The Old "Beat" Town, Circa 2010
Crossing the Squaw River Bridge from the Boston side these days, walking-sore-footed, ankle-ached, worn-out, scuffed leather shoes, rounded-heel shoes, soles thinned-out shoes walking-just as was almost always my mode of transportation, and maybe yours, in the old days, and sometimes for me in the not so old days-ain’t like it used to be. That new (1970s new, anyway), higher-standing , pot-holed patched, unevenly asphalt-paved even on good days, uninviting, if not just plain dangerous, walk-way, ugly slab-concreted, built by the lowest bidder, bridge that routes traffic, hither and yon, is not like the old one, “ walking to think things over friendly."
Not today, anyway, as I brace myself for a serious look see at our beat-up, beat-down, beaten-back, back-seat-taking, smudged-up, blood and sweat-stained, bitter-teared (very bitter-teared), life-drained, seen better days (although I do not, personally, remember having seen those better days, but people keep saying, even now, there was a such a time so let’s leave it at that), almost genetically memory embedded , character-building (yes, that old chestnut, as well), beautiful (yes, beautiful too, oddly, eerily beautiful, or as mad, shamanic poet Yeats, he of that that fine Anglo-Irish word edge, would put it, "terrible beauty a-borning" beautiful ), old working class home town.
It’s silly, I know, to get misty-eyed over it but I miss the old archaic pre-1970s drawbridge bridge with its ghastly-green gates to stop car traffic (how else could you describe that institutional color that no artist would have on his or her palette, and no serious professional business painter would stoop to brush on anything much less a gate) and the lonely stony-eyed concrete medieval fortress of a tower (and its poor, bored, had to be bored, keeper, or tender or whatever you call that “look out for the big boats coming and going” guy, and it was always some old guy who looked like he could swap stories, buddy to buddy, with King Neptune, and probably did) to let the bigger boats, courtesy of the law of the seas, make their way to dock.
Or, better, I hope, I fervently hope, for the boats to get clearance from that old codger, old Neptune’s brother, to race, to crawl, to putt-putt, to hoist sail or whatever such boats do to get to the open sea, the wide open blue-grey, swirling, mad, rushing, whirling dervish of a sea, out to beyond the breakwaters, out to beyond the harbor islands, to the land becoming mere speck, and then mere vanish, and more adventure than I could even dream of, or think of dreaming of. At least I hope those oil-stained, diesel-fuelled (including those awful faint-producing fumes), powerfully-engined, deep-drafted, fully–stocked boats that drove river traffic and stopped car traffic came back or went out in search of those adventures away from the placid wooden-lumbered doldrums docks up along the Adamsville side of the river.
But, one thing is for sure, whatever happened to the boats, or on them, that old bridge, that old green-gate painted monster of a drawbridge, gave you a chance to pause mid-bridge, fright-free, not-having-to-watch-your-back-for-fast-cars-caroming-by free , to look up and down midstream; to dream, perhaps, of tidal drifts and fair winds to the far reaches of this good, green planet, as far as you could carry yourself and your backpacked, bed-rolled belongings, or as long as the money held out; to bestir yourself afresh to think of oneness with the seventy-eight trillion life forms (hey, I didn’t count them, alright, this is just an estimate, a very rough estimate) that flow in the murky, and on some days very murky, depths right before your eyes down to our homeland, the sea; to dream vista dreams of far-away picture postcard cooling ports-of-call in the sweaty, sultry summer day airs or churn madly with the flow of wild summer night airs that led from the old home town west, north, south, somewhere, anywhere; to dream the dream of dreams of misspent (no way, no way misspent), suggestive, very suggestive, radio-blared Lets Spend The Night Together or The Night Time Is The Right Time, whiskey-bottle in hand (or, maybe, beer-canned if dough was tight, or way back when and you were underage if your wino buyer didn't show that night), best-gal swinging Saturday nights(quaint, okay, but we are all adults and you know what I mean) ; and, to think that one thought, that one midstream on the bridge-driven thought that would spring you from the woes of woe begotten, troubled-filled (for me, and, maybe, you) dear, (now dear, anyway) beat, ancient-ached, old timey, presidential graveyard of a growing-up home town.
This new one, this new bridge, as I stand mid-bridge and peek back to my left routes, if you can even call it that, traffic via a Daytona race track-worthy, curvy-swurvy ramp to the beach, Adamsville Beach, down the now, in places anyway, three lane-wide, freshly-paved and white-lined Adamsville Shore Drive. That’s our old Adamsville Boulevard, down by the shore everything’s alright, of sacred ashy memory. And as I watch the traffic flow, the car traffic I think not of vanilla, too bright, too light, too slight day time beach, for now, because I am flooded with visions of the “real” beach of my manic dreams- “the night time is the right time" beach. Enough of daytime, kiddish, bucket and shovel whines and childish butterfly daydreams, enough. Alright?
I just now, and you can follow along too, float dream of teenaged Saturday nights, or maybe even Friday nights, or both, cruising, nowhere, somewhere, anywhere, to the pink- blue, cloud-swollen, sun-devouring, Western night-dream skies, always just beyond our reach. Of you riding "shotgun" in your buddy’s car, a be-bop car, or, I hope, at least bop, late 1950s, and pray hard for a ’57 Chevy or something “cool” like that, borrowed from his old man, stopped at close by high school (remember), Essot gas station and filled, two-dollars-worth-of-gas-check the oil-please-filled. Or his own car, your buddy's, the old man's leavings, given gratis, when that self-same old man stepped up to a new, bigger-finned, power-steered, rumble-engined, airplane of a car, a new sign that he had “made it” in hard dollar America.
Of stolen sickly-sweet wines or breathe-soured whiskeys to ward off the night-forebodings, made sweeter or more sour by the stealing from that same old man’s, or maybe your old man's, liquor cabinet, if they had such an upscale thing, or else just from some dusty high cupboard shelf so the kids can’t get at it place. And, and, oh boy, visions of those moon-beamy, dreamy, seamy, steamy Saturday night beach parking, car-fogged, car-wrestled, “submarine races” watchings that were the subject of Monday morning boys’ rest room (okay, “lav”) roll call, recital and retailing (or, hell, probably in the girls’ room too, I bet, but the now women can tell their own tales). Whoa!
Beatified night-dreamed beach Adamsville Shore Drive also routes, now that my blood pressure has returned to normal, to daydream summer sunbathing, or maybe even before summer sunbathing for early tans to drive away the fierce, ghost-like New England winter pales, in the real sun daytime down by the weather-beaten yacht clubs (tumble-weedy, seedy, paint-needy Adamsville Yacht Club and Squaw Rock Boat Club, okay). Away, well a little away, from the early encountered mephitic sea grass marshes near the Causeway (you know where, right?-the old First National supermarket, now CVS drugs-for all occasions-store location), away from the deadened, fetid, scattered sea grasses and the muck, and in plain kid talk, away from the “stinks”, away from the tepid waves apologetically splashing on the ocean smooth-stoned dunes, away too from the jelly-fish (are they poisonous, or not?) spawning and spattered along the edges of the low tide line, and, most fervently, away, away from the oil-slicked mud flats of childish shovel and pail clam-digging adventures, clams squirting and screaming from their sand hovels that need not detain us here, that story has been told elsewhere by me, and often.
Once you have passed the fetid swamps, the mephitic marshes…, but wait a minute, who knows such un-childlike, or un-teenager-like, for that matter, words like fetid and mephitic and where, as a child, even if you knew the words, would you connect those words with pail and shovel digging to China, or some faraway place, beach; with tide-melting, furtive but fevered, sand castle-making, beach; with coolly and focused looking for treasure, somebody’s leavings, some body’s rich leavings so you think, beach; with learning about the fury of Mother Nature and the pull and push of tides first hand when old Mother (like womb mother) turns her fury on, beach; with later finger (or stick) sand-tracing of your name defying the tides to erase your brand as you fight, and fight hard, for your place in the sun (and maybe linking up your sweetie’s name, just for good measure, in that struggle with eternity), beach; with fellaheen digging for clams for fun or profit (or food for table, who knows) down at the Bay View end, beach; with family barbecue outings, hot dogs and hamburgers, extra ketchup, please, beach. With, well, beach, beach. No, fetid and mephitic will not do, I like my dreams, my child remembrance dreams, cloud puffy and silky.
This bridge, this too far bridge, this man-standing memory bridge, or however you named it, or whatever you thought of it, or wherever you were heading, destiny-heading, heading to your growing-up-like-a-weed town, heading just like a-lemming-to-the-sea town pushes the brain in a couple of directions. Heading south anyway, shore drive south, south to the rivieras, south to the old time kid’s Paragon Park. Rickety, always needed, desperately needed, fresh paint coat, landlocked, off-limits showboat bar-entranced (a gay place, before gay word existed as a social category, but what did we know then, or care, just quarters for skees, please, ah, please), ocean-aired, between-the toes-sanded, sun glass-visioned against the furious midday sun Paragon Park. Roller coaster Paragon Park (hey, maybe sick, before you got the hang of it, right), wild mouse (kid's stuff, ya I know) Paragon Park, cheap, colorful skee ball points trinket prize, sugar high, lips smacked cotton-candy, stuck to the roof of your mouth, roof of the world, salt water taffy-twisted, hot-dogged (hold the mustard, no onions), pin ball wizard’d, take your baby to the carnival feel the tunnel of love, Paragon Park.(Or later, coming of another age, the Surf, and a whole other memory bridge of dreams, not for now though.)
Or south of that south to some old time, unnamed, misty adventure, some ancient Pilgrim-etched mayflower rocky-shored adventure, some ancient forebear's praise Jehovah plainsong heard whistling through some weed-filled granite slate graveyards, not mine; mine is of shanty Irish "famine" ships and old kicked out of England convict labor, hell-hole, "hillbilly" Appalachia work the coal mines, boats. Down along that old slow as molasses, take your time, wait at every just barely red stoplight, watch out for side-glanced cop cars, two-laned, white stripped, no passing (hardly), ocean-touched (in places) road. Memory-washed, memory-etched, memory south youth road, ah.
Yes, that cotton-candy dream is enough to stir even a hardened soul, but as I shift, stiffly shift, weight on my tired old high-soled, age-qualified, age-necessary, bop-bop shoes(no more of "young" fashionista statement, skinny-soled, fire engine red Chuck Taylor’s, now of sturdy, new age, aero-flow, aero-glow, aero-know, aero-whatever, for this heavy work, this airy memory work, bop-bop shoes), I stand straight up in mid-bridge balance and veer my head to the right. That move makes me focus my mind’s eye to the heart, the soul, the guts of the old growing-up town via a narrow, straight and narrow, slit in the road, a road constructed in such a way as if to say no cuts-ups, fops (quaint, again), or oddballs wanted here, as it swerves to the edgings, the bare edgings, amidst the gathering flotsam and jetsam as it piles up on riverside old Main Street and as it meanders along like some far-removed river of its own, river of its own sorrows, river of its own pent-up angers, toward the Square.
But more than sorrows, ancient sorrows, more than angers, angers of whatever age, I am attacked, and not just in my mind’s eye either, by the myriad mirror-glassed buildings, mostly office buildings, maybe some apartments or condos but I hope not, that reflect off each other in some secret Bauhaus bright light, dead of night pact, post-post-modern architecture I am sure, functional I am sure, although when future, future generations dig up the artifacts I am also sure they will be as puzzled by the idea of such forms of shelter and commerce as I am. And beyond those future subjects of artifact a picture, a picture to feed the hungry buildings, of tactless, thoughtless pizza shop, take-out or eat-in, of whatever name, donut shop, take-out or eat-in, of whatever name, hamburger shop, take-out or eat-in, of whatever name, Applebee’s family-friendly food named, now you-name-it-for-me, please, fast-food shop, mini-mart shop, fill-up gas-station of many names, Hess named, that dot, no, deluge strip mall-heavy Main Street up pass our sanctified raider red-bled high school. And beyond to dowdy, drowsy, dusty–windowed (really, I actually touched one once, not a white glove inspection but it, the window that is, didn’t pass muster even by my liberal standards), how do they stay in business against the pull of the major chains (or their chains), small-stored, small-dreamed business ownership, Norfolk Downs.
Norfolk Downs, the good old “Downs” (although we just called it plain, old, ordinary, vanilla-flavored, one-horse Norfolk Downs back in the day) anchored still by named pizza shop, Balducci’s. Balducci’s of after school pizza slices or after night time across the street hang-around underground bowling alley hungers. Plain, please, no one hundred and one choice toppings, thank you, and coke (bluish-green bottled Coca-Cola, okay, for the evil-minded): of nickels and dimes dropped in one-armed-bandit jukebox to hear the latest Stones (or Beatles) tune, or whatever struck a chord in those jumping-jack times, maybe some mopey thing if girl desire was high; yes, but also of weary, so weary, lonely, so lonely night time standings up against the front door wall, waiting, waiting for...(and, maybe, someone, some guy, some long side-burned, engineer-booted guy, cigarette pack, unfiltered, rolled in tee-shirt guy, some time machine guy, is still waiting, still holding up that wall today. Nobody told him the world, the world that counts, the teen world, had moved to the malls). And beyond Norfolk Downs, up that asphalt river, on to the fate of a million small city centers, ghost-towned, derelict, seen better days, for sure, no question, no question, Adamsville Center.
But I find myself , just now, as a stream of cooling air, finally, finally crosses my bridge-stuck, bridge-dreamed path, not in thoughts of jumbled mist of time high school-hood Saturdays nights (nor Friday nights either) in Norfolk Downs pizza parlors or bowling alleys, but of whirling past anciently walked, shoe leather-beaten (always leather-beaten, crooked-heeled, thinning-soled shoes that could be the subject of their own separate bridge-like dream thoughts), oceaned-breezed (just like the breeze crossing over me now , ‘cause that is where it is coming from, it has to be), sharp-angled memories: some of hurt, some of high-hatted hurt, worse, a few, too few, of funny kiddish, ding-dong dumb done things (ever when too old to hide under that womb-like kiddish umbrella), the memories that is, of Atlantic tide streets, of breezing Adamsville bays, of oceans-abutted streets etched deep, almost DNA deep.
Name names. Okay. Well-trodden Appleton Street sidewalks, drawn like a moth to flame to some now-forgotten she, by flickering, heart-quickening, unrequited, just barely teenage, but self-consciously teenage anyhow, romantic trance longings, doggedly working up non-courage, yes non-courage a very common thing in those days, to speak, or better, to write that one word, that one word still now not easily come by, that would spark interest (her interest), as I turned from boy to the buddings of manhood; of the close-quartered, no space, no space for anything but small pinched, tightly pinched, dreams , no room to breathe, no room to breathe anything but small breathe, hacked up, asphalted-up, lawn-free yards to quench driveway car thirsting, two and three-decked Atlantic Street houses passed on quick high school cross country practice runs; of family relative-burdened, just getting-started in adult life, small, cramped five room and tiny bath apartment dotted Walker and Webster Streets; of the closely-cornered, well-kept small manicured-lawn’d, busily repair-worked, no beach parking on the street in summertime, working class cottage-mansions of Bayfield Road (I always forget which is North and which is South, but no matter the description fits both as they feed to the endless sea stopped by that infernal stop light that keeps you waiting, waiting beyond impatience, to cross to the much repaired and replaced seawall and view of seaward homeland.); of Adamsville North Junior High School’d (ya, I know, Middle School) teen angst (under either junior or middle school names), mad, hormonally mad, teen-brokered years, world wised-up with some twists, but also world sorry, straight-up, Hollis Avenue; and on and on, through to the beach-drained, tree-named streets. Sanctified beyond name streets all; beat, beatified streets all; mist-filled dream streets all; memory-soaked streets all; be-bop, then real gone daddy, now hip-hop, big old pie-in-the-sky looking for the universe somewhere, streets all.
But enough of old dog-eared memories let me get moving, after all with this bridge, this “new” bridge, one has to cross with purpose, serious purpose, and maybe a wing and a pray that one can get back to the old home town in one piece or, at least, be able to think that one precious thought that drove me, lemming-like, here in the first place. I walk down the broken hand-railed, dirt-piled , drift winds-sent littered steps to get off the bridge and immediately stretched before me ; one million water-logged, stubbed cigarette-butts; one thousand stray, crushed, empty, cellophaned cigarette-packages blown around seeking their rightful owners; one hundred infinite brand-named (ice cold something pictured Bud Lite seems like the winner), crushed (or at least dented) beer cans; assorted, unnumbered, brown whiskey(or were they gin) bottles, mainly cheap from the look of them, a drunkard’s feast at one time; high gloss advertisement mailings(endless CVS drugs to take your world’s pain away, Shaw’s food to curb that incurable hunger that gnaws away at your stomach, Wal-Mart back-to-school trinkets, gadgets and throw-aways when the kids find out, and find out fast, that this crap is not “cool”, K-Mart holiday bargains, three for a dollar); yellowing, dated, newspapers (local this-and-that news, distant war drum news, more war drum news from some other earth corner, bad news badder, and celebrity relief news, Lady GaGa, or some such doings, that’s the ticket for our times) strewn every which way, discarded fast food packages of all descriptions that I have no time to describe. On to the street I step, the hard-scrabble North Adamsville street. Home.