Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hadley Grass

I came across this asparagus stand on Route Nine last week, the first I've seen this year.

Did you know that our Valley was once one of the foremost producers of asparagus in the nation? Here's the history, according to this website:

The asparagus harvest is a rite of spring in Hadley and a handful of other towns, including Hatfield, Sunderland, and Whately, along the Connecticut River in western Massachusetts. From the 1930s through the 1970s, this area, blessed with a deep layer of sandy loam—the sediment of a glacial lake that once covered the valley—was one of America's premier asparagus-growing regions. In this fertile soil, the vegetable—and especially the standard Mary Washington variety—thrived as it did nowhere else, sending down strong roots and often producing for 30 years or more. And the combination of the rich soil and cool New England climate yielded spears of incomparable sweetness.

Hadley "grass"—as the crop is still called in these parts (it's short for "sparrow grass," a corruption of asparagus popular in the 17th and 18th centuries)—was once a mainstay of the local economy and an important source of community spirit. (Hadley got top billing because most Massachusetts asparagus was grown here, and it was reputed to be the finest.) During the annual harvest in May and June, townsfolk young and old would join forces to help pick, sort, trim, and bunch a total of about 50 tons (that's a couple of million spears) of the vegetable by hand each day. The asparagus was then trucked to Boston and by the following morning was in markets and restaurants throughout the Northeast, sporting colorful labels proclaiming its origin. It was also said to be a prized export, served at restaurants in Paris and Germany and at Queen Elizabeth II's annual spring feast in England.

But where once several hundred small, family-owned farms in the valley grew asparagus, there are now only a handful, and the road signs that read Welcome to Hadley—Asparagus Capital of the World are long gone. In the mid-1970s, a soil-borne fungus known as Fusarium attacked and destroyed the seemingly inexhaustible Mary Washingtons. Production plummeted, and field after field was plowed under. Some determined growers, including Wally Hibbard of Hibbard Farm in North Hadley, kept the crop in production and eventually replanted newer, disease-resistant hybrids, but this investment proved too expensive and time-consuming for most. Many farmers focused on potatoes, corn, tobacco, or onions instead; others stopped farming altogether. Nowadays, total production is barely a tenth of what it used to be, and what little asparagus is still grown is sold almost exclusively in the area, at farm stands and small markets

The stand on Route Nine had the asparagus standing in pans of water to keep it totally fresh.

Personally, I don't think asparagus tastes like much, but it is very healthy for you. It is especially known for enhancing the virility of men. So boys, before that big romantic night, chow down on some asparagus.

Finally, here is a TV show that might go over good in Northampton.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

How to Win

Well, the City of Springfield - Massachusetts that is - has decided to enter the contest put on by the Simpsons TV show to pick one of the Springfield's in the United States as officially the one referred to in the show. There are a bunch of Springfield's to compete for the publicity bonanza the winner will receive, virtually one in every state:

Springfield, Alabama
Springfield, Arkansas
Springfield, California
Springfield, Colorado
Springfield, Florida
Springfield, Georgia
Springfield, Idaho
Springfield, Iowa
Springfield, Illinois
Springfield, Indiana
Springfield, Kentucky
Springfield, Louisiana
Springfield, Massachusetts
Springfield, Maryland
Springfield, Maine
Springfield, Michigan
Springfield, Minnesota
Springfield, Missouri
Springfield, Mississippi
Springfield, North Carolina
Springfield, Nebraska
Springfield, New Hampshire
Springfield, New Jersey
Springfield, New York
Springfield, Ohio
Springfield, Oregon
Springfield, Pennsylvania
Springfield, South Carolina
Springfield, South Dakota
Springfield, Tennessee
Springfield, Texas
Springfield, Virginia
Springfield, Virgin Islands
Springfield, Vermont
Springfield, Wisconsin
Springfield, West Virginia

The creator of The Simpsons , Matt Groening, has always been vague about what Springfield he had in mind. He once said that he chose the name because it is so common, but it is not the most common - that would be the ubiquitous "Fairview." I guess more people prefer to have where they live referred to as having a view that's fair than as resembling fields in spring.

However, some fans have pointed out that Groening grew up in Oregon, which has a very prominent Springfield. However others have insisted that it is Springfield, Massachusetts where the Simpsons reside, based on the fact that the show's former executive producer Mike Scully is a West Springfield native. Some local fans even insist that there are references in some Simpsons episodes to local landmarks.

Whatever the case may be, the debate will finally be settled later this year when one Springfield above all others will be chosen as the official Simpsons hometown, which will translate into a goldmine for that community in publicity, tourism and promotional products. The Mayor will even appear in the cartoon, so tell the artists at the show to have plenty of blue and red ink on hand for Charlie Ryan's most favored outfit of blue coat and red tie.

I'm not sure what useful advice I can offer on what to do in order for our Springfield (the first one in the nation, by the way) to win this contest. But I can tell what not to do. For example:

Do not let Judith Matt, the Chamber of Commerce or any Springfield Redevelopment poohbahs into the project whatsoever. Have security remove them from the premises if they try to participate. I've got nothing against these folks personally, but their participation on any level will guarantee that we lose. That is because these people will act as cheerleaders for Springfield, and that is not what the viewers (who will be the judges) will be looking for.

They want a city they can laugh at, one that genuinely resembles the terribly dysfunctional community in which the Simpsons episodes occur. The good news is our Springfield fits that model beautifully. It is very hard to find any city, named Springfield or otherwise, that is more dysfunctional than our Springfield. We got it all - the crime, the controversial police force, the corruption, the mob, the dumb voters, and best of all, we've got stories to tell about these things that we can entertain the nation with.

The video we submit must talk about Gerry Phillip's stanky hanky. It needs to talk about Francis Keough using the homeless as his personal slaves, both at his out of state villa and in his sex life. We need to talk about the Asselins, who even stole the washing machine quarters meant for the old folks activity fund. We need to talk about the crime and the clueless former police chief whose response was to urge parents to read to their children more. We need to talk about the blind, deaf and dumb media and the brain dead public who slept through it all. In other words, to win this contest we need to put our worst foot forward.

But to do that would require something Springfield has yet to show publicly, which is an honest appraisal of its recent past. The entertainer Cher, at the funeral of her former husband Sonny, made an astute observation. She said people used to ask Sonny how he could stand being the butt of all the jokes on their TV show. But she said what people didn't realize was that he wrote all the jokes for their show, so in effect what he was doing was making fun of himself. What supreme confidence he had, Cher observed, that he could write the very jokes by which he would be ridiculed. You've got to have a lot of faith in yourself to do that.

Springfield can win this Simpsons contest. But it has to have the confidence to acknowledge its own legacy of failure and to learn to laugh at it, plus do it in a way that will encourage others to laugh at us as well. If it does that, it should easily win the contest, and of course in the wake of the contest Springfield will then have the chance to promote all its many good qualities.

But I don't think Springfield is self-confident enough to be capable of that, although I'd love to be proven wrong.

I was in Northampton this morning having coffee with one of my favorite people, Maureen Turner of the Valley Advocate. We did not go to the Dunkin Donuts for coffee.

But if we had, I would have pointed out that it used to be the eccentric music store B-side Records.

I like Dunkin Donuts, but I miss the old B-Side. There was music you could find there that you couldn't find anywhere else, including bootlegs.

For coffee Ms. Turner and I went to The Haymarket, where we sat like decadent loafers as we discussed all things Valley. You'll be reading about some of the things we talked about in the coming weeks, and if any local politicians had ringing ears this morning, now you know why.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

She's Gone!

Hey, remember that mannequin (I refuse to call her a dummy) that used to stand by the side of the road on Route Nine, outside a used clothing store?

She was always standing there in every kind of weather, modeling the best pre-owned clothes for the most discerning homeless shoppers.

So elegant, her blank but knowing expression reflecting all the mysteries of the cosmos.


The used clothes store apparently went belly up and it's been replaced by an outfit that sells fancy sheds.

What oh what has become of our priceless polyurethane princess? A friend told me he thinks he spotted her wearing a skimpy swimsuit posing in the showroom of a nearby car dealership. Say it ain't so! The Queen of Route 9 Fashion reduced to a bikini-clad showroom floozy?

Life can be so cruel.

Did you see the weird cloud formations over Northampton this weekend just before that violent thunderstorm? It was like the clouds were turning into black and white checkered blobs. What a perfect setting for a UFO to appear.

If there were UFO's in those strange clouds, unfortunately they didn't beam me up. Sometimes I ache to move beyond my own time.

Also in Northampton this house, which was built in 1796 according to a sign on its fence, celebrated Memorial Day by flying the version of our flag that was in use when the house was built.

I was surprised to see that freaky boutique in Hamp show a traditional patriotic sentiment in its Main Street window.

True, the warriors on our side of this Real War seem few and flimsy, but we have a secret advantage: we don't fight our battle out of Hate. Anger, yes, if we have to, but anger is enough. Hate is the flag the other side battles beneath. Our side's flag is a thin, airlight blue, drifting almost unseen against the sky. Our military march is a meadowlark's song among the dandelions.

-Ken Kesey

Finally, I meant to go to the big pancake breakfast in Springfield this weekend, but didn't wake up on time. Fortunately, Bill Dusty came up with some video I could swipe:

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Cat's Away

Last night I decided I would walk the Norwottock rail trail into Northampton. I didn't feel like truckin' the whole eight mile route, so I took the bus as far as the Hampshire Mall, which shaves off about three miles. When I got off the bus I was surprised to note how few cars were in the mall parking lot. Normally this lot outside the cinema is completely packed on a Saturday night.

However, the students are mostly gone now, and without them the whole economy of this region goes in the tank. In June, July and August Amherst is just a sleepy cow town. People gripe about the aggravation the students cause, but without them only the local farmers would survive unscathed. As the Amherst farm folk like to remind the academics, "We were here first" and if anything ever happens to the University, they alone can endure.

Walking along the rail trail is always so sweet, especially now that the leaves are out and form a green canopy overhead, like passing through a holy cathedral of nature.

Between breaks in the foliage I catch beautiful glimpses of Hadley farms with cows in the field.

When they were building the rail trail, there was a public appeal for people to donate their used glass bottles and other glass objects to use on the trail to mix with the pavement. The goal was to save money and make the trail last longer.

Children were the most enthusiastic contributors, sacrificing the nickle refunds on their soda pops for the trail and inspiring some to suggest it be called The Children's Rail Trail. The Boston & Main Railroad Company, without which there would have been no rail to make a trail out of, was not considered in the naming process because they were unapologetic capitalists and therefore naming it after them might harsh the mellow of certain leftist sensibilities. Instead the name Norwottock was chosen (the Indian name for the Amherst/Northampton area) falsely implying that Indians, rather than railroad barons, were somehow responsible for the trail. Anyway, if you look at the trail with the sun shining on it you can see the bits of glass reflected in the blacktop.

It was so nice walking along that I soon hit the five mile mark, meaning I was only three miles from downtown Northampton.

As I crossed the mighty Connecticut River near the end of the trail, I could barely see this big white truck barrelling across the Calvin Coolidge bridge for all the barriers designed to keep people from using the old railroad trestle as a suicide leap.

Of course it's so beautiful there, that alone might inspire someone to put aside thoughts of suicide! When I arrived in Hamp I went to the infamous Joe's Pizza for supper. Notice the bizarre Mexican image above the sign.

The strange decor of Joe's Pizza is a Northampton legend. Apparently Joe, when he bought the joint decades ago, had just enough money to buy it but not enough to remodel it although previously the place had been a Mexican restaurant. Because Joe served strictly Italian cuisine, it became a local joke to go to this Italian restaurant absurdly decorated with a completely Mexican motif. Today the owners would be committing commercial suicide by removing any of the Mexican decorations, since its totally inappropriate decor has become the restaurant's most famous feature. The food is good too, and very reasonably priced.

Afterwards, walking down Main Street a painting in the window of Baczek Gallery caught my eye.

It was this picture of giant balloons.

Years ago when I used to do WHYN's The Reporter's Roundtable Starring Kateri Walsh Kateri used to invite her friend Mike Wallace on. We knew he would always be an easy guest because all we'd have to say is "What's new in the world of ballooning?" and he would proceed to hold our audience spellbound for the whole hour with his tales of his times aloft all over the world in giant balloons.

Despite the lack of students, Northampton was its typical funky self, with people hanging out all over the streets.

There were musicians and junkies and prostitutes of both sexes, but mostly its just a jivey hook-up scene. I didn't want to play the games needed to swim in that soup, and so I headed over to the Haymarket.

I hung out there for a bit, but no one I knew stopped by, so I went to Pulaski Park and caught the bus back to Amherst. And that was the end of my Saturday night on the rail trail and in downtown Hamp.

This morning I heard music wafting across the Amherst Common and followed it onto the Amherst College campus, where their graduation ceremony was about to begin. I made this video of the band playing.

Finally, I wanted to demonstrate my juggling skills, but forgot that you ought to be sober to do that, resulting in the following pathetic demonstration.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Odd Art

Today I was walking across the Amherst Town Common when I noticed these two weird art-beings someone had created and placed beneath a tree.

They appeared to be made of paste and newspaper, probably by being originally wrapped around actual human models. The book the female art-being is reading is a religious one, but what significance that is supposed to have, if any, I'm not sure.

Of course being made of such flimsy material, the art-beings will either have to be removed before the next time it rains or be destroyed. You see a lot of art like that around here, art which suddenly appears, makes a statement and then quickly vanishes.

Here's me in between my two maternal ancestors, my great grandfather on the left and my great-great grandfather on my right. I'm told that the frames to those portraits, both over a hundred years old, are worth money.

But they will never be sold. We Devines treasure our family history, even though it is filled with horse thieves, drunkards and hopeless eccentrics.

In Westfield last week I saw this sign in front of someones house, commanding that we make a choice.

Um, can't I have both?

Visitors to this Amherst doorway find that the answer is always....

Friday, May 25, 2007

Collin's Tavern

I'm way busy today, so I'm letting the multi-talented Ben Duffy share some of his adventures with you. I'll be back with more of my own madness tomorrow.

Hey Tom,

I stopped into Collin's Tavern today in West Springfield and took some pictures. It's a real neighborhood bar, an old-fashioned Irish drinking hole.

Some of these photographs are a little blurry. There isn't much light inside of this old barroom.

Collin's likes to call itself the "Best Kept Secret in Western Mass". It's such a great secret that they write it on the front of the bar!

Besides the Irish theme, the bar seems to have a sports theme (especially hockey), as well as a military theme (especially the 101st Airborne Division), and firefighter theme.

The place has an impressive array of Irish Republican Army propoganda on the wall:

Not that I endorse the IRA in any way. They may be my distant cousins from the "motherland", but they're still a bunch of terrorists. As it stands now, the majority of those living in Northern Ireland want to remain with the UK, largely because the majority of the people are Protestant. That will probably change in the near future, as the poorer Catholic Republicans are having a lot more children and than the wealthier Protestant Loyalists. This can all be decided democratically--if the people of Northern Ireland ever decide that they would rather break away from Britain, I would hope that Britain would respect those wishes, but that's not the situation today. Instead, we have a bunch of thugs trying to win with guns and bombs what they can't win at the ballot box. The best strategy would be to put down their guns, go home to their wives, and make some babies. In the long run, that will accomplish what years of fighting have not.

Irish Republican terrorism is the same as the terrorism that we have seen coming out of the Middle East as of late. The Irish Republican Army does in fact have ties to Muslims terrorist organizations. They consider themselves to be part of some sort of brotherhood of "national liberation movements". There's a reason why Iranian revolutionaries in Tehran renamed Winston Churchill Avenue into Bobby Sands Street.
In any case, I didn't think that it was wise to express my feelings about the IRA too loudly in that barroom. I don't think I would have made too many friends.

This is a mock wanted poster for the "Iron Lady", Margaret Thatcher. The IRA made an attempt on her life at Brighton, England in 1984. The 1980's was a time of major turmoil in Northern Ireland, and she was not known to take crap from anyone, not even the IRA.

On a lighter note, check out this relic from the past. It's the Springfield Indians! They haven't been seen around these parts since they moved to Worcester in 1994. They later changed their name, because "Indians" was not politically correct anymore.

This September 11th era tribute to firefighters adorns the door to the men's room.

Dozens of these old fire helmets hang from the ceiling. Most of them say SFD ("Springfield Fire Department"?), and many even have names written on them. If only fire helmets could talk, I bet that they would have some amazing stories to tell...

I had to laugh at this picture. I've been to Ireland twice, and I must say that no Irishman would be caught dead drinking Miller Lite. It is most certainly NOT "the choice of the Irish".

There was a lot of military stuff on the walls, but I seemed to notice quite a bit of stuff from the 101st Airborne "Screaming Eagles", with a few items here and there from the 82nd Airborne and Marine Corps. This large seal of the 101st was painted onto the front door. It made me wonder if the owner of the bar is a former Screaming Eagle himself.

When I was in the Army, the soldiers used to talk a lot about famous people who had been in the military. There were stories going around--some true, some only silly rumors--about celebrities who had once worn the uniform. Elvis Presley, Shaggy, and Axl Rose were all rumored to have had military service. In the case of Elvis and Shaggy, it was in fact true. Elvis was drafted at the height of his fame, and Shaggy was a Marine in Desert Storm. In the case of Axl, it turned out to be false--he just went out and got an army tattoo on his arm to make himself look tough.

One of those rumors about celebrities in the military was about Jimi Hendrix. The usual version of the story was that Jimi had been drafted in the late 1950's. Details varied--some said that he had volunteered to be a Ranger, others said that he was in the 101st Airborne Division. Amazingly, the story seems to check out, even if some of the details aren't accurate.

Private Hendrix was in the Army for about thirteen months, beginning in May 1961. He was a supply clerk in the 101st, so he was indeed a "Screaming Eagle", although he was known to be a terrible soldier, not cut out for military life. He was discharged after he was caught masterbating, and he did not challenge it, because he wasn't really that thrilled about being in the Army in the first place. His sticky discharge (pun intended) must have been hard to explain to his parents, or even the guys back home on the block.

But enough about Jimi Hendrix. I also found a picture of this young soldier on the wall at Collin's. It could have been anyone, perhaps just for decoration. If I had to guess, I would say that this picture was taken sometime in the mid-1960's--the Vietnam Era. If this proud Screaming Eagle were alive today, he would be just about the same age as the owner. Is this the owner of the bar? I may never know.

Incidentally, there were bumperstickers on the beer cooler that read "Proud Vietnam Veteran" and "Boycott Jane Fonda, the traiterous bitch".

Well, it's worth stopping in.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Friendly's Today

The first Friendly Ice Cream Shop (above) opened on Boston Road in old Pine Point in the 1930's. The building is still standing, and this is what it looks like now.

It is now called New York Pizza, and I decided to stop in recently to see what this historic building location is like today. I remember when I was small my father used to sometimes bring me to this Friendly's for ice cream on Sunday's after Mass at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart just up the street. In fact my parents used to go to that Friendly's when they were dating. Therefore I felt something of a bond to the building as I passed through these famous doors so many decades later.

I happened to come by around mid-afternoon, a slow time in the restaurant trade, and there were no customers. Just a cook in the back and a cashier in front, who lacking a babysitter that day had brought her young son to work. This is what the inside of the restaurant looks like today.

If memory serves, the only thing that struck me as being unchanged is the brick wall. Other than that the whole place has been hollowed out. Instead of the tables of today they had booths along the brick wall and a counter opposite in a horseshoe shape. There were also stools in front of the window.

I asked the woman at the cash register, who I think would've doubled as a waitress had there been any customers to wait on, if she knew about the building's past. To my surprise, neither the cashier nor the cook had any idea that they were operating their business out of one of the most historic commercial buildings in the Pioneer Valley! I told them that I hope that someday they are as successful as Friendly's, and with that they heartily agreed.

The cashier's son, who had been shyly cowering near his mom the whole time I was there taking photos, suddenly piped up as I started toward the door, "Hey Mistah! Ain't ya gonna take a picture of me?"

Andy and I were awakened last night by a terrible racket outside. The next morning I discovered the cause - someone had set off a whole box of firecrackers in the middle of the street!

However, I can't be too annoyed because I figure it was done by a UMass senior celebrating their graduation. I was a happy college graduate too, many years ago, so I do not begrudge them their festivities, however noisy.

Speaking of graduation, the UMass Democrat Club has declared their position on the visit of Andy Card to the campus this weekend with this banner they hung in the Student Union.

I hope the campus leftists don't ruin the graduation ceremony with some kind of publicity stunt. Let's put politics aside for once and just celebrate everyone's achievements without any incidents that might mar the memory of the happy day.

Finally, here is a video I made while leaving Theodore's in downtown Springfield recently.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Yikes, somebody stop the clock! It's been 13 years since Jay Libardi died. Hard to believe that he never went online. Never owned a cell phone. He would be amazed to see this website, which evolved from a publication he helped found before there were websites. That it now has readers from all over the world would have delighted him. Unfortunately today he is missing all of that. Instead he is the only person in Saint Michael's Cemetery with a Pink Floyd lyric on his grave.

1994 sometimes feels like a long time ago. But sometimes it seems like yesterday, as if Jay isn't really gone, he's just off on a trip somewhere, and his pick-up truck is going to be pulling up right outside any minute now.

More likely we will be joining him on that trip.

Doyle the Twig Painter tells me that the current generation of Pine Point stoners know of Jay's grave. Of course they never knew Jay himself but they recognize the Pink Floyd phrase and think it's cool. They hold little pot parties in the woods near the grave, a location they call "Crazy Diamond" as in "Let's go smoke a joint in the woods by Crazy Diamond."

In other words, Jay's grave has become a party place. That's just what he would have wanted.