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The Storming Bohemian Punks The Muse: 2021 Edition #20 – ‘Goodbye To A House’

I opened Facebook this morning to find a post from my friend Jerry telling me that his childhood home had been destroyed. Carted off like a pile of discarded mattresses. It left the family years ago, and subsequent ownership had not been kind. There was a fire that gutted the third story.

The old edifice hung on for a time, but now her number’s up, and the corner lot at Beacon and Grant lies empty.

I remember the house well. Jerry and I were the best of friends since we were three years old. Our childhood included endless play dates. Our favorite game was to put on shows based on comic books.  Jerry was always Superman and I was Batman. Jerry, a frankly puny lad, would demonstrate his muscles by doing pullups on a bar that hung in the doorway of his bedroom on the 2nd story. Pudgy and clumsy, I would run around in a plastic mask and cape singing the theme from the Batman TV show. We felt invulnerable with our special powers.

Our fathers were doctors (mine a pediatrician, his an obstetrician) which made them powerful, too, although, thanks to World War II, they could be difficult, moody men. My father’s non-medical superpower was to run the Boston marathon every year. In the early 1960s, middle aged suburbanite doctors did not do things like that. It made him a minor celebrity. Jerry’s Dad was a minor celebrity, too. His superpower was that he had once won a prize for his comedy magic act on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour, and he put himself through medical school as a Master of Ceremonies. But my father was always running away, and Jerry’s Dad wasn’t always that funny at home. We needed each other.

In a den on the second floor of the house at Beacon and Grant was a treasure chest. It was a huge trunk filled with the props for Dr. Cibley’s magic act, to which Jerry had been given access and which he shared with me. Jerry’s older brother Larry was equally privileged, but we inhabited different worlds (big kids and little kids don’t mix for playdates) and Larry’s magic time ran on a different schedule.

In the box were color changing handkerchiefs, the “20th Century Silks,” the Chinese Egg Bag (don’t ask me why it was “Chinese”), trick decks of playing cards, the magic milk pitcher, the Floating Zombie Ball and Lord knows what else. It was a cornucopia of a conjurer’s fantasies, and a bit of heaven on earth for two little boys in love with the show biz and the power to make magic in a tough world.

My family left our home town when I was only 10, and for me it was a hard going. That’s another story, but it led, five years later, to my becoming a teenage runaway. By that time, my parents had moved us from our New England home to rural Mississippi and then Miami, Florida. But in the winter after the summer I turned 15, I hitchhiked away from tropical Miami and found my way back to the New England winter of my childhood. It seemed warmer to me than the Miami home where my parent’s marriage was secretly falling apart, and I had utterly lost myself.

Cold and confused, I found my way to Jerry’s house at Grant and Beacon, and the comfort of friendship and magic tricks. The Cibley family kept me safe for a few days. Then kind Dr. Cibley called my parents in Miami and suggested that perhaps he could send me home, offering to purchase an airline ticket. “He’s on his own,” said my parents. “We can’t control him. But don’t buy him a plane ticket. He has to live with the consequences of his actions.”

Those consequences included the occasion, a few nights later, when I wandered around Boston Common on a cold winter afternoon, and excitedly purchased a dose of “Orange Sunshine” LSD from a street dealer (something I’d never done before) and swallowed it gladly, looking for magic, as always. I walked miles down Commonwealth Avenue to a crash pad in Newton, dazzled by the late afternoon sunlight bouncing off the snow drifts, but later it was a bad and frightening trip. The consequences, both good and bad, have lasted a lifetime.

I wandered off into the night, and didn’t see or contact Jerry for decades. When we did get back in touch, Jerry told me he had worried for years whether I survived being a teenager. I visited him and met his then 13-year-old son, Jordan. Five years later, Jerry’s beautiful boy was speaking on a cell phone to his Dad while driving a car, dropped the phone, crashed into a tree, and was killed instantly.

Jerry devoted his life for years after to successfully establishing a “distracted driving” law in Massachusetts. It made him a minor celebrity. He even went on Oprah to make it happen. Superpowers, magic, show biz, the dream of invulnerability. It’s all in the mix.

Now we are both retired, Jerry to sunny Florida, me to the San Francisco Bay. Life goes on with its memories, joys, and losses. We are not invulnerable. We have no superpowers.

But magic persists. Something is lost, and something survives.

Goodbye to the house at Grant and Beacon. May its memory be for a blessing.