Saturday, March 13, 2021

Coming of Age In A Fractured World-The Film Adaptation Of Katherine Patterson’s “The Great Gilly Hopkins” (2015)-A Film Review

Coming of Age In A Fractured World-The Film Adaptation Of Katherine Patterson’s “The Great Gilly Hopkins” (2015)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Laura Perkins

The Great Gilly Hopkins, starring Kathy Bates, Sophia Nelisse, Glenn Close, 2015

I usually don’t do as my long-time companion and fellow writer in this space Sam Lowell is fond of doing of late and go chapter and verse on how or why he took or was given a particular assignment but this review of The Great Gilly Hopkins is a bit different. I wanted the review after viewing the film with Sam who was originally assigned to review it under current site manager Greg Green’s policy of having us “broaden our horizons.” Sam was more than glad to “trade” with me since broadening horizons or not he was not interested in yet another “coming of age” story-this time of a troubled young female as well although he did like the film on other grounds. But that “troubled young female” angle appealed to me. Appealed to me although I was not a foster child as the main character Gilly is but rather had a troubled youth growing up on a farm in upstate New York outside Albany and could relate to the way she struggled to gain some self-identity and self-worth against pretty big odds. In a movie, in this movie, those issues got pretty well resolved in Gilly’s favor unlike mine that never did get resolved short of leaving that farm environment and a few years of therapy, more than a few years actually.                     

Gilly Hopkins, played by Sophia Nelisse, has a well-placed, and to my mind a well thought through, chip on her shoulder for a coming of age thirteen year old girl. A girl who has been shunted to and fro through a series of foster homes having been abandoned by her birth mother whom she nevertheless believes will come for her one day. Or she will get to Frisco, her mother’s last known address, come hell or high water. Kids will think dreams like that and good luck to them. Back in the real world though Gilly is facing yet another foster home after having screwed up at the last one. This new one run by Trotter, played by Kathy Bates, looks to be about the same as all the others. A place to display her chip and the hell with the rest of it until she can blow the town.        

But this mad monk Trotter woman has her own ideas about taking in foster kids and seeing them through the tough spots and so there is a battle royal brewing between them over who will break whom. (Another battle at school where she is the brightest kid in the room but purposefully rebellious against the black teacher who tries to understand her is a sub-plot as well.) In the end, well not the end, but close the love that Trotter has for her charges outweighs those incredible hurts inside of Gilly.  
Before that can happen though Gilly screws up big time and writes a letter to the social agency claiming all kinds of mistreatment to get out from under Trotter’s influence. Just when things seemed to be breaking her way, she is adjusting to being cared about, she is snatched from the Trotter home by her wealthy unknown grandmother, Nonnie played by Glenn Close, a good woman but rather distant. That tension between going with Noonie or staying with Trotter is resolved in Nonnie’s favor when all parties realize that “in the best interest of the child” Gilly should be placed there for all the reasonable reasons except that love business. The mother? All those dreams of being together got blown up when she showed up through Nonnie’s efforts and it turned out she could have cared less for Gilly. Tough break. Still Gilly landed in a good spot and things look they might go her way a bit. I wish they had gone as well in my own case.         

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night- With The Beatles performing When I'm Sixty-Four In Mind

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night- With The Beatles performing When I'm Sixty-Four In Mind

YouTube film clip of the Beatles performing When I'm Sixty-Four from the animated movie Yellow Submarine.

From The Archives Of Allan Jackson

Many of my fellows from the tail end of the Generation of '68 (a. k. a. baby-boomers) will be, if you can believe this, turning sixty-four this year. So be it.

[You know I am not a religious man, haven’t’ been since I was a kid in the days before I went to the 8 o’clock Sunday Mass at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church for the sole purpose of sitting a few rows behind Chrissie McNamara and watch her ass (as did the late Peter Paul Markin unbeknownst to me until many years later). Of course I can say that now since Chrissie and I have been together through thick and thin since high school days. But despite my infidel ways today I rejoice. Today I say praise be or whatever they say when glad tidings are upon us. Greg Green, the current site manager and Sam Lowell, an old friend of Allan’s as I am, have finally worked out an arrangement concerning the question of true and full attribution for this series. As of the next installment the old site manager none other than the previously exiled to who knows where Allan Jackson who played midwife to this series over several years and will be forever linked to the ideas behind the theme will have both full attribution (a by-line) and the ability to create new introductions to each sketch if he is so inclined. The only limitation which all agreed makes sense is not to restart the civil war over last year’s internal fight and stick to whatever the theme of the sketch is.   

The “praise be” stems from the fact that after this final third party introduction I can go back to what I do best which is to sell cars, sell Toyotas, where I have built myself  up to be Mr. Toyota of Eastern Massachusetts (and Chrissie Mrs. Toyota don’t forget). Which means that I can go back to raising funds to keep this venture afloat which I do better that the occasional writings that I have done in the past and which I have been forced-marched into doing too frequently of late in defense of old friend Allan against an impossible stream of rumors since he was “purged” from his position early last year after losing a vote of no confidence and Greg was brought in full-time. With this last intro I will have done the best I could to sort out the rumors from the reality. This last defense may be the strangest of all having to defend a straight-up guy like Allan from the rumor that he was in San Francisco dating a “drag queen” posing as Judy Garland and living high off the hog on Russian Hill bonking the opium pipe and stoned all the time.    
Along the same lines was the rumor that he was running a high-class international whorehouse in Argentina with his old lover Madame La Rue catering to the strange whims of Asian businessmen. There were others, mostly along those silly same lines, but this one last one will suffice to give an idea of what was essentially a smear campaign against the man. Supposedly he was in Frisco dating a transvestite who was connected with the opium trade and he was living high off the hog on Russian Hill stoned to the gills all the time. What are you kidding.

Although I am a lapsed, very lapsed Catholic (just don’t tell Chrissie that since she is still a true believer and refuses to believe that the only reason I went to those endless Sunday Masses was to “sit behind her and watch her ass” even as she could believe that same fact about old Markin) I don’t swear much leaving that to my old friend and now “liberator” Sam Lowell but WTF on this drag queen Judy Garland opium den mandarin madness. Here is what I thought first when I heard this one thinking back to our high school days in the 1960s in hard scrabble macho “take no prisoners” days. Remember this is fifty years ago when every mothers, mothers like mine warned their sons to stay away from a place like Captain Kidd’s, an abandoned cruise ship down on Nantasket Beach where the “fags,” homos, drag queens and the like did their disgusting stuff” (even if we were not quite sure what they did or didn’t do until much later all we knew that it was guys with guys and guys acting like girls to put the most innocent spin on it).

One episode down in Provincetown, then as now a haven for all kinds of sexual proclivities will tell the tale, ashamedly now, but a true tale. The summer after high school graduation a bunch of us from North Adamsville, all guys, including Allan, decided that we would go to “P” town and roust the “fags” or whatever name we called them at any particular time (certainly not gays that was for, ah, gay people, happy). Of course we fortified ourselves with drink, mostly hard stuff, on the long trip down. Somebody knew where the drag queens performed and we went there with the idea of isolating one of them and beating the hell out of whoever we could entice. I think Markin who had a certain boyish look before he lost it all after a year in Vietnam which knocked the soul out of him was the “decoy” as things went as planned. Some guy came by and asked him if he wanted to go out in the back of the bar for something. He left with the guy and we followed. You know what happened next and like I say Allan and I, Sam too never really got over it even if we believed for a long time “fags” were less than human.

And that is kind of the point I want to make about this rumor. You can actually learn something in life, take a surprise or two also. Who would have thought that off of that youthful track record we were among the first to call for same-sex marriage equality in this publication and for a range of rights for the LGBTQ community in general. Who would have thought that we tried to move might and main to get Tran heroic Wikileaks whistle-blower and fellow soldier Chelsea (starting out as Bradley) Manning her freedom for several years before former President Obama did the right thing and pardoned her. Yeah, and we didn’t think anything of it.

Oh yeah, here is the real deal about Allan and that drag queen. Before Allan headed back east to Maine he stopped off at San Francisco to see an old friend from the neighborhood, one of the corner boys who as it turned out had a secret we never even suspected at the time. Only found out long after when I think Jimmy Jenkins was out in North Beach watching a drag queen show for kicks and somebody dressed like Judy Garland approached him and called his name. Jimmy, embarrassed to be seen there with his wife, couldn’t believe it was Timmy Riley. Jimmy brought back the news. So Allan’s visit was to our old friend Timmy Riley aka “Judy Garland” from the neighborhood who had had such a tough life not being who he/she was until San Francisco many years and bruises later. Allan had been slipping money her way for years. He was just looking in on his, our friend. Rumors, fucking rumors. Allan you are on your own now. Jack Callahan]     
Many of my fellows from the tail end of the Generation of '68 (a. k. a. baby-boomers) will be, if you can believe this, turning sixty-four this year. So be it.

When I'm Sixty-Four - The Beatles

When I get older, losing my hair,
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me the Valentine,
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine
If I stay out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four.
You'll be older too,
And if you say the word I could stay with you.
I could be handy mending a fuse
When your lights have gone
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday morning go for a ride
Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four.
Every summer we can rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight,
if it's not too dear
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera, Chuck & Dave
Send me a postcard, drop me a line
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, wasting away
Give me your answer, fill in a form,
Mine for evermore,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four.
Ancient dreams, dreamed.
Yeah, sometimes, and maybe more than sometimes, a frail, a frill, a twist, a dame, oh hell, let’s cut out the goofy stuff and just call her a woman and be done with it, will tie a guy’s insides up in knots so bad he doesn’t know what is what. Tie up a guy so bad he will go to the chair kind of smiling, okay maybe just half-smiling. Frank (read: future Peter Paul and a million, more or less, other guys) had it bad as a man could have from the minute Ms. Cora walked through the door in her white summer blouse, shorts, and the then de rigueur bandana holding back her hair, also white. She may have been just another blonde, very blonde, frail serving them off the arm in some seaside hash joint but from second one she was nothing but, well nothing but, a femme fatale. I swear, I swear on seven sealed bibles that I yelled, yelled through the womb or some toddler’s crib maybe, at the screen for him to get the hell out of there at that moment. But do you think he would listen, no not our boy. He had to play with fire, and play with it to the end.

Nose flattened cold against the frozen, snow falling front window “the projects” wait on better times, get a leg up, don’t get left behind in the dawning American streets paved with gold dream but for now just hang your hat dwelling, small, too small for three growing boys with hearty appetites and desires to match even then, warm, free-flow oil spigot warm, no hint of madness, or crazes only of sadness, brother kinship sadness, sadness and not understanding of time marching, relentlessly marching as he, that older brother, went off to foreign places, foreign elementary school reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic places and, he, the nose flattened against the window brother, is left to ponder his own place in those kind of places, those foreign-sounding places, when his time comes. If he has a time, has the time for the time of his time, in this red scare (but what knows he of red scare only brother scares), cold war, cold nose, dust particles floating aimlessly in the clogging still air night.

A cloudless day, a cloudless blasted eternal, infernal Korean War day, talk of peace, merciless truce peace and uncles coming home in the air, hot, hot end of June day laying, face up on freshly mown grass near fellowship carved-out fields, fields for slides and swings, diamonded baseball, no, friendlier softball fields the houses are too close, of gimps, glues, cooper-plated portraits of wildly-maned horses, of sweet shaded elms, starting, now that he too, that nose-flattened brother, has been to foreign places, strange boxed rooms filled with the wax and wane of learning, simple learning, in the time of his time, to find his own place in the sun but wondering, constantly wondering, what means this, what means that, and why all the changes, slow changes, fast changes, blip changes, but changes.

Nighttime fears, red-flagged Stalin-named fears, red bomb aimed right at my head unnamed shelter blast fears, named, vaguely named, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg hated stalinite jews killed fears, jews killed our catholic lord fears, and what did they do wrong to get the chair anyway fears against the cubed glass glistening flagless flag-pole rattling dark asphalt school yard night. Alone, and, and, alone with fears, and avoidance, clean, clear stand alone avoidance of old times sailors, tars, sailors’ homes AND deaths in barely readable fine- marked granite-grey lonely seaside graveyards looking out on ocean homelands and lost booty. Dead, and the idea of dead, the mystery of dead, and of sea sailor dead on mains, later stream thoughts of bitch proctoresses, some unnamed faraway crush teacher who crossed my path and such, in lonely what did he do wrong anyway prison cells, smoking, reading, writing of dinosaurs die and other laments. Dead.

Endless walks, endless one way sea street water rat-infested fear seawall walks, rocks, shells, ocean water-logged debris strewn every which way, fetid marsh smells, swaying grasses in light breezes to the right, mephitic swamps oozing mud splat stinks to the left making hard the way, the path, the symbolic life path okay, to uptown drug stores, some forgotten chain-name drug store, passing perfumes, lacquers, counter drugs, ailments cured, hurts fixed and all under a dollar, trinkets ten cents baubles, gee-gads, strictly gee-gads, grabbing, two-handed grabbing, heist-stolen valentines, a metaphor in the making, ribbon and bow ruby-red valentine night bushel, signed, hot blood-signed, weary-feet signed, if only she, about five candidates she, later called two blondes, two brunettes, and a red-head, sticks all, no womanly shape to tear a boy-man up, would give a look his way, his look, his newly acquired state of the minute Elvis-imitation look, on endless sea streets, the white-flecked splash inside his head would be quiet. Man emerging out of the ooze, and hope.

Walks, endless waiting bus stop, old late, forever late, story of a young boy’s life late, diesel-fueled, choking fumed non-stop bus stop walks, no golden age car for jet moves in American Dream wide-fin , high tech automatic drive nights, walks, walks up crooked cheap, low-rent, fifty-year no fix rutted pavement streets, deeply gouged, one-lane snow-drift hassles, you get the picture, pass trees are green, coded, secretly coded even fifty street rutted years later, endless trees are green super-secret-coded except for face blush waiting, waiting against boyish infinite time, infinite first blush of innocent manhood, boyhood times, gone now. For what? For one look, one look, and not a quick no-nonsense, no dice look, no time for ragamuffin boys either that would elude him, elude him forever. Such is life in lowly spots, lowly, lowly spots. And no dance, no coded trees are green dance, either, no high school confidential (hell elementary school either, man), handy man, breathless, Jerry Lee freak-out, at least no potato sack stick dance with coded name trees are green brunette. That will come, that will come. But when?

City square, no trespass, no standing, standing, low-slung granite buildings everywhere, granite steps leading to granite doors leading to granite gee-gad counters, hated, no name hated, low-head hated, waiting slyly, standing back on heels, going in furtively, coming out ditto, presto coming out with a gold nugget jewel, no carat, no russkie Sputnik panel glitter for his efforts such is the way of young lumped-up crime, no value, no look, just grab, grab hard, grab fast, grab get yours before the getting is over, or before the dark, dark night comes, the dark pitched-night when the world no longer is young, and dreamed dream make no more sense that this bodily theft.

A bridge too far, an unarched, unsteeled, unspanned, unnerved bridge too far. One speed bicycle boy, dungarees rolled up against dog bites and geared meshes, churning through endless heated, sweated, no handkerchief streets, names, all the parts of ships, names, all the seven seas, names, all the fishes of the seas, names, all the fauna of the sea, names. Twelve-year old hard churned miles to go before sleep, searching for the wombic home, for the old friends, the old drifter, grifter, midnight shifter petty larceny friends, that’s all it was, petty and maybe larceny, hard against the named ships, hard against the named seas, hard against the named fishes, hard against the named fauna, hard against the unnamed angst, hard against those changes that kind of hit one sideways all at once like some mack the knife smack devilish thing

Lindo, lindos, beautiful, beautifuls, not some spanish exotic though, maybe later, just some junior league dream fuss though, some future cheerleader football dame though, some sweated night pasty crust and I, too slip-shot, too, well, just too lonely, too lonesome, too long-toothed before my time to do more than endless walks along endless atlantic streets to summon up the courage to glance, glance right at windows, non-exotic atlantic cheerleader windows. Such is the new decade a-borning, a-borning but not for me, no jack swagger, or bobby goof as they run the table on old tricky dick or some tired imitation of him. Me, I’ll take exotics, or lindos, if they every cross my path, my lonely only path

Sweated dust bowl nights, not the sweated exotic atlantic cheerleader glance nights but something else, something not endless walked about, something done, or with the promise of done, for something inside, for some sense of worth in the this moldy white tee shirt, mildewy white shorts, who knows what diseased sneakers, Chuck Taylor sneakers pushing the red-faced Irish winds, harder, harder around the oval, watch tick in hand, looking, looking I guess for immortality, immortality even then. Later, in bobby darin times or percy faith times, who knows, sitting, sitting high against the lion-guarded pyramid statute front door dream, common dreams, common tokyo dreams, all gone asunder, all gone asunder, on this curious fact, no wind, Irish or otherwise. Stopped short. Who would have figured that one?

Main street walked, main street public telephone booth cheap talk walked searching for some Diana greek goddess wholesale on the atlantic streets. Diana, blonde Diana, cashmere-sweatered, white tennis –shoed Diana, million later Dianas although not with tennis shoes, really gym shoes fit for old ladies to do their rant, their lonely rant against the wind. Seeking, or rather courage-seeking, nickel and dime courage as it turns out; nickel and dime courage when home provided no sanctuary for snuggle-eared delights. Maybe a date, a small-time after school soda split sit at the counter Doc’s drugstore date, or slice of pizza and a coke date at Balducci’s with a few nickels juke boxed in playing our song, our future song, a Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall song, and dreams of I Want To Wanted sifting the hot afternoon air, maybe just a swirl at midnight drift, maybe a view of local lore car parked submarine races and mysteries unfurled, ah, to dream, no more than to dream, walking down friendly aisles, arm and arm along with myriad other arm and arm walkers on senior errands. No way, no way and then red-face, alas, red-faced no known even forty years later. Wow.

Multi-colored jacket worn, red and black, black and red, some combination reflecting old time glories, or promises of glory, cigarette, Winston small-filtered, natch, no romantic Bogie tobacco-lipped unfiltered, hanging from off the lip at some jagged angle, a cup of coffee, if coffee was the drink, in hand, a glad hand either way, look right, look left, a gentle nod, a hard stare, a gentle snarl if such a thing is possible beyond the page. Move out the act onto Boston fresh-mown streets. Finally, that one minute, no not fifteen, not fifteen at all, and not necessary of the fame game, local fame, always local fame but fame, and then the abyss on non-fame, non- recognition and no more snarls, gentle or otherwise. A tough life lesson learned, very tough. And not yet twenty.

Drunk, whisky drunk, whisky rotgut whisky drunk, in some bayside, altantic bayside, not childhood atlantic bayside though, no way, no shawlie way, bar. Name, nameless, no legion. Some staggered midnight vista street, legs weak from lack of work, brain weak, push on, push on, find some fellaheen relieve for that unsatisfied bulge, that gnawing at the brain or really at the root of the thing. A topsy-turvy time, murder, death, the death of death, the death of fame, murder, killing murder, and then resolve, wrong resolve and henceforth the only out, war, war to the finish, although who could have known that then. Who could have know that tet, lyndon, bobby, hubert, tricky dick war-circus all hell broke loose thing then, or wanted to.

Shaved-head, close anyway, too close to distinguish that head and ten-thousand, no on hundred-thousand other heads, all shave-headed. I fall down to the earth, spitting mud-flecked red clay, spitting, dust, spitting, spitting out the stars over Alabama that portent no good, no earthy good. Except this-if this is not murder, if this is not to slay, then what is? And the die is cast, not truthfully cast, not pure warrior in the night cast but cast. Wild dreams, senseless wild dreams follow, follow in succession. The days of rage, rage against the light, and then the glimmer of the light.

The great Mandela cries, cries to the high heavens, for revenge against the son’s hurt, now that the son has found his way, a strange way but a way. And a certain swagger comes to his feet in the high heaven black Madonna of a night. No cigarette hanging off the lip now, not Winston filter-tipped seductions, no need, and no rest except the rest of waiting, waiting on the days to pass until the next coming, and the next coming after that. Ah, sweet Mandela, turn for me, turn for me and mine just a little. Free at last but with a very, very sneaking feeling that this is a road less traveled for reason, and not for ancient robert frost to guide you… Just look at blooded Kent State, or better, blooded Jackson State. Christ.

Bloodless bloodied streets, may day tear down the government days, tears, tear-gas exploding, people running this way and that coming out of a half-induced daze, a crazed half-induced daze that mere good- will, mere righteousness would right the wrongs of this wicked old world. But stop. Out of the bloodless fury, out of the miscalculated night a strange bird, no peace dove and no flame-flecked phoenix but a bird, maybe the owl of Minerva comes a better sense that this new world a-bornin’ will take some doing, some serious doing. More serious that some wispy-bearded, pony-tailed beat, beat down, beat around, beat up young stalwart acting in god’s place can even dream of.

Chill chili nights south of the border, endless Kennebunkports, Bar Harbors, Calais’, Monktons, Peggy’s Coves, Charlottetowns, Montreals, Ann Arbors, Neolas, Denvers by moonlight, Boulders echos, Dinosaurs dies, salted lakes, Winnemuccas’ flats, golden-gated bridges, malibus, Joshua Trees, pueblos, embarcaderos, and flies. Enough to last a life-time, thank you. Enough of Bunsen burners, Coleman stoves, wrapped blankets, second-hand sweated army sleeping bags, and minute pegged pup tents too. And enough too of granolas, oatmeals, desiccated stews, oregano weed, mushroomed delights, peyote seeds, and the shamanic ghosts dancing off against apache (no, not helicopters, real injuns) ancient cavern wall. And enough of short-wave radio beam tricky dick slaughters south of the border in deep fall nights. Enough, okay.

He said struggle. He said push back. He said stay with your people. He said it would not be easy. He said you have lost the strand that bound you to your people. He said you must find that strand. He said that strand will lead you away from you acting in god’s place ways. He said look for a sign. He said the sign would be this-when your enemies part ways and let you through then you will enter the golden age. He said it would not be easy. He said it again and again. He said struggle. He said it in 1848, he said it in 1917, he said it in 1973. Whee, an old guy, huh.

Greyhound bus station men’s wash room stinking to high heaven of seven hundred pees, six hundred laved washings, five hundred wayward unnamed, unnamable smells, mainly rank. Out the door, walk the streets, walk the streets until, until noon, until five, until lights out. Plan, plan, plan, plain paper bag in hand holding, well, holding life, plan for the next minute, no, the next ten seconds until the deadly impulses subside. Then look, look hard, for safe harbors, lonely desolate un-peopled bridges, some gerald ford-bored antic newspaper-strewn bench against the clotted hobo night snores. Desolation row, no way home.

A smoky sunless bar, urban style right in the middle of high Harvard civilization, belting out some misty time Hank Williams tune, maybe Cold, Cold Heart from father home times. Order another deadened drink, slightly benny-addled, then in walks a vision. A million time in walks a vision, but in white this time. Signifying? Signifying adventure, dream one-night stands, lost walks in loaded woods, endless stretch beaches, moonless nights, serious caresses, and maybe, just maybe some cosmic connection to wear away the days, the long days ahead. Ya that seems right, right against the oil-beggared time, right.

Lashed against the high end double seawall, bearded, slightly graying against the forlorn time, a vision in white not enough to keep the wolves of time away, the wolves of feckless petty larceny times reappear, reappear with a vengeance against the super-rational night sky and big globs of ancient hurts fester against some unknown enemy, unnamed, or hiding out in a canyon under an assumed name. Then night, the promise of night, a night run up some seawall laden streets, some Grenada night or maybe Lebanon sky boom night, and thoughts of finite, sweet flinty finite haunt his dreams, haunt his sleep. Wrong number, brother. Ya, wrong number, as usual.

White truce flags neatly placed in right pocket. Folded aging arms showing the first signs of wear-down, unfolded. One more time, one more war-weary dastardly fight against Persian gulf oil-driven time, against a bigger opponent, and then the joys of retreat and taking out those white flags again and normalcy. The first round begins. He holds his own, a little wobbly. Second round he runs into a series of upper-cuts that drive him to the floor. Out. Awake later, seven minutes, hours, eons later he takes out the white flags now red with his own blood. He clutches them in his weary hands. The other he said struggle, struggle. Ya, easy for you to say.

Desperately clutching his new white flags, his 9/11 white flags, exchanged years ago for bloodied red ones, white flags proudly worn for a while now, he wipes his brow of the sweat accumulated from the fear he has been living with for the past few months. Now ancient arms folded, hard-folded against the rainless night, raining, he carefully turns right, left, careful of every move as the crowd comes forward. Not a crowd, no, a horde, a beastly horde, and this is no time to stick out with white flags (or red, for that matter). He jumps out of the way, the horde passes brushing him lightly, not aware, not apparently aware of the white flags. Good. What did that other guy say, oh yes, struggle.

One more battle, one more, please one more, one fight against the greed tea party night. He chains himself, well not really chains, but more like ties himself to the black wrought-iron fence in front of the big white house with his white handkerchief. Another guy does the same, except he uses some plastic hand-cuff-like stuff. A couple of women just stand there, hard against that ebony fence, can you believe it, just stand there. More, milling around, disorderly in a way, someone starts om-ing, om-ing out of Allen Ginsberg Howl nights, or at least Jack Kerouac Big Sur splashes. The scene is complete, or almost complete. Now, for once he knows, knows for sure, that it wasn’t Ms. Cora whom he needed to worry about, and that his child dream was a different thing altogether. But who, just a child, could have known that then.

Friday, March 12, 2021

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-A Good Old Boy Tries To Keep It Together- For Prescott Breslin Wherever He Is

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-A Good Old Boy Tries To Keep It Together- For Prescott Breslin Wherever He Is

From The Archives Of Allan Jackson

[Unfortunately despite what Sam Lowell thought was a last minute breakthrough in negotiations with what almost everybody who writes for this publication was previous site manager and perspiration king for this series Allan Jackson things are still bogged down with the current site manager Greg Green’s unwillingness to let Allan write some updated introductions to each posting (or not, depending on whether there is further need talk about some topic raised by the sketch). For now Greg’s position as far as I understand it is that Allan can have a straight by-line tab like everybody else for the duration of the series. Hopefully that last hurdle, that possibility of an updated introduction not at all uncommon when a publication, on-line or hard copy) is reissued or revised. Until then I will do, at Allan’s request and with Greg’s cooperation I might add, to scotch the floodgate of rumors that have surfaced over the past almost year now originally about Allan’s whereabouts and now more about what he has been doing with his time since then.  

Hopefully Allan will get that introduction space he seeks and can bat down the rumors that have floated over his name particularly the most egregious ones (I only have time for those major dillies the minor ones he can tag if he feels it is necessary).The strangest one by far is the one that had him anywhere from Tibet to Argentina with the latter being the most prevalently named place running a high end brothel for Asian businessmen interested in taking a walk on the wild side, the kinky side, with his old flame Madame La Rue. (They never married but were close until she balked and figured with the three previous wives’ alimonies and kids’ tuitions she was better off running her own show-and she was right.)    

Not every young woman who came of age in the 1960s, maybe early 1970s, despite Allan’s somewhat na├»ve belief on very public display last year during his hysterical reaction to the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, 1967 went the distance, kept the faith in the “newer world a-borning guys and gals like him have held onto ever since then. Despite the very real evidence that there has been a forty plus year counter-cultural backlash by the night-takers who got freaked out by the idea of the world turned upside down. Some people as in any social movement fall by the wayside or had been temporary fellow-travelers when the tide was running high and bailed out when the ebbtide hit. Or just had stopped by for a taste of something different on the way to whatever they were going to do anyway. That was Sissy Kelly, aka Madame La Rue.

Josh Breslin had first met her when he (and Allan, Jimmy Jenkins, Sam Lowell, the late Peter Paul Markin, and Frankie Riley I think this was before I went out myself for a short while) were riding high as kites on a yellow brick road former school bus turned travelling caravan led by a guy everybody called Captain Crunch. Met her in Ventura at a county fair where she was running a fortune-telling scam (and giving an off-hand blow job on the side) to make ends meet. She was young, maybe too young for all we knew, very pretty if not beautiful although that was always open to question especially by Allan who deemed her beautiful and ready to roam once the fair was over. And if she did not love sex (and dope back then and later whiskey) she was inventive and willing to share her skills. So she travelled with Josh and the crowd for a while until Josh ran into a young woman who called herself Butterfly Swirl down in La Jolla and she switched off to Jimmy next, I think, I know it was not Allan he would be next after Jimmy. That next lasted for a while until the early 1970s when Allan after his bit in the military decided to get serious about the publishing business and Madame La Rue, Sissy, then also saw that she was meant for a different road than the newer world.            

But they, Allan and Sissy anyway, always more or less stayed in touch if not regularly then enough not to worry about some unheard of strange fate. The way I heard the story was that Sissy headed toward Monterey where she worked the streets before landing in some brothel in Carmel which catered to rich businessmen mainly from Asia who were in the area to play golf at Pebble Beach and other courses along Seventeen Mile Road. That was when she approached Allan for some dough to start her own operation out of town toward Big Sur. Between her own work under the sheets and then her own brothel she was able to pay Allan back in a couple of years, maybe three. So Monterey, not Argentina, Bangkok, Manila, Hong Kong or wherever the rumors had them was where Allan went looking for dough after leaving Damask in La Jolla. Looking for a loan not to run a brothel, or to help run one, which would have been crazy for him to do but to seek the loan, He got it. And he got a little something else from Sissy Kelly which would make him smile all the way to Bar Harbor, Maine. Rumors! Jack Callahan]    

YouTube film clip of Hank Williams performing You Win Again to set the mood for this piece.
From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

Josh Breslin had been since he retired a couple of years ago as a journalist writing for half the alternative and special interest newspapers and journals in the country, make that half the unread, mostly, newspapers and journals in those categories in something of a reflective mood. Not every day, certainly not on golf days with his golfing associates over at Dunegrass, when reflection over some missed chip or putt on the previous hole spelled the kiss of death for the round. Much better to keep an empty mind on those days and just hope enough muscle memory kicks in to survive the round. But enough of golf, enough of unread journals, hell, enough of retirement except as the cushion that Josh’s thoughts fell on one day when passing through his  old home town of Olde Saco, a town farther north in Maine than the one where he now lived, on some family business.

While there he passed by his old growing up house, as was almost always the case since it was located near a main town road which he would have to cross to get on to the main highway and not always in some fit of nostalgia.  Or rather he passed the plot of land where the old home was situated, an old house that had been little better than a shack, a cabin maybe then, maybe especially when his three sisters came of age and hogged the single bathroom and stuff like that. A place which left little room for a single growing boy to attend to his own toilet, his own sense of space, to any sense at all. The house may have been a shack, no, he thought better say a cabin but it had been located on about two acres of land and in the intervening years, years well after his parents had passed on and his sisters like him had left the dust of Olde Saco behind the land had become valuable and now had been developed into an eight-unit condominium complex. Not that his parents, not that his father Prescott Breslin derived any real financial benefit from that development since the house had been sold when he needed to go into a nursing home after Josh’s mother, Delores, passed away. Had been sold well before there was a resurgence in the Olde Saco economy which had taken a beating when the MacAdams Textile Mills shut down and moved south to North Carolina in the early 1950s and had only recovered with some “high tech” start-ups using the old factory space well after Prescott passed on. The sale of that old house had broken his father’s heart despite its shanty condition at the end. The damn sale of the cabin in any case had not brought enough money. Not enough to cover all Prescott’s increasing medical expenses which Josh and his sisters wound up subsiding. 

And so the passing of that lot got Josh to thinking about how Prescott Breslin never drew a blessed break in his hard-scrabble life. Never drew a break although he was a hard-working man of the old school-“a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wages”-when he had work. Got Josh to thinking about the early 1950s when he was coming of age, when he started even if unconsciously, or maybe semi-consciously, to feel that some new breeze was coming, some new breeze that was going to break through and unfreeze that red scare Cold War time. And while Josh’s horizons in those days centered on the emerging rock and roll, coming from some “new” Memphis hillbilly sources, some black as night rhythm and blues sources, some down and out urban blues sources, again black as night, that was leading the jail-break out then his father’s fate was being sealed in another way. See Prescott Breslin was an employee, a machine tender and mechanic at the MacAdams Textile factory that was heading south and he had no other resources to fall back on. That last thought was pure Josh though, pure Josh remembering back to those hard days. Prescott Breslin, as he would be the first to say, and had probably said it a thousand times, with a wife and four children had no time to worry about whether he had resources to fall back or not. Josh chuckled to himself over that one, yeah, that was pure Dad.

As he travelled further along Main Street (really Route One but everybody called it Main Street since they had no real such street in the town) he passed by what in the old days was Millie’s Diner, now re-opened as Mildred’s, the one right across the street from the old textile plant where guys would go before their shift and grab a coffee and crullers, maybe grab a quick dinner if they were single, or maybe meet some sweetheart and talk before going off to work. He did not know this from personal experience but his father had once told him that right after World War II the plant was working three shifts and guys, and gals, were catching as much overtime as they wanted.

Millie’s did not long survived the shutdown of the mill and had been abandoned for a number of years (like a lot of other businesses in that section of the town that were dependent on the mill-workers) but had re-opened about a decade ago with the same “feel” as Millie’s including a jukebox which played current stuff but also stuff from back then, stuff that hard-working guys and gals would put their nickels, dimes and quarters in to listen to whatever was “hot” in those days. Josh knew all of this because a couple of years before he had been contacted by an old high school classmate, Melinda, Melinda Dubois (the place was crawling with French-Canadians including his mother, nee LeBlanc), who had read some old article of his and got in touch to invite his up for a class reunion. During that previous time in town Melinda had taken him around town and showed him what had changed and told him the story of Millie’s resurrection as Mildred’s.              

Something that day, probably the sight of the old homestead, maybe just the thought of Millie’s where sometimes when his father had been making good money he would take the family for an out of house dinner and where Josh on occasion had stopped in to play the jukebox and have a Coke while looking furtively around for any stray girls, prompted him to stop and go into Mildred’s for a coffee and maybe a piece of pie (that pie an iffy thing what with him and his new weight problem but he thought why go into a diner if you are not going to have something that is “bad “ for you). As a single he sat at the Formica-top counter complete with red vinyl-cushioned swivel stool to sit on and a paper placemat and utensils in front of him waiting for the smiling waitress to take his order (a career waitress as is usual in diners, middle-aged, her white uniform a little tight trying to look younger, pencil in her hair for ease of taking orders, chewing gum but friendly until you placed your order and then either still smiling or a frown if you only order coffee and, not the young college girls and guys you find in better restaurants marking time with a job to help defray college expenses or for “walking around” money). He placed his frowning order, coffee, black, and a piece of apple crumb pie with, yes, with ice cream (bad, indeed).

While Josh waited for his order he thumbed through the panels on the jukebox machine that was placed between him and the next placemat. And as if by some strange osmosis Josh came upon Hank Williams’ You Win Again, his father’s favorite song when he was young. (His father been in a pick-up band for a while working a circuit and along the Ohio River.) Josh  put his quarter in to play that one selection (yeah, times have changed even in jukebox land, no more three for a quarter ) and as Hank moan’s his lovesick blues that triggered Josh to start thinking about his father and where he had come from, where he would have picked up those country tunes in his DNA. And then he thought of that hard time when his father was so discouraged about his prospects when the mill had closed down temporarily and then when the final word had come that it would be closing for good and would play that song repeatedly as if to try and ward off some evil spirits. He could remember his father’s voice like it was yesterday as he sat beside him in Millie’s:                  

 “Jesus, it’s been three months since the mill closed on the first day of our lord, January 1954, as the huge black and red sign in front of the dead-ass silent mill keeps screaming at us. And also telling us not to trespass under penalty of arrest, Christ, after all the sweat we have given the damn MacAdams family. I still haven’t been able to get steady work, steady work anywhere, what with every other guy looking for work too, and I don’t even have a high school diploma, not even close since I only went to eight grade and then to the mines, to do anything but some logging work up North when they need extra crews,” That is what Prescott Breslin, Josh sitting silently beside him, had half-muttered to Jack Amber, a fellow out-of-worker sitting on the counter-stool next to his from the same MacAdams Mill that had been in Olde Saco since, well, since forever. This conversation and ones like it in previous weeks between the two, and by many previous parties on those self-same stools, took place, of course, right at Millie’s Diner right across the street from the closed, dead-ass mill the place where every guy (and an occasion wife, or girlfriend waiting to pick up her guy) who worked there went for his coffee and, and whatever else got him through another mill week.

Just then Prescott, hey, no Pres, or PB, or any such thing, not if you didn’t  want an argument on one of his few vanities, fell silent, a silence that had been recurring more frequently lately as he thought of the reality of dead-end Maine prospects and rekindled a thought that came creeping through his brain when Jack MacAdams, the owner’s son, first told him the plant was shutting down for good and moving south to North Carolina not far, not far at all, from his eastern Kentucky roots. Then it was just a second of self-doubt but now the thoughts started ringing incessantly in his brain.
Why the hell had he fallen for, and married, a Northern mill-town girl (the sweet, reliable Delores, met at the Starlight Ballroom over in Old Orchard Beach when he had been Marine Corps short-time stationed at the Portsmouth Naval Base down in New Hampshire just before heading back to the Pacific Japan death battles), stayed up North after the war when he knew the mills were only a shade bit better that the mines that he had worked in his youth, faced every kind of insult for being southern from the insular Mainiacs (they actually call themselves that with pride, the hicks, and it wasn’t really because he was from the south although that made him an easy target but because he was not born in Maine and could never be a Mainiac even if he lived there one hundred years), and had had three growing, incredibly fast growing, girls and one boy with Delores. Then he was able to shrug it off but not now.

The only thing that could break the cursed thoughts was some old home music that Millie, good mother Millie, the diner’s owner (and a third generation Millie and Mainiac) made sure the jukebox man inserted for “her” country boys while they had their coffee and. He reached, suddenly, into his pocket, found a stray nickel, put it in the counter-side jukebox, and played Will The Circle Be Unbroken, a song that his late, long-gone mother sang to him on her knee when he was just a tow-headed young boy. That got him to thinking about home, the Harlan hell home of worked-out mines, of labor struggles that were just this side of fighting the Japanese in their intensity and possibilities of getting killed, or worst grievously injured and a burden on some woe-begotten family, of barren land eroded by the deforested hills and hollows that looked, in places, like the face of the moon on a bad night. And of not enough to eat when eight kids, a mostly absence father and a fading, fading mother needed vast quantities of food that were not on the table and turnips and watery broth had to do, of not enough heat when cruel winter ran down the ravines and struck at your very bones, and of not enough dough, never enough dough to have anything but hand-me-down, and then again hand-me-downs clothes, sometimes sister girl’s stuff just to keep from being bare-assed.

Then Prescott thought about the Saturday night barn dances where he cut quite a figure with the girls when he was in his teens and had gleefully graduated to only having to wear hand-me-downs. He was particularly lively (and amorous) after swilling (there is no other way to put it) some of Uncle Eddie’s just-brewed “white lightening.” And he heard, just like now on the jukebox, the long, lonesome fiddle playing behind some fresh-faced country girl in her best dress swaying through Will The Circle Be Unbroken that closed most Saturday barn dances.

As Millie asked him for the third time, “More coffee” he came out of his trance. After saying no to Millie, he said no to himself with that same kind of December resolve. A peep-break Saturday night dance didn’t mean squat against that other stuff. And once again he let out his breathe and said to himself one more time- “Yes, times are tough, times will still be tough, Jesus, but Delores, the four kids, and he would eke it out somehow. There was no going back, no way.”

And as if to put paid to that resolve, as Josh made a funny face in recognition, Prescott had put a coin into the jukebox and played You Win Again, which he always said brought him good tidings, or at least made him feel better. A few minute after the song was completed and he and his father were ready to leave after saying good-bye to Jack Johnny Dubois came through the door and yelled, “Hey, Prescott, Jack, the Great Northern Lumber Company just called and they want to know if you want two months work clearing some land up North for them. I’m going, that’s for sure.” And, hell, he was going too.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Better Watch Out If You Want To Get Back To The Garden-The Film Adaptation Of Patricia Highsmith’s Novel –“A Kind Of Murder” (2016)-A Film Review

Better Watch Out If You Want To Get Back To The Garden-The Film Adaptation Of Patricia Highsmith’s Novel –“A Kind Of Murder” (2016)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Leslie Dumont

A Kind of Murder, starring Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Biel, Haley Bennett, Eddie Marsan, based on a Patricia Highsmith novel The Blunderer, 2016

I remember once at a lecture, or maybe it was a forum, a military officer, maybe a colonel, you will have to ask Sam Lowell or one of the military veterans who write at this publication about military rank mentioned that humankind’s DNA was hard-wired for war. Whether that was true or not or the officer was just trying to justify his military career as a leader of some special forces-type operation, rangers I think, is open to some serious discussion. What is not open to discussion though is a similar idea-that humankind is hard-wired for murder, murder one, murder most foul as Agatha Christie would say. Obviously even if this is true going all the way back to Cain slaying Abel for dimes and donuts, maybe before, then the impulse in most of us is deeply suppressed or else we as a species would have gone extinct a while back.
That is not to say that we are not all capable, very capable of thinking, thinking hard about doing in somebody who has bothered us in some way. May have even fantasy planned out some aspect of the avenging angel angle and then let it go because something more pressing came up, or you needed to go to the bar or bathroom. That is the premise behind this film A Kind of Murder, a film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Blunderer on the part of one of the characters-the wishing that somebody would die to alleviate some kind of sorrow aspect.

Today we are, unfortunately, inured to murder, murder most foul, what with the blanket 24/7/365 cable-social media overkill coverage of every gruesome tragedy but back in the early 1960s such events took on outraged proportions. Take the case of Walter Stackhouse, played by Patrick Wilson, a successful architect living the good life and his wife Clara, a bundle of post-World War II anxieties and traumas. Not a trouble in the world really but dear Walter has had it up to his elbows with Clara’s incessant unhappiness. He wants her out of his life, would like to see her dead really. Fair enough although divorce would be a better call. Except if he divorces her she will get even with him by, well, by killing herself. And she had attempted to do in the past already. Sadly she will eventually wind up dead, wind up committing suicide jumping off a bridge in of all places Saratoga Springs, the summer watering hole of the Mayfair swells in the old racing days.

That is one take on the man and wife situation. Here’s another and see if you can see a little pattern form, a little something to hang your hat on. Another guy, a Walter Mitty type guy, Marty, Marty Kimell, played by Walter Mitty-ish Eddie Marsen-you know the guy who ran that bookstore in Newark where nobody seemed to go in and browse had a wife problem too. A nagger unto eternity and so one day she winds up dead, very dead outside of poor Harry’s Rainbow Diner a bus stop on the way to Saratoga Springs. Poor Harry though since sweet Clara was last seen before she took her leap of faith after last being seen at Harry’s when she was taking the bus to see her mother. Evil times in the North Country no question.

So follow me. Two deaths, two dead wives, two not sorry husbands whoever their public sentiments hell even a two bit suburban copper could figure out the prime suspects-the hubbies did it even on the alleged suicide. That is the percentages, no question. That the way the copper played it hard and loose before the Warren Court pulled some of his antics up short. That is the way things played out anyway once Walter, poor shmuck, started playing footsie with some beatnik torch-singer, Ellie played by Haley Bennett, from the Village in the days when jazz and poetry ruled the roost in those environs before the folk minute burst onto the scene. Walter also had ambitions as an amateur sleuth, a writer of short story thrillers, just in case the architect business went south. He got interested in that Walter Mitty-ish guy case once he figured out that all signs pointed to the guy doing in the wife. So he played cat and mouse with the guy. Wrong move for two reasons that Walter Mitty guy was an American psycho and that ain’t no lie and with Walter mucking about even a two bit cop can see big time promotions by solving two wife murders for the price of one. Simple. But the only lesson that the rest of us humankind should draw here is hold off wishing you want to see somebody dead just because that would be the best situation for you. Simple too.     

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-“The Next Girl Who Throws Sand In My Face Is…” Johnny Silver’s Sad Be-Bop 1960s Beach Blanket Saga.

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-“The Next Girl Who Throws Sand In My Face Is…” Johnny Silver’s Sad Be-Bop 1960s Beach Blanket Saga.

YouTube film clip of the Falcons performing You're So Fine.

From The Archives Of Allan Jackson

[Back again since the negotiations between Sam Lowell and current site manager Greg Green have stalled out for now. Sam is fervently negotiating with Greg to get Allan Jackson the previous site manager full attribution and more for his relentless work on this series several years ago when the series was originally posted. A hard sell although by general agreement of both those who had supported Allan like me and those who had opposed like Sam are anxious to see Allan get his just due as that will affect their rights as well which is maybe the real sticking point. Rather than going piece-meal with what is happening on that front I will continue, at Allan’s request, to shoot down the vast swirl of rumors that have surfaced around his name once he went “underground” after his departure (a departure now recognized by all, just ask Sam, as a “purge”).

I have already swatted down the vicious rumor that Greg had Allan “done in,” meaning according to one far-out “conspiracy theory” take that Allan was probably buried out in some arroyo with the stage-brush tumbling over his head out West someplace where they don’t ask so many questions. Swatted down to my relief, Sam’s and probably all the older writers who knew him in his radical 1960s days after that shattering hitch in the Army during the Vietnam War, a rumor that he had for filthy lucre been “turned” and was writing copy for various Mormon publications out in Utah and later tried to mea culpa beg his way on to Mitt Romney’s U.S. Senatorial campaign after ancient Orrin Hatch decided to give up the ghost. 

Couldn’t swat down the big rumor that he was shacked up with some twenty-something surfer girl, a young woman whose name is Damask which tells you quickly all you need to know for now about this California-bred blonde, out in La Jolla who was teaching him to surf  and be her “sugar daddy” or something like that since that was actually true although the whole thing was blown way out of proportion about the sugar daddy part if you knew anything about Allan’s finances with three ex-wives to send checks to a few of his younger kids since creating a serious drain via their college tuitions. The latest we heard from him after we were able track down Allan up in Bar Harbor, Maine was that he was working like seven dervishes to bring her East to check out the surf.  

More recently, and frankly more ominously, Allan’s name had been attached to the Perez cartel, the big Mexican-based cartel (at least at last report that is where the operation was based) which was not above murder and mayhem to get the “product,” these days cocaine and heroin, to the United States market. This was serious stuff not only for what is left of Allan’s fairly well established and positive professional reputation but for his personal legal situation if such a rumor was true. As usual, once we asked him about the matter, the whole thing had once again been blown out of proportion and it never really came to anything once Allan realized that he would be their “mule” forever after he took the first bite.        

I mentioned a minute ago Allan’s generally fraught with peril financial status along with that big desire to bring his lady friend Damask East. Along with no current income Allan said he got a little desperate especially when Damask, who had never been East before, kept pressing him to bring her East. For most of Allan’s adult life he has been a pretty straight legal arrow whatever desperate situations he might find himself in. Of course we all smoked, snorted, swallowed whatever dope was around when we were younger, back in those 1960s days when in some places you could get “high” just breathing in the air, dealt a little to keep the wolves from the door too when necessary.

This thing with Damask had kind of unhinged him a bit figuring this was his last serious grab at the brass ring of romance. Somehow through an old connection (a guy who wrote with him in the days when they both worked for the now long-gone alternative newspaper The East Bay Other whom he had keep in touch with), who knew a connection who knew a connection which is the way such things go he got “connected” with a guy down in Tijuana who represented the Perez cartel. Basically the deal was that he would “mule” some stuff up from Mexico for a while, take a cut and that would be his way to get out from under. When he laid it out for us it sounded pretty good what with the idea of using an old seemingly harmless white guy tourista to run the stuff across the border.   

Stop. Before the thing went to the starting point Allan backed off, backed way off. Reason? The reason which both Sam and I knew the minute he mentioned that he had backed off. Memories of the fate of our old still missed like crazy Scribe, our old friend from the Acre neighborhood of North Adamsville Peter Paul Markin (whose name Allan used for years as an on-line moniker here and elsewhere in his honor) who when he saw the writing on the wall about our dashed hopes of a newer world in the 1960s were going down without a fight got seriously in cocaine. Got so serious he made the fatal mistake of trying to put some gringo idea of making an independent big drug buy down in Sonora in Mexico and got blown away by some bad guys and a potter’s field grave for his foolishness. With that in mind Allan just told Damask that they were through unless she could wait until he got some cash together after he went back East to see what he could put together. As it turned out Damask was not only a wait person at Dave’s Diner out there in La Jolla and a surfer girl but was working on her master’s degree in physical therapy so was not some teeny-bopper (our old time expression) airhead. Surprised Allan when she said she would wait. Pretty good, huh. Jack Callahan]
No question that Jimmy Callahan and his corner boy comrades, including me, from the old Frankie Riley-led Salducci’s Pizza Parlor hang-out up the Downs from the day high school got out for the summer in the early 1960s drew a bee-line straight to the old-time Adamsville Beach of blessed memory. One day recently he had been thinking back to those times, back a half century at least, as he walked along the beach at Big Sur and had been telling his girlfriend, Miranda, that his love affair with the sea started almost from the day he was born near that beach, a beach that still held his sway although he had seen, and was seeing right there with her better beaches since then. (As far as that girlfriend designation goes with Miranda Jimmy always wondered what the heck do you call somebody whom you are not married to but are intimate with who is along with you pushing the wrong side of sixty, so Jimmy simple girlfriend it is until somebody comes up with something better that “significant other,” “consort,”  or “partner”.) The old Adamsville beach with its marshlands anchoring each end, its stone-laden sands uncomfortable to sit on, its rendezvous teen meet-up yacht clubs, its well-sat upon seawalls, and its thousand and one night stories of late night trysts in fugitive automobiles and while on skimpy beach blankets, its smoldering fried clams at the Clam Shack fit for a king or queen, its Howard Johnson’s many-flavored ice creams still held memories wherever he was in later life.

Although from what Red Rowley, an old corner boy comrade, had told Jimmy a while back when they had touched base for a minute in Sweeney’s Funeral Parlor over in landlocked Clintondale a couple of towns away after the death of a Jimmy family member the old beach had seen serious erosion, serious stinks and serious decay of the already in their day ancient seawalls and no longer held the fancy of the young who back in the day wanted to go parking there at night to “watch the submarine races.” Also no longer served as a coming of age spot for winter-weary guys watching winter-weary well-tanned girls in skimpy bikinis between the yacht clubs hot spot for such activity. In fact Red said that last time he checked on a hot July summer’s day at high noon nobody, young or old, was in that sacred spot.   
Red Rowley who was the youngest boy in the Rowley household and who had been afraid of girls, not gay afraid, but just afraid of girls and their ways had like a lot of Irish guys who took their stern religious upbringing too seriously never married and had stayed in town the whole time, stayed in the same house, and once his mother’s health declined after his father died never thought to leave. So Red could, as an old fixture like the street lights, see what changes had occurred around town. And he would ask young people, some of who were interested in talking to him, what they were up to, what they knew about the old time customs of the high school and of the town.

Hell, Red said, the young guys in the neighborhood didn’t know what he was talking about when he mentioned “watching the submarine races,” that old code word for getting in the back seat of an automobile (or if car-less and desperate on a skimpy beach blanket against that stony sand) with a girl and seeing what was what, coming up for air to check for any midnight submarine sightings. One guy even asked how one could see a submarine at night if one was in the neighborhood of the beach. Jesus. Also they, and here Red meant both sexes, had no idea on this good green earth that those now old tumble-down yacht clubs in dire need of serious paint jobs after the slamming of the seas and the furious winds had done their work had been the site of many a daytime planning for the night heat sessions. Were clueless that guys would ogle girls there, thought it kind of, what did one of them, one of the girls, call it, yeah, sexist. Jesus doubled.   

Red, by the way, was one of those ancient Irish Catholic corner boys who had stayed in town to help mother in order to have clean socks and regular six o’clock suppers without the bother of matrimony but also like Jimmy, hell, like me and every guy who breathed their first breaths off an off-hand sea breeze, also stayed to be near the ocean too. But Red had mainly watched the town change from an old way station for the Irish and Italians to the South Shore upward mobile digs further south to a “stay put” moving from the big city immigrant community which he was not particularly happy about since he could not speak any of the new languages (frankly in high school he had serious trouble with the English language) or understand the cultural differences when they, the collective mix of immigrants none from European homelands, did not bend at the knees in homage on Saint Patrick’s Day. But Red’s trouble with the new world of America (not really so new since these shores since the sixteen hundreds had seen wave after wave of immigrants just back then they had been from Europe, or had been Africa branded), or the real condition of Adamsville Beach was not what had exercised Jimmy on that trip to Big Sur with Miranda but about the old beach days, the now fantastic beach days.

Jimmy had chuckled to himself when he told Miranda- “Did we go to said beach to be “one” with our homeland, the sea? You know to connect with old King Neptune, our father, the father that we did not know, who would work his mysterious furies in good times and bad. Or to connect as one with denizens of the deep, fishes, whales, plankton, stuff like that. No.” Then he went down the litany of other possible motives just as a little good-humored exercise. “Did we go to admire the boats and other things floating by? The fleet of small sailboats that dotted the horizon in the seemingly never-ending tacking to the wind or the fewer big boats, big ocean-worthy boats that took their passenger far out to sea, maybe to search for whales or other sea creatures? No.” “Did we go to get a little breeze across our sun-burned and battered bodies on a hot and sultry August summer day?” Jimmy, a blushed red lobster in short sunlight who was sensitive about that red skin business declared a loud No, although Red, Frankie, Peter, and Josh, his other comrade corner boys less sensitive to the sun would have answered, well, maybe a little.

Jimmy said that he soon tired of those non-reasons, this little badger game, and got to the heart of the matter, laughed to himself as he thought and then mentioned to Miranda-“Come on now we are talking about sixteen, maybe seventeen, year old guys. They, every self-respecting corner boy who could put towel and trunks together, which meant everybody except Johnny Kelly who had to work during the day in the summer to help support his mother and fatherless younger brothers and sisters , were there, of course, because there were shapely teeny-weeny bikini-clad girls [young women, okay, let’s not get technical about that pre-woman’s liberation time] sunning themselves like peacocks for all the world, all the male teenage North Adamsville world, the only world that mattered to guys and gals alike, to see. Had been sunning themselves in such a manner since bikinis and less replaced those old-time bathing suits that were slightly less cumbersome that the street clothes you saw in your old grandmother’s scrapbook. And guys had been hormonally-charged looking at them that long as well.”

“Here is the catch thought,” Jimmy continued. “They, and they could be anywhere from about junior high to the first couple of years in college although they tended to separate themselves out by age bracket were sunning themselves and otherwise looking very desirable and, well, fetching, in not just any old spot wherever they could place a blanket but strictly, as tradition dictated, tradition seemingly going back before memory, between the North Adamsville and Adamsville Yacht Clubs. So, naturally, every testosterone-driven teenage lad who owned a bathing suit, and some who didn’t, were hanging off the floating dock right in front of said yacht clubs showing off, well, showing off their prowess to the flower of North Adamsville maidenhood.” And said show-offs included, Jimmy, of course, Frankie Riley (when he was not working early mornings at the old A&P Supermarket and did not show until later in the afternoon), his faithful scribe, Pete Markin (who seemingly wrote down for posterity every word Frankie uttered and some that he did not, and others including the, then anyway, “runt of the litter,” Johnny Silver. And me too. It is Johnny’s sad beach blanket bingo tale that Jimmy had suddenly thought about when he had driven  pass the old beach one day to confirm Red’s recent beach judgment and wanted to relate to Miranda as the over the top waves pummeling the scarred rock faces in the secluded reaches of Big Sur to give her an idea of what the sea meant to a lot of guys he knew. If, in the Jimmy telling, it all sounds kind of familiar, too familiar even to old time non-corner boys, to those who do not live near the oceans of the world, to the younger set who may have a different view of life than what carried the day back then, it is because, with the exception of the musical selections, it is. 

This is how it all started though:

“The next girl who throws sand in my face is going get it,” yelled Johnny Silver to no one in particular as he came back to the Salducci’s Pizza Parlor corner boy beach front acreage just in front of the seawall facing, squarely facing, the midpoint between the North Adamsville and Adamsville Yacht Clubs. “For the clueless,” and Jimmy assumed Miranda was in that vast company so he told pains to spell it out, “the corner boy world in North Adamsville, hell, maybe every corner boy world everywhere meant that you had certain “turf” issues in your life not all of them settled with fists, although an issue like some alien corner boy looking the wrong way at one of the Salducci girls could only be resolved that way.” But mostly it was a matter of traditions, traditional spots which the “unwritten law” held for certain groups and the spot between the boat clubs was theirs, and had been the “property” of successive generations of Salducci’s Pizza Parlor corner boys since at least the end of World War II when Frankie Riley’s father and his corner boys, some very tough boys transplanted from South Boston to work in the shipyards and some restless guys who had like Frankie’s father served in the war but were not ready to settle down “claimed” the spot.”        

Johnny, after having his say, fumed at no one in particular as the sounds of Elvis Presley’s Loving You came over Frankie Riley’s transistor radio and had wafted down to the sea, almost like a siren call to teenage love. Then one of those “no one in particulars,” Pete Markin replied, “What did you expect, Johnny? That Katy Larkin is too tall, too pretty and just flat-out too foxy for a runt like you. I am surprised you are still in one piece. And I would mention, as well, that her brother, “Jimmy Jukes,” does not like guys, especially runt guys with no muscles bothering his sister.” Johnny came back quickly with the usual, “Hey, I am not that small and I am growing, growing fast so Jimmy Jukes can eat my… ” But Johnny halted just in time as one Jimmy Jukes, James Allen Larkin, halfback hero of many a North Adamsville fall football game running opponent defensive players raggedy in his wake, came perilously close to Johnny and then veered off like Johnny was nothing, nada, nunca, nothing. And after Jimmy Jukes was safely out of sight, and Frankie flipped the volume dial on his radio louder as the Falcons’ You’re So Fine came on heralding Frankie’s attempt by osmosis to lure a certain Betty Ann McCarthy, another standard brand fox in the teenage girl be-bop night, his way Johnny poured out the details of his sad saga.

Seems that Katy Larkin was in one of Johnny’s classes, biology he said, and one day, one late spring day Katy, out of the blue, asked him what he thought about Buddy Holly who had passed away in crash several years before, well before he reached his potential as the new king of the be-bop rock night. Johnny answered that Buddy was “boss,” especially his Everyday, and that got them talking, but only talking, almost every day until the end of school. Of course, Johnny, runt Johnny, didn’t have the nerve, not nearly enough nerve to ask a serious fox like Katy out, big brother or not before school let out for the summer. Not until that very day when he got up the nerve to go over to her blanket, a blanket that also had Sara Bigelow and Tammy Kelly on board, and as a starter asked Katy if she liked Elvis’ That’s When The Heartache Begins.

Katy answered quickly and rather curtly (although Johnny did not pick up on that signal) that it was “dreamy the way Elvis sang it, but sad when you think about all the trouble guys bring when they mess with another boy’s girl.” Then Johnny’s big moment came and he blurted out, “Do you want to go to the Surf Dance Hall with me Saturday night? Crazy Lazy is the DJ and the Rockin’ Ramrods are playing?” And as the reader knows, or should be presumed to know, Johnny’s answer was a face full of sand. And that sad, sad beach saga is the end of another teen angst moment. So to the strains coming from Tammy’s radio of Robert and Johnny’s We Belong Together we will move along.

Well, not quite. It also seems that Katy Larkin, tall (too tall for Johnny, really), shapely (no question of “really” about that), and don’t forget foxy Katy Larkin had had a “crush” since they had first started talking in class on one John Raymond Silver if you can believe that. She was miffed, apparently more than somewhat, that Johnny had not asked her out before school got out for the summer. That “more than somewhat” entailed throwing sand in Johnny’s face when he did get up the nerve to ask. And nothing else happened between them for the rest of the summer, except Johnny always seemed kind of miserable when he leaned up against the wall in front of Salducci’s to confer with his corner boys about life being kind of crazy. But get this- on the first day of school, while Johnny was turning his radio off and putting it in his locker just before school started, after having just listened to the Platters One In a Million for the umpteenth time, Katy Larkin “cornered” (Johnny’s term) Johnny and said in a clear, if excited voice, “I’m sorry about that day at the beach last summer.” And then in the teenage girl imperative, hell maybe all women imperative, “You are taking me to the Fall All-Class Mixer and I will not take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Well, what is a guy to do when that teenage girl imperative, hell, maybe all women imperative voice commands. After that Johnny started to re-evaluate his attitude toward beach sand and thought maybe, after all, it was just a girl being playful. In any case, Johnny had grown quite a bit that summer and it turned out that Katy Larkin was not too tall, not too tall at all, for Johnny Silver to take to the mixer, or anywhere else she decided she wanted to go.
Here is what Jimmy told Miranda that Big Sur day to put a philosophical twist on the whole episode fifty years later.  After stopping his car toward the middle of Adamsville Beach, the place between the two yacht clubs where he and the Salducci corner boys hung out, the two clubs whose appearance that day spoke to a need of paint and other fixing up, the place that had stirred his memoires that day Jimmy Callahan thought Red had it all wrong, all wrong indeed, it had nothing to do with the condition of the clubs, the beach, the sand, the waves or the boats. Mr. John Raymond Silver and Ms. Katy Silver (nee Larkin), now of Naples, Florida, are proof of that statement.