Not long ago, in a bout of pique with the abusive fee-charging of our erstwhile bank, Bank of America, Anna and I switched our patronage to Liberty Bank, a small concern out of Middletown. So far, this has been a mixed bag. On the one hand, they are local and friendly and all of that. On the other hand, not so many ATMs, and deposits don’t clear as quickly, and the online banking isn’t as slick. Luckily, I just discovered a saving grace that will secure Liberty Bank’s place in my heart forever.

You see, Liberty Bank’s logo is a flame, which sits atop the I in “Liberty,” making it into a torch, presumably like the one held aloft by the statue of liberty:

That flame, separated from its torch, is used as a watermark on the checks that account holders get from Liberty:

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Now, take that symbol and turn it upside-down. What do you get?

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Looks familiar, doesn’t it? Sure it does.

Suburbs Done Right

June 17, 2011

It’s the American Dream: labor slavishly, live austerely in a decrepit city apartment, and some day, you will raise a down payment on a suburban house. Once there, you will happily retreat from the bustling, friendly playgrounds and noisy streets of the concrete jungle to the quiet, atomized solitude of backyard playstructures, nights at home before the blue flicker of television, and weekends devoted to assiduous lawn care. Your home will become both your castle and your monument to your own hard work and achievements, and naturally, you’ll want it to stand out, in a beautiful way. That being said, you’ll want a mason to make you a customized stone driveway with your address emblazoned at the base. But do you know how much that will cost? Actual thousands of dollars, for something no more functional than the blacktop it replaces. That’s the kind of news that makes the city rise up in a recently suburbanized homeowner – both the city indignation at the costs and inconveniences of life and, perhaps, the city-dweller’s make-do ingenuity. And thence springs an idea: why not hire a skilled graffiti artist to paint a custom stone driveway onto your blacktop, tromp l’oeil style? You get the beauty of stone and the functionality of asphalt, all at a fraction of the price. Brilliant, I say. Brilliant:

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Frontier Justice

June 3, 2011

3.10

You will not find a more riveting depiction of the seamy underbelly of late-nineteenth-century Tacoma, Washington, than the recitation of facts in the case of State of Washington v. Concannon (25 Wash. 327), a matter decided by the Supreme Court of that great state in 1901. All of the classic elements are there: a rogue ex-cop, an opium-addicted stool pigeon, a stolen key copied by means of a wax impression, and the statement, “I am only a thief; but even thieves have honor.” Enjoy:

Defendant was convicted of the crime of grand larceny. The information charged him with taking and assisting in taking, stealing, and carrying away certain musical instruments, all of the value of $ 350, the property of A. A. Tayler. The principal witness at the trial was J. P. Dunlap, an accomplice.

The evidence produced by the state was substantially as follows: On about the 17th of September, 1898, late at night or early in the morning, the music store of A. A. Tayler & Co., situated on C street in Tacoma, was entered by the witness Dunlap, who made the entry by unlocking the door with a key then in his possession; that he remained several hours in the building, and took the musical instruments described in the information, and carried them away. Dunlap testified with particularity as to the manner in which he entered the store and took the instruments, and that he was aided and assisted by the defendant.

The defendant had been connected with the city police of Tacoma as a detective for some years. In March, 1898, as a police officer, he had arrested Dunlap for having burglarious instruments in his possession, and had frequently come in contact with Dunlap, who was then known to the police as “Dun.” At that time and previously Dunlap, under the name of Dun, was known to the police as an habitual criminal. The larger portion of his time since youth had been spent in the penitentiary, he having served four terms for felonies, including larcenies. He was frequently shadowed by the city detectives, and particularly by Concannon. He was sometimes used to procure information relative to crimes committed by other suspects.

During the summer preceding the stealing of the musical instruments, the defendant’s connection with the city police was severed, and he opened an office in the city as a private detective. Dunlap testifies that thereafter defendant proposed to him that Dunlap should enter the music store, take the musical instruments and secrete them, and that defendant would then, in the capacity of detective, negotiate with the owner of the stolen goods for their return, secure a reward therefor, and divide the proceeds with Dunlap; that the reason assigned by defendant for the commission of the crime was to assist in establishing defendant’s reputation as a detective in the business community. A number of conferences between himself and defendant relative to the larceny are detailed by the witness, in which he states that defendant procured and gave to witness the key with which he opened the door of the music store. Written notes were produced by the witness, which he stated had come from defendant during the pendency of the agreement between them to steal the musical instruments, and at great length the witness detailed many conferences and meetings relative to the larceny and in pursuance of the agreement; that defendant was present, though outside, and on the street, when the larceny was committed; that some of the musical instruments in a sack were taken by himself and defendant to defendant’s home, which was a small hotel; that these instruments were placed in the dining room early on the morning of the 18th of September, which was Sunday; that witness secreted the other instruments in an old building, and also, on the same Sunday, took those which had been carried to defendant’s place away from there, and secreted them with the others; that defendant told witness thereafter that he was negotiating with Tayler, the owner, for the return of the goods, but that such negotiations were unsuccessful, as Tayler would not pay sufficient reward for their return.

It seems that thereafter the witness was charged with the larceny, though sentence had not been passed upon him at the time of the trial. Dunlap stated he was to be leniently dealt with because of his testimony given at the trial of defendant. He also testified that since about 1883 he had been habitually using opium in large quantities. During the trial, and while he was testifying, which occupied several days, opium was regularly administered to him; he could not proceed without the drug. The state also produced Mary Dunlap, the wife, who testified that she had been the wife of J. P. Dunlap for some two years. She had also been arrested at one time by the defendant, in connection with her husband. She was, and had been for a long time, an habitual user of narcotics, both chloral and opium, and at times during her examination declared herself bordering on hysteria. She testified that she knew of the intended larceny of the musical instruments; that during that time she heard detached portions of conversations between her husband and defendant; that she saw a key, which defendant gave to her husband; that she heard mention made of a music store. She could not identify any key. On cross examination she frequently, under her privilege, declined to answer questions that might be incriminating.

Mr. Tayler, the owner of the musical instruments stolen, testified to the circumstances attending the larceny; also that thereafter the defendant came to his store and presented his card as detective and offered to undertake their recovery for a reward of $ 100; and that they had several conversations in regard to it; that defendant, in the early part of their negotiations, stated that he would restore the goods and arrest the parties, or ask no compensation. They did not agree upon the terms, and defendant did not undertake the recovery of the goods for Mr. Tayler.

There were other circumstances introduced by the state, through various witnesses, which are of no considerable importance, — such as evidence relating to a young lady, an acquaintance of defendant and one who conferred with him somewhat in the detective business, having been with a clerk of Tayler and his sister in recreation at a summer camp, where the young lady had the opportunity of access to the clerk’s valise, in which a key to the music store was left; and perhaps the intention of this evidence was to suggest that a wax impression could have been taken of this key, which furnished the model for the key that unlocked the music store, and which Dunlap had testified to. But such evidence is mentioned only to illustrate that many of the circumstances and incidents related by various witnesses for the state were only suggestive of suspicion or opportunity of the defendant.

After the trial was concluded, and a verdict of guilty returned against the defendant, and immediately after the motion for a new trial was overruled, but before sentence, the witness J. P. Dunlap, who was then in the county jail, and had been for a long time prior thereto, under conviction of this larceny, and charged with other offenses, informed the sheriff that he desired to make a statement of the truth in regard to the testimony he had given at the trial, and the sheriff informed counsel for the defendant of Dunlap’s request. Counsel came to the jail, and there Dunlap, in the presence of the sheriff, and afterwards to others who are mentioned, made the statement, in substance, that he was ready to go into court and testify to the motives that induced him to testify in the trial, and that he would make it so plain that his statement would be obvious.

Dunlap was then informed that sentence would be passed upon defendant the same day. He thereupon requested that the court be advised that he would testify that the defendant, Concannon, had nothing whatever to do with the Tayler robbery. The sheriff stated that no inducement or suggestion had been made to Dunlap to procure any statement from him; that again on the following day, and after the county physician had prescribed the necessary opium for Dunlap, and in the afternoon, the wife of Dunlap, who was also a witness at the trial, called to see her husband, and Dunlap said to his wife, in the presence of the sheriff: “I am going to make a clean breast of it, and tell the whole truth and exonerate Concannon”; and the wife responded: “Think it all over before you do it.”

On a subsequent day Dunlap said, in the presence of counsel and the sheriff, that he was too weak to make out his statement then, and he had some misgivings whether the authorities would not punish him for perjury; that again some days subsequently, when the wife was with Dunlap, and in the presence of the sheriff, the wife said to the sheriff in Dunlap’s presence, referring to her husband: “He will make the statement which he said he would make, and he will make it fuller and stronger than he told you;” and Dunlap answered: “Yes; I am only a thief; but even thieves have honor; and I don’t care if they give me the full term of the law. I will come out with the whole truth, and I will make my statement tomorrow, and show how this job was put up against Concannon. I will have it ready by tomorrow evening.” Dunlap reiterated this statement to several other persons voluntarily, but afterwards stated that he would not make the statement until after his trial and sentence, when he would make a full and complete one entirely exonerating the defendant.

As far as can be determined, Dunlap never did “make a clean breast of it,” but Concannon’s conviction was vacated and the case was remanded for a new trial.

Dusks

June 1, 2011

Apparently, I like to take pictures of the sky as afternoon gives way to night. (Click on any picture for a larger view.)

Birds at dusk, Farmington Avenue, Hartford

Dusk from the Williamsburg Bridge

Dusk, Hartford

Dusk in Inman Square

Seaside Park Lighthouse, Bridgeport

Dusk

Dusk

Above is the craigslist post for a massively lifted, four-wheel drive 1973 Chevelle: $2500, trades accepted. Here’s a slightly larger view of what we’re talking about:

Here’s the gchat exchange I had with my wife concerning this exciting, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity:

me:  I know what I want for my birthday

[silence]

me: go ahead. ask me what it is.

[silence]

me: OK, I’ll tell you. It’s this: http://hartford.craigslist.org/bar/2411511453.html

[three minutes of silence]

me:  Anna, it’s $2500 (http://hartford.craigslist.org/bar/2408996784.html) and the guy will take trades! I could probably trade my truck for that. 4-wheel drive!

[seven minutes of silence]

Anna:  no

Summer Begins

May 30, 2011

a captured crab

OK, I know it doesn’t really start till mid-June, but when Memorial Day weekend is this gorgeous, and on top of that I’m blessed with the good fortune to spend said weekend in Cape Cod, it’s hard not to smile at the prospect of summer opening happily up before me for four months of lazy exploration.

Max, intrepid explorer

Faina & the boys

Reuben jumps in

Lucy

Flowers

The law of the sea, Wellfleet, Mass.

Reuben & Max hit the beach, Truro, Mass.

Sunset over Provincetown

Max

Pests

May 23, 2011

Our house has a number of moths. There are a few moths of the sort you probably recognize, large-ish, like drab, underfunded butterflies, that batter themselves pitifully against light sources. But more common are little moths, roughly the size of houseflies, that meander drunkenly around the air without any seeming destination. I kill them often, usually by clapping my hands decisively about their hapless little bodies, but sometimes one-handed, crushing them in a fist. I’m good at this.

I suppose the little moths and big moths are different species (or varieties, or whatever) but I prefer another theory: that the small ones are just young moths, and I am so prolific in exterminating them that very few ever reach maturity.

Comes word today that “Macho Man” Randy Savage has died in a car crash in Florida. So, a remembrance of sorts:

When I was fifteen, I spent my junior year of high school in Argentina on a foreign exchange program sponsored by Rotary International. As part of the program, all of the potential exchange students from northwestern Oregon and southwestern Washington (I lived in Portland at the time) were made to gather periodically in the year preceding our departure. Usually, we were packed off to a campground for a few days at a time, in the company of a bunch of foreign exchange students and a few Rotarians, and lectured on cultural sensitivity and the importance of being good ambassadors for our nation and such. In between lectures, we mostly got drunk and made out.

As you might expect, I had a lot of fun on these excursions, and it was cool to get to go to Argentina afterward. But more than the various make-out sessions, one of my fondest memories from my pre-exchange training was a story told to me by another outbound exchange student. A story about Macho Man Randy Savage.

D.K. was bound for South Africa and she was very very hot. Too hot for me to have a chance with, really, but I was too naive to realize. Through the grace of God and Rotary International, we found ourselves sitting alone one afternoon at a picnic table at a campground on the Oregon coast, and when she asked me what I was doing that evening – meaning, which of the condoned after-dinner activities would I choose – I said my plan was to sneak off somewhere and make out with her. I had already had quite a bit of rum. To my surprise, she said OK, and after kissing briefly, we joined hands and marched into the woods with the determination unique to two fifteen-year-olds on that sort of mission.

But the ensuing odyssey of awkward outdoor nakedness, exciting though it was at the time, is not the point of my story. The point is this: Later in the evening, D.K. and I found our way to a large bonfire (Rotary approved) where kids not otherwise occupied were roasting marshmallows, singing songs, and surreptitiously drinking contraband liquor. We met up with some friends and sat around shooting the shit, and after a while, D.K., snuggled beside me in a blanket, told the following tale, which I believed then and believe now, about Macho Man Randy Savage:

At D.K.’s high school (in Beaverton, Oregon, maybe? I can’t remember), there was a kid called Dumptruck. Dumptruck was not, of course, his real name. He was a nerd and an outcast and D.K., being attractive and popular (and hot – did I mention that?) never knew his real name, or how he came to be called Dumptruck, or really anything about him. He was a heavyset loser who wore black clothes, and that’s about all she could say. Well, one Friday, Dumptruck pulled out a gun in class and told everyone to get the hell out, which they did, apparently without incident. The school was evacuated, except for Dumptruck and his gun, and the police came, and they were talking to him on a phone in the classroom, trying to get him to come out and not kill himself. So I guess somewhere along the way, Dumptruck told the police that he would come out if they could get Macho Man Randy Savage to come talk to him. Now, I remember this seeming preposterous to me, even at the time, because, well, why would a professional wrestler be anywhere near Beaverton, Oregon, on a given Friday? But maybe Wrestlemania was in town or something and that’s why Dumptruck was asking? I don’t know, but according to D.K., THEY GOT THE MACHO MAN. After maybe an hour, he showed up and went bounding into the school alone to talk to Dumptruck. They talked for a long time – “I guess they had, like, a heart-to-heart?” D.K. said, suburbanly. And then it was over. Macho Man came out with one of his famous pythons slung over Dumptruck’s shoulder, and that was that. Randy Savage had saved the day.

Is this story true? I don’t know. Google is not helping me, especially today as the news of his death inundates the internet. I’m disinclined to vouch for D.K., especially since I learned later that she had told a mutual acquaintance that I French-kissed “like a dog.” (This didn’t so much hurt my feelings as it made me bridle at her indiscretion. Frankly, I had found her kissing style to be weird and not-that-sexy, but I at least had the good graces to keep that opinion to myself!) But for all her shallow, popular-girl hotness, she didn’t seem like a fabulist. She also didn’t seem like the sort of person who would ever invent a story involving Macho Man Randy Savage. I am that sort of person, but she was not.

So for today, let us imagine that Macho Man Randy Savage, nee Randall Mario Poffo, really took time out of his schedule to help a depressed high school outcast in suburban Oregon. Let us hope that in addition to being a splendid physical specimen, a vibrant showman, and a memorable pitchman for snack products, he was, at heart, a kind and patient man, concerned above all else with the well-being of his fans.

Things That Fly

May 17, 2011

Moth on the table

Crown Vic on Broad Street, Hartford

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I assume that the people who put together and ultimately published the children’s activity book pictured above thought that the title was sufficiently innocuous. However, when I looked at it, I was briefly shocked and thought it might be like those terrible websites that encourage women to be anorexic (“You mean, like Vogue.com and Mademoiselle.com?” asks the sarcastic reader. “No,” I say, “but your point is well taken.”). The reason for that, I think, is that I work every day with mentally ill and emotionally disturbed teenagers, and the word “cutting,” standing alone, does not initially conjure visions of construction paper. (It’s like the joke in an early episode of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” where the butler, Geoffrey, mentions that he used to fence at some fancy school so Will Smith says, “Oh really? How much could I get for this stereo?” except my version, with cutting, is just sad.)

This is a necessary and generally tolerable side effect of working in the juvenile justice system, and it extends beyond linguistic misapprehension. I spend most days wading through all manner of human misery, and while the alleged offenses that bring juveniles to court tend to be less serious than their adult counterparts, the environments in which these young defendants live are frequently more tragic by a good margin. In general, if I can bring a little bit of hope to some of my clients, undo just a bit of the bad effects of a bad education system or an abusive cop, I come away energized and ready for the next day’s fight. If anything, the little victories are plenty big enough, and since they come, in so many cases, with real gratitude from clients, it all feels worthwhile: last week, I client of mine got arraigned on a new charge and I was certain he would end up in jail, but through some combination of divine providence and my lawyerly skills of persuasion, I walked him out; when I saw him on Park Street with his brother later that day and was greeted with multiple handshakes, hugs, and general good spirits, all felt right with the world – I was a defender of constitutional rights and a ghetto celebrity to boot!

But man oh man, sometimes the weight of human misery builds up. One day earlier this week, I had an eleven-year-old client get locked up, along with a fifteen-year-old whose family situation and history just made me want to give her a big hug and then possibly adopt her. I spent the day sparring with a stern judge who actually, audibly scoffed when I had the temerity to argue that children have a liberty interest in staying at home rather getting pre-trial detention. I had to argue that a lot, and there was a lot of scoffing. Then I went out for lunch, and instead of being buoyed by the salsa-blaring, “¿cómo tú ‘tás, brother?” exuberance of Frog Hollow in springtime, all I could think about was all the people I saw on the street who were plainly past or present heroin users, skinny and unsteady, haphazardly tattooed, looking young and old all at once.

I bought an eight-pack of Reese’s peanut butter cups, which I consumed quickly, and then, for possibly the first time since I moved to Connecticut, I felt a little bit glad to leave work and retreat four miles west to West Hartford’s mundane, well-manicured stability.

Today a judge granted my client a furlough to leave jail for five hours for a visit to his mother’s grave on Mother’s Day, and now I am feeling much better.