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Copyright © 2002 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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march 30, 2002
This Lately is different.
This has not been a good week for me, at all. It feels very unreal, like something that didn't really happen, or only happened in my head.
This past Thursday, March 28, Mary and I had lunch together. She got Friday off at her work, because it's Good Friday, so Thursday was our Friday.
We went to Central Market, which I wrote about a few weeks ago. We bought a rib roast for Easter, and some shrimp and fish for the rest of the weekend. For lunch, we got two hot pastrami sandwiches, and ate them in the car. We were both really happy. Three day weekend!
After I dropped Mary off, I started back home, to tie up some loose ends before I picked her up that evening. Our gas tank was low, so I went to a Mobil station we go to sometimes on the corner of First and Lirpa.
Mobil has a system where you can use one of their credit cards right at the pump. You just swipe it through a slot. I tried that, and an electronic display came up, Please See Cashier.
This has happened before. Mobil recently merged with Exxon, another oil company, and a result, everyone who had a Mobil or Exxon credit card was issued a new, Mobil/Exxon card. Unfortunately, they seem to have reduced everyone's available credit on the cards to where it's only a couple of hundred dollars. We put a lot of miles on our car, so we sometimes go through that credit before our check gets to them. Obviously, we had exceeded our credit allowance, so instead of just paying at the pump and taking off, I had to turn our car off, lock it up, and go inside the Mobil store itself, to pay cash for the gas.
When I opened the door to the store, there was a guy behind the counter, a guy standing a little bit away with his wallet in his hand, and another guy down one of the aisles near the counter.
I put a ten dollar bill down, and told the clerk behind the counter, "Ten dollars on pump one, please."
I knew the clerk. Not by name, but he's been there before when I had to pay in cash. Thin, middle-aged, with a high forehead, balding. He speaks with an accent, and is a little on the fastidious side.
But this time, instead of taking my money, putting it in the tray, and remotely setting pump one for the amount I requested, he left the ten dollar bill on the counter and just stood staring at me.
I don't know how much time passed by, it was probably only ten seconds or so, which is actually a long time to have someone not do something you expect them to do, just stare at you instead. I repeated again, "Ten dollars on pump one, please."
He just kept staring at me.
Then, while he still had my eyes, he started rotating both eyeballs towards the guy standing a little away from the counter, the guy with the wallet in his hand.
It took a moment for the wooden nickel to drop. "Oh, are you first?"
And that guy, a blond-haired guy in a red t-shirt, just stared at me. And the other guy, who was standing in the middle of the front aisle, who looked brawny, I mean that was the first word that came to me when I looked at him, he was staring at me too.
I felt like I was missing something. I was the center of all this attention, but I couldn't figure out why.
Then I looked down at the blonde-haired guy's wallet, to see if he had some bills sticking up out of it, or whatever, any kind of clue as to why everyone was behaving this way, and for the first time I realized he didn't have a wallet in his hand, I just saw a wallet because I was expecting to see a wallet. He had a gun.
And fuck me, but I just stared at that gun. I couldn't believe that was what was actually in this guy's hand, and I hadn't noticed it right away. Then I'm thinking, well maybe he's just showing the gun to the clerk, he knows him or something?
(I had to stop typing for a while because I've been crying).
I look around, I look at the clerk again, and the blonde guy and the brawny guy, and I start to notice things. Like the clerk looks really scared, and behind him, all the money from his cash register tray is on the interior counter.
Stupid me, right? I say to the blonde guy, "Is this a robbery?" Stupid, right?
And the brawny guy, he looks at the blonde guy (sorry to say 'blonde guy', 'brawny guy', but I don't know how else to describe them, and I'm really not myself right now), and the brawny guy says, "Shoot him!"
And again, stupid as this sounds now, I'm thinking, Shoot who? I can't emphasize enough how unreal the whole thing was. It was like a play where everybody has a script except me.
And the brawny guy starts saying it again to the blonde guy, "Shoot him! Shoot him!" And the brawny guy is getting really angry. I look at the blonde guy, and I can see the conflict in his face, he's raising the gun a little bit- towards me- but not enough. So the brawny guy, he reaches behind himself, and comes out with his own gun, but he's so tense or distracted or whatever the fuck it is, the gun sails out of his hand, landing on the floor, sliding towards me.
It was fucking unbelievable.
Then he's really screaming at the blonde guy, "Shoot him! Shoot him!" and I'm thinking, they want to kill me, I could die right here, in this stupid, shit little Mobil station, so I grab up the gun on the floor, and the blonde guy is raising his gun up more, like aiming at me, and I was so frightened, I pointed the gun at him and squeezed the trigger.
I've never held a gun in my life, not once, until this past Thursday. When I squeezed the trigger, I thought the gun misfired, because it just made a little sound, and the blonde guy was still standing afterwards. It's like shooting him had no effect.
After I fired, or misfired, or whatever, time stood still (I know that's a cliché, I would write this better if I had the presence of mind to, but I just can't).
And me, the clerk, the brawny guy, we all looked at the blonde guy. He didn't do anything weird at first, for the longest time, then he seemed to be having trouble breathing, then he started to get down on his knees, but fell over sideways while he was doing that.
From this point on, everything is very, very hazy to me. I realize now I had gone into shock after I shot the blonde-haired guy. The brawny guy ran past me over to the blonde guy on the floor, who must have been his partner, and crouched down beside him, he was trying to talk to him, then I saw his hand trying to get the blonde-haired guy's gun out of the blonde-haired guy's hand, so I pointed my gun at the brawny guy's back and shot about three or four times.
The brawny guy never got off his position of being on his haunches, he just fell over sideways. He had a white undershirt on, and this time I could see the little red holes in his back, but they were really small. They weren't big at all. When he fell over, because he was hunched over, I remember thinking, it was like a frog fell over. That was my writer's brain, trying to take over, trying to make this a fiction.
The clerk, the guy with the high forehead behind the counter, who I tried to buy gas from, he was all excitable, his eyebrows were way up. "Why you do that? Why you do that?"
I turned around when I heard him screaming, and I regret this, but I shot him twice in the chest.
I don't have a clue why I did that. Except that I was so pumped full of adrenaline at that point I was nauseous, I didn't know what I was doing. I just saw myself as being surrounded by danger.
There was no one else in the store (maybe for the good). All three men looked like they were dead. They weren't moving. I still had the gun in my hand, and it was only then, looking out the glass front doors, that I realized there were cop cars all over the Mobil lot, their flashing lights going. (Later, I found out an incredible ten minutes had passed from the time I first entered the Mobil store).
I walked outside, and all these cops stood up behind their cars, pointing guns at me, telling me to drop my weapon. It was unreal.
"Put your gun down! Put it down!"
I tossed the gun to the right, and they all ducked behind their cars again. Later, I realized that was a stupid thing for me to do, tossing the gun. It could have gone off as it hit the pavement. What I should have done is put the gun down on the sidewalk.
Once I got rid of the gun, all these cops started skittering forward across the pumps towards me, aiming their revolvers at me as I got closer. It frightened the hell out of me. I just stood with my hands up, not knowing what else I should do. One of them told me to get down on the ground, on my stomach, with my hands behind my head.
I started realizing they didn't know what had gone on, and might think I was one of the robbers. So I did what they said, and they rushed me then, holding me down with their knees, getting handcuffs on me, frisking me for weapons. I could hear all these walkie-talkie radios going at once. It was so fucking stupid.
One of the cops, who maybe was their leader, who I didn't like, he seemed really aggressive, he got down on his knees next to me, he had really hard blue eyes, cop eyes, and he said, "I want to ask you a question. Did you kill all three men inside?"
And I said, Yeah, they were holding up the place, and one of them tried to get one of the other guys to shoot me.
"So you killed the individual behind the counter too? The store owner?"
I told him I had been confused, which I honestly had been, I didn't know what I was doing.
Then he starts asking me if I want an attorney, if I understand my rights, etc., and at first I'm thinking, maybe he isn't really that hard-assed after all, he's trying to help me, but then I realized, he's reading me my fucking Miranda rights!
That really sunk in with me. It scared me. I was a suspect in this crime, even though I had nothing whatsoever to do with it, I just walked into the store at the wrong time.
They put me in the back of one of the police cars, still in handcuffs, and I sat there for what seemed like an hour. Finally, two cops got in the front seat, and they drove me down to Dallas District Criminal Court 41.
Where we pulled up, there was a camera crew from a local TV station, KDFW, but only that one station, for some reason, a station Mary and I watch sometimes in the mornings for weather reports.
I was led out of the police car, past the female TV reporter, who was shouting questions at me, into the courthouse, which is about ten stories tall.
They kept me in a small room on one of the sub floors, and after about an hour (which seems a violation of my rights), they allowed me to make a phone call. I called Mary, who had been waiting at work for me to pick her up. She was frantic. I gave her the name of a lawyer to call, not a criminal lawyer, but I figured he'd know a good criminal lawyer.
(I found out later Mary arrived at the criminal court at about seven o'clock that evening, but she wasn't allowed to see me until the inquest, where she was able to sit in the courtroom).
My criminal lawyer arrived about eight-thirty, having been referred to me by the lawyer I asked Mary to call.
He was a short man with a round face and a pot belly named Mike, with kind of longish dark hair. I liked him right away. Just something about him.
He told me the fact I shot the two robbers wasn't a real problem, because it was classic self-defense. But the issue was that I also shot the gas station owner, who didn't have a gun, and who hadn't made any threatening gestures towards me. "Why did you shoot him?"
I told him, I just freaked out. I was under attack, and the store owner started shouting at me, and I took him for a threat.
He said, "That's your defense. You never held a gun before in your life. And all of a sudden, here's these people trying to shoot you. And how do you know? Maybe the guy behind the counter was in on it too. Maybe he was back there cleaning out the till, right? How would you know? All you're thinking is, I have to defend myself."
It made sense what he was saying (I put his comments in quotes, but I don't know if I quoted him exactly, but that was the gist of what he said.)
A little after eleven o'clock that night, Thursday, I was led into the courtroom for the inquest, which is where they decide if there's a valid reason for charging me with a crime. That's when I saw Mary in the back, where the public sits. It was nearly empty. We blew kisses to each other).
The judge was a woman, Judge April Sloofgetit. It was surreal. I was thinking, whoever heard of a judge named April?
That hard-assed cop who read me my rights testified first, kind of laying out the sequence of events, then they had a forensics expert who testified about where I was when I fired at the three people.
After that, this older woman I never saw before in my life got on the stand and started saying these incredible things about what I had said while I shot everybody. She claimed she was in the store at the time of the shootings, hiding in a back aisle (I never once saw her). She said that after the store owner said, "What are you doing?", I said, "Try being a little more gracious," just before I shot him. I don't remember that at all. Mike asked me if I did, while we were both sitting at the desk while the old lady was testifying, and I said I didn't remember it at all. Then she claimed I leaned over the counter, after I allegedly shot the store owner, and started screaming, "You want some fries with that order? You want some fries with that order, man?"
It was insane. I would never say anything like that in my life. Mike told me people, citizens like me, do sometimes say stuff like that. They get in that type of situation, which they've never been in before in their lives, and they start to scream out wisecracks they've picked up from movies, just because that helps them get through the situation. There's a term for that syndrome, it's a German word, but I didn't quite catch it.
After that, they put up this accountant who testified that the third guy I killed was indeed the rightful owner of that Mobil, which didn't make sense to me why they needed him, but he testified anyway.
After that, Mike asked me to take the stand.
He asked me how long I've lived in the community, how long I've been employed, if I've ever been arrested before, etc. Then he had me go through the events of that day, telling my version. When I was finished, the Judge leaned over her bench and said she'd like to ask me some questions herself.
I didn't realize she could do that.
She asked me if I had ever been in that Mobil before. I told her I hadn't. Then she asked me if understood that it was within her power to make me pump gas at that station for the next twenty years, to make restitution to the victim's family.
I told her I didn't realize that was her prerogative.
Then she told me, "As a matter of fact, Mr. Moore, I can force you to shave the top of your forehead so you even look like Mr. Haderi."
And I blew it. I mean, what a day I had been through! I called her a bitch, I told her I wished I still had that gun in my hand, so I could blow her fucking brains out, too.
She took it in stride. She just leaned farther over her bench and said, "April fool!"
(I had a lot of fun writing the above, especially seeing how many hints I could drop, like having the Mobil station on the corner of First and Lirpa, and Judge April Sloofgetit. All the rest of the pieces in this edition of Lately are legitimate).
Texas is a great state. One of the millions of nice things about the place is that the state legislature, which only meets every other year (we have too many other things to do down here), recently passed a law which allows people to be put on a "No call" list. Once you put yourself on the list (which you can do over the Internet, for a grand total of $4.40 for five years), telemarketers can no longer call you.
You don't have to speak to them to tell them to be put on a no-call list, you don't have to buy a filtering mechanism for your phone. Nothing. The state takes care of it for you. Telemarketers, to be in compliance, must obtain a list of "no-call" homes, and delete those phone numbers from their databases. If they don't, they face severe fines. One thousand dollars per each violation. If they make a hundred unallowed calls on a particular date, that means a fine of $100,000 for that date. They can also have their right to make any calls at all within Texas, even to people not on the no-call list, revoked for noncompliance. (Telemarketers must be licensed in Texas in order to make phone calls). In addition, in all cases, whether a household is on the no-call list or not, telemarketers can no longer block their identities from caller ID. This will be the end of "Unavailable" or "Anonymous" displays on caller ID boxes. The actual identity, with phone number, of the telemarketer will be displayed.
Pretty nice, huh? We signed up right away.
If you're a fellow Texan, the site to sign up is located here. If you live in another state, this might be the time to write your state representative and ask him or her to initiate similar legislation in your state. You can even do it by e-mail.
Texas also recently opened up the utilities market, meaning that different electricity supply companies can now offer their services.
Before, as in most American municipalities, all Dallas residents had to get their electricity from one source only, in our case Texas Utilities (known as "TU" in Dallas, or "FU" in our household).
Now a number of other suppliers have entered the market, and started sending out solicitations.
We received one this past Thursday, March 28, from Green Mountain Energy.
It starts off, "Did you know that traditional methods of producing electricity cause more pollution than any other industry in the U.S.?"
I honestly didn't. I thought most of the pollution in the U.S., judging by the dirty looks I get, comes from me smoking cigarettes.
The letter, which starts off personalized, as "Dear Ralph Moore", but then, like so many people with an agenda, forgets my name for the remainder of the pitch, says that using traditional methods of electricity generates over 20,000 pounds of carbon monoxide into the atmosphere each year. That's a lot of CO2. In fact, it's as much CO2 as "a car produces in almost two years of driving."
So how is Green Mountain Energy "100% pollution-free"?
It turns out their electricity is generated "solely by the Texas wind."
Hmmm. Is it really windy enough in Texas to supply that much electricity? After all, Texas is the second or third most populous state in the Union. (I have this vision of each household ultimately having to supplement Green Mountain's energy source with their own wind. "Everybody aim at Oklahoma!").
The brochure doesn't address that. Plus, I'm starting to wonder how much this is going to cost. Will we actually save money by switching from TU to Green Mountain?
Near the end of the spiel, there's a sentence that starts, "Best of all…".
Now I don't know about you, but I always get a little leery with sentences that start off, "Best of all", because usually, although it may be best of all for someone, usually the speaker, it's not best of all for you. "Best of all" to me is like when you were a baby, and the doctor leans over and dangles a doll in front of your eyes to distract you while he jams a needle in your ass. The "Best of all" is the doll.
And I'm right this time, too. "Best of all, you won't have to pay a lot more for our 100% pollution-free electricity."
What? I'm paying even more for electricity if I sign with you? Why are you bothering to contact me?
(Some people will say because we're helping our planet, and I'm all for that, I really am, but a lot of these "green" initiatives are the worst sort of bullshit. It's like recycling. We should all recycle our paper, right? Ideally, yes. But what isn't well-known is that although a lot of households and office buildings now put out recycling bins of paper, which are dutifully picked-up, a very significant portion of that paper is never recycled. Why? Because very few people will actually buy recycled paper. Why? Because, just like Green Mountain, it's more expensive than unrecycled paper. The paper you put in recycling bins is most often thrown away the conventional way, in landfills, or left to rot in warehouses. If people are serious about helping our planet, which is certainly a noble cause, they need to go the extra step and find a way to make the helping financially attractive, because it's not going to work otherwise. If you think I'm full of hooey, check first to make sure the paper in your printer is recycled paper before you write me an angry e-mail).
Green Mountain also states choosing their service "will not affect the quality and reliability of your electricity service, since your current utility [meaning, in this case, TU] will still be responsible for maintaining, repairing and servicing your power lines."
That's real reassuring. So in other words, if my lights go out, I have to call your competitor, let them know I chose another firm rather than theirs, and ask them to solve your problem? TU is not that efficient in fixing their own problems, but somehow they're going to give a priority to fixing their competition's problems?
"I'm sorry, Mr. Moore, but I'm having trouble hearing you. Must be all that wind on the line."
The same day, Thursday, we also received a new catalog from Colorful Images.
Colorful Images started out as a company that produced personalized return address labels. You could choose from a lot of different theme images (mischievous cats, loyal dogs, snowy cabins, California shorelines, flowers, seashells, newly-hatched chicks- I suppose I don't have to give any more examples for you to get the flavor), over each of which themed image is printed your return address. Each label peels off, so you can stick it in the upper left corner of an envelope. It's a great product.
A couple of years ago, in the great American business tradition of diversifying until you die, Colorful Images started adding to their catalog tee-shirts and baseball caps with cute sayings, cute figurines of bears, portable CD player covers with your name stitched on the top, decorative tea sets, etc. Fine and dandy, I say.
But in their latest catalog, the one passed back and forth between Mary and me Thursday evening while we went through our mail (which we only pick up once a week, which means there's piles of it), Colorful Images introduced a new line of address labels, which I guess we can call Patriotic Cute Animals. It's a post-September 11 product, showing different animals with a billowing red, white and blue American flag. Hey, why not? But Mary's flipping through the pages, and there's a patriotic dog label, patriotic bird, patriotic horse, cow, some weird fucking animal that looks like a cross between a gerbil and a tiny rhinoceros covered in brown fur, I don't know what the hell that thing was, it kind of scared me, although it had the stars and stripes behind it, but nowhere in the catalog, I mean absolutely nowhere, is a picture of a patriotic cat! What's that all about? What is Colorful Images suggesting? All the animals in the world are patriotic except cats? While dogs and horses and cows and birds and those weird, scary things are posing with the American flag, cats are off somewhere smoking dope?
I don't think so.
I mentioned smoking before.
In upstate New York this past week, State Supreme Court Justice Robert "Shithead" Julian, ruling on a complaint from a thirteen year old boy, decided his mother could not smoke anywhere the boy might be present. Not only could she not smoke in her home or in her car while her son, Nicholas "Needs a Good Spanking" DeMatteo was present, she could not smoke in these localities while he wasn't present, because of the "harm" caused by residual smoke. The ruling by "Shithead" Julian also suggests Ms. DeMatteo would be in violation of the law if she took her son to a restaurant where someone may have smoked in the past. The shithead's finding was based on what the shithead described as health factors, and the complaint by Nicholas "Needs a Good Spanking" that he was embarrassed by his mother's smoking.
Ms. DeMatteo is divorced from her husband. Some commentators have suggested her ex-husband, who has remarried, initiated this lawsuit as a ploy to gain full, rather than partial, custody of their son. During her son's visits, even prior to the lawsuit, Ms. DeMatteo had not smoked in her son's presence.
For the past couple of decades, those sub-normal Americans who could no longer publicly hate niggers, faggots or uppity cunts, because it became socially incorrect to do so, but who still have an emotional need to hate some group, to distract themselves from hating themselves, have turned to hating cigarette smokers, which is still socially acceptable in America.
In a rare display of common sense, Americans throughout the nation, smokers and nonsmokers, have condemned Justice Robert "Shithead" Julian's ruling as overly intrusive on the personal rights of Ms. DeMatteo. Most nonsmokers do not want someone to smoke while standing right next to them, which is entirely reasonable, but balk at the idea of the government deciding how someone should live their life, when what that person is doing, smoking, is legal.
Future lawsuits New York State Supreme Court Justice Robert "Shithead" Julian may decide:
"I want the state to force my mother to eat only those foods the state decides she should be allowed to eat, because she's overweight, and that's unhealthy."
"I want the state to force my mother to denounce her belief in the Jehovah's Witnesses, because that could endanger my health."
"I want the state to force my mother to change her political beliefs, because she's so liberal/conservative it embarrasses me."
"I want the state to force my mother to leave her lesbian lover, because it embarrasses me."
"I want my mother to have no part in my life, because unlike my dad, who's white, she's black, and that embarrasses me."
"I want the state to gas my mother to death, because she's a filthy, money-grubbing, Christian baby blood drinking Jew. Heil Hitler!"
The ball's in your court, shithead.
I did another search on the kids I went to school with, and found a recent photograph of Ed, who was my friend in what was then called grammar school, and high school. He's an attorney now, with a law firm in Greenwich, Connecticut, where we grew up.
I e-mailed him, and he replied. Since then, we've exchanged several enjoyable communications. I always liked him while we were in school together. He was smart, the type of kid who would question everything the teacher said, which is what we all should do. I'm glad to see his life has turned out so well.
E-mailing the past is one of the many opportunities available through the Internet. Through Ed, I found out about two more of our fellow classmates who have died, Jeff Silvers, of AIDS, and Peter Bruno, who died just a few years ago, of a massive heart attack. God rest both your souls.
As you get on in years, memories of your youth become clearer and clearer. You remember things you've forgotten for decades. It's nice, whatever your age, to be able to put your life in perspective, to be shown what was going on all around you while you grew older.
The Link of the Week this time is to Boy The Bear's Age Gauge (I don't have a clue why the site goes by that name).
Anyway, you put in your date of birth, and the site tells you what celebrities are older than you, which celebrities are younger (I'm younger than Zsa Zsa Gabor. I didn't even know she was still alive). The site will also tell you what age you were when famous songs, movies and TV shows debuted, and when significant world events occurred. It's kind of fun.
Last year, in one of my Latelys, I talked about how one of our cats, Chirper, was starting to look a little wizened. That was exactly the right word to describe him. I took a photograph of him for that column's Picture of the Week, but never quite caught that wizened look. This photograph captures it a little better. He looks so sweet, I want to stop typing right now, and pet him.