, Salem, MA

October 26, 2012

Heard Around Town: It’s a long way from Pakistan to Salem

The Salem News

---- — SALEM — City Councilor Joe O’Keefe had his diplomatic hat on this week.

The veteran councilor and former state fire marshal served as host to three visiting dignitaries from Pakistan — a judge, a police chief and a human resources director.

For the past 10 days, O’Keefe has been our very own Hillary Rodham Clinton.

He led the distinguished group over to Salem State University, where President Patricia Meservey spent a day with them. He brought them to City Hall to meet Mayor Kim Driscoll, who also spent a long time with the visitors. In fact, it was Driscoll who agreed to serve as a host for this international exchange sponsored by the Massachusetts Municipal Association and funded by the U.S. State Department.

The guests went to the new Salem courthouse, where they saw the judge’s quarters and a trial in progress. They took a ride around Salem Harbor in the harbormaster’s boat. They visited the schools with School Committee members Janet Crane and Brendan Walsh. And they went to the police headquarters for a sit-down with Chief Paul Tucker and a ride-along with Sgt. Harry Rocheville and Sgt. Dennis King.

They ate at Passage to India — more than once — and Flying Saucer Pizza, and bought Salem witch T-shirts, which they courageously wore around town.

Everywhere they went, people were impressed with the friendliness of the visitors from Pakistan, their perfect command of English and their fascination with America.

“They were lovely people,” O’Keefe said.

When they left the police station, one of the visitors turned to Tucker and said: “I hope we have improved the American people’s vision of what the Pakistani people are. We are not what is portrayed in the media.”

Sad sax

Pity the poor saxophone player.

He’s a nice guy, everyone says, and really means well. It’s just that he’ll never be confused with John Coltrane.

It would be one thing if he played in the privacy of his own home, but he has an official street performer license and entertains in the downtown.

Last year, the city got complaints about someone continually playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” There were a couple of attorneys on the Essex Street pedestrian mall who were contemplating a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the 80,000 eardrums in the city.

Last May, the Licensing Board actually considered banning saxophones from the downtown because of the complaints. Fortunately, reason prevailed and the National Enquirer lost a headline: “Music-hating city bans saxophone.” The commissioners reluctantly granted a new license to Horatio Hornblower on the promise he would drop those two ditties and expand his repertoire.

All went well until last week, when City Hall received a drumbeat of new complaints.

Someone from the city actually grabbed the poor guy’s license, which was held until he appeared Monday night before the Licensing Board for a revocation hearing.

After hearing the man’s polite, heartfelt appeal to keep his license, which he needs in order to make a few bucks, the board gave him one last chance. Actually, it was Chairman Robert St. Pierre whose heartstrings were tugged.

“The quality of mercy is not strained,” the former police chief said at the meeting, quoting from “The Merchant of Venice.” This may be the first time an officer of the law in Witch City has publicly, and correctly, quoted Shakespeare. If St. Pierre keeps this up, they may have to take his name down from police headquarters and slap it on 90 Lafayette St., home of the Salem Theatre Company.

Anyway, Don’t-Call-Me-Charlie-Parker is back playing, this time with something called a “mute” on his saxophone. If you see him, drop a dollar in his case and offer a kind word.

“If music be the food of love, play on.” (“Twelfth Night”).

Rocky road

Finally, the city is getting around to fixing Canal Street, that roller-coaster ride in South Salem. This week, a state agency announced a $6.1 million reconstruction project scheduled to begin in 2014.

The real problem with Canal Street, of course, is that it never should have been built. Is there a dumber idea than building a road over a canal and then complaining about flooding?

This street has been a disaster since it was built more than a century ago over the old Dutch Gap Canal. For proof, we turn to Jeanne Stella, a retired teacher and one of the city’s greatest natural resources. She has researched every wild flower in Salem Woods, most of the graves in city cemeteries and the stories behind about a zillion city streets.

Here’s an old clipping she found about Canal Street in an 1891 Salem Evening News after a large granite block placed over the Dutch Gap Canal cracked and fell into the water: “The road has been the source of much talk as to the safety of constructing it in such a manner over a canal,” the paper wrote.

No kidding.

A death

Russell Means, an American Indian activist, died Monday at 72.

As a young man, he took part in the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, S.D., a bloody encounter that left several dead. Later in life, he became an actor, appearing in “Last of the Mohicans,” “Natural Born Killers” and other films.

A leading member of the American Indian Movement, Means spoke at Salem State College more than two decades ago.

First car

There is big news at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site.

In 1938, this 9-acre park became the first national historic site in the National Park System. Although it’s kind of a secret, it has law enforcement rangers who carry guns, but has never had a patrol car.

That all changed this month when a 2003 Ford Crown Victoria, which used to patrol Boston historic sites, arrived just in time for Halloween. They will use it here and at the Saugus Iron Works.

“This is pretty big for us to have a patrol vehicle,” said Chief Ranger Michael Parr.

Social masquerade

There is a nice exhibit at Global Deeds, 45 Lafayette St.

A group of talented teens from Salem has designed and made colorful masks revealing their varied identities. They appear along with a special exhibit by artist/cartoonist Tim Estiloz, a film critic for Boston Latino TV and two-time New England Emmy Award winner.

The exhibit runs through Halloween day.

Polish power

Darek Barcikowski is one busy guy.

He not only runs Cafe Polonia, the city’s Polish restaurant, but is the head of White Eagle Media, a leading publisher of Polish-American newspapers.

Barcikowski is one of about a dozen prominent Polish-Americans named to a national leadership committee to encourage the Polish-American community to support the re-election of President Barack Obama. The committee includes U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and several past and present members of Congress.

In case you hadn’t counted, there are about 10 million Polish Americans in the U.S.

Hurricane Sandy

As the president of the Salem Chamber of Commerce, Sandra Heaphy is supposed to do everything in her power to improve the business climate in the city.

That may explain why Heaphy, the director of the Kensington-Stobart Gallery at the Hawthorne Hotel, was taking a lot of ribbing this week at the meeting of the chamber’s executive board.

Who can blame them — what with Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the city’s Halloween celebration.

Tom Dalton can be reached at