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tough guy poetry and manly stories of loneliness
all contents copyright Jon Rolston 2004, 2005, 2006

March 28, 2008

Frontlines New Hampshire

I put a call out for ideas last week and Ken offered to write a story for me about New Hampshire. I asked if he could check in on Darlene’s, an old favorite sub shop and one of the few that hasn’t been lost to progress. Here’s what he had to say…

photo and story by K.C. Hawkins

I stopped in at Darlene’s to get some lunch. There was a man in his early fifties sitting down to the left wearing suspenders and rubbing his beard. If I took a guess, I would say that he was tired. If I took another guess I’d say he was a carpenter because of the fine sawdust that was trapped in his hairy arms. I wanted to sit down and ask him why he wasn’t getting a $23 dollar chocolate caramel mocha cinnamon latte croissant at Starbucks. The one that just went in the Pizza Hut on Woodbury Avenue…I guess some people are happy with the way things are.

The same old oven to cook pies and toast subs was standing tall. Darlene wasn’t there but there was the girl we call “Service with a Smile”. I remember her from high school when I went back. I think she was in band or choir. I was 21 when I graduated. I’m no dummy. I went to high school for seven years. It’s scary when you think about dating one of the lunch ladies.

The cook on duty, Lonnie, she wasn’t smiling, she sternly said “Hello”. You never want to make a cook mad, especially when they have your lunch in their hands. They have a lot of choices here up on the plastic menu. American Chop Suey, meatball sub, calzones…my mind starts arguing with my nose and my stomach. I chose pizza – it looks so appealing when it is under the heat-lamp in the small display case. The grease reflects the light and sends a message to my salivary glands and in order to make it stop I jam the slice in my mouth burning the roof of my pallet and getting the burnt skin confused with the cheese.

Todd, a motorcycle mechanic from town, says he eats there about 3 times a month. His favorite sub is steak, egg and cheese. He’s been going there since 1987. I asked him if much has changed with the place.

He said, “No, just the prices…probably to pay for the brand new Cherokee she has.”

I think you should never change something that works, that’s why Darlene’s is so consistently busy. Alongside the sub shop is a Grecian Salon, old ladies go in with their hair flat, and come out looking like Marge Simpson, but that place is just as busy. It’s a testament to tradition. Sometimes people have a hard time welcoming change. How can you truly cherish tradition if you have your legs open to change all the time. Huh? Nevermind

As fast as I eat the slice Cookie Cutter Condos are being assembled around town dressed with shiny copper lanterns that will turn green in little as a year. I was thinking of Lyle’s comment about where the old Portsmouth went. I was saddened by this thought. It seems like yesterday we were all ramping up for the weekend, egging, hanging out on the apple farm waiting till it closed to ask Drunk Jerry to buy beer for us then drinking under the bridge, throwing perfect rolls of toilet paper up in the trees to add color to the boring lives we thought we had. I miss the stench of Pabst soaked into the carpet in the Elvis Room. I miss the knockout fights at Gilley’s and the cheap conversations had by all.

I was told by Mr. Celli that the chimney I had taken down in the Olde Mill Fish market had to go back up because the Historic District Committee attorneys said it needed to be preserved. I hope they settle for a plywood facade with New England BrickMaster tiles. I wish the HDC could preserve the whole town as it once was, with less people less government. When the Hysterical District Committee approved the Hilton Hotel there was a stipulation stating that the structure could not exceed the height of the parking garage and it now towers over the Hanover street location. It is all about revenue.

The parking meters are no longer in the view of the fading Wyland Whales mural. Now you buy time from a debit/credit slot machine. You have to go to the kiosk, buy time, walk back to your car and display the ticket on your dash. No more leaving your window cracked when it is hot or a breeze will knock it off and you’ll get fined. I’m not sure if the city wanted to kill the labor of collecting the coins or they were tired of people sliding in the parking spot on someone else’s time.

Last summer I was at the Gas Light (outside) and I saw this woman dancing to the bands lucky music. I overheard the doorman say, “I am sorry ma’am but we don’t allow dancing.” He mumbled something about not having a license or a designated dance floor. Art galleries are gone and so is the raw live entertainment…now we have drum machines with rounded chords being strummed by the numb has been. Not sure what the next step for Portsmouth is. Hopefully the city won’t put their hand over the last 5 letters of our town.


  1. Nice story…to me the last straw was Peavey’s being replaced with Goody fucking Two Shoes. A town without a hardware store is no longer a real town; the yuppie takeover is complete.

    Comment by Rachel — March 28, 2008 @ 3:11 pm

  2. Great story. Used to write like that myself, once upon a time. Moved here in 70 from NY. Stationed here in 62 at Pease. I remember things like Gilley’s in market sq. Scott Jewelers where the toast is now. GI’s used to set up an account and pay down their debt every payday. I remember towns people complaining about the large population of NAvy and Air Force in town and how things “used to be different before we got there” Then one payday we were all paid in silver dollars. After that…… never heard much complaining from townspeople. Aey yuh

    Comment by Chip — March 28, 2008 @ 4:56 pm

  3. Interesting. I suppose shop owners realized just how much money was coming from military families. Thanks for some back story.

    Comment by Rolston — March 28, 2008 @ 5:02 pm

  4. Thanks Ken, I went to Portsmouth tonight for dinner, we were gonna try a fancy place or something like that. We had a friend visiting from CA and I wanted to show her the town I grew up in. The house I lived in was still there and little league field was covered in snow. We went to the friendly toast which I had been to three times before for breakfast. I had breakfast food for dinner and a Pabst. I didn’t even realize that one of places we tried to eat was where peaveys used to be. My brother and I tried to explain the old town where we grew up but could not find the words. Or maybe the places. Thanks Ken for sharing.

    Comment by al — March 28, 2008 @ 7:26 pm

  5. yeah the old man was a no bullshit kind a guy, I miss that kind of committment. That guy had more nuts than Home Cheapo, now we have dog owners Assoc. and Neighborhood Asssoc, Governments for governments, old days are hashed out starting at 7:00am at Golden Memories, ,,,, Judy’s Place Or D -Street which ever you which to hold on to.

    Comment by mr, pooperlooper — March 29, 2008 @ 3:24 am

  6. […] Why do places need a caberet license to allow dancing? Why is this culture so against dancing they require a permit for it to happen? I was thinking about Ken’s story in New Hampshire, but it’s true out here in San Francisco as well. The only difference is, bar owners pay the fee and people will dance out here…this is the sign in front of Este Noche, a gay Latino bar. The last time I went in there two guys were on pedestals in tight underwear doing something you might call dancing, and yes, it probably should have required a permit. […]

    Pingback by My Robot Is Pregnant » let’s dance — April 7, 2008 @ 10:21 pm

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