Beauty and the Geezer

My encounter with a beautiful woman at the drug store revealed that my attitude had changed toward them.

Not Quite How She Looked

This isn’t the woman I encountered recently at Walgreens while receiving my third COVID shot. That woman was fuller-figured and had black hair. But she could easily have been her sister or maybe even a top-secret clone.

Our encounter was brief, but memorable.

I was second in line when I met Her. We were dutifully observing the “six-feet-apart” signs still on the floor, despite Florida’s reckless loosening of restrictions. I turned my head for an instant, and She cut in front of me.

“Excuse me,” I said, “the line continues behind me.”

She muttered “oh” and moved back.

I checked in and the pharmacist instructed me to sit down. I’d be notified when my turn came.

Alas, being “notified” involved hearing the word “next,” not my actual name. I was reading a gruesome Stephen King scene on my e-book and reacted two seconds too late. The injector technician didn’t care. He let Her slip in through the door and closed it firmly behind her.

“Holy shit!” I said, out loud I’m pretty sure. I complained to the pharmacist and she muttered in the general direction of the injector technician, but to no avail. He didn’t kick Her out and he didn’t usher me in. Even though this could have happened in another country, it seemed very American. Grab what you can and the hell with others.

“Drastic measures are needed,” I thought and marched to the little door. I made an annoying racket on the glass with my star ruby ring. Seconds later. the injector technician opened the door.

“This woman just cut in front of me!” I said. “Again!” Normally I am as peaceful as a porcupine lumbering my way into the brush. But rile me up, and you’ll see my quills stand on end.

The offender frowned but did not dispute my account. She promptly retreated. I got my shot and exited the little room.

I couldn’t resist pushing my tiny triumph and leaned close to Her. “Nice try,” I said loudly.

She looked up, possibly annoyed, but how would I know? She was masked and I didn’t linger. What more could I say?

As I visited the bathroom, I realized that She had probably never heard such words from a guy. Most likely She was used to quite the opposite. Perhaps long ago She discovered her beauty could be weaponized to get her way in social situations. Beauty as superpower. I don’t blame her, really, life’s tough. People tend to use what they’ve got, morality and propriety be damned. But this time She tried it on the wrong guy. Fifty years ago, it might’ve worked. I just might have let Her cut in and flirted shamelessly. But now that I’m in my 70s, I brook no such nonsense. Brazen tactics employed by the stunningly beautiful fall flat with me. As Warren Zevon sang,

The shit that used to work

Don't work now.

There’s an epilogue. After I left the bathroom, I realized I’d forgotten to pick up my Gas-X. While I was rustling through the poorly organized shelves, She walked up to me.

She locked eyes two feet from me, “Have a nice day!” she hollered close to my left ear.

But at least she was polite.

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Brickyard Stories 2.0: A Lynn MA Neighborhood Before and After Urban Renewal, edited by Carl Carlsen

Brickyard stories 2.0: A Lynn MA Neighborhood Before and After Urban Renewal is the most engaging oral history I’ve read about a place since Studs Terkel’s Chicago (1986). Both books go directly to the source – the citizens – when writing about cities. Carl Carlsen did not depend upon the local historians, nor did he rely on the preconceived notions of contemporary news hacks. He sought out the guy living in the tenement demolished when a car crashed into it and the Black woman who owned her own hair salon and retired in her early 60s. These people, not the pundits, experienced the drudgeries and triumphs of neighborhood living.

Conducting an oral history project is no lark in the hay. No interviewer relishes coaxing people to talk in front of a recorder, particularly when they’re shy about doing so. You hear objections like “Why you wanna talk to me? I’m nobody special.” Carlsen sails through the choppy currents of such resistance to discover treasures.

Why does the title include the release number “2.0?” It’s because there was a first iteration, Brickyard Stories: A Neighborhood and Its Traditions published in 1985. That book contained poems and prose poems based on the recollections of a generation displaced by urban renewal in the Brickyard. Like a software release, this new edition is enhanced. It paints a comprehensive panorama of the last century in the life of working class neighborhood in a mid-size American city. It features more history than the original, more people, more dialect, and more sheer poetry. When I first cracked it open, I thought, “Well, I hope he includes a map to show where Lynn’s Brickyard was.” I needn’t have worried. Carlsen includes twelve historical maps of the Brickyard, the first one from 1706!

If there was a story locked inside one of his participants, Carlsen drew it out like a fine thread through a worn button. When interviewing socialist artist Arnold Trachtman, he unearths the tale of a youthful scrape against 1940s anti-Semitism. Like me, Trachtman was never taught by his father how to fight. He couldn’t defend himself against the bigoted parochial school kids in the neighborhood. So he taught himself boxing at the local Jewish community center, and then confronted the assailant in a dramatically drawn-out fight. Great story.

Another typical vignette: Chris Maniatis brags about her father Darrell O’Connor and his singular occupation. When she’d tell cab drivers, “I live in the house with the tin sculpture,” they knew exactly where to take her.

Carlsen and Terkel each handle demotic speech differently. For example, Terkel quotes Billy Joe Gatewood, a nineteen-year-old who’d “come from the Appalachians”: “There’s maybe too many young boys runnin’ around. They haven’t got nothin’ else to do besides running the streets and get alcoholic.” Not bad. It has the sound of real speech, but it’s missing something. In contrast, Carlsen’s characters speak more like the way people talk. They leave words out and even release half-baked concepts, confident they’ll still be understood. Here’s Doris Harewood relating what happened when southern Blacks moved to her neighborhood:

“We did nuthin’ to ah, to make their transition from
wherever they came from any easier
Lotta people from the South they lived in
well, compared to what they had . . .”

Here’s another:

Lou Ames: “Charley Spivak was a trumpet player,
The Sweetest Trumpet Player This Side of . . .
of something. I forget,
but that’s what they called him.”

I prefer Carlsen’s raw rhythms to Terkel’s more measured tones.

Carl Carlsen is what we community organizers used to call “a small-d” democrat. He lets everybody speak – the edgy socialist, the sub-shop owner, the friend of the local pol, the variety store customer. Maybe before they talked to Carlsen, they thought they were “nobody special.” But afterwards, they became quite the opposite.

Purchase on Amazon

My Year in Sister School: Part I, The Crime

IN WHICH I don a uniform but not the dogma

“Oh, you’ll find out. Boy, will you find out!”

This ominous statement, tossed my way by my cousin Sam during our final balmy picnic of summer, was half-warning and half-taunt. He’d approached me after the apple bobbing and said, “Hear you’re going to sister school next month.”

Surrounded by Catholics: Part I, Blessings on Everything

“Now you’re getting older, your body’s starting to change,” said Dad. “Any questions?”
“How do you stop getting hard in church?” I asked.
“Don’t be ridiculous. That never happens.”
“I just heard . . . in school. Some of the guys . . .”
“It doesn’t happen if you’re Catholic. You know all about impure thoughts by now.”
“Yeah, but . . .”
“You just got confirmed for chrissake.”
“Not sayin’ it was me.”
“Then who? Better not be that Channing Johnstone character.”
“I’m just asking, what if it happens? What are you supposed to do?”
“You say a prayer or something.”
“What prayer?”
“Any prayer!”
“But what if some girl’s sitting in the next pew and . . . and looking real pretty . . . and things get out of hand and suddenly you gotta get up and take communion?”
“How the hell should I know? Ask Father Berube.”
–from “Questions I Tormented my Dad With”

IN WHICH we are truly blessed.

I never did ask Father John Berube that question, but not because I didn’t trust him. He was eminently trustworthy. Every Danvers Catholic kid I knew swore by what he said. About anything. The reason why was . . . complicated. Oh, so complicated.

A Fish Tale

From “Questions I Tormented My Father With

“What’dya think Pete? Less than an hour and we caught a whole bucket of pickerel.”

“Yeah. All right, I guess.”

“All right? It’s been one after the other.”

“We’re done.”

“Done?”

“We’re fresh outta luck.”

“Only a minute since the last one.”

“Yeah, and the last one got off the hook and escaped.”

“So?”

“So he’ll tell the others to watch out. Bye bye fish.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“We’re all done. Might’s well go home.”

“A quitter never wins and a winner never quits.”

“A quitter gets to watch Captain Midnight.”

“Don’t be a wise guy.”

“Do fish go south like birds?”

“No! And you know they can’t talk, right?”

“Whales squeal to each other.”

“Who told you that?”

Sea Hunt.”

“These pickerel can’t resist our tasty sea worms.”

“Who knows what they been eating? They don’t look right.”

“Now you’re skating on thin ice.”

“No ice here. If we were ice-fishing, we’d need an auger for the hole and a fish house.”

“We’ll quit when I catch the next one.”

“When’s that gonna be?”

“Few more minutes.”

“Already been a few more minutes.”

“Shut up! You’re scaring the fish.”

93-year-old Woman Nabbed for Impersonating Glenn Gould

It’s not often that a wondrously bizarre story drops into your lap.

But when it does, I believe it must get told, and as soon as possible. Have you ever heard of News of the Weird, that syndicated email column begun in the late 80s? It supplies digests of outlandish stories that happened the previous week, like a woman canceling her marriage to a ghost because it “kept disappearing.” Well, this is one of those stories. And it happened to me.

Continue reading “93-year-old Woman Nabbed for Impersonating Glenn Gould”

Dealing with Trump

Joe Biden’s all wrong when it comes to dealing with Donald Trump.

I’m feeling insecure these days. I’m not sure Joe Biden knows how to handle Donald Trump in the current race for the presidency.

Early last August, Trump was speaking in Clyde, Ohio.

He said this about Biden: “He’s following the radical left agenda. Take away your guns, destroy your 2nd Amendment, no religion, no anything, hurt the Bible, hurt God. He’s against God.”

Biden’s response: “For President Trump to attack my faith is shameful.” Well of course it was! That was the point. Maybe what Biden should’ve said was, “My faith is my own private business. Like President Kennedy, I believe in the separation of church and state.”

My advice to Joe: spent some time watching reruns of Andy’s Gang, a children’s show that ran from 1955 to 1960. It featured an impish puppet called Froggy the Gremlin. Here is a memorable episode.

Froggy was disparaging bunny rabbits. Andy was appalled.

ANDY: You shouldn’t say that about cute bunny rabbits. They’re so nice.

FROGGY: Well, one way to settle that. You see that picture of water over there?

ANDY: Yes, a nice frosty pitcher of ice water.

FROGGY: Go over to the pitcher. (ANDY does so.) Grab the pitcher tightly by the handle.

ANDY: (bewitched) What next, Froggy?

FROGGY: I want you to pour the water all over your head.

ANDY: Pour the water all over my head. (He does so, then snaps out of it.) Awwww Froggy! You got me all wet!

FROGGY: (bounces around on his perch) Haw haw haw! There’s your answer! Haw haw haw!

Don’t play in Trump’s sandbox, Joe. Remember who you’re dealing with.