95 America Street, Chapter 3

April, 2005

I started work on Mr. Pemberton’s house a couple weeks later.  An annoying realtor by the name of Diane Spencer was also there.  She showed up in her obligatory Range Rover with her company’s name “Spencer Associates” stenciled on the side.  And of course, out of sheer necessity, she took up two spots in the driveway, forcing me to park farther from the front door and lug my tools a greater distance.

I had never met Diane Spencer but I had heard about her and seen her face plastered over real estate signs in the nicer parts of Boston.  I heard she was an aggressive, kind-of-hot-for-her-age, back-stabbing bitch that was the most successful realtor in town.  I was disappointed Mr. Pemberton hired this dragon but unfortunately, it was probably going to take someone like this to sell such a large, oddball property for the amount it was worth in the part of town it resided.

She was talking to Mr. Pemberton in the next room when I entered.  She was wearing a very high quality, stylish, khaki-colored suit with dark brown high heels that brought her to the make-believe height of 5’9”.  The light-colored suit help highlight a deep tan that actually looked real and probably recently originated in Miami or some Caribbean island.  Her well-placed bangs hid unwanted wrinkles and made her appear a tad more girlish without compromising her mature, commanding presence.  Her hair was a product of such constant Newbury Street salon attention, it was hard to tell if it was her actual hair or a really nice wig.  Her Maker gave her an attractive slim figure that she chose to look after.  She smelled nice.

Diane walked over to me as if she was the Queen of “The Castle”.  She felt it was her duty and her right to tell me not just what to work on but how and in what order.

“I think you should start with the trim first and I know how you painters love to use semi-gloss on the trim but I think satin finish would be more appropriate.  After that, I would deal with the ceilings.  Please don’t use regular ceiling white.  It’s too bright.  I think a linen white would be best.”

I put my five-gallon bucket of tools down.

“Hi, I’m Chris.  The trim will be done after I take care of removing the wallpaper.  Or maybe I’ll do the ceilings after I strip the wallpaper.  I don’t know.  I haven’t decided yet.  Unless something drastic has happened, Mr. Pemberton is paying the bill which means he’s the one I take orders from.”

I picked up my bucket and walked upstairs.  I didn’t look back at her as I went.  I didn’t need to.  I knew she now disliked me as much as I disliked her.  I started to work.  Twenty minutes later, I could hear Diane leaving.  Mr. Pemberton walked up to me shortly thereafter.

He was smiling. “I am sorry about that.  Mrs. Spencer is supposedly the best realtor in Boston but she seems to lack some of the more elementary social graces.”

“Well, I’m sorry if I was too zesty.  The thought of all this wall paper removal has me in a crusty mood.”

“You’re too young to be crusty!”

“Wallpaper removal ages you prematurely.  Scientists haven’t proven it yet but I have.  I’m only 13 years old.”

He laughed and held his hands up near his face with his palms facing towards me. “Ah!  Don’t tell me that!  I want to be able to claim ignorance when I get arrested for violating child labor laws!”

You can really learn a lot about someone when they laugh.  The beauty of laughter is that your guard is supposed to be down and you surrender control.  It should be an unveiled glance into a person in their raw form.  Some people try to mask this and choose not to relinquish control while they laugh.  When I saw Mr. Pemberton laugh, I could see him as a young man.  This is the great thing about laughter with no restraint as you get older, you become as you were many years ago.  Mr. Pemberton took this to another level.  I could see him as a younger man almost all of the time.  He somehow avoided all the artificial restraints we put on ourselves as we age that hide what we are or what we once were.

I remember reading some old book of wisdom that was either Chinese or Japanese in origin.  One thing from it that stuck with me was that it compared a person to a white robe.  When a white robe is new, it is pure and free from blemish but as time goes by, it becomes stained, dirty, and tattered.  The book claimed this was the way for every robe, every person.  For his age, Mr. Pemberton was the whitest robe I’d ever seen.  A brand new white robe does not impress me.  A robe that has been through a long human life of any sort that still appears close to its original glory is something that deeply impresses me.

A wonderful line from “Red” portrayed by Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption comes to mind.  To escape from Shawshank Prison, Andy Dufresne is forced to make his way through a 500-yard-long sewage pipe which prompts Red to say, “Andy Dufresne – who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.”  Life is often like this sewage pipe but no one seems to make it through clean except Andy Dufresne and Thomas Aloysius Pemberton.

“Don’t worry about the feisty Mrs. Spencer.  I’ll put this house on the market when I am ready to,” he assured me.

“Any thoughts as to where you’ll go after you sell this place?” I asked him.

“Well if I’m not dead, I guess I’ll move south but not Florida like everyone else my age.  I’m thinking something like Charleston or Asheville, maybe.  If I am dead, then my hope is to make it to Heaven which I hear is the best retirement community that money can’t buy.”

“Something tells me you won’t be dead.  Asheville?  Where is that?  In the Carolina’s somewhere?”

“North Carolina.”

“What made you consider Asheville?”

“I’ve been through there a few times and it always seemed like a charming place, big enough where there’s interesting things to do but small enough to be relaxed.  And it’s earned some impressive superlatives recently from a bunch of magazines.” He laughed and continued, “AARP Magazine said it was one of the ‘Best Places to Reinvent Your Life’.” He laughed a little harder, “Rolling Stone said it’s the ‘New Freak Capital of the U.S.!’” Now he could hardly talk, “And Self Magazine rated it ‘The Happiest City for Women’ and God knows I love being around happy women!”

“Wonderful!  So you can be a reinvented freak that’s chasing after happy women!  Damn, I may be moving with you.”

He walked away, still laughing, with his hands in his pockets.  That was another great thing about Mr. Pemberton.  No matter what kind of mood he was in or what the situation was, he so often had his hands in his pockets.  Some people look unconfident when they do it but with Mr. Pemberton, it gave him a regal, gentlemanly air.

I labored on with the wallpaper removal, spraying on stripper and scraping it off, cursing the slimy mess I became part of.  It didn’t help that I am a very neat person that enjoys organization.  Purposely making a mess that sticks to me goes against my very nature.  It was a struggle to not look at how much more I had to do as I went.  I tried but always failed to not constantly observe my slow pace and calculate how much time remained.

A few hours later I went downstairs to eat my lunch.  It was sunny and in the high 40’s which was warm enough for me to take my lunch outside.  I sat on the front steps that faced south and into a welcoming sun.  Mr. Pemberton came out with a cup of tea for me.  He left the front door open so we could hear the jazz he just put on. It Never Entered My Mind by Miles Davis was playing.

“It Never Entered My Mind by Miles Davis.  This is a song that deserves to be called pretty.  Miles recorded it in ’56 but the song is originally from a musical called ‘Higher and Higher’.  This is my favorite Miles Davis recording.  I remember hearing this song for the first time as I drove into Boston for the first time.  I only meant to visit here but my visit has lasted almost 50 years.”

“Where are you from originally?” I asked.


“What made you come to Boston?”

“After Interstate 70 eminently marched through my family’s farm, my parent’s decided to sell the land off in chunks.  They actually made a decent profit doing it that way.  Although we hated it at the time, they put an exit right next to our farm which created an artificial modern little hub of commercial activity.  We weren’t that far from Topeka to begin with but now with the new highway, the time was cut in half which made our area even more desirable.  Over time, hotels, gas stations, car dealerships and housing developers were willing to pay decent money for land in that area.  So my parents sold off the cows and farming equipment and patiently, slowly sold off the land over the next 10 years.  When they were done, they took their new found wealth to Florida and retired in ample comfort.  I decided to leave right when they made the decision to start selling the land and the cows.  The life I knew there was dying and I couldn’t stand to be an audience to its slow, agonizing demise.  I called up a friend from the war that lived in Boston and he invited me to stay with him for a while so I packed a few things into an old pickup truck and headed this way.  I drove back roads as much as possible.  I didn’t want to use or benefit from the very thing that had ruined my family’s way of life.  But as it turned out, this very thing brought my parents more money than if they had kept farming.  A fine example of making sweet delicious lemonade out of some sour highway lemons.”

95 America Street, Chapter 4

May 5, 2012

Franklin Holmes Community Center was a unique plot in its immediate area for one major reason: the building itself covered a footprint that was much smaller than the remaining property that surrounded it which was mainly a paved lot.  It used to be a lumber/hardware store which would account for all the space around the building and the ample parking.  The store went out of business at some point in the mid-90’s, the reasons being that: a) the original owner handed the business off to an incompetent son and b) Home Depots started pulling business away from it.  The owner’s son sold the property to the city who in turn tried their less than best to convert the space into a community center.  It was a tad awkward inside but the center was well-loved by its patrons.

The front door was a thing of the past and clearly a leftover from the store (in fact, the whole outside looked original, save some paint).  It was one of those automatic opening doors that simply swung open and into a metal railing when you stepped on a black mat that was between two railings in front of the door.  I don’t know which surprised me more: the fact that a community center would have allowed what could be a dangerous device or the fact that the door still worked.  The front room was large with a receptionist window that looked into a small office.  No one was in the window but that was probably due to the recently smashed glass that left sharp pieces all over the receptionist’s desk.  There were also three areas of spray-painted graffiti on the walls.  Eventually a door opened and a woman in her mid-forties approached us.

“How can I help you?”

“Hi, you must be Lily, the director. I’m Chris and this is Stever and Ripps.  I just spoke with someone at City Hall about coming down here to help you folks out.  They said they were going to call you.”

“Oh…yes.  Thanks for coming down.”

“Our pleasure.  Someone really did a number on this place.”

Lily definitely seemed a bit distracted.  I wasn’t sure if that was due to being at the head of a community center that was under attack or because there was a sleeveless gentleman in front of her holding a 2X4.  As she spoke, her speech started in a very neutral position but slowly grew to the point where tears were nearby, “We’ve had to hire a handyman to fix all the damage but he can barely keep up with the vandals and it’s costing us so much and members are starting to leave and it won’t be long before we have to close the…I’m sorry.”  She closed her eyes as if to hold back tears.  The tears did not come but she erratically wiped her fingers under her eyes as if they were there.

I tried to comfort her. “Don’t be silly, Lily…I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to rhyme like that.  Anyways, don’t apologize for your emotion.  We’ll find out who’s doing this and put an end to it.  Why don’t you show me what’s happened here.”  I looked at Ripps and Stever.  “You two guys can split up and have a look around.”

Lily took me into a kitchen area.  Broken dishes and glasses had been hastily swept aside on the floor.  There was more graffiti on the walls but this graffiti was done with a magic marker.  The graffiti was very bizarre:


“When u drink MILK, u r drinking cow PISSSSSSSS”

“The recipe for ice: put some water in a freezer, you idiot.”

I held back my laughter. “At least the vandal’s graffiti themes are in line with this particular room.  It looks like you have some security cameras around here. Could you take me to wherever you keep the recording device?”

Lily walked me down a corridor, took out a key, and unlocked an unmarked door.  Inside was a closet that served as the CCTV system hub and a janitor’s closet.  The CCTV rack was roughly three feet from a sink used to wash out mops and paint brushes and many other grim objects.  I was amazed the CCTV components were still working as they had been clearly splattered with all kinds of detestable liquids over the years as evidenced by countless dried up drip marks that left behind questionable residue.  The system was old and therefore the recording was done with a VCR.

“Would you mind if I looked at some of the tapes?” I asked her.

“I’d love to but the vandals have stolen the recent tapes.  My guess is that they were trying to cover their tracks.”

Lilly locked the door.  I noticed there was no forced entry into the closet so my guess is that the vandals somehow found a key or picked the lock to gain access.


Ripps walked into a small weight room and found three oddly matched souls.  The three appeared to be doing weightlifting motions but with no weights.  There was a Hispanic boy of about 12.  He was doing a curling motion.  The second was an overweight white man that may have been homeless.  He was lying on a bench and bench pressing nothing.  The third was a fit black woman in her early 70’s with a hairdo that could only be described as immaculate that was wearing a large t-shirt that said “OY VEY!” in green letters that appeared to be brushed on.  She was doing lunges.  Ripps found this all to be disturbing.

“You heretics!  How dare you do aerobics in a weight room.”

The boy spoke, “We’re not doing aerobics.”

In a garbled voice, the white man followed, “Someone stole our weights!”

And the older lady finished, “So all we have left to lift is our imagination.”

“That ain’t right.”  That was all Ripps could say.  He stood there watching them.  He was mildly upset about a community center being vandalized but now it really angered him.  Ripps looked at the boy and remembered a time when he too had no weights to lift and was forced to use his imagination.


I found Ripps coming out of the weight room.  “Did you find anything?”

“Someone stole the weights!” he said with genuine concern.  “But don’t worry.  I gave them some other stuff to lift.”

I opened the door to check on Ripps’ handiwork and was amazed.  The boy had been given two identical pails that had the same amount of water in each.  This was great since he could now adjust the weight and the fact that it was filled with water forced him to have proper, steady form so the water would not splash everywhere.  The woman was now lunging with a brick in each hand.  Behind her, organized in twos were various objects that one could hold that appeared to be various weights but roughly the same as its partner.  The man on the bench made me a little nervous.  He was bench pressing an old television.  Behind the bench on the floor were a several moving blankets whose purpose I assume was to act as a safe place to dump the TV when the man got tired.  It was a strange scene but all three had some variety of smiles on their faces.

“Good job, Ripps. That’s what I’m talking about.  That’s exactly where your head needs to be at as a Jambassador.”  I then leaned in closer to him, handed him a piece of paper, and spoke quietly, “I want you to, pardon me, you and Linda to reposition all the cameras as I’ve indicated on that piece of paper.”

“Sure thing, bro.  Hey Chris bro, what’s up with the gay dude, Future Queer?”

“Call him Fred because that’s his real name.”

“Whatever…why do we have to have a gay bro?  I don’t want people thinking the Jambassadors are into uhh, you know, faggotry.”

“Ripps, only you could make a word that doesn’t exist, offensive.  Listen, give him a chance, get to know him.  He’s a nice guy and I’m sure it won’t be long before you see how invaluable he is to our team.”

“If he’s so awesome and can travel through time, why doesn’t he just fix everything?”

“Well Ripps, if we don’t know what’s causing the problem, it’s hard to know where to send him.  Time travel is extremely dangerous so we can’t send him anywhere until we have a complete picture of where we’re sending him to.  And, any jump that Fred makes has to be very important since his superiors will aggressively hold him accountable for each jump.  Fred has to give an extremely detailed report for all of his time movements.”

“Whatever.  He’s more of a lady than Linda.”

Judging from his demeanor, it looked like my words did have some impact but it was hard to tell how much.  Hopefully Ripps’ pride would dissolve enough to the point he could see that Fred presented no threat to him.


Stever walked into a large room that served as a gym or a function room or in the current case, a theater.  At the opposite end was a stage with some curtains, lighting and sound set up, the likes of which were all rudimentary.  A woman in her mid-twenties by the name of Amanda Pimmsley was standing in front of the stage and was in the middle of speaking to a group of children that were sitting on the floor in front of her.  She was discussing the cutest of details about their upcoming play.  Given the recent trouble, the prevailing mood of the children was one of apprehension.  Stever stood by and watched with a big smile.  When Miss Pimmsley, as the kids called her, stopped, Stever cut in.  “Hi, Stever Paté, international man of MOTIVATION!  I’m here with a group that’s going to help save your center.  Miss Pimmsley, would you mind if I have a quick word with these winners?”

Amanda Pimmsley had gotten word earlier in the day about our arrival.  Otherwise, she hopefully would have sent this peculiar stranger packing.  She nodded and made a “the stage is yours” motion.  Stever was used to what he had in front of him, an audience that was a slightly confused and timid.  The tiniest err in content or delivery and he would lose them.  Stever loved this challenge for he knew that if he could win someone over that was dubious in the beginning, he would have them for life.  In fact, he liked to go one step further and literally lose the audience and then win them back.  Such a move was “signature Stever” as his motivational speaker peers would say.

“Folks, I know some scary stuff has been going down and you’re not sure if you should do this play on Friday.  You’re all feeling fear…and that’s good.  I feel fear when I swim in the jelly fish-infested waters of Nova Scotia.  I feel fear when I wrestle strong monkeys in South America.  Why do I put myself in the house of fear?  Because fear puts you on the edge…and that’s where I live, darn it.  I’m serious; try mailing something to Stever Paté, The Edge and it will get to me.  If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”

A child timidly rose his hand.  Stever asked him to speak and the small boy did so, “I feel fear right now.”  This was it.  This was the place Stever wanted to be: the first moment of losing his audience.  Now it was time to bring them back by building them up.

“Good!”  Stever said in a burst.  “Then I officially welcome you to the edge, my friend!  I want you all to repeat after me, ‘I feel fear’.”  The children all looked at each other but said nothing.  Stever smiled comfortably which caused them to feel a sliver of trust.  “It’s okay folks.  You can do it.  Repeat after me, ‘I feel fear.’”

A little more than half responded, “I feel fear.”

“I’m on the edge!” Stever directed.

The ones that did not speak before now spoke and those that spoke before did so now with more passion. “I’m on the edge!”

“I’m a winner!!”

Now in a complete, energetic unison they returned, “I’m a winner!!”

“I’m going to buy a copy of Stever Paté’s entire motivational program on laser disc!”

With smiles and a few laughs, they launched into this line, “I’m going to buy a copy of…”

Stever interjected, “Ha!  I got you guys.  And hey, I’m going to get you all a Stever Starter Kit.  You can pick one up here tomorrow.  I’m outta here…with no more fear!  Thank you Miss Pimmsley.  They’re ready.  It’s going to be the best theatrical production Boston has ever seen!”

Amanda Pimmsley was amazed and pleased and in the middle of a good laugh.  Once the laughter subsided, she thanked Stever.  Stever jogged to the door but when he was close to the exit, he spun around on one foot and shouted, “I’m a winner!”

They volleyed back with no thought of delay.  “I’m a winner!!!”


Ripps arrived at the last security camera, next to the bathroom.  He could hear some sort of construction work being done nearby so he repositioned the camera with the help of Linda as quickly as possible.  Like the space oddity he is, Ripps spoke to a piece of wood.  “Those protein shakes are hitting me.  I gotta take a leak so you wait here.  I’d take you with me but the bro’s room ain’t no place for a broad.”  Ripps set Linda down just outside the men’s room door.

Immediately after Ripps entered the bathroom, Carl the handyman came out of a nearby door.  He was probably about 50 but because this man clearly did not take care of himself, his age was hard to determine.  He had scruffy dirty blond hair that you could almost call curly but technically had to classify as wavy.  The only grey hair to be found on this man was in a very trim, George Lucas beard that seemed to exist in hopes of adding some definition to a jaw line that was practically buried in a surplus of neck flesh.  His red flannel shirt was rolled up at the sleeves exposing some beefy, sawdust-covered forearms.  This poor shirt did all it could to keep an industrial-strength gut at bay.  Below this gut, in the order of their appearance, was a tool belt, faded jeans and dark-colored work boots.

He walked over to a water fountain next to the men’s room door and inhaled water in an effort to replace the water lost in a glorious sweat mark that covered half of his back.  The disgusting way he slurped and allowed his beefy mouth to touch the nozzle was the very reason I avoid water fountains altogether.  To make matters worse, he began putting his hair and face into the stream of water which caused his germ-stacked hair to slide over the nozzle like the long strips of a felt curtain sliding over a car in a car wash.  He brought his head upright and shook it around like a dog exiting a pond, spraying water everywhere.  As he made his way back, he noticed Linda leaning against the wall.  He picked her up, examined her with great curiosity and brought this unique piece of lumber into his workspace.  Needing some small sturdy blocks, he placed Linda in the tray area of his compound miter saw and began to mercilessly cut Linda into pieces.  The saw seemed to struggle a little as it went.  The sound it made was one of sorrow.


I paced in the front hall, writing some notes while I waited for Ripps and Stever to return.  Stever was the first to make it back. “You find anything?” I asked him.

With the glow of a newlywed, he told me, “Just a bunch of young humans that have embraced their fears.”

“Ha.  That’s great.  Where did you see…” Before I could finish, Ripps flew into the foyer area in a panic.  I had not known Ripps for that long but I felt this was a state he was rarely in.  I would never had told him this but there was something almost geekish about his panic.


“No Ripps, I thought she was with you.  Try to relax.  Where did you last see her?”  I couldn’t believe I was talking about a piece of wood this way but he was very distressed.   It was as if the loss of this inanimate object brought back some childhood terror.

As I later found out, Ripps had a toy robot when he was a child that he named Linda.  One Sunday afternoon, as his father was watching the New England Patriots lose, he was putting the finishing touches on a 12-pack of some pathetic brand of beer.  Ripps was in the corner of the family room playing with his robot.  His father heard him call his toy “Linda” which sent him into a rage.  “Boys don’t call their toys, Linda!  What’s wrong with you?!”  Ripps’ father ripped the toy out of his son’s hands and whipped it against the fireplace, causing the toy to shatter into an uncountable number of pieces.  Ripps’ sight was rendered useless with the thick warm layer of tears that coated his eyeballs.  His father gruffly walked out of the room and left Ripps to pick up all the pieces of his robot.  Flustered and emotional, he at first didn’t feel the burning heat of the fire as he went to rescue the pieces of Linda that fell into the fireplace.  He had to go to the emergency room to treat the burns he received from getting too close to the flames and from the pieces of melting plastic he touched with his hand.  There was a part of Ripps that burned himself on purpose – that was his way of punishing his father.  Ripps would watch his father’s face with a dark joy the few times he uncomfortably lied to a couple friends or family about how Ripps received his burns.

“I put her down near the last camera we fixed…I went to take a leak…gone, she was gone.” Ripps finished and there was a silence that lasted a few moments.

Stever stared at him and truly believed he could heal Ripps but it was clear he did not yet understand what this seemingly unimportant piece of wood meant to Ripps. “Ripps, you’re experiencing loss and loss is a challenge.  This is a good thing.  I once lost my favorite pair of motivational slacks.  I dared not enter a stage to motivate unless it was in these slacks.  But what I…”

It was easy to see that Stever’s empathizing was doing more harm than good so I cut in, “Whoa Stever, let’s chat about your slacks another time.  Ripps, one way or another I’m going to get my hands on the security camera footage and when I do, we’ll find out what happened to Linda.”