3-22-2008 Makeshift fathers

When I was but a kid living in Connecticut, despite the ongoing marital discord and the subsequent domestic violence that broke out so frequently, my Mom really, really tried to make our lives seem as normal as humanly possible. And for a while there, I think she succeeded. Hell, I even went to church regularly.

Other than having to cover the multitude of bruises and such, my life pretty much mirrored the lives of the kids I encountered during that time. You know, reading mindless comic books. Flipping baseball cards during recess and somehow getting into fisticuffs over it later. Relentlessly picking on our little sisters simply because they had the unmitigated audacity to be there. Smacking flat-footed girls directly in the face with a dodge ball during gym class. Hunting innocent starlings with slingshots. Homemade go-carts running through and over damn near everything close to the base of the hill. The puke machine down at the corner playground and how it would cause the unsuspecting kids to lose the contents of their stomachs all over the place. Talking Sue Pond into climbing to the top of the old grain silo all over again, while knowing full-well she’d freeze with fear up at the top, necessitating a rescue by her parents. Arguing over Matchbox cars. Crushing expensive tin-friction cars (44 cents at Sayre’s…3 for a buck at Bradlee’s) with pilfered red bricks. And the all-time mainstay of boyhood during the 60s, G.I. Joe raping Barbie. Good, wholesome stuff like that.

Thing is, until 1971 when we permanently relocated to Wilkes-Barre, I was what you would call completely average. I lacked for nothing within reasonable reach, and I in no way stood out physically, emotionally or intellectually. I wanted to be what the Boy Scouts told me I should be: Physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight. But in lieu of being such a well-grounded sprat, I was content with being what everyone else was: mediocre at best.

But with the arrival of 1971 and the upheaval that was my life then, I entered a far darker period pock-marked by abject confusion, frustratingly debilitating poverty, the painful truth whereas my father’s abrupt exit from my fledgling life was concerned and the lighting-quick emergence of this giant chip on my shoulder borne of that aforementioned nonsense. And I had this hole in me. The part that was supposed to be influenced by a father was missing. And in it’s place, I had this 11-year-long lesson in how not to make waves, how not to make noise, how not to make a mess and how to recoil and cover-up to some degree when a thorough beating was about to commence at the hands of my unwanted “father figure.” And take note, I’m not whining. Just stating ancient facts.

Here we are many, many years removed from those days, and I’ve had time aplenty to ponder over who and what influenced me the most and made me into the obvious mixed bag that I am today. Sans the fatherly tutelage, who took a dispirited and frustrated punk in waiting and made him into something that vaguely resembles a functioning, thinking human being?

Well, I credit Frank Zappa for not only introducing me to something far, far more complex than your typical three-chord progression banged-out in three minutes flat. And he also exposed me to biting, take-no-prisoners political, as well as societal commentary many years before I probably should have been exposed to it. Something, by the way, that I took a clear liking to.

When I toiled away at Percy Brown’s, I met, worked with, recreated with, verbally sparred with and partied with a guy just a few years older than me named Mark Space. And without even trying to, he taught me that I really didn’t need to act like a total, immature asshole all of the time. A necessary lesson that I learned quite reluctantly. And thanks partly to him, I now give the total asshole routine a day off every now and again.

Oh, and Uncle Bud sure helped in that regard when he came at my Mom’s behest promising beatings in exchange for further bad behavior on my part. There was that.

Yeah, and my assistant principal at the time, Mr. Sallitt, promised me that I was just going to love being incarcerated, if I just kept on doing what I did best: acting up for effect. If you ask me, psychiatry had no place in the schools until they starting sedating all of the rambunctious boys to the point of being violently delusional and whatnot. Oh well. It sure gives the Cold War era Duck & Cover drill a new, reinvigorated, more up close and personal meaning, does it not?

GUN!!!

As we all know by now, I was once a complete academic slacker, proper punctuating happily escapes me and I do not respect, nor do I trust most of the agenda-driven professorate. But I could really care less what anyone thinks of my writing and/or reading skills, or any perceived lack thereof. Never did, never will. It is exactly what I did and also what I did not make of it. My fault, not society’s.

With that said, nothing horrifies me more than encountering people, both young and, surprisingly, old, who sound like this: Um, like, I was like…like, no way, yo? I would never, like, vote for so-and-so. He’s, like, you know, like, a fu>king idiot, yo?! You know what I, like, mean?

And nothing makes me cringe in absolute horror more than hearing someone begin a sentence with, “And I was, like,…

Urgh!!!

Call me what you will. Insult me like a former World Insult League champion. Make derogatory comments about me until the Sun finally implodes and ruins your entire day. Go for it. Knock yourself out. Have at it. Call me vile things that would make even former mayor Tom McGroarty blush like a schoolmarm in a BYOB strip club, just don’t call me illiterate. Or, please refrain from calling me, these days, what could only be called normal or average. Yep, these days, people carry themselves as if borderline illiteracy were a demented virtue of some sort. Scary. Frightening, perhaps.

Lastly, (still on this fatherly influences thing) the person that totally captivated a onetime blank slate of an impressionable mind, the person that converted an unthinking comic book reader into a full-blown voracious reader of all things within reach was none other than the recently departed science fiction writer/scientist, Arthur C. Clarke.

Follow this progression: Archie Comics, Boy’s Life, True West Magazine, Tiger Beat Magazine and then…???

What would fit? Perhaps Rolling Stone. Circus magazine? Maybe Hustler.

Now try this progression on for size: Archie Comics, Boy’s Life, True West Magazine, Tiger Beat Magazine and Clarke’s Childhood’s End; a thoroughly spellbinding and fascinating read.

And then a suddenly renewed interest in seeing Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. And then reading the Clarke-penned book. And then the reading of my all-time favorite, Rendezvous with Rama, which, by the way, is scheduled for a 2009 cinematic release. I donated my expansive collection of Clarke paperbacks some time ago, which is something I have regretted to this very day. Even more so now.

Yes, where once Frank Zappa encouraged me to ‘unbind my mind,’ Arthur C. Clarke forced me to do as much by single-handedly making me passionate about reading, and by forcing me to use the one thing we’re all born with: that limitless imagination.

So, thanks to Arthur C. Clarke, while I may look like a dummy, and while I may act like a dummy, at least I do not, on most days, sound like a dummy. Well, for the most part, that is.

I owe him a weighty debt of gratitude for what he taught me, even though I never personally thanked him for any of it. And in my denuded mind, that sounds an awful lot like what bereaved sons typically say after their fathers have passed on to wherever it is that they pass on to.

I dunno.

Who says ‘You can‘t beat City Hall?’ Sure you can!

By way of a recent 4-1 vote, the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority, has chosen not to appeal the Army Corps of Engineers decision to deny the permits necessary to construct Paul Kanjorski’s laughable inflatable dam.

This is my second go-round with fighting the powers that be, and I’m undefeated. Not that I waged those battles on my own as nothing could be further than the truth. Although, some still say I spearheaded the heady push to replace our former mayor. And, as it pertains to the inflatable dam, locally, I made as much noise against that dam as did anyone. Damn straight.

As this back-and-forth battle raged on, it was readily apparent that the few local politicians in favor of the dam were often given to publicly insulting those of us who opposed the damn dam. Paul Kanjorski’s “more passion than brains” belittling of a constituent comes to mind.

And we were treated to insults by an Edwardsville council stooge, who really needs to seriously reassess what Edwardsville’s most pressing needs are. Economic development? No. Paved streets, new sidewalks and storm sewer replacements? No. A Main Street that no longer smacks of downtown Kabul? No. New police hires? No. No, what Edwardsville needs is an inflatable dam. (?) Who voted for this mental giant, anyway?

Kevin Blaum insulted the lot of us by suggesting that it’s the same backwards, unenlightened mindset that made some fight against the arena behind the fight against the dam. In other more expedient words, we’re all stupid. Not like him, he’s smart. And just look at what that arena brought us, you incessant fools? Concerts, rodeos, countless throwaway imports, gourmet burgers at eight bucks a pop, longtime local businesses losing market share, shopping turned road trips, honking horns, traffic snarls and 100-years floods every two years.

Yeah, look at what that inflatable dam could have brought us, provided that you actually believe that countless millions of “tourists” would have flocked here to recreate in unchecked pollution and frequent sewer discharges. You stupid, ignorant, backwards, counterproductive Culm County hicks!

It should be noted here that the only local politician adamantly in favor of the proposed dam who did not chastise us was Mayor Tom Leighton. As always, if someone is interested in spending significant monies in Wilkes-Barre, he’s all ears. And he should be.

So, for me, what was purported to be a one-time stroll down the middle of the Suquehanna turned into a battle against yet another harebrained idea coming from the local congressman. And despite his formidable opposition to the vocal opposition, he gets one more in the loss column and the Wyoming Valley, whether it knows it or not, wins one that will have lasting and positive effects on the river and it’s immediate surroundings. But our free-flowing, troubled river still needs lots of help. So the next sizable hurdle is finding the exorbitant amounts of funding necessary to clean the dam thing.

Uncle Paul? Still concerned about the river?

Yeah! That’s what I thought! Your newfound top priority is “Main Street,” Hazleton. I swear, there should be a mandatory retirement age for those in government.

Kevin?

Kevin?

Where’s Kevin?

Is there an echo in here?

If the e-mail inbox is an accurate indicator of current trends, it seems as if those who crime watch have suddenly taken to paying more attention to me. And that’s perfectly fine with me being that I chose to comment on this developing brouhaha in which the crime watchers feel their needs (?) are not being met by the Wilkes-Barre Police Department and the Mayor.

First of all, I completely fail to understand why the police department should be arm-twisted into supplying crime data to any group other than another arm of law enforcement or the media. The Crime Watch needs the data to do their jobs, we’re being told. Excuse me for being so brash, but I thought the job entailed watching, looking and listening; not analyzing reams of statistical data and the tweaking of deployments at the street level.

One…more…freaking…time…assuming the role of the police is supposed to be a distinct no-no.

Jeez.

And this ongoing campaign to paint the administration of this city as being unreceptive and uncaring is as counterintuitive as it is counterproductive. Not only have some taken to politicizing that which ought not be politicized--law enforcement--now, some have even stooped so low as to be taking public pot shots at the law enforcement professionals themselves, as evidenced by the following letter published in the Citizens’ Voice:

Editor:

I am writing in response to Rob Riemensnyder’s letter of March 16 where he makes false accusations against our president Charlotte Raup. The fact is South Wilkes-Barre organized the petition as a result of feedback from one member, and I would like to point out that Charlotte, like all members, is a volunteer.

I am in no way criticizing our police. They work hard. We have great respect for all including Rob’s mom who, by the way, is paid over $80K for her service.

In my opinion, you cannot put a price on protection paid or unpaid.

Crime Watch is volunteering time and money to help the police.

It is my opinion that everyone involved from the mayor to the police chief to the Crime Watch people need to work together.

We all care about this city, and, if we focus collectively, imagine how great Wilkes-Barre could be.

Frank R. Sorick

Coordinator, South Wilkes-Barre Crime Watch

$80K, heh? What the eff is that? Why would we feel the need to mention what we believe to be the current salary of a captain in our police department? Oh, I know. So the ill-informed general public starts misbelieving that some in our police department are grossly overpaid. Right?

Now the crime watchers are waging a subtle public relations campaign against the same group they claim to be assisting…the police department? Whatever her salary happens to be, it is not an issue and no mention of it should have been made. And the longer this sort of needless malarkey persists, the more support the volunteer watchers will likely lose. This will eventually backfire on them and then some.

As for the author of this regrettable letter--the would-be politician--his priorities need to be clarified for all to see. What’s more important? Getting after the bad guys? Or turning the police into the bad guys in the minds of the citizenry? Very, very poor.

And then there’s this:

From the e-mail inbox Dear Sir,
I am the unknow person from Kingston starting the Guardian Angels here in Wilkes-Barre. First my name is Scott Koppenhofer and I have been a member of the Guardian Angels for 19 years. So I feel I know quite a bit about the organization. From your comments you obviously know nothing about us and have never even researched us to get the facts. And you certainly never spoke to me to learn anything about the organization or myself and my qualifications.

First of all I am from this valley. I graduated from Wyoming Area in 1988 and then joined the U.S. Navy where I served my country and I am a Desert Storm Veteren. I have been trained by Navy SEAL team on search and seizure, I have been trained on shipboard defense tactics and served on the Security Alert Team. The U.S. Coast Guard deployed with my ship and I served on the boarding party and did search and seizures with them and we confiscated 70 tons of contraband during our South America Counter-Narcotics Operations. I have numerous other training exploits I can't even mention, so I think I am more then qualified to speak to the Crime Watch. Also while stationed in San Diego I joined the Guardian Angels. I have dealt with every major gang in San Diego and L.A. and my experience is real time not a certification from a classroom. So I am more than qualified to speak at the Crime Watch meeting that I was asked to attend. Which was not out of line since they are community activist as we are and they were looking for information on gang awareness and prevention. But god forbid they want to educate themselves on a criminal element. I wonder whose side you are on? Do you support the criminals? If not what is wrong with a community group educating themselves on crime prevention? The Crime Watch is not a police or City run group. They are not funded or paid for anything by the police or the city. So why should the police have to control them? If the police will not attend and educate them, then they are forced to find that support and education somewhere else. I will speak and help anyone interested in crime prevention as long as they stay within the law. We have not and have never encouraged anyone to do the job of the police. GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT BEFORE YOU MAKE SLANDEROUS COMMENTS.

Now you made a comment about if you were riding your bike behind the movie theater at night. You say you know damn well will approach you and ask you what you are doing. Again, you know nothing about us or how we work. We would not. We are the eyes and ears for the police and a VISUAL deterrent to crime, along with being a positive role model for the youth. Our mission statement does not say we will approach you. You decided to make that assumption. You made the statement that we would protect someone from criminals. Where in that statement does it say we will question someone riding a bike in the dark. We train people from the community who join the chapter not to get into physical altercations. We will assist someone who's life is in danger as I believe any person in the community with a heart would do. I would say if a person was raping a woman in an alley, the Mayor, Chief of Police, yourself or any other citizen would render assistance. Do you agree? Or would you walk by and not get involved? If you would walk by then that is the problem right there in our community. We will not stand by if someone's life is in danger. THAT is the ONLY time we will approach someone. We train everyone to defuse altercations. That is why we have a minimum 12 week training program. So that my sir is the type of scenario we would get involved with. But riding a bike in the dark doing something suspicious, we would call the police and give them a description. So your perception of what we do is way off. We respect all law enforcement and city officials, whether they respect us or not. I have the highest regard for law enforcement and I know they do not have the funding to do as much as they would like too. So why not have extra eyes and ears out there to call them. 90 plus officers are not on all at the same time and can not be everywhere at every moment. So we can help keep an eye out.

The Guardian Angels have been around for 29 years, we are in over 100 cities and 12 countries worldwide. We have numerous youth and internet safety programs. We have hundreds of awards and letters of recognition from businesses and government leaders including U.S. Presidents. We worked with the Secret Service to assist with security for the White House. I think we know what we are doing and we know we can help make a difference. If people like you put as much time in helping prevent crime as you do bashing those that do, we may be able to make a bigger difference in our valley. So you really should get the facts before you make slanderous comments. I am available if you would like to meet and truly want to learn more about this organization. Many people think we are from New York, but every member of this chapter is from this community. We have an ex-Wilkes-Barre City Police Officer, a couple retired gentlemen, the owner of a Martial Arts School and 2 of her instructors, and a mix of other backrounds for members of this chapter. None of which plan to go off the deep end. I am personally training them and if anyone does not meet our standards and protocols, I will cut them from the chapter. So if you don't think much of us, you don't think much of your neighbors. Again, call me if you would like to set up a meeting if you are open minded and really want to learn about us. If you just want to call and bash or make assumptions, I don't have time for that. But I did want to write to you and set things straight if possible.

Respectfully,
Scott Koppenhofer
484-XXX-XXXX

When I first started reading this, I mistakenly assumed it was but the latest ill-fated attempt to put that loudmouthed blogger--me---in his place. Thing is, I get a steady stream of tomfoolery such as that, i.e., the attempts to bash me into submission via text. Fact is, I’m battle-tested and not easily shouted down.

The one mistake the sender made was in assuming that I did no research at all on the Guardian Angels, which I did. And other than that, I will refrain from commenting too much more, since I took him up on his generous offer to meet in person rather than getting into yet another war of words on the internet.

Unless something comes up, we’re supposed to have our get-together sometime tomorrow, and I will write about our having gotten together very soon afterwards. I will keep an open mind going in, but, as always, I will write it the way I see it afterwards. Still, it’s a good thing to do this face-to-face.

My first question?

Coffee, soda or beer?

And the second?

Why would the leader of the fledgling local Guardian Angels outfit feel the need to forward that e-mail to the leader of the Wilkes-Barre Crime Watch?

Interesting.

Nope. No, sir. This isn’t WILK. No abnormally large softballs being tossed here.

Anyway, I got me something approaching 10 days off from work and I fully intend to fritter them away in a very loud and unfruitful manner. Pink Floyd last night. Perhaps some Ruts The Crack later on today.

And if your foundation rumbles loose, or pieces of brick dislodge from the chimney and fall onto your imported car, I really don’t wan to hear about it.

Later.

P.S.--Take your kids to a library. One day, they’ll be glad you did.






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