By Rosalie Tirella
Yesterday, despite the impending blizzard; the previous Friday’s police raid that unearthed guns and a massive pharma-copia of illegal substances of all sorts, sizes, shapes and mind-bending capabilities; the newspaper stories; the comments section where I was called a money-launderer for a drug biz and the pitchfork-stabbing-into-the-sky crowd demanded LOCK ROSE UP! LOCK HER UP! … I calmly drove to Unique Finds Antiques and Vintage gift shop at 1329 Main St. with the radio blasting my beloved White Stripes looking for – hoping to find – my pal and Unique Finds store owner, Ronny Stultz. My gentle giant. I had something to give him. He was a friend and an advertiser who was always courteous and respectful to me, never said a harsh word to me, always gave me the run of his place, always let me have a bit of fun. Once a week I’d visit Unique Finds to take pics for Ron’s ICT ads, hundreds of photos, many of which were posted on this website. Pictures of Ronny’s LEGOS collection, his cool vintage toy trucks, dump trucks and cars, Ronny’s Batman and Superman action figures, his furniture, his tableware, his funky rusty industrial equipment salvaged from Woo’s factories and industrial past…
… his fun barroom neon signs and airplanes …
… his used guitars – electric and folk …
… – and – my favorite – the TERRIFIC UF RECORD section.
I was always always always! checking out their lps – never stumbling upon an errant pill, bag of heroin, gun or drug deal. Everyone, a little rough around the edges, was always nice and polite to me! Last month I was tripping over carpenters at Unique Finds, regular guys who were building Ronny extra shelves for an expanded record section, dividers to keep all the lps straight and in order, borders to make their presentation look neat and trim. The store’s aisles were being widened as items were rearranged; Ronny was also getting a new, bigger office. The guys, happy for work in these lean times, were doing a good job!
Knowing my pal’s past challenges, I said: “You’ve come a long way, Ronny! You’re making this biz your very own! Looking good!!!!”
Ronny had a Jack White album – new, his, not for sale! – blasting on his excellent Unique Finds store stereo system. He just smiled at me. He was into listening to Jack White. I began to listen to tne lp, too. I was floored – actually catapulted into heaven – when I heard at that moment my FAVORITE MUSICIAN/SINGER SINGING OVER SUCH AN EXCELLENT SOUND SYSTEM! Wow! INCREDIBLE!, I said to Ronny. Wish I had this at home! Jack sounds UNBELIEVABLE! Ronny took my compliment with a shrug of his beefy shoulders and let me photograph him holding the album.
Mint singer. Mint songs. Mint speakers. Mint Ronny. That IS what Ronny Stultz was about to me. Not a drug pusher! Not a drug taker. But a vintage guy, a Rock n Roll connoisseur! Someone to talk rock and folk music with.
Did you know Ronny used to chat up LUCINDA WILLIAMS years ago, in Texas, after her shows, before you all even knew her name?! Ronny loves her music. Ron knows where Jack White is headquartered and his cool take on vinyl – Jack has his own record factory! Ron still travels to New York City to catch a fave band. A few years ago he hung out with the long gone but eternally iconic rock radio station WBCN’s iconic DJ Mark Parenteau, now unwell and living in Worcester where he grew up. Ronny bought much of Mark’s record collection and music biz memorabilia because Mark too had lived wicked hard and now he was sick and needed money badly.
Ronny Stultz, to me, was – IS – the cool kid at UMASS Amherst that I’d skip a class to hang out with to listen to music …to learn, to get ideas, talk poetry. I did this often as an undergrad at UMASS – with pals John and some pre-med genius freshman, who – ha ha! – had his own robust mary jane-selling biz. “Fred” would have his scales out, weighing the weed – and the WHO’S LIVE AT LEEDS would be blasting and about 10 of us would be listening, hanging on every screech and sigh – discussing the music! John would be making me an audio cassette of the lp, and his eyes would close and his smile turn beatific when it got to the musical parts he especially loved. There was a brilliant kid in our group who walked with crutches, crippled very badly, looked all herky jerky when he walked with his crutches down the long corridor of our floor- but he was perfect when he talked Roger Daltry or the Beatles! His father worked at an embassy in some exotic country. He read about 10 books a week – not on any class syllabus. The kid was a writer! Outcast in our dorm. Lonely. Heavy drinker. But accepted and loved by our gang! He KNEW rock n roll. Made it into our family. It was a mid night gathering…I was the only girl. No sex. Just one of the guys – even though they thought I was cute. I was accepted purely on brain power and because I was as passionate about the music as they were. Most college girls at the time didn’t want to do what I did – get deep into sounds, riff on the poetry of Janis or Cougar or Lennon. They were, like they are today, mostly into relationships, being the tea cup looking for the matching saucer… My boyfriend was a rock n roll lighting guy – an older returning student at UMASS – who did lights for Bruce Springsteen! Billy Joel! He wasn’t looking for the fake girl friend pressure bull shit – he was a pothead who planned on lighting Marvin Gaye’s upcoming concerts! But that gig fell through when Gaye’s father, high on drugs, brutally, stupidly killed his son!
I was an outsider. The UMASS rock music guys saved me. Ronny Stultz reminded me of those UMass music guys. Ronny, like my college pals, respects rock enough to play it right – on vinyl where it gets to you.
When I look at Ronny, I don’t see a drug seller – I see a vinyl lover.
Ronny Stultz, my cheerleader! Along with his sweet, funky and wise girlfriend – a tough, cool Mama who was my cheerleader, too! We always gave each other a big hug when I entered Unique Finds and away we’d start! Gossiping about guys and how they done us wrong! Wicked fun! And she taught me about life! I remember one of our conversations:
Rose: If you moved the business to Shrewsbury Street you’d get more customers, a BETTER clientele. Sue: Na, I like it here. I don’t wanna be around those people. And what’s the difference between them and the homeless? They’ve just got a place to shit!
Sue was 100% right! The difference between the upper class and the lowest class: toilet-access! All people were equal. No one was better than anyone else.
Then Sue let a poor kid from the neighborhood take a puppy knick knack home. For free.
I left Unique Finds that day feeling Sue was the new Ghandi.
For me, Unique Finds wasn’t a drug front – couldn’t be! – it was a safe space where Sue, Ron and I, all about the same age, discussed, sometimes with emotion, ex-lovers, love, disappointing fathers, the deep and disturbing connections between parents and kids … sibling rivalry. Ronny, a super intelligent guy – his sister Deirdre just yesterday told me (again!) his IQ is 140-something – a sensitive soul, knows a lot about love interrupted, maybe lost forever. He’s the son of the late Sonny Stultz of Standard Auto in Vernon Hill. Sonny abused Ronny – emotionally. A good business owner but a bad father. Hurting his son. Making a sensitive kid believe he’s shit. And then Ronny’s motorcycle accident when he was 18. He was, for the intense pain, put on opioids. Sis Deirdre believes Ronny hasn’t been “right” since – that his stretch of legal drug-taking after the accident altered her brother’s body chemistry, made Ronny want opioids FOREVER. Factor in depression. Hurt. Abuse by Sonny. Some people have the psychological and physical template all set up for addiction, thanks to their families. Good people, even great people…set up to fuck up.
Addiction is complicated.
Ronny and Sonny’s history is complicated.
When Sonny died a few years ago, he left ZIP$$ – ZERO – to son Ronny. Left the Standard Auto business to his wife. Deidre runs the biz now. A few years back she read me Sonny’s will re: Ronny. She did this because I felt bad for the way Ronny had been cut out – left with absolutely nothing. She wanted me to understand. She read the pertinent paragraphs to me – they said: I LEAVE NOTHING TO MY SON RONALD. He gets nothing and must have nothing to do with Standard Auto. Ever.
Wow, I said to Deirdre, THAT IS COLD.
She said her dad was doing the right thing. Ronny had fucked up before. Sonny believed Ronny would lose it all – Standard Auto – to drugs.
I said: Maybe not. He’s clean now! He’s a good person. He’s Sonny’s son! Every son deserves a second chance.
Deidre screamed: ROSE, Ronny’s had a million second chances! We’ve cleaned up his shit before … supported his kids. No no no!!!!!!!! NO! Her voice was frayed, tattered.
I tried to understand. … And so Deirdre runs the business these days, is rich and lives in a beautiful house with her family, and Ronny says to me this summer… I know he’s doing the right thing – going to Spectrum – going to his AA meetings … working HARD TO STAY CLEAN AND SOBER …Ronny says this to me: We have a family house at the Cape and they never once invited me for the weekend this summer. For a day at the beach with my kids. That big heavy handsome face of his dropped. I wanted to cry. Outsider. Interloper. Black Sheep. A guy who wanted to be loved and accepted by his family.
Deirdre – her parents’ princess … she could do no wrong in dad Sonny’s eyes. Brother Ronny, the dark prince …
Prince! Did I tell ya Ronny had some great Prince albums at Unique Finds?! And Bob Dylan too – he gave me the double Blond on Blond a few months ago! Dylan always lives on the cusp – so does Ronny. He lives on the edge in a warehouse, on a long dirty dark Worcester street in the ‘hood – where the trucks rumble up and down the roads and sometimes there are drag races …
… and definitely no manicured lawns.
Ronny gave me my lovely fake-sheep-skin-lined denim jacket so I could deliver InCity Times in the cold without feeling cold.
I LOVE my Ronny jacket!
Ronny used to give the street people who latched onto UF because they instinctively spotted Ron’s soft heart – knew that he would be a soft touch – food. He bought them their Cokes, fries and burgers at the fast food places across the street, when they walked over to buy him his snack. Gave them cigs and rides. I remember a confused old guy hanging around the office, saying he would be in tomorrow with a loving cup! … Ronny placed the tip of his finger onto the tip of the old guy’s nose and smiling gently said…OK.
Loving cup …
Ron, with his lady Sue’s blessings, gave me cute jewelry to give to my gal pals as thank you gifts – he was a guy who also gave me great relationship advice. Who sat with girlfriend Sue in his office and let me cry – on both their shoulders!
Ron. A guy who, when I said, clutching my Unique Find – an album from the store’s music section that I JUST HAD TO HAVE – I NEED THIS ALBUM! – would give it to me. I have a bunch of UF lps! If the album wasn’t new and could fetch top dollar and I wanted it for free, it was mine. Sometimes I’d be carrying my latest greatest UF album find to Ron’s office to ask for it before I took it so I could add it to my pretty ok lp, 78, CD and audiocassette music ❤❤❤❤collection and there Ron would be … sitting by his desk, stringing a guitar or opening up a STAX CD set. Wow! STAX!, I’d shout, bright eyed and bushy tailed. … NOPE, Ronny would say, looking serious, sensing my coveting his STAX find. Nope, Rose.
Two weeks ago Ronny accidentally gave me one of HIS Elvis albums …
I had brought it home and was enjoying it when I got the call from Ronny: MY ALBUM. MY ELVIS ALBUM. PLEASE RETURN TO ME.
Oh, boy. Ronny didn’t exactly sound mad – just urgent. I understood. I’d feel the same way if he had my fave Beatles album – the one with “Rain” on it! So I carefully put his lp back into its sleeve – it was a double album too and brought it down to the car with me when I headed to work. It had been in my car for four days … I forgot to give it to Ronny when I visited UF last week and Ronny gave me another lp for the Elvis lp I was gonna return. Which was still in my car.
So when the cops moved in and the guns and drugs were confiscated and Ronny disappeared all I could think of was: I DON’T WANNA LET MY FRIEND DOWN – HAVE HIM THINK I STOLE HIS ELVIS LP! I HAVE TO GET THIS ALBUM TO RONNY!
So yesterday I drove to UF with Elvis in the passenger seat and the White Stripes blasting on my radio. But Unique Finds was closed. I tried the front and back doors. Both locked. Lights out. I felt a wave of loneliness wash over me. I walked back to my car sort of crying.
I drove to Standard Auto and talked with Deirdre and gave her her brother’s Elvis album. I sounded emotional: DEE! PLEASE MAKE SURE YOUR BROTHER GETS THIS album! It’s his Elvis double album! – I don’t want him to think I took it!… He loves this album! Deirdre looked upset too and confused, but she took it. She said: No one knows where my brother is.
I think we both thought: Good.