Barbershop Talk, Pt. 2: Bob Pellegrini, East Boston

Here’s the second slice of our barbershop conversation in Maverick Square, with Bob Pellegrini, the owner of Robert’s Barbershop, telling story ambassador George Powell all about how the neighborhood got hit hard by drugs. In this three minute clip, you’ll also hear from Cathy and a neighborhood friend John Grevos- talking in the background at first, then jumping in with their own experiences when the conversation turns to drugs.

It all starts with George’s question about how the neighborhood’s changed since Bob’s been on Sumner Street (transcription below):

Bob: It’s change for the better.

George: Change for the better?

Bob: Yeah. The people that were here for years, you know, they got very comfortable, so there was a lot of petty crime that was going on—small stuff. And nobody was saying anything because they all knew each other.

Once a new regime came in of people, they didn’t know each other, so they were reluctant to break into somebody’s car. They weren’t sure whose car it was, you know what I’m saying?

(Laughing in the room).

George: Makes sense, though. Make a lot of sense.

Bob: It was just crazy stuff. But the drugs was the biggest thing that came through here. Like when that crack came through here, did a job on the neighborhood. And it’s funny, because they announced it- like, it was in New York first, and they said that it was gonna be coming to Massachusetts. Almost like the lotus were coming and stuff. Like: “It’s gonna get there!” And I said: “How do they know that?”

George: Yeah, right.

Bob: Sure enough, wow, it came, and it swept.

George: Swept the whole…

Bob: Yeah, it did a job on the place, really. Couple kids committed suicide. Couple kids killed each other. Stuff like that.

Well, there’s still a drug problem, as you know.

George: It’s a heroin problem now, though.

Bob: Yeah, that’s what they say. Cause it’s cheaper, I guess.

Cathy: Ten dollars a bag some places.

George: Is that right?

Cathy: Ten dollars a bag. Heroin’s the cheapest thing on the market.

George: Yeah, that’s cheap.

Cathy: And percocets.

George: And percocets?

Cathy: Yeah! Seven bucks a piece.

George: Oh, man- you a pharmacist!

Cathy: When you live here for 60 years, you know the ins, the outs, and the in between. I didn’t have, like, a high school education. I had two educations: I had a street education, plus a high school education. But the streets were better. They were easy.

Bob: Did you quit school?

Cathy: When I was going to school, the thing was everybody was gettin’ pregnant and everybody was gettin’ married. That was the thing then, Bobby.

Bob: Oh, yeah?

Cathy: Today? I look at my friends today? The only thing that saved me? The truth? I never did drugs. That’s the only thing that saved me. If I did drugs, I wouldn’t be around here today. 95 percent of them are gone.

John: In my lifetime, I did from 16 to 22. I experimented first with marijuana, then I went to pills. And one day, Miss, I was hearing voices, I thought someone was in the parking lot threatening to shoot me, and it was all in my head, and I quit cold turkey. I said: “I’m in trouble here. I gotta stop this.” I quit on my own. From 22 I haven’t touched anything and I’m 54 today.

Cathy: 60! I beat ya! I never tried it.

Listen to the first audio clip in this series, with Cathy talking about how she crossed town to Roxbury when racial tension was high. Thanks to Bob, Cathy, and John for sharing their stories; to George for interviewing them; and to story ambassador Gabbie Follett for taking the images above and below.

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Cathy Russo

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John Grevos

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