Friday, February 24, 2006
The lovely and talented Tara, regular reader of this blog (God help her), brought the following to my attention: The Lucky Strike bowling alley in Dorchester has permanently closed its doors as of last Thursday night. What does this mean to you? Probably not one hell of a lot. To me, though, it's like Pee Wee Reese being told that Ebbetts Field has been bulldozed. Why? This.
Not that any comparison between my athletic skills and those of Pee Wee Reese could ever be considered valid, of course. Still, if any one of the remaining bowling alleys where I once had some success was dearer to me than another, Lucky Strike was it. I bowled more strings there, over the course of my career (such as it was), than anywhere else. When I was good, much of my goodness happened there. After I lost my skills, I battled those lanes hour upon hour, trying desperately to regain what I had once had. It was a place of triumph and tragedy for me. My blood, sweat and tears - literally - were shed there.
Beyond the relative silliness of bowling, Lucky Strike was also one of the places I took MY future WIFE on one of our very early dates; our second, if I'm not mistaken. This was way after I had given up on bowling in a serious manner, of course. I wouldn't have subjected a woman who hardly knew me to the temper tantrums and psychosis I might have exhibited a few years earlier in that venue.
(MY WIFE swears to this day that the only reason I took her bowling on that date was so that I could freely check out her ass without looking like some sort of perv. I tell her that this is obviously some fantasy she has built up in her head over the years, because since when did I give a damn if anybody thought I was a perv? However, digression has reared its ugly head again, so now I'll get back to what passes for a story around here.)
In any case, the place is gone now. And I never had an opportunity to go there one last time to soak up some atmosphere and re-live a few memories. I'm sad about that, but I'm also pissed off. There have been far too many losses of this sort in my life. What can I call it? Loss of a beloved location? I guess that might be a fair name for it, but it doesn't do the feeling justice.
Most of these buildings and such - that I would dearly love to physically be able to go into again - aren't even available in photographs. I searched the 'net for a photo of Lucky Strike, but all I came up with were old cigarette ads and a tenpin place out in Tucson. I didn't really expect to find anything. Hell, who was going to waste film on an old bowling alley?
(Me, if I'd known.)
So many other places and things I loved, lost and gone forever. Ground to dust for one reason or another; "progress", mainly. The Oriental Theater, movie house of my youth - gone. The chocolate silos - that fantastic piece of architecture at Baker's Chocolate in Lower Mills, my old neighborhood - gone. The Gilbert Stuart, my grammar school - gone. The public library I adored as a kid - gone. The el (elevated railway of the T, Boston's public transportation system, for those of you from out of town) - gone. These, and so many other integral parts of my life, all gone forever.
The Oriental Theater in Mattapan! I can't find a single photograph of this place, yet it was famous enough in its day to have been mentioned in the movie Auntie Mame. The first time that Agnes Gooch (played by Peggy Cass, a Boston native) enters Mame's apartment, the only comparison she can think of is with the Oriental Theater.
The Oriental was an amazing place. An old-time movie palace, spacious and elegant, it was probably somewhat flea-bitten by the time I started frequenting it, but I was so young that it wouldn't have struck me as anything other than beautiful. There were these gigantic statues of Buddha on either side wall of the theater and each statue was fitted out with actual electrically glowing red and green eyes (one statue had the red eyes, and the other had the green eyes.) They struck awe into many a kid from my neighborhood. Another great thing about this place was that, if you ever got tired of the film, all you had to do was lean back and look at the ceiling of the theater to be entertained. There was a constantly changing rolling projection of an outdoor starlit night on the ceiling! I would give ten years off of my life to be able to spend one more afternoon in that place.
(No, really; I would! Well, if I knew I was destined to live to be 120, I would. Unless I was 110.)
What happened to the Oriental? It is now an electrical supply store. What happened to the giant Buddhas? I wish I knew. I know they aren't still sitting on the walls of the electrical supply store - I checked. I know that if I had 'em, I'd put them in my bedroom. Might not be the best thing for my sex life, but there are other rooms in the house and I know I'd sure feel safe and secure with those big guys looking out for me every night.
When I was a youngster, Baker's Chocolate had its headquarters just a couple of blocks from my home. They moved the whole operation to the Midwest when I was about 5 or 6. While they were still in Dorchester, the whole neighborhood smelled of chocolate everyday. How could you be a kid and not love that?
The chocolate silos I mentioned were just that - huge storage bins for chocolate beans. It was actually one gigantic concrete edifice, perhaps 50 or 60 feet high and 150 feet in length, constructed in such a way as to give the impression that it was nine very large round silos. The name "BAKER" was painted onto the middle five of these, while "CHOCOLATE" had one large brown letter on each of the front surfaces. A railroad spur ran behind these towers and they were fronted by an access road and the Neponset River. A highly visible landmark, they were easily seen from much of the surrounding area.
After the factory itself closed down, we kids from the neighborhood would occasionally go inside of these silos and explore a bit. There were steel stairs, of the type used for fire escapes, inside of each tower, and these led up to the very roof of the structure. No, Mom, I didn't climb them; too scared of heights. Some of the other kids did, though. I mostly stayed below and looked around, although I don't know for what, exactly. The only things in them were standing water and rats.
The factory proper has now been converted into high-priced yuppie condominiums. What became of the chocolate silos? Just demolished. I suppose they served no real purpose anymore, except as a reminder of what had once been. I sure would like to see them again, though.
As you can see at the top of this page, I was actually able to come up with a picture of my school, the Gilbert Stuart. It's a photo that predates my attendance by a good thirty years, probably. By the time I went there, that field of grass across the street was a First National Supermarket parking lot, while the store itself would have been just out of the picture beyond that last tree on the right. There seems to be a building there in this picture, but I have no idea what it might have been. Probably some place that someone 30 years older than me groused about not being there when he went back to the old neighborhood.
The library I loved was just up the street from the school, less than a two-minute walk. It was a lovely old brick building, with many odd nooks and crannies that naturally endeared it to children such as myself. I spent hours of immense pleasure there, exploring the myriad worlds opened up to me when I learned to read.
So, what happened to my school and my beloved library? Well, they tore down the school to build a new library. Two memories killed for the price of one!
The El, or elevated, was considered an eyesore by many Bostonians, so it was slated for destruction for a considerably long time. The only reason it stayed around as long as it did was because the politicians couldn't get together on just exactly what would replace it. There was also some opposition to its removal from the people who lived in a few of the neighborhoods it serviced, since the replacement rail line wouldn't run the same route. The MBTA promised those people alternate means of transportation, and so that opposition vanished and the elevated went the way of the passenger pigeon. Those people are still waiting for that alternate transportation, but the el is history.
Truth be told, I was both fascinated and scared by the el. I've always been uncomfortable with open heights, so standing on an elevated platform wasn't my idea of a good time. However, I enjoyed riding the thing and the views of the city you got by doing so were sometimes magnificent. And, of course, I've previously related to you my happiest moment in the subway, and that actually took place on the el, so...
So many places, gone. The Boston Garden, where I saw my first concert and watched the Celtics win championships from the second balcony (which was itself gone years before the Garden itself); The Rathskellar, aka The Rat, Boston's answer to CBGB's, probably the most famous venue I ever played as a musician; Charlie's, my neighborhood store, where Charlie Capabianco kept a tab on scraps of cardboard for those folks who couldn't pay him until their next check came in, and where he let us kids go behind the counter to pick out our own penny candy, trusting us to be honest - which we were 19 times out of 20; The Combat Zone, which now exists in name only, but where teenagers used to go downtown to see dirty movies and play pinball at The Arcade, and where sailors on leave could get their needs met; Colstone's, a self-service restaurant across from the Arch Street Chapel (itself now endangered) where I was amazed as a kid to be able to fill my own water glass from a soda fountain type of machine (and, as a result, I drank four or five glasses of water any time my mother brought me there, and was dying to pee by the time we got home); Stores that don't exist anymore, except in memory - Grant's, Woolworth's, Kresge's, Lechmere's, Gilchrist's, Zayre's, Raymond's, Kennedy's, Mickey Finn's, and the granddaddy of them all that nobody from my age group could even imagine not existing in downtown Boston, Jordan Marsh; Every single one of these places, gone.
I suppose I should just grow up and stop whining. Everybody has something from their childhood that they miss. Are my losses so damned special?
Yes. I lost chocolate silos and giant buddhas and a railway that traveled through the sky. I lost magic.
Soon, with more better stuff.