Friday, April 23, 2021

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-You Can’t Go Home Again, Damn It, You Can’t- With Thomas Wolfe’s Novel In Mind

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-You Can’t Go Home Again, Damn It, You Can’t- With Thomas Wolfe’s Novel In Mind

By Allan Jackson

A story as told to Josh Breslin

[I don’t know Larry Larkin the subject of this piece but I do “know” Larry, his story and his plight part. This is one of the few sketches that I didn’t do more than a little light editing and a lot of conversation with Josh Breslin about where to head with the thing. See this is one of the few pieces that don’t necessarily have to do with classic rock and roll days and those like Larry, Josh and I who were washed clean by that experience so I let Josh go where he wanted on this once he completed his interviews with Larry. Still the subject is as intense today as it was back in those 1960s days when anything was possible.

Normally I would have taken a pass on doing an introduction to a piece like this because between Larry and Josh’s comments and stories they tell all that needs telling and I would add nothing. This one is different mainly because Larry’s not being able to go home again when the deal went down resonates well beyond the specifics of his story. More than a fair share of corner boys from the old working class, working poor Acre neighborhood in North Adamsville found they couldn’t go home again either just like Larry up in Olde Saco (and Josh too and someday I hope he will write up his story which will share some of the same angst that Larry faced as he explained to me one whiskey night after his long estranged mother had passed away). 

Strangely, actually maybe not so strangely, the stories Larry and Josh have to tell did not surface until late adulthood. The same with the stories of corner boys like Frankie Riley, Johnny Callahan, Jimmy Jenkins and a fistful of others I have interrogated about the matter over the past few years. And me too. All of them, us have tales of estrangement and woes that never got resolved. Of course we know Markin’s, Scribe’s alienation and angst because we all think that contributed to his early and frankly weird demise but the rest of us worked under the working principle of the times, of the mostly Irish enclave of “not airing the family’s dirty linen in public.” That extended to talking out loud even to fellow corner boys about what was happening at home. Even Scribe seldom mentioned anything about anything except you could tell he was always brooding about something or was in a dither that you could tell automatically because he would suddenly say he had to go run off his anger (which made him a great high school trackman if nothing else).

I think we have enough material in the piece so that I don’t have to go on and on here about my own circumstances and maybe someday I will write a little something up but know this. I too was estranged from my family, never went to my father’s funeral, which was a mistake, or my mother’s which was not so line up. (Mothers by the way back then in that neighborhood and maybe elsewhere as well were the main adult harassers and despots fathers were too busy earning not enough money to come up for breathe except on some major thing and hence that father mistake which I regret to this day.) Allan Jackson]

Larry Larkin wondered, wondered that night as 2012 turned into New Year’s Day 2013 why he had been fixated on that title from the long ago American novelist Thomas Wolfe and his damn book, You Can’t Go Home Again. Wondered too why over the previous five years, the five years since he initially tried to “go home, again” he had not realized the truth of that simple expression, had caused himself more grief that wisdom choking over every misstep in the effort. All of this wondering, aided perhaps by a few sips of white wine that he was sharing with his companion, Laura Hoppe, as the new year came in had been triggered by remembrances of the past year’s final (he hoped final) beating about the head over the matter when he had tried to attend his 50th anniversary high school class reunion of the Class of 1962 at Olde Saco High in the early fall at the Laurent Hotel , a place that back in the day had meant nothing but trouble including the location of his first marriage wedding reception. He had in the end wound traipsing with Laura into Big Sur canyons clear across the country on the weekend of the scheduled event. After churning it over in his head Larry thought, before the wine flowed too freely to his brain that he had better go back to the beginning, better go back to look how each step taken on that “go home, again ” trail had been fraught with portents of eventual failure. And that ebbing New Year’s Eve he at least knew that that road was now mercifully closed to him.        

Sure Larry knew, knew way before 2007 when he caught the “go home” bug that he could not go back to the time of his youth in Olde Saco when even when things were tough, tough meaning the constant war between he and his mother, Delores (nee LeBlanc, descended from a long line of French-Canadian peasants he guessed they would be called, fellahin a friend of his, Josh Breslin also with French-Canadian blood in him on his mother’s side also LeBlanc although not related, trying to be smart called them, who came down from barren Quebec to look for work in the mills and never looked back), there were memories, maybe good memories, that sustained him in bad times.

So Larry did not believe that year he was going to go back to that “go home” but he did believe that he could at least settle on an “armed truce” with that past. A past which included a very long period of alienation and lost contact with his people back in Olde Saco, a period of no contact by his own finally frustrated choice. One day in the mid-1970s he just decided that he could no longer take the punishing contact with the family, that it was better all around to cut his losses  and so went his own way. But humankind is funny, or at least Larry thought it was funny that one day in 2007, one fateful day as it turned out, he had an intense hankering to settle with his past, find out what happened to his family, who was left and maybe try to reconnect. That one day was ordinary enough since what had triggered his hankering (his word) was the fact that he had had to return to Olde Saco to obtain a copy of his birth certificate in order to begin the retirement process from his job as a middle-level civil servant up in Augusta. So down to old town town hall Olde Saco he went. Of course since he had spent the time and energy to travel down there he knew that he would just had to stop off at Olde Saco Beach after he had completed his task.

As Larry once again began walking Olde Saco Beach from the Pine Point far end he thought this stretch of ocean front held many memories for a man who loved the sea, had declared at one time or another that his homeland was the sea, was the mother, snarly and holy vengeance one moment, tepidly ripple running to shore and gentle splashes the next, who never abandoned him, draw what conclusions you will from that. Mainly that cold early April day in 2007 he thought about how many times when he had had some “unresolvable” beef (unresolvable then although now, having gone through the same set of experiences with his own kids he chuckled over that word) he would walk the mile to the beach from his shack of a growing up house over on Atlantic Avenue and endlessly walk until he calmed himself down (later in high school where he was a track athlete he would run that distance but the brooding walking followed, followed as day to night). The beefs always over wants, wants of one or sort or another usually over him wanting something, clothes, date money, tickets to something, could have been anything, and she, Delores, pulling the hammer down with the definite “no.” His hard-working hard-pressed shadow figure father in the background backing her up, backing her up without question. Other times the beefs were of a more serious nature, trouble nature, trouble at school, trouble after school hanging around with his corner boys, mostly thieving Irish kids, trouble with the law, mostly small unarmed felonies, trouble, trouble as he squandered half his young life gnashing his teeth against grabbing those from hunger want. It had been a close thing, a very close thing, indeed that he had taken the judge’s, old Judge Matthews over in the Arundel District Court, choice of enlisting in the Army over time at Shawshank, seeing afterward what had happened to a few of his corner boys, Clipper Johnson, George Kelly and the late Jimmy Dubois, as they edged their own paths to the big house.         

No question, and here he was not giving into any false nostalgia, or at least he did not think that was but there had been some good times too, mostly early on, but still good times. Yeah, those trips to the beach with the family and the inevitable barbecues as his father gave his mother (and maybe himself) a break from cooking, her an indifferent cook at best harried by short father pay check money to feed five growing kids, he could still smell those smells now all charcoal and warmth. Those runs down to York Beach and the amusement park when he was fascinated by his first run-in with the corner boy pinball wizards who populated the arcades during the summer. Trips to Boston, trips to lots places in the area which made up, a little, for a nerve-wracking home life. Yeah, those early days held much promise before he came of age and the Delores wars started, started him out the door to hang around with the guys at Lebreque’s Drugstore (and later Jimmy Laurent’s bar where Jimmy did not ask questions about age but only the color of your money). So after walking the length of the beach for the umpteenth time in his life Larry got a small hankering. That hankering enlarged when he surreptiously drove pass the old growing up shack of a house on Atlantic Street and found that the house was no longer there but had been replaced by a high end three-unit condo complex. He did not bother to check to see if any unit belonged to Delores and Paul Larkin since no way could they have afforded such digs. Besides he was too afraid to go near the premises in that neighborhood in the unlikely case that some old neighbors might recognize him. Yeah, it was like that.               

Then one day a few week later, out of the blue, he began a Google search of the old town newspaper, The Olde Saco Tribune, to see if any of his people other than the one outlaw older brother he was still in contact (and that relationship too had stormy no contact periods), William were still around. William then in assisted living quarters in Wells after a long career of petty armed robberies in Massachusetts and New Hampshire which produced a long career in various state penal institutions nixed any involvement in the search having his own dank memories and beefs. Yeah, Larry developed a hankering to see who was still around (including the extended family many of whom on his mother’s side had lived in the Olde Saco area after the huge migration out of the Quebec farms to work the mills and on his father’s side too, working the mills that is, including him). There the beauty of the Internet, even the now outdated capacities of the 2007 Internet came to the rescue. That search brought forth information from the on-line Obituary section that an uncle, Lawrence Larkin who he was named after, had died in 2005 after serving many years on the Kennebunk police force. That was his uncle, no question. More importantly, among those in attendance at the funeral was one Delores Larkin, although no mention was made of his father, Paul. Delores was listed as being from South Portland and so on a whim he checked on-line to see if a land-line telephone was listed in her name. Bingo, there was one listed under her name. Larry thought this whole exercise had been way too easy, he had been prepared to go to a detective agency if necessary and here without two hours he had located his mother.                

Then the real crush began. Should or should he not made the call to confirm that identity. Larry literally held his breathe for a moment and dialed. An older woman’s voice (his mother would have been in her late 80s by then) answered and he made his identity known. As he found out later from a sister his mother had thought that he (and that brother in Wells) were dead and so she had been confused, not sure who she was talking to and told him to call back later when his sisters Maureen and Cecelia would be home. A couple of hours later even before he had a chance to call back his sister Maureen called him (another virtue of modern communications technology-caller identification) and in no uncertain terms asked him what the hell he wanted after all these years. The conversation, which lasted about an hour, or he thought it seemed that long, provided information about his father’s death in the 1980s and the deaths of other close and extended family members, including his other brother Prescott in 2003.

Beyond the family information Maureen expressed bitterness that Larry who had been able-bodied, had after all made something of himself up in Augusta (after he provided his own life information to her), and who had no good reason not to have been in contact should trouble (her word) their mother now. She and Cecelia had spent the time since their father’s death providing for their mother’s welfare, including the previous several years her living with Maureen and her husband. When Larry expressed an interest in seeing his mother Maureen cut him off at the knees. She, they, left the situation like this. She and Cecelia would explain the situation to their mother and if she wanted to see him then they would think about giving their consent. They would contact him if they did so. The old “don’t call us, we’ll call you” brush-off gave Larry a knot in the pit of his stomach, and a feeling, the first of what would be a long line of such similar feelings, that he would not be able to “go home” again.                

And so it came to pass. In late 2007 he received a phone call from a cousin, Peter LeBlanc (or rather his companion Laura received a phone call because he was then down in Boston at a conference), telling him that his mother had passed away, had passed away a couple of days before in a Portland nursing home and that the funeral would be the following Saturday at Saint Anne in Olde Saco. (Peter had also used the Internet to find Larry since he too had been on the outs with his family, and with Maureen who refused to give him Larry’s telephone number. Hail Internet, for some things anyway.) Here was the hard part for Larry to take, he knew when neither Maureen nor Cecelia called back that time he would not get to see his mother alive but Peter made it clear that Maureen and the rest of the family under no circumstances wanted Larry or William at the funeral services. So the curse would extend to the grave, beyond the grave. Larry took that knowledge hard for a while, although he and William did visit the fresh grave of his mother (and the well-worn graves of their father and other brother) at the family plot in Scarborough and thought no more about it, or better, did no more, knew then he could not go that way home again.      

Truth. Larry, smart enough to know that chapter was over, closed, still had this empty spot, or as he told Laura, this world-historic need (he really does say stuff like that) to dust off, to salvage some part of the long ago past, to make sense of the shut-out that he had just faced and what that meant to him. That is when he got to thinking about his old close corner boy from back in the days, going back to elementary school times on Atlantic Street, Kenny Bradley. Funny one night in early 2008 when filled to the brim with melancholia he thought about those times when his mother who had worked at Mister Jiffy’s Donut Shoppe in Biddeford for a few years filling jelly donuts to help make ends meet when his father was having trouble finding work after the mills started closing down and heading south, or wherever they headed to get cheaper labor used to give Kenny a bagful of day-old donuts to take home when he came over to the house. Even in high school when all hell was breaking loose in Larry’s life and it was that close thing about a life of crime that drove the main wedge between him and his parents Delores Larkin could do no wrong in Kenny’s eyes based on that childhood kindness.

He had thought to himself that night that he had been thinking about Kenny for a while, about what had happened to him, where he was if he was alive, ever since he had received an invitation to attend his 40th anniversary class reunion since graduation from Olde Saco High. He had hemmed and hawed about going to the event before backing off but that invitation had been the first time he thought seriously about getting in touch, although like a lot of things in Larry’s life he let it slide until the finality of his mother’s death brought lots of stuff to the surface. He would find himself softly singing a verse from old 1960s folk minute singer Tom Paxton’s song, I Can’t Help But Wonder, a song they both had loved back then, “I’ve got a buddy from back home but he started out to roam and I hear he’s out by Frisco Bay…and I’m going out to see him some old day, ” since Frisco had been the last place they had run into each other after Kenny had gotten out of the Navy and decided that he would start fresh in the West like lots of their kindred had.          

And here is where modern communications technology came in again after Larry had been unsuccessful in finding out Kenny’s whereabouts through a member of that 40th anniversary reunion committee who had wound up as the secretary to the headmaster of Olde Saco High and privy to any information that might be easily accessible about him. He tried a straight Google search finding eventually that Kenny’s parents had both died and since he was an only child that kind of cut short some other possibilities. Along with the search for Kenny Larry was also in something of a memory writing mood putting together some small sketches remembered from his youth about high school dances, the lovers’ lane at Squaw Rock down at the isolated end of Pine Point, hanging out with corner boys, strange dating girls hassles, football rallies, all pretty much directed back to old high school days.

Frustrated Larry Googled Olde Saco High School Class of 1962 to see if he could get anything from that end. Eventually he got to a generic all-America, maybe all-world, although he never checked that far, commercial website which for a small fee would “connect” you with your class. Larry paid the freight and for his efforts found his class listed, and more importantly a list, a fairly current list of all the members from his class who had joined the site. And bingo once again there was the name Kenneth Bradley. The way this site worked is that you or whoever you were trying to contact needed to pay that damn fee to be able receive private e-mails and so Larry did pay and sent the e-mail with a short message to Kenny and a way to contact him. A couple of days later Kenny telephoned him from Boston where he was running his own contract painting company and doing quite well. They cut up old touches for a couple of hours agreeing to meet in Boston a week or so later when Larry would be in Boston for another of his endless conferences. They met at Joe’s American CafĂ© in the Back Bay and while they both had grown stouter, and had lost some hair, unlike many of Larry’s old acquaintances they easily recognized each other on meeting. 

They had a good night with good food, good drink (they had been notorious drinking partners even in high school which got them both into more than one of those “trouble trouble” situations that dotted Larry’s youth. The highlight was that Kenny had brought his very own copy of the Olde Saco Magnet, their high school yearbook, and had many a nostalgic laugh over this and that. Of course Larry had been so alienated upon graduation, as well as having a few grand larceny charges hanging over him which would be resolved only by his taking the Army part of old Judge Matthews Army or jail options, that  graduation night drunk as skunk he had thrown his copy in the Scarborough River and good riddance.             

Larry and Kenny had been from elementary school days until that last time Larry had seen Kenny in Frisco as close as two guys could be without being brothers. The had laughed when Kenny made a comment at Joe’s that they probably were the only heterosexual guys in the class (maybe the school or town even) who people wondered about whether they were gay (or to use the term used then in sublime ignorance, “fags”). That Boston night had been the highlight of their reunion although they met several times after that over the next several months for dinner, to watch sports which Kenny was still addicted to, and a couple of times Kenny had joined Larry and Laura at concerts (one a Bruce Springsteen concert down in New Haven) but the old comradeship seemed to be lost, lost like that closeness vanished in the bay out there in California.

During this time Larry began grinding his teeth when Kenny would endlessly talk about his painting business, about the stock market that he dabbled in, graphic detail about his sexual conquests, more endless talk about sports and frankly stuff that Larry had either lost interest like sports or never cared to talk about and from his end would be reduced to bringing up some old time flame, caper or incident from high school days to fill the time. Larry sensed that maybe Kenny realized too that they had gone very far away on their separate ways, and after dinner one night in York Beach in early 2009 they had parted saying they would give each other a call soon to get together again. They never did and that “go home” episode passed into dust.            

Although Larry felt the Kenny connection drifting away he still was producing those small sketches about life, mostly high school life, in the old days in Olde Saco and placing them on the appropriate section of the class website. Several of them, especially about the local custom of searching for “submarines” from the backseats of ’57 Chevys at Olde Saco Beach at night (the reader can be presumed to be able to be figure that one out), the infamous grapevine that provided much needed intelligence about who or who was no “going steady” centered in Monday morning before school talkfest, and the night life at the Olde Saco Drive-In and Jimmy Jack’s Diner on Main Street grabbed a great deal of comment and reply. Some of them so he heard later from a woman classmate who had read them at the time would become the talk of his class.

All done good-naturedly, all done with trying to fill some empty hole in him, and maybe them. Then the hammer fell. Misty Gordon, Class vice-president, head cheerleader, chair of the senior dance and prom committees, assistant editor of the school newspaper The Ocean’s Edge threw down a gauntlet, made a comment, very pointedly after  forty years later like she had been holding it in for that whole period of time to the effect that who did Larry think he was, a guy who got into nothing but trouble as everybody in town knew and tittered over and never did anything to help his class now wanted to  proclaim himself the quote “ bard of the class.” Now Larry knew this Misty, you could hardly avoid her and her well-publicized exploits in a small high school, vaguely but had never spoken two words to her and said so in his very public reply. But he also said that “yes” he was trying to be not THE bard but one and wrote a funny (some thought it funny in the comment section) sketch about how he  was perfect for the job, had all the qualifications of former ne’er-do-well, drunk, loner and non-participant so that some decades later he was qualified, over-qualified for the job. 

This created a firestorm for a while, a couple of months with the social butterflies, sports guys, and do-gooders siding with Misty and the misfits, nerds, loners, and outcasts giving Larry the nod. But he grew tired of an essentially useless argument with people he had not seen for many years and once again he had gotten that sinking feeling that this venture too was no way home and gave it up. For a while.                 

Larry let up, gave up trying to “go back home” for a while until near the end of 2011 with the 50th anniversary reunion the next fall (according to information that he searched on the Internet when he found the reunion committee had set up a private class website for the event) when seemingly undaunted despite the previous track record of failure he got some curious “mystical” sense that he could turn the tide this time. He made contact with the members of the committee on the website and offered to/asked to be on the committee. This is how the last indignity unfolded as told to an old classmate friend of his, Josh Breslin, one night who will at least tell it straight:       

“This is the way Larry Larkin, my old friend and classmate from up Olde Saco way, told me his sad story over several meetings at one or another of our favorite watering holes a short while back where he felt he had to get something off his chest about his latest love interest gone sour, his, as he called it, last indignity about “going home” to the old home town, or rather making peace with his past. Through his activity on our high school 50th anniversary reunion committee we had communicated and met each other several times recently and he had carried me along with his enthusiasm about the event. Got me interested in the old days, and possibly going to the reunion. And he in turn confided in me about this love problem, wanted me to write something up about it as a form of therapy for him or something. I am no expert on the issue of love, or maybe better having been married three times and having had numerous affairs and flings I am as clueless as he about how to deal with the subject. In any case here are my recollections of what he had to say on that sad whiskey-filled night:    

The last time Larry Larkin saw Merissa Pinot he was looking back at the headlights of her automobile veering off as dusk approached to go north on Route 133 just south of Amesbury along the New Hampshire border in the early spring of 2012.  He did not know that that glimpse would be the last, the last physical time he saw her, although given the all-out fight they had had earlier that evening including an enraged outburst by him he suspected as much. But like many things in this wicked old world of romantic relationships that would not be the last of it, although that indeed was the last physical time he saw her. There were some final shots, some last metaphysical kiss-offs before the real end. And so as Larry had muttered to himself at some point during the last not so metaphysical dust-up whether 16 or 68 years of age the romance game never gets easier. And so this story, or end of story.    

Let’s take a step back to figure out about the whys of that last headlight glance before we find out what happened after the subsequent fall and the last dust-up. Larry told me he had been thinking about his 50th class reunion at Olde Saco High since he had received an invitation to go to his 40th reunion back in 2002. At that time Larry had dismissed the invitation with much hubris because then he still thought that the bad luck that had followed him for much of his life had been caused by his growing up on “the wrong side of the tracks” in the old town. He told me, a number of times, that he had spent half a lifetime blaming that bad luck hometown affiliation on everything from acne to wormwood. 

Subsequently through some family-related deaths that took him back to the old town Larry had reconciled himself with his roots and had exhibited the first stirrings of a feeling that he might like to see some of his old classmates despite his dismal failure to connect with our old classmate and his best friend Kenny Bradley. In late 2012, around Thanksgiving he, at least marginally savvy on such user-friendly sites, created a Facebook  event page in order to see if anybody else on the planet knew of plans or was interested in making plans for a 50th reunion. One day, a few days after setting up the page, he got an inquiry asking what he knew about any upcoming plans.  He answered in a short note his own limited knowledge at the time of any such plans but that his intention in setting up the page had been to seek others to help out with organizing an event if nothing had been established as yet. In that reply he had forgotten to give his name. And that is how the “girl with the pale blue eyes,” Merissa Pinot, came into view.  

“Who are you?” asked Merissa returning his message, a name that Larry immediately remembered from his high school days although he did not know the woman personally. He shot back a blushed reply about being sorry for forgetting to include his name, gave it, and casually remarked that he had remembered from somewhere that she was a professor at a college in the Boston area. He asked if she was still there. She sent an immediate reply stating that no she was no longer there but that she had been and was still a professor at the University of New Hampshire, and had been for the previous twenty-five years. She also mentioned that, having access to her Ocean’s Edge, her class of 1962 yearbook, she had looked up his class photo, and said he was “very handsome.”

Naturally any guy from six to sixty would have to seriously consider anybody, any female in Larry’s case, who threw that unanticipated, unsolicited comment a man’s way especially since she sent her class photo back as well. That got them started on what would be a blizzard of e-mails over the next several weeks.  

Frankly, after the first few exchanges Larry had been more than a little intrigued with Merissa, intrigued enough to think about further discovery.  And as it turned out Merissa had been as well. They discovered they both had much in common academically, professionally, politically and personally. I won’t go into the specifics of those “things in common” because in looking over my notes from Larry that would take more time than necessary to make the point.

A point necessary to make though since it contributed to the fall  was Larry’s “relationship” status which he introduced to Merissa after that  initial blizzard of e-mails and phone calls. Here’s the gist of his response:

“…You know as well as I do that we both carry a lot of baggage, busted marriages, affairs, and so forth. On the other hand we are both old enough to have whatever level of friendship we want from just friends to an affair because we both as far as I know have no ties that would prohibit that, neither of us is married now. And even if we did in this day in age we could still have whatever relationship we wanted. As long as we both have our eyes open and know the score. That “know the score” part is what I want to talk about. It is nothing bad but it is a complication. And even if we decide to be just friends it is part of what is unfolding.

Up until a few weeks ago for the past ten years or so since the end of my last serious relationship I was just rolling along writing, doing legal work, doing politics, playing golf and all the rest. Doing all of that while living in the same house as the woman that was my last serious romantic relationship, Laura, who is still my closest woman friend. I have known her for over twenty- five years and about twenty years ago we bought this modest house in Bath together. As time went on though we had, as couples will, our problems until about ten years ago we decided that it wasn’t working. But we both wanted to keep the house and be friends. I won’t go into all of that now but you can ask me about it. So that is what we did. And there is nothing wrong with that people make such arrangements all the time….”

“…Then out of the blue you came along. You know how we “met” and all so I don’t need to go into that but what happened is that I was not sure where we were heading (at one point if anywhere) and so I made a point of keeping that “relationship” information to myself. Remember I made a point about just concentrating on us and not on other baggage stuff. Part of it obviously is that if we were not going anywhere then such information didn’t matter and if we were then that would just be an awkward situation that we would deal with. That is what a lot of my concern about expectations, the way we have met and all of that, has been about. I have told Laura about you in general terms (the only way to put it since we still have not met) and since this whole thing has been topsy-turvy that is where things stand right now.

If all of this seems like too much then so be it-but as for me I still say forward- if you don’t that is okay and we can work on some other way to be friends. I think we both strongly want to be friends and should be damn it if that is what we want. Later Larry.”         

A couple more cell-phone calls and another round of e-mails got this pair to setting up the meeting in person, having a “date” like some hormonally-driven teen-agers. (Larry could not remember who suggested the idea first but neither flinched at that possibility all he remembered was that he would finally have a date with an Olde Saco  High woman something that had eluded all through high school.) They both admitted to nervousness as they planned to meet in Portsmouth up in New Hampshire at a restaurant that she had selected (he was to be at a legal conference in Portland and that locale was the closest convenient city for both of them). Needless to say they hit it off remarkably well.

And Larry, with two divorces under his belt and that also untold number of liaisons, was also in his less lucid moments thinking along some just such lines as an affair with Merissa (who had also been divorced twice as well), maybe more. Except. Oh yeah, except here is where it got tricky, where Larry’s calculations sort of misfired. Larry was, as he learned as they went along, ah, still “married,” had been emotionally “married” for many years to Laura in his head although he was only beginning to realize that, although as mentioned in his e-mail to Merissa for a number of years past they had been living as “roommates.” Roommate meaning separate beds, mostly separate lives, and most definitely no sex. That hard little fact, that “marriage” fact, a fact that I kept mentioning to him as he got deeper into the human sink of Merissa. Naturally he would not listen at that point. 

That left Larry in a quandary. He knew, just like Merissa knew, that he desired her, wanted to have sex, make love to her. But he also knew that once that happened that a bridge would be crossed, or so that was his thinking at the time. Still Merissa was there, still he wanted her so one Friday afternoon he called her up out of the blue and told her to meet him at a hotel in Portsmouth. And that was their high point, the acme of their thing. That was also the point where Larry,  back-tracking, began to squirm a little both at what he had done, that bridge that he had crossed and that home he had left behind for a minute. The omens thereafter were not good, although he never spoke other than in general terms of those nights to me and I only knew that they had had sex from the notes he handed to me.     

But Merissa  was a fretter and a planner, not necessarily in that order so at some point between that Friday and their resumption of e-mail traffic the next day she, possessed of some dream future with Larry,  tried to find out more about Laura, about that “roommate” arrangement and what was to become of her. See Merissa had certain rules as we all more or less do in that she took pride in her serial monogamous relationships. She was with a man, and a man was with her, or no dice. Once she finished with a man that was that. She told Larry that in a set of e-mail exchanges on the subject. He in a little panic over her hard and fast position kept trying to calm her doubts, kept trying to pass over his longtime relationship as some platonic boy-scout trip, kept trying to keep his head above water with Merissa. That night, that restless Saturday night, he tossed and turned trying to mull things over in his head and came up empty. Came up with the only conclusion that made sense-end the flirtation and walk away. He, and this is characteristic of Larry, “wrote” the thing out in his head first and then at the crack of dawn gathered himself from his bed and went to the computer to compose an e-mail which he sent later that morning. Larry never gave Merissa a chance to respond since a few hours later, maybe two, he called her up and begged her to forget what he had written and that they should keep on going as best they could but that he planned to do right by her.

So they went along for a while, sometimes happy, sometimes on edge with all that future talk business in the background. Probably though the end started to crumble the month before the end when a few days after coming back from a fateful Washington trip together Merissa took a big spill, a serious fall at a pool in Portsmouth where she swam to get exercise, that broke her hip bone requiring surgery and their budding romance came to a crashing halt as she convalesced and Larry took on the unaccustomed role of care-giver- general. Not so much that incident itself since it was an accident but what it did to enforce her idleness which left her too much time to think about how she wanted him with her, wanted him to leave Laura, wanted to make those 208 plans (roughly) that Merissa spent her waking hours doing in order to have him come closer to her.

Not a meeting between them in that period went by without some variation of the on-going argument. Although there were some nice times, (one time he drove her to their Olde Saco the sites of their   youth homes both of which had been torn down since the old days and they had many laughs, and some sorrows, over that). Even when he had driven up in order to allow her to teach a seminar at UNH and then drove her the next day over to the Portsmouth General to get her cleared to be able to drive she/he/they argued over that same old, same old material.

The few days before the end had not been much better (really a few weeks Larry thought since that damn accident put her out of commission placed a damper on their affair as he became a care-giver and she a patient). The inevitable Merissa war cry of when was Larry going to leave his “wife,” when he was going to leave Laura, and what, get this, constructive steps he had taken to break with her had led to a series of arguments starting with the day that she was finally given the okay by the doctor in charge of her case at Portsmouth General to drive.

Naturally the e-mail and cell-phone traffic (actually the diminished traffic, significantly down from the days when they would sent blizzards of e-mails to each other when he thought about it later) reflected those unresolved tensions. She needed to spent that first week of liberation catching up on work, house, social chores and could only spare that next Thursday evening for them to get together and since she was going to be in the Salem (NH) area they decided to meet in Amesbury for dinner. Before that though Larry made what would be a mistake, a fatal mistake, of putting into writing some of his feelings about where they were at in their relationship. Thus he sent her an e-mail which was the final piece of evidence that things had gone drastically wrong.

They had a short acrimonious cell-phone exchange after she received that e-mail but again agreed to meet in Amesbury the next day to figure things out. That next evening things started well enough, after Merissa had ordered wine with her dinner. The net result of their discussions was that they would go on as friends for a while and see where that led. Of course to go beyond the friend stage Merissa gave no uncertain terms to the proposition that she could not go on, was “ashamed” to go on under the circumstances unless Larry got a place of his own, left Laura.

Merissa ordered another wine, unusual for her, and that must have given her courage to speak again of the e-mail. She said it read like a lawyer’s closing argument, that she had been hurt and that he was basically a bum of the month. He became incensed, yelled at her and threw money on the table for dinner and walked to the men’s room to fume. When he came back he tried to tell her his point of view but he was tired of arguing by then and just said “let it go for now.” They left, she put her hand in his arm as usual and he muttered that “they were in very bad place” as he walked her to her car. He looked at her shoes, the shoes she reminded him that she had worn in sunnier days down in Washington and he commented “that seems like a long time ago” as they arrived at her car. Rather than the usual kiss good-bye he yelled out “I’ll be in touch,” as he walked back to his own car.     

Since Merissa  was not good at directions (and the Google maps were helter-skelter on this one) Larry had consented to have her follow him out of Amesbury on Route 27 which she did until they got to the U.S. 495 South entrance. A couple of exits up she veered off onto Route 133 for home. As he shifted gears from fourth to fifth to push on up to speed in the U.S. 495 night after he saw her automobile veer off to the northern route home he breathed a sigh of relief, and of sadness. They never saw each other again.”

And the final nail, hopefully the final nail, had been driven into the idea that Larry Larkin could “go home” again. 

*James Connolly-Commandant- Irish Citizens Army- A Critical Appreciation Of Easter, 1916

Click on title to link to "Workers Hammer" (International Communist League/Great Britain newspaper) critical appreciation of James Connolly, a hero of the Irish rebellion of Easter , 1916.

"James Connolly"

The man was all shot through that came to day into the Barrack Square

And a soldier I, I am not proud to say that we killed him there

They brought him from the prison hospital and to see him in that chair

I swear his smile would, would far more quickly call a man to prayer

Maybe, maybe I don't understand this thing that makes these rebels die

Yet all men love freedom and the spring clear in the sky

I wouldn't do this deed again for all that I hold by

As I gazed down my rifle at his breast but then, then a soldier I.

They say he was different, kindly too apart from all the rest.

A lover of the poor-his wounds ill dressed.

He faced us like a man who knew a greater pain

Than blows or bullets ere the world began: died he in vain

Ready, Present, and him just smiling, Christ I felt my rifle shake

His wounds all open and around his chair a pool of blood

And I swear his lips said, "fire" before my rifle shot that cursed lead

And I, I was picked to kill a man like that, James Connolly

A great crowd had gathered outside of Kilmainham

Their heads all uncovered, they knelt to the ground.

For inside that grim prison

Lay a great Irish soldier

His life for his country about to lay down.

He went to his death like a true son of Ireland

The firing party he bravely did face

Then the order rang out: Present arms and fire

James Connolly fell into a ready-made grave

The black flag was hoisted, the cruel deed was over

Gone was the man who loved Ireland so well

There was many a sad heart in Dublin that morning

When they murdered James Connolly-. the Irish rebel

"James Connolly"

Marchin' down O'Connell Street with the Starry Plough on high
There goes the Citizen Army with their fists raised in the sky
Leading them is a mighty man with a mad rage in his eye
"My name is James Connolly - I didn't come here to die

But to fight for the rights of the working man
And the small farmer too
Protect the proletariat from the bosses and their screws
So hold on to your rifles, boys, and don't give up your dream
Of a Republic for the workin' class, economic liberty"

Then Jem yelled out "Oh Citizens, this system is a curse
An English boss is a monster, an Irish one even worse
They'll never lock us out again and here's the reason why
My name is James Connolly, I didn't come here to die....."

And now we're in the GPO with the bullets whizzin' by
With Pearse and Sean McDermott biddin' each other goodbye
Up steps our citizen leader and roars out to the sky
"My name is James Connolly, I didn't come here to die...

Oh Lily, I don't want to die, we've got so much to live for
And I know we're all goin' out to get slaughtered, but I just can't take any more
Just the sight of one more child screamin' from hunger in a Dublin slum
Or his mother slavin' 14 hours a day for the scum
Who exploit her and take her youth and throw it on a factory floor
Oh Lily, I just can't take any more

They've locked us out, they've banned our unions, they even treat their animals better than us
No! It's far better to die like a man on your feet than to live forever like some slave on your knees, Lilly

But don't let them wrap any green flag around me
And for God's sake, don't let them bury me in some field full of harps and shamrocks
And whatever you do, don't let them make a martyr out of me
No! Rather raise the Starry Plough on high, sing a song of freedom
Here's to you, Lily, the rights of man and international revolution"

We fought them to a standstill while the flames lit up the sky
'Til a bullet pierced our leader and we gave up the fight
They shot him in Kilmainham jail but they'll never stop his cry
My name is James Connolly, I didn't come here to die...."

Thursday, April 22, 2021

On The 100th Anniversary Of American Entry In World War I (1917)-The Golden Age Of The Musical-Judy Garland And Gene Kelly’s “For Me And My Gal” (1942)-A Film Review

On The 100th Anniversary Of American Entry In World War I (1917)-The Golden Age Of The Musical-Judy Garland And Gene Kelly’s “For Me And My Gal” (1942)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Si Lannon

[Although a few regular readers has asked when this bracketed insert below the name of the writer will be curtailed we feel that given the dramatic internal shake up at American Left History with the ouster of the now gone missing Allan Jackson (who used the moniker Peter Paul Markin which Zack James explained in a recent film review of   Paris When It Sizzles see April 2018 archives) we should continue to do so as long as we are giving each writer full sway to discuss his or her take on the matter. So as mentioned previously as of December 1, 2017 under the new regime of Greg Green, formerly of the on-line American Film Gazette website (and through that on-line site linked to the American Folk Digest, Progressive American and Modern Book Library sites), brought in to shake things up a bit.

This shake-up, a major earthquake here given his longevity, after a vote of no confidence in the previous site administrator Peter Markin was taken among all the writers at the request of some of the younger writers abetted by one key older writer, Sam Lowell, means the habit, Markin’s habit of assigning writers to specific topics like film, books, political commentary, and culture is over. Also over is the designation of writers in this space, young or old, by job title like senior or associate which Markin instituted over the past few years as he brought in desperately needed younger blood as a “firewall” between him and anyone who might try to tip the increasingly bizarre balance of coverage to the narrow sphere of the turbulent 1960s. After a short-lived experiment designating everybody as “writer” suggested by a clot of older writers seemingly seeing the recent struggle as off-shoot, as an emulation of the French Revolution’s “citizen” or more to the point given the political personal histories of some of the clot member, the Bolshevik Revolution’s “comrade” all posts will be “signed” with given names only. The Editorial Board]

“For Me And My Gal,” starring Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, George Murphy,  1942

[A number of reviews, commentaries and opinion pieces of late at this American Left History blog site have been prefaced like I am doing with the writer’s take on the recent shake-up at this site with the sudden ouster of the now missing Allan Jackson (aka Peter Paul Markin) at the direction of the newly installed Editorial Board and new day to day site administrator Greg Green. I don’t wish to belabor the points already made by both older and younger writers except as an old-time high school friend I am sure that Allan, as has been his nature since about fourth grade, as far as I know is off on a sulk and neither in forced exile in Siberia or its equivalent Utah (although if it had been rumored that it was Alabama  I would get out my old history book on the internal struggle in the Bolshevik party between “Uncle Joe” Stalin and torch-carrier Leon Trotsky). He will be back as always. See Allan lived in the shadow of the real Markin, who passed away many years ago and which we have written extensively about in this space, and never really felt he was as good as Markin which led to many problems back then. And now too I suppose.          

But enough of that since what I want to write about since I am reviewing this Judy Garland-Gene Kelly dominated musical is that Allan hated musicals or I should say musicals that were not from the 1960s. If you wanted to do a retro-review on Hair, Tommy, Jesus Christ, Superstar be his guest. Otherwise say you wanted to review Chicago forget it. Look at the archives, almost nothing earlier or later. The only way to get such a review through was as a re-post from say American Film Gazette and he had to honor our common commitment on publishing. My feeling, my gut feeling, since we are being candid here is that he did not like musicals because, well, because the real Markin hated them which I will go into a little when I actually get to the review. The only serious exception Allan would make was for Fred Astaire vehicles because of the dancing not because of the music even though that was created by the likes of Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin all of whom he loved as part of the American songbook. (By the way the real Markin loved them too so maybe I am on to something).               

Allan did let up a little of late but really only for Gene Kelly vehicles to demonstrate how much better a dancer Fred was against Gene. And truth to tell because he confided this to me while the internal struggle was going on since I supported his retention he relented a little to throw a bone to the younger writers. Enough for now.]

When Allan, the real Markin ( I will just use Markin hereafter),  and I were just out of high school, maybe the summer after graduation we went down to Provincetown to see what was up with what we heard was a swarm of faggots, fairies, sissies, light on their feet guys, whatever, you know gays today. (Provincetown then and today as well Mecca for gays and lesbians mixing it up with the dwindling surplus of native Portuguese heritage fisherman.) Walking down the street we saw a poster-board or whatever they call them in front of Lazy Daisy’s which may still be their although the original owners must have long passed since they were old then announcing a talent night. Since it was getting dark we figured we would go inside and see what there was to see. Jesus, what we saw were “drag queens,” transvestites, cross-dressers, trans-genders although I know that was not a term of usage then. Whatever you called this scene and we settled on “drag queens” the talent in front was everything from Miss Patti Page, Miss Peggy Lee, and this is why I have started this review this way Miss Judy Garland. Christ half the acts were doing some song of hers starting from that old rubbish Somewhere Over The Rainbow from the Wizard Of Oz. Markin was in full grim after that one as much as I said he loved that part of the American songbook.  So Allan was in full grim too. I think, and the archives will bear me out, there is not one reference to Judy Garland in all the years this publication has been around. It might, at least I suspect that it might, have something to do with Markin’s own sexual ambivalence and thus Allan’s, but I will let the pyscho-scholars figure that one out.                
So it is actually for me a breath of fresh air to review a Judy Garland effort as here with For Me And My Gal although since it has a significant portion of the film extolling American entry into World War I with everything from war songs to war bonds to war-mongering which although I am not anywhere an American Firster like I was when I was a kid I retroactively have opposed as just another bum American government blunder. Since this year is the 100th anniversary of American entry into that war it has a sense of poignancy which explains a lot of the naivetĂ© about war that we one hundred years later have come to distrust with a vengeance.   

At bottom like half the film ever made, if not more, and many of the novels as well this is just another “boy meets girl” saga set to music and dance with the lead actors, Judy and Gene, bursting into song and/or dance every chance they get before realizing they were, ah, in love and chaise get ready to do something about the matter-get married.  Let me back up a little to give some background. This one is set in the days just before World War I when the main way to give the masses some entertainment out in the prairies, small towns and such were vaudeville shows. That’s is where “from hunger” Harry, Kelly’s role, is ready to do anything from stealing songs to ditching professional partners to get to the big white way, to get to Broadway and the real deal and Jo, dear sensibly warm-hearted Jo, played by Judy Garland meet and hate/love each other before the deal goes down.

The deal being that just before they are as a professional team  ready to hit the bright lights WWI gets in the way when Harry is drafted. Being a “main chance” guy he tries the old honored draft dodger special which guys have been doing since governments have been impressing soldiers for their needs-fakes and injury bad enough to get him out of the draft. That does not sit well with Jo whose younger brother had been killed in France early in the American intervention. She calls the whole thing off with this bum of the month and heads to Europe to entertain the troops with a YMCA troupe. Forget that bastard Harry and sing every possible WWI song that Tin Pan Alley could produce for the war effort from sentimental to super-patriotic. Remorseful Harry finally gets on that patriotic bandwagon and they meet again (don’t know where, don’t know when, oops that’s a Dame Vera Lynn WWII song) via the YMCA circuit. And love again.

Like I said boy meets girl out of uniform and in. Two points as hard as it to believe Judy out-dances Gene by a mile and you know now I see why all those “drag queens” were so crazy to do Judy Garland stuff. Sometimes you can learn like that something in this wicked old world.           

“The Hardest Working Man In Show Business”- “Mr. Dynamite”-The James, Please, Please, Please Brown Story (2014)-A Documentary Review Of Sorts

“The Hardest Working Man In Show Business”- “Mr. Dynamite”-The James, Please, Please, Please Brown Story (2014)-A Documentary Review Of Sorts

DVD Review

By Josh Breslin   

Mr. Dynamite: The Rise Of James Brown,  starring James Brown, the Famous Flames, and others, 2014   

No question I wanted to do this documentary evaluation of the life and times of the “godfather of soul” James Brown who came all surly and cocky out of Augusta, Ga around the middle third of the 20th century and had to fight off Sam Lowell, the former chief film editor here and now something of an emeritus although such designations are frowned upon under the new dispensation of one site manager Greg Green. The reason that I wanted to do this review though is probably not exactly what the reader would think-the place of a man, a black man in the history of rock and roll, of soulful rock, and his effect on young white guys who came up dirt poor in places like North Adamsville and Carver, Ma and Olde Saco up in Maine without the racial harassment part that James suffered growing up in the redneck, white supremacist Southern non-hospitality. Maybe say three or four years ago I might have centered on those points and only made some pointed but passing reference to his shameful treatment of women throughout his life.
But in the age of #MeToo that is hardly an adequate way to treat his life. The problem, a problem Sam Lowell first brought up a couple of years ago when he did an Alfred Hitchcock film review is exactly what one, no, what a male reviewer, or maybe any reviewer is supposed to do about some kind of balance between whatever cultural meaning any performer from acting to painting and everything in between has on society and the personal life factors where the power balance is askew. I cannot help but in the back of my mind in the case of James Brown be aware that his art, however much honored and historically relevant, is decisively marred by his personal hostilities and actions toward women.          

James Brown came up from the dirt down in Augusta, Ga from a family setting that was not good. He “escaped” via music first through the gospel traditions which a number of musicians from his generation and a little later were grounded in. Later moving “uptown” to rhythm and blue he latched onto various groups which would evolve into the Famous Flames and form the core of back-up bands under various names for most of his early career. The big breakthrough hit was Please, Please, Please in 1956 which had enough sexual energy and innuendo to become something like an anthem for the post-World War II baby boomer generation which was in many ways trying to break out of the many-sided box they had been raised in from sex to patriotism. After that it was more a question of refining his music to ride with the times for a while as long as rock and roll had some energy left. Subsequently he moved on to become, well, the Godfather of Soul, the precursor of funk that had its heyday before hip hop nation emerged in the 1980s, No question James Brown on a professional musical basis deserved all the awards and honors he received all the way up to induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

To show how the contradictions worked James Brown also created many songs headed by I’m Black and Proud which became something of an anthem itself although he disclaimed the publicly accepted militant sense of the song. He also went against the black stream politically hanging out with weirdo Republicans like Nixon and Reagan. He fired band members for using drugs yet he had his own drug jones, was practically a junkie. The list of number of allegations of domestic violence is staggering and in the end would do him in. His claim to fame that he chilled the crowd at a concert in Boston when Doctor Martin Luther King was assassinated seems rather an exception to his life although no question he did keep violence epidemic elsewhere down in that town. Maybe it is best to say today in 2018 that like a lot of other men whose cultural talents are unquestioned James Brown carries the sins of his times heavily on his back. That is the best I can do here since he will be among the exhibits of how primitive we were when societies evolve beyond sexism, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, racism, classism and all the other oppressions which hold back humankind.       

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-As The 50th Anniversary Year Of The High School Class Of 1968 Rolls Along… “Forever Young” (Magical Realism 101)-With Ritchie Valen’s Oh, Donna In Mind

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-As The 50th Anniversary Year Of The High School Class Of 1968 Rolls Along… “Forever Young” (Magical Realism 101)-With Ritchie Valen’s Oh, Donna In Mind

By Allan Jackson

A Story As Told To Frank Jackman 

[As I have mentioned previously a lot of the throwback to this series got its start via modern technology specifically around the now fabulous ability to “connect” with people from back in the day, at least the people who want to be connected with and have not left “no forwarding address” on their personal lives by keeping under the radar of modern conveniences and ways to grab information. (I won’t even speak here of NSA-type overreaching or social media platform privacy matters although I could. I know I was able to connect with a number of my corner boys still standing via such methods, and was able to connect with those from my high school graduation class when it came time for a too high a number class reunion celebration. That process similar to the story here told to Frank Jackman who as some may know was originally used in this series as a “front.” As the guy who did the modern introductions to the series.      
 A lot of this use of technology to connect with the past I think can be attributed to members of our generation of ’68 having time on our hands to think about the various roads that were, or could have been, taken. To wonder, wonder like we wondered when we were young and the world was fresh, Fitzgerald’s wonder at the fresh green breast of the new world of those ancient Dutch sailors who came up Long Island Sound before everything began to get spoiled and seek to find some answers while we are still standing and the question still has some urgency before we fall under the earth and face the big sleep which makes such inquiries irrelevant. I take special interest in this rather short sketch because, for one flickering moment, all those dreams, what did the teller call them, yes, puff-cloud dreams came back to the ground and made some sense. The wisdom of age might be overrated but not the dream of those puff-cloud dreams. Allan Jackson]        

Forever Young-lyrics by Bob Dylan
May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

Copyright © 1973 by Ram's Horn Music; renewed 2001 by Ram’s Horn Music

 Whee, Am I glad that my own 50th anniversary reunion at North Adamsville High in Massachusetts is over, done, complete and that the “magic” year 1964 has slipped into 1965 and I, no one, has to worry about an odd-ball 51st anniversary celebration. Of course in all the hoopla over the 50th anniversary reunion with some classmates setting up a reunion committee (which I assisted around the edges doing odds and ends chores), setting up a big bang class website to draw everybody still around and computer savvy enough to find the Internet, finding a super place to have the event, and setting up the thing on the fall weekend when it occurred I actually, didn’t, couldn’t go to the event. That is a long story, a story about old time teen angst and alienation, about trying to retrace what could not be retraced in a hundred lifetimes, and about how in words taken from a title of one of Thomas Wolfe’s novels-you can’t go home again.

Nevertheless before I could understand the import of those last words, understand that it was better not tempt the fates an angle that developed in the process of helping the reunion committee I wrote a number of small memory-etched sketches for the class website reflecting specific events like high school dances and football rallies, reflecting on various local customs and places like “watching the submarine races” and corner boy hanging out times, that kind of stuff some specific to the town and class, others more broad-based. The following sketch is a reworking of one from the latter category which is “forever” appropriate as long as somebody, some cohort of people make it to 50th anniversary reunion time. I hope that if you want to go to your 50th nothing stands in the way of you doing that, that no dragons from the mist of time come up to bite you for thinking you could do so.            
…an old man bundled up against the December weathers, dark blue navy skull cap pulled down almost to his eyes , brown cotton gloves because his hands sweat which they conveniently absorb when he has built up a head of steam, black  windbreaker complete with fold-away hood in case of rains or snows zippered up to his neck, long, too long for his body blue all-weather jogging pants, topped off, or better bottomed off with the signature of the AARP set New Balance running shoes which he purchases by the half dozen pairs up in the Kittery, Maine outlet malls begins to run, no, better, jog/shuffle along the Causeway end of Adamsville Beach. For those who have not been in the old town for a while that is by the lights across from the 24hour CVS, formerly the First National supermarket back in the day, the old town being North Adamsville not too far outside of Boston if you want to know. But the old man could have been anywhere where old men try to cheat time, or at least slowdown that race to the end by keeping themselves as fit as circumstances and the ten thousand aches of age allow, could have been trundling along congested city streets consumed by traffic smoke and every other treachery, along soothing rivers flowing to the sea like some later day easy rider looking for the next town, out west in the mountains like some pioneer spirit read in history book, along the plains easier to navigate although in the old hitchhike west days if you were left off there by some kindly driver just going up the road but the old man was ocean born and declared to anyone who would listen one time that he would ocean pass away. And spent the in between time within a stone’s throw.

The old man trying to build up a painfully constructed stride, huffing and puffing, head down and this day full of thoughts triggered by his up-coming 50th anniversary class reunion to held in the fall in this very town. Thinking just then of the irony of running along a section of his old high school cross-country course that he had not run since back then and thinking too as he moved along the boardwalk running parallel to that beach of those mist of times Adamsville Beach days when he longingly looked out at the sea, its mucks, its marshes, hell, even it fetid smells and mephitic stinks, as if it could solve some riddle of existence. Thinking too as he trudged along of times when he was young and flexible, when each step did not require an army of support, salves, pills, knee braces, to move forward, to a time when he could “run in pain,” could fall and jump up, dust off his knees  and shake it off and if not fast then able to run the distance in about half the time it would take him on this day (his fast running friend back then, a friend from back in the old projects elementary school days and best friend through high school now lost in the mist of time if he were still alive, Brad Badger, said he had "the slows," well okay Brad had a point).

As he settled into a pace (he always liked to run early, unlike this day when he on other business which necessitated him passing near the old town when he did not start off until almost noon, when there was little traffic, or run on beach sand, or run on soft felt tracks so that he could hear the pitter-patter of his shoes, could hear the sound of his breathe as it steadied) he began thinking about hanging out around places around town, places like Harry’s Variety over on Sagamore that he had passed by on the way to the beach trying to cadge pin-ball games from the rough and tumble corner boys half hero-worship, half fear and a close thing thinking about putting his well-shod boot on the wall holding up the corner bricks with them; hanging out at Salducci’s Pizza Parlor begging girls to play some latest song that he just had to hear on the jukebox like Oh, Donna the name of his current love, or he wanted to be love, and he needed the repetition so he could learn all the words and sing them to her; and, hanging out on sweaty summer nights on the front steps of North, no money in pocket, no car between them, no girl to sit on those forlorn steps with that same Brad Badger, also penniless, speaking of dreams, small dreams of escape and big puffed-ball cloud dreams of success.

Remembering, an old man’s harmless flash remembering, of standing in corridors between classes day-dreaming of, well, you know, certain now nameless girls and of giving furtive glances to a few which they totally ignored (that furtive glance an accepted acknowledgement of interest as against the dweeb flat-out stare that got nothing but girlish scorn). But that was another story. And remembrances too of sitting in classes, maybe some dank seventh period study hall, wondering about what would happen Friday night when he and his corner boys from Jack Slack’s bowling alleys cruised Adamsville Beach in Digger Jones’ rebuilt Chevy. HoJo’s, the big orange roof operation ice cream place a must stop on hot summer nights, make his cherry vanilla, the Southern Artery  well past the other end of the beach, Marley’s, Pisa’s Tower of Pizza, Adventure Car-Hop, some not the real names but memory fails) , and in a pinch going “up the Downs” to Doc’s Drugstore, looking, looking for adventure, looking for some magic formula to wipe away the teen angst and alienation blues that crept up on him more than was good for him... old woman (Jesus, better not say that in this day in age, maybe never not if you want to avoid that still potent girlish scorn preserved intact since about fifth grade in elementary school, yes, better make that a mature woman) also bundled up, thick woolen scarf providing protection for her head, another scarf almost as thick wrapped around her neck, ear muff against that nagging sound in her ears when the wind was up like that day, a full-length goose down coat against fashion but warm, showing underneath the telltale all-weather running pants with their comfortable strings again against fashion, big almost catcher’s mitt mittens, topped off, or better bottomed off with the signature of the AARP set New Balance running shoes which she had recently  purchased at City Sports against the December weathers, begins to walk, haltingly, but with head up (proper posture just like her mother taught her long ago along with that proper girlish scorn preserved intact taught in that same fifth grade), along Adamsville Beach from the Adams Shore end (having parked her Toyota around what is now Creely Park named after some fallen Marine, although she remembered the place as Treasure Island when her family took their obligatory weekly summer Friday night ventures there for barbecues  so Mother did not have to cook in the nasty heat) thinking thoughts triggered by her up-coming 50th class reunion as well.

Thinking thoughts about old flames, about all those young men who had practically tripped over each other to give her that telltale furtive glance in the corridors that spoke of interest (and too of the fools like Frank Jackman who stared, stared if you could believe that, at her in the hallways like they had just gotten off the boat, or something and she laser-eyed her well know look of scorn to freeze them up). Laughed, or rather tittered about how she had half the boys in the class convinced that she was “unapproachable” once she put the freeze on the heroic captain of the football team and all the girls could not believe he came begging for more. Thought about what had happened to them and as she walked toward the old Clam Shack she began to get creeping in thoughts about that first kiss sitting in the back seat of her girlfriend's boyfriend's car with him right across from that establishment, some old flame now un-nameable, at this very beach and about, she blushed as she thought of it, that first French kiss and how she had felt awkward about it. (Felt awkward about lots of things sexual since while her mother had been an excellent teacher of the fine art of freeze-outs and girlish scorn she never said word one about sex, about the feelings, about what to do, or not do about it, and had learned about sex like every other girl she knew from the experienced girls in the girls’ locker or really from some boy fumbling with her until they figured stuff out.   

Later in her walk thoughts flashed by, funny thoughts, emerged about all the lies she told about those same steamy nights just to keep up with the other girls at talkfest time -the mandatory Monday morning before school girls '"lav" talkfest, boys had theirs' too she found out from a later flame after high school. Laughing now but then not knowing until much later that the other girls too were lying just to keep up with her. And of all the committees she had been on; the senior dance committee which planned the prom, The North Star the school newspaper that she wrote for and which had made her blush when she had recently gone up into the attic looking for her old articles in anticipation of the reunion, Magnet, the class yearbook also found in that same attic, whatever would keep her busy and make her a social butterfly.
Then a mishmash of thoughts flooded her mind as she passed Kent Park near the now vanished Jack Slack’s bowling alleys of the girls’ bowling team and wondering, now wondering, why they kept the boys’ team separate; of reading in that cranky old Thomas Crane Public Library up the Square where she first learned to love books and saw them as a way to make a success of herself and had done so; and, of hot sweltering summer afternoons with the girls down at the beach trying to look, what did Harry call it, “beautiful” for the guys.

Somewhere between the Adamsville Yacht Club and the North Adamsville Boat Club the old man and the mature woman crossed paths on that wide boardwalk. He, she, they gave a quick nod of generational solidarity to each other and both thought despite their bundled up conditions they knew the other from some place but couldn’t quite place where. After they passed each other the old man’s pace quickened for a moment as he heard some phantom starter’s gun sounding the last lap and the mature woman’s walk became less halting as she thought once again about that first kiss (whether it was the French kiss that stirred her we will leave to the reader’s imagination) as each reflected back to a time when the world was fresh and all those puffed-cloud dreams of youth lay ahead of them.