The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Fish That Got Away

In an unsigned article in the Valley Advocate last week in their "Splash" section, someone who may or may not have been Maureen Turner wrote about the declining drama of the Springfield corruption investigations, stating:

Perhaps the disappointment comes from the creeping sense that, after years of providing the best show in town, the feds have more or less closed up shop in their public corruption probe. While we've seen a flurry of convictions of late, it's been a long time since we've been treated to a nice, juicy indictment - and there are plenty of creeps still hanging around the city who deserve one.

Oh yes indeed there are! And if in fact the probe has petered out (although never underestimate the FBI) then what better time to take stock of the fish who got away:

Richard Neal - In the 1990's corruption probe by former State Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, both the Washington Post and the Boston Globe reported that the real target of the investigation was Congressman Neal. Even the Springfield Newspapers admitted as much, but only after the probe was safely over. Harshbarger failed to bag his congressman because the person he was most dependant on for testimony - longtime Neal crony and confidant Francis Keough - after at first promising to co-operate as part of a plea bargain developed a bad case of amnesia. Perhaps more importantly, Harshbarger developed a bad case of gubernatorial ambition, and feared that pressing the probe would alienate the Western Mass Democrat machine. Although Harshbarger backed off, it still left hard feelings. When Harshbarger ran for Governor in 1998, at Neal's instruction the local Dems sat on their hands as a act of vengeance.

So when later the FBI came around it seemed like common sense that they would pick up the ball where Harshbarger had dropped it and go after Neal again. That seemed especially likely when another key Neal ally, Raymond "Papa Ray" Asselin went down in a hail of indictments. The Asselins were handling almost exclusively federal funds administered through federal programs, meaning a close working relationship between Neal and Asselin was essential. Did Neal know anything about all the dirty deals that went down?

When shortly after his arrest Asselin was spotted prominently dining with Neal at The Fort restaurant, it was seen by many as an important signal to the local Democrat machine members: We're standing by the Asselins so KEEP YOUR MOUTHS SHUT! Apparently it worked, as no prominent local Democrat ever spoke against them. Although wiretaps insured that nothing could save Papa Ray from a lengthy prison term that may well result in him dying behind bars, amazingly not a drop of mud ever splashed on Richie.

Michael Albano - Oh how his enemies salivated at the thought of watching the TV footage of the former Hizzoner being taken away in handcuffs. But although almost the entire top echelon of his administration was either indicted, disgraced or both, Albano himself somehow escaped scott free. However he cannot escape the judgement of history, which will certainly declare him to be the worst mayor in the history of Springfield.

Saco Catjakis - In his heyday he was a Mr. Fixit known to have his fingers in many pies. His indictment seemed a certainty after federal agents raided his home, but to everyone's surprise no charges were ever filed.

Raipher Pellegrino - Once regarded as the wonderboy of Springfield politics, former City Councilor Raipher fell in with a bad crowd, namely Albano and the Ardolino brothers. By the time the voters threw him out of office, he was known as a cynical deal maker whose name was associated with numerous shady and controversial affairs. People expected that a series of indictments would clear the air, and while the feds made it obvious that they were looking at him very closely, in the end nothing happened.

Ray Jordan - Even while he was in office charges of conflicts of interest dogged this former state rep. It seemed natural that as the feds did their homework that they would take an interest in his past dealings. Not only didn't that materialize, but Jordan, never known for his humility, now brazenly poses as an elder statesman in the Sarno for Mayor campaign.

Robert McCollum - The plunging of the city into debt over the building of palatial school buildings of dubious need came to symbolize the wild fiscal irresponsibility of the Albano years. Overseeing it all was McCollum, who also served as the affirmative action enforcer, deciding who would get the fat plums awarded strictly on the basis of color. As one minority contractor told me who refused to partipate in bidding after dealing with McCollum, "No white supremist would have made me grovel before him like McCollum expected you to do to get those affirmative action set-aside contracts." With so much money involved, and so many enemies, it seemed impossible for McCollum not to get caught in the web; and investigators did indeed give the school construction program a serious look. Yet he never did the perp walk.

And no doubt there were others, with ties to these big fish, who perhaps should have gone down as well. However, it looks like they all swam safely away. Or did they? Francis Keough thought he was home free when the Harshbarger probe fell through, only to find himself heading to prison at a later date. Who knows who may yet face a similar fate?

Here's a video I made at the Hampshire Mall recently.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Montague Trail

Here's a new trail I discovered that you should check out. It's right by the entrance to the UMass Renaissance House on East Pleasant Street. Just look for the sign above. Andy came with me, as we seem to be getting along a lot better now that we've decided to be friends rather than lovers. Frankly, at this point I'd be afraid to sleep with him, since he's been celebrating his new freedom by chasing all the sluts down at the Haymarket.

Unfortunately, a short ways down the trail you encounter this broken bench, and it isn't really clear what direction you should travel to continue. Sadly, the trail has been neglected somewhat. However, if you look closely you can see some clearings between the trees so just slip through to reach a wider path.

This path leads you behind the UMass Renaissance House itself.

Here is a bust of the poet and playwright William Shakespeare, with a plaque saying that it was donated by Bernard Spivak. When I was a UMass student a thousand years ago I had a Shakespeare teacher named Charlotte Spivak. I wonder if they're related.

Past Renaissance House the path takes you into a deep field, where the grass is sometimes as high as your head.

Occasionally you encounter a man made bird house.

This totally overgrown bench is testimony to the fact that not many people follow the path this far.

Just when you think you are completely isolated, looming into view is this large shack with all kinds of plant growing contraptions around it.

Approaching the shack we see there is a sign on it. I have no idea what the sign means.

Isn't a mentally ill person said to have a pathology? I guess this is a UMass facility for studying crazy plants. If so, where's the ganja and magic mushrooms? Alas, we searched in vain. We did however discover there is a garden in back, with this instrument for measuring rainfall levels.

There had been a torrential downpour the night before, and the instrument said more than an inch of rain had fallen. Continuing down the path, we came to this faucet for a cool, refreshing drink of sparkling water.

Andy said they should install outdoor faucets that pour beer. I'm sure the student body would agree. The rest of the trail was anti-climactic, as we came out behind the new dorms the university has built next to Sylvan. Follow the road and you end up by the Furcolo School of Education, with the Grad Research Tower hovering in the background.

I believe there was a former Governor of Massachusetts named Furcolo. Anyway, you should check out the Montague Trail sometime, it is not too long and very scenic.

Here's a video I made after swimming at the UMass Totman Gym.

Friday, July 27, 2007


The most common way for me to walk the rail trail is to take the bus to the Hampshire Mall in Hadley and walk the trail back into Amherst. Last night however when I got off the bus I decided to cruise the mall first and see if I could stir up any action.

Sure enough sitting by himself sipping tea in the food court was this guy I had met before and spoken briefly with at UMass. He wants to be a professional dancer on Broadway and TV and other such shows. I've never seen him dance, but if he has two left feet then he could still be an instant sensation in a strip club, what with his great build and long flowing blond hair. He remembered me and asked me to sit down. I asked him how the dancing career was coming along.

He seemed discouraged. Even though he was just 22, he knew of people younger than him who already had dancing gigs in New York City, even on Broadway. Meanwhile he was working in a coffee shop. He wondered whether he was getting too old, dancers being like professional atheletes who only have a certain window to make it or you're considered over the hill. Wow, what must it be like to have to wonder whether you're past your prime at 22?

I tried to be encouraging. I told him that the worst sin most people commit in their lives is against themselves, when they give up their highest dreams of their best self too easily and too early. If you fail at what you love then you fail, but at least you have the finality of failure and the peace of mind that comes from knowing you gave it your best. What tortures a lot of people their whole lives is that they are never really certain what they could have achieved because they never really tried. They sold out for the conventional and the secure and the respectable, and so they never know what could've been possible. In that sense they suffer far worse than those who genuinely try and fail.

He seemed heartened by these thoughts, but then referred to other clouds of doom gathering on his horizon - he had a girlfriend (damn!) and was engaged to be married. I think it was Oscar Wilde who said that marriage has killed far more artistic careers than any critic. Inevitably comes the day when the spouse says put away those dancing shoes (or pen, or paint brush or whatever) and get a real job, one that will pay for the rent and Johnny's bike and Sally's braces. Of course lip service is paid to resuming the career at a later, more opportune time, until one day you wake up and you realize that too many years have slipped by and it just ain't ever gonna happen and so you spend the rest of your days wondering what might have been.

I told him to quit his job in the coffee shop and head down to New York immediately and pound the streets of Broadway and off Broadway and even off-off Broadway until either a door opened or slammed permanently shut. I didn't tell him to call off the engagement but obviously my advice to flee to New York implied that. I don't know whether he will follow my suggestion, but he did seem genuinely inspired. He shook my hand and we parted. Since I now knew about his girlfriend, I didn't make any kind of pitch. Now I regret it.

Sheesh, I should follow my own advice. Thus did the beautiful blonde dancer waltz right out of my life.

My sister Bev and I took my father out to eat yesterday at The Crest, an often overlooked gem of a restaurant in West Springfield. They have a neat collection of sports collectibles, such as this handbill from the 1969 World Series. Notice how the Orioles are printed in psychedelic script, which was wholly appropriate for 1969. (Click to enlarge.)

Here's a great old advertisement featuring a Red Sox deity.

Oh and don't forget to tune in tomorrow folks, for the final episode of my lost brother saga.

Finally, here is the World Famous Thomas M. Balliet Elementary School.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Let's Not Forget

Is Hillary Clinton really the best the Democrats can do for a frontrunner for their nomination? We would do well to remember how things went down in the administration of which she was virtually the co-President:

President Clinton was able to ride out his impeachment not merely because he has the conscience of a slot machine, but because he and his partisans managed to convince the nation that the matter at issue was not truth but power. Virtually all his arguments were founded upon lies. It was a lie that he did not perjure himself. It was a lie that he did not conceal evidence. It was a lie that he did not conspire to intimidate witnesses. It was a lie that all these things were personal mistakes. It was a lie that the assemblage of raw FBI files on 900 Republicans was not for the purposes of blackmail. It was a lie that these files came to the White House by mistake. It was a lie that Mrs. Clinton did not benefit from guaranteed transactions in commodities trading. It was a lie that this was not a bribe. It was a lie that the president did not receive millions of campaign dollars from China. It was a lie that he did not personally intervene to aid the transfer to China of military technology that China intends for potential use against the United States. It was a lie that these two actions were unconnected. . . . There were so many lies that they were like sand in a sandstorm. They got into everything. You could not see the ground in front of you for all the lies that swirled in the air like brown dust.

Mark Halpern, Contributing Editor of The Wall Street Journal

Monday, July 23, 2007

Bye Bye Wendy's

Something has happened to cause almost all of the Wendy's Restaurants in the Pioneer Valley to close! While the reason is unclear at the moment, all of them are owned by some dude in Ohio who has appeared on the deadbeat tax lists for years. In any case, among them is this Wendy's on King Street in Northampton.

The only clue to the cause of its sudden closing is this sign on the door.

Back in the 1970's me and my buddy Mike Stedman, who had recently moved out of Pine Point to Easthampton, used to hitchhike into Northampton to go to Lizottes Smoke Shop, which at the time had the best rolling paper selection in the Valley. Afterwards we used to go to that very Wendy's, which I suspect may have been the first in the region. Beforehand we always slipped behind the power station which is still located next door in order to, ahem, test the papers we'd purchased at Lizotte's.

Our testing would bring on an attack of the munchies, for which the next door Wendy's was a welcome cure. Now that it has suddenly closed, I feel sorry for the kids who were working there for the summer and whom the newspaper said were having a hard time getting their paychecks. Looks like they got the shaft.

Finally, some of you have been complaining that I haven't been producing any new local videos in a while. To start making amends, here's one I made yesterday by just whipping out my camera while taking a shortcut through downtown Amherst.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Holyoke Ghosts

I was in Holyoke yesterday at Veterans Park. It's sort of run down and weirded out these days, but it used to be the heart of town. Part of the cause of the feeling of desolation are the boarded up buildings that formerly made up the Holyoke Catholic High School Complex. The main building has now been vacant long enough to show some deterioration.

Like Springfield learned with its former Technical High School, either you get these buildings into reuse fairly quickly or they start into a downward spiral that is very difficult to reverse.

The once packed full parking lot is now overrun with weeds.

The Whiting Elementary School across from St. Jerome's Church is a sad model of bleak abandonment.

I'm always intrigued by this alleyway by St. Jerome's, near the statue of the Virgin and child.

It gives me a sense of deja-vu, as if I know it from another lifetime or something.

One life at a time, I always say. Psychiatrists have theorized that the emotion we associate with deja-vu is actually triggered not by past life experiences but by things that recall memories of events that occurred before we were old enough to consciously remember them. The reason most people have very few memories of their first few years of life is because we learn to organize our experiences around using language. Therefore, the experiences we had before we learned to talk are seldom part of our conscious recall, with the exception perhaps of a few special or traumatic events.

However, the memories of our earliest years are not completely lost, and when we revisit a place we were as an infant, or someplace similar to it, the unconscious memory floods the mind with a sensation of deja-vu. We feel we've been there before, but we can't explain when or why we feel that way. Frankly, it is very possible I was at St. Jerome's as an infant, as I had numerous relatives who were very active in the Catholic Church throughout the region.

Anyway, this talk of the ghosts of Holyoke past reminds me of an essay I wrote earlier this year about the pasts of Holyoke and its sister city Springfield. I took the post down months ago, but people from both cities have asked me since to reprint it. I'm glad to oblige.

A week ago I was sitting in Packard’s in Northampton being interviewed by William Peters from Local Buzz magazine on the subject of masculinity in the Pioneer Valley. Being the macho, manly superstud that I am, I was able to explain the whole topic of masculinity to him in a matter of minutes. I then went on to bring peace to the Middle East, cure the common cold and invent a perpetual motion machine. Who knows what I might have accomplished had we stayed for another cup of coffee?

However, I did leave the interview pondering an interesting question that was raised: What is the difference between Springfield and Holyoke? The reporter had raised it in the context of the masculine culture of each city, but it intrigued me in a larger sense because there are distinct differences on a wider level. For want of a better term, each city has a different feel.

In some ways Holyoke is a city of ghosts. Everywhere you look you see things that make you wonder, "What must this have been like in better days?" The abandoned mills, the Victorian structures, the empty spaces, all suggest a different city, now vanished but for these occasional remnants or pregnant absences.

Of course you can say the same about parts of Springfield, but in general Springfield is pretty much intact, all except for the glaring exception of its once beautiful downtown, which has been severely damaged by idiotic and corrupt government economic development programs. In Holyoke the villain was low-income housing projects, dropped like poison pills of concentrated societal dysfunction into every neighborhood.

They are alike in many ways, Springfield and Holyoke. Both are former industrial centers that have lost most of their original industries and found little to replace them. Both have had stretches of revoltingly bad governmental leadership. Both now have better leadership, although in some respects it’s too little too late. Both are undergoing a recovery of sorts, although it's occurring in what seems at times a slow-motion two steps forward, one step back. But for all their similarities, there is one subtle but important distinction between them. For all its troubles, when you walk around in Holyoke there is an upbeat feeling of energy. People are laughing, and walking about and there's a real feeling of vitality. There's a sense of action, of intermingling, of good will. Holyoke may be rundown in its infrastructure, but not in its spirit.

It is hard to say the same about Springfield. Its downtown, in a word, feels depressing. Where are the people? Why is everyone shuffling around with their head down? It's not much better in the neighborhoods, where in many of them there's a sense of isolation and desertion. People aren't friendly and nobody's smiling.

What accounts for Holyoke's optimism and Springfield's gloom? Part of it might be that Holyoke is more comfortable with a large population of poor people. Holyoke has always had a large number of poor, before there was the poor Hispanics there was the poor Irish. Springfield, on the other hand, only became a mostly poor city in recent decades.

Perhaps that explains the difference. In Springfield there is a strong sense of having fallen from grace, the knowledge that it was once something better than what it is now. In Holyoke, which always housed a lot of the region's poor, there is greater comfort with the culture of poverty. Less hiding in the house, there's more of a sense of acceptance, and therefore empathy with, the fact that the poor are there, and do what they do, so don't worry about it. Or at least it's not considered an excuse to be down and negative on yourself. Holyoke is comfortable with its funky self, while Springfield feels like a has-been.

Springfield's past was indeed glorious, but its over. It has many problems, and it will take a long time to fix them. But nothing justifies the bad attitude you feel on the streets. It doesn't cost anything to smile. Your neighborhood may be a rundown ghetto, but it's YOUR ghetto, so why not try to get off on it a little? Since you didn't wake up dead, why not try to get something out of your day? Poverty can sometimes be forced upon you, but poverty of spirit is always a choice that you can refuse.

The people of Holyoke seem to get that, while the people of Springfield are looking in a rearview mirror weeping with nostalgia. Let the past be over and, as those Zen dudes say, Be Here Now. The present is all any of us have got to work with, so lets try to be positive about what can be accomplished.

C'mon Springfield, let's see a little of that Holyoke spirit!

I regret that I didn't have the chance to attend the fundraiser the other night for GOP Springfield City Council candidate John Lysak. Fortunately the ever intrepid Bill Dusty was there and made this video. Considering Dusty's work with the Karen Powell campaign and now Lysak, he should consider reinventing himself as a political media consultant.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Monday, July 16, 2007

Under Glass

Saturday night I was on the Rail Trail, trying to walk my blues away. It was the first time in a while that I had been on the trail, lazy Andy having been a bad influence on me, and it was nice to be communing with nature again on one of our Valley's most beautiful walkways.

When I got near where the trail passes behind the Hampshire Mall, specifically near where the movie complex is, I spotted a couple of young dudes a little ways off in the woods. The sound of their laughter is what drew my attention, that and the giant cloud of smoke that was billowing around their heads. They were dressed all in black and leather, with skulls and other death symbols on their clothes. The duo looked more like bikers than hippies, but there was no mistaking the smell as that cloud of smoke billowed my way.

It was hashish.

I called out to them. "Excuse me gentlemen!"

They looked about in confusion and seeing no one else around, realized I must be talking to them.

"Yeah, whatta ya want?"

"Excuse me," I repeated. "But is that hashish I smell you smoking?"

They laughed and one of them waved their arm in a welcoming gesture.

"C'mon, you can have some. We'll share the wealth!"

I generally dislike socialist sentiments, but was happy to make an exception in this case as I left the trail to join them in the woods. They passed me the pipe and I took a hit. The taste of the hash was heavenly.

Despite their menacing looks they turned out to be really nice guys. They told me they were on their way to the movies. I asked them what film they were going to see, expecting to hear the title of a recently released blood soaked slasher film, but was surprised to hear them say that they were going to see the new Harry Potter movie. I told them I had read mixed reviews about it.

"Oh we don't care about the acting or the plot." one of them explained. "We're just going for the special effects." As the first wave of the powerful hashish began flowing through my brain, I realized that under the influence of this intoxicant any movie would be fascinating.

I wanted to buy some. "Where did you get this hashish?" I asked. "At UMass." was the reply, with his friend adding, "At UMass you can get anything." As it turned out they had made a casual purchase from a pusher who had approached them on campus, and didn't know where to get more.

So I told them a few stories about how we used to do hashish when I was at UMass many years ago. Today most hashish is made in domestic labs, usually in people's houses, but in my day it was almost all imported from overseas. I recalled how you could buy bricks of hashish with Persian writing stamped on them. I told them that in the dorm rooms we used to smoke it under glass.

"Under glass?" one asked, "What do you mean?"

I explained how we used to take the cover of a matchbook and put a large sewing pin through it so as to make a stand with the pin sticking straight up. We would place this on a desk or table. At the point of the pin we would stick a rock of hash. Then we would light it, quickly covering the stand, pin and burning rock with a common clear drinking glass. The hash would burn until the oxygen ran out, while the glass would capture all the smoke. Then you could slide the glass to the edge of the table, put your mouth over the opening created when the glass went past the edge, and suck out all the smoke. In that way all the hash would be converted to smoke, with zero percent waste. I'm not the son of one of the Valley's most famous conservationists for nothing!

Sometimes we would use a large jar instead of a glass and put three or four hash rocks on the pin. We called this a "hashish-kabob."

My new friends were very pleased to be informed of this technique, which they had never known about. Then suddenly we heard a loud rustling in the bushes! Someone was approaching! Oh no! Had the mall cops picked up the smell? We frantically tried to conceal the hot pipe.

The bushes parted and two kids, a boy and a girl, came into view. Perhaps brother and sister, they looked to be about twelve years old. The girl had on what might have once been a ballerina costume but which had been altered to resemble a spangled flowing robe. The boy had on a pointed wizard hat. I assume they were going to see Harry Potter. The boy gave us a knowing wink as he passed us.

Cripes, I thought, don't tell me that today even the middle school set can recognise the smell of dope!

That interruption was my indication to split. I was outrageously stoned, and didn't want anymore of the pipe, although my companions were relighting it. I thanked them for their generosity, expressing only the regret that I couldn't purchase any from them. "I'll wish I had more later when I start to come down."

"Well," one of them said philosophically, "it is better to be coming down than to have never been high at all."

Who could argue with that? I continued down the trail, or I should say I floated down the trail, my mood enormously enhanced. The high lasted for hours, even as I sat dreamily in the Haymarket Cafe, resolving that should I ever get hold of more hashish, I really should check out the new Harry Potter movie.

The University is holding its orientation sessions for new students all summer, and I notice that the UMass Republican Club is already beginning its recruitment campaign, as evidenced by this flyer stuck to this mailbox in downtown Amherst. (Click to enlarge)

I love the classic New England architecture of this Amherst Church.

It also has a wise message in front.

Finally, here's something from the golden age of MTV.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


And a Little Hot Tuna.

This morning I came upon these shutterbugs hovering around a leggy brunette as part of the annual Camera Club Convention at UMass.

More interesting to me were these antique cars. I love this cherry red one parked out by the campus pond.

This black one had a see-through engine.

Except for the engine, the car closely resembles the one on the cover of Hot Tuna's Burgers.

Speaking of Jorma and Jack, here's a taste of Hot Tuna as served last month at Bonneroo. Sorry for the heartbreakingly premature ending.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Remembering Rahars

One of the great things about Packards in Northampton is that it serves as a kind of museum of Northampton business history. I was overwhelmed by a wave of nostalgia there recently to spot the old sign for the legendary 70's bar Rahars.

If you look behind it in the photograph, you can also see part of the sign for Beardsleys, a famous 70's restaurant but one I never ate at because it was too pricey for me on a college student's budget.

Rahars however, I have very fond memories of, which is surprising considering the state of mind I was often in while in attendance there. It was the premiere place in its time for local bands and the coolest place to be in Hamp on a Saturday night. It sort of played the role that The Elevens plays today, but on a larger, hipper scale. Here a band called The Foreign Objects performs at Rahars in 1979.

Carl Mayfield, of Martian Highway fame, used to rent an apartment over the bar. I used to visit him and it was absurd to even think of sleeping while the bar was open and a band was playing, as you could hardly talk with the music booming through the floor. God what parties went on there!

I miss that place, as well as some of the other classic Northampton businesses of yore which now survive only as Packards memorabilia. If you haven't been to Packards before, definitely do stop in as the local history lesson alone will make it worth your while.

A neat new place I discovered recently is the Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst.

Great wholesome locally grown food that is filled with health is available there at low prices. The farm gets its name from an old Shaker hymn whose lyrics would serve well as the official poem of the Pioneer Valley:

Tis a gift to be simple,
’Tis a gift to be free,
’Tis a gift to come down
Where you ought to be.
And when you find yourself
In a place just right
’Twill be in the valley
Of love and delight.

Finally, people sometimes complain that I'm too critical of Springfield, but at least I've never nuked the place like Bill Dusty:

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Why We Lost

Darn it, we lost! The nationwide contest to determine which of the many Springfield's in America should be the one officially designated as most like the fictional one in The Simpsons cartoon show went to, of all places, dinky little Springfield, Vermont. What? Vermont has more cows than people! At least Springfield, Illinois is a state capitol! I'm tellin' ya, we wuz robbed!

Actually our video was sort of lame, but then so was everyone else's. I mean all the Vermont video had going for it was a giant donut rolling around town. Has the level of humor in America sunk so low that seeing someone take a flying leap at a rolling donut is the height of sophisticated humor?

Truth is, I told the makers of our video how to win, and gave em' the advice for free, but they just wouldn't listen! But in fairness, all the Springfield's made the same basic mistake: They focused on how the rest of the nation would view them, and frankly the fans of the Simpson's couldn't care less about any Springfield on the planet. They want to laugh, and what do Simpson's fans laugh at? Outrageous stuff that's crass and ridiculous and dripping with irony. How could our Springfield lose a contest like that?

Oh the lost opportunities! Good grief, all that we had to do is show highlights from the Ardolino trial and we would have won hands down! Instead we had Ted Kennedy saying "chowdah" like somehow that was wicked pissah. They should have had Mike Albano waving a jar of spaghetti sauce while the music from the Godfather played! We should have shown Jerry Phillips chasing a Puerto Rican welfare mother around a hotel room with a wiffle bat! We should have shown Papa Ray running out of a laundry room with a suitcase full of quarters! We should have shown archival footage of Chris Asselin throwing a temper tantrum after he was thrown out of office! The City Council could've dressed as clowns and.... wait a minute, no costumes necessary.

Oh well, while defeat leaves Springfield nothing to celebrate, it also leaves nothing to apologize for. In my opinion, all of the videos were so bad that it was really a coin toss who won. And there were a few positives in the way the community got excited about the contest and the publicity that was generated, with our Springfield getting at least passing mention in several major media outlets.

So a pat on the back is still in order for everyone who participated, from the producers to the citizens who voted online to even the critics who sneered from the sidelines. The contest made Springfield sort of come together for a little while, and that is always a total plus.

One of the coolest places in Northampton has always been Bob's Hobby Shop on King Street, with its chilltown underground entrance way featuring a monster and witch.

It was so cool it long ago outgrew it's subterranean lair, but now it has relocated to a much larger space just down the street, in the vacant spot next to the 7-11.

That's a great spot, and right across the street from the Science Store! We science nerds are usually comic book collectors and gamers too, so now we can do all our nerdy shopping in one convenient area! Hurray! King Street is turning into a nerd paradise!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What's in a Word?

About three weeks ago I got the following email from Greg Saulmon, the multi-talented editor of Local Buzz magazine.

From : Greg Saulmon
Sent : Tuesday, June 19, 2007 6:04 PM
To :
Subject Excerpt for Local Buzz

Hi Tommy --

Greg Saulmon from Local Buzz here. First off, I wanted to say thanks for your kind words about me and about Local Buzz in your post "Labels." From reading your blog over the years, I get the impression we have a lot in common in terms of how we perceive this area -- so it's nice to hear a compliment from someone whose opinions I value so much.

Also, I wanted to ask if we could run an excerpt from that post in our next issue. I try to publish reader reactions whenever possible, and your post made some excellent points that really cut to the heart of what I'd hoped to do with "Right Angles." I've pasted the section I'd like to run below -- please let me know if you're OK with that, or if there's anything you'd like to modify.

Cheers, and I hope to catch up with you at some point.


Greg Saulmon
Executive Editor
MassPublishing Co., LLC

88 Front Street
Suite #1R
Holyoke, MA 01040
(413) 536-3497

If you do not wish to receive commercial e-mail messages from MassPublishing or its publications (Local Buzz, El Pueblo Latino, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun - The Magazine, Life After 50, or Pioneer Parent), please send us a message with your e-mail address to:

Proposed excerpt:

The article on local conservatives in its current issue is a good one, featuring the elegant Smith Republicans and righty firebrands like Larry Kelly and Mike Franco. I would have liked to have seen more about the UMass Republican Club, which from my perspective is the most vibrant of the local conservative groups, but overall it is a great piece about an oftenoverlooked aspect of our Valley. As for what it says about me, in total I receive all of a one sentence mention in the article:

And there's Springfield native Tommy Devine, more of a working man's intellectual, who runs an often-libertarian blog that pokes fun at war protesters, Springfield politics, and all the colorful expressions of the left you can find in the Valley -- and gets around 20,000 hits a month.

Actually, I'm little surprised to receive any mention at all. The truth is I'm not always included in discussions of Valley conservatives, my blog being considered by some to be too stoney and too gay to be regarded as right-wing, in spite of the fact that I am probably the Valley's foremost defender of the Iraq War and freemarket economics. But when it comes to the social issues I flunk the conservative test in a lot of ways. I have only this Springfield streetkid's warning to those conservatives who use my sexuality and my innerspace explorations to disqualify me from their ranks:

My gang will get you.

But why are we so obsessed with putting labels on people and putting them into categories? I think it's because we're intellectually lazy, and we believe that if we have little boxes to put people in, with a set of characteristics for each box, then we don't have to actually go through the difficult, and sometimes scary process of actually getting to know people as individuals. If we think we know the characteristics of those we put in the Jew Box, or the Gay Box, or the Black Box, or the Conservative Box or even the White Box, then all we have to know about anyone is what box they belong in and we think we know their major characteristics.

Except when we don't. For example it annoys me when people think, just because I'm queer, that I'm good at interior decorating or fashion. You want me to give you a makeover? Okay, just let me go get my fucking sledgehammer! Because I'm not swishy or feminine I don't fit comfortably into most people's Gay Box. In fact, I'm a mess of contradictions. I live in the richest community in the Valley (Amherst officially surpassed Longmeadow last year) but if someone thinks I'm rich the fact is I'm always on the verge of going broke. I'm constantly bickering with my partner, yet instead of splitting up we have red-hot sex. I'm a classic Valley slacker, but my ambition is to save the world.

Let's do away with these boxes and labels that confound and confuse us more then simplify or explain. Open your mind and your heart and expand your realm of possibilities. It's not that hard, just remember this the next time you're tempted to slip into your categorizing ways:

Labels are for cans.

Of course I was happy to let them print the whole thing, with no changes.

When I showed Saulmon's email to my boyfriend Andy and told him that I told Greg to print it as is, he questioned something I hadn't considered. "I wonder if they'll print the word "fucking" as in "Okay, just let me go get my fucking sledgehammer!"

Good question. This is after all not the Valley Advocate , which will throw in an obscenity or two if the occasion calls for it. This is an official Springfield Newspapers publication. Indeed, one might wonder whether the word "fucking" has ever appeared in any publication they have ever published in their entire history. Would my little rant be the first? One could almost imagine the ghost of Sy Newhouse or Charles Bellamy, reaching out from the grave to prevent the offending word from rolling off the press.

I don't swear much, in writing or in my speech. However, writing is a craft, and as a craftsman I have a duty to use any word, any word at all, if that word conveys most accurately the sentiment I am trying to express. Sometimes a swear word is the word that works best. That punchline doesn't have as much punch if you remove the word fucking.

We make certain words taboo so that we will have them in our arsenal when special circumstances call for them. You take them out when you have something you want to say with extra force. The words chosen as taboo are pretty arbitrary from culture to culture. I used to work with some Iranians and they were puzzled by why we chose sexual references as forbidden. They said their first reaction to someone telling them "fuck you" was, "Thank you very much, I will if my wife is willing!" They couldn't see what the basis was for being offended.

Sadly, we now overuse our swear words to the point where they have lost much of their power. If swearing is done everywhere in all situations, then what do you say when you hit your thumb with a hammer? Anyway, did the Springfield Newspapers wimp out and censor my article?

Well, you didn't think I was going to make it that easy for you did you? The Local Buzz can be picked up at these locations.

What's that? Oh you say you live in Timbuktu and can't come to the Pioneer Valley to get a copy? Well, okay, then yes, as a matter of fact they did print "fucking" and I think better of them for it.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Woman of the Year Leaves Town

In January when I chose my Man and Woman of 2006 I made two easy choices: Springfield Mayor Charles V. Ryan and Springfield blogger Heather Brandon. While the choice of Ryan was obvious, I explained my choice of Brandon as follows:

Lovers of Springfield have been repeatedly delighted over the past year by the musings of Heather Brandon in her blog Urban Compass. Her writing ranges from the wonkish to the deeply personal, but all of it is united by a common theme: a passionate desire to spark a new renaissance in our Valley's largest city. When Springfield makes a comeback, it will be because of people like Heather.

Of course that assumed that Heather had a future in Springfield, but apparently not. As of the first of this month, Heather and her family relocated to the Connecticut capitol of Hartford. I won't get into what I heard were some of the reasons for her departure, the personal details don't matter. What is unfortunate is that whatever the circumstances someone like Heather should have been able to make it in Springfield, and if she and her family couldn't do it, that is a very depressing statement not just about Springfield's present, but about its future. Middle-class young people with families are exactly the sort of residents Springfield needs to attract and keep. Few could be expected to make the degree of commitment that Heather did, taking time out of her busy day almost every day to write about the city and the things going on both good and bad. No one could have tried harder, and if Heather's family couldn't make it in Springfield, who can?

Happily Heather has committed to trying to keep writing about Springfield from her new location out of state. The best hope is that her blog becomes an enlightening compare and contrast exercise between Springfield and her new environment. With Heather's talent, she will continue to shine wherever she lives. But it is still hard to spin her exit in a positive light. What can be said about Springfield when even its Woman of the Year has to leave town?

A glimpse into what is behind at least some of the For Sale signs in Springfield was offered at the recent Control Board speak-out through this tale of woe told by Springfield property owner Ann Schielke:

(Transcript by St. Sheila McElwaine) - Good afternoon. It’s an opportunity I wish to address to the Eastern half of our state, because when you’re elected, you represent all the people. I’ve called members of the city council. I have called numerous police departments, etc. I have been violated in the worst possible way. A piece of property I own in Springfield was entered three different times. They took all the plumbing, all the electrical wires, attachments to the boilers, the hot water heaters. They ripped down ceilings to get to steam piping. They took every bit of furniture that my son, who came from the Midwest to be with his father because he had a horrible stroke, and we thought it was too dangerous for him to stay there, but he left his belongings there, and nothing is left of any value. They then attempted to go into the little annex. They got into the barn the following week-end. They are now attempting to get into the annex. They put a hole through the walls, and the only thing that’s stopped them was the radiator—temporarily.

I spoke to the police department and they have been most cooperative, at least Deputy Chief Fitchet and one of the lieutenants and some of the patrolmen who helped me secure the property as best as we could. I have spent dollars now, and it’s going to be thousands of dollars. [Shouting] Where is the police protection in this city? Where is the monies to pay them? We talk about schools—we need safety on the street!

There’s a property across the way where young people congregate smoking and just eyeing anybody who comes to my property. I hired a gutter man to hang some gutters, and two boys from across the street came over and they said, “What are you white guys doing in our neighborhood?” They didn’t do the work; they got in their truck, and they said, “Lady, we don’t want the job.”

What are we going to do in Springfield? They knock down fences. I had as many as three locks on every door and four doors to get into the property and they demolished everything. Did anybody see it? No. The property across the street is supposed to be closed up at 9:00. I go by each day—10:00 they’re still open, 10:30, 11:30. After 11:30, they finally close. [Shouting] Their permit is for 9:00 in the evening. Where are the rules and laws of our city? And why isn’t the Eastern Massachusetts government protecting the people here who voluntarily stay behind when there was a giant exodus to leave Springfield? I was patriotic with my family; I stayed behind, and now I’m being “whooped.” I’m going to leave the rest up to you, because you are intelligent gentlemen and I’m sure you can find a solution, perhaps a fund to fund people like me who, in their retirement years, are faced with thousands of dollars worth of repairs. Not only that, people don’t want to rent in the neighborhood anymore because its gone down so far. It’s a pity. Thank you.

The Control Board members just sat there in stone faced silence. I mean what could they say? Of course all is not gloom in Springfield. When I was in Pine Point last week I was happy to see that a new store has opened in the location of the old Jeanette's.

Hopefully this new venture will be blessed with the same five decades of success as its predecessor. On the other hand, I still notice signs like this every time I go to Springfield.

The new Control Board members need to understand that fast, decisive action is needed if this exodus is to be reversed.

Saturday, July 7, 2007


Floating Around

Hey everybody, hope you had a Happy 4th! Too bad it rained on Thursday night, ruining most area fireworks displays. Despite a downpour to float Noah's Arc, they were not cancelled in most communities, making for a soggy pastime. Fortunately I watched the fireworks in Southwick the night before from a great location - a boat floating on Congamond Lake! I noticed that on the shoreline someone had made, bought or otherwise acquired a giant dinosaur, a stegosaurus I believe, and planted it on their property.

It was really nice earlier in the day, floating around the lake and enjoying the peace of the wide open outdoors. There are just so many wonderful things to do in our fantastic Valley that no summer is ever long enough.

I was in Westfield this week and noticed this strange covering for a set of stairs going up the side of a building. Never saw anything quite like it before, it looks like a wooden worm climbing up the wall.

Over in Hadley, I noticed that the farms, which it seems like yesterday were just freshly plowed, are now in full mid-summer growth.

O New England Summer! Why art thou so fleeting?

Bill Dusty took a shocking photograph of something he discovered when he was at Springfield City Hall for a meeting: There is a Yankees banner hanging in the City Council office!

Do we need anything else to justify an incumbent bloodbath in November? I think not.

On a whole other subject, here's some food for thought about some upcoming legislation: