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Scarier than the boogeyman

October 31, 2014 Leave a comment

The same people who have spent the last few weeks ridiculing law enforcement for not capturing Eric Frein are now calling out hosannas to the men in blue for….capturing Eric Frein. Apparently all is forgiven and whatever they’ve said about the incompetence of the PA State Police was somehow taken out of context. Or something. Now they stand and cheer and wave signs and say “we were with you all along”.

With friends like these, look for the PSP to oversee a sudden spike in highway speed enforcement. Deservedly so.

(The vitriol I’ve read over the last few weeks has been positively medieval. More than one person has suggested that the entire scenario was nothing more than a PSP overtime grab. Others theorized that Frein was sipping mai tais on some Caribbean island, thanks to his pals in ISIS. Or that it’s all Obama’s fault. Or Governor Corbett’s. The cops were pissing on civil liberties. Behaving like an invading army. They were Jack-booted thugs. Nazis. Or just plain old Mayberry goobers trampling through flower beds dressed like Rambo….soldier wannabees searching for another soldier wannabee. They were everything, apparently, except fallible, grief-stricken, exhausted men and women doing their best under trying circumstances. )

31frein3_hp-master675All of this hypocrisy serves as a brain-numbing reminder that sometimes it’s best to stay quiet and let people who are probably smarter than we are do their jobs. Abraham Lincoln once noted that the hen is the wisest of all animals because “she never cackles until the egg is laid”. If old Abe had governed during a time of social media and insta-pundits, he might have deduced that his human subjects had degenerated into a pack of howling trigger-happy half-wits. No wonder he admired hens.

It’s become so simple to run off at the mouth. And so expected…what with opinions being like assholes and all that. Using that same metaphor, everyone with said opinion now has a Facebook and/or Twitter account. So when they are not posting grumpy cat memes, they feel eminently qualified to pass judgment on how to manage a man-hunt over a spectacularly dense terrain that the fugitive knows like the back of his hand. It used to be that only major tools opined on things they knew very little about. Either most of us have become major tools, or things have just gotten too damn easy. To be fair, we’re living in a time when we don’t dare sit on a toilet without bringing a smart phone with us, in case a sudden burst of…er… inspiration hits. Inquiring minds want to see both throw-back Thursday pics of our pets and our thoughts on the budgetary hubris of tracking down cop killers. More and more giving a human a smart phone is akin to giving a cat a ball of yarn.

So yea, I’m proud that I kept quiet and did not resort to tool-like behavior. A pat on the back is nice, and if you’re not gonna give me one I’m gonna reach around and do the honors myself. All sorts of things ran through my head, of course. But I felt no compulsion that such thoughts should come out my mouth…..or be tapped into cyberspace with my 2 thumbs. I simply do not know as much about law enforcement as the State Police and the US Marshal Department. Nor, come to think of it, am I an expert on Eric Frein’s survival skills. If you want to argue that John Prine and Richard Thompson not being in the rock and roll hall of fame is not a travesty, I’ll attack you with a fountain pen. Otherwise, I hide my teeth.

It’s hard for me, even now, not to think of the wife and children of the murdered trooper. What was their reaction when they heard Frein was captured? As children we’re constantly on-guard for an assortment of boogey-men. These children have lived for 48 days with a live monster. Imagine their thoughts when the lights went out. Where was he? Would he come back? Would he come for me? Would he take our Mom away too? Maybe now the nightmares will stop.

Now that Frein is in custody, the PSP can catch its collective breath. It can determine what it did right and what it did wrong over the last 48 days. Thankfully it’s not often a trooper is gunned down in cold blood by a survivalist who then takes to the woods. Considering what they didn’t know, the fact that this guy didn’t elude law enforcement for years (see Rudolph,Eric) is a tribute to their collective tenacity. I’m hearing kudos like this today, as those who ridiculed the effort now bask in the glow of a job well done by others.

It’s a shame is has to be this way.

We never learn.

That scares me more than the boogeyman.

In a bit…

–tf

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“If the view is pretty enough….”

October 13, 2014 Leave a comment

There is something magical about this time of year. The snap in the air. The explosive colors. We dig out our baggy sweaters and our hoodies. We’re just more comfortable. Nobody is worried about tan lines and bathing suit bellies anymore. It’s time to stop pretending. Fall is when we let our hair down, spend 12 hours on the couch watching college football, all as a sort of warm-up to Sunday when it starts to get real. And Sunday night. And Monday night. And if there is any down time, playoff baseball covers nicely. Like Grandma’s nightshirt.

I’d feel this way even if I didn’t hate everything about summer. I’m sure of it.

(The beastly heat. My glasses sliding off my nose. The interminable days. Bored kids. Stressed adults needing vacations to recover from “vacations”. Nobody contemplates anything during the summer. They just run out and mindlessly do stuff in case somebody mocks them for not doing stuff. It’s why so many long days end up with sun-burnt heads and blistered feet and draining sand and empty wallets. And it’s why Labor Day weekend, far from being depressing, feels to a grown up like Gerald Ford taking over for Nixon, reminding us that “our long national nightmare is over”.)

Photo by Esther Clarke

I adore the fall. And I don’t much mind the winter either. Christmas is near. All the great Charlie Brown and Elvis songs. The homemade cookies. The splendid lights. The way even the most disagreeable persons swallow their miserableness in honor of the holidays. It’s the only time of the year I actually welcome crowds. Patience is a virtue, and between Thanksgiving and New Years we’re virtuous as hell. Nobody wants to be the Grinch (that comes by Valentine’s Day).

Like most folks I know, I spent 40+ hours a week doing something I don’t want to so, surrounded largely by people I’d prefer to not be surrounded by. I’m nobody’s boss and like it that way. I would prefer to be nobody’s underling at the same time, but alas that ain’t so. I answer to a bewildering assortment of real and pseudo bosses, most of whom live the “kick down, kiss up” lifestyle to the fullest extent of the law. I’ve discovered it’s best to think little and say even less. Smile and wave and wear a nice shirt and stay awake in meetings.

As much as possible I occupy my desk with ear buds blaring and teeth clenched, watching the wheels go ’round. When time expires I run like hell and sleep like a stone. I’m too damn tired to dream at the moment. Maybe something in color slips through on the weekend…..if I’ve been a good boy.

What makes the 40+ bearable? The view. A gorgeous painting of NEPA foliage outside the 3rd floor window that reaches from the floor to the ceiling. A quick spin of my chair is like a oil change. Good for another 3000 miles. Ok, maybe 10 minutes or so but still. It’s better than nothing.

I was hoping at my age that my livelihood would have more going for it than the fucking view, but the economy is a bitch and all that. We’ve been programmed to feel lucky for such largess. And so…..thank you Wall Street. I guess. Could be worse. Ebola, which is apparently contagious even if you dress like a condom, could be creeping under the door like the blob in that diner. And Steve McQueen is dead….so what now?

The bank is no more than a holding pen. What goes in is earmarked for dismissal before the electronic transfer ink is dried. “Retirement” is a word that silly actors who claim to have “financial planners” on speed dial use in glossy commercials. For most it means the years we’re going to spend as Wal-Mart greeters until the college loans are paid. Or until we drop dead from excessive minimum wage-ism. Who “retires” these days anyway? It’s un-American.

But still….

Looking out the window at something ugly just might be the thing that makes me take my ball and go home.

It’s the little things. That’s what those who have most of the big things tucked away in safe deposit boxes usually say.

But sometimes….there’s a kernel of truth to even the hoariest of clichés.

If the view is pretty enough.

In a bit..

–tf

Categories: Uncategorized

Ever get anywhere taking a shortcut?

October 7, 2014 Leave a comment

Since I’ve been laid up for 2 days running with my own personal case of Ebola, I’m doing my best to catch up on an ever-changing world. Yesterday my daughter mentioned that the latest shot across the progress bow is for schools to replace libraries with computer work-stations. Not add computer work-stations to libraries mind you. Get rid of libraries altogether. You know, no more of those quaint (and space-eating) books. Because who needs them in the world of Google and all that.

So essentially, let’s revise our reading lists shall we? Replace “The Grapes of Wrath” with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Grapes_of_Wrath? Perhaps a link to purchasing the Cliff Notes on Amazon.com? With some kick back to the school?

So first we stop teaching kids how to write (cursive writing? gone…), and now let’s encourage them not to read, as if the devices that schools are forced to rip from Junior’s hand every morning don’t do enough of that already.

I can hear you though, don’t worry. Surely they’ll simply “read” on their devices. You know. Kindles and Nooks and whatever the ghost of Steve Jobs calls the Apple version. Yes….and they can learn a foreign language by falling asleep listening to tapes too! There are two types of people in the world. One side decides they want to bend a spoon, so they take it in their hand and bend it. The other side googles “Uri Geller”.

As you can tell…I am here to praise books, not to bury them. The burying kind are misguided souls who never experienced the pure joy of packing for vacation and setting aside a separate suitcase for reading material. And maybe….just maybe….these are the same folks who want to ban Twain and Salinger every September….to save our little darlings from life itself. Wild guesses are my thing.

(Why don’t we get rid of all the Chemistry beakers and replace them with YouTube links to experiments? Think of the insurance money we could save? There’s always that idiot who manages to get chemicals in his eyes.)

grapesofwrathfondasteinbeckI adore books. They are my passion. Before the written word our learning was via the oral tradition. Just think how a simple statement whispered around a room gets mutated by the time it reaches the first cheerleader and you can see the down side to this. But words written down. Now that’s grown up stuff. Steinbeck. Twain. They’ll last forever. And while they may spark debate….hell….all good learning sparks debate…nobody can claim that Tom Joad was a right wing conservative (well..um…see next paragraph for what they do claim). It is written. Read it. Learn from it. Go out and multiply and teach your offspring to do likewise.

I’m not against technology. This is a blog after all, I’m not writing these words with a quill pen. I’m all for technology when it advances learning. I’ll all against it when it encourages laziness. How many kids in high school actually read the books assigned to them? I mean cover to cover. Every word. Teachers love to think they can ask the kind of super-duper-insider-handshake questions that can’t possibly be known otherwise. But teachers are sometimes blinded by the fancy degrees hanging on their walls. So I’m here to say that any reasonably intelligent kid can pass a normal test on “The Grapes of Wrath” without actually reading “The Grapes of Wrath”. Hell….watching the movie might be enough in some cases. But the “themes” and the “what does Tom represent” questions are almost as predictable as the Fox News housewives who consider the Joad family to be Stalin loving commies.

I’ve read the Grapes of Wrath. Multiple times. I’ve devoured this book. Give me an hour with a kid with an average IQ and I’ll trick that kid’s teacher. Because what you learn from a book can’t possibly be tested. It’s what you carry away from it in your DNA….dare I say….your soul. A great book and its lessons stay with you forever. Long after a harried teacher puts down his or her red pen.

But the kid has to read it first. You know. The book. In it’s glorious heft. From a library (or for 1 penny on Amazon. Yes, 1 penny. The world can be had that cheaply….3.99 shipping included of course). That’s where books used to be. And that’s what some schools want to take away. In the name of…well….something that seems like progress because it’s got wires coming out of it.

aaatt“To Kill a Mockingbird” is still on high school reading lists. There are still those who try to suppress it, but stupid is as American as apple pie too. You can’t regulate small minds (although a nation that put a man on the moon should be able to keep them off school boards).

I read this book as a very early teen. At the time I knew nothing….like most teens. I lived in my own head…inside my own four walls. History meant 4th period, and the world was created the day I was born. Civil rights? Blacks? What?

Atticus Finch….a man who never existed. Fiction. Gregory Peck in that splendid white suit. He gently explains racism to his precocious daughter Scout. She asks him if he’s a “nigger-lover”….and after he tells her not to use that word (“ignorant, trashy people use it”) he says to her “I certainly am….I do my best to love everybody.”

And at that moment….I started to mature. I wasn’t asked about this on the test…..a test I probably passed with an 85 or so (“Discuss the author’s treatment of Boo Radley using the passive voice and no adverbs….” arghhhh!)…as a student I lived in Lake Woebegone and was depressingly slightly above average. But it was my personal moment. It belonged to me. Such lines in the sand can’t be dictated by questions on a test. And they don’t exist at all if all you do is scour wikipedia. It was a one on one connection. Harper Lee….to me.

I’m not done yet either. That’s what books do. Like a good drug….you’re always searching for that same high (get that suitcase ready!). And you know what? Over the years I’ve gotten there. Again and again.

But I never got anywhere taking a shortcut.

In a bit..

–tf

 

Categories: Uncategorized

At the moment I look like a character from “Trainspotting”

October 6, 2014 1 comment

So here’s how my Sunday went. After watching the Steelers somehow not mange to once again lose to a winless team (and getting to spend some time with my sister and her hubby, die hard Steeler fans visiting my mom for a few days, bringing their assortment of terrible towels with them) I drove home in a good mood, taking the long way as an excuse to get in some extra foliage watching along the Casey highway. Say what you want about NEPA, but for a few short weeks every October there is no place with vistas like this (as to that unanswerable question posed concerning the very existence of the Casey itself….”who wants to get to Carbondale faster anyway?”….whistle past it and enjoy the view..)

I was listening to an audio book in the car (new bio of Civil War General Sherman….excellent) and sipping on my 8th Diet Coke of the day. Normal stuff. I’d be home to see the 4:30 game on the tube, and then curl up with a book in an attempt to distract myself. Monday comes after Sunday. I dislike this. So I try to hold on to weekends as long as possible.

I was home about 15 minutes when it happened. I went from completely normal to a quivering, shivering ball of existential nausea. As if somebody hit a switch. No warm ups. Straight into the game son.

I figured it would pass.

It didn’t.

trainI wrapped myself in a blanket and determined to ride it out. It was the type of nausea that punishes you for every excess movement. It was the kind of nausea that as a 20 something fool I would frequently bring down on my own head while chasing girls and Rolling Rock bottles across state lines.

But I digress.

Laying on my back with my head slightly raised and my one leg crossed over the other was about the best I could do. Any deviation from this position sent my insides churning and my head spinning like a top. We all know that the only thing worse than vomiting for 16 straight hours is feeling like you’re going to vomit for 16 hours. The bucket at my side mocked me for sure, but served no other purpose. Any stimulation, and by that I mean any, destroyed me. Somebody turning on a light. Or spraying Lysol all around me (is this normal?). Or just reminding me to drink fluids. I’ve got a great family. They meant well. But this is the type of thing best not shared.

The clock moved. Intellectually I know this. There were no power outages. But there were times when I was sure the end of the world was at hand. It would remain 2:30am forever, and I would be trapped in this alternate universe with nothing to keep me company but my bucket, orange Gatorade, and a straw.

I dosed. On and off. I had to get up once, which was a bad idea but probably better than peeing the bed. I walked bent over, looking like somebody searching for dropped change on the floor. My stomach cursed me. My head bobbed back and forth like it was being hit with left jabs. Oh. And I had to be at work in a few hours.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like working. It’s a nuisance. But I was raised with a certain ethic. Earn your sandwich. Whenever I’m forced to call off work the Irish catholic guilt works on me something awful. But another part of me doesn’t want to spread my own personal Ebola to my co workers, a few of whom I actually like. So what’s a poor slob to do? Bosses never believe you’re sick, so the dark side of me might enjoy coughing all over certain keyboards. But that’s a bit juvenile right?

I sent the call-off email at 4:30am. I spared him the details. The subject line said “sick” and the message body said “out today”. At my age I’m getting defensive over such issues of control. If you want proof I’ll hack up some sputum for you. Geez. (Damn guilt again…)

It’s been 20 hours since this all started. It’s not over yet. I can tell because I just got up and walked into the kitchen and my stomach said “it’s not over yet”. I made the mistake of passing a mirror. I’ve looked better. Currently I resemble one of the characters from “Trainspotting”. What I looked like at 2:30am can probably only be conjured up in the mind of Stephen King.

I know I shouldn’t go to work tomorrow. I can probably make it 8 hours but at what cost? I may wipe out the entire 3rd floor in the process. So I’m trying to assuage my guilt. A conscience is a terrible thing in these trying economic times.

In case it hasn’t come through in the above paragraphs, I’ve been known to be a terrible sick person. A ball-less whiner. The stereotypical guy. I plead sorta guilty. But I’ve been trying. Really I have. Normally I would have insisted my family witness my agony, just so they could see how I was being cosmically picked on. Maybe I’m getting old. Nowadays I prefer to hide behind doors and under multiple blankets, the better to keep up appearances. Especially when buckets are involved. Nothing to see here. Move along.

But when I catch a cold? I’ll bring that guy back. Promise. All will be right with the world.

In a bit….

-tf

Categories: Uncategorized

Frein part deux

October 1, 2014 1 comment

We tend to jump around a lot. Humans I mean. We love something until we decide that we hate it. Then we make fun of anybody who hasn’t moved on the way we have.

What’s scary is how quickly this type of cycle manifests itself.

Just a few weeks ago the Pennsylvania State Police were darlings. One of their own had been gunned down, and the community came together in collective grief and outrage. We pledged to see this thing through. Cop killers beware. We’re coming to get your ass. People were buying and wearing T shirts in support. When folks don customized T shirt, it’s serious business.

Then….nothing. This guy is still out there. Somewhere. After a series of “we pretty much know where he is and it’s all gonna be over soon” press conferences, and some false alarms (“we got him surrounded”) that spread like wild fire because everybody had downloaded some police scanner app on their Iphones, the ground beneath our feet started to shift.

Schools were closed. Roads were closed. Folks were kept out of their homes. Families were separated. Sightings were everywhere. But the man himself was a phantom. When this sort of thing happens in poor places to poor people….that’s one thing. When it happens in a relatively affluent area like the Poconos, and happens to the relatively affluent people that live there…well…you know how it is.

Videos were posted. What looked like army regiments were marching through pristine backyards filled with toys and swing sets. Helicopters swirled overhead. Frightened home owners huddled in windows watching in worried fascination. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This was the First Blood movie come to life. One guy did this? Cops cars literally lined the road. One every 10 feet. What if it was 2 guys? Would it be a cop car every 5 feet? Would the suburban army patrols march through living rooms? And why in the world were they dressed in camouflage? Too much Netflix anyone?

Whispers. They really have no idea where he is do they? And did you hear the rumor about the guy’s sister and the cop? Yea…I heard that one too. Not that it….you know….just that…well…you know. Yes, I know I know.

Tears….to whispers….to grumbles. I overheard somebody asking about the helicopters….and a guy answered that Frein was being dropped in to do play by play for some High School football games. And then the inevitable reply….”and they still won’t find him!” Laughter all around. People relaxed. Schools were back in session. The games were back. And the woods we were told to avoid unless we wanted a bullet in the noggin were now re-opened. For hunters. And not just the man-hunting variety either. From my cold dead hands indeed! Don’t step on the pipe bombs.

Frein had diapers in the woods. And he used ‘em up too. This was something the eggheads could use. And so….the “diaper sniper”. Hey, it ain’t the son of sam but it’ll do. Gotta sell the sizzle and all that.

Meanwhile….the T shirts are being used to wash cars. The weather has been unseasonably warm.

A man is still dead. Shot down like a rabid dog. A wife still cries herself to sleep every night in an empty bed. Two children try to make sense out of something that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. And the sideshow continues outside their window.

We all know better. If we were in charge we’d have found this clown. And we’d save the taxpayers the cost of a trial too….if you get my drift. Nudge nudge wink wink. Jesus, how hard could it be! Outsmarted by a guy shitting himself in the woods!

(And while we’re at it……fire Tom Coughlin and Chip Kelley too! I can fix the Giants and the Eagles AT THE SAME TIME. I’ve spent 40 years on Sunday couches, just waiting for my chance! What are you waiting for? I’m the king of my fantasy league!)

Reality can be a bitch, but she’s required. Sorry to disturb.

I wish I knew the answers. But I don’t.

I’m pretty sure the men risking their lives tracking this guy know a little more than I do. Have they made mistakes? Surely. Haven’t you?

If I think I can do better, I can become a state police officer myself. Tis a free country. My genius would surely lead me up the ladder in no time….and the next Frein would last about 3 seconds. That diaper would be filled because of ME. Such would be my fearsome reputation as a tracker. Like that guy with the white hat on the trail of Butch and Sundance.

And on and on and on. You get the gist no?

Remember how you felt a few weeks ago?

Keep that in mind when you contemplate how you feel now.

In a bit…

–tf

Categories: Uncategorized