A LOST ISLAND FRIENDSHIP

I have only his Christmas cards now, the message on each beginning, “Dear Wayland!”

He was Chung. I was Wayland.

I remember well the night his pocket was picked by a “slickie boy” pretending to peddle cigarettes in the dark, noisy Seoul night club called OB Cabins. (OB stood for Oriental Breweries, which was a Korean beer.) I’d been to that venuye during previous forays into Seoul and heard a Korean band do a creditable cover of Iron Butterfly’s signature song, “In A Gadda Da Vida, ” drum solo and all.

In lifting his wallet that night, the thief also robbed Chung of his intention to re-pay me for my companionship.

Our friendship began one leisurely summer Sunday on Kanghwa Island, Korea in 1970. I was a Military Policeman assigned to the Army Security Agency (ASA) and further assigned to the ASA operations company on Kanghwa, which sits on Korea’s west coast, carved off from the Republic’s mainland by a narrow channel – a river estuary– and from Communist North Korea by the Han River on its final approach to the Yellow Sea. I and two other G.I.s – fellow M.P.s Jim Barnes from California and Larry Donahue from Boston, if memory serves me – set out to explore the island by jeep. Our duties usually kept us on our small compound and divorced from the real world of our host country. We knew the 116 square mile island was worth exploring, with its temples and farmland.

We stumbled upon the tiny seaside village of We Po-ri at the far northwestern edge of the island. A Republic of Korea (ROK) naval ensign moved us from a restricted area, then chatted us up congenially. We’d stumbled upon a small ROK naval detachment. (The island, being so close to the hostile north was protected on its waterfront by Republic of Korea (ROK) Marines. This Naval detachment patrolled near the smalleer, surrounding islands, always on guard against infiltrators.

The young ensign was the commanding officer. His name – Jin Myung Chung.

I felt the need to know Chung better. Somehow, we hit it off. I’d made no Korean friends to that point in my tour.

Chung was single, well-educated, about two years my senior. I made many overnight trips to his home in Seoul, met his parents and brother, helped them with their English grammar and pronunciation, shared dinner, slept in a spare room. Chung guided me around Seoul, visiting tea rooms, having long talks about life, family, politics, my native Boston, Korea’s future prospects. He planned to marry and have children.

It seemed his best intentions for me were always being thwarted. He invited me to a soccer match. We missed our rendezvous. He planned to motor me up Inchon River aboard a ROK Navy vessel. The boat was out of commission.

Finally, though I knew he had little money and no taste for Seoul nightlife, he insisted on treating me to that outing to OB Cabins, hearing Korean bands cover the Beatles and Iron Butterfly. Then his pocket got picked. He sat patting his pockets frantically.

“Tonight, I am very unlucky,” he said, distressed and humiliated, as I picked up the tab.

I don’t recall our goodbyes. I wrote him after Army discharge. He apparentkly didn’t trust his English for a letter but his Christmas cards contained long notes: “How is your life recently? …Much regret not to write you, wondering if this card will reach you as you may change address since then.” I was, in fact, moving around, state to state. But the cards always found me.

He’d become general manager of maintenance and repair for Honam Tanker Company, a subsidiary of Texaco. He’d married, had a family. He once asked: “Do you have any schedule to visit Korea?” I didn’t.

The Christmas cards stopped. Then, around 2012 came the surprise – an early morning phone call to my Clinton, Mass home. It was Chung. Stunned, delighted to hear his voice, but in the middle of breakfast, facing a long commute to my television reporter job, we chatted barely a minute

Why didn’t I call him back? It was a busy time. But, why?

Now I have a bunch of old home and business addresses. I wrote some. No reply. I want to find him. Is he still alive?

“I can’t think of my military service time without thinking of you,” he wrote in an undated Christmas card.

Same here, Chung. I pray I find you again. I’ll even let you pick up the tab.

SUMMER’S ADVENT

I can hear those voices again, distant, at the YMCA camp across the lake. It is Lake Sequoia in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, Home of the Giants, i.e., the giant Sequoia Redwoods. I was working as night janitor at the Visitor’s Center at Grant Grove in King’s Canyon National Park. It was summer, 1967. To the west ,on the coast, in San Francisco, they were calling it “The Summer of Love.”

Wear a flower in your hair…

My brother Doug, aide to a California congressman, had gotten me this wonderful job. Thank you, Doug.

Now and then, in my Sears Roebuck boots bought expressly for that summer in the mountains, I would, in a leisure moment, follow a winding, descending trail from the Grove area — consisting of gift shop, campground and Visitor Center at the edge of a huge stands of Sequoias– down to the lake, probably only three-quarters of a mile away, through thick pine forest and past small, shaded running streams and waterfalls. It was a very nice walk.

Then I would arrive at a border of trees at the edge of the lake. The camp was on the far side opposite.

It has been fifty-four years, and yet I still hear those young voices of people perhaps just a little younger than I, who was twenty-years-old that summer. And, perhaps, if I’m not imaging it or mingling it unconsciously with lake memories of a lifetime, I also hear oarlocks rattling in row boats being pushed off from the camp pier out into the cold blue waters.

Yes, I hear those voices this half century later. Just sounds, not words, echoing as voices do on a lake. I’m sure, scattered about the San Josquin Valley far below that lake, or in towns in every direction around California or, in our mobile times, around the whole nation, there are aging adults, many of them probably grandparents by now, who recall that summer of ’67 on Lake Sequoia. I hope it was memorable and magical for them.

I must say that I mostly only heard the voices, and barely recall, at the distance of perhaps a quarter mile, seeing a soul or the rustic camp buildings over there. However visible, however distance, I know I’d seen movement. I would listen and watch for a spell while also looking down at the clear lake waters lapping against the bank where I stood. I’d spend a peaceful interval before heading back up the trail for my night shift job – certainly one of the best, if not THE best job, I ever had. I never, ever met another person during those walks, which was fine by me. I was seeking solitude and always found it.

Sitting here in Florida on May 23, 2021, I see the weather maps, hear the national forecasts, learn of the sudden heat in New England, perceive the advent of summer as we slowly, steadily, hopefully emerge from the astringency of the historic national pandemic lockdowns and the severely compounded isolation of the brooding winters of northern climes, and pass beyond the welcomed but too-short springtime with its flowers in bloom.

I feel this love for summer, even if, for now, I am living where it always seems to be summer; where it simply deepens by gradations from spring into the almost unbearably dank, feverish prolonged subtropical stasis of Florida’s “hot months” that so often linger well into the fall months in which nothing much really “falls.”

That mountain summer was dry and temperate, occasionally hot, never, in my memory, humid. There was always the scent of pine or, sometimes, that coffee bean-like odor of the manzanita undergrowth.

In Florida summers, late nights and early mornings — the dark hours — are the dankest. That is among my memories of this state, about to be repeated. Bugs and humidity in darkness.

But there is also consistency and drama in the Florida summers, as the beautiful afternoon clouds build up into mountains and the thunder rolls and the showers come (reminding me, actually, of Sierra Nevada thunderstorms so severe that, in the summer of ’67, a torrent of lightening ignited smoldering fires among the Sequoias and I, technically a member of the grounds crew, was dispatched with hoe and rake to “babysit” overnight a smoldering cedar, making certain the sparks from scorched, falling branches didn’t ignite the thick blanket of pine needles on the forest floor. Such memorable duty! So wonderful! And, yes, I and others wound up battling flames from one undetected fallen ember that suddenly, to our surprise, flared up.)

In this here-and-now, somewhere, I’m sure, Florida children and teenagers are at camp, making memories, hopefully, free of pandemic masks. But that, too, can become a cherished memory of childhood or teenage strictures during the brighter days we hope lie ahead for them and for all of us.

But for now, on this sunny May day, I hear those long-ago voices across Lake Sequoia, laughing and faint. I hear them, as Yeats might say, “in the deep heart’s core.” And they were, on the few occasions I heard them, female voices. Perhaps on those days of my observance, it was the girls’ turn at camp. I loved those female voices. I wanted to meet those girls. I imagined all California girls to be beautiful. Many were. I imagined them over there; wished they could see me. They are gone now — the voices, the girls — dispersed, passed, hopefully happily, into marriage, motherhood or wherever they wanted to go. Or perhaps into some rebellious, feminist state of animadversion if that’s what they wished coming out of those turbulent times known as The Sixties. Some doubtless have passed away altogether….It was a long time ago. Summer of Love in San Francisco. Summer of War in Vietnam. Some of those girls might have become lifelong friends. For them, then, it WAS — the Summer of Love.

Boy! I can go on when I get to remembering. Nostalgia has a way of painting everything a soft, sentimental patina.

Then, sure as hell, I lapse into damn poetry, perhaps foolishly inapt. Like this:

Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future

T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”

Listen to me! Spouting words — mine and the poet’s — while insistently restless, anxious and dissatisfied and, as such, ungrateful, for I am a blessed soul who, yes, can’t do anything about the squandered time since those lakeside moments but must remember that I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful between-the-semesters college summer job — far, far from all that was overly familiar back in Boston.

Somehow, didn’t I know I’d squander some of the time ahead? Don’t we all know there will be “chronicles of wasted time” in our lives?

But hope is present, and, as it happens, both past and present — if we’re wise, courageous, prayerful and attentive to the right voices — will direct us all, those of us of a certain age, during the days of our diminishing future. If we can stay healthy in mind and body….stave off anxiety and despair, etc..

But back to those simple moments: hearing lake voices by a mountain lake; hearing my contemporaries, those young women on the distant lake shore.

I’ll bet there are new voices to be heard along that shore now….

Summer will arrive at the solstice, less than a month off….

This, then, is summer’s advent for young and old.

Let’s enjoy it.


YOU ARE HEADED FOR A LAND OF SUNSHINE…

May 5th, 2021, and I’m remembering — a long moment, a long time ago.

The beginning of a change, a big one.

The moment. Jersey Turnpike, Labor Day Weekend, 1979. My adventure advancing, uncertainly. I had pulled into a Pike rest area; was parked before one of those standardized turnpike restaurants. I’d probably just fueled up, then gotten a bite to eat, having been on the road a good four hours or so. I don’t recall massive crowds in the rest, despite it being a holiday weekend. Perhaps it was Saturday, the quietest of the travel days. But I recall feeling lost — even though I knew exactly where I was going. Lost. Uprooted. Wondering what lay ahead.

I was on the first leg of my estimated three-day journey to Florida and, at 32, would be getting a relatively belated start on a commercial TV career. I was moving away from the Boston area for the first time. I was headed to a job in Fort Myers on Florida’s west coast.

A young, well-dressed African-American couple parked beside me in their big, old model Chrysler were having car trouble. I was thinking they might be coming from church, or headed from wedding. It was well into the afternoon, so the wedding or church would be over. That would be a small saving grace. There was nothing I could do to help them, because it was serious enough that the man had lifted the hood and taken off the distributor cap. This might wind up a tow job. I felt bad; I wass worried myself that my ’74 Dodge Dart might fail under the weight of the U-Haul it was pulling. So, I commiserated with these folks. They’d called for help so — at some point, their life would resume. I’m sure I gave them a look of sympathy. No, nothing I could do. And I was beginning to feel very lonely — and cut off — out there on the turnpike. They must have been feeling the same way, though, from the evidence, they were closer to home, perhaps a coupe of exits away — and were not, like me, in transit to a new home in a strange place a thousand miles away.

I had gotten a late start from my apartment on Martin Street in Cambridge. I had parked on the diagonal street (Avon Street) and slowly loaded the U-Haul — and knew I should have been on the road by then. There was probably a little reluctance and apprehension tugging at me. (Flashing forward, decades, I would, every time I worked around Boston and found myself driving on the Mass Turnpike Extension through Newton, think of how it felt, back in ’79, on that stretch before the hotel overpass at Newton Corner, feeling the weight of what I was pulling — my whole life in that U-Haul — and knowing I would have to make it all the way to Woodbridge, Virginia, my first scheduled stop, as soon after nightfall as possible. I’m certain I was hoping I was on the road to a life-altering enrichment to last me the rest of my thirties; to adventure, professional success and advancement, a bright new future, romance, even marriage….

I had ended nearly six years in that roughly 400 square feet on Martin Street, Cambridge. I even had a little party for myself upon my leaving; my own little bon voyage soiree –crowding maybe ten people in that little box. Ken Botwright, a Boston Globe colleague from my days as an editorial assistant and now a Cambridge neighbor, was among the attendees. Short, bald, lively, I see him laughingly hoisting himself onto my bed, which was one of my only seating arrangements. (I saw one couple recently down here in Florida — George and Susan Foote — who came that night. Good friends, old friends. I masked from them and so many old friends much of the turmoil and sense stultified personal, professional and creative progress and spiritual and moral struggle that characterizes my waning days. God and I are working on that.)

I do upon occasion miss that box of an apartment– it having been a kind of place where I could be alone, reconstitute my life daily — or, exercising that God-given power of choice, drink and fornicate my young life away. (How much or little did I pray in those days? Upon occasion, I had family members visit, invited a police officer friend to stop by, an old neighborhood mentor as well — and my ultimate mentor, Rev. J.L. Donovan. They must have been a bit scandalized at the “college dorm room” habitancy in which a grown man was dwelling. Joe Andrus, who with his wife May sheltered me in California during the summer of ’68, had, before departing after a Cambridge visit, climbed the three flights of stairs to my lair, just to inspect it, much in the manner of a loving uncle. Chuckling, he announced he was taking a mental picture of the mess: ” so, you got boots on top of the bed, you’ve got a path to the bathroom for when you go to take a leak….”

I sometimes think about being back there, in times not uncomplicated but with so much life still ahead of me. (I would ultimately, four years later, live back in back in that neighborhood, just around the corner from that apartment, in a similar building that had been converted to condominiums, on Bowdoin Street, which is another tree-lined, aesthetically desirable street of rising real estate values, but less and less street parking. And my professional fortunes, or misfortunes, would force me to give up that condominium one day — and even to this day, I dearly wish I’d found a way to hold onto it, if for no other reason than that it was a potentially lucrative investment. I bought it, if memory serves me, for $87,000 in 1983, sold it for about $130,000 around 1989 — and its 600 square feet, sans thermostate or parking, shot up to over $300,000 during the 90s.)

But back to Labor Day Weekend, 1979, I was eager to slip the bonds of Boston where I’d gone as far as I could in broadcast news (at a little cable TV operation in Somerville which, recently, one of my old colleagues raised up in memory on Facebook). I knew I couldn’t advance without moving out of town — and I planned to work my way back to Boston. But first, I wanted a change, a new world, new opportunities. ( I’d eaten at a Chinese restaurant in Harvard Square only a while before and the little fortune in my fortune cookie — I’ve saved it to this day, with its smudge of soy sauce — read, “YOU ARE HEADED TO A LAND OF SUNSHINE.

I recall I was seeing off my good Korean friend Young Hoon-Kwak at the old Eastern Airlines Terminal at Logan and talking with him about the uncertainty of my future at the moment my future employer was reaching out to me, unknown to me, by phone — there were no cell phones then. Hoon and I used to have heartfelt, loving chats. I’d known him since doing a story about Korean students for the Globe back in the early 70s. I would see him again over the years but, for now, have, sadly, lost touch and track of him. )

So, I was bound for WINK-TV, Ft. Myers. I was somewhat excited, somewhat anxious with happy anticipation. That’s actually a good feeling — I might like to have it again. Especially the “anxious with happy anticipation” part.

But, would any of us really want to go back? Of course not — not really. Live it all again? No. We had our shot. What’s done is done. We live with the benefits or consequences. We know, in our seventies (thinking back to the 1970s), many of our friends and colleagues already dead and gone or out of mind, that we must make the very best of what’s left….We know it ( I know it), but often forget it. We remain, as a 29-year-old Scott Fitzgerald has his protagonist/narrator Nick Carroway brood at the conclusion of The Great Gatsby, “boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

But they had been happy years, more or less, in that Cambridge apartment. As I was packing up, leaving it empty and echoing and sad, a rent increase had been slipped under the door. At the time, it reinforced the feeling that I was leaving at a good time. Rents would keep climbing. But it was a rent-controlled apartment and the rent had never been high. As I sit here, I couldn’t tell you what I’d been paying — maybe $160 (imagine that? In Cambridge! Peanuts even in 1979! But rent control was a crazy and artificial ceiling that left landlords little to work with and “young professionals” like me living far better than we deserved. It was destined to unravel. But it also assured — artificially and quixotically — an interesting mix of people in the polyglot, diverse, infinitely peculiar place that was Cambridge. (It is, I’m sure, far less diverse and colorful now — outrageously expensive, ultra-“progressive” and woke land of the incipient liberal para-fascists. Sad, so sad, but inevitable.

But, I have to be grateful for the accident of that little piece of social engineering that allowed me to dwell in that dream-like miasma. ( The jazz exalted jazz composer and professor George Russell lived in a basement apartment in the building. When we were still allowed to go up on the roof to sunbathe, he sometimes was at one end of the room, I at the other.) I had lived a protracted post-adolescence there, permitting myself a morally slovenly existence much of the time and tolerating a measure of physical squalor, never truly cleaning the place, never once removing and cleaning the curtains that were hanging there when I moved in, October of ’74. I’d painted the wooden cabinets white and the indented middle rectangle orange. I had a western exposure and the afternoon sun would brightly illuminate those patches of orange. ( I had made trouble from time to time for poor Barry Savenor, the superintendent and son of the building’s owners. Years later, while on the job for New England Cable News, I spotted him walking down Church Street in Harvard Square (as it happened, right across from the Chinese restaurant where I’d “learned my fortune” years before). We chatted. He was happy to see me and I him. He’d phoned me out of the blue down in Florida one night before going out for a night on the town in Boston. We’d never been real close friends. And he took the trouble to phone me, again in Florida, upon the death by stroke of my beloved across-the-all elderly Cambridge neighbor Adelaide Schneider. Barry was a character, whose telephone answering machine always contained antic content and impersonations and music. His family was famous for owning the meat market where Julia Child bought her meats. He was undeniably eccentric, also, to his misfortune, afflicted with a very pale complexion and a scalp condition that caused his hair to grow in odd patches. He was a photographer, a good one. He smoked, and I had a phone conversation with him in which he told me he was being treated for lung cancer. I only learned of his death when somewhere, at my work desk, I read of a memorial exhibit of one Barry Savenor’s photographs in Provincetown. I don’t know how old he was — not old.

Barry’s mother, Betty, as noted, the building’s owner, had to deal with those of us who, though we were enjoying the benefits of a cheap rent-controlled apartment, were given to banding together and complaining about maintenance. Yet when I was in graduate school at B.U. and otherwise not working, she gave me a break on the rent. I called her when Barry died. I know she’d moved to a very nice community of town houses in Sarasota. I’ve lost track of her now, living or dead. God bless the Savenors — Barry and mom Betty. People from “the old days” that I wish I’d always treated better.

Back to that Jersey Turnpike rest area….that Labor Day Weekend moment, 1979….

Ultimately, sad to see that neighboring African-American couple stuck, knowing I had to push on, again, hoping I would have not have car trouble of my own( I would-and, as feared, run into a hurricane in Georgia two days later), I set out in order to make my destination, if not before nightfall, not too far into the night….the massive Deleware toll bridge lay ahead…and the Chesepeake Tunnel and the Washington Beltway…pulling that U-Haul, tired, anxious (in a bad way), eager for that Woodbridge Scottish Inn that would, as night fell, seem farther and farther away.

(One other New Jersey memory up to that point in my life would have been Army basic training at Fort Dix. I would learn many years hence that a decorated Vietnam veteran-member of the training cadre with whom I had memorably harsh and chastening encounters during those rough weeks in the Pine Barrens — had become a New Jersey State Trooper and, in that very year of 1979, been named Trooper of the Year. What would an encounter with him have been like, had it happened? What a “remember me?” that would have been!)

It was in these moments that I knew I was breaking the tether that had bound me to Boston. I would be back, leave again, return, leave, return, leave….My broadcast career would go up and down and up again. My personal life would twist and turn, but never end in marriage. But there would be a son who would one day live at a point halfway down the coast I was then traversing on i-95 (he lives now in Charleston, and I’m so glad for his life, for I have so little else to show for the years that lay ahead that day as I pulled back out on the Turnpike.

And somehow, on this May day, 2021, I just thought of that moment today….on or about September 1 to 3, 1979.

THE SOUR MILKMAN

There was that milkman, his cantilever-doored conveyance paused on the hillside, that door still open. This was Boutwell Street, Dorchester. This was long ago. We were children. Who were the other children with me? Forgotten. I think there were three of us. I wonder if they remember this incident as I am remembering it? I wonder if they are still alive?

We always asked the milkmen, when we saw them, if we could have some ice. They always had ice packed around their bottles of milk in their wooden crates, keeping them cool before delivery. Refrigerated trucks certainly existed. But for these neighborhood deliveries, there persisted these rattling, quaint, squared-off wagons, probably cheaper to operate.

The milkmen, genial fellows, would reach in back and give us smooth, dripping chunks of ice. It would be a hot day. We would happily suck on the big ice chunks, our hands cold and wet, and we would be summertime-content in our idle childhood, following in the icy tradition of kids who’d gone before us, observing the tradition of asking the milkman for ice.

Then came that day — under the trees on the slope of Boutwell Street, right about in front of the Trabucco’s house. Our encounter with the “sour” milkman.

“Hey, can we have some ice?” we sang out, as usual

This milkman , poised to let up the brake and to pull away after a delivery, startled us by glowering at us. His age? Not young, not old. But to us kids, every adult was “old.” (The milkmen usually worked, if I recall, for Hood or Borden or perhaps other more local dairies. And those trucks — do they still exist anywhere other than in automotive museums? )

“‘Can I have some ice,” he said, snidely, mockingly. “Can I have some ice,'” That’s all I hear. Did you kids ever think maybe the people who do this job have better things to do than to be handing out ice? We need that ice, can’t you see that? Or are you just too selfish, thinking of yourselves? Isn’t it time you grew up? That ice is what keeps the milk cold. I’m not the ice cream man. You act like you’ve got some right to this ice. Some privilege. Didn’t your parents ever teach you about manners? About respecting working people? Do I hear ‘please?’ Do I hear common courtesy? Just, ‘can I have some ice, can I have some ice’, day in and day out.”

At this point, we children were shriveling into ourselves like blossoms withering in sunlight. Never before had we heard — nor would we ever hear again– stern words from any other member of that benign breed known as The Milkmen. Never before had our simple childish solicitation been defined as sheer effrontery and greeted as a towering imposition.

After this chastisement, if memory serves me, there ensued a moment of stunned silence in which the scolding Milkman allowed his message to sink in and in which we wretches of children were expected to bow in shame. But in truth, we somehow understood, for the first time in our lives, that this tormented soul belonged to a common class of adult outliers who, though once children themselves, resisted the notion that we, the immature, the new-to-this-world, should be indulged our innocent but no less self-centered predilections.

We would have a lifetime to remember this poor sour Milkman and speculate at his anguish — was there a shrewish wife? A wayward offspring? A divorce? Depression? Anger issues, as yet undiagnosed? Was he childless? Loveless? Underpaid? working for a tyrannical boss? Had he fought in the Pacific or in Korea or some other hellish battle zone and was he now suffering from PTSD?

Or was he just a jerk? We’ll never know.

He did, ultimately, give us the ice. There was a pathos about that concession, too. He truly did not wish to deny us, or be seen as a mean man, unloved. He could have just up and driven off. No, he put those ice chunks in our chastened hands. And we, still a bit stunned, commenced to walk off.

“Yeah, just as I thought,” he said, “No ‘thank you’.”

So, we had culminated our heedless ingratitude with a final insult, a crowning failure, a bold period.

“Thank you,” we sang tardily, and truly ashamed.

Then the Sour Milkman drove off — and out of our lives, but not, obviously, out of my memory. And for us kids, cold lumps dripping in our thankless hands, The Iceman had Commeth. A childhood idyll had been chilled, a street corner tradition curdled.

I don’t recall ever again asking another milkman for ice.

THE PRINCE AND ME

Once upon a time — on a “a dark and stormy night” — listen, call it a cliche’, the classic embodiment of “bad writing,” but I kind of like that old chestnut. It’s so — evocative.

Nonetheless, I’ll amend it to say that it was just a “dark night,” (and, of course what night isn’t dark unless you happen to be in the Antarctic?)

But I digress….though this will be, ultimately, about the weather.

So, once again, it was a dark – and rainy – night in Boston. Prince Charles was visiting the city. Yes, that Prince Charles! A big deal.

This was before Diana, or maybe after the marriage but before the car wreck and subsequent royal train wreck. Before Camilla -and all that rot. It was way before William and Catherine, and way before Harry and Meaghan, much less Louis and Archie. Charles was still a mighty august figure, pure, young, and generally grandly admired. That gray pall of scandal and decadence had yet to descend upon the empire.

I was working the night shift for Boston’s Channel 7, standing out of the rain in a gaggle of reporters and photographers corralled alongside the bright, red carpeted, canopied walkway leading in and out the Copley Plaza Hotel, waiting for the prince to emerge. He was in that elegant old hostelry for some kind of meeting with some kind of notable, just who — well, I forget.

Anyway, as we reporters waited, Channel 4’s Dan Rea, standing beside me with his photographer, suggested we put our heads together, figuratively speaking, and come up with something we could ask the heir to the British throne — on this dark and rainy night. Alas, we’d been told already that the prince would be giving NO public interviews. Of course that never stifled any reporter worth his or her salt from throwing something at the wall.

At long last, Charles, that boney, universally familiar escutcheon of the Anglosphere, strode out in all his magical royal splendor. Cameras flashed. TV cameras rolled. In seconds, in suit and tie and without raincoat, he was out in the darkness and a light drizzle, opening — or having opened for him — the door of his limousine. An obedient, unwonted, perhaps despairing silence reigned among us news people, seeing absolutely no chance to ask anything, however trivial, in hope of a royal reaction. Besides, we barely had time.

Yet I, a notorious shrinking violet when it came to breaching protocol, decided to seize the slippery moment and at least pass the time of day.

“Your Highness,” I yelled, “what do you think of the Boston weather? ” Charles, at that point — as noted — poised to climb into his limo, surprised me by looking my way quizzically and indulgently, apparently willing, on the humble behalf of a representative of all commoners everywhere, to breach the iron ground rules against public comments. He tilted one of his famously huge ears my way, indicating he wished me to repeat the question. Which I did, deliberately, pounding each banal word.

“WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE BOSTON WEATHER?”

“Not much,” was the reply from Bonnie Prince Charlie, not without a touch of British drollery, after which he ducked into the limo and was gone.

But I’d gotten what I wanted — to my knowledge, the prince’s ONLY on-the-record interview during that long-ago state visit. It was slightly less substantive than my pre-performance press availability with Tony Bennett in a Symphony Hall back stairwell.

“Tony,” I asked, “have you ever left your heart in Boston?”

“No,” he said. “I still haven’t found it in San Francisco.”

The prince, by contrast, left two words. For me.

And, after all, what do Bostonians talk about when they want to break the ice with a stranger? Why, the weather, of course. Remind me to try it on Tony Bennett the next time I see him.

REMEMBERING DORA

She died years ago – on New Year’s Eve. That’s probably why I’m thinking of Dora Ronca today (New Year’s Eve, 2020 as I write). She was the Gypsy Violinist, Vaudeville legend, “last rose of summer.” I believe I interviewed her in ‘76. The nation had turned 200. Dora, at 97, was nearly half as old – but slender, be-rouged, be-jeweled in flowing skirt, her aquiline face bordered by witchy strands of black-dyed hair. I was Norwood Bureau reporter for the Daily Transcript. A local merchant told me of the old lady with the great story who regularly wheeled her shopping cart up Dean Street, and lived in a modest Cape with her widowed niece.

She was an outrageous flirt, patting the narrow sofa space next to her by way of invitation. “I’ve had many beaus,” this nonagenarian told this twenty-something reporter, “but I never cared for any of them – until you.” Charmed , amused, adhering to future pandemic-era social distancing protocols, I smiled, reached over and accepted from her long tapered fingers a plastic sack of jumbled memories – news clips, photographs, reviews by hyperventilating early 20th Century show biz scribes describing “the handsomest girl in the extravaganza, a “stunning brunette with a wealth of black hair, large brown eyes and a fine figure” decked out in faux Gypsy regalia – head scarf, sleeves of red velvet edged with ball trimming, dress embroidered in white chrysanthemums as she performed “a crashing Hungerian melody” with “fire, abandon and verve” on her exquisite 1645 Stainer violin.

The gypsy persona was Vaudeville shtick. Dora was French Canadian, if anything (Roncoeur) One reviewer-wag thought her name, Dora Ronca, made her a cigar, but added, “her name is the worst that can be said about her.” The clips revealed that she’d shared the footlights with better known legends – Eddie Cantor, W.C. Fields, then just a “droll juggler.” Asked about them, she said, “yes I know them.” No past tense. To Dora they were still out there , still performing.

She’d played Boston, New York, Paterson, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver, Paris…Newspapers ran obituary for her Boston Terrier. A Syracuse musical instrument dealer named violin strings in her honor. The plastic sack contained, among other mementos, a receipt for a meal in Monte Carlo.

Vaudeville faded, her career ended, the violin disappeared. The rest of her life’s drama was blank. The plastic sack contained an unopened letter returned from WWI-era France informing her that a soldier-correspondent had been killed in action. A lost beau (and I’ll be she did care for him). Her last husband – there had been many – had been military, so she had VA privileges. Months after my story ran, she fell ill and was admitted to the VA hospital in Providence. (New Year’s Eve.)Her niece told me Dora looked up at the hospital building as they wheeled her in and said, “I played here.”

At the funeral home viewing, I saw laid out before me a very old woman with cropped snow white hair – not the fiery, flirtatious rock star of yore.

It was at the Columbia Theater in Cincinnati, November 4, 1906 that she played her violin sweetly as the audience sang sadly, “Tis the last rose of summer, left blooming alone. All her lovely companions are faded and gone.”

Goodnight and Happy New Year, Dora. It was fun.

ONE DUMB ANNIVERSARY

This day, December 30th, is a peculiar “anniversary” for me ( the 47th by my count)– and it’s very peculiar that it sticks in my memory. It’s the day I (accidentally) set the Rubbish Room ablaze at the Elm Farm Supermarket on Morrissey Blvd. Yes, an accident. Dumb accident, though. My punishment was to clean up the mess.

I was a bundle ( or bag) boy at the time at that neighborhood market where my brother Doug had worked before me — and I really enjoyed the uncomplicated business of filling up a customer’s paper bundles (no plastic in those days), loading them into trunks and backseats, cadging the occasional tip. (Maybe I should have made a career of this. I’d been trained as a cashier but wanted no part of handling money and ultimately was granted my request for demotion. I’m not much of a capitalist.)

These were, as it happens, somewhat grim and traumatized times at home and in the world. My father was mortally ill with cancer. And the whole universe was still recovering from the shock of a Presidential assassination a little more than a month before. I guess I was finding a little gleeful escape in my after-school workaday chores — and especially when, periodically, I’d get assigned to burn rubbish in the Rubbish Room off the back loading dock.

Boy, did I love that! Solitary labor in a windowless cell of concrete walls, wildly stuffing cardboard into a huge furnace. I’d whirl and pivot as I hurled, jammed or otherwise stuffed collapsed shipping boxes and cartons of every dimension into the huge open maw of that raging steel beast. A supermarket generates tons of empty cardboard boxes, as you can well imagine.

Just so you don’t think I’m weird or a closet pyromaniac, I believe all my fellow bundle — or bag — boys enjoyed that occasional assignment of unsupervised work around a warm furnace — especially in winter — away from the cold managers, cranky customers and blustery external elements in which we were compelled to chase down shopping carts left at odd extremities of the parking lot. But they may not have thought of it, as I did, as a kind of ballet or ritual — or perhaps ever gotten as reckless as I did at about 4 p.m. on Dec. 30, 1963.)

I’d always loved the challenge of cramming as many boxes into the furnace as possible — to the point where you’d see no fire in the open furnace doorway. Then the flames would slowly gnaw away at the cardboard; slowly replace the brown cardboard with hot red fire — and then I’d push a button and the heavy steel door would groan shut, ending any danger that that hungry beast would breath fire out into the room full of tinder.

When the fire had died down, I’d push the “open” button. Up would go the steel door, in would go more junk.

It was Christmas time and all the waxed boxes from frozen Christmas turkeys were piled high around me. Boy did they burn! Occasionally, a bit of flaming debris would pop out into the room — and occasionally ignite more debris. No problem. I’d hastily pluck up all the burning matter and pop it into the furnace. Occasionally, more than one little fire got going. Again,no problem. I’d gingerly pick up ALL the burning stuff — I wore insulated gloves — and pop it all into the fire. I guess this added to this rote exercise a minor thrill of danger — the same sense some otherwise sensible citizens might relish at July Fourth backyard fireworks festivities.

But I wasn’t counting on any fireworks. And on this particular December afternoon, one fiery little bit of trash after another got going and my ballet suddenly turned into a fire dance. As the title of a currently popular novel says, there were “little fires everywhere.”

Up to that point, I’d reveled in the sense of “control” I’d always enjoyed while “playing” with that fire. But now, I was introduced to the sensation of facing a fire “out of control” from my own carelessness. And now there was smoke — lots of smoke. And now more fire. Then — everything seemed ablaze, and I was forced out onto the loading dock, looking back in at an inferno. Smoke was now belching out into the open air.

I went (calmly) into the adjacent meat department and (calmly, sheepishly and shamefacedly) announced to the guys in bloody white butcher coats, “ah, fellas, there’s a fire out there.”

What followed had a little air of comedy. The meat men urgently joined up a hose, hooked it to a big running sink and charged for the dock — but got jerked up short at the swinging doors. a Laurel&Hardy move.

Time for the real hoses.

Soon the air was full of the sirens. I guess it was BFD Engine 20 responding from down Neponset Avenue. It was, ultimately, a minor fire that took minor effort to extinguish Water was blasted into that little concrete room, leaving a charred sodden mess in its wake.

Lesson learned. Don’t play with fire, master Wayland.

And — don’t forget to recycle. It keeps cardboard away from the likes of me.

NOVEMBER 9TH

Dates, certain days, have come to possess infinite resonance for me. This date, November 9th, though you may be reading this later, if at all, is such a date for me. For the nation, other resonant dates, for better or worse, in pain and glory, would be December 7th, September 11th, November 22nd. I guess now we will all, for different reasons touching on our deep national division, remember November 3rd, 2020. Indeed, all of history will remember 2020. other dates: June 6th is my late sister’s wedding anniversary — and D-Day. And the day Bobby Kennedy died — and my neighbor Frank Trubucco, and the day a teenage friend Jimmy Sweeney drowned in the Neponset River. May 30, the original Memorial Day and the day my father died in 1964. You, the reader, have your own unforgettable dates.

But back to today, November 9th. For one thing, today is my nephew Edward’s birthday. It alarms me that he’s turning 54, the age of my father when he died. You know that feeling about other, younger relative’s birthdays, and how old they make us feel — and how young my father now seems, to have died at that age.

On the religious, specifically Catholic calendar, this is the feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of Our Savior, considered the mother church of all the splendid and ancient churches of Rome, also called the Church of St. John Lateran. It dates to the third century. Honoring it as the Church does awakens my own tendency to feel a “sense of place” about certain buildings, sacred or secular, or neighborhoods where I’ve lived and my houses or apartments in those neighborhoods.

But then, there are the things that have happened on this date, besides the birth of a nephew. It is also a day, in a certain string of memories, of darkness, dust and, paradoxically, light.

I take you back to November 9th, 1995, Pinellas Park, Florida. A thin, intense 66-year-old man steps off the Greyhound bus into a mild, subtropical autumn dusk…

This was an older friend — twenty years older — from my Boston neighborhood, a retired cop, sports coach, restless itinerant bachelor. He’d come for a brief visit, after which he’d be on the road again. It was good to see him.

We drove west that evening in rush hour ‘s river of red taillights toward the Gulf of Mexico beaches and my little rented place out there. I was working at WTSP-TV Tampa/St. Petersburg at the time. My old friend was finely attuned to the world — sensitive, faith-filled, good company. But it was November 9th and something — one particular memory – kept invading my mind in the presence of this person from the old neighborhood. It had happened just down the street from the house where my friend, named Dick, was born and lived his whole life. It had happened on November 9th, thirty-five years before.

As we drove, I took us back to November 8, 1960: John F. Kennedy was elected President, another memorable election day, another narrow victory margin — about 100,000 votes ( and, I might as well mention, generations of credible talk followed thereafter about voter fraud in that election in “Landslide Lyndon” Johnson’s Texas and Richard Daley’s reputedly corrupt Chicago. ) On the following day, November 9th, a carpenter had punched through the front wall of my family’s small 91-year-old house on Neponset Avenue in order to replace the original narrow double windows with a large, bright, multi-pane picture window. Barely 14-years-old at the time, I was disoriented by this permanent transformation of my childhood cloister, the rush of harsh, naked sunlight into the small living room and, perhaps above all, by the release of sweet-smelling plaster dust into my sanctum; plaster probably dating to the house’s 1869 construction.

I was still smelling that dust a the onset of early darkness when, one by one, my 21-year-old twin brothers Doug and Ron arrived home. ( Doug would arrive in the middle of the coming tragic incident I will describe. All three of my brothers were still unmarried and living at home; sister Anne lived down the street in a three-decker.) My father was home that evening from his coal and oil sales job and all day, as the carpenter named Willy Wendt had been working, everyone had been talking about the election. Doug was in a good frame of mind, having been a big supporter of Jack Kennedy’s improbable run for President at the offices of S.D. Warren Paper Products where he worked in a minor job and where all the managers and major players were Republican and Nixon supporters.

By now my mother had turned on a living room light. Suddenly my 25-year-old oldest brother Bill, ever the joker, appeared standing in the small front lawn, gently and jokingly knocking on the big new front window, yelling, “hey, what’s this?” We would step out to join him, laughing. “I’ve heard of living in a fishbowl,” he chortled, “but this is ridiculous.” Then we turned our eyes toward the warm glow of new window — but then also notice a commotion one hundred yards farther down Neponset Avenue by St. Ann’s Elementary School, my school. Unusually, an Eastern Massachusetts Line commuter bus was pulled over. They made no stops on Neponset Avenue. And we hadn’t, before coming outside the house, noticed — and my brother hadn’t noticed — the orange and silver bus go by our house. They were a frequent sight one wasn’t inclined to notice — each a major connector between the Fields Corner MTA station and the South Shore of Boston. Neponset Avenue was a main thoroughfare for all buses — but Eastern Mass drivers had often been warned to slow down on this thickly settled stretch.

There appeared to be something lying in the avenue. For some reason, our first thought was the neighbor Trubucco’s big, slow-moving mongrel dog. My father, Bill and Ron went down the street to investigate. For some reason, I didn’t. I went back inside with my mother. My brother Doug arrived and, having seen the commotion, also walked down to the scene. After an interval, my sister’s husband Joe ran up to our front door and asked my mother to call the police since they seemed to be slow responding to earlier calls. My mother asked, quickly, assuming someone had been hit, if the victim was going to be all right.

“Well,” said Joe bluntly, “the kid’s dead.”

I’m sure my mother was shocked. I know I was. Neither of us asked the identify of the victim but my brother-in-law, plainly deeply unsettled, must have been the one to impart the information — when my mother asked if death was certain — that the bus wheels had gone right over the child’s head. That, and the knowledge that there was no hope, kept me from walking down to investigate while my mother called police — who in the interim must have finally shown up to what was a horrible scene. I seem to recall sirens. It was brother-in-law Joe who had been walking toward our house on some forgotten errand, saw to it that the body was covered with an available cloth.

All this was exactly sixty years ago today. The triad of disorienting occurrences — the historic election of a native son, the ripping open of my house and that smell of dust (the big picture window is still there today and I think of this day when I see that window and almost smell the ancient dust) — most of all, the violent death of a child keep that date, November 9, 1960, alive in my mind.

The weather was mild — one of those late fall, mild November days. The victim was 6-year-old Jimmy Dwyer, youngest of a well-known neighborhood family of older brothers and sister Noreen. They lived up behind the school. The father was a fire captain. I’d heard one story that he’d even responded to the scene of his youngest child’s death. I had never met this child. Jimmy had been with the third oldest brother Tommy, age about 12, and had gone for an errand to Aggie’s Variety Store on Southwick Street. Tommy was in the St. Ann’s Band and happened and have given Jimmy a drum stick to hold. On the return trip, they’d crossed the street in plenty of time. The on-coming bus might have been speeding. Jimmy had dropped the drum stick, broke free of Tommy’s hand and dashed out….

When everyone returned to the house, Ron sat stricken at the dinner table. Dad and Bill were not much better — but it had been Ron who, seeing Mrs. Dwyr coming down the paved schoolyard, rushed with others to restrain her. It was traumatic. He sat silent and stricken. There was little more than a mention of the exciting election news.

I can only imagine how the bus driver feels now should he still be alive — of felt to his dying day.

When I reminded Dick of that incident as we drove toward the Gulf on November 9, 1995, he put his face in his hands. He remembered Jimmy Dwyer’s eyes, big and brown like a fawn’s.

In the dark, as the moon rose that night on Indian Shores, Dick and I walked five miles up the beach, talk of the death forgotten by now. I reminded Dick — who, as noted, had retired as a Metropolitan Police Officer — of November 9, 1965, another dark moment — but dark for an entirely different reason. The lights in the kitchen at 210 Neponset Avenue dimmed. Out that big picture window, the lights straight ahead up the hill of Boutwell Street dimmed, then rose again, then died for good. This was the Great Northeast Blackout all the way up to Niagra Falls. Manhattan had vanished before astonished pilots’ eyes. Dick, working as a cop that night, saw minimum looting, then people pulling together, students stepping in to direct traffic where streetlight had failed and police were spread thing — a bright moment in the darkness.

Dick, typical to his itinerant ways, bought a bike the next day and was off on his rounds. In his life, he’d traveled through France, Sweden, Iceland, coaching baseball.

One year after that blackout, five years after Jimmy Dwyer’s tragic death, on November 9th, 1966, son Edward was born to my brother Ron who, six years earlier, had absorbed a mother’s terrible grief . Nephew Ed is a criminal defense attorney now.

One day early in this century, covering a fire in South Boston as a TV news reporter, I was approached by the president of the firefighters union, Ed Kelly — son of Noreen Dwyer. He knew I was from Neponset. I don’t have to tell you the first thing that jumped into my mind: this stalwart, grown man and public figure standing before me was the nephew of the six-year-old killed that terrible November 9th. We talked about it. Ed, of course, had not even been born on that date. But he said everybody from that neighborhood of my generation remembered it. (Sometimes, it’s the terrible things you don’t witness with your own eyes that bother you most. I’ve seen dead bodies in the road as a reporter — but the death I didn’t see that November night has stayed lodged in my mind. In part, that’s because the victim was so young and innocent; also, undoubtedly, because that death — the terrible manner of it — was often spoken of, not always in a respectful way, by ghoulish children.)

One day not overly long ago, I would learn of the passing of a neighborhood contemporary, Greg Burke. Greg’s brother had been a chum of Tommy Dwyer. It was mentioned to me that Tommy had been at the wake, a handsome grown man, Vietnam veteran, with a wife and family. He had moved to the northwest and built a home for himself out there. I was so happy to hear all this — to know he survived that trauma — and the war in Vietnam. It remained a terrible cross for the parents. Sister Noreen Dwyer, for her part, became a very active member of St. Ann’s Parish, a beautiful person, a selfless organizer. God protect all of those Dwyers, including Ed Kelly.

Friend Dick Duchaney died of ALS on September 4, 2001 at age 72 at the Soldier’s Home high on a hill in Chelsea, Mass. He’d requested to be there with the soldiers he so loved. Dick had never gone farther than the seventh grade in school, been both a soldier and a sailor, kept going back to school all his life, fighting the odds, learning and rushing at life. He hated being a cop, especially a traffic cop. He was a self-described odd ball, devout, sometimes tortured in mind and spirit, living out his days in that house where he was born, always taking on coaching jobs — baseball, basketball, football.

His sister, a nun, and her fellow Missionaries of St. Francis sang at his graveside on a brilliantly sunny Friday of his burial in Cedar Grove Cemetery, Dorchester. Dust to dust. Ashes to ashes.

Four days later, terror struck in Manhattan. The world’s cloister was punctured like that old wall in my house. Dust filled the air. I was there; I smelled it. Dust and darkness all around though it was brilliantly sunny.

I saw that tall familiar odd-ball soul from the old neighborhood getting off the Greyhound in the dusk, November 9 — now twenty-five years ago. And I think of that post election night sixty years ago. The darkness of The Great Blackout. The birth in ’66. Happy birthday, Ed Wayland.

This November 9th, in that Roman Basilica across the ocean and in the midst of our own post-election turmoil in a very divided nation — in this Florida house that is now, for however long, my home, I pause and pray for Dick, Jimmy and all the faithful departed. Amen.

THE GIRL FROM RIO PIEDROS

I met her — I forget how — during a two week stay in San Juan. It was in the Candato neighborhood of hotels and casinos. I was staying in a little hotel called El Canario. I had a pleasant room with levered shutters. There were always these trade winds and the constant sound of the coqui frogs. I loved that little place. When one of the maids won a trip to Saint Thomas at a church social, she brought it to the hotel and the amiable anglo front desk clerk informed me that the maid had been to Saint Thomas many times and therefore had no need for such a trip, did I want the ticket? Yes, thank you. And that was a day trip to Charlotte Amalie, to be written of another time.

But the girl from Rio Pedros…well, this will be a simple sad story only because I recall only that I met her probably in one of the grander hotels, probably in the ground floor casino level — and she was very nice and had lived in Atlanta and maybe there had been a marriage that was no more. I think she might have been with friends. She invited me to come to her place for dinner, probably the next night.

And so one night in my little rented compact I set out for Rio Piedros, a San Juan suburb. I have no memory of her apartment building, though I was stone cold sober. There is some vague memory of a two-story complex with a stairway to a second level. This was in June, 1977. That night keeps coming back to me, because — well, it wasn’t like I had any romantic intentions. Did she? Did I, at least have the courtesy to arrive with perhaps flowers and a bottle of wine — or did I just show up? How did I, so often directions-challenged, even on familiar U.S. turf, find her place so easily, unfamiliar as I was with Puerto Rico? Somehow I just recall going up a ramp to join cars on an elevated highway — speeding Puerto Rican drivers all around me, but I was fine with it. I was feeling adventurous. I was 30.

I have memory of a dining room. Not of what we ate or anything we said or how long I stayed. and, of course, I don’t recall her name.

How is it that there was such a night, such a special invitation from a stranger? Does she remember me? My name? My face? For I see — so little, but remember only that gracious invitation, that pleasant woman who must have made me dinner. And then it was goodnight and goodbye — forever.

Forgive me for forgetting so much. I re-live what little I recall and wonder about you — the girl from Rio Piedros. I hope you are well.

A TOKYO MEMORY

Last day of March, 2020. Middle of a pandemic. Trying to comprehend such an enormous thing — and such an enormity — as watching the only planet we know, and all of us who inhabit it, be menaced, from West Bengal to Time Square and everywhere in between, by a potentially deadly pathogen, something bascially as UNhuman as a coiling, twisting vine multiplying and creeping up a wall.

It is giving us all time to think, and remember — especially if you’ve been on this planet for nearly three quarters of a century, like me.

And what do I do? I stay confined — though tending to a sick companion; sick not with the dreaded virus but with an inexplicably  debilitating leg pain that has put her on a borrowed set of crutches following a painful trip to a clinic for an ultrasound and MRI.

And, with no “hook” to make it relevant, I suddenly scour the archives of my memory during this enforced leisure — and my letter file — and discover that I wrote a very accomplished composer some months back after chancing to see his credit at the end of the television series Biography. He wrote the music for that and, apparently, much, much more — and is a well-known composer of experimental and symphonic music as well. Continue reading “A TOKYO MEMORY”