I Left It at the Barbers



My father’s new theater was the Cinema 1 and 2 in Brockton, Massachusetts. The building was in the parking lot of the Westgate Mall. Its back was right up against the cloverleaf of the freeway. So it was a good location. And a popular one.

A spacious lobby sat in the center, with a long concession stand at the back as the focus. Doormen stood guard over the entrance to the theater auditoriums, Cinema One on the right and Cinema Two to the left. And inside ushers with flashlights would escort you to your seats. I would soon join their ranks.

But for the time being I would only pay visits, usually by walking from our apartment about a mile away. I had a bicycle, though I don’t remember ever taking it on the long trek to the theater.  One memorable time was after a heavy snow fall. The snow plows, as was their duty, had all been out early, especially in the mall lot. So there were long mounds everywhere, at least five feet at their summits. And a whole series were pointed in the direction of my travel. So I would trek to the top of the snow pile in my shoes (I still had an aversion to boots and hats), and traverse its length like Lawrence in the dunes of Arabia.

The mall had two large department stores, a Bradlee’s and a Gilchrist’s. Dad tells me there was a Plymouth bank where they made their deposits, and a Chinese restaurant, with whose owner he traded passes for takeout.  I only remember the barbershop.

By this time I no longer sported a Roman haircut, but I was still an oddity in that I parted my hair on the right.  I would instruct him to mind the part, taper the back, and oh yes, since one ear was higher than the other to take that fact into consideration when balancing the length between both sides. And one other thing, when using the razor on the back of my neck, watch out for the mole in that vicinity.

This was only an invitation to the barber to tease me. Come time when he put the clippers away and took out the razor, he would ask me, you sure you don’t want me to remove that for you? A mildly funny jest until one time he actually did it. He sliced it clean off. So along with the mole I left a little blood at the barber’s.

It was all an accident of course. Or was it?


Honors are for Skipping


I only spent one year in junior high. I’ll explain.

We moved to Brockton Massachusetts the fall after I graduated from Saltonstall School in Salem. It had been unsettled where I was to attend high school. I had been invited to check out St John’s Prep school in Danvers, a Catholic secondary school. I am not sure how the referral came about. My folks drove me out one day to visit the campus and meet with the staff and instructors. They felt a private school would be a good choice over Salem High School.

But it all became a moot point when my father’s company (General Cinema Corporation) transferred him to their new twin theater in Brockton. We were now south of Boston, instead of north. The town had been a shoe making mecca in its heyday, no vestige of which remained that I saw.  It was also the hometown of boxing great Rocky Marciano.  I never saw him either (he was living in Florida by that time).

The Brockton school system was different.  My ninth grade there was the “senior” year in West Junior High.   So I was moving from the oldest grade in Salem to Brockton without a loss of “status.”

I was placed in the advanced class, the honor students, because of my grades.  As such we were expected to take a language course this year. I chose French, for one of the scheduled times dove tailed with mine.  It didn’t last long, however.  One day.  You see it was a second year class, and I was totally unprepared for it. How I got in, is a mystery. Instead I ended up in a first year Latin class, for which I have been eternally grateful ever since – not only because it is the root language of so many others, but also for its valuable help in thinking logically.  And it deepened my understanding of English grammar and vocabulary also.

I made some friends who despite my new kid in town status took it upon themselves to show me the ropes, especially as to what extra curricular activities to sign up for, to the end of skipping class. Two of my new friends, John M and David D played tennis, so I took up that sport too.

The time out of class for tennis, didn’t hold a candle to that which came with signing up for a school play. So, I was strongly encouraged to try out for the musical L’il Abner.  Thankfully it was a small part, as a Dr Krogmeyer (only one line) and I did not even have to look towards the audience. I still remember the line – “Oh, Dr. Finsdale, I don’t want to seem stupid, sir, but just precisely what is a mass spectrographic isotopic double diathermal diaphonoscope?” And I was able to recite it without tripping over my tongue.  And glad that I did not have to sing it.

I had no idea at all of ever writing a musical. That would all come later. Much later.


Poem Recital, the Shame and the Glory



I started out as a child. A shy child.

Introverted was the word for it. And it did not go unnoticed, in particular among the teachers and staff at Saltonstall school. I am sure that the word is written down somewhere in my school records.

I was in the eighth grade my last year at Saltonstall. The top of the heap. Next year would mean high school and starting out on the bottom rung all over again. The concensus among the conspirators was that I needed some responsibility, and more points of contact with my fellow students. So the solution was my appointment as head of sales for the school fundraiser.  Chocolate bars ahoy and record keeping galore.

I did not learn until later that the fix was in. I learned about it from Jimmy who worked on the project with me.  I think Jimmy felt cheated at first, because the position would have been his otherwise. But over the course of our time working together, a mutual respect grew between us. Funny as I think about it now, it was the first inkling of what I would later do for a living.  Counting beans.  Or with the advent of computers, coding beans.

It all went well and so did everything else in the run up to graduation. I was selected from my class to take the lead in the class presentation at the last school assembly. I was assigned the recitation of a poem as the close. It wasn’t the Kipling poem “If’” but it was something akin to it.

The day of the event came with consternation and worry growing with each tick of the clock. We were herded from our class to the backstage area where we awaited the rise of the curtain. The auditorium was filled with families and friends and the other classes.  My family was there and witnessed it.

All went well and smoothly up until the time I stepped forward to center stage. There with all eyes on me, I commenced to recite the poem by heart. I got out one, maybe two lines, and froze.  My mind went blank. And all these faces were focused on me in the silence. And as the silence lengthened, my embarrassment and my shame grew.

The teacher who had charge of the ceremony, and had rehearsed us, took a sheet of paper from her lectern and walked up to the edge of the stage, and  beckoned to me to come take a copy of the poem to read. I could feel the sympathy of those sitting in the audience going out to me.

I looked at her, and the printed page held out to me, and felt worse still. She waved it again.  I motioned my refusal of the offer with my hands and a shake of my head. And started over again, from the top. Line after line in the slow deliberate rhythm of the piece. All the way to its completion.

As I retreated to the back of the stage, the audience saluted me with applause. A taste of glory but overshadowed by the sting of failure.

And even though I was awarded a scholastic prize, the Henry M Cunney award, I remained stuck in a slough of despond.

All in all, it certainly kept me from thinking more highly of myself. On the plus side, it kept me humble. But on the other hand, I remained shy.


Weird New England and Old George


A while ago I was preparing to write about two odd places that I remembered from my childhood in New England. More like landmarks really.  We had encountered them on those Sunday family drives.  I hesitated at that time because I wanted to check the details about them online.

The first was called the Witch’s Den. I think it was situated in a wooded area or park somewhere in the Saugus area. To reach it we had to park the car and follow a path that wound through the woods. The “den” itself was little more than a huge boulder behind which the path passed. There was an entrance on the side away from the path. Perhaps the word “entrance” is too generous. It was more of a cleft on the bottom of the boulder. The whole place had a creepy feel to it. Not for any supernatural type reason. Litter was scattered around and a pervasive smell hung over the vicinity. More than likely it was the night time haunt of teenagers.

But when I looked for the Witch’s Den online, I could find no trace of it.

The second landmark was called the Devil’s Footprint. When I went looking for it, my search returned a list of a dozen similarly named sites.  And none of them sounded like the one I remember. It was highly visible from the road. My father called our attention to it as we drove by.  We must have stopped or at least pulled over for a minute, for I got a good look at it. It was another immense boulder, the flat face of which was viewable from the direction from which we were coming. Near the top there was a foot-like impression, one with three toes.  (So much for cloven hooves.) I wondered if it were not a dinosaur footprint. The terrible lizard.

I was surprised, and pleased to discover that one of the links from my search query for the Devil’s Footprint had a reference to one of my favorite personages of the 18th Century – George Whitefield. He was a contemporary of the Wesleys and like them preached on both sides of the Atlantic, and was instrumental in what is known as the Great Awakening. The website points to a church in Ipswich, where a flat rock on its grounds bears a single, might I say, shoe print. According to the story, Old Scratch popped in when George was preaching there, and was forcefully evicted.

I included George as a pivotal character in my first screenplay. I set the action in the London of the 1740s at the time when George was preaching in the open air to fairgoers at Moorfields. It’s a backdrop to the story of a young chimneysweep, questing throughout the city for a father figure.

I dearly hope to see it filmed some day.

Poppins or Bond


The streets of downtown Boston were gray and cold, but the windows of the department stores we had come to town to view were bright and cheery. The evening was all planned out. It was Christmas time and the displays at Filene’s and Jordan Marsh were doing their jobs, collecting hosts of shoppers. Our family among them.

The street vendors were out in full force too, crowding the sidewalks and causing blockages. Despite all that we were able to get in close to the windows.  The fact that we were children, probably helped. In the main, of course, they were desiged to capture our imagination. Models of picturesque villages under a blanket of snowy cotton. Always with something in motion, such as mechanical figureskaters making prescribed movements atop a mirror pond, or circling airplanes, trailing banners with holiday wishes.

I’m not sure if a surprise was planned, but that’s how it turned out.

The plan was to see the sights and then to see the sight.  Mary Poppins was playing first run downtown. It was in a small venue though. And when we arrived it was sold out.

My folks found another spoonful of sugar to help get that pill of disappointment down.

Also downtown was that monster sized theater, with over 4000 seats, called the Metropolitan. Though crowded, there was still room to catch a performance of the current blockbuster – Goldfinger. We made our way up to the balcony, which was Titanic-sized, and like the Paramount in Salem, you couldn’t see the main floor below from there. We sat somewhere on the right, at least I remember the wall on that side, and that side only. It’s strange that I can only remember two sides to the “box” we were in. It was like the other half of the auditorium didn’t exist. Perhaps I noticed it, then turned my head to the screen and stopped and kept my aim there.

The brassy sound of the intro music (and Shirley Bassey) set the tone for the adventure that was to follow. We jump right into the action, as Bond blows up a secret facility hidden in a fuel tank. And then segue into the main story as Bond meets the challenge of a card cheat, cum golf cheat, cum gold smuggler and villain with a plan for world economic domination – Auric Goldfinger. And all with the help of the silent,  heavy (and cool) henchman, Oddjob, who even had his own music motif. But then there was that masterpiece of Q’s lab wizardry, the fully tricked out Aston Martin DB5. To a kid the stuff that dreams are made of.

One way or another we were to spend an evening with a Brit, who was practically perfect in every way.

ET in the City of Brotherly Love

ET in the City of Brotherly Love

From Jersey City, the 8th MVM boarded the cars of the Camden and Amboy railroad. The officers passed through the cars, inspecting the men and their weapons. And admonished them to be prepared.  Along the route, people took impromptu holidays from their work to throng the stations to greet them and see them on their way.
At 5 pm they arrived in Camden and there boarded the ferry to Philadelphia.
When the ferry docked the crowd was so heavy that even the police could not clear a path for the regiment.  The crowd overflowed onto the tops of the buildings lining the streets. The soldiers could only make their way single file through the welcoming crush.
The people of Philadelphia were particularly glad to see the boys from Massachusetts because the news out of Baltimore was very scary. The Sixth regiment MVM had passed through Philadelphia the day before (one day in advance of the 8th).  So at the time that the 8th was in New York and New Jersey, the Sixth was attempting to pass through Baltimore from one station on the east side to the B & O RR on the west.  In the midst of their advance some street toughs with Southern sympathies assaulted them with rocks  and brickbats. When the dust cleared four soldiers of the Sixth lay dead.
And the mayor of Baltimore consequently ordered that the city be closed to the further passage of troops.  Zealots from Baltimore taking that cue went out and burned the railroad bridges leading to the city.
What was General Butler and the 8th going to do?

E T Hits the Big Apple

E T hits the Big Apple

A note about railroads of the period – they were wide-spread, especially east of the Mississippi, and the war would develop them further when their strategic uses were realized. But they were usually just lines between two cities, you would come in on one line to a terminal, cross the city on foot or some other conveyance to another station and then take another line to your next destination. It is this distinction that when grasped will go a long way in understanding how the events unfolded as they did.
E T and the Eighth regiment MVM left Boston from the Worcester station. They passed through Worcester, then on to Springfield. There one more company met up with the regiment – the Allen Guard of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. They had come in on another train. The Allen Guard became Company K, assigned to lead the left flank of the regiment.
It was after 10 o’clock at night when the now completed regiment departed Springfield for New York City.   They travelled the entire night; a long sleepless night.
They arrived around 7am at the New York and New Haven depot at the corner of Fourth Avenue and 26th Street. It was another whirlwind, with no time to take in the sights. The local hotels feted them with breakfast, (the Zouaves were the guests of the famous Astor Hotel). By 11am the regiment had reassembled in City Hall Park and marched from there through crowds of well-wishers to Courtlandt Street. At the river they caught the ferry to Jersey City.
The rumors about what lay ahead were growing.

ET was an Orphan

ET may have left home, but Salem was a recent residence and it had not been “home” for all that long.  Danvers was his most recent abode as mentioned before, according to the 1860 federal census, but it is difficult to know how long he had lived there, though I do have a clue.  I just recently discovered that he was an orphan, and would have been since his mother died in 1853 when he was just thirteen. At the time of the 1850 census he was living in Roxbury, Massachusetts, with his mother and her second husband Calvin Gilson.  His step-father re-married in 1858, so I am guessing that he was apprenticed to the cordwainer in Danvers sometime soon after that.  His mother had married Mr Gilson in 1848, three years after his father had passed away (I’m going to save the topic of his father for another day).
So arriving in Boston, he was not only returning to the place of his birth, but he was also nearby to Roxbury, the place of his formative years.  Though I am sure, those days to him belonged to the past; he had the excitement of the future before him.
Most of the 8th regiment had already reported, all of its companies so far were from Essex County. The SLI marched to the State House and there received overcoats and knapsacks. (ET and the rest of the recruits did not have uniforms. The only thing “uniform” about them would be these items).
While here in Boston the company performed various drills for the curious public.  As a result, the newspapers from this time forward would celebrate them as “The Salem Zouaves.”
They took their noon meal with the rest of the regiment and later received their standard from the Governor.
At five o’clock in the afternoon, after a light supper they “took the cars” to Washington DC with Brigadier General B F Butler in command.  It was April 18, 1861.

E T Leaves Home

E T Leaves Home

So, E T signed up on April 15th, but that did not mean that he and the SLI would be going out right away.  The President’s call was in effect, but it was up to the Governor of the state, in this case, Republican John Andrew, as to which regiments would be filling the state’s quota.

And the decision was in, the regiments being called up were the Third, the Fourth, the Sixth and the Eighth. The Salem Light Infantry was company A of the Seventh Regiment, and hence not slated to go. But there were certain factors in play behind the scenes.  The governor had been a guest of the Salem Company at an exhibition in the beginning of the month, and was impressed.  And Captain Devereux wanted his company to go, if it had the honor of being the “right-flank company of skirmishers,” the “point of the spear” in today’s parlance.  And the Eighth regiment was undermanned.
Besides this the governor was also stewing over another decision – who to send out as the brigadier general in charge of the Massachusetts troops. He really did not want to send the most obvious choice Benjamin F Butler. It was a trust issue. In the last election Butler, a Democrat, had supported the Breckinridge faction of that party, the very ones who were now pointing their weapons at Lincoln in Washington DC.
In Salem, through the 16th and 17th, time was spent in preparations and awaiting the governor’s decision. And the order came on the 17th, the Governor acceded to the Captain and that is how the SLI went out as Company J of the 8th regiment MVM, the brigade under the overall command of Brig. Gen. Benjamin F Butler. On that same evening, E T and 29 other recruits were voted into the company.
The next morning, the 18th, the SLI was mobbed by well-wishers at the armory. From there they had to push their way through the crowd to the train station, giving a “seven cheer” to one and all. (The “seven cheer” like the Rangers’ “Hooah” went like this. A count from one to seven, followed by the words “Tiger,” then “Zouave,” and then the object of their cheer).
And the first movement was to Boston where all the companies of the 8th were to rendezvous.

E T was a cordwainer

E T was a cordwainer

There it was on the list of abbreviations in the book. “Cordr” meant “cordwainer.” It was an occupation of some sort, but what exactly? I thought that maybe it could be broken down by the syllables and take the sense of the root words.  The “cord” part seemed obvious, but what was a “wainer”? Perhaps it was an occupation connected with the place he enlisted from – Salem, a seaport. Sailors were from seaports, and sailors worked with ropes and cordage. Maybe a cordwainer made ropes?

According to the dictionary, a cordwainer was a worker in leather, in particular, the types of leather made in Cordoba Spain.  In short, a shoemaker (or bootmaker).
(Just as a sidebar, along the way I learned another important distinction. A cobbler was not a shoemaker, but rather one who repaired shoes.  The cordwainer made the brand new ones.)
Knowing he was a shoemaker was helpful in identifying him in the 1860 census. I found him in Danvers, a town that is just over from Salem, (in fact it used to be called Salem Village).  He was a young man of 20, and living with Lewis Cann, a shoemaker and his family. So he may have been serving an apprenticeship to him.
Next – I will look into the other clue, the company into which he enlisted earlier in 1861.