CHIEF BRODY, chummin’ through 1975′s biggest blockbuster
I sailed an ocean, unsettled ocean
Through restful waters and deep commotion
Often frightened, unenlightened
Sail on, sail on sailor
~ A seldom-sung-live Beach Boys tune. Brian Wilson 1973.
February 6, 1978 • 5am
Boston morning newscasters on talk radio announce “SNOW POSSIBLE. Yes folks, the National Weather Service predicts more snow for Boston a possibility.”
February 6, 1978 • 6am
The Boston Globe hits the streets and the Weather Box on the bottom of the front page reads, “You Sled It!” More snow predicted.
February 6, 1978 • 7:25am
Television weatherman Harvey Leonard announces on air, “We will get hit hard!” The city shrugs. Winter had barely kicked off when January 21st brought a record 21 inches of snow already. Big deal.
IT was out! Finally.
The triangular spit of land dotted with seaside cottages known as the Scituate Point was abuzz with blood-frenzied excitement.
Promoted as the scariest film to ever swim up from the depths, Universal Studios spent an unprecedented two million dollars on advertising – $700,000 of that on thirty national TV spots a day during opening month.
The poster. A tiny swimmer frantically pumping above an impossibly huge mouth of enormous razor sharp teeth.
The tagline intoned over each commercial. “It is as if God created the Devil…and gave him JAWS!“
The last punch at the end of the trailer. “None of man’s fantasies of evil can compare with...JAWS!”
JAWS had come to our little summer town.
I’d read the book, along with the other forbidden novels. Myra Breckinridge, The Exorcist and The Godfather were not on any summer reading lists when they were published but I managed to scrape up enough of Poppy’s beer money to grab copies at the thrift store. Completely supervised by our maternal grandparents annually June through August, censorship over reading material was virtually nonexistent. My grandfather actually purchased me the requested copy of Erica Jong’s sensational epic Fear Of Flying because I told him it was about airplanes. He was delighted he beat out a frantic housewife by offering the used bookseller a buck. Shameful me.
In 1973, one of my childhood friends and I managed to trick our mothers into taking us to see the R-rated movie about the girl possessed by the Devil They’d screamed and tried to cover our eyes during the crucifix scene and neither mother spoke to either kid for a week afterward.
Even the Catholic priest warned against the evils of reading such a book. “It is an Open Door invitation for Satan to walk into your house!” When a priest capitalizes things, some people listen!
Our grandfather never saw the movie and barely glanced at the cover of the novel. “So don’t leave it by the door!” Poppy said with a grunt. “Leave it in the bathroom, it already smells like hell.” We had been experiencing a few toilet back-up issues. My grandfather was not a reader (save the racing form and The irish Sporting News which was code for “Obituaries”) yet he encouraged it in all of the neighborhood kids. His theory was that if a book was forbidden, a potential reader would put forth much more effort into finishing it that questions about how long it takes to get from New York to Chicago if a train is traveling at sixty miles per hour with one ten minute break.
“Why’d the train stop?” Poppy demanded.
I scanned the page. “It doesn’t say.”
“Why does a train stop for ten minutes? They got bathrooms on it and food!”
“Uh, maybe some more people get on,” I suggested.
“Does it snow? Is it raining?”
“Poppy this isn’t a real thing,” I pleaded. “I’m just supposed to say how long it takes based on the information.”
“Who cares?” he growled as he swept the summer homework off the kitchen table. We were supposed to do one hour of schoolwork every day to prepare for the next grade. But it always ended the same way. “What do I care how long it takes? I ain’t going to Chicago. I hate them Cubs. And New Yahk? Screw them Yankees! Go read a comic book! That’s good readin’!”
The only book he ever took away from any of us was the afternoon of the used bookstore sidewalk sale. At the beginning of summer, the owner would have a BIG BLOWOUT SALE (announced in huge yellow hand-painted letters and hung under the watchful eye of a gigantic shark that was not a good advertisement for the local taxidermist). You could buy a small box of dog-eared paperback and old comics for five bucks. They were mostly leftovers from the last season but the shop owner smarty piled a few juicy new ones on top to entice readers to clear the shelves so he could showcase newer used books. The box was always tied with string and you weren’t allowed to dig around. It was all or nothing.
He sold to buyers of any age as long as the younger ones repeated the password that kept him on the safe side of parental law. “These are for my grandmuthah.”
Any newbies not hip to the password had to return their box to the table and go back to the end of the line where, hopefully, a more experienced buyer would explain the correct procedure.
I would always try to be first when the store opened and so I could grab the best-feeling box. You had to be careful with the weight. A hefty box indicated hardcovers, probably cookbooks. The lightest box was the last packed, which meant it had a few leftovers. A medium box was the prize.
Sissy and I rowed our small boat across the harbor instead of bothering with our bikes. After securing the first few weeks of vacation reading, we’d toss the box in a plastic garbage bag and row home as fast as we could. It was an arduous task until our grandfather eventually came home with a small 5hp motor because he “knew a guy.”
We lugged the box into the house. My ritual was to upend it on the kitchen table and see what surprises we’d won. This treasure trove included James Dickey’s Deliverance, Jimmy Breslin’s Mafia spoof The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, tearjerker Love Story and the 60′s-racy stewardess memoir Coffee, Tea or Me?
There was also a battered copy of Go Ask Alice. There was always a copy of Go Ask Alice. The allegedly-true-cautionary-fictional diary of a teenage girl’s descent down the rabbit hole of illicit drug use. I think the store owner thought it was his duty to distribute copies.
“That must be about ya grandmuthah!” Poppy said every time copy surfaced. Nana’s name was Alice. “She’s the WARDEN of this house!”
“Oh for God’s sake, Dad! You’re always starting trouble!” Mom inevitably groaned.
This box had three different issues of my favorite comic WEIRD (“shock-terror suspense!”). The familiar cover of JAWS. Can’t have too many copies of JAWS. The mother lode had to have been a mistake by the owner’s bored teenage son. FOUR Dark Shadows novels squeezed together by a fat rubber band! A hot commodity on the coast of New England, the the unwritten rule was always just one Barnabas Collins novel to a box. It was my goal to eventually have the full thirty-three book collection that continued the mysterious lives of the supernatural television beings who lived in black and white splendor for 1225 episodes. I still have a pretty good collection.
The rest of the books were tattered romances, joke compilations and a torn black copy of something called The Satanic Bible by occultist Anton LaVey.
“Ouch!” Poppy said as he reached a meaty hand toward that final book. “We don’t need THIS around.” He walked to the front porch and tossed the book down toward the street, easily hitting the bottom of the trash can. He winked and whispered, “Don’t wanna give your grandmother any ideas!”
No we did not.
Then he shocked Sissy and I. He picked up the copy of JAWS and opened to the first page. “Big movie comin’ out, huh?” He thumbed a few pages. “Maybe I should read this since I know I gotta pay for the whole neighborhood to get in!”
My sister and I grinned. Yeah!!
The old man started to read. “The great fish moved silently through the night water, propelled by short sweeps of its crescent roll. Roll? What the hell? Gimme my glasses. Oh, TAIL. Crescent TAIL. Not roll…“
February 6, 1978 • 10am – Noon
The news reports that the first snowfall has begun. By 11, a special meeting of the Massachusetts Civil Defense Agency calls a special meeting, saying they “need more information.”
The Coast Guard pilot boat “Can Do” departs Gloucester in a first attempt – headed toward Salem Harbor – to assist a Greek tanker run aground. No one knows that the captain and four men will never return from their second attempt.
Rhode Island Governor Garrahy orders the evacuation of all public buildings in his state. Snowfall estimates for Boston rise to from 12 to 18 inches.
Warnings of potential coastal flooding spread from Rhode Island and across New England.
We shivered as Poppy read from the Gospel of Peter Benchley. Not only was Poppy not a book lover, he chose a story that would be especially terrifying to him. Because he could not swim.
February 6, 1978 • 6pm
WBZ’s newsman Bruce Schwoegler says, “This could be the biggest storm we’ve ever seen.”