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

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Spitting to All Fields, Part 5

Remember the last remaining vestige of Acre Drug that I photographed for Spitting to All Fields, Part 1 (above)? It was on the north side of Ginger Blossom a year ago. But there I was, about to enter the restaurant in Sixteen Acres Center on April 1. When I looked at the old A & P Supermarket wall, there was the old faithful NO LOITERING sign.

But when I looked around the corner, all I found was…just…WALL!

Where was the iconic Acres Drug mortar and pestle? Gone! Nothing but bricks! I want to know where that old pharmacy symbol is. Somebody knows. Clue me in! Hello, is there anybody out there?

I was hoping to get a quick Chinese food meal and then answer this want ad:

Decades after Acre Drug closed, the mortar and pestle clung to the wall, looking as good as new, and now it’s gone without a trace.

MAY 2012 UPDATE: Whoops, looks like there’s a new symbol on the wall. I guess we’re gonna find out where you Acres folks really stand.

Just kidding. A belated April Fool's joke. The mortar and pestle are still there. Not funny? Well, excuuuuse meeeee!

I'm not going to create an elaborate joke about the bunny doors at Glickman School. Or am I? No, the critters are still at the old kindergarten entrance. During the March heat wave we had a little reunion of the boys from Maebeth Street, and seven of us showed up. The “party” was put together a bit hastily—catalyst was the arrival of a wayward soul now living in California who came into the area on business. But we had a decent showing.

Us old geezers began to fade one by one as our Geritol ran out. After all, we had to work the next day. However, four hardcore Maebeth partiers managed to hang on and rave into the night. They decided to fill up mason jars with an amber-colored liquid and visit the kindergarten entrance of their misbegotten youths. One of them took the above photo. I blotted out the faces of the others to assure their anonymity. Who are those masked men? They don’t look right to me. Get ’em up against the wall.

One of the legendary stories rehashed during that epic meeting was the “big old raft” tale. In 1974, months after a house on our street burned down, a giant pile of charred wood was left in the backyard (the same yard where the guy infamously shot him himself with a bullet by banging it with a rock in 1972, as detailed in Spitting to All Fields, Part 4).

We had made rafts of various shapes and sizes and ceremoniously paddled them around the pond called Putnam’s Puddle, but none as large as this one. We never had access to such a large quantity of building materials until then, and much of the wood wasn’t burned—it was perfectly fine, and we weren’t about to let it go to waste. We went to work on the mother of all rafts, and when it was done, we were so proud. It looked something like this:

Unfortunately, the monstrosity was too heavy to move. Five of us could barely nudge it than two feet at a time. After taking an hour to get it into the street, we thought we had solved our dilemma by hoisting it onto four skateboards and rolling it down Maebeth. But then we had to get it down the steep hill to the pond, so we “rolled” it again—this time end-over-end! By this time our vessel went from ship shape to shit shape. As the saying goes, you don’t cast off thinking about sinking, but it went down soon after we launched it, leaving us cursing and wallowing in waist-deep polluted water. Oh, the humanity.

Whoops, the “Oh, the humanity” phrase was from another disaster, wasn’t it?

After we sank, we slogged out of the muck and water and proceeded to check our legs for leeches, but there were none. The critters were too busy laughing their suck holes off to parasitize us.

This classic story can take anywhere from half a minute to half an hour to tell, depending on how many beers have been imbibed by the storyteller. Fortunately, it was still early in the evening, Ray Vadnais was still relatively sober, and the retelling was mercifully finite.

During our reunion we debated whether or not we should grab flashlights and search for the raft wreckage in the now-drained pond, but discretion turned out to be the better part of idiocy that night, and we stayed put. Who knows what would have happened to us if we had stumbled around down there. Then again, the four amigos who survived until the wee hours DID end up risking arrest by drinking at the Bunny Doors at Glickman.

We also talked about some of the childhood stunts we used to pull—some of them modeled after our hero, Evel Knievel. One day we found an old washtub in the woods and propped a large piece of sheet metal on it for an impromptu ramp and engaged in some bicycle jumping fun—without helmets, needless to say. Too bad each time we rode over the sheet metal it sounded like a bull on a hot tin roof. (I couldn’t think of a sound that could accurate describe the metallic clashing racket, so I mixed metaphors as awkwardly as Archie Bunker did back in the day.) Anyway, the neighbors could only take so much of the cacophony, and ordered us to move along.

The real reason I posted the Evel Knievel ad above was not to point out that we did these antics without bicycle helmets—it’s no secret that nobody wore helmets back in the ’70s. I just wanted to segue into another short story about my repeated requests to my father to see Evel’s “death defying motorcycle jump” at the Stafford Speedway in 1973. “Tickets for children under 12 are just three dollars, Dad! Come on!” I knew there was no way in hell he would agree to this, and I was right. But it was actually just a ploy to get him to give in on my other quest: to buy either a BB gun or a mini-bike for me. My end-game was simple: he would deny my request to see Evel Knievel and feel a little guilty about continuing to shoot down my annoying appeals for a BB gun or a mini-bike, and finally cave.

No. It didn’t work. He didn’t cave.

I think that’s why I liked the movie A Christmas Story so much when it came out ten years later—a boy and his quest for a BB gun. Can you get more American than that? My parents even used the old “you’ll put an eye” out warning for the BB gun. Below is a photo of A Christmas Story star Peter Billingsley back then and how he looks today.

My dad knew I used other kids’ BB guns and mini–bikes, but he wouldn’t budge on the issue. Then, in 1974, when Steve and Al Hostetter’s older brother Larry offered to sell me a mini-bike for five dollars, how could I refuse? This home-made vehicle was a real piece of work. Did I write “work”? I meant to type “shit.” Larry somehow rigged a small lawnmower engine to an old mini-bike frame, and the “seat” consisted of a piece of wood clamped to the back. The purchase was made, and I proudly showed my father what a shrewd bargain it was. I hardly looked like The Fonz when I had to laboriously yank the lawnmower pull cord seven or eight times to start the thing, but once I got it going, what a sweet ride, eh? It doesn’t go too fast, so it’s perfectly safe, right Dad? I’m just going to tie an old cushion to the wooden seat, and it will be downright comfortable and secure, because it’s so slow. And I’ll be so cool as I cruise at 2 MPH with the wind in hair, just like The Fonz, right Dad? Heyyyyy!

Or better yet, the George Hamilton version of Evel Knievel, a persona were were more familiar with than Evel himself. It’s not like I’m going to try to jump the Snake River Canyon or anything, Dad. You can see it my way, can’t you, Dad?

Wrong. He wouldn’t let me buy it. I had to beg Larry to get a refund, which wasn’t provided in cash, but in five dollars worth fireworks instead. I think what kills me most is the fact that in A Christmas Story Ralphie finally got his BB gun, and I got the shaft.

I was, however, able to defy my father and bought a good old “wrist rocket” hunting slingshot, along wrist rockets for three of my friends. This elaborate plot involved stationing myself outside my house when the delivery was expected, then telling the UPS guy that no one was home and volunteering to sign for the packages, even though I was too young to do so. Yes! It worked! And these weapons were more powerful than BB guns, sending such projectiles as marbles and pebbles 200 MPH with incredible accuracy.

Okay: comment time! Who had a wrist rocket as a kid? Remember the bruise the brace left on your wrist/forearm when you used it too much? Ouch! Leave a comment at the end of this blog entry, wrist rocket veteran. These things were awesome. Plastic tubing on your slingshot wearing out? No problem. Just steal some from your school’s science lab and Crazy Glue it on.

My friends and I recently had a discussion about the old underground garbage pails that dotted backyards in The Acres until the early 1970s. Families separated their food garbage from the rest of the trash and then dumped them in the cylinder. My wife had never heard of such a sanitation phenomenon, but then I recently came across one in while mountain biking in the woods at the McDonald Nature Preserve in Wilbraham (pictured above and below), so I had proof.

I know for sure this one wasn’t my family’s old lid, because the foot pedal opener (pictured on the right) on ours had broken off around 1971, leaving yours truly with the task of reaching down and clawing the lid up, which, of course, left my face up close and personal with the horrendous smell that instantly shot up like lava from a volcano. When I was younger, I used to open it and stare in disgusted fascination at the maggots that proliferated in the evil hole.

The garbage men who came on the special truck had the unenviable task of trespassing all over the neighborhood’s backyards, risking hernias, slipped disks, and dog attacks as they pulled the pails from the ground. How about the “garbage water” that used to leak from the trucks onto the streets? The pavement would reek for days.

For the longest time we would find our garbage strewn around the hole in the morning and I had to chase away neighborhood cats that were dining on the delicacies we had thrown away. Then I had the job of re-bagging what was left and dropping it back in the cylinder. How, in the name of God, we wondered, were these creatures able to get so far down the hole and haul the garbage onto the grass? It was a mystery that we thought would even stump Lieutenant Colombo until one night I heard a noise out there and ran out with my flashlight to see two raccoons munching away on the remains of some Shake ’n Bake chicken and Libbyland TV dinners. The cats were just getting the raccoons' leftovers. The problem was solved by putting a humongous rock on the lid, which I had to deal with every day.

Most of these relics are long gone, but I did find one on Bellamy Road now used as some kind of “planter.” I slyly sauntered over to the side yard and took a couple of photos of the sucker.

I didn’t think any of these pails were still in the ground until Craig Stewart emailed me a photo of one in his father’s backyard. Pictured below is a mostly hidden monument to a bygone era, before the fencing-in of America and the increasing number vicious dogs made the backyard garbage pail a thing of the past.

You’re probably wondering why I was making all the references to Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Well, I’m joining a couple of Acres folks to see Roger Waters perform this double-album masterpiece in Hartford in June. So I’ve got The Wall on my mind. I can’t get enough of it. In fact, I accompanied three of my Acres friends to see the same show in Hartford in 2010. After the concert, Rob Gostofsky bought a pizza, but in attempting to take the rest of the pie home, he accidentally dumped it on the ground:

His reaction went something like this:

The picture of the fallen pizza was taken by Stan Janek the following day, when he was heading to the XL Center to see a Celtics exhibition game. The slices were still there! Apparently, Hartford’s pigeons are well-fed enough to leave this free meal alone.

It was a great show. Here is a clip I found on YouTube:

We were pretty far back, but Stan Janek took a decent photo of the floating pig:

Rob snapped this shot:

We had seen Roger Waters back in 1984 (with Eric Clapton on guitar) in the same arena:

Yes, I keep all my concert ticket stubs—at least the ones that survive either a hard night of partying or a wash/dry cycle in the laundry or both. Rob Gostofsky had gone to that same ’84 show, and we made tentative plans that day to meet him at the Hartford Civic Center, but it didn’t work out. Alas, no cell phones back then.

Ten years later, my brother and I were supposed to meet Rob at a Pink Floyd concert at Foxboro Stadium, and we agreed to get together with him before the show at the giant floating pig that was tethered to a line in the parking lot. But none of us accounted for thousands of stoner fans doing the same thing. “Meet me at the pig, man.” We couldn’t find each other in the crowd and gave up.

In 2010 we finally got together for an evening of Pink Floyd music with Roger Waters. You know, it’s funny, in the old days one would look up and see a constellation of lighters in a dark arena during a poignant moment of rock solidarity among fans. Those twinkling stars have since been replaced by glowing smart phones recording the concert for posterity. Don’t get me wrong—I like the fact that I can find clips of concerts I attended (or missed) on YouTube, but must these people bootleg the whole damn show? They’re not even watching the actual concert! These idiots are perfectly content with staring at the whole show through a tiny phone screen!

So there we are, among thousands of people standing up during the opening song In the Flesh, when a guy behind Rob’s brother Otis starts giving him shit for standing and blocking his taping of the concert. Otis very calmly explained to him that, no, he didn’t plan to stand the whole night and ruin his video “production,” but as with many shows there are a handful of occasions when the majority of the audience tends to stand for a few seconds, so he should be prepared to deal with it. But the douchebag, outweighed by 40 pounds and about eight inches shorter than Otis, continued to flap his yap. Would Otis be forced to use some “Springfield diplomacy”? (Translation: a punch in the mouth.) No. The guy finally shut up. Did his permanent silence begin when he complained again and Otis turned around for a second time glared at him? Let me answer that question with another one: do pigs fly at Roger Waters shows?

So, for the upcoming Waters concert in June, there will probably be some guy(s) behind us meticulously videoing the while thing. Hell, that's fine. And, granted, we will sit, comfortably numb, for most of the show.

We’re not assholes. The question is: will we stand, during select moments, knowing that we might be in the way of some cell phone camera lenses?

Oh, you better believe we’ll be standing.

Anyone in the audience have a problem with that? Get them up against the wall.

Just had to throw the photo of this banner in. A viewer with the handle “koshercop” had read my blatherings about the long lost Forest Park Zoo animals, including Morganetta the elephant, and emailed this classic. Morganetta’s tusks were never THAT long—female Asian elephant tusks are tiny, but the designer of this banner decided to go the P. T. Barnum route and exaggerate the proportions.

The Back of Spencer Gifts, Part 2

Since this Hell’s Acres began in 2008 this blog has enjoyed a staggering 65,000-plus page views, with the “The Trail of Swears Leads to Eastfield Mall” entry leading the way with more than 2,800 page views. But before I celebrate my cult status prematurely, let’s get a good look at what’s driving these numbers: sex!

Yes, through the miracle of Blogger.com’s stats feature, I can check out not only which entries are the most popular, but also WHY people are clicking on them, because a “traffic sources” feature lists search keywords. The most popular term is “Burger Chef,” with more than 1,500 searches (I address this restaurant in multiple posts, especially this one), but second and third, respectively are “Adrienne Barbeau” and “Cheryl Tiegs poster.” Indeed, I can check these search terms hourly, daily and weekly—and I obsessively do so—and every day there is someone searching for the lovely Adrienne or Cheryl or Susan Anton or Suzanne Somers or Kathy Lee Crosby or Linda Carter. Hence the popularity of the Eastfield Mall blog entry: all these women are mentioned and pictured when I wrote about Spencer Gifts’ old poster section in the back of the store. Busy fingers across the world are tapping away at computer keyboards and on smart phones looking for these chicks and arriving at Hell's Acres— and busy fingers busy doing something else once they find these babes.

So here, in the interest of boosting my numbers, here are a couple of additional 1970s Spencer Gifts poster hotties:

I always thought that Cheryl Ladd was the best of the Angels.

Let’s not forget Bo Derek and her…um…braids. This is the only image I could find of this classic poster, which is partially obscured by the shine of the photographer’s camera flash. (He’s selling the poster for $29!) At least, I THINK the flash is the source of the glaze.

It’s too bad that people don’t google obscenities, or this blog would be REALLY widely read. Or maybe they do. In THAT case: fuck, shit, asshole, bitch, cunt.

You know from my past drive-in movies post that I just can’t resist publishing schlocky drive-in movie ads. Above is a beauty from 1973. According to Wikipedia, in Dracula vs. Frankenstein, a mad scientist descended from the original Dr. Frankenstein “takes to murdering young women for experimentation in hopes of reviving his ancestor's creation, with help from his mute assistant (played by Lon Chaney Jr.). Things start to heat up when Dracula (played by Zandor Vorkov) arrives and promises to revive Frankenstein's monster in return for a serum which will grant him immortality.” This was Lon Chaney Jr.’s final horror film role. It doesn’t say who wins.

On the subject of drive-ins, I noticed in Greg Mattesen’s 1986 photo of the Sundown Drive-in in Westfield (it had been closed for three years) that there seems to a phantom crouched in front of the telephone pole to the left of the sign. Can you see his head, hair, ear, nose, and his hands tucked under his knees? Greg is sure a guy wasn't squatting there when he took the picture. “That’s freaky,” he wrote after I pointed it out. “I never noticed it before, but it does look like a person.”

You be the judge. Should we call in the Western Massachusetts Association for Paranormal Studies? Was this poor soul abandoned without his ride after the final movie at the Sundown? Maybe he loved the place so much he started waiting for it to reopen in 1983 and was still there three years later! Aren’t WE ALL waiting for these places to come back? Don’t count on it.

Rock-a-Dundee Road Redux

While I’m writing about ghosts, let me tell you that tales of the supernatural definitely produce page views on Hell’s Acres. I’ll have you know that running a close second to The Trail of Swears Leads to Eastfield Mall is the one-and-only Suburban Legend: The Haunting of Rock-a-Dundee Road, with more than 2,400 page views. Because when it comes to cult followings in the Pioneer Valley, nothing compares to dedication of the Rock-a-Dundee Road crowd. When they’re not visiting the damn (I mean damned) place, they’re googling it or exchanging stories in online forums. The above and below photos were taken from several YouTube videos of people driving over to Hampden and trying to scare the crap out of themselves.

Driving on Rock-a-Dundee road in the wee hours is like playing the old video game Night Driver at Dream Machine, isn't it?

But did you know that all these Blair Witch Project wanna-be’s on YouTube will have to take a back seat to—brace yourself—a feature film? Yes, an independent studio, Nagrom Films, is working on a movie about Rock-a-Dundee Road, described as a “seat-gripping thriller that follows four young people on an adventurous journey that goes terribly wrong.” The film will be produced by Taliba Morgan (pictured below), the daughter of reggae pioneer Denroy Morgan. She is the CEO and president of Nagrom Films.

I sent a message to Nagrom films asking if this was truly based on the legend of the Hampden location, because there are a plethora of locations in New England with variations of the spelling, including “Rocky Dundee” and “Rock-O’Dundee,” and frankly, there is a Rocky Dundee Road in Burlington, MA that would be a more apt location for a haunting, because it was once the site of a busy farming settlement of Scotch immigrants, but area has been long abandoned and consumed by woods. Or how about Rocky Dundee Road in Bolton, MA (below), where there are mysterious rock piles?

Nagrom confirmed that the movie is based on the Hampden location. Can you imagine the amount of “visitors” that will descend on Rock-a-Dundee Road if this movie project comes to fruition? I can see it now: a movie about four teens investigating the sight of rumored slaughter, and they get pursued down the road and through the wilderness—and slaughtered.

Many of these online accounts of midnight cruises on Rock-a-Dundee Road involve trucks that tailgate these unfortunate thrill-seekers. Nothing supernatural about that, folks. These drivers are just trying to get to where they’re going, and you’re in their way. Maybe they’re consciously adding to the local lore by making you shit your pants. I don’t know.

One of the false rumors spread over the years is that the Crystal Lake in the Friday the 13th movies is the same body of water that you’ll pass by if you keep going south on Rock-a-Dundee Road into Somers, CT, where it becomes Rocky Dundee Road, and then follow Old Springfield Road and Stafford Road into West Stafford. Sorry people, but none of the Friday 13th movies were filmed there, despite the horrors at “Camp Crystal Lake” in the films. This just shows you how rumors get going: some scenes in the 1975 movie The Reincarnation of Peter Proud were shot at Crystal Lake, and somehow the facts became skewed.

Someone released a compilation video (below) of Springfield scenes in The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, including the view of Baystate West from the South End Bridge, where Peter gets a deja-vu feeling and slams on his brakes. (In real life he would have been rear-ended!)

You can watch most of the entire movie in different parts on YouTube, and let me tell you, it's not as good as I remember it. Truth be told, it's as corny as hell! In the Springfield scenery video you can see some now-missing landmarks of the city’s yesteryear: the Hotel Charles, Steiger's, the Bank of New England clock, the outside of Friendly’s at Baystate West, and the old Hobnob bar on Chestnut Street. The construction wasteland that downtown Springfield was back then actually worked perfectly into the plot, as Peter struggles to remember a city that has changed so much from his previous life. But the maker of this YouTube video left out quite a few Springfield scenes, including a good shot of the skyline from the elevated 291 ramp, and Peter walking into the Springfield Newspapers building (below).

In 2009 it was announced that that Andrew Kevin Walker and David Fincher (the writer and director, respectively, of the 1995 movie Seven) would begin working on a reincarnation of The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, and that Paramount Pictures and Columbia Pictures would finance the project, but I haven’t heard anything since, and mum was the word on whether or not it would be shot in Springfield.

Check out the latest party on campus: birds gone wild on May 7, 2012.

OK: go into the way-back machine with me (because that's what we do in Hell's Acres) and watch the Cupola being hoisted onto the Administration Building (now Deliso Hall—the same one in the geese photo) on April 28, 1960.

When you're driving down Wilbraham Road, you tend to stare at people walking on the sidewalk. (Now there's even a sidewalk on the South Side of the road.) Nothing strange about that. You look; you take them in (into your brain, that is). You see whether or not you know (or knew) them. You take note if they're a little “off” (see Larry the Jogger and The Caveman). Whether you're cruising down Sumner Ave. or driving down Carew Street and checking out the Irish lasses on Hungry Hill (Is there any good diggin' on Hungry Hill anymore?), your eyes tend to wander. So, have you ever seen the guy on the unicycle on Wilbraham Road?

Here's his story:

Bring back Reddy Kilowatt!

Bring back the Magnolia Terrace lions!

Anyone recall the Grand Theatre in Indian Orchard? Hop in a DeLorean DMC-12 and go back in time!

How about the Palace in West Springfield?

Honk if you remember the Allen Cooley Cinemas!

How about a ten-second, middle finger-waving, handful-of-coins throwing, road rage honk if you remember the Holyoke Mall Cinemas!

Below is a 1982 Holyoke Mall directory: ah yes, I’m getting hungry now: Liberty Bakery, the Pewter Pot, York Steak House. I can smell Athenian Gyros in Café Square now. Wait, Athenian Gyros is still there? Hmm. Next time I’m heading north on 91…

Below are a couple of photos of the Holyoke Mall food court from 1982. In the top one you can make out Florsheim Shoes, G. Fox & Co., and Shoes to Boot.

One last Spitting to All Fields expectoration: in your youth, how many of you spat on people below from the top Holyoke Mall balcony over the food court? My friend Charlie Kasabian was once escorted out by security for a food court sabotage—not because of a loogie free-fall, but for dropping a penny in some poor slob’s soup!