A pill to remember

Not to put a downer on what is a truly delicious Tuesday morning here in ol’ Berks County, PA, but ultimately we’re all dead men.Which doesn’t mean we can’t have fun while we’re engaged in life’s brutal endgame struggle.Yep, it’s best to squeeze life until the juice runs. Navigate this world with a swagger and a snarl and you can control your destiny as much as possible.Of course, it helps if you have most of your faculties. Indeed, the toll of advancing years has this knack of making some of us mind-blown, brain-bruised, stupefied and mystified.And it all starts with gradual memory loss. Today you forget whether you actually did shampoo, tomorrow you forget your name and by next week you twinkle with the unbalance of a madman. Oh, well. When you’re as airy as a soufflé, you won’t even notice. Well, some things are what they are. After all, you can’t make a chicken bark. But there are things you can do to avoid memory loss.Like pumping lots of folic acid into your system.At least that’s what some Dutch scientists are saying. And, yes, it’s true. The Dutch actually do have scientists.Evidently the Dutch have moved onto other endeavors since they plugged the hole in the dike.Oops, I almost forgot the point of this blog. Obviously I need to pop a folic acid pill. Because these Dutchmen are postulating that such a pill just might slow the mental decline of aging.The Dutch research adds to mounting evidence that a diet higher in foliate — a B vitamin found in grains and certain dark-colored fruits and vegetables — could spare us from becoming hollowed-out shells in our dotage.Granted, depending on what sort of life we’ve led, perhaps it’s not always a bad thing to be hijacked from our memories by the time our wrinkles begin posing as beef jerky. But for good people like you and me, pop those folic acid pills at the first peep of dawn every day. Because if you wait until the day fades into dusk, you’ll forget.

The ultimate uncontested shot

Robert Horry’s nickname is “Big Shot Bob” because nobody in the NBA is better in the clutch. Icicles reside in his veins. When he shoots with a game on the line, his eyes settle into a stare so icy you could skate across his corneas.Some of us are wired differently under pressure, and Robert Horry definitely is a breed apart. He never becomes unwired. His mind and body never short-circuit when dipped into a pressure cooker.Indeed, his clutch baskets have helped the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers win five NBA titles.Horry moved closer to a six-pack of NBA crowns Sunday night when his three-pointer with 5.8 seconds left in overtime gave San Antonio a 3-2 Finals series lead over Detroit. Horry, who finished with 21 points, was exploding all over this morning’s ESPN highlights. When he gets locked into a rhythm, he enters a zone of exquisite concentration and execution.He needs little assistance when he’s residing in that supernova sector of shooting.Nevertheless, for some inexplicable reason, the Pistons’ Rasheed Wallace gave him a huge assist anyway.Horry was all set to cut through the lane after inbounding the ball with 9.6 seconds left when Wallace went into a gigantic brain drain. Wallace curiously and stupidly went to double-team Manu Ginobili in the corner, leaving no one within 15 feet of Dead Eye McGirt, a.k.a. Robert Horry.Horry throttled breath back into San Antonio while most of Detroit probably wants to throttle Wallace. Rasheed now is looking for some quiet place where can let the trauma of his tactical mistake scratch its way out of his stomach.Horry had such a great open look he could have taken a moment to hand out 8×10 glossies of himself before pulling the trigger on the game-winner.It was a monumental mental mistake by Wallace, which happens in a game of fastbreak chess.Basketball, in addition to all the running, jumping, shooting and rebounding, is essentially a rapid debate between two dueling intelligences Ping-Ponging between offense and defense.Wallace is an intense, talented player. But after Sunday night, one wonders what his SAT scores were.

The towering figure that is my father

It’s Father’s Day, and every son naturally thinks of the father.My old man is what God had in mind when he created man. He’s always been a man’s man.Even advanced age hasn’t taken much jut out of his jaw.He grew up hard and stayed hard. He had little choice.The oldest son in a large family trying to stake its way through the Great Depression, my old man in his early teens helped his own old man work in a foundry where flesh burned as routinely as a smoker’s matches. It was hard, horrible work. And it was hard to come by.Then came World War II and my old man as a young man saw plenty of action in the North Atlantic while his kidneys bounced around on a Naval destroyer. Dad always has been brave enough to stick his nose into the noise and thunder.Which served him well when he had to wade into the flaming foam of liquid steel and gushing blood that was D-Day at Normandy.Forged by those early experiences that were enough to raise the hair on his arms each and every day, he has remained a strong man who only gets on his knees before his God.A man of firm beliefs and steel scruples, he made a strong contribution to the Baby Boomers generation by spawning seven children.Seven kids eat a lot, so my dad for years worked two jobs. And when he wasn’t on the job, he was always remodeling our home. With hammer or saw in hand, he had the arm strength of Atlas.He was a taskmaster, especially with the older kids. As the oldest, I took the brunt of his tough love. He had a deep abiding love for his kids, but it never was a gushy type of love.To put it mildly, Casey Zielinski always has been the absolute monarch of his own principality. When you crossed the line, as I was prone to do, my old man had a temper that could melt the bumpers off a pickup truck.He preached the value of three things over and over to us: faith, education and work. They were and are his holy trinity.Scene changes inherent in the passage of time bring a subtlety we seldom see except through the prism of reflection.As I look at my old man, I realize I do for him more now than he does for me. But the little I do now is absolutely dwarfed by all he did for me then.When I look back at his life, my awe for him ruptures into profound appreciation.I will never be the man my father is. But I’m more of a man than I would have been without the force of his heavy father’s hand.His whole life was defined by work. Now, in his twilight years, he enjoys the luxury of relaxation. It’s long overdue. A lion in the winter of his life, he finally has the time to notice and appreciate the little things in life.Here’s praying that the dusk of his life has a last streak of violet that is too stubborn and strong to give in and be swallowed by death’s darkness anytime soon. Stubborn and strong just like my old man.

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.