Category Archives: InCity Voices

1. City of Worcester garbage truck guy… 2. Lafayette Street auto body shop turns Lafayette Street into junkyard

Text and photos by Rosalie Tirella

Two City of Worcester issues …

1. A few days ago: City of Worcester trash guy driving his huge city trash truck barrels into the Quinsigamond Village post office parking lot on Greenwood Street. The p.o. is closed. He leaves with his package, pictured below…and he tries to exit the parking lot by backing into Greenwood Street with his HUGE garbage truck, rather than drive the long way out. And he’s wearing his HIGH CRIME navy blue sweat shirt while on his City of Worcester job. Classy, City of Worcester, classy!

City of Worcester garbage truck guy

He tried to back his truck into busy Greenwood Street! But before that, he barreled through the Burlington/Price Chopper strip mall, in front of stores’ walk way filled with pedestrians and this street violinist who was entertaining shoppers:
This violinist was “plugged in”!

Beautiful music interrupted when garbage truck guy drives through the strip mall main road way, right by this violinist, with his multi-ton garbage truck! And a lot of pedestrians entering and exiting the strip mall’s stores!


2. Green Island’s Lafayette Street is zoned residential/industrial, but a teeny auto-body shop has no right to overrun Lafayette Street with their cars and trucks – the vehicles their guys are working on! Talked with a neighborhood resident last week: the person said the business’ cars are perpetually parked on Lafayette Street. He has no place to park his vehicle! And he’s a resident!

Lafayette Street 😢😢😢

Rosalie grew up on Lafayette Street. There used to be a small sign shop where the sprawling auto body shop is. The sign shop guys were polite and stayed in the shop with their work. Today: disrespect for the neighborhood – and the City of Worcester does nothing about it.

Worcester Building and Housing Code Dept is located on Meade Street, two blocks away from this dump, yet the City of Worcester doesn’t ticket them or anything. The City of Worcester allows this business to turn an entire street, with its three deckers filled with families + kids, into its personal junk yard. This auto-body shop needs to move to bigger digs – not make Lafayette Street an extension of its biz with 20 vehicles parked outside its doors. Would City of Worcester Code Director Amanda Wilson or City Manager Ed Augustus allow this vile sh*t show to happen in their neighborhoods? The noise pollution. The air pollution. The sheer ugliness of the scene. Nope. This disaster usually happens – is allowed – in poor and/or minority neighborhoods. Because the neighborhoods have no clout. Because the politicians, their friends and family don’t live there.

After we wrote about these guys the first time, they removed all their signs identifying their auto body shop. Pathetic.

Environmental justice now!


By Rosalie Tirella

Respite this a.m. …


A reassuring respite with our Congressman Jim McGovern! This morning McGovern was a guest on the MSNBC MORNING JOE news TV show. And he was pure Worcester! Everyone else on the popular cable TV show looked so polished, lacquered and botoxed. Not a hair out of place. Every implant (boob and tooth) safe and secured. Designer eyeglass frames scintillating under the lights. But our Jim sweated sweat droplets under those hot TV lights! He looked different from the TV hosts and other guests. He looked real, “average” in the best sense of the word! Like my Uncle Stan used to look on a Sunday morning at church. Modest. Serious. Totally grounded in the day to day. America’s every man.

Congressman Jim McGovern🇺🇸

Jim has just returned from his trip to Ukraine, part of a congressional delegation led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The group met with Ukraine President Zelensky – for THREE HOURS! – to show American support for the brave Zelensky and all Ukranians and to learn more about Ukraine’s needs – and dreams. A SOVEREIGN UKRAINE!!

Putin has murdered thousands of Ukranians and destroyed their country!

On MORNING JOE Jim repeated the Dems’ talking points, but he was passionate when he insisted on stopping the killing of Ukrainian children, babies, women, old people … stopping the rapes, the starvation, the leveling of modern-day Ukranian cities … When asked about his impressions of Ukraine President Zelensky, McGovern said he was very impressed with Zelensky, with his mastery of all the facets of this awful war started by the Psychotic Putin.

But it was Jim’s tee shirt that made me smile this morning, got to me. …
Jim: a human rights crusader for decades! pics: R.T.

That greyish tee shirt that peeked out from under his nondescript pale blue button-down shirt. A true undershirt. For all of America to admire! Because Jim wasn’t wearing a necktie, like all the other guys on MORNING JOE. Because didn’t care what he looked like on national television! It was all about alleviating Ukranians’ suffering. Jim’s whole TV outfit looked like a Mart special: average eyeglass frames (no contact lenses for McGovern!), nondescript (polyester-blend?) dark blue suit jacket; a pale blue, nondescript button-down shirt; and in place of a necktie, his drab tee shirt. Call it “sexy indifference.” More man than vain politician. More human being than vacuous TV show host. Kudos to Jim! He represented Worcester beautifully – the best part of all of us!❤️🙂

The former St. Vincent’s nursing school … senior housing today?

By Rosalie Tirella

Vernon Hill: Can this part of the former St. Vincent’s nursing school provide Worcester seniors with much needed affordable housing? Pics: R.T.

The City of Worcester has dropped the homeless ball! Hope at least? Providence Street, on Vernon Hill – the Worcester Senior Center, which is now City of Worcester property (it used to be the St. Vincent’s Hospital nursing school) and a grossly underutilized HUGE SPACE with three seniors usually milling about and give City of Worcester staffers being useless and unhelpful.

Let’s make terrific use of THIS PART OF THE BUILDING, pictured. It’s slated to be CONVERTED INTO STUDIO APARTMENTS for seniors – affordable housing! Let’s do it ASAP! I see workers there, windows seems to have been changed out… Hopefully, the City is creating much needed affordable living space! Now! For older folks, not just for young families.

The rooms, pictured, used to be dorm rooms for the female nursing students. All young girls…18, 19, 20 …many recent St. Mary’s High School graduates. The pretty Polish girls with their long hair braided and hanging down their straight slim backs. No nonsense. The Catholic girls were proud of learning at another Catholic institution – St. V’s nursing school. They didn’t wear scrubs – they wore nurse in training uniforms (sheaths – not even skirts). White shoes. White tites. They looked perfect. I remember watching them as a little girl, from the Winthrop House Girls Club, across the street: There they’d be … Three or four of them, walking together…serious, pretty, crossing Providence Street to to go to the hospital, St. Vincent’s, to train to help people, save lives. Back then it was THE career for smart girls! … It was all so beautiful and serious on Vernon Hill, years ago …
Millbury Street: many Worcester seniors and young people are homeless.

Rose on home and homelessness

Text and pics by Rosalie Tirella

Home …

End-of-the-day slice of pizza at Highland Street’s BOOMERS PIZZA. It’s pepperoni. They ran out of plain slices. Jett and Lilac got (most of) the pepperoni slices😉.

BOOMERS PIZZA on Highland Street has the best pizza!

… Seeing I didn’t grow up in a cottage, a stand alone house that my family owned, I’m not too keen on houses. They always seemed like such a big responsibility. Apartments I like – they’re in the thick of city life – city “personified.” But lately, because of my situation I think, I’ve become sentimental about HOME. I am very interested in houses and porches and front yards … and the people who live there …

Driving by this little white house in Oxford today made me almost cry. Totally unremarkable house but it MOVED me! Made me all emotional! Why?!

The Oxford house …

I think it was the front porch. The front porch with its ornate posts. Several posts with curly cue tops all lined up in a row. It felt vintage. It felt 1940s – mostly reminded me of the Jimmy Stewart Christmas movie IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, the scene outside Mrs. Bailey’s house – which looked a lot like this one in Oxford.

Ma and her grown son George Bailey, played by James Stewart, are outside, in front of their front porch. It’s night time and there’s a wedding reception/party going on inside – George’s younger brother Harry just got married to his college sweetheart and the whole town, Bedford Falls, is celebrating.

Except George. He is lagging behind Harry even though he’s a smarter, wiser, finer person. The scene is very sweet – Ma Bailey gently pushes George out of the front yard, playfully hinting that Mary, lovely and back home from college, would love a visit from him. Stewart says: shucks no, she’s not for me, Ma … Ma says, Why George, Mary lights up just like a fire-fly when she sees you!
She slaps his ol’ fedora on his handsome head and literally pushes him out the front gate. With gentleness and a good mother’s wisdom and love.

It’s such a quiet, intimate little scene full of whispers and smiles and a hug and a kiss, practically on the lips! All played out in front of a house that looks like this Oxford house – an average, unexceptional house. But it’s the backdrop to George and his mom’s love for each other. Which makes it a remarkable house. A home.


Homeless Crisis is Worcester

Today I had an interesting conversation with a staffer at Central Mass Housing Alliance on Salisbury Street. The staffer said CMHA meets all the time with City officials re: Worcester’s affordable housing crisis/homeless crisis. They meet with Mayor Joe Petty, City Manager Ed Augustus, district city councilors…over and over again. They repeatedly tell our city officials, as they give them CMHA reports: LOOK AT THESE STATS. PEOPLE ARE LIVING IN THEIR CARS. WORCESTER RENTS ARE ASTRONOMICAL. PLEASE DO SOMETHING!

She told me: The city officials are politely dismissive of her and the group. City poo-bas take CMHA reports and thank them for their reports. … That’s it. No empathy. No disbelief at the $2,000 rents. Not an iota of an idea or suggestion. No offerings of emergency help. Or just plain help. No game plan.

So many people sleeping on the sidewalks in Worcester!

Re: the tiny houses that were to be built for the homeless in Worcester, she said the City “has been holding the money for three years.” And not released it so CMHA and other housing leaders can hire contractors, architects, construction workers. … I assume she means the millions of dollars Worcester has received in federal and state COVID funds. Lying fallow as our city leaders lie to the papers about their plans to help the city’s workers/working poor who is are being pushed out of Worcester in droves.

A former city worker told me a few hours later, after I recounted the distressing conversation: They’ll never do anything. They’re looking to attract outsiders… It’s not about helping locals.

I agree. If CMHA is lobbying city leaders every week for more affordable housing…talking about the housing crisis in Worcester… giving city officials and city councilors reports with suggestions, and city leaders are smiling and exchanging pleasantries but doing nothing, then they’re telling us working people/poorer folks: WE DON’T GIVE A HOOT THAT RENTS ARE CLOSE TO $2000. FORGET RENT CONTROL. FORGET MORE HOUSING VOUCHERS. FORGET THE TINY HOME VILLAGES…. We’re gonna drag our feet on this issue until you go away, until the issues are forgotten, until the street folks perish.

Shame on Worcester’s mayor, city manager and city councilors.
Are Worcester’s city leaders ever gonna use the city’s millions$$ in federal COVID funds? The money was supposed to fund local projects that are meant to support a city or town’s poor and underrepresented communities!

The death of Worcester’s Peter Stefan

By Ron O’Clair

Ron. photo submitted

Every so often you meet someone special and they leave a lasting impression upon you. Peter Stefan, community activist and Main South funeral director, who passed away this week, was one of those kind of people. Many here in Worcester owe Peter a debt of gratitude that they can never repay. Peter was unique and uniquely qualified for helping all and providing funeral services for the poorest of the poor throughout Worcester County.

stefan oct 18
Peter with newspapers, gifts, notes – and a smile for all! file photo: Rose T.

Peter was the world’s last resort, and he never failed to help – to accommodate a needy family in their hour of grief over the passing of a loved one, regardless of the expense to his own profit margin. Peter went out of his way to provide funeral services to indigent people who otherwise would have no means to bury their family members.

Peter initiated many drives in Worcester to gather needed items to disburse to those in need, such as his winter coat drive to provide warm clothing to those who otherwise would not have any, or his back to school supplies drive for Worcester’s inner-city students. Peter worked closely with Gordon Horgrove, executive director of the Friendly House. When Gordon needed help supporting one of his agency’s families, Peter always came through for the family. Peter thought the world of Gordon because of the the terrific community work he did. Peter also contributed to the Worcester Senior Center – for many years funded a free seniors podiatry clinic. His loss will leave an impact upon many of Worcester’s social service agencies.

It will remain to be seen if someone steps up to the plate now that Peter has passed.

Peter was certainly a character and Worcester County could use a few more like him. He was never afraid to stand up for what he believed in, as shown by his handling the funeral arrangements for the Boston Marathon bombing suspect whose body no other funeral parlor in the state would accommodate, due to the notoriety of the incident. Peter believed that all people who die should be treated with respect and dignity – regardless of the consequences. He was pilloried for his providing services for the bombing suspect, but he did it anyway. That was the kind of guy he was.

Peter always stood firm in the face of adversity and did not back down. He was always a champion of the poor and destitute; he took many cases that other funeral parlors would not, for one reason or another. He was the only mortician in the area who would touch the bodies of AIDS victims in the 1980s when no one knew much about AIDS and many were prejudiced against gay men. It made no difference to Peter Stefan. He treated their bodies with respect and dignity.

Peter Stefan made a difference and it will be awfully hard to replace him.
Rest in peace, Peter! Worcester County will miss you!

On the Canal District’s St. Francis Food Pantry and Kitchen’s Billy Riley

By Rosalie Tirella

Abby’s House parking lot on High Street. Abby’s has changed: it’s gotten more corporate now that founder and executive director Annette Rafferty is no longer there. pics: R.T.

We support the homeless/formerly homeless women who state Bill Riley, suspended director of the St. Francis Food for the Poor Soup Kitchen, Food Pantry and Saturday morning food box/personal care supplies give-away, sexually assaulted them. Demanded oral sex for his help: showers, toilet use at his apartment, winter boots, extra food. We know!! It sucks being homeless and feeling desperate – unwashed, hair mussed, teeth unbrushed, bladder full! THERE IS NO WOMEN’S AGENCY IN WORCESTER – the YWCA at Salem Square, Abby’s House for homeless women on High Street – who will allow homeless women to skip in early in the a.m. for a quick shower! They will not even let us sneak into pee! The desk lady at the YWCA recently said: CAN’T YOU GO TO A GAS STATION?

How brutal! How uncaring!

How anti-woman!

The Worcester woman in the CRUX news article – “Nicole” – was in need. She was alone. She turned to the church – a place folks turn to when forsaken and alone – a supposed safe space, a supposed haven. Nicole – along with the other women who were allegedly sexually abused/molested by Bill Riley – did what many women would do WHEN WORCESTER SOCIAL SERVICE AGENCIES that are supposed to be there for homeless women are NOT THERE for homeless women! They allowed a creep who held the upper hand to exploit them. The creep wielded his power for satisfaction, for more power … And these creeps feel they have the support of the community, that they are part of the respectable crowd … Who’s gonna believe a street lady? A smelly hooker?

A few weeks ago, I buttonholed Deb Hall the new executive director of the YWCA. I said: I NEED TO SHOWER. Some desk ladies who’ve fled domestic violence – as I fled the abusers on Blackstone River Road – understand and let me sneak in for a shower and hygiene maintenance. Some don’t! Help, Deb!

Worcester City Hall. The City’s Irish political clubhouse MUST SUPPORT HOMELESS WOMEN and stop the exploitation of our city’s most vulnerable!

Deb was cornered, an uncomfortable look came over her face. She begrudgingly agreed, said she saw no problem with my coming in and showering in one of the 20+!!! shower stalls at her Y. An African American woman who is supposed to be fierce and positive she got that this lady needed to use a YWCA bathroom stall, too. I thanked Deb – who looked none to thrilled.

Next time at the Y I pushed for entry – told the desk lady I got permission from executive director Deb Hall – there a card ready and waiting for women like me . There was no special card for homeless women, but I got in…and showered and peed. And felt GREAT.

I RECOMMEND All HOMELESS WOMEN DO THIS – there are plenty of shower stalls at the Y.

Abby’s House is worse. Gal pal Dorrie is in a pitched battle with them for lost wages. After the directors wrote up Dorrie and theeatened to fire her. Parlee was disgusted, too, and quit her job as the director of Abby’s shelter. I’ll never write a story on these corporate hacks! Or give them free ads in CECELIA! Everything has changed at Abby’s – now that Annette Rafferty is gone. Now that the nuns of years past do not run the shelter/rooming house. They were firm – BUT COMPASSIONATE. I oughta know! When I first moved back to Worcester from UMass Amherst 35 years ago, I lived at Abby’s. I still remember its director nun: perfect in every way and very strict. I remember how she came up to me after breakfast one morning: I was at the big sink in our kitchen outside our big dining room washing my breakfast dishes. I had made myself a hearty breakfast: Abby’s muffins, fruit, cereal and milk. I was in a good mood. Sister “Mary” must have sensed my joy – she walked before me, in her dark blue suit, frowning, her face red with suppressed anger … she looked at me sternly running the tap water over and over my fork and knife as I washed them with a blue sponge. Sister Mary abruptly turned off the tap and looked at me as if I were stupid. Didn’t I know? I was wasting precious water! I was to wash my dishes in the soapy tub in the big sink, then rinse them in the little tub filled with rinse water right next to the wash tub. I was terrified of this good nun – and quickly finished washing my dishes the right way – and scurried off to work at the nursing home. Sister Mary knew I had a bachelor’s degree in and wrote short stories – she wanted me to get my first reporting job! She smiled and took me in after my interview to live there. I paid Abby’s a hundred dollars or so every week for room and board. I DID GET my first reporting job while a resident at Abby’s. It was a safe, clean, GOOD place to live to start your adult life – or reboot it! If you were homeless, poor or an on the run woman, Sister Mary took you in, counseled you, guided you and set you on a straight and narrow road.

No more. Now at Abby’s House it’s a call to a development officer, then your put on hold and transferred to an Abby’s advocate who just flew in from LA and knows nothing about Worcester resources for women, then it’s more calls with clueless young women … and a rude front desk lady says: GO AWAY!

Abby’s no longer blurs the lines to help women in need. Today, the directors and admiration have meeting after meeting in their board room. They write up long time Abby’s worker Dorrie and aren’t relatable for Parlee and create all these rules that leave us women feeling … unsupported, unloved.

SO, YES, NICOLE AND THE OTHER HOMELESS WOMEN aren’t SUPPORTED by the Worcester agencies you’d think would support women – so corners are cut at St. Francis, alleged creeps like food pantry czar EXPLOIT their hard, desperate situations.

Bill Riley, if found “guilty” of compelling homeless Worcester women to trade sexual favors for a warm shower, use of a sink and toilet, a pair of winter boots – THE BASICS!! – must NEVER BE ALLOWED TO WORK WITH THE HOMELESS AGAIN. Jail time if he raped a woman? Absolutely.

Billy Riley, once a Worcester legend – a once parade grand marshall of the iconic Worcester County St. Patrick’s Day Parade – must not be protected by the Irish pol club, must not be given cover by the good old Irish boys club.

Worcester’s Irish, male, Catholic church MUST DO THE RIGHT THING. NOW.


No, it’s not the streets of war-ravaged Ukraine: it’s downtown Worcester, across the street from our illustrious Hanover Theatre. A homeless person wrapped in a sleeping bag, sleeping on a vent on the sidewalk. … The dead man found outside Chandler Elementary School in Piedmont this morning…Did he freeze to death on the streets of Worcester as he tried to shelter from the cold?

Outside the federal courthouse …

The person was just yards away from the full-house Hanover Theatre …

We need solutions NOW, City Manager Ed Augustus and Worcester City Council!

– text/photos: Rosalie Tirella

❤️ Putnam

By Rosalie Tirella

Putnam, Connecticut, really is a special place! Yesterday, while we were at the dog park, I noticed these two huge red heart arches on the River Walk. …

The two heart arches. photos: R.T.

They’re beautiful and enhance the loveliness of the trail – a trail that hundreds of Putnam residents and visitors amble down each day. So nice to see: older couples holding hands, young parents pushing baby strollers, guys and gals waking their dogs. You see half the town come out for their daily walk on the River Trail!


The river…it runs through Putnam.

But these heart ❤️ arches were new, and I wondered about their significance. So I talked with a Putnam business leader who said he and other local biz folks were each asked for a $1,000 donation to pay for the construction and installation of the huge hearts. They were built to show Putnam’s support for homeless women.❤️ For a donation$$, any one can buy a “lock” that’s then attached to one of the gigantic hearts. Your name is engraved on the lock you buy. All the money$$$ raised is given to the local women’s shelter.

I said: Cool!

He said: You won’t believe this town. I’ve never seen anything like it. Putnam always helps its neighbors … it’s such a special community!

More public art (big pup!) at the entrance to the Putnam Dog Park.

Kudos to Worcester City Councilor Thu Nguyen!

By Rosalie Tirella

Worcester City Councilor at Large Thu Nguyen. photo submitted.

Kudos to newbie Worcester City Councilor at Large Thu Nguyen for being compassionate and brave and calling for more cooling and warming stations to be set up in Worcester for our homeless. They are part of Worcester’s new political vanguard – the torch has been (partially) passed to a new generation! Nguyen and other fresh Woo political leaders are young and idealistic – and they’re speaking truth to an encrusted Worcester power structure. A power structure that for decades blocked out Blacks and other racial … sexual/ethnic minorities in a million ways, both big and small. A city government rife with nepotism. A city government that covered up police brutality.

New voices! New perspectives! New people! These new people bring new ideas to our community table! They make us remember: “Liberty and justice for all”!

Worcester’s Nguyen is one of the first nonbinary political leaders in America. They are gay. They are Vietnamese American. Read: they are the penultimate outsider. Outsiders are great because their perspectives, their souls, are often forged in pain. The pain of otherness, not belonging, not being accepted by the majority. They’re often set upon, hurt … even killed. They can empathize … They are sensitive people.

Homeless on Worcester’s Park Ave. photos: R.T.

Our homeless are hurting. Nguyen recognizes that. They feel the pain of the other, our homeless. They are saying: Our homeless must be cared for. They’re part of our city, too.

City Manager Ed Augustus and old guard politicians, forgo your flimsy excuses, buck-passing and victim-shaming/blaming! Open some warming stations – one or 2 in every Worcester neighborhood! – NOW! With free water, soup and bread and blankets for our homeless. They’re here – claim them as Jesus would! The City of Worcester has millions$$$ in COVID relief federal funds to ALLEVIATE suffering. Act now.

Every Worcester city councilor should be required to spend two consecutive nights in their cars – THOSE NIGHTS ARE LONG AND COLD, EVEN WITH THE CAR HEATER BLASTING! – before they vote yay or nay on Nguyen’s warming stations proposal. They should be homeless for a long weekend… take a pee and wash their faces and brush their teeth in a Price Chopper bathroom in the wee hours of the morning. They should feel … forsaken. Then they should vote!

Homeless on Worcester’s Millbury Street.


By Rosalie Tirella

Rose, keepin’ it real: autumn 2021

RIP Ronnie Spector! You died last week, but you’re eternally ours as the gritty street girl singing “Be My Baby” in the opening credits of the 1973 movie MEAN STREETS. You – you alone! – introduced the world to Italian-American director/visionary Martin Scorsese! You sang the theme inside the head of lead actor Harvery Keitel, playing Charlie the bill collector for a mafioso cousin: “Be my Baby”! … Who’s your Baby, Charlie? Jesus? The Catholic church? Girlfriend Teresa? Screwy and screwed up younger pal Johnny (Robert Deniro)? We mean: Who belongs to you and vice versa, Charlie?

Ronnie Spector’s voice and opening scene lay it all out. So many of the images are the foundation for all of Scorsese’s future work – themes of a lifetime. And they’re totally relatable to me and many Italian-American Baby Boomers, direct or once removed, descendants of Italian immigrants: photos taken with your parish priest outside your church after a baptism, the baby wrapped in a white baptismal gown that looks like a mini-wedding dress it is so ornate and taffeta-rich … the crucifix nailed to the bedroom wall, a few feet away from the head of the bed … outside your parents’ slum tenement walls: thugs, money, violence, sex, drugs, no way out except through education. Some neighborhood boys become priests … some boys become denizens of the mean streets outside their apartment windows.

Keitel, as Charlie, isn’t strong enough to be with the church, but he’s filled with a sh*tload of Catholic guilt over his sexuality and small-time thuggery. He and the never more young, gorgeous and charismatic Robert De Niro (Johnny) are confused, young Turks, enraged foreigners in a strange land once outside their claustrophobic yet definite home, Little Italy. But they love each other. They’re brothers. Charlie tries to look after loose cannon Johnny who owes everybody money, is wild with his gun and runs his mouth, pis*ing off powerful people with bigger guns AND money.

Charlie (Keitel) wakes up in the middle of the night. He’s in a cold sweat, eyes wide open. A nightmare. Ronnie Spector is singing…but the voice in his nightmare is Scorsese’s (playing God?). Scorsese says: You can’t be a good Catholic just by going to church. It’s in your family, friendships, community. “The rest is B.S.” God declares.

The truth had startled Charlie wide awake. He walks over to his bureau mirror and stares at his handsome, unhappy face … as if to ask: WHO AM I?

These days I stare into the motel mirror and ask the same question of myself: Who am I? A few weeks ago, at another flea bag motel – the Red Roof Inn in Sutton – I had woken up from a nightmare. The experience of these places …the despair…the little girl holding her mom’s hand as she runs up the stairs, garbage bag in mom’s other hand…. She’s so pretty and wearing a pink dress. You remember one girl who wore a purple tutu and adored your dogs, giving Lilac kisses on her head. You saying: Lilac likes your Lilac tutu! What a pretty ballerina! With this little girl …. the garbage bag holds everything she and her mom have. Was it fists they fled? Eviction? Fire-trap apartment?

The older black woman was brought in from the van. It was afternoon but she was still in her ratty terry cloth bathrobe. It’s bum side was dark, stained grey. It needed to be washed. Would she be able to afford the washer and dryer here?

The help…many who clean the rooms at these motels, are on the fringe, too, living in a room and paying for it by cleaning other people’s rooms. The worst jobs in seedy motel world. One guy, older, Puerto Rican, had a thing for me: helped with dog food after my car died and was at the mechanic’s. He was kind enough to knock on my door and give me and my dogs some of his paltry vending machine “groceries” based on what he guessed I’d like: cheesy microwave potatoes, a cup of fruit cocktail, a small bag of honey roasted peanuts, a bottle of water … Plus two bowls of dog food ( he has a dog). I thanked him with a full heart. Moved by his kindness. And shut and locked my door. The next day he gave me his phone number writ large on a white piece of paper. I left it by the phone on my bedside table the day I left the motel.

Or, finally, the dead man. It was late Christmas Eve and I was watching an old movie and feeling positive about the New Year, believe it or not. Well, around 11 p there’s a knocking on my room door. I’ve learned to be polite, lock my door and not get involved with anybody in any way in places like these. Your heart breaks for so many, but you must stay safe.

I looked out my door’s peep hole and a little brown man was talking gibberish, absolutely incoherent before my door. His arms were outstretched, he was really babbling away. Now my dogs were barking. I looked at the little brown man, so scrawny, in dirty clothes and said: GO AWAY!!

He went away. The dogs settled down and I went back to watching my movie.

Three days later the State Medical Examiner car and unmarked police cars are parked just by the back entrance to the building – my entrance. My heart sinks. It’s been a long day of working at CECELIA. My dogs and I are tired and miss our little room! But the several official cars aren’t moving; this looks ominous. I think Peter Stefan, a funeral home, a cadaver, murder, suicide, the unclaimed dead. I make a few calls to authorities… everyone is cagey. Finally, before I walk into what may be the aftermath of a crime scene, I drive around to the front office to ask the managers, a young Indian couple who couldn’t care less and are as rough as their customers: WHAT HAPPENED?

The husband is the milder one; he’s assembling a big hockey game like you’d see in a pinball arcade that his little kid just got for Christmas.

What happened? I say. Is it safe? WAS THERE A MURDER? I’m 60, you know!!!

The skinny Indian guy chuckled over the hockey pieces he was screwing in and said: So what else is new? Happens here all the time. He was dead for three days. They found him in the bathroom.

The motel manager didn’t look up from the toy he was putting together for his son: he just kept right on fastening hooks and organizing little plastic hockey players all in a row …

“My God!” I said. “Was it a suicide? An accidental drug overdose?!! What happened?!”

He was very nonchalant when he said, almost sighing in exasperation: We’ve seen it all before. What do you expect from places like this?

I thought: the last or next to last stop for many…

It was chilling: talking death while assembling a hockey game! Your child’s Christmas present all shiny and new, the guy in room 48 dead and decomposing. Life: Your child sitting on the sofa five feet away watching Dad put his humongous expensive game together. A sad life ending on Christmas Eve.

I don’t know why, but I said to the little boy: When I was your age my auntie bought me a big hockey table just like yours. I loved it!

She did, too!

But then the nightmare happened and I woke up to realize that the little incoherent guy knocking on my door three days ago on Christmas Eve may have been the … dead guy. Maybe he was knocking on my door, drugged up, asking me for help. Asking me to call an ambulance for him. You see the ambulances come and go here. Firetrucks and firemen being people’s primary care physicians. If you’ve overdosed on drugs you’re not going to give the Gettysburg Address – YOU’RE GOING TO SLUR YOUR WORDS OR JUMBLE THEM OR SPEED THEM UP.

I could have saved a life! But I helped extinguish one!!

Who’s my Baby?