Thursday, July 28, 2011

Diffle County: Overheard at the Department of Transportation

Overheard at the Diffle County Transportation Office (DCDOT)
Present: Jim Sokel, Traffic Engineer;  Barry Kline, Permit Officer; Randy Cleveland, Road Foreman

Sokel:  I'm calling in to Demi's for lunch. What do you want?
Kline:   I want lunch
Randy: (looks up) Where are we going for lunch?
Kline:   We aren't going anywhere for lunch
Randy: Well, I'm hungry.
Sokel:  We're ordering in for lunch.
Randy:  Where are we ordering from?
Kline:   From the shoe store.
Randy:  I heard their filet de sole is a little tough
Sokel:  From the dentist
Randy: Extracting food from the dentist.  yummy.
(phone rings)
Kline:  From the Chiropractor
Randy:  Must be serving duck, quack quack
Sokel/Kline:  DEMIS!
Kline:  We're getting lunch from Demi's!  Are you ordering or not?
Randy: (after a brief pause) No, thank you.
Kline:   I thought you said you were hungry.
Randy:  I was.  But not for Demi's.
Kline: What's wrong with Demi's?
Randy: Nothing.  Just don't care for their food.
(phone rings)
Sokel:  Kline, how about if I buy and you fly?
Kline:   Sounds like a plan.
Randy: I'll have a tuna salad sandwich, ripple chips, and a Mountain Dew
Kline:   I thought you said you didn't care for Demi's food
Randy:  You didn't say it was free food.  I love free food from Demi's.
Sokel:   I just want to smack you.
Randy:    If they don't have ripple chips, get me barbecue chips.
(phone rings)
Kline: Randy, answer the phone. That's the third time it's rang and it's your turn.
Randy: Hello, County Transportation....yes?....a tree down on the Kidder road?..
            I'm sorry, everyone is out to lunch.

All characters in Diffle County are fictional. Any resemblance to real people, living or dead, especially dead people because they get the most offended, is purely coincidental, or a mistake of mythic proportions for which we are deeply sorry. Written by Rick Fisher Copyright 2011, All rights are reserved under the creative commons license.  My lawyer told me to write this.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Rise of the Wicked; the Evil; the Fundamentalist

Oslo Bombing Triage          Photo Credit:  The Guardian
I am stunned.  I should shake it off, it didn't happen here, and not to my children. I could just shrug and say, this is our world today, full of good and evil.  But I can't shake this one.  What is wrong with people that they think it is morally acceptable to shoot and kill young people at a retreat?  Is this what our divisive politics, our partisanship behaviors, our demands without compromise is creating- a fanatical dogma that relies on massacre of innocent children to achieve a goal or confirm a belief?  Where is right and wrong in our daily debate on better governance for the people living on this planet?  Can we no longer expect to have any right to a better life, based upon dignity and respect for our fellow human beings?

We are adrift as a race.  As a person who has spent years enforcing regulations that protect people's safety, their drinking water, their environment, and the health of their children- I am now one of "you people" who is violating a property owner's right to inflict harm on whomever they wish, including themselves. By requiring that laws be respected, because we are nations of law, not men, I am now disrespected.  At some point, I too may fall to a bullet shot from the gun of an angry reactionary.  It is getting scary on this side of the tracks.

The lunatic fringe appears to be growing with loss of the middle class in our country, along with the failure to create a middle class in the Middle East, and with the failed policy of cheap foreign labor and liberal immigration policies in Europe.   They had to exhume Rudolph Hess' body this week after it was learned that NeoNazi's were making pilgrimages there.   These are dangerous people, bent on using violence to change the world to their own vision of Utopia or Armageddon.

They paint slogans of hatred on their car windows, they stand on corners screaming their politics at passing cars, they blow up Federal buildings in Oklahoma, and they murder innocent teenagers in Norway.  This rise of violence from the extreme right is not simply a protest of an unjust war, or a demonstration against economic warfare on the poor by the Corporate and Goverenment elite. This is a war of philosophy, of religious fundamentalism versus a free-thinking people. Whether it comes from the Islamic Fundamentalists flying jetliners into our buildings or from a fundamentalist Christian gunning down children for his insane cause, this is a war upon all free thinking people by an extreme element that is increasing in size.

We owe it to those who died in Oklahoma City, on 9/11 in New York, The Pentagon, Pennsylvania,  London, Spain, India, Africa, Indonesia, Russia, and now Norway- we owe it to those victims and their families who are grieving, to never give in to these radicals.  They are the rot of society and deserve no quarter anywhere in this world. We must become Anti-Fundamentalists - and fight back for our liberty before we are ruled by manifestos written by maniacs. We must support the war on terror, and never stop defending our homeland from the far right and far left. It is time for the Center to rise up. Our destiny as a free people is threatened and our responsibility to defend our liberty is simply too great to ignore. 
Survivors Prepare to Leave Utoya           Photo Credit:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Diffle County Report: Body Found in Fletcher's Pond

"Everybody gets dead, it was his turn." -John Wayne, as Hondo

There is a great spine that runs, like the back of a dinosaur, from Georgia to Maine. Across it's most inaccessible pinnacles, winds a small walking trail, officially known as "The Appalachian Trail". Plummeting down it's ravines and swales, around, over and across several mountain tops are thousands of small, rural communities -  This is Appalachian country.    

Folks who live near the trail rarely walk upon it. We have enough big rocks to climb over in our own backyard.  We sure as hell don't need a trail to remind us of where we live. Besides, Appalachian folk prefer trails that cater to ATVs and snowmobiles.  We don't want to hear a coyote howl unless we are chasing it down.

From stick-built cabins deep in woods to the brick-fronted buildings on Main Street, Appalachia is more than a place. The mountains and rural hills along the Eastern mountain spine are the epicenter of family, history, folklore, and friendship. We celebrate our lives with food, music, art, snowmobiles, atv's, guns, and blue dog politics.  Diffle County sits comfortably in the upper Eastern spine of the Pennsylvania Appalachian mountains.

In the heart of Diffle County, nearly cut in two by the Appalachian Trail, sits The Old Grin, i.e. Grinold Township.  The Townfship of Old Grinolde was founded in 1783 by  Walter and Louis Grinolde, two wealthy brothers from Philadelphia in search of adventure. Soon after arriving, Louis was killed in an Indian attack (this fact is disputed by some in the Grinolde family).

Louis did not live long enough to meet his sister-in-law Lois Fletcher.  Walter met Lois at a social in Easton and courted her for two years. They were married in Easton and honeymooned in a tent on the edge of a small lake in the Townfship of Grinolde. In honor of the love of his life, Walter Grinolde named the lake Fletcher's Pond.

Now there's a body floating in Fletcher's Pond and  The Old Grin is about to be fished out.

Captain Johnathan Jenkins of the PA State Police was standing in the doorway to his office at the East Greenville barracks when the 911 call came in.

"Diffle County Control Center, What is the nature of your emergency?"
"Jill, it's Uncle Larry.  Get the State Police on the horn,  get me Captain John right away.
"Uncle Larry, I need to get the basic information first.  I can transfer you after that."
"Jill, there's a dead girl floating in Fletcher's pond.  I'm at the Grinold Township building, now patch me through to Captain John."
"Ok, transferring now. Say hi to Aunt Carol for me."

Within 40 minutes of receiving the phone call, Captain John Jenkins and  Homicide Detective Ralph Gower  were interviewing Bobby LaFleur about his discovery while two patrolmen carefully removed the girl's body from the lilly pads.  Diffle County Coroner  Jim Gehler stood at the water's edge, waiting to examine the body.  An ambulance stood at the ready.  The fire police were on the scene, directing traffic around the crime scene, which now occupied  the shoulder and South-bound lane of old Route 39.

This was bad, real bad.  The girl appeared to be in her twenties.  Her hands had been duct-taped behind her back and more tape was across her mouth. There were signs of strangulation on her neck. A few minutes after the coroner declared her dead, the State Police Regional CSI unit arrived to secure the site and gather evidence.  Captain John called in the Diffle County Search and Rescue to dive under in search for more evidence.  Coroner Jim Gehler thought the girl looked "awful familiar" but there was no identification on her body.

Meanwhile, the telephone wires were burning up, first in Grinold Township, then all across Diffle County. A reporter and a photographer from the Diffle County Reporter arrived, skirted past the police tape, and snapped a couple pictures before a patrolman ushered them across the street.  The crime scene was extended, closing Route 39.  A detour route onto 2nd street and through the Township parking lot was quickly arranged.

One of the CSI unit investigators, Sgt. Becci Nillson, recognized the victim, and quickly took Captain John by the arm, deliberately walking him away from the scene and out of earshot of everyone there.
"Becci, what have you got?"
"Captain, we will need back-up, all the support we can find, public relations, top investigators, the best in the State.  That girl is not just any girl, the girl is Linda Malone."
Captain John's mouth dropped wide open.
"The girl who killed her son then went on a 10-day cruise? The one who was found not guilty?  But she was from Georgia. Oh shit. This will be a circus before tomorrow morning. Thanks Becci"

Captain John  Jenkins called the entire team together.

"We have temporarily ID'ed the victim." announced Captain John Jenkins to the team  "From this point forward, I would advise you to keep your mouth shut and do your job. Do not discuss this with anyone. Do not make any comments to the press, unless you want to find yourself answering to the District Attorney."

Captain John looked over at the reporter and photographer standing just outside the yellow tape.

"Get that reporter at least a block away from here. Move the whole crime scene back. I'm calling in every off-duty patrolman to canvass this town and the lake.  Ladies and Gentlemen, If  Sgt. Nillson is correct, our victim is the infamous Linda Malone."

There was a moment of silence and then a collective gasp as the reality of the situation became clear. Six months ago, Linda Malone was acquitted of drowning her own 5-year old son in a case that captivated America. For months the media saturated the public with the story of a murderous drowning, a basement burial, and the 10-day Bahama cruise.  Convicted in the general public by a bloodthirsty media, she was found not guilty by a jury of her peers.

The defense successfully argued that the crime scene was tainted by sloppy evidence gathering and an expert pathologist stated that the evidence pointed to an accidental drowning. Her lawyers insinuated that her ex-husband might be the true killer, that she could not have dug a grave in such hard ground. Finally, they argued that there simply was no hard evidence to convict.

The jury agreed but America disagreed. Death threats were sent across social media platforms like spam. After the verdict and her release from custody, Linda Malone climbed into a private Lear jet and disappeared into the night sky.

Rumor had it that she was living in seclusion somewhere along the East Coast, writing her 10 million dollar memoir, and travelling into a major city once a month for plastic surgery.  In truth, the press and the general public hadn't seen her since she was released from prison.

Fletcher's Pond was the last place anyone expected to find her.  The Old Grin bore a wicked smile.

Tim Cardin, recently college graduate with a degree in Journalism and now a poorly paid reporter, shook his head. He watched the police gather together as the crime scene expanded like a balloon filling with air.
"Something's up, Kerry. This is weird. I don't think this is a drunken boater who fell overboard."

Kerry Nordstrom, local photographer and occasional stringer, nodded in agreement. She scrolled back to look at the two pictures she snapped before being moved out of the crime scene.  She whistled and then burst into a short laugh, beaming at Tim. "Are you ready for this?, her blue eyes were full of taunting mirth, "Better yet, do you think you can handle this? She readied her Cannon camera for HD video, checked her batteries, and started running back towards the crime scene.

"What are you doing?  Wait a minute! You know who the victim is! Spill it, Nordstrom!" He followed behind her as she moved closer in preparation to film the body and crime scene.  "Who is it?  Tell me!"  Tim Cardin caught up and grabbed Kerry's shoulder, slowing her down. She turned to him, her face bursting with excitement.

"Linda Malone!  The dead girl is Linda Malone! Now come on.  This is the story of our life. Call your Editor. Call CNN. Get your recorder out. Tonight, we are the national spotlight. And inside my camera is a million dollar photograph!"   Kerry ran towards the yellow tape, camera in full record mode.  

Back at the Grinold Township building, Big Don was about to kill the lights and close up shop when Captain John walked in.  "Big Don, I'm going to need the Township building as a temporary base of operations. Mind if we commandeer the building""

Big don chuckled, "Sure can, Cap. There's a coffeemaker in my office and a fridge with sodas and a few heartier liquid refreshments. Help yourself. Just don't try to drive the trucks.  I don't think you have a CDL license and we wouldn't want you getting a ticket."

Captain John laughed. "I won't drive the trucks.  Listen Don, prepare yourself. The victim is famous or infamous, depending on who you talk to. This is going to be the biggest circus you've ever seen."

Big Don smiled at Captain John.  "Well, let the circus come.  No hotels within 25 miles, no cell phone reception, and only Fletcher's Pond Inn for food and drink. Folks travelling here aren't going to find it very comfortable. Now I gotta get going.  Emma's made deer sausage soup for dinner. I'll check in on you later. Should I bring back some soup and fresh bread for you?"

"Thanks but no thanks. I'll grab dinner at the Inn." replied Captain John.

"Your loss", said Big Don as he walked to the front door. The Township phone rang and Big Don stopped to answer it.  "Grinold Township. What? Who is this? ABC News? No, I don't know anything about that....yes, I've heard of her....( Big Don winked at Captain John), sorry there isn't anyone here and I'm late for too..Bye now."

Big Don hung up the phone and walked out, got into his Ford F-150 and drove home. Captain John checked his cell reception, then pulled a Township phone over to the meeting table. Before he could pick up the receiver to dial out the phone started ringing again.

This is a fictional story. All characters are fictional. Any resemblance to real-life folks is incidental, accidental, and completely unintentional. For directions to Diffle County, please use Google maps. Perhaps there is a street view of my house there.  Written by Rick Fisher. Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Diffle County Report: Another Day in Grinold Township

Joe Turner was hanging around the Grinold Township building the other day along with Supervisor Larry Lohman. Sitting around the office, waiting for something to happen has become a daily ritual for the old boys. Since the crash of '08, activity has slowed down to a baby's crawl  in Diffle County, especially in Grinold Township, known to locals as The Old Grin.

Flectcher's Pond
A quiet refuge of trout-laden streams, shimmering spring-fed lakes, dark, wet peat bogs, and old, empty hunting cabins, The Old Grin is located in the upper reaches of nowhere special, in the far Northeast corner of Diffle County. You have to take exit 389 off the Interstate, then drive twenty-five miles up a winding mountain road to reach the township border. The road is never in good shape; constantly washed over with rocks and dirt. A state road, it is commonly listed last on the schedule of needed improvements.  Grinold Township residents like it that way.  "You'll lose your behind on Route 39", The Old Grin boys like to say.

The largest town in The Old Grin is Fletcher's Pond, population 546. Not much larger than a village, it is perched on the edge of State Route 39;  houses on one side of the two-lane road and Fletcher's 30-acre pond on the other side.  A few side streets are hidden from view behind the very large, early 1900's houses that rest on the edge of the highway. Most of those homes were converted into apartments many years ago.

There are more dirt roads than paved roads in this wild and wooded land. The running joke is:  How do you fix a pothole in Grinold Township? Answer:  Add more stone.  City folks swear they can hear that song from Deliverance playing from every front porch. Yet the men are hard-working and honest, the wives are built from hardwood, and the families run back through time to the first settlers of Diffle County.  It is a bad place to get lost and a good place to get found.

Zoning Officer Walt Groner arrives at the township office around 9:30 a.m wearing black, as usual. Joe asks him if he has a full closet of the same outfit. Walt, without hesitation  tells Joe Turner to go "F" himself. Lohman laughs so hard he falls off his chair.  Another day has begun in The Old Grin.

Walt agrees to be 76 years old and admits he is computer illiterate ("give me a typewriter with round, black keys and I'll be fine"). Walt doesn't accept that he is OCD- in the old days  good people were neat and orderly- now it is a treatable illness.

Joe Turner tests Walt for OCD by kicking the leg of one of the folding chairs at the end of the row. They are all  lined up in neat rows for the next town meeting.  Walt stares at Joe from his desk in the corner of the room. The chair is no longer in line with the rest of the row.  Joe smiles sweetly at Walt,  who looks away,  grumbling to himself. A few seconds pass. Walt Groner stares at the awkward chair, then at Joe Turner.
"Yes, Walt?"
"Move the friggin' chair back."
"Because it is ASKEW!"
Joe rests his case.

A few minutes later, Walt files an appeal.  "OCD is a bunch of crap. don't believe in it." Joe walks over to the town meeting table.  It is a large, rectangular table, capable of seating 5 large men on one side.  There is a perfectly arranged stack of newspapers near table's corner, close to Walt's desk. Joe Turner smacks the pile, sending sections of newspaper haphazardly across the table. It is a bit of a mess.  Joe stands at the end of the table, his smile back on solid.

Walt tries to ignore the messy newspapers.  He pinches his nose, he rolls his eyes, he looks over at Lohman for moral support, then he looks down at his shoes.  Inside his head, Walt Groner is having a meltdown and Joe Turner knows it.

Suddenly, Walt jumps out of his chair, grabs the newspapers and repairs the tumbled stack, muttering something about jacks and asses. Then he speaks up. "Don't touch the friggin' newspapers. I have them properly organized."   Another short pause, then Joe displays his middle finger for Walt to see, and everyone in the room breaks down in helpless laughter- including Walt Groner.  

Frank Berger drops in with the mail.  A Korean and Vietnam war vet,  "Burger" drives his Chevy truck over to pick up the mail from the township post office box every day. After years of tagging along with Supervisor Lohman,the township fathers decided to give Frank his own key.   He is their personal mail carrier, a chronic complainer, his thousand facial wrinkles a testament to a long life of serving our country. He is fiercely loyal to his friends. He is equally loyal to their enemies.  This creates friction at times, but Frank Berger remains an  Old Grin Father Figure.

Burger once  thought a broken, ancient, cheaply made drum set had great value simply because it was old and sitting in his attic.  Lohman reminded Burger that age alone does not make something valuable. "Look at you, Father Figure.  You're old.  How valuable are you?" Burger replied with the usual Grinold deadpan, "Happy birthday Don", he chimed out. Everyone laughed.  Happy birthday is not a compliment within the boundaries of this community. Calling someone Don can be considered offensive as well, unless their name is Don, and even then it is only somewhat acceptable.

Besides, Father Figure is very valuable. Every three weeks, Burger drives that ugly brown truck to an unknown airfield, is given a briefcase that is handcuffed to his wrist, boards a military plane, and flies off to the Far East. He is usually home within a week.  He won't reveal anything more than that and everyone knows not to ask.  Burger still serves his country.  He has great value.

Jimmy "The Squirrel" Jackson pulls up in the parking lot.  Suerpvisor Lohman is through the back door and out into the main garage before The Squirrel can open his car door.  Everyone knows the drill.  Since Lohman is not in the room, he is technically not in the office.

Squirrel enters the office and is greeted by Walt and Joe."Hey Jim, Howdy, Jim". The Squirrel returns their greeting while looking around, "Is Lohman here? I have a question for him."   Sounds like a Squirrel complaint is on its way.  Burger answers, "I don't see him here." Turner responds with, "Don left a few minutes ago."

The Squirrel is the only person building a new house in The Old Grin this year.  Life has gotten harder, homes once full of children sit empty, their lawns filled with grass higher than a cow pasture.  Back in the Township office, there isn't much to do and the old boys poke fun at each other relentlessly.  Yet they all feel the undercurrent of despair.  Everyone in Diffle County knows someone who has lost their job, or their house, or their family, or all three. The boys of Old Grin believe it will probably get worse. They call themselves realists.

And so the vegetable gardens are bigger this year, the trips to East Greenville more infrequent.  The State has fenced  all the Game Lands into square mile blocks, numbered each one, and are selling hunting tickets for each block on the "grid". Joe Turner calls it hunting socialism.  Lohman claims that there are fewer deer outside the State fences and the Grinold boys are worried there won't be enough deer meat to go around this winter.

Joe Turner says goodbye, walks out into the parking lot and gets inside his honey-dipper truck. He has been pumping out septic tanks for over thirty years.  Every morning, Joe Turner will drop in during his rounds, drink the free coffee, read the free newspapers, have a couple of laughs, and then move on to the next hot spot.

Back in East Greenville, the Town Council is working on next year's budget. Tax revenues are down 15% while costs have increased 8%. Foreclosures are on the rise.  If the Borough wants to balance their budget, layoffs and tax increases will be necessary.  Mayor Cantonelli scratches his head. "Did you know that Grinold Township has not raised taxes in over thirty years?".  The other budget committee members shake their head in disbelief.. "They even  make their employees purchase their own pencils...and they have 2 million dollars in the bank!"   Quiet profanities are uttered.

Squirrel leaves The Old Grin township office. He turns onto the South side Route 39, waving to a boater out on Fletcher's pond.  Bobby LaFleur is fishing from his rowboat when he sees something big floating in the lily pads near the shore. He pokes the clothing-covered object with an oar and the object rolls over slightly, revealing the face of a very beautiful, very dead young woman.   Life in The Old Grin is about to get a little busier.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real folks, living or dead, is purely incidental, or perhaps accidental but certainly not intentional. Copyright 2011 by Rick Fisher Al Rights Reserved.  

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Diffle County Update: Jim Lackey's Response

Ed. Note:  Jim Lackey, former Lincoln Township Supervisor, has requested space on this blog to respond to our article of July 9, 2011 concerning his Election loss and arrest for driving under the influence (DUI)

Dear Mr. Fishfire,

I am writing this letter to clear up a number of misconceptions, untruths, vulgarities, and downright lies that you propagated in your column of yesterday.   

Son, you are not from around here.  Although your Grandpappy on your Momma's side was a Diffle County native, and a well-respected East Greenville Councilman to boot, your daddy was not born in these parts. After your Grandpappy insisted (by shotgun) on a proper wedding between his 16 year old daughter and your cradle-robbing father, your parents were obliged to move away.  After reading your article, I suspect you take after your father.

Out of respect for your Grandpappy, most of us in Diffle County have accepted you as an almost-local. But lately, some of us are questioning whether you have enough experience and common knowledge to write about our community in the manner you have chosen.   You need to ask more questions, offer fewer opinions, and get your stories straight. If you don't- you could end up looking down the barrel of a Diffle County shotgun, just like your daddy did.

I intend to clear the record.  I do admit that I was driving under the influence that night and I did not protest nor appeal my arrest.  Did you know who I was having dinner with at the Smithville Inn, the Friday before the election?  No, I don't suppose you do because you didn't bother to check.  His name is Captain Johnathan Jenkins and he is Commanding Officer of the Greenville State Police Barracks. 

John is an old friend of our family. In fact, had you checked the County birth records, you would have discovered that the Jenkins and Lackey families are related.  Captain John's Uncle (James Weatherhill) was married to my Aunt Sarah Johnston. 

On the Friday evening of my DUI, I was enjoying anniversary beers with Captain John and Terry Reeder, Lincoln Township Road Foreman. Terry was a damn good roadmaster, worked hard for the past 18 years, knew every ditch and driveway in Lincoln Township. For your information, Terry Reeder was the first person Chuck Tomato fired after the election.  

How did you like the roads in Lincoln Township this past winter, Mr. Fishfire?  Most folks will tell you they can now tell when they are entering Lincoln Township. Our roads are the only ones still covered in ice and snow ten days after a storm. Maybe you should be writing about that instead of dredging up this old story.

Anyway, at one point in the evening Captain John leaned over the table and suggested I take a different route home. A sobriety checkpoint was being set up on Smith Road.  For the past 6 months, young folks have been drag-racing on Smith Road every Friday night.  They sit and drink six-packs in the Inn's parking lot, and then cut over to Smith Road for some friendly racing.

A few months before the election, one of the racing cars lost control and hit a tree. Two local kids were badly hurt.  Afterwards, I called Captain John and asked if there was something the State Police could do about the racing before someone gets killed. Captain John suggested a sobriety checkpoint, which I thought was a helluva good idea.

After Captain John told me about the checkpoint, I switched to Coca-Colas and hung around for a couple more hours. I even enjoyed one of Katie Smith's delicious Chicken Pot-pies. Have you ever tried one? She bakes the finest Chicken Pot-pies in Diffle County.

After dinner, I felt sober enough to leave and wanted to get home before the Police fireworks began, so I put the new Ford in gear and headed for home. I drove out the back entrance onto Smith Road, generally out of habit more than anything else.  

As I approached the checkpoint, I was directed to the opposite side of the road by one of the officers.  I thought he intended for me to drive on through. I waved to Patrolman Richard Lackey, who I recognized and who just happens to be my nephew.  

I guess I should have stopped, maybe even waited longer to leave the Smithville Inn.  But I was not "tomatoad" in that photograph. I only failed the breathalyzer by .01 units.  I was not even close to driving drunk. Had I waited at the Smithville Inn a half hour longer, I'd still be a Lincoln Township Supervisor.

Now let's get a few more things cleared up before I quit writing this letter. I have never, ever taken a bribe in public office.  After twenty years in office, a politician gets to meet people from all over the State.  I served as Diffle County Chair of the Democratic party for over ten years and attended at least three golf tournaments in support of Senator Ken Reynolds relection campaign.  Senator Reynolds is Roland Reynold's brother and their daddy once lived down the road from my Aunt Hilda's farm.

It's time for a short history lesson. Our family settled in Diffle County in 1876, My Great Great Grandpappy served in the Pennsylvania regiment that fought at Gettysburg. After the war was finished, he bought 250 acres of prime farmland in the West end of Diffle County.  That land was handed down through the family and ended up with my Aunt Hilda Johnston.

Next to my Aunt's farm was a wetland and beyond that a small tract for farming before it rose up too steep to be of any value.  The Reynolds clan bought that tract of land and built a hunting cabin there.  Lots of folks built hunting cabins back then. One day, my Aunt walked outside to hang up the laundry, and there in the middle of the backyard was a stake with an orange ribbon tied to it.

The Reynolds clan had hired a surveyor out of Harrisburg. His name was Robert L. Pickens, R.S. and he claimed that there was a hole in our deed and 50 acres of our land belonged to nobody at all. The Reynolds filed a Quiet Title action in Diffle County Court to take our land.  

Aunt Hilda sold off 10 acres on the West side of the farm to raise money to pay the lawyers.  She fought the Reynolds for 10 years in the courts. Each time she won a judgment, the Reynolds would appeal to a higher court.

Finally, they ran out of judges and the case was flushed down the toilet where it belonged. But the Reynolds clan couldn't leave it alone.  Seems they made their fortune stealing people's land until they tangled with a woman made of iron and stone named Hilda Johnston. But their fortunes changed after that.  

A few years later, some lawyer discovered that Mr. Pickens was more carpetbagger than land surveyor. His license was checked into and discovered to be a forgery- he was using his father's seal, Robert L. Pickens, Sr.  Junior might have known how to triangulate, but it wasn't the kind you need to find a stone marker on a property corner.

A bunch of folks sued the Reynolds clan, and settlements were made. Aunt Hilda wanted nothing more to do "with them snakes and muskrats", and was content to have her whole farm back, less the ten acres she sold to James Weatherhill.  It's a small town, Mr. Fishfire, just like High School, except we don't live out of our lockers anymore.

When Scott Reynolds showed up wanting to build a shopping center, I met with him privately and asked if he would be willing to donate money to the YMCA fund.  

East Greenville is trying to raise funds for a County YMCA and nearly every businessman has offered to donate to the "smooth sailing" YMCA fund.  However, Mr. Reynolds was offended and likened my request to a bribe, called it "extortion", and whispered those words into more than a few local ears.

As for the Reynolds Site Plan, it would be hard to trust a family that steals land and hires consultants who certify drawings with the survey seal of their dead daddy.  

And finally, there is no truth to the rumor that I forced people to use local builders.  What I did was mention to those folks wanting to build in Lincoln Township that our local builders offered a 10% discount for buildings constructed in their home Township. I always tried to support our local economy. If that is a bad idea, then our entire Country had better hoist a Communist flag and surrender now.

Thank you for allowing me the space to write this response. I hope in the future, you would do a little more research and a little less soapboxing.

Jim Lackey
Former Lincoln Township Supervisor
Diffle County is a fictional place. All characters are fictional. Any resemblance to non-fictional individuals, living or dead, is purely incidental and unintentional. The Author is a real person. His involvement in Diffle County affairs appears suspiciously fictional as well. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Diffle County Report: Jim Lackey Loses an Election

If you've never lived in Diffle County or her Southern sister, Nother County, you might not be able to fully understand how their political systems operate.  If you have lived in either county, you already know you don't want to understand. You just want your roads plowed in the winter and potholes fixed in the Spring- and no new Ordinances.

Diffle County is located in Eastern Pennsylvania, near the border with New Jersey, close enough to the Delaware River that you can smell the sewer outfall pipe from East Greenville's sewage treatment plant. There are three elected County Commissioners, no major cities, six townships, and three boroughs and several unincorporated villages.  

The townships are responsible for plowing local roads in the winter, then fixing the winter road damage in Spring and Summer.  Each township is governed by three elected supervisors. Each Borough is governed by an elected Town Council and Mayor.  The Council conducts the daily business while the Mayor waves from Miss Bettie's Chevy Convertible in the Memorial Day parade.  

Sometimes the Mayor casts the tie-breaker vote when Council is deadlocked.  Otherwise, the Mayor has no real power whatsoever.  It is a common fact that Town Councils rarely need a tiebreaker. Government is run by majority vote, and voters elect majorities. Yet everyone wants to be Mayor.  The reason why is simple and sweet.

Just like Senators and Presidents, once you are elected Mayor, people call you Mayor for the rest of your life- even if you only serve one term. When you die, your title gets all the attention in the local newspaper. For example,  "Former Mayor Dies of Heart Attack"  could be your death headline and the obituary might read "Mayor Paul Pounders, Age 78".  This is cool to some people- even a dead big fish in a small pond is still a big fish.   

But local government doesn't actually operate as described above. Over in Lincoln Township, Jim Lackey, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, ran his township with an iron fist for over twenty years.  His friends got their projects approved, his enemies got violation notices from the Zoning Officer.  If you wanted to build a house there, you used a local builder from Lincoln Township.  To do otherwise could be costly.  Incomplete design reviews, surprise inspections, and Stop Work Orders were common for those who didn't meet with Uncle Jimmy before choosing their builder.

Finally, a local tomato farmer, fed up with the abuse of power, and also angry that Uncle Jimmy made fun of his wife at a public meeting, decided to challenge  Lackey in the general election. Chairman Lackey was unconcerned.  Chuck "Tomatoad" Tody could win the primary unopposed, but had no strong support base for the general election. Since announcing his candidacy, "Tomatoad" noticed a significant drop in sales at his fruit and vegetable stand on Kidder Road.  Lackey supporters were sending a message.  

Besides, Jim Lackey was busy with the art of governance. Scott Reynolds, a young developer from Harrisburg, wanted to build a small shopping center in Lincoln Township. He wanted to do this legally, without making a cash contribution to Uncle Jimmy's private bank account. This type of upstart behavior was unacceptable.  

Lincoln Township had several issues with the Reynolds Site Plan. Month after month, modifications were denied and the plan was tabled. The common consensus was the Reynolds Shopping Center would never get approved by Uncle Jimmy and Lincoln Township. Some folks grumbled about this, since the township really needed a larger grocery store.  Lackey argued publicly that the shopping center was exactly the kind of growth the Lincoln township didn't need.  Privately, he urged Scott Reynolds to make the required "smooth sailing" payment and avoid further costly delays. Cash in a plain brown envelope, please.     

Since local folks pay little attention to elected officials in Harrisburg, no one in Lincoln Township thought to compare two identical last names. Could Scott Reynolds might somehow be related to State Attorney General Roland Reynolds? In reality, they were father and son and that's a game changer.   

Jim Lackey would have won the election, had he not driven away from the Smithville Inn, firmly planted behind the wheel of his brand new Ford Explorer. Every Friday evening, Uncle Jimmy would drive to the Smithville Inn, enjoy dinner and libations (mostly libations), and then leave the bar from the rear entrance, returning home via Smith Road  (T-0224). 

This back-road journey was an easy-peasy two mile drive and the very same road Uncle Jimmy plowed every winter for Lincoln Township. Jimmy could drive this route blindfolded, drunk, and drugged, with one arm tied behind his back, and a black bear tearing up the upholstery in the back seat. 

At the Reynolds Annual Labor Day Cookout, Scott and his dad had a long talk about Jim Lackey. Roland had high aspirations. He wanted to be Governor one day. He wanted to campaign as an aggressive prosecutor of fraud, white collar crime, and political oppression.  The rise of the Reynolds kingdom could be partially built upon the ruins of  a Lackey fiefdom.  The Attorney General made a few phone calls.

On the Friday  night before the general election, about a half-mile from the Smithville Inn, on a desolate stretch of Township Road No. 0224, the State Police set up a sobriety checkpoint.  For the first three hours, only two cars passed through. Around 9 pm, Jim Lackey's Ford Explorer approached the checkpoint from the opposite side of the center line.

Uncle Jimmy drove right past the State Police officers, smiling and waving.   He failed to notice the photographer from the Diffle County Reporter snapping a picture of him waving off uniformed police officers as they jumped back to avoid getting struck by his SUV.   

The State Police pursued the Ford Explorer and arrested James Johnston Lackey at the entrance to his driveway.  The second photograph on the front page of the Diffle County Reporter was of Uncle Jimmy in handcuffs, bent over the front of State Police cruiser, his smiling, tomatoad face laying flat against the hood of the car.  

Charles Reginald Tody won the election in a landslide. He runs Lincoln Township with an iron fist.

Diffle County is a fictional place. All characters are fictional as well. Any resemblance to the hundreds of politicians I know is merely coincidental and meant to stay that way.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Fireworks - Lighting Up New Relationships between the States

Photo: The Pocono Record
(This is a re-post of a Mutant Mouse Commentary written on 2/2/2007. The post has been edited and  photographs  added to the post)

Sometimes Politicians write laws with loopholes on purpose. A campaign contributor needs a 40 million dollar tax break and it gets tacked on as a rider or amendment. Sometimes it is a matter of log-rolling, that ancient tradition of support my legislation and I will support your legislation. But sometimes a loophole appears in a law completely by accident and a clever businessman with a ton of cash and a cargo plane full of lobbyists seizes the opportunity.

Here in Pennsylvania, it is the expressly forbidden for citizens of the Commonwealth to purchase fireworks. Can't get them here. We have to drive to South Carolina to shoot off our bottle rockets in gleeful terror. But the law never mentioned someone from say, New Jersey or New York buying fireworks in Pennsylvania. And some very clever business folks saw a loophole and drove an 18-wheeler full of roman candles right through it.

Fireworks stores are now opening along all the borders of Pennsylvania, catering to a target consumer- Non Pennsylvanians. Security personnel wait at the fireworks entrance, checking driver's licences and, if you have one from Pennsylvania- get out and don't come back. These stores weren't built for you.

Our neighboring states, some who have laws that expressly forbid their own citizens to be in possession of fireworks are not happy with Pennsylvania's loophole. Mayor Bloomberg has even sent undercover agents into Pennsylvania to investigate and then arrest (after the consumer is safely back in New York City) those folks with their trunks stuffed full of black cats. Other states have been grumbling.

I like fireworks. Once we had Waterbunny use her Texas Drivers license to get us some fireworks. Didn't blow up a finger or lose an eye shooting them off either. We did send a few over the the neighbor's shed. Fireworks are not very accurate. However, they do have important warning labels. "Place in a safe location. Light fuse, Get away!" Yes, you must run away! Run away from this very safe explosive device!

I've read the statistics that the fireworks industry puts out about sales versus injuries. There were less than 10,000 injuries in 2004 according to the American Pyrotechnics Industry (APA) compared to sales of 236 million pounds of fun time explosives. Did you know that with every extra pound sold, the number of injuries decreases! It must be those warning labels. Or the label that says "Made in China". There is a quality guarantee you can't ignore.

The APA points out that you are four times more likely to get burned by your stove in the kitchen than from lighting a Class 3 explosive. Of course, we need to eat in order to live, so using a stove is more of a necessity than the unbridled joy of sticking a match under a short fuse and running like hell. But I quibble here. Whenever an organization represents an industry, we should always, yes always take their word at face value. The Tobacco industry is a fine example of this.

We either have friends in New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland, Ohio and West Virginia or we are going to be making new friends there soon. It shouldn't be long before our neighbors on the border charge user fees for proxy sales, under the table, between Pennsy buyer and non-Pennsy seller. A whole new black market could emerge. Homeland Security Department will catch wind of this think we are terrorists. Investigations will begin, internet mail intercepted, phone calls monitored and then..... day I will be shooting off some fireworks I bought from Vinnie the Anvil. The FBI will kick down my door and drag me off to some secret prison. I won't have a lawyer, I won't have my cell phone. I won't have my bottle rockets. The world will be a safer place.

We could fix this. Close the loophole. Make them illegal for everyone in Pennsylvania or make them legal for everyone in Pennsylvania. We will buy them anyway and all we are doing now, in-Staters and out-of-Staters, is putting tons of money into a few corporate bank accounts. A law written specifically to make the purchase and possession of fireworks illegal in Pennsylvania is now benefiting a handful of corporations and thousands of non-residents.

Well, I'm off to Jersey to enjoy something that only Pennsylvanians can do: Turn around and drive back. Happy Independence Day!

The Coyote Lyric Video