To learn a game, a coach comes in handy. In this case, I am referring to Bocci and how a small improvised Bocci court grew to have a sort of titanic influence on the people who casually used it.
I was working at a large folk heritage festival in the 1980s. The festival was a long national event, and its many presentations attracted national television and press attention.
As an anthropologist, I was “presenting”* Italian gardeners and members of several Saint’s societies. Several tents and small structures were part of the crafts, food, and music presentation. Off to one side, almost as an afterthought, was a Bocci court. For the uninitiated, Bocci belongs to a family of games popular since the Roman Empire’s days. There are two teams in a match. To simplify: The object is for one team to get as many of its balls as possible closest to the target ball, the pallino, then the opposing team.
There were schedules for cooking demonstrations, presentations in the gardens, woodworking, music, dance, and other things—Bocci kind of fell into an area by itself. None of the folklorists or anthropologists knew much about it. As a result, if you wandered over to the Bocci court, you were most likely met by an elderly Italian gentleman who would show you how to play the game. Word spread through the festival participants rapidly, and soon the spouses of participants who were accompanying wives and husbands began forming informal Bocci teams.
The court became one of the hidden successes of the festival. Because it was such a relaxed environment, staff began to take their off-duty moments at the Bocci court. Staff were drafted into teams, coached on technique, but allowed to play only when the game was very casual. There is nothing trivial about a match, no matter how relaxed the atmosphere. If you were spotted walking towards the court on a break, you might get asked, ” Going Bocci?” “Yeah, got a match.”
I don’t think the Bocci Court ever attracted the news organizations. It may have had more usage though than other areas of the festival. It was one of the elements that united many of those presenting and presented into a temporary community. This was so much so that many of their standout memories were of good times at the Bocci court.
*Pardon the colonialist usage of the word presenting. It implies that these very savvy people can’t speak for themselves, but it was part of the festival business’s terminology.
Part of the joy of being a long-term member of an operating room crew is knowing who has you back in any situation. The OR does not work well when significant trust issues exist within the team. Starting in OR’s in the 1960s and departing in 1980 for professional anthropology work, I saw a wide selection of OR’s. My favorite was the last Boston area, OR I worked in from late 1978 -until early 1980. It had affiliations with major hospitals and medical schools. Among the things that patients and surgeons never saw was the intense internal accountability level in the OR. Everyone participated in preparing instruments, surgical drape packs, and sterile goods for procedures in my day. Items for sterilization got sealed with a special tape that had marking bars on it. These turned dark when the article had been through a complete sterilization cycle in an autoclave ( a steam sterilizer). On each tape were the initials of the person who prepared it and the date sterilized.
The fight against bacterial contamination was constant. We did not have a separate team for cleaning. We cleaned our own assigned rooms between cases and prepped for the next day after the OR schedule ended for the day. Idle moments were spent in idle conversation – while we checked crash carts, sterile supplies, and equipment. There was an extraordinary amount of checks and counter checks to ensure that our surgical outcomes were good.
It’s not mawkish to state that while we had each other’s backs, we also had the surgeons and the patients. think about that next time you are wheeled into an OR for a surgical procedure.
The coffee had been cold for hours—the fourth cup from the free refill urn at the back of the counter. I’d nursed it and fantasies through the night. I took a last lingering look at her. We’d meant so much to each other, but now it was almost ended. Sometime around midnight, we had met, shyly exchanging glances across tables. The realization that we’d met in some previous existence clear to us both as we gazed anywhere except directly at each other.
There are almost meetings while refilling our cups; the shy smile while I almost touch her hand. We retreat to our tables and watch the cars on the street, listen to the sound tires make on the road when all else is silent. Somewhere nearby, the night hawk dives after dinner, and the sun hesitates to rise. As the street begins to lighten in the pre-dawn, we sit and watch the night workers straggle home, and the early risers stumble to their shifts.
We glance at our watches; I sigh; she opens a pocket compact and checks her makeup.
The sunlight is washing in through the Automats window, and it was time to go. Till tomorrow night, I whisper to her, till tomorrow night comes her soft reply.
There was nothing actually radical about most of us living at the Folkie Palace. Left-Wing, sure. While most of us were self-described as Anarchists, many argued that the description had more to do with our lifestyle than with actual political intent. Most of us disliked intensely the abuses of both the far right and the far left. But as one wag stated, sometimes even simple acts have political consequences.
It took ages to get our landlord to fix anything. So to cover a cracked front window, a handy placard was taped in place one fall evening. It read – Fuck Communism.” The placard had been convenient, made of sturdy cardboard, and fit the window neatly. It wasn’t a political statement anyone thought about much, but it caused repercussions that were at least in part political.
One night soon afterward, we were all sleeping off our Friday evening excess; a member of a primitive communist group living across the street shot a hole in the window and the sign. The following morning we merely plugged the hole with a cotton T-shirt being more concerned with our hangovers than with the violent act.
It wasn’t till midweek that we sat down to think about how we should respond. We did what we were reluctant to do and called the cops. Our relationship with the police was mostly limited to noise complaints when they told us to knock off the party. We had on occasion been swept for drugs they never found. But the local constabulary was amazed when we approached them. Their investigation turned up nothing.
We had to take things into our own hands.
We were who we were so; the investigation began at the bar at the corner of Grove and Cambridge – the Harvard Gardens. In a night of intense study (drinking), we found out that the responsible party was Rafael “Rafe” McNichols. The Patriarch of The Root; a primitive communist collective. Rafe was planning on purchasing property in Maine or Vermont for the collective to live on permanently. In the meantime, a cramped apartment served as headquarters. Rafe, it turned out, was a product of a well-to-do family from Boston’s western suburbs. He could be seen on the streets of Beacon Hill parading like a great patriarch with a beard and a coterie of young “wives” – in the words of a later Mel Brooks film – “It’s good to be king!”
A reasoned discussion with Rafe proved to be non-productive, so the Palace moved on to psychological warfare. My friend Bill was responsible for all the scatological, heretical, and blasphemous art decorating our quarters. He began producing satirical placards for our windows featuring Rafe in compromising poses with telling quips. One of these was Rafe’s caricature with money bulging from his pockets departing his family home – the caption read – “Rafe running dog Capitalist Fink!” Bill felt inspired, and new ones followed daily. We pasted smaller copies on the door to their building and placed them in the mailboxes. Juvenile? Sure, but within a week, Rafe was outside our building screaming for our blood. Within a few minutes, windows and doors opened along the street to allow all to witness a showdown.
Folkie Palace fielded all our members for the confrontation, as did the members of The Root. Screaming and yelling, chest-pounding, and dramatic postures were the order of the day. A primatologist would describe it as two monkey troupes meeting on the jungle trail, each trying to dominate the other through bravado. Someone from the Palace picked up a stick and a trashcan. Instead of using them to smash the opposition, he beat out a rhythm; a group grabbed the placards and began to dance about the street. Someone started a conga line. The Root retreated, yelling that it wasn’t over, but it was. By the time the police arrived, all the windows and doors were closed, trash cans neatly in rows and placards placed in them. The Root had lost the monkey troop battle of Grove Street, and folks now sniggered when Rafe went out to parade. No shots fired, no fists swung, just good old-fashioned childish shenanigans. Sometimes the best way to win a fight is to embarrass the hell out of the opposition while having a good time.
This post is about the USS Constitution’s sails. But there is a bit of a story that precedes it.
My eldest son, Nick, could be a problem when he was young. There was the time, at age nine, he disappeared at the WoodenBoat Show. To Matilda and I, he was among the missing. His mother anxiously wondered if Nick had slipped into the cold Maine waters. A frantic search of the entire boat show turned up no Nick.
Then I spotted him at the very end of a long line of large yachts tied up to the pier. He was at a party for the show elites.
After spotting him from a distance onboard an absolutely to die for Baltic style schooner, I had to negotiate my way through the owner’s security detail…while Nick stood there and smiled at me. After clarifying that that boy was my son, they explained that he was a guest, and I was not. Afterward, Matilda had to reason with me until I could see the humor of the situation.
How had Nick become a guest? It was exquisite. Nick evaded his mother while I was working my booth. He set out to wander the show with a brand new dollar bill in his pocket. My son is no slouch, and he’d spent formative years listening to my friends and me discuss boats. So, Nick walked up to the owner of the said gorgeous boat, pulled out his crisp dollar bill, looks up at the owner, and said – “Mister, if I give you this dollar bill right now…will you sell me this boat?”
Ahh, the essence of the moment; cute kid, money, and the intent to close a fiscal deal at a significant advantage to oneself. How could a capitalist not admire the Moxie, and audacity of the attempt?
Result: one invitation to post-show soiree as a guest of honor.
This ploy’s success was so good that Nick continued to use it boat show after boat show. He deployed it with much success and regularity that we had to eventually forbid him from doing it because some of my friends had junker boats they’d happily sell him to laugh at me.
Nick eventually seemed to outgrow his little routine, and I began to forget about it. But one Saturday, we were in Boston to visit a friend at the shipyard. We decided to detour for a look at the USS Constitution. As we were standing there admiring the ship, I saw the then Captain, Commander Beck. I pointed him out to Nick and then saw that old gleam come into his eyes. He reached into his pocket and began walking in the direction of Commander Beck. I lost no time and grabbed my boy. I glanced over at the Captain of the Constitution. I noticed that he was gazing at the man and boy with a dollar bill in his hand. To Nick, I said, perhaps a bit too loudly – “If you embarrass me in front of the Captain of the Constitution, I’ll sell you to the Navy as a Powder Monkey.
Nick seemed to realize that he’d pushed things as far as they’d go and agreed that a frigate was more ship than he wanted anyway.
Commander Beck had recently been the first captain of the Constitution to handle her under sail in years. So on the way home, I explained to Nick why this was such a big deal.
So now the story about sails for the USS Constitution:
In 1966 I had been a very wet behind the ears enlisted man in the Navy. Sometime between Gemini recovery deployments ( the space program, remember?), the USS Wasp was in the Atlantic for war games. One night several of us enlisted were out by the smokes locker having a very illegal smoke. The topic of conversation? Would they ever put sails on the Constitution? We had exhausted favorite liberty locations, girls, and booze as topics. So, as most Navy men will do, we moved onto an irrelevant ( as in above our pay grade) matter.
In the tropics, the night sky can be incredibly dark, even while phosphorescent organisms’ glow lights the sea. So we were all taken by surprise when we first heard and then saw a match flare beyond our circle. Out of the dark came the glow of someone lighting up – not one of us. As the figure moved closer, someone saw the rank and squeaked out something akin to” Admiral on deck.” It was Admiral Outlaw, one of the senior officers in charge of the war games. He unfroze the crew with a simple ‘”relax.” We all stood looking quietly out to sea for a moment. Then he authoritatively scuttled our BS. “The Constitution is a junior command. How would you like to be the commander who took a national treasure out to sea and ran it aground? Your career would be destroyed. Naw. They’ll never put sails on her.” and with that, the Admiral turned and headed back to officers country.
So to sum this story up: keep your dollar in your pocket, and never say never.
I am jumping the gun on this by week or so, but this Trout Lily blossomed last year not too far from this date. I have a few small areas where these grow in my back patch. Last year was the first time that bloomed.
Tourist buses were a frequent sight on the streets of Greenwich Village. We, the proud habitues, gave them a salute in various colorful ways—some by flashing the middle finger salute, others by playfully spinning about and displaying the nether regions. Many of us stood together in groups and went “ooh” and “ah” at the faces set against the windows. The drivers were pointing out, “…and there they are folks…genuine beatniks!” The people on the busses were from so far out of town that they really wouldn’t have known the difference between mid-town and the Village if the driver didn’t tell them. We, however, made much of our income from out-of-towners and desired that they get their money’s worth – while entertaining us.
There was Jerry. Jerry made a bit of cash as a barker in front of a lowlife basement establishment dealing in third-rate folk music and worse coffee. Walls and ceiling were painted black but lit with third-hand theatrical lighting that emphasized that here were the Bohemians. From down the street, you could hear his patter ” Step right up, step right up! See 49 female Viennese dentists drilling on our stage!…yes, forty-nine dentists 48 lovely costumes. Watch out for that first Step down, sir; it’s a doozy.”
Down the way was Sue. Sue would collar out-of-town couples ( couples only) and chat them up. Soon for drinks, she’d be showing you the sights, sounds, smells, and experiences of a genuine Village Saturday night; cheap. The tour frequently wound up at some westside dive bar over by the Hudon River like The Loose Caboose. Surprise!
Folks like me would have spent all our energy on our evening sets at our regular round of coffee houses. By 2 AM, we were laid back and experimenting with stuff to the “too blasted to care” crowd at the Why Not, Dragons Den, or other lower-tier basket houses – what was put in the basket after the set was what we got paid. Surprisingly, the drunks in the midnight to four AM choir could be very generous.
Sometime after four things closed down, the habitues gathered in places like the little all-night diner on Sixth Avenue. Then we wandered home to sleep till noon. As we were getting on the subway, we were mingling with the early morning crowd going to work; two lifestyles pretty much the antithesis of each other, but side by side in a city that did not ever sleep.
My friend Bill had a saying, “you need the patience of stones to see real change in people.” I’d hear this several times a week. One associate or another would do some lame-brained stunt that required transport to the Mass General Hospital, a loan, hiding from an aggrieved party. Bill himself admitted to several flaws. Primarily his inability to settle into marital bliss with the lovely Jeanie. Every so often, he’d promise to grow moss on the back of the rolling stone. He’d ask me to trek out to Massachusetts’s western edges with him to act as the go-between for Jeanie, her parents, and him. I was his accomplice, road brother, and friend. As they said at sea – grumble you may, but go you shall.
Jeanie was no idle gaudily attired flamfloo of a girl. As she was known to intone to Bill – she was raised correctly. When she looked down her elegant nose at Bill and me, the implication was clear: we had failings in that department. Bill and I would look guilty and find some excuse to head down to the Harvard Gardens.
In those days, I was no wordsmith but took it all in. Then came the day that Jeanie announced that she was pregnant. Bill solemnly declared that “My wandering days are done.” Jeanie looked genuinely pleased. True to form, though, I smiled, opened my mouth to speak – and Bill glared, and said – “don’t you dare say it!”
I replied that ” My mother always said that water would smooth even the most obdurate of stones in time.” Bill considered this while Jeanie smiled hugged her newly domesticated husband and father-to-be.
I’m posting this as part of Fandango’s Flashback Friday. Originally published on April 2 of last year:
I sealed Pint XXV shut last night, and that marked the close of another sapping season for the little sugarbush behind our house. Just a bit over three gallons of syrup, enough for family needs.
This morning the dog, cat, and I went out to survey the slow opening of spring in our tiny woodland garden. Hepatica, still not quite in bloom, trout lily slowly emerging from last fall’s leaves.
The opening of the maple buds and chorus of peepers marked the end of sapping, while the slow progress of the plants that we call spring ephemerals began the opening of the next phase of spring.
After the cat gets settled into her spot in my greenhouse workshop, and the dog wanders off to harass some early chipmunks, I settle down to woodcarving while listening to the radio.