Plus a Masturbating Statue!
It was inevitable that I would eventually write about my hometown. Like some of the places I’ve visited (and the place where I live now), it is a tourist destination. Those of you who know me — or have been reading these blog posts — realize that I’m speaking of Salem, Massachusetts. Known as the Witch City for its famous trials and hangings, Salem has become a haven for witches and a magnet for the bizarre.
I returned recently to visit, and I was depressed to learn that not much had changed except for the distressing number of shops catering to the misguided tourist. But I found several highlights, such as the newly erected life-size statue honoring Elizabeth Montgomery for her role as Samantha Stevens in the Bewitched television show, which briefly filmed in Salem.
As I tootled around my hometown reliving the past, it gradually dawned on me that the past actually sucked. Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t the victim of childhood abuse or neglectful parents or witchcraft hysteria. No, I merely survived high school in this small city with my virginity intact. Some would say that was just as bad.
So I drove around the city, down the street where I was stopped for speeding, by the park where I drank and vomited for the first time, and past the businesses where I worked, often for wages only a 17th-century witch hunter would find exorbitant. At the time, I was told of the “valuable life experience” I was receiving, which I later learned is code for “washing dishes.” My first job (at 15) involved working in the kitchen at a strip club called Palm Gardens. I am not making this up. Is it any wonder I turned out slightly twisted?
Back to my sojourn. I had heard about a mysterious masturbating statue said to exist in the city. I didn’t believe it, so I had to find out for certain. Salem has quite a few statues, as it turns out, as you might expect from a nearly 400-year-old city. Salem has a long history, and not all of it involves witches. Nathaniel Hawthorne lived and wrote here. Elias Derby was the colonies’ first millionaire. I searched for most of the afternoon, but I found it:
Then, while trying to find an old girlfriend’s house — not to stop in, just to drop off a note: “Thank you for helping me leave this place” — I happened upon one of the many package stores in town. A package store is a shop that sells beer, wine, and liquor. They’re privately owned, but licensed through the state. In Massachusetts, all alcohol is sold through package stores, restaurants, or bars.
This particular store sort of jumped out at me, figuratively speaking. Right there on Derby Street, one of the oldest and narrowest avenues in the city, right across from the Derby Wharf, where small ships used to set sail for China, now sits a package store named, of all things, The Bunghole. This is the kind of thing that catches my attention.
It looked like it has existed since the 1950s, but I don’t remember ever seeing it as a kid … not that I drank a lot then. It’s not something you see everyday, so I decided to go in to ask about the name. I had a couple theories percolating in my brain; maybe one of them was correct. The first had to do with the poor quality of ale Salem had to drink before Sam Adams saved the day. The second involved an unfortunate family name: Mr. and Mrs. Bunghole and all the little Bungholes.
When I entered the store, however, I was unprepared for the sight that awaited me. No, it wasn’t the store itself. It looked like any other low-rent liquor store you might wander into, with cases of premium beer stacked alongside gallon wine bottles and shelves filled with popular brand names. The check-out counter sat right by the door, and the clerk — a slight, clean-shaven, pimply twenty-something — turned to greet me as I entered. His T-shirt read: “We’re not #1, but we’re definitely not #2.”
Lessons Learned: The clerk very patiently explained that a bunghole is the hole drilled into the side of a cask or barrel, usually of wine, but it can also be for beer or almost any other fermented drink. The huge cork that seals the hole (but allows the vintner or brewer to taste the contents) is called the bung. You can look it up, or you can just take my word for it. After all, I’d never lie to you.
Mark H. Bloom is a published writer and editor, and yes he is originally from Salem, MA, where witches do live and weird things do happen. Mark entertains himself writing creatively and professionally while editing books and coaching writers. Get in touch with him at email@example.com and read his full bio below.