Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Holidays from Hell's Acres

Hey folks, I just thought I would bestow upon you a Christmas tree as a present for reading this blog. I carefully selected the tree on an excursion with my five-year-old boy.

No, I'm not talking about the tree in this 1969 Forbes & Wallace Christmas ad. Which tree am I referring to? You'll see: we found it in the woods.

My son and I typically go on hikes in the White Cedar Swamp in Wilbraham when it freezes over, and sure enough, after a couple of cold weeks, it was solid on December 19.

You never know what you'll find on a hike. Look what we picked up when we trudged through the swamp's uplands in the fall of 2009 (above).

So there we were last Sunday, scaling the familiar old stone wall—the kind of structure that is ubiquitous in the woodlands of New England, and yet gives you that feeling that you're looking at something...special...ancient...like Stonehenge, man.

Giving me the paparazzi brush-off (oh yeah, paparazzo is the singular), he let me know that he hates having his picture taken, which kind of worked out, because I would never include his face on the blog. (No offense, but there are weirdos out there.)

Our route always takes us under the bridge at a condo development, our brief brush with civilization and the least attractive portion of the walk. But this is a part he likes because, after all, it's an adventure, especially if a car passes over us.

Much to my dismay, we found that someone had tossed a television set off the side of the bridge into the swamp. Good thing we weren't down there when this happened. We scaled the hill to walk on the bridge so I could take an "aerial" photo of the destruction.

Wow, we discovered that a troll under the bridge (or was it one of Santa's elves?) took parts of the smashed TV and made a decorative little Christmas tree! This is much sturdier than Charlie Brown's Christmas tree and much quainter than a Festivus pole.

A trashed TV tree! No, this wasn't my work. I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid enough to cut my fingers or tear my gloves by yanking out television parts. I'm just stupid enough to hang around a discarded TV and wait for the tube to blow up in our faces. Realizing this possibility, I suggested that it was time to move on. But first we sang O Tannenbaum.

Well, I knew you'd appreciate this little present. Happy holidays. A new post is coming very soon!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Garbage Gang, Part 2

How It Ended. How It Started.

In 1981, Ray Vadnais spray-painted our Garbage Gang tag on the side of the Plywood Ranch Building (now the Family Dollar and originally the A & P supermarket) in Sixteen Acres Center.

No, not really. This is the artwork of some snowboarding crew in Italy that calls itself the Garbage Gang, and, needless to say, the wall isn’t in The Acres. I hope they don’t come after me for ripping off their photos on the web. I’d hate to think these tough Italian boys (not) would take exception to my use of the term “Garbage Gang,” because then my friends and I would have to re-unite OUR Garbage Gang and inform them that although they might have the trademark, we are the O.G.G. (Original Garbage Gangsters). Maybe if I provide a link to their site, it’ll get some hits and they will back off on all litigation.

June 1981

It was time to take out the trash.

Ray and I strode—who am I kidding—stumbled…out of the 190, intent on flinging around some garbage barrels. Oh, such, such were the days when I could go out drinking until the wee hours on weekdays— yours truly a happy-go-lucky Cathedral High graduate, a full summer ahead of me before college, with no work commitments but an AFTERNOON shift at the Burger King on Boston Road, and no concerns except the eternal question: to trash or not to trash tonight.

And on that June late evening/early morning, after a night of drinking at the 190, we made an executive decision. Garbage in the cans? Garbage out of the cans.

So what if we were missing two members of the Garbage Gang? I hate to get all biblical on you, but when two or more are gathered...

Man, we hadn’t trashed trash barrels in so long, I thought our rubbish rampages might have been a thing of the past. But no! There we were, the two of us, trash talking. Time to TCB—take care of barrels.

Then we saw Dave Moran in the parking lot, and he asked us for a lift home.

Oh boy. Dave Moran. Where do I begin about Dave? I ran into him once in a while because I was friendly with a handful of his friends. They were a good, fun-loving crowd, but a rough crowd, and Moran was by far the roughest of them all. There he was, with the familiar long knife scar running down the left side of his face, wanting a ride from us, because, he said, his buddy Kevin McKeon was hooking up with some chick, and he was going try to take her back to Bay Path Junior College and get into her, ahem….dorm. The couple must have left earlier. Moran wasn’t sure. He was even drunker than we were.

But I knew all about Dave Moran. People said that he did nothing but eat, sleep, and fight—that he lived to brawl and nothing else. They assumed that Moran went out every weekend looking for fights, but the fact was that he didn’t—not really. Fights just had a way of finding him, because he took shit from NOBODY. He didn’t love fighting, but he sure didn’t shy away from mixing it up. So, there you have it. That was Dave’s deal, in a nutshell. If you grow up in Springfield, you tend to see plenty of assholes who think they’re tough guys, and you try to ignore them. But Dave couldn’t. If these fools happened to pull their hard-ass act in the vicinity of Dave Moran in late 1970s and early 1980s, chances were that they were going to have to prove how tough they really were—and the answer usually was NOT VERY.

“Of course I'll give you a ride,” I said with not-so-convincing enthusiasm. Dave happened to be a great guy, but he also happened to be pure trouble sometimes. I had seen him fight firsthand, and we had heard plenty of stories, dating back to when he was in grammar school. We were well aware that he backed down to NO ONE. Which didn’t help us now, because, frankly, I just wanted to get out of the 190 parking lot in one piece.

Oh well, I thought. What hassle could we get into—walking from the bar to my car? Plenty, I surmised, if any of Dave’s enemies were around. And he had lots of them, although none of his nemeses had been in the 190 that night. It should have been smooth sailing to my red Plymouth Aspen fire chief car.

I should have known better. There, in the darkness, was some guy taking a piss in the lot. That’s all he was doing. We glanced at him as we approached my car.

“What the fuck are YOU looking at?” the pisser asked us. Oh, boy. Those were seven words you didn’t want to say to Dave Moran.

“Why don’t you guys get the fuck out of Enfield and just go back up to your own bars up there?” he continued. I glanced at the guy’s license plates. Ugh. Connecticut.

What’s the significance of the Connecticut plates, you ask? Let me explain. If this guy had attended one of Springfield's five high schools, he there was a chance he would have recognized Dave Moran and had kept his mouth shut.

But this poor uninformed slob was probably from Enfield, CT, and he had an attitude toward Springfield guys going to “his” watering hole. He just didn’t KNOW that in this case, his big mouth would get him into the fight of his life. You see, Enfield guys hated the hordes of Western Massholes coming across the state border and swamping their bars. In 1981, the drinking age was 20 in Massachusetts, but only 18 in Connecticut, and initially the Enfield hicks must have loved all those slutty Springfield chicks heading south en masse on I-91. The problem was that with these Springfield girls came Springfield dudes—many of whom looked for the tiniest excuse (like a dirty look—or a PERCEIVED dirty look) to get into fights.

This was the only photo of the 190 East Lounge I could find on the web. Its sign pointed toward a nondescript doorway (the bar was literally a hole in the wall) in the same “mall” that many readers might remember housing Crazy Joyce’s head shop.

And, as I pointed out before, I don’t believe, as many did, that Dave LOVED to fight, but he also NEVER backed down, and he wasn’t about to start now. There was no way the pisser could know this, but he still should have dummied up because he was all alone.

Dave said something to the pisser. And the fucker stopped taking his piss, opened his trunk, and pulled out a tire iron. What the fuck was the idiot doing? Of course, Dave rushed him, and got him in a bear hug. The tire iron clanged onto the pavement, Dave power-slammed him onto the parking lot, and began pounding on him. Big time.

After about 30 seconds, two of the guy’s friends exited the bar and came running over. A minute later, so did Dave’s friend, Kevin—alone. So much for him picking up the Bay Path babe. Dave continued beating the guy up, and then he got kind of sick of it, and let him go. But the glutton for punishment, his face bloodied beyond belief, kept coming back for more, so Dave kept doling out the punches. We made sure the guy’s friends didn’t jump in, but one of them started freaking out and tried to get at Dave. Kevin grabbed him, and the guy said, “Let go of me! That’s my brother!”

Oh, man. The guy’s brother. I knew we were going to have to watch him like a hawk.

At this point, it was evident that the “beater” was getting bored and “beatee” was getting really fucked up. The poor guy's face looked like raw hamburger, but he wouldn’t quit. When Moran let him up, his friends—and his brother—pulled him away, and tried to hold him back, but he weaseled around them, rushed Dave, and kept fighting. They wrestled, and Dave maneuvered himself on top of him, and said, “Hey, I don’t want to fight you any more. I’m gonna let you up, okay?” But when he let go of him, the idiot started swinging AGAIN, so Dave said, “Okay, I’m sick of this shit,” and began to bang the fucker’s head against the pavement. “Let go of me, motherfucker!” yelled Dave. But the guy wouldn’t let go. So he banged his head against the pavement twice more. “That’s for pulling the tire iron!” he added.

Then, out of nowhere, they pisser’s brother squeezed between us and kicked Dave in the face. It was a good shot, and I could see blood pouring from his forehead.

Cripes, we thought we were diligent in holding back everybody, but somehow this fucker had gotten through us! And was poised to kick again. So we knocked him down and slapped him around a little—just to let him know what a bullshit move the kick was. I had the opportunity to give him a taste of his own medicine and kick him in the head, but I wasn’t that ruthless. So I booted him once in the ass instead. What a humanitarian I am, right?

We didn’t rough him up much longer, because we knew that his friend wouldn’t stand for it if we REALLY started whacking the guy around, and we didn’t want another major beating on our hands, because we outnumbered them, 4-3. His buddy pulled him away from us, and then the two of them quickly grabbed the pisser from Dave’s grasp, threw him into their car, and drove away.

Ray, Kevin, and I, looked around for any sign of cops or bouncers, but no one was around. Kevin told Dave to get in his car, but Dave demanded that we take a gander at the cut on his forehead under the parking lot light to see if he would need stitches. I stepped in close to get a good look at the large, gaping hole gushing blood and said, “Yep.” Stitches city. A deep and nasty heel mark—the guy must have been wearing boots. Another scar for Dave’s face. Not as big as his knife scar, but it would undoubtedly be a nasty one nonetheless.

“Fucking A!” he screamed, punching me in the chest and leaving a blood stain on my shirt. “Why didn’t you fuckers kick that guy’s ass all over the parking lot? He fucking kicked me in the head!”

“Hey, Dave, we got him pretty good,” said Ray.

“You guys didn’t do shit!” railed Dave. “You shoulda FUCKED HIM UP for that. I’m goin’ to the fucking emergency room to get sewed up, and he’s goin’ home without a hair on his head outta place.”

This wasn’t entirely true. We didn’t beat the crap out of him, but he definitely wasn’t heading right home. He was most certainly going to some hospital around here, because his brother needed lots of stitches. The pisser's noggin needed to be X-rayed. To be sure, getting your head banged against asphalt eight or nine times tends to produce a concussion. IS there even a hospital in this hick town, I wondered, or are we going to meet up with these Enfield fucks again in the waiting room at Wesson Hospital?

“I can’t believe you guys didn’t fuck that guy up,” Dave continued, pointing to the tire iron lying in the parking lot. “You should have opened up his fucking head WITH HIS OWN MOTHER-FUCKING TIRE IRON!”

Yeah, right, Rick. We probably should have made the guy pay more than he did, but not with a tire iron. Jesus Christ.

Dave continued ranting, calling us wimps and pussies, and even pounding on the hood of Kevin’s car—enough to cause some big dents—before Kevin convinced him to get inside the car so they could go to the hospital. Ray and I debated whether or not we should go to Wesson—Dave’s well-known hospital of choice whenever he needed patchwork on his face.

“I guess we should go to Wesson,” said Ray.

“What about taking out the trash?” I asked.

“It’s going to have to wait,” he said.

“Yeah, but…”

We decided drive to Wesson to show our concern, even though we risked getting attacked by Dave in the emergency room. If we didn’t show up, concluded, he’ll be even MORE pissed at us. As it stood right then, we knew he’d get the word out that we were wussies. If we skipped the Wesson trip, he might even come after us on a later date.

Well, of course, Dave went ballistic in the Wesson waiting room before he was treated, chewing us out and charging at Kevin before we got between them. With top of his head wrapped in white bandages, he sported a freaky looking (and now blood-spotted) dressing that the nurse insisted on putting on him to staunch the bleeding while he waited to see the doctor. He made quite the scene, especially when he started swearing at a security guard who had told him to calm down and also threatened him with arrest. Moran’s hand was bandaged too—evidently he had cut a knuckle on one of the pisser’s teeth during his endless barrage of punches. As the attack of the Moran mummy wore on in the waiting room—it was now about four o’clock in the morning—Ray and I split. We had enough.


As for the garbage gang: “Shit!” I said to myself after I sneaked into my house and quietly rinsed the fist mark of blood that Dave had left on my shirt with his punch. “We forgot! We didn’t go on a trash run! Fucking Moran the moron!” And when were we going to get another opportunity to have another refuse-related rumpus? Who knows? Damn!

Look, it was clear that Ray and I weren’t brawlers. Because we knew Moran’s friends, the idea of hanging out with his gang was appealing—for about five minutes during junior year, until their fists started flying at nearly every party. Nope, I definitely wasn’t a hard-ass. I’m a writer, not a fighter, dammit! And Dave’s gang was a gang in every sense of the word. They had a bitter feud with a gang of Cathedral kids whose hangout was a patch of woods nicknamed “Nam” across the street from the Nathan Bill playground. Bedlam erupted every time large groups of people got together. These clashes erupted at keggers and high school dances—you name the event, they were going at it. One Monday afternoon Moran and several of his buddies, in an effort to continue a Saturday night brawl, came all the way from a downtown Springfield high school (one that shall not be named) over to Cathedral to start round two outside the cafeteria during lunch! (That was the only fight he lost in the half-dozen donnybrooks I saw him participate in, and he was the losing end of THAT one because he was crazy enough to take on Ron Donnelly.)

Ray and I had decided to stay out of this little gang war because we believed that the fighting was pointless. While they were entertaining to watch, the clashes inevitably attracted the police and broke up the parties. My adolescent anger just wasn’t raging enough to knock out people’s teeth. But I guess we were cranky enough knock around some barrels—that’s for sure.

Yep, Moran was right. Ray and I were pussies. We were tough guys with trash cans, because trash cans don’t fight back. (Except for that toe injury I received one night.) But I think that doing our Garbage Gang thing made more sense than fighting, because our barrel binges made us laugh. Trashing trash was altogether much more fun than watching a guy’s head getting banged into the pavement.

But when—WHEN LORD, WHEN—would the Garbage Gang get around to doing what we do best? Week after agonizing week went by after the 190 fiasco. On trash nights, residents of Forest Park, East Forest Park and Sixteen Acres nervously put their full garbage cans to the curb, but the barrels STAYED full all night, unmolested until the garbage truck came the following morning, because the Garbage Gang was on hiatus.

This just wasn’t right. Some of this trash needed to have some fun before its inevitable trip to the Bondi’s Island landfill. I told myself that all it took was the right amount of Haffenreffer in our stomachs to get the Garbage Gang going again. And I was secure in my knowledge that it didn’t take much of this fortified malt liquor, also known as Private Stock, for the Trash Liberation Army to reassemble and strike.

July 1981

Okay. Finally. Here was another chance to roll out the barrels. Ray Vadnais and I poured out the Haffenreffer at his house and then poured ourselves into his mother’s blue 1976 Pontiac Safari station wagon, because we were long overdue to have us a barrel of fun. The Trash Liberation Army was ready. Brigadier Generals Trash B. Free and Joe Garbagiola reporting for duty. We drove around Sixteen Acres, cruising by our hangout, The Gully on Fairlawn Street. Would anybody be here this late? Sure enough, we found Stan Janek and Dave O’Brien there, having a few beers.

Ray pulled up to the curb. Stan and Dave got in the car. Ray put the petal to the metal, burned rubber, and slammed his automatic transmission into first gear to spin his wheels faster, and banged a right on Pineview Street. There is a time to every purpose under heaven, and it was time to smash. When we tipple, trash tends to topple. And, hopefully, Ray’s car wouldn’t topple on a tight turn that night.

Then, on some street in the Acres (possibly YOURS, reader) we pulled up next to a beautiful red 1980 Trans Am and we got a good look at the car—an EXTRA close-up view—as Ray scraped his station wagon along the entire length its body. We watched in utter amazement as Ray’s car pressed into and the Trans Am. The wagon out-muscled the muscle car as the latter rose several inches during our “body work” and then bounced back to its original position when we were through, its entire left side scratched, dented, wrecked.

We laughed uncontrollably at the thought of some too-cool-for-school ass-wipe combing gel into his hair as he strutted like a 1977 version of John “Revolta” in his favorite dancing shoes out to his Trans Am the next day—his anticipation of shaking his booty at the V.I.P. on Boston Road turning to dread as he lifted up his Vuarnet sunglasses and checked out the damage, wondering WHO? WHO? WHO…in their right mind would get a rise out of wrecking a beautiful car?

The Garbage Gang, motherfucker, that’s who.

After that we ran down a couple of mailboxes, and then we were ready to call it a night, not realizing, of course, that we hadn’t trashed any trash barrels. Did we grow out of the Garbage Gang antics? Were we moving onto less risky vandalism maneuvers that didn’t require us to get out of the car? Was lack of balls breaking up this old Garbage Gang of mine? I don’t know. I came to my senses and mentioned that we hadn’t obliterated any barrels, because, after all, this other carnage was fine and dandy, but there is a time to take out the trash, I reasoned, and that time is now. Because there is a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to put out the barrels, a time to take down the barrels. A time to get trashed, a time to trash. A time to cast away barrels, a time to throw around garbage TOGETHER.

But, unfortunately, our hearts just weren’t into it any more. Everyone wanted to go home before we got caught by the cops. I pointed out a lonely plastic garbage barrel sitting by the curb. It called out in the darkness. What did it say? “A time to trash, I swear it’s not too late.”

Ray burned rubber, we lurched forward, the wagon slammed into the barrel, and it flew through the air for 20 feet—its lid sailing like a Frisbee. The trash can landed in the middle of the street, spewing its contents everywhere, but the lid enjoyed a softer descent, floating and then skimming the road, sliding to a stop.

And that was our last upended trash barrel. Ever.

I guess if I were drafting a film version of that story, you would hear the strains of Stairway to Heaven as we drove away, just like Led Zeppelin's limo driving out of Madison Square Garden at the at the conclusion of the movie The Song Remains the Same, because it really was the end of the show.


So how did my garbage can craze start? In probing my memory banks—that is, the memory banks that WEREN’T robbed by beer—I tried to determine just when I began annihilating trash cans like a hungry grizzly in an Alaskan front yard. And, lo and behold, and it turns out that in reality, my trash bashing began not in my adolescence, but, technically, when I was 12 years old. That’s right, my first can went down in pre-adolescence. How am I able to recall such seemingly mundane events in life like this one and record them for posterity in a blog? Because like your first girl, you never forget your first garbage can. Moreover, the incident in so many ways sparked my so-called newspaper career—believe it or not.

June 1975

The evening began quietly enough. Okay, maybe not so quietly. Maybe we were a little rambunctious. All right, obnoxious. Eight of us were screwing around in the Hermans’ driveway. Dan, Rick, Craig, and I were playing basketball at Frank Herman’s garage hoop, and we were getting loud. We were taunting each other, arguing about fouls and God knows what. And Steve and Al Hostetter were, as usual, lighting off firecrackers. Frank, as usual, was telling us all to quit making so much noise, because his mother was getting pissed off. She had already asked us to keep it down after Steve lit a pack of firecrackers and dropped it down the sewer in front of their house.

We were passing the time the way most pre-teens pass their time a summer night in Sixteen Acres. It was the summer of ’75 and we were too young to drink or smoke pot. Believe me, THAT would change by the summer of ’77. But in the meantime we were having some fun without the benefit of alcohol or drugs.

And we were keeping things to a dull roar, until Al Hostetter lit a bottle rocket that sailed a little too close to the Hermans’ house. He was holding the bottle and aiming the rocket at the Farinas’ house—he had already bounced one off the Farinas’ roof— but this time the sparks near the wick sprayed onto his hand, and he let go of the bottle, screaming in pain. The bottle—which he had fished out of the Farinas’ trash— smashed on Frank’s driveway about the same time as the rocket, well…rocketed toward his parents’ bedroom window and exploded about a foot from the screen.

“Frank, get in here!” his mother screamed. “I have to work in the morning! I told you about the firecrackers! Your friends have to take it somewhere else! And whoever smashed that bottle can clean up that broken glass. Frank, show them where the dustpan and the broom are in the garage, please.”

I knew that stunt would get Frank’s mom going.

“All right, you heard her,” said Frank dejectedly. “Gotta go. See you guys tomorrow.”

Frank went inside, but his mother kept the door open and stayed in the doorway to make sure that the Hostetters cleaned up the broken bottle. To remove all doubt that she wanted us the hell out of there, she turned the spotlight off as soon as the glass was cleaned up, plunging them into darkness and bringing out the ire of Steve Hostetter.

“She’s gotta WORK in the morning?” Steve asked a little too loudly. “She’s a fucking teacher, and it’s the summer. Where the hell is she gonna go?”

“Maybe works on Lyman Street in the summer,” said Al. “At the Vanilla Tree.” We all gasped, and then we started laughing. Lyman Street was a notorious prostitution spot in downtown Springfield, and the Vanilla Tree was a fleabag bar/flophouse there.

“Holy shit,” I thought. “If Mrs. Herman heard that through the screen door, there will be hell to pay.” But there was silence in the darkness. Phew!

The rest of us had migrated to the street, but the brothers were still in the driveway, under the streetlight, checking out the blister forming on Al’s hand.

Mrs. Herman stood in the doorway and put her hands on her hips. Evidently the Hostetters weren’t moving quickly enough to her taste. “Is there a problem?” she asked. “A HEARING problem? Please leave!”

Frank’s mom hated the Hostetters. Earlier in the summer she had banned them from the yard for two weeks after she caught Al putting a lit smoke bomb into the bottom of the drainpipe her house. That was quite a scene: as we all looked up in amazement at Al’s “smokestack”—with orange smoke pouring out of the top of the rain gutter—Mrs. Herman charged down the steps and freaked out. Frank had been watching this “rain gutter volcano” too, so he was grounded, and the Hostetters were banished.

Mrs. Herman had recently ended her ban, but the Hostetters were on the verge of provoking her again. It was best to just get out of there. Thankfully, the brothers joined us in the street, and we agreed to walk down to the woods at the end of Maebeth Street so they could blow off a few more bottle rockets. It was around nine o’clock, and while the night was relatively young, the neighbors would definitely not put up with the fireworks much longer.

We started walking and then I saw the Farinas’ trash. It was trash night, and their barrels were just waiting there for me to fuck with. I guess I thought it would be kind of funny if I tipped one of the barrels over. Maybe I was just trying to outdo the Hostetters in rudeness that night, but I didn’t give myself time to think over the consequences. Out went my right foot, and over went a barrel. Little did I know the whole thing was filled with beer bottles, which clattered on their lawn with a shrill racket. There might have been wine and hard liquor bottles as well—it was too dark to tell.

“Wow, fucking booze hounds!” I commented. Everyone cracked up.

“Hey!” we heard from behind the Farinas’ front screen door. “Hey! You punks!” It was a male voice.

Oh, oh. Someone had been watching us the whole time.

“All right, you’ve had it, Shaughnessey!” he yelled. I couldn’t tell if it was old man Farina or his asshole son, John, who was 23 or so.

We quickly walked past the Farinas’ house and then kept the pace up for a few more houses when we heard their screen door slam. I whirled around and saw John marching toward us. Fuck. Instead of continuing down Maebeth Street, however, my brother started walking up our driveway—possibly in the hope of escaping into our house before the shit hit the fan. Like an idiot I started following him, and so did the rest of the gang.

“You’ve had it Shaughnessey!” he bellowed again as he marched up our driveway. “You shoot fireworks at our house and you knock over our trash barrels—you are gonna pick up that barrel and that trash—or we’re calling the police!”

“I didn’t shoot anything at your house,” I countered.

“Well, maybe your asshole friends did that THAT, but I notice you didn’t deny kicking over our trash barrel,” yelled John.

I didn’t say anything.

“I SAW you, ya little shit!”

Through our screen door I heard either my mother stirring in the kitchen. Damn. I was praying that John would just go away—or at least just lower his voice, because I could now hear my mother’s slippers padding up to the door.

“Well?” he barked. Loudly. “I saw you do it, ya weasel bastard!”

“Go ahead and call the cops about your trash can getting tipped over,” said Steve Hostetter. “They’ll laugh their asses off.”

My friends, of course, laughed their asses off at that remark. But I didn’t, because I knew my mother heard the whole thing and that there might repercussions, especially with the kind of language that was flying back and forth.

“Shaughnessy, if you knock over one of my barrels again, your parents are gonna hear about it!”

John paused, took one long look at us, shook his head, and said, “JES-us. Bunch of punks.” Then he walked away.

Wow, I thought, I couldn’t believe I actually got away Scott-free.


In reality, I didn’t escape unscathed. It turned out that my mother heard the whole thing and later that night my parents read me the riot act, saying that John Farina shouldn’t swear at us, but Steve Hostetter should respect his elders and not wise off to the jerk.

“Did you knock over their trash can?” my father asked.

“No,” I lied, probably not too convincingly.

“Who did?”

“I don’t know. I was playing basketball when it happened.”

But my father didn’t challenge me. He DID, however, tell me that my brother and I were staying out too late and making too much noise over the Hermans’ with the fireworks and all. They didn’t ground me, but I knew they’d be on their toes for any other neighborhood complaints.

What the hell? I thought, all I did was knock over a trash can! My indignation was palpable, and my anger needed an outlet.

The next day, the Maebeth Enquirer was born. This was the daily rag that I guess paved my way into “journalism.” From then on, every day in the summer of ’75 and the summer of ’76, I produced a one-sheet issue for the whole gang to read. It provided the lurid details of our Wiffleball games, our fights , and of course, our vandalism. I wrote the headlines in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS using one of those plastic rulers that had the outline of the alphabet running through it.

The Maebeth Enquirer featured blow-by-blow accounts of our brutal bouts, even though they were few and far between. JANEK PUMMELS WILLIAMS BLOODY; LOSER CRIES AND VOWS PAYBACK. It became my obsessive duty to record the major events of the day, and just think: it all started my first rubbish ruckus. My first barrel launched my journalism career. Hulk smash! So here was the headline and how the story began:


According to witnesses, the bottle that Hostetter fished out of the trash can for the bottle rockets was a Budweiser, but the later barrel toppling revealed signs of alcohol abuse. There were reports of Black Label bottles, Colt .45 malt liquor 40-ounce bottles, and a sighting of “the harder stuff, in a clear bottle,” said Rick Riccardi. “It looked like Kappy’s Gin, the favorite of local booze bags.”

When we went on future vandalism sprees, I wrote about them the next day in the Maebeth Enquirer. We made the news, and then I covered it. Conflict of interest? Possibly. What was William Randolph Hearst’s famous saying to one of his correspondents? Oh yeah: “You furnish the pictures; I’ll furnish the war.”

Hey, at least we didn’t manufacture THAT news (above). The next day, I rode by Farina’s house on my bike, and there was John Farina, in a white t-shirt, drinking a beer on his front steps, epitomizing the stereotype of the white trash he was. Then he gave me the finger, and I dutifully reported it. This is a recreation of the front page. God, I wish I had saved my issues of the Maebeth Enquirer. I would have scanned them all and posted them on Hell’s Acres. But, alas, you’ll have to rely on my memory—incredibly accurate at times, but also spotty regarding some details.

It has occurred to me, of course, that Hell’s Acres is pretty much the modern day equivalent of the Maebeth Enquirer. Well, let me tell you, I’m proud to carry on such a proud journalistic tradition, and this fact makes me feel a little less furious about the Enquirer editions somehow being tossed away decades ago.

Of course, our vandalism escalated in subsequent summers to the point of—well—the Garbage Gang antics. Then it suddenly subsided. It went out like a lamb.


September 1981

I mean, how much longer could we keep the Garbage Gang going? I was off to college in September, and my booze-based bashing of things tapered off to the occasional small stuff.

Me: “How did this hood ornament end up in my jacket pocket?”

College roommate: “So, I guess you don’t remember the walk home last night.”

Me: “You guessed right.”

I also remember knocking a few barrels down in my dorm hallway on Saturday nights—if other guys on my floor didn’t get to them first. But doesn’t really count as the Garbage Gang, does it?

Obviously, we all have to grow up sometime and stop trying to fulfill our hooligan fantasies. At least we can live them out vicariously through our memories of said destruction. Maybe that’s what this blog is about. In real life, Hulk can’t smash anymore, but in cyberspace I can take a trip to Hell’s Acres and guess what happens? In my Tron-like world of virtual vandalism, I start turning green and muscular, my shirt tearing off and my animosity towards those bastard barrels becoming uncontrollable. How dare those trash cans stand there and mock me all these years, telling me that I wouldn’t dare send them asunder? Until the Garbage Gang went online, the barrels continued to haunt me and taunt me, INSISTING that I’m too much a part of a decent society to relive this dastardly deed.

Memo to barrels:

“No, HULK insist! Hulk SMASH!”

Where are they now?

God, the ending to these blog entries are starting to look like the subtitles at the end of American Grafitti, or Animal House, for that matter. But I guess you might be wondering what became of this motley crew.

Dave Moran: He died in 1983, but not in a fight. Many people were convinced that he would eventually fuck with the wrong person and get shot or stabbed to death, but the fact of the matter was that he met his maker in a dumb drunken freak accident. I’m not going to detail what happened, because people might figure out (or make an incorrect guess of) Dave Moran’s real identity and take exception to my depiction of him.

The accident shouldn’t have happened, but it did, because as young adults we tend to think we’re indestructible. But back then even I had enough sense to know that, without a little luck, I would have been in Ray’s car when it overturned after a garbage run. Did the car flip scare me straight? Hell no. I jumped into his mother's station wagon, didn't I? Still, at least I put on a seat belt after that.

I have no doubt that Dave eventually would have mellowed out like the rest of us. By 1983 he was chilling on the fighting somewhat. He should be here today, enjoying marriage and kids, but he isn’t, because he was horsing around too much one night. And, while shit luck sometimes strikes indiscriminately, it has also been known to gravitate toward someone who plays with fire.

Stan Janek: He’s still in the Acres. We still go out from time to time, but not barrel hunting. I credit him with reminding me of the Trans Am scraping incident recently over a beer at The Fort (AKA the Student Prince). “Thanks, Stan,” I said, looking at his empty stein. “Another Oktoberfest?”

Dave O’Brien: It’s sad to say that I pretty much blew my friendship with him when I blew up at him at The Pothole, our hangout in the woods at a pond called Putnam’s Puddle. On Halloween in 1981, after we egged some houses, he thought it would be funny to lob his remaining eggs at Stan Janek and me when we ran into the woods to hide at the Pothole. He nailed my beloved jean jacket with an egg, and I went ballistic. We had quite the fight that night, punching and wrestling in the Pothole, and while we hung out together a little after that, things weren’t really quite the same between us. If I were to run into him again, would it be idiotic for me to say that I overreacted in an incident that occurred 29 years ago? No. Would an apology be in order? Yes.

Ray Vadnais: I lost track of Ray, master of the vandalistic arts, over the years, but I found him on Facebook and friended him, and that’s a start. His wife just had a baby girl. Things are good. His baby reminded me that my boy is now five years old and someday will be old enough to read this shit. Jesus fucking Christ. Whoops, sorry my son. I meant Jesus H. Christ (By the way, kid, don’t pull any of the crap I pulled! Do as Daddy says, not as Daddy did.)

“Bring back Putnam’s Puddle,” Ray wrote in a Facebook message.

“The Pothole rules,” I wrote back. “Let’s run down some mailboxes.”

He didn’t reply to that one. What should my next suggestion be?

“Hulk smash?”

Monday, November 1, 2010

Woody Allen, the Umpire

Those big old black-framed glasses: quite a look for a little league umpire. Yes, I know this kind of specs are “in” today, but picture them on an ump in YOUR game, calling YOUR balls and strikes in 1974. This guy wasn’t trying to be nerd chic. He was nerd GEEK. And with his erratic behavior behind the plate, he was nerd FREAK. All season long the poor guy was cruising for a bruising—and then, one game, he finally got one.

The Red Sox had a hell of a baseball team in 1974. Yes, I know the BOSTON Red Sox didn’t qualify for the postseason after an epic late-summer dive, but I’m not referring to THEM. I’m writing about the SIXTEEN ACRES Red Sox, who did make the playoffs that unforgettable year.

In our 10-12 age division we were easily the best little league team in the city. Those who played for the East Springfield and Blunt Park teams would probably dispute this, since we split our season series with them, winning one and losing one to each team. Yes, those teams were great, but I assert to this day that WE were better.

Despite our glorious achievements in the batter’s box and in the field, however, the one image by far stands out more than any other that year: the neurotic umpire who looked like Woody Allen. Memory is a funny thing: it’s quite selective. Did he have thinning red hair like the famous director? He might have. Yes, I believe he did. But I’m not sure. What I do remember was those huge, thick, black-framed glasses. What else do I recall about him? Well, he was at the epicenter of several truly bizarre incidents in which tempers flared—once to the point of violence.

Our first experience with Woody was a game rife with controversy. We faced an unruly, undisciplined team named Springfield Realtor at our home field behind Brunton Elementary School, and I soon discovered that the ump’s reputation preceded him. He was known as being “a little off,” as they say, and the jokes about his ability to see accurately began as soon as we saw his glasses, and they progressed with his questionable calls on balls and strikes.

At one point Woody barked “Strike two!” when our pitcher had undeniably struck a batter out. “That’s THREE strikes!” we started screaming. The batter, who had stepped toward his bench, stopped and just stood there, obviously confused.

“Two swinging and one looking!” I yelled from first base. “That’s three!”

Woody looked at his ball-and-strike counter in his right hand, then looked at our coach, moved his head back and forth defiantly, and said, “Well, I got TWO!”

“Oh my God!!” we yelled. “Holy shit!” The exclamations kept coming. “Unbelievable! What the hell? Bullshit! Can’t you count?”

Our coach had to tell us to shut the hell up so the game could proceed. I can’t remember what the batter did with his little gift from the umpire. Regardless of the outcome of the at-bat, from then on we rode Woody unmercifully.

Then, a Springfield Realtor player was thrown out at second base trying to stretch a single into a double. The tag and his foot’s contact with the bag were pretty much simultaneous, and, of course, a tie in this case goes to the runner, according to the rulebook. But this was little league, and such a good fielding play was often rewarded with an “out,” call, which is what we got.

The runner went ballistic. His players restrained him. His coaches pulled him away. Woody tossed him from the game. But his fit didn’t end there: he kept it up, and he had to be dragged to the front of the school. Did he ever calm down? Did someone give him the Vulcan nerve pinch? It was a strange overreaction. After all, it was a close play that could have gone either way. Then again, there was voodoo in the air: anything and everything was possible with Woody behind the plate.

To wit: how many times in my little league career had an ump lost count of strikes? Once, on that strange day in 1974.

On that late afternoon/early evening the game wound its way toward infamy when, after the bottom of the sixth inning, we were leading by a run and we took the field for the last inning. “Balls in!” yelled our coach. The infield and outfield warm-ups ended as the balls were rolled toward the bench and we got ready defend our slim lead.

Woody took off his mask and began walking down the third-base line. He strolled between our third baseman and Springfield Realtor’s third-base coach and kept walking.

“Where are you going?” asked the third-base coach.

The Wood-ster turned around and addressed everyone. “Game called of darkness!” he bellowed, and then resumed his unhurried stride.

“What?” the Springfield Realtor coaches asked.

“You can’t just—for Chrissake—darkness? But…but. My God!” the third base coach babbled.

It was early evening, but we had enough sunlight left to get through a few more innings if Springfield Realtor had tied it up. The possibility of the game being called of darkness occurred to no one—except the Wood-man.

Woody walked much more quickly when an entire team pursued him all the way to the parking lot.

“Why didn’t you say something about the light conditions earlier?” screamed their head coach. “I could have put in pinch-hitters in the sixth inning you fucking bastard! Darkness! It’s light as hell out! Look at it! We’re protesting this game!”

“I’m gonna break every goddamn window in your goddamn car!” announced the third-base coach.

We never knew if the guy made good on his threat, because we were too busy laughing our asses off, and our coach made us stay at the field until everything settled down in the parking lot. Parents murmured in disbelief. No one had seen anything like it. If I can recall correctly, it was a Friday night, and after we went home, we watched The Brady Bunch until 8:30, looked out the window, and pointed out that it was STILL pretty light out!

Woody the Fashion Police

Our next encounter with Woody was nowhere near as eventful. It was a game against Indian Orchard, and we were giving the Orchard a good pounding, to the tune of 35 to 2, but I do remember stepping in the batter’s box and Woody called a time-out and told me to tuck in my uniform. The left front part of my jersey WAS hanging out, and the guy was probably right: I was dangling a piece of clothing that could have been hit by a pitch, giving me an unfair advantage.

The thing was, I wasn’t looking to get on base in such a weasely way. I wanted to whale on the ball as I had been doing all afternoon, because the pitcher was throwing meatballs. I just took Woody’s demand as another example of his freakiness, so I smirked as I took my time tucking in my shirt.

“Any more lip out of you and you’re out of the game!” blared Woody, even though I had said nothing.

Wow, I thought. Could I really be ejected without saying a word? I bit the bullet and kept a straight face. I don’t remember how I fared at the plate appearance. It didn’t matter. We were leading by 33 runs, and Woody was providing me with even more comic relief.

The next time I saw the Wood-meister, though, the result would be anything but humorous.

The Beating

The scene of the crime was one of the baseball fields at Kiley Junior High School. My father coached my brother’s little league team, and I was helping him out at practice, shagging fly balls to the outfielders. At one point, I heard a lot of yelling in the distance, I turned around and saw literally a dust-up at a nearby field where there was a real league game going on. It was hard to tell, but there seemed to be a real ruckus erupting, with a bit of a scrum around the umpire amid a cloud of dust in the infield. And then things appeared to calm down, so I thought nothing of it—an argument with the umpire? Probably.

When it came time for batting practice, my father didn’t need me, so I told him I was going to check out the other game. Again, my memory fails me. I’d love to make my recollection rich with details, but I even forget who the fuck was playing. Let’s just say, to set the scene with as much unnecessary crap as possible, that it was the Porter Lakers vs. the Van Horn Acorns. Who the fuck knows? What am I supposed to do? Provide all these explicit descriptions (weather, etc.)—all the shit good writers are supposed to do? Well, forget it! How hot was it on that summer night? Who knows? Hot enough for me to thank God it was time to quit shagging fly balls and check out the other motherfucking game, okay?

I guess if I filled my writing with adjectives and descriptions instead of expletives, I’d be a regular Saul Fucking Bellow, but I’m not. So deal with it!

Well, I start walking across the fields, and whom do I see behind the plate? The Woood-monster, of course! Ah! Now I knew who was at the source of this hullabaloo. So, what the hell happened? I asked a couple of kids watching the game.

“A player got in a fight with the ump,” said some dude on the sideline, casually sitting on his bike.

“Really?” I asked. “What happened?

“The other coach pulled the kid off and threw him down kinda hard, so the coaches went at it,” he said.

No way, I thought. This couldn’t possibly have happened. Or did it? I had seen quite a donnybrook from the distance. I looked at the coaches. There was indeed some dirt on them, as if they had been rolling around on the field.

No. I refused to believe it. There was no kid-umpire fight. There was no coach fight. Impossible. Yet, one of the coaches had what seemed to be dried blood around his armpit.

“What’s that blood stain on that coach?” I asked. “Did the other coach bite him or what?”

“No, the bystander on the bike answered. “The other coach got a bloody nose, so he got the blood on his shirt when he got him in a headlock.”

“No fucking way,” I answered.

“Yep,” the kid laughed. “It happened. But the coaches shook hands at the end of the fight.”

Oh my fucking God! This was too funny. Like professional wrestling. But it was time to go. The controversial game was coming to an end, and I could see my father wrapping up my brother’s practice.

We were putting equipment in my father’s car, and I was trying to tell anyone who would listen about the fireworks in the other game, but they didn’t seem to believe me…until the ump got jumped. Yes, the ump got jumped.

There I was, looking downhill at the Woody Allen umpire as he was walking toward the parking lot, when I saw a guy, around 18 or 19, jogging up to him from behind. When the guy tackled him, it still didn’t register with me. They must be friends, horsing around, right? Then the dude started throwing punches. Woody’s glasses took flight. The guy was pounding the crap out of him.

“Hey, that ump is getting his ass kicked,” I announced. FINALLY, somebody was listening to me! My dad and the assistant coach, Mr. Maczanski, ran down from the parking lot to break it up. Wow, I thought, even the Woody Allen ump didn’t deserve THIS. The beating was quickly stopped, and the Wood-dog, although a bit ruffled, was able to get up, scoop up his glasses, and walk away on his own power.

It’s kind of strange, with today’s awareness of sports rage—the violence in youth hockey, including the fatal beating of a hockey parent 14 years ago in Reading, MA—you’d think that the attack on the umpire we saw in 1974 would have made headlines. Maybe today, but, amazingly, not back then. A kid fought the umpire, and the two coaches brawled, and then, after the game, the kid’s older brother Pearl Harbored the ump—and there was not a whisper about it in the newspaper the next day.

The incident looked something like the photos above and below. In 1940, enraged Brooklyn Dodgers fan Frank Germano attacked umpire George Magerkarth after a game at Ebbets Field. Is it my imagination, or are the security guards taking their sweet time breaking up this brouhaha?

I placed a picture of the attack on Magerkarth right where the 1974 umpire beating took place at Kiley Junior High (below). This was my view from the parking lot. I took my five-year-old son there to shoot this photo, under the premise of showing him “where Daddy played baseball.” I’m afraid he’s a little too young to comprehend the umpire beating, so I kept the story to myself.

I was shocked to see Woody at our next game against Our Lady of the Sacred Heart—I figured he had quit the game. But I should have known better. Ever since the infamous “game called because of lightness,” it was obvious that Woody stuck to his guns—even when he made outrageously bad calls. Even when his stubbornness led to threats and assault. He was as hapless and persistent as Broadway Danny Rose.

This game was marked by a truly memorable event: our lefty pitcher, John Thompson, pulled a home run over the right field fence at Brunton School. This was a five-foot-high fence that wasn’t really part of the field—it simply separated the school property from a couple of back yards, and no one even remotely thought about clearing the fucker. No one except for John, who cranked quite a few homers that summer, but nothing like that atomic blast. Off the bat it went, over the fence, and into a backyard.

Thompson’s shot heard ’round the Acres, in retrospect, was only around 220 feet, but that’s not bad for a 12-year-old.

Thompson’s tape-measure home run was unbelievably challenged by the OLSH coach. Because the league called for ground-rule doubles if the ball went into the woods in center field and left field at Brunton, the douchebag argued that that the same rule should have applied in right field—that a ball that ended up beyond the fence in right field was just like a ball landing in the woods elsewhere. And he had a point…I guess. And the Woody Allen ump seemed to even consider his protest—for a second. But then he ruled it a home run. I mean Jesus, the guy just plain knocked it out of the park, man. How could you take a home run away? I think Woody realized that he couldn’t really afford another bizarre incident, especially after the beating. If he revoked the home run, he would have faced a scene unlike the George Brett pine tar incident (below).

The season marched on, and our victims piled up. We smacked down the saints (St. Paul and St. Catherine) we humiliated the holys (Holy Cross and Holy Name), and we whomped on Wilshire. With PARKER SHELL, the name of a gas station, proudly emblazoned on our backs, we were a powerhouse, incredibly disciplined and masters of the fundamentals after practicing for hours in the hot sun and through rain showers.

I know it’s a bit anticlimactic for this blog entry, but we didn’t really have any more controversial incidents with the Woody Allen ump. There was, however, the memorable game against Blunt Park in which a bizarre base-running incident occurred when Woody was behind the plate. We had a runner on first, and when one of our players cranked a double, the idiot had ridiculous ideas of stretching it to a triple—despite the lead base-runner firmly planted on third when the cutoff throw came in. The dumb-ass hitter was caught in a run-down between second base and third, and the runner on third kept taking a lead during this fiasco and threatened to sprint toward home during the run-down, until the third-base coach—his father—grabbed him by the armpits, hoisted him up in the air, and deposited him on third base, and ordered him to stay there. Then the hitter actually managed to make it back to second without being thrown out.

The Blunt Park coach, of course, tried to make the case for interference, but the play thoroughly lacked any precedent. When, in the history of Springfield sandlot baseball—or ANY league for that matter—has a coach physically picked up a player and placed him on a base? Woody was confused. He scratched his thinning red hair. Then he let the play stand, and Blunt Park went fucking crazy. But no one bum-rushed the Woody Allen ump. No one threw him into one of the perpetually flooded dugouts at Greenleaf Park. After the game, he made it to his car unharmed, and we headed to Friendly’s to celebrate another victory.

We rolled over the rest of our competition that summer, and then lost in the first round of the playoffs. I’ll be damned if I remember who we lost to. As I wrote, memory is a funny thing. The most I remember from that 1974 season was the Woody Allen umpire and John Thompson’s home run. Strangely enough, I kept our sandlot league trophy from that year, shown with, of course, my name cropped from the bottom in the photo:

I am extremely nostalgic of little league years, and I am not alone. In fact, my friend, Craig Stewart, had a reproduction made of the old Sixteen Acres little league hat, complete with the 1970s California Angels colors. This was the mid-1960s version, cloned from a photo of his brother—the “A” had softer corners back then.

Not to be outdone, about 10 years ago I had my own version sewn on a black baseball cap (a black and orange hat was unavailable) at a custom embroidery cart in the Copley Square Mall in Boston. I got the “A” right, but the “16” is too damn small. Someday, I know I’ll find an old authentic “Sixteen Acres” hat at a tag sale, and I’ll buy it and proudly wear it—even if the thing is ill-fitting and covered with decades of grime.

Years ago I was shocked to learn that there was no more Sixteen Acres little league baseball team—neither the Sixteen Acres Athletic Association nor the Sixteen Acres Lions sponsored any youth sports squads. Of course, when I snapped my phone photo of the scene of the crime at Kiley, there were no outlines of baseball diamonds at the athletic complex there—just soccer field markings and soccer goals. I guess I just have to come to terms with the fact that soccer has largely replaced baseball as the sport of choice for organized children’s youth leagues. And I guess I understand this evolution. Soccer forces kids to run around, instead of standing around picking their noses, as they tend to do in little league baseball.

Nonetheless, I think today’s Sixteen Acres youth are missing something with the absence of little league, such as: the astonishing amount of walks (bases loaded, walk, another run, walk, another run, walk, another run...), the awful kid on every team who was afraid of fast pitching and “put his foot in the bucket” or simply bailed out of the batter’s box on every pitch; and the inability of most catchers to throw out stealing baserunners at second (or at third base for that matter).

And then there’s the ultimate loss when your neighborhood is bereft of a little league team: the chance to blame your defeat on some poor umpire.

Where Are They Now?

I didn’t return to the Sixteen Acres Red Sox in 1975. That year, a kid in my class played who played for the St. George Olympians told me his team desperately needed some talent, and when I took part in a practice, it was evident that they truly sucked. So I was faced with a predicament: continuing to be an average player with a very good Sixteen Acres team, or to enjoy superstar status on a shitty St. George team. I was just a cog in the wheel of the well-oiled machine that was the Sixteen Acres Red Sox, but I was Ted Williams on the Olympians. So I made the choice of being a big fish in a little pond— I was the only non-Greek player on St. George, but I got to feel like John Thompson for a year.

Despite every 11-year-old’s desire to play professional baseball for a living, no one from my the Sixteen Acres Red Sox team made it to the major leagues, although I was convinced that John Thompson could have done it. He was THAT good. It turned out, however, that football was his favorite sport, and as a star quarterback for Classical High School, he was recruited by such schools as Boston College, Penn State, Mississippi, and Colgate. Then, one night in 1979 he was sitting on the hood of someone’s car, talking to friends, and the driver hit the accelerator as a joke, sending Thompson flying into the street and into a coma for two-and-a-half months. He eventually recovered enough to walk with a limp, but his football dreams were over.

When Thompson revisits his glorious athletic past, he undoubtedly relives his high school football games. But I wonder if he ever thinks about that shot over the fence at Brunton Elementary. I sure do. That was a fucking blast—the highlight of the summer, if you don't count the clashes involving a certain guy with black-framed glasses.

As for the Woody Allen umpire, he got into a bit of trouble years later when, like his Hollyweird counterpart, he took nude photographs of his Asian stepdaughter and then eventually married her. Just kidding. I don’t know what ever happened to the Woodpecker.

When I told Craig Stewart that I was writing the blog entry about the Woody Allen umpire, he wondered aloud if I was experiencing a cathartic venting of all my frustrations with officials who ripped off my favorite teams with crummy calls, especially the 1976 roughing-the-passer whistle against the Patriots’ Sugar Bear Hamilton, and the 1979 too-many-men-on-the-ice “infraction” by the Bruins. Was I in some way getting even by describing this umpire beating?

“No,” I said on the phone as I pushed pins into my Ben Dreith and John D’Amico referee voodoo dolls. “Of course not.”

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Garbage Gang

My involvement with a “gang” in high school almost cost me my life one night.

Sixteen Acres: our suburban oasis in a crime-ridden city. God’s little acres. Pleasantville. No gang activity here, right?

Wrong. The Acres has a long gang history. In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was the infamous Circle Gang, which hung out on benches inside a circular mound around an oak tree (pictured below) behind the Sixteen Acres Branch Library.

Photo: the benches and the circular mound around the tree are long gone: the city bulldozed the earthen berm to dissuade the gang from hanging out there.

The Circle Gang became known in the Springfield newspapers in 1970, when a brouhaha erupted after James A. Coleman, a physics professor at American International College, wrote The Circle, a book about his experiences trying to reform members of this rowdy group.

At the time, people were outraged by Coleman’s nonfiction account, which detailed the gang’s brawling, drug use, vandalism, and penchant for breaking into houses and stealing cars at the Eastfield Mall. Matty Ryan, the District Attorney, denounced the book in a letter to the editor of the Springfield Union newspaper.

Coleman insisted that the furor over his book began when his own daughter took a copy of The Circle to school one day and showed to a classmate, whose father was a police officer. After that, the Springfield Police tried to have the book banned from bookstore and drug store shelves, and The Circle disappeared for a while, only to come back when the publicity surrounding the controversy fueled its demand. Then Ryan complained that it was being sold “under the counter” and that the practice should cease immediately.

“The book is really NOT being sold ‘under’ the counter anywhere,” wrote Coleman in a rebuttal letter to the editor. “Copies for sale are, however, placed on top of the counter next to cash registers in most places in order to be under the watchful eyes of sales clerks.” It seems that more than a few teenagers, afflicted with a severe case of “light-fingeredness,” according to Coleman, were stealing The Circle.

Coleman also took Ryan to task for admitting that he didn’t actually read the entire book—just a couple of excerpts: “Isn’t it the duty of every district attorney to keep informed of crime and the conditions which produce it, especially in his own district, anyway?” he wrote. “Furthermore, if Mr. Ryan is half the man I think he is, he will want to apologize to me for his emotional outburst against the book and damning it so viciously without ever having read it.”

The Circle Gang was the Acres’ most legendary gang, but it wasn’t the only one. In the mid- 1970s there was the Rail Gang, a odd mishmash of kids from the Boston Road side of Sixteen Acres, as well as from the Colonial Estates Apartments.They partied in the woods next to the guardrail at the end of Blanche Street, right next to the North Branch Parkway.

Photo: The Rail Gang frequented the area behind the guardrail that divides Blanche Street and the North Branch Parkway.

There was also a group on Mallowhill Road, and a gang in the neighborhood behind the Eastfield Mall.

While we’re talking about the gangs of the early 1970s, let’s not forget The Treetops (Yes, that was the name of the gang!) from the Treetop Avenue area off Allen Street. One of the Treetops’ former members gained some notoriety 20 years later when he pistol-whipped his drug dealer to death after a coke deal went sour in a West Springfield motel. The trouble started when the drug dealer pulled a gun, and the former Treetop, who had been a Golden Gloves boxer, wrestled it away. Fueled by anger, along with a day-long binge of smoking crack at various houses and drinking at the Gaslight Lounge, he went ballistic, using the gun’s handle like a hammer on the guy’s head.

There were also gangs whose home bases were restaurants, including one at McDonald’s on Boston Road, and at Treats sandwich shop on the corner of Wilbraham Road and Breckwood Boulevard. The latter, a gigantic crew called The Clan, is also immortalized in the book The Circle, and one of its former members is featured in another blog entry.

To this day, The Clan guys are amused by the “fame” of the Circle Gang, whom they called “rinky-dink” at the time. The Clan considered the Circle Gang the wannabes of the older gang in Sixteen Acres Center, a group that didn’t have a name, although The Clan called them the “Motleys” because “they were such a motley crew,” says one former Clan member. The Motleys are referred to as the “Big Acres” in Coleman’s book.

One day, however, in 1969, all three gangs formed an unlikely alliance. The Clan, The Circle, and the “Motleys” all teamed up to fight the Orchard Gang in a historic “rumble” (yes, a Sixties term indeed), a gang war that was a year in the making. Coleman wrote about this fight in his book, but he changed the setting to Indian Orchard (it actually took place in The Acres), and he listed The Orchard as the winner, even though in reality it was outnumbered and lost the battle badly. This literary license was not taken well by the Circle Gang back then. Read The Circle, Part 2, as well as The Circle, Part 3, and an account of the tragic death of one of its members.

But I digress. When I write about the “gangs” of the Sixties and Seventies, these groups weren’t really like the “gangs” of today. No guns. No drive-by shootings. They simply partied, got in beefs once in a while—some of them serious—but mostly they just hung out.

“Gang is a Relative Term, I Guess

You know, I’m kind of jealous. Why didn’t I join a “gang” back in the Seventies? Then I could say I am a “former gang member.” But no, I wasn't in a gang. True, we had our hangouts, just like the Sixteen Acres gangs. My friends and I from Maebeth Street gathered at The Pothole, our underground party “fort” in the woods next to the pond known as Putnam’s Puddle. And, later on, we hung out in front of The Gully on Fairlawn Street, across from Creswell Street. This wooded area was party central for kids in the immediate neighborhood.

And for a while we called ourselves the Maebeth Womblies. Why? The origin of that name is quite obscure. If I’m not mistaken, I believe it was in honor of a troublesome bit character in the Fat Albert cartoon series on Saturday mornings. Wombly (pictured below), with his smoking habit and bad attitude, was a bad influence on Fat Albert’s friends, and because of this, a couple of us idolized him for a short time.

Wombly puffing away.

Wombly blows a smoke ring in Fat Albert’s face after getting a stern lecture from him on the evils of smoking.

But the Womblies were no street gang, that’s for sure. That just wasn’t our scene, man. I was gang-free in my teenage years.

Wait a second. I stand corrected. How could I forget? For a brief time, when I was 17, I was in… the Garbage Gang. Oh. My. God. The Garbage Gang. Now THAT was pretty fucking weird.

Some days, when I reminisce about my misspent youth, I know I’m lucky to be alive. All right, it wasn’t a totally misspent youth. I wasn’t an angel. I wasn’t a criminal. I guess I vacillated somewhere in between. I was on the right track—decent grades, college-bound, etc. But sometimes I went off the rails on a crazy train.

Take for instance, the Garbage Gang. No, this short-lived pastime didn’t involve beating people up. We weren’t a real gang. We just took our energy out on…trash barrels, which didn’t fight back.

Harmless fun, right? I don’t know. If it weren’t for incredibly good luck one night, I very well could have been killed.

Let me explain. The Garbage Gang consisted of three guys from the Acres: me, Ray Vadnais, and Dave O’Brien; and a couple of guys from Pine Point: Tim Anderson from Rosewell Street and Eric LoPresti from Almira Street.

We were bored. We were boozed up. Therefore, we ceremoniously emptied people’s garbage barrels of their contents on trash nights. This phase didn’t last long—we went on our garbage missions on perhaps half a dozen nights at the most. It’s hard to remember.

But some things I can recall perfectly: the carnage we created when the Garbage Gang got going. Because we didn’t just knock the barrels over. We sent ’em fucking flying.

When we were driving around aimlessly, we had certain code phrases that set things into motion. Someone would say either “time to take out the trash” or “Hulk smash!” and the brakes were quickly applied. Here comes the “insanitation squad,” man!

Picture, if you will, a car coming down the street, screeching to a halt, and five guys piling out in military fashion—a vandalizing SWAT team, if you will, going about our business seriously, attacking those trash cans. The barrels were sent sailing through the air and onto yards, into the street, and, on occasion, onto parked cars.

These weren't today’s plastic Springfield barrels. They were metal containers, and they made a shitload of noise when they landed. So, needless to say, a completely quiet street in Sixteen Acres, Forest Park, or East Forest Park would suddenly explode in a barrel-smashing, glass-breaking cacophony for 10 deafening seconds, which was followed by the sound of four car doors slamming and tires burning rubber. What a racket! In case you’ve ever wondered what Judgment Day will sound like, this is it. Clang! Bang! Crash! Smash! Crunch! I’m running out of onomotopaeic words. It sounded like 10 bulls in a china shop… a 10-car pileup…a fireworks factory explosion...two locomotives hitting head-on. Yes, the five trash men of the apocalypse sure made a lot of noise.

Now, picture the aftermath. (WE tried to, anyway, and that’s what REALLY got us laughing.) Of course, we weren’t there, amid the trash-strewn street and yard—we were long gone— but it’s not difficult to imagine the scene: a few moments of silence, then lights being turned on and doors opening as residents surveyed the carnage in shocked and disgusted disbelief.

Why did we do this? We thought it was hilarious. We knew it was incredibly juvenile. Idiotic. But uproariously runny.

We Were Young Once…and Drunk

I mean, come on. Attacking innocent trash cans? Who the fuck would get their jollies out of doing this? Well, don’t condemn it until you’ve tried it. I challenge you stop your car one trash night, grab a full garbage bag out of someone's trash can, spin around a couple of times as if you’re in an Olympic hammer throwing event, and then heave a it into a tree, knowing full well someone will have to climb up that tree—or a ladder— and get that bag down. I further challenge you NOT laugh your ass off after this inexplicable act. Come on. Do the math: four garbage barrels, minus garbage, divided by garbage all over the lawn and street . . . equals hilarity. Keeping a straight face after a trashing is a mathematical impossibility. How could you NOT break out into a screaming fit of laughter as you’re driving away?

I’m not offering this explanation as a justification for our actions. “Because it made us laugh” is no excuse. But I guess that’s why we did it. Because it cracked us the fuck up.

I wrote it before, and I’ll write it again: who says there was nothing to do growing up in Springfield?


One summer night we had not one but TWO cars for our garbage onslaught. Dave O’Brien and I walked up to Pizza Palace in Sixteen Acres Center. After buying a couple of slices from the grumpy Greek guys, in the parking lot we ran into Ray Vadnais and Tim Anderson, both of whom had their cars. I got into Ray’s car, a crappy Chevy Chevelle, Dave got into Tim’s black Dodge Dart, and we drove over to Pine Point to pick up Eric LoPresti.

The Garbage Gang was ready, and we were in good form that night. With precision we made three trash stops in East Forest Park. We were quick. We were efficient. We trashed people’s trash, and then we were gone in a flash. We created pandemonium and we were never caught. But then we got sloppy.

During our third trashing of the night, on a street off Surrey Road in East Forest Park, we were doing our thing, whipping trash barrels around with total abandon, but this time one of the “victims” charged out his front door after Ray, so Ray jumped back into his car. At that point, there was no way I could get back to Ray’s car, because he was driving away. The guy, after giving chase for a few steps at Ray’s disappearing car, turned to Tim Anderson’s Dart. And so did I. This dude was determined to catch me, but I managed to jump into the back seat, barely escaping his grasp, and I and shut the door in the fucker’s face. As we drove away, the guy crouched down and zeroed in on us, evidently trying to read the license plate number, but thankfully Tim knew enough about vandalism to keep his headlights off (keeping the license plate dark) while we did our dirty deeds (done dirt cheap).

Whew! That was a close one!

Ray drove down Surrey Road, took a right on Island Pond Road, and all four of us followed him in Tim’s car. Why wasn’t he slowing down? We were far, far from the scene of the crime. He across the bridge over Watershops Pond, and took a right on Alden Street.

Jeez, Ray was driving fast. Ridiculously fast. As he rounded the big curve on Alden Street, with Watershops Pond on the right, his car started skidding. Which was no big deal, I thought, because I had done this kind of thing before—you just turn into the skid and slow down. But Ray, cranking the wheel in an attempt to straighten out the Chevelle, overcompensated and started fishtailing.

Photo: the curve on Alden Street. A word of caution: DO NOT drive on this section of the road too fast.

We looked on in disbelief—as if we were watching a movie—to see his car cross over to the other side of the road, hit the curb, and flip over.

Just like that. Wow, I thought, it doesn’t take much for a car to overturn. Now what the fuck were we going to do? Was Ray hurt? Dead? Tim pulled over, and we all jumped out of the car.

Ray couldn’t open his door, because the car was pretty smashed up, so he crawled out the driver’s side window. Well, he seemed like he was in good condition, except for a scratch on his arm. Wow. Unbelievable. Unscathed. The car, however, was on its roof, engine still running, as we debated what to do.

We tried, in a half-baked attempt, to overturn the car to its right side. No dice. It just rocked like a boat. I’m sure we could have done it if we counted to three and put all our strength into one simultaneous push, but we decided against it, because the odor of gasoline became strong, and we didn’t want ot set off a spark. “All right, I gotta car jack,” announced Tim. “We’ll jack it up on its side and tip it back over.”

“No,” said Dave. “That could cause a spark too. Look, we’ll say the car was stolen. Let’s get outta here.”

“What?” said Ray.

“Trust me,” said Dave. “YOU WERE NOT DRIVING THIS CAR. Do you wannna get busted for driving to endanger? Drunk driving? You already got a million tickets. You want your insurance to go through the roof?”


“Let’s go, then!”

Before I fled, I looked at the passenger side’s roof, which was partially caved in. And then it hit me: that was right where I was sitting at the beginning of our garbage run. That’s where I was SUPPOSED TO BE sitting, before that fucker came out of his house! If were still there, I would have received head injuries for sure. I WOULD HAVE BEEN A DEAD MAN. LOOK AT HOW CAVED IN THE ROOF IS ON THAT SIDE! Christ almighty. It was a miracle. Now, I said to myself, let’s get the fuck outta here.

It was dark. It was late. No witnesses. Unfortunately, we were leaving a car on its roof on a blind curve. It was possible that a car could hit it. However, we just took off without thinking about the danger it posed. Shame on us. But that’s what we did.

We piled into Tim’s Dart and left Ray’s Chevelle, on its roof, with the engine running and gasoline stinking to high hell. We took a right on Wilbraham Road and planned our strategy, which consisted of us dropping off Ray at AM/PM Mini Mart at the corner of Wilbraham Road and Breckwood Boulevard.

“Just go in, buy some shit, go out and then run back in and tell the guy your car just got ripped off, and ask him to call the cops,” said Dave. “We're gonna take off, they don't know how you got here."

It did seem like a reasonable plan. Thank God we happened to be driving in two different cars—that fact alone was the ingredient that set in place the logistics of THE BIG LIE. This story was, after all, perfectly believable: he left the keys in the car, he went in the store for munchies, some bastard took the car out for a joyride, flipped it, and took off. Ray’s T-shirt sleeve adequately covered his only injury: a scratch. So, we just dropped Ray off at AM/PM, just a half-mile from his house, and wished him luck.

The Interrogation

Well, there were several problems with Ray’s story, as he and I soon found out. The next day, I was walking over to his house, and there was a cop car in the driveway! I kept strolling and made my way over to Dave’s house on Catalpa Terrace, and since he lived right behind Ray, Dave and I cut through his backyard to check out how Ray was making out, but we stopped in our tracks behind the bushes separating the yards when we saw Ray being questioned by the cop on his back steps! His mother must have been working.

Remember the old Springfield police cruisers (above), just like the cop cars in Adam-12? You didn't want to see one of these Ford LTDs when you were partying. And you certainly didn't want to see one in your friend's driveway.

Dave and I snuck into his next-door neighbor’s yard, and, using their huge bushes as a cover, tiptoed—that’s right, just like Shaggy and Scooby Doo sneaking through a haunted house—right up to within 10 feet of the interrogation. It was a cop that had pulled Ray over a few times for his insane driving. We squatted and listened to the grilling.

Cop: “Why did you leave your car running when you went into the store?”

Ray: “I told you. Because I had a hard time starting it. It was a piece of shit. It was running pretty rough. I didn’t want to have to start it again.”

Cop: “Okay. Fair enough. But I found your wallet on the front seat. You went in the store without your wallet?

Ray: “I had a five dollar bill in my pocket. I was just gonna get some food. How was I gonna know somebody would jump in my car and steal it?”

Cop: “You left your car running. You left your wallet on the seat—in SPRINGFIELD.”

Ray: “Yep.”

Cop: “Mr. Vadnais, I don’t believe you. I think you flipped the car.”

Ray: “Well, I didn’t.”

Cop: “The officer who responded to your call that night took some notes. I’m going to read them. Shortly after you reported your car, ahem, stolen, Officer Rourke informed you that your car might have already been involved in an accident, and you said, quote, ‘Good! I hope the asshole got killed.’”

“Jesus Christ,” I whispered to Dave. “What a stupid thing to say.”

“Shut up!” whispered Dave.

Ray: “Well, what do you expect me to say?”

Cop: “You weren’t concerned at all about the condition of your car?”

Ray: “Well, it was a piece of shit.”

Cop: “Not the least bit concerned that—”

Ray: “Look I was pissed at the guy for stealing it. What was I supposed to say?”

Cop: “Mr. Vadnais, I don’t believe you.”

Ray: “This is fucking incredible. My car gets ripped off and totaled, and I get accused.”

Cop: “Your keys in the car. Your car unlocked. In fact, your car is RUNNING for anybody to steal. Your wallet on the front seat for anybody to grab. I don’t believe you.”

Ray: “You think I was in that fucking accident? How come I’m not dead? That car was fucking fucked up!”

Cop: “You will watch your language, Mr. Vadnais.”

Ray: “And how did I get all the way to AM/PM Mini Mart? Swim across Watershops Pond?”

Cop: “I think you got a ride. Who gave you a ride?”

Ray: “All right. You got me. I swam across the pond, and then I dried off on the two-mile jog down Wilbraham Road. Jesus.”

Cop: “It’s more like a mile. You could have walked it in 20 minutes, or jogged it in 10.”

Ray: “All the way to the store? You gotta be kiddin’!”

Cop: “I’ll be back, and I’m going to talk to your mother, wise-ass.”

Ray: “You do that. Treat me like a criminal.”

Our Newest Gang: the Blabbermouth Boys
Well, we lucked out. No one had driven by us when we were dicking around on Alden Street staring at the car wondering what to do. For that matter, no one rounded the dark curve and smashed right into Ray’s overturned car. And the police didn’t connect Ray—or us—to the trashing of the trash barrels. Moreover, if there were any witnesses who saw us drop Ray off at the convenience store, the police didn’t interview them.

And the cop never came back to talk to Ray’s mom. I’m not sure she—or the insurance company—totally bought the stolen car story, but there was no fallout. We had all sworn ourselves to secrecy. On the night of the accident I told my brother not to tell a soul. But, of course, all of us undoubtedly told our siblings, and, like the Faberge shampoo commercial, they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on.

By the time I returned to Cathedral High School in September for my senior year, everybody knew about it.

“Did you hear about Vadnais flipping his car this summer?” a friend asked me on the first day of school.

“Really?” I asked. “Who told you that?”

“Ray Vadnais,” he said.

Fucking IDIOT, I thought. Ray’s big mouth is going to get us nailed on this thing yet.

But we got away with it. I relate this story to you now, because I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations has run out on both malicious vandalism of trash barrels and auto insurance fraud.

Ray the Charismatic Evandalist
Boy, Ray sure loved vandalism. And he drove even more like a madman after the accident, tearing through the streets of Springfield and throwing his car into the lower gears on turns so he could spin the wheels and burn rubber. A one-man wrecking crew. The funny thing was that he used to pull the saintly Eddie Haskell act whenever my mother was around: “How are you doing today, Mrs. Shaughnessy?” he asked. “Would you like some help putting away those groceries?” God, it made me want to puke. When I got in arguments with my mother, on several occasions she actually asked me, “Why can’t you be nice, like that Vadnais boy?”

Once, after she said this, I stormed out of the house, grabbed my basketball out of the garage, and walked up to the Glickman School to shoot some hoops on an outdoor court. After a while, Ray and Dave O’Brien showed up and we started playing basketball—but not for long. Ray suddenly picked up a rock and fired it through a school window, and the janitor chased us into the woods. Oh, that nice Vadnais boy. Why I can’t be more like him?

We did some other vandalism—some really insane shit that will never be detailed in print (maybe in a deathbed confession…maybe), but we started to slow down during my senior year.

Ray was still a hellion, but we had pretty much chilled out on the whole Garbage Gang thing after the car-flipping incident. We did have a brief revival, when Ray would get a mischievous look in his eye and run down the occasional mailbox, so I guess our appetite for destruction wasn’t fully satiated. However, we seemed to be through with the trash tossing.

We were much more interested in meeting women (surprise, surprise). So we followed the droves of Springfield kids who headed down to the bars in Enfield, CT, where the drinking age was 18: the Dial Tone (affectionately known as the Dial-a-Fight), Shaker Park (a biker favorite), and the 190, (pronounced “one-ninety”), which everyone mistakenly called the I-90 (“eye-ninety),” even though the bar was off of 190 and nowhere near Interstate 90. (What a bunch of idiots we were.)

Did I miss the Garbage Gang? At times, when I drove by barrel after barrel on trash nights, yes, I did miss it. I was jonesin’ for some trash hauling, and in my withdrawal hallucinations, the barrels taunted me. “You can’t touch us now, you pussy,” they said. “You don’t have your goddamn Garbage Gang with you!” Oh, did I long for the glorious past, when every trash night was Halloween night for us.

One night Ray and I were heading out of the 190 around a half-hour before closing time, with no prospects of getting laid, and he looked at me and said, “So, time to take out the trash?”

“Huh?” I responded.

“You know. Garbage Gang.”

“Hulk smash?” I asked.

“Hulk smash,” he answered.

Okay, folks. In an effort to make this blog more interactive, inquiring minds want to know. Do you want to see a Part 2 of The Garbage Gang? To be sure, it's quite a ridiculous subject for one post, never mind TWO!

Then again, in a city that back in the day had such ridiculous gang names as the Treetops, Whop City (North End), and the Johnny Appleseed Gang (Appleseed Park-Lower Forest Park), I guess there might be room for a Garbage Gang.

So if the audience demands it, sure enough, the story will continue. Just vote with your fingers by posting a comment below.

Well? We're WAITING! Part 2 or no Part 2? Post a comment!