1-24-2007 “His” ideas?

I attended a seminar at the Country Cupboard in Lewisburg yesterday. If you’ve never been there, which I have been many times, you ought to take a drive. It’s on the border of Amish Country, which lies just west of Rte. 15, so you know the expansive Cupboard is loaded with home-maid delicacies, crafts, do-dads and all sorts of things you won’t find anywhere else. Ladies, it’s gift store is as big as a typical super market. No exaggeration. It’s got a dining room that must seat over 300 people. It’s got the largest hot buffet you’re likely to come across. And it’s just loaded with country charm through-and-through. Pretty nifty place.

And guess what that seminar was all about. Yup, you nailed it. The latest research and development devoted to excluding subterranean termites from structures small, large, tall and what have you.

And as always, there is no such thing as pest elimination. Rather, there is pest control.

You have been warned.

Now that most of the area‘s Catholics are advocating all sorts of nasty things for the local Bishop, the Wilkes-Barre Area School District is poised to evaluate it’s physical stock. Where this will lead nobody knows, but I have a couple of thoughts on all of that.

W-B Area set to evaluate high schools

First of all, Coughlin High School was designated as a Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) since that controversial tax forgiveness plan was first implemented. I always wondered why a city high school, the largest, should be a KOZ property and what that might lead to one day. The most likely scenario being that Coughlin is closed and Kings College takes ownership of that property.

Another oft-mentioned possibility is that the school district might opt to replace the city’s three aging high schools by building a new super high school. That’s probably the nightmare scenario as it would relate to the taxpayers. Give me a number…um, the new school would be budgeted at $350 million, suffer significant cost overruns and property taxes would spike as a direct result.

My question is, if the district opted to build a new high school large enough to handle the student population of the three existing schools, where the hell would they build it? It’s not as though the city has various and huge tracts of open land available to pick and choose from. Where the hell would they build it? In Plains? In the Hanover Industrial Park?

We shall see.

We‘ve got a couple of developments stemming from last night’s council meeting.

From the Citizens’ Voice:

Sex offender ordinance fails in city

That does not come as a surprise, since most of the council members queried had serious reservations about that proposed ordinance. They kind of telegraphed where that one was headed. Although, I was surprised it did not receive a second on Jim McCarthy’s motion to bring it to a vote.

So, as a result, the perverts in this city can reside anywhere they wish to. They are right where they’ve always been.

This one is long, long overdue:

Awarding of contract will start Coal Street Park renovations

WILKES-BARRE — City council unanimously voted Tuesday to award a contract for engineering services for the long-awaited renovation of Coal Street Park.

The contract will be awarded once solicited proposals are reviewed and the first phase of the project can begin, said City Administrator J.J. Murphy.

State funds are being pursued to add two rinks to the now closed Ice-A-Rama, purchase new playground equipment and renovate recreational facilities, Murphy said.

Hills in the park will be removed, parking will be added and the site of the former tennis courts will be renovated, said Councilman Tony Thomas Jr. The project has been in the planning phases for two years.

I spent five years of my life traipsing through that park when it was brand spanking new. Immediately following the ‘72 flood, my Mom moved the four of us into the still under construction Interfaith Heights. And then, over the years, I kind of lost contact with the park while doing mostly adult things such as building a career, beating on the kids and chasing down out of print Zappa albums.

But, when I toured the park by way of bicycle with a camera in hand during the summer of 2002, I was beyond shocked, if not borderline heartbroken. For myself and many others, almost every square foot of that park has a fading teenaged memory attached to it. In 2002, all that was attached to the park was graffiti, trash and years upon years of neglect. And make no mistake about it, our elected leaders both past and present are to some degree guilty of fiddling while Coal Street Park burned. A walk through what little remains of the park suggests that regular maintenance went by the wayside a long time ago, as well as regular policing of the gargantuan facility.

The lesson we must learn from this travesty is that…if we build it, they will come. If we fail to maintain it, they won’t.

The following is my reminiscing of the once-thriving park as typed some five years ago:


Coal Street

After my recent hell-ride down what is left of Coal Street, my wife and I got to talking about how the old Heights had been re-configured years back. Coal Street was basically an alley that led to nowhere. It ran down to Baltimore Street, another alley that ran in front of the Stegmaier Brewery and was nothing more than an access way for the Stegmaier beer delivery trucks. Baltimore Street is more or less, now Wilkes-Barre Boulevard. After the great flood of 1972, Dan Flood flexed his congressional muscles and secured monstrous amounts of re-development funds for the Valley. The old Heights Market Street was torn down and replaced with a school and a senior high-rise. Coal Street was actually turned into a street extending up to a lonely and deserted intersection at route 309, across from the Wilkes-Barre Drive-In. The culm banks along Coal Street were transformed into a park and the new city super-pool, with a hot-air supported roof for Winter swimming. Sherman Street was extended from Coal into the east-end of the city. And some see the flood as a bad thing. The upper end of Coal was turned into a housing project for folks at the bottom of the financial wading-pool. That’s when I moved to Coal Street.

North End Little League

My mom lied to the manager of the housing project and I don’t blame her for doing so. She had three kids, aged 13, 8 and 2 years old, no husband, a welfare check and a serious disability. She told him we had been flooded out. It was a white lie. We didn’t suffer the ravages of the flood, but our first apartment in the city after re-locating to Wilkes-Barre was just as bad as the flood damaged homes. It was a dump with a rapidly failing coal furnace. In our only winter in that apartment, I used to watch the Giants being crushed by every other NFL team, while wearing my winter coat. My dad had funked mom and I over, and my first step-dad had done the same, and here we were at Coal Street. We were thrilled. Not only did we have heat, but the townhouse we lived in was brand-new and insulated. We all had our own room. I realize that the people driving down Coal Street back then , probably looked at us and were thankful that they didn’t live there, but we were happy and could care less. After thirteen years of violence and turmoil, we felt as if we had our own permanent home. We had to walk to the super-market and walk to shop downtown, but we were tough after a decade of abuse and nonsense. We lived there for five years.

For me, as a struggling young dork, this turned out to be an amazing place. Brand new playground, state-of-the-art pool, new ballyards, new basketball court and the dug-out hole, where the Ice-A-Rama would one day be built, that froze up in the Winter allowing me to skate up and abuse these hockey illiterate Wilkes-Barre kids. I had it all. Baseball, basketball, swimming and ice hockey a couple of hundred yards from my house. Or townhouse. I made what I knew were life-long pals and we had a blast. Mike, Jim, George, and Will. We, as the project kids transplanted from elsewhere, had to mix it up with and sometimes get the hell kicked out of us by the equally poor kids that lived in the Heights at that time and who attended GAR. These kids were one tough breed and after looking back at all of their nonsense and posturing and punches, they were actually no different than we were, but must have sensed that kids worst off than they would be a little shell-shocked by life and easy to intimidate. Their routine worked for a little while. If nothing else, they forced us to toughen up.

So, I got used to my new surroundings and learned to deal with the toughest white kids I had ever run across. Coal Street for me, was a good place. Mom seemed somewhat relaxed without the constant threat of physical abuse hanging over her, although she worried about money now full-time. I did not miss being knocked out cold by my step-dad. My sister was better off than she had ever been, but seemed adrift. Maybe I was better at handling all of this than she was. I don’t know. My little brother was too young to know anything and was my target for all sorts of shenanigans. He was used to ducking out of the way of my Right-Guard can, among other things. Yeah, alright, every once in awhile, he needed stitches because of me, but that was his fault for not being quick enough. My mom would beat me so, I figured it was even at that point, right? Paid my dues. I got my first job and grew my hair to my belt, just like Paul Stanley’s. Welfare allowed me to work without impacting my mom’s check and I had a blast. A new glove. A ‘Ralph Garr’ autographed bat. New sneaks that were not Jeff Fox’s hand-me-downs. Coal Street was working for me.

I eventually made friends with the guy next-door. He was a thirty-something ex-marine hard-ass and liked to do one fingered push-ups. That’s true. One finger. We’d sit out front and he’d tell me about the many joys of combat and how thrilling it was to be so scared and wired. I swallowed this hook line and sinker and wanted to toast some Vietnamese. Me number one! VC number ten! Sitting out in front of our townhouse was how I encountered my eventual wife. Paul and I watched these two crazy chicks about my age, fly down Coal Street on the old metal roller-skates. They were rolling down so fast, that we knew they were about to die, any second now. Damn! They made it all the way down. They did it again. Damn! No blood, no skid-marks, no ambulances, just these too whacked-out girls. Days would pass and there they were again, flying down Coal, barely under control. Still no wipe-outs. This sucked. We knew they would eventually kill themselves, yet they never did.

Crazy bitches!

Next summer, I met these crazy roller-skate kamikazes at the pool while attending an ‘Eddie Day & TNT’ concert. I was with my cousin Will and he had the nerve to approach them and be humiliated by them. They called us “skinny.” They laughed at us. They didn’t bother me in the least, as I was always more aroused by good music than girls, at least at that point in my life. He was crushed and I told him to shut up as Eddie Day was playing Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein. Rock on man, forget chicks.

The next spring, these too chickies were chasing me around the project. I don’t know why they suddenly changed their minds or lowered their standards or what their new criteria was. They were nuts. I dealt with their non-stop hero-worship and eventually picked one, or so I thought . I didn’t know it at the time that I had actually fell for one of them. The blondie with the rather large, mammalian protuberances. Dating her, I encountered a world I had never seen before. A polish family and all the weird and bland food that came with it. Her pain-in-the-ass-dad and her overly-gruff mom. The Polish Heights family, with their own home and two parents, that seemed as dysfunctional as my welfare family. We dated for a while and then dated some more. I got picked on non-stop by her always angry parents as did her siblings. I endured.

We’re going on twenty-three years of marriage, with three great kids and one amazing grandson, and I wouldn’t change anything that has occurred since my Coal Street days. Well, maybe. Anyway, that’s all water over the dams.

I can tell you this, when I drive down Coal Street and pass “the projects,” I get a warm feeling and realize that being poor was not necessarily a bad thing. It was an education of sorts as long as you managed to graduate to the next level.

I miss my mom and my wife is now in charge of cooking that bland polish food.

I don’t think she has the guts to fly barely under control down Coal Street anymore, but she’s still a nut.

A poor kid at heart.

(End reminiscing)

From the e-mail inbox Hi Mark,

Not to split hairs but you wrote "The only thing that would result by nailing smokers is that the health providers would be taking in more money."

Being a health provider I must disagree. It will be health insurance companies that will be taking in the money, not us, the providers.

Keep bloggin


Yeah, you know what I meant.

It’s amusing to me that some think that I, as a smoker, should be paying more for my health insurance. I first acquired my own health insurance in 1979 when my then girlfriend announced that she was pregnant. She made her startling announcement one day and we had health insurance the very next. Some months later we had a healthy baby girl, the associated bills were not covered, but we were good to go as far as health insurance was concerned.

Here’s the amusing part.

We have had health insurance ever since that startling announcement, and never once--not once--have we, other than two more pregnancies, ever cost our insurance provider much more than chump change. To this date, if I had never had any health insurance in place, it would not have mattered. Not even once. And yet, there are those nincompoops that vilify me because I’m allegedly driving up the cost of their health care.

Two broken fingers after a violent collision with a base-runner? Electrical tape. Nasty gash to the right forearm? Pinched shut and followed by more tape. Long gash down the length of the finger and dripping blood all over the place? You don’t want to know. But I will tell you that do-it-yourself sutures hurts like all hell. Trust me.

I have never been hospitalized, excepting for that one incident when someone decided speed limits and traffic signals ought not apply to them. I have never had surgery. Unlike my suddenly judgmental peers, I don’t run to the emergency room every time I develop a cough, an ache or a pain. If I have a concern, I see my family doctor.

Yes, I smoke. And I also work-out, eat sensibly, pedal at least 3,000 miles every year, kayak whenever I can and generally run around like a kid. But…I’m driving up the cost of everybody else’s health care???

Such is the sophistry of thought that immediately follows the politicizing of an issue that should have never been politicized in the first place. Thanks, Hillary.

You want lower health care costs?

Then stick it to some other politically demonized group.

Divide and socialize.

From the e-mail inbox Mark,

I had a thought after reading one of your postings.

Why don't you organize some type of river swimming event for this summer held in Wilkes Barre. Since Kanjorski and Skrep and Carney and the rest don't seem to think anyone will mind swimming in the sewage, invite them and their families to strip down and go for a nice swim. Make sure it's when the river gets nice and low in July, when the summer sun peaks that wonderful smell. I'm sure there are a few places within city limits where you can find one of those nice brown back-waters for them to climb in at. Think how the pictures of them splashing around will push the case for a dam forward. It would be the perfect photo-op.

Hell, if your lucky Kanjorski might even catch something and have to retire.



I like it. I do. So, instead of having egg on his face, Paul Kanjorski would have sh*t on his face. Quite the picture-op, no?

If that dam ever does come about, there is going to have to be a ribbon-cutting event staged for the local media outlets. So, picture Uncle Kanjo, Clueless Carney, the majority commissioners and our mayor smiling for the cameras as gigantic rubber floaters idle on by behind them. Maybe we should use foam or something. Polyurethane, perhaps. I’ll talk to Kayak Dude. You see, I ain’t never made any fake dung before. At least, I can’t recall having done so.

Although, there’s always a first time.

The e-mail inbox tells me that some of you truly believe that the idea to build a multi-screen theater in the downtown was Tom McGroarty’s. Well, all I can say is, you’re all entitled to your glaring factual errors. The “theater as anchor” idea came from those Chamber folks so many of you need to villainize rather than coming to grips with your own lack of employable skills. But, just for the sake of the argument, let’s just say the theater really was his brainstorm. Fine, let’s pretend.

Fact: The city spent $5 million on “his” theater and it never was built. In fact, the next administration had to float a $10.8 million Tax Anticipation Note to cover that unpaid $5 million debt and still other unpaid debts.

First he told us he was going to build a theater on Washington Street and an intermodel center on Northampton Street. Then he told us he was going to build an intermodel center with a theater on top of it on Washington Street. An intermodel theater, if you will. Then it changed to a theater with three parking decks on top of it. Finally, it morphed into being a stand-alone theater with an intermodel center right next to it. Thankfully, an injunction was filed and “his” convoluted mess that was “his” theater was put out of it’s nascent misery.

$5 million footers

And right before that glorious injunction was filed, I stood there, shoulder to shoulder with Tomzilla while taking pictures of the original hole as it was being dug and he outright refused my request to explain how it was going to be paid for.

Question: How are we going to pay for it?

Answer: It’s getting built, isn’t it?

(Repeat 3 times)

So, we paid $5 million for a couple of concrete footers poured in a muddy hole.

If you want to belatedly prop him up as being Wilkes-Barre’s ultimate idea man as some sort of hack-kneed, backhanded insult to the current administration, knock yourselves out. You’re all dumb like so such damp moss on a rotted tree stump. But fret not as being the mental equivalent of damp moss is not illegal.

The Call Center was not his idea, and might have been a positive undertaking had he not strong-armed his way into turning it into a financial albatross. And after “his” lease put the taxpayers on the hook for over $1 million a year to pay for an empty building, the current administration and Wilkes University partnered to stop the flow of red ink and transform that block of South Main Street.

The new streetlights was his idea? Well, I fu>king guess!!! Being that the red Franklin lights were committing suicide at an increasingly alarming rate, I guess he thought it’d be a pretty good idea to replace them. He didn’t make it happen in any permanent sense. Instead, he paid a political ally to pump fuel into the replacements, the gas-powered rental spotlights that blinded passing motorists and pedestrians alike. His idea? Okaaaay! It was akin to putting duct tape over a hole in the dike, but I guess it was “his” idea.

Instead of arguing about who first thought of what, why not examine who completed what, and who could not? Instead of squabbling about what sounded good so long ago but never happened, how about looking at what’s been completed since?

The finished product!

The thing is, no matter who may have first thought of what, the one-man-show approach to urban renewal and attracting meaningful economic investment clearly did not work. And it is inarguable that since the one-man-show approach was abandoned, high-profile projects are being completed, economic investment is happening right before our eyes and we are beginning to expect good news rather than the bad news we came to expect and accept. And if that’s not enough, more good news is on the way.

“His” ideas? Fine, have it your feeble, dimwitted way. But, understand that “his” ideas, “his” approach has been spotlighted numerous times too many to count as what should not be done when put in charge of a third class city.

It’s getting built, isn’t it?

Yeah!!! And cavemen can fly!

$5 million souvenirs