Fifty years of ACTION

Fifty Years of Community Action in Gloucester: 1965-2015

Peter Anastas

Action celebrates (2)

On Thursday, May 28, 2015, Gloucester’s antipoverty agency, Action, Inc., celebrated its 50th anniversary with a reception and concert at The Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport.  The following remembrance of my three decades of involvement in Community Action for Cape Ann is dedicated to the caring professionalism of those with whom I worked and to the extraordinary people we served, all of whom enriched my life immeasurably.

Peter at Action

Peter Anastas, 1992, at his desk in Action’s original offices at 24 Elm Street, formerly the Red Cross, and before that, the Rogers School, where his mother attended first and second grades.

 

“Social work, especially as we practiced it at Action, can be seen as opposition to arbitrary power.”

When I was growing up in Gloucester during the Second World War, I experienced how some of my schoolmates lived in sprawling, rickety tenements, crowded in with parents and grandparents, as the war raged and most of the men were overseas.  But it wasn’t until I went to work at Action, in 1972, that I began to understand the true extent of poverty on Cape Ann.  It was then that I was forced to confront the potential consequences of this condition in terms of family violence, substance abuse, alcoholism and crime. That was the real poverty, I came to understand, not simply the fact that people didn’t have money or jobs or decent places to live.

At first the agency didn’t want to give me the job I’d applied for as “home visitor” in a new research and demonstration program called “Home Start.” The purpose of the program was to explore a home-based option for the popular and extremely effective Head Start preschool programs, which soon became the signature of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. The Home Start concept considered mothers to be the primary educators of their children. What the agency hoped to create for the group of mothers who entered the program (there would eventually be a total of 300 families enrolled) with their one- to five-year old children was a base of support that centered on the home visitor, a teacher and resource person, who would visit the family on a regular basis, providing the mother with educational materials, personal and moral support, and parenting skills enhancement. The program would also provide mental health counseling and family therapy for those who needed it, comprehensive health care, nutritional information, further education for mothers who wanted to re-enter the workforce (many were on public assistance), and a steady, helpful, friendly presence in the person of the home visitor for normally young single mothers, who had become isolated as a result of poverty, abuse and abandonment. Most of our client families lived in public housing, which, if more affordable to them, presented its own problems, not the least of which was isolation, as poverty became increasingly ghettoized in the nation.

In reviewing my application for the position of home visitor, the board of directors found me suitable for the agency; but some members had reservations about hiring a newly single man, who would be entering the homes of what they considered to be vulnerable young women. Wouldn’t it be better, they suggested, for me to be given the job of family services coordinator, along with an office of my own, where the mothers could come to me if they wished? On the surface it seemed a good compromise, though I had no experience in social work or counseling and the position paid less than that of a home visitor.

As it turned out, the job was a good fit. I loved the program and its new staff which, like me, had been recruited entirely from the community, based largely on our knowledge of Gloucester and our experiences living in the city. For several months we were trained together in the principles of child development and early childhood education by professionals from the Harvard School of Education and other institutions that offered cutting edge approaches to working with parents and children. I was also given training in basic counseling and social work skills. Later, as I took on more responsibilities in the agency, Action paid for social work courses and professional enhancement seminars at the Boston University School of Social work and at several area hospitals that offered intensive training in mental health issues.

As much as I provided referrals and direct services for the families in our program, including visits to the pediatrician for families who had no means of transportation, I also began to advocate for them if they faced eviction, residential health code problems, or issues with public housing. I learned how to deal with the welfare and Social Security systems, with health insurance providers, skills I had never previously developed but that were indispensable in helping us to educate our clients , about the services and benefits they were entitled to by law and by virtue of their poverty.

There were those in Gloucester who felt threatened by Action or who disliked the agency’s presence in the community.  Some city councilors ludicrously insisted that there had been no poverty in Gloucester until the federal government declared its presence here under the guise of Community Action.

Although we received a significant portion of our funding from the federal Office of Economic Opportunity, which was established in 1964 to administer the nation’s antipoverty programs, we were a private, non-profit educational and charitable organization, with its own board of directors, consisting equally of members from the public sector, the private sector, and clients of the agency. This tripartite structure was unique to the War on Poverty, allowing maximum feasible participation of the poor in the agency’s program planning and the implementation of its policies. Local agencies were not only allowed but encouraged to set their own agendas, so long as they came under the broad mission of Community Action, which was to advocate on behalf of the poor, while addressing the root causes of poverty in each community.  (Enzo Giambanco, father of Gloucester mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, was president of Action’s board of directors during my early years in the agency, and our mayor has long been one of the agency’s staunchest supporters.)

It was a noble mission, one that has scarcely wavered in the half century of Action’s life and the life of Community Action in the nation at large, even in the face of obdurate legislators and the onslaught of an anti-government ideology under Ronald Reagan and his heirs in the Tea Party.  And while it may have seemed ironic that an antiwar activist like me, who had railed against the federal government for taking our country into an illegal and unnecessary war in Vietnam, was working in an agency much of whose funding came from that same government, those of us who became soldiers in the war to liberate the poor (another irony) felt that our mission was part of what government should be doing, in its role as intervener of last resort.

I went to work each day feeling good about my job and about myself.  I believed in what I was doing. I could see daily the results of working with mothers and their children, to empower the mother and help the child with learning and socialization skills. There were mothers who entered the Home Start program as high school drop-outs on welfare. Today they are teachers with master’s degrees or practicing law. Some started their own businesses. Others became social workers themselves or directors of early childhood education programs. And in almost every case, their kids finished school and went on to college. Some who were three years old when we started the program in 1972 are married today and raising their own families. None of them live in poverty.

Statistics exist to prove the value of Head Start and the Home Start option, which is still offered by many Head Start programs. It’s an option that I still feel good about having helped to create, along with fifteen other R&D programs nationwide (for several years, ABT Associates in Cambridge conducted an in-depth evaluation of Home Start, which showed the program to have been both highly beneficial educationally as well as extremely cost-effective). Our philosophy was to offer our families the broadest range of options so that they could choose freely among those which they most needed to free themselves from the privations of the welfare system. Instead of perpetuating poverty, our mission was to end it. Though we were ultimately unable to eliminate poverty, and there is a higher percentage of impoverishment in the United States today than when Lyndon Johnson declared war on it, and less money or will to impact it, those of us who spent our lives in Community Action continue to believe that the successes of the program have outweighed its failures.

Peter Anastas, Action, Inc.  12-23-76.  photo by Charles A. Lowe, Gloucester Daily Times.

Peter Anastas, running Action’s Christmas drive, December 23, 1976. Photo by Charles A. Lowe, Gloucester Daily Times.

2.

From 1966 until 2002, the agency’s central offices were located in a former elementary school building on 24 Elm Street, in the heart of Gloucester’s downtown. Built in 1820, the yellow clapboarded building with Italianate windows had housed the Red Cross after it was closed as the Rogers School.  For years all the agency’s program managers and staff, including the receptionists, secretaries, bookkeepers and community organizers, were crowded into tiny offices on both floors of the old schoolhouse, separated sometimes only by room dividers that were hung from the ceiling by wire. Before the advent of the Xerox machine we used fluid duplicators; and before the agency could afford electric typewriters or computers, before even the advent of the PC, we wrote our reports and composed our correspondence on antique manual typewriters. The furniture consisted of dark green military surplus desks, file cabinets and metal desk chairs of nondescript design. We liked to joke that it had come to us directly from the Philippines, though in actuality we often requisitioned what we needed from the Portsmouth Naval Base. The city of Gloucester had given us the building for one dollar a year in rent, though its upkeep was the agency’s responsibility.

A Neighborhood Youth Corps program provided after school tutoring and part-time work for teens. Jobs 70, a precursor of the CETA employment and training programs, helped out-of-work parents. Head Start was run out of the agency with classrooms in several local church basements, while Home Start was housed in the former Gloucester Daily Times building on Center Street, where we had offices on the first floor and a day care center with state-of-the art educational materials on the top floor. The agency provided legal assistance to low-income families and home care for elders. There was family day care for working parents with children and an after-school program for school-age kids. Soon after I came to work, in 1972, a volunteer program for retired elders called RSVP would begin, along with programs providing fuel assistance and weatherization to eligible individuals and families. For several years, after the demise of the Gloucester Auto Bus Company, the agency also ran the city’s public transportation system, calling into service a fleet of military buses that we painted blue.

But at the heart of the agency were the community development, community organization and advocacy programs. L. Denton Crews was executive director when I first came to work. An ordained minister with years of experience in the civil rights movement, Denton was a bright, articulate manager, who guided Action from its inception, primarily as the grantee for Head Start, to its expansion into a multi-purpose agency addressing a range of community needs. When Denton left to become an aide to Rep. Michael Harrington, community organizer Bill Rochford took over as executive director. Bill had a degree in social work from Boston College, and under his direction Action moved in two significant directions, community development and advocacy. Community Development director Dr. Carmine Gorga made a study of the fishing industry with a view to enhancing its sustainability as the city’s primary industry. He and the community organizers helped to create the United Fishermen’s Wives, a group of women who became fierce advocates for the industry. Carmine also started the first worker-owned business in Gloucester, a small company that made finger foods and other hors d’oeuvres from fresh fish that were flash frozen and distributed nation-wide.  It was at this time that the agency also took over from the city the former Gloucester High School and Central Grammar building on Dale Avenue to develop, under the direction of architect Kirk Noyes, the community’s first private elderly housing complex. Many natives soon found themselves living in rooms in which they’d gone to school.

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What was equally important for me and for our mission was what went on behind the doors in that little yellow schoolhouse on Elm Street.  The staff met often to critique our programs and to speak about the grants we wanted to apply for. We discussed questions of poverty and how we hoped to address them. All of our program activities were driven by a rigorous planning process, the main document for which was an annual work plan, which laid out exactly what we hoped to achieve with each initiative, how we meant to reach our goals, and how much money and staff participation were required to fulfill our objectives.

After three and a half years in the Home Start program, Bill Rochford asked me to join the advocacy and housing program, which I would later come to direct.  Settling into my new assignment, I began to participate in the daily excitement of an agency that had survived an attempt by the Nixon administration to destroy Community Action. Conservative Republicans, adamantly opposed to the War on Poverty, managed in 1973 to force the closing of the Office of Economic Opportunity. However, after friends of Community Action in both parties lobbied strenuously for its continuation, the opponents succeeded only in transferring the Community Action programs to a newly created Community Services Administration, thus preserving pretty much intact the nation’s flagship antipoverty programs like Head Start, along with agencies like Action that administered them.

Just when we most needed an attorney to help clients file answers to eviction complaints or to appeal welfare terminations, Marshall Williams arrived.  Newly retired to Rockport and anxious to serve, Marshall was in his early sixties, a native of Maryland and a Princeton graduate with a law degree from the University of Virginia. He’d served in the military for more than thirty years, first as a fighter pilot and later as a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps.  Marshall prepared his cases so meticulously and argued them so relentlessly that he became the bane of existence of the administrative law judges in Boston, who heard disability appeals, the welfare claims adjudicators, or the magistrates, who sat on eviction cases. More than once he was commended from the bench for his preparation. He won thousands of dollars in retroactive benefits for elderly clients, who’d had their Social Security Disability applications denied or their payments terminated, or for mothers on welfare, who had wrongfully lost their benefits. Always fair and never judgmental, Marshall took on seemingly intractable cases for disabled veterans, who often addressed him as “Sir,” some even saluting when they appeared at his office door, though Marshall, who had held the rank of Colonel, was the most deferential of people and had long laid aside his military career. He represented women, who had been beaten mercilessly by drug-dealing boyfriends, and little old ladies, who were being evicted from their apartments because they had to make a choice between paying for food and rent or heating oil during severe winters.

I did the intake on all the cases before we were able to hire our intake counselor and associate advocate, Mary Adams. Those who needed legal help were directed to Marshall whose office was next to mine. The rest Mary and I worked with personally, though there were many cases we all shared. Mary and I would find families money for back rent while Marshall drafted their responses to summary complaints for eviction, defending them himself, or preparing them to mount their own defenses with the help of legal services attorneys. Part of our philosophy included a strong self-help provision. Wherever possible we encouraged and trained our clients to represent themselves, arguing their own cases. Most found the experience empowering, even exhilarating, especially if they prevailed, which they often did.

Marshall Williams retired from Action in 1988, succeeded by Ken Riaf, a young attorney, who had also been a fisherman. Ken brought a unique perspective to the agency, as we became more deeply involved with the fishing community, which was then entering the protracted crisis it still faces today, with declining stocks and restrictive federal regulations that have reduced Gloucester’s fleet to a shadow of its former greatness. We were also forced to address the deepening housing crisis in the state, as real estate prices rose and landlords were converting apartments into condos, thereby squeezing out low-income families and elders and adding to a burgeoning homeless population. In response to homelessness, the agency joined with Ron Morin, executive director of NUVA, the city’s primary substance abuse and mental health agency, and Bill Dugan, executive director of the Gloucester Housing Authority, to create the Cape Ann Coalition for Housing and the Homeless. Ron, Bill and I produced a study of the problem, “Homelessness on Cape Ann,” with recommendations for its solution. Two new homeless shelters were created, NUVA’s for women with children and Action’s for homeless men and women eighteen and over. A number of programs, including counseling, case management and substance abuse treatment, were also initiated to impact the problem, along with recommendations for the creation of more affordable housing. Of great help to us in this effort was Dr. Damon Cummings, a naval architect and former MIT professor, who had become one of Gloucester’s leading advocates for the fishing industry and a fighter to preserve the city’s working waterfront.

4.

My last ten years at the agency were years of intense lobbying for funds to implement these housing programs. In concert with the responsibilities of managing an expanded advocacy and housing program and seeing clients on a daily basis, I also directed the Action Homeless Shelter. We spent hours at city council and planning meetings advocating for the new shelters, and for a soup kitchen and food pantry, which were independently created. New funding regulations from Congress required the adoption of more stringent and sophisticated planning and management tools and an automated information storage and retrieval system, as the agency entered the digital age and we all had to learn how to use computers.

Losses in the fishing industry and fluctuations in the economy made it clear to us that Action had to expand our employment and training programs to include those who had been downsized out of jobs or who had lost them in industrial consolidations and takeovers. With the support of Varian, a high-tech consortium whose corporate offices were located in Gloucester, the agency opened a computer training center in downtown Gloucester, at Brown’s Mall, the former site of the city’s largest department store. Expanding our client base, we trained homeless men and women at the site along with those who had once had well-paying jobs. We added training for medical secretaries and hospital workers, while offering GED and Adult Basic Education courses, including ESL classes for new Hispanic and Brazilian immigrants.

By 2001, after I had been at the agency for 29 years, the need for our services continued to increase. And the landscape of human services had been shifting for some time, confronted, as we were, with the rising animosity of conservative politicians and once compassionate voters toward service agencies and the people we were committed to helping. Constrained also by shrinking government funds and more onerous reporting requirements, agencies found themselves in competition for charitable dollars as a way of ensuring their independence.

Under Bill Rochford’s leadership, and with the experience, political savvy, and commitment of Action’s veteran program directors — Deputy Director Tim Riley in administration, Gerry Anne Brown at Homecare, Ronna Resnick in Employment and Training, and Elliott Jacobson at Energy — Action charted a cautious passage through these perilous waters, arriving not only safely to port in new headquarters in the former Woolworth building on Main Street, but winning support and funding for innovative youth programs and housing for AIDS patients, while creating public-private partnerships that offered new employment and training opportunities for local residents.

Retiring on November 15, 2002, I left Action with a sense of new expectations but also with great sadness. I knew I was bidding farewell to an important part of my life.  When Bill Rochford retired in 2009, Tim Riley took over as executive director, and has continued to lead the agency in ever creative directions.

Social work, especially as we practiced it at Action, can be seen as opposition to arbitrary power.  It seemed a fitting segue for me, as a former anti-war activist in the 1960s, to have become a social worker in the 1970s; indeed, natural to my temperament and my politics. Just as I had helped to organize opposition to the war in Southeast Asia, I helped to bring neighbors together to encourage local government to remedy conditions in their neighborhoods, or mothers on welfare to fight iniquities in the welfare system. Our agency empowered citizens to speak out against slum landlords, who withheld heat, or to demand that the city’s regulatory agencies enforce health code regulations that made their apartments unsafe for themselves and their children. We provided legal assistance, family counseling and one-on-one assistance to help low-income families overcome poverty. We created education and training programs for fishermen, who were driven from the sea by onerous government regulations; and we helped displaced workers retrain in digital technologies.

Our work was motivated by the need for social change and for self-determination on the part of those who felt powerless — to help the disenfranchised find good jobs and obtain affordable housing, and to make government accountable to those whom it was designated to serve; indeed to change repressive legislation where we could. We didn’t win every battle, and not everyone we tried to help overcame poverty; but we forged partnerships between citizens and interest groups and we brought the public and private sectors together in many instances to build new housing or rehabilitate older stock. We helped formerly homeless men and women create their own businesses and we provided services to elders that allowed them to remain in their own homes with dignity rather than entering nursing homes. Perhaps our greatest success was in helping those we worked with to understand the systems in which their lives were enmeshed — how those systems operated, what their internal dynamics were, and how to overcome the enmeshment. And in the process, we ourselves felt a greater liberation.

Peter Anastas is the editorial director of Enduring Gloucester.

Kenneth Warren (1952-2015)

Kenneth Warren.1

Kenneth Warren by James O-Bryan

 

Kenneth Warren (1952-2015)

 

Kenneth Warren was a rare public leader who knew when/how to push the envelope of public discourse, to seek and participate in deep, locally defined values in an era nonetheless when the local is being uprooted in favor of global development. He was a man dedicated to finding the deeper currents that might drive a community, and thus a world, forward into a brighter and more humane future of greater good.

–Daniel Slife

 

The sudden death of writer, critic, editor, Jungian scholar and astrologist Kenneth Warren has a special poignancy for his friends in Gloucester.  Many of us first met Ken when he and Fred Whitehead were editing The Whole Song, the landmark volume of selected poetry by Lynn native and Gloucester poet laureate Vincent Ferrini, published in 2004 by the University of Illinois Press.

Ken visited Gloucester frequently, reading at the Writers Center, where he was an advisory board member, and The Book Store.

Ken was that rarest of critics, who could write about avant-garde poetry, Punk Rock, the interface of astrology and the arts, and the complexities of Jungian analysis, often in the same review.  To read his 2012 collection of essays, Captain Poetry’s Sucker Punch: A Guide to the Homeric Punkhole, 1980-2012, is to gain a sense of one of the most original and capacious minds of our time.

Yet Ken was far from self-involved.  As editor and publisher of House Organ, he sought out a stunning array of contributors, from former Black Mountain, Beat and New American poets to those who  were young and unpublished, to review some of the most exciting experimental writing in print and to submit their own poetry and prose.  To experience a single issue of the magazine that appeared in one’s mail box punctually each season, in its idiosyncratic 4 by 11 inch format, was to have an entrée into some of the most exciting work in poetry and personal and critical prose of our time.

Speaking for myself, it was a privilege to be asked by Ken to submit work he’d heard about, or to have been sent a series of remarkable collections of poetry or prose to review.  His editorial style was supportive rather than intrusive.  He let his writers be themselves, and in the process I believe we all flourished.  In asking me to contribute to House Organ, Ken literally gave me a second career as a critic and essayist, one that I would not have enjoyed without Ken.  Ken also published Enduring Gloucester poet Melissa de Haan Cummings.

Ken and I did not meet frequently, but when we did the talk was incandescent—largely from Ken’s side.   I would always leave with lists of books to read or new writers to discover.  With Ken one did not need to take a post-graduate course in innovative writing; one simply listened to him talk or read his extraordinary study of the work and thought of Ferrini and Olson that had been appearing serially in House Organ.

In writing to tell me about Ken’s death, our mutual friend, novelist and critic Bob Buckeye, described the void created by his leaving:

“We have suffered a great loss.  Something has stopped and I don’t know if it can start up again.”

Andre Spears, a member of the board of directors of the Gloucester Writers Center, wrote:

“Ken Warren departed the planet on Thursday (May 21), as the sun was transiting from Taurus into Gemini. He was, and remains, a beautiful spirit, particularly open to the world, and he leaves behind, in the singular poetic community he made cohere, a terrible absence that only time, sooner or later, will erase.”

Ken loved Gloucester.  He knew the city from his deep immersion in the poetry of Olson and Ferrini and from his own time spent here absorbing the look and feel of the place, its history.  Ken understood community and how it could be uprooted by gentrification and unwarranted development.  As his friend Daniel Slife wrote:  “He was a man dedicated to finding the deeper currents that might drive a community, and thus a world, forward into a brighter and more humane future of greater good.”

Goodbye, Ken.  We will miss you sorely.

Peter Anastas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sound Harbor Makes Some Noise

sound harbor kids

Sound Harbor

Charlee Bianchini

 

Gloucester has long been famous for being a visual arts haven for painters, printers, sculptors and patrons of those arts.  Less recognized for it, Gloucester has also been a haven for her musicians, and I cannot express how lucky I have felt to be a member of that piece of our community.  Gloucester’s musicians do a good job of keeping competition at bay, while doing their best to support each other and it has often created opportunities of collaboration with amazing results.

Gloucester can also boast her support and success of entrepreneurs.  If the fishing industry is not convincing enough of this, just take a walk to the crossroads of Main Street and Pleasant where you will find three organizations that are bringing the visual, performing and entrepreneurial arts together: Art Haven, The Hive, and a new collaborative, Sound Harbor.

Many know of the incredible work that Art Haven (for kiddos) and The Hive (for teens and adults) have done to provide opportunities in education of the visual arts.  From painting and printing, from pottery to sculpture, from photography to graphic design, over the past 7 years kids and adults have had incredible opportunity to explore their creative sides in these highly supportive and empowering environments.

Less known—but only so because of its youth—is Sound Harbor.  Created just over a year ago, Sound Harbor is a new initiative bringing that same supportive environment to kids and adults alike, but this time through music. Founded by a handful of Gloucester’s own musicians, Sound Harbor came about for a variety of reasons. When Art Haven started taking off, I often thought what a shame it was that music was not a part of that.  Having been a teacher of independent music instruction for five years now, I’ve been a first hand witness to how music helps people find their voice, literally and figuratively.  I’ve watched once shy and introverted students blossom into incredible performers and songwriters, pouring their hearts out on stage and taking risks they only dreamt of taking before.  It’s become less about the actual art of creating music, and much more about learning and pursuing who you want to be.

I wasn’t the only one who felt that Gloucester lacked this opportunity.  A big group of other musicians felt the same way, and for some reason we all, independently, went to David Brooks (founder of Art Haven and the Hive) for help.  He brought us together, and Sound Harbor was created.

Our board is like minded in why this initiative is so important.  We all feel that arts funding is too often cut in our schools, and that which remains is not enough to provide adequate opportunity to our students.  I am a firm believer that it is art and music opportunities in schools that give our youth the courage of self-expression, the self-empowerment to contribute to bettering the world, the confidence to explore and discover.  Not only that, but it offers a safe space for youth and adults alike to process emotion in a society that limits these spaces to short outpourings on Facebook and Twitter, if offering any space at all.

Our president, Steve Lacey, a Gloucester Jazz guitarist, agrees with that sentiment.  He writes, “I believe we all need to be given the chance to make art and music. It is a way of expressing and getting to know your inner self… Places like Sound Harbor positively impact our community by giving kids and adults an education and something to do that is both self-gratifying and uplifting to the people who get to hear or see it.  Since support in public schools has decreased, it is up to non-profits such as Sound Harbor and Art Haven to pass on the age-old tradition of making art.” And that it just what we are doing.

Sound Harbor has much to be excited about. It is recently an official 501c3 non profit, and it now has a new home, located inside Art Haven at 180 Main Street.  Art Haven and the Hive have been incubators for Sound Harbor, supporting each other’s missions in order to provide the most for our community.

Sound Harbor will be hosting an open house on May 23rd from 2:30-4:30, celebrating their grand opening in their new home, and giving some of their students and staff an opportunity to share what they have been doing over the past year with a performance at 3pm.  We welcome all to come check it out and enjoy some light refreshments as well as an instrument petting zoo. Those who have always wanted to play an instrument but never got the chance, or those who have played but want to try out something new will be able to try as many instruments as they can hold during the open house.

Also, Sound Harbor is currently seeking board members and volunteers.  Even if you are not musically inclined, the organization is in need of graphic designers, grant writers and general support.  All interested are highly encouraged to apply.

What is most incredible about these three organizations—Sound Harbor, Art Haven and The Hive—is not just the programing that they provide, but the community they are creating.  It is where both young and old alike come together to not only create, but to contribute.  They are part of the foundation that makes Gloucester’s community stronger than ever.

Sound Harbor website

 

 

OPEN HOUSE

Saturday, May 23, 2015

180 Main Street

Gloucester, MA

 

Instrument Petting Zoo:    2:30–4:30PM

SOUND HARBOR Performance:    3:00PM

Join us to…

 

  • Check out our new location – we’ve been building!
  • Play some instruments
  • Hear about our summer music programs
  • Meet our board
  • Share your ideas on how Sound Harbor might serve the Cape Ann music-community

 

 

charleeCharlee Bianchini is a native of Gloucester. She is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and music teacher.

New Poem by Robert Gibbons

 

image

FOLLY COVE, GLOUCESTER. Sharon Casavant

 

On the Afternoon in the Aftermath of the Root Canal up in Lewiston

The root of the matter is crucial.

Even in as simple thing as a tooth.

Or that of the World Tree, roots reaching

deep in the realm of the underground. Heart

of the matter of language with its dirt, & clean

stones. Cistern of language I felt today, when down

by the waterfront the wind in the waves was more like weave

of a text, knowing that underneath ocean life teemed: cormorant,

seal, crab, & fish, right down to the floor of seaweed. Stood a while

taking it all in, reading the vast World, when the tanker, Leopard Moon

out of Singapore cast added daytime light on pages turning stars in the harbor.

 

Robert Gibbons

Robert Gibbons, a former Gloucester resident, is the author of nine books of poetry. In 2013, in addition to completing a Trilogy of prose poems with Nine Point Publishing,  he published Olson/Still: Crossroad, a brief study concerning the similarities in approach to art by Olson in words, and Clyfford Still in paint.

 

How Much Fluoridation is Safe?

The Gloucester vote on fluoridation is on Tuesday November 5th

A “Yes” vote will continue the practice of adding sodium fluoride to our drinking water. 

A “No” vote will stop the practice of fluoridation in Gloucester.

 

0.7 Parts per Million

On April 27,2015, The United States Health and Human Services issued a proclamation that the “optimal” concentration of fluoride in drinking water should now be 0.7 parts per million (ppm), versus the old “optimal” range of 0.7ppm to 1.2ppm, which has been in place since 1962.  The very next day, The Massachusetts Health and Human Services dutifully passed this on to each and every Board of Health in Massachusetts.  On May 7, The Gloucester Board of Health followed suit by voting in favor of this proclamation.  Rockport will no doubt chime in any day now.

Interestingly enough, none of these bodies has provided any scientific evidence whatsoever that 0.7 ppm is a valid number. One must then surmise it has been randomly chosen.  Even worse, none offered a clear definition of “optimal”, but perhaps we can fill in the blanks for them here.

The EPA tells us that concentrations of natural fluorides above 4ppm can cause severe skeletal fluorosis….Bone spurs, deformed limbs, calcified ligaments, conditions often mistaken for plain old severe, crippling, arthritis.  So clearly, we’d better have less than 4ppm in our water.  The EPA’s administration has no comment on less severe forms of fluorosis which can result from lower fluoride concentrations.

It was determined (as a guess) during the 1940s that, with water fluoridated with synthetic fluorides to 1.0 ppm, only about 10% of our population would develop fluorosis.  Today, at 1.0 ppm the CDC tells us that 41% of US teens 12-14 years old have fluorosis, which shows up first as permanent white or brown spots on their teeth.  So clearly, something is going wrong.  Apparently, “optimal” must be lower than 1.0 ppm.  The EPA Union of Scientists and Engineers tells us that zero parts per million would be their best guess. They have been at odds with their administration over this for over 2 decades now.

There are quite a few “maybes” with all of this.  Maybe fewer teens will have fluorosis over the next few decades with the new improved “optimal” concentration, but without any study to back it up, it’s pretty hard to judge the impact, if any.  Maybe they will need to drop the concentration to 0.3 ppm someday, which is about what nature gives us in the first place.  Maybe we’d be better off just stopping the practice altogether.

 

 

 

mike foleyMichael Foley is a retired mechanical engineer who resides in Gloucester, MA.   He is a songwriter, musician and stone sculptor, and has been heavily involved in the effort to stop the practice of  fluoridation on Cape Ann, MA.

Thoughts on National Elections… and Gloucester

“…over the course of the last quarter century, I have seen first hand the strength, commitment, and activism of a whole lot of progressive and liberal Cape Anners and their ability to have a real positive impact on the community’s direction – even when some among the ‘powers that be’ dismissed them as quixotic, resistant to change, or just plain stupid.”
I not only see that strength, commitment, and activism as  being able to temper the impact of gentrification, and the negative socio-economic, cultural, and political changes it have on communities like Gloucester, I see it, if people are willing to organize, as having an impact far beyond Cape Ann as next year’s presidential campaign begins to heat up in earnest in the fall.”  
Mike Cook
Hotel1

Luxury hotel now under construction on Pavilion Beach in the Fort neighborhood of Gloucester

As what is a temporary, summer absence from Gloucester moves forward, I find myself telling friends and customers I wait on here in Provincetown about the uniqueness of “Fish City” and Cape Ann. I find myself extoling the virtues of  their physical beauty and the spirit of genuine community that still exists there and, sadly, has largely disappeared here – as the cost of housing has increasingly made Provincetown and other communities on the Outer Cape places where only the well to do can afford to live with any sense of security and dignity.At a recent dinner party at the home of an elderly lesbian friend on a very fixed income, who has to sell the house she has loved and owned in Provincetown for forty years because of  skyrocketing property values, and the sky rocketing property taxes that come with them, I shared my concerns about the fishing industry being in decline in Gloucester, and the gentrification pressures that have so fundamentally changed Provincetown bearing down on “Fish City”.
The consensus at the table was community activists in Gloucester, be they gay or straight, should look carefully at what has happened to places like Provincetown and Nantucket, I added Newburyport and Portsmouth, NH, to the list, so that the negative aspects of gentrification run amok do not damage and change Gloucester in the ways they have  in the coastal communities named above.That prompted a  spirited discussion about the housing situation here and the fact many tourism industry related businesses can find no summer help because the wages in those businesses do not even come close to covering the cost of housing, especially seasonal housing, here on the Outer Cape.Provincetown long timers like my elderly  friend take a kind of ironic pleasure in seeing the very people who so fundamentally changed the nature of this community over the last twenty years with their gentrification run amok now petulantly whining about the lack of “good help” available to them.But in that ironic pleasure taking lies a deep sadness because they know it means the very things and people that once made this little fishing village at “Land’s End” so special, whether it was the hard scrabble Portuguese and Irish fishermen, the artists and writers, like Edward Hopper and Eugene O’Neill, and the  bohemian gay community, who have all called this place home; or the art galleries, funky shops, and eclectic restaurants that made this town so unique, are rapidly being replaced by a high end retail and real estate market that feels more like some kind of master planned community and open air mall designed to cater primarily to well heeled tourists and the fortunate few who can afford to live here – a kind of “Chestnut Hill Comes to the Cape” phenomenon.People laughed when I quipped,  yet again, “Hey, let’s face it, Provincetown now celebrates ‘tolerance and diversity’ so long as it is rich, gay, and overwhelmingly white”. But it was laughter tinged with both great irony and lament.But back to Gloucester.I don’t think the fate that has befallen the communities named above is inevitable for “Fish Town”.I say that because, over the course of the last quarter century, I have seen first hand the strength, commitment, and activism of a whole lot of progressive and liberal Cape Anners and their ability to have a real positive impact on the community’s direction – even when some among the “powers that be” dismissed them as quixotic, resistant to change, or just plain stupid.

I not only see that strength, commitment, and activism as  being able to temper the impact of gentrification, and the negative socio-economic, cultural, and political changes it have on communities like Gloucester, I see it, if people are willing to organize, as having an impact far beyond Cape Ann as next year’s presidential campaign begins to heat up in earnest in the fall.

With Elizabeth Warren having taken herself out of contention for the Democratic nomination, the party establishment seems more confident than ever that Hillary Clinton’s nomination, dare I say coronation, is all but inevitable.

I, as a liberal Democrat, find the idea of Hillary being “inevitable” disturbing for several reasons.

The first is because the idea of “inevitability”, and the Democratic party’s establishment pushing it as the only option liberal Democrats, or liberals and progressives not formally registered as Democrats, have  is not only arrogant and offensive, it is patently “un-small d democratic”.

I know many liberal and progressive people on Cape Ann, some of them no doubt readers of “Enduring Gloucester”, who share that view.

I would like to share my reasons why I believe liberal and progressive Cape Anners have an obligation not to simply accept the Democratic party establishment’s meme, whether it is at the city, state, or national level, that Hillary Clinton’s nomination and ascension to the presidency is inevitable.

I am deeply skeptical that Hillary Clinton’s recent so called move to the “left” is genuine. I am deeply skeptical that Hillary’s new found concerns about wealth and income inequality and the “mass incarceration” of young men of color are sincere.
I, sadly, believe they are little more than cynically calculated political moves to try and placate the more liberal base of the Democratic party in the primaries so that she can secure the nomination. Once the nomination is hers, she will then move back to the center where will she will, overall, do the bidding of the big money interests who have been so important to her and  her husband’s political careers, not to mention their rapid accumulation of great wealth in the years following the Clintons’ tenure in the White House.
If Mrs. Clinton is genuinely concerned and appalled by the “mass incarceration” of young men of color, as she claimed in a speech at Columbia University in the wake of the Baltimore riots, why is he not criticizing the crime bill her husband and Newt Gingrich co-authored and signed into law that put the policy of “mass incarceration” into practice?
If Mrs. Clinton is so concerned about wealth and income inequality, why is she not questioning the wisdom of her husband and his treasury secretary, Robert Rubin’s decisions to loosen and do away with many of the financial regulations Franklin Delano Roosevelt put in place after the Great Depression? Perhaps it is because they did so at the request of the same big money and banking interests that played no small role in bringing the recent “Great Recession” down around our heads in exchange for hefty campaign contributions and lucrative speaking engagement fees – for both former President and Mrs. Clinton.
But for me, the biggest reason why Hillary Clinton should not be considered “inevitable” as the Democratic nominee remains her vote to allow GW Bush, and the neo-cons who dominated his administration to launch their invasion of Iraq in the wake of 9-11.  I say that because there was ample evidence available to anyone paying attention that the intelligence they were using to rationalize the rush to war was questionable at best, and patently dishonest at worst.
That evidence prompted Democratic Senators Ted Kennedy, Robert Byrd, and Russ Feingold, then Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee, and Congressmen Bernie Sanders and Barney Frank, to name just a few, to vote “no” on the question of invading Iraq.
But not Hillary.
She was one of those politicians who behaved more like a  profile in political expediency than a  profile in political courage.
As economist Paul Krugman wrote in a recent NY Times op-ed piece, “There was a definite climate of fear among politicians and pundits in 2002 and 2003, one in which criticizing the push for war looked very much like a career killer”.
Given Hillary’s long standing  presidential aspirations, it is now abundantly clear she decided to put those aspirations ahead of the lives and well being of hundreds of thousands of brave American men and women in uniform, and the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians who were killed or displaced in a war that never should have been waged in the first place.
What else can explain her unwillingness to stand with Ted, Robert, Lincoln, Barney, and Bernie?
Yes sir. I believe the strong liberal and progressive community in Gloucester can not only stem the rising tide of greed driven gentrification that has transformed communities like Provincetown, Newburyport, and Nantucket into little more than potential locales for an updated remake of “The Stepford Wives”. I believe it can send the Democratic party a message that, given her record, Hillary Clinton has no business, no business at all, being considered “inevitable” as the Democratic nominee.
One way for the liberal and progressive community on Cape Ann to do that is to support Bernie Sanders in his bid for the nomination – no matter how “quixotic” or “just plain stupid” the Democratic “powers that be”, be they at the city, state, or national level tell us doing so may be.
Mike Cook, Truro and Gloucester
Mike CookMike Cook  is a long time liberal and gay rights activist who saw the uniqueness of Gloucester from the first moment he drove over the bridge during his move from Cambridge to Cape Ann in 1991 to run NUVA’s AIDS education and services programs.

We Are So Proud!

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Board members and major contributors Peter Anastas and Laurel Tarantino accepted the award at the Historical Commission’s 2015 Preservation Awards program at the Cape Ann Historical Museum.

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Photos courtesy of contributor Ann Molloy

 

We thank our generous contributors, Jeff Rowe, Louise Welch, Louise Maassen, Ruthanne (Rufus) Collinson, Peter Anastas, Ernest Morin, Jo-Ann Castano, Jeff Weaver, Melissa deHaan Cummings, Kent Bowker, Mike Cook, Robert Gibbons, Helen Garland, Patti Page, Lois McNulty, Bing McGilvray, Ann Molloy, Laurel Tarantino, Jimmy Tarantino, Eric Schoonover and Big Tom Brancaleone, for your art, poetry, photographs, essays, energy and ideas. Without you, Enduring Gloucester would not have been recognized as a respected voice in the community.

We are always interested in new contributors.

Please e-mail us at enduringgloucester@gmail.com with your ideas.

Chief Campanello Breaks Down Barriers

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Kudos for Gloucester Police Chief’s Innovative Drug Policy

by Mike Cook

As a follow up to my  essay chronicling the history of the heroin/prescription opioid epidemic in Gloucester, I wanted to praise Gloucester Chief of Police Leonard Campanello for his courageous decision to offer active addicts an opportunity to avoid all but inevitable arrest if they come forward, surrender whatever drugs they may possess, and agree to enter a treatment program.

One can be sure Chief Campanello will take some heat for his willingness to treat addiction as the public health problem that it is from some on the Gloucester police department, along with  more than a few uninformed and judgmental “civilians” in the city.

In fact, that criticism is already brewing on the city’s right wing version of “Enduring Gloucester”. One blog site is already full of posts criticizing Chief Campanello, with dire predictions  the chief’s actions  will result in a tsunami of addicts coming down the line and over the bridge to “beat the rap” and take advantage of Gloucester’s sucker mentality – thanks to all of us “mentally defective liberals”  who become fabulously wealthy running social service empires paid for by all the aggrieved right wing, law abiding, over taxed, Christian residents of Cape Ann.

But let’s get back to Chief Campanello’s policy shift. This is a major positive step in the right direction for several reasons.

Perhaps the biggest positive is that Chief Campanello’s initiative will, finally, help  break down the barriers that long prevented social service and substance abuse treatment providers in the city from working with law enforcement in ways that actually might have helped address drug addiction in a truly substantive manner.

I recall, at the height of the anxiety in the early 1990’s over how HIV might impact the city’s needle using population, their sex partners, and, sadly, their children, doing a presentation at City Hall on needle exchange programs and why the Massachusetts Department of Public Health saw Gloucester, given its long entrenched heroin problem, as a prime candidate city for a pilot needle exchange program.

Law enforcement at that time was one of the most vociferous opponents of even discussing such a public health intervention and, given its influence in the city, it quickly became clear there was no point in trying to educate the community about such programs.

It mattered little such programs were highly structured. Needles, for example, were all numerically coded. Addicts didn’t just come in with any needle to exchange for another. They had to enroll, anonymously, in the program. They then would receive a numerically coded clean needle. When they brought that needle back, they would receive another coded, clean needle.

There were “no questions asked”, but participants in such programs were constantly provided with information and encouragement regarding treatment and the various services available to them when they decided they had had enough and wanted to get clean.

Needle exchange programs also provided epidemiologists with the opportunity to get solid data on the extent to which blood borne pathogens like HIV and Hepatitis B & C were present in injection drug using populations because the returned needles were sent to the state laboratory so that antibody screenings could be done on any residual blood  in the returned syringes.

But it was the “bridge to treatment” the exchange programs  created in communities like Provincetown and Springfield that proved so beneficial in getting other wise out of treatment addicts connected to services that ultimately led many into treatment.

Unfortunately, community resistance to a Gloucester needle exchange program two decades ago, with much of that resistance coming from law enforcement at the time, meant Gloucester missed out on the benefits such programs were shown to provide.

Chief Campanello’s proposal has all the potential of needle exchange programs of twenty years ago to serve as a genuine “bridge to treatment” for addicts looking to break the mad cycle of their addiction.

It represents a major shift in thinking on the part of law enforcement and will allow the police department and service providers to begin to work more closely together and build the kind of trust between the two systems that was missing for far too long.

Chief Campanello is to be commended for this bold shift in direction and, if the need arises, members of the community who understand the old punitive, enforcement approach to addiction has failed will need to raise their voices in support of the Chief because there are still those others who refuse to accept that addiction is a disease that requires a public health approach to addressing it – not just the “lock’em up and throw away the key” attitude that was prevalent in Gloucester for far too long.

mike_cook

Mike Cook  is a long time liberal and gay rights activist who saw the uniqueness of Gloucester from the first moment he drove over the bridge during his move from Cambridge to Cape Ann in 1991 to run NUVA’s AIDS education and services programs.

Of Cavalcades and Dropouts- Essay by Jeff Rowe

Cavalcade

 

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photo by Ernest Morin courtesy of Document/Morin

We used to walk around the back shore and make jokes about the rich folks. Their big houses and supple green grass. Their tennis courts that had a better view than any of us could dream of having. Their fancy cars that we would make quips about running our keys along. Their everything. It was always us and them. Or was it us versus them? I’m not sure anymore. But for this brief moment in time, I can say with absolute certainty that it was the latter. Growing up in central Gloucester had a way of firmly planting that class chip right on your shoulder. We would head out to the back shore to drink cheap beer on their golf courses, fool around on the rocks beside the ever looming ocean, and in our own way—take a little back.

 

I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes drive around the back shore when I visit Gloucester. It’s beautiful in its turbulent nature. The merciless ocean, unafraid to reveal itself. The way the land is jagged and seems to invite the water forward, like a weathered boxer, ready for another blow. But I see it from a different view than that of my youth. Back then, in our uneducated minds, it represented the bourgeoisie (think Marxism). I still have the same political desires as I did then, but now I can articulate them. I differ from my teenage self in two profound ways: 1) I know how to pick my battles. 2) I actually know what the word bourgeoisie means.

 

My group of friends were a touch political. I was on the intense side of our political spectrum. I wanted to hoist a black flag and call it a day on everything that I perceived as oppressive. I thought then, and for the most part still do now, that racism, sexism, hegemony, and homophobia were all oppressive bi-products of capitalism. But I had yet to begin to dig into Chomsky, Kropotkin, or Marx and Engels. In many ways, I had little knowledge to back up my convictions—just a blind sense of rage. It was convenient in that sense. I felt as though the city offered us little to do. I thought it was a city for the old, that had little regard for its youth. In actuality, maybe I was just looking for an excuse to raise a little hell.

 

Ben had a beat up Volvo that we would drive around in for the better part of our youthful nights. We’d be listening to cassettes, smoking cigarettes, and constantly looking for someone to buy us beer. Ben was the perfect mode of transportation, mostly because he didn’t drink. That was rare in our group of friends. We liked our booze, but we were also well aware of the consequences of drunk driving. Ben was bean pole skinny, with reddish brown hair that came down well past his shoulders. In the warmer months he would always wear the same pair of cut off jean shorts. Hailing from Corpus Christie, Texas—he was a ways from home. He had a sense of humor that cut like a razor and he was older than us. I liked him for a myriad of reasons, but mostly because he was up for almost anything—at any given time. And that was exactly where I was at the moment. It was an in-between time for me; I wanted to drop out of school and work full time, but mostly I wanted my own apartment. I was too young for the apartment, so I was really pulling for the other two.

 

One memorable night, we “borrowed” a shopping cart from the grocery store in East Gloucester. We proceeded to tie it to the Volvo, by way of a long bungee cord. We set it up in such a way that it was dragging behind the dented blue monster we were cruising in. That night, at around 3am, we dragged that shopping cart all through the rich neighborhoods of the back shore. The sound of the shopping cart shearing through the calm repose of night. Sparks flying in a cavalcade of concrete, steel, and plastic. It was a sight. You could see the lights turning on in each window as we passed. It was harmless (besides the obvious damage to the cart), stupid, and more fun than you would think. I remember one of our friends asking why we would do something like that. The answer was swift: “Because fuck them, that’s why”. That was just who we were; good-timers, wanna- be dropouts, fledgling activists, misfits, and for a fleeting moment—friends.

 

We were reckless. I wouldn’t dispute that. And in our own way, we were naive. I don’t miss my inexperienced, wayward youth too often. But when I do, It’s usually when I’m pulling memories like Ben and his Volvo out of thin air. Those moments have become apparitions of my past. They come around to visit from time to time, like an old friend that reminds you of an embarrassing moment. And I’m not afraid to say that when they do come around, I smile just as much as cringe.

 

 

Dropout

I was never long for school. Most of the time I would be reading books in class that weren’t the prescribed curriculum. I was once suspended for reading Thoreau when I was supposed to be reading with the rest of the class. To be fair, I’m sure the suspension was partially hinged on my hostility towards the book I was supposed to be reading, which I had already read. I’m sure my general attitude towards the teacher also didn’t help. School was never my thing. I loved learning, but there was something about a controlled environment of predominately useless information that felt senseless to me. Not all of it, but I think we can all agree that the vast majority of what we learned in school was either false, or useless.

 

I wasn’t a dumb kid, by any means. I could pass any test, and I’m not saying I was some kind of Will Hunting, but that was the easy part for me. School gave me anxiety. The thought of the cafeteria, where to sit, made my head spin. Obviously, I sat with the other freaks with dyed hair and piercings. Where else? We were outcasts, but given the confined populace, we took that as a compliment. The table I sat at during our lunch period was packed with malcontents from all over Gloucester. Their stories were all similar to mine, differing in small ways, but similar just the same. We shared the same loathing of school and its captivity, the same love of sub-cultural music genres, and we all called the crust of a slice of pizza, “the pizza bone”. All of which were very important, at the time.

 

Skipping school became an art form. I would show up to school just to go to my comparative religions class (by far the most interesting), then I would sneak out in mischievous fashion. Maria was the grounds monitor. A short, red haired, fiery Italian. She spoke English, but when she was yelling at you to stop from exiting the school grounds, she was most certainly swearing in Italian. We would devise distractions so that I could run out the back, past the auto class, and up the short hill to freedom. Emerson Avenue and The Cape Ann Food Co-op resided just over the crest of that short hill. The Co-op, where I also worked part time, would act as my place of refuge until the heat died down and Maria had given chase to some other delinquent trying to play hooky.  Maria could give hell as well as she could take it. She would often be waiting for me the next day, grin firmly in place—punishment set to be delivered. I like to think that somewhere deep down, she liked the chase. If not, I guess now would be a bit late for an apology.

 

Most of my afternoons, when I skipped school, were spent at George’s Coffee Shop. I’d get grief from the owner, Fast Eddie, but mostly he would let me sit there and drink endless coffee while reading from whatever books I had tucked away in my backpack. Fast Eddie was a rough and tumble looking fellow with a thick northeastern accent. His nose was pointed and beak-like, further lending to his direct, ominous nature. We called him “Fast Eddie” because he would brush through general conversation like rapid fire. You couldn’t get a word in edge wise. There would be a 50/50 chance of actually understanding what he was saying to you. It felt like you needed an interpreter just to navigate what would normally be an easy exchange. Therefore, Fast Eddie and methamphetamine’s became synonymous. Hey, kids are cruel.

 

George’s was also our morning spot, where we would meet up and grab coffee and breakfast before school. But it was the afternoons that I really enjoyed. Fast Eddie would start off treating me like I had done something wrong, and if skipping school was wrong, I certainly had. He would warm up after a bit and offer me endless coffee and leftover home fries—the best home fries in town. I still think about those home fries. I wonder if Fast Eddie skipped school. I’d put good money down on that bet.

 

As you may have guessed, I didn’t last long at Gloucester High School. I know that I disappointed people, but I would have disappointed myself if I had stuck it out. It all seemed like time wasted. I felt as though I was getting very little out of it. In my experience, though I certainly wouldn’t advocate that everyone dropout, I would say that school can become a setback for some. It was for me. But I see education and time spent in school as being two very different things. Maybe that’s my Gloucester attitude shining through. Or maybe, and I’m just saying maybe, it’s the truth.

 

My personal experience of schooling wasn’t all bad. I had a few teachers that literally changed my life, despite the curriculum of Gloucester public schools at the time. Let’s face it, Gloucester doesn’t exactly churn out brilliance on a conveyor belt of molded intellect. My moments of breakthrough with teachers were spawned from unlikely moments. The last thing I want is to demonize teachers. The drastically underpaid, incredibly noble people that would dare to take hundreds, if not thousands of peoples children under their careful tutelage. I don’t. But it’s a grave miscalculation to not come to the conclusion that the very spirit of learning is unique, and subject to one’s desires. A brain does not deserve a cell anymore than a a bird does a cage. The cold persistence of hand me down education is as much to blame for class division as the almighty dollar itself. It ensures that each generation is doomed to repeat the falsehoods of the last (end rant).

 

I had very few teachers along the way that really inspired me. But I could fill up page after page for those that did. I was a difficult kid to reach. I desired to be treated like an adult at such an age that it was inconceivable for the vast majority of adults to do so. I was sarcastic and held the belief that everyone shared my sense of humor—which was often fraught with trenchant attitude. In reality, a precious few actually shared and understood my sarcasm. Essentially, I was the joke that everyone listened to eagerly, only to find out, disappointedly, that they didn’t get the punchline. Leaving myself to take on the form of the actual punchline. One of the few that really understood me and inspired me was my second grade teacher. He’s another person that randomly makes his way into my thoughts. If he were alive today; I would very much want to know what became of his life.

 

Mr. Ritondo had a flamboyant nature about him. In the very least, you could call him effeminate. He was my second grade teacher. He painstakingly taught a group of flippant Gloucester kids their times tables. I was always good with math, as was my friend, Strider Kolodzik. We were the first in our class to learn our multiplications tables through the 9’s. I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal now, but trust me, it was at the time. Mr. Ritondo took us both out for ice cream at Friendly’s to celebrate our accomplishment. Most of the kids made fun of Mr. Ritondo. It was obvious why, even though putting a name on it was a bit out of grasp for us second graders. I was really fond of him. He was kind, he let me read Stephen King books (as long as I gave him a book report), and most of all—he listened to every word that was said to him. He literally clung to every word. He had a way of making those around him feel important.

 

Kids are barbarous by their very nature. They assiduously seek out all the differences, no matter how small. Mr. Ritondo didn’t seem to mind the way the kids would whisper about him. I don’t think any of us had met a man that openly displayed his femininity. I know I hadn’t. But in all probability, if it wasn’t his effeminate attributes, it would have been something else that the kids would have found to exploit. When you’re young you tend to make fun of what you don’t understand. It’s the very definition of savagery.

 

I can’t remember exactly when I heard that Mr. Ritondo had died. It was a few years after I moved on from his class. But I do remember that I had since learned the words that the kids in my class had been grasping at to draw blood. He may have been unlike the men we were accustomed to, but still, he was undeserving of the cruel children that he was carefully teaching the mechanics of life to. When I think of Mr. Ritondo, I don’t think of the name calling, or the blood thirsty ignorance. What I choose to remember is that triumphant ice cream at Friendly’s with Strider Kolodzik , my multiplication tables, and my mentor.

 

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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. 

 


 

 

 


 

Revelations – Poetry by Melissa de Haan Cummings

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Essex Boatyard by Brent Jensen



REVELATIONS

A bicycle seat
by the middle 
granite step
to the back stoop
a bit of driveway
in front of the Neon
the top of an orange
and blue motorcycle 
lobster pot buoys
along the fence

What happens
if you hit this?
I don't know 
but don't play 
with buttons
on my machines!

Nice to contemplate mist
leaf free branches
and evergreens

Ice cakes return
to the Mill River

Butler is a white
Basset type 
with short brown ears 
He climbs snow drifts
and trots along up there
wondering why people
fail to join him
He also likes to stop
for bird song
and water sound

Forty knot spray 
whipping through the gap
horizontal 
turquoise kayak
on the mud
up right again
this penultimate day 
before Equinox

Well I went over to Essex
and I bought horse feed
because we have six 
or eight deer 
in our back yard
They are so thin!
One's a fawn!
A doe came onto the patio
to eat leftover bird seed
They are so hungry!
I know you aren't 
supposed to feed them
They are vegetarians 
but they eat horse feed
Ninety bucks!
I had to!
You had to!
             --Adelia



Melissa de Haan Cummings
17-19 March 2015
74bdd-melissa2bcummingsMelissa de Haan Cummings majored in French and English Literature at 
Bryn Mawr. She has published poetry in a number of journals. 
 She describes her interests as including, “much small boating around Cape
 Ann, love of Charles Olson, Hatha yoga practice since 1969.”