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.
Well, according to the calendar perched on my cluttered desk, this is Friday the 13th. And good luck with that. As you know, there are some among us who feel that Friday the 13th is an axis of evil to be dreaded to the nth degree.Folks who suffer from a chilling fear of Friday the 13th are saddled with paraskevidekatriaphobia. Which takes a measure of good luck, not to mention spell check, to even type correctly. By the way, those poor souls who simply suffer from a fear of the No. 13 are afflicted with triskaidekaphobia.The distinction is relatively moot. If you’re scared witless by the No. 13, odds are pretty good that you’re absolutely terrorized by Friday the 13th as well. Also, the odds are equally as good that you probably would kick butt in a spelling bee if you’re a paraskevidekatriaphobe and a triskaidekaphobe.How on earth can these poor dupes tremble at the knees and quiver in the belly over this nonsense? Well, it’s an ancestral question.The Scandinavians, when not otherwise occupied with frolicking naked in the snow, believed that the No. 13 was unlucky due to the mythological 12 demigods being joined by a 13th, an evil one. And being evil, his divine mission was to mess with the serenity of humans.It was also said that Christ was crucified on a Friday and the number of dinner guests at the Last Supper was 13. The 13th guest was Judas, one of history’s all-time bad guys. Some obscure gospel accounts even make reference to a baker’s dozen of doughnuts being served for dessert at the Last Supper.So while I may scoff and think this Friday the 13th phobia is silly and full of falsity and wind, there are true believers who swear it’s simultaneously sinister and biblical in origin.Yep, it seems everything is rooted in religion. For instance, legend has it that Eve offered the apple to Adam during a Friday lunch in the Garden of Eden. Jeez, if only pears had been on the menu that fateful Friday.And remember the Great Flood that had everybody but Noah and two of a kind of every species treading water? Yep, it supposedly began on a Friday even though the forecast for that day was only partly cloudy.And do you recall the confusion of multiple tongues and languages at the Tower of Babel? You guessed it. Evidently transpired on a Friday and segued to every corner on every day in Manhattan.Literature, back in the days before blogs were invented, referenced Friday the 13th. Chaucer alluded to Friday as a day of spine-mangling bad luck in his 14th century Canterbury Tales. English professors will tell you that Chaucer suffered from severe writer’s block every Friday and this so traumatized him that he refused to even look at his BlackBerry between sundown Thursday and sunrise Saturday.Which gave him time to invent the Friday Happy Hour. But that, my friends, is a whole different urban legend.This being a Friday and all, I tempted to follow Chaucer’s lead and indulge in Happy Hour. Because, quite frankly, I could use a stiff drink or two.You see, I’m starting to sink into a climate of fear and loathing. And before you mock me for roaming into the realms of the occult concerning Friday the 13th, certain omens in my day so far foreshadow a personal date with a crucible of tyranny.For instance, when shaving this morning, my vanity mirror broke. Oops!Then when walking to pick up my copy of the Reading Eagle, a black cat crossed my path. Uh-oh!And since it was a little chilly, I was sorting through our foyer closet to grab my jacket when my wife’s umbrella fell from a shelf and accidentally opened. Yikes!Of course, since it’s her umbrella, not mine, I’m not sure if she’s facing disaster or doomsday is stalking me.Not wanting to press my luck, when I walked from the parking lot to the office I refrained from stepping on any cracks in the sidewalk. So at least I got that going for me today.Of course, if I spill salt during lunch and have a bat fly into my house this evening, I’m really going to freak.I’ve already got chills and palpitations, sweating the day out. I’m praying fervently for the stroke of midnight. My inner core is more shook up than an Elvis impersonator.Wish me luck. I’m hoping that when the cold light of day breaks on Saturday the 14th, I’ll still be in one piece. And still solvent. With my luck, I’ll be broke by then. You see, I’m playing poker tonight.
School board meetings usually numb minds as well as butts. They can be so boring and so mundane and so long that board members sometimes need Viagra to prop up their eyelids.Fortunately, the Reading School Board over the years has tried valiantly to infuse some entertainment and inject some excitement into their sessions.Granted, sometimes adding this sense of adventure and adrenaline hasn’t been intentional. Rather, it has been the byproduct of some school directors having geraniums for craniums.After all, nobody ever said that school board members have to be educators. They delegate that authority to the true professionals. Of course, directors never are shy to tell educators how to do their jobs even if they themselves couldn’t spell dog even if you spotted them the d and the o. The Reading School Board had some fireworks Wednesday night. In fact, the meeting got deliciously contentious. Some of these board folks are so ornery they must have been raised by tigers with skin rashes.Extending the legacy of the Reading board being an equal-opportunity distributor of nonsense and chaos, the directors hired a new superintendent. By the way, as you may have read in your favorite newspaper today, they did so by a 7-2 vote that came amidst shoving and shouting by board members.I know this would be a violation of the Sunshine Act and tick off the media, but perhaps the board should mimic the College of Cardinals and vote for their new leader behind closed doors. Of course, who would trust these board members with matches when it came time to fire up the white smoke? The poor guy they hired to shepherd this school district facing monumental social and economic issues in addition to the three R’s of reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic, Dr. Thomas R. Chapman Jr., already must be having second thoughts. No word yet on whether he’s planning an escape back to the Pocono Mountain School District, where he was assistant superintendent.It seems the process in which the board hired Chapman was about as popular as a carbuncle with some board members, who were acting like mutineers. They cried about glitches in the master plan, getting emotional over perceptions of crude and exclusive execution — or the lack thereof.Board members Keith Stamm and Pierre Cooper voted thumbs down against hiring Chapman. Prior to the vote, Stamm, Cooper and board member Karen McCree railed about the way search and contract negotiations were conducted. Then as residents and teachers waited to greet Chapman after he was sworn in, board president John Santoro Jr. and McCree engaged in a shoving and shouting match in an adjacent corridor. How nice! How educational! Welcome to Reading, Dr. Chapman! And by the way, did you know that Reading High does indeed have a wrestling team? McCree blamed Santoro for authorizing a psychological evaluation for Chapman without proper board authorization. Santoro blamed McCree for threatening the hiring process by improperly contacting Chapman numerous times during contract negotiations. But McCree said most board members were excluded from the negotiations.Stamm also criticized the hiring process, saying only a few board members were involved in the contract talks. Cooper simply questioned whether Chapman is qualified to lead the district. Only time will tell whether Chapman is up to the job, but here’s hoping he’s a tad more professional than the board that hired him. Another board member, Dr. Frederick Gage, said he had feared prospective candidates would shy away from applying for the superintendent job precisely because of the board’s reputation for squabbling.So Chapman had better work out. Otherwise, they may to bring in the National Guard to monitor the next superintendent hiring. Hopefully, most Guard units are back from Iraq by then.Oh, yeah. Here’s a P.S. to all Reading citizens: When not ducking and dodging bullets on city streets, do your homework the next time you vote for Reading School Board candidates.
The multiplication of pain continues as bullets continue to zing through the air of our not-so-fair city.Somehow, someway I pray that somebody can come up with enough lightning bolts to help illuminate this damn darkness and allow us to wake up from this nightmare.More grating and chilling news gripped all of us Tuesday night when a 15-year-old Reading girl was shot and killed as she stood with friends outside her home on Maple Street, officials said.Tiffany Colon, a freshman at Reading High School, was talking with friends on the sidewalk near her home at 548 Maple about 9 p.m. when two men walked down the street and began firing, according to police and witnesses.In this world of shifting sands, it pays to stake out your own space and know your place.Since Tuesday was the second straight night of gunfire in the block, it would have been wonderful if the girl had stayed inside at that hour instead of hanging outside with friends.Of course, the question of when do we succumb to fear and surrender our personal liberty in the face of lawlessness is a compelling philosophical matter. Still, philosophy isn’t bullet-proof and never kept anybody out of a body bag.Much is said and written about the war against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. But we have a war against terror going on right here at home. Terror triggered by drug traffickers who have plenty of money to buy a gun but not a moral compass.Neighbors say there is a busy drug trade near the corner of Maple and South streets. The narrow block has been the scene of other shootings in the past few years and a fire bombing of at least one row home.We have a good mayor. We have a good police chief. We have benevolent benefactors like Al Boscov trying to rebuild the city’s crumbling core. But somehow we need more. We need to show more tough to these hoodlums, to lash back at them with an old-fashioned Texas woodshed whipping.But with limited economic and personnel resources and saddled with some residents who opt to deal drugs and death in lieu of developing job and educational skills, there is no quick fix.Our good citizens feel trapped in our city. It must be utter hell each and every day for these poor folks to live in a crackling cage of fear and friction. So we are stuck with a seamy, sad situation. Life, precious to so many, somehow seems to be a cheap commodity around here. People used to pack lunches. Now, they pack heat.Violence is tearing the brittle threads of a decaying moral fiber. How does a social fabric fray so dramatically? It doesn’t. Rather, the underbelly of society slithers sinuously into our lives like an army of snakes. It is an invasion that is cunning and insidious, spreading like cancer cells, eroding our values.In our city, it’s great when we can see the Pagoda soaring straight into a ray of sunshine that lies taut on the horizon like a drawn bowstring. Now, it’s tough for us to see the Pagoda because all the drawn guns have shrouded us in a miasmal fog.Whether it’s state and/or federal intervention on a grand scale, our city must do something to regain custody of its streets. Call Harrisburg. Call Washington. Call Oprah and Dr. Phil. Hell, call somebody!We owe this to our children. We never stand taller than when we stoop to hug a child. And when we stoop to hug a child, it’s absolutely heart wrenching to feel the young life seeping from a body riddled by two ounces of hot lead.
I’ve never been to West Virginia. And it’s not for any particular reason.I haven’t been avoiding it because of any nasty rumors that everybody in West Virginia marries their cousin. I haven’t been steering clear of it because I’m a dental care nut who wouldn’t dare floss in a state where nobody has a full set of choppers.It’s been pure coincidence that I’ve seemingly been in every East Coast state but West Virginia. Honest.By the way, West Virginia is in the news again for having a less-than-normal resident. You know, you spend a lifetime sifting through clues on why human behavior is such a bizarre creature and it always leads you to West Virginia.Anyway, there’s a guy in West Virginia whose mind supposedly is in harmony with the almighty chords of heaven. So much so that the guy born as Peter Robert Phillips Jr. now answers to the name of Jesus Christ.Perhaps his devotion to his savior is crystallized in a single, grand gesture. Still, some of you may cringe over his name change because you feel the strong tug of disrespect.Whatever, this guy has joined an exclusive pantheon of folks with that name. In so doing, he likely has stoked disdain as palpable as high humidity among some Christians.It seems West Virginia isn’t fond of his name either, at least not fond enough to issue him a driver’s license in that name. Even though Phillips, uh, Christ, has a U.S. passport, Social Security card and Washington driver’s license bearing the name Jesus Christ, he still falls short of West Virginia title and license transfer requirements because his Florida birth certificate has his original name on it. And he has been unable to obtain an official name change in Washington.Apparently, Phillips morphed into Christ 15 years ago. He applied for the legal name change in two years ago this month, but a District of Columbia Superior Court judge denied it, saying “taking the name of Jesus Christ may provoke a violent reaction or may significantly offend people.”Of course, Phillips/Christ wouldn’t be treated like a ticking time bomb if he moved to a primarily Muslim or Buddhist country. Then his name wouldn’t be perceived as scandalous. In fact, if he migrated to Iraq his name could be a missionary overture that would have everyone praising the Lord when they weren’t passing the ammunition.Anyway, my props to West Virginia for toeing the line on this name change of moral consequence.By the way, no word on whether this Christ is a preacher who dabbles in the production of wine, loaves and fishes. Likewise, it’s unclear whether his middle initial is H.
Freddie Mitchell, who considers himself to be on the shelf of immortality even though the Philadelphia Eagles kept him on their back shelf of wide receivers, has gotten what he wished for: a release.The loquacious but underachieving first-round draft pick out of UCLA in 2001 now is “FredExit” instead of “The People’s Champ,” “FredEx” and “First-Down Freddie.”Wide receivers in the NFL are egotists by nature. They want their greedy hands on the pigskin. And when they don’t get it, they squeal, well, like greedy pigs.Freddie wasn’t getting the ball. Of course, he thought the sole blame was quarterback Donovan McNabb’s. Mitchell claimed McNabb snubbed him like an ugly girl at a high school dance even when he was wide open.To punch his ticket out of town, Mitchell started dissing his QB. And he characterized his teammates as gutless for not backing him up when he trash talked the New England Patriots prior to the Super Bowl. The Birds had no choice to unload Mitchell once his verbal bullets were zinging the air and biting off tree bark at the team’s NovaCare Complex.All his self-promoting bleating and blathering had been mildly amusing in the beginning. But when his rhetoric got ugly, the Eagles grew sick of swallowing the plumes of dirt flying off Freddie’s tongue.So where will Freddie find resolution? I’m sure some team will take a chance on him. But I don’t envision him catching a ton of balls anywhere in the NFL.The guy who thanked his hands last season for being so great has a faster tongue than feet. Consequently, he seems sentenced to see more bench time than a sitting judge with whatever NFL team he’s on.
I sympathize with orphans on Mother’s Day. But I cannot empathize.I’ve been blessed with a wonderful mother, one whose warm touch still brings me comfort when the world seems cold and foreboding.To be suddenly rendered without a mother must be the most glacial of experiences, a chilling transition where breaths of profound loss come in slow and long icy plumes. Fortunately, the whirl of time enables those whose mothers have passed on to bask in the warm light of memory.Granted, Mother’s Day must be difficult as well for adopted people who’ve never met their biological mother. Still, the love of someone who has taken you in without the benefit of genetics can be a stronger adhesive than one produced by reproduction. But orphans have been deprived of any maternal bond. The blinding light of that void is enough to make the even the most stoic blink back tears on Mother’s Day.In their quiet moments today, their longing for a mother’s love must be like a large cardboard box inside their heart. A box that is empty but bulky, leaving room for little else. Here’s hoping that orphans everywhere eventually erect a trestle across that aching chasm by relishing in the love of their own families.