1-4-2005 Which side am I on?

To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.--Robert Louis Stevenson

Ain't much going on today, but I do need to bring this up.

Did you ever notice that when some NBA or college basketball player is about to throw up a foul shot, all of the fans directly behind the backboard start waving anything they can back and forth to mess with the concentration of the shooter? The shooter always focuses on the basket right before letting the shot go, so the fans attempts to mess with him are worth a shot. Right?

Alright. Now let's try a bit of NFL football, shall we? When a team lines up to kick a field goal, the fans sitting behind the end zone pull the same shenanigans. They wave towels, balloons, banners and even small children in an attempt to mess with the kicker's intense concentration as he awaits the snap.

The only problem with this is, right before the kick, the kicker is focused in like a lazer on the holder's hands and nothing else. Nothing. He never looks at the goal posts before the kick. And he never sees those fans until the kick is away. So what the funk are those fans thinking? Is this another good argument for limiting beer sales at NFL stadiums?


From the always interesting...e-mail inbox:


Which side am I on? That was the question asked of me last Wednesday night by a couple of my rowdier neighbors. It seems that when someone such as me writes to Wilkes-Barre Online, the word gets around fast. And all I wanted that night was to have a couple of pints of Guinness and to sing a song or two with my buddy. Hell, I live right next door to the ole' mans tavern yet hadn't had a chance to let my hair down in a couple of months. What I was expecting was my usual vocal abuse of some classic rock and roll. What I got was another heated political debate pertaining to the evils of the Mayor (now known as "Tommy II" or "Tommy- Part 2") and the closed fire houses.

What I gleaned from the rhetoric was that the closing of East Station is in fact my fault! It sort of goes like this: 1. I told all of my neighbors what a rotten human being Mayor McGroarty was and that they should vote for Tom Leighton in the Democratic primary (guilty as charged), and so they did. 2. That I'm a fire fighter by trade, yet I didn't do anything to stop the Mayor from closing East Station. 3. Not only am I a firefighter, but I live right across the street from the engine house in question and still haven't committed to the re-opening agenda. 4. Because of the afore mentioned items it is my fault the firehouse is closed. Oh yes, and my last letter to you didn't reflect the spirit of my neighbors unhappiness. Add it all up and it's obvious to some that I must be engaging in unspeakable homo-erotic acts with the new administration. That's not exactly the term that was used, but I think this is more presentable here.

I never realized I held so much power over the Mayor and his actions! I didn't know he was required to consult with me before doing anything fire department related. Why didn't I use my psychic powers to peer into the minds of my neighbors before having the audacity to write Mark the mad man? Jeez, what was I thinking? Wait a minute! Now that I think about it, citizens are supposed to make an informed decision at the polls based on their own opinions! Wow! I just had an epiphany! I just realized that I don't have any influence over the Mayor! And guess what? I've come to the conclusion that my being a firefighter doesn't mean diddly squat to the folks at City Hall! And I think that anyone who can put together a few simple sentences can post an opinion on Wilkes-Barre Online!

Now I wasn't going to write this letter to you. I discussed Wednesday nights debate with my partner and with my best friend. They both suggested that I ignore the anger welling up inside me and let it fade away. And I had every intention of doing just that! Until tonight when I walked my niece over to my parents house. I walked in the door and said: "Hi Grammy! Where's Pop Pop?" To which she replied: "Don't go bothering your father tonight. He just got a "nasty gram" from the Mayor for talking to your fireman buddies about the firehouse." Being the nosey S.O.B. that I am, I just had to read the memo. Basically it instructs the Council Chairperson to inform my father that he as a mere Councilman does not have the right to speak with firefighters about anything having to do with the City. And that such issues are a part of the Collective Bargaining agreement and therefore solely within the realm of the Executive branch. In short: Hey Jim, shut the hell up. This is none of your business.

What the... We signed our contract last summer. It's a done deal. There's no negotiating going on right now. And nobody from the E-Board has so much as said hello to the ole' man. The guys that have spoken to him are just your garden variety average firefighters. You know, PRIVATE CITIZENS! We plain old firefighting private citizens have a Constitutional right to elect an official and use him as a tool to address any grievance against the government. And the ole' man has a responsibility as a Councilman at large to listen to the complaints of ANY citizen of this city and act upon them as his conscience dictates. That's the beauty of a free society. To choose the Mayors ideology would be to liken ourselves to Communist Party of China or Vietnam, or even Cuba. Or dare I say it, the McGroarty Administration! Maybe I'm reading to much into this. Maybe the Mayor's trying to say "Hey Jim. Shut the hell up. I have no intention of hiring enough firefighters to staff that engine house and the public is buying my leaky roof story".

We do have a City Ordinance prohibiting City employees from speaking to the media about City business. However there are no ordinances prohibiting such employees from speaking to agents of the City itself. Especially on their own time acting as private citizens. If Council were to craft such an ordinance I am left wondering what would come next? Book burnings? Oaths of Allegiance? Travel restrictions? Hmmm..., Jews...

While I am squarely behind the downtown revitalization, the restoration of the Sterling Hotel, the new River Front Park and the financial goals of the Administration (I'm not so sure about the movie theatre), even I am wondering: "Which side am I on?" Do I choose to be a "bomb thrower" or an opinion less corporate stooge? Can I be a little of both as the need arises? You know, I never could grasp the concept of compromise...

I think I'll continue to just be me. Let the chips fall where they may. I'll continue to fight when I choose to fight and fade into the scenery when it suits me. My neighbors will never brow beat me into activism, nor will the Mayor silence me into a less than sublime submission. I'm just going to be me.

Harry McCarthy*******

Dude! How dare you communicate with that internet sumbitch. If that bothers some of your soporific neighbors, (I'm assuming them to be part of or close to the Citizens Committee) it suggests that we were correct to suggest that the political BORG mindset would overtake very many of them. Why must you continue to resist?

Someone once blabbed "I may not believe what you believe, but I believe you have a right to believe it!" If we think along those lines to some degree we would also have to believe that one should be free to communicate their beliefs to whomever the heck they may wish. That includes internet crazies.

As far as the 2003 primary is concerned, your neighbors should be thanking you for providing insights into the previous administration that they would have otherwise never been privy to in most cases. "Tommy II," aka "One-term Tommy," told us he would not shy away from the tough decisions. Whether we believe the "leaky roof" story or not, he's taking a helluva lot of heat over the two closed firehouses so I'm assuming they fall under the heading of "tough decisions." But to go off half-cocked and start comparing him to McGroarty the very first time he makes a decision we don't like is ridiculous, if not ill-advised. It's not constructive at all to get all hysterical and surround one of those non-believers at the corner bar. And I fail to see how you personally could have prevented the closing or changed anything of note immediately afterwards short of kidnapping someone's beloved Pet Rock.

On a more Nord End note, the closing of our neighborhood firehouse was a no-brainer from a financial and operational standpoint, and it really should not have generated any controversy at all. As anyone who has ever stuck their head in there will attest to, the "Rain Forest" was a total nightmare of a place. And we still have an engine and an ambulance but four minutes away, so I'm not real worried about what that decision meant to my neck of the woods. But it seems the folks in the Heights do not believe what the administration is telling them about their aging neighborhood firehouse and that's fine and dandy. They should continue to fight for what they ultimately believe in short of posting the thought police stormtroopers at the local dart league haunt. If Harry's not totally with the program, Harry's not with the program. Order a draft, drop a slug in the jukebox and get on with things. Do bars still have jukeboxes? Maybe I need to conduct a field investigation.

Homo-erotic acts? I hear that. I can't even remember how many frickin' times someone referred to Tom Leighton as being "my buddy." Some even remind me that I was relentless in my pursuit of the former mayor. "Gee, you never cut him any break." Guess what? I didn't forget about those heady days. In fact, I'm proud of the fact that I realized a regime change was necessary long before most of your or even my neighbors did. The mistaken assumption being that I was going to rip every politician that came along a new one just for the fun of it. In my mind, McGroarty deserved to be run out of office, if not out of the city. But sorry to say, I think Leighton is doing a pretty good job so far. The on-shift staffing reductions of the fire department and the firehouse closings themselves have gone over like a lead balloon with some of our residents, but Leighton said he will not throw good money at a bad situation. And some of our council folks have publicly stated that they want those firehouses either repaired or replaced altogether. So, if we're assuming that the mayor is lying to us, shouldn't we also assume that the council folks are also blowing smoke up our asses?

The way I remember it, they said they are working on both of these situations and they will be addressed in a timely manner. So why all the needless hysterics? If we're really working non-stop to protect the bottom line and produce some black ink for a change, we can't go dropping a cool million everytime the public cries foul. We have a home rule charter in this city, not a mob rule charter. The mayor was elected to a four-year term, and it sounds as if the lynch mobs are roaming the Heights after only giving the guy 12 short months to try to reverse our once sagging prospects. Does anyone remember the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? DON'T PANIC! Heh? And allow poor Harry to throw back a few trendy agricultural amusement aids without making him crazy. Jesus!

And I think that anyone who can put together a few simple sentences can post an opinion on Wilkes-Barre Online!

In all honesty, if you could read the great majority of the e-mail I receive, you'd probably start a citizens group of your own and picket our schools. But, I digress.

Dude, I don't think you're supposed to read Pop Pop's e-mail. Did she really refer to it as a "Nasty gram?" All things aside, that's kinda funny. No? I'm not saying the content was funny, but for some reason Blazing Saddles comes to mind. "Nasty gram for Pop Pop." Ah shucks. Forget it.

The mayor and the council boss may want to present a united front in public, but that should not preclude your father from talking to any resident about any topic as it pertains to this city. Cooperation is a beautiful thing and all, but consenting opinions emanating from council folks does not suggest that the city is going to hell in a hand basket. And compromise is necessary if we are to avoid gridlock from setting in again, but compromise should not be a set in stone principle by which we should govern ourselves. Before the city's wheels started peeling off, McGroarty was treated to an orgy of compromise by our sitting council at the time. And we all know where that got us.

As far as your father clamming up is concerned, he's been around the block a few times and I seriously doubt that's going to happen. And as a resident of this city, I also reserve the right to tell him whatever the heck I wish. Although, I rarely fill the ears of those council types when I encounter them. The way I see it, they probably get more than their fill of that sort of thing every single time they dare to leave the house. Lowly rank-and-file firefighters approaching council folks? Say it ain't so, Harry. Say it ain't so. I think there is an ordinance covering that. What was it?

Council shall make no law respecting the establishment of reason.

I don't know. I could be mistaken. Something like that.

Which side are you on? Maybe you should answer that question with a question of your own such as "Why do I have to choose sides?"

The elected folks claim they're currently working on a solution to these problems, so why not chill out, monitor the situation closely, fill Councilman Pop Pop's ear some more and wait and see if what they're saying to us eventually turns out to be the truth. These folks can easily be replaced, you know. It's not like it's in their best interests to be telling us bald-faced lies. And I'm not glossing over the content of the e-mail. It really doesn't surprise me to hear that a mayor might be throwing his political weight around. But I seriously doubt that it approaches the behind-the-scenes intimidation that was the norm in this city a few short months ago.

And lemme know when you wanna hit the corner bar and chill out again. I'll protect your flank. I'll show up and your neighbors can surround and rip into me. I absolutely love a bit of spirited political debate. Plus, your neighbors will quickly learn that I'm not nearly as acerbic in person as I come off as being on the internet. Gimme a double shot of libation and politics.

And keep that back door unlocked just in case.