9 Things the World Can Learn From Gloucester

Morning, world. Thanks to the amazing journalisming of clameditor one KT Toomey on the travails of the Demoulas family and how that translates into me paying double for off-brand snack cakes down at Stop and Shop, suddenly a lot more people are aware of The Clam. Or The Gloucester Clam, to be exact, this here blog is pulled straight from the sea and in most cases immediately ground up for fertilizer.
So we thought we’d give you a little flavor of our beloved island, how we do things a little differently. You should come visit us. We’re way better than that other cape where you have to sit in traffic and dress up for dinner, but you’ll have to bring your own taffy.
So, that having been said, The Gloucester Clam brings you:

9 Things the World can Learn From Gloucester

Your lawn is utility space That space around your house or apartment building- that’s not frigging No. 2 at Pinehurst. That is where you proudly display the evidence you are an interesting person. It’s where you keep your lobster traps, the boat you’re working on or the Fiero you’re going to get running one of these days. It’s where you store parts and tools, the remnants of previous projects and floats from old parades. Our own driveway contains a boat that needs work, a leaf blower-powered hovercraft, numerous balls, sticks, bikes, a modified bike trailer, random container garden plants and the leftover styrofoam rock from the Elementary School production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. Neat lawn = lame occupants.

Dude, did someone steal your boat?

Dude, did someone steal your boat?

Mix it up In Gloucester there are no rich neighborhoods except for this one gated mansion area we sort of ignore. The rest of the town is like that ‘Party Snack Mix’ where a handful equals a pretzel, a Dorrito, a single cheez curl and some weird orange ball. The neighborhood of clamtributor Stevens Brosnihan contains a rabbi, a restaurant owner, urban farmers, college professors, professionals who commute to Boston on the train every day, a couple of junkies and this engineer/former CIA dude who assures you he has stories he can’t tell. In town we shop together, go to the same events and beaches, there is one Middle School and one High School. There is no wrong side of the tracks, more importantly, there is no right side either.

Live where there are a lot of Italians We’re not Italian ourselves and I’m sure there are other cultures you can say this about, but these guys have life pretty pegged. They always have espresso shops with pastries and because food is so key you’ll have restaurants all over the place. There will be street festivals, good grocery stores and lots of family-oriented stuff everywhere. People will yell your nickname at you in the street and you won’t be able to go over somebody’s house without getting a full meal and kissing their grandma. Ok, old shirtless guys in chairs on the sidewalk smoking cigars are kinda gross, but you gotta trade something and some of those dudes are pretty cool if you get them talking. On balance, big Italian population is a huge plus.

Also bocce

Also bocce

Owning a boat is a right, not a privilege And it doesn’t matter what kind or in what state of repair it’s in. In Gloucester you never apologize for the condition of your boat and “I was out on the boat” is a perfectly acceptable excuse for all kinds of things, like missing a court date. People get confused and think they have to fish or have some kind of purpose out there, but it’s more of a zen thing. Boating is an end unto itself. A purpose will reveal itself once on the water, like rescuing someone in a slightly shittier boat that is sinking, for instance.

You are not your car As has been thoroughly covered on this blog, driving and parking here are contact sports. You get dents and things get cracked and scraped off and repaired with duct tape. It’s no big. You don’t get judged by your car up here, nobody gives a shit. Somebody with a nice, new, unblemished car is looked down upon. “Guess he doesn’t drive that thing much, huh?”

There is no reason to ever leave the 80s The 80s were the last decade that actively chose to rock. From 1989 on our society has gotten introspective and timid what with the Nirvana and the expensive coffee. But the essentials for 80s living: the cars, the haircuts, the music, essential entertainments like jumping into quarries and riding a bike around without a helmet are all still things in Gloucester. The Amish live in perpetual 1847, but if a group ever emerged wanting to live in forever 1987, this would be the place. Bring your VHS tapes.

And then you can come to the 80s and learn our ways

And then you can come to the 80s and learn our ways

Art is a participatory sport You go to some places with artists and they are always hanging around in the daytime, smoking cigarettes and arguing about derivation. No time for that crap here as all our artists have normal jobs. I attended an amazing gallery show for a woman who captures light like Hopper. She also cuts my hair. My train into Boston has ¼ of the cast of our regular Shakespeare performances and occasionally they do a scene on the platform. Sculptors are also lawyers, bakers are novelists. You engage a lot more with a one man show about struggling with sexual identity when the guy is going to be fixing your transmission for some reason.

It’s OK if things go wrong This is a fishing town, that big statue of the Man at the Wheel? That’s a memorial to dudes who’ve died at sea. The town knows loss and that no one is immune to it. Jobs disappear, people get sick, sometimes they die. People do dumb shit and wind up in jail. It happens. Nobody wants to make a habit of life’s letdowns, but you don’t need to put on a happy face in this town if shit is bad. And you don’t need to tell anybody even, they know. Their neighbor’s cousin told them. You find yourself buying bread and the person behind the counter at the bakery won’t take your money when you offer it saying, “My mother had cancer too.”

Facing his lost shipmates

Facing his lost shipmates

Normality is for losers Norms are the least happy people in Gloucester. They are forever trying to figure out why the taco place is closed on Sunday (Because the owners are religious), why the farmers’ market is on Thursday (because we get better vendors who go to richer town on the weekend) and why there aren’t any stoplights (because we let each other go in intersections). People here are nuts and somehow it all works once you learn to roll with it. We have a saying when the ice cream truck screeches by the little league game to the dock, starts frantically loading herring on board and then takes off again:

Because Gloucester

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  1. Just a note on Fiero’s. The Fiero family lived down the street from you, owned a Fiero way back and had Fiero as it’s license plate.

  2. This should be a pamphlet at the bridge. Then they can go right around Grant circle and back up if this seems too scary.

    Now if there was an Indian restaurant and a place to buy 8 Track tapes I would stop bitchin’ but that would be no fun too.

    • Last time I was at Anmol, I asked them if they would please open a restaurant in Gloucester. Actually, I do that every time I go to Anmol. But this time I was apparently talking to The Man Who Can Make This Happen. He said that they have been looking for a location in Gloucester, but are having a hard time finding a full liquor license.

      • Be still my heart I don’t really need 8-Track. City Council? Melissa? Make Gloucester perfect! Here is your chance!

        Next you’re going to tell me Mystery Train has Deep Purple Smoke on Water unopened!

      • Dangit, why didn’t they buy the Madfish?? Sigh.

      • I wish I had the power to make that happen! I love that place. Damn now I’m hungry.

  3. Reblogged this on sarahpeck.com and commented:
    It would be impossible to love my town of Gloucester more. “The
    neighborhood of clamtributor Stevens Brosnihan contains a rabbi, a restaurant owner, urban farmers, college professors, professionals who commute to Boston on the train every day, a couple of junkies and this engineer/former CIA dude who assures you he has stories he can’t tell. In town we shop together, go to the same events and beaches, there is one Middle School and one High School. There is no wrong side of the tracks, more importantly, there is no right side either.”

  4. The Mix It Up does gloss over a bit that yes, while there is one middle school and one high school, there are multiple elementary schools and they are highly unequal. But as someone whose children go to one of the schools being considered for universal free lunch next year (so guess which side we fall into), I am grateful for the diversity and wide range of perspectives they get from their classmates and friends along with the outstanding teachers they’ve had, and I’m not really complaining. Loved this piece.

    • They are unequal for Gloucester, indeed. But even East Gloucester Elementary has >50% free/assisted lunch. The goal is going to be making sure teachers and services are spread out as equally as possible and overall I think this is happening- Janet Donnovan is coming over to Veterans as a specialist, btw, she’s excellent. But I take your point, thanks!

      • Gloucester’s elementary schools, sorted by percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch (http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/profiles/student.aspx?orgcode=01070000&orgtypecode=5&):

        70.2% Veterans
        61.9% Beeman
        39.2% East Gloucester
        34.4% West Parish
        28.5% Plum Cove

        And the other schools:

        48.4% Ralph B. O’Maley Innovation Middle School
        37.3% Gloucester High School

        Jenn is referring to the new Community Eligibility Provision, which says that if a school has more than 40% of its students quality for free or reduced lunch, then lunch will be free to *all* students at the school. This is great in so many ways; it feeds kids who would otherwise fall through the bureaucratic cracks, and it eliminates the stigma of being a “poor kid” who qualifies for the program.

  5. Love this!! Thank you for reminding me of all the great things about home! Was just there visiting my folks for the 4th and of course the Horribles parade.

  6. Love this post.Gloucester is a magical kind of place.Rock on!

  7. I was just back home for my high school reunion – it is ALWAYS so hard to leave. I love this place.

  8. My new favorite piece by The Clam! A blog post this good deserves a theme song. Cue the music!!

  9. I love these posts. They help me feel justified in never leaving this place and wearing the same bathing suit to work every day. Thanks guys.

  10. Awesome! So True! love it!

  11. Bring lots of quarters for the parking meters.

  12. M’Lady pointed this one out to me this morning. (She reads every morning, I don’t have a brain until 11 A.M./Coffee) Really, you need to go big. Excellent stuff. I know your degree is Business Management, but you’re quite a perceptive journalist. Cape Ann’s Dave Barry.

  13. …sorry James. Thought you were KT. My praise still stands for this entry. Great stuff. Delete my dyslexic post.

  14. There is a a lot of gentrification coming along in Gloucester. I have neighbors who call the landscapers if there are a few leaves on their lawn and then they spend the next 10 hours blowing the blowers, they don’t like my clothesline, the 4 boats in my driveway, the car carrier trailer and assorts piles of bricks and wood. They had a garden club tour of their yard and I had to laugh, especially when they parked their classic cars around their sterile yard and people paid to walk around it. What a joke. It’s interesting what people consider a garden. They had to drive by my raised veggie beds, wild areas for the bees, bee hives, overgrown bushes, my sheets drying on the line, and my greenhouse where I make dehydrated salt and kelp. I know my yard bugs them. They want their world to be neat and clean. I wonder, why did they move to Gloucester? Don’t they embrace Gloucester and her ways? Is it too creative or working class for them and they think we should change?

  15. Great post.
    Re: lawns as storage containers: Makes me WAY less self-conscious about all the upstairs neighbors’ crap in the backyard that my students will see when they come into my apt. through the back. Apparently, I AM the only person who gives a shit. Yes, call me bourgeois (I did after all, attend middle and high school in Rockport, where I get my attitude problems) but I do like tidiness. So at least all my Glosta clients will be down with it; I have no idea what my students from Manchester and beyond think, but apparently it doesn’t matter. Thank goodness. Now I can sleep better at night.
    And I have a fairly late model Corolla, but if it makes anyone feel better, someone did key it recently, so now there’s a big ole scratch on it, making me fit right in. (And yes, you’d be right, I don’t drive it too much, just around town, all my friends tell me I made a big mistake buying a “new” car.)
    Re: Indian restaurant. Why not next to the Friendly’s, where stupid Dragon Light was for years (or whatever it’s called)? Madfish is about to be bought, so I hear, by owner of Rudder and Studio.
    Where is the one gated mansion area to be ignored, BTW? I didn’t know Gloucester had ANY gated anythings.

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