Lately I’ve been torn between my affection for the past and my reluctant acknowledgement of necessary progress. The remember when has a narcotic quality that gives even the crummiest situations a warmth that they did not possess when happening. I’ve been examining this peculiar human trait and so far I haven’t a clue why so many mundane and even bad objects and actions can gain nostalgic gloss after so many years have gone by. For example, behold the words on a handmade wood sign I saw everyday on my way to and from school. It hails from the Good Old Days and was nailed to a tree in front of a property that most people crossed the street to avoid:
To CP”SS”– Hitler Also took kids from their parents.
Although I cannot properly show that “SS” part was devised to resemble thunderbolts, in the Nazi way, the words are accurate. And the house was indeed the sort of house that would say such a thing: a slouchy, polyurethane windowed, blue tarp affixed to a tumbling chimney sort of place, complete with a splay of rusted cars, washing machines and shit in general strewn in the overgrown, weed and bramble infested yard. It perpetuated the white trash stereotype better than a hillbilly named Earl-Roy. The only thing missing was a psychotic trailer park terrier on a chain.
The CPSS House was a part of my childhood from the age seven to around ten, maybe eleven. I was fascinated that anyone would willingly live that way. There must have been ten people jammed into that little house. The cops were always there, and you’d often see one of the male members of the clan hauled away in a cruiser. Yet they’d always grow back like warts. No one in our neighborhood knew them, and it came as no surprise when the sheriff finally evicted the wild-eyed, slack-jawed lot. They took the sign but left the junk. The house was eventually razed and the lot is currently occupied by a pair of tidy, wildly overpriced, and profoundly nondescript cookie-cutter homes.
These tidy, yet nondescript cookie-cutter homes continue to sprout in the residential areas of my hometown to the detriment of originality. Old, unique structures (even ugly ones like the CPSS House) are going away and are constantly replaced by places that are all different the same way. There’s a fresh batch of these things nearby that stand where an immense, one of a kind, late nineteenth century house, sub-divided into apartments, had ruled for decades–Three houses that are arranged differently in a similar manner without creating a paradox; identical in purpose and incapable of sneaking up on my thoughts at odd moments the way the CPSS House continues to do to this very day. My theory is that the harsh, cowardly, hypocritical and anonymous bullying of honesty by social media has affected our physical constructs. Nowadays, things are designed as close to being invisible as possible.
I like old stuff. Old music, old movies, old taverns, old houses, old times and looking out old windows. And I’d rather read a bad book, honestly meant, than something that is cynically crafted and as slick as cellophane. Although clean and efficient, very little that is now built in my town is sincere, thus barred passage to my long term memory. There’s an office building going up downtown. Half up, it already bears an atavistic resemblance to the other buildings on the same street; every time I see it is the same as seeing it for the first time.
There are few old buildings that fail to ingratiate themselves to the point that someone will not try to save them when the time comes for change. The image in the header is that of a former Eagles Lodge (or “Aerie”) about three hundred yards from here. I keep waiting for someone to remove the “Enter and Die” sign, which has been in the broken window for at least six months, but it’s still there, making its little threat, creating weary grins. The building is scheduled to be demolished and replaced by a parking garage. Three things are certain anymore: Death, Taxes and Parking Garages. Yet I hear that there’s a group of sentimentalists who want to stop the change. I sympathize, but the former Eagles aerie needs to go. It has attracted persons who leave needles lying on the sidewalk, display neither dignity in despair nor desire to improve lives so unimaginatively led that the results are indistinguishable from fate, and place Enter and Die signs in broken windows. But sentimentalists only see ghosts of happier times. Maybe so, but ghosts are immune to the effects of asbestos, and being disembodied they can haunt a parking garage just as easily.
If I were less self conscious, and more confident, I’d deftly segue from this shaggy parking garage story to the lineup of this week’s stories with something like: “But not all new things look alike; for this week we showed five fine unique looks at the Universe.” And although that statement is true, I cannot seem to write it without performing the mental equivalent of checking myself in the mirror before heading out the door. Fortunately, I’ve long since realized that nearly all writers are as at least as strange as I am and can, at some level, relate to what I have just written. Such possibly false assumptions give me hope for the future.
The latest run of Good Old Days began Monday. David Lohrey’s Fulfillment is his thirteenth story with us and we are lucky to have it. David excels at creating a hectic, funny, trenchant and mind bending atmosphere in his works. And he has the ability to create images you have never seen before; he is neither short of interesting, nor too shy to share.
Tuesday greeted the return of entertaining Oliver Lavery. Dead Together features a motley group of characters that Charles Addams would have been proud of. Oliver can tell you just about anything and you buy it. A greater percentage of writers couldn’t get this over, but Lavery’s wit and sense of comic timing shine through.
Wednesday was the site debut of Nidhi Srivastava Asthana. Nidhi’s In The Right Spirit? is smooth and has a beautiful flow that comes off seemingly effortless. As it goes with seemingly effortless creations, a great deal of hard work was put in by the author to achieve the unstrained prose that I wouldn’t change two words of.
An “Is it safe” school of dentistry vibe dominated the last two days of the week.
The great Hugh Cron’s one-hundred-eleventh story (second only to the equally great Tom Sheehan), Legs Eleven was this week’s penultimate (a word I once erroneously believed meant something like super duper until I joined the site) tale. Hugh is a master of a gleeful darkness that jumps you from the shadows and sometimes is like stepping on a rake and getting smacked in the face. You know something was going to go wrong with the mother in this story, even though she was being perfectly normal at the start. Hugh also excels at showing the reader what happens and stepping back. He resists passing judgment on his creations. He also has a rhythm in his stories that is all his own, as though they are told to a beat.
How’s this for transparency: when I first saw Friday’s story, Toothache by Calum Strachan I was repelled and riveted at the same time. Although I instinctively knew it was a go, the “What the fuck is this thing?” -reflex bellowed loud and clear in my mind. Fortunately, it was shouted down by the voice of reason. Speaking of voices, the one Calum uses in this piece is absolutely in the right key–the tone couldn’t be better.
Equal Time For the Guy Groups of Yore
Two weeks ago, I presented a list of songs sung by the girl groups of yore (in this case yore meaning the 50’s to early 70’s). In the interest of fairness I present a list of guy vocal groups–which in no sense includes pre-packaged Boy Bands. The last slot is left open for the usual reason.
- Sugar Pie Honey Bunch-The Four Tops
- Rag Doll- The FourSeasons
- My Girl-The Temptations
- Charlie Brown-The Coasters
- Twilight Time-The Platters
- Moments to Remember-Four Lads
- Blue Moon-The Marcels
- ABC-The Jackson Five
- The Tears of a Clown-The Miracles
Behold a Saturday Special by Tom Sheehan
And now it is my pleasure to present an extra. Our friend Tom Sheehan has had a writing career that covers eight decades. A while back he shared some of his insights in an interview published a few years back. Enjoy.
Recall of an Interview by Diane Buccheri
(Editor of the former Ocean Magazine)
Recalled by Tom Sheehan
Diane: A statement up front before we start: Tom, you keep alive everything that passes in front of, around, and in you, like flowers that never die. You pick each flower and write a story or a poem, recovering the details barely imaginable in daily life. I know you grew up with your paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather feeding your literary hungers and tastes, fighting for your palate. How do you tell younger writers to depend on such memories rather than ditching them like today’s plastic wrapping? Because you write in many voices, genres, do you know or recognize what makes a new day a poetry day or a prose day for you? Are there tell-tale signs saying where your energy is going, in what direction, for what cause?
Tom: When I go down inside myself, searching or alerted to some knowledge, possession, kinship with an idea, a moment, it’s all of me being searched and telling me where I’m going, what I want to say. There are times when certain words leap to be said again, knock themselves loose from tissue holding them in place, to be used, to come out of their cover for a further idea, a metaphor, a stick to measure by. Such words are not created by me, but are borrowed for this occasion, this particular use … they’ve been around for a long time on their own, waiting to be picked up again by passersby, like me, like others before me. When a poem comes out of it, it’s hot light, lightning, illumination on the leap.
Prose takes another road and is often catch-as-catch can, simple as looking out the window from my chair where I can see the river (high tide, low tide, mid tide), the road, the wide cast of birds in the skies (pigeons, ducks and geese, cardinals, hawks, turkey vultures, yesterday an enormous black-winged eagle supposedly mastering his sky and being chased by a hawk a fifth of his size), the traffic, a chunk of history from the First Iron Works in America where I worked on the reconstruction 64-68 years ago, a site once operational from 1632-1638, and reconstructed and dedicated as a National Park, and my home being built 100 years after the initial operation. I am so travelled back in time, thrust into situations, exposed to characters who had a place in this founding … who hang around for the likes of me all these years later. Objects come at me, those past characters in their plights and situations demanding answers or resolutions, and I am impelled to complete the reconstruction of the whole site. I swear I hear the Scottish slave workers talking about home after their importation for laboring with iron ore, turning the world over on its side, ballooning great industries.
Diane: You get under the skin, into the hearts and minds and senses of each of your “characters” who are indeed real people or become real by your writing. Your sensitivity is astounding, even to me, after reading and publishing your work for over 10 years. How much is taken directly from real life?
Tom: Every word, every poem, every lie, every story, is taken from something, some place, someone I have encountered.
Diane: Do you ever know a piece or poem is done?
Tom: I fear there is always an imperfection that can be found, can be fixed. It’s nice to think that in 50 years, or whatever, someone will read a piece of mine and say,:”What he meant here is…” Perfection is search.
Diane: In your reading, what things stay with you?
Tom: Where words leaped at me, the explosions of the language, where a highlighter might go crazy on a page: Thomas Wolfe’s “O waste of lost, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this weary, unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door.”; Melville’s “Call me Ishmael”; McMurtry on horseback; a poem I’ve recited a thousand times … John F. Nims’ “Shot Down at Night”; hearing W.B. Yeats’ recording of “Lake Isle of Innisfree“; introducing Seamus Heaney to a standing crowd at St. Ignatius Church, Boston College, part of the James Joyce celebration, March 2, 1982.; a classic lead sports page paragraph of a Boston Globe sports report in October of 1941 by Fred Foye: “Harrington-Shipulski, Shipulski-Harrington. Shipularington Harringpulskiton :The names Mike Harrington and Eddie Shipulski became a dizzying maelstrom of air bombs, bucks and touchdowns, and when the nose drops were administered here this drear day undefeated Melrose awoke to find itself defeated with Saugus High School, otherwise known as The Shipulski-Harrington Athletic Club, leaving town with a 13-0 victory.(I was in love with the language and the sport.”
And my father saying, early in the games, at the edge of my first failure, marked by the touch of his hand on my shoulder, “You come into life with two gifts, love and energy, and baseball and football and hockey are going to take both of them for all you’ve got.” I think his heart remembered a loss, his knees their pain. When they took his leg off, the pain did not leave him.
Diane: How often do you participate in readings?
Tom: At 88, only the regular venues over the years; Out Loud Open Mike at Beebe Estates in Melrose (for 15 years perhaps) with Melissa Wattenberg and Rick Amonte, and the Jellicle Literary Guild in Melrose, MA with Raymond Soulard, editor of The Cenacle.
Diane: Do you remember your first reading, the last?
Tom: The two go together, strange as it seems: On Wednesday night, April 27, 2016, I had a revelation as I sat in the audience, waiting for my turn in a reading at Out-Loud Open Mike at the Beebe Estates in Melrose. Out of nowhere I suddenly remembered my first public reading 80 years earlier in Marleah Graves’ 2nd grade classroom of the Cliftondale School in Saugus, MA. I have lived here in Saugus since 1936, 80 years of my lifetime. We second graders sat on little green chairs in a circle in front of the classroom and I had written a piece on two pages of math paper about the freight train logos that passed daily through a local train crossing, or came out of my rabid reading about “elsewhere,” such as The Route of the Phoebe Snow, The Lackawanna Valley, The Boston & Maine. The Nickel Plate Road, The Hiawatha Line, Aroostook Valley, Bangor & Aroostook, Chesapeake & Ohio, etc. The names, the geography of them, fascinated me and my quest for learning more. When I finished my piece the girl beside me jumped up and kissed me on the cheek.
Shortly after my son Jamie was born, about 40 years later, my wife Beth and I went to a plush restaurant where we first had to stand in line and wait for seating, and when my eyes met the eyes of the hostess, she said, loudly, “The Sheehan party, please.” And it was the same girl who kissed my cheek on that long-ago day, and we were seated right away. (Note: the school building is now named in honor of the teacher, the MEG Building, and serves as a civic center.)
Bio of Diane Buccheri: Diane Buccheri is the founder and publisher of the former OCEAN Magazine. OCEAN led her into photography. Words and images fill her days. www.dianebuccheri.zenfolio.com