Wednesday, February 15, 2006

 

In Which I Order Bitching (with a side order of Moaning)...


I don't get T.S. Eliot's problem with April. For me, February has always been pretty hard, as cruel months go.

This is especially true at work. Production deadlines always seem to be just around the corner, but February has this way of rushing you to deadline even faster, and maybe that's just a perception issue because it's a short month, but the perception remains. It's a hard time of year to send photographers places, because invariably I'm sending them to places full of snow or impending snow and they often end up stuck in an airport or, in at least one memorable case, a ditch.

This year, the cruelty of February started off with a funeral, followed by four days with my family. I love my family, but being with them for four days under any circumstances is long enough to remind me why I left home in the first place. I returned home exhausted, weary beyond measuring. But the engines that keep my life ever moving have not let up since my return and now I'm up to my nostril-hairs in undone work. Stories to assign, stories to edit, stories to track down in the furthest reaches of the network and shepherd back to the flock. And I have not only to catch up but to get ahead too. I'll tell you why in a minute.

I've been working late a lot of nights, even last night. So when I got home, it was a bit of an anti-climactic Valentine's day. Her Lovely Self and the Brownie had baked me a pie, which had been warming in the oven, waiting for me, so that by the time I returned home, it was dry (I still enjoyed it). Thomas had made me a very special Valentine, which we decided to post on his blog (you can see it here).

Seeing the date of the last entry on Thomas' blog made me realize how many things I've promised to do but haven't quite managed to accomplish. There have been a few instances the past month where Thomas wanted to put something on the blog, but we just haven't had a minute to do it together (and he's still a little ways from being able to do it himself). I'm supposed to do a guest blog for someone--indeed, I volunteered to do it--and I can't seem to find a minute to sit down and let fly on that. Which is awful, because it's something I actually want to do and so I keep holding off doing it for a moment when I won't feel rushed. If I do it when I'm rushed it will be the worst kind of half-assed job, and I want to make sure this person gets writing that I have put my entire ass into. I want him to have full-assed, total ass-packed writing. He deserves no less than both cheeks.

But I have promises to keep that predate even that. My first annual CRAP Giveaway was--what?--back in September? Not only did it take me forever to send everyone their stuff, but some people have yet to get the things I promised. I'm talking about everyone who actually bid on my original stories. I have them. They're all here in an assortment of handwritten notebook paper and smudgy typescript and old computer disks. At first I meant to type them into a pretty, coherent document and email everyone a big file, but then as time went on I really wanted to send everyone something tangible, an actual manuscript. And then I got a promotional deal to do a print-on-demand book with someone like xlibris or iuniverse--and so I waited a bit more to pull that together, because how cool would that be to send everyone real books? And there the whole thing ground to a halt.

And the blog itself! Don't even get me started.

(too late)

As part of his Giveaway promise, Evan did me up three really cool logos--the masthead for the Masthead, if you will. Have I picked one I liked? No. I like them all and can't make up my mind. So I do nothing.

And I have no excuse for why I haven't put my ass in gear and finished up all the rolling changes I was planning to make to the blog. Especially the blogroll. I have so many good and cool people to add to the blogroll it's not even funny. According to Blogshares, I just hit my 100th incoming link. That is staggering to me. I should have at least that many people on my own blogroll. How many do I actually have? Less than 40.

I suck.

Worst of all--the black, poisonous cherry atop this cake of doom--is that I've evidently hit some kind of plateau in terms of how guilty I feel. It's not that don't give a shit. It's that I no longer give enough of a shit.

(Wow, is that a terrible verbal image.)

Her Lovely Self has a much different view of my angst and none of it involves analogies related to my hind end. I expected her view of my woes to be more of the "you think you have it bad" variety, because she is in fact a global distributor of angst and self-flagellation. But instead, she dismissed the above litany with a very simple appraisal and proposal.

"You're burned out. And you need a vacation."

So, BAM! just like that, we're going on one. Next week, in fact. To Florida. We'll stay about three days with my in-laws (yeah, that's exactly the kind of vacation I need), but then we're spending the rest of the week as guests of one Mr. Disney. The kids are so thrilled at the prospect, you'd think they were auditioning for those commercials where they show, um, kids being thrilled at the prospect of going to Disney World. I was last in the Magic Kingdom in 1985, as part of a class trip, taken my senior year in Catholic high school (and boy is THAT a story in itself. I have to find the journal I kept of the trip), so I'm a little excited to go too.

But first, I have to finish up the work I got behind in because I was gone for my grandfather's funeral. And then get ahead to give myself breathing room for next week so that I might actually enjoy myself while I'm gone.

Plus, I want to make sure I leave all of you with plenty to read. Which I do not consider as a pressing obligation, understand--you should never feel that writing things here is work or a pain, so much as it is a release from those things--but just because, well, I want to.

I'm not quite desperate enough to ask my brother to guest-blog. On the other hand, he seems more or less willing. And apparently you all do too, so, maybe...

And on that note, I must end this entry as I have--in case I didn't articulate this point before--a lot of work to do just now.

Hope your February has been better than mine so far.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Monday, February 13, 2006

 

In Which A New Saint is Canonized...



My other favorite tale from the Irish wake after my grandfather's funeral comes from Johnny.

In the late 1930s, my grandfather, then a young man, found Johnny sleeping in a crate in an alley in South Boston. The boy was an orphan. His father killed himself after the stock market crash and his mother had just died of pneumonia. Papa got him a place to stay, either in the basement of the rectory or at the Boy's Club (after half a bottle of whiskey, Johnny himself was hazy on this point), but he spent most of his time at Papa's house, where he was fed and clothed and generally doted on by my great-grandmother and great-aunt Helen.

After high school, Johnny went into the service and saw combat in Korea. When he came home, the only person who met him at the train station was Papa, who also got him a job tending bar where he worked. They worked side-by-side for almost 30 years and had many adventures together, but Johnny's favorite story about his "big brutha Jimmy" was one my grandfather never really wanted him to tell:


Oh Jesus let me think. This was in the 70s. Mebbe 75 or 6. You and your brother were still little anyway. Jim and I were working nights at the bar. And they had this parking garage next to the hotel, fairly new, but not well-lit. Lotta dark corners, you know, and it became a good place for a lotta riff-raff--druggies and vagrants and such--to hang out and sleep or what-not.

Then a couple of the girls who worked in housekeeping got mugged. And the hotel, they got some extra security guys to patrol the garage, but that was a joke. These guys were ex-cops doing strictly day-shift stuff, and all the crime was happening at night.

Well, Jim didn't want any of the bar or wait staff going home alone so he worked out this schedule so that someone--either me or one of the big fellas that worked in the back--could walk the girls to their cars at night. Some nights he did it himself. Jim was a real gentleman like that. Always looking out for his own. And you know? None of our people got mugged after that.

So things had quieted down after a while and one night Jim and I closed up and headed out to the garage. My car was in the shop and he was giving me a ride home. We took the elevator down because he was parked below street level. And the lower floors were really dark.

We get off the elevator and there's three guys there, looked like they was waiting for the elevator. All pretty well dressed--not in suits or anything, but you know, they didn't look like vagrants. One guy was huge--taller than Jim and he was a big man--and very polite. All "good evening" and "how ya doin'" and what-not.

So they go to get on the elevator and we start walking to the car, when one of the guys says to Jim, "Hey, buddy, gotta light?" I was already halfway to the car when he called out. Jim was a step or two behind me, closer to the elevators. One of the guys was holding the elevator doors open and the other was standing next to the big guy.

The guy next to the big fella, he's got a hand in his pocket, like he's fishing for his pack of smokes. Or something. But none of 'em is actually holding a cigarette

Jim said later that's what he noticed. He was a very sharp guy, your grandfather. Grew up on the streets of Southie, you know, got into a lotta fights. We all did. And you got street-wise, growing up like that. But that man, he had a sixth sense. Swear to God.

Anyway, Jim looks at him. Guy asks again. "Gotta light?"

Then Jim smiles and says, "Sure." He walks over to the guy and takes his hand out of his car coat.

Only Jim hasn't got a lighter.

He's got a sap.

You know what that is? It's like a little leather sock with a lead weight in it. It's like a little club. And Jim, he was, what? Almost 60 years old back then, but he was a fackin' blur. All I saw was a wave of his hand and you could hear the thud when he hit the guy. Jim went for the big guy first--always take down the biggest one first--caught him just above his temple, wonder Jim didn't kill him. That big facka never knew what hit him. Dropped like a stone.

The guy in the elevator, he jumps in and lets the door close and he's gone, leaving the little shit with his hand in his pocket. And Jim says, "Donchoo fackin' try it!" But I guess the guy did something Jim didn't like, because he swings the sap at this guy, nails him in the elbow. Guy starts screaming like a girl. He starts to run but Jim grabs him by the pant-leg and pulls, knocks him down and steps on the guy's neck. Guy tries to grab Jim's foot, twist him off but Jim yells "Move a gawddamned muscle and I'll crush ya fackin' windpipe!" Guy's laying there, choking. But he stops moving real quick.

By this time, I'm running back, you know, saying, like, "What the fack you doin' Jim?" I mean, these were well-dressed guys, could have been guests at the hotel for all I knew. But Jim tells me to empty the little shit's pockets.

Guy has a switchblade on him.

And three wallets, and a lady's money purse, you know, like she might have in her handbag? And I'm saying, "Jesus Jim, you caught the fackin' muggers!" And he has me go through the pockets of the big guy. That fella has a knife, too, and a wad of money as big as a fist.

So I'm holding these knives and all this money and saying, "Facrissakes Jim, we gotta call the cops."

And he says, "Fahget it! I'm not getting' involved with the fackin' Filth. Money'd end up linin' their pockets. I got a different idea!"

Well Jim didn't say nothing to him but when the little shit hears this, he gets the idea that Jim is just gonna put his weight down on that foot and kill him and he starts begging, "Don't kill me! Don't kill me!"

And Jim says, "You fackin' pieceashit I evah see you near this place again, I WILL fackin' kill ya and you'll nevah see it comin'!" And he kind of grinds his foot a little bit, making the little shit gag. Then he lets him go. I never saw anybody run so fast.

And we never saw any of those guys again.

Then Jim grabs me and we run to his car, leaving the big guy out cold on the concrete. And this was before security cameras and what-not so nobody saw anything.

So we get out on the boulevard and drive a few blocks, then Jim pulls over and says, "Let's have a look."

Because I'm still holding the knives and the money.

Jim looks through the wallets. All but one of em has ID--driver's licenses, one of the wallets had a paycheck in it. No money in any of them.

We count out the wad of cash. Close to a thousand dollars. It was like we hit the sweepstakes. I thought he was gonna keep it, but when I say this he looks at me and says, "Hellzamattah with ya, Johnny? I'm not gonna keep gawdamned blood money." He has me get rid of the knives and put the wallet with no ID in the incinerator when I get home.

So you know what he does with the money?

He puts about a hundred bucks in each of the wallets that had an ID or address with it and next day he put em in some big envelopes and mailed em back to the victims--no return address. Paid the postage himself.

The rest of the cash--still hadda be over 500 bucks--he slipped into the collection plate at Sunday Mass. I was sitting across the aisle and saw him do it, and he just turned and gave me a wink.

He wouldn't let me tell people for years. He didn't want any credit or attention. I tell ya, a thousand dollars was a lot of money back then. Hell, it's still a good piece of change. If it had been me, I might have kept it.

But not your grandfather.

There's a lotta men in this town that are tough and can take on a fella that attacks him, but not many would take on three guys and then have the character or what-not to mug the muggers and give back the money they stole. He was like Robin Hood, you know?

Nah, he was better than that.

Man was a fackin' saint, is what he was.


Amen to that, Johnny. Amen to that.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Friday, February 10, 2006

 

In Which The Man is Alive...


I couldn't very well end the week on such a heavy (and long!) post, so...

I'll spare you the burial and skip to the gathering up at the Legion post. Once the liquor started flowing, so did the stories (although at least one participant required no liquor to tell his story). And as the stories were told, my grandfather came back to life. Indeed, he came back bigger than life, as I heard things about him I had never heard before. I'd only ever known him as my grandfather, so in some ways his death enabled me to know more about his whole life, to discover facets to Diamond Jim (the name is starting to stick) I hadn't had the opportunity to see when he was alive.

I wrote down several of the stories almost as they were being told. Two stood out as my very favorites, although they were also two of the tamest stories of the dozens I heard, so I hope you won't be bored reading one of them now.

(I'm joking, of course. You think I have an eventful life? I have thus far lived a pale shadow of life compared to my grandfather.)

I believe you're all acquainted with the teller of this tale. Maybe I'll share my other favorite next week:


First time I met your grandfather? That's easy. It was Thanksgiving, 1962. I was 19 or 20 and your mother and I had just met the summer before. She had dropped out of college at Framingham because she was sick of the old man holding it over her head. Oh, how he'd bitch about the expense. Three hundred dollars a year tuition--including room and board. He never went to college, see. Your grandmother did, and she wanted her daughters to go to school. But not him. Thought it was a waste of money. At least that's how he painted it to your mother. He was no saint, now I'll tell ya.

Anyway, she worked summers as a chambermaid up at the Red Gables on the lake. That fall, when it was time to go back to school, she cashed in her train ticket and got a job waiting tables at the Market Basket, where the bank is now. She had an apartment with another girl over on Main, her name was Sharon, and Sharon worked with my sister--your aunt Brenda--so that's how we met.

Where was I?

So, your mother invites me down for Thanksgiving dinner. First time I'm meeting Jim and Kay. I wanted to make a good impression, so I put on the nicest clothes I had: a pair of brown corduroys and my good white shirt. Well, it was my only white shirt. And on Thanksgiving morning, I'm all set to drive down, but I can't find a clean undershirt. Had to wear an undershirt under your shirt, you know. Couldn't find one to save my life. So I finally find this one t-shirt. It was white, but it said "Pellerin's Boat Shop" in big black letters on the front. Could see the lettering right through my shirt. So I got the idea to put it on backwards, see. I don't know what I was thinking. Guess I figured I'd just keep my back to the wall or something.

So I drive down and meet the family. And in about the first 5 minutes, Jim decides he doesn't like the look of me. He starts calling me the Farmer from Cow Hampshire. And when they found out I was Methodist and not Catholic, by gorry the shit hit the fan. You could see your grandmother harrumphing and making Significant Eye Contact at your grandfather. I get up to use the bathroom--and you know how their house was, the bathroom was right off the kitchen and dining room and the walls were so thin you hear a turd drop anywhere in the house. Not that that's what I was doing, but, anyway...

So no sooner do I close the bathroom door than I can hear your grandfather bitching to your mother. "Who the hell is this guy? Is this serious? What the Christ? He's not a Catholic, he's got no steady job (not true, by the way)." And then your grandfather says, "What in the name of God is he wearing under his shirt? For all I know it could say 'Deer Island Prison' on it!"

Well, it weren't the most auspicious of meetings.

When we announced we were getting married a while later, that didn't improve relations none neither. In fact, your grandfather made us go see the Monsignor up at the church and he paid the guy to try and talk us out of getting married. Well, not paid, exactly. You know what I mean. He was always giving money to the church and any time the priests did anything, they had their hand out, and your grandfather kept their palms well-greased.

And my God, if I thought your grandfather was bad, I had no idea what bad was til I met the Monsignor. If you caught every good-for-nothing prick in the rest of New England and stuffed em all in the same sack and stuffed that sack into a priest suit, you'd be about halfway to what this fella was like. And holy-o Jesus was he ugly. Homelier'n six rows of assholes struck by lightning. No wonder he was a priest. Probably wasn't getting much work as a gigolo.

First, he has his secretary tell us to come at such-and-such-a time, and then when we did, bastard made us wait almost an hour. Then he comes into his office all in a huff, like he was in the middle of cigars and poker with his old pal God and we interrupted him. And he's in the full regalia--the robes and the big cross on his neck and all that business--and there's me in my sport shirt and dungarees. And he gives me the eye and says to your mother, "This? This is what you want to marry?"

Well, your mother, as you may be aware, she has a little temper, and she got a little riled, but you know, he's the Monsignor and she didn't want us going to hell just yet, so she tells him how we've talked it over and how I was willing to convert to Catholicism (and I was. I figured I could be a lapsed Catholic as easily as I could be a lapsed Methodist). But that didn't matter to him, no sir. He just keeps looking at me and says, "I hear you have no steady job (by that time I was going to school at the Tech for my welding degree and was doing odd jobs at night). You don't have two nickels to rub together. What do you have to offer her?" And this goes back and forth for a while and finally he puts his hands together and says he doesn't think he can permit us to get married in his church. HIS church.

Right then, I'd had enough. So I stood up and said, "Mr. Monsignor, if you hadn't taken a oath of celibacy, I'd tell you to go fuck yourself."

I don't know whose mouth dropped wider, your mother's or his. But I stormed out of there and your mother had to follow me, which isn't the usual order of things, let me tell you.

Well, it didn't take but five or ten minutes to drive back to your grandfather's, but already the Monsignor had called the house, told Jim what happened and told him what he told us: He didn't feel he could allow us to be married in HIS church.

Even from the street we could hear your grandfather roaring. And your grandmother's telling him to lower his voice. When your mother and I walked in I was expecting him to yell at me for the go-fuck-yourself remark, but that wasn't what he was mad about.

"That gawddamned self-important stuck-up son of a bitch! Who in hell does he think he is, telling ME he won't let my daughter get married in our own parish? HIS church? The fackin' nerve! I've given that sticky-fingered prick enough money over the years that I should be holding papers on the rectory!"

He went on for a bit, while your poor grandmother's saying, "Jim! Jim! The language! Not in front of the children!" Meaning me and your mother.

And then he notices me and strides over to me. I thought he was going to hit me or something, but he grabs my hand and shakes it. "Gawd luv ya!" he says. "Only man I ever met with balls big enough to tell that SOB to go screw himself. I didn't even know you knew what 'celibacy' meant!" That was your grandfather. He treated me decent after that, but he always had to have his little dig.

So I ended up coming out of that situation smelling pretty good. But your mother was some upset. So was your grandmother. She figured we'd have to get married at City Hall or something--she was dramatic like that. But your grandfather, he had other ideas. He says to your grandmother, "I'm calling Father Dick!" And your mother and grandmother, they both start squawking at the same time. Your mother is saying, "Oh, Daddy, don't!" and your grandmother is saying, "Jim, you KNOW not to call him that!" And he's already on the phone and telling them to pipe down, facrissakes. He leaves a message and hangs up.

Now, I didn't know much about Catholics, but I knew a Monsignor was like a holy lieutenant or a captain or something. He outranked a regular enlisted priest anyways, so I didn't see what this Father Dick could do about it. See, I didn't know the name was a private joke of your grandfather's then. But a little while later, the phone rings and he picks it up and says, all very proper and respectful, "Good evening, Your Eminence, thank you so much for returning the call."

Turned out "Father Dick" was some muckety-muck in the church your grandfather knew. Bishop of Boston or something. Which I guess outranks a Monsignor. And beats a straight flush, for all I know.

The very next morning--and I mean around 7:30 AM--the phone rings and it's the Monsignor, wanting to know what dates we had in mind for the wedding.

Your grandfather had quite the spring in his step after that phone call, now I'll tell ya.

I have to admit, after all the shit he'd given me, I was some surprised how he'd pulled strings for us. But that was your grandfather too. It was okay for him to give you a ration of shit, but God help the sorry bastard who tried to give you shit when he was around.

Anyway, that's how we got married. Your grandfather made sure we had quite the ceremony, by gorry. Of course, when our car burst into flames outside the church, I think he wondered if it was a sign from God, but I guess that's a story for another time...


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