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

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Skiing Veterans’ Golf Course

There I was on Saturday, December 12, just itching to get out and do something outside on the freshly fallen snow, but I was hesitant to partake in any cross country skiing or snowshoeing in Wilbraham. Why? It was the last day of shotgun season for deer hunters. I could have made my way to town-owned conservation land, where shooting is forbidden, but most of these reservations are adjacent to wooded private property, where the bullets were undoubtedly flying. (Anyone who regularly hikes in Wilbraham knows what I’m talking about.)

So what better place to cross country ski than at Veterans’ Golf Course in Sixteen Acres? After all, there’s no shooting in Springfield, right folks? Let me put that another way: not much gunfire in the Acres on a cold Saturday afternoon, right? Besides, I have always liked hiking in the adjacent South Branch Park, and this was my chance to ski the golf course for the first time.


I park in the lot, which faces the back nine (pictured above), but I choose to walk down the hill and snap on the skis at the bottom, because the incline is just too damn steep! Yes, you may think I’m wussy for admitting this, but my skinny skis are designed for groomed trails, not backcountry skiing, so stopping and turning is a bit more difficult when I’m flying down a hill. Since I don’t want to end up in the South Branch of the Mill River (in the middle of the photo) or careening into the woods on the right, I walk like a wuss.

I snap on the skis at last, cross the bridge over the brook, and start gliding.

Who says you can’t take good photos with phone cameras? Check this out:

My tracks along the windswept tundra:

It’s amazing how evergreen trees will shield the ground from snow (below). If you’re ever lost in the woods and are forced to spend the night, build a shelter in a pine grove if it looks like rain or snow is coming!

I make my way down the fairway of the 14th hole. I remember traveling on the same stretch of ground 28 years ago—when I was in the bed of my friend’s pickup truck! Indeed, one night Doug Mizzetti thought it would be hilarious to drive off Plumtree Road and onto the golf course. Did his tires wreck the fairway? How should I know? It was dark out.

I’m approaching the tee to the 14th hole (below), which was once a notorious keg party spot in the neighborhood—right behind the former Ursuline Academy building, where I attended elementary and junior high school. Did I ever partake in these nighttime festivities? Let’s just say that when my friends and I were walking by, we did pause for some “refreshment” at the 14th hole—and also at gatherings at the 12th hole— before continuing on our shortcut through Veterans’ Golf Course to the Allen and Cooley cinemas, arriving just in time for a midnight showing of Woodstock or The Song Remains the Same or the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Time to turn around. Here is a view from the tee to the “green”:

As I cross South Branch parkway to hit the front nine I snap a shot of the signature Veterans Golf Course bushes:

While I enjoy the peace of a nearly solitary jaunt on a cold winter day, I am pleased to see someone else snowshoeing, along with a father taking his son sledding on the course. I also see someone else’s ski tracks in the snow. Memo to exercising in a gym on December 12: you missed a good workout in a winter wonderland.

Despite growing up in the neighborhood, the only time I played golf here was during the summer of 1983, when I was recovering from mononucleosis on an extremely hot day. So how was my round of golf? Let’s put it this way: if Cooley Street and Plumtree Road were parts of the fairways, I would have been doing all right. As I ski, I relive memories of swearing, throwing clubs, and boiling in the sun on afternoon that was 70 degrees warmer than today.

Yes, I am much more at peace on the skis during my first outing of the season than I was on links that wretched summer day, although I’m sweating just as profusely. I always forget what a cardio workout this activity is. I pause to guzzle some water and take a picture of the tips of my skis. Now it’s time to press on.

I extend my route into the old Camp Wilder property, a 32-acre tract which the city of Springfield bought for $1.2 million with the help of a $500,000 state grant in 2002. It was a bold move for a perpetually cash-strapped city, but the purchase of the land from the family of the late Emma Anderson Wilder, who founded the camp in 1940, saved the woods from certain development.

Below is Bass Pond, which is next to the camp. When we were teenagers, sometimes we thought it was a good idea to end an evening with a late-night dip there—but people who lived on the pond called the cops on us every time. I remember even getting the bum’s rush neighbors when I tried to fish there during the daytime.

If you grew up in the neighborhood in the 1970s and 1980s, but if you weren’t an abutter, a member of the Bass Pond Club or the Springfield Paddle Club, or enrolled in Camp Wilder, you couldn’t use the best pond in Sixteen Acres!

Ironically, when a lawyer for the city was examining the title of the pond for the state grant application, he discovered that Bass Pond was not a private pond, but was actually owned by the state and open to the general public. He found that Bass Pond is a “great” pond because it exceeds 10 acres and subject to state and colonial law dating back to 1647. “Every inhabitant who is a householder shall have free fishing and fowling in any of the great ponds ... within the precincts of the town where they dwell,” states the colonial ordinance. “It shall be free for any man to fish and fowl there, and may pass and repass on foot, through any man’s propriety for that end, so they trespass not upon any man’s corn or meadow.”

Amazing. Little did I know that I when I was accused of trespassing, I could have put down my fishing pole, pulled the colonial ordinance out of my pocket, and said to the old bag, “I doing some fishing, I might be doing some fowling, and I’m not stepping on thy corn or thy meadow, so fuck off, wench, lest I moosh one of my night crawlers in thy wrinkled old face!”

Alas, my ski tour of Veterans’ has come to an end. What will be the subject of my next blog entry? Only the shadow knows.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Slink

The ghost of the Slink still haunts Sixteen Acres, and here’s the proof: I recently stuck my head into the window of the dark, moldering, crumbling house he was “raised” in and took the above picture. Sure enough, when I looked at it later, there was the frightening figure, appearing on the left. It’s definitely the Slink. Can’t you see him—wandering his former room, looking for his long lost stash of heroin behind the wall?

I know—you can't be a ghost if you're still alive. Unless you're among the walking dead.

Just kidding. That’s not his ghost—just evidence of my pathetic graphic design skills. But I definitely felt…his presence at the house. So what am I doing peering into the Slink’s old room? It’s a story that’s long and freaky, just like the Slink’s grey hippie hair and handlebar mustache.

“Bob, you’ve got to see the Slink’s old house,” said my friend, Stan Janek, in October. I wondered what was there to see. The shithole was the eyesore of Maebeth Street, abandoned for years and decaying more and more with every brutal New England winter. “Somebody bought the place and they’re going to fix it up,” Stan announced.

No shit. This I had to see. After work, I went over Stan’s house for a couple of beers and both of us walked over to check out the small ranch-style home that had been neglected for so long. Holy shit, this place was spooky enough to charge admission on Halloween. The floors were so warped the rats must have had trouble making their way around the place without falling down. Did someone really buy this dump with the intention of bringing it back to life?

Yes, it was true: there was a big dumpster on the front lawn and contractors had gutted pretty much the entire inside of the place. I was about to say, “Boy, if these walls could talk,” however, there weren’t really any walls left. So I guess it’s up to me to tell the story of the Slink—a tale of true woe.

His real name was Fran Ross. (Not really. As you might have guessed, in this blog I changed the names to protect the guilty.) Why did we call him the Slink, anyway? Because he used to slink around the neighborhood like a snake, creeping and skulking like a weasel. He prowled the streets with a catlike gait: furtive, unsettled and jittery. In police jargon his mannerisms were hinky: trying to act cool, but obviously always nervous about something.

Well, I’m not going to get into the Slink’s childhood, because I don’t know much about it. He is 11 years older than I am so that would make him 57 going on a hundred. His dad’s boundless boozing undoubtedly planted the seeds of his heavy drug use. In the late 1960s he was part of the rougher crowd in the neighborhood, in a large gang called the Clan that used to hang out at an ice cream and sandwich shop called Treats in what is now the Breckwood Shoppes at the corner of Wilbraham Road and Breckwood Boulevard. Like many members of the Clan, he developed substance abuse problems that lasted a lifetime. I mean, this guy was a piece of work.

The Slink was not the only heroin addict in Sixteen Acres, but he was easily the most pathetic. And he really is to be pitied. But I never really felt any “compassion” for him. After all, the guy tried to burglarize my house in 1985—and probably once more in 1986. He cleaned out a few homes on Maebeth Street in the 1980s—and most likely one of them was my friend’s house. So, back then, I wanted to kill the fucker. But having the benefit of more than two decades in which to put it all into perspective, I don’t exactly wish the guy well, but I wish him no harm. Slink, if you’re reading this, just stay the fuck out of my way.


“Bob, we chased the Slink and his friends off your porch yesterday,” said Craig Stewart.

“What?” I asked incredulously. “My porch?” It was the summer of 1985 and I had spent the weekend with my family on the Cape. We had always locked our house, because of the Slink of course, but never locked the screened porch door.

“We saw them go up your driveway—they went into your porch,” said Rick Riccardi. “We walked up the driveway, and they knew we were coming, so they screwed out the back porch door into your backyard and took off. Then we called the cops. We told them who it was, but they didn’t do shit.”

“Oh, man,” I said. “That motherfucker is dead.”

Let’s face it. I was becoming an angry young man that summer. After graduating from college, I was working a menial job, still living at home, and was in no mood for dealing with the local dirtbag breaking into my house. The Slink, who had stolen a handful of neighbors' grills since the spring, had the advantage of mowing people’s lawns as his “job,” which had enabled him to see the comings and goings of homeowners all day and gave him ample time and the supreme vantage point develop his break-in strategies. Once he got into one of his neighbor’s windows by removing an air conditioner, which he promptly put in the bed of his pickup truck.

How did we know the Slink and his friends were heroin addicts? To remove all doubt, we had run into him on the street the year before, and while he was talking to us, he took his hand out of his pocket, and a needle fell to the ground. He proceeded to pick it up and put it back in his pocket as if nothing had happened.

Shortly after the needle incident, Stan Janek was talking to the Slink on the street and accidentally brushed against the duffel bag the freak was carrying. When Stan felt a sharp pain in his right hip, he jumped back and looked down, but there seemed to nothing wrong with his hip. What happened? he asked himself. Then he glanced at the bag. There was a needle sticking out of it! He had gotten stuck!

“Shit, sorry, man,” said the Slink.

“Jesus fucking Christ!!!” screamed Stan. Then he tried to calm down.

“You don’t have, uh, like AIDS or anything.” Stan uttered this sentence like a statement, not a question, because this scenario was simply out of the realm of possibility, right?

“Yeah, sorry,” said the Slink with a shrug. “Yeah, I got tested, and I am. I’m positive. HIV positive.”


I wasn’t relating this story to just to see if you were still paying attention. This was a nightmare that Stan had shortly after we saw the Slink drop his needle. Just a dream.

Boy did I want to get the Slink. Causing nightmares were one thing. Breaking into houses on the street was something else. For a couple of months we had been talking about what should be done about the Slink. After all, we were all able-bodied guys in our twenties who had a duty to kick his ass, even though we probably balked at the idea because of the very real possibility that one of us might just get stabbed—with a knife or a needle. But now he had gone too far: he had been on my porch with the intention of stealing my family’s shit. The prospect of his hands on my stereo—my baseball cards—was too much to bear. This garbage had been going on too long. It was the end of the summer. It was time to confront the Slink.

A pickup truck pulled up my driveway. There was a knock at my porch door. No, it wasn’t the Slink. It was Craig.

“Hey Bob, what’s up?” said Craig. “You know, I just saw the Slink walking by your house.”

“No shit,” I said. My adrenaline started pumping. “Where is he now?”

“He took a right on Sunrise Terrace.”

“You know, it’s time we put a scare into that dude.”

“Yeah, I think it’s time,” said Craig.

The previous week we had decided to something about the Slink, but we had no plan of action. Now, a spur-of-the-moment decision to go after him without much backup wasn’t the best strategy, but at least it got us off our asses to force the issue. I mean, whose house was next?

We got in Craig’s truck, turned the corner, and there was the Slink, slithering down Sunrise Terrace. With the woods on our left, it was nice and dark—a perfect setting for intimidation.

“Stop here,” I told Craig. I threw open the door. The Slink halted and turned. The thought of suckering him out went through my mind, but I ignored it. The Slink had paid for his truck with the money he won from a lawsuit involving an assault, and besides, a tussle on Sunrise Terrace might have meant my fending off a needle—something I had thought about ever since Stan told me about his dream. Moreover, I could plainly see just how small and frail the guy was—a punch could have killed him, and I just wanted to frighten him. However, if he swung at me, I thought, I would have to pummel the bastard. All this went through my mind in the two seconds it too to descend on him.

“How you doin’?” I said as I rushed up.

“Hey,” he said confusedly. “Hey, do I know you? Who—”

“You tried to break into my house, asshole!” I shouted as I got in his face. Jesus, I didn’t know I could yell so loud. He cringed and put his open hands up in front of his face, expecting a shot. “We’re sick of your fucking shit you’re pulling on our street!”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“If I see you on my end of the street again, I’m gonna put you in the hospital!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said as he walked away.

“Stay off our end of the street!”

To this remark he made a shoo-ing motion, without looking back, as if he were swatting away a fly. This infuriated me, but at the same time I was glad he split. I delivered my message, and nobody got hurt.

After that, as far as I knew, the Slink did stay off the northern half of Maebeth Street (which is bisected by Fairlawn Street). One time I was walking down the street and he was busy mowing a lawn (on the southern half), and after I had passed him I heard him bellow, “Hey!!” This was not yelled in the spirit of recognition, but barked in a threatening manner, like a cop yelling at a fleeing suspect. When I turned around, I saw him continuing his mowing without as much as a glance in my direction. But I could see the smirk on his face. “Oh, this fucker is asking for it,” I thought. “Unbelievable. We spread the word around the neighborhood about the Slink, and these old fools still have him do their lawns because they can’t get anybody else.”

A few days later, I was driving down my street in the wee hours after a night out, and I saw the Slink parked in front of his house with one of his addict friends in the passenger seat. What were those two bozos up to? Either getting high or planning a break-in. I was buzzed enough to not let his situation pass me by. Instead of turning in my driveway, kept going, I took a right on Sunrise Terrace, a right on Catalpa, a right on Wilbraham Road, and then drove down Maebeth Street again—but this time I was flying, with my lights off. With a screech I slammed on my brakes in front of the Slink’s truck, put on my high-beams, laid on the horn for 10 seconds, burned rubber, and then I drove down the street laughing my ass off. I turned into my driveway just to let him know whom it was that caused this ruckus, which undoubtedly woke up his parents.


After I finally got my journalism career going and moved to the Boston area, I received reports on the Slink’s various run-ins with the law: arrests for uttering a false prescription and stealing a necklace from a house and then trying to pawn it.

Meanwhile, the garage door on my old house was broken, making it almost impossible to lift because of its weight. My father had propped it halfway open by supporting it with a wood beam by wedging it into the frame, so he could take out the trash and duck under the door. The only item of value in the garage was a lawnmower, and I begged my dad to get the door fixed. But he procrastinated, and one morning, sure enough, the lawnmower was gone. The fucking Slink.

My buddies also filled me in on a few more housebreaks, including one at Craig Stewart’s house, and whoever did this job took a shit on his kitchen floor.

I was convinced that the perpetrators were the Slink and his friends, and that the shitter was none other than the Slink exacting revenge on Craig for his being in the driver’s seat the night I jumped from his truck and got in the Slink’s face. Craig wasn’t so sure it was the Slink who pulled the robbery and the defecation, but I insisted that it indeed was our local heroin addict. I was fuming. There was no telling me otherwise.

We then invented new nicknames for the Slink. We referred to him as "the Grinch" and "Anti-Claus" because he was stealing people’s Christmas presents right from under their Christmas trees.


The following spring, my father told me that he came home one night and heard people in our house scrambling to get out. When he walked in, the kitchen window was wide open, and the television, which normally was in the living room, sat on the kitchen counter, ready to be hoisted through the window. He found the TV’s cable box in the backyard.

I became more furious than I ever was about this situation. I lived more than 90 miles away and I felt pissed and powerless. What the fuck could I do? My father begged me to just let it go. As for the possibility of my doling out a severe or even moderate ass-whooping on the Slink, he told me that there was no point—even in a moment of justifiable fury—in making a mistake that I might regret for the rest of my life.

He was right. But I had to do something.

Craig told me that the Slink’s parents finally kicked him out of the house, he lived in his truck for a while, and then he sold it, and was living at the Salvation Army on West Columbus Avenue in Springfield.

But he was still slinking around the neighborhood, taking the Wilbraham Road bus from downtown and mowing people’s lawns in Sixteen Acres again, and up to his old tricks. My friends tried to tell anyone who would listen that the guy was trouble, but they either didn’t believe it or they were too cheap to call a real landscaping service. The old codgers and bags were willing to take their chances after not being able to get any of the lazy neighborhood teenagers to take on the jobs for peanuts.

One night I called the Salvation Army from Boston and asked for Fran Ross.

“You’re calling for a resident?”


“There aren’t any phones in any of the rooms, but I can connect you to the payphone in the common area, and maybe someone can help you.”

“Thank you.”

After four or five rings, someone picked up. My heart started racing.

“It’s your dime,” said the male voice wearily.

“Could I speak to Fran Ross?”

After a pause, and some intelligible conversation between the dude and someone else, he said. “I’ll see if he’s there.”

Wow, I thought. What if I actually get to talk to him? Just what am I going to say to the Slink?


“Hi, Fran Ross?”


Oh my God! The fucking Slink!

“Fran, your life is in danger. You remember that necklace you ripped off?”

“What the fuck are you talking about? Who is this?”

“That necklace you ripped off. That guy is friends with Skyball Scibelli. And he made a call. Your life is in danger.”

Jeez. That’s the best I could come up with. Invoking the name of the local capo regime of the Genovese crime family, a guy (pictured below) who in fact lived in our neighborhood. Pretty lame. Oh well.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, weirdo.” He hung up.

Yep, it was a pretty weird stunt. But what the hell, I wanted to fuck with his mind, and I actually got to talk to him. So there. A bit passive-aggressive, but he never went near my old house again.

In the 1990s, the only reports I received on the Slink were from Craig, who said that he was driving on Route 5 in West Springfield and saw the man pushing a shopping cart full of returnable bottles and cans at the off-ramp for the Bondi’s Island wastewater treatment plant and landfill.

Craig also told me that he was eating his lunch on a bench in Court Square one day when he saw the Slink picking up cigarette butts and dissecting them to make his own cigarette. The Slink even found an empty cigarette pack and was banging it upside down on a piece of paper to get the remaining flakes of tobacco.

Man, that’s about as bad as it gets.

Whoops, I stand corrected. An old neighbor of mine was talking to a member of his family a few months ago, and it turns out the Slink has AIDS.

You are undoubtedly asking, “What is the point of this story?” I don’t know. I just had to get it off my chest. I just wanted to describe what it was like to grow up with a thieving junkie on my street, and what I did about it, which was not much, but something.

Some of you might feel that it was mean-spirited of me to tell you this tale, especially during the holiday season. Well, excuuuuuse meeeeeeeeee!!

You want a heartwarming story with a more uplifting ending? Go watch The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. He might remind you of somebody.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

When the Springfield Civic Center Rocked, Part 2

Black Sabbath's Ronnie James Dio

Now, where was I? Oh yeah. Well, in case you missed “When the Springfield Civic Center Rocked, Part 1,” or if you it read a long time ago (I’m sorry, a lot of time has passed, hasn’t it?) and you don’t feel like reading it again, here’s the situation:

It was August 27, 1981, on the floor in front of the stage in the Springfield Civic Center. ZZ Top was about to perform, but I was about to get pummeled by Ron Donnelly, because he thought I was crowding him.

Never mind that the contact was unintentional—I kept getting pushed into the goon. The crowd repeatedly surged forward, propelling me into Donnelly. But he was in no mood to hear excuses.

“Ron!” I yelled. “I can’t help it! I keep getting pushed from behind!”

Donnelly looked at me quizzically—because I had mentioned his name. He tilted his head to the side, like a confused dog trying to make sense of something. Did you ever see a puppy looking at a fellow dog on the TV screen—gazing with a cocked head and wrinkled brow—ready to pounce, but not knowing exactly what he’s viewing? That’s what Donnelly looked like a big, dumb, puzzled Rottweiler. He was trying to figure out whether or not he knew me.

He didn’t. Not really. I had partied with Donnelly before at a few keggers, but there wasn’t a hint of recognition in his bewildered expression.

What I had going for me, however, was the fact that I knew his name. I wasn’t sure that fact alone would spare me, although it stalled him for a few seconds. Then his friend John Sewell, a guy who used to play on a Sixteen Acres little league baseball team with my brother, evidently recognized Dan. Sewell whispered something Donnelly’s ear. I tried to read his lips, and he appeared to say, “I know his brother Dan. He’s cool.” Thank Christ. Five words that prevented a brawl between our groups.


The lights dimmed and the crowd surged forward again as ZZ Top started playing. The band launched into “Groovy Little Hippie Pad,” but it wasn’t too long before Donnelly, Sewell et al turned their attention to the rowdy group of Hillbillies to their left. The close quarters on the floor had breathed new life into these two groups’ animosity for one another, and I think that the hicks were expecting things to go no further than some posturing and maybe a little pushing. But I knew Donnelly and his crew better than that—they didn’t fuck around. And sure enough, by the second tune, “Waitin’ for the Bus,” the Cathedral guys were swinging on the Hillbillies, who were thoroughly surprised that the confrontation escalated so quickly.

Then, just as the crowd parted to get out of the way of the donnybrook, my brother and Rick Riccardi took advantage of the rare and ample space caused by the brawl and bolted between all the combatants to get closer to the stage. Jesus, I thought, those weasels ran right through the fight! How the hell did they do that? Well, by time I realized what happened, it was too late to join Dan and Rick: there was no way Stan Janek and I were going to try to get by that maelstrom.

So we watched the fight. So did ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons, who nudged bassist Dusty Hill and then pointed to the bedlam in front of them, not wanting his bandmate to miss any of this raucous action.

It turned out to be not much of a fight. The poor Hillbilly slobs covered up, and one or two of them tried to fight back, but it was no use—they were caught in a tornado of fists. A handful of beefy security guards in front of the stage climbed the barrier, but by the time they made their way into the crowd, the hicks were long gone, and there was no way they were going to do anything to Donnelly and the boys, who had settled down and wisely opted not to mix it up with security.

Thankfully, I was then able to enjoy the show. Hey, I went to a fight, and a concert broke out. I wonder what ever happened to Ron Donnelly. He seemed destined to die young, but sometimes these guys have a way of defying the odds and straightening their lives out. His buddy John Sewell, for example, became a Springfield cop. Maybe Donnelly did the same thing. Then again, maybe one night he got drunk and stoned enough to eat a light bulb and ended up in the morgue. Who the hell knows?


It’s funny: when I look my concert stubs from the Springfield Civic Center and recall the shows, what usually comes to mind is not the music—which was in-fucking-credible, by the way—but instead the mayhem. For example, at the 1980 Black Sabbath show, I remember checking out the guy standing on the roof of his car in the Classical High School parking lot after the show, his pinky and index finger extended in a satanic sign, the other hand holding a bottle of Jack Daniels, and his shirt ripped and bloody from a butt-kicking—undoubtedly security guards—as he screamed with a horse voice, “Sab-bath! Sab-bath!”

That scene took place at about 1:00 a.m. as I tried to sober up for the drive down State Street and Wilbraham Road back to the Acres. Christ, I had to go to school the next day, but the rock marathon of three bands (Riot, Black Sabbath, and Blue Oyster Cult) sure was worth it. I’d say that of all those acts I saw at the Civic Center during that period, the Sabbath show was by far the best. From the monster-distorted opening power chords of “War Pigs” to the angst-drenched encore “Children of the Grave,” Ronnie James Dio pulled no vocal punches as he belted out “Neon Knights.” (Here’s a link to a live version of the song—no, it’s not at the Civic Center). Thousands celebrated the song “Sweet Leaf” the only way they knew how, flicking the Bics in unison, their lighters igniting a constellation of blazing joints in a burnt out universe. Words cannot do justice in describing the way the Civic Center rocked. It was pure evil fun at deafening decibels.

I’m not sure which image is burned brighter in my mind: Dio’s dramatic, wizard-like posturing, Geezer Butler's hair flying rhythmically as he hammered his bass, or the robed and hooded woman cradling a candle and walking countless oval laps around the arena like a zombie throughout the entire concert.


Here's a little poem I wrote about the Sweet Leaf heyday in the Springfield rock universe: Whether you smoked in the Civic Center or not, you always came home smelling like pot.

What caused the decline and then the dearth of concerts at the Springfield Civic Center? In part, you can blame a snowstorm. Seriously.

When snow buildup caused the Hartford Civic Center’s roof to collapse in 1978, management saw the situation as an opportunity to add thousands of seats, and the reopened arena in Hartford dwarfed the Springfield Civic Center. Hartford started getting the premier concerts: bands would rather play two dates there than pack up all their equipment after a show and truck it up I-91 to Springfield. When the Worcester Centrum opened in 1982 with 12,000 seats (expanded to 14,800 in 1989) compared to Springfield’s 7,000, promoters opted to book bands in that city and in Hartford, betting that music lovers in Springfield would make the long drives to see the shows—and they were right.

And with the opening of the behemoth outdoor amphitheaters, such as Great Woods in Mansfield, and Meadows in Hartford, the Springfield Civic Center missed out on the summer tours.

Moreover, by 1981, rock acts were drawing far fewer concert patrons than they were five years earlier. You can pretty much see what happened to arena rock in general by looking at the double-bills at the Civic Center in the early 1980s: Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult (the “Black and Blue” tour), the Outlaws and Foghat, Blue Oyster Cult and Foghat (the “Blue Fog’ tour). Indeed, the bands that used to sell out the place individually began to combine to fill the seats with fans.

It didn’t help that the music industry was changing rapidly in the early 1980s. The heavy, heavy bands that were the mainstay of teenage wasteland in the 1970s started sinking under their own weight.

But we didn’t give up on them. Even when Black Sabbath enlisted Ian Gillan (formerly of Deep Purple) as the lead singer for its 1983-84 tour, we were ecstatic when we heard that the band was coming to the Springfield Civic Center on March 4, 1984.

So we headed down Wilbraham Road and State Street to see Sabbath and the Civic Center. Just like old times, right? I put in a tape of the band’s new album, “Born Again,” on my cassette deck. Ian Gillan was no Ronnie James Dio or Ozzy Osbourne, but the album still kicked ass, although the cover art, a sketch of a baby with devil’s horns and fangs, looked like an amateurish attempt at comic book art, a Satan-worshipping high school student’s dopey art project. The song “Trashed” was a beauty, though. An instant metal classic, even though the video is idiotic. The lyrics are tremendous: “It really was a meeting — the bottle took a beating.” It’s a song about, well, getting trashed. Trashin’ your car. I can dig it. Caaaan yooouuu diiiiig iiiiit?

Notice the similarity to the 1981 Depeche Mode "Shout" single:

Both covers are based on the newborn in this 1968 magazine (below).

I wonder what this lad is doing now. Does he know what his devilish face inspired? Was he, in fact, Rosemary’s baby? Anyway, feel free to read the story behind the cover at the end of this blog entry. It turns out that the artist turned in the worst image possible in the hope of getting a rejection fee, but Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler (pictured below) liked it. “It’s shit,” he said, “but it’s fucking great!”

Whoops, where was I? Oh yes. We were driving through Winchester Square on our way to the concert.

We parked at the Classical High School parking lot, and after a bit of tailgaiting, we walked into the Civic Center, which was about half empty. Or half full. Depends on how you look at it, especially for an Ian Gillan-led Black Sabbath. I mean, where was everybody? Watching Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Flock of Seagulls on MTV? Jesus! Come on! Sabbath was in town!

The lights dimmed. We opened our bottles of various spirits. Gillan’s voice sounded pretty good on the album, but it was just too damn raspy live. It’s obvious the seventies weren’t too kind to him. “I think this tour might have been a mistake,” I thought. “Oh well, I’ll just take another swig of Captain Morgan and make the best of it.”

But when Sabbath awkwardly lurched into a new song called “Stonehenge,” we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. A giant picture of Stonehenge filled the backdrop screen. Holy fuck. Pitiful. The concert reached an even lower low when Gillan, oblivious to his embarrassing vocal strain, starts croaking out “Smoke on the Water” as a cloud of dry ice enveloped the stage. It would have been a great Spinal Tap-like moment if Gillan had gotten lost in the fog, had fallen off the stage, and cracked his head open.

Well, they slogged through “Smoke on the Water.” Christ. The brontosaurus of heavy metal songs, the living fossil that didn’t know it was dead, lumbered around the arena, stumbling and bumbling toward the La Brea tar pits, dragging Black Sabbath nation into the bubbling black goo. Half the fans were on their feet — the true faithful — cheering deliriously until they were as hoarse as Gillan. The other half didn’t care. They were either puking or pissing in the bathroom, passed out in their seats (like the guy in front of me), at the concession stands satisfying their munchie cravings, or just sitting there and fiddling with their drugs and drug paraphernalia.


A few months later, my brother and I watched the movie "This is Spinal Tap" at the Allen and Cooley Cinema, and we laughed ourselves senseless, especially at the Stonehenge scene, which reminded us of the Black Sabbath show. In this parody of a heavy metal band, Spinal Tap had ordered a life-sized Styrofoam Stonehenge to be built for their act, but someone screws up the dimensions, and the stage version of the ancient monument is only three feet high. So, in a concert, to make the mini-Stonehenge look larger, they get midgets in hooded robes to dance around prop while a Jethro Tull-like flute solo is played.

Truth be told, Black Sabbath initially had a 3-D Stonehenge set in the 1983-84 tour, but they often had to settle for the back-lit backdrop that we saw in Springfield because they couldn’t fit the fake stone slabs through the doors most of the arenas. That must have been some scene, the fucking tour manager crying in an English accent: "They don’t bloody fit, what the fuck are we going to do? Saw ’em in half and put ’em back together?"

Also missing from Springfield was the midget—yes, just like in Spinal Tap—who played the horned and fanged Satanic baby on the “Born Again” cover. He was a casualty of an accident earlier in the tour, when he plummeted from the top of Stonehenge and missed a pile of mattresses that was supposed to cushion his fall. Hear Gillan describe this incident, as well as the dry ice fog preventing him from reading the lyrics in front of him.


No, I don’t have the ticket stub to that Black Sabbath show at the Civic Center, but I have others—from 1979 to 1981—as well as from 1982 and onward, which I have posted below. As you can see, my attendance at concerts there waned in the mid-1980s. I can chalk it up to a few factors: I was away at college nine months of the year, and when I was in Springfield I went to shows at other venues, because let’s face it, arena rock in Springfield went up in smoke. When the dry ice cloud cleared after “Smoke on the Water” at Black Sabbath in 1984, there was little left to cheer about regarding the rock scene at the Springfield Civic Center in the 1980s—and it hasn’t recovered.

I did come back to the Civic Center after an 11-year hiatus for a Kiss concert in 1997—but does that really count? I guess so. My parents had forbidden be to see Kiss there in the 1970s, so I guess that was my last concert in the building, unless you count Sesame Street Live with my wife and son this year.

The Story Behind the “Born Again” Cover

Yes, I would wear this shirt with pride—to Sunday Mass!

Steve Joule, who designed the Born Again cover, had mentioned the similarity of the cover art to Dephe Mode's "New Life" LP in an email to somone who designed a site on this information. Here's what Steve had to say:

“OK, let's put this baby to rest once and for all. The Black Sabbath "Born Again" album sleeve was designed under extraordinary circumstances; basically what had happened was that Sharon and Ozzy had split very acrimoniously from her father's (Don Arden) management and record label. He subsequently decided that he would wreak his revenge by making Black Sabbath (whom he managed) the best heavy metal band in the world, which, of course, they are, but back then in the early '80's they weren't quite the International megastars that they had been in the '70's. His plans included recruiting Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan, getting Bill Ward back in on drums and stealing as many of Sharon and Ozzy's team as possible, and as I was designing Ozzy's sleeves at the time, I of course got asked to submit some rough designs. As I didn't want to lose my gig with the Osbourne's, I thought the best thing to do would be to put some ridiculous and obvious designs down on paper, submit them, and then get the beers in with the rejection fee, but oh no, life ain't that easy.

“In all I think there were four rough ideas that were given to the management and band to peruse (unfortunately I no longer have the roughs as I would love to see just how bad the other three were as sadly my booze and drug addled brain no longer remembers that far back). Anyway, one of the ideas was of course the baby and the first image of a baby that I found was from the front cover of a 1968 magazine called "Mind Alive" that my parents had bought me as a child, in order to further my education. So, in reality, I say blame my parents for the whole sorry mess. I then took some black and white photocopies of the image (the picture is credited to 'Rizzoli Press') that I overexposed, stuck the horns, nails, fangs into the equation, used the most outrageous colour combination that acid could buy, bastardised a bit of the Olde English typeface and sat back, shook my head and chuckled.

“The story goes that at the meeting Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler were present, but no Ian Gillan or Bill Ward. Tony loved it, and Geezer, so I'm reliably informed, looked at it and in his best Brummie accent said, "It's shit. but it's fucking great!" Don not only loved it but had already decided that a Born Again baby costume was to be made for a suitable midget who was going to wear it and be part of the now infamous "Born Again Tour". So suddenly I find myself having to do the bloody thing. I was also offered a ridiculous amount of money (about twice as much as I was being paid for an Ozzy sleeve design) if I could deliver finished artwork for front, back and inner sleeve by a certain date. As the dreaded day drew nearer and nearer, I kept putting off doing it again and again, until finally the day before I sprang into action with the help of a neighbour, (Steve 'Fingers' Barrett), a bottle of Jack Daniels and the filthiest speed that money could buy on the streets of South East London, and we bashed the whole thing out in a night, including hand lettering all the lyrics, delivered it the next day where upon I received my financial reward. But that wasn't the end of it, oh no.... when Gillan finally got to see a finished sleeve, he hated it with a vengeance, and hence the now famous quote "I looked at the cover and puked!" Gillan might have hated it, but Max Cavelera (Sepultura, Soulfly) and Glen Benton (Deicide) have both gone on record saying that it is their favourite album sleeve.

“Another story that was spread was about the sleeve, and this most likely is just evil, malicious gossip, but as soon as the first set of printers proofs were delivered to the Jet offices, one was put on a bike and sent to Sharon to piss her off as she was in hospital having her and Ozzys first born Aimee, and ever since the baby on the cover has been known as Aimee ... fact or lie? You decide. And there you have it.”

And that is the story of the Black Sabbath 'Born Again' sleeve as told by Steve 'Krusher' Joule. And, on a final note, Steve says he never saw the Depeche Mode cover till two years after Born Again was released.

Friday, September 4, 2009

When the Springfield Civic Center Rocked, Part 1

Just what exactly killed arena rock in Springfield? LocalBuzz.com recently gave a pretty thorough review of the region's concert promotion business and why the Springfield Civic Center (now the MassMutual Center) got left in the dust after its rock heyday in the 1970s and early 1980s. There were a number of factors, but they all boiled down to the same reason that the Civic Center, ironically, was such a great place to see our favorite bands: the building is so damn small.

Regardless of the venue’s size, back then it seemed as if there was a good show every month at the Civic Center, when downtown Springfield turned into a teenage wasteland on concert nights, keeping the police busy and the older citizens outraged. “You should have these people when I was driving home,” said my father when he came home from his law office on Main Street. “Bunch of drugged out and drunk kids.”

Oh yes, Dad, I know. Drugged out and drunk. And in a couple of years I’ll be joining ’em.

Actually, he had just cause for concern about my safety, because at the time his firm represented the insurance company of promoter Cross Country Concerts, which had settled a couple of lawsuits filed by concertgoers. These plaintiffs consisted of unfortunate fellows were determined to get into the concert free and got beaten to a pulp by security goons (actually bike gang members hired by bands) at Ted Nugent and Johnny Winter shows in 1978. My father had taken their depositions and read the medical reports of their injuries and they were horrific. One guy hadn’t even tried to force his way into the place. He knew one of the Civic Center’s ushers, and his employee friend let him in, but the bikers spotted him and stomped him.

But Dad eventually acquiesced and let me go to concerts. “Just don’t try to sneak into the show,” he warned. “These security guards wear T-shirts that say, ‘We Show No Mercy,’ and they don’t.”

Sure, those nights in Springfield were fraught with drug use, drunkenness, donnybrooks, and debauchery, but it was all part of growing up wasn’t it? The concerts also put Springfield on the rock map for a while. Think about it: when was the last time a big-name act has come to the MassMutual Center? Just take a look below all those ticket stubs from shows I went to in just two short years! Hell, I probably even lost a couple of stubs during that period—victims of the washing machine. And look at those prices! (Click on the stubs to enlarge.) Incredibly, the prices stayed at $9.50 through 1981, going up just a dollar during that period.

And what freedom fans had at the Civic Center, never getting patted down at the door (unlike at the Hartford Civic Center). Thanks to a lawsuit against the city by two concertgoers who claimed they were illegally searched in 1978, we were able to sneak in whatever beverage we wanted in just about any quantity. In fact, I was able to sneak a six of Bud 16-ounce cans and some hard stuff in various pockets of a winter coat once. In 1980, however, security did begin confiscating Frisbees at the door, denying us the colorful sight of several dozen discs flying throughout the arena before the lights dimmed. The no-Frisbee rule took effect after a fan plummeted to his death after lunging for a catch at a Foreigner show two years before, but concerts were still basically an unsupervised free-for-all in the building, a situation that which had its ups and downs.

The up-side was the fact that you could weasel your way through the crowd all the way up to the front row. They had to pack as many people as they could into the little arena, so many shows had a “general admission” policy with no floor seats. The downside was that this arrangement led to some king-hell brawls down there, like the one that broke out at a ZZ Top show in 1981.

That ZZ Top show was a kick-ass concert, in more ways than one. There we were, yours truly and three other guys from Maebeth Street in Sixteen Acres, including my brother, having words with a bunch of hicks who cut in front of a bunch of people in line, including our group. One of us (all right, it was me) said, “Excuse you, asshole,” and these fuckers started talking trash. “Oh, are you from Stinkfield?” one of the six morons said. “We don’t like people from Stinkfield.”

There was talk back and forth about getting together for a fight outside after the show, but then things calmed down. After all, none of us wanted to pay $9.50 for a ticket just to get thrown out before we entered the building!

Who were these fucking country bumpkins that were always the next day’s arrest log in the newspaper after every concert? They came from towns like Warren, Ware, Russell, Athol, Brookfield, and God knows where else. What kind of moonshine were they drinking that led them to get busted after spending all that money for the show? For Christ’s sake, they might as well have gotten rowdy at a square dance or a hootenanny or something in their own towns instead of coming all the way to Stinkfield. (Yes, the Bondi’s Island sewage treatment plant was rather odoriferous. Memo to hillbillies: if you don’t like the smell downtown, stay home!)

We had missed the opening act while waiting in line, so during intermission we were making our way to the front of the stage, when who do you think we see to our left in the crowd? The pig-fuckers from Podunk, of course. And they started staring us. There was bound to be trouble, and there were six of them and only four of us Maebeth Womblies (Yes, that’s what we called ourselves. Don’t ask me why.)

But then we saw another bunch of guys we “kind of” knew from the neighborhood on our right. There were seven of them—they all went to Cathedral High School. I use the term “kind of” because we knew many of the crew they hung around, but the ones we were more familiar with weren’t there. Still, some of them recognized us, and gave us a friendly nod, which was a good thing, because this group from Cathedral was fucking insane. They made up the rougher portion of the “heads” at my high school—they guys who smoked dope heavily, but unlike the more mellow ones of their crowd (the heads that we really knew), these hooligans never left a party without causing complete mayhem. They even struck fear into the hearts of the jocks at Cathedral, targeting the “cliquers” at nearly every graduation party the previous May.

We were fortunate, and it’s not because the Cathedral heads would have helped us out much in a fight with the hillbillies. They might have been inclined to—just to get a few kicks in for fun. But the real reason I knew we were off the hook was because as the heads were gradually advancing to the stage, they were also unintentionally moving closer the hicks to our left, who were getting even more rambunctious, jostling with each other and annoying people. So we kind of backed off and let the two groups converge, like two systems clashing in a perfect storm. Oh my God, I thought, none of these hillbillies know what they’re in for: an ass-beating.

Unfortunately, we ended up right behind the heads, and the packed crowd behind us began to push forward, as concert patrons always do in front of the stage. The heads began to notice he hicks' antics, looking at them with disdain, but the certifiably insane Cathedral head Ron Donnelly started getting mad at us, instead of the hillbillies, because we were getting shoved right into him—repeatedly.

The throng of fans on the floor surged forward again, and Donnelly turned around, frowning. He was a big dude, and he was plainly sick of the Maebeth Womblies invading his space. It was obvious, except to Donnelly, that it wasn’t our fault—we were being pushed into him. But he was clearly fed up with us, and when the wave of humanity propelled us into the Cathedral heads again, he started losing it.

“You motherfuckers quit your fucking pushing,” Donnelly said to me. He was holding a wrinkled rolling paper in one hand and a small bag of pot in the other.

“It ain’t us!” I replied. “We’re getting pushed from behind!”

“Well, you tell those motherfuckers behind you cut the shit,” he said as he lowered his face close to mine, nose-to-nose. I knew he had some scars on his face, but at this vantage point I could see deep divots and long canals that I hadn't noticed before. “I'm trying to roll a joint, and I’m dropping my weed. If you push into me again I’m gonna kick your fucking ass!”

Shit, I thought, I’ve got to get some space between Donnelly and me. For Christ’s sake, this is a guy who rammed some poor slob’s head through a car window at a party a few months ago. I tried to back up, but I couldn’t get much leverage because we were packed in like sardines. So I pushed backward with all my might, and I was momentarily successful, gaining a few feet of room. But, as veteran concertgoers know, however, such an action is always met with an equal and opposite reaction—and then some. When the retaliatory domino effect rippled through the crowed and reached me, I was launched right into Donnelly’s sweat-soaked back.

The freak spun around, grimaced, put the rolling paper and baggie in his pocket, assumed a fighting stance, and bellowed, “That’s it!! That’s it!! You’re fucking dead!!”

Great. There I was thinking one minute earlier that I was going to have to fight some hillbillies, and then I managed to piss off a guy who I knew for a fact got in a fight every weekend. Donnelly did nothing but eat, sleep, smoke weed, drink, and fight. I had seen him whale on a few guys at parties, and now I was target of his rage. Moreover, there was no way to exit this scene. Beam me up, Scotty!

Will I have to face the wrath of Donnelly and his friends? Stay tuned for Part 2!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Great Wiffleball Fire of 1975

Yes, just like the fire that torched the Fenway Park bleachers in 1934 (pictured), the Great Wiffleball Fire of 1975 almost burned down a "stadium."

July 18, 1975


SPRINGFIELD—A series of mysterious fires erupted during a Wiffleball game at Herman Stadium yesterday, repeatedly delaying the contest. In the fifth inning, a large conflagration flared behind home plate, threatening the Riccardis’ garage and almost resulting in the postponement of the game. However, fire crews responded in time to save the structure, and the game was resumed.

The above was the headline and the lead paragraph in the main story of the Maebeth Enquirer on July 18, 1975 (or thereabouts). I guess you could say that my neighborhood “newspaper”—named after our street—paved my way into journalism. Every day that summer, along with the following summer, I produced a one-sheet issue detailing our Wiffleball games, vandalism exploits, and fights. To write the headlines in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS I used one of those plastic rulers that had the outline of the alphabet running through it.

Needless to say, the Great Wiffleball Fire of 1975 had to be covered in great detail in the Maebeth Enquirer. (More on that later.)

I was pretty adept at keeping up with my daily Maebeth Enquirer deadlines that summer. I had to be: if I took too long with an issue, the delay would cut into our Wiffleball time. And that simply wasn’t tolerated.

“Come on!” yelled my friends as I wrote feverishly. “Finish it up!”

Yep, only five occurrences, other than my Maebeth Enquirer issues, could possibly hold up our all-day Wiffleball marathons:

• A “time out” or two was sometimes called during a game while my brother and I argued and sometimes fought.

• If the ball was so busted up and couldn’t be repaired with our cigarette lighter “plastic surgery,” someone had to get on his bike and buy another ball or two at Parker Drug.

• When the Ding Dong Cart came down the street, we inevitably had a break to pig out on popsicles, ice cream, and other junk food.

• If we were sweating bullets on a hot day we would take a break to splash and dash in the neighborhood pools.

• Lastly, every day our Wiffleball play was interrupted when Frank Herman’s parents called him in to dinner and told all of us to scram while the family ate.

“Frank! Dinner!” yelled his mom around 6 o’clock every day. These were two words we were in no mood to hear.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” said Craig Stewart to Frank Herman. “Why can’t your old man let us play while you’re eating?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Just come back later. We’ll finish the game after I’m finished eating.”

“Fuck that shit,” said Craig. “You just tell your fucking parents that this is our stadium, and we’re just letting your family live here.”

“Uh, yeah, OK Craig,” said Frank laconically as he turned to go inside. “I’ll be out later.”

Frank was by far the worst Wiffleball player on Maebeth Street, but we let him play because we had to use his backyard. We had played Wiffleball in other yards, but all of our parents were sick of our yelling, fighting, and other antics—not to mention the permanent base paths, pitchers’ mounds, and batters’ boxes worn into our lawns. The Hermans, for some reason, didn’t care about their yard being trashed, so we played there for much of the summer.

The problem was, of course, the matter of the Hermans’ dinner, which was an annoying daily ritual. How dare they? We were furious when we had to suspend a game, so every day we voiced our frustration by saying that it was “our stadium, and we’re just letting your family live here.”

We didn’t have to say this. He knew we were pissed. But we said it. We knew it was cruel. But hell, that’s what 11-year-olds and 12-year-olds do.

God, did I love Wiffleball back then. And I still do. So when I discovered that you could buy a Wiffleball hat online (pictured on the Wiffleball company site below), what do you think I did?

I bought one, of course! Here it is on a Teddy bear in my office.

Here is the back. Yep, I wear that motherfucker with pride. Jealous? Buy one for yourself!

The only other situation that could possibly put a temporary stop to our Wiffleball games back then (no, it wasn’t rain—hell, we played through that) was the occasional outbreak of flames on the field.

I guess the major contributing factor to the Great Wiffleball Fire of 1975 was the fact that we all carried matches and lighters, not because we smoked (we didn’t), but because each of us had a personal arsenal of fireworks.

Another factor was the Frank Herman’s old man raking up dead grass and leaving it in a bunch of mounds all over our field for several days without picking it up.

Well, I thought it was perfectly hilarious to secretly flick a lit match on a grass pile while I was on second base or on deck. There we were, in the middle of a game, with Craig just about to pitch, when all of a sudden a smoldering grass mound would burst into flames, requiring a time out while someone stomped the fire into submission.

“Bob, will you cut it out?” asked Frank. “My parents are gonna be bullshit if they see that.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.

“Seriously, cut the shit, Bob,” barked Rick Riccardi. “I don’t wanna step on that when I’m catching a pop fly or something.”

“I didn’t do it,” I said. “It must’ve been spontaneous combustion. It’s a hot day. The heat builds up. They shouldn’t leave these piles on our field.”

I could see that my friends, who thought the fires were funny at first, were beginning to get annoyed. And they were right—this could be dangerous. So I cut the shit. As for that match I had flicked on the large cardboard box behind the batter’s box, it didn’t seem to be smoldering, so I forgot about it. I should have known better than to fire a match on a box that was sandwiched in the three-foot space between the Hermans’ chain link fence and the Riccardis’ garage. After all, it was right next to some dried up tomato plants that had withered in the summer heat.

Still, nothing happened. The match didn’t ignite the box—for an inning or two. And then, POOF! Holy shit. The flames shot up eight feet and spread to the dead tomato plant stalks, sending a plume of black smoke in the air. We found out later that old man Herman had filled the box with dead grass, but had left it in his yard, and Craig Stewart had simply tossed it over the fence before a game to get it out of the way.

Oh. My. God. The garage was going to go up in flames, I thought, as I came running in from center field. And the garage has a car in it! We all stood there like idiots—the fire was too big to stomp out and getting bigger. I tried to kick dirt from the batter’s box onto the fire, but at that point even a few bucketfuls of dirt would have been useless.

Fortunately, Steve Hostetter was smart enough to run over to the Hermans’ hose, turn it on full blast, and spray the flames into oblivion.

“Bob, you fucking idiot!” yelled Rick. “You almost burned down my garage. Look at the scorch marks!”

Indeed there were scorch marks on the side. How would we explain those? Neither the Hermans or the Riccardis—or any other neighbors for that matter—saw the smoke or heard the few moments of confusion in the yard. It was a good thing that the Riccardis never really saw that side of their garage. Rick’s father had stopped tending to the tomatoes a month prior to the Great Fire.

“Shit. Sorry,” I said. “I guess we can say that we shot a Roman candle at it by accident, or something. I don’t know.”

“A Roman candle,” scoffed Rick in disgust. “Jesus Christ. Fucking idiot.”

I was going to write WIFFLEBALL GAME GOES UP IN SMOKE as a headline in the Maebeth Enquirer, but the truth was that the game went on. After narrowly averting a catastrophe, we simply picked up where we left off. Obviously, my book of matches went into retirement during Wiffleball games that summer, to be used only for fireworks.

I was kind of curious if anyone had pulled a dumb stunt similar to mine during a Wiffleball game, so I Googled "Wiffleball" and "fire" and came up this gem on YouTube: a couple of guys soaking a Wiffleball and bat with a flammable liquid, lighting them ablaze, and then hitting the flaming ball onto a backyard deck, almost burning it down (pictured above). I guess they have me beat.