174. Shadows across the parking lot

PictureOutside my second story office window is a charcoal parking lot that holds maybe thirty spaces. Beyond that is the unspectacular three story beige southern wall of a large church. It looks like a rectangular cruise ship stuck in asphalt and concrete. A rusted green dumpster sits at the left side of that wall where the alley runs through north/south behind the church for easy trash pick up on Monday mornings. There is a utility pole exactly halfway between my window and the wall, with utility wires running horizontally across the townscape framed by my square window. Traffic rumbles up and down the poorly paved alley and zooms by the opening of Route 30, between the end of the church wall and what used to be the Salvation Army store. It’s the sort of view that only a New Yorker could love. In the upper left quadrant, blue sky completes the picture. Two streaks of grey-bottomed clouds stretch diagonally northeastward this October morning.

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Before noon the shadows run right (East) to left (West). They straighten out and move backwards as the day wanes. I look out on this intersection of boxes planted around the black macadam streets, trying to supply the missing beauty. It could be beautiful in an urban sort of way, but no one seems to want to put on shutters or hang a nice sign in front of their building. No plants or flowers are evident. The paint choices are tedious– white, beige, green. Not that it’s worth the effort, but I think a hipster urban decorator could easily jazz up this boring patch of boro.

In the left third of my view is a narrow opening between two buildings that reveals a green patch of unpaved ground. It’s a little gem of a park in the middle of downtown Chambersburg where a branch of the Conococheague Creek tumbles past the remains of an old mill wheel. I think of a cherished ruby presented in a stained old cigarette box; the heart of our town deserves better presentation. Instead, the prettiest spot in town is surrounded by parking lots and the backs of sad buildings. Poor planning, I think.

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That beautiful spillway was a primary reason for the rest of the town’s existence. But now it’s just an afterthought, after the streets were paved and lit. After the industry had come and gone. After the money had been extracted from the intersection of Commerce and Greed streets. Still, it remains defiantly beautiful, like a prisoner who grows younger and more vibrant behind bars, wrongfully convicted by impatient, aging jurists.

It’s a funny thing, beauty. It seems to be reborn every year if not every season. Take that rusty dumpster, for example. Last fall I was walking by it and noticed an intense bluish-purple dash of color against the beige background wall. Growing up out of the gap between macadam parking lot and concrete block wall was a purple iris which had somehow taken root. I imagine that funeral or wedding flowers had been dumped sloppily and a single tuber had found its way into the sheltering gap. I took a picture of it with my cell phone. This accidental drop of beauty spoke to me of hope.Image result for purple iris growing out of concrete pictures

Then there is the stream that cuts through our town. I walk by it every day and wonder why it is not esteemed. It could be and should be so beautiful, except locals dump mattresses and shopping carts in its pure waters. There is your basic littering and then there is raping and scarring a landscape. I think willful polluting of a pristine stream deserves more than a civil citation. But then, we’d have to jail the strip mining companies, wouldn’t we? I wonder what the land would look like if it could be returned to the First Nation folks for one hundred years. That stream would be honored, I’m sure, because it provides water and fish and game and direction and transport, i.e., life. But we don’t see that any more. It’s just that wet thing below the bridge.

Again, we have jewels, pearls buried in the excrement of swine. Like old relationships that are taken for granted, we don’t even see the beauty of our blessings. We are a faithless bunch. This town owes its birth to the Falling Spring that feeds the stream that nurtured it… and we have literally turned our backs on it in the pursuit of speed and greed. Now the town fathers look to the torrents of Interstate 81 for more. Prime farmland is paved over for gaudy strip malls and convenience stores. No expense is spared to grease the path of the big chains who promise concrete jobs and progress. We are now a mecca of box warehouses that supply box stores along the arteries of rail and roads. And this display of beauty is the equivalent of a bleached blonde Hooters waitress. Alluring? Yes. Real? No. Come back in ten years and check it out when it will be as sexy as a cigarette butt.

I’m thinking about trees in planters out there. Heavy pots full of flowers. Window boxes spilling out petunias and ivy and such. Spots of beauty that say, “I see. This matters. I am renewing this urban desert.” Now I’m wondering about setting these signs of hope outside my office. I can’t stand vandalism, but I can’t let vandals stop beauty and hope. Yes, I could certainly add two more flower boxes, two potted trees and a whiskey barrel of flowers. These will not be accidents or after thoughts, not prisoners but free exclamations of life being lived. Isaiah 55:

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn bush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”

I need to go to Lowe’s.

173. Have you tried the new Pope pate?

The new Pope is unlike the old Popes. He speaks more clearly it seems. His head is not stuck in books up a spiral staircase in an ivory tower. His tongue is not stuck to the roof of the Vatican Bank. His feet are not stuck in expensive hand made ruby red leather Pope slippers. His hand, so it seems, is not stuck in any cookie jar of carnality or greed or pride. It’s refreshing. Maybe. I’m concerned for his liver, though.

I remember Jimmy Carter was a fresh wind that blew into Washington in 1976. He walked down Pennsylvania Avenue during his inaugural parade. He put solar panels on the White House and didn’t drink a lot of liquor. He held firm on the military’s budget. (Unfreakinfogivable!) He seemed awfully humble, which was toxic to the coyote/hyenas known as the “Beltway Bandits”. Eventually the career politicians and lobbyists devoured him, and Ronnie Reagan rose like a dust storm, sandblasting the skin off the middle class in America. Corporate America settled in. Lobbyists, like plutocratic bishops, weeble wobbled around D.C., syphoning off tax breaks and profitable legislation for their constituents. Jimmy was ground to a powder and blown away beyond the Beltway. The fresh wind turned fetid. Which is why I’m concerned for Pope Francis.

I remember when Lindsay Lohan was my daughters’ favorite star and Britney Spears was a virgin. And you can add any fallen celebrity you wish to this list of infamy. I don’t blame these folks. They lived briefly at the edge of a cultural whirlpool that is driven by money and lust. They danced along the edge of the abyss for a few years, their innocence in stark contrast to the bubbling cesspool below. And then they fell into the magnetic excrement. It’s not simply the character flaws of these individuals; it’s the jet engine system that sucks them in, shreds them, and spits them out vaporized…thank you very much. Next chump. Washington and Hollywood operate on the same jet engine system.

I’ve never had the rock star experience, where others want to get close to you, drive your car, open your doors, do your laundry. Sycophants who get between you and your money… endlessly pampering your ego until you are the human equivalent of a caged goose with a super-fatty liver…so tasty as pate. The slaughter waits at the end of the tunnel of false love. I suppose that’s the gift of any addiction– false promises and feel good moments delivered (Oh, don’t get up. I’ll answer the door for you) on the way to the slaughterhouse. The British sent opium ahead of their invasion of China. Our U.S. cavalry softened their Indian targets with alcohol. It’s not just Hollywood that greases the skids with drugs for the young and beautiful, the rich and powerful.

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And what drug or addiction is softening up the U.S. population nowadays? A legion of indulgences cage us as we gobble down kernels of our destruction and our livers swell into gourmet gourds.

2269 Americans have died in the Afghan War as of this week. The cost of the war is estimated to be between $4 and $6 trillion, or a third of our national debt. Not to mention war costs in Iraq…

“Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, and Linda Bilmes of Harvard University, have stated the total costs of the Iraq War on the US economy will be three trillion dollars in a moderate scenario, described in their book The Three Trillion Dollar War and possibly more in the most recent published study, published in March 2008. Stiglitz has stated: “The figure we arrive at is more than $3 trillion. Our calculations are based on conservative assumptions…Needless to say, this number represents the cost only to the United States. It does not reflect the enormous cost to the rest of the world, or to Iraq.” Oh, and around 4500 U.S. soldiers died.

A 2013 updated study pointed out that U.S. medical and disability claims for veterans after a decade of war had risen to $134.7 billion from $33 billion two years earlier. Do you think that might increase even more?

Here’s the scoop… according to the U.S. NATIONAL DEBT CLOCK, the Outstanding Public Debt as of 11 Oct 2013 at 02:37:43 PM GMT is:
$ 1 6 , 7 5 0 , 4 9 3 , 0 0 1 , 3 6 7 . 2 4.

The estimated population of the United States is 316,823,868.

So each citizen’s share of this debt is $52,870.05. But not every citizen works. Roughly 2/3’s of our population is employed, so the actual cost per working man or woman is greater than this figure.

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In addition to this travesty it is estimated by Bloomberg News that the true cost of the Wall Street meltdown/bailout of 2008 cost U.S. taxpayers $12.8 trillion. “According to a team at Bloomberg News, at one point last year (2009) the U.S. had lent, spent or guaranteed as much as $12.8 trillion to rescue the economy.” Hmmmm. Funny how the three figures above add up to just around our total deficit. I know it’s not this simple, but war and Wall Street greed have real consequences to the empire we live in. But wait! There’s more.

Consumer credit, for instance, surged past the $3 trillion mark in the second quarter of 2013 and continues on an upward trajectory, according to the most recent numbers from the Federal Reserve.

At $3.04 trillion, the total is up 22 percent over the past three years. Student loans are up a whopping 61 percent.

Total household debt, according to the Fed’s flow of funds report, is at $13 trillion, nearly back to its pre-crisis level in 2007.

Image result for millstone around neck picturesIs there a trend here? Our materialism is a mighty stone around the stiff neck of our imperialism. We want it all on the micro and macro levels. Our USDA inspected livers are saturated and ready for the harvest. Pope Francis, don’t put on those bloody red slippers. Like Dorothy from Kansas, we put them on and went to Hell with our hand basket stuffed full of dinner rolls and butter. The enemy is not at the door but in the mirror.

We can barely estimate our losses, costs and debts. My question is this: Silly geese, what have we gained?

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172. Reunions like Raw onions will make you cry

Image result for crying onion picturesSo I got a letter in the mail asking me to save the date next year for my high school’s 40th reunion. That’s right, Bloggapillars, 1974 was 40 years ago. I have not been to one since my fifth year reunion, which was a loud dud. I recall a couple of loud mouths and a couple of very drunk losers who seemed to be on a long losing and drinking streak. I took my girlfriend of the time, who is now my wife. She was unimpressed as I was also. I think we left early.

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And now an invitation comes in the mail. “The class of 1974 wants you…” I don’t know how they got my address, though in the era of Facebook, Google maps, and the NSA there is no privacy. I put the letter in the trash. My wife fished it out. “Let’s go. It will be fun. We can dress up and dance.” I wished her well and encouraged her to have a good time. She could tell my forgotten classmates of my untimely death and perhaps get a few phone numbers. But she was not easily dissuaded. (Oh no, I thought, let’s not make something that does not matter as much as a worm’s whisker into a showdown about what’s good for me.) “It will be good for you”, she nudged.

“My high school has never contacted me for a reunion”, she added, as if that gave her justification for forcing me to attend my 40th high school reunion. I thought back… I didn’t even graduate from my high school, technically. I received my now misplaced diploma from there, but I actually graduated from the county night school program at Thomas Edison High School. Maybe I should look up the green card Guatemalans in my night classes or the stoners I rode back and forth with. Hmmm, we smoked on our breaks and chattered about concerts and beer. The long and short of it was that I disliked high school so much that I went to day and night school to get out of there a year early. Now I’m supposed to go back to celebrate something I despised to begin with? No way. Plus there was my brother’s experience at the last one.

My older brother Steve looks a lot like me, only younger, which is not right. While I taught in public schools and grayed under stress, he worked for the federal government and did not. Once, at a restaurant in Frederick, Maryland, we were exchanging kids for a week away from their homes. We had dinner and he and I both went to the cashier to pay the bill. I said, “Let me have it.” He insisted and held the check. The cashier said, in front of my daughter and niece, “Oh how cute. You want to buy your dad’s dinner.” Well the girls laughed, no, screeched at the irony. My brother called me “Pops” and the story became part of our family lore. Anyway, he married one of my classmates, Michelle, who faithfully attended all the reunions over the years. A few years ago Steve told me that a slightly drunk and angry woman came up to him and blasted him for my sins. Fortunately for him, he explained that he was not me. Sadly for all concerned, I have not the faintest recollection of this girl/woman. So there’s one more reason not to attend a function I had no desire to attend without handcuffs and straight jacket attire while under the influence of rohypnol.

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Union comes from “uni” which means one and is the root of “unity”. I had a lot of experiences in high school. Unity was not one of them. There was no oneness among 650 students per class. Funny, though. Many years later my buddy Mark Craver was teaching at our high school when a letter arrived from England inquiring about a high school ring from 1974. The writer wanted to know if this was the home of the Hawks, and if someone could verify that the ring did in fact come from that school. The principal called Craver down and showed him the letter. Mark said, “C’mon Man. Over 600 kids were in our graduating class!” Then the principal read the next page that gave my initials carved on the inside. Craver said, “Yeah, that would be Burrito Special.” However, no one in that story was interested in getting my lost ring with an aquamarine stone back into my rightful possession. Okay, add it up to global karma.

You see in 1973 and into early 1974 I had traveled to England and Scotland. I had lost my heart to my first girlfriend, who had moved there after junior year. I went over to visit her and resurrect a Daffy Duck sort of love. I’m thinking of the episode when the hunter tried to bake Daffy in an oven that needed a match to light the thing. Daffy kept blowing out the lit matches. I would have been the hunter and my girlfriend would have been Daffy. There was no hoped for reunion, my aghast readers. I know, her unending loss. She could be famous now as Mrs. Burrito Special. Loved by all and envied by many.

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Oh, well, it was a life changing trip anyway. I lost a lot of things in England and gave away other things willingly, never expecting to hear a word about any of them. But, wow, that was a reunion without any material connections to it. I liked the story more than that foolish ring. I do remember taking it off to wash my hands at the Angel Hotel in Bury St. Edmunds. Charles Dickens had written something there above a toilet, “It was the best of hotels. It was the worst of hotels.” I recall being so tired and jet lagged that I fell asleep in my lovely steak dinner after I had washed my hands and face. I was 17 and as dumb as Greg Allman. I was not drunk, I just hadn’t slept for 40 hours.

Oh, no, no, no. No reunions in the flesh. If Craver were there with my ring on his pinky like a mafia Don, well maybe I’d go. For the moment I’ll stick with trying to find unity in what I do know. You can’t cook a duck that won’t cooperate.

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171. Adolessons 2

I recall a night in mid-May of 1975. I had just gotten home from my first year of college. My buddies came by and we drank some beer and perhaps smoked some pot. It was a long time ago. All these things were legal then if you were under the influence of adolescence. There was Craver, Tim Gulley, Gerard Windt, my older brother Steve, and me. Craver and Gulley were big boys– 250 each; “G” was like a piece of shoelace licorice; and my brother and I were average size 20 and 19 year olds. Anyhow, we wound up at Craver’s kitchen table, blathering and joking, and we were looking for some adventure. Gulley was blathering on about his father and how he worked at the White House. I challenged his b.s. He called the White House and handed me the phone. “Good evening, this is the White House. How may I help you?” said the very adult voice on the other end. I hung up. “I hope they don’t trace prank calls”, was my lame reply to Gulley. I wouldn’t want Mark’s dad, Colonel Craver, to get that follow up phone call.

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“Uh huh, they did what? Why that’s un-American. I’ll take care of it with my Ranger-trained hands.” He served much too long in Vietnam, and the country changed on him while he was deployed. That’s another blog post.

I suppose the conversation moved on to our girlfriends. Somehow I mentioned that mine was stuck at college in Richmond till her mother could drive down and fetch her on the weekend. Gulley, ever grandiose and seeking universal approval, offered that we all pile in his Volkswagen and drive to Richmond and bring her back immediately. “Gulley, there are five of us going down in a VW Beetle. One of us would have to get out and hitchhike back.”

“No, we’ll squeeze in on the way back.”

The funny thing about substances is how they can make what is clearly impossible seem viable. We piled into his Beetle. It was tight. Gulley was over-excited and did a very Gulley thing: he punched his windshield and made a fist-sized spider web appear. Now usually such a bad omen would make an audience reconsider what’s up. Nope. We just headed down the road in the dark. Luminescence became pleasantly kaleidoscopic as we passed streetlights and other vehicles.

Now a careful reader might ask at this juncture, “Don’t you ever learn?” I mean there was the broken foot while skipping school; the mangled deer with the headlights out; the somnambulance ride to Ocean City; not to mention the ticket Sam got when three of us rode on the hood of his Falcon to keep it from bottoming out on a back road in Fauquier County, and a local sheriff couldn’t see the wisdom of that move.( Another pile of guys had decided to go camping in the middle of another bored summer night.) And the answer is an unequivocal “NO”.

Our first destination was the 7-11 store for more beer. Strangely, we thought, they stopped selling beer at 2:00 a.m. We could not figure that one out. Again, another bad omen, but we forged onward, down 95 to Richmond.

It must have been 4:00 a.m. when we arrived, unannounced and strolled right into Johnson Hall, the dorm I lived in as well as my girlfriend Sara. I think after brief introductions we all slept on the floor of her dorm room, or maybe it was mine. In any event the sun came up soon after and the alcohol’s effects were worn off. What seemed gloriously fun and cool and inimitable the night before looked like a dirty Volkswagen with a broken windshield in the pale morning light. Reality was like a flea in our sleeping bag. How to squeeze six people into an overcrowded VW? Sara had to go in the back seat, and though her weight was welcome at first, after an hour it was painful and then numbing over the final hour as the sun heated up and the engine whined under the strain of 1,000 pounds of human cargo. If nothing else, my respect for clown car passengers in the circus grew immensely on that morning. It was wisdom born from pain.

Back at my house, where the saga had begun twelve hours earlier, the VW disgorged its occupants. Normalcy returned in the daylight. And here’s the odd thing: normalcy is forgettable. The mundane is not memorable. Just ask a tollbooth worker what moments were memorable in his/her career. Was it the 12 millionth suit and briefcase or the nude woman with a pet zebra in the back seat who whispered ala Marilyn Monroe, “This is my birthday zoot suit” ? That’s not a fair question, I realize this.

Those days were thirty eight years ago. Gerard lives in San Francisco now and has an awesome life according to his Christmas card letters. The last time I saw Gulley he picked me up hitchhiking on the way to California in 1978. Craver died in 2004. In 1979 I married the only girl in the VW, and my brother Steve is still her brother-in-law.

What to make of these adolescent lessons, because logical outcomes and life altering wisdom are not the only lessons we gather in life. Life rushes out of us, even on boring summer nights that seem to lack meaning and purpose. Some heavily potentiated moments gel into little gemstones that we bury in the subsoil of our consciousness. Somehow these stem cell moments achieve critical mass and arc into the idealized timelessness of nostalgia. And that has to count for something despite the mixing of metaphors.

170. Adolessons 1

Blazing blognacity! Humor, like fireworks, should only be handled by professionals. Even then, someone may lose a finger or an eye due to a tragic mishap. Nor should adolescent males be left unsupervised…ever. Many a full grown man is today hobbling around due to some foolish stunt he pulled as a teenager. Some have scars. Some have skin cancer ’cause they didn’t use sunscreen. A neighbor, Steve Murray, lost his sight in one eye when a cherry bomb he threw out his window caught the frame and bounced back into his face, forever altering his life. Lots of lessons are learned in male adolescence. Lots aren’t.

One summer night in high school we were hanging around my Fairfax County front yard, bored yet energetic. It must have been 11 p.m. or so. Richard Cooper, Dwayne Beatty, me, and maybe Johnny Emrico and Bobby Doering were mulling over teen angst. It was dark, okay? Richard still had a cast on his foot from a rope swing accident earlier in the spring. While we were skipping school, and he was under the influence of Boone’s Farm Berry wine, he swung fast and hard off his 1967 Volkswagen Beetle’s hood and flew into space above the Occoquan River near Woodbridge, Virginia. Unfortunately for him, as he let go and flipped a flawless backward gainer, he landed on a large rock and shattered his ankle.

So here we were a couple of months later, unrepentant. Someone babbled that we should drive to Ocean City, Maryland, a four hour car ride back in the day. Like another adventure I blogged about, (the x-rated movie scam Blog #73. Unerringly), the motion to be purposefully stupid was unanimously approved. Dwayne said he’d drive his dad’s gold Pontiac Bonneville. It easily sat six with room to spare. Each guy went home for a towel, no sun screen, some food, money, and maybe left a note for a sleeping parent. I grabbed a half bag of charcoals and a pack of hot dogs.

Away we went at high speeds. On a different night Dwayne had pushed his dad’s Pontiac up to 125 mph on the Beltway. Not on this night. In fact, on our way through small towns in the Eastern Shore of Maryland, we all fell asleep until the car jumped a railroad track and slammed down on the other side. For dramatic effect I’ll compare it to a space capsule full of monkeys re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, jolting the animals awake. From there on one of us was assigned to keep Dwayne awake.

When we got to the boardwalk, it was 3:00 a.m. and we imagined we’d just sleep on the beach. The cops had other ideas. They told us we could not sleep anywhere except a hotel, not even in our car. So we sat on the benches until sunup, at which time we were allowed to sleep on the beach. We were tired and hungry. I made a little pit in the sand and lit my charcoals for roasting the wieners. The cops had other ideas. “You can’t have a fire on the beach, kid. Put it out.” I was stunned and still hungry. I kicked sand over my combusting charcoals not knowing that I was simply creating a sand furnace. Later in the day I walked right over my buried charcoal and burned my right foot. One of the other guys had the communal brain at that time, I guess. We all laughed hard at our own stupidity. Somehow everyone survived the sunburnt trip, sort of. Richard got tired of his cast, though, and walked into the waves. In a matter of minutes the plaster softened and he took it off. Bad idea. The ankle was not ready for duty, and pain began to school him again. Apparently he was a slow learner.

It could have been the same summer but a different cast of characters. The only common factor was me. Again, adolescent males bored on a summer night. It was Sam, Chris and Dwight this night. After squirreling around our local haunts, Sam or Chris said, “Let’s go to Dulles airport and watch the planes come in.” All in favor got in Dwight’s green bug and away we went. There was a full moon as I recall because on the way west Dwight turned his lights out and drove by moonlight. Once we got to the terminal we noticed that it was just about as empty and boring as the place we’d just left.

Back in Dwight’s bug, back on the access road, again no lights. As we approached the Beltway, one of us suggested turning on the lights for safety. Dwight did so and, lo’ and behold, a large doe stood right in front of the car, but not for long. Boom! The deer slammed into the hood, the windshield, and rolled over the roof of the car. Mrs. Deer flew up and into history. The trunk, which was in the front of bugs, flew open and bent back on its hinges as Dwight tried to slow down and not crash any worse than we’d already managed to do. He was blinded by the hood, however. In slow motion I recall the VW’s headlights illuminating the woods which we wound up driving into and Dwight’s spare tire bouncing merrily through the trees in the moonlight. It was death defying and hilarious at the same moment. We got out to inspect the damage. Not too bad for us. The deer was nowhere in sight. We fetched the spare, pulled deer hair out of the rear view mirror and hood handle, and bent the hood back into closed position. Somehow, and only God knows how, we made it home alive again.

 

Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be adolescents.

169. Undigestible Justice

Monday, the last day of September unless you are a government contractor who bills for work done on September 31 or the government accountant who approves the invoice. For the rest of us it’s the end of the ninth month that translates as the seventh month, which it was when Rome ran a ten month calendar, back when emperors could steal days from other months to make their month longer, thus stroking their unbalanced and unchecked egos. Then, when it was snowing in July, things had to be restructured. Sounds a lot like our current government shutdown/bankruptcy process where losers steal the ball rather than play by the rules that they attempted to manipulate in the first place. They call foul; blame the other side; and then point at the clock…”Oh my, we’re almost out of time!” Maybe these elected officials (slimy politicians) will compromise after our republic has joined Rome in the landfill of history. Perhaps when their pensions fail to arrive on time, they will finally get it. It’s pretty bad when my wife agrees to watch Monday Night Football rather than listen to the liars in Washington do their equivalent of the 2-minute drill, their last second, drama driven finger pointing, Hail Mary pass for their partisan positions. I’d rather watch two year olds fight over a stale ginger snap.

But this is all background for my topic. See, my friend Chuck had another day in court this afternoon. His baby momma wanted to take the rest of his parental rights from him. She already had 167 of 168 hours of weekly custody, and today she wants to cut that final thin filament of attachment between father and daughter. She’s engaged to a new boyfriend, and they want to adopt Chuck’s daughter so they can play house neatly. The woman has two other children to a Hispanic boyfriend, but these half siblings are not up for adoption. How can this be? Let’s go back in time five years.

In 2008 Chuck was arrested for having a sexually explicit on-line conversation with a state police officer who was pretending to be a 14 year old girl. He was 34. Stupid, awful, wrong. He was put in jail and signed a plea agreement to get out. He pled guilty without a lot of thought or legal counsel. The guys in jail said, “Don’t sign a plea deal, man”. Chuck ignored their jailhouse wisdom. His free lawyer just walked with him through the slaughterhouse, not defending him intelligently or vigorously. No doubt a $250 an hour lawyer would have gotten him off or just told him to shut up and make the state prove its case. Seems the investigator lost the on-line chat that preceded the sting statements. And once you admit to a crime, it’s tough to take it back or add perspective. No one listens after you say, “Yes, I did it.”

He got eight years of supervised probation. Though at every turn, week after week, his probation officer threatened him with prison, Chuck complied. Despite the stupidity of the system, the alpha dog barking and preening of the PO’s, Chuck did not crack. He worked. He reported every Thursday morning. He went back to college and succeeded academically. Most importantly, he looked past justice, past forgiveness and stared into Grace. He came to a deep faith in Christ.

Numerous fellow believers came alongside Chuck in his journey. Someone gave him a place to stay. Someone paid for groceries. Someone else gave him a job. Another man gave him a used car. Little by little he crawled up near the rim of the hole he had dug for himself. And men mentored him. A lady at church tutored him. In bits and pieces a second family came around this shattered young man. He soaked up God’s word and read more books in a year than he’d read in his life to date. He hung on with hope for his nine year old daughter. But Baby Momma saw how easy it would be to advance her agenda and squeeze him out of his daughter’s life. Like a slimy politician she worked the system to 167 unaccountable hours for her to 1 hour supervised for Chuck.

Despite the haters and jerk around cretins at Parole and Probation, he graduated from most restrictions and weekly probation after just three and a half years. Humbled? yes. Broken? no. Oh yeah, in the mean time his Megan’s List registration and public posting was increased from ten years to 15 years by our less than sterling governor, “Frackin” Tom Corbett. It’s so interesting that he opened up the tax credits to his fracking industry buddies while jacking already convicted sex offenders with a 50% added sentence to Megan’s List. It’s a safe vote against a group that has no voting constituents. PA Senate bill 1183…

“4) Anyone who was previously required to register in Pennsylvania and has not completed his or her registration period. When this provision takes effect, one’s NEW registration period will be determined by the NEW time frames for sexually violent offenses. This means that even if one has completed 7 of 10 years, his or her registration period will increase to 15, 25 or life.”

I know it’s hard to find compassion for sex offenders, but try to imagine that you had served your time for a crime and yet you need to remain registered for an additional five years, subject to further diddling by a slimy politician. How is it that this deal can be rewritten? Now imagine rewriting the tax breaks for Corbett’s frackin’ buddies. Right. Impossible. On top of this miscarriage of “one size fits all” justice, add the automatic custody loss as soon as Baby Momma says “Megan’s List offender”.

When I first heard of water that burned, I had to see it to believe it. but sure enough methane gas gets mixed with groundwater in Frackland and water burns right out of the tap. I have a similar sense of awe and disbelief at the combustion of justice in my friend’s case. I swallow hard and re-chew the facts in this case and I just can’t digest it. “Hey kid! Let go of that ginger snap! And Blind Lady of Justice, quit peeking.” What’s on Sports Center, Honey?