Category Archives: Green Island Grrrl

Crompton Park

By Rosalie Tirella

Crompton Park Skatepark is gonna be built. Watch the video, below. Wowza. Big plans augmenting what’s already there: the park’s new basketball courts look great. The new playground looks wonderful. The swimming pool, relatively new, built on former City Manager Mike O’Brien’s watch, is still fantastic. All these amenities for the families of Green Island! Impressive!

I grew up in the neighborhood decades ago and remember swimming in the humble “mud hole” at Crompton and sledding down the nondescript little hill by the Harding Street side of the park with our English setter Belle. Both features gone to make way for better and more better. Still, I had a ton of fun and have wonderful memories of my neighborhood park. Those many afternoons spent at Crompton added sparkle to my impoverished childhood. And by impoverished I mean financially – never spiritually. I had my mom Cecelia and my Polish Bapy waiting for me on Lafayette Street!

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Rose and her two kid sisters at Rocky Point – a bit more fun than Crompton!!

Sadly, there were lots more people at Crompton Park when I was a kid and it was just another ol’ city park. Rough around the edges. No bells and whistles. Yeah, we were the Baby Boom generation – Green Island kids and their dogs traveled in packs back then, the old three deckers bursting at the seams with us all … but it seems to me people just got out more and really enjoyed sharing public spaces. There was no razzle or dazzle or state of the art anything. You made your own razzle. Endeavored to dazzle the cute boy in your 6th grade class – Mr. Chickarian’s class – at Lamartine Street School by your wit and charm …and for some girls and boys …fisticuffs.

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Belle❤

Today … Despite the City’s efforts to uplift and beautify, two teens were shot recently at Crompton Park. About 10 years ago, our city’s senseless youth killings began at Crompton: A teen was shot dead in the middle of the park in the middle of the afternoon. Yellow tape was stretched out over the murder scene by the police. I remember driving by my old park, staring at that yellow crime tape, horrified. Now it all feels routine.

Will a brandy new skate-park save us?

I certainly hope so!

https://youtu.be/y6JT4X346yE

Movie review …

SHALL WE DANCE

By Rosalie Tirella

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Fred Astaire

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When the going gets rough, I’ll always have Jett and Lilac … and Fred Astarie and Ginger Rogers. Now watching the black and white classic SHALL WE DANCE, dancing courtesy of Ginger and Fred, music a gift from the Girshwin Brothers. Astaire singing THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME to Ginger – so heartbreakingly beautiful. … Astaire was no Sinatra – he could carry a tune the way your favorite uncle might – but he’s effective. And his face – kinda homely, definitely goofy … feels American. Wouldn’t it be too too much – too perfect – if Astaire looked like Cary Grant AND danced like a god? We’d all jump ship! … Astaire never liked his hands – complained that his hands were way too big for the dance, which is why there are all these hand flourishes worked into his dance numbers. Fred’s trying to hide his big old inelegant hands. I love them …

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All that jazz …

The plot is thin as broth – the flimsiest excuse for all those gorgeous dance scenes. Our stars are on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean during the Great Depression. Fred’s a ballet dancer who yearns to tap dance, but that’s scandalous: tap dancing and jazz belong to the Black world. The swinging Black jazz band that Fred hooks up with to dance free and unfettered toils in the art deco bowels of the cruise ship … Dance company owner Jerry berates Fred, his primo ballerino, for wanting to ditch ballet to “shimmy.” No matter. Fred and Ginger may be awash in tuxedos and top hats; spanking, spangled evening gowns; scintillating repartee … white phones, white baby grands and white supremacy, but they are Yanks on the move – dancing to jazz, ditching (almost) the Russian ballet of the upper classes for tap dancing and a new kind of American swing – music for the masses. And they fall in love. Ginger rebuffs Fred at first, but he’s cute and pushy …AND HE’S A DREAM TO DANCE WITH ON THE BALLROOM FLOOR …

Love the scene where all the rich people are walking their pooches on the deck, and Fred rents a Great Dane to bump into Ginger as she walks her teeny bichon mix. Fred’s cheeky style … a hustler in top hat … he aspires to Ginger – who’s pretty but not beautiful the way the WASP-y Katharine Hepburn was – the girl you’d see behind the notions counter at Woolworths – wins the day.

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Puppy love …

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And this bon bon of a movie ends in another lavish dance … as another American turns the street corner and enters another Hooverville …

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💃🇺🇸💃

The losing game …

By Rosalie Tirella

This Memorial Day I’m wistful for my loved ones who’ve died. The older you get, the more loved ones you lose! A sad fact of aging you’re never told about in the ladies beauty magazines, during the Botox commercials on TV or in the WARNINGS printed on the millions and millions of tubes and small bottles (all so beautifully packaged!) of anti-wrinkle creams and serums you buy. You’re in your 40s and surrounded by your crazy posse – all that love!!! – and you think it’ll last forever. So you home in on what the media tricks you into believing about aging: saggy breasts and jowls, crows feet above your eyes, lines across your forehead and down your cheeks. Aging means age spots on your face and hands, the commercials tell us! OH, NO!!!! WE CAN LIGHTEN, ERASE … FIX IT ALL FOR YOU!

The advertisers never tell you aging means losing your posse! One by one, sometimes in clusters, THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE YOU FEEL ALIVE – YOUNG! These losses will make you feel like a jaded and tired survivor. A warrior whose steed’s gone awol. OLD. And all the tubs of cold cream in CVS, or even MACY’S, won’t smoothen away the wrinkles on your heart.

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Nope. pics: R.T.

You’re not “gone” (yet!) but a big chunk of you is! The nurturing side of you (Ma), the salty/punky side of you (Tony Hmura), the fearless side of you (Auntie Mae), the wild child in you (Bapy). Especially today it feels lonely out here in the universe, looking into the stars at night and wishing on them, missing my late mother’s gravelly, sexy voice and veiny hands. Tony Hmura’s short stature and little hitch in his walk, left side. My little Polish tough! Auntie Mae’s LOVE YA! LOVE YA, Rosalie! and her big hug and sloppy, jowly smooch before and after each encounter – from childhood right through to my late 40s. My Auntie was the only girl in her family who learned to drive and owned a car – a long brown Elektra, black hardtop. She drove her big, bada*s car right foot on the gas pedal, left foot on the brake pedal. A sight to behold!

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Rose’s Mom (left) and Polish immigrant grandmother, Bapy, World War II.

Here I am, in the infinitely dark and mysterious universe, in old
Worcester, without all that love, all my great people. Now they’re stowaways in my heart! Forever! Strong-willed immigrant voices who taught me, entertained me, inspired me. Daily. Their personalities and values embedded in the mundane stuff: talking on the telephone with Auntie; sitting at Bapy’s feet when I was a little girl, watching Ma braid her long, fine silver hair in our Green Island kitchen; popping over at Ma’s for a cup of coffee and “sweet”; meeting Tony at Breen’s Cafe on Cambridge Street for a bowl of cheap but excellent home-made soup.

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Tony Hmura at a birthday party.

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Tony as Leader Sign’s Polish Santa: on Canterbury Street loading up his “sleigh” with Christmas toys for kids at a local elementary school.

Missing Tony Hmura, my World War II vet/ace gunner and his old bomber jacket – the one with his WW II plane painted on the back. He wore it fall, winter, spring and even summer. It grew smelly of Tony’s b.o. – miss that smell! I picked up some fake posies for my old friend’s grave site at Notre Dame Cemetery …

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… but never got around to sticking them in the grass by his humongous, big, gold-lettered, front-row head-stone. All his egotistical choice! Tony had picked out the massive stone and designed its engraving (his World War II fighter plane with him in it, poking his head and machine gun out its rear window). Tony chose his gravesite (first row, right in front, practically on Webster Street!) He chose where his gravestone was to be erected and its in-your-face font: HMURA painted big and bold and with real gold leaf. Old Tony – full of himself even in death! He showed the gravestone and site – all ready for his little corpse – to me when he was alive, five or so years before he died. Standing with him at that grassy spot, sun shining on us, I listened as Tony bragged that he paid thousands of dollars for the whole package and that everyone who drove by into Auburn could see it. He asked me to write a column on him and his gravestone. He wanted me to take a photo of him standing next to his big monument to himself. I said: NO, TONY! THIS IS TOO MORBID! LET’S GO TO BREENS! I didn’t understand that to Tony, my old sign maker (Leader Signs, Canterbury Street), his tombstone – designed by him – was the last cool “sign” he’d make!

Miss you, Tony! Love you, Ma, Bapy and Auntie!
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Rose’s favorite aunt, on the roof of The Block, Bigelow Street, Green Island, many years ago …

20 YEARS!

By Rosalie Tirella

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Rose’s Lilac helping deliver CECELIA. File photos: R.T.

20 years of CECELIA/INCITYTIMESWORCESTER.ORG/INCITY TIMES. Wowza. Our 20th anniversary issue comes out first week in July. I remember issue #1 of InCity Times: ace art director Nancy (Davis) Crockett, stellar printer Boston Phoenix-owned Mass Web Printers, photo lab: the CVS photo dept, Webster Square; the first cover story written by me on the Green Island/Kelley Square businesses I loved. Now gone. … I especially miss Green Street Market and owners Charlie and Izzie Golub who were so sweet and fun to visit. Prifti’s Candies was a gem, too. The old Worcester: chit chat, neighborhood and political gossip, a free sub or candy, along with advice. You spent a half hour soaking up urban eccentricity. You learned to be true to yourself. You heard the immigrant success stories – and the horror stories. … A slower time. No one seemed as obsessed with money and stuff the way people are now. It was: WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY??? WHAT DO YOU THINK???

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CECELIA fans!

A few issues later Jack Hoffman jumped into the fray and became our p. 4 columnist for several years. We took photos on old school cameras, websites weren’t around, social media was for kids inside Harvard Yard. PEOPLE READ NEWSPAPERS! You saw your competition at the mini mart down the block – a handful of rags. All locally owned and run. Not a million FB pages and Instagram posts to contend with. Real stories written by real people, Worcester reporters with deep roots in Worcester County. And, yes, sometimes we sounded provincial, but that’s because we were head over heels in love with our gritty ol’ city.

InCity Times was 10 to 15 years ahead of the curve on: veganism, circus animal rights, banning circuses from the city, the evils of factory farming, cruelty-free clothing and accessories/shoes, hiring minority teachers in the WPS, keeping our city pools open, embracing our transgender brothers and sisters … People laughed at us. We held firm. We knew we had staked out high moral ground: God’s territory. Today, we feel the same about the necessary transfiguration of Worcester’s abusive/racist police force and our city’s inequitable public schools led by a school commitee with NO district representation: THINGS NEED TO CHANGE. 20 years and the city’s power structure still hasn’t shifted much let alone toppled over: the Timmy Murray brigade is still the fattest hog at the municipal trough – giving each other and their pals/family members the best jobs, the best deals, the most treasure – all way low below the radar. All done with a sunny smile. Because they think we’re stupid.

We’re not.

This past year was a brutal year. The global pandemic, George Floyd murder, cop brutality, BLM, the storming of our Capitol, the vitriolic Trump and his lies … And the ineffectual city council and city manager of Worcester – all oblivious. I give the City an A on COVID but a D on most other fronts. The SEISMIC AMERICAN CHANGES … A ONCE IN A CENTURY CHANCE TO TRANSFORM OUR COUNTRY, OUR CITY. DEMOCRACY FOR ALL. … Instead our Worcester cops still bully and kill, our city manager placates us with eloquent speeches but does crap. City Manager Ed Augustus and the Worcester City Council still enable abusive cops, perpetuate a racist public school system…gladly give the green light to a two-tier city – the Canal District gentrification yahoos vs the struggling, straggling blue collar neighborhoods where half the city lives. Most people pretty poor. If our mayor lived for a month on Ward Street, Blackstone River Road or Canterbury Street he’d see the poverty and the ignorance that Donald Trump tapped into and exploited. Roughly half the country is on Trump’s side! But that’s ok with Worcester leaders: we have a shiny new baseball stadium and Kelley Square is a peanut.

🇺🇸⚾🍺Play ball!!⚾⚾⚾

By Rosalie Tirella

Photos. Taken today, a few hours before “the opening game” at Woo Sox-ville. The Canal District. The up and comers have up and come: Can you say “gentrification”?

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This is all very nice, but I’m wistful for what’s lost, forgotten, buried and dead. I adored the old Green Island/Kelley Square – my old neighborhood and my mom’s and my Polish immigrant grandmother’s (Bapy), too.

Here are some old Kelley Square/Green Island photos: unpretentious, steeped in aspirations, immigrant dreams, the dreams of Polish dyers, Russian cobblers, Armenian dry cleaners, Irish mechanics, Italian furniture movers, Jewish tailors and deli owners … My grandfather raised rabbits on his Lafayette Street back porch for food. My Baby cooked them in her stew in big pots on her black cast iron stove. My late mother remembered going to the outdoor markets on Water Street with Jaju, my granddad from Poland, when she was a little girl to buy vegetables and treats and to watch the little chained monkeys dance for pennies at the market. Some of them were trained by their owners to turn around and around to show you their little butts; they’d slap their protruded back ends as if to say KISS MY A*S! KISS MY A*S! My Jaju got a big kick out of those poor bawdy little monkeys.

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❤photos: Rose T.

🇺🇸Then – back then – would have been the perfect time for a ball park. Built in a real immigrant neighborhood where “Play ball!!” meant “Be an American!!” You were a foreigner in a strange land, but if you learned baseball, you were all right, you were getting there, learning how to be an American: fast, smart, willing to take a chance and “steal” a base. You worked on a team, but you could be a shining, one-in-a-million star, too. And doesn’t everybody want to go HOME and be cheered for doing just that?

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Didn’t great baseball stadiums get built on immigrant soil in the early 20th century, in the slums, one even built on what everyone called “Pigs’ Field” because pigs were raised there and it smelled of their sh*t? Didn’t baseball mean gritty, cheap, elegant and crooked, rounded out by little kids’ dreams and Babe Ruth’s big cigars and hookers?

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Ma in Springfield, at the Bishop’s house. She and her sisters talked the Bishop into buying them two Dobies. Here’s Ma with the beautiful “Rocky.”

My late mom, CECELIA, loved the Bambino, Ted Williams and Joltin’ Joe – she loved the great Popi, too. She listened to every Red Sox game on the big radio in the kitchen at the Bishop’s in the late 1930s/early 1940s – the Bishop of Springfield where she was a maid/cook with her two older sisters – farmed out at 14 1/2 years old during the Great Depression to make money to send home, to eat well and to have a roof over her head. Baseball got Ma through hard times – she would have the radio on broadcasting the game while she and her sisters, my aunts, washed scores of dinner pots, pans and dishes in the big kitchen, and the Bishop would call out from the dining room where he’d be polishing off the dessert my auntie had cooked special for him: WHO’S AHEAD, CECELIA?! He always asked my mom for the score – not my two aunts – because he knew my mom was obsessed with baseball. A skinny, 15-year-old girl from Green Island, away from home during the Great Depression when so many people had nothing, thousands living in tents in Hoovervilles, Ma lived in a beautiful rectory but missed her parents, school and neighborhood. So she read lots of baseball books …
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One of Ma’s baseball books.

… sketched with her number 2 pencil her baseball heroes swinging their bats, in uniform, on beige poster paper. She prayed for the Babe, she worshipped his spindly calves and loved his big barrel of a torso that those spindly calves carried home, again and again. For many years she had her favorite sketch on poster paper. I saw it when I was about 7 – Ma kept it in her closet, rolled up and secured with a thin rubber band. She was a good artist! As a teenager, Ma always wanted to go with her big brother Stan to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox play, but Stan never took her to a game – he went with the guys. When she was in her 80s, suffering from early dementia, Ma still wanted to go see a Red Sox game. My boyfriend at the time told me: Rose, we can’t do it. Wheelchairs, Depends … I agreed with him. We’d ask: How about the Tornadoes right here in town? She’d frown and wave us off angrily. “They’re not even Triple A,” she’d say. She still wanted to go see her beloved Red Sox, and I’d appease her with a “Maybe, next week, Ma” and she’d forget we made the promise. If Polar Park was around 10 years ago and Ma had told us: “I want to go see the Red Sox!” we would have bundled her up, packed up an extra seniors diaper or two, pulled out her wheelchair, gotten her into the car – and driven to Kelley Square, our old immigrant neighborhood.
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Ma – Cecelia❤

Wah Wah Sisterhood

By Rosalie Tirella

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Rose, April 2021.

So here we all are: Me, Rose, and all those familiar GIRLY feelings – Together! Again! Just like in Burncoat Senior High School! Just the way it felt back then, with my BFF gal pals in Mr. Labelle’s sophomore biology classroom or in homeroom, right before first period. During cafeteria break, too … during gym class, smelling of SECRET deodorant and B.O. Me and my GAL PALS!!! Fun times, sharing secrets, helping each other, caring, laughing, admiring … shoring up each other … being competitive, too. THE AWFUL GIRLY GIRL FIGHTS – THE EMOTIONAL SLUGFESTS. Girls being girls. Only now it is 40 years later. And just as painful.

Things have not really changed in the world of female friendships. I’m not talking about the breezy, easy text-you-when-I-am-free “friendship”s, or the slick Instagram pictures posted more for the world than gal friends. No, I mean real world real female friendships: the I-wanna-know-you, I-am-sorta-fascinated-by you!…see-your-specialness friendships. YOU have a lot to offer friendships. Non-sexual … yet your souls are smitten!

My new friendships with my two new gal pals rushed up to me – embraced me and my troubles. Two 58-year-old Worcester women … all this empathy, so willing to help … a stranger. They were sent to me by God! Guardian angels – one on the Pill! One a power walker who makes her own power smoothies every morning. They came to help me move out of my old apartment and into a new one – AT 59. NOT 29. OR 39. OR EVEN 49 years old. Me. 59 years old. To move as a senior, during a global pandemic, is to look mortality in the saggy face … and wince. My gal pals were sent to me to keep me strong … to pack up my books, sweaters and boots and Dollar Store dinner plates … to smile and kid me with: Rose! You really are a clothes horse! To be at my door, with a bag of pretzels or a pretty new cat carrier from Walmart for Cece – to look serious because they know the seriousness of my situation. To see the strained look on one friend’s slim face, knowing – and loving – that she is feeling my pain, my loss, my harried-ness, too. To see her throw stuff willy nilly, last minute into contractor bags. For me. When she has got two sons and a boyfriend – the good life – waiting for her across town. That’s love. I look at her face. It says: THIS SUCKS. I concur …

And there they are, still, being wonderful. Helping me over and over again. Me. Rose. The writer. The newspaper gal. Poor. Idealistic. So on the lam, again; on the road, again. Nomadic, but too old to be nomadic.

We are all in our late 50s, with decades of life experience behind us. Behind the not so beautiful smiles (wrinkles etched around our lips), we are jaded! I say to one: REMEMBER WHEN WE WERE YOUNG AND WE REALLY LOVED A BOY AND WE’D WRITE HIM A POEM? A POEM! I say, dumbstruck.
Our lithe bodies (one on Estrogen Therapy “to keep the juices flowing”) and one chubby (me) getting some sun in the dog park as Jett and Lilac lope over the April grass. Happy.

My gal pals “Gretchen” and “Jen” – two Type As with great jobs/careers … super smart, super cute women who went to college, grad school and still read books. They do not act old the way our mothers did at our age. Nor do they look old like our moms used to look in their 60s, with their tight, curly perms and five and ten dusters. My friends are out before their jobs running the track or they are taking weekend trips to Florida with a sexy boyfriend or they are chasing big dogs that dug up their yards. Bikini-ready moms – and future grandma! Family deaths, husbands long gone … water under the bridge. New marriages, foreclosed homes, eviction notices, dogs loved and lost, boyfriends, too … the backdrops to our friendships. So, no, it’s not the junior prom at Burncoat, the most popular/coolest girl contest, the cute boys and who wins them contest … BUT IT IS! Still! Sometimes! Four decades later!

The fight: The looking-at-a-car-for-me afternoon. THEN IT IS ME SCREAMING TO Jen: Great! That opportunity blown BECAUSE YOU ALWAYS HAVE TO BE THE BELLE OF THE BALL!

Jen: I DON’T NEED TO BE THE FU*KING BELLE OF THE BALL, ROSE! I WAS TRYING TO BE FRIENDLY TO MAKE THINGS GO BETTER FOR YOU!

Rose: BULL S*IT! YOU ALWAYS HAVE TO BE THE BELLE OF THE BALL!

Jen: YOU’RE NEVER NICE! YOU CAN GET MORE WITH HONEY THAN WITH VINEGAR!

Rose: MY MOTHER USED TO SAY THAT ALL THE TIME AND LOOK WHAT HAPPENED TO HER!

Jen: SHE GAVE UP HER POWER. PEOPLE WALK OVER YOU IF YOU ALLOW THEM TO!

Now I am REALLY screaming at Jen and she is REALLY screaming at me, in her vehicle, zipping down the street, Jett and Lilac still hoping for that drive to the dog park, still wagging their tails and Lilac still trying to lick Jen’s face.

Then, out of nowhere, knowing her daughter died young – either of a drug overdose or suicide – and her husband died of drugs, I say: SOME PEOPLE JUST KILL ALL THE HUMANS AROUND THEM!

Jen: ROSE! ROSE! YOU DO NOT KNOW PEOPLE’S STORIES! IT’S NOT JUST YOU! EVERYBODY HAS THEIR STORY!

Everybody has their story.

One big ugly heart-rending girly fight continues, on the road: YOU’RE BOHEMIAN! … YOU HAVE A BIG NOSE! … YOU DON’T PLAN! … YOUR FACE IS ALL WRINKLY! … I get out of my pal’s car feeling pummeled; she is small and wiry and tough. She seems primed for more girly combat. I think: This has to end. Why did she ever want to get tangled up in my life anyways?

I say to her as I get out of her car to put the leads on Jett and Lilac: Well, once I am settled, I’ll make sure to send you a Christmas card! Every Christmas! Code for: We both know we can never recover from this fight.

Later I think: I destroyed a terrific friendship over competition for some old fart guy I don’t even like! TO BE THE BELLE OF THE BALL! I lost the who’s prettiest girly girl battle. Just like in high school. WHO CARES?! We are 60! … Why did Jen want to win so badly? Being so flirty! Hugging him for minutes on end! … Why did I want to win so badly, too?

Welcome to Girlsville.

My BUILD ROSE UP AGAIN gal pals – helping me, sharing with me. Maybe gone. Rose. Disaster City. I’ve always been a bit of a calamity – and always had great female friends who put up with me. For years. For decades! I could never figure out why. But eventually they leave. After 20 years … 30 years of Roseville.

So now my heart is broken. I am crying over the destiny that is MINE ALONE. And eating a big slice of plain cheesecake. I am reading O – Oprah’s magazine: perusing all the self-help articles, skipping over the best-bathing-suit-for-your-body-type stories I typically glom onto, looking for answers from OPRAH: Treat your fears like lions crouched in Africa’s high grass, says one article! Reach out and touch your lion, tame your fear! Write your future – DREAM BIG! WRITE A HAPPY ENDING TO YOUR STORY. Your stress hormones will ebb immediately! Be good to yourself: take a walk, drink calming teas…take a warm bath. Face your angst. All that figuring and self-flagellating. A man would just find a woman to f*ck.

Will I lose my gal pals? The ones bringing me groceries, giving me books written by cool female Polish authors?
The ones complimenting my skin, offering advice, driving me to see apartments, picking up my dogs and me for playtime at the dog park? The long talks in the car – real, open, honest. The sharing of hopes and dreams – and regrets. Bathing in the glow of each other’s cool personalities: Rose, the bohemian writer. Gretchen, the good Catholic girl/jock.

Jen, the Queen.

The electric DOG DAY AFTERNOON!

By Rosalie Tirella

The Late Movie show on Channel 56, Boston. Introduced by the pleasant guy with glasses. That’s how we used to see all the great iconic American films back in the 1970s. No TCM or AMC for $. Or paying to see the revival at Showcase Cinemas in downtown Worcester. Just the original – sometimes cut for decency – on the late late show, “screening” on our grainy black and white TV set with its crooked rabbit ears strategically twisted for better “reception” in our Lafayette Street living room – beaming the art.

I was 13 years old. My mom and kid sisters were fast asleep in their beds, so I could be the night hawk and watch MASH, LAST TANGO IN PARIS, CITIZEN KANE. With the lights out and my imagination on. Me. Alone, a kid watching DOG DAY AFTERNOON on our vinyl, hand-me-down red sofa whose cushions were held together with gray duct tape at the corners … me, not understanding the film, but mesmerized nonetheless. The semi-nudity, the politics, the long-haired men, the violence … the movies of the 1970s reflected it all. They spoke to the times. Still do!

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As a kid I am watching Al Pacino, not knowing the stuff adults know, but the film’s STILL GETTING THROUGH TO ME. There’s a “permeability” to kids – you don’t feel it quite the same way as a grown up. Too many wheels turning in your head, your adult baggage nagging at you every step of the way. Yes, you’re caught up in the movie, but you’re being carried away as a 60 year old, not as a hormone-fueled adolescent whose mind is a canvas. Innocence lost. As a kid: feeling Pacino, Brando, Voight and Hoffman’s intensity, their intensity flowing into yours!

Today, DOG DAY AFTERNOON is still pretty fine. I’m watching the film tonight – a young, gorgeous, intense Al Pacino stars. …
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… Desperado Pacino as Sonny the bank robber; he’s chewing up the scenery. But that’s Sonny: showman extraordinaire. I love all the great actors in this film – especially John Cazale as Sal. And director Sydney Lumet captures the vibe of a big, complex city with all its crowds and outcasts that stand out in the crowds. But it’s the film’s SCRIPT that draws me in. The writing is FREAKIN’ TERRIFIC! Love all the dialog: YOU LOOK ALL SQUEEZED OUT the cop says to Sonny. … I’M SQUEEZED OUT, Sonny says. The real life-sounding conversations between bank teller and bank robber, teller and teller, pizza delivery man and robber … tumultuous, wild, funny. “You didn’t plan!” says the feisty head teller to Sonny. He looks at her – and knows she’s right. The un-gentrified Brooklyn is blue collar, racially diverse, down to earth – and filled with good people.

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Sonny and the feisty head teller

You root for Sonny and sad-eyed partner Sal …
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John Cazale as Sal.

– the FBI and cops are the bad guys in the film. They are part of the system squelching the free spirits. But the free spirits are toting rifles. Is that freedom? As is today, about 10 social problems fester and come to a head through a crime. Cops, like our public school teachers, are called in to clean up society’s mess. Deal with the end result of poverty, despair, mental strife – and in the movie, a gay man in love with another guy “trapped in a man’s body.” No one used the word “transgender” back then. But that’s the reason why Sonny is robbing the bank – to get the thousands of dollars needed to pay for his boyfriend Leon’s “sex change operation.”

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“Attica! Attica!”

Watching the film, you also get to see how far America’s come re: gay rights. In the film, Sonny is first adored by the crowd amassed by the bank – he’s their hero. But then he’s reviled, his fans turn against him, boo at him – people throw rocks at his getaway bus – after they learn he’s gay.

When the film begins, you sense the shaky ground on which our protagonists stand: they ride up in a clunker, their getaway guy has second thoughts and bolts outa the bank – with their getaway car! The bank vault holds only $1,100. Still, Sonny, wild-eyed but smart, has the head teller take him to all the teller drawers for more cash. Their trash bag is filled with loot. Sal, wielding his machine gun and exuding deep deep despair, and partner in crime, Sonny, can make a quick exit. But just as they’re about to head out the door, one of the tellers has to pee. Sonny, a humane human throughout the film, asks: Anyone else need to go? And just like in kindergarten class, all hands fly up, and the guys accommodate them.

As Sonny and Sal coordinate the big bathroom break, the NYC cops, FBI, snipers in helicopters, reporters and TV cameras converge. It’s too late. Sonny gets a phone call from cop Charles Durning … and the circus begins. Unhinged, growing more desperate by the hour, Sonny comes up with the mad idea of demanding a plane to fly to safety. He wants to go to … Algeria. Out of the country. Sal wants to leave America, too – he wants to go to Wyoming. Sal is a lost soul, clinging to Sonny for purpose and safety. … The guys, by now, have bonded with their hostages – one teller refuses to be handed over to a cop, another does a military drill with Sonny’s rifle – after Sonny, an army vet, shows her how! Sonny revels in their 15 minutes of fame. He loves the crowd – and the crowd loves him back.

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🎬

They chant: SONNY! SONNY! SONNY! whenever he walks out of the bank and gives his swear-laced little sermons on the hot pavement. The head teller pumps her fist and shouts to her fellow bank tellers: I was interviewed! I’m on TV! … The TV news cameras are riveted on the riveting Sonny who tells the lead FBI agent: I’d hate to think you’d kill me out of duty – I’d want you to kill me because you hate me. … Like I said, inspired dialog.

Before his dim-witted wife Angie is put through to him on the phone by the cops, Sonny says: They can put any one on. The Pope. The richest of the rich, the wisest of the wise. Who do I get? … But when Angie calls herself fat, Sonny says: You’re not fat. Don’t ever call yourself that. He’s a great father to their two children.

You see the connections, the relationships – all of them loving – Sonny has with people, even his hostages! Most have entrusted their lives to him …they are on his side. As she gets off the bus at the airport, one hostage smiles, tears in her eyes and gives Sal her rosary so he won’t be afraid of flying – he’s never been on a plane. When Sonny first points his rifle at a teller, he looks scared and says: “I’m a Catholic. I don’t want to kill anybody.”

Amen.

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Based on a true story …

LES 400 COUPS – Little Boy Lost

By Rosalie Tirella

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Jean-Pierre Leaud plays Antoine Doinel.

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At school …

Thinking about everything small and helpless as I rewatch 1959’s LES 400 COUPS by Francois Truffaut. For the 20th time! – it’s one of my favorite films! The French New Wave I know nothing about, but Antoine Doinel, the main character in the movie, I know something about. I see a little boy’s austere life … the neglect at home … and school. I see a little boy buffeted by life – a child’s life, his world: an abusive parent, a careless parent; poverty; “authorities” just as dismissive and hapless as the little boy’s parents. It’s a universal theme. … And so a young life doesn’t grow quite right. With some little boys it’s “slow learner” … or no friends or acting weird or acting out in a million ways. Truffaut was a genius, so for him, it was act out but eventually “make art.” Write. Direct films.

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Semi-autobiographical, LES 400 COUPS, is Truffaut’s story: he takes his horrific childhood and turns it into The 400 Blows, which, roughly translated, is French for “taking a pummeling.” Which the little boy does. … Truffaut wrote and directed this gritty, at times violent, yet visually poetic movie when he was just 27 years old. Your heart is with the boy every step of his bleak journey.

The movie begins a little after WW II, though the war and its deprivations aren’t a part of the film. Scene 1: Antoine’s school – all boys and very “old school.” Teachers are demanding, students recite and copy facts into their notebooks, learn what their teacher writes on the backboard – memorized poems; teachers rough up the students if they can’t recite a poem or if the boys plagiarize an author’s work…the classrooms look bleak, spartan. Antoine is already in trouble with his teacher – he’s apathetic and the class clown. The nonconformist. The teacher – equal parts sadist/instructor – grabs Antoine by his jacket collar and throws him out of the classroom, makes him stay in for recess, makes him wash the blackboard as the other students work on the assignment.

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Antoine’s mother

At home, things are just as lousy. Antoine wants his young, beautiful mother to notice him, even like him a little, but she has her own life (an affair with her boss) and is out often. She never plays with her little boy – or gives him the attention he craves. His step dad has a soft spot for Antoine, knows his mother neglects him, but he ultimately defers to his wife. He’s in love with her – the child is a distant second place. Like so many kids …often the anchor to keep a disinterested dad around. Or a hindrance a parent wants to shed.

How do children survive their childhoods?!

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For Antoine, it is imagination! Paris is amazing! His best friend is terrific and sees Antoine’s specialness. Unlike today’s deprived little boys, back then, even in the Green Island of my girlhood, kids PLAYED IN THEIR NEIGHBORHOOD, we had best friends we ran around with – to the school yard, to the corner store, to a granny’s house for tuna and creamed corn sandwiches. You escaped your crumby family life – you were free, you were with friends who loved you, appreciated your uniqueness. Dense urban neighborhoods like Green Island were rich with small businesses, people, adventures, stories … They fed your imagination. Antoine has that in his poor Paris ‘hood! Today’s deprived little boy is stuck in the apartment/home. Computers and TVs and smart phones are a poor substitute for friends, exercise, walkable neighborhoods …

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Antoine’s friend, his neighborhood, the cinema – all are a balm, but he still has to go home at night. His mother doesn’t buy him sheets and makes him sleep on a cot in a little hallway. He’s her errand boy and little garbage man. Antoine hears his parents screaming at each other – and plotting to send him away … Is it any wonder Antoine runs away? Or steals a typewriter? Or tells his teachers his mom is dead? (She’s not.) Enraged at the lies, the juvenile delinquency, mom and step dad hand Antoine over to the state. He’s “arrested” for stealing the typewriter and goes to reform school, where he’s abused even more. His mother comes to visit him – he couldn’t care less. But he’s heartbroken when his best friend isn’t allowed on the premises.

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This movie is heartbreaking – Antoine makes me cry. He is stoic. He never sheds a tear. He takes the blows … The final scene of the film: escape, running and running and running … to the sea…infinite yet totally constraining.

The good, real, happy ending: The young Truffaut is befriended by French cinephile Andre Bazin who lets him write for his film magazine. Truffaut reviews hundreds of films … and starts making his own.❤
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Truffaut at work

🌺I still love “LOVE STORY”!🌺

By Rosalie Tirella

We were hooked, in love with the 1970 movie LOVE STORY. It was the film’s heart-rending, classical-sounding piano score. It was long-legged model Ali MacGraw acting, looking gorgeous in the snow despite dying of cancer in the movie. It was her co-star Ryan O’Neal looking adorable and sexy despite losing the love of his life. It was “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” despite no one really knowing what the phrase meant back then. Or today.

And who were they kidding? Love ALWAYS means having to say you’re sorry!!! Again and again!!

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Ryan and Ali star in LOVE STORY.

And my three cousins, all cancer survivors, looked positively shriveled when they had the Big C: their hair thinned and turned gray within weeks. Their breasts, ovaries and uterus were removed: they were shriveled shells of their former selves. You looked at them, then looked away.

Still, the movie LOVE STORY was THE love story of the 1970s. I, my cousin (who looked a little like MacGraw and, after seeing the film, wore her long dark hair the Ali way – parted in the middle and topped with that infamous MacGraw crocheted knit hat), and the world watched the flick – and sobbed. And wept seeing it at Webster Square cinema for the second time. We pulled out the Kleenix from the bottom of our pocket books. Men cried over the ending, too – all that white privilege: POOF! Gone! Jenny dies at 25! Oliver is alone, forsaken, heart broken!

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They were so in love!!!

They lived in Cambridge! They slummed it in a three-decker! They moved to New York City – to a terrific apartment building on their way to nouveau riche SUCCESS. Oliver graduated third from Harvard Law School …!

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Oliver running to find Jenny after he’s been notified he won a law school scholarship award!

Oliver’s law career was just taking off! And Jenny looked like a model in her tight white jeans and tight black tee shirt!

The film’s music won an Academy Award! The lead actors were nominated for the gold statuette! The screen-play’s author – Erich Segal – saw he could make big bucks from this heaping bowl of platitudes and wrote his slim novel AS he wrote his screen play. We all bought the novel! I did! … Segal became rich and famous, for a while.

Sure, the film was very late 1960s: naked sex scenes, swear words, an independent female who speaks her mind, a romantic relationship that leaps over socio-economic walls … Jenny is her elementary school students’ pal – tells one boy: “Don’t bul*sh*t me, Paul!” and they call her “Jenny.”

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Ali MacGraw created a whole new fashion sensibility. We Baby Boomer gals all tried to look like, dress like, Ali: sexy/preppy!

But the movie was very old school, too, very reassuring during America’s tumultuous times of drugs, Vietnam War, Civil Rights murders, MLK, JFK, RFK assassinations, and the pill. LOVE STORY had: Marriage. Kisses in the rain, snow and sleet. College. Trust funds. … Oliver (Ryan O’Neal) and Jenny (Ali MacGraw). They were so young! So white! So brilliant! So good looking! So full of promise! So deeply and truly in love! And they uttered such deep thoughts: For instance, Jenny didn’t give a fig about heaven. “How could heaven compete with earth?” she says to Oliver: “What could be better than Bach, Mozart and you?”

“I’m up there with Bach?” Oliver asks Jenny, incredulous. Jenny says, “And the Beatles.”

Wow. This love affair is for real!

She’s a poor but gifted music major (piano) on full scholarship at Radcliffe. Oliver is dumbfounded: the beautiful and brilliant Jenny Cavilleri chooses him?! And he’s right up there with the Beatles?! They kiss! The LOVE SONG theme music begins! Their first kiss on the Harvard campus, in the rain … and that LOVE STORY theme song swoops in … again. We tear up! We can’t help ourselves!

And Jenny and Oliver’s wedding! More KLEENEX, please!!

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We do!

They write their own wedding vows! Like everybody did in the 1960s and ’70s! They tell Jenny’s dad, when they drive down to Cranston, Rhode Island, to visit him: We don’t believe in God (too limiting), the church (too patriarchal and hierarchical), or the Bible (all that dogma!). Like my cousin, “Laura,” a WPI grad who “created” her and her husband’s own wedding ceremony in 1976 under some weird dome in the woods (they carved their wedding wings out of a light wood, they wrote their own loopy vows. I was there.), Jenny tells her dad she’s gonna write her own wedding vows and so is Oliver.

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💜

Her wedding day words are … very poetic, rife with translucent wings beating to heaven and filled with “golden orbs.”

They sound nonsensical, today.

Oliver’s turn! He faces his beautiful young bride and says: ” … I give you my love, more precious than money.”

That’s debatable.

When the kids drive to Cranston to explain it all to Jenny’s dad, an Italian immigrant, a working-class baker with his own humble bakery, Jenny tells her incredulous, conservative Catholic dad: “It’s a new world, Phillip!” Yep. She breaks her father’s heart about not marrying in church – and calls him by his first name. Not Dad or Daddy or Father or Papa, or even “Phil.” That’s what half of us Baby Boomers did when we were 19 years old – called our parents Susan or Beth or John or Phillip. Very egalitarian. Our folks swallowed our obnoxiousness.

And for us Baby Boomer New Englanders the movie was a keeper because it was also Oliver’s Harvard University and Jenny’s blue collar Cranston, Rhode Island, originally from Fall River, Massachusetts – even worse than Cranston! They drive through Boston and Jenny says: SLOW DOWN! Oliver says: THIS IS BOSTON, Jenny! All to prove the point LOVE TRANSCENDS everything, even Boston drivers.

Absolutely untrue about love being transcendent … Studies show you are most likely to marry someone with matching religion, socio-economic background, formal education and world view. We knew it back then; but we didn’t care. It was LOVE STORY!!! It was Ali MacGraw in her crocheted hat!!

The movie’s plot is kinda Romeo and Juliet: ultra rich trust-fund Harvard boy Oliver meets ethnic, feisty, working-class but brilliant Radcliffe girl Jenny. After a few clumsy, swear-laced flirtations, Jenny and Oliver fall into bed, fall in love, try to reconcile their differences – learn from them! ultimately love each other more FOR them! – and marry. Oliver’s stuffy, rich father is condescending and disapproves of the union. Maybe, at some point, he tells Oliver, he will give the relationship “the time of day.” Oliver is enraged. He and his arrogant father part ways. “Father, you don’t know the time of day!” Oliver says as he zooms off in his fancy sports car (paid for by Daddy-o).

The movie’s ending is a tear-jerker: Lying in her hospital bed, in the cancer ward, Jenny says to Oliver: “Screw Paris! Screw music! And all that stuff you think you stole from me! I don’t care! … and get the he*l out of here! I don’t want you at my go*dam#* death bed!” Then, her bravado, evaporated: “Please hold me. I mean rally hold me. Lie next to me!”

Oliver climbs into her sliver of a twin hospital bed. Kisses her like lovers do. Tenderly. Then he lies right by his wife’s side, holding her head … kissing her pale cheek.

Now I am crying, the tears are rolling down my cheeks! Just like in the ’70s!

Jenny dies in Oliver’s arms. We do not see this scene. It is played off camera.

That is why I am now sobbing.

Oliver’s estranged rich dad is at the hospital. He has found out…rushes up to his son, tries to make amends with Oliver. “I’m sorry,” he says.

Oliver, wiser now, says: “LOVE MEANS NEVER HAVING TO SAY YOUR SORRY.”

The last bit of dialog of movie.

Wah!!! Wah!!!

Final scene of the film: Oliver’s alone in a snow covered football field, the place where he and Jenny first kissed passionately …
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💜

Now he’s alone.

Where’s the freakin’ KLEENEX?!!

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Oliver, alone again, naturally.

I still love LOVE STORY!

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!