Friday, September 30, 2005

My Happiest Moment In The Subway, Part Two

When last we left our hero, he had just had his life saved by the Malden police. However, he was oblivious and ungrateful, as usual. Return with us now to those golden days of yesteryear... Red The Head rides again!

That's how I was known to most of my friends, by the way - Red The Head. Y'see, I had red hair? And I smoked dope? Yup. Usually, everybody just called me "Red", except for the ones calling me "That Asshole Over There".

And, before we go any farther, if you're completely lost and don't have the slightest idea what this has to do with subways? You should read Part One, which you can find a link to somewhere over on the left. You still won't know what this has to do with subways, but at least you'll only be as confused as the other folks who already read that part.

So, to pick up the story kind of where I left off, we played some other gigs. Most of them were unmemorable, except for their utter crapitude musically. I'll tell you about one more.

We had another high school dance to play. This one was at St. Francis's, which I think was in Everett. Now, Duane, whom you may remember as our "guitarist", was employed at Stuart's, which was a department store in Malden. It so happened that he was scheduled to work at Stuart's on the same evening as this dance. Naturally, one would assume (at least the rest of us in the band did) that Duane would ask for the night off so that he could play the dance. If you assumed that, then you don't know Duane. He decided that the money was better for working a four-hour shift as a stockboy than it would be for performing at this dance. Either that or his father told him to buckle the fuck down and do some real work instead of wasting his time seeing how many different ways he could make a Les Paul sound like an animal undergoing unneeded radical surgery. In any case, he wasn't going to make the gig. What to do? What to do?

Well, it was too late to cancel and it was too late to teach another guitarist our arrangements, such as they were, so the rest of us did what we figured was the best we could do under the circumstances. Our bass player at the time, Sean, was taking six-string guitar lessons, so he borrowed Duane's guitar and became our guitar player for the night. Since we had two drummers, one of them was more-or-less expendable, so Mark, who had taken about three weeks of piano, moved out from behind his kit and took over on keyboards. Chuck, being the good drummer, stayed where he was. This left me.

If you recall, I was the vocalist and keyboards player. Since Mark was taking over the keyboards, that freed me up to be the bass player. It's important at this point to know something about me. I had never played the bass before in my life. Some folks might have seen this as an insurmountable obstacle to the success of this endeavor, but not this boy! I was the guy who called entire auditoriums full of drunken louts "cocksuckers" and figured I could get away with it. What was this compared to that? I assumed I could fake it enough to get by. And, if I couldn't play, I could certainly chew on the scenery.

Which is what I did. After a few hurried lessons from Sean, I played on just the E string for most of the night and I climbed all over the furniture, making an ass of myself and distracting a goodly portion of the crowd from my abysmal failings as a musician. At one point, providence stepped in and gave me a hand. Well, actually providence stepped in and gave me a bloody nose.

I was standing on top of a cafeteria table, jumping up and down to the beat, when my nose started bleeding. I don't know why it did, but I made the most of it. Blood was steadily pouring from one nostril onto my shirt and onto Sean's bass. I kept on playing, knowing that this was about as cool as it could get. These were the days of Alice Cooper and Kiss and other practitioners of "glam" stage shows, a goodly part of which consisted of the use of stage blood. Hey, I just discovered I had a supply of the real thing at my disposal and I wasn't going to let it go to waste. I wiped my nose with one hand and smeared the blood all over my face and wiped the rest on my pants. The girls in the audience mostly gagged, but all of the guys were nodding their heads and mouthing, "Far out, man!"

(It helps if you read that as though either Cheech or Chong is saying it.)

The song ended and I had sense enough to sit down and throw my head back for a minute. Sean played a few power chords and leaned into the amp to produce some feedback, so that bought me some time while I snuffled up the yucky stuff in my nose. The bleeding stopped almost as quickly as it had begun. I probably popped a polyp or something; who knows? It was the highlight of the show, though.

As a coda to this episode (Notice how I slipped in an actual musical term here? Clever!) Duane actually showed up about 30 minutes from the end of our last set. Like a musical god from Olympus deigning to associate with some mere mortals, he strode in, grabbed the guitar from Sean and assumed his rightful place as ***THE GUITAR PLAYER***. The rest of us mere crustaceans scuttled back to our respective support positions while he assaulted the audience with his own particular brand of aural defoliant. Some of them probably never had kids as a result. I wanted to make my nose bleed again, but I couldn't quite will it to happen.


I should mention here that a couple of us did go on to become actual decent musicians.

I took up the bass seriously soon after the nosebleed gig and I played in another 4 or 5 bands over the course of the late 70's and early 80's. Since the bass is much easier to transport than keyboards, I actually practiced daily. I still play, but just for fun. I haven't played an actual gig since 1989 or so.

Sean continued taking guitar lessons and today he is an extremely accomplished jazz player. He plays in Boston-based ensembles and occasionally tries to get the hard-core jazz guys to understand why he likes hard rock.

Bruce, who replaced Sean and was our bass player at the time of the "cocksuckers" incident, lives in New Hampshire and still plays. He is quite good.

Duane and Mark both became cops. Whether this was because they had their lives saved by cops in Malden or because their dad was a cop, I don't know. I suspect the latter.
I totally lost touch with them long ago. Or they totally lost touch with me on purpose, which is always a possibility. In any event, I don't know if they still play. And, Mark, if you're reading this? It's all in fun - you weren't a bad drummer. You just weren't the better of the two.

As I mentioned near the beginning of this story, the good drummer, Chuck, has been dead for many years. He was a backseat passenger in a car that was totaled when a drunk driver ran a red light. He was 17. I'm sure I speak for every member of World's End when I say we still miss him.


So, what in the name of the Amazing Kreskin does any of the foregoing have to do with the subway? Well, not one hell of a lot, but now I'm going to tell you the subway story and you'll see that it's not much and I really had to pad things out, so I did.

Mark and Duane, as I may have mentioned, lived in Everett. We were good friends outside of the band, so I occasionally hung out at their house. On Saturday or Sunday, I sometimes watched TV with them and their dad until 10 or 10:30, and then I'd start heading home.

Well, one Sunday evening in early 1975, it was as bitter cold as I ever remember it being and it was snowing. In order to get home to Dorchester, I had to catch a bus from near their house and take it to the Sullivan Square station on the Orange Line of the T, which at that time was an elevated line. I then would make a connection with the Red Line to Ashmont and finally take the trolley from there. It was a fairly long trip, especially on Sunday evening when trains and busses ran about once every hour.

I stood outside in the vicious cold and snow, with winds blowing at 20 or 25 mph, waiting for the bus to Sullivan Square. I waited and waited and waited some more. I was out there for a good 30 minutes and I was not dressed warmly. I was chilled to the marrow by the time the bus came, shivering and shaking and with wet feet. My nose was frozen and my eyes were watering. My ears hurt like hell, even with my long hair of the time covering them somewhat.

The bus came and I got on, but I discovered to my dismay that it wasn't much warmer. There was no wind or snow inside the bus, of course, but the heater wasn't working, either. I didn't warm up much on the 15-minute ride to Sullivan Square.

The bus pulled into the station, which was basically a huge wood and cement barn open on both ends, so the wind whipped through it making me entirely as miserable as I had been at the bus stop before. I heard a train. I reached into my pocket with frozen fingers to get some coins, paid my fare, and ran upstairs to the elevated platform just as the train pulled out towards downtown.

This was even worse than the bus stop. The elevated platform was completely open and perhaps 20 feet in the air. It stood alongside a section of I-93, so while you waited for the train, cars would go by at eye level. It also was very close to the Mystic River and there wasn't much of anything near that platform to cut the wind. It was perhaps the coldest spot in the entire city that night.

I stood there on the platform with the wind whipping and the snow blowing and my nose frozen and my feet wet and feeling very sorry for myself. Then, something caught my attention.

If you're a veteran of public transit, and perhaps subways in particular, you know that at one time many subway and elevated railway stations had waiting rooms. These were places where someone could get out of the elements for at least a short while while they waited for a train. At the time of this story, these waiting rooms were already pretty much a thing of the past. Too many winos used them as urinals or bedrooms, and the liability risks had become such that the T always kept the doors to them locked. This night, though, out of the corner of my eye, I saw that the lights were actually on in the waiting room at Sullivan Square.

Could it be? Might the doors actually be unlocked and would I be able to go inside and get out of the wind? I pretty much ran over there to check it out.

YES! YES! YES!!! Not only were the doors unlocked, but when I stepped inside it was as warm as Miami in July. Some wonderful, blessed angel employed by the T had turned the heater on full blast. My face began to melt. My nose, as it defrosted, dripped both inside and out, but snot was a small price to pay for such relief.

I should mention that, in those days when dinosaurs roamed the earth, it was perfectly legal to smoke in train stations. Some people were still pissed about not being allowed to smoke in the cars themselves, as had been legal up until recently. So, to make my circle of happiness complete, I plopped down on a wooden bench and lit up a Kool, inhaling the menthol deeply. I had never been, nor have I ever been, more happy in the subway than I was at that moment. It smelled like piss, there were a few spiders crawling around, my clothes were still wet, and I had a post-nasal drip that wouldn't quit, but I was pretty much in heaven.

And that was my happiest moment in the subway. The End.


(Note to aspiring writers: If you don't know what "allegory" is, you should. The weather and the bus and the subway are life, while that smelly dirty waiting room was the band. To an outsider, that waiting room was just a piss-ridden bug-infested pit. And the band was a catastrophe. But my happiness was immense, and very real, in both situations.)

Thursday, September 29, 2005

My Happiest Moment In The Subway

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Bullsh*t? Bingo!

Last night, MY WIFE and I went to a candlelight vigil at Our Lady Help Of Christians, a Catholic church in Newton. It was held in support of Father Walter Cuenin, who is being railroaded by the corrupt Archdiocese of Boston.

The words "corrupt" and "railroaded" are not ones I would have associated with the Catholic Church up until a couple of years ago. I was a devout churchgoer. I was a lector - a reader of scripture, to the congregation, during mass - and took part in many church-related activities aside from mandated masses. However, times change. Today, you'd have to be blind to not see that the church hierarchy, at least in Boston, is as morally bankrupt as a convention of whores.

I'm sorry. That's not an apt comparison. It does whores an injustice.

Father Cuenin was asked to resign because of financial improprieties. It is alleged by the archdiocese that he accepted oversized stipends and that he drove a vehicle leased by the parish financial council. Of course, the council says that these same types of things were done with previous pastors and nothing was said. In fact, he is being asked to resign because he is an outspoken critic of the archdiocese and, in particular, Cardinal Bernard Law. He is to be replaced by Reverend Christopher Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese during the recent sexual abuse scandals. There's a coincidence!

You may remember Cardinal Law. He was head of the archdiocese during the time when sexual abuse, perpetrated by some priests on altar boys and others, came to light. He has since moved on to Rome, where he doesn't have to answer any embarrassing questions. Questions like, "Why, when these heinous crimes were brought to light, did you not have these priests face the full brunt of the law instead of shipping them out of town where they could begin anew with a fresh crop of boys?" Questions like, "Why shouldn't you, Cardinal, and others high up in the church, be charged with conspiracy and face many years in jail yourself?"

Anyway, Father Cuenin, along with other courageous and righteous priests, stood up and said, in effect, "The Cardinal is wrong to be stonewalling. These victims deserve our compassion, not the back of our hand. We should be helping, not hiding." As a result, the archdiocese, now headed by the hypocritically holier-than-thou Bishop Sean O'Malley, has attempted to grind these priests into the dust.

I call O'Malley hypocritical not without reason. MY WIFE and I resigned from the Catholic Church as a result of one of O'Malley's actions. It wasn't the worst thing we saw done by the church, but it was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Catholicism has many traditions, of course, and among these is celebration of "Maundy Thursday", during Holy Week, prior to Easter. On that Thursday each year, one of the things which is done in many churches is the washing of feet, which is performed by a priest. The priest will wash the feet of some parishioners. This is a commemoration of one of the ways that Jesus humbled himself. He washed his disciple's feet, to make the point that a leader needs to humble himself and serve his followers. O'Malley did this service, except he had some reservations concerning how much he would allow himself to be humbled. He refused to wash a woman parishioner's feet, saying something to the effect that Jesus only washed men's feet. Hey, Sean buddy, let me clue you in - you ain't Jesus. And if you think you're too good to wash the feet of, say, Mary or Catherine Of Sienna or any of the other thousands of women who built the church you seem intent on dissolving, you're dead wrong.


Before Cuenin was asked to resign, O'Malley called for the closure of many parishes, supposedly for financial reasons wholly unconnected to the sexual abuse scandals and the resultant lawsuits. Yeah, and I get dressed for reasons wholly unconnected to nudity. It just so happened - totally a coincidence, you understand - that many of the churches that were to be closed were pastored by priests bold enough to question the Cardinal's actions concerning the sex abuse scandals. Among these was the parish MY WIFE and I were members of, St. Bernard's in West Newton, pastored by Father Paul Kilroy, another of those good priests who sought justice, as well as a greater voice for the layman in the church. St. Bernard's was spared closure, but only after a vigorous protest. As part of the deal that would allow the parish to stay open, the archdiocese demanded the resignation of Kilroy as pastor.

Nothing to do with his being involved in groups that criticized official church policy. No, not at all.

St. Bernard's was, and is, a vibrant parish. If anything, Our Lady is even more so. During Cuenin's tenure, the parish has actually grown, whereas many other parishes have seen a devastating drop in attendance due to the scandals. So, they couldn't close him out. They instead have chosen to drag his good name through the mud and to accuse him of trumped up wrongdoings. Where's Herod when you need him?

Well, I'm not a journalist (there's news...) so I'm not going to attempt to recount every damned (and I do mean damned) thing that the Archdiocese of Boston has done to alienate Catholics. You can find these things quite easily by Googling the following string: "Bernard Law" "Sean O'Malley" "child sexual abuse". If you'd like to find out what the good guys have been doing to combat these hideous crimes, and how they've been routinely mistreated and vilified, Google "Walter Cuenin" "Paul Kilroy" or "Voices of the Faithful".

During the news conference before the vigil, during a moment of relative quiet, one of the parishioners, in response to something concerning the archdiocese, responded, "Bullshit!" All I can say to that is, "Bingo!"

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Abandon Ship!

The Red Sox have fallen into second place, a half-game behind the Yankees. Sound the alarm! Women and children first! Bail out! Bail out!

This is the general reaction of long-time Sox fans; those who lived through 1978 and other late-season collapses. At least, it would have been the reaction, if it had not been for last year. Remember last year? The year the Red Sox won the World Series? This is the team that came back from a 0 - 3 deficit, something no other team in the history of major league baseball ever did before, and they did it against the Yankees, no less. Don't pull the ripcord on your parachute just yet - we're still inside the plane.

A lot of Red Sox fans didn't get the full exhilarating rush from that playoff victory that I did. This is because a lot of Red Sox fans bailed after game three. Some bailed in the middle of game three, for goodness' sakes. Not me. I watched every inning of the first three games - every painful inning. And that allowed me to savor every excruciatingly tense moment of game four and game five, the relatively easy game six, and then the laugher that was game seven.

I'm not claiming to have said that the Sox would come back and win that series. I don't think anybody outside of the state's mental institutions was predicting that. However, I took the same approach as the Sox - one game at a time. I knew that it was possible for them to win game four. Once they did that, it was possible to win game five, and so on. And it was SWEEEEEEEET!

There were fans who were older than me and who enjoyed it more, possibly. I doubt it, though. Older, yes, but enjoyed it more? As much, maybe - I'm willing to concede that possibility. But not more. I became a fan when the team was running off consecutive 9th place finishes. I then saw them fall one game short of total victory in 1967, 1975 and 1986. I saw them blow a huge lead in 1978 and then lose the one game playoff via Bucky Bleeping Dent and a miracle catch by Lou Piniella. I saw them finish one half-game behind in a year that was strike-shortened. That year, the winning run - represented by Luis Aparicio, one of the greatest baserunners the game has ever known - slipped and fell rounding third.

1986 was the worst, of course. The 1967 and 1975 teams are remembered very fondly by most. The '67 team finished first in an impossibly tight pennant race involving four teams, and they won it on the last day of the season. Just going to the series was enough. The fact that they strung it out to seven games was magnificent. The 1975 team played in what is generally regarded as the best series ever. Losing in seven was no disgrace at all. 1986, though...

In 1986, I had been betting baseball all year. And winning. I mostly bet on the Sox and the Mets. Ten dollars here, twenty dollars there. It added up to a win of a bit more than $1000 by the time the series rolled around. I decided to risk almost all of my winnings on one of the teams that had given me the winnings. Guess which one?

When Dave Henderson hit his home run in the 10th inning, to give the Sox a two run lead, I was a very happy camper. I had bet 1000 to make 1700 on the Sox to win the series. It looked pretty good. Then came Calvin Schiraldi, and Bob Stanley (who was unfairly scored with a wild pitch - Gedman could have had that ball. It was a passed ball.) And then Bill Buckner, who is unfairly reviled the most of all. Sure, it was a crummy error. However, no Bill Buckner, no World Series to begin with, OK? He had one hell of a good season. He always deserved better than to be remembered for that one play.

I taped that last inning, hoping to save it and play it again and again - the day the Sox won the series! Instead, I walked around in a real no-bullshit medical state of shock for the next 24 hours or so. Half the city did. And there was a game seven, but as much as I tried to convince myself that they could still win it, I knew - in my heart of hearts, I knew - that no matter what lead they got that night, it wasn't going to last. I rooted for them and cheered when they got off to the lead, but once it was gone, I knew they weren't coming back. They tried, but it was never going to happen.

I learned something valuable that year. I learned that my passion for the Sox was stronger than my passion for money. When they lost, it wasn't the lost bet I mourned. That was strictly a secondary consideration. As a result, I learned to never again bet on a team I loved that much. And I have never bet on the Red Sox since then.

Anyway, all of that made what happened last year the single sweetest moment I have ever experienced in my 40+ years as a sports fan. It was made that way by the down times. You have to live through the down times to really appreciate the good times.

Which brings us back to this year. The Red Sox have just fallen into second place. If you really, really want to enjoy what's coming - if you really want to taste the sweetness - then savor every little bit of whatever bitterness might be coming. When the Sox pull it out in that final game of the year against the Yankees, you'll be much happier than those who are jumping off the bandwagon now.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Top 5! Top 5! Top 5!

Since I have nothing better to bore you with today, I'm going to inflict some top 5 lists on you. See, I'm so frickin' full of myself that I think you have nothing better to do than read about my likes and dislikes. Of course, I am special. I learned that from Mister Rogers, as you will see in...


"You make each day special by just your being you. There is only one person in the whole world exactly like you, and people can like you just the way you are." - Fred Rogers

"A drug is neither moral nor immoral - it's a chemical compound. The compound itself is not a menace to society until a human being treats it as if consumption bestowed a temporary license to act like an asshole." - Frank Zappa

"Preach you must, but use words only when necessary." - St. Francis of Assisi

"Men are from Earth. Women are from Earth. Deal with it." - Anonymous

"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." - Mark Twain


1 - Tommy Dorsey
2 - Bloodrock
3 - Iggy & The Stooges
4 - Budgie
5 - The Ramones


1 - Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
2 - The Rape Of The A*P*E* by Allan Sherman
3 - Ball Four by Jim Bouton
4 - Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
5 - The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain


1 - Sgt. Bilko (aka You'll Never Get Rich or The Phil Silvers Show)
2 - The Jack Benny Show
3 - The Lone Ranger
4 - Car 54, Where Are You?
5 - Hot L Baltimore


1 - Singing In The Rain
2 - Guys & Dolls
3 - The Roar Of The Greasepaint, The Smell Of The Crowd
4 - The Producers
5 - Urinetown


1 - Mel Schacher
2 - John Entwhistle
3 - Roger Glover
4 - Dennis Dunaway
5 - Chris Squire


1 - Ian Paice
2 - Gene Krupa
3 - Rick Cobb
4 - Mick Tucker
5 - Keith Moon


I should probably note that these are not necessarily the 5 players I find the most technically proficient (though a couple certainly are) but rather the 5 players whose choices I find most interesting.

1 - Ritchie Blackmore
2 - James Williamson
3 - Tony Bourge
4 - Tony Iommi
5 - Steve Morse


1 - Goof On The Roof
2 - False Alarms
3 - How High Is Up?
4 - Sing A Song Of Six Pants
5 - Tassels In The Air


1 - Mr. Smith Goes To Washington
2 - Blazing Saddles
3 - Braveheart
4 - A Christmas Story
5 - Night And The City (1950's Richard Widmark version, not the more recent one)

Well, of course the point of these things is to make you say, "Wow! I agree with this guy almost all the time! We are true soulmates! I want to shower him with gold coin and possibly bear his children!" or "Wow! What a weirdsmobile! This guy should not be allowed to reproduce! How could he leave (fill in the blank) off of that list?" or "Who in the hell wastes his time thinking about his top 5 favorite bass players?"

(A bass player, that's who.)

Feel free to leave a comment telling me where I screwed up, or telling me that I should be supreme potentate of the universe. If you post anything similar, let us all know and perhaps we'll travel to your place and continue the party.

See you tomorrow, or possibly Friday.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

My Father's Favorite Joke

My father was a man of many talents. He used those talents in quite a variety of different vocations and avocations.

Among the many things my father did during his lifetime, though not necessarily in chronological order: professional boxing; semi-pro football; two years in the navy, mostly aboard the USS Mindoro, an aircraft carrier, during the Korean War; attended Catholic seminary - though he didn't become a priest, which is just as well since I wouldn't be here, in all likelihood; candidate for Congress from Massachusetts' 10th congressional district; worked in a shoe store; built and operated a carnival game; was a craps dealer and stickman; had a brief stint as a disc jockey and, much later in life, as a radio talk show host (and my Mom was a singer and had her own radio show for a short time, which explains how I got the great pipes with which I'm blessed); co-owned a racehorse; was a prison guard; and had a very short career as a caterer, though he had hoped it would be a continuing source of income. More on this one some other time, as it's an amusing (and touching) story in and of itself.

Somewhere in there, my Dad found his true calling. He became a salesman. He truly loved to interact with people and enjoyed immensely the salesman's art of telling jokes and stories to loosen up the customer. I think, in reality, he used the job in order to tell the stories, rather than telling the stories in order to sell stuff, which is what most salesmen do. And that's why he was such a good storyteller - that was what he loved doing.

He was a tremendous storyteller. He would employ a vast array of spot-on dialects and funny facial expressions. He became the characters in his stories, and his physical movements matched the words. He also had a great memory, which is essential if you want to do justice to a joke. Nothing is quite so hideous as a joke being told by someone who verbally stumbles and bumbles, searching for words, forgetting important details, or (God forbid) not remembering the punch line.

My father had certain set pieces which he employed. If you were close to him, you heard these pieces again and again. Being his only child, I heard them more than anyone else. When I was a teenager, this annoyed the hell out of me, and I would often leave the room when he'd launch into one of them for someone else. However, as I grew older, I came to appreciate the artistry of what he did. There were certain tales he told that went on for 15 or 20 minutes and contained numerous false finishes (the funeral of his Uncle Roy, which came on the eve of a family trip to Europe, comes to mind) that I would sorely love to have on tape now. They were masterpieces of descriptive oral narrative. They are now pretty much lost, since I might be able to recreate the words to some extent, but capturing a performance on paper is almost impossible.

Having said that, I am now going to tell you my father's favorite joke. I've used it a couple of times myself, when I've been called upon to act as MC or to speak at a function, since it is short enough for me to faithfully recreate it with most of the same mannerisms and inflection which my father used. Since this is written, you'll have to supply your own dialect and facial expressions, but the human imagination has a marvelous facility for just that, so I'm sure you'll do a swell job.

One other thing - It's a clean joke, so it's useful for all occasions. Well, to be honest, I may be stretching that. If you're called upon to give a speech to your local PETA chapter, they'll probably not find you very amusing if you use this. Here goes:

A man was walking down a country road. As he was enjoying the fresh air and lovely scenery, he passed by a farmhouse. In the frontyard of the farmhouse, he saw a pig. With a wooden leg.

This piqued the man's curiosity, of course. It isn't every day that you see a pig with a wooden leg. He wondered about it for a while, trying to figure out how a pig would come to have a wooden leg, but he couldn't come up with anything that satisfied completely. He decided that he had to find out for sure. He entered the yard, went up to the farmhouse and knocked on the front door. An old farmer answered.


The man said, "I was walking by your house and I hope you don't mind, but I noticed that you have a pig with a wooden leg in the front yard."

"Ayup. That's Ol' Horace. Mighty fine pig."

"Horace. Hmmmm. Well, it's not every day that you see a pig with a wooden leg."


"I'm so curious! Would you mind telling me how the pig - how Horace - came to have a wooden leg?"

"Naw 'tall. See, my wife and I have lived in this farmhouse for near on to thirty years. Raised all our family here. A fine son and two lovely daughters. Well, one night not too long ago, the farmhouse caught fire! Flames evr'where, you know. The wife and I were upstairs sleeping when it happened, and all the kids were down the hall in their rooms asleep, too. It'd been a hard day and we were all sleeping soundly."

"Well, sir, Horace seen that the house was on fire, and he broke down the front door and raced upstairs through the flames. He banged and pushed 'til he got the door to our son's room open, and then he got up onto the bed and pushed our son out onto the floor. That woke him up, coughing and hacking, and he sized up the situation right quick, so he ran to the other room to wake up our two daughters. Meanwhile, Horace run down the hall to our room. He pushed open the door, oinkin' and sqealin' to beat the band, and he jumps up onto the bed and shoves both me and the wife out onto the floor! I seen how the house was burnin' down, so I run down the stairs, along with the kids, but the missus was still upstairs! She'd been ass-phyxiated, you know, and passed out. Well, Horace run back up the stairs, grabbed onto my wife's petticoats, and dragged her down the stairs and out into the front yard. By golly, that pig saved all of our lives! Don't know where we'd of been without Ol' Horace."

The man was amazed at this story of heroism. He said, "So, Horace lost his leg in the fire?"


"Then why does he have a wooden leg?!?"

"Well, sir, you don't eat a pig like that all at once."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Love Card Day

One of my readers e-mailed me recently, to ask a question concerning my availability on September 30th. I replied, "Are you insane, you dope? That's Love Card Day! Of course I'm not available!"

Heck of a way to talk to one's Mom (especially since she actually reads this stuff and still admits to folks that I'm her son) but I don't plan anything for Love Card Day. Except, of course, for the obligatory exchange of love cards.

[blank stare]

Why are you looking at me that way? Haven't you ever heard of Love Card Day? What planet are you from? Earth? Where's that? And, while we're at it, who stole my underwear?

[even blanker stare, if that's possible]

OK, enough "funny" introductory material. Here's the scoop on Love Card Day.

MY WIFE and I met, had a couple of dates, fell in love, and decided to get married.

(That's the abridged version. You'll be able to flesh out the details as I post other interminably long and pointless scribblings to this page.)

Anyway, as we progressed through the courtship stage (as it's known to ornitholigists) we found out a very interesting fact concerning our fathers. Her father and my father were both born on the same day. In the same year.

I don't know what the odds are on that happening - two people meeting and finding out their fathers were born on the exact same day - but I suspect it's rather high. And higher still if you limit it to people who marry each other. On top of that, our fathers were both raised in the same Boston neighborhood, just a couple of blocks from each other. Anyway, they were both born on September 30th, 1931.

(As an aside, as MY WIFE and I got to know each other better, we found out that our paths had crossed many times before we knew each other. It was spooky finding out how many times we might have met before we actually did. However, we both feel that we didn't actually meet, before the time when we did, because we wouldn't have liked each other then. We both grew to be people we could stand and then we met. For instance, I used to do lots and lots of drugs, while MY WIFE has never done an illegal drug in her life. I was a long-haired metal-playing freak, while she was a strait-laced church-going choir member. When we met, I was balding and pretty much sober. MY WIFE was... well, pretty much as she had been. OK, I had become someone MY WIFE could stand. However, I digress.)

So, the thing is, we celebrated both of our fathers' birthdays on the same day, which was September 30th.

I'll cut to the chase. In 1994, my father died. In 1995, MY WIFE's father died. This made September 30th a somewhat sad day on the calendar. However, instead of dwelling on the deaths, MY WIFE had the idea that it would be nice to make it a day of celebration. I agreed and, in honor of our fathers, we remade it into Love Card Day.

Now, none of the stuff we do on Love Card Day sounds like a way of memorializing someone. However, if you knew our fathers, you'd know that they both liked a good joke and they both really liked to eat. Those were probably their most outstanding traits. So, here's what we do, in honor of our fathers, on Love Card Day.

First, we each buy a greeting card for the other person. This is the "Love Card". We designate a particular brand of greeting card, and we both shop for that brand, independent of the other person. The only qualifier, other than the brand, is that it must be a "Love" card - one that expresses that sentiment, and it doesn't have to be humorous, but usually will end up being so. On the initial Love Card Day, it was a Hallmark Shoebox card because we had coupons for free ones.

(On that first Love Card Day, when we exchanged cards, we found that we had both bought the same card. We had shopped at different times, in different stores, but out of the couple hundred or so choices available, we got the same card for each other. We have failed to replicate this extraordinary coincidence since then, but we took it as a sign that we were on the right track when it happened.)

Next, since our fathers both loved to eat, we have dinner.

That's about it. It may not sound like anything earth-shattering, but it turns what could be a very melancholy day into a day that we, instead, look forward to sharing with each other. Nothing wrong with that. It's our own personal holiday.

So, dear reader, make a note: I am never available on September 30th. It's Love Card Day, you dope!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Ginger Or Mary Ann?

This is the question which has plagued adolescent boys, and the men who think like them, since time immemorial (that is, 1964.) I personally feel that it's no contest. Mary Ann was warm and caring, could make 67 different main dishes out of coconuts, and had a killer bod. Ginger had the killer bod, of course, but she couldn't cook and she was a tease. What's to argue? Mary Ann, hands down.

Oh, right. This isn't a question about who you'd like to marry, buy a house in the suburbs, raise kids and make mortgage payments with. This is about who you'd like to screw.

It's still Mary Ann.

However, what if your goal is to be a layabout who never does a lick of work in his life, doesn't want kids, would rather live in Beverly Hills and never make a mortgage payment? I guess you'd have to choose Ginger. She could support your lazy ass making B-grade movies and appearing on the next incarnation of "The Love Boat". But you'd still have to put up with Ginger. I bet she fakes it, every time. And I don't think the drapes and rug match, if you know what I mean. Besides, what makes you think she'd put up with you? It's still Mary Ann, even if it means working for a living.

There is a similar question, but slightly wierder.

Wilma or Betty?

OK, I know we're talking about cartoon characters, but these are two sexy little animation cels, eh? Either one is pretty decent, but I'd have to go with Betty. She seems slightly less liable to brain you with a brontosaurus bone. She has also proven that she doesn't care about looks, because she married Barney Rubble. Yeah, I know, Fred wasn't the prehistoric Antonio Banderas, but Barney was, what, four-foot-three? And his eyes had no pupils.

It just occurs to me (yes, it just occurs to me, after 40+ years of considering this question) that both of these women are married! Ah, who gives a damn? It's freakin' Bedrock. If I showed up there, my name would be Jim Sullystone and I'd be showering by having a mastodon blow water out it's nose onto me.

Something else occurs to me. There aren't any female equivalents to these questions, are there? There aren't bunches of women debating the ecstasies of Gilligan versus The Professor. This is strictly male territory. And STRAIGHT male territory, at that. I have the feeling that most women would choose Thurston Howell III, and not for the same reasons that I'd pick Mary Ann. Most gay men would probably just be shaking their heads and saying, "How sad..."

This is because straight guys fantasize about cartoon women. That is pretty damned sad, isn't it...

OK - next question: Marge Simpson or Olive Oyl? Marge has the better body, but Olive doesn't have blue hair. Then again, blue hair could be a turn on...

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Patsies

Houston Antwine. Jimmy Colclough. Babe Parilli.

Tonight, the best football team on the planet begins defense of their Super Bowl title. The New England Patriots look to make it 4 championships in 5 years. They are arguably the best football team to ever compete in the NFL. It hasn't always been that way.

Tom Addison. Jim Hunt. Bob Dee.

They started out as the Boston Patriots of the American Football League. In 1959, Billy Sullivan won the rights to the Boston franchise. There were 8 teams during the inaugural AFL season of 1960. The Patriots may have been the least likely to succeed of the group. Boston had been home to 2 NFL franchises in earlier years, but both failed - the Boston Redskins moved to Washington in 1937, and the Boston Yanks folded in the 1940's. Billy certainly didn't have the funds that, say, Lamar Hunt did in Dallas, and most of the other owners or ownership groups had more stable situations. However, he fought tooth and nail for his team, finding creative ways to keep them afloat and with an actual field to play on. Billy remained President of the team until 1992. He died in 1998, at the age of 82, having never seen his team win either an AFL Championship or a Super Bowl.

Tom Yewcic. Larry Garron. Gino Cappelletti.

They went 5 and 9 that first year, under head coach Lou Saban. They were last in the league in points scored. They were 5th of 8 in points given up. They played home games at Nickerson Field, formerly the home of baseball's Boston (now Atlanta) Braves. In subsequent years, they would play at Fenway Park, a field which was decidedly NOT built for football. After Fenway, they used Boston College's Alumni Stadium, then Harvard Stadium. They were the team without a home to call their own.

Jon Morris. Joe Bellino. Jim Nance.

In 1963, they had their only real brush with AFL greatness. After going 7-6-1 during the regular season, they made it all the way to the AFL Championship game. They were blown out of the water by the San Diego Chargers, 51 - 10. It would be 13 years before they made another playoff appearance. To recap: First 16 years of the franchise, ONE playoff appearance.

Nick Buoniconti. Joe Kapp. Jim Plunkett.

They weren't all clowns and bums, of course. The Pats had a fair amount of really good players, and they did have some winning seasons. Big Jim Nance, the running back, won the AFL Most Valuable Player award in 1967. Gino Cappelletti led the league in scoring more than once. Sometimes, though, the problem was that they couldn't keep the good players, or that they didn't keep them long enough, or that they acquired them a bit too late. Nick Buoniconti was very good here, but he was great after he went to Miami. Joe Kapp had his time in the sun in Minnesota, leading them to the Super Bowl. He also quarterbacked teams in the CFL's Grey Cup and in college football's Rose Bowl. He joined the Patsies and the fans eagerly awaited good times. Didn't happen - the magic, whatever it had been, was gone. Jim Plunkett was the Heisman Trophy winner out of Stanford. The Pats drafted him #1 and he started out well, winning 6 of 7 games early on in 1971. That's what they won all year - 6 games. They finished at 6 - 8. Of course, Plunkett went on to win the Super Bowl as a member of the Oakland Raiders.

Ron Sellers. Randy Vataha. Carl Garrett.

In 1970, the NFL and AFL merged. The Patriots went 2 - 12. In the four seasons between 1967 and 1970, they won a total of 13 games. They weren't called The Patsies for nothing. They finally had a home of their own, though. Billy Sullivan built a stadium in Foxboro. Keeping with their meager means at the time, it was little more than a cement bowl with seats. It did have one major advantage. There wasn't really a bad seat in the house. The sight lines were good everywhere. However, the seats were benches and when the cold winter winds whipped through, it was a cruel place to see a game. The parking was horrendous and fans knew that getting out of the parking lot and onto a major road would take hours after a game. Variously called Schaefer Stadium, Sullivan Stadium and Foxboro Stadium, it would be home to the Patriots for the next thirty-two seasons.

Sam "Bam" Cunningham. Reggie Rucker. Mack Herron.

In the 5 year period from 1971 to 1975, the Patsies won 24 games. Jim Plunkett's battered and beaten body left town. Then, in 1976, the Patsies were no longer the laughingstocks of the league.

Steve Grogan. Stanley Morgan. John Hannah.

In 1976, they went from 3 - 11 to 11 - 3, earning a wild card playoff berth. They lost to Oakland, 24 -21, largely due to a very controversial call. This call would be reversed, so to speak, in 2001 via the "tuck" rule call that went against Oakland. Poetic justice is a lovely thing. If you were a Patriots fan during the first call, you knew that the one in 2001 was just long overdue payback. Anyway, despite the 1976 playoff appearance, it would be another 9 years before the Patsies actually won a playoff game.

Mike Haynes. Steve Nelson. Leon Gray

They had a playoff team in 1978, but lost in the first round after head coach Chuck Fairbanks announced he was leaving the team to coach college ball, was suspended by Billy Sullivan, and Ron Erhardt was installed as coach for the playoff game. The Patsies found bizarre ways to lose, that's for sure. They bottomed out and went 2 - 12 in 1981. In the strike-shortened season of 1982, they made the playoffs with a record of 5 -4. They lost in the first round again.

Russ Francis. Tim Fox. Darryl Stingley.

Meanwhile, personal tragedy haunted the team. Darryl Stingley, a fine receiver and an all-around very nice man, was paralyzed from the neck down in a 1978 pre-season game against Oakland. He has handled his misfortune with amazing grace, by the way, and is an inspiration to many. Jim Nance, the great running back from the early years of the franchise, suffered many debilitating health problems. He died in 1992 at the age of 50.

Craig James. John Smith. Irving Fryar

The team made it to the Super Bowl in 1986. Unfortunately, so did the Chicago Bears. The Patriots great and fun season ended in a 46 - 10 drubbing. It was quite ugly. It would be another 8 years before the Patsies made a playoff appearance again.

Doug Flutie. Andre Tippett. Ronnie Lippett.

There was another strike season, but this time the NFL played on with replacement players. Doug Flutie, the Heisman winner from Boston College, was signed by the Patriots. He played for a couple of seasons, led them in passing in one, had them headed to the playoffs and was inexplicably benched by Raymond Berry. Berry left town a year later and the Patsies won 19 games between 1989 and 1993.

Drew Bledsoe. Terry Glenn. Curtis Martin.

Bob Kraft bought the team. They changed uniforms. Back to the Super Bowl in 1996, under Bill Parcells. They lost to the Green Bay Packers. They had some good teams without quite enough personnel to be the best. Parcells left amid a bit of controversy. They got a new stadium.

They became the team of...

Tom Brady. Adam Vinatieri. Troy Brown. And, of course, Bill Belichek.

You know the rest of the story, of course, so no need to go over it here. They are seen by the rest of the league as THE blueprint for success. They have risen to the pinnacle. They are the ones to beat. And it starts again tonight. It only took them 40 years or so to get it right.

Damn, it's great being a Patriots fan.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Tony C

We all have heroes. This is a story about one of mine.

I can pinpoint with precision the day I became a baseball fan. It was Sunday, July 12th, 1964. I was 7 years old at the time and my parents were visiting the home of my Granduncle Jim. He was a bachelor who shared a marvelous apartment in Roslindale with two of my unmarried grandaunts, Aunt Loretta and Aunt Pat. I remember many a pleasant day visiting there. On this particular day, while my parents and aunts sat in the kitchen talking about whatever parents and aunts talk about on a summer sunday, Uncle Jim removed himself from the conversation to go sit in his favorite chair in the living room and watch the Boston Red Sox play a doubleheader against the Washington Senators.

Uncle Jim must have been a seriously diehard baseball fan. In 1964, you would have been hard pressed to find a less appealing doubleheader. The Red Sox and Senators were battling it out to see which team could clinch 9th place before September. The Sox were three years away from the beginning of their rise to glory, the marvelous "Impossible Dream" team of 1967. The starting infield was populated by the likes of Felix Mantilla, Eddie Bressoud and Dick Stuart. Of the regulars that year, Bressoud led the team with a .293 average. Dalton Jones and a young Carl Yastrzemski tied for the team lead in stolen bases with 6, so they obviously didn't have speed to make up for the lack of hitting. The Senators, on the other hand, had such luminaries as Ron Kline, Fred Valentine, Eddie Brinkman and Don Lock on their roster.

Anyway, Uncle Jim settled in to watch this thing on his black and white TV, and I settled in next to Uncle Jim, laying on the rug by his chair. I knew very little about baseball, so I'm sure I asked him all sorts of idiotic and (to a knowledgeable fan) exasperating questions. He answered them all, patiently and thoroughly, while the Sox split the doubleheader with the Senators. I was hooked from that point onward. I have lived and died with the fortunes of the Red Sox since then, and even had a secondary rooting interest in the Senators, until they deserted Washington for Texas in the 1970's.

Since the Red Sox were my favorite team, it made sense that my favorite player would be a part of that team. He was, and his name was Tony Conigliaro. I liked him because he hit home runs and he was the youngest guy on the team - nothing weightier than that.

Tony C, as he was called by many, was a local kid from Revere. He was 19 in 1964, his first year in the majors. He played right field at Fenway and swatted big flys into the screen in left. He hit 24 home runs in that rookie season, a season shortened by a broken arm, and he still owns the major league mark for most home runs before the age of 20. He led the American League in home runs in 1965 with 32 - the youngest player ever to lead the league in that category. He was, at the time he did it in 1967, the youngest player in league history to reach 100 career home runs. He appeared to have a legitimate shot at passing Babe Ruth's career high 714 home runs, if he could play long enough.

On top of his ballplaying skills, he was handsome and had a fair singing voice. He recorded a few songs during his time with the Sox, predating such current day player/singers as Bronson Arroyo by four decades. He made appearances on the Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin shows, much to the delight of his many young female fans. His future was seemingly limitless.

It all came crashing down in August of 1967. In the middle of the first real pennant race I had ever had the thrill of following, Tony C was beaned by a Jack Hamilton fastball. It crushed the left side of his face, leaving him without vision in his left eye for a time. He missed the remainder of the season and the ensuing World Series appearance of the Sox. Blurred and double vision forced him to sit out the entire 1968 season as well.

He made a somewhat miraculous return in 1969, hitting 20 homers and winning the Comeback Player of the Year award. Then, in 1970, he hit a career high of 36 home runs, batting in 116. Then the Red Sox ripped my 13-year-old heart out. They traded Tony during the off-season, to the California Angels.

I've never understood how a team can do that. A man is a local hero, beloved by the fans, having endured athletic tragedy and fought his way back to the top. He has delivered the goods, and then some, and you ship him out of town? The good will engendered by keeping him would seem to be enough, let alone whatever production he might contribute, but they traded him anyway.

As it turned out, at least from a business perspective, the Sox were right. 1970 turned out to have been Tony's final full season. His continuing vision problems forced his retirement from the Angels in 1971.

My hero made me proud again, though. In 1975, he attempted another comeback, again with the Red Sox. He made the team and started on opening day.

I tried so very hard to get a ticket to that opening day. I wanted to hear his name announced over the loudspeakers by PA announcer Sherm Feller, see him take his place on the field, and join with every person in that ballpark by standing up and applauding for the man. Instead, having been unable to secure a spot inside the park, I stood outside and heard the enormous and long ovation he received. He hit a home run. That's what a hero does, of course.

He only lasted a few more weeks before having to give it up for good, but I was more than satisfied that I couldn't possibly have picked a better player to cheer for all those years. He never gave less than his all and he never gave up until he had thoroughly exhausted his possibilities. Those are traits we should all strive to have.

Inasmuch as any man blessed in many ways can be tragic, Conigliaro certainly was. His latter days were filled with misfortune, much as his younger ones had been. While in Boston in 1982, to interview for a sportscasting position, he suffered a crippling heart attack and lapsed into a coma. He never fully recovered and spent the remaining years of his life in a wheelchair, battling various ailments and having a series of strokes. He passed away at the age of 45, about the time he would have been giving his acceptance speech for his election to the Hall Of Fame, if all had gone as it seemed it might at one point.

I'm appending his stats below, but heroes aren't heroes because of statistics. They are people who display heart and bravery in the face of adversity. Tony C started out as just a baseball player I liked a lot, but he became a hero of mine. He still is.


1964 19 BOS 111 404 69 117 21 2 24 52 35 78 .290
1965 20 BOS 138 521 82 140 21 5 32 82 51 116 .269
1966 21 BOS 150 558 77 148 26 7 28 93 52 112 .265
1967 22 BOS 95 349 59 100 11 5 20 67 27 58 .287
1969 24 BOS 141 506 57 129 21 3 20 82 48 111 .255
1970 25 BOS 146 560 89 149 20 1 36 116 43 93 .266
1971 26 CAL 74 266 23 59 18 0 4 15 23 52 .222
1975 30 BOS 21 57 8 7 1 0 2 9 8 9 .123

8 Seasons 876 3221 464 849 139 23 166 516 287 629 .264

Friday, September 02, 2005


Let's hear it for Labor Day, the only holiday specifically created as an excuse to do absolutely nothing!

Oh, sure, there are those other days throughout the year when you don't have to go to work, but they all require at least a grudging acknowledgement of somebody or some thing; a few minutes of prayer, a hurried history lesson, a gluttonous feast. Labor Day asks only that you revel in sloth (which is my second-favorite deadly sin.)

I hear someone saying, "Oh, yeah, wise guy? What about New Years Day? You don't have to do a damned thing on New Years Day!" It troubles me that I'm still hearing the voices, but I'll answer that question. Hangovers. The only reason New Years Day is a holiday is because you couldn't get diddly-squat out of the work force after New Years Eve anyway. Everyone gets stinky drunk and stays up until at least 2 am the night before. You can't expect much else from folks the next day except to lay on the couch like slugs watching Oklahoma get their asses handed to them by USC.

Next up on the calendar is Martin Luther King day. Nice guy, but you get history lessons all day. Next!

President's Day. This used to be Washington's Birthday, and in some places you also got Lincoln's Birthday off, but now you get a day honoring Harding, Taft, Clinton, and whichever bozo we elect in 2008. There are some mighty fine deals on cars, though.

Saint Patrick's Day. This is one of those days that isn't really a holiday because you don't get the day off - unless you work for the state government in Massachusetts, in which case they call it Evacuation Day and you get the day off to try and figure out what the hell that means. However, most folks recognize Saint Patrick's as a special day. This is because they see the Irish getting looped and beating the bejeebers out of each other. They figure that if they'll do that to themselves, what will they do to me if I don't wear something green?

Memorial Day. One of two days on the calendar specifically set aside to honor those folks who served in war. The other is Veterans Day. Veterans Day started out as Armistice Day, and was created as a remembrance of the day that peace was declared at the end of World War One. Of course, in those days they didn't have to number their wars; they just called it The Great War, because they didn't expect the world to be stupid enough to have another one. After World War Two, they realized that the calendar might get too full of holidays if we took a day off to celebrate the end of every war, so they changed it to Veterans Day. For some folks, myself included, Veterans Day is the day you trade off at work so that you can have the Friday after Thanksgiving.

July 4th! Fireworks! Speeches! Concerts! Way too busy to even be considered!

Columbus Day. Nice little holiday to honor the man who thought he was going to Asia, but ended up here. Although I really like the idea of a holiday to honor those who become famous by mistake, this has become way too politicized to totally relax about. Let's move on.

Halloween. See Saint Patrick's Day, but exchange "children" for "Irish", "sugar addled" for "loopy", and "give 'em some candy" for "wear something green". Actually, in recent years this has become more of an excuse for adults to wear silly costumes and drink copiously, which is what most holidays eventually devolve into.

Thanksgiving. Eat gigantic amounts of food and flop down into an easy chair to watch the Detroit Lions embarass themselves nationally, as opposed to locally like the rest of the year. Followed by Friday After Thanksgiving, which doesn't really have an official name. I propose National You Thought I Gorged Myself Yesterday Wait Until You See What I Do To The Leftovers Day.

Finally, we get to December. Religious holidays abound which, while fun and all, do require you to go someplace and mumble stuff at the very least. Anyway, the weeks beforehand certainly require more work from you than you do for any other holidays - shopping, wrapping, cursing - and take so much out of you, both mentally and physically, the day or two you get off don't come near to resting you up enough to make up for it, which is why you get bleepfaced on New Years Eve.

So, let us be thankful for Labor Day. Or not, if that seems like too much work.