August 15, 2008

Newspaper Wars

Category: News — Ira @ 7:01 pm


“One should fight……the temptation to think well
of editors. They are all, without exception – at
least some of the time, incompetent or crazy.”

—John Gardner

It’s no secret that I’ve had a rocky, hostile relationship with local newspaper editors for years. Scoundrels, the lot of them. Way too subservient to the very power structure they’re supposed to keep in check. Used to be I’d fire off a letter to the editor, raging about this or that. Mostly, they published the raging letters pretty much as I’d written them. It was a matter of pride to me.

But then one day they didn’t. One of my last letters, submitted about five years ago, was severely edited. One sentence was changed so that it stated almost the exact opposite of what I’d written. I was horrified. Fired off a nasty note to the editor and admonished him in fairly graphic terms. All in love, of course, for his own benefit. Unfortunately, this was not well received. And things only went downhill from there. Let’s just say that my letter writing to the local newspapers hit a brick wall. Stopped right there. A shame too, as I would’ve had lots of wisdom to impart since that time. Ah, well. Their loss.

And so I’ve maintained a glowering distance from all local newspapers, other than reading them daily. Until the Levi Stoltzfoos thing came down.

Because I felt so strongly about it, and the issue was so important to me, I decided to rewrite my June 27th blog and submit it as a guest op-ed. So I spent some time revising and editing, chopping a sentence here, adding an updated fact there. Didn’t take too long, as the main body pretty much stayed intact. But it was mighty long, about three pages.

Then I emailed it off to the Sunday News. Wrote a polite note. Asked them, if they couldn’t use it, to let me know, and I’d submit it somewhere else. Days passed. Then a full week. I chafed impatiently. Still nothing. Nobody ever responded. Par for the course.

I despaired. But decided to keep plugging. So the following weekend, I printed three hard copies, added a short cover letter and mailed one to each of the three local pap-ers. The Sunday News (moderate), the morning Intelligencer (Intel) Journal (liberal), and the afternoon New Era (conservative). My expectations dropped to zero. No one would publish it. Too hostile and critical of local and state government. Besides, they didn’t like me. I was on their black list.

But then, on the way home from work a few nights later, my cell phone rang. Unidenti-fied caller. I answered. The guy on the other end was the opinion page editor for the liberal Intel. He had just read my submission and seemed impressed. He wanted to discuss it.

His name was Earle Cornelius. He would publish it, he claimed, if I’d email him an elec-tronic copy. Sure, I said. When would he publish? Friday or Monday. Would he do ex-tensive editing? He didn’t think so. I thanked him and hung up. That evening I emailed him the op-ed.

And waited. I don’t trust editors. They think they’re God. And in a sense, I guess they are, as far as their papers are concerned. Friday came. No publication. I’ve been lied to before, so held only a glimmer of hope that Monday would be any different.

Early Monday morning. I parked Big Blue at Sheetz and stumbled in, bleary-eyed, to get my morning coffee. I flipped open a copy of the Intel and checked the Opinion page. Glanced through. And there it was. On the left side. At the top. The most prom-inent spot. Looked like it was all there pretty much as I’d written it. I scooped up five copies to take with me.

Earle had kept his word. Yeah, some minimal editing, dropped a few sentences here and there. Combined others to make the op-ed fit the allotted space. But overall, fan-tastic. I was psyched.

Later that morning, I thought about what must be happening in Lancaster in the halls of Leviathan. In the judges’ chambers, at the District Attorney’s office, at Leviathan’s offices all across the city. They had come to work this fine Monday morning. With per-haps nothing more on their minds than wondering which poor schmuck’s freedoms they could crush today. Sipping gourmet coffee. Sitting there in plush, soft chairs. All was as it should be. The citizenry cowed. The world under their heels. Then they open-ed the morning paper. And saw it staring up at them. A Wrongful Prosecution. They read the words. Couldn’t help themselves.

I hope a few of them choked on their doughnuts. Or spilled their Starbucks lattes.

Almost immediately that morning the reactions began. My home voice mail held sever-al messages of support the first night. Emails arrived at my work station, one from Levi’s defense attorney, who is appealing the case. And also from those who supported the government’s actions.

One man called me at work, greatly perturbed, and told me how Levi used to work for him and how violent he got when he was terminated. The man claimed to fear for his life, which I don’t doubt. He allowed that Levi’s troubles might be the result of his own victims crying out to the Lord against him. I chuckled and replied that if Levi committed real crimes, he should be prosecuted for those. I have no problem with that. But I never backed down from my original contention, that the intrusive government had no business taking his money merely because he deposited it in cash and didn’t report it.

Now, I have some small grudging respect for at least one local editor. Earle Cornelius. He did what he promised. As he promised. He denied one thing; my request to mention my blog site at the end of the op-ed. Would have been great to attract local reader-ship. Guess Earle didn’t want people to be distracted when they should be reading his newspaper.

Funny thing, the Sunday News and the New Era, the area’s two conservative news-papers, wouldn’t touch my op-ed with a ten foot pole. I had to depend on the liberal left, whose social policies are anathema to me, to reach the local populace. Sure, their motives were less than pure; I’m sure they loved the way I slapped at the Republican Attorney General and the local Republican establishment. But still, I respect the Intel for the temporary alliance. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

A few weeks ago, I noticed a strong uptick in hits on my site in the middle of the week, which was highly unusual. Strange, I thought. Someone must have linked to me. Turns out that’s what it was. The editor of a popular cooking blog, Oasis Newsfeatures; The Amish Cook, (Lately the site has been down sporadically, for some reason.) had linked to my blog, The Road Not Taken. And commented very favorably. Scroll all the way down to the post entitled “Stalling, So Here’s An Interesting Read…”

The Amish Cook, I learned, is widely read in the northern Indiana area. Ah, northern Indiana, where men are known by such names as Jakie’s Alvin’s Sammy’s Joe’s John. That was twenty years ago. Probably have a few more names tagged on by now. How a guy deals with such a long moniker is beyond me. Always was.

So, welcome, you all, and thanks for checking out my site. I post every Friday. Make yourselves known, if you ever feel like it, by leaving a comment. And yep, I’m the guy who used to live in the area twenty years ago. In Topeka and Goshen. Goshen was the last place I ever was Amish.

A note about last week’s post. Many of you may have wondered what’s up with a guy who claims to have it all together one week, then posts a brooding, melancholy lament about his divorce the next. Don’t blame you. It does seem irrational. But both the posts were true.

What happened in the time frame between those two posts was the date of what would have been our eighth anniversary. I thought of it only briefly as the date approached. But on the actual day, it hit me like a sledgehammer. Deep gloom almost overwhelm-ed me. Inexplicably, I felt. I moped and brooded around the office all day. Talked about it with my co-workers, who were empathetic. But what could they say, really?

I was a bit surprised. Hadn’t expected anything like that. Last year our separation was still too close. And I was still mad. Not this time. Only sadness. But as the dark fog approached and settled, I embraced and absorbed it. All the way down, deep inside. The only way to deal with it, I’ve learned, is to deal with it as it comes. The sooner you do that, the sooner it’s gone.

That night I began to write it. That’s how I get it out of me. As the week passed, I wrote it out. And began to feel a lot better. By Friday, I was ready to post. And did. Despite the tone of the previous week.

Ultimately, that’s what the blog is for.

I’m OK now. Pretty much back to normal. Just wanted to let you know how and why it all came down.

Congratulations to Titus Aden Yutzy (my nephew) and Sheri Keupfer on their engage-ment. The big event is scheduled for Oct. 25th.

Finally, for all you who’ve been waiting, patiently or impatiently, the second Elmo Stoll installment should be ready to post by next week. One way or another. Unless some Leviathan-induced misfortune befalls me before then. (Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.)

August 8, 2008

The Beginning of Forever

Category: News — Ira @ 6:41 pm


These times are so uncertain.
There’s a yearning undefined,
And people filled with rage.
We all need a little tenderness.
How can love survive, in such a graceless age?

–Don Henley, lyrics: The Heart of the Matter

Eight years ago, a small crowd of guests gathered at a beautiful little wedding chapel in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Quaint, cute, rustic and almost impossibly small, the chapel sat nestled in the remote and wooded hills a few miles outside of town.

They had decided this would be the simplest way. To get married. Leave town, tell their friends and family, and let come who may. Rent a chapel, rent the preacher. No fuss, no hassle, no six months of all the strain and stress and planning almost universally associated with weddings.

They were both independent. Had lived on their own. He was a bit older. Both were transplants in the area where they lived. People would have to travel anyway to get there. Besides, neither of their sets of parents would attend their wedding. That made the decision easier. Get out of town. Get it done. Then return.

And so the plans were made. And the date set. Friday, August 4, 2000. Twenty days before his 39th birthday. She located the chapel and made the calls. Planned the details. He shuffled about and tried to stay out of the way, emerging when needed, clutching his credit card to make the necessary reservations.

The date approached. Their excitement grew. Especially hers. He was more even-keeled, stoic. He had been comfortable on his own. He’d always figured he wouldn’t marry until he met that one exceptional woman. If she never came, he wouldn’t worry about it. He was pretty happy as he was.

Then he met her. And they hit it off. Had a lot in common. Both had emerged from plain backgrounds, and all the drama associated with such a journey. Both possessed that unquantifiable inner strength needed to really break away. And both had.

Less than a year after they met, he proposed. Asked her to marry him. She said yes.

They packed her car and headed out the day before the wedding. Drove south. After a full day’s drive, they arrived in Tennessee. And the house rented by his brother and nephews for the occasion. A great party ensued, with much celebration.

The wedding day dawned. Beautiful, clear, cloudless. They rushed about in final preparation. Drove to the courthouse and picked up their marriage license. Back to the house. Then to the chapel. The service would be at four that afternoon.

They met the pastor, a slight elderly man with a shock of gray hair, dressed in a long black robe. He carefully wrote down their names, and they chose the vows they would use. She then disappeared into her dressing room with her bridesmaids. He would not see her again until she walked the aisle toward him.

The groom retired to his dressing room. Donned a new black suit. New shoes. New shirt. And a new tie, trimmed in black and gold and burgundy. He swore he would never wear the tie again after the wedding, but always keep it as a memento of that day.

Guests arrived and wandered into the little chapel and seated themselves. About eighty in all. His siblings. Her siblings. A few friends. But not their parents. They refused to attend such a worldly affair. Or bless the union. Thereby releasing the equivalent of a curse instead.

And then it was time. The elderly pastor led the groom and his attendants through the little door in the rear of the chapel. The pastor stood behind the podium. The groom to his left, the groomsmen spread to either side.

The music started. Their little nieces walked up first, carrying baskets. Spreading silk flower petals along the aisle. Then the bridesmaids, one by one.

The wedding march. All rose and turned, their eyes glued to the door. And she entered, a vision in white, a wisp of white veiling obscuring her lovely face. Her older brother by her side. They walked up slowly and stood before the pastor.

“Who gives this woman to be married?” he intoned dramatically.

“Her family and I do,” her brother answered almost inaudibly.

She stepped up onto the little platform and faced the groom. They held each other’s hands. Looked into each other’s eyes.

The pastor had performed a thousand such little ceremonies. For people he never saw before or since. With practiced ease, he opened with a prayer, then read a short passage from the love chapter, I Cor. 13. His calm voice rumbled through the tiny chapel. He then turned his attention to the excited, eager couple before him.

He addressed the bride. Love your husband. Meet him at the end of each day with a smile. Comfort and encourage him as a man. The man. Your man. Be true to each other.

And then the groom. Honor and love your wife. Look to her as you did during your courtship days. Let not sorrow cloud her brow or her eyes be dimmed with tears.

They exchanged vows. Slipped the rings on each other’s hands. By the power vested in him by the state of Tennessee, and before God, the pastor pronounced them husband and wife. Together they lit the large unity candle as Michael W. Smith sang her favorite song.

The pastor then presented them to the assembled guests as husband and wife. And they walked out as such. Received accolades and congratulations from their friends. The entire service lasted nineteen minutes.

After the reception, during which everyone was amply fed, a group of their friends escorted them to a nearby nightclub for champagne and dancing. In the glitz of the nightclub lights, they laughed and celebrated with uninhibited exuberance.

As the night hours slipped away, they held each other close and slow-danced across the gleaming hardwood floor in the soft strobing lights. Their futures, their entire lives, lay before them. Together from this day.

They knew they would grow old together. That God’s gentle hand would reach down and touch them, and bless their lives with children. That they would live to see their children grow. That their sons would be as plants grown up in their youth and walk the land, tall and strong and confident. That their daughters would be as corner stones, and bring them great joy and honor.

That they would live lives rich and full of years. Until that inevitable hour when death called one of them away. And separated them.

This they knew. In their hearts.

As they danced the hours away on that enchanted, magical night.

Earlier this year, I read a book someone gave me. Written by Rob Bell, a pastor who has authored several best sellers. At the end of the final chapter, Rob described a wedding ceremony he conducted years ago in an open pasture one summer day. The simplest of ceremonies, with only a few guests.

Both the bride and the groom had been previously married, and both carried tons of baggage into this one. Rob described how after the ceremony, the couple walked up to the top of a nearby hill. Just the two of them, carrying two white balloons. There they paused, then together released them into the skies. Watched as the balloons floated higher and higher, then disappeared. A symbol of all the crap, all the pain and bad decisions, all the sins from their pasts. Now released forever and carried away. So they could start a new life together.

Rob wrote that the scene is seared forever in his mind. I got a lump in my throat just reading his powerful imagery.

Could it only have been that simple. Of course, it wasn’t. Symbolism alone, however profound, proves little. And means little. A few short years later, the couple’s lives lay in shambles. Their marriage had deteriorated. They separated. Then divorced.

Rob’s conclusion: Life gets messy. It’s risky to take chances.

I concur. It does. And is.

He closed by writing that we can recover from anything. That God can pick up the pieces and mend shattered lives. Can put anything, and anyone, back together. That one should not build walls and close off access to the life that is there for the taking. And the joy. That He wants us to have.

Again, I concur. What he wrote is true. Without any doubt.

This I know. In my head.

But not yet in my heart.