Chapter Two – Motorcycles

“CaleCaleCale,” Mark Robinson’s smile burst into the room in advance of his physical presence. When I looked up to see his green eyes, I smiled back, then leaning over the table surface I had turned into a cutting board, I snipped off the last piece of interfacing.

“MarkMarkMark, I’m making a bathing suit!” suit I announced. He stood leaning against the door jam, in cut-off jeans and a t-shirt, his arms crossed in a relaxed pose, but the excitement in his voice told me something unusual was up.

“So, this is where you are! I tried to call you. Are you ready for a ride?”

“Uh, yeah. I mean, Yes! You got the bike working! Sure! Soon as I put this stuff away.” But I wasn’t really excited at first, considering how long I had been looking forward to this maiden voyage.  I almost didn’t want to go, since I was nearly finished with the suit and wanted to see what it looked like on me. But I had been begging him for a ride ever since I heard he was getting a bike, and this was my last free day.  Tomorrow was my French final, and then my freshman year at the University of Mass in Amherst was over. “It’ll take me two minutes,” I added.

“Okay!” he said, halfway out the door, he added, “I’ll meet you at my dorm then.” He bounded down the stairs in that way of his, on the balls of his feet, like an Indian in magic moccasins. Part Cherokee, Mark wasn’t that tall, about 5’ 10”, but he was lean and all muscle. I had only recently learned that he was a track star in high school. He was forever surprising me; he didn’t seem like they kind of boy who would ride a motorcycle.  But then, I’d never known anyone who had parachuted from airplanes, either. Mark had just finished taking his first dive.

We met my first semester, his third, in an 8 a.m. French class. He would come over evenings to Herman Melville House, my all girl dormitory where I was also working as a lobby security guard. We tutored each other in French and talk about our other classes.  I’d been introduced to Aristotle, Socrates and Plato in my Classics 101 course, as well as the Greek tragedians, Sophocles and Euripedes.  Because he was a sophomore, he had taken many of the courses the year before, he talked about them as eagerly as I.

“What did you think of that analogy of the caves thing?” he asked me one night, a frown darkening his face.   “Did you get that at all?”

“Oh, yeah! Didn’t you? But I like the tragedies more. What do you think of Oedipus Rex?  Wasn’t that the most amazing story? The way he heard in advance that he would kill his father and marry his own mother, so he leaves home so he won’t do those things, and he ends up meeting his real father on the road, killing him and winning the king’s wife as a reward.”

“Yeah, no matter what, the Greeks think your fate is decided before you are born,” he said.

“But the existentialists believe you create your own destiny. Free will, and all that,” I countered.

“What do you think?” he asked me.

“I believe you can be whoever you want to be,” then I hastily added a qualifier. “Of course, your life is somewhat determined by your social class, and to a certain extent, your upbringing –”.

“And your genes, ” he interrupted.

“Yeah – but I still believe we create our own existence.” I ended my definitive statement on Life with an opening to him, “Do you think your fate was decided before you were born?”

He was a serious conversationalist, and as he stopped to think, his face took on a different cast. “I don’t know, actually.  Didn’t Oedipus have free will?” His strong, square jaw and high cheekbones became more prominent in this mood. “He’s the one who decided NOT to stay with his family.”

“Yeah, but in trying to avoid his fate, he walked right into it,” I said.

“So, who decided his fate, then?” He gave me an opening, so I prattled on.

“It was the Oracle at Delphi.  No.  It was the gods who decided his fate, and the oracle just told him. And he thought that knowing it, he could escape it.”

“Yeah. But it was that very thing that caused his fate. So, did he have free will?”

“I see what you mean,” I said, liking him more for the challenge of conversation he always presented, and which I had never experienced in high school.

Other times, Mark and I had great debates over ethics, and which laws were more important, those of the individual, or those of society.  I often took the side of society because he was very much an advocate of the individual, but we both flip- flopped from time to time.

In a contemplative literature class I had learned that a Jewish theologian, Martin Buber, believed true dialogue is where we humans experience God, in the honest, give and take of relationship. These true dialogues of ours I related to as my way of being spiritual, but they really were at that point just on an intellectual dialogue level.

Second semester I began to work lobby security in another dorm, a 20-story high-rise building in the same part of campus where Mark and I lived, known as Southwest. This side of campus was a kind of city in miniature — five high-rise dormitories and a half dozen or so three-stories on a section of campus paved with cement and accented with more glass than grass.  At the beginning of that second semester Mark would stop by to visit with me, and then walk me home.  I’m sure I was just the last on a long list of people he checked in on in the evenings; he was a sociable and popular person. And we no longer shared the French class, so we were done tutoring.

When we walked across the square, I’d saunter slowly, tired from work, and he would dance around me to slow himself down. Often we’d stop outside his dorm, named after John F. Kennedy, and sit on the hot-air vents, having discussions that grew from intellectual to eventually, more personal.

“When school is over I’m going to Lake Placid – in the Adirondacks, you know? – and get a job as a waitress for the summer,” I told him as we both leaned our backs against the brick building.

“That’s in upstate New York?” he asked. “Why there?” He stretched his legs out in front of him.

“Oh, I used to live in Saranac Lake when I was 16, and I have friends there still. I’m applying at the Whiteface Inn.”

“Waitressing, huh? Have you ever done that work before?”

“No. Are you kidding? I’ve only had one other real job besides baby-sitting and cleaning people’s houses, and one year I ironed for $1/hour.  But how hard can it be to take orders and pick up plates?”

“I don’t know.” He shrugged and looked over at me. “What was your real job?”

“I was a money-checker girl at Skill-Right.

He narrowed his eyes.  “What’s a skill right?”

“A bingo joint on Revere Beach.”

He laughed and raised his knees into a rest for his arms. “I thought Bingo was illegal.”

“Don’t laugh,” I elbowed him in the ribs. “It’s serious business.  Those old folks who play Skill-Right pay some big money, like fifty dollars a day. And it’s not all old folks, either. There are some serious players.”

“But I thought only churches and clubs could play Bingo games?” He picked up a piece of gravel and tossed it toward the trees in front of us that made a hedge around the building.

I mimicked his movement, picking up the gravel like I used to pick among the beans at Skill-Right. “You got to hand it to them. They figured out a way to make it legal.”

“How’d they do that?”

“Oh, they give out cards and beans just like in Bingo, but they don’t pull numbers out of a hat or anything. The numbers supposedly come from skill because people have to throw darts at a board. Five darts. If they can match up any of their five darts with something on their cards they win a certain cash amount. Guess what the letters are instead of B-I-N-G-O?

“S-K-I-L-L?”

“Hah! That wouldn’t work because you’ve got two L’s. It’s R-I-G-H-T.”

“That makes sense,” he said thoughtfully. “So it’s not luck, and it can’t be fixed because these people create their own matches.”

I laughed.  “Well, supposedly. But – it’s mostly old ladies who play – nobody plays it that way to match their cards with the dartboard. Most of them don’t even reach the dartboard. They throw all the darts at once, and some of them land on the floor before they even get to the dart board.” I laughed just remembering the difference between the few skilled dart aimers and the tossers.

“So, how do they get the numbers for “right?” he asked.

“The way they get the numbers is a “caller” goes around from the first aisle to the last. A certain color dart is lit up on the board behind the announcer, and the caller reads out that number on each board until someone gets a RIGHT.”

“What a trip! So you did this in high school?” He smiled at me. His smile was warm and blinding; it filled his whole face with an uncommon openness.

“Yep. It was my first job where they took out taxes. It bought me clothes, and movies, and every Wednesday night on pay day, we went to the China Roma and had Chinese food.”

“I always thought Revere Beach was a weird place, but an Italian Chinese Restaurant,” he mused, and then looked to make sure another elbow wasn’t coming his way.

Mark was from a town about 40 miles north of me up the coast, called Danvers. It had beautiful beaches, not tacky like Revere, the place where I grew up as a kid.  A city of 40,000 in the 1970’s, Revere had been the first public beach in the U. S., but had been corrupted by Mafia influences over the past several decades. Most of the beautiful old amusement halls had burned down, the brass on the bandstand had gone green, the sea wall had crumbled, and the pavilions along the shore had fallen into disrepair.

“Skill right, huh? Did it pay OK?” he asked.

“Not as much as waitressing. Trust me,” I laughed.  We were both quiet then.

“So, you’re going to New York before you even know if you’ve got a job.” He laughed at me, and then spoke not shyly. “I was going to ask if you wanted to come with me sometime this summer to Plum Island.”

I was silent. Plum Island. I’d heard about this nature preserve on the Atlantic coast, but the one time I’d set out with girlfriends to see it, we ended up on the coast of New Hampshire instead.

“How would we get there?” I asked. “Hitchhike?

“On my motorcycle. I told you I’m getting a bike, didn’t I?”

“A motorcycle?” I raised my voice a couple of octaves with excitement.  “I love motorcycles! I’m going to buy a small red Honda motorbike this summer.”  I then chattered on about the romance of the road and my attraction to motorcycles. I told him how on the amusement park part of Revere Beach I developed a strong fascination with Harleys and the men and women who rode them. He told me how he didn’t have a Harley, but a small road bike he had been fixing up so he could get it running before the end of the semester. That conversation was in March.

I didn’t see Mark for several months Spring semester, and when we finally caught up, much had happened with us both. His hair had grown longer, and he looked like Prince Valiant.  Sitting on the vents, the steam floating up from below and enveloping us lightly, keeping us warm, we at first talked about school, and then our talk turned reflective.

Mark told me about an uncomfortable situation developing among his circle of friends. A woman in the group developed an attraction to him that he evidently didn’t share.  She must have been very attractive, since his friends thought he was crazy – literally – not to return her feelings and had hinted maybe he should see one of the counselors on campus about his lack of response to her. I was very sympathetic.  I also had problems with people who were attracted to me. As friendly and open as I was to people generally, I feared intimacy greatly. A non-threatening relationship like the one I had with him, where he never expressed any need or desire, felt safe.

I told him about my friend Phil, whom I had only got to know a few weeks into the second semester. Phil had seemed to have a crush on me, but then it turned out to be an obsession, which wasn’t even personal. It was a religious obsession where, after doing too much LSD, he began to relate to me as Mary Magdalene. When it came out that he saw himself as a Christ figure, I had to bring him to a drug drop-in center, from where he was later transferred to a state hospital. On his way to another facility, his parents had brought him back to get his things and say goodbye to his friends. Phil had ended up being the biggest influence in my college life. I was still recovering. Mark had heard about the infamous tragedy that had befallen this young man, though he hadn’t known I was involved.

“I’ve got to take you to meet my sister Wendy before the year is over. I think I might move into her dorm next semester, or move off campus, I’m not sure yet.”

“I’d like to meet her,” I nodded my head as well.  Then I raised my shoulders, stretched my fingers down to my feet and sloughed off the somber feelings from talking about Phil. I looked back at him again. “I can’t believe the year is over. Is your sophomore year as good as your freshman year?” I asked him. I wanted to hear that it was better.

“You can’t compare them,” he said as serious as the voice of wisdom. “But then 1969 was a year that can’t compare with any other year because of the protests.”

The previous year, the whole campus went on strike against the Vietnam War and boycotted college and classes. According to Mark, he had the one and only UMASS professor who required attendance.  “I got a “D” in chemistry, the lowest grade on campus that spring,” he told me and smiled broadly. Obviously, he wasn’t embarrassed in the least; he was proud of this distinction.

This conversation was a watershed for us. During the last few weeks of school, we gravitated strongly to each other, and when he knew he was getting his motorcycle ready for the road, he let me know I was one of the first he’d take out.

Now, finally, I would get my wish.

Look for  Chapter Three coming soon.

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Howlings: Wild Women of the West and Have Crutch Will Travel, The Adventures of a Modern Day Calamity Jane are published by Tell Tale Publishing. If you are looking for press materials, radio interview, bios, photo gallery and schedule of readings for Have Crutch Will Travel, just click on the link on the left. To buy it, you can click on Amazon’s badge on the right, or you can order through Cale’s email, caleski@howlings.com for an autographed and/or inscribed copy.

Shadow of My former Self begins with “Prelude:  Miss American Pie,” which posted in October.

Chapter One – Revere Beach

at Revere Beach

We grew up in a city eight miles north of Boston on the ocean, a town built around a natural crescent of coastline which followed the ocean’s curve into an inlet under an arm of land called Lynn, in its cupped palm, a town called Nahant. From Revere Beach we could see across the water to Nahant. South of Revere was Beachmont and Winthrop and then East Boston.

As the oldest child in a family of six, home was cramped quarters of poverty and abuse. The outdoors was where I went to escape and feel alive.

Had I been born and raised in the country, horses might have conveyed the sense of adventure and romance my impressionistic mind long for.  I might have dreamed of taming a wild horse, riding her bare back into the sunset.

But it was the city of Boston in which my mother birthed me, and I was raised in an urban ocean culture where nature was just a backdrop to the more tawdry culture of commercial enterprise known as amusement concessions. The truly exciting glamorous steeds of steel that rode the coastline known as Revere Beach rode unmuffled, the leather vested motor cycle heroes, rode with bare backs, swerving in and out of the traffic along Revere Beach Boulevard, saluting with special signals those in their brotherhood who they would later meet at the far end of the Beach past Hurley’s park.

In the l940’s Revere Beach was an amusement area, Great Gatsby gone brass. And the brass had tarnished. Some said it was the Mafia who were responsible for Revere’s urban renewal. By the l950’s the glamorous dancehall had burned down, the hotel across the street burned and had been abandoned, and the pier which once led to a glittering ballroom now ended with a tackle and “boats for rent” sign. Nature had also taken her toll on the `40’s dream for the resort town. The copper tops of the bandstand and covered pavilions built every half mile or so along the length of the coastline had turned green, and the massive concrete steps had crumbled a little bit more after each storm.

Across the street from the beach Revere flaunted its cultural decadence in the tacky rides and concessions crowded like a carnival along the boulevard. Packed together halfway to the northern tip of the crescent were the Merry-Go-Round, the Ferris wheel, the double Ferris wheel, the Roustabout. There was the Hippodrome merry-go-round with its hand-painted, made-in-Germany wooden horses, and the Roller Coaster, which was famous for something– perhaps the number of sailors who died each year because they had dared to raise their arms into the air, ignoring the warning to keep your hands under the rail.

Inspiring the most terror, for me at least, was the Wild Mouse, a ride that pointed the nose of a little car over the edge of a ten-story high track as though it would soon drop over the edge, and then violently the car jerked back on to the track to yet another precipice-like corner. There was a ride called the Virginia Reel which I never got to take, but looked like a flying saucer gliding along the rollercoaster track. There were bumper cars, hot dog stands, and dart games with stuffed animals playing back-up to a big bellied hawker with a cigar for a baton. Mid-boulevard sat the façade of a huge building with bowling alley upstairs and a miniature golf game downstairs, and a lounge with famous entertainers featured on the doors closed to kids. There were open-air pizza stands, fried clam stands, pizza parlors with juke boxes, huge halls with pinball machines and picture booths; all these lined up like candy on a necklace across from the mother of it all, the ocean.

If it was the ocean which gave birth to all these man-made entertainments, it was the MBTA which made it fertile economic ground for concessionaires. Come spring, no matter what weather, you knew it was Easter when the color hit the boulevard; blacks from the city paraded in spiffy suits of canary yellows, lime greens, raucus orange and whatever new style might wake up the night. Revere was one of the few ocean beaches which could be reached by the working-class, train-transported public in the cities. Every day in the summer people would get off the train to spend the day at the Beach. Either side of the boulevard these commuter waves of people left paper cups, plates, straws, bags, and bottles in their wake, and between that and the seaweed, Revere was one of the trashiest beaches on the Atlantic.

Still, as kids, we did not know better. Revere Beach was “the beach,” our Paradise. Every week a uniformed band played at the bandstand and we kids would join a dancing crowd of funky older men and women who danced to the beat of their favorite big band music.

Before I started school, we lived on Shirley Ave, and when I was five we moved to Beachmont, which was a neighborhood of Revere. I had traveled past there before on the MBTA. My five year-old-mind imagined Beachmont was a huge mountain of ice cream with a cherry on top like the “Big Rock Candy Mountain” I had heard Burl Ives sing of. When we actually moved there, my picture of Beachmont changed. It widened to become the huge hill—a mountain!–above the beach; it was rampant with fruit trees, red ants and natural “jungles” to build forts in. It was a kind of magical place to me.

We lived in six rooms of a deep four-story apartment building that had not only a cellar but a scary sub-cellar. Stacked in the back were three floors of back porches over which planes flew every hour or so on their way into Logan airport in East Boston. If you stood on the condemned, pigeon-infested back porch, which we were not supposed to do, it looked like they were coming straight into the backside of the house. Whenever they flew by at night, I hid under the covers in terror because this time they might drop the bombs we practiced for in our school air raids. In school the teachers had to quit talking while the planes roared overhead.

Beachmont was also a short distance from the ocean, this time the south end of Revere Beach, where the amusements and pavilions gave way to rocky coastline with no amenities, except a park and the fishing pier, and a mile further south, a massive seawall with bathers openings. Between the pier and the seawall were huge rocks of breakers behind which some houses were built, but no public bathing was allowed. When the ocean crashed through the seawall every few years during a storm these houses were flooded, sometimes demolished, and those of us who lived just a half-mile away up on the hill wondered at the folly of those who lived right down there on the water.

In late November we would walk up Bellingham Avenue down to the southern end of the beach toward Winthrop and collect the quahog shells which had washed up on the beach by the ton. They’re a strong, heavy shell, like the tiny periwinkle, and many would survive the crashing surf in perfect shape for our Christmas craft-making of ashtrays painted with watercolors, to be sent to Aunts and Uncles in the Adirondack Mountains where my mother had grown up. We rarely went to the beach in the wintertime when we were little, though when we were in our teens the bowling alley and pizza parlors drew us down to the shore. While we lived in Beachmont it was the summertime I loved best.

My mother would load up thermoses, bags of food, pillow cases of extra clothing, and the stroller, and she would pack her four, five and six kids down to the beach for the whole day. We would eat two meals and then be met by my father for dinner at 6 or so, just before it got dark.

Even though Revere was a city, our early life there was filled with the wonders of nature. Seagulls squawked from the air while the plentiful pigeons hopped around pecking at discarded French fries or onion rings littering the beach. The ocean brought in clams, and worms and jelly fish, and once a sting ray washed up on the beach. Long serrated shawls and skinny green ropes of seaweed washed in at high tide for our investigation and creative application. Mostly we tried to scare each other with it because it was so otherworldly, like witches’ hair. Holding it with one finger, wet and dripping, I discovered the perfect slimy surprise for the back of someone’s sun burnt legs. The weather was hot, but the ocean wind would tingle and cool our salt-stained skin, and when it got later in the day my mother would call us to come put on a sweater, “That old East Wind is blowing in,” she’d say.

Knees nestled into the sand, we three older children ages 4, 5, and 6 would finger-dig the granulated firmament deep enough for the soft sand to give way to a wet, congealing consistency, and then we’d dig with a shovel from there to begin our creations. Sometimes we made castles, piling the sand up until it was chest high, then we packed it down and round with our palms, an artful swack from the shovel back here and there, and then mimicking the design of certain seashells, we used the trough of the shovel to sculpt a spiral pathway from the castle’s dome to base. We tried rolling bottle caps on their sides down this passage until we discovered the little red balls detached from ping pong paddles. These had far superior rolling action down the chutes and bobbed neatly in the moat we had filled with our pails.

Other times we sculpted sand-boats, daring to scoop them from sand close to the shore when the tide was coming in so they would be surrounded by ocean when we were done. We’d quickly pack down rectangular forms for benches and sit on them while the waves washed over the bow, half-screaming, half-squealing at whoever was still packing down the back of the boat to jump in. “We’re sailing now!” Our imaginations were limitless as we hung our make-believe fishing poles over starboard, or blew a fog horn to another boat until our vessel was ensconced and melted away by the incoming tide. We splashed and played until exhausted and hiked back up to our blanket, which was weighted down with stones at each corner in the deep, soft sand above the tide mark. There my mother would be picking sand from a sandwich for one of the kids or changing another’s diaper, or simply bouncing a baby on her knee.

We were rarely still unless exhausted. If the tide was high we would move up the grassy park before the beach and swing on the horizontal poles that formed a separator of park and beach. We practiced cartwheels and somersaults, yelling, “Hey, Ma. Watch this!” The outdoors was our playground, and the possibilities were endless. In the early morning at low tide we watched the clam diggers in their rolled up-pants as they padded the softened sand, and when a clam spit up at them, quickly turned to the worm-like opening through which the clam threw his watery wake, and began digging, chasing and overtaking the mollusk. We’d try to catch these slippery devils digging with our little hands, while looking with envious admiration at those who walked along with pails full.

Much easier to track were the hermit crabs who hung out in little pools around rocky areas, but they were neither edible nor pretty. A few times we’d come across the carcass of the beautifully shaped starfish. I used to always comb the shore for a certain small, white shell shaped like the oyster into whose apex a little hole was sometimes worn away. These I would string for earrings and necklaces. Shells made good windows and doors for our castles too. We had bright colored pails we’d deposit these treasures into, and when we came back to the blanket they would be laid out in some design for presentation for my mother to pick her favorite.

When we were really young and lived in Beachmont, we spent half our time down the beach, Steven in a stroller, Kathleen in a harness, and Billy, Chris and I hovering near like loose particles around a nucleus. My mother used to cut a branch and make a switch, whipping the backs of our legs if we strayed out of her orbit.

One day we are walking along, and suddenly, she yells to me and Bill, and in one movement she pushes us over the soft embankment of sand and bushes that slope down from the sidewalk opposite the boulevard. She flings the stroller past and partly through the bushes down a steeper dune, and from where we lay we see the boom of a large crane pass over our mother who is lying face down on the sidewalk. It chops down the huge steel lampposts like they were trees. Quickly we scramble to her. As she gathers us all in her arms, the cars yell to her. “Sue `em! Sue `em!”

“I just thank the Lord we are alive,” she tells them all, and we continue down the street. “What does “sue” mean?” I ask.

“Some people like to make money on other people’s misfortune, dear,” she tells me, and from the tone of her voice I am glad we are not like that. Even if we don’t have enough money to buy pizza later on.

When we were younger we went to the park at the Beachmont end of the beach, but as we grew older my brother and I migrated further south, to the bathhouse, and then to the bandstand where there were more people and there were pizza stands, slush machines, ice cream vendors and the amusements. We would look for bottles thrown away by tourists and turn them in for a penny or two and collect enough sometimes in one afternoon to buy a piece of pizza. I used to dream of a day when I could eat all the slices I wanted, since the few times my mother took us for a treat the pizza was rationed. She used to cover it with hot pepper so I’d be forced to eat it more slowly. We were not allowed to drink soda pop, but I used to stare at the six bottles lined up on the counter separating the dining area from the kitchen of Bill Ash’s pizza stand: R.C. Cola, root beer, Coke, Pepsi, Orange Crush and ginger ale. I knew ginger ale from the times I was sick and my mother would give me the tonic to make me burp. I loved the fizz against my tongue and would sometimes hold my tongue in the glass a long time to savor the sensation as bubbles stimulated the mouth watering glands beneath. As I grew older, I grew bolder in my desires to have more of these treats. Billy and I soon became so industrious as to approach people drinking pop to ask them if we could take their bottle for them when they were done!

The discovery of the man-made amusements down the northern end of the beach ended our exclusive fascination with Nature. There were some pretty interesting sights down the other end. One of my favorites was to watch the big people; mostly I was fascinated with the culture of romance, personified by the foreign sailors docked in Charlestown who came over on the MBTA. They would begin their days alone or in male packs, and we would follow their progress with the pretty girls and be entranced by those who held the young beauty in their arms in broad daylight behind the seawall or lying on a blanket facing the beach.

I suppose it was the uniform which attracted me to sailors: my father had been in the navy. Down by the bandstand where I also studied the culture of romance, it was the lack of clothes which fascinated me. Here paraded the exhibitionism and masquerade of young adulthood fascinated with its own physical presence. Looking for empty bottles I waded almost unseen among the card playing, sun-worshipping and radio blasting blankets of big -hipped women in skimpy bathing suits and muscled men in cut-off shorts. It amazed me how fat women’s thighs were with their skirts off, and how hairy men seemed. I watched them play handball against the seawall, and I watched them watch each other. They were far more interesting than the blankets of families where my mother sat. They seemed to have an excited sense of their own importance which I did not have in my pre-puberty stage.

After I’d cashed in all the bottles I could find, if I wasn’t babysitting one of the little kids, I could wander across the street to the arcades to play pin ball machines or look for coins amidst the gum wrappers, combs, condoms and other assorted trash under the tilt-a-whirl and flying cars. Without money, I just watched.

I watched the motorcycle mamas with their tattoos press themselves against the red flesh of the motorcycle men, whose only concession to the sun was to bare their chests above their leather pants. I stood transfixed in front of a high cage where African monkeys chattered, hung, and swung, and they climbed the fences which kept them from the people. I have no idea why there were monkeys in this one outdoor amusement park, but the memory of standing there watching them climb their cages is with me today. They were as interesting as and no less strange to me than the motorcyclists or the sun-worshippers, but I did pity them their lack of freedom.

Sea breezes, sand, lapping water, much loving and affection as babies–this childhood sensual involvement with nature, followed by the voyeurism of pre-puberty, was then turned off–adolescence. Mine was tough, as I tried to create an identity separate from my family, in the midst of the chaos of poverty and abuse, preparing my escape from them. My mother was a romantic and my father a pessimist was also mentally ill; the two faced the realities of a big family and little resources. They had eight children in ten years, and lost two within a five year period. When I was 10, we moved to the urban section of Revere; my father lost jobs, and as we kids older kids entered into adolescence, our innocence was tainted wandering the seamier sides of the boulevard. These years my picture of the glitter and glamour of the Revere Beach grew more distorted, like children’s figures in the funhouse mirrors do.

The 60’s racial tensions left on Revere emotional scars: mortality rates increased; stabbings, beatings, and robberies were blamed on the blacks who came in from the cities, and the concessions burned down one by one, the roller coaster, the Hippodrome, and the Virginia Reel which I had dreamed of one day riding. Urban Renewal Revere-style took the form of mysterious fires, reported in the newspapers, arsonist never found.

I can remember my brother and I exploring for trinkets through the charred timber of one of the Arcade Bazaar in the sixties. Amazingly enough we found scorched but not melted plastic wallets, smoke infested but intact stuffed animals. For a kid, it was weird to find the salvage and treasure it, but it felt good to find something left behind the ruins.

As we got older we heard more about the Mafia. A friend’s father was shot down in front of his home; bodies were found and identified as gangland slayings. When I was in high school a young man who hung out at my pizza parlor, Ray Lucetta, was found with his balls cut off and stuffed in his mouth. A warning for fooling around with a gang member’s wife, the story went. These stories intrigued us, as we were not personally touched. Years later a male prostitution ring was broken up. It had been headquartered in a karate school where some of my young male childhood friends used to get us our Friday night booze. We had all been touched; we just didn’t know it.

I go down Revere Beach today, and it has changed again. Green park-like strips of land and high rise housing have replaced the old burnt-out ruins. There are still a few good fried food places, and the bandstand and 40’s bathhouses functioning in disrepair are better than nothing.

But it is the ocean side of the boulevard which makes Revere worth returning to. Down Revere Beach I will always be a child, despite my adult eyes. The ocean is a mother, promising to always be there, deep in her mystery, sparkling in the reflection of the sun, broiling in angry fury at the disturbances in the atmosphere, and then heaving watery sighs on to shore, receding from the washed-up gems which are the broken shells of her tumultuous home.

Prelude: Miss American Pie

Sweet sixteen in '67, Saranac Lake, NY

In 1968, at 16, I was a “fox.” With my All-American-Girl looks and bedroom-blue eyes I wanted to be the Marilyn Monroe of my neighborhood. Or maybe, Goldie Hawn with a bosom. Or perhaps Miss America, only short. I could picture myself walking the dais in my high heels, turning my derriere to just the right angle, smiling and waving, making up for all those years as a freckled, skinny, ugly duckling squinting into the sun as the camera invited me in for what I’d feel later was a false reading.

Until I was 15, something wasn’t right.  From grade six to grade eight I’d cringe at my school pictures. My dishwater blonde hair didn’t fall like rain from my crown like Jean Shrimpton’s golden bangs, but squiggled over my forehead like worms, stopping short of hiding scraggly eyebrows. Since vanity required I take my glasses off for a picture, I’d squinch my eyes to see straight, and smiled a crooked smile.

I’d look at those school pictures and object. I was meant to be a beauty. This destiny I could feel in my bones as they stretched from four feet, nine inches at age 10 to five-foot-one at 15. Since my own mother — who had borne eight children in ten years — had no figure to speak of, this destiny was must have been foretold by photos of her when she was young.

They called her “Brick,” as in built like a brick outhouse. She had legs up to here, and face and hair like Hepburn — Katherine, that is. She posed in those 30’s short shorts, and the photographer caught her curves, from cheekbones to chin, and breasts and hips to shapely calves and well-turned ankles. I would be like her.

In the ‘60’s short-shorts were not popular. Bermuda shorts were the trend. Indian madras, from which the shorts were made, not only disguised the thigh, but also discouraged showing any shape.  Even if you got them wet enough to reveal the thigh, the madras would bleed an awful mess of colors down your legs. Not that I would ever get wet anyway when I was a teen. I never went into the pool at a party, never mind the ocean, for fear of the effect of water on the straight-haired look into which I had literally ironed my naturally curly hair.

Peering down at those pictures of my mother in her old albums, I’d think: If I could get my hands on a pair of those short shorts, I’d wear them! I experimented with blue jeans, pulling the woof from the warp until I had denim fringes hanging from two inches below my crotch to my upper thigh, like Daisy Mae in the L’il Abner cartoons. When granny dresses came into vogue in the early 70’s, I protested with mini-mini skirts. I had legs and, go Betty Grable, I was gonna show ‘em.

Who knew where this exhibitionism came from? I knew by 16 if I could control my unruly hair, and make it a shade or two blonder, I would fit so snugly into a playboy bunny outfit that you’d have to pull the staple out of her belly button to separate me from the fantasy girl. I would have power like I never did when I was 10, and I caught my Dad staring at 16-year old Nanette down the street. Once invisible like me, Nanette had recently grown into her pulchritudinous young maidenhood. She oozed some power that made my father gawk.

I learned pulchritudinous for a spelling bee that I won in the ninth grade.

As a playboy bunny I would have that same power over men — but I would use it discreetly and mainly for the betterment of society, like Mata Hari. I devoured the playboy bunny bios for some sense of politics and found none. I didn’t see how they could influence history without some kind of political platform. I mean, what was it all about? There had to be some point to winning a beauty competition! Weren’t women the moral power behind men? Wasn’t the influence of their beauty how the power was transferred? How would they know how to influence the guy to vote if they didn’t have a wide scope of information about Vietnam, or didn’t have their own moral values and passions?

At 14, when nature hadn’t taken her course, using the age-old art of glamour, I induced in myself a likeness to Cheryl Tiegs, a model whose picture I carried in my wallet, as though it were a picture of myself walking out of a plane waving to the camera. I began with ironing my hair, first the bangs. I plucked my eyebrows and lengthened my lashes with Baby Oil.  Instead of pancake makeup, I kept a California model’s color using Instant Tanning Lotion by Coppertone– except for the time I used too much and streaked my face orange.

Around 15 I started being noticed. The motor heads down the street cat- called from their garage assessing my build — “Hey, small chassis, wide ovals.” I knew that was a compliment. It seemed I grew into that valued status overnight; one day I was transparent, the next I couldn’t cross the street without some truck driver whistling at me. It was several years before the attention got old. When you’ve been starved for attention, for affection, you take it where you can get it. When you’ve had enough, you move on to something new.

At 18 something new awaited. At college I basked in the glow of ideas and knowledge. As a sociology student at UMass Amherst, I loved my studies. I still enjoyed male attention — when polite — but I hated the meat markets of the barrooms and fraternities where women were invited in to commingle like sheep led to slaughter. I liked being appreciated for my mind, my wit, my political passions, my ideas and the way I looked; at 18 this was new for me. This was how my friend Mark was attracted to me, through this combination.

But then came that fateful day in May 1971.  For several years afterwards, I craved that kind of obnoxious male attention I had learned to despise. I longed to be ogled, whistled at, lusted after like a sex kitten.  I longed to be a lamb led to slaughter, lavished with any kind of notice other than sympathy, pity or mere curiosity.

Those days passed, too, though with certain reservations.  By 20, I began to love myself again, and learned to make the best of what I had. But at times, I have stood in the shadow of that other girl’s might-have-been.

Facing the mirror as an older woman, feeling the loss of power that comes with age and diluted beauty, in my 40’s I’m taking honest stock of my girlhood dreams, and struggle to know what matters now.

I ask myself, what did I miss during those years of male attention that feed a young woman’s self esteem? After age 19, I designed and sewed my own clothing, hiding my body from the waist down with empire dresses and jumpers that went to my ankle.

Though I lost the option to run, jump, and tumble as a cheerleader, a role to which I aspired for years in high school, I did find a sport to express myself. As a competitive skier I won ground on more than one lost front.

To what extent did my accident restrict my options for love and marriage? I never got the man of my dreams after my dreams were shattered; I had boyfriends, but I never married. Arms reserved for crutches, romantic fantasies of walking the beach hand-in-hand stayed just that — fantasies.  With a body violated by radical surgery, I lost the chance to have children, while never losing my virginity properly. I am only now consciously grieving the girl I never was.

When a friend who knew me when remarked, “I could never have survived what you went through,” I surprised myself, telling her:  “I didn’t. That girl had to die, and someone new grew in her place.” The words of Don McLean’s song once brought me a recognition of my lost self and what had happened that day. “Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie. Drove my Chevy to the levy, but the levy was dry.  Them good ole boys were drinking whisky and rye, singin’:  “This will be the day that I die.” Again. “This will be the day that I die.”

For most of us there does come a day the music dies, and we are forced to say goodbye. At 19, on May 24, 1971 this was the day I died.