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The Greatest Play In NFL History

I understand that there might be some dissenting opinions about this. You might prefer catching a wild throw against your helmet. NFL films prefers the Immaculate Reception. Tuck rules and field goals in the snow are mentioned. I’m sorry, but there can be only one. And as far as my blogpost title goes, I know it wasn’t even the NFL then. The greatest play in NFL history happened in an AFL game before they merged the leagues. I don’t care. It’s all
applesauce. Hear me out.

They were still the Boston Patriots at that point, and didn’t have a home. The picture is Babe Parilli heaving a duck to a patch of infield grass with no one standing on it in Fenway Park. That’s where the vagrant Patriots used to play. They also played at Harvard Stadium, and at Boston University’s Nickerson Field, on Commonwealth Ave heading towards Brookline. They were the half-a-joke of Boston Sports. No one cared about any kind of football in Boston, and three-quarters of New England were Giants fans, anyway.

Bye, bye, Babe, we hardly knew ye. On to the video. They’re playing the Dallas Texans. No, you heard that right. I think the Dallas Texans are the Kansas City Chiefs now, or perhaps they’re the Dallas Cowboys, after being the Kansas City Whatevers for a while, I can’t remember and can’t be bothered to look it up.

I’ve had a lot to do with the Boston, er, New England Patriots over the years, all strange. I almost died in their driveway. I once stood on the fifty yard line of their new stadium while a half-dozen of us decided to change a thirty-year-old NFL rule, and did. One of my friends owns the crappy Astroturf endzones from the old stadium they had in Foxboro, before they built that stripmall thing they have now. I broke my ankle once, and attended an event at their stadium by being thrown over the chain link fence by my friends. Don’t misunderstand; I showed up with the broken ankle. My roommate used to counterfeit press passes and stand on the sidelines.

At any rate, my intimate knowledge of the Patriots is a testament to the fact that they were nobodies, because I’m a nobody. But sometimes, nobodies have a profound effect on things, don’t they?

I know Seattle likes to think that the people in the stands are their twelfth man, but talk is cheap, son. Get out there and make a play, or put a sock in it.

Spahn And Sain And Pray For Rain

When I was still in the gas station renovation business, I got a call from a project manager for a petro company. He wanted to meet at a defunct station they’d taken over from some independent gone tits up.

I met him there. He was younger than I — though I was still quite young — and more earnest about his job than I was, which is saying something. The place was gone to seed, the bowsprit of the triangular canopy rusting overhead, the blockhouse building looking a more like Paul Bunyan’s buttsprung ottoman than a concrete block bunker. The glass in the overhead doors was painted white –the winding sheet of commerce –and the concrete and pavement was spidered to bits.

The fellow asked me if I’d ever been there before. I told him I’d been there on the day it opened in 1967 but never since. He laughed and thought I was joking, but I wasn’t. I lived about five miles from there for sixteen years, and remembered the day it was opened quite clearly. I kept the remembrance to myself.

My father liked the baseball game. He was a  Braves fan, when they were still in Boston, and then a Sox fan. I think he actually loved the Braves, but considered the Red Sox a kind of mail-order bride he couldn’t afford to return. I think it’s because his father took him to Braves games.

First we’ll use Spahn
then we’ll use Sain
Then an off day
followed by rain
Back will come Spahn
followed by Sain
And followed
we hope
by two days of rain.

My father worked at a bank, and they lent money to all the ballplayers –well, all the profligate and deadbeat ones, anyway — and he was often tasked with trying to collect it. We used to go to Fenway Park from time to time, though it was pretty far away, and we’d sit directly behind the catcher, maybe ten rows back. The tickets were always free. Nobody went to Red Sox games back then. They’d stunk for decades.

The park was dirty and run down, and so were the players. I’ve never understood people that say Fenway Park is beautiful. It looks like Joe Stalin designed it and inebriated people that didn’t like Boston very much built it. Some people have a problem with all the advertising all over it now, but believe me, back in the day it was unremittingly green and it was much, much uglier, because you could really see it. The advertising is like planting vines on an ugly overpass. It helps a little.

The overhead doors at the gas station were open that warm day we went to the opening. There were strings of triangle flags snapping smartly in the breeze, the place was a new penny, and there were a half-dozen or so Red Sox players sitting at card tables in the open doorways. They dutifully autographed 8-1/2 by 11 black and white photos of themselves and smiled, at least until my dad and I showed up and then they smiled at me and then got kind of straight-lipped for my dad, and haltingly offered, without being asked, that the restaurant wasn’t doing so good right now Buddy but they’d catch up on their loan pretty quick, you betcha. He was off duty and didn’t care but such is life.

I think I remember Jerry Adair, maybe, Rico Petrocelli and George Scott, and forget who else. Lord knows what happened to the promo pictures. I had ten billion dollars-worth of baseball cards back then, and they’re gone, too. No one kept such things. Pro athletes were able to earn a living without working so they were exotic, but that’s about it. In my youth only little children and the odd addled adult would plaster their lives with the memorabilia of an athletic team. Baseball cards and autographs were fun, and so, worthless. You can’t be both.

But my Dad — he loved the baseball game. My mind drifts back to the game wafting out of the crummy AM transistor radio on a lazy summer afternoon while my father mowed the nasty brown patch of grass he kept in front of our house. We’d sit together occasionally for a short moment in the shade of the big pine on cheap lawnchairs made from aluminum tubing and nasty fibrous strapping that cut into your legs.

Ken Coleman’s voice would wash over us, the polyglot names of the batters would come in their turn, and Dad would wordlessly give me a sip of his beer right from the cold, steel can.

I wonder if my own sons will ever remember anything so fondly about me as that.

[Note: First offered in 2012]

We Had Everything Before Us, We Had Nothing Before Us, We Were All Going Direct To Heaven

Pop knew everybody. Didn’t have a dime but took me everywhere. We’d pull up to the Garden parking lot in our old beater. No hope. It was full when I was born, and now I’m in grammar school. I cringed until the face leans out of the booth and it’s his nephew in there. Right over there, Uncle Buddy. Where the players park.

You couldn’t buy a ticket with money. The Garden would thrum with excitement and no one would miss it for filthy lucre. Pop had four. Conjured them like a wizard at work because the boss was already wearing white shoes for the season and wouldn’t sweat in a seat in that hellhole when he could be on the Vineyard. Pop says he’ll sit behind the pole and stare at the big rusty rivets but I’d always end up there because I fit.

Uncle Smokey would come and puff his Tiparillos and jape with Dad and I was in the company of men and stood in awe like at the foot of marble Lincolns.

There was weather inside there. Cumulus clouds of smoke would meet the smog from the drunken exhalations and clash with the cold front coming up from Bobby Orr’s ice under the rickety parquet wood floor.

Then we’d stand and the floor was lost to me, nothing but the boles of men in an endless forest swaying in the breeze of excitement.

I’d kill ten innocent men to go back there for ten minutes.

What If Everything In The World Were A Misunderstanding, What If Laughter Were Really Tears?

Pop knew everybody. Didn’t have a dime but took me everywhere. We’d pull
up to the Garden parking lot in our old beater. No hope. It was full
when I was born, and now I’m in grammar school. I cringed until the face
leans out of the booth and it’s his nephew in there. Right over there,
Uncle Buddy. Where the players park.

You couldn’t buy a ticket with money. The Garden would thrum with
excitement and no one would miss it for filthy lucre. Pop had four.
Conjured them like a wizard at work because the boss was already wearing
white shoes for the season and wouldn’t sweat in a seat in that
hellhole when he could be on the Vineyard. Pop says he’ll sit behind the
pole and stare at the big rusty rivets but I’d always end up there
because I fit.

Uncle Smokey would come and puff his tiparillos and jape with Dad and I
was in the company of men and stood in awe like at the foot of marble
Lincolns.

There was weather inside there. Cumulus clouds of smoke would meet the
smog from the drunken exhalations and clash with the cold front coming
up from Bobby Orr’s ice under the rickety parquet wood floor.

Then we’d stand and the floor was lost to me, nothing but the boles of
men in an endless forest swaying in the breeze of excitement.

I’d kill ten innocent men to go back there for ten minutes. 

It’s Cold Again, And That’s That

My bed is a canvas. I come to on it every morning like a boxer hearing eight.

He told me while he was dying that he remembered going down three flights of stairs to shovel coal into a furnace if they wanted heat. He laughed in his way and asked no one, “Who doesn’t want heat?” Later they moved to a ticky tacky box in the boonies where the train finally gave up, and there was this magic dial on the wall and the house got warm if you simply turned it. He never got over it, the marvel of it. He almost died with it, that wonder, on his lips.

It’s gone, all that. I don’t know whether I lost it or it was taken from me, but what difference would that make? It’s cold again, and that’s that. Unnumbered years ago our little faces barely poked up above the plateau of the battered kitchen table while our milk turned our ration of flakes to paste, mom resolutely ironing his breastplate before he went Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. There was no way we could know that to the man at the end of the table, born into a landscape so bleak I can hardly understand it, we were his offering, a sign of hope; and now you can’t help but chew the bitter cud of doubt that his hope was misplaced. You’ve done so little with it. Barely managed to produce a batch of hope for yourself. You pray that hope, by its very nature, cannot be misplaced.

I don’t care about the dimming of my eyes and the ringing in my ears; the stabbing pain like a rebuke, the residue of blows unseen and unprovoked; the passing of the seasons like palings in a picket fence as you drive down the street. I just don’t want the referee to count ten before I prove he wasn’t a fool to hope after all.

I Want To Buy The Boston Red Sox

No, don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to own the Boston Red Sox. I don’t even watch the games. I want to buy the Red Sox, and fix them.

I’ll put the stadium back the way it was in 1966. A dreadful olive drab roofless warehouse with a hint of Stalin about it, with big troughs in the Men’s Rooms to piss in. No luxury boxes, either. The only food they’d serve would be hot dogs that make the hot dogs at the Sunoco station look fresh. Then I’d make Barbara Dennerlein the organist. No more piped in rap songs when they call in closers with pot bellies and higher ERAs than IQs. And no riding on carts to the mound, either, like they were obese Walmart shoppers. Maybe donkeys. Make them ride little burros or something. They’re getting Dennerlein, good and hard, the whole way, too. Lady of Spain…

It’s my team, so I’m changing the uniforms from the crap they’ve got now to Swiss Guard oufits. They can wear the metal conquistador helmets when they bat, too. I’m gonna change the rules, and the batter has to run to second right away, right over the mound, and the pitcher has to tackle him if he can. And the ball has to be soaked in tar and set alight when the umpire yells: Play ball!

The umpires will have to dress like mothers-in-law — you know, big muumuus, slippers, curlers in their hair — and they won’t call balls and strikes, just intone,”That’s not where my son would have thrown it,” if the ball’s pitched outside. They’ll make you wipe your feet before you cross home plate, too. Should yield some drama five feet up the baseline.

Dennerlein’s gonna play the national anthem using only her left foot. So let it be written. So let it be done.

Amplitude Modulation (2007)

The naugahyde was cool against your cheek. I remember that.

Driving back from Roxbury. Rambling along the Charles on Storrow. The car pitched and yawed on its butt-sprung suspension and the spidered pavement. You could reach down and lift the floor mat to see the asphalt roll by through the rusty pinholes in the floor, where the road salt had done its work, and worked overtime, too.

Pop was operatin’. He was like a sub commander. Steering through shoals with vision obscured. Our moist breath fuddled the windshield. The defroster exhaled on the glass like the dying animal it was. Pop wiped the fog away with his hanky, and pressed on.

Little brother was already asleep on the seat next to you. Mom packed blankets and pillows around him to hold him on the seat. I bivouacked on the rest, and tried to align my face on the part where the cushion wasn’t split from a thousand butts. The edge of the rip would cut your face and the foam would tickle you.

The scene was framed, imperfectly, through the lens of the side window. Left to right, the world ran past. The drops of condensation coalesced on the movie screen of the fogged window, ran down, and revealed the Cambridge shore through the mist. Low-watt Christmas everywhere. The enormous billboards were shrunk by distance and time and poverty to faraway smears of luminous color with winking neon and the stink of death on their topics. FULLER OLDS. NECCO. KASANOF’S. The window made them into a kaleidoscope.

The useless wipers went scrreee-BAP, scrreee-BAP over and over, and Pop would fiddle with everything to no effect and keep going. Mom would look out the window and over her shoulder and her thoughts were her own. The Christmas presents from doting Aunts who asked over and over, “Which one are you?” shifted and tumbled over in the trunk an inch behind my head when we got to the huge sign that said REVERSE CURVE — the one that caught Pop by surprise, every time, even though he was born a brisk walk from it.

There was sometimes a hand free to twist the huge, mostly useless dial on the radio. Snap, Crackle, Pop, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, came out of that thing. At night the big stations like BeeZee would bleed all over the place, and bizarre incursions of French from Canada would appear, unwonted, fight for primacy like radio chimeras, then disappear as Pop searched again for whatever you could catch and hold.

Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone…

We rolled on into the night.

SKATE TO THE RIGHT!



When I was young my father would take me to an MDC skating rink. The MDC was the “Metropolitan Disctrict Commission.” It was a layer of government in Massachusetts that allowed the corrupt mayor of Boston to be corrupt outside the city proper. The MDC had its own police force, and ran all sorts of public parks and such. They constructed skating rinks here and there around Boston.

They were spartan affairs, but didn’t seem so to us, because all we had was the corrugated ice on the local pond, and we had to shovel that first. Some people think that sort of activity, born of privation, builds character. People that think that have never met me. I don’t have a trace of character, and I went through all sorts of inconveniences.

The MDC rink we frequented was on the banks of the Charles River, on the Jamaicaway, I think, and it was simply a roof over a patch of ice, with a chain link fence for walls around it, and a blockhouse where you could rent someone else’s athlete’s foot by the hour. They threw in the skates for free. They also sold hot chocolate that wasn’t either of those things. It was a long car ride from where we lived, and it seemed very cold, but we loved it.

During public skating hours, they’d play organ music over loudspeakers they had borrowed from a defunct prison camp or something. It transmogrified the music into something not quite musical. It was the same hoary old stuff the organist at Fenway Park used to play, only recorded.

There were usually a lot of people. There were all sorts of rules posted, all ignored, mostly, except by custom, but there was one, big, hairy rule that everyone followed uniformly: Everyone skated the same direction at the same time. You’d skate counterclockwise for 15 minutes or so, and then a voice would break into the groaning organ music and bellow: SKATE TO THE RIGHT!, and everyone would immediately stop and go clockwise. To this day, whenever I hear any sort of Hammond organ music, I still mutter skate to the right to myself.

I was little and in awe of my father. He could skate pretty well. I had a problem. I could only skate to the left. When the direction was reversed, I’d have to cross my left leg over my right to make a right turn, and I’d fall down. A lot.

Humans are practical creatures, and devise various strategies for dealing with such failings — almost all of which involve avoiding trying. I’d say I was cold, and sit down on a metal bench the temperature of Neptune, or hang on the boards and lie like a Turk in a bazaar and say I was tired. When the disembodied voice re-appeared and said SKATE TO THE LEFT again, I’d go back at it.

My father gave me some good advice, which I still remember. He said that if I didn’t want to learn to skate that I shouldn’t go skating. It would be a waste of time, and I should simply do something else that I really wanted to do. But I enjoyed my counterclockwise self, so it’s more likely that going clockwise was just a difficulty that I could overcome with effort and intellect. If I was happy fifty percent of the time, why not make it a hundred? 

He told me that I had to figure out the aspects of skating I was bad at, and only do them. He told me to sit on the arctic bench and hang on the boards when the direction favored me, and only skate to the right.

It’s counterintuitive to do this. Go with your strength everyone says. There’s an entire school of thought in business called the Hedgehog Strategy. Find one thing you do well, and only do that one thing.

Dad said don’t go with your strength. Take your strength for granted. Work on your weakness. It was marvelous advice, and not just for skating. Businessmen, especially small businessmen, rarely understand the concept. In large organizations, your boss exists to do one thing: make you skate to your right. Left on your own, you’d do whatever was easy and file everything difficult under M for manana.

That’s why most everyone hates their boss; he makes you do things you don’t want to do. If you were wise, you’d realize it’s in your own best interest to learn to skate to the right, but that’s not why he asks you to do it. If you don’t skate to the right, he gets fired and can’t afford to get the GI Joe with the Kung-Fu grip for his kids for Christmas. So he makes you. His boss makes him. And so forth. 

When people want to start their own businesses, 99 percent of the time it’s because they think that if they don’t have a boss, no one can make them skate to the right. They’ll go with their strength. Of course their strength is likely not of any use to the public. If you’re in business on your own, you don’t have one or two bosses. The general public is your boss, every man-jack of them. And they’re not interested in the fact that you can really check boxes on forms, or your desk is really clean, or that you’re amazing at leaving witty comments on FARK all day. They want their stuff. They all want you to skate to the right all the time. But they only have one way to make you skate to the right. They starve you out. They go away and never come back. The public is so much more cruel than the worst boss in this regard, because they almost always say nothing to you. They figuratively kill you without telling you why. They would tell you why, but listening to the customers is the A, Number One, Primary, Overarching, Central and Foundational example of skating to the right for almost everyone. That’s why salesman make so much money and do so little heavy lifting.

So my advice, for all you owners and managers and employees of businesses, is simple: Your business should skate to the left, hedgehog style, all the time. Go with your strength. All your employees, and you if you’re an owner or manager, should work on skating to the right all the time, to make it possible for the business to keep that Business Hedgehog fed, so all his spines don’t fall out from inanition. There’s a name for a hedgehog without spines that curls up into a ball and plays dead. That word is “lunch.” 

Most managers do not have a deft touch at making demands for clockwise skating. They grab you by the shirt collar and drag you to the right. My father wasn’t like that. He told me why I should try, and I believed him, and I made up my mind to try as hard as I could, because I’m stubborn. I battered my knees with fall after fall, and heard the tittering of everyone wondering who the clumsy kid was, but I eventually learned. I got to be as facile one way as the other.

Filled with a bit of pride, I said, “Dad, I think I can skate to the right better than to my left now.”

“Now skate backwards.”

The Druids (from 2009)

He’d put his finger in the spoke of the wheel and turn it like the rude machinery it was. Drove it like a plow or a trolley or something. The rattletrap Dodge almost brushed the curb as he let the wheel spin back through his fingers. He knew where everything was.

I look down from my naugahyde aerie through the dirty glass at the spot where the granite curbstone meets the spidered pavement, filled with all the dirt and corruption an old city can offer. The winking neon reflects in the little disconnected puddles left from a rainstorm weeks ago. Tonight’s mist hasn’t even made it down here yet; it just drifts into the spalled bricks up on the floors where gilt letters in the windows announce last generation’s professional men and merchants to no one, then trickles fitfully down to join the re-pulped flyers in the gutters. The sun never shines in the canyons of an old city. The streets are too narrow. And no rain could ever wash it clean. It will be snow soon.

The radio hisses and spits like a viper. There’s towers right down the street, Father says, but the signal can’t fight its way into the slit trench of the road in a little town gone big. He rolls the big chrome knob back and forth until something is intelligible. Catch-as-catch-can is life, he says. The random music and the sonorous voices in the interstices make a jolly soundtrack to the scrolling scene in the passenger-side window.

There are furtive creatures in a city, like animals at the edge of a clearing when the moonlight draws them out from the woods. God knows what makes a man hang in the doorway here. Collars up; hats down. The women totter on spikes and you can make out the fishnets on their legs from across the street. There’s the blaze of a match revealing eyes like raccoons at the trash cans, then the moment passes and the little glowing orange indicator light of the smoker in the dark takes its place. The sidewalk is a galaxy of butts and you wonder if everywhere that is not here is Virginia. The neon signs in the purplish windows have some teeth knocked out, but they remind a man there’s some Tennessee out there, too.

Father knows the way. That’s the problem. He knows every which way. It’s in his bones and marrow. The city of his birth — and mine. Everything is familiar, and so he often wanders on his way because he can always find his way everywhere from anyplace. He points out buildings gone dark, sometimes motioning at nothing but air standing in a fetid slot in the brick rows where a building once stood. He murmurs about the where and when and who of them. The buildings no longer represent their stated purpose — a friend lived there; some ne’er-do-well here; a man who could perform some service no one wants anymore, there. Shave your neck. Hobnail a boot. Take a bet. I realize he is not speaking to me anymore. He is chanting in a church sacked by Druids.

Or we’re the Druids; I don’t know.

Tag: Boston

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