Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Where Does John Reed & Jay Cody Begin & End!
John Reed’s book about growing up in Waltham in the late 1970s and early 1980s is under the category of fiction, but parts of it could very well be straight from a memoir.
The main character from the recently released book, “Another Lousy Day in Paradise,” is Jay Cody, and it’s hard to decipher exactly where Reed ends and Cody begins.
In the book, Cody gets a fake ID and sneaks into dance clubs on Lansdowne Street in Boston, just as Reed did when he was 15 years old. Later, Cody gets caught up in a major brawl at the old Wal-Lex Recreation Center, based on a real-life story that made the nightly news, and Reed was in the middle of that melee.
As Reed said about Cody, “for the most part it’s me.”
But not everything is. At one point, Cody shoplifts records from the now defunct Jungle Record Store in Waltham and re-sells them at the high school.
“I did not do that,” he said, laughing. “I know who did do that, but I did not do that.”
Just like Cody, Reed attended Waltham High School from 1979 to 1982. After graduation, he worked at Nautilus Gym in Cambridge – a perfect fit for Reed, who was an Arnold Schwarzenegger disciple and gym rat.
Once he turned 20 years old, Reed became a journalist and wrote music reviews for several publications. Nowadays, he works for Tufts University as a prospect researcher and has been the Saturday night DJ at the E Room inside the Golden Temple in Brookline for the past 10 years.
Although he had the idea to write the book back in high school, Reed said he didn’t actually start work on it until about 10 years ago.
Inspired by his English teacher, Richard Collins, Reed was drawn to the larger-than-life characters from his youth and the places and music of the time.
“There were so many colorful people, characters, people around you,” he said. “This city is full of character. I love Waltham.”
The book is strongly tied to the location and time of the story, as well as the slang. People who attended Waltham High School during the same time might recognize terms in the book such as “Hawkers,” used as a derogatory term to describe the student-athletes at the school.
Although much of the action in the book takes place at the high school, Reed said it is not meant for a younger crowd, describing it as an “R-rated” book.
Reed described Cody as a “typical 15-year-old.”
“He’s self absorbed, a little on the selfish side,” Reed said. “I don’t think he’s a bad guy, but he’s got his bad traits.”
Early in the book, Cody’s life is changed when he goes to the General Cinemas to see “Saturday Night Fever.” He is instantly attracted to the character of Tony Manero, played by John Travolta, and soon models himself after the disco king.
Reed had the same reaction when he saw the movie, which he said is often mischaracterized by many.
“If you took away the white suit and the disco soundtrack, it’s a hard edge movie,” said Reed. “It could be a Scorsese movie. It’s very harsh and rough.”
Both Cody and Reed refer to the movie simply as “Fever.”
“(Cody) really related to Tony Manero so well that the rest of his high school life, he’d always go back to, ‘how would he handle this situation?’ ” said Reed.
Reed also strove to depict the racial divide that existed in Waltham in those years, between the city’s Hispanic and white populations.
“Back in the 70s there was a lot of racial tension in Waltham,” he said.
For example, the incident at the Wal-Lex, where several people were injured, involved a gang and was deeply rooted in the racial divisions of the time.
“It just exploded one night,” said Reed.
The book ends on New Years Eve, signaling the end of 1983, a moment Reed characterizes as the end of an era.
“I felt the late 70s, early 80s were such a special time to a lot of people,” he said. “It’s not a time that’s focused on. … When 84 kicked in, the world seemed to get a little more serious and dangerous … the drugs got more serious, the AIDS virus was mainstream.”
Cody also changes, realizing the folly of his adulation for Manero.
“When he gets out of high school, (Cody) realizes, ‘(Manero) worked in a paint store,’ ” said Reed. “He’s a cliché going nowhere, which is a line from the movie. He realizes, ‘I’m probably idolizing the wrong guy here.’ ”
The title of the book comes from one of Reed’s childhood teachers who once described Waltham as a paradise. Reed said he added “lousy day” to the title because of the racial tension of the time as well as the trials and tribulations of being a teenager.
The 47-year-old Reed was born in Waltham, and although he lives in Arlington now, he said he would move back to the Watch City.
“It’s changed, but I still think it’s full of character,” he said. “I am so beyond happy and proud that I got to (write this book) and I got to put Waltham in the story. I am so happy that I was fortunate enough to have this happen.”
John Reed’s book, “Another Lousy Day in Paradise,” can be purchased for the Amazon Kindle (or for reading via computer) by clicking here.
Ignacio Laguarda can be reached at email@example.com .