Opinions need not be feared nor suppressed.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Yes we can, what?

For too many in the “Yes we can” crowd, I suspect that politics amounts to little more than a sporting event. It’s akin to rooting for their favorite team, the home team, or some such thing. No matter what you say, they will support their favorite team no matter what. And that’s exactly why this country is fast heading for a combined sewage outflow.

I’m not sure if anyone other than myself noticed, but the price of practically everything you may set out to purchase has escalated of late. Escalated and then some, I’d say. On Friday I paid $6.99 for a 10-pound bag of potatoes. That same bag of spuds would have set me back for $2.99 as little as a year ago.

And as I was exiting the supermarket with my overpriced veggies in hand, I passed a guy wearing a T-shirt with that “Yes we can” bit emblazoned on it. And after a quick mumble to myself, I thought, Yes we can? Yes we can, what?

Exactly what are we doing?

It’s undeniable that our hard-earned dollars are not going near as far as they did but a few months ago. And with our economy darn near paralyzed, with economists doing their level best not to scare the hell out of us over our increasingly bleak and bleaker economic prospects, what are those 535 jackasses plus one in Washington D.C. up to?

Why, they are going to save the world. Their prohibitively expensive Cap & Trade fiasco, that unread 300-page bill, that regressive taxation in disguise, narrowly passed in the House and will be sent up to the Senate.

Yep, while the Chinese are calling for the replacing of the dollar as the world’s trading currency of choice, as banks, investors and countries the world over are quickly divesting themselves of dollars and while none other than economic guru himself, Warren Buffett, says we’re in some deep, deep economic dodo, the jackasses in Washington D.C. are all agog over global warming, climate change, or whatever the easily-led, card-carrying sheep call it this week.

Gee whiz, I just can’t wait until all of my utility costs soar to the heavens. This is gonna be great. I can’t wait. Thank you, jackasses.

Nah, they’re not working to reduce my cash outlay when I want something as basic as a baked potato. No, being much wiser than I’ll ever be, they are working to reduce my carbon footprint.

Yes we can, what?

Seriously, what the fu>k are these hapless jackasses doing?

I’d really love to hear from you loyal Democrats. Yeah, I’d love to hear someone try to justify this utter insanity. Tell me how it makes even an iota of sense. Tell me about how this country is on the right course. Go ahead, take a stab at it. Let’s hear the latest “Yes we can” hogwash from the folks who won‘t admit to their egregious voting mistake.

Before you fools put that arrogant, untested trainee in the White House, plenty of us warned you not to. We told you. Some of us told you that taxing money out of the economy is never a recipe for boosting the economy. We warned you that you ought not try to reinvent the wheel while it’s completely flat. We said it.

During periods of upheaval, adding more upheaval to the frightful mix does not put an end to the original upheaval. We told you. Unfortunately, you thought that we were exactly what you are, a party loyalist to the bitter end. So you didn’t want to hear it from the likes of us. Your favorite team is better, yes?

And as I’m typing this, your miracle man is turning this country upside down and recreating it to his personal liking. He doesn’t run it, he owns it. And what’s going to come about as a result is going to be so completely foreign to all of us, we won’t be able to recognize our own country.

And this health care nonsense? Cut me a freaking break. Any person with more than two functioning brain cells knows the federal government screws up damn near everything it touches. For example, Google Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Ellie Mae, Waco, Texas, Ruby Ridge, or $75 toilet seats and tell me how all of that boondoggled bilge worked out.

Your messiah is not going to be able to deliver what is undeliverable. Not without punitive and unintended and unforeseen costs to our economy and our overall way of life. If those jackasses actually manage to put some sort of national health care in place, what you will notice almost immediately afterwards is the bureaucracy expanding to meet the needs of the ever-expanding bureaucracy. Same as it always was, done poorly.

And how can we expect health care or any other poorly thought-out reworking of our country to be done correctly when the jackasses are trying to ram everything through as quickly as humanly possible? How does that work?

It’s like watching a competitive cooking show on the Food Network. Chef‘s, here is your assignment. You have thirty minutes to redesign the convection oven, the clock starts now.

That’s what’s afoot in Washington D.C. at this very moment. Jackasses, redesign the entire country and all of it’s most critical inner workings and programs, you have thirty minutes, the clock starts now.

Does anyone dare tell me that passes as responsible leadership? Anybody want to give it a go? I really hate to break it to the hoodwinked believers, but audacity only counts for so much. As far as the all-knowing, all-seeing Barack Oblahblah is concerned, what he has going on is the audacity to pretend that he actually knows what he’s doing.

But, hey, you deserve it. You got what you thought you wanted. You got the unproven, untested political wunderkind. Through uninterrupted repetition, you allowed the media to convince you that you not only hated George Bush, you also hated anyone ever associated with him. And then you went and perpetrated a clear overreaction at the polls on election day. An overreaction that is going cost us all very dearly. An overreaction from which the damage done may not be undone during our now pitiful lives.

And did any of you notice that Oblahblah can’t put together a single paragraph without using the word “provide.” Sure, he’s going to snap his magic fingers and provide this, that and everything for everyone except those that don’t have their grubby little hands out. Meanwhile, did you also take notice of the fact that he’s going to provide this, that and everything for everyone except those that don’t have their grubby little hands out, while taking on more and more and more and more unpayable debts.

And therein lies the single biggest reason for his popularity to this point. As my sister always says during the run-up to any presidential election, “I’ll vote for whomever is going to give me the most.” Sadly, that’s the unthinking mindset of the left side of the political equation at this sorry point, gimme, gimme, gimme. I’m too lazy and stupid to secure health care on my own, so, please messiah, won’t you provide it for me?

Yeah, that’s that proverbial rugged individualism of ours gone full-blown emasculation. You’ve gone soft, you’ve gone lame, you’ve gone limp and you need that swelling federal teat just to make it through one more day.

So, I’d really love to hear it. I’d love some feedback from the “Yes we can” crowd. Do we appear to be in the capable hands of people with sound minds? Do we? Are any of you willing to admit to second-guessing your most recent votes? Are any of you man enough to admit that while you excitedly voted for the know-it-all messiah from out of nowhere, he ain’t it?

Yes we can, what?

Answer me that.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Observations from one thoroughly maniacal loss-prevention officer

I had an equally interesting and frustrating conversation with a very hostile and agitated person by way of this expensive electronic devise last night.

This person’s basic theme was “conspiracy of silence my ass!,” with variations on that basic theme suggesting that if I were to be elected or appointed to a position of much importance within our corrupt county government, I would then do as the others do. I would go along to get along. I too would end up being corrupt. That’s the way it is, the way it always was and the way it will always be. Yes, even Markie would be reduced to what our county employees have been reduced to.


The recent vacation pay flap from the sheriff’s department was used as an example. I was told that if I were the new top cop, I would have no choice but to do what was expected of me. I would pretend to not notice that certain officials were gaming the system, essentially being paid twice for their vacation time, sick time, personal time and what have you. Yes, I was told, that’s the way it is, the way it always was, the way it will always be and bucking the system would backfire on me or anyone else that dared to change it.


Well, I’m here to tell you that one person can make a difference. One person can stick to their guns, provided that they are doing what’s right. I’m here to chronicle for you that if guided by principles, one person can change a system from the inside out, even when the people within that system are determined to maintain the status quo. Want to know how? How? By doing what’s right.

For the umpteenth time, I used to be a restaurant manager. A general manager, that is. And before I abruptly turned my back on the hospitality industry, I was told by company officials that I had the potential to be a district manager, a position that would have had me overseeing not one, but six or seven restaurants. Yeah, whatever. With greatly enhanced responsibility comes ulcers, hair loss and chain-smoking. In my mind, after much reflection, it’s better to be a grunt.

But before I became a general manager, obviously, I was an assistant manager. As an assistant, I was known as an aggressive and unforgiving up-and-comer. Unforgiving in the sense that, I did as my college professors had trained me to do…I managed as if the investment that was being made into my store was my own. I took it personally. I managed as if it was my money on the firing line.

If you, as an employee, were following the employee handbook to the letter of the law, you and I would get along just fine. Conversely, if you were sidestepping any minute detail from within that handbook, you and I were on a collision course. For me, there were no gray areas. There was right and there was wrong. And if you chose to do wrong whereas company policy was concerned, I would force you to comply, or force you right out the back door. I was aggressive, I was theatrical when provoked (put the fear of god into the onlookers whenever possible), but most importantly, I was consistent. You never had to guess where I stood when the profitability or the cohesiveness of the operation came into question.

At that time, our company had a habit of periodically transferring assistant managers so as to season them, and to make certain they did not get too chummy with employees by staying in the same store for too, too long. And when first my name came up on the transfer list, there was no shortage of general managers who clamored to have me transferred into their stores. They knew of my reputation as a hard-charger. They wanted me. Or should I say, they thought they wanted me. But as things so often worked out, they really didn’t want me. No, after getting a dose of my unwavering, my unbending act, what they really wanted was to not have their apple cart upset.

Case in point: I was transferred into a store in which the back-of-house employees were allowed to drink beer during their shifts. According to the general manager, it didn’t cause any real harm, and he felt it helped to keep employees longer than he otherwise would have. I was appalled and told him this was a fireable offense no matter how he tired to justify it, but, as always after being transferred, I laid low for a week or two.

And after I had seen enough, after I watched and listened to drunk short order cooks needlessly rip into waitresses, after having had enough of that sort of unbelievably foul-mouthed nonsense, I waltzed into the store one afternoon and stapled a very terse and very bluntly worded bulletin on the employee bulletin board which went as follows: Anyone caught consuming or in possession of alcohol on these premises will be immediately terminated and escorted off of the property by the police.


Like it or not, Markie has spoken.

Instantly, I was the bad guy. And instantly, said cooks went to the general manager hoping to have not only that bulletin, but that company policy voided all over again. And when that manager stupidly asked me to reconsider, I told him if he failed to back me up and enforce that policy, I would then go over his head and make his boss aware of the drinking that not only went on, but was deliberately overlooked by the manager.

So, as of that day, the drinking came to an abrupt halt, and never resumed afterwards. The cooks despised me. The waitresses were my appreciative and adoring fans. Even some of the very regular customers applauded the move. And that manager had me transferred out of his store the first chance he got.

The thing is, I could really care less who hated me, who punctured my tire, or who the hell is was that trashed my Atlanta Braves license plate. The policies as stipulated by my employer were enforced, and that’s what I was being paid to make certain of. There was no going with the flow for this dedicated shock trooper.

Case in point: I was transferred to a store that was having some serious food cost issues. And being the Chef Ramsey of my company, I was purposely sent there to get the cost of food back to where it should have been. In my learned opinion, when your cost of food is significantly higher than it should be, somebody is stealing. It’s not always true, but it’s the correct problem-solving starting point.

And immediately upon arriving there, I took over the inventorying and ordering, two critically important cost control functions that only the general managers were entrusted with. As far as I was concerned, that general manager should have been embarrassed to have those responsibilities stripped from him. Oddly, he seemed quite content with it.

Now, watching build-tos and consumption rates only reveal so much. So, secretly, I inventoried 20 very expensive food items each and every day. They call this a “key item” inventory. The thinking being, if an employee was going to steal food items, they would most likely make off with something pricey. So I counted the expensive stuff, and matched the actual usage against what the point-of-sale computers were listing as being sold.

And within a couple of weeks, I was not only convinced that theft was afoot, but some rather ballsy theft at that. What the key item counts revealed was that case quantities were going out the back door, not an occasional steak or two. Not a pack of shrimp, cases of shrimp. And when I made the manager aware of my findings, he dismissed them and told me I was heavy-handed and way too suspicious.

Annoyed by his incompetence, I bought two six-packs of beer and sat across the street from the store after closing. And I sat there until it reopened the next morning. Nothing. And I did the same thing the next night and the night after that. Nothing. I was even approached by the police. And when I told them I had the store under surveillance, they seemed genuinely impressed by my detective work.

This was getting tiring, and I decided to give it a go one more night and that would be that. And lo and behold, somewhere about 3 in the morning, the back door opened and the janitor had a hand truck stacked high with cases of frozen food that he deposited into the trunk of his car. The troubling part was that he was not supposed to have a key to not only the back door, but any door at all.

The next morning, when I made the manager aware of what was going on, he told me the janitor had 12 kids, he was in tough financial shape, he was basically good people, he had given him the key, and he asked me to overlook the entire sordid affair. Where’s the harm in temporarily helping the guy out?

After I went over his head, both he and the janitor were fired. The locks were changed, a new general manager and newly hired janitor were brought on board.


And I was immediately transferred out of there by the district manager who was completely embarrassed by the troubling goings-on in one of his stores. Strangely, he was genuinely pissed at me. Hot. He told me so.

Know what? I told him he could go fu>k himself for being so lackadaisical and so trusting and so understanding while a controllable cost was so grossly far out of whack. You see, there’s fixed costs and controllable costs. And if you aren’t controlling what ought to be controlled, your net profit is going to suck. And the way I approached it, the net profit was not going to suck on my watch. Not on my watch!

Case in point: Again, being the Chef Ramsey, being the back-of-house troubleshooter, I was transferred into another store that, again, has having some serious food cost issues. Only, in this case, the key item inventories revealed that food consumption was largely in line with what the point-of-sale computers were telling me. Something was seriously amiss, but there was no food going out the back door. Somebody was stealing, just not stealing food.

But there are plenty of ways to steal from your employer. In restaurants, the stealing of a dozen packets of sweetener by a waitress hurts your profit, but not substantially. And when a cook decides to cook, package and pocket a burger before heading home, it hurts your overall profit, but not significantly. No, when costs and profits are way out of line, but the data stipulates that the theft of product is not the cause, something more sinister and clever is going on.

So I started watching what the waitresses served their guests versus what they were charging them for. This is an ages-old scam usually perpetuated by your more veteran waitresses. Give your friends and/or family free drinks, or free desserts. Or, you can build your tip income by giving freebies to regular customers who wink and nod their way through their dinner, and then leave a tip far above what would normally be expected. I snagged and fired quite a few waitresses that were playing this theft game over the years. Your first clue is sent when regular customers would prefer to sit and wait for a certain waitresses section rather than be seated at the available tables when they arrive. Red flag, baby.

Anyway, after closely monitoring those battleaxes for a couple of weeks, I was satisfied that the waitresses were not giving free food away. So what’s left? The food is not going out the back door. The front-of-house employees are not giving the store away. The inventories, done by myself again, were deftly accurate. The ordering and build-tos were very consistent. What’s left?

The management…that’s all that’s left. I started by monitoring the petty cash funds, the coin vault and the cash variances. A cash variance is the difference between what the cash register says should be in it, and what is actually in it when you count your cash at the end of your shift. A variance of plus or minus one tenth of a percent suggests one of two things are going on. Either somebody is pocketing cash from the register, or your cash handlers, most likely hostesses, are not dispensing the proper change to customers. It’s either theft, or a training issue.

Anyway, everything checked out. No matter where I looked, everything was as it should have been. Or so it seemed.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s more than one way to skin a cat when theft is afoot. Here’s what we’ve got up to this point. No one is stealing case quantities of food. Nobody is making off with fistfuls of cash. Not a single person is giving free food away. Yet, the food cost is significantly higher than where it should be. Any ideas? Can anyone guess what’s wrong with this picture?

Being that I was trained not to trust anyone, and being that Mr. Scannell at L.C.C.C. said when to comes to theft, out of very ten employees, two would never steal, two will steal whatever they can get their hands on and with the other six it depends (experience proves this to be true), I figured that someone from within the ranks of our three-person management staff was making real clever like with the theft routine.

Since I wasn’t a thief, my attention shifted to our other assistant manager, a female I had worked with before and who I seriously doubted could be so deceitfully clever. Put it this way, she was to dumb blondes what Barack Oblahblah is to being obnoxiously full of himself. I knew what to look for, I looked for it, and she was cleared of any further suspicions.

All that remained was the general manager, a man who was being paid quite handsomely to manage this store. A vindictive and overbearing man who constantly berated and browbeat the employees because of the high food cost. He never stopped harping on them, picking on them, or making them miserable because his boss wanted that food cost beaten back into line by yesterday.

And after only a week of auditing the waitresses guest checks, a pattern developed. Every time he worked, every shift, two guest checks turned up missing. And after watching his every move at the cash register, it became apparent that he was purposely neglecting to ring up two guest checks of the large dollar amount variety so that he could pocket the excess cash at the end of his shift. He’d take the customers cash, put the check aside without ringing it up and that would create an overage that he could make off with. It was true. I could document it. The man in charge of the whole shebang was a thief.

So, I got on the blower to corporate and informed his immediate supervisor of the thoroughly disturbing news. What happened next still confounds me. As had happened to me before, he became enraged to learn that I was snooping around on my general manager, his responsibility. And he told me not to tell anyone until he arrived at the store for a face-to-face with me. And even though I had never heard this guy utter a profanity before that day, he was launching F-Bombs faster than North Korea can launch inaccuarate knock-off I.C.B.M.s.

Honestly, I think he was scared. I think he feared for his job too if this got out. And I strongly suspected that his face-to-face was going to include a suggestion that I forget what I knew and allow him to handle it on the sly. And no sooner did he hang up the phone did I call his immediate superior and apprise him of the awful news. And after a couple of days of auditing and the like done by the company auditing types, that general manager was sat down and terminated. And his shaken boss was written up in triplicate for not doing what I had done, for not getting to the root of the problem.

After all of this circumlocution, my point is this: If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. And trust me, you don’t have to go along to get along. And I seek no pats on the back or special compensation, no hero status. All that I did was doing what I was being paid to do…protect the assets of my employer.

And in the case of the elected and/or appointed folks, they are being paid to protect our assets…our tax dollars. And as far as I’m concerned, they should be provided no leeway, nor should they be held to a lower standard. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. If it’s theft, it’s theft. And if it’s theft, they need to be terminated with extreme prejudice. Terminated with extreme prejudice, that is, Markie style.

For what it’s worth, there it is. Observations from one thoroughly maniacal loss-prevention officer.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Conspiracy of Silence

Yeah, I’m still here, wherever here is. It’s been a busy week. And during a busy week, writing slides down to the bottom of the list of priorities. While I enjoy all of this, I am not married to it anymore.

As always, I was listening to WILK while working on Thursday, when up pops this interruption from ABC News. Rutro! Breaking news. As the introductory music played on, my imagination combined with the latest news trinkets kicked into overdrive. Stuff like the following.

The North Koreans launched another missile, it misfired and landed in a crowded South Korean neighborhood.

The Iranian revolution is on!

Barack Oblahblah begrudgingly admitted that he does not in fact know everything.

But alas, the breaking news was the passing of Farrah Fawcett. And I thought to myself at that moment, that’s freaking breaking news? That’s worth interrupting the regularly scheduled programming over? Farrah? Whatever. Must be me, right?

As we now know, that breaking news item was seriously trumped by yet another breaking news blurb just a few hours later: No more Michael Jackson.

After listening to caller after caller on WILK the next morning going on and on about how sad they were, or how much Michael meant to them, I have nothing of the sort to share with you. As a kid, I absolutely loved the music of the Jackson 5. And as an adult, Michael Jackson’s solo career was not even on my radar.

And I think I can encapsulate his latter years and his untimely passing as follows: “Side affects include…”

All of which reminded me of when John Wayne died, I think, in 1977. And with that date in question, my self-inflicted policy of not Googling everything to prove myself to be a genius remains intact.

I can’t recall when first I spied John Wayne killing America’s many enemies on the big screen, but I strongly suspect that I took in my first Wayne flick while still in the womb. The thing is, unlike the lot of you, I did spend ten months there. Yep, ten. True story.

Anyway, I watched him slice and dice his way through the Nazis, the Japanese, the Vietnamese, a few Chinese, Apaches, Iroquois, Cherokee and hopefully, more than his fair share of Mohegans. He was the man. He was larger than life. He was a heavily-armed Jolly Green Giant among undersized and unbelieving mere mortals from over there.

And then one day, my grandma told me he had died, something I had trouble getting my mind around real quick like. And it was then, at that moment, that I first considered the mortality thing. That while all of us have a beginning and many memorable waypoints along the way, we likewise have an end point waiting on us. You, me and even the mightiest of the mighty, John Wayne.

Since it’s become readily apparent that the self-appointed Mayor of Home Rule, Jim Haggerty, is forever fearful of the public or the media gleaning too much information of the goings-on of the Government Study Commission, I figured I’d up and publish one of his many e-mails that were sent to fellow commission members, but were also forwarded to me.

First, a few facts. He prefers to have the GSC meetings held in private whenever possible. And he also wants public comments at the meetings attended by the public to be very, very limited. Apparently, he’s got one eye on Walter Griffith for the purposes of diminishing his chances of capturing the county controller’s seat in November, and the other on his wristwatch. Like the career politician that he is, he wants his meetings to be as short as humanly possible.

And his other clearly stated problem is with those commission members who might endeavor to share information (including e-mails) with the press, WILK’s Steve Corbett, or with internet bastards such as myself. Yes, it seems the GSC members are sworn to secrecy with him at the helm.

And I fail to see how we go about combating the conspiracy of silence that now passes as government in this county by the studying of and then the recommendation of a new system of government by those who operate by way of an iron-fistedly enforced conspiracy of deference.

Allow me to explain that…the “conspiracy of silence.”

Damn near everyone in a position of authority at the courthouse has a scam going on by which they intentionally defraud the taxpayers of this county. And since they all know what‘s afoot, but refuse to speak out or change anything, they are all thereby guilty of perpetuating a conspiracy by way of their ongoing silence.

On a brief aside, WILK’s Sue Henry keeps reminding us that good people do in fact toil away under that rotunda dome. Assuming that to be true, I’m just wondering if she is prepared to identify that person at this time.

Anyway, the e-mail I decided to publish:

Dear GSC members,

With regards to the letter from the county solicitor to Walter, please refer to my earlier e-mail.

Pursuant to his legal opinion, no member of this commission will be allowed any bathroom breaks during GSC gatherings without first securing permission from me…in writing. Hall pass privileges are also hereby suspended.

In addition, it is a serious infringement on the independence of our commission for any member thereof to share any of the details of our closed-door meetings with the media or persons unknown, including the snack break menu.

Furthermore, we decide the subjects of our study, the length of our study, the parameters of our study, and the necessary expenses of our study, not that no good prick Walter.

I, for one, am committed to my oath as a GSC member and will zealously defend our independence. And if anyone…anyone sheds any light on our commission study business, I will personally call WILK and trash them unmercifully, especially that loose-lipped prick Walter.

And I must remind you, I will enforce the dress code that I personally crafted and forwarded to each and every one of you. Be mindful of the fact that while we do what we were duly elected to do, we will be appropriately dressed, especially that prick Walter.

“Squeaky,” I have read the minutes of the last meeting you had prepared and forwarded to me, I approve of them and they can be entered into the official public record that I may or may not release to prying eyes, especially those of that four-eyed prick Walter.

Best regards,

The Mayor of Home Rule

And that concludes our behind the scenes glimpse into the one-man show that is our Government Study Commission.

If we remember correctly, on a very recent Saturday, Kayak Dude and myself were, literally, awash in tens of thousands of gallons of raw sewage that was spewing from a combined sewage outflow on the shoreline of Pittston. Raw sewage that was pouring into the river at a rate of thousands of gallons per minute. In short, that’s a heck of a lot of raw sewage.

And then, the very next day, Kayak Dude found a grouping of small children frolicking away in the swollen Susquehanna at the lower level of our new River Common. And when he informed the nearby adoring parents of the massive sewage discharge but hours before, said parents very quickly removed their children from the lower level of the River Common.

Check this out:

Harrisburg closes City Island Beach because of E-coli

by DAN MILLER, Of The Patriot-News

Wednesday June 24, 2009, 1:27 PM

Harrisburg today closed City Island Beach to the public until further notice because of elevated E-coli levels.

Mayor Stephen R. Reed said results of water quality tests by the city Monday show E-coli levels have risen above the state maximum of 235 colonies per 100 milliliters to more than 900 colonies.

Spokesman Matthew Coulter said the city does not know what has led to the elevated E-coli. ( DUH!) Reed said more testing will be done on both sides of the island to identify any "potential water quality problems" in the Susquehanna River.

Testing of the beach area itself will be done over the next three days. If tests show the level falling below the maximum, the beach could reopen for the weekend, Reed said.

Reed said the city ban only covers swimming at the public beach on the northwest side of City Island. But Reed said the closing serves as a warning of elevated E-coli in other areas of the river where people swim.

Other areas? Um, like, other areas such as Wilkes-Barre?

By reprinting this news bit, my intent is not to dissuade anyone from enjoying our river, or any of our new river amenities. My sole intent is to educate people to the fact that our river is at it’s absolute worst, at it’s most unhealthy and quite possibly dangerous when it’s swollen as a result of periods of sustained and/or very heavy precipitation.

When it rains like all hell, the combined sewage outflows are predictably going to discharge untold tens of thousands of gallons of untreated raw sewage directly into the river, and at a dizzying rate. Thereby, this is a public health issue that needs to be addressed by both our county officials, as well as our city officials. The public needs to be educated whereas high water events are concerned.

As a general rule, try this one: If the river has swollen beyond the lowest of the River Common’s concrete barriers, it’s most likely tainted by tens of thousands of gallons, perhaps more, of untreated human excrement. When the river swells to that point, you might want to restrict the children to playing in the pulsating fountain just up the hill a ways.

From the e-mail inbox:

To all:

Many of the recipients of this e-mail have friends in local/regional government. I'm asking that you forward this e-mail, including pictures, to them ASAP. This is a potentially hazardous situation.

As we all know, the Susquehanna River has been rising, and it has begun to flood the lower level of the fishing platform. I stopped by on Sunday evening, only to find ~10 young children playing in the river water that was collecting at the lowest level of the fishing platform. This should absolutely not be happening. There is raw sewage pouring into the river due to recent rains. To my utter disgust, I witnessed thousands of gallons of stormwater mixed with raw sewage pouring out of the CSO in Pittston ( by Cooper's ) on Saturday.

You can get a second confirmation here: http://mcour.blogspot.com/

Many of these kids were soaking wet from head to toe.

I could really embarrass some folks by naming who was there on Sunday @ ~5:15 p.m., saw this happening..,.and did nothing. I won't this time. I spoke with every parent I could find and told them what was in the water. They all immediately got their kids out.

There should be signage, or at minimum, someone patrolling the park who understands kids should not be playing in river water when there is a clean fountain for that purpose only a hundred feet away.



End public health segment.

You’re welcome.

Since everyone on talk radio seems all annoyed and such what with these corporate giveaways known as Keystone Opportunity Zones, since the Feds are in town and overturning every politically stained rock they can find, and since only the politically connected or previously affluent seem to have access to said tax freebies, why not take a look into this one…

COPYRIGHT 2005...The Times Leader

Byline: Dave Janoski

Dec. 11--WILKES-BARRE -- Of all the questionable KOZ decisions in Wilkes-Barre, the inclusion of Lowe's Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge in the tax-exempt zone has drawn the most scrutiny and criticism.

Thomas Williams, the owner of Lowe's, is a longtime aide to U.S. Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski, D-Nanticoke. And the restaurant's designation as a KOZ property by then-mayor Tom McGroarty in 1998 was seen as nakedly political...

Long story short…a longtime aide to the local congressman received the tax forgiveness from a politically conniving mayor, he then never expanded the business in any way or created any new jobs as a result of the politically motivated move, which flies in the face of the program, and he has since sold his business to a neighboring business owner.

In other words, being in the political loop, he was simply excused from paying his taxes for a decade.

It’s a great program if you can get in. But being the hardscrabble common folk that you are, you cannot get in. Ever!

Bummer, kiddies.


Photo (by request): My grandkids, Gage, now 8, and Taylor, 6.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

RiverFest 2009

Today is Father’s Day. And since I haven’t got one--a father--there wouldn’t be much point in blathering on and on about it. Happy Father’s Day, dad. Wherever you are. If you are.

That about covers that.

Yesterday was day two of RiverFest 2009, the first day that included paddling. Kayak Dude, my grandson Zach and myself did our part by paddling 14 miles from the Apple Tree boat launch in Harding all the way to Nesbitt Park in Wilkes-Barre.

Unfortunately, my grandson Jeremy came down quite ill, so Zach was his more than eager emergency replacement. And with that trip, Zach has become the hardened river rat from among my grandsons and one nephew. Zach (‘08, ‘09( has 28 miles under his belt. My nephew Mason (‘07) has 14. And Gage Andrew, the first one out back in 2004, has 12 miles to his credit.

This being the 10th annual event, a bit of personal paddling history.


2002: KD & MC…18 miles, West Pittston to West Nanticoke.

2003: Cancelled due to extremely high water. KD & MC trek 30 miles from Tunkhannock to Wilkes-Barre anyway. One wild and floating debris-laden ride.

2004: KD, MC & Gage Andrew. Held in very early June, the temperature was not what it should have been, and a monsoon made sophistry of the area. By the time we arrived at the halfway point, Nesbitt Park (12 miles), a then 3-year-old Gage Andrew was shivering uncontrollably, so KD paddled the final leg all alone.

2005: KD could not make it. And as KD goes, so goes the U.S.S. Dude.

2006: KD & MC…18 miles from West Pittston to West Nanticoke.

2007: KD, MC & Mason…14 miles Harding to Wilkes-Barre.

2008: KD, MC & Zach…14 miles, Harding to Wilkes-Barre.

2009: KD, MC & Zach…14 miles, Harding to Wilkes-Barre.

Even though yesterday’s event was conducted under another on-again off-again quasi monsoon, the temperature was agreeable, and we had this here throwaway poncho with which to protect Zach from the driving rain. I read that all three outfitters were sold out of boats, so needless to say, we had a lot of first-timers hitting the water earlier yesterday morning. And for the first time, 4 school buses were required to shuttle the participants up to the launch point in Harding.

As for that bus ride, even though we made the trip in separate buses, both KD and myself noticed how many paddling neophytes there were on board based entirely on their chosen attire. Or should I say, their poorly chosen attire. Think about it. At the bottom and at the edge of every river is what? You got it, mud. And plenty of it. So, just in case you’re considering joining us one day, do not wear your brand new Pumas. And to you girls, there’s no need to make any fashion statements while out on the river.

As to the newcomers to paddling, I remember approximately 5 boats flipping in the turbulence created by the remains of the old Carey Avenue bridge back in 2002. And we even had a river paddling veteran go inverted in a turbulent section just off of the dike at Forty Fort back in 2006. I just knew something was afoot when the kayak carrying a college kid directly in front of me upped and spun around within the blink of an eye.

Right around it came, and that kid will probably never look as shocked as he did on that day. They provide all paddlers with a safety sermon each and every year. But never once did they tell us what to do when your boat chooses to go backwards. Took me a second or two to process what I was seeing before I reached for my safety whistle and gave it three short blasts. Man down! Man overboard! Something or other. Anyway, that was my first ever river rescue.

Those newcomers did not disappoint yesterday. We were in the water for about 5 minutes when a canoe carrying three people got no further than 20 feet from the end of the launch and decided it would rather be upside-down. And since they were dumped into water no deeper than 4 feet, no rescue or assistance was necessary. Only giggles and snickers were provided them.

It was overcast, kind of dark and the rain was very heavy at times. So this was not a day for taking pictures in hopes of capturing keepers. But after the briefest of pit stops at the halfway point on the shoreline at West Pittston, KD noticed that the sewage overflow on the Pittston side was spewing a couple of thousand of gallons of water per minute. So, we paddled right into the mouth of the thing for a couple of pictures.

And it was then and there that we both realized we were paddling atop Pittston’s most recently deposited (flushed) raw sewage. It was then and there that KD resisted the reflexive urge to deposit his breakfast onto the back of my personal floatation device. It was right there and right then when first I heard him curse.

And isn’t that, in and of itself, not the worst of all possible situations. Just a few short years ago, Pittston went and built itself a nifty waterfront amenity. It’s not near what Wilkes-Barre’s is, but it’s a nice waterfront park unto itself. And sitting right at it’s southernmost edge? Why, there’s this metal hatch that let’s loose with raw sewage whenever the rain persists for more than an hour or so. And at it’s northernmost edge, the infamous Butler Mine Tunnel, which emits a cocktail of industrial pollutants so foul and dangerous, it necessitated the building of an emergency inflatable coffer dam just downstream.

And it’s obvious we have to do better. The new amenities are all wonderful. The enhanced levees protect our lives and livelihoods. The inflatable dams and the riverfront parks are amazing assets when plopped into urban settings. But while we’ve been busily spending hundreds of millions of local, state and federal dollars on the river’s meandering shoreline, we have yet to seriously address the quality of the water. There ain’t no ifs, ands or buts about it: we have to do better.

David Buck of Endless Mountain Outfitters gets the nod for best ever RiverFest safety tip. What to do if you’re on the river and lightning gets to flashing across the sky? Well, since they’ve got the aluminum paddles, stay away from the Boy Scouts. Did I say safety tip? Oops. I meant, best ever joke.

I’m not certain which state or federal agency it is that inspects railroad bridges that haven’t been used in a few generations, but the aged bridge just past Exeter going north is of the “structurally unsound” variety as spied by our eyes. One of the stone pillars has been crumbling for years. And it’s now lost so many of it’s hulking stones, the crumbling pillar is now U-shaped. Not a place you want to linger for too long while navigating the river. Or as we put it while fast approaching it, ramming speed, captain!

And, as per usual, KD made it a point to slow the boat while we were almost directly over the spot where the coal mines collapsed and the river flooded millions of gallons of water into them back in 1959. A spot, they tell me, that still draws water from the river during the driest of the dry summers. A spot that KD knows I would rather not spend too much time near. A spot I don’t want to be anywhere near if it ever decides to take a big ole drink again.

And, as per usual, but always a complete surprise for a nanosecond or two, KD tells the dramatic story of just how complete a catastrophe that event really was. How wide the chasm in the river bottom actually was. How many coal cars were dumped into it in an attempt to choke off the flow of water draining into the dark abyss. The coffer dams, the cranes, the gondolas, the huddled masses of shrieking relatives on the shore just to our left, how many lives lost…and then he rocks the boat as violently and noisily as he can.

Son of a Beechnut Gum!!! Gets me every time.

I suggest that he never pull this stunt on any paddling neophyte from the front seat of his kayak. He’s far from our reach and safe in the rear, but if sitting up front…we could react by popping him one in the ribs. Gets me every time.

We were told that a local mayor, a state representative and a congressman were supposed to be making the trip, but as always, the elected folk that pay so much banal lip service to all things cloudy river and it’s murky future, they did not attend. More often than not, this is what happens when it’s time to get out there on the river.

And this has always bothered me, not because I want to post pictures of politicians and myself hanging out together. Not being your average blogger, I seek no hollow celebrity.

With so many important decisions that have been and still need to be made regarding the chummed-up river’s future, what I know is that there’s no knowledge quite like firsthand knowledge. Nothing tops experience. And until these politicos get out there and experience the river, until they make it a point to paddle for hours on end with the passionate river historians and the like, until they take in the sights, the sounds and the rebounding wildlife for themselves, in my mind, they don’t know what they are talking about when they speak to the river’s needs. That’s how I feel.

We completed the four-hour sojourn in three hours. We weren’t assigned to any particular group of paddlers, and we were not saddled with any safety responsibilities. And as such, we went “river right” while the others went “river left.” Exploring, if you will. And we just paddled until we ran up on the rear of some sojourners who had departed long before we had pushed off at the Apple Tree.

By the time we arrived at the festival at Nesbitt Park, the rain had subsided. And after getting Zach into a dry shirt, an official RiverFest shirt, we set off in search of amusements and some foodstuffs. We had a band rocking out on our side of the river, and yet another band rocking the post-rain crowd slowly filtering onto the river common on the other side of the river.

And get this: On that opposite shore, down at the water's edge, there was a bridal party having plenty of pictures taken. A new tradition is born.

There were plenty of paddlers arriving at the new launch after we had, plenty of land-lovers arriving, kayaks and canoes beached as far as one could see, bicyclists, police patrols, three horses, and what seemed like a hundred tents. It’s obvious that this event has grown over the years and still is growing. And with both sides of the river at Wilkes-Barre now transformed from being lifeless earthen barriers into lively attractions, expect RiverFest to get bigger and better as time marches on.

And when that sky even hinted at letting loose again, it was time to pack up the grandson and head for home. Personally, I had myself a full day. Bicycling in the morning. Paddling 14 miles. Bicycling back home again with a 35-pound rodent in tow, and then a robust walkabout with said rodent once back at home.

With all of that said, I wouldn’t dare miss RiverFest, or change any aspect of it if I could. It’s fun, it’s exercise, it’s informative, it’s provides an opportunity to see some little-seen creatures in their natural habitat, it’s eye-opening in that it demonstrates the costly environmental damage that man can do in his own backyard, and it’s shows you the limitless potential of the river.

And if you’re really lucky, you won’t have me snapping your picture after you invert your boat. Conversely, if you’re really, really unlucky, you might get puked on by your paddling partner. You just never know.

So if you're thinking of tagging along, dress appropriately, pack some bottled water and a light snack, bring a poncho and perhaps a vomit bag.

And that concludes my thoughts on all of that aquatic stuff. And as always, Thanks Don. I’ll see you at the block party.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

River Common

As was promised, Kayak Dude and myself launched the U.S.S. Dude from the new boat launch at Nesbitt Park just in time to hear all of the politicians make their speeches to the huge crowd settled in on Wilkes-Barre's new River Common.

The new amenity is awesome, yet, I spied it from the river and have yet to step foot on any of it's sprawling expanse. We spent a goodly amount of time posted up at the edge of the fishing pier while KD and his River Rats discussed all things Susquehanna River, RiverFest, with even some natural gas drilling discussion thrown in for good measure.

By the way, the reworked Nesbitt Park is quite the improvement all by it's lonesome. The new boat launch is easily the best I've seen. Oh, and the muddy paths have been replaced by an asphalt road. And we even have a paved parking lot. They tell me there's more improvements in store for that area.

As we were paddling upstream, floating downstream and then repeating the cycle all over again, we were buzzed from behind by a WWII-era fighter plane. We never even saw it coming as our backs were to the screaming thing, but it did take a chunk out of my left ear. I'm an expert on WWII-era surface ships, not combat aircraft. So I'll not get to Googling to pretend that I am. But I'd have to say it was one of those Navy fighters with the fold-up wings, the planes popularized by the Blacksheep Squadron of television fame.

If only I had seen that thing coming. If only I were pointed downstream when first it began it's high-speed, low altitude buzzing run. Not everybody captures a picture of the fighter plane that dived-bombed them, right? Darn it!

On that shoreline before us, as far as the eye could see, was this veritable Who's Who of Wilkes-Barre.

Note to self: Pack the BB gun for future paddling events.

As I said to KD today while navigating the swollen river as part of RiverFest 2009, my intent is not to keep beating up on Congressman Paul Kanjorski now that the inflatable dam battle is behind us. It's really not.

But, while politicians never get tired of telling us they are "fighting" for us and doing nothing of the sort, Uncle Paul did in fact fight tooth-and-nail for that proposed inflatable dam before it went the way of the coal mines without even being built. But I did ask of KD, doesn't it feel good to defeat a powerful politician who was actually fighting for something? Yeah, it does. It feels real good. Too good.

And the only reason I mention that now is because, as part of his speech at the River Common unveiling, he made some predictable comment about "not accomplishing everything 'we' set out to accomplish."

Okay, fine. Thanks to Uncle Paul, we have a greatly enhanced levee system, and the new River Common at Wilkes-Barre. And if he had had his way, we'd also have a condom of a rubber dam sitting in front of raw sewage discharges, one of which KD and I did not enjoy in the least earlier today, while sitting way too up close and personal. So much so, I thought KD was about to blow chunks all over my back. First time I ever heard him curse.

And it is obvious to this intrepid river reporter that the good folks in Pittston are going to have to start chewing their food a heck of a lot better.

Well, if "he" had accomplished everything "he" had set out to, you'd now have what I like to call "river dumplings" collecting just north of the rubber dam. Yeah, we warned you. Sewage. Acid mine drainage. Algae blooms. And river dumplings, as pictured above.

If "he" had won the inflatable dam battle, you'd now have the opportunity to mix it up with lots of dammed up river dumplings. And while every land-lover this side of nowhere has opined away on what a wonderful addition to the river and Wilkes-Barre an inflatable dam would have been, we kept posting pictures of things such as river dumplings and asking, "Do you really want to recreate in that?" Do you?

The correct answer is obvious.

Uncle Paul, clean our river!

Clean our river, and your legacy is set.

Sez me, the land-lover turned lover of river.

PS--Before the rumors get to swirling, yes, I did phone in a bomb threat for the big River Common unveiling.

"This is a communique from the Nord End Liberation Army...


Friday, June 19, 2009

Dummy of the Week

First Supreme Court nominee Sonia Maria Sotomayor fractures an ankle. According to press reports at the time, she did it all on her own. Now it has come to light that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has a fractured elbow that will require surgery later this week.

And just as it had in the case of Sotomayor, the press quickly offered a cover story wherein Hillary did it all on her own.

I put it to you, America; is president Barack Obama a woman beater? Have we elected ourselves an Abuser-in-Chief?

You can call all of this a coincidence. You can question my questionable sanity for even daring to go there. But if you look really, really, really close at the recently published pictures of our newest diva, Michelle Obama, it’s patently obvious that she has a black eye.

Maybe not.

Scranton’s Kurt Shotko is suing the City of Wilkes-Barre again???

What’s up? Did his unemployment run out? Or was he denied welfare benefits? What, the demonstration industry just isn’t what it used to be? The economy has bankrupted even the “drum circles” bunch?

Seems to me as if the Scranton cops have been shooting the wrong residents. Kurt may not be running around naked with a knife, but he is certainly a “302“ case.


Ghost law enforcement?

Say it ain’t so, kiddies. Say it ain’t so.

I-Team Investigation: Sheriff's Work Schedule Questioned

WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY- Where's the Luzerne County Sheriff's Chief Deputy been? Three independent sources claim Charles Guarnieri hasn't been in the office for four weeks. Reached by phone on Monday, Sheriff Michael Savokinas said Guarnieri was, in fact, on vacation for two-and-a-half to three weeks. "It was time that was coming to him," Savokinas said.

Payroll records dated April 15th through June 9th obtained by WBRE Eyewitness News reflect Guarnieri never clocked any vacation time while he was supposedly away from the office, as the I-TEAM was told by Sheriff Savokinas. Luzerne County Commissioners Maryanne Petrilla (D) and Stephen Urban (R) said there's no reason the payroll records would not properly reflect time taken off by any employee. Commissioner Urban called it "fraud."

Complete story at Pahomepage.com.

I’ve been employed since I was 14-years-old, full-time since I was 16. And never once did the payroll department at any of the companies I have worked for goof my paycheck, let alone, goof it so completely. Never.

So, I’m left to assume one of two things with this story. Either something coming from the sheriff’s department smells funny, or the county payroll people need to pay a lot more attention to detail.

And, since I have personally compiled payrolls more times than I care to remember during my management days, since compiling a payroll amounts to little more than entering the data you received from management, from time cards or whatever the opted-for procedure, I’m thinking we’ve got yet another certifiable scandal on our hands.

So what else is new?

The latest from Governor Ed Rendell is his proposed “temporary” wage tax increase from 3.07% to 3.57%.

This is exactly why governors and state legislators need to be spendthrifts to some degree and maintain rainy day funds. We all know that with a cyclical economy comes periods of economic prosperity as well as financially hurtful downturns. In other words, they need not spend every penny that hit’s the coffers, the pennies that haven’t arrived yet, as well as the pennies that are yet to be minted. They need to work to prevent themselves from ever being put in such dire straights.

With that said, when a tax-and-tax-and-spend-and-spend politician comes bearing a “temporary” tax increase, you have to admire the unmitigated gall of the thing. He's got nuts of stone. Er, marble. I dunno.

Anyway, I would like to award Governor Ed Rendell the first ever Cirumlocution for Dummies’ “Dummy of the Week” award.

And if you honestly believe that proposed temporary tax increase to be of a temporary nature, consider yourself a co-recipient of this award.

Congrats to all! You have my deepest possible sympathies.

As the legions of people who are hopelessly addicted to their various and sundry texting devices are so frequently known to type…WTF?

Well, finally…finally, the new River Common at Wilkes-Barre will be unveiled to the residents of the Wyoming Valley today at 4 o‘clock.

Kayak Dude and I will be launching the U.S.S. Dude from the new boat launch just across the way at Nesbitt Park right around 3:30 PM. Yeah, we’ll be bobbing around out their just off shore while all of the politicos gather on the shoreline at Millennium Circle.

This is a big day for Wilkes-Barre, the Wyoming Valley, and I suspect, an even bigger day for downtown Wilkes-Barre. Over the past five years, hundreds of millions have been invested in the downtown, with most having been invested in new buildings, new amenities, the creation of parking, as well as infrastructure improvements.

And while we’ve been impatiently watching all of the construction and whatnot, while we’ve all noticed the serious up tick in activity and foot traffic down there, the politicos, the engineers and the urban planners kept pointing to this project as the one that would tie all of the improvements together and spur even more development in the downtown, as well as along the river’s edge.

While excited for our brightening prospects as a city, while I prepare once more to get on out there in the middle of the river, I am beyond thankful that some of us managed to deep six Congressman Paul Kanjorski’s proposed inflatable dam folly. What we need is a cleaner free-flowing river, not a dammed cesspool ringed by the orange staining that accompanies acid mine drainage.

But rather than continue to bash the congressman on this pivotal day for Wilkes-Barre, I encourage him to do what he said he would do during the inflatable dam brouhaha, I encourage him, I implore him to secure the federal funding necessary to eliminate the sewage outflow pollution from flowing into the river during prolonged periods of precipitation. With oodles and oodles and oodles of stimulus funding going to seemingly every group and every project the country over, now is the time. Now is the time to start the river’s big comeback.

A river flowing through a downtown setting is an amenity that should be enjoyed by all. But a clean, free-flowing river flowing through a downtown setting is an amenity that could be cherished by all.

Uncle Paul, clean our river.

As far as the paddling thing goes on Saturday, making his river paddling premiere will be 3-½-year-old Jeremy Cour, my grandson. Thanks to the generosity of Kayak Dude, my grandsons Gage, Zach and now Jeremy have all been treated to a day on the river, as was my nephew Mason in 2007. And so far, we’re three-for-three because all three of the rodents that have dared to go want to go again. As a matter of fact, Zach had a fit yesterday when he learned his brother Jeremy was going this year and not himself.

All of which suggests that we either need a bigger boat (virtually impossible), or another boat with which to flank the Iowa Class U.S.S. Dude.

Anyway, I hope to see some of you out there.

From the e-mail inbox:


A simple question for your green friend. Which is more environmentally sound? To maintain a structure in good working order by the judicious use of pesticides, or have it decay, be torn down and buried in a land fill, and then replaced by a new structure made from virgin wood. The ignorance in this country can be astounding.


Your instincts are dead-on.

Very, very recently, it was decided that I would engage in a bit of termite troubleshooting at a home near Hazleton. This home could not be dealt with chemically, because it has a well directly under it, plus you cannot gain access to almost all of the understructure. As a result, it has a very recently installed monitoring/baiting system installed along it’s exterior perimeter.

The home was originally a cabin, and it had many additions tacked onto it over the years. It has no basement, only an inaccessible foot-deep void under the home, except for one of the add-ons, which has a crawl space about two and a half feet high directly underneath.

This room had reproductive swarmers flying all about, as well as damage to a wall in an adjacent bathroom. From what you could see with the naked eye, the damage or infestation didn’t appear to be too bad.

But after I dropped into the flooded crawl space through a one-by-two opening created by a contractor in a closet, it took me, literally, a minute to learn that this structure was under serious assault, and in serious structural trouble.

On top of all four block walls, the header board was gone, eaten. The sill plates no longer existed, consumed. The main support beam running the length of the addition, the only support, was lying in the mud and water in tiny, tiny little half-eaten pieces. And the termites had even done considerable damage to the floor joists and the sub-flooring. In other words, there was little or nothing remaining. And little or nothing holding the floor above me in place. And since contained within that room was plenty of bulky, heavy-looking furniture, I got the hell out of there. Inspection over. No sense being crushed, of course.

After the contractor consulted with the rightfully horrified homeowner, it was decided that the entire addition needed to be removed. That’s right, excepting for the concrete footer and the 3-foot high block foundation, the entire thing was dismantled and hauled off to a landfill. And during my last visit, after it had been hauled away, the contractor and I discussed termite exclusionary tactics whereas rebuilding the thing from the ground up was concerned.

As I said, there was no available chemical treatment options in this case. But the prescient point is, when termites find their way into your home, when they are systematically working to destroy the single biggest investment you will likely make, your focus quickly shifts from trying to save the earth to doing whatever it takes to save your home. And as I have personally witnessed many, many times over, even the most fervent, the most dedicated of the tree huggers will immediately put their environmental concerns aside when they need my very specialized expertise.

All of which reminds me of the vitriolic non-smoking crazies when I was managing restaurants. Check this hypocrisy, check this phony baloney nonsense that typifies these anti-smoking zealots.

A lady and two kids wander into the restaurant on a relatively quiet Tuesday night. With the restaurant half-full, the lady pretty much has her pick of available seating. “Table for three?” And then, I inquire of her, “smoking or non,” and her face immediately tenses up as her gums begin to flap.

Here we go!!!

Here comes the obligatory lecture.

Here comes her overbearingly annoying zealotry, her vitriolic and incendiary anti-smoking diatribe in 500 words or less.

Here it comes!!!

Blah, blah, effing blah!!!

Oh…but on Saturday night, with a dozen or so deep waiting line, with an estimated wait for a table to be fifteen, perhaps twenty-five minutes, then that same anti-smoking zealot with the flapping gums and the same two kids has a different response when queried, “smoking or non?”

On this night, she dares not step up onto her self-crafted soapbox. On this night, she spares us the unwanted lectures. On this night, she is rational, short-winded…almost, dare I say, pleasant.

On a busy Saturday night, with the waiting line blocking her path to dinner, she says, “Doesn’t matter. Whatever’s faster.”

As with the termites, those with the supposedly unbending allegiances to the cause quickly abandon the cause when circumstances dictate. Or, you could say, they are all full of excrement.

Stay in touch.

Can anyone guess who I sent this e-mail to?

In all honesty, your feigned incredulity is getting really, really, really old.

Brenda? Brenda who?

Tomorrow, perhaps the next day, you’ll be on to your next supposedly cutting edge topic, the next best breaking news on which to latch your sorry-assed self, your next completely calculated, feigned outrage purposely crafted to promote your phony baloney image as some kind of hard-hitting activist-for-life. Another aging reject from the 1960s who always huffs and puffs and blows his own flower-adorned horn.

You and I know you’re nothing of the sort. What you and I both know is that you’re a shameless self-promoter, a self-centered egotist, a shallow little shell of an emasculated man who never came even close to living up to either his father’s or his uncle’s very high standards. You’re clawing and scratching to hang on to whatever it was that you honestly thought you had at one time. You’re hopelessly adrift, right where you always were.

Today it’s Brenda’s turn. A week from now, you’ll be off on some other equally weak and equally tangential pursuit of more attention being paid to…well, to you. It’s never about anyone or anything else. It’s always about you...the Great (edited).

Brenda? A week from now, it’ll be Brenda who?

You’re a hapless user of other people‘s misfortune, other people's sorrow and other people's fragile lives.

You are to journalism what Brenda Williams was to self-restraint.

Markie in Nord End

Clue: It was not Sue Henry.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Green is a state of mind

This one showed up on the Drudge Report this morning…

From the Times of London:

Ruling on NightJack author Richard Horton kills blogger anonymity

Thousands of bloggers who operate behind the cloak of anonymity have no right to keep their identities secret, the High Court ruled yesterday.

In a landmark decision, Mr Justice Eady refused to grant an order to protect the anonymity of a police officer who is the author of the NightJack blog. The officer, Richard Horton, 45, a detective constable with Lancashire Constabulary, had sought an injunction to stop The Times from revealing his name.


In the first case dealing with the privacy of internet bloggers, the judge ruled that Mr Horton had no “reasonable expectation” to anonymity because “blogging is essentially a public rather than a private activity”.

The judge also said that even if the blogger could have claimed he had a right to anonymity, the judge would have ruled against him on public interest grounds.

Obviously, I got no cloaked dog in this electronic hunt.

My only question is, no matter how it came to be, if those of you that blog anonymously were to be forced to swap the clever-sounding pseudonyms for your real names, would you continue on with the blogging routine?

Just curious.

Gort, I read your succinctly stated comments on the Keystone Opportunity Zones, and I feel the need to weigh in on this one. Not to take issue with you, just for the hell of it.

First of all, our local, state and federal politicians love to remind us of how many local jobs were created in these tax-deferred zones. Admittedly, the vast majority of these new jobs are not what one would normally call well-paying jobs. Mind you, you can earn more than minimum wage. But if you are gainfully employed in one of the many plants in our many hustling and bustling industrial parks, the odds are far better than even that said job is not your only job. Just for the sake of accuracy, the local industrial parks should be reclassified as being Living Wage Free Zones.

Still, the self-absorbed politicos keep yammering on and on about all of the jobs they created by way of the always encroaching and always expanding KOZ programs. Jobs, jobs, jobs and more jobs. According to them, it sounds as if we’re struggling to keep our heads above the rising tide of new jobs in the area.

Now, you could argue that without the zones, there would be darn near no jobs at all in NEPA, which would not be a wildly inaccurate argument. Scary, but, perhaps true.

Still though, I think after factoring in inflation, working in these warehouses would be akin to what your forbearers were faced with: working low-paying jobs throughout the entirety of their lives. Sure, you could delude yourself into thinking you’re a highly trained and highly skilled worker because they trust you with the keys to a forklift. But, in actuality, when things are adjusted for the omnipresent inflation, are you not little more than the modern day equivalent of the low-paid coal miners, the seamstresses, the brewery workers, or the train conductors?

In my opinion, the only people that benefit from KOZs are the publicity-seeking vote-for-me elected people claiming credit for their creation, as well as the creation of jobs nobody really wants to apply for. They get the credit, they get the adulation, they get the campaign donations, they get reelected and we are provided the “opportunity” for work for far less than we could have ever imagined ourselves working for.

In effect, despite being better educated than our descendants, and despite thinking we’re so much better informed than they were, our collective localized earning potential is not much more than theirs was. Myself excluded, of course.

If that’s progress, please, count me out.

Anywho, them’s my thoughts on the Keystone Obfuscation Zones. Further proof that it doesn’t take very much to get my vortex spinning violently off it’s bent axis.

I received a particularly nasty e-mail from what I’ll call my “green e-mailer.”

Oh, yeah, an e-mail that she demonstratively stated she did not want published on these pages. Fine, but here’s my rebuttal based on the best available training in the industry, many years worth of hard-earned expertise and an ongoing commitment to excellence.

First of all, what I happen to do for a living does not in any way destroy the earth. What I apply is applied to a depth of no more than 12 or so feet. And the products I apply, in large part due to billions upon billions having been spent on research and development, bind with the soils they come in contact with almost immediately when correctly applied.

When applied correctly, legally by a certified, heavily trained and expertise-laden applicator such as myself, they do not leach off into the ecosystem only to be consumed by any tree huggers anywhere. When applied correctly, they go no further than a couple of feet out from the structure’s foundation they were applied to.

And if I even remotely suspect that something might go amiss based on the structure, the landscape, the soil type or the immediate environs, I then call the treatment off pending a more exhaustive investigation. I do. Me. I need not call anyone in any office anywhere for further advisement. Based on conditions, the weather, unidentified subterranean utility lines or perhaps perplexing construction anomalies, I make the call right on the spot.

So before you read anyone else in my industry any of your environmental riot acts borne completely of abject ignorance, you might want to refer to some reference materials much, much, much more current than the long-accepted and wholly inaccurate bible of the misinformed protectors of the planet everywhere…Silent Spring.

For example, thanks to Rachel Carson’s attack on the use of DDT, that product was banned. And since the banning of DDT, the number of malaria deaths vectored by mosquitoes, once very few and very far between, have been escalating ever since. The millions and millions and millions upon millions and millions of needless deaths of mostly impoverished people in third world countries the world over can and have been directly attributed to the banishment of one single, but effective pesticide.

I know, unintended consequences. Basically, shamefully, the needless and untimely deaths of millions can be summed up by the self-important eco warriors with a single Oops!!!

If given a vote, I’m betting those people would have opted for the use of DDT over the untimely demises the environmentalists inflicted upon them.

And as far as “green” products are concerned, there are really only two varieties of green pesticides. And both, in my opinion, amount to imaginary pest management. There are the natural products, mostly culled from herbs, oils and extracts. And while a guy making a sales pitch may tell you they are the next great thing, plus they protect the environment, your pets and your brats, you need go no further than the people who make the applications to know that they are less effective than the pesticides not touted as being green.

Then there are the “green” products that amount to nothing more than the old product, only now watered down and relabeled as green. It’s smoke and mirrors. The old product, the old active ingredient, let’s say Fiprinil, used to comprise .06% of the total product, combined with inert ingredients. But now, the new and improved and heavily advertised green product has a total of .03% active ingredient. In other words, it won’t be as effective as, or have as long a residual impact as the original product.

And this watering down process so as to call a product “green” also applies to very many household cleaning products making the rounds on the video advertising box. It’s supposedly safer only because it’s weaker. It isn’t as effective as the original more “dangerous” formulation.

“Green” products as advertised on television, are almost always a sham to some degree.

Consider these facts. Organic products, organic foods that is, are closely regulated, monitored and inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture (Organic Foods Protection Act of 1990) so as to guarantee they are authentically organically grown or produced. The USDA even goes so far as to publish a regularly updated “National Organic List” of approved organic-certified products. In effect, if a product label makes the organic claim, you are perusing a legitimate organic product.

But there is no governing body to ensure that “green” products are what their manufacturers claim they are, or what they claim they can accomplish. There is no legal basis to any claims of a product being a green product. Catch that? When it comes to very much of the green advertising you are being pounded with, green is a state of mind with no legal basis.

As far as I’m concerned, a “green” product in the hands of an untrained person can be just as dangerous as can be a clearly labeled pesticide, simply because the person with no training typically thinks the green product is much safer to apply and tends to then apply more of it. So how is the weaker product of the two safer when you’re actually applying more of it? Sounds like a wash to me.

As with everything, you need to know what you’re talking about before you go lecturing others about the dangers associated with the application of pesticides, herbicides or termiticides. I know it’s popular, it’s the politically correct and the en vogue thing to do by classifying yourself as a devout green warrior. But, as with most people who are disproportionately passionate and noisy about what they believe they know, they have been sold a threadbare bill of goods.

As for my approach to the application of termiticides, I always, always err on the sides of both caution and safety. And as I have trained those who came after me just as I was trained by the guy who came before me, “If you’re not sure, don’t do it.”

And therein lies the best of all possible approaches whereas protecting the environment, people, animals and the water supply is concerned. When in doubt, do not apply. Training plus experience equals safe applications.

Please, save any further chastisements for the little-trained and poorly-equipped franchisees listed in your local yellow pages. You know, my competitors.

In review: Green is a state of mind.

Read it, know it and stop wasting your time trying to live it.

Sez me.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I got the knowin'...

You know, if gross mismanagement were to somehow be misconstrued as wise and virtuous, this area would be the new Mesopotamia of modern civilizations everywhere. If utter stupidty were to become a tradable commodity, this would be the financial epicenter of the known universe.

Man, it's enough to make you want to divorce yourself from this entire, floundering program. It's enough to make Utah seem attractive by direct comparison.

Wilkes-Barre Area OKs four modular classroom units, KOZ extensions

Wilkes-Barre Area School Board gave the Apollo Group Inc and Pasonick Engineering the OK to move forward in getting four modular classrooms at an estimated cost of $374,576 to relieve overcrowding at two elementary schools this fall. The board also approved a 10 year extension of tax exempt status for a string of properties Wilkes-Barre City is trying to develop.

Apollo Group Project Manager Michael Kryzwicki said the deal with Mobilease Modular Space Inc. was not put out for bid because it can be arranged through a state purchasing program. He estimated each unit could hold between 25 and 30 students. The deal includes covered walkways and electrical service to the buildings, but there are some questions that have to be ironed out, including issues with concrete surfaces needed at one of the two schools, Heights Murray, and the capacity of an electrical panel that would likely be used at that school.

Installation would be complete in time to give the district at least two weeks before the start of school to set up furniture and equipement [sic].

Okay, here’s the rub.

While I realize that I am not, nor could I ever be, as completely worldly or nearly as pan chromatically brilliant as anyone serving on our illustrious school board, but isn’t this group the very same group that was considering closing Dan Flood elementary school as little as two years ago?

Forget the election season drug raids. We need not fuss nor fret over rampant cocaine, heroin or model glue usage, no matter who gets wasted in the process. No, what the Luzerne County Drug Task Force has to do is rethink things, retool just a tad, and then devote it’s manpower and all it’s vast resources to the eradication of stupid pills in this area.

Because I have to tell you, when it comes to our various and sundry local school boards not yet indicted, arrested, jailed or flogged, these people are all dealing in stupid pills--the deadliest drug of them all.

Sez me. Sez effing me!

Somehow, Wifey and I got around to sharing notes on what it was like to grow up, well, to grow up poor. Now, the way she tells it, her family was poorer than mine was. But I find that unfathomable when I remember that all we had was a government-subsidized townhouse, 2 measly welfare checks and some paper food stamps every month. Oh, and that government surplus cheese-like substance. Yum.

As for her predicament, she had two parents who were gainfully employed, but the opportunities in this area were kind of low-paying once upon a time. There’s was a typical two-earner family in that mom was a seamstress, and dad did menial stuff with his hands. By Wyoming Valley standards back then, your average family. You know, for lack of a better word, poor.
Did you ever try to one-up somebody whereas your onetime poverty was concerned?
Oh, yeah! Well, we were so poor, we looked forward to mama's homemade cardboard parmesan on Saturday nights!
Oh, really! Try wearing your Weekly Reader to the sixth-grade spring dance!
Did I save my Bazooka Joe comics? Dude, we knitted those comics into quilts.
Quilts? Must have been nice. We were reduced to burning those comics for heat. At least, when we weren't eating them.

All of that outlandish stuff aside, we ended up talking about what we considered the above and beyond treats back in the day. Not the stuff we had access to once we were growing well beyond our parents control and getting mobile. Not the high school stuff like Kresge’s Pizza, The Orange Bowl or those deliciously steamed soybean burgers at Guys ‘n’ Dolls pool hall. Rather, we were trying to remember the kid stuff, the places we visited when we were still totally dependant upon our elders for both transport and funding.

Wifey’s scant remembrances seemed to be limited to occasional trips to McDonald’s, and the much more frequent jaunts up to what she called “The Cow” for a single-dip ice cream cone. The big cow, better known as Gorman’s Dairy. I do recall being there as a kid, but, I suspect, not very often.

As for my ice cream treats, I was kind of limited to walking on down to the Woodlawn Dairy on North Street with my grandma. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I always looked forward to going there, even though it was situated next to that haunted-looking school from the prehistoric days--the North Street School. As a kid, the decrepit looks of that place just creeped me out. Gave me the heebie-jeebies. Made me want to step up the pace. Spooky, spooky, unspeakably horrible stuff just had to be going on in there, even though my cousin Will testified otherwise. Perjury, I'd say.

Interestingly enough, I once read somewhere that both the Gorman and Woodlawn Dairies in Wilkes-Barre, as well as a couple of others, were supplied with their fresh dairy products by a single farmer somewhere in the Sweet Valley area. And that same farmer also supplied mutton and the like to Percy Brown’s. Kittle, or Kyttle. Something like that.

We both have fond memories of hitting the local drive-in theatres. In these close by environs, mine are almost all borne of the Wilkes-Barre Drive-in. Remember that operation? That was back when Route 309 was one of the darkest and loneliest and most underused stretches of road in the immediate area. Not the congested sprawl nonsense that it is now. Not the unchecked, asphalt-covered producer of storm water runoff that it has become. Not the temple of consumerism that the whole formerly woodsy outpost has devolved into being.

No, back then, save for the big white screen and the tiny ancillary buildings, it was the tree-covered place where kids from a wide swath of Wilkes-Barre used to learn how to operate air rifles. Well, that is, the kids that managed to slip the guns across the road and past the annoyingly ever-present Wilkes-Barre Township cops. For the most part, I think they used to hassle those gun-toting younger kids because they were frustrated with all the teenaged kids continually drinking in those woods, but slipping away into those woods whenever the cops would try to spring forth and bust them.

And oddly enough, even though she grew up, literally, in the shadow of the Wilkes-Barre edition’s enormous screen, her flock always headed over to the West Side Drive-in in Edwardsville. And no snack bar, mind you. Not with five kids in tow. No, the giant, giant jawbreakers would have to suffice. My most fondest of memories from the drive-in era are pretty much limited to the big screen that once graced my summer retreat…Sandy Beach. Every summer, every movie, without fail…grandma, grandpa and myself sitting on the benches right up front.

According to her, her family didn’t get downtown much. Sure, she has the almost obligatory memories of the freshly roasted peanuts from the Planter’s Peanut shop, as we all do. My absolute favorite was the Woolworth’s Luncheonette, where grandma and I would chow down on an affordable lunch, and then order the banana splits with the accompanying balloons concealing the price of the desserts ranging from a penny to ninety-nine cents.

Although, she says she absolutely loved shopping at the Huntzinger’s five & dime store a ways away from the downtown, as did I. If you can call the acquisition of tiny trinkets shopping, then, yes, I too enjoyed that shop. All that I can recall buying there were the smallish and less than spectacularly crafted Tootsie Toy cars. In fact, I still have quite a few of those.

Surprisingly, there were some popular local fast food eateries she has absolutely no memories of. Something I find to be remarkable when you consider that these places thrived well into the 1970s.

She cannot remember, Top Spot, home of the Lulu Burger. Although, with a Top Spot once sitting right up here in the Nord End on River Street, now Antonio’s Pizza, it was easily within walking distance for us. And walk we did, many times over.

She looked at me in stunned disbelief when I asked her about Carroll’s Restaurant, which was part of a then thriving fast food company that had sprawled it’s way through much of New England when I was a kid bopping back and forth between the Derby, CT, area and this one. You don’t remember Carroll’s? It was on Scott Street right about where the Dunkin Donuts now sits. The employees wore these garish-looking plaid uniforms? Chicken burgers? No?


When I was a boy, we used to hit the Carroll’s that sat at the end of one of the runways at Stewart Air Force Base in New York. Not far from Newburgh. Next to it sat a Carvelle’s Ice Cream on this lonely, dusty nowhere of a road. Actually, it was quite the much-anticipated attraction while on our way to Wilkes-Barre from Connecticut. First the burgers. Then the ice cream. And all the while, sitting on the car’s hood waiting for fighter jets to scream out just overhead. Literally, just overhead. F-4s, I think. Cool, cool stuff when you’re a vertically-challenged sprat of ten or less. Way cool.

And this one blew my mind. Darn near fried my last few functioning brain cells. She has no memory of the Stop ‘n’ Go burger joints. None. Nada. We had one right here on Kidder Street, which sat almost directly across from McCarthy’s Tire. And then there was the other one in Edwardsville, now an ice cream shop. The one with the oversized slide-away glass doors up front, where, when opened, you could pull up, exit the car and step right into the place. Unique.

How could you grow up in this valley, in this city and never once munch down on that cheap grub? Weren’t the burgers like 15 cents or something? It was the only place where you could get a burger, fries and a Coke, and all for less than a buck. Cheaper than even Mickey Ds was.

No Stop ‘n’ Go? Never? Not even once? Man, that’s mind-blowing. That’s outrageous. That’s, that’s…dare I say it, that’s freaking borderline child abuse. Talk about being deprived.

That‘s just not right.

Anywho, the preceding circumlocution is a great example of what can happen when a bored blogger has way too much time on his hands. Here I sit with my police scanner, my Pepsi Zero and not a damn thing to do. And you know what? I’m loving every minute of my self-inflicted boredom, my vacation.

So, if things keep going at this rate, you can expect to be reading my 6,000 word dissertation on my favorite rummage sale sites when I was a kid tagging along with grandma. Coming soon, I swear.

How did the marooned colony of kids left to fend for themselves put it in Mad Max Beyond Thunder Dome? “We got the knowin’ of a lot things, history back.” Yeah, well, I got the knowin' of a lot of things, history back, too. Sadly, mostly useless things.

You have been warned. And if you’re truly smart, you’ll run screaming from this electronic place of mine never to return.

On the count of three…