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Frank Dascoli remembers one of the acid leaks from the plants in Everett in 1958. People were awoken from sleep and gasping for air he told the Boston Globe a couple years ago. Visibility was so bad anyone driving on the roads had to pull over so they wouldn’t crash like you would in a snowstorm or particularly dense fog but in this case it was a storm of sulfurous poison air. Sounds like a nightmare but it wasn’t particularly remarkable he said because that sort of thing happened where he grew up all the time back then. It’s also not that hard to imagine something like it happening everywhere all the time at some point down the line when the world ends.
“It was a filthy hole back then,” he said of Everett the city directly north of Boston. For about 150 years one piece of the city along the Mystic River was home to a series of chemical plants from New England Chemical to Cochrane Chemical Company to Merrimac Chemical Company and then the famous bad guys who we all know about called Monsanto from 1929 until the 1980s.
From the Globe:
Monsanto took over the site in 1929, becoming one of the Everett’s largest employers, and the source of considerable chaos. Its smoke-belching plants were prone to fires, explosions, and acid leaks that injured workers and alarmed thousands of people.
The company’s operations in Everett peaked before the environmental movement gathered momentum. There were few controls on pollution or awareness of the public health implications of contaminated air and water.
Even as Monsanto spewed chemicals into the community, and the Mystic River, the company’s payroll sustained thousands of families in the region. Industrial growth of any kind was good, it meant jobs and prosperity. Few questioned that calculus, even when noxious odors filled the morning air.
Sometimes I think about how weird it is that the unofficial song of Boston is the one about loving all the polluted water. Lol the water is bad we sing at the baseball game. It’s a folksy little peculiarity of our humble city this pollution. Not sure how they pulled that one off but we all fell for it.
They say the water around here is not as bad as it used to be and that’s nice. When I can run I run along the Charles River on this pretty little stretch between Watertown and Allston with these giant and elegantly draping trees lining the path and it all looks so pretty. Lately I run down to the docks where all the Harvard crew people are setting off on their boats and it is very picturesque but the thing is it fucking smells so bad it’s almost not worth the view.
You may have heard of the filthy Mystic River from the movie they made with Sean Penn a while back although I don’t remember what it was about. Working class guys with hearts of gold who get in over their heads most likely.
The thing about making one of these Boston movies or shows like the City on the Hill the new one they have out now is that it doesn’t matter who the lead guy is so much the important thing is to get the put-upon long suffering wife character just right and if you do that then it seems authentic. People think Boston is about the main tough guys doing the bad shit but it’s really more of a wife town.
I always sort of thought Van Morrison’s song Into the Mystic might have been about the Mystic River because he spent some time in Boston while writing Astral Weeks. My buddy Ryan wrote a book about it which you should read. Man that’s a good song though remember that one? We were born before the wind, also younger than the sun. Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic.
My dad used to tell me about seeing Van the Man which is what he always called him when he play in Harvard Square in the late sixties and I thought that was a pretty cool thing for him to have done. You like to think about your parents having done cool shit when they still could.
But anyway I guess the song is not about that particular river.
One time we went to a wedding in Connecticut near the town of Mystic which they made a whole different movie about with Julia Roberts called Mystic Pizza. I didn’t remember if we had gone to get pizza at the famous place there so I asked Michelle just now if we did and she said we did not.
Why not I asked. Because I was worried about being fat?
Yes she said.
What do you think about that now I asked.
I don’t like it she said. People need to be able to let themselves have pizza sometime she said and she’s right about that but it’s not gonna be me.
Everyone says the best pizza in Boston is at a really old timey place called Santarpio’s which has been open in East Boston since 1903 not too far from Everett but I can’t say one way or another because I’ve never tried it on account of being too fat to deserve any pizza.
“There were big sulfur piles that would blow everywhere,” Dascoli said of Everett and this was up until not even that long ago. I was alive when this was still going on. “If you ever took a deep breath, you would choke.”
Way back in the 1800s this particular stretch of Everett waterfront we are talking about was owned by Hawes Atwood who opened the Union Oyster House which is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the country. You could go there right now and eat oysters if you wanted to although they wouldn’t be from the Mystic anymore on account of the century plus of pollution. I haven’t tried the oysters there either not because oysters are fattening but because if I wanted to eat cold briny ocean jizz I would suck off a whale.
“The fumes always started up right after supper,” another long time resident named Mary Bagarella told the Globe about the plants in Everett.
“White steam would shoot up out of the chimney and all of our eyes would start to tear up,” she said.
And now there’s a $2.5 billion casino there called Encore! Las Vegas style glamour on the Mystic they say. There’s a commercial on all the time here where they play a Frank Sinatra song because he’s somehow still synonymous with casinos. They tried making some casinos where the thing is EDM and I’m not sure which culture is worse to be honest.
Before the billionaire casino mogul and accused rapist Steve Wynn and his company could bring the glitz of Vegas to Boston they had to do a lot of cleaning up of two different kinds. Wynn was the finance chair of the Republican National Committee up until a couple years ago when he was accused of dozens of instances of sexual assault and impropriety and then they took his name off the casino before it opened and he stepped down as CEO of the company. His company was fined $35 million dollars by Massachusetts because Wynn Resorts had failed to disclose a $7.5 million settlement he gave to a woman who claimed he had forced her to have sex with him.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission found that the company had worked to cover up allegations against Wynn and that “the company fostered a culture of secrecy in which victims of sexual misconduct and harassment became afraid to pursue complaints or believed doing so to be pointless,” according to CNN.
There are different types of pollution is the point.
All the while this saga was playing out workers on the site of the casino were busy trying to carry all the poisoned earth away.
“An estimated 500,000 tons of dirt containing PCBs, arsenic, lead, ash, petroleum products, and asbestos were carted off to special landfills in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Quebec, Michigan, Ohio, and Georgia,” CommonWealth Magazine reported. “Most of the dirt was shipped out on two trains, each with 28 cars, that pulled into the property on a daily basis. About 100 trucks also did pickups every day.”
If you drive to the Encore Boston Casino which is really in Everett you will have a lot of time to take in the surroundings along the way on account of the horrific traffic. There’s the defunct Whittemore-Wright Co. Inc tanning oils textile building with the lettering faded into the side of the brick building like oils faded into the soil I was going to say but turns out that place is still in business and has been for over one hundred years so good for them. Across the street there’s a baseball field where kids play next to the Mystic Generating Station a power station that mostly burns natural gas a lot of which comes from Yemen the country where our war planes are being used by Saudi Arabia to bomb civilians to death. I was going to assume that the plant there isn’t polluting like they used to around here but I just read a report from a group called Toxics Action Center who named it as one of the most significant polluters in the state. It’s owned by the energy giant Exelon who do about $36 billion in revenue a year which is a lot even more than a casino could do. Wynn Resorts by comparison only does around $5 billion a year.
A little further up the road you’ll pass Minichiello Bros. We buy scrap metal the sign on the side of the buildings says. Cash for Gold. I don’t know what they do in terms of revenue a year but I looked at their website and it says Metal Yard, Scrap Yard, Junk Yard, Recycling Center, Wrecking Yard, Iron Yard, Bone Yard…Call Us what you want, JUST MAKE SURE YOU CALL US!
Right across the street from the bone yard there it is the brand new casino where inside you might find this hunk of metal shit if you go wandering around.
Steve Wynn the famous casino rapist bought that piece by Jeff Koons for $28 million a couple of years ago.
“Our guests find themselves in an environment that makes them feel their best selves,” Roger Thomas the guy who buys the art for Wynn properties said. “Hopefully, we help you feel funnier, more romantic, even more considerate. When you leave, you realize you’ve had a completely different experience that if you want again, you’ll simply have to return.”
“The person looking at them is actually reflected in the art. I think the person looking at the art becomes a piece of the art while they’re involved at the art,” he said of the Popeye. “I think that’s a wonderful, very contemporary late 20th century notion.”
I tried too see myself in the statue when I saw it and it didn’t work. I saw this though in another reflective surface. It’s called man goes to the casino to get fun and performatively depressed but ends up just getting normal and quiet depressed.
I may have mentioned once or twice on here that I tend to be susceptible to addictive impulses and one of the ones I used to have inside of me pretty good was the gambling brain. Where I went to college wasn’t too long a drive to Foxwoods so we’d often go down a group of us and spend whatever money we could scrape together playing blackjack and ideally stretch it out into a whole night if we could. We had a rich friend who we used to bully into lending us money so we could go sometimes and I feel bad about that looking back on it but now he’s a really wealthy plastic surgeon and I’m whatever this is so maybe he had it coming.
All of those trips to Foxwoods have sort of blurred together in my mind but one that stands out is a time when we were at the blackjack table and a miserable man seated next to me reprimanded me for making the wrong play. This is what you’re supposed to do every time without fail he said and I said some shit to him like Hmm yes but a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds… and we all thought it was this big How do you like them apples? moment but to be honest that dude should have dragged my nerdy ass outside and pummeled me into the dirt until I disappeared.
It was Emerson who said that shit in his essay Self-Reliance and I haven’t read it in like twenty years so I’m not going to pretend to remember it.
You can see the power plant from one of the balconies overlooking the fake grass along the river at Encore if you want and even if you don’t want because it’s sort of hard to miss. Something about the lone little windmill spinning there against the backdrop of the plant is very sad to me. Someone should write a book about windmills and futility.
Long story short I used to gamble a lot and at one point about eight years ago or so I had a website I would go to to bet on football games and then I found myself betting in the middle of a random day on like a Cardinals vs Diamondbacks baseball game I wasn’t even watching and I said I gotta cut this shit out and I did. Emerson would probably be proud of me for that. All the other shit I got going on not so much but there’s that.
I was still sort of surprised at how little being inside the casino was making my brain maggots wriggle yesterday though. That was partly because most of the table games had a $50 minimum which is insanely high. I eventually found a $25 blackjack table and sat down for about twenty minutes but I just couldn’t feel anything about it it was like trying to jack serotonin out of a soft dick and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get anything to come out so I stopped.
There are two types of anxiety when it comes to drug addicts there is the anxiety of waiting for the drugs to arrive and there is the anxiety of realizing that the drugs are about to run out. Sometimes in between there is the high of being on the drugs but that is fleeting. Anyway that’s what people inside a casino look like. They’re waiting for something to come and watching it run out.
I don’t have anything particularly novel or revelatory to say about this place it’s just a casino buddy and it’s got all the shit that casinos have.
There are all these big lobster-red chandeliers hanging over the gaming floor I noticed and I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was inside of a claw grab game at the arcade waiting to be plucked out. I was a shitty stuffed animal that some goober like God or the Devil or whoever you want it to be was aiming the thing at and it kept reaching down just almost catching me like ah fuck fuck almost so they had to keep trying again and again until eventually it worked and I get pulled out and I’m gone.
As they were digging down into the earth on the site of the casino before construction to see how fucked they were vis a vis poisoned earth they uncovered all sorts of secrets like evidence of old facilities and plants that had simply been bulldozed over and buried in order to build new ones on top of sometimes with the chemicals they produced not even disposed of in any way. They just let the poison sink into the earth.