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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Kept at Bay


Abuse of power, as we have seen in recent and current events, has a tendency to backfire on those who wield it with the tightest grip. Some call it karma... I call it sweeeeet.

Whether the piggish one was a producer, a star, a journalist, an athlete, a statesman... It doesn't matter. In modern-day America, even the president of the United States faces pressure to step down.

And rightly so. Although today's High Def society has amplified the nature and the knowledge of their bad behavior, bosses going too far is nothing new in human history; there is precious little else to human history. It certainly predates the violent, rupturous birth of our nation.

In fact, it was an employee of the Crown who first explored much of North America. After its discovery, the royal cartographers were even good enough to name a river in Manhattan after him: Henry Hudson.

Actually, Hudson was working for the Dutch on that particular expedition. Great Britain didn't like that. They castigated him for working for a foreign power, and then tasked him with finding the mythical Northwest Passage, a route to the Orient going through the ice packed North Pole.

Hudson tried several times, without success, not knowing that global warming would one day open the route wide, or that he had already seen a New World that would soon enough dwarf the treasures of Asia. Whatever else he was, Henry Hudson wasn't one to look past the horizon.

Hudson's abuse of power, however, ran into its own brand of opposition on June 22nd, 1611. The long, brutal Arctic winter had finally ended, the waters were free of ice and could be navigated again... And his men wanted to go home. Hudson, being Hudson, wanted to press on. He insisted. He scolded. He ordered.

So his crew mutinied. Of course they did. To make their point, they left the great Henry Hudson and his few loyalists out there to freeze to death, adrift in a rowboat, in the icy waters of what is now known as Hudson Bay. For good measure, they threw his young son in the boat with him.

Then they sailed The Discovery back to England, docked it, and scurried on back to their lives. There wasn't much of an inquiry, despite a bit of a bloody mess inside Hudson's ship. Nobody knows what became of the explorer Henry Hudson. There is no grave for anyone to visit. No person was ever charged with any crime over his demise.

Even to the English, so historically indifferent to the suffering of others, Hudson had simply gone too far, too far! Perhaps there was a better understanding then that those who abused power did so at their own peril. If they didn't know it in 1611, the point was certainly emphasized in 1776.

We've obviously come a long way since then. Today, we are free to speak truth to power, to challenge the wrongs perpetrated upon the weak by the strong, be it in government, entertainment, business, wherever.

We don't have to wait so long that the resentment builds to a boiling point, one that might have resulted in bloodshed in earlier times. But, then again, maybe it's the unsharpened edge of civilization that allows it to fester anyway.

There aren't that many ways for it to end. We keep looking for the right one. This country is supposed to be the place where we won't have to repeat that vicious cycle, the cruel lessons taught (and learned) by men like Mister Hudson... The last thing he ever discovered.

pH 12.16.17

***

Monday, November 20, 2017

Helter Skelter


"Charlie's got a long reach, man."

That's a line from the chilling made-for-TV movie "Helter Skelter", the account of the Manson Family murders and the prosecution of those who carried them out, including Charles Miles Manson, who died today. The person was explaining his reticence to say anything about Manson, even though he was locked up by that time.

As conveyed brilliantly by actor Steve Railsback, who literally took possession of the lead character, Charlie did indeed have a long reach.

Culturally, that has also proven to be true. I first heard that name when I was a little kid, when the older neighbor kid told me all about it. (This is also how I learned about the Vietnam War.) I remember "Barracuda", by Heart, was playing on the radio as he explained all the gory details.

When his death sentence was converted to a life sentence by the Supreme Court, the closure was ripped away for a terrified nation. To put in context the fear and dread that everyone felt, consider that Manson was responsible for more deaths on US soil than was the Soviet Union. The exposure to uncertainty, about a matter which had already been so painfully adjudicated, was just not fair.

By that time, though, America had grown used to just not fair. A president had been murdered, and then his brother, literally wiping out the icons of our last idealistic era. Our disillusionment, the fading of our nation's colors, would go on long after Manson - the war spilled on endlessly, amidst Watergate and inflation and energy crises.

In commuting Manson's capital punishment, essentially undoing the hard work of prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi (played perfectly by George DiCenzo in the movie), the Supreme Court cheated us all. The very system that was supposed to be our final backstop somehow opened up a hole for a ball of evil to roll through. To add insult to injury, taxpayers had to foot the bill to keep Manson alive for five decades.

This, the penalty for a dozen lives, brutal killings that put the whole country in shock. The American people rightly felt like they were the ones who had been sentenced. The last chapter of that penny dreadful has finally been written, but by now, not many people really notice. We are numb.

In 2016, there were 40,200 traffic fatalities in the United States. There were around 64,000 fatal opioid overdoses. And there were more than 10,000 firearm fatalities. 114,000 deaths combined - not the work of a madman on a hippie ranch in sunny Southern California. These are matters that could be managed, regulated, legislated, controlled, but they aren't. Not well enough, obviously.

A maniac in Vegas gunned down a whole concert full of people; we went on with our day. Bodies are falling all around us. We've lost half a million people in the last five years due to just those three categories I mentioned. It's just not fair. And we just don't care.

I have to care. My best friend died of an overdose in 2016. Throw him on the statistical pile if you want to, I can't do that. Now consider how many people die of heart attacks, who die of cancer, who die in accidents. It all changed over time with context, it did, I'm telling you...

Charlie's got a long reach.

pH 11.2o.17

***

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


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Speaking of Sports

First of November, Twenty-Seventeen. Eleven One, ah yes. The cold brings out the competitor in all of us. Just ask the white tail deer as the peak of rut coincides with the transition from archery to firearm hunting seasons. Or the mallards as they fight for the last spot of open water on an icy pond.

The start of this month also marks the perfect confluence of professional sports. The World Series is reaching it's zenith. Football is steaming along, albeit through rolling waters. Basketball has gotten it's feet wet. And, on a binary sports planet somewhere in the universe, it is hockey season.

My nephew, Charlie, would be a 9th grader this year. High school...That's hard to fathom. Even though he would be bigger, like these neighborhood kids have gotten, a freshman is truly a small fry in the world.

But my first year at venerable Loy Norrix High School (Go, Knights!), I thought I was the toughest thing standing upright. That is how the kid would feel now if he could only be among us... It's hard to reconcile, both in the Now and in the Then, the way a 9th grader feels as opposed to what a 9th grader is.

I can't see myself ever having thought about it that way under any better circumstances. But that is how it would be for him, the way it is for everyone else.

By that age, I had played Little League baseball and was in a bowling league. I couldn't ice skate, but we played full contact street hockey in the winter in my neighborhood, every bit as brutal as the tackle football games we engaged in, and way more so than Gorilla Basketball in the driveway.

So we were sporty kids, sure, a whole neighborhood full of us. A generation later, Charlie was no different. He was a participant in hometown hero Derek Jeter's baseball camp in his last two years of life. He, too, had a bowling trophy, and a golf trophy to boot. He played soccer. He was trained in judo. He scored touchdowns.

Many people will tell you that the first twelve years are the best ones, anyway. After that, you have to start dealing with your looks, your clothes, acne, the school dance. Through all of that you have to focus on grades, and exams, so you can get to college. Then it becomes about money - a job, taxes - so you can get a car - insurance, registration - and on you tumble down the road. Until you don't.

Or until one day, you look up, and you're singing Amazing Grace at your 12-year old nephew's funeral. And helping your sister survive an awful despair against which all are powerless when it finally gets to them (then on they tumble, too).

Some things, you can't outscore, or outrun, or hide from in the woods. Some things, even this time of year, you can't fight back.

pH 11.o1.17

***

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Hollows Eve


What's to - hang on. (Hey, what's today's date, is this the 26th? Hah? Technically, the 27th... Okay, great.)

Alright. Upon sunrise of the morrow, there will be scantily four days until Halloween, a popular holiday in America and around the world. The prospect of receiving free candy has, apparently, universal appeal.

By now, you know what this is about, so I won't bother beating you over the head with stories of Trick-or-Treat Past. I won't festoon cyberspace with tales of the price that must be paid to get that candy, the horrors that have to be endured.

It's too late for that. That was last year. And last year my sister's house was done up in the spirit of the Season of the Witch. Enough young socialists-in-training showed up to make it all worthwhile - the Jacks O'Lantern, the scary music, the blood-soaked ax buried in the block of wood, the anti-dental goodies...

It went over. Sure it did. Fright Night. But none of those young socialists-in-training was Charlie.

This year could be the same, if she felt like it, but four days out, not a sign of the holiday is evident. No knives or candles have invaded the pristine bodies of pumpkins, spilling their guts and carving crude faces out of their agony.

There are no clattering glow-in-the-dark plastic skeletons. No dangling rubber bats. No fake spiderwebs. No spooky music or creepy lights. All that stuff remains in the basement.

There isn't even any candy in the cupboards this week, and there normally is, year round.

Tomorrow will come and go, and nothing will get done about this, and then it will be three days away from Halloween. The house will be no closer to where it should be to properly honor the dark hours of the event.

But at least tomorrow will have come and gone.

pH 1o.27.17

***


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Illucid Dreaming


Lucid Dreaming. Heard of it? It's the idea that one can control one's dreams if one can simply become aware (lucid) of the fact that one is in a dream state, and not bound by the laws of reality. This is how a mundane dream about digging potatoes can suddenly turn into a Flying Cowboy dream - and boy howdy, let me tell you, it doesn't get any better'n that.

The key to becoming lucid in a dream state, I have read, is not dissimilar to what Carlos Castaneda wrote about (except that his "dreams" were hallucinations brought on by the ingestion of psychedelic plant matter). Castaneda's moment of control came when he believed he had seen a monster out of the corner of his eye.

His first instinct was to flee, but he forced himself to focus on the monster, which turned out to be a shrub. He insisted to himself that he must stare at the thing, must ascertain its identity, must figure it out... And the shrub became as fascinating as the monster was terrifying.

Anyway, they (the supposed experts) say that one way to attain lucidity in a dream is to think about your hands as you are falling asleep. Hold them in front of your eyes as your lids slide closed, and say out loud to yourself, "Look at your hands... Look at your hands..." Kind of like counting sheep but with a way different purpose.

Then, if a particular dream becomes too vexing (like the one where I can't get a ride to someplace, so I start walking, and it starts raining but it isn't rain falling from the sky, only tiny lizards that wriggle and squirm into the gutters after bouncing rudely on the ground), you just... look at your hands. Once you have accomplished that monumental subconscious task, you become aware - Hey, I Did It! After that, like I said, Flying Cowboy.

Look at your hands. Look at your hands. Look at your hands.

Yeah, look at them. They're scarred, skinned, singed, scraped. Once described by my dear mother as "piano hands", they now look like undercooked pork chops with fingers. The knuckles have been calcified into cornices. Look at them. They've been crippled, crushed, crimped into crab claws. The calluses have no nerve endings under them anymore. Look at them. Look at what's left of them.

I used to tease Charlie about his soft, boneless hands (that's what I called them). I used to tell him they would someday find his body in the desert next to the jug of water that he was unable to open. He found a way to be indignant and still get a laugh out of it at the same time. The horrible fact is that my nephew never got the chance to turn his hands into anything like mine.

Look at them.

I've been using them while I still can, because life is not a dream; I still have to fix the car when it breaks. I still have to build shelving units to hold all the tools I use to build shelving units. Still have to get in a kitchen and work with them every night. Still have to type.

I find woodworking to be beneficial - not to my hands but to my mind, which is far more fitful in its waking state than it could ever be in the respite of REM sleep. Building things is a good way to kill the time when you'd much rather be killing something else.

When the project is complete, I have transformed a few bucks' worth of lumber into a table, or a shelf, or a nightstand, or a ladder. Something I can use, that I can trust, that I can rely on, because I know how it was made, what materials went into it. I don't have to feel too terrible about the working conditions of the poor guy who had to perform all that labor. And that which occupies my hands also occupies my mind (math, mostly).

That which I cannot grasp with my hands or my mind rests none too lightly on my shoulders. But I can't make a dream better by saying, "Look at your shoulders." They are broad and strong, the basis of many a bill of lading. They are tired and sore from the weight of angels and devils sitting on them. Angels and devils, saying, "Look at your hands."

Look at them.

Trying to pick up the thing they dropped, one priceless, shattered piece at a time.

Bleeding as the shards sink into the skin.

Breaking as the weight becomes too heavy to carry anymore.

Feeling along the floorboards hoping to find anything that might help.

Pushing back against my eyes as if to keep the pressure from bursting out through them.

Balling into stony fists as I lose control of, not a dream, but my nightmare, the one I go to sleep to get away from every night. Go on...

Look at them.

***

pH 1o.17.17



Tuesday, October 3, 2017

So Fast


See, the thing about Charlie is that he can never be made to fit the profile of a "teenager". He was only a couple of months into his 12th year. His choice of games, downloads and videos that he made himself were evidence enough of that... He was still just a little guy.

Even (or especially) his handwriting bore that out. He never learned cursive, let's just leave it at that. His Mom just came across a pile of Charlie's missives. Among them were his persistent and devoted free advertisements for (as in, on behalf of) Jimmy John's Subs.

There is a location within walking distance of the house, so it was kind of something he grew up with, and even the interiors of his Mom's car were plastered with their stickers: Subs So Fast You'll Freak. And there among the sheaf of papers she found were several of his own offerings to the world of restaurant marketing, in his pencil-printed child's scribe:

Subs So Fast You'll Freak.

Subs So Fast, You'll Freak.

Subs So Fast You Will Freak.

He wanted everyone to know. And to Charlie, the only thing better than walking down to Jimmy John's, or driving through at Jimmy John's, was having Jimmy John's delivered. My sister and her son would spend more than a fair amount of time in front of the computer screen, surveying the menu, deciding what to order. They would then place The Call.

Once the preliminary task was completed, they would start counting the minutes.

Considering the fact that a vehicle with no coolant in its system could motor up to her house (and back) with no problem, it never took the driver longer than maybe seven or eight minutes to make the trip. Charlie was always duly impressed, and he was happy to know that the driver got to keep the tip money that he got for being so freaking fast.

On one occasion, I was in the back part of the house, and heard them going through the ordering process, crafting it, in accordance with the menu and money aspects that they had already figured out beforehand. As I heard his Mom concluding the purchase order, I quietly exited through the back door.

I snuck down the walkway between the house and the garage, keeping the window air conditioner in between me and their view of the outside world - but they were watching the clock. For all they knew, I was still in the kitchen.  It was a mild, pleasant afternoon, and the AC was not running, so I could hear what they were saying inside.

I heard Charlie, barely a minute after the phone call had concluded: "I wonder how long it will take them to get here?" That's when I stepped right up to the front door and knocked on it loudly.

The door opened, and Charlie's face went through a three-part morph, each expression more pronounced than the one before it. Frame One: He really thinks it's freaking Jimmy John's. Frame Two: It's only Uncle Paul, who clearly thinks this is funny. Frame Three... It's not funny.

Except that it was. That was the kind of thing that Charlie really liked. Goofy stuff. Silly stuff. Playful stuff. Kid stuff.

He was still a puppy.

Well, puppies don't always make it. They get hit in the road sometimes, or they get sick, or a bigger dog gets to them, or... And it's always sad. But that doesn't mean they didn't enjoy their run, the entirety of it. Oh, they did. Bounding along, never knowing, every day, through life.

Life so fast, you'll freak.

pH 1o.o3.17

***

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Benedictions for a Peninsula


It is here. No, not football season. That is well underway. The monster. It's here. It's eating Florida alive.

Charlie absolutely loved Florida. His big sister lives there, and he visited her often, with his last trip (by himself, big boy!) coming just a couple of months before he left us.

He got to go to a something like a zoo, where people can interact with wild animals. The pictures of young Charlie Wolf cuddling with wolf pups remain at once adorable and heartbreaking.

How he would chafe at returning to dreary, boring Michigan, the other peninsula, same as it has ever been, the place where not much excitement comes barreling into your existence.

By the end of the day, that wildlife zoo will be gone, just like Charlie, swept away in a disaster. The difference is we can see Irma coming. We can prepare for the shock and the sorrow, and stare in astonished horror into the uncaring eye of the approaching hurricane.

Florida faces this storm with the prayers and benedictions of an entire world behind them, and not much else. But, after the worst has passed, Uncle Sam will be there to lift them up, hold them in his arms, and try his best to make them whole.

That is truly the least an uncle can do.

pH 9.1o.17

***

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Fall


The heat finally broke. It's almost as if the moon wiped it clean off the face of the sun during the eclipse. All week it was brutal and muggy, and now, cool as one of the cucumbers we've been pulling out of the garden.

It's almost over - we'll harvest the food, turn the Earth, and wait for the rain to become snow the way caterpillars morph into butterflies - or like a negative of that.

This is not to be confused with the Farmer's Almanac, though. For my nephew Charlie, this was a bittersweet time of year. He chafed at the thought of going back to school, spending his time parked in the classroom instead of doing (as one of his teachers put it) pretty much whatever it was he wanted to do.

I was not the kind of uncle to let it slip his mind, either. "Sixteen," I would say to him on a random sunny day.

"Sixteen what?"

"Sixteen days left until the First Day of School!" Followed by his groans. Charlie loved to groan... It runs in the family.

The good part, though, was the new school clothes. Both my sister and Charlie's Dad had keen ideas about how a boy should be dressed for school. They weren't necessarily on the same page (or even looking at the same catalog), but that provided him with a broad fashion spectrum from which to choose, and Charlie liked that, too.

But soon enough the leaves would turn and then drop, and the bicycle would be put in the shed in exchange for the sled, and the rake swapped out with the snow shovel. Those fancy new duds would be buried, first under a coat, then under a hat and scarf, and finally disappear beneath an outright snow suit.

This is
the way the world turned for Charlie and his Mom. And for me, the not-silent observer.


And then, one day, the world just... Stopped.

These last few summer days will run out like beads off the end of a string. The school buses will still rumble by the house. The impending season, this time before us, is sometimes called Autumn. But we know it as the fall.

pH 8.22.17

***



Saturday, July 29, 2017

Back in Time


Well, we got through it; three days have passed since 26th July, the darkest square on my calendar. Last Wednesday marked twain years since our extended family flock lost its second-youngest lamb.

As I mentioned to my brother, quite a while ago now, go back in time to that terrible night. After all the neighbors and the cops and the medics and the chaplain and Charlie had gone away, he and I stood in the driveway and looked ahead at a long road that disappeared into murky blackness.

Didn't know how long it was. Didn't know where it would take us. But we were on it, all right, going full-tilt boogie with no headlights, no GPS, no speedometer, no seatbelts.

Now, quite the opposite. We rolled through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. We fear no evil. The road hasn't ended yet... I suspect our muscle-car era vehicles will break down before it ever does. Whatever.

We can look back now, in the light of day, and see the route we traveled. Some rough terrain, to be sure.

***

But nobody can live that way forever.

***

Although it takes quite a bit of (s)training, we've got to do it. We Hellers have got to stop ticking the time away from Charlie's tragic death as the starting point, as the Big Bang to our universe.

What we have become is who we are, yep, I get that. Still, we didn't teleport here. Nobody beamed us up.

It's both effortless, and not - letting your mind return to those easier, less painful times. Forgetting what you know. It is both helpful, and not. I don't just mean this thing. I mean everything, everyone.

Charlie's passing on July 26th, 2015 and all that has followed was our family's private 9/11. September 11th, 2001 was America's 9/11. Lost are the loved ones.

As described here, we have been engaged in a personal conflict ever since 7/26. America has been engaged in a global conflict since 9/11. What was lost cannot be found.

The road is closed.

But remember what it was like on September 10th of that year? It was a really nice day. Kids were settling into their school routines. The summer warmth had slacked off but the leaves were nowhere near turning color.

The night was capped off by Monday Night Football. It was Ed McCaffrey's last game. The Denver Broncos' wide receiver broke his leg. Falling asleep on pain killers that night, he probably figured his life had changed forever.

The next morning, it all came crashing down, out of a clear blue sky.

That is not where America's road began. But we treated it that way, and now look where we are: Billions of miles away from where we were, no end in sight (unless you mean that cliff up ahead).

***

That's not gonna to happen to us, Charlie. I will not remember you merely as my nephew who died, but as that spirited little boy who lived for 12 years, who made my sister happier than anything else in her life ever had.

That doesn't go away, kid... Not on my watch.

pH 7.29.17

***

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Songbird

***

   The words we would say
   as the time slipped away
   our carriage the horses had drawn.
   Through fields and farms
   I held you in my arms
   and wondered what cloud I was on.

***

You like that, eh? Everybody does. It's concise, a little abstract, but you still know what it's about... It's pretty good, if I may say so myself.

I wrote it for a girl I know. I'll call her Mel. We met at a bar where I was drinking and she was working. We struck up an odd friendship. We talked a lot about life. I found out she writes poetry, too.

Mel is very young, but already had a couple of kids from her teenage years. Like most young people with children, she struggled at times. When the bar job fell apart suddenly, I asked my boss to give up some telephone work to help bridge the employment gap (and stopped patronizing that establishment.)

I spent a few bucks on her family for Christmas that year, because I could tell she wasn't exactly able to shower them with gifts. Santa scored some fuzzy socks and slippers for Mel, too.

After that, we drifted apart, and she was mostly gone from my transom. Got married, had some more kids. We stayed only occasionally in touch electronically. She was like a bird who used to sing by my window, but then flew away, and only once in a while would I hear her again.

I managed to get in touch with Mel after Charlie's tragic, fatal accident. With a house full of boys, it was more than she wanted to ponder. I ran into her just once after, about a year ago now, and we had a nice talk. And then she took wing again. Of course she did.

I got to thinking about Mel last night, my young old friend, wondered how she was doing. When I gave in to the urge to look her up, the first thing I found was a GoFundMe page under her name.

I didn't want to click on it. I know that those are often people seeking funds for the purposes of giving their loved ones who have passed a decent, dignified burial. Or to carry on good works in their names.

So I clicked on it - and there was her smiling face! Mel was raising money so that she and her husband could legally adopt his two young kids from their own struggling mother, who wanted to go to Florida and had agreed to sign her parental rights away. (These things happen.)

Mel's page said they needed a couple hundred dollars per child, and another couple hundred on top that for a "home check fee". Many people had ponied up already, and she was within $25 of reaching her goal, accomplishing her mission.

I'd post a link to her page, but I don't have to, after making the capstone donation myself. Congratulations, kiddo. It was my pleasure.

***

As we have seen in this space, there are forces in the world that have no problem tearing families apart. I am happy to have been able to help someone, a good person, put a family together. I get to smile as I watch them fly away.

pH 7.16.17

***


Friday, June 9, 2017

Ride

"You've never heard of the Millennium Falcon?…It's the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs." - Han Solo

***

I need a new car.

I'm still living in the last millennium, myself. I bought my 1999 Hyundai Elantra in 2011, from my man Roy at Dynamite Auto Sales in Phoenix, Arizona.

I was leaving town in a hurry, and needed wheels that could get me from there to here. I told him I had exactly two thousand bucks on me, and that I'd give him every penny of it to get me off the lot. I told him he could mail me the paperwork. He made it happen.

I'm pretty sure I hate this car.

That's no knock on Roy, who has helped me out many times. Dynamite didn't build the car. Hell, he gave it to me with brand new tires on it. But the power windows have never worked. The seatbelt constantly applies pressure to my left clavicle. It rides rough, sits too low, and displays no information on the radio.

It has hit me up for more than a few repairs: Wheel bearing. Radiator. Mass air flow sensor. Fuel pump. Clutch kit. Axle shaft. Driver's side door. Starter.

I am so sick of this car.

For all the grief it has given me, I've put over 50,000 miles on it. I've only found a couple other Elantras in our regional junk yards, so I guess they never die. It blows heat. The rust-free Arizona undercarriage is still solid. It gets 40 miles to the gallon on the freeway.

I can't get rid of this car.

As it sits, it still needs rear struts. The exhaust is cobbled together with soup cans and radiator clamps. It's time for tires again. The windows will never be right.

Try selling a car in that condition. Am I about to sink $500 into it to get $500 more out of it? No... Am I to sell it for $500 as is and then spend all that plus much more to replace it? With what? 

I am stuck with this car.

It has earned a few nicknames. The Gray Ghost. Little Grizzly. Millennium Falcon. It runs great, with a 16-valve, 2-liter engine mated to a short-throw, five-speed manual transmission. It's fast... Less than 12 parsecs.

The first time I had my nephew Charlie in the car, I warned him - Uncle Paul drives crazy sometimes. (And if you say that, you have to back it up.) Almost every time one of his buddies got in my car with him, he proudly informed them, "Better buckle up. Uncle Paul drives crazy sometimes."

He loved this car.

My place of employment was right by where his Dad lived, so I gave Charlie a lot of rides. He had to hear a good number of Uncle Paul stories. Some of them, he soaked right up. Others put him to sleep.

I sometimes put NPR on the radio for those rides, or on the many occasions on which I picked him up from school. At the conclusion of the journey, I often asked for his opinion on what they were talking about. And he'd give it to me.

I just don't want this car anymore.

I could really use a pickup truck. An automatic transmission would be a welcome difference, too. Up here, a four wheel drive is practically a must (though I'm telling you the truth: Little Grizzly has never gotten stuck).

The memories that are soaked into the oxidized paint, the grimy cloth interior, the greasy engine compartment - they make me want to part with it even though I would get almost nothing for it. And they make me keep it long after its day is done.

Maybe some of you have similar feelings; I don't know. I'll leave it at that. I have to go now. It's a beautiful afternoon...

I guess I'll wash the car.

pH 6.o9.17

***

Editor's Note:  On Thursday, September 14th, 2017, the Little Grizzly was sold for $200. The new owner indicated he would harvest its valuable organs and sell what remained as scrap metal.


"Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another." - Albert Einstein

*** 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day

***

Happy Birthday, Charlie! Look for the fireworks heading your way. Paper lanterns, too. Just like every year...

It's a party.

pH 5.29.17

***

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Let's Do the Numbers (Again)

If you view this blog in the web version, you will find a survey on the lower right side of the page, right above the picture of the starving cat. It asks,

"A body is found at the base of a cliff. No witnesses. What should a Medical Examiner conclude?" The options: Accidental, Undetermined, Homicide, Suicide or Not the ME's Call.

There's no rush to beat the buzzer or anything, just notice the results, from an admittedly small sample. Most people would call it Undetermined. A good portion say Accident. A fraction believe Homicide; a larger fraction didn't think it was the ME's call.

Nobody says Suicide. Zero percent.

I ran several similar polls on Twitter last year, using the same scenario, but not including the option about the ME's call. Suicide registered a statistical blip is all, with the vast majority of respondents divided between Accidental and Undetermined.

I can tell (call it researcher's intuition) that this makes sense to you. NSA guys can actually see you, through your camera, nodding your head in agreement as you read it... We know this.

It should make sense to you because it is the result of thousands of family tragedies that are broken down into raw data every year. So let's confirm your gut feeling with some numbers - again.

Start with 100,000 people, all kids age 14 and younger. Almost enough to fill The Big House at a University of Michigan football game. Just one of them will intentionally kill himself or herself. That's 1/1,000th of 1%.

Two out of three times, that child is a female.

In half of those suicides, drugs were either contributory or causative.

Only one in four will use suffocation/strangulation as their method of suicide - and that is nearly universally done in a clandestine manner.

Minorities or kids in poor neighborhoods are more likely. The top of the age range in this group is 14 years, and the incident rates drop significantly by the year... All of this, we know.

Charlie was a White boy, barely 12, with no drugs in his system when he died in his front yard while playing on a years-old "Tarzan"-style rope. No witnesses to the act. No suicide note. None of the well-known societal red flags.

White. Boy. 12. No drugs. Out in the open.

The chances of his death being a suicide are less than 1/4 of 1/2 of 1/3 of 1/1000th of 1 percent. It's something that simply has never happened before, not here, or anywhere else you can find.

Another, more plausible, statistic: Accidents are the leading cause of death in all children 14 and younger... This, too, we know.

But here in Kalamazoo, why, the government tends to view these things in any way that suits their purposes. No matter who it harms. Their motto here: Ready, Fire, Aim.

It is hysterically obvious by now that ME Joyce deJong got it wrong. A far better pathologist than her explained carefully to my sister the official (read: Legal) manner used to determine cause of death: Scene investigation, which they botched, toxicology results, which they didn't get back until 3 weeks later (100% clean at that) and police reports which they didn't even bother to have mailed to them until May of the following year.

When called to account, they said they based their horrifyingly irresponsible bullshit also on letters from concerned citizens - which the ME apparently did not read - and from, well, my blog.

(Sigh.)

I sure do miss Charlie. I wonder sometimes what it might have been like, to grieve normally, instead of having to do this. My dirty job.

Someday, though, I believe I will see him again, and together we will look down at this cruel little place, and we'll laugh and laugh, until our tears fall like rain. My big belly guffaw will roll down as the thunder. And Charlie's delighted cackle will crackle with the lightning... This, above all else, we know.

pH 5.17.17

***

Monday, May 8, 2017

Top Ten Reasons NOT to Attend WMed


Does anybody else out there miss David Letterman? Many people do. It's not that Stephen Colbert (Dave's replacement) is an inferior comedic talent, or that his ears aren't lined up straight, or his propensity to be vulgar when talking about Donald Trump... For me, it was The Top Ten List that put Letterman over the top.

Here, then, are my Top Ten Reasons NOT to Choose WMed as Your Medical School:

10. Low Ratings. This stuff matters more now that we have a reality TV star running our country. If you can't be Number One, then you'd better be a close second... Last time I checked, WMed was ranked 147th in the United States. That's pretty unimpressive, if you think about it. Statistically speaking, that means that 49 other states each have 3 better medical schools than WMU's Homer Stryker MD School of Medicine.

9. High Tuition. Compared to other medical schools, $46,000 tuition is considered to be quite elevated, and you know these things only go up. Moreover, since it is a private school, I'm pretty sure no local students would be able to use the Kalamazoo Promise as financial assistance in getting a degree from WMed... Perhaps one of their 50-odd students could clarify that for us in the Comments section below.

8. Terrible Weather. That's no secret. Look, it's now the 2nd week in May. The overnight low last night was below freezing across the entire state... They don't just call this place The Big Mitten because it's easily recognizable on the map.

7. The Campus Seems to be Cursed. The private medical school, while technically a nonprofit (whose Dean makes $400,000 a year), sits on the campus at Western Michigan University here in Kalamazoo. Yes, the Broncos had a great football season last year, then the coach rowed his boat on over to the University of Minnesota (likely for favorable climate). But it's not just that. In 2014 and in 2015, teenage girls were found dead in WMU dorm rooms for no physically obvious reasons. Both were ruled "cardiac arrest".

6. The Faculty is Often in Court. The ongoing civil rights lawsuit brought by David Ferris II against WMed's Joyce deJong (among others) also embroils deputy ME Rudy Castellani, who also heads up WMed's Neuropath department. Dozens of defense motions have been filed, and hundreds of exhibits have been dumped on Judge Robert Jonker's desk, in a tired old bid to delay the trial into chronological oblivion.

5. Dean Hal Jenson is a Mormon (Probably). In fairness to myself, I'm not banging on his, or anyone's, faith. But if he tithes to his church, then a portion of your tuition money heads that way, too. Maybe that kind of thing matters to you, maybe it doesn't. I'm just covering all the bases, that's all.

4. Too Much on Their Plate. It's hard enough, one might think, just to effort along as the nation's 147th ranked medical school, but actually WMed has a lot going on. For instance, half of their M.E. staff is also on the board of MAME, the Michigan Association of Medical Examiners. Joyce deJong logs time as an expert witness from case to case. This county contractor also offers pediatric care, ironically enough. And they are under contract to provide forensic pathology services not only to Kalamazoo County, but almost every other county in West Michigan, and Elkhart County in Indiana as well.

3. WMed is Not LCME Accredited! Nope, not yet... When we filed our complaint against WMed with the LCME in my nephew Charlie's case, they seemed very interested in all those county contracts to perform forensic pathology services. If WMed's accreditation to be a medical school is hung up, they can blame us. We can take it.

2. High Turnover? Ask former Compliance Officer and Associate Dean of Finance Tom Zavitz about that - if you can find him.

1. Charlie Wolf. My sister's little boy, as delightful and happy a kid as I ever did see, died in a tragic accident while playing in his front yard in July of 2015. The psychotic gun-nut that WMed sent to our house that night, Kai Cronin, falsely ruled it a suicide. WMed's chief "investigator", Lyin' Jo Catania, tried to sweep it under the rug. Even though we've proven all of that, the heartless bastards refuse to make it right.

Go find a good medical school, aspiring pupil... For this one is so very far beneath you.

pH 5.o8.17

***

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Headlines and Deadlines

The following are the actual headlines from local news stories that chronicle the years of ham-handed dysfunction at the county level in Kalamazoo, Michigan... No wonder we can't get anywhere with them; they're just a hot mess.

(Clicking on the headline itself will take you to the article.)

In Kalamazoo County, complaints surface about timely delivery of absentee ballots 




***


***

Sheriff's deputy gets $200,000 in breast pumping case 

***

Okay, that's probably enough. Clearly, better must be done by Kalamazoo County... The chances are you've never even heard of it before, so all you may know about it is this.

It is a nice place to live. The people here are good. But we suffer from terrible civil administration, which I suppose is logical, because we just can't attract that much blue-chip talent around here... Not like this.

So, look. I'm from here, but I haven't been here my whole life. I came up out of Maricopa County in Arizona. It covers over 9,000 square miles, home to the 5th largest city in the United States.

It used to make the national news more, back when Joe Arpaio was Sheriff. You know, Joe Arpaio, America's toughest lawman? Tent City, pink underwear, green bologna, women chain gangs, dead inmates, immigration sweeps, Obama's birth certificate. You remember.

Where's Sheriff Joe now? Things can change. They do change.

If you are just now discovering Kalamazoo County through this blog, then here is what I hope you take away from it:

Don't come here. Don't spend your money here. Don't go to school here. Don't look for a job here. Don't buy or rent a home here. Don't raise your kids here.

Until things change.

pH 5.o2.17

***

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Whatever. Nevermind.

No? Okay...

***

This is my favorite time of the year. It doesn't have much to do with the calendar, although Spring is always welcome after the rigors of a Michigan winter. It has to do with how high in the sky the sun is. The warm weather surely does make this old body feel better, looser, younger.

It just coincides with, y'know, baseball season. They always call the ballplayers "the Boys of Summer", but Opening Day is in early April, and they don't wrap up the World Series until sometime around Halloween.

Sometimes the tri-seasonal warmth stays around that long, too... Those hot, hazy days that can rise up even if there was frost that morning, even if it gets cold again when the street lights come on. They make you lazy, those days do. They make it hard to get much of anything done.

Baseball is timeless, not just in that sense but also because it is a game that does not abide by any timekeeper. It's a matter of innings, not quarters or halves or periods. (So is golf, technically, but golf involves a frustration level that is not often found in America's Game.)

The season is long, see. It wears down the players, the press, the fans, weighing on them all in humid languor, especially in the long haul when the buzzing cicadas compete for one's attention with the ballgame on the radio.

How long does the season last? Hey, it ain't over 'til it's over... When one team wins. If Game Seven of the Fall Classic is tied at the end of the ninth inning, they keep playing.

Yep. 'Til it's over. If your team wins the pennant, and then the championship, you're lucky. If they don't, you're just like everybody else.

Then, the smile finally slips a little, as you realize that the warm days are over, too. The cold nights will stop yielding the mercury to the daytime, and Spring Training seems like it's not just on the other side of the calendar, but on the other side of the world.

Something worse, something less desirable, than hibernation settles in. We go back to our indoor beehive lives. Whether we like them or not...

But everybody loves beisbol.

Even if maybe you lose some of that warm, magical feeling when you stop being a kid... Even if some of us will never stop being kids.

pH 4.27.17

***

Monday, April 24, 2017

An Open Letter to the Kalamazoo County Corporate Counsel


Dear Sir,

I have read your proposal, which was emailed to Charlie's mom's attorney, offering to change the cause of death determination on his Death Certificate. His mom's attorney will let you know what she thinks about that, but my guess is that her son would not want her to trade away her Constitutional rights in exchange for "Indeterminate". Although such a swap would alleviate Kalamazoo County of their official indecency in this matter, it is hardly what I would consider a fair or reasonable offer.

I'm only sticking my big beak into this because you have grabbed ahold of it so firmly. Of course, I am talking about the part of your offer which includes me also giving up my right to free speech, representative government, etc... And also taking down this here blog.

In a much better world than this one, I'd be flattered. You want this thing? I know it's shiny, and it sure goes fast, but are you sure? I mean, it requires near-constant maintenance, and has awfully high mileage for being only a year old. I don't know.

My first response was to fish for estimates from Viking and Penguin, because what you're really doing is asking to purchase my publishing rights. I always thought it would be a hard sell, myself, as the subject matter is generally unhappy and besides that I've already given it away for free.

Anyway. I understand that Dr. deJong and the others on her island want it gone. Of course. I understand that Charlie's mom's attorney told you he doesn't represent me, and that I obviously wouldn't be too keen on your offer. Actually, I authorized him to make you a counter-offer.

I gave him the outline of a deal - basically, you'll have to sharpen your pencil. Here are my terms much more specifically. (I know that the usual office protocol would be to communicate this via back channels, but it's all part of my public inquiry, so I'll ask you to forgive me for that.)

I am willing to delete this blog and its fellow Paulie Leaks blog in exchange for a change to Accidental on Charlie's Death Certificate. That's it.

No other conditions. My right to seek redress of grievances in court, my right to speak freely, my right to contact my representative, my right to file complaints to regulatory boards and/or agencies... Those rights are not bargaining chips to be splayed out on a cold metal table under blue fluorescent lighting.

American soldiers are, to this day, fighting and dying for those rights to even exist. With the number of veterans in our family, I would never dishonor their bravery and their service, which is what I would be doing if I considered your cynical offer for even one second. So just as I asked you to forgive me for this public demonstration, I'll forgive you for passing along the County's insult.

My offer is, in plain Latin, quid pro quo... with no strings attached. If the Medical Examiner has committed no wrongdoing, as you so stridently assert, then there should be no concern about future litigation. In any event, since the taxpayers will be footing the bill for her defense, I'm not sure why you or she is worried about it. The same goes for filing regulatory complaints, or asking the County Commission (they already know) to have Dr. deJong removed, or really anything else the law allows.

Please accept my offer. It will bring peace to my family and to my soul and to my keyboard. I am glad to know that you people have finally learned to understand how it feels to want something so badly, and to not be able to get it, even though it could so effortlessly be given to you by the one who has it. Finally, we're on the same page.

If you turn me down, the Book of Charlie will come off the table and will never return to it again, ever; not ever. And, as you might well expect, I will turn it up to 11.

Rest assured that I really have taken it easy on the M.E.'s office so far in this space. I have had to take into account the sensitivities of my family members and friends who read it. That can change...

You all think it over. You can have what you want. But what you desire has great value to me, to Joyce, and to the public in whose name this has all been done. My asking price is high, and is not negotiable.

As for non-disparagement and non-contact agreements on my part, sure, that's no problem, Thom. Write it up. Send it to Charlie's mom's attorney. Get it over with...

Or get ready for another long, hot summer.

pH 4.24.17

***

NEXT WEEK: "Barbecue Kai Chicken"

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

More Random Notes from a Declared War

It has been suggested to me that I should take advantage of this amazing digital platform, this Internet, and monetize the story of my nephew Charlie. It would only take a few clicks to do it; Ma Google makes it easy.

And that is tempting.

But I don't want money.

***

David Ferris wants money. In that lawsuit, the honorable Judge Robert Jonker has seen enough of the paperwork dump. He responded to flurries of motions by setting a hearing date (May 25th) to put a stop to the Whack-a-Mole game being played by the defendants, M.E. Joyce deJong among them, in this important civil rights case.

***

The charity founded in memory of Charlie Wolf is thriving. We have connected with Random Acts of Flowers, Meals on Wheels, Meijer, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 98, 107.7 WRKR, Midwest Business Exchange, Domino's Pizza, River City Foods and so many others, some of whom we will never get to meet.

We are uplifted by the people of our community.

***

Charlie had a birthday party, literally, every year of his life. And he'll have another one this year, too, at the end of May. He would be turning 14. We'll have family over, some friends, some neighborhood kids. We'll do the same fun stuff the kid would want to be doing: Fireworks, lawn darts, target shooting with air guns. Water balloons. Running around, yelling, playing in the yard where he died.

Sorry. Too much? I agree. It was already more than bad enough, irreparably bad... Then my own County, embodied by the Medical Examiner's office and its employed denizens, came along and made it all the worse. They blackened the legacy of a harmless, helpless little child, convicted him of a crime with no thought to due process, humanity or anything else.

If you live in Kalamazoo County, you can expect to be treated in exactly the same fashion. That's the real Kalamazoo promise.

***

Still wondering why my nephew was left laying in the yard after 25 minutes of fruitless resuscitation attempts, with an ambulance sitting there, and an Emergency Room just five miles away, where a real doctor could have handled the matter.

Still wondering also why no KDPS detectives arrived until after 10:00 pm that night, two hours after the 911 call was placed - wondering, because a certain police captain, a particular police chief and an unnamed mayor won't tell us.

They actually had the temerity to say we were wrong about that, until a video was posted on YouTube of a dash-cam that picked up officers saying, "Where are they?" at 9:57 pm. Then they stopped saying anything.

But I'm sure WMed felt like they were being protected and served.

***

Oh, and a belated congratulatory nod to former compliance officer Tom Zavitz, who retired from WMed in mid-February... On to the next trough, I suppose. He is all done here.

pH 4.19.17

***


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Well?

***

Okay, you saw it, right?

I told you I wasn't lying, or even stretching the truth... Couldn't if I wanted to. Too many other people who were also here that night are reading it. They tell me if I'm off. And I defer to their judgment.

I'm not just a bitter uncle driven mad by grief or whatever else... I've also managed to stumble over something so awful and rotten that my initial reflex was to recoil and retch.

Right here in my hometown. After all the places I've been, all the things I've seen, this is truly the least believable, and the most alarming.

And I'm not letting it go.

After what has already been uncovered, I don't feel the least bit concerned about what people might think, or about how far I should go with these mere words, these paltry paragraphs. I'm not the one who worries about that now...

Because you know there's more.

pH 3.18.17

***




Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Mendacity 101

***

The following letter to my sister was written on WMed stationery, but never sent, by Kalamazoo County Medical Examiner Dr. Joyce L. deJong. It is a living testimony to her naked dishonesty and her malicious intentions where my nephew's cause-of-death determination is concerned.

***

April 21, 2016


To Mrs. Heller:

The opinion of the Medical Examiner's office for the cause and manner of death in the case of Dennis Wolf will go unchanged. This decision is based on a complete evaluation of additional information, including numerous personal letters from various friends and family members of the decedent, Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety police report and interviews conducted by Detective Goodell, a review of the Medical Examiner investigative report with the investigator, blogs provided by Paul Heller, emails and internet links provided by Mrs. Heller, and letters and emails provided by (our attorney).


Sincerely,

Joyce deJong, D.O.
Medical Examiner

***

Quickly, line by line:

"The opinion of the Medical Examiner's office for the cause and manner of death in the case of Dennis Wolf will go unchanged."

I bet you're wrong about that, since Michigan law (per Rules 7.119 and 7.123) does allow for an appeal to be presented to the Michigan Circuit Court; of course this letter will be introduced as well.

"This decision is based on a complete evaluation of additional information, including numerous personal letters from various friends and family members of the decedent..."

You're a damn fine liar, lady. We already know that you were still asking Lyin' Jo Catania if she had those letters in June of 2016, two months after you typed up this bag of liquid crap.

"... Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety police report and interviews conducted by Detective Goodell..."

Lie Number Two. We know through the MDIlog that your henchman, Lyin' Jo, did not even approve the mailing out of the police records until May 2, 2016, so you could not have even seen them yet. Keep going:

"... a review of the Medical Examiner investigative report with the investigator..."

That would be Kai Cronin, who you already knew had made up the suicide circumstances listed in his amateurish report, because our attorney sat across from Lyin' Jo and made her aware of it in person FIVE WEEKS before you bothered with this thoughtful, well-written note... His report is as false today as it was then, as false as it was on the day you sent him to my sister's house to steal her son's body. 

"... blogs provided by Paul Heller..."

It's not 'blogs'. It's a blog, singular, containing many blog posts. You're welcome. I'm the only male human being who has thought about you in recent history (unless you count David Ferris).

It'd be pointless to dignify such grotesque cynicism any further in this space - hers or mine. Joyce, you mendacious [REDACTED], you did the wrong thing. Like a narcissistic sociopath, you refuse to make it right, even in the face of the facts.

Even in the face of a grieving community. Which you were appointed to serve.

Please stop pretending to be a good person. You are not. Good people don't violate the public trust. They don't conspire to torment the citizens who pay for the autopsies they are so desperate to perform on the bodies of children. They don't weave these elaborate webs of obfuscation and then sit in the middle of all the strands pretending not to be a bloodsucking monster. 

Quit. Resign. Please pack up and move out of our town. Our county. Our state. Please do this post-haste. You, your perverse colleagues and Homer Stryker's farcical medical "school" are neither wanted nor needed in Kalamazoo any longer.

pH 3.14.17

***

Thursday, March 2, 2017

REMembrances

***

My sister dreams about Charlie a lot.

The key word in the above sentence, is, of course, "about". Her deceased son, you see, is seldom directly in contact with her during the dreams (as she often reports them to me over morning coffee).

Dreams are different from nightmares, which she also has, but doesn't much talk about. She doesn't have to, as they are probably similar to my own, only more vivid as her mind races through it all again. The police cars. The chest compressions. The electrodes. The breather bag. All in vain.

The dream that recurs quite frequently is pretty basic in format. She's at a family gathering (we have a lot of those), and everything is fine, because Charlie is off playing among his many cousins.

He's wherever they are - maybe she sees his bushy lollipop head disappear around a corner, or hears the chirp of his voice, or one of the other kids runs up and tattles about something Charlie just did.

As long as it doesn't dissatisfy her sleep-state brain, that's an okay dream. But if anything in the dream causes her concern, she tries to find him, and is unable to. That usually ends the dream and troubles her back to consciousness. I suppose it doesn't take a certified dream analyst to figure out what it means.

I hope that you cannot imagine what she feels. Even if you wanted to, you'd have to compound her grief and loss by the wrongdoings of our local Liars Club: M.E. Joyce deJong, Investigators Joanne Catania and Kai Cronin, and WMed Deans Hal Jenson and Tom Zavitz. These are the monsters under your bed, the ones who have conspired to perpetuate the abominable falsehood that appears on my nephew's death certificate.

Unlike the many kind souls who have donated their time and money to Charlie's charity, the above entities have collectively exhibited little more humanity than a warm block of processed cheese spread.

After all these years, it turns out the Heller family had the misfortune of being in a place where the crooked coroner has all the power, where the county lawyers are practically lapdogs who lick her rubber-glove-scented hands, where even the County Commissioners seem beset by paralysis, and where the media knows its proper place - up on Coward's Hill.

So you'll understand when I assure you that on some nights my sister doesn't want to go to sleep. And on some mornings she doesn't want to wake up.

pH 3.o2.16

***

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Hondo

***

I awake from a dead sleep to the darkness of night. Under different circumstances, I would take my time doing so, but that is a luxury long since foresaken.

Somebody else is in the room.

My hand grabs the lamp on the nightstand in utilitarian immediacy, poised to hit the switch (to illuminate whoever it is) and poised also to hit whoever it is.

But it's only Mick, the mechanic, who passed away just over a year ago. He is likely unimpressed by my display of nocturnal aggression, as he is fixated on one of my electric guitars, which he holds in his mighty paws.

"Hey, man," I mumble to my friend as I put down the lamp, "Happy Birthday."

Mick runs through the pentatonic scale in A, punctuated with a big power chord crunch, and puts the instrument back on its stand.

Thanks. Nice guitar.

"The Hondo," I tell him. "One of your unfinished projects. I had Guitar Center wire in a new harness, pick guard, jack, the works."

This is the one I put the Faraday cage in, right?

"Yep. You wanna plug in?"

No, I'm supposed to stay away from distortions in the electromagnetic field.

Something tells me that the ghost of my dear friend did not appear before me just to check out the old Hondo with the new guts.

The Big Game is today.

"It is. I think New England will win by turning back the clock 40 years. Atlanta has a middling run defense (in a division with zero quality backs and in a season where they held large leads in most of their games). The Falcons offense can't score if they're standing on the sidelines, watching the Patriots play Five Yards and a Cloud of Dust all night."

You put any money on it?

"Ah, no." I suspect, however, that he isn't here to talk about football, either. He is looking straight at me in the lamplight, his expression winsome, an odd look for Mick.

How is your sister?

"How is she what? Still alive? I don't know... I'm not sure."

How is she doing.

"Better on some days than others." I figure being vague will force him to engage more.

Well, what's going on with the case? It's been a long time. Is it wrapping up or what? You still banging that monkey?

"No. I'm supposed to stay away from distortions in the electromagnetic field."

Mick shakes his head and I notice he's wearing his Galesburg Ford hat.

The lengthy delays are designed to sap your will to continue.

"Noted."

You're sure you guys got this?

"Hope so. Why, do you have some way of impelling this thing from The Other Side?"

Mick the Mechanic turns and looks over his shoulder, as if someone were standing behind him, and that's when I notice his ponytail. He got his hair back... He looks at me again, his expression very serious.

No. And that's what you need to understand.

"Got it. Anything else?"

Yeah. You both need to live more. Not just longer, but more. Know what I mean? Do the things I wish I could do. Let the dead live vicariously through you. Not the other way around.

He looks at the Hondo again. I look at the floor. The wooden floor where I used to play Army Men with Charlie. It's not a comfortable moment, or a short one.

I can't believe you, Heller.

I look up, almost angry now. "What?"

Mick nods at the guitar.

Can't believe you couldn't solder that harness in yourself. I showed you how.

Finally, I laugh. "Oh, man, I'm terrible at it." Finally, Mick laughs too.

***

I awake from a dead sleep to the darkness of night. Under different circumstances, I would take my time doing so, but that is a luxury long since foresaken. 

Nobody else is in the room.

pH o2.o5.17

***