It’s What’s On Top That Counts

From Winter Park Manifest

“There is no question who is the sweeteet young thing of the valley in the winter time–without a doubt Mary Jane is the darlin’ of Winter Park. But the snow goes away, so do the skiers and the lovely Mary Jane turns green with jealousy as she loses her status to the myriad summer delights of the area. She is a woman scorned. Few of the boys rome to see her any more, and she seems to have let herself go…”

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Racer Chaser

From Winter Park Manifest, February 13, 1981

“Roger Neiley has this recurring nightmare. He is stretched out on a beach, basking in the sun on the warm sand, relaxed and falling into a deep sleep. In the haze of the sun, he makes out a speck. The speck gets closer and closer and is followed by an endless line of specks. As they draw nearer, Neiley recognizes the specks as racers…”

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Ranchers Herd At High Country Inn

From Winter Park Manifest

“‘When I first came to Fraser from Sweden it was 1916. The ninth of February. It was very cold. If I had enough money I’d have gone right back home,’ Ivor Florquist told the crowd of about 85 people who attended the Grand County Historical Association’s annual meeting and dinner at the High Country Inn last Sunday night. Young people and newcomers listened to early ranchers of Grand County, some of whom have been here for more than 50 years…”

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Tyrol Takes Over Aspen Earwaves

From Winter Park Manifest, March 13, 1981

“The Subaru World Cup race in Aspen last weekend was for many people a rare chance to see our American ski heroes in person, and in action. Phil Mahre’s fast, agressive second run in the giant slalom Saturday flipped the crowd’s collective wig after he picked up enough in the bottom of the steep Roch Cup course to come from behind Stenmark’s faster midway time to win the World Cup race…”

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Chapter Three – The Voice

May 1971, Lory State Park, Northampton, Massachusetts. Preparing for a cartwheel, I'm wearing the "$27 bathing suit."

Before leaving for his dormitory, I couldn’t resist trying on the unfinished bathing suit. I was already wearing my favorite — and only — bathing suit under my jeans, from which I had made a pattern for this one. My old suit was red, white, and blue with circles and wavy lines, which rode low on my hips and under my belly. I loved the way it fit, but it had begun to fade. The reason I couldn’t part with it was sentimental. The day we bought it was the first time my mother had taken me shopping for such an intimate item. That not only acknowledged that I was becoming a young woman, but seemed to honor it.

The top was simple, but cut low enough to be very sexy. In the dressing room that day when I shopped with my mother, I liked it so much that I thought she’d probably veto it. I was reluctant to show it to her. When she asked if I was ready, I came out from behind the drapery and looked down in embarrassment.

“Oh, how lovely,” My mother said softly. She was probably surprised to see me in so little clothing; I was extremely modest at home. “Andit fits you perfectly. How much is it, dear?” That was the next hurdle. I had no idea how much she was willing to spend. She seemed to deliberate, and then the sales lady came over to tell us it was on sale from $40 to $27.

“Oh, we have to get it now! Do you like it, dear?” After an early adolescence in which my mother was absent for several years while she both worked and then went to the hospital to be with my younger sister Kathy who was dying of leukemia, this kind of bonding was what healed the hurt of those years of unintended neglect. This bathing suit transaction was a rite of passage, a go-ahead to be a woman with a young woman’s body without having to hide.

Back in my dorm room, I took off my old bathing suit top and put on the unfinished one. Admiring my tan lines, I congratulated myself on a perfect fit. I rode my hands over my hips and held the bottom against the old bathing suit to see how it matched. It looked real good, much better than the first version I had made several days earlier. I decided I would give that one to my sister Chrissie who was a size larger than my petite self. Standing on my tiptoes, I did a pirouette before the mirror for one last look at the top. I then threw all my sewing gear into a box, shoved it under the bed, and ran into the lounge to get the sewing machine to put away downstairs in a locked closet. I was finally ready, and I nearly tripped as I ran out of the dorm to get to Mark’s.

Riding the elevator up the 20th floor of the all-male dorm where Mark lived was fun because a girl never knew whom she would run into. I often encountered guys from my other classes, and once in a while the now basketball legend, Julius Irving, AKA Dr. J. At that time, he was the hero of the UMass Basketball team. Julius was a genuine nice guy; most of the other young men I met on the elevator made it a social lark to travel to Mark’s room. When I got to his door, I was surprised when he wasn’t completely ready to go. He handed me a helmet, and looked excited but serious.

“You’re going to need a helmet. I’ve got a jacket you can borrow.” These were both disappointing to hear.

“But what about the wind in my hair and the grasshoppers in my teeth?” I was wearing cut-off shorts, sandals and a tank top. I was going for full spring effect.

Mark laughed, but in a way that took the options out of my protest. “If we had time, I’d make you go back and wear a pair of long pants.” I could tell then he disapproved of my sandals. I had no idea I would have to wear so much special gear. I never did the few times I rode in high school. He pulled out a second helmet and a jeans jacket, and we both headed for the parking lot. I asked him if we could drop off a roll of film I’d taken at the State Park in Northampton of our whole gang of guys and girls. With the film bulging in my back pocket, we headed in direction of downtown, and I ran into the drug store before we headed out for the open road.

Springtime comes full of promise to Amherst, with birds chirping from newly hatched shells, grass shining out of rolling green pastures, and the perfume of lilac trees and apple blossoms wafting in the air. On the way to Sunderland and points northwest, the Berkshires beckoned. After a semester of hard work I was ready for springtime’s promise of summer. In a few days, I would be in Saranac Lake.

I was glad not to be going back to Revere. I wanted to leave my family and that past behind. There would be relatives and good friends to stay with in Saranac Lake while I found my summer job. Summer’s promise included learning to water ski, being reunited with my good friend Patty and having plenty of beer parties down by Lake Ampersand where her fiancée, Beef Bevilacqua lived.

But I was not thinking of the summer while riding with Mark. The rush of air and scenery were breathtaking and intoxicating. And now, surrounded by the muffled roar of the BSA bike we were on, I was thinking, “Finally, we’re getting out of town. Finally I’m riding a motorcycle.”

“I’m so happy!” I yelled to Mark, as we waited at a red light.

“What?” he yelled back at me. Even at a standstill, verbal communication on the motorcycle was difficult, so I didn’t bother to repeat myself and just hugged him. He then looked back at me through his rear view mirror, and I remember his green eyes, how they sought mine, and how he flashed his smile at me. At the green light we vroomed away from the pick-up and turned onto Route 119, the stretch of road that led to Sunderland and beyond to the Berkshires.

Spring 1971, Mark Robinson. Marks' mother, Dottie, gave me this photo of him in skydiving gear taken not long before the accident. When I took the photo out of its frame, 30 years later, it disintegrated.

Leaving the urban quadrant of the University and the quaint town of Amherst, I was surprised to find the rural campus surroundings so quickly. “Ooh, Look! Cows!” I poked Mark again; this time he smiled back and nodded. I relaxed back into the seat and hung on for the ride. Finally, away from it all. The dorms, the working, the studying, the status of pedestrian. It was 3:30, and we wouldn’t be out for long, but just this much was wonderful.

Coming around a bend on Rte 119 near Plum Tree Road, I never saw, and I don’t think Mark did, either, the car that veered straight out of his lane and into ours. Life can be gone in a minute, in a second, and it was this quickly that we were hit head on at 55 miles per hour by a man whom I later learned was a 20-year old uninsured motorist. He was driving his girlfriend’s car, and not paying attention to the road as he bent down to pick up some papers that had fallen off the seat. At the curve in the road we all met our destiny.

Mark’s leg was ripped from his body, and he died immediately. I was thrown 20 feet through the air and hit a utility pole with my pelvis, crushing it and fracturing both legs, then landed on the ground lacerating my left elbow and hand. I didn’t know at the instant of impact what happened. It didn’t even register I was in the countryside on a bike. The force of such an impact sent my body immediately into shock, and all I could figure was that I had been hit from behind by a bus that then ran me over. Though the dense, head-on blow was to the front of my body, it caused my body to undulate, whipping my head back then forward, making it feel as though I was hit from behind.  

There on the ground near Plum Tree Road, I lay trying to get up, commanding my arms to push me off the ground and stand up. Trying to push my voice out of my chest, emitting sounds that felt far away, I wondered if I still had my teeth. I expected to groan and raise my hand to my mouth, but I couldn’t. I realized I had no control over my body.

“Please help me get up,” I cried, sensing people around me.

I heard a murky hubbub, a mumbling, the sensation much like lying in brackish water, the texture of ugliness and despair. Finally, I made out one distinct sound. It was a woman’s voice, clear like a mountain stream trickling down rock walls that said, “You’re going to be all right. You have been in a motorcycle accident; the ambulance is on the way. We are here with you. Just hang in there.”

“Where’s Mark?” I knew enough that I had been with Mark Robinson, even though I didn’t make the connection I’d been hit on a motorcycle.

“We’re taking care of him. Don’t you worry.”

I fell back into the infernal blackness of shock and trauma. I fell into a dark and chaotic hole. This is Hell, I thought, as I tumbled and bumped into dark corners of space with what was left of my mind.

After trying for what seemed an eternity to push against the ground to get up, I then was forced to cling onto the earth like a barnacle. I held onto the firmament beneath my chest while the world spun round and round like a disk, trying to fling me off into the void.

The blackness was so thick and deep and buffeting, it felt like a tornado. I watched Ferris wheels spin madly out of control, and monkeys and human children swirl through space screaming. I held on with my consciousness, my mind begging: “Please let this be a dream.” The nightmare raged while I clung to whatever reality said, “This is not hell,” and whatever shred of light could believe: “This may be a dream.”

My mind was like a commander reining his soldiers in after sending them out to die, bringing me back to the Voice that responded when I could speak.            

“Where’s Mark?” I cried again.

“He is here. The ambulance is on the way,” and I was flung off again, flying raggedly through space, my body along for a ride to a destination that did not require a consciousness. When the chaos chose direction, I felt my whole being sucked out of my body into a skinny, black vortex of particles, dust, then colors, purple and green, and then a brighter light, which felt as though it could have been a release, but it didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel natural. I didn’t want to go. I was fighting it, trying to wake up. Wake up, open your eyes, and wake up, I told myself. And I would find myself conscious again, but I couldn’t see, and barely could hear through the rushing of what might have been death’s wings. I called for Mark again.

“He is here. We are taking care of him. Don’t you worry,” and I was flung off again, flying raggedly through space, feeling annihilation a moment away. The only hope my conscious mind could hold was that I wasn’t really in hell, but having a dream of it. A dream will end.

It took the ambulance 20 minutes to get there.

Urgent voices, staccato questions reaching into the roiling darkness. “What is your name? Can you tell us where you live? What is your mother’s phone number?”

I was a smart aleck in high school, the class clown in the seventh grade. Reflexively, I wanted to joke: “I can only give me you name, rank and serial number.” But my mind suspected what my body already knew:  There was not time or energy to answer as I wanted. “Bernice Kenney, 168 Beach Street, 284-5412. In Revere.” I gave them the words, and I let go again into hell. Hell was dark, cold, and like a tornado never still. What’s happening? Where am I? How did I get here?

I heard them saying, “Get that bathing suit off,”. . . and I struggled against them, crying, “Don’t ruin my $27 bathing suit!” I was struggling out of a swamp of darkness, I couldn’t see, but I could hear.  But no one seemed to listen to me. Until my mother came.

I heard my aunts first, their tonalities the same as my mother’s, and then I could hear the resonance of my mother’s voice. It was like I was hooked into her from the other end of a tube that threatened to suck the life out of me, and she kept pulling me back in with her voice.

“Ma, where am I?”

I heard my sister Chris say my name.  “Chrissie,” I said. “I made you a bathing suit.” I then imagined us both on the beach. We were children, but in my imagination we were both wearing the red bathing suit.

“You’re in the hospital, dear. In Northampton.” My mother’s voice sounded grave and sad.

“In Northampton? Where’s Mark?”

She didn’t answer.

“He’s dead, isn’t he, Ma?” I didn’t believe it was possible when I thought to ask, but as soon as the words were out, I knew it was probable.

“Yes, dear,” she said in a voice that leaned over and cradled me. “He didn’t make it. Mark didn’t make it.” She said this as though she had known him, too, even though my mother didn’t know any of my friends from college. Mark’s mother called my mother the next day, and from then on it was as if my mother had known Mark too.

Mark didn’t make it. Another piece of me died. It was harder to imagine Mark being gone. So I didn’t for a while. It went eventually to a little place in my heart’s memory that I now keep sacred.

This place is translucent silver, soft pink inside like a bowl and filled with tears that have turned to pearls, and I keep photographs, mostly, but with some people I keep conversations and shapes of shells and stuff that makes me cry so my heart can wring out my memory cells, all of them.  Paula’s smell, like a snake; Mark’s smile, Phil’s wild, reddish curls, Mark Newman’s rippling laughter, Aunt Mary’s sing-song phone announcements, “Carolyn Sue; it’s for you.” Dad’s morning smell with bacon and eggs all hours of the day, Ma’s soft skin on her face and her voice that I sometimes hear at night when I’m done remembering. And in my body I feel the pain of their having been here and gone, and how that surely hurt. I just know it did. I don’t care what anyone says; you don’t go quietly, gently. It’s a terrible ripping from the earth.

No one I know wanted to go. You only want to go when it hurts so much you would have to die to feel better. I know that one. But I don’t have trouble with suicide thoughts very often; I get them, but they pass.

I couldn’t see the outlines of the hospital room, but the people, their voices and their faces all felt like some Salvador Dali mural of surrealism that floated above me. I tried to piece together the puzzle. How could my two aunts from New York be in the same place as Dick Fowler from the counseling center at Southwest? And how could my mother and my sister get to Northampton? My mother didn’t know how to drive; my sister didn’t have a license. If my brother Billy had driven them, why hadn’t he spoken to me yet?

My sister told me later that they had not been able to reach my father who didn’t have a phone, but did have a car. She said she convinced my mother to hitchhike along the Massachusetts Turnpike. This was in the early ‘70’s when hitchhiking was still done, but not normally by non-hippie adults. Chris said she could feel all of my mother’s will go into a safe ride, and it happened. They got to Northampton two hours after they got the phone call informing them I was hurt and might not make it.

“When we got there they had your body up in this huge sling and your leg was sticking out high above your head. They said that as fast as they were pouring blood into you, you were losing it out your pelvis. Ma said the halls were lined with college kids who showed up every day to give you blood.”

My sister Chris is shy to mention this in front of other people, but she told me that when she saw me, and I was talking about a bathing suit – which sounded so strange and trivial to her – and probably foreign as hell because as long as we lived in the same house, I never let her touch a stitch of my hand-sewn outfits even though she tried. When she saw me like that in that sling, she felt a whoosh of energy transferred to my spirit from hers leaving her weak and drained. Many people said they prayed for me; even those who did not normally pray. Perhaps I received their energy infusions each of the times I emerged to consciousness again. I only know that my consciousness went in and out, and often it was words, which pulled me in again, though sometimes a face.

“Cale, we are going to amputate your leg.” I heard that one.

Ron is Gone

 Obituary: Ronnie Lincoln

December 17, 2009
Ron Lincoln’s mom called to tell me she only just found today his address book with my number in it. He died last March. He was put on high blood pressure pills, an abnormally high amount of them that were responsible for/caused his death. The doc at University Hospital who admitted him with what ended in organ failures indicated that had they discovered his improper dosing and wrong prescription about a year earlier, they could have reversed his death.  Continue reading “Ron is Gone”

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.