I live in Fall River, Mass., a city of 88,000 people invariably described in newspaper stories as either “a gritty former mill town” or “a town at the epicenter of the opioid crisis.” In a needle-sharp bit of irony, a company is trying build a new opioid treatment center on the site of an abandoned mill that burned down a couple of years ago.
We still call ‘em junkies here. Or at least we do until a family member dies of an overdose. Then we start calling them “victims of addiction.” You can’t say “junkie” at your daughter’s funeral. It’s not polite. All you can do at her funeral is hope her friends don’t show up high — and they will. Maybe you’ll show up high. Grieving parents are on the fast track for doctor-prescribed mood stabilizers.
Charlie Hunnam, a movie star I wasn’t aware of, is here in Fall River, filming a movie about a bareknuckle fighter and his brother. The brother is apparently in trouble with the bookies.
Hunnam’s been here for a couple of weeks, and has been very polite to women in tank tops who want to take a selfie with him.
Invariably, the women post the selfie on Facebook with the comment, “My husband!”
I read a little about the movie and noted that a lot of the movie will be shot in Fall River, some of it will be shot in Gary, Indiana, and more of it will be shot in New Bedford, Mass., a town about 30 miles from Fall River where a fishing magnate named Carlos Rafael, known in New Bedford as “The Codfather,” was plucked from the docks and is serving time for bulk cash smuggling, tax evasion and, yes, “false labeling of fish.”
Fall River, Gary and New Bedford are miracles of the Industrial Age gone bad in the teeth. The downtown department stores are gone, the movie theaters are gone, the factory buildings are slowly falling in the dust of twilight, and I doubt that any movie filmed in those places will be a tribute to the glories of the local scenery.
Brace yourself, Gary. Chances are you’re going to come out of this movie looking like a rat ranch.
I live on a pretty good block in Fall River. There have been three shootings in the last two years, but only one of them was fatal. In the second one, a guy was winged. And in the last shooting, 18 shots were fired, but nothing was struck but the scenery and a middle-aged gray Toyota Camry.
Today, “Jungleland” was filming on Linden Street, where I lived until I got married. My mother lived there until she went into a nursing home.
I used to go to a small corner store, just down the block from my house, and buy frozen pizza, or bread, or beer, and I often ate at the diner next door. The diner closed two weeks ago. The corner store is still open. Thirty years ago, an ambulance stopped on this street, and they put my father inside, and he never came home again. Two years ago, an ambulance stopped on this street, and they put my mother inside, and she won’t be home anymore, either.
I’ll go see the movie, and look for my old house. If my old house is in the movie, I’ll buy the DVD. Then I can sit in my living room late at night and see the house where my parents lived until those ambulances took them away.
Those of us who live in the “gritty” places, the “hardscrabble” places, we are used to being the backdrop for someone’s idea of what it means to be tough, or poor, or noble in the face of hardship.
And I’ve never seen anyone get it right.