Saturday, July 11, 2015

From The Marxist Archives -Taking Down The Confederate Flag Of Slavery In South Carolina Is Only The “Pale” Beginning -Take Four

Workers Vanguard No. 1063
6 March 2015
See highlighted paragraph about Brother Higgins role in taking down the Confederate flag of slavery not in South Carolina but, ah, Left Coast California   

Jeff Higgins
Correction Appended
Our comrade Jeff Higgins, for many years a powerful spokesman for the Labor Black League for Social Defense, died in his sleep in the second week of February. He was 65 years old. We share the sorrow and tremendous sense of loss with his mother, sisters and the rest of his family.
Jeff was the oldest son of a black working-class family in Pasadena, California, where racial segregation rivaled the Jim Crow South. He grew up amid the battles of the civil rights movement and the explosions of ghetto anger against cop terror. Influenced by the Black Panther Party’s militant black nationalism and their eclectic conceptions of “Marxism-Leninism,” Jeff fought for black studies programs and protested against U.S. imperialism’s dirty war in Vietnam as a student at the University of California at Riverside.
Don Alexander, a longtime leading cadre of the Spartacist League/U.S., described the bond he forged with Jeff at UC Riverside as the two black campus radicals “fought to become communists.” Both joined the campus Young Socialist Alliance (YSA), youth group of the reformist Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The small but highly political branch was dissolved after it led a revolt against the SWP having dropped its call for “free abortion on demand” in order to placate bourgeois feminists who deemed the slogan far too radical.
In his application for membership in the Spartacist League/U.S., Jeff wrote: “One of the basic motivations throughout my political development was to construct an understanding of the tasks posed by the special oppression of blacks” and “to do this on the basis of a Marxist world view.” He rejected the SWP’s simultaneous pandering to black cultural nationalists and to the liberal NAACP as an obstacle to the fight for black liberation. Recalling Jeff’s contempt for the cultural nationalists—who strutted around in their dashikis and “struggle boots,” baiting the two for associating with white radicals—Don noted, “It didn’t escape our notice that these poverty pimps were tolerated by the bourgeoisie while the Panthers were being killed.”
The demise of the Panthers under the hammer blows of state repression and internal splits ushered in a wave of demoralization among many black radicals. But, together with their experience in the YSA, it propelled both Jeff and Don to hit the books and study the writings and history of the Marxist movement. They began investigating other organizations that claimed to uphold the revolutionary internationalist program of Trotskyism. Moving to the Bay Area in 1974, they sought out the Spartacist League. Through a process of political discussion and struggle, they were won to the understanding that the only road to black freedom lies in the united class struggle of black and white workers led by a multiracial vanguard party to shatter the system of racist American capitalism through socialist revolution. In 1977, Jeff submitted his membership application.
Jeff began an apprentice program to become a unionized electrician and fought against great odds to get his journeyman’s papers. Confronted with the prejudices of the building trades unions, which were mostly lily-white, male job trusts, Jeff withstood a level of anti-black racism that might have broken many. In 1985, the administration of San Francisco General Hospital drew up plans to build a separate toilet facility to ensure that Jeff, the only black electrician on the job, would not use the same facilities as white carpenters and painters. The Bay Area LBL organized a 60-strong protest, which drew more than a dozen other hospital workers on the receiving end of racist treatment by the administration, to demand: “Down with Jim Crow—No to White-Only Toilets!” When addressing the rally, which took place at a time of rising anti-apartheid protest, Jeff observed: “They don’t want to use the same bathrooms as a black man.... This is South Africa right here in San Francisco.”
Jeff was unable to maintain the discipline and commitments of party membership. But his programmatic convictions never wavered. As a member of the LBL, he played a leadership role in the group and was more often than not a spokesman at our anti-racist and other actions. He was with us in April 1984 when Richard Bradley, a supporter of the Spartacist League, scaled a flagpole in S.F.’s Civic Center plaza to tear down the Confederate flag. A photo in Workers Vanguard shows Jeff doing the honor of burning the hated “stars and bars” banner of slavery and Klan terror. After then-S.F. Democratic mayor “Dixie Diane” Feinstein put the flag back up, we took it down again. When Bradley was put on trial on charges of vandalism, Jeff was a witness for his defense.
In 1993, when stories of the Jim Crow treatment of black people at Denny’s restaurants hit the press, Jeff pushed for the LBL to mobilize nationwide protests. Hearing that there was some concern that holding these protests on the July 4 weekend would look “patriotic,” Jeff pointed to the 1852 speech by Frederick Douglass on “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro”:
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”
Douglass’ speech became part of our early efforts to mobilize for these protests, which drew hundreds of people from coast to coast, including support from several multiracial unions.
In January 1994, Jeff was the LBL speaker at our mobilization to stop a racist provocation by the KKK on the MLK holiday weekend in Springfield, Illinois. Covered in snow and buffeted by subzero temperatures, Jeff captured our perspective of “black and red” with his usual eloquence:
“What frightens America’s capitalist rulers most is militant, integrated working-class struggle, black and white together, organized and disciplined, independent of the bosses’ political machine and their waterboys in the trade-union bureaucracy. The only road open to real black freedom is in the building of a workers state—the organization of an egalitarian socialist society where workers of all races directly share in, and determine to what use is put, the wealth which their sweat and sacrifices create!”
The many comrades who witnessed him stir a crowd all recall Jeff’s ability to engage by conveying both his hatred of black oppression and his satisfaction in fighting it. This included the fight to free former Panthers like Geronimo Pratt and Mumia Abu-Jamal, who were framed up and imprisoned for the very courage and militancy that had inspired Jeff in his youth. Jeff’s talents were also on display as chair of the LBL-initiated 2002 rally in Oakland where for the first time organized labor was mobilized in defense of its immigrant brothers and sisters targeted under the “war on terror.”
Defiant and proud, Jeff had a heart as big as his build and a laugh to match. His anger fueled his ability to survive and fight but it also led to some wrong turns in his life. He had an extensive library and was a voracious reader hungry for knowledge, understanding the importance of studying the class battles of the past to apply the lessons to the present. Jeff’s work on party facilities was a testament to his skill as an electrician and painstaking attention to detail. He had more than his share of painful losses, particularly the 1992 murder of his then-companion Martha Phillips in Moscow, where she was a leader in the International Communist League’s fight to reimplant the program of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Party against the drive to counterrevolution that destroyed the former Soviet Union.
In 2012, Jeff had a near date with death from meningitis, which he survived not least due to the care and attention of his companion at the time, Margaret. But he continued to suffer from many of the diseases that so disproportionately afflict black men in this racist society. Not long before he died, Jeff had one of his regular phone calls with former Spartacist League National Chairman Jim Robertson, who was among his closest friends. Jeff told Jim that he was doing well, reading a lot, pursuing his piano lessons, getting somewhat out and about and feeling that he had the financial capacity to survive. Thus, his comrades, family and friends can take some solace in that he died feeling relatively content with his life.
We hope that some of the current generation of black youth animated by the fight against cop terror might learn from Jeff’s life and the process he went through to become a communist. Even after he was no longer a party member, Jeff remained part of our common movement for decades, and we always knew he would be there with us when the bugle blew.
The concluding words of Richard Wright’s poem “I’ve Seen Black Hands” are a fitting tribute:
“I am black and I have seen black hands
Raised in fists of revolt, side by side with the white fists of white workers,
And some day—and it is only this which sustains me—
Some day there shall be millions and millions of them,
On some red day in a burst of fists on a new horizon!”

Our obituary for Jeff Higgins (WV No. 1063, 6 March 2015) misidentified the Confederate flag that was burned. It was not the “stars and bars,” which was the official flag of the Confederacy between 1861 and 1863, but the better-known Confederate battle flag. (From WV No. 1064, 20 March 2015.)
I Hear The Voice Of My Arky Angel-Once Again-With Angel Iris Dement In Mind


(c) 1992 Songs of Iris/Forerunner Music, Inc. ASCAP
Sweet forgiveness, that's what you give to me

when you hold me close and you say "That's all over"

You don't go looking back,

you don't hold the cards to stack,

you mean what you say.

Sweet forgiveness, you help me see

I'm not near as bad as I sometimes appear to be

When you hold me close and say

"That's all over, and I still love you"

There's no way that I could make up for those angry words I said

Sometimes it gets to hurting and the pain goes to my head

Sweet forgiveness, dear God above

I say we all deserve a taste of this kind of love

Someone who'll hold our hand,

and whisper "I understand, and I still love you"


(c) 1992 Songs of Iris/Forerunner Music, Inc. ASCAP

There'll be laughter even after you're gone

I'll find reasons to face that empty dawn

'cause I've memorized each line in your face

and not even death can ever erase the story they tell to me

I'll miss you, oh how I'll miss you

I'll dream of you and I'll cry a million tears

but the sorrow will pass and the one thing that will last

is the love that you've given to me

There'll be laughter even after you're gone

I'll find reason and I'll face that empty dawn

'cause I've memorized each line in your face

and not even death could ever erase the story they tell to me

Every once in a while I have to tussle, go one on one with the angels, or a single angel is maybe a better way to put it. No, not the heavenly ones or the ones who burden your shoulders when you have a troubled heart but every once in a while I need a shot of my Arky angel, Iris Dement. Now while I don’t want to get into a dissertation about the thing, you know, that old medieval Thomist argument about how many angels can fit on the end of a needle or get into playing sided in the struggle between pliant god-like angels and defiant devil-like angels in the battles in the heavens over who would rule the universe that the great revolutionary English poet from the time of the English revolution of blessed memory, John Milton, when he got seriously exercised over that notion in Paradise Lost I do believe we our faced, vocally faced with someone who could go mano y mano with whoever wants to enter into the lists against her.
Yes, and I know too that that “angel” thing has been played out much too much in the world music scene, the popular music scene, you know rock and roll in the old days and now mainly hip-hop what with in my day every kind of angel from some over the top earth angel that had some guy all swooning, Johnny Angel who just couldn’t keep one girl happy but had to play the field, going to the distaff side (nice old-fashioned word, right) some honkey-tonk angel who was lured into the night life by her own hubris, Hank’s morbid angel of death that seemed to hover over his every move until the big crash out, and my favorite, no question, teen angel, some, I don’t know how else to say it, some bimbo whose boyfriend’s car got stuck on a railroad track, the boyfriend got her out and yet she went running back, running back to get his two-bit class ring, a ring that he had probably given to half the girls in school before her, and did not come out alive, RIP, sister, RIP. No, I will take my Arky angel, take her with a little sinning on the side if you can believe there is any autobiographical edge to some of the songs, take her with a little forlorn lilt in her voice, take her since she has seen the seedy side of life. Yeah, that is how I like my angels.                  
Every once in a while when I am blue, not a Billie Holiday blue, the blues down in the depths when you have to just hear her, flower in hair, maybe junked up, maybe clean, hell, it did not matter, when she hit her stride, and she “spoke” you out of your miseries, but maybe just a passing blue I need to hear a voice that if there was an angel heaven voice she would be the one I would want to hear.    
I first heard Iris DeMent doing a cover of a folksinger-songwriter Greg Brown tribute to Jimmy Rodgers, the old time Texas yodeler discovered around same time as the original Carter Family in the late 1920s, on his tribute album, Driftless. I then looked for her solo albums and for the most part was blown away by the power of Iris’ voice, her piano accompaniment and her lyrics (which are contained in the liner notes of her various albums, read them, please). It is hard to type her style. Is it folk? Is it Country Pop? Is it semi-torch songstress? Well, whatever it maybe that Arky angel is a listening treat, especially if you are in a sentimental mood.
Naturally when I find some talent that “speaks” to me I grab everything they sing, write, paint, or act I can find. In Iris’ case there is not a lot of recorded work, with the recent addition of Sing The Delta just four albums although she had done many back-ups or harmonies with other artists most notably John Prine. Still what has been recorded blew me away (and will blow you away), especially as an old Vietnam War era veteran her There is a Wall in Washington about the guys who found themselves on the Vietnam Memorial probably one of the best anti-war songs you will ever hear. That memorial containing names very close to me, to my heart and I shed a tear each time I even go near the memorial when I am in D.C. It is fairly easy to write a Give Peace a Chance or Where Have All the Flowers Gone? sings-song type of anti-war song. It is another to capture the pathos of what happened to too many families when we were unable to stop that war. The streets of my old-time growing up neighborhood are filled with memories of guys I knew, guys who didn’t make it back, guys who couldn’t adjust coming back to the “real world” and wound up in flop houses, half-way houses, and along railroad “jungle” camps and guys who could not get over not going into the service to experience the decisive event of our generation.
Other songs that have drawn my attention like When My Morning Comes hit home with all the baggage working class kids have about their inferiority when they screw up in this world. Walking Home Alone evokes all the humor, bathos, pathos and sheer exhilaration of saying one was able to survive, and not badly, after growing up poor, Arky poor amid the riches of America. (That may be the “connection” as I grew up through my father coal country Hazard, Kentucky poor.)  
Frankly, and I admit this publicly in this space, I love Ms. Iris Dement. Not personally, of course, but through her voice, her lyrics and her musical presence. This “confession” may seem rather startling coming from a guy who in this space is as likely here to go on and on about Bolsheviks, ‘Che’, Leon Trotsky, high communist theory and the like. Especially, as well given Iris’ seemingly simple quasi- religious themes and commitment to paying homage to her rural background in song. All such discrepancies though go out the window here. Why?
Well, for one, this old radical got a lump in his throat the first time he heard her voice. Okay, that happens sometimes-once- but why did he have the same reaction on the fifth and twelfth hearings? Explain that. I can easily enough. If, on the very, very remotest chance, there is a heaven then I know one of the choir members. Enough said. By the way give a listen to Out Of The Fire and Mornin’ Glory. Then you too will be in love with Ms. Iris Dement.
Iris, here is my proposal, once again. If you get tired of fishing the U.P., or wherever, with Mr. Greg Brown, get bored with his endless twaddle about old Iowa farms or going on and on about Grandma's fruit cellar just whistle. Better yet just yodel like you did on Jimmie Rodgers Going Home on that Driftless CD.

As The 100th Anniversary Of The First Year Of World War I (Remember The War To End All Wars) Comes To A Close... Some Remembrances

The events leading up to World War I (known as the Great War before the world got clogged up with expansive wars in need of other numbers and names and reflecting too in that period before World War II a certain sense of “pride” in having participated in such an adventure even if it did mow down the flower of European youth form all classes) from the massive military armament of almost all the capitalist and imperialist parties in Europe and elsewhere in order to stake their claims to their unimpeded share of the world’s resources had all the earmarks of a bloodbath early on once the industrial-sized carnage set in with the stalemated fronts. Also clogged, or rather thrown in the nearest bin were the supposedly eternal pledges not honored by most of the Social-Democrats and other militant leftist formations representing the historic interest of the international working-class to stop those imperialist capitalist powers and their hangers-on in their tracks in their tracks at the approach of war were decisive for 20th century history. Other than isolated groups and individuals mostly in the weaker countries of Europe the blood lust got the better of most of the working class and its allies as young men rushed to the recruiting stations to “do their duty” and prove thir manhood.

Decisive as well as we head down the slope to the last month of the first year of war although shrouded in obscurity early in the war in exile was the soon to be towering figure of one Vladimir Lenin (a necessary nom de guerre in hell broth days of the Czar’s Okhrana ready to send one and all to the Siberian frosts and that moniker business, that nom de guerre not a bad idea in today’s NSA-driven frenzy to know all, to peep at all), leader of the small Russian Bolshevik Party ( a Social-Democratic Party in name anyway adhering to the Second International under the sway of the powerful German party although not for long), architect of the theory of the “vanguard party” building off of many revolutionary experiences in Russia and Europe in the 19th century), and author of an important, important to the future communist world perspective, study on the monopolizing tendencies of world imperialism, the ending of the age of “progressive” capitalism (in the Marxist sense of the term progressive in a historical materialist sense that capitalism was progressive against feudalism and other older economic models which turned into its opposite at this dividing point in history), and the hard fact that it was a drag on the possibilities of human progress and needed to be replaced by the establishment of the socialist order. But that is the wave of the future as 1914 turns to 1915 in the sinkhole trenches of Europe that are already a death trap for the flower of the European youth.  

The ability to inflict industrial-sized slaughter and mayhem on a massive scale first portended toward the end of the American Civil War once the Northern industrial might tipped the scales their way almost could not be avoided in the early 20th century when the armaments race got serious, and the technology seemed to grow exponentially with each new turn in the war machine. The land war, the war carried out by the “grunts,” by the “cannon fodder” of many nations was only the tip of the iceberg and probably except for the increased cannon-power and rapidity of the machine-guns would be carried out by the norms of the last war on the fronts (that is how the generals saw it mainly having won their promotions in those earlier wars and so held captive to the past). However the race for naval supremacy, or the race to take a big kink out of British supremacy, went on unimpeded as Germany tried to break-out into the Atlantic world and even Japan, Jesus, Japan tried to gain a big hold in the Asia seas.

The deeply disturbing submarine warfare wreaking havoc on commerce on the seas, the use of armed aircraft and other such technological innovations of war only added to the frenzy. We can, hundred years ahead, look back and see where talk of “stabs in the back” by the losers and ultimately an armistice rather than decisive victory on the blood-drenched fields of Europe would lead to more blood-letting but it was not clear, or nobody was talking about it much, or, better, doing much about calling a halt before they began among all those “civilized” nations who went into the abyss in July of 1914. Sadly the list of those who would not do anything, anything concrete, besides paper manifestos issued at international conferences, included the great bulk of the official European labor movement which in theory was committed to stopping the madness.

A few voices, voices like Karl Liebknecht (who against the party majority bloc voting scheme finally voted against the Kaiser’s war budget, went to the streets to get rousing anti-war speeches listened to in the workers’ districts, lost his parliamentary immunity and wound up honorably in the Kaiser’s  prisons) and Rosa Luxemburg ( the rose of the revolution also honorably prison bound) in Germany, Lenin and Trotsky in Russia (both exiled at the outbreak of war and just in time as being on “the planet without a passport” was then as now, dangerous to the lives of left-wing revolutionaries), some anti-war anarchists like Monette in France and here in America the Big Bill Haywood (who eventually would controversially flee to Russia to avoid jail for his opposition to American entry into war), many of his IWW (Industrial Workers Of the World) comrades and the stalwart Eugene V. Debs (who also went to jail, “club fed” for speaking the truth about American war aims in a famous Cleveland speech and, fittingly, ran for president in 1920 out of his Atlanta Penitentiary jail cell),  were raised and one hundred years later those voices have a place of honor in this space.

Those voices, many of them in exile, or in the deportations centers, were being clamped down as well when the various imperialist governments began closing their doors to political refugees when they were committed to clapping down on their own anti-war citizens. As we have seen in our own times, most recently in America in the period before the “shock and awe” of the decimation of Iraq in 2002 and early 2003 the government, most governments, are able to build a war frenzy out of whole cloth. At those times, and in my lifetime the period after 9/11 when we tried in vain to stop the Afghan war in its tracks is illustrative, to be a vocal anti-warrior is a dicey business. A time to keep your head down a little, to speak softly and wait for the fever to subside and to be ready to begin the anti-war fight another day.

So imagine in the hot summer of 1914 when every nationality in Europe felt its prerogatives threatened how the fevered masses, including the beguiled working-classes bred on peace talk without substance, would not listen to the calls against the slaughter. Yes, one hundred years later is not too long or too late to honor those ardent anti-war voices as the mass mobilizations began in the countdown to war, began four years of bloody trenches and death.                   

Over the next period as we continue the long night of the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I and beyond I will under this headline post various documents, manifestos and cultural expressions from that time in order to give a sense of what the lead up to that war looked like, the struggle against its outbreak before, the forlorn struggle during and the massive struggles after it in order to create a newer world out of the shambles of the battlefields.     

I’d Rather Be The Devil Than Be That Woman’s Man”-With Bluesman Skip James’ Devil Got My Woman In Mind

“I’d Rather Be The Devil Than Be That Woman’s Man”-With Bluesman Skip James’ Devil Got My Woman In Mind

From The Pen Of Sam Lowell

Once somebody, I think it was the singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt who also hailed from Texas, asked the legendary bluesman Lightning Hopkins what the blues were. What they meant to him, what they meant in the great scheme of things. He answered quickly like he knew what was coming, what Townes was going to ask like he had been asked the question many times, or had thought about it a lot and had come up with this stock answer when asked the question-“the blues ain’t nothing but a good woman on your mind.”  Now the old reprobate, and he was from all the tales about his doings indicate, probably had other answers or thoughts about the blues like a woman getting you down, about Captain down on the Jim Crow plantation always on your ass, about some hard luck story of money ill-spent and about the morning after Jimmy Joe’s corn liquor hang-over but that answer brought a number of other phrases from blues songs to my mind. Brought to mind to try to define what the blues is, why it has “spoken” to lots of people over time, including old time blues aficionados like me. 

You name it, name your malady, and old time blues guys have coined phrases to fit the bill. Not to neglect the female blues singers who in the 1920s and 1930s actually were more in demand that the old plantation-bound male blues singers, but they might like Bessie Smith tell you that the blues are “good man is hard to find” or that it is “hard to love someone when that someone don’t love you” or maybe that she is looking for her nowhere around daddy to “put a little sugar in her bowl” if she is feeling that way, feeling a little salacious. But the best phrase from a female blues singer was to my mind done by Sippy Wallace -“don’t advertise your man” meaning do not tell your woman friends about your man’s virtues, physical or otherwise, or you will be singing the blues.

All of the previous thoughts were brought to mind recently when I was thinking about how important the blues were in my own life whenever I was feeling downhearted. How they got me through a few rough spots. I had along the way been thinking about my response back in the 1980s when I lived in a studio apartment on Beacon Hill in Boston after my divorce (number two) and the young guy downstairs from me, a good guy named Otty Venise, told me over drinks one night at Charlie’s Den on Charles Street that Bessie Smith actually helped him get over his blues. (He was having women troubles just then since his flame had just ditched him for another man, an old boyfriend). And I had to agree that a heavy dose of Miss Smith would chase some blues away. Chase some woman blues away.             

It is funny though that not all my blues memories revolve around woman relationship troubles, hang-overs, no dough (due to the settlements from those two divorces if nothing else), some sweat-filled dead end job, or the troubles in the world just getting the best of me. Once the blues, or my use of a phrase from a blues song got me into political hot water.

Now my politics are pretty far left, and pretty narrow. Mainly around the fight to end the endless wars this country had immersed itself in and the fight for some kind of social justice be it opposition to the death penalty, an increase in the minimum wage or to free political prisoners here and abroad. Stuff like that. Like I say narrowly focused but important. As part of what I do to, especially in the age of the Internet and social media, is make commentary on various issues via things like blogs (and now Twitter). Back in the early part of the presidential campaign of 2008 when Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama were going at each other tooth and nail for the Democratic Party presidential nomination I was making plenty of commentary about each one. Not that I favored either, like I said my politics are to the left of that party even in the best of times. What did have me incensed (along with plenty of others who wound up in the Obama camp, at least for a while) was Hilary’s vote in 2003 for the Iraq War and her basic refusal to recant since she had egg all over here face from supporting what turned out to be a bogus war, which she knew, or should have known was bogus. Somebody, actually more than one person, more than one feminist friend was all over me to support her as the first serious woman presidential candidate (although in a face-off against the first serious black presidential candidate that argument lost some of its steam). Despite my known indifference to party politics. Between that pressure and a book review of a fawning political biography of Hilary I got my dander up and took up a line from the old bluesman Skip James’ Devil Got My Woman-“I’d rather be the devil that be that woman’s man.” Jesus did I take heat over that one not only from my feminist friends who I expected it from in a sense but from the “don’t like” comments on the book review despite the fact that I had given beside the glossing over of the Iraq vote plenty of other reasons to not like the book, and not like the candidate including a big dose of Clinton fatigue. As now in 2015 we will be subject to plenty of both Clinton and Bush fatigue.

But leave it to the blues, to a blues woman, to bail me out of my troubles. Once I was on the ropes and had to figure out some way to cut across the sting on Hilary I had to check out some other blues lyrics to “get right.” And I didn’t have to look far. One Rory Block, she of the younger generation of blues aficionados who have taken to covering the old blues standards, actually did her own female-etched version of the Skip James song except she sang-“I’d rather be the devil than be that man’s woman.” Thanks Rory, thanks a million.     

Now ask me just ask me about my opinion, about supporting one Hilary Rodham Clinton in 2016. You know the answer already. Sanctified too. As to the more generic question-What is the blues? The blues is…

Friday, July 10, 2015

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

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 hair and dew-like skin but who proved to be a bigger bitch than Shakespeare’s witches and good ridden), a mass of freckles instead of a whiskey and beer chaser-driven mass of very high-proof wrinkles, and my own, rather than store-bought, rattlers, teeth I mean. That whiskey-wrinkled business is no joke since I started drinking Johnny Walker Red when I was about twelve, the nectar made only a few miles away in Boston so maybe it was in the air provoking me with its siren call or more truthfully just easier to obtain than most others like Canadian Club or Seagram’s my choices now except when somebody is buying them Chivas when the guys I hung around with dared me to take a dram, maybe seven, or else make me seem “light on my feet,” you know, a fag [gay] sneaking a thimbleful at a time and then putting a splash of water into the bottle to maintain the same level in my grandmother’s, Grandma Curran, Anna, from my mother Dorothy’s side of the family, quart of whiskey that she kept out of sight in her china closet. Boys, the stuff was nasty tasted like some awful, hold your nose childhood medicine and gulp that first time and I think I almost threw up after the first gulp but I acquired the habit, and did hold my nose a couple of times to break that noxious feeling as I swallowed the liquid down and it took, mostly.

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

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

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

Yeah, and Jimmy treated me like a long lost brother, which automatically gave me the nod from Harry.  Jimmy from the beginning, from when I, bored, started to hang around the pin ball machines and he would give me his “free” games when he had other business to attend to, his girlfriend or Harry business, always liked me, always knew that I had a little larceny in my heart, had some serious “wanting habits” as one of the guys called what I had and so I did a little of  “this and that” then and am still at since those wanting habits have not flickered out. When I am not doing this and that for Jimmy I work in one of his warehouses moving material around, and don’t ask what kind of materials or where it goes since I told you that it was this and that, barrels too so I wasn’t joking about that barrel thing if you think I was.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See Black-Jack’s family thought they were the Mayfair swells since Black-Jack had gone to college, one of the first in the old neighborhood, and they had that big single-family house over on Beach Street. But more than one night I found Boyo lying face-down on Billings Road drunk as a skunk and had to carry him home to his wife and family. And then head back to the other side of the tracks, that wrong side I already told you about. Next day, or sometime later, Boyo would give me a dollar for my services in his hour of need. Naturally when I went to school after that I went out of my way to flash the dollar bill at Black-Jack, saying “Look what Boyo gave me for helping him out of the gutter.” That’s all I had to say. Black-Jack always turned fuming red, maybe flaming red. Of course that was before that grab-ass tussle we had so over the use of the shop boys’ lavatory so maybe he held that taunt against me and saw expelling me as his sweet laced arsenic Irish revenge. 

A lot of Irish fathers didn’t beat on their wives all the time either. And a lot of Irish fathers didn’t physically beat their kids for no reason. Plenty of kids go the “strap” though when the old man was “feeling his oats.” (I never heard of any sexual abuse, but that was a book sealed with seven seals then and with all the exposes about the faggot boy-loving priest the last few years maybe that went on too more than you would think because almost every Irish guy, me too, was totally screwed up about sex under the guidance of the Church and parents and probably did things as bad as those black-hearted priests. It took a heathen Protestant girl, Laura Perkins, to show me what was what about the beauties of sex but that was much later.) And more than one wife, more than one son’s mother didn’t show her face to the “shawlie” world due to the simple fact that a black eye, a swollen face, or some other wound disfigured her enough to lay low for a while. I had to stop, or try to stop, my own father one time when I was about twelve and he was on one of his three day Dublin Grille whiskey straight-up, no chaser toots and Ma just got in his way. He swatted me down like a fly and I never tried to go that route again. But he didn’t try to beat my mother again either, at least not when I was a around or I would have heard about it on the “shawlie” wire.

And a lot of Irish wives didn’t just let their husbands beat on them just because they were the meal ticket, the precious difference between a home and the county farm [like I said before the welfare deal of that time when you were down and out] or, worse, the streets. And a lot of Irish wives didn’t make excuses (or pray) for dear old dad when the paycheck didn’t show up and the creditors were beating down the door. And a lot of Irish wives didn’t let those Irish fathers beat on their kids. And a lot of Irish mothers didn’t tell their kids not to “air the dirty linen in public.” But, don’t let anyone fool you, and maybe I am touching on things too close to home, my home or yours, but that formed part of the scene, the Irish scene.

Maybe, because down at the Atlantic dregs end of North Adamsville the whole place was so desperately lower working-class other ethnic groups, like the Italians, also had those same pathologies. (I am letting Markin use that last word, although I still don’t really know what it means, but it seemed right when he told me what it meant). I don’t know. Figure it out though, plenty of fathers (and it was mainly fathers only in those days who worked, when they could) with not much education and dead-end jobs, plenty of rented apartments in triple-deckers as homes , no space, no air, no privacy rented housing and plenty of dead time. Yah, sure, I felt the “Irish-ness” of the place sometimes (mainly with the back of the hand), I won’t say I didn’t but when Markin starts running on and on about the “old sod” just remember what I told you. I’ll tell you all the truth, won’t you take a word from me.