Fishing in Public

by “Tackle Box” Billy Kelley

Mellen Street Memories, Part II

Hey folks! How’s tricks? I been alright, I guess. I’ll let you know soon’s I dry out. After that goddamned winter and soaking spring, what’s next? I’ll wager a snowstorm. Wouldn’t be the first time we got nailed with angels shagging dandruff this time of year.

Oh well. Let’s move on with the walking tour of Mellen Street I started last month. We ended at Mellen Street Market, and since the May issue hit the stands I’ve gotten a couple rejoinders from owners Tony and Joe Nappi and the crew. One fella reminded me of the store’s reputation for honesty and how that trust keeps customers coming back year after year. He needn’t have — I’ve known that for decades. And Tony would like me to mention that his market is proud to have been designated a Safe Haven destination. That means if you got trouble, you got a safe place there. The program started about five years ago, when the Portland cops and the FBI launched the Safe Streets program. A darn good idea, I think. It’s mainly for kids, but everybody’s welcome.

One other thing I’d like to add about the Mellen Street Market crew: no one quits, or has quit, for as long as I can remember. And believe me, it ain’t the money that keeps ’em around. Amazing.

OK, next building on the tour is Sacred Heart Church and Parochial School, at the corner of Mellen and Sherman. Back in the ’70s, the hookers could go inside the church to warm up during the cold months — that is, before they started locking up all the churches (not just ’cause of Mellen, but just another sign of the times). This was the perfect place for a church — Jesus would have preached in the middle of Sodom and Gomorrah.

With the church out of bounds for ladies of the night (and ladies of the day, for that matter), what’s a working girl to do? Well, I’ll tell ya. There was a very convenient Laundromat across the way which, for a short time, had a phone booth. As I mentioned last month, the public phone was a lifeline for certain individuals in the crooked trades. Think about it. You’re in Portland, Maine in the middle of winter and you gotta make a call to your supplier, maybe to keep something for you till later. Your date has just pulled up and you know he’s good for a “loan” of, say, $50 or $100, and you are sick as sick can be. Phone comes in real handy in that situation.

So anyways, the Laundromat bit the dust, and the phone broke before that, so there was no safe place for the babes, or for the boys working the same street. (Get this right: I could care less if you got a crush on a three-legged billy goat. Each to his own, I say.)

Which brings us to the next building, a clean, regular house like you might see in any good neighborhood. The owner’s alright, lets me sit on his back concrete wall, a seat I’ve shared with many hot lookers. The owner’s done his share to change the texture of the neighborhood. Met him once — nice chap.

This brings me to the block where I live (sorry, no address — you know, privacy). I used to score almost right across the street (can’t say which house that is either, of course). Very exciting times for music, me, and Mellen Street. The Rolling Stones would have loved it, but I’m sure there’s many WASP types that weren’t quite so enthusiastic about the situation.

As Mr. Dylan states, “The times they are a-changin’.” The place I used to score dope is just another regular apartment house these days. Clean — at least on the outside — and rentable, easily. But, boy, I could tell you some tales, and I’ll bet the coppers could outdo any story I can recite.

I can say much more about Mellen Street (we’re only halfway up at this point), but it’ll have to wait a bit. I’ve gotta make my daily run to the Market. Stay dry!