Dick “Old Pete” Peters, the former star columnist and managing editor of the Reading Times, had -30- written next to his stay on earth Sunday at age 84.By the way, -30- was a newspaper-industry copy symbol back before computers that signaled an article’s ending.”Old Pete” had a remarkable career at the Reading Times. His monumental achievement was helping clean up the city’s rampant rackets in the 1950s as his front-page “Old Pete” columns lit a fire under governmental officials to expunge the sordid mess.Peters was a crusader because passion burned white hot inside him and never ebbed into mere embers. Indeed, intensity beamed from his eyes. He had the right stuff and the write stuff when newspapers made a profound difference. In his heyday, ink-stained wretches were the media heroes. And newspaper ink overflowed from the dungeons of his soul.Of course, being a newspaper man, Peters hardly was one-dimensional. Neither were his columns. When they weren’t crusading against crime and corruption, his columns were a place where clowns of comedy tumbled and frolicked with tales of his woes as a Pirates fan and bowler and his creative recipes for dandelion wine.I guess this sort of serves as a requiem for a mentor because “Old Pete” gave me my start in this business when he hired me as a Reading Times sportswriter. He was a tough but fair boss.In the 1970s I penned a weekly sports humor column that managed to raise some hackles of ire among a populace used to sportswriters who genuflected before their subjects. There were some folks who wanted me run out of town on a rail at Seventh and Penn. But “Old Pete” always had my back. For that, I will be eternally grateful. For that, Mr. Peters always will hold a prime spot in the attic of my mind.Of course, he would call you out when you deserved it. He used to mark up the daily paper with red comments. There were called hell sheets. I made it more than once.My favorite listing on “Old Pete’s” infamous hell sheets came after I had made a reference to FBI director Edgar J. Hoover. On his hell sheet, Peters scrawled: “Any relation to J. Edgar Hoover?”The guy was as sharp as a pinprick. And just like a pin, always to the point.
In Keith Mayer’s excellent Crime Time blog on the three young men being charged Thursday in the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Tiffany Colon in the 500 block of Maple Street, he closes with a very poignant question:Would they do it again if they really understood the significance of their actions?This question frequently pops up in my mind when I read about young adults routinely being convicted of popping people on our city streets.Didn’t they realize the profound consequences before squeezing the trigger? Didn’t they realize they were blowing away their own lives as well as their victims?Compounding their stupidity, frequently these murders are over relatively insignificant drug trafficking and fiefdom disputes.Their quick-trigger motives for murder are eruptions of fury that put many people through hell for pathetically trivial reasons.Their distorted perception of transgression ignites in too-quick-to-heat coals that burn their victims, themselves and their community. We can rail all we want about what the police, the courts, the politicians, the educators, the parents and the neighbors should be doing to stick a muzzle on all these city shootings.But the bottom line is the ultimate responsibility falls on the triggermen.Many of them are obviously trapped in the contemporary culture of the streets. Still, didn’t they pay attention when other young punks from the street got nailed for murder and now are trapped in the contemporary culture of the jailhouse?If these losers are blinded by the swirling mists of macho, it’s time for them to blink away the fog and realize they’re terribly narrow-minded in their rush to bloodlust.They must be in considerable pain, psychological if not physical. Because, by its nature, pain involves a narrowing of focus — like sighting down a gun barrel.People who are hurting are too myopic to see beyond their pain.Hopefully a lot of potential killers on our streets looked long and hard at the front page of the Reading Eagle today and saw the lost faces and forlorn souls of the three young men charged in Tiffany Colon’s slaying.And hopefully they also looked at the haunting face of Tiffany Colon, a teenage girl cut down in cold blood before her time.Murder and mayhem crowd each other on our busy city streets.And all because too many people allow self-restraint to fracture and burst into terrifying explosions of anger.What’s lost in all of this is a sensitivity to just how priceless human life is. What’s missing is a compassionate dimension that rounds out a community’s values.Our community cannot flinch an inch from the yoke of responsibility that goes with instilling that sense of self-restraint in our young people.The desire to dam the riptide of raw violence must become so powerful in all of us that it bursts and becomes a need.But it all starts with the punks with gun in hand. Wise up, dudes! When you do the crime, you’re gonna take a deep fall.So when your trigger fingers are getting itchy, don’t succumb to the rash of impulse and flush your victims and yourselves down life’s toilet.
Someone once said — and I could be wrong, but I believe it’s been repeated once or twice over the years — that you can’t judge a book by its cover.Evidently, the same thing goes for names.Granted, there’s always a fat guy named Slim and a gorgeous babe called Beast. OK, I made up the second one, but you get the point.To cut to the quick, I was absolutely astonished and indeed became perched on the precipice of being utterly flabbergasted when I read this morning that the Dead Sea is dying a slow death.I’ll pause for a moment here while you recover. Hopefully the shock didn’t permanently raise your voice an octave (bad news for guys) or make your jaw muscles lose their grip (bad news for pretzel lovers). OK, now that you’re no longer dizzy, it’s apparently true. The Dead Sea ain’t dead yet. Who knew?I thought the Dead Sea had croaked from old age shortly after Moses had parted its waters for the Israelites to cross while they were hot-footing it away from Pharaoh’s elite Egyptian chariots.My mistake. The Israelites went through the Red Sea. Which isn’t red, it turns out.So let me get this straight: The Dead Sea ain’t dead and the Red Sea ain’t red.Not to trip over an omen or get picky about details, but I pray that the rest of the Old Testament is a tad more accurate. By the time of Christ, I assumed that the Dead Sea had been resting in peace as generations begat generations begat generations, etc. Another mistake.For some reason I was under the false impression that the Dead Sea Scrolls were a collection of the sea’s obits compiled by historians and then buried in the sand to give archaeologists something to do on their Middle East field trips.Well, apparently the Dead Sea eventually will live up to its name by dying.Its water level has dropped more than 80 feet and its size has shrunk by more than a third in the last 50 years. In the next two decades, the sea is expected to fall at least 60 more feet. Evidently the culprit is the River Jordan, which is going dryer than an AA meeting. By then, kids frolicking in the Dead Sea may not need water wings to stay afloat. Of course, perhaps their elders may preclude them from swimming in a sea on its death bed.After all, the real elderly who remember when the Dead Sea was young may harbor a certain reverence toward such a biblical if misnamed body of water.
George W. Bush and America are on a crusade to shine the light of democracy into every nook and cranny of the globe. Which, of course, is a noble if somewhat impractical mission.After all, good luck with North Korea, Georgie and Condi.So while American soldiers still are dying and getting maimed trying to make democracy stick in Iraq even though there seems to be little adhesion there, democracy is suffering in the shadows of acute apathy here at home.And by home, I mean home — as in Reading. In the cobweb darkness of primary election night 2005, democracy took one on the chin in southwest Reading’s District 1 City Council race.Of course, nobody in America seems able to count votes in an efficient and timely manner anymore.A voting machine glitch halted the primary tally before midnight and forced election workers to begin manually counting ballots from 20 city precincts. So perhaps it was a good thing they didn’t have a helluva lot of votes to count.Especially in the race for the Republican District 1 City Council nomination. To be fair, it’s unlikely that Republican voters in that district will ever multiply like ants around one of the district’s teeming trash piles.Still, this race could have been won by a turtle with torn ACLs because the vote totals were embarrassingly low.With 28 precincts out of 48 reporting, Phillip S. Coles, a 45-year-old city businessman, had 11 votes.Richard B. Sweitzer, a 47-year-old security guard, had seven votes.Stephen P. Fuhs, a 54-year-old banker, had two votes. At least his vote total matched his thumb total. There are toddlers who can count that high. Or low, depending on your perspective.All three candidates were fogged over with the sad breath of voter apathy.And I’m not buying the excuse that many registered Republicans in District 1 skipped voting to attend the Chamber of Commerce dinner and hear Tom Ridge reveal we still have enough duct tape to put terrorists in a bind. Of course, one candidate will get the Republican District 1 nod for City Council. Still, all of them undoubtedly were shrouded in monastic gloom on election night.In the dark shiver of this morning’s early hours, they had to wonder why the hell they had even bothered to run.At least a few Democrats in the district bothered to visit the polls for an uncontested race. The lone nominee, John P. Santoro Jr., got 80 votes. Just call him Mr. Popularity, I guess.Nevertheless, it seems the winner of the November general election for District 1 City Council likely won’t have a resounding mandate when he takes his seat in council chambers.But we can’t castigate any of the council candidates in District 1 for not resonating with voters.After all, none of their campaign budgets could afford sonar to bounce off submerged objects. And voters in their district definitely are submerged.Somebody should tell George W. that democracy is treading water right here in Reading. And it’s time to drop some depth charges to wake up the electorate.P.S.: The county released updated voter totals this morning and this town crier must now admit that perhaps our Grand Old Republic isn’t in need of life support just yet.Apparently still waters do run deep. And enough Republican voters surfaced in District 1 to fatten the primary totals slightly above starvation anemic:Gorge yourself on these plump figures: Coles 105Fuhs 85Sweitzer 59Who knows? If this late micro-surge foreshadows a trend, some distant day there just may be more ballots than bullets in this town.
I believe a natural magnetism is developing between my wallet and our gas utility. The higher its prices spike, the thinner my wallet gets. The only winner in all of this is my butt because I now sit on a flatter wallet.Yep, the Reading Eagle had the story this morning that UGI Utilities Inc. is seeking to increase its gas rates 3.1 percent above the approximately 4 percent hike it will enact June 1.UGI last increased rates Dec. 1 by 2 percent, and previously raised rates 3.8 percent June 1.Let me tell you, this constant spiraling in price is giving me gas.Compounding matters, I live with a family that can’t stand any discomfort. In our house, if the heat isn’t on, the central air is.We don’t believe in opening windows because our sons complain that the birds chirp too loudly. And that compromises their beauty sleep.Consequently, our budget is dropping through the floor like a wounded crane. We’re just valiant foot soldiers in this consumer war, and we’re getting strafed by the dashing fighter pilots posing as utility execs.Of course, their excuse is the trite axiom of supply and demand. The UGI party line is that the use of clean burning natural gas continues to increase faster than new supplies are becoming available.Well, assuming that good fortune never is going to get around to blowing our way, we’re going to tighten our belt before these gas prices further descend upon us like raving pack hounds.We won’t turn on the heat until the temps drop to single digits. And we won’t turn on the AC until the temps hit triple digits.My family, of course, will be incensed and ponder mutiny. No matter.With the holes in our until-now little used screens, mosquitoes undoubtedly will infiltrate our beloved home and have us for lunch. Malaria may kill us before the next UGI rate increase.
If I do dream regularly, I don’t remember most of them. But every now and then I have a dream that scares me.For instance, I dreamt about Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb last night.For those of you who don’t follow pro football, McNabb and Owens play pitch and catch on the field for the Philadelphia Eagles and did it well enough to reach the Super Bowl this past February.But their relationship has been smitten by hard times. It’s Owens’ fault because his global shrieks of selfishness are hardly the screeches of a reasonable, resonant, well-modulated and well-articulated voice.Of course, when his witch’s brew of cauldron-bubbling greed and egotism was borne on an active media breeze, T.O. clammed up. Claiming, of course, that his cheap shots were taken out of context.Not to bore you with the details of the Eagles’ family feud, but it’s beginning to make the attack on Pearl Harbor sound like woodwinds.T.O. wants more money from the Eagles. To secure more leverage, he’s resorted to a flash fire of spontaneous combustion by dissing McNabb. It appears there’s more than economics to Owens’ attacks on his quarterback.Evidently, Owens considers McNabb to be a house man and organizational puppet. It seems McNabb isn’t all that fond of his mercurial receiver either.But Donovan is always polite in public. He’s the master of the vacuous smile even when his insides are boiling more colors than just Eagle green. For more skinny on the abrasive chemical content of their relationship, check out Peter King’s column on si.com today. But back to my dream. It was just a fleeting moment flashing across my sleeping mind’s eye, but I dreamt that Owens and McNabb were dressed up like Eagles cheerleaders and vamping it up on the sideline.Honest to God, I’m not making this up. Even in my dream I was astonished by its absurdity.When I awoke, the dream still left a bitter taste in my mouth. So I immediately tried to drown it by draining a quick cup of coffee. Two additional cups of java and an ensuing Listerine rinse didn’t help.I know that Zeke is my alter ego and all and that we have a vested interest in pro football. After all, quarterbacking a football contest that takes me and our lucky winners to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl is nothing to sneeze at.But I apparently have to broaden my horizons ASAP! I’m actually afraid to fall asleep tonight. I’m emotionally vulnerable right now because that Owens-McNabb dream withered my psychological strength.
Brown patches of dirt (OK, that’s redundant because you seldom see green patches of dirt) should know their environment, their context. They have no business acting like churlish interlopers and squatting where grass once grew in my lawn.But those patches of dirt speckle my lawn every spring. I imagine it’s some sort of rite of spring, but I consider it to be a wrong of spring.So every spring I plant grass to fill in the bare spots. I throttle breath back into those splotches — all the while knowing that even when the seed sprouts, the demon will be only staggered, not slain. New bare spots will pop up next year to hang out in tandem with the dandelions.Of course, growing grass can be a tad tedious when Mother Nature turns off the water spigot. I swear every spring we suffer a drought for a couple weeks right after I plant grass.I planted grass last Sunday, and except for a brief shower overnight this Sunday, the rain has stayed away from my yard like a scared school of fish. The fountain of flow is drier than high-brow British humor.So the past week my constant comrade has been my garden hose. I’ve been snaking it around throughout my expansive yard, soaking dirt that is ravenously thirsty. You can tell when the ground is dehydrated because the slightest breeze triggers rooster tails of dirt.The only saving grace about yard work is that when we go to work, our mind does not. So I stand there watching staccato bursts pulsate from the garden hose while random thoughts ricochet through my idle mind.One thought routinely catches fire inside my mind and ambushes me while I water. Actually, it’s a question that gnaws at my insides until my ribs develop tiny stress fractures.Why is it that grass slashes, whirls and explodes religiously and incessantly into flower beds, but never, ever will dare venture into the sovereign space of a bare spot in the lawn?Even if you keep a bare spot of dirt loose and moist, grass cowers and stays away as if the patch were surrounded by a moat of alligators, barbed wire and an electrical fence! Suffice it to say, I find this dichotomy to be preposterously cruel. So I’m venting about this in my blog. It’s my only recourse, considering that I can’t verbalize it.You see, my righteous indignation is so acute that it’s a physical impossibility to work the words up my throat.