Sometimes congestion can be a good thing

I was late for work this morning. Since I’m a dedicated employee with few marketable job skills, I value my job.So when I’m running late, it leaves me more breathless than a 300-pound asthmatic.By the way, if my boss is reading this, being late wasn’t my fault. After all, downtown traffic this morning was stacked up like cordwood. For a minute, I thought I had taken a wrong turn and had driven into Manhattan.Then I came to my senses and realized nobody but an idiot like me would ever confuse Penn Square with Times Square. Actually, job anxieties aside, it was a delicious morning to get stuck in traffic. It was gorgeous out there under a bright, blue sky that suddenly had lost its heat-lamp intensity of recent days.So I sat in my car, listening to music and noticing all the makeshift JW parking signs seemingly wallpapered everywhere.JW, I was mulling in my still awakening mind. JW. JW. What could that stand for?Then it hit me with all the force of a Tiger Woods’ drive on a long par 5. A Johnny Walker convention must be at the Sovereign Center!How delicious is that? Way to party on, Reading. A Scotch- and sun-splashed weekend to frolic and get loose.I suddenly felt drenched in luck about the prospects of getting drenched in alcohol.However, my intoxicating excitement soon ebbed when I noticed a whole bunch of well-dressed and upstanding-looking folks streaming up Penn Street.A flash of recollection then raced through my mind: The Jehovah’s Witnesses are in town, the first of five weekend conventions at the Sovereign Center.I doubt the Witnesses will be doing jello shots with Johnny Walker while they’re here, but good for them.It was nice to see nice people congregating downtown. Nobody was buying dope. Nobody was selling dope. Nobody was shooting anybody. Nobody was dying. Some people were even smiling.How novel.Despite the inconvenience of having our streets and parking lots choked with cars, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are turning Reading into a dandy urban renewal project. And they’re pumping money into the Berks economy while they’re here.Here’s hoping they find Reading to be the promised land and are in no hurry to leave town. After all, it’s a refreshing change to have 7,000 visitors with moral compasses instead of guns in their pockets.Perhaps their good example will rub off on some of our less righteous residents who evidently have pawned their own moral compasses.Matters of theology aside, there’s one thing faith usually bestows upon the faithful: etiquette. And to get folks to believe in our city again, our populace has to stop turning a blind eye to etiquette.We all could start by welcoming and embracing the Witnesses.

Guess who's hiding in the woods at Antietam Lake?

The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said today that he does not believe Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar are in the central Asian country.His remarks came a day after a Taliban military commander told Pakistani TV that the two men were “alive and well.”Which, not to choose sides, is a crying shame.Of course, the U.S. diplomat did not say where he thought the two might be, but was fairly certain they weren’t residing in a tree in East Rutherford, New Jersey.American officials have said they believe the men are somewhere in the mountains that line the Afghan-Pakistan border.But as we all know, American officials frequently don’t have a clue about what they’re saying.My sources tell me that bin Laden and Omar had a falling out because the latter insisted on cracking his knuckles throughout dinner each night.An insulted Omar opted to live in solitary confinement at a posh outhouse in Pakistan while a miffed bin Laden thought it would be quieter if he spent life on the run. Disguised as a cross-eyed, buck-toothed Albino dwarf with pinkeye, Osama hit the road. Alas, he could find little solace wherever he went. Again, my heart bleeds for him.Insiders claim the insane traffic in Buenos Aires unnerved him.The high prices in Switzerland left his wallet with more holes than, well, Swiss cheese.He found the waiters in Paris to be arrogant and obnoxious.And for the life of him, he couldn’t find a single soul with a sense of humor in Austria.Finally, he found all the second-hand smoke in Rome was frying his lungs.In despair, he found refuge in the placid 560-acre Antietam Lake property in Lower Alsace Township, where he remains today.The word is bin Laden won’t stay put at Antietam Lake if the city of Reading sells the land to M.B. Investments of Montgomery County.Evidently the poor guy is allergic to trash.

City Council rows into an Antietam Lake abyss

Reading politics seemingly are always fluent in dysfunction. Must be the drinking water. Still, don’t most civilized folks drink bottled water these days?Perhaps the key word there was civilized. Reading politicians sometimes aren’t too big on civility.After all, what fun is there in being polite and rational when you can gleefully spike a climate of loathing with truly fierce debates that inflame foes with molten rhetoric?The apparently infinite fratricide and turf-war power grab playing on an endless loop concerning the sale of Antietam Lake is just the latest exclamation point on all this city nonsense. When will there be a restoration of order? Probably when Antietam Lake grows older than the Dead Sea.Of course, none of us by then will be around to author the Antietam Lake Scrolls. Which is a shame, because they should be of biblical proportion.City Council was a soggy, emotional mess Monday night over the Antietam Lake sale issue. I hope that the For Sale sign at the lake was painted to last. It could be there for awhile. Four members of Council — President Vaughn Spencer, Mike Schorn, Angel Figueroa and Dennis Sterner — voted Monday night to kill Mayor Tom McMahon’s proposed ordinance to sell Antietam Lake to the county.

The Fab Four then voted to table an ordinance to sell half ownership of the land to M.B. Investments of Montgomery County, knowing McMahon would veto the ordinance (written by M.B.’s attorney).

Not content with that, the Quarrelsome Quartet voted for a resolution which McMahon can’t veto to have Spencer begin negotiations with M.B. on the same sale.

McMahon said he simply will ignore the resolution because it has no power to force him to do anything.

“I only have one word for council’s action tonight — shame,” he said.

Making the mess even more sordid was that the Fab Four relied on the legal advice of an attorney for M.B. Investments when they approved a resolution to negotiate the sale to the firm.

Talk about a major red flag conflict of interest.

Spencer, Schorn, Sterner and Figueroa said M.B. attorney William Fox told them the resolution would be legal because it essentially was starting negotiations to create a partnership.

The four councilmen ignored the warnings of city Solicitor Charles Younger that city land can be sold only by ordinance, not by resolution.

Other council members also warned that no city land can be sold without McMahon’s signature. But Spencer disagreed, again citing advice from Fox.

The crux of the matter seems to be that the city can’t sell land without the mayor’s signature, according to the city’s home rule charter. And McMahon sure as hell isn’t going to sign on the dotted line.

At the core of the quarrel is the Antietam Lake issue now treads murky waters. Council’s civil war has caught the mayor, the county and the entire Berks community in one dandy crossfire of a stalemate.

When Council’s bullets are zinging and triggering substantial ripples in Antietam Lake, it’s quite difficult to find stable footing to create a compromise.

Even with their inflated egos, Council can’t walk on rocky waters. And its members don’t work well enough together to navigate a canoe.

Of course, the county could find a resolution by using eminent domain to seize the city-owned Antietam Lake property. Meanwhile, somebody soon — and right now it would be the city — will have to pony up almost $3 million for state-mandated upgrades to the Antietam dam.

Council may have to drain all the parking meters simultaneously to help cover that imposing nut.

A nut it wouldn’t have if Council wasn’t nuts.

In its infinite wisdom, Council turned down the county’s offer to buy the 560-acre property in Lower Alsace Township for $3 million, plus another $3 million to cover the dam repair costs.

M.B.’s offer includes $2.5 million for half ownership, dam repairs, $500,000 in improvements and preservation of the land for 20 years.

Thomas Orth, chairman of the Lower Alsace Township supervisors, said they were willing to provide an additional $1.5 million toward the county’s offer because they want the lake preserved.

Meanwhile, Greth Development Group, Temple, offered the city $9 million for the Antietam Lake property. Greth’s offer would have paid the city $6 million for 370 acres, covered the dam repairs and allowed the city to keep the lake and 110 acres around it.

Oh, well. This whole Council power trip has blown the whole Antietam Lake issue into an unsolvable jigsaw puzzle. No wonder power can be a very dangerous mistress.

Meanwhile, perhaps Council can use the Antietam Lake property while the sale process stagnates to stow the city’s odds and ends. After all, when dusk swallows the lake each evening, nobody will see that the city just got another dump.

And isn’t M.B. Investments primarily in the trash business?

Excuse me while I go jump in Antietam Lake!

In a Thriller, Jackson Beat It. But is the Man In The Mirror Bad?

Considering his celebrity status, it hardly was the shock of taking a mortar shell to the stomach that Michael Jackson moon walked Monday.At least he had the good taste not to perform a repertoire of dance steps as he departed the Santa Maria, Calif., courtroom where a jury acquitted him on all counts.For the one or two of you stuck in a hut without cable or Internet access in Lapland, the fallen pop star had been charged with molesting a 13-year-old cancer survivor at his Neverland ranch as well as getting the boy drunk and of conspiring to imprison his accuser and the boy’s family at his Wacko Jacko storybook(?) estate.In legal terms, Jackson’s defense team, which insisted he was the victim of mother-and-son con artists and a prosecutor with a vendetta, pitched a shutout.I imagine anticipation was swelling like a blowfish inside Jackson, his family and his extensive entourage as they awaited the verdict.I have to admit that my knees were clattering just a bit in anticipation. Why? Because I must confess that a morose, morbid, mean section of my dark soul wanted to see him sent to the slammer just to see if could somehow survive.An unabashed liberal in the 1960s, I tend to be more conservative these days. I imagine as you grow more rings around your middle as part of the aging process, your bark becomes more rigid. Michael Jackson the inmate undoubtedly would have resembled a guy who went to the hunt without a gun. He certainly would have confronted a buzzing hive of venom in jail even though he would have received special protective treatment.Also, I wanted to see him stripped of his obnoxious entourage and privilege in prison. The smell of dead dreams would have marked his stretch of time of in the Big House, where they don’t escort you to the shower in a chauffeured SUV.But most of all, I wanted to see the guy who works as his umbrella holder to hit the unemployment line. Can you imagine that guy’s resume? I know Jackson has been found not guilty. But is he innocent? There is a subtle but vital distinction there. Did justice get gunned down in the crossfire between celebrity and reality?Was it just me, but did I see the scales of justice do a barrel roll in a California sky tinted with disgust?Forgive me for sounding harsh, but I can’t help but wonder how many blisters this grotesque facsimile of a celluloid creature from an old Vincent Price horror flick has left on the hearts and souls of young boys.And I also can’t help but wonder what fate has in store for the Michael Jackson Freako Horror Show.Already reportedly treading water in murky fiscal waters, he may find whatever whiffs of fame, acceptance and adulation he still has may mimic elusive wisps of wind.Or will he find total vindication in the public eye?Of course, what Joe and Jane Public think of him ultimately is of no consequence. Michael Jackson has not yet survived the ultimate inquisition because he has yet to meet his Maker.In cosmic terms, we are only on Earth’s center stage for a moment, sliding past the eyes like the sudden shifting of light and shadow. I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to strip away his clown’s veneer to get to his essence. Would we find a sickly pale gray gloom engulfing his soul like a ghastly fog?Monday ultimately may prove to be a worthwhile day if Jackson, with a firecracker flash of insight, can free himself from the quicksand of his own mind. After all, we all have to admit that so far he has failed to assemble himself as a normal human being.Having been spared from a cold cell, hopefully he will get his act together and stop inviting boys into his bedroom. To be fair, perhaps he is more Peter Pan than sexual predator.But his reign as the King of Pop ended sometime ago. Unless he can somehow reinvent himself as an entertainer appealing to more mature audiences, it’s highly doubtful he’ll be taking center stage anytime soon at the Sovereign Center.

Does anything around here work anymore?

Domestic problems can be addictive, and the cycle feeds on itself.I’m Exhibit A. Why fate chose a poor schmuck such as me to pick on, I couldn’t say. But right now, I feel as popular as a carbuncle with fate’s fickle finger.Last week our central AC broke not once but twice in the heat and humidity that has been covering Berks and beyond like a mammoth wool blanket.Frankly, I can’t wait until it’s cold enough again to freeze the whiskers off a polar bear.My lawn mower broke down Saturday.My car broke down Sunday.Our computer has been cranky and has been threatening to break down at any moment.Just a few weeks ago not one but two of our toilets were — pardon me — overflowing with problems.As you can imagine, I was flushed with anger.For the most part, I try to grin and bear it. But — truth be told — I do get a tad resentful and surly. I get overwhelmed with a restless energy crying out for resolution.I’m just praying that my lawn mower gets fixed soon. With all this heat and humidity and predicted showers, my yard is like a huge hothouse.You actually can see the grass grow, transforming a figurative expression into a literal reality.As for my car, fortunately I can carpool to work with my son. I couldn’t survive walking to work because I’m a guy who preys on speed and shortcuts. I’m not happy unless I leave a vapor trail in my wake.The anguish of wasted time walking back and forth to work would work up more of an internal sweat than the external sweated triggered by the actual walking.As for my computer, I pray every morning and every evening to the technical gods who can be found online. However, it’s difficult to light an incense candle online.Anyway, if my computer blows, I’m sunk. I can’t live without my daily fix of browsing and email monitoring. You know, when you need to know, you need to know. If you know what I mean. Granted, I realize that my recent problems are nothing more than minor and temporary inconveniences. Mercifully, at least my house remains standing.Still, I’ve been burned so many times that I’ve become a fatalist. I realize that modern domestic life is a grit-and-gristle proposition raw as an open wound, all bloody noses and scabbed knuckles. So pardon my howls of frustration that tend to utilize a four-letter word or two. I don’t intend to sound like a wolf pack mating chorus. But it could be worse for you. My poor family has to hear me bay long and loud. My wife is shopping for earplugs this afternoon. One of these days I’m going to learn to not sweat the details. But probably not in this lifetime.

Tyson and Burrell give your favorite blogger two black eyes

Sometimes the words we write hang like hot lead in our pockets.Right now, my pants are sagging. And I’m not even a part of the hip-hop generation.Yep, we bloggers sometimes must eat crow and hope we survive the ensuing bout with indigestion.Of course, when eating crow, my tongue has a tendency to cleave to the roof of my mouth so I can’t pronounce “I was wrong” without wearing a lobster bib. I was wrong about Mike Tyson. The world’s largest tomato can, Kevin McBride, beat up Tyson until the former champion quit on his stool after the sixth round Saturday night.I had written that McBride had no shot at whipping the shell that is Tyson.I knew Tyson was dissipated and left his iron will on the trash heap that is the mean streets. But losing to this lug? Tyson was ambushed Saturday night by his birthdate as well as the crater in his heart. He was left with the scowl of the man he no longer is hanging like a curtain over his tattooed face. Tyson used to tromp on the accelerator and his finely tuned engine of turbo-charged, piston-pounding punches would go vrooooooooom and leave tire tracks all over his fallen foes.But that was back in the day. And this is today. Boxing is the men’s room of sports, but it was a palace to a thug like Tyson.Now ushered outside, he is left one step from nowhere. The hoodlum pastime spilled his ego with his blood, and the vices of the streets smacked him around with their coarse-as-vomit snap. “I do not have the guts to be in this sport anymore,” Tyson said after the debacle. “I don’t want to disrespect the sport that I love. My heart is not into this anymore. I’m sorry for the fans who paid for this.”Enough said.About him.Now for Pat Burrell.I had written this spring that the Phillies left fielder never would reclaim his eminence at the plate.Yep, I mocked his keep-it-simple approach to resolving his two-year slump. I predicted it was a mindless fool’s errand.Well, I was the guy out of his mind, not Burrell. His simple approach of see the ball, hit the ball has been, well, a home run.He has anesthetized himself to the complexities in the art of hitting, which has allowed his abundant natural talent to just flow. And his talent is flowing as robustly as a regal river.Despite some still-scary crackle in his cranky left wrist, Pat the Bat has regained the pop in his bat.Big Time.The whack of his bat on the ball sounds like heavy thunder. He’s hitting .324 with 13 homers and 54 RBIs.Meanwhile, the can-you-believe-they’re-this-hot? Phillies are shaking up the universe that follows America’s pastime. Unlike Tyson, Burrell hardly is one step from nowhere these days.Perhaps Tyson should have taken a bat into the ring against McBride.Meanwhile, on a simply sizzling Sunday afternoon, I stand here with egg scrambled all over my frying face.

Relationships that are pure tinsel

Celeb journalism always goes deep for the real story. Like air escaping a punctured lung, their sensational reports leave mere mortals breathless.Hot couples on Hollywood’s pastry shelf magnetize everyone’s superficial interests. Yep, somewhere shallow in all of us, we have this gulping, carnivorous appetite for star gazing.Indeed, celebrity romance runs thick with legend.Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. And Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.Are Angelina and Brad really lovers? Everyone wants to know. How cruel is it for Angelina and Brad to tease each and every one of us.Fortunately, we have the New York Post to help feed the beast that rages in our incessant curiosity. According to the Post’s Page Six, the couple may have checked into L.A.’s W Westwood hotel as “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” after the movie’s Hollywood premiere. An eyewitness allegedly saw them enter Room 816, then saw them again the next morning wearing bathrobes as room service brought breakfast.With hot news like that, we all have to wear shades because this power couple is a sun-glinting distraction.Then there is Tom Cruise. Cynics suggest he doth exude his love for the much younger Holmes way too exuberantly.Why? Because the rumor mill has suggested for years that Tommy Boy may be a bit gay. And gay not as in happy.Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being gay unless you’re a Hollywood heartthrob concerned with your macho image.Anyway, Cruise seemingly has been on every talk show out there, sending out the word on exhaled breath that he simply worships, adores and is gaga over Ms. Holmes.How quaint. How cute.Yep, we absorb every shaft of limelight these Hollywood couples cast our way. Their images linger in our memory, freeze frames to chill idle minds.

Tyson facing a tomato can full of lousy Irish stew

The snap, crackle and pop Mike Tyson so famously flashed in the ring went soggy long ago.More dissolute than resolute, he seemingly no longer basks in his virility but mopes about his fragility.His mind, skills and will have gone splat. But because his debt is piled higher than his ears, he fights on.He’s back in the ring Saturday night against some Irish Pillsbury Dough Boy named Kevin McBride. Once billed as the baddest man on the planet, the 38-year-old Tyson has been stopped in two of his last three fights.All the minerals have been strip-mined from what used to be Iron Mike. Nevertheless, he once again he is being trumpeted as a reborn fighter who has rededicated himself to his craft.Hogwash. Tyson has been and always will be floundering in muddy waters. It’s utterly fascinating that people still buy into the Tyson mystique. His appeal parallels the appeal that rubber-neckers find in car wrecks.But even a shot Tyson should be able to dispatch a big, ponderous dartboard like the 6-5, 275-pound McBride. The guy apparently has hands slower than molasses — which, to a fighter, is akin to issuing his death certificate.It’s tough to defend yourself when your punches look like they’re being thrown underwater.The whack of Tyson’s gloves undoubtedly will sound like heavy thunder in this smackdown.McBride — unless Tyson really has fallen through the gallows’ trapdoor — has no shot unless they suddenly allow armor plating in the ring.“I’m going to gut you like a fish,” Tyson told McBride at a press conference Wednesday.Big deal. Harpooning a big whale like McBride doesn’t change the reality that Tyson is a fish out of water — inside and outside the ring.

There should be a minimum age for criminals

When dusk swallows adults each and every evening, they should pause for a moment and reflect upon the job they did that day in being a role model for children.I wonder what the gunman who robbed a food-delivery driver at gunpoint in the Oakbrook Homes Monday night thinks of his performance as a role model. Because a boy about 11 years old was his accomplice, police said.Apparently, the two ran away laughing after the boy filched the wallet.There is something dubiously sinister about their laughter. Ghastly even.A guy like that deserves to wind up in a rubbish heap. Unfortunately, that seems to be the kid’s destination as well.Another American tragedy in our backyard.

Hey, Russell: You really phoned this one in!

No question that Russell Crowe certainly has more than wrinkled the surface of acting. The guy’s an actor’s actor.And he’s also been a sort of working class hero by being a celebrated hell-raiser.His mind apparently is never at war with his primal instincts. Which is why he rarely takes a relaxed, humanistic approach to life.When you tend to treat the rest of humanity like a scared school of fish, you build your identity upon the loose gravel of being a jerk.Crowe was in a bit of another scrap recently. He was arrested and charged Monday for allegedly throwing a telephone at an employee of the Manhattan hotel where he was staying.Crowe, 41, who plays Depression-era heavyweight champ Jim Braddock in his latest film, “Cinderella Man,” allegedly threw the phone at the concierge at the Mercer Hotel in SoHo, “hitting him in the face and causing a laceration and substantial pain,” according to the complaint.My response? If true, Crowe’s response was sort of wimpy.You would think the guy who portrayed Braddock and won an Oscar for his role in “Gladiator” would have dropped the guy with a blur of crisp jabs, a sledgehammer right to the jaw and a cruel left hook to the liver.After all, if a guy wants to pump up his bad boy image of anarchy and savagery, let’s get physical with an old-fashioned, crude, heavy-handed assault dripping with venom.But throwing a phone? My Aunt Matilda, whose idea of a wild time is sipping tea at a church social, can toss a phone at a guy.I guess marriage and parenthood have dulled Russell’s razor’s edge. If he’s no longer a macho brawler, he should at least adopt the passive composure of a man who has no need to prove himself.Next thing you know People magazine will run an investigative cover piece with the breaking news that Crowe sobbed like a baby when Bambi died.For the sake of Hollywood’s ailing box office, I hope Crowe picks better fights in the future. If he next gets into a pillow fight with Ryan Seacrest, Russell’s career is toast!