I am not a born-and-bred Townie, but I would literally trade my life to be one. In fact, that is exactly what I’ve done, willingly, along with my wife and kids. These are now our beaches and parks and Boulevard and favorite pizza and Asian cuisine restaurants. Take that, outsiders!
Here’s the story:
To become an accepted Townie I was afforded a chance to go before the secret Townie Council that runs Fishtown. They oversee what non-townies are allowed to run for office, open businesses, and film movies. I was only asking for non-commercial 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 to stay as authentic as possible – I hoped to become a Downtownie (plus that’s where we can afford to live). Living within a block of the library, fire station, all the shops and restaurants, and a supermarket 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.
I was told to appear, via a series of tunnels deep below the gazebo at Stage Fort Park, to the chambers of the Townie Council, where transplant “locals” like me can be 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-maintained, cleaner line of tunnels takes over. I was led to the Council chamber by a Freemason-like group of landscapers, housepainters, and fry cooks. They 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. I began to sweat.
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 gnarled walking staff, and a Marker Buoy covered in fishnets.
Traditionally, the first (and almost only) rule of being a Townie is that you have to be born and raised here. 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.
But to become a naturalized Townie, 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 this part when I briefly blanked on where Destino’s was. Oh man.
The Council then drilled me on my affiliations. Not being Italian, Catholic, or from Gloucester, I initially lost points with St. Peter, Ann, and Mary until I reminded them that they too were not from Gloucester, nor Italian or even originally Catholic. I reminded them they had each begun life as Jews from Galilee. 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 rich seven-year personal immersion into all things Gloucester. My wife and I even went to college nearby, and not even in Boston! 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. Certainly that would count for something? Right? I didn’t sense they were buying it.
The Floating Dunks Cup testily questioned why I didn’t visit their insane drive-thru more often even though I pass them twice a day. I said 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?
‘Whatevah,” he said.
The large floating Buoy asked about 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 secret knowledge of how to beat the lines at the Causeway obviously impressed the Council (you never eat at the Causeway, you simply order from them and pick it up yourself, double parking in the shitty parking lot).
A few mumbles of approval.
The final round of inquiry came from the Fisherman-at-the-Wheel statue. He was unconcerned with my non-Sicilian, non-Portuguese, non-Catholic background or my inability to fish. He instead only asked what I would do with my townie status once awarded. I stammered that my wife and I 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 (a separate, much less forgiving Council I’m told), but most importantly, that we were raising our children in Gloucester, and that they would be, and already are, townies. Who knows what we, as a family of Townies, could accomplish together?
No one uttered a word. One of the Pall Mall guys coughed. The statue moved his gaze from the horizon to my eyes and began to speak. He told me that if I choose to be a Townie, I would just be a Townie. Nothing more. There are no points awarded for running into neighbors and friends at Market Basket or seeing parents your age walking their kids down the Boulevard to Stage Fort. You don’t become something. You just are. Townies just are. Nothing more. Nothing less.
After these words the Council mysteriously vanished into a thick fog. When it cleared I was next to the loading dock at the Downtown Shaw’s wearing a Cape Pond Ice shirt and with a winning $5 scratch ticket in my pocket. I assume I passed.
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 obviously never use email), 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’m told I can never participate.
But as a Townie, I can dream.
Jeremy McKeen is a teacher, coach, musician, and writer and can be found on Nerdy Dad Shirt Blog on WordPress.com or walking around town with his wife and children, probably headed toward a park or beach.