Physics Lessons

Freebie: Hi, Fred. We got a little accident. Could you send a tow truck, please, to 618 Elm Street? Hold it. It’s the, uh, third floor, apartment 304.

Freebie and the Bean (1974)


…And the hits just keep on coming.

In Our Last Episode, I’d noted that, for the first time ever in my adult life, I’d actually made it onto a jury. The judge tried to get everything done today so we wouldn’t have to come back tomorrow, but no such luck. What that meant, was a lot of hassle at my school.

The reason it’s a hassle for school is because I’d scheduled IEP meetings for several of the students on my caseload. If I’m not there, then there’s nobody to keep things running and such, and the data entry is going to be less-than-awesome, and a few other headaches. So after they let us go for the day, around 4:15PM, I decided to head over to my school, let my principal know what was up, and do some advance prep to make it easier for the team to get stuff done, or at least into a decent place for me to finish it all off.

My school is typically a 10 minute drive from the courthouse area, but we’re talking A) downtown Baltimore, B) close to rush hour, C) within an hour of the Orioles starting a playoff game. It took me 40 minutes, no exaggeration, to cover that one-mile course. Maybe longer; it was after 5 by the time I got into the school. The principal wasn’t happy to hear the news (of course), but she was glad I’d come in to help set things up.

Around 8:00, I finally left the building and headed home. My plan was to take I-95 part of the way, adhering to the speed limit because, after all, I was still on the donut spare.

Here’s where we have to go to the map:

It's possible that when I pulled over, I considered jumping onto Russell Street.

See that road running through the middle of the picture? That’s I-395, the spur that runs between the Downtown area and I-95. The red arrow is where I hit the pothole, or more accurately, the shoddily-filled series of potholes. The orange arrow (because, Orioles) is where I stopped the car. Those arrows are no more than a couple of hundred feet apart.

So I called the Triple-A guys via an app on my phone, and they called me back in a couple of minutes. It took a little explaining to get them to understand exactly where I was, but finally he got it and said he’d be right over. Sure enough, he was there within a few minutes. That was the guy with the AAA Service vehicle; there wasn’t a lot he was going to be able to do for me; this car needed a tow. So he got the tow truck dispatched.

In the meantime, I’m working my phone to see if a friend of mine, who used to work in a garage not far from my school, would contact said garage and let them know I’m bringing my car over. No problem, he says. Then a second call to Wife, to let her know where she’s picking me up. Tow truck shows up, car gets taken to the garage without extra fees (being on that on-ramp kind of complicated the distance, so AAA showed a little mercy in that respect: as the crow flies, it was no more than a mile to the garage. Because the tow truck couldn’t just do a U-turn, it was maybe a six-mile circle we were driving in). Total time from breakdown to Wife picking me up: about an hour. All is reasonably well. Except for the whole Nearly Dying Last Night thing combined with two flats within a 25-hour span.

OK, so here’s the Physics Lesson:

If you look at that orange arrow, you’ll see that my car was situated almost exactly between Orioles Park at Camden Yards (at the top of the picture) and M&T Bank Stadium, where the Ravens play. I’m also on an elevated highway, maybe 30-40 feet up over Russell Street. The Orioles were playing the Detroit Tigers tonight in the first game of the Division series, and the Orioles were doing quite the fine job this evening (final score: 12—3). So while I was waiting for the AAA guy, I turned on the car’s radio and tuned in the game. Then, just for the giggles, I opened my car window to see if I could hear the sounds from the stadium. Turns out I could, but I was hearing the stadium AFTER I heard it on the radio! The ball would get hit, the crowd would roar on the radio, and right after that I’d hear their hollering through the car window. How could this wizardry be?

Here’s how:

I estimate the distance between the stadium and my car to be roughly 400 feet. That means it takes, at 1,122 feet/second, about 1/3-second for a sound from the stadium to reach the car. However, when the sound hits the announcer’s microphone, it’s speed-of-light almost the rest of the way. Into the mic, through the wire, to the transmitter (five miles away), out through the radio waves and into my car’s radio (five miles back), where it’s converted back to sound for the last two feet. But it’s all happening at 186,282 MILES/second.

It’s the same reason you see the fireworks before you hear them. Physics, boy.


This was the cover of the New Yorker, 9/24/01. I still have a copy somewhere. The original doesn't have this much contrast between the foreground and background.

I still feel vaguely ill when I see these pictures. I was one of the people who—at first—was a little peeved not to see the ending of “The Celebrity Apprentice” back on May 1. But, of course, once the news of Osama bin Laden’s death came through, I (and, fortunately, most of America) stopped caring about Donald Trump and his games.

I’m not one of the people who actively cheered bin Laden’s death. I didn’t get a sense of closure out of it. I didn’t feel as though the world had changed back to its pre-9/11 state. But I did feel as though maybe a page had turned.

A short while back, I was goofing around with the Internet Wayback Machine and came across a piece I’d written a couple of months after that day in September. A friend of mine was assembling a website she’d called “Sorrow in America” and solicited pieces from a lot of people. Mine was one of the pieces she’d published. I reproduce it here with her permission. I can’t remember if I wrote the title or if she did.


Visiting Home

In 1992, during an interview discussing fortieth anniversary of her reign in England, Queen Elizabeth described that year as the Royal Family's annus horribilus.

2001 will be remembered as mine.

In February my second marriage collapsed and I moved in with a friend until I could get my act together. The daily commuting distance from Long Island to Brooklyn, however, put such a strain on my finances that I was just about paying my bills, even though I paid no rent. I began making plans to move out of the New York Metropolitan Area altogether and in mid-July I finally made the leap, landing in Baltimore, Maryland. It was the first time in my entire life that I'd lived more than 45 minutes' drive from the New York City line. I was now 200 miles from my ten-year-old daughter, I'd left my visually-impaired preschool students in the middle of their summer school program…I was running away. That's how some people put it, and there were times when I was forced to agree. But everywhere I turned there were reminders of failure and promises that weren't going to come true, and healing was impossible for me.

On Labor Day weekend I had my daughter with me and we were making plans for the next time she'd be down to visit with me. September 14 isn't so far away, I told her. She'll be busy with school starting and all that. It'll go by before you know it.

Of course, before we got to that day the world changed.

I remember being at work and we were in a training session when someone broke the news to us about what had happened. The trainers had little clue of what they were doing, so I was able to grab a computer terminal and see what was going on. This had to be a rumor. A bad one. Something in the realm of an urban legend, where it was just crazy enough to ring somehow true. CNN website? No access. MSNBC? Same thing. New York Times? Slow, but it worked. And Oh, My God it's for real. Opening multiple browsers and banging away at websites, trying to get in. Newsday was also slow but working.

The trainers droning on about a paperwork tracking software system that even they couldn't quite understand and chastising me every time they noticed that my terminal didn't look just like everyone else's. Word came in that one of the towers had collapsed. Apparently a training group in another room had given up on the training and was watching the television. We did the same, turning on the TV in our room.

Everyone in the room was startled and shocked. I was horrified, dumbstruck, numbed. It wasn't the same for them. For the rest of the people I watched with, it was a tourist attraction that had taken the hit. This was my home I was looking at, smoking and in ruins. When I was at work, those buildings were within sight. Whenever I'd driven back up to Long Island to visit my daughter, they were among the first sign of New York that greeted me as they peeked over the horizon before anything else. I was sickened, I was saddened, I was…was…there was something else gnawing at me beyond all this, but I couldn't figure out what.

The other building came down and I remember saying, over and over, "Ohmygodohmygodohmygod" as the top of it started to go, that huge broadcast antenna tilting slightly to the side before the floors below finally gave way and the building collapsed almost straight down, joining its mate. Shortly after that, we got word that Baltimore City was shutting down. That was enough for us. We left the training center and headed home before we found ourselves among thousands of others trying to do the same thing.

Arriving home and turning on the TV and the computer at the same time. Still struggling with that last undefined emotion. Watching the footage of the second plane crashing and the buildings falling, over and over, as though they hadn't already been seared into my memory the first time I saw them. Looking for more information on the Web, suddenly remembering that other parts of the world have news websites, too. The BBC and The Guardian, both British sites, had much less traffic and were faster-loading. But I wasn't learning much new anymore. A big chunk of my home had been blown up. What more was there to know?

Calling my daughter. I knew she wasn't in Manhattan, but who knows. Getting the answering machine and leaving a message. It wasn't until several hours later that her mother (Wife #1) got through to me, using a cell phone because the land lines were so bollixed up. Talking to my daughter and telling her that I probably wouldn't be able to visit. Shit. Who knew that there would come a time when I wouldn't be able to come running when she needed me?

GUILT. I felt GUILTY that I'd left and now this happened. This was my punishment for leaving. "You don't want to be here?" asks Fate. "Fine, then I'll take it away." It's stupid, it's irrational, but it's how I felt. Still do, from time to time.

Going to work and pretending to function. What do these people know about how I feel? They never lived there. Going home and parking in front of the TV again. My roommate tiptoeing around me and asking me from time to time if: A) I'm OK, and B) If I'm sure I'm OK.

Flash forward a few weeks and I'm going up to see my daughter for the first time since all this happened. Some people who live within sight of the skyline are telling me that it's still smoldering, over three weeks later. Some tell me it's not. I'm not sure I can stomach this.

My entry into New York takes place at the Outerbridge Crossing, onto the southwest corner of Staten Island. Staten Island is the home of Fresh Kills Landfill, which was recently closed in order to be capped and whatever else they do with such things to make it habitable again. Fresh Kills was re-opened to give crews a place to bring, and then sift, the wreckage. From the Staten Island Expressway you can't see much of Fresh Kills, since the 'landfill' is now a 40-foot mountain lightly covered with grass, but it's an uneasy feeling to see those helicopters circling overhead…

As I pass Fresh Kills, the next thing I forget to expect is that trucks are bringing stuff to the landfill. The first truck I encounter is a flatbed tow truck. It carries a police car with its roof caved in. The hood has easily an inch or more of soot and ash. The next truck I pass has some random twisted metal on it. The third, a van with its windshield and front portion of the roof crushed inward.

The fourth truck looks much like the second, until some detail catches my eye and I realize that this one is not carrying random twisted metal. The whole thing suddenly comes together and I realize that it's the remnants of an utterly destroyed fire engine.

Only a few minutes later, as I cross the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, I get my first look at Manhattan. The whole city looks…wrong, somehow. I know that the World Trade Center is missing, but Manhattan's skyline is several miles long. It shouldn't look wrong everywhere, and yet it does.

As I take the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway north, I'm treated to a front-row-center view of lower Manhattan. I don't see smoldering but I do see cranes. Their actual activity is, thankfully, obscured by some of the buildings that were spared. We hit a traffic jam and I'm left to stare at this image. I look to the right. The Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Citicorp, New York Life, McGraw-Hill…anything else I care to pick out is visible. I hold up one hand to block out the financial district. It's still looking wrong.

New York and I are miles and miles apart, yet still connected. The skyline that I grew up looking at is changed forever. I am changed forever. Annus horribilus.

Goodbye, Luv

Ratso Rizzo: You know, in my own place, my name ain’t Ratso. I mean, it just so happens that in my own place my name is Enrico Salvatore Rizzo.
Joe Buck: Well, I can’t say all that.
Ratso Rizzo: Rico, then.

Midnight Cowboy (1969)


RonLundy And another star has made its way into the firmament.

Ron Lundy, one of the best disc jockeys anywhere, ever, has died at the age of 75.

Ron worked at a few midwest stations, including WIL in St. Louis, where he was known as “the Wil’ Child”.

In 1965 he moved to WABC in New York and stayed there until the station jumped to the talk radio format in 1982, a day that fans still refer to as “The Day the Music Died.” Ron is probably best known for being the midday guy, but he started on the overnight shift.

Every day he’d open up his show with a gigantic “HELLO, LUV! This-a Ron Lundy, in the Greatest City in the World!” It seemed that Ron could talk with most of the words capitalized. The aircheck here, which is telescoped down to under 12 minutes (i.e. the commercials and records are cut out), is a relatively laid-back sample of his work. It dates back to December 20, 1969. The voice on the promos, by the way, is that of Dan Ingram:

Ron Lundy’s voice was so recognizable (remember that, at night, WABC’s signal reached up to forty states), that he was chosen to “represent” New York City in the film Midnight Cowboy. As Jon Voight’s character reaches the city, we hear a radio and the DJ’s voice is none other than Ron Lundy.

This next piece is from June 27, 1970. It’s about four minutes long. It’s not the best quality (some “picket fencing” interference) but you still get a good feel for the way the station ran. Ron read a lot of the commercials live, occasionally stopping to holler, “ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME? Well, pick yer head up when I’m talking to you.”

One more from the WABC days. This one is from September of 1980. It’s about seven minutes long and also has some “picket fencing” but it’s nonetheless fun to listen to.


wcbs logo In early 1984, Ron moved to WCBS-FM, New York’s oldies station. The word is that, when he was recruited, the program director essentially carved out a spot for him on the schedule, cutting back several other DJs’ schedules by an hour each. Still in the midday, Ron would get us through lunch and then hand us over to Bill Brown, whom he described every day as “a tall, blond man”.  Ron held the slot until September of 1997, at which point he retired.  He still came back for the occasional “reunion weekend” and did interviews on WCBS and WABC’s flashback Saturday evening show with Mark Simone.

bignote You can find a bunch of airchecks from Ron’s final hours on WCBS at (Incidentally, the airchecks above are all nicked from

Ron retired to the town of Bruce, Mississippi. In recent weeks, his wife said he had had a lung removed after cancer treatment and suffered several mini-strokes. He became dehydrated, went into cardiac arrest during rehydration, was resuscitated and put on a ventilator. Just a few days ago, he had a tracheotomy to remove the ventilator tube, a step toward taking him off the ventilator altogether. However, he had a heart attack this weekend and died yesterday.

I saw the headline and tuned in for awhile to WCBS-FM, listening to their Internet feed. Apparently the tributes—email and phone calls—are just pouring into the station. You can see some of them here. (For the record, from the time I started typing this to just now, the number of messages has gone from about thirty to nearly 150. There may be several hundred by the time you see it.) As an on-air tribute, WCBS will be re-airing Ron Lundy’s last hours on their station on Sunday night beginning at 11:00. And, of course, the DJs all have their own memories to share between now and then.

Rest in Peace, Ron. Your voice has been missed for many years, and now it’s silenced forever. Your memory, however, will continue for a long time with literally millions of people.

Enough, Already.

Jack: How is it that you didn’t know about the crash? About us?
Desmond: I push this button every 108 minutes. I don’t get out much.

Lost, “Orientation” (10/5/05)


igorVovkovinskiy Snowpocalypse, Snowmageddon, Snowgasm, Snowtorious B.I.G….call it whatever you want, it’s a lot of snow. Statistically, as of February 11 Baltimore is THE snowiest city in the US this year, with a total of 79.9 inches. That’s just enough to bury the guy to the left, here. (His name is Igor Vovkovinsky, and he lives in Rochester, NY, which is now #5 on the list with a mere 63.9 inches.) As a means of contrast, Michelle Obama is 5 feet, 11 inches tall; she only has to go to Philadelphia, PA (#4) to be buried in snow.  I’d have to go to Erie, PA (#3). My next-door neighbor B would probably go to Syracuse, NY (#2).

And—AND! We’re not done. There’s more snow coming on Monday evening.

But, whatever. You can read all about the snow in a million other places, you can see pictures in the news and on Facebook (“Winter Snowstorm 2010”), everyone has a story of how they were snowed in away from the rest of the world and they had to SHOVEL THEIR WAY OUT, the horror…the horror.

The positive side to all of this is that you’re also seeing a lot of stories about neighbors getting together and digging each other out. Sometimes this means that they’re meeting for the first time. In our case, this wasn’t the situation (meeting each other, that is), but there was a pile of camaraderie going on this week. Everyone took some time to dig out one or more of the neighbors.

The last time it snowed a lot, our neighbor from across the street, who is a locksmith, was taking his work van through the neighborhood and he got bogged down in the snow. B from next door, his son and I all helped to dig him out and get the van about 200 feet up the slight incline to Harford Road, which was at least reasonably clear. A passing big honkin’ pickup truck coming up Harford spotted us and offered to pull him out the last 15-20 feet, which he did and then went merrily on his way. Locksmith and his wife said that they’d have us all for dinner as a “Thank You” once B’s wife, S, got home from China. (She’s studying International Business Law there for a year, but was due home for the intersession break. So if you need a lawyer who can speak fluent Chinese, drop me a line and I’ll put you in touch.) (Oh, and don’t blame me if she doesn’t update; go yell at her.)

So this past week, we had everyone over at my place for the Super Bowl, which means all kinds of food, including S & B from next door, Mr. & Mrs. Locksmith, and the engaged couple across the street (who now need a moniker…give me a minute). A day or two later, it was brunch at S & B’s place. Shortly after that was the Thank You dinner at Mr. & Mrs. Locksmith’s house. And the next night we had dinner at the Engaged household (still working on it). And in the middle of all this, when we finally got one of the bigger vehicles to break free, everyone rode in the Shopping Expedition (Big Ford-related pun!) that afternoon. (Ooh, there you go: they’ll be the Ford Twins, since it was their car.)

As a result, between all the shoveling, and the meals at the neighbors, and the Nobody Goes Nowhere situation engendered by the snow, I’ve about had it with the togetherness. It’s not that I’m an anti-social person, but I definitely enjoy being social on my own terms. I don’t want to spend any more time with the neighbors, I don’t want to spend any more time with my family (Valentine’s Day be damned), I need some honest-to-god “me” time. I do realize that it sounds kind of asshole-ish of me, but I do need frequent periods of solitude or my anxiety levels go way up. And let me tell you what: they’re up. I need to get back to work so I can calm down. Especially since that’s where the BuSpar is, dammit.

This morning, Wife asked me if I’d take Wee One to her cheerleading practice this afternoon and I was only too happy, because I could work on this post and the other parents generally leave me alone. My luck: Ultimate Gymnastics is staging a kid’s birthday party this afternoon, which means that the normally-quiet waiting area has dozens of people in it, including a bunch of hyperactive seven-year-olds, plus the tables are all occupied, so my computer is a laptop in the literal sense just now, and I’m boxed in with all these other folks. I’m not claustrophobic, exactly, but I’m definitely an aisle-seat kind of guy.

So if you see a headline coming out of the Baltimore area about a murder-suicide in Parkville, that would be me.

Getting Faced

[In Frank’s wedding video, Frank is about to cut the cake]
Trapper:  Look, even then he didn’t know how to hold a knife. [Laughs]
Hawkeye: [Laughs] Watch the cake die of malpractice.

M*A*S*H, “There is Nothing Like a Nurse” (11/19/74)


Kim Lewis is one of the Bigger Wheels in the Baltimore City school system, and while I don’t work in her department, I do work with a lot of the people who are. Ms. Lewis will be participating in the Polar Bear Plunge this weekend, which raises money for the Special Olympics. Her goal is to raise $10,000, which will allow her to take the plunge 24 times in a 24-hour period. She’s pretty close to her goal, and it wouldn’t be too tough for you to help push her over the top.

Today, as part of her fundraising efforts, a bake sale was held at the Puzzle Palace. Among the goodies were cupcakes, doughnuts, homemade cookies, and, of course, cakes. One cake in particular was the centerpiece for this whole thing, but I’ll come back to that in a second.

As you probably know, money’s been a little tight since September, but Wife and I do our best to help out with some charities here and there. And since Special Olympics is rather close to my heart, I did want to contribute to Kim’s cause, but I wasn’t sure I could really afford it, what with it being post-Christmas and all. However, after doing my taxes this past weekend (what? Shut up), I decided that I could afford to kick in a few bucks to the cause.

Now, there are a few ways to help out if you work in the school system. You can go to the second floor and hand some money over to one of two people delegated to collect on Kim’s behalf. Boring. You can go to the website and do the electronic thing. Easy, but also kind of impersonal, especially inasmuch as I work in the same building with her. Or, I could do something a little weird at the bake sale, like buy an entire pie or something.

So there I am at the bake sale and they’re maybe two hours into the thing, so there’s definitely not as much on the table as there was the first time I looked. The centerpiece cake, however, was still mostly intact. The reason for this is that it was one of those half-sheet size cakes which had a photo on it. I’m sure you’ve seen that type. The photo on this one, of course, was a picture of Kim Lewis standing in front of a poster for the Plunge. For some mysterious reason, the ladies who were serving out food were cutting around the picture. This, of course, became my target. How could it not?

I came in close to the table and greeted the ladies. Then I said, “I want some cake.” As she started to make the cut, I said, “No, no, no, no. I want her face.”

They were actually a bit taken aback at this. They looked at each other and looked unsure, as though there was some kind of rule that would be broken. I persisted: “I’ll pay extra for it.” Now, I was going to haggle with them a bit. I had a set amount in mind that I was going to spend altogether, but I wasn’t going to give it up easily. One woman said to the other, “He will pay extra…” The other woman said, “Twenty bucks.”

“Done,” I said, and instantly plunked down a pair of ten-dollar bills that were in my hand. This, as it turns out, was what I’d planned to spend in total.

They still couldn’t believe it. “You’re really going to give us twenty dollars for a piece of cake?”

“If it’s the face, yes,” I said.

kim cake They went for it. In fact, they gave me a slice about twice as large as typical, because they had to cut way into the picture to get the face. If you look at the picture here, it’s hard to tell that there’s a seven-inch paper plate underneath that hunk o’ cake.

Neither of the women could remember my name, so I said to call it an anonymous donation. I took my cake and brought it into a meeting in the Board Room, which was right behind the bake sale table. About two minutes later, Kim came into the Board Room and said, “Somebody just paid twenty dollars for a piece of cake!” Of course, the piece was still intact in front of me (I’d just snapped the picture), so she figured it out right away. She gave me a hug and thanked me for supporting the Plunge.

Now, here’s the odd part. (Because eating a colleague’s face isn’t weird.) When I worked at Helen Keller, all of the classroom aides were Puerto Rican, and they had a superstition about birthday cakes. Specifically, you had to smear the person’s name across the cake before you cut it, so that you weren’t cutting into the person’s name and giving them all kinds of bad luck. This kind of carried with me, and now I do it. So I had to smear Kim’s face before eating the cake. My way of wishing her luck as she makes the Plunge this weekend.

And in case you missed it, here’s the link to donate once more.

The English Language is At Hope

Carter Tibbits: Whoa! Whoa! Stealing to impress your father! You know, Rory, I run a program for at-risk youth, such as yourself…
Paul Hennessy: He's not at-risk!
Carter Tibbits: If I had a dime for every parent who ever said that…

8 Simple Rules…For Dating My Teenage Daughter, “Every Picture Tells a Story” (2/25/03)

————————-rosa franklin

I heard a news item yesterday that state Senator Rosa Franklin, a legislator in Washington State, apparently feeling the pain of her less-fortunate constituents, is proposing that children or families who are currently considered to be “at risk” have to bear the unfair burden of a pejorative term used about them, specifically: “at risk”. Her suggestion is that it be replaced by the softer, more positive, almost New Age-y, “At Hope”.

See, this is why Washington State hasn’t made any significant contributions to the nation since Cobain blew his brains out.

Franklin apparently nicked the idea from the name of a national organization called “Kids at Hope”. Oddly enough, the director of that group isn’t thrilled with the idea because KAH is more inclusive that just the poverty-stricken.

Now, I understand the need for some political correctness these days. Sometimes a word will become pejorative and no longer acceptable. “Retarded” is one of them. It’s become a catch-all and a word so laden down with meaning that many jurisdictions have begun to abandon it. So, “retarded” is out, “intellectually disabled” is in. Parents who would balk at their child being considered mentally retarded are perfectly all right with their child being “intellectually limited” or “intellectually disabled” or even a “slow learner” (a handy phrase we like to use for the youngsters with the low IQ who don’t meet the standard for retardation intellectual disability).

But “at hope”? No.

Let’s start with the fact that it’s a semantically null phrase. It means nothing whatsoever. For whatever faults it may have, “at risk” (which replaced “disadvantaged”) at least has some kind of meaning behind it. Something needs to happen to these youngsters, because they’re at risk of some kind of danger, usually multiple kinds. So there’s a certain necessity in the vagueness, because some kids are at risk of abuse, some are at risk of hunger, some are at risk of violence, and some are at risk of all of the above, or perhaps even something else.

weneedfoodAnother problem is that it’s misleading. If you hear that a child is at risk, you’re likely to take some action if you can. If they’re “at hope”? Hey, help is already on the way; what do I need to do? Nothing, that’s what. So my suggestion to Senator Franklin is that she concentrate on something that matters, not intellectually disabled (heh) stuff like this.

Ooh, and here’s an interesting detail: as of 2008, only 20% of people living in poverty (in the US)are children. (Details can be found here.) What are we supposed to call the other 80% of those people?

In the end, the difference comes from what we actually do for these folks, not the labels we apply to them.


Dick Gregory: Michael Jackson is a perfect reason as to the greatness of this country. Where else can a poor black boy from Gary, Indiana grow up to be a rich white man?

–Comedy Central Presents: The NY Friars Club Roast of Hugh Hefner (2001)

I really didn't want to do this topic, but what the hell. 

Chevy_Chase Does anyone remember Chevy Chase doing the Weekend Updates in the first season or so of Saturday Night Live? For months there was a running gag centered around the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco: "Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead." "Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still valiantly holding on in his struggle to remain dead." The gag was a response to months of NBC News tossing in "Franco's death is imminent" references every time they had a slow news day. 

This is what we're dealing with, with Michael Jackson all over again. But the difference is, it's not really Michael Jackson dominating the news that's getting to me. It's Michael Jackson overshadowing Farrah Fawcett.

Let us turn back the clock a little bit.

When Princess Diana was killed in the car crash, we went through the same kind of wall-to-wall coverage. Diana's death was sad and all; nobody likes to see someone die, especially before their time. But in the end, enough was enough. And about a week later, God gave the press a karmic wedgie and Mother Teresa died. And even though, in any given weekend, Mother Teresa did probably a metric shitload more for the poor and hungry than Diana did in her entire life, the Diana funeral coverage overshadowed the Mother Teresa coverage. 

In fact, I have a memory of a conversation I had with someone during which I noted how sick I was of all the Diana coverage. I said something like, "Mother Teresa's death isn't going to get half the press that Diana's getting." She shot back, "Well, I guess we'll see when Mother Teresa dies." That's when I broke it to her that Teresa had died the previous day. End of conversation. 

Farrah Fawcett Poster So anyway, this is what we're dealing with this time around: Farrah Fawcett died last Thursday morning. Absolutely every thing I've heard or seen in the press centers around what a wonderful person she was; how sweet she was and that she was a decent actress who tried to play against type; the relationship she had with Ryan O'Neal and so on how she'll be missed and all that. Everything–absolutely everything that I've seen–has been positive. Even the iconic poster (which, oddly, I didn't have on my wall) has a story behind it which describes how wonderful she was throughout the photo shoot. Apparently, the suit was one of the last things she was photographed in that day. A whole day of being photographed and she still managed to break out a smile as dazzling as that. Seriously, that's a professional at work. 

Michael Jackson Then and Now Now, a brief look at Michael Jackson. A talented performer, to be sure, but also a very troubled person. And when you looked at the coverage, there was certainly a mixture of the good and the bad. The "Thriller" album, the plastic surgery. The Moonwalk, the allegations of molestation. Neverland being constructed, Neverland being thisclose to foreclosure. "Black and White" the song, Black and White the skin tone. And the comments from people on websites didn't run a gamut, it was more like polarization. Saint and sinner, good guy and bad guy. He'll be missed, he should burn in hell. And yet, this is the figure who gets the attention, the one who gets the coverage. He was nothing if not controversial, this much is universally accepted. But he–and his behavior, whether crazy or bad or whatever, is what gets noticed. 

Nice guys finish last, even after they die. 

Poolside Again

Mr. Burns: Officers, arrest the baby.
Chief Wiggum: Yeah, right, pops. No jury in the world is going to convict a baby. Well, maybe Texas.

The Simpsons, "Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part 2" (9/17/95)


I'm starting this post in the Jury Assembly Room down at the courthouse on Calvert Street. Yes indeed, kids, Your Humble Narrator has jury duty again.

There was a time, my friends, when jury duty was simply not in my vocabulary. When I lived on Long Island, I got called exactly one time, about a week after I'd moved out of the county. When I lived in New Jersey I was called not at all. Now that I'm in Baltimore, this is my second time in this room.

For those who are curious, the ceiling of this room is beautiful. I'd take a photo but they've threatened to have us shot if we bust out the cameras. And they've upgraded the monitors on the walls since I was here last. They've gone from tube TVs to flat panels. The movies haven't improved much, though. Today's offerings were Meet the Parents, Happy Feet and Home Alone. If you're in the Quiet Room, you can  see the movies but not hear them.

My number today was 622, so they clearly anticipated a lot of need. However, when they first got rolling, they called up to Number 150, then they called from 151 through 260 about ten minutes later. And that was it for the entire day. At least last time around I got to go with the group to a courtroom, only to be sent back to the pool room when they put a jury together before they got around to asking me everything.

So I basically spent the day surfing the web and reading my Kindle, with a lunch break at the Five Guys down at the Harbor. So when you combine my stipend with my lunch and parking, I lost about seven dollars on the day, but it's not about the money; it's about the opportunity to participate in one of the more important aspects of the experiment they call the United States of America. That opportunity didn't come this year, but clearly Baltimore likes me enough to call me back repeatedly.

So, Once Again…

Mr. Snavely: It ain't a fit night out for man nor beast. 

[Repeated line after which Snavely repeatedly gets hit in the face with snow]

The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933)

…just to recap.

FP Snow
Allegany County, Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, Caroline County, Carroll County, Cecil County, Frederick County, Howard County, Kent County, Montgomery County, Queen Anne's County, Washington County: conditions are too dangerous for the kids to get to and from school safely. 

FP Summer
Baltimore City: Tropical paradise where every driver has a spotless record. 

Did I mention that I live about 150 yards from the City/County line? 

Look: in my office, snow days are more trouble than they're worth (believe it or not). They bollix up schedules at my busiest time of the year. I'd much rather come in now, during the High Season for IEP meetings, than in June, when it's all housekeeping duties. And I realize that it's important to get the kids in school as many days as possible before the Maryland State Assessment is given, so they have as much advance prep as they can. 

But I also remember too many stories of kids who walked to school in the street because there wasn't any snow there. Unfortunately, that's where the cars, whose traction was tenuous at best, were. Not to mention that being on the sidewalk is no guarantee of safety. 

When I worked at Helen Keller, we followed New York City's lead on school closings. Unfortunately, NYC doesn't close very often for weather because all the kids take the subway or the MTA to school. HK kids took the short buses. One time, during a blizzard, I left home 2 hours earlier than usual. I got there before everyone else because nobody else was on the roads. Seven children came to school that day. We kept them all in my classroom and the teachers swapped in and out in shifts to work with them. 

This is Charm City, though, not New York City. I'm rarely comfortable with the kids being out in this stuff. 

Hey, They Could Do Worse–Though I’m Not Sure How

Mandy Hampton: Leo, please tell Josh that I can play a role in issues and that it's not going to be an end to this administration.
Josh Lyman: I don't think it's going to be an end to this administration, Leo, I think it's going to be an end of this republic.

The West Wing, "The State Dinner" (11/10/99)


So just to boost my spirits a little bit, and to celebrate my Blogiversary (four years as of today!), I sent a job application to the Obama administration.

Right now it's just an interest form with not much else to it. Later on, I presume, the other stuff will come up, such as what specific job I might be interested in.

I get the feeling that there are plenty of things which might disqualify me, many of which I've written about here. So in that sense I guess the disclosure part is out there. But what the hell–to be part of something like that would be nothing short of amazing.

I guess if I actually got a job with the Obama administration (Secretary of How They Handled It On The West Wing), I'd have to take a leave of absence from Baltimore City Public Schools. I wonder if they'd miss me?

I presume I'd also have to step away from this blog for awhile. On the other hand, I'd have a million bucks' worth of book that I'd be able to write at the end of it all. Heh.

Dare to dream!