Saturday, July 04, 2020

The First Black President, President Of Rock And Rock- Chuck Berry: The Great Twenty-Eight- A CD Review

The First Black President, President Of Rock And Rock- Chuck Berry: The Great Twenty-Eight- A CD Review

CD Review

By Associate Music Critic Lance Lawrence

The Great Twenty-Eight: Chuck Berry, Chess Records 

Today I want to talk about presidential politics. No, not that lame excuse for an election process that occurred in 2016. That Hillary and Donald battle royal for who is in charge of being in charge. Forget that stuff. I want to talk today about is who was, who is, the person who has qualified to be the leading candidate for the title of the president of rock and roll (small letter ‘p” signifying the truly democratic process of selection in this important matter). Of course when you talk about who was who in rock and roll you have to go back to what is now called in the promos and ads, the demographically targeted promos and ads, the “classic age” of rock. The period roughly from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. That said, the passing earlier in 2017 year of the legendary rocker Chuck Berry has placed this question once again on the front burner, at least in my circles.

As usual in such matters the controversy has come to the fore in reaction to the various tributes and obituaries on the life of Chuck Berry and his place in the history of rock and roll. During that period I made so bold to suggest that in the long run Chuck Berry’s influence on the development of rock and roll as it came out of that very special black-centered rhythm and blues of the late 1940s and early 1950s stuff that, truthfully most whites except a few hipsters around cafĂ© society New York and on the fringes of North Beach and slinky LA on the Coast had no clue even existed. That despite the fact that many of the songs that we have come to associate with classic rock and roll like Hound Dog, One Night With You and Shake, Rattle and Roll  burned the trail during that period.

Naturally when names are named in culturati circles, especially academic circles, somebody is always ready almost by reflex or by some overweening desire to make a name for his or her self at the expense of some tribal bigwig to throw mud at your finely tuned and reasoned premises. Needless to say that happened here in discussing the influence of Chuck Berry as well except from an unexpected source. Zack James, a fellow music critic in this space and at the American Music Gazette, decided he could hold his tongue no longer and sent me an e-mail basically challenging my sanity for believing that anybody but Elvis, and I do not believe that I need to add a last name for everybody to know of whom I speak, was the leading figure in that magical moment called 1950s rock. Of course I could have dismissed Zack’s idea out of hand since he got his knowledge about rock and roll second-hand, hell for all I know third-hand or from reading the liner notes, from listening to his older brother Alex’s records in the mid-1960s well after the heyday of the movement I am talking about. I decided though that I couldn’t let that notion about who was who stand without a response.

I am one who, belatedly, has come to recognize that Elvis (again I don’t think I need to mention a last name but if you need one just ask your parents or grandparents and you will get your answer in two seconds flat) was indeed the “king” of rock and roll. He took, as Sam Phillips the legendary founder of Sun Records and first finder of Elvis in old Memphis town who has been quoted many, many times as saying, the old black rhythm and blues songs and put a white, a white rockabilly, face on the genre and made the crossover in a big way. So I will not argue that point with Zack. Will not argue either that his act, those swirling rotating off their axis hips make all the girls, hell, all the women sweat. Point Zack.                          

But see I am a good republican (with a very purposeful small ‘r”) and as such I believe that the “divine right of kings,” the theory that Zack is apparently working under was discredited a few hundred years ago when Oliver Cromwell and his crowd took old Charles I’s head off his shoulders. And while I would have wished no such fate for the “king” his influence other than for purely sentimental reasons these days is pretty limited.
A look at this CD selection will tell a more persuasive tale. Sure early Elvis, Good Rockin’ Tonight, Jailhouse Rock, It Alright, Mama spoke to 1950s teenage angst and alienation read: lovesickness, but beyond that he kind of missed the boat of what teenagers, teenagers around my way and around Zack’s older brother’s way, wanted to hear about. Guys wanted to hear about anyway. Cars, getting girls in cars, and hanging out at places like drive-in theaters and drive-in restaurants looking for girls. In short thoughts of sex and sexual adventure. This may seem kind of strange today. Not the sex and sexual adventure part but the car and drive-ins part.

Those were the days of the “golden age” of the automobile when every guy, girls too, wanted to learn how to drive and get a car, or at least use the family car for those Friday and Saturday night cruising expeditions for which we lived. (I hear anecdotally all the time about 20 somethings who don’t have their driver’s license and are not worried by that horrendous fact. Could care less about car ownership in the age of Uber and Lift. Madness, sheer madness).  Cars for running to the drive-in to check out who was at the refreshment stand, cars for hitting “lovers’ lane if you got lucky. For that kind of adventure you needed something more than safe Elvis, safe Elvis who made your own mother secretly sweat so you know where he was at. Say you found some sweet sixteen, found some sweet little rock and roller, say you found that your parents’ music that was driving you out of the house in search of, say you were in search of something and you really did want to tell Mister Beethoven to hit the road. Needed some help to figure out why that ever-loving gal was driving you crazy when all you really wanted to worry about was filling the gas tank and making sure that heap of your was running without major repairs to cramp your style.             

Take a look at the lyrics in the selections in this CD: Maybelline, Sweet Little Sixteen, Sweet Little Rock and Roller, Nadine, Johnny B. Goode, Roll over Beethoven. Then try to tell me that the man with the duck walk, the man with the guitar from hell, the man who dared to mess with Mister’s women (hell we have all been beaten down on that one since Adam’s time, maybe before) one Chuck Berry didn’t speak to us from the depth of the 1950s. Hail to the Chief.     

Vietnam Veteran Fritz Taylor’s Rockport Fourth Of July-2017

Vietnam Veteran Fritz Taylor’s Rockport Fourth Of July-2017

By Associate Moderator Jonathan Prince

[Those who are familiar with this site and a number of on-line media platforms with which he is associated may have noted that Peter Paul Markin has been for the past decade or so the moderator of this site. Some may also know the background story about the original of his on-line moniker which honors his long lost friend of the same name, the real life Markin, who taught him many things before he fell down to his own hubris, maybe his whole genetic infrastructure, in Mexico in a hail of gunfire over a busted drug deal in the mid-1970s. As one can assume by the time frame of many of his stories of his youth (and of course of the real Markin as well) the moderator is getting up there in age and as with the case of film critic Sam Lowell is ready to give up the day to day chores associated with moderating this busy site. Jonathan Prince, the son of an old college friend Leonard, and a recent college graduate himself, has volunteered to help out with the moderator and reporting roles as things move into transition.  

This assignment, an assignment which is basically a job of reportage about Fritz Taylor’s take on the Fourth of July celebration in the old time fishing town and now something of a tourist Mecca Rockport out on ocean edge Cape Ann in Massachusetts , is his first attempt at getting his feet wet on the job. It is rather fitting that Jonathan has had Fritz Taylor’s current story as his first assignment since Fritz was the first subject of the real Peter Paul Markin’s series of articles in the early 1970s for the now long gone East Bay Other out in Oakland. That series detailed how a bunch of Vietnam veterans from all over and for all kinds of personal reasons who could not deal with coming back to the “real” world after Vietnam came together down in Southern California and formed what they would now call an alternate community among the arroyos, under the bridges and along the railroad tracks. Bruce Springsteen later titled one of his songs Brothers Under The Bridge about that same experience and that seems to fit as well as any other for what went on back then. Not a bad way to cut your reporting teeth. Peter Paul Markin]     

Fritz Taylor is a marching mad man. A marching mad man with a purpose. Funny it had not always been that way. He had not always been that way. Back home as a youth in Fulton County, Georgia he would moan and groan if had to walk the half mile to the nearest grocery store to get provisions for his large family’s meals. Later, when he came of age and could not justify staying around the house and enlisted in the Army just as the war in Vietnam was coming to a boiling point, he would gripe, piss and moan he called it, about having to walk all over half that benighted country for most of his tour of duty.      

That war, that Vietnam experience which would change him forever when he got back to the “real” world, also changed his attitude toward walking, walking “with the king” he calls it now since he has gotten on the right side of the angels about the issues of war and peace. Of course as with a lot of guys back then, guys who fought and suffered every kind of stress and disorder, that wisdom did not come easy, and it was a close thing that it came at all. The dope he craved to take the pain away, the pain of living, almost did him in a few times. Like a lot of guys too he gave up to dope and to whatever other stuff was ailing his mind his wife and kids, his good paying job as a trucker, and his cozy place just waiting for him in society as a veteran. He had been one of the first guys to head to Southern California to be what he now calls “a brother under the bridge” after he ran into a friend who had served with him in the Forth Infantry up in the Central Highlands. It was down in the camp along the railroad track outside Westminster where Peter Paul Markin [the real Markin] first ran into Fritz and he had agreed to be interviewed for a story to run in an alternative newspaper in Oakland [the East Bay Other] where Markin was working at the time.                 

That was the early 1970s and while he wished that getting to know Markin, a fellow veteran, through that interview Fritz fell down, his term, many times to the lure of various drugs, in the end cocaine, before he got clean. He confessed to me that before then he could have “given a fuck” about thinking about wars, or peace for that matter. Getting clean helped him to be able to see that whatever was bothering him about what he had done in Vietnam and later to his social circle was the root of what bothered him. (He got what he called great help from the VA, from a therapist they provided which helped him work out some of what had enraged him for so many years). From there he, slowly, came to believe that if he was to have peace within himself that he would need to “spread the word,” again his term. Then Fritz began in the early 1980s to look around for groups that were doing peace work.             

By this time he had settled in Baltimore, gone to community college and had become a computer technician (paid for by the GI Bill), met a nice woman with a couple of kids and they were living together. This woman, Heather, now Heather Taylor, knew a few Quakers from a literacy campaign she had worked on with them and she got Fritz in touch with them. That had not really worked out because Fritz did not feel himself to be a pacifist nor did he feel comfortable with the plainness of the sect and its ways of living in this wicked old world.    

In 1987, or 1988, Fritz was not sure which, while living in a town just outside of Boston where he and Heather relocated so he could get a better job in what he had heard was the booming Hi Tech industry he ran into a guy with a Veterans for Peace tee shirt on in Harvard Square. This guy, Lenny Block, was headed to a Central America solidarity rally on Cambridge Common and he invited Fritz along. As it turned out that was to be his first serious peace march where he “walked with the king” since after the rally the participants were heading to the State House in Boston several miles away to publicize the situation in Central America and the United States government’s nefarious involvement in that troubled area of the world.         

And that, fast forward, had been how almost twenty years and plenty of worn shoe leather later one Fritz Taylor was spending the ebbing Fourth of July day in Rockport, Massachusetts as part of a combined VFP and affiliated peace group contingent in the annual town parade. This had not been Fritz’s first Rockport march, he reckoned it was his fourth or fifth so he knew what to expect (not Heather’s either who while not very “political” stood on the right side of the angels on the peace issue and marched with him in this parade). The crowds as usual were both respectful of the veterans as veterans and generally receptive to the peace message they were bringing to the fore with their array of dove-centered white flags flapping in the ocean breeze creating quite a stirring sight.        

That former part of the sentence about the crowd response is what bothered Fritz, had for a while in many locations, the part about respecting veterans as veterans. That respect was in Rockport that day, in the past and in other locations, signified most graphically by one expression-“Thank for your service.” While on march it was hardly appropriate to single out those who expressed themselves that way and ask what they meant. So Fritz suffered in silence about what the crowds were really responding to, a patriotic or peace strain. Fritz had been through a lot in Vietnam and what it had done to his psyche, been down in the ditch in Southern California with other lost souls from that war, had gone to the depths in drug addiction before being washed clean so he was more than usually bothered by the thought that those who used the thank you expression were honoring his tour of duty in Vietnam.     

This year Fritz decided that he would ask a few of the spectators once the parade was over what they meant since he would still get through the VFP tee shirt he was wearing those thanks. He stopped one older person and asked frankly what she meant by her compliment. She said for his service to his country and the peace aspect was just so much frosting. Another spectator agreed. A few others thought it “cool” that veterans were marching for peace. A mixed bag. The final response from a person he asked gave an unequivocal response that he believed for service to the country and not anything to do with peace. This gave Fritz an idea, an idea he tested out that very nice. Anytime somebody threw the expression of thanks for his service at him he would reply-“Yes, for my service now.” Fritz chuckled as he thought about how many more marches this new-found expression would get him through. A lot he hoped.        

July 4: CELEBRATING A “SLAVEHOLDER’S REPUBLIC”-“WHAT TO THE AMERICAN SLAVE IS YOUR 4TH OF JULY?” James Earl Jones Reads Frederick Douglass’s Historic Speech (July 5, 1852)

July 4: CELEBRATING A “SLAVEHOLDER’S REPUBLIC”-“WHAT TO THE AMERICAN SLAVE IS YOUR 4TH OF JULY?”  James Earl Jones Reads Frederick Douglass’s Historic Speech (July 5, 1852)

Modern histories of the American Revolution rightly emphasize the interests of slaveholders and land speculators hungry to overthrow Britain’s limits to westward expansion into Native lands.  The colonial leaders debated publicly what sort or government they wanted, but they were unanimous in rejecting “Democracy,” a word which appears nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or the US Constitution.
James Earl Jones Reads Frederick Douglass’s Historic Speech (July 5, 1852)
Click on the image above to watch and listen!
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We must face some sobering facts: Peter Faneuil — for whom Faneuil Hall is named — was a slave trader, a purveyor of human flesh, an international trafficker of people whose lives he left in ruins…  In defense of retaining the name of Faneuil Hall, many say we should “not change history.” Here we misunderstand that history is always changing in light of new discovery, which is the product of tireless effort to verify truth claims. Without such an approach, we would have held steadfastly to wrong-headed conceptions of the galaxy when new methods, facts, and revelation compel us all otherwise.  In a similar vein, many reject renaming Faneuil Hall because it would “erase” the history of Peter Faneuil a great Bostonian, a “scion of the French Huguenots… fleeing oppression” themselves. But what about Peter Faneuil’s complicity with the slave trade and ownership of other humans? And what about the long and obscured history of blacks in Boston, which we willingly ignore, suppress and reject? In other words, is the historical narrative of black slaves in Boston as important as the stories of whites in our city? Yes, of course.  The move to rename Faneuil Hall should not be viewed as an attempt to “erase history” or change the past. Logic dictates that this is impossible. But remembering history is possible and necessary should we desire to embrace our democratic birthright.   More

Friday, July 03, 2020

Honor Samuel Adams And James Otis- American Revolutionaries- An Encore Commentary

Honor Samuel Adams And James Otis- American Revolutionaries- An Encore Commentary

Markin comment:

This commentary, an encore from 2006, offers a shade bit difference perspective about the American revolution from that if today's guest commentary





As we approach the 230th Anniversary of the American Revolution militants should honor the valiant fighters for freedom, many not prominently remembered today, such as Samuel Adams, James Otis and Tom Paine who kept the pressure on those other more moderate revolutionary politicians such as Washington and John Adams who at times were willing to compromise with the British Empire short of victory. We should also remember the valiant but mainly nameless Sons of Liberty who lit the spark of rebellion. And the later Winter Soldiers of Valley Forge who held out under extreme duress in order to insure eventual victory. Anyone can be a sunshine patriot; we desperately need militants in the tradition of the winter soldiers. No revolution can succeed without such fighters.

The 4th of July today is covered with so much banal ceremony, flag- waving, unthinking sunshine patriotism and hubris it is hard to see the forest for the trees to the days when, as Lincoln stated, during that other great progressive action of this country’s history- the Great Civil War of 1861-65- that this country was the last, best hope for civilization. Note this well- those men and women who rebelled against the king from Washington on down were big men and women out to do a big job. And they did it. A quick look at the political landscape today makes one thing clear. This country has no such men or women among its leaders today-not even close.

Rereading the Declaration of Independence today, a classic statement of Enlightenment values, and such documents as the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution demonstrates that these men and women were, hesitantly and in a fumbling manner to be sure, taking on some big issues in the scheme of human development. Today what do we see- half-hearted withdrawal programs to end the quagmire borne of hubris in Iraq, amendments against same sex marriage, amendments against flag-burning, the race to the bottom of the international wage scale bringing misery to working people, serious attempts to create a theocracy based on Christian fundamentalism, creation of a fortress against immigration in a nation of immigrants, among other things. In short, the negation of that spirit that Lincoln talked about. Today, the militants who fought the American Revolution would probably be in some Guantanamo-like cages. DEFEND THE ENLIGHTENMENT!

In earlier times this writer had been rather blasé about the American Revolution tending to either ignore its lessons or putting it well below another revolution- The Great French Revolution, also celebrated in July- in the pantheon of revolutionary history. However, this is flat-out wrong. We cannot let those more interested in holiday oratory than drawing the real lessons of the American Revolution appropriate what is the property of every militant today. Make no mistake, however, the energy of that long ago revolution has burned itself out and other forces-militants and their allies- and other political creeds-the fight for a workers party and a workers government leading to socialism- have to take its place as the standard-bearer for human progress. That task has been on the historical agenda for a long time and continues to be our task today. Yes, we love this country. No, we do not love this form of government. Forward.

Note- To learn more about the history of the American Revolution and the foundation of the Republic any books by Gordon S. Wood on the subject are a good place to start. Garry Wills in his book Inventing America also has some insights worth reading. Check

An Encore -Eddie Daley’s Big Score –With Paul Newman and Robert Redford’s The Sting In Mind

An Encore -Eddie Daley’s Big Score –With Paul Newman and Robert Redford’s The Sting In Mind

A Sketch From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

Eddie Daley, Edward James Daley, to the 1940s slapdash Dorchester triple-decker tenements within earshot of the rattling Redline subway born, dreamed, dreamed big dreams, ever since he was knee-high to a grasshopper as the old time used-up now corny expression had it, of making the big score, making easy street, and in the process leaving behind a legend that guys, corner boy guys and grifters would talk about long after he was gone. Talk about in reverent hushed whispers about the guy, Eddie Daley, thereafter to be dubbed the “king of the grifters” who pulled the biggest con that there ever was, and walked away from it free as a bird. Not all big scores, cons, even if consummated, had that final part, that walk away free part, just ask the shade of Frankie Finn who pulled the big Shiloh Fur scam worth two million easy (a lot of money back in the 1950s even when split four ways and a fifth cut for the fence plus his expenses although that sum just walking around money today), pulled it off with just four guys, a good number for the haul, but who “forgot” that he was dealing with one “Rocket Kid,” Johnny Silver, in his entourage who after the heist put two between the eyes of his three confederates, figuring one is easier to count than four no matter than two of the guys were his long time corner boys. The Rocket Kid, Johnny, was subsequently “hit” by one of Buddy Boyle’s boys, everybody though Rolling Rex Buddy’s main contract man did the deed since he had not been seen around for a while, when he tried to fence the stuff since Buddy was the front money man on that caper and Frankie Finn’s cousin to boot. Buddy already rolling in dough had his own way of figuring one is easier to count when he was the one. So that walking away free part was no small part of the leaving a legend behind scenario.

Eddie’s dream might seem strange to the squares, to those who live life on the square, wake up and do the nine to five bit, or whatever the time bit these days with flexible hours, take two weeks’ vacation in Maine in the summer, raise and put three kids through college at great expense and get a gold watch or a pat on the back when they are turned out to pasture. Yeah, that dream definitely might seem odd to those who have never been from hunger, not just “wants” hunger like a million guys have, maybe more, but no food on the table hunger when the old man drank away the week’s paycheck at the Dublin Grille or hand-me-down clothes from older brothers in style or not hunger that ate deeply into every way that Eddie thought about things from very early on. Those who never worried about big scores, or cons since they had it coming in whatever they had to put out in expenses would never figure Eddie’s dreams out.

See Eddie was a what they called, called back in the old days, back in the 1930s, and still called them back in Eddie’s coming of age time in the 1960s when he came of age in that Dorchester section of Boston where he triple decker tenement grew up a natural-born grifter. When Eddie first heard that word used, strangely after he had already done his first con and somebody on the corner, that hang out corner being Mel’s Variety on Neponset Avenue near the Fields Corner subway stop, called him a born “grifter” he faked it and said yeah and then next day went to the library and looked it up in the dictionary and came up with this-“A grifter is someone who swindles you through deception or fraud. Synonyms include fraudster, con artist, cheater, confidence man, scammer, hustler, swindler, etc.”

Eddie smiled the smile of the just on that one. Yeah, a grifter, is a guy like him who figured some angles, any angles, a guy who did this and that, did the best he could without working some nine to five hump job. [Here is a practical corner boy, not Mel’s but Jack Slack’s bowling alleys corner down in Carver about thirty miles south of Dorchester but still in “from hunger” land definition- “A grifter to fill in the gaps for the unknowing and clueless was a guy, sometimes a dame, although usually where there was a dame involved she was a roper especially if the mark was hopped up on some sex thing, who spent his eternal life figuring how to go from point A to point B, and point A was wanting dough and point B was getting it by any means necessary but mainly by stealth. By the way do not discount women in the grifter society one of the best who ever lived was a gal who went by the name Delores Del Rio, named herself after the 1940s movie star, who took some duke over in Europe for a cool two million in jewelry after she got him all jammed up and picked him clean leaving him with some fake jewels worth about six dollars in Woolworth’s, beautiful.]

So Eddie started figuring the angles very early on, very early on indeed and would regale, if that is the right word for it, the corner boys in front of Mel’s Variety Store on Neponset Avenue with tales of his daring do once he started hanging out there when he began high school at Dot High. Of course that was all kids’ stuff, baubles and beads stuff, since nobody expected a kid to have the talents for grifting right out of the box (having the heart, the “from hunger” wanting habits heart was a separate and maybe more pressing question) but there are certain guys, certain Eddie guys, who cling to those dreams pretty hard and give themselves a workout getting in shape.

From what one guy, Southie Slim, one of the Mel’s corner boys before he moved on to other stuff told me Eddie started pretty early, started simply conning other kids out of their milk money in elementary school over at the Monroe Trotter School. Here is the skinny on that first round according to Slim who got caught out himself before he picked up the grifter life for a while until he found out dealing high-grade dope to the Beacon Hill crowd was a great deal more profitable, and socially smart too once you added in willing women. Eddie somehow had picked up some dice, yeah, a pair and he would bet other kids, boys or girls it did not matter, their milk money on the results. Of course he somehow had “loaded” them so he would win. Now that was a fairly easy thing but here is where Eddie learned his craft. To keep play going he would let the other kids win occasionally, just enough to keep them interested rather than be a greed-head like big bully Matty Dugan down at my elementary school, Myles Standish, down in Carver who just strong-armed a kid a day for his (or her, it did not matter) milk money. But the real tip he picked up young as he was that as long as kids, people, think they can  “pick you clean” you will always have a willing pool of suckers, of people to swindle, small or large but think large.            

One night, one slow Friday night years later after he had settled deeply into the routine of the life, Eddie was cutting up touches about his old days while smoothing down high-shelf scotch (a no-no when you are on the hustle by the way save that for slow Friday nights when you are cutting up old touches Eddie said), about how he moved up after that dice thing ran its course as all such scams do if for no other reason that the grifter gets tired of the play, and he related what happened after that first scam when he got to the Curley Junior High School. Here is how it went, the basic outline since Eddie was kind of cagey about some of the details like the guys he was talking to that night were going to run right out and pull the scam themselves. Eddie basically ran a pyramid scheme on his fellow students. He conned the kids into giving him their money by saying he knew a guy, a friend of his older brother, Lawrence, who worked as a stable boy at the track and who knew when the fix was on in a race and who could place bets for him and get some bucks fast. Eddie convinced a couple of guys that if they put all their dough together they could buy a ticket and make some easy dough. And it worked for a while since Eddie in his devilish way paid off the guys with his own dough. Each guy getting maybe a buck which to a “from hunger” kid was a big deal. Word got out and soon plenty of kids, even girls were looking to get in on easy street. And so he would dole out some more dough. Then he pulled the plug, told everybody that he was going in for a big score that he was going to put twenty dollars on a sure thing that the stable boy had tipped him to. In the event he actually got about thirty five dollars collected altogether. Of course the horse ran out, never came close so all was lost. Hey, wait a minute have you been listening? Eddie didn’t know any stable boy, didn’t make any bet, so minus his seed money expenses he cleared twenty-five bucks. Here is what Eddie learned though know the “clients” (Eddie’s word) who you are dealing with and don’t be too greedy. He did that same small con for a couple of years and it worked like magic, got him his money for the jukebox at Jimmy Jack’s Diner on Gallivan Boulevard and movie money too. Small con wisdom but still wisdom.

Eddie as he got older, got into high school, got hanging around with his corner boys at Mel’s, got restless, always had that idea in back of his mind that he would pull a big score if he learned all the tricks of the trade, if he could get onto something big. For a while in high school it looked like he was on the fast track, he learned how to work the charity circuit for walking daddy (his term) walking around money using the old homeless but proud gag that those private charity donors love that he picked up one day when he was playing hooky from school and ran into an old con man, Railroad Bill, on a bench at Boston Common near the Park Street Station who gave him the tip. Eddie would laugh at how easy it was to pull off walking into let’s say the United Methodist Church Social Services office up on Beacon Street dressed in his very real hand-me- downs and unshaven making him look older but not too old (meaning the old telltale sign that the guy had been “on the bum” too long to be proud and work his way out of his current jam) going through his rough things but wanting to get back on track if he only had a the price of a week’s rent in one of the rooming houses that dotted the other side of the hill then (a few still there even today, significantly fewer though). That was good for ten or twenty at a time although the down side of that caper was that you could only use it once, maybe twice. The upside was that there were numerous private social service agencies like that looking for somebody “worthy” to give the dough to.  

 With that walking around money Eddie would work a variation of his kids’ stuff milk money run, he would sell lottery tickets (in the days before the state got its greasy hands into that racket), for different charities, say he was raising it for blind kids or to send kids to summer camp. Offer as prizes radios, televisions, maybe a record player, stuff like that which people wouldn’t mind spending a dollar or “three for five dollars” on to help some crippled-up kids, give them fresh air, or some other small break or something. So he would grab the dough and then have one or more of his corner boys rip off what was needed over at Lechmere Sales or someplace like that (usually using at first “Five Fingers” Riley or “Rat” Malone who started that racket early once they figured out that if you were fearless in grabbing stuff nobody was going to catch you, and that worked for a long time until they “graduated” to armed robberies and did consecutive nickels, dimes and quarters in various Massachusetts state pens).

See nobody gave a good damn if the charity he was hustling for ever got the dough all they knew was that for a buck, or three for five, they had a chance for their own television, radio, or record player important to hard-pressed high school kids who would not have those items otherwise. Needless to say the corner boys he used were good and he paid them off well like he should to keep them in line, another lesson learned, and so he honed his skills.

When Eddie graduated from high school and was to face the workaday world though he panicked a bit, decided that he needed to move up a step if he was going to avoid the fate of his belabored father, belabored by drink, yes, but also hard work on the docks, not always steady and with a brood of kids and a nagging wife to contend with. If the nine-to-five was not for Eddie neither was staying down in the depths either. (A history teacher had mentioned one time in class that all of her charges should seek to move up the latter of society at least one jump ahead of their parents and that kind of stuck with him.) So he started going into downtown Boston, started hanging around the Commons regularly unlike in high school where he would go just when playing hooky but really to blow off steam when something exploded at home in that damn crowded apartment, started to listen to guys to see if they had any ideas like that time “Railroad Bill” gave him the scoop on the private charity gag, had been on easy street at one time. He didn’t bother with the eternal winos and junkies for they had nothing to say that he could use but to guys and there always were guys who maybe had been on the hustle and got waylaid, or just got old in a young man’s racket and so maybe had some words to share. And before he knew it he met Sidewalk Sam and Bright Boy Benny a couple of guys who told him about old time scams, about how guys survived by their wits in the hard-ass Depression days. And come some old Friday night, a slow girl-less Friday usually, Eddie would hold forth about what he had learned in the world, learned from Sidewalk and Bright Boy.

Here, for example, is what he told the boys one Friday night, one “Five-Fingers” Malone-less Friday night marking the first time he got bagged for doing a robbery, unarmed that time, of a gas station and was doing a six month stretch at Deer Island, which will give you an idea of where Eddie was heading, a story of a scam that seemed impossible to pull off given what they were trying to do. Unless you knew how very greedy some guys, even smart guys were. Let’s call it the wallet switch, an old scam that Eddie would perform a couple of times later, successfully. You need two guys for this, at least. In this case two used to be “from hunger” Great Depression grifters Denver Slim and Gash Lavin. And you must know your mark’s movements pretty well and whether they have dough on them, a more usual circumstance than you might think back then than now that we are in this age of the ATM and cashable credit cards among those a shade to the left of the law (and a whole new Eddie-less generation tech- savvy grifters with their dreams, and stories they are telling their confederates on slow Friday nights). I won’t go into the preliminaries about setting the mark up, but they knew their guy, knew his movements and knew what he was carrying, so just rest assured that Denver and Gash had seeded their mark. Well actually Denver had seeded the mark, one Ricardo “Slice” Russo (you figure out the why of that moniker, okay), who was the bag man for Lou Thorpe’s numbers racket in New York City, yes the Lou Thorpe who ran wild back in the day and made a splash in Vegas to top off his career but this is earlier when he was greedier than Midas and so was particularly susceptible to any scheme that put money in his waiting hands.

Once a week Slice headed for Chicago on the midnight train to pay off Lou’s confederates there (at the high end of the rackets there are always confederates to pay off, cops too so it is just part of the overhead to keep on the streets. Guys down the bottom of the food chain don’t have such financial worries they are too busy keeping one eye out for looming John Law.)

Now bag men are pretty low in the food chain of any criminal enterprise but are like Eddie and every other Eddie-like dreamer also groomed on the con, on easy street dreams. What Denver did was to ask Slice, whom he cornered by evoking “Shark” Mahoney’s name, a mutual acquaintance, as he was heading to the station on the way to Chicago to drop off three thousand to a guy, “Bones” Kelly, also known to both men, on Division Street in that city for him. That money had been placed in a wallet, a black leather wallet similar to the one Slice was carrying the twenty thousand pay-off in, and when Slice got to Chi town he gave the wallet to the Division Street guy, to Kelly, the one with three thousand in it, three thousand in counterfeit money as Kelly later found out. See Slice had figured that doing Denver’s delivery was like finding money on the ground especially when he thought up the fake dough angle. So tough luck, Denver. Worse though, worse for Slice anyway, the mob’s wallet also had twenty thousand in counterfeit money when he delivered the wallet to an office in the Loop.

What had happened was that Gash had been on that train, had in the course of bumping into Slice switched wallets and got off in Cleveland leaving Slice to his troubles. But here is what you have to know, know about the mob. They thought Slice, a troublesome bag man and so an easy fall guy was pulling a fast one on them when he explained what he thought had happened and he wound up in the Illinois River face down before anybody investigated anything. Beautiful work by Denver and Gash who headed out West for a while just to be on the safe side but also know this-if you are running on the high side expect some blow-back, nasty blow-back if you don’t walk away clean. Just ask Slice

One night, another of those aimless nights when there was no action, or maybe Eddie was cooling out from a con, a wise move since overdoing the con scene leads inevitably to trouble, usually fist, gun or John Law trouble, he told the guys a story, a story about the granddaddy of all the scores, a haul of almost half a million back in the 1930s when half a million was not just walking around money like it is today. A story that Nutsy Callahan, another one of the Great Depression guys he would listen to over on the Commons told him about one afternoon after he had played out some luscious honey over on Tremont Street who had “curled his toes” and he was a bit too restless to head home (Eddie wasn’t much for girlfriends or serious female company on his way up and maybe it was better for him to just catch a quick “curl the toes” on an off-afternoon with some passing fancy because no question women are far tougher to deal with that the hardest scam). The way Nutsy told the story implied that he might have been in on the caper, although like all good grifters, grafters, percentage guys, and midnight sifters, he would put the account in the third person just in case the statute of limitations had not run out on whatever the offenses were, or, more likely, some pissed off Capo or his descendants were still looking to take some shots at guys who pulled such scams.

Nutsy had told Eddie a few lesser scams that he had been involved in and Eddie told a few lies of his own but the important thing for Eddie, or rather Eddie’s future was that he was looking to break out of the penny-ante grifts and ride easy street so he was looking for ideas, long ago ideas really because just maybe with a duke here and a juke there the thing could be played again. Eddie didn’t bother to tell Nutsy that for Nutsy would probably not have told the story or as likely dismiss Eddie’s chances out of hand. So Nutsy told the story and Eddie’s eyes went bonkers over the whole set-up.

This one involved “Top Hat” Hogan so named for the simple fact that as long as anybody had known him, or could remember, he always wore a fancy day top hat although rarely, very rarely, with any accompanying evening clothes. Some of his girl friends said he wore the damn thing when he was in bed with them and that was just fine because Top Hat was a walking daddy when it came to loving his women. Top Hat had been widely assumed to have been the brains behind the Silver Smith Fur scam, the Morgan Bank scam and the Golden Gate Mine dust-up which people talked about almost until the war (World War II if you are counting). So Top Hat under any circumstances was a number one grifter who any guy with any dough, any serious dough, had better check up on to see if Top Hat had been in the vicinity if he wanted to keep said cash. The other key guy, and the reason Top Hat, who had been semi-retired at the time of this caper and rightfully so having run the rack already, was a raw kid, a kid with promise but not much else then, was “Jet” Jenkins. And the reason that Top Hat even considered teaming up with a raw kid like Jet, was that he was the son of Happy Heddy Jenkins, a fancy woman who had “curled his toes” back in his younger days. Heddy had had some good days and bad days but one of the bad days had been meeting up with the famous gambler, Black Bart Benson, one of the great flim-flam, flim-flam meaning simply a cheater without mercy and guys, leg-breakers if anybody had a problem with that, poker players of the day.

Old Bart had nevertheless had run into a streak of bad luck at cards which even cheaters face at times, had borrowed and lost almost a one hundred thousand dollars from Heddy (who ran on the best, friendliest, and easiest to enter if you had the money whorehouses in Chicago). Somehow things had taken a turn for the worst after Black Bart left Heddy high and dry and she was back on cheap street trying to raise a helter-skelter growing boy with short funds. Not so Black Bart who had cheated his way to a million dollar bonanza when his luck changed. (That cheating not known, obviously, to the guys taking the beating at the card table but Heddy knew her Bart and imparted that wisdom onto her son.) When Heddy sent Jet to see if Bart would ante up the cash he had borrowed from her he dismissed Jet with a flick of his hand, and after a serious beating by one of his leg-breakers had him dumped him in some back alley in Altoona one night. Bart had, with a laugh, as his boys administered that beating, told Jet that he should sue him in court to get his money back as he wasn’t in the mood to give some bent whore dough that she had gotten from her whorehouse dollies. So Heddy, so Jet, and after hearing about what Bart had called Heddy, so Top Hat were primed for revenge. But more than revenge because that is easy, kids’ stuff, but to send Bart back to cheap street hustling winos with three-card Monte tricks or stuff like that.

The key to understanding Black Bart was that like a lot of con artists, no, most con artists, no, make that all con artists, is that beside being easy prey to any scam especially a scam that plays to their greed they always assume that they are smarter than whoever is making the proposition and can double-back on it to their profit. Top Hat had easy pickings when he ran across guys like Bart. Here is the way that Top Hat worked his magic, although when Nutsy finished telling Eddie the lay Eddie thought the venture had too many moving parts, too many guys in on the score once Black Bart was brought down.

It went like this. “Buggy” Bannon knew Black Bart, knew he was always interested in an easy score so Buggy put the word in Bart’s ear about some silver and gold mining stock that was about to go through the roof once the worst parts of the Depression were over. So Buggy, who had worked with Top Hat on the Silver Smith scam and so was trustworthy, or as trustworthy as any guy working on a scam can be introduced Top Hat to Bart as a chief stockbroker for Merrill Lynch. Then Top Hat went through the traces, got Bart hooked in with the knowledge about the gold and silver stock. Of course Top Hat had had “Horseless” Harry sent up a nice brochure in color all about the various possibilities of the mining stock and Bart got interested, saw quick dollar signs. Of course even an over-the-top greedy guy like Bart had to see some real stuff, some real stockbroker operation, so Top Hat had rented out space in a building in the financial district and created out of sheer nothing a stock market room complete with ticker-tape, running around employees (all grifters from out west so that Bart would not recognize them) or and investors milling around.

That was the part that Eddie thought was over the top, the too many moving parts aspect, but in any case it all looked good to Bart. Here is the carrot Top Hat told Bart to invest a few thousand to see how it went. And so Bart did, bringing to the stock room five thousand in cash as all con artists did then in the days before working kited checks and credit cards and stuff like that opened out new ways to bilk people, including smart guys. A few days later Top Hat delivers ten thousand to Bart, all fresh dough, and so they are off to the races because now he sees that this thing could make him really rich. Of course Top Hat knowing that you have to bring a guy, a sucker along, knowing you needed to whet his appetite had just added five of his own money to Bart’s to bring in the bonanza (writing it off as overhead just like any other legal or illegal operation).

Bart, although no fool and who still had some suspicions, was no question hooked though as Top Hat fed him another stock tip and told him he should let the ten thousand ride, which he did. About a week later Top Hat delivers twenty-two thousand to Bart and he was really hooked, really wants to put more money down. Especially when that twenty-two went to fifty grand a few weeks later. Bart said to Top Hat that it was like finding money on the street. Then Top Hat really got to him, let him know that in South Africa, a known gold, silver and diamond mother lode to everybody in those days that a new field was within days of being explored and discovered and that Bart should be ready to go big and get in on the ground floor. Here is the beauty of the thing though. The financial pages were almost in a conspiracy with Top Hat because they were also projecting some speculation about new minefields. One day Top Hat told Bart to get all the cash he could gather because that South African stock, low, very low at the time would be going through the roof once the discovery was confirmed. So a few days later Bart brought a suitcase filled with cash, about a million maybe a little less, and pushed it over to Top Hat. Top Hat went to the cashier (“Hangman” Henry of all people) and brought back a receipt to Bart.

Now you can figure out the rest. A few days later news of that new minefield did come in and that stock did rise although in a world filled with gold and silver with nobody to buy stuff yet not as much as you would have expected but still a good take. Bart then called Top Hat to tell him to cash in. No answer at Top Hat’s number. Bart then went to the stock exchange room to find nothing but a “for rent” sign on the doors. As for Top Hat and Jet well they were on the train back to New York with that one hundred grand for Heddy and a twinkle came into Top Hat’s eyes about those old days when she “curled his toes,” and might again. Beautiful.

That story etched in his brain Eddie Daley started putting together a few ideas in his head, getting on the phone to a few guys (fewer than Top Hat had in his operation), and started making some dough connections for financing. Out in the grifter night they still talk about Eddie Daley, whereabouts unknown, “king of the grifters” after he took Vince Edwards the big book operator for about a million and a quarter in cold hard cash. You now know the back story on that one.  

The 50th Anniversary Of The Summer Of Love, 1967-Scenes In Search Of The Blue-Pink Great American West Night-Setting The Mood

The 50th Anniversary Of The Summer Of Love, 1967-Scenes In Search Of The Blue-Pink Great American West Night-Setting The Mood

Setting The Mood

I, once a while back, was asked, in earnest, what I meant by the “blue-pink western skies” that has formed the backdrop for several entries in this space of late. Or rather the way I would prefer to formulate it, and have taken some pains to emphasize it this way, “the search for the blue-pink great American West night.” Well, of course, there was a literal part to the proposition since ocean-at-my back (sometimes right at my back) New England homestead meant unless I wanted to take an ill-advised turn at piracy or high-seas hijacking or some such thing east that the hitchhike road meant heading west.

So that night is clearly not in the vicinity of the local Blues Hills or of the Berkshires since early childhood ocean-fronted Massachusetts, those are too confined and short-distanced to even produce blues skies much less that west-glanced sweet shade just before heaven, if there was a heaven shade, blue-pink. And certainly not hog-butcher-to-the-world, sinewy Midwest Chicago night, Christ no, nor rarefied, deep-breathed, rockymountainhigh Denver night, although jaded sojourner-writer not known for breathe-taking, awe-bewilderment could have stopped there for choice of great western night. Second place, okay.

But no, onward, beyond, beyond pioneer, genetically-embedded pioneer America, past false god neon blue-pink glitter Las Vegas in the Nevada desert night to the place where, about fifty miles away from sanctified west coast, near some now nameless abandoned ghost town, nameless here for it is a mere speck on the map and you would not know the name, you begin, ocean man that you are, if you are, and organically ocean-bred says you are, to smell the dank, incense-like, seaweed-driven, ocean-seized air as it comes in from the Japanese stream, or out there somewhere in the unknown, some Hawaii or Guam or Tahiti of the mind, before the gates of holy city, city of a thousand, thousand land’s end dreams, San Francisco. That is where the blue-pink sky devours the sun just before the be-bop, the bop-bop, the do wang-doodle night, the great American Western star-spangled (small case) night I keep reaching for, like it was some physical thing and not the stuff of dreams.


The scenes below stand (or fall) as moments in support of that eternal search.

Scene One: The Prequel- Germantown Monday, Summer 1957

I wake up early, with a sudden start like something hit me but it kind of missed, kind of just glanced off me, something that felt like a pebble, maybe thinner and a little lighter, but I don’t see anything out of my watery, half-closed eyes. And I don’t feel anything around me in this feeble excuse for a bed that my father lashed together out of old blankets when my previous mattress fell apart, something like you see down at the Plymouth Plantation when the Pilgrims, a few hundred years ago, made beds for their kids except not with the corn husking filler they used. See, Ma and Pa couldn’t see their way clear to getting me a new one since my younger brother, Kevin, really needed one for his “problem”. A “problem” that I don’t understand about, and that nobody ever talks about, even Grandma, and she talks about everything and will tell me anything, anything but that, at least when I am around they don’t.

Maybe, I wouldn’t understand it even if they blabbed about it all day, but here I am with this low-rent sleeping bag, our lord in the manger kind of a bed. And Kevin’s sleeping like a king in the room across the hall all by himself away from this midget-sized room that they must have thought of when kids were smaller than they are these days, what with us drinking more milk with “Big Brother” Bob Emery every school day when we go home at lunchtime. Ma says I should be thankful (including to the Lord, as she always says, without fail) that I have any bed at all as some kids in India don’t even have that. The reasons for that, I guess, are ‘cause those people don’t thank the Lord, or at least thank our “the Lord.”

Darn it, I now suddenly remember, whatever it was that hit me, maybe something from outer space, broke up a nice half-formed dream that was just starting to get somewhere and that was about being on some television show and winning something like a thousand dollars and me getting to buy stuff for me and my friends like serious bicycles or a big record player, and getting girls stuff too, like a box of candy from the Rexall drugstore up in Adamsville Square, and just like that its gone, gone, now long gone. Just like shutting off the television before the end and the good guys, or whoever has the right to be on the right side of the law like Maverick, wins; just like missing American Bandstand before Dick Clark gets to the big dance off thing at the end where everybody’s jumping and grooving and having a good time, the band is rocking, and the guys, especially the guys that get the cute girls and not the left-over ones that they must just put on to be nice, or something are smiling, smiling the smile of the just. Double darn it.

Ya, something’s out of whack, something’s definitely out of whack, or it’s gonna be. Every time I have one of these broken-up dreams something goes awry pretty soon only not today please, and I am scared, no, really scared about it this time. Wouldn’t you be? I suddenly notice something in a split-second that confirms this bad omen coming-Oh no, not again, for the hundredth hundredth time this ratty old summer, this boring never-ending summer that I wish would end so bad I am praying, and praying hard, that it will be over and we can go back to the cool air in Snug Harbor school that we left the last part of last month. I told you it was bad, bad as all that. I’m all sweaty, I feel under my arms, underarms sticky, underwear, all cottony, sticking to me like it’s part of my skin forever, eyes sticky and half shut from a nighttime’s worth of perspiration, and maybe more than a night at that. I don’t think I took a bath yesterday, did I? I sniff, no. Sticky, that me, that’s gonna be my middle name before long if this mind-numbing weather keeps up.

Heck, I’m tired, tired to hell and back, no, farther than that, of these half-sleep, restless nights; god awful humid, sultry, breathless summer’s nights, no relief and no air conditioning in sight. No air, no wind coming from the channel across the parking lot from our house, or I should say apartment. No air, less than no air, coming from Adamsville Bay, so still that throwing a rock on it would make ripples all the way to Merrymount. And certainly no air coming from god forsaken Hough’s Neck. I know that for sure, ‘cause I went over there, walked all the way up to Rock Island and down that dusty dirt road all the way to Nut Island almost before I realized that the air had died, or gone on vacation.

Ma, making fun of me and my sweating every second of every minute of every day for about a week now, the other day told me that this was my own personal preview of what it is gonna be like for me in hell, if I don’t change my ways. Yes, Ma. But that is just her con, she’s always conning me and my brothers, trying make us do good by bringing God, his son, his holy ghost, his mother, his father, his sisters and brothers and whoever else she can conjure up using to make us do good, to do as she’s says every chance she gets in order to do God’s work, but that’s impossible using her tried and true method. She must have learned that “method” from some priest over at Saint Boniface, or something. She sure didn’t learn it from that cool doctor, Doctor Spock, I think was his name, that I saw on TV the other day on that Mike Douglas, or one of them talk shows. He knows a lot about kids, they say, at least that’s what someone said. I wouldn’t know, I ‘m stuck with Ma, and that ain’t no nice to kids lady, nor does she want to be.

But saying all that ain’t doing me any good, lying here in a pool of sweat, thinking about getting up.

I’m getting mad, even though I know getting mad today is tempting fate, I guess I was born mad, or got that way early because even though I know its gonna get me in trouble , I’m mad . You would think that in the year 1957, in a year when everybody else seems to have money and is spending it, that even in this woe begotten tiny airless apartment filled to the brim with three growing boys and two grown, overgrown if you ask me, adults; in this woe begotten tiny airless room filled to the brim with two growing boys, one sleeping like a log, sleeping the sleep of the just, I guess, across from me right now; in this woe begotten no account housing project where you can’t get anything fixed without about twenty forms and a six month wait and even then you have to wait, nothing less. Even for a light fixture it takes a civil war. Christ, how long, in this woe begotten town before we could have this “necessity,” air conditioning. Ma says we can’t afford it, or whatever her excuse of the week is. “How about a fan, Ma?” Nope, can’t afford the extra electricity ‘cause Dad just got laid off, whatever that means. He’s always getting laid off so I can’t tell what is so different about this time so that we can’t get air conditioning. Johnny Jakes has it, and his father hasn’t ever worked. Can’t, for some reason.

Enough of this, I‘m getting up, if only to splash some water on my face and get my eyes unstuck, or get a cool drink of water to bring down what has got be about a 110 degrees of temperature running through my body, maybe 115. Nah, that can’t be right, we learned about body temperatures in class. I would have to be some alien from outer space maybe. But I’m feverish, that’s for sure. Just then I am stopped short by a sound, a familiar sound. A sound that if I had just one sound to hear in the whole universe of sounds that I have heard in my long eleven year old life it would be that one. The sound of fleeing this hellish, airless place for parts unknown, any unknown. Ya, that old, sweet, lonesome, high whistle sound that cuts me to the bone, that sweet old fog horn sound when the air is like pea soup down the channel ‘cause that means a big old firemen’s red, rubber tire-draped tugboat, or maybe two, is bringing a low-riding, rusty old tanker, or some ship to port across the channel to the Proctor & Gamble factory, the place of a thousand perfume smells, as we call it when the wind is up and all the world here smells like a bar of soap.

If I live to be a hundred, if I live to be a thousand, I’m always gonna watch, even if only in my mind, when that old tanker comes down the line, dragging or getting dragged by that old tug, whistling away, to keep river traffic away, and like it just as much then I bet. I know what I will be doing this morning, or the first part of the morning, heat or no heat, air conditioning or no air conditioning. I will be perched on my very own private, for invited guests only which means nobody, viewing stand at the little point along the shoreline that is my real home, or the home that I wish was my home except maybe in winter, just across from where the big boy boat will settle in.

“Hey, a boat’s coming in, I’m off,” I yell to no one in particular. And from not one of those no one in particulars do I get an answer. My brothers don’t suffer the sweats like I do, they have their own problems which I already sense will be their undoing later, but it ain’t the sweats and so they just sleep away. I rush, and I mean rush, to the bathroom, use the toilet, splash that life-saving water on my face, it always feels good, brush my teeth perfunctorily, and run down the stairs. “Ma, a ship’s coming in,” I say excitedly, even though its about the hundredth time I seen one come in, to my mother who is distracted by something, as usual, especially when my father is out of work, and especially today, Monday, when he goes off in search of new work with a lot of hope about getting some job that will keep the wolves from the doors, that is the constant phrase that he uses to deal with the situation. I’ll tell you about him sometime but today I ain’t got any time for nothing but my ship coming in, and that ain’t no lie either.

“Well, it is not our ship that is coming in so don’t worry about it and just eat your breakfast,” she, dear old Ma, blurred out, and then I know she is in a fit and even if my ship wasn’t coming in I know the ropes enough to know to keep low, very low and out of the range of fire that I know is coming from her direction. I go to the cabinet, grab a cracked, slightly cracked bowl, get a spoon and go over to the stove, take the cover off the pot, steam escaping, and without even looking start dishing out my Quaker Oats oatmeal. Rain, shine, sleet or snow, summer, winter, spring or fall that is my nectar of the gods. With a little milk, when we have it, and even if we don’t a little Karo syrup, I am fortified for the day. Ma, can be a pain, Ma and I have a thousand battles a week over two thousand different things, and I know that already things are never gonna be right between us, even if at times we have an armed truce but, mark this down I always got my oatmeal, and always when I wanted it. I guess that put her on the right side of the angels, a little.

A few gulps later, washed down with about a half glass of milk, I am out the door, hell, even my blessed oatmeal gets short shrift when the tankers blow in. Now going out the door most places that you know about means just going out the door straight. Bu in this urban planner’s nightmarish hangover not at 666 Taffrail Road. First you have the obstacle course of getting around the ten million poles and fences that are plucked right in the “courtyard” when my mother and the other housewives in the other three units that make up our complex they call it hang out their daily washing, or dry their curtains or whatever people like my mother do to keep places like this from reverting back to caveman times. Then I have to cross the parking lot, a lot filled with all kinds of cars, for those that have them. These days we don’t have one, in case I didn’t tell you before, because Dad is out of work so we are all reduced to waiting for an eternity for that slow-rolling, seems never to be here when you need it, Eastern Avenue bus that ambles on to Adamsville Square, making so many stops that I usually just walk it, if I am in a hurry to get something, even on a hot, sweltering summer day like this.

As I hit the already hot asphalt of the lot I look around longingly at the vast array of cars; Plymouths with fins that look like a fish; Chevies, my favorite, sleek and so, Timmy McDevitt tells me, go real fast when you get onto Route 128 and let her rip; Fords that look like something they want to use to go up into space with, and I don’t know what else, but there are plenty. Finally I get to the lower parking lot that’s for guests or people who don’t get a parking spot in front of their house, or maybe just run out of steam before making the turn into hell-bent Taffrail Road. I don’t know and I am now passed that spot on the move along the fence anyhow to get to the little opening that will take me to my grand viewing area. I’m okay though, I still hear the old tug whistle coming up the line so I have some time to wait.

I get to my little sliver of land, just a little jut out of the shoreline, covered with old, oil-slicked quarry rock probably from the ground around here about a million years ago, ‘cause this town is known for its granite rock, cause it’s a granite city, even though the real work done around here is over at the Five Rivers Shipyard that is just across the bridge from the Proctor & Gamble factory, and where even on this hot, god forsaken morning I can faintly hear the sounds of metal being banged by hammers or whatever they use to put the ship together, and the flashes of welders’ torches as they put that banged metal in seamless water-tight condition.

I also notice some empty beer cans, cigarette butts, chip bags left haphazardly all over my viewing stand, somebody last night, or the night before, must have said the hell with it and got out one of the sweltering houses and came over here to get whatever little, little breeze that could be eked out of the windless night. I rule the day here in this spot, especially when the boats come in, no question about that, but what others do at night I have no control over. I just wish they wouldn’t leave a mess on my sacred site.

But that is all so much made-up irritation, probably ‘cause I am so hot, for now I can see the first glimmer of the smokestack of a ship coming up the line. I wonder whose oil it is, Esso? Texaco? Shell? Esso has been in the lead this year, and they are bigger ships and ride real low in the water coming in, and real high going out. I can start to see specks on the bridge, human specks that are busy doing the work of preparing the ship for the dock.

I wonder, wonder a lot, about these guys and the work they do and whether they like it and like being on the sea and whether they ever have any trouble like in stories that I read down at the Thomas Crane Library attached to the school, and where they have been and what adventures they have had, and where, and with whom. Maybe that’s the life for me. And I wonder about the girls they know from all over and whether they are nicer than the girls in the "projects" who are beginning to get on my nerves, for some reason. At least I don’t know what to do or what to say around them, or what they want me to do, or want me to say. I hope this is just being a boy kid and that it goes away, and I hope it a lot.

Oh, there she is, an Esso. The tugs are in position, gently nudging her and getting her ready to go dockside, tie up and unload. Wonder how long she will stay? Usually its takes a couple of days and then they are gone, sometimes in the middle of the night and they are not there in the morning depending on the tides and the traffic on the roads, oh, ocean roads, that is. Hey, its almost lunchtime, guess I’ll go home and eat and go down the cellar, maybe to try to cool off. I know one thing now though that kind of had me worried and kind of bothered me for a while 'cause I am just a kid. I now know I will always take time to watch the boats as they blow in, any dream about catching a boat out, wherever I am. Maybe, that is an omen, a good omen, about my future. I'll let you know.