319. Parking Tickets and Murder

So back on Pine Street I had on-street parking in front of my run down building, and I parked the old Ford Falcon there 95% of the time. However, one morning as I was coming home from work, some punk college commuter had wedged his/her little weasel vehicle into my semi-designated parking space, forcing me to park down the block  on a meter near Bruce’s up and coming restaurant. I was torqued off as a ghetto dweller could be. When you don’t have much and someone takes the little crumbs you do have, well, dang it, you need to hit something. I hit that meter with my empty hand as I pulled it out of my empty pocket. Not even a slim dime for the meter could I find. I stomped off indignantly and humiliated that I didn’t even have a dime. It’s much cooler to act angrily undignified, however, than to fall to your knees in front of a blank faced parking meter, crying “Why? Why?”

The next time I looked at my car, there was a $3.00 parking ticket under the wiper. Ahhhhh!!! Now I was bolt bustin’ mad!  I tore up the ticket and said to no one, “I’ll never pay this stupid ticket. I’m the victim here. The punk stole my spot and I get the ticket?  Ahhhhh!!! This is America. I am going full Liam Neeson, and I will find you and keel you, punk!!” It was a very dramatic though pathetic solo performance on the uneven brick sidewalk with crabgrass growing out of the joints. (I was nominated later for Best Public Jerk Wad Tornado Hissy Fit by a male at the prison talent show.)

Some time elapsed as I pouted in my wet emotional diaper, chafing at the cruelty and injustice of this world. A formal letter came from the City of Richmond, telling me that my $0.10 meter fee which had turned into a $3.00 ticket was now being billed at $25.00 plus court costs. I could appear in court at such and such a time on such and such a date if I wished to contest it, or I could simply concede and pay the $25.00.  I was rebar bending, steel girder grinding mad. I was going bankrupt over a stupid parking violation. I didn’t have $25.00 to pay the incentivized ticket, so I resolved to go to court and contest the whole thing.

About a week later I showed up in District Court and tried to educate the cranky old judge before me. He simply said, “Pay the ticket. There is nothing else to do. Add the court costs. Next.” I was numb and in shock. I was up to $77.50 in unpayable fines. If this had been a stock instead of a debt, I’d be rolling in the dough. I’d have run around town collecting these magic tickets to wealth. But it wasn’t and I wasn’t, because ‘FuzzyWuzzy wasn’t very fuzzy, was he?’ I hung my head down and shuffled to the cashier’s window. I told the guy there that I didn’t have any money and was unsure of what else I could do.

He told me, “Well, you can appeal it, basically roll the dice. If you win, no cost. If you lose, it’s double.”

“Heck, I can’t pay what I owe to begin with, so let’s go with double or nothing. So if I lose and can’t pay….?”

“Jail.”

“Lovely.”

The clerk filled out a form and I signed it, affirming I’d appear in a week to appeal my conviction to another judge.

A week later I realized while I was reading a textbook on Renaissance Art or Greek Philosophy that I was late for my appeal. I quickly tried to make myself look respectable. An impossible task on any day. I knew at least I should dress for jail. I chose tight and durable material that would send the right signals to hardened criminals when they asked me why I was in the slammer.

Image result for prison bully pictures

[“Yo, kid. How long? What for?”

“Sixty days. Parking violation.”

“That’s funny. You ought to try for the annual talent show. That’s some prime material there.”

I imagined my prison street cred would be solid from that point forward.]

I hopped on my bike and coasted to the court, unable to afford another parking violation, I was being ultra-cautious. I walked around naively hoping my legal fairy godmother would show up and cut me loose. I went from one official court person to another trying to find which courtroom my fate had been decided in. I also wondered about my bike being locked up to a utility pole for two months. Not likely to be there when I got out of the Big House.

Finally I was directed to Courtroom 3 where a trial was in process for a rape/attempted murder case. I was blown away that I was even allowed to spectate. It was pretty tough stuff going down in there. I knew something was off, but I was not going to get right back up and risk alienating, i.e., pissing off another judge. So I sat respectfully till there was a lull in the action. I quietly tip toed out of the courtroom and sought clarification from another clerk.

“Oh, yeah. The judge already dealt with your case first thing.”

“I was late due to a near death experience…”

“He threw it out.”

“What does that mean?” I asked, expecting that it meant I was going to be thrown out to the human wolves in the penitentiary.

“It means it’s legally done, over, cancelled, kapoot, nada, gone, dead, etc.”

“What about court costs, community service, probation, parole, restitution?”

“Kid, it’s done. You lucked out. How your parking ticket crap ended up on appeal ahead of a major felony is like fairy godmother stuff. Now get out of here, you lucky bastard!”

I was stunned by this mis-miscarriage of justice. I was released into society almost unscarred and maybe unrehabilitated. Suddenly my clothes felt too tight as I remembered I could breathe freely again. I wanted to break out in a victory dance right there, but I reconsidered I could be arrested for lewd and lascivious booty dancing in a government building. I wanted to be humbled by this stroke of luck, but I also wanted to get that parking spot punk thief and jack him up like Liam would…. “Don’t ever believe that this is over, Bucko.”

 Then again, maybe I should just swallow the humble pill. They only cost a dime.

 

 

 

241. all that’s unfit to print: unchained dissonant melodies

 

 

Oh the chains and uniformly planned strip malls that blacken the highways of our country! I’ve opined against them previously, how they suck the marrow out of local economies and pump up the bloodless pressure of Wall Street profits. I do despise the corporate model of business as usual wherein the top 2% of our population control something like 50% of the national wealth. Where CEO’s earn 260+ times more than the average employee while the average U.S. worker’s income has grown a sickly 5% in the last 35 years. Let me quote someone else’s data.

The Wealth Distribution

In the United States, wealth is highly concentrated in a relatively few hands. As of 2010, the top 1% of households (the upper class) owned 35.4% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 53.5%, which means that just 20% of the people owned a remarkable 89%, leaving only 11% of the wealth for the bottom 80% (wage and salary workers). In terms of financial wealth (total net worth minus the value of one’s home), the top 1% of households had an even greater share: 42.1%.  Edward N. Wolff at New York University (2012).

If you tried to draw a distribution curve for this data, it would not resemble a bell curve but a water slide at Hershey Park. (The slide in this picture is aptly named the Insano. It’s in Brazil.) What’s wrong with this economic set up?  Let’s see, the folks at the top who mostly inherited their vast wealth tell the little people at the bottom to work hard and believe in the capitalist system that is totally tilted against them. “Try harder, Amigo. You can doooo it.  Whoops. There goes another one. Poor people are so slippery.”

Here’s another way to look at it. The graph below shows how CEO’s income has skyrocketed since 1985, from 24 times more than the average worker to 262 times more in 2005.
When I look at these facts, I wonder if we have moved beyond the Middle Ages feudal system or plantation slavery. Just close your eyes and imagine an entire cow or pig being roasted. Enough to feed 100 people who all work together. It looks and smells delicious. When it is fully cooked and just dripping with irresistible juices, meat falling off the bones, the CEO’s family takes the top cuts up to 35%. After the select cuts are served to them, the professional staff totaling 19 folks feast on the rest of the carcass, leaving a paltry 11% of the roast beast to be divided among the remaining 80 folks. Bones and knuckles, pig’s ears and tongue, tail and cracklins. Maybe you’re lucky and get the hog’s maw.  Oooh, Boy!!  Yippee skippy.  Life is so fun at the MASSAH’s table, uh, wait, I mean at the end of the fiscal year when profits are not shared and excuses are made for the folks on the slippy slide of downward mobility. Why is it that the corporate model always winds up looking like a ski slope? Why is there no upward pull for the average worker when obviously there is abundant money for the top shelf company officers and shareholders? The Dow Jones is at 17,200 today. A record high. Who benefits from this success?  A damn special few. These proud American corporations register off shore to further avoid paying U.S. taxes. C’mon. When is enough enough?
I don’t want to be angry about the situation. I haven’t seen anger solve too many problems in my life. I’m not screaming “Revolution” or “Kill the Czar”. I know this same sort of crap happens in communist countries and third world dictatorships. Human nature sucks at its core without God. I guess that’s it:  these statistics and trend lines are documentation of the godlessness of our time. And churches are no better. There is a similar hierarchy in larger churches where wealth flows upward and sticks.
I remember Nixon’s phrase in the early 1970’s, “trickle down economics”. Why is it that taxes are vacuumed upward from working people but benefits must “trickle down” to the little people after splurging on the rich?
The economist John Kenneth Galbraith noted that “trickle-down economics” had been tried before in the United States in the 1890s under the name “horse and sparrow theory.” He wrote, “Mr. David Stockman has said that supply-side economics was merely a cover for the trickle-down approach to economic policy—what an older and less elegant generation called the horse-and-sparrow theory: ‘If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.'” Galbraith claimed that the horse and sparrow theory was partly to blame for the Panic of 1896.
My friends, we are sparrows, feasting on the pooping end of the horse. There is a dark twisted theory called social Darwinism that comes out of the application of evolutionary theory to societies and levels of folks in societies.
Social Darwinism applied to a social context too, of course. It provided a justification for the more exploitative forms of capitalism in which workers were paid sometimes pennies a day for long hours of backbreaking labor. Social Darwinism also justified big business’ refusal to acknowledge labor unions and similar organizations, and implied that the rich need not donate money to the poor or less fortunate, since such people were less fit anyway. ( Running cuz I can’t Fly Blog)
 Ah, it’s a wonderful thing indeed when you can control all the wealth and then all the media that explains life to the knuckleheads who slave away for the system that eviscerates them.  Read “Fast Food Nation” for a starter. It’s sickening, folks, really. I love my country and hate its distribution of wealth at the same time. The top of the wealth slide never gets any bigger although it continues to grow higher and higher. As it ascends to God’s heels, the speed at which poor folks are repelled away from prosperity increases. Shame on us.
Look, I am not poor. I’m not buried in debt. But I see that so much of America is unnecessarily burdened by the current robber baron system at work.  Tax me more. Pinch my growth. But don’t let another American slide away from a vital life. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

237. circles

Lately it seems many things are going in circles like a slowed down NASCAR race. My focused desire to write has been on the wane. Life has been a skipping cd, which I realize is a dated reference but better than a skipping record. There are days, weeks or even months when monotony pervades.  The news stutters on, repeating itself over and over. It’s not new, folks. War, disease, racism, and ignorance are doing well.  Life’s same old, mindless routine has become a rut. It’s nobody’s fault, I just find myself looking at a fish in an aquarium swimming around and around his little tank, and I feel like a kindred spirit, a fellow ichthus. Glub glub. Boosh. Woosh. Thrum bum bum. My tank is eight miles wide and ten deep, approximately ten across. I swim back and forth to work and stores, church, friends, etc. The aquarium I live in is nice, just a little too familiar sometimes. Maybe a motorcycle jaunt or a skydive would jack me up. Couldn’t hurt. Well, it could kill me, but other than that, it couldn’t hurt.

Went to NYC to visit my oldest daughter. How many one way streets are there in Manhattan and Brooklyn? More than you can drive down. I had a parking space at a metered spot on a one way street last week. I noticed a free parking space behind me on another one way crossing street. It was 50 yards away but inaccessible unless I drove a half mile and made three lefts, which I did. Only to arrive as some deviant miscreant Brooklynite finished parking in that golden void. I cursed once or twice and kept driving in circles to my right this time. Make four rights and you will wind up in a square circle where you began if you don’t hit a bicyclist, which gets tempting after a while. They cut and swerve like birds through the herd of autobuffalos. A little envy naturally arises. Those guys can glide through stalled traffic and run red lights at will. They weave freely among the metal, concrete and asphalt canyons. Until the rains come, then justice prevails.

My daughters went to a musical while the wife and I went to a swing dance club. It was actually a nice time. We were anonymous tourists with no expectations placed upon us except the cover charge. Nothing is free in NYC. The Holland Tunnel cost $13.oo, just to get into Manhattan. (I still have two outstanding parking tickets from 2006, I think. We sold that car, so I think I escaped those charges… nearly $300, no kidding.) Everything seems to round up to a hundred dollars– tickets, club tabs, breakfast, lunch and dinner. By the time you add in a taxi home, well, there’s another $35.  But forget the cost of everything; remember the value of one thing, my Bliago.  Yes, I can dig that permutation of Shakespeare. Besides, next year it will all cost even more so today is gonna be a bargain in five more years.

Circles, circles, circles. My wife helps an antipoverty group in town called Circles. She’s a bit more practically committed than I am. I try to avoid long term commitments beyond marriage and family. Anyway, about a year ago she began mentoring a young woman who wanted to get out of poverty. It went fairly well for the first year. We could see progress despite some obvious limitations involved. Now here’s the kicker:  remember the loud drunk I posted about in post # 128?  Well, our little mentee girl met him and moved him in with her. Remember that I had the guy arrested and then went to the district justice’s three times before he pled guilty and got six months in the county jail. But it wasn’t over then. While I was on vacation in Florida, the arresting officer called my cell phone and asked if I could testify yet again because Mr. Screamy appealed his 26th drunk and disorderly conviction. Yep, so after Screamo got out of jail he hooked up with this woman. Indirectly she funded his alcohol consumption. Every dollar he did not spend for her rent, phone or utilities, he got to spend on liquor. Fantastic. Indirectly we were helping her indirectly help him directly abuse society. Cyclical injustice without bikes this time.

This development did not sit well with me or my wife. After all, Miss Mentee walked our dog. She was connected to my family. But… we are not stupid. After hearing her talk about her drunk and disorderly new boyfriend, my wife put 1/16 and 1/16 together and got 8/64. She inquired about the paramour, and what do you know?  One and the same dude. On top of that, mentee had known the connection for a while and had said nothing about it. Uh oh. On top of that she claimed, “You are all so judgmental!”  You know what? We certainly are. We can judge between a rattle snake and a baby’s rattle, by God. And we do this on a daily basis, most assuredly. In fact, I judged a completely antisocial drunk who was disrupting my business to be breaking the law and had him arrested a year and a half ago. The Boro police and district justice agreed with me and he was sentenced to six months in jail for the 26th time. That’s 13 years total if  you’re keeping score at home. Furthermore, I judged that helping someone reach to get out of poverty was a good and noble thing to do. Yes, I am so judgmental.

We judge all day every day, but we should not condemn. Judging is using our brains beyond simple perceptions and facts. We judge when we plug facts and memories and concepts into a mental matrix of values and priorities. Otherwise we simply chase our tails and repeat the same old mistakes forever. Poverty is not a lack of money, by the way. Many folks live spiritually impoverished lives while others practice impoverished thinking. In any event no good deed goes unpunished.

 

 

231. Uninspired Torpidity 1961

 

Inspire conjures up the act of breathing, breathing in some magic spirit like freedom that leads to the creation of something new. But that breath does not always show up, just like perfect crystalline days don’t show up too often here in Central Pennsylvania. Many days are smudgy with all the humidity loitering in the warm air. Old timers blame all the trees that grow here for the moist weather. They expire, the trees and the old guys do… and I don’t get their reasoning. However, when the dew point moves past 60, muggy is the word. I sort of like the criminality of that weather word, as if the very air is forcibly robbing us with nothing more than a sweaty hand in its saggy pocket.

“Stick’m up, pardners! This here is a wet robbery. I got a big old squirt gun under this paper bag. Plus, I got a fat lady with a wet wool blanket ready to squeeze  you taight if you don’t behave.  Ya’ll been sweatin’ up a bunch of stink. You’ns can put your arms down now. Whew. I’m just muggin’, okay? Nobody needs to get hurt here if you just slow down and act like some good ole Alabamians. Get you some tea and put your feet up in a shady spot. There ya go. Just procrastinate a while. Live in the past. Drink a lot of liquor.”

Whether or not you like it, weather is not that polite or predictable. It swarms in over night and saturates the local atmosphere. No negotiations.  The combination of heat and humidity can stultify a man’s brain, leaving him uninspired, a locked vault door behind which are wonderful treasures piled high. We can’t have this outcome, bloggitties. A psychic thunderstorm must well up and conquer this wet blanket of oppression. We cannot tolerate weather thugs with bags on their heads mugging us.

 Ah, much better. Refreshing actually. But is it enough to turn over the inspiration ignition?  Let’s see. “Vrrr, rrrr,rrrr, room, room, room.” Alright! I’m breathing hard and deep. Ready to run a creative marathon. Maybe just finish this post. We’ll see.

So, I’ve been observing lately that doubt precedes faith, which precedes proof or facts, and then eventually along comes validation. The other night I was watching a show about The Freedom Riders in the 1960’s Deep South. What heroic folks they were. They knowingly boarded Trailways and Greyhound buses for Montgomery, Alabama and Jackson, Mississippi in order to be arrested at their destination and put into prison on bogus racially discriminatory charges. Along the way they were often beaten or nearly killed. In Mississippi they were put in an infamous prison and forced into hard manual labor or death row accomodations. And still more came, flooding the prison. In the film footage I watched, the Freedom Riders looked curious and resolute but never scared. They complied nonviolently with hostile morons in police uniforms who believed in or belonged to the KKK. Somehow the Freedom Riders stayed united in spirit, unbroken in their faith that they would prevail along with justice. The native whites reminded me of nauseating Nazis off the leash, unrestrained. How on earth did that unjust oppression work for so long against so many? Makes me wonder if we have a similar atrocity building up today that is merely tolerated and buried in the back pages of our news. There is no shortage of ignorance or guns in our country after all.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, the Kennedy brothers looked for political solutions. They did not want to turn the conflict into federal versus states’ rights. Backing southern governors into a corner only fueled the anti-federal government feelings already at fever pitch in Old Dixie.  The rule of law had to come from their pens not from the elitist East Coast Kennedys or the Supreme Court. The south refused to recognize the fact that Jim Crow laws were found to be unconstitutional. They simply continued on as usual. The political humidity built and built past muggy into severely oppressive, into  total saturation. Southern torpidity was complete; a fresh wind had to blow through like a tornado and turn shacks and shanties upside down. And that is what happened.

The fresh cool wind was actually comprised of committed black and white Americans on buses and then trains heading south, into the torpid wall of resistance and ignorance. Cold dry air slamming into hot moist air creates tornados which create havoc and destruction. Yes indeed, as in mother nature so too in human nature. The two forces collided and both moved.

On May 14, Mother’s Day, in Anniston, a mob of Ku Klux Klansmen, some still in church attire, attacked the first of the two buses (the Greyhound). The driver tried to leave the station, but was blocked until KKK members slashed its tires.[8] The mob forced the crippled bus to stop several miles outside of town and then firebombed it.[9][10] As the bus burned, the mob held the doors shut, intending to burn the riders to death. Sources disagree, but either an exploding fuel tank[9] or an undercover state investigator brandishing a revolver[11] caused the mob to retreat, and the riders escaped the bus. The mob beat the riders after they escaped the bus. Only warning shots fired into the air by highway patrolmen prevented the riders from being lynched.

 

I wonder what the sermon was on that Mother’s Day that those Klansmen had heard? I don’t ever recall hearing a call to arms in all my 58 years of going to church. Never heard one that urged me to hate my neighbor or to kill my perceived enemy. Rather, I recall being urged to love my neighbor and my enemy, to seek justice and to give mercy.

Eventually the federal troops arrived; desegregation began in earnest; and the humidity of stupidity began to drop below muggy for the first time in 350 years.

 

 

 

 

220. Speeding tickets

We’ve all had them, right?  Some of us more than others. Now I’ve driven over a half million miles in my 42 years of legal driving. I believe I have a total of four in my collection. The first two were twenty years apart, but the last two were only five years apart. That’s not a good omen. I deserved every one of them, no argument from me. It’s just an odd experience to have a cop light you up, pull you over, and do the whole official rigamarole while your daughter sits next to you. Which is what happened last night two streets over from my house. I mean really, how fast could I have been going on Route 3o while listening to Jerry Lee Lewis sing, “Oooh baby, that’s what I like. A wiggle in your walk, a giggle in your talk, makes the world go round, there ain’t nothing in the world like a big eyed girl, make me act so funny…”?  Well, fast enough I guess. I got a long necked goose stoppo  and no big eyed girl glaring at me while the lights popped and flashed all around. I felt like Justin Bieber in a stolen car without his lawyer.

“I’m a criminal”, I whispered after providing license, registration, and proof of insurance. “Here, call your mom. Tell her I’m going to jail; then after she calms down, tell her we’ll be a few minutes late.”  Fortunately for me I had just cleaned out my glove box a couple of days prior; otherwise I never would have been able to produce the latter two items. It would have been tedious for me and Officer Hockenberry of the Pennsylvania State Police.

“Uh, here’s a receipt for the muffler fix… one for inspection. That’s valid, Officer.”

“Sir, I’ve already noted that your vehicle is in good standing. I pulled you over for going 61 in a 45 zone.”

“Oh yes, um, let’s see, that’s expired… and this isn’t even my deposit slip. I don’t use that bank. That’s some stale gum.”

“Sir, Pennsylvania law requires you to have your vehicle registration in the vehicle at all times of operation.”

“I’m sure it’s here, Officer, it’s just in the clutter. Here’s a nice little tool my sister-in-law gave me, sort of a cheap Swiss Army knife. Nice, huh?”

“Registration, sir. That’s all I need tonight and then we can both be on our way. What’s that?”

“Uh, uh, it’s a  maxipad, you know. Better safe than sorry.”

“Sure.  Whatever.”

“Okay, here’s a duplicate, no it’s an outdated proof of insurance. Dang! Oh, oh, here it is. Whew.”

“Sir, you need to sign your registration card. It’s not signed.”

“Oh, may I use your pen, Officer?”

“Humph! Here… and put your seatbelt on while I write you up. That’s another fine that I don’t want to ticket you for tonight.”

“Thanks, Officer.”  Click.

“Have you been drinking tonight, sir?”

“No, sir. I am naturally this stupid.”

“Okay, I’m gonna take your word for that one. We’ll skip the field sobriety tests.”

“Thanks. A friend of mine can recite the alphabet backwards precisely, but I could not get the hang of it.”

“That’s great, but it won’t be necessary, sir. I’m taking your word for the stupidity thing.”

“Oh, thanks”, I would reply, not getting the reverse compliment humor.

Yeah, that could have been embarrassing. I had also tightened up the lock mechanism on the glove box while I was at it in pre- ticket experience. Before that the door would fall open; I’d slam it; it would shut without locking, then fall down in another second. It was like a cartoon skit. I’m thinking that sort of action might have popped someone’s cork during the pull over event. But something had possessed me to clean up the paper land fill that had been in my front seat and glove box. Sadly, I did not receive a similar intuitive heads up about slowing down while driving home.

A few minutes later Officer Hockenberry returned to my window. He returned my license, registration and proof of insurance. Then he handed me the fax copy of my citation. The bottom line was $147.50. Not bad. I was expecting $200 and a free lecture. He let me go with a “Good night and drive safely”.  All in all it was a good traffic stop.

Way back in my Virginia driving experience I have a vague traffic stop/ticket experience that was not a speeding violation but was  a moving violation. I was headed down Rte. 95 and turned off at Quantico Marine Base south of D.C.  It was the middle of a spring day, as I recall. Apparently I did not come to a complete stop at the stop sign on the exit ramp.  Maybe I just did a promise brake. In any event an MP pulled me over and wrote me a ticket. However, since this was federal land, my  ticket did not go to Richmond. Instead this MP directed me to pay it to an address in Washington, D.C. and he assured me that I would never hear anything more about it. Sure enough, I complied and heard not a word more about my traffic violation. But all these years later I wonder if that MP was part of a scam with a buddy on the receiving end of those ghost tickets. Who knows? It’s a hunch. I was just a dumb teenager before I became a dumb adult.

My favorite traffic stop, though, was on my way home from work, maybe 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. I was passing in the right lane, which was about to end.  I guess I juiced it enough to attract a policeman’s attention. The cop walked up to my window and asked what I was doing. I told him I was on my way home from work. He looked at my tie and my briefcase on the passenger’s seat. “Okay”, he said. And then he startled me as I prepared for my ticket. “We’re looking for speeding teenagers. Have a good night, sir.” And he let me go. No license, no registration. Nothing. I suppose that was my mulligan/do over/ moment of grace. I wanted to ask him if he’d ever been an MP at Quantico… but I bit my tongue.