Incomplete memoir (Part 4)

About five years ago I started writing a memoir. I kept at it for a little while, writing about 1,000 words a day for a few weeks. I hadn’t yet been to therapy and there were many things I didn’t really understand about my life, but I still find the unfinished memoir to be a fascinating look into my own past. I’ve decided to post it in installments here, with only a few redactions. You can find the other sections by clicking the Memoir category.

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4.

I was born in the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts. There was no hospital in Lenox, my hometown, so I came into the world in nearby Pittsfield in early September of 1973. Pittsfield was the home of General Electric, started in the 1890’s by William Stanley (although it was called the Electric Manufacturing Company at the time). At one point, more than 10,000 people worked in the GE plant in Pittsfield, my grandfather and mother among them.

At the time of my birth, GE was still a major employer in the town, although by the turn of the 21st century, Pittsfield was mostly famous for having a faster rate of flight out of the city than any other metropolitan area in the United States.

Baseball, that most hallowed of American sports, is mentioned in a legal document in Pittsfield in 1791. That document prohibits anyone from playing baseball within 80 yards of the newly built meeting house. This is the earliest known reference to baseball in America, besting Abner Doubleday and his Cooperstown fable by nearly half a century.

Moby Dick was written in Pittsfield, which was the home of Herman Melville for 13 years. Nathaniel Hawthorne also lived in the area, as did a large colony of Shakers – makers of fine furniture, embracers of technology, and somewhat egalitarian creators of a peaceable cult. Other famous folks who were born in – or spent a considerable time in – Pittsfield include poet Oliver Wendell Holmes; Emily Erwin of the Dixie Chicks; and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Incomplete memoir (Part 3)

About five years ago I started writing a memoir. I kept at it for a little while, writing about 1,000 words a day for a few weeks. I hadn’t yet been to therapy and there were many things I didn’t really understand about my life, but I still find the unfinished memoir to be a fascinating look into my own past. I’ve decided to post it in installments here, with only a few redactions. You can find the other sections by clicking the Memoir category.

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3.

I have a friend named Otto who’s intensely connected to the past. He loves old movies and TV shows. He listens to music from the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. He’s an Italian-American who’s lived in the same city all his life. He knows people, and they know him. He knows the birthdays of his relatives, living and dead. He’s like my Tartus, and I’m Dr. Who The Hell Am I?

I’m drawn to Otto as a person and as a gateway to a different world and a better time. Being around him is like stepping into my family’s stories about our early days in Lenox, Massachusetts, in the 1940’s and 1950’s. I joke with Otto that I’d like to rob the Italian restaurant we frequent, because when I’m with him, I’m like Claude Raines in The Invisible Man. I’m not part of the club, so no one can see me in the restaurant. I’m the invisible Irish-American kid with the orange goatee. (And you know what? I’m not even all that Irish. Just the bit that shows. About which more later.)

Otto shops at a meat market called Palermo’s, so I shop there, too. You know those mom-and-pop stores that used to know your name and wonder about you if you didn’t come in for a few weeks? If you’re anywhere near my age, the answer to that question is probably “no.” But I’ve read about them, and so have you. I’ve seen all those paintings Norman Rockwell did. He did most of them within a couple miles of the corner where I grew up, because he was from the next town over. He painted my mom’s doctor, the local cop and the soda fountain. Once, he even painted a picture of my Aunt Linda.

Well, Palermo’s is my Rockwell painting. It’s my Cheers bar. The guys behind the counter know who I am. They know what I usually order, and remind me to get it if I forget. The place is run by a guy named Guy who slices the meat himself, and whose wife and kids work in the store, too. Everybody who comes in knows everybody else who comes in. Except me, of course, because I’m a tourist.

When I go to Palermo’s with Jen and the boys, it’s as if I get a chance to step back into a gentler time. It’s an almost euphoric feeling, as if the real world – the world that I know is waiting just outside the old metal door – is being held at bay by the smell of the sauce and the friendly smile of the kid who cuts my porchetta.

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NOTE: As you can see from Otto’s note below, I’ve betrayed my general ignorance of Dr. Who my misspelling TARDIS. I’m still a nerd, though, right?

Book Review: Quiet, Please

Scott Douglas’s memoir of his life as a librarian is hard to put down. So hard, in fact, that I took some additional bathroom breaks at various points just to keep reading.

Douglas loves libraries, but not for the reasons you might think. In fact, this look behind the curtain shattered many of my notions about who librarians are and why they choose to be librarians. (Hint: It’s not about the books.) I appreciated Douglas’s look at his profession as an example of public service.

Douglas is skilled at allowing his personality to come through without it taking over the story completely. Case in point: I was very surprised when he identified himself as a conservative Christian about halfway through the book.

Because the book is nonfiction, several of the storylines had less-than-satisfying conclusions, at least from my “Hollywood ending” point of view. That made the stories feel more real, though, even if they left me a little sad by the end of the book.

Douglas’s writing is fresh and fast-moving, and certainly worth reading for anyone interested in the secret lives of librarians.

Recommended.