dream of the great jail break-out of dark, dank, deathic bourgeois family around the square, very square, table life and unnamed, maybe un-namable, teen hormonal craziness itching, just itching that’s all. Waiting, waiting infinity waiting, kid infinity waiting, for the echo rebound be-bop middle of the night sound of mad monk rock walking daddies from far away radio planets, and an occasional momma too, to ease the pain, to show the way, hell, to dance the way away. Down the road to break out of the large four-square wall suburban existence, complete with Spot dog, and have some breathe, some asphalt highway not traveled, some Jersey turnpike of the mind not traveled, of his or her own.

Meaning also, just in case it was not mentioned before, every day-dream kid, small roomed or large, doodling, silly doodling to tell the truth, his or her dream away looking out at fetid seashores next to ocean expanses, corn-fed fields next to prairie home expanses, blasted human-handed rocks up rocky mountain high expanses and stuck. Just plain, ordinary, vanilla stuck in the 1950s (oh, yah, just name your generational signifier, okay) red scare, cold war, maybe we won’t be here tomorrow, one size fits all, death to be-bop non-be-bop night. Yah, just plain, ordinary, vanilla stuck. What other way is there to say it?

And every guy or gal who has been down on their luck a little. Like maybe he or she just couldn’t jump out of that “the projects” rut, couldn’t jump that hoop when somebody just a little higher up in the food chain laughed at those ill-fitted clothes, those stripped cuffed pants one size too large when black chinos, uncuffed, were called for. Or when stuffed bologna sandwiches, no mustard, had to serve to still some hunger, some ever present hunger. Or just got caught holding some wrong thing, some non-descript bauble really, or just had to sell their thing for their daily bread and got tired, no, weary, weary-tired weary, of looking at those next to ocean, prairie, rocky mountain expanses. Or, maybe, came across some wrong gee, some bad-ass drifter, grifter or midnight sifter and had to flee. Yah, crap like that happens, happens all the time in “the projects” time. And split, split in two, maybe more, split west I hope.

And every guy or gal who has slept, newspaper, crushed hat, or folded hands for a pillow, all worldly possessions in some ground found Safeway shopping bag along some torrent running river, under some hide-away bridge, off some arroyo spill, hell, anywhere not noticed and safe, minute safe, from prying, greedy evil hands. Worst, the law. Or, half-dazed smelling of public toilet soap and urinals, half-dozing on some hard shell plastic seat avoiding maddened human this way and that traffic noises and law prodding keep movings and you can’t stay heres in some wayward Winnemucca, Roseburg, Gilroy, Paseo, El Paso, Neola, the names are legion, Greyhound, Continental, Trailways bus station. Or sitting by campfires, chicken scratch firewood, flame-flecked, shadow canyon boomer, eating slop stews, olio really, in some track-side hobo jungle waiting, day and day waiting, bindle ready, for some Southern Pacific or Denver and Rio Grande bull-free freight train smoke to move on.

Hell, everybody, not just lonely hard- luck project boys, wrong, dead wrong girls, wronged, badly wronged, girls, wise guy guys who got caught short, wrong gees on the run, right gees on the run from some shadow past, drifters, grifters and midnight sifters, society boys on a spree, debutantes out for a thrill, and just plain ordinary vanilla day-dreamers who just wanted to be free from the chains of the nine to five white picket fence work forty years and get your gold watch (if that) retirement capitalist system was (and, maybe, secretly is) an old Wobblie at heart. Yah, just like one-eyed Big Bill (Haywood who loved his Nevada Jane according to the lore), Jim Cannon, the Rebel Girl (Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, later that stalwart Stalinist that every red fearing young Carver boy crawled away from), Joe Hill (executed out in the Utahs, Frank Little (ditto private posse Montana), Vincent Saint John (the “Saint” who held it all together in those tough times around World War I when it counted, and me. Yah, all the one big union boys and girls from way back, just to name a few.

Except when you need to take on the big issues, the life and death struggle to keep our unions against the capitalist onslaught to reduce us to chattel, the anti-war wars giving the self-same imperialists not one penny nor one person for their infernal wars as they deface the world, the class wars where they take no prisoners, none, then you need something more. Something more that childish child’s dreams, hobo camp freedom fireside smoke, or Rio Grande train white flume smoke. That is when day dreaming gets you cut up. That is when you need to stay in one place and fight. That is when you need more than what our beloved old free-wheeling wobblie dream could provide. And that is a fact, a hard fact, sisters and brothers.

If that coming up short against the monster back in the day doesn’t deserve full yearly recognition from one Bartlett Webber then nothing more I can say to give him the spirit of the commemoration will do it.”

Friday, May 29, 2015

Out In The Be-Bop 1940s Night-I’ll Get By As Long As I Have You-For Prescott And Delores Breslin






 

From The Pen Of Sam Lowell


Probably anytime was, is, a tough time for a kid, an American kid, to grow in what with his or her outlandish share of expectations about what the world had, or had not, to offer but Josh Breslin, Joshua Lawrence Breslin to give his full moniker although Josh sufficed among his friends seemed to have had more his share growing up in the hardscrabble Olde Saco, Maine 1950s while all around him others were partaking of the “Golden Age” of the American good time night. It wasn’t that others, other kids, and that was all that counted in Josh’s world then (or any kid’s when the deal went down) at least in Olde Saco, had more of the world’s goods that he did, although some did like his cousins, his mother’s sister’s children, whose father, Rene Dubois, an engineer who had taken serious advantage of the GI Bill that gave a leg up to many returning veterans in order to piggyback on the engineering skills he had first picked up in the Army’s 18th Engineers in the European Theater, had gotten in early on the big electronics boom in the post-World War II period had shaken the dust of the old town off and lived like Mayfair swells in Kennebunk with the old Yankees, swamp Yankees  who controlled the power structure of the state. That status meaning the Dubois family had arrived complete with small but homey house, the latest automobile from out of Detroit traded in every three years to show that the owners had the wherewithal to do so, and a television all paid for or close to it.

 

No, at least among his friends, at least among those who resided in the streets of Frenchtown, almost all who could trace their roots back to the old country, Quebec, who were various generations of French-Canadians, bound together by religion, Roman Catholic (although as filtered through the Gallic sauce of that religion which could be more conservative that other national churches and strangely by turn more heretical and socially progressive than Rome itself in those days), by the small villages and rural agricultural values along the blessed Saint Lawrence River from which they fled to hug the factories of upper New England where they could make a living, a decent living, and the French which united them with Mother France and all the history, arrogance and hubris that entailed, that sense that they should be showered with the plenty of the Golden Age seemed to have passed them by. A lot of it had to do with a studied indifference to getting              

too far ahead in the American lot they thrived in, a lot had to do with a studied indifference to seeing their children get ahead like their Yankee neighbors who seemed hell-bent on their kids getting more than they who grew up in the benighted Great Depression of the 1930s where their work ethos had been first fired-up and later survived the hell-fires of wanting and waiting in the rationed wartime 1940s and a studied indifference to their fate once the great textile mills that had provided much work for many during the war began their ugly trek south and out of country in search of cheaper labor. Not every French-Canadian family had succumbed to such downward mobility but enough had to have affected Josh and plenty of other Joshes growing up in the Olde Sacos of that time.

 

Josh who would later claim, not without some truth, that the 1960s counter-cultural “revolution” (we will not quibble over what that social explosion’s effect was but putting the term revolution in quotation marks accurately reflects the ambiguity of what happened, what lasted, and what the people involved in that brief movement’s moment thought happened) was the only thing that had saved him from winding up like Jean, Sean, Jacques, Lenny, Pierre La Rue, Pierre D’Amboise, and Henri LaCroix, guys who he knew in the 1950s who went off to war, to the factories in town and later down south and to the jails had been a restless feeling, something he could not put his finger on but which gnawed at him to shake the dust from his own shoes and get out of town. That has happened one day in the summer after high school when Josh decided he would head west before he went up to State U, the first in his whole frisking family going back generations who would go as far as Freshman year in college, in the fall and met up with the late Peter Paul Markin out in San Francisco in the Summer of Love, 1967 and never looked back (went west and in the process driving his father, Prescott, to one of his few rages, public rages anyway, since he had procured a job for him not without calling in a few favors in the MacAdams Textile Mills where he worked).

 

That fateful trip which actually lasted two or three years provided much literary fodder for the aspiring writer in Josh, although it alienated him from parents for about a decade until he won his first journalism award (the coveted Globe for outstanding social commentary in 1979). He would go on to write in many of the small alterative journal and magazines of the time, mostly free-lancing, before settling in to the East Bay Gazette from which he had recently retired after some thirty years on the editorial staff including several years as chief editor. That retirement had allowed him to reflect on what had happened to his crowd, his family, back in the 1950s, allowed him time to reflect on how important his late parents were in making a decent human being out of him, and of how their own dreams had been severely thwarted trying to raise five children on air. The direct catalyst for those reflections had been a trip up into his attic in his house in Cambridge where he was searching for old photographs of him and his friend Markin for a sketch he was doing on that mad man saint bastard when he found a photograph of his late mother Delores and late father Prescott at some dance they attended at the Stardust Ballroom in Old Orchard Beach during World War II, the time of their time, the sunny times before the whole world fell in on them.                   

 

That photograph brought back to mind how much his older brother Prescott, Junior, had hated to have to listen to their music as a youngster, almost like he had to hate it to create his own space, his own way in the world. That stubborn thought brought back to Josh the one day when the whole musical conflict reached a fever pitch when Prescott had exploded. Prescott not around to now to tell his part in the story having gone off the deep end and committed himself to a life on the wild side as a career criminal, armed robbery division, serving a nickel to a dime up in Shawshank just now. Josh blushed as he thought about those other recent reflections which outweighed a confused soul’s nervousness about his place, his or his damn brother’s, in the world. Oddly he could remember the episode almost word for word in his memory’s eye:    

 

 “Prescott James Breslin get your dirty hands off that wall this minute, yelled Delores Breslin (nee Leclerc), Mother Breslin to some, including the yelled at Prescott, honey, to Prescott Breslin, Senior, Father Breslin to the junior one being yelled at just this minute. Just as Mother Breslin, hell, let’s call her Delores, was getting ready for cascade rant number two aimed in Prescott, Junior’s direction wafting through the air, the radio WJDA air, came the melodious voice of Bing Crosby singing in that sweet, nuanced voice of his, Far Away Places. Their song. Their Delores and Prescott, Senior forever memory song.

Delores in a quick turn began to talk almost trance-like as she flashed back to the night in 1943 over at the Stardust Ballroom on East Grand in Old Orchard Beach that she, then a typist for the State Insurance Company right there in Olde Saco (and making good money for a single, no high maintenance girl, never a high maintenance girl, women, mother, grandmother, not in hard-nosed working class make your own way or else Olde Saco’s French Town) and Marine PFC Prescott Breslin, stationed after serious service in the Pacific wars (Guadalcanal, etc.) at the Portsmouth Naval Base met while they were playing that song on the jukebox between sets. Sets being performed by the Be-Bop Sextet, a hot, well, be-bop band that was making a national tour to boost civilian morale while the boys were off fighting. They hit it off right away, made Far Away Places their song, and prepared for a future, a joint future, once the war was over, and they could get their dream, shared dream, little white house, with or without picket fence, maybe a dog, and definitely kids, a few although they never specified a number. The perfect dream to chase the old Great Depression no dough blues and World War II fighting dust away, far away. And to be able to breath a decent breathe, a breathe drawn without fear of the jack boots of the world knocking at the doors once the dirty bastards had been vanquished, a not from hunger breathe too if anybody was asking.

 

Just then Delores snapped back into the reality, the two by four reality, of their made due, temporary veterans’ housing set up by the Olde Saco Housing Authority (at the request of and funded by the War Department) to house the housing-hungry returning vets and give them a leg up. Add on the further reality that Prescott’s job at the Macadam’s Textile Mill was none too sure now that rumors were circulating around town that the mill-owners were thinking of relocating to North Carolina. And the biggest reality of all: well, Prescott, Junior, Kendrick, Lawrence, Jean Paul and lastly Joshua. And five is enough, more than enough thank you (that sentiment directed toward Prescott although not picked up by the boys at the time only later when they too saw that seven could not live as cheaply as two, that modern society’s hand dealt to the Breslin could not sustain such weight. But as that terrific tenor of Dick Haymes singing Little White Lies was making its way into her air space she fell back to thinking about that now old dream of the little white house, with or without picket fence, a dog and a few kids (exactly three, thank you) that was coming just around next corner. And just as she was winding up to blast young Prescott, his dirty hands, and that wall, maybe a little less furiously that she intended before, her thoughts returned to her Prince Charming, Starlight Ballroom1943, and their song. Their forever memory song. Yes, she would get by.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Face Of Old Irish Working-Class North Adamsville- In Honor Of Kenny Kelly, Class Of 1958

 

From The Pen Of The Late Peter Paul Markin

Another Moment In History- A Guest Post, Of Sorts

Kenny Kelly, Class of 1958? comment:


A word. I, Kenneth Francis Xavier Kelly, around Jimmy’s warehouses  they just call me Kenny, although my friends call me “FX”, am a map of Ireland, or at least I used to be when I was younger and had a full head of very wavy red hair ( I was never called “Red” since that moniker was taken by my mother’s brother and I never liked that name anyway, or maybe I never liked him, or red-heads, inevitably Irish, and inevitably running me ragged with their “do this, do that” every time they wanted something in or out of bed like they were the flames of life, like they had come out of some druid moon, as women friends, or wives like my first one who thought she was some gift from the gods with her mass of hair and dew-like skin but who proved to be a bigger bitch than Shakespeare’s witches and good ridden), a mass of freckles instead of a whiskey and beer chaser-driven mass of very high-proof wrinkles, and my own, rather than store-bought, rattlers, teeth I mean. That whiskey-wrinkled business is no joke since I started drinking Johnny Walker Red when I was about twelve, the nectar made only a few miles away in Boston so maybe it was in the air provoking me with its siren call or more truthfully just easier to obtain than most others like Canadian Club or Seagram’s my choices now except when somebody is buying them Chivas when the guys I hung around with dared me to take a dram, maybe seven, or else make me seem “light on my feet,” you know, a fag [gay] sneaking a thimbleful at a time and then putting a splash of water into the bottle to maintain the same level in my grandmother’s, Grandma Curran, Anna, from my mother Dorothy’s side of the family, quart of whiskey that she kept out of sight in her china closet. Boys, the stuff was nasty tasted like some awful, hold your nose childhood medicine and gulp that first time and I think I almost threw up after the first gulp but I acquired the habit, and did hold my nose a couple of times to break that noxious feeling as I swallowed the liquid down and it took, mostly.

By the way that hidden whiskey thing of my grandmother’s was not to keep the devil’s brew away from childish harms, from me and my four younger brothers but from Grandpa Curran, Daniel, who, having been abandoned by a drunken father who would beat his mother until he took off one day for parts unknown with her sister with whom he had been keeping time apparently since shortly after their wedding, was a tee-totaler, a “dry” they called them in his day, his coming of age time in the time of Prohibition, who hated even the idea of liquor around the house. So that was Grandma’s secret cache, her sacred blessed medicine to keep her spirits up when he hit the roof over whatever was on his mind, whatever slight he took personally out in the world, whatever inflamed him to the point of turning red-faced and bilious and she had to take it. What else was she to do, where could she go, who would take her part in those days when men and women, stolid working-class Irish Catholic men and women since this is what I am telling you about, about how they kept themselves together then in the diaspora. Hell the way I remember him, and this idea was not original with me since my mother no knowing that I was taking my nips would always say that to us when she heard from her mother than the old man was in one of his rages again, she could have had gallons hidden to ward off that angry bastard’s rants. When Anna wanted to entertain her sisters, her four sisters, May, Bernice, Lizzy, and Alice, hearty drinkers all if I recall who had their own man sorrows as well with divorces, abandonments, and drunks in the mix although since the rule of thumb was to not “air dirty linen,” I wasn’t privy to most of the information about their personal lives and after I got old enough I didn’t want to know since I had begun my own sorrows, red-headed sorrows if you want to know, I didn’t care to know, they would have to repair to the “Ladies Invited” Galway Grille by taxi about a mile up the road in “the Square” [Adamsville Center] to toss down a few (and smoke some cigarettes since Grandpa didn’t like that vice either although he wantonly smoked a stinking corncob pipe filled with rank brown tobacco strips which smelled up the piazza [front porch] where he liked to smoke and have conversations with his cronies if he was not mad at them for some total bizarre reason, usually involving money). When I came of age to drive they, no, Grandma, would give me five dollars for the task and when I would pick them up after their libations they would appear be pickled, maybe had guys hanging around them, but such is the fate of Irish ladies after they have lost their bloom, lost whatever they had dreamed of in their youth about what their world would be like. Grandma would always be smiling then, and not just from the drink as far as I could tell. I am not ashamed to say that I felt glad that she did her little escape now and then even if her sisters sometimes got sloppy and wanted to hug me and all that “auntie” stuff.

Later, after Grandpa Curran had to be put in a nursing home when he had his stroke, a stroke everybody from his doctor to his cronies to Grandma to my own mother said was brought on by his rants, his angers at the world, his feeling slighted by the ways of the world, I would pick up Grandma’s medicine at Doc’s Drugstore up on Newbury Street across from the old Josiah Adams Elementary School where I gave the teachers all the hell they could use, or take. By that time Grandma Curran, who everybody had called a saint for putting up with Daniel all those fifty some odd years had her own medical problems which kept her increasingly housebound and I became her runner, the guy who would do the odd chores. You know, get her groceries from O’Shea’s Market over on Emmet Street, pay her bills at the telephone, electric, and gas offices “up the Downs [the shopping area of North Adamsville] when you used to do that to save money since they gave you a discount for in-person payment, do the yard work and simple house maintenance and the like. I guess it fell to me as the oldest son of her oldest daughter which from what Grandma told me one time when she was feeling well-disposed toward (which later would not always be the case) was some kind of family tradition, maybe going back generations in the old country. All I know is when I moved on to do my thing, started working for Jimmy the Mutt, Eddie, the next oldest brother took over, and my cousin Sean who was older than Eddie and the oldest son of my mother’s younger sister never did so there was probably some old hoary truth to that going back to the mist of time. Sorry about that, about cutting off the story I was telling you but I just was thinking about doing all that stuff for Grandma, nice stuff for a nice old lady, and glad to do it, before I got wrapped up in lots of stuff I don’t feel good about. Maybe Grandma Curran will put a word in for me when my time comes. So when I did her medicine order every few weeks or once a month sometimes when her pills ran out the order would include a pint of the usual Johnny Walker Red that I told you I was taking swipes out as a kid as part of the delivery. In those days, maybe now too, druggists could dispense small bottles of liquor for medicinal purposes, no joke, like when people say that is the reason they are drinking themselves under the table to chase away the blues or some other demons, so there was nothing wrong with that, nothing illegal. What was wrong, my wrong, happened one day when I was fourteen or so when I decided to grab a bottle for myself, making that two bottles, as part of the order and Doc didn’t blink an eye filling it for me since Grandma’s credit was good with him for whatever she wanted (and she would give me a dollar for running the errand so the dough I gave back to her would be right since if you can believe this what with the price of hard liquor now the price for a pint was a buck and a quarter). Later that day Harry Johnson, the late Harry Johnson who joined the Army just out of high school when he got into some trouble with the law, serious trouble, like for robbery of a gas station and when he went to court the judge gave him the “Irish penance, the rosary” three to five in the county jail or enlist in the service and who was among the first American soldiers to die in Vietnam when that war was raging in the world and whose name is now etched forever down in Washington and on the memorial plinth for the guys from that war over on the Commons in Adamsville Square, and I went down the far end of Adamsville Beach, the Squaw Rock end, and drank the thing straight up and fast. Boy we were sick that day and for a few days after. But like I said I acquired the “taste” so maybe I really should blame old Grandma, rest her soul, for my lifetime of debauchery, although that red-headed first wife, Kathleen wouldn’t you know, was the one who “drove me to drink.”

For work, yah, I’m still rolling the barrels uphill, I work, well, let’s just say I do a little of “this and a little of that” for Jimmy the Mutt and leave it at that. I met Jimmy when I was in high school before I dropped out which I will tell you about later and he, a little older, maybe four years older had also dropped out school at sixteen and has been going at the “this and that” business full-time ever since, when he and his corner boys were hanging around holding up the brick wall at their hang-out place in front of Harry’s Variety over on Sagamore Street. Harry’s had everything Jimmy needed, a cool jukebox, a cooler filled with sodas and beers, although the beers were illegal since Harry’s was not licensed to sell liquor, particularly to under-aged corner boys but that didn’t stop the brisk trade, nor did anything happen to Harry for this transgression the “why” of which I will tell you in a second, a couple of pin-ball machines, you know like the ones you would see down at the arcades, the ones with the busty, buxom babes showing plenty of cleavage calling you forth to play their game and win, well, win something, and Harry’s friendship with half the cops in town which washed over Jimmy and his operations. See Harry, Harry O’Toole, was “connected,” connected with the cops since he was openly using the store as a front for his book-making operation and you would see cops coming in day after day in their cops cars to make their bets in the “book” Harry kept right on the counter, and connected too with the big boys in South Boston, the Irish Mafia if you want to give it a name, not Whitey’s and his guys then but the guys who made big in illegal liquor back after World War I and branched out, because nobody, no town cops anyway were going to touch that “goose that laid the golden egg” operation. (If any cops had any squawks, or scruples, they could see the Captain, in my time that was Captain Murphy, a friend and relative by marriage of Harry’s who lived up on Atlantic Avenue near where the town Mayfair swells, and either be walking the midnight beat rousting drunks and riffraff or getting cut of the pie, or both. So no cop squawked, not and live (one cop, Franny Larkin, the father of a friend of my brother Eddie,    who died under mysterious circumstances sometime after he had a run-in with Murphy, said he was going to talk to the DA or something was enough to scare any other do-gooders or snitches).Harry, a single guy, although he had this busty, blue-eyed blonde Irish woman who wore tight cashmere sweaters and got the double-take, and no more, by every breathing guy from about six to sixty who saw her, or better smelled that jasmine perfume as she passed who kept him company, treated Jimmy like a long lost son.

Yeah, and Jimmy treated me like a long lost brother, which automatically gave me the nod from Harry.  Jimmy from the beginning, from when I, bored, started to hang around the pin ball machines and he would give me his “free” games when he had other business to attend to, his girlfriend or Harry business, always liked me, always knew that I had a little larceny in my heart, had some serious “wanting habits” as one of the guys called what I had and so I did a little of  “this and that” then and am still at since those wanting habits have not flickered out. When I am not doing this and that for Jimmy I work in one of his warehouses moving material around, and don’t ask what kind of materials or where it goes since I told you that it was this and that, barrels too so I wasn’t joking about that barrel thing if you think I was.  
I am also the map, the Irish map part anyway, of North Adamsville, from the Class of 1958 at the old high school, or at least I should have been, except for, well, let’s leave that as at a little of this and that, for now, as well. I’ll tell you that story another time, if you want to hear it. Or talk to that old bastard, Headmaster Kerrigan, “Black-Jack” Kerrigan, and he’ll give you his lying side of the story if he can still talk the bastard. Hell, I started to tell you so I might as well tell you all of the story now so you don’t get all huffy about it like I would lie to you about it or something. As you probably can guess from what I already told you I was restless, always restless, maybe bored too, a little but restless from early on from elementary school where I gave those poor benighted teachers all they could handle, and got boxed on the ears from Dorothy for my pains. Or if it was really bad then my father Seamus, but it had to be really bad to get him involved since he was working over on the Southie docks and didn’t have time to bother with disciplining his five sons what with work, his drinking buddies and his girlfriend, that last one not known to us until many years later when Dorothy and Seamus divorced and I found out there was a sixth Kelly, a bastard half-brother sired by Seamus out of Lucy Leahy, his girlfriend. See what I mean about the “not airing dirty linen” business. The “shawlies” [the women, young and old, some who actually wore shawls against the cold of their cold-water triple-decker flats when the bastard absentee rack-rent landlord kept the heat low, who ran the “back porch” hanging out the laundry “grapevine” effective as any high tech digital communications today and fed the gossip mills of the neighborhood] had a field day when that news came out since my mother as a fourth generation denizen of the town put on certain airs against the two or three generation “new arrivals” from Southie and they hated her for that arrogance. It was only because the old man left town and left her high and dry with five growing boys that allowed her to survive since she got something like a sympathy vote for being abused by one Seamus Kelly whom they didn’t much like since he was first generation and not from Southie but some outpost down in the South.       

So you could say I was no student, getting in trouble and behind in my studies all through elementary and junior high school. I was probably what today would be called a “special needs” student but they didn’t have that designation then so by the time high school came around I was assigned to what everybody, teachers, administrators, parents and most cruelly other kids publicly called the “slow” class, the shop kids if you want to know. The kids who maybe if you taught them how to saw wood, weld metal, fix a toilet or repair an automobile might not wind up in Walpole [Cedar Junction], or on death row before their twenty-first birthday for their troubles. So they assigned me to the auto body shop. But here is what they didn’t know, or care to know, I was not mechanically inclined, I was restless, like I said so I wound up pulling “guard duty” in front of the boys’ lavatory most of the time once old man Pringle saw I had two left hands. And it was doing that job that got me in Kerrigan’s cross-hairs.

See the boys’ lavatory in the shop area by tradition if not law was off-limits to everybody but shop guys. You could if you had to take a leak and were a guy go to any other “lav” in the school but not ours, although various lavs also by tradition were used by particular groups like the “jocks” used the gym one and seniors used the second floor lounge (which had windows you could open and grab a quick smoke and blow the smoke out the window while you were in there). That nobody but shop guys was on the shop master Mister Pringle’s orders too and enforced by having guys like me pull guard duty. Pringle, an old Army guy before he took up teaching shop didn’t want his “latrine” [his word] messed up by a bunch of wise-ass regular students, especially college jerks and school jocks[his words again].

One day this guy, this college joe type guy, Jimmy Jenkins, who I had seen around for years in junior high and in high school although I never knew him personally and would never have given him the nod (the “nod” a sign that you knew the guy, knew he was okay, had some connection with him maybe sports but did not hang with him), not a bad guy but you know full of himself, a student government type, a guy who thought every word he uttered came down from the mountain (and maybe he really thought it had) but maybe thinking that shop guys were below human or something the way that the whole school social order made shop guys the “slow class” guys, maybe too worried about his own manhood being a college-type guy, didn’t want to be taken for a “fairy,” decided that he had to take a leak in our “lav” and was headed in until I stopped him and told him “no go.” Told him Pringle didn’t want anybody but shop guys using his lav. Jimmy though seemed to have decided he wanted to make an issue of it, said some baloney about “not being able to hold it” or some such bullshit and I told him to get lost. He still headed in, or tried to, because for his disrespect I grabbed hold of his arm, spun him around and threw him though the nearest window in the wood-working shop which was adjacent to the bathroom. He was a mess by the time they got to him. Bleeding little blobs and all although not needing hospitalization or anything like that, minor cuts like maybe you get from shaving, if you shave. But I taught him a lesson in any case. (I heard later that he had to see a shrink for a while to steady himself, also that guys, his guys, the college joes wouldn’t hang with him for a while since he had been taken down by a guy who was shorter although more wiry than him so they were probably razzing the hell out of him, maybe “fag-baiting” him like every other guy in the school would do to every other guy just because that was how macho everybody was, and scared that like the dink, a real sissy, Ellis Murray, they were “light on their feet.”    

About fifteen minutes later, while Pringle who chuckled about the whole thing and I think would have patted me on the back and said well done if it had been up to him had me sweeping up the chards, who comes down but Black-Jack, all crazy about what happened, or what he had heard happened like I killed the guy or something. So after identifying me as the villain he took me to his office up on the second floor and had me sit there in his waiting room or whatever you call it for about an hour until school was over and then he brought me into his office. And laid down the law. Said I was going to be expelled for the good of the school and that while what I had done was serious no charges would be brought as long as I accepted my expulsion with grace [Kerrigan’s word]. Otherwise he implied I would be breaking rocks somewhere, or maybe doing the “Irish penance.” Frankly I freaked out about that possibility since it had been drilled into me by my parents that I needed to pass the shop class and get a certificate if I was to avoid the county farm [the welfare solution in those days]. See what I didn’t know then was how successful I was going to be without school, working that “this and that” for Jimmy the Mutt so I was in a rage about what was going to happen to me. What were Dorothy and Seamus going to say, or do. I guess too I was pissed off because everybody knew what a suck-ass Kerrigan was and how he kept a lid on all kinds of things like teachers beating on students when they couldn’t control the situation, male teachers “hitting” on the girls for sex or else down the back stairway when it was empty after school after they had the girls serve some faked up detention, maybe threatening to flunk the poor girl so she had to go to summer school or would not graduate or threatening to tell her parents what she had done with her boyfriend down on Adamsville Beach Saturday night that one of their “snitches” told them about to get out from under own troubles. I knew that last actually happened to one of my girl cousins, Cookie [not her real name] Emma, who got in a mix mess with her best girlfriend, Elizabeth, and in revenge the she told a male teacher who was “hitting” on her to lay off her and try my cousin who had shared with her like girls do with best friends what she was doing with her boyfriend over at his house when his parents were out and my poor cousin could hardly hold her up in school after some jock saw her giving “head” to that teacher down that back hall (we called giving “head,” you know, oral sex, “Irish contraception” back then since it was more likely an Irish girl would do that if you could coax her to do anything than regular sexual intercourse in order to keep “virginal.” Many girls kept their novena and prayer book reputations intact by doing that deed rather than “going all the way”). Every guy in the school was after her then, looking to get a little something since they thought she was “easy.”  Poor Cookie, poor Cookie later when some guy left her in the lurch in senior year and she had to visit an “aunt” in Tulsa [meaning she had gotten pregnant and to leave town to have her baby some place after that I don’t know what happened to her because she fell off the face of the earth as far as I know] So everybody knew, or everybody who wanted to know, knew what was going on, all kinds of stuff like that including Kerrigan so I took old Kerrigan and pushed him through his door and he fell down, all crumbled up. One of the secretaries yelled was he okay and he said, get this, that he had tripped, no big deal. The next day though everybody knew that he had taken a beating from me, everybody that wasn’t a student government-type, a snitch, or a suck-up brown nose. So I got the boot but you got the real story in case you hear otherwise from that lying bastard. Got a nice legend reputation too which helped me later, and a couple of hot dates from girls you would never suspect would go for a guy like me, not Irish girls and not Irish contraception either, but you would think would go for a guy like Jimmy Jenkins. They said he was too tame for them. And they were hot too. Go figure.        

Let’s also put it that I grew up, rough and tumble, mostly rough, very rough, on the hard drinking-father-sometimes-working, and the plumbing-or-something-don’t-work- and-you-can’t- get- the-tight-fisted-landlord-to- fix-anything-for-love-nor- money walk up triple decker just barely working class, mean streets around Sagamore and Prospect Streets in one-horse Atlantic. At least my dear grandmother, sainted Anna who had been born there as had her mother, and maybe yours too, called it that because there was nothing there, nothing you needed anyway. You know where I mean, those streets right over by the Welcome Young Field, by Harry the Bookie’s variety store who I already gave you the skinny on (you knew when you were in Harry’s, with the always almost empty shelves except maybe a few dusty cans of soup, a couple of loaves of bread and a refrigerator empty except maybe a quart of milk or two, those active pin-ball machines, and like I said before his “book” right on the counter for all the world, including his cop-customer world, to see), and the never empty, never empty as long as my father was alive, Red Feather (excuse me I forgot it changed names, Dublin Grille) bar room. Maybe you came up on those same kinds of streets and my hat is off to you too but it was rough, it was Irish shanty rough with no hope, maybe no desire or will to move up to “lace curtain,” and forget Kennedy-etched “chandelier’ Irish which gives you the whole social structure of the diaspora. We never saw “lace curtain” in that neighborhood and only read about the “chandelier” in the newspapers. Maybe it was something in the Curran/Kelly bloodline but after the Kelly clan with Seamus in tow came up from the South to North Adamsville (the Currans were already here) that seems to have exhausted the stock so for the next three generations including mine were nothing but “shanty” living about the same way each generation just doing this and that and nothing outstanding but we sure knew the ethos of the neighborhood, what you could and could not do to keep up with the Joneses.    

Let me explain how I wound up as a “guest” here and see if that gives you a better picture of what went on, what goes on in the old burg since it relates to all these little Irish-flavored tidbits I have been enticing you with. Seems like Peter Paul Markin, that’s the half-assed, oops, half-baked, Irishman whom I first vaguely met when I was hanging around Harry’s with Jimmy the Mutt and the boys and he, in his turn, had come around like almost every young kid in that neighborhood to watch the pin ball wizards, including me, hoping to cadge a few free games when we had other things to attend to, wrote up some story, some weepy cock and bull story, about the Irish-ness of the old town, A Moment In History… As March 17th Approaches on the North Adamsville Graduates Facebook page and my pride and joy daughter Clara(from my second marriage, since divorced, that time a brunette who proved to be almost as troublesome as that first enflamed red-head wife but whom I still see now and then with her new husband over at Fast Eddie’s Bar and Grille in Carver where she lives and where Jimmy the Mutt has one of his many warehouses), North Adamsville Class of 1983 (and she actually graduated), saw it and recognized the great-grandparent names Curran, Kelly and Welcome Young Field that I had told her about and asked me to read it. I did and I sent Peter Paul, hell, Markin an e-mail, Christ, where does he get off using three names like he was a bloody heathen Boston Brahmin and him without a pot to piss in, as my dear grandmother used to say, growing up on mean streets on the wrong side of the tracks, over near the marshes where even the shanty Irish have always avoided if possible since those triple-deckers and single family shacks, there is no other word for them, for Chrissakes, wronger even than the Sagamore streets. Or my baby Clara did, did sent the e-mail to him after I told her what to write. I’m not much of hand at writing or using this hi-tech computer stuff, if you want to know the truth. My skills are more old-fashioned and more reliable, get things done quicker and done, finished.   

I don’t know what Markin did with that e-mail, and to be truthful again, I don’t really care, but in that e-mail I told him something that he didn’t know, or rather two things (except that cadging pin ball games but that didn’t count since a lot of younger kids were onto that gag and he was mostly just a pesty face in the crowd). The first was that I “knew” him long before he sent his reply e-mail, or rather knew his grandmother (on his mother’s side) Mary O’Brian, because her sister, Bernice, and my dear grandmother, Anna, also born an O’Brien but with an “e.” who both lived in Southie (South Boston, in those days the Irish Mecca, for the heathens or Protestants, or both, both heathen and Protestant, that might read this) were as thick as thieves. When I was just a teenager myself I used to drive his grandmother, like I did with my grandmother and her sisters including Aunt Bernice up to the “Square” where they drank themselves silly, over to her sister’s in Southie so that the three of them, and maybe some other ladies joined them for all I know, could go to one of the Broadway bars (don’t ask me to name which one, I don’t remember) that admitted unescorted ladies in those days and have themselves a drunk. And smoke cigarettes, unfiltered ones no less, Camels I think when I used cadge a few, which his stern grandfather, Matthew, refused like my grandfather to allow in the house over on Young Street.

I know, I know this is not the way that blue-grey haired Irish grandmothers are supposed to act, in public or private. And somebody, if I know my old North Adamsville gossips, wags and nose-butters, and my North Adamsville Irish branch of that same clan especially, is going say why am I airing that “dirty linen” in public and against the dearly departed as well. That’s a good point that Markin talked about in his story about Frank O’Brian and not airing the family business in public in that foolish essay, or whatever he wrote that got me to having Clara writing that e-mail. So what am I doing taking potshots as the blessed memories of those sainted ladies? That is where my second thing comes in to set the record straight – Markin, and I told him so in that e-mail (or Clara did) with no beating around the bush, is to me just another one of those misty-eyed, half-breed March 17th Irish that are our curse and who go on and on about the eight hundred years of English tyranny like they lived it, actually lived each day of it. Yes half-breed, his father, a good guy from what my father told me when they used to drink together, so he must have had something going for him, was nothing but a Protestant hillbilly from down in the mountain mists hills and hollows Kentucky although his mother, Delores (nee Riley), was a good as gold Irish girl as the old town produced.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am as patriotic as the next Irishman in tipping my hat to our Fenian dead like old Pearse did back in 1913 or so at the gravesite of some ill-treated, ill-treated by the bloody British, member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and the boys of ’16 fighting off the bastards in the General Post Office in Dublin when the boyos put up the proclamation for the Republic under old Jimmy Connolly who they later executed after the British had burned their own colonial town down,  what did they care, and the lads on the right side in 1922, the guys who wanted to hold out for a whole island-wide republic and the lads fighting in the North more recently under General McGuiness and the boyos in Derry but Markin has got the North Adamsville Irish weepy, blessed “old sod” thing all wrong. No doubt about it. So, if you can believe this, he challenged me, to tell the real story. And I am here as his “guest” to straighten him out, and maybe you too.

Sure, he is helping me write this thing. I already told you I’m a low-tech guy. Jesus, do you think I could write stuff like that half-arsed, oops, half- baked son of an expletive with his silly, weepy half-Irish arse goings on? I will tell you this though right now if I read this thing and it doesn’t sound right fists are gonna be swinging, old as I am. But let’s get this thing moving for God’s sake.

Let me tell you about the shabeen, I mean, The Red Feather, I mean the Dublin Grille, bar room on Sagamore Street. That’s the one I know, and I am just using that as an example. There were plenty of others in old North Adamsville, maybe not as many as in Southie, but plenty. If you seriously wanted to talk about the “Irish-ness” of North Adamsville that was the place, the community cultural institution if you will, to start your journey. Many a boy got his first drink, legal or illegal, at that, or another like it, watering hole. Hell, the “real” reason they built that softball field at Welcome Young was so the guys, players and spectators alike, had an excuse to stop in for a few (well, maybe more than a few) after a tough battle on the base paths. That’s the light-hearted part of the story, in a way. What went on when the “old man”, anybody’s “old man,” got home at the, sometimes, wee hours is not so light-hearted (or like my father didn’t show up at all trying to tell my mother that he was working the very early ships shift and so headed to Southie to be ready for work. Ready for work already with his Lucy Leahy lady friend, goddam him as tough as it was to live under my mother’s tyranny in his frequent absences.

See, that is really where the straightening out job on our boy Markin needs to be done. Sure, a lot of Irish fathers didn’t get drunk all the time. Although the deep dark secret was that in almost every family, every shanty family for certain and I know, and many “lace curtain” families they was at least one reprobate drunk. Hell, the local city councilor’s brother, Healy I think it was, was thrown in the drunk tank by the coppers more times than he was out. They could have given him a pass-key and saved time and money on dragging him to the caboose. But the king hell takes-the-cake was old Black-Jack’s Kerrigan’s brother, Boyo (sorry, I forget his real name but everybody called him boyo when he was in his cups). Yah, the North Adamsville High headmaster’s brother, the bastard that I had a run-in with and had to hightail it out of school, although it was not over his brother.

See Black-Jack’s family thought they were the Mayfair swells since Black-Jack had gone to college, one of the first in the old neighborhood, and they had that big single-family house over on Beach Street. But more than one night I found Boyo lying face-down on Billings Road drunk as a skunk and had to carry him home to his wife and family. And then head back to the other side of the tracks, that wrong side I already told you about. Next day, or sometime later, Boyo would give me a dollar for my services in his hour of need. Naturally when I went to school after that I went out of my way to flash the dollar bill at Black-Jack, saying “Look what Boyo gave me for helping him out of the gutter.” That’s all I had to say. Black-Jack always turned fuming red, maybe flaming red. Of course that was before that grab-ass tussle we had so over the use of the shop boys’ lavatory so maybe he held that taunt against me and saw expelling me as his sweet laced arsenic Irish revenge.  
A lot of Irish fathers didn’t beat on their wives all the time either. And a lot of Irish fathers didn’t physically beat their kids for no reason. Plenty of kids go the “strap” though when the old man was “feeling his oats.” (I never heard of any sexual abuse, but that was a book sealed with seven seals then and with all the exposes about the faggot boy-loving priest the last few years maybe that went on too more than you would think because almost every Irish guy, me too, was totally screwed up about sex under the guidance of the Church and parents and probably did things as bad as those black-hearted priests. It took a heathen Protestant girl, Laura Perkins, to show me what was what about the beauties of sex but that was much later.) And more than one wife, more than one son’s mother didn’t show her face to the “shawlie” world due to the simple fact that a black eye, a swollen face, or some other wound disfigured her enough to lay low for a while. I had to stop, or try to stop, my own father one time when I was about twelve and he was on one of his three day Dublin Grille whiskey straight-up, no chaser toots and Ma just got in his way. He swatted me down like a fly and I never tried to go that route again. But he didn’t try to beat my mother again either, at least not when I was a around or I would have heard about it on the “shawlie” wire.

And a lot of Irish wives didn’t just let their husbands beat on them just because they were the meal ticket, the precious difference between a home and the county farm [like I said before the welfare deal of that time when you were down and out] or, worse, the streets. And a lot of Irish wives didn’t make excuses (or pray) for dear old dad when the paycheck didn’t show up and the creditors were beating down the door. And a lot of Irish wives didn’t let those Irish fathers beat on their kids. And a lot of Irish mothers didn’t tell their kids not to “air the dirty linen in public.” But, don’t let anyone fool you, and maybe I am touching on things too close to home, my home or yours, but that formed part of the scene, the Irish scene.
Maybe, because down at the Atlantic dregs end of North Adamsville the whole place was so desperately lower working-class other ethnic groups, like the Italians, also had those same pathologies. (I am letting Markin use that last word, although I still don’t really know what it means, but it seemed right when he told me what it meant). I don’t know. Figure it out though, plenty of fathers (and it was mainly fathers only in those days who worked, when they could) with not much education and dead-end jobs, plenty of rented apartments in triple-deckers as homes , no space, no air, no privacy rented housing and plenty of dead time. Yah, sure, I felt the “Irish-ness” of the place sometimes (mainly with the back of the hand), I won’t say I didn’t but when Markin starts running on and on about the “old sod” just remember what I told you. I’ll tell you all the truth, won’t you take a word from me.