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Saturday, December 2, 2023

The End of an Error

Long was the road. We lost many along the way. But, at last, for the first time in more than eight years, those of us who are left can wake up each day to the smell of something other than burning dirt.

Here's the news, a few days old, perfect for wrapping up fish:

"Joyce deJong has been recommended to serve as the new dean of the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. If approved by the MSU Board of Trustees, her appointment will be effective Feb. 5, 2024."

I utterly urge the Board to approve this. Please. Hurry. I mean, what's another monster on the roster, right?

(I actually know a guy who is an MSU alum, and he is disturbed by this. He considers Joyce deJong to be a controversial figure and doesn't think the school needs any more of those right now. But that is neither here nor there.)

Where my nephew Charlie's case (No. W15-470) is concerned, if this news is to be taken as a victory, it would still be a Pyrrhic one. The Cause of Death on his public Death Certificate will never be corrected. It was never going to be, because in matters of County government, truth is the first casualty. With or without the expensive autopsy.

But it appears that Joyce the Mendacious M.E. is indeed on the way out. Going back to her roots in East Lansing, where it all began. Good for her. Good for us. The most important aspect of this career change is that she will no longer have the ability to harm people the way she harmed my family. She'll be out of the business of forensic pathology. Living her best life.

To Charlie, my nephew, I would say: We made it. Kalamazoo County refused to correct its mistake, so I did it for them, right here on the Internet. The last of the weasels is finally packing up and leaving town... Cool, huh?

To Charlie, my Dad, I would say: I told you so! No, seriously, I know it troubled you that I would not let go of it. I know you wanted peace in your time. You only missed it by a few months. I still have to read that other Book of Charlie that you gave me, ha-ha. I suppose now I'll have more quiet time to do so, because this is it - there shall be peace, just like you wanted.

To my sister, Charlie's Mom, I can say: Holy Shit, what a rabbit hole THAT was... Your son is lost treasure. You raised a good kid, who was very much in the process of becoming a great man. We may never know for absolute certain what happened, but we know what didn't.

And to the outward bound Dr. Joyce deJong... 

Take the train. It's faster.

pH 12.o2.23


Sunday, October 8, 2023

Parks and Uncreation

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.


If those words seem familiar, they should. That is The Preamble to the United States Constitution. That is the written statement of intent that the Founding Fathers left to us when this whole grand experiment began. It's too bad they were focused on the macro (federal) levels of government and not the micro (County).

Here in Kalamazoo County, they use things like the Preamble to wipe with, and then they flush it down. Our lives, our liberty and our pursuit of happiness have supposedly been preserved. Property? That's another story.

The story in question, at present, started in the American postwar glow of 1948, when a couple of families pooled their resources and acquired a cottage on the South end of scenic Gourdneck Lake, located outside of Portage, Michigan. Just as the world progressed from Black 'n White to Color TV, the once-rural area would soon become suburbanized.

Dusty gravel roads were paved. Homes were built. The sod and stubble of farm fields yielded to grassy lawns. And, in 1963, Prairie View Park was established by Kalamazoo County. The only problem with that: The Johnson and Talanda families were there first.

The County generously agreed to allow them to own their property. But they made them sign an agreement to turn over their cottage and lakefront land to the public once the original property owners in both families had all died off. If any of that seems weird, Dear Reader, that's due to the fact that... it is.

Fast-forward to 2019. The last of the original purchasers had finally faded into the sunset, and Kalamazoo County was done waiting. Through the odious practices of condemnation and eminent domain, they sought to take possession of the property, even though the heirs to the families still wished to keep it. The County's offer of compensation came in at about $350,000.

For a cottage on a lakefront property outside of town. That's what real estate brokers and bank robbers, from coast to coast, would call "a steal".

The families probably felt like they had enough clout and money to fend off these County cut-purses. But when a plaintiff goes before a County judge, and the plaintiff is in fact the County... I can empathize with their plight. And even though it took several years to play out in our little puppet theater we have here, the outcome was as predetermined as a professional wrestling match.

A couple of months ago, the courts gave the families their final answer: "Get Out." Did the taxpayers mind spending almost half a million dollars in order to cut a $350,000 check, after four years of litigation at our expense? Uh... We were never asked.

Gourdneck is a big lake, with many homes on it now. Big party-barge pontoon boats cruise around on it every day in the summer time. It connects to the smaller, less-developed Hogsett Lake, which I access though the State Game Area. It's peaceful back there. The fishing is good.

Prairie View Park itself is also an idyllic setting. I went there when I was a kid. My nephew Charlie went there was he was alive. It is a good thing to have public spaces like that, where nature still exists, where the objective is enjoyment.

It is a bad thing, though, for the government to take property away from the citizens. That's something that all Americans were against, quite vehemently, back in the 1770's. If that's something the government would rather we not know about, then they should stop teaching it in schools... If they already haven't.

It's safe to say that not all Counties are like this one - Kalamazoo does seem rather freakish sometimes - and that not all people here will be treated in such Dillinger-esque fashion. But it's no guarantee. In my family's experience, deaf ears are the norm, and cruel indifference is the Gold Standard of care.

The locals understand (although they can't do anything about it): In short, if you think your family cottage can't be taken away from you by Kalamazoo County's bureaucrats, shredding forever your memories thereof, you are dead wrong. And your innocent child's eternal legacy, at least where public records are concerned... 


pH 1o.o8.23


Thursday, July 27, 2023

Long Distance

I dial the number. Busy signal. I dial again. Busy signal. (sigh.) I open a beer: Modelo. Why not?

I dial again. It rings. It rings again. Then...

Arnie's Mortuary. You stab 'em, we slab 'em.

I hang up. Signal sent. I sip on my cold Modelo. It needs the lime. I find one and take care of that. I taste it. It tastes like Modelo. The phone rings.

It rings again.

I pick it up, touch the screen, and say, "Arnie's Gynecology. You pork 'em, we stork 'em."


I hang up. (Signal received.) I sip on my Modelo and lime. It takes time. The phone rings again. I answer after the first one.

I say, "Arnie's... G'day, Mick."

What's going on, man.

It used to freak me out a little, talking to my dead friend, but we get along now just as well as we did when he was alive - incredibly alive.

I tell him that I reckon he knows what's going on. Let's not waste this precious time we have together playing Gnip Gnop or whatever. He knows what's on my mind, of course, and assures me. My Dad made it to the other side, and is currently perusing the Library of All Libraries.

I pour it out to him, my old friend who has been dead for seven and a half years now. My Dad had the fairy tale life with the storybook ending. (He knows.) My Dad never emitted the slightest of whimpers. (He knows.) My Dad slipped out the door on his own terms, into the good company of those who went before him.

(He knows.)

Don't worry so much, Mick says. You worried all this time for nothing.

It occurs to me that Mick and I don't have much to talk about anymore, and might not, for a while... It depends. I look at the lime resting at the bottom of my empty Modelo bottle.

"You got this?" I ask, semi-necessarily.

Mick says, Run with the ball, Paul, which is something that my friend said to me quite often when he was alive.

Run with the ball.

So, knowing we will talk again later, I hang up the phone...

And I run.

pH 7.27.23


Thursday, July 13, 2023

A Matter of Years

There are times and seasons for change. Stuck in the middle of Summer, now is not the season. While that hot, sticky fact will remain in evidence for the near future, it is time in Michigan for something to change, and it has.

Our rock star Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, has signed a bill into law that would raise the minimum age to legally marry to 18 years (up from 16). No more matrimony for minors!

This would certainly make sense. I mean, you can't even buy a ticket to a rated 'R' movie without a parent or guardian present before the age of 17. You can't even legally buy the apple of your eye a hard cider unless you're both 21. And nobody should have a spouse who is too young to serve in the military.

Why, some might be dumb enough to ask, was it not this way before now? Whose big idea was it that too-young brides (or, I guess, grooms) could be carried over the threshold before their bodies and brains were fully developed?

The short answer is, the people who were in charge up until now... Meaning, not Democrats. Since taking power of the state legislature last November, the Blue Team has been trying to bring Michigan up to modern speed.

They do this because they understand that children are not just little versions of grownups. They don't have the accumulated knowledge that comes with years of experience in the settings in which they live. And some things don't belong on their plates.

This is a point we tried to hammer home to the Medical Examiner in Charlie's case. The conclusions that were jumped to in Kalamazoo County were such obviously crafted works of fiction that were disavowed rather quickly, but the Cause of Death remains the same, because Joyce deJong does what she wants. And there is no mechanism for oversight that we can reach.

They very much tried to make it out like Charlie (who had turned 12 years old just a few weeks before his passing) was a depressed teenager, but that wasn't the case. Or even close. This is indicated in every single police report, where he was referred to as "the child", again and again. The child.

He was a little kid who still played with Hot Wheels cars, Legos and Army Men. If only there was a Governor Whitmer among our quaint collection of county peons today, this dream of ours might be realized. This nightmare of ours might end.

Until that day, we can only celebrate with our fellow citizens, the fact that there will be no more Sweet Sixteen weddings here in Michigan. Unfortunately, it comes alongside a decision to reduce spending on our Pure Michigan ad campaign, so... We'll work on it.

Call it evolution if you want. But do so with the caveat, and the understanding, that such things can take millions upon millions of years. And that Rome wasn't burned in a day.

pH 7.13.23


Saturday, April 1, 2023

Lesson Learned

When I was a kid, I got a really neat present from a family friend, a fellow named Vince Antonelli. The Antonellis lived in Pittsburgh, and we would go visit them now and then. The patriarch of the family, meaning Vince, was a great guy. He even let me drive his riding mower around, all over his yard.

He had played football at the University of Pittsburgh in his day, and remained connected to the team somehow, I'm not sure if he was a coach or a manager or what... But I know that he acquired for me a genuine NCAA football. Real leather. Even the laces.

It was the envy of the neighborhood, so nice that I felt compelled to write my name on it with a Magic Marker. But it was no trophy-case pigskin, no, we made sure of that. Before long, the scuffs and grass stains on the ball were more pronounced than my block printing.

One afternoon, somewhere in between Halloween and Thanksgiving, misfortune struck. On a punt, the football became lodged in the naked branches of the big walnut tree at the end of our field (read: Mr. and Mrs. Johnson's yard), waaay up there.

The sun was getting low. My teammates and opponents dissipated. I threw a stick at my beloved football a few times, to no avail, before trudging home. I wasn't a shy kid when it came to complaining, and when my Dad got wind of this, he marched me right out of the house and up the street.

I told him how hopeless and pointless it was, how I had tried to get the ball out of the tree, that it would be there forever, that the wood would grow around it... He would have none of it.

My Dad, Dr. Heller, is a university professor. He taught Geography, not Physics. But he selected a chunk of firewood from the neighbor's wood pile, and calmly began throwing it up into the tree. He wasn't even aiming for the ball, really, just making sure that his chosen projectile went in the right direction each time. Again and again. And again. And again.

I became a little bit concerned that he would get bonked by the piece of wood as it returned to Earth each time, especially as it began to get dark. My father explained to me, with the same purposeful and methodical patience that he applied to his task, that the idea was to just keep trying. Eventually, he advised, we'll succeed.

By that time I was nearly vehement in my disagreeability about the situation. "It's just a friggin' football," I whined in the chilly air. "Let's go already."

And go we did. About three tosses later. When the chucked wood startlingly knocked the football out of the offending limbs that had cradled it for so long. I ran over to recover my prized possession. Dad walked over, picked up the trusty piece of firewood, and put it back where he had gotten it.

Then we went home.

Dad likes to tell that story to this day. He does not refer to it as The Story of the Football, or The Football Incident... He calls it The Lesson of the Football. Because he's a teacher. And he taught me something important that evening, something I've never let go.

I'm lucky. I have had role models in my life like him. And Vince Antonelli. Two guys who were quite different and yet quite the same. They'd consider me to be remiss in my duties if I did not keep throwing this piece of wood at that football.

Real leather. Even the laces.

pH 4.o1.23


Editor's Note: My father, Dr. Charles F. Heller, passed away peacefully at his home on July 25th, 2023. Charlie's Granddad was 91 years old.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

National Freedom Day

The Sun came out today. In some parts of the country, that's no big deal; expected, even. In southwest Michigan, it's something we haven't seen in a while.

Never mind our warm yellow star itself. After the dreary January we just had, I could go blind just staring at the snow in the bright light, as if it were a stranger. Always remarkable, it's like this every year, every winter.

For a lot of people, seeing the blue sky for the first time since the holidays is enough to warm the heart - for others, only the skin. Their insides never thaw.

It is February 1st. In some years, that's a day marked by tragedy, as in 2003, when the space shuttle Challenger burned up in the atmosphere. Or by events that would turn out to be massive in their eventual scale, like in 1865, when Abraham Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery.

In other years, history has recorded that, really, nothing happened on 2/1. In 1980, when I was 12 years old, the only thing that happened on this day was the debut of Blondie's "Call Me"... Which, in all fairness, would go on to become Billboard's Song of the Year.

Twelve is an awfully young age to have your existence stopped. To live on only in memories and images and documents. If this had been my last day at that age, Charlie's age when he died, I would have missed out on more things than I can list here. Mount St. Helens had not yet erupted. Jimmy Carter was president. The Pittsburgh Steelers had just won their fourth Super Bowl.

All of these things we dutifully record.

There will come a day, whenever and however it comes about, when our species no longer exists. This would become true for the dinosaurs who came before us. They could not have fathomed it at all. We humans barely can even with all our accumulated knowledge.

Just as mammals took over in prominence after the big lizards were gone, something else will follow us here. But we are unique in our words and our pictures and our stories and our rolls of plans. Squirrels, birds, fish, frogs, insects - they don't do those kinds of things. Not even primates, our closest cousins in the animal world, do.

It's not unfair to ask: If it ends up that nothing knows about us, are we even here at all? And if nobody is here to examine all of this, to sift through the data, to sort through the volumes, to learn about us whether they care or don't... Does it even exist?

In sheer quantum terms, the answer is, no. No, it doesn't. The trophies, the selfies, the videos, the blogs... The servers, the libraries, the archives, the museums... The names on the headstones in the cemeteries... None of it will matter any more than the crumbling concrete and rusting rebar will.

Then why do we try?

Because, at the end of each day, eventful or not, it's all about one thing: How do you feel about yourself? Although not tangible, such feelings are just as temporary (like a pen or a pencil), something none of us will have to worry about for too terribly long.

And the Sun will rise again, regardless of whether or not anyone is here to somehow capture the moment, whatever it may bring.

pH 2.o1.23


Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Down Stairs

Can the Year 2023 get a Disney Genie FastPass to the front of the line already? Or the end of it, whatever? Just skip the holidays - we're all broke anyhow - and move this thing along. Because 2022 is exhausted.

We already know 2024 is going to be a doozy (if we even make it that far as a civilization). So next year may be that last big gulp of fresh air for the nation to collectively hold until the next election.


Even sports isn't sufficient to rub the sleep out of my eyes. Michigan's football team is on the brink of a championship (just like last year) after beating Ohio State (just like last year) but will likely face undefeated Georgia (just like last year).

Let's face it; reruns suck. They're almost as bad as watching movies wherein you already know the ending, like Titanic, or Passion of the Christ. When an entire year seems like a rerun, you just want to turn it off... When six, seven, eight years in a row seem like reruns, then you realize that your misery is, in fact, syndicated.

And what a syndicate we have here in Kalamazoo. So many things go wrong in this place, yet, no one ever admits having done any.

Sometimes this can have staggering implications, like in the case of my young nephew Charlie, whose Cause of Death was misclassified (deliberately) by Medical Examiner Joyce deJong in 2015.

She's still here. He's still gone. That will be the story next year. And beyond. The emotional damage this has done to my sister is not measurable by a yardstick, or a beaker, or a scale. But it is immense.


When such things get swept under the rug, the person holding the broom is seldom held to account. In cases like ours, where an appointed bureaucrat is standing in your way, it's not cool. But in other cases, the wealthy benefactors of such bureaucrats are the ones doing wrong, with barely any consequences. This leads to a feeling of impunity among the Top One Percent, which is the kind of thing that gets handed down to their coddled offspring.

It's pretty obvious why. There is almost an American tradition of citizens being trapped in company-owned towns, where everyone is dependent on The Man in the White Hat. This is not fresh ink being spilled here.

It's exhaust.

Even so, for us, the legacy they left to Charlie - and the way it was done - conjures up some of the worst images of human history. Of times when rulers went unchallenged, and they threw casual yet raucous parties, like so many heads from atop the Templo Mayor.

pH 12.o6.22


Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Of Laws, Mice and Men

It has been said, as many times as anything else has ever been said, that ours is a nation of laws and not men (or women). This can lead to spaghetti-thinking, with saucy strands winding around cheesy meatballs from California to the Capitol, such as:

- But weren't all of the laws actually made by men?

- Did those men want to to do things that were clearly wrong (like own slaves) so legalizing wrong things was the easiest route to doing them openly?

- Did those men listen to other men around them, ones who were not elected to make laws, when deciding who could do what with whom and where?

- Were any of those men drunk at the time?

We may not have all the answers today, but we do know that once the ink is dry on the lawbook, that's pretty much it. Unless the Supreme Court were to become hopelessly ideological in nature, and begin issuing baseless edicts rooted in their own moral preferences, laws have sticky tendencies.

Unless, that is, they're brushed aside by those in power who don't feel like being obedient. People like Joyce deJong, who is the de facto Medical Examiner for almost all the counties in western Michigan. Of course there are laws on the books that control the appointed official that holds that title. But only if the local Commissioners will vigorously enforce them. Which they don't.

What is a citizen to do? File a lawsuit? Take one's petition of grievance to the other branch of government, the courts, who are tasked with playing referee to the arguments? Good luck with that - judges are free to be capricious and arbitrary if that's what they want to do.

In bigger cities, the business of civic duty can be vast and overwhelming, so a lot of pettiness gets put aside out of sheer necessity. That's not always the case in smaller places, like Kalamazoo, where all our public servants could easily fit under one preacher's tent.

If our M.E., the vindictive and dishonest deJong, had to be an obedient public servant, my nephew's Death Certificate would reflect the truth. (She guesses he died by suicide; we know better.) This seemingly clerical-in-nature error doesn't make much difference to her, or to the rest of our community, but it is hurtful to my family and it skews vital statistics that the County compiles and provides to the federal government. [Shrug.]

In the mean time, Kalamazoo has evolved, or at least morphed in the seven-plus years that have dripped away since Charlie died. The city has officially changed its wide stance on other subjects... Like urinating and defecating in public.

Yeah. That's now legal in this town - well, "decriminalized". Why? Because hey, when ya gotta go, ya gotta go. As with everything in The Book of Charlie, you can't make this up.

Ergo, if you should find yourself in Kalamazoo, be advised to keep your head down, lest ye step right into a pile of human waste. Which we Hellers have been doing here for quite some time now.

pH 8.16.22


Friday, April 8, 2022

Student Body, Right

Can intelligence be measured? Does it have a weight, a volume, a quantity consisting of units? Is it bespoken of materially, manifesting itself in property, propriety or prosperity?

Is it even an objective thing? Is it verifiable through achievement? Through notoriety? Personality? What tells the rest of the world that you're smart?

A baseline of some kind is in order to even have such a high-minded discussion. Although some blue-collar snobs may reject it, most of society would agree, graduating from college is a pretty decent sign of a workable IQ. I can accept that - and I don't have a college degree.

I know a little bit about graduate-level academia, though, because my Dad was a professor at Western Michigan University. I grew up knowing about the inner workings of the place - the politics and the little rubs that maybe caught Dr. Heller in a slightly wrong way.

But that was back in WMU's heyday, when the student body accounted for almost half of the City of Kalamazoo's population. That glory faded a long time ago. The latest numbers - metrics we can all get our hands on and our heads around - bear this out.

Enrollment is down dramatically at Western, again, this time plunging by 8.6 percent. That follows an almost-as-calamitous 2021, when it dropped by 7.1 percent. In simpler terms, for every seven freshmen that arrived on WMU's leafy campus in 2020, six are showing up today.

Some eggheads out there might point to the pandemic as probable cause. But I don't know about that. Kalamazoo County wasn't exactly a Covid-19 hot spot like Kent County or Oakland County, plus, we generally stay away from each other here anyway.

Besides, isn't one person's pandemic another person's opportunity, creating healthcare demand on an unparalleled scale? Western Michigan University is home to Homer Stryker School of Medicine (WMed), after all.

Rather than more medical students being attracted, WMed has actually seen the number of applications it receives go down year after year, just like WMU. And they have yet to crack the Top 100 list for medical schools in nearly a decade of existence. (But they are also the contracted coroner for many counties in Michigan so the uptick in autopsies was, I suppose, greatly appreciated.)

Now let's stop playing dumb and look at some of the real reasons young people rely on when deciding where to take their scholastic talents. Start with tuition. Spending one semester at Western Michigan University will cost a student a little over $6,000... WMed, a lot more than that. Since everybody borrows the money anyway, you can throw a heaping helping of interest on top of that amount.

Indeed, just last year, the university decided it was prudent to hike tuition by 3.1% and room and board by 3%. This took place under the guidance of the university's new president, whoever that is.

Now throw in some sociology. Kalamazoo has horrible weather, high crime, broken infrastructure, boring architecture, frightening pollution and really bad roads. It's also chock full of mean people. And there are no solutions, because our city and county governments are stocked with self-interested C-average types who like to pick and choose which rules to follow, when to follow them.

This place has about as much sense of purpose and charm as a mouse trap. Not attending WMU, then, would be a sign of intelligence. This is a good place - to avoid. Do the smart thing. Pass on it.

And pass it on.

pH 4.o8.22