All posts by indisco33

THE SANDLOT

THE SANDLOT

Last week the 106th opening game was held at Fenway Park.

In my old Darlington neighborhood of the 1950’s that meant a group of 9 and 10 year old boys would magically decide to head towards our makeshift ball field. We simply called it the “lot”.

Leaving home I would yell, “Mom, I’m going to the lot.”, as I scurried out the door.

The lot was a small oval plot of scruffy grass, encircled by Warwick and Windsor Avenues, plunked in the middle of our working class neighborhood. Woefully undersized for a ballpark, just 60 feet wide and 150 feet long, our gang made it work. Flat rocks were bases and telephone poles marked fair from foul. The only base paths were formed by our youthful romping. We had no fence.

One benefit of the size was the need for fewer players. We could manage with just 3 to a side; pitcher, shortstop and outfielder. The space was so tiny the pitcher could cover first base. A volunteer from the batting team would catch. The catcher was important because if the ball got past him it could easily land on the street and roll towards the sewer opening in the nearby curb. More than once we pried open the sewer cover and held onto the ankles of a playmate while we dangled him into the well to return our baseball, probably held together by black electrical tape, from the dark, dank mess.

The decision of which team batted first was decided by a vividly remembered ritual. One team captain would toss the bat vertically to the other captain who would catch it with one hand. The captains then topped each other fist over fist towards the knob of the bat. Whichever captain’s fist was the last able to fit on the bat’s barrel won the right for his team to hit first. However, before the bat toss, it was critical to establish if the “fingers” or “bottle cap” rules were in play for these arcane exceptions would change the outcome.

For the most part the neighbors who lived in the houses encircling our field were tolerant of the noise and potential damage to their properties. The one exception was a couple who lived in a home in foul territory past first base. They would keep any errant ball and worst of all they had the only picture window on the block! Fortunately, despite our unanimous hero worshipping of Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, all our gang were righties and we played slow pitch to keep most hits heading towards left field.
Until Charlie moved into the very house next to the picture window home. Charlie was different. He was a year older. He was rugged. He was an unrepentant lefty. After a few close calls with the dreaded window youthful innovation came to the rescue. When Charlie came to bat we simply flipped the field moving home plate to center field and Charlie’s pulled line drive shots would simply crash into a row of tall bushes.

The peculiarities of our oval island field come rushing back. The first player spotting an approaching vehicle would call out, “Cahh, cahh!” in our strong Rhode Island accent and play would momentarily halt. Our seventh inning breaks would consist of sitting on the steps of Artinian’s the mom and pop market located, in a Norman Rockwellian twist, directly behind home base. I’d drink Nehi grape while eating a Zagnut bar.

Curiously we never knew, nor much cared, who owned this little oval of green paradise. We never saw it being maintained. I guess our nonstop baseball, football and track games kept it from being overgrown.

I drove by the other day. A mature tree now rises from our old home plate. I see no sign of a worn basepath.

Times change, but early Spring will always bring these memories back to me.

Play ball!

-END-

My Final PawSox Pitch

MY FINAL PAWSOX PITCH

The PawSox and the city of Pawtucket are losing their public relations battle. Alarmingly.

House Speaker Mattiello ominously reports his constituents tell him they, “love the PawSox…want them to stay, but, don’t give them any public money to stay.”

The PawSox and the city have to approach this project from an entirely new creative direction. Their efforts to gin up enthusiasm with artist renderings of nonexistent, nebulous business development near the Apex site is failing. There is no emotional connection.

Time for action. Time for a new collaboration.

An immediate roundtable meeting should be held. The attendees should be; Governor Raimondo, House Speaker Mattiello, Pawtucket Mayor Grebien, Brian Goldner – C.E.O of Hasbro, John J. Bowen – President of Johnson & Wales University, Richard I. Gouse – New England Institute of Technology President, Rosanne Someson – R.I.S.D. President, James A. Procaccianti – C.E.O. of Procaccianti Group, Colin Kane – Principal at the Peregrine Group plus Shane Brady and Arthur Sullivan from Brady/Sullivan Properties. Larry Merlo C.E.O. of CVS/Aetna and, of course, Larry Lucchino and the PawSox group.

This group of power brokers should first tour 210 to 270 block of Main Street Pawtucket. While they will see that this stretch contains mostly abandoned or vastly underutilized store fronts , what they should also see is a tremendous opportunity to revive this core of downtown all anchored by the new PawSox stadium just up the hill at the proposed Apex site.

The new line up looks like this.

210 Main Street becomes the Hasbro Experience Store. Hasbro, under relatively new C.E.O Goldner, has expanded from a toy company to an entertainment company deeply immersed in movies and television featuring well known action figures. Hasbro is noticeably attempting to spread its brand , the recent Hasbro Con in Providence is a prime example. At 210 Main Street families can explore the fantastic array of toys, games and videos which are part of the Hasbro brand before they walk up the hill towards Hasbro Stadium new home of the PawSox.

Hungry before or after the game? Fans will flock to The Home Plate the new restaurant operated by the students and faculty from Johnson & Wales University at the beautiful marble clad old Fleet Bank Building at 216 Main Street. Students live in micro dorm rooms above the restaurant bringing a youthful demographic back to the city.

The vacant 222 address, former home of the Newport School of Hairdressing, has morphed into the Giga Place, a new concept store which specializes in the repair, upgrading and reselling of all things digital brought to you by the New England Institute of Technology. Once again, young entrepreneurs will live in newly modified living spaces above their store.

The W.T. Grant Building at 250 Main Street provided fond memories for generations of Rhode Islanders during its initial incarnation. The interior is now divided into smaller sections perfect for R.I.S.D. to open an artist co-op featuring the wares of their talented students.

Merlo could spearhead a new CVS/Aetna wellness center at 268 Main Street. Certainly much needed with the closing of Memorial Hospital.

To Pawtucket’s credit there has been some positive development lately, micro-breweries, artist lofts and craft work shops have recently opened. However, these are all on the periphery of downtown.

Is my vision aggressive? Will it require many new collaborations? Yes, but, the pieces are in place. Johnson & Wales, R.I.S.D., New England Tech and Hasbro have all greatly expanded in recent decades adding great value to Providence, East Greenwich and Pawtucket. Brady Sullivan Properties has already established itself in Pawtucket and look at what the Procaccianti Group accomplished with the derelict Sockanosset Boys School in creating the Chapel View complex in Cranston. The PawSox themselves have committed to 50,000 square feet of new development.

We need all of these entities together to expand the goal from saving the PawSox to saving Pawtucket.

There is a certain vocal segment of people, Mattielo met many of them, who are pure obstructionist who would say “no” to a deal of 90% PawSox funding and just 10% of public money. Their mantra is “not one dime of my money.”

However, there is also, I truly believe, a majority out there who would love to see a renewed Pawtucket as well as saving the PawSox.

The alternative?

We lose the PawSox, Pawtucket continues to struggle and the rusting pyramid atop the Apex store corrodes and collapses.

– END –
Jim Raftus grew up in Pawtucket and now lives in Cumberland.
Contact: jraftus@aol.co

PawSox And Downtown: A Challenge (Published Providence Journal 10/27/17)

PAWSOX AND DOWNTOWN: A CHALLENGE

I went downtown Pawtucket on a fact finding trip for this commentary expecting to find urban blight. I did, but, I found some surprises as well.

My premise was to walk the route down Main Street from the future Pawtucket – Central Fall Rail Station location to the proposed new PawSox stadium Apex site. This is being touted as the likely path baseball fans will take from the station. It is not a pretty picture.

Starting from the Pawtucket School Department building at 268 Main Street to the East Avenue intersection there are a total of twelve storefronts. Eight of the buildings are not in use; boarded up and sadly deteriorating interiors. Some of these underutilized buildings are especially disheartening to baby boomers who knew the city in better days. The white marbled Albert J. Vitali building, which served as the old Industrial National Bank, still has a beautiful facade. The W.T. Grant building at 250 Main evokes memories of long ago shopping trips with parents. The interior of the Grant’s building still looks like a smaller version of the Arcade in Providence. It is now mostly vacant with only two visible businesses, the Flying Shutter and the CSPH organization.

Baseball fans traveling this route will not be in any hurry to return to Pawtucket.

A key financial element in the PawSox proposal consist of the added revenue to be generated from “ancillary development’ to be built near the ballpark. The team, and Pawtucket officials, speak optimistically of the Peregrine Group’s plan to develop properties near Division Street and the PawSox commitment to build 50,000 square feet of mixed use properties nearby. This sounds fine, but, Division Street is not downtown and the new buildings planned by the PawSox are in close proximity to the park. This new construction will have minimal effect on the deteriorating core of Main Street. When Apex moved into this location, while it enjoyed a decades long success, it did not bring vitality to the struggling business sector just down the street. When discharged from the Army in 1971, I worked at Apex. I know the minimal effect it had.

So, why are the team and the city entirely focused on new construction rather than revitalizing what exist? Have the city officials given up on this area? Why not make Main Street and downtown the gateway to the ballpark?

After the new Durham Bulls Park was completed in 1995 the owner, Jim Goodmon, knew the ballpark was not enough to turn around the blighted area. Rather than constructing new edifices he retrofitted the abandoned American Tobacco Company building turning it into a profitable twelve months a year mixed use complex.

I want the PawSox and Pawtucket to succeed. I was privileged to serve on the Pawtucket’s 21 Vietnam Heroes monument committee and I know how supportive the team and the city were to our efforts.

The surprises I saw after my depressing downtown walk? To gather more information I made my first ever stop to the Pawtucket Visitor’s Center. Located on Main Street they were hosting the 18th Pawtucket Film Festival inside its lovely small theatre which uses seats reclaimed from the old Leroy Theatre. A very nice touch. Also, curious to see the new microbreweries which are touted as part of the Pawtucket renaissance, I found The Guild at 461 Main Street near the new train station site. They were hosting an event and it was packed with young couples and families having a wonderful time. These are a nice beginnings.

I know Mayor Grebien and the PawSox want Pawtucket to succeed. With the impending loss of Memorial Hospital and the Gamm Theatre it is vital to reverse this slide and get momentum back.

I challenge them to think outside the box and focus on getting all the entities involved to make the true downtown a critical component of the proposal.

– END –

Wisdom Under the Marquee

WISDOM UNDER THE MARQUEE

Near the end of Amor Towles’ best selling novel A Gentleman in Moscow it becomes obvious the author has gone to great lengths and used his considerable talents to allow one of his characters to say, “Gather up the usual suspects.” This iconic line from the classic 1943 movie Casablanca, which captures the corruption and cynicism of people trapped in war, started me thinking about why lines from movies have stayed in my mind.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest released in 1975 remains my favorite movie. While there are many memorable moments in this biting satire of life in a psychiatric ward, based upon the Ken Kesey novel, the scene where Jack Nicholson’s character, Randle Patrick McMurphy, offers a stick of gum to the silent Chief as they are waiting for their electroshock treatments resonates the most to me.

“Mmm, Juicy Fruit.” intones the heretofore mute Chief much to McMurphy’s surprise and delight. As McMurphy extols, Chief fooled them, he fooled them all. This appeals to my sense of putting something over on everyone who is oppressing you. Chief had been making a statement by not making a sound.

One of the main conceits in Steve Martin’s witty 1991 movie, L.A. Story is an electronic freeway traffic sign which mystically begins giving life and love advice to Martin’s character, Los Angeles television weatherman Harris K. Telemaker. After dispensing life changing riddles and prods to Telemaker throughout this delightful romp, when love conquers all the sign sparks out one final observation before returning to the mundane task of traffic control, “What I Really Want To Do Is Direct.” The perfect bon mot in a film which skewers the pretentiousness of life in the Los Angeles bubble of mini-celebrity. It also, contradictorily, expresses the universal desire to do something else, something glamorous with our lives.

When femme fatale Magenta gives the newly minted Rocky a lukewarm review of
“He’s ok.” in the 1976 cult hit The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Rocky’s creator Dr. Frank N. Furter, played to ludicrous perfection by Tim Curry, snarls his response, “I didn’t make him for you. (Pause) I made him for me!” This perfectly phrased rejoinder shows that even a mad scientist from Transylvania can bristle at criticism of their life’s work. Sometimes you just have do things to please yourself.
1964’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned To Stop Worrying And To Love The Bomb showcases Peter Sellers’ acting skills as he plays three wildly disparate characters. However, it is Sterling Hayden’s portrait of deranged General Jack D. Ripper which stays with me to this day. After erroneously releasing war planes armed with nuclear bombs towards Russia, General Ripper rants to one of Sellers’ characters, “Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous plots we have ever had to face.” It only gets more bizarre from here in this send up of cold war paranoia and the insanity which can reside in people placed in powerful positions.

Reviewing my above choices of movies I seem to have gone to great lengths and used my modest talents to describe films about; mental illness, accidental nuclear war, transvestite chicanery and lives filled with vanity. To lighten my screed I’ll conclude by retrieving the earliest verbal movie memory I still retain.

Walt Disney’s 1946 release of the part animation, part actors film Song of the South was not without controversy. Some viewers and critics saw the movie as condoning the subjugation of blacks, but, the lead black actors in the project disagreed. What the toddler boy I was then came out of the theater with was the catchy, upbeat refrain from a song, “Zippa-dee doo da zippy dee day plenty of sunshine heading my way.” sung by James Baskett. Our current time in history warrants a tenacious, stubborn clinging to such optimism in the face of potentially grave adversity. We must still pursue “wonderful days”.

Six very diverse movies and I can’t say for certain why these particular lines still resonate with me. Perhaps that is just part of the magic of movies.

For now, I’m heading to an afternoon matinee at the Avon. That will “Make my day!”

– END –

Pawtucket’s 21 Vietnam Heroes (Published 5/17/17 Prov. Journal)

PAWTUCKET’S 21 VIETNAM WAR HEROES MONUMENT
THE MIRACLE AT SLATER PARK

On May 21st, 1966 Marine Lance Corporal Antonio Maciminio died when shot jumping out of a helicopter into a combat zone becoming the first Pawtucket native killed in Vietnam.

Army 1st Lieutenant Michael Dalton lost his life in a mine explosion on June 9th, 1971 and was the final battle casualty from Pawtucket.

Nineteen other service men from Pawtucket were lost in the intervening years between these two tragic deaths.

On May 21st of this year, 2017, the spirits of these fallen comrades will finally be reunited at a dedication ceremony for the recently installed Pawtucket’s 21 Vietnam
War Heroes monument in Slater Park.

Amazingly after 50 years of somewhat callous neglect towards honoring Pawtucket’s Vietnam casualties this monument to these men was conceived, funded and executed in a single year all with private effort and funds. It is a heart warming example of private citizenry at its best.

The impetus, and soul, of this effort began with the Spring of 2016 publication of a book, “They Heard The Bugle’s Call” written by long time Pawtucket journalist and Vietnam veteran, Terry L. Nau. The author, who has penned two other books about the war, interviewed many relatives, friends and fellow soldiers of the 21 men and soon realized that while there were some small plaques in various Pawtucket neighborhoods dedicated to the individual soldiers nowhere was there a tribute to them honoring their collective sacrifices.

As word of Nau’s book spread amongst people who had connections to the fallen soldiers it was decided to hold a book signing at a small Pawtucket venue. Before the event date it became obvious to all involved, including Nau, that the response was much larger than anticipated. At this point the author , sensing something much bigger than he’d expected, realized the momentum could be put towards a larger cause, building a tribute to these men. On May 21st of last year, exactly 50 years after Lance Corporal Maciminio’s death, rather than a book signing a day of remembrance was held at Slater Park. Over 250 people attended including family members of 13 of the soldiers, many who travelled from all across the country to tell the stories of their loved ones.

One month later 21 Heroes Incorporated was established as a non-profit charity. The outpouring was immediate and near miraculous. Nau started the fund by donating the first $1,000 in proceeds from his book. Large donations came from individuals such as Allen Hassenfeld, former CEO of Hasbro and Madeline Mondor, widow of Ben Mondor the long time owner of the Pawtucket Red Sox. The Pawtucket West High School Class of 1966’s fiftieth reunion became a fund raiser in memory of classmate Army Specialist 4th Class Raymond Michalopoulos who perished on November 21st, 1967. Family members of the slain soldiers contributed $14,000.

The 21 Heroes post office box received multiple donations, big and small, on an almost daily basis. The initial goal of $25,000 was exceeded by $15,000 allowing funds for a future handicapped accessible pathway, landscaping and the dedication ceremony.

Nau recently observed he’d, “…learned more about the heart of Pawtucket in six months than during 30 years as a sports editor for the Pawtucket Times.”

Mayor Donald Grebien and the Pawtucket City Council most graciously, and importantly, allocated the Slater Park site and provided assistance with the foundation.

The monument was installed on May 3rd and May 4th. The 21names are etched into the same type of black African marble used in the Washington, D.C. Memorial. Granite side columns and a crowning pediment inscribed with the words, “Pawtucket’s 21 Vietnam War Heroes” frame the names. Etched into the back side, facing Armistice Boulevard are the final words spoken by 1st Lieutenant Dalton’s widow, Debbie Dalton Polhemus at last year’s ceremony.

“There is no special glory in being the first of the 21 or the last, our stories are all different, but we are connected always by having lost someone we deeply loved, still dream of and forever yearn for whose legacies carry their names, their smiles and their spirit.”

The formal dedication on May 21st, open to the public, will begin at 2:00pm and will also honor all veterans in attendance.

– END-

Jim Raftus (jraftus@aol.com) is a Vietnam era veteran.IMG_0317

No Hoops For You ! 4/15/17

IMG_20170413_164146898IMG_20170413_164146898 copyNO HOOPS FOR YOU !

North Providence Mayor Charlie Lombardi needs someone to post him up down low on the blocks. Incredibly, he has banned pick up basketball games on the Evans Street playground located on Fruit Hill Avenue. In North Providence where local hero Ernie DiGregorio once honed his skills!

According to the mayor’s dictate the Evans Park courts will only be available for town sanctioned games and leagues. The ban is 24/7 all year long essentially shutting out folks, boys and girls, who just want to get together and play some ball.

If Pawtucket had implemented such a ban in the 1950’s and 60’s half of my youth would have been a dark, blank void.

Early September of 1956 when I was ten years old my mother bought me a new pair of shoes from Thom Mcan for the upcoming first day of fifth grade. The Sunday before school began, for budget reasons not having any sneakers, I wore the new shoes for the first time to shoot some hoops at the old Slater Park court opposite St. Teresa’s Church. Rather than the normal smooth concrete base this court had a rough tar surface. As was my routine I worked on my moves, faking out imaginary defenders with incredible skill, for hours until the street lights signaled me home. When I hopped on my bike to head home I noticed the pedals felt odd to my feet. A quick inspection showed that I had worn large, round holes in the soles of my new shoes, literally exposing frayed socks. It was a fear filled ride home knowing my parent’s shaky finances would be sorely taxed by having to buy another pair of shoes.

Yes, give me a basketball and an empty court and I’d be in heaven. Been that way my entire life, beginning with the Potter, Slater, and John Street playgrounds of my youth.

In 1970 at the end of my three year Army stint I was briefly stationed at Fort Meade in Maryland. It was basically a boring way station for guys who were near the end of their tours. I discovered a locked, old abandoned building on the base which housed a long neglected court with bent rims, no nets and missing, or warped, tiles on the floor. I received permission to cut the bolt lock from the door and went about repairs as best I could. The building had an old fashioned coal fired furnace and, amazingly, a bin still filled with dust covered coal. I managed to restart the furnace without burning down the place and spent a week finishing up rehabbing the court.

At first I was the only one to use the gym. Back to playing imaginary games against invisible opponents,but, eventually the sounds of my dribbling and the lights from the court in this remote part of the fort drew attention and slowly other soldiers started joining me. By the time of my discharge there was a fairly healthy group of hoopsters playing almost every night.

In 2008, as I neared retirement from my marketing career, the company I worked for installed a small work out gym in our new building, including a hoop in the warehouse. It became my routine, then in my 60’s, to skip lunch and use the weight machines and shoot some hoops. I found it energized me and kept me sharp. I admit I also took great pleasure in beating my much younger coworkers when we would play H-O-R-S-E at our annual cookouts.

I thought my retirement in 2011 essentially ended my basketball activities, but, in defiance of Mayor Lombardi’s ridiculous edict I plan to find, and inflate, my old Spalding ball and head to Evans Park this afternoon. If I’m really lucky maybe Ernie D. will be there and we can play some one on one. If I’m really unlucky maybe I’ll meet the same fate as John Updike’s iconic character Harry “Rabbit” Angrstrom and die at the age of 70 of a heart attack shooting hoops.

There are worse ways to go!

– END –

My Day At The Cinemas 2/25/17

MY DAY AT THE CINEMAS

My wife and I decided a light, frothy movie might lift our moods. We had been feeling a bit down since, well, November 9th. We chose “La La Land” a movie described as a throwback musical which has been generating a lot of Oscar buzz.

We settled into our comfortable seats in the Cinemax Complex at Lincoln Mall. After forty two years of marriage posture equals language. Twenty minutes into “La La Land” my wife’s posture was not saying enchantment. She turned to me and quietly whispered, “I’m going to see if there’s a different movie I’ll like.”
The Cinemax has sixteen screens, her odds were good.

I hung in there for fifteen more minutes of increasingly lightweight singing and dancing, but, when Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s characters broke free of gravity in the Griffith Observatory and did a number while floating through the faux galaxy, they finally lost me.

Now the search was on. Which other movie had my wife chosen to watch? The small electronic billboards at the entrances to the sixteen theaters would only show the screen number for half a minute before changing to the title so I decided to just look in all the possible venues not worrying about what was playing.

As I walked down the dark alleyway of my first choice I could hear sniffling and crying from on the audience and on the screen a dog seemed to be in not the best of health. “A Dog’s Purpose” did not seem a likely choice, but, I still quickly scanned the crowd to no avail.

The next screen featured brilliantly colored Lego characters preparing for some sort of battle accompanied by deafening music blaring at full throttle. Why do theaters feel the need to assault young children’s eardrums? Well, my wife and I only get to these types of shows with our grandchildren. No need to check this crowd.

“Lion” was the next possibility. In fact, a good possibility because my wife had left “Lion” early about two weeks prior. Her generous, good heart had too much empathy to watch the disconcerting travails of the young Indian boy at the beginning of that movie. We were at the single screen Avon for that show so finding her was much easier. I knew she would be at the Brown Bookstore, one of our favorite haunts. I had stayed for the end of “Lion” and had told her that everything had turned out fine. Maybe she ventured into “Lion” now to see the conclusion. As the screen came into view the young boy was wrapped in Nicole Kidman’s impossibly tall, impossibly pale motherly embrace. I scanned the audience, but, my bride was not to be found.

I rushed into the final theater not knowing the movie title. Before I could see the screen I could hear an odd mix of moans and a weird slapping sound. A quick glance at the screen showed me I was looking at “Fifty Shades Darker”. I rapidly retreated without surveying the audience. Frankly, I didn’t want to know! I could be certain my wife would not be in attendance. By the time I reached the exit for this theater I had convinced myself that every nun who had taught me, grades one through nine, at St. Leo’s in the 1950’s would be picketing against this movie just outside the door!

My fears were unfounded. My theater search was over. I walked out of the main lobby and into the mall where I discovered my wife had decided to browse the stores rather than try another movie.

We had a good laugh as I recounted my search.

Sometimes you do not need escapism to pull you out of the doldrums. Sometimes the silly, funny and inconsequential day to day events are all you need to soldier on.

My review of the first two thirds of “La La Land” can be summed up by my comment to my wife as we drove home, “Well dear, there’s nothing like a good movie and that was nothing like a good movie.”

Roll credits.