Big 20

Originally Published 08/15/2011, 9:11 AM

Photo Source: Jessica Beebe

It was all going off at 11:00. Both sides had chosen the parking lot of the Big “20” Lanes on Rt. 1, just off the Scarborough Marsh. Plenty of room to bop, and easy escape by car or woods if the heat came. Stu, Chuck and Bud were killing the afternoon by cruising the strip, driving back and forth by the alley, just waiting for it to go down.

They, along with seven others from the Dunstan’s Corner neighborhood of Scarborough, ran as the Dunstan Deuces. They were kids, really: 17, 17, 19, unformed and unaware of much of anything outside their neighborhood. They brawled, knowing it was all petty high school shit. But what were they going to do? Go to the museum Have tea? Knit?

The day was sweltering, perfect high summer, without even a hint of a sea breeze pushing across the marshland spreading out on both sides of Rt. 1. The air was heavy, nothing moving, tense, but the three friends were ready.

“WHOOOOO, I can’t WAIT to bust some HEADS open!” Bud roared, cracking open a quart of his nickname-sake Budweiser in the backseat. “I’m gonna take down FIVE of them no good feebs my damn self!”

“Yeah?!? Well, I’m gonna cut up SIX of ‘em!” Chuck retorted, holding up a palm for a five. He flicked open his blade and jabbed at Bud, stopping just short of his throat and swiping like he was carving a roast. “JUST like that!”

Stu turned from the wheel and fixed his glare between Bud and Chuck. “You two panty-wearin’ sacs ain’t gonna so much as stick your thumbs up your own assholes until I give the commands. Or don’t’cha remember who the war chief is here?”

Bud and Chuck, sufficiently chilled out, nodded in agreement and Stu turned back to the wheel. He knew and loved the weight and impact his word had. He waited a few moments to let the tension settle, and then pulled a .38 from his waistband. “Besides,” he said grinning, “I’m gonna get me a few of them first!” He fired a shot into the marsh as Bud and Chuck came back to life, hooting and hollering along with Stu.

They were headed north again from Dunstan’s Corner, almost back to the northernmost end of the marsh. “Y’know what, boys?” Stu asked, pulling from a pint of Old Grand Dad. “It’s such a hot day. I’m sure we’d all like to cool off, now wouldn’t we?” Bud and Chuck both agreed. “Well, then! We’re going to do something I’ve always wanted to do, and I’m gonna do it especially for you two mugs. You ready?!?”

“Yeeeahhh!” Bud shouted.

“Do it, man!” Chuck added.

“Okay! Here goes nothin’!” Stu screamed, and hit the gas on the convertible, driving off Rt. 1 and into the marshland. Stu was confident that the land would hold thanks to the recent dry spell, and he was right: hardly any muddy spots could be found. He was pushing 80 across the reedy estuary, doing donuts and jumping the water in the car they lifted from a meter on Congress Street that morning. Water and dried grass sprayed all over the interior, and as they drove through deeper spots large waves of water came crashing down. Stu was greatly enjoying himself, yipping and firing his pistol like a Mexican bandito and driving like a madman.

Finally the car landed on an exposed tree branch and became hopelessly lodged. Smoke started pouring from underneath, and the three friends grabbed their stuff and ran for it. By the time they reached the woods by the Dunstan’s Corner end of the marsh, the car was fully engulfed in flames. Stu looked back at the flaming car and the wild circles of tire tracks in the grass, took a swig and said “Now, wasn’t that refreshing, boys?” as the sirens started getting louder and louder. “You’re a crazy motherfucker!” Bud yelled in his psychotic high-pitched voice and the three slapped fives and ran to their homes.

After showering and cleaning up, the full gang met up in Stu’s basement to shoot some stick and go over the game plan. They got in three games of stripes and solids, with plenty of rock ‘n roll blaring on the juke to set the tone. Finally Stu pulled the plug on the music and told them all to shut up and listen up.

“Okay, so there’s ten of us and twelve of them,” Stu addressed the crowd, referring to the South Portland Hellcats that they would be taking on. “Everybody stay behind me. I’ll meet their war chief in the middle and we’ll initiate the proceedings, as it were. Everybody packed?”

The basement suddenly filled with the sounds of switchblades opening, baseball bats smacking against palms and a bike chain rustling.

“Good. Okay, let’s do it.” They all left the house and walked over to the Big “20”.

The Hellcats were already there, lined up behind their war chief, Hank Conrad. He and Stu met in the middle, and both gangs closed the circle.

“You ready to go down?” Stu asked Hank.

“I’m ready to take your no-good ass down,” Hank replied.

“Do your damndest, man,” Stu said. They both took a few steps back, and then ran full-bore for each other. Stu connected a solid roundhouse on Hank’s chin, and the rumble was on.

The full moon was obscured by a gauzy haze, but the blades still flashed like fireflies in the sultry night. One of the Deuces lost five teeth on a 2 x 4, while one of the Hellcats had his abdomen gouged open. Shots were fired by both sides, attracting the attention of the neighbors and the heat.

The parking lot of the Big “20” was a mess of blood, weapons and bottles. Five people went to the hospital that night. Four survived and ten arrests were eventually made. The night of the rumble lives on in local lore, a yarn of badass toughs or a cautionary tale of groupthink gone horribly out of control depending on your perspective. Things sure were different back then. And things have never been the same since.

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