HOLLYWOOD & MINE
“People in the East pretend to be interested in how pictures are made, but if you actually tell them anything, you find they are only interested in Colbert’s clothes or Gable’s private life. They never see the ventriloquist for the doll.”
The truth was I hailed from Cape Anne, Massachusetts. I was the daughter of what my mother rather archaically referred to as nautical stock. Cape Anne was a place whose inhabitants could proudly trace their lineage to whaling fleets and South Seas expeditions (or, at least they affected to). Within the community there were rather tangled thoughts on ancestry — that glossed over generations of grandfathers who introduced venereal disease to Tahiti — and instead focused (with reverence) on funny little artifacts; like the scrimshaw and shells in Grandmother’s china cupboard. It was also an area where you heard words like ghastly, fractious, and dim applied by the Anglo side of the family to the Italian side — the dark side (the side I took after) preferred these epitaphs: leccapiedi (boot licking) scassacazzo (pain in the ass).
Growing up in Gloucester it stank of fish sticks, courtesy of Gorton’s, and I couldn’t wait to get out. I knew ocean air was supposed to be bracing but for me it was nothing but salt spume and rotting chum, neither of which appealed. At eighteen I rattled down the coast to Cambridge in a sixteen year old Dodge Dart that needed piston work and a new timing belt. There I was housed in a quad, a triumph for a freshman, with a San Franciscan whose sock drawers bulged with a formidable stash of weed, and two studious Mid-Westerners.
One evening in my second year, I found myself doing something that if I hadn’t been so high would have confirmed the nagging feeling that I wasn’t exactly making the best use of my time at college. The hours leading to midnight found me stoned out of my mind staring into the soulful eyes of a Border Collie — explaining the path of a point on a parabolic curve. In my less than sober state the Collie’s eyes anchored me. The very existence of this dog — who, in reality, was probably concerned with nothing more than when it would next be eating — was something solid to hold onto in a swirl of extremely altered perceptions. When I woke the following morning, I resolved to make a change: no more toking and a hell of a lot more studying. My timing was, however, unfortunate. I failed integral calculus the very same day as I made the vow and within two weeks was working shucking clams at a seafood bar, another briny hell, near Faneuil Hall.
The first roof over my head that summer was courtesy of a friend of a friend who was house-sitting in a red brick colonial on a leafy street in Brookline. The house’s owner, a Political Science professor, little suspected that his home was harboring a swarm of students while he vacationed in Europe. Nor was he aware that the students were using his phone to make any number of free illegal calls using an access code — the origin of which was hazy — that was circulated from one college campus to another up and down the eastern seaboard.
In retrospect hijacking a telephone code was the least of my sins that summer, and since I’d stopped attending confession about the same time I stopped taking piano lessons, I never atoned, achieving a state of grace was the furthest thing from my mind. What I wanted was out. Out of Gloucester, out of Boston, out beyond the familiar and the known.