Smile and Say “Cheese”

From left to right: Swiper (in background), Do...
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“The fear you let build up in your mind is worse than the situation that actually exists….What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Dr Spencer Johnson, Who Moved My Cheese?

“Television! My grandbaby watches that Mexican show, Dora the Explorer.  That little gal, Dora, don’t like white people. You jus’ watch.  She speaks Mexican to other people and when they speak English back, she gives ‘em all kinds of attitude.”

I was trapped in 11F, wedged in by an angry 11D tea partier.  The vacant middle seat proved to be a worthless demilitarized zone for his infectious ideology.  I deeply regretted the moment that I asked him if he was “coming home” to Austin. He actually was probably on his way to Washington for the big rally.

Randall was not particularly concerned about who might overhear his bellicose attack on the White House, US immigration policy, Islam and the state of Congress.  The conversation rapidly segued from my small talk query of “is Texas home?” to his need to know if I was one of “those tree hugging, New York liberals trying to ruin America.”  He castrated the word, ” America” into a simple two syllable stone – “Mare-cuh” – dropping it with a determined thud, as if he was dumping the body of a suspected communist at my feet.

He seemed to be a hard working, god-fearing patriot who wanted no hand outs, only an equal opportunity.  He was also a Mt St Helens of resentment.  I was trying to digest his more jagged points of view with an open mind and at the same time, come to terms with the possibility that Dora the Explorer was a closet racist. I kept wondering “what channel is this guy watching on TV and what paper is he reading?” If there is any merit to what he is saying, I would need to fill my basement with three years worth of canned food and ammo and reread Cormac Mccarthy’s The Road. While he was clearly guiding me up a dangerous ideological river,  it was too tantalizing to not follow this Colonel Kurtz deeper into his tea party heart of darkness.

His fury was being dredged up from deep sediment of fear, frustration and disappointment.  The recession had started a lot sooner for Randall than others on this airplane. He had served in the military, worked for thirty years on oil rigs and in the energy sector and was watching his American Dream swept away like so many pieces of New Year’s Day confetti.  He had already decided who was to blame.

He offered up some creative and rather unconventional solutions for the problems he identified – many of which involved euthanizing certain politicians and religious groups. It was a bitter candor borne out of a real resentment over the changes occurring in this country.  Someone had moved his cheese and he was not happy about it.

In his best selling business and life management book,” Who Moved My Cheese”, Dr Spencer Johnson provided a wonderful allegory for the human responses to change.  Johnson shares how people tend to react differently to inevitable change – often wasting valuable time lamenting the interruption instead of taking action to adjust to it.

In the book, two mice and two mice-sized people are confronted with the reality that the things that sustain them, metaphorically reffered to as cheese – was running out.    Each navigates their own way through a life maze of choices, often stopping to read the handwriting on the wall, which sometimes provides direction and perspective.  Along the way, some become paralyzed with anger and fear, hoping that things will return to the way they were while others finally come to understand that ” the cheese will always be moved” and that ” the quicker you let go of the old cheese, the sooner you will enjoy new cheese.”  In teaching us this life lesson, Johnson shows us how acceptance of change is essential to living.

As I travel the USA, I am astounded by the distemper that is simmering across the American heartland.  Rising deficits, a sputtering economy, political division, cronyism and enormous uncertainty have created a legion of disenfranchised Americans who are losing hope that they might ever again be able to meet or exceed a decent standard of living. It seems these days everyone I meet is aggravated with someone else.  Anger and fear are familiar bedfellows and across the US, I see ever widening fault lines between the rich and the poor, public and private, employed and unemployed, left and right, north and south, Christian and Muslim, and young and old.

The far left dismisses the public’s apoplexy over mounting unemployment and economic stagnation as Joe the Plumber populism and Fox fear rhetoric.  Congress views our relentless deficit spending in the face of a staggering $ 12T of public debt as the only politically viable way out of our economic malaise.  (God forbid, someone tell the American people, “no hay mas queso!”).  The Democrats blame the GOP and Bush for moving the cheese and believe since the gang who couldn’t shoot straight had eight years to hide it, they should have at least the same amount of time to construct a New Deal cheese station.

When I periodically point to the disappointing fact that fewer than 10% of the administration – have actually worked in the private sector, I am met with a chorus of ” so-what’s” and angry catcalls for not blindly supporting the “yes we can” change agenda.  As I turn to my dyspeptic right leaning pals for ideas, I am met with equal distain for being so naive.  Life is like Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Cutting taxes and shrinking government ensures the natural order of things. ( Where exactly is Sarah Palin on this food chain ?)

Time out ! I get it. I just find all the anger and vitriol so uninspiring.  I just want to get back to principles over personalities and values over valuations.

My parent’s generation is very worried about their cheese.   For these gray panthers who have worked their entire careers and were raised by self reliant, Depression-era parents, the coordinates of our current political course simply do not compute. This demographic is a deadly combination – – medicated, lots of time on their hands and finally able to use a personal computer.

The emails always arrive at night with the same subject line: “FWD: IMPORTANT, MUST READ” or “FWD: If this is true, we better all move to Canada.” I resist the temptation to read the alarmist propaganda as I have a hard enough time dealing with the very real dangers of a house of teenagers and my own frustrations over how one sustains a free market characterized by balanced regulation, fiscal conservatism and social responsibility.

Occasionally an email leaks through that provides a glimpse into just how radioactive and homicidal people have become:

“A guy gets on an elevator with a gun that only has two bullets.  On the same elevator is Nancy Pelosi, Idi Amin, Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin. W ho does he shoot?  Answer: He shoots Nancy Pelosi twice.”

And it’s not just the retired right that feels under siege. A recent Harris poll asked Americans questions about President Obama.  The answers were quite shocking:

  • 40 percent of Americans overall believe that Obama is a socialist ( aka cheese redistributionist)
  • 20 percent of the those polled shared that Obama is “doing many of the things that Hitler did”
  • 14 percent overall think the president may be the Anti-Christ

Based on this poll, I fully expect my favorite supermarket newspaper, The Weekly World News, to begin running photos of our President on holiday in Oman with Satan.  The President may even be able to finally answer some of our most nagging questions about the Prince of Darkness. Does Satan like toasted cheese sandwiches?  Does he prefer hot drinks?  What do fallen angels do for fun?

As America moves beyond denial and through this inevitable and dangerous period of anger, false prophets and fake cheese finders will rise out of the miasma of bad feeling. We will be encouraged to blame someone based on their political views, social stature, vocation, denomination, sexual orientation and/or ethnicity.

The Great Depression taught America that character is often found in these periods of travail.  Anger is eventually replaced by enlightened acceptance.  In time, broken dreams reseed to create new shoots of personal and collective growth. A generation raised in the 30s and 40s discovered its integrity and lost the soft palms of self interest.

Many of us may already be experiencing difficult periods in our lives – angry stages where we scour the crowd for the culprits whose arrogance, apathy or partisan incompetence contributed to the chain of events that destabilized our lives. Whether your preference is to wail at the White House, castigate Congress, attack Arizona or garrote Goldman, there seems to be no shortage of targets.  Yet in the end, we know that a polarized and fractious society has less of a chance of finding new cheese than a coordinated team that is working together.

All I know is that we have to work together to find new cheese.  It’s not likely to happen in Washington but it stands a better chance of happening closer to home. While our public officials argue over who drove the proverbial cheese train into the ditch, we need to make sure all the passengers are ok. Guys like Tea Party Randall seem to me a bit misguided but in the end, they want the same things we all want – – opportunity, security and hope.  Perhaps someday soon we will spend less time arguing about who cut, moved, stole, hedged, swapped or recklessly securitized the cheese, and get on with finding the next station together.

Personally, I could not think of a better person to recruit on to my team to help me look for new cheese than Dora The Explorer.

The Search for Peter Starr

A photo of mountaineer Norman Clyde taken in t...
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“I sort of went off on a tangent from civilization and never got back.” – Norman Clyde

August 24, 1933 – There was a sudden chill as the first rays of a brilliant morning sun were interrupted by a stray cloud. Norman Clyde stretched his arms and glanced up the narrow talus shelf that he would use as a base to climb Michael’s Minaret.  The degree of difficulty to ascend this lonely dagger of granite could not be underestimated.  It was vertical on all four sides and rose narrowly through jagged chutes that eventually gave way to an impossible hourglass summit. For the last five days, he had scoured every inch of this isolated range looking for clues. Clyde had pieced together small bits of information and returned to this particular minaret. How someone could attempt to conquer this serrated spine with no rope and only tennis shoes was beyond him.  Clyde rubbed his hands together to prepare for the climb.  He was 40 years old and beginning to feel the strain of failing in his mission.

Earlier in the month, Walter Starr Sr. had made an emotional appeal to Clyde and other members of the Sierra Club to help search for his son, Walter “Pete” Starr Jr. who had was last seen climbing toward Lake Ediza along the John Muir Trail.  Peter Starr was an athlete, Stanford graduate, promising attorney at the prestigious law firm of Pillsbury, Madison and Sutro and an accomplished mountain climber at the age of 26. Having been raised in the rarified air of San Francisco wealth, Starr had enjoyed the privilege of education and travel.  With his money, he was able to circumnavigate the globe and climb some of Europe’s tallest mountains.  His father was among the first to join the fledgling Sierra Club, and was on a first name basis with the famed photographer Ansel Adams.  He had instilled in his son a deep love of the timeless peaks that served as California’s crooked Eastern spine.

A rare combination of the physical and cerebral, young Starr was a success in every aspect of his young life.  He had a great ambition to be first in life and focused his personal passions on completing what he hoped would become the preeminent mountaineering guide for the John Muir Trail and Eastern Sierra.  For the past few months, Starr had been in the final stages of completing his manuscript.  After attending a wedding of a Stanford fraternity brother, he had taken advantage of a three week summer window when clear skies, dry conditions and melting snows allowed for access to the Sierra’s highest passes and most difficult peaks. Starr loved the solitude of the Sierras. In the mountains, the seasons established a harsh but predictable cadence that forced each and every living thing to conform to the inevitable certainty of change.  Starr would keep a journal and would often reference the defiant permanence of these mountains – grand monuments to a reassuring sense of immortality and a belief that something within each one of us might endure long after our physical lives have ceased.

Clyde arched his back and considered the route up the spire.  He was now the only person still searching for Starr.  He had never met the young climber but was familiar with his journal and efforts to detail the entire John Muir Trail and the peaks and valleys of the Eastern Sierra.  He had heard through friends that Starr had even made reference to him in describing Clyde’s ascent of the last unclimbed 14,000 ft peak in California, a difficult Middle Palisade, named Thunderbolt. With typical humility, Clyde had dismissed this “first ascent” of the “last 14’er”- – one of 82 first ascents of mountains for which Clyde would become famous – as difficult but manageable.  Starr had been amused by the stories of taciturn Clyde and his itinerant lifestyle of guiding, camping and living year round as the self-anointed caretaker of his beloved Sierras.

This area of the John Muir Trail was a rugged strand of great peaks and hidden lakes that sat silently like a string of black pearls along basins clawed out of limestone and granite across five million years of evolution.  Great silver fingers of glacial streams coursed like capillaries down the mountain sides ultimately feeding into the San Joaquin River which would flow steadily west and down into the fertile Central Valley of California.  These mountains had always served as a final gateway to the Pacific Ocean. For two centuries, settlers and damaged souls seeking new beginnings would attempt to cross or skirt these 14,000 foot peaks – choosing between an inferno of desert or frozen, precarious mountain trails to reach the proverbial land of milk and honey in places like Los Angeles, San Francisco and the Sacramento Valley.

In the case of Norman Clyde, he had come to live in these mountains after the premature death of his 24 year-old wife from tuberculosis. Clyde was devastated by the loss and sought to shut out a frenetic urban America by accepting a position as a high school principal in Independence, California. His catharsis was climbing and he quickly distinguished himself at a mere 160 pounds as a unique physical specimen.  He could climb for a dozen straight hours into the highest of elevations carrying a 90lbs packs.  He once hiked over from the top of Mount Whitney at 14,995 to the lowest point in Death Valley at – 295 feet in less than twelve hours.

Clyde was becoming a free spirit, loner and an iconoclast who had less and less use for people who were not interested in those things for which he held great passion. Clyde would be called on dozens of times in his career to find missing persons, downed planes and trapped climbers.  He was highly respected and was a local and national celebrity in climbing and naturalist circles – known through his first ascent records, his ardent environmentalism and his pragmatic journals.

Walter “Peter” Starr Jr’s disappearance haunted Norman Clyde.  While equally capable climbers, including his close friend Jules Eichorn, had finally surrendered to the fact that young Starr had been mysteriously swallowed up by this untamed maw of wilderness, Clyde was unconvinced.  He had reconstructed the climber’s last few days through a discovered journal and a series of cold camps that led him to the base of the Ritter Range.  “It was here”, he thought, “that Starr had tried to summit one of the spires.”

A ledge worked its way to the west and stopped suddenly at the foot of a chute.  Working his way up the narrow passage, Clyde reached the third chock stone in a shoulder-width gap – slowly making his way to the top.  He was exhausted and perplexed.  He should have uncovered some evidence – a cigarette butt, a scuff mark, displaced rocks or a trace of trash.  As he turned to warm himself in the afternoon sun, Clyde noticed a fly.

Author, mountaineer and Clyde biographer, William Alsup describes Clyde’s next few moments, “As I carefully and deliberately made my way down toward the notch, I scanned and re-scanned the northwestern face. Much of it was concealed by irregularities. Suddenly a fly droned past, then another, and another. . . . I began to follow a ledge running in a northwesterly direction. When I had gone along it but a few yards, turning about, I looked upward and across the chute to the northwestern face. There, lying on a ledge not more than fifty yards distant, were the earthly remains of Walter A. Starr, Jr. He had obviously fallen, perhaps several hundred feet, to instantaneous death.’

It was a poignant first meeting of two Sierra legends: Clyde, peering out from under his broad-brimmed campaign hat, rope coiled about his chest, standing among the ruins of the ancient range as a storm gathered; Starr, the debonair “club man,” clad in khaki trousers and white undershirt, arms outstretched, lying on his back on a narrow ledge, facing the heavens.”

For Clyde, it was a bittersweet conclusion to a great mystery.  To those who had sponsored the expedition to find Peter Starr – his father, famed photographer Ansel Adams, Sierra Club President Francis Farquhar and dozens of the day’s most expert climbers, it was devastating closure.  A week later, Clyde, along with his friend Eichorn, returned to bury the young man at the base of the spires that had seduced and ultimately killed him.

Norman Clyde continued to climb his way into the folklore and grey granite roster of local California heroes and regional treasures.  In High Sierra camps, he was given the nickname, “the pack that walks like a man”. He was a modern day John Muir – – gently seeking to understand and trace every crevasse, couloir, peak and high alpine meadow that made up the broken rows of jagged teeth known as the Sierra.  He continued to lead hikers and climbers into his mountains well into his sixties.  At the age of 80, Norman Clyde still preferred to sleep outside his home in a sleeping bag. His body finally failed him at 87 years old when he passed away in Bishop, California just 50 miles south of where Walter Peter Starr’s cairn rests at the base of the Michael Minaret.

If you find your way to the eastern fringe of the Sierra Nevada, you can follow the Owens River as it winds through the high desert towards the scabrous, fortressed turrets of Mt Banner and Mt Ritter joined by the parapets of the Minarets. If you happen into a local bookstore, you will find Starr’s Guide to the John Muir Trail – a primer still considered by many to be the most comprehensive overview of this section of California. Turning to the section on the Ritter Range, you will find a description of the Minarets including “Michael’s Minaret.”  Adjacent to this infamous soaring tower of stone, you will find the description of an equally magnificent obelisk that was formed in the same mid-cretaceous period.

It is simply named, “Clyde Minaret”.

East Meets West

Two people on the shore of the Pacific Ocean
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No matter what happens, travel gives you a story to tell. — Jewish Proverb

As a native Californian, I return to the Golden State each summer in an effort to imprint into my children’s psyches the wonders and weirdness of the West Coast. Each of my kids entered this world through a California pediatric ward looking glass but they are now Easterners – – preferring a lacrosse stick to a hiking staff and already developing that type-A need for constant motion and engagement.

We have worked to raise them in a household that is accented with the images and soft impressions of our native state.  I am the cultural attaché of the family, routinely using terms such as “dude” to address any member of our clan – including the dog.  I wear shorts in 20 degree weather. I am never too far from a baseball cap and flip flops.

It is important that my children remain in touch with their west coast roots. I fear that one day Los Angelinos may ascribe an unkind epithet to anyone who was born in California but cannot speak her language.   To truly grasp California ethos is to gain an appreciation for the muddied genealogy of a melting pot culture.  California is an alien nation and a bridge to a land of diametric contradictions.  It is venal and selfless.  It is a Garden of Eden with 14,000 foot peaks and rugged coastline and it is a corrupted paradise. It’s prime dialects are surfer, gangster, vegan and wannabe.  To be Californian is to embrace the narcissistic, the liberated, the tough, the organic and the cosmetically insane. The state seeps into every pore of your being.  You love it and hate it. To reside in California is the romantic equivalent of being married to a beautiful but highly unstable person.  You cannot possibly live with them but you are convinced to your tan lines that you could never leave them.

My efforts to keep some redeeming aspect of California alive in my Connecticut home are failing.  My visions of raising rabid, bi-coastal body surfers who could run with the bulls in New York while rappelling down mountain sides to catch, clean and eat their own trout have been derailed by a humid, temperamental geography of urbane, aggressive over achievers illuminated by bright, big city lights and a backdrop of militant New England individualism.

Our trips out West are always carefully planned to include a week at the beach visiting relatives followed by a week in the mountains to “get back to our roots”.  The beach is the quickest place for a native Californian to identify out of state interlopers.  Fortunately, for the us, most beach front residents are too mellow or too stoned to notice when a non-Californian violates beach etiquette.

My children pay no heed to my coaching. They race blindly across the beach front strand like it is 43rd and Madison – – inviting glares from scantily clad underwear models riding bikes up and down the fashion show thoroughfare.  The boys preoccupation with throwing a lacrosse ball, building sand castles, and attempting to boogie board four foot, neck snapping shore breaker waves – – are certain tells that they are from all parts East.  The surfers seem oblivious, vacuously watching for the next set of waves – wet suits peeled to their waists. They peer off into a deep blue distance — bleached, bare-chested sand pipers with calloused hands tucked under crossed arms.

Visiting the Pacific Ocean is only a prelude to our annual attempts to harmonically reunite east and west within our children. We share a deep affinity for the Sierra Nevada range – a crooked eastern spine of rigid ancient fissures that stretch 400 miles to the Cascades and south to the arid Tehachapi Pass.  Within this Range of Light, one can find the “tallest and oldest trees, deepest canyons, highest mountains and waterfalls and greatest snow depth in the contiguous US.”  As children, we spent summers deep in these conifer forests far from the light and pollution of Los Angeles learning how to camp, be self sufficient and to gain an appreciation for a sky filled with a celestial collision of stars, meteors and constellations.

As we attempt to bestow this California wilderness gift on our children, we are met with resistance. Our “perfect day” is considered a cruel, modern version of the Bataan Death March as we hike up 9,000 foot trails crossing great lupine and paint brushed meadows to eventually rest and fish alongside serene mountain lakes

On this particular mountain vacation, my teenaged Taliban have already attempted several insurrections and have filed a list of conditions around length of hikes, amount of exercise, and when one must rise in the morning.  Adhering to the Jack Bauer axiom that “we do not negotiate with terrorists,” I find myself playing the timeless “because it is my house, my car and I own your rear end until eighteen” card.  This is the parental nuclear option. While it is always guaranteed to extinguish any insurrection it often leaves the ground emotionally radioactive for some period of time..

10:00am – We have left Los Angeles to begin the six hour drive up to Mammoth Lakes. . We stop at a local juice bar to breakfast on healthy smoothies that include green tea extract, bee pollen and other “boosts” that can only be understood by a nutritional alchemist.  In a moment of great euphoria I order wheat grass shots for the entire family.  My youngest son looks closely at the watery green solution that resembles animal bile and declares, “I’m not drinking that!” I persuade him that this family journey can only be christened with a double shot of wheat grass.  “It’s like eating four pounds of vegetables” I exclaim.  This comment seems to have the opposite effect on him as he swigs the potion and immediately makes a face similar to the one he might make when he cleans the cat’s litter box.

11:30am – My youngest son has just vomited up his wheat grass, blueberry smoothie and morning bagel all over the inside of the front seat.  My older children are screaming and squeezing to the opposite side of the car. I have to admit, he warned me. After advising us that he did not feel well, he proceeded to purge his liquid breakfast with the same vigor of Linda Blair in “The Exorcist”.  The family trip is clearly not proceeding as planned.

Our route will take us through an over-built, foreclosed and now less populated Antelope Valley where super commuters still navigate two savage hours of traffic each way, each day to a job near downtown or West LA.  Just when it seems as if Highway 14 has you permanently in its suburban grasp, it releases you into a desolate stretch of never-ending horizon line known as the Mojave Desert.   My spouse and I take turns enthusiastically narrating a fifty miles stretch of box canyons, ancient burned out volcanic cinder cones and historical landmarks. My teens are unusually attentive to our travel narrative until we realize that they are all connected to iPods and have not heard a single word that we have said.

We arrive to cloudless sapphire blue skies and a brisk west to east clipper that blows determined down each afternoon from the high mountain passes.  After a first day hike into a beautiful but mosquito infested lake, the children spend the evening connecting via text and iChat presumably to complain that they are being held against their will in this prehistoric granite citadel. I overhear hushed tone expressions like “OMG – I am hiking with Satan” and “I cannot move, I am so sore…”  I smile and move to the sofa to read.

After declaring a moratorium on electronics, we spend the remainder of the week mountain biking, hiking, fishing and working out. The complaints dwindle and the family reforms each evening – – laughing, playing board games and heckling one another during low stakes Texas Hold ‘Em.  At one point, I actually see all three teens having a conversation.

To distract them from rehashing their list of hiking grievances – – the altitude, the distance, the bugs, the grade of the trail etc, we play a trivia game where they might earn credits that could be traded later for dessert, kitchen patrol exemptions and poker chips.  As we switchback our way upwards towards a hidden lake, I ask them questions ranging from world history and pop music to California factoids. The boys are hopelessly competitive and are quick to blurt out random answers to any question.  I start with any easy question that was drummed into the oldest two when they were living in England.  “Who discovered King Tut’s tomb?” Before anyone can say “Howard Carter”, my youngest son who has no recollection of living in the UK blurts out,” Brendan Frazer”.  My daughter laughs out loud. ” You idiot, he was the star of the movie, The Mummy!“

“What was Ghandi’s first name?.” My oldest daughter cringes and says, “Oh, I know this.” My oldest tson blurts out, “Jeff!” I look at him and smile. “Jeff Ghandi?”  I shake my head, “I weep for the future of this country.”  He smiles a wider grin and asks, “Was that his name?  Did I get it right?”

I ask a geography question. “Where is the Caspian Sea”. My youngests blurts out, “Narnia.” Our laughter permeates the trail. They barely notice that we have climbed to over 10,000 feet.   We crest a forested ridge and gaze down over a tear drop emerald lake surrounded by a massive 14,000 foot granite crest. The secluded lake is buffeted by lodge pole, conifer and blue spruce pines that are only interrupted by stands of sequined summer aspen.

We drop our packs and dive into the lake.  Screams echo across the silent cliffs as we shriek from the shock of the cold water.  I purify some drinking water from a stream and sit back with my reading book as the great heaving sweep of afternoon wind brushes across the water in a wrinkled sequined shimmer.  I glance over to see each kid reading a book or softly casting a rooster tailed, Mepps lure into a dark slate canyon of water that drops precipitously from our shallow rock-shelved shore.

“Dude”, my youngest says to his older brother.  “This place is wicked.” My eldest son is more non committal to public displays of enthusiasm.  He glances across the stream that feeds this midnight blue expanse of water, alert to the day’s first hiker – a pony tailed young man accompanied by magnificent Samoyed husky. “Yep, it’s sick. You know when I am older I am going to have four dogs” My wife smiles and I glance up at my daughter who is perched like a pika on a rocky outcrop.  She is normally most likely to be offended by any overt show of family solidarity. Yet, today, she looks up at me and smiles sardonically.  “Good choice – – dude.”

Ah yes, the Nutmeg State is doing a little Golden State.  East is finally merging with West and as they say on the strand, “it’s all good.”

Why Blotter?

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“Love and scandal are the great sweeteners of tea.” Henry Fielding

I realize there is a thin line of misfortune that separates pariahs and personalities. This is particularly true for kids. Since minors have been proven to lack the neural transmitters and synapses to consistently exercise good judgment, it’s no wonder that teens find their way into print each week. Personally, I am very empathetic when this happens to a kid as I committed, contemplated, attempted, or chickened out of many of the same offenses that occasionally befall today’s teens.

In another place and time, I or one of my three brothers would have been weekly features in the recidivist roll call in the San Marino Tribune. The paper might have read: “A minor was cited for reckless driving when he lost control of a Ford Granada, striking a Mercedes with such force that it flipped on to the front lawn of a Virginia Road resident. A 14 year old minor was apprehended after attempting to jump off the roof of a Roanoke Road home on his bicycle. Two minors were arrested for detonating quarter sticks of dynamite in the scorer’s shack at Valentine Field. Three youths were arrested for trespassing on a vacant construction lot and for destruction of public property for attempting to operate an idle backhoe.“

It was impossible for my mother to conduct damage control when the phone trees of gossips were lit up with our latest transgressions. We were the topic du jour in a petty parliament of night owls eager for news of someone’s demise. I can only imagine how stressed out she would have been if the local paper tattooed the scarlet letter on our adolescent foreheads by blotting us – names or no names. She understood her responsibilities in raising her boys and recognized that it took a village to keep them out of trouble. She just did not think it should include the village newspaper.

My parents had no problem with shaming, grounding, weeding, spanking and other medieval forms of punishment. However, I am sure my mother would have drawn the line at having our miscues published like a Little League write up. While she had an instinct for delinquent DNA, she also believed that there were no “bad kids”, only “bad choices”. She felt any kid deserved a chance to recover from any mistake and that small town reputations were more difficult to recover than money invested in Florida swampland. Time, maturity, compassion and consequences tended to straighten a crooked back better than any public humiliation.

I often wonder if a creative kid wrote up the police blotter what they might list as a week’s worth of noteworthy felonies and misdemeanors:

A 45 year old Bonus Ridge resident has not been charged but is under investigation for his role in packaging subprime securities, exploiting inaccurate S&P agency credit ratings and financially benefiting from the sale of these instruments to institutional customers. Authorities believe the man was part of a unit that originated predatory sub-prime loans to uninformed consumers – – consumers who were almost certain to default on loans after teaser rates reset. “From where I sit, it may not have been illegal,” stated a high school senior, “but it was ethically and morally wrong.”

A local politician was recently the subject of a citizen’s arrest for portraying himself as a “blue dog moderate” while voting for legislation that will dangerously increase the US public debt to over $ 12T dollars in 2011. The arrest was conducted by five 16 year-old-teens attending a local town hall meeting where the representative refused to directly answer any questions about his voting record or the accumulating public debt. One teen was quoted as saying, “I feel like I am going to have to pay for a wild party that I never even got to go to.”

A 49 year old Cuckoo Street woman was arrested for reckless driving after she drove her BMW into a local pond. The driver was apparently on her cell phone – admonishing her teenaged daughter for texting and cell phone usage – when she hit a flock of Canadian geese and skidded into the west side of the pond.

58 adults were cited for “Serial Hypocrisy” in separate incidents last week. As part of “I Will Do As I Say Week”, parents were given “poor citizenship” citations – the proceeds of which will go to finance local education budgets. Police Officer Walker Talk commented, “It’s great to see kids calling adults out on their own inconsistent behavior.” 78% of the misdemeanor citations were attributable to disruptive behavior, lying, being under the influence of prescription drugs while lecturing teens, duplicity and researching old flames on the internet.

A 37 year old Narcissus Lane man was found guilty of threatening another adult during a Little League game. The incident which took place at during a local tee-ball game, involved a parent verbally abusing his son’s volunteer coach for failing to put his seven year old in to play shortstop. The  coach was bewildered, “At one point, (the accused) told me to ‘put his kid at short or he would take home all the after game snacks. That’s when I called the cops. I mean, the whole team started to cry.“

Alas, it does seem that none of us are perfect.  Some just seem to get caught. Ironically, failure and misfortune are stepping stones for some to find humility and wisdom. A kid who does not fail may carry a higher probability for later in life “crash and burn” incidents because they never learned how to stumble and pick themselves up. As we sadly often see, adult mistakes can be much more devastating than any committed by a hormone impaired teen trying to find their own path into adulthood.

I am all for consequences but let them be private and focused on humility and not humiliation. Many of these same clueless adolescents will end up shouldering our burdens – propping our pillows, paying our deficits, funding our social security and trying to keep our country on a path that will not ultimately result in our relegation to second class economic status. When deconstructed most adolescent transgressions are really sins of omission and not commission –failure to think, failure to understand consequences, failure to recognize that one’s own best thinking is highly flawed.

I’d prefer we did not mix the errors of adults and kids. I guess if we must continue to include nameless minor offenders in a long, predictable line of stupidity, let’s print their miscues under a separate dishonor roll entitled: “What Were You Thinking?” I vote we keep our kids out of the newspaper until we have something nice to say. Self esteem remains for many kids a self-fulfilling prophesy. If we spend enough time cultivating a positive image in every kid – even those who commit bonehead mistakes, it’s bound to make a difference.

Now that, my friends, would be news.