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.

October Country


“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright…”

“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright…”

Curt Siodmak

There’s a shaded glen on the edge of any small town where apparitions and dimly lit phantasms move with the silent uncertainty.  It’s a shadowed meridian separating the Indian summer days of September and the twilight chill of a dying November.  The celebrated science fiction writer Ray Bradbury called it “October Country” — a slate gray world where things happen out of the corner of your eye and life seems to be just a quick gasp away from the extraordinary.  It’s along these foggy back roads and footpaths of the unconscious mind that a young boy is likely to meet things that go bump in the night.

Monsters represent our first collision with life’s deep mysteries – forces that we cannot control but might possibly be controlled by how we respond to them.  Later in life, our childhood preoccupations – dinosaurs, sharks and imaginary beasts fall away and are replaced by temporal threats – terrorists, financial insecurities and a world that seems to always be on the cusp of chaos.  While we have grown gray, we have never forgotten those first feelings of irrational adolescent fear when we were forced to confront the creatures and demons that lived in the deep forests of our imaginations.

In 1969, the movie “The Wolfman” prowled the foggy roads and villages of the television countryside.  Lon Chaney Jr. played Larry Talbot, a poor American unfortunate warned by a traveling gypsy that he would be bitten by a werewolf and would transform into a carnivorous monster at the next full moon. “The Wolfman” scared the dog dirt out of me. Once bitten by a werewolf, you would be doomed to become a creature of the night.  The fact that you would kill by a full moon and then wake up the next morning refreshed could mean anyone could be a werewolf.  Since I had a bad habit of sleep walking, I would often wake up in unfamiliar parts of the house.  Had I killed an old woman the night before? Was that hair in my teeth mine?

Were others werewolves?  I watched to see who ate the extra hamburger and who seemed to enjoy their steak rare.

Yet, after seeing the movie, Dracula, I was uncertain if werewolves scared me more than vampires.  The early vampires of film were hardly the young, swarthy teens of the Twilight series.  In 1922, creepy FW Murnau filmed the German silent film “Nosferatu”.  To say the ugly stick had hit this Teutonic vampire was an uber understatement. How this gangly ghoul got any fräulein to show her face, let alone her neck, was beyond the rules of the natural world.  Later, actors like Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi starred as leading vampires seducing women and leaving a trail of blood and perfume in their wake.  In a strange way, these ugly middle-aged actors gave men hope.  If a pallid 40 something guy that looked like a grocery store manager could get a gorgeous woman to surrender her neck and about five pints of plasma by saying, “ look into my eyes, my eyes “ in a faux eastern European accent, there was a chance that paying that $60 cover charge for a NY night club was not in vain.

Between my own preoccupation with these scary stories, horror movies and comic books with names like “ The Unexpected” and “ Tales from the Crypt”, my imagination had no room for rational thought to filter the ghosts, demonic possessions and phantasms.  My obsessions turned inevitably to irrational fear and I began hearing noises under my bed and seeing monsters in scabrous shadows.

The fear became so acute I literally found it impossible to walk the ten feet of hallway from my bedroom to the restroom.  So, like most red-blooded eight year olds, I improvised.  If awakened during the black hours between midnight and five am, I would relieve myself behind the bedroom door.

For weeks, my new solution worked beautifully until, to my horror, the cat started to also relieve herself in my spot behind the door.  At first, I whisked her away but I realized that during school hours she would be using my room as a litter box.  I decided to kill the increasingly stinging odor of ammonia with a bottle of my father’s English Leather cologne.  The mixture of cologne and urine created a pungent scent reminiscent of a loo in London’s Waterloo Station. The new aroma was successful in repulsing the cat that would not even enter my bedroom.

“What-the-hell-is-that-smell?” My dad asked as he came into my room.  I was jolted with a consequence I had not contemplated.  What if my parents discovered that I had been peeing behind the door? Being a young boy, I was highly skilled at the art of diversions and redirected his attention to my recently organized desk drawer and numerous questions about his job.

He would shake his head still unable to find the epicenter of the miasma.  “I swear to God if I catch either that cat or dog upstairs, I am going to tie them to the back of a truck.” I thought about implicating the animals but loved them too much to risk the potential that he might leave them tied to a moving van  I went to bed each night declaring that this would be the night I would brave the darkness for the sake of hygiene and yet, each time I awoke, I could not risk getting my trachea ripped out by Larry Talbot aka Wolfman.

Each night, I would stare at my Aurora plastic models that I had constructed with the glowing faces and hands – the Wolfman, Creature From the Black Lagoon and Dracula. I would turn on my radio to listen to the voice of midnight DJ’s as if to reassure myself that others were awake somewhere. Like clockwork, the song “Nights in White Satin” would moan like a dirge out of the weak illuminated light of my AM radio.  The Moody Blues would croon hauntingly, ” breathe deep, the gathering gloom, watch lights fade from every room…Cruel orb that rules the night, removes the color from our sight…” By the time the British voice asked the listener, “ and which is an illusion,” I was utterly freaked out and convinced that outside my room the undead waited patiently to eat my face.

By day, I was a young, invincible fear junkie wanting to hear every gory detail about every scary thing that ever happened to anyone – particularly kids my age.  My brother was very accommodating – sharing stories of escaped insane asylum inmates with hooks for hands. He told me of ghostly hitchhikers that warned drivers of dangerous roads and people buried alive.  By the time you finished a fireside autumn monster story session, you would more likely let your kidneys fail than venture by yourself into a darkened toilet.

The day arrived when my mother decided to pull up all the shag rugs to take advantage of the wood floors that rested unappreciated under the bedroom carpets.  In the corner of my bedroom was a rotted hole where the permanently wet wood had yielded my relentless nightly assaults.  Instead of being implicated, my mother mistakenly presumed that the shower was leaking.  When I arrived home,  she was moments away from paying a plumber to tear up the floors to find the leak in the shower tray.  In a moment of moral crisis, I confessed that I had been fouling the bedroom corner for eight months.  Instead of punishing me, she just sat down and started to laugh until she literally cried.  “ Please just use the toilet,” she said. “ And stop reading all that garbage that scares you at night.”  She never did tell my father.

I stopped my midnight number one runs but occasionally a bad dream got the better of me and I found myself racing into my parents’ bedroom to sleep on their floor.  My father hated this invasion of privacy.  It was bad enough to have four boys and no intimate time with one’s spouse but I also had the annoying habit of thumping my head on the pillow when I was scared.  On a typical night, one could hear a rhythmic pounding from my room as I soothed my anxieties and quite possibly damaged my brain.

My Dad would know I had arrived as he was soon awakened by the THUMP-THUMP-THUMPING of my head pounding the floor at the foot of his bed.  In a half stupor, he would say, ” Jesus Ruth, the workers are here awfully early!” Then he would slip temporarily back into slumber.  At the next THUMP-THUMP he would bolt awake recognizing the cranial percussion.  If an anthropologist were studying the scene, he would explain my head banging as the innate warning system of an animal trying to terrify its antagonists – both real and imagined. Eventually, the concussive noises would die down and I would pass out from sheer exhaustion.

” Michael, cut that crap out.” He would hiss in the dark.

I was relieved that he was awake. If I could just fall asleep before him, all would be well.  At first, I was too anxious and felt too much pressure to sleep.  Soon, his snores indicated that he had left me behind to find my way through October country.

Thump! No reaction.

I could not stop myself but wanted to avoid another rebuke. THUMP-hesitate -THUMP! “Damn it, Michael. Cut that out or you have to go back to your room.”  I smiled. I could tell he was more awake now.  I would be able to fall asleep before him and would live to see another dawn.

It seemed in October country the sun came up later and the night arrived well before it was welcome.  However, if you could keep your dad awake, at least until you fell asleep, you just might make it to your ninth birthday.