Wednesday, December 29, 2010

FIRE IN THE HOLE!!!!! Blow it!

One of the things I grew up in was the shadow of World War 2.

Before the last shot was fired in the Pacific, the government was already surplussing off B-17s for sale as scrap. I would imagine that even now small amounts of old WW2 stuff hits the surplus market, but the real heyday for me was in the early 60s.

Without the surplus stuff running around there never would have been the Great Raid of 1966.

Now, I grew up near the ocean and had this wonderful river to play in, and that is always a good thing. When I was about 15 a Navy recruiter brought 4 potential recruits down to MY personal chunk of the river to take the (then) UDT swim test. I took the test twice, back to back without leaving the water and passed it both times to the amazement of the petty officer.

One of the four that flunked the test gave the sailor my name and address and for the next decade the family PO Box was stuffed with recruiting flyers, which is another story.

Anyway, Old Man Karpinski was a jerk. He didn’t get it and was a chronic cop-caller. He hated kids and kids hated him right back.

I tangled with him once. He lost. His pride and joy hand made Genuine New England stone wall suffered immensely.

Now, the Great Raid of ’66 was over a bush eater, a 1949 Plymouth that had been given to us by an old lady. It had been sitting around in here yard for a few years and she said we could have it if we made it go away.

A ’49 Plymouth was a pretty solid car and it took us a couple of afternoons and a Saturday to get it running well enough to sneak it out of her yard and into the woods.

We did this by having a couple of us raise hell with cherry bombs down town. While the cops went to see what was going on down there, we drove it down the street and on to a fire road where it was OK to drive.

Back then a lot of kids learned to drive and keep cars running on bush eaters.

They were old cars, parked in the woods that kids snagged somewhere along the line that they tinkered with and drove until they finally gave up the ghost and then Giavoni (Any junk car removed free) would haul it off.

To almost everyone this was acceptable because it kept us busy and out of trouble. A lot of pretty good mechanics wound up getting started this way and after you had owned a bush eater for a while Driver’s Ed became a snap. Coach Lewis, the Driver’s Ed teacher would actually ask how many bush eaters you had torn up. If you had a couple under your belt, he would visibly relax.

Of course, about the first thing to get knocked off any bush eater was the muffler and from out in the woods Old Man Karpinski heard the quiet tone of an un muffled engine and knew there was a bush eater out there so he instantly called the cops.

The police showed up and they were really quite apologetic as they called Giavoni to haul the car off.

Of course, the Cops wouldn’t tell us who had ratted us out, but we knew it was Old Man Karpinski. The cop was a lousy poker player. When we brought his name up, he tipped his hand.

Payback started that evening with a council of war, an inventory and an assessment of funds. It was decided that he would pay for his stupidity with his beloved stone wall.

When I asked how, one of the guys looked up, smiled and said, “Bangalores!”

We still had ten or fifteen pounds of fast burning shotgun powder left that  I had scored one trash day some time ago when the widow of the former president of the local rod and gun club had cleaned out her basement.

Her late husband had been a big time skeet shooter and reloaded his own shotshells.

It had cost me an hour after school for being late as I had singlehandedly rescued over thirty pounds of the stuff from being carted off by the trash guys.

I looked at the other five and stated that I’d go with Bangalore torpedoes if and only if we had a safe place to duck behind. About a year earlier I had briefly earned the nickname ‘Doc’ because I pulled a jagged piece of steel out of one of the other guy’s ass with a Boy Scout knife. I didn’t want a repeat performance.

It was agreed.

It was also agreed that since Karpinski lived on a cul-de-sac so close to the river, that the river would be our entry and escape route, as it was a no-brainer that the police would block off the street and evading through the woods could get a little dicey as the area was pretty settled.

The following day preparations started. A lot of little things started disappearing from around the neighborhood and we seemed to be pretty industrious for a change.

I think my dad knew something was amiss because one evening at dinner he commented that he was going to write a letter to Charlie Chan asking him to pay a visit because there seemed to be a whole lot of mysteries going on in the neighborhood.

After dark a couple of recon parties sneaked into the Karpinski front yard and noticed that there were drainage pipes under the stone wall at about three foot intervals, but they were plugged up with leaves and dirt. The street side ends were quietly cleaned out and the ends re plugged up with a false cover of dirt. The ends facing the house were left plugged so as to push the force of the planned explosions upward.

One of the guys showed up with a couple of long chunks of two-inch pipe which was cut up into length and both ends were threaded. Two inch end caps were scrounged and Estes model rocket engine igniters were ordered and arrived.

A spool of WW2 commo wire mysteriously appeared in my  basement one night and was instantly stashed in the old well in the woods, and the GI surplus store noted that business was up a little as various supplies were accumulated, including Navy watch sweaters, watch caps and British Commando knives.

One day Nick, who ran a local garage, commented that he found it rather odd that every night for about a week a couple of the old batteries from his scrap pile would disappear, only to be returned the following night to replace the next two that disappeared. He told me he figured some kid just got his first car and needed one and said that if I found out who it was to tell him to help himself to the one in the recently wrecked Valiant out back.

Three nights later the battery in the Valiant showed up missing.

A couple of days later he commented that his trash was being checked out nightly and commented that he expected to see a lot of slingshots going around because a junked-out truck inner tube was gone.

Spring turned into summer and things went on as usual and the six of us chipped away at our little project from time to time. Mysterious things stopped happening and the neighborhood lulled through another summer.

Black pants from a Goodwill store were purchased for about a dime a pair.

A date was set carefully as we slated this event to coincide with a scheduled camp-out in the back yard of a local judge the next town over.

Way upriver, where we would be unseen, we practiced ‘sling shot’ pickups on a Boston Whaler until we got so we so good that there would be no mistakes when the real deal came.

At the last minute, about fifteen gallons of gasoline was hidden in the bushes of the local Coast Guard small boat station.

The night was fast approaching. Things were hidden under a certain bridge. At the last minute, a batch of Lennon lights from Navy life preservers showed up at the surplus store for a nickel apiece and four were snapped right up instantly.

We got to the judge’s back yard and set up camp and enjoyed a cookout with his family. The reason we were there was because two of the guys were his favorite nephews and the other 4 of us had tagged along.

The judge and his wife were childless and always spent as much time as they could with those two, as I suppose they felt that being around kids was the next best thing to having them.

This was early August, if I recall.

The campout and cookout involved four of us. We were the actual raiding party. The escape committee was slated to sneak out of the house and man the Whaler, which belonged to the family of one of the guys. The other kid was a big, fat kid that was pretty damned strong, as it was his job to jerk us clean out of the water and onto the Whaler.

Now, I am a former GI and have been a Merchant Mariner for well over twenty years, but I’ll say that the most professional operation I’ve ever been party to, legal of otherwise was the raid.

One of the guy’s big brothers had a car and hated Karpinski with a passion, having lost HIS bush eater to the jerk a few years earlier. He agreed to be the wheel man.

We went to the judge’s place, enjoyed the cookout and sometime after dark we turned in to our sleeping bags in our tents.

About an hour later we heard the car horn signal in the distance and we were out of out sleeping bags and running. Shortly thereafter, we were dropped off at the bridge where the escape committee was already in position. The Whaler was in position, under the bridge tied to the cribbing.

The next portion of this soggy saga of a misspent youth is brought to you by the good people at the Crunchy Cookie Company. Remember, if it isn’t a Crunchy, it isn’t a cookie. Tell your mom to pick you up a box next time she goes to the supermarket.

Now we return back to out regularly scheduled story.

We got changed instantly into black pants, Navy watch sweaters, watch caps and applied burnt cork to our faces and stashed our street clothes in a plastic bag in the whaler and climbed below the bridge and retrieved all of our gear.

The truck tire raft went into the water and was loaded.

Bangalores, commo wire, the battery and a few other odds and ends went into it carefully. The Commando knives had actually had their sheaths sewn onto the thigh of our pants. We were good to go and the fat kid was hidden just below the railing where he would not be seen in the darkness by any passing motorist.

 We nodded and one of the guys jerked the end of the slip knot and the raft took off like a shot. The tide was running at max ebb and we were on our way!

It didn’t take long for us to reach our appointed entry point a couple of bends down and a couple of Lennon light flashes were returned with the flashes  - - -/-.- Morse code for OK.

We went ashore and dragged everything into place and started setting things up. The bangalores were placed carefully, wires carefully fastened, the battery put into position and everything was ready to go.

We had safe cover and the moment of truth arrived. The button was pressed.

Nothing happened.

We quickly tested the battery by shorting the two terminals with a Commando knife and there was no spark. Somehow the battery had died. My guess all these years later is that it had probably gotten wet somehow.

Of course, if nothing else, we were pretty flexible.

We saw that Karpinski had parked his two cars abreast, so we simply opened the hood of the far car. This way the forward car would act like a buffer if we had screwed up and things were thrown our way  when the charge cranked off.

 We cut a chunk of wire off and fastened two leads to his battery and ran the wire over to behind the car. Then we twisted one lead to the main wire, gave the high sign and touched the two remaining leads.

There was a blinding roar as about twenty-five feet of stone wall went 356 feet into the air.

Now as any good reader knows, the story gets bigger with each retelling and the rocks gain about a foot of altitude each time the story is told. I have told this story over the years about 306 times. Do the math.

Every single light within a half-mile went on almost instantly.

By now the dead battery was headed back to the raft, and before the rocks even finished falling, the commo wire was being spooled in. We wanted nothing left behind.

One of the guys flashed the escape committee the mission complete signal and it was acknowledged with three dots and a dash, V for victory.

It was later reported to me that the fat kid dove off the bridge executing a perfect jackknife and hit the water with nary a splash and swan over to the Whaler and boarded her effortlessly.

When we hit the raft, two of us grabbed it and swam it out to the middle of the river and made quick work of it with our commando knives. It sank like a stone.

The four of us spread ourselves out about fifty yards apart in the middle of the river and waited until we heard the outboard of the Whaler. We turned our Lennon lights on and placed them in our right outstretched hand and listened to the boat throttle back.

The fat kid was in the bow, tire ready to snag us.

I was first and the damned hookup practically tore the arm off of my shoulder so I told the coxswain to throttle back, which he did. The other three were plucked out of the water flawlessly and we hammered our way downriver as fast as we could go.

A bottle of Joy soap came out and we scrubbed the burnt cork off of our faces and we changed our clothes quickly back to our camper shorts and shirts. At intervals the commando gear was ditched. Pants, sweaters, caps and knives went over the side at long intervals.

Now we had an obstacle to face. The tide was ebbing and there was a pretty strong incoming wind. The mouth of the river was a lump and we had to deal with it.

The boat was actually somewhat overloaded and handled a bit sluggish. It was really what we called a South Boston drowning party after the people from Southie that would rent boats and cram them full of relatives until there wasn’t any freeboard left.

It was close to touch and go for a bit, but we did just fine and once we got into the open ocean it wasn’t too bad. We headed north towards the Coast Guard station and the gasoline cache where we refueled the boat.

Then we were dropped off on the beach at the judge’s house without even getting our feet wet and returned to our sleeping bags where we shook in fear for hours before falling asleep.

The following day our asses were dragging as we had to pretend we were well rested and go along with things as the judge doted over his favorite nephews.

That afternoon, we went home.

A day or two, our names were brought up in connection with the deed, but it was determined we had overnighted at the judge’s and we were quickly ruled out as being possible suspects.

As you can well imagine, Karpinski never learned his lesson. He was stupid. He kept up his ways and the rest of his life was a living hell as we passed on the stories of his stupidity on to our younger brothers who continued the battle until he died an embittered, nasty old man.

The incident taught me a very valuable lesson. Karpinski called the cops on me a couple more times over the years, but I simply ignored him. Truth is, so did the cops.

I later heard that the local police thought about calling in either the Feds or the State Police into the investigation of that particular evening but didn’t because they simply figured it was a case of kids getting even with Karpinski and I guess they figured he had one coming.

When I learned that Karpinski hadn’t changed his ways after all we did, I then realized that no matter what you do, you can’t fix stupid.

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