And in the spring of 1975 I found myself one of the final workers closing up a short-term funded runaway house on the north shore of Massachusetts. I’d been there since Rasta House opened some 15 months previously, but there was only so much money in a federal grant divided among a number of municipalities for youth substance abuse and education treatment and outreach – the way money flowed back in the 70’s until it stopped in the 80’s – and all those programs had decided the money would be better spent going directly to them and their in-town, hands-on services, versus a regional runaway house with spotty usage and, say, questionable professional interventions. So Rasta House was closing and most of the staff had left, there were maybe a couple of kids left waiting for placement at that point, and I had managed to find a job with one of those part of the treatment collective agencies – the Tri-Town Council on Youth and Family Services. I barely skipped a beat between locking the runaway house door for the final time and driving myself in my ’65 Pontiac Lemans to the parking lot of what will be hereafter referred to as the TTC –in a one-story yellow cement-block building shared with a small printing company and press a block off Route 1 in Topsfield, directly across from the grounds of the annual fall Topsfield Fair. I actually never made it to that fair.
Except, well, at some point the TTC office was located on Main Street in Topsfield, in what you could make a case was the town center just down from the village green and churches facing it in a most New England-y looking scene. Was the office on Main before the Route 1 building or after? Hmmm, brain cell loss and memory disintegration strikes again. Either way, I’m telling the story from the yellow cement-block building. I’d been hired as a full-time staff person with the title of “Outreach Worker”. I liked that title, it was and is a good title, the implication that you work for some place which has particular services it offers and you, as the worker, are taking it upon yourself to leave the building and go out to where people who could make use of those services are and in effect bringing the services to them. In my case, what with the perspective clients being school-aged youth, they sent me to the local high school, the three-town (hence the “Tri-Town” designation in the agency’s name) Masconomet Regional High School (aka Masco). The towns served were Topsfield, Boxford, and Middletown, the first two generally on the upper end of the wealth scale, the latter not so much. Anyway, part of my job was to go to the school and offer up services including – referral, educational, supportive including handouts and information, public speaking, and best of all and surely my favorite, hanging around in the cafeteria during the lunch periods. You are 26 years old lurking around during the lunches in a school cafeteria like three days a week for months on end and it’s not long before the ever inquisitive among the student population wander over and inquire as to just who the fuck you are. Which is how you make contacts, because if you are cool and hip and maybe have some free stuff and even possibly, as time moves along and part of the outreach includes making contact with the juvenile officers in the three towns’ police departments, so you maybe even have some ‘influence’ with “the law”, and you’re not some kind of arrogant asshole but back again to the cool, hip thing, you make connections, wait let me say I in fact began to make connections, kids began expecting to see me, they’d saunter over to high five and rap, on occasion I was allowed to use an empty office space in the guidance department and kids were formally “referred” to see “the counselor”. Which was cool, and in fact I went on to have similar jobs in other similar single-town agencies down the road in my human services career. Outreach.
And here is this other cool thing I got involved with at TTC, actually it was my brainchild, back to the yellow cement building and the printing company and at some point I wandered in there and asked about printing costs and then, what with all the contacts I was making in the school I floated the idea of involving students in a photography class and also students in an art class, and advocated with the TTC leadership to support a fundraising project, whereby the photography class sent students to take photos from throughout the three towns and the art class had students draw up appropriate drawings for each month of the year, including all the days of the month with hand printed holidays and local days of importance, and they all received credit for these acts of creativity, and the printing business offered discounted pricing cause it was all in a good cause, and that good-hearted mix became my baby and we ended up with something like 800 or 1000 calendars, can’t remember, sold ’em all and made the agency some decent money and gave a number of kids a little bit of fame – like the Warhol 15-minute deal except a little longer. And you should also know that all these kids involved with the calendar project were absolutely not the kids involved with drugs and drinking and running away and vandalism and truancy and generally, in the eyes of society, fucking up who I hung around with in the cafeteria lunches and sometimes in the guidance office and more and more out in public in the different towns where kids hung around and on occasion as a personal advocate – “I can speak for this kid’s character.” – in one of those police chief’s offices after that kid had been busted for something and even once or twice in a private juvenile court session. It was a very cool job – heavy on the “human service.”
And I worked for the Tri-Town Council for about 15-months before deciding that moving to live in California was the next madly correct action in my life, and gave notice at my apartment and sold the Lemans to my brother-in-law, but many months later, on the rebound from my failed California move, crashed a few times in the home of my boss at TTC, who, by the way, I heard from in a reply to a recent Blog post just this morning, and I cannot say how many years it’s been, any contact between us, though I can say it warmed my heart in a big, big way to begin this Tuesday.