I have this identity in my head that connects me up to Maudie from the film of that title. She was outwardly a dowdy, slightly hunched over cleaning lady. She was invisible on the street, someone who made no impression, ignored by the world at large. Worse she was the butt of abuse at the hands of children, openly taunted while grownups made no defense for her.

Within her though there lived an artist of stature, a sensitive soul expressing herself though none took notice. She finally found her muse and made her mark. The movie is wonderfully expressive, moving and human. 

I can’t say that children ever threw rocks at me and my woes were never as bad as Maudie’s yet I know what it’s like to be invisible. When I first hit town back in ’76 I was another overgrown adolescent, idle twenty-something who was maybe qualified to wash dishes in a restaurant, do line work in a factory or drive a cab, all jobs I held.

Yet I announced that, with a partner, I was going to open arthouse movie theater. Our first effort was to propose a summer film series on Plum Island. There had been children’s films shown at a hall there but still we were told we needed a special permit. When the permit hearing came around thirty abutters had created a petition to stop us.  They had equated art film with porno. We were told a few times that they didn’t want that stuff in their neighborhood.

The permit was denied. It did garner our first page one DAILY NEWS article, a lighthearted piece that opened with “Bogart won’t be coming to the Island this summer.” We made an appointment to speak to the director of the Chamber of Commerce about opening a movie theater in town. When we arrived for the meeting the man stepped out of his office, took one look at us and literally waved his hand to dismiss us as vagrant hippies.

Now I know that the Plum Island generation of that time had real fears and the Chamber of Commerce incident was 40 years ago but the point is I was dismissed out of hand like Maudie. After repeated failures over the next five years I was the laughingstock of the arts in Newburyport. 

Fast forward 40 years and I have my niche in the arts in town. No one laughs at Maudie anymore, either.




She was my first high school girlfriend. I say “girlfriend” because we made out. I mean I had been kissed before but this was different. This was “making out.” Replete with 14- year-old effort of clumsy will, the full effect limited only by parent’s expected return.

We were from different sides of the tracks. She hailed from the town next door, I was from the gritty city. She went to a better all-girls school and her class “dirty girl,” always quick to go a button down on the school blouse, a few inches up on the skirt. I was an ersatz low-level juvenile delinquent, seemingly a public school quasi-truant, likely cannon fodder or a mill hand in waiting.

One night during a school dance we were so close a teacher came by and put himself between us. He was a big guy with a football player’s demeanor. He separated us by the length of his outstretched arms and said, “You’re going down the wrong road.”

But we hit it off in some chemical way, the attraction was immediate and without any semblance of boundary. She was ready and more than willing. I was beside myself knowing I had found a girlfriend who, in the parlance of the day, “gave out.” 

I would go over to her town whenever I could, hitchhiking. She would get a ride to the city on the pretense of shopping or some such thing. We were ahead of our time as a shopping mall item.

One day I suggested we walk over to the waterfall in my town, Lawrence MA. She said there was no waterfall in Lawrence. But there is, an industrial waterfall, built in the mid-1800s by forward thinking industrialists to capture the essence of the new force known as “electricity.”  The electricity would power the mills lining the Merrimack River from the White Mountains to its mouth on Plum Island. There we could make out.

Like most all young love we drifted apart after a while. We lost touch. I got out of high school and left that burg, never to live there again. I would go back though, every now and then to visit the old folks and such.

 A few years after being gone I zipped in for a spell to say hello to Mom and Dad. I was driving through a rough patch of town when I passed a dingy barroom, a place that had never known a better day that I was aware of. As I drove by the bar who should be walking out but my old high school girlfriend.

I flung the car to the side of the street, sat on the horn and called out to her. She saw me and ran right over, hopped in and we started to laugh. We laughed about this, we laughed about that. We drove over to the waterfall. We made out a bit.

She told me she worked out of that bar. She said she did a lot of business there. She was getting paid that way. She had gone down the wrong road. I had run away, not with the circus but with the drifting of the arts bum I had become.  Better road it was.

I bought her lunch. She took me over to her apartment, a seedy joint for sure but there were no parents expected to come home. We made out some more, we renewed our chemistry. Then I left. I haven’t seen her since.