Friday, February 20, 2009

Soles'n'Bowls

I thought that I had told this story here before, but a search proved that I haven't, so while I'm in a story-telling mood, thanks to the Flash Fiction Carnival people, I'll tell this story one more time:

  • I was working on Rock Street in Fall River at a little radio station. I wish that it were all as quaint and hometowny as that appears, but it wasn't. The station was a conglomerate of loosely-affiliated broadcasters from the area, many of whom were conscientious and exceedingly talented. Others: not so much.
  • The building was a ramshackle former Nineteenth Century slap-up that sucked the life out of every human who had ever entered the door. From the feng shui nightmare of a teetering and narrow shag-carpeted stairway that slid directly out the front door, and to the bathroom that fiddler Johnny Cunnigham refused to enter (preferring to wait until we got to The Uke).
  • Some readers, who are familiar with those sticks, will claim that it was cozy and it, frankly, it could be to those of us who worked there enough to use the address as our home. I admit that I cleaned as much as I could, and that it didn't smell too badly, even with the cigarettes, dogs, and pizza boxes. (I know for a fact that one dog, a Rottweiler named Ahab, smelled better than some of the talk hosts.)
  • I was taking a "walk" outside of the studio, stalking up and down the street puffing on cigarettes and trying to figure out a way to tell "the boss" that I had to work three other part-time jobs in order to afford to work at that place. Since meeting the GM meant that I would likely have to climb the horrid stairway and probably get pulled aside by an account executive who was probably too cute for her own -- and certainly my -- good, to hear the latest tale of our abusive workplace, I spent a lot of time avoiding having to hear that guy's advice.
  • Which usually was, "Take a walk."
  • Because of the force of my spiritual upbringing -- which used to surface during times of great stress -- I stomped toward the nearest steepled building, which was the Central Congregational Church at 100 Rock Street, a beautiful and historic example of John Ruskin's idea of Gothic architecture (one of few North American samples) and that became my cause for a few months.
  • Because there was an odd printout sign that had been spewed out by some dot-matrix printer. S.A.V.E. (Save Architecturally Valuable Edifices) it read. A phone call and a meeting later, I was part of a bunch of starry-eyed optimists who had it in their minds to turn the place into an "arts complex." With studios and galleries and classrooms and performance spaces and stages and recording studios and conferences and movie nights and banquets and fundraisers and firetrucks and guns and...
  • Ideas are the mothers' milk of the creative economy, but Richard Florida hadn't coined the term yet and we were dealing with what was essentially an abandoned and gutted church that used to have a pew where Lizzie Borden used to sit. Which, of course, had been sold in some auction. But, I will never smell Murphy's Oil Soap without thinking of that beautiful woodwork in that magnificent Great Hall. And how we had scrubbed years of incense and candle smoke and coal soot off the walls, if only so that Aerosmith could film parts of a video there.
  • A couple of "Open House" fundraisers were held, attended by a few people who were curious about what the spooky old place looked like inside. I even tried to throw together an open mic night and a poetry reading. I was even involved in a remarkable production of Edward J. Moore's The Sea Horse. I think I was Assistant Director. Or Lights and Sound Designer and Technician. Or Production Assistant. It's a two character show and there were only 3 of us involved, so I must have done something.
  • It was suggested to me that a certain local businessman should be "on the team," or at least hit up for some capital. Why not the guy who owned the radio station I worked for? Since his world headquarters was just a few blocks north on Rock Street, I stopped by and pitched. I had nothing to lose. I had already left a lucrative position in a billion-dollar television operation to "follow my heart back to my hometown," or whatever.
  • "Local historical architectural treasure... As someone who develops real estate and has always had the best interests of Fall River in mind, you surely must see the worth of one of the last examples of Ruskinian Gothic architecture... Your association with the project would show that radio can really work with the community... we can even broadcast from there ... You are a leader, and other businessmen will follow your lead. They would join as soon as they heard you were in... People always talk about how you help out kids, and kids are what the Central will be all about: classes, lessons, performance space..."
  • It was a cold call and I was out of practice. But I didn't need to hear his first response:
    "I don't fund Ahts'n'Crafts."
  • Usually when I tell this story, I finish it right there, laughing heartily with the rest of the Shiraz-sippers at my not-at-all-shocking admission about some rich guy nobody cares about anyway. There, all wrapped up, nice neat bow. Also: not finished.
  • I often don't finish the story, or people are laughing so hard at the blockhead or coming up with their own incredulous instances, that they don't hear what happened next.
  • "Look, I know what you're doing and I wish you luck," he said with a sincerity that really surprised me. "But, you'll learn that this community just doesn't support these things."
  • When I shared the story with some of the others in the group, one member piped up that she just couldn't believe it. "He was involved in Re-Creation! He helped out with Jesus Christ Superstar!"
  • It might have been Godspell, but I remember her surprise that I had been dismissed by a guy who had worked with an organization that gave kids throughout the city the opportunity to engage in a Summer musical theatrical event. I remembered the project in question and even knew some of the participants. I can't remember if the project was ever repeated.
  • I do know that "Re-Creation" had mutated into "C-D-Rec," which seems to be a federally-funded and locally-supported year-round office that provides computer training, sports, dance, cooking classes, tutoring...
  • And, yes, Arts & Crafts.
  • Maybe they can put in a bid for the 100 Rock Street property. When it gets auctioned on March 26.

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