Category Archives: Green Island Grrrl

MY FILIGREE TREE

By Rosalie Tirella

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Rose, December 2020.

So long, favorite tree, so old and tall you grow straight past my third floor apartment! I’m moving out in a few weeks: by then, maybe a little past, you’ll be in full bloom – your green leaves wrapped in tiny tight buds unfurled, burst open. Your filigreed beauty gone.

I like trees best when they look like the one outside my pantry window: spare, the lacey green of a handkerchief’s edges embroidered on every brown branch, the branches still visible in all their drama. They are dark, gnarly, rough, crooked and broken in so many places. I like the way they cradle their “babies” – buds and fledglings in nests – spring after spring. April was invented for the filigreed trees and their promise of good things to come.

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Rose’s tree …

I think of my late mom when I look at this tree, too. When I was a little girl, we lived on the third floor of a Lafayette Street three decker. If you walked out onto our back porch you saw this picture too – tree tops – but in my neck of Green Island. Before the gentrification and martinis. Back when we were a Bud neighborhood. In April the filgreed trees – a row of them – stood just yards from our back porch. Four, right close to us, so close, that when I was a little girl I tried to reach out and touch the tips of their branches. The telephone poles and their heavy black wires were there, too. They were where the black crows sat. The crows on the heavy black wires tilted their iridescent heads at me, staring right back at me with their flat, black eyes. The brown English sparrows perched on the telephone wires, too. The pigeons, too big and clumsy, were often huddled on nearby three decker roof tops and under their eaves. All of them were waiting for Ma – never for me. And every morning, right before breakfast, in the early pale sunlight, before she made us kids breakfast, my mother did not disappoint. My mother, hunchbacked, careworn at 41, would stand on our back porch and whistle to her friends and throw bread scraps to them from our third floor porch.

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Rose’s mom as a teen standing before Green Island back porches …

Ma was the best whistler I’ve ever heard and could carry entire show tunes or religious hymns, verse, chorus, verse. She had taught herself to mimick the sparrow songs – and whistled them as she threw pieces of bread over the porch into our back yard. Birds – even pigeons – are smart: soon scores of crows, sparrows and pigeons were out waiting for my mom – every morning, way before her whistles. Lined up like communicants at church, waiting for their Holy Communion … with Ma. With nature, goodness, God.

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Rose, when she was a child … on her Green Island back porch where her mom used to feed the birds …

Of course, the savvy crows took the biggest slices first, then the big pigeons hustled their way into the fray, the male puffing up their chests, as they attacked their scrap of bread. The wee brown English sparrows, dusty and flicking their wings, waited off to the side. That’s when Ma would throw the few scraps she had held back, round 2, special for them, right under their noses, as we kids used to say in Green Island …

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Circa W W II: Ma (left) and Aunt Mary on The Block’s roof, Bigelow Street. Pigeons roosted here, and you took photos before the panorama of Green Island. Here Uncle Joe is back home on leave from the Navy. Ma, his favorite sister, wears his uniform!

Deliver us!

By Rosalie Tirella

When I was an undergrad at Clark University, decades ago, my cool boyfriend and his guy pals were enthralled by Ken Kesey – author of SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION – and James Dickey – author of DELIVERANCE. Both men were terrific writers, both men embodied the counter culture zeitgeist. And they were alive and well, professors at American universities – Dickey in South Carolina. My Clarkie guys were Dickey-obsessed. They read his books, tried to live their young lives true to the James Dickey Code. They strove to be roustabouts, experience nature, write poetry and novellas, be free, tough, sensitive, literate, nomadic, romantic. Live deliberately. A far cry from these days during which the college kiddos are entitled and pointless, tethered to momma or daddy and obsessed not with writing but with posting pictures they took of cupcakes or fancy cocktails on their instagram accounts. They don’t have real friends – but that’s ok. They just have their ids, egos and super egos …

In the 1960s and ’70s we kids HAD EACH OTHER, quit school, hitch-hiked ‘cross country, enjoyed free love, dabbled in drugs. Many of us, like Dickey’s characters in his novels, camped and mountain climbed and moved to communes or farms and learned about the good earth – and some of us pitted ourselves against nature TO TEST OURSELVES, TO LEARN ABOUT OURSELVES. … Groovy.

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The iconic …

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… dueling banjo scene of Deliverance.

But to me, back then, my guys’ James Dickey obsession seemed over the top. And Dickey seemed very much a Boys’ Writer: camping trips, white water canoeing, wild rivers, lumberjack coats. And those horribly big, clunky 1970s hiking boots with soles that looked like tire treads. There were hardly any girl characters in the Dickey books. The Dickey themes were: Man Against Nature. Survival in a deep, mysterious wilderness, ultimately unknowable. Society’s encroachment on wild America … Innocence lost … the despoliation of the natural world. Man’s greed.

I just wanted to be with my cute boyfriend and eat brunch with his friends at Daca Dining Hall on weekends! Who cared about Dickey’s novel, DELIVERANCE, or the film starring Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty?

Well, here it is 40 years later, and I care. I have seen the plundering of Mama Earth and extreme weather. Entrenched poverty and the ignorant, dangerous people it spawns. Systemic racism and classism. Now a global pandemic – a once in a century shi*-storm that has upended EVERYONE’S life. Black Lives Matter. Donald Trump and autocracy almost, almost here, in America, thanks to Orange Face. Scarier than Scar-Face.

Time to revisit the 70s film DELIVERANCE, today. Just watched it on my lil’ TV: It is still a BIG, terrific work of art. Still raw, real – and shocking. Still relevant. Still beautifully made and acted … Like FIVE EASY PIECES, EASY RIDER, SHAMPOO, MEAN STREETS, DELIVERANCE celebrates the individual …is about people, their behaviors and their emotions. The things that matter.

Dickey on the movie set, was a pain for director John Boorman to work with – a big, hulking poetry professor in the woods teaching Burt Reynolds how to use a bow and arrow. But Dickey’s still great as the round, good old boy sheriff! The film, however, belongs to the four actors, all young, at the cusp of their long careers, and brilliant. New American Cinema. As great as the French New Wave for me!

The film begins with Burt Reynolds – Lewis, a p.r. flak but a weekend warrior looking sculpted and sexy in his wet suit – and his married suburban buddies – Ed, Drew and Bobbie, taking a canoe down a mighty river in the heart of Appalachia. The wilderness is waning but still there. Thick woods, water, sunlight … They are light years away from their cushy, professional, middle-class lives, but that’s the point: in real life they’re salesmen, ad boys – on this canoe trip they abandon their mundane selves to be their free, feral, alive selves. They want to go back to the Garden: hunting, swimming, sleeping under the stars. They drive their cars, rent a ride to the water – and meet the Other America: ignorant, impoverished, malnourished … deprived. …

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The hunger is real …

… Depraved, too. This world destroys the cocky foursome – interlopers – within days.

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Burt Reynolds

When Ronny Cox, as the good and decent Drew, draws in the banjo playing country kid to play with him, that is the last real moment of affection between the four men and the dirt poor “hillbillies.” Bobby – Ned Beatty – is like: Throw the kid a fiver. He jokes about all the “in-breeding” in this community …

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Jon Voight gives a quiet, powerful performance

In no time at all the four guys – two per canoe bantering back and forth – are tested: the river IS wild. Except for Lewis, they’re out of shape, Bobby downright fat. But they meet the challenges and LOVE it! They are feeling all manly – until one night before the campfire Ed – Jon Vought – shyly expresses his desire …for Lewis. He’s gay, he worships Lewis…they are deep in the woods, away from everybody. The single Lewis just ignores Ed, a married man with a few kids, and turns over in his sleeping bag. Rebuffed, the handsome sensitive Ed understands – and seems lonelier for the rest of the film.

The next day Ed tries to use his bow and arrow – and aims at a beautiful deer quietly munching away on some branches yards away. His strong arm shakes, he sweats – he can’t kill the beautiful deer. Lewis hints that he choked. Some guys just do that.

Within a few hours these outsiders, stalked by a few country sociopaths from the beginning, are pounced on. The two poor, scrawny guys are brutal: they tie Ed to a tree, while one of the guys sodomizes Bobby “Squeal like a pig!” he says. Bobby, terrified, white and naked in his shorts, is raped by the man, in the dirt, squealing like a pig. A horrific scene. Jon Voight watches, his neck chafing against the wide belt that’s wrapped around his neck. Done with Bobby, the men walk to Ed …in his canoe in the river, Lewis sees Ed’s eyes bulging and his head nodding: YES.KILL THEM and he slays one with his arrow. Dead. Now the four suburbanites are murderers desperate to come up with a story they can all stick to. They bury the body and head back down to the river … The other guy ran off – he will kill Drew later. The eulogy, given by Ed, is spare and heartfelt: He was a good family man. He loved his two boys. “He was the best of us.” Then Drew, a rock tied to his neck, is let go to float down the river, sink back into nature.

This trip …what a trip. Harrowing. The men are naked – their true selves: Drew is sweet and good. Lewis the arrogant. physical narcissist. Ed the closeted lost soul forced to lead … Bobby cocky and slick – now a victim of sexual assault. You see the trauma in his eyes. He, like his friends – no longer friends after the ordeal – has changed: not for the better.

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The community … impervious to the four men.

Is this movie a kind of parable? Don’t mess with worlds you can never be a part of. Never underestimate the Other. Nature poses riddle after riddle that you can never solve. Who rules whom? What does American poverty, grinding Appalachia poverty, do to the soul, do to America?

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The America on the other side …

A Great Movie – when we college kids, we hippies and flower children – aimed to make our lives art …

Revised my column …

Happy Birthday, Ken, from Barbie and me!

By Rosalie Tirella

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Rose, March 2021. Barbie would approve of the cute jacket!

Barbie’s Ken turned 60 last month. The news stories were very politically correct … very boring. There was little Barbie doll and Ken doll history in the feature stories but lots of Ken revisionist spin for 2021: KEN IS SO DIVERSE! KEN COMES IN NINE SHADES! KEN HAS EYES OF ALL COLORS! KEN COMES IN MANY BODY TYPES! KEN HAS VERY NURTURING CAREERS, LIKE WORKING AT AN ANIMAL SHELTER! KEN IS ALWAYS SUPPORTIVE OF BARBIE! KEN IS BARBIE’S BEST FRIEND! This year Mattel has made Ken In A Wheelchair. He is blond, blue-eyed, very cute …

None of this really makes sense to me, a Baby Boomer who grew up with Ken and Barbie and is roughly the same age as they are …

I remember my first Barbie: I was 6 years old, and I took her out of her box and said to my boy cousin, seated in the front seat of the car, with his dad, my uncle: SEE, JOE? MY BARBIE HAS REAL EYELASHES! She didn’t, of course, but it was the excuse I needed to tease my cute cousin, stick my doll under his chubby round face and shake my doll beneath his boy frown.

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Barbie, circa 1961

Barbie!! Tall, thin-waisted, blond … dreamy. My lithe, 11-inch-high plastic movie star. A beach beauty, who, to me, was a senior – all grown up! – in high school! I imagined Barbie lived by the beach, in California, and loved to swim and go surf-boarding. She had long, elegant wrists, sun-bleached hair and looked wonderfully tan (so healthy!) lying on her beach blanket and slow dancing with Ken at her prom. Barbie and her friends had Coppertone tans and dune buggies! Barbie the doll was Gidget from the late 1950s movies – no longer a tom boy but poised! Sandra Dee now had breasts – and a boyfriend! He was named Ken. Plus, she had an INCREDIBLE WARDROBE, AMAZING ACCESSORIES, like teeny suitcases for trips to Paris or Rome! A tiny record player with teeny 45s. I never gave Ken a second thought: he was just another Barbie accessory.

That was the point: You BOUGHT BARBIE TO BUY ALL HER CLOTHES AND HAVE FUN WITH FASHION. You dressed Barbie up. You placed her in the breakfast nook in her Barbie Dream House that was big and pink and filled with pink plastic furniture. It folded into a giant cube with a handle that you could carry to your best friend’s house for a sleep over! You bought Ken as the Boyfriend, not knowing about sex. You did not think about careers or your future when you played Barbie. You did not think med school when you put her friend Stacey or her kid sister, Skipper, into the bath tub with you and made them swim. You played Barbie to play dress up … to mix and match outfits, to create FASHION.

I compared my Barbie’s outfits with my cousin Mary’s Barbie’s outfits. “Mary” always “won” because I was a poor girl from Green Island and my mom couldn’t buy me all those great Barbie dresses, complete with matching miniature belts, shoes, purses and hats. Mary’s dad, my Uncle Mark, was an elementary school principal who bought his sons huge Tonka dump trucks and his only, precious daughter whatever she wanted. That meant THREE vinyl Barbie wardrobe cases for Mary, stuffed with Barbie skirts, skorts, dresses, blouses, scarves and go-go boots. To have a sleep over at Mary’s house was to covet little Barbie sweaters and white Barbie boas, those precious matching Barbie hair brushes and combs and pink Barbie peace sign necklaces. Groovy …

Four years older than I, and long-haired, long-legged, tall and beautiful, Mary outshone me on all fronts (except smarts). But in the “looks department,” the Barbie World, the place where it really mattered for females in the late 1960s, I didn’t measure up. I was thick-waisted, had a gap between my two front teeth and sported mousy brown hair cut by my mom’s alcoholic hair-dresser on Green Street. I was 12 years old and a 7th grader at Providence Street Junior High School, home to students who, like me, looked nothing like Barbie. But I still loved my doll! She was … accommodating.

For instance, we lived with our Polish immigrant grandmother, Bapy, in Green Island. Bapy played Barbie, too, taking her old blue woolen knee socks and cutting the toe and ankle ends off to create a sexy navy blue strapless evening gown for my Barbie. Bapy, with her big scissors, trimmed and trimmed and turned the toe part of her old sock into a cute knit hat for my Barbie – now the toast of the shtetl!

Once I went to a neighborhood Christmas party at the PNI on Lafayette Street and got a truck as a present from Santa. No worries! I could never afford the Barbie Dune Buggy, so I stuck Barbie on top of my new blue truck and pushed my doll around our kitchen floor. My Barbie finally had wheels! I had a little grey and white pet mouse named Gigi that my mom had bought for me at Woolworths. Sometimes I’d put Gigi in the truck with Barbie and push them gingerly through our flat. My mother would be apprehensive – and a little repelled. Bapy just laughed.

Ken. Sixty Years Old. Wow. The Ken and Barbie dolls of my youth grew old, right along side me and my friends. We got educated, skinny, fat, pregnant, married, divorced, cynical … pooped out. Barbie tried to keep up with us. She changed with the times: there was Curvy Barbie, Latina Barbie, Doctor Barbie, Boardroom Barbie, Psychotherapist Barbie. Ken evolved, too. But I still like to think he lusts for his girl from a distance … that he “respects” Barbie too much to have sex with her on prom night.

… We kids cut our Barbies’ golden locks, made them bald even. Our grannies gave them outfits. Our dogs chewed on their torsos. They were hard, plastic – but permeable. They were made by Mattel, Mr. and Mrs. Mattel naming Barbie and Ken after their own two children. I loved them!

Happy 60th Birthday, Ken!

🇺🇸FIVE EASY PIECES🇺🇸

By Rosalie Tirella

Maybe it was “The Shining.” Maybe it was “Terms of Endearment.” Maybe it was “Something’s Gotta Give” … but somewhere along the line I stopped seeing Jack Nicholson as an actor, an artist, and started seeing him as a pair of eyebrows: dark, foreboding and arched to a point, like a triangle. Beneath them, Jack’s pair of blue, maniacal eyes darting in all directions on the big screen. Then there was his serpentine grin, white teeth clenched – a kooky smile of pure … hatred. Was Nicholson acting? Really?

So it was wonderful to rewatch the film EASY RIDER a few weeks ago and rediscover the Jack Nicholson that we Baby Boomers fell in love with in the ’70s and ’60s: fine, subtle, sexy, young, lean, smart, eruptive … wild … emotional Jack Nicholson. Then I Googled his movies, read the critics’ rave reviews about FIVE EASY PIECES (1970) and checked the DVD out of the library. Just screened it in the “ROSE BLACKSTONE CINEMA” with Lilac snoozing by my legs.

WOW.

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Wow.

First, let me explain: I’ve never seen the movie because I thought “pieces” in the film’s title denotes money, coins, “pieces” of gold. I thought the movie was about a bank heist or it was a gangster flick – and I hate both. I thought I saw, years ago, a poster for the movie with five PIECES OF GOLD flying through the air. But the movie FIVE EASY PIECES HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH COINS! Here, “pieces” means classical music pieces. Musical scores or “pieces” you play. Pieces that Jack Nicholson plays on the piano beautifully, sensitively but somehow it’s not enough. He’s cut off from life. Pissed off, lost, messed up … He’s a million miles from his upper-class musical family roots and piano-playing. He’s brilliant, intuitive but living in a crappy trailer park surrounded by dolts and his beautiful, sexy and loving but dim-witted waitress girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black) whom he cheats on with ease. He works on an oil rig with his best bud Elton whom he loathes because Elton thinks he has it good.

“Bobby” loathes himself, too. We guess that’s why he moves from one crumby job/living situation to the next … it’s when he can’t take it any more. But as he flees in his sexy denim jackets and flared jeans from this lover and that Mc-job, the artist in him continues to “record” … He’s attuned. To injustice. To people’s feelings. To his failure to measure up. To the pretensions of the rich – to their “crap.” Which is why he may have ended up with the blue-collar Tammy Wynette-loving Rayette in the first place – only to wake up to a different kind of “crap.”

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Rayette

The movie’s first half depicts Bobby in his rough and rowdy working-class world: dirty, hard work on the oil rig. Bowling on Friday nights with Rayette and Elton and his wife. A six pack at the end of the day … driving off to have sex, wild fun, with the lil’ lady he met at the bowling alley (Sally Struthers) … then coming home unrepentant to a desperate, cloying, totally in love with him Rayette. “DON’T YOU LOVE ME BOBBY? JUST SAY IT. SAY YOU LOVE ME,” Rayette whispers in Bobby’s ear in bed, on the sofa, in the car. She coos and kisses. She’s gorgeous, but it’s not working. How can it? according to Bobby. Rayette is so “pathetic” … . Rayette knows he’ll leave her someday.

We see the real Bobby when he and Elton are stuck in traffic and an enraged, exasperated Bobby leaps out of Elton’s jalopy and starts gesticulating and screaming at all the vehicles qued up in the sun. Up ahead he sees a truck piled with furniture; he leaps onto the bed, pulls the cover off a piano and starts playing it. Beautifully. Sensitively. In a traffic jam. On the highway. With a million cars honking, scores of drivers swearing at him.

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🌹

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🌹

Bobby is oblivious … Elton is too big a dope to realize what his friend is and just yahoos and yips in the sunlight. A big joke. Bobby stays on the truck with his upright piano and is driven away … an off ramp carries the music and Bobby away. This is an unforgettable scene: making art in the middle of mayhem. Because of the mayhem. Nicholson is violent, frenzied, tender … a mystery.

What makes one brother – Bobby’s brother Carl – choose to stay at the family compound giving music lessons to a cultivated lovely young woman whom he will marry soon? Why does he follow in his father’s footsteps and the other son – Bobby – choose a whacky, even dangerous, path? Why do we choose one road and skip all the others, infinite in number? Bobby confronts his black-sheep-ness when his sister, also a pianist, sees him to tell him: Our father’s dying. Maybe you should see him one last time.

Bobby agrees to drive north to see his dad who’s in a wheelchair and can no longer speak. He tries to leave Rayette at home; she senses his shame in her – and is heartbroken. Bobby relents, after he throws a cursing fit in his car, and takes her along. Inside their apartment, he’s remorseful and invites Rayette to join him on his road trip. It’s a pain of a trip – they pick up a couple of hitch hikers, one of whom pontificates FOR HOURS on the filthiness of America. Trash, garbage every where. Maggots, too. Weird lady. But there is a terrific scene in a diner: Bobby asks the waitress for 2 pieces of toast, on the side. The burned-out, middle-aged lady tells him: NO SUBSTITUTIONS. Bobby tries to work around the rules – but they can’t be broken. So, like he’s always done before, Bobby makes the rules explode – and walks away.

Bobby dumps Rayette off at a motel just before he gets to his family’s big mansion. He tells Rayette he will call her in a few days, after he’s settled and as she later explains to his family: “feel up the situation.” Once at “home” he reconnects with his eccentric sister who adores him …
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🌱

… and plays ping pong with his equally eccentric brother, Carl – and lusts after Carl’s beautiful, wild-haired piano student. She’s in her 30s, wise, cultivated, articulate and recently divorced. Carl “restored” her in hard times, she later tells Bobby. After he’s ravaged her. After Bobby tells her to leave “this asylum” and go away with him because he wants to be with her. She seems to be his intellectual and emotional equal. But she asked him to play the piano and, after his playing moved her to tears, Bobby insults her, says: It meant nothing to me. It’s the easiest piece to play! I first played it when I was 8 years old – and I played it better then! … To have her feelings mocked, to see a man who can’t admit to his feelings makes her reject Bobby. She tells him: You don’t love anything. You don’t love yourself. How can I love you? You don’t deserve to be loved because you can’t love. (I disagree!)

The woman walks away …

Then Bobby walks away – but not before he rolls his dad, in his wheelchair, up a hill and tries to, before an expanse of woods in a lovely field at sunset, explain his life to his ill father who is now silent, expressionless, all bundled up against the cold. A terrific scene! Nicholson is so moving … apologetic, honest, searching … Not over the top. Understated, like so much of life. “I move around a lot,” he tells his dad. “Not because I’m looking for anything in particular but because I go away when things get bad.” He admits to his father that they never had much to say to each other, especially at the end, before he left home. Bobby says his sister wants them “to reach an understanding,” but admits, realizes right there on that hill, that it’s unlikely they ever will.

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The father
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The prodigal son

And now because he’s trapped in his outsider-ness, an interloper with no way in, he leaves his father forever and jettisons his life with Rayette (Elton told him she’s pregnant). No matter. He’s gotta split … This wonderful movie is infused with Tammy Wynette tunes – complementing the characters’ feelings and their deeds – but this time there’s no music behind his giving the unsuspecting Rayette his wallet, leaving her their car as it’s checked out at the gas station, even abandoning his winter coat in the men’s room at the gas station – staring at himself in the mirror: WHO AM I? he seems to be asking himself. … Bobby’s talking with a long haul trucker at the gas station – can he hitch a ride with him? We don’t hear the conversation but, once in the truck’s big cab, we are in the scene again: Truck driver to Bobby: “Don’t you have a jacket or anything with you?” Bobby lies and tells him he lost everything “in the fire.” The driver says: “Where we’re going it’s gonna be colder than hell.”

Alaska.

Bobby says: That’s ok. “Fine. Fine.” And off they roll, the pregnant Rayette still in the gas station coffee shop buying a cup to go.

Complex. True-to-Life.

That was Jack Nicholson.

A Year of COVID. Ugh.

By Rosalie Tirella

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Covid days: Rose is officially “chubby.”

What an anniversary. What a birthday. What a revelation: A year into the GLOBAL pandemic, and now we get it: WE ARE ALL INTERCONNECTED – bats, Americans, wet markets, Disneyland, barrooms, boardrooms, airplanes, poor people, rich people, librarians, Indians, Worcesterites, Brits, bok choy, Dollar Store cashiers, college professors, cabbies, Trump, Africa. If one of us – or just a few of us, or maybe a small town of us or a rich country of us (USA) – goes all kerfluey and flouts mask wearing rules and social distancing distances, then the merry go ’round that is Covid 19 keeps going ’round and ’round and ’round. And the whole world stays stuck wearing our ugly face-hiding face masks/cloths forever. The scientists call it THE NEW NORMAL; I call it THIS SUCKS. For a very long time.

Boy, oh boy, was I naive when this pandemic thing befell us all!! I stupidly believed I, Rose, had some control over life! So I delayed the publication of CECELIA for two weeks – until the pandemic “passed.” Ha! Like I thought it was the flu – only more pesky. Ha! I was not prepared for old people dying in agony, gasping for air. Alone in the ICU. I was not prepared for body bags and corpses being piled into refrigerated 18-wheelers parked outside American hospitals. I was not prepared for nurses wearing garbage bags to protect themselves from tbe coronavirus or doctors sobbing on the nightly news, they were seeing so much human suffering. I was not prepared for so s and daughters losing their parents – a friend to get Covid – and months later this sexy weight lifter STILL without muscle mass. I never expected to see the Worcester Public Schools shut down for a year! Our classrooms shuttered – Worcester’s needy, neglected, poor kids stuck at home. Books and art class and music lessons and friends and school yard dodge ball gone. Poof!!!

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Homeless families NEED EXTRA SUPPORT during the pandemic. AND THEY NEED AFFORDABLE HOUSING.

It’s a whole year later and I want a motorcycle. I want to escape. Feel FREE. I want nature, sunlight … the hippie commune in Vermont I lived at when I was 19 years old. Instead, I am home. I’ve gained 20 pounds. I hang out with my dogs watching old movies … EASY RIDER three times in a row. Lilac jumps off the bed in fear every time Peter Fonda and friends drop acid and have their weird LSD trip in that cemetery.

During a global pandemic you can’t board a plane, dance with hundreds of people at a concert, go to a packed church at Christmas or JUST HANG OUT AT THE BROADWAY RESTAURANT ON WATER STREET SIPPING COFFEE at the table by the window, snarling at all the entitled lilly-white upper-incomers who have invaded your old blue collar neighborhood. The love of your life. Now gentrified. You can’t CHAT WITH BROADWAY OWNER BILLY who disapproves of your life choices and tells you so, loudly, Lilac and Jett lying at your feet because Billy is sweet and a dog lover and lets you sneak your pups into his restaurant. The Broadway waitress feeds Jett and Lilac bacon and cheese. That is freedom. That is love: To walk into The Broadway on Water Street and order pancakes with 100 other customers on a Sunday morning. During the week, with your dogs.

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Lilac and Jett – also chubby.

Now existence is quite solitary: I write. I watch movies and write about them. I watch cooking videos and write about them. I try to teach myself to cook and write about that – my columns accompanied by my photos of my runny eggs and thin tomato soup … and stills of James Cagney and Dennis Hopper.

My writing has suffered during the global pandemic.

Of course, it wouldn’t have all been so depressing and chaotic if we hadn’t had Donald Trump for our President during most of this first year of Covid. To get re-elected, Trump decided he needed to fake us all out: lie, obfuscate … say the virus would disappear in the summer, like water evaporating off the teeny lake in East Brookfield. Trump pushed the bleach alternative on us and UV light therapy – anything to keep us Americans from doing the right things – things that might have kept thousands of us from catching the virus and dying of Covid 19.

All in all, it’s been a crappy year. If you add American racial unrest/George Floyd-woke-ness, a polarized country with half of us loathing the other half, a recession, hungry Americans, depressed American kids, an ancient (but new!) American president, The Boogaloo Boys, the Proud Boys, the KKK, tumult and violence like we haven’t seen since the 1960s – BUT WITHOUT ALL THE GREAT ROCK ‘N’ ROLL MUSIC – without all the great American writers and essayists – without JFK, RFK, MLK Jr and all the great politicians – without ALL THE AMAZING PEOPLE AND ART THAT LIFTED OUR AMERICAN SOULS, I’d say this is the year America stopped being … amazing.
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Rose wants to go to there …

Jail Cells

By Rosalie Tirella

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Worcester Police Chief Steve Sargent

I’d like to talk about jail cells and America. This 60-year-old broad – with asthma! – was in several of them Wednesday. I want to talk about my jail cells, how even in the best of circumstances – when the police do their job in humane ways and treat you with respect – your jail cell dehumanizes you, makes you feel trapped, makes you feral, makes you feel the wild terror of a caged animal – a tiger at the zoo, a little grey mouse in the pet store window. An unnatural state for living creatures who crave sunlight and love. My jail cells frightened me …set my heart to beating two and three fold times faster. They made me look and find deep deep deep inside me the strength in myself…faith in me. Rose.

All my jail cells in Worcester, in the Worcester police department headquarters, in the Worcester courthouse that day, in our America, were clean and properly COVID sanitized. My jail cell sinks shone, my toilets worked, my ankle shackles on not too tight, my handcuffs readjusted so they wouldn’t hurt my wrists…BUT ALL THE TIME I WANTED TO BE FREE!! Never in my life did I love freedom more! To be at the end cell of my cell block craving freedom and to see a human face! I felt panicked and alone in those spare clean sanitized jail cells in Worcester with their pale yellow walls. Sometimes they were gray. Always no windows. No people to see come and go. No smiles to reassure you…I put my face against tbe dark one-way window between me and the police officers …to see them! To connect with the human race! I put my chained wrists through the slot in my jail cell door and thought about the many Black and brown kids and poor men and women who came before me and put their handcuffed hands through that slot …in trepidation? in anger? in wild mad panic?? And I felt sad for myself, Worcester, my country. I saw all the angry confused boys and men and girls and women who came before me – TERRIFIED – just like me – degraded, just like me. Thank you, America.

I sat still but filled with epiphany, holding my knowledge gently, sitting on the long cement block bench in my jail cell. I saw how my predecessors, fat, skinny, flat faced, sharp featured…I felt how they, human beings, reacted to this thing-a-fication of human beings, courtesy of America’s criminal “justice” system. I understood why prisoners – even the “innocent” ones – took their lives in such circumstances and why my scarf was taken away and asked WAS I WEARING A BRA? The system knows what crimes it perpetrates. I thought of ALL the deaths, heart attacks, broken bones, tears, curses that happened in these jail cells that went unreported, that never saw the light of day, that we the people never knew about – or mourned. When there were good cops just doing their jobs in a humane way! Never mind the abusers, the assaulters, the racists, the men and women cops on messed up power trips. The “bad apple” cops who maim and torture and have killed in jail cells. “Bad apples” … Such a cute name for such deadly deeds! For breaking souls and spirits and bodies and minds and families outside those small jail cells.

America, Worcester, we need to reform this sick, broken system.

My Worcester Police Department “experience” – Part 2

By Rosalie Tirella

The WPD cops outside my apartment door this a.m. were jerky, but just the two of them. My neighbors are PROFESSIONAL LIARS, and the cops listened to their lies… WHERE WAS THE WPD PAPERWORK? WHY NOT TELL ME WHY I WAS BEING ARRESTED?! I said: my vile neighbors are at the bottom of this. And Millbury State Police trooper TIMOTHY HARRIS. So…the morning unfolded in a paddy wagon, jail cells, hand and ankle cuffs…

But I need to say this: a TOTALLY HUMANE EXPERIENCE AT WPD headquarters at Lincoln Sq and Woo COURTHOUSE. I felt I was dealing with human beings who heard me, listened to me. I have never been so harassed by neighbors in my life, white, with cars – not disenfranchised at all – yet here were the authorities treating me with kid gloves!

My neighbors and Millbury State Trooper Timothy Harris and Millbury barracks brazenly disrespecting the system because they know they can. The cops at WPD RESPECTING people and the law. And me. … The regular WPD officers all seem to love Police Chief Steve Sargent – …
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Chief Sargent

… they told me he’s a great guy. They also struggled – with their computer equipment!! Their computers were sluggish and crashed, and they had to take my mug pic twice! I told them: I AM 60 AND NOT WEARING ANY MAKEUP! The cops told me: BLOG ABOUT HOW WE NEED NEW COMPUTERS! The cops do – I was there! The WPD computer system IS garbage. Come on, Mayor Petty and city leaders, we’re the second largest city in New England. Help them do the paperwork …

Sweet: One of the cops was so gentle with me, so patient, patting my hand with a: “good luck.” Another cop said: “You’re a nice lady.”… Later I told the Worcester police officers – all of them – YOU’RE NICER THAN MY NEIGHBORS AND LANDLORD!!

One officer suggested, softly: Get out of there … (my apartment)

So, maybe the Worcester Police Dept is not so bad: if you are real, they are real. If you are calm and honest – they are, too. The hand and ankle cuffs were terribly traumatic for me. The cells clean but bleak. I see why people kill themselves in them. We do need changes – young kids, Black kids, they aren’t gonna react the way I did. THEY WILL PANIC. THE COPS WILL PANIC. CATASTROPHE in 30 seconds! But my Woo cops knew that I was harmless – and stressed – and kept the cuffs loose and comfortable and readjusted them numerous times when I whined about my delicate wrists …

So why the pure hatred and lies from my neighbors here? Why make up lies and call WPD and the staties – I will be calling state human rights commission re this incident. State Trooper Timothy Harris took my license plates months ago – told people: ROSALIE NEEDS TO TALK WITH ME TO GET THEM. I was creeped out by him – there were 2 boxes of license plates in the Millbury Barracks. Why DID TROOPER TIM HARRIS HAVE MINE IN HIS CAR? WHY DID HE SAY I HAVE AN ATTRACTIVE POCKET BOOK?? I called State Senator Mike Moore – told them about Harris – they called the state police – I got my license plates back – after the state police had told me State Trooper Timothy Harris had destroyed them.

What is WRONG WITH THE MILLBURY STATE POLICE BARRACKS?

Why such horrible neighbors – but such good Worcester cops? Wow. A few epiphanies over afternoon (very late) coffee and buttered bagel …

Questions

By Rosalie Tirella

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Rose, December 2020

Yep. 2021 begins in Worcester, but it’s the same old song and dance: Amanda Wilson, head of the City of Worcester Building and Code department, located on Meade Street, already seems MIA. Or maybe it’s just her heart that’s stopped pumping. Amanda says – YES! THE CITY NEEDS AN APARTMENT REGISTRY! But NO! NOT THIS YEAR! IT’S AN ELECTION YEAR!

Now why would a big important city department head, in charge of making sure all of the city’s rental units are fit for human habitation (many are not), not move ahead and DO HER JOB? Make sure all the rental apartments/units in Worcester are up to code?

Oh, right. It’s an election year. She needs to not upset the apple cart – keep her job. Amanda’s partner – a contractor – was once involved with bilking the City of Worcester of millions of dollars when he headed up various building projects for the City’s CDCs. He was found guilty of robbing the City of millions of dollars as he built his super-inflated$$$ CDC apartment complexes. So Amanda better keep quiet now.

Another question for you: Why would District City Councilor Matt Wally declare his candidacy for an at large city councilor slot this election year – and not mention his signature political campaign issue/promise of political campaigns past?: ESTABLISHING AN APARTMENT REGISTRY for the City of Worcester?

Well, Matt knows better: it’s an election year! And he wants to get elected to an at large seat at all costs. So he can run for mayor in a few years. … Why upset the apple cart? In this case a mighty voting constituency: developers, landlords, realtors, the Chamber of Commerce yahoos. It seems likely Mayor Joe Petty will retire from the job in a term or two. The pandemic, racial challenges, the tanking local economy…COVID. It’s all taken its toll on our modest, likable, often competent mayor. He’s tried to do the right thing but Petty, like CM Ed Augustus, has been wrung through the wringer many many times. They are both pushing 60. The Murray-McGovern political poo-bas seem to be poo pooing reality and grooming Matt Wally, another insipid Worcester-Irish boys-club insider, for the mayoral slot. Another boring, vision-less, gut-less white guy to lead Worcester, a city that’s fast becoming a majority-minority city. Can Wally lead us into a new post-pandemic reality?? Or is he another walking political anachronism? Another elite lucky Woo boy who will shy away from making TRANSFORMATIONAL changes in our city’s police department, school system?

Why, when I called the Worcester Police yesterday about the abusers downstairs here in my building, did the lady cop in the WPD’s Operations Division start SCREAMING – abusing – me?!! Right after the police department touted their just-received grant$$$$ to help abused women? Why aren’t these nasty people trained – despite all the training they receive? Why the police brutality? Still? And why would Worcester Police Chief Steve Sargent tell the city: THERE IS NOT ONE IOTA OF RACISM IN THE WORCESTER POLICE DEPARTMENT!!! What blue-colored goggles is Police Chief Steve Sargent wearing?

2021. In Worcester. Again. Just press the rewind button, fellow citizens!

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Worcester Police Chief Steve Sargent. CECELIA file photo: Ron O’Clair

We celebrate the KING!!!

By Rosalie Tirella

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The dream unfolds …

For the MLK Jr. holiday I’m posting my favorite MLK speech, “live”: YOUR LIFE’S BLUEPRINT. King delivered it to a school auditorium filled with junior high students. In Philly, before his big event, The Freedom Festival, for their parents – a fundraiser to be held in the Spectrum, complete with Aretha Franklin, Harry Belafonte and all our other iconic Black American artists and civil rights champions. King was introduced by a Black kid with glasses; the school camera-kid drops his camera for a second and MLK disappears for a second! MLK congratulates their “fine” teachers and joked about being a long-winded preacher. He had already been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but this speech is better than that august acceptance speech. …

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Be a great student!!

… This speech, though around 20 minutes long, is major – true, real and filled with love for Black kids. Not a one-off. Not a small speech given to regular kids, in a regular school, with regular teachers. Nope. It – like King – SOARS. Black kids during the Civil Rights movement in the tumultuous 1960s needed to hear this speech – we all do, today. Now more than ever!

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❤photo: Fatimah Daffaie

I love MLK’s writing here: so kid-friendly and focused: “Stay in school!” he tells the students, 12, 13 and 14 years old. Love yourself! Celebrate your face, body and skin color!: “I have good hair,” King says to the kids, pointing to his hair, “and it’s as good as anybody else’s hair in the world!” 🌺MLK’s speech is so direct. He tell his young audience: “ALWAYS FEEL THAT YOU COUNT…THAT YOU HAVE WORTH. … Doors of opportunity are opening to you that were not open to your mothers and fathers.”

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And it’s poetic, filled with love. We’re treated to MLK metaphors and similies that transcend boring junior high school auditoriums, the study hall setting where students snap gum and doze off. Be Shakespeare!! he tells the students. Be a lone hero!!! Be Booker T. Washington!!! Be George Washington Carver!!! Be an opera singer!!!…Stay in school, no matter how hard the journey. Be somebody! And if you grow up to become a street sweeper, “Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry!” Can’t be “the pine on the top of the hill”? Be a terrific little scrub! “If you can’t be the sun, be a star!” he says, looking like a star.

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It all happens through principles of determination, excellence, aspiration … and, most and best of all, the transformational power of LOVE: “Don’t allow anybody to pull you so low that you hate them,” MLK says.

Amen.

https://youtu.be/ZmtOGXreTOU

The Capitol, the Rectory …

By Rosalie Tirella

Today, I am thinking about my late mom and the workers at our Capitol. I see my pretty mom during the Great Depression, just 14 years old, a housekeeper/cook/maid at the Bishop of Springfield’s rectory – a huge sprawling building with grounds and many rooms and mahogany furniture and a huge kitchen with swinging doors and real silver silverware and special China for guests. She and her two big sisters kept that special place humming …

My mom was “just” a housekeeper in the rectory, a cleaner of cubbards, a scrubber of pots and pans – and toilets. A server to the Bishop. But Mom considered herself blessed, a lucky person. She was working in a hallowed place – fulfilling God’s words and mission and breathing life into the dreams of thousands of Catholics in Springfield. A vision made real through her polished hardwood floors, shining silverware, sparkling chandeliers, dusted banisters, scrubbed bathrooms – her and her two sisters’ hard work.

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Rose’s mom, in Springfield at the Bishop’s house, with one of her pups.

Mundane work to many but to them an honor. Their Depression era job was more than just a boon to my Polish immigrant grandparents back in Worcester – money coming in when most Americans were out of work. Good food, warmth, safety for their three girls … My Bapy and Jaju were so proud of their daughters: TRUSTED TO WORK IN THE BISHOP’S HOUSE!

Today I see my mom and I see the Capitol workers: the house keepers, the cleaners, painters, wood workers, pourers of coffee and tea …doing just “regular” work – no college degree required, just a lot of elbow grease. But it’s not regular work to them because they see themselves making a special place SPECIAL. Maintaining SPECIALNESS. The Catholic faith: Father, Son and the Holy Ghost. The Capitol: America’s sacred space – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. … Bending to scrub, paint, polish floors, stairwells and walls – just like my late mother did. To create MAGIC. BEAUTY. Every day, for all to admire. And love, too.

I never see photos of my late mom disheveled or unhappy at the Bishop’s house/rectory. I never see her in dirty rooms, dusty spaces. I see her amid elegant tea pots, heavy ornate desks, pretty paintings on walls – my mom dressed demurely but perfectly. I see the deference – and quiet pride – in her eyes. Just as I see the Capitol’s help seriousness, work ethic, perfectionism – and pride on my TV screen. Cleaning out the blood and dirt. Polishing Nancy Pelosi’s lectern once again. Vacuuming the nightmare up … Like my mom, they are RADICAL!! Radical in proving to the world that the regular peeps, the uneducated, the kids of immigrants can save a sacred space – keep and create a beautiful public dream made brick and mortar: a rectory, our Capitol, Supreme Court, White House.

Even as Donald Trump refused to call the National Guard in last week to help the regular workers at the Capitol who struggled against gun-toting monsters, monsters who trashed their world – their gorgeous work space – the just peeps did not quit their jobs. Within hours these cleaners and worker bees were scrubbing and cleaning and polishing and disinfecting … our Capitol, our symbol of Democracy, young, only since 1776. Even as Trump lied 4 years ago – said the White House was a “dump” – the “help” knew the TRUTH and still served the odious Trump his coffee and meals with respect and deference. They still polished the White House’s silver, still kept its mirrors sparkling. Out of love for their building, their special work space, our American Dream writ LARGE AND LOVELY. A song in stone and wood and metal to American democracy and its people. The White House – built by slaves! Home to museum quality paintings and statues and furniture. Repository of our History. Our aspirations. JFK. FDR. LINCOLN lived and loved here! The regular working guys and gals keep our American story alive!

Last week our Capitol was breached and its stairwells, walls, desks, chairs, floors, windows, carpeting dirtied, nicked, smashed, trashed. My mom – just a kid at 14 but a hard worker and super responsible – would have felt the acute pain of the Capitol’s “Help” – just average working women and men, like her. Many of them Black and brown: the painters, cooks, house keepers of the Capitol keeping it all humming. My mother would have seen all their hard work, their perfectionism disrespected – and she would have been angry – and she would have shed a tear or two. But she would have been eager to see the clean up, the repairs being done by the pros!

I see my mom now – it’s the Great Depression and she’s just 14 years old, farmed out by her parents to be, along with her two older sisters, a housekeeper/cook/maid at the Bishop’s rectory in Springfield. To keep herself warm and fed during hard times and to send money home to her parents, my Polish immigrant grandparents, so they could pay bills and eat during hard times. She took the bus, leaving downtown Worcester, already missing her feisty, dumpling shaped mom, but happy to be working with her big sisters. She was smart but was pulled out of school – Worcester’s Girls Trade School – to show the Bishop, the world what she learned at Fanning/Girls Trade: how to poach an egg and fish, cook white sauce, make a perfect bed, iron a man’s suit and draperies with complex pleats … My aunt – also a Girls Trade student – could make a man’s suit on Bapt’s push pedal Singer! Auntie used to make, sew my mom winter coats!! – complete with pretty linings! Auntie could cook a perfect tender roast beef or souffle. She had my mom serve the Bishop his shrimp cocktail, from his left … quiet as a mouse.

Special rooms filled with special people. Today I remember my mom and all the Capitol’s – White House, Supreme Court, too – maids, housekeepers, janitors and cooks.
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Rose’s Auntie visiting Bapy in Green Island during hard times. Auntie could make coats and dresses on her Singer.