Friday, May 23, 2008

'hood, the seventh

The Fenway area has some university buildings but Back Bay is where most of Northeastern is and I found myself walking along Boylston Street eyeing the upscale stores and markets. The walk from the Greyhound terminal was quite long – though I felt very much at home in the neighborhoods I passed through. People were already coming out of their houses and sitting on the sidewalks and on the front porch to escape the hot, close air of late August in the city. All the images of back home were here; little girls chalking the sidewalk, three guys smoking Lucky Strikes, grandma sitting with a flyswatter, a push-cart with iced lemonade and a row of seated old-timers re-telling stories. Across the street was a fire hydrant wide open,
spraying the street and any kids or cars brave enough to do a water crossing. There was a store I had to go into because the sign on the outside proclaimed it to be “The Best Italian Food Store in America”. The first thing I saw through the opened door was a wheel of white cheese rolling across a counter to the cutting area where a small woman, dressed in black, urged the young roller boy to be careful while cutting a wedge for her. The odors were of olives and garlic and baking bread and brewing finely ground Italian coffee while my eyes were feasting on the salamis and prosciutto and red peppers. They made me a sandwich and I ate it while walking through this ‘hood, a soothing familiarity to its streets and sidewalks.
Boylston Street had no carry out sandwich shops although they did have some fancy names on their restaurants like The Radius, Legal Sea Foods and finally an Italian place called Tamasso Trattoria. I kept an eye open at every crossing until I would find Mount Vernon Street; there I would be on the last leg of my journey to Maries Boston home.

78 Mount Vernon Street

Isn’t that a bitch when nobody’s home!

So now I gotta ask somebody where the school is but I just start walkin west until I hit a street called Massachusetts Avenue. We don’t have an Illinois Avenue back home so it struck me that Boston must be the state capitol to have a street named like that. Left turn, and I find myself in front of the Cranston Theatre that has signs on the sidewalk and the building for a “Music Concert featuring Paul Revere and the Raiders”. I’ve heard of these guys! They got a record out called ‘Louie, Louie’ and the song made it to #1 except it wasn’t theirs that made it. It was another group called The Kingsmen that hit the top of the charts. The big story about this song is that the governor of Indiana banned sales of the record and no playing of it on the radio because of “indecent lyrics” (nobody could understand what they were saying anyhow). The other weird stuff about this song was that it was recorded right about the same time by both bands right in Portland, Oregon. So what the hell was Paul Revere and the Raiders doing in Boston? Go figure. That governor was just another example of the discrimination and suppression surrounding the release of anything rock and roll.
Soon other stations weren’t playing any hard beat (was it that payola thing again) and the charts fell to a Bobby Vinton song called ‘The Flying Nun” or
"The Sky High Nun" or something like that - boy did that make me wanna puke! Here at the Cranston Theatre in Boston and far from Indiana there was a song list topped with ‘Louie, Louie’ followed by the flip side called ‘All Night Long’ and a cover of Elvis’s ‘All Shook Up’.
I wondered what you could get on the radio in this city – did they dare do any Smokey Robinson ‘Shop Around’ which, in the record stores became a million seller, but never made it to #1 on the charts. One of my all time non-favorites made it the top though – Connie Francis (gag) singing ‘Don’t Ever Break the Heart that Loves You’. Nice idea but shit rhythm!
The hardest workin man in show business - James Brown - did his first show at the Apollo a couple of months ago
(co-incidentally it was on the same day they found Marilyn Monroe dead from an overdose) and I think the backlash from his Negro spiritual up-beat tempo was ferocious because all these novelty songs hit the airwaves all at once; the two worst ones were
‘Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’ and the other from a guy who was now also on television – Mitch Miller scored a #1 with a song called ‘Calcutta’ and then, along with his bubble machine and on national television, he had a guy with fake sideburns sing ‘Don’t Be Cruel’. Yes, please, don’t be!
“I’m Cryin” to quote Roy Orbison, a rockabilly guy from Elvis’s part of town.
# # # # # # # #

I’m still on Massachusetts Avenue and there are a ton of directional signs to university buildings and I see an arrow to the library so I figure I’ll start there. There’s some commotion up ahead and as I get closer I see about 50 college kids walking in a circle, holding up a few signs saying “Stop the War in South East Asia”. I didn’t know who was fighting there but I could’ve guessed it was us because one sign said “U.S.A. leave Viet Nam Today”.

Marie came to Northeastern because she was always interested in things happening all over the world and this school had a program called “International Studies” and was supposed to be the best. If I could ask one of these guys where that building is I could save some time and I needed to because it was nearing dusk. There’s a fellow whose not walking in that circle so I go to him and ask about the international studies building. He tells me there is no ‘one’ building for that so if I was looking for someone I should try either the student union or the library. Okay, thank you, and then he says, “Are those blue jeans that you’re wearing? We don’t see them much here in the city. Nice”, (Thank you, Brother Bernard)!
I see the sign that says ‘student union’ so I turn to see a two story building with glass walls and big glass doors – almost like a downtown building. Inside you can see the entrance to a cafeteria and a bookstore and a bowling alley and there’s a staircase up to what the sign calls “Study Lounge”. Walking around, I get some nice feelings with the atmosphere; good lookin people all focused on reading and quiet talking, but I don’t see Marie so I look for the road that says “Library”.

My heart beats faster as I just stand to see her again; up there, sitting with a book on a windows' ledge! It’s her; it's my Marie, it’s not someone else. I get a little choked and I’ve never had my eyes get moist when I was happy but I am and I gotta wipe my eyes. I swallow hard and how I hoped she would look out to see me; didn’t happen so I went in and climbed the stone stairs to the second floor. When I trotted around a corner, we were fifty feet from each other. I slowed to stroll to her and her eye caught movement.
She closed her book, opened her arms; I shed tears onto her shoulder.

Baby, to know you is to love you
You smile when I see your face
'Cause there ain't no one on this earthBaby,
could ever, ever take your place
B.B. King/Linda Ronstadt

Dusk had come and campus lamp posts came on to cast clouded shadows. We stopped under one of the lights and spoke of how we both got here and I learned she, too, was in pain while we were apart. Yet, our hands now in hand stirring our hearts and a relief to know we were well, lifted our spirits as we hugged firmly and kissed softly on the streets of Boston.

Whenever I’m with him
Something inside
Starts to burnin’
And I’m filleed with desire
Could this be the devil in me
O is this the way lov’s supposed to be
Just Like a heatwave

Martha and the Vandellas

_________It’s hot in Oxford, Mississippi!

Friday, May 16, 2008


A New Day

BTW LOL HRU 2 much 411 MVBF OMG 7734
drowning in the dust of technology
like a Dino in la Brea
I surface for a breath of air
"Hello, how are you?"
And he smiles at me
with no pixels in between.
Maybe I can try to swim
a little longer.
CU Latr.

-jerry wendt


The outside always tries to change the inside.
More often with caress than spear.
With age we build a fortress to keep it out.
But a fortress is also a cage
that keeps us in.
And the color of life fades
Like a leaf in its time
Purpose to diversion
Passion to comfort
and we think we already know "who done it"
and the "who" is I.
Inside out.
And at the top of a far away hill a fat lady sings
"Life is messy when you live it right."
Can you hear her
over the wind
-jerry wendt

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

'hood six

Bobby gave me bus fare to Boston.

So it happens while I’m working with the Brothers in the hay fields that Joey got his wish. That Sputnik satellite now has competition courtesy of American Telephone and Telegraph Company and NASA; they call it Telstar and they send signals to it and it sends phone calls to your phone. So JFK and Kruschev each had ‘1’ in the satellite race but Nikki was up one cosmonaut. The U.S. almost got creamed two years ago when Nikki sent two rockets to Mars but both missions failed. There was a rumor that the martians on Mars sabotaged what looked like an invasion, so in 1961 he sent up two more rockets but this time to Venus; they failed, too. I’m pretty sure we told a lotta lies to Nikki about what else this Telstar could do ‘cause AT&T designed it, built it and paid for the launch and he got real paranoid about who was in control. Industry and military were now working together and that created a new found fear of the U.S.A. for Nikki.
Dominic, of course, told everyone that the Alderman helped JFK get the satellite up; I think he was going a little too far with his stories – maybe the whack to the side of his head from D is makin him nuts.
# # # # # # # # #
It’s over a thousand miles to Boston and all I knew was she was at the school and living in the Back Bay area. Boston is kinda like my ‘hood because almost everyone in Bean Town (something about beans baked in molasses) is either Italian or Irish and they live on opposite sides of a river. Being on a bus for two days gives you a lot of downtime and my mind really needed some peace. Marie’s father disappointed me – hurt me, bad – when Marie went off while I was on the farm. He told me he would keep me informed of stuff – instead, his daughter left for school and he told me nothing.

Marie gave a slip of paper to Bobby and I asked him over and over if there was a message from her but no; just an address. Her dad must have told her to not talk to me or something. We didn't talk while I was on the farm but I know she missed me as hard as I missed her.

‘breakin up is hard to do’

And who am I? A searcher; out of the ‘hood and in pain because either I've changed or at least I've changed the way I see the ‘hood and my life. Like basketball with guys from the ‘hood or at Marillac house or on the high school team was important to me ‘cause it’s the kind of sport where you learn trust. Making a basket by yourself counts no more (maybe even less to the game) than if you make a good pass to a streaking team mate and he lays it in for an easy shot. When I played ball, I never asked who was playing with me – only that he pass the ball and then everyone looks good. Yeah, there was occasional hot-dogging, but that usually happened when there’s a blow out or when your girl is lookin at you or when some opponent is ‘in your face’. But this is a game where all five cylinders gotta be tuned up and tuned in – it takes five guys to win at hoops; and you’re always lookin for the open man.

the open man – who can he trust?

He works the hardest to break away and uses his shrewdness to stay loose until that moment of discovery - then the ball doesn't come
...... and he changes into the man he’ll be for the rest of his life.

‘juice’ and Tee were not playing ball. The game had changed – I could see it – but I could not recognize the playing field. I don't know the rules. Theirs was a game I chose not to play. I would give it up. I ran to the open spaces.

or “..…............a time to grow

What else would I be forced to choose?
where else would I come up short
Lot’s was coming.

Joey was so sick from the pneumonia that he came close to dying; so close that out of town relatives came to see him before he went away. A cousin came up from Cairo in Southern Illinois that he was very close to until they were like thirteen and he had to move ‘cause his father opened a bakery down there. I always thought of Cairo as a south city in a north state and sure enough the stories he told Joey made it true.
His cousin was away for three years and changed a lot. He even talked different; but the biggest thing was the way he felt about the Negroes who lived in the south. He said that the white people always felt they needed to help them out – like people who couldn't help themselves - but always kept them to the other side of town and they couldn't eat at the same places and the kids went to different schools and even had to use different bathrooms. But things were changing across the south just the opposite of the way Joey’s cousin changed. It’s not like MLK cared about the problems in Cairo – he had to stay in Atlanta and Chicago and Birmingham and jail. Cairo people were experiencing local freedom movements just like many small cities all through the south. Couldn't be a TV cameraman or newspaper reporter in every town so, the quiet, small town uprisings that supported the national movement were un-reported and un-important to the world compared to Supreme Court rulings and newsreels of tear gas and police dogs and crowds of angry and confused people. These small town protests represented a sea change to the whole of America; the anger and now defiance of those so long suppressed was obvious. MLKing needed that support the same way he needed John and Bobby.
Joey’s cousin saw his dad separate himself from the other white men who did stuff like dress in white outfits and burn crosses. They were not going to let Negroes change their lives. His cousin told him about the time a small group of Negroes marched down the main street when a pick-up truck turned a corner and came right at them. Every one of them moved except for a thirteen year old girl who stood defiantly in front of her enemy and got knocked down.

but what were the white people so afraid of?

I think we still ask those questions; as did our fathers and will our sons.
# # # # # # # # #
The Greyhound drops me at the centre city terminal. I've got no clue where I am or what a Back Bay looks like. What I do have is a slip of paper that says 85 Mount Vernon Street. I've got a return ticket for the bus and not much cash, so I don’t know if I should take a cab or not. I ask one of those porters and he flashes me a grin and says “Very nice neighborhood, it is”. Yeah, but how much does it cost to get there? “Well”, he says, “a man who lives up there on Beacon Hill shouldn't’ worry ‘bout that too much”.
You know I just walked away from him a little pissed because he just thought I was being a smart ass rich kid or something and I looked for another person to help me. Where's that open man?

who I can trust
and I caught myself
‘don’t ask a negro’!

…..............fathers and will our sons

# # # # # # # # #

Tee and ‘juice’ had to meet one day and it was at night right under the viaduct of the railroad tracks that seperated our 'hood by a thousand miles. Cars were lined up at either end as the two eye-balled each other for what seemed like a life's time. These two men were here because Bobby couldn't help but get turned on by one of the prettiest black ladies at our school. He was good-lookin himself and they liked to laugh together so it all seemed to have the right reasons any guy and girl would get together…..except.
That night at the Christmas Eve party, they clutched each other right in a hallway where everybody there saw them with their faces pressed together. If ‘juice’ had been there himself, he might have had someway to cool off the now over-heating situation. Well, he wasn't there and now he was in front of Tee, each looking to protect their kind. Born under the same sun – in the same way – by a man and woman – to sustain and nourish the growth of their kind. These were the men of the ’hood.

Darryl’s dad breaks the headlights and the long shadow of a tall man fell at Tee’s feet. “Stop” was the word that rang out and reverberated against the concrete walls of the overpass. Tee’s first reaction was to intensify his readiness for a confrontation. ‘juice’ didn't take his eyes off of Tee, relying on other men for back-up. Dominic stepped forward, totally mis-reading the tall man’s intent. Dom was a boy from the ‘hood, full of swagger and everyone went on-guard with his second step. He didn't know what he was getting in to.
‘juice’ said to Tee “Are you gonna take care of that boy”.
Tee stepped back and risked his life when turning away, but somehow he knew this was not a time to hate or a time to kill. Dominic’s vision of satisfaction meant all out gang war at a time when relations were already mean-spirited. Men needed to reign in the boys and with one short jab, Dom went down with a bleeding face. Darryl’s father came between ‘juice’ and Tee and the defiant stare yielded to Tee’s revelation of their manhood.
was Tee goin soft
or was Tee in change
A time to cast away stones

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Rungless ladder


I am climbing a rungless ladder.
Knowing not how to gauge the stride up
or down.
I can see well
to the left and right,
but it’s hard to see the ground
because I am in the way,
and the sky is clouded
so I do not know how far there is to go yet.
Only that I am between up
and down.
And I have not yet
completed the journey.
But, I am able to pause
and look around
and enjoy the
The beauty beheld gives reason
for the climb.
-Jerry Wendt 2008

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

'hood, the Fifth

To everything
there is a season
and a time for every purpose….
….a time to kill
…. a time to die
…. a time to love
…. a time to hate

Pete Seeger

Civil War inLaos

(The Secret War)
Brother Bernard gently touched my arm and shook me until I peeked out from my swollen eyelids. “Good morning” he said softly and I smiled at him and admitted to aching all over. “It’s time for breakfast; big day ahead. I’ll see you in ten minutes” and he left me alone in my soreness.
I’d arrived at the farm just yesterday, courtesy of Marie’s uncle in the monastery. The room was kinda small with just a bed and dresser and chair and cross on the wall. There were clean towels, too. So I had this WWII duffle bag from her dad and didn’t unpack anything because I sat to think about whether I was staying. I missed her already, not because I hadn’t seen her – shit, it was just this morning that they put me on the train and sent me off. We both had tears. I missed her because the plan I agreed to was to stay here for several weeks and I already thought about breaking that promise at least 4 times. Her dad gave me his word to keep me up to date with happenings in the ‘hood. He never did promise me Marie.
I had to eat because I only had breakfast and now it was three o’clock and Brother Bernard led me through a maze from my room, past the chapel and to the kitchen. It was the biggest kitchen I’d ever seen and there were pots and pans on three stoves that I could see. The smells were fresh from long tables of newly picked and cleaned vegetables and then there was the hot soup and hot bread. Three men in robes were chopping and peeling and stirring and greeted me with silent smiles. Brother Bernard asked me if I liked peas and carrots (I really didn’t) and handed me about four bunches of carrots and a peeler after I nodded that I did.
There was no wasted time or motion in these rooms. We ate, in silence, and the dining room was cleaned in moments. I was taken outside and handed a pair of big rubber boots that reached almost to my knees. It was time to earn my keep. We headed straight to the barn where a wagon of baled hay was resting at the bottom of a conveyor belt. Someone gave me one of those hooks with a wood handle and pointed up the ladder to the topside door of the silo. So I went up. Inside it smelled both fresh and musty at the same time; a little weird up my nose. A motor started outside and the belt began whirring into the silo door. The first bale was on its way and the Brother next to me stuck a hook into it and pulled it back. Behind him, another very large Brother heaved it up to another who dropped it atop those sent up earlier in the day. Before I could turn around, another bale was on its way to the very large Brother and he, again, heaved it up. The Brother next to me said “Your turn” and I guessed I had to hook the next bale and send it towards the growing stack of hay bales. It felt good to do it right! Every five minutes we took a very short break so the stacker Brothers could move up a row and I was impressed as hell with the distance Big Brother could heave those bales. All the while we’re in there is a dust cloud from the bales being thrown around and my nose is filling up. After about four breaks to move the rows, Brother Bernard called up to send me down; so out and down I went hoping for a lighter duty. Seems one of the older Brothers needed to go back to that castle-like home and I was to replace him. Oughta be easy, he’s about seventy.
and a bale dropped at my feet
Loading it onto the conveyor, I wondered how many wagons they had like this.
How long would I be here?
“i can’t stop loving you”
Ray Charles
# # # # # # # # # #
How many buses did they have to ride? Not so many, after all. If a Negro wanted to ride on the inter-state highway system in a public bus, he could do it this summer. The Kennedy’s – both of them – convinced the Inter-State Commerce Commission to rule that segregated facilities were against the law. Only 400 people had to go to jail - some took a beating - to get it done. Was it worth it? Well, these riders forced Jack and Bobby to take a stand against segregation. Then, up sprang another organization called COFO that was supposed to co-ordinate the activities of about six other groups focusing again on voter registration. Either I didn’t “get it” or they just had too many people all trying to do the same thing at different speeds and pulling in different directions. They needed a leader; COFOs guy was weak and King and Abernathy got arrested in July and stayed in jail thru August. The movement needed a jump start.
A break came just at the right time.

One man stood up.
Field work during the Mississippi summers drained water from a person as a sponge gripped tight would drip its water. His brow wet as a sponge, James worked with his strong back to help his Choctaw Nation to their quota. The number grew slightly every year as he re-called but this year it was such a big increase that more people were asked to help at the Nation even if they had moved on. He had only left twice in his lifetime: once to serve in the air force for nine years and the second time to go to school at Jackson State University. Twice before denied by Ole Miss, he did apply a third time and worked in the fields while awaiting a new and correct response. He needed a “Dear Mr. Meredith” letter with a better ending.
How long would he have to wait?

# # # # # # # # #

My body got into the Brothers routine by the end of the day and on that third night at the monestary, after the days work, I lay on my bed exhausted yet thought about Bobby and those holes he has in his body.

It was just six days ago that me and him went to Martha’s for some beers. Martha almost always let Bobby and me into her tavern 'cause we pushed her out of a snow bank once and havin' a few beers on her was "thank you". Things were changing, the winds were blowing and we were desperate to feel the direction. High school graduates, our horizons now were broader than just tomorrow - we heard a sound coming and it was scary; but tonite we just needed a coupla beers and some laughs. Good times – I was tired after two pints of beer. I went home. Bobby went lookin for Carm and Sandy. He found ‘em at the Skylark.
I remember seeing the bloodied sidewalk and I remember that Joey saved me from myself – and I remember what Darryl’s father told me about ‘juice’ savin my life. If that was true, how could I be hating him right now? He didn’t do Bobby! 'juices' word is why I’m on this farm – but I don’t know who I’m more afraid of; Tee or ‘juice’.
I shouldn’t be afraid of either of these guys – I know them and they know me – but they don’t know each other and now that they hate each other – who am I?

“Oh my love my darling I've hungered for your touch”

Marie is
hoping the best for me.
Joey would help me.
I could always count on Dom

"When I need love
I hold out my hand and I touch love

I never knew there was so much love

Keeping me warm night and day

Miles and miles of empty space
in between us
a telephone can’t take
the place of your smile
But you know I wont be hiding forever
It’s cold out, but hold out and do like I do”

Righteous Brothers

The ‘hood was un-certain to me for the first time in my life.
Joey didn’t see me.
Marie went away to some school called Northeastern in Boston.
I found out only when her dad picked me up to take me back to the ‘hood and treated it like a piece of news; like about Bobby or the fight between ‘juice’ and Tee or Joey’s pneumonia.
the confusion returned

“He told that you’re leavin´I can´t believe it´s true

Girl there´s just no livin´
If I’m away from you

Don´t take your love away from me
Breakin´ up is hard to do

Remember when ya held me tight
and ya kissed me all through the night
I think of all that we´ve been through

They say it’s hard to do
now I know, I know that it´s true”
breakin' up is hard to do
Neil Sedaka

I was headed to
to find Marie
then to Northwestern

James Meredith was headed

to Ole Miss