The Neighborhood Fire

during the 1970’s, even in my small riverside village,
a certain social order revolved around
what type of swimming pool
was installed on your property.

the scientist who installed the first
solar panels i had ever seen
did not have a pool.
he filled a cheap plastic substitute,
bought at the local discount store,
with cold water from the garden hose.

the businessman, who ran a recycling plant,
installed a solar blanket,
to keep their in ground pool
at a consistent temperature.
he openly invited us to swim
and share what his children,
who were our friends,
were privileged to know.

my best friends in the neighborhood;
a set of identical twins,
were the fortunate recipients of an
above ground pool-
twice the size my parents could afford.

the Eastman’s house was exactly halfway between
my house and the twins.
they also had a pool. it was surrounded by a wooden deck,
and a traditional slat fence where the Eastman’s
had hung a few humorous signs dictated by that
particular decade. the wooden signs were held
by loose framing wire on exposed
nails which were already showing signs of rust.

“i don’t swim in your toilet-
don’t pee in my pool.”

my family, under some social duress,
bought an entry level pool
at the local discount store.
i was surprised my parents felt a need
to keep up with the Eastmans,
or the Carpenters, or the Peters.
were they actualizing equality,
or an illusion?
perhaps,
it was about their own
reconciliation.

the local firehouse was located
a city block from my childhood home.
we were not in a city- however the opening of the firehouse doors,
and the initial blare of the sirens,
were intoxicating to us; the unknowing dictated our attention.
everything would cease
as we tried to catch a glimpse
of the deep red vehicles
as they exited
under the perforated glass walls
that would would ceremoniously rise
after the alarm.

the trucks never had to enter
into our neighborhood.

in the twilight of this evening,
as i toweled off, pleading
for one last minute in the pool;
we heard the first siren.

“they are coming down the Avenue.”
stated my mother, with an unavoidably
specific declaration.
she was correct, as we heard the tires of the firetrucks
grind as they took the right hand turn onto
Overlook Avenue.
ambulances from various districts
began to appear,
the Hoxie Hook and Ladder arrived in support.
as we watched the distress unfold,
we crept closer to the fire.

“where is Jeremy? have you seen him?”

i watched my mother ask my father
a question
he had no answer to.
the sirens continued to commandeer
the frequency of an emergency.

i suddenly understood their temporary
commitment,
their vows.

i followed my mother down the Avenue,
as she began asking anyone in earshot, out of desperation,
“have you seen Jeremy….?”

“hey Mom, i’m over here…”

he was standing next to one of the firetrucks,
whose tires towered over him.
“that tire could have killed you!”

“i just wanted to watch…”

i walked briskly past the Eastmans driveway,
toward our house,
toward what i anticipated was coming next.

i overheard the Fire Chief ask Mr. Eastman if the Fire Department
could drain his pool to fight the fire.

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Honeymoon Baby

 

When I was twelve, my sister and I finally earned the right to be able to stay home on a Saturday, while my parents went to work in the family business, “A Stitch In Time Boutique”, in Downtown Mystic.  All previous summers were spent at Butler Elementary School, the host for the local Groton Summer Rec program. We enjoyed Summer Rec, with all of the field trips to Ocean Beach, rainy day arts and crafts projects making “gods-eyes” and strange cakes with blue frosting, and sunny day vigorous games of kickball and football. But then we tired of the didactic hierarchy, and begged our parents to let us stay home. We would keep busy and clean the house every Saturday: a deal our parents quickly agreed to. We lived in a raised ranch in Tanglewood,  on  Noank’s  Palmers Cove, a new development built in the early 1970’s, east of Mumford Cove and Groton Long  Point. There were two floors, almost identical in spatial identity. My sister and I would trade off weekly: one week I got the upstairs;  the next ,  the downstairs. It was a fair arrangement and we rarely argued about it. We worked quickly, but thoroughly,  and  listened to music on our parent’s stereo. I can’t quite recall why we were so satisfied to be free from the grip of Summer Rec, but it was probably due to uncomfortable budding hormones, and it felt safer listening to Cat Stevens  “Teaser and the Firecat” and Carole King’s “Tapestry”.

I remember this one day that I got the upstairs. I started with the bathroom, then vacuumed the entire floor, and would end my time with dusting the living room;  each shelf of books, and each knick-knack: the wooden gazelle, the amethyst geode, and the tiny marble figurines of Venus and Discobolus- the Discus thrower. Then I got to the stereo shelving unit which occupied the entire North wall of the room, and featured the German 1249 Dual Turntable, which, coincidentally lives today at the Mystic Disc. The record player was on the top right shelf, with two cabinets below it to house the vinyl collection. Below that were three drawers, two shallow ones,  on top of the third deeper drawer.  As I was dusting, I started opening up each drawer, as if I had never studied the contents before. The second shallow drawer contained my parents’ wedding album. I took it out, placed it on the brown shag carpet below me, sat down, and opened it up. The first page contained the date of their wedding, 7 January 1967, and with a tiny shock paging through the familiar photographs, I realized what was bothering me.

I waited till my parents got home from work later that afternoon to make my triumphant announcement: I had found a mistake in their wedding album! I was confident that I had uncovered an important clue to something larger than my immediate comprehension. I was a serious Nancy Drew acolyte, and had read every edition in the famous Mystery Series at that point. I was certain that title number 24 “The Clue in the Old Album” was playing out in real time.

“Your wedding album has the wrong year in it”,  I charged. “It says 7 January 1967, but shouldn’t it be 1966, since I was born in October of 1967??”

“ Yes,  you were born more than nine months later.”, my mother said. “You were a honeymoon baby.”

My twelve year old brain consumed this new context of information with a fair amount of alarm, or was it catholic guilt? I did the math, and it DID seem plausible, after all.

All I knew at that point was that my dad was in the Navy, and had been out to sea when I was born, and had received a telegram announcing my birth.  Growing up, as the oldest grandchild on my mother’s side, my grandfather told me every single time I saw him on a visit to Massachusetts,  “I was the first person to hold you at the hospital.”

It was true: my dad enlisted in the Navy as a senior at North High in Worcester, Massachusetts, on 11 October 1961.  Then he signed onto active duty at UMASS Amherst in August of 1965, as a Naval Aviation cadet. He had just met my mother on the beach at Cape Cod that summer of 1965. If you lived in Central Massachusetts, you for sure spent as much time as possible going to Cape Cod every possible weekend. Turns out, my dad had met my mom’s older sister Phyllis in high school, so on a weekend when my mom found herself stranded on Cape Cod, without a ride home, my dad showed up in one of his fancy cars, he owned a Packard with a rumble seat, and a Galaxie 500, and offered my Mom, known as “Little Phylly”, a ride back to Worcester. They fell in love, and she was standing by his side, when he received his wings as a Naval Aviator and commission as an Ensign that December 1966.

According to my mother, the wedding was spontaneous because my dad was under contract with the Navy, and they couldn’t get married until he got his wings, which turned out to be 20 December 1966.  Some of their peers in the Navy had planned weddings in advance, only to find out that the groom couldn’t attend his own wedding because he had not gotten in the requisite flight hours.  Also, my mother’s family was planning a move to Cambridge, Ohio, from Worcester, Massachusetts, so that my maternal grandfather could start his new job. As my dad’s next deployment loomed, they hastily prepared for the 7 January 1967 wedding date. In fact, there was a giant ice storm that night, which prevented my parents from travelling to New York City for their honeymoon, so they stayed in a hotel in Westboro, Massachusetts. My paternal grandfather, Rocco Gemma did not attend my parents’ wedding, a fact that was dictated to us almost annually. Rocco was in New York City attending a trade show for his employer Wilson Sporting Goods, so he sprung for some Broadway tickets for their honeymoon, “Hello Dolly.” My parents enjoyed a nice idyll in the city, and then my Mom moved to Ohio, to live with her parents,  and 14 year old sister Christine, and 16 year old sister Patty,  as she herself was only 21 years old. My dad departed the United States on the aircraft carrier, the USS RANDOLPH CVS-15,  to conduct Anti- Submarine Warfare Operations, on the Mediterranean Sea.

My dad was on a port call to Italy, visiting my Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Pete in Bologna, when he received the telegram from the ship that I had been born that 10 October 1967. Legend says that he went to the Sistine Chapel on his next stop to light a candle for me. He did not meet me in person until the following April of 1968,  when he returned from his “Med“ cruise, and my parents left Ohio for his next assignment in Norfolk, Virginia. My sister was born in Norfolk that February of 1969.

Then the transfer came in for NAS Pensacola, Florida and from May of 1970 to May of 1972, my dad served a second tour of active duty as a search and rescue pilot.. My first memories are in Pensacola and of the white sand beaches, and the hot hot hot weather every day. My mom would dress us every day for outdoor play with the little boys next door, and after five minutes of riding our big wheels down the main drag, my sister and I would run back to the garage where we would tear off everything but our shorts so we could stay cool like the boys.

It always amazes me that my mom was so young, raising two daughters, while bearing witness to my dad’s Navy career. She had taken two years of advanced secretarial courses in high school, before a final preparatory year at  Ward Secretarial School in Worcester, Massachusetts, before she met my dad. After Ward, she got a job with the Mayor of Worcester, and worked for him until he lost in the next election. Her next job was working for the president of a local radio station. She went from living with her parents to living with my dad, and instant motherhood, which was de rigueur in the 1960’s, a fashion that did not appeal to her honeymoon baby.

After my dad left active duty in 1972 and joined the Navy Reserves at NAS South Weymouth, Massachusetts with HSL-74, we moved to Noank.  My parents opened up the Downtown Mystic Boutique, and my dad only had to report for duty one weekend a month, and two weeks a year:  Pancakes for Dinner!  But by April of 1987 with my dad now reporting to the Naval War College in Newport, RI, alas, the rigors of a Navy career had taken its toll on my parents’ marriage.  By the time my sister was set to graduate from high school that June, it was over after twenty years.

 

 

 

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Seventeen Again

This is unfortunately, a true story, written in October of 1985, while the writer was 17.
Dedicated to Jason Filardi and John Hughes.

“The Double – Edged Sword”

“Come on Claire, tell us, have you ever done it?”,
Claire hedges, not wanting to answer, yet mesmerized by the mounting peer pressure.
“You can tell us,” chant the other four, “we’re your friends.”
Allison separates herself from the all too eager group, and pauses, “it’s a double-edged sword,  isn’t it Claire; you’re a Prude or a Tease if you don’t,  and a Slut if you do!”

Above is an excerpt from the teenage movie, “The Breakfast Club”, released in the summer of 1985. However short this scene was, its underlying theme implanted a tiny seed in the back of my mind.  Personal experiences and subsequent relationships with males seemed to nourish this little idea, as would water and sunshine to a young flower. The whole concept of a double-edged sword troubled me, and led to a good deal of unanswered questions.  Just how do the young women of modern society fall prey to these evil-categorizing vultures?  I have to come to believe that one simple date with a boy nowadays tosses a girl on either side:  the Prudes and Teases on one, and the Sluts on the other.  There are no compromises, no in-betweens, either she does or she doesn’t.  Unfortunately, these labels yield one conclusion:  the girl never wins!
During my time in high school,  a typical pattern uneasily developed when I was meeting a lot of new guys. I had the usual overload of female and male friends, and we all indulged in prescribed activities: parties, concerts, cook-outs, beach outings,and road trips. I thought it was of small importance when a male “friend” asked me to go with him to a party. I thought this guy was a nice person, and enjoyed the easy-going friendship that we shared.  Well…..it seems that the moment I stepped into his car, he thinks that my previous “friendly” conversation meant a little more, as he begins to make his move.  If I say “No”, I risk losing his friendship and proceed to get labelled a “Prude” (or a “Tease” if I accidentally excited the poor adolescent and failed to carry out his idea of a good time).  Should I say “Yes”, however, I not only risk creating a bad reputation for myself as a “Slut”, but our previous friendship is destroyed as egos, reputations, whispers, and rumors are whipped around in a swirl of high school confusion.  So, what started as an innocent  ride to Susie’s party threatens to become a nightmare of labels and categories.
Example number one emerged from a conversation with a sincere male friend of mine. He mentioned another friend of mine, and ended with, “You know, Michelle, Mark always thought you were a prude, kind of square.” I replied, “You must be mistaken, Mark gave me a few rides, here and there. Sure he’s a nice guy, but he didn’t hint around or make a move towards me. How could he think I was a prude?” My friend only answered with, “That’s exactly it….he feels you weren’t receptive to his signals.”   “Oh really”, I said dryly, “Next time I’ll know not to say, ‘Gee, Thanks for the ride Mark’, but I’ll instead throw off all my clothes the second I jump in the car to show my appreciation.”
The irony in this silliness with Mark led to my dismayed reaction in example number two with Matthew. He and I shared a few high school classes. One day, a conversation with yet another male friend revealed this interesting rumor.  “Michelle, you know Matthew always thought you were a tease”, said my friend.  I groaned silently.  “Now really, how did he form this judgment?”, I questioned.  “Well, I dunno, the way you acted…. the way you made him feel….the things you said….”, my friend trailed off. I replied, “How wonderful that I have this control and influence over Matthew.”
I was beginning to feel resentful of the ignorant labelling that guys seem obsessed with, as if it were some tribal ritual.  Since I could not realistically change the situation, anger led to helplessness. A distressing example number three arose during a reminiscence of my sophomore year, when I had befriended several senior guys, known as “The Men”. (note to my young self, this is a hint and a half for your ass).  It seems one of the guys, Jon, supposedly my friend, took it upon himself to spread these incredible (and completely untrue) rumors of he and I having a consuming love affair. When I learned how he implicitly labelled me a “Slut”, I was shocked and amazed.  This was the limit!
How could three boys paint such vivid extremes of me, and thus allow me to unwittingly fall into these despicable category traps.  I am not going to analyze some psychological process, nor explain the boys’ incessant stories: I am sure that even in primitive cave dwellings, the first vestiges of “locker room talk” were taking form.  There are no real satisfying solutions to what I believe is an injustice towards young women. I refuse to start some Anti-Label Crusade; an ignorant guy will think of a new stereotype for me,  the “Frustrated.”

Claire screams out to the group before her, “No!  I never did it.”
Me too Claire, me too. I could not trust any boy in high school. Eighties, baby, they were interesting!
In hindsight, I am glad that I had a very protective Italian father, who scared everyone away. It’s true!  He always told me, “Once you lose your reputation, you can never get it back”.  Thank you to Scary Larry,  Stormin’ Norman,  and  Captain Stubing for keeping my idealism intact!

 

 

 

 

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Locomotion and Other Obsessions

My skateboarding ambitions started modestly enough. Any wheeled thing represents the same opportunity to a teenage boy–locomotion. To see any of us, you’d have to catch us on the run, a collective frenzy of motion not heading anyplace necessarily. But constantly on the go.

Those days, a ten-speed bicycle was the coveted mode of transport (a Schwinn if your family had the scratch, mine didn’t), a high-end cruiser, the handlebars curled under to foster a racing pose. This was supplemented with a no-gear bike, built ourselves from spare parts bought and scavenged and traded from throughout the neighborhood. Mind you, this was a couple decades ahead of the internet age with the likes of eBay and letgo, OfferUp, placing at your fingertips a world of treasure that no longer serves the needs of someone else.

You knew someone who heard about someone who had the frame or rims or crank assembly you needed. A handful of shrewdly bartered exchanges, and your daily-rider came together, some with composite wheels and knobby tires suited for BMX (well before that was a thing). Others, like mine, had a banana seat with a modest sissy bar. We set out to perfect the art of wheelie riding, our aim to spend as much time on one wheel as two, the front tire dangling in the air ahead of us, our narrow frames providing needed counterbalance.

Originating among west coast surfing communities, skateboarding was slow to make its way to our sleepy little corner of Connecticut. It too requiring balance and grace mixed with a bit of daring, skateboarding offered its own special brand of exhilaration–ride an asphalt wave and be set free.

My first skateboard was a hard-plastic thing bought from the local sporting goods store, cheap imitation invariably the main path toward any new craze gaining widespread availability. The wheels were nearly as rigid as the deck, polyurethane infused with age-old concrete as far as I’m concerned. It was fine for tricks, wheelies and front-/back-side 360 spins (completing as many rotations as you could muster before setting the front wheels back on the asphalt). But downhill, it was a death trap.

Gary Cooper, Billy Fume and I set out one summer to shoot a skateboarding movie along the steep descent leading away from Grasso Tech in the direction of Sutton Park, each of us taking turns as cameraman screaming downhill alongside our cohorts. Had we only taken ourselves more seriously, we might have beaten Super 8 or Boyhood to the punch–to the screen as it were. (Had we only had better boards, more pliable wheels especially, we might have managed to string together downhill runs consistently enough to capture a couple of worthwhile scenes.)

This is where things get personal. I don’t write memoir. But my fiction is laced with tiny bits of who I am, how I got here, the factors that most influenced me along the way. For me, memoir constitutes little more than this. Only, confined to some fictional world, the story line provides a bit of distance from those aspects of the narrative that ring true, sparing me the task of fully assessing to what extent those things have yet to work themselves out.

 

KoPPM – Commissioned Skateboard, Board Life 12/15

The formative years are widely understood to span the first five or so years of a child’s life. It has been my experience that this period repeats itself every decade or so. The years between ten/eleven and thirteen or fourteen represented for me a period of significant change. I can trace three longstanding pursuits to that point in time, my passion for which has persisted to this day.

My parents divorced when I was ten. After a stint living on the other side of town, my father pulled some strings, called in a favor (or wore out his welcome, depending who you let tell it), and got stationed in Pearl Harbor. A career Navy man, it would take him full-circle, one last tour before retiring in the bosom of paradise. But it came at a cost.

Thirteen is the last year I played organized baseball. I was lanky even before I grew tall. Once I convinced the coach to let me catch, it was nearly impossible to get anything past me behind the plate. That gangly length didn’t spell much in the way of power hitting, but I was a consistent, Ichiro or Jeter-like contact hitter. Plus, I “had wheels”–Forrest Gump-type speed. Once on base, I tormented the pitcher, threatening to steal if not take the extra base in the first place. Traditionally a father-son pursuit, when my father left, there went baseball for me too.

My father’s departure also meant more frequent trips with my mother and sister to visit my mom’s mom in NYC, placing me at the cusp of a budding hip-hop generation. I’d sit pressed close to a speaker in my grandparents’ bedroom, the volume on the radio broadcast turned down low so as not to disrupt life in the rest of their apartment. Another several months would pass before someone showed up with a cassette recording of Rapper’s Delight–Sugarhill Gang, the whole lot of us huddled outside Fitch Senior High’s soon to be christened new basketball gymnasium, hungry for something to call our own. I have since become a bit of a connoisseur, hip-hop having matured to amass a catalogue of classics.

Somewhere along the way, my father caught wind of my interest in skateboarding. At this stage, he was already a couple of years into his new life in Hawaii, the undeniable epicenter of surfing culture (and by natural extension skateboarding culture). It is the one silver lining to my parents breaking up. He sent me a skateboard one year for Christmas or a birthday or some such occasion. It upped my game.

My sister and I visited Honolulu for the first time when I was thirteen. Forget the sights, the tropical scenery. I borrowed our father’s bike, an aging Schwinn ten-speed after all (evidently, at some point or another, our father had the scratch), and made the trek cross-island to a skateboard shop. I bought a set of Bones, off-white supple urethane wheels. On the ride back to his place, I got caught in one of Kaneohe’s daily sun showers. It was another couple of miles before I realized that one of the wheels had soaked through the paper sack I was carrying and disappeared. I eventually replenished the set, picked up a G&S (Gordon and Smith) curved wooden board and trucks, and pieced together another dream ride, much in the same manner as the no-gear bikes we had endeavored to build.

I still have that board to this day. I own three skateboards in total. Still find occasion to ride, onlookers gawking to see a person my age take a spill. What they can’t possibly know is that skateboarding is ingrained in me, a keen sense of balance sewn deeply into muscle memory. We pay in skin for our deepest passions. In time, those passions see fit to offer restitution for our years of ceaseless devotion. (In my best Jay-Z voice, ‘I paid the cost to be the boss to floss this hard.’) In other words, I don’t fall, the universe having already exacted more than its fair share of my hide.

Even baseball has come back in small ways. I’m an avid spectator at all levels, high school, college, MLB, depending on the match-up. I stay glued to the Little League World Series as an annual ritual. I played fast-pitch softball in a competitive corporate league after finishing college. (I attempted slow pitch for a bit. But without base stealing, leading off, it didn’t hold the same appeal.) These days, I can hardly keep baseball and skateboarding and hip-hop from creeping into nearly everything I write, small parts of me leaking out into the world.

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Caroline’s Supposed Demon


“Caroline’s supposed demon
Caroline, they say she’s haunted
We may only once divide the
Pain and darkness deep inside us”
This song is by His Name Is Alive and appears on the album Livonia (1990).
written by Warren DeFever


Outtake from The Personal Universe Shoot

featuring Model: Caroline Walz

as my PISCES
Photograph by Michelle Gemma
26 September 2017
Watch Hill, Rhode Island,  USA
michellegemmaphotography.com
michellegemmaphotography.wordpress.com

12/18/1989 to 01/09/1990

12/27/1989

Merry Xmas! London is now my home as I write late night on train to ferry to Dublin! Maura and two hash-head beer drinkers are my companions, the latter met 10 mins ago and I am quite high. Let’s regress to nine days ago…

12/18/1989

Reading “The Naked Lunch” (holy shit! what is this book? smack and homosexual encounters chapter after chapter) on train to London after good-bye to Graham and Alex.

Into London. Wow! London is so cool. Ledyard to NYC in 2hours. Met with open arms and the fuckin’ flat is a wreck! Go away for a few days and… probably we got drunk. (Back to the present: every night is drunk.Somewhere along the line this chicky from downstairs, German Amy, decided that I am her object of desire, but I, as a proper Monk Post Warrior, make no moves. But every night she is in our flat.)

Camden one night, Amy in tow, we met the kipper bum from weeks earlier. Cat Weasel is his name and he likes Maura. Crazy night. Xmas Eve drunk in a {illegible} just getting and drunk not really but bum sits next to Maura and told lies of wife gone drinking with another and this is a three year old problem and also she’s dead in a car accident. Out to the Redan as soon as he goes to take a leak.

Xmas spent hoping and then getting drunk, but not enough, on store bought Harp and watching cool movies. Two fucked up signs: Dolph Lundgren in a Guinness commercial and then hearing all kinds of {illegible} soundtracks as movie continues and we must call Mr. McDolph. Oh, yeah! I bought a big bottle of port. Man, this stuff sucks.

Letter to Rich M.:

I win! 1st demo . Easy Cure. Mine!!!

Train to Dublin and another boffer rolled. Phone is busy for about an hour and the last beer is long gone.

12/30/1989

Dublin at 6:30AM is very quiet.

Highlights of the past few days: Paddy Hannan’s pub, around noon.

Finding the Guinness brewery while on back streets drunk pub crawl…by compass.

Low light: I only have $200 ($300 actually) left. This caused a mild depression, as there is no way I am going to make the six months. I’ve had a blast any way and have lived in London. I’m going to try to make it to Spain and then home.

Ferry now back to England, train to London. Mickey’s chips and, boyo, do I want a pizza.

01/09/1990

Home.

No Spain.

New Year’s in Trafalgar Square. German Amy managed to separate me from the rest of the girls and we wound up back in her flat, in the dark, in the bath. Nothing happened, but I still feel pretty guilty about this. Maura was not happy about this at all.

No other real action except once Maura and I drank ourselves silly and wound up in a Soho gay bar. The skinhead bouncer stopping me and asking telling me that it was a gay bar do I mind and I with is there beer? So? Next night, last night on trip, seven pints and two shots of whiskey do not mix with a 7-11 Jr. Cheeseburger, as I painfully found out…by praying at the porcelain altar.

My father picked me up at JFK. He was visibly shocked at the state of me. It was a long and quiet ride back to Gales Ferry.

Home.

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Mystic Mythology: Skateboarding Part 2

“”What bothers me is the particular breed around here[…] M. Mehlman

Welcome to the second installment of Mystic Mythology: Skateboarding. During the late 1980s and early 90s, Mystic Connecticut, with its quaint and quiet streets and drawbridge that halted traffic 2,200 times per year, was the perfect place for a bunch of misfit kids to gather, ride skateboards, and have scorn heaped upon us by nearly ever merchant in town except Dan Curland at Mystic Disc. This was a time when lifelong relationships were formed and it is because of those relationships that I am able to cobble together the myriad memory fragments into something resembling a memoir. Welcome to part two: The Post High School Days.

As far as my crew and I are concerned, the skate scene in Mystic would have been very different if it wasn’t for “the booth.” The booth, located at 9 Water Street, was the place I worked managing the parking concession for The Landing Restaurant. It was there where I met the crew of dudes who I’ve now been friends with for over 30 years.

The booth very quickly became a refuge for the skateboarders of downtown Mystic. Back in 1987, we, the skateboarders of Mystic, were not exactly loved. As mentioned in part one, the merchants hated us, the jocks and jerks wanted to beat us down, and the cops did their best to arrest us. The booth was a place my friends could ditch their boards, huddle around the tiny heater in the middle of winter, or peruse the collection of off brand pornographic magazines that may or may not have been purchased by the oldest kid in the group.

The act of skateboarding, being both a creative and physical pursuit, seems to cement friendships quickly. The guys who hung around the booth started packing themselves into my 1978 Mercury Bobcat to go on skate adventures. It wasn’t long before we, with a nod to the world-famous Powell Peralta Bones Brigade, were known as the Bobcat Brigade.

These adventures took us all over Connecticut, into Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and as far north as Maine. While visiting these places, we inevitably met other skateboarders who would occasionally share skate spot information, or better yet, lead us to their favorite spots. These were the years when skateboarding felt like the only important thing in the world. All one had to do was be willing to try, sometimes despite better judgement and usually at the risk of physical injury and pain, and the respect of other skateboarders was earned.

Through the countless connections made by being as mobile as an old Mercury would allow, we discovered numerous hidden gems. When we weren’t skating Kaplan’s, the parking lot, 12 Water Street, or the Mystic Train Station, we could be found at places such as the Norwich Pool, Fish Ditch, Rat Hole, behind Benny’s, Case Ramp, Firehouse Curbs, about a million hill bombs, Mansion Ramp, Blues Ramp, College Hill, Turtles, the Sk8 Hut, Water Bros., Newport, and many, many more. The more adventure we sought, the more we found. We were becoming skate nomads without ever being aware of it. We were dedicated to skateboarding because it never let us down. We consumed it as it consumed us. We weren’t just kids with skateboards, we were skateboarders.

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I Owe Dave Spinelli A Letter

Remember when we really liked and believed in each other
and we thought we could never be any further apart

that we could only get closer

Thinking about it restores it partially

Feeling around for where it might be now

The feeling of heightened connection
is a memory with a wire in it
and occasional spark

The memory of the present moment
Awakening that unleashed momentum
The rapture of the present tense
Ripple unsettling glass
Remembering more
Instills it more
Unpublished moment

Walls dusted with sunshine
the whole of humanity on display on the empty street
A display of the obvious corruption of our hearts
Surrounded by defensively hard surfaces
Hydrants hopeful for fire
dressed red

Research on resentment

It’s how it makes you feel
It’s never the other person
she says

A trope that rings fresh
It’s never the other person

Dream of her with horses
patting their saddles & cotton faces
Kissing me upside down
So her bottom lip is
In my mouth
So I am alone with my body and
her mouth
She shows me more pictures of horses
There is someone else in my bed

In the elevator
I raise my arms and
Try to feel flight

Its the success of hopeless gestures that awakens my soul again

I owe Dave Spinelli a letter in the worst way

Mystic Mythology: Skateboarding Part 1.

Welcome to the first installment of Mystic Mythology: Skateboarding. During the late 1980s and early 90s, Mystic Connecticut was a bustling hub of skateboarding activity. The merchants hated us, the jocks and jerks wanted to beat us down, and the cops did their best to arrest us. It was kind of an ass-backwards paradise for us punk-rock misfits and I don’t think any of us would have had it any other way. *Please note: some of the details here have been blurred, not for the purposes of artistic license, whatever that means, but due to the fact that I wasn’t taking notes back then, my only access to photography was an OLD Kodak Instamatic, and, quite frankly, I’m getting old. Welcome to part one.

When I turned 12, way back in 1980, I got the one and only thing I wanted for my birthday; a plastic yellow skateboard. It had translucent yellow wheels, loose and loud ball bearings, a tiny kick-tail, and an even smaller pointy nose. I saw it in the Benny’s department store in downtown Groton near the bikes my parents couldn’t afford and I became obsessed with it, pestering them every time we stepped into that store.

After months of begging, cajoling, and promising that I would be careful to not hurt myself, my fantasy of becoming a skateboarder became a reality. On the last day of November, that little skateboard was mine. It did, however, come with a catch, I could only ride it if I promised to wear a helmet. I was crestfallen. If that wasn’t enough, my parents, without consulting me, had gone ahead and purchased a helmet for me and it was quite possibly the most hideous thing I’d ever seen. Instead of an actual Pro-Tec skateboard helmet, my parents purchased a Cooper SK 100 hockey helmet that looked like it was made out of plastic milk jugs. Imagine, if you will; an awkward husky kid from a trailer park, wearing off-brand shoes purchased from the Railroad Salvage store and thrift store ToughSkins showing up at the quarter pipe some older kids built while wearing a beacon of ignorant geekdom upon his head. Let’s just say I wasn’t welcomed with open arms.I was determined, though, and didn’t let those gawking teenage boys bother me. Growing up in a trailer park had prepared me for a life of derision. Instead of trying to overcome the perceived adversity, I would walk past, doing my best to ignore the taunts, and head up the hill behind my house to figure out how to ride that useless plastic toy.

On day one, despite countless promises to be careful and not hurt myself, I did exactly that. On day one I learned two very important lessons: what speed wobbles are and what road rash is. My mother was not impressed.

Covered in scabs, but undaunted, I persisted. On day two, the speed wobbles also persisted, but it was on that day that I learned the importance of “run-out.” This gently curving road had two distinct sides to it: the safe side, with sloping manicured lawns, and the suicide, filled with rocks, briars, and trees. On day two, I discovered that bailing at speed onto a nice, soft lawn required almost no first aid, only soap and water.

Bombing hills, surreptitious trips to the quarter pipe, and the occasional trip to a reservoir spillway that later became known as the Fish Ditch was my entire world for the first two years of being a skateboarder. I didn’t need anyone or anything else and that suited me just fine. At the time there was no way I could predict what skateboarding would come to mean to me, what doors it would open, or how it would be the common ground on which most of my adult relationships would be founded. That little, yellow skateboard, after all, was just a silly plastic toy purchased from a discount department store in the submarine capital of the world.

 

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