Originally written for the Clamtastic blog The Gloucester Clam, I’ve posted it here with some original flavor.
Yes, I Am Not A Townie: Adventures In Nonlocal Consciousness
I am not a born-and-bred townie, but I would literally trade my life and kids to be one. In fact, that is exactly what I’ve done, willingly, along with my wife. And we live all our days in Fishtown in peace. These are now our beaches and parks and Boulevard and favorite pizza and Asian cuisine restaurants.
Here’s the real life story.
To become an accepted townie, I was afforded a chance to go before the not-so-shadowy Townie Council that runs Fishtown. This Council oversees all of Gloucester’s doings, including what non-townies are allowed to run for office, open businesses, and film movies. For me I was just asking for individual townie status, so I filled out the right forms and was given my day in Townie Court. My options were to become an above-the-bridge or below-the-bridge Townie, and of course, to stay as authentic as possible, I chose correctly: I would become a Downtownie (plus that’s where we can afford to live, unlike our previous stays in the winter months in Annisquam where good money just can’t get you more than winter rentals). Living within a block of the library, fire station, all the shops and restaurants, and a supermarket (yes, ghetto Shaw’s, not Gucci Shaw’s) is the greatest place to possibly be. Plus we can literally walk to several beaches and parks, which, growing up in New Jersey, was never the case. Imagine, driving two hours to the “shore” only to walk ten blocks to a beach that you then have to pay for! That is the urban hellscape that is the reality for most states in our Union. To not live in or near an Ocean hamlet is to not really live.
Deep below the gazebo at Stage Fort Park there are a series of tunnels leading to the headquarters of the Townie Council, where transplant “locals” like me are given passage and are blessed in to become a true townie, independent of previous land of birth or residency. The tunnels reach from Magnolia through town, and then end at the Rockport town line, where a better, cleaner line of tunnels takes over but, for whatever reason, has only sharp rocks underfoot. I was lead to the council room by a Freemason-like group of landscapers, housepainters, and fry cooks, and constantly asked what street I lived on and if I was related to somebody’s cousin from Bay View, Riverdale, or East Gloucester. Alas, I was not. My people have never existed in Fishtown before.
Headed by the actual Fisherman-at-the-Wheel Statue, the Council consists of St. Peter himself (in statue form, of course, and always guarded by three elderly men smoking Pall Malls), St. Ann and St. Mary (held up in the air around the Council table by six young men sporting late-1800s Italian boating gear), a Floating Dunks Cup (a non-recyclable Styrofoam cup covering a plastic cup, simply referred to as “Lahge Iced Regulah”), an old, silent Puritan with a large walking staff, and a large floating Marker Buoy covered in fishnets. The Townie Council judges whether or not an individual can become a true townie.
There are rules, you see, and unless you petition the council you will never be considered “from Gloucester.”
The council’s main priority was finding enough evidence not to make me a townie because the first (and almost only) rule of being a townie is that you have to be born and raised here, or at least raised here long enough to brag about your childhood spent in your special part of town and favorite beach. That’s it. Even if you’ve left Gloucester for a considerable amount of time, you will always have townie status. Always. In fact if you left Gloucester at eighteen and returned at seventy-six only to die and rest in peace in Gloucester dirt, you’ll still be considered a townie moreso than if I lived here from age twenty to my death at seventy-six. It is what it is.
The council questioned my origin, high school, college, young adult life, and knowledge about the area, including how to give directions to someone’s house using only churches and restaurants or both. I almost failed the test when I forgot where Destino’s was (and if you forget where Our Lady of Good Voyage is, then you won’t be able to say, “You know where Destino’s is? It’s right down the street from there. Oh, you don’t know where Destino’s is? It’s right across from Our Lady of Good Voyage”). It’s not like I grew up here, or somehow have special knowledge of every business in town. But I should, apparently.
The council questioned my affiliations. Not being Italian, Catholic, or from Gloucester, I lost points with St. Peter, Ann, and Mary until I reminded them that they too were not Italian, Catholic, or from Gloucester. We all got a good laugh out of that one. Even the old, silent Puritan in the corner cracked a smile.
I ran through my special seven-year personal knowledge of Gloucester which, combined with my wife’s seven-year knowledge and my children’s knowledge of growing up in Gloucester, provided well for me. My wife and I even went to college nearby, and not even in Boston! That is, we spent years and thousands of dollars within the north-of-exit-19-through-22 geographical bubble that separates north North Shore/Cape Ann townies from the rest of civilization (to be fair, it’s only a fourteen minute ride from exit 19 to the rotary).
The Floating Dunks Cup questioned why I didn’t visit their insane drive-thru more often even though I pass them twice a day. The correct answer was two-fold: parking and walking into the store made more sense (and you have better chances of getting your order correct), and that I try to go to Cape Ann Coffee more often than not in order to really support the local economy. Townies should always distrust outside things, right? I threw in the idea of opening a Starbucks in Gloucester, which was met with scornful distaste. “Leave that up to Rockport,” was the general consensus.
The large floating Buoy asked about my history of fishing, and what kind of boat my family owned. I was done for. I’ve only been fishing once, and aside from driving a Buick Park Avenue for a few years, my family has never owned a boat. However my love for eating seafood won points and my secret knowledge of how to beat the lines at the Causeway impressed the council (the trick is to never eat at the Causeway – you simply order from them and pick it up yourself if you can brave the shitty parking lot). I also bragged that when my parents visit, my father breaks his vegetarian diet and will buy a tray full of chowders to take home back to Jersey to freeze for later enjoyment. My mother, however, prefers Sugar Mags porridge as her favorite local dish, even though I explain to her that it is a crime to go to Sugar Mags and just get the porridge.
The final round of questions came from the Fisherman-at-the-Wheel statue. He was not concerned with my non-Sicilian, non-Portuguese, non-Catholic background or my inability to fish. He was concerned with what I would do with my townie status once I had been given it. I explained that my wife and I were married (and had our reception) in Gloucester with a cake by Barbara, that we loved Gloucester and planned on living here for the rest of our lives (we even had a cemetery picked out until we decided on cremation), that my parents were moving up once they were retired and would apply for Lanesville Townie membership (an even more difficult feat!), but most importantly, that we were raising our children in Gloucester, and that they would be, and already are, townies. This sealed the deal.
How could I not be a townie if my children were? Just like St. Peter, St. Ann, and St. Mary were born Jews, my children were born townies (and good, newer townies know that “being born” in Gloucester really means being born at Beverly Hospital because, unless you were actually born in your house in Gloucester, no one is born in Gloucester at Addison Gilbert Hospital anymore). My children have gone and are going through Gloucester preschool and K-5 and will one day identify their high school friends by what year they graduated G.H.S. from, like good townies; one day they will look back and remember that we spent every day of the summer at the beach or townie park, or ate cannolis from Virgilios, or went to camp (when we could afford it) or walked Main Street just because we live downtown and needed a good jaunt. And, like my wife, my kids are able to get tans (like most Fishtownies) while I just burn. The Fisherman-at-the-Wheel and the old, silent Puritan liked this because, as they constantly remind the council, it was pale white Europeans who first landed in and founded Gloucester before the good looking Italians took over (I did not mention my wife’s or my own Native American heritage at that moment, and it never came up).
When they’re older, my townie kids will look back at their dressing up like Horribles for the July 3 parade and spending all dad’s cash on the rides at Fiesta and asking if they could ride their bikes to so-and-so’s house to take their boat out. Then my kids will leave town for college (hopefully just to MIT and/or Harvard) and hopefully return to make Gloucester their own place of residence and then raise their families. Hopefully staying in town will be an easy sell.
There was only one correct answer for the Fisherman-at-the-Wheel: nothing. Once I became a townie I would just be a townie. No one gets points for running into neighbors and friends at Market Basket or seeing parents your age walking their kids down the Boulevard to Stage Fort Park or waiting for the train or getting a text from your CVS (we have two!) to pick up your prescription. You just are. Townies just are.
After passing my own Fishtown Kobayashi Maru test to become a Gloucester Downtownie (and I’m still awaiting confirmation by snail mail because townies would never use email for something like that), I’m taking on the Greasy Pole Council next. As a thirty-five year old with a bad back and no Italian roots whatsoever, I can never participate. A townie can dream, though.
So I’ll see you from the Pavillion beach shoreline as that Ferris Wheel climbs the sky once more and St. Peter collects his tickets to ride the giant carpet slide. And, like many tourists, I’ll probably be collecting more shirts from Walgreens (where the original Townie shirt was purchased, I’m assuming) with some sort of Gloucester branding on it, although the townies know to shop at Palazola’s.
See you there.
Buona Fiesta! 2014
And if you’re not reading The Gloucester Clam, you should be.