Classism in the Gay Community

edward_hopper_office_small_city

Office in a Small City, 1953 Edward Hopper (1882–1967)

Recently I wrote an essay for Enduring Gloucester in which I expressed concerns about what I see as the creeping classism within my own community. (See essay here.) 

I actually described  in that essay a conversation I had about it with John Barnes, my late roommate, who died twenty three years ago this month after a courageous battle against AIDS.

John left Gloucester as a young gay man because, coming from his socioeconomic background, being gay was neither easy nor accepted in Fishtown – despite there being a sizable but largely clandestine gay community.

He, by his own admission, led a pretty wild life as a young gay man blessed with a striking resemblance  to Patrick Swayze. He returned to Gloucester for the last years of his life, however, as a brave adult man determined to educate young people from hardscrabble, often abusive backgrounds like his, about the dangers AIDS posed to them if they let the harder side of life determine their most intimate personal decisions.

In the conversation I wrote about, John shared with me his belief that if he had not had AIDS and had he not been a client of a local AIDS services organization (ASO) that was supported by some of Cape Ann’s wealthiest gay men, he would never have been invited to any parties at the home of two very wealthy Annisquam men for purely social reasons – but because he had AIDS and was a client of the local ASO, his attendance at a fundraiser those two men hosted back in 1992 was both financially and politically important.

I initially questioned John’s assertion but, in the nearly quarter century since Johnny’s death, I have, sadly, had to conclude he was on to something and that he was, in  many ways, a man ahead of his time in terms of understanding where the gay community was headed.

Six years after Johnny’s death, my own concerns about the creeping classism within the gay community had reached such a level that I addressed them in a speech I gave at Joe Tecci’s restaurant in the North End, when I accepted the Jeffery Barmeyer Memorial Award for AIDS Activism from the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.

Overall, my comments were not well received, but a few people did come up to me after the speech to thank me for raising an uncomfortable issue and to say they shared my concerns.

Shortly after the awards dinner at Joe Tecci’s, I received death threats at my house in Lanesville that were deemed so credible,  both then Police Chief Jim Marr and the executive director at HES advised me to go visit family in NH for a few days until the clouds had passed and the threat fully assessed. It was then realized I had reached a point where I was questioning what the fights against AIDS and for “gay” civil rights were really all about and, quite frankly, the answers coming to me were the primary motivators in my “chucking it all”, as the saying goes, and heading to points south where I worked really hard to shed the largely political label of “gay man” and make some peace with the fact that what I really am is a homosexual.

That sojourn resulted in me meeting and falling in love with a Costa Rican man who, along with his extended family, forever changed the way in which I view myself as a homosexual,  the so called “gay rights” movement, especially in the United States, and the role money, often big money, plays as a guarantor of social and political acceptance in America.

In many ways, nothing exemplifies the reality of just what a role money plays in attaining a modicum of social, legal, and political acceptance  more than the push for “marriage equality” that was largely driven by affluent, well connected, overwhelmingly white, gay and lesbian professionals and political insiders hailing from the Big Apple, Washington, and Los Angeles.

Now, lest anyone misunderstands the purpose of this essay, I think it is great the Supreme Court has ruled that those gay couples who wish to marry have a constitutionally guaranteed right to do so in all fifty states.

But I also worry this kind of upscale, bourgeois bohemian mainstreaming of the so called “gay community” will result in homosexual Americans losing sight of the fact that our long struggle was, from its outset,  one that aligned us with the “others” of society – the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised, and the disliked.

There is a strange irony, for example, in hearing so many gay Americans hail their “equality” in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, when so many other “inequality indicators” in America, like the assault on voting rights, the lack of equal pay for women doing the same work as men, efforts to deny women the ability to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to reproductive choice,  increasing housing and school segregation, police violence against minorities, and long stagnant wages and the rapidly- disappearing notion of some security in retirement, are all  ascendant.

Perhaps the greatest irony of all, at least for homosexual Americans, is that the legalization of gay marriage is much less a guarantor of the rights of the vast majority of American homosexuals than the passage of  federal laws that would, finally, end discrimination across the country in relation to issues like housing and employment.

Sadly, gay couples may now be able to marry in all fifty states, but there remain far too many states where they can be fired from their jobs, lose custody of their children, and be denied housing simply because they are homosexual – their being married means diddly.

In addition, many of the well- to -do gays who so pushed the marriage agenda, I have seen this first- hand here in Provincetown at social gatherings, are loathe to talk about harsh realities like the fact new HIV infections among young gay men, especially young gay men of color, are rising at an alarming rate.

At one such gathering, I pointed out that gay rights activists in New York State had raised millions on behalf of the “marriage equality” cause in the years leading up to 2011, when same sex marriage became legal in the Empire State, but had been all but silent in response to a state budget that slashed millions for programs serving homeless youth – despite the fact demographic data revealed  significant numbers of homeless youth are gay or transgendered kids who have been rejected by their families.

Needless to say, my comments went over like the proverbial lead balloon.

Perhaps nothing exemplifies the troubling classism within the gay community more than the visit of Hillary Clinton to Provincetown on July 2.

Mrs. Clinton came to town in pursuit of gay dollars and, man, was she well rewarded.

Two fundraisers, one a $1,000 a head event, the other a $2700 a head soiree, were said to be going to bring in more than a million dollars for a candidate who just last year said the issue of marriage equality was one best left to the individual states to decide. Go figure.

When I learned of Hillary’s impending visit, I wrote a letter to the local paper to ask if, after the elegant soirees, Hillary might want to spend some time walking around town to chat with many of the working class, liberal Democrats, gay and straight, who labor in Provincetown’s tourism and service industries and, thanks to the out of control gentrification I worry looms on Gloucester’s horizon, live in constant fear of losing their apartments, if they are lucky enough to have an apartment as opposed to just a room somewhere, to high end condo conversion, and scrape by in the winter on their summer savings, unemployment, and visiting the town’s soup kitchen for lunch on a regular basis to stretch their budgets.

Needless to say, like my question about events in New York in 2011 at the social gathering earlier this summer, and my comments at Joe Tecci’s eighteen years ago, my letter to the editor was, well, let’s just say, I am not likely to be invited to any dinner parties in certain circles anymore.

But that’s OK.

For me, it is just one more reason why I feel increasingly comfortable whenever I am asked if I am gay saying, “No, I am a recovering gay who remains proudly homosexual.”

-Mike Cook

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.

The Fort Community

by Mike Cook

As July, 3 approaches, I can’t help but hearken back to 1992 when I was living at 51 Fort Square, where I had the honor of being a friend to and, on occasion, taking care of, John Barnes, as he waged his heroic fight against AIDS and then serenely accepted his time had come as he lay comfortably in his bed overlooking Gloucester Harbor and Ten Pound Island.

On July, 3, 1992, it was clear to me and Tanny Martin, our upstairs neighbor and “sister” in the fight against HIV/AIDS, who just happened to be the nurse who coordinated the Visiting Nurses Association of the North Shore’s AIDS home care program, that John was getting ready to leave us.

The previous few days had seen John lapsing more frequently in and out of consciousness. His breathing was becoming more labored, and he would speak openly of how tired he was and how ready he was to move on.

But that said, he never lost his wicked sense of humor. A few nights before his passing, his sister, who was full of anticipatory grief and anxiety, insisted on opening the strong box Johnny kept his personal papers in and had asked be opened only after his death.

John had been sleeping for hours, but almost as soon as his sister opened the box, he opened his eyes and with an impish grin on his face said, “Jesus, Cheryl, you couldn’t even wait til I’m dead!?”

An uncomfortable silence fell briefly over the room, only to be broken by John’s laughter as he told his sister how much he loved her – in spite of her disobedience and nosiness.

By late afternoon on July 3, Tanny encouraged me to take a break, catch some rays on Pavilion Beach, and hang out with coworkers from NUVA at the Horribles Parade.

About mid way through the parade, this intense feeling came over me and I knew I had to get home to 51 -fast. I set out at a full run, trying to make my way through the crowd on the Boulevard – which was no easy task. I was as focused on getting home as I have ever been on anything in my life.

I raced into the Fort and up the hill to 51. As my feet hit the first step, Tanny opened the door and simply said, “He’s gone”.

I went into  his room and sat on the edge of his bed. I remember  whispering, “You still look like Patrick Swayze, even dead you stud muffin you!”

Tanny was in the kitchen on the phone with Dr. Doug Fiero. As an RN, she was able, with Doug collaborating, to declare John dead.

She then called John’s mom who asked if Tanny would call Greeley’s. John’s mom just could not bring herself to do it.

When Tanny hung up the phone with Greeley’s, she came into the room and said, “They can’t get here for a couple of hours because of the traffic from the parade.”

I looked at Tanny and said, “Now what do we do?”

We got to talking about what John would want to wear at his wake – a ritual he wanted no part of but agreed to because he believed it would help his family, especially his mom,  accept the finality of his passing.

So, we went into John’s closet  and perused his wardrobe. We both agreed his black leather jeans, a faded denim shirt, a silver and turquoise bolo tie and a leather vest would be the clothes John would want to spend eternity in, perhaps with the multi-colored boa that was in the closet as an accent piece. But we also knew his mother would be mortified at just the thought of her “Glosta” boy being laid out in such an outfit. So we picked out something more “Glosta” for our friend to wear at, what he often called, his “going away party”.

We then settled into a comfortable silence, sitting on different sides of the bed thinking about how much John had done to educate people, especially young people, about the dangers HIV/AIDS could pose to them if they did not educate themselves and make responsible decisions regarding their behavior.

As the sun set, the hearse came around that 90 degree corner in the Fort just beyond the playground and the reality of what had transpired finally settled in on me.

The staff from Greeley’s came in and were a bit taken aback when Tanny and I not only stayed in the room as they placed John in a body bag, but actually assisted them in doing so.

As all this was going on, two other dear friends and neighbors came racing into the house after they had seen the hearse coming into the Fort. One was actually John’s cousin, and the other a neighbor in the Fort who, along with her two little children, had become part of what was and is a kind of extended family.

Her son, in fact, just weeks before John’s death, had walked with me in the AIDS Walk for John – well, he walked three quarters of the way until, as many eight year olds are wont to do, he began to whine about how tired he was – which resulted in me carrying him on my shoulders for what seemed like an endless trek along the banks of the Charles River. When I see that young man today, all six foot three and a rock solid 240 pounds of him, I can’t help but smile warmly at the image of him wearing a tee shirt he designed for the walk that declared John Barnes was his very best friend and would be “..until the end of time..”.

We all stood by the hearse as the men from Greeley’s put John inside, closed the doors, and started the engine.

As the hearse took John away from 51 for the last time, a loud boom shattered the silence and this enormous burst of purple fireworks seemed to light up the entire Fort. Ever one for both dramatic entrances and exits, to this day I think Johnny timed everything to his liking. Purple, after all, was his favorite color.

In the weeks and months after John’s death, several other leaders in the local fight against AIDS, including Sam Berman, who’d served as the director of what was then called the North Shore AIDS Health Project, passed away or saw their health begin to decline dramatically.

On the one hand, those were pretty somber days for people affected by AIDS in Gloucester, not unlike what is happening today for those people and their families who are bearing the brunt of the heroin/prescription opioid epidemic today. But they were also kind of heady days because they were days that saw people come together in the face of a seemingly insurmountable challenge in ways that made Gloucester stand out as a community – not just within Massachusetts, but across the nation.

The level of cooperation and collaboration that emerged in Gloucester, not just between agencies but between various citizen’s groups and volunteer organizations in response to AIDS, actually became models that the MA Department of Public Health held up for other communities to emulate as they struggled with both the epidemic and the turf issues that often arise, especially among service providers, when significant funding becomes available, and the competition for that funding often causes people to take their eyes off the really important stuff. For the most part, that never happened in Gloucester.

I see something like that happening again today in Gloucester in the face of the heroin/prescription opioid epidemic currently roiling the city. The overall positive response to Chief Campanello’s innovative and courageous shift in police policy regarding drug addiction and the people devastated by it, and the kinds of collaborative efforts between professional service providers, people in recovery, and ordinary Gloucester folk who’ve recognized the old approaches to the drug and addiction issue have failed, are strikingly similar to the kinds of collaboration and cooperation of two decades ago.

As a result Gloucester is, once again, being viewed by other communities, especially here on Cape Cod where the heroin/prescription opioid epidemic is as severe as it is in Gloucester, as a community to emulate in terms of how to address the drug/addiction issue. Chief Campanello’s actions and the response of the wider community have been the topics of both individual conversations and news stories here – most all of them positive.

Gloucester is, once again, showing itself to be a leader in the face of a controversial issue that many people either do not understand or would rather not talk about because they mistakenly view the issue solely through the lens of morality or criminality as opposed to the public health issue it really is.

But beyond Gloucester’s responses to health crises like AIDS and addiction, the kind of community spirit and activism that fueled those responses needs to be tapped into again in the face of the huge socioeconomic and demographic changes bearing down on Gloucester as the decline of the fishing industry leaves Gloucester vulnerable to the kinds of gentrification, real estate speculation, and false belief that a “visitor based” tourism economy is the key to a sustainable future for all the city’s residents.

Nothing, absolutely nothing could be further from the truth.

Anyone who doubts that assertion should just look, as I have said before, at what has happened to once socioeconomically diverse coastal communities like Provincetown, Nantucket, and Newburyport.

 

But what motivated me to write this was a desire, even from a distance, to remind people of what I told John 24 years ago when we lived together at 51. It was then I told him that, if people didn’t keep their guard up, someone with very deep pockets was going to descend on Gloucester and  transform a vibrant, ethnic working class, waterfront neighborhood like Fort Square into little more then an upscale, exclusive harbor front version of Louisburg Square by the Sea,

That someone has arrived and the process is well underway. The only question now is, “How far will people  let that process go and will it be allowed to remake Gloucester into little more than a clone of Newburyport, Provincetown, and Nantucket – where the economies are largely based, to paraphrase Peter Anastas, on the “chimera” of tourism, but the workers in that industry can no longer afford to live in the community where they work?”

People need to be thinking long and hard about that question because the clock is ticking as to whether or not keeping a semblance of the “enduring Gloucester” we love so much is even a possibility.

Still, I am betting Gloucester, given her big heart and even bigger soul, will yet find a way to navigate the social and economic changes bearing down upon her so that she remains a coastal city where all are welcome and able to live and raise their families – not just a select, well heeled few.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Kenneth Warren (1952-2015)

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chief Campanello Breaks Down Barriers

campanello

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

 

photo (3)

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.

 

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. 

 


 

 

 


 

Note to Self by Jeff Rowe

FHLaneA (2)

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.

 

Sincerely,

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.

Memories of a Highliner’s Son

 
Memories of a Highliner’s Son
 
by Big Tom Brancaleone
 
 
My family fished out of Gloucester on the Joseph & Lucia I, II and III, for over 50 years- as boat owners, captain and crew. They worked hard and were successful in their labors. They were known for being fair to their crews and had a propensity for fishing in bad weather.
 
 
  As a child I can remember the worried look on my mother’s face as our home on the Boulevard shook and the storm windows squealed and shuddered. The boat was out in yet another storm. Their hope was to be the only boat to market and to fetch a big price when they finally made it back to port, and they often did just that. As a boy I did not realize the dangers they faced and the ordeal that life as a commercial fisherman posed. They truly were iron men on those small vessels that earned every penny with sweat and blood.
  I never could begin to understand what my father sacrificed for us and how hard he worked until he actually took me out on my first trip. After two or three days of preparation,  which normally included vessel maintenance and fishing gear upkeep the Joseph & Lucia lll  (J&L III) was almost ready to set sail. The fuel tanks were filled and the food locker in the fo’c’sle was stocked. Thirty-two tons of crushed ice was put down the fish hold and the seven man crew said good bye to their loved ones and braced for eight to 12 days of battle with Mother Nature.
 
 
  I was only 14 in 1972, and it was summertime so the backdrop for my first experience at sea was rather tame compared with what it was like in the winter. My main duty was to keep my eyes open and stay out of harm’s way. I did suffer from sea sickness the first night out but, though it was awful,  it subsided after about 24 hours and wasn’t a problem thereafter.
   We steamed along at about 12 knots for roughly 36 hours to reach the fishing grounds. Crew members were required to take a “steaming watch” when the boat was under way. This is a very important duty and the lives of all on board are in the balance.




 The rules of the ocean and general seamanship are practiced at all times and of course you can never fall asleep. The captain gives his instructions and retires to his quarters to rest up. He will not get much sleep once the fishing begins. The importance of being alert on watch was demonstrated many years later as the J & L lll ,when steaming home after a particularly arduous trip collided with an ocean going barge in the Massachusetts Bay at full speed with 140,000 pounds of fish aboard. The man on watch had somehow dropped the ball. They were very fortunate to survive that mishap with minor damage to the boat and injuries to the men. Crew members suffered a few lumps and the bow was slightly dented. The barge had over $125,000 in damages and the boat got a $1000 fine for speeding in the fog in the bay. The barge was being towed by a tug and was tethered to it by a massive cable. If they had hit the tow cable there is a good chance the boat could have rolled over. An alarm was then installed that warned of a possible collision after that near disaster.
 
 
  The haul back bell rang and all hands got up from their bunks put on their oil skins and boots then readied the net to be set out. We were on Browns Bank in what is now Canadian waters in June of 1972. There was no Hague line at that time and the ocean was not as restricted as it is today. The crew on my families’ boats were for the most part expert fishermen. Browns Bank was notorious for being “hard bottom” that often teemed with haddock. I was instructed to keep clear of all wires and blocks and the many dangerous things that were going on, on deck. Not long after that trip the dangers of working on deck were vividly brought to light when my oldest brother Joe had his arm severed while setting out the net aboard the J & L ll. He had just gotten out of the Navy after four years as a quartermaster aboard nuclear submarines. My mother was oh so worried about him being on a sub. The deck of an eastern rigged dragger is a far more dangerous place. I will relate that story later because it merits its own chapter in human drama and endurance.
Once the net is set out it will be towed or dragged along the ocean bottom for about three hours. Often on hard bottom like Browns the gear will hang up and suffer varying degrees of damage. Sometimes nets  needed immediate repair, but sometimes they could be fixed at the end of the tow when the net is hauled back on deck. In those days there were lots of fish and lots of damage incurred during normal fishing operations. This required expert crews with mending skills and the ability to get the gear back over and catching fish again. The men would often mend the damaged net for hours, then re-set it. Then they would still need to cut, gut, wash and ice down the fish and wash the deck. Less than three hours later the alarm would sound once more and it was time to do it all over again. They worked around the clock on a rolling deck in all kinds of weather for days on end. They missed being home when their children were born and many other wonderful events that we on land take for granted. I knew rather quickly that this would not be the life for me!
The first tow was completed and I was seated in the pilot house with the captain, my Uncle Tom. He was a high line skipper who had been fishing for over 30 years at that point and had earned a great deal of respect from fishermen up and down the east coast. As the crew brought the trawl aboard, the cod end popped up and confirmed a good haul. The bag of fish had to be split and swung over the rail in two parts. The deck swarmed with over 7,000 pounds of haddock and scrod. The crew re-set the net and began to cut fish, and the gulls followed the J & L lll as she plodded along in the dark of night.
It was during one of these nights when everyone had just gotten off the deck and we heard a loud BANG!  We hung up hard and parted the main wire while also causing serious damage to the net. Back on deck to recover the gear and put the net back together. This appeared to me to be a tricky procedure that the veteran crew handled with just a bit of difficulty. I had the greenhorn job of filling mending needles with twine as the men fixed the net under the watchful eye of the first mate, Frank D’ Amico who had been fishing with Captain Tom from day one and was one of the best twine men in the business. They used up the needles almost as quickly as I could fill them. After an hour and half or so the net went over the side, a lot more fish would soon be on the deck.
As instructed I watched and tried to learn and be aware of the endless toil that is part of being a dragger-man. I was only 14 and was allowed to go out fishing,  not to learn to be a fisherman, but in order to dissuade me from ever becoming one. My father was the engineer aboard the J & L lll and was known as “The Chief.”  He knew very well that it was a hard life filled with danger and hardship and wanted me to find that out for myself. I quickly did.
The trip continued, and within 3 days the J & L lll had over 40,000 pounds of fish iced down in her hold. We hauled the gear aboard and proceeded to steam to another fishing ground to the south to concentrate on a different species of fish. Here we caught more of mixed variety including flounder and red fish. As I became more aware of my surroundings and possible areas of danger I was allowed to venture out on deck and help the crew with cleaning fish and picking trash fish out of the pens on deck and tossing them over the side. We ate three square meals a day prepared by the cook Gil Roderick. The cook’s job aboard a dragger is a difficult one. He has his duties on deck as well as feeding seven or eight hungry men for the duration of each and every long trip. A small stipend for the extra work seemed hardly worth it to me. He has to order the “grub,” stow it, and prepare it in some sloppy conditions. He is also responsible for cleaning up after every meal. Tough job. A few more days passed with far less damage to the net and another 30,000 pounds of mixed fish.
Again we put the gear aboard and headed to the #8 buoy for some codfish. After about a 12 hour steam we neared our destination as the night was ending. This place, I was told, was fished during the day time and there were a number of vessels waiting for sunrise before setting out. Several were Gloucester boats I recognized. At that time there was a limit on cod. You could catch 30,000 pounds per trip. It was a beautiful summer day and all the boats set out together at sunrise. You could see the faces of other crew members on deck close by and it became a race to see who would catch their limit first. The cod were there and we quickly hauled back and put 5,000 pounds aboard on the first set. By late afternoon we had our 30,000 pounds aboard. The deck was full,  the net was aboard, and as we steamed out of there you could see and hear other men on the other boats waving and hollering at us as we passed. We were the first to leave and head for home! I felt such pride and accomplishment as we sailed out of there, and I will never forget that moment. The Joseph & Lucia lll was headed home!
I for one was extremely happy to be on our way in. I was tired and had never worked so hard in my life. I had witnessed some things that I had never imagined and got a small taste of the fishing life. We finally arrived in Boston in the wee hours of the morning and prepared the vessel to take out fish. The fish hold man was veteran Gaspar Palazolla, whose job it was to ice down the fish and also to give the skipper an accurate tally as to the amount of fish by species that were in the hold. At the pier an auction took place in the morning to determine the price of the fish on hand that day and to document which dealer bought what and how much. The names of the vessels in that day and the amount of fish was written on a huge chalk board grid,  and then bid on. There were a few boats in port that day and J & L lll topped the board with 106,500 pounds. Not a bad trip. I was responsible for washing pin boards and did perform this somewhat tedious task that day. By 3:00 pm we were finished taking out.  We untied the lines and headed for Gloucester. I can remember climbing down the fish hold with my cousin Joe,  and Gaspar and rebuilding it with pen boards. We were a bit giddy by this time and Joe and I began to sing in high pitched voices as we worked, much to the chagrin of Gaspar! After that I went up in the wheel house with my dad and uncle and enjoyed the ride home. As we sailed past the dog bar breakwater I could see my house on the Boulevard. I wondered what my friends were doing and how my mother was. I knew she was more worried than usual this trip, with my dad and me out together. We got to the dock at Rocky Neck and as I put my feet down on solid ground I let out a sigh of relief.
I got home and my father asked me if I wanted to go on the next trip-  in about three days.  My immediate response was no. I wanted to ride my bike and go to the beach and enjoy school vacation. He did not press me at all. Three days later the captain called with orders for 8:00 am for another trip. I traveled down to the ice wharf on Harbor Loop with my brother and mother to see my dad off. As they untied the lines and the boat pulled away from the wharf I began to cry. For the first time I had an idea of what he did for my family. Year in and year out, trip after long trip he and all working fisherman put their lives on the line and endure.
 
 
 
Vice President of  St. Peter’s Club,  and a director of the Gloucester Marine Railways Corporation since 1998, .Tom Brancaleone resides with his family overlooking the “Man at the Wheel” on the Boulevard.

Editor’s note:

 “Highliner”  is the commercial fishermen’s term for their own elite, the skippers and crews who bring in the biggest hauls.

 

Lobstering by Dory- the Day After Christmas

 

 

The Day After Christmas

By Tom Welch

On the day after Christmas, before the Sun rises, while most of us haven’t even woken up and begun our day of nursing yesterday’s overindulgences  or heading to the Mall to exchange things we don’t need for other things we don’t need, Tom Jarvis is down at Santapaolo’s wharf in East Gloucester. He’s a true Gloucesterman, so the routine of checking his dory and gear for hauling lobster traps is more like breathing than a difficult thought process.

He lets go of the lines, rows out of Smith’s Cove and arrives at the Gloucester Maritime dock with the first rays of morning sunlight. His first order of business is to take care of his favorite girl, the only one he’s ever been able to commit to. She’s the “Resolute”, a Burnham-built Friendship Sloop with such beautiful lines you can’t gaze upon her without a double-take or a lasting, long look. The Burnham family courted Tom to buy the “Resolute” for years, knowing he’d take good care of her, they finally let him have her for a song- the cost of the new engine they put in, as Tom says, “I bought an engine with a beautiful boat around it!” He starts the engine to charge her battery and pump what little water might be in the bilge, lingering long enough for a few sips of coffee, his hand on her boom, listening to her purr.

 

Now it’s back in the dory, rowing out past Harbor Cove and the Fort, the back of his neck tells him the forecast for Southwest wind was accurate and dictates that he’ll row toward Stage Fort Park, using the lee of the Magnolia shore to get to his first traps set over by Norman’s Woe, the infamous rocks causing the “Wreck of the Hesperus”.

Most of the Inshore Lobstermen are putting their traps ashore for winter because the lobster have migrated to safer, deeper water and winter storms can cost thousands of dollars in damage to a lobsterman’s gear. One passing close by, starboard to starboard, with a deckload of traps, steaming in, shouts “Jarvis!” and Tom acknowledges the greeting with a respectful raising of the chin. The hands, arms, back and legs are too busy sweeping the oars and driving the dory the 3 miles windward to the first traps. This simple greeting holds countless fathoms of mutual respect, each knowing they share the many secrets that only come with Sea time.

 

Once on his gear he quickly secures the first buoy to the dory, using it as a mooring line to hold the boat in place just long enough for him to don his boots and oilskins.  As he hauls his traps he is totally present, senses heightened by the pitch of the Sea, the squeal of the gurney and the cold salt spray spinning off of it. The Southwest wind freshens. The waves grow larger with white caps and deep troughs between. Now Mother Nature requires total awareness or she’ll take a toll. Tom embraces what she has taught him, raising his sails, she takes him ENE to Black Bess, the rocks off Joe Garland’s house on Eastern Point, where he hauls another couple of strings.

 

 

 

Again the sails are raised, this time the port rail to the wind as he steers NW to his gear south of Ten Pound Island. A Harbor Seal recognizes the dory and swims nearby, hoping another tasty herring will make its way into the water instead of the bait bag. And so it goes. Hauling. Setting. Trimming. Steering. Rowing. Every motion a lesson in efficiency taught by years of experience. When all is said and done he is back at his truck before noon.

The haul for the day?

Six keepers.

What???

Six Lobsters, that’s it???

There are those that would say, “What a fool! All that work in the freezing cold for six lobsters? It’s not worth it!”

It’s not about the lobsters for Tom Jarvis, Hell, these’ll most likely end up either in his Mom’s kitchen or in a pot on the woodstove of Gino Mondello’s “Dory Shop”, feeding his fellow Gloucestermen on a Saturday afternoon.

It’s about the connections…. with the Waves, the Seal, the Lobsterman, the Sun and the Wind.

It’s what he does.

It’s who he is.

A true Gloucesterman.

Before most people even get out of bed the day after Christmas.