A Mind


I was sifting through old correspondence looking for one thing, and found these items from my days at West Junior High in Brockton, MA. The first was this badge that must have been for a prep rally before a sports event.

The second was this poem that I wrote, included in a collection that the school published for the 9th grade graduating class (June 1967).

What would you find inside a mind?
Some groups of facts of every kind;
A cluttered brain of useful things,
The something that to one will bring
To mind the data that was placed,
Inside the mind around some place;
But useless facts always remain,
For those we readily retain.


(age 15)


Seeing the [Upper) USA in a Chevrolet

Seeing the Upper USA in a Chevrolet

It was early in 1968. We were still running the Sound of Music in Cinema 2 and my father was called to the box office to help the cashier with a difficult customer. It seems that he did not like “his” seats for the Julie Andrews movie. My dad gladly refunded his money, all the while the complainer continued to whine. After the disgruntled customer departed, a VP from GCC came in. He had been watching the whole encounter from the outside. He came up to my dad and told him that he could soon say goodbye to such treatment, for on the West Coast the customers were all a lot nicer. The company was offering him a new theater that was going to open in Renton, Washington that fall.
We were on the move again. Though not until summer. Dad didn’t want us to miss any school. Time to say goodbye to all my friends in Brockton – Dave D, John M, Jimmy S, and Joe G. I recently discovered the oversized card that they sent me off with. The envelope was decorated with unusual grafitti – song ditties or doggerel either in Russian or Latin – stuff we had gleaned from the classes we had taken together.
My dad bought a new car for the trip, a four door canary yellow 1968 Chevy Impala. And he made sure it had air conditioning. So come July we were all set to see the USA in a Chevrolet. Or the northern part anyway.
We must have travelled fairly fast. I can remember the NY Turnpike where it paralleled the old canal. But after that it was all a blur until we reached South Dakota. There we hit the Badlands. Why they call it the Badlands struck me as strange. It was beautiful, in an eerie sort of way. Though I suppose in the early days it would have been a terror to traverse. Those jagged hills and rocks, though pretty to look at, would have been daunting on horseback or in a horse drawn wagon or carriage.
Emerging from the Badlands, we made our way to the nearby monument, Mount Rushmore. I think that our expectations always suffer a set back when it meets reality, especially as regards visiting someplace you’ve only read about or seen pictures of. It’s a time like this when you realize that the writing or the picture was taken from a better perspective than what you experience at first sight. Old George, Tom, Teddy and Abe seemed small and distant. My Dad’s binoculars helped, but they also revealed the long grooves in the rock face, the “brush strokes” as it were of those that sculpted their visages from the rock.
The next memorable stop was at the site of Custer’s Last Stand in Montana. But probably most memorable because there wasn’t much to see – a small monument and a hill covered in sagebrush. We were all a little disappointed, and maybe us kids moreso. We had visions of marauding Indians dancing in our heads.
We were able to hasten on our way aided by the “reasonable and proper” [i.e. no] speed limit in Montana. We came into Washington through Spokane, crossed the state, traversed the Cascades and descended into the promised land of the Puget Sound area – the promised land of “nicer customers.”

Bildungsroman Anyone?

Bildungsroman Anyone?

The busy summer was coming to an end.  At the theater in May the Duke had gotten things rolling in the War Wagon. Then the summer action was perpetuated by Lee Marvin et al in the Dirty Dozen, and kicked into high gear by Connery, back again as Bond in You Only Live Twice. But perhaps it was To Sir with Love that held more resonance for me at this time, as well as the other teacher flick Up the Down Staircase, for reasons that I will go into forthwith.

I was switching from West Junior High to Brockton High School, situated right in downtown Brockton. So instead of turning right, in front of our apartment on Spring Street and heading west, I turned left and went east into the noonday sun.

For you see, there were too many students going to Brockton High at this time and too little school to go around. So the solution offered was to split the day, the upperclassmen had the mornings and we lowly sophomores, the afternoons.

The bulging at the seams school was actually two buildings. The “new” building dated from 1912, the old from 1906. The less ancient annex had an interesting feature, at least to me, a gym with a balcony that held a circular running track. And just as in the last film mentioned there were one-way staircases. The end of period bells would signal a rising tide of students that would flood the halls and stairways on the way to their next classes.

One of my destinations was in contemporary history, in which the pros and cons, merits and demerits of the then raging Viet Nam war were discussed and debated. It’s all a dim memory compared to my class in English Literature.

For English Lit we had a young teacher. She was possibly an intern or a student teacher fresh from college.  I make this pronouncement based on her decision to instruct us in that literary category – the Bildungsroman. One had the sense that it was something she had recently studied herself, and about which she was quite passionate.

So besides some time spent with the Bard in King Lear, she lectured us on the theory and characteristics of the “book of education.” The protagonist of the Bildungsroman was usually a youth just embarking on the voyage of life, and it follows his (or her) growth to maturity. As examples we were assigned Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Golding’s Free Fall, Butler’s the Way of All Flesh, and Dickens’ Great Expectations.

Great Expectations, hands down, was my favorite. Pip, Estella, Miss Haversham, Joe Gargery and the other denizens of Dickens’ book live vividly in my mind from that day to this. It was years before I caught David Lean’s version, which served to solidify my appreciation for the original.

The Bildungsroman is also called a “coming of age” work, a terminology that often classifies a certain type of film. On this score, I would state that both To Sir with Love and Up the Down Staircase would be Bildungsroman movies. But what about the other films that I have listed for this time, they were action films, where would they be categorized? They are certainly part of a genre, but I think there are bigger overarching ideas that apply.

I believe they are both complementary in what they reveal about our desires. The one, the action film, uncovers in us that longing for a Savior God, the one who comes with justice and judgement and puts all things to right; the other, the coming of age story points out our desire to change, to become better.

Eternity is in our hearts, and humanity gropes after it. Discernment is important. Our desires, our focus needs to be on what is True.

The Sound of Organ Music

The Sound of Organ Music


File it under the heading: the soundtrack of your life. We sojourners of the 20th and 21st centuries all have them. The swirling vibrations of the times we grew up in.  From the pop charts and your radio, to stage, TV and film.  All morphing over the span of years, forming the background to our listening ears.

My soundtrack had some freakish bumps or corners. The baseline was rock n roll, populated with the likes of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and the Beachboys, with interludes of Broadway musical tunes. My tangent at this time came in the form of a private music teacher, by name Doris Tirrell. Doris was a local Brockton celebrity organist. She had had a radio show (Piano Etchings) on a Boston station back in the 1930s and 40s.

Doris was diminuative and plump in an Aunt Bea (of Mayberry fame) kind of way. She was even self deprecating in talking about herself, calling her gait a duck waddle. And the thickness of the lenses in her eyeglasses, so magnified the size of her eyes that it gave her the appearance of another bird – an owl.  I was left to wonder if my ever increasing myopia would one day land me in the same flock.

On weekends, Friday and Saturday nights to be specific, Doris would come out to play an organ set up at the front of the cinema auditorium. My Dad had promoted it from a music store. A number of times she gave a little mini concert before the showings of The Sound of Music.  She was a regular whirling dervish on the keyboards. She was fond of my Dad, so it may have been her idea to offer me lessons on the organ.

I dutifully went across town to her home (one time actually riding in a taxi – a first for me), and there Miss Tirrell (never Doris) instructed me in music theory. Playing scales on the instrument itself followed; and endless repetitions of “Mary had a little lamb.” She was a tough teacher, a perfectionist actually. I liked listening to her play, which she did often, for when I wasn’t getting it, she would move right in and play the piece herself, so I could hear how it should be played.

She had pictures mounted on her walls from her professional life.  Most were black and white, but one in vibrant color held a position of honor. It was a close friend of hers, a Norwegian-American accordion player by the name of Myron Floren.  Floren was the number two man in the Lawrence Welk organization, and would drop in to visit her whenever he was in the area. I have a vague recollection that my father had met him on one of these ocassions.

My career as an organ pupil didn’t last long. In a sense it faded away.  Other things entered the soundtrack of my life – the siren tunes of Knights in White Satin [the Moody Blues] and A Whiter Shade of Pale [Procol Harum]. And the world itself was coming to a sharp corner; changes lay ahead, and music was a great part of it.

But if anything rubbed off on me under Miss Tirrell’s tutelage, I would say it would have to be that desire for perfection, that if anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well.



The Blue and the Pink


Our uniforms weren’t the only things blue. Part of the General Cinema identity, or “brand” as it’s called nowadays, were the shadow box screens in all their auditoriums. Gone were the heavy drapes or curtains hiding the screens during the intermissions. Recessed rondell lights bathed these boxes and the screens in a cool blue, a shade or two lighter than our uniforms. And a blue colored film leader was run before each feature presentation in which an animation of the GCC logo, the letters G and two Cs grouped in a form mimicking a film projector, accompanied by a catchy drum bumper.

Hung above the entrance to each auditorium was the word CINEMA, followed by a Roman numeral.  In Brockton’s case this was only I or II. The numerals were on hooks, so they could be taken down and the auditoriums swapped, dictated by which film was pulling the larger crowd. You see, Cinema II was half the size of Cinema I.

That is until The Sound of Music opened. According to its contract it was a road show, or reserved seat engagement. To that end auditorium II was selected, and there it stayed, week after week after week. Each seat was given a small metallic plate with a letter for the row and a number for the seat. The center sections had one numbering system and the sides another. And ushers became more important than ever. The customers selected their seats at the box office, and we helped them find the right ones.

Though our run was subrun to Boston, it was exclusive for the whole Southshore area. And it seems the whole Southshore came. By October 6 of 1966, we celebrated the 50,000th person to buy a ticket (the winner received some passes to a future show). My Dad also made it a practice to pass in for free to The Sound of Music any nuns attending in their habits. Word got out and we soon had nuns sprinkled throughout the performances.

Some one came up with a brilliant idea for an item to sell at the concession stand to the Sound of Music customer.  To anyone familiar with the film, they will remember the scene with Captain Von Trapp, Max and the Baroness sitting by the lake sipping pink lemonade. This scene is just prior to the intermission. So when the lights came up and the people trekked out to the concession stand they had something else to drink besides “tonic” (Eastern speak for soda pop), something else to enhance their movie-going experience – pink lemonade. And it was just like in the movie.

The Baroness – “Not too sweet, not too sour.”

Max – “Just too, uh… pink.”


Sorry Sir, but you’ll have to leave your bomb outside


I was all of  fifteen, and could now get a job. All I needed was a work permit which was no problem at all, and a job. And that was no problem either, for I wanted to work at the Cinema and my Dad was the Boss. At times this would prove problematic, but in the main it was overlooked.

There was a hierarchy – manager at the top of course, then assistant manager, door men and ushers at the bottom.  Concession workers came under another heading, though in busy times ushers were expected to throw in and help them too. The best concession workers moved on to be ticket cashiers. The projectionists were mysterious union people hidden away upstairs, and in a twin theater constantly busy (this was before automation and multigigaplexes).

The ushers uniform was the same as the doormen, black dress shoes, tuxedo pants with the black silk stripe down the legs, white shirt and a black bow tie (clip-on), and a bright blue blazer, later emblazoned with the GCC logo on the left breast. Our main tool was the flashlight. We were trained how to greet people and offer them assistance finding seats. You would snap the light on, place its beam at their feet and proceed down the aisle. Usually they stated their preference as to area, and we did our best to satisfy their wish.

If it were busy, and the auditorium was filling up, you were expected to be proactive and “make doubles.” Single seats could be scattered throughout a row, and you would ask people to move over to free up two seats together.

With the show in, our next chore required our other tools, a short handled broom and a dust bin also on a handle. Easier to use than chopsticks, we would police the lobby for spilled popcorn and other refuse.

Sometimes we helped the doorman tear tickets. If the show was a popular one, and the lobby was full of people waiting to go in, we would unhook the control ropes, thus opening another entry point.  We could get them in and seated in short order, perhaps with the bonus of not having to usher anyone after the show had started.

I learned that life at the Cinema held a million stories and most of them not on the screen.

One day the doorman, whose nickname was “Honey” became unsettled after a new show had been let in. Reports were circulating in the news media about a Mad Bomber at large, spreading terror and his explosive packages in Boston and the surrounding area. One of the ticket holders to Honey’s mind looked suspiciously like the reported descriptions of the bomber. He took his report to my Dad. And while the staff kept tabs on the individual he called the police.

They arrived in short order. We took them into the auditorium to where the suspect was seated. The police didn’t fool around. At the point of their guns they brought him out to the lobby for questioning.

It proved a false alarm. And thankfully the customer thought the whole incident quite funny. He rather enjoyed the attention.

Grasshopper Assaults Builder of Constitution news@11

I Build the Constitution

In Brockton, we lived in a second floor apartment on Spring Street. Its entrance was via a stairway at the back whose last flight came up between the bathroom on one side and the kitchen on the other. It was a kind of shotgun affair – as in, if you fired a shotgun from the back door there was nothing to stop it all the way to the front door (which itself opened onto the front balcony porch). So it was all one big room from front to back, except for the bedrooms which were all on one side in line with one another, with their doors opening onto that area.

It was a real living room, for there the family lived life together, watched TV, ate meals and carried on the other chores and pleasures of life. And though the blur of everyday living condemns the history of that time to oblivion, one happening in particular stands out. It was a lunch.  Mom had fixed us all sandwiches, the main ingredient of which was lettuce. There was probably mayonaise and possibly some form of luncheon meat. I only remember the two eyes staring back at me from between the lettuce leaves after my first bite. The head of the grasshopper peeped out from the apex of the U created by my teeth. It was as green as the lettuce, and no doubt why my mom missed him when preparing the sandwich. And I only saw him because he moved (thankfully it wasn’t half a grasshopper). I turned green myself and put the sandwich aside, calling my Mom’s attention to the critter. I was distrustful of lettuce for a long time afterward.

It was also the site of my ship building. I had built a couple of ship models in Salem, little affairs that you could hold in one hand. As I mentioned in a past post, one was the US frigate Constitution. Now I had a brand new version of the same vessel, this time about three feet long, including the bowsprit; and over two feet high. It was fun and a challenge to build, what with the decks, masts and the intricacies of the rigging to put in place.

And it was a treat when our folks took us into Charlestown to see the ship herself. I remember the towering masts, the heavy timbers of the hull swathed in layers of paint, and an overwelming sense of history that upon those white decks, the story of our young navy was acted out. Little did I know then that one of my ancestors had trod the same decks, not as a sailor, but as a Massachusetts Militia volunteer, placed aboard with his unit to see the ship safely to New York City from Annapolis in 1861 (the subject of my ET series).