Wednesday, November 25, 2009
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 warped beyond belief. 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 100. His dad’s heavy drinking 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 question, 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 to him.
“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. 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 in 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.”
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.