Monday, September 16, 2013

***An Atlantic Summer’s Day, Circa 1960-For Frank, Class Of 1964

A YouTube film clip of the Capris performing their doo-wop classic, There's A Moon Out Tonight. This is sent out by request to Frankie, from the old neighborhood.

Peter Paul Markin, North Adamsville, Class Of 1964, comment:

This is the way Frank told me the story, mainly, so it’s really a Frank story that I want to tell you about but around the edges it could be my story, or your story for that matter:

Frank, long, winter-weight black-panted, long sleeve plaid flannel-shirted, thick-soled work boot-shod, de rigueur pseudo-beatnik posing attire, summer or winter, that he thought made him “cool”, at least for the be-bop, look-at-me-I'm-a-real-gone daddy, bear-baiting of the public (and not just the public) that he relished anguished over the job ahead the details of which will concern us later, not now. Melted by the late August sun like some Woolworth’s grilled cheese sandwich, he stood almost immobile, on the Sagamore Street side, looking toward the early morning vacant Welcome Young Field in front of him, as he slowly and methodically pulled out, for about the eighteenth time, or maybe about the eighteen thousandth, a now sweat-soaked, salt-stained, red railroad man’s handkerchief (also de rigueur) to wipe off the new wave of venial sin-producing (at least), swear-to-the-high-heavens-inducing sweat that had formed on his brow.

Frank had, after leaving his own house, already crossed the long-abandoned, rusty-steeled, wooden-tie worn Old Colony railroad tracks that separated the almost sociologically proverbial well-worn, well-trodden “good” from “bad” side of our town, his the “bad,” and mind too (that track, now used as part of the Red Line subway extension system, still stands guardian to that dividing line). He faced, and he knew he faced, even this early in the morning, another day in hell, Frank-ish hell, or so it seemed to him like that was where the day was heading, no question. Another one of those endless, furnace-blasting, dirt-kicking, hard-breathing, nerve-fraying, gates of hell, “dogs days,” August days. Worst, worst for old weather-beaten, you might as well say world-beaten Frank, a fiendish, fierce, frantic, frenzied 1960 teenage August day.

And, like I said, it was not just the weather either, although that was bad enough for anybody whose body metabolism cried out, and cried out loud and clear, for temperate climates, for low humidities, or just the cool, sweet hum of an ocean breeze now and again. But also, plain truth, it was just being a befuddled, beleaguered, bewildered, benighted, be-jesused kid that gummed up the works as well. Frank had it bad. I want to say, if memory does not fail me, that there aren’t double “dog days” like that now, heat-driven, sweltering, suffocating, got-to-break-out-or-bust teenage days, not August days anyway.

But, no, now that I think about it, that’s just not right, not at least if you believe, and you should, all the information about climate change and the rip-roaring way we, meaning you and me, and Frank too, have torn up old Mother Earth without thinking twice about it. Or even once, if you really look around. And about the 21st century angst-filled Franks that you see on those heat-swept streets now, except now the Franks are buried beneath some techno-gadgetry or other, and are not worrying about being be-bop, or real gone daddies, or being “beat,” or about bear-baiting the public or anything like that. But that’s a screed for another day; at least I want to put it off until then. Even writing about this day, this Frank-ish day, right now makes me reach for my own sweaty, dampish handkerchief. Let’s just call it a hot, dusty, uncomfortable, and dirty day and leave it at that.

What’s not “not right” though is that, Frank, a by now finely-tuned, professional quality sullen and also an award-worthy, very finely-tuned sulky teenage boy, usually, waited this kind of day out, impatiently, in his book-strewn, airless, sunless room, or what passed for his room if you don’t count his shared room brother’s stuff. And, maybe, the way Frank told it to me, he might have been beyond waiting impatiently, for he was ready, more than ready, for school to go back into session if for no other reason than, almost automatically come the “dog days,” to get cooled-out from this blazing, never-ending inferno of a heat wave that never failed to drain him of any human juices, creative or not.

And nothing, nothing, in this good, green world, seemingly, could get this black chino-panted, plaid flannel-shirted, salty sweat-dabbled, humidity-destroyed teenage boy out of his funk. Or it would, and I think you would have to agree, have to be something real good, almost a miracle, to break such a devilishly-imposed spell. In any case, as we catch up to him, he is not in his stuffy old bookcase of a room now but there he is walking, in defiance of all good, cool, common sense, long-panted, long-shirted, and long-faced, as I said was his fashionista statement to this wicked old world in those days, across Welcome Young Field on to Hancock Street. On a mission, no less. That is as good a place, the field that is, as any to start this saga.

Now come late August this quirky, almost primitively home-made-like softball field (with adjoining, little used asphalt tennis courts, little used in those days, anyway) was a ghost town during the day. The city provided and funded kids recreation programs were over, the balls and bats, paddles and playground things are now put away for another season, probably also, like Frank, just waiting for that first ring of the school bell come merciful September. The dust this day is thick and unsettled, forming atomic bomb-like powder puffs in the air at the slightest disturbance, like when an odd kid or two makes a short-cut across the field leaving a trail of such baby atomic bomb blasts behind them.

At this early hour the usually game-time firm white lines of the base paths are now broken, hither and yon, to hell from last night's combat, the battle for bragging rights at the old Red Feather gin mill, or something. They await some precious manicure from the Parks Department employees, if those public servants can fight their own lassitude in this heat. And while they are at it they should put some time, some serious patchwork time, fixing the ever-sagging, splintered, termited, or so it seemed on close inspection, but in any case rotted out wooden bleachers that served to corral a crowd on a hot summer’s night. Good luck, men. And if the work is not done, not to worry, the guys who play their damned, loud-noised, argue, argue loudly, over every play with the ever blind umpire, softball under the artificial night lights, if I know them and I do just like Frank does, know the grooves and ridges of the surfaces of the base paths like the backs of their hands, so don’t fret about them.

This field, this Welcome Young Field, by the way, is not just any field, but a field overflowing, torrentially overflowing, with all kinds of August memories, and June and July memories too. Maybe other months as well but those months come readily to mind, hot, sticky, sultry summer mind. Need I remind anyone, at least any Atlantic denizen of a certain age, of the annual Fourth of July celebrations that took place center stage there as far back as misty memory recalled. The mad, frenetic, survival-of-the-fittest dashes for ice cream, the crushed-up lines (boys and girls, separately ) for tonic (a.k.a. soda, with names like Nehi, grape and orange, and Hires Root Beer for good measure, for those too young to remember that New Englandism and those brand names), the foot races won by the swift and sure-footed (Frank said he almost won one once but “ran out of gas” just before the finish), the baby carriage parade, and the tired old, but much anticipated, ride on a real pony, and other foolery and frolic as we paid homage to those who fought, and bled, for the Republic. Maybe, maybe paid homage that is. A lot of that part gets mixed up with the ice cream and tonic. (Remember: that’s soda, you can look it up, but I’m telling you all the truth.).

Hell, even that little-used, like I said before little-used in those days, usually glass-strewn but now Parks Department cleaned up asphalt-floored tennis court got a workout as a dance/talent show venue, jerrybuilt stage platform and all. Every 1960 local American Idol wanna-be, misty Rosemary Clooney/McGuire Sisters-like 1940s Come On To My House, Paper Dolls torch singer jumped, literally, on stage to grab the mike and "fifteen minutes (or less)of fame." Needless to say every smoky-voiced male crooner who could make that jump got up there as well, fighting, fighting like a demon for that five dollar first prize, or whatever the payoff was. Later as it got dark, tunes, misty tunes of course, some of them already heard from those "rising stars" like some ill-fated encore, wafted in the night time air from some local band when the Fourth of July turned to adult desires come sundown after we kids had gorged, completely gorged, and feverishly exhausted, ourselves. That story, the dark night, stars are out, moony-faced, he looking for she, she looking for he, and the rest of it, (I don’t have to draw you a diagram, do I?), awaits its own chronicler. I’m just here to tell Frank’s story and that ain’t part of it.

This next thing is part of the story, though. In this field, this bedlam field, as Frank just reminded me, later, after Fourth Of July celebrations became just kids stuff for us, and kind of lame kids stuff at that, we had our first, not so serious, crushes on those glamorous-seeming, fresh-faced, shapely-figured, sweetly-smiling and icily-remote college girls, or at least older girls, who were employed by the Parks Department to teach us kids crafts and stuff in those summer programs that I mentioned before. Or had our first serious crushes on the so serious, so very serious, girls, our school classmates no less, determined to show Frank, Frank of all people, up in the craft-creating (spiffy gimp wrist band-making, pot-holder-for-Ma-making, copper-etching, etc.) department when everyone knew, or should have known, Frank was just letting them win for his own “evil” designs. (And maybe me, maybe I let them "win" too, although I will plead amnesia on this one.) Now that I think of it I might have tried that ruse on the girls myself, there was nothing to it then.

But enough of old, old time flights of fancies. I have to get moving, and moving a little more quickly, if I am ever going to accomplish “my mission,” or ever get Frank out of that blessed, memory-blessed, sanctified, dusty old ball field, sweaty flaming red railroad man’s handkerchief and all. I‘ll let you know about the mission, Frank's mission that is, as I go along like I told you I would before but it means, in the first place, that Frank has to go on this “dog day” August day to Norfolk Downs, or the “Downs” as I heard someone call it once and I didn’t know what they were talking about. We always called it just plain, ordinary, vanilla-tinged, one-horse Norfolk Downs. And Frank had to walk. He, hot as he was and as hot as it was, was certainly not going to wait for an eternity, or more, for that never-coming Eastern Mass. bus from Fields Corner to meander up Hancock Street. Not that Frank was any stranger to that mode of transportation, to that walking. Frank, as I know for certain and have no need to plead amnesia on, had worn down many a pair of heel-broken, sole-thinned shoes (and maybe sneakers too)on the pavements and pathways of this old planet walking out of some forlorn place (or, for that matter, walking into such places). Just take my word for that, okay.

You can take my word for this too. Frank is now officially (my officially) out of the softball field and walking, walking slowly as befits the day, past the now also long gone little bus shelter hut as you get up onto Hancock Street. You know that old grey, shingled, always needed painting, smelly from some old wino's bottle or something, beat-up, beat-down thing that was suppose to protect you against the weathers while you waited for that never-coming Eastern Mass. bus. He, Frank that is, insists that his observation of that hut be put in here despite the fact that he had no intention of taking the bus as I already told you. He is not even going to step into its shade for a minute to cool off. But get this. We have to go through this hut business because, if you can believe this, that lean-to has "symbolic" meaning. Apparently every time this know-it-all pseudo-“beatnik”, long pants, heavy shirt and all, had a beef with his mother (and, you know, let’s not kid each other, when the deal went down, the beef was ALWAYS with Ma in those pre-“parenting-sharing” days) he sought shelter against life’s storms there, before caving into whatever non-negotiable demands Ma insisted on. Sound familiar? But enough, already.

Well, if you get, or rather, if back then if you got on to Hancock Street, (and you actually made it past that historic Eastern Mass. hut, oops, "symbolic" hut) down at the far end of the Welcome Young Field and were heading for Norfolk Downs you have to pass the old high school just a few blocks up on your journey. Just past the old Merit gas station, remember. That gas station (now Hess at that location) had been the scene of memories, Frank memories and mine too. But those are later gas-fumed, oil-drenched, tire-changed, under-the hood-fixated, car-crazy dreams; looking out at the (hopefully) starless be-bop ocean night; looking out for the highway of no return to the same old, same old mean streets of beat town; looking for some "high white note" heart of Saturday night or, better, the dreams accumulated from such a night; and, looking, and looking hard, desperately hard for the cloudless, sun-dried, sun-moaning under the weight of the day, low-slung blue pink Western-driven be-bop, bop-bop, sun-devouring sky and need not detain us here.

Don’t be scared by the thought of approaching the old school though, we all did it and most of us survived, I guess. Frank included. What makes this particular journey on this particular day past the old beige-bricked building “special” is that Frank (and I) had, just a couple of months before, graduated from North Adamsville Junior High School (North Adamsville Middle School, as everyone who wants to show how smart and up-to-date they are keeps telling me) and so along with the sweat on his brow from the heat a little bit of anxiety is starting to form in Frank’s head about being a “little fish in a big pond” freshman come September as he passed by. Especially, a pseudo-beatnik “little fish”. See, he had cultivated a certain, well, let’s call it "style" over there at Atlantic. That “style” involved a total disdain for everything, everything except trying to impress girls with his long-panted, flannel-shirted, work boot-shod, thick book-carrying knowledge of every arcane fact known to humankind. Like that really was the way to impress teenage girls, then or now. In any case he was worried, worried sick at times, that in such a big school his “style” needed upgrading. Let’s not even get into that story now, or maybe, ever. Like I said we survived.

Frank nevertheless pulled himself together enough to push on until he came to the old medieval-inspired Sacred Heart Catholic Church further up Hancock Street, the church he went to, his church (and mine) in sunnier times. Frank need have no fear this day as he passed the church quickly, looking furtively to the other side of the street. Whatever demons were to be pushed away that day, or in his life, were looking the other way as well. The boy is on a mission after all, a trusted mission from his grandmother. Fearing some god, fearing some forgotten confession non-confessed venial sin like disobeying your parents, was child’s play compared to facing Gramma’s wrath when things weren’t done, and done right, on the very infrequent special occasions in his clan’s existence. I knew Frank's grandmother and I knew, and everyone else did too, that she was a “saint” but on these matters even god obeyed, or else. This special occasion, by the way, the reason Frank felt compelled to tell me this story, and to have me write it, or else, was the family Labor Day picnic to take place down at Treasure Island. (That’s what we called it in those days; today it is named after a fallen Marine, Cady Park, or something like that.) This occasion required a food order; make that a special food order, from Kennedy’s Deli.

And there it is as Frank makes the turn from Hancock Street to Billings Road. You knew Kennedy’s, right? The one right next to the big A&P grocery store back in those days. As Frank turned on Billings, went down a couple of storefronts and entered that store he had to, literally, walk in through the piled sawdust and occasional peanut shell husks on the gnarled hardwood floor. At once his senses were attacked by the smells of freshly ground coffee, a faint whiff of peanut butter being ground up, and of strong cheeses aging. He noticed a couple of other customers ahead of him and that he will have to wait, impatiently.

He also noticed that the single employee, a friendly clerk, was weighing a tub of butter for a matronly housewife, while a young mother, a couple of kids in tow, was trying, desperately, to keep them away from the cracker barrel or the massive dill pickle jar. The butter weighed and packaged the matronly women spoke out the rest of her order; half pound of cheese, thinly sliced, a pound of bologna, not too thin; a third of a pound of precious ham, very thinly sliced; and, the thing that made our boy pay attention, a pound of the famous house homemade potato salad, Kennedy's potato salad.

Frank winced, hoping that there will be enough of that manna left so that he could fill his order. That, above all else, is why he is a man on a mission on this day. Something about the almost paper thin-sliced, crunchy potatoes, the added vinegar or whatever elixir was put in the mix that made any picnic for him, whatever other treats might surface. Hey, I was crazy over it too. Who do you think got Frank "hip" to it, anyway? Not to worry though, there was plenty left and our boy carried his bundled order triumphantly out of the door, noticing the bigger crowds going in and out of the A&P with their plastic sheathed, pre-packaged deli meats, their tinny-tasting canned goods, their sullen potato salad, probably yesterday’s, and their expressionless fast exit faces. Obviously they had not been on any mission, not any special mission anyway, just another shopping trip. No, thank you, not today to all of that. Today Frank’s got real stuff.

“Wait a minute,” I can hear patient readers, impatiently moaning. This madman of a Frank story-teller has taken us, hither and yon, on some seemingly cryptic mission on behalf of an old friend, under threat or otherwise, through the sweat-drenched heat of summer, through the really best forgotten miseries of teenage-hood, and through the timeless dust and grime of vacant ball fields. He has regaled us with talk of ancient misty Fourth of July celebrations, the sexual longings of male teenagers, the anxieties of fitting in at a new school, and some off-hand remarks about religion. And for what, just to give us some twisted Proustian culinary odyssey about getting a pound of potato salad, famous or not, for grandmother.

Well, yes. But hear me out. You don’t know the end. I swear Frank said this to me, shaking off the heat of the day on which he told me the story with a clean white handkerchief from the breast pocket of his light-weight suit jacket. After the purposeful journey the heat of that day didn’t seem so bad after all. That, my friends, made it all worth the telling, right?


Theres A Moon Out Tonight -The Capris Lyrics

There's a (moon out tonight) whoa-oh-oh ooh
Let's go strollin'
There's a (girl in my heart) whoa-oh-oh ooh
Whose heart I've stolen
There's a moon out tonight (whoa-oh-oh ooh)
Let's go strollin' through the park (ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh)

There's a (glow in my heart) whoa-oh-oh ooh
I never felt before
There's a (girl at my side) whoa-oh-oh ooh
That I adore
There's a glow in my heart I never felt before (ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh)

Oh darlin'
Where have you been?
I've been longin' for you all my life

Whoa-uh-oh baby I never felt this way before
I guess it's because there's a moon out tonight

There's a (glow in my heart) whoa-oh-oh ooh
I never felt before
There's a (girl at my side) whoa-oh-oh ooh
That I adore
There's glow in my heart
I guess it's because

There's a moon out tonight
Moon out tonight
Moon out tonight
Moon out tonight
There's a moon out tonight

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