Archive for the ‘Violence’ Category

Reminder of a Death

March 4th, 2011

I have known two Toms who killed themselves. One I still can’t talk about freely. The other I rarely think of, but had to following the recent death-by-cyanide here in Boston.

In junior high, my assistant Boy Scoutmaster and family friend killed himself with cyanide. I was stunned and deeply saddened. The troop was in central Virginia, we camped frequently, and he was a fascinating outdoorsman, as well as a great story teller. He even taught us things not in the handbook, like a quick cleaning of a bacon-greased fry pan using pine tags (needles up here in Yankee land). He and his wife were good friends with my mother and we ate and laughed together. He was one of the men who helped fill in for my own absent father.

Tom was huge of body and mind. He was very funny. He and his wife were also two of the hardest to look at folk I’ve ever met. They themselves liked to say no one else would have them. That was not at all true, as they both were extremely bright and great company.

He was a research chemist, hence his access to cyanide. As I came to learn through literature, he was classic in the sense of having a tragic flaw. He was a compulsive gambler. Perhaps he deluded himself as gamblers are wont that his big brain would let him beat the systems. When that didn’t work, so his wife told us, he did not see any way out of the debt to the Mob.

My friend, my entertainer, my Scoutmaster did himself in with poison gas. He was typically methodical and considerate. He knew how long his wife and aged father who lived with them would be out shopping and visiting. The police found his calculations that ensured the fan he left on would more than dissipate the fumes before they returned. He even showered, shaved and cleared his GI tract before doing himself in in the tub to make it easy for those dealing with the corpse. He had made insurance arrangements for his wife and father.

He apparently had reasoned this all through and found no other solution. As nearly always, those remaining who loved the suicide can only wail to the unhearing.


Just a Little Softer with Age

August 3rd, 2010

Two older men, each a master of his particular craft, have faded a bit, but only a bit. In their 60s and 70s, they are active and skilled, while slowing and showing.

Reggae epitome Jimmy Cliff and t’ai chi master William C.C. Chen apparently intend to go until they drop. Good on them. Yet recent glances at them were mildly stunning.

Master Chen re-entered my life, unbeknownst to him, when I decided to return to soft-form martial arts practice. I could loosen up my own stiff bones and muscles that I tighten through cycling and lifting.

Photo notes: Master Chen’s is from his site and has no copyright claim. Cliff’s is creative commons.

Crotch Gouges

Pre-kids, I studied with him when we lived in Manhattan. Subsequently, I tried a different t’ai chi style under another well regarded master in Jamaica Plain, Jwing-Ming Yang. Despite Dr. Yang’s fame and personal skills, muddling forms was counterproductive and I didn’t maintain my practice. I prefer Master Chen’s and return to the art of my youth.MasterChen

He was an elegant teacher, not in the feel-good New Age model, and one of the world’s great fighters. Unlike the hippie t’ai chi instructors, he fixed the proper positions and movements in his form with martial analogies.

For example, an elaborate four-part set of movements has you waving your hands in front of your forehead and chest. This fairy weaving at shuttle or simply four corners seems awkward without explanation. Master Chen’s application note clarified why and how.

This set was to defend from an attach above, like a horseback warrior with a weapon bearing down on you. The aim is to deflect the blow and perhaps pull the rider to the ground. With that information and his modeling the posture, where to put your hands and arms and how to move made perfect sense and stuck in mind.

Likewise, get needle at sea bottom is a graceful swoop. You bend from the waist point a hand to touch the ground, before arising with a cupped palm pointing upward. He fixed that in our memory too. You were stooping quickly to avoid an upper body strike and preparing a counter move. You shifted your hands and arms to come up in to a crotch gouge of the then vulnerable opponent.

Even if you only used t’ai chi for exercise and meditation, knowing the martial applications can turn you from a pigeon learning a rote task to a hawk.

Thus, I want to re-learn his form. Clicking around, sure enough, I found what I needed on DVD. His Tai Chi for Beginners released last year has his entire short form. There’s the movements performed triple like a language lesson, as well as continuous loop for fine-tuning when I have the 60 movements re-set in mind. Honestly, I have no stake in the video, but for $20 it’s excellent, or just shy of that because he doesn’t give his application tips.

Moreover, the triple form includes a mirrored image of each movement, using his daughter, Tiffany, and letting you view your execution either way. (By the bye, she and her brother Max are both martial artists. She’s particularly hot stuff in her father’s mold.)

Pale Imitation?

Taking the X-Acto® knife to the DVD package, I was surprised at how old and chunky Master Chen appeared on the box. Could the 75-year-old have become fat and feeble?

In the late ’70s, he was lithe and jaguar-like. While slight and short, he showed amazing skills in using his body…as well as that of students. Among our classmates were some New York Jets linemen. Apparently they had choice of t’ai chi or ballet to balance their abruptness and violent strength with finesse. Master Chen could toss them about and against walls, almost without touching them. That was no trick; he simply applied the vectors in their attacks on him, directing that energy elsewhere, along with their massive bodies, with his guiding hands.

All is well though. In the DVD, yes, he is now built more like a pepper shaker, but he retains his fluid, powerful movements. He is master still.

Surprising Softness

Likewise, Jimmy Cliff did a couple of songs on the Colbert Report last night. The link goes to The Harder They Come.

CliffWhile he is a decade younger than Master Chen, Cliff suffers a prima facie downgrade as well. In his case, his throaty voice now has a wispy quality that lacks his previous power.

I’ve never met him, but I could climb in the WABAC machine to hear and see him as well. I’ve been a reggae fan for many decades, have been to his shows, and saw the movie with his tune’s name many, many times at St. Mark’s cinema on the Lower East Side for the midnight shows.

In the movie, he sings several, including the title number. The tenor of his tenor was more fluid and aggressive. Now he seems a bit frailer and wispier.

Two on the Spectrum

Also in retrospect, I think occasionally of an ad salesman at a construction magazine. He was invariably cheerful to the point of shock. Typical of his effusiveness was his stentorian response to the rhetorical, “How are you?” He’d fairly shout, “Any day I’m not pushing up daisies is a good day!”

That’s a simple-minded and theatrical way to suggest wellness of mind and body. Yet, it’s catchy and I certainly haven’t forgotten it.

He came to mind again looking at and listening to Master Chen and Jimmy Cliff. Neither of them has such a binary attitude of being alive is eough. Each in his own art practices and pleases and perseveres.

To their credit from someone who admires the skills, they seem to continue to enjoy what they do…beyond the traditional retirement age. That’s all the better for us.

There’s an elegant symmetry in particular to returning to Master Chen’s instruction three decades hence. I have all the Jimmy Cliff albums I’m likely to though and I confess that I prefer his earlier and more powerful voice.

Perhaps each in his own way could serve as an inspiration. I rather doubt though that either thinks of himself that way. He’s just busy with his ongoing life.

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Cyclists’ Imaginary Shields

July 11th, 2010

Two cyclists, a young women from Allston and I, share the same pretense from very different perspectives. We each believe that our appearance protects us from the worst of road rage…at least face to face.

Yet, we could hardly be more unlike each other.

As well as being much younger, she is much shorter and much slighter, and of course, female. I am tall with an absurdly broad chest and shoulders. We have arrived into adulthood thinking our bodies make us undesirable victims.

Note that as a child, I tended to be one of the smaller kids in classes. I just kept growing until I was 21 or so, putting up about an inch and one-half in  height after high school. The team wrestling and swimming, plus vocations like house carpentry crew and avocations like cycling added muscle.

As one of the less formidable elementary and junior-high boys, I didn’t seek fights. Instead, I had a pretty good sense of troublemakers and could almost always deflect them before they got nasty. Even today, I don’t feel like I have to play alpha male and prove myself around other men.

Charlotte Burger of the Boston Cyclists Union surprised me last month with a different take on the same attitude. We both attended a Hyde Park zoning advisory group hearing, where she introduced herself.

When the presentation part of the meeting broke, we chatting bikes, naturally. I had my tail tale of my purple butt from a hit-and-run driver. She spoke of a recent run-in with a road rage guy.

In her case, a cyclist hater was threatening her with his car and words. She spoke, shall we say, negatively, to him. He was ready to beat up that insolent little guy. Then when she removed her helmet and saw that she was a little woman instead, he backed off and clearly had no intention of proving himself at her expense.

From her perspective, being slight, even a bit delicate, is all to her advantage in such situations. Even the worst jerks don’t want to pound a woman.

From mine, I’m big enough that nearly all guys don’t want to mess with me. I just don’t look like easy pickings.

She’s too easy and a girl. I’m a boy and might well be too tough. Our very different physiques may in fact work the same for us from different angles.

Wouldn’t it be great if all drivers simply respected cyclists and didn’t have to act out against them or feel drivers had rights to use their cars like weapons and even start fights on the ground. Lacking that, I recommending being small or big.

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Left in a Heap in Stoughton

June 18th, 2010

Bloodied, befuddled, bruised, but living, I arrived back home Saturday to cook for a dozen guests. It was after all my 10-month-old grandnephew’s day. This was his dedication — the UU version of a Christening, with a minister but without the trappings of removing demons or reserving a spot in the next world.

I escaped after being flung to the pavement with my bike by a hit-and-run driver in Stoughton.

The ride was an aging Boomer’s wont. I figured if I’d drink and eat well, I should sweat off calories in advance to earn it. The healthier choice might have been to sit on the deck and wash down junk food with beer. I don’t think crazed scofflaws would have driven to the back to get me.

Put me in the bucket of those with little tolerance for rants about how dangerous cyclists are — to pedestrians, cars, trucks, trolleys and themselves. Facts are that inattentive and even malicious drivers maim and kill others by the thousands every year. I’ve had my share and am tired of it.

About 15 years ago, an unlicensed, unregistered and uninsured young woman floored her car turning left and broadsided me. I can still hear the shouts and scream of the bystanders to her. She apparently was looking at and talking to her baby at the moment. The minimum-wage Filene’s clerk got a nominal fine and nothing else. I had broken fingers, a serious concussion and a ruined bike and helmet. The judge wouldn’t punish her and there was nothing to get were I to sue, said a lawyer.

A few years ago, one of those massive pickup trucks jumped a red light and hit me, also broadside. This was a damaged wheel and broken wrist.

Six days ago, I was only 10 or so miles from home when the hit-and-run coward clipped my butt and side mirror, knocking me with great force to Route 138. The cop who showed a few minutes afterward concurred that there was no way he didn’t see me and no way he would not have known he’d hit me.

Pix click trick: Click an image for a larger view.

visibilityFor the obviousness factor, since I was hit by the clerk, I dress for safety. My bike is bright yellow. My helmet is metallic blue. I was wearing a bright orange shirt. I’m nearly 200 pounds and six feet tall. I have gigantic shoulders and chest. At 11:30 a.m. there I was in my colorful glory.

A few schools, including Harvard, have veritas (truth) as their motto. My cycling version could well be visibilitas (visibility). I’m not one of those arrogant loonies who wanders behind cars backing up in the store lot thinking, “Oh, he’ll see me.” I try to make sure drivers see me. In fact, one my cycling guidelines is not riding on a day when I wouldn’t be able to see the face of a truck or bus driver because of sleet or snow or rain, figuring the driver might not see me.

Yet there I was on 138 headed north. The police report says it happened at 217 Washington Street in Stoughton. That’s across from X&O, the restaurant/bar.

Many cars turn in there and my amateur wreck reconstruction would have me in the shoulder/bike lane to the right of the fog line. That’s where I travel whenever I can and  there I can. I did not see the hit, but I sure felt it and the grapefruit-sized bruise on my left haunch as well as the destruction of my mirror at the same height suggest the side view mirror of the car did the damage.

That would put the driver maybe passing a left turner without looking ahead or to the right and coming over into the shoulder to hit me. It’s possible the driver did the damage without passing a turning vehicle, but I’ll stick with Occam’s razor on this one.

Wave the hands. Then magical things happen. Apparently I was either in shock or had a mild concussion. The next I recall is speaking to a nice and sharp and concerned Stoughton cop. 217

The magic was that according to the police report read to me today over the phone, I spoke with the fire department’s EMTs and the officer, whom I found out is Neal David. I refused a trip to the hospital, told them I did not see the car or driver or license number. I also provided my name, phone and other vitals as though I was functioning. I have no recollection of any of that.

I do remember speaking a bit with Officer David when I gained my awareness. He was angry and regretted not seeing the hit so there would have been no running. He’s not much for irresponsible scofflaws.

Perhaps I should have been checked out as a preventative, but really, short of bleeding brains (no helmet damage or other indicators) and the like, there’s not much an ER can do in such cases except consume 4 to 12 hours of your time. I had food to prepare, wine to chill, and clothes to dress myself in to assume the role of godfather

About two hours north on what appears to be a pretty undamaged bike, my head cleared more. I had images of being hit, but still didn’t see the car — I was compelled to the right and down away from the impact.

It was as I defogged that I was aware that I had not been aware. There was a missing block of minutes, while I appeared rational to the authority types. I suppose that’s what training and hormones can do.

I had a pretty ripped up knee, that big butt bruise with a lot of related muscle pain, and scrapes on my right forearm and elbow. william

Calling today to find out the specifics that I did not recall, I had a brief fantasy. Officer David said that sometimes witnesses call in to report details. My thought was that the hit-and-run driver might not have been amoral and devoid of compassion. Perhaps as Polybius wrote, “There is no witness so dreadful, no accuser so terrible as the conscience that dwells in the heart of every man.” and someone came forward to ‘fess up.

…wrong on both counts.

That’s a very busy stretch of road. Apparently I was in a heap beside the road, bleeding and dazed. No one ID’ed the driver and no one stopped to see to me. The timeliness of the police coming by was Stoughton’s humanity.

What could I expect. This was Stoughton, not Samaria.

Glibness aside, I could easily have died from being hit from behind by a one to two ton vehicle. That I was in the right would not have counted for anything. My death certainly would have inconvenienced and upset those gathering for William’s day.

It does little good too to ask what sort of person would drive inattentively? would hit and run? would leave a body in the road? I think we all know about disregard for others, poor upbringing, disdain for laws, and amorality. Such a person is not even worthy of cursing. Yet, part of me does hope that Polybius was right.

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God Guy Wins Another One

January 21st, 2010

Faith in action can work just fine. We see that in a follow-up to the tale of the New Hampshire preacher who early last year took a paroled ex-con into his home…to the anger and horror of nearly everyone. See the original post on that here.

The ex-criminal, Raymond Guay, had a particularly gruesome record of torture, murder and kidnapping. Yet, the Rev. David Pinckney was, well, a lot more Christian than nearly everyone. After getting to know Guay, the minister was convinced that Guay 1) had gone through a born-again transformation, and 2) had truly paid his debt to society.

See the original post for the details and links to the backstory. The key component is that Pickney took the paroled Guay into his home, replete with the minister’s wife and kids. The idea was to find a more permanent setting and help Guay get work. In other words, this was both rehabilitation as the justice system claims to want and Christianity as the New Testament describes it.

Pinckney’s neighbors, even some not very close, were beside themselves. Loving forgiveness? Nothing doing.

In my follow-up, Pinckney and I exchanged email. He made his offer and commitment and took what many self-identified Christians said was a gesture doomed to failure and maybe death. Not so, sports fans.  Instead:

Ray is doing very well, living in New Hampton, NH with a Christian couple on a 60 acre spread at the end of a mile long driveway…   He stays very busy on this property helping the couple, and does side jobs when they come available (he’s presently replacing a kitchen floor for a couple in our church).  His craftsmanship and work ethic are unmatchable in my estimation.   He has been accepted warmly into a church in Meredith NH and continues to find great joy in his faith in Jesus.   We stay in contact regularly and I see him at least once a month. 

Having covered justice and jail issues for newspapers and having worked with former prisoners, that is what I hoped. Rather than assume all the incarcerated are lost forever and deserving of perpetual punishment, in and out of prison, we should know that some do just fine. Invariably though, the help they get on this side of the walls and bars can make that difference.

We can’t think this didn’t depend on Rev. Pinckney. Not only is he a religious sort who actually lives his faith, he was very discerning. Unlike those women who communicate with and meet prisoners, he didn’t fall in love thinking this is someone who will really need and depend on me. He accurately assessed the man. He almost certainly is a better judge of minds and souls than you or I.

Let us praise those who make life better for another and provide an example for us all.

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UU, Me, Me

August 4th, 2008

Pardon me while I scream. I attended a Sunday worship at a UU church far from the death, wounding and panic in Knoxville, only to hear vacuous comments from a minister owning the risk and fear from afar.

Come to notice this all too common pseudo-empathy, I suppose it is as bad as schadenfreude. Is there a term for feigning the perils and travails of others from a position of safety and comfort?

This time it was in a wealthy church distant from urban threats and unpleasantness — overcrowded housing developments for the poor, street gangs, the wandering and homeless demented too early from treatment, druggies seeking to buy or steal their next fix, vast and obvious class differences…

The minister did the same thing in two ways:

  • Each of us is at daily risk, as surely as if we lived in a war zone.
  • If it happened in a Knoxville UU church, it would happen anytime in any UU church.

Well, no, damn it, no!

In too much of the world, violence can be random, cruel, sudden and frequent.

Even if done with the best of intentions, such preaching does not service to the congregants. Trying to frame tragedy in our shared fears has its limits, or should.

Fair preaching, for one example, is noting that we are all terminal patients here. We all die. Such thoughts can often lead to sermons with specifics on living well and helping other, true shared UU ideas and ideals.

Equating the minor inconveniences and elevating the fears of the most privileged with the very real dangers to the most imperiled is not fair or reasonable or respectful. Projecting that a lone loony could appear at any moment out among the wealthy white suburbs intent on violence is more likely self-absorption.

We heard this over-projection during the 60s civil-rights period as well. There was no surer way to alienate black activists than to say your minor inconveniences were the same as a heritage of slavery and then government-aided oppression. A recent version is rich folk eating on a food-stamp budget for a few days saying they understand the suffering of those with no choice.

During the sermon, I found flashed on one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books, McElligott’s Pool. The young lad angling in a tiny splash of water imagines myriad, diverse fish headed his way. “Then maybe some fish might be swimming toward me!  (If such a thing could be, they certainly would be!)”

A post over at Marry in Massachusetts, touched on the difference even being in an urban UU church means. There at a church with seven days of activities, supper programs for the poor and outreach to many the needy, unhappy and unstable are always there. They consider the downtown church theirs and some abuse it. Some arrive with anger and even sometimes armed. The likelihood of violence is vastly higher in a less isolated and protected setting.

Yet, it is a still different, harsher, riskier world in war zones. For the dreadful events in Knoxville, our UU churches in this country should be very cautious about claiming solidarity. How many of us can imagine and accurately project living where armed militia may well shoot any of us on the street, in our homes or anywhere? Can we comprehend a daily possibility that someone of a different religion or political bent would maim or murder us and anyone with us? Can we really project what it would be like to drive to the grocery with the strong likelihood that a roadside bomb could explode at any moment?

In too much of the world, violence can be random, cruel, sudden and frequent. While it may speak to our sympathetic side, we must be careful to equate our lot with that. Projecting our compassion may well go to our seventh principle — Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Yet, let us not trivialize the suffering of others by pretending our minor doubts and insecurities are the same.

Numerous churches have been scenes of violence and death. Progressive politics don’t seem to be the marker either. UUs shouldn’t be so sure we are targets just because we are more left-wing than many.

Yes, we should feel a sibling relationship with the Knoxville congregants and clergy. In light of evidence that this particular killer, Jim David Adkisson, had stockpiles of right-wing literature and seemed to have a fixation on liberals, we can pause and think and rethink.

We should certainly not try to close off our churches, be wary of any visitor, or generally be non-UU welcoming. We should do the what-if though, not to become paranoia and distrustful, but to revel in our worship and other events together, knowing we are likely to return home safe as well as fulfilled.

Tuck the Earth Back in Bed Day

May 3rd, 2008

Does it make us Wake Up the Earth junkies if we’ve been going for about 20 of the 30 years it’s happened? We dragged our sorry, soggy butts there again today.

The people in the parade were having a great time. See some pix below.

Motley drummers in WUTE parade wave.jpg
Drum was a loose term and the dummers clearly enjoyed their versions. A variety of stilt walkers had a great time striding, walking, dancing and waving.
shake.jpg bugs1.jpg
Some bugs also played instruments as they paraded. Others were not content just to talk. Dancing was in order.

Pic Click Trick: Click on a thumbnail for a larger view.

On the other foot, hand and head, the cold drizzle kept the crowds to maybe a fifth of the usual. It wasn’t enough to trigger the rain date of next weekend, but it is not going to be the vendors’ best WUTE day.

RIPbanner close RIPbannerAt the basketball court just below the Stony Brook T station, the on-court memorial shrine to murdered 20-year-old Luis Troncoso had to be off, apparently not to harsh the festival’s mellow. Yet a hand lettered banner running along the back of the court remained.

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They’ll Never Take Me Alive!

May 2nd, 2008

prison fence

My shrink friends tell me we all have those manageable and managed destructive impulses — stepping off the platform in front of the train or pushing someone else. More powerfully, just living can be relentlessly tough and painful. So suicide peeks in our mental windows or comes in to visit.

Two recent very public suicides fall into a whole different category. Convicted felons, one I knew, killed themselves before sentencing. They had months to decide. The likelihood of years or a decade in prison, plus the certainty of emerging broke, was more than they were willing to live with, literally.

Both left suicide notes, which are not public. Each used a method that was not a cry for help with a good possibility of rescue. Consider:

  • Deborah Jean Palfrey, a.k.a. the D.C. Madam, who actively fought charges related to a prostitution ring. She hanged herself in a shed at her mother’s house in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Her convictions were on money laundering, financial racketeering, and illegal use of the mail.
  • Edward Paul Mattar III, who spent several years unsuccessfully trying to avoid conviction of bank fraud and related financial conspiracy. He broke his 27th floor Denver apartment window and defenestrated himself.

cemetery statuary

The Denver Post business columnist Al Lewis got hints of Mattar’s long note. Word from prosecutors is that it was not an introspection nor any type of mea culpa. Instead, it was a list of related details and tasks for others after his death. There’s a bitter irony there for someone ceding his life and ability to act, yet affecting a measure of control on others post mortem.

In contrast, Palfrey repeatedly announced her intention. Author and journalist Don E. Moldea reported that she told him, “I’m not going back to jail. I’ll kill myself first. I’ll commit suicide first.”

Her reference was to the 18 months she spent in a California prison. Her conviction then was for attempted pimping. She did not help herself by fleeing before sentencing. Police captured her in Montana at the Canadian border.

A heavy pointer to her thoughts and feelings on prison was in the Washington Post piece:

Appearing on ABC’s “20/20” program a few months after her indictment, Palfrey spoke of Brandy Britton, a former college professor who hanged herself in her Howard County home in January 2007 shortly before her scheduled trial on prostitution charges. Palfrey said Britton had once worked for her.

“She couldn’t take the humiliation,” Palfrey said. “Her whole life was destroyed.”

The St. Petersburg Times reports that Moldea “said that her stay in custody stressed her body so much it had impaired her vision and she refused to go back. ‘It damn near killed her.'”

While others connected with such sex and financial scandals emerge to new careers and financial stability — sometimes building on the sensationalism and infamy, Palfrey and Mattar would not, could not take that path.

Both were in their 50s and surely had at least one more new beginning before them. Yet, their suicides show us again the unknowable. We cannot understand what another person simply cannot abide, what is just one step too far for another.

Another exit similarity was the decision to make others deal with their extremely unpleasant details afterward. For Mattar, rather than go up one floor and leap, he smashed a picture window, leaving the detritus and repairs for others. For Palfrey, she hanged herself where her mother was certain to be the one to find the corpse dangling. Those dramatic statements underscore the often self-centered nature of what could be called the most egotistic of acts.

Sadly for me, it brought to mind the suicide of my Boy Scoutmaster when I was in junior high. Tom was a brilliant chemist, who had a gambling addiction. He and his wife were also good friends of my mother. I don’t recall ever seeing two people more in love with each other.

He was so in debt to mobsters that the only solution he could see was to kill himself. He did that with cyanide at home. He knew his wife would be gone for hours. From the calculations he left, the poison would be well out of the air in the bathroom long before she returned. He had even showered and shaved.

I was and still am saddened he came to that. We learned a lot of Scout stuff, outdoor lore and practical methods, on many camping trips and our regular troop meetings. He kept us laughing, kept pace with the strongest and most assured of us, while gently pushing the shy and clumsy. He really taught self-confidence.

He was a thoroughly worthwhile and enjoyable human, with a tragic flaw. Yet there don’t seem to be too many parallels among Tom, Ed and Deborah. Of course, the only one that counts is that for their various reasons, they were sure they could not continue to the only place they saw life leading.

 5/5 Update: The Smoking Gun put Palfrey’s suicide note on its site.  Sure enough, she writes that’s she’d come out of prison in her late fifties “a broken penniless & very much alone woman.”

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Not Paranoid Enough?

April 22nd, 2008

There’s a lot of JP, both in length and diversity. Maybe I misdirected my comfort yesterday.

I walked with a newly met woman about 10:30 a.m., assuring her that the Lallement bikepath on the Southwest corridor — tracking the Orange Line — was safe. At the Forest Hills end, she asked whether it was okay to walk then. I told her that yes, in the daytime, but maybe not at night.

She had eyed the seedy sitters and I recalled the late-night bike bandits who’d knock riders down and take their wheels.

I tend, not surprisingly, to bike on that bikepath. When I do walk it, I like to follow the stick figure signs, keeping the bike side for cyclists, even though they are few. I recall the many oblivious strollers often blocking the whole bike side while risking their infants or looking and listening to phones. Don’t be that guy, Mike.

Oddly enough, I was on foot because of my road bike. I finally admitted that those scraping sounds meant I could no longer pretend my brake pads would last forever or regenerate. The Shimano 105/Ultegra pads are hard to come by. International over in Newton had sold me the wrong type already. I was delighted to call at 10 a.m. on Patriots Day and find that Community Bicycle Supply at the far reach of the South End would be open.

I headed up, both to get the right pads and to do a cardio session. That’s about five miles. We live at the very bottom of JP, kind of the pendant on the chain of the long, narrow neighborhood. We’re a mile below Forest Hills in the last couple of blocks of JP.

The woman walker, Wanda, and I headed north. She had dropped her car off in Dedham for repairs, taken a bus to Forest Hills and figured to get a warm-up for her workout at Mike’s gym, a mile or so up the corridor. She is bookkeeper for the Mass Public Health folk and works in JP. She was just not used to walking over to Mike’s.

I’ve biked and walked that path for many years. Quickly she and I got past any thought of evil en route. We spoke of our teenagers, school, sports and gyms.

So that evening, my JP-ness got a jolt reading about Luis Troncoso, the 20-year-old gunned down on a basketball court on the corridor at about 4 p.m. yesterday. That would be the court next to where JP Wakes Up the Earth, the court one half block beyond where Wanda and I parted.

I don’t think I lied to her, not intentionally. I still know the bikepath is safe. It appears his murderer targeted him specifically, so the place and time of death have little implication for the rest of us. The young father is dead still.

I also know that, geographically, fancy folk Pond Side and even Brookline are closer to this violence than we live. Somehow though, as disparate as the various JPs are one from another, the neighborhood link is powerful. I might well have led Wanda right into a scene of death, had timing been slightly different. That’s not what any of us want in our neighborhoods.

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Walking on Shotgun Shells

March 11th, 2008

The 14-year-old came one today with a little smirk, a twitch over the police at Boston Latin Academy. It seems some kid brought in a live shotgun shell and left it in a john.

By cracky, in my day, the punks would pull a fire alarm and we’d head outside and stare at each other for a half hour. Today’s version may involve a phoned in bomb threat, or in this case, a puerile catalytic piece of rubbish.

 April 8, 2008 update:  I’ve been seeing a lot of hits here looking for today’s bomb scare. Links and comments on that are at Universal Hub. The gist is that it was a false alarm from a crank call. The kids cooled outside for 30 minutes while the cops checked the building.

shotgun shellsPoor Headmaster Aaronson was back on the broadcast, with a message called to all homes at 10:31 this morning. Someone had found the shell in a boys room. They called the police. They don’t want to say lock down, so it was safe mode.

(I guess she’s a real city kid. She called it a bullet.)

Her recording said several times that all the children were safe…proper authorities notified…blah blah.

It turns out that safe mode involved a police take over of the school. They bought in gun and ammo sniffing dogs. All the kids took their coats and backpacks into the hall next to their classroom. They stood their ground as the cops and dogs did their do. As this went on, the kids spent about two and one-half hours in the starting classooom.

Certainly it could have been much worse, as in some kid brought in a weapon. Yet, it’s not the call a parent wants to hear. This is after all one of the three exam schools, where the allegedly smart kids go and academics trump typical teen theatrics.

That’s better than Columbine but worse than an MIT hack.

I’m an old guy, so I flash back to fifth grade. I was in a medium-sized city, Danville, Virginia, a couple of miles above the North Carolina border. We had a smattering of country kids who bused into school while nearly all of us walked.

One morning, our teacher, Miss Petit, noticed a bag one of the rural kids had with him. She paid attention because there was a squirrel tail sticking out of it.

He had taken his 22-caliber rifile to the bus stop, killed the squirrel and intended to eat this for dinner. He had ths good sense to stash the 22 near the bus stop. He also was country enough to know that leaving his prize carcass by the road probably would mean that it would be eaten by a smaller predator before he got there in the afternoon.

She took the bag and had the custodian dispose of it. She told him not to repeat this.

Interestingly enough for the BLA connection, the hick was savvy enough to know not to bring a gun or ammo to school.