THE RIGHT OF FREE SPEECH, AND THE COST OF DEFENDING IT.

I wasn't going to address the NFL National Anthem protests, but the issue is so prominent I feel that I can't ignore it.  To begin with, I must point out that I am a patriot.  I honor my flag and stand at attention with my hand over my heart when The Star Spangled Banner is played.  When I was in uniform, I maintained a rigid salute until the last note sounded.  It offends me deeply to see people dishonor the flag and the anthem, sometimes to protest their perceived grievances, sometimes just because of their own ignorance or ambivalence.  Whatever the reason, it galls me.  It spits in the face of every service man and woman who put their lives in peril to protect the rights and way of life that makes the ability to protest possible.

I spent twenty-four years of my life protecting and serving the people of NYC.  I took an oath.  Along with swearing to put myself in harm's way to defend everyone, whether or not I agreed with their opinions or actions, I also swore to defend The Constitution of the United States of America.  This brings me to our most cherished rights, covered under the first amendment.  The founding fathers felt so strongly about protecting the right of free speech for its citizens, they made an amendment to specifically enumerate those rights, and the inviolable responsibility of the government to protect them.

The first amendment protects other things as well, like freedom of worship, a free press and the right to assemble peaceably, but for the purposes of this argument, free speech is the issue.  The fact of the matter is, in this country everyone has the God given right to voice their opinion.  As citizens, we each have a responsibility to respect those rights even if we don't agree--even if the speech offends us.  This right is so absolute, it makes the idea of hate speech a constitutional impossibility.  So long as no one is physically harmed, and violence against others is not encouraged, we must allow the wrong and ignorant to have their views, unpalatable as they may be.

However, as a citizen, I also have the right to disagree.  On the subject of using the National Anthem as a vehicle to protest anything, I disagree vehemently.  I think it unconscionable that a group of grown men who play a kid's game for a living, and know nothing but wealth and privilege, whose opinions are no more valid than my own, are hijacking their exposure for a purpose that was not intended.  They get to be ignorant on an epic scale.  I do not wish to infringe upon that right.  They can further a narrative of lies and act like imbeciles to their heart's content.  I just won't be paying attention to them.

I will be exercising a constitutional right of my own.  The commerce clause of the constitution protects me from having to do business with anyone I don't wish.  I cannot be compelled to purchase anyone's good or services.  The NFL is now in that category.  I will never again attend a game, even if given tickets.  I will not watch their product on TV.  I will not purchase another article of NFL merchandise, and I will discard the few items I already own.  As a lifelong Giants fan, this pains me deeply, but I will not subsidize a tax-exempt, multi-billion dollar conglomerate that cares so little about me they think they can tread all over my years of service and sacrifice, and besmirch the symbols of my liberty and the virtues they embody.  The NFL can do what it wants, but I will no longer pay for the privilege of being offended.

Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL, not only condones this offensive behavior.  He encourages it.  He defends his players' right to express themselves.  He claims to have no authority to curtail the reprehensible behavior, but his slip is showing.  This is the same commissioner who threatened to fine and suspend players for wearing commemorative cleats in honor of the anniversary of 911, for fear of offending Muslim viewers .  This is the same commissioner who refused to allow the Dallas Cowboys to wear a helmet sticker in honor of the five Dallas Police Officers murdered while protecting a Black Lives Matter protest, and this is the same commissioner who refused to allow a player to wear pink cleats in memory of his mother's battle with breast cancer. 

The NFL has since madeOctober the official breast cancer awareness month.  Players are provided with all manner of pink gear to wear in games.  This includes cleats, gloves, wrist bands mouth pieces and towels.  Do not imagine they have an altruistic motive.  The NFL makes millions of dollars selling this gear to gullible fans.  This smacks of mercenary hypocrisy.  It is selective and arbitrary and altogether disgraceful.  If the commissioner wanted to stand on principle, he would do so.  Instead he picks and chooses who he will allow to be offended.  This is little more than vacillating cowardice. 

Before I end, I feel the need to point out one other thing.  President Donald Trump had a right to express his opinion.  Just as the players have a right to express theirs'.  However, his comments were decidedly un-presidential.  He has a responsibility to lead, and he shirked it to pick a fight.  Encouraging the owners to infringe upon the rights of their players simply because you don't agree with the message is a form of bullying.  As the Chief Executive, he is responsible to ensure the constitution is enforced.  Distasteful as defending hatred and stupidity might be, it is still the President's primary duty.  I am sorely disappointed he didn't rise to the occasion to point that out..

The time has come for ALL of us to take a deep breath.  The time to act like spoiled entitled children, intolerant of anyone who disagrees with us has long since past.  Instead of catering to and encouraging insolent children, the grown-ups need to be in charge again.  We all need to adult now. 

THREE LOCAL AUTHORS I LIKE, AND A COACH'S LAMENT

SEPTEMBER 19, 2017

 

     Today I want to take the opportunity to spotlight three local authors from Long Island, whose work I admire and enjoy immensely as a reader.

Vincent N. Scialo is a self-published author of Mysteries.  He has eight books out presently.  His most recent is The Decision, available on Amazon.com. 

https://www.amazon.com/Decision-Vincent-N-Scialo-ebook/ 

Mary A Ellenton is the author of two riveting tales situated on the Island.  Her first novel Flipping, and her latest, Psychic are excellent.

Connect with Mary and her books on her website https://www.maryellenton.com

Dina Santorelli is a transplanted Queens girl now ruling her roost in Massapequa.  She is the author of the highly acclaimed Baby Grand Mysteries.

Connect with Dina and her books on https://www.dinasantorelli.com 

And now, a coaches lament.

          I coach middle school football at Howitt Middle School in Farmingdale.  The Dale is like no other community in Nassau County when it comes to football.  We are a football town.  We identify with our Dalers.  Every kid playing youth football here dreams of one day donning the green and white to play for Coach Buddy Krumenacker, our legendary coach at the high school.  I get them before he does.  That's sort of my problem.

          We had eighty kids try out for the middle school this fall.  We could only keep fifty-five. This put me and the other coaches in the difficult position of having to tell twenty-five seventh and eight graders they couldn't play football this year.  Cut Day is absolutely the worst day of the season for any coach.  Despite making every effort to be fair, impartial and judicious, five days, and zero days with pads almost guarantees mistakes might be made.

          Because we were prevented by state law from padding the kids up and having them engage in full contact drills, we were left to rely on the eye test.  The problem with that is everyone looks good in shorts and a tee shirt.  While a kid might look like Tarzan, he might play like Jane.  One of the kids I cut might have been the second coming of Jim Thorpe, but I'll never know unless he comes back to try out next year.  If I made a mistake, I hope they come back next year and prove me wrong.

            Having felt sorry for myself long enough, right now we have fifty-five terrific young men who are on their way to being Dalers.  I and the other coaches have six games to make it so.  I like what I see so far.

REMEMBERING THE FALLEN

              

It being the sixteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, I tend to get somber this time of year.  I knew many of the NYPD Officers slain that day.  I knew some of the firefighters, the Port Authority Officers, and a few of the Cantor Fitzgerald employees as well.  But one loss that day struck particularly close to home.  My wife Janet was a Police Officer in the 13th Precinct, and a friend to Police Officer Moira Smith, as was her partner, Lissa Navarra.  While my sense of loss over the attack was palpable, it was pale in comparison to the loss my wife and Lissa were suffering.

Lissa was asked by Moira’s husband, Jim, to deliver a eulogy.  I had the honor and great fortune to be able to collaborate with them both to come up with this.  I hope I did Moira justice.

 

 

               Eulogy for Police Officer Moira Smith

            Delivered by Police Officer Lissa Navarra

 

I first met Moira Smith when she came to the 13th Precinct from the Transit P.D., after the merge of the departments in 1996.  I remember that we hit it off right away.  As special as this new friendship made me feel, it occurred to me, after seeing her make easy friends with the other people at the precinct, the connection between us had much more to do with Moira than it did me.  Moira had an ability to make you feel like you were the most important person in the room.  You knew when she asked you how you were doing, she wasn’t just making idle conversation.  She genuinely wanted to know, and cared about the answer.  She had the ability to truly listen, making the simplest exchanges seem just a little more. 

“Hey, chickees, what’s going on?” was her daily greeting when she walked into the females’ locker room.  Moira displayed a generosity and concern for others in her everyday actions.  She was the first to step up for another cop in trouble.  She would rally support for the various 10-13 fund raisers for other cops in need.  Whether it was selling tickets and chance books, or encouraging others to do the same.  All with a level of humor and modesty.

Her selfless nature and humility were clearly shown to me when Moira was pregnant with her daughter, Patricia.  We girls threw together a small baby shower for her in the muster room of the precinct.  She was genuinely surprised and deeply humbled by this small gesture.  She seemed overwhelmed and almost embarrassed for having us do this for her.  It was this spirit of generosity, humility and selfless concern for others that allowed Moira to excel at every facet of her job.

Moira loved being a cop—from the menial tasks of writing summonses, or preparing the endless stream of reports, to the more exciting aspects of arresting criminals, or rescuing someone in danger.  She demonstrated a calm professionalism, doing it all—without complaint.  This was her job.  She knew it wasn’t perfect, but she accepted it for what it was.  She always gave her best efforts to see the work was done, and done well.

Moira’s personal bravery was without question.  There was nothing and no one she would shy away from.  Confrontations are inevitable in our line of work.  Most of these she could diffuse, but some confrontations are destined to end badly.  When it came time to be the police, Moira was backing down from no one.  Fearless might not be the right word, but it’s the first one that comes to mind.

When you think of Moira, you automatically think of her husband, Jim.  They came from Transit to the 13th Precinct together.  It was impossible not to notice them, to see Moira’s face light up at the mention of Jim’s name.  She was effusive in her praise, and delighted in telling stories about some small kindness Jim did for her.  She would regale us with anecdotes about their relationship, and loved to show us the beautiful jewelry Jim would buy for her.  You could tell she prized these tokens far beyond their value as possessions.  It was the sentiments they represented she held so dear.  I remember one February, Moira was excited that Valentine’s Day was approaching.  It was also her birthday.  She was pleased the day could be about them both, and not just her.  You could tell they were right for each other.  They were best friends, and the center of each other’s universe.

They spent their precious time together travelling.  They were always jetting off somewhere, or dragging people with them in their infamous Winnebago.  Then Patricia was born.  I told Moira her life would change when the baby came.  Their travelling days might be over for a while.  Moira was determined that this would not be so.  It turns out, I was the one to be mistaken.  The three of them went everywhere together, and Moira became the foremost authority in the precinct on family vacation destinations.  Her devotion to her family could not be overestimated.  It only took one glimpse at the inside of her locker to see the joy and pride she derived from the pictures of their excursions taped there.  She was always adding new pictures, pointing them out, and sharing a new happy memory.

Moira’s conduct at the World Trade Center on 9/11, should have been a surprise to no one.  In 1991, when Moira was still with the Transit Police, she was a first-responder to the Union Square Subway Disaster.  Without a concern for her own safety, she descended into the collapsed subway station to free and rescue the trapped commuters.  Knowing Moira, I’m sure she never thought what she did that day was anything special.  She did what she did because it needed to be done.  Considering this, it’s little wonder that Moira spent her last hours on September 11th, saving the lives of countless other people.  She knew the risk.  She ignored it, again and again, diving back into the horror to save just one more person.  Until the South Tower came down upon her.   

At times since, I am angry.  At others, deeply pained.  I keep returning to the iconic photo of Moira rescuing that bloodied and dazed insurance executive, that appeared in the Daily News.  This was a last record of Moira, made in her final moments.  In that frozen moment of time, she is still alive.  There is still time for her to save herself.  The look on her face is calm, intent—not panicked at all.  I find myself wanting to yell at the picture, to tell her to get away.  Then a sense of futility washes over me.  I know, even if I were standing right in front of her, screaming at her to flee, nothing would have prevented her from running back into the building to save just one more.

I know in my grief I am just being selfish.  I miss Moira terribly, as we all do.  We female officers still gather in the locker room and talk about how much we miss her.  We continue to place little notes and expressions on the outside of Moira’s locker, to keep her close to our hearts.  Just like she kept her husband Jim and her daughter Patricia close to her heart on the inside.

My faith tells me she is with God and her parents.  She is at peace.  Where she is, there is no pain.  The pain is left for us to bear.  I will take comfort in the many happy memories I have of Moira.  I am amazed at how much life she managed to squeeze into so short a span.  But then I remember Moira’s motto; “Life’s way too short—gotta have fun.”

Love loyalty, faith, hope, dignity and courage; these are some of the qualities we would all hope to have.  Moira had them all in abundance.  I am thankful for having known her.  I thank you for letting me share my memories of her.  Having done so, I am left to consider, given the totality of all that was Moira Smith, I’m not sure hero is the right word, but it’s the first one that comes to mind.

______________________________________________________________________________

I helped write this almost sixteen years ago.  I still can’t read it without choking on my emotion.  I take comfort in remembering those who gave their lives that day.  Many of us are still dying, poisoned by the air, in an effort to find our comrades trapped beneath the rubble.  The NYPD added 33 new names to the Fallen Officers Memorial wall in One Police Plaza this year—all from 9/11 related illnesses.  So, this is an ongoing tragedy whose cost cannot yet be tallied.  Every day the butcher’s bill goes up.  One can’t help but wonder when it will be our name on that wall.  But I know, from talking to my peers from that time, even if we knew this would happen, we still would have gone.  When I start to lose faith in humanity, as I sometimes do, I am comforted to know that there are still people willing to put others’ before themselves—willing to give the last full measure of their devotion.  

Two Steps Down the Road to Dystopia

Hello, and welcome to my website and blog page.  For my first blog, I was going to go on a rant about two items recently that have twisted my shorts.  The first was ESPN's unprompted decision to remove the announcer Robert Lee from the University of Virginia football game.  Their reason for doing so went way beyond pandering to the offended class.  No one complained,probably because Robert Lee is in his early thirties, didn't live in the South, didn't fight in the Civil War, and of course never owned slaves, not being alive when that sort of thing existed--152  ears ago.  One last obvious distinction between Robert Lee the announcer and the long dead Confederate General--he is of Asian descent.  The announcer, not the General  Have we really gotten to the tipping point where a man's name can trigger outrage?

The next item I had the pleasure to see first thing in the morning when I opened up the newspaper.  It seems the kindly folk from that good will society known as the Black Lives Matter Movement have officially equated all the nations law enforcement officers with the KKK..  I don't even know where to begin with that.

Upon reflection, I decided that rather than highlighting glaring stupidity, that you already know is stupid, I would rather make this blog more about writing and the writing experience.  So with that in mind, I present a blurb from my forthcoming second novel, Maybe All We Get.

 

in 1964, Butchie was thirteen. Walking on Suydam Street toward Knickerbocker Avenue, he saw his friend, Armando Molina being surrounded and hassled by four of Butchie’s former Italian compatriots.  They were from the crew of teen thugs who ran on Jefferson Street and Knickerbocker Avenue.  All Italian, they were the sons of the mustache Petes who were running the criminal business in the neighborhood for Joe Bonanno.  Everyone started referring to them collectively as the farm team

Their ascension to the ranks of the Bonanno Crime Family was just assumed.  They were the obnoxious kinds of guys who entered every confrontation wanting to make sure you knew who they were, and who they knew.  In a neighborhood where everybody knew everyone else, it was a stupid question.  But it wasn’t posed for the purpose of gathering information.  It was a tacit threat, and usually an effective one.  Not this day.

          “Hey, Mousey,” Butchie called out to Massimino Basaluco.  “Why don’t you stop pressing on my friend?  Give him a little room to breathe.”

          “Fuck you, Butchie!” said Carmine Donofrio.

          “This is none of your business, Spic-lover.  So, stay out of it,” warned Angelo Mercante.

          “My business is what I say it is,” Butchie said.  “Right now, I got nothing better to do.  Let’s do this.”

          At that, Roman Sciula, as big and menacing a fourteen-year-old as ever there was, awakened from the dream-state of muted stupidity in which he always seemed to be.

          “We can take care of the spic when we get done with this meddling fuck here.  It’s time he learns who runs this street,” Roman decreed. 

As big as he was, his young hoodlum friends weren’t inclined to argue with him.  As the four of them advanced on Butchie, they left Armando with an avenue of escape.

“Run!” Butchie directed Armando.  Armando hesitated.  His better instinct was to stay and fight beside Butchie.  Butchie was having none of it.  He knew Armando couldn’t fight, and would only prove a distraction and an imposition.  Butchie made himself clear on the point.

“Get the fuck out of here, Armando!  I got this.” 

As Armando finally got the hint, and ran off as instructed, big Roman Sciula advanced on Butchie.

“The only thing you got, Bucciogrosso, is a beating coming your way.  I’ll tell your mother she can find you at Wyckoff,” Sciula said, referring to Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, the hospital around the corner.

“I guess we’ll see about that,” Butchie said, sounding curious about the matter himself.

Roman Sciula started landing thunderous blows down on the sides of Butchie’s head.  Butchie made no real effort to duck or counter the punches.  What he did was lean into them, as if he were trying to get the punishment over with.  He had learned to do this over the years from catching the frequent beatings at home.  While it wasn’t Butchie’s intention, it had the effect of robbing some of the incredible impact from Roman Sciula’s brick-fisted hay-makers.  It also slightly changed the point of impact. 

Roman expected to be connecting with the softer areas of Butchie’s face.  When he kept landing his fists on the very hard surfaces of Butchie’s skull, Roman’s hands started to hurt-- a lot.  So, each successive punch was delivered with a little less enthusiasm than the previous one.  It only helped incrementally.

While Roman Sciula was hammering Butchie like a veal cutlet, the other three thugs took advantage of the distraction to move in and start landing pot-shots of their own.  Butchie would receive each attack, mounting no form of defense whatsoever.  He would merely back up a step or two, and brace himself for the next assault.

Finally, with his back against the brick of the building on Suydam Street, Butchie had nowhere else to go.  He absorbed Roman’s last two punches.  Butchie reached down as if he were trying to pick something from under the heel of his shoe, propelling himself up and forward, delivering a vicious, round-house right.  The punch connected squarely with Roman’s jaw, but narrowly missed the mandible nerve.  It didn’t put his lights out, only waffling the big boy. 

Butchie took the opportunity to continue his attack, leaping up into the arms of the stunned Roman.  Instinctively, Roman started squeezing Butchie in a bear-hug, trying to crush the air out of his lungs.  With Roman’s hands so occupied, Butchie reached up and grabbed him by the ears.  He brought the crown of his head down three times as hard as he could on the face of Roman.  

The first strike shattered Sciula’s nose and rendered him immediately unconscious. The next two shots broke all of his teeth, and left his mouth looking like a face full of bloody stumps.  Roman Sciula was out of this fight.  The big loser, he was the one who would have to be collected by his mother at Wyckoff.

With their Goliath lying face down in the gutter, the other three goons were less than enthusiastic about getting close enough to Butchie to share Roman’s fate.  Their attacks lacked coordination.  Making their greater numbers count for little.  Butchie was able to focus on each of his attackers, one at a time.  This was bad news for the three of them.

The beginning of the end started with Butchie taking two head shots from Massimino Basaluco.  This allowed him to get close enough to deliver a left hook to Basaluco’s ribs, in quick combination with a right cross to the jaw.  The last shot found the mandible nerve like they were long lost cousins.  As Massimino was hitting the floor, Angelo Mercante rushed Butchie, running into an overhand right.  The contact was so pure, Butchie half expected to hear it accompanied by a carnival bell.  Mercante’s eyes rolled up in his head as he fell to the floor, seemingly in slow motion, like a sack of falling flour.

Butchie now focused on Carmine The Mouth Donofrio.  The loudest and most obnoxious of the farm team, he was the guy who made all of the noise, and started all of the fights.  But other than being a facilitator of violence, he brought nothing to the table in the way of fighting skills.   When Butchie waved his adversary on, The Mouth remembered he needed to be somewhere else.  Exhausted at this point, Butchie could only watch as Donofrio ran down Knickerbocker Avenue toward Jefferson Street.  Carmine was all asses and elbows as his image receded into the fading afternoon sunlight.

Butchie was surveying the damage to himself in the window of the smoke shop there on the corner.  He was bleeding from the cuts above his eyes.  The skin had split where Roman had hit him.  Butchie could see he was bleeding from his ears and his nose as well.  His mouth had become a river of blood, he was nearly choking on the salty, coppery effluence pooling there.  Even through the buzz of the adrenaline rush he was experiencing, Butchie’s body began to ache all over.  His victory, unexpected and spectacular, was starting to feel pyrrhic in nature.  When he saw Patrolman Mick the Quick Doheny approaching, Butchie thought it started to feel like a shit sandwich.

Mick Doheny had watched the whole thing transpire from his foot-post in front of Badlamenti’s lattacini across the street.  When he saw the farm team from Jefferson Street surround that nice Puerto Rican kid, Armando, he was about to come over and end it before Armando got hurt.  But then he saw the Bucciogrosso kid come down the block and intervene.  He decided to let the scene play itself out for a while. 

Doheny didn’t yet know what to make of Butchie.  Unfailingly polite, the kid was always respectful.  But, oddly for a fourteen-year-old, he wasn’t ever deferential.  He made eye contact with everyone, and held it.  His unwavering gaze had the effect of being unsettling, even to adults.  It also looked like smiling was not within his skill-set.  He didn’t seem particularly angry or unhappy, just unimpressed and vaguely suspicious—with everyone and everything.  Doheny prided himself on being able to read people.  Before today, he just couldn’t get a read on Butchie.  His primary professional concern was determining whether or not he was a good kid, or just another neighborhood tough-guy on his way to thugdom.  While the jury was still out, Doheny thought the evidence on Butchie’s behalf was starting to look formidable.

Doheny came across the street and addressed Basaluco and Mercante, who were just climbing unsteadily to their feet.

“Go pick up the gorilla, and drag his ass to Wyckoff.  You jerk-offs got the beating you deserved today.  Remember that the next time you want to fuck with somebody.  Now disappear, scumbags.”

As the vanquished punks limped away, Doheny addressed Butchie.

“How are you doing, Mr. Bucciogrosso?” Doheny asked, with genuine concern.

“Am I in trouble, Patrolman Doheny?”

“If you don’t learn how to keep your hands up and slip a punch every once in a while, you’ll be in big trouble.”

“I meant with the law.”

“I know what you meant, kid.  On that score, you’re fine.  You did a lot of damage today, but those assholes deserved every bit of it.  You do need to learn how to fight, though.”

“I thought I did pretty good.  It was four on one.”

“No doubt.  You knocked out three goons and chased off the loud-mouth.  That’s a whole month’s worth of good work.  But you took a lot of unnecessary punishment.”

“I was letting them hit me so I could set them up.  What should I have done differently?”

“You need to learn how to fight more defensively.”

“I don’t know how to do that.”

“Clearly,” Doheny laughed.

“Did I do anything right?”

“Sure.  You got three knockouts to show for yourself.  That was no easy trick.  I can see you have some rare talents.  You have great balance, and you’re fearless.  Those are things that can’t be taught.  Best of all, you’ve got hammers for hands.  Like nine-pound sledges, everything you hit, you break.  The problem is, you think your face is an anvil.  You’re not supposed to let people hit you.  Even if it is to set them up.  There’s a better way to do that.”

“You sound like you know what you’re talking about.  Do you?”

“Do you know why they call me Mick the Quick?  I got that handle in the Marine Corps.  It’s a boxing nickname.  Skinny as I am, I’m not knocking anyone out, but no one is laying a glove on me either.  In the ring, I get on my horse and make them chase me all night long.  By the end of the fight, I don’t have a mark on me.  The other guy looks like he got his head stuck in a beehive.  So yeah, I know what I’m talking about.  I run the PAL boxing program in Brooklyn.  We train out of Brewster’s club in East New York.  I can teach you how to fight, if you want.  With your punching power, there’s no telling how far you can go.”

Two days later, Butchie showed up at Brewster’s.  He took to the training.  Butchie learned how to fight more defensively.  But he was never as committed to it as he should have been.  He had grown so accustomed to absorbing abuse from years of beatings, if he knew he was going to get an opening for the knockout, sometimes Butchie would allow himself to take the punches, until he got the chance to deliver one.  It was a hard habit to break, and Butchie never completely broke it.

In spite of this, Butchie had some stunning success as a boxer.  He could have made a nice living fighting as a professional.  At 5’ 11” and 190 lbs., Butchie had the punching power of someone a half-foot taller and fifty pounds heavier.  But the circumstances of the time, and a war in Southeast Asia prevented Butchie from pursuing that particular career.