6-26-2005 "I believe" or: The return of the son of the sappy "I believe" dreamer

As I said to the dude that called from the Times Leader to confirm that my letter to the editors was in fact sent by me, "I don't know what possessed me." But after further rumination, I know damn well why I sent that letter along. I'm thoroughly tired of the indigenous negative mindset of this area. I just am.

So I penned a letter and sent it along to both of our newspapers. Honestly, I'm glad they both decided to print most of it. If it gets one person to reflect on where their current mindset is at, then it will have been worth bothering on my part. But I'm not counting on that coming about. I imagine many of the people that read that optimistic outlook on the city's chances will use their inate ability to block it's intention by use of their well-entrenched cynicism filters. So be it. Whatever. Deride my comments all you like. Knock yourselves out. Have some fun at my expense. Whoop it up.

I did find it interesting to compare side-by-side how the Voice and the Leader chose to edit my rambling letter. After I e-mailed it to the papers, I reread it and found myself doubting that either paper would touch it simply because it was longer than your run-of-the-mill daily editorial offered by either paper. The folks at the Voice deleted entire paragraphs, while the folks at the Leader removed sentences here and there, and quite a few adjectives I happened to throw into the meandering mix. No matter, though. At least by publishing some of what I had to say, the people that end up reading it will realize that not all of us are hopelessly clinging to our abject negativity at all costs.

Actually, I'd love to be able to pick the brains of the folks that did the editing. Why did they remove what they removed, while leaving other parts of it completely intact? Way too much verbiage going on there? A textbook example of Circumlocution for Dummies? Or was the sole motive simply space constraints? Then again, maybe the editors thought parts of it sucked, and I'd be better off using the now defunct SAYSO format. Am I a simpleton? Am I to writing what Tom McGroarty was to fiscal responsibilty? I sure as heck hope not, but I sincerely do not go to bed at night fretting over it. As Francis Vincent Zappa once opined: "You are what you is and that's all it 'tis."

If I may be critical of the Times Leader folks, why didn't they just dispense with the weekly Tom Bigler skimble-skamble and simply print my gibberish in it's entirety? What's the major difference, here? He has credentials and I don't? Well, that sucks! Perhaps I should have spent more time listening to what Mrs. Price was trying to teach me, and less time looking at her shapely legs as far as the eye could imagine. Maybe learning how to conjugate a verb, or how to make a cohesive point without sounding like I was born-and-raised in a Louisianna trailer park on the edge of Mosquito Swamp wasn't such a stupid idea afterall. Why didn't they tell those long-haired teenaged goobers lost in a world of rock 'n' roll fantasies that studying was important? Who can I sue over lost intelligence?

Anyway, one short week ago, I turned on the trusty word processor, penned a rambling letter and sent it to our two local newspapers. And as of today, three different versions of the same letter now exist. At the very least, I hope that the folks that reside within throwing distance of Wilkes-Barre now understand that not all of the folks that call this city their home are dwelling on the negative, and cannot see any progress at the end of the long, dark tunnel we are currently making our way through. Just for the record, if Mrs. Price would have worn some slacks now and again, maybe I'd be capable of penning a letter that didn't need improving upon. How's that for ducking responsiblity for my own actions, or lack thereof?

So, without further adieu, the latest edition of "Mark on Everything" as it was originally conceived:


I Believe

According to the classic movie Miracle on 34th Street: "Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to."--Mayor Tom Leighton, June 9, 2005

This valley of ours used to be known as the Valley with a Heart. But, as evidenced by the collective nay saying that erupted immediately following the conclusion of Mayor Leighton’s impassioned and uplifting, “I believe” speech, many of those among us simply cannot find it within their hardened hearts to believe. After suffering through decades of political nepotism, cronyism and sometimes crushing tax increases, and while being drop-dead certain that their politicians were selling them and this rust-belt of a county short; maybe the Valley with a Broken Heart might be a more apt moniker.

After perusing the mostly ineffectual letters to the editors printed in our local newspapers, suffering through the factually-bankrupt rants coming from the anonymous callers to our talk radio station, and plodding my way through the incessant and counterproductive bilge posted at Talkback 16; I quickly came to the conclusion that this area is to negativity what Chernobyl is to radioactivity. I have since wavered in that belief, albeit, just a tad.

And while I find that useless negativity a bit disappointing coming from the oft-disgruntled hoi polloi that I admit to being a card-carrying member of, I do not share in their knee-jerk nonsensical sentiments, nor their self-loathing prognosticating whereas greater Wilkes-Barre’s immediate future is concerned.

In a nutshell, I do believe.

Short of turning this textual exercise into a glowing letter of endorsement for Mayor Tom Leighton, let’s just suffice it to say that I truly believed this city had a much better than average chance of changing it’s long since sagging fortunes as soon as the votes were tallied in November 2003, and it was all but confirmed that he would serve as the next mayor of this city. Where once I believed only in his raw potential as a visionary leader, now I believe in his clearly demonstrated financial responsibility, his spirit of cooperation, his reaching out to any organization that can help push the city forward; and the all-inclusive nature of his attempts at restoring the civic pride of a community that not so long ago had every right to consider a collective suicide.

Time and again, we, the unwashed masses, have been promised that long sought after progress only to be disappointed time and again. Therein lies much of the all too common perception that all local politicians are the same, all politicians are scheming to fill their bottomless pockets by way of graft, and all politicians are little more than third-rate hacks certainly not worthy of any sustained loyalty from any far-flung segment of the downtrodden electorate.

Hence, when a local politician does happen to step forward and dares his fellow citizens to unequivocally believe in the future of their tiny corner of the county, that politician should no doubt except some amount of skepticism, some inflammatory and reprehensible attacks on his person, and some of the comedians living among us poking some fun at his expense. And, yes, our mayor was certainly the butt of many jokes and whatnot. I’m fairly certain he expected as much.

Howbeit, when the concrete dust finally settles upon the laundry list of revitalization projects currently underway, or soon to be underway, I say to you that much of the abject negativity put on parade and the predictions that the status quo will remain in effect for the foreseeable future in this flailing city will in the end prove to be counterintuitive.

So, for this nobody--this lowly Joe Six-Pack-- that suddenly sees Wilkes-Barre’s glass as being half full, it was not altogether surprising to learn that so many of us steadfastly refused to see a few glowing coals of hope through the aged piles of culm. In many respects, I really can’t blame some folks for clinging to their skepticism while toiling away in an area that has been grasping for, but failing to find the answer to it’s decades-old question as to why it seems to be the area that time and progress somehow forgot. I’m not completely sure as to why a defeatist attitude seems to be a forgone conclusion--a byproduct of birth-- in this mined out area, but that negative mindset that permeates too much of this area’s populace needs, in my mind, to go by the wayside and soon.

While there will always be some financial, political, demographic, or socioeconomic concerns to complain about in this city of ours, can’t we at least rally around our hard-working, optimistic and forward-thinking mayor and our once thought to be doomed city, while the bricks, the mortar and the I-beams are being delivered to Wilkes-Barre? Am I asking too much of my fellow citizenry? Is a simple, “I believe” well too far beyond your imagined capabilities? Can you differentiate between the empty “Progress as Promised” slogan and the actual brick-and-mortar progress suddenly trumpeted with a well-publicized rallying cry of, “I believe?” Can you?

While we all portend to understand that we need to change our neighboring communities’ negative perceptions whereas this city is concerned, how can we ask of them that they change their opinions of Wilkes-Barre if, we, the very folks that reside within this city’s confines refuse to do likewise?

I’m not young enough to be totally naïve. And I’m not old enough to be hopelessly senile. But I do…I do believe that Wilkes-Barre is poised and ready to regain some meaningful semblance of the hustling and bustling city that it used to be. The city I remember. The city that I always wanted to call my home while I was living abroad.

I believe. I do.

Can you?

The following article appeared in today's installment of The New York Times:

To the Mayor, This Town Needs a Pep Talk


Published: June 26, 2005

WILKES-BARRE, Pa., June 25 (AP) - People here were buzzing for days over a cryptic announcement from the mayor's office that promised, "Something unbelievable is about to happen in Wilkes-Barre."

They wondered what Mayor Tom Leighton could possibly be planning. After all, the last unbelievable thing that happened in this struggling former coal town was in 1972, when Hurricane Agnes caused a flood that destroyed thousands of homes and businesses.

On June 9, after nearly a week of rampant speculation, nearly 1,000 people showed up to hear what Mayor Leighton had to say.

It was a pep talk.

Apparently, Wilkes-Barre is so down on itself that the mayor felt compelled to tell people to buck up.

"The biggest obstacle that we must overcome," Mr. Leighton declared, "is the negative attitude of a small, but pervasive, segment of our population." He continued: "We must reverse this negative attitude. We must be taught how to believe again."

And with that, Mr. Leighton unveiled a new slogan, "I believe," which has since shown up on buttons, key chains and signs distributed by the mayor's office.

Political and business leaders applauded the mayor's pluck, and "I believe" posters popped up on a few windows.

But workaday Wilkes-Barre rolled its eyes.

Some people had been expecting a major new employer promising hundreds of jobs, retailers to fill the empty storefronts downtown, maybe even riverboat gambling along the Susquehanna River.

"I believe it was a joke," said Jerry Chromey, 45. "A total joke."

In Mayflower, a hilltop section of neatly kept houses, someone erected a large cardboard sign in front of a burned-out house that said, in big black letters, "We don't believe."

If Wilkes-Barre is skeptical, it is because history has not exactly been kind to this once-prosperous city in a valley about 100 miles north of Philadelphia.

Anthracite coal mining ended abruptly in Wilkes-Barre in 1959 when the Susquehanna breached a mine, killing 12 men and flooding the region's vast underground network.

Thirteen years later, Hurricane Agnes wiped out downtown, and despite a huge urban renewal project afterward, it has never really come back.

Shoe factories and silk mills closed, jobs evaporated, and the population plummeted to 40,000.

Still, despite residents' glum outlook, there are signs that Wilkes-Barre is coming back.

: Some $150 million worth of development is taking place downtown, including a 14-screen movie theater and a state office building. A closed landmark, the Sterling Hotel, is about to be renovated, as is the riverfront. Luxury homes are being built on former mining land. Crime is down.

Mayor Leighton's most difficult task may be convincing a jaded populace that good things are happening.

"You have the perception out there that Wilkes-Barre is done, it's dead, it's never going to come back," he said. "It is going to come back."

Stephen Barrouk, president of the local chamber of commerce, believes a renaissance is happening right under people's noses.

"The people here have been fed false promises for so long that they have developed an unhealthy skepticism," Mr. Barrouk said. "It's unfortunate, but I can fully understand it."

And this rubbish was posted at www.NEPASAYSO.com in direct response to Mayor Tom Leighton's, "I believe" call to arms:

Posted: Sat Jun 18, 2005 12:06 pm

Post subject:

I agree with this hump above...well, actually the hump on the last page since it seems this post will begin a new page...buty'all know who I'm talking about, right?

And furthermore, we should get rid of Circles!

That place just smells of this new Me-Generation and all their smugness!

When I see these Wall Street wannabes walking around the Square with their little white bags filled with their $7 sadwiches, I just wanna PUKE!

They all think they're better than me because they can afford a $7 sandwich and they are friends with a guy in a ponytail. Well, maybe 90 or 95% of you ARE better than me...but the other 5 or 10%....what do YOU have to say for yourselves???!!!!

Me and the hump above (Wango's Assistant) RULE!

I'll believe when Circles on The Square is eradicated from the city's landscape???

Am I asking too much of my fellow citizenry?

This is what we're dealing with, kiddies. People so completely irrational and so hopelessly jaded, they hate those of us that can afford a pastrami on rye with mustard. And I'm fu>ked-up???

"The people here have been fed false promises for so long that they have developed an unhealthy skepticism," Mr. Barrouk said. "It's unfortunate, but I can fully understand it."

Whoa! He sounds like me. Or something thereabouts.

From the e-mail inbox Hi Mark -

I found this in the Times Leader the other day. This township is along side of mine and the place they are talking about has always been a bit of a secluded "party" spot:

"CONYNGHAM TWP. – A PPL worker found a cache of drugs and paraphernalia at the Council Cup Scenic Overlook Thursday morning.

According to state police in Shickshinny:

The employee found two hypodermic needles, 15 empty baggies, one bag with marijuana seeds and stems, a baggie containing a white crushed substance and a candy container with an unknown white substance inside.

Anyone wishing to claim the items can contact the state police in Shickshinny at 542-4117".

I was crying I was laughing so hard at that last line! They have got to be kidding! And you thought it was only your town who had mentally challenged people occupying it. Anyway, it was a good laugh that I so needed!!!!

Want me to give them a buzz? I'll do it.

Dude, man! Did you fuzz types find hypodermic needles, 15 empty baggies, one bag with marijuana seeds and stems, a baggie containing a white crushed substance and a candy container with an unknown white substance inside plus my pastrami on rye with mustard???

If so, lemme know. Sounds like a friggin' hoot until they completely surround the adobe with riot shields.

Center on Main

Now...it's time for my very own, "I believe" joke. Yeah, y'all have been having tons of fun at a certain mayor's expense, so why can't I make a feeble attempt at some comic relief?


Question: What would the city's new slogan be if Tom Leighton had announced that the Sony Corporation had purchased the former call center?

Answer: It would have been, "I berieve."


Can you find it within yourself to "berieve?"

I'm counting on you.