Jul 072017
 

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36 Eddy Street

This is my former backyard at 36 Eddy Street in Waltham, Massachusetts, where we moved to that summer from 33 Weston Street, two blocks away. It was a four-family house painted light gray with slatted wood siding and we lived in the second floor apartment above our heads.

My uniform’s clean so I know it’s before a game. I always felt an obligation to get it dirty, to prove that not only did I want to win but that I’d slide head first into a base to do it.

To my left, glove hand, affecting his best “I got a million of ‘em” pose, is Uncle Dave, my Great Uncle. A good guy, generous, loud and gregarious, a corona was always squeezed between his fingers. He lived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and made his living as an auto mechanic. At one point, before he retired and sold the building, he operated a two bay garage without gas pumps, repairs only. My father insisted I was in it several times, that I’d enjoyed playing with the tools and poking my fingers in the tubs of grease, but I have no recollection of being there. I do remember Uncle Dave drove a 1950s model Hudson, one of those gangster-type cars that was all slopes and silver detail. On the weekends he and my Aunt Grace visited us, my brother and I would insist he take us for a ride, which he always did, out to the quiet back roads of Lexington and Lincoln and Wayland. We’d usually be settled in the spacious back seat all ready to go before Uncle Dave and my father got in and Uncle Dave released the emergency brake.

It was always exciting to see Uncle Dave, though when I was small, probably up until the age I was in the photo, he had a penchant for tickling me and keeping at it until tears streamed down my cheeks to the point I wasn’t sure if I was laughing or crying. Then, from my middle teens on, he was always telling me, “You’re doing good things, Paul, not like some of these other kids today.” I was never sure what I’d done or said to merit that comment since my main activities were playing sports, getting into trouble at home and in school and trying to talk girls into going here and there with me. Maybe those weren’t such bad things to do after all?

The last time I saw Uncle Dave I was a college freshman on Christmas break. My parents made it a point to take me up to Portsmouth to see him even though I didn’t want to go and made a big fuss about it. We argued, but their explanation of matters finally won out. A lot had changed since I’d last seen him. Uncle Dave had been having health problems for a few years, but now he was in a wheelchair, no longer the big, outgoing personality, but a quieter, sad presence. Diabetes had progressed to the point where both of his legs had to be amputated, cut off just above the knee. His face and torso were thin, as if hollowed out. Up at his place, we spent the afternoon watching a college basketball game. Uncle Dave smoked a cigar as we talked. Talking about me, our family, everything but him and how he was feeling. Before we left that evening I shook his hand and I think we both knew we were saying goodbye for the final time.

That’s my father to my right. He was a machinist and tool designer, and as you see he smoked cigars too, a habit he might have picked up from Uncle Dave, one of his favorite people.

“Stogies,” my father called them. “Why I think I’ll have a stogie. No, you can’t have one so get away from there.”

El Producto was his brand in those years when they were made by hand. He bought them by the box and I collected the empty ones, which, with the Spanish language name and trademark design, always started a reel of images rolling in my head of an exotic country with palm trees, white beaches, girls in bikinis, thatched roof huts… A place far away from Waltham, which in those years was a struggling city of small stores and too many bars and not enough money and the factories my parents and my friends’ parents worked in and couldn’t wait for the end of the week to be out of for a few days. I filled those boxes with my most precious objects: baseball cards, small vintage toy cars, a ring, a wristwatch, anything that had meaning to me. I labeled each with a black marker and stacked them on my bookshelf. Then, as the collection grew, my father puffing away at the rate of about two a day in between a couple of packs of Lucky Strikes, I stood them in a column in a corner of my room like a file cabinet that could only be opened from the top.

One evening that summer (or the one after it?) I challenged my father to a race down the driveway you see by the white picket fence, about a hundred feet to the sidewalk. I beat him, pulling away and bursting into the street. I knew he hadn’t let me win, like he’d let me take a game of Eight Ball to keep up my interest on those occasions he took me to Vern’s Billiards over on Felton Street. My easy victory was a surprise to both of us, I think, and I knew another race would end with the same result so I never asked him again.

My father seems happy in the photo. It’s one of the few pictures I have where he’s smiling for the camera, showing the viewer the moment was pleasant, his number one uncle was visiting, his son had a ballgame they were going to take him to after a picture was taken (by my brother?) to fix the three of us in time. In many of the other photos I have he appears so uncomfortable I wonder why he ever agreed to let the other person take it, or if there had been a tremendous struggle for the camera afterward to try to get at the film to destroy it? Not that he was always unhappy, or incapable of finding pleasure in an activity. But there was some deep problem bothering him he never talked about or sought help for, that kept him brooding and on edge.

Was it from the war? His physical wounds from that brutal conflict were obvious. An Army Sergeant assigned to an artillery unit in WWII, he was in Italy when his knee and shin were ripped open by shrapnel. The scars were wide and deep. More painful to look at than live with, he assured me.

I knew the story. The flashing, deafening explosion, him blacking out, awoken the next day in a pain so excruciating he fainted in bed, a vein removed from the thigh on his right leg fused with others in the damaged one, six months recuperating in an army hospital…

But what of his wounds that couldn’t be seen? I wouldn’t find out until after he died that he was taking a tranquilizer every day. It had been a surprise to my mother too. “He didn’t tell me anything about it,” I recall her saying at the time my brother found the small container of pills under the front seat of his car.

I suppose my father was one of the storied silent soldiers who came back from Europe after World War II and never talked about it except to say it was a bastard, a hell, whatever, and he’d never wish an experience like it on his worst enemy. I’ve no doubt he had what was called “shellshock” then but is now referred to as PTSD, a condition out of the closet and taken seriously.

This is the period of my childhood I look back on with the fondest recollections. The rest after that seemed an extraordinary struggle, filled with my father’s anger and arguing between him and my mother, enormous frustrations expressed by two people who didn’t know how to, or didn’t want to try to make their life together better. It continued until my father died in 1993, long after I’d left home. I’m not sure what had happened that turned them on each other like that. Maybe it was something that was brought forward from a period of their lives before I was born? Or did it start right after the explosion that tore into my father’s leg and shocked his psyche?

This picture softens those memories. I’m glad I found it a few years ago in an envelope in the back of a cabinet in my mother’s apartment to remind me of my father during that time, of my Uncle Dave, and 36 Eddy Street.

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Susan

This is my cousin Susan with my father in the living room of our apartment at 36 Eddy Street in Waltham, Massachusetts, with the trophy shelf and rocking chair and organ in the background. Susan was three years younger than me, my Aunt Kathryn’s only child and my father’s favorite niece.

The picture was taken a few years after Aunt Kathryn (she was called Kitty) died of liver cancer. Her doctors never came to any conclusions as to exactly what had caused it. My father was sure it was due to the toxic chemicals she worked with at a company that, among other things, made weapons for the Department of Defense. Aunt Kitty and her husband Gus had divorced when Susan was seven and my grandmother, who was living with them, assumed legal custody. They had a first floor apartment on the street behind ours and from our back porch, between two other houses, we could see their front door and windows.

Aunt Kitty, Mother, Grandmother, Grandfather, Uncle Dave (seated) and my Aunt Grace also seated.

After Aunt Kitty died my father became Susan’s favorite adult, and though his expression in the photo might not show it (he was a moody and oftentimes harsh and depressed man), a softness came over him whenever Susan was around. “Sue Sue” he called her, his voice going high, a smile forming on his lips whenever his eyes settled on her. “Sue Sue, how you doing?” he’d ask.

As the photo shows, Susan would return those feelings. She was a gentle, high-spirited girl, and when freed from my grandmother’s overbearing supervision and the object of my father’s attention she became excited, talkative and happy. Though “overbearing” might be too soft an adjective to use when it comes to describing my grandmother’s supervision of her. The fact was, my grandmother was a stern, domineering woman. Her temper was sharp. Her language could be humiliating. Her prickly tone of voice would visibly alter the expression on Susan’s face and when I saw it happen I wanted to rise up and defend her. I wanted to tell my grandmother it wasn’t right to talk to her like that. But I never did. And far as I’m aware no one else ever did that either.

That was what we saw at Sunday dinners and family events and casual get-togethers. What went on in that apartment on Everett Street no doubt continued. I know Susan did much of the cleaning and cooking, and though there was an extra bedroom my grandmother made her sleep in the same one she did. An immigrant from a poor southern Italian village, my grandmother may have been continuing an old world way. And that wasn’t all of it. On nights and weekends Susan rarely, if ever, went out to hang with friends. A boyfriend, even a secret one, would have been almost impossible for her to have.

And yet, my grandmother’s domination over her might have been worse than that. I’d thought it. My mother and father had too. But as far as I know there was nothing we, they, could do. I recall their conversations about contesting custody and taking Susan in with us. But it likely would have been impossible to get her away from my grandmother and so it was never attempted.

Knowing all that, I worried a lot about Susan. The summer before I started college I recall running into her at Brigham’s, a popular local ice cream franchise at the time. She was with our cousin Dorothy drinking a soda at the counter. She seemed thinner than ever, fragile, as if she hadn’t been eating. In the photo you can tell she’s quite slim, her clothes loose (it in fact might have been taken near the time of that Brigham’s meeting). But that afternoon I noticed her blouse hung from her shoulders as if from a wire hanger and her pants were baggy around her hips and legs. I feared something awful might happen if she got sick. Later that day, I told my mother what I saw and how I felt, how living with my grandmother wasn’t any good for her. My mother agreed. After all, she’d said it long before I had and she responded to that conversation as she always did in stressful moments, by reaching for the rosary beads she kept in a pocket.

I suppose living with my grandmother had a tremendous, and perhaps dire, psychological impact on Susan. I say this as a way of leaping ahead to the call I received in my dorm room when I was a college sophomore. The calming voice of the Jesuit brother, who presided over spiritual matters for undergraduates, informed me he was at the security desk downstairs and needed to see me right away. He greeted me with a smile and at the same time a look of concern. He led me to a small side office, shut the door, and when we were seated he spoke in a quiet voice. My cousin Susan had passed away and I should call home right away. While the news rattled me, I wasn’t shocked. The Jesuit brother and I talked about Susan for a few more minutes and at the end he asked if I had any questions or if there was anything he could do for me? No, I shook my head, not crying, but saddened I wouldn’t see Susan again.

Up in my room I made a collect call home. My father answered in a broken voice and repeated what I’d been told. Susan had died of an unknown brain disorder and I understood disorder might mean a lot of things. Just as with my Aunt Kitty, the doctors didn’t know exactly what it was. And then something happened I’d never heard before and would never hear again. My father started crying. Balling uncontrollably might be a better way to put it. And that shook me up as much as the news about Susan.

What went on after she was rushed to the hospital was never explained to me. I’m not sure if my father ever found out, or if he’d ever pursued the details. Had there been an autopsy? I don’t know. If so, had my father kept the results to himself so he didn’t have to talk about them? It isn’t a long stretch to think that. It was sudden. Did it matter how and why? Did Susan have a tumor that sent her into a coma she never came out of? That would be the expected diagnosis and one I’m sure would have been discussed. There was talk she’d gotten hold of a bottle of my grandmother’s pills and overdosed on them. It might have been that. It might have been several other things. Who knows? I don’t. For me, now, I’m still curious even if it’s too late to matter. But back then, Susan’s death had a tremendous impact on all of us. She had just turned seventeen and was the first person I was close to to die.

I have another recollection of Susan. When I was in the sixth or seventh grade and the weather was too cold or too bad to hang outside with my friends, I’d go to my grandmother’s after school and wait until my mother got home from work (she’d stopped trusting me with a key since I’d almost set fire to our apartment trying to make parchment paper over the flame of our gas stove). One afternoon, soaked in a heavy downpour, my grandmother thinking I might catch pneumonia, she was adamant I take off my wet clothes and put on one of her bathrobes. She gave me a heavy green flannel one and I went into the bathroom to change. In the full-length mirror I looked like a waif out of a Dickens’ novel, wearing an ugly green overcoat I’d pulled from the bottom of a closet. I was so embarrassed I intended to stay in there until my mother was home and could bring me a dry change of clothes. But my grandmother insisted I come out. When she started beating on the door I gave in. Seeing me, Susan laughed and didn’t stop laughing. She spent the next hour, unsuccessfully I must say, trying to pull the cloth belt off, the only thing keeping the robe closed and me from exposure. Over the next months we joked about that quite a bit.

I continue to wonder what Susan would have become? There’s no way to know, of course, but I feel sure if she were alive her home would be a place I’d look forward to stopping at whenever I was back in Waltham.

 

The Work You Must Do

My father and grandfather when my father was back from WWII and still on crutches.

My paternal grandfather, “the well-known auto repair man” as a Portsmouth, New Hampshire newspaper had referred to him, was an inventor who’d obtained at least six patents for mechanical devices and processes.[1] As far as I know the last of these was titled “Apparatus for Treating Box Blanks,” which, if I read the specification correctly, improved the production of cardboard boxes with a more efficient way of scoring, gluing and folding them into completed receptacles.[2] The prototype was designed and constructed with my father’s help in the machine shop my grandfather started and ran in Waltham, Massachusetts.[3] My grandfather would die a year after the patent was granted by the U.S. Commissioner of Patents (in 1952) when a blood vessel hemorrhaged in his brain, and not much longer after that the shop went bust. Why my father wasn’t able to keep it going, he never explained to me, though by the time I was old enough to surmise a world where appearances were the topics of the day and the realities behind them never discussed, I understood its failure as one of the troublesome subtexts behind the many problems he and my mother had.

The box blank machine.

The shop on Charles Street Ave. was a thousand square feet of clutter, of lathes, milling machines, drill presses, small motors, cans of oil, gears, greasy tools, and hundreds of other gadgets and parts needed for whatever was being worked on at the time.[4] It prospered by providing welding, custom design, metal stamping and other machine tool services. At least five other machinists worked in it. The exact number was iffy in my father’s recollection. But while business was going well, and they had skilled help, time was freed up for he and my grandfather to work on the projects they’d hoped would bring them riches. And that was, even more than providing a livable income, vital as that hard fact of life was and remains, the shop’s intention all along; to be a venue where they could employ their talents and express their ideas to invent and design and develop.

They must have felt certain, or at least hopeful, that at some point one or more of their creations such as “Apparatus for Treating Box Blanks” would bring large sales or a sizable lump-sum payment from a company that would go on to produce many thousands of them. But my grandfather’s abrupt illness, and my father’s failure to keep the business going, put an end to those expectations.

“He was a great man. If that hadn’t happened to him we would have been rich,” my mother never hesitated to tell me when the topic came up. Then inevitably, she’d add, “Your father’s talented, but he doesn’t know anything about running a business. He’s not practical-minded like your grandfather was. And he never learned how to toot his own horn.”

My father explained the shop’s demise from an entirely different viewpoint. “No luck,” he replied with an inward gaze the few times I’d asked him what happened. “I swear to you the name has a curse on it. You’ll find that out someday.”

Apparently, that was a persuasive enough argument to keep him from taking a stab at starting another company. His father’s success,[5] and his failure to keep the shop going, must have always been right there with him, and after a while he rarely (and I mean almost never) mentioned either. It was obvious he’d convinced himself he wasn’t equipped to sell an idea and get financial backing and manage people. And there was his family to think about, a burden on his conscience and wallet. A steady income was needed, and so from then on he worked as a machinist and tool designer.

And that was how I knew him, as a discontented forty-hours-plus a week laborer who brown-bagged his lunch to the places that employed him, a variety of companies that included military contractors, research outfits and universities he’d stay at for one or two or three years before moving on for whatever reason there was to leave: a layoff, the expectation of more uninspired assignments he wanted to liberate himself from, a personality conflict with his boss; there had been plenty of those.

Aside from his hourly wage earner role, my father never lost the urge to create. It was a desire he satisfied by filling spiral drawing pads with diagrams of machines, electrical devices and toys. Some were easily recognizable: a mechanical soldier in ceremonial dress would be depicted in a series of Muybridge-like frames marching forward and backward while blowing steam out its ears. But others were true imaginings. Only he knew what they were, how they operated, and what practical function, if any, they might have. Asked to describe one of the more obscure, for example, a machine on four wheels that would roll sideways and had a single long arm with a roller at the end shown moving vertically, he’d smile, lift his eyebrows and say, “It’s just an oddball idea right now. But maybe it’ll paint a wall while you stand around and watch it.”

Just where some of those oddities came from is impossible to pinpoint. They might have been leftover from conversations he’d had with his father in that disarrayed shop on Waltham’s west end. Or maybe they’d sparked up while he was reading one of the books or magazines he’d browse on the couch after dinner and on weekends, that included issues of “Popular Mechanics,” science fiction paperbacks (he had more than twenty by Asimov), early computer manuals, and volumes with titles such as Science of Billiards, Modern College Physics, Chemical Magic and Z80 Instruction Handbook.

It was the latter that intrigued me most when I came upon it after he died in 1993. Computers, in fact, fascinated him. Had he been born in the era I’d grown up in he might have gone on to study them formally, no doubt tinkered with their electronics, and maybe, if all fell into place (the curse on the family name be damned!), even invented something he might have been granted a patent for and got him the attention he’d wanted.

I know his first PC was the Radio Shack TRS-80 he’d ordered from the back of “Popular Mechanics.” Introduced in 1977, it featured the Z80 processor he had the handbook for, with 4 kilobytes of RAM, a small keyboard, a black-and-white video display and a tape drive. With a brief Internet search I was able to find out it sold for around $600, a sum, I’m certain, he’d lowered by a few dozen percentage points when my mother asked him what the thing cost.

The only other PC he ever had was the used, Korean-made IBM-clone I’d replaced and given to him in the late 1980s. A more advanced machine than the TRS-80, he took it apart and put it back together, fascinated with its sophisticated components, and at the same time, I imagine, thinking in his own self-confident way that with the right knowledge base and enough time and money he might have built something from scratch just like it, or maybe better.

But while the computer’s hardware was easy enough for my father to figure out, he had difficulty understanding the applications it was designed to run. I still remember the phone call he’d made to me one night complaining about a popular word processing program, and the conversation about it going something like this:

“Hey Paul, can you help me? I’m having trouble with this damn software.”

“What is it you can’t figure out?”

“Everything, that’s what. How do you people get anything done on it? I sure as hell don’t know. And to tell you the truth, I’m starting not to want to.”

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Except for when he was ill those last years of his life (“No ambition,” he’d answer when I suggested he try to do some work) my father never stopped drawing in those spiral pads he bought at Nickerson & Hills on Main Street. There was always the need to be involved in something besides what he did during the day and being with his family at night. He never had a shortage of ideas to flesh out. He penciled lines and shapes and descriptive fragments no matter who was around or what other activity was in progress. Even when he was sitting at his favorite end of the couch (where no one else, not even guests, would settle) he seemed to be working out a problem, undistracted by the chatter or blink of colors flashing on the t.v.

He filled those pads with the intention of doing more than setting them aside to gather dust. Some of the drawings became the guidelines used to bear something into the 3-D world. To my delight, he constructed the above-mentioned mechanical soldier, though when idea met reality he had to make one important modification. Instead of steam coming out its ears, a function that would obviously prove to be problematic in an independent mechanism built on a small budget, its hat moved up and down in time to the taps of the drum strapped to its waist.

“Silly isn’t it,” he said about it. “You can have it if you want.”

He did that work in the basements of the buildings we rented apartments in. A few weeknights after dinner and most weekend afternoons, he put on the stained gray work smock and stood, never sat, at the heavy wood bench that was covered with tools, spools of wire, dozens of glass jars with nuts and bolts, coffee cans filled with oil and solvents, a selection of plugs, coils, capacitors, transistors, springs, small motors and whatever else might be useful. The chestnut-stained toolbox with multiple levels of drawers he’d owned since before I was born was kept within arm’s reach. It was the size of a small trunk, incredibly heavy, and held many of the tools he needed: wrenches, gauges, screwdrivers, drills, files, calipers, wire cutters and others. I was fascinated with its slick, polished exterior and the fine quality of its contents even if he warned me not to get too familiar with any of it. He feared, I knew because he’d told me, that I might be lured into making a living doing what he did.[6]

I recall those hours in the basement being some of his most serene, when he was at ease with himself, clear of vision, and fully involved in the moment; the same lighted satisfaction he must have seen on his own father’s face when an idea bloomed then obsessed him. He enjoyed being alone with his thoughts and materials, his skills employed for purposes that didn’t have to do with the bottom lines of large companies or for the military to destroy things and people with.

The dream of commercial success long over, he nevertheless approached his projects methodically, as if someone or some enterprise was waiting for them: the concept imagined and re-imagined, conveyed to paper, the parts gathered on his workbench then assembled meticulously, soldering, grinding, tightening, fitting and refitting with the most fastidious workmanship. He wasn’t bothered or burdened by failure. If something wasn’t working out as he’d wanted it to he’d move on to whatever was next in the imaginary queue he must have kept in his head; after all, there was more to build than there was time for.

Some of his larger constructions included a lathe he designed and made all the parts for and a telescope with lenses he ground by hand. (One evening, as I was watching him sand down one of them, he implied the glass had cost quite a bit. When I asked how much, he responded, “More than five hundred bucks, Paul, but don’t tell your mother, she’ll have my head if she hears that.” And then he let out a long, low whistle. It was a secret I was able to keep for as long as he was alive.)

Other constructions included an oscilloscope he had no real use for and a can opener that could open four cans at once (though only in theory, it turned out) and that looked oddly similar to the parachute jump amusement ride at Coney Island he might have been aware of. There was also a giant remote control airplane made of balsa wood that I watched him fly a few times at Brandies University’s athletic field.[7] Whatever their purpose, or lack of one, he felt compelled to build them, or he wanted to prove to himself he could make them, or he wanted to get a chuckle out of seeing them function, which may have been satisfying enough. The days spent in earsplitting machine shops that paid rent and bought food were time-consuming distractions when he was fully involved in something “down there,” as my mother, brother and I would say, sometimes humorously, sometimes sarcastically. The only events that could deter him more than a day or two were a major family crisis (which were recurrent enough) or a Bruins playoff hockey series. He derived great pleasure from working, but just on the things that interested him.[8]

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As generous and inoffensive as my father was, he wasn’t a social man. At times he could be gruff and distrustful, difficult to get close to and figure out. I know when he was at his jobs he stayed by his machines during his breaks instead of spending the hour or so connecting with his co-workers. Instead, he used that time to make something for his projects out of whatever scrap material might be leftover around the shop. It was a self-absorbed activity that I’m certain made him seem distant and might have even instigated more than a few stressful moments of the kind that can develop between people who are uncomfortable with each other but still have to work in the same physical space five days a week. I’ve no doubt that was another reason he changed jobs often as he did (only rarely did he mention how his day had gone, and when he did his descriptions made me aware they’d not been easy or enjoyable).

When he was done with a project, and my brother and I were still living at home, my father would emerge victoriously from the basement to get our attention. We were his only regular audience. Rarely would my mother be interested, and never when he was between jobs. (All that tension between them was also a battle between the practical and impractical worlds.) After the demonstration, wanting to find out if his effort was successful, he’d assume his usual, skeptical air and ask us, “So what do you think about that? Any good?”

If it were a toy, or something we could play with, it might entertain us for a day or a week until we abandoned it like a cheap Christmas present. Eventually, it would find its way back to the basement where my father would clear out a spot for it on a dusty shelf, or put it to rest in a cardboard box he’d stack on top of other boxes that had works of his in.[9] By then, anyway, he’d be deep into something else. The process from idea to drawing pad to building the object provided the creative satisfaction he needed. Beyond that, the finished piece would have little more value than to mention to visiting relatives or neighbors with a grin that would imply he’d made something with his hands that was pretty impressive even if they might not know how impressive or think much about it at all.

No matter what the reaction, or lack of one, he continued doing the work he wanted to do even if it had no sensible or profitable place in the world (that was all going to hell anyway, according to him).

He did make one attempt I know of to sell an idea. After he died I discovered a paste-up board in a brown envelope for a product called MAGCHEK, an electronic sight for bows he’d advertised in the back of a national archery magazine. “Tomorrow’s sight today” stated the catchy sales pitch. I’m not sure how many months the magazine carried it. I don’t remember him mentioning a word about it. I’m also not sure if he had any buyers. But from the price he was asking, $19.50 ($12.50 for replacement parts), he was obviously planning to keep his day job.

Only a few objects remain, one MAGCHEK, the tube and tripod stand for the telescope (but not the expensive lenses), a loose-limbed wood puppet that looks like it might have been a maquette for something more ambitious. It’s all that’s left besides memory to remind me that was what he chose to do with some of the precious free hours he had. And in saying that it’s taken me this long to see the similarities in what I do as a writer, in my own creative urges and struggles, and in the tremendous frustrations and surprising hidden joys of it as well.

—Paul Perilli

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Paul Perilli

Paul Perilli‘s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in The European, Baltimore Magazine, New Observations Magazine, Poets & Writers Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail and others. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in bioStories, Hektoen International, The Transnational, The Satirist, Coldnoon, Litro, Intima, Numéro Cinq and Thema.


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Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. I say at least because much of the documentation from 1924 to 1951 is missing. Whatever was developed and formally submitted to the U.S. Commissioner of Patents in those intervening years, and what might have happened to it, remains unknown to me at this time.
  2. If my information is accurate, the first patent issued to him in 1928 was titled “Propelling Mechanism for Vehicles,” which, put simply, was a “walking automobile.”
  3. The shop was on Charles Street Ave., a side street in Waltham’s west end and my father began working in it after he was back from WWII. As of 2015 the building is still intact and in use, though it’s much smaller than I remembered or imagined it being.
  4. It’s likely I was in it, perhaps many times, but, as I would have been less than a year old, I have no memory of being there.
  5. The manifest from the Citta di Napoli that brought my grandfather to Ellis Island listed him being twenty years old (he would actually be twenty four months later), single, a peasant, illiterate, and having $16 on him, thus making his activities after that fairly impressive. I’ll speculate some here, and say they might have been too much for my father to try to match or exceed,
  6. My father was so adamant about keeping me away from the skilled trades that my wife, a visual artist familiar with tools and materials, is often amazed at how inept I am repairing things around our house.
  7. He eventually crashed it into the stands and the damage was so extensive he never repaired it.
  8. My father had other diversions. Actually, he had a lot of them. He was also a fine figure skater, archer, bowler, pool player, woodworker, landscape and portrait painter (and self-proclaimed as someone who could “do anything well but make money”). He approached each with the same ferocious dedication he’d built that telescope and lathe with and also was, in a way, his own equipment manufacturer. A bowling ball, for example, would have to be sanded down so the weight was to the smallest fraction of comfort; the forefinger and thumb holes cut into it had to fit just right or be filled in, re-measured and re-cut until they were. The top brand of bow purchased new would transform from a finished product to raw material after he brought it home. Taken to the basement, he’d strip it down to its basic components and rebuild it, tinkering with the string and pulleys to get the right feel in the draw, honing the stabilizers so the arrows released with the absolute minimum vibration. Arrows were treated the same, new tips would be added, any decorative paint scraped off.
  9. As an artist, my wife requires even more room, equipment and storage space than my father needed (or could afford). Whereas I, when looking for a creative outlet, saw writing was the cheapest, least physically intrusive and most mobile of all.

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