Monday, November 13, 2017

Who Was David Kyle?


There was a science fiction category on Jeopardy! on Friday night. It made me think about my uncle, David Kyle, who was renowned in that field. I did well in the category and knew he’d be proud. That made me think about how much fun we would have if we could sit side-by-side each night, competing against each other while watching the show. (When I was young, we played a lot of chess. He’d almost always win, but I’d surprise him every so often.)
I miss my Uncle Dave. He was exceptionally intelligent, funny, and a consummate gentleman. He was a veteran of the Air Force; a Lt. Colonel.

Friday, November 03, 2017

He Gave His Finger to the Garage Door

[This is a reworked story from 2005.]
I’m not one to laugh at others misfortunes, but… sometimes, life’s experiences are just too painfully funny to pass by.
I have a friend, Dave, who’s an intelligent, successful businessman. He’s in his late fifties, so he’s been around the block a time or two. One morning, he opened his garage door to take the garbage out by the curb. An early riser, this was around 5:30 in the morning - when your brain is still a little fuzzy and sluggish.
After he told me the story, I said, “Dave, that’s what you get for being so cheap with yourself.”
“No, Dave,” he responded, “that’s what I get for procrastinating,” after asking him why he never installed an electric garage door opener. It’s the kind with a handle at the bottom you lift up after unlocking it from the inside.
Down the driveway he went with his trash bin that fateful morning. After strategically setting it in the perfect spot, he brushed off his hands, walked back up, and grabbed the handle to close the garage door. Only, it didn’t quite work out that way. Yes, he pulled it down, but it didn’t go all the way. Instead of bending down or pushing it shut with his foot, he reached in the crack between the slats and, with powerful manly strength…
FORCED IT SHUT! Now, remember, these slats are on a track and as they come downward, they fit tightly into each other. They pinch shut.
In an instant, an excruciating pain shot through the middle finger of his right hand. Instinctively he yanked it back and looked in horror at his hand. The tip of his finger just above the first joint was gone. Crushed. He opened the door with his other hand and pulled out his severed, flattened fingertip. After rushing inside, he carefully put it on ice and raced to the nearest emergency room.
“There’s nothing we can do. We can’t sew it back on. It’s been crushed,” the doctor told him. Flattened like a pancake with strawberry syrup. Without getting too graphic, the doctor reformed what remained of the end of his finger and closed it up. 18 stitches. He went home, not quite feeling like the whole man he was when he rolled out of bed. I think he took the rest of the day off.
Today, he pretty much laughs at the experience. “You know, that was about the most stupid thing I’ve ever done. I just wasn’t thinking. I can’t believe I tore the darn thing off.”
Not that they could have saved it anyway, but it did save the cost of amputation.


Friday, October 27, 2017

The Night I Screamed on Halloween


[This is a true story I’ve posted in the past. I think it’s worth repeating every couple of years.]
A number of years ago, I told my mother about the scariest Halloween I ever experienced. I was with a friend from the neighborhood. She questioned whether she would have let me venture out without her at the tender age of six. Oh, I wasn’t alone, I reminded her. Besides, times were different then. We used to leave our windows open all day and night during hot summer months because air conditioning was a luxury. Screen doors were all that separated us from the outside world. Crime wasn’t something that was ever present in our minds. Heck, we left our doors unlocked. It was a different time…
§
It was a chilly autumn night, that Halloween of 1958. It was my first foray out alone. Well, not really alone. I was with Harold, my buddy from school. He met me at my place. We had planned on doing this, by hook or by crook, and no mothers were going to be allowed to come along! We were out to prove we were real men that night, not boys, or so I thought, as we ventured out into the early evening. Be home soon after dark, our mothers instructed.
There were lots of other children running around dressed in all kinds of costumes, stopping at many of the two story homes in our close knit community. The ones that were spookily decorated were the most inviting. Anyone willing to do all that work on their place would surely be the ones handing out the best candy!
I remember watching hand-carved candlelit pumpkins flicker with each eerie twist and turn throughout the neighborhood. Skeletons and ghosts hung from trees and porches, swaying back and forth in the cool, gentle breezes, as red and orange leaves softly fell to the ground. We spoke of ghouls and goblins and stayed away from dark alleys and back yards where we weren’t supposed to go anyway, not to mention houses with no lights, because we knew what THAT meant! The monsters inside would grab us by our arms and take us down into their dank, spider-infested dungeons filled with torture devices, where we’d never, ever be seen again. Or… or… or… maybe, lights out simply meant they weren’t home or didn’t want to be bothered. But we weren’t going to take any chances.
We were on a candy mission. I had a big grocery store shopping bag to fill up. It was brown paper with handles for carrying. There were no ‘plastic or paper?’ options back then. It was paper. Those were the days when milkmen left glass bottles at your doorstep and rabbit ears or rooftop antennas were the best way to watch black & white, round-screen television sets. Color TV? Hahahahaha! We weren’t rich.
For what seemed like hours, we wandered around the neighborhood. People guessed who we were. “Oh, you’re little Dave, Sam & Dottie’s kid.”
Harold wanted to finish the night at his house. It was only fair, since we begain our journey at mine, and I had never been there before. His place was across the street, about five houses up. When you’re only six-years-old, that’s quite a distance, and I wasn’t crazy about venturing too far away from my world; a world that wasn’t very big.
But I was brave and we had candy collection work to do.
Round and round we went. Back and forth, up and down; to the left and to the right, including places we’d never seen. We visited hundreds of homes, or so it seemed. Thousands, maybe! Eventually, we worked our way to his place. It was dark and I remembered what my mother said. We’d been out long enough, we were getting tired, and both of us had plenty of goodies to last a long time. Of utmost importance, Halloween fell on a school night and we needed our sleep.
When we arrived, we walked up the sidewalk and climbed the stairs of his front porch. The porch light was off and it was downright sinister. Pure evil was lurking about. I knew it. I just sensed it…
“Are you sure your mom and dad are home?” I asked. We knocked and, in a snap, the big, dark door swung open. There stood Harold’s father.
“TRICK OR TREAT!” We screamed in unison.
“I want to see a trick,” he responded. A trick? I didn’t know what he was talking about. Saying trick or treat meant that I was going to get candy. That’s all I knew. What was this trick thing about? “When you say trick or treat, I can ask you to do a trick first. Then I give you a treat. Where’s your trick?”
Harold and I gave each other a puzzled look and said, “Huh? Nooooo…???”
“Well, then, I have a trick for you,” and just like that…
His top teeth popped out; far, far out of his mouth and quickly slid back in. WHOA!!!!!!!
I froze dead in my tracks and stared up at him. The glare in his eyes! Then, just like that, he did it again!!!!!!! Those teeth jutted out of his face and wiggled for a second, like they had a mind of their own, before disappearing back inside his mouth.
“AAAAIIIIEEEEE” I let out a blood curdling scream that must have awakened the dead. Today, anyone within hearing range would have called 911 on that house because of the panic in my voice. I turned to run, but, quickly, Harold’s mother appeared from another room. In a snap, she came out to comfort me.
“Did you see what he did? He… he… he…”
“Yes, yes,” she answered, as she wrapped her arms around me. Whatever his name was, she sure did raise her voice at him. She knew exactly what happened. “He shouldn’t have done that.”
Meanwhile, I could see that the guy was rolling on the floor, laughing like crazy. I didn’t know what to do, but I wanted to get away from there fast while she explained what it was. “When people’s teeth go bad, the dentist pulls them out. He gives you new ones so you can chew your food and have a nice smile. They come out of your mouth and you put them back in where your teeth used to be.” 
Huh? I had no concept whatsoever of false teeth.
She turned to him and demanded an apology. I was trying to shake off the fright and sort it all out. Why did a grown not have any real teeth? 
I doubt he ever said I’m sorry. I’m sure he continued to laugh. I’m certain I was still feeling the trauma. She must have known from the look on my face. “I’ll walk you home, Dave.”
There was no way I was going to walk home alone, trembling — not after that! When I got to my door, she explained the horror story to my mother. Maybe I sensed a “Snicker” or two.
§
All my life, I brushed my teeth in the morning and before bed, especially after eating candy bars. I remember telling my mother that I would never set foot in Harold’s house again. As a matter of fact, when I looked up the street toward his place, I shuddered and turned away, yet Harold and I remained friends. He assured me he had no idea.
Before the following Halloween, we moved to another town and that was the unfortunate end of our friendship. When I was old enough to understand what false teeth were all about, I wondered how the father of a six-year-old boy could have lost his teeth so young. He couldn’t have been more than thirty. Just maybe… he ate too much candy when he was young and didn’t brush, brush, brush his teeth.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Me Too?

In late August of 1968, I turned 16. Living in Flemington, NJ, the hottest place around was the Weiner King. I really wanted to get my first job there. No other place was like “The King.” It was the center of the known universe. One Saturday afternoon, a week or so after my birthday - I was “of age” now - my mother drove up to the front, I got out and went inside to ask the owner if he would hire me. He asked a few questions, jotted down my information, and said he’d get back to me if an opening came up. I made sure I was dressed nicely.
Some time the following week, the phone rang and the rest is history. September, 1968. I remember, on my first day, I wore a tie. Jack Little, the owner, chuckled a bit and told me it wasn’t necessary. What I needed was an apron. Angie Rocco was assigned to train me and I’ll never forget that first day, nor will I ever forget many subsequent days at that job. One stands out in particular, and the news of late has brought it back into the forefront of my mind.
The Weiner King went through several transformations over the years. The first one was a little shack. When I went to work, it was a much larger building. The old shack had been tossed in the back of the parking lot. From the highway, the dining room was on the left. The right side was the waiting area, the front counter, and the kitchen. There were two entrances that faced sideways. Jack had lost the key and we had to run a heavy-duty chain between the two doors at night to lock up. There were two rugs on the floor, too, for customers to wipe their feet as they entered. At the end of the night, someone would have to take each rug outside and shake out the dust and dirt. On nights that I worked, that would be me because I was the “junior executive assistant manager trainee” at the time.
As it was with many summer nights, the crew was a core group of three – Jack, Tom Garefino, and me. Tom was a gruff type of guy with a heart of gold. Some people were kind of afraid of him, but I knew better. A retired Army M. Sgt., he was a great man and full of knowledge.
Late one evening, it was coming up on closing time. Jack never refused a customer as long as those grills were on. Besides, we weren’t closed. The front of the restaurant, where the waiting area was, was made up entirely of glass panes. I stood at the front counter when a red Fiat Spider rolled up. (Dang! We’re never going to close, I thought.) The convertible top was down. Two guys came in and I took their order. When they picked up their food, they sat quietly at a front table. I’d say they were in their thirties. Meanwhile, Jack, Tom, and I started the process of cleaning up – getting ready to close.
At some point, I picked up one of the rugs and proceeded to shake it outside one of the doors. It was near the Fiat, but far enough away to not get it dirty. One of the two gentlemen came outside, stood next to me, and began asking questions. How old are you? How often do you work? Is that guy your father? What time do you get off? You know, questions like that. Then, BAM! The proposition…
“I just got out of prison. I’m a professional photographer and I want to take pictures of you. We have a place not too far from here with a studio and small stage. We have lots of wine and we’d like to take nude photographs of you.”
I was uncomfortable right from the start, but this was WAY too much. I kept turning around and looking at Jack and Tom for help. They were leaning on the front counter paying close attention, smiling at me. I needed help! Anyone in their right mind could see the look of panic in my face. Why didn’t they rush out to help me?
“No! No! No! I’m not like that. I like girls. I don’t want my picture taken…” And on it went until… until… until… I turned around and THERE HE WAS, the other guy! Outside the door. It was as if he was reading his friend’s lips.
He knew what had transpired. “Please come with us. We promise we won’t hurt you. We’ll bring you back.”
“Noooooo!” I firmly responded, opening the door and rushing back inside. “Where were you? I needed your help!”
This thin, blond, 16-year-old boy was scared poopless.
There they were, Jack and Tom, getting a big kick out of it. My heart was racing as they snickered away. “Don’t worry, Dave, we were right here. We weren’t going to let those guys do anything to you. We were watching and would have been over this counter and out the door in a flash.”
That was reassuring, but, fortunately, I was smart. I resisted. I had help. What would have happened had I been alone?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

You learn a lot when you talk to people

The other day, I stood in line at the Publix deli, waiting to order their special sub of the week. Meatball. Ah, yes, a meatball sub with tomato sauce, spinach, onions, black olives, and melted parmesan and provolone cheeses. (It was delicious!)

A young gentleman was standing to my right, just in front of me. Of course, if you know me, you know I'm very personable, so I struck up a conversation. I'd guess he was in his mid-20s or so. Maybe 30. Strapping and good looking, he was very approachable and friendly. I noticed that, although he spoke perfect English, he had a distinct accent. To me, it sounded German. Instead of saying, "You're not from around these here parts, are you, punk?" I politely mentioned what I had noticed and asked him if he was German.

"No, I'm from Hungary, but spent five years in Munich. That was a very good guess. I kind of do have a bit of a German accent, so my friends tell me. You're not really wrong."

I told him my niece and former sister-in-law live in Berlin. He asked if I'd ever been there. I said no, but I'd love to visit some time. As a matter of fact, I'd enjoy going to Hungary, too. All over Europe. Of course, curiosity took hold, and that included a pinch of my journalistic penchant to ask questions, so one thing led to another. For sure, I tried not to load the questions. I didn't blurt them out without any semblance of segue. I asked them as part of the natural conversational flow. One thing had to lead to another. Mostly, I didn't want to push anything.

According to domestic media reports from almost everywhere, I wondered how we're perceived around the world. "What do you think of America over there? Aren't we kind of like the laughing-stock of Europe? You know, Trump and all?"

His facial expression suddenly turned from amiable to slightly serious. "No, not at all. America is America and we love it. Everybody loves America. We don't pay attention to that kind of stuff."

Please note that I made no attempt to sway his responses in any way. "Even in Germany? I mean, I can understand Hungary. but that's only one country?"

"No, Germany, too. We have our own problems and America's problems? It's not something we care so much about. Life goes on."

Clearly, I thought, this is not the picture our media are painting.  Granted, he might have been what we would consider "a conservative" in this country. Or, maybe not. I didn't know. I didn't address his personal political views at all, and on his own, he brought up something else.

"You know, Hungary built a wall to keep the immigrants out." I knew which immigrants he meant.

"Do you mean, to keep them from settling in your country?"

"No, they can't do that. They can't settle in Hungary. It's to keep them from passing through our country." Interesting, because it's part of the European Union.

"Do you mean, on their way to Germany?"

"Yes."

I kind of got the impression that there are lots of nationalists in Hungary, because he said that's precisely what the country wanted to do. They didn't want trouble following them like other parts of Europe. The problems you and I don't usually get to read about or watch on the news.

"Germany has a problem with many of those immigrants. A lot of German tourists and tourists from other European countries vacation in Hungary and they thank us profusely because they feel very safe. They don't have to fear immigrants. It's a real concern."

Hmmm... "Do you get many American tourists?"

"Oh, yes, lots of them."

"Do they ever discuss problems like that?"

"No, not at all. They just come to enjoy themselves."

"Oh, I'd love to visit. It's part of 'Old Europe.' It's rich in history."

"You know, as part of the European Union, we weren't really allowed to build a wall, but we did it anyway because we are still our own country. Everyone that visits thanks us for doing it because," and he reiterated, "they feel safe."

I looked at this as but one man's position, but I seriously doubted (and still doubt) he's alone. I had time for one final thought.

"Do you think that Merkel and the other leaders talk about Trump and all, but the people don't listen to them?"

"Yes, that's the way it works. They are political. They pontificate. We are simply people."

And so it went. It was a fascinating conversation that I found to be a bit disturbing. What bothered me most about it was that we'll never hear this perspective from America's MSM, our very own mainstream media. If you want to know the truth, you need to talk to people. They really do love America.

Monday, September 04, 2017

I'd like to thank the prosecutor's wife

I ran into a bad cop 42 years ago. It didn't discourage me in the end because I have always known that most are good people, ethical, and very professional. Heck, I know a few. This guy, Jack Demeo, was anything but that. If you look at his résumé, it's filled with untruths. He was never supposed to be involved in law enforcement again. My story is exactly as it happened. His sidekick, Rich, is someone I knew for years. Eventually, he left that profession. I have no need to impugn him, but Demeo? I will never get over what he did to me. I want no retribution at this stage in life. I do want you to know that there are people like him out there. In uniforms. With guns. And I don't mind identifying them. If this article happens to fall into the right hands, so be it.
It's a long one. I hope you find it interesting enough to read to the end. I last published it in 2014.
INTRODUCTION
In 1975, I was 23 and the spirit of youth was still in full bloom. It was a great time in my life except for one harrowing experience with the Delaware Township Police Department, located in central New Jersey. I had gone out that night with a friend of mine, Ken [Redacted.] We hit a couple of bars and settled in at a place in New Hope, PA, called John & Peter's. There's a café in front and a small listening room in the back. As small as it was (and still is,) they had some pretty big name bands perform, like Iron Butterfly and The Chambers Brothers. One of the local favorites back then was a group out of Philly called Johnny's Dance Band. Some nights, you just didn't know unless a barmaid let you in on the secret of who it would be. It didn't matter who was playing the night we showed up. We didn't go out for that. We didn't even go out to drink much. We just went out to have a good time until he dropped me off at my apartment...
THE BUST
My place was right in the center of Sergeantsville, a very rural community with one blinking light. You were in and out of town before you knew it. Directly across the street was the municipal building and home of the police department. We sat there for a few minutes discussing what the rest of the week was looking like, sort of like planning another night to run around, drink a few, and hit on some babes. Slowly, a police car crept up across the street and parked. Two officers got out and started to walk towards us. I wasn't afraid of anything. Neither of us were drunk and we certainly weren't doing anything wrong. I recognized one of them, Rich [Redacted,] from my high school days. I got out and stood at the front of my friend's Dodge van. Rich and I greeted each other, shook hands, and talked about what we had been up to since those earlier times. The other officer went over to the driver's window. Both Rich and I were oblivious to what was transpiring until we both heard, "I smell marijuana. Get out of the van right now! You are under arrest!"
Rich and I looked at each other with surprise. I turned to face the other officer and said, "Hey, what are you doing?"
He stared at me and said, "You are under arrest, too!"
He made my friend get out of the vehicle and ordered us over to the police car, where he demanded that we empty our pockets. I didn't respond in the split second time he wanted, so he thrust me down onto the hood of the car, knocking the wind out of me. In two seconds flat, I was in handcuffs and he was emptying all of my pockets, where he found a frog, a couple of marbles and a secret agent compass. Maybe some pocket change, too, but absolutely nothing illegal. As a matter of fact, nothing of interest was found in my friend's pockets, either. I asked this overzealous cop what we were being arrested for. He hesitated and said, "For being drunk and disorderly!"
I knew right then and there we were being charged with something trumped-up. We weren't drunk and we weren't disorderly. Had we been drunk, this stupid officer, John "Jack" Demeo, should have been smart enough to charge the driver with a DUI (or DWI back then) because the keys remained in the ignition.
The cop commandos marched us up the concrete stairs and into the police station.
"Watch them," Demeo said to Rich, giddy with delight, as if he had just apprehended serial rapists or something. He went outside and returned with the ashtray, dumped it on his desk and went picking through the tightly packed butts. Lo and behold, he pulled out a marijuana roach that amounted to...
2/10 of a gram!
Whoa! The biggest bust of the century! "Ha, ha, ha...I gotcha now!!!" An evil grin and obvious glee had overtaken him, as we were soon to be facing life in prison in his eyes. "So, on top of being drunk and disorderly, I've got you on a CDS charge, too!"
"What's CDS?" I asked.
"Controlled Dangerous Substance," he snapped back, with a sarcastic snarl. That roach could have been in the ashtray for weeks, for all we knew. The ashtray was packed with butts, but had we known it was there, we would have smoked it long before the cops showed up.
After sitting for what seemed like an eternity, I had to pee. I asked Demeo if I could go. "NO!" I asked him several times and got the same commanding response. Finally, I pulled something out of my head...
"As a U.S. citizen and subject to rule number 17 of the U.S. Constitution, Section C, Part 203, I am allowed to use a restroom facility when I consider it necessary, under penalty of law."
"Take him into the men's room," he ordered Rich, "but watch him."
As I was peeing, he was apologetic. "Hey, Dave, I had nothing to do with this."
Demeo was filling out paper work interrogating my friend when we returned. He looked at me and attacked like a junk yard dog. "Where'd you get this stuff?"
"I don't know."
"Tell me!"
"You're going to bust us with that? You're a joke."
After about a half hour of brutal questioning, he realized he wasn't going to get anywhere, so they loaded us into the back of the squad car and drove us to the Hunterdon County Jail. The entire ride consisted of Demeo making wise cracks and telling us we were the lowest and vilest sub-humans of the community. We laughed. Oh, how it angered him more.
DELIVERANCE
Finally, we arrived to the fanfare of the hungry jailers. They took our mug shots and fingerprints. One of the guards was a high school teacher who moonlighted at the jail and remembered us. He took us upstairs and put us in a holding cell, It was just me and Ken.
"I'll come back and put you in a better cell as soon as we get rid of these asshole cops," he said, and he did. When we awoke the next morning, the TV was showing an old science fiction movie. Yes, it was high-class. Color, too. There was another guy who was already there. We introduced ourselves, shook hands and I asked him what he was in for.
"Murder."
"Oh." I didn't want to pursue that conversation, so we just settled in. At one point, he got up and switched the channel to American Bandstand. I wasn't about to say, "TURN IT BACK! I WAS WATCHING THAT MOVIE!"
Later that morning, the jail doors were opened to freedom, fresh air and sunlight, and our nightmare was temporarily over. $50 later.
THE PLOT THICKENS
We knew we had to get legal representation. My friend got a lawyer and I talked to an attorney friend of mine, Jay Thatcher. We were in the JAYCEES together. I told him I didn't have money to hire a lawyer. He asked me to tell him what transpired that evening. I told him. He said, "Dave, this is the most ridiculous injustice I've ever heard. I'm going to represent you for free."
Jay was a great guy and a very good friend. I was so glad he decided to help out someone in need. He got in touch with the other attorney and they both agreed to file a Motion to Suppress Evidence, a request to a judge to keep out evidence at a trial or hearing, often made when a party believes the evidence was unlawfully obtained.
The judge at our arraignment hearing was Thomas Beetel. Years earlier, my Aunt Bertie (Warren Knechel) worked for him when he was in private practice before being appointed to the bench. We shared the same last name and they didn't get along. I think he might have fired her. I wasn't aware of any connection at that time - I was told later - but he should have recused himself on simple grounds of prejudice. He did not. Our respective attorneys requested that both officers not be present in the courtroom together when each was to give their own testimony. The judge did agree with that. Both cops gave conflicting reports of what transpired that fateful night. I assumed my old high school "friend" would set the record straight. He did not. He lied through his teeth even more than the arresting officer. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Then, Demeo told the judge he was trained by the Marines to smell marijuana better than a dog. When I took the stand, I noticed the judge was doodling stupid little pictures, as if he wasn't paying attention, and had already made up his mind. I guess he did because he sent it on to trial. Motion to Suppress Evidence denied!
THE TRIAL
On the morning after our arrest, the judge we were going to be facing, Jacob Chantz, was attending a funeral with my grandfather, Reverend George W. Landis. They were very close friends. He should have recused himself, too, because of that friendship, but didn't, and I guess I am thankful for it. The evening we went to trial, it was one big family; the two officers, the prosecutor, our respective attorneys and us. My close friend, Frank Foran was sitting in the gallery, along with my parents. Our trials were to be handled separately, but together, if that makes sense. Our attorneys approached the prosecutor to work out plea deals. 
After minutes of whispering, Jay came back to me and said, "Dave, this is what the prosecutor wants. He's willing to drop the drunk and disorderly charge if you plead to the CDS charge. It means that after a year, you can apply to have your record expunged and it's completely erased. It's as if you were never arrested. You pay a fine now and there is no jail time. What do you want to do?"
"No way am I going to plead guilty to anything. I didn't do anything wrong."
"Great! That's exactly what I was hoping to hear you say." He went back to the prosecutor with my response.
"Oh no," the prosecutor told him, and there came a very special AHA! moment. You see, prosecutors can be moved around to different jurisdictions if the need arises. The need arose on that particular evening. 
"What do you mean?" my lawyer asked.
"My wife is 99.9% pregnant. I came up from south Jersey. I'm filling in for the regular prosecutor, who's on vacation. She could have the baby any minute. I just want to get this over with and go home. How long is it going to take?" 
"At least seven hours as far as I'm concerned. I'm going to pick every legal trick out of my hat on this one."
"You're kidding, right?"
"No, I am not. My client is 100% innocent of these charges and I intend to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary."
"This isn't all that important of a case to me. Let's just drop the charges."
That was it. It had absolutely nothing to do with my guilt or innocence. Case dismissed. All on account of the prosecutor's wife being pregnant. Now that was justice.
My friend had the drunk and disorderly charge dropped but the prosecutor said someone had to take the rap for the 2/10 gram of Mary Jane. It was his vehicle, so he did and a year later had his record expunged.
So went my first foray into the legal system. The judge later told my grandfather it never should have reached his courtroom. It should have been dropped at the Motion to Suppress level and, if not, he had planned on dismissing the charges against me anyway.
AFTER ALL THIS
Oh, yeah. Good old Jack Demeo. He got himself into a little trouble about a year or so after our trial. He was accused - on several occasions - of flashing his badge out of his territory and for trying to pick up women he pulled over. He should have been dealt with for breaking the law but wasn't. Cop. Good old boy syndrome, I guess. I also heard he had been planting pot in cars to make busts, but had he done that to us, I'm sure more than 2/10 of a gram would have been found. The clincher that finally sealed his fate and brought his law enforcement career to a screeching halt was when he was in Atlantic City inside a casino, Unfortunately for him but lucky for the rest of the country, he flashed his badge at the wrong people at the wrong time. He told a dealer he was with the NJ Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control and was doing an investigation. What kind of favors can you do for me? The manager of the casino got involved and promptly called his brother-in-law, who worked for the ABC. Why is one of your guys trying to bribe me?
The agency launched an investigation faster than a poker player folds on a five high hand, and dispatched agents to the scene immediately. Jack Demeo was arrested on the spot. Because of that, his credentials were stripped and he was told he could never be a police officer again. The former police chief of Delaware Township, where I was arrested with my friend, told me he did try years later, but the retired chief, the late Warren Peterson, put the screws to that. My guess is that he's probably assistant head of security at a Dollar General store somewhere in Podunk, Arkansas. I did run into Rich a couple of years later and he wanted to extend an apology for what had transpired. I told him that, "as an officer of the law, you were there to tell the truth. You didn't. I'm having a tough time with what you put me through."
Quite obviously, that experience was still on my mind. One day, he approached me at the Weiner King in Flemington, where I was the manager, to tell me he could get me a really good deal on a Jaguar XKE. He had hung up his gun and went to work for a car dealer. The car had just come in and it wasn't even prepped yet. I took him up on the offer, it was a great deal, and I forgave Rich after all. I think he just got caught up in the cop ego trip thing and eventually let it go. All was well between us and I know it ate at him all those years. He really wanted to make things right, and he did. I don't hold a grudge.
EPILOGUE
I learned my lesson that you can't always trust a man with a badge and prosecutors don't always work for true justice. I've known a lot of police officers and a few prosecutors over the years and most of them are honest and hard-working. Never again have I run into a bad cop like Jack Demeo, but that one time was all it took to keep me on my toes. Fortunately, most guys like him are eventually weeded out of police departments, but not always.
Oh yes, one more thing. The guy we spent the night in jail with who was charged with murder? He was found not guilty. He had a different prosecutor, too.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

55 IN A 65 ZONE

August is my birthday month. No, I'm not soliciting birthday gifts or anything else just yet because it's not until the end of the month, on the 27th.
I grew up in the 60s and 70s and many of us from that era heard the mantra “Never trust anyone over 30.” Over and over and over. We were instructed to buck the system by the likes of Timothy Leary and Abbie Hoffman until, just like that, we turned thirty and became part of the system. So much for not trusting and all that crap. Turning thirty meant nothing to me. It was just a number.
Then came forty. Eh, it was just another number. Yeah, I felt a little older, but I was still young and active. I was a successful graphic artist and didn't feel any older than when I turned thirty. Forty was no big deal.
Along came fifty and I knew my days were numbered. No, not in a life or death sense. As a graphic artist, I was aware of the up-and-coming designers that would usher in more contemporary ideas and do it for less money than I was making - not that I was getting stale at all. It's simply the nature of the beast. I chose to ease myself away from the career I had chosen some 20-plus years earlier. I always wanted to write and thus began something completely new to do. Along came the Casey Anthony case and the rest is history. In any event, turning fifty didn't make me feel old at all. Once again, it was just another number, but the cracks of age were beginning to show.
Out of the blue, I hit sixty. It wasn't a huge hit, though. It was more like a rather strong gust of hot, dry air. Whoosh! But it didn't blow me off my feet. By then, I had plenty of time to emotionally adjust to the physical maladies that struck in 2005. I was a diabetic with other medical problems that kept creeping up on me. They still do. So what! I handled everything and I've remained an optimist throughout. Until...
This month, I will hit a milestone and I'm reminded of it every day when the mail comes. Supplemental health insurance policies. Solicitors that starkly remind me I'm going to be 65-years-old.
SIXTY-FIVE!!!
My life is about to change forever. On the 27th of August, I'm officially old. On that date, I will have to act “grandpoppish” even though I'm not, technically, a grandfather.
On my birthday, I will have to change my wardrobe. I will go out and buy light colored polyester pants that come up to the bottom of my chest. An elastic stretch belt. Maybe suspenders. Nothing but white short-sleeved shirts. Slip-on shoes and Velcro sneakers. A Seersucker suit!

From that date on, I will have to act my age. Decrepit Dave. I will start hanging out on pigeon-infested park benches and in the mall. The one in front of the Everything But Water store. No, not really. Instead, I'll be looking for my soulmate... a bunhead grandmother with gray hair; someone who wants to tell me about her grandchildren, now fully grown. The ones who stopped calling, except when Christmas and their birthdays come around.
Wait... I'm not ready for all that! There's an adult community right around the corner. This is Florida, after all. I'm going to learn how to play outdoor shuffleboard. I'm going to build up my confidence and go there to look for a young and perky 55-year-old. Oh baby. That's it.
I will feel young again! Maybe I shouldn't toss out those Wranglers just yet..


Monday, July 24, 2017

“I CAN MAKE THEM DISAPPEAR...”

I began writing this article in June, 2009 and finished it in May of 2010. Today, I’m compelled to reprint it because I cannot stop thinking about Tracy. I did bring pertinent information up-to-date.
In February of 2009, Chris George’s car was found abandoned near a wooded area in Apopka, Florida. Also known as George Onda, family members and friends didn’t think much of it because he often took off to go on drug-induced binges. Three weeks later, the family called Apopka police and a search ensued. One of the volunteers was a guy by the name of James “Jimmy” Hataway. He was one of only two people who last saw George alive. When the case went cold, police closed it out, but reopened it later. Today, the Ocoee Police Department has linked a total of 6 victims to James Virgil Hataway. In 2011, Chris George’s bones were found in Lake Carter, about 15 miles outside of Orlando.
Tracy Ocasio was last seen on May 26, 2009, leaving the Tap Room bar on Raleigh Street in Orlando’s MetroWest neighborhood, at 1:30 AM. Her car was found abandoned about 15 miles from the bar, not far from Hataway’s home.  A year later, the Ocoee police department named him as the only suspect in her disappearance. Until then, he was only a person of interest.

Soon after Tracy went missing, I went to pick up a few prescriptions from the pharmacy. As she was ringing up my purchase, I asked the always friendly woman behind the counter if she knew anything about the missing woman and the guy police have in custody (on another charge) who might also be tied into Jennifer Kesse, last seen on January 24, 2006. (It was pretty big news around Orlando for both women.) At first, she didn’t quite know, so I mentioned the bar a mile or so away called McGuinnty’s Irish Pub. I told her he used to go there.
“Oh, yeah, I remember seeing him on the news. I thought he looked familiar,” she said. “I think I used to see him in here.” I told her McGuinnty’s was one of his hangouts because he lived nearby at the time.
As a single mother, I just don’t picture my clerk as much of a drinker and, needless to say, neither am I any longer, but I was more of one back then and I knew who this guy was the first time I saw his picture on the local news. McGuinnty’s has been closed for about ten years now, but I can remember some of those times like it was yesterday, and I can easily remember the people who oftentimes frequented the place.
I never befriended James Virgil Hataway at that bar and there were some very good reasons why. The people he hung around with were skinhead types. Hoodlums, plain and simple, and most of the time the regular crowd stayed on one side while they planted themselves on the other. They were young - mid 20s to early 30s - the way I saw it. Today, Hataway would be around 36. They shaved their heads and had goatees. They were a tough group hanging with rough, but good-looking women. There were a few I knew by name, but not much else. Dallas was a good guy. Today, I don’t remember most of the names but I do remember the faces. To give you an idea, Matt had at one time been a nice young man until he got mixed up with that bunch. His change was overnight. Clean cut one day, shaved head the next, with tattoos and piercings all over and a nasty, punk, degenerate attitude. He went from saying hello and friendly conversations to wanting to beat the living crap out of anyone in his way and for no good reason. Of course, I never said a word to him again after he snarled one night. These were the guys who had no respect for anyone but their own small clique of friends. They had the ultimate chip on their shoulders. They had no respect for anyone but their own and it’s clear that Hataway had no respect for human life from what emerged from law enforcement accounts.
Hataway was always the quiet one in the crowd, never starting trouble, yet it didn’t surprise me in the least that he became the only suspect in Ocasio’s disappearance. A surveillance video from the Tap Room showed Hataway and Ocasio leaving the bar together. Allegedly, she offered to give him a ride home to Ocoee, a couple of miles northwest of the bar. Although never charged with her disappearance, he was found guilty of first-degree attempted murder, burglary, robbery, and false imprisonment, and sentenced to life in prison in 2011. That incident occurred in 2008. He choked his victim, Rachel Clarke, tried to snap her neck, and repeatedly slammed her head into the pavement. Fortunately, there were witnesses that heard her screams for help and she was rescued.
Hataway was a guy who fancied himself “the worst criminal in the universe” by using the alias Vader McGirth on his now closed MySpace page, named after the Darth Vader character in Star Wars. He was no stranger to police because of his extensive criminal record dating back to 1993. It includes kidnapping causing bodily harm, drug possession, and many traffic offenses.
When I questioned one of the former bartenders at McGuinnty’s, she told me he used to ask her for a ride home once in a while. Did you ever give him one? “No,” she said, “I always told him I live in the opposite direction.”
I asked her if she was glad she didn’t and she emphatically responded, “YES,” but she never would have thought that he could have done such a thing, other than because of the type of crowd he was always hanging with. Where did they all come from, I wondered. Why did they congregate at McGuinnty’s? She said many of them lived in the trailer park behind the bar. She also told me that most of them had since outgrown that skinhead phase, and some are married. For the record, much of that trailer park is now a housing development.
“He wouldn’t care who it was, he would make them disappear, just like he told me. The way he would talk about people … what he would want to do,” said a former roommate who did not wish to be identified, because he said he had received threats from some of Hataway’s friends.
Before his arrest on drug charges in 2009, Hataway lived with his father in Ocoee. He also worked with his father dredging ponds. Clearly, police wanted him off the streets.
“This Jimmy has a preponderance to do violence, he snaps, he gets angry, it’s always a woman, ride home, end up alone,” said Sgt. Mike Bryant of the Ocoee Police Department, in June 2009. “He’s very familiar with going out into open land at night and not getting caught dumping land debris and waste, that’s a concern…”
“We believe he did it. He’s always been a suspect,” the detective added. “He is suspected of killing her.”
Too bad for Tracy because this young woman was a true blue Orlando Magic fan. That’s why she went to the Tap Room bar that fateful Tuesday night on May 26, to watch her team win, and win they did, against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Too bad another James, James Hataway, was there to watch her lose her life in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. No one ever saw her again. Just like magic, he made her disappear.
She needs to be found.




Friday, June 23, 2017

When I was a professional newspaper reader

I wrote this just after the Casey Anthony trial ended. It's still one of my favorite stories..

Years ago, I was a hardline artist for an ad agency in Orlando. Everything we created was for the Belk department store chain, based out of North Carolina. Hardline included shoes, furniture, electronics, and other items unrelated to fashion. I would never consider myself a fashion artist - then or now, but I worked there for 11-years.  I also designed and built ads that ran in a good number of newspapers throughout the state. Previous to that job I was mostly in the restaurant business. Soon after I started working at Stonebrook Advertising, I saw a fast food restaurant up the street called Beefy King. Since I had come from a background in that industry, I thought it would be a nice place to eat and meet new people. It didn't take long for the owners, Roland & Sandee Smith, and I to become good friends.
One of the interesting, if not quirky, aspects of my job was our daily morning ritual. My boss insisted that we come to work at 8:30 am, but he (almost forcefully) encouraged us to take a break from 9 to 10. Go out for an hour! Enjoy yourself! Strange, but that was Mr. Stone's way of doing business. Because of his edict, on most mornings, I would drive up the street to Beefy King, make myself a sandwich and pour a cup of coffee. Black. No sugar. Sometimes, I'd help slice meats or whatever, but most of the time I'd just stand at the front counter reading the newspaper. I guess it depended on whether they needed a little help that particular day. Mind you, I was always glad to pitch in. Since they didn't open until 10, I never interfered with any customers.
On one particular morning, there was a man working on an ice machine that had broken down. I'd say he was, what you might call, pleasantly plump and he had a personality to match. In other words, he was a very nice fellow. The next morning, he was still tinkering on the ice machine. Good thing the restaurant had a spare. On the morning of the third day, he finished his work and quietly talked to Roland about the bill and something else that caught his attention. As they stood in the hallway between the dining area and the back room, he whispered, "Hey, that guy up there. He's been here every morning, just standing there reading the newspaper. Doesn't he have a job? I mean, what's he do for a living?"
The acoustics were just right and our jovial buddy had no idea I heard every word. "Why, he's a professional newspaper reader," Roland replied.
The guy said, "No way. There's no such thing."
Roland said, "Go ask him."
There I stood, deeply ensconced in my work, oblivious to anything else, and completely unaware that he was sauntering my way to ask about my profession.
"Excuse me," he politely said, as if not wanting to take up too much of my very important time.
I took my eyes away from my work, looked up and in a face that showed great concentration, I said, "Yes?"
I tried not to snicker.
"Well, I've been here three days now and I see you reading the newspaper. I was just wondering what kind of job you have. What do you do for a living, if you don't mind my asking?"
"Why of course not. I'm a professional newspaper reader."
"Get outta here. I've never heard of such a job."
"Yes. That is what I do."
"You're kidding! You get paid to read newspapers?"
"Yes. It's a rather lucrative job, I might add. There aren't that many of us in the state."
"Well, I'm from Florida - born and raised, and I know the state like the back of my hand. What's the name of the newspaper in Leesburg?"
"Which one? The Commercial or the Gazette? Also, the Orlando Sentinel has a zoned edition."
"No kidding! Alright. What about St. Augustine?"
"The St. Augustine Record."
In rapid succession, he asked me about another half-dozen or so cities and towns throughout Florida and no matter what he came up with, I had the correct answer. He had no idea that Belk advertised in all of those newspapers. Actually, we did. Back then, newspapers weren't as consistent as they are today, so ads were designed to fit each publication.
"Okay... fine... I believe you... a... professional... newspaper... reader. " It took a little time for this revelation to sink in. "I gotta tell my wife when I get home tonight. She's not going to believe it."
As the guy drove out of the parking lot, Roland and I got the biggest chuckle. To this day, I'll bet that guy still tells people about the job to stump all jobs. A professional newspaper reader.
All kidding aside, there's one thing I must tell you about Beefy King. I went there almost every weekday morning for about 10 years and I can tell you that it is, by far, one of the cleanest restaurants I've ever set foot in. Not only could you practically eat off the floor, the food is very good, to boot. It's been in the same family since 1968, with the third generation running the show now. There's not a restaurant critic in town that wouldn't give Beefy King a glowing review, and for good reason. The place is legendary. If you are ever in Orlando and have some spare time on your hands, try to stop by for lunch. It's on Bumby. You can tell them a professional newspaper reader sent you. 

Factory Air

This story is dedicated to my father since it's about him.
For most of my life, I didn't know anyone who knew more about cars than my father. He used to own a front end alignment business in Flemington, NJ, and worked on every one that was brought to his shop. In his later years, we could be sitting around watching old B&W movies on TCM and he'd recognize the cars. “Oh, there's a 1941 Buick!”
One of his favorite lines about those old cars was that, “Back then, you could order a car in any color you want as long as it's black.”
In 1986, he bought a new Topaz from a local Mercury dealer. Of course, this being Florida and all, it had to come with air conditioning. Being that he knew a lot about cars, he took a look under the hood and noticed something that didn't look quite right. “Is that factory air?”
The sales rep responded, “Of course it is.”
“Are you certain this is factory air?”
“I absolutely guarantee it. It's factory air.
OK, he thought, so he bought it.
Years later - and out of warranty, of course – his factory air stopped working. Yes, they do get overworked in the Florida climate. He couldn't fix it himself so he took it to one of his mechanic friends.
“This isn't factory air conditioning. It's after market.”
“You're kidding! The dealer swore it was factory air.”
“Trust me, it's not anything Ford ever made. I can't fix it.”
That totally infuriated my father. He had a terrible temper to begin with, but when someone did it over cars; something he was quite knowledgeable about? Forget it! He tore out of there and headed straight to the dealer to give them more than just a piece of his mind.
Parked at the service department, he jumped out and approached one of the reps. “I need you to take a look under the hood and tell me what kind of air conditioner it is. My mechanic can't fix it!” When in a fit of rage, my father was known to use language he didn't learn in church. “When I bought this car, the salesman swore it was factory air. He lied to me!”
“No sir, he was telling you the truth,” the man replied.
“NO HE WASN'T!!!” And from there, I'm sure it escalated. “You're nothing but a bunch of liars!”
“Sir, please come with me.” He led him to the parts department. Along the wall and stacked high were boxes and boxes that said it all. Printed in large, black, bold letters, was the brand name of the after market air conditioners that are installed by the dealer...
FACTORY AIR. Yes, the brand name was Factory Air.
“We'll be more than happy to repair it for you.”
“No way!” and my father stormed out. Only the dealer carried parts.
While there's nothing wrong with the brand, my father felt he was taken advantage of. Lied to. And he was. Because of his very stubborn German blood, he refused to let the dealer touch the car, so he drove it for years without air.
Personally, I had to agree with him. I think it was a very shady way to do business in the hot Florida sun.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Stew Bacheler


It’s almost mandatory for me to turn the volume down on my phone when I crawl into bed each night. Actually, I turn it off because I don’t want to be alerted to anything when I’m asleep. Due to impending old age and the memory problems that come with it, oftentimes, I forget to turn it back up in the morning and I’ve been known to miss phone calls.
Two Saturdays ago, I was milling around, putzing along, when my best friend’s wife messaged me.
“David are you there?“
“Yes I am.”
Since Sherry doesn’t normally text me, I thought that something may have happened to Stew. I mean, he is getting old and decrepit. Like me.
“This is Stew. I have been calling you and I texted you.”
I picked up my phone and called. At the same time, I was quite relieved it wasn’t bad news. The older we get, the more we worry.
“Do you want to go to lunch today? Eat some sushi?” His wife was going to go to Busch Gardens for the day and he had some free time.
You have to understand that it’s almost three hours to drive from his place to mine. That’s nearly six hours on the road. Just for lunch. I mentioned that.
“So,” he responded, “I have a Maserati.” Which is true. “How much more comfortable can I get?”
He had a very valid point. So, he drove over to my place, picked me up and off we went. This is the first time I saw it – a brand spanking new Ghibli with the special $4,500 wheel package.
My favorite sushi place is called Happy Teriyaki heading up 17-92 in the Lake Mary area. We went there, only to find that it doesn’t open until 4:00 PM. Did I mention how comfortable the car was yet? We turned around and went to Bay Ridge Sushi in Longwood, only a mile or so away.
Instead of sitting at the sushi bar, we got a booth. “Since you drove over, how about if I buy you lunch?”
“No, I got it. I told you I was coming over to take you to lunch. It’s on me.”
Everything was delicious. Did I tell you I love sushi yet? After we finished, we stopped to see the Senator, or what’s left of it, at Big Tree Park. It was the largest and oldest cypress tree in the world, estimated to be 3,500 years old. Five years ago, a young woman set it afire one night to see the drugs she was using.
After a few minutes there, he took me home and off he went, back to Bradenton. Now, let me ask you… How many friends do that? Drive for hours just to have lunch with their best friend? You have to understand, we’ve been close since childhood. That’s 50-plus years. Under normal conditions, it’s asking for a lot, but not when you’re driving the dumpstermobile. Did I tell you he owns a roll-off dumpster company? Alpha Dumpsters.