8-13-2007 Block Party Ď07

I did it. Yep, I survived yet another Thompson Street Block Party. No alcohol poisoning death for this annoying lad, although, I did try to add to the statistics and such what. Maybe next year.

The thing is, Iím not entirely sure as to what the heck it was that I survived. During our block party planning meetings, there was a lively debate as to whether this yearís blowout was actually the 18th or the 19th annual summer soiree. This was the first I heard of this. Well, it turns out, somebody or other was pregnant during one of the earliest installments, so that proves that next yearís event is the 20th installment and not the 19th, as most of us had believed. Plus, such-and-such clearly remembers something or other, so thereís further proof that, come next August, the 20th annual block party is already set to go down.

You got me on all of that. I moved here in 1993. And somewhere about 4 pm on that fateful and thoroughly sweaty day, we had the beer-toting locals banging on the front door and beckoning us to party in the middle of the street. Crazy muckers for sure. I mean to say, in this day and age, who actually likes their neighbors? And who even bothers to try liking their neighbors anymore? But, being fully indoctrinated into the ways of the long-embedded Thompson Street Borg, I have grown to become one of the leaders of this semi-demented pack. Think communal merit badges combined with chest pounding, loud music and drinking to excess for excessĎ sake. Weird, I know. Then again, it encompasses exactly one night on the entire yearly calendar. Myself excluded, weíre only weird every once in a blue moon. But when we get to getting weird, we do weird very, very proud. And Iím immensely proud of that.

Anywho, the way Iím hearing it after a not so extensive forensic audit of not so recent history, next yearís party will be the 20th annual, sure to be a rip-roaring extravaganza the likes of which the Nord End of Wilkes-Barre has never seen.

Count me in.

Personally, my brotherís recent passing kind of dimmed my usually unflappable enthusiasm as we fast approached this yearís event. I guess it all sounds very clichťd. I do miss him terribly. I still canít believe Iíll never get to bust his you-know-whats ever again. That sort of stuff. But when it really hit home for me was when the New York Football Giants opened summer training camp, and my telephone did not ring. Basically, right around block party time, I am being deluged with his overly optimistic view of this yearís team and itís chances of getting to the Super Bowl. Itís always been like clockwork. Training camp opens, the phone rings, and Ray is beyond jazzed about our chances.

But not this year. And not ever again. They say time heals all wounds, and I know that. But this particular gaping wound bleeds on.

As for the recently concluded party, attendance was down markedly this year, but that was not unexpected. We had a variety of things going on there. Miscommunication, poor planning and basic economics played into it for some. And then we have the neighbors who choose to sit out a block party raging, basically, right in front of their homes. And I canít feature that. Itís imbecilic and patently anti-social.

Straight up, in this urban setting of ours, weíre sitting, literally, butt cheek to butt cheek, are we not? And with that as a given, if you choose to snub your neighbors at damn near every turn, what does that portend about civility being the lubricant of society? You would rather play Solitaire on your stupid personal computer, while this funfest is happening but feet from your well-worn mouse pad? ĎScuse me for saying, but youíre an asshole and are probably better suited for living in a trailer on some snake-infested quarter acre of land no one else wants. Youíll drink at the Leisure Tavern, but you wonít drink with me? Fine!

Sorry to interrupt your crucially important work at eHarmony.com.

Adding to my disillusionment is the fact that one-third of my family was not in attendance. No, Peace, Scott, Gage and Taylor did not make the torturously long voyage from Tennessee, but Iím still not entirely sure who I should be pissed at for all of that. They have jobs in Tennessee, but thereís relatively none to speak of in northeastern Pennsylvania. We have Knox Mine disaster plaques, and they have Saturn plants. They have affordable energy, and we have the Pennsylvania Utility Commission raping our wallets (among other tight orifices) every single time they convene. We have boroughs that canít afford a box of paper clips without floating a Tax Anticipation Note, and they have county-wide services, as in, fire and sheriff departments. We get the same old excuses, and they get results. And no politician employed throughout this vast state of ours can say otherwise with a clear conscience.

So, should I be upset with my daughter and son-in-law for choosing to escape from this tax-and-spend and spend and spend hellhole called Pennsylvania?

Not on your life.

And whatís our local congressman up to of late? Oh, well, heís complaining about the folks in Minnesota, who, according to him, are ďscrewingĒ the lot of us in the wake of the recent bridge collapse. You see, they want millions in expedited federal funds, and fast. And who could blame them for wanting as much?

But, if those very same funds were coming here--to our congressmanís office--what would he do with them? Invent a rubber dogsh*t of a company and put his bloodsucking relatives on the payroll until the federal funding finally dried up? Well, based wholly on his past performance, Iím thinking thatís exactly what he would do. And then, heíd give us the same old excuses, while they, in the other more progressive states, would still be getting the results.

Yeah, the out-migration of our youth continues unabated, as it has for decades now, but Paul Kanjorski has his job and his power and his seniority and his vast land holdings, so, who gives a fu>k? Certainly not him.

So, just like the many who came before me, my offspring and their offspring have flown the proverbial coup. Despite the passage of five decades since the anthracite industry in this area was flooded out of itís misery, the elected and the appointed are still dangling the alluring possibility of attracting real companies offering real jobs, real benefits and real wages. And as always, falling well short of the mark, we got an arena and oodles and oodles of hospitality industry jobs on itĎs periphery. Migratory jobs, I think they call them. Jobs that some take, but are always looking to replace with real life-sustaining jobs.

Weíve been led by the elected twiddlers of promises, but have always had to settle for significantly less than we were promised. Good jobs? In Luzerne County? Donít hold your effing breath.

We held the yearly party, and a large part of my family was not in attendance. And, as far as Iím concerned, the continuing ineptitude of our political heavyweights probably played a large part in all of that. Because, in this area, corruption and incompetence runs through our politics like marbling runs through a steak. And despite those five decades of hollow promises and false start after false start, itís become painfully apparent that those elected to lead us out of the coal era have been irremediably, almost hermitically incapable of delivering that which they have dangled in front of the overbooked out-migration train headed straight out of the state.

Yes, if we have employable skill sets, we should be alright. Yes, if we have some secondary schooling in tow, weíll likely do okay, have health insurance, enjoy some compounding benefits and even some disposable income. But for too many in this area, continuing education is as foreign a concept as is flying all the way to the moon. And if youíre unwilling to help yourself, is it really fair and realistic to expect a politician to come along and help you? And if adding Spanish to the curriculum seems frightfully more important than stressing the importance of the 3 Rs--reading, writing and Ďrithmetic--are we really properly preparing our youth for a fluid, global economy? Methinks not.

Instead of offering universal health care to those who might obviously need it, why not provide a free associate degree level education to those on the very bottom of the economic strata. Free community college, kiddies. Instead of providing safety net after safety net for those too stupid, those too woefully undereducated or those too beaten down by their environments, why not be proactive? Why not stave off abject poverty and dependency long before it becomes a debilitating, entrapping way of life? Empower those who need empowering the most. Itís simple. And I like simplicity.

Struggling young families need not W.I.C., and L.I.H.E.A.P., and food stamps. No, what they need are real job possibilities coupled with a real chance, i.e., some secondary schooling, or some trade schooling. And rather than being stuck in a world where low-paying jobs are probably the most they are capable of performing, provide them with the ladder that can rise them above the plethora of expensive and complicated safety nets.

Neither of the hard-core political bases on the opposite poles have it right whereas empowering people is concerned. Not everyone should be provided with everything. Conversely, some people truly do need help. And I firmly believe the bulk of that help should come by way of educational opportunities. Give them a chance. Give them a chance to do more than flip expensive gourmet hamburgers. Give them a chance to take some pride in themselves. Educate them.

Anyway, whenís that giant Hyundai plant coming to Luzerne County?

>End rant.<

All of that aside, the party was a humdinger. Once the crowd had finally sauntered on in, late as always, things got rolling. The games, the prizes, the camaraderie, the singing, a bit of dancing, more games, more prizes, the nonstop tunes, the kids running all about, and, of course, the drinking. Ebon even resurrected the horseshoe tournament, which had been suspended for a couple of years. Although, Iím not completely sure as to why.

Some guy paid me the ultimate in insults by requesting that I dispense with playing tunes and switch to 92.9 FM. Not even knowing what 92.9ís format was, I asked our resident celebrity radio person, Sue Henry, and was informed of the depth and totality of the insult I was just treated to. Damn!

A few years ago, some lady charged up onto my porch wanting to know why I was such a horrible disc jockey. I told her I was not a ďprofessionalĒ DJ. Rather, I told her I was just a resident of Thompson Street who pulled his system and his discs out onto the front porch for a loud have at it. And with that knowledge, she was suddenly impressed. ďThatís your home stereo?,Ē she asked. Yup. Crazy bugger, ainít I?

True to form, my Uncle John showed up and smoked damn near all of my cigarettes, then he won the 50/50 drawing and left here a quick $200 richer. It hardly seems fair. Sonny & Cher attended for the second consecutive year. Well, not the real singing duo, but a very close likeness, Ricky & Nicky. My sister Suzie, who was married recently in a semi-private ceremony, cut her wedding cake for all in attendance to share in. Thatís a first: I was married at the Thompson Street block party. And since we had us a very popular mayor in attendance, perhaps they should have reconfirmed their vows with him presiding. I dunno.

We had a few city council members in attendance. And since I absolutely love seeding this ongoing nonsense wherein I am some kind of political insider beholding to, or begging from the elected folks in this city, I just had to pose for pictures with them. I just had to, since it seems to annoy so many of those that see themselves as defenders of the activist faith, or some such other silly notion. No worry, though. Iíll probably grow up one of these days. Then again, nah. Maturity is demonstratively overrated. Give me a beer and a chance to annoy the politically myopic, and Iím a juvenile all over again. Quit nekkiní on me, you fems!

Oh, and, we got the latest from Quentin Harrisí dad. We sooooo wanted to see a kid from Wilkes-Barre make the New York Giants roster last yearÖmy son, my brother and me. But it didnít happen. This year, heís with the Denver Broncos, but his knee is a bit dinged up. Still, we are rooting for the kid from Wilkes-Barre. That is, until he has to suit up against the Giants.

We had an off-duty police officer here, you know, just in case. But as always, his presence was not needed. The trouble-makers down on the corner were away, so, I didnít need to egg their vehicles this year. We did have a guy from the next street up complain about his blocked driveway, but that problem was corrected almost immediately. And kudos to him for approaching us about it, rather than calling 911 and wasting the time of our ever-circling police officers. Thatís how neighborhood complaints should be rectified, by both sides being reasonable. Again, kudos to him. And, yes, we did hear the fire department buzzing us with their air horns as they drove on by. It brought back a few memories from back when the bulk of the firefighters employed by this city did not dislike me due to the ongoing political wrangling and the like. Despite their totally reasonable arguments for adding to the ranks of the department, I must still err on the side of financial responsibility. Itís really that simple.

As always, the block party provides for an eclectic assemblage of people of all colors, shapes, sizes, as well as varying degrees of importance on the food chain and political persuasions. And I enjoy that diversity. When a kid of, say, 24, sporting garish-looking tattoos and body piercings is caught filling the ear of the cityís mayor, thatís a cool thing. When a member of city council is willing to sit through a bombastic song coming from the likes of metal gods Metallica, you know you are attending a truly unique event. No matter our varying starting points, our differing social waypoints, our skin colors, or our political heterodoxies, all that matters is making for a good party. Thatís why the T-shirts loudly proclaim, ďParty on!Ē I do hear that.

Party on!

And so, weíre at the point where we say, ďíTil next year,Ē that second Saturday in August 2008, when the 20th annual event is already hard-slotted and being planned for. Next year, weíre planning a lengthy video retrospective of past block parties. Some folks have moved away over the years. And, unfortunately, some mainstays have also passed away. And their contributions to the past parties will be duly noted. Their founding foresight, their neighborliness, their civility and their belief in their neighbors will be on display for all to see. I canít wait.

And while we have some new neighbors, they too have been drafted to make certain that this longtime institution, this undeniable proof that neighbors can and do band together for the sake of the neighborhood, will continue onward into the foreseeable future. And being that this event is planned, perpetrated and hosted by good people, as a direct result, other good people from all over this area continue to flock to it. And without good people, urban living would be insufferable.

And, if you have looked at the slideshow on my main page, itís readily apparent that even the young are being groomed to be future good neighbors. They are the klaxons for civility and courtesy in training. Oh, and, Zach and Jeremy are being trained in the proper usage of a garden hose. And if youíve never tried it, thereís no better way of getting a Sunday morning underway than hitting the street at 6 am with a beer, a garden hose and a couple of grandrodents in tow.

Anyway, if you missed it, you definitely screwed up. Donít make that mistake again.

As for next year, Iím thinking Kathy Kane might enjoy some Master of Puppets at 100 or so decibels. Perhaps Iíll fire up my white noise generator for all of that ear-shattering thunder bordering on sonic perfection. Maybe even Leper Messiah. Or maybe weíll stick with the oldies or something. Stay tuned on that.

As I said, Ďtil next year.

As to the rivulet of e-mails asking why I havenít been posting much of late, look, itís summer. Itís quiet. I could write about what I did on my day off, but Iíd rather not. I could write about the bar brawl I once participated in, but then Kevin Lynn and Steve Corbett would crucify me for not jumping on the emasculation band wagon, as they both have. I could write about my pets and my interaction with them, but Iíd prefer to not be arrested for animal cruelty. Soon enough, the eventual losers of the upcoming general election will be making lots of premature noise, so letís just wait for their predictable idiocy that is so scintillating. Any day now, the Griffith campaign will get to accusing practically everyone of nepotism, cronyism, or some such crime against humanity that hasnĎt even been thunk of yet. And all in a losing effort, no less.

Things will surely heat up as summer continues to wane on into our memories.