Category Archives: Green Island Grrrl

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!

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