Sunday, September 27, 2009

Left Hand May I Introduce Right Hand

It's been a busy few months on the stretch of Route 10 between Northampton and Easthampton, a stretch of road that I traverse twice a day, on average. New sidewalks were put in on the east side of the road near Florence Road, a new traffic light was put in at the intersection of Route 10 and Earle Street, and most of the road was re-paved. These projects seem to happen all at the same time, which meant that traffic was often stopped.

But that's the price of keeping up the infrastructure, I suppose. And I'll be the first to admit that the road looks nice.

But wait, what's that thing in the distance there?

Yes, a new construction vehicle has recently been spotted by the side of the newly paved road. And then there are the new markings spray painted on the new asphalt.

I have a feeling the construction equipment and the road markings are related to the bike path that will soon connect Easthampton and Northampton. And I'm all for the new bike path, but it will be a shame if the road, which has just been re-done, now gets ripped up again.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

"I See Your Outrage, Sir, And Raise You MY Outrage!"

The bumper stickers are pretty common, especially around here: "If you aren't outraged, you aren't paying attention." The sentiment has a certain truth to it, but it only goes as deep as bumper-sticker truth can.

But that phrase has been on my mind lately, as I've been thinking a lot about outrage. But let me be clear: I haven't been outraged; I've just been thinking about it.

It seems that we have a surfeit of outrage around here lately. It used to be that there was an order to all of this anger stuff. You kind of started at irritation, moved to anger, and then get to outrage, if the situation warranted. But now outrage is the starting point, which makes me worry about where people go from there.

But what I find really amazing about the world of outrage we're in right now is how much of the outrage is directed at other people's outrage. We have people outraged at someone else's outrage at a third person's outrage. Call it outrage cubed. We've moved into a kind of meta-outrage state that will probably only grow as the election creeps closer.

Take a look at the recent outburst at the City Council meeting. A resident, who's been showing up regularly at City Council meetings to express his displeasure with the City government, goes a bit beyond the pale, and suddenly everyone is outraged. One group is outraged that this person acted the way he did. Another group understands his outrage and is outraged that the first group doesn't understand the outrage. The first group is then outraged that the second group condones being outraged.

It goes like this:

Person 1: I'm outraged.
Person 2: You can't be outraged. I'm outraged.
Person 1: I'm outraged that you don't acknowledge that I have a right to be outraged.
Person 2: I'm outraged that you're outraged at my outrage.

Yes, it does become that petty. People are focusing their outrage on lawn signs and emails and the proper place to sign up on the sign up sheet to address the City Council. Silly stuff, in the grand scheme of things.

I don't know, maybe I should be outraged. Perhaps it's true that I'm not paying attention. But I do know that when I try to pay attention, it's hard to get at the facts because all I see are people outraged at the outrageous behavior of other people.

In doing my usual extensive research for this piece, I came across this definition of outrage: Excess of boldness or pride; foolhardiness, rashness; presumption.

According to the OED, that definition is obsolete. My gut says it might be making a comeback, at least around here. Now if I could just figure out how to put it on a bumper sticker...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Is This a Problem?

This is what greeted me when I took off my running shoes after a 9-mile run on Saturday.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Roy Martin Eliminated from Mayor's Race

That's what the headlines should have said, since that's the only thing we learned for sure from last night's primary election. As expected, however, we find in the papers the spin that the two remaining candidates and their respective camps want to put on the results. According to the Gazette, Bardsley "believes the result validates his candidacy and the sentiment among many of his supporters who say city government is out of touch with residents." Also in the Gazette, Higgins, meanwhile, expressed little surprise with he results. "I expected he would work hard to get his supporters out; they were motivated to get out," she said in the Gazette.

Really, you can put pretty much any spin you want on the numbers. Only 21 percent of registered voters turned out. Bardsley got more votes, but the important thing in this election was just to finish in the top 2, and with Martin as the third candidate, was there ever any doubt as to who the top two would be? And remember, the totals don't count squat towards the general election.

You could say that the results show Higgins should be worried. But you could also say that Bardsley should be worried because if voters are as dissatisfied as he says they are, more people should have turned out to vote.

In other words, yesterday's election doesn't mean anything; it only showed us what we already knew, that Roy Martin won't be the next mayor. But it does signal the beginning to an election season that I predict will be especially silly. Accusations will be thrown, language will be parsed, records will be dissected, and passions will run high. In the end, however, we'll have a mayor and the vast majority of Northampton residents won't notice much of a difference at all: our property taxes won't go down, potholes won't disappear, and the parking enforcement people won't stop issuing tickets. In other words, the quality of life things that most people associate with big-G Government won't change much. And that's both good and bad. It's good because it means that we really can't make a bad choice, no matter whom we vote for; and it's bad because the more noticeable quality of life issues tend to overshadow other important issues, like transparency and development. The fact is that most people won't pay close attention to this election and many people will be persuaded to vote for one candidate over the other because of misinformation or misunderstanding of an issue.

I guess I must have drunk the "Down on Humanity" roast coffee this morning.

I don't know who I'll vote for and I don't know who will win. But I do know that the next six weeks will be interesting.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

All the People Who Died

I've always had an abiding wonder for books and a healthy respect for the authors and poets who create those books. I think that's part of the reason why I find myself working with words and holding advanced degrees in English and literature. But it took me a long time to really appreciate writers and see them not as Famous Authors that inhabit black and white photos or exist only in card games, but as real people facing real issues. And the best among them put their struggle with those issues at the center of their work.

Jim Carroll was one of the best.

I was saddened to hear that Jim had died, much to my surprise. It seems like a lot of famous people have been dying lately, or maybe famous people have always been dying and lately just a number of famous people I know about have died. But none of those deaths made me sad the way Jim's did. And that's a bit surprising when you consider that I read only one of his books (Basketball Diaries, of course) and some of his poems. But I saw him live and in person three times: I felt his magnetism in person and sat rapt as he put life--his life--to what had only been words on a page. And those were rich experiences. The first time I saw him, when I was in college and he was giving a reading at some club in Greenwich Village, I went to the bathroom before the reading began, and at the urinal next to me was this very tall, very thin man who exited the bathroom and took him place on stage. Somehow, that seems a fitting introduction to Jim Carroll.

It's true that his words will live on, but unlike most of the dead authors I've read--and still read--knowing that Jim Carroll is not alive will for me take away a little of the life he left on the page.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I Still Don't Know

It was the kind of late-summer day that you wanted to hold onto any way you could, a prospect made difficult by the fact that the days were getting shorter and the feeling of summer had faded away with the passing of Labor Day. That's something that will always stick with me: what a nice day it was.

By the afternoon of September 11, 2001, we needed a break from watching the constant television coverage that could provide no new details and instead simply replayed the horror. After leaving work early, we took our son over to our friends' house, so that he could play with their two boys, who were slightly older. We four adults sat outside watching them, not talking much, because really, what more could we say? I watched the kids and secretly hoped for some kind of a kid conflict, because I wanted to face a problem that I knew I could solve.

We all knew, I think, that our friend Chris was dead, but none of us came out and said it. The facts were, though, that Chris worked in the World Trade Center on the top floors, and while he was officially "missing," the only thing that would have kept him from getting home to his family, or at least calling them, would be that he was no longer alive.

But we held out hope, because it was the only thing we knew we could do. Everything else just seemed so meaningless.

And that's the image burned into my mind: four adults sitting outside on a brilliant September afternoon watching three children cavort in the safety of a fenced-in back yard. In the distance, only a dozen miles away or so, is Manhattan. In the next day or so, the smoke and smell of the fallen towers will waft across the river, but on this afternoon, the clear blue sky is relatively quiet, a rarity in an area with so many airports. Every once in a while, though, a fighter jet streaks overhead. Nobody knows what to say, nobody knows what to do, and nobody wants to be alone.

I still feel that way eight years later.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ethical Dilemma at the Fair

The swings are always a favorite.

My son must have ridden this think two dozen times.

The other day, shortly after I rolled down my driveway to begin a bike ride, I grabbed my brakes to stop because of something I saw in the road: a five-dollar bill.

When I ride, I stop to pick up the discarded change I see on the road. That includes pennies. Yes, I know some people will tell me (correctly) that picking up pennies is a waste of time. I do it anyway.

Nickels make me feel pretty good when I pick them up, and dimes make me feel like I'm breaking even. Quarters are not as rare as the Holy Grail, but when I pick up one of those babies, I feel like I've locked in a profit. So you can imagine what finding five dollars on the road felt like.

Once, in the late 1970s, as I was walking to the neighborhood candy store, I found four dollars on the part of the route where the sidewalk gave way to a well-worn dirt path. I still remember that day vividly, and that was 30 years ago.

So my bike ride started out on a high note. And then, as I pedaled down Route 9 in Williamsburg, I came across another interesting item in the road: a wallet. I picked it up, took a quick look inside, and then put it in my pocket, which made riding a little bit more difficult.

I rode further down the road into Williamburg Center with the idea of turning the wallet in to the police department. But I couldn't find the police station. I looked at the owner's driver's license and saw that she lived in Williamsburg, but I didn't recognize the street. So, I rode home and figured out my next move.

I checked the phone book, but she wasn't listed. I checked online; still no success. I got into my car and drove to the address on the license, but while I could find the house at 25 on the street, her license said that she lived at 25 1/2, which I didn't see.

Defeated, I drove back to Northampton to the police station and turned in the wallet there. I'll admit that I was looking for some recognition of a good deed done--not money; I would have refused that--just some kind of acknowledgement, which the officer behind the glass didn't give me.

Does it count as a good deed if no one sees it?

I mention this by way of prelude to what happened on the midway at the Three County Fair yesterday. This was my second straight day at the fair with my kids, and my youngest son was obsessed with trying to win a jersey at the bounce-the-ball-off-the-easel-and-get-it-into-the-basket game. Just as I relented to letting him give the game a try, someone else got the ball in the basket. In the excitement, the carney running the game (or whatever his official title is) gave me back my change twice. In essence, we played the game for free. We didn't win a jersey, but we walked away winners, right?

Should I have said something and done the right thing? We'd spent hours listening to the games-people's pitch: everybody wins! Give it a try, Dad! Only $3! And in exchange for my money, we'd gotten lots of crap in return.

Should I have said something and done the right thing?

I think I did.