Copy Cats

by | Feb 14, 2024

Above: EGFD Station One in days of yore. 

I have Harry (Chapin) on the box and feel like writing for some reason. Though many people say I am a talker, I am actually a good listener. I am attentive, an observer and an absorber. As a kid I listened when the older generation, usually at Tar’s store, would recount their youth and their adventures, and their games. My uncle said very little. As did my father. He never told me of his adventures and escapades. I heard of them from Mason’s father (Don) and Mario and George and Jim and Fred and Henry (all gone).

In my prototype E.G., Greenwood Cove, Brian felt the same way about his dad. He and his partner in fun, Roberto Giuseppe Tabarano, AKA Tabber or Tabran, talked many times of pulling off some stunts to emulate the older men.

So, once again we retreat to Greenwood Cove, site of those 28 hour days and 8 day weeks, a town filled with characters, and magic. For the magic, you just had to know where to look, or, how to conjure it up.

In old Greenwood Cove there was NO Route 95. In the morning and at 4 p.m. every weekday, traffic used to be backed up all along Main Street from Apponaug to North Kingstown. In those days Quonset was a viable Naval base and people from all over the state worked there. So in the morning traffic would be heavy inbound there, while people who worked north of E.G. (G.C.) would be snailing through on their way to Warwick (Leesona), Cranston or Providence.

In the summer it was beach traffic, which held sway on Main Street and clogged things up for the locals. You had to know how to get around (reason, later on, Brian got a moped). Brian remembers hanging out at Earnshaw’s Drug leaning on a parking meter (remember them?) during the peak times to observe the traffic and maybe, yell or wave to an uncle or two coming home from Quonset or a familiar face returning home from work in the city.

It was on one of these beach days that Brian’s father, was stuck down by First Avenue, driving the ladder truck. Knowing him, that would not fly, and he would come up with something to get back to The Station. Right on! He put on the siren and the horns! The traffic parted like the Red Sea before Moses, and he pulled right up to Station One and “backed ‘er in,” as they say.

Being able to pull off something like that always intrigued Brian. He’d heard about the time they put a town soul, who had drifted into a dreamlike state from over-imbibing some local liquid (how’s that for a euphemism?).

Or, the time his dad tricked a local banker into thinking he was shooting a real gun, knocking off a bottle that was placed on a stone wall across the street from The Station (now the glass dining room of Cafe Fresco). There were other things also like asking a few of “the boys” to go for coffee and he would drive them down to New York City to have it. Post Road (Rte. 1) all the way!

Don’t think that hearing of the many creative things he did here, and some that the other men did, didn’t rub off on Brian.

It first manifested itself in teaching. Way before “The Dead Poets Society” came on the scene, Brian was diving off the desks while dropping a ball, to demonstrate the property of falling bodies.

Another time, to demonstrate the different ways people see things, including witnesses to an event, Brian had a kid enter his class with his face painted half white and half black, mismatched socks and other opposing clues on his body. He also had a gun! It was a track starter’s pistol. A kid in the class held a packet of ketchup.

The boy came in. Screamed a pre-planned sentence at ketchup boy, shot three times. Ketchup boy screamed. Slapped the packet to his face and immediately looked covered in blood. Girls screamed. Guys shouted. Pandemonium became the order of the moment. There were some screams in the hall also.

When Brian finally got the class settled down, assured them ketchup boy was alive, and told them it was a pre-planned lesson, he asked them what they had seen.

What they had heard. The results were interesting to say the least. What just happened? How many shots fired ?

Depending on where they sat, each person had a different story. White face, black gloves. Black face, white gloves, etc. He said this. No! He said that! You get the picture.

Of course, the administration came to Brian and asked him politely to end that experiment. 

It was settled that “Pass the Buck,” another experiment would be used.

When Brian thought of those days, he wondered how the GC people would have reacted in the present. They seem so …. Good thing he never taught here.They would have been in a tizzy over “Iron.” That was bad enough.

Brian divided teaching his classes into five segments, and once, when teaching the book, “A Separate Peace,” he had students read the book, pick five passages and represent them with photos; then he took them to Phillips Exeter Academy, scene of the fictional Devon School of the book and took them to see the movie, and then, brought the star of the movie to the school to talk about it all. Again, magic! Take the ordinary and make something happen with it. Get it?

One of his creative endeavors almost ended in disaster. In archery class, instead of just shooting at a target, Brian would put objects on the target. Water bottles, pictures, dollar bills, etc., and if the student hit one they got a reward. In the case of dollar bills, they got to keep it. No one ever did it though. He never placed them over the bull’s eye.

But, one day, while attaching objects to the target, an arrow whizzed past Brian and hit just over his shoulder. The drill was all arrows and bows were to be in their stands while Brian did this, but, one student with problems decided he was going to shoot the teacher. Close call. Despite Brian’s close supervision, there were a couple of more episodes with bows and arrows. No American Indians involved. But one time there were some prisoners from the ACI working on a field above.

Though Brian thought he was as idealistic as most in his teaching, the realities of what goes on at some schools here and across the country doesn’t seem to penetrate some people’s ideas of school. 

Brian taught in nine schools in five states and, in one, had the children of reputed hit men and bosses. A couple of times the top hit man called Brian from prison inquiring about his daughter. Thank God, she was #1 in her class and a top athlete also. Another time some men were sent to a school to “rough” Brian up, as he had disciplined one of the son’s of an organization member.

Some stories about that have been written and maybe after Brian is gone, or slightly before, they will be shared.

So Roberto, also known as Tab, Tabber or Tabby Cat, heard of much of the above and he wanted Brian and he to be established as “Players of the Game.”

The first prank involved beach traffic, a gun, and a packet, or two, of ketchup.

As Brian remembers, it was a weekend, Sunday he thinks. The Station One bay closest to Long Street was empty (drills?) and it was an excellent sound chamber. Main Street was loaded with beach traffic.

Roberto started yelling. Brian started yelling. Roberto took off running out into the bumper-to-bumper traffic. Brian followed, shooting the starter’s pistol (blanks).

Roberto slapped the ketchup packet right up to his head and red paste splattered everywhere. Then he did a drop and roll on the ground and lay still. People screamed. Horns blew. Men yelled.

The two pranksters just stopped and laughed, then ran off like double hockey pucks.

In those days the local police were more understanding of the goings on in town, especially those of the volunteer firemen, and when they finally tracked the two pranksters down, they delivered a stern lecture about pranking, especially when so many people were around and so on. The pranksters learned their lesson.  

Almost.

On another day with beach traffic again bumper to bumper on Main Street, Tabber got into his car on one end of Main, while Brian got into his at the other. It took a couple of tries but they finally timed it so they were opposite one another just in front of Station One on Main Street. Tab started yelling at Brian. Brian yelled back. It looked like a heated argument. Both boys got out of their car and put their fists up in a boxing pose. It looked like a fight was about to start. People were stuck in their cars behind the two, and were going to see a fight for free, right before their eyes.

The boys posed, they circled, they swore and shouted out what they were going to do to their opponent.

Then with every eye in the area on them, and at a semi-silent count between them, the boys broke into patty-cake, patty cake, baker’s man, then got into their cars, laughing like crazy, and drove off (the cars in front of each had moved on. The ones behind stuck in traffic to witness) and Brian and Tab had their prank and their laugh.

It is good to laugh. It is just like medicine. Brian used to say he had to laugh to keep from crying. Life should be about good times. About family. And friends. And laughter.

In Greenwood Cove (like in old EG) there was plenty of it. If you knew where to go. If you knew who to be with. If you knew things to do. Then, most likely, you were surrounded by family. Or friends. Or, laughter.

AND The Magic!  Did I mention the magic? It was always there. Over in the corner watching. A slight smile on its face. Just waiting to be invited in.

That’s when the fun began and everyone benefited from it.

**** The author grew up in East Greenwich, and maybe even participated in some of the adventures. Or, maybe watched some. Or, maybe just heard about them. Remember he was a good listener.

But, through everything, he was always aware of The Magic of it all.

**** Writer’s Note: Tho’ again, I did this story in one sitting; for perhaps, the first time, I went back time and time again. If I made an error, it is truly a witness to the fact that I am getting old and now making more mistakes than ever.

There was a time when I never made one. But, back then the Lone Ranger was a boy and hadn’t yet met Tonto.

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Mark
Mark
February 16, 2024 9:40 am

Nice, Brian…..keep ’em comin’!

Donna Wilson Rice
Donna Wilson Rice
February 16, 2024 1:06 pm

Loved this, Bruce. So happy to read yet another one of stories. Happy days. – Donna

Joyce Williams
Joyce Williams
February 16, 2024 2:38 pm

Writing and remembering good for an old man. Love the stories.
Joyce

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