I call it a bar more than a lounge. I’m not sure if what’s-his-name, the guy who owns it (I should know that name, just having an intermediate senior lapse) gave it the name, The Last Mile. And I guess from the name you know it’s not primarily a restaurant or sandwich bar or ice cream shop. Maybe a funeral parlor. LOL. The Last Mile — chills.


I stopped by in the daytime. As I told you before, it’s right on the East Boston/Revere line, not a whole lot more then one mile from the airport, 1887 miles from the farthest place visited by any of its patrons in its century existence. ( I just remembered where the name came from: the original owner had once–before his commutation and aquittal based on new evidence in a murder case back in the early 1900s — sat for a while on death row at Sing-Sing, or was it the old state prison at Charlestown? I think it was a New York crime, hence, Sing-Sing. Hence the “Last Mile” name.)

There was an Australian WWII vet who used to be a regular who fought in Borneo in 1945, the last campaign of the Pacific War. They once wrote a tribute to him on the wall: Aussie Phil Wantuck came 1887 miles for a drink at The Last Mile when it was over over there. And, of course, there was a picture of him, a substantial, golden-haired, moustachioed man, smiling and holding a pilsner of Narragansett lager (he drank cheap) in the Last Mile doorway. I think he died in 1992, but his kid used to come in here and when I was still drinking I spent a night chatting with him at the bar right up til closing time. He was a pressman at the Boston Herald. Haven’t seen him in a while. A fun guy to talk to with lots of stories about his father.


This was a rare daytime stop for me, just thinking I’d catch up with regulars like Jackie the Crow and Stickie Sammartino and the daytime bartender Tashtego Silva, a full-blooded Wompanoag Indian. I met Kenny Foy coming out the door, smiled and shook hands with him. Kenny is Chinese American and he’s always having to smile through a session of rabid international political sound and fury from Jimmy “Jibberish” Jamin, a drunk who starts talking politics, loudly, the second he walks in the door. Kenny warned me that the place was unusually busy because the women who attend the dance and aerobics class down the street decided to drop in that day, about seven of them.

Sure enough, I walked in and Tash Silva at the bar is having to try to figure out the exotic drinks they were ordering. He was too proud to have them stand at the bar coaching him with the jigger and shaker, so he had the Mr. Boston barside handbook out, first time I’d seen that in years. (Deano, the night bartender, know how to make all those silly concoctions. Tash looked like a guy sneaking studious glances at his lawbooks while on the job.)

It looked like the a few guys from the book club were there, too. They usually meet up in the evening up the street on Wednesday nights, either at the branch library, under cover at Revere Beach or at one of the guy’s apartments around the corner. But I guess a few of them had evening conflicts, so they met for lunch — and there they were. But a guy I don’t see that often, Bill Kirner, a younger member, told me they’d paused reading some novel they were working on to read a book about mass shootings. “Topical,” said Bill, ” guy’s a lefty who wrote it but he has some good ideas about seeing these things coming, figuring out who the next perpetrator might be, at home or on the block, if you know what I mean.”

That caused me to take a quick look around the room in paranoid fashion. These were regulars, none looking morose or suspect. The women had just been dancing and exercising and showered off and looked clean-smelling and at peace. I’m a firm believer that anybody who dances and showers works off any desire to shoot anybody. But then, I’m an idealist.

I realized there was a guy in the corner, sitting at a table by himself near the old, still-working relic of a phone booth ( that thing’s going to be in a museum someday). I believe his name is Joe. That’s all I know. I’m on good enough terms with Tash Silva, believe it or not, to go behind the bar, pour myself some tonic, spike it with a splash of cranberry juice, drop a lime wedge in it and go find myself a seat. I chose to go join this Joe. But first I said,

“It’s Joe, right? Mind if a join ya?”

(I knew from past experience that he — and nobody — comes to The Last Mile excpecting to sit alone.) Joe, didn’t say a word, just pulled out the seat near the phone booth for me. That’s the best way ever to be affirmed in a request to give somebody company. If they give a weak smile and say, “sure” or “no problem,” I feel less welcomed.

We chatted about stuff for a minute. He works for a sheet metal shop in Lynn. He knows I go around calling myself a writer. Then he told me what was bothering him.

“I just came back from a visit down in the Florida Panhandle. Real peaceful down there, not like Miami or Tampa. Quiet, remote, peaceful.”

“Great, I said. And now you’re back at work and back in the madhouse?”



Joe ( I think his last name is Cassidy) got real thoughtful and, yes, morose.

“It was the kind of peace that makes you hear noises more, out in the world and in your head. Down there, the birds — chickaees, house wrens, cardinals, doves, and this woodpecker — funny as hell, coming back and back for the seed at my friend’s feeder. And you could see out into this little quiet bay and the house was at a point in a little canal among other houses up on stilts to protect them from hurricane surges. I mean there were boats lifted out of the water but ready for the summer, thought you can boat year round down there. You could fish right off the dock, too. I caught a nice redfish, let it go, but snapped a picture. What to see it?”

He pulled the picture out of a breast pocket. I looked at it. Very nice fish, probably fourteen inches.

“How do you know these people?”

“Children — grown children — of a guy I worked with when I first started at the shop. We used to fish together, boat together off Nahant.”

He got quiet again, like he was down there on the Panhandel again in all that peace.

“The only sound was some hammering from people buiding there dream house across the canal. You build solid stuff down there, but there’s always the hurricanes. They can wreck that area. The Gulf was sparkling down the street, but still, there’s that danger.”

“Yes,” I said. “That’s a danger.”

Now he was really quiet, didn’t say anything for a fu ll minute. Then:

“There were no storms, not even a cloud. My plane flew into Logan and I look out the window. Okay, the weather is nice here, too. Spring is here, I guess. But it was crowded and ordinary-looking down below.I swear I saw a patch of snow.”

He looked at me. I guess I probably looked ordinary, too.

“You know — your Greg, right?”


“Well, it’s not about geography, Greg. There are lots of peaceful places — the mountains, the seashore, by the Gulf or by a lake. Down the Cape — the parts that aren’t built up which are few and far between — or, at the right time of day, right in the Boston Public Garden. No, it’s how I need peace and right now I have no peace, no matter where I am. I’ve been in a relationship over forty years, never married, kind of feel like we took each other hostage.” He looked at me. “You’re a single guy, right?”


“I’m with somebody, but I’m not with them, if you know what I mean. And suddenly her and me — we’re having a little trouble hearing and we yell at each other even when we’re not mad at each other.”

“Did your…’friend’ go with you to the Panhandle?”

“Yeah. And she’s a good person, don’t get me wrong. In fact she knows these people we were staying with better than me. Much better. Everybody was great. They made food. I tried to help but mainly they just treated me like a king. Treated her like she was a queen. But I felt like a slave just the same. A slave to conditons I made in my life. Only when I got off by myself, or when I was with them but NOT really with them and they let me be quiet and kind of alone, maybe picking up a magazine, or –I don’t drink like you it got to be a problem — but I might have had a glass of water or ice tea or a ginger ale. I was at peace.

“But it was just the birds and me, and the wind chime. And the wind, and the view of the water. And I could imagine being free.”

He smiled, then laughed. “Like the birds.” He laughed some more.

I said what was on my mind after a minute when he was quiet again. “You sound depressed.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Nothing serious. Nothing you medicate. Just that longing for freedom. Peace and freedom, like people feel after a war and that they can’t feel while they’re in the war. I’ll feel better, and maybe feel a little of that freedom when I get back to work tomorrow, get working in the noise and with the sheet metal. Sometimes noise is good, I guess. And maybe I get talking with the other guys and the few women who work there. It’s a good place. We work hard. It keeps my mind and my hands occupied. You don’t like it, though, when the only way you can be at peace and feel free is when you’re isolated by noise.”

He looked out toward the door, which Tash, breaking away from his complicated bartender duties, had just propped open. It wasn’t warm enough for air conditioning, but an open door might let in an April breeze with the car exhaust from the fairly busy street out there. Of course, it’s dark in The Last Mile.

Now I said something that was on my mind.

“Joe, it’s a real nice day out. Spring time. Why do you suppose guys like us or any of the people here come into a dark place like this in the middle of a nice day full of sunshine?”

“Well, I’m not staying long.”

“Neither am I.”

Joe turned thoughtful. “But it’s company I guess. Human voices,” he said. “Close quarters. This place is intimate in its own crazy way.”

“That must be it, I said. And it’s familiar.”

“But I have this vision of peace,” Joe said. “Nature — maybe a place where God can talk to me.”

I took that in.”That’s heavy,” I said. “I suppose it’s a little like a church in here. Or a chapel.”

“Yeah, I guess. Or maybe it’s not heaviness of it, it’s the lightness. And the company, the voices make a kind of — light. Light in the darkness.” He looked at me. ” What are you drinking?”

“Tonic, a little cranberry, bit of lime.”

“Nice. Sounds refreshing. Can I guy you another one? ”

“No. No thanks. I’ve got to be going after this.”

It was then I noticed he was drinking ice water. Tash had given him one of those blue transparent cups. “Just water for you, eh,” I said.

“Life,” Joe said. Water is life.”

We left it at that — and left about the same time.Outside I watched him walk off toward his car. It was noisy. I walked all the way up to Revere Beach, each street a little quieter as I approached the cold April sand and the surf. I felt like I needed to see water. And maybe find some more peace up there, even without human voices. Just the gulls and me. Those gulls, I figured, were distant cousins to all those wild birds down in the Panhandle that became Joe’s friends. I’m sure there are gulls and sandpipers down there.

As you can see, my occasional bar friend Joe had got me to thinking — about everything; mainly about how you hold onto a vision of peace. How to find that peace.

I guess you pray for it.


I’ve salvaged this belatedly from a December 7, 2021 Facebook post regarding Pearl Harbor and a memorable Pearl Vet.


Remembering the man named Ray Walters. He was just one among the handful of Pearl Harbor veteran I met gathered around the flag pole out front of the Seminole, Florida VFW post back on December 7, 1991. These were guys who simply couldn’t make it out to Hawaii for the big 50th anniversary commemoration. I was doing a brief story about them for WTSP-TV, Tampa/St. Petersburg. Ray just happened to mention to me that he’d been at Scofield Barracks with James Jones, the author of From Here to Eternity which famously depicts pre-WWII Army life at Pearl and at Scofield which, to this day, is the Hawaiian Island’s largest U.S. Army installation and home to the 25th Infantry Division. It is 17,000 acres and adjacent to the U.S. Air Force’s Wheeler Field. It suffered collateral death and damage on December 7, 1941. The novel takes us up to that horrible Sunday morning the skies suddenly filled with Zeroes and stunned sailors, soldiers and airmen, some in the middle of breakfast, began dying in droves.

This fact of Ray’s friendship with the late author and my interest in books and authors intrigued me to the point where I decided to do a separate subsequent TV news feature story about Ray. It amounted to a study of the paradoxes and mysteries surrounding one solitary, perceptibly embittered human soul who was quite obviously shaped, or secretly psychically mangled like so many of that generation, by the severe experiences of war. After surviving the attack, Ray went on to fight with the 25th Infantry Division at Guadalcanal where he suffered a serious head wound. I forget how he spent his post-service life but I believe he’d had a good job from which he was now retired.

Ray shared a fascinating document with me (I still have a copy somewhere): an abundently friendly, newsy letter he’d received from James Jones in response to a letter Ray had written him, when the author was in Hollywood acting as a consultant on the movie version of Eternity, which is still considered an early 50s cinema classic. Perhaps you saw it, with Bert Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Borgnine, etc.. Jones offers a few generlized, wry, cynical pronouncements on the Hollywood crowd, then goes on to inquire of Ray if he had any information –those ten years after the war’s end — about the fate of any of their fellow Scofield Barracks vets. That included one named ( was it Angelo?) Maggio, whom Jones had heard might have died in the battle over the Pacific island of New Britain.

Yes, to my astonishment, there WAS a real Maggio. In the novel, that’s the name a young Italian-American soldier from the Bronx who is also major figure in the narrative. Did James Jones merely borrow the name and intend no parallel with the real-life Maggio? Fellow barracks mate Ray recalls a very wild, saucy and entertaining figure who bore more than a superficial resemblance to the fictional Maggio. He shared newsclips with me in which this real-life Maggio (who, in fact, survived the war), had subsequently sued Jones in a New York court for defamation in the wake of the novel’s publication and the movie’s release — a sad postscript, given the author’s solicitude for his fellow G.I. evident in that letter., (He certainly should have changed his character’s name; you’ll recall that Frank Sinatra earned his one and only Oscar portrayiang Maggio in the movie.)

Jones’s novel, by the way, does contain the standard disclaimer – all characters are imaginary and any resemblance to actual persons is accidental. It remains a mystery, therefore, why he didn’t work harder to distance the real and imaginary Maggios. Did he somehow intend the portrait as an affectionate tribute to his fellow soldier whom he believed was likely dead from combat? Strange. Perhaps Jones’s biographer deals with this.

Ray said he’d met up with James Jones a number of times in the post-war years. He’d collected, and showed me, all his (probably )first and (probably)signed editions of all Jones’s novels (including The Thin Red Line, which follows Pearl vets into the horrible Guadalcanal battle in which Ray almost died). Yet he had a curious take on his old friend’s literary career — that he didn’t understand why people had to write books in such “flowery language” about factual events that could be told far more simply. Plainly Ray was no lover of fictive literature. (I’d add, though, that Jones’s style in Eternity is on the purple and sausage-fingered side even for my tastes. In Eternity and Red Line, the writing is often downright awkward and peppered with tortured metaphors, e.g., “(B)elow him under the blows of the February Hawaiian sun the quadrangle gasped defenselessly.” But there is also a kind of primitive power and authenticity throughout, especially in descriptions of battle and its aftermath, which ring disturbingly true. Jones was also master of military detail which can be fascinated to the non-military reader, or, conversely, to millions of veterans, especially World War veterans, for whom it recalls a once lived reality. Jones’s 818-page novel ( unlike the movie) also only slightly fudges the darker, profane, libidinous, bibulous and exploitative side of soldiering, especially their ages-old interactions with prostitutes. In 1950 this might all have seemed boldly innovative. Eternity did, after all, win the first-ever National Book Award from critics.

Asked how Scofield Barracks soldiers regarded Jones, the budding author in their midst, Ray said, “to tell you the truth, we all thought he was a fag.” (Not an uncommon intra-personal assessment of the seemingly more delicate among men in the coarse, crude ambiance of barracks life — speaking from experience. It is perhaps notable that Jones offers accounts of homosexual activity in his trilogy of books about the war. He himself married, had children, projected, in on-camera inerviews available on-line, a classic male machismo and also turns up drunk a fair amount of time.)

But it was clear Ray felt a strong bond with Jones whose bonds seemed to grow stronger with literary types. He produced many, mostly forgotten books, enjoyed the praise of the likes of luminaries such as Mary McCarthy and Joan Dideon, lived much of his life in Paris, the darling of that literary crowd, wound up on Long Island with authors for neighbors, and died tragically early in his 50s from heart failure after many hard-drinking years, having more than once written of how the trauma and terror of the Pacific War left men hollowed out and broken, including perhaps, Jones himself. (The film version of The Thin Red Line makes vividly plain the dark Guadalcanal experience for terrified American and starving Japanese soldiers alike).

After doing my story on Ray, we had no contact. I don’t recall if he had children. He told me his wife had left him years before — gone off to “find herself,” he told me bitterly. He was a tall, substantial man, appearing youngere than his years. But no Bay Area vet I ask has any knowledge about him. It is most likely that he is gone, with James Jones and almost all the others.

One of the last things Ray shared with me was both intriguing and disturbing. He said just days before the Japanese attack, one Scofield Barracks soldier, consumed by an anxious premonition, went berserk, screaming that something terrible was going to happen. He was carted off, never heard from again. Then came the bombs and the death.

What on earth was that all about? Ray didn’t know, and went on wondering….He doubted, as do I, that that soldier had any special knowledge. And From Here to Eternity makes plain that well before the Japanese attack, Pearl Harbor soldiers and sailors knew war was coming. They just didn’t know it would come in that way, and directly to them. James records that the trauma of the attack left him and his fellows feeling caught up very intimately in history and civilizational danger and uncertainty.

Ray, wherever you are, thank you for your service and for the chance to tell your story. James, I pray for you and, through Ray’s letter, felt for a moment as if I knew you. I must get a copy into the hands of those who go on preserving your literary legacy.

And God Bless all Pearl Harbor vets, living and dead.


Here’s a story for Easter, the Season of Light. I’ll call it Mom Against Darkness, after my late mother’s uneasy fascination with a famous 1948 magazine article called, “Man Against Darkness.” It was a Princeton scholar’s unsettling thesis that God and religion are illusions, that we’re basically riding a big dirt ball (earth) spinning in the night of space and that it’s time to get used to it and liberate ourselves accordingly. I confess I think that way sometimes. “I’m not the only one,” as the late John Lennon sang. Why else would his “Imagine” be so popular, even at high school graduations? No heaven, hell, or religion, hence, no wars, greed or hunger..yoo-HOO, ooh-ooh. Good luck, grads!

Of course, John L was romping in a dreamy Elysium. Mom was marching into a nihilistic Apocalypse. She was 55 in 1958 and subscribed to The Atlantic Monthly, that once fine journal destined to morph into a glossy monthly repository of trendy “progressive” twaddle. (My opinion.) For their 1957 centenary, Atlantic editors published a hardbound 100-year collection of “reflections on our national life.” In effect, their ‘greatest hits.’ I recently discovered Mom’s battered copy, autographed by the editors, with a penciled notation that she started reading it 1/10/58, doubtless going cover-to-cover. Mom was a reader. James Russell Lowell, Mark Twain, Walter Lippman – they’re all represented in the volume. But only the page number of the September, 1948 “Darkness” article is circled, with mom’s inked addendum, “I enjoyed this,” her note for posterity. What did she find so enjoyable in so dark a vision?

The opening paragraph would have caught her Catholic eye: “The Catholic bishops of America recently issues a statement in which they said that the chaotic and bewildering state of the modern world is due to man’s loss of faith, his abandonment of God and religion.” W.T. Stace, the author, adds, intriguingly, that he “ entirely agree with the bishops,” but for decidedly different reasons. In those cold, dark post-WWII, post Atom Bomb days, he believed our morals and ideals were “our own invention,” and the world around us “nothing but an immense spiritual emptiness.” (I see Mom reading this in her parlor rocking chair while my devout father is off at a Knights of Columbus, my teenage siblings rocking and rolling in those late 50s and me upstairs memorizing Baltimore catechism Lesson 5: Question: What is man? Answer: Man is a creature composed of body and soul, and made in the image and likeness of God….

Mom graduated from Worcester’s Commerce High, 1922 – no Princeton scholar. But she knew about darkness, being Irish-born, suffering bouts of Keltic melancholy, alternately rebellious and, retiscent, given to anti-clerical erruptions while writing light devotional verse for pious Catholic journals, all the time wondering if life really had any meaning, especially after my father died so young. She loved Robert Frost but, but, like him, was “aquainted with the night.” And here she was reading some guy telling us to “put away childish things and adolescent dreams, grasp the real world as it actually is, stark and bleak,“ give up our “romantic, religious illusions” or else “sink back into the savagery and brutality from which we came, taking a humble place once more among the lower animals.” Woe! Sounds like a joke that begins, “Nietzsche and Hobbes walk into a bar….”

So what was Mom thinking, reading this? Well, she loved toying with ideas, all kinds, but remained as skeptical of eggheads as she was of crowned and mitred heads. I believe she always wondered “why do the heathen rage?” (Psalms 1-12) In 1956, she wrote a poem called, “The Search” that ends with her in “His arms outstretched to bless!” Go figure.

“Darkness” author, Professor Stace, checked out of this “chaotic and bewildering” world August, 2 1967. Mom followed,August 5,1986. Maybe they’ve met by now. They’d have a lot to talk about. I’ll bet they know who rolled that big rock away from the tomb on Easter morning.