Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Calvin: Part 2

During my last two years in Boston, Calvin and I became close friends. As noted in “Calvin: Part 1,” he attracted all types of people: young and old; rich, poor and in-between; men and women. Because of his powerful personality, people naturally wanted to help him, which resulted in some interesting encounters.

One such person was Adele Seronde, an artist and the daughter of Christian Herter, who served as a Congressman from Boston, Governor of Massachusetts and Secretary of State under President Eisenhower. Her mother was a scion of the Pratt family, which owed its wealth to Standard Oil. Adele, who I note is alive and well at 85, met Calvin through an art gallery in the South End. She had a family farm somewhere outside of Boston, complete with horses. Calvin had a vegetable garden in the Back Bay Fens, and Adele arranged for us to drive out to the farm to shovel manure-laden compost for Calvin’s garden. After filling up the back of a flatbed truck, we drove into the Fens and completed the unloading just as the sun set, my first experience in agriculture beyond a back-yard garden.

Calvin knew somebody in Middlebury, Vermont, through the learning center, so one morning we headed to New Hampshire and Vermont with no set itinerary. We picked up a hitchhiker on Route 100 who guided us to a bowl factory (bought one and mailed it home to mother) and a swimming hole near Waitsfield for an unplanned skinny dip. The water was rather muddy and we didn’t have towels, so we sat in the sun to dry off, then brushed away the accumulated dirt. We drove around the college in Middlebury before arriving at our overnight accommodations: a chicken farm.

The farm’s owner (I call him Mr. Pederson) worked as a maintenance man at Middlebury College, as well as selling eggs. Upon arrival, we found a teepee pitched in the yard, where the Pederson’s daughter and her husband were sleeping during their visit. The Pedersons also had a two-year-old son; we slept in his room on the floor near his crib. Having turned 21, we joined the daughter and her husband (surname: Greenberg) for drinks in town. Greenberg was a Middlebury graduate, I believe from the New York area. He told us at the bar that Mr. Pederson was anti-Semitic. Without giving much thought, I asked how he knew. “Because when I walked into the house for the first time, he yelled, ‘Get that goddamn Jew out of my house!’” Greenberg replied. I guess that’s why they were sleeping in the teepee.

One interesting visit much closer to home was not possible. Calvin played the numbers occasionally at a place on Northampton Street, not far from the station on the Washington Street Elevated line (closed and razed in 1987). As we walked down the street, he told me sheepishly that I couldn’t come upstairs because the one time he brought a white person in, “all hell broke loose.” Flash paper was tossed into buckets of water, and patrons scrambled to escape. “I was so embarrassed because I didn’t know I’d caused it,” he said. “They thought my friend was a cop.” I missed my one chance for seeing the inside of a numbers hall, where the most popular combination was the Zip Code for Roxbury.

Thanks to Calvin, I had an amazing vantage point for one of the most notable concerts in rock history. Janis Joplin was giving a free concert on August 12, 1970, in Harvard Stadium in Allston, not far from my apartment. Calvin and I hadn’t intended to go, but we wandered up to the stadium nonetheless. According to photographer Gwendolyn Stewart (see www.gwendolynstewart.com for photographs from this concert and of major world leaders), only 10,000 persons were to be allowed into the stadium but about 40,000 made it in. The concert was delayed, mainly due to the band’s equipment being stolen that day. Arriving rather late, Calvin in the lead and I in tow snaked our way through the crowd toward the stage. We finally reached points where security began asking questions. Calvin just kept walking like he knew where he was going – nobody made an effort to stop him – and I simply kept saying, “I’m with him.” We ended up in the first row, right in front of the stage. It turned out to be her last public concert. She died of a heroin overdose on October 4.

(To be continued)

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