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Give me shelter
January 31, 2014

When I moved to our nation’s capital a year and a half ago my friends took me apartment hunting and we wrote down at least 40 phone numbers of apartment building managers. I ended up moving into the first apartment building I called. My decision to call that one first was based on some chipped paint around the entry door, which led me to think I could afford to live there. I was right. At $1150 a month for a roughly 300 square foot room with a refrigerator in the middle of it, but a spacious bathroom and two small closets I never found a price near it. It’s on a street where you can come home at any hour of the night without looking over your shoulder. It’s across from the National Zoo. The next spring when I got tired of the uninterrupted sobbing of children in strollers leaving the zoo that began every weekend afternoon, I discovered that my apartment was not only the cheapest but the largest within a few hundred dollars. So when I came home one day last summer to find a flyer saying the building was up for sail I worried.

Fortunately, I learned tenants in Washington have the right to organize, make the first bid on their building if they wish, and if not, select a buyer from those who meet the asking price. Did we want a roof deck? Card operated machines in the laundry room? A gym? A swimming pool? All possibilities, all up to us, talk had it. More promising, we could require the landlord to promise not to raise the rent, and we also could get money to move out. “AH-ffensive” was the dismissal of an pre-emptive offer from one developer to give each one of us $5000.

We had meetings. Four developers expressed interest in buying and sent spreadsheets showing their willingness to meet our demands. Their presentations were scheduled for two long meetings, which didn’t turn out to be as long as planned because two dropped out. So then there were two.

The first one was an experienced developer who had been filling our mailroom for the last year with glossy postcards showing how the company had renovated a pre-war building to make it look like someone in the outer boroughs of New York had just hit it big on a scratch off lottery card. The entire staff of the company turned out, filled our lobby with black wooden folding chairs, a dozen boxes of pizza, a screen, a projecter and themselves, all wearing buttons saying “Ask Me Anything.” A guy who introduced himself as “the Principal” of the company started with a laughing like noise and said: “It’s funny I’ve done so many of these, and I still get nervous.” I took notes, which included, as he began by telling us that he met his wife at George Washington University, that they now have three kids, and what each of his kids are doing:

. who cares about his wife, or what his kids are doing it is 7:13 p.m., or where he lives . . .
they are all saying I also wear many hats
first one just said he wears “hopefully one hat”
This one says “we’re the promise keepers . ..”
One of the employees is quite ill and is still standing there by the door looking miserable…
They all are standing behind a sign that says:
Top 10 things We love about your building
1. We love the residents
2. We love the residents who get up and go jogging
3. We love the residents who work from home
4. We love the residents who do the laundry
5. We love the residents who have cereal for dinner
6. We love the residents who go to Starbucks every day
7. We love the residents who come home every night
8. WE love the residents who take the elevator
9. We love the residents who take the stairs
10. We love the residents who read the paper

They described gutting the building in the months that would follow and then making it look like the ones on the postcards, pictures of which in before and after double screens in which After consistently looked exponentially uglier than before rotated on the screen. The screen also showed pictures of big greasy boxes of flourescent frosting donuts, which they promised to provide in the lobby on a monthly basis. And if all that didn’t tempt anyone to stay, they would provide, not the Ah-fensive compensation of $5,000 to move out — but $1,000. In other words, not enough to pay the moving costs if you didn’t want to live in a construction site for donuts.

The remaining developer was more promising. Only five staff members showed up, didn’t talk about their families or donuts, and started the compensation for moving out at a five digit figure. They won the election we held the next week by a landslide. Then they said they couldn’t make the down payment on the agreed schedule. Then our lawyer went back to the donut developer. I dreamed that I was following the ones who let us down through their office shouting at them. Then the donut developer said he didn’t really have the full asking price. The lawyer asked him how come, then, he offered to buy the place, and according to the lawyer, he responded, “I got horny.”

If you don’t count the psychic damage of having to hear that, everything finally worked out. The ones we chose got an extension to come up with the money. I learned that at a meeting last night after which I went down to meet a visiting friend at the Zoo bar. I was recounting all of that and my hopes that the 5-digit buyout payment can serve as a down payment somewhere, when we were distracted by the flashing lights of an ambulance pulling up in front of the bus stop across the street. They were coming to get the guy who lived there, a bar patron monitoring the situation from the doorway said. First the shelter bus had come around because its been about 10 degrees at night for the last week, but upon evaluation they called the ambulance.

Left all his stuff there. Didn’t offer him donuts, buyout money, nothing. Just a place to go out of the cold.

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2013 in review
December 31, 2013

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 920 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 15 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Response to a reporter who finds herself shocked by the expected
October 16, 2013

Shocked

A former Palm Beach Post colleague of mine treated the world of local journalism gossips to the sight of her biting the hand that has fed her for the last decade, when she was offered a buyout, and passed along this reproachful manifesto to Michael Koretzky’s SPJ Region 3 blog, Mouth of the South. My former colleague’s piece, which, to its credit, could be titled Revenge of the Geezer related how it felt to come back from a reporting assignment only to learn that she had missed being told in person that she, and everyone else her age and older, was no longer considered vital to the continued functioning of the newspaper. But she left out some information, while including assertions on behalf of others in her position that strained credulity.

I am sympathetic to all of us who have loved and lost newspapers, and as a member of the “protected” age group, I don’t even have to imagine the hurt and anger of learning your years of work and experience are being devalued precisely because of what made them possible – your age.  But there is a tone of disingenuousness and victimhood to this that I think belies the real issues of poor planning and bad management behind the collapse of print journalism, and the way its rank and file workers have been treated. One troubling aspect to this is the omission of what was offered to older workers that made them the target. I am told it was a deal with health insurance and pension – hard to offer a 25-year-old. Is that true? It would be good to know what was offered to better evaluate the management decision – was it inhumane? Or just stupid?

You can read it at the link above to see exactly what I am responding to, but if you don’t want to bother I have excerpted and bolded the parts that were the most troubling.

(on being offered a buyout . . .) “All of us earned the designation by passing what otherwise didn’t seem like an important milestone: our 55th birthdays. “

That, actually has long been an important milestone at the Post, as it is when, with 20 years there, you became eligible for retirement with continued health insurance and pension. If it is true that deal now is being offered to 55s-on-up with as little as 10 years, that, too, would be an important milestone – at least in the eyes of the 44 million Americans who have been living uninsured.

(on sticking around after the newspaper halved its staff five years ago) “. . . we believed if we worked hard enough to cover for the colleagues we lost in the last wave of buyouts, we might have a fighting chance  . . .”

Did the remaining staffers really believe they could work hard enough to replace 300 people? Some of the departed might have been dead weight, but then, some dead weight remained firmly ensconced, and according to well-placed sources, by invitation, behind their desks.

” . . . hoping the economy improves and someone in the brain trust comes up with a way to save the business we love  . . .”

The newspaper business was going downhill before the economy did, and in the years leading up to the Post’s 2008 collapse, there was no evidence on Dixie Highway, or for that matter, emanating from Atlanta, of a “brain trust” that was going to come up with, or was even looking for a way to save the business we loved.

 “. . .we wondered whether it could be done by posting videos of fender benders, dogs playing with babies and soft porn on our web site  . . .”

 Many of us love the relatively gentle sarcasm of this line. But, to be honest, many of us didn’t wonder. We knew it couldn’t be done that way. And we left.

” . . . .We learned from the last round of buy-out victims that quick cash doesn’t cover long-term losses. Many who reluctantly, but hopefully, took the buyout five years ago are now freelancing for pennies on the dollar with no health insurance or paid vacations.”

It is hard to consider any of us who left victims. We had a choice and we made one we felt suited our interests. I chose to leave a newspaper that seemed to be losing its sense of mission as well as its capacity to carry it out, in part so I wouldn’t be where Jane and others who remained are today – older, with little value added, and with fewer choices. The five years since have been the most rewarding of my career. Those who remained may have felt they didn’t have that choice, but they have had five years to assess the situation and search for other options. It is hard to believe the latest blow came as an out of the blue surprise for anyone with news gathering skills, so I prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt and not consider them victims, either.

 

Independent Media Production Professional
February 28, 2013

Independent Media Production Professional is how the person, who was called the editor, but who I don’t even know how to describe now, describes himself on the social media site through which he contacted me to ask a favor.

A friend of mine mentioned it made her sad to see that title. It sounded, she said, like something a laid off affiliate tv reporter with no skills would use.

Back when I knew him, he presided over the last stages of the descent of the newspaper I worked for  into something else. Before he came to our newspaper he already had presided over the demise of a literary style magazine section of another newspaper, but the credential he carried with him was the “literary style magazine section” rather than the demise part of what he had done there. This, at a newspaper that was always trying to win a Pulitzer for one heroic attempt or another to uncover the Truth about things.

He was seen as a prestigious character, having come from a bigger newspaper, never mind that he had brought it down, never mind that he had been fired. He had credentials. And he used them, to bullshit his way to his goal of keeping his knees under his desk out our newspaper, until his desk was the last thing standing there. He didn’t quite make it. They let him stay, doing nothing, months after he had stopped serving any even pretend function, until he was Medicare eligible, and then he was all but carried out the door.

Along with half the newspaper’s staff I was gone by then, having divined that he was lying when he said “when this stops being a newspaper, I’ll be gawun, cuz ah’m not interested in workin’ for anythin’ else.” He talked like that, the exaggerated accent his proud reminder that he got through Old Miss on a golf scholarship and was from the land of Faulkner. Or something like that.

I’m not even sure that was true; he never let the truth get in the way of a cliche. He was a bad writer, a bad editor and a bad manager. We all went along with it out of Stockholm syndrome, or because we thought we had no choice.

I found him so contemptible by the time I left that I didn’t even bother to hold a grudge against him for what he had done to our paper, to journalism and to many of our careers.

And although it may sound like I do now, I’m madder at a system, a profession whose job it was to tell the truth, for letting an Ole Miss golf scholarship recipient, or someone who at least said he was, who never met a meaningless word he didn’t take as his own take a town’s newspaper of record down. I am at a loss to see how independent media professionals can help us now.

When I was growing up
January 22, 2013

I’ve always been surprised by people who say they don’t like being old, who don’t want to admit their age, who act as if it’s a defeat rather than a victory to be on the right side of 50. I’ve never understood shame over longevity, because while the future is uncertain, the past is the fabric of history.

When I was growing up, I couldn’t believe my good luck. Everything was changing for the better, all the time. Living in the 1960s was like being on a train heading for paradise, in my view. Yes, horrible things were happening. We watched the wars in Birmingham and Southeast Asia on television, so you couldn’t pretend. But apparently bad things always had happened. Our babysitter had memories of Nazi Germany, my father was arrested protesting a Nazi rally in our own comfortable neighborhood. But like the insipid fare, that we knew was insipid, served up on television, everything turned out all right, always in the end. Our father not only got off, and made good friends with the cop who arrested him, but never had to serve jury duty again, because he had been arrested. On a larger scale we saw the arrestees of the civil rights struggle become heroes and examples. And through all of that our world got better. I remember when the newspapers suddenly stopped listing Help Wanted under separate male and female columns because of the Civil Rights Act, when acting on sexism, as well as racism, became legally wrong. It’s sad now that those things had to happen, but it was momentous to watch that, at least, and at last, they did. The Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was cruel and unusual, and that women had the right to decide if they saw a pregnancy to term. It was a wonderful thing to grow up and see our world growing up with us.

Then the 70s came, and I’m still not sure I would wish continuing to grow up during the backlash they brought on anyone. The death penalty came back, racism and sexism found new languages and stages to legitimize themselves, the war on drugs began and continues to leave carnage on the battlefields of our towns and cities still. The disillusionment, for a child of the 60s was a train wreck.

But while that was happening, children of the 60s were getting ready to make the world what it should be, instead of what it was. And today we saw the outcome of that, as Barack Hussein Obama, our president, began his second term, praising the heros of Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall, and making me proud and happy, again, to be here, now and to see where the years have taken us.

The guy with a rat on his shoulder
January 9, 2013

LAKE WORTH, FL — About 15 years ago, when I first moved to this part of South Florida, I used to drive down the two lane stretch of Federal Highway between Lantana’s north end and downtown Lake Worth and have the modest aspiration of one day owning a little cottage there. At the time it would have been a small investment that seemed clever to me, because, surely with its quaint combination of old motels and little winter houses, of working class and bohemian dwelling, it would be discovered, and would be a comfortable and, yes, even enviable spot to make a cozy home.

Other people had the same idea, perhaps; in any case it was quickly gathered up in the real estate boom that swept the area, and little houses were torn down to make room for little faux meditarranean, faux Key West “town home” developments with names like “The Cloisters,” and “The Villas.” In no time — a few years, at most, it became a place I couldn’t imagine being able to afford, or wanting to. Then a few years more, came the crash, and the old remaining places were boarded up, the new ones became “luxury rental communities” that were largely unoccupied, people who looked like they had nothing to do roamed aimlessly along the street, and it became a desolate landscape. It remains that way now, a sad, desolate strip that bore the brunt of unrealized, unrealistic hopes.

I drove down it the other day, and passed two men striding along, laughing. They looked like they were having a good time, except one of them had, riding on his shoulder a big — exceptionally big, about the size of a small rabbit — rat with a long oily bare tail. The rat moved restlessly, and laughing the guy stroked it affectionately.

“How would you feel,” I asked the main squeeze later, “if you were the owner of a “villa,” and you looked out your window, to see that?”

“I would probably be gleeful,” the main squeeze replied, “because it would be the pleasantest sight I had seen all day.”

2012 in review
December 31, 2012

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,800 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 6 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Life and death in God’s Little Waiting Room
December 26, 2012

My neighbor, who I’ll call Trudy, has a plan for what she will do in the event she ever gets diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

‘I’ve told Rick,’ (which I will call her husband here), she told me poolside, last summer. ‘You can still train people who have it.’ (She bases this on what she has seen; she has worked as a nurse’s aide). ‘So just put the gun on the bed table, and train me, when you hear the door shut, pick up the gun,’ (she gestures putting it up to her temple), ‘and go bang. When the door shuts, pick up the gun and go bang.’

She repeated this with a laughing exasperation through which she makes it clear she believes she, with Alzheimer’s, some day, will be easier to train than Rick right now. Rick was lying on his back, next to the pool, next to her, splayed in an unconscious manner, the sun bathing his bald head and his broad belly, that protrudes even when he is lying down, and is lined down the middle with a foot-and-a-half-long scar he wears, evidently as a badge of honor (shirtless unless a frost alert has the oranges covered and the homeless shelters open) of having survived open-heart surgery. He also has diabetes, and at the last community get-together piled his plate so defiantly high with a mountain of colorful desserts to give the impression that he has his own plan for dodging any long-term wages of old age.

But barring the central flaw in Trudy’s plan that it is dependent on his attention and survival, I liked it, although it also probably will fall short of her two major goals: that nobody go to jail, and that she not be dependent on anyone. (If I think about it, I’m picturing an easy case for negligent homicide, or attempted homicide, for leaving the gun at the bedside of an Alzheimer patient, and also the consequences of the patient missing just enough to produce injuries that would make Alzheimer’s look like golden years in contrast.)

For all its shortfalls, it is a plan, and I reminded her of it last night, when she was saying that she can’t imagine anyone wanting to take his or her own life. The conversation was careening around, as it does here, at the annual Christmas party in God’s Little Waiting Room, like a pinball bouncing off walls of hope, philosophy and reality.

Two of our neighbors had lost their husbands before last year’s Christmas party and were adjusting to the idea that their widowhood wasn’t new anymore, that this is the way it will be from now on, until they, too, die.

Another, who I’ll call Doris here, had just finished telling me that she, having been widowed twice, has no interest in sharing her life again; she is at peace — enjoys, even, her solitude. She was married to the first for more than 30 years, the second for a dozen years. The second was an old friend, and by the time they were in a position to join in matrimony, had this in common: they had been, but no longer were, parents.

She had lost her only son to a virus that made its way brushfire-like through San Francisco during the 1980s. You figure it out — apparently she eventually did. Her second husband had had two daughers who, she said, asphyxiated. Doris has never finished a sentence in front of me since I’ve known her — about 15 years — so you have to listen over several tellings to put the parts interrupted by left parentheses together before you understand what happened. This was the first telling, so all I can offer is that it had something to do with  Japan, no central heating, and they were both dead in the morning.

The part I could follow is that while she keeps pictures of her deceased son prominently displayed, and greets him when she comes home, her second husband had taken the opposite tack, and hidden all traces of his girls. And that during their marriage she had put out pictures of the girls, and she believes, although it was never discussed in so many words, that he appreciated that.

So now Trudy was telling me that she, too, can deal with loss, because it is part of life.The one loss she can’t understand is the death of her grandson, who killed himself last summer. But she believes in an afterlife, and looks forward to getting a chance to ask him why he did what he did someday.

Because, she said, it is the one desire she can’t understand at all — wanting to take your own life.

So I reminded her of my friend, for whom this blog is named, who got a vicious degenerative disease, and said that once it got bad enough that she didn’t want to live that way anymore, she wouldn’t. A friend who owned a nursing home had told her that she probably wouldn’t — that the will to live would assert itself. Before she could find out if that was true, she had a stroke, and it was too late after that to make any decisions anymore.

Yes, Trudy said, then there’s Alzheimer’s . . . So we talked about her solution, and laughed, while her husband walked past us looking vacant, as usual, and everyone around laughed and talked while the ice tinkled in our glasses. It was, after all, a Christmas Eve party, here in God’s Little Waiting Room.

A rant
December 19, 2012

It starts with an Important Man

In the interests of full disclosure, I should start by saying the one time I met this particular Important Man, he mistook me for another grey-haired woman he had met that same morning, who had nothing in common with me physically otherwise besides being human and living on earth. He was slightly embarrassed when he realized what he had done. He tried to make up for it by saying we were both “hot.” Before that, he had said “umm” more than once, in literally, and I do mean literally , in every sentence in the talk he had given to our group, which had lasted an hour and a half. He also had used the term “wet dream” in the same talk once for a reason that didn’t justify the imagery.

He had been the editor of a very big newspaper, before it was bought by someone who was more into business than journalism (by that, you should know, not the biggest paper, but one that continues to be influential for all its anachronistic leanings). He had then been hired to run another journalistic enterprise that had been bestowed with a generous starting sum by a private entity, who, apparently, expected nothing in return.

I mention all of this because two things happened today that made me think of him. The first was an obvious link — I saw an announcement that the guy has a new title — was either promoted, kicked upstairs, or given a golden parachute with benefits. Any of those is much more than any of the people who worked for him, as that newspaper cut costs, or any other newspaper during that time has gotten for being kicked to the curb.

The second reason I thought of him today is a talk a group of people who had never worked in journalism had over lunch earlier, in which they wondered with genuine curiosity, why newspapers with all they have going against them right now, do such a shitty job. They were talking about stories they had seen that seemed to duplicate other stories, the prize-quest direction of journalism, and finally, humiliatingly, the bizarre number of errors that established publications allowed on their Web sites in the hours after last Friday’s tragedy in Newtown.

One of the reasons newspaper have so much going against them I said, is that they already were doing a shitty job. Sometime before the great newspaper apocalypse of halfway through the first decade of this century, I met a woman who told me apologetically (in that way you know that someone is apologizing for a total diss) that she just didn’t like to read actual newspapers (the kind you pay for, and the kind that paid me, at the time) because the ink made her hands dirty.

What does that tell you? It told me, since we weren’t talking about rooting through the dumpster, or mucking out the pig sty, that we, collectively, were not turning out something that was enough worth reading to get a little ink on your hands.

The reasons? Yes, you can blame it on the Internet. But you can also blame it on Clinton and all the peace and prosperity he brought for eight years. That’s when the economy boomed so, that good help was hard to find. And newspapers, like other institutions — think Wall Street, think Detroit, could not do enough wrong to learn a lesson, and get better. Good enough to risk getting a little ink on your hands.

The important man, who had run one of the biggest newspapers in the country, who couldn’t tell one grey-haired woman from another, and slightly more symptomatically couldn’t talk without a spasmodic interruptions of “ummm”s and a few oddly placed vulgarisms was but one symptom of how prosperity wreaks havoc on itself by promoting mediocrity.

Humanity inches forward after each defeat, and sometimes gains as much as it catches up. And I hope journalism, when it comes fully too life again, learns something from its past selection of important men.

The moment everything changed
December 17, 2012

For several years after May 2000, after the day Nathaniel Brazill killed Barry Grunow, I couldn’t pass the Lake Worth water tower without thinking about one part of that day, one of the parts I didn’t see: a 13-year-old boy, both scared and angry, as I picture it, with being misunderstood, rejected, punished, who had been suspended from school two hours or so before the end of the whole school year anyway, riding his bicycle back to the place he had just been sent home from, with a gun in his pocket.

Only something about how tragedy imprints itself on the mind made the water tower part of this; it had nothing to do at all with what happened that day, but it says Lake Worth on it, in big letters that you can see from far away, I noticed it that day on my way, and  what happened in Lake Worth that day made it one of the saddest days I have lived.

But then, I had only been covering the night cops beat for just short of three months. I had learned about the moment that changes everything — the drug dealer lured from his house to meet some people who shot him dead in front of his house, the five-year-old boy trying out his new skateboard on the street in front of his house when a teenage neighbor trying out his new driver license drove down the street too fast and killed him, the brute speed of I-95 — I had already stopped keeping track of how many signal 5s, signal 7s — murders, dead people — I had gone out to write about by the day Nathaniel Brazill shot Barry Grunow in the face, killing him on the last day of school.

That day had begun festively, the way last days of school do, from what was put together later. Mr. Grunow had come with a movie to show his kids, Nathaniel Brazil had come with balloons for a water-balloon fight in the hallway. By the time the kids got out of the school that day, many of them were sobbing, many of them stumbling into the arms of trembling parents who had surrounded the building screaming for answers, and for their children, for the previous half hour. By then most of them knew that the easy-going English teacher, who made school fun, was dead.

Some kids who were on their own told me what they thought happened. Nathaniel Brazil had gotten into trouble for throwing water balloons, they said, so he had gone home, gotten his gun and come back and shot Mr. Grunow. I phoned that in to the newsroom, a little afraid I would be reprimanded for taking the time to report such a preposterous story. Soon, though, police confirmed that was exactly what had happened. A few blocks from the school Nathaniel Brazill had already flagged down a police car and turned himself in.

I started running into other reporters from my own paper — the whole office, and some from a south bureau, people I didn’t think had ever left the building — so I went to police station where a press conference was scheduled. I saw a lieutenant I knew leading a heavy set woman in, guiding her in a way that seemed like she was afraid the woman would fall over if she didn’t have her arm around her. It was Nathaniel Brazill’s mother.

A school assistant principal had called her a couple of hours earlier, after plucking her son out of the hall where he had been the straggler of a group throwing water balloons at each other who had been ordered back to their classrooms. So he was suspended, the administrator had told Polly Powell, the mother. Did she want to come pick him up, or should they just go ahead and send him on down the road home by himself? Send him home, she said, from her job as a cook at a nursing home. That will teach him a lesson.

It was brutally hot that day. Even in late afternoon, those of us who followed his footsteps by car — from school to his grandmother’s house where he got the key to his house, to his house where he got  his bike and what was now his gun, back to school — were sweating, moving through a fog of heat.

He had already told classmates he was going to be on the news, so how much was fog and how much was determination, he might not know himself.

He had found the gun some weeks earlier, visiting an older relative, a godfather figure in his life, who for some reason kept a handgun in the cookie jar. Nathaniel Brazill, whose birth dad had opted largely out of his life, had been watching his mother recover from breast cancer surgery, her incision bleeding in front of him at least once, his stepfather beating his mother in front of him more that that, apparently. As this story came together in the days that followed, I pictured Nathaniel Brazill in his room, posing with the gun, like Clint Eastwood saying “Make. My. Day,” like Robert Deniro saying “You talkin’ to Me?”

He said later he only wanted to say goodbye to some friends in Mr. Grunow’s classroom, and after Mr. Grunow said no, he pulled out the gun, because he thought that would persuade him to say yes. Then he shot him in the face and killed him. He said later there was something wrong with the gun. I have always assumed that there was something wrong with him, and something very very wrong with him having a loaded gun in his hand.

Mr. Grunow, had he lived, would probably have taught another 12 years of middle-school students by now, leaving all the kids, or those who could be reached, the better for it, in having found the joy and the power in reading and writing that he shared,  in having a teacher who loved what he was doing, and who was kind to them. The loss to all of those students is one of the overwhelming sadnesses  that reverberates still from that day.

Barry Grunow’s death also left a widow and two half-orphaned children, one of whom will never remember her father, the other of whom will never forget his loss. His larger family, including one brother who seemed to serve as a spokesman, remained vocal in their desire that Nathaniel Brazill be punished to the greatest extent possible. In the several succeeding years that the aftermaths played out in the court system — Brazill’s criminal trial, a civil lawsuit against the gunmaker — Barry Grunow’s family remained stolid in their agony.

“There was something about the experience of knowing that man,” my lieutenant friend ventured, several years later, “that seems to have left the people who did frozen in time.”

That was the case for Nathaniel Brazill as well. He has been prison for 11 years now, since his trial ended in 2001. He won’t get out until he is 42 years old, and he will be on parole until he is nearly 50. The boy who wanted to say goodbye to a girl he liked that day has not been alone with a girl since. He  has paralegal training now, and had a deeper voice, a taller frame in the television interview he gave last year, but he still seemed to have the simple righteous logic of a self-centered adolescent. He is sorry, and thinks about it every day, he said in that interview, but he said it in a way that suggested he has continued to view what happened that day as an accident, in which he was only one of the parties involved. Whether prison has made him better or worse than he would have turned out otherwise is impossible to tell. When you think about what happened that day, you can think of yourself at 13 — the stupid, silly, rash things you did. It’s impossible though, when I do it, to picture pointing a gun at someone’s face, let alone with a finger on the trigger, let alone pulling the trigger.

Of course he was only one of the parties involved in what happened that day, though. There was the godfather who bought a handgun, kept it in the cookie jar. There were the school officials who decided to send a 13-year-old child out alone, a couple of hours before the last bell, a policy, they said they later changed. Then there were, and are still, all the people who did nothing, in all the years before, and all the years since, to make it harder for someone who couldn’t think straight to get a gun, and in a moment, change everything.

When I see the water tower that says Lake Worth on it, that I noticed as I drove past it that day, I remember I saw it on my way into work that day, as well as on my way back to what was then a crime scene, and I always wonder what could have happened in the time between to make everything turn out differently — Barry Grunow enjoying summer vacation, and holidays, graduations, life, with his wife and two children, Nathaniel Brazill getting the help he needed, 12 years of seventh-graders learning to love reading and writing.