Sunday, July 12, 2015

Out In The 1960s Be-Bop Corner Boy Night-Dimmed Elegy For Peter Paul Markin-Take Four

Out In The 1960s Be-Bop Corner Boy Night-Dimmed Elegy For Peter Paul Markin-Take Four  


From The Pen Of Bart Webber   

My old friend and corner boy from the mean, cutthroat, don’t give an inch, never get ahead, stay in the damn place generation after generation only the shabby tenements get older and raspier Irish-dominated working-class streets of North Adamsville, the late lamented, unsung Peter Paul Markin, got as caught up in what he called the “fresh breeze jailbreak” of the 1960s counter-cultural movement as any man I knew from that time, except maybe Albie Lewin who I will get back to in a minute. Since I grew up flush against those very same tenements as him in a double-decker house instead of Markin’s triple-decker an architectural import from Dublin via South Boston and Dorchester not seen in other parts of the country, I need to tell you straight up that cramped lived in space would not have, in fact has not as far as I know, produced any new generations of “fresh breeze break-out” artists like Markin (and me but I was only in that mixed up road for a while, a short while before the breeze died for me but enough of me this is about Markin’s fresh breeze not my minute), so you can call it a sure thing that it was the times that got everything Markin touched all fouled up before he was done, before the bad genes took charge.

Maybe, just maybe if those 1960s had not had happened, no, that’s not right, if Markin had not dipped his oar in, had not called the damn thing before most of us even caught the last of the 1950s Kerouac on the road/Ginsberg howl/Burroughs naked lunch “beat” breeze he might still be with us, might not have left me and a lot of other guys high and dry to sing his plainsong. Nay, I am just getting sentimental, damn forty years sentimental, Markin lived for that big jail-break moment and probably would be now doing a big nickel or dime somewhere in some forlorn no window prison so let’s get on with what I want to tell you about, about a guy from out of the American blue-pink night who “walked with the king” for a while, and then didn’t. 

I mentioned Albie Lewin might have had Markin beat in the jail break-out department but here is the difference. Everything that I knew about Albie’s life from when he was just a rusty kid in high school drove him unconsciously to get caught up in that 1960s splash. His parents had been artists, or poets or maybe his father was an artist and his mother a poet, they knew the Village scene when that place was an isolated oasis from the deep knife of the red scare Cold War 1950s that chilled North Adamsville to the bone. Markin had none of that going for him just some kind of sixth sense that his dumb ass white young life was going to be different from anything our town thought was “cool.”

Yeah, so Albie from New York City, Stuyvesant Town I think he said one time but don’t quote me on that so let’s just say New York, was a guy I met I met on my own hitchhike road when under Markin’s imprimatur I took time off from what he called “squaresville” and fell in with a bunch of people who were travelling in no particular hurry and with no particular destination the Pacific Coast California highways in a converted school bus named Aquarius Rising decorated in Day-Glo colors and loaded to the gills with drugs, music and good vibes (mostly)  under the direction of Captain Crunch, a serious 1960s character who would have been worth talking to about Markin now, maybe talking about me back then too before I got off the bus, if the good Captain has survived the hard drug regimen and, Sally Mae’s, his last girlfriend known to me, blandishments. 

Albie seemed to have known everybody, and most of its ex-patriates, who even touched the geographic tip of the Village,  knew Allan Ginsberg after he had he turned from “beat” madman Howl poet impresario to whirling dervish of the “hippie” Zen Om Om clan, knew Abbie from civil rights days down South before he went hippie-yippie-zippie or whatever was driving him back then, and knew a lot of guys, black and white, like Huey, Bobby, Dave, Bill, Jerry, political guys, heavy political guys, and the like not as best buddies but as guys he could give the nod to (although in that rarified air more likely that the high school-ish nod the convoluted “revolutionary brothers” close-fisted handshake, that handshake was not like the high school “nod” I will mention later but that “nod” thing is just my old time way of saying that a guy who maybe you knew in elementary school but didn’t hang with anymore in high school because you or he got into other things, maybe played some variation pick-up ball against, or ran into when he came around your corner to do his whatever business was “cool” even if you didn’t consider him one of the “tribe,” one of your corner boys).

Yeah, Albie and I could do that handshake business although I always got the sequence wrong, bopped his fist when I should have popped his arm, popped his knuckles when I should bopped his arm and he would laugh at me like I was some clod. Maybe we got even closer than that a few times out in front of some holy Pacific Coast spot, maybe Big Sur or the more desolate Todo el Mundo further down the road where Markin and I camped out in a cabin for a couple of weeks that belonged to some bookseller in San Francisco that he knew from hanging around that town when the whole thing exploded, maybe you heard about Haight-Ashbury, you know the hippie explosion if you don’t recognize that name, when high as kites Albie gave out his vision of the new world as the whole of the Japan seas crashed on the craggy rocks. Yeah, I think we, Albie and I, had hitchhiked there from San Francisco one time when Aquarius Rising was in for serious repairs after a crisscross trek up from La Jolla via Joshua Tree desert nights and Captain Crunch was in his cups about something or we both thought something was in “bad vibes” mode (although that “bad vibes” scene we hated and feared as old school, totally bourgeois, really was an infrequent occurrence given how much dope and booze got passed  around and how the cast of characters who took up residence on the bus for various periods from a couple of days to weeks, not all of them heaven’s angels either, and a few who would later turn up in hospitals and prisons when they crashed out).

Yeah, Albie was a great one when he was high for building castles in the sky, for going on and on about the new day coming, mostly dope dreams but some from literary stuff too, books that he had read that his parents had turned him on to, Proust, Gide, Mann, lots of Europeans who had big thoughts and who when you read them about alienation and the hardships of existence really had it on the nose. See, I never would run into a guy like Albie, a good guy to talk to and share some dope dreams with if it had not been for Markin. If it had not been for the topsy-turvy times. But enough of Albie, enough of Captain Crunch, enough of denizens of the bus because they almost all figured to be part of that scene, it made sense out of their whole freaking lives. Not Markin though, Markin’s got his grafted onto his skin, hell, onto his soul.         

See Markin was the guy who broke the mold that had been pre-set for us (by parents, educators, religious zealots, political hacks and just plain ennui) whom I knew best from that time, knew exactly his place in the “fresh breeze jailbreak” shake-up he brought to North Adamsville when we his corner boys were just startled unbelievers. Know too what happened to him later, later when the whole thing turned in on itself, which I don’t know about Albie since I lost contact with him in the late 1970s when he said he was going to Tangiers to cool out, grab as much opium, hash, and other drugs as he could ingest and wait for the next new dispensation. I hope he found what he was looking for, found some solace in the dope, in the hard edges of the Casbah, and is still with us somewhere since we are, some of us, still waiting for the next new dispensation.  

Oh sure, Frankie Riley, the self-proclaimed although unquestionably acknowledged leader of our corner, acknowledged as such in the key time of late high school out in front of Jack Slack’s bowling alleys on Thornton Street got caught up too, but Markin called the breeze coming, no question, and Frankie just bopped through the whole thing. 

By the way for those of you from the leafy suburbs or maybe the hard-hearted big cities now, that “corner boy” thing was central to our small-time existence and Jack Slack’s place was kind of an end of the process, a place where you reigned after you had paid your dues, after you had hung out at various other places in the old neighborhood. Like getting your feet wet hanging off the wall in front of Doc’s Drugstore across from Adams Elementary on Newbury Street in grade school. Doc’s where you graduated from grabbing candy after school before you headed home to hanging out checking out the girls when you got to sixth grade and those girls who the year before were nothing but nuisances turned out to be, well, interesting and you had thoughts about how you were going to get some Sally to dance with you in Doc’s sofa fountain section where he had a be-bop jukebox with everything from Elvis to Jerry Lee, if you just had the nerve to do more than give that Sally the meaningful eye. Like once the older guys moved on to Jack Slack’s you and your boys moved into the vacuum at Tonio’s Pizza Parlor in junior high where you hung out in Tonio provided vinyl-clad booths (except Friday night when Tonio needed every booth for giving Ma a break from making dinner Family Night and we were reduced to hanging against the walls like we were some of Doc’s elementary school dopes) sharing slices of pizza and soda (although we called it tonic for some reason peculiar to New England which you don’t hear expressed anymore in the world of “soda” )with some Jane who you were able to convince to come and listen to the latest Fabian hit on Tonio’s big ass juke box no dancing allowed since there was no space to do so  (that is you had better make it Fabian, Bobby Darin or Bobby Vee or guys like that when you put your three selections for a quarter in the jukebox or you were not going to be sharing pizza slices, forget it). And then as you moved through the years depending on age and whether the previous older corner boys who had staked out the spot were still hanging against the wall or had moved on to Jack Slack’s. Jack Slack’s only a few blocks from the secluded section of Adamsville Beach and if you got lucky and some Suzy decided this was her night, and yours (and had a car, or had a friend who had a car, preferably some dreamy big fin heavy chrome high volume radio two-toned Chevy or Ford, cars old guys with tons of money today fix up and customize and put on display in auto shows, the fools. I know at least ten young girls, twenty-something girls, nah, woman, who could care less about a guy’s age if they could sit on the front seat of one of those beauties so forget the damn shows guys).

A lot of the corner boy stuff was hanging and wasting time but you lived for the possibility of making it with some Sally, Jane, or Suzy one you figured out what was what. Figured too when Frankie Riley was around who was the king of the corner boys. Always as long as I was around Frankie was leading, leading Markin, Jack Dawson, Allan Johnson, Jimmy Jenkins, Sam Lowell, Jack Callahan, me, and a revolving crew of other guys at various times who all got caught up a little in the mix, but when the deal went down followed along with Markin on the high hitchhike road when Markin’s prediction finally came to some fruition after we graduated from high school and a few years after that. See Frankie was smart and Frankie was not, and is not now in that big law firm office that he works out of in downtown Boston, a guy who would not be a part of the next big thing just as in junior high he was the be-bop king of the rock and roll sock hop last chance last dance scene when all the other guys, us, were hanging flowers on the wall of the dingy gym turned dance hall at Adams Junior High. Yeah but Markin was the hell-bent king of the search for the great blue-pink American West night and that is why we still, Frankie too, talk about him, moan to high heaven about the fate of the bastard.

Hell, like I said, and if you looked at me now or maybe even a few years after the expulsion from paradise in all my Markin-etched “square-dom” you would in no way you would have suspected it, suspected even I got caught in the frenzy of the ‘60s for a short time, a short time when I got high with the guys, experimenting with whatever drug was at hand, mostly grass and speed, although after we got to the West everything except acid, you know, LSD, which Markin swore he never touched either but the more I think about what happened to that sainted bastard the more I think at the end he must have done some strange chemicals because what happened to him seems unexplainable without some heavy damage happening to his brain cells. Yeah, I got the wanderlust too, no, got the damn itch to shake the dust off my shoes from old vanilla nothing happening except the same old, same old of North Adamsville before I decided that I was just a little too square, just a little too hung up on partaking the comforts of life which I never had growing up and which I was looking for more than the “newer world” Markin kept yakking about on those dreary “no go” Friday nights when girl-less, dough-less, car-less he would hold us in his grip when he went on and on about the new dispensation from about tenth-grade on and would not let go.

Markin, and Sam Lowell too who held out longer than most of the rest of us, had come from even poorer circumstances than my own but Markin was different in lots of respects from the rest of us in his sunnier days when the world looked bright and everything looked like there was a new world a-borning and that kept his baser instincts in check, for a while, but l am getting ahead of myself.  Markin though was the guy who caught the fresh breeze first as he would go on and on about when he was in high dudgeon on some miserable dough-less Friday night and emphatically tell us that this breeze was going to be his ticket out of poverty, out of his wrecked home life, out of those same vanilla streets that I was trying to shake the dust of too. Yeah he caught that first beautiful breeze that we thought he was crazy to project, caught the breeze that he held on until the end, beyond the end.  

You know, and if you don’t know you can look up the information on Wikipedia or take a chance that somebody has put something about the times, about coming of age back in the 1960s that people still refer to, good or bad, as a hell of a time, as a time we almost did reach the age of Aquarius, on some 1960s-related website so I will just give a little shorthand for what went on in the “hippie”-tie-dye-“far out, man”-drugs, sex, rock and roll-live fast and stay out of the fast lane-angry, gentle people-“seek a newer world”-turn the world upside down-“we want the world and we want it now”-Nirvana crash-out thing. That’s as good as I can put it in under about fifty-thousand words which I think I would be hard-pressed to deliver up, although if Markin was still around he would write about one hundred thousand words giving one and all the existential meaning of the thing, where it fit into history, where it was something new under the sun, who the literary progenitors were unto the seventh generation before, and, and what was silly and excessive about the whole adventure, but my summary will splash you a little.

While everybody in those times did not go through all the connected hyphens above, and as I have found out more recently in some places and in some social groupings there had never been a beat skipped from the placid 1950s-etched place set out for everybody coming of age then by a fairly large number of people whose only association with the “hyphens” was through the third-hand lens of the media, and that with distain. But enough got caught up in enough of the ideas described above to form a significant mass movement in the cities, on the campuses, and to make some inroads in the inner suburbs where even those stifled leafy street two cars and a breezeway parents were feeling stifled, for a while. That “for a while ” is important because Peter Paul, Markin, who had much more invested in a good outcome that I did, or than Sam, Frankie, Jack, Jimmy, “Thunder,” and a few less frequent corner boys did, stuck it out through thick and thin a lot longer than most, stuck with the “new age” ideas for a while after the ebb tide having caught him sort of flat-footed and could no longer hold back those “wanting” hungers that flashed through his life (and the lives of the rest of us his corner boys too who like I said craved the good things we never had and which with a little work and lots of compromises we could grab onto with every hand). That tension between the new world that he invested his “angel-heart” in when he threw the dice of his life against the back alley boards and the “satan-demon” he suppressed temporarily in the high tide of the 1960s, early 1970s just could not stay inside that psychologically fragile man for too long and in the end he went under, and those of us who have survived still moan over that loss, moan high and hard.

Moan for Markin every time we drink a glass of high-end wine, some high-shelf whiskey for those who never broke the hard liquor habit, at Jonny Doherty’s Sunnyville Grille in Boston when we get together, those still around, those still alive and kicking, and after Frankie rattles off all the misadventures he led us in we come back to Markin, even Frankie, and think about all the rotgut stuff we drank when he was around, that cheap Southern Comfort he would steal from his father’s liquor cabinet or paid some town rummy to get for us as long as he, the rummy, got his bottle of Thunderbird, think about that first time he got a bottle of whiskey at Doc’s Drugstore using his grandmother’s good credit to grab it along with her medicine that he would pick up for her and how he got drunk as a skunk down at the far end of Adamsville Beach with Allan Johnston and how they looked green for days after that.

Moan as we put on nice suits to go to Johnny Doherty’s  and think about how he dressed in his older brothers’ cast-offs, which since he was kind of the runt of the litter were always too big for him but since he was the youngest he was stuck until he had a little growth spurt in the ninth grade. Those hand-me-downs which were always, always, always some odd-ball color of indeterminate fabric which his frugal, clueless mother got up in the town’s Bargain Center. That “style” later morphed by him to hide the awfulness of his clothes into  his eclectic “beat” garb of flannel shirt, black chinos and work boots topped off with his midnight 24/7 sunglasses when that movement mercifully allowed him to hide behind its walls. Still later his mandatory, hippie-mandatory, Army surplus, olive green jacket, black as night boots, sailor’s bell-bottom pants which were cool then, some deckhand’s blouse, not from his war, Vietnam, but World War II surplus from Eddy’s Army/Navy Store up in Adamsville Center. Worse, worse at the end if Danny Ding who saw him last in San Francisco can be believed, said he had lost a lot of weight, looked a little bent over, ragged hair and beard, his blue-eyes like sullen empty dreams wearing Sally stuff (Salvation Army), plaid shirt, moccasins, no socks, stained khaki pants, somebody’s beaten by the wind windbreaker, before he left on that last trip to Mexico so he must have been “tasting” the product (cocaine, just starting to be the drug of choice for the marijuana-hash-peyote button-mescaline-sated), although with Danny you always had to check and see if he was high on something, or was on the hustle. Yeah, Danny had that nose problem then, poor bastard, and knew he could always get dough if he came up with information about Markin, anything.

Moan when we look at the black-laced numbers on our checkbook balances now when he had almost always been flat busted, busted hard, always “from hunger” in the money department, always working up in his over-heated brain some silly schemes to make money without a sweat. Moan too when he would try to con us, con us his boys, for Chrissakes, when he had some off-the-wall gambling scheme when we were kids to hustle dough or some midnight creep thing (which Frankie, who will be more than glad to inform you, had to organize since Markin might have been the idea man but Frankie was the evil genius to carry the plan otherwise  Markin would have had us in some lonely forsaken jail if he had been in charge of those dark moon capers), and then that reaching for the brass ring when he figured to corner the dope market or whatever his by then super-heated brain was thinking of down in Mexico when he went off the edge. Jesus, all of that, all that crap and we still moan, moan high and hard for that lost amigo. Jesus.

I was there through some of it though, the parts which I could see coming to a bad end if the Sixties hadn’t slowed his descend for a while, the early part mostly when Peter Paul, hell, let me just call him Markin straight up like we all did going back to sixth grade (or earlier for guys like Allan Johnson and Frankie Riley), was driven more by the “better angel of his nature.” I had been there when he sensed long before the rest of us that the fresh breeze coming through the 1960s land might wash him clean, might give him some breathing room, had been there during the school part from late elementary school on through our first couple of years out of high school when a lot of the 1960s stuff was getting into high gear, when we went hitchhiking together across the country about ten times looking for what Markin called the great blue-pink American West night. Hell he had me half-believing that great blue-pink thing (especially when he started railing while we were high on hash or peyote buttons that he would get, trade for I think when we stayed in the desert and ran into Hopis and Navajos who used the buttons in their religious ceremonies which led us lapsed Catholic boys to eat the buttons like some old time dry as dust communion wafer proffered by some wino priest at the rail Sunday morning and be able to say we were doing them “strictly for religious purposes” too), half-believing a new gentler world could be had if we just gathered in enough recruits, deprived the bourgeoisie (his term) of our generation’s blood and sweat and release that energy to create New Eden. Heady stuff, not original, not book-taught either, but just kind of in the air along with the damn war, cop hassles and drug-downers. I’m glad he is not here now to see the mess his, our generation has make of the freaking world, he would be shocked I think, probably couldn’t handle the idea that the utopian idealists of that age have turned in monsters blowing up half the world with every bomb they can get their hands on in order to save their skins as the rest of the world takes what is theirs by right, buying and selling good, souls, out heritage, anything for filthy lucre. Jesus. 

Yeah, so I went through my paces with Markin, stayed as long as I could. Then I drifted away with a little junior college time at Carver Junior College near our town, an early marriage to a young woman, Betsy Binstock, from Carver, about thirty miles from North Adamsville,  whom I had left hanging for a couple of years while I sowed my wild oats and she was still waiting for me when I came back (and is still my wife), a quick first child (later two more and now seven grandchildren, all loved, and all clueless about the 1960s, about my part in it, and clueless too about the why of my/our still moaning for the lost long gone mad daddy Markin, including Betsy being clueless about the Markin part which had been, still is, one of the few things we have fought over since she never cared for him even before he and I headed west together), some responsibilities starting up a small print shop which I had dreamed of owning since I had read about Benjamin Franklin’s start in the business in the 1700s but, frankly, because I was never as invested in the successful outcome of what was going on as Markin had been. Got wearisomely tired of the constant on the road hitchhiking, sleeping on some musty, ill-kept, off-beat converted bus home, somebody’s, some stranger’s, some churchly people’s kindly floor, or curled up in a sleeping bag against the wide oceans, and tired of the drugs, sex, and rock and roll run through although for about two years after high school, no, a couple of years after we had been out of high school a couple of years since Markin did not go on the wanderlust road seriously, except on summer break, until he made that decisive decision to drop out of college, Boston University, after sophomore year, I was with Markin almost every step of the way. Some people, and thinking about those days over the years since I confess I am one of them, were not built to be merry pranksters, to “be on the bus” as some guy used to say, some guy met on the Captain Crunch converted bus we spent much time on as our “home” who made Markin laugh once when he said “buy the ticket, take the ride.” Markin picked up on that saying and would say it every time somebody like me jumped off the bus.

I might have drifted away, got caught up with the family ways but until a couple of years before the end Markin and I would stay in contact, or I would get messages from him through other old time corner boys like Frankie Riley, Sam Lowell, and Jack Dawson.

Hey, I was just thinking so you know what I am talking about in case you were not washed, washed clean I hope, by that tide Markin got caught up in the anti-establishment/anti-Vietnam War/don’t trust anybody over thirty/live free and communally on greens and love/hippie/drugs, the more the better/louder the better acid rock/strobe light dreams/seeking a newer world/turn the world upside down and see what shakes out scene and if you didn’t know I have laid out the briefest of outlines here.

Some of those trends, stuff we called “beatnik” on the corner in disbelief at the goofiness, our own studied ignorance of anything that upset our corner boy existence, maybe threatened it, threatened our version of the American way of life, the way we saw it threatened then by the hoarded Jews and atheists mocking everything that we held dear, maybe a little fag and dyke baiting which was a way of life to keep up our manly poses. We, Frankie Riley especially made something of an art form out of that ritualistic sexual preference baiting which at least once got Frankie a black eye from star football player and fellow corner boy Jack Callahan in sophomore year when Frankie implied the reason that Jack did not go after Chrissie McNamara, whom everybody knew he was crazy about and she him, was that he was “light on his feet.” Needless to say Frankie only stirred Jack once and that was that. By the way that Jack-Chrissie thing turned out to be one of the great romances of the Carver Class of 1967 and they are still married.

Maybe we felt some scorn too around prim Catholic “keep your eyes on God and look neither left or right, look not unto “newer worlds” in this lifetime but later, later after the dust has choked your grave” North Adamsville down by the shore about twenty miles south of Boston. Although by high school, after we fell off the Christian Doctrine class wagon in ninth grade which we all abandoned at the same time and caused some craziness with proper Catholic parents, the only reason any of us went to church if we went was to see if some girl we were chasing showed up for eight o’clock Mass. Markin missed a great opportunity when he was chasing Minnie Callahan (Jack’s twin sister) and would sit about three rows behind her in the chapel section and stare at her ass. Here is where he missed out though and maybe who knows if he had jumped at Minnie things might have turned out differently for him since she was beautiful, smart and had a nice personality and went on to become a college professor. See Minnie knew, from one of my talkative sisters who had a “crush” on him and whom I had mentioned it to, about the staring, about what Markin was doing and she told my sister she wondered why Markin never went any further and actually talked to her. Markin, the guy with the two thousands facts was tongue-tied around Minnie (and he wasn’t the only one if I remember correctly) and by the time he got his courage up, always a problem of his then around girls, she had already started “going steady” with some college Joe. Once a girl was in that “going steady” condition every other guy was hands off back then although I have a feeling, no, I know that was honored in the breech more than the observance but Markin held to the principle if nobody else did. I do know that at one school dance in senior year when Minnie’s college Joe was doing some college thing she told me that sometimes she really had wished Markin had done more than look at her ass.

We were close enough to Boston to get news on the grapevine about what was going on in the city, Markin, or he and Frankie once Frankie stopped harassing him about the beatnik thing and began to be swept up by the tide too occasionally making forays into the city to check things out. Funny Frankie, who loved Markin like a brother in those days, called him “the Scribe” after he became something of a flak for writing up Frankie’s doings and reading them to us on those restless weekend winter nights, writing up total bullshit stuff, baited him mercilessly with a big needle really, kind of limp-wristed fag-baiting him at times as then it was part of the macho thing to do, a little fag-baiting even of guys who loved women as we all did (and some of us, although not me, have the accumulated divorce settlements as mementos of that desire) just to keep them in line, keep them from “going light on their feet” as we used to say among ourselves when some real limp-wristed guy came into view.

Yeah, we started getting caught up in the breeze, especially when the dope started flowing, dope, Frankie the first in the neighborhood to “connect” got his first ounce of “grass” from a cousin over in South Boston far away in culture if not miles from the Beacon Hill or Harvard Square hip scenes but a place like many edgy places where flophouses, day labor, chronic unemployment and the “wanting habits” meet. That cousin had heard about the grapevine forming and started doing business with those far from hip scenes, guys who just wanted new kicks, mostly. Guys like us. (Funny, we all, maybe you did too, coughed our brains out the first couple of times we inhaled from the rawness of the smoke although most of us then were cigarette smokers so had inhaled smoke but this was something different, something to smooth you out). So we got hip to dope, maybe a little after the hipsters, later than the college Joes but we got there well before most people even knew what dope was, except to be shunned, got hip too to stuff like longer hair and beards which we didn’t pick up from the Beatles or anything like that but through Markin’s look after he spent some time in Harvard Square and started wearing his hair a little longer at the end of senior year. If you look at our high school yearbook (photographs taken the summer after junior year) you will see nothing but short “boy’s regular” clean shaven guys page after page.  (That hair thing driving his mother, Delores, a stern, un-relenting type filled with angst about airing the family’s “dirty linen” in public, filled with endless  sorrows about her downwardly mobile place in the town pecking order where she had grown up, crazy and later other mothers, including mine when I let mine grow longer, adding to the chorus, Jesus, Ma). Jack Dawson was the first on the beard stuff and he looked pretty good, looked like something out of an old sepia photograph of our great-grandfathers, all stately and Brahmin-like, all like photographs by Matthew Brady of Civil War generals. Markin tried to grow some wispy thing that never grew more than stubble and got nothing but laughs from us for his efforts. Later on the road his did fill in and he looked like some Old Testament prophet, like John Brown one of his heroes all avenging angel smiting down the “life-destroyers,” and maybe he was, although still later from that Danny Ding report I would have thought his unkempt beard would have made him look like he just got out of a mental hospital.

We picked up on stuff too like folk music that Markin would drive us crazy about, would ask us what we thought of Dylan endlessly, Woody Guthrie endlessly, Joan Baez endlessly and a whole bunch of others endlessly that he either heard in one of the coffeehouses where they would play in Harvard Square or on WBZ, a Boston station that had a Sunday night folk music show and which Markin picked up on his old time transistor radio when the airwaves were right. Me, then, now too, could take folk music or leave it, mostly the latter, but come Monday morning during the school year I would “yes, yes” old Markin to death just to keep him from going on and on about the damn thing, some performer with a golden voice, or some record he had picked up second-hand that linked up the mountain music of Appalachia in the 1920s with what was going on then, stuff like that, when what we wanted to hear about is whether a guy did the “do the do” with some honey over the weekend (mostly not, not, “do the do” but guys lied, hell I lied, like crazy and said they did). Stuff like dope, just marijuana mostly that Frankie, like I said was always on the leading edge when it came to highs (hell, he even had us sniffing airplane glue in junior high well before that became a minute fad later). But you have to know this, and I didn’t really get the full weight of what this meant until recently when I felt compelled to write a little something about that Markin bastard and had to think about all the things I knew about him directly and what I picked up from other sources, that Markin was a man of profound contradictions.

Hell, like many things that sprang up from nowhere then and had to be dealt with like the Vietnam War, like your relationship with your parents, like your view of success and an interesting life, and the way events totally outside their control twisted many people, from that time he was nothing but a walking contradiction. Would go from talking kick ass about the heathen commies and taking them down a peg in Vietnam one minute when we were hanging around idly against the brick wall in front of Jack Slack’s bowling alley in high school, no, for longer than that until he had to face Charley a few years later on his own turf in Vietnam when Markin got dragged into the Army and had to actually fight the son of bitches to practically becoming an old-fashioned  red-front street fighter out of some Communist International propaganda film from Germany in the late 1920s with the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front flag in his hands running through the streets of Cambridge, Washington, San Francisco the next. Really that street fighter stuff was after he got out of the service but it seemed strange to see him switch up like that. Maybe that experience, the whole panorama of Vietnam, the war that broke apart our generation, hell, broke the country apart is the prime example I can give about Markin’s contradictions or better those tussles that crammed his brain for almost as long as I had known him, although I will give you more examples.

See Markin would yell and scream about the commie menace, like the rest of us caught up in the red scare Cold War “are we going to last until next Wednesday or is the world going to go up in a puff.” He had been furious at the Reds when that war in Vietnam got started up in earnest in the early 1960s when America pulled itself into the fray while we were still in school and he practically wanted to join the Green Berets sight unseen although given his slender physique and lack of co-ordination he would have washed out about the first day. He would tell one and all that we needed to stop the bad guys in their tracks. He by the way really did have two left feet and was awkward at least for dancing and girls, except one girl, Emma Walkins who had come to North Adamsville from some Podunk town in Maine or someplace like that and who also had two left feet, refused to dance with him under any circumstances. Emma well Emma was Emma and only had eyes for Markin after one last chance last dance although she was so pretty, so smart and so nice we all took a run at her whether we had girlfriends or not, whether Markin liked it or not, and whether she had two-left feet or not. See on that last dance thing they both had taken some dancing lessons for the sole purpose, unknown to each other until the dance, of dancing with each other and hoping to high heaven not to ruin each other’s feet. So you can see why Emma only had eyes for Markin and vis-a-versa and why I was heartbroken for a while until I grabbed a last chance last dance with Betsy.

Here is where the contradictions come full turn though. At the same time as that “if your mommy is a commie, turn her in” red scare night business was driving the political ethos of the country, and Markin, he was very influenced by his grandmother who was loosely associated with the Catholic Workers movement, you know the social justice and peace people, Catholic version, who are still around, Catholic version, and actually would some nights rant about the Russkies and their nefarious doings around the world and in the next topic talk switch up about how we needed to make a more peaceful world, stop making bombs, nuclear bombs, and do something about it. Nuclear disarmament stuff that we thought he was daffy to talk about in public and get us all in trouble for stuff we didn’t care that much about. For petty larcenies and on some midnight creeps not so petty well we knew the risk but for some foolish Markin blather no one was ready to go to the mat for a guy’s unpatriotic stance.

If all this doesn’t give you an idea of what he was about, maybe is too vague, I remember in 1960, the fall, when we were just starting seventh grade in middle school, he would go door to door for hard anti-communist Jack Kennedy (one of our own Irish to boot) every weekend and a guy who was spouting in debates with Richard Nixon and wherever else he could on the stump about the “missile gap” meaning the United States needed more bombs, more nuclear bombs. Except one weekend, one Saturday, to placate his grandmother, his high Easter 1916 Irish Catholic grandmother although she was a little less enamored of the “chandelier” Irish Kennedys doing any “bog shanty” Irish proud, he went to a  Catholic Worker-sponsored nuclear disarmament rally (along with the Quakers and a bunch of “little old ladies in tennis shoes” as we used to call the grandmotherly do-gooders who you would see in Adamsville Center passing out leaflets once in a while for some worthy cause, and maybe some Universalists and Unitarians too before they joined forces together but don’t hold me to that last group, except they did join together for some reason, some doctrinal reason).

We all gave him hell about that disarmament business not seeing, me as hard as anybody else since I was as anti-red as the next guy, being clueless, about how the events of the world were twisting him back and forth. Frankie Riley, after fag-baiting him about dealing with limp-wristed guys and “dike” grandmothers actually bet Markin that he would not do it, would not show up in Boston for the rally and get the piss beat out of him by some tough guys hanging around the Common looking to bust a guy that they though was a creep. He did though, collected Frankie’s three dollars and got a money order and sent it off to the Quakers showing Frankie the bloody receipt one Friday night after he had so. Frankie was fit to be tied. Pure Markin.

The rest of us, except maybe Sam Lowell a little, were either not consciously conflicted about the big events in the world or never even though about them to be conflicted about. We  were so tied up in corner boy midnight creep small larcenies, turf wars with other corner boy cohorts (except for Red Radley and his biker boys who hung around Harry’s Variety Store, nobody, nobody still living, messed with those guys and their whip-chains and we never went within ten blocks of them even if we needed a soda desperately on a hot day, no way, Jesus, no way), getting girls to “do the do” or having many male fantasies about that idea, especially the ideas, read lies, come Monday morning before school cafeteria talkfest about who did or did not do what over the weekend, yes read mainly lies, getting winos or older brothers to get booze for us, no lie, although with the winos you had to make sure they got their bottle of Ripple or Thunderbird and watch them in and out of the liquor store to make sure that did not break out some side door and into the dark night  on you, that the fate of the world or the vagaries and rages of our small town existence passed us by, then anyway.              

But see maybe it is best to give some other examples so that nobody gets the idea that I have overdrawn that Markin contradictions business. No question from early on, junior high anyway from what I remember since I only knew him beginning in sixth grade in elementary school having moved up to North Adamsville from Bridgewater when my father changed jobs, Markin had an idea about seeing himself as a up and coming politician, a wheeler-dealer guy behind the scenes from what I could figure out when he started getting on his high horse about the subject. Not the out-front guy taking all the arrows but in the background setting things up, making policy, “greasing the rails” as he used to call it.  He really was a good organizer later but early on I would have rated him as poor since he did not know how to delegate tasks and also tended to like to do everything himself since that way as he explained it to me one time in a letter he sent me from California when he was helping to organize some anti-war march out there, he knew it would get done. As a policy wonk he started out much better as any guy would who had about two thousand off-the-wall facts stored in his brain for use anytime anybody wanted to argue with him about anything. I, Frankie too, although Sam usually did not like us to test him, usually liked to bait Markin a little to see if he had the stuff or it was just fluff, would just let him do his thing and try, try like hell, to keep out of the verbal cross-fire.

He had surprised me later after he had shifted to that red front street-fighter stance once he had been discharged from the Army after Vietnam when he called what he had wanted to be as a kid a “bourgeois politician,” saying it with the same distain as you would if you came up against some wino or other low-life since I knew very well being a politico had been a big part of his earlier desire at one point. Had then been the way out he had figured out for himself in order to satisfy some fierce childhood “wanting habit” as he called what ailed him. Here is the contradiction big time as if to tip the cart completely he turned into a fiery renegade street fighter facing down the cops, a surefire way to not catch the eye of some up and coming electoral candidate looking for a “fix-it” man. See after the Army, after he got what he called “hipped” by some fellow anti-war Vietnam veterans who had formed Vietnam Veterans Against The War, VVAW, at which point anybody could see the war was irretrievably lost once the guys who actually fought the thing were rising up against it, he got arrested more than a few times for acts of civil disobedience, you know at draft boards, trying to shut down federal buildings, blocking streets all in a desperate effort to end the damn war. The big arrest, the one that I remember he called me up about looking for bail money but also had said into the telephone that the tide of the 1960s was ebbing, ebbing fast as the bad guys were leading a counter-offensive to bring things back to about 1955, was the big bad mass arrests down in Washington on May Day in 1971 when they thought they could end the damn war by bringing down the government with a frontal attack. All they got was billy-clubs, tear-gas, beatings and the bastinado for their efforts.

Here’s another contradiction if the previous one doesn’t give you enough to go on. After reading Jack Kerouac’s, his saint’s, book Desolation Angels about his solitary drying out from the world time as a forest look-out ranger up in Oregon or Washington state I forget which Markin became a desert-seeking latter day hermit for about one month slated for the slab or sainthood actually having gone out into the caves near Joshua Tree in California for a while and the next day a king hell orgy satyr (he was not happy, despite his two short-lived failed marriages complete with two divorces, unless he had a few girlfriends all at the same time to lie to so you know that hermit loner trip was a hard task).

More, closer to home, closer to something I actually saw he consumed tanks-full of Irish working class kick ass (kick ass the commies I guess but mainly kick ass to help me when I got into an occasional fistfight when somebody crossed me) low-shelf Johnny Walker whiskies on sleepy Cape Cod beach strewn nights and an ascetic warrior avenging angel “walking with the king” peyote button visions on electric Joshua Tree days. Was as truthful as God one minute and the devil’s own hell and fire liar the next. Got as sentimental over women as any of the Romantic poets like Shelley, Keats, or Lord Byron one day and despite needing those women friends then proceeded to cold-heartedly betray about four women in two hours the next. Peter Paul, oops, Markin, by his whole being, just by his very existence, was twisted up with each new social convulsion, twisted by who he was, twisted by who he wanted to be but most of all twisted by his over-sized  puffball dreams of his own future, and the world’s. No wonder Sam Lowell who knew him as well as any guy used to say he was a man not of his times but of some earlier time when the world was small enough that the weight and fire of one man’s rages could set the world right, or blast it all to hell.

Only Allan Johnston probably knew Markin better than Sam, knew him from about third grade when they had lived in the same four unit housing project complex together and formed an eternal friendship one summer day after they met when Markin in a fit of pique at something Allan had said threw his sneakers away when they were down at the beach getting ready to go swimming and when the sneakers drifted out to sea and were lost Markin gave up  his own sneakers and caught hell from his mother when he said that his sneakers had drifted out to sea for some unexplained reason. Markin and Allan drifted apart after Markin went to California the last time but know this before Allan passed away a couple of years ago he used to write on various blogs and websites for a few years before that using Peter Paul Markin as his moniker as a sign of respect, still moaning for his long lost memory. Yeah, Markin was the king of contradictions the more I think about the matter, did the poor sainted bastard in. I can see that now. 

Let me get back to that corner boy designation that I started out with, a designation let’s be very clear, which was separate from friendships, a distinction which every corner boy knew, every corner boy who hung out on our corner. At the end senior year in high school and for a couple of years after that before the group started going its own separate ways that corner was in front of Jack Slack’s bowling alleys, the one over on Thornton Street where the girls would pass by on their way to the beach not the one on Adams Avenue just outside of Adamsville Center where old people who actually bowled would go. Before that starting out at Doc’s Drugstore in late elementary school, maybe fifth grade according to Frankie Riley, Tonio’s Pizza Parlor in junior high (when Frankie, a character worth writing about in his own right back in those days if not later, became the acknowledged and undisputed leader of our corner boy cohort) and before the place changed ownership in high school and the new owners did not want corner boys hanging around their place, Salducci’s Pizza Parlor, up in North Adamsville Square. Serious business. Serious corner boys hanging out most of the time, especially early on, because we were flat out busted, no dough, no way to get dough, except our little midnight creep petty larcenies, some not so petty like the time we hit it big on a full jewelry box in one house we crept into,  and maybe hitting Ma’s pocketbook for change when times were tough and most of us just couldn’t stand being cooped up all the time with no space to breathe brothers and sisters (me four sisters) coming out of the rafters. So weekend nights mainly and almost any night during the summer you could find at least a few of us holding up whatever age-appropriate wall we were holding up. And many nights Markin was the guy who glued us together, the guy talking a mile a minute (or if he wasn’t talking writing something two miles a minute) about everything under the sun that he had read that day, or sometime.

Of course Markin was also the glue guy when our larcenous hearts were on fire, he had a few contradictions even then to work out. I don’t want to get into those larcenies but I will give one example from our early days, kids’ stuff days, when we figured the “clip,” you know, the five-finger discount up the Square where in those days all the stores were not in the malls like now in most places, especially the jewelry stores and department stores. Here was the beauty of Markin, he worked out the “clips,” who to hit, how and where, although Frankie was the “on-site” organizer I guess you would call him. Funny the way Markin got started doing “clips” as he told us one night a few years later when we were at wits’ end about dough to get a car and be mobile for once and we were ready to go back to the kids’ stuff clip if something didn’t come up soon. In fifth grade he said he was trying to impress some girls, having recently found out that they were no longer nuisances but, well, he said in his usual understated way, interesting and didn’t have dollar one and so he and some kid who left the neighborhood before I got there went to Kay’s Jewelry and grabbed an onyx ring with a diamond set in the middle, cheap stuff but all the rage then for boy-girl “going steady” purposes and the girl loved it. I don’t know what happened after that with those “clips,” before I got into town, how many and for what purpose, but that probably gave Markin just the larcenous flame he needed whenever he was in a tight corner.

The basics of the clip were simple, have one guy clip and another lookout (which I did mostly since I was kind of nervous and would get sweaty palms) and then clear out slowly like nothing happened. Markin was beautiful in his planning (although as Frankie said no way could Markin run the operation then or we all would have been in reform school or prison) but the really beautiful part was how we made money off the stuff. Obviously we couldn’t go to a pawn shop or something like that so Markin would sell the stuff to high school kids who had dough at a nice discount. Really beautiful, and here is where we might have been unconscious socialists at that, we pooled all our monies together for whatever entertainment we were going to use the money for.  

Here’s the difference between corner boys and friends though, okay. Friends could be anything from some “nod” thing where you were cool with another guy (sometime I am going to write something up about the meaning of the “nod,” in the hierarchy of the gestures of the time because you would never nod a fellow corner boy, no way, that would be a sign of disrespect like the guy was just somebody around town or something, and no way, no way in hell, would you nod a girl, Jesus, they wouldn’t know what it meant, wouldn’t know you though they were “cool,” you dealt with them with “furtive glances,” yes, I really should write something about gestures then but I will leave this as “cool” between guys for now), maybe played sports together, worked together, but corner boys were expected to be more than that, were expected to be willing to go to the mat for the other guy, and did, and although we did not have anything as corny as some ceremonial blood oath like some corners had that we had heard about and had dismissed out of hand we were tight.

Markin was a key guy in the great firmament of the different configurations that we morphed into.  I had only caught up with the guys in the sixth grade at Doc’s to start my corner time but Markin, Allan and, I think, Sam had all started to hang out at Doc’s in the fifth grade when they “discovered” rock and roll and Doc’s big ass play everything, five, can you believe it five, selections for a quarter jukebox on their way home from the elementary school that was just down the block. That was very different from stopping at Doc’s to grab some kids’ stuff candy to hold you over until supper, or just assuage a sweet tooth. Hanging out, North Adamsville corner boy hanging out at least as far back as I have been able to detail it which is somewhere back in the 1920s, information provided by Jack Callahan’s grandfather who said it might go back further by that is when he started hanging out at the long defunct and passed Kelly’s Grocery Store, had its own rituals and art forms. I already mentioned the coming of age stages of where you hung out once you hit a certain but there were other things like the obligatory hanging one foot on the wall and the other firmly on the ground when you were talking your talk to the guys, and never letting a good-looking girl go by without some now male chauvinist comment causing many virginal young woman to avoid the corners, others and you would be surprised at some of others who had virginal reputations like Minnie Callahan, made a point of heading to the corner to be able to hear the latest Elvis, Jerry Lee, Beatles, Stones whatever on the jukebox and either smile that knowing smile or cut us to the quick. Funny I never remember Minnie cutting Markin to the quick then but then again I think he would get un-Markin-like quiet when she was around. Also never letting some other corner boy from some other corner get by without a sneer (unless it was Red Riley’s crowd but they didn’t frequent any of the placid places we hung out at) and of course the nod. The art form part is a little vague to me now but it had a lot to do with buying stuff in order to hang out (being regular customers, especially at Tonio’s who treated Frankie like a son, gave certain sense of respect), with always showing up at a certain, and for a time wearing the same collective outfit. Nothing elaborate, no uniform as such like some hell’s angels guys with their patches and secret meaning paraphernalia, just for a while I do remember white tee-shirts (rolled up to hold cigarettes after we saw guys doing that in a movie, The Wild One I think and black chinos, uncuffed (cuffed be not cool, nerdy then).  I hope that gives a little picture of what we did and what Markin was into back then, kids’ stuff really as I think about it now, just kids’ stuff (with a little larceny thrown in for good measure).           


Markin was as stand-up a corner boy as the next guy, probably more so than me, since his whole blessed life depended on that link to the world then. He took more than a few punches and kicks defending his brethren, coming to a brother’s defense although we didn’t use that word also expected of you as part of the package, including me one time when Frannie Desoto was after my ass, when he could have looked the other way. He really never was much of a fighter then, too runty and awkward but game. They say he did okay in Vietnam, no, more than okay and I could see that especially if like we corner boys he treated his Army buddies the same way. They say he kept a few guys from going over the deep end, going crazy when the constant gunfire got to them, got a couple of medals for something when the Viet Cong, Charley they called those guys, the enemy at first to show disrespect but later, after 1968 during Tet when all hell broke loose and Charley went for broke they began to show a grudging respect, decided that “they owned the night” just like they said they did. (when I checked a few years ago when this elegy first started taking form in my head after I began once again to moan the loss of that son of a bitch I found out he had gotten one medal, a purple heart, for taking some slugs and the other for leading guys out of a trap when the platoon lieutenant went down to the ground, killed. I couldn’t find out what the medal was since the records from that period were kind of helter-skelter). But even that Charley thing I didn’t get from Markin but from another guy I met out in Denver on the way West. See, whatever happened over there, Markin didn’t talk about it that much when he came back, later either, said he did what he had to do, hated what he had to do, hated what his buddies had to do, hated worst of all what the American government (the “the American government” the only way he would pronounce  the words like that institution was below contempt) had turned them into, nothing but animals, nothing more and would be sorry until the day he died that he ever went but that that search for the great blue-pink Great American West night was all that was worth talking about when all was said and done.     

Thing was Markin could never be the leader, a natural leader, a permanent leader like Frankie Riley or a million other guys who lead things just because they feel they can. He was far too bookish for that with his eight billion facts ready to drown out any argument with the light of pounding reason when other skills were more necessary like how to get money fast for whatever enterprise was at hand from date money to car money. Skills which required somebody like the truly larcenous Frankie Riley and his midnight creep operations which were done with style, however everybody especially Frankie appreciated Markin, called him the “Scribe,” mostly a high honor in our corner.                   

This is where those eight billion, maybe before the end nine billion, facts did come in handy. See Peter Paul, damn, Markin had out of some almost mystic sense, or maybe just through his overweening desire to see the thing happen, called the breeze that was palpably running through the country beginning with the election of our own practically neighbors but Irish in any case even if chandelier Irish “new thinking” President Kennedy in 1960 and that fresh breeze got translated by many of us in lots of ways from social activism to outrageous self-indulgence, not all of them in the end worthy of remembering, not all of them thought back on with fondness. But remember we were fighting what Markin later on termed a rear-guard action in a cold civil war that I can feel goes on to this day and if Markin were around he would be sure to remind us not only of his call on the breeze but of who we were up against and why, and name names for the forgetful, so good or bad that breeze is part of the chronicle of our time.

It is funny here as I write that every time I write Markin’s name I start typing Peter Paul Markin and have to change it and I am not sure why I am doing that now. We always called him Markin from early on and never that WASP-ish three name thing like his forbears had come over on the Mayflower or something rather than he to the low-end housing projects born, or once Frankie Riley our leader anointed him in high school we began calling him, sometimes by me just to get under his skin, “the Scribe” since he was basically Frankie’s flak, always writing stuff about Frankie like it was scripture and Frankie did nothing to dissuade anybody about its worthiness as such. You could always depend on the Scribe with his infernal facts to make anything Frankie did seem like the Second Coming, and maybe with his frenzied pen Markin actually believed that.

Markin, Frankie, Allan, Sam, me  and a bunch of other guys basically came of age together, the fresh breeze trying to figure out the world and our place, if any, in it in the early 1960s when we po’ boys used to hang around the corner in high school, like I said before the corner right next to Jack Slack’s bowling alley on Thornton Street where sometimes we would cadge a few free games if Jack’s son, our fellow classmate in the North Adamsville Class of 1967, was working and if not then just hanging out, Frankie talking a mile a minute, Markin taking notes at two miles a minute, maybe gathering in some girls if we had money to head to Jimmy Jack’s Dinner up on Atlantic Avenue near-by where Jimmy Jenkins who would later join with us held forth with his corner boys and on most nights would welcome us there if there was no beef brewing between our respective corners. Jimmy Jack’s after Doc retired and closed his drugstore was the place to be if you wanted the best jukebox in town (although only three selections for a quarter there unlike Doc’s five if you can believe that now if you can find a jukebox probably a dollar just like iTunes). Markin, big idea Markin, figured out a way in tenth grade to take some slugs the size of a quarter that he got from an older brother who worked in a metal stamping shop and play for free, how about that, as long as we didn’t get too greedy and have Jimmy Jack pull the plug on the jukebox after collecting too many slugs.

Of course, Markin’s really big idea for playing the jukebox for no dough was to single out some girl that had just broken up with her boyfriend, or had had a fight with him, or didn’t have a boyfriend just then, information that he also knew somehow along with those two billion useless facts that he got from the Monday morning girls’ lav talkfest. Then he would go up to her all concerned and sympathetic, not to “hit” on her but to “guide” her selections, you know, maybe something sentimental like sappy Brenda Lee’s I’m Sorry (we always, especially Markin, would dissect a song once we had heard it a few times and couldn’t figure what she had to be sorry about except maybe not “coming across” for her guy and we would chuckle, yeah she should be sorry but of course you couldn’t be that explicit in a song then in the days before the Beatles and Stones when every so-called rock song had to pass parental muster to get radio air play, Jesus) or vengeful like Connie Francis’ Whose Sorry Now (that one we could figure, figure easy when she gave her two-timing guy the sweep, that was just a casualty of the teenage love wars, easy to figure) or just feel good like Martha and the Vandellas’ Dancin’ in the Streets (which even two-left feet Markin could dance to and not get all balled up like he did when you had to show some dance style) all stuff he wanted to hear. He was beautiful at it, I tried it once and never got selection one, even Frankie who was nothing but catnip to the girls got nada nunca nada with that play. Maybe they sensed the two of us were trying to hit on them and the whole thing fell to dust. Yeah, those were Markin’s good nights.      

Most nights though no dough, no girls, we would endlessly banter back and forth about whatever was on our minds, maybe girls, girls who did or did not “do the do” and you can figure that out on your own without further description, whether some Markin masterminded Frankie midnight creep thing would work out or whether we would wind up in the clink, maybe somebody’s take on sports or politics the latter mostly when some big event shook even our corner complacency. A lot of times it would be Markin spouting something, maybe, to give you an example, how religion was a joke, especially our Roman Catholic religion that didn’t make sense to us a lot of the time and we lots of times skipped Mass as we got older. Except of course going to Mass was just fine with Markin when he got the “hots” for Minnie Callahan and he would sit a few rows behind her at eight o’clock Mass and watch her ass the whole time, and she knew he was watching her that way as she told my sister like I told you before when he never asked her for a date (or even at junior prom from what I heard since I didn’t go since I was in one of my no dough phases which he took Emma to and refused to even dance a slow one with her when she practically begged him to even though she was there with her college Joe). Nobody jumped on him for that contradiction after all it was about a girl and that was fair enough.

But get this, and the more I write about the guy the more I see the terrible contradictions that he was always bouncing around in his head and I keep coming back to that one day, that one fall day, that October day, the October before the 1960 elections, he had heard that the Catholic Worker movement, Dorothy Day’s social justice operation out of New York City, was going to be part of a nuclear disarmament demonstration on the Boston Common with some Quakers and other little old ladies in tennis sneakers and he was going to march with them. Jesus did he take a razzing from the rest of us, Catholic do-gooders, Quakers and quirky old grandmothers for Chrissakes. Classic Markin though. Hey, I must be getting tired or something I think I already told you about that rally. Sorry.

Something I am not sorry about was pretty early on Markin caught this fresh breeze idea, caught and wouldn’t let it go, influenced a little by some “beat” stuff he read, you know big Jack Kerouac and his on the road travels along with some other New York guys in what sounded like great stuff, great guy stuff really with some frails mixed in to give the thing a little be-bop play that intrigued us when Markin told us about the why and wherefores of its beginnings in the late 1940s but which was just winding down as a cool movement in our time and was then being commercialized to holy hell, speaking of holy was a holy goof on television and subject to silly jokes about guys with long beards, berets, and bongos and girls dressed head to toe in black, maybe underneath too something for erotic fantasy in those days.

He would tell us too that on those nights when no corner boys were around like sometimes happened in the summer with dopey family vacations (I had put my foot down on those summer vacations to the Cape in tenth grade since I was sick and tired of my sisters and the whole family thing and Markin’s folks were so poor they never went on vacations except maybe a day trip to Revere Beach, or if they were in really dire straits like the rent was due and they were short maybe only a barbeque at Adamsville Beach) and he had had it with his mother’s endless harping on him or his three brothers doing stuff to disturb his reading or something he would fly out the back door and walk to the bus stop which eventually took him to the nearest subway stop which took him to Harvard Square where he would hang out in the Hayes-Bickford and just observe stuff. Stuff like goofy guys singing songs, folk songs as it turned out when he got brave enough to ask, that he had never heard of before then but went crazy over later and drove us, or me anyway crazy talking about, or guys reading poets (I recall he mentioned Allen Ginsberg’s Howl which I read later when I was on the bus and Albie Lewin said I should read it and I agreed with that sentiment after I had) or stories to a few people in front of them, mostly girls. Stuff that the first time he told us about it sounded weird, Frankie made jokes for days about Markin winding up like some lonesome hobo, being some Harvard goof’s fetch it mascot, being some kind of a court jester to the winos, drunks, hipsters and con artists ready to make him jump. Markin got mad, said it was not like that, refused to write stuff about Frankie for a while but kept pushing the point that maybe this was what we were spending all those lonely ass nights yakking about, that we might get swept up in it too. (Naturally when Frankie did some escapade, I think, he gave the headmaster a ration of guff or something and got away with it the “Scribe” was back on the job telling a candid world that Frankie was some kind of revolutionary like Lenin or Castro.) A fresh breeze he said that was going put all our talking points dreams about schools, jobs, marriage, kids, everything in the shade. We laughed at him, although as the decade moved on the laughter subsided.

This fresh breeze thing was not just goof talk although there was plenty of that toward the end of the night if we had been drinking some Southern Comfort purchased by Allan Johnson’s older brother or maybe like we did more than a few times by getting one of the town winos to go to the liquor for us and who could care less about our ages as long as he got his bottle of Thunderbird, Ripple or some such rat poison wine. Markin was an intense reader of the news, of what was going on in the world and maybe the rest of us should have been a little more world-wise then too but I think what we got caught up in then was the notion that we were born into a world that was already fixed, that somebody else had all the strings dangling for them too. That down among the fellahin, a great word, like one of our history teachers called us peasants, including himself, that deal was done. (By the way that history teacher’s use was the first time I heard the word fellahin and was surprised later when Markin had almost forced marched me to read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, he a fellow working-class guy from up in Lowell and the proclaimed “max daddy” of beat-ness, used the word too to talk about the great unwashed Mexicans and later the North  Africans in his early books and his own French-Canadian great unwashed too). We, maybe Allan and Sam most of all, were what Markin called alienated although he did not use that word then but rather called us hung up on the James Dean sullen nobody cares thing. Hell, Allan, a big lumbering guy, used to do his James Dean tee shirt, rolled up sleeve cigarette pack, blue jeans, engineer boots complete with buckles and a whip-chain hanging out of his back pocket sulk all the time, and had used that whip-chain for more than ceremony as Frankie could tell you when we got into a few scrapes with Leo Russo and his corners in front of the Waldorf Cafeteria up in the Square.

So maybe we were alienated but like Markin said, who could be as sullen as the rest of us especially when he had his battle royals with his mother, a lot of young people around the country were feeling the same way and were trying to break out of the Cold War we-are-going-to-die-tomorrow thing what with nuclear bomb threats being thrown around every other day by one side or the other. Stuff like that Markin was hip to, stuff like the fight for civil rights in the South where young white people were joining in the fight although Frankie Riley would say some very derogatory things about black people, and about how they better not show up in North Adamsville looking for anything and some guys, me too for a while, felt the same then, felt we didn’t want n----rs around our way. That was the hard reality fed to us by parents and everything else in our cramped little lives. Of course the big thing for Markin was the music, the rock and roll we came of age to but also this new folk stuff that he would hear in Harvard Square. Most of it I hated, still do, but that music was another move away from the old stuff that Markin kept saying had to change. Yeah, later we each in our own way grabbed some of what that madman speaking about forty miles an hour would run by us but when he presented it at first he might as well have been on the moon.       

Markin really was the bell-weather in lots of ways, the first guy to head west to check out what was happening in the summer after high school in 1967. He had been accepted into Boston University on a wing and a pray, some special student deal with money for tuition since he and his folks had zilch, because as bright as he was he was slightly indifferent, no very indifferent to grades saying one time when he did get on the honor roll and we were kidding him about it, seriously kidding since such distinctions did not play well with our corner boy mystique that he preferred to wrap himself around the eight million facts knowledge of what interested him, mainly literature, history, and math and neglected the rest. Neglected it too like I said because at least for public consumption we corner boys were not supposed to be too “book smart” but needed to be “street smart,” a very big different especially when the deal was coming down. That whole “street smart” scene fed into what our parents expected of us (those whose parents did expect anything like mine and Markin’s, and unlike Frankie’s and Allan’s) to get just a little ahead of them, a little bigger house, a little less sweated labor for a job and pass that on to our children. The whole thing boiled down to us getting something like nice steady death civil service jobs which was the height of aspiration at the time. The whole “hippie” thing that caught us in its breeze blew many family relationships apart including mine for many years and Markin’s I think forever after he blew off that Boston University scholarship deal that was to take him off cheap street. And maybe it would have in 1950 or 1975 but not then. (Strangely, although I personally was never much of a student and only went to junior college for a couple of years to learn business administration in order to help me understand that aspect of the printing business, guys like Markin, Frankie and Sam, Jack Dawson, went to four-year colleges in a time when that was unusual around our way and they all were the first in their families to do so, hell, Frankie and Sam went on to be lawyers, Frankie mine until this day.)

That first trip out in the summer of 1967 Markin did not hitchhike whatever he may have told the girls around Adamsville, Boston, and Harvard Square trying to cash in in the “romance of the road” residue from the Jack Kerouac-induced fervor which fired all our imaginations after Markin force-fed us to read his big “beat” book On The Road. Markin and some of the rest of us did the hitchhike road later to save money and to “just do it” but the first time out he took the Greyhound bus which he said was horrible going out over several days of being squeezed in by some fat ass snorer, some mother who let her child on her lap wail to the high heavens, and some wino who along with his dank urine smell was drifting west. He said though despite his feeling like some unwashed hobo as he got off the bus it had been worth it once he got to ‘Frisco and saw right in front of him the wild west show stuff at places like Golden Gate Park that put the “hip” action in dingy staid Harvard Square in the shades. Had his first taste of dope other than marijuana which we had all tried that graduation summer when a cousin of Frankie’s from South Boston made a “connection” for us, several kinds, mescaline, peyote buttons that some wild man had gotten out in Arizona from one of the tribes whose whole existence centered on use of the drug to enhance their spiritual lives, some hash another guy brought in from Morocco or someplace like that in North Africa, had a few quick, easy and non-committal affairs (that was his term, okay, like he was a guy out of a Fitzgerald novel, maybe the guy from This Side of Paradise, Amory somebody), and that non-committal was on the girls’ parts unlike in old North Adamsville where every girl in those days, especially the “do the do” girls expected marriage and kids and white pickets fences and everything that Markin said we would leave behind, and gladly. 

He also went west the first couple of years when he was in college during semester breaks and summers, a few times with me along until I tired of it and by then we were all pretty much going our separate ways and I was starting up my first small print shop in the Gloversville Mall. So I missed a bunch of what Markin was about before he announced to the world one night at Jimmy Jack’s where we were grabbing something to eat and trying to find some non-Beatles tunes on the jukebox that he was tired of college, that he wanted to pursue the fresh breeze that was starting to build a head of steam while he could and he would probably catch up with college later, later when we had won, when the “newer world” as he called it after some English poet whom he had read called the search, was the implication. Unfortunately poor old Markin had made his what might have previously been reasonable decision just as all hell was breaking loose in Vietnam and every non-college guy was being grabbed to fill the ranks of the army and he got drafted which clipped his wings for a couple of years (I was exempt as the sole support of my mother and younger sisters after my father died suddenly of a massive heart attack in the winter of 1967).

But that Army death trap was a little later because I know he got caught up in the summer of love in 1967, before they clipped his wings with that freaking draft notice. That was the summer that he met Josh, Josh Breslin from up in Podunk, Maine (Josh’s expression, but really Olde Saco by the ocean up near Portland ) who has his own million stories that he could tell about that summer, about being on some Captain Crunch-led merry prankster ex-school bus riding up and down the coast, getting high about thirteen different ways, playing high decibel music coming out a jerry-rigged stereo on the front top of the bus, picking up freaks (later called hippies, male and female), got “married” to one Butterfly Swirl and had a Captain-sanctioned acid-blessed “honeymoon,” and stayed on the bus for a long while after Markin headed back east to face the Army music. I had met Josh on the first trip out with Markin and he really was, is, a character and I still keep in touch with him now that he is back East over in Cambridge. Yeah, Markin while out there got caught up in the acid-etched music from the Dead, the Airplane and a million other minute niche rock bands (I just realized I had better tell you that acid being not “throw in your face” acid but LSD, take a tab, a blot and fly in your head,yeah, “colors, man, colors,” okay, just in case you were worrying), the drugs from ganja to peyote although he always claimed not LSD but I still insist with some of the stuff he did toward the end I don’t know. Most interesting though as I know when I got caught up with the “on the bus” scene was the sex in about seventeen different variations once he got the hang of the Kama Sutra and a couple of adventurous West Coast women to indulge him. Although in the end I had heard that he betrayed them as well, if that is not too strong a word for the loose but mainly sincere attachments of the time, left them high and dry with the rent due and their drug stash gone once he was ready to move onto some new woman, a woman he had met in La Jolla. Maybe that was the first stress sign, I don’t know but it wouldn’t be the last time he “stiffed” somebody including me but that didn’t matter to me, ever. Yeah, the madcap adventure of hitchhiking west the times we went out together could be a subject for more than a few pages of interest, the bummer of riding freight when Markin tired of the hitchhike road (and had sworn off cross-country buses as had I after one jaunt to Atlanta), which he often said when we would run into each other periodically later was not for the faint-hearted, not for those who didn’t breathe train smoke and dreams the way he put it to me one time when he was in high dudgeon.

Markin not only got caught up in all the commotion of the counter-culture that kids today scratch their heads about the minute some old geezer like Josh Breslin, Jack Dawson, Sam Lowell, Jimmy Jenkins, or, hell, me starts going on about “wasn’t that a time” but brought me, Frankie Riley, Jack, Allan, Jimmy Jenkins, Josh, Sam, Phil Ballard and a few other guys from around our way (except Josh who was from Olde Saco up in Maine although in the end he was as much a corner boy refugee as the rest of us from North Adamsville) into the action as well. All of us (again except Josh whom he had met out on Russian Hill in Frisco in the summer of love, 1967 version) at one time or another travelled west with the Scribe, and lived to tell about it, although it was a close thing, a very close thing a couple of times, drug times and wrong place at the wrong time times.

But as the 1960s decade closed, maybe a little into the early 1970s the luster faded, the ebb came crashing in, and most of the old corner boys like Frankie and Sam who took the lead back to the “normal” went back to the old grind (both of them to the law, lawyers if you can believe that, Frankie mine of course). Markin could have if he were still with us or Josh can tell more about what happened when the fresh breeze gave out about somewhere between 1971 and 1974, when the Generation of ’68 as both of them liked to call it for all the things that happened that year, although Markin was on the sidelines or rather he was trying to keep his ass from being blown away by  Charley (remember the name for the enemy in Vietnam, usually in some guerilla unit) when he, Charley, decided to come up over the hill some dark moonless sweaty night. According to stuff Markin wrote later for some journal that was interested in such things (and I think Josh said he had “cribbed” some stuff from Markin’s article to fill out an article he was doing for Esquire and for once some big money) a lot of the ebb flow had to do with political confusion, a lot believing that we were dealing with reasonable opponents when they didn’t give a damn about us (and put me in that category of thinking we were dealing with reasonable opponents too when I got “religion” on the war pretty late and got caught up in some actions which were pretty brutal on the cops side, their sons and daughters, when they let us to hang out to dry when they decided to pull the hammer down. But Markin insisted one night when not doped up or shacked up with some woman and was in another of his many high dudgeon moods were also done in by our studious refusal almost on principal to listen to the old-timers the guys and gals who fought the social and labor battles in the 1930s and 1940s and could have helped figure us out which way to go, how to defend ourselves when a fast freeze cold civil war, a cultural counter-revolution according to him, was brewing in the land.

Some stuff I think, frankly, had to do with the overweening self-indulgence that set in once we took a few hits to the head from the powers that be, taking drugs to the point of stupor, contended ourselves with half-baked “theory” like that “music is the revolution” a theory that even I balked at although Markin said he went through a stage where he thought that might do the trick, turned to “know thyself” self-help in one of a hundred forms, new age stuff, before you go out to slay the dragon while he (or now as likely she) in the meantime is arming to the hilt, and a whole segment of “heads” and politicos (my term from high school on which annoyed Markin endlessly the way I would draw it out) just withdrew literally to the hills, abandoned any thought of confrontation, finding the going “heavy, man, heavy.”


Josh told me a few years ago to go to the back roads of Maine, Vermont, Oregon, places like that to see what happened to the remnant of that crowd, he said it wasn’t pretty, not pretty at all. Sure they still had the now greying hair in ponytails (guys and gals), the gals still wearing granny dresses now not barefooted but wearing sensible earth shoes, the guys showing significant bellies overhanging those forever bell-bottom trousers and moccasins, maybe cultivating a little grass patch but mainly acting like proper burghers in the small towns where they reside. Maybe the old Volkwagen bus is out in the back, a couple of peace symbols on the doors but they have not been to a demonstration against war, social injustice or the like since about 1971 (although when they light up the pipe for a few tokes they will endlessly talk about how we almost, almost had the bastards on the run. But remember before the nostalgia hits that it was “too heavy, man, too heavy, bad vibes.” (Put me there with them too, okay).

But I think Markin was on to something when he said in that article I am talking about said that after arguments about the hubris and defiance of any coherent political strategy settled down if you wanted to really understand what went wrong you could point to the fact that we never despite appearances, despite half a million strong Woodstock nation or million-massed marches in Washington, got to enough people to get seriously into the idea of turning the world upside down. Could not despite the baloney main media stories, turn all those millions on our generation who did not indulge in the counter-cultural life, who did not have a clue where Vietnam was, who did not jail-break out in any real sense when there was plenty of  cover and mobility to do into active allies. People like Josh’s friends up in Maine who went into the dying textile plants in the 1960s just like their fathers and mothers after World War II, or like the vast majority in our class in North Adamsville who also went on the traditional school-job-marriage-three kids-two dogs and that coveted white picket fence (which I wound up doing after the road tired me out). We were pariahs in some spots in town, seen as commies or some exotic wild life, and that attitude got repeated many places when the steam ran out, or people had had their groovy drug, acid rock concert minute (or maybe a little longer) and that was that, that was enough.

That last idea hit home with me. I had been, despite a few flings at the west with Markin or one of the guys and some weekend hippie warrior action around Harvard Square or on the then tent city new age Boston Common, grinding away at that printing shop I had built up from scratch after sowing my wild oats after high school. That business was starting to take off especially when I made one smart move and hired a professional silk-screener out of the Massachusetts School of Art and grabbed a big chunk of the silk-screening trade which was starting to mushroom as everybody needed, just needed, to have some multi-colored silk-screen poster of Che, Mao, Lenin, Trotsky, the NLF, Ho, the Stone and Beatles, or something psychedelic and multi-colored hanging from their walls or have their tee-shirts, guys and gals, done up the same way. The same with a guy like Allan who took the trips west too but who was just on the cusp of the new wave and had gone into the almost dying shipbuilding trade, as a draftsman if I recall, since although he was not much of a student he had been the ace of our drafting classes even in junior high, had been hard ass old drafting teacher Mister Fisher’s “pet” and took it up in high school as well. Even Josh, a late hold-out with Markin, went to writing for a lot of what he called advanced publications (meaning low circulation, meaning no dough, meaning doing it for the glory to hear him tell it now, now that he is out of the grind).

And Markin, the last guy standing, well, Markin, as we all kind of expected, once his Army time was up, after he had exorcised whatever ghosts of Kontum ate at his blasted heart, yeah, once that experience was over had crisscrossed the country in one converted yellow brick psychedelic school bus (his term) or Volkswagen minibus (which was never as good as the converted school bus but at some point out on the West Coast all you had to do is stand on the Pacific Coast Highway and one of the brethren would stop, tell you to hop in and pass the pipe before you even sat down. Hell, one time we were just standing on the road NOT looking for a ride and two mini’s stop. Yeah, those were the times, times which ain’t coming no more from what I see) or another   searching for, desperately searching for that great blue-pink American West night which would get him well and which he/we never found. I can be blasé about that quest now, talking about it now like some half-mad scatter-brained utopian dream but then I was into it up to my ears as long as I was into it and I mean no mockery of Markin for his steadfastness if that is what you think. We all need a holy grail trip one way or the other and I believe Markin even when he went down shattered by the whole thing, shattered by his whole existence at the end probably still had that vision in the back of his mind. Hell, he is probably still waiting, waiting impatiently, wherever he is waiting for the new dispensation to get here, Albie Lewin too as far as that goes.

But don’t let me stop there the man also indulged in more dope than you could shake a stick at, although then it was innocent pot and peyote buttons mostly not the cocaine that burned his brain at the end so he could “experience” what it was like for the ghost warriors of the West, those Apaches, Navajos, Hopis and a thousand other tribes I can’t name just now to get ready to battle the white devil, to make peace with their ancestors, to avenge some half thought out thing that had passed them by. Got into more in-your-face-street confrontations with the cops, soldiers, rednecks, including the famous one down in Washington, D.C. when on May Day 1971 he and a bunch of ex-veterans and thousands of reds and radicals (or that is what they called themselves and were called whether they were or not) thought that could call the government’s bluff and end the war in the streets. As Josh, who had gone down with some Cambridge radicals, later said all they got for their efforts was mouths full of tear gas, heads full of cop billy-clubs and the bastinado (and a war that dragged on until 1975 until the Viet Cong, Charley, and his brethren from the North put an end to the thing themselves in about a month).

Markin never went back to college but also took up the pen, for a while. Said to me when I asked him why he didn’t take advantage of the GI Bill or go ask for a scholarship again (which he would have won hands down with his new resume of war veteran and peace veteran at a place like Boston University) that what could school teach him that a couple of years of war, raw war bringing a man down to the basics, down to primitive man and a few years of “waking with the king” (his “hippie” drug insights and understandings) had already steeled him about. Personally I think that just like when he was a kid, a high school kid anyway he was inordinately proud of those eight billion facts that he knew and could count on in a pinch. No school could do that for him, no way. Wrote, according to Josh, some pretty good stuff that big circulation publications were interested in publishing, especially memoir type stuff from a guy who saw things from both sides in the 60s and could articulate that to a waiting audience. Wrote lots of stuff in the early 1970s once he settled down in Oakland about his corner boys, his old working class neighborhood, about being a screwed-up teen filled with angst and alienation in the old days. Josh lived out there with him then and I know Sam visited and stayed with him one summer after he graduated from college and maybe Frankie too, once I think, visited him there. Good stuff from what I read, the drafts Josh showed me which might have benefited from a thoughtful editor (just like this piece could if it had been meant for wide-scale publication and not as a commemoration of Markin’s time which I will get to in a moment. Good stuff even if I was a little miffed when he constantly referred to me as a guy who could screw up a simple “clip” and get us all in the slammer, as a guy who was clueless on money-less nights to get girls to play stuff I wanted, a guy with two left feet, two left hands and who was too left out with the girls which wasn’t exactly true, well only a little.

One big series before the fall that Markin did, did as homage to his fellow Vietnam veterans, although like I said he never talked much about his own experiences, said he did what he did and that was that just like our fathers would say when we tried to asked about World War II from them. Yeah, he took up and made public the voices of Vietnam veterans who had trouble getting back to the “real world” and who  had wound up under bridges and along railroad tracks mainly in Southern California where he interviewed them and let them tell their stories their own way. That series for a soon thereafter defunct alternative newspaper in San Francisco, The East Bay Eye went under the by-line Going to the Jungle (a double-reference to the jungle in ‘Nam and the railroad “jungle” of hobo legend where those forlorn shattered vets then resided doing the best they could, trying some days just to put one step ahead of the other just like guys I would see in North Adamsville Square when they came back all broken up). He was also short-listed for some important award not for that series but another but I forget which one.                    

And then he stopped. Fell off the earth. No, not really, but the way I got the story mostly from Josh and Sam, with a little stuff from Frankie thrown after the dust settled is what the thing amounted to. Markin had always been a little volatile in his appetites, what he called in high school (and we started calling too) his “wanting habits” coming out of the wretched of the earth North Adamsville deep down working poor neighborhoods (me and Sam too but unlike Markin who was always pressing against that fate we just thought it was natural until we escaped the damn thing and could see how down at the base of society life tough, very tough). At some point in about 1976 or 1977 but probably the earlier date he started doing girl, snow, you know, cocaine that was no big thing in the 1960s. I had never tried it and has only heard about it from guys who went to Mexico for weed and would pick up a couple of ounces to level out with when the pot got weary as it started to do when the demand was greater than the supply and street hipsters and junkies were cutting what they had with oregano or herbs like that, or maybe I heard one time all oregano and good-luck to your high, sucker. Cocaine then was pretty expensive so if you got your “wanting habits” on with that stuff, if you liked running it constantly up your nose using some freshly minted rolled dollar bill as a funnel like some guys did  until you always sounded like you had a stuffed up nose then you had better have either started robbing banks, a dicey thing, a very dicey thing the one time me and a couple of the guys tried to rob as little a thing as a variety store or start dealing the stuff to keep the demons away. He choose the latter.           

Once Markin moved up the drug dealer food chain that is where things got weird, got so weird that when I heard the story I thought he must have taken too much acid (LSD) back in the day no matter what he claimed. He was “muling” a lot for the boys, for the hombres, down south, for what was then a far smaller and less professional drug cartel, meaning he was bringing the product over the border which was a lot easier then as long as you were not a Mexican or a “hippie,” or looked like either. Josh said Markin had shaved his telltale beard and his ponytail long hair as part of his new “career” to avert the border guards on both sides of the borders attentions. So looked just like a lot of guys, like me, once the tide ebbed and people drew serious distinctions again from the way you looked just like before, just like in the later 1950s when Markin and Frankie did their faux “beat” thing and got endless comments from irate mothers (their own included) and the whole “square” universe of North Adamsville (except some girls, girls like that Emma who I mentioned was Markin’s girl high school who thought such things were “cool.” From what Sam said things went okay for a while but see, and this I know from my own growing up story, those kid “wanting habits” play funny tricks on you, make you go “awry” as Markin used to say when something in his life did go awry. In the summer of 1977 (we are not sure which month) Markin went south (Mexico) to pick a big (for him) two kilogram batch of coke to bring back to the States. And that was the end of Markin, the end that we can believe part anyway. They found his body in a back alley down in Sonora face down with two slugs in his head. Needless to say the Federales did next to nothing to find out who had murdered him. Or why and dismissed the thing as a crazy gringo going over the edge bothering polite Mexican society. Sorry, I am still bitter about their role in this whole mess.   

Frankie, then just a budding lawyer, just starting to make a name for himself in a big law firm in downtown Boston (where he is now “of counsel” whatever that means, basically he is semi-retired but still draws a big paycheck ) once the news got back to Boston, sent a private detective down there but all he was able to find out, unlike Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe who we all grew up watching at the second-run Strand Theater on Beale Street and who got whatever information they needed or else by fair means or foul, from a shaky source, a junkie, an ex-patriate on the run from some beef in Arizona, whom he met in a cantina on the seamy side streets of Sonora was some “maybe” stuff. Met the junkie in the “red light” district according to the gumshoe, sorry, detective  which figures a little since Markin was always drawn to such places in his off-beat moments, said that is where his kindred from the wretched of the earth dwelled and that he could find a home there if the “clean” hippie” life didn’t work out. Liked to say that one of the early attractions of Harvard Square beside the “new breeze” folk song, poet, budding writer denizens that he could reach out to there if things went the way he expected early on were the winos, homeless hags, apple Annies, hookers, con men, ragged broken down hipsters, fugitive felons and ladies of the evening as he called them (college girls working the trick streets for tuition he said, or they said). Yeah, figures that is where he would head if that dusty Sonora place was like in the United States where pimps, street hipsters, drag queens, easy and hard tricks, sullen street drug dealers and plain low-life sports hung out and fed on the refuse of society. The junkie said Markin would stop and drink there before going on to “business up the street” (unspecified by said junkie). Said Markin liked to talk to him as one of the few gringos hanging there, said too that Markin would get him “well” meaning of course giving him a few lines of snow to dream by. That too figures since Markin was always generous with his stash.

This gringo junkie who may or may not have actually known Markin, you never know with a junkie, who can make things up out of whole cloth and who had probably seen plenty of gringo mules running through the place said he needed a “fix” before he would say word one. That figured too. Here is what he said anyway and you can take it as that. Markin had either stolen the two kilogram shipment and was going to go independent (not a good idea even then when the cartels were nothing like the strong-arm kill outfits they are today, Jesus) or the negotiations on the deal went bad, went off the track, and somebody got offended by the El Norte gringo marauder. Life is cheap in that league. That too figures. The detective and later Frankie were seriously warned off further investigation by “people” in Sonora and in the United States and Frankie was told straight out that if he showed up in Sonora, which he had intended to do if only to talk to the Federales, you know how lawyers are, well they knew how to deal with all El Norte marauders. To this day that is all we know, and old Markin is buried down there in some miserable potter’s field unmarked grave still mourned and missed. Yeah, still missed.       

And that foul end might have been the end of it, might have been the end of the small legend of Markin. Except this. I mentioned above that in the early 1970s Markin before we lost contact, or rather I lost contact with him since Josh knew his whereabouts outside of San Francisco in Daly City until about 1974, did a series of articles about the old days and his old corner boys in North Adamsville.  A couple of years ago we, Frankie, Josh, Sam  and I agreed (Allan had passed away after a long-term losing fight with cancer before this, RIP, brother)that a few of them were worth publishing if only for ourselves and the small circle of people whom Markin wrote for and about. So that is exactly what we did. We had a commemorative small book of articles and any old time photographs we could gather put together and had it printed up in the print shop my oldest son, Jeff, is now running for me.

Since not all of us had everything that Markin wrote, what the hell they were newspaper or magazine articles to be used to wrap up the fish in or something after we were done reading them, we decided to print what was available. I was able to find a copy of a bunch of sketches up in the attic of my parents’ home which I was cleaning up when they were putting their house up for sale since they were in the process of downsizing. Josh, apparently not using his copies for wrapping fish purposes, had plenty of the later magazine pieces. Unfortunately we could not find any copies of the long defunct East Bay Eye and so could not include anything from that Going To Jungle series.  So Markin can speak to us still. Yeah, that’s about right for that sorry ass blessed bastard saint with his eight billion words.   

Below is the introduction that Sam Lowell wrote for that book which we all agreed should be put in here trying to put what Markin was about in content from the guy who knew him about as well as anybody from the old neighborhood, knew him even before I did, knew his dark side when that came out later too:  

“The late Peter Paul Markin, also known as “the Scribe, ” so anointed by Frankie Riley the unchallenged self-designated king hell king of the schoolboy night among the corner boys who hung around the pizza parlors, pool halls, and bowling alleys of the town, in telling somebody else’s story in his own voice about life in the old days in the working class neighborhoods of North Adamsville where he grew up, or when others, threating murder and mayhem,  wanted him to tell their stories usually gave each and every one of that crew enough rope to hang themselves without additional comment. He would take down, just like he would do later with the hard-pressed veterans trying to the best they could out in the arroyos, crevices, railroad sidings and under the bridges when they couldn’t deal with the “real” world after Vietnam in the Going To The Jungle series that won a couple of awards and was short-listed for the Globe award, what they wanted the world to hear, spilled their guts out as he one time uncharitably termed their actions (not the veterans, not his fellows who had their troubles down in L.A. and needed to righteously get it out and he was the conduit, their voice, but the zanies from our old town), and then lightly, very lightly if the guy was bigger, stronger than him, or in the case of girls if they were foxy, mainly clean up the language for a candid world to read.

Would bring out what they couldn’t say, maybe didn’t want to say. That was what the stories he wrote about the now very old days in growing up in North Adamsville in the 1960s when “the rose was on the bloom” as my fellow lawyer Frankie Riley used to say when Markin was ready to spout his stuff, ready to make us laugh, cringe, get red in the face or head toward him to slap him down if he got too righteous. Here is the funny part though. In all stories he mainly gave his “boys” the best of it. Yes, Bart is still belly-aching about a few slights that old Markin threw his way, and maybe he was a little off on why I gave up the hitchhike highway but mainly that crazy maniac with the heart of gold, the heart of lead, the heart, nay, that’s enough I have said enough except I like Bart still miss and mourn the bastard. Here is what he had to say one time when our world was fresh:  

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

From The Pen Of 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 red hair and dew-like skin but who proved to be a bigger bitch than Shakespeare’s witches and good riddance. Yeah, had a mass of freckles to go with that hair and which came like out the plague in the sunny weather instead of a whiskey and beer chaser-driven mass of very high-proof wrinkles. Had too my own, rather than store-bought, rattlers, teeth I mean, bad teeth being the genetically inherited curse of the Irish, or maybe just from the diet or lack of dentist dough, especially when the old man slipped and cashed his paycheck at the Dublin Grille before he got home on payday.

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 I’ll grab a Chivas. See 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 lovely 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 me (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 did so as well 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 off from 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 the business 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 second or third 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 Irish 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, the auto body teacher,  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 one in the gym 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], who got in a mix mess with her best girlfriend, Elizabeth, and in revenge 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 head 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 other 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 had to leave town to have her baby someplace else unlike now when such things while still frowned get a pass. 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 the older guys 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 which 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 at the docks shift and so headed to Southie to be ready for work. Ready for work messing up the sheets 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” 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 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 priests 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.

 [Tell me, damn it, try to tell me this is not an elegy worthy of a fallen corner boy, yeah, go on and tell me. BW]

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