Thursday, August 21, 2008

Things are a bit crazy around here

I am laughing as I type this. Life has been so swirly and busy and crazy and grief-struck that I haven't even tried to get online for a week. So, this morning I thought I'd better at least check email, and then I thought I'd get online and say howdy. After getting kicked off once (the tech guys promise they're working on the connection problems - I hear talk of overloads which must be addressed...) I finally made it to Blogger. Blogger has been doing all sorts of tweaking since I was last on. There is, for instance, a new dashboard. Fine. I can handle a new dashboard. For that matter, it looks pretty straightforward. But my mouse pointer disappears every time it passes over a button on the dashboard. To make a new post, I couldn't click the new post button (aka 'Create') but had to go to 'Edit Posts' and work my way around to here from there.

Why this struck me as funny, I don't know. But it did.

It's certainly more humorous than much of what's been going on around here. This weekend, a man was shot to death a couple blocks from here, as the crow flies (taking roads, you have to round a few corners). The last time homicide detectives had anything to investigate in this town, it was 16 years ago, if the news reports are right. We don't even have homicide detectives. Some had to be imported for the occasion.

As strange as it sounds, I'm not sure yet if I know either the dead man or the man in jail on murder charges. They both have common first names, and this is a part of the world that doesn't use full names much. In fact, we don't even use first names much, in the general course of things. I'm guessing it's a holdover from Wild West days, when it was considered risky as well as rude to insist upon knowing somebody's name. Or perhaps we've just reinstituted the old, old ways. In a sense, we're a Giles the Butcher society, you might say. In our case, it's more like Jim At The Hardware Store, to take an example. Except, in that case, you have to go a step further, because at the hardware store, there are multiple Jims. In informal usage, they are Old Jim, Young Jim, Big Jim. This gets a bit ridiculous when it comes to the matter of obits, which are generally put out under legal names. I can't tell you how often we listen to an obit on the radio and then turn to each other and ask 'Is that somebody we know?'

We do use full names in some situations and with some people, you understand. It's just that we're perfectly content to let most folks operate without them, if they like. It's just the style of the place.

While we're on the subject, I don't know why that "everybody knows everybody in a small town" myth gets so much mileage. We have our circles and cliques and workplace acquaintances like everybody else. Plus, we have a lot of people who like to keep to themselves. Plus, we have a lot of turnover. It's hard to make a living in a small town, and people bail out all the time, especially starry-eyed newcomers who had blithely assumed they'd be able to find a job once they moved to a place because it was quiet and appealing. There are reasons we have lots of telecommuters and online sellers in our midst, believe me.

I am acquainted with the man interviewed on television and identified as the dead man's best friend. I haven't seen him or his wife yet, though. I'm not quite sure what to say to them when I see them, except 'I'm sorry to hear about your friend.' They're Catholics, which helps some. I'm not Catholic, but as fellow Christians we can look at each other and say 'it will all come out all right, in the only ways that really matter' and know at the deepest levels it's true. That doesn't eliminate the grief, by any stretch, but having God to turn to and to lean on is a good thing in a mad world.

This is, as it happens, the third killing I've been at the far edges of in about as many years. One of the soldiers kidnapped, tortured, and killed in Iraq was the grandson of a former neighbor of ours, who had his store across from our bookstore when we had it downtown in a mall. When I ran into the grandfather a few weeks afterward, I said I was sorry to hear what had happened, and then just stood there while he poured out his anger and his grief. It was mostly anger at that point, and most of it aimed at heartless and/or sloppy journalists. Then, this past winter, I sat and listened as relatives of a young mother murdered a few hundred miles from here told me what they knew about it: how she'd gone to use a neighbor's phone, and happened to be there when a gang decided to wipe out some supposed doublecrossers, and burst in, firing. This young woman wasn't in on whatever disputes were going on, they said. She just caught bullets meant for somebody else. At any rate, in both those cases I didn't need to say much. What they wanted was somebody to listen, and I can do that, I guess. It hurts. But obviously not as much as losing a loved one.

As for this weekend's shooting, somehow I missed the furor while it was going on, and it went on quite a while. The man was shot before noon on Saturday, in the front yard of his home. The cops arrived a few minutes later. The body wasn't removed until something like 4 or 5 Sunday morning, or so I understand.

You would think, this being the first killing in nearly a generation, that this would be the talk of the town. But I haven't heard even a snippet of conversation about it while out and around on my normal errands, or even at church. I expect that to change today, when the weekly paper gets solidly into circulation, and people who don't know the people involved and who don't listen to the radio get in on things. (Pause while I look up the story online to see how the newspaper handled it... Hey, now I know where both men worked, which helps some, but I still can't picture them. The story is handled professionally. Yay. The radio reports have been trying to outguess the jury, and have been calling it a homicide. The newspaper reporters have better lawyers, or better training, or more sense, or actually believe in 'innocent until proven guilty', or something. They're doing it right, at least in this article. I worked as a newspaper reporter for a number of years and although there were times I could have strangled the legal eagles or the publisher or the managing editor or the folks who wrote the style book, and although there were times I felt a perfect fool using what struck me as 'weasel words,' since then I've sat on a jury that brought in a verdict of not guilty by reason of self defense in a case where attempted murder was charged, and I know now, without question, why those rules are in place. Before it was a laudable standard, but mostly theoretical. But when you're one of the very few people who has to sift through sworn testimony and physical evidence, and then bring in a verdict not expected by people who have been primed for a guilty verdict by the press, it's no joke. And I can't even imagine what it was like for the defendant and his family.)

Anyway, on top of this, my father-in-law fell and broke a hip and we've been sweating that out. We were told, as he was taken into surgery, that at his age it was about a 50-50 chance that the surgery would kill him.

He's been up and walking already, and he's now in a nice rehab center that specializes in that sort of thing. Things are still a bit dicey, mostly because he's in his 80s, but all in all he seems to be doing amazingly well, so now we've switched to joking about how we hope he's not talking his roommate's ear off...

And then we got word that a nice young man we know was in a motorcycle accident and at last report is in a coma in a hospital out of the area...

There's more, but I'm going to go to work now.

...I am now laughing again. I went to hit the 'Publish Post' button, and my pointer disappeared. But, it stays on at the very border of the button. Maybe that will work? Testing. Testing...

Update: It occurs to me, rereading the above, that I might leave the impression that the killing in the neighborhood hasn't affected me. It has. I've had my weeping over it. I am heartsick when I think what the friends and families of everyone involved are going through. But since it seems to have been a personal argument gone bad, and since there is no indication that any sort of culture of violence seems to be brewing in the vicinity, I don't see any need to go out and buy extra bolts for the door, or stop taking walks, or otherwise feel that the town itself has become less safe. Plus, I'm dealing with my own family emergencies at the moment, which kind of sort of pushes this to the side a bit, whether it should or not.

No comments: