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    Tuesday
    Jun302015

    My Garden of Weeden

    By Doris Willman 

    After contracting polio in 1953, I faced the challenge of leg braces and crutches. By 1981, I became a wheelchair user with post-polio syndrome. By this time, my three daughters were quite self-sufficient and I had some blessed leisure time.

    Coming from a family of avid gardeners, I thought, why not me too? My knowledge of gardening was quite limited, except for minor chores back home in the family garden before I acquired a disability. I obtained a copy of The Complete Vegetable Garden by John Seymore. And a very compassionate husband, fortunately for me, was handy with carpentry tools.

    At first we erected four planters, measuring eight feet long and two feet wide with a depth of approximately 14 inches. These planters were supported by legs and cross braces to make an overall height of about 28 inches.

    The planters were placed parallel to each other, with ample room to manoeuvre the wheelchair between each one. Each planter was filled with purchased garden soil and peat moss. A lightweight garden hose took care of the watering needs. My first crops consisted of radishes, onions, carrots, beets, Swiss chard and tomatoes.

    There is an advantage to container planting: Because of the wide row system, radishes, carrots and the like can be spaced as little as two inches apart.

    A good-sized crop can be harvested from a confined space. Close planting also creates shading, eliminating most weeds while retaining moisture in the soil. Most crops require tilling the soil only to a depth of eight inches. This can readily be done with small hand tools. Cucumbers, a vine crop, can be trained up five-foot poles and still be within easy reach of a gardener using a wheelchair. The height of the planters enables the wheelchair user to garden with a minimum of exertion. You are also in a position to make eye contact with any garden pests — get a jump on the flea beetle before he lands on your prized tomatoes!

    My planters were so successful that my husband then built my “Garden of Weeden.” This garden is 45 feet long by 30 feet wide. With the exception of a small tool shed and gateway, two-foot-wide planters extend around the full perimeter. The central area comprises three planters measuring 10 feet by four feet, lawn space bordered with flowers, and a few small shrubs thrown in.

    A wooden walkway provides sufficient space to service all planting areas. A watering hose is mounted at each end of the garden.

    Unless you are a fanatic gardener like myself, a garden this size is an option rather than a necessity. Much success and pleasure can be derived from smaller ones.

    I can truly say my “Garden of Weeden” has been my utopia — a place where I can get lost in the magic of nature. Stress evaporates once I wheel through that gate and am in complete control of my surroundings. I spend so much time in my garden, I expect my wheelchair tires will one day take root.

    Like the saying goes, we have to “stop and smell the roses.” My philosophy is, “Let’s grow ’em!”

     

    In memory of my close personal friend, Doris, now gardening in Heaven

    February 20, 1939 - June 25, 2015

    Friday
    Jun262015

    I LOVE YOU DORIS WILLMAN

    If I ramble today, please forgive me.

    Some people in the field of writing might say there’s no such thing as writer’s block — that it’s all in the head – and the bottom line is that’s it’s nothing more than a temporary inability to produce original content.

    I know there are reasons why someone like me could possibly be at a loss for words because I’ve been in these situations before, no matter what you call it. Maybe I don’t feel like writing, for instance. Or I’m lazy. There are times when words just won’t come out right and, as far as I’m concerned, they flow like a one-legged duck trying to swim up a trickling stream. Another reason might be shock. Yes, shock. The shock and anguish you feel after losing a near and dear friend. That’s what happened.

    Doris Willman was the best and truest type of friend a person could ever ask for in life. Strong-willed, feisty, witty, intelligent, sensitive, caring, loyal and never afraid to tell it like it is or give me a piece of her mind, she suddenly left her quaint and comfortable home in Halifax yesterday morning and I have been wafting in and out of “surreality” since I got the news. How could I possibly write when I’m mourning the loss of my friend? Because I have to tell you about her and what she meant to me. What we did for each other. That’s why. Because she is THAT important!

    I met Doris on my Marinade Dave blog as I was sprawled out in a hospital bed with pneumonia. I posted a short article on Christmas Eve 2008 called Casey Anthony’s Christmas Tree. She left her first comment under the pseudonym detwill39: “I believe the slacks that were washed by Cindy belonged to Casey but I may be mistaken. Hope you feel better soon, Dave, not a nice time of year to be sick.”

    The next comment came two weeks later on a post titled Creepy Cryptic Casey. She wondered about the Casey Anthony/Zenaida Gonzalez connection and wrote, “Dave, your input on the above, PLEASE!”

    The rest is history. She was hooked on my writing and, with each passing day, her input grew and grew. As nice as she was, she was very demanding, and I respected that. I’ve always liked and admired independent women. She was fiercely so. She wanted answers and if I was ever going to be any good at the subject matter I was writing about, I needed to do my homework and provide her and every other reader with the facts. Cut and dry, but she recognized I had a way with words that made things clear and easy to read, like you’re right there with me. The more information I could provide, the more she could decipher. She wanted bits and pieces that could be used as evidence in the case. I dug and I dug and I dug, and it led me to exposing one State witness as a fraud. If I was driven, she helped make me a 4-wheel drive.

    While I was focused on the truth, so was she. On many occasions, our versions didn’t see eye-to-eye and we locked horns. Oh boy, did we! There were times when I felt like giving her the boot, but there was something about her spirited ways that wouldn’t allow me to let her go. She did leave and flaunt herself on other blogs for months at a time, much to my chagrin, but she always meandered back to mine. She even created her own and I was glad to help her set it up. What we developed was a love/hate relationship. We were like Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, oil & vinegar and salt & pepper, all rolled into one. The yin to my yang. She was my Sgt. Joe Friday with a cutting edge sense of humor. On the blog, we complemented each other like no one else. Ultimately, it was a true friendship type of love that grew because we really, really got to be the best of friends. I learned a lot about her family and she learned about mine. When my father passed away last year, she was right there, just as good friends always are.

    In April of 2010, Casey Anthony’s defense filed a motion demanding that Judge Stan Strickland recuse himself. It was based on two articles I wrote prior to the judge complimenting me in the courtroom. What’s interesting about this is that I had my share of 15 minutes of fame, but, most importantly, I was accused by some in the peanut gallery of secretly working for the defense to take down the judge in order to throw the case. Of course, it was nothing like that, but those Internet trolls went on the warpath, hellbent on taking me down. Who immediately came to my defense? Yes, Doris. She was a real warrior who stuck to her guns. As they attacked me, they turned their attention to her, too. They published her address and phone number. It hurt her tremendously. I reassured her that no one was going to get a passport to go to Canada. She was safe. Those people were all talk (which they were.) Don’t worry about them. They threatened to throw me off the courthouse roof. I knew better. Her? They were going to ram her wheelchair into a snowbank and leave her there to freeze. BABs they were called. Bald Ain’t Beautiful. When the trial ended, they disappeared into the weeds, like the vermin they were. By then, Doris and I were hardened and seasoned pros. Stronger than ever. Talk about growing pains.

    We went through a lot together and we were bonded, so bonded that we often spoke to each other by phone, sometimes every week. What was it about? Friends just being friends. Advice. Small talk. Certainly crimes! But what was it about her? How do you explain the way friendships develop and evolve? That she was forthright and honest goes without saying. We earned each others’ trust.

    Yes, Doris was in a wheelchair. On Sunday, when we spoke, she said she had searched and searched for the article she had written years earlier for Abilities magazine. There was no trace of it on Google. I told her I’d look, too, but she was quite the Internet snoopysleuth. Nope, it’s not there. Titled, Garden of Weeden, I couldn’t find it, either. She told me so. Smart cookie that she was. I called the magazine this morning but they only archive back to 2011. I read it once and it was a fantastic article, but I have no idea where. In an April 2009 e-mail, she told me, “I just wanted to explain why I do not discuss my disability but don’t mind showing off my abilities…LOL.”

    Doris was loaded with abilities and she had the ability to push me forward. On Sunday, she told me she loved me. I told her I loved her, too.” On Tuesday, she called me about the Charleston case and that was the last time we spoke. As much as the digital world is alienating people, we connected over the world of electricity. Call our friendship a “current affair.” (She would love that!) We never met face-to-face.

    How much I write in the future will depend on what intrigues me, but there are many things I want to cover. She complained that I wasn’t writing enough, yet she beamed when I did. I have one story I planned on writing and I expected to hear her thoughts on it. I think about it now and it’s like a void. I know I didn’t write just for her, but her opinion was always important. From now on, I am going to feel a charge zapping my through my brain, as if she’s poking me with a cattle prod, reaching out with one hand from a pearly gate, standing. There’s nothing I will write without thinking of her.

    “Get busy, Buster!” And from now on, I dedicate all of my future writing to the memory of Doris Willman. She was my perfect sidekick. Or was I hers?

     

    Saturday
    Jun202015

    The Roof of All Evil

    When I was around seven-years-old, I went squirrel hunting with my father. We were out in the woods somewhere in New Jersey when, suddenly, I spotted one of the critters up in a tree.

    “Look, Dad!” I loudly and proudly proclaimed, pointing up into the tree at the innocent little guy minding his own business. Up went the gun…

    BAM!!!

    Down came the squirrel, crashing to the ground with a light thump, about twenty feet or so below. I ran over to it to see the prize. It jerked and choked and gasped for air. I looked into his eyes and watched them glaze over as he took his final breath. It was a horrible experience — to watch death unfold. There’s just something weird about looking into the eyes of something or someone as they die.

    I turned to my father, visibly shaken, and said that I never wanted to go hunting with him again. I never did, and soon afterward, he stopped, too.

    To this very day, I have never owned a gun and I have no desire to ever possess one. But that doesn’t make me an anti-gun person. I’ve enjoyed target practice in the past, although it’s been many years. I totally abhor shooting animals for game, but I’m not opposed to hunting for food. After all, I am a meat eater and I seem to look the other way when it comes to how chickens, for example, are treated by food giants like ConAgra and their many subsidiaries. I am trying to be more conscientious when it comes to the humane treatment of animals. Humane. How could you possibly show compassion or benevolence toward a creature whose sole purpose from birth on is to become food? That’s a question to chew on, but I won’t dwell on it right now since this is mostly about guns, Charleston, and the Second Amendment stating that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

    I’m not here to argue the rights and wrongs of gun control, but I do agree with the president (and anyone else who thinks) that we need to have a vigorous and rigorous debate regarding how easy they are to purchase. I’m not stupid enough to feel the necessity to take guns away because some people want it that way. Guns will always be around and there’s no denying it. I think a minimum/mandatory sentence imposed on someone caught with an illegal firearm is something to consider, like 25 years. No parole. That may help to get them off the street, but it wouldn’t have stopped Dylann Roof from mercilessly slaughtering nine people inside of a House of God. He bought his legally. It was a simple thing to do. Too simple in some states.

    (There’s some question about Roof’s gun purchase. Federal law prohibits people like Roof from obtaining firearms because, in February, he was arrested and later charged with felony possession of Suboxone, a narcotic prescription drug. He was released, and the case is pending. Because of this, Roof shouldn’t have been able to buy from a gun store. Federally licensed gun dealers are required to run background checks and this pending charge would have turned up as a red flag. According to his uncle, Roof got his pistol as a birthday present from his father, Reuters reported. No background checks are necessary in private transactions in South Carolina and the seller is not obligated to ask about felonies or felony indictments, although it is illegal to give guns as gifts to those people. If Roof’s father knew about the indictment, he could spend 10 years behind bars.)

    Unfortunately, there’s no way to stop the crazies of the world from doing what they set out to do, and Roof is a perfect example of that and more. While I’m against the death penalty, this guy deserves to be snuffed out, with no grave or marker of any kind to identify him. He is evil through and through and he is proof positive that racism is pure evil, even in its simplest form. Nothing good ever comes out of evil. Ever.

    What Roof did should open a debate about guns and rightly so; however, I’m hearing some disturbing things about this terrorist attack on humanity. Anyone who thinks this wasn’t terrorism should think about the terror in the eyes of Roof’s victims as he fired away. That was terror in its rawest form.

    So what does a National Rifle Association executive in Texas have to say about it? Houston-based attorney Charles Cotton suggested that the murdered pastor of the church bears some of the blame for his opposition to permitting concealed handguns inside his house of worship. On TexasCHLForum.com, he insanely, absurdly wrote about the pastor of the church and South Carolina state senator Clementa Pinckney:

    “[Pinckney] voted against concealed-carry. Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.”

    Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee stated:

    “It sounds crass, but frankly the best way to stop a bad person with a gun is to have a good person with a weapon that is equal or superior to the one that he’s using.”

    Does this mean we should ALL carry guns (me included) or face the consequences of evil people? Well, kiss my grits!

    What I find abhorrently wrong with those two statements is that Roof entered a House of God with a gun. I’m sorry, but I think a church is a sanctuary; a place to go for solace and peaceful introspection — something Roof should have been doing. A church is a place to study. It should be the last place on earth to worry about violence. While a lot of Americans think it’s an inherent right to mix God and guns, I think it’s ridiculous. One does not need to believe in guns, nor God, to understand how opposite the two are, like night and day. One brings life into the world and the other takes it away. Unless, of course, you shoot targets in church or take out squirrels in the rafters.

     

     

    Sunday
    Jun072015

    LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT

    The following is not intended to mock any lifestyle or anyone in particular. Just call it a natural curiosity. Some people don’t think it’s fair to the LGBT community. No, not what I wrote here. It’s about… Oh, I don’t know how to explain things, but I’m glad the world evolves as it revolves.

    OK, I’m trying to sort out this whole transgender thing. First off, I have known a fair number of gay people in my life - men and women. Heck, I’m 62-years-old. Many years ago, my buddy Frank and I became close to a gay man in our circle of friends. God knows, we tried time and time again to get him to go straight, but nothing worked, so we simply accepted him the way he was and I’m glad we did. Jim was a great guy and very funny. Ultimately, he helped me get over my homophobia way back in the 70s. Since then, the gay movement has grown and it doesn’t phase me one way or another. But at the same time, I don’t quite understand why many straight people embrace, rejoice and celebrate it, PROUD AND CLEAR, as if it’s some sort of over-the-top, in-your-face right; like openly marketing an ever expanding lifestyle instead of merely accepting things as they come. Sure, I believe in the old adage, ‘whatever floats your boat,’ but I certainly don’t need to coo over it. Nor do I need to be fed it daily on the evening news and in social media.

    Society has moved forward since the days of Jim, and I’m an open minded guy. I get that there’s been lots of unnecessary oppression and suppression over the years, but it’s different today. Gay people can marry. OK, fine, I’m very glad you won. Say hooray and admit it’s time to move on. Yes, I can accept just about anything as long as it doesn’t get too close — personally. Here’s an example, and I don’t mind it at all. But I’m cautious. In Orlando, there’s a big party at the beginning of June called Gay Days. A massive LGBT crowd swallows up the city and on the first weekend at Disney, they consume the park and wear red to signify their… their… their… whatever it is they’re into (and I won’t wear red the entire month because I don’t know how long it lasts.) If I say gay lifestyle, that might be insulting to bisexuals and people like Caitlyn Jenner. Yes, Caitlyn. Not Bruce. And that leads me to the meat of the topic.

    Apparently, Bruce always felt comfortable as a woman, so he underwent a physical transformation. Good for him. He had cosmetic surgery on his face to feminize his appearance. He also had breast implants. He now wears beautiful makeup that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger look alluring. You go girl! But, he stopped short when it came to his… his… his unit. Yes, he left his penis intact because he’s still into women, sexually — or why else would he keep it? Because he likes to pee standing up? It’s like he’s a woman trapped inside of a man’s body except he’s no longer a complete man. He thinks like a woman and looks like a woman but still has his man parts. What, exactly, does that make her? Lola? No. He’s not a lesbian. What she is, is a person who dropped his odds at…

    Let’s just say that there isn’t a large audience for people like him when it comes to sex. How many women, straight and lesbian, want to be sexually involved with a woman who is a man with boobs? Before you answer, please think of it this way. Suppose an attractive woman (into men) decides she’s more comfortable being a man. She has her boobs removed but leaves her other female part intact. She lowers her voice taking hormones and acts like a macho manly man, right down to the John Wayne swagger. Out with the guys she goes — he goes, belching and farting and swigging beer. How many of those men do you think would be interested in becoming intimate with him? Her? Not me!!! She is now a him into hims. That means, Jenner could do a girls’ night out and, quite possibly, be eyeballing them on the sly. Hmmm…

    Perhaps, in real life, Jenner lost all interest in sex and it’s none of my business. Maybe, after a year, he’ll go all the way and get the package redone. That could be the case, and while I believe she has the right to do as she wishes, I just don’t think it’s a cause to celebrate. That’s all! This is a very personal issue and he/she decided to be extremely public about it with that photo spread and impending E! network docu-series, otherwise known as a reality show. Now, some are calling this heroic, but in my opinion, there was nothing heroic about it. Firemen/women are heroes. Soldiers are. People that save lives! And I seriously doubt Vanity Fair didn’t pay for the exclusive rights to the spread.

    In the magazine interview, Jenner tells contributing editor, Buzz Bissinger, “This shoot was about my life and who I am as a person. It’s not about the fanfare, it’s not about people cheering in the stadium, it’s not about going down the street and everybody giving you ‘that a boy, Bruce,’ pat on the back, O.K. This is about your life.”

    Bruce Jenner had gender identity issues he decided to deal with. In the interview, the author writes, “For the Jenner children, the issue of the transition has become a non-issue. They were already aware of their father’s identity as a woman when he told them individually about the transition—Burt and Cassandra had learned from their mother roughly 20 years earlier, when they were 13 and 11,” which proves he harbored these thoughts for a very long time.

    Everyone has crises throughout their lives, including identity. While I don’t think she should be picked on and mocked, she put herself in this exceedingly vulnerable position and it’s to be expected in the real world. It’s human nature because there will always be schoolyard bullies. Grown ups still do it despite this being a new Jenneration*. You have to accept it. She has to accept it. If she pouts, perhaps she needs to grow some… Oh, wait. She still has them.

    (Please don’t get your panties in a wad. I meant that tongue in cheek.)

    *Credit: Sam Brethwaite

    Saturday
    May232015

    A Haunting Portrait of War

    I know I have published this before, but, in my opinion, it will never lose its importance. Each time, I try to bring it up to date. We should forever keep the memories of our lost soldiers alive in our hearts and minds…

    There isn’t a day that goes by when the thundering echoes of war escape us. Today, we live in a world rife with radical extremists like al Qaeda and daesh, defiantly justified to maim and kill in the name of their god. The following story is my hideous wake-up call. It came at a time when most wars were fought over more mundane causes - nationalism, patriotism, democracy, communism, bigotry and territorial rights. This was back when building a bigger and more powerful bomb was all the rage, and nations proudly strutted their massive hardware in shows of strength and unity in order to intimidate their neighbors and perceived threats. Today, our enemies use IEDs or strap a bomb to their chests and blow themselves up.

    On a distant morning in 1967, one of my classmates at East Amwell Township School was quietly asked to get up from his desk and follow the administrator out of the classroom. I remember that day and wondering why. Did he do something wrong? Of course not, and it didn’t take very long before the principal announced on the P.A. system that his cousin, Van Dyke Manners, was killed in action in Vietnam. He was one of the first from Hunterdon County, New Jersey, to die in the line of duty. I didn’t know him personally, but I remember it well because it was a solemn day. My friend had lost a loved one. Greg did not come back to class that week. To a 14-year-old, those echoes of war were a distant sound that lightly flickered in our young minds. We never thought of death then. We were invincible, but with each passing day, the reverberation grew louder and louder, and reality hit us fast and hard. The Vietnam War was in full boom.

    Back then, what was going on in our own back yards seemed more important than anything else, but the Vietnam war was lurking out there - somewhere in our heads. Despite our youthful dreams and aspirations, the war never escaped us. We saw it on our black & white television sets. We heard it on our AM radios. It made headlines in the daily newspapers. Everywhere we went, the specter loomed large and cut deeply into our subconscious minds.

    §

    Early in 1968, a girl who lived up the street from me asked if I would be interested in creating a portrait of her boyfriend. Back in those days, a small town was just that; there was no city in sight. Windows were left open to let air breeze through because air conditioning was a luxury. We weren’t afraid to leave our doors unlocked, and neighbors knew all the gossip. I was known as the left-handed artistic kid. Ask Dave. He knows how to draw.

    She was a little older than me, and her boyfriend had enlisted in the Army. She offered to pay me and I accepted. I asked her to round up whatever photographs she could so I had something to work with. I asked her if I could meet him. To an artist, it’s good to know something about a subject that photographs alone cannot tell you. In the flesh, you get to know the person. Because of that request, I got to know Mike Baldwin. At 21, he was a man. At 15, I was not. He was old and mature. I was still a kid. He shaved, I didn’t, and with a war raging, I was in no hurry to buy my first razor.

    His girlfriend asked me to draw the portrait as big as I could. When I went to the store to buy materials, my old “Be Prepared” Boy Scout lessons taught me to have a back-up plan, so I purchased two giant drawing boards, just in case I messed up. I couldn’t simply up and go to the store back then because I was too young to drive.  Fortunately, I didn’t mess up, so I decided to draw another one, identical to the first. The original BOGO! I don’t know what compelled me to do it, but I’m glad I did. Maybe I thought if the relationship didn’t work out years later, at least he would have one to share with his family. That must have been the reason. Maybe the death of Van Dyke put apprehension in my heart. You know, one for his mother, just in case.

    When I finished the drawings, I made a date to deliver the artwork. My neighbor had invited Mike and his mother to “attend” the presentation. Everyone was very pleased with the job I had done, especially his mother, who was honored to have her son’s portrait captured by a local artist.

    Soon afterward, he left for Vietnam. He went because he believed in a cause. He believed in America and freedom. In school, we were taught about the Domino Theory. Back then, it meant that if one country falls under the influence of communism, then the surrounding countries would follow. Red China didn’t exist on any of our maps and globes. It was just a grayed out mass of nonexistent land, but it was still a major threat because North Vietnam was one of the countries under their grip. South Vietnam was not, and we came to its defense. Today, Vietnam is one country but, by the end of the war, 58,000 red-blooded Americans gave up their lives. Michael Baldwin was one of them.

    Nearly 46 years ago, he became a statistic. His body was zipped up in a bag and shipped home. That was the day I woke up to the horrible tragedy of war. It was my first experience. Someone I knew personally was dead because of it. 

    One of the things I learned, and it’s very important, was that Michael Baldwin put his country before his life. We lost so many and what did we gain? I know I gained a whole lot of respect for those who march off to war. Michael Baldwin was a man and I was a boy when we met, but I still look up to him and I will soon be 45 years older than he was on the day he died. To this very day, I wonder what would life be like had he lived. Would he have married my neighbor or someone else? Would he be happy? Or would he be mourning the loss of his children or grandchildren because of our brutal and self-inflicted world of terrorism, home-spun jihadists and plain, old weirdos? The more violence changes, the more it remains the same. Death is still death and the loss of loved ones over religion and politics is still just as senseless as it was the day Michael Baldwin died.

    On July 19, he would be turning 68. I will remember him as a true American hero; a very proud young man. As for the identical pictures I drew, they are lost and gone, but not forgotten. In my mind, the memory of them will forever remain a haunting portrait of war.

    Sgt. Michael Richard Baldwin (7/19/1947 - 9/12/1968) KIA - Binh Long Province, South Vietnam, ambushed while on reconnaissance 5 kilometers Northeast of Loc Ninh, along with:
    Ssgt. Phillip Kenneth Baker - Detroit, MI
    Pfc. Eugene Russell Boyce - Spartanburg, SC
    Sp4. Wayne Daniel Jenkins - Bryson City, NC
    Pfc. Kenneth Leroy Martin - Los Angeles, CA
    Pfc. Marion Luther Oxner - Leesville, SC
    Pfc. Dale Arden Palm - Toledo, OH
    Pfc. Kurt Francis Ponath - Cudahy, WI
    Sp4. J C Williams Jr. - Muncie, IN
    Pfc. William Wittman - Binghamton, NY

    September 12, 1968, was a long and sad day for Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division.

    Pfc. Van Dyke William Manners (11/10/1945 - 2/15/1967) KIA - Kontum Province, South Vietnam

    To all our brethren lost in wars, rest in peace. Your deaths will never be in vain.

    I first published a different version of this story in 2006. Michael Baldwin’s cousin searched his name on Google and found my blog about a year later. She wrote me and said, “I just found your website and read your article about Mike.  I just wanted to say thank you…  It touched me and helped me remember my cousin very fondly.  He was a good guy and the last of the Baldwin men in our family.  He is remembered fondly by many of my friends who still [live] in Flemington, as well as my family.

    “I also wanted to let you know that Aunt Peg didn’t handle Mike’s death very well.  She couldn’t even bring herself to go to the funeral.  I do remember that both she and my Uncle Alvin (Mike’s Dad) did attend the memorial at Ft. Dix after his death.  That was really all she could handle.  She always said she preferred to remember people while they were alive.  I can’t say that I blame her.  I didn’t understand it in 1968, but I get it now.

    “Mike left a large impact on me.  The memorial service was really something and I can still remember the 21 gun salute at his funeral in the cemetery in Flemington.”

    Mike’s mother passed away in 1993. His sister contacted me right after her cousin got in touch with her. Here is what she told me:

    “My cousin called me and told me about your blog.  She had seen Michael’s name in it and read the story.  I read it too and also your reply to her.  I am Mike’s youngest sister.  You made me cry—but it was a good cry.

    “My family and I are so pleased that we are not the only one’s who remember Mike.  Looking through your blog and your e-mail to Mary, I found it so interesting that there are so many things we are connected through.

    “I go to church at Kirkpatrick Memorial Presbyterian church in Ringoes. Van Dyke’s mother went there before she died a couple of years ago and there is a stained glass window dedicated to him.

    “My father worked for the Forans in the foundry they owned in Flemington.  My father was friends with Walt Foran. [My friend Frank’s father.]

    “When I read your blog, I could feel that you knew Mike well.  He was a great kid and we loved him.  You talk about my mother—you may not know it but I had a brother who was older than Mike—his name was Alvin—we called him Skip.  He died in a car accident on Sept. 13, 1958.  No, I didn’t confuse the dates, it was one day short of 10 years later that Mike was killed.  It was a blow that my parents never recovered from.

    “I am so glad that you wrote about Mike, it makes me feel that we are not the only ones who remember. Thank you again for keeping his memory alive.”


    Please see: NJ Vietnam War Memorial - Michael Baldwin

     

    Posted on Daily Kos

    Tuesday
    May192015

    Melon Melange

    I generally take the interstates when I visit my best friend’s homestead near the west coast of Florida. That means, I-4 west to I-75 south. I get off on one of the Bradenton exits and head east until I arrive at my destination. When they’ve had enough of me and kick me out, I usually take back roads home. There are many possibilities. I visited this past weekend and, when I left, I took State Road 64 east through Ona and Zolfo Springs until I got to US 27 north in Avon Park. 27 took me back to I-4 and home.

     

    Along 64, I passed a lot of 18-wheelers carrying all sorts of loads, mostly produce. Just before I got to Zolfo Springs, I saw a number of rather interesting looking pickup trucks; the likes of which I had never seen. They were retired school buses. The cabs were left intact, but the remainder of the roofs were chopped off and the seats were removed. That turned them into makeshift pickups. Call it repurposing in today’s lingo. But what were they hauling? As I continued heading east, I found my answer.

     

    Upon entering Zolfo Springs, I stopped at a roadside restaurant that caters to locals and truck drivers. It was morning still, and I was sure they served eggs of the chicken variety. Even though, as I approached the town, a sign appeared that said Entering Zolfo Springs City Limits, I pretty much felt as countrified as a barnyard denizen. 

    What surprised me about the menu was that it offered scrapple, a staple in the Pennsylvania/western NJ area. Scrapple has Pennsylvania Dutch roots. I grew up eating the stuff. What was a mom & pop joint like that, in the middle of nowhere, doing offering scrapple – mixed up pork parts and cornmeal? We’re talking about backwoods territory without the woods. AHA, I thought! It was probably to cater to the OTR drivers from the northeast. Perhaps, they have a hankering for it every so often when they’re far away from home. Sadly, I didn’t see pork roll on the menu, not that I would have been inclined to order it.

    Anyway, I saw truckloads of watermelons. Watermelons EVERYWHERE! I had no idea. Could Zolfo Springs be the watermelon capital of the universe? Well, it might be pretty darn close when the season is right. Too bad it raises my sugar so much. I like it, but can’t eat it.

     

    When I looked up the demographics of Zolfo, as of the 2000 census, the Hispanic/Latino population was about 54%. Nothing should surprise us there; however, I wonder how many of them are illegals, and does anyone in the town care? Probably not, and neither do I, because there’s no way anyone else would be out working the fields all day in stifling heat, picking watermelons (or any other fruits and vegetables the companies grow and sell wholesale.) This naturally, organically, leads me to a couple of thoughts. Suppose we legalize them, which is what President Obama wants to do. Then, we turn those “seedy” migrant workers seedless by paying them $15.00 per hour, which will surely be the minimum wage by that time.

    Fertilize that thought for a moment… because your now $10.00 store-bought watermelon will jump to $50.00 a pop, but, what the heck, all of them will be Gallaghering all over the place with money! Right? Wrong. Why? I’d be willing to bet the farm that those companies will lay them off as more illegals enter the country to do the work they no longer want to do. Why should they? They will move uptown while the farmers will want to continue maximizing their profits. Uptown will eventually lead to unemployment claims.

    Maybe they’re all praying it won’t happen that way. Maybe they don’t know any different. Maybe I don’t know, either. Perhaps none of us do. Only the bus has the answer…

    Friday
    May012015

    From the Department of WHERE'S A COP WHEN YOU NEED ONE?!!

    My aunt is visiting from New Jersey and it’s great having her here. This morning, I decided to play social director so I asked her and my mother if they wanted to go to Kohl’s and Dollar Tree this afternoon. My mother needed something from a department store and you can’t go wrong at dollar stores when it comes to things like household cleaners.

    The stores are side-by-side in Altamonte Springs and I had to drive a fair stretch along FL-434 from the Longwood area. I hit a traffic snag near a busy shopping center and that didn’t surprise me at all. Suddenly, a lowrider came rumbling along side me, rapidly weaving in and out of traffic. This was probably a late model, pimped-out Buick with low-profile tires and tinted windows. I may have detected a hint of hip hop pumping out of the heavy bass speakers. I could not see the driver, but his car couldn’t have been more than two inches off the ground.

    This was a three-lane highway and I was in the middle. He cut right in front of me from the left lane, darted into the right, and dangerously maneuvered his car like a NASCAR racer on a mad mission, not caring about anyone around him. Everyone else was slowly and patiently moving forward. He was the driver from hell.

    As I approached a side street, I saw a motorcycle cop waiting to merge into the roadway. The Buick was now out of sight, absorbed somewhere in the traffic ahead. I wondered…

    In a flash, he lit up and someone let him in. My aunt, mother and I were hoping aloud. Wouldn’t it be nice..? We waited and waited… Aha! It wasn’t all that long before I saw the jerk turn onto a side street with the police officer close behind. As I passed by, I could see the cop cautiously approach the vehicle.

    I think the odds of lightning striking the same place twice are greater than law enforcement being at the right place at the right time. Finally, I saw it happen, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer or more deserving guy.

    Sunday
    Apr052015

    Feeling Loansome

    Once upon a time, many years ago, I was in the fast food restaurant business in Flemington, New Jersey. It was called Weiner King and our claim to fame was a specialty hot dog with mustard, chopped onions and the best homemade chili you ever had. Called a Texas Weiner, the chili was made with finely ground beef. No beans! It was brown gold.

    We had a very faithful base of clientele; people who had come into the place since it opened in 1962. Many of them remained loyal right up to the very end, and tons of old customers from that area will tell you they still crave Texas Weiners and King Burgers. And chili cheesedogs with onions.

    One of our faithful customers was a guy named George. George came in to eat every day, including weekends. Sometimes, he’d come in more than once. Twice. Three times in one day. He was such a good customer, he was almost like family. One afternoon, he approached the counter with a relatively serious look on his face. Usually, he was quite happy and talkative. On this particular day, he just asked for Jack. Jack was my boss, the owner of the place, and the best boss you’d ever work for. He asked me if I would cover the burger grill so he could walk up to the front counter…

    “Hey, George. What’s up?”

    “Jack?”

    “Yes, George…”

    “I’m getting married on Saturday and I want to have our wedding reception here.” I had met his fiancée many times before. Clearly, George wasn’t playing with a full set of teeth, if you know what I mean.

    “Certainly, George! I’d be happy to accommodate you!” Jack responded. “We’ll make sure you have reserved tables. How many people and what time?”

    I don’t remember the incidentals, but Jack offered free ice cream for everybody. Maybe, they brought a cake, too. When the wedding party arrived, right on schedule, George was beaming! They drove around the parking lot several times, tooting their horns in excitement. George was a married man! When they came in, he said they cruised down the main drag and around the three traffic circles, something Flemington is famous for, beep, beep, beeping away!

    I know it was a big hot dog party. Hamburgers, cheeseburgers and fries. Milkshakes and Cokes. The orders kept flying. Plus we had to wait on other customers. After all was said and done, his entire bill came to just over $13.00. But you have to understand that, back then, in the early 70s - if my memory serves me correctly - a hot dog was 35 cents and a quarter pound burger was 50 cents.

    Yup, ole George did all right that day. Everyone had a great time, including us.

    “Where are you going on your honeymoon, George?” Jack asked as the affair wound down.

    “The Ringoes Drive-In,” he responded. The following Monday, George was back in for lunch. I don’t think anyone asked about the movie.

    §

    Two or three years later, George came up to the counter and, one more time, asked to speak to Jack. He had that same serious look on his face. This time, though, he wanted to talk privately, so the two met around the corner, by the side door between one of the dining rooms and the back room where we did our prep work. They spoke quietly, but, afterward, Jack said he needed to borrow $50.00. He was in a real bind. Of course, Jack immediately reached into his pocket and handed him the money because that’s just the way he was. “Is $50.00 enough?”

    Sadly, it was the last time George came into the restaurant. It’s as if he fell off the face of the earth.

    One day, many years later, Jack was on Main Street and he ran into him.

    “George… George… where have you been?” The poor guy desperately tried to hide his face to avoid the encounter. Too late. “Listen, don’t worry about the $50.00. I want you back as a customer. We like you! We’ve missed you! Forget the money!”

    “OK, sorry, I’ll be in,” and he scurried off. Maybe he thought that Jack was privileged. (He certainly wasn’t.) Maybe he felt Jack was rich because he could simply dig into his pocket and pull out $50.00 and he resented it. Perhaps he knew, when he borrowed it, that he’d never be able to pay it back. I just don’t know, but Jack never saw George again. None of us ever did.

     

    Monday
    Mar162015

    The Durst Case Scenario

    Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do?

    “You ate that last piece of cake, didn’t you?!!” or “I’ll bet that car accident was your fault, wasn’t it?”

    You might mumble under your breath, “Yup, it was me. I ate it,” or “I ran right into that car on purpose,” knowing fool well you didn’t do anything of the sort. Some people mumble louder so the other person might hear that you said something, but…

    “What did you say?”

    “Awww… Nothing. Forget it.” You know what you meant, and all you were doing was being sarcastic with yourself. What irony it is that someone would have the audacity to accuse you, you think, disgustingly.

    Some people, like Robert Durst, have been known to talk to themselves. Intelligent people sometimes do. So do nutjobs. Occasionally, I do it, although I don’t know which category I would fall under. Without being presumptious, I think it’s easy to guess which checkmark Durst would get.

    But to be fair, I think it’s important to note that, perhaps, he was simply mumbling under his breath when he said, “What the hell did I do? … Killed them all, of course.” That could possibly be part of a solid defense. I was merely being sarcastic with myself. It’s certainly no confession. I knew what I was doing when I said it.

    We already know he enjoys playing with people’s minds. He could have uttered those words on purpose; to see where it goes from there. He does, after all, seem to thrive on skirting the law. Facing murder or the trial itself might be a perfect game to him. Another challenge. Why not? God knows he can afford the best attorneys. What a thrill!

    What a weirdo.

    Please see: Heir Robert Durst says he “killed them all”

    Sunday
    Feb082015

    The Most Interesting Guy In The World?

    I covered two murder trials in central Florida as a credentialed journalist. I did some rather intensive investigative work and diligently reported on what I found out. I’ve written, quite possibly, millions of words. I shot videos from locations pertinent to the alleged crimes, right down to the tree where Caylee’s skull was found and where Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. Why? Because I wanted people to understand as best as they could. I live in central Florida. Most of my readers don’t. It was my desire to give viewers as much information about the cases as possible. I was very detailed in everything I did. I lined up timelines and distances. I interpreted statutes as they arose in motions and responses and how they played out in court. My heart was embedded in those cases. I loved reporting what was going on inside courtrooms during hearings and trials. It was in my blood and I felt I was quite good at it or I wouldn’t have done it. I could feel the intensity; the raw emotions and hidden expressions, as if I could sometimes read minds, and I did my utmost to be as candid as possible. To say I was at my best and in my element would be an understatement.

    God knows, I tried to get answers from everyone. Every day, I talked to attorneys directly involved in the cases, both the prosecution and defense, the witnesses willing to open up, and many of the seasoned journalists that helped educate me. One TV personality (a three-time Emmy winning reporter for WESH, the local NBC affiliate) introduced me to national reporters as Orlando’s own version of Dominick Dunne. I felt humble, yet very proud of that distinction, although I haven’t lived up to the name since Zimmerman’s verdict was rendered. To be honest, I don’t think I ever came close to Dunne, but I sure did appreciate the lofty compliment.

    I must say I savored every moment. I proved my worth as a writer. At my all-time high, I got over 200,000 hits on my blog in a single month. One day, I peaked at nearly 20,000 visits. I was hired by Orlando magazine to write on their Website about the Casey Anthony trial from inside the courtroom atop the Orange County courthouse. Am I bragging? Yes. Am I embellishing? No. Have I ever embellished? Kinda, sorta, no, not in the classical sense, but every professional writer elaborates a bit. Maybe it’s a mild form of embellishment. I don’t know, to be honest, so I will give you an example instead…

    I can’t remember, word-for-word, every conversation that takes place on a given day because I write from either notes or memory. This means that, when I type a part of my article from a conversational point of view, I’m not quoting verbatim. In order to help make certain thoughts clearer, I take what’s referred to as journalistic license to build a story, but I keep the gist of it intact. That’s most important and the bottom line is, I would never make anything up or change the facts to suit me in any way, shape or form. I would never add details that are not true. I believe in honesty because it’s my nature, and I learned a long time ago from experience, you do not write the news to promote yourself!

    There are ways to perk up stories without going over the line. It flows forth in writing styles, be it alliteration or rhetorical effect. You know… Onomatopoeia. Hyperbole. Metaphors. Similes. Euphemisms. That’s all acceptable, but there will never be a day when I have to clear up a “bungled attempt” at a fictional account of the truth.

    I am going to tell you flat out that I would distinctly remember whether my helicopter had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade OR NOT, no matter how many years ago it took place. Being shot at is something you never forget, so there’s no excuse for being vague about it. Every degreed journalist is trained to make distinctions between real and imagined. If you’re not sure, don’t say it, because, once you lose your credibility, you will NEVER regain it. Many reporters have lost their jobs over it, but a network news anchor?

    “… the fog of memory over 12 years made me conflate the” experience, Brian Williams said in his apology. Over the years, his nose grew and grew and, by Saturday, his apology wasn’t enough, so he took a leave of absence. In my opinion, it was an easy way to nudge him out the door. I don’t think he’ll be back.

    On the other hand, times are different. Today, lying is an art form. Skewing the truth takes no talent. Politicians do it all the time and we either buy it or ignore it. But news anchors? Reporting the news from a left or right slant is commonplace and a lot of it is pure entertainment. We expect that these days; however, it’s still mostly about the story, not the personality relaying it. That is, until the personality becomes the headline. Once Williams crossed the threshold and became the news, his anchoring days flew out the High Density window. The main question now becomes: Is he telling the truth? His integrity is toast. He has become the Lance Armstrong of the news industry. In his day, the impeccable Walter Cronkite would have been canned for lesser things. Sure, he was entitled to his opinions, but he never let his ego get in the way of what he reported each weeknight. 

    I never had any disdain for Williams. I liked him, although I didn’t put him in the same league with Tom Brokaw, whom he replaced at NBC. Unfortunately, this sad twist soured me on him, and I think he needs to be replaced.

    I tasted this business and I know the difference between bragging and stretching the truth. Hey! I just bragged about myself, but all of it was true. No exaggeration! I hated doing it, but I want you to know the difference. I don’t like liars and I don’t want to be the most interesting guy in the world. I simply prefer to be an interesting guy. One you can trust.

    Saturday
    Jan312015

    Let Us Spray

    From the Estate of Samuel W. Knechel, Sr.

    §

    I found something in his collection of things…

    When my father owned a front end alignment business in Flemington, NJ, his father, Warren, used to stop by to chew the fat. My father would be working on cars and pay close attention to detail. He was a consummate professional. All the while, my grandfather would be talking up a storm, generally speaking of his grandiose accomplishments in life. Eventually, my father would get out his can of repellent and spray it around the bay and lift. Ol’ Warren would take the hint and, without skipping a beat, promptly turn away and walk out without a word. Off his car would go until he decided it was time to come bragging again.

    What’s most interesting is that my father was just as bad, if not worse than his father. As a matter of fact, it seems to be a family trait, although I was quite fortunate that I did not inherit the Knechel knack for bullshit. 

    What perplexes me, though, is that people I have known a long time will sometimes remind me that I sound just like my late father. I have no idea why someone would think such a thing! How could anyone EVER insult my good character like that? As if I have the gift of gab. HAHAHAHAHA!!!

    SHOCKING! The NERVE of some people!

    Monday
    Jan122015

    THE GEORGE ZIMMERMAN DUMP

    Last Monday, January 5, George Zimmerman supposedly threw a bottle of wine at his erstwhile girlfriend after she broke up with him and attempted to flee his house, where she had been living for the past two to three months. Apparently, he demanded that she return one of his paintings and an argument ensued. He threw her cellphone to the ground, smashing it to pieces. Sound familiar? She may have called him a psychopath, which would have infuriated him to no end. She told the police he was. When she left the house, she was pulled over by Lake Mary police for not having her headlights on. A nearby officer had heard the sound of glass breaking. She was a total wreck, panicking and crying. The reason, just in case you’re not aware, why Zimmerman wasn’t arrested the night of the alleged incident is pretty simple.

    When police went to his house to investigate that night, the hot-tempered cop-wannabe was nowhere to be found. All week long investigators attempted to contact him, to no avail. He wasn’t home and he refused to answer his phone. It wasn’t until Friday that police found him at his residence, but he refused to come to the door or respond to phone calls for nearly two hours, and that was only after his attorney, Don West, was contacted. From what I understand, police could hear someone quiet the dog from inside the home prior to answering the door. He was then placed under arrest and charged with aggravated assault. Sadly, the victim claimed she didn’t want to pursue charges against him on the night of the incident, and she still doesn’t. Why? More on that, but…

    Saturday morning, he easily bonded out after Circuit Judge John Galluzzo set it at $5,000. He was ordered to turn his guns over to a family member or friend and to stay out of Volusia County, where the woman now resides. He’s still in Seminole. He cannot have any contact with her, either. True to typical Zimmerman form, he denied everything. She threw the wine bottle at the garage door after he refused to let her in. Her five-year-old son was the one who broke her phone long ago. He dumped her, not the other way around. Sound familiar? Nothing is EVER his fault. Poor boy, and you know something? He’s going to get away with it again. Why?

    The victim is refusing to cooperate with investigators and the prosecutor’s office. There’s a simple reason for that, so don’t misunderstand or condemn her. George Zimmerman is toxic, to say the least. She wants nothing to do with plastering her name all over every newspaper and TV station across the country, including TMZ and whatever gossip show picks up on it. Would you? Odds are, Zimmerman would get away with it anyway, since he always does. After all, like OJ, his name is synonymous with ‘getting away with murder,’ and after calling him a psychopath to his face, she’s got to be frightened to death of him now.

    Sunday
    Jan042015

    Acerbic Redux: Absolute proof that Barack Obama was not born in Hawaii

    When Barack Obama announced his candidacy over six years ago, a ruckus stirred over his birthplace. Was it in the USA or Kenya? At the time, I knew that Hawaii had been one of the fifty states, so anyone from there was an American citizen through and through. But was he actually born there??? My interest piqued, so I decided to do some investigative work. Initially, I had no idea what I’d uncover, but I never gave up, and true to my craft, it didn’t take very long.

    The so-called “Birthers” went on and on for years, led by Mr. Donald “You’re Fired” Trump. No, he wasn’t born here, they emphatically stated. They still do. Very early on, I held the unwavering position that he had been properly vetted by federal services, as any legitimate candidate would have been. To think otherwise would be to proclaim the FBI, CIA, Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service and a multitude of other agencies complete farces and total failures in every worldwide arena. And remember who was president at the time. (No, I’m not looking for political critiques.)

    In 2008, I decided to put an end to the speculation before it spread by proving that Obama was, in fact, NOT from either country. Sadly, I failed miserably, but I still have my proof. You can choose to believe it or not…

    Here is a Moai statue of Baracku at Rano Raraku on the Polynesian island, Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island, where they weren’t Muslims, either:

    Sunday
    Jan042015

    When Barack Obama announced his candidacy over six years ago, a ruckus stirred over his birthplace. Was it in the USA or Kenya? At the time, I knew that Hawaii had been one of the fifty states, so anyone from there was an American citizen through and through. But was he actually born there??? My interest piqued, so I decided to do some investigative work. Initially, I had no idea what I’d uncover, but I never gave up, and true to my craft, it didn’t take very long.

    The so-called “Birthers” went on and on for years, led by Mr. Donald “You’re Fired” Trump. No, he wasn’t born here, they emphatically stated. They still do. Very early on, I held the unwavering position that he had been properly vetted by federal services, as any legitimate candidate would have been. To think otherwise would be to proclaim the FBI, CIA, Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service and a multitude of other agencies complete farces and total failures in every worldwide arena. And remember who was president at the time.
    In 2008, I decided to put an end to the speculation before it spread by proving that Obama was, in fact, NOT from either country. Sadly, I failed miserably, but I still have my proof. You can choose to believe it or not…Here is a Moai statue of Baracku at Rano Raraku on the Polynesian island, Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island, where they weren’t Muslims, either:

     

    Wednesday
    Dec312014

    Happy New Year!

    Thursday
    Dec182014

    No Baloney

    I was shopping in a grocery store the other morning. It’s one of those chains with a decent variety of organic foods. Sometimes, I like that kind of stuff. Sometimes, some of it is rather silly. Take this, for instance. While looking at the bread selections, I happened to see organic hot dog rolls. ORGANIC HOT DOG ROLLS???!!! Huh? What do you put inside a hot dog bun? HOT DOGS!!! What’s good and healthful about hot dogs? No… please don’t tell me about vegetarian weiners because they are probably as exciting as sex with blow-up dolls. What’s the point?

    It reminded me of a car I saw with my friend, Stewart, in the Sarasota area a while back. We were sitting at a red light. VROOM! VROOM! Or was it ZHHH! ZHHH!? It was a Toyota Prius Sport. SPORT???!!! We laughed. For some reason “Prius” and “Sport” go together like salt and sugar, and “organic” and “hot dog,” don’t you think? Anyway, I don’t believe we’ll be seeing any Prius Sports on the NASCAR circuit any sooner than I’ll be eating a vegetarian hot dog on an organic bun. With ketchup.

     

    Monday
    Dec082014

    Whiskey River and the 3 Marlboro Omelet

    This is a piece I wrote in February, 2006, although I did edit it a little the last time I published it on Dec. 27, 2012 because my writing style improved. Today, I left it intact.

    Here we are, eight years after this story, and where are we? I see more racism now than I did in 2006, and I see it on both sides of the fence. If anyone thinks it’s a one-way street, they are blind to society. 


    When I was doing design work for a local printer, we had a film stripper who set up our work to make plates for the presses. He was a really good guy and we got along quite well. I was from New Jersey and he was a Florida native. A lot of people from here have a fair amount of resentment towards people from other parts of the country, especially northerners. If you were from Alabamee or Mississippa, you were OK. The northeast? Eh. Not so much.

    Ron and I used to tease each other about northern and southern differences - the Civil War, the South Rising Again! That sort of thing, but it was all done in a good natured, friendly manner with no implied intent. Whenever he brought up some Yankee thing to tease me about, I always had a standard reply; one he could not defend, “Well, at least I didn’t have a hangin’ tree in my back yard.”

    Ron lived in Apopka, which is a relatively rural town northwest of Orlando. Plenty of the deep south has areas of racial hatred, including parts of Apopka. I’m not trying to single out any community. They’re everywhere, and most of the town is not like that, but there’s a long history steeped in racial bias and, yes, hangin’ trees that should have been chopped down a long time ago. Ain’t been no hangins’ around these here parts in a long time, yet there still exists a small faction of folks who believe the old rules of the deeply segregated south should never and shall never change.

    When I moved here in 1981, I found a place in Winter Park called Harrigan’s. My sister used to work there. It’s been gone a long time now, but one of the bartenders ended up buying an established business in downtown Orlando on the corner of Orange Avenue and Pine Street called Tanqueray’s. It used to be part of a bank and housed the vault. You walk down a flight of stairs from street level, step inside, and immediately feel the warmth of the friendly crowd.

    Many of the regulars from those days were professionals who worked downtown and stopped in for a drink or two to unwind and socialize. It was known as a hangout for attorneys and it always seemed to be a well mannered, intellectual group. That’s where I met John Morgan, but he has nothing to do with this story. I seldom go downtown anymore, but if I do, I try to stop by, since I’ve known Dan a long time and he always has a few good jokes to tell, plus he’s an all-around great guy.

    One time, I dropped by for happy hour. I had to go into the city for some reason and, I figured, why not go see Dan. I took a seat at the bar, near the front door, and we exchanged some friendly banter. The place was quite busy, so we didn’t have much time to talk. Moments after I arrived, some guy was standing to my immediate left. Talk about rough around the edges, he didn’t quite fit in with the rest of that crowd. He ordered a draft beer and said to me, “Yup, I was at Whiskey River at 7 o’clock this morning.”

    Whiskey River is a liquor store on S. Orange Blossom trail. It’s certainly not in one of the nicest parts of the city. There are a few scattered around and they have a reputation for catering to hardcore drinkers - the labor pool and unemployment collecting types who live off their pay buying cheap booze and cigarettes. Such was this particular fellow. I have no idea why he chose me out of the crowd to enlighten, but there we were…

    “Whiskey River? At 7 AM? So, tell me, what did you have for breakfast?” I asked.

    “I had me a 3 Marlboro omelet,” he responded in his gruff, seasoned and rather pickled sounding voice.

    “Hmm. Sounds delicious.”

    “Yup. It was.” Suddenly, out of the blue, he blurted, “I’m a card carrying member of the KKK.”

    “No. No way.”

    “Yup.”

    I had never met anyone with any sort of affiliation to a white supremacy organization. You know, you always hear stories, but have you ever met anyone like that for real? “OK. Let me see your membership card.”

    “Ain’t got one. Don’t need one.”

    He didn’t come across as some sort of nasty fellow. He didn’t seem to have gone in there to start trouble. I think he just wanted someone from the “big city” to talk to. Maybe, I looked slick enough. I seem to collect those types, anyway, but I don’t mind. I guess I have a friendly demeanor that people pick up on.

    After telling me he lived in the outskirts of Apopka, I thought to myself, why not give the guy a chance to speak his mind. I would try to rationalize everything he says and come back with an appropriate response. I asked him how he could feel this way and have so much hatred inside?

    “They’re animals. Damn n*ggers are monkeys.” I think he really wanted to test me, yet I sensed sincerity in his statement and a certain curiosity on his own part, like he was questioning his own tenets; the ones he was most likely raised on.

    “Animals? What if you had sex with a monkey, could you get her pregnant?”

    “Nah, of course not. That’s stupid.”

    “What if you had sex with a black woman, could you get her pregnant?”

    “Yeah, of course.”

    “Well, what you are accepting is that if black people are animals and you could get that type of animal pregnant, then you are a monkey, too. You are an animal. We’re ALL animals.” He had no smart answer.

    With every racist claim he made, I had a response. At one point, I asked him, “What if you were in a horrible accident and needed a blood transfusion and found out later you now have the blood of a black man inside. A BLACK MAN. A NEGRO. AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN. What would you do? Would you try to return it? Would you tell your card carrying KKK members that you are now tainted with the blood of an animal? Would they hang you from the highest tree?”

    No responses to my queries made much sense. He didn’t necessarily agree with me, but I could tell he was grasping, if not absorbing, everything we were discussing. He really was trying to understand the other side. I brought up the “be they yellow, black or white, they are precious in his sight” song from Sunday School days of my youth. He knew the song, but many southern racists are born into religious families that adhere to odd and distorted interpretations of the Bible, as if Jesus was lily-white and black folk dangled from olive trees.

    I asked him about black heroes who had saved plenty of white hide during the war, World War II in this case. A lot of us wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for good ol’ blackie.

    The conversation had taken on a kind of flow. It was never a heated exchange and we showed each other respect. I couldn’t judge him for his status in life, but I surely did question his morals and prejudices with a vengeance. Our discussion began to wind down without ever really unwinding. The conversation had just taken its natural course. At the end, I had one final question to ask.

    “What if we were on a deserted island — just you, me and a really good looking black woman…” Suddenly, the door opened up and a group of very good looking women sauntered in, one of whom was black. “HER!” I exclaimed, looking right at her. She didn’t see or hear a thing. “What if it was just you, her and me?”

    “I’d kill YOU, not HER. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.” I knew what he meant. Sex. Ain’t no way this dude was gonna go for me, Deliverance-style.

    “You mean to tell me you’d kill a white man to save a black woman? Wait a minute. Doesn’t this go against your entire credo? People you’ve hated all your life? What would the KKK say about that? Kill a WHITE to save a BLACK?”

    “You’re confusing me, man, you’re confusing me!” Aha! Gotcha, I thought to myself. “You know, you’re right.” he continued, “Yup, you are, but I’ll never tell my friends about it. I can’t. They’re my friends and they’d kill me.”

    I guess I felt some satisfaction in thinking I had gotten through to the guy, but did I really? He had listened to enough, I reckon, and I’ll never know for sure.

    “Thanks for the talk. Gotta go.” And off he went.

    What surprised me the most was that the patrons sitting at the bar had listened intently to our conversation, unbeknownst to me. After the guy walked out the door and it shut behind him, they broke into a loud applause. They, too, thought that, maybe, just maybe, I had gotten through to him. Perhaps, I did, but that was then…

    Occasionally, I think about him — the KKK man who sucks Marlboros for breakfast — the guy who returned to the hangin’ trees that only sway in the wind these days; back to the recollections of fiery crosses from days gone by. I hope and pray those days will one day be burned from all of our memories forever and that warm southern breezes of kinship will sweep through the minds of people like him everywhere. Gone with the wind.

    We can still have a dream, can’t we?

     

     See it HERE or:

    Saturday
    Nov292014

    Expert Textpert. Goo Goo Goo Joob...

    My editing skills have improved since the original version from four years ago. This is a fresh sychronization of The Beatles audio and Styx video versions of “I Am The Walrus” - from today, November 29, 2014.

     

     

    Wednesday
    Nov262014

    I want to thank the prosecutor's wife

    In light of Ferguson, I was reminded of an experience I had with a couple of local police and a prosecutor back in the 1970s. While there are no comparisons, it’s still something that came to mind. Everyone handles situations their own way. This is how I handled mine.

     

    INTRODUCTION

    In 1975, I was 23 and the spirit of youth was still in full bloom. It was a great time in my life except for one harrowing experience with the Delaware Township Police Department, located in central New Jersey. I had gone out that night with a friend of mine, Ken [Redacted.] We hit a couple of bars and settled in at a place in New Hope, PA, called John & Peter’s. There’s a café in front and a small listening room in the back. As small as it was (and still is,) they had some pretty big name bands perform, like Iron Butterfly and The Chambers Brothers. One of the local favorites back then was a group out of Philly called Johnny’s Dance Band. Some nights, you just didn’t know unless a barmaid let you in on the secret of who it would be. It didn’t matter who was playing the night we showed up. We didn’t go out for that. We didn’t even go out to drink much. We just went out to have a good time until he dropped me off at my apartment…

    THE BUST

    My place was right in the center of Sergeantsville, a very rural community with one blinking light. You were in and out town before you knew it. Directly across the street was the municipal building and home of the police department. We sat there for a few minutes discussing what the rest of the week was looking like, sort of like planning another night to run around, drink a few, and hit on some babes. Slowly, a police car crept up across the street and parked. Two officers got out and started to walk towards us. I wasn’t afraid of anything. Neither of us were drunk and we certainly weren’t doing anything wrong. I recognized one of them, Rich [Redacted,] from my high school days. I got out and stood at the front of my friend’s Dodge van. Rich and I greeted each other, shook hands and talked about what we had been up to since those earlier times. The other officer went over to the driver’s window. Both Rich and I were oblivious to what was transpiring until we both heard, “I smell marijuana. Get out of the van right now! You are under arrest!”

    Rich and I looked at each other with surprise. I turned to face the other officer and said, “Hey, what are you doing?”

    He stared at me and said, “You are under arrest, too!”

    He made my friend get out of the vehicle and ordered us over to the police car, where he demanded that we empty our pockets. I didn’t respond in the split second time he wanted, so he thrust me down on to the hood of the car, knocking the wind out of me. In two seconds flat, I was in handcuffs and he was emptying all of my pockets, where he found a frog, a couple of marbles and a secret agent compass. Maybe some pocket change, too, but absolutely nothing illegal. As a matter of fact, nothing of interest was found in my friend’s pockets, either. I asked this overzealous cop what we were being arrested for. He hesitated and said, “For being drunk and disorderly!”

    I knew right then and there we were being charged with something trumped-up. We weren’t drunk and we weren’t disorderly. Had we been drunk, this stupid officer, Jack Demeo, should have been smart enough to charge the driver with a DUI (or DWI back then.) The keys were in the ignition.

    The cop commandos marched us up the stairs and into the police station.

    “Watch them,” Demeo said to Rich, giddy with delight, as if he had just apprehended serial rapists or something. He went outside and returned with the ashtray, dumped it on his desk and went picking through the tightly packed butts. Lo and behold, he pulled out a marijuana roach that amounted to…

    2/10 of a gram!

    Whoa! The biggest bust of the century! “Ha, ha, ha…I gotcha now!!!” An obvious glee and an evil grin had overtaken him, as we were soon to be facing life in prison in his eyes. “So, on top of being drunk and disorderly, I’ve got you on a CDS charge, too!”

    “What’s CDS?” I asked.

    “Controlled Dangerous Substance,” he snapped back, with a sarcastic snarl. That roach could have been in the ashtray for weeks, for all we knew. The ashtray was packed with butts, but had we known it was there, we would have smoked it long before the cops showed up.

    After sitting for what seemed like an eternity, I had to pee. I asked Demeo if I could go. “NO!” I asked him several times and got the same commanding response. Finally, I pulled something out of my head…

    “As a U.S. citizen and subject to rule number 17 of the U.S. Constitution, Section C, Part 203, I am allowed to use a restroom facility when I consider it necessary, under penalty of law.”

    “Take him into the men’s room,” he ordered Rich, “but watch him.”

    As I was peeing, he was apologetic. “Hey, Dave, I had nothing to do with this.”

    Demeo was filling out paper work interrogating my friend when we returned. He looked at me and attacked like a junk yard dog. “Where’d you get this stuff?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “Tell me!”

    You’re going to bust us with that? You’re a joke.”

    After about a half hour of brutal questioning, he realized he wasn’t going to get anywhere, so they loaded us into the back of the squad car and drove us to the Hunterdon County Jail. The entire ride consisted of Demeo making wise cracks and telling us we were the lowest and vilest sub-humans of the community. We laughed. Oh, how it angered him more.

    DELIVERANCE

    Finally, we arrived to the fanfare of the hungry jailers. They took our mug shots and fingerprints. One of the guards was a high school teacher who moonlighted at the jail and remembered us. He took us upstairs and put us in a holding cell, It was just me and Ken.

    “I’ll come back and put you in a better cell as soon as we get rid of these asshole cops,” he said, and he did. When we awoke the next morning, the TV was showing an old science fiction movie. Yes, it was high-class. Color, too. There was another guy who was already there. We introduced ourselves, shook hands and I asked him what he was in for.

    “Murder.”

    “Oh.” I didn’t want to pursue that conversation, so we just settled in. At one point, he got up and switched the channel to American Bandstand. I wasn’t about to say, “TURN IT BACK! I WAS WATCHING THAT MOVIE!”

    Later that morning, the jail doors were opened to freedom, fresh air and sunlight, and our nightmare was temporarily over. $50 later.

    THE PLOT THICKENS

    We knew we had to get legal representation. My friend got a lawyer and I talked to an attorney friend of mine, Jay Thatcher. We were in the JAYCEES together. I told him I didn’t have money to hire a lawyer. He asked me to tell him what transpired that evening. I told him. He said, “Dave, this is the most ridiculous injustice I’ve ever heard. I’m going to represent you for free.”

    Jay was a great guy and a very good friend. I was so glad he decided to help out someone in need. He got in touch with the other attorney and they both agreed to file a Motion to Suppress Evidence, a request to a judge to keep out evidence at a trial or hearing, often made when a party believes the evidence was unlawfully obtained.

    The judge at our arraignment hearing was Thomas Beetel. Years earlier, my Aunt Bertie worked for him when he was in private practice before being appointed to the bench. We shared the same last name and they didn’t get along. I think he might have fired her. I wasn’t aware of any connection at that time - I was told later - but he should have recused himself on grounds of prejudice. He did not. Our respective attorneys requested that both officers not be present in the courtroom together when each was to give their own testimony. The judge did allow that. Both cops gave conflicting reports of what transpired that fateful night. I assumed my old high school “friend” would set the record straight. He did not. He lied through his teeth even more than the arresting officer did. I could not believe what I was hearing. Then, Demeo told the judge he was trained by the Marines to smell marijuana better than a dog. When I took the stand, I noticed the judge was doodling stupid little pictures, as if he wasn’t paying attention, and had already made up his mind. I guess he did because he sent it on to trial. Motion to Suppress Evidence denied!

    THE TRIAL

    On the morning after our arrest, the judge we were going to be facing, Jacob Chantz, was attending a funeral with my grandfather, Reverend George W. Landis. They were very close friends. He should have recused himself, too, because of that friendship, but he didn’t, and I guess I am thankful for it. The evening we went to trial, it was one big family; the two officers, the prosecutor, our respective attorneys and us. My close friend, Frank Foran was sitting in the gallery, along with my parents. Our trials were to be handled separately, but together, if that makes sense. Our attorneys approached the prosecutor to work out plea deals. 

    After minutes of whispering, Jay came back to me and said, “Dave, this is what the prosecutor wants. He’s willing to drop the drunk and disorderly charge if you plead to the CDS charge. It means that after a year, you can apply to have your record expunged and it’s completely erased. It’s as if you were never arrested. You pay a fine now and there is no jail time. What do you want to do?”

    “No way am I going to plead guilty to anything. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

    “Great! That’s exactly what I was hoping to hear you say.” He went back to the prosecutor with my response.

    “Oh no,” the prosecutor told him, and there came a very special AHA! moment. You see, prosecutors can be moved around to different jurisdictions if the need ever arises. The need arose that particular evening. 

    “What do you mean?” my lawyer asked.

    “My wife is 99.9% pregnant. I came up from south Jersey. I’m filling in for the regular prosecutor, who’s on vacation. She could have the baby any minute. I just want to get this over with and go home. How long is this going to take?” 

    “At least seven hours as far as I’m concerned. I’m going to pick every legal trick out of my hat on this one.”

    “You’re kidding, right?”

    “No, I am not. My client is 100% innocent of these charges and I intend to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.”

    “This isn’t all that important of a case to me. Let’s just drop the charges.”

    That was it. It had absolutely nothing to do with my guilt or innocence. Case dismissed. All on account of the prosecutor’s wife being pregnant. Now that was justice.

    My friend had the drunk and disorderly charge dropped but the prosecutor said someone had to take the rap for the 2/10 gram of Mary Jane. It was his vehicle, so he did and a year later he did have his record expunged.

    So went my first foray into the legal system. The judge later told my grandfather it never should have reached his courtroom. It should have been dropped at the Motion to Suppress stage and, if not, he had planned on dismissing the charges against me anyway.

    AFTER ALL THIS

    Oh, yeah. Good old Jack Demeo. He got himself into a little trouble about a year or so after our trial. He was accused - on several occasions - of flashing his badge out of his territory and for trying to pick up women he pulled over. He should have been dealt with for breaking the law but he wasn’t. Cop. Good old boy syndrome, I guess. I also heard he had been planting pot in cars to make busts, but had he done that to us, I’m sure more than 2/10 of a gram would have been found. The clincher that finally sealed his fate and brought his law enforcement career to a screeching halt was when he was in Atlantic City inside a casino, Unfortunately for him but lucky for the rest of the country, he flashed his badge at the wrong people at the wrong time. He told a dealer he was with the NJ Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control and he was doing an investigation. What kind of favors can you do for me? The manager of the casino got involved and promptly called his brother-in-law, who worked for the ABC. Why is one of your guys trying to bribe me?

    The agency launched an investigation faster than a poker player folds on a five high hand, and dispatched agents to the scene immediately. Jack Demeo was arrested on the spot. Because of that, his credentials were stripped and he was told he could never be a police officer again. The former police chief of Delaware Township, where I was arrested with my friend, told me he did try years later, but the retired chief, the late Warren Peterson, put the screws to that. My guess is that he’s probably assistant head of security at a Dollar General store somewhere in Podunk, Arkansas. I did run into Rich a couple of years later and he wanted to extend an apology for what had transpired. I told him that, “as an officer of the law, you were there to tell the truth. You didn’t. I’m having a tough time with what you put me through.”

    Quite obviously, that experience was still on my mind. One day, he approached me at the Weiner King in Flemington, where I was the manager, to tell me he could get me a really good deal on a Jaguar XKE. He had hung up his gun and went to work for a car dealer. The car had just come in and it wasn’t even prepped yet. I took him up on the offer, it was a great deal, and I forgave Rich after all. I think he just got caught up in the cop ego trip thing and eventually let it go. All was well between us and I know it ate at him all those years. He really wanted to make things right, and he did. I don’t hold a grudge.

    EPILOGUE

    I learned my lesson that you can’t always trust a man with a badge and prosecutors don’t always work for true justice. I’ve known a lot of police officers and a few prosecutors over the years and most of them are honest and hard-working. Never again have I run into a bad cop like Jack Demeo, but that one time was all it took to keep me on my toes. Fortunately, most guys like him are eventually weeded out of police departments, but not always.

    Oh yes, one more thing. The guy we spent the night in jail with who was charged with murder? He was found not guilty. He had a different prosecutor, too.

    Tuesday
    Nov252014

    FerGRRRRRason

    As a credentialed journalist, I covered two trials extensively - both the Casey Anthony and the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin cases. I wrote about the “alleged” murders long before the trials began, too. I say alleged because, prior to trial, that’s exactly what they were. A trial is intended to determine guilt or innocence. Sometimes, situations arise where where there is no cause to move to trial. I know nothing about the St. Louis County grand jury other than what was reported on the news from August 9 through what prosecutor Robert McCulloch stated at the press conference. I do intend to read what’s made public, though, due to Missouri’s sunshine law, which is similar to Florida’s.

    Because I am not familiar with the Ferguson case, I will proffer no opinion one way or the other. Not until I know something more. (If I ever say a word.) This was an extremely sad event. For four-and-a-half years, I witnessed the twisting of news as it was told from all sides. I was part of the system. Not to mention the trolls. I took down a judge. I slept with Casey. I fathered bastard children. I had STDs. I was a drug addict. You name it, I was the scourge of a handful of online derelicts. But in my writing - in the real world - God knows I tried to be fair; however… deep down inside, I had a real soft spot for Caylee and true compassion for Trayvon. Sometimes, it showed. My heart poured out in the words I chose. In the case of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, I just don’t know enough about the case to offer any kind of opinion, and if I do, it would surely upset the other side. Please don’t even try to second guess me. WHICH ONE IS THE OTHER SIDE, DAVE???!!!

    You see? There are no winners here. We all lose, and I never want to be an attacked messenger again. This one would be like walking into an active volcano wearing a backpack filled with gunpowder.