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My cousin Mitch is a couple years older than me. Being the older cousin, he got his driver’s license and a various run of beautiful shitboxes a few years before I did. A maroon Dodge Dynasty, a silver Grand Marquis, and a white minivan. The car was a critical ingredient in manufacturing fun.
Sometimes we’d just drive around Quincy or Braintree or Weymouth listening to mix tapes. We’d take road trips to Canobie Lake park to ride the Turkish Twist. We’d pack the car with kids and coolers filled with soda and Little Hug drinks and spend the day at Water Country. These adventures felt monumental. Everything felt giant as a kid.
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If a car was the number one ingredient in fun soup, the basement was 1A. A semi-finished basement was an adult free oasis. As a middle aged parent now, I realize the allure for adults too. Our basement in Pembroke started out as a cement box that got finished in phases. There was a long stretch where it was only wall guts. Studs, pink panther insulation and electrical boxes that would eventually become outlets. Towards the end of the Pembroke days it became a place with real walls and a futon and a couch that was demoted from the living room. The TV set was also sent to the minors after the one in the living room got upgraded. The TV set in the basement took five people to move it. My teen years were spent basement hopping all over the south shore.
White Heat was a 1995 Dodge Caravan with spongy, dark red cloth interior that looked like Hugh Hefner’s smoking jacket. Do you know the SWAT vehicles that look like menacing ice cream trucks? That’s what White Heat felt like to me. Sometimes we rode through the Wendy's drive-thru and gorged on burgers and chicken and soda, but other times, we used White Heat as a tactical vehicle to launch strike missions. This was long before SUVs and Crossovers made it impossible to get laid driving a minivan.
In 1998, for forty dollars, you could get a huge feast of food delivered from the local pizza shop. You had to pick up the phone and speak to humans, but for forty bucks you could feed a Pop Warner football team. The problem was putting together forty bucks. Even if we had eight kids piled into White Heat, we usually had about seventeen sad dollars when we tossed them in the middle. But a Friday night in a basement requires pizza and soda.
“What do you guys want to do?” I asked. I was the pseudo host since we were in “my” basement.
“I don’t know, but I'm starving,” Sean said. This got a few head nods and mumbles of agreement. You were never hungry in 1998, you were always starving.
“What do you guys think? Should we try Cuddy’s plan?” Mitch offered, unable to keep a smirk from his face.
Jim Cuddy was one of the funniest, craftiest humans to walk the earth. If you handed Jim a cordless phone and a phone book, he’d spend the next two hours making prank phone calls with a group of us huddled around trying to smother laughter with musty couch cushions. An all time favorite of mine was when he’d call a Chinese food restaurant and spend minutes trying to explain to the person taking his order that he only wanted “one egg roll, the size of a Buick.”
We agreed that we should try Cuddy’s plan.
We left Pembroke and gunned our way around the streets of Marshfield looking for a target. There weren’t many words exchanged but we all seemed to know what we were looking for.
We found it on Chowdermarch Street in Marshfield. Chowdermarch is a quiet cul-de-sac with a handful of four and five bedroom colonials on large wooded lots. No streetlights. The kind of homes that you could get for 400k in the 90s that are now worth one point something. We took a slow lap, making note of gold house numbers on mailboxes and then retreated back out to Union street. We ended up in the Poopsie’s parking lot (location A) where Mitch flicked on the interior light so that we could huddle up.
After 10-12 minutes, we had a plan. People had been assigned roles. We worked out the logistics and came up with a backup plan in case things went sideways.
We bounced into action. I jogged over to the payphone by the Shell station to make the first call.
“Thanks for calling Checker’s Pizza, pick up or delivery?”
“Can I get a large pepperoni and a two liter of Pepsi?”
“A large roni and a two liter. Anything else?
“Just some instructions for the driver. We just had the driveway seal-coated, can you ask him to park on the street and walk in from there?”
“Sure. No problem. fourteen dollars, sixty cents is your total. We’ll be there in 30 minutes.”
I’m giggling. I jog back to the van where someone is keeping time.
We wait four minutes before I run back over to the pay phone. I pump in another quarter and press the metal numbers.
The same young kid answers, “Thanks for calling Checkers, pick up or delivery?”
“One one five nine Union Street.”
1 Large Hawaiian pizza, a large buffalo chicken pizza, a large cheese…
…Mozzarella sticks, french fries.
“That’ll do it.”
He repeats my order along with, “Forty dollars, thirty two cents. Be there in 30 minutes.”
***In case you don’t have access to a map right now, here’s some context. Both of these addresses are within a mile or two of the old Checker’s Pizza location in the Benjamin Moore strip mall across from Poopsies. 51 Chowdermarch is closest to the restaurant.
The plan has been set in motion. There are a couple of bets in play now.
I sprint back to the car. The inside of the car is electric with energy. We have to swap some seats based on everyone’s role in the mission. Chuck is now behind the wheel, Mitch is in the middle row with Carl, Sean and me are in the way back. Chuckie fires up the car and we hustle back to Chowdermarch Street. We make the turn, kill the lights and roll down the street at idle speed.
We edge over to the side in a dark patch between houses without fully stopping. The caravan’s sliding door gets quietly rolled open. Without a word, Mitch and Carl hop out and slip into the trees like a couple of spec ops guys. Sean gently closes the door, we wheel around and high tail it back to location A.
Mitch and Carl duckwalk their way towards number 51 being careful to stay in the shadows. They find a tangle of 40 year old rhododendrons for camouflage. It’s quiet except for the night bugs that no one has ever seen that make a racket in suburban woods. They try to settle in and steady their breathing but they are geeked out on adrenaline. Mitch more than Carl. Carl was a demon in high school and somehow used to being in these spots. So they wait twenty three minutes that feel like twenty three hours.
The rest of the crew is back in location A with our eyes fixed on the glass storefront of Checker’s pizza. There are three or four people in uniforms ballet dancing around each other putting people’s orders together. After about 20 minutes, a shaggy haired 20 year old bumps the glass door open with his ass. He pivots toward the parking lot and we see that he’s got a STACK of orders resting on his forearms. He rests the pile on the roof of a ten year old two door sedan so that he can open the door and put everything on the passenger seat. He walks around the car and gets in. The car starts on the fourth try and he’s off.
Mitch and Carl hear the beat up Honda Civic before they see it. They press their bellies flat against the ground as the headlights pan across the bush, just missing the top of their hair.
The car hesitates at the mouth of number 51’s long driveway for a beat, then pulls over and parks on the tree lawn. He must have gotten the message about the sealcoating. He takes fifteen seconds to grab one of the delivery bags from the passenger seat. It’s one of those rectangle leather pouches with the velcro flap on the outside, lined with shiny flexible aluminum on the inside to keep the goods hot. He pulls the bag into his lap and exits from the driver’s side. Mitch and Carl are watching and nudging each other and swallowing nervous laughter. They let the delivery guy get three quarters of the way down the driveway before they make their move. Carl is out of the bushes first with Mitch covering his six. They do a hunched speed shuffle over to the passenger door. It’s locked.
“Fuck.” Carl whispers.
Mitch sneaks around to the driver’s door, being careful not to be lit up by the flashing hazard lights. He tries the door handle. He feels the resistance of the latch doing its job. Success.
“Should we just take the car?” Carl whispers.
“Jesus man. No fuckin way,” Mitch quietly snaps at him.
Carl shrugs. Five seconds later, Mitch extracts a bulging kangaroo pouch packed with hot greasy carbs. They wheel around and disappear into the trees while the driver is in a long conversation with someone from number 51. They didn’t order any food.
The homeowner turns the driver away without accepting the order. Carl and Mitch watch the driver reload the car and settle into his seat. The brake lights light up the neighborhood briefly and then fade. The car doesn’t move. As the delivery guy gets his bearings, he notices that the order for 1159 Union Street is gone. He dials the store from his car phone. The car idles for three more excruciating minutes. We’ll never know what was said on the phone, but as I write this, I’m dying to know if he was baffled or if the tone of the call was “dammit, they got me again.” I like to think that no one had hit this store with a Jim Cuddy before. The Civic drives off into the night.
The rest of the team is in White Heat back at location A. I was riddled with nerves, hoping that Carl and Mitch had gotten away safely. I had some bad movie clips in my head of things going sideways and Carl hog tying the driver which would have escalated things from pizza larceny to some kind of kidnapping or mayhem charges.
We finally see the Civic arrive back at the store. We peel out of the lot and join the flow of traffic. We make a right on Union and slow down as our headlamps hit the metallic green rectangle sign with white letters of C-h-o-w-d-e-r-m-a-r-c-h. We kill the lights and pull into the same dark patch where we dropped off the advance team. We hold our breath and wait. Ninety of the longest seconds pass and then two giddy faces are outside the sliding door with Mitch cradling a giant leather sack of food. We were flooded with a mix of chemicals that felt a lot like scoring a game winning goal in overtime.
We drove back to my parents house and slipped into the safety of the basement without saying much. My folks must have smelled the mix of hot grease, buffalo chicken, and sweaty sixteen year olds. We open the velcro patch and sit on the ground as we spread the feast out in front of us.
I don’t think we were “bad” kids. Most of us are dads now. One of us became a pilot. One is a State Trooper. One is a self taught guitarist who rips and has music on Spotify. We got into this kind of stuff all the time back then. We played ding dong ditch and shot fireworks at each other at the risk of setting the marsh on fire. I hope kids are still doing this stuff and getting away with it.
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