The scorched sky is stretched out before me. It seems endless by nature—like it didn’t have a choice. Like a scar, or a birthmark. It is what it is. I can hear the gulls squawking in every direction. Bellowing out a life of their own among the clouds, stone, and wood. The Fitz Hugh Lane House is as quiet as ever. Free-standing in stoicism, against the dancing purple and red light given by the perishing sun. Below where I sit; some old docks, a coast guard station, green grass, and earth. I could easily sit on another bench, on the opposite side of the property and look at the city, but there’s something grotesque about all that concrete and commerce, especially when you could see what I’m looking at now.
In my backpack, lying beside me, are the things that I need; a CD walkman, a handful of CD’s, a six pack of beer, and a few books. I’m here at the Fitz because this is where my group of friends often gather at the end of a raging night. But tonight I’m flying solo. Taking some time to be alone and think a bit. It doesn’t hurt that I love the view. The fluttering fragrance of earth and salt complimenting the cadence of the gulls. Here, I am free to think about whatever it is that comes to mind. I’m also free to not think. The scenery can do that for you, if you let it.
I’m seventeen years old. I just moved into my first apartment, on Addison Street, just off Washington Street. I suppose I have the ability to go home and enjoy a book and this six pack without consequence, but damn it, I like it here. My job at the Cape Ann Food Co-op, where I assist in the produce department, affords me the privilege of having evenings to myself. I wake up early, take the produce out of the walk in, and arrange it in the most aesthetically pleasing way that my seventeen year old mind will allow. Truth be told, I’m not really the artist type. I’m just thankful to have work. The produce manager, Maggie, lets me run wild with the display, as long as we keep NPR or Frank Zappa on the radio. We always have a steady stream of conversation in which the radio just provides a soundtrack. Maggie has short, white hair. We make for an unlikely friendship. Me with my punk rock hair, lefty politics, and rootless nature. Her with her LL Bean attire, soft liberal views, and obsession with Frank Zappa. Maggie and I have spent many a morning chattering on as if in contempt of silence. And as much as I can’t stand Frank Zappa, I really like Maggie.
The Co-op isn’t my first job, but it’s the only job that I have had that I actually like. I’m also vegetarian, which means that I work at the only spot in Gloucester where you can get good food if you have any type of diet preference that goes beyond meat and fish. Believe it or not, I don’t eat fish. I actually prefer tofu and tempeh. The few times that I’ve tried eating fish have left me feeling ill. Here I am, born in the very heart of where the best seafood on earth can be found, and I don’t partake. I’ve been in extensive conversations/arguments exhausting this subject. But at the end of the day, I am what I am—a contradiction of sorts.
My mother was disappointed that I wanted to move out on my own at such a young age. It was the same disappointment that she felt when I quit baseball to play in bands, or when I quit high school to be anywhere but there. I certainly can’t blame her. She’s the most caring person I’ve ever met. But I’m the restless sort. It’s in my blood. It is, after all, why I’m sitting at the Fitz—slow sipping beers by myself and writing this to a potential future version of myself. It’s a funny place to choose to drink beer when you’re under age. If you jump back to that opposite view that I had previously mentioned, you’re literally looking at the police station. I never much cared for police, it’s true. But I would have no qualms with getting arrested for this view. After all, it would seem as if I’m the only one with scenic aspirations tonight.
The first time we stumbled upon the Fitz Hugh Lane House, we were literally stumbling. We wanted to sleep outside under the stars. My group of friends are a baffling bunch. We like to play loud punk rock music, drink in the woods, look at the stars, read books, raise a moderate amount of hell, and of course—play more loud punk rock music. No harm no foul. We’re the conscious sort. Sure, we’ll bring our beer to a beautiful hangout spot, but we take those cans and bottles home. Never sullying the pulchritude of our surroundings. I like that about us.
Could you imagine taking a midnight stroll only to happen upon a bunch of teenagers with patches and spikes on their clothing, half drunk, lying on their backs to get a proper view of the stars? I’m literally laughing out loud at the premise. I hope when I’m older I get an experience exactly like that. It would certainly make me think of a past life. One in which I felt like a part of a large, very dysfunctional family. Fingers crossed for old Jeff to get a glimpse of his past, long after his soul has been devoured by the ravenous, un-quenched thirst of the world around it. Deep thoughts.
That brings me to what I’m pondering tonight, sitting alone at The Fitz Hugh Lane House: Where will I be when I’m thirty-five years old? Will I be at all? My friend, Melissa, died in a car accident a few months ago. She was the first friend that I have ever known that died. It kind of shattered the whole immortality angle that we’ve all been working for too long. Deep down we all knew that we were very mortal, but it takes someone you know to actually die before it really sets in. She was beautiful and full of life one day, and then, just like that—she was gone. It was like she vanished. It got me thinking about how far our bodies will take us? I’m seventeen and I’m having a hard time imagining being twenty-one, let alone thirty-five. And from what I’ve seen, getting old is no stroll on the boulevard. People lose their youth and it lingers around them like… well, like death.
So I’ve been compiling a list of things that I’d like to remind myself of. You know, my old self. Just in case a few things get lost or misplaced along the way. Old Jeff probably has grey hair and kids, or better yet, one of those jobs that makes you sit in a cubicle all day. I wonder just how boring old Jeff is. Does old Jeff believe in god? Does old Jeff still despise authority with the fury of a thousand burning suns? Does the old bastard have a wife? Does he think the glass is half full? All of these are too scary to contemplate.
I should be getting back to Addison Street. I have work in the morning and I know that my roommate is going to want to stay up, drink more beer, and talk about his most current failed attempt at a relationship with the opposite sex. Or maybe the apartment is packed with friends. We do call our apartment, “The den of iniquity”. Either way, It’s getting late and I’ve got a list to write.
Dear Old Jeff,
By now, assuming you’re still around, you’ve probably figured out that you can’t spend all your nights at the Fitz drinking beer and reading books. Pretty unfortunate, huh? I wanted to write to you because I’m worried that there are some things that you may lose along the way. Yes, even at seventeen you were worried. The following is a list of reminders that I hope will serve as a map of sorts. Something to help you find what you may have lost.
1.) You love the view from the Fitz, not only because it’s pleasant to look at, but because it represents the gentle side of the city you love. The calm water slapping against the rocks. The late nights spent making the memories of your youth. The way the sun woke you up with its gentle warmth in the mornings that followed the nights you decided to sleep there. If you haven’t been there in a while, you should go back.
2.) Remember that time you were arrested? Well, I’m not sure what the world has done to you, but you were in the right. Really buddy, you were.
3.) You once had a fire inside of you. One that no one could put out. It burned with anger, fear, excitement, empathy, kindness, and friendship (If that fire has since gone out… you should be able to find most of those ingredients locally, I would think).
4.) Remember when you almost fell off the big rock at Stage Fort Park? It was Chipper that saved you from the fall. It would have meant certain death. If you’ve lost touch with Chip, you should find him.
5.) When you were seventeen, you always carried a backpack full of things that you thought you would need. This is that backpack.
6.) If you ever get a chance to play music for a lot of people, be thankful. While working at the Co-Op I learned about a thing called shelf life. I’m pretty sure that even though this system was devised for food, it applies to everything.
7.) You really loved punk rock music. It was way more than the raw angst of the sound. When you felt like you had nowhere to go—it gave you shelter. So please, for the love of whatever bullshit you might have been led to believe, do not abandon it.
8.) Melissa was the first friend of yours that died. It hurt. I hope you haven’t lost any more friends. But if you have, don’t forget about her. It changed things.
9.) Remember that family is not about blood. It’s about belonging.
10.) If for some reason you’re still living in Gloucester, Leave! There is a whole world out there. Plus, I have a funny feeling that you won’t forget this place—no matter where you wind up. If you happen to be estranged from the beauty of Gloucester, remember that you once sat on a bench at the Fitz Hugh Lane House, where you found the view to be so comforting, that you found clarity.
Jeff Rowe lives on Winter Hill, in Somerville. He grew up in Gloucester and has since traveled the world playing music and collecting memories. He is a brewer by trade and is now in the process of writing a memoir.