Thursday, January 24, 2013

This column SUCKS!!!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Not really the deli clerk mentioned down below.
By Felix Carroll

So, say you bring your child to a local production of, maybe, “King Midas and the Miraculous Golden Touch.” Say Queen Miranda is played by the local librarian and Marygold is played by the gym teacher and Sir Calvin the Calculating is played by the guy who sells carpets downtown.

The children enjoy themselves. The amateur actors emote their way into your heart. You laugh, you cry, you go home and eat a taco or something. All’s well in the world, right?

Then, say, three days later, the weekly newspaper prints a review of the production that completely trashes everything within a 16-yard radius of center stage, including the drapery, such that the local librarian, gym teacher and carpet salesman walk shamefaced in the mean streets, and you avoid making eye contact with them.

Then, say, you get a funny notion along the lines of this: If it’s OK to disparage the theater equivalent of a bake sale, then maybe it’s high time we critique everyone in our path.

Deli counter clerk SUCKS!
Which brings me to my local deli counter clerk, whom my boy adores even though she’s clearly got a vegan's mean streak. Indeed, she slices bologna with a certain aggressive se lever du pied gauche, as if the bologna used to tease her in grammar school. And why, when you ask for a pound of thinly sliced provolone, does she insist on handing you slices as thick as a beer coaster? In this writer’s opinion, she's certainly no Ann Marie, who works the weekend shift. Ann Marie, with her spirited, nine-minute distillations of her husband’s herniated disk, convincingly echoes the tradition of the late Joey, who, until his retirement in 1997, insisted on working without a slicer guard.

Bank teller really, really SUCKS!
Which brings me to our drive-thru bank teller. Sure, my boy and his dog enjoy tagging along and hanging out the back window with their mouths salivating. And, sure, the teller’s "Hi, how may I help you today?" has a certain accessible severity that at once paraphrases Wagner's Ring cycle while giving a nod to the chaos and the void. But I cannot help but notice that somewhere on the other side of his casually elegant, iconographically-infused glass partition, our teller has forgotten the difference between a lusty and robust kibble and pressure-treated corn husk. Or the difference between a praiseworthy presentation of a pack of SweetTarts and the culinary clinker that is last season’s broken candy cane.

Well, just last week we heard of a charming little bank branch on a romantic sidestreet, and we decided to check it out. Let’s just say, the teller at the drive-thru proffered my boy a blueberry-mango swirl with a ladyfinger crust that managed to be gracefully demonstrative. For the dog: spiced, crab-filled plantains and marinated flank steak croquettes that were both bite-sized and bodacious.

Bernice is in over her head!
Which brings me to Bernice, who sits on the park bench by the pharmacy. Yes, my boy loves to gab with her and exchange good-hearted funny faces. But if she's going to append herself to such big subject matter as being a village bench sitter, she must seek to find unity — indeed, a common language — blending the traditions of, say, an innovative minimalist like Freddy Friedler, who in the 1920s graced that same bench with his pre-Philip Glass-like repetition of how exactly he came to have a dent in his stomach (from a minie ball during the Civil War: "Thought I could catch it, and dang-gurn-it, I was wrong…"), and a genius romantic like Horace Greenbladder — at once tense and driven — who, in the 1970s became famous for his rants against the local cops, pulling together sources as disparate the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the Mayan Popul Vuh. (Oh, and when Horace whistled, he could make the pigeons sway in unison.)

Bird caller is just 'winging' it!
Which brings me to the so-called “expert bird caller" at the local nature preserve, whom my boy greatly admires, but whose loon tremelos sound quite frankly like a white-breasted nuthatch being pinned down and tickled by a pair of frisky downey woodpeckers. Is it due to avian flu? This writer doesn’t know. But at his bird-calling clinic last Saturday, his spish-h-h-h-ing and pish-h-h-h-ing — not to mention his chirps, chips and chacks — sounded phoned in. And if he's going to teach the children how to induce mobbing with a series of "high-pitched kisses," his own high-pitched kisses shouldn’t sound as if he's trying to suck Jello through a bendable straw. The whole performance fell flat. Even the warblers were yawning.

Which brings me to my son’s drawing of a fire truck. Sure it looks like a florescent Porky Pig, but I’m not going to tell him that because it’s important to be kind to one another, right? Anyway, back to that bank teller. His mother wears Army boots.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Francis Larkin and the important things

By Felix Carroll

The fire got so hot, the windows blew out and threw Francis Larkin halfway across Main Street. They were loading him into the ambulance when he reached out to his wife and daughter.

“Here,” he said, “you better take these. I don’t want to lose them.”

He handed them a pack of Marlboros and his false teeth.

Francis Larkin always managed to pay mind to the important things, even when he was a bit scuffed up, such as he was from the blaze in the 1980s at Jack’s Country Squire in Great Barrington.

A fireman for more than 50 years and a family man till the moment he died of a heart attack in 2004 at the age of 71, Francis Larkin is being remembered this week, especially.

On Saturday night, the Great Barrington Fire Department will host "Casino Night" to benefit the new Francis E. Larkin Memorial Scholarship Fund, which will support Monument Mountain High School students.

The event — one Francis would love — begins at 7 p.m. at Berkshire South Regional Community Center.

So who was Francis Larkin? Famous for his affinity for a good joke and a good drink (and if you were a son of a bitch, he’d let you know it), Francis was a lot of things to a lot of people.

“When I was a little kid,” recalls Ed McCormick, “I can remember him throwing a ball up in the air until I couldn’t see it anymore.”

To this day, Francis’ leather helmet and coat remain hung on a gear hook at the fire house. No one would dare remove them.

“Francis’ picture should be under the word ‘volunteer’ in the dictionary,” says Chief Harry Jennings.

To Kevin and Cathy Larkin, Francis was the father who never missed an event of theirs, no matter how trivial.

“It’s hard to talk about my father and not make him sound like Mr. Wonderful,” Kevin says. “But you know, he really was wonderful.”

Lois Larkin remembers the first time she encountered her future husband. She was in second grade. He was in sixth. “I was sitting there in the old Bryant School doing my work, and I hear the teacher say, ‘Young man, what are you doing?’ Well, it was Francis.

He had slid down the banister. The teacher read him the riot act and told him he had to stay after school. But he told her he really couldn’t do that because he had a paper route.”

Duty called, and nothing could get in the way.

Years later, in 1957, she saw him on Main Street. He asked her if he could call her sometime. “I said, ‘Sure.’” Three weeks later, he took her to see Louie Armstrong or Ella Fitzgerald — or both — at the Music Barn in Lenox. It was a wonderful time. Did she like Francis immediately?

“Yes, I did,” Lois said this week, blushing, sitting in her kitchen on Pine Street. “He was the only one. He knew how to make the most of life.”

She had a photo beside her of their wedding day in 1960. He never really did ask her to marry him. He just sort of handed her a ring and said, “Here.”

“That was it. A man of few words,” Lois said, laughing.

Francis, a Korean War vet, worked as a plumber for Mort Cavanaugh. As his grandfather and father did before him, he joined the fire department, and it became his “first love,” Lois admits.

He experienced more than his share of difficult emergency calls. The one he never quite shook happened more than 35 years ago when he had to knock on the door of a home and tell a mother that her boy had died in a car accident. “Every once in awhile he would bring it up,” Lois said.

Each September, Francis would work at the Barrington Fair. He loved the horse races.
“He would carry this stick with a pointer at the end,” says Ed McCormack, a deputy fire chief. “He’d use the stick at the fair to pick up garbage bags worth of betting tickets, and during the winter he would go through these, ticket by ticket, looking for winners.”

“He had a year to collect on any winning ticket,” Kevin explains. “He was looking for the ‘big one.’”

Now, about that fire on Main Street — Francis was brought up to Fairview Hospital. “He made such a stink because they put him in a room without a view of the fire downtown,” Kevin recalls.

The hospital staff eventually moved him. They had to. After all, down below were his fellow fire fighters, his family, his community. He sat there by the window keeping an eye on it all because Francis Larkin always paid mind to the important things.