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

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Spitting to All Fields, Part 7

The Little House on Cooley Island:

The Stebbins house, which stood in front of—and essentially within—the Five Town Plaza on Cooley Street, always reminded me of the 1943 children’s book The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. This classic story of a country cottage swallowed by the big city that grows up around it has certain parallels to the saga of the Stebbins brick cottage, which was built four years later in a neighborhood of mostly farmland.

Cooley Street was a dirt road back then, but the post-war push from the city to the suburbs changed everything.

“Then some trucks came and dumped big stones on the road,” wrote Burton about the Little House in her book, “then some trucks with little stones, then some trucks with tar and sand, and finally a steam roller came and rolled it smooth, and the road was done.”

And when commercial developers descended on the place and offered gobs of cash to the Cooley Street area farm owners in the late 1950s, money talked, and they walked. And they left with their pockets full. But the Stebbins family didn’t listen and stayed put. They fought the development of their suburb as much as they could, but by the 1960s the last of their neighbors sold their properties and all that was left was the Stebbins house at 400 Cooley Street.

There were offers as high as $400,000, but they wouldn’t budge. “I wasn’t ready,” Louise Stebbins told the Springfield Union News in 2003. It was 10 years after her husband’s death and her house was assessed at $87,040. “There are a lot of memories here,” she said. “They just couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t sell.” She raised four children in the house and held onto the house and her memories after they moved out.

I always enjoyed seeing the Stebbins home and fenced-in yard sticking out like a defiant middle finger in a sea of asphalt. Louise insisted that she hardly noticed the shopping center was there. She had squirrels running around her yard, and she bragged that when she wanted to go grocery shopping, all she had to do was walk across the parking lot.

In 2002, however, a real estate transaction buried in the newspaper revealed that she had sold the house to Urstadt Biddle Properties Inc. for $300,000. Cooley Island was about to get swallowed up in the tide of development: a year later the City Council gave first-step approval for a zoning change to the property: from Commercial A and Residence A to Business A. Planned for the space: a Texas Roadhouse restaurant. There was no opposition because there was no one left.

Unlike the little house in the book, which was moved back to the country, the Stebbins house was demolished in the name of progress. At night, Virginia Lee Burton’s fictional house “used to dream of the country and the field of daisies and the apple trees dancing in the moonlight.” So did the Cooley Island house—but during the day it enjoyed flipping the bird to development as long as it could. I wish I had returned from Boston to save a brick from the house—so I could later throw it through a window of Texas Roadhouse. Just kidding. The great suburban migration is what built Sixteen Acres from farmland into a residential neighborhood. I’m not bitter—just a bit nostalgic.

“Everyone seemed to be very busy,” wrote Burton during the height of the building boom around the Little House, “and everyone seemed to be in a hurry.”

So next time you’re rushing around Five Town Plaza, breezing through Big Y and then pecking away at your smart phone, checking your email while you’re impatiently waiting in line for a grinder at Subway—or complaining that Texas Roadhouse is taking too long to cook your steak tips—take a breath, take a break, and think about the little house on Cooley Island and consider what this area looked like 65 years ago, when you could actually smell the daisies.

My friends and I were recently reminiscing about the “Dial-a-Fight” in Enfield, when the drinking age was 18 in Connecticut and there was a “Mass.” exodus from our state to the Nutmeg State border every weekend.

I forget which night of the week in which the Enfield Dial Tone offered 25-cent drafts and bartenders would fill any container you brought in—even empty Fribble cups and glasses. One time I plopped one of those tiny Dinkelaker “kegs” on the bar and the bartender did a double take, and then agreed to fill it for 50 cents.

The 25-cent beer tasted so bad we figured it was stale, watered down, and possibly augmented by a yellow liquid flowing through a secret hose connected to a urinal.

And then there were the bouncers: the black guy with the cowboy hat who was rumored to be a black belt in Kung Fu. Boy, did that guy get pissed at last call when everyone ignored his orders to leave—that’s when he started getting in people’s faces like a drill sergeant to move things along. There was another black bodybuilder doorman whose arms were so huge legend had it that he couldn’t shave his own face. 

I can distinctly remember the DJ playing Rush’s Spirit of the Radio when I walked into the Dial Tone for the first time and thinking, “You know, this place might be pretty good,” especially when they gave me a free drink because it was my 18th birthday. Well, the Dial Tone never played much listenable music after that moment, although for some reason Mountain’s Mississippi Queen was played once every night. Maybe it was because you could dance to it—I guess. Once in a while the DJ also threw on NRBQ’s Ridin’ in My Car, presumably because of the band’s local roots.

There was also a Dial Tone in Wilbraham and in Tolland, CT. The reason for the name was the old singles bar concept of having a phone at every table, and you could simply call up the table of someone you thought was hot. One night my friend even pointed out the screw marks from the old telephone jack on one of the tables. They should have left the phones in: calling a chick at another table would have been less awkward than asking her to dance to some shitty disco tune.

Here’s one of two schlock movie ads for this post: Blacula at the old Fox Theater on Boston Road. I think one of the last movies I saw there was Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze in 1975. I put up with this awful film because once upon a time in my very nerdy stage I used to read Doc Savage novels. I thought he was a badass. But not as badass as Blacula. Rumor has it that Shane Black, who wrote the script to Iron Man 3, has co-written the screenplay for a new Doc Savage movie.

OK: that little Abe’s Kosher Market ad in my last blog post was lame. I found a better one. Mmm: pickled tongue. I’m still waiting for someone to email me a photo of the Abe’s cow sign.

While we’re on Sumner Avenue, let’s head down to The X, take a right on Belmont, and “head” to Changes.

At one time the Springfield area was so rife with pot paraphernalia that even such places as Mall Records and McCrory in the Eastfield Mall had display cases containing smoking accessories. Was I dreaming one day at the Big E (in ’78?’ 79?) when I noticed that one of those claw vending machines—the kind of contraption you see in arcades, supermarkets, restaurants etc.—was filled with pipes, mini bongs, Dugout one-hitters, power-hitters, and other goodies instead of stuffed animals? No, I was wide-awake. Did I say to myself, “That’s just wrong”? No, that phrase didn’t enter the popular lexicon for decades. In fact, that scene—some denim-clad burnout trying to maneuver that claw around a pipe, beads of sweat popping out through the unwashed hair of his forehead, concentrating more than he ever did on ANYTHING in school—was just right. On so many levels. Dude.

Massachusetts finally cracked down on paraphernalia sales, and just like the days of the drinking age difference, there was a run for the border: to Crazy Joyce’s in Enfield.

Schlock movie ad number two. Where were you in ’73? At the Eastfield Mall Cinema or Paris Cinema seeing American Graffiti? There was a big nostalgia craze in the early 1970s with the Happy Days TV show and all. The notion of a film looking longingly back a mere 11 years to 1962 is kind of strange, but a lot had changed during that time frame. The early 1960s seemed a lot more innocent compared to the early 1970s. Then again, today, if we could turn the clock a little more than 11 years, we would see that it was also a more innocent world prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Remember the picture of the old Big Y Liquors sign I used in Spitting to All Fields, Part 1 (above)? Little did I know that the same sign would be used as a background in the Rusty Slang song Firer on YouTube!

Rusty also uses several other recognizable Springfield locations, including that mural below on State Street that has been there since at least the early 1970s. That painting, along with the various graffiti slogans in Winchester Square (“Free Angela Davis,” “Unite to Fight—Seize the Time!”) prompted my father to mutter, “This city is going to hell in a handbasket.”

Rusty Raps in front of the Smith and Wesson gun factory:

Some people might object to the “Bangfield Blam Blam” refrain in the song. He uses a cemetery as a backdrop in this portion in sort of a tribute to fallen homies, I guess. The funny thing is that the site is really a combination of three Jewish cemeteries diagonally across from Duggan Middle School on Wilbraham Road: the City of Homes, Sons of Israel, and Kesser Israel Cemeteries.

There is also footage is shot in the area that is apparently Rusty’s crib: the Springmeadow apartments on Cooley Street. The lyrics don’t mention the complex’s nickname SpringGHETTO. Maybe the term is an insult that could get you a head-full of stitches if you used it in the wrong company. Does anybody know?

Here's the video:

Pestering Poor Patricia Hale, the Witch of Sixteen Acres,
Part 2

It’s high time for another few words on the subject of Hell’s Acres’ first post way back in 2008.

Why did I think it was such a good idea to drink beer while cleaning my garage? Maybe it was because I thought I was turning a negative into a positive. In any case, while I was on spring break during college, my parents asked me to get our hopelessly cluttered garage in reasonable shape, and that meant rearranging and throwing away shit, vacuuming, and washing the windows.

It was a “spring” cleaning, even though it was February and there was a foot-and-a-half of snow on the ground. I had to keep myself warm—yeah, that’s it—so I worked quickly (on a six-pack, that is). Craig Stewart came over with another sixer, and that’s when the fun began.

Why did I think it was such a good idea to throw the empty bottles onto my neighbor Patricia Hale’s roof? Maybe because I could quickly eliminate the evidence, and the pillow-soft snow atop her house next door just beckoned for bottles. I did my best Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sky hook with every beer I finished. (Or, as we called him, Ka-BUM A-BUM-Ja-BUM.) Craig drained his Molsons and rained three-pointers onto the witch’s roof as if he were Danny Ainge on fire.

When we ran out of bottles, I inexplicably took an empty container of Ban roll-on antiperspirant out of a trash barrel and chucked it on her roof. Why? For a laugh I guess. We were continuing our lifelong pestering of Patricia Hale, the witch of Sixteen Acres.

A month later, when I was back at school, Craig gave me a call. “Oh man,” he said. “It was really warm yesterday and all the snow melted…and the bottles rolled down and smashed.” I had forgotten all about our little beer bottle basketball bonanza. Apparently there was no gutter where her house roof and garage roof sloped down, so everything was funneled onto the left side of her driveway, right next to her back door. She came home to a pile of shattered beer bottles. Instead of complaining to my father—who had told her to fuck off the last time she bitched about our antics—she went to Craig’s dad. She was drunk, as usual.

“Someone—and I know your boy had something to do with it, or knows who did it—someone smashed these beer bottles right in front of my door,” she screamed. “I just wanted you to know.”

Then, from behind her back, she thrust the Ban roll-on bottle into his face. “And this, I believe, represents a penis! And I know perfectly well what this symbolizes. It means that I’m not getting laid!” (Yes, “thrust” is the perfect word to use here.) “I just wanted you to know how cruel these boys can be.”

Needless to say, Craig denied it all the way, but I’m not sure his father believed him. And there I was, more than 100 miles from the scene of the crime—and I was the penis thrower, to boot—blameless, letting Craig deal with the fallout.

It’s a good thing I didn’t take an empty pickle jar out of the trash and toss it on the roof. In her mind, pickles would have equaled penises for sure. How about that empty marshmallow Fluff container? Cum!

I mean, a roll-on antiperspirant as a phallus. That’s a little farfetched. Or is it?

Oh yeah! Give it to me, baby! 

God, what if she ever read this stuff? I did a little Google search, thinking that Patricia surely isn’t alive. I reasoned that her liver undoubtedly abandoned ship, leaping out of her body amid an Exorcist-style shower of green puke decades ago. But she is still alive at 101 years old! How can this be? She must have stirred up some kind of elixir in a cauldron to live forever, and now she’s coming to get me! What’s that sound from above? As I’m typing, she’s dropping beer bottles and Ban roll-ons on my roof from her vroom broom!

Honk if you remember the intense Cathedral-Tech football rivalry.

No I don’t remember. Cathedral and Tech had mediocre teams when I attended. But at one time the two teams drew more than 10,000 fans in their season-ending games in the old Pynchon Park (also known as League Park). In 1941, 12,000 fans attended, with 3,000 having to be turned away at the gate.

Let’s hear a 10-second road rage honk—complete with a golf ball throwing out your driver’s side window—if you remember the United Skates of America and the romantic couples “moonlight skate” with the disco glitter ball.

Golf ball throwing? Yes, Rob Gostofsky used to (Used to? Is the past tense right, Rob?) throw golf balls at the cars of motorists who pissed him off. One time someone responded with a thrown beer can. “The trick is to not have the ball bounce back and hit your car,” he explained. 

When the Springfield Civic Center Rocked, Part 3
(And So Did Symphony Hall and the Paramount Theater)

How remiss of me not to include the Springfield Civic Center’s true glory years—the early- and mid-1970s— in Part I and Part 2. Excuse me, but that was before my concert-going days. But now is my chance.

The Springfield Republican recently posted some silent 8 mm footage of The Who at the Civic Center on December 14, 1975. The above image was also taken in Springfield by the same man who shot the film: the late Joseph Sia.

Lest we forget that Elvis rocked the building on July 14 and 15, 1975. The above photo was taken by Mark Murray of the Springfield Daily News. Below are some color pictures of the concerts shot by others:

Here is a concert stub I ripped from the web:

Elvis liked the Civic Center so much that he came back on July 29, 1976. My friend Rick Riccardi’s brother attended the show and described middle-aged women fighting over silk scarves that The King was tossing to the crowd. “Want to know how to make a cop popular?” Elvis asked the audience. He proceeded to wipe a scarf across his sweaty forehead and draped if over one of Springfield’s finest, who was mobbed and lost part of his uniform in the frenzy. Maybe this moment is captured in the bootleg:

Here is part of Sam Hoffman’s review from the Springfield Daily News:

“Elvis Presley is still King. The singing monarch strode into Springfield Civic Center last night and spent better than a hour on stage, entertaining his subjects and making just about everyone there happy with a bag of his oldies, goodies and Goldies, as well as his latest hit single I’m Hurt, which ought to net the King a few more riches... and deservingly so. It was a paunchy looking Elvis this year and even a large belt failed to hide the fact that even the King probably can't say ‘No’ to a second helping at the dinner table.”

My God, Sly and the Family Stone at the Civic Center. Oh, if I were only old enough in 1973 (or if my parents were hip enough to attend the concert and take me). Don’t hold your breath for Sly’s return to the building. He’s not touring and currently living in this abode in LA:

No, his van isn’t “down by the river.” He prefers to park it in the Crenshaw neighborhood, which is about eight miles from the LA River.

Lest we forget how the Paramount Theatre and Symphony Hall once rocked. Below ARE my ticket stubs from truly great shows.

Legendary Springfield band FAT, along with Firewater, played the Paramount in 1973 when it was known as the Julia Sanderson Theatre. This movie and concert “cin-a-rock” experience included the film Free. I had never heard of the movie, but it featured Jimi Hendrix, Mountain, Van Morrison, Steppenwolf, and Dr. John.

Check out the Paramount marquee for the simulcast of the first Ali-Frazier bout on March 8, 1971. I was in second grade and I remember a couple of friends talking about their fathers going to this telecast. If I’m not mistaken, whoever put up the letters referred to Ali as Cassius Clay! He was probably not a big fan of the Louisville Lip.

The fight was also shown on a screen at Symphony Hall, which was then known as Springfield Municipal Auditorium. Luckily, the Springfield simulcast went off without a hitch—in other cities, the closed-circuit picture went out early in the fight, and riots ensued.

It was always a foggy image of local rock lore: Led Zeppelin playing in Springfield in 1969, getting booed, and then Robert Plant telling the audience that the band would never play in our city again.

Thanks to a May 30 story in the Springfield Republican by Ray Kelly—and a rock poster saved by Zep fan Barry Hayes, we now know that the rock gods really did perform on Halloween that year at the Springfield Municipal Auditorium (Symphony Hall) Note the misspelling of Halloween. To confirm that they indeed rocked the City of Homes, he also has a torn ticket stub:

An online commenter on The Republican story also mentions the rumor of the crowd hooting Led Zeppelin off the stage, but who knows? One insists that Springfield native Taj Mahal was a no-show, but on other sites people insisted that he did give an opening performance.

And then there are several unconfirmed reports that Zep previously performed there on January 27, 1969, even though the date isn’t listed on the band’s official website. It’s possible: the concert would have been immediately after four nights at the former Boston Tea Party and just before a stint at the Fillmore East in New York. One commenter writes that he saw Led Zeppelin in Springfield that year, but “I could have sworn that it was a lot colder out than Halloween would be, so it could have been in January.” Did the band play a gig in Springfield as a convenient stop between Boston and New York? Anyone have a January 27 stub to prove it?

Maybe Symphony Hall does rock now and then these days. The Pink Floyd experience (above) is playing there on February 8. Am I going? I might be watching for pigs on the wing that night. Are you going? Too immersed in work to find time to go to a concert? What do you hope to find when you’re down in the pig mine?

Speaking of Pink Floyd, Rob Gostofsky, Stan Janek, and I survived the Roger Waters concert in Hartford without any incidents that occurred two years ago: No spilled pizza. No confrontations with fellow fans who wanted to video the whole show—and who want us to stay seated and keep quiet as they do so. And my ticket “souvenir” (above) survived because it didn’t go for a little ride in our washing machine. It was plucked from my pants pocket just in time.

My original Roger Waters stub from 1984 had somehow also survived, despite my wild youth...

...but a poster I had saved from the 1984 Waters show—a drawing of Reg, the animated dog he used in the concert—is nowhere to be found. Fortunately, I discovered one on the web:

Does Reg, with his big nose, look like Rog or what?

But where, oh where, is the full-page ad for the Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking concert that I had pulled from the Valley Advocate? The document, with the hitchhiker’s oh-so-sweet ass (censored by the Advocate) was nowhere to be found in the scary side of my basement.

That ass belongs to model and porn star Lindsey Jane Drew:

The poster is, however, preserved—ever so small—in a picture of my fraternity house’s bedroom (left of the smiley face that ever-so-cleverly hides my identity). To the right of the face is the iconic Dark Side of the Moon prism.

Rob took some good photos of the June 29, 2012 show in Hartford:

Two days later, Rob saw Waters again in Fenway Park. Here is footage that his brother Otis took of the plane crashing into the wall at the end of the song In the Flesh:

Rob and Otis had seats on the field, and I asked him if he was in “spitting distance” of Roger. No, they were in the middle, but too far from the stage for Waters to let a sputum glob fly at them. This reference, of course, is to the infamous moment at a Pink Floyd concert on July 6, 1977 when he got pissed off at a loud, rambunctious audience member in Montreal, called him over, and treated him to some lung butter.

So, one last Spitting to All Fields expectoration: a fan’s description of the incident:

I’m glad Roger could joke about the spitting 33 years later in the 2010 clip below. What would his victim say? “You’re nearly a laugh, but you’re really a cry.”