Artemis eyed the guttering neon. “This is truly the Land of Milk and Caviar,” she said of Taunton, Massachusetts, and blessed their efforts.
And herein follows the brief history of Taunton, Massachusetts as a rock ‘n’ roll hotspot where I once played an evening of candlepins with a happy couple who had won WSAR’s Dream Weekend promotion. We had a limited budget. Besides, I was the local program director and I had to do it. Taunton played football in the same conference as our local Fall River team, BMC Durfee High School, so we had been there as visiting aliens. Ah, but I digress. Suffice it to say my brush with bowling left me bloodied but unbowed. I dragooned Big Jim Harrington, our afternoon drive-time jock, and his significant other to share the agony.
My name is Robert Hunter, professionally Rob Hunter, except for a year in the late 1960’s when I was Tom Mitchell, a house name. WSAR in Fall River, Massachusetts had bought a jingle package, and before it arrived Tom departed. I became Tom. Tom McMurray, no relation to the departed deejay and for whom I would work at 4 additional stations, WBT (Charlotte), WIVY (Jacksonville), WJAR (Providence) and WNDE (Windy in Indy), had his eyes on an award for rock ‘n’ roll journalism. Anything, actually, something nice to hang in the office — not quite as big as the Stanley Cup, but bigger than bronzed baby shoes. To this end we massaged the management at the nearby Bridgewater State Hospital into allowing us some chaperoned visits. This was two years after Frederick Wiseman’s Titicut Follies, and the Massachusetts Dept. of Correction was concerned with its image. Sure we could come, but no recording, no interviews. The administration got final approval on the scripts, if any.
By the second visit, Tom and I realized we were being led in a circle. The institutional green and cream paint schema and identical hallways were hard to figure out. We were in the older wing of the building, parts of which went up just after the Civil War. Metal reinforced doors with barred and shuttered hatchway windows at eye level. Most were closed.
“Hi,” said an inmate. His window blind had been left open, fresh air was a reward for good behavior we were later told.
“Hello there,” we said.
“Albert Desalvo,” said our guide. “The Boston Strangler.” Albert wiggled his fingers as we turned a corner. Albert was in for rape, a psychiatric patient; he was never convicted on thirteen counts of murder. We had planned a series on keepers and the kept, each becoming the other over time (Google Stockholm Syndrome — prisoners essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness). The scripts were denied. The series that would eventually win Tom his prize was an automotive scare piece, “Countdown to Death,” that featured squished heads and shattered bodies.
For those of us who fiddle away the idle hours in which we should be writing to view the statistics of our websites, a favorite activity is checking out the phrases visitors type in their Google searchboxes. Both “Night bowling in Taunton Mass” and “Invocation for a bowling tournament” have led over two hundred surfers to The Perfect Homburg, a story of mine. What did they think of, these traversers of the subetheric void, when they clicked on onetinleg.com expecting to copy-and-paste an upward-bound entreaty for straight balls and slick alleys? And why Taunton? And why a pre-chucking prayer anyway? Well, the prayer in the tale was uttered by Divine Artemis, candlepin ace of the Olympian pantheon, who was in Taunton for a duel-to-the-death. Not hers, either. Sister of Apollo, likewise the Fata Morgana, Lady of the Wild Things, Diana of Ephesus, et cetera, et cetera, Divine Artemis is a goddess and gets to say what goes; she makes the rules. Behold! Her prayer is an invocation of self. Ecce Bocce — a bowling alley:
There was the clearing of a heavenly throat. A radiant woman strode toward Dinwiddie’s Chuck-A-Bowl. She was naked under an unfastened mink coat that flew open at each step.
“I am here.” Marring her beauty, her lip had a curl to it, a slight inflection that made her look haughty and supercilious, like a banker about to break wind. She narrowed her eyes and wrinkled her nose, making an arch of the freckles across its bridge.
“An invocation for our games,” said Artemis, “one of my favorites and I hope it’s yours, too.” She took a deep bow, a piano bar hostess working the house. Her arms were extended and she held the pose. “You will join me, won’t you?”
Thirty sets of fierce red eyes glared at us from the bar, waiting. Of course we would. Artemis sang.
“There was a man, Joe Bangles, and he did a dance.
He changed his pants
Once a year.
Ooh, ooh, ooh…
Mister Joe Bangles, dance…
Kicked off his shoes, he couldn’t lose,
He had no clues.
Ooh, ooh, ooh.
The pants were new, the shirt was, too.
Your mind is weak, so shuck those sneaks.
I bless this alley, please don’t dally.”
Once we were inside, Artemis made a gesture, the effortless articulation of a perfectly proportioned wrist that indicated noblesse oblige, and we all were grateful. The minks jumped ship and headed for the crispy snacks spread out in the Chuck-A-Bowl’s refreshments area. The Divine Personage’s coat melted and flowed to the floor as the boys scrambled for the Cheetos and pickled eggs.
“Mister Joe Bangles?” I had to ask.
The goddess paused her lounge singer routine to explain. “The original,” said the goddess. “Robert Graves — a poet, I believe, who wrote this little number just for me:
“I am the turning of the wheel.
I am a salmon in the pool.
A spotted snake from whom mice quake
And share Apollo’s belly-ache.
Ooh, ooh, ooh, dance, Joe Bangles…
Ave atque Vale
For followers of bizarre phrases that bring visitors to their websites, here are a few that cyber-wanderers have typed into search engines to get to onetinleg.com (source: Google Analytics as of 2008): forum boarum, thin man by dashiell full text, cheese wheel marking for inventory control, Manny Ramirez of the Boston Red Sox, herring snacks in the 1950s, and how to get the dog smell out of patio cushions. The Forum Boarum was a favorite hangout for Pliny the Elder, a minor character in the story excerpted here.
But wait! These just in from A Rain of Frogs, the very blog you are reading: how to make origami pig machine gun, curing a groundhog hide, is zeitgeist historically correct, telegraph operators of the 19th century, the fastest hound dog in the state of Maine. On behalf of Maine’s legendary John Gould, thanks for that last one.
Which brings us in a sideways leap of logic to Top-40 Radio and Radio in general. By consensus the three great radio monologists were: Henry Morgan, Jean Shepherd and Garrison Keillor. Like Shepherd and Keillor, I come from the Midwest and can recall Aldo Leopold, Fightin’ Bob Lafollette and Chicago’s Calumet River regularly catching fire. Spalding Gray should go here, too. Spalding Gray got his monologist’s stripes in the theater — in front of real, live people, a scary thing. Spalding Gray’s family were neighbors on Samoset Ave. in Barrington, Rhode Island and I was the program director-slash-morning man of a 5000 watt AM rocker in the tidal marshes of Fall River, Mass. As our dog had chewed up his mother’s cockapoo in a fit of pique, the households weren’t speaking. I was supposed to be the celebrity. Well, I was a journeyman.
In any list of talkers upon the radio [see Stanley Elkin’s The Dick Gibson Show for a character conflated out of the natterers in the night, Long John Nebel in particular], if said list was long enough and “disc jockey,” surely a bottom-dweller in any hierarchy of the spoken arts, were to be included you might find my name near the bottom. I excelled at small-time radio — syrupy nostalgia for the good times while, if they weren’t the best as you slogged through them, looked great looking back.
The staff when I came on board at WSAR included David Craig AKA Johnny Dark on the overnight, Harold Schofield and John Lambis as 1st phone engineers (a four tower directional array sunk in the swamps between us and the Brayton Point power station). Rob Hunter was the morning man, Capt. Midnight (Tom McMurray, the boss, Group P.D.) was midday pinch-hitter before the arrival of Ron Cassinelli (Papa Cass) from East Providence. Larry (Fabrizio) Donovan did PM Drive. Mary Murphy, chief ego-wrangler and the office manager, somehow made it all work.
The boss had trouble pronouncing the letter “W” coming here from KRIZ in Phoenix. Tom’s cognitive difficulties extended to ethnicity as well — hence he felt a natural nom-du-disque for Cassinelli was not Papa Cass but “Ron Canaan.” Go figure. Bob Hollands, the Amway salesman, did middays later, as did “Harvey Holiday” (Harvey Levy from WDAS in Philadelphia) early P.M. drive. Harvey broke Jay and the Techniques’ Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie, WSAR’s only musical coup until Geoff Fox (who, with Jim Conlee, did weekends and utility whilst at Emerson College) ran us a bootleg copy of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Bob Ray came to Massachusetts via Hawaii; Dan Gifford brought his Grizzly Adams persona and broad “O” mid-Atlantic pronunciation from Baltimore [Note: it sounds natural now. The boss who couldn’t say “W” had a shit-fit over Dan’s accent. Me? For the last 30 years I’ve been living at the trailing edge of the Canadian Maritimes — think hoose instead of house.
The broadcasting consortium which included WSAR was the hiding place for a major chunk of the Kennedy money. Its umbrella identity was Knight Quality Radio. The flagship was WNAC-TV, Boston. The group was merchandized as “A Ring around Boston.” To everyone’s credit, during the Chappaquiddick business there was no interference with our news coverage. Dom Arena, the local cop who investigated the Chappaquiddick incident (the death by drowning of Teddy Kennedy’s girlfriend) loved lights and cameras and couldn’t stop talking. Everybody had the story before a watchful curtain of self-censorship descended. We told it all, albeit without the effervescence worthy of the trashy celebrity magazines. Perhaps self-censorship was expected.
In 2009 Teddy died, and Dan Gifford and I had an exchange of emails. Dan was then a reporter for Andy Breitbart’s “Big Hollywood,” a wing nut website. The net of conspiracy theories had reached beyond the grave, exposing Teddy’s subversive dealings with the Soviet government. Dan had exposed (Big Hollywood, September 2, 2009) the Massachusetts senator’s backchannel activities in the cause of nuclear disarmament. Shame, Teddy! Duck ‘n’ cover, kids. A leveling was observed in America’s heartland when Andy Breitbart, Dan’s publisher dropped dead, March 1, 2012, in Los Angeles, CA. He was not missed. Bye, Andy.
Big Jim Harrington and Bob Schlosser (Skippy Ross) filled out the roster of what I came to call “The League of Lost Boys.” Mike Ivers (from WEIM, Fitchburg, Mass.) anchored evenings and the Original Sunday Night Hall of Fame. The oldies on the HOF were all Mike’s. He hit town with a U-Haul trailerful. The Skipper, Ivers, Lambis and Hunter migrated to WBT with Tom when the shit hit the fan at Knight Quality Radio. As in olden times the household slaves were scheduled to get their throats cut and be buried with the pharaoh. Thanks, but no thanks. The U-Hauls hit the road.
The newsman was John Abaray in early ’68. Jarret Day and Mike Cabral followed. Cabral was one of the neatest guys I ever met for Grace under Fire, etc. Likewise Papa Cass, who became a reporter with the Providence Journal-Bulletin. I was the morning man and corporate whipping-boy (program director) at WSAR in Fall River, Massachusetts through 1968 and 1969. The boss and dispenser of whippings was Tom McMurray. Mike Cabral died in 2009 of a massive heart attack. He was press secretary for Rhode Island Governor Bruce Sundlun during his term in office. Hail and Farewell old friend. Green lights, blue skies, lollipops and rainbows, a clean windshield and a full tank.
Jarret Day note: Jarret, likewise a free spirit, held the award for a news tease at the top of the hour. "There'll be no Beano... in Boston," he warbled. Details were promised in twenty minutes from WSAR 20-20 News. One of those format thingies. It was assumed that while WPRO and WICE in Providence were doing their required-by-the-government newscasts on the hour and half-hour, we could be rockin' on. It didn't work. Beano was re-legalized in 1971, with a local election required in each city or town to allow it.
Taunton Massachusetts note: Fanciers of the paranormal might consider researching the Hockomock Swamp and/or the Bridgewater Triangle, the haunted and/or cursed Massachusetts wetlands wherein Bridgewater and Taunton both reside.
Fall River note: A post about Fall River and never did I once name-drop Lizzie Borden. But who am I to buck the trend of a totally interlaced noösphere? [cf.David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest] The Borden house was a dight downhill and across the street from the high school.
Tom McMurray after radio: “I (in 1977) went out west and was a railroad engineer for Santa Fe, something else I had always wanted to do.” Tom died of respiratory failure at his home in Florida on September 14, 1999. He was 56 years of age. [Quote from Uncle Ricky’s Reel Radio.]
copyright 2020 Rob Hunter