Monday, December 6, 2021

That Time I Went To Jail



Slow down you crazy child

Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while

Vienna waits for you

-Billy Joel, “Vienna”

Like most kids, I was in a hurry to grow up.  Being a grown-up meant getting to do whatever we wanted, right?  There were secrets to being an adult and we wanted in on them, pronto!  We didn’t want to hear that we weren’t ready for every adult situation.  We certainly didn’t want to listen to someone else’s experience or warnings.  We were positive that we were prepared.

Some of us waited, while some of us went ahead and did what we could get away with behind our parents' backs.  I suspect most of us are guilty of the latter.  Still, we had been told don’t do this, it’s a bad idea so our perfidy was not without reservation.  Whether we admitted it to our peers or not, sometimes we came to the conclusion that Mom & Dad were right.  We weren’t as grown up as we thought.  Our decision-making skills were not yet fully developed.

The act of disobeying our parents didn’t make us bad people.  It made us kids.  That’s what children do, they test boundaries.  They question limits.  They challenge assertions, all part and parcel of that decision-making process.  Our parents did us a great service telling us not to, whether we followed their directions or not.  Getting caught meant facing the consequences of your actions.

There is a young man in Michigan who will soon face justice as a murderer, allegedly with the assistance of his parents, who put the gun in his hands and cared not at all about the danger.  Lives were extinguished and survivors are scarred emotionally as well as physically. All of us are diminished slightly where human life has no value.

This boy was failed by the very people who should have had his best interests at heart.  We are not talking about a rite of passage, for a teen to go deer hunting with an uncle or target shooting with Mom.  We are talking about criminal acts, acts that began with adults buying a child a gun in violation of every law on the books.  Unfortunately, long before he was armed he had already been introduced to a flawed value system.  That is where I see the greatest failure. 

I am reminded of an afternoon when I was eleven years old.  It was summertime and my parents had sent my brother and me to spend a couple of weeks with our grandparents and cousins in Kentucky.  We were a very religious family and I often sang for the church congregation with my brother.  One Sunday, unbeknownst to me, after the morning worship service, about a dozen of us left the church and traveled to the city jail where a service was held for those behind bars.  I remember it being dark in the cells.  I remember some of the men disappearing into the shadows in back so they could not be easily seen.  The general din subsided as we filed in wearing our Sunday best.  I kept my back to the wall in the narrow hallway.  I was scared.

There were still dozens of men who stood or sat as the preacher told them about the way of salvation and a forgiving God who is a redeemer.  When he finished, he introduced my brother and I, telling the inmates that we were going to sing a song.  Grandma volunteered us for such duties often, though never under those circumstances.  I don’t remember what we sang.

I tried to find something to concentrate on as I mechanically recited lyrics.  The bars were multi-colored from being scratched and re-painted so many times.  A gray-haired inmate sat on a bench behind a metal table watching and listening intently.  When I looked into his eyes, he looked down at the metal table.  I did too. 

The table was just like the bars, coated with layers and layers of paint scarred by decades of graffiti.  At the corner of the table, the one closest to me, someone had scratched “FUCK” into the paint.  Of course, my nine year-old brother and I knew that it was a bad word. The gray-haired inmate noticed that I had noticed.  He deftly grabbed some playing cards that sat in front of him and placed the deck on top of the offending word. 

Soon the song and the visit was over.  Yet 46 years later I still remember that moment, that small kindness.  Here was a man who was likely guilty of making some poor decisions of his own, yet he cared enough about other human beings, two children he would never see again, to let them be children a little longer.  To this day, even in my fiction, you won’t find any F-bombs.

500 miles north of that Kentucky jail, a fifteen year-old sits in a cell.  He won’t be attending the prom next year.  He won’t get the chance to re-invent himself in college and become the person he would have otherwise.  His parents cashed in his ticket to adulthood and now he’ll ride into his future in a paddy wagon.  He became a vilified monster with their assistance.  He may be years into a long sentence before he truly realizes what he has done.

Blame the school, law enforcement or society in general, but each of those institutions are made up of parents making decisions for their children every day.  Our poisoned world will not recover as long as we have parents lacking the basic decency of that long-ago Kentucky inmate.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

A Tale of Two Harveys


In an up and down year for an inexperienced baseball team, it was one of the down days.  Dan Dickerson and Jim Price did everything they could do to maintain the listener’s interest, even though it had to be difficult for them to stay awake themselves.

Dickerson, with twenty-one years as a Tiger broadcaster and eighteen as the lead radio announcer, is as professional as they come.  He arrives prepared, invested and curious about every nuance of the game from the first pitch to the final out.  Price, his partner, has been in one booth or another for twenty-eight years and fills the color role, drawing heavily on his undistinguished five-year career as a Tiger backstop.  Price’s clowning used to bother me, but Dickerson will take every opportunity to feed him the set-up that allows him to spiel out another of his trademark quips.  Yogi Berra he ain’t, but what the hell, Yogi’s dead and Jim was part of the 1968 World Championship team, right?

If you’ve read my blogs in the past, undoubtedly you know how much I love baseball, it’s a lifelong affair.  Miss Kitty and I listen to a lot of the radio broadcasts because (a) we understand the game, (b) have vivid imaginations and (c) refuse to pay for cable TV.  This story isn’t really about baseball at all, though.

Like I said, it was one of those nights.  The highlight of the game was an almost home run (I have written letters to the pair of broadcasters praising their ability to remain engaged.  Dickerson called my house to thank me for the letter).  As the game rolled on, Price made a little mistake, the sort that occur when you let your attention wonder for a second. 

He incorrectly identified Orioles starting pitcher Matt Harvey as  “Paul” Harvey, likely thinking of the late radio newsman and columnist.  I won’t say that’s unusual.  Price has done it before and so has Dickerson; so did guys named Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey.  Everybody is going to make that sort of mistake, as there are so many games and so many names.

It so happened that Matt (Not Paul) Harvey had a very good day.  Having made adjustments after recent losses, he pitched a good game against the Tigers and Price felt he deserved to be singled out for praise at the end of his outing but called him Paul again.  Miss Kitty caught my eye, we’d both heard it.  Price had made the same mistake twice. 

There was a moment of silence, not at all uncommon in a pastoral game such as this, and a shuffle of paper that extended it from a moment to a beat.  Price cleared his throat and confidently said, “Yes sir, that Matt Harvey had a heckuva day.”

It was just a moment in an otherwise meaningless game.  The Tigers are still on their way up and the Orioles are spinning their wheels in another division.  But there was another team in attendance that night, up in a booth sitting in front of microphones.  There’s just two of them, but Dan had Jim’s back. 

Sometimes, a teammate will make an error, but another teammate will pick it up and throw it.  They’ll pat the poor fella on the back and tell him not to worry about it.  There’s another opportunity tomorrow and always a chance that it will be a perfect game. 

In a world where there is a screen at the end of everyone's arm, you sure can learn a lot on the radio.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Still Eating My Heart Out


There comes a point where you say, “I’ve got enough stuff.”  So you go about getting rid of years worth of collected stuff, which was something you definitely had to have until, well, you didn’t.  Maybe sell some, give some away, throws some in the trash.  And then, that next gift-giving occasion comes around and guess what?  YOU GOT MORE STUFF!

It took a while, but we convinced most of the people in the extended family that, for any celebration, a gift should ONLY be given if you saw it somewhere and instantly thought, “Such and such just HAS to have that!”  If you don’t have that perfect gift in mind, give that money to charity.  Any charity, yours, mine, everybody has needs these days.  My only problem was, our giving was scattershot.  We were sending small amounts to all of these charities, but not enough dough to make any sort of difference.

That changed for me late in 2018.  I read about food insecurity, a term I’d never seen or heard before.  An article featuring Swoop’s Food Pantry discussed how close some college students are to homelessness.  Some DO live in their cars and many do not know where there next meal will come from.  Or if there will be one.  The pantry is located on the campus of Eastern Michigan University, my alma mater, so I decided I wanted to help out.  At Christmas, I asked a couple of people for grocery gift cards and they came through, to the tune of about $250.

Lucy came in for a family visit early in 2019, so I selected her to go buy the groceries with me.  She inherited her Yankee thrift from her mother, undoubtedly able to pinch a penny and make old Abe SCREAM.  I knew she would find the good deals when I didn’t and I was not wrong.  Even stretching it out with pro-grade frugality, boxes and bags full of groceries…it barely filled the back seat of my truck. 

A friendly staff helped us bring in the food at Swoop’s.  It was only a couple of loads, stacked up on a heavy-duty cart, but it was a nice moment anyway.  Lucy had been pressing me to get more involved and privately I knew I wasn’t doing all I could to practice what I preach.  On her advice I had made a simple plan and followed through.  Mission accomplished!

“Would you like to come inside and look around?”  We looked at each other and shrugged.  We didn’t know they offered entertainment.  We decided to take the nickel tour.  They don’t have much more than a glorified walk-in closet, but they are very proud of their operation.  I got a background on their mission, filled out some paperwork for deductions that are no longer allowed and prepared to leave.  The room was, as I stated, small.  There was a line of students waiting to get in as we found the exit.

I had my hand on the door but hadn’t yet pushed the bar.  I took one more look behind me and saw one of the volunteers shelving the food we had just brought in on carts.  It was going back out, onesie-twosie, as fast as they could shelve it, to these hungry kids.  I quickly became sad and then very angry.  The richest damned country in the world and kids are going hungry in college.  Do you remember being excited about Corn Flakes?  Ever?  I’ve seen it.

Then COVID hit.  I knew many of the college students would lose their jobs and that some wouldn’t be able to go home because of a quarantine.  You might say I was radicalized, in an old man sort of way.

As soon as I heard that there were stimulus checks going out, I pounced. My wife and I both kept our jobs during the pandemic and many of our friends, having similar seniority at work had remained financially safe.  So I decided to ask everybody for a hundred bucks.  You got twelve hundred?  Gimme a hundred.  For the kids.  Where did I get the ass to do that?  Who did I think I was?  At that moment, I wasn’t sure.  Two weeks later, I was the guy walking into Swoop’s with more than $1,000 in my hand, that’s who I was. That is something I learned from Dan...sometimes, all you have to do is ask.

Kath headed up an effort to have box lunches for people who work on the COVID floors at St Joseph’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.  She raised the money through the same network of friends and family and supplied a meal for nursing and maintenance workers on two different shifts, their meals delivered hot by DiBella’s. Later in the year, we raised a bit more to bridge Swoop’s to Christmas, when they tend to be remembered more for holiday giving.

Going forward, I have a plan to put up a show on youtube as a fundraiser.  The opening night is what you publicize and when you solicit the donations, but the video would remain online in perpetuity as a fundraiser for Swoop’s.  I will need a lot of help with that.  The board at Swoop’s is on board with us and I have enlisted Brian Cox to direct. 

But until then, I am asking you one more time to help Swoop’s.  The stuff from Christmas is gone now and the check the kids got in the mail from Grandma has already be spent.  Stimulus is out there again so I am AGAIN going to ask for one hundred dollars.  For those of us that are trying to decide between beef and chicken for dinner…there are kids out there deciding between a heat bill and a sack of groceries.

Hey, I get it. Everybody’s got their hand out and if you’ve got your own cause, God love ya.  What I have learned is most everybody wants to help, if only they could figure out a way.  Here’s my way…put my dough together with other folks.  Make it count.  Make a major difference.  Let me walk into the Swoop’s office with $1,000 again.  Send me a check.  Let's support the kids until this damned pandemic is over.

Gimme a hundred.  You won’t believe how good it makes your next meal taste.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Her Name is Miranda


Her name is Miranda.

I didn’t know that, the first time I saw her.  I’d just come from the grocery store and had absently stuck some singles into my breast pocket when I cashed out.  I don’t know why.  Anyway, she was standing beside the road, holding the flap of a cardboard box that had one word written on it in black marker.


My place in line put me just a few feet from her when the light turned red.  I put down my side window and waved to her.  I gave her the singles.  I don’t know why.  I never do that.  She wished me a blessing and ran back to the curb.

I told Kath about it when she got home.  I couldn’t figure out why it was still on my mind.  Was it that sign?  Was I just tired of the old tried and true?




I guess something about it touched Kath too.  The next time she went by the intersection I spoke of, she saw the girl and gave her some cash.  After that, I resolved to talk to the girl if I saw her again.  My shifts were switching back and forth at work, so my routes were erratic.  I kept an eye out for her but hoped perhaps that her prospects had improved. 

It was maybe ten days later.  I’d started keeping a bottle of water and a high-protein snack in my glove compartment in case I saw her.  I parked nearby and approached slowly.  She closed the gap when I said hello.  She was tiny, coltish, not a day past twenty. I gave her the items and a few singles while asking if she needed anything. 

“I just need things to keep warm.  I’m living in a tent in the woods.”  What in the hell do you say, when living in the woods in a tent is better than whatever you ran away from?  “I’m trying to get into shelters, I’m working with S.O.S., but I need to have I.D.” I told her I would see what I could do about some warm items.

When I told my wife I had spoken to the girl on the corner, she asked me, “What is her name?”

Well, shit.  I knew I forgot something.

Kath was equal to the task of finding warm stuff, though.  She put together some sweatshirts, a sleeping bag and a credit union giveaway meant for outdoor concerts and picnics, a blanket that rolls up and straps easily for carrying. Of course, once engaged, she thought of that winter coat somebody abandoned years ago.  Then she picked up some feminine products in a last second burst of inspiration. 

When I saw the girl again, I gave her the parcel asking, “What’s your name?”


“Miranda, here’s some warm things for you.”

I watched her closely, looking for signs that she wasn’t who she seemed to be.  Would she roll her eyes at a used sweatshirt?  Would she see me as a carnival side show sucker because I had come back more than once?  I asked again if she needed anything.  She looked me in the eye and said, “I just need my I.D. to come.  But I guess there’s a problem at the post office.”  She assured me that she had a secure address to receive correspondence.  I will admit that I drove by later to see if our parcel had been dumped among the trees where I met her.  But it wasn’t.  She had taken it with her.

A while has passed since then.  I pass that corner and look for her.  If she is there, I fret about the slow grind of bureaucracy and the toll it must be taking on her.  If she is not there, I worry she’s become a victim.  The last time I saw her, she was


Her name is Miranda.  She lives in a tent in the woods.  And I don’t know why.