Category Archives: Rosalie’s Blog

“Fall”-ing into Burncoat on Halloween

By Rosalie Tirella

When I was a little girl growing up in Green Island fall/winter was the time for celebrating Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Clack, clack, clack, one right after the other, my favorite holidays fell like little pink dominoes – always celebrated out of the neighborhood, at our Aunt Mary and Uncle Mark’s house on the nice, suburban side of the city. The Burncoat neighborhood. This is where my two kid sisters and I rang in the holidays, every year, pre-K to grade 12, along with our single mom who coordinated everything with Aunt Mary, her sister, over the phone, after we kids had gone to bed.

Burncoat: the Worcester neighborhood where the city’s middle-class Irish-Americans lived out the 1950s American dream in pretty ranches and capes on little tree-lined streets. The moms were stay-at-home and the dads were often teachers or principals and assistant principals in the Worcester Public Schools, a nepotism-ridden school system, where, as one exiting teacher once told me, you had to be “mega-connected” to get a job and, of course, Irish-American.

My Uncle Mark was a school principal in a little town outside of Worcester (he was Polish and un-connected) and seemed to know a lot of the other teachers in the neighborhood. All the men wore the same grey suits, crisply pressed white dress shirts and nondescript ties to work. Their physiques were nondescript – very Spencer Tracy-like, when Tracy was in love with Katherine Hepburn and they made all those great movies together in the 1940s. Still, the guys, like Tracy, were respected: they were the heads of their families, the bread winners, the ones who made the suburbs turn.

Visiting my relatives in Burncoat in autumn was a fun, peaceful, orange-maple-leaves-on-still-green-grass kinda day for us kids and our sweet mother – a vacation from our Lafayette Street tenement and our inner-city street filled with kids, winos, stray dogs, barrooms, stores, junk cars, obstreperous neighbors, sand lot baseball …

Uncle Mark had pulled Aunt Mary out of Green Island, the old neighborhood, when he married her … swept her off her pretty litte feet and set her over the threshold of an adorable little pink house in Burncoat, with the added attractions of a big Buick, a big Zenith color TV, a big automatic washer, dryer and dishwasher. And for their kids: new bikes, a huge backyard and basketball hoop nailed above their garage door. Of course, the kids would all be honors students, go to college and become doctors and teachers. Which my cousins did.

It was crazyland in Green Island. Sure, my cousins didn’t have a penny candy store and cute corner grocery nook like my sisters and I had on Lafayette Street, but our old three decker was planted right across the street from two raucous barrooms where fights broke out regularly – fights that were always taken “outside,” the throw-downs usually between man and wife. My kid sisters and I heard and saw everything! We were 6, 8 and 10, and I remember always running as fast as I could past the sour-smelling barroons after a day at my beloved Lamartine Street Elementary School – to skip all the madness (there was one bar on either side of our street) – and not be grabbed by a drunk. Men, beer-bellied, soiled white tee shirts tight around their protruding stomachs, slapped their women around – and were oblivious to the pain they caused. The women were embarassed, distressed… I remember one woman, dumped by her bar man, who walked Lafayette and Millbury streets in just a shirt/jacket – and her panties. No shorts, slacks, skirts… She did this in fall and the colder weather. Her thick, black long hair was dull and matted; she talked to herself all the time. But you could still see her beauty. She had a beautiful face! And when my mom and we kids passed her on the street, while walking home from the dry cleaners where Ma worked, or after shopping on Millbury Street, Ma pulling our shopping wagon filled with food behind her, Ma always said a warm hello to the woman! The wonderful lessons Ma taught us on Lafayette Street!

But I digress … my cousins and our neighborhoods, just 15 miles apart in Worcester, a 15-minute car drive on I 290, were on separate galaxies. At Uncle Mark’s we were in a happy, safe, kid-focused environment. At home we were in choas-ville. Sometimes I didn’t want to go home after a Sunday afternoon playing Pickle with my cousins in their Burncoat front yard. I’d get visibly upset as my uncle got ready to drive us home (we never had a car). So my Aunt Mary let me sleep over – in the twin bed with my silly, smart, older and very beautiful cousin, Sue. I have told you all about her… Sue, 15, was my intellectual, physical and spiritual superior. She highlighted her long hair with a special lightening spray she bought at the drug store … she took piano lessons, sewed herself pant suits with linings! and wrote her own music on the trim, upright piano in Aunt Mary’s blue-wall-papered living room. She knew everything about boys and had a stack of Beach Boys 45s a foot tall. Sometimes, just after we went to bed, Sue would put on a Beach Boy record in her Close and Play record player and we’d get up out from under the covers and dance on her bed – pretend we were surfing on her Sealy and make waves with our arms … like we were swimming at Hampton Beach…

Aunt Mary and Uncle Mark never shut down our beach party. I think Aunt Mary liked the music and the fact that, for one night, her only girl had a little sister!

Autumn time, my sisters and I did Halloween with our cousin Sue in Burncoat. More sophisticated than I and my two sisters could ever hope to be, Sue would dress up all pretty/sexy in a gypsy’s costume she had sewn for herself, and she’d wear sparkly blue eye shadow and mascara. Her gypsy’s costume came with a sparkly silver bra she had designed and made herself. She
cut the butterfly patterns, sewed them onto her silver bra…all on her Singer sewing machine in her little bedroom in Burncoat. Before trick or treating, she modeled it for us. My aunt and uncle oohed and ahhhed and called her their “Polish Princess” and told Ma and us kids: Yes! Sue is practically a model! She is that beautiful – and the right height! Models had to be a certain height back then – 5’7″ tall, at least! My sisters and I were poor and had no flair for home economics or modeling. So a few days before October 31, after all the good costumes were grabbed up, Ma would take us to Woolworth’s on Front Street and buy me an ugly witch mask and costume and my kid sisters would be saddled with two Snow White’s Dwarves costumes, one always Dopey. Depressing.

The good part: We trick or treated in Burncoat! A special place where there were no barrooms and everyone had pretty homes and their front porch lights stayed on all night so they could hand out the good stuff to us kids: chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate!

One Burncoat Halloween night I especially remember: My mom had bought me a new white, hooded fluffy winter coat with beige trim and “antler” buttons at Lerners. I put that coat on and it was like magic! I was warm – and looked so cute! It was – and still is – one of my favorite winter coats. I put that coat over my ugly Woolworth’s witch costume and still felt cute – and happy. My sisters were in their Dwarf costumes but their new cute brown Lerner coats, bought by Ma on layaway, made them proud and happy, too.

There we were on Hallows Eve, on a perfectly beautiful twinkly Burncoat side street with my cousin Sue, kicking up the crispy, fall leaves in the gutter following our beautiful cousin Gypsy Sue to pretty house after pretty house to have person after person at each door of each pretty house throw chocolate bars into our gaping pillowcases. And Tootsie Roll pops and boxes of Good ‘n’ Plenty and boxes of Dots … and rolls of chewy black licorice and packs of Bazooka Bubble Gum. And handfulls of wrapped gum balls.

We made a killing! We could not have gotten any luckier! Then it was back to Uncle Mark and Aunt Mary’s to sort all the candy – and trade. Maybe they’d be a game of Monopoly with our cousins and my game piece would be the little silver terrier! My favorite Monopoly game piece!

Hours later, after eating a good bit of our Halloween stash, playing Monopoly with our cousins in Sue’s bedroom, it was time to return home to Green Island. I felt sad and anxious, but I dutifully followed the mother I loved and my cute kid sisters into Uncle Mark’s car. For the ride across town, back to Green Island, away from Burncoat. My candy-coated coach had turned into a crushed beer can.

What the hell, Spencer?!

Photos and text by Rosalie Tirella

A few days ago, I found this tumbleweed up against my Spencer front door (the back door is boarded up – not an exit – illegal…):
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An old coot who, as a constable, delivered an eviction notice, but whom I sent off his nut when I told him: She (landlady Brydee Riccard and her incapacitated mom) can’t evict me in 30 days! This is in retaliation for me going to the Spencer Board of Health! To report the apartment’s problems – like no heat source upstairs! I have six months!

And I took his photo – perfectly legal.

And just like that, the ancient constable lunged at me, Old Spencer-like, in my kitchen, and he started jabbing his crooked finger into my face and screaming: LADY DON’T take my picture! The dogs barked! I slammed the door! In his wizened puss!

Sorry, bup. I bet you’ve heard of lifestyle bloggers – recipes, fleece blankets, greeting cards made from recycled paper and all that crap. Well, I’m a ROSE LIFE BLOGGER – I write about my life – always have, since I was 10. And it, like life, is always complex – and real.

So, my landlady Ms. Riccard and her Ma got this letter from the Spencer Board of Health a few days earlier:
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… after I had the young, cool, competent Spencer official go through my entire apartment and check out my porches. She took a bunch of photos, was totally professional. (Is she, along with a few other hardy souls, the anti-dote to the corrupt good ol’ boy/gal Spencer Crowd? Hope so!)

When I visited town hall the week before to file my compaint, the officials there said, in the know: Yep. We know Brydee and her mother. We know them – and their buildings …

The Town of Spencer letter, listing violations and solutions, was pretty straight forward (and solutions inexpensive):
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But this Spencer old timer money crowd rolls the illegal, low-life way – the way they have for decades – exploiting, short-changing and bullying Spencer’s poor! So I got this:
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Classy. Not even typed…

And, like so many old time Spencer money families, they wallow in bully behavior. Was that Brydee’s girlfiend on my frontporch making noise, removing weeds from my little vase?

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She (and Brydee) live right across the way from me!

I will have to notify the Spencer police.

Years ago they were taken over by the state police because they were deemed so corrupt. This Spencer police department seems pretty ok, reasonable and by the books.

Spencer! You have 6 people in your restaurants Friday nights! Your public library is closed almost half the week! Your street lights are dark AFTER DARK! YOUR HIGH SCHOOL IS HALF-FILLED with students. YOU HAVE MORE SENIOR CITIZENS THAN YOUNG PEOPLE! – OLD TIMERS WHO ARE OUT OF TOUCH WITH THE LAWS – AND THE 21ST CENTURY!

YOU NEED NEW BLOOD, NEW people, new ways of looking at and dealing with the world!

To survive as a bustling, cool town!

Old, white, bullying and ignorant is no way to go through today’s world!

Start a real recycling program, for God’s sake! Everyone in town should be able to recycle – at no cost!

Fix the shitty buildings’ busted windows in your diwntown!
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Change now!

Ms. Riccard and Ma, see you in court!

And this apartment will be brought up to codev- have screen doors, an unbarred exit, heat up stairs … for the next poor family/person! Its OUR RIGHT!

Bang, bang! … hear the beat of our hearts!

Photos and text by Rosalie Tirella

Yesterday, my landlady had a mission. She was at my door, “knocking”:

Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!

Banging like hell!

I was still in bed. I peeked outside my window: her little rodent face looked determined yet placcid.

Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang!Bang, bang, bang! went my landlady’s fist (hammer?). Like a thug demanding entry.

I felt like I was being physically assaulted.

“This fucking town!” I thought to myself, 3/4-asleep, in bed (8:15 a.m. Saturday morning, my day off) – “It’s like living in DELIVERANCE – without Burt Reynolds! Or fab banjo pickers!”

Liking the poor people here in the hopeless, hungry part of town but frowning at the Spencer landlords, money folks. Rednecks with clout. The absolute worst kind.

They run my neighborhood, and it is easy to see that for years Spencer officials, politicians – the Town of Spencer and all its poobas – have given these bullies a free pass. So they’ve done what they’ve damned well wanted to do. Built twirly, rickety staircases. Own buildings with busted windows -DOWNTOWN!:
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Arrogant. Uncaring. … Entitled…oblivious to a tenant’s rights, a shopper’s sensibilities.

For 20 minutes straight my landlady banged and banged and banged the shit out of my back door. Jett was runnin’ wild and barking his head off. Cece had hid behind the coffee maker. I ran downstairs to my wee kitchen and opened my back door, incensed.

There my landlady stood, short, squat, round and ugly – stuck to my backporch like a prickly Spencer shrub. With two electrician-kids from Rhode Island (so much for supporting local biz!) standing quietly behind her.

“This is very hicky of you!” I said, red faced, my brain coffee-less,un-edited.

I stared at the RI electrician kids and, because I loved and went out with the OIF, a contractor extraordinaire, said: “Let me see your license! Are you licensed electricians?!!” (I wouldn’t let them in if they weren’t.)

One of the kids, tall and pale, dutifully pulled out a card, like a driver’s license, and politely gave it to me to read. It read: “journeyman electrician…Rhode Island.”

“Ok, come in!” I said, frowning, still in my torn, flannel pajama shorts and tee shirt.

The kids hustled into my kitchen, my landlady wisely evaporated. Watching the guys, in their early 20s, working feverishly on my light switch, I felt guilty. I didn’t want to shit on a couple of working class kids from Lincoln, Rhode Island – kids who were just doing their job, were just starting out in life. They were good kids, polite and professional – unlike my landlady who, despite being in her late 30s, acts like a spoiled kid. Her mother is incapacitated, so she now manages the boxes (I won’t call them apt complexes) that her Ma owns and that the Town of Spencer has allowed to grow funky and weird like an empty bottle of booze smashed into the Spencer gutter.

My landlady lives, with her girlfriend, across the way from me. Five yards away… See that funky stairway that gives the finger to the Spencer building inspector and building codes??:
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That is the stairway to their apartment. Her poor tenants! What if there is a fire and they need to escape the roaring flames? Or: wanna visit my landlady on the top floor? You’ll kill yourself scaling that steel contraption! … Just the way she wants it!

Go, Spencer!

The other side of her building looks normal:
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Her Ma’s bar, the tattoo shop … joining all the other booze, motor bikes, tattoo and chop shops here in my neighborhood … to the detriment of the people who live in the tenements here, folks, who despite their poverty and challenges, have been polite to me. Even quietly friendly. Small town nice. A hello here, a smile there. Weary but maybe open …

Years ago, to support the working class here, across from my apartment, there was a grocery store – filled with local veggies and fruits – produce for the people! But the produce store is long gone, along with the factory/mill jobs to support the working class here. Now the former fruit-veggie grocery stand is an A Cap – autoparts for sale! – shop, and the Spencer guys who work there make a dollar or so more than minimum wage.

When the town was very recently repaving its core streets (thanks to Congressman Jim McGovern bringing in those federal$$ funds to fix up the beat up center-of-town streets), I’d hear the A Cap guys rib the union guys doing the street work. Union guys making a man’s paycheck, sitting a top their bull dozers and heavy machinery … The A Cap guys, friendly but resentful – you could hear the jealousy and sadness behind their words – would say: “Breaking for lunch already?” Done for the day???

Yes, indeedy! The union guys had the good jobs, the good paychecks!

As I make my way around town…
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… this is what breaks my heart:
All the underemployed men in my ‘hood! And gals! Good people – smart people – the sons and daughters of sheet rock workers – what Spencer used to be – FORGOTTEN. Poor. The good jobs gone, along with HOPE. Now I see why rural America is Trump Country! The president, when campaigning, reached out/still reaches out and promised/promises GOOD JOBS to his “base.” But Trump misstates at every turn – or is too incompetent to deliver on his promise of good jobs for the forgotten working class.

This is what I love about Spencer: Every guy in town can wield a hammer, build a stair case on the fly, fix a squirrely sink, mig and tig weld!

Hell, my back entrance is boarded up (ILLEGAL) …

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… by my landlady, but she is building me a super staircase! A girl!! Fast, efficiently … her stairway is clean-lined, sturdy. Zzzzzz goes her electric saw on Saturday mornings … Tzip, tzip, tzip her electric drill sings into the Spencer air. It joins all the banging hammers, crashing truck doors, clanking shed doors, drawn rakes noising up the Spencer country air and mixing with the twisting leaves in the autumn’s bending branches … Hear the wind chimes!, see the rainbow air socks and big dried flower wreaths that the Spencer gals make and hang on their doors and back-porches! Lovely!

So much untapped talent and potential here! And Trump can’t demand a LIVING WAGE for them or FREE RETRAINING AT ALL OUR U.S. COMMUNITY COLLEGES!

Sure, a lot of stuff here is gerry-rigged, messed-around-with … While replacing my light switch the Rhode Island electician kid shook his head in disgust and told me the electrical wiring in my landlady’s house was “like a ball” and he made an imaginary beach ball-sized ball with his hands. I guessed he meant the building’s wiring was a freakin’ mess. I frowned, and stressed-out, yelled, in the middle of my kitchen: LIVING HERE IS CULTURE SHOCK! NO ONE WEARS MAKE-UP HERE! … NO ONE CARES ABOUT MASCARA!!!

Screw the wiring!

The electrician kid looked at me funny.

I gave him the latest issue of CECELIA and my business card. I told him my story. I said, “I SHOULD HAVE MOVED TO PROVIDENCE! THE RENTS ARE CHEAPER THERE THAN THEY ARE IN WORCESTER! I DID THE RESEARCH! I was gentrified out of my city!!!!!”

I really needed that first cup of coffee.

The electrician kid looked at me and then discussed Providence rents, told me they were cheap on the city’s outskirts but increased as you moved closer to downtown/the Brown University area. His parents were landlords and what my landlord had done to me was uncool. “It has to be 24 hours notice,” the electrician kid said. He also said my place seemed ok, but my landlady’s digs across the way? “Just a long box.” He looked calm but disgusted. For the first time I noticed that funny Rhode Island accent/twang and smiled. This kid knew how the poor could be exploited, this kid just beginning his electrician carreer, his adult life. Maybe he would be better than my landlady. Have compassion.

Lucky kid! He had a good job! A future! He would be able to realize the once ubiquitous AMERICAN DREAM: a house, maybe an RV or camper, new cars, vacation getaways, investments – like the union, high way guys working outside my door last month.

The opposite of most of the men in my Spencer neighborhood – all over rural America. The men here in Spencer, all polite, even a bit playful to me … the poor guys who, without cars – or anger – walk their little dogs to the nearby park, or fix their jalopy jeeps in the rented yards, or just saunter straight up to Main Street to go “downtown.” They are tough – but hurting, too.

Spencer story: river rats

Text and photos by Rosalie Tirella

Breakfast with my mutts and Cece:

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Saw the usual un-smiley stuff in Worcester yesterday: the brutal demolition of the once majestic Notre Dame church continues, unabated … but ever so softly! I NEVER HEAR ANY NOISE!:
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The City of Worcester still hasn’t produced (as promised) a new, comprehensive city garbage pick up/recycling blueprint. So we get this all over our inner city. Main South:
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… Just a few buildings away from the city’s new LUXURY APARTMENTS … our supposedly shiny new downtown!

And the poverty, still soul-smashing – especially the little girls in their bright, festive little skirts happily boppin’ around their dads or moms who are pulling toy wagons or little portable hampers filled with their belongings through Worcester traffic. The parents so desperate, the little girls so oblivious, so twirly and dance-y! I see this and I think: Are they leaving or returning to the homeless camp behind WalMart?
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Sometimes I cannot reach Woo folks, I can just write about them … but here, in the Spencer ghetto, …

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… the folks on the fringes bloom, profusely, strangely, honestly, right in front of you:

The week before last, in the driving rain, flood times, driving through the Spencer country, trying to follow the road between beating wipers and grey sheets of rain … My jalopy heated up, and all my dashboard’s red lights flashed mean. I pulled over into a strip mall parking lot and got out to pop the hood. My two stalwart dogs were in the back seat. Dogs are more useful in the country …

In about two seconds I was soaking wet, my hair plastered to my head, my big sweater hanging, dripping wet. In about four seconds a beat-up rusted at the bottom black van with a big ol’ red wheel barrow strapped on top screeched to a halt before me. Two guys, in their 40s, poured out of the shit van. Both bald. Shaved heads. The tall one looked dumb and easy going; the short guy looked intense and edgey: he had dark green leaves, weeds, medalions tattooed on his face. Drawn, entwined, indelible all over his sinewy neck, his jowels, cheeks … they fringed his cheekbones. I couldn’t help but stare.

“We’re driving into Worcester to sell this van,” he said. “We need $2 dollars to get to the junkyard.”

I said, my face screwed up, my wet bangs plastered to my big round sunglasses: “Can you help?! My car is over heating!! Does the radiator need water?”

A deal needed to be done. I had to save my jalopy.

The tattoo-faced guy looked at me, miffed. But we were out on a main drag in the country, so I engaged. His tall friend got out of the van’s passenger seat, and in two seconds he was drenching wet. There we stood together, huddled, wet as three river rats.

“I have a gallon of water in the car trunk,” I told the tall one, making a mental note of where my pocketbook was (front seat, on the floor, beneath a ton of CECELIAs…the dogs wouldn’t let them invade that space). “Can you put some in for me?” I asked innocently, not wanting the radiator to spray up hot in my face.

The little tattoo-faced guy grimaced. I went to the trunk, opened it, got the gallon of water and a few rags out and gave them to the tall guy. “Watch out!” I said. I didn’t want his face sprayed with hot radiator fluid either, but I sure as hell wasn’t gonna go near that radiator cap. I walked away to the edge of the parking lot, by the street. “Let it cool!” I shouted to him.

The little guy looked annoyed. “Don’t open it!” he said to his pal and asked me for money.

Then he said: “Does your anti-theft” car alarm work?

I said (lied): “Yes.”

We were soaked to our skivvies. Jett and Lilac circling in the back car seat…

I said, cuz I know them all: “Which junkyard in Worcester are you driving to?”

The little tattoo-faced guy said, the stenciled vine on his face contorting, “The one behind the Salvation Army.”

I couldn’t recall a junkyard located there, unless you counted the new expanded yard on Freeland Street, the Balciewicz junk yard, with old one-armed Balciewicz and his junkyard dogs shitting up the city. From my childhood I remember Mr. B: his stump never stopping him, him driving his big 18-wheeler with his stump, cut above the elbow, stump pressed hard against the steering wheel…and his other arm, fingers tight around the steering wheel…he was/is on Lafayette Steet still making a mess of my old neighborhood.

Little tattoo-face was right up Mr. B’s alley…

“Oh, yeah,” I fibbed, worried about my jalopy. What if it died?? – the engine gone kaput?

“Should we put the water in??” I said, meaning should YOU put the water in?? I mustered all my girly girl pretend dopiness. I wanted to blow this popstand. I felt these two maybe wanted to rob me in the cold, driving rain, and little tattoo-face’s brain was circling ’round the possibilities.

The tall guy grabbed the cloth and the jug of water and walked to my car’s open hood and wrapped the rag around the radiator.

“Watch out!” his companion shouted to him. His solicitousness shocked me! Brothers? Lovers? We all were soaked to the marrow and looked ugly. As I shifted from foot to foot, my shoes squeaked and water seeped out of their soles. It looked like Spencer was flooding over …

The tall guy unscrewed my radiator cap, to zero fanfare, and looking at me as if I were stupid, poured the gallon of water in. “You can add more later – there’s an overflow compartment.”

“THANK YOU!!” I said, slammed my car hood shut and ran back into my car, locked all the car doors and rolled my window practically shut.

The little guy was right at the window (the tall guy had jumped back dutifully into the van) and through the slit in my window, he said: “Do you have money?”

I told him the awful truth: “I only have two dollars,” I said. “I’ll give you half.” I grabbed my purse, peeled one dollar out of my purse and slipped it through the crack in my car window, and the little guy grabbed it. I felt sad. They had, after all, saved my car. I looked up guiltily, saw his vine tatooes blurring at the edges through the rivulets of water streaming down my car window. I decided not to drive to the Spencer police. I figured: what the hell! I stared at the guy’s tattoos for one last time, fascinated by the leaves, the vines splayed all over his pale weather-beaten face, his bald head looking like the squat pumpkins being sold at the picture postcard cheery, magazine cover ready farm stand just up the road (HA!) and drove away. I waved good bye.

What could my dollar bill buy them, really? Add $$$ to? I had my buck – my McDonalds coffee money: $1 buys you a large unsweetened French vanilla! – so I was doin’ OK.

When I hit Worcester, I drove steaight to my Greenwood Street McDonalds – for my coffee and to get out and add water to my car – a shitload of water, even though the flashing red dashboard lights were now off. Except for one: the car door icon was blazing red, even though my driver’s door and passenger door were shut tight. The dogs can’t open their doors … But walking around my car I noticed my right back seat door had indeed been opened – and closed. Softly. While I was on the opposite side, standing shivering in that Spencer parking lot

Yep! In the pouring, distracting rain, while his pal saved my car, little tattoo-face had quickly, furtively, checked my backseat for pocketbook. I smiled to myself and hurumphed.

Most likely tattoo-face had met up with a low-growling Lilac. Lilac, my bright girl, once put her big teeth – she didn’t bite! – on CECELIA writer/pal Ron O’s forearm. She does this whenever he reaches into the backseat for some copies of CECELIA. Invading Lilac’s beloved kennel on wheels?? Not gonna happen! She’s gonna tattoo you!

I unscrewed my car’s radiator cap, poured the water ’til it overflowed, bought my fair trade McDonalds joe (always so fresh and tasty!) and drove back into the relentless rain, wondering if Cambridge Street had flooded and if I would see, like I’d seen before, the big slick wet river rats running, fat-assed on teeny legs, for cover.

Nope. I’d had my day’s quota.

Spencer Saturday morning

Photos and text by Rosalie Tirella

Lunch with Cece and mutts …

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… in my new apartment in Spencer … two levels (loft-fun), which are coming together. Outside my door: Spencer adventures.

I’m not all about the Better Homes and Gardens country life “style” you see schlepped in the trendy shops or on TV or even in some Kevin Costner movies! You know, visiting perfectly curated country farm stands or pawing the not-so-old “antiques” in stores run by savvy biz folks who may take you for a country ride! Then there are, like in other rural towns we know, the newcomers: well meaning folks who are working to turn beautiful but brutal Nature and its very real, sometimes rough-hewn inhabitants into some kind of country-boutique “experience.” Like a display. Like a Technicolor Tourist Trap. Not exactly vilifying the locals but intimating: You’re not enough anymore.

Bull shit.

Yesterday was another CECELIA delivery day …

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… Saturday morning heading to Worcester – driving down a Spencer country road in my jalopy, jonesin’ for McDonald’s fair trade java … blasting the radio … loving the gentle hills outside my car window and smiling at the long rows of still-growing bright orange pumpkins strung out in the dirt before me like a little girl’s dime store plastic necklaces. The farmers inject them with dye to give them that day-glow orange color. For the tourists.

But my brain didn’t stay on the toy pumpkins very long cuz, on the side of the road, I spied a big box of lps!!! FREE FOR THE TAKING! Come to me, Connie Francis! Yes! Ella!!! I slammed on my brakes, sent Jett and Lilac flying into the front seat ash tray, screeched to a clanking halt in front of the pretty country house, leaped outa my car and made a mad dash for the house’s ejected Kitty Wells, the Classics, Volume 1, – and all her vinyl-enshrined friends.

There they all sat, in a long, white cardboard box: 40 or so old albums, smelling damp and moldy like they had been in someone’s basement for years: Pearl Bailey, The Dave Clark Five, Bobby V, Peggy Lee on Broadway … MAHALIA JACKSON! (Who lives here?! I wondered. I wanted to meet him!)

Well, my Saturday was made! The scores of bundles of CECELIAs I (and my terrific, stalwart InCity volunteers) had to deliver that day seemed less like work and more like lark! I couldn’t wait to finish delivering my babies and come home to listen to my “new” Ella lp, Pearl Bailey … to my music!:

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I picked and chose the lps I wanted and left half for the next gal or guy, so folks wouldn’t think I was rapacious. Also set out: clothes, shoes, toy trucks, sheet sets, magazines. ALL FOR FREE. I took five or six 2017 mags and called it a country morning.

Hey, hey, hey…I didn’t fret that my car’s gas tank gage read below E! I drove off … but soon realized I was gonna sputter to a halt any minute, and my record high would dissipate. I did not want that to happen! So I pulled into the next gas station I saw.

Because it’s me, I had $1.83 in my purse. I am always apologetic in circumstances like these. The gas station attendants deserve better. This one was a tall, heavy-ish kid, shaped like an eggplant, with big watery blue-green eyes. He was about 20, 21 … walked over to my side of the car as I was (literally!) counting my pennies.

As he looked down at me, I sat there organizing my change. “I’m sorry!” I said, looking up at him sheepishly. “I’m on fumes. I need to put a little gas in – ”

“Don’t worry,” the kid said. “I’ll put in 5 dollars worth for you. I always have five dollars on me, in case some one needs it …”

I sat there, stunned, star struck.

“WOW,” I said, pouring my pennies back into my change purse. “That is so NICE OF YOU! THANK YOU!”

The kid looked into my car, stuffed to its roof witb CECELIAs, a stack of records teetering on top of a bundle of papers in the passenger seat and said, “You got all these records.”

“Yeah, I just got them. On the side of the road!”

He seemed curious about all my shit – in a very nice, low-key way.

I filled him in: “Yeah, I got all these great jazz artists. For free! Ella Fitgerald! Do you have records?”

“Yes.”

“Great!” I said. “I love Ella Fitzgerald. I love the stuff she did for Verve. I have some of her Verve albums. I like them more than her records for Columbia. Too many strings -”

The kid piped in: “Like they wanted all this control.”

I said: “Yes! For me, it was too commercial sometimes. … Are you putting in the gas?”

I didn’t want to seem rude, like I was uninterested in his story – I was! – so I said: “I’m working today. I have to deliver my newspapers.”

“You have a newspaper?” he said, impressed in a nice way.

“Yep! For almost 20 years! Do you write?”

“I like to write but I’m not very good at it.”

“You like to write. You’re half way there. Here’s my card. If you want to, email or snail-mail me anything you’ve written. I am always looking for new writers.”

I LIKED this country kid! He wasn’t bold, rude, or even apathetic. He was interested… He was HAVING A CONVERSATION. Person to person, the way so many people in Spencer seem to do. They tell you stuff. Important stuff. About themselves.

The country kid walked to the back of my car and, while he pulled out the gas nozzle and tightened the gas cap, I mentally inventoried my “new” lps: Ella, Dave Clark 5, Mahalia… I wanted to give the kid a good lp – not white toasty, something different and enriching – but I didn’t want to part with my faves. I decided on Pearl Bailey. I grabbed the lp as he was coming back around to my window …

“Here,” I said. “For you.”

“That’s so nice!”

“I’m just returning the favor,” I said. “A piece of American history. She’s great!” Then I drove off.

I waved back to the big kid, a young adult, working his crap job and thought of all the nice, polite, full-of-potential young adults I meet every day (hello, Worcester’s Greenwood Street McDonalds cashiers and cooks!) working their full-time crap American jobs, not having the middle-class parents for help, not even making enough money to afford a crap car like mine.

“Babes in the woods,” I said to my two dogs. And I felt sad for the first time that Spencer Saturday morning.

Spencer story: Mean ol’ dawgs!

Photos and text by Rosalie Tirella

In Spencer…a country lunch and coffee with Cece …
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… and the mutts.
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My “country kids” now, since we’ve hightailed it to Spencer! Beautiful nature all over, kissing my soul – but rough, too, even around the delicate purple flowers still growing towards the sun in my small side-yard.

And there’s an adjustment period – for me – and Jett and Lilac, my two dogs. For instance, we’re learning all about Spencer dogs – the Dog Situation in the country! Different from the Dog Situation in the city! While Spencer seems strict with regards to licensing their town pooches, leash laws are thrown to the Spencer winds: big old German Shepherd mixes, big-boned pitbull mixes, big, ol’ fine-boned Doberman pinschers and big black lab crosses run free here. A plethora of protective, aggressive, just plain ol’ MEAN country watch dogs, often belonging to the town’s poorer folks, who seem to define themselves – they don’t have good jobs (the mills here closed years and years ago) or own homes (they rent all the wild, funky roaming poor people’s digs all over downtown Spencer and its side streets – folks who define themselves by their big ol’ mean dogs and motorcycles, and long hair and bandanas for the guys, and cute, sexy boyfriends for the gals.

The dogs, like the people here, go their own way.

The dogs even have the run of our downtown! Dawgs that wanna mow you down and tear the shit outa you! Dogs who are beyond command. The good folks in Spencer town hall are probably aware of this Spencer social phenomenon but know they can’t do a damned thing about it. They’d be going against nature …

Last week, I was walking Jett and Lilac ON MAIN STREET here in town. Main Street, for God’s sakes! – and just like a locomotive exploding through the Gates of Hell, from across the street, I heard a terrible growling rushing me at the speed of sound. I looked up and saw a Spencer BBQ happening outside the crappy apartments across the street – poor folks sitting in their plastic chairs at their long plastic foldable table – red meat on their grill – enjoying the gorgeous sunny Sunday Spencer September afternoon on their cement driveway right outside their front doors. A nice community affair.

And their untethered Dobermann Pinscher.

When I yelped “hi!” the fat lady at the table threw her ample arms around the sleek black Doberman pincher’s wide-as-a-barrel chest, straining to constrain him. I waved to her, smiled at her, real neighborly, but squeaked to myself: FUCK!!!!! My two goofy dogs wagged their tails at the enraged Dobbie. Yay! A party! they seemed to signal. Smell all that cookin’ meat!! – we never smell that smell on Mommy’s stove!

I pushed and tugged Jett and Lilac into seriousness and pulled their leads for them to follow me as the fat lady put a leash on her wild Doberman.

Good God, I thought to myself …safe now…ready to make a little circle aroud the Price Chopper strip mall. I wondered: Where did that mean ol dog come from? I wanted to price the supermarket’s mums and pumpkins…BUT WHOA!!!!! A lump hit me in my chest as A BIG OLD GERMAN SHEPHERD AND A BIG OL’ TAWNY PIT BULL MIX charged me and my dogs as their stringy-long-haired master scooped up their massive dog poops outside his funky old Spencer apartment, in his cement parking lot with motorcycle dutifully parked…

I felt: FUCK! We are dead!!! and just ran with Jett and Lilac straight into … the Price Chopper shrubbery! Falling into their half dead mums, clutching the big Price Chopper pole – to show the mean old dogs: SEE? WE ARE FAR AWAY FROM YOUR TERRITORY!

The mean ol’ dogs stood at the periphery of their shitty little world – and watched us …scramble off…to my car, parked yards away.

Yeesh!!!!!

Last week I saw – on lead, thank God – a brindle, pointy-nosed bull terrier. The Spuds McKenzie dog – but dirty as it hung out with its owner and friends outside a Spencer chop shop. Its muzzle looked smudged with dirt. Or was it blood?

Even the little chihauhau next door is a mean ol’ dawg! – wants to kill my dogs. Wearing her rhinestone studded collar she CRASHES UP AGAINST HER SCREEN DOOR, GROWLING like a mad dog, wresting demons from her pint-sized soul! Her traumatic backstory? Her little chihauhau sister “was murdered right in front of her by my ex-husband!” says my very nice next door neighbor. “I’m so sorry!” I tell her. “I’ve got a restraining order against him,” she says.

And a (little, sooo adorable) MEAN OL’ DOG!!

Welcome to Spencer, Rose!

Paradise:

Life. It ain’t no fairy tale …

Text and photos by Rosalie Tirella

When I got pushed out of my old Worcester apartment and neighborhood, located on the cusp of the chi chi “Canal District$$$,” I felt numb. These days, except for a few old timers growing ancient in their trim little World War II houses, my old neighborhood, lower Vernon Hill, belongs to the new absentee landlords and their Section 8 tenants and cheats (hello, Mary Paradise, 48 Ward St!). …
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Take a 5-minute walk from my old place and “cross(if you dare!)” Kelley Square, and you’ve got all the gentrifiers: hello, Woo Sox stadium and ancillary projects – boutique hotel, luxury apartments, high-end shops and the already ensconced pricey, glorified fast food eateries!

No room for, me, Rose …
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… and her meandering pen and crazy lil’ dogs …
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I felt bereft! Floating high above my home ‘hood of Green Island (the old name of the new tony Canal District) as it twirled and twisted in a sea of money, millennials, new white upper-middle-class people who spelled BORING as they strutted their homogenized coolness across Green Street. Always my beloved old Green Island sea churned up green: private$, tax$ and gift TIF$/DIFS$ from the federal government. Soon the city manager will use eminent domain to clear out the byways next door – my childhood street, Lafayette Street – and Lamartine Street, plus Lodi, Lunell, Scott, Mead. All the regular, struggling Green Islanders will be pushed out in a land grab. CM Ed Augusus will buy the people off and raze their old three deckers – and lives! – to build more big box market-rate apartment complexes and fill them with new, boring, moneyed folks from Metro West, the colleges, Boston, Rhode Island and beyond.

FUCK YOU, CITY OF WORCESTER!

I was kicked out!

Now my former absentee landlord at 48 Ward St. can charge her $1,100+ rent for my former beautiful old flat (I was initally paying 750 – before she bought 48 Ward). Section 8 is never late! Inflated rents paid on the third of each month, like clock work, courtesy of Uncle Sam, have ruined my neighborhood! The federal govt should have created, a la FDR during the Great Depression, a massive jobs program, for the people! A huge infrastructure project! To put ALL THE UNDER-EMPLOYED PEOPLE IN THE ‘HOOD TO WORK – FOR A GOOD PAYCHECK! Or the feds should have raised the minimum wage to a living wage. Or made community college FREE TO THE POOR. But the federal govt went the opposite direction: today, not just in Worcester, but all over America, a new generation grows up “on the public teat,” as my dead ol’ pal Tony Hmura liked to opine. An American tragedy writ large – and small!

A third of American third graders CAN’T READ AT THE THIRD GRADE LEVEL! The life long slide to the bottom begins…

Welcome to the growing American underclass!!

Still …

I was expecting all the neighborhood changes to pass me by, as I wrote my little heart out at my rickety kitchen table on 48 Ward St.

But the ghetto rents rose and rose to $1,000+. I grew a bit poorer newspapering (a dying industry I LOVE). And so I did … nothing. For months … In a stupid stupor! Expecting some kind of girly miracle to happen to me. I know all the fairy tales:
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Maybe the Woo Woodland creatures would come to my rescue!
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An animal/nature lover, I began driving around Worcester, peering into all the Woo woods, watching all the Woo homeless, with their stuffed back packs strapped to their backs, disappear into beautiful nature at night. I watched as they biked or walked through Worcester to make their way into the trees at dusk. Once I saw a Latino family, mom, dad, little girl, head into the woods at the end of their day. The little girl was beautiful. She had long chestnut hair, all in tiny ringlets. She was wearing a yellow dress, with pale yellow taffeta skirt. It fluttered all around her tiny waist as she ran into the clutch of trees, laughing, feeling safe with her parents in the warmth of the setting August sun … and I thought to myself: a dream! A nightmare, too! Me? My life? I cried …

and moved to Spencer. A totally different reality. Which will turn out to feel the same…But for now: all the workingclass country! It is so fine!
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Nature…
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… town meetings, too – the purest form of democracy!

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Town Hall

Old grand New England churches:
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It has real, non-phony beauty and some edge: poverty, struggle, ..
on the periphery (ok by me) …
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I walk around with the dogs at the end of my day and think … It smells like fucking.

Rural America. I like it.

Sunday, August 12: Downtown Worcester – Pete and his daughter Layla

Text and photos by Rosalie Tirella

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City Manager Ed Augustus, these pictures are, for me, the real downtown Worcester – the real Worcester. A dad and his little girl walking to where they need to go – Dad holding his daughter’s hand as she holds onto and pushes her dolly stroller (with black AND white babes!💙). They walk down a beat up Main Street not questioning the crappy sidewalks, the city noise and pollution … their poverty… Like so many folks of color here. A world of hopes, traditions, culinary arts … struggles.

The kiddie professionals and students you fawn over in the newly built, pricey boxes you call luxury apartments leap into their cars to head out of downtown Worcester every chance they get! … to shop, eat and have fun (sometimes they grab a bite in their student cafes, on their campuses, entirely skipping the downtown Woo GAStronomic experience!!).

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The color and culture of our city is changing in a major way: we have a majority-minority school district. The neighborhood I live in, and most of the older, ethnic neighborhoods in Worcester, the “other side” of Park Ave, are majority-minority, too. Yet our public schools, library and library branches, fire department, police department staffs – heck, even our animal shelter, the lily white Worcester Animal Rescue League! – do not reflect or represent the city’s population. So these places can’t – don’t! – won’t! – really serve the people of Worcester. How can they??? The WPS, the WFD, our public library system etc keep the old Worcester in power, as the new Worcester struggles on the perimeter.

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One in four Worcester kids is labelled “Food Insecure” by the federal government. That’s a euphemistic term for HUNGRY! Who can learn, grow, sleep! when they’re hungry?! The Woo children and the adults in their lives are on the MOVE, too – always one step ahead of the absentee slumlord, leaving one shitty apartment for the next. It’s been documented by our school system for years! The graduating classes of our WPSchools elementary schools look nothing like the kindergarten classes that began their public education six years ago. That’s because the kids and their families are always MOVING, which means major family AND neighborhood stress and instability – for roughly half of Worcester! (So unlike the old, poor, but more equitable Green Island I grew up in, attending Lamartine Street School, K – 6, with the SAME GROUP OF KIDS! True classmates.)

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CECELIA file photo

You gotta laugh – or cry – about the way this city runs itself! A million stories about the Pawtucket Red Sox possibly pulling up their Rhode Island stakes and coming to the lily white, gentrified Canal District (CM Augustus, city development poobas, the gentrifiers slobbering over themselves in private, while playing cool and tight-lipped, even smug, in the papers) and ZERO MENTION OF OUR HUNGRY KIDS, our poor families, our stressed neighborhoods, our families of color whose first language isn’t English…

ALMOST HALF OUR CITY! Neighborhoods that no longer work for their people…

And, for the most part, at least to me, most of the neighborhood folks of color have been: real, gracious, helpful, hard-working/enterprising, loving (parents – and sons and daughters) as they make their way around Worcester’s periphery. We’ve connected on different levels, not always easy, but I’ve become a better person.

THEIR NUMBERS ARE MAJOR! They HAVE CHANGED THE LOOK, FEEL, TEXTURE OF OUR CITY! IN A GOOD WAY! Yet they are ignored. City leaders, the people in power, don’t let them in. It’s called institutional racism. And that keeps people separated in our city: their lives don’t intersect. People don’t open up and struggle and learn and grow together. Racism is perpetuated.

No, City Manager Augustus, building 100 new affordable apartments WILL NOT solve Worcester’s homeless problem!! What a totally out-of-touch thing to say!!

And, no, the Paw Sox won’t integrate the Canal District – or our schools, libraries, fire department, neighborhoods – even the WARL animal shelter staff!

Unless we all begin to have a dialogue about the real, new Worcester – the majority-minority city we’ll soon be living in – we’re never gonna be a world class metropolis. This is true for our country, too! The America on the horizon!

Attention must be paid!

Worcester’s “bike kids” need a new bike-sharing🚴 service …

Text and photos by Rosalie Tirella

… now that our yellow bikes are gonzo!

RIP, Ofo!

We say SO LONG! to your chunky frames and your color: creamy whipped BUTTER. Your black utilitarian baskets in front, sometimes with a big headlight attached. God, the light shone bright at night on our city streets! You were the apple of every poor Worcester boy’s eye!

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St. John’s Cemetery …

This past Friday was the last day to ride the Ofo bikes. The company and City Manager Ed Augustus’s lackeys were all over our inner-city neighborhoods picking them up. Laughable! Why didn’t they just let our inner-city kids keep them? Ofo’s a global, Chinese company for Christ’s sake! China = the world’s largest, state-run economy.

I guess the millennials and yuppy types Tim Murray and his chamber of commerce poobas were hoping to attract never materialized in big numbers. I never saw one of Worcester’s young up-and-comers with his or her iPad swinging on the shoulder rounding the shoulder of a Worcester hill on a yellow Ofo bike. Off to a meeting with some one who’s wildly instagram-ing his startup’s customers while sipping a latte in some pleasant cafe.

Instead, the bikes were popular where the junkies shot up, the pits were walked and the chicken poppers were poppin’ in their vats of oil. They were most used where they were most needed in a Gateway City like Worcester where one in four kids is “food insecure” (read: HUNGRY) – poor neighborhoods. Lots of them. Poor adults in these neighborhoods, neighborhoods like mine. Adults who were sick of one of the country’s worst public transportation systems … and our BIKE KIDS. City kids whose families don’t have the money to buy them a shiny new bike but still, like all kids, they wanted to have FUN … they wanted to ride!

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As a kid growing up in Green Island, my only two bikes were rusty hand-me-downs from my cousins because my wonderful mother was too busy killing herself 60 hours a week for minimum wage at the dry cleaners down the street to pay for the vital things: rent, the gas and electric bill, food for my two sisters and me and her old Mama from Poland. New bikes were not part of our universe. They were something I dreamed over when I stared at them, locked together, at Zayres. Upper-middle-class and even middle-class folks just don’t get this – how hard it is for the impoverished to own cars, washing machines and clothes dryers, new bikes for all the kids … You never see scads of poor kids on new bikes, do you?

Instead, the well off don’t think about the reasons, they just shit on the poor kid or his/her parents or his/her neighborhood …

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Green Island…

Losers in Losersville.

Like my “Ma” was a loser! She was the opposite! She gave me everything! She’s been my life’s inspiration! Lots of adults who’ve endured hardscrabble childhoods will tell you the same: their moms, dads, grandparents were HEROES to them. Up against it all and still working the shit job, getting up early to take the two buses to work, making that Duncan Hines Cherry Supreme cake for birthday parties. A recent poll found that half of the American population doesn’t have $400 in the bank to cover an emergency – they’d have to borrow the money or sell something of theirs to pay the bill. So it only follows: HALF THE KIDS IN AMERICA NEED AN OFO BIKE!

By the way: I saw about three Woo girls on the Ofo bikes during the company’s stint here. It was definitely a boy thing! Which means next time around, we gotta get the gals ridin’ bikes! Exercising in the summer sun! Whooping and hollerin’ just like the boys!

Did I find the bike-herds menacing? The groups of boys on Ofos and their own bikes who rode through the city together in a clump, wicked fast. The bike-herds that folks said elicited calls of panic to the Worcester Police Department. Oh, my heavens! Youth! Brown and Black youth! A gang! Call 911!!

Only one out of my scores of encounters with the bike kids flustered me…

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Most of the time I felt like the moments our paths crossed were an inner-city gift🎈. After all, I was the one behind the wheel of a 2,000-lbs jalopy! Sometimes I worried about bottles being thrown, especially at Jett and Lilac, but I just drove through, pushed ahead – with resolution. Slowly, but the boys got the message …

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And I took pics for CECELIA and my website – the picture-taking threw them off a bit…

City life.

To be safe is to live in the countryside or the suburbs surrounded by white people with money in nice, tight homes with nice white teeth. People just like YOU! I prefer my wayward kids and their wayward bottles …

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Don’t rue the Woo!

I never saw anyone in Worcester abuse the Ofo bikes, like the T and G trolls claim. Racist lies mostly, I suspect. Yeah, I stumbled upon a few beaten up yellow bikes on our city streets, but our city streets (and sidewalks) were often more beaten up than the Ofo bikes were! What did I usually see? Worcester’s inner-city kids – and poor adults – pedaling their Ofos with pride! Sometimes I’d even see them smiling to themselves. Riding a shiny, new, yellow bike down Millbury Street can do that to you!

Sometimes a gaggle of kids on bikes (yellow and their own) would see me looking at them in cock-eyed wonder, and they’d put on a little show just for me: pop wheelies, ride their bikes for the stretch of the street on only one wheel like a unicycle! I’d drive by slowly to take in the parade! One kid, about 8, brown-skinned with his beautiful brown curly hair cut in a wild, insanely tall pompadour with a kind of tail in back stopped, looked at me, and making direct eye contact, smiled impishly and said, THANK YOU! (I had stopped for the group so they could “cross” the street). Looking straight at him, and with a nod of my head, a tip of the hat, I said, YOU’RE WELCOME. Very genteel. Then we both laughed out loud! Ten kids, 10 brown- and black-skinned kids, friends, just having the best time. Worcester needs more of that in her inner-city neighborhoods!

To me, the Ofo bikes were our ghettos’ JOYFUL TOYS! An affordable gift any inner-city kid could give himself for an afternoon. It cost only $1 an hour to “rent” the bikes. And so the boys rented them and rode them all over downtown and Main South and the South and East sides of the city, all spring and summer long. Sometimes they’d wear funny, colorful, rubber masks on their faces, and they’d take them off for you, grinning puckishly. City Super Heroes! Or they’d tie red cotton bandanas over their noses and mouths, like the cowboys did when they rode through their dusty and dirty America two centuries ago.

Our urban cowboys! TODAY’S mavericks!

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I am thinking of these free spirits this afternoon …

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Hoping to see them sitting astride on the NEW dockless bikes our COMPASSIONATE city officials are promising to order! Sooner rather than later. I hear autumn in Vernon Hill is divine …

🚴🚴🚴🚴🚴🚴

Nothing to do with Ofo bikes, everything to do with boys. I’ve loved this crazy tune since I was 16!

Worcester’s changes, big and small

Text and photos by Rosalie Tirella

While eating breakfast today with CeCe …

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… I thought about the changes – big and small – happening in Worcester, my hometown. Big change: Quinsigamond Village is getting the Blackstone Visitors Center – a bigger-than-I-expected new building now under construction where the OK Wool mills were once located. And next door, part of this urban renewal project, a park with benches, paths and a sleek slice of the Blackstone River. The park is being carved out of the patch of woods that stretches from the beginning of McKeon Road, behind the OK Wool site, to almost the street’s end, a block before its intersection with Cambridge Street:

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The urban ecosystem has been defiled … trees cut down, bushes torn up, wild grasses dug up to make way for the new development. The buzzsaws are whirring in the summer heat; the dump trucks are hauling stuff away; cement trucks, with their huge rolling barrels of cement, are making tight turns in the small parking lot of the teeny, three-store ghost strip mall that’s been vacant since I don’t know how long. Working guys wearing hard hats work a full day. The few store fronts will be gobbled up by the Blackstone Visitors Center, too – part of the project.

A small, but heartbreaking change: the wildlife that called that sliver of nature in the middle of our old blue collar Swedish neighborhood is out of balance, freaking out! Rabbits and raccoons are mowed down by cars on McKeon Road as they flee their noisy, shrinking home. The birds seem to be falling out of the sky (heart attacks?) as the heavy machinery and men move in, taking over …

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Their teeny paradise is more fragile than ever as it’s devoured by mankind. Invaded, destroyed, sunny day by sunny day. Good work days for the work crews; deadly days for the deers, rabbits, coyotes – all the wild animals who’ve adapted to the space nature had bestowed upon them, right across the street from Holy Cross college. Across McKeon Road sits Holy Cross or “The Cross” as it is known to the old timers and older alumnae. The small Jesuit school ate up the other side of the woods in 1843.

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One of the McKeon Road entrances to Holy Cross.

The animals adapted and pretty much stayed on their side of the road. For all these years, except for the past five or so, there weren’t even street lights! Nighttime you’d drive up McKeon Road, a hill, and it felt a little perilous, the road winding, the college dark on one side, the woods dark on the other. But through the woods there were the city lights sparkling, just over your shoulder, beckoning you to admire them. And you had to turn to look at them and smile at the twinkly prettiness. The Old Worcester. Sigh…

Now it’s all changed. The New Worcester. Gentrified in Green Island with bars and pubs filled with people who eat and eat and take pictures of their plates of food. Things are going the same way in the direction of “The Cross.”

A while ago, in the middle of busy mid-day traffic, I slammed on my brakes to let a leggy, shell-shocked fawn cross McKeon Road to stumble onto the Holy Cross campus, the woodsier side where I walk my dogs almost daily. The fawn was skanky, smudged with dirt. It looked undernourished; it was all legs: skinny, dirty little rib cage body riding atop those sharp-kneed limbs. Still, I could see its white spots – a babe in the Worcester woods! And those big brown melt your heart eyes. You could tell it was terrified as it galloped crazily, obscenely, with those race-horse legs. I was struck by her degraded majesty. I quietly sat in my halted car, even turning off the car radio so as not to further stress her … so she could make her mad, wild, clumsy dash, into Holy Cross, literally falling over her legs sometimes … looking for her “Ma,” no doubt. Poor thing.

Of course, the drivers behind me, got right on their horns and started swearing at me up and down McKeon Road. This being the new, faster, meaner, smart-phone-toting Worcester everyone was in a BIG hurry to get somewhere important. And to photograph the event with their smart phones. Everyone was pissed off. At me for holding them up. They let me know just how they felt with blaring horns and “asshole” this or “bitch” that or FUCK YOU. I didn’t react so as not to send the fawn back over McKeon Road: I wanted her to safely complete her frenzied pilgrimage to Holy Cross, where things would be quieter in the teeny patch of woods there. Maybe she could hide there until her mother found her …

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I stuck my left arm out of my car window and dramatically pointed at the fawn, as if to say to the pissed off hordes: See? See how wonderful she is?! Let her cross! Watch this miracle hobble up the hill!

“FUCK YOU!” Whahh! Whahh! went a slew of horns. It was a symphony of hatred. Obviously, my fellow drivers weren’t interested.

I didn’t care how they felt. I just sat calmly in my idling car and, solicitous now because I had fallen in love with her, felt the fawn was mine and that I was responsible for her, watched her scramble up the Holy Cross hill, all sharp-angled beauty and frantic – not at all graceful. She was terrified. When she disappeared into Holy Cross woods – maybe this took all of three minutes – I stepped on the gas, my fellow drivers on my ass now, tooting their horns and STILL cursing me!

It was the first time I had ever seen a fawn in “the wild”! Her white splashes of spots, even darkened with dirt, blew me away! Yes, I’ve seem deers. One even up close in Auburn while walking Jett and Lilac. My dogs, on leads, and I almost literally bumped into a large doe as we turned a building corner. Both parties froze and stared at each other – WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?! – before the doe bolted away.

Last week I was walking the dogs at Holy Cross, at the edge of the school’s baseball fields, right across from the woods, right on the cusp of McKeon Road, when I noticed a ragtag family in a jalopy even crappier than mine driving up and down the college entrance road and then finally stopping by the trees (pictured above). There, father (the driver), mother and baby (in her car seat in back) sat, staring at the clutch of trees. The dogs and I hadn’t begun our walk, so I made us mill about: I wanted to watch the car watching the Holy Cross trees. Finally, suspicious, even though it was none of my business, I asked them sternly: “Can I help you?”

The mother, exiting the car, disheveled, now looking more like a girl (the man’s daughter?), said breathlessly, as if under a spell: “We saw a deer go up here! We saw a deer!”

It must have been big and beautiful and they must have, just like me with my fawn, stumbled across her while driving up McKeon, and seen it very up close and very personal. Their paths had crossed! And the humans were enchanted! I knew the feeling. I smiled and said, “A while back I saw a fawn up this very same road.”

The girl was too mesmerized by her dream – the one that had pranced before her eyes. She got back into the car, and slowly, very slowly, the car crawled up the campus hill once more. Looking for their deer.

Were they planning on, hoping to, capture the graceful animal and drive it home for their very own? Maybe they lived in a house with a big backyard. Maybe they lived in a trailer park surrounded by tin and cement. I lifted my smartphone and snapped a picture of the car, making sure I got its license plate in the picture’s frame. They saw me do this and drove off.

And then last week, this:

I’m walking the dogs at Holy Cross, same path …

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… and as we make our way to the practice batting cage, right outside the practice baseball and football fields, I see a young rabbit dangling high from the heavy cord netting of a batting cage. I run with the dogs straight to the rabbit; they want a go at it. BACK OFF! I scream, and they know mom means business. So they back off and lie down in the grass, still excited …

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… I try to work the dangling rabbit out of the net. It is limp, not stiff. In shock?? Does it have a chance? Its neck is wrapped three times in the cord netting. It must have struggled like crazy, entangling itself more and more the harder and harder it fought to free itself. Its frenzy only made things worse.

I didn’t take a photo of the rabbit like that because it felt exploitative and cruel. I didn’t have a nano-second to lose if I wanted to save it! So I ran, with the dogs in tow, back to my car, to fetch my big Dollar Store scissors. Stored in my driver’s side cubby, I use them to cut the heavy string that’s tied around my lifts or bundles of CECELIA newspapers on delivery day.

I ran back to the rabbit, a brown sugar cotton tail and commanded Jett and Lilac to lie down and stay, which they did, sensing the seriousness of my voice. I began to cut the rabbit free. First, I took its furry little paws out if the netting. Then I began working on its neck. But the problem was, and it was at this point I realized the rabbit was dead, the netting was wound so tightly around its neck I could barely cut it free. I struggled to get the scissors’ blade between the rabbit’s neck and the batting cage netting. It had panicked, and since it’s head was bigger than the netting “holes” it could not pull its head free. So it kept plunging forward, through a new “hole” in the net – which only ensnared it more tightly. It had done this three times – I felt and saw three bands of the netting cord choking its light brown neck – before it gave up, asphyxiated. Still, I went on, cutting the first cord, then the second, then the third, really struggling to slip the scissor blade gently between animal and rope.

The rabbit looked young and healthy when it softly fell to the ground.

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I plopped down on the ground, too, exhausted. Then the dogs and I sat there with the rabbit for awhile, just to be with it … to show our respect … acknowledge the fact that it had BEEN. Mystery achieved!

Then I began cutting the batting cage netting like a madwoman and cut a big chunk of Lilac’s leash for rope (I knew she’d follow me back to the car). I cut and cut that ol’ net and strung it up with Lilac’s leash – making an open tent flap. I tied several knots in the leash to make it super secure so another rabbit or any wild thing wouldn’t get caught in it and suffer and die a horrible death.

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With all the cars and trucks thundering by. The noise, the desperate aloneness in all that noise. The hot sun beating down on you as you twisted in the wind choking to death. Coyotes, wolves and dogs (I once saw Lilac kill a rabbit in the woods) kill rabbits quickly, efficiently – go for the throat or the belly. Nothing like what happened here on the Holy Cross baseball fields.

Then my dogs and I got up and had our walk. Nature makes millions of rabbits. I have seen scores and scores of these happy, bouncy little creatures. And always, beneath their cuteness, the strength, the nobility. God.

After our walk my pups and I got into my car to drive home. I looked out of my car window.

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I had done quite the number on Holy Cross’s batting cage, but nothing compared to what it had done on the rabbit. Repercussions? I decided there wouldn’t be any. Stroking Lilac who had affectionately stuck her nuzzle under my chin like she always does after our walks, I told my dogs: “It’s a Jesuit college. Jesus would have done the same thing.”

Then we drove down McKeon Road, the shrunken woods to our left and, at the bottom of the hill, the half-built Blackstone Visitors Center, all concrete and corrugated roof tops … me missing the way Worcester was all the way home.

🌳🌳🌳🌳🌳