Saturday, April 04, 2009

Lawrence - My Hometown

Murder and Billy Quinlan

By Richard E. Noble
Everyone knows that the poet Robert Frost graduated from Lawrence High School. In reading a biography about Mr. Frost he was quoted as stating that one of his biggest regrets was that he never wrote a history of Lawrence, Massachusetts. At the time that I read this statement I was not familiar with the history of Lawrence and I wondered why a great and famous man like Robert Frost would want to write a history of my rather abused and rundown hometown. Now that I am a little more familiar with the history of Lawrence, I understand his regret.
I started reading Robert Frost because he was from Lawrence and over the years I have kept my eye open for other famous people from Lawrence.
Leonard Bernstein was in my little apartment living room in Lawrence every Sunday for quite a while. Of course he appeared there via my oval-screened Zenith television set. I think Leonard started coming to my house around the year 1954. He had a series of programs where he explained the roots of music. It was truly a great series. I remember rushing home from King Tut’s - I mean church - every Sunday just to watch Leonard. I’m sure he was trying to get me interested in classical music. He was not successful. He did succeed in getting me interested in Leonard Bernstein and music in general.
Leonard Bernstein was born in Lawrence. His father had a little bookstore on the corner of Amesbury and Essex Street. I bought books at that shop. I remember ordering a copy of Plato’s Symposium. The poor man running the shop at that time (early 1960s) had to purchase 4 copies. I bought one and the other three are probably still sitting there. If you are interested in getting a copy of Plato’s Symposium, they are on the left side of the store on a shelf at about eye level. They have a yellow cover. I was told that the shop is still in business.
Ed McMahon was raised in Lowell. He had his first broadcasting job at WLLH. Ed told a story on the Johnny Carson Show about how he used to be the guess-your-weight-guy at Salisbury Beech.
I remember him! He had his stand just to the left of the Frolics heading towards the 5 O’clock Club. That was a great game. Ed would agree to guess the year of your car or your mother’s first name or your age or a million other things. If he happened to get it right or within a year, or whatever the caveat was, you got no prize for your dollar or your quarter. But if he guessed wrong you won a prize off the dollar shelf or the quarter shelf or whatever your wager. People often won. But even if you won you lost. If you bet a dollar and picked a prize from the dollar shelf, the prize was probably worth a quarter or less. Everybody realized this but people still played the game. I played it too. A lot of it had to do with the Ed McMahons at the stand and their style.
Just think I may have contributed to Ed McMayon’s success. But let me say I had nothing to do with his recent bankruptcy. Ed took my dollar and he blew it. What can I say?
Then there is Jay Leno who grew up in Andover. I really don’t know anything about Jay. I don’t think I’ve watched the Johnny Carson show since Johnny retired. I still consider Jay an “upstart.”
Robert Goulet was born in Lawrence. I have a friend who says he knew Robert and played with him when they were children. But my friend has been known to lie. He told me that Robert lived in the projects “over the other side” of Essex Street. I love those type expressions. What side is “the other side” of Essex Street?
But now here is a story that is true. Billy Quinlan and I were involved in a life and death struggle one night. He was very much alive and I thought I was dead.
I was cruising by the Merry Mac Club up on the river road one evening. I didn’t have much money. In fact, I had enough for one drink - no tip for the bartender. I was a “social” drinker at the time. Most of my friends were also “social” drinkers. Many of us today are having a little problem with our livers. I am wondering if this has anything to do with the drinking water in Lawrence. After all, those mixed drinks were 90% Lawrence water. I have been thinking of investigating and possibly starting up a class action suit. I know for a fact that cirrhosis of the liver is prevalent in Lawrence. I would not be surprised if it is disproportional to the rest of the nation. I may look into this after I finish this project. Then again maybe I won’t.
So I took up a stool at the bar at the Merry Mac Club. I was sipping my drink and minding my own business when this fellow next to me started a conversation. We chatted. As it turned out he had an interest in classic philosophy - me too. We discussed Plato and Aristotle for awhile and then moved on to St. Thomas Aquinas and then into the Reformation. The night lingered along and every time I came back from the bathroom, there was another drink waiting for me. I figured that this red-headed, Irish fellow I had been talking to was my benefactor. He was most likely fascinated by my intellect.
I thanked him each time and we moved on. By the time we got to Bertrand Russell, Jean Paul Sartre and Martin Headegeer, the lights began to flash and the Merry Mac Club was in shutdown mode. I sloshed down my last drink, shook hands with my red-headed philosopher buddy, thanked him for his kindness started for the door.
A voice from behind me then bellowed, “Hey you! You’re not going to leave without buying me a drink are you?” I turned and there was Big Bad Billy Quinlan leaning on the bar.
Billy was a professional football player from 1957 to 1965. He played for several pro teams - the Cleveland Browns, the Green Bay Packers, Detroit and some others. He had a reputation as the dirtiest, toughest player in professional football. He was born in Lawrence and he had a Lawrence reputation also.
After retiring from professional football he bought a barroom on Common St. Everybody liked Billy but if Billy didn’t like you - you could soon be looking for a new body.
At the time of this story Billy’s name had been in the Eagle Tribune. He had an altercation with some Mafia gangster types at a Holiday Inn. If I remember the story correctly he threw one of the bad guys through a plate glass window and put a few of the others into the hospital.
“Are you talking to me?” I said.
I didn’t say the above in Robert De Nero fashion as in Taxi Driver. I would imagine I sounded more like Woody Allen, rather wimpy and terrified.
“Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you. I’ve been buying you drinks all damn night and you ain’t bought me one. What’s the story?”
The place went quiet. The owner John McGrath was behind the bar. He was a big guy too. I thought he was my buddy. He wasn’t moving. I thought of running. I could run away from a professional football player? I don’t think so. I could fall to the floor and play dead? Or, I could just stand there for a few more minutes and be dead.
“Ah, I ah ... Red here has been buying my drinks ...” Red shook his head negatively and confirmed the allegations by Billy. “Well, I ah ... maybe ...” What could I do? I had no money. I shouldn’t have been there and I never should have accepted all those drinks. I stood there stuttering for what seemed to be at least a year, when my buddy Billy Quinlan finally spoke again.
“Oh screw you,” he said. Then he turned and headed out the door.
So there you go, how I met the infamous Lawrence professional football star Billy Quinlan.
Hey Billy, if you are still out there, I have a little more money today than I did in those days. I’d love to buy you a drink. Unfortunately, I have been advised not to drink alcohol by several different physicians. I think it’s the Lawrence water. Are you having any trouble with your liver, Billy? What do you think about the water in Lawrence?

Richard E. Noble was raised in Lawrence, Mass and is now a freelance writer. He has published five books. Two of them have Lawrence as their setting, A Summer with Charlie and Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother. A Little Something is a book of poetry partly inspired by life in Lawrence. Hobo-ing America is a workingman’s tour of the U.S.A. The Eastpointer is selected pieces from his award winning column about life in a sleepy fishing village in the Florida Panhandle.