Wednesday, September 19, 2018

O'Brien for Senate - NOT!

It came in the mail - this time of year, it tends to. You know the type. Very slick. 100-lb gloss cover stock. Four-color process. Eight and a half by eleven. Full bleed on all sides: "Vote for Dunderhead."

If our state Senators would set aside half as much money for the poor as they do for their own re-election campaigns we wouldn't have homeless people camping in Kalamazoo's Bronson Park.

Or did we lock them all up last night? I didn't watch the news.

My state Senator is Margaret O'Brien. But I'd really rather have somebody else. Why? Because she didn't help the most vulnerable (if not the most valuable) of her constituents - not the campers. The Hellers.

After my 12-year old nephew Charlie died in a tragic accident while playing in the maple tree in his front yard in July, 2015, County Medical Examiner Joyce deJong chose (this was entirely of her own choosing) to conduct a full post mortem autopsy, including brain sectioning, including removing the fluid from his eyeballs, including dissecting his neck all the way "to the mandible". Gross, in every sense of the word.

We didn't want, authorize or appreciate any such thing, which we view as unnecessary mutilation done for the purpose of collecting money from the County, which has no problem giving it to her.

That was more than bad enough, the loss of a child, but was deliberately made worse as deJong (no stranger to controversy or courtrooms) still refuses to change the Cause of Death on Charlie's death certificate from Suicide, despite the fact there is no evidence he intended to do such a thing.

He was a little kid.

He was playing.

In his front yard.

In broad daylight.

In the tree where the tree fort and the play rope had been since he was knee-high to a grasshopper.

The medical examiner's story is pure bullshit. That's what this blog is about.

We contacted Margaret O'Brien's office to find out who has the authority to enact the sort of change we were asking for, since the M.E. didn't exactly follow Miss Manners's advice about what to do when folks say "please".

Margaret O'Brien's office told us that the County Commission had the power to do that. So we asked our County Commissioner, John Taylor. He did not respond at all. Just... silence. He knew better than to run for that seat again, and instead challenged Tim Snow for County Clerk, and lost. He was just about the only Democrat in 2016 who failed to win in this deep blue county, this shit hole, this Kalamazoo.

We contacted the next Commissioner for our district, Tracy Hall, and that person engaged in a kabuki dance with the County Corporations Counsel and my sister's estimable attorney. Time passed, nothing happened, and I encourage you to vote against her, too. Another Commissioner was also contacted, but did not advocate on our behalf to the other 10 Commissioners (total combined annual salary: $132,000).

Of course not; why, the County Commission, despite knowing all of this, just appointed the incompetent deJong to a new four-year term as M.E. We already know which side of their butter has the bread on it.

With the Commission being a pointless endeavor, we went ahead and filed an administrative appeal of the Medical Examiner's decision. We filed it in the 9th Circuit Court in Kalamazoo County, which is the jurisdiction we were directed to by our state Senator, Margaret O'Brien. The pro-tem judge in our case, Alexander C. Lipsey, sided with his employer (Kalamazoo County). Surprise, surprise. He has a tendency - at least from the cases I've sat through - to side with the monied interest, which is odd for a purported Democrat.

Do you see the sort of superconductor of stupidity we are faced with in our own government, a Stuporconductor, if you will? They tax us, they use our tax money to defend themselves against us in court, use more of our tax money to hear the case, and they rule against us anyway... I might as well get a County job, put a nice little bow on the whole stupid thing.

One might be more disappointed in such behavior from our elected ingrates if it didn't come across as being routine. And rehearsed.

So when I get this slick, glossy, colorful, full-size mailer coming from the person who has taken our money but not provided a service, that being representation, it makes me want to throw up.

The way the scent of formaldehyde does.

Margaret's mailer is both disgusting and cynical, as she tries to piggyback her own fortunes onto those of the brave survivors of yet another sickening Michigan monster that everyone pretended not to see, Larry Nassar. (Ah, Michigan... So many.)

Senator O'Brien is now apparently taking credit for having "listened and is leading the fight for justice"... Not for us, though.

Senator O'Brien is saying she wants to "ensure the accused are brought to justice". There's that word again. It was Shakespeare who wrote, "Words are easy, like the wind."

Senator O'Brien closes her argument by telling you (not asking you) to "Thank Margaret O'Brien for fighting for justice by visiting [REDACTED].com".

Well, no thanks, because when we asked her for help, she didn't really do anything for us. Possibly because we didn't donate any money to her campaign. You know. Keep those presses rolling.

If you want representation, as a citizen, you'll need to vote for whoever is running against Margaret O'Brien. I don't know or care who that is.

pH 9.19.18

***

Monday, September 17, 2018

Untitled (or: Fall)

Yea, brother, the nights are getting cooler. The leaves are turning color. The school bus rumbles by in the morning now. Summer is leaving us behind, with Winter waiting patiently.

It's all right.

Seasons change...

Everything does.

pH 9.17.18

***

Friday, August 31, 2018

'Tis the Season


They say all politics is local, whoever they are. And they are right.

The midterm elections are coming up in about nine weeks. That's about how long a semester in school lasts, so it should give us all the time we need to learn what there is to know about the candidates whose fate we control.

For instance, all of us now have the opportunity to exercise our freedom by choosing our representatives. It takes some discernment to do that, more than ever nowadays, with the phrase "fake news" bandied so carelessly about.

Many public offices are totally secure. My Congressman, for example, is Fred Upton. He has been my House Representative since I could vote. Whether I like him or not, he's not going anywhere, because he is a conservative snuggled tightly in the midst of a conservative marsupial pouch here in Southwest Michigan...

And he's not so bad - I mean, he's wrong about a lot of stuff, sure, but he's still a decent human being. He might be a little out of touch with many of his constituents, but at least he's not out of touch with his mind, like many in the GOP these days.

Being in such an insulated district, Mr. Upton hasn't ever needed to be a political jingoist. That's very different from the close races, which means we're in for one of the nastiest election cycles ever to be witnessed in a modern democracy.

Those who play to the bases of their bases ought not be awarded the trust of the citizenry, for that is a gross misuse of the freedoms we are all afforded in our fortunate Republic.

It is a rarity before our eyes, then: The race for Kalamazoo County Commissioner in District Three (the decidedly Uptown area in which many Hellers live). Here is a very close contest between two people who could not be any different - incumbent Commissioner Tracy Hall and challenger Charley Coss.

They ran against each other two years ago, and Hall won by a sliver. Coss, a local businessman with two degrees from hometown Western Michigan University, is taking Hall on again.

Unlike a lot of this year's Republicans, Charley Coss isn't trying to win on bluster. He didn't last time, either. His issues are pretty civic-minded. He wants to "get the lead out" of our water supply. He sits on the Planning Commission. He has five kids, so he's as invested in Kalamazoo's future as he is in its past.

His opponent (who has a record to run on this time) has worked on coming up with a "County ID Card", which sounds only a tiny bit Orwellian, and really not much else. The Commissioner's post, under Hall's stewardship, seems to have been reduced to a political footstool - a means to climbing higher.

We deserve better than that, no matter our political stripe.

I encourage local residents to vote for Charley Coss this year for Commissioner of Kalamazoo County's Third District. We can trust him with our precious resources because, from his lifetime experience in business, he knows what will happen if they are squandered.

Vote for Charley... Just Coss.

pH 8.31.17

***

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Batter Down

Crack.

CRACK.

I'm awake - and there is no mistaking the sound of a baseball bat. But we are nowhere near Spring Training, too early even for Grapefruit and Cactus League ball... It's the middle of damn winter.

CRACK.

Out of my bunk, I slide on my feet across the wooden floor to where I can look out through the glass of the front door, and from there I spot him.

I haven't seen him in a long while.

It's Mick the Mechanic. Popping in again from the afterlife, so strong that he remains a part of my Manifold Destiny. And he is heading for my front door, indeed, carrying a baseball bat.

I jerk the door open. "What are you doing? Happy Birthday."

He grumbles, like a bear, not at all whimsically.

Close enough.

"What the hell?" I gesture at the bat in his hands.

Oh, I took out a possum in your hedgerow, there.

I stare at him. Rub my jaw. He looks okay.

"Again? Quit doing that, man. I just got rid of the last one I found in there, and now I know how it keeps happening." I'm not whimsical, either.

Mick laughs at me, a small laugh.

I'm kidding. This is a present I brought for you.

He holds the bat out, with his big paw obscuring the word Louisville, handle pointed skyward. I hesitate for a sec - in part because he never kids, in part because this isn't real - before grabbing it with one hand in the middle.

Mick doesn't let go, though. He suddenly seizes it with his other hand, hard, a lot of power in those mitts. I also grab it with my other hand, expecting to struggle for my life, lest I end up like one of his possums. He lets go with his bottom hand and then grabs it again, above mine, closer to the handle. So do I, and he again, and I again... Until his hand ends up on top. He wins.

We crack up together. He sounds okay.

"So what's with the slugger?" I have to ask.

Symbolism.

"I'll bite. It's symbolic of what? The fact that the Tigers are going to be f... fun to watch but not very good this year?"

Mick shakes his head and smiles.

No, man. It's to let you know you went down swingin'.

I look at my old partner in crime, gone two years now, the way a dog looks through a chain link fence.

 I know you wanted to hit a home run. You're a slap-hitter, like Rod Carew. You sprayed shots all over the field, ran a couple of guys into the wall. You got some singles and doubles and you hit a few foul balls into the crowd. You played a good game.

"But?"

But you struck out, kid.

Ah, he's crossed a line. "I'm older than you, Minnow." (Minnow was his nickname; he said it was Dutch for Mick.) He is unfazed.

Struck out. Game over, man.

I look at the bat in my hands, heft it. It feels okay.

Your sister is in good hands. You don't need to be tied up in a court case with some sicko. That was never your purpose.

"My purpose," I say slowly and clearly and honestly, "as you know, is to win."

Mick shakes his head.

It was to protect your family. You did that for long enough. It's all in the hands of others now. You need to protect yourself.

I go out of my way to look dubious, a look of mine that he knows all too well. I get what he's laying down, all right, but the way it smells... It's not okay.

He does not care.

The stands are emptying out. The lights are turning off. Walk away, champ. You did all you could. You didn't lose. You knew you wouldn't.

"Didn't win, either."

You knew you wouldn't.

I look away.

Get out of there.

I keep looking away. But he didn't come all the way down here to give up, either. Thusly, he and I have ever interacted.

It's like this, man...

(It's like this: Mick always means it when the first three words out of his mouth are, it's like this.)

Suppose you had rabies, like our friend in the hedgerow there...

Mick has the wisdom of the ages - wisdom being different than logic or engineering - that has been handed down to him through generations, stuff like, "If you wish in one hand and shit in the other, which one gets full the fastest?". So I oblige.

You have rabies, dude.

Now I'm looking at him.

"I have rabies."

Yup. If you didn't know it before, you do now, 'cause I just told you.

"So, I'm rabid."

Yes.

Behind him, I see the snow falling, adding a layer to the white blanket covering the Ford Escort ZX2 in the driveway, which needs brakes. I feel a little sad that he hasn't noticed it.

And you know it. So you have to do the responsible thing.

"I don't know what that is." I smirk.

Well then I'll tell you. If you knew you had rabies, you'd chain yourself to a tree and throw the key out of reach before you started foaming at the mouth. You know why.

His words leave a certain taste in my mouth. I don't like it. "For everyone else's sake."

He leans in close.

And yours, man. Ya gotta let it go. It's okay. It's gonna be okay.

It has been a long time. I put the bat down, leaning it against the wall by the door, as good a place for it as any.

Ya gotta let us go, Heller. Charlie's up here with me. Theresa's down there with you. Neither one of us has any reason to worry.

I nod, look down. It seems like our little talks always ended this way.

Step out of the batter's box. You're done.

I say it. Head still bowed, I kick chalk dust and dirt with the toe of my shoe as I say it, hoping to get some on Mick as a last act of cheap revenge against my messenger, but he is gone, so he doesn't hear me:

"Okay."

pH 2.o6.18

***


Friday, January 19, 2018

Ode to a Public Servant

Dear Commissioner,

It has been one year now since I first brought my concerns to you, my elected representative, about my nephew's tragic death as it relates to County Medical Examiner Dr. Joyce deJong.

At that time, you may recall, I was urged to back off and keep quiet and let the attorneys work the problem. We did that. Nothing changed, except for the County Corporation Counsel, which gave us a fresh round of empty promises last November... And she even told us that you, Commissioner Hall, were "not at liberty" to discuss this issue with Theresa, my sister, Charlie's mom.

Not at liberty.

               .

Now that you've waited us out, I assume this means you are still not at liberty to discuss it with her, me or anybody else, and this breaks my heart not just as a grieving person, but as a citizen... I'll tell you why, if you have a free moment.

In 1976, in the South Westnedge Elementary School's Bicentennial Parade, I proudly pushed my parents' old lawnmower along, decked out with red, white and blue ribbons. That's also about the time you start learning about George Washington and the cherry tree. And, from there, the American Revolution.

It all clicked for me. Patriotism. I put my hand over my heart and pledged allegiance to the flag. I sang the dusty old songs about our sweet land of liberty. It made perfect sense. I love my Mom. I played baseball. I ate apple pie... Hook, line and sinker: I believed.

This belief carried on throughout my schooling - history, government, political science. I delivered the Kalamazoo Gazette for years, and read it every day. I wrote Letters to the Editor, most of which were published in the paper. My folks would cut them out and magnet them to the refrigerator door, where they fluttered until they were brittle and tan.

If I had never lived anywhere else, this entire horrific experience would lead me to believe that it was all merely another myth designed to make me behave. Liberty... Poof. I might suppose the same thing about Justice, too, since they go together like peanut butter and chocolate, like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

But I didn't stay here, thank God... I went off and lived in Phoenix for 15 years, during which I watched Maricopa County government writhe and squirm in its own soilbed of corruption. Blogged about it in real time. Trust me. I know bad government when I'm looking at it.

Then I came back home, to enjoy my extended family. You know. Before the little ones grew up.

And amid the worst circumstances you can imagine - assuming you are at liberty to do so - through my tears I recognized it in Kalamazoo County: Bad government, whether you were willing to acknowledge it, to stop it, or go along with it because that was the path of least resistance.

As a citizen, I don't have to beg for representation, Tracy. I get to demand it. I live in District Three and you are my elected official. Mine, as John Taylor was before you, and whoever will be after.

As a citizen, I refute what my other public employee, the County Corporation Counsel, said about you. I am the one who gives you that liberty through the Founding Fathers before me, and every soldier who fought and died in between their day and ours.

As a citizen, my will should have superceded any supercilious attempts to strip you of your right to speak freely to us, your constituents. You lost sight of the fact that your responsibility is to the voters, not to some bureaucrat named Amber, who clearly has no understanding of her place in the political food chain.

Let this serve as a reminder.

As you did not uphold that which you have sworn to, please tell me when the County Commission meets in a setting in which the public may address the Commission. As your constituents, I guess we have to represent ourselves.

pH o1.19.18

***

Sunday, January 14, 2018

To End All Wars

On Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a day that will live in infamy, my Dad, Dr. Charles F. Heller, Jr., had just turned ten years old, growing up in Kansas City, Missouri. He heard an important news bulletin come in over the radio, and he ran out to the backyard to tell his folks what he had heard:

The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

He didn't know where Pearl Harbor was, didn't know who the Japanese were... But it was bad, he could tell, from the alarming voices coming through the speaker. His parents didn't make a big deal out of it, he said, but the war was on.

By August of 1945, three and a half years later, the Emperor of Japan (thought by his people to be a god) shuffled out onto the deck of the USS Missouri and signed the surrender papers. This forever set the benchmark for American exceptionalism and established the United States as a Superpower.

Three and a half years. By that time, my dad had grown up quite a bit. Boys really do between the age of ten and almost 14 years.

This was my nephew Charlie's last video. My sister found it quite awhile after her son passed away having just barely turned 12 years old.

It shows his state of mind pretty accurately, not much different from other kids at that age. A couple of years older than his Granddad was when he heard about Pearl Harbor, couple years younger than his Granddad was when President Truman (another great Missourian) wrapped things up with those two A-Bombs.

World War II... Huh. Over and done with, all sides of the globe, three and a half years. And not just Japan, but Hitler, too. Quite a bloody feat.

Of course, wars can go on forever, if neither side has an advantage, but both wish to continue fighting. Later on, the historians enjoy the luxury of calling it madness.

Our struggle with Kalamazoo County, and the Medical Examiner (among others), in a spat about nothing like the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, well... It's only been two and a half years now.

And grinding on.

So like the boy at the end of the video says: "Let's get started, shall we? Thank you... And I will see you again soon."

pH o1.14.18

***

Monday, November 6, 2017

VRROOOMM, VVRRROOOOMMM


The Time:  Late Spring, 1987.
The Place: Kalamazoo, Michigan

I am 19 years old, and already on my third car. 

The first one was great, "Christine", a 1972 Plymouth Fury III, a gold two-door with a black vinyl roof. It was probably 14 feet long and weighed a couple of tons. It took a tremendous beating from me; the strain was beyond its capacity.

The second car was okay. I thought I was buying a Pioneer car stereo with Clarion door speakers for $125... That's what the ad said. The mint-green '68 Chevy Biscayne sedan just came with it is all. It had a 250 c.i.d. inline 6-cylinder engine,  and worse yet, a 3-speed manual transmission with a column shifter (my first stick-shift). Bigger and slower than Christine, it was still a fun car, until the frame broke six months after I got it.

Then came The Car, the greatest car I've ever owned or will ever own, to my mind. It was a 1974 Pontiac Formula Firebird. Not the "Flaming Chicken" Trans Am, the Formula, with the double hood scoop. Under that hood was a small block 400 V8 with headers. It didn't just sound fast - it was really fast. It came with McPherson struts and sticky Goodyear Eagle GT tires, so it could handle the fast.

Which brings us to late Spring, 1987. I was a college man, yet I still maintained some interest in my little brother, who was just 12 years old then. It was a beautiful day outside when the circumstances found us both bored and at home at the same time.

"Hey," I said with the kind of cool casualness that only Big Brothers can possess. "You wanna drive my car?"

***

The first Hot Wheels car I got for my nephew Charlie was, I believe, the purple 1971 Dodge Challenger. I picked it up for him while shopping not long after Christmas. Part of an unofficial "caught you being good" campaign that I was running. He was on the computer when I dropped it on the table by his mouse-hand.

"That's for you," I said. Without reaching for it at all, he stared at it for a few seconds, then resumed play. Not unlike Charlie. A couple of days later, while at the store, I got him a second one, a 1969 Dodge Charger, blue and silver.

"That's for you," I said. "You ever gonna open the other one?" As his Mom and I watched, he got the small packages torn open. Charlie carefully turned the Charger around and over in his soft, boneless hands.

"You can tell they're not cheap," he said, studying the tiny replica of such a fearsome, legendary Detroit machine.

***

Even with the seat pulled all the way forward, my kid brother could barely see over the long, midnight-blue double-barrelled hood of the Formula Firebird.

"Okay," I said. "Start the engine." He hesitated with a slightly uncertain look.

"Turn the key," I said.

***

I found myself visiting the toy aisle at just about every store I went into. That's the nice thing about Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars. They're small, they're unbreakable, they are in fact cheap, and the retailers love all those qualities about the product as much as the customers do, maybe more.

Hot Wheels in particular is very good about making actual cars that were on the road, as opposed to fanciful dune buggies, stuff like that. So I was able to show Charlie the different evolutions that took place in Michigan's great automotive history. The way the Mustang and the Corvette became what they are today.

Due to the company's licensing agreements with the automakers themselves, you'll find that many of the cars are even coated with factory code sparkle-metallic paint.

So I got pretty excited when I found The Car hanging from a hook at the store. My car. Not the "Flaming Chicken" Trans Am. The Formula Firebird.

"Here," I said as I gave it to Charlie, with the kind of casual coolness that only Uncles can possess. "I actually owned that one."

***

The Pontiac's fire-breathing engine rumbled to life at the twitch of the boy's fingertips. He had ridden in the car before, knew it was more powerful than other cars - not just because of its menacing looks.

"Poke the gas pedal with your foot," I told him. He pushed earnestly on the brake pedal. "The other pedal. Just jab it once, don't stomp it down." He stomped it. The engine raced up fast, which scared him, and he got off it.

"Okay, good." I said. "That's how it responds. We're just going to the end of the street and bringing it back up. You won't need to hit the gas much."

He nodded... He was never much scared of anything, now that I think about it.

"Put your foot on the brake," I instructed, "and hold it there." He did. As the Thrush glasspacks burbled away, I pushed the button on the console shifter, and clunked the lever into 'D'.

***

Charlie didn't really play with the Hot Wheels cars in the traditional sense, he never set them up into demolition derbies, or raced them down the tracks that he already had to do that with. He just liked to display them, as if they were tiny models, which I guess they are.

The collection grew to a pretty good size, nearly a hundred cars at the end, and he had them positioned (as if at a miniature car dealership) on a big, tall desk in front of the wall-to-wall windows on the front porch that offered a panoramic view of the front yard.

***

My plan was to keep my hand on the shifter, which could be slapped into Neutral easily enough. We might get loud, I figured, but we would not go tearing off willy-nilly down the idyllic cul-de-sac where we grew up.

The kid, strangling the leather-wrapped steering wheel with both hands, took his foot off the brake pedal and the Formula immediately began to move.

"Give it a little gas," I said as it gained momentum, "not a lot." Then I bumped it into Neutral just before he mashed on the pedal, like I knew he would. The engine roared up and rapped down. I advised him to barely touch it, and he got the hang of it.

We worked our way through the turn at the end of the cul-de-sac, as my brother's young brain grew new dendrites and created new mapping skills, developed motor functions, everything.

Once we got it pointed due north, and we had some straight away to work with, I made the decision:

"Okay, buddy," I said. "Punch it!"

***

After my nephew Charlie died, there was a slight rush to get a lot of his things out of the house. The desk, which was blocking the view of the area of the yard where the accident happened, had to go.

And so did the Hot Wheels cars. Charlie had a lot of friends, and the collection was divided up among them. The only two that didn't go were new ones, still in the package, that I had purchased but had not yet given to him. One, a red Ford truck, went to his little sister (his dad's daughter).

The other was another '71 Challenger, just like very first one he ever got, only in Royal maroon and black... Yeah, that one's mine.

***

"HOW COULD YOU BE SO IRRESPONSIBLE!" My Mom wanted to know. "He could've been killed! You could've been killed! Anybody could've been killed!"

"Nobody got killed," I pointed out in my defense. "All we did was go up and down Robin Lane. No big deal." But it was a big deal to her - she wanted to throw me out the house for it. I think my Dad persuaded her that boys do crazy, stupid shit like that all the time, because she didn't stay mad at either one of us for very long.

And it was a big deal to my little brother. The power and violence of internal combustion. The sulfur stench of burning gasoline. The thick white smoke, the hideous screaming of rubber tearing against asphalt. The blood sinking back in your veins as the leather seat pushes on your head and shoulders. The involuntary trembling that all those horses put you through...

For both of us, it was worth the trouble.

***

Boys will be boys, that's what they say. And if they are lucky, despite themselves, they grow up to be men. Every childhood is a gauntlet of risk. Nobody knows that better than we, my brother and I.

We knew it pretty well then. We know it a whole lot better now.

pH 11.o6.17


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