Tuesday, June 24, 2008

An open letter to the people calling me concerned about Gloucester

Let me begin by saying thank you to all the people who've called and
sent emails over the past week expressing their heartfelt concern
regarding the media stories swirling around about the number of girls
in Gloucester High School who have become pregnant. Many of our friends and family took the time to remind us that our daughter is in the Gloucester public schools, which are obviously a hotbed of uncontrolled behavior based on what they have read in the New York Times and that they were worried for us. I would like to remind people that Rebecca is seven and that the biggest behavioral issue facing her first grade class last year was when two boys were saying the word "poop" during the pledge of allegiance. I blame the media, Reverend Wright and all that.

All this comes quickly on the heels of a more minor local media storm
after an intoxicated Gloucester resident smashed her Subaru head-on
into the SUV carrying America's Sweetheart Sandra Bullock and her
husband celebrity motorcycle builder Jesse James as they returned from a dinner. Add onto all of this the book and film "The Perfect Storm" which portrays Gloucester as home to hard-living fishermen who go out to sea and are have to fight a comically bad series of special effects until their boat sinks and you have a media impression of our town that is not exactly positive. We look like a bunch of drunken fishermen with out of control teens in the eyes of the nation. And you want to know the truth? Well, ok, you know what? That is the truth.

At least it's part of the truth, and maybe the interesting part to the rest of America in a slow news week when we're not winning the war and other countries are buying up all the oil we should be putting into our SUVs and house values are sinking like an Iowa cornfield. I guess it's comforting for some to know that there are people out they can feel superior to. Fine, if we can provide that catharsis that for our country, then so be it. But since we're pretty good at taking it, allow me to spend a couple of minutes dishing it back out. So, here are the top reasons why Gloucester, with in all its boat sinking, drunk-driving pregnant teen glory, is still way better than your joke of a town.

First and foremost, we don't have a Starbucks, a Wal-Mart, or an Applebees. We've got a McDonalds, a Subway and it seems like about three dozen Dunkin Donuts, but otherwise the businesses are all small and local. People shop downtown, they eat in local places, we know the name of the family that owns the dry cleaners and the breakfast places and the hardware store. It's a real town, unlike yours, rather than just a collection of franchises that could be anywhere.

Also unlike your town, our town is mixed. Your town has all the poor people living in one place, all the blue collar folks living in another place and all the white collar living in yet another place. We are all jumbled together. Our neighborhoods have CEO's, fishermen, carpenters, computer programmers, nurses, cops and unemployed families on WIC. Your town's schools are segregated by economics. Ours are not. College bound kids and kids who won't finish high school are all together. This is how it used to be in America, before your town came along and decided that it would be different, that your kids wouldn't associate with those other kids. We didn't do that in our town.

Our town has some truly eccentric people living in it who are universally celebrated. Your town is all about conformity. We have a guy who picks stuff out of the trash all year and then makes a float for the 4th of July parade on top of his K-Car from it. He also runs for Mayor every election and plays a bugle down at the rotary handing out bumper stickers with his name on them. This guy is a local hero in our town. So are the guys who run out on the greasy pole that we have erected over the harbor. Every summer, during the festival of Saint Peter these guys grease up a horizontal telephone pole thirty feet above the water and try to run across it lengthwise to grab a flag nailed to its end. They don't do that in your town. Your town would never let such a thing occur, it's dangerous and loud and crazy and messy. Your lawyers would stop it in your town, because your lawyers are chickens.

You know what else? In our town, after a fire destroyed an apartment building and the only temple for miles, all the Jews in town were mourning in the Unitarian church nearby for the life lost and for all the memories that were consumed by the flames. The doors opened and the firefighters came in reeking of smoke with icicles hanging off their helmets and with the prayer shawls and other sacred objects they could salvage from the still smoldering wreckage. They walked in a line solemnly down the aisle and the people of the congregation reached out and touched them in their turnout coats and with their radios crackling, as if they were members of the congregation carrying the Torah. These men are not Jews they are Italians and Irishmen and African Americans, but they know loss. Everyone wept, the firefighters, us everybody. This happened in our town, not in your town.

In our town there is teen pregnancy and sometimes children die and there is drug addiction and violence. It's also in your town, but it's hushed up there. Our town is a big loud family where all the problems are out in the open. But, unlike in your town, in our big family there will always be people there who put food on your table if you run into a rough patch. There are people who spend all their time making sure that everyone has health care and can get into the programs they need to get help. In our town people know when you're hurting and they stop to help you. We're used to death, we're used to pain and suffering. In our town we don't expect everything to go right all the time.

In your town people walk down the street talking on cell phones and listening to iPods. You'd never do that in our town. In our town, if you did that you'd miss your friends yelling out your nickname as they passed by in their trucks or on the other side of the street.

Our town is a real place, it's one of the last real places in America. Maybe that is unusual to people from other towns, or maybe the media just likes coming up here on a summer day to cover a non-story because we have some great clam shacks and it beats whatever other "human interest" piffle they could be covering in their cookie-cutter towns, but the one part of the story that they have missed over and over again is that these girls are our kids. They will not be made pariahs out of. That's the kind of crap you pull in your town. Not ours.

Thank you for your attention. You can go back to making fun of us now.

Jim Dowd


Anonymous said...


I couldn't have said it any better myself although I gave it a shot here-

Looking forward to many more of your blog entries!

Anonymous said...

I gave it a shot too.

A Native's Perspective

Anonymous said...

Needless to say, I *love* yours.

Lets be friends.

Kathleen Valentine said...

Wonderful column! Thank you.

And then there is our phenomenal arts community that annually contributes paintings to raise money for any number of great causes!

May I add you to my blog roll?


Jane said...

Hi Jim,

I found you when I googled "ticket prices for Fiesta 2008." I find it funny that this is what got me here. And then I stayed because your writing compelled me to do so. Here's my feeble/pretty useless attempt at the same thing. Thanks for writing, Jim. Thanks for writing. See you around.

Open Letter to Media

Beth said...

I work for a little non-profit...you may haver heard of it. Project Adventure. I've spent the last 10 days on the road...Virginia, DC, and Oklahoma. Presenting to educators. My intro used to be ...I was born and raised in an amazing town the may you have seen on the Perfect Storm. Now I say...I was born and raised in amazing town where 17 young girls are pregnant and the media is having a field day pulling in all types of words like "pacts", "homeless men" etc. to sell papers and news.

I know that people don'tunderstand the fabric of Glosta'. How could they? But the people I'm presenting too understand the fabric of life, kids, media and judgement. And life. I am thankful.

Jim....as I would anticipate...you piece is great and I'm glad it was forwarded me. Despite the fact that I'm living in CA...I felt as if I was coming out of Sugar Mag's with my coffee...headed to the Boulevard...to me Rufus...the Poet Gloriate of Glousta for a cup of joe and a celebration of life!

singingfamily said...

You have a blog too. Man, we need to do something with our lives:)
Great piece there brother,
hey and by the way, did I see you driving around the other day with a crib ruffle in your car?

bobrien said...

Mr. Dowd,

I applaud your aplomb. I am not a blogger, nor do I consider my opinion of any value in this heated debate. On a national basis, it is already forgotten. The fact is that you eloquently reminded us all that our communities do not exist to meet national approval. Our communities exist so we can have friends who appreciate us, and who we, in turn can appreciate and support.

Your comments were sent to me because the reader thought you were "over the top." I don't think so. No community improves without passion. Bring it on. Your readers who comment clearly feel the same.

Barry O'Brien