The Russian Speedometer Chronicles- Essay by Jeff Rowe


Russian guide Dima, Jeff Rowe, Alissa Rowe

My goal here is to jump back into my travels of Russia. Not just from the perspective of a subculture, but from the perspective of someone who grew up in Gloucester. A special place in many ways with a culture unto itself, albeit a bit cut off from the world around it. I often feel torn between two worlds; the world I come from, and the world in which I’ve become. I am no longer that kid running through the back yards of Forest Street—that kid whose sole ambition was to get out of Gloucester alive. When I was 12 years old, I was given a gift that would later prove to be my commuter pass to the world. It was the best gift I was ever given. It was a cheap, opaque Mexican guitar. I started playing music at a young age. An age where I knew little about myself, besides my claustrophobic sense of restlessness. I was inspired by punk rock music. By its politics, rage, and loud distortion. Somehow, it felt like a mirror to me. Listening to punk rock may have been the first time I had actually seen myself in a light that I could identify with. With punk rock, I wasn’t the awkward kid trying to assimilate. I no longer felt that I had to deal with the malaise associated with the confining opinions of my little seaport city. I was no longer pledging allegiance to a flag, that in my mind, had destroyed my father like a jack-hammer would a pebble. It was a sense of lawless freedom that I sought, and through this raw sounding music, I was finding it—one chord at a time.


Ukraine Theatre Live

Jeff Rowe performing in a theater in Ukraine


I have many stories to tell that are wrapped up cozily in the expanse of time that it took to get where I am today, which isn’t to say that I’ve achieved some perceived sense of fame or anything like that, it’s to say I’m still here—very much alive. I’ve been fortunate enough to scam my way all around Europe and beyond. I was knowingly using my songs as a conduit for adventure and exploration. The funny part; the real joke of it, is that most of my songs are about Gloucester. So it would seem, while my desire for travel had increased to far off lands, my songs stayed exactly where they started. I sometimes feel like I’m on a ledge, ready to jump into the cooling waters of the unknown, but I’m worried about losing the ballast that ties me to the land. That ballast has been there for so long that I’m afraid to lose it. And these are my songs; the ballast of Gloucester…

“My memory is the history of time” -Charles Olson

The following compilation of stories has been spliced together from two separate trips. Alissa and I have spent a combined six weeks touring through Russia in trains, planes, and hellish cabs. I kept a journal for one of those trips, the rest are memories of a time past, one that I hope to commit to word before it fades into Fantasy. These stories are not on a specific timeline, although some will be back to back, as they happened. I was more hoping to document our trials and tribulations in Russia. All the good, the bad, the awkward, and the scary. For us, that was exactly what they were.

RussiaDostoevski Omsk

Statue of Dostoevsky in Omsk, Russia

The Russian Speedometer Chronicles



It starts like it always does, with the anxiety of packing and potentially leaving something important behind, besides our lives. It’s always the little things that tend to worry me the most in the final hours before leaving for a tour like this. Did I forget my toothbrush? Did I pack enough underwear? Did I forget something that I’m going to really need or miss? Those little things that will eventually amount to big problems. Double check the luggage before leaving, check it again at the airport, though it certainly wouldn’t matter at that point. Alissa is so much better at this game than I am. She is nothing if not meticulous when it comes to being prepared for a long trip. After all, we’ve had a lot of practice. You would think at this point, with all these tours under my belt, that I would be virtually flawless when it comes to this scenario. You’d be wrong. I am forgetful, sloppy, and borderline childlike at the preparation game—hence the warranted anxiety. We’re leaving for several months of who the fuck knows what, and oddly enough, I feel pretty damn comfortable with that. It’s become second nature, really. Every day brings a new city, new people, and hopefully a good experience. Though, over the years, we’ve learned to trade in the term “good experience”, for just “an experience”. Fewer expectations make for a better time. It’s simple math. Set that bar low enough to come out with a smile. Plus, what’s the worst that could happen? Alissa and I have spent a good chunk of a two year span on tour, learning how to navigate this subculture that we’ve decided to immerse ourselves in. It’s been a great experience, but that’s not to say that we don’t wind up with our noses bloody from time to time. I’ve been touring in punk bands off and on since I was 18, or maybe younger. Truth be told—some of it has been a blur. In many ways, I’ve grown up doing this. It’s never been as constant a thing as it is now, but it’s always played a major role in my life—in my desires to reach far beyond my little island. Don’t get me wrong, Gloucester isn’t even close to being the sole reason for my escapist nature. But it would be a lie to say that my upbringing wasn’t somewhere at the center of my nature; creepy and ever-lurking. The damn place from whence I came is at the core of me, like a scar that you sometimes smile at, but most of the time it’s tucked under a shirt sleeve or a pair of pants. Like it or not, it won’t be going anywhere.


Airports have a sterile, doctor’s office-like feel. Maybe more like a doctor’s office combined with a shopping mall. The ceiling are high, and as is the case with most airports, the amalgamation of footsteps leaves a nervous clutter of sound that reverberates off the cold walls. I actually like airports. If you like people watching—you probably do too. Everyone is coming or going, from wherever to who knows where. I’ve grown to recognize the tentative looks that the commuters wear, brought on by the fleeting moments of being in between destinations. And the relieved looks of those who have clearly just arrived at theirs. It’s the same reason that I like places like Vegas and New Orleans. They give you so much to look at when you’re just a part of the scenery. All you need to do is stand in one place and watch the show unfold. Reality television be damned!

Everyone is looking for something. Whether they find it or not matters little. In the long run, I think it just matters that they were motivated enough to look in the first place. We’ve just spent one month touring throughout Europe and now we’re off to Russia. And when I say Russia, I’m not talking about Moscow and St.Petersburg, I’m talking the real Russia. We’ll certainly be going to the big cities, but we want to see the country for what it is. We’re excited, scared, and more than a little road weary from this last month of touring. Though it may seem luxurious to jump from city to city playing songs, there is very little sleep involved. And I’m not afraid to say that we’ve pretty much been drinking our way through each country. It’s the nature of the beast, really. I mean, we get food, beer, and a place to sleep each night. And personally, I’m not in the business of turning down such hospitality.


Last night we stayed in Freiburg, Delaware, in the US. It was a great end to that leg of tour. Our friend, Christoph, plied us with beer and friendship. Maybe too much beer. I woke up with my head still clinging to the night before. Upon waking, Alissa and I go through our routine of packing up our sleeping bags, taking showers, and eating a quick breakfast. But unlike the past month of mornings, there is a timidity to us. We are taking a flight to Moscow in a few hours and all I can think of is how little I actually know about Russian culture. Honestly, outside of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, I’m left with Rocky 4 and Red Dawn. You know, typical American knowledge. Our tour manager for the European leg, Christian, has become like a brother to us. He’s our friend, protector, and translator. I have no idea how his Russian counterpart, Dima, is going to be. That answer will come soon enough. It’s hard to say goodbye to Christian. Alissa and I really do love him. I call him the human chainsaw, due to his unrelenting snoring that would keep us up for at least half of the precious few hours that we had allotted to sleep. The noises that would come from this kind and gentle person stood in defiance of all things related to sleep. But that’s easy to overlook; considering the fact that he just guided us through country after country without major incident. So with a heavy heart and a few tears, we said goodbye to our trusted German companion and say hello to the unknown.


Just looking at the departures board, seeing Moscow in large letters and knowing that it was our destination was a wild notion. Alissa wore a look of wonderment. She really is an amazing person. The very fact that she would uproot her life to travel to these places with me is nothing short of astonishing. The look of adventure in her eyes makes me wonder if she has ever seen the same look in mine. At moments like this, I’m not really sure what my eyes would project. It leaves me thinking that if we could just for one minute see through the eyes of our loved ones… would that be too much? Too much to know, that is. Some things are better left to be rolled around the mind and filed away in the corridors of our memory; to be thought of when we need to feel the warmth of a smile upon our own face.


The flight to Moscow was, in a word, jarring. It started with hearing the pilot speaking to us passengers in his native tongue, which sounded so foreign to us. It was clear that we were the only ones who could not understand what the pilot was saying. And in the middle of the flight, when the frenzied turbulence started, he could have been saying anything on the loudspeaker and we wouldn’t have known a word. This only added to my budding panic. In my head, the pilot was relaying the following messages: “Prepare for emergency landing!”, “We’re going down!”, “Pray to whatever god you think will help you!”, or simply, “We’re fucked!”. In reality, he was probably telling us that we’ll be experiencing some routine turbulence that only scares you as a passenger because you have zero knowledge of what is actually going on. I just kept looking at the other passengers, trying to gauge what they were feeling. But they were stoic and unmoved by the turbulence. It was so bad that Alissa and I thought that it may very well be the end for us. We’ve been on hundreds of flights together and experienced turbulence, but nothing like this. I tried to stay calm, though inside, I was losing it. The last thing I wanted was for Alissa to see fear in my eyes. I felt it would push her over the edge, but in reality, she’s just as tough as I am, if not tougher. We clasped our sweaty hands tight, wet with fear, and tried not to show each other that panic had set in. When we landed, the passengers began to clap. Not just one passenger but all of them. I was feeling a overwhelming sense of relief that we were still among the living. Alissa and I looked at each other, bewildered by the clapping. We thought that we had just witnessed our first cultural difference, besides being seemingly unmoved in the face of potential death. They clap when they land! How different, yet simple. Of course you clap, the pilots have just flown you from one country to another in a glorified missile, defying gravity at a ridiculous speed. Well, in that case, maybe everyone everywhere should clap for their pilots. Hell, it just seems the right thing to do.


We later learned, from Dima of course, that the clapping was not a cultural experience at all. It was because our fellow passengers had also feared for their lives, but Russians are preset to show little to no emotion, even in the face of death. Upon debunking this cultural myth, Dima, who was apparently not too culturally stoic to display his emotions to us, broke out in a bellowing laughter that went on and on. Welcome to Russia, I thought. We were foreign, confused, and more than a little bit scared. As an American, you rarely get to feel this way. The world seems to buckle to the grand notion that the American is the center of the world. They speak our language, despite us putting zero effort into leaning theirs. They put up signs in English to help ease our senile sense of discomfort. They even levy cuisine towards our bland palates. But this was clearly not the case where we had found ourselves. Nope, not in Russia. This would be our first experience in a completely foreign place. A place that would not buckle to American romanticism, nor its entitlement. A place that rivals the unbridled impertinence of nationalism. A place where we would have to lean on each other for the comforts of home. We were—at that moment—all we had.


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. 



Of Cavalcades and Dropouts- Essay by Jeff Rowe



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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.




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.



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. 






Note to Self by Jeff Rowe

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Fitz Henry Lane house. (Bing McGilvray photo)


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.



Young Jeff


Jeff Rowe (2)
 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. 



Hard Luck Danny


Jeff Rowe's father Vietnam (2)

Dan Rowe, in Vietnam


By Jeff Rowe

The drive to the hospital was rainy and anxiety laden. My wife, Alissa, was driving us up Route 128 at a hurried pace. It was grey, raining, and my father was lying in a bed at Addison Gilbert Hospital—dying. Dying in the same hospital that I’d been dragged to for all my ills and injuries. A very familiar place that brought upon me nothing but dread. It was fitting, really.


My  father and I had been estranged for the last three or four years leading up to this day. We used to be like good friends. Always joking and carrying on as if the world around us held little sway. Be it an afternoon beer, an old war movie, or arguing over politics—we were friends. But something fractured along the way. Something that neither of us could fix, or at least that’s what I tell myself. The delicate relationship between father and son walks on a thin wire, on a blustery day, with greying skies that only point to the storm ahead.


We were driving from Boston to Gloucester, which is usually a forty-five minute drive down the line. About thirty minutes into that drive, my sister called to say that my father had just passed away. I didn’t cry. I felt anger. Anger that his death would serve as a last act of defiance to me, that he wouldn’t let me sit next to him and say that I’m sorry for the time that we had lost, whether I truly felt that way or not. For in the moment of his death, a cliché was born. A story as old as time itself had once again been played out on the grand stage of life. The bitter artistry of bloodlines and the dissent therein. But somewhere in my own turbulent tidal wave of thoughts there was a crying sister, a concerned wife, and a lost boy who looked like a man, a man that had the same tattoo as the man that was lying in a bed at Addison Gilbert Hospital.


My first memories of my father are of him crawling on the floor. Sometimes, but rarely, he would have a knife in his mouth. If you’ve not yet seen the sincere fragility of life, I suggest you live with someone who has PTSD. Back then, that’s not what we called it. We called it depression, anxiety, night terrors etc… Honestly, you can call it whatever you want. But what it really is, at its very core, is the reality of someone who is coming undone. When someone ordinary is forced to do extraordinary things, extraordinary things become ordinary. And somewhere in between, like a boat steadily taking on water, all is lost. It’s a real life human being replicating the sound of a limb cracking off a tree in a violent storm. Just before it fully snaps off, you can hear the splitting. And when it finally does split, the only thing left is the white noise of silence and what was left in its wake.


I always wanted to take his place during those fitful nights of waking up screaming. I would wonder if I could take it. I would wonder how long he was going to be able to take it. At some point, he had a valve replaced in his heart and it would make a ticking sound, not unlike that of a watch. Standing in the doorway of his room, I would listen for the tick, waiting to hear the metronome that signified his beating heart. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I would stand there and listen for that tick. In fact, I still have dreams in which the ticking sound plays a walk on roll.


Daniel James Rowe, Sr. was once in the 101st Airborne. He served three tours in Vietnam and was so intent on enlisting that he lied about his age, joining up at the youthful age of seventeen. Danny was a scrapper who by all accounts needed a sense of order. People around him thought that going into the service would be a good thing for him. He would stay out of trouble, out of the fights that he constantly found himself in. My mom told me that when my father was about to get on the plane to go to war, his father gave no hug or warm words, he just said, “Do not embarrass us”, coldly. My mother obviously never forgot that. And thinking back to my relationship with my father, it makes sense that he could be one of the funniest people you’ll ever meet in one moment, and cold and callous in the next. Yeah, that was our relationship.


My father never talked much about his time in Vietnam. Sometimes, when he would talk in his sleep, I would listen to him reliving his days of war. He would often say that he was sorry, to whom I do not know, but sometimes he would yell out for us to get down, at the top of his lungs. Sleep was a volatile event in the Rowe household. I remember crying for him, then. I would never know what it was like to experience what he went through, but I felt his pain—his agony. I would sometimes wake up to the sound of him falling. I would rush down the stairs to see if he was ok, careful to keep my distance because if he was still at war… well, he was dangerous. It was a delicate relationship that we were forging. There would be times of laughter and memories made, but always deep down there was a weariness—a strain. A feeling of knowing that there is a limit, but wanting to see how far we can get before reaching it. Is that normal?


I guess my father never really left Vietnam. He had so many memories, good and bad, wrapped up in that war. I would have loved to meet my father before the war; or if we could alter history, I would have loved to know my father who never went to war. It’s hard to imagine because everything in his life, his politics, his belief, his pride, all centered around the war. I wonder what he would have become. I wonder if he and I would have become estranged at all. It makes little to no sense for my mind to go there, but it does.


When I was young, my father would teach me how to walk with my eyes forward, never looking down, balanced on the curb. We would do this for hours. He would also teach me how to restrain someone, how to use pressure points, and how to blend in should a dangerous situation arise. I wanted to be like him. The truth is, we actually shared very few similarities; an intense and off putting sense of sarcasm, a temper, and an ease for which we could become cold. That was really what we shared. I actually liked knowing that we shared that. I would, after all, take what I could get.



dead trees hopper

Dead Trees, Gloucester, 1923. Edward Hopper (1882-1967)


When we arrived at the hospital, I saw his bed surrounded by my weeping siblings, all of whom had even rockier relationships with our father than I. And there he was; he looked so frail and haggard. I remember thinking that maybe beyond the fear of dying, of knowing that your life is about to be over, that maybe there was also a sense of relief. I truly hope there was. His eyes were filled brightly with blood, so much so that I could barely make out the vibrant blue that his eyes usually project. He looked bloated and when I touched his arm for the last time, touched the tattoo that we both share, it was cold to the touch. A definitive cold. I think about that moment on a daily basis. That was when I began to weep, not just because my father was dead, but also for the absence of life in a body, which is so profound that to not be shaken by it—is to feel nothing at all.


The doctors told us that he bled out, hence the reason for the blood in his eyes. He had overdosed on a combination of blood thinners and other medications. My whole life he had always taken so many medications. So much so, that it was nearly impossible to keep track of what does what. Lying there, his body looked like one big scar. He had many surgeries in his time, including open heart surgery, which left one raised scar running crudely from his chest to his stomach, which may have been when he was given the tick. Life was not easy for hard luck Danny, and I guess death wasn’t much different. I could wish all day for things to a have turned out differently, but in the end, all we have is the reality that is in front of us. And in that moment, my reality was telling me that my father had bled out and his life had come to an end.


While we were at the hospital, I felt a deep sense of resentment toward my siblings. There were five of us: Kristen was the oldest, Daniel James, Jr. came after her, followed by my half-sisters, Ruthie and Rian. I am, of course, the baby of the brood. My resentment stemmed from the years of hearing from them just how much of an asshole my father was. They would go years without talking to him, and whenever they would rekindle their respective relationships, it always ended in an epic fight. It’s funny, now that my father has been gone for some years, I’m realizing that what I just described is exactly how my relationship ended with my father.


We stood around his bed and made small talk. I had never seen my brother cry before. It looked awkward, like someone trying on a shirt that’s too tight. Also, I couldn’t recall ever seeing all my sisters in one room. Our family always had a distance about it. It made sense. But I think what was most striking to me in that moment was the fact that we were a family of strangers. That was the truth of it. We were a family of strangers, who were gathered around their dead father, who was also a stranger.


     We decided to head back to our father’s apartment as a group to discuss arrangements for a funeral. When we arrived at his place it looked so familiar. I had been visiting there for years, but it had been long enough since my last visit that it was hard for me to recollect the layout. I remembered that he had his walls full of pictures. That was another thing I found odd; he had surrounded himself with pictures of his life’s failed relationships. Was it a reminder? A comfort? I don’t have the answer, but I like to think the walls represented the way he wanted things to be. The smiles and the good memories that were caught in a fleeting moment—how if you could just capture the memory of a certain photograph and clutch it to your heart, you would have captured happiness. That’s what I like to think. Our pictures were a reminder of something that he couldn’t hold onto, but he would have if he had the strength to hold us in a moment, forever.


Gloucester carries a weight with it. Not all get to experience it, but most do. We weren’t at my father’s apartment for more than ten minutes before one of my siblings had the idea to rummage around for his pain medication. I’m not sure who had the initial idea to do this, but it seemed that they wanted to ease the pain of his death with the very pills that took his life. Honestly, I couldn’t blame them,  but the irony was not lost on me. Don’t get me wrong, I have my vices and to call me an angel would put you in the realm of science fiction, but this moment ate away at the pit of my stomach. It’s the very reason that I left Gloucester at such a young age. This city would always haunt me with its beauty, but once you peel back the layers, down to the seedy underbelly, she ain’t so pretty.


My city has two very distinct faces. One face shows a warming smile that gives the very salt that lingers in the air, like a gift. There is no air like it. This face is the view of the ocean from the Boulevard, Stage Fort Park standing toothed and strong to its right. This face is the ocean, sparkling like millions of pieces of shattered glass, on a spring afternoon. But there is another face. And this face tells a very different tale. One of inherent class division, drugs, and rampant alcohol abuse. A tale of frustration brought about by stagnation. This face has a view that rarely changes for those who see it.


I’ve lived with the memory of both faces. I guess in a lot of ways, Gloucester and my father are similar. They both have two distinctly different sides. And in my own way, I loved them both very much. Gloucester is much like the ocean that surrounds it. A thing of staggering beauty, but very dangerous at the same time. I’ve never seen anything like Gloucester, not in all my seemingly endless travels. But then again, I’ve never crossed paths with someone like my father. They have both proved themselves to be two very unique, double-sided, islands.


I don’t remember driving home from Gloucester that night. I remember drinking a beer, in the comfort of my apartment. I remember thinking that even though it seemed like we hardly knew each other—I felt his absence. The loss of a parent gave me a different feeling than that of the loss of a friend. It has something to do with shelter, something to do with the expectations of our individual roles as father and son. I fell asleep that night thinking about his sense of humor and his wild streak that brought out a laugh of unbridled freedom. The kind of laugh that you could liken to a dog with its head out the window of a passing car. For that night, I fell asleep with no anger in my heart. I thought of his blue eyes, not clouded by blood. I thought of the way that he would call me “my guy,” as opposed to using my actual name. I thought of the tattoo that we shared and the blood that runs through us all. And somewhere, hidden deep in my heart and imagination, I heard a tick.


Jeff Rowe (2)
 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 
collection of short stories/memoirs of his childhood in Gloucester.


Forest Street, 1986

IMG_0598 (1)
 by Jeff Rowe

I remember playing baseball in the front of our house on Forest Street. There would usually be six of us, but depending on how many kids from nearby streets we could get to join us, we could get as many as ten. We’d stay out there until dark, or until our parents called us in. And even then we’d wait until there was a certain amount of noticeable hostility in their voices before we actually gave in—red faced, heads down, shoulders slumped, defeated.

I call it baseball because we played by the general guidelines of the game, but it was more like a bastardized version of street ball. Our bat was a whiffle ball bat that had been thickly taped with black electrical tape around the barrel. The balls were tennis balls, as they could be hit the furthest with our make-shift bats. The bases were whatever we could find—cardboard, rugs, broken pieces of wood. But often they turned out to be car door mirrors. This never sat well with the owners. Our home run marker was the line where Forest Street ended and Trask Street began. Our automatic catcher was an old, beat up floor hockey net. The joy we’d get out of hitting those tennis balls in the dying light of our neighborhood was unparalleled. From a safe distance our young, scratched throats could be heard screaming out the various rule violations until the voices of our parents rose, beckoning us back home.

My family moved to Forest Street by way of a trailer. The trailer resided in my uncle’s backyard on Cherry Street, on the opposite side of our fair seaport city. It was the kind of trailer that construction sites typically use for an office. I guess it was cramped, but I never thought twice about the fact that we lived in a trailer. It was all I’d ever known of a home. Somewhere along the line my parents had managed to save some money. This still strikes me as a miraculous feat, given the fact that my father was universally terrible with money. But either way, we were out of the trailer. We had officially moved up in the world. Out of the trailer and into a house! This was quite the luxury for us. I was going to have my own room, but above that, I was going to have a backyard. We’re talking American dream here.       The year was 1986. I remember the year vividly. It was the first time I’d learned what real heartbreak was: It was game six of the world series. Red Sox vs. Mets. You might laugh, but I can see it like it was yesterday. I’m watching the game with my father. The sliding glass door left slightly ajar, inviting the quenching breeze to come right up off the ocean, and into our TV room (we actually called it a TV room). My dad is sitting in his ratty, old recliner. I’m sitting dead center on the couch. I loved watching baseball. I was mesmerized by the simplicity, comforted by the sounds of leather and wood, lost in the subtle nuances of a sport that was stealing my heart. And then… just like that, the sport I held so dear had broken my heart like an inside fastball would a bat. Bill Fucking Buckner. That poor bastard let the ball go right through his legs on a routine ground ball. It would take 26 years for Red Sox fans to forgive him for this one mistake. He picked the wrong city for that kind of bush league error. A city that rarely forgets let alone forgives. And here I was sitting there with my old man of whom I’d never seen cry, and all I could do was weep. My six year old heart, shattered by Bill Fucking Buckner.

My family consisted of my mom, dad, brother, and sister. I was the youngest by ten years. I believed from a young age that this one, undeniable fact meant that I was clearly an accident. To this day I believe I have math on my side in making this assumption. We were the only non Italian family on Forest Street. In those days, Gloucester still had a very old world view about it—a divided view. It wasn’t easy for an Irish kid to move to an Italian or Portuguese neighborhood, nor was it easy for an Italian or Portuguese kid to move to an Irish neighborhood. Needless to say, it took a bit of strife for me to settle in to our new surroundings. It took a few scraps, and a lot of creative cultural epithets (for your sake I’ll leave examples out). But when I did settle in I became a part of the crew.

Chris was the oldest, Matt was good at everything, Anthony was almost as good as Matt, Peter was Anthony’s scrawny younger brother, and Joey was always the last picked despite having an off putting sense of self confidence. Then there was Evan. Evan had a speech impediment. Kids are known for their unbridled cruelty, but a speech impediment will take that to the next level, only serving to fan the flames of malignity. We stood up for Evan because he was one of us. Don’t get me wrong, he got a rash of shit from us, but he was off limits to anyone outside of our little crew. This resulted in more than a few of the aforementioned “scraps”. As for myself? I fell somewhere in between. Though not the best at anything—I was certainly not the worst. We were a rag tag bunch, but we were friends.

Chris was the most physically advanced, but had little interest in playing sports. This was a point of endless frustration for us. Especially on the rare occasions when we’d play pick-up games against other neighborhoods. Chris was more into music. He would be the one that would help cultivate my love of heavy metal music. Chris also held the ominous distinction of being the only one of us who had lost a parent—his mother. None of us had any basis of identification with this. He rarely talked of his mother, nor of the loss associated with her. He had a seriousness about his pale, blue eyes. But he was always quick to make a joke, as if in contrast of the apparent weight that he carried.

I became closest with Chris. He liked to stay up late, eat cool ranch Doritos, and watch Headbangers Ball. And that was good enough for me. Chris stayed at our house more often than he would stay at his father’s house, down the road. His father was not at all a bad father, but he wore the scars of his life for all to see, and that scared some people. He had a hell of a time with the death of his wife, and understandably he wound up turning to the bottle for solace, rarely looking back to see what was being left behind.

One afternoon, we went to Chris’s house for lunch. A pretty rare event at the time. When we got to the front door we could hear Tom Petty playing loudly on the stereo, but the door was locked, and the house seemed vacant. We tried the back door as well but to no avail. Just the sounds of sweet Tom singing to us—singing at us. We decided to give up and head to my house for lunch. A not so rare event.     Later that night, we learned that Chris’s father was actually inside the house when we were knocking. He was dead of a drug overdose.

Chris’s dad would be the first of many people I would come to know in my life to die like this. I remember the look on my mother’s face when she told me what had happened. The shelter had been compromised, the true cold of the world was leaking in. She looked helpless. In some ways I think it was better for me to get to the hard stuff early, but not for Chris. No, definitely not for him. In one fleeting moment, Chris had no parents. He was an orphan. In a matter of days he was off to Florida to live with an Aunt. I lost my best friend. There would be no more late nights of Headbangers Ball, no more dreaming of starting the best metal band since Metallica, no more long arguments trying to convince him to play ball with us, no more Forest Street. Though I felt a deep sadness over losing my friend, I mostly thought of  how lonely he must have felt right then—how lonely I felt for him. Chris leaving town was one of many changes that would take place within our crew of street ball obsessed miscreants.

As the years went on our little gang drifted further apart. It’s an old, familiar story. The games that had once raced the falling sun had become less and less. Our interactions became strained. We were shedding our first skin. In some ways we were trading it for a tougher coat. One that would hopefully endure what was to come. We had unknowingly, or blatantly, grown out of each other. And the only thing harder than becoming a friend, is becoming a stranger. It matters little how things change—just that they do.

Matt earned himself some level of popularity in school. He had started running with a different crowd, you know, the popular kids. Therefore, he could no longer hang out with the long haired kid that was prone to wearing torn, oversized shirts that read such socially unacceptable slogans as Metal up your ass!. It was certainly not cool for someone like him to be spending time with the slovenly metal head I’d become. Not cool at all. At one point we may have shared a street, but now we were on different plains of social existence.

Anthony and Peter went to a private school a few blocks away. A few blocks away may as well have been another world to us. Looking back, in actuality, we only spent time with them during our games. Their parents were never fond of them hanging out with the rest of us. Maybe they feared our foul language and predilection for sports would bring about some uncouth character traits. Either way, they both wound up becoming lawyers. Maybe their parents were on to something.       Joey remained a fuck up with an inflated sense of self confidence. So much so, that he  must have believed that girls wanted him to leer through their windows when they took showers. I never much liked Joey. I hate to say it, but I did feel a warming sense of satisfaction when I heard that he was locked up. For some reason, Joey being designated a sex offender, just suited him.

Evan stuck around Forest Street longer than any of us. I always liked Evan, he had an honest way about him. He seemed to only exist within the bounds of truth. I’m certain that he couldn’t tell a lie if his life depended on it. Luckily for him, he had grown heavy over the years, and learned how to carry himself. Less fights were picked with him due to the speech impediment. I still keep in touch with Evan from time to time. His impediment is gone, but I fear the years of coping with it have left him woefully anti-social. I can’t blame him for that.

As for me… I wound up immersing myself in music and books. I could get lost in a book, forget where I was, or forget what was going on around me. I still have a bit of an escapist quality. I’ve tried hard to suppress it—selecting reality over escape. I’ve found life to be short and fragile. I feel myself not wanting to miss the intricacy of the passing moment. What was in the past and what will become the future is projected in front of me, as if they are one in the same. It sounds crazy, but some moments can be held for a lifetime. I feel a part of me is still playing a bastardized version of street ball on cracked pavement in Gloucester, still a part of that rag tag crew, still so sheltered from the hardness of the world, still knocking on Chris’s door while Tom Petty created a soundtrack to tragedy, still on Forest Street, in 1986.


Jeff Rowe (2)
 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 
collection of short stories/memoirs of his childhood in Gloucester.