Saturday, May 31, 2008

Intriguing Emails

From the vault.

Do I get mail? Oh boy do I get mail! Today when someone has a response they wish to make to something I write they usually just put it in the comments section which is accessible by the little (too little?) comments sign at the end of each post. I ask whether it is too little because recently a longtime reader informed me they had just recently discovered that you could instantly reply to everything I write.

Oh well, once upon a time this website didn't have that newfangled comments technology and people used to just send me emails. I would then put them in a special section where people could read them, sort of like the Letters section of a print newspaper. The truth is, despite being our Valley's pioneering first blogger, I didn't switch to better technology until long after it became available. I guess it was just my Irish sentimentality that made me hesitate to dump the original Geocities make-your-own website technology that was considered state of the art back in 1998 but a pitiful dinosaur by the time I finally dumped it for the modern Blogger template I use now.

Anyway, I was looking through some of those old emails, and saw that some of them are well worth drawing attention to today. I promise to go searching through them to cull the best for you, but for today let me give you a little tease of what lies within the vaults!

Springfield has had an endless stream of economic development plans, in fact there is yet another one currently underway. In every case they have ended up as doorstoppers and plant holders around City Hall. Activist Bob Powell wrote to me back in 2001 to restate the obvious once again - but which Springfield seems incapable of learning:

From: Bob Powell
About: Master Plan
Date: Fri, 06 Jul 2001 01:16:51 -0400


Your piece on the new "Master Plan" for Springfield is right on the money. I know it wasn't Albano who started this Master Plan crap but he sure is the type to pile on with it. This type of micro managing of the market place is always doomed to failure. Just because some politician has a "Vision" to "Build" something doesn't mean "they will come". If there was really a NEED for an "Inter-modal Transportation Center", or a Market for a new Convention Center or an expanded "Basketball Hall of Fame" investors from the private sector would have stepped up by themselves to build these things and then reap the profits to be made.

Alas, there will be no profits to be made off these new endeavors. These projects are doomed to failure and will become expensive burdens on the taxpayers of the city. The only reason they are being built is because we have a Mayor willing to expropriate Millions of public tax dollars for the benefit of a few well connected people. The Mayor always trumpets his idea of using Public Expenditures to spur Private Development. This is an artificial method of development. Things are built NOT because there was a market or a need for them but simply because the Mayor had a vision and some developers wanted a taxpayer subsidy. I'm sure there will be some money to be made in the construction of these things but as far as the city as a whole goes they will be another drain on the resources of the city.

As you said, Public and Private should be separate. Let the marketplace decide what is needed or wanted in the city. If the market demands it someone will build it. If it takes 25 million dollars in grant money from the taxpayers to build it, then there was never any market for it in the first place.

Stopping all this public sponsored development would also have the positive effect of curtailing much of the reckless use of Eminent Domain. Some politicians evidently believe they know what's best for YOUR private property. It's time to put an end to that kind of tyranny.

Best Regards,
Bob Powell

Nothing has hurt Springfield worse than it's collective state of political amnesia. If I wasn't keeping archives, virtually nothing would exist of the modern history of Springfield politics. But just as sad is the lack of appreciation for the city's history in general. That's what makes this first hand account of a Springfield boyhood so special.

From: "David Shoughrue"
To: "Tom Devine"
Date: Mon, 19 Feb 2001 18:37:55 -0500


I recall that Springfield in the late 40' and the 50's boasted a population of about 170,000. Of course during the WWII years the Armory was at full tilt as well as Smith and Wesson, American Bosch and many other manufacturing facilities. Westover Field was a big deal and I well remember the sky being black by flights of B-17's on their way to Newfoundland and ultimately England, Blackouts were not uncommon and the Air raid wardens in your block were making their appointed rounds with flashlights and whistles in hand.

The neighborhoods were closely knit and everybody had their favorite stores - no hypermarts of today- in our area on Sumner Ave. By the railroad tracks there was a barber, a cobbler, Lederers Bakery and the never to be forgotten Jimmy's Ice Cream Shop, complete with marble counter and round marble tables and the Bastian-Blessing soda fountain (seltzer water and all). Other noteworthy ice cream establishments of the era included Jane Aldens across the entrance to Forrest Park on Sumner Ave. and Jensens Ice Cream and Candy across from Steigers on Bridge Street.

Movies theatres included the Paramount on Main by the railroad station, Lowes Poli on Worthington Street, the Capitol at Main and Pynchon, the Bijou, the Arcade on State at Maple Street, and way out was Phillips at The X. I can remember double features for 25cents and you could stay a long as you liked - showings were continuous with news reels and cartoons and serials.

One other establishment on my hit parade was Johnson's Book Store on Main Street and they had the best Santa Claus- the store itself also featured toys and could have been the F.A.O. Schwarz of Springfield.

In the sports world we had Pynchon Park across the Memorial Bridge in W. Spfld. which was the home of the Springfield Giants a farm team for the then NY Giants- saw the likes of Willie Mays and Felipe Alou. Also the Springfield Indians were a farm team for the NY Rangers and played their hockey at the Colosseum at the Eastern States Exhibition Grounds.

Friday night high school basketball games (Classical,Tech,Cathederal, Trade) always drew large crowds at Springfield College fieldhouse. The Eastern States Exhibition was a great event and I think we got a day off from school.

Another major entertainment center was Riverside Park with its fantastic wooden roller coaster and large roller skating indoor rink which was also uses for dances at which "Big Bands" would perform.

Saturday night was stock car racing and those cars would raise dust and if the wind was right the drone of their engines would carry across the Connecticut into the South End of Columbus Ave., where also was located the Bond Bread Bakery and such wonderful aromas were forthcoming.

There is more, but I'll finish with a description of the Sixteen Acres School. It was a fairly new school in 1948 and about 1/2 to 3/4 miles easterly from the intersection of Wilbraham Rd. and Parker St. We had one teacher for the fifth and sixth grade in the same room. Miss Powers was her name and she had the ability to inspire one to learn more and go beyond the square. Thanks, and perhaps others will share their Springfield memories.

David L. Shoughrue
Louisville, KY

Happily, soon after this letter caused history starved residents to flock to my website by the thousands, Pine Pointer Mean Mary Jean petitioned to create a forum to preserve and discuss Valley history. To their credit Masslive agreed and now you can share your personal historic memories with other local historians by going here.

As I said, I plan to go over these old emails and pick out the gems to share with you in the coming weeks.

I went to the Farmer's Market in Amherst this morning:

Across the street Amherst College was having a class reunion. This class wore the cap and gown three and a half decades ago.

Next door to the market was a festival focusing on Indians, American and otherwise. They had some really cool t-shirts for sale.

Here's a short video of the event:

Walking home I came upon this message scrawled on the sidewalk by someone so full of the joy of life that they had to share it:

May you and I both have a day of such sentiments.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Morn

At the Center.

This morning at the bus stop I saw this threatening message scrawled on the bench.

I did note that the enemies of skinheads need to learn to spell Amherst.

The bus leaves me off near this farm that donates a lot of food to the Amherst Survival Center where I work for three hours every morning.

This is my friend who works with me at the Center. He has abandoned his birthname and calls himself simply "Rythom." That is how he spells it, and he has no last name. Rythom has the coolest hair in Amherst.

This is how it looks from the back.

In the same building as the Survival Center is the Amherst Head Start program. Their playground has the skeleton of a geodesic dome as exercise bars.

Afterward I go have ice cream at the Blue Wall in the Campus Center at UMass. Then I go check a bus schedule at the UMass travel center.

On the wall they have this wonderful quote by Ayn Rand that applies to a hell of a lot more than just train rides.

She sat at the window of the train,
her head thrown back...
The window frame trembled with the
speed of the motion,... And dots of
light splashed across the glass as
luminous streaks... She thought:
For just a few moments - while
this lasts - it is all right to surrender
completely... She thought:
Let go - drop the control
this is it.

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, 1957

When I left, passing by the campus pond, I stumbled upon this family of ducks.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

We're Still Standing

Film versus reality.

Here's something from the archives, an essay I wrote seven yeas ago on the occasion of the arrival of the year 2001:

There should be nothing surprising about the fact that the 1968 movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" seems to keep popping up on television, somewhere on some channel, at least once a week. I mean, if this, the year 2001 is not the year to overplay it, then what is?

It would be much easier to take, however, if the movie weren't such a damn bore. Let's be honest, there is nowhere near sufficient plot to the story to justify a full-length feature. A half-hour episode of the Twilight Zone would have sufficed. The movie's sole saving grace is the cosmic beauty of the special effects, which are no doubt best viewed under the influence of pot or LSD, and were probably purposely intended to be seen in an altered state (this is, after all, a 60's movie).

Stoner sensibilities alone could've justified the stupefyingly slow pace of the film, the banal dialogue and the famously unsatisfying conclusion, which aims to be mysterious but ends up merely annoying. "I sat through all that crap for a ending I can't even understand?" is a pretty common reaction. I like the response of witty person who told a reporter who asked him upon leaving the theatre what he thought the mysterious monolith was and replied, "A giant chunk of hashish."

Yet there is at least one perspective to viewing the film that still holds some interest. That is to marvel at how the people of the 1960's imagined we would be living today. In some respects they gave us way too much credit. For example, the film imagines that in 2001 space travel would be as commonplace as airplane flights. Actually, we just this year had our first paying passenger in space, and at $20 million dollars a ticket, I don't expect to see many more anytime soon.

But at least we have better fashion sense than the 60's predicted. The makers of 2001 foresaw us walking around in these tight leotard type things all the time. It isn't hard to figure out why such attire never evolved into a fashion trend in real life. To wear skin-tight leotards and not look ridiculous you've got to be in near perfect shape, and while it may be 2001, flab has not been eliminated. They also showed us using telephones where you can see the person you're talking to. I've heard the arrival of such an invention heralded my entire life, and even seen pictures of prototypes, but never have I actually encountered one in anyone's home.

So I guess in some respects we never really lived up to what the 60's thought we would be, but then maybe they just weren't looking ahead to the right things. In the 1960's we were in the midst of the Cold War, with nuclear annihilation at any moment a distinct possibility. It is no small matter that we made it to 2001 without anything like that occurring. Of course aside from that singular accomplishment, much of the 20th century was a non-stop horror show of stupidity, cruelty and folly, with every mistake imaginable being made and with most of them being made more than once.

Just the same, here we are, a year past the end of the century, and frankly things are really not half bad. Yes, the Middle East is a hotbed of violence, Africa is a nightmare of poverty and AIDS while China, representing a quarter of humanity, suffers under socialist oppression. But for most of us human beings floating along on our funky spaceship Earth, things have really never been better. Never have so many, had so much, for doing so little. Never have we had so many toys. Never have we had so much to eat, so much so that today more people are dying from the complications of being overweight than from starvation.

No, 2001 didn't turn out to be the space odyssey the flower power generation expected of us, but it has been an odyssey just the same. A little grittier, a little less glamorous and a lot more down to earth than hoped for, but it IS 2001, and we ARE still here, and continuing to move forward in our awkward, stumbling way. On the whole, it looks like everything might turn out alright, and for that the 60's could be proud of us, and certainly we should be proud of ourselves.

I have an article in the Valley Advocate this week.

To read what I wrote click here.

I see that now that the students are gone they're doing some sidewalk work on the UMass campus.

In a victory for walkers, the University has been putting in sidewalks where people actually walk instead of using the inconvenient roundabout walkways currently in existence, which result in these unsightly paths all over campus.

It's a concept whose time has come - put the sidewalks where the people actually want to walk!

Blogger extraordinaire and Northampton sex symbol Paolo Mastrangelo has gotten a place in New York City! I'm gonna miss him, but I love seeing people's dreams come true! This song's for you, kid.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Fun Day

Memorial Day doings.

"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. It is the ancient flag of fire and blood and agony, and it waves over the graves of millions and millions. 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

Yesterday morning I attended the Memorial Day parade in downtown Amherst. Unlike most things that go on in Amherst, the parade was non-political, although political things were percolating just inches beneath the surface. For example, among the participants were the Boy Scouts, a subject of controversy in town in part because some people consider them a hate group for banning homosexuals.

There was also a large display by the private group that has put on the Fourth of July parade in Amherst in year's past.

They are mad because the town is taking over the parade this year. Among those onboard was blogger Larry Kelley, shown here busy gathering material for his latest post.

I also ran into travel writer and right-wing activist Ben Duffy, who was attending with his girlfriend Ai-Ya Huang.

I asked Duffy for his appraisal of the current political scene, thinking that he would be glad that there are many local Republicans running this year. However he complained that most Massachusetts Republicans are too liberal for him to get excited about.

After the parade I found this sign stashed by a church. Apparently someone had brought it but then lost their nerve to march with it.

Here is a short video of the beginning of the parade.

There was also a patriotic ceremony across from the High School with all the town dignitaries attending.

I like that they read a poem by one of my favorite poets, Walt Whitman. Later on in the afternoon I went to an Alcoholics Anonymous picnic at Amherst's Mill River Park.

Everyone was on my case about my smoking pot recently, even though I told them it had done no harm. However, they kept insisting it was too dangerous to risk that a slip might occur into more dangerous drugs, and that I was too new to sobriety to be taking any chances. I finally had to agree that they were right, and so promised to stick to a straight no-drugs policy. Sheesh, those AA members are always fussin' and worryin' about you like they were your best friends or somethin' - which they are.

I'd show you some pictures of the picnic, but then I would be violating the sacred anonymity of the members. I can tell you that we played volleyball and some of the wilder spikes ended up in the river. It was a miracle how we always got the ball back!

The only guest at the picnic I can show you a picture of is Buster. He has never taken a drink or a drug in his entire two years of life and therefore has no need to be anonymous.

Finally, here is a video about a group of singing students calling themselves The University of Massachusetts Dynamics.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Happy Memorial Day!

Hope you had fun!

I managed to get an exclusive photo of the new trucks the Sarno Administration has purchased for the Springfield waste disposal program.

Are you planning to go to Burning Man this year? If not, this video may help remind you of why you might.

Coming tomorrow - pictures of the Amherst parade!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dumb All Over

And even a little ugly on the side.

Yesterday Hampshire Gazette/Amherst Bulletin writer Mary Carey jogged by me in downtown Amherst, but paused long enough to snap a pic.

Today was graduation day at Amherst College.

In the parking lot there were occasional reminders of the role Amherst College has always played as a prime school of choice for the children of America's power-elites.

Downtown businesses were catering to their customers one last time before they disappear for the summer.

They needn't worry, a new crop of suckers, um, I mean customers will be arriving in the fall. Until then, it is time for us townsfolk to kick back and enjoy the sunshine!

I must admit I would enjoy my days more if I didn't get so much hate mail. I don't mean the perfectly reasonable people who disagree with me or think my blog sucks or whatever, but the people who think they need to write to me about my sexual orientation to tell me that Jesus hates me and that I will burn in hell.

I once had neighbors who were religious fundamentalists, and they were so religiously strict with their kids that I had to believe that the children would one day rebel. Sure enough the eldest daughter, inspite of (or perhaps because of) having had the so-called virtues of chastity drilled into her head by her parents, suddenly ran away from home. She left a note saying that despite being only 16. she was leaving home for good and intended to work as a prostitute. When the police picked her up three days later for loitering at the Peter Pan bus station in Springfield, she refused to reveal whether she had achieved her career goals, but it was hard to assume she had not.

Another example is a friend of mine who once coaxed a born again Christian out of the closet and taught him the gay way. By the time he was done his young lover was working as a dancer at a strip club in Hartford. My friend told me he got a special thrill out of transforming a religious fundamentalist into a dancing cock-crazed slut.

I don't approve of what my neighbor's daughter did in becoming a prostitute or my friend turning his religious lover into a go-go boy. Yet I understand why they did it. Don't these people who are always pushing religion realize that their efforts have the opposite effect of what they desire? Instead of drawing people to religion, their harsh condemnations make you want to rebel against religion completely. And to condemn people on sexual grounds, where the sex is consensual and hurts no one, is just plain stupid.

Any two people in love are morally superior to any third person pointing at them with hatred.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Springfield Scraps

Here's a few odds and ends from my trip to Springfield the other day.

Passing by the noble High School of Commerce (never, never to be called "Commerce High") I saw this student standing in front waiting for a bus. I asked to take his picture and he happily agreed, but then oddly enough refused to tell me when I asked for his name.

Here is the new business that has moved into the space once occupied by the now defunct Wells Credit Union, supposedly a financial institution for the poorest of the poor but turned into a private slush fund for the evil Aranjo family and their cronies.

The business there now may be a modest little beauty parlor, but at least it is an honest business, unlike its predecessor.

I stopped by American International College for a minute, in a futile attempt to check my email on their hopelessly inadequate public computers, and had a nostalgic moment outside the former doorway to the former classroom of former AIC art professor Richard Doyle.

Doyle, widely known as "The Twig Painter" endured the worst fate any painter can imagine - he went blind. I stopped by to visit him for a bit while I was in town, and despite his tragic existence he's still full of laughter, puns and dirty jokes.

This is the ruins of the building that once housed the former Charm Cafe, which used to have the less than accurate slogan "No Harm at the Charm."

The joint played a less than harmless role in my family's history. My father told me that some of his worst childhood memories involved the Charm Cafe, where his father often went after work on payday. Sometimes my grandmother used to send my Dad to try and get my grandfather to leave the bar before he blew all the rent money on booze. My father never went into much detail, but I guess there were some ugly scenes.

I was surprised to see this classic old house on Boston Road falling into ruin. This is the house I remember as being the place where the man lived who before Al Rivers was considered The Mayor of Pine Point.

The new gate around MassMutual may increase its security, but with it's outward pointing spikes it hardly increases it's friendliness.

Frankly it looks more like a fortress than an insurance company.

MassMutual purchased the land where State Bowl used to be. They tore the building down, leaving only this open field and the crumbling parking lot as remnants of what was once a major neighborhood entertainment attraction.

There wasn't a lot to do in Pine Point, which explains why we turned Saint Michael's Cemetery into a kind of park. As teenagers, one area of the graveyard that we used hold little beer and bong parties we called Woodstock. I'm not sure why, because there was never a concert held there, unless you count Carl Mayfield or Marc Walker strumming a guitar.

I don't like to think about how many of those kids who partied in that cemetery are now residents of it. Today is the fourteenth anniversary of the day they found one of those former Woodstock partiers, Jay Libardi, lying dead on the floor of his Pine Point home. Here's an appropriate tune by a Boston homeboy.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

They Can Run

But in the internet era they cannot hide from their past.

I like this video of Barack Obama dancing with Ellen Degeneres on TV. It's funny, but is it properly presidential?

When you're finished dancing with Obama and Ellen, here's something that will blow your mind. I promise. Click here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Southern Sojourn

Going down to Springfield!

I went to Springfield today, visiting the city for only the second time this year. I've been so tied down to a strict drug rehab schedule that I simply haven't been able to put together enough free hours in a row to make it worth visiting the city of my birth! Today I took the bus there, with the usual holdover at Veteran's Park in Holyoke. There I unexpectedly ran into Amber, a friend of mine from rehab.

The patients in rehab were divided into three groups. The largest consisted of street folk from the so called urban culture. Drugs are as much a part of their lives as sunshine or air. The second group were people that can't be described as being in any category, they're so blown out on drugs they've lost any real sense of their own identity and have just turned weird. The third group was people like Amber and me, Grateful Dead sort of stoners. We were the smallest group but we stuck together, flower children among burnouts and gangstas, and Amber was a great help to me at times, listening to me and consoling me when I was confused and unhappy and going through withdrawal. She ended up getting thrown out of rehab for fighting with a nurse. I never knew what became of her, and it was great to see her today looking healthy and happy. I took her picture:

Then she took mine:

As you might imagine, being in Springfield for only the second time this year I had a lot of errands to attend to. However, I did take the time to stop in for a few minutes at the Springfield Control Board meeting this morning. City Hall is always a trip!

I climbed the antique spiral staircase to the mahogany chambers where the Control Board meetings are held.

There Board Chairman Chris Gabrielli was presiding over a dull economic development discussion.

The two local officials on the board are Mayor Dom Sarno and City Councilor Bud Williams.

Here's a video scan of the proceedings if you're curious to see who was in the audience.

Later I was by the new federal courthouse, which is almost completed. Notice the two ancient trees in front. The whole building was designed to accommodate those trees, believed to be among the oldest in the city.

At the beginning of construction in 2003 I took this picture of local historian Greg Metzadakis posing by one of the old trees on the otherwise cleared lot.

Here is the exact same tree as it appeared this morning.

One thing I haven't been able to do since my Dad died in December is to go and visit his grave in Saint Michael's cemetery in ol' Pine Point. Saint Rose is the name of the cemetery lane he is buried on.

I was surprised to realize that he was just recently buried!

I had forgotten that here in New England, where the ground in winter is ice-hard, they often wait until spring to bury those, like my Dad, who died in the dead of winter. I also saw that the year of death has not been put next to my father's name. He had his birth year and name put on the stone about ten years ago, leaving the year of his departure to be filled in.

I had to leave the cemetery earlier than I wanted to because a terrible thunderstorm came up. It rained the whole bus ride back, but when I got to UMass the rain stopped and the sun came shining through, creating a beautiful rainbow.

A rainbow reminds us of God's promise that after something bad must come something good.