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

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Holidays from Hell's Acres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Garbage Gang, Part 2

How It Ended. How It Started.

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

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

June 1981

It was time to take out the trash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, but…”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

July 1981

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

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

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

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

The Garbage Gang, motherfucker, that’s who.

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

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

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

And that was our last upended trash barrel. Ever.

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


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

June 1975

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t say anything.

“I SAW you, ya little shit!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“Who did?”

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


September 1981

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

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

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

Me: “You guessed right.”

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

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

Memo to barrels:

“No, HULK insist! Hulk SMASH!”

Where are they now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hulk smash?”